Let me give you a nickles worth of free marital advice.

Ladies, if you want something, please just tell your husband.  Yes, I know, after five or ten or fifteen or twenty years he should know what you want or what you’d like without you having to say a whole lot, but to set our partners up to be successful sometimes we just have to tell them what we want or need.

Listen, I’m a girl who likes a good surprise and whose love language is gifts.  I married an acts of service guy.  It means, that’s he’s easy to please on the cheap and I’m not.  For a long time, I’d be really passive aggressive with Big Daddy when he didn’t come through with an awesome present for a gift giving event.  Then, I spent some time in therapy and realized I was making both of us miserable.  I felt unloved and uncared for when Big Daddy would slap together something decidedly un-special at the last minute and Big Daddy felt stressed and incapable when he knew I wasn’t happy with what he’d  thrown put together.

So, I quit that crap.

When we were house shopping in 2010, I knew I wanted three things; more space, a big kitchen and a sweet front porch.  I’m pretty easy to please, despite what I told you above and our current house has all of those things.  (My next house will have four dedicated bedrooms, a master bathroom that makes sense and preferabley not have been own by people who thought they could DIY when they DICouldn’t).  The front porch is one of my favorite places.  Last summer, we hosted a wedding reception for my cousin and her husband and even though it rained, all of her friends camped out on the porch and played music and it was perfect, if I may say so myself (and damp and humid, but you get the idea).

Big Daddy  and I built these awesome Adirondack chairs last summer…

…and our porch is a place we really use.

For me, it goes without saying that if you have an awesome porch, you really need to have a porch swing.  And, to tie this whole thing together, this year I sat Big Daddy down and said “you’re buying me a porch swing for Mother’s Day”.

And so he did.

In a few weeks the fireflies will be out and I wish I could capture a picture of that for you because it’s nothing I’ve ever seen until we moved here.  They go off in the trees like a million, teeny paparazzi.  It’s stunning to watch.  But, until then, we’ve been swinging.  In the morning, before the bus and in the evenings before bed and on the weekends when we don’t have anything better to do.

I’m sure there will be people who say that telling Big Daddy what I want, and then getting it, isn’t as fun or spontaneous or romantic as him guessing.   Maybe, but there is also something deeply satisfying in being heard and something very peaceful in helping your spouse succeed in making your happy.

I know that time on the swing will be a big priority this summer and throughout the years to come.

My Mom wasn’t much of a cook. Oh, she was okay, but the real chef in our house was my Dad. My Dad is the sort of cook I wish I could be. He’s inventive in a way that I haven’t figured out how to be yet. Maybe there’s still hope for me?

Sausage gravy is one of my Dad’s wheelhouse recipes. When we go home, Dad makes this as a special request and it was always a treat growing up. And, my family loves it just as much as I did growing up.

Sausage gravy is perfect for slow Sunday mornings. There’s time in between the steps to linger with a cup of coffee and the newspaper or snuggled up on the couch. And, if you make extra, it’s delicious warmed up on busy weekday mornings as well. I like my gravy over my potatoes and served with a warm biscuits with honey and butter.

If you are nervous about making gravies and roux because you believe them to be complicated, this recipe is a great place to start because it’s very easy to make corrections to get your preferred thickness.

Sausage Gravy
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs of sausage (we like one hot and one mild)
  • .5 c of flour
  • 2 c of milk
  • dash of hot sauce (optional)
Instructions
  1. Cook sausage through, breaking it up into small pieces during the cooking process. Smaller is better,
  2. Keep the temperature up (I like medium high) so the sausage is nice and hot when you stir in your flour. It ought to melt into the sausage with no lumps, but be generous with the stirring to insure it’s well incorporated.
  3. Add 1.5 cups of the milk into the sausage and flour mixture and let come to a boil. You don’t have to babysit this roux too much. Give it a good stir and let it wait until bubbly, about five minutes. From here, adjust your consistency using milk. If your gravy is too thick, add the extra half cup of milk (I always do). If it’s too thin add more flour (start with ⅛ cup).
  4. Stir in a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
  5. Serve piping hot over biscuits or potatoes.

 

(beyond Big Daddy, The Princess, Littlebit and Baby Bee)

Budapest by George Ezra

Double Dare Re-Runs (available for just 5.99 per season from Amazon Instant Video).  As an aside, Nickelodeon, I would seriously buy every single season of not only Double Dare, but Legends of the Hidden Temple, GUTS and Finders Keepers.  Keep that in mind.    I will pay you.  Money!  Also, does anyone remember Fun House?  I can’t remember what channel it was on, but I feel like it was a combination of Finders Keepers and Double Dare and I remember I preferred it to Double Dare, but it doesn’t seem to exist on the Internet at all.  I’d pay for that too.  And Small Wonder.

Planning our summer

Making Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

My kids will, seriously, blow through a dozen eggs in a sitting if I hard boil them.  With a little advanced planning, I make them for road trips.  I pack fruit and drinks and we will sometimes stop for bagels.  This makes for reasonably healthy and inexpensive road food.  I pack an extra Ziploc bag to hold the discarded shells and yolks and another teensy Ziploc bag with some salt.  Delicious and not just for Easter.

 

Lilies of the Valley

The fact that there are only nine day left in the school year.

Seventeen years ago this month, Big Daddy and I met. Life and love has this funny way of working out and in July we will celebrate sixteen, mostly happy, years of marriage. Mostly happy because, of course, we have our ups and down. All couples do. The key to happiness and longevity is making sure those rough patches are short and that you try, every day, to choose each other.

One thing I’ve found, as time has passed, is that my relationship with Big Daddy has changed a lot. In fact, there’s very little the same since we met all of those years ago and first said “I do!”. That evolution is so important to us as people and as a couple. We can’t be who we were all of those years ago. I’m not the same person that I was at 22 and neither is Big Daddy. That evolution is a good thing.

For a while I’ve been in a place of reflection. I find myself thinking a lot. More than usual, I guess. I’m not sure if it’s the impending fortieth birthday milestone or the transition that’s coming for us at the end of the summer when Baby Bee goes off to preschool or if, perhaps, it’s both those things or none of them. That reflection have led Big Daddy and I to another place of evolution.

Over the years, I’ve tried to write about marriage in a way as to be helpful to others and I’ve never had much success, but I guess another piece of advice I can give to you, beyond choosing your partner as much as you can, is that sometimes you have to be honest with your partner at all costs. I know that seems so easy, but sometimes it’s not. It’s hard to lay yourself bare and to admit to faults. It’s hard to present faults about yourself to your partner that you both have over looked or glossed over or not noticed. It’s hard to say “Look, I’m screwing up right here” and to see the moment of realization on the other person’s face.

But to evolve, you have to do it anyhow.

Big Daddy and I both have had growing pains over the last few years.  I guess, when you’re younger, you think that once you hit serious adulthood status (like, being almost 40) that you won’t be struggling to grow anymore.  You’ll have already done that, but it turns out that it’s not true if you don’t want to be a stagnant person in a stagnant position and stagnant relationship.  You have to keep changing and growing.  I’m nearly 40, but I’m still growing and changing and evolving.

I’m so happy Big Daddy is evolving along with me.

 

p.s. I am so sorry that my posts have been spamming you on Facebook!  I’m working on a Forty before 40 thing and, well, I didn’t know it was happening.  I think I’ve corrected it, but I’ll be sure to watch the next few posts to make sure you aren’t being hit with the same post four times.  

When I was writing my Forty before 40 list, I tried to make sure I incorporated things in all parts of my life. It’s easy to write a forty item list of things to buy or places to visit, but adding items that didn’t really cost me anything but effort and time were a little more difficult.

When Big Daddy and I were married, we had one tv. It was an old one handed down from someone and it weighed about a million pounds, but it worked and it was free so it was good. We hooked up a cheap VCR and, for a while, didn’t even had cable. We watched movies and watched the few channels we could get off of our Apartment’s antenna. In time, we took advantage of a Target clearance deal and bought a little tv for our bedroom. It may even have been black and white.

Before Big Daddy and I were married, I would fall asleep to the TV every night and I’m pretty sure that part of my pregnancy induced insomnia was due to the inability to fall asleep to the tv. From then on, we had a tv in our room. Sometimes they were small and sometimes they were crappy and they were always cheap, but we always had one. When we moved to our new house, we invested in a flat screen and hung it on the wall and I continued to fall asleep with the TV on.

Big Daddy started wearing a fitbit to bed and found he didn’t seep very well. I admitted to being surprised. He always seemed to me to sleep well, but it he was showing lots of periods of wakefulness and, when I thought about it, I woke up a lot of mornings feeling less than rested myself. Big Daddy suggested we learn to sleep with the TV off and I was defensive. I’m such a picky, picky sleeper that the idea of removing one of my sleeping tools left me feeling a little grumpy, but after another morning of crawling out of bed exhausted, I knew he was right. The TV had to go.

Now, I plug my phone into a dock next to my bed and listen to music all night. I’m waking up feeling more rested, which is a good thing and I don’t NEED the tv to fall asleep anymore and, in fact, make it point to NOT use to fall asleep on “school nights”. Friday and Saturday night I sometimes turn it on as a “weekend treat”, but mostly, I look forward to turning off the lights, turning on the music and sleeping in the dark.

Turns out, I LOVE sleeping in the dark. My next goal, though not written on my Forty before 40 list is to stop using my phone 30 minutes before I want to sleep. Research suggests using your phone too close to bedtime can affect your sleep as well.

What have you done to help secure a better night’s sleep? Would you give up your tv or phone to get it?

I think I’m done writing menu plan posts for a while. I know they’re pretty popular, but they’re also exhausting and I’m not finding them that fun to write at this point. I might return to them one day, but I’m going to take a break from them, for now.

What I do want to do, however, is start featuring a new recipe every week. Something tried and tested that we’ve loved or liked. I hope that continues to be a valuable piece of information for you. So many times I see beautiful pictures of recipes, but when I make them, they just don’t hold up. They’re bland or the consistency is wrong or they just fall short based on the amount of effort you’ve put in. That’s just no fun. I am willing to put in the time to make a fantastic meal, but I don’t like putting in the time to get a sub par result. Or, a similar result to something that is much easier to make (which is why I only made my own pasta once).

This filling side dish can almost stand alone as an easy, cool dinner during warm weather. It would be great with watermelon or corn or served as a side with a simple grilled meat. It’s a little different from your usual pot luck or barbecue fare AND, it’s chocked FULL of veggies.  Its my favorite sort of recipe to make because you an add anything you like or that you have on hand.  This would be a great way to use up some of your CSA share as the summer moves along.

 

Ranch Pasta Salad
Author: 
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • .5 c greek yogurt
  • .25 c mayonnaise
  • 2 packets of dry ranch dressing
  • 1 tsp of powdered garlic
  • .25c milk
  • 16oz box of pasta
  • 2 cups of chopped fresh broccoli
  • 2 whole bell peppers, chopped
  • .5 red onion, chopped
  • 1 c shredded cheese
Instructions
  1. Put the pasta on to boil
  2. Mix the dry ranch packets and garlic with Greek yogurt and mayo
  3. Chop up your veggies
  4. Drain and rinse the cooked pasta and combine it with the chopped veggies in a large bowl
  5. Use the milk to thin your dressing. I found that using 3-4 tbsp thinned mine far enough to cover my pasta and veggies, but if you need to stretch it further, feel free to add a few more tablespoons of milk
  6. Add in the cheese and mix well. Chill before serving (but if you’re in a pinch I bet no one will complain about eating it lukewarm)

 

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It seems like every time I log into facebook there’s an article from someone telling people how to Mom. You’ve probably read them. I have. How to say yes! How to say no! How create a magical childhood! Don’t create a magical childhood! Let your kids free range! Hover, for God’s sake!

It’s a tough time to be a Mom. Not only are we assaulted on every side by contradictory articles telling us what to be, but we watch everyone’s highlight reels scrolls by on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and we wonder why the hell we can’t manage to make our own spaghetti sauce and sew our kids underwear while keeping the house immaculate. 

  
As my kids get older, I find this sort of stuff doesn’t affect me anymore. I just don’t care what anyone thinks about my parenting. I do not care if someone thinks I over do it or under do it. 

I do not care. 

It is my job and mine alone to create the childhood and home life that I want for my kids and family. It is something of which I am proud and in which I find joy and satisfaction. 

  
I wish I could have come to this place sooner. I wish I could have attacked my motherhood with this confidence sooner. I wish I could have given the gift of a confident mother to the Princess.  

We spend so much time worried about the details of things that don’t matter at all.  Oh, sure, Baby Bee still sleeps with us and we let our kids use the iPad and watch tv and I feed them McDonalds.  Maybe those seem like bad ideas to you. 

Don’t care. 

In fact, make that your new mom mantra. 

Yes, I love to cook from scratch. You don’t know how I find the time? I do. Don’t like it? I don’t care. 

Yes, we eat out every night. I’m an awful cook. You think that’s a bad idea? Don’t care. 

We don’t do screen time in our house? You think our kids will be behind in school? Thanks, but I don’t care. 

You think we have too much screen time? Still don’t care. 

Are your children fed and loved? Are they safe? Are they learning? Are they growing and thriving? Yes?

  
Then who cares. 

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Walt Disney World is kind of like mecca.

  
It is really THE destination for family vacations and twenty five million people visit the parks every year.  No matter where you’re from, chances are good people you know have been to Disney World or are going to Disney World or want to go to Disney World.  Chances are good, you’ve toyed around with the idea yourself. Should you go?  And when?  And how?

Over the next several months I will be giving you my very best hints and tips to allow you to plan for the Disney vacation of your dreams.

 

In 1971, Walt Disney World opened with one theme park (the Magic Kingdom), two hotels (The Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Resort) and one campground (Fort Wilderness).  Today, Disney World is comprised of four theme parks, 25 different hotels, hundreds of restaurants and food kiosks, a dedicated shopping area, water parks, golf courses and nearly any sort of family accommodations you can imagine including an on-site kennel. Planning a trip can be overwhelming and it will certainly be expensive.  Look, I love going. I can’t wait to go back.  We already have a trip penciled into our books for fall 2016 (more than a year away) and despite my excitement I can still openly admit that a Walt Disney World vacation is expensive and I want to help you make the most of out of that time and money.

 

#1 When to Go

1) When Can You Afford to Go?

I want to start out by saying that there are all sorts of price points for a Disney World vacation.  You can stay at an off site, in a suite for under $100 a night or you can stay in a deluxe, club level hotel with a theme park view for $800 a night.  The sky is really the limit and while pricing out and understanding how much a Disney World vacation can cost is an important factor, the more general idea of when can you afford to go makes the most sense.

 Yes, I know this is an obvious question, but it’s really the most important one.  My general pricing guideline is $1000/person for seven days.  Of course, you can tweek different factors and spend less money and Disney does offer a Vacation Savings Account to help you save for your trip, but in the end, when you can go is based, most importantly, on when you can actually pay for your trip.

2) When Should You Take the Kids?

  
Another important factor, secondary to when you can afford to go is at what age you want to take your children.  This will vary from family to family, but the first question you should ask yourself is whether you hope to return to Disney World at some point or if there is only room in your budget and life for one trip during all of your children’s childhoods.  If this is true, I would recommend waiting until your youngest kiddo is at least six.  Not only will they be able to have a memory of visiting, but they will have better stamina which will allow you to pack more into your day and will be tall enough to ride most of the rides.

If a once in a lifetime visit isn’t what you’re planning on, there are a few more additional factors to consider.  First, all children under age three (that means 0, 1 and 2) are free at Disney World.  They stay free, ride for free and eat for free (from your plate at non-buffet restaurants). As long as your child is under 3 for the first day of your stay, they may turn 3 during your stay and still enjoy “baby” pricing.

Children 10 and up are considered Adults at Disney World and will enjoy a pricing increase once they turn ten, particularly in regards to the dining plan where the price will jump from just over $19/day to $60/day as a Disney Adult.  Planning a trip before these price increases can save you money.

But, what is the perfect age to take a child to Disney. Of course, that varies from family to family.  Some see no reason to not travel with a young baby and are willing to tailor their trip to their baby’s needs.  Some cannot imagine traveling with a young baby.  You know your family best!  Big Daddy and I have amended our “perfect age” from 4 to 7.  Seven, in our experience, is the perfect mix of stamina, height and belief.

3) But, When do I go?

Predicting crowd levels and making visit recommendations is a huge business.  There are full websites and companies that devote themselves to being in the parks every day giving real time attendance information to bean counters who will use it to predict next year’s crowd levels.  You can access this information for free or even pay for a subscription.

Here’s what you should know to be true; Disney will be most crowded during holidays and traditional school breaks.  Yes, it’s crowded President’s Day Weekend and Spring Break and Summer and Christmas.  Any time kids traditionally have off school, Disney will be the most busy.

Additionally, Disney hosts events throughout the year that will increase guests as well, particularly their Food and Wine festival in EPCOT each fall which finds EPCOT very busy during October weekends.

If you are willing to have your kids miss school you can absolutely visit Disney World during their lowest crowd times where you will enjoy steeper discounts and less people.    For example, the last week of February show very low crowds, but that also means earlier park closing and less shows.  To compare, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is as crowded as the parks are expected to get and while you will wait in much longer lines, you will experience cooler temperatures and more show times and other diversion to compensate you.

Crowd calendars are helpful as they take into considerations that you probably didn’t when you thought about planning your trip.  Park attendance swells during Jersey Week (a traditional week off of school in the fall for New Jersey school kids in early November) and these aberrations off of the normal school/holiday schedule could throw a cog in your works, so consulting crowd prediction web sites can help you out.

I admit that I subscribe to Touring Plans.  For 12.95/year they give you an enormous amount of data and I LOVE data.  The not only give you crowd predictions, but also gives you estimated wait times for each hour the park is open.  I find this REALLY useful because while a park may be more crowded, the lines may be something we are willing to stand it which gives us more flexibility.  Touring Plans also has their own wait time app for your smart phone which, not only gives you the current stated wait time by Disney, but also the real wait time observed by Touring Plans folks on the ground AND advice on whether to ride a ride now or skip it based on wait time predictions.   I love all that data.

But, if free is more your thing EasyWdW and Kenny the Pirate both offer crowd prediction calendars that can help you plan your trip for no charge.
  
 

 

 

 

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it-Baz Luhrmann “Everbody’s Fee (to wear Sunscreen)”

Eight years ago, we said goodbye to my Mom. It was a long, hard battle against a real bitch of a cancer, melanoma. Twenty five people will pass away from melanoma today. In 2007, my Mom was one of those 25. Two hundred people will receive a diagnosis of melanoma today and 86% of those diagnosed will have melanoma due to their sun exposure.

Grief changes as it ages and with the help of a great therapist, I’ve been able to find not only a good place for my grief, but have also been able to battle the anxiety it causes for me. When my Mom was young, they had no idea that their sun exposure could raise such a demon.

But, now you know.

Regular sunscreen use decreases your risk of melanoma by 50%.  Preventing your children from having more than five sunburns in their youth will vastly decrease their risk of developing melanoma later in life (people who were sunburned more than five times in their youth have an 80% chance of developing melanoma).

And, those tanning beds count, too.  Their risk factor has been reclassified by the FDA as being “high risk” and is considered as risky for your health as smoking cigarettes.

We don’t celebrate bronzed skin in my house.  We celebrate no tan lines and no angry red shoulders and a future that it, hopefully, melanoma free.  Buy sunscreen.  Wear sunscreen.   Insist your children and loved ones wear sunscreen.  Offer sunscreen to people who don’t seem to have any.  Carry a bottle of sunscreen with you (but don’t leave it in your car!  It degrades in the heat!) and reapply it frequently, particularly when swimming. Be smart about your sun exposure and live a long, melanoma free life.


<3

 

 

Baby Bee swings her feet as she sits on a chair in front of the tv. She’s home with a cold. Her colds get annoying because Baby Bee gets obsessive about coughing and clearing her throat. I try to remind her that she’s fine. That she doesn’t need to cough like that. I try to help her break that pattern. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t, it just depends where her mind is at that time. Her smile is big and bright as she watches whatever is entertaining her. She fidgets a lot, though. Her feet swing. Her bottom wiggles. She does tricep dips (seriously). She bounces her feet off the ottoman.

I’ve been worried about Baby Bee, you know. I’ve written about how she’s kind of other. I’ve watched her development and while it is typical in some places, it’s been atypical in other. She’s floppy. She refuses to write. She becomes agitated if strangers are around. She takes weeks and months to settle into a normal classroom situation. She actively and loudly refuses to do things. I’ve debated whether or not Big Daddy and I are raising a Class A Jerk. Thinking about Baby Bee trying to exist in Kindergarten, as she is, is enough to give me a panic attack.

So, we reached out to Baby Bee’s amazing Teachers and Therapists and asked for help and when the results came back, we were both surprised and not.

Baby Bee has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Or, if it makes more sense and sounds less PC, Baby Bee has autism.

She points at the tv screen with her middle finger. I remind her, for the millionth time not THAT finger. She corrects herself and draws shapes in the air that she cannot explain. I’ve asked what they mean. She doesn’t seem to know. Is this a phase? I think I remember doing something similar when I was younger. Or, is this other? I can’t say.

Everything about her has changed and nothing has. She’s totally different and she isn’t. It’s one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had, this diagnosis which changes everything and nothing. Something big has happened and yet it hasn’t.

No diagnosis can change who Baby Bee is. She’s still her. She’s still knobbly knees and unruly hair. She still prefers to bury under you when she tries to sleep. She still likes to skip and play pretend. She still counts her sister as her best friend.

But…

Everything seems tinged with a “but”. “Baby Bee has a great sense of humor” but does she? Or is it her being other. Is it on purpose? Or by design of her disorder. “Baby Bee is super active” but does she have no other choice to find or avoid sensory input. Does she jump off things because she’s a daredevil or because that’s the only way for her to feel or not feel things. Will treatment change her? Will it not? Do I want her to change? Do I not?

Initially, I felt driven to do. To get appointments and assessments and information. I googled. I read. I worried, but right now, I feel like I’m in this holding place. I watch Baby Bee closely. I’m more careful with maintaining routines and expectations. I remind the Princess that Baby Bee might take things literally, so threatening to throw her in the trash could be terrifying to her. All of that testing and assessing is coming for her, but for now, I feel like i need to watch and to know my daughter in a way I haven’t for the past five and a half years. I watch her face, as she speaks, in a way I haven’t for a long time. I watch her movements and listen, closely, to the inflection of her voice. I feel like I’m learning her again, except that I’m not. Everything is new and yet it isn’t.

Everything and nothing.