Happy #11 Jeffrey!

He opened his kilt, and hooted with delight “MY MAN SKIRT!!!” and promptly donned it. Just wait until he opens the other package from Scotland tonight… His birthday letter will be up later today. We’re off to the Lego store with birthday money from grandma burning a hole in his pocket. Do kilts have pockets?

Random Crap: Wistful Addition

School starts a week from today, and I just got the pool passes for the summer from the management company. Finally. My lease was signed in MAY. Way to be on top of things, peeps! We should get in maybe one… two… swims, before they close for the season!

Mosquito bites suck. It’s not even worth being outside at twilight when the bloodsucking thieves come out.  I claw at myself for days, looking hot and pockmarked in the process. Awww yeah.

Cicada season seems to be ending here too- the incessant droning humm of their song is quieter, and I’ve found several of them dead in the yard. Abby is fascinated and has put them in her bug jar; the boys have run away.

Jeffrey will be eleven tomorrow. ELEVEN. Y’all have been reading about this kid, if you’ve been around here that long, since he was three. He’s tripled in size!

Have picked up some more freelance work for the fall- it’s on a wing and a prayer, but I love having freedom and flexibility. I think I can parse it together until school starts in January.

Speaking of grad school, I have a meeting set up with my department chair to talk about research and direction. I kept pinching myself yesterday, not believing it’s really real. Or maybe I was scratching mosquito bites…? Holy crap, someone wants to talk to ME about RESEARCH and direction I want to go! How did this happen?! >squee!<

Tomorrow I’m making a Lego cake. Again. Only this time, Jeffrey has requested no fondant, just chocolate icing. So, this cake, instead of red, yellow and blue, will be the elusive and rare brown Lego 8-brick.

Two packages have come from family members, shipped from Scotland. I wonder what they contain? Is the world ready for an eleven-year old red-headed kilted bagpiper? Ready or not…

I have a ton of family getting married this year- only all the weddings are in California. It’s near certain I won’t be able to fly out. That’s all I’ll say about that.

Oh! Good news! Auntie Heather is expecting her first baby! And we now live close enough that I can drive to see her and her awesome family. I just have to avoid the bats, right? I wonder how long my rabies shots are good for…

Every once in a while, I miss the old house so much it hurts. I know the dangers of nostalgia, and I know the pretty-outside only hid something that was gone on the inside. But boy… it sure did look pretty while it lasted…

Then I look at them now, at our lives now, and think… maybe this is pretty danm good too. I’m pretty sure I will look back on the sweetness of now with longing and tenderness and know that we have chosen the good part— no matter when or where we are.

Recipe: Take the Cannoli. Leave the Gun.

Oh yes. Yesssss, indeed. You bet your bootie they taste as good as they look! For those not in the know, a cannoli is an Italian rolled-tuile cookie filled with an amaretto-ricotta cream and tiny chocolate bits. They’re not a cake-walk to make, but they translate to gluten-free quite well at home, so it was totally worth it. If you don’t believe me, watch.

Almond Cannoli

  • For the cookies
  • 1/3 cup light Karo syrup
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, pulsed to meal in food processor
  • 2/3 cup gluten-free baking flour (or regular if you’re not allergic)
  • For the Filling
  • 16 ounces whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp amaretto or almond extract
  • 1/2 cup tiny chocolate chips
  • dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350*. To make the cookies, put the Karo syrup, butter and brown sugar in a medium sauce pan on low heat. While that is melting together, whirl the almonds and flour mixture in a food processor until the consistency of coarse cornmeal. It’s okay if there are small pieces of visible almonds. Yay for texture! Put in a mixing bowl. Pour the melted butter/sugar over the top, and mix well.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper, and place five 1″ balls of dough on each. (a small dough scoop works great!)  It will run. It’s okay- it’s gonna run- hence only five cookies per sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

When you pull the cookies from the oven, they will be flat and thin- let them cool for 2 or 3 minutes, then cut the parchment paper around each cookie, and wrap the still soft and warm cookie around a dowel, wooden spoon handle, or anything cylindrical you have around- I used a paper towel tube covered in foil. The parchment will hold them in place while they cool. Once they cool, they’ll be crisp and you can slide them from the tube.

For the filling: In a mixing bowl, whip the whole milk ricotta with the confectioners sugar, salt and almond extract (amaretto would probably be better, but alas, I am fresh out). Once it’s well incorporated, add the chocolate morsels. Fill a piping bag with a wide round tip (or a zip-bag and nip the corner off) and pop it in the fridge to chill while you wait for the cookies to cool.

When ready to serve, (and do this right before you serve lest the cookies get soggy) fill each cannoli shell, first from one side out, then flip it around and fill the other side. Dust with confectioners sugar and a few extra chocolate morsels and enjoy!

I have six of these babies sitting on my kitchen counter, and I keep stabbing my hand with a fork as I reach for another one.


Mr. Bean Goes to Washington

So yesterday, we spent the day on the mall. It was miraculously not too crowded, and the Museum of Natural History was where we spent most of our time. FYI, never ever eat in the cafes at the museums- pack your lunch, unless paying $8.50 for three milks in your idea of a party. After the museum, Bean wanted to walk the length of the mall, but there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the siblings, so I sent them with a friend, and Bean and I took off down the mall, just the two of us.

It was one of the best afternoons I’ve had since we moved. I forget how much I enjoy my kids when I get them one-on-one, and away from the chaos of constant competition for my attention. The others had fun with our friend, but Bean and I were the definite winners.

As we walked, we talked about politics, elections, the white house history, WWII, and even the Emancipation Proclamation.

We talked a lot about Grandpa McKay, and what happened that is commemorated here.

This is a really amazing place to live, and I’m finding myself incredibly glad that we took that deep breath, despite the odds and the fears, and jumped.  Jeffrey and Abby met at us Mr Lincoln, and we all hung out there until I it was time to go home. The reflecting pool is finally filled again, btw…

The Butcher, The Baker & The Candlestick Maker

One of the things they don’t tell you about being a divorced mama is that you’re gonna get a whole lot more hats. To be fair, I’ve always had quite the collection of headwear, and never shied away from doing tasks some think of as men’s work. Growing up, my parents built our house, and I saw my mom help frame doors, pour concrete, hammer shingles and mud walls. So when I moved on to my own life, it was natural for me to see something that needed doing, and just do it.

I figured I could read a set of instructions as well as any man. I was correct.

Over the years, I’ve done the things my mom did, I’ve installed ceiling fans, changed outlets, reglazed window panes, painted innumerable things, rototilled, changed the oil in my car, used my purse strap for a fan belt in my car, caulked tubs, layed bricks, installed a new toilet, changed doorknobs, repaired a garbage disposal, hung curtain rods, refinished furniture, and found a partridge in a pear tree.

I did many of these things before I got married, and quite often I was too impatient for my ex-husband to get around to things when we were married, so I kept on doing them. One day he came home from work, and I had ripped the carpet out of the bedroom, torn down the tile in the kitchen, removed a soffit and done some drywall.   It was easier than bugging him to do it.

Once I was divorced, this kept up, of course- only now I was the mom of three by myself, a full time student, and I was still doing everything a stay-at-home mom did, plus all the “dad” stuff- mowing the lawn, getting the car stuff taken care of, yardwork, hauling the trash and recycle out, shoveling the walk and driveway in the winter, doing scouts with the boys, and so on… and so on… and so on…

You know what? I’m tired.

Tonight, the toilet upstairs wouldn’t flush. It was a minor thing, but the call of “MOMMMM!!!” from the bathroom is never a good thing, and I felt my stomach knot up as I just didn’t want to deal with it. I trudged upstairs, and took the back of the tank apart, and fixed the flapper, which had come unhinged. Yes, that’s an actual technical term. But it’s a term I never want to use, or for that matter, a thing I never want to see, ever again.

I’m ready to not be doing this by myself anymore. I’m so damn tired of everything being on my shoulders, and it was a slipped o-ring on a toilet do-hickey that finally pushed me over the edge. Let me finally take off a few of these hats and just be… perhaps… the baker— and mama. I certainly don’t intend to be the plumber. Ever again.

On the Fly

This song is meandering and winding its way around the pathways of my mind.

It’s been a long week, and it’s only Thursday. It’s just been one thing after another, and I keep looking at the calendar, the same way I would every 16 seconds in algebra class. Yep, still Thursday.

I’m going Visiting Teaching for the first time since I moved. I don’t know jack about the women I’m assigned to, and I don’t know where anything is, so this should go swimmingly.

Speaking of swimming, we’ve been here for five weeks now and I still haven’t gotten our pool passes from the neighborhood association, despite filling the papers out twice. Getting disgruntled.

I’m out of ice. If you know me, you know that’s a crisis situation.

Had dinner last night with a friend from Kindergarten who was in town for a navigation convention. There’s a photo of him and I together, tiny five year olds, sitting on the monkey bars at Raynor school. I wish I knew where it was, I’d post it. Living in DC means lots of visitors, and I have to admit, after living so far off the beaten track for a decade— I like it.

I may have a second book being optioned. Shhhh. More on that later.

Next week is Dandelion’s SEVEN year birthday. That translates to about a kajillion in bloggy years, so expect some fanfare and perhaps some design changes. I already changed the URL— did you notice?? I’m just me now.

Off to VT, wet hair and all. Not that it matters, as soon as I step outside. Sigh…

Children of Divorce

The other day, an acquaintance said to me “I didn’t know Mormons could get divorced.” It stopped me short, but I recovered quickly. Yes, Mormons can get divorced. The general impression is that we do it with less frequency than the broad population, but if you look at the numbers, we are nearly equal. Part of me likes that we are perceived as having more stable marriages, and part of me pays the price for that perception within my own community.

I have three separate sets of LDS friends who are navigating the choppy waters of divorce. No one ever wants this to happen— I don’t care who is involved or who initiates the process, it sucks. Anyone who tosses platitudes about how divorce is “too easy” is a fool. While every divorce is different, I guaran-damn-tee you, it wasn’t a decision entered into lightly, or on the fly. There is always— always always always— years of pain and hidden struggle, despite how things may look from the outside.

What my children and I experienced in our divorce was not just the loss of a husband and a father, but the literal loss of home, safety, financial support, family and any shred of security. Most children, mercifully, will never have to go through that, even in a divorce— but the ones who might (mine) can and do turn into fine, well-adjusted, happy and healthy young people.

It just takes time.

Jeffrey will be eleven in two weeks. He has the most memories of the last few years, and the vocabulary and maturity to express himself- and he does. In the car the other day, we were talking, and Jeffrey wondered aloud at how his friends are feeling. I asked him who he was thinking of, and he rattled off the names of the kids who’s parent’s are divorcing, and added “I remember then, when it was new, and it was scary and hard.”

I was quiet, hoping he would add something further. I find if I give him room, sometimes he is able to find more he needs to say. “How about now?” I gently ask.

He leans his head back on the seat and looks for a bit out the window before turning to me. “Now it’s so much better, mom. I’m happy. I wish I could show my friends that. I don’t want them to be scared. Things are SO much better.”

I teared up, and put my arm around my giant kid. With the devastation we went through, the upheaval, the constant struggle, the mom being in school year-round, the extra responsibility placed on his too-young shoulders— this is the truth. He is happy. He knows he is loved, and he has the compassion and ability to empathize with those he cares about and try and share it.

It’s not that I recommend divorce as a way of forcing growth. If there is a way to happily and healthily hold a family together, it’s preferred. In my case, that wasn’t possible. But know that if you’re facing divorce, or someone you love is, it’s truly not the end of the world. It may be the opening of a whole new world, one you didn’t know or plan for, but one that might hold happiness you never expected to find.

I know that my children are better off and happier than if I had sacrificed us on the altar of “staying together no matter what”. I know this. Two miserable people cannot raise happy children who know how to build healthy lives.  Ironically (or perhaps not) my relationship with my ex-husband is better and healthier now than it would have been if we had stayed married. Getting divorced freed us from the expectations of the other, and allowed us to be who we wanted and to remember what we liked about each other, and not be swallowed in disappointment and pain. He’s my friend again.

This enables both of us to be productive and healthy parents, in ways that were likely blocked to us had we bypassed our own spirits and happiness in order to present the world an ideal. Had we stayed together, I would have been a miserably unhappy woman, and he would have continued to turn to unhealthy means to cope with the weight of that unhappiness- his, and mine. Nothing will ever convince me that raising children in that environment would have been healthier— emotionally, spiritually or temporally— than what we have now.

It gets better. I promise. It takes time, patience, and love. But it gets better.

Recipe: Tao Tao Chicken Salad

Going to Tao Tao Restaurant was always a treat reserved for a special night with my grandma. As a child, I remember going in the back entrance and waiting while the pretty ladies in red satin dresses would seat us. I remember the rocks and plants by the back door, and the tiny Chinese sculpture in the small alcove, and the shiny enameled screens with inlays of pheasants embroidered in silk. But more than anything, I remember the first salad I ever fell in love with.

Tao Tao Tossed Chicken Salad is the single item on their menu for which they are most famous. It’s also a recipe I’ve been trying to get right at home for nearly a decade now- the entire time since moving from California. I have finally gotten it. NO JOKE. It’s a lot of work, but when you live 3000 miles from your favorite Chinese place, it’s worth it. No mandarin oranges, no ramen noodles, no mini corn, no mayonnaise- this Chicken Salad is simply perfection in a bowl.

Consider this my gift to you.

Tao Tao Chicken Salad

For the Salad:

  • 1 head finely shredded fresh iceberg lettuce
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped, no stems
  • 3-4 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3-4 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces thin cellophane rice noodles
  • 4 chicken breast tenders, crisp-fried and chopped (recipe below)
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For the dressing- it doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough. You just barely want the lettuce coated, shake the following together in a small jar or whisk in a bowl:

  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp TOASTED sesame oil (ridiculously important)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dry asian mustard

First thing I do is prep and fry the chicken and cellophane noodles. To do that, I soak the four tenders in about a cup of buttermilk for an hour. While it’s soaking, mix in a plastic bag the following: 1 cup flour, 2 tsp Morton’s Season All, 2 tsp of powdered chicken broth bouillon, 2 tsp onion powder 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning and 1 tsp fresh black pepper. Toss the chicken in the bag, shake to coat, and fry in the oil you have heated to 375 in either your fryer, or in a deep pot on the stove. Tenders cook quickly- usually 5-6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

Take your time doing this part: While the oil is still hot, break your cellophane noodles into manageable pieces. I sometimes use scissors for this, as dry, they are quite tough. Usually cellophane noodles are soaked in hot water and served soft. For this, we are going to toss them, dry from the package, in very small bunches, into hot oil. They will puff up almost immediately. Make sure you do it in small bunches, flip them, and remove them promptly. Uncooked cellophane noodles are tough and inedible, but fried, they become delicate, tender little crunchy darlings. You will have quite the pile of white crunchy noodles when you’re done. (buy them in the asian section of any market).

Now that your frying is done and the dressing is made, you can get to making the salad.

In a large bowl, toss the shredded lettuce, chopped cilantro (yes, the whole bunch), scallions, sesame seeds and cashews together. Top with the chopped cooling (but still warm) chicken and the pile of white crunchy cellophane noodles.

Drizzle the entire amount of dressing over the salad, and toss thoroughly with some tongs or with your hands. It will be very lightly dressed, but this is a good thing.

Transfer to a pretty bowl, and if you feel fancy, top with a few choice cilantro sprigs and some whole cashews. ENJOY!!


These are uncooked cellophane noodles. You will use maybe 1/2 of one bunch:

GET TOASTED sesame oil, not plain. Plain is just oil, toasted is a strongly flavored condiment: