Monday, December 1, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

As the five-day holiday break draws to a close, I have to admit it is ending pretty much where I thought it would. A few things achieved that I had not thought would be done (very few) and a whole list of tasks not accomplished. Ugh, why do I do this to myself? Eh, honestly though, no regrets. It was a time of rest and respite, and I feel charged to march (arm-in-arm with Julius Caesar) through the next fifteen days (school days, but sounds better than 19 days, no?).

On Wednesday, Cameron and I grabbed breakfast, did a couple of errands and drove out of town to a "real" Verizon store to tackle our phone issues- namely his phone issue, or more precisely, lack of a working phone issue. Cell phones are such a... scam. Less than one year ago on Black Friday, after spending hours upon hours in lines to buy phones for the boys, I was told that you didn't have to wait out contracts any more- that you could just upgrade your phone whenever you wanted, but without the super-crazy cheap  deals though. Wednesday though? I get hit with the "not due for a new phone" until November- of NEXT year. So, I had planned to upgrade the whole family to smart phones but sales chick was proposing that I would have to pay $500 - $800 per phone, walking out of the store having spent over $1500 for new phones and upgraded plans. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say I "went off." I did say something to the effect of "So you mean to tell me after 12 years of being a customer, this is the best service you can give me... when the phones I stood in here and bought less than a year ago are already trashed" (noticed they weren't even on display anymore although they were the "new" phone last year). Basically I said I was coming from a place of confusion and just didn't know how to wrap my head around all this... sales clerk disappeared for a while... came back and told me "The Manager" said she could upgrade all our phones... at the current promotions rates... and left paying less than even a quarter of what she first proposed. The moral of the lesson boys and girls? Never walk out of a cell phone store without some kind of deal or spiff?

Thursday could be summed up by my quote that Jason apparently found amusing: "I'm going to cook my ass off all day and not cook again until Sunday." For the first year, for as long as I can remember, our family didn't participate in the local YMCA 5K on Thanksgiving morning. I also did not subject myself to the Macy's Parade. Every year, I force myself through the greater part of the televised event. However, each year it is less and less parade and more and more commentary, so I didn't even put on the charade of pretending that was a tradition this year.

The turkey I made was absolutely gorgeous. I really toyed with the idea of taking a picture of it, then told myself that was a little too promote-myself-on-Facebook'ish... but now I wish I had, because it really was gorgeous, like greeting card gorgeous. Like Hollywood movie dinner table gorgeous - and not one with a dysfunctional family cast. Benjamin asked me if I "painted it." From the mouths of babes, eh? I stuffed the inside with lemons and rosemary sprigs, which I didn't actually taste in the turkey. I guess it depends on what part of the bird you ate. I think I will try the same combination next year but also work some on top and maybe under the skin.

Other recipes delivered with equal success (culinary bragging is a rarity for me, deal with it) were:
Trisha Yearwood Slow Cooker Macaroni & Cheese
Candied Sweet Potato Casserole
Baked (Sweet) Corn Pudding

On Friday, Cameron and I headed back out of town for some casual Black Friday shopping. We didn't peel ourselves out of bed and stand in long lines. We didn't check out sales or even have an agenda before we headed out of town. By the time I got to Chesapeake and checked some specials online, the deals I would have wanted had already ended at noon. So, I did a little shopping - nothing ambitious.

Saturday and Sunday kicked the Housework &Home work agenda into gear. We got a lot of picking up here & there done, then pretty much desecrated all that work when we pulled all the Christmas stuff from storage (that would be the "unplanned" event of the weekend). Along with lesson plans, and benchmarks, and grading other assignments, I also read through a hefty amount of Titanic research papers (default research project because the librarian is on maternity leave). (Can I tell you how sick I am of that ship?) Oh and lest we not forget that I let Cameron twist my arm into watching "Grumpy Cat's Worse Christmas Ever." Apropos because it was the. worse. movie. ever. I mean PAINFUL to watch... but when Cameron fell asleep only an hour into it... I just had to see how it ended, and watched the next hour. (Already confessed multiple times my obsession with trash television, no further explanation needed.)

Tomorrow marks December on the calendar and I am trying to carve out my Holiday Spirit... beginning with getting ready (or not) for the arrival of this stress-inducing pesky critter tomorrow morning (The Elf, not Benjamin).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful.

November is winding to an end and I find the urge to "create" to be overwhelming yet once again. Once again too though, about as creative as I am finding myself with the time to be is to Pin tons of ideas I will never get to, if I even remember. At the very least, I would like to write again. And it's okay if it is just for me- my enjoyment, my therapy, my sanity.

This has been a crazy-busy school year. when I make comments like that, people often respond "When aren't you busy" and they are right. There was a time when I prided myself on that chaos of busyness but not so much any more. I really wanted this to be the year I slowed down, stepped back. In small ways I guess I have. My responsibilities with the local Relay are much, much less. Rather than being a chair of the whole event as I have done for the past three years, I am this year just in charge of entertainment and activities. I found myself at peace with real fast but am still feeling out my boundaries as to where my input is needed or welcomed. Relay for Life is a microcosm of small town politics in these parts.

Jason has a heavy course load of college classes this semester as he works toward student teaching next. I promised to really step up the domestic goddess game so he could turn his full attention to schoolwork and not meals or household matters. I can definitely confess to not holding up my end of the bargain on that deal. Man, I wish I was just one of those people who liked to cook... but I. am. not.

Only teaching 10th grade English, although two levels, seemed that it would make for an "easier" year, at least as far as planning and prepping goes, but the classes, as they often are, are so uniquely different- each presenting their own set of stresses challenges- that I end the day just mentally exhausted and feel like I am always playing ketchup.

Benjamin is at the age that he is really making me feel the busyness that consumes my life. I just can't hold him enough. I cannot believe how fast four years flew by and I know with the blink of an eye that it took Cameron to become a young man, the next decade in Benjamin's life will fly by just as fast, especially if I continue to feel like my "pockets of time" for him just aren't enough. Maybe I am making myself sound like a bad mother. Maybe I am. I am sure though that many moms feel this way. We all work. We all have stuff. I just want less stuff and don't know how to make that happen just yet.

Key Club is... Key Club, the great consumption of my life. Last week was our "Key Club Week" so I am really feeling the timesuck it can be, for better or for worse. Kiwanis Family Month is November and Key Club, their high school branch, celebrates a Key Club Week internationally usually the first week in November. And, as usual, I ignored that one and crafted out own Key Club week the week before Thanksgiving Break. On Monday, we inducted 35 new members during a formal evening ceremony. We graduated out some great kids last year but thankfully I feel like we brought in some young dedicated, energetic ones that will respect and carry on the legacy of those before them. On Tuesday, the kids counted UNICEF collections afterschool and tallied about $1,200 in donations for The Eliminate Project, a Kiwanis initiative to end Maternal-Neonatal Tetanus worldwide. On Wednesday we had our traditional breakfast at a restaurant out in the community- little business, lots of fun. That afternoon the 350 boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts sold were distributed, most in a 10 minute window of pure chaos before bus dismissal. Thursday was the night for our monthly Bingo at a local nursing home. And Friday, ohhh Friday- we hosted the Red Cross Blood Drive at the high school. Despite collecting 78 pints, it was a dramatic day with more students getting sick, hurt, and passing out than normal- including Cameron. Within a couple of hours of that event ending, the Key Clubbers and I were serving Thanksgiving Dinner and dancing the night away with our "friends" at Zuni Homes, a residential facility for intellectually-disabled adults. Since everything couldn't quite be squeezed in last week, volunteers also gathered up all the donated cans and boxes brought in during the Food Drive Key Club hosted last week. There were over 650 items, with at least a third to half being from the top two classes loaded with competitive club members. I even managed somewhere amidst that chaos to get all members "officially" registered with the international office and send dues in. AND (!!!) the pre-holiday mini-week ended with a letter from Key Club International announcing that our club has been awarded a $1468 grant for our "Kick the R Word" proposal (another full week of activities, but thankfully not until March).

SO...

I can't say I don't know what is keeping me busy because obviously I do... and even though that was a rarely beyond-the-norm-McHenry-chaos week... I need to strive towards some sort of balance - not ending my nights just falling into bed because I am to physically exhausted, or mentally drained, to do one. more. thing.

I cannot purge this ball of tightly wound stress though without coupling it with just how thankful I am to have this opportunity to work with the kids. I can tangibly feel the influence I have in their lives. I know that in 10, 20, 30 years they are going to look back on high school and most of their memories are going to be related to Key Club. I look at weeks like last week, and the cumulative goodness that came from it and am just amazed by it. By how such a "little" group can do so "much." Jason and I have started the conversation for maybe not living here forever more... maybe in a few, several, some, years moving to another area. There are many things about my job I love. I dread waking up in the morning but (once functional) I never dread going to work. Of all the perks, benefits, positives of school, my career, my life though, the one that makes it hardest to entertain any self other than the one I am now is walking away from this legacy I fostered into being. They renew my faith that there is good in the world every. single. day.

So yeah, I know, this post has meandered over all over its little space on the web, but like I said- I'm writing for me tonight, and these are the things that are on my mind. About this time last year I had my fill of people posting on Facebook what they were thankful for every.single.day. Regardless, I decided to do my own little practice of gratitude right here and reflect on what 30 things I was thankful for... and while I am still thrilled when my Diet Coke is carbonated just right or when I find myself delved into a good book, I am feeling gratitude mostly this Thanksgiving night for this group of kids that call me their mentor (actually more often "guru"- at my insistence), a gratitude so overwhelming that it leaves my teary-eyed and speechless to contemplate.

YET...

I have to, have-have-have to, find a way to channel that good and not let the rest of my life succumb to chaos in trade for it, or for the job I love.

Friday, October 3, 2014

In the Bucket, Summer 2014


It's been over a week since the "First Day of Autumn" graced our calendar, and brought with it the cool weather to match the calendar's proclamation of Fall. I am still begrudgingly mourning its arrival and the passing of Summer. I know I sound like a spoiled teacher... but post-Summer School and pre-school inservices I only had a month off! It's a bit disconcerting because I usually am excited for the start of the school year, by sayyy five days after Summer vacation begins. This year though, I really wanted to beg and plead with the calendar gods to give me just two more weeks... one more trip to the beach, to the waterpark, to many and any 'a place. Of course, time just doesn't work that way, and I have found myself feeling like I never left school for the summer at all. Thus, I am thankful I made The Summer Bucket List although much did not get accomplished. Still, I can look at it for an easy reference to many of the summer highlights and use these reflections to create my mindset going into next Summer.

So, to finally face reality and succumb to the arrival of autumn, I wanted to recap Summer 2014 by way of the Bucket List.

1- Big Brother: Watched the whole season and absolutely loved it. At the start of the season I liked Christine but that was before I really got to know any other them. The tattooed barista stood out most to me amid the cast of such different characters. By mid-season though I was not impressed with her ethics (i.e., hussiness) and began to see the psychological genius that was Derrick. I wish I could employ many of his political tactics to my everyday work life- not be such a knee-jerker and emotionally responsive.

2- Crabs: Our ratty little farmer's market had a guy selling crabs over the summer and we bought a bushel (for $92 I think). Mistake. The "joy" of opening the packets of frozen crabmeat over the next few months was not worth the wasted day and aches and scrapes of shucking crabs for eight hours. A lot of them just didn't steam right either given our limited means. Next summer, it will definitely be more worth it to make a couple of trips to a crab shack for dinner. When you are not being charged per individual crab, it's a lot easier to do a quick-clean, eat, and move on.

3- Watermelon & Corn: We bought a couple of good watermelons over the summer, and one or two others not as good. I let a good deal of it go to waste and just didn't get around to eating it personally though, which I regret, although the rest of the fam enjoyed their share. With corn, we made the same mistake we make every year or two and then forget what a mistake it is until we make it again - the Farmer's Auction. Unless  you are hosting a Family Reunion or a Baptist Cookout, you do not need 100 ears of corn. Unfortunately we let a great deal of it go to waste and froze it too late, having to toss out the frozen masses a short while later. Note to self to just buy a dozen at the Famer's Market, or even the grocery store before I do that again.

4- Blueberries: We went blueberry picking twice, 10 pints the first time and 8 the second, I think. I wish I had tried more recipes with them, though the galette and cake I made were pretty darn good. I also need to note for myself to just go alone next year, not in the heat of mid-day , and take a water bottle. The later season visit presented blueberries that were not as bountiful to pick or that looked as appealing. So, I need to just plan to make one solo blueberry-picking-marathon of it early in the season.

5- Popsicles: Failed. We did not make any popsicles and I am not particularly distressed by that because I don't like popsicles... I just wanted to use my fancy pop maker.

6- Farmer's Market: We did make it to the Farmer's Market a few times. I'd like to make it back one more time but am not sure if the soccer schedule will allow that.

7- Yard Sales: I did go yard saling, twice I think, this summer. I picked up random odds & ends. Pretty good days- not great, no real treasures stand out in my mind. I would really like to get in one more Saturday of Yard Sales... but am not sure if the soccer schedule will allow for that either.

8- Crafting: Failed. This one actually does upset me. The "Craft Room" is more like the "Junk Room" right now. I can barely squeeze in the door. Of all 20 items on the Summer Bucket List, this is the one I regret most not fulfilling. I know that sounds selfish but all the other adventures combined do not fill me in the way this one does. This one that I always save so very little- any- time for.

9- Chalkboard Wall: Suspended. Jason & Cameron cleared out the hall, covered the floor, and taped off the wall... then life got busy again. We have the supplies. I just need to push aside some other things on the Never-ending To Do list and get it done. Such a tangible feeling of accomplishment would be good right about now.

10- Reading: I'm not sure what all I read this summer, but I definitely did read some good books. After three failed attempts to begin, I made it through Gone Girl once I got past the hurdle of accepting the strange narrator's voice, I absorbed the book- loved it. (I'm telling you it was because a female author took on a male voice. The cross-gender narrator never works for me.) I then went on to grab her two other books and devoured those in a couple of days too. I read a handful of others too, some blogged about- others not.

11- Library Reading Program: We joined, checked out books, attended a few programs. Honestly though, it was just too early for Benjamin. The programs were not structured to hold the attention of a 4 year old, especially in that small crowd setting. We may try again next year, or we may hold off for a summer. I don't want to let "having" to stay in town for the Library program to dictate our summer plans again, although Cameron actually volunteering with the program coupled with that decision too.

12- Summer Movies: We went to see two (I think) Summer movies. It was well worth the $1 admission. I just have to remember not to become a sucker for concessions again, or else that admission price increases ten-fold. We saw Kung Fu Panda 2 and some movie about fairies in the grass. Benjamin was just on the cusp of handling/not handling a movie theater. Like most everything else, it just had to have his attention captured... or I had to bribe him with candy pieces until it did.

13- Parks: Failed. I could not convince myself to drive an hour to another park when we could drive a bit more and go to Busch Gardens. The days just passed by too fast. I would have liked to try new parks but we just ran out of time.

14- Baseball: We did make it to one Tides baseball game. I waited until the day of the game and bought tickets which were FAR too expensive. We had good seats tough, front row over the home team dugout, which was a perfect pick for Benjamin. Honestly though, it was too difficult to try and enjoy the game and entertain Benjamin at the same time. If we take him to a game again next year, we will definitely go for the cheap seats and make the most of it. I would have liked to make it back to another game sans kids and avec beer, but that just didn't happen.

15- Children's Museum: We did make it to The Children's Museum and to the Wizard of Oz exhibit, which was greatly disappointing. Thankfully it was a cheap day now that I know teachers get in for free and military gets a discount. We went on a rainy Sunday afternoon that was a free visit day for all Bank of America customers, so it was chaos.

16- Living Museum: Failed. We did not make it to the Living Museum, which I regret. I am sure the Dinosaurs Live exhibit would have been more entertaining than the Oz at Children's Museum. It is also more importantly a warm season museum since a good portion is outdoors. If the Fall Bucket List is created, I should add a visit.

17- Busch Gardens: I think we made three summer time visits. Benjamin found anew his love of roller coasters, which had disappeared for a while. This child is going to terrify me when he is big enough to do more rides, which scarily may be next summer.

18- Water Country: We made three visits here too. At least one of the visits was just too late in the day. Whether Busch Gardens or Water Country, it is just not worth the 3 - 4 hour round trip to stay at the park about that long. The last visit was on the Sunday before the park closing on Monday, Labor Day. Never again. I did not even know the place had overflow parking until this day. It was like those crowded wave pool in Japan viral videos. The park actually closed because it reached capacity. Never. Again.

19- I think we only made it to the beach twice. The second time was just for a few evening hours after a rainy afternoon (during which we went to see "Lucy"- worst movie I have EVER seen in my life!). Not enough. I would favor weekly beach trips over Busch Gardens next year. I don't know if it's the influence of crabby aging self or succumbing to the norms of rural life but crowded sand scenes in Virginia Beach have lost their charm to me. I may have to check out the Outer Banks or more private beaches next year- I think there's a military one.

20- Justin: Failed. This really saddens me. We had coordinated plans for him to be with us a full week at the Eastern Shore campground... until a tornado ripped though it the week before, killing three campers. Obviously, I feel the due gratitude to not even having been there the week this happened but it was going to be good to spend a week with the eldest son. Unfortunately the one weekend that works best for us this month is the one weekend he is out of town for a run. So, I am not perfectly sure when this dilemma will be resolved.

And that, my dears, with a few unscheduled adventures added to the mix, was Summer 2014. And, I can't even say I am on countdown until the next summer because that is post-graduation for Cameron... and whenever I think about that... it's just a little too much to handle.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Don't Go

 
 
I have a love-hate relationship with Lisa Scottoline. I think of her as the "Target author." Whenever I think of one of her book jackets, I imagine it on the paperback displays of Target shelves with a trademark red and white bull's eye sticker. I don't know why that is relevant... it's just what first comes to mind when I think of the author. And maybe too the fact that I have never been quite interested in one of her books enough to pay full price. Every once in a while I will (admittedly obnoxiously) grab a basket full of books at Target and find somewhere to park (seasonal displays of patio furniture work well, although I am not opposed to just plopping on the floor in the book aisle) and peruse through the stack to find which interest me enough to buy. Something by Scottoline usually makes the stack... but never makes it home. Those that have found their way to me shelf usually arrived via Habitat's 25 cent sale of the library's $5 bag-o-books sale. This specific one I spotted at the library when I took Benjamin for one of the summer programs, and I actually checked out, a rarity.
 
I felt about it like I did about most of her novels. There is this gossamer strand, thin, but just strong enough to pull me through the pages, intrigued to see where the story goes. I felt this way reading Save Me and Look Again, also by the same author. I wouldn't say it was "good" but it was just enough to keep me interested. In places the detail is too much. In other areas the writing is banal, a little hard to suffer through. The ending in this novel, as well as the other two is a bit Shakespearian though... and that's not a good thing. I have taught Romeo and Juliet more times than I can count. And it seems when Willie the Bard got to Act Five he felt like "Time to wrap things up" and jumbled together a bunch of plot elements to finish the play. It's much like watching a movie that keeps your interest throughout but suffers a rushed ending, often like with Don't Go, one that doesn't flow with the rest of the action's pace or development.
 
The novel is about an Army surgeon that has to return home from war because his wife suffered a fatal household accident, leaving his infant daughter to the care of the deceased mother's sister, who conveniently is barren, and oozing with maternal love to smother the semi-orphaned infant. Dr. Mike must decide whether to fulfill his military duty with a small regimen of doctors desperately needing his help or to hand up his camo lab coat to play Mr. Mom. Complicating that decision is a whole "second life" that he discovers about his wife during his deployment, including alcoholism and infidelity.
 
There were certain unexpected twists to the novel, which were good. I was pretty certain that at page 19, I had then entire book figured out... and I was completely wrong. I don't know if Scottoline intentionally led me- her reader- to that conclusion. I'd like to think so, but I question achieving that feat with her writing skill style. The thing is... I would have been beyond content to be wrong, and surprised... but the ending was so disjointing. It's as if she wrote 3/4th of the book, walked away a few months, and then picked it back up to finish... maybe she needed a paycheck. The "obvious" conclusion, although expected and trite, would have been a more fulfilling end to the novel than the fluster of activity that finishes its pages.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Enough

There are not enough hours in the day.
Days in the week.
Weeks in the month.
You get the point...

It's summer.
I'm a teacher.
I don't think I am afforded the luxury of feeling there is "too much to do" during the summer months.
(Of course, I realize this "luxury" is really a burden.)

I had to go back to school yesterday.
It had only been a week since summer school ended. Since I left.
What's funny though is that it seems so much longer.
That's a good thing, right? I must be making the most of my summer if it seems like I have been out longer.
(I have seriously checked the calendar three times to check that fact because it just doesn't seem right.)
Nevertheless, I was back at school yesterday. For a School Leadership team meeting.
And, I was just a wee bit bitter that I had to return already.
When I had promised myself a full month mental vacation from all things academia.
Once I was there though, things fell into place. I felt calm, in place.
How easy it was to swing back into the pace of school life.
I have had so, so... sooo... many jobs in my life.
It is unfathomable to think that I just finished my 10th year of teaching. At the same school even.
I think I will get a pin for my name badge (which I don't wear) this year for that.
So, it is a good thing that I feel so "in place" when I am there. Not a burden, just life. My life.
Yesterday, we also decided that the Leadership Team would come back together the Monday before the staff next month.
Which is two weeks before school starts. And later that same week I will have meetings to mentor a new teacher (I think).
That too made me a wee bit bitter. Thinking that summer, that has barely started, is ending a week earlier than planned.
Though not really planned because I knew about the mentoring, which would bring me in that week anyway (probably).

I thought that meant I "officially" have three weeks of summer left.
But here it is almost Wednesday, and I have done nothing this week. Plans made. Plans nixed.
Days wasted away.
So I knee-jerked and planned a family vacation.
At a campground.
I don't camp.
But we're in a cabin.
With no bathroom. Or "rooms" at all for that matter.
And no water or stove... or even chair.
I told myself that mentally removing myself from home, town, physical life would be good for me.
For us.
God, I hope I was right... I am having my doubts.
But the cabin is booked. Paid for. Nonrefundable.
But, I still have my doubts.
And now I don't look at the calendar and think I have 2.5 weeks of Summer. I think I have One Week of Summer after we get back!

I look at my Summer Bucket List. Good idea or No to make it a screen saver?
And I see those things that can be checked.
Some that are still lingering plans.
And several that have been done but I want to do again before time runs out.
Time Runs Out.
Now though, the Every Days are weighing on me.
Jason has gotten things aligned to be back in class full-time next month. Next Month! Very Full-Time!
I think about how crucial it is to get things cleaned and organized before Time Runs Out.
Then I waste some more days away.
I don't mean waste them away in a good way, which I think is quite possible. Quite therapeutic.
I mean waste them away in a fugue of disorientation, not able to get through a load of laundry or a recipe.

These days of  Nothingness, intentional and not, make me question how I spend my time the rest of the chaotic year.
School. Key Club. Relay for Life.
Question my roles in each. My time. My purpose. My reward.
Place the efforts and returns on a scale side-by-side and see which way it tips.
Ask myself if I am doing Enough. For every role in my life.
For family.
For myself.
I don't even know what that means.
I find myself often in this funk of dysfunction when I don't have Too Much to do.
I must thrive on chaos.
Or I just don't know what to do when the next immediate task to be done isn't immediately laying before me like a guillotine beneath my neck.
There is certainly much I Could do. There is certainly much I Should do.

I am talking in circles. Much like the carousel of my mind right now. My life.
Going in circles with no immediate destination in sight.
I suppose I need to just lean back, hold on, and enjoy the ride a bit? Breeze in my hair kind of metaphor?
I don't know.

There is no purpose in writing in verse tonight.
I am being a cheat. Taking the easy way out of not having to connect more than one thought to the next.
No logical progression of paragraph structure required.
Funny thing.
I wanted to use the word calliope earlier instead of carousel. For a moment I thought they were the same thing.
Thankfully, I Googled. Lord Google.
Not a carousel. However, Calliope was daughter of Zeus, lover to Ares, and a muse of epic poetry.
Just an ironic word blunder tonight for this "mythology" chic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Maymont - Richmond, Virginia

Yesterday, I had to hitch up the wagon and drive in The City to pick up the awards our Key Club won at International Convention. Not wanting to waste a 3-hour round trip for just that venture, I sought out some type of sightseeing adventure to add to the agenda. I did not find too many options that would be appealing to myself and the 17 year-old and the 4 year-old.

And honestly? I was a bit lazy and last-minute about it and quickly decided upon Maymont as I was surfing around. It was the 100-acre Victorian country estate of James Henry and Sally May Dooley during the Gilded Age of the late 1880s through the 1910s. After completion of the Romanesque-style mansion, the Dooleys spent three decades filling its interiors with treasures from around the world and establishing the gardens and landscapes. Following Dooley's death, with no heirs to the estate, Maymont was bequeathed to the city of Richmond  and opened as a public park and museum. (Information is more than slightly plagiarized from the linked website.)

I know... it doesn't sound like a place to entertain the adventurous pre-schooler, but it really did make for a great day. We did not venture into the Mansion or Nature Center, but walked the overall grounds and checked out the various animal areas. It was simply beautiful, and not in the overly flowered and spruced-up kind of way. I was hesitant too when I saw the map at the entry gate and paths marking the 3-mile hikes were traced along the paths (just sections of the paths!). And there may have been one hill I just had Cameron take my hand and drag me up at the end, but in the end it was definitely worth the venture (especially the free venture).

So, here I give to you and posterity's sake and to Cameron (since he told me this morning about reading this blog) a Mommy-blogging-photo-roll of pics from the day!






Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blueberry Cheesecake Galette

 

I must confess that I am a bit intimidated by pies, so when I was stumbled upon this recipe on Kitchen Meets Girl I was intrigued.

Of course, I must also confess that I had never even heard the term Galette, much less knew what it was. Ashley (the Girl that Met the Kitchen noted above) conveniently described a Galette as "basically a round, flat, free-form crusty pastry.  I call it an open-face, easy to make and quick to get to my pie-hole…well, pie."

So a pie-like pastry without the pie-like intimidation moved this goodness to Recipe #1 on Operation Blueberry Madness 2014.


Blueberry Cheesecake Galette


Ingredients
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten, plus 1 egg yolk
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Coarse sugar, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. Unroll the refrigerated pie crust and place it on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. While your pie crust is chilling, make your blueberry filling: in a medium bowl, toss together the blueberries, 1/3 cup sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl make your cheesecake filling: whisk together cream cheese, egg yolk, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the nutmeg.
  4. Spread half of the cheesecake mixture over the top of the unrolled pie crust, leaving a 1 ½ inch border. Top with blueberries, and fold the edges of the crust over the filling. Spread the rest of the cheesecake mixture over the top of the berries and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Place an inverted cookie sheet in the lower third of your oven and preheat oven to 425. Brush the edges of the crust with a beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar (like sugar in the raw). Place baking sheet with the galette on it directly on top of the inverted cookie sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until crust is golden. Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
 
 
My Notes to Recipe & Instructions
  • I have no idea what a Silpat-lined baking sheet, so I used parchment paper. (Yes, I realize I could Google that and sound far less novice... maybe later.) I used the Pampered Chef baking stone and kept the parchment paper beneath it for baking. The crust was absolutely perfect after bottom rack, 20 minutes... the parchment though was burned to a cindered ash-crisp. Not sure if that was related to the stone or the temp, but duly noted to not bake it on the paper next time.
 
  • Fold the full 1.5 inches of border crust in and over the edges of the filling. This gap with instructions caused me great confusion for some reason, making me have to undo and re-do the fold, and not ending up with anything particularly lovely.
 
  • This is not a "hearty" dessert. In a family of 3.5, it is gone as quick as it is made. The pic makes it look far more "deep dish" than the reality. Cameron actually picked up his slice to eat pizza-style... It is delish though!
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Skinnydipping

http://www.amazon.com/Skinnydipping-Novel-Bethenny-Frankel/dp/1451667388/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405388889&sr=1-1&keywords=skinnydipping

Skinnydipping, by Bethenny Frankel


This, the first (and last?) attempt at fiction by former New York Housewife (who left the show after marrying... which would be ironic IF any of them were actual "housewives") and failed talk-show personality, Bethenny Frankel.

I used to be a Bethenny fan. She was my favorite "housewife" but I never kept up with her after the self-titled reality spin-off that detailed her marriage to Jason and unexpected pregnancy and subsequent childbirth. I thought I would tune into her talk show... but I didn't. Much like I thought I would read her Health or Self-Help books, which I bought or downloaded... and then didn't.

I appreciate a good train wreck as much as the next reality television fan, but I didn't find her brand of crazy particularly entertaining. She's like the middle-age Miley Cyrus... with antics such as Instagramming a shot of her parading in her four year-old's "Hello Kitty" pajamas recently.


But, this novel is fiction, right? Well, for definition's sake, yes. However, if you are at all familiar with Bethenny "The Early Years," you are going to easily note many similarities between the main character, Faith Brightstone, and the author herself. From the distant horse track father to competing on a Martha Stewart-esque reality show (with a similar reality-to-fiction ending), to morphing from Muffin Maven to Cocktail Queen. Franklel has penned her own historical fiction, perhaps with a happier ending she wishes were true?

The novel is divided into the two stages of Faith Brightstone's life - the first as an assistant on a popular Los Angeles "The OC"-type drama. A life filled with borrowed clothes and car, fancy Hollywood parties, sexually-charged and cocaine-laced nights. A life of Hollywood glitz that is just out of her reach.

Then following a creative segue along the lines of "Five Years Later," Brightstone has returned to New York to manage a struggling vegan muffin business until the opportunity to fill the final remaining spot on a reality show to find the next "Domestic Goddess" falls right on her (muffin) platter... literally. Most remaining pages detail the culinary and decorative tasks and the no-longer-behind-camera catiness that causes the reality genre to proliferate.

There is, of course, too, a Prince Charming narrative that weaves Part One and Two together and wraps the novel in a neat little bow with a happy ending.

Ok, that being said, all snarking aside, it wasn't... bad. It's simply written and occasionally smothers the reader with extremes- whether it is in description of what characters are wearing or the unbelievable turns of the plot. It's a light read though, playful, good for a Summer Reading List.

For the record though, there is no "Skinnydipping" in the book. I am left to think this was meant to be a metaphor for "jumping in" and allowing yourself to be fully exposed to life's offering, which would aptly describe the main character's attitude in both parts of the novel. I am a bit iffy to give Frankel that much literary credit though.

In part, I think maybe it just allowed her the chance to superimpose her Peta image on the novel cover?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dancing in the Street

'Cause summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the street...

Not really though. I live on a main street "in town." So that wouldn't be very safe... or sane.
We have, however, been ticking lots of fun off the Summer To-Do List.


We visited the local library for the Summer Reading Program Kick-Off. There is a punch card for the kids to use each week when they attend the program and check out ten(!!!) books. Those who get all the punches will be entered in drawings for prizes, including an I-Pad Mini. We will not be able to check off every week due to some other plans this summer but plan on joining the weekly program often.

 
The theme for the summer program is "Paws to Read" so for the Kick-Off they made "dog tags." Unfortunately these summer programs fall at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., and with the Summer School Schedule, it is only feasible to go at 2 p.m., which falls dead-center of nap time. So, having selected to skip naps for this day... and Benjamin being far more interested in the turned-off computers than books, this started out as a frustrated adventure. We persevered though (although there may have been some ineffective threats to "just leave" thrown in there), and once he had acclimated to the chaos of all that was happening we picked some (10!) books, crafted, and had a good time.
 
 
Cameron is volunteering with the library... for his third summer, I think? So, I was even able to park Benjamin in the Snowcones & Popcorn room for a while and check out some books for myself. After the library visit, the boys got much-needed (at least for Benjamin: see Pointdexter-parted hairstyle above) Summer haircuts. I have always been about cutting the boys' hair short-short in the summer and not dealing with "styles" until it was time for school again. Lots of times this even meant me pulling out the clippers. Benjamin may have inherited my unfortunately large head though, and I just couldn't bring myself to do that to his cuteness.
 
 
In addition to a Library Day, the boys and I have also made a trip to Busch Gardens. I really took a gamble heading on the 90-minute trek when there was 70% chance of thunderstorms. I just told myself that if I go and it's miserable, I will get over it... but if I don't go, I will spend days wishing I had... so we did!


It literally started raining just as we entered the park. It was near 3 p.m. and most visitors had already left for the day due to the pending weather. We were waved on to the preferred parking (for free versus the $15 normal cost) and parked right by the entry gate. After waiting a while in the car, I made the proclamation that were just going to take the umbrella and go for it! As fates would have it, the rain stopped before we even made it from the car to the gate.


Now the "Good" of going to the amusement park on a stormy day is that there were absolutely no lines to any rides. The boys rode ride after ride, with Benjamin often just staying on for three or more turns. The place was so uncrowded at dinner that we could look around and see so many "familiar" faces because we had seen them already in the park. The "Bad" of the day was although it did not rain, following the storm, in 95-plus degree weather, it was muggy shirt-clinging yuck weather (which was still highly worth it in trade).

 
We even got in a Beach Day. (I keep emphasizing the "even did" this & thats because I still teaching summer school every morning, but not letting that dominate my whole day, as in the past.) Kelby joined us and it was her first time being in Virginia Beach.
 


I was determined to get in a beach trip this week, even though I knew the holiday weekend would make it busier than it's busy summer-time normal. I even deluded myself into thinking that the impending Tropical Storm/Hurricane Arthur may stir some folks away from the beach... apparently not. It was definitely crowded. I keep going back and forth on whether I still prefer the crowded touristy spots. I like the anonymity of it... but am a little more irritated by the crowds as I grow closer to my crotchety old-woman stage.

 
At first, Benjamin was determined to spend our entire visit clinging to the umbrella pole avoiding the sand and the water. I think it may have been with sea shells that I lured him out? I spent the greater part of the afternoon hunched over, waiting for the waves to recede, and checking out any sea shells (or more often fragments of them). This entertained Benjamin for quite while too. So long in fact that the next day, I felt the way the Spring athletes complain after doing squats and squat-walks the first week of practice. I could even feel it in my upper back from having my arms perched ready to grab any gems I saw. Seriously, you would think I was culling rubies or diamonds. There was this old lady near me, who only after watching me, started to collect shells too (in a Ziplock bag shoved between the breasts of her bathing suit). Then, she got family involved. I started using a sand sifter... so did they. Then, she sent the young girl over to directly where I was to get shells. I was like "Bring it on Grandma!" Sea Shell Wars 2014. I can get ridiculously a bit competitive.

I also spent a morning yard saling last weekend. It was not a particularly fruitful quest. (I will avoid the details of a certain toddler clothes battle to not make my competitiveness border pathological.) Other than a few odds & ends, the big haul was 16 cookbooks... although I said I would stop buying cookbooks since you get sooo many recipes (any recipe) on The Internets for free... and since I don't cook.

So, Summer is rolling. We are getting out, staying busy, making the most of our 100 days.
(I would have never known Summer had 100 days if it weren't for the currently abused trending hashtag.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dining - Many Plates, Few Ideas

My first "grown-up house" had did not have an eat-in kitchen but did have a spacious dining room attached to the kitchen. So, that room was used often. Since I was young and dumb, I bought fancy dining room furniture and filled the cabinet with fine Noritake china, never to be actually used... because that's what you did with dining rooms.

A couple of houses later, I had another eat-in kitchen and roomy dining room. By this time, I had sold the fancy dining room furniture and our kitchen table was centered in the near-empty room. The over-all effect was definitely underwhelming.

Fast forward a dozen or more years and a few more houses (I moved around a lot in my 20s), now the first home that I have actually "owned" (or will after half a lifetime of mortgage payments) has... a Dining Room... BUT also has a roomy Eat-IN kitchen with the perfect table that folds down for our family of four, or opens up to easily sit eight. So the Dining Room gets used... Not... At... All.

Ok, rewind, that's lie.

 
 
Our Dining Room is Relay for Life central, a storehouse of purple for weeks- if not months- prior to Relay. That follows weeks of being Key Club District Convention Headquarters, which this year mainly meant a mountain of rotating scrapbook supplies. It's also a great office for extended grading marathons, especially pre-craft room. I am particularly fond of this room during the holidays, from the space to sort decorations and tree adornments, to the china cabinet filled with nutcrackers, to hosting the baked goodness of the Community Cookie Exchange.


Mostly though, I do like when the Dining Room... looks like a Dining Room. I spent the afternoon clearing away the Relay debris, returning Craft Room supplies, and packing away the school project cast-aways (which are in neatly packed boxes, neatly cropped out the picture). Once upon a time, I fantasized about having a dining room table on which the settings changed monthly based on seasons or holidays. That little fantasy right there never moved out of the fleeting fantasy stage.

I saw a table set with these dishes at Pottery Barn shortly after buying the new house and fell in love with the whole setting (a typical Pottery Barn setting that is meant for artistic display and not actual dining). I saw the dishes on the clearance shelves a few months later and grabbed them and the centerpiece then did my best at other odds & ends places to finish the look (my look, not Pottery Barn's, which would have involved way more twigs and leaves and other pieces of earthy nature not belonging on a dining surface). That particular window in the picture is deep-set and houses the few nicer Longaberger baskets that I bought... when I thought buying Longabergers was something important to do.

The thing is I don't think I am so much a Colonial Blue, Birds, and Longaberger kinda gal anymore... or maybe I am somewhat, I really do like birds... and baskets... but not so much the matchy-match stuff and could completely care less about the names on the bottoms of plates, or baskets,  or anything else for that matter.

So, three years after moving into this home, I am really ready to MOVE-IN to this home. The paint throughout the house (except The Craft Room Studio) is still that contractor neutral and there is exactly one picture hung in the total 3600 square feet. There are several pictures leaning on or tucked away near where I think I might want them displayed, but I. just. can't. commit.

I have been contemplating again lately what I would like to do in the Dining Room. It is a very central and visible part of the house, fully visible from the kitchen by one set of entry doors and the living room by another set of entry doors, although both doors have lovely tinted white paneled glass doors that can be slid out of the wall recesses to close it off. Nonetheless, I cannot pick a paint color or d├ęcor scheme that would cause total disharmony with the rest of the house. For example, I have often pictured the room a deep blue... but that is completely disjointed from every other aspect of my house. An eggplant though... maybe?

 
I like this idea of using the same paint color and tone- painting a flat matte as an undercoat and swirling a design free-hand on top in gloss. I question my artistic ability in being able to "swirl a design free-hand" though and think I may have a far too critical eye to not look into the room and always see every mistake I made.
 


I am not sure I want curtains in the room. There are two large windows, but again the room is not functional often, there is very large shrubbery in front of the main window, and I could close off the sliding doors if I was worried about general privacy throughout the rest of the house. I think I overall like the exposed windows, but if I came to change my mind, I would look at Roman shades. There are a lot of DIY tutorials all over The Nets I would give a try because the windows are large and odd sized from being a restored home, and the custom blinds it would require could never be worth the expense.


The one element I know that I definitely want to add to the Dining Room is a Plate Wall. I have loved this decorating trend since I saw my first pic. (Love at first plate, I promise.) My coupled fantasy of going to yard sales and finding a large collection of cheap-cheap plates & platters throughout the day that coordinated perfectly has not come true though. I just can't see putting out good money for the sake of this display. I haven't put a lot of effort into doing it though and I have faith that I can find a way to do it on the cheaps. The top three are my favorite. I like the way that the first wraps around a corner. It is a corner in our Dining Room that I am looking to adorn in a similar fashion. The colors of the third I find attractive, but the nonadventurous decorator in me thinks about keeping them all white to maintain harmony, like the middle pic.


If I can't piece (or force) together a collection though, I have these to fall back on. As a matter of fact, I may be looking at these as the START of the project... and not the "fall back." The platter and bowls are LARGE. I would have to carefully consider how to mount them. There is actually a more perfect wall in the kitchen but the area is too high traffic for something so cumbersome. Jason brought these back from a deployment to Turkey and they are one of the most favored things I own... as they sit on top of the china cabinet collecting dust. In the box is a hanging of connected tin bowls that I imagine as an arch over a doorway.

My only hesitation for using these items, which I love and feel much more connected to than serendipitous yard sale finds, is...
What color would I paint the room???

The link-backs to borrowed pictures (plates, painting, shade) can be found on my "Decorating Ideas" Pinterest page.