BEST Easter Dinner (or any dinner, really…)

Oh HI there… sorry I have been… oh hell, no excuses. I have been distracted. And frankly a little down. And it’s hard to write about amazing inspiring things when I’m not feeling amazing and inspired.

I don’t want to get into all the crazy details of why life’s been more blue than turquoise for me lately. I think we all go through those phases, don’t we? I think it may be somewhat unique to my individual makeup that I constantly ask myself what my place in the world is meant to be. I thrive on accomplishment and achievement–I was the girl who always wanted the gold star and got made fun of for being teacher’s pet. And I haven’t had a lot of gold stars lately. I’ve had a lot of…well, a lot of what feels a lot like failure. And that’s hard for gold-star girl to handle.

But I’m trying not to quantify myself by the number of “things” I’ve racked up. I’m trying to quantify life by moments instead. Trying to pay more attention to the small wonderful details, the times between the events. I’m trying to measure my life based on the way my six-year-old glows and giggles when he reads a book by Sandra Boynton (oh how I love these books!) I’m trying to estimate the size of things based on the sheer joy I see on my eight-year-old’s face when he swims…by the smell of their little messy heads when they wake up in the morning, by the way they still fit curled up in my arms, by the eyes that still hold vulnerability and wonder and a fierce determination to become independent. I’m trying to remember what’s important.beef prime rib roast crusted with herbs

And that’s part of why I’m so excited to be spending Easter Sunday with my whole family together — at least my side. I’m going to meet my one-year-old niece for the first time! And my parents will get to see all three grandkids in one place for the first time… It’s just one day together, but I’m really looking forward to it.

And I’ll be honest. One part of my enthusiasm has to do with dinner. Since my brother has a newish baby in the house, I didn’t think they’d want to go crazy cooking just because we’re in town. So I suggested my newest favorite recipe–only for very special occasions. Prime Rib! I’m not the biggest red meat lover on the planet, but I am telling you, this recipe is so easy and the meat is literally the best meat of any kind I’ve ever had. I’m not kidding. I made this at Christmas and my husband says he has dreams about that dinner.

So I ordered a prime rib to be sent to my brother’s house. (There are lots of places to get em online. We ordered from Kansas City Steaks (this is not an affiliate link!) And if you’re going to make it, you just need to allow lots of time for it to cook, but there’s almost NO work to do. Here’s the recipe I use at Food Network.

 

Appliance Love

Sometimes you end up improving things you didn’t realize needed improvement.

Well, in this case that wasn’t really true. We bought this house a year ago, and the appliances in the kitchen were not exactly top of the line. That said, they were functional, so plans to upgrade them fell WAY down the list. The dishwasher worked pretty well. But the thing sounded like a freight train coming through the house. We couldn’t set it and then go to bed. It would keep me awake for an hour. And then there was the water leaking… Finally it just quit. We had it repaired once, and the Major fixed it himself twice. When it died again the day after Christmas, we gave up on it, and ordered a Christmas present we hadn’t planned on.

And I tell you, I’m in love.

But nothing is easy, right? We pulled out the old dishwasher and rolled the new one in, ready to install it. But it was too tall. By about an inch. Wouldn’t fit under the granite.

After several “oh crap” moments, we agreed to chip out the tile that extended beneath the dishwasher. And learned that the tile had been laid on backer board (of course) on TOP of linoleum. (Surprise). And under that? Mold.

I thought the sub floor was rotten, and dollar signs began to flash through my mind… but it turned out that whoever had installed the original appliances had laid down a piece of plywood first. We cut that out, and the mold went with it, but the original subfloor was damp, so we had to wait for it to dry before the new dishwasher could go in.

Two more days of washing dishes by hand and having a dishwasher in the middle of the kitchen. Oy.

wet floor under dishwasher

So this is what we had for the whole weekend… Until yesterday, when we dropped in the new dishwasher! I didn’t know I could feel such strong love for an appliance, but this one… let me tell you.🙂

Bosch dishwasher

It’s the Bosch 500 series, and it is SO quiet! And it cleans really well, and it is intelligently designed — a utensil rack up top! I really do love it, or maybe it’s just that great an improvement over the old one. Either way, Merry late Christmas to me.

My Word for 2016: Simplify

Depositphotos_46522753_m-20152015 was a good year, both personally and professionally. (Remember I have two jobs, so it’s easy to find some kind of success to point to in at least one of them! I’ve also been in some form of sales long enough to be able to twist any little thing into something that could be considered a success… hee hee).

But here’s the thing:  I have some bad habits. Well, really I have plenty, but some of them I enjoy too much to get rid of this year, and some of them are just too fundamental to who I am as a person to really worry about. At least right now. So when I look around myself and inside myself and consider what I can make better in the next year, I come up with one thing that makes a lot of sense to me on lots of levels.

I just want to keep things simple. In my house, in my work, in my mind. I abhor clutter, but with two small boys and one big one–all of whom adore toys–I have a lot of it in my physical environment. There is only so much I can do about that, and learning to look past it sometimes has been the best way to handle it. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept clutter in other parts of my life. In my 42 years, I’ve figured out a couple things that relate to this. For one, when my house/office is cluttered, I’m grumpier. (I say grumpier because I think I’m moderately grumpy kind of all the time…) When my workspace is cluttered, my work is harder to accomplish. And when my mind is cluttered, nothing gets done at all.

I’ve got a few plans brewing to attack the physical and mental clutter in my life and allow a little more light into the dark corners that have been blocked by “stuff”:

  1. AT HOME: I’ve got a donation pickup scheduled for early January. We have old bikes and toys, clothes and things like dishes and towels that we don’t need, but that have been with us through more years and moves than I’m happy admitting. Time to cut back. How much stuff do we really need? I’m guessing a whole lot more than we have.
  2. IN MY BOOKS:  I went through a semi-crisis as a writer from October through early December. And part of it was that I think I had lost my voice, or my purpose as a fiction author. I’d begun pulling in all kinds of crazy subplots, trying to build out or bulk up my stories. And it wasn’t working, but I couldn’t identify what was wrong. I write romance. These are stories about PEOPLE. Not so much about three thousand other things. With some help and guidance from other writers whose input I respect and treasure, I think I’ve managed to find some clear space to begin again. And I literally have done just that. I had a complete book that I was revising, but it was getting nowhere. Except bigger. But these wise folks made me realize the best path was a clear one. And I started again, with a blank page on. The story I want to tell is finally evolving nicely, and I’ve finished about a third of it in just over a week, during the holidays with everything else going on. When the path is clear, I write quickly because I can see where I need to go.
  3. IN MY MIND:  I have a tendency to get wrapped around the axel. I focus on details, losing sight of the bigger things in my life. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying if things are not “just so” — especially with the boys. And I forget to be thankful and happy that they are smart, handsome and healthy. I think this one grows from wanting to control everything. And after 40 plus years, I might actually be realizing that I just … can’t. And that’s okay. I’m going to try to let go a bit and enjoy what’s in front of me, not what I could potentially FORCE to appear in front of me.
  4. IN MY LIFE: Bigger picture stuff here. Day to day. Life is pretty good, and I need to spend more time appreciating that. I’d like to streamline my work, and find myself making a happy income doing what I love. But I’m willing to accept that, for now, that may not mean working 100% for myself as a writer. I once had a successful freelance career, where I made a legitimate and respectable income writing from home (before I wrote fiction at all). But it was a hustle, and it was stressful. And while that grass looks pretty green at the moment, there is something to be said for going to a job where I just do the work and come home. As “real jobs” go, mine is pretty good. So I’m going to strive to stop pulling against the invisible chains and just be. This doesn’t mean that I won’t still have goals that might one day see me writing full time for myself, but much of that is out of my control at the moment. (Reference #3 above). Relaxing and just living the life I have will give me more time to spend enjoying my boys while they’re little instead of wishing them away, or wishing them quieter so I could worry more about everything holding me back.

I always look at a new year as a chance to do better. I don’t really make resolutions. As a former personal trainer, I’m well aware that those things are temporary. To me, the word “resolution” is a lot like the word “diet” … maybe only in the way we use it, not in its true definition. With that in mind, I admit that I’m going to TRY to honor my word for the year — SIMPLIFY.

What’s your word?

 

Green Guestroom Redux

Perhaps you recall my recently stenciled wall? green stencil guest wall

Maybe you will remember that in my enthusiasm, I ran out and purchased curtains that PERFECTLY matched the wall?? curtains Trellis

Well, I know it probably had you on pins and needles all through Christmas, wondering if my mother in law was living with that over-trellised monstrosity. Oh the horror! Oh, Calamity!

Well, not to worry. Just before she arrived, a new box came from Amazon. I had returned the green curtains — though I really did love them (just not in that room with the wall…) Together it was a tad too much. Together? Well, I venture to say they were MOCKING me.

But I found a nice calm grey shade that did the trick. It isn’t exciting, but with a green stenciled wall and bright pink accents left over from a whim you had five years ago, maybe you don’t need exciting. Maybe you just need grey.

So, without further ado. (What the hell is “ado” anyway?) Here is the still incomplete guest room…

Guest room grey curtains

Things that remain to be done:

  • Whitewash antique dresser
  • Update nightstand
  • Replace lampshade (lamp?) with something bigger — solid color
  • Hang a few things on the walls

The thing I’m terrible at is finding little knick knacky type things to accessorize. Suggestions welcome!

Lunchbox Weighs In – Christmas Toy Review

We can’t let this whole toy review thing go without tiny Lunchbox getting a say, right? (And PS, Lunchbox isn’t tiny anymore… he’s six. I know, I can’t believe it either).

SO…drum roll please. The winning toy for a six year old boy? (At least THIS six-year old boy…) Was…

Not a toy at all. He is in LOVE with the Chomposaurus Dino Chair! Check this thing out… He literally carries it all over the house. He even tried to sleep in it on Xmas. The good thing is that it is lightweight, so having him haul it up and down the stairs has been, while not ideal, not a big problem, either. I’ll have to weigh in later on durability, but it’s been a big winner at our house! :) chomp

Another big favorite was the Archiform building set. This thing can be reconstructed into a million configurations, and Lunchbox works on them while relaxing in his chompo-chair. We’ve put up and taken down several buildings since Xmas. My only complaint is that disassembly isn’t super easy, and the little tab in slot attachments have a tendency to snap if they are pulled too hard. That said, I think this will last us a while — good solid wood construction and big sturdy pieces for little hands. archiform

Another winner this year was the Bloco Toys Aqua and Pyro Dragon set. This was a construction project more than a toy, but it was exactly the right speed for Lunchbox. He needed some help, but he could put a lot of it together himself, which was great. bloco

I’m not gonna lie — both guys got a lot of stuff… but I’ll just talk about one more thing here. Lunchbox is a puzzling little character. And he likes puzzles. (so do I, so I’m always excited when there’s a new one to be done…) This year, he got the Janod Fireman Observation Puzzle. It was exactly the right speed for him, and it was extra cool because it was round. And, best of all, once it was assembled, it was a hidden picture puzzle! All the pictures appear around the edges of the puzzle and you have to find them in the middle once you’re done. Super fun! puzzle

I’ll add that I realize my boys are spoiled. The Major and I honestly don’t get them gifts… We usually will wrap up a couple things — never toys. This year we got them each a pair of winter shoes and a money bank… Not too exciting. We are blessed to have a big family that chooses to send gifts, and the little guys are learning to be grateful for what they have (though that is a hard lesson to teach… tips???)

I’ll leave off here… with a promise that I have rectified the over-green guestroom situation…  And a wish that all of your holidays were merry and bright!

Turbo’s Post-Christmas Toy Review

We have Christmased. Christmasted? There is no way to actually write that out. But I say it. It is done. We did it.

The gifts have been opened, and we’ve had three days of solid user testing–under harsh conditions, mind you–to report on.

Choosing toys for boys has always been both fun and challenging. I never know what to recommend to relatives to buy, because this stuff is all new to me. Not many of the toys available now were around when my brother and I were little, so it’s not like I have hands-on experience with stuff. And my guys aren’t quite big enough to come home from playdates with enough information about something they liked to actually ask for it.

So this year, every toy catalog that came home from October to December went straight into their hands. Armed with a pen, they circled and initialed everything that looked interesting to them. And then, in early December, I edited, creating a Pinterest board for each of them, and sent our army of relatives there to shop. It worked out pretty well, actually, even if it was a little labor intensive on my end.

I thought it might be helpful to offer up the end results — toy reviews from my little guys, who are pretty rough on toys. Today you get Turbo’s insights. Tomorrow, Lunchbox.

Best Xmas toy this year:
the Perplexus Original. perplexusTurbo is eight years old, and although this was sat upon and dented within twenty-four hours of being in his possession, it also kept his attention for long periods of time at a stretch, and he continues to pick it up and fiddle with it three days later. (Maybe this doesn’t seem impressive to you — maybe you have a different kind of eight year old boy than I do!)

Of course, we got lots of other cool stuff, too. This year Turbo wanted mostly things he could “work on” or do, which I’m all for. Except that Turbo wanted to do ALL the projects IMMEDIATELY. And needed help with most of them. So now we have many open boxes and pieces and parts scattered around. That’s a whole other issue, and not the fault of the toys.

 

This project, with the Major’s help, was completed right away:  The Smithsonian Motor-Works engine kit.

smithsonian motor worksI’m not exactly engine-savvy myself, but it was pretty cool.

He also received this: The Remote-Control Machines Animal Science Kit. remote control machinesI got to help with this one, and I have to tell you — the frustration level for the adult involved was pretty high. I’m a LEGO veteran, so even with that experience under my belt I found the instructions a little vague. That said, Turbo got up and danced around when we finally got our T-Rex’s legs put on correctly and he walked forward when Turbo pushed the button on the remote control. This one makes several animals (turns out the T-Rex is the hardest, of course), so I’m sure I have hours more fun ahead of me.🙂

And then there was the Physics Workshop Kit. physics workshopI have honestly not gotten into this one at all, but Turbo had a little engine built all by himself in a matter of an hour or so, so I’m going to venture that the instructions are pretty good, even if you’re eight!

Wishing for a rest

Since having children life has changed.

I know that is a trite thing to say. Of course it has, you moron, you might be thinking… And of course, it has changed in all the ways people talk about. I’m tired. I’m busy. Things are messier and more chaotic.

But I’m so much more driven. Because, you see, once you have children, you have goals. I have two goals, because I have two sons. My goals are similar. To see these small humans through successfully to adulthood. These goals are stressful. To me, at least. And they are manifested and pursued in different ways for each of my sons. And that is hard, too.

I look at parents with almost-grown boys and marvel. I shake my head and wonder if they know something I don’t. I wonder if they are wiser or calmer or more intuitive than I am, that they could have managed the enormous feat of raising a boy to near-adulthood successfully. I think of this especially when I see the almost-adult boy doing respectable, polite things. Being cordial and sweet, charming and gracious. I wonder about the people who raised him. How did they manage it?

I am trying. And I am terrified.

One of my sons makes it easier than the other. One of them seems content to just grow up, and I get to hug him and cuddle him and love him along the way. For him, it seems like growing up is just happening. The other wants to fight. He wants to fight me, he wants to fight his peers, but I think mostly he tries to fight himself. He wants to be bigger than he is, older and more mature. He wants to fight time and chronology. And growing up for him seems to be a struggle. And so it’s stressful for me. I lose patience, I get angry. And I constantly ask myself if I’m screwing it all up. If I’m screwing him up. If I’m doing anything right at all.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, this child-having. And I know that this stress will not leave me as long as they live in my house. And probably not then. But my goal right now is just to raise them to adulthood. To have two grown, stable men stand next to me and call me “mom.” To know that they are secure and strong, and that I have met my goal – that I can finally hand the responsibility over to them. That I can rest.

And sometimes, I swear, all I want to do is lie down.