Monday, June 30, 2014

Sweet As Pie: Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup

This is a Sweet As Pie Pioneer Woman recipe from way back in April.

I even picked it, but I never had a chance to make it!

(False: I surely had plenty of chances; I just never got my act together.  I believe in honesty in blogging.)

In any event, today was one of the first real days that felt like summer here in Maine -- 82 degrees and humid.  The way our house sits (and due to my aversion to fans, which I can't stand because they are loud and make messes and just are always dirty), it was actually cooler outside than inside, but no matter where you were, it was warm.  Couple that with the fact that I made cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip muffins this morning, and that meant two things:

1. The air conditioner was on by noon, and 

2. that made the house chilly.


So for dinner tonight, at long last, I made this soup.

WHM was on a birthday outing with his aunt and uncle, so CAM played outside and I prepped this.  

Pioneer Woman: Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup

Verdict: Delicious!  And, despite being hearty and made with heavy cream, it's not super heavy -- not inappropriate for a rainy summer day.  (Even though it was sunny and hot here!)
Cook it again: Absolutely. Mick and I even reflected that it would be a nice dinner with company, if we doubled the recipe.
Cost factor: Italian sausage is the most expensive.  We usually have heavy cream and kale and red potatoes in the house, but if you don't, then those are other factors.  $15ish?

PW says this is a recipe meant to mimic an Olive Garden recipe.  Since we moved away from Alabama, we haven't been to an Olive Garden, so I can't comment on whether this is a good effort -- but I can say without reservation that it's a darn good soup!

I didn't take any prep photos, so I will just recap here.

(Also, I'll insert a photo of the finished product, just so you can see how pretty it is.)

You need red potatoes, kale, milk, chicken broth, heavy cream, and sweet Italian sausage.  

Boil the potatoes and set them aside. Remember to slice the potatoes before you boil them! I forgot to do that, and the price I had to pay was trying to slice boiled red potatoes.  It wasn't easy to do that and have them look pretty.  (Not that they need to look pretty, but it's nice bonus!)

In a stockpot, crumble and brown the sausage.  When it's ready, drain any fat and add red pepper flakes, oregano (I used dried), salt, and paper.  Add two cups each of chicken broth, milk, and heavy cream.  (The recipe calls for half and half, but I don't keep that in the house. We go big!)

Simmer it all together for 30 minutes, and then add the kale and potatoes.

That's it! Delicious, pretty, and very filling.  

And for the record, even if it's nearly 90 outside, this is still worth it.


An Extraordinarily Belated Thank You

Do you ever think to yourself, "I need to do [blank], but I can't do it right now...." and the next thing you know, three months have gone by?

Because that's what I did.

My friend, Jackie, who blogs over at Life is Too Important, is a crocheting genius.

(So is my mom, for the record. For my part, I regret never learning how to crochet.)

Back in April, Jackie sent me an awesome little surprise in the mail -- a washcloth and dish scrubber.  She included a very sweet note with them, and it was totally unexpected. Isn't that the best kind of mail?!  They arrived the day before we headed to NY for Spring Break, so I set them aside and thought I would photograph them, use them, blog about them, and send a thank-you note when we returned.

In case you're not doing the math here, that didn't happen.

In the meantime, I absolutely love the set, and every time I use them I get a little pang of guilt ... but naturally, by the time I am done with the dishes a thousand other things have come up and I never get to the thank-you notes or the photos.

I did, however, take some photos right away.  Even better, I recently found them -- after some Mac and iPhoto issues (literally. My mac died. d-i-e-d. So there was a delay.) -- the original snapshots I took to show you how pretty these little dish helpers are. Here's a photo:

The tan disc is the scrubber.
Look how thick that is!  It's fantastic!

Seriously: take another look at these.  Aren't they awesome?!  Who doesn't need a little bit of love in their kitchen? There's nothing fun about doing dishes, but there is at least a little smile when you do them with something handmade and pretty.  Bonus: they work!  They aren't just decorative!

Originally I thought I'd take these lovely photos, then use the scrubber and washcloth, wash them, and show you how well they held up.

Well, they are awesome, as I've said a few times.  They work great and are super durable, and both have held up well with washing.  But I can't seem to find any of the photos I took to show you that.

(In fairness, it's summer. I may actually get to look for the photos sooner than later!)

The stitching is super tight, so the scrubber looks good but also WORKS. If you look at this and think that it is soft crocheting, you'd be wrong.  The yarn is a tight weave that is super durable.

I never expected anything less than that from Jackie, but as usual, I find myself impressed.

Jackie's moving from Kentucky to Washington state this week and next, but if you're in the market for a gift -- or just want to dress up your kitchen with something other than a green-and-yellow sponge, please check out her Etsy shop or her Facebook page.

You won't regret it!

And Jackie -- THANK YOU.  I love these. I promise I'm working on a handwritten thank-you note ... with any luck, it will be waiting for you at your new place!

Because who doesn't love fun mail, right?!


Friday, June 20, 2014

Let There Be Summer

It's finally here.

Not officially, since according to the calendar, Summer starts tomorrow.

Not by the weather, since it's presently in the 60s and breezy enough to comfortably wear a light jacket.

But it's sunny. It is, for the moment, humidity-free.

And I am officially done with school and, for the time being at least, meetings.

What a crazy year this has been.  I started to write about it a few weeks ago but found myself writing a novel.  A picture-less novel, no less, in 0.0009-point font, and it was still about as long as War and Peace.

There were some wonderful highs and some terrible lows at work, at home, and in general. We made it, of course, and in many ways we're stronger for it.  I think I am going to go back and work some more on that draft, add some photos, split it into a few posts, and upload them sometime soon. Now that it's summer and all, I should have time to do all the things I haven't contemplated since August.

At least, that's my plan. It's starting today with some sewing (okay, okay, so that's really just so I can clear the kitchen table, where my sewing machine has sat since Sunday, but who's counting?!) and will continue with some serious cleaning, packing, and all the laundry in the history of laundry.

In the meantime, some other news:

My former teammate Victoria has accepted a job in Braintree, Massachusetts. I am so excited for her.  She's said all along that all she wanted was to stay in Maine for two years to get some teaching experience and then to move to Boston. She's a few miles short of Boston proper, but she's on her way. She's a new teacher who loves what she does and she is passionate, driven, and quite frankly, pretty darn amazing. I'd be thrilled if CAM or WHM had her as a teacher.  And it's fun, being on the other side of "just starting out," to see her so excited and happy. What's more exhilarating than  plans working out?! She's rightfully on Cloud 9, and part of me is as well. Joy is contagious, and I am thrilled for her.  We've made a lot of wonderful memories in our crazy two years in our dysfunctional amazing workplace, and I count her among my dearest friends.  Victoria is proof that things all happen for a reason.  (And also that God loves redheads!)  We made a great team, and we will continue to make a great team even when she's in Mass and I'm who knows where doing who knows what.

Of course, her move has also made me a bit reflective on where I stand in my own life.  I've had an interesting few weeks at work, and I've been in the dumps more than not. When I wasn't down, I was definitely soul searching -- whether I should apply for department head/content leader (I decided not to); whether I still want to teach (I decided yes, for now); whether the common denominator of unhappiness is me, not crazy schools (I decided yes, perhaps. But I have certainly had my share of craziness); whether I want to stay at my current school (until yesterday, that was the million-dollar question).  Yesterday at end the day -- literally, as I was walking out of the building on the verge of tears -- I found out that my schedule for next year is still not what I wanted or hoped for, but I do at least have a classroom again.  And for that, I am incredibly thankful. Relieved. Happy. I can't quite find the words to say what a burden has been lifted, to feel like "at least I have that."  It's more than an "at least," though. It's huge.  I'm grateful.

In the span of a day I went from crying about what I'll do next year to actually having some of that sense of dread lifted.

Sure, I'm losing my "work BFF," and my other work BFF is moving upstairs to work with freshmen -- which means we more than likely won't see much of each other during the work day.

But I'm not facing hating everything about everything anymore, and a little part of my exhausted self is -- here, on Day One of summer -- thinking about Fall.

Goodness, help me!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Filling in the Dash

A friend of mine from Georgia -- who's long since moved away, as have we -- posted about her amazingly wonderful past two weeks, filled with a trip home, family weddings, birthday parties, trips to her alma mater with her daughter ... just a series of fun and joy-filled events.  She said in her post that she was filling in her dash.

I knew there had to be more to that saying, and I felt certain I'd heard it before, but I just couldn't remember the context.  Google came to my rescue, and brought me to this blog, where a poem explaining "the dash" was posted.

It's a bit sad, of course, but that's not the point. It's also a lovely sentiment.

I like to think we do an okay job filling in our dash and making memories with the kids, but I occasionally need a little reminder that it's the everyday that matters.



The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone from the beginning... to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years. (1934-1998)

For that dash represents all the time that she spent alive on earth...
and now only those who loved her know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we won; the cars...the house...the cash,
what matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.. are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left, that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real,
and always try to understand the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger, and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives like we've never done before.

If we treat each other with respect, and more often wear a smile.
Remembering that this special dash might only last a while.

So, when your eulogy's being read with your life's actions to rehash...
would you be proud of the things they said about how you spent your dash?

by Linda Ellis

Monday, June 16, 2014

Totally Normal

"Look, Mommy!  I made a distabooshun!"

WHM just called for my attention and that was what I turned my head to see and hear.

It was completely unprompted.  I don't even know where he got the red construction paper!

Since I teach AP Statistics, I happen to think this is pretty amazingly awesome.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

One More Week 'til Summer

It's a funny thing, the end of the school year. I am over it and beyond done and it's been a long year with lots of highs and lows, and I am so very ready for it to end.  I can't wait to have no grading to do, no emails to check, no responsibilities to contemplate.  I signed up for absolutely no professional development or workshops or committees this summer.  I don't have a bar exam to study for or a move to pack for.  I can't wait be a full-time Mommy -- to play, and read in the sunshine, to make crafts and have fun ... and of course, to do all the house cleaning that hasn't gotten done since August.  I do have an opportunity to be a practicing attorney. I am ready for summer and opportunity and sleeping in and snuggling and cooking real food and -- outside of attorney'ing* -- not having an agenda every day.

(Point of fact: that last statement about no agenda is false. I signed the kids up for twice-weekly swimming lessons. CAM is Mon-Wed and WHM is Tues-Thurs. So we most definitely have a daily agenda, and I may well come to regret this ambitious commitment.  But it's at the Y and I will be able to work out and I am quite looking forward to the idea of getting fit again. I may even break out the nook and get back to reading the same Mickey Mantle biography I last read in June 2012, before we moved.)

And yet I am incredibly sad, because it means I now have a second-grader and a kindergartener, and here we all are, another year older and the kids are another year closer to being grown-ups. (And as for me, I'm another year older and still don't feel like a proper grown-up and in the wee hours of the night while everyone is asleep this causes whole other issues I shall save to discuss on a rainy, melancholy day!) I feel like I've missed so much of CAM's and WHM's lives already.  I can't believe that we moved up here with a brand-new three-year-old and a girl just about to enter kindergarten, and now I've got a little boy about to enter kindergarten, and a little girl who's about to enter second grade!  Maybe it's hitting me harder because I have several specific but limited memories of kindergarten and first grade, and I have more vivid memories of second grade. I suppose I am thinking that CAM is starting to form her own memories and I wonder, sometimes, what they are and whether I've already messed her up enough to need therapy.  And whether insurance will cover said therapy or I should start saving.

I've said this before, but it has been a hard adjustment to go from being a stay-at-home-mom in Georgia to working full-time in Maine. Either of those alone would have been enough for me, and together it's taken me probably even more than twice as long to get adjusted. Don't get me wrong: I live my life pretty well-adjusted every day, but I do get sad. I don't have that many friends here, and I miss that. I miss my sister, who of course is in Orlando now, anyway, but I miss the idea of her being 20 minutes away.  I miss my days of going to Hobby Wobby with my little guy while his big sister was at school.  My goodness, when we first moved back to Georgia from Alabama, he was in an infant carrier and I carried him in to pick CAM up from ballet once a week!  I have no idea what happened that I am sitting here with a second grader and a kindergartener.  In Maine.

I don't do change well, and this has been a lot of change all at once. I made it through two school years, but it still feels like only yesterday we were in Georgia.  Stuff is still in boxes in storage. At the same time, it feels like an eternity ago. I haven't seen my friends in Atlanta in two years.  What?!?!?!

I don't mean to sound whiney or melancholy. I'm incredibly thankful. We are happy and healthy and I don't take that for granted for a millisecond.  I am well aware that even if we blinked our eyes and were back home in Atlanta, nothing would be as it was. I get that. I am not sad in the "I want to go back" kind of way. I just have no idea where the time has gone.  Maine has been good to us, to be sure. But I have no idea how we got here. Does that even make any sense?

I take photos of the kids almost every morning when I drop them off at school.  They're all on my cell phone, and I usually post them as a morning snapshot to Facebook.  When I look back at August 2013 and compare it to now, the difference is amazing.  I am hardly ever in any pictures -- neither is Mick -- and I want to change that. I wish I had photos to compare our August 2013 to now, too. I wonder whether we look happier now, as things in our lives have taken some positive turns this year, and especially recently.

I didn't mean to write a sad post, but I've definitely been hypersensitive to the bittersweetness of the end of this school year.

Ah, but as one of my sisters used to say, "no worries!"

It's going to be a busy and awesome summer, and it is going to go quickly, since it won't even start until June 21. I'm going to start it by cleaning the basement and getting the kids a giant playroom area that they can actually access, spacious and uncluttered enough that they will be able to keep it clean(ish) on their own.  Then I'm going to attack their bedrooms, with the same goals.  Then I'm going to go through closets and purge too-small clothes.

I know that sounds like last thing most folks would want to do, but I'm looking forward to it. I look forward to the first rainy day that we're trapped inside and there's a viable awesome playroom.  I'm looking forward to writing and publishing the 99,000 blog posts I have on my backlog list. I'm looking forward to catching up on Sweet As Pie recipes, and hopefully to a vacation to see my sister and some friends; to doing a whole lot of pleasure reading that I didn't get to do when I was studying for the bar exam; to hopefully taking a weekend to Acadia National Park; and hey -- I'm looking forward to summer.

I just can't believe that's in only two weeks!  Holy cow!

Happy Almost Summer!  The "bitter-sweetest" time of the year. :)


* I am also really looking forward to "attorney-ing." I know it's a full-time job that I won't quite be doing full-time, but I'm incredibly excited about getting to do it at all.  Funny how six years ago I had no desire to go to court -- ever -- and now I'm almost giddy (and okay, nervous, too) at the idea of it becoming reality very soon!