Friday, December 27, 2013

Truths of Christmas 2013

The busy buzz of Christmas has now passed.  I even went to work today.  I'm not sure what your house looks like the day after Christmas, but ours is a little out of sorts.  It's still in a mild state of disarray with our furniture displaced to accommodate large crowds of kids and presents, leftover bows strewn about in every corner, and some new toys still in the packaging waiting to be discovered. 

Our fridge is packed with an obscene amount of leftover Christmas treats...cinnamon rolls, ribbon candy, white chocolate covered popcorn, peppermint bark, an assortment of Christmas cookies, berry pie, and candied almonds....oh my. 

The menu for lunch and dinner today was leftover meat and cheese tray, with a side of cocktail shrimp and veggie tray scraps.  Ahhh...the day after Christmas. 

As I grow older, holidays seem to melt together.  With most of our family living nearby, we rarely travel out of town for major holidays.  Each year the celebrations seem similar to years past until I stop and note the details. 

Here are the truths that I noticed during Christmas, 2013...

Christmas is messy.  All the wrapping and shopping eventually just explodes into one crazy-fun Christmas living room mess. 

You're never too old for footie jammies.  

Aunt Rissy makes a mean platter of Christmas cookies.  This is just one (of three) plates my sister-in-law brought to our house for the family Christmas gathering.  Not only do they look cute and perfectly crafted, they taste pretty awesome too.  We look forward to her cookies all year long.  
The Christmas story told through the traditional children's pageant at church breathes new life into an old, tired tale better than any sermon I've ever heard.
You know you're an adult when you really do look forward to the joy of giving more than the joy of receiving.  This is my dad opening our gift of an antique water pump that we had cleaned and restored.  The pump was in my parents home when it burned down 14 years ago, and was one of the few pieces that was salvaged after the fire.  It felt good to give back a tangible piece of history to my parents. 

A bowtie-wearing, two-year-old shepherd is just about the cutest thing imaginable. 

Box trumps toy just about every time in our house. 


Christmas smiles are priceless.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree

During this "almost Christmas" time of year, after the kids go to bed, I often find myself in the living room.  Mostly because that is where our Christmas tree lives, and I only get to see it for one month out of the year.  If my husband had his way, it would be more like one week out of the year....but we compromise. Or I'm a bad compromiser.  One of those. 

Anyway, so the tree is up during the holiday season and I like to sit and read or write or post mindless drivel on Facebook in the dim light of the tree.  I must tell you our tree does  not come from the forest.  It emerges from the box in the closet each year.  Call me fake, tell me I'm shunning tradition and all that is right with the Christmas spirit.  I'll tell you something.  My tree doesn't need water, doesn't drop needles, doesn't fall over and doesn't drip sap on my carpet.  I've got a toddler and puppy in my house.  The last thing I need is one more beast to clean up after. 

But we're not here to debate the merits of real vs. fake (because clearly we all have an opinion on that hot topic).  I wanted to introduce you to my tree.  More importantly, the stuff ON my tree.  I love our Christmas tree because it is a 3-D storybook of our lives.  Each year as we unpack the decorations and find the perfect spot on the tree for each one, I am reminded of the many memories that each ornament represents. 

We have fragile ones and homemade ones.  There are works of beauty and some where beauty is only in the eye of the beholder.  Old ones, new ones, cute ones, tacky name it, we've probably got it on our tree. 

You've seen those stylish, color-coordinated trees that look like they were put together by a professional interior designer?  Yeah, that's not our tree.  Ours is more like a living scrapbook of our family....without the benefit of a Creative Memories consultant to make it look pretty and organized. 

We have the typical photo ornaments of the kids, travel keepsake ornaments from vacations past, and handmade gift ornaments from friends.  But we also have ornaments with a more interesting history than you might notice at first glance. 

On the lower branches, (the area reserved for unbreakable items), our blue fairy Godmother stands.  She is the one that hung on my tree as a child.  In the evenings when nobody else was around, I would whisper secrets to her like an imaginary best friend. 

Another "bottom dweller" is the cross-stitch Christmas teddy bear I made over 10 years ago.  It's not remarkable in its design or craftsmanship, but it catches my eye every year.  These days it mostly serves as a trinket of a life long past, when I had HOURS in the evening to sit quietly doing cross-stitch.  Uninterrupted hours are few and far between in my current stage of life, so that ornament reminds me that my life was once quiet.  And it will be quiet again someday.

Hung around the middle of the tree are strings of paper chains made by the littlest people in our family.  They are red and green, but don't follow any particular pattern.  The artists hung them up themselves, so they don't necessarily follow any design rules in their placement.  They are charming in their simplicity. 

Some of the more sentimental items include a delicate angel crafted by my aunt out of a small piece of my grandmother's wedding gown.  We also have four simple stars that we received as gifts in 2003 when my husband (then boyfriend) was deployed to Iraq.  Our friends, the Hergenraders, sent two star ornaments to Nick in Iraq, and two to me in California with instructions to hang the ornaments in our separate towns that Christmas and reunite them on one Christmas tree the following year.  Every year those stars remind me that the simplest, most beautiful gift is being together with those we love. 

One of my favorites is our pink beaded elephant, sitting atop a rainbow-sequined hill.  It's a gem, let me tell you.  I think "hideous" is a word that might come to mind when you see it, but I love it.  Mostly because it is hideous.  But also because someone in my family made it.  I'm not sure if it was my grandma or my great aunt....somebody crafty, that's for sure.  If you searched at WalMart or Target for 100 years, I don't think you would find anything quite like it.

Each of the kids has their own collection of ornaments that they have collected over the years.  I have a small collection of ornaments from my childhood.  Hubby is pretty nonchalant about any involvement in holiday decorating until his ribbon candy ornament comes out of the box.  Only then does he jump up and take charge of the ornament placement. 

Although our tree is fake, do not call it lifeless.  It holds on its branches the lives of five family members, intermingled, unique, beautiful, sentimental, crafty, imperfect and full of joy. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our Electronic Christmas Card

At one time in my life I was a dedicated sender of Christmas cards.  I would compose a tidy little letter to go along with my cards that summarized the major highlights of my year.  I self-righteously shunned the simple "photo cards".  My cards were actual greeting know the kind with a folded hinge that had a graphic of some sort on the cover, and you had to open it up to see the message and signature on the inside?  They were addressed by hand, the whole nine yards. 

Oh those were the days. 

I'm not sure if I should blame it on the technology age, having kids, getting old, or the overall decline in social graces in America...but I have failed miserably on the Christmas Card scene in recent years. I have lots of good excuses lined up too. 

1.  Nearly everyone I know is  on Facebook, and therefore a Christmas letter is not necessary.
2.  People move and don't bother to send out their new addresses because their email address doesn't I don't know where to mail the cards.
3.  Nothing of note happened this year.  What would I write about?
4.  I'm busy.  I'm tired.  Christmas shouldn't be stressful.
5.  Etc, etc etc.

Well, I have jumped back on the bandwagon this year and actually ordered cards.  They are photo cards, but cards nonetheless.  Funny thing is, I haven't sent them out in so many years I just took a guess on how many to order, and it turns out we have more friends than I realized.  Ideally I would have counted up addresses BEFORE ordering the cards, but that's all water under the bridge so I'll just have to make do.  I apologize in advance if you didn't receive the hard-copy Christmas card.  Please accept this electronic Christmas Letter (with bonus links for full detail on the exciting aspects of our year) as your consolation prize.  I will try to do better next year.

Dear Friends and Family,

Here we are, nearing the end of 2013 and the time has come for (electronic) Christmas letters!  As we reminisce on this year that is coming to a close, we have much to be thankful for in the Cavalleri house....

  • Big Milestones!  Amy and Nick both turned 40 this summer and celebrated with Martini parties (Nick) and a long-awaited trip to Mexico with some high school girlfriends (Amy).  Bella turned 16.  We anxiously await the moment she learns how to disconnect the iPod from her hand long enough to sit behind the wheel of a car. 
  • Great Vacations!  This spring we spent a week in southern California visiting Disneyland and Amy's brother in Santa Barbara.  In July we took a multi-generational camping trip to Burney Falls with two sets of grandparents.  We spent Labor Day weekend on the Oregon coast visiting tide pools and tacky tourist traps.  
  • Good Insurance!  We got our money's worth on our health plan this year.  Nick has his thyroid removed in the spring and Clara visited the ER after doing a face-plant off the backyard swing set.  While we always appreciate getting full value on our investments, we look forward to a quieter, healthier 2014. 
  • New Adventures!  We got a puppy.  We ate Paleo for 30 days.  Amy & Nick attended Cursillo.  Clara learned to ride a two-wheeler.   Amy started Blogging.  Thomas reminded us on a daily basis what it means to be TWO.  Bella is prepping to take the SAT in January.  Amy got braces.  Nick started playing guitar again.  Clara learned to write her  name.  Bella and Nick both got new tablets.  We got enough snow to make a snowman in our own backyard.  Did I mention Thomas is two
Christmas always brings a crazy mix of stress, joy, food, family, and long to-do lists. We pray that you all will have a moment to breathe this season.  Remember the love and imperfection of the First Christmas.  Relax in the gift of God's grace, and celebrate the birth of a savior. 

Merry (electronic) Christmas!

From, The Cavalleri Family

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The 12 Days of (Puppy) Christmas

We acquired a puppy this year.  Not a cute, cuddly little thing that fits in the palm of your hand, but a 30-pound, frisky chew-machine that has yet to learn his manners. 

I know, I know.  Such a sourpuss. 

Kids love dogs.  Dogs are great for the family.  He will grow out of this "puppy" thing.  Blah, blah, blah. 

Here's the thing.  I'm a cat person.  Cats are quiet, low maintenance and pretty much mind their own business.

I'm struggling to see the charm of an animal that eats chunks out of the kids' flip flops, leaves half-chewed rawhide bones in every corner of my home and follows me everywhere I go like, well, like a LOST PUPPY. 

But, the kids love the dog.  My husband loves the dog.  And I love all of them.  So I have composed a song, in attempt to bring lighthearted joy to my season of doggy discontent. 

Smitty, this one is for you, my rambunctious puppy friend.

The 12 Days of (Puppy) Christmas

On the first day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
a leg dampened by his pee.

On the second day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
2 am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the third day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the fourth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the fifth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee. 

On the sixth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee. 

On the seventh day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
7 toys-a-trashed
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the eighth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
8 manners-not-minded
7 toys-a-trashed
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the ninth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
9 kids knocked over
8 manners-not-minded
7 toys-a-trashed
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the tenth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
10 snouts-a-sniffing
9 kids knocked over
8 manners-not-minded
7 toys-a-trashed
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the eleventh day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
11 rug spots ruined
10 snouts-a-sniffing
9 kids knocked over
8 manners-not-minded
7 toys-a-trashed
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my puppy gave to me
12 doggie kisses
11 rug spots ruined
10 snouts-a-sniffing
9 kids knocked over
8 manners-not-minded
7 toys-a-trashed
6 bones-a-rotting
4 hidden turds
3 fragrant belches
2am wakeup
and a leg dampened by his pee.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Let it Snow

Our first snow of the season dropped in last night! 

Truth be told, it will likely be the ONLY snow of the season in our neighborhood, so it's a bit of a novelty. 

There is just enough snow make everything pretty,

slow down your driving,

and put together a decent snowman. 

Thankfully, not enough to completely halt travel, require a snow shovel or necessitate full-length down jackets. 

Low maintenance snow in the middle of our pretend winter....just the way we like it here in California. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Are You a Thanksgiving Hostess?

Nothing makes me feel more adult than hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our home.  I mean, kids in their 20's don't typically have the family over for turkey day.  You go to mom's house....or your aunt Susie's.  The family just doesn't usually congregate at the home of the youngest relative for Thanksgiving . 

And can you blame them?

When I was 21, I was eating Toaster Strudel for breakfast every morning and whipping up some Noodle-Roni for dinner each evening.  I was vegetarian.  My cookware consisted of hand-me-downs from my mom and a few discarded pieces I collected from old roommates.  I had exactly four matching dinner plates and a 14-inch TV.  Is that the kind of place you want to spend Thanksgiving?

I didn't think so. 

Naturally we all congregate at the comfortable home of our more "seasoned" relatives.  We seek out those that have comfortable seating in their living room, sufficient silverware for a large crowd, and cooking skills that have expanded beyond things that originate in a box or a can.  On Thanksgiving we want someone who has mastered the fine art of being a hostess...someone that knows that there is more to appetizers than a bag of Cheetos, and who has room in their  home to seat more than four guests around the dining table. 

Now that I have achieved the rank of Thanksgiving Hostess,  I'm feeling a little less than young.  Not old exactly, but mature.  Seasoned.  Experienced.  I've come to the other side. 

For those of you at home that might be wondering if this is your time....if you are of sufficient age and maturity to host the granddaddy of all feasts in your home, I have prepared a simple checklist.  Take a look and see if you are up for the task. 

You Might be Old Enough to Host Thanksgiving If....
  1. You understand that an oversized bird doesn't defrost overnight.
  2. You have inherited your grandma's fine china.  Or silver.  Or both.
  3. You can legally prepare and drink a decent Thanksgiving cocktail.
  4. You are no longer qualified to sit at the kids table.
  5. You can spell all the names of your relatives and assign them a seat at your table that will make everyone happy while avoiding unnecessary political debate or inappropriate family planning interrogations.
  6. You own a CrockPot and a tablecloth.
  7. You can make a pumpkin pie.  Apple is ideal, but pumpkin is a good start.
  8. You can assemble a menu plan on Pinterest.
  9. You've come to the understanding that Chinese take-out isn't considered a traditional Thanksgiving meal in most corners of America. 
  10. You are confident enough to serve your friends and family burnt potatoes and/or canned cranberries if things start to fall apart in the kitchen.
If you find that you are old enough to host your own Thanksgiving feast, don't despair.  It's not all juggling pots in the kitchen and a day-long dishwashing extravaganza.  You'll also get first dibs on leftovers, control over the seating chart and ultimate authority on delegating out the dishes that you don't want to make yourself! 

See?  Being hostess does have its advantages.  Even if you serve Cheetos as a side dish, your gracious guests will politely eat them. 

And probably make a mental note to take a turn hosting Thanksgiving next year.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oops I Did it Again

I ran into the trifecta of goodness this weekend at Farmer's Market.  Three forces combined and I was powerless in their presence.  I found organic apples, offered in bulk, at an amazing discount (about $.50/pound, to be exact).  Naturally I came home with 15 pounds of apples.  I mean, when can you get ANYTHING organic for that kind of money?? 

Pretty much never.  So I had to do it. 

(Click here for further detail about my inability to resist bulk temptation at Farmers Market.) 

Full disclosure, these apples were "seconds" so they had a bit of character, a few bruises, and maybe a resident worm or two.  But I had my eye on a big batch of Apple Butter, so a few blemishes didn't scare me. 

I have loved Apple Butter for years, and my affection only grew when I realized how easy it is to make.  I am now going to share with you my super-secret family recipe.  Are you ready?  Here it is:

1.  Apples
2.  Cinnamon
3.  Ground Cloves

Ta Da!!  Seriously.  That's it. 

Why have you never made your own Apple Butter?? 

You can find lots of recipes with added sugar, sweeteners or other unnecessary garbage.  All you really need are some good apples and a little bit of spice.  (If you're a stickler for details, this translates to about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of cloves for 10-ish pounds of apples.) 

I've always made my Apple Butter in the crock pot.  Just peel/slice the apples, fill your crock pot to the brim and heat on high for two hours.  Stir in the spices and simmer down on low for an additional 4-6 hours.  End of story.  Really!  I'm not lying.  It's that simple. 

I also made a batch on the stove this time, which was even quicker.  I had Red Delicious apples, which are pretty soft to begin with.  They cooked down on the stove in about an hour.  I used my hand blender to mix in the spices and break up the chunks, simmered down for about 30 more minutes and called it good. 

I almost hate to share this trivia with you because some of you just may receive homemade Apple Butter as your Christmas gift.  So for you, let me say...I did have to go through the canning process too.  It added at least another 30 minutes to my labor of love project.  Woe is me.  I worked myself to the bone on this....

So I supported my local farmer, bought organic, got a bargain, made it myself and stocked my pantry. 

That's joy in a jar right there. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Silent Night

We had an unusual occurrence in our house this weekend. Hubby and I actually spent the night alone, in our own home, with no kids. I think this is the first time that has happened for at least five years. We've left the kids to go out of town before, but never spent a night alone in our own least not that I can remember.  But we've been changing diapers and dealing with 6am wakeup calls for five years it's possible my memory is not 100% accurate. 

Parents of older kids that go to sleep-overs or away to summer camp probably don't appreciate the novelty of being alone in your own home.  Maybe they dread the quiet that comes with kids flung far and wide, under the care of other responsible adults.  But you fellow parents of preschoolers and toddlers will feel me here....we enjoyed every last second of silence.  It was only about 15 hours of quiet, but who's counting? 

Here's what I did while we were home alone:

1.  I talked on the phone.  Nobody was interrupting me, or pulling hair to grab my attention away from the phone conversation.  There was no background noise at all.  I just talked and listened. Imagine that.

2.  I cooked dinner.  There we no kids to "help" me, or sibling disputes to referee in between scrubbing vegetables or setting the table.  I could take my time and enjoy the process. 

3.  We ate dinner.  Everyone ate without complaint or negotiating how much they had to eat to get a treat for dessert.  Nobody spilled their milk, spit out their food, or tossed silverware across the table. 

4.  We went to a concert featuring the Vanguard University Guitar Ensemble.  Great music.  We both sat through the entire concert without fidgeting, asking to use the restroom three times, or falling asleep. 

5.  I "slept in" until 7am.  The toddler of the house has an internal alarm that normally goes off between 5:30-6am.  Waking up naturally, without a little person demanding breakfast or a diaper change was divine. 

Here's what I didn't do during our brief parental hiatus:

1.  Change a diaper

2.  Say the words "No" or "Stop" 15 times in a five minute period.

3.  Pack up a diaper bag or prep snacks before we left the house.

4.  Listen to Laurie Berkner or any other music geared for the 0-5 set.

5.  Play Cootie, Candy Land, or Princess Bingo.

Truth be told, I did scroll through the photos on my phone once just to remind myself how cute and loveable my kids really are.  But beyond that, we just enjoyed the silence and basked in the awesomeness that is uninterrupted adult-only time.

In between conversations about the kids, that is.

Editors Note:  I was going to insert a cute photo of crickets here, to reinforce my theme of quiet.  You know, "So silent we heard crickets chirping?"  Well, it turns out that crickets are kind of ugly.  (Trust me.  Do a Google search for cricket images if you insist.)  So you'll just have to make up your own mental image this time.  Sorry for the inconvenience. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Little Joy for the Vets

When Veterans Day rolls around every year, it's something of an occasion in our household.  We happen to have our very own combat Vet living right here under our roof.  He's usually pretty humble about it all.  But when those patriotic holidays roll around, he whips out the VFW cap and the chest-puffing speeches about how he provided the "Blanket of freedom under which we sleep."  It's cute.  The kids roll their eyes (teenager) or look at him clearly confused by the entire scene (little people). 

Every year we try to acknowledge our Veteran on "his" day.  We've made red, white and blue cakes or attended school assemblies to honor Vets.  We take advantage of free meals for Veterans at Applebee's or other fine dining establishments.  Sometimes I order him a pizza and don't make him eat his vegetables.  This year we went to the parade, waved our mini-flags and watched the salutes fly back and forth between our Veteran and the various others that rode by in the parade. 

It's all a little cliché, really.  Kind of like having a decorated evergreen tree in your living room to celebrate the birth of Christ, a parade or patriotic themed dessert seems a little silly when you're trying to recognize the service of a Veteran.  How is any of that meaningful or appropriate for acknowledging the service of someone who went to war for you?  War, people.  It's like the stuff we watch on TV, only for real.  With real guns.  They were there. 

I suppose we are only human.  We do the best we can.  We clap and throw parties and say, "Thank you for your service" when we see a Veteran on the street.  Sometimes it is corny.  Sometimes it might be a tad inadequate or imperfect.  But we try.  At least once a year, we do our due diligence, dust off our patriotic spirit and put on a good show. 

The reality is that Veterans carry their experience with them every day of the year, not just Veterans Day.  Not just Memorial Day or the 4th of July. 

Every.  Day. 

The lost limb, the trick knee, PTSD, nightmares, headaches, ringing ears, physical scars, insomnia, and the images in their head they would give anything to forget....are there 365 days a year.  Everyone's story is a little different but I guarantee you, every Veteran has one.  They all have a story, and chances are (unfortunately) you'll never get to hear it because that's how Vets roll.

Oh wait.  It's getting a little heavy in here.  What happened to finding the joy? 

Here's the deal.  I know we are all thankful, we all appreciate our Veterans, and if you're like me, you're thanking your lucky stars every day that someone else signed up so YOU didn't have to. 

I can't speak for everyone, but most Veterans I know don't want you to put them on a pedestal and call them a hero.  They don't need big speeches about dedication and sacrifice, or public recognition in front of large crowds.  What they do want is to know that America remembers and appreciates the fact that they went to the frontlines when we stayed home.  They want you to respect their service without drawing unnecessary attention to their personal experience which is often an awkward mix of pride and pain. 

Just like the card you send your mom on Mother's's never really enough.  But we still trek to the Hallmark store or order a bouquet of flowers every year.  Because it's the right thing to do. 

So even though that $5 American flag shirt seems a little cheesy, pull it out and wear it.  Even if it feels awkward to salute a 90 year old guy who looks like he probably doesn't remember much about the war, go ahead and do it.  Go to the parade.  Eat pancakes at the community breakfast at your local fire station.  Wave your little flag.  Put red, white, and blue bows on your dog.  Whatever floats your boat. 

Our local Asphalt Cowboys shoot holes in straw cowboy hats and hand them out to kids along the parade route on Veteran's day.  What does any of this really have to do with honoring Veterans?! 

I have no idea. 

But it's fun.  It makes kids and moms and Veterans smile.  And in the grand scheme of things, sharing a little joy is really not a bad way to say "Thank you."

Our very happy homecoming.  June, 2004.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ten Pounds of Walnuts

I've never been a really big fan of walnuts.  In fact, I spent most of my life as an anti-fan.  A non-lover.  I didn't particularly care for walnuts.  I would tolerate them in baked goods if there wasn't a plain option.  But if I had to rank nuts of the world in order from best to worst, walnuts would have landed toward the bottom of the list, down there with Brazil nuts. Blah. 

Things changed dramatically last fall when my generous co-worker brought me some walnuts fresh off her tree.  Oh boy.  Let me tell you, there IS a difference between fresh walnuts and the junk they sell in sealed plastic bags at the grocery store.  As is the case with nearly every other food product know to man, fresh is better.  Way better.  There is something about the crunch and flavor and texture that is so different in a fresh walnut. They actually taste good!  Truly.  If you have never eaten fresh walnuts (and by fresh, I mean ones that are in the shell and came off the tree this season), do yourself a favor.  Go get some. 

I got a little carried away at the Farmer's Market last weekend when I saw a friendly gentleman selling walnuts.  I've seen walnuts at the market before, but they were processed, salted, roasted, or candied and sold in sealed plastic bags.  Still good, still pretty fresh and relatively local, but not the same as getting the whole nut right off the tree.  This guy was selling walnuts.  Plain ol' walnuts, still in the shell, grown a few short miles from my front door. (It literally would have been a shorter drive for me to go to his orchard than to go to the market to buy the silly walnuts....sigh.)  You could scoop up your desired quantity and buy them by the pound, or take advantage of the 10-pound bags he had conveniently put together for suckers like me. 

I say suckers because, as my husband wisely pointed out, "You know they sell those things without the shell, right?" 

Yes, I know.  You can buy walnuts shelled, but they are more expensive.  And probably not as fun.  And if you buy the shelled kind, you wouldn't have mounds of walnut shells to sprinkle in your garden to keep the snails away. (Bonus!!  Free, eco-friendly pest control!)  And when you go to bake something with walnuts, you would just open the container and scoop out some nuts.  I mean, there is no magic or romance in THAT!  It's much more fun to sit on the couch for an hour to shell enough walnuts to put in your muffins.  Right??

OK.  Maybe not.  Convenience is not really the draw of the 10-pound bag of walnuts.  It's just that they taste better.  And there is something that feels rustic and old fashioned about putting in the labor, cracking the nuts yourself and trying to get those beautiful halves to come out in as few pieces as possible.  As an added bonus, the whole process is so intriguing to my kids, they have decided that they actually like walnuts now too!  That's a serious mommy win right there.  For real.

Needless to say, we have been in walnut production mode for the past week.  I've been madly Googling walnut recipes in between shelling sessions.  I have learned that walnuts can keep for up to a year in the shell if stored in a cool place (back of the fridge or in the freezer), which is good to know.  So, if I lose steam on this walnut idea I can always stash some in the fridge for later use. 

My first walnut experiment was with Cinnamon Candied Walnuts.  I like sweet/cinnamon walnuts but I'm not into the thick, sugary coated stuff.  This recipe was great.  It adds a little sweetness and spice to the nuts without being sticky or overpowering.  I found the 400 degree temperature to be a little high as my nuts were smelling toasty after about 5 minutes.  I would recommend turning down the heat to about 350, and stirring every 5 minutes to make sure you don't burn the nuts. 

I was feeling pretty good about my first attempt at candied walnuts, and decided to try a different flavor combination, Candied Balsamic Rosemary Walnuts.  It sounded a little different, and well, it was different alright.  Unfortunately this experiment got thumbs down from the whole family.  The walnuts ended up tasting a little bitter, and the flavor just wasn't quite right.  I generally love rosemary and balsamic, but this combo just missed the mark for our family taste testers.  If you have the urge to try some, please stop by.  We've got a lot of leftovers to share! 

After the rosemary fiasco, I decided to go a different direction and looked at some baked goods that I could spice up with walnuts.  I used my tried-and-true recipe for Baked Oatmeal and tossed some walnuts and dried apples into the mix.  These come out like a super-dense oatmeal muffin, and are the perfect, quick breakfast for busy mornings.

If you're keeping score at home, we are one week into our 10-pound Walnut Experiment and we've had one new recipe success, one new recipe failure, and we've burned through about 3-4 pounds of walnuts just eating them out of the shell, sprinkling on salads or adding to assorted baked goods. 

Six pounds to go.  What's your favorite walnut recipe??  Please share so my entire family doesn't end up with walnut gifts for Christmas. 

They all thank you in advance.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Our First Celebrity Guest!

When you write a blog, it seems to be a "thing" to have a guest blogger write your post occasionally.  I've never really understood the reasoning behind it.  Is it some kind of cross-marketing gimmick to get readers to check out the guest blogger's website?  Is it because the real blogger went on vacation and doesn't want to leave those faithful readers hanging?  I don't know.  As I said, I don't get it. 

But, since I'm in charge here, and I don't really think it will upset the faithful readers (all four of you), I decided to bring you a guest blogger!!  So trendy.  We're on the cutting edge here at Amy Finds the Joy. 

Earlier this week, someone sent me a lovely little piece about pumpkins, which I instantly recognized as the perfect opportunity to bring you thought-provoking blog material while I take Halloween evening off to go trick-or-treating with the kids.  So, here you have it.  The very first Guest Blogger at AFTJ....My Dad. 

Every year they come; every year it is the same.  Dressed in their best clothes, arriving shortly after the end of Sunday worship, the small children of my church fill my country garden like so many overdressed, miniature manikins.  Here, they search diligently, each looking for their Halloween pumpkin.

Each Fall we practice this Autumnal ritual.  I invite the children to my little country garden in order to choose a pumpkin for their jack-o-lantern.  Each Fall they come, and search, and choose.  How they make their choices is a secret hidden in the unspoken thoughts of each child.  Often parents try to influence the choice, but the children reject this parental advice.  Today it is their turn to make choices, even if those choices do not parallel parental persuasions.

 Children do not search the field for perfectly shaped or perfectly colored pumpkins.  Such pumpkins are readily available at the local supermarket, where the pumpkins are larger, and rounder, and oranger than mine.  Here, in the country garden, the children seek not a pumpkin to be admired, but a pumpkin to be loved.

Some children choose a pumpkin they can easily hold in their diminutive hands.  Some choose one that is oddly shaped, even grotesquely twisted and formed.  Sometimes a pumpkin fails to turn orange at all, and the greenness of the sphere is the apparent attraction to the child.  Color is less important than character!  True wisdom reigns in the country field, as it frequently does  in the mind of a child!

Something there is that becomes the magnetic attraction between child and fruit of the vine.  Something adults do not understand at all. Foolish grownups.

 Stereotypical pumpkins are bright orange, severely round, and perfectly balanced.  These pumpkins are loved simply for what they are, and perhaps for the comfort a child feels in knowing that the one they have chosen is unique.

Each Fall they come and choose.  They hover over their choices. They love what they have chosen not because the choices fit any stereotype at all, but merely because they are the choice of the child, and therefore accounted worthy.

 How much like God is the mind of the child, where color, or size, or shape are not important.  Here in the mind of the child as in the mind of God, stereotypes are ignored; the overlooked become the loved ones, and the imperfect become the chosen ones.

Some say that Halloween is the Devil’s holiday.  It is not so.  Rather, the origins of Halloween are in the remembrance of the day as being the eve of All Saints Day, the day when the Christian church celebrates the love of God poured upon all God’s people, no matter their color, or shape, or condition.  How much of this theology the children express in my country field each year!  By the choices they make I am reminded that the chosen of God are loved not for their personal perfection, but simply because God has chosen to love them.

Copyright 2013.  Robert J. Grosch

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Look Ma, I'm a Runner!

I was never an athletic kid, or much of an athletic adult for that matter.  I was more of a band geek or a Jazzercise girl.  Running?  No thanks.  Or so I thought.

In 2002, I had moved to Oregon, just broke up with my boyfriend and didn't have many friends to help prop me back up after that ugly fall.  Each evening after work I would come home to an empty apartment and have lonely hours to fill before bedtime.  Just writing that sentence makes me want to scream at my old, 29-year-old self.  "Enjoy the SILENCE, former me!  In ten years you're going to be balancing work, hobbies and transportation schedules for a small army!!  You won't be able to pee alone.  Someone (the dog, the toddler, the snoring spouse, or all of the above) will wake you up by 5-ish in the morning every day.  Don't be lonely!  Thank Jesus for this quiet time!!" 

But I digress. 

So I started running.  I began on a country road by my apartment and my original goal was to run to the tree, which was about 100 yards from the driveway of the apartment complex.  Hey. Baby steps.  We all have to start somewhere.  That first day my lungs burned, I felt awkward, and I didn't have any of the right clothes or gear.  I felt like a fish out of water, but I had something on my agenda.  Run.  It beat staring at the walls of my apartment and waiting for the clock to strike 10pm so I could go to bed.

Slowly, very slowly, my endurance improved.  Soon I was running to the end of the block.  Then two blocks, then half way around my little "route" that I mapped out for myself.  I can't say that I loved running.  I loved having something to do.  I loved feeling healthy.  I loved taking a shower at night and feeling like it had been earned. 

Shortly after the running began, my first goal was set: a 5k race.  I knew nothing about running or racing but a kind co-worker convinced me I could do it.  The Pear Blossom race was practically in my backyard, there were no hills and I didn't have anything better to do.  So, I signed up.  And guess what?  I did it. 

Maybe a 5k isn't a lofty goal.  But for me, it felt like a marathon.  For the first 29 years of  my life the only time I had ever really run was chasing down the ice cream truck.  It's not that I was lazy or lethargic.  Running just wasn't my "thing". 

After finishing that first 5k race, I still didn't feel like running was my "thing".  Sure, I could do it.  But I had to force myself.  It was a daily battle of wills between my responsible brain and my lazy brain. 

But here's the thing about running.  It's like an old friend.  Or an old shoe that fits perfectly but gets lost in your closet occasionally.  You don't always love it.  You pay more attention to it at some times than others.  Sometimes it gets boring and you try something else that seems more exciting.  But it's always there. It's easy.  Running welcomes you back with open arms as long as you've got a decent pair of shoes and 20 minutes to spare.  Believe me.  I've quit running so many times I've lost count.  Even though it's not much more complicated than placing one foot in front of the other...a bunch of times, over and over again, running will surprise you. 

When I moved back to California and triple-digit summer temperatures, I gave up running and said I couldn't handle the heat.  Then I found myself waking up at 5am to squeeze in a run before the heat of the day settled in. 

I told myself that 5k was a suitable goal for me and I didn't need to be any kind of fancy, long-distance runner.  I thought having a baby would certainly derail my mediocre running career.  In 2010 I found myself pushing a jogging stroller and training for a 5-mile race. 

For years, I ran alone and enjoyed every minute of it.  I never wanted to run with anyone because I didn't want to feel pressured to keep a different pace.  Or speak.  I liked being alone with my thoughts as I ran.  And then I ran a 5k with three other friends and loved the new social aspect of running that I had never experienced. 

I really didn't think I would like running at all because, well, I'm not super great at it.  I can do it, but I'm not fast.  I'm not the best.  I don't run impressive distances and I'm not sticking around for award ceremonies at any of the races I enter.  But wouldn't you know it....the most memorable race to date was with my daughter, a 1.5 mile race for kids, where she (we) came in dead last.  I mean last, by like a mile.  She crossed the finish line a good five minutes after the kid just ahead of her.  What I love is that she wants to do it again.  She didn't even notice she was last.  All she noticed at the end was that there was a great crowd waiting to cheer her on to the finish line.  Oh, and there were Oreos on the snack table. 

One foot in front of the other.  Nothing fancy, but it just might surprise you.   Take it from this band geek that now calls herself a runner. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Mommy Days

Sometimes Mommies have tough days.
Sometimes you've got lots to do and not enough hours in your day.
Sometimes you run out of baby wipes.

At those times, let me recommend a trip to +Target

They sell lots of things there. 
The aisles are wide and uncluttered.
You can get baby wipes by the case. 

And they also sell Mommy juice boxes. 


The end.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Harvest Time

Don't let the title deceive you.  We aren't actually harvesting anything here at the Cavalleri farm.  My gardening habit didn't survive my transition into motherhood, and our juvenile fruit trees are not producing at a level that would require an actual harvest.  I do go to the farmers market most weekends.  That's almost like harvesting our own food, right? 

We ARE however, fully into the harvest season. As in, we went to the pumpkin patch and tossed some Halloween/Harvest décor around the house. 

Our trip to the pumpkin patch this year was similar to past years.  We joined Carol, our former childcare provider (and one of our most favorite people), at Hawes Historic Farms.  I love Hawes because their field trip package is designed with great sensitivity to the toddler-preschool market.  (Incidentally, we love Carol for the same reason.)  Basically the trip is perfect for those with the attention span of a gnat. 

You enter the farm and find pumpkins and hay bales perfectly arranged for harvest portraits.  The kids quickly get bored and antsy, so your Pumpkin Tour Guide moves you along to the next activity: bouncing on the giant pillow trampoline!  They wear the kids out a bit, but not completely because there is much more on the agenda.  We played in the playground, shot ears of corn out of an air cannon, watched pig races, fed the goats, tried the mini-corn maze, pet the cows, and eventually took a hayride out to the pumpkin patch to select the perfect pumpkin.  Phew!  Are you tired yet?  The kids weren't.  They sat down for about 10 minutes to eat lunch and then went back for more of that giant pillow trampoline.

Our big five-year-old was determined to get a BIG pumpkin this year.  I had to reign in those fantasies and remind her that she could get the BIGGEST pumpkin in the world....that she could carry herself.  You see, the Hawes field trip pricing includes a pumpkin, as long as you have reasonable expectations.  Anything too large (bigger than say...your head) was $.30/pound.  And let's face it.  I had the backpack full of jackets and snacks, a toddler that may or may not make it to the car on his own two feet, and two kids that had spent 3.5 hours having the TIME OF THEIR LIVES at the pumpkin patch.  I was in no position to take on any extra responsibility for an oversized gourd.  I had crowd management and meltdown-avoidance maneuvers to worry about. 

I'm happy to report everyone found the perfect pumpkin.  One was big...

One was green...

And we all harvested another season of pumpkin patch memories.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Picture Perfect

Our pediatrician moved into a new office last month.  Thankfully the staff remembered to tell us before we drove to the old office for our appointment this week.  As we walked into the new office, smelling of fresh paint and new carpet, I smiled looking at the familiar wall of photos, drawings and Christmas cards that had made the move from the old office.  I scanned quickly to see if my daughter's artwork was still tacked somewhere on the display, but alas, it didn't appear to make the cut.  I wasn't really surprised.  I assumed the doctor must have received mountains of artwork from her young patients over the years. 

The nurse quickly brought us into the exam room, as if she was anxiously awaiting our arrival.  "I have your room all ready for you." she said. 

Even knowing she was due for 3+ shots at this appointment, my daughter happily skipped into the room. 

"Check out the artwork on the wall!" the nurse excitedly announced as we walked into the exam room.  And there it was.  My daughter's painting she had made at age three was not just taped to the wall.  It was matted, framed, and hanging proudly for all to see. 

I got a little lump in my throat as I recognized the painting.  To me, it wasn't just a painting.  It was a poignant reminder of the three nights my daughter had spent in the hospital at the tender age of three.  If you're a parent, you know.  Those were among the three most stressful nights of my life.  My little girl was poked and prodded and tested until she screamed and cried.  I was helpless to take away her pain or make anyone stop because we had to do all the necessary tests and procedures to make her well again. 

And yet in the middle of the whole no-fun, awful hospital experience, my daughter painted.  And when this small masterpiece was completed I remember how she proudly showed off the finished product and announced it was for Dr. Lagoc.  I just about fell on the floor.  Really?  This painting is for the doctor?  The lady that put you in the hospital and ordered all these tests and needles? THAT doctor? 

So I took the painting and made a note that it was for Dr. Lagoc, along with the date.  The next morning when the doctor was making rounds, my daughter proudly presented her painting.  The doctor dutifully admired the gift.  I figured the painting might get lost in the shuffle of hospital paperwork before Dr. Lagoc left the building.  I wondered if it would make it back to the office. 

On our first office visit after the hospital stay, my daughter immediately noticed her painting taped to the wall.  More importantly, she smiled and gave Dr. Lagoc a hug when she entered the exam room.  In spite of all the yucky hospital stuff, the doctor had somehow managed to maintain a positive bond with my daughter.  I fully expected my sweet, young daughter to come out of the hospital with a healthy phobia of doctors and nurses. Instead, her trust and bond with Dr. Lagoc was strengthened. 

And so today, seeing the painting and recalling the circumstances under which it was created, made me a little emotional, in a good way. I felt a wave of gratitude for the care my daughter received while she was sick, and more importantly for the completely unexpected byproduct of the whole ordeal: Her enthusiasm and affection for Dr. Lagoc. 

Turns out a trip to the pediatrician doesn't just keep our kids healthy.  It does a mom's heart good too. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Viva Mexico!

So, it's been a while since my last post.  Rest assured, it isn't for lack of joy.  More like over-abundance of good stuff and no time to write about it.  Well, that isn't exactly true either.  When you have a five-night vacation away from home, work, hubby and kids you can't really use the "I don't have time" excuse anymore.  Because, the truth is, you've got all kinds of time.  But when you find yourself at a five-star, all-inclusive, adults only resort in Mexico, the thought of lugging out the laptop and waxing poetic about the experience really isn't at the top of the priority list.  Priority one is BE THERE.  As in, enjoy the moment without stressing about writing or photographing every last detail.  And I was THERE, friends.  So there.  So I apologize for the delay on bringing you the fantastic story of this long-awaited trip.  I was too busy enjoying it. 

I'm fairly certain I could write a book about the resort that was our home-away-from-home on this trip.  The landscaping, the beach, the comfy beds, the impeccable service, the fantastic food, and on and on and on. 

I know I could write a book about the value of stepping away from your everyday life and forcing yourself to relax, unwind, detach and just BE.   Sinking your toes into fine, white sand on a warm, breezy day on the Gulf of Mexico should be available by prescription.  I think it could cure just about anything that ails you. 

But really, the joy part of this trip was multiplied by the company I kept and the conversations that flowed on and on for five days among high school friends re-united after a 20(ish) year hiatus.

If we're being totally honest here, the company was the part of this trip that caused me a little angst.  I loved these girls in high school, but aside from one local neighbor, we really hadn't been in touch for the past 20 years beyond weddings, high school reunions and occasional Facebook commentary.  So I wasn't completely sure how it would go.  Would we all get along?  Would we run out of things to talk about?  Would we stumble into some random political discussion that would create a rift for the rest of the trip?  And (most importantly)...What if I want to go to bed early and everyone else thinks I'm a party pooper?  Because for me, vacation means sleep catch-up time. 

Well, we survived.  And I think it's safe to say we were all pleasantly surprised at how swimmingly it all went.  We spent hours catching up, laughing about husbands and kids and how life turns out differently than what you imagined when you were in high school.  We shared bottles of champagne over a lobster lunch, toasted with shots of tequila at the Mexican buffet, and sipped margaritas together in the ocean.  Some of us worked out.  Some (most) of us didn't. Some of us spent the day zip-lining at Xplor Adventure Park while others stayed home and hit the spa.  We napped, swam, drank, gossiped, parasailed, snorkeled, shopped and pretty much had the time of our lives. 

There is something about reconnecting with people who "knew you when."  We spent a fair amount of time reminiscing, but exponentially more time talking about life NOW.  We shared our frustrations and our fears and our stories of life as we know it today.  We didn't get caught up in the past, because, as it turns out, there is plenty between us that is better left in the past.  This vacation was our chance to celebrate friendship and draw strength from it.  It was a reminder that we are all busy but should never be too busy to keep up relationships with our girlfriends.

I was fully expecting the big story to be all about this:

Turns out, it was more about this..

And this...

And this...

Twenty years ago we were different girls.  This would have been a much different trip.  We might have been a little cuter in our bikinis back then, but beyond that, 20 years only aged the experience to perfection. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

First Rain

The seasons, they are a'changing in our neighborhood.  The weekend brought our first real Fall rain storm.  This wasn't some fluke mid-summer shower.  This was the real deal....a true storm signaling  the unofficial end to summer.  We even got some thunder and lightening, which is a bit unusual in northern California.  And to me, the first rain of the Fall season means...

...bringing in all the sun-bleached towels and inflatable toys from the pool. 

...dusting off rain boots so the kids can enjoy the novelty that is rain, after long summer days that consistently hover in the triple-digit range. 

...baking a pie, not worrying about the oven heating up the house. up the clothesline until next summer.
...motivation to embrace Fall and go shopping with the kids for Halloween costumes. candles at dinnertime. 
...shutting off the sprinklers and letting Mother Nature take care of watering the lawn. 
...dodging acorns and slippery, wet leaves on afternoon runs.
...opening the curtains and letting the daylight in.
I think Shasta County folks probably embrace Fall with more vigor than most.  Summer here is not something you would see featured in a tropical resort brochure.  It's more like a cautionary tale to those that would question the power and strength of Mother Nature in her "off" season. 
Blistering.  Long.  Unbearable.  Oppressive.  These are the words that locals use to describe the heat of our summer.  We endure our summer like Minnesotans endure their winter.  You can feel the collective sigh of relief as the first rain of Fall arrives. 
And so, I bid farewell to flip flops, shorts and tank tops.  Hello to socks, jeans and jackets. 

Goodbye 80-degree mornings.  Hello frosty nights.

Adios to tourists vacationing on houseboats who don't understand how anyone could live here, in this God-forsaken land of summers that feel like you're living two miles west of the face of the sun. 

So long summer.  Take your well-deserved rest.  

I mean it.  Scram. 

I've got a date with my fireplace and you're not invited. 


Monday, September 16, 2013

The Cursillo Un-Description

Hubby and I just got back from a completely "unplugged" 3-day weekend in Lake Tahoe.  My iPhone is still in shock.  I don't think it's ever been turned off that long.  We were attending Cursillo, which is a short course in Christian living.  Basically it was a Christian retreat, summer camp for adults, or something along those lines.  I'm not sure I can really describe it.  And maybe that's the point. 

After attending Cursillo, most people won't or can't describe it to friends.  There is an air of mystery surrounding the specific events of the weekend, but not because it's a big secret.  It's not (as my husband feared) because they are going to lock everyone in a room and make you drink The Kool-Aid.  People don't fully describe Cursillo to friends and family because it is, quite simply, an encounter with the Holy Spirit.  And how do you really put that into words? 

I can tell you there were Bible talks, discussion groups, singing and fellowship.  I can tell you we slept in rustic dormitories, ate fabulous food, and experienced a level of hospitality that rivaled a five-star resort.  We weren't allowed to wear watches, watch the football game or play Candy Crush on our cell phones.  I can share with you that people from different generations, different cultures, and different churches came together and formed a temporary community that was ON FIRE for Jesus. I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess that even the most jaded, the most cynical, and the most apprehensive among us felt God's love this weekend. 

I've heard Cursillo described as a "Mountain Top" experience in life.  Some insist it is on their "top ten" list, up there with their wedding day or the days their children were born.  Those descriptions frankly made me a little skeptical of the whole weekend.  Really?  One weekend singing Jesus songs in the woods with a bunch of strangers and it's the best thing since sliced bread?  Sounds a little fishy, does it not?

Well, I'm not really going to tell you how I would categorize my experience because again, that's not really the point.  Would I recommend it to a friend?  Yes.  Am I glad I did it?  Yes. 

Suffice it to say my faith is strengthened.  My focus is sharpened. 

My joy is multiplied. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Looking Forward.

Three weeks from today I will be in Mexico at an all-inclusive, adults only resort with four girlfriends from high school.  Three weeks!  The whole thing seems a little unreal to me.  I mean, do moms really get up and leave town for FIVE NIGHTS in a row?  Moms (well, this mom, anyway) have a hard time leaving their kids for a night at the movies with a friend.  Is it really possible to ditch your family and leave the country?  I guess we'll soon find out. 

This adventure began a few years ago when my friend Dena mentioned that we would be turning 40 "soon." At 36 years old, 40 seemed light years away.  Light years.  She had a brilliant idea that we should start saving money and take a trip together the summer that we turn 40.  Well, what's not to love about THAT idea? 

And so we started saving, not knowing where we were going or what we were doing, but confident that we would have a nest egg and an excuse get out of town. And then a few other girlfriends jumped on our bandwagon and we had a real party on our hands. 

Lots has happened between then and now.  I had a few kids.  At one point I stopped to calculate the ages my children would be when I turned 40.  I wondered if I would be prepared to leave my "baby" when he was only two years old.  Let me tell you.  I'm ready.  Soooo ready, friends.  I'm excited.  There probably isn't an appropriate word in the English language to describe the anticipation.  I bet the Frenchies have a better word.  Seems like they always do. 

As much as I love my children and my family and our semi-crazy life, I occasionally miss the days of being footloose and fancy-free.  Life has many seasons, and let's face it, the season of raising young children is pretty hands-on.  It's 24-7, wiping noses, changing diapers, refereeing sibling disputes, making lunch, doing dishes, going grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, running a load of laundry and making sure everyone combs their hair and brushes their teeth (preferably every day).  Young children generally don't sleep in, put their toys away with out prompting, or even get their legs in the right holes of their underwear without direct supervision.  I leave home and go to work to relax.  It's fun.  It's crazy.  It is most definitely NOT the "it's all about me" phase of life. 

And so a trip to Mexico in this season of life seems like a significant oasis in the storm of toddler parenting. This trip is such a gift, such a rare treat that it has been my focal point for at least the past six months.

My son just pulled out a clump of his sister's hair which has resulted in excessive tears and screaming?  I breathe deep and remember that nobody pulls hair on the beach in Mexico.

Ten children (mostly non-swimmers) gathered in my swimming pool for a birthday party?  No problem.  I'll be in Mexico in three weeks.  NO KIDS ALLOWED.

Too much work to do and not enough time to get it all done?  Well, there's no wifi at the beach so you're all on your own come September 27!

I look forward to multiple days of using the restroom by myself.   I can't wait to brush my teeth in the morning and not have to nag anyone else to do the same.  I will sit on the beach and read a book and not be one bit worried about watching anyone else to make sure they aren't drowning or playing with jelly fish or throwing sand at their siblings.

I know this time will be good for all of us.  The kids will likely eat their fill of pizza while I'm away.  Mommy will drink her fill of margaritas.  Daddy will get his fill of single parenting.  (Thanks, baby!) Grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles will get the pleasure of shuttling and babysitting more than normal.

At the end of those five nights, I'm sure I'll be a little sunburned.  I'll be a little worn out from staying up too late.  My cheeks will hurt from giggling with girlfriends.  But I'll also be a more refreshed, relaxed version of my tired mommy self.

And I'll be looking forward to everyday life at home. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

This is Five.

My sweet baby girl turned five today.  Five.  Do moms ever stop being nostalgic about their kids' birthdays?  Because five years in, and birthdays continue to make me reminisce and marvel at life.  I also tend to worry about the future and wonder if I'm totally messing up this mom thing completely, or just a little bit.  I ponder the years that have passed and wonder if I've taken enough photos or written enough blogs to fully capture all the memories that I want to remember. 

The day of her birth was THE most physically painful thing I have experienced in my lifetime.  I was convinced that the details would permanently scar me and somehow be etched in my brain forever.  Five years later, I don't recall much other than the good stuff.  I remember my mom and my husband continuing to cheer me on on as I labored and frequently forgot my manners.  I remember grandparents waiting patiently through the evening in the hospital lobby anxious for the first glimpse of their new grandbaby.  I remember daddy driving home from the hospital so slowly and carefully so he wouldn't disturb the baby. 

Here's what I don't want to forget about this princess at age five...

She loves the beach. She loves to dig in the sand, be dirty, run, get wet, sort through pretty rocks, and ride on pretend school buses made of driftwood. 

She loves school.  She loves picking out clothes each morning, carrying her lunch box, showing me her work at the end of the day and being in the "big kid" class across the hall from her little brother.

She plays hard and sleeps hard.  Not many kids are still napping at age five, but when you work and play as hard as this girl, sometimes you need a break.  It doesn't happen every day, but when life gets tiring, she isn't afraid to stop and take a snoozer. 

She's a mini Motor Head.  She loves to help daddy in the garage and sometimes asks me to "Go fast like daddy's car."  Turbo was the first movie she saw in the theater, deepening her love of speed. 

She's got her very own fashion sense.  Dresses are decidedly "in."  Pants and shorts are strictly "out" unless it's soccer class or gymnastics day.  Hair is typically not styled unless she does it herself and there is no such thing as too many accessories.  Unless she decides it's not an accessory day.  In that case, there will be no accessories.  I SAID NONE! 
She is a part of me.  I marvel at her, love her, get infuriated by her, laugh with her and get caught up in her rambunctious energy.  I love seeing parts of me and pieces of her dad in her personality and style.  I love watching her try new things, take on new challenges and be a mentor to her little brother.  She is energetic, curious, brave and loving.  Sometimes I wonder how I got along for 35 years without her in my life. 

Happy birthday, sweet pea.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

An Afternoon at WinCo.

So, I shop regularly at +WinCo .  It's a no-frills grocery store that is probably one step up from WalMart, but they offer good food at low prices.  And I think I may have mentioned before that I'm a sucker for a bargain.  So even though they make me bag my own groceries, I'm a WinCo fan. 

WinCo keeps their prices low by not accepting credit cards.  I know.  It's nuts.  REALLY?  It's 2013!! Who doesn't accept electronic money these days?  Well WinCo doesn't.  So I traditionally bring my checkbook and cut a check (the ONE check that gets written on our "checking" account each week) for our groceries. 

Last week I ran out of checks.  Huh.  I thought long and hard about how I use checks.  I buy groceries and pay my hairdresser. That's about it.  Do I really need to buy more checks??  Naaaahhhh.  I can use my debit card.  The debit card just collects dust in my purse because I never use it.  I pay everything with the credit card.  Hello!? Free sky miles!! 

Well, here's the lesson I learned this week.  My debit card is apparently linked to only one of our checking accounts. And it's not the one with loads of cash. 

Here's when I learned the the WinCo check-out counter after the clerk had rung up $182.54 worth of groceries. 


Well, I knew the money was there, but the card just wasn't talking to the right account.  I thought about explaining that to the clerk but realized that made me look like an even bigger loser than I already appeared to be, trying to deny the fact that I had "Insufficient Funds" to bring my groceries home.  I played it cool, put on my game face.  "Clearly, this is a silly misunderstanding" is what I was trying to say with my confident expression. 

So then I get the brilliant idea to go to the ATM (conveniently located inside the store) to withdraw money for my groceries.  Because if my ATM card doesn't work at the checkout counter, maybe it will somehow magically work at the ATM??  Oh geez.  I was grabbing at straws, people!!  It was a busy Sunday afternoon at the grocery store and I had no money to pay for my food.  Turns out the ATM didn't have a better answer for me because the card was still talking to the wrong account

I told the clerk I would have to call my husband to bring me some money. 

I called my husband. He didn't answer. 

My in-laws live approximately one mile from WinCo.  Hmmmm. 

I did it.  I called my mother in law and asked her to bail me out at WinCo.  "I'll be right there!" she said. 

Bless.  Her.  Heart. 

Meanwhile, my grocery clerk was due for a break, so she was busy explaining to the clerk in the next lane that I had a "situation" and my husband was on his way to bring some money. 

In walks my father in law, debit card in hand.  Perfect.  Now I'm a deadbeat with no money married to a senior citizen.  Totally awesome. 

I started to sweat a little as Steve swiped his card, realizing that $182 worth of groceries might be putting a bit of a strain on his checking account.  I mean, I don't much do people generally have in a checking account??  For the record, I have less than $200.  How fun would that be if my Hero for the day came up insufficient also?! 

The clerk swiped the card, the receipt spit out and I was home free. 

And the moral of the story is...plastic can't save you in every situation but family can.