Stir Crazy

The winds ripped through here last night, and brought arctic air and dry, whispy cold snow. I woke to a yard buried in drifts and single digit temperatures- and the worst sight in the world to a single mama: “School Closures” running across the tickertape at the bottom of the TV. I may have actually teared up.

The sad part? I had gotten up, cooked breakfast and gotten everyone dressed and outside waiting before I noticed it. So I didn’t tell them at first and let them finish shoveling (read: making a mess) of the driveway before I called them in. Now there’s a massive pile of dripping snowsuits and boots by the back door, and the Wii is in heavy rotation today. It’s the only way I’m gonna make it. Damn that stupid groundhog…

Not the Mama

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.  We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

~Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Very shortly here, Abby will be five. On one hand, that’s hard for me to process- five years in the blink of an eye. But on another, who knew what twists and turns life had in store for me and when I turn back and glance over my sometimes-weary shoulders, I am struck breathless at the road behind me. There are pieces of sparkling magnificence strewn among catastrophic wreckage- and I find myself surprised and awed that the wreckage is quiet now– no longer burning white-hot and spewing black acrid smoke. Instead of being a smoking furnace consuming me, it’s a quiet, still, sentient and dark monument to the dead. It’s an odd peace to find in an unexpected place. I can look on it with quiet sadness now, but am grateful the sucking, cavernous hole that ripped me in two has gradually knit itself back into something whole and new, while still holding tender allusions to what came before. I am changed, I am refined. I am a new me. I am still me.

As I turn the corner, it occurs to me I am leaving more behind me than just charred dreams and monuments to a fallen life. I am moving into new phases of my life. The days of all-consuming child-care and the trials of toddlerhood are, for the most part, behind me as well. When in the thick of it, I thought it would never end- and wanted to kick the mamas who told me to enjoy it. I’m quite frank about not being a super-natural mother- having three little people was really hard for me. Am I selfish? Probably a little bit. I devoted myself to my children during their infancy, and I will continue to do so as they grow- I just think I will enjoy it a lot more now, where we can talk, joke and appreciate each other’s individuality.

And I intend for my children to know me as someone besides Mama. Moving forward means acknowledging my desires outside of providing for my children- a new balancing act. It’s disconcerting to look at myself and question what I want now. After I finish school, what do I want? Where do I want to live? Where do I want to take my children? What kind of life do I want to provide? What experiences? What do I want for me? These are exciting questions that I find myself grateful I get to ask.

It makes me appreciate what I found in the abyss, as devastating as it was, and makes me thrilled for the life to come and oh-so-eager to jump…

Four Day Weekend

Four-day weekends are not a blessing when you are a single, solo parent of three very active, very demanding little people. Most of the time I barely last the regular weekend in one piece, and to double down on that? Yeah, recipe for disaster. To be fair, I tried really hard. But the weather was kind of poopy, and driving over to Seattle to hang with Mo was not in the cards. So instead, we were all at home, all together, all weekend. Oh, and without a Wii. It’s broken. Which means also without Netflix.

Friday was fine. It was a novelty. Great. Everyone played. A couple of friends dropped by. Everyone was happy. Mostly.

Saturday was fine. Saturday night, I had a friend come over and stay with Abby while I took the boys to see Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows. We have this cool old theater downtown(ish) that has $1 movies on Saturday night, and we were part of a packed house to finally enjoy the last chapter of Harry, Ron and Hermione.  Holding this over their heads all day ensured good behavior, and we actually had a great time, with the exception of one small mishap with a slinky. Lets just say it got caught in my purse strap, and we were gonna be late, and I opted to mangle it with speed rather than untangle it with care. Bean may not forgive me for a while.

Sunday was Sunday. Church. Busy. Rush. No matter what time church is, it’s always a mad rush out the door. My friend had Bean sit with her during Sacrament, which was awesome. It’s so much easier when I’m juggling two instead of three. Made pizza for dinner, talked to my mom. Ignored increased bickering and sniping from the kids, and help my breath.

Monday. It hit the fan. I totally lost my cool with the kids this morning. We are not a mellow household, and I am not a meek, angel mother who my kids will praise for never raising her voice- let’s just get that out of the way right now. My kids are boisterous and loud, and really, it’s my fault. I play things loose most of the time. I’m not a stickler for structure, and I don’t have chore charts or sticker rewards. I figure we all are part of this family, we all contribute. My kids know this. They also exploit it sometimes. This morning, I jotted down a few simple chores for each of them, and when the grumbling immediately started up, I told them whoever complained got another chore.

It didn’t take long until Jeffrey’s list was added to. And again. He was incensed and furious with me, and became super mouthy, and this lit Bean off to misbehave too. When Abby mouthed off to me (!) it was time to nip. All I wanted them to do was strip their beds, take the laundry downstairs and pick up their Legos. Not that much, imho. By the end of the morning, Jeffrey had cleaned the kitchen floor on his hands and knees, everyone had cried at least once, Bean and Abby were in their rooms and Jeffrey told me I was the meanest human being on the planet– Ever!

Then, bright ideas overflowing, I decided to take us all to Costco. Because it went so well last time! Remember last time? We weren’t there five minutes when I lost Bean the first time. I found him at the 3D TV monitors- so no panic there.  We made our way through the throng, and I lost him again back in the cold food. He’s squirrelly and quick, this kid- believe me. It was crowded, and he knows how to exploit his niche. This time it took me a little longer- he was inside the giant inflatable Earth ball they had on display. Yes. INSIDE. I wish I had taken a picture, but all I could think was GET DOWN! RIGHT NOW! He sheepishly climbed out and down and we managed to blast through the rest of the warehouse with him only getting lost watching the coffee roaster and then looking at the churros through the cafe glass.

Honestly, I don’t blame him. I wish I could have gotten in it too…

Some Things I’m Loving Right Now

Rosebud Strawberry Lip Balm

I’m flighty with my lip products, never staying loyal to one long- but I hate chapped lips, and the winter does a number on our kissers. I’m a sucker for a retro package, and this tin reminded me of the little sliding strawberry lip balm tins my grandma used to get me when I was a kid. I’m not disappointed. Available at Sephora among other places.


Stripped Knee-Socks

For some reason, these make me unreasonably happy. I love looking down and seeing the perky stripes over my toes, and I love the way I can pull them up to my knees or slip them down around the tops of my boots, depending on what I have on. This is new for me, who used to be of the low-cut running socks, even long before I started actually using my feet to run. Love them Available all over the place.



This has become my go-to almost-a-meal when I’m on the go (all the freaking time) or stuck in the car (too often) or late at school and trying to avoid the vending machines on break (two nights a week) or just wanting to eat something that will satisfy my insatiable craving for crunchy and salt without being made of potatoes. These little gems fill all that is asked of them. And they’re good for me too!


Living Proof FRIZZ Styling Products

I got these super-sized samples from Sephora, and as a serious devote of silicon products, I was skeptical if this more natural offering could cut the hardcore curl my head dishes out. Not only does it, but it makes my hair silky and soft too. Now I just need to find a way to get some more samples, because at $14 a pop, it’s too rich for my purse right now-but if anyone is looking for some super frizz stylers, this stuff is fantastic.

Kettle Chips Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips

Okay, this is my serious guilty pleasure, craving, gotta have it right now, comfort food. And frankly, I have no idea why. Well, other than the intoxicating umami mixture of thick, kettle induced crunch, fine salt, and sodium acetate drenching them in sour vinegar flavor. We have a northwest brand called Tim’s Cascade Chips which has a good go at Salt & Vinegar, but they add a bit of sugar too, and I prefer the true salty sour I get from Kettle over the localvore that wants to support Tims. What can I say, my tastebuds win when I’m on the prowl for comfort food. I hope I get over this soon, because the extra gym time isn’t worth it.


Back in Black

A few years ago, a good friend of mine was doing this color-scheme workshop about how to look your best. She invited me to be her Guinea-pig while she tried to get certified. Truthfully, it was kind of fun, and I did learn some useful tricks and ways to look better. One of the things she told me was that I needed to purge my wardrobe of anything black- that black was too harsh for my coloring and my “energy”, and my neutrals really should be brown, grey and navy blue. I like those colors, and for the most part, I think she was right. I excavated through my closet and carried her little color-card in my wallet.

Honestly, I still pretty much go by what she suggested- I love a grey t-shirt, and chocolate brown looks super on me. Navy as well. But recently, I slipped on a black, snug, long-sleeved t, and I felt… fantastic. I felt… chic. And I liked it! Checking myself in the mirror, it really was striking against my pale skin and dishwater blonde hair- especially since it had been so long since I had donned black. But it felt really good. There is just something about black…

Yesterday, on super clearance, I found a black patent-leather wallet. It sparkled and called to me from the pile of wallets, and I picked it up gingerly. My cherry-red wallet was fraying at the seams and looked so frumpy next to the sleek, shiny black patent. I stood there for a fraction of a minute, weighing my options. Less than the price of lunch? I bought it. And I cannot get over how much glee it give me when I reach into my purse and feel it. Is that totally ridiculous? Yeah. It is. And I don’t care.

I’ve decided I’m going to embrace black again. Not swath myself in it- it really is too harsh for me in big doses- but to accent and punctuate myself– Absolutely. The search is now on for some black-patent pumps… which really, every woman should own!

Random Crap: Brain Dump

Last night, at a Valentine’s party held my some friends of mine, I got a text from Auntie Heather wishing me Happy Tea Party Day. I had completely forgotten that in previous years, in an act of rebellion, we had deemed February 14th Tea Party Day, and actually had a tea party. That was back when Tea Party meant china cups and finger sandwiches, not crazy people with misspelled signs (edit: I’m being intentionally bombastic and inflammatory with that statement- have lots of conservative friends, and have been called out for this already this morning! I’m leaving the edits up as a testament to my flawed humanity- as if the rest of my life wasn’t already…😉 )

Hey, so when you’re in line behind a mother at the grocery store and she’s paying with food stamps, try really hard to keep from insisting she prove her desperation to you, a perfect stranger, because you’re offended that she has a cell phone along with her food stamps. Chances are, she’s keenly aware of her situation, and yeah, sometimes there are people who scam the system, but mostly? The people getting assistance need and qualify for it. My mom keeps me on her family-plan, incidentally, so I can have my cell phone. Does that answer your question, asshole?

Soooo ready for spring and some warm, yellow sunlight. Maybe I just need some vitamin D. We are closer to spring now than winter has left… happy.

July used to be my least favorite month, but February might be replacing it. Living in the Pacific Northwest changes a person’s perspective- in California, I would have daffodils, narcissus, freesia and jasmine blooming in my yard by now. Here? I’ve got soggy bark, matted winter lawn, and the tiniest hinting of the crocus tips thinking about sprouting. Does it make it sweeter that I have to wait for them? I tell myself that, but it’s bunk. I miss jasmine with a palpable ache right about the middle of February. Hello, longing.

Must hit the gym today. Must hit the gym today. Must hit the gym today. Speaking of, my good friend  who’s a runner gave me a present the other day- my first Under Armor. I. am. in. love. This stuff rocks! She got it in reflective white, so that when I run at night I’m actually safe and visible. It’s soft and tight and I love love love wearing it. She also got me a clip on light and a whistle, which Bean promptly commandeered. The light is pink. I have some awesome friends.

Almonds are my current favorite food in the world, just in random information. Well, that and cheese. Always cheese. Picked up some Beecher’s Reserve this weekend- it’s a Seattle-made cheese, and you should totally get some. Also, Humboldt Fog, which is always exemplary. Go forth, caseophiles.

School is harder this quarter, but I’m pulling a 92% in both my night classes. The one I’m actually worried about is a stupid online class in humanities I picked up, but it’s a music class and I didn’t realize the time commitment listening to all that stuff would be. I’m behind, and am going to have to cram to fit performances in. Not thinking well when I picked it- not a good class for a single mama with childcare issues. It’s the smallest pebbles that irritate the most.

A friend treated me to a movie this weekend, and we saw The Social Network. Surprised at how much I enjoyed it- and it made me homesick for Palo Alto. But I’m a snob that way. Can one be a welfare-queen and a snob? Welcome to my dichotomous world.

Bean and Abby are watching old-school Underdog. It’s awesome, and makes me feel about 7 again.

Anyone else had bebimbap before? I simply adore bebimbap, and had a spectacular version the other night. If you don’t know, bebimbap is a Korean hot-pot dish. Giant stone bowls are heated in the oven until they are screaming-hot, then lined with rice and filled with vegetables and meat and topped with a fried egg. The heat from the stone bowl cooks the veggies, and creates this divine crust on the rice, if you can be patient and wait before stirring it when the waiter delivers it to your table. I have a very hard time being patient. Gastronomic heaven though, if I can restrain myself.

The other day, I found a map store. Yes, an entire store of nothing but maps. Old maps, new maps, maps of the moon, venus, the new old world, science fiction maps, fantasy maps, topographical maps, relief maps, star maps. It was geek heaven.

Today’s nail polish name: Tie the Knot, a gunmetal grey with a deep pearl shine. Somehow, the knot-tying this color evokes are not wedding bells. Love it.

I really, really need some new music on my iPod. Speaking of, I have a huge new crush on Mumford & Sons. Someday I’m just going to learn to listen to Mo. She’s been talking them up for a long time. Them, and the Dropkick Murphys, who I also adore. Any other recommendations?

Bean is wearing my pink fluffly bathrobe around the house this morning. Only his head is through the armhole, because he says he likes it tight on his face. Okay then… onward and upward.

Attitude Adjustment

There is something to be said for pulling oneself up and trying to have a good attitude. Yeah, things have been hard lately- and I’m not one to bury my feelings under a bushel- not by a longshot. But I also realized this afternoon, as I got ready for class and my friends marshaled around me to help take care of my children so I could actually go to school, that I’m really blessed.

But here’s the thing- for as hard as it’s seemed lately, I am not without resources. Actually, I am seriously blessed in resources, all I have to do is look up and actually pay attention. I have a faith and a church that carries me over the really hard stuff, even when I forget that’s what it’s there for- which, in my pride, is more than I like to admit. When it comes to friends, I’ve been gifted with more people who care for me and my children that I can probably even count- that’s a priceless abundance. I have a family that loves us.

I’m doing well in school, despite this quarter being much harder than the last few- and while that threw me for a loop at first, it was bound to happen. It couldn’t stay easy. That also just required me to shift my perspective.  There are ways for me to make this work- again, I just have to look up, take in what’s around me, and make a move in any direction. Lately I’ve been paralyzed with fears- like a deer in headlights- but that’s not how or where I have to remain.

I’m going to try and start painting again, and I have a book coming out in March. I have a friend helping me retool Dandelion, and we should have a fancy new dress here sometime in the next few weeks. It’s time- mama needs something pretty. This year has been good- I had a lovely trip to California in January, February is a mercifully short month, and March brings spring. Those are all checks in the Good Stuff column.

It’s amazing what you see when you simply look up. I was starting to confuse the hard stuff for who I was. That was a mistake. The hard stuff is just happening around me. Yes, I have to deal with it, and yes, I’m more than capable of doing so- but I am not crippled by it. I am made of fine stuff, and underneath the patina wrought by the dust of the rocky path I am walking, I am remembering that I shine. We all do… We just have to remember.


Last week, with a blue turn-off notice from the electric company in hand, I had to drive down and pay the bill with my kids’ Christmas money. I steeled myself as I opened the door and walked to the desk, apologetic and embarrassed and prepared for the look from the woman at the desk. She was kind and didn’t make me feel worse, and I’m still grateful. It’s been a point of pride to me that I haven’t had to ask my ward for help in the last year, but this was a breaking point.

My home teacher came by to fix the fence that a good samaritan took out when he plowed my driveway earlier this winter. It was an unseasonably warm day, and we stood out in the weak but warm winter sunshine talking over my newly mended fence. He is a kind man, and a former bishop, and his compassion and generosity are legion. It wasn’t long into our conversation before tears were sliding under my sunglasses, down my cheeks and splashing onto my shirt. I told him what I had had to do, and just let my desperation spill and overflow.

He told me a story about his own family, stories most of us have in our histories, about times of need and how help was granted and given with love– only I’m living it right now, and its not padded by the patina of years. Each month I’m supposed to get child support, and frankly, that would make all the difference. But it’s not happening. And each month I’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it’s caught up with me. He told me my pride was hurting me and not allowing others to bless me- and that I needed to talk to the Bishop on Sunday and let him know. The tears continued to splash on my shirt as I nodded like a child.

Sunday when I visited the bishop, he told me my HT had called him and given the heads-up that I should be stopping by, but to be aware of me if my pride kept me from walking through is door. Safety net in place: check. My bishop took the burden from my shoulders, and I went home and cried. Then I spoke to my X and tried to explain to him that I really needed him to take some responsibility, in whatever way he could, for helping me and the kids. For all my bravado and awareness that I can do hard things, balancing three kids full-time alone and full-time school is wearing me down, and I need some help.

The boys have been acting out terribly, and Abby is being as sweet as she can be, sneaking in to kiss me and tell me she loves me at all hours. I’m not sure which concerns me more… I want my children to be okay. I want my children to be safe and happy and most of the time I think I’m doing a good job. Then something will happen that makes me feel like I just got off a carousel and am dizzy with confusion and can’t find the way up.

Tonight, after a huge melt-down at the Y because he couldn’t make a basket, Bean sat in the back of the car weeping. Jeffrey sat up front next to me with his hood pulled over his face and arm crossed, furious at me for not letting him get Abby from the child-care center, and Abby was kicking my seat because my water bottle was empty. I burst into tears. Dammit, I am trying so hard… and what I can give is just simply not enough for them.

Bean began to wail plaintively, and then we were all crying. One big happy family rolling down the icy roads towards home, which is not really home at all, but a borrowed Little House. As we were pulling into the driveway, Bean says “I don’t like this life mama, I want a different one! I don’t want to live in this stupid house and have you in school and I don’t wanna be sad anymore!” Me too, Bean- this is not what was supposed be, and it just doesn’t matter. Oh the tears… I sat in the driveway, clutching the steering wheel, as they ran in rivers down my face, my shoulders shaking under the weight I must bear.

There were lots of hugs and kisses and sincere prayers in Little House tonight. I gathered my children in my arms, and reassured them this was not going to be forever, and that the whole purpose of this was for me to to be able to take better care of them.

And I don’t have a clue what to do except keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Recipe: Meat Lasagna with Alfredo

Lasagna is one of those things that everyone has a favorite, and everyone’s mama makes the best one. I’m no exception- and like most good cooking (rather than baking) recipes, there really isn’t a recipe. I doubt I’ve ever pulled the same lasagna from the oven twice. Sometimes I add eggplant and spinach, sometimes extra meat or sausage, sometimes I go completely vegetarian (my favorite) with lots of different cheeses. This is my basic recipe, which you can then spring from in a hundred ways… Be warned though- this is a good one.

Here’s the goods:

Meat Lasagna with Alfredo

  • two packages flat lasagna noodles, no need to boil
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 container perlini fresh mozzarella
  • 8 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan, divided
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • fresh garlic
  • crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 jar of marinara sauce of your choice or homemade
  • fresh basil
  • salt and pepper

Homemade lasagna is a labor of love. It’s a lot of work. Kind of like my cinnamon rolls. But also like my cinnamon rolls, it’s worth it. Every once in a while. So gird yourself up, and get cooking. First, you have to make both your sauces- for this, it’s not quite a bollanaise (which cooks forever and requires more labor than I’m usually willing to give), and I skip the béchamel in favor of alfredo- its easier and I like it better.

For your meat sauce, in a large saute pan over medium heat, begin to render your pancetta. (pancetta is uncured pork belly- basically bacon without the smoke- and will be your fat for sauteing)

Dice up half your large onion:

and add to the pan once the fat has rendered from the pancetta. When the onion is translucent and soft, add the ground pork and ground beef, and saute:

Really get it browned- but not burned- see the little brown bits in the bottom of the pan? You want this:

If there is extra fat in the bottom of the pan once the meat is throughly browned and you have crispy bits, drain it off, and then add your marinara sauce- homemade or otherwise. For this recipe, I used RAO’s, my personal favorite, and added a splash of cream. The cream gives it the body of a bollanaise, with not demanding the all day cooking.

Pour this sauce into a bowl and set aside, and get ready to make your alfredo. Alfredo is simple, easy and delicious, and only has four ingredients: Cream, parmesan, butter and garlic. How can you go wrong??

Squish a couple of garlic cloves (witness the winter-garlic green tinge- alas) and run them through with your knife or with a press. I personally like a press- don’t understand why some people disparage them. They work great. In the same pan you made the meat sauce in, heat some butter and add the garlic:

Then, when the garlic is toasty and soft, but NOT brown, add the whole rest of the container of cream. Yup. Just do it.

Let the cream come up to temperature, and then, while stirring, add grated parmesan (please, never, ever ever ever the stuff in the green can. please?) Let it simmer for a bit to meld all the flavors and thicken- it should coat your spatula when ready:

With both sauces done, now get your ricotta mixture ready:

Stir two eggs into the 8 ounces of ricotta until its well combined, then add some torn up or chiffonade basil

Now gather everything you’ve made and get ready to assemble. I told you it was a lot of work and a labor of love! Only very special people get lasagna in my house…

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take your 9×13 baking dish and give it a good splash of olive oil and place a thin layer of the meat sauce in the bottom before you lay down your first layer of pasta. Top the first layer of pasta with meat sauce, cheese and dollops of ricotta:

Next layer, add a tier of pasta on top of the first layer and top with alfredo, perlini, mozzarella and basil leaves:

Alternate layers until you use up everything- ending with a meat sauce layer. The top layer should be scattered with extra parmesan and any other cheese left over- but no basil leaves- they will burn and blacken. Here we are ready to go in the oven- no foil or covering is necessary– but do place on a cookie sheet, because bubble-over is likely. Bake for one hour.

One hour. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. Then magic happens- and you pull out this beauty:

Now, whatever you do- no matter what- DO NOT CUT INTO IT YET!! This is a mistake too many people make with a fine lasagna. It’s like a steak- you have to let it rest! For at least 20 minutes- better 30- just leave it be on top of the stove. If you cut it while it’s molten hot, the cheese and sauce will just goop out all over the place, and ruin the experience. It’s better to wait- trust me. Use that time to make some screamin’ garlic toast or something…

Then, cut that beauty open– and voila:

Enjoy. And you’re welcome.

Volkswagen Has Been Spying On My Life

In case any of you missed it, my favorite German auto maker aired a commercial staring my daughter during the superbowl. I am so grateful their creative team left the child ambiguous enough that s/he can easily be either a girl or boy- kudos to VW. In case any of you don’t recall from Abby’s birthday last year, here’s proof of the satellite they must have over my Little House:

And later in the month at Commicon. Yes, we are bonafides geeks:

I wonder if we’ll get a royalty check?