Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Darlings

Is it happening where you are?  Did it happen already?

Merry Christmas, everyone.  May your day be filled of wonderful things like peace and joy and time spent with family and friends and children who all get along and maybe a new phone or laptop or a new car or a huge diamond ring that I would like every year thanks.  Or a tiara.

May God's blessings reach each and every one of you today and in the coming New Year.

Have a wonderful day.

Man, I can't wait to take this tree down.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Break

We're on break.  

It's a break from school, a break from work, a break from having to be up at a certain hour so you can pack your lunch WHY HAVEN'T YOU PACKED YOUR LUNCH THE BUS WILL SOON BE HERE.

For me, it's not much of a break.  My break is full of things to do: all the normal things and then some.

I still get up early, still manage other people's lives.  Still shop for food, do laundry, pay the bills, prepare meals, sort through the mail, keep my eye on the calendar, clean the house.

Normal things have been put off or re-prioritized to make room for holiday activities.  In the past month I've gift-shopped, gift-wrapped, planned meals, attended holiday functions, and made arrangements for two different families to visit two separate times for two nights at a time.   I hope this year I haven't forgotten anything like in years past when I overlooked crucial things that were not unnoticed.  I’m sure no one will notice that there’s a fresh layer of dust on all of our Christmas decorations, adding to previous years’ dust when that same chore goes undone.  I hope there’s enough toilet paper this year.

It's not a sad story.  It's a joyful one.  So many people don't have what I have.  But it causes me strain and stress.  The guilt I feel for complaining about my blessings only adds to the weight.

I feel it in my tightening chest, the worry about money spent, the conflict over loving the holidays and wishing they were over already.  And it shows.  It shows in my snippy attitude, my loss of patience, the lines in my forehead that never really smooth out.  

But what also shows is the joy in the faces of my children, the smiles of loved ones that greet me when I open the door.  It's my husband being around to carry the weight of the chores that never end.  Our relatives bringing food and telling stories and watching movies and playing video games in our living room.  It's talking and hanging out in sweats and drinking coffee until the jitters set in.  It’s ripping open packages and stuffing garbage bags full of Christmas wrapping.  It’s saying thank you and eating too much and being grateful for time spent together.

It’s realizing that I am loved and despite the madness and the sour feelings, that I am part of something bigger than me.

It’s realizing that it’s just a break. 

And that this break is good.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

On Parenting

It’s not laying down the law and expecting obedience.  
It’s constant conversation.

It’s not he’s your brother, you have to love him.  
It’s acknowledging that sometimes he will piss you off, and you need to respond appropriately.

It’s not this is how you do it.  
It’s let me see how you do it.

It’s not perfection.  
It’s messes, and mistakes, and seeing the wonder – and pain – of learning.

It’s not do what I say, not what I do.  
It’s I’ve made mistakes, and so will you.

It’s not listen, or else.  
It’s love all the time, even when she is being unlovable.

It’s not this is how it will be.  
It’s fluidity – this works today, but maybe not tomorrow.

It’s not I know better.  
It's this is what I know.  

It’s not I know what you are going through, and this is how you get through it.  
It’s let’s figure this out together.  

It’s not my way or the highway.  
It’s noting the differences between you and between them and understanding both.

It’s being okay with the differences.

It’s worrying that the differences will drive you – and them – apart.

It’s praying daily that love will triumph.

It’s doing your best for today.

It’s having faith that you have done your best.

It’s not easy.

No one said it would be. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Master of the Universe

For years I failed. 

I tried to succeed in every way I thought possible.  I thought up different ways to do things, and began each new attempt with a vulnerability that was easily beaten down by the harsh realities of this world.  The enemy knew my weaknesses, and it used them against me time and time again.  I was tossed repeatedly into the vortex of defeat.

When my own resources were eliminated, I turned to others for guidance.  I read and studied and appealed to people and references that I thought would give me the knowledge that I needed to prevail.  Every suggestion, lesson and helpful conversation was a new beginning, a new promise.  I tried them all.  Alas, my faith was dashed further as my ineptitude soured any and all good ideas.

Repeated failures chipped away at my confidence.  My self-worth disappeared as I examined my steps again and again.  What was I doing wrong?  Everything, it seemed.  I was missing a crucial piece of the puzzle, and it was hidden away.  I was not meant to discover it. 

On the surface, my deficiencies were revealed to others.  I accepted them as part of my makeup, the very fiber of my being.  It is difficult to look in the mirror when your faith has crumbled, and I’d be lying if I said that I found the strength to look at my own image each day.  The depth of my failure and how it affected my war-torn soul were unknown to most people.  Only close intimates knew my misery.  Perhaps the brightest spots were those who accepted me even as they witnessed the agony of my collapse. They are the true heroes.  Thank you, family and friends.  You know who you are.

After a while, I stopped trying.  My efforts had weakened me. The pain was too much, the disappointment too heavy.  I acknowledged my future as a bleak one. Any shred of joy slipped from my grasp as I hung up my hopes and dreams, and I looked forward with a resignation that from now on others would have to pull me along in their wake.

Then one day, upon waking, my mind reached into a small crevice of consciousness that was once smoothed over like a newly cemented sidewalk.  From that small crack came the hint of an idea.  It was a new one that I hadn’t noticed yet.  Could this mark a turning point for me?  Is this my last revelation?  I was afraid to believe, but the small and steady light held me in its warm radiance.

I swung my feet around the bed and onto the floor. The excitement of the possibility of success filled my spirit once again.  Light-headed and high on hope, I drew my full strength up from the soles of my feet and the bottom of my heart, holding the glow of that idea in my minds’ eye as I went about the mundane tasks of the day. 

When the time was right I put the plan in motion.  I knew not where my courage came from - I can only guess that it was an otherworldly source.  When I finished carrying out the plan, I tasted its brilliance.  My success was unfettered.  My desolation immediately filled with unbounded delight and absolute triumph. At once, my failures were erased, wisping away like a dream.  My self was restored to its intended position.  How comprehensive was my absolution!  It washed over me like a cleansing rain.

My success must be shared; it is the only way to  honor its power, no matter the wretchedness of its origin.

I’ve seen the Promised Land, and it has a name.

Crisco Baking Sticks, Butter flavored.  Never again will I attempt to bake without them.  My self-worth is found within their foil-wrapped majesty.

That’s right.  Today I experienced chocolate chip cookie baking success for the first time.  I never tasted manna from heaven.  Likely you haven’t either, so let’s just say that these cookies are darn close.

Watch out, Martha Stewart. 

I’m coming.


Disclosure:  Crisco did not compensate me for this article, though I wish they would, and soon.  
All opinions, tragic failures, and mighty, mighty successes are my own.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Old School Blogging, Holiday Edition

I am thrilled to be hooking up with Elaine of The Miss Elaine-ous Life and Kir of The Kir Corner for this month’s Holiday Edition of Old School Blogging!  And yes, I know it should be “linking up” and not “hooking up” but I can’t pass up any opportunity to be a little bit inappropriate.  You’re welcome.

If you’re unaware of Old School Blogging, it’s where bloggers revive blogging memes that went around years ago when blogging was in its infancy and I was still giddy about finding all my old high school and college buddies on Facebook, whenI spent most of my time filling out questionnaires and passing around Facebook notes.  Maybe you aren’t aware of Old School Blogging or Facebook notes at all and this is your first time with old school internet anything.  To this I say welcome, Mademoiselle.  You’re in for a treat, and by treat I mean that you are about to read some more about me.  Irresistible, right?  No?  Okay then.

So how do you feel about the holidays?  Do you love ‘em?  Hate ‘em?  Do the constant shopping, holiday music, insane expectations, endless celebrations, and kids hopped up on sugar and Santa make you a little bit crazy like a fox? 

I love the holidays and all the stuff that goes along with them, although I would like it if the period of celebrating was extended and we either got the whole month of December off from regular life things or that we took two months to celebrate, because is it just me or does the holiday stuff require at least 8 weekends?  Or am I a slacker who needs way too much time to do everything my goodness why does it take me so long to do everything?

Want to know more about how I feel about the holidays?  Read on.  Welcome to Old School Blogging, Holiday style.

First things first: One Holy Night or Eight Crazy Ones? Do you Celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or both?

Christmas.  We celebrate Christ’s birth all done up with a pretty bow and a suspect Christmas tree.  We also believed in Santa once upon a time, which was cool when your kids are little because OMG the magic but then they get older and smarter and Santa becomes this big ol’ lie that I simultaneously perpetuated and hated myself for.  Amazingly, my kids never hated me for all the lying when they eventually found out the truth and yours probably won’t either, so stop worrying about it.

Twelve years old, and Santa still makes him smile.  

Peppermint or Chocolate?  Chocolate is the champion of the world.  Don’t try to appease me with Chocolate Mint anything.  Although I will snarf a bag of Mint Milanos if we’re out of chocolate chips.  Don’t tempt me.  I will.

Sing us into the Holiday Season.  What is your favorite carol this time of year?  I love a good jazzy Sleigh Ride (no lyrics, please) and the Johnny Mathis classic We Need A Little Christmas.  If you want to see me cry like a baby, come with me to church on Christmas Eve and wait until all the lights go out and we raise our candles while singing Silent Night.  I pretty much live for this moment every Christmas.

Tell us about a favorite family or personal holiday tradition.  A personal holiday tradition is where I lock myself in my bedroom and crank out the holiday wrapping.  I love gift wrapping.  No bows, no fancy tags – just a pair of scissors, tape, a couple of rolls of wrapping paper and some Food Network to get me through it all.  Our family always helps out in the nursery at church on Christmas Eve.  All the kids wear fancy clothes!  It’s the cutest thing ever.

Come on, you remember your favorite Christmas or Hanukkah gift.  Tell us all about it.  I am so not a gift person, and ask for nothing for Christmas, so this is hard.  One year my husband wrote each of our kids and me a letter, and put them inside beautiful wooden keepsake boxes.  It was very touching and meaningful.  He continued to write letters to us, and we store them in the boxes!  Another time I got a gift card to the liquor store.  I wonder why more people don’t do this.

That magical moment: your favorite scene from a holiday movie.  Because I’m from the area where Jimmy Stewart is from, it’s in my DNA to consider It’s A Wonderful Life the best holiday movie ever.  That part of the movie where the gym floor opens up and all the party-goers fall into the pool?  Hilarious.  You thought I was going to pick the scene at the end, didn’t you?  Well, yeah.  That part’s good too.

Kissing under the mistletoe.  Who do you hope is standing underneath (we know it’s normally your spouse, but if it did not have to be, who would you choose)?  My love of Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale are well-documented here, so it would have to be one of them.  Or both.  Yeah, both.

Swans a swimming, lords a leaping, golden rings: which gift of the 12 days of Christmas would you like most?  The golden rings.  ALWAYS the golden rings.  Hello, there are five.

Play Secret Santa.  What inappropriate gift would you love to give this year?  A date with Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale.  To myself, of course.  Okay, I'll stop now. 

Martha Stewart or the Grinch? What is your decorating style? I’d love to say Martha Stewart.  But alas, it’s probably more Grinchy than I’d like to admit.  I am bound by my own creative limitations and the fact that all of our holiday decorations are old and a jumble of styles.  We have a patchwork Christmas tree skirt.  Need I say more?

I'm aware that I need help.

What is ONE WORD that defines the holiday season for you? (Examples: Believe/Wonder/Bah Humbug?)  How about frantic?

 If Santa could assure its delivery, what’s the first thing on your holiday wish LIST?  I need a new car.  I know it’s selfish, but in addition to the fact that there’s always a chance that my car won’t start on any given day, now I have reason to believe that the heater is on the fritz.  Which is so cute given that the last time the climate control needed to be fixed was the last time it was 100 degrees outside and the air conditioning stopped working.

So there you have it, my Old School Blog Holiday Edition!  Click on over to The Miss Elaine-ous Life or The Kir Corner to read more old school blogs, and then write your own and hook up with them, too.  Don’t forget to tweet it out using #OSBlog while you’re at it, and have a wonderful time celebrating this holiday season!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Screw Meaningful. I Want Pretty.

I do not love all the ornaments on our Christmas tree.

Every year it is inevitable that someone will get a load of our Christmas tree and deem it “interesting.”

Interesting can mean a flurry of things, but most likely one of two: 1. The tree is so beautiful that you insure it from theft by Martha Stewart herself, or 2) The tree is so ugly that at the slightest glance it draws in your gaze and burns your retinas, accomplishing two divergent ends: blinding you and saving you from further harm.

Our tree falls somewhere in the lower-middle end of the beauty spectrum.  The hodge-podge of ornaments on the thing and the dark-light effect it displays due to new portions of the lights dimming each year (it’s a pre-lit artificial tree, kids) guarantee that our tree will not be featured on anyone’s Most Beautiful Christmas Tree list, ever.

I blame my husband, who is in charge of our tree each year, and in addition to his inability to change with the times and unwillingness to adapt traditions, also has no eye for design or what looks nice at all in the history of the world.  I know my judgments are harsh.  Let me give you a life lesson: the truth is harsh, and in our house this means that our Christmas tree is ugly.  But he does try, and he doesn’t complain, which is more than anyone can say about me on this matter.  I love him for both of these things.  Let’s move on.

We were November newlyweds, which meant that from Christmas Tree One we had a fully decorated tree.  We received many ornament gifts; no less than 89 were bride/groom ornaments, and of those, 99% of them were Barbie and (one) Ken.

Let’s talk more about Barbie.  Because I loved Barbies and played with them until I was too old to play with Barbies (I was 14), I received a Barbie ornament each year.  My mother gifted them to me when I moved out because she is thoughtful and - I realize now - highly intelligent.  We display 157 of them, each one cheaper and uglier than the last.  Because my daughter loves Barbies and is on the fast track to also being awkwardly too old to play with them, I inexplicably buy her a Barbie ornament every year.  Up on the tree it goes.  Our tree is a veritable whorehouse of Barbies, tempting the one (always newly married) Ken each year with their unnaturally open-eyed stares and plastic ball gowns.

Fair distribution of unsightliness across family members means that our son has his own collection of less-than-appealing ornaments.  Let’s discuss the ugly factor of Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Yoda, and various spacecraft, which includes but is not limited to: TIE Fighter, TIE Interceptor, Land Speeder, and Star Destroyer.  Star Wars bears no resemblance to Christmas in the slightest, yet we have them all.  Yesterday I saw a new Jabba the Hutt ornament at the mall.  I put my foot down at putting that snot monster on my tree.

I’m probably the biggest Spongebob Squarepants fan out here, but I do not want him on my Christmas Tree.  Spongebob is ugly times a billion.  Same goes for Blues Clues, Jimmy Neutron, Barney, My Little Pony, Elmo, and whatever licensed character my children loved for a year and we bought as an ornament that they care for not at all today.  *Editor’s note: This is the first year that I was able to convince my husband to leave some of them off the tree.  Little victories.

We have Disney-themed ornaments: The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King, Disney Princesses (joining Barbie in her ever-growing harem), Winnie-the-Pooh.  We have Scarlett O’Hara and Humphrey Bogart.  Metal tractors and cars.  A whole slew of Victorian-themed ornaments that would be pretty on a Victorian-themed tree, notsomuch on ours.  We have a football.  We have a bear playing football.  We have two hundred Penn.State.Santas.

And we have every single ornament that our children have ever made from preschool to now, glued and crayoned and faded and wrinkled.  If the hanger comes detached, we just stick it in among the branches.  Because they are ugly, we hang them on the back side of the tree, which becomes the front side to everyone who sees it through the window.

There’s so much potential for a beautiful tree every year.  Every year, when I take it down, I combine themed ornaments in the hopes that next year when I say “leave that box in the basement,” I will not have to look at them.  And every year, I find them all hanging up on the tree, my wishes falling on deaf ears.  After all, these ornaments are meaningful.  Each one tells a story, Andrea.  Stop being such a Scrooge.

Sigh.  I’d like to think that Scrooge at least knew what looked nice.

Note the dark spots.  Try not to see them now.
Welcome to my nightmare.

It's so nice when your neighbors can see the beautiful things in your home.

A wide shot of three cherished objects: Darth Vader, a Winnie the Pooh frame of us in younger years featuring my worst haircut, and the right half of a plastic reindeer playing basketball.  Classic.

Scarlett O'Hara holding court with something scribbled.  Maybe holly.  
The white face is an arctic seal!  Adorable.

Who else besides us knows that Sleeping Beauty is also a tanning bed addict?

Look how pretty.

Never saw one Humphrey Bogart movie.

Et tu, Yoda?

Yeah, I don't know.

I don't know about you, but the Boogieman and a skeleton dressed up as Santa SCREAMS Christmas.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #3: A favorite Christmas ornament.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Snow Day

Yesterday was a snow day around here; we got 5 inches over the course of the morning and afternoon.  It was a good kind of snow – gentle and steady, piling up on our decks and roofs and limbs of trees like powdered sugar.

It was enough snow that the kids had off school but my husband was able to drive to work with no issues; when he left before dawn it wasn’t snowing yet.  Same with getting home at the end of the day - the later commuters must have stayed home with the kids so by afternoon, the roads were just wet and he cruised home a half an hour quicker than normal.

I cleaned and baked cookies while the kids played with their friends outside.  They did some sledding and snowball fighting, and made their way indoors to warm living rooms and hot chocolate when their noses and fingers got cold.  I admit that maybe my snow day was more peaceful than others, because my kids were out of the house all day.  Other moms dried their wet things so they could be shooed out again into the snow.

They came home to cookies and warm baths; my son’s clothes were covered in mud and I asked no questions but threw his clothes in the wash.  It only mattered that he was out there, enjoying a day off with built in entertainment that fell from the sky in the form of thousands of snowflakes.

We said no to our evening activities, scared off by the threat of icy roads caused by rapidly plummeting temperatures and encouraged by the coziness of our home.  We ate dinner and played video games and watched TV and made Christmas cards instead.  We went to bed a little earlier than usual, ready to tuck this day in and move onto the next.

We all needed a snow day.


Monday, December 9, 2013

The Liebster Award

This past weekend I was catching up on blog reading, both my favorite pastime and my family’s least favorite, because it means that I will be sitting with a laptop IN MY LAP for hours.  And hours.  And who can find the food around here when mom has her nose glued to a screen all afternoon?

And evening?

Sometimes, all that blog reading pays off, and by sometimes I mean every time, because bloggers are some of the best writers, and the reason why most of them are ‘just’ bloggers and not household name authors is because they are distracted by other things in their lives that demand attention nearly every hour of every day, and who has time to hammer out a tome when there are dollars to be made, noses to be wiped, and daily fistfights to break up? (Oh, wait.  That last one’s just me, isn’t it?)

And sometimes all that blog reading pays off because you make actual connections with the people behind the screens, and you learn a bit about their real lives, and they learn about yours.  And you find that bloggers are pretty awesome people.

And not just because they give you awards.

Which happened to me.  Lisa of The Meaning of Me passed a Liebster Award my way about three weeks ago.  And I just read about it this weekend.  Look, I never said that I do my favorite pastime all that often. After high-fiving myself for winning an award and thanking Lisa a bit gushingly and embarrassingly, I did some light internet research and learned that The Liebster Award (liebster meaning dearest in German) is a meme that has circled the blogisphere for a while and it is designed to spread love and support between bloggers, to encourage each other and say hey, I like you, keep doing what you’re doing.  I also learned that The Liebster is a virtual award and not a diamond-encrusted tiara that would go quite beautifully with a variety of outfits anchored by yoga pants.

Like most awards, the Liebster is not without responsibility, and as I march to accept it, I must also provide something in return.  A list.  Three lists, actually.  Buckle up, kids.  Here they come.

I don't know about this 'less than 200 followers' qualification.
Surely it is true for me, but for others, I can't really say.
I chose to omit that detail when choosing future award winners.

11 Facts About Me

1. I got the tip of my thumb cut off when I was three.  It looks weird.  Stop staring.

2. If someone asked me to move to France tomorrow, I’d do it immediately without hesitation.  I have also brainwashed my children to agree with me.  I have romantic notions about owning a lavender farm in Provence.  I can’t explain it.

3. I keep a list of books and movies I want to read and see.  It is over two hundred titles long.  I read about three books a year and watch the same movies over and over again.

4. I am against having pets.  I think all animals should live outside.

5. My left leg is a quarter inch shorter than my right.  Between that and my thumb, I kind of feel like I should carry a sideshow participant card around with me.

6. I read Vogue magazine from cover to cover each month.  It has a special place on my kitchen desk, and no one else is allowed to touch it.

7. I pray for famous people who are in turmoil to get their act together.  I mean, I actually pray for them.  I’m looking at you, Lindsay Lohan.

8. I have comically high standards.  While my husband is researching cars to replace my eight-year-old Altima, I’m pricing Range Rovers.  We live a one-income, used-minivan lifestyle.

9. I remember odd things like telephone numbers, song lyrics and old friends’ birthdays, yet I can’t remember conversations that I had yesterday.

10. My husband went to college at Penn State.  He loves it with every fiber of his being.  I hate Penn State with perhaps the same fervor.

This is how my husband "decorates" our home in the name of Penn State.  Hideous.

11. I have an Elizabeth Taylor-level love of extravagant and ostentatious jewelry.

11 Questions to Answer (from Lisa)

1. If you had to choose, would you rather give up your sense of sight or your sense of hearing?  Hearing.  I like it quiet, and while I would mourn the music and the sound of my loved one’s voices, I’d rather not hear than not see.  I have trouble hearing anyway due to some overzealous headphones use back in my teens, so I’m on my way there anyway.

2. What is your favorite time of day? Why? Early morning, suckers.  It’s so quiet.

3. What is your favorite article of clothing? A pair of jeans I’ve had for a few years.  I am aware that I wear them a lot.  Like five times a week a lot, sometimes.

4. What household chore would you rather not do ever again? All of them.  I hate cleaning up after people.

5. Who is your hero? Why? This is so hard for me.  I don’t know.  I’ve never been a hero worshipper.  I always looked up to my mother, because she is confident and clear and decisive.  These are three things that I am not.

6. How do you like your steak cooked? Medium.  I like it pink.

7. Describe the worst/weirdest haircut you’ve ever had.  I’ve had a few.  The weirdest was this short layered bob with super short baby bangs.  My husband cried when I came home from the salon with that one.  The worst was the Millenial Mom cut: short and layered on top and the sides, longer in the back and a little bit spiky all over.  Oh my goodness, why didn’t anyone tell me how horrible it was? I’m holding everyone around me responsible forever.

It's so bad, I can't even show my face.

8. What would you like to be known for? Being a good person.  Having a sense of humor. Raising fabulously successful children. Writing the best novel in the history of the world.  See also #8 above.

9. Dog person or cat person? Cat.  Dogs are way too needy and annoying.  Stop slobbering on me.  Stop jumping on me.  Stop barking, for the love of everything holy and pure!! 

10. Which is better – the book or the movie? Usually the book.   Did you see the Twilight movies?  OMG so painful.  

11 Leibster Award Winners (chosen by me)

1. Jessica Clemmer at Finding My Voice

3. Erin of One-Sided Momma

4. Maureen of Scoops of Joy

5. Jeannette of Tiny Rotten Peanuts

6. Dawn of The Dawnie Project

8. Julie at By Any Other Name

10. Rebecca at Rosey Rebecca

11. Jennifer at Dancing in the Rain

Congratulations, bloggers!  You all have won this prestigious award!  I hope you’re reading, and that you do it.  If you’re not on this list, you can still pull a Liebster.  After all, the Liebster award is really just arbitrary.  There’s no real award apart from being chosen to do it.  Which might not even be a good thing in your eyes.

Either way, this Liebster business is no joke, people.  It’s a challenge.  And I don’t really know if any of these bloggers have done it before, or if they will pass it on.  I hope they will for their readers’ sakes, including me.  Here are the questions I would like answered:

11 Questions for Liebster Award Winners

1. What embarrasses you?

2. How much do you swear around your kids, if you have kids?  If you don’t have kids, how much do you swear in general?

3. Do you speak a foreign language?  Why or why not?

4. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?  It’s okay if you say “right where I am now.”  I won’t judge you for being boring.

5. Outside of your family and yourself, what is your biggest love?

6. What is one thing you are terrible at?

7. Your dream job.

8. What is your biggest sociopolitical concern?

9.  Where and when would you go if you could travel through time?

10. Are you adventuresome?

11. Creatively, what are you best at?  What are you worst at?

Whew!  Thanks for hanging in with me, friends.  Let me know if you do a Liebster, so I know that you’ve passed the torch along! Happy Liebstering!

Friday, December 6, 2013

We Danced

We met at the YMCA.  We were three, maybe four.  Little girls take dance classes at that age because they are adorable in little pink leotards and ballet slippers and shiny patent tap shoes and then, like now, moms will do just about anything to get out of the house with their children.

Our class was small and we spent one hour a week every school year in that second floor room together with Miss Rita and her cropped hair and stern instructions to point, stretch, turn those knees out.

My knees didn’t turn out.  But Erin’s did.  She was a natural athlete and always a better dancer than me.  I had knobby knees and turned-in toes and never really knew how to move my body gracefully.

Our moms became friends as we danced.  I don’t remember when they were asked to stop watching our lessons.  They still maintain that it was because they giggled too much, but the important thing was that they spent that hour each week getting to know each other.

We didn’t live in the same town, so we didn’t go to the same school, but as Erin and I grew up we had sleepovers at each other’s houses.  Spending so much time in each other’s homes – sleeping in the same bed and giggling into the night, eating dinner with each other’s families, meeting extended family members, wearing each other’s clothes – gave our friendship an intimacy that just doesn’t happen with school chums.  I shaved my legs for the first time sitting on the edge of Erin’s bathtub.  I watched my first horror movie in her living room.  I made salad for the first time in her mother’s kitchen.  I wrote most of my diary entries behind the closed door of her bedroom, listening to Wham! and making prank phone calls and swooning over the poster of Rob Lowe that she had hanging on her wall.  We shared books, crushes, fears, and secrets.  We were building a history.

As the years advanced so did our friendship, and so did our dance lessons.  I struggled to keep up.  Miss Rita was always frustrated with my inability to properly turn out my knees.  I had adequate flexibility but none of the agility of movement ballet required.  Erin excelled.  She was into sports as well, tennis and basketball and softball.  One year she was moved up a level in dance, and we were no longer in the same class.  I switched dance schools.

Our friendship was firmly rooted by then, and we danced when we saw each other, sometimes sharing what we learned in our classes, most of the time remembering the moves to Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance we learned as kids, or making up our own.

We’d spend summers either swimming at my house in the country or walking the neighborhoods around her house in town.  Once we met by surprise on vacation and spent the week together.  We each had other groups of friends, and we were accepted into each others’ circles and got to know them as tweens, then teens.  Dance lessons were long behind us – I don’t remember exactly when we both stopped taking them.  In high school we had our last sleepover.

We grew up and away as people do, going to college and finding careers and making new friends.   Erin and I see each other sporadically now, living away from each other but keeping up through our moms who built their friendship alongside ours.  When we see each other, bringing our own families with us, we laugh and talk and hug and it feels like no time has passed since we were girls.

When we danced.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #2: A childhood friend.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

DIY Mac and Cheese on the Stove

The following is a true story.

Once upon a time there was a girl.  The girl loved macaroni and cheese.

Throughout her life, the girl ate this dish in every configuration: the kind in the blue box with the powdered orange cheese, the kind in the yellow box with shells and creamy sauce, the frozen kind, the baked kind with bread crumb topping, the kind you make in the slow cooker.  She just loved it, and would dare say that if stranded on a desert island with the choice of only one food to eat, she would choose macaroni and cheese.

Then one day, serendipity paid a visit.

She was on vacation with some girlfriends, and one night at a restaurant, she and her friend (shout-out to Crystal, hey girrrrl) ate some macaroni and cheese that knocked their socks off.

They talked about it.  They drooled over it.  They went back to the restaurant* and had it again.

During the same vacation, she and her friends were watching a local cooking show while lounging away the afternoon drinking margaritas in their pajamas.  On the show was featured one dish: Stovetop Mac and Cheese.  Their ears and eyes perked up as they realized that this dish was uncannily similar to the one they had enjoyed earlier.  The steps were simple, as were the ingredients.  I can do this, thought the girl.

The girl came home from bacchanalia vacation and as life took a firm grip on her, she promptly forgot about the coveted dish.  Months later, while preparing dinner menus for her family, she remembered the stovetop mac and cheese and its mouthwatering taste.

She did some research and found a couple of recipes that she combined and adapted to approach the loveliness that was the dish that she had loved all those moons before.

And now, she is sharing it with you. 

I mean, I am.  Get ready, kids, because it’s magic time.

Macaroni and Cheese on the Stove


3½  cups of water.  Measure it, because you will not be draining any liquid.  Oh yeah, I said that.  No draining, people.  For real.

1¼ cup light cream or half and half.  Are you someone who knows the difference between these two?  Because I don’t.  In my world, they are interchangeable.  I don’t want to know the difference.

1 lb. macaroni.  You know what I like to use?  The large corkscrews.  Bang.  You can use whatever kind you want, but look - if you use spaghetti noodles or egg noodles because you are contrary like that, then you are a rebel in a bad way because this is just not going to turn out well for you.

Salt.  For flavor.  You may be a spicy thing, but your personality alone cannot flavor this dish. Trust.

2½  T. flour.  How else are you going to thicken the sauce?  Come on, now.

1½  T. Dijon mustard.  Yep.  The fancy kind.  Just go with the smooth, not the one with all the seeds in it.  I like that kind too, but now is not the time to get it out.  Save that one for when you want to have a nice ham sandwich or something.  You know what would go well with this dish?   Ham sandwiches.

Black pepper.  This is where I get fancy.  I use fresh ground pepper.  There’s something about the big grounds of pepper that I really get into.  Conversely, they like to get into my teeth.  See also: what is guaranteed to be sticking in my teeth every single time my husband takes my picture.

1½ c. milk.  Because half and half or cream isn’t enough dairy, and we haven’t even added the cheese yet.

1 c. shredded aged white cheddar cheese.  Don’t skimp here.  Get the goods.  Shred it yourself and stop being so lazy all the time.  Watch the fingers.  No one wants your fingerprints shredded into their mac.

1 c. shredded swiss or emmental or gruyere cheese.  Go ahead.  Break out the furs and diamonds and get fancy here.  You are only making the world’s most delicious food.  Pick one or two and do it up.  I use emmental cheese when I can find it because it rocks my world.  In my area it's kind of hard to find, even with all the fancy grocery stores trying to outdo each other.  You know where I can usually find it? Walmart. Take that, fancies.

2 to 4 oz. chopped green chiles.  HELLO!  SNAP!  That just slapped you across the face, didn’t it?  Never saw it coming.

All the ingredients, sitting in a pretty little row.  Do you like my flour canister?  It's a plastic bag!

Okay, so here’s what you do.


[Note: when I type any word with “-tion” at the end, it comes out “-tino.”  I like it better, and am starting a revolutino to change all “-tion” words to “-tino” words.  Who’s with me?]

1. Put the water and cream in a large pot and heat it over medium heat until it is hot but not boiling.  Stir in macaroni and a little bit of salt, like ¼ to ½ t.  Cover and reduce heat a little and simmer until macaroni is almost tender, about 7 minutes.  I don’t like mushy macaroni so I am a little nutsy about this timing part.  I’m always reaching into the pot and burning myself on hot macaroni.  You might do that too if you’re a chump like me, but I don’t recommend it.

This is the part where it will threaten to boil over about a million times.  Don't let it.  Take control.

2. Whisk flour, mustard, and black pepper into the milk, and pour it into the pot.  Stir.  Pump up the heat a little and stir and cook until the sauce is thickened, maybe like 5-8 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat and dump in the cheese and green chiles.  You don’t have to drain the chiles or anything.  I use a whole 4 oz. can because I love green chiles.  My kids hate them, but I don't even care one bit about their needs at this point.  Stir to combine.  Be the boss that you are. 

4. Season to taste with salt.

All I can think of at the stage is: "I'm gonna have to clean the pot and it's gonna be a nightmare."

5. Eat. My favorite instructino.

And that is it.  Deliciousness on the stovetop, and you didn’t even need to strain yourself or the macaroni, HA!  I think this would be tasty with a melted butter and bread crumb topping and baked in the oven for a few minutes, but I have never done that.  If you do, please let me know if I should bother.  If you live through the tasting, that is.  You might die and go to heaven from the sheer ecstasy of it.

I sprinkled chives on top just because.

I almost forgot!  The ending to my true story!


The girl ate this new mac and cheese regularly and gained ten pounds in two months.

The End.


*5th and Wine, Scottsdale, Arizona.  OMG so good.  Have the bruschetta while you're there for the mac.

This recipe is adapted from 5th and Wine’s menu and a recipe from the Dairy Farmers of Canada Real Cream that I found at


Guess what?  I'm syndicated on BlogHer today! 

Cruise on over and read my post about visiting my son's class 
and the resulting ego blow and humiliation.  

It's a fun time - see you there!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Existential Crisis, Party of One?

Going home for the holidays is an exercise in memory-keeping for me.  Here is the living room where we opened countless Christmas gifts.  Here is the garage step that used to wobble and make my heart stop when I descended.  Here is the closet where Grandma always kept her sewing kit, the drawer that keeps all the old pictures.

My nostalgia extends to my husband’s family, where the memories are newer for me, but no less poignant.  We watch a fiftieth wedding anniversary video, compiled of snapshots and moving music.  The black and white photos and the life stories they bookmark fill my eyes with tears.  These are other people’s memories, yet my throat catches as I watch with people who remember them.

We come home, my mind and heart filled with family and love and a little bit of desperation to get away from the fullness of living rooms and kitchens and back to my own spaces and the present.

I look in the mirror and there I am.  I have color treated hair not for style, but to cover the white that is swiftly taking over.  It intrigues me.  My mother’s hair is white.  My grandfather’s hair was white for years before he died.  I am carrying the torch for white haired people in my family.

But, no.  My hair is brown.  All those pictures.  I have brown hair.  I am the only daughter in my family, the girl who got the tip of her thumb cut off in the garage door when she was three, the one who got lost at the Farm Show.  The one who looked more like her cousins than her own brother.  I have brown hair.  Now everyone says I look like my mother. 

I feel like I did in my parents’ house growing up, but the mirror reflects a different person.  My memories do not match the image I see.  Today my neck hurts almost constantly, a pain from some over-zealous exercising done almost a year ago.  The girl in my memories has no pain.  As a kid I don’t remember feeling pain, nor hunger, nor cold.  Yet I tell my kids to eat, be careful, put on a coat, you’ll catch a cold.

When did this happen?  In my mind I am me.  Out of my mind I am their mother, his wife, their daughter, their sister, their friend.  To them I am out of my mind.  To me I am me.

It’s just life, they say.  It happens to everyone.

I guess it does.

Once a brooder, always a brooder.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving Remix

Happy Thanksgiving.

I've said before that I feel bad for turkeys on Thanksgiving not because we eat them, but because they don't know how delicious they are.

Today, instead of feeling bad for turkeys, I will try to focus on the things in life that I am thankful for: the blessings of home, loved ones, and the beautiful world that we live in, the laughter of my children, the health of my family and friends, the forgiving and wonderful God who made me.

And turkeys.  I can't help but love them.

**I first published this post way back on Thanksgiving 2011.  Those were the days.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holy Crap

So Thanksgiving’s tomorrow, and everyone’s excited about feeding their faces and eating the heck out of a turkey and some stuffing, because on this special day, gluttony is acceptable.

Except in my world.  Here in Andrealand, gluttony has been acceptable for a few weeks now. 

Seriously.   The day it got a little chilly and I put on some blue jeans, I announced that sugar, bread, booze, and sodium were the new main food groups.

And since then I've gained like 800 pounds.

Now obviously, I’m exaggerating.  A person cannot gain 800 pounds in a few weeks.  But I have to admit that at the rate I’m going, it’s like I’m trying.

I’m not sure what changed exactly, but it’s like a little switch in my brain flipped and at mealtimes instead of warning “Alert!  You are full!  NO MORE EATING!” it crooned in my ear, all silky smooth and seductive-like, “Hey girl.  Everyone loves a healthy booty now.  Have another cinnamon roll.”

Every.  Time.

But you guys.  I hit the wall.  None of my clothes fit anymore.  Well, okay, I’m not exactly going around in the nude.  But if you look closely, elastic and lycra feature heavily in all my wardrobe choices.  At least three people I know are doing or have just finished a detox/dietary cleanse.  I never knew so many at once to do this before, when I had a handle on things.  Someone is telling me something.  Maybe God is saying “Okay, Andrea, you’ve shown me that you’re thankful for all the food I’ve provided.  It’s time to settle down.”  It’s a wonder that I heard anything over the chomping.

And I have to admit, I’m not altogether thankful that this is all going down the week of the biggest eating tradition in the history of our noble country.

But this Thanksgiving, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say: ENOUGH.  I can’t keep going in this direction.  I feel terrible.  My body hates me.

So I’ve decided to cut back a little.  I’m getting a head start on my springtime health kick.  I’m doing my New Year’s resolution to be more mindful of what goes in my mouth a little early this year. 

I feel good about it.  I hope my body responds in rapid succession, because cutting back on eating during the holidays is a Capital S Stupid idea.  But I can do it.  Heck, I’ve even been known to do a cleanse once upon a time.  That was fun.

So wish me luck and shoot me a prayer or two, if you’re that type of person who prays for another to be less of a hog.  I’m totally thankful for it.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Good Morning, Brain

The other day my husband said to me, “I’m impressed at your commitment to getting up so early every day.  I hate doing it.”

I thanked him and tamped down his compliment (why am I still doing this?!?!?), explaining that I’m no hero.  I enjoy the quiet, and I find it best at 5 am.  I get up early so I can write. 

During the week I sit down with my journal, the computer, and a cup of coffee, and I don’t move for two hours.  It’s really two different things, his 5 am and mine. He gets up early so he can exercise before work an hour away.  Everything about that sounds just awful to me. 

I love that writing is the first thing each day, except when I get up to write and have nothing to write about.  My dreams don’t always leave me with deep thoughts, the internet doesn’t always inspire with topics of interest, and nothing has happened yet that I care to talk about.  There are five blog posts in my drafts folder and I’m bored with all of them.  The subjects that popped into my head yesterday as I grocery shopped, folded laundry, talked with my kids?  All gone.  I’ve not yet made a habit of writing everything down. 

Still, I get up early and write.  It’s not great writing.  It might not even be good writing.

I write anyway, hoping that something will shake the thoughts loose.  So far this morning, the following is what brewed in my mind:

Why some moms have Pinterest boards devoted to smashing down other moms.

A blog post by a parent responding to other parents who only have boys OR girls and talk about having it so much better than parents who only have the other gender, or parents who have both.  How I hate when people make comments like “That’s why I’m so glad I don’t have {insert opposite gender here}.”  Don’t people realize that they sound rude?  And trifling?

Should I get the kids up?  Should I let them sleep?

The upcoming holidays and annoyance at “I’m done with my Christmas shopping!!” posts on Facebook.

Deserted cabins being overrun by forest animals.

No one talks about bandits anymore.

Facebook birthday wishes.  It’s one of the simplest nice gestures out there.  Do people notice if you miss wishing them a hbd?

What is it about GIFs and Vine that make me Love them?  I could spend hours looking at both.

I love coffee.  I should cut back.  Forever for the rest of my life.

I’m still confused about perimenopause, both what it is and how to say it.  I pronounce it “periomenopause.”  That's not right.

One of my children’s heads is going to spin right off onto the floor.  I can almost see the hormones whizzing through the air and plinking off the walls.  How many days does this vacation last?

Like I said, it’s not great writing.  It’s not even good writing. But it’s mine, and it’s what 5 am brings sometimes.


Friday, November 22, 2013

How Do You Keep Track?

This post is sponsored by React Mobile.  I have been compensated for this post, and all words, perspectives and opinions are my own.

The big question in my circle is: when should a child have a cellphone?

And surprise, there’s no one answer to this question.  Were you looking for one?  This is parenting, people.  If you are looking for clear answers to parenting questions then you should not be a parent.  The answers are as diverse as there are children in the world.

Some of my kids’ friends have had cellphones since they were 8 or 9 years old.  My kids at 8 and 9 were inherently careless with their stuff, and I knew that they weren’t ready for a mobile device that needs to be handled with care, updated, charged regularly and placed properly in its holding place until the next usage.  Their electronics at this age were handheld video game systems and iPods that never left the house.

One reason for giving young kids cellphones is for parents to keep track of them when they are away from home.  Now, look: my kids are usually at home.  When they're not, they are at school, at a school-sponsored activity, or with a trusted adult.  Even today they're not out of our sight for long, and we know where they are headed if they are out alone.  On rare occasions we hand them one of our cellphones and tell them to call when they get where they are going, and call again when they are on their way back.

As kids grow, the instances of their independence correlate with their maturity and ability to take better care of possessions.  My celebration as a parent who raised youngsters to take care of electronic devices for more than a month without breaking or misplacing them was short-lived when I realized that they are spending more and more time without my protection.  They can wait for me to pick them up.  They can call me when they’re finished.  They can get rides with friends' parents.

They can wander the earth alone.

And this makes me, as a mom, a little nervous.  Because I know what’s out there, and it’s not always friendly.

My son is getting a smartphone this year.  When he does, I will be relieved that I will have a way to contact him reliably.  No more will he have to rely on a friend’s cellphone; he’ll always know what time it is so he can check in, and we will be able to let him know if we will be late or if plans change.  He’ll be safer with a cellphone when he’s out and about.  I know, I know – welcome to the 21st century.

But there is an added measure of protection that I’m going to share with you.

We will be sure to download the React Mobile app onto his phone, which is a fantastic new tool that can be used to keep track of your kids using their smartphone.  Much more than a “find me” app, React Mobile is a safety feature that a smartphone user can activate if they are alone in a place where they don’t feel totally comfortable.

You enter in your contacts, turn on the Follow Me option, and your contacts are alerted if you need them. Or if you want them to know where you are.  Or if a mom wants to know where her son is.

Parents can use the app to track their child's position in real time as they move from place to place.  Say my son is going to the high school football game, then getting a ride from a friend’s mom to the local pizza shop for a post-game hangout.  He can send me a text through the app to let me know where he's going, and after he activates the Follow Me option, the app shows me in real time (using Google map info and his phone's GPS) that he is where he says he is, and when he taps the "I'm Safe" button, I know that he is okay.

The React Mobile app can also be activated (Send SOS) if he finds himself in a dangerous situation.  He can use the app to alert me and any of his emergency contacts (including an automatic option to call 911) that he needs immediate assistance.  The app will provide all his emergency contacts with the alert and his location, which is vital information for the authorities, not to mention any worried parent.

The React Mobile app is a tracking device, a lifeline, and an alert system all in one, and the best part is that it’s free.  Okay, that's not the best part.  The best part is that it gives me peace of mind when my child goes off into the world by himself.  But it’s still pretty great.

And it’s the first thing that is going on his new smartphone.  I think we’re both ready for it.


Download the React Mobile app for free:

Google Play (available on select smartphones): 


For overview video:

For demo video: