At Present

Eats:  I am loving all things Mediterranean right now, after my first trip to Zoe’s Kitchen a couple of weeks ago.  Kebabs, yes!  Olive oil, yes!  Grilled veggies, oh goodness yes!

Tunes:  A little old school and a little new stuff.  Toadies, Twenty One Pilots, Aerosmith, and Maroon 5 are TOPS on my playlists right now.

Wanderlust:  Working on Chattanooga and Disney, and still infatuated with NOLA.  Seriously considering a little weekend jaunt to the Big Easy ASAP.

Body:  Trail runs are where it’s at.  Enjoying my Brooks Cascadia.  They fit well and grip the muddy Georgia terrain, keeping me steady and helping me to feel confident bounding up and down the MTB trail I’ve been galloping on.  Even got the hubs to come out and run with me this week!

Heart and Soul:  Ho’oponopono, the ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness.  I read an interesting article this week on the basics, and I’ve found it fascinating.  I have begun to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”  I will update as miracles happen!

Dream News:  This week I’ve had a few memorable dreams, the most interesting took place in my grandfather’s old office.  In the dream I was searching frantically for something – anything – of his that I could keep, just to have a piece of him.  I ended up rifling through some papers and just tracing my fingers over his handwriting.  Definitely significant.

Photographing: Mostly kids.

My Eyes are Watching: The Vampire Diaries on Netflix.  I never (and I do mean never) expected to watch, let alone like, this show.  I was on edge for the first few episodes, as there seemed to be a tremendous amount of neck-popping going on.  That has settled down a little, and the story is interesting so I’m committed.  Just started Season 3.

Bookshelf:  I’ve just finished reading “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns)” by Mindy Kaling.  I’m not a big fan of Kaling’s in that I’ve not seen her show(s), but I’m also not a non-fan. She s genuinely funny without losing her authenticity.  Reading this book, I felt like “I know this girl” and “Yep, I’ve been there”.  I recommend it.

Tech: Nothing new here, except doing much less on social media.

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Strange and Unusual

It was all very The Bridges of Madison County.

You know towards the end of the story, when Francesca is sitting at a stoplight in her husband’s truck, watching the rain and re-living the past few weeks as she contemplates whether to jump out and run to Robert, abandoning her current life in favor of excitement, passionate love, and the unknown?

That’s what my trip to New Orleans was like.

It was like that one time I wandered into a goth bar, looked around, gulped, and decided to stay.  Then, several hours and several drinks later, realizing I wasn’t just surviving the situation, I was enchanted with my surroundings.  The music, the people, feeling my horizons stretching as I breathed in new smells and entertained new ideas.  Infatuated.  Curious. Entranced. Hypnotized. Beguiled.

And I don’t want to let it go.

Some people say that a place like New Orleans, or the French Quarter in particular, allows the visitor to be someone else for a while.  True, there are lots of bars, lots of boobs, lots of interesting characters and avenues for transformation.  In my case, though, the opposite was true.  The New Orleans experience, for me, didn’t feel like an opportunity to be someone else.  It felt like the opportunity to be who I am, authentically.

What does that mean?  Who am I, at my core?

If you must know, I’m an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in bacon.

It’s hard for me to articulate what I mean.  To look at me, you’d see someone who is responsible, clean, not tattooed or pierced, a runner, someone who likes to sleep and read books and pet cats and dogs that aren’t mine, someone who dreams of Paris and plays at photography and likes a nice cardigan sweater.  If I’m totally honest, I don’t look like New Orleans.  I look like White Bread, USA. This is where, as an outside observer, you’d get me wrong if you were to judge based on appearance.

I may not like scary movies.  I don’t enjoy music where people scream at me in what may or may not be an intelligible language.  But at my center, I tend towards the melancholy.  Always have.  Even as a kid.  I like Poe, I like dark art.  I’m fascinated with magick and gem stones, the moon and its power, psychic abilities, and the things that go bump in the night.  Just last week I was researching wolves and skin walkers because I totally believe it’s possible (and I kinda hope it is).  [True Story: The Wolf is actually my animal totem.]

I think tattoos are sexy as hell.  I don’t have one because I’m indecisive.  Piercings, even more so.  I’ve always wanted a few of them, but besides the navel I’ve been a chicken about it.  I want purple hair sometimes, I want to wear a corset, I watch Vampire Hunter D and paint my nails black and weirdos are my favorite kind of people.

Maybe I’m Lydia Deetz – not so hardcore that I wear pentagrams and know which bars the vampires frequent, but genuine in that there’s a part of me that is authentically goth, macabre, gloomy, and intrigued by the people who are deep into that scene and living it out loud.

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Actual Photo of me in New Orleans.

I could have been that, had I jumped out of the truck.  No, I AM that.  Deep inside, past the big smile, GAP tank top and gooey marshmallow center.  I am.  Wandering the streets of the French Quarter was like reading the part of the “choose your adventure” book that you didn’t choose, just to find out what would have happened.  It was also like coming home to somewhere I didn’t realize I had left.  Like meeting a gorgeous, eccentric relative I never knew existed.

It was rad. I won’t ever forget it, and I’m forever grateful for it.  I can’t wait to get back to her – I think the city is definitely a woman – and I doubt a day will go by that I don’t think of her until I do.

p.s. Friends, if you get to New Orleans before I do, there’s a little shop called JEWELS that I wish you’d go and visit.  You’ll be glad you did.

The Most Congested Place on Earth

Are you, dear reader, familiar with the scene in the film 300 that references the strategic funneling of enemy soldiers in order to lead them to slaughter?  The area the 300 Spartans want to siphon the opposition through is referred to as “The Hot Gates”.  I think that name gives an appropriate visual without me explaining any further.  We lived in a house once that had a narrow hallway we called “The Hot Gates”.  We had birthday parties and holidays in that house and I swear to you, guests would have to walk single file down that hallway.

This week, at several different times while visiting Walt Disney World, I was reminded of that scene and that hallway.  Disney, though, does everything on a much larger scale.  Disney felt like The Hot Gates almost everywhere we walked, not just while standing in line for rides, although a few of those were psychologically tough to handle.  There were so many people at our resort, so many people on the buses to the parks, so so so so so many people inside the actual parks, that a good portion of my subconscious was anticipating being attacked or trampled by Leonidas and this legendary troops.  It was like having flashbacks to a historical event you didn’t actually attend.

So, in short: Disney, man. It’s crowded.  Moving on to my review of our stay…

We (my husband, myself, and our 7-year-old son Emmett) set out on our adventure on a Sunday morning, after checking and re-checking that we had packed all the clothes and gift cards and the plants had been watered and the appliances were turned off and most importantly, there was nothing in the apartment that would cause it to smell like an animal had burrowed under the sofa and died while we were out.  I know it sounds strange, but my dad always had us take out all the trash and do all the laundry in the house before vacation, and I have adopted that habit and now inflict it on my own children.  Seriously, though, what’s worse than coming home to some strange odor?  Anyway, we loaded up in my VW Passat, and settled in for the 6-7 hour drive to Walt Disney World.

***Be warned now: This is not going to be a short blog post.  Not at all.  There’s a lot to cover and I tend to ramble.  Consider yourself warned. Continue at your own risk.***

The drive to Disney was relatively uneventful. I’m blessed with a husband who drives well and a little boy who is content to draw, read, or watch a movie in the car without complaint.  It was a nice drive on a beautiful Fall day, and thankfully we arrived safely at our destination, Disney’s All Star Music resort.

We have stayed at the Art of Animation resort before, so we chose All Star Music to try something different that was still in our price range.  Listed as one of Disney’s “Value” resorts, it is a little bit like a motel with doors outside and little extras.  We knew this before we arrived and personally we are fine with it, as we spend a total of 30 minutes a day in the hotel and the rest of the time at the parks.  It’s a good option if your main focus is the parks.  We don’t use the pools because we typically travel to Disney in the cooler months.  It’s fine for what it is.

At check-in, Stephen was polite and smiley, as Disney Cast Members tend to be.  He offered my son a “Celebrate” button, wrote his name and drew some balloons on it.  This is something Disney does for special occasions. They have buttons for First Time visitors, Birthdays, Honeymoons, and I’m not sure what else.  It’s a great and cheap way for them to make guests feel special, and I love it.  If you have young kids, you know that they love stickers and buttons and my son is no exception.  I appreciated the effort to make him smile upon arrival.

After a few minutes of typing on his keyboard, Stephen told us our room was in the Country Music section.  This was not music to my ears – not because I have something against Johnny Cash – but because Country is located WAY out in the back of the resort.  In the woods.  We’re already talking about a bare-bones resort, and now we’re talking about a half-mile trek from the front desk out into the woods on the back of the property.  I wanted to change this immediately, but nothing else was available.  (I thought booking our trip for a Sunday-Wednesday in November was a smart move, but apparently no one else worries about their kids’ education because the place was jam-packed.)

After dropping our bags off in the room, we came back to the desk to talk to a manager about the room and one other big disappointment.  We learned that the Main Street Electrical Parade (one of the things on our list of “MUST SEE” items this trip) was no longer running.  Not only that, but there would be no parades at night at all because we were unlucky enough to have booked our trip during the “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” time.  This was news to me, and a bit distressing for two reasons:  1)I really wanted Emmett to see a parade, as we didn’t see one last trip and 2) I had never even heard of the Christmas party, and we would have enjoyed going to that.  Now, standing at the desk sniffing back tears, I’m told the admission to the Christmas party costs as much as one day of park admission.  So there’s no way we can attend.

I’m a big believer in addressing issues as they arise, and not letting them fester.  Disney has a reputation for pleasing its guests and making things right, so I knew it wouldn’t hurt to ask.  That said, it had been a long day of travel.  I was tired and all my balloons were being popped before our actual vacation even got started.  What gives, Disney?  Big, hot tears were welling up in my eyes, mostly about the Christmas Party situation and about 10 percent about not wanting to be murdered in the back of the hotel property by some insane woods-dweller and never ever being found because not even the maintenance guy goes back there.

Nick, the manager, politely apologized about the room and said he would be happy to move us to the Broadway area (one building closer to civilization) the next day.  We made arrangements to do that.  I tucked my tears back in and resolved to make the best of the rest of what Disney had to offer.  We had 2 1/2 days of fun in the park to look forward to! Chin up! Let’s go to the gift shop!  [Note: The next day we inquired at the desk about our room change, and there was no room change noted or listed for us.  Nick was off that day, because of course he was.  We waited quite a while to get it moved, but at least something else was available.]

So we looked around the resort gift shop for a while.  My son decided that first night that he wanted to spend his $25 gift card on a Stitch doll.  We persuaded him to at least wait until we were in the Magic Kingdom to make up his mind, and he acquiesced.  I noticed that the resort gift shop carried baby clothes for girls, but nothing for baby boys.  I inquired about this, because we also have a 6 month old who stayed home with the grandparents, and the attendant told me she wasn’t sure why that is, they used to have boy stuff and now they just don’t.  Um… ok.  At this point I decided to start taking notes.  Positive and negative, I would record this trip for posterity and for Disney’s, and other travelers, information.  We went to Publix to grab a few snacks for the park the next day.  I’m no penny-pincher, but I’m not going to pay $75/day for meals and snacks.  Okaaaaaaaay?

OFFICIAL DISNEY DAY 1: THE MAGIC KINGDOM (part 1)

We awoke on Monday morning and walked (and walked and walked) to the resort dining hall for breakfast.  The prices give me a headache, so I tried to coach myself that this would be the only ‘paid for’ meal today so at least there was that.  I got the Bounty Platter, which is eggs (I believe this is actually egg product scrambled to look like eggs, but I digress…), 2 strips of bacon, one sausage, one biscuit, potato squares with onions (strangest thing on the plate) and a waffle shaped like Mickey’s face.  Emmett ate the waffle and biscuit, I ate the eggs and bacon.  No one ate the potatoes, and I can’t really figure out why they’re there.  The platter costs $11 so I was half-expecting some Mickey Mouse – shaped lobster chunks, but no such luck.  My husband ordered the biscuits and gravy and a coffee and said it was fine. I don’t know how much it cost. Part of me doesn’t want to know.

While eating breakfast, we were approached by Cast Member Joshua.  He told Emmett “Happy Birthday” – something that happened over and over and over again during our stay thanks to the marvelous button on his shirt – and inquired about our stay and where we were from.  He gave a few suggestions of his favorite things in the Magic Kingdom and wished us well.  This, I like.  This, I expect.  I hope that Disney encourages this kind of behavior in cast members and from what I can tell, they do.  Every time a cast member went above and beyond, whether in attitude or in service, I made a note.  They’ll all be mentioned by the time I’m done writing.

After breakfast, we boarded the bus, which was pretty standard and uneventful.  We arrived at the Magic Kingdom full of hope and expensive egg substitute, feeling excited for our day of magic.  (Last year, Emmett’s review of the Kingdom was that it was “too girly” so we tried to be more aware of ‘boy’ things in the park, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.)

[Note: I LOVE the Magic Bands, they make everything so simple and organized, connect reservations, photos, fast passes, practically all the info about the trip is on them. we just scanned our bands and went right on in.]

Right inside the park, before walking down Main Street, we entered the Town Square Theater, where Magician Mickey was doing a Meet and Greet.  We wanted to get this most important meeting done early, so we went inside and stood in line.  It was about a 25 minute wait.  Meet and greet wait times don’t bother me as much as waiting for rides, because the character cast members genuinely take time with each visitor, hugging and joking with them, signing autographs, and posing for several photos.  The Disney photographers take PhotoPass photos and will also take photos with a guest’s smart phone.  Finally, we got up to the front of the line to meet Mickey.  Emmett was so nervous, his little clammy hand was pressing into mine.  Mickey is his guy, y’all.  He met him last year at Epcot but this time, Mickey was talking. This Mickey talks!  Right away, Emmett’s “Happy Birthday” button was noticed.  Mickey said, “This calls for the birthday song!”  My heart skipped.  What’s this?  THE Mickey Mouse is going to SING to my Emmett?  Oh boy!  And he did.  Y’all.  I was like a child in that moment, too, just soaking it all in.  Unfortunately all the basking meant that I completely blanked on taking video of the moment, but it was incredible.  From what I understand it is somewhat rare, as well.  Emmett hugged Mickey and left that meeting knowing that they were BFFs.  This, Disney.  This right here.  This is why you are successful and drowning in other people’s dollars.  Please never forget it.  Please never stop doing it.

We’re all on a high from what just happened, walking towards the iconic castle.  We got to the area right in front and while attempting (and failing) to take a family selfie, we were approached by a custodian in all white who offered to take the photo for us.  Sweet!  His name was Richard and he was from Trinidad and Tobago.  His personality was almost effervescent and we thanked him profusely.  This small act, coupled with the Mickey Birthday thing, had me feeling like I was walking on air.  This place really is magical. I was starting to feel it.

***To be continued with Official Disney Day 1: The Magic Kingdom (part 2)

 

 

 

Movie Dates and Southern States

This weekend my husband had a *rare* day off work, so we decided to take our littlest guy to see a movie called “Strange Magic”.  It was playing at our local “cheap” theater (tickets are $2.25) and we had a gift card, so after concessions we only paid $5.00 for everything.  Totes winning.  (Thanks, Carmike Cinemas for having a more affordable option in our town!)

Usually I have to really pump myself up to see animated films.  I know the theater will be packed with kids talking and/or crying, and I would really just rather take a nap.  However, Strange Magic is the second movie I have seen this year that surprised me with its greatness.  This movie is delightful.  Delightful, I say!  It’s a musical, which I did not expect.  The Bog King (voiced by Alan Cumming)is totally my favorite character.  The plot is not extremely predictable, the animation is good, and the songs are so enjoyable.  At certain points I was singing, my husband was singing, our son was dancing… it was a wonderful time!  I’m telling you, there’s nothing so sweet as catching glimpses of a little one’s face while they are completely entranced in a story like this one.  Half the time I was watching the screen, and half the time I was studying my boy, sitting on the edge of his seat, smiling, fascinated.  Why can’t all movies be this good?!

The rest of our weekend was filled with house cleaning, workouts, and car shopping.  Two things we always do on Sunday (or I do alone, if my husband is working): Church and Fried Chicken.  Almost every week.  On both sides of my family Sunday is a day of eating.  My mom’s mother is French, and makes bread by hand every Sunday morning, then we all feast on it after church.  My dad’s mother makes country-style meals with fixins.  In my house, we do fried chicken.

As we were sitting at the table looking over our Sunday lunch, I felt overwhelming gratitude.  The South, particularly the states I have lived in most of my life – Georgia and Alabama – takes a lot of crap from the rest of the nation.  It is the butt of many jokes, and is criticized on the regular for not conforming to what is normal everywhere else.  But I am SO grateful we live here.  Grateful to have been raised here, with front porches and rocking chairs and sweet tea.  With tire swings and creeks and Sunday Service.  We worship Jesus and we say ‘yes ma’am’.  We say grace and we walk around barefoot and we make our biscuits from scratch.  I cannot imagine life any other way.  I cannot imagine raising our kids any other way.  If you don’t live down here, well, y’all just don’t know what you’re missing.

Chocolate Chip “PanCrepes”

Most of my ‘best’ dishes happen by accident.  I love feeling like a mad scientist in the kitchen – creating, substituting, and usually not measuring or following any specific recipe.  I call it ‘guerrilla baking’ in jest, but in truth it’s the most freeing way for me to cook.  Tonight I made something in between pancakes and crepes, using applesauce instead of vegetable oil (blech) and Ghirardelli semi-sweet morsels.

My husband sent me a “Good News!” text, and once I heard what the good news, I decided to celebrate.  Hence, cooking with chocolate.  What makes a heart (or tummy) happier on a cold winter’s night than something buttery, gooey, and chocolatey?  I certainly can’t think of anything.

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So I put a pat of Plugra Unsalted butter (my favorite, hands-down) and got to work.  These are the result. They are not as thin as crepes, not as fluffy as pancakes, just the right ‘in-between’ of sweet and savory, with melted chocolate in the middle. They may not be pretty, but my taste buds are not complaining.   I don’t have a recipe, though if I did I might not share it, as I like to keep my Franken-Dishes to myself.*

These ARE vegetarian – they ARE NOT vegan but could easily be modified.  (Which I may do for myself tomorrow!)

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*Alright, boys and girls – after several requests I’m going to post a ‘rough’ version of the non-recipe:

1/2 C milk or non-dairy milk

1/2 C all purpose flour

dash of baking powder

pinch of salt

pinch of cinnamon

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp applesauce (or vegetable oil)

1 Tbsp butter or margarine (you really want to use butter here)

1 large egg

Any chocolate you like.  Dark chocolate will give a more bitter taste, so if you want sweet go with milk or semi-sweet chocolate. You could also add vanilla (I was out).

Preheat a pan or skillet and drop a small ‘pat’ of butter.  (Just a LITTLE bit is fine – this adds flavor and thins out the batter a little.) Mix wet ingredients in a bowl. (Egg, butter, applesauce).  Whisk together, then add dry ingredients.  Mix well (mixer not needed, just do it by hand.)   Pour batter in pan as you like – I started small to ‘test’ then got bigger.  Makes 4-6 PanCrepes.

Sweet Tarts for my Sweet Hearts

It’s almost Valentine’s Day!  Which, when I was in my 20s, I really thought was just a “Hallmark holiday”, even though I was in a committed relatinoship at the time.  I felt, like many people do, that every day should be a day – “the” day – you tell your loved ones what you feel about them, what you appreciate about them.  While I still sort-of feel that way, meaning I put no pressure on my husband to show up with jewelry or take me to dinner, I must say that having kids changed my thoughts a little.

My son has my heart.  Every day, all the time.  One of the most enjoyable parts of having a little one is the holidays, or special treats when we’re able to give them to him.  Probably the BEST thing is all of the “firsts” you get to be present for, and that includes paintings, writing valentines, and so forth.  As a mom, this Valentine’s Day is a day I’ve looked forward to with great anticipation.  We have been secretly making gifts for Daddy using Pinterest ideas and some of our own creativity.  Little Dude has drawn love notes for people in our family and tomorrow we get to distribute them.  It’s the sweetest thing!  And, something I have learned, is that small children know how to love better than ANY of us.  They get it.  They get it like we never will.  I’m so proud of my sweet boy, and his love and sensitivity for others, and of course I want to encourage and foster that in him.

So… still not a romantic holiday in my book, but I’m totally on board with loving it up on Valentine’s Day.

The way I show my love is through food.  I enjoy cooking – particularly baking – for my loved ones.  I created my own recipe for tomorrow’s Valentine’s breakfast.  What follows here is a happy accident.

Valentine’s Apple Pie Croissants Fluffy Tarts

Yeah, so, I had the brilliant idea to do something semi-homemade, like Sandra Lee.  (Don’t you love her? I just love her.)  One of my favorite, super easy, dessert or breakfast add-ons is skillet apples.  Cut up an apple into chunks, cook in butter, add cinnamon and some sweetener, and VOILA!  Basically pie filling you can eat with eggs or ice cream, whatever you like.  So I thought I’d stuff some pre-made crescent rolls with the filling and my family would hail me as the loving genius that I am.

However…

I’m not going to name names, but instead of getting the more expensive, name-brand crescents, I purchased the store brand.  Twenty cents cheaper and “it’s the same thing”, I said to myself.  Big no-no in cooking, in my opinion, is cheaping out.  A lot of times those costly ingredients cost more for a reason. Yes, you can go generic sometimes but other times you’re paying less because the quality is less.  This was one of those times.

I got home and assembled my ingredients:

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Yummily in my Tummily, as Pooh Bear might say.

Next, I heat a “pat” of butter – I just eyeball, it’s probably about a tablespoon – in the skillet:

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For accuracy’s sake, it isn’t a skillet. It’s a sauce pan. It’s my favorite saucepan, so watch your mouth.

Add the apples, sweetener, (sugar is best but I used Stevia this time), and as much cinnamon as you like. I like a lot.  You know in movies, when Italian Mobsters say “Fuggedaboutit” (sp, obviously) ?  Well, one of my favorites of all time is Donnie Brasco, I just so thoroughly enjoy Al Pacino’s Lefty Ruggiero character, it’s beyond explanation.  His is the best accent, the best wardrobe, very best “fuggedaboutit” in the film.  And friends, I have to tell you, if “fuggedaboutit” had a smell, it would smell like this.  Moving on…

Everything’s going fine, I’m thinking I’m going to get this done in 15 minutes and have time to take a nap.  Yay Super Mommy!  And then, it happened.  I peeled back the label on the crescent roll can, holding it as far away from me as possible becauseI am as jumpy as a chihuahua and I hate that “pop” sound.  The label came right off, but no pop.  I squeezed.  Still no pop.  Finally I got a large knife and tried to cut them open, but even that was a mess.  After a few minutes of wrestling with it, I finally managed to pull the dough out.  Unfortunately it was hot and not at all in any recognizable shape.  Instead of croissants, I would have to make something else.

Light bulb!  I pulled the dough apart and made six somewhat even balls.  I sprayed my brand new muffin tin with Pam, and lined six muffin cups with the dough.  Tarts! Pies?  I don’t know, we’ll see.  It’s better than wasting my fuggedaboutit apples, AmIRight?

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I quickly – hurriedly, even – filled the dough ball wads with apple goodness and put them in to my preheated (350 degrees) oven for 10 minutes.

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Pretty Before

The outcome?  Better than I could have hoped, all things considered.  They are like quiche without egg, like tarts if tart makers allowed a “home-style crust” option.  They taste wonderful, and I was still able to get that nap!

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Delicious After

 

They’re buttery, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle and filled with warm apple cinnamon LOVE.  Sweet and tangy and everything I want my Valentine’s breakfast to be.  This is why cooking is so wonderful! It’s magical, a true adventure… and so are love and mommy-hood.

Pity the Fool

Hello, Dear Ones.

So much has happened. So much to say.  Where to begin?  Apologies if this reads like a “random thoughts” post.  It sort-of is one.

There have been at least 4 separate occasions in the past 2 weeks that I told myself to put my “ass in chair” and get some writing done.  Did it happen?  No.  Life keeps getting in the way.  It’s a shame, too, because I have so much to write about. Funny things, serious things, cooking things.  Mmm… food… there’s always something more that can be said about food… but I digress.

After my last post – “I Jumped”, my son fell ill.  It’s not abnormal for a child who is new to daycare to catch things, so at first we weren’t alarmed.  Only when he stopped eating did my internal alarm go off.  He complained incessantly of tummy aches, and that’s not something he’s ever said before.  We took him to the pediatrician, who said nothing was wrong, and lectured me on “good eating”.  We took him to the peds ER, who said he was constipated and sent us home with some laxatives.  We took him BACK to the pediatrician, who said it’s the flu (even though flu and strep tests were negative) and told us to give him tylenol and liquids.  Finally, after 2 weeks of this, my son was 10 lbs down and too weak to walk.  Frustrated and crying, I picked him up from my husband and went back to the Peds ER.  (The pediatrician, tired of seeing us, refused to see us so the ER was the only option.)  He was immediately admitted after triage, which scared me.  They started IV fluids and took us to our room, where we’d live for the next week.  Turns out my sweet boy had bronchitis, a raging infection in both ears, and was severely dehydrated.  Our hospital stay took a toll on me, but he was a real trooper, watching SpongeBob and making jokes.  Thank God for my husband and family, who visited and brought us contraband snacks.  It goes without saying, I was and still am pissed at the doctors – numerous doctors – who examined my son and sent us home, each time sewing a seed of doubt in my mind.  Am I going crazy?  He seems really “off”.  Lesson learned, my Mommy Instinct is RIGHT ON THE MONEY and I will not doubt it again and I will not take no for an answer in the future.

In happier news, Thanksgiving was rad.  We spent the day in Atlanta in my Uncle’s castle.  He calls it a house, but I swear, all it’s missing is a moat.  Gorgeous abode.  The food was good and the company was even better.  Took pictures, chatted, ate, laughed, listened to stories and dreamed about the future.  So grateful for experiences like these and for our loved ones.

I looked at microfilm for the first time yesterday!  I’m in what feels like a never-ending search for my husband’s biological father, so we went to the local library last night to search through records.  I spent an hour looking for birth records in the local paper.  I found nothing and left frustrated.  It wasn’t until about midnight last night that I realized I’d been looking at the wrong year.  On the one hand, damnit, I am tired.  On the other hand, hope renewed!  I can go back and look and possibly FIND something next time!

I was accused of something at work that I know I didn’t do.  Today I was vindicated.  Yes, I’m still leaving, but I had prepared to fight.  We don’t mess around with this girl’s integrity and reputation, mkay?  Happily all was resolved to our mutual satisfaction.

Went to my first comic convention with my brother. It was TOO much fun. Got to meet some guys from the Walking Dead. I don’t watch the show but apparently it’s a big thing.  I am a nerd at heart, and a super huge sci-fi/trekkie girl, so I was in my element.  We are now committed to going to Dragon Con in Atlanta next year and it can’t get here soon enough!  I need ideas for costumes though – there are 4 of us.

FRINGE is one of the best shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Engages my mind while entertaining me.  I am a little bit obsessed.

Christmas shopping is just about done.  I have a few small things to get, but for the most part, I am done and it’s all wrapped.  This is the earliest I’ve ever been done, the most  I’ve ever spent, and the most FUN I’ve ever had doing it.  (Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals were a bust.  Deals? I see no deals!?!)  Anyway, I enjoy the spirit of Christmas and I can’t wait to see everyone around the tree.  We spend Christmas at my brother’s house, usually beginning with a great big breakfast buffet (everyone brings something) and culminating with naps.  This year I’m bringing chocolate covered bacon.  Oh, yeah. I don’t say EPIC a lot but man oh man, this Christmas morning is going to be one for the record books.  So excited!

Running, my love, I’m so happy to be reunited with you. Let’s go farther, faster, stronger in 2014.

Paul Walker.  I didn’t like him as an actor. I mean, not that I’d seen anything besides the movie where Jessica Alba’s butt is so famously not part of her body while snorkeling for treasure, and the F&F films.  HOWEVER I am sad about his passing, like many people.  Some are annoyed that it’s getting so much press, saying that people die every day, soldiers and firefighters and the like, and aren’t so “virally” recognized.  Yep, that’s true.  The thing is, Paul Walker’s impact isn’t about him being an actor, and him being an actor doesn’t diminish his nobility.  By all accounts he was a good person with a big heart.  I think the reason people have responded en masse to his passing is because of that, and because he is someone we can all relate to and felt connected to.  Kinda reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s passing.  For me, at least.

I made sugar cookies that I saw in “Bon Appetite” magazine. I’d already been inspired by “Julie and Julia”, having watched it in the hospital one night.  Thank God for free movies, because those recliners are the antithesis of comfort.  There was no sleep. Til Brooklyn and beyond, I’m not even kidding.  The movie was way better than I expected.  I adore Stanley Tucci, he always gives a good performance and I was mesmerized by the love story there, and by Julia Child’s life, struggles, tenacity, warmth.  I think I love her a little. And more than that, I really felt like I could identify with her as a person, a woman, a cook, a dreamer, a lover of France.  Anyway… The cookies… I used pearl dust for the first time and was so proud, I tweeted the magazine to show them.  Who knows if they saw it or cared, but I was over the moon.  Here’s a photo:

Picasso Cookies
Picasso Cookies

On the way to a meeting today I heard “Here I go Again” by Whitesnake.  I laughed because it felt like a “God wink”.  Going in to the job to say goodbye to everyone and I hear THIS song?  Yeah. SO not a coincidence.  But it gets funnier/eerier.  On the way out of saying goodbye I hear “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue.  Two things to note here:  One, I listen to awesome music.  Two, I do believe I was hearing a message that I’m on my perfect life path RIGHT NOW.  Lately I am open enough to recognize and receive love and abundance.  This fills my heart with joy and excitement!

Painting furniture today, and finally, finally putting my hands to these keys again.  Feels good.  My dream is to live in a big warm home with my hubs and kids, and write for a living, and be home to cook and create and go on vacations whenever we like.  I give you my word, I am on my way!

Happy. Love. Peace.  xoxo

My First Overnight

[Oats, that is.]

Perusing some new and some of my old favorite vegan blogs yesterday, I ran across an idea.  Overnight oats.  Never heard of them?  Do a search on Pinterest.  Oh, sometimes I loathe technology but in this instance I like it very much.  There is a wealth of cooking and creative inspiration at my fingertips.

So, I kept seeing posts about overnight oats and I decided to try a variation of a pumpkin recipe.  Since it’s Fall, and pumpkins are everywhere, and mostly because I had a can of pumpkin in the cupboard that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with.

Here’s what I used:

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/4 cup canned pumpkin

1/2 tbsp agave nectar

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tbsp chia seeds

splash vanilla

sprinkle of Vega Sport vanilla protein powder (about 1/3 packet)

cinnamon, ginger, ground allspice – just dashes and splashes of each.

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Mad scientist-ing at the zero hour.

It smelled WONDERFUL.  I put on a “Best of Beethoven” CD I purchased at a discount store years ago. I love Beethoven. Classical music in general, pairs extremely well with creative endeavors, in my opinion.

In theory, all these ingredients, once given a good stir, settle and mix and mingle and expand and absorb flavors overnight, and become something brilliant for breakfast.  I had my doubts.

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The finished product.

So this morning I woke up and made a bee-line to the fridge.  I was hungry and curious and hopeful.  I got a spoon and took a big bite.  How was it?  In a word, disappointing.  Texturally it was satisfying.  The chia seeds were new for me, and I love texture in my foods. That’s actually one of the perks of eating vegan/vegetarian. The variety of tastes and feels is sometimes overwhelming. (In a good way.)

I have two theories about why I didn’t like the oats.  First I’ll say they did settle and absorb quite nicely.  Again, texturally I have no complaints.  I think I didn’t love them because 1) I don’t love pumpkin and 2) I am not a fan of cold things for breakfast.  What’s that you say?  “Well if you’re not a fan of pumpkin, what were you thinking making pumpkin oats?”  Astute of you.  I was actually hoping to form a relationship with pumpkin.  I believe in it, as a healthy food.  I know there’s a way to sneak it into some things, but this particular dish for me was a fail.

Positive notes: I think if I make the same dish with sweet potato, I will knock my own socks off.  Particularly if I am able to heat it up.  OR I was also thinking of adding banana.  Creativity begets creativity.  Can’t be bummed about that.  I did also eat this, even though I wasn’t into it, because it’s packed with nutrients and I do not waste food.  Never. Waste. Food.  It’s a thing with me.

So much of cooking and creating is trial and error. I’m honestly feeling that this was a positive experience.  Would I recommend this recipe?  Not unless you are a pumpkin fiend and really like the flavor.  Otherwise, I’d say add something that will mix well or even overpower the pumpkin flavor. It was just too much for me.

My Growing Vegan Pantry

(Not to be confused with the following post at Oh She Glows:

My Vegan Pantry

However that one is one of my favorite blog posts, ever, and I highly recommend viewing it.)

I am pretty committed to meatless eating.  This way of eating is not exactly new to me, in fact it’s my “default” get-well from a cold diet, feel better when I’m in a slump diet, clear up my skin diet, sleep better diet, faster workout recovery diet, make sure I’m regular diet… it’s THE best way to eat, I am sure of it.  WHY it’s taken me so long to make it permanent, I couldn’t say.

The commitment part of this is new to me.  I’m used to storing away thoughts, way in the back of my mind, that I can have diet soda any time.  I can eat a big, juicy hamburger if I want to.  I don’t know why this kind of thinking comforts me, but it does.  I guess it’s because of the freedom – or perception of freedom – is something I need psychologically.  Breaking away from that will be challenging, but it’s helped by how good I feel being vegan.

The more I eat this way, the better I feel.  Physically, see above.  Lots of benefits almost immediately.  Internally, spiritually you might say, I feel lighter. I feel enlightened. I feel joy.  There is some serious smiling going on over here, and sometimes I can’t even help or explain it.  Yes, I’m sure it’s because of cutting out animal products but no, I cannot explain how I know that.  Just take my word for it.

So tonight I took a couple of pictures.  The first one is a cell phone picture of the “beginning” of my new pantry.  Here it is:

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Tri-color couscous, wild rice, quinoa, oats.

I am SUPER excited about this.  Perhaps disproportionately so.  I took the next couple of photos while preparing my food for work tomorrow:

Banana, kiwi, orange, and medjool dates.
Banana, kiwi, orange, and medjool dates.

This is my afternoon snack.  It’s fresh and alive, full of nutrition and nourishment.  As much fruit as I might have eaten in 2 or 3 days before.

Steamed green beans, ripped spinach leaves, kidney beans, steamed zucchini and steamed squash, tomatoes, and some Amy's veggie soup on top.
Steamed green beans, ripped spinach leaves, kidney beans, steamed zucchini and steamed squash, tomatoes, and some Amy’s veggie soup on top.

This is my lunch.  With these two combined I’m eating 10-12 different types of NOURISHING, nutritious, plant foods.  Now, as these photos illustrate, I am what I have come to call “guerilla vegan”.  Meaning, my style is less organized and more, “throw lots of flavors in a bowl and wolf it down”.  I don’t slice precisely, I don’t measure or count anything, which I think is fantastic. That’s just what I do, I know everyone has their own style, but this works for me.

This weekend I hope to get out and pick up more vegan “staples” and start organizing my spice rack.  One of the best things about eating vegan or vegetarian that I’ve yet to mention?  The cooking.  OH, the culinary places you’ll GO!  Places you never even knew existed or that previously only existed in your wildest imagination.  At least, this has been my experience.

So… what’s in your pantry?  What’s your “go to” staple?  What’s the best “quickie” veggie meal?  What is the one item you can’t live without?  If you are vegan or vegetarian, what has been the biggest benefit?  How have you stayed on track?  Do you think there are any drawbacks to this way of eating or lifestyle?  I love comments.  Leave me some.

I Believe You Have My Stapler.

This week at work has been… challenging.  Normally I’m not one of those who looks forward to Friday any more than any other day, but this week is an exception.  Come ON, weekend!  I kept quoting “Office Space” in my head this week.  The pieces of flair, the fantasy copy machine beating, the “mmm… yeah.”  Seriously.  On the bright side, I do work with some amazing people.  So that’s nice.

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My “how can I help you” face

We have staff meetings a couple times a month, and fortunately they aren’t unpleasant.  As a matter of fact, they are a time of encouragement, fellowship with friends and [have I already mentioned?] there’s food.  Someone on staff volunteers to bring a treat, which could be anything.  Sometimes it’s homemade and sometimes it’s from the store.  But hey, it’s always food.  This week I volunteered to bring the food.

Now, obviously, I love food. I love to cook it, eat it, take photos of it.  I love to learn about it, read about it, experiment with it.  I sing songs to my son about his broccoli.  Admittedly, I’m a food nut.  I’m also a health and fitness enthusiast.  Sometimes vegan, sometimes paleo, but always conscious of what I’m putting into my body.  I often find myself in conversation at the office about diet, fitness, vitamins, nutrients, things of that nature.  I don’t mind it. I less-than-mind it.  I enjoy it, I light up in those kinds of conversations because food and health are my passion.

After a few minutes brainstorming, I came up with a perfect snack to represent who I am and how I think about food, and still be sweet and filling enough to satisfy everyone else at the meeting who maybe doesn’t share my food philosophies. [I also needed something that would be affordable.]  Here’s a photo:

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Drooling all over yourself, right?  ME TOO!  Fruit skewers.  Easy to handle, great for Summer and perfectly refreshing.  As I was making these, those little glands by my jaw kept tingling.  Oh, the anticipation of those sweet, sweet strawberries.  And the kiwi – I was ill-prepared and only had one – was SO ripe it was all I could do not to just swallow it whole.

One thing I have noticed about myself in the last couple of years, that either wasn’t the case before, or I didn’t realize before because I wasn’t eating as well as I should: I have a real, physical, visceral reaction to foods that nourish me.  It’s almost lust.  The body is alive, is made up of live cells, so when it’s fed living foods on a consistent basis, there is a palpable shift.  It starts to crave those types of foods.  Trust me, it’s real and it feels good.

Anyway, back to the office story.  At the store throwing all this fruit in my cart, I decided there should be something on the side.  A dip?  Yogurt?  I’m running through dietary restrictions in my head – so and so is gluten free, um I think so and so is doing this or that diet plan – hmm… I know!  NUTELLA!!  Delicious hazelnut spread that everyone likes.  Perfect.  So I get to the aisle number 149 over at the other end of the store, and I see the Nutella.  But just as I was about to add it to my pending purchases, another jar caught my eye.  It said Justin’s, and looked like my favorite Maple Almond Butter, but it said “Hazelnut”.  Is this real, or am I hallucinating?  Justin’s makes a delicious hazelnut spread too, but theirs has no ingredients I can’t pronounce and only 1/3 the sugar?!  Is today Christmas?!  For clarity’s sake, I’ll say here that I chose the Justin’s.  [Because of course I did.]

I went to the conference room early to set up, and the spread was delightful, just as I’d imagined it.  Granted, it did take a long time to slice up all that fruit and put it all on skewers, and I may or may not have gone to bed with a stomach ache from all the pieces I “dropped” into my mouth.  Still, it was a success and it all got eaten and I am quite proud of myself.  I did, of course, post a photo on instagram.  Hashtag CANIGETARAISE?

A photo, this time of the presentation at work:

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