Labor Day

So, tomorrow’s Labor Day. Holla for a day off of work and a nice chance to celebrate the end of summer! But also, can you give me the history of Labor Day? I mean, if you can tell me something beyond, “It’s about labor unions and workers rights, right?” then you get gold stars. But I’d venture to guess that most people don’t know much beyond that. I honestly don’t.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

U.S. Department of Labor https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

So, there’s that. Doesn’t honestly tell us much, but there you go.

Obviously, my chef/butcher husband is working on Labor Day. That’s our normal and I’m used to it after him being in the food service industry for so long. It’s never unheard of for him to work weekends and holidays, whatever it takes to make sure everyone else’s celebrations go off without a hitch. We’re cool with having a flexible schedule around any holiday.

What I will never be used to is the number of unkind, entitled, disrespectful fools who he encounters that treat my husband and his staff as though they’re lesser life forms. I have a real hard time knowing that my husband is working 12 hour days so that people can tell him the work he does isn’t good enough, speak to him in a demeaning tone, and complain that the offerings aren’t up to snuff for their party, and then waltz out wishing him a happy Labor Day.

I’m sure many of you reading are as incensed as I am over this sort of thing. But that’s just all in a day’s work for people in the food service industry.

Customers think that they’re allowed to speak down to staff, send food back, complain about imaginary issues, and weaponize Yelp reviews so that they get what they want. Businesses are held hostage by the expectations of customers and employees suffer.

So, what does that mean for your Labor Day? I certainly don’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy your day off or that you should feel guilty (unless you act like an asshat to people serving you, then you sure as shit should feel guilty).

What I mean is that we have an opportunity. We can observe Labor Day as a fun day off and end it there, or we can make it a day of remembrance. Our family is going to take time today to remember and pray for all of the people we’ve know and loved in the food industry that have been lost to suicide and substance abuse. We’re going to pray for change and donate some money to a charity that promotes mental health resources and offers monetary support to food service workers. And we’re going to enjoy ribs and chicken together once my husband gets off of work.

Labor Day is a chance for you to check in with yourself. Do you see people in the service industry? Do you really, really see them? Do you treat them with respect, humanity, and dignity or do you take out your frustrations on them because they can’t talk back? Do you honor them by fighting for fair wages, health benefits, and mental health support, or do you just take for granted that your meat is cut the way you want it or you dinner can easily be dropped off on your step via Door Dash?

Obviously, this goes for other industries, too. Do you slow down in construction zones or do you have a bad attitude when you have to wait on a road that’s being repaired? Do you take time to actually engage with your cashier at the grocery store or do you micromanage how they bag your groceries? Are you as quick to give grace to the customer service rep on the phone as you are to lose patience? Do you take time to pray for the workers who harvested your food or do you waste the fruit of their labor?

There are a lot of invisible middlemen in our country, people who sacrifice their very lives so that the rest of us can live comfortably and enjoy our time. I can’t speak for every single person working in the service industry, but I can speak for the man in my house. He gets up and goes to work because he believes in the job that he’s doing. He is motivated by creating quality products that enrich lives. He wants to be a small part of your Labor Day celebration and your weeknight dinner. He shows up early and stays late because he believes in the importance of wholesome meals and family dinners. Ultimately, he’s doing his best to provide for his family just like you are yours.

That’s the goal of every industry employee we’ve ever met: to provide for their families as best they can. The job is grueling, physically and mentally draining, and thankless. So, this Labor Day, do me a favor and be a decent human? Take a minute to see and value the work that’s done to benefit you. Challenge yourself to see more and do better, to hold other shoppers accountable, to be a light in a world that so quickly undervalues folks who aren’t working the “good” jobs in the sexy roles. They’re people, too, wildly deserving of our admiration and appreciation. Even if they get our order wrong, even if they’re tired or slow, even if the service isn’t perfect. Even then, especially then, they’re valuable and deserving of grace.

Happy Labor Day, friends…you are so incredibly loved!

I’m an Addict and So Are You

So, addictions are fun, huh? It’s so interesting to me how things that seem innocuous can somehow sneak into our hearts and set up shop. Whether it’s alcohol, shopping or, in my case, social media and food, these things walk right in and start selling their wares.

I’ve been struggling with my consumption a lot lately. I can’t stop myself from taking in garbage, compulsively filling my body and mind with substances that don’t nourish and ultimately leave me feeling dissatisfied and emptier than before.

They really sell it, though. My addictions are so compelling when they tell me that they hold the secrets to finding peace and comfort. The dopamine hit that I get from scrolling Reddit and Instagram combine with the hit I get from secretly eating three pieces of cold pizza after everyone else is in bed and it is comforting…for a moment.

And then the moment passes.

What my addictions hide in the fine print is the immediate shame, regret, and hunger for more that comes like tsunami completely wiping out the comfort. But then the cycle repeats because it’s just so easy. I know feeding my addictions won’t ultimately satisfy my needs, but gosh they’re so tangible and approachable. Scrolling for hours or stuffing my face with garbage candy are tangible things I can do and those things are so much easier to approach than taking time to wrestle with my confusing emotions.

I’m such a slave to the quick fix. I want results now. I want answers now. I want conflict resolution now rather than waiting and giving myself time to accept my reality, take stock of my emotions, trace them back to their roots, and consciously identify next steps. That crap takes forever and I don’t have time for it (read: I won’t take time for it), so I scroll and fill my mind with unhappy news, angry comment boxes, and fuel myself with comparison. And when that makes me feel like crap (because it always does), I root through my son’s leftover birthday candy or eat a half a jar of olives and hope it does the trick. Spoiler alert: it does not do the trick. Ever.

And y’all, I don’t know the answer to all of this. Lots of people have studied addictions and written amazing books and I’m working on reading some of them. I think the answer is as individual as the addict and I think that for me it’s a combination of prayer, self-awareness, doing hard emotional work, therapy, grace, conversations with people I love and trust, and lots of do-overs. Also taking part in the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation help, too.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

I was journaling and praying about all this this morning and I remembered an old quote. It’s the one that gets used a lot with school kids usually in reference to thinking before you speak. There are lots of versions, but the one that came to my mind goes like this:

Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?”

Sai Baba

It occurred to me that this list of questions isn’t just a good model to follow regarding our speech, but also in how we conduct ourselves, how we treat our bodies, how we use our time, how we treat our earth, etc. So let’s take for example my struggle with food addiction.

Is it Kind? Is this thing I’m about to put into my body kind? Is it going to support my performance, help me grow in the ways I want to grow? Is this food/drink chemically supportive of my body or will it hurt me? Is this a treat that will genuinely hit the spot or is it a treat that will cause me to feel shame later? Just like I learned in college, any relationship you have to keep a secret is probably not a good one…and that goes for food, too.

Is it Necessary? Am I really hungry right now or am I eating for another reason? If so, it is more necessary for me to take care of the real root of my hunger than to numb it with food. Is this food necessary for my body to work properly, or is it an unnecessary snack that will hurt me? Is it really necessary for me to eat the appetizer/birthday cake/have the second helping or is this an opportunity for me to find a different way to celebrate or find contentment and peace elsewhere? Conversely, am I waiting to eat for a good reason? Am I pushing my body into deep hunger because I’m “busy” or punishing myself for yesterday’s choices? Would it be wiser to take the time to fuel my body now rather than pushing on and potentially making poor choices later?

Is it True? Is this food what it claims to be? Is it secretly full of junk or hiding stuff in it that doesn’t align with my goals? Is this food telling me that I’ll feel better after I eat it, even when I know that that’s false? Have I made this food into a false god or am I consuming it for what it is, just a food that exists. If it causes me to fall into a place where I am harming my body/mind and putting my confidence/comfort into that food, it’s not true to my morals, so best to skip it.

Does it Improve Upon the Silence? Will eating this food or at this particular moment improve my life? Will I truly benefit from consuming it or will it cause me to stray into a place that I don’t want to go? Is this desire to fill myself up with something come from a place of physical hunger or do I need to check in with myself or someone I trust to deal with the real hunger I’m feeling?

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

This is all easier said than done, obviously. But, guys, we’re all addicted to something. We’re all guilty of using something to numb the pain or uncomfortable feelings that inevitably come from life. These things usually aren’t dangerous in and of themselves (But sometimes they are…I mean, porn and drugs are pretty much never going to be helpful). However, it’s our relationship to these things that makes them dangerous. It’s so easy for us to fool ourselves and pretend that the thing we’re abusing isn’t as bad as all that. But if we’re dependent upon something other than God for comfort or coping, we need to be very honest with ourselves about what that says about the state of our hearts.

Maybe you think I’m overly sensitive or projecting my own stuff onto you and you’re welcome to think that. That may be the case…but I kind of doubt it.

If the only thing you post on social media is “funny” memes about how much you’re drinking or how much alcohol you need to “survive” your regular life, maybe you need to take a look at whether or not those jokes are actually funny or if you’re using humor to deflect a real problem.

If you’re buying yourself an extra treat at the grocery store and scarfing it down in the car so your family doesn’t know you ate it, you need to examine why that’s a behavior your engaging in.

If you’re spending too much money on Amazon and blaming it on the pandemic, you need to ask yourself what it is you’re trying to cover up with all those boxes on your porch.

If you’re secretly surfing porn at night and can’t stop yourself, you need to figure out what’s at the root of that void you’re trying to fill.

If you’re spending hours and hours staring at your phone, closing and reopening the same apps over and over, maybe it’s a good idea to examine your heart and see what it is that you’re trying to escape from.

This work is hard. It’s a long road and it’s lonely at times. Confronting our addictions forces us to confront ugliness in our hearts and that’s never pleasant. I’m no expert and I certainly don’t have my own addictions whipped, but I do know that being open and honest about who I am and where I’m at takes away the power that shame tries to wield over me.

At the end of the day, I struggle with food and social media addiction. That’s just the truth of it. But the other more important truth that I cling to is that I am beloved by my Lord. My addictions and struggles are an opportunity to grow in holiness. They can sanctify me if I let them. My addictions are actually crosses that can lead me to Christ if I allow them to transform me rather than control me.

One day at a time, my friends. You are loved exactly as you are exactly where you are.

Food Blogger: Our Meal Schedule

Umm…has anyone else forgotten to feed their kids lunch lately? Just me? Kewl.

So, we’re on all sorts of a weird Covid schedule. Like, I don’t know when bedtime really is and breakfast is definitely on a sliding scale. As I type this it is 2:15 pm and I have not fed my children lunch. Honestly, they haven’t even snacked. I’m chalking this up to the big breakfast they had at 9:45.

Gracious, what has become of us? I mean, obv Covid has become of us and I, for one, am growing as an individual and as a human. (They’re not necessarily the same thing.) So, I’m happy to announce that since I’ve got the fashion and pet blogging niche markets down, I will now begin my foray into food blogging. You. are. welcome. I shall start with a little run down on our eating schedule since so many stay at home parents need help in that area and because I am an influencer.

Lately, our meal schedule looks like the following:

Around 6:30 AM the kids wake up and putter around while I sleep in a bit because somebody had a bloody nose in the night. I have no idea if they eat during this time, but I assume they don’t since they eventually wake me up by asking for food.

Between 8:30-9:30 we have some sort of a combination of cereal, yogurt, fruit, and/or leftover brownies and pizza (because Covid, and summer, and I don’t care).

Some days I am Mary Poppins and we eat homemade muffins, scones, or pancakes outdoors while we are serenaded by songbirds and I read a book aloud.

Most days are not those days.

So, the breakfast cereal holds us over for approximately 20 minutes and then we have some sort of brunch, or second breakfast, or what have you. Like, today I made scrambled eggs and sausage and cheese all mixed together which was great because it totally filled them up. I mean, we can just go ahead and call that a “breakfast scramble” and pretend that we could potentially put vegetables in it and we’ve got ourselves a Pinterest situation, am I right? I’m too lazy to stage a photo of that slop, but if you do please pin it and send it my way.

Aaaanyway, that protein packed meal did the trick so well that nobody wanted to eat lunch. Like, I offered and they declined. More appropriately, I forgot about lunch until I looked at my watch, saw it was past 2 pm, and frantically asked the kids if they needed to eat. They assured me that they did not and went right back to playing Animal Crossing.

Now, I’m no fool, so there’s no way I asked twice. Speak up or forever snack on stale couch pretzels is what I say.

Around 4:45 pm starts the grumbling and snack sneaking. Today I discovered that the youngest had been secretly helping himself to chocolate granola bars even though I cut him off after two. I have no idea how many he actually consumed, but it’s safe to say he doesn’t need to worry about being regular anytime soon.

Snack sneaking also coincides with the exact moment I start preparing dinner. This is so they can fill up on garbage while I’m distracted and then not eat what I cook. It’s cool. It’s fine. I actually love it. Totally great, not bitter at all.

Let’s also sneak in a moment here to talk about how I’m a pretty not bad cook, but my specialty is winter food. I specifically excel at one pot meals. What this basically looks like in practice is that even though it’s summer and it’s humid and gross and the world feels like a sweaty sports bra, I usually lose track of time and then end up rushing to cook dinner…so we end up eating some sort of one pot thing that can be served over rice or noodles. I realize that heating up the kitchen isn’t wise, but I’m good at making slop is what I’m saying. And also, can’t stop won’t stop.

‘Slop’ may be a harsh term. My husband likes to call it ‘gravy.’ So, what I’m saying is, I’m good at making various delicious gravies and feeding them to my family on a bed of starch or carb. Guys, I know chicken curry, picadillo, and whatever homemade version of Hamburger Helper I manage to throw together all sound exotic, but let’s face it. I’m making piping hot gravy every night and the fam is done. The other day, my husband very gently asked if I’ve ever considered maybe making BLTs or like a salad or something and I had to remind him that I am a chef with a blog following so he can just pipe down, thankyouverymuch.

So anyway, back to the schedule. The kids’ strategic refusal of dinner allows them to be hungry riiiight as they’re being tucked into bed, but joke’s on those suckers because I don’t play that game. Unfortunately, this means they’ll be hungrier earlier in the day the following morn, which really cuts into my sleep time, but c’est la vie.

So there you have it, a foolproof method for keeping your family happy and healthy…or at least fed and out of your hair so you can scroll Instagram in peace. I’m available if any of y’all need me to show you how to keep your kiddos on a solid meal schedule for the summer months and beyond because what is time anymore?

It’s such a simple schedule, really. All you have to do is remember the core goals: procrastinate your meal prep and ignore all sense of a time. I really recommend ignoring the entire space/time continuum, but that’s just because I’m a Michelin star level procrastinator type chef.

Also, neglecting to stock the pantry with any real food is a great technique that fosters inventiveness and helps kids tap into that old hunter/gatherer spirit. We’ve really lost that in our comfortable life of modern ease and I think it’s incredibly important to teach kids self reliance. I particularly love to keep the kids alive by creating meals out of broken spaghetti, hot dogs, a can of mushrooms, and some Jello that’s not quite set. Shoot, you can just go ahead and call that college prep and now we’re really cooking!

So, keep it tuned right here for more helpful tips for your Covid living. If you’d like to request any specific advice on how to just absolutely ace your life right now, feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll do my best. After all, it’s the very least I can do!

Time Together

The time I have to share with my husband is fleeting. While many people work Monday through Friday, 9-5, we have an incredibly erratic schedule. It changes weekly and usually consists of Vin working 6-4 and me working a couple of evenings 5-9. One of his days off is the only day I work a full 8 hour shift at the library. Finding one day of the week that we both have off is rare. Two in a row is impossible.

We’ve worked in the service industry long enough to be used to this. But that doesn’t mean that we like it. Most weeks, our version of “quality time” is in the time between picking him up at work and dropping me off. We attempt to talk over the kids singing along to “The Muppets” soundtrack and screaming at each other and generally interrupting every sentence we’re foolish enough to begin.

So, last night, when my wonderful mother-in-law sent us out to dinner without the kids so we could celebrate Vin’s birthday, I was completely elated. It’s funny since I live with the guy, but I really miss my husband. He is the most hard working, innovative, encouraging person ever. He has been knocked down time after time and just keeps getting up. He gets up over and over and over again and pulls me up right along with him. He’s absurdly talented, one of those people who is good at pretty much anything he tries. He’s passionate, loving, and funny. And I miss him desperately when we’re not together. An evening to ourselves was like winning the lottery. I literally bounced out the door to the car, I was so excited!

Y’all, we walked out of two restaurants last night. That’s something we have never done in the entire history of being together. It just always seems so rude and we’re the type who is more likely to make the best of a situation than just leave. But last night we left.

The first place was this new German restaurant in town that actually looks like it’d be a ton of fun. It’s bright and beautiful and there’s a fantastic band that plays authentic German music and there’s lederhosen out the wazoo. But we had to share a table with strangers and the music was so loud we were yelling to hear one another. It just wasn’t the intimate night we were hoping for, so we ditched.

The second restaurant was just a chain Mongolian barbecue place, so our expectations weren’t super high. But, when it took fifteen minutes for someone to take our drink order and we discovered that the salad bar consisted of brown iceberg lettuce, we just felt very blaah. And for a few minutes, we thought about just toughing it out and trying to make the best of it. And then we simultaneously agreed that no. No we were not going to make the best of it. So we left.

Because, here’s the thing. Our time is a treasure and we deserve to be picky. Our time together is so rare that it’s absurd to think of spending it in a place where we’d be disappointed and end up cranky. Our time is such a gift, it’s worth it to us to look like jerks, to appear to be rude in the eyes of others. I just don’t care about that at all because what I care about happened at restaurant number three where we ate greasy onion rings and giant sandwiches and watched football and drank beer. What I care about is having a booth to myself in the back corner of a sports bar and laughing at stupid jokes with my best friend.

There are defining moments in all relationships. For us there’s the time that we watched The Muppet Movie and Vin kissed me for the first time as “Rainbow Connection” played and the credits rolled. There’s the moment we found out I was pregnant with Maggie. We were cleaning our friends’ house while they were away on their honeymoon and I took the test right there in their bathroom and we laughed and freaked out all at the same time. There’s the time we packed up our lives and moved across the country to start over after a gamble didn’t work out the way we had expected.

And there’s that time we walked out of two different restaurants on the same night because quality time together deserves to be quality time. We walked out of two restaurants because our time together is a treasure and we have every right to be just as picky as we want to be.

Charlotte’s Web Party: Or How I Learned to Stop Freaking Out and Enjoy My Kid’s Birthday

Confession: I am a party planning addict. I’ve always loved a good theme and I can seriously get down with Pinterest…so much so that I get a teensy bit carried away. It’s an problem, y’all. I love decorations and favor bags and details like embossed spoons, and I want to cover the world with birthday glitter and confetti!! So, while Pinterest is a great resource, it’s kiiiinda like birthday party crack for a recovering addict.

 

Shoot, before Pinterest was even a thing, I got carried away with parties. I had a friend growing up whose mother always made elaborate birthday cakes…she created a coral reef out of cake once, and an archaeological dig cake another year. I’m not kidding when I say it was phenomenal. So, naturally, when Maggie was born I declared that I would make every single one of her birthday cakes and they would be spectacular and we would have elaborate parties with excellent themes and mothers everywhere would sing my praises and my name would go down in birthday party hiiiiistory!!

 

The cake thing lasted, oh I don’t know…a year? I made an owl for her first birthday and almost died from the stress. Combined with decorating, organizing invitations and freaking out over gifts and food and flow, it was just too much. Because, there’s the thing: I’m really not a detail person. I have a hard time hammering everything out without having a meltdown because I simply plan too much in too little time, with too little attention to the teensy details of how long things are going to take.

 

And after a few years of melt-downs in which I didn’t enjoy my child’s birthday at all, (’cause I like doing something that didn’t work over and over and over…don’t talk to me about the definition of insanity.) I decided that something’s gotta give. It’s not fair to my children or myself to have me freaking out over ten gazillion tiny details.  While I love the intricacies of themed flatware and have an undying love for swagged table linens, I’m just not a detail person. I’m not. I love ’em, but I have a real hard time pulling it all off.

 

So, segue to this year…(smooth, eh?)

 

As a truly selfish Christmas gift, I gave Maggie a copy of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I wanted to read her first chapter book out loud to her and thought it would be pretty approachable since she loves animals and Garth Williams did such captivating illustrations. Also, I like a good cry.

 

Oh, man was it a hit! Maggie was SO into the book and actually slept with it for a while, which filled my little librarian heart with joy! I was even more excited when she asked to have a Charlotte’s Web birthday party…I may have planted the idea in her head. Okay, I did. But it was awesome and she loved it and I’m not sorry at all.

 

So, I wanted this birthday to be special for Maggie since it’s the first one she’s really had a part in planning. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get carried away, and I feel like I hit my stride this year! I was able to have a really great party and enjoy myself!

 

 

 

Here’s what we did:

 

 

maggie charlotte shirt
Birthday girl in her favorite gift.

 

 

 

Outsource – If somebody can do it better than you, let ’em! It’s all well and good to make things by hand if you can. Shoot, you might even save money. But will it turn you into a raving lunatic? Mayhaps. I have neither the time, patience, nor skills to create every single party detail myself…like I kept telling myself in years past. But! I have friends who do have the time, patience and skills! So, my first words of advice are utilize the connections you have.

 

I started with invitations. I don’t necessarily mind generic invitations, but I really prefer custom invites. Call me a stationary snob, but I like fancy invitations. Now, due to some Pinterest/Facebook stalking I realized that my college friend, Jennifer, runs an Etsy shop called the Prettiest Print Shop. Please go there and oogle all of the prettiness. Go. Now.

 

Now that you’ve oogled and now want to throw a carousel party, did you see that, for an incredibly reasonable price, Jennifer will custom design invitations/stationary/amazing things for you. Did you see that I said they’re custom made? As in, she makes them from scratch, sends you a file and you print to your little heart’s content.

 

Also, I should add that turn-around on these custom invites was super-fast! Jennifer was apologetic that it “took so long” but she was able to whip these out in four days…while she was also throwing a magnificent birthday party for her own daughter. I really can’t say enough great things about using Jennifer’s shop. Best decision ever.

 

Here’s how ours turned out:

invitation
Bad photo…adorable invite.

 

 

And I bought a cake. Not sorry. Best cake ever.

 

 

 

cake

 

 

 

blowing out candles
She LOVED it!

 

 

 

Pace yourself and pick one thing. Now, I’m about to get a little crazy here, but one way to pull off an adorable party without acting like a crazy person is to live on the wild side and plan ahead. I know, I know…I thought it would never work, too, but trust me on this one.

 

I started collecting ideas about a month out so I had a bit of a plan once we got closer to the actual partay. I clearly gathered more ideas than I could possibly pull off, so that’s when I preceded to do not all the things, but only a few of the things. (Mind blowing, right??)

 

I like hand lettering things. It’s cathartic for me so I knew making some cute banners would be an enjoyable task. I made two. I used fine point Sharpies, card stock and some blank invitations I bought last year when I was delusional enough to think I could make fabulous invitations by myself. Seriously, y’all.

 

 

salutations

 

 

radiant
(Please know and understand that I’m a horrible photographer, haha!) Basically I just mimicked the spiderweb font from the invitations and free-handed the letters. Add some stick on flowers and you’re good!

 

I also made the favor bags, but thanks to the dollar aisle at Target, they were a breeze. I lucked out and found tiny burlap bags and little gift tags that I put each child’s name on. Thinking that everybody would be sufficiently sugared up by the end of the party, I just filled them up with cheap bubbles and hopping frog toys. I also gathered up all of our broken crayons and melted them into mini cupcake liners to make “soda cap” crayons (Wilbur goes to the fair after all) and, because it’s cheap and easy, Mags and I made orange play dough and shaped it into carrots. Sounds kind of time consuming, but it was seriously SO easy.

 

favors

 

soda cap crayons
This is the easiest thing ever. Grab some foil cupcake liners, cut up the old and broken crayons that are all over your floor anyway, melt them in the oven on a low heat for a few minutes, cool and you’re good to go!

 

Picking one thing also means delegating and letting others help. I let my husband be in charge of the food. He’s much more prepared to cook for a crowd than I am, he’s a better cook anyway, plus he had just purchased a new smoker and wanted to try it out. To which I said, be my guest, good sir! Sure, we served smoked ribs and pulled pork at a Charlotte’s Web party, but we love irony, so it worked. It was also delicious.

 

Aside from food, I knew I wanted to have some kind of a “pigs in mud” themed activity and tossed around a zillion ideas from painting things to playing with pudding to doing actual mud (not every idea I have is good, not even close). Anyway, I couldn’t ever decide and was starting to get stressed when my mother-in-law stepped in and offered to make pig shaped cookies that the kids could dip in warmed up chocolate frosting. I let her and here’s why: she makes the best butter cookies in the history of mankind, I like eating cookies, I like not being crazy, she likes helping and she’s very good at it. Win, win, and win.

muddy pigs
She made cookies, threw some canned frosting in a mini crock-pot to warm up, I made another sign and we were done!

 

 

 

 

 

Another part of picking just one thing is not over-planning. We didn’t do any other activities or games because these kids present were all four and under. If I’ve learned anything from doing library programming it’s this: events take longer than you expect. It takes time to move people through food lines and the execution of activities is always more time consuming than you think it’ll be. I’ve also learned that people don’t need or expect a three ring circus. One activity is more than enough…just being together with friends and family is special so there’s no need to add extra stuff to it.

 

 

 

 

 

I think the thing that made this party the most enjoyable for me of all I’ve done is that I let go of my preconceived notions of what parties are “supposed to be” and let my child take the lead. When Maggie’s best friend, Ella, showed up and they were both super-excited about opening the gift Ella chose, I let her open it right then and there. Sure, you’re “supposed to” open all the gifts at once. But that’s no fun and birthdays are supposed to be fun. When Maggie told me she was feeling overwhelmed and that she didn’t want to play with all the other kids, I let her play with her new cash register from Ella. Forcing her into stressful social interactions is not fun and birthdays are supposed to be fun. When Mags told me a few days before that she didn’t want everybody to sing to her, I was fully prepared to announce to everybody that we would not be singing Happy Birthday. Sure, that’s what you’re “supposed to do” but sometimes being sung to by a room full of people is scary. It kind of freaks me out, to be honest. She did decide to go ahead with the singing, though.

 

cake chocolate face
Being sung to is awkward, can’t be denied.

 

 

 

Overall, this was the most fun I’ve had at one of my kids’ birthday parties ever! What are your tips and tricks for throwing a pain-free party?

Home Sweet Home

Now, I’m no mathematician, but to my calculations it has been 1 year and 20 days since my feet have been on Texan soil. That’s 67 weeks and five days, or 474 days, or if we want to be really melodramatic, it’s 682,560 minutes.

 

Basically, an eternity.

 

I don’t know of many other states that have as loyal a following as Texas. This is probably due to the fact that few other states invest as much time and resources into indoctrinating their youth. We had Texas history in school for as long as I can remember. Eighth grade social studies was devoted entirely to Texas, in fact, and I’m sure Sam Houston would be proud.

 

It also doesn’t hurt that Texas happens to be the Promised Land, something that we natives don’t take for granted. Wide open spaces, incredible food, as many tumble weeds and cow pies as you could ask for…what’s more to want?

 

Funny story: Vin’s precious Grandma Delagrange, who hasn’t left Ohio like, ever, came to Texas for our wedding, which was awesome. At one point she had to travel through some relatively rural area to get to the reception. I don’t know that the scenery dazzled her since she’s quoted as saying, “Do people really live like this??” Apparently parts of the Homeland are an acquired taste. Also, I’m sure Grandma, who is a devout  Catholic, was totally confused when my mother described the Panhandle as “God’s country.” Lost in translation, folks.

 

We Texans forgive outsiders for not getting it, though. There’s a saying at Texas A&M that goes,  “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” There’s just something about Texas that makes people crazy for the state. I don’t know exactly what that magic is, but it’s powerful.

 

One of my best friends growing up had very devoted Texan parents. So devoted, in fact, that though they were living in Michigan at the time of her birth, they had a jar of dirt sent from home, took it to the hospital and put it under the bed so that she’d be born over Texan soil. True story.

 

Suffice it to say that I’m definitely missing home these days. So much so that I basically broke into tears when my mom sent these shirts for the girls.

 

 

 

 

And the glory of the Texas flag made me think about all of the other things I’ve been missing about home…mostly foods, apparently since I’m pregnant and the cravings are continuous. Like snow cones. Guys, I didn’t realize it, but they don’t do snow cones in the North. At least not in Ohio and not outside of the fair. Yeah, yeah, we’ve got Honey Hut here, but it’s just not the same as some stellar syrup covered shaved ice in the form of a Frosty Cone. Also people up here have no concept of flavors like Dill Pickle or Tiger’s Blood, which is a crying shame.

 

I don’t need to even mention the lack of Mexican food or fried okra. And “barbecue” here is all kinds of smothered in sauce. I’m genuinely excited that there’s a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar restaurant coming here soon since they’ll have calf fries on the menu…not that I regularly consume calf fries, but it’s comforting to know the option’s out there.

 

And, gosh, I miss those never ending sunsets. I miss the smell of the wind on the prairie and the feeling of being so, so small under that gigantic sky.

 

Now, I don’t want to sound like I hate living in the North, at all. I do recognize the merit of other states…I’m not totally  biased. I truly love it here and wouldn’t trade our time here for anything…except maybe some tamales.

 

Seriously, I’d kill for real tamales right now.

 

So, what about you? Anyone else living far from home and missing it? What do you miss the most?

News Revealed…and a New Segment!

We’re back from Chicago! More on that later, but for now I wanted to reveal the good news I alluded to a while back…

 

Now that all of the official people have been alerted, I am free to announce that my husband, The Butcher, has taken a position at a new up-and-coming grocery chain set to open in August. This is a big deal because this store is going to be the absolute bomb, very similar to a Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s/Central Market. He’ll be working a meat case that includes very diverse items from bison and grass-fed beef to snake and camel.

 

Y’all. He’ll be selling people camel meat. In Ohio. Get excited.

 

This is very exciting for us because, not only is it exciting to be involved with new trends in the food scene, but it is a HUGE honor to be offered a position. They’ve selected only the top butchers in the entire region.

 

Did I mention that my husband has only been in the butchering program since August? Oh, and he’s only been out of the apprenticeship since May?? Oh, and that he’s brilliant beyond brilliant??? And that he’s my husband????

 

I’m just a little bit proud. No big deal.

 

I think what’s more exciting about this is that he’ll be employed by a company that is ideologically very much in line with how we feel about food. We’re passionate about food education and about knowing where our food comes from. We feel strongly that people need to remember that meat actually comes from animals, a sacrifice we’re very grateful for. We’re also passionate about cuts of meat, what part of the animal they come from, how that translates to tenderness or toughness and how that translates to cooking methods.

 

Ultimately, we feel that, as a society, we take things for granted. That to so many people meat is just meat, food is just food, days are just days. As a couple, we’re trying to instill in our children (and ourselves) that even the most commonplace things have intrinsic beauty and value. Enjoyment of these commonplace things can be significantly increased when we take the time to learn about them, appreciate them, and to use them properly.

 

It’s about meat and so much more.

 

And that is why I’m excited to announce a new segment on Oh Bless Your Heart. Once a month, I’ll be featuring a guest post by my husband primarily about getting the most out of your local butcher shop, but a smattering of other food related things as well. Because he’s not extremely confident in his writing abilities, he’s decided to call it “Butchering the Blog,” but I’m pretty sure you’ll find his writing ain’t too shabby. Anyway, here goes for our first installment! Leave the man some love and tell us what you think!

 

 

 

Top rounds being cut into London Broils…just a typical day at work for the hubz.

 

The world of meat cutting is a rather peculiar place.  The more I interact with both the employees and the public the more I realize there is a huge gap between the two.  This divide between butcher and meat purchaser has, like any relationship, caused a serious misunderstanding on both sides. Butchers are a grumpy lot, I know this first hand.  Many of them have worked in the industry since they were teenagers. Just for reference, the lightest box of meat we see on a pallet is no less than 50 lbs. and these 70 year old dudes regularly unload two full pallets a day, which consist of 15-20 boxes per pallet. They’ve spent decades in a job that has cast off by the public as nothing more than a glorified ground meat salesman.  While they may be grumpy, they love the job with a passion I have never witnessed in any of my other endeavors, and there have been many.

 

While they may be surly old men, some of them are masters of their trade.  While I was an apprentice I had the great fortune of working with a man named Bob who had cut meat for 45 years and the cuts he produced were true works of art.

 

Beef Florentine Pinwheels

 

Meat cutting isn’t as easy as it looks. People assume that anyone can do it, but the difference between a masterfully cut piece of meat and a poor quality one is like comparing Monet to Ed Hardy. It’s like if you went to the kitchen, grabbed some bologna and white bread and then cut your sandwich in half with a power saw. I’m pretty sure you’d end up with a mangled mess. Maybe somebody could do that easily, but not without practice. Just to be sure, maybe you should try it.

 

But don’t really do that, it would be a waste of bologna.

 

What I’m getting at is that there are a few people at YOUR local grocery stores who still view meat cutting as the art form and trade that it really is.  Do yourself a favor and seek these people out. They can be tough to sort out and intimidating at times, but if you really pay attention to the details of the work being produced you will be able to spot even fat trimming on steaks, cuts of meat displayed in a visually stimulating fashion and a passion for the trade. You just have to build up the courage to speak with them. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Unfortunately, this is a “while supplies last” kind of deal.  Every day we see more and more prepackaged meats flooding the shelves. These things are evil and must be destroyed.  I mean we don’t even cut fresh lamb or veal anymore! It’s a thing of shame.  Anyway, get to know your butcher. The good one. The one who doesn’t hand you something pre-cut off the main line or out of the service case when you need something really special. Find the guy who goes in the cooler and gets you the best piece of meat he can because it actually means something to him as well.  These artists may not exist forever so enjoy their work while you can.

 

A partial view of his dedication.
Photo courtesy of limelightphotography.com. Tattoo by Doug Kulbis at Voodoo Monkey, Cleveland, OH.

What a Cluster

Ever have one of those days where you are met with opposition no matter where you go or what you do?

 

You know, those days when, I don’t know…maybe you go to get a birth certificate for the baby since the state never mailed you one and you drive around the parking lot of the City Hall for ten minutes because you have no flipping idea which entrance to use. It’s a government operation, so there are about twenty doors, none of which are labeled and there are about three parking spaces, all of which are labeled, “Mayor.”

 

And when you finally park, you think to yourself, “Gee, I bet it’ll be easier to take the girls in via stroller so I don’t have to rip my shoulder out of the socket by carrying  the baby who weighs as much as five cannon balls while juggling the diaper bag/paperwork/holding Mags’ hand. Huzzah for me! This is a brilliant plan!” And you give yourself an extra pat on the back because you actually have the stroller with you!

 

So you follow the signs to the handicap entrance (or what you take to be the handicap entrance, as the signs point kind of towards-ish a door that is definitely not labeled itself). You fight the 400 mph wind to get your progeny in the door and you feel like a complete baller/shot caller ’cause you are all in in one piece.

 

That is, until you see the sign that reads, “Elevator to Second Floor” and it points right up a massive flight of steps. At the top is, indeed, the elevator to the second floor, leering down with pure contempt at your plight.

 

And then you go back outside and ditch the stroller at the car, carry the cannon ball and all of her paperwork inside and curse the day…

 

Until, until!  Your sweet husband brings you home a little somma dis stuff:

Couldn’t be more aptly named.

 

Somehow he surmised from your dulcet tones bemoaning your rotten day that this, and only this would make life better. And he’s right. He is so, so right.

Real Life: When Mama’s Sick

Today I feel like poo butter. That’s right, poo. butter.

 

Perhaps this picture will give you a visual of what poo butter feels like:

 

Please note the scratch on my forehead from where I smacked my head on the bathroom wall. Don’t ask how or why. Nobody knows…

 

I’ve got the worst cold on the planet and I am super-whiny about it. It’s one of those colds where you sneeze a bajilliondy times, which is only complicated by the fact that there are an infinite number of faux sneezes in which your face squiggles all up and your eyes water and there’s absolutely nothing to show for it.

 

Sorry for being so whiny…but not really because I’m so pathetic, I don’t even care that I sound like a grown-up version of my two year old.

 

Remember my awesome housekeeping goals? Yeah, I’m adding an amendment to that which states that I don’t have to do anything when I’m sick. This includes, but is not limited to: cleaning, bathing (myself or others), doing laundry (even though I did wash diapers today because I’m a martyr for the cause), and cooking.

 

This amendment explains why, if you had come to my house around 11:30 today you’d have seen my two year old crouched under the table like a savage eating the remnants of a stale package of saltines she found in the depths of the diaper bag. God bless her. I’m sure there are hunter/gatherers somewhere in her lineage whom she should thank for her industrious nature. We’ll look into that some day when I’m not dying.

 

I will say, though, that once I ran out of Cheerios to fend of the smaller of the knee biters, I did muster up the energy to “cook” some lunch. And by “cook” I mean I opened a can of kidney beans to feed the baby, which I’m sure I’ll regret later, and I hard boiled some eggs for Maggie ’cause she’s apparently in a Cool Hand Luke kind of mood.

 

I don’t know what it says about my usual culinary skills, but during lunch, Mags said, “This is a delicious feast, Mama!”

 

I have shamelessly slept while my older child watched princess movies and the other napped and I am not the least bit sorry. Well, I’m a little sorry that Cinderella isn’t longer and that Lily woke up early, but beggars can’t be choosers.

 

Real life is not pretty y’all. But at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

 

The hubz comes home soon and today is definitely one of those days when I feel like we’re two WWF fighters in a Royal Rumble and I’m the one who’s been getting beaten over the head with a guitar filled with thumb tacks and I’ve just managed to crawl my pathetic way to the side of the ring so he can slap my hand and jump in while I lay in a heap.

 

Now I’m going to go reconsider the bizarre life I lead in which I actually know that much about professional wrestling. Sheesh.

Vegetarian

Note: I found this post from September. I apparently forgot to publish it ’cause I’m cool like that. Better late than never!

 

All I have to say is it’s a good thing we’re not raising Margaret in Texas because it’s becoming very apparent that  she’d do nothing but bring us shame at every meal.

 

The kid almost never eats meat.

 

Once, when Vin took her to the grocery store and let her pick out a special treat, she chose a yellow pepper.

 

She’s spent the last week eating only grapes and carrots and a strawberry that she grew all by herself. (And by “grew” I mean that we found the potted strawberry plant in the backyard, gave it to the child, and told her to observe. We’re practically farmers!)

 

I don’t know what we’re doing wrong.

 

Unlike her older and wiser cousin, Mark, who could order his own filet at the age of three, Mags has no respect for red meat. And to top it all off, she’s got a butcher for a father. Irony at it’s finest.

 

What’s a red-blooded Texan parent to do? At least we can take solace in the fact that the kid does love bacon.