Friday, April 20, 2018

Shopping, Chefing, and All The Emojis

It's not all closet clean-outs and margaritas with friends over here the past few weeks. I have also cooked things and bought things and contemplated buying more.

But first, something I forgot to add in my last post - thanks to a friend with season passes who knows my love of plays and musicals, I'm now the proud owner of a ticket to the Dallas tour of Hamilton!!! A fellow musical-loving friend is going to be my date and I am SUPER excited about this. After an intense internal debate that was settled by a facebook poll, I have decided to start listening to the soundtrack so I can have it all memorized before the show. The show that will be April 27, 2019. So I have some time. The countdown is already on my phone. (372 days! SQUEE!)

Other things I've bought in the last two weeks that I love:

This dress. It's for my parents' house re-opening thank you party they're hosting for everyone who helped them during Harvey. I LOVE it. I love it more than anything else in my closet. I want to wear it around my house all the time every day and swish my skirt at every opportunity. I got it on clearance for $50 at Nordstrom Rack and that makes me love it EVEN MORE.

Now I'm just searching for the right necklace and earring. Something fun and casual to keep it all from being too dressy. The top part of the dress is a simple navy jersey material so I'm thinking a chunky pink necklace or gold necklace with fun tassel/beaded pink earrings. I don't know. I'd probably decide better if I was wearing the dress right now.

This dress! Also Nordstrom Rack. I'm trying to revitalize my work wardrobe a bit. $40, fits perfectly, and I'm obsessed with the color.

I sort of forgot Nordstrom Rack existed until 10 days ago (we don't have one here) and it's been an exciting rediscovery. I got my swim school date night dress there:

and this other one for work:

I love it all and I'm done now. Party dress, two work dresses, and a new date night dress - my whole closet feels revitalized and it finally allowed me to get rid of a few work dresses I bought in 2009 that I adored but were sad and worn (but oh so trusted and familiar!) New dresses, you have big shoes to fill.

Moving on. Has anyone tried these Heliocare pills? My dermatologist recommended them for daily sun protection. Since I'll do anything to keep my skin from doing its usual "burn in 10 seconds" modus operandi, I'm giving them a whirl. I like the idea of a layer of protection I don't even have to remember to put on, but we'll see. I haven't been in the sun enough yet to know if it's working.

Next, do we like these shoes? They're more than I would usually spend, but I don't own any neutral/light colored heeled sandals anymore and I've had a surprisingly hard time finding some I like at my usual discount haunts. They're super comfy and not too high for long outings.

Who am I kidding? I'm totally keeping them.

And lastly, do you use packing cubes? I bought a set at TJ Maxx 5 years ago and LOVE THEM. Living in Yellow, a blog I need to stop following on facebook, recommended these and they are so perfect. I'm donating my old grey ones to the kids because I love color and polka dots and my suitcase is a boring silver and these help spice it up. This set has 5 pieces and are way higher quality than my old ones. I used them on my work trip earlier this week and can't wait to pack to go somewhere to use them again!

Now for food! First, a PSA: Have you been using your KitchenAid to shred chicken? I only discovered this a few months ago and keep meaning to share the genius. Unless all of you already knew and never told me, in which case, this is a very random picture of shredded chicken and I'm mad at you, but if not - use your KitchenAid to shred your chicken!!

Just stick your cooked chicken breasts in the mixing bowl, turn it on low with the paddle attachment, and 15 seconds later, they look like this! It's the best. No more shredding with forks that always makes my fingers feel tired!

(This was from my bbq chicken two weeks ago; 4 large frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot, half a bottle of bbq sauce and a generous squirt of Italian dressing, cooked on low for 8 hours. Use for sandwiches, Claire's beloved quinoa salad, enchiladas, anything!)

And a few good recipes from last week and the plan for the week ahead:

Wednesday: Greek Farro Salad (my recipe here)

Thursday: Amped up TJ's Chicken Chow Mein (2 bags of the TJ frozen chow mein, plus a big bag of fresh broccoli chopped up, handfuls of shredded carrots, sliced baby bok choy - stir fry it all for about 10 minutes = delicious!)

Friday: Pesto Chicken Gnocchi (broil TJ's pesto chicken, mix with gnocchi, kalamatas, sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, pesto). Cora's absolute FAVORITE meal.

Saturday: Cheesy Vegetarian Chili Mac. Love this one; haven't made it in a while and seemed perfect for a forecasted rainy day.

Sunday: Pea Soup (I wrote out my recipe here); cornbread (love the TJ's box mix).

Monday: Chicken Rollatini with Prosciutto, with Broccoli Fettucini Alfredo

Tuesday: Vegetarian Tacos, toppings, refried black beans.

Wednesday: Shakshuka! The exclamation point is because I like saying the word and I've been wanting to make this forever and have finally decided this is the week. Served with naan bread.

Thursday: Crock Pot Creamy Chicken Enchilada Chili. Family favorite. (Totally use the KitchenAid to shred the chicken for this now - I just put the frozen breasts in with everything else, cook all day, fish out with tongs before serving, shred in the mixing bowl, and dump back in. Ta da!)

My lunches for the week: Asian Quinoa Salad (generally based on this recipe except I skip the cabbage and add avocado when I have it, also sometimes mandarin oranges). For the 3 days I do yoga at lunch and eat at my desk after. I like having something to look forward to and this is a fave.

Lunch last week: TJ's cruciferous crunch bag salad (shredded kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green and red cabbage), sweet potato ribbons, farro, fresh Green Goddess dressing. Delish!

And finally, I'll leave you with a recent message from Landon. We recently ("FINALLY," he would tell you) powered up an old iPhone of mine, got him an icloud account under mine, and gave him access to iMessage to text friends (the 4 who also have icloud accounts on old non-phone-phones) and my family. He also has the camera, calculator, and weather apps, all of which are adored, and nothing else. Oh and the calendar, which he hilariously updates daily with his comings and goings- I get copied on all of them since his username is under mine and I giggle every time a new one pops up ("this is when I go swimming" was yesterday's 5:00 entry). The "phone" has no data plan, doesn't leave the house, and charges in our room at night. He loves it. And I must admit, I have loved being able to get glimpses into his heart and day when he messages me every day when they get home from school with our nanny.

On Monday night while I was away for work, he sent this just before bed:

It just warmed all of the cockles of my heart. I love his exuberant use of emojis. It was like getting a hug through the phone and made me laugh out loud and want to hug him back. Between the phone and his recent discovery of the delights of boxer briefs ("Mom, they can go UNDER my real shorts. Like during the day. UNDER them."), growing older has been a lot more fun lately.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Unicorn Rises Again

Two weeks. I think it's the longest I've ever gone between posts in 11.5 years of blogging. I didn't mean to. It's been busy. I've had an unusual number of fun evening engagements, several of which have involved friends, wine, and/or margaritas. James's computer had to go to the hospital so mine was drafted to serve the swim school for six days. I went on a work trip. I've taken the testimony of 3 witnesses, read 7 books, and organized every closet and room of my house after a tequila-fueled dream told me to. I tried to start my 2016-2017 photo books for the kids but after spending one whole evening adding all my backgrounds and stickers and fonts and creating my two first pages entirely from scratch some computer glitch failed to connect Shutterfly to the internet so all of those hours of work never saved and my book reverted to the generic and empty shell its been for the last year and I temporarily lost the will to live.

So it's been a busy past two weeks. Last Friday found me on the couch with a glass of wine in my hand, Biore strip on my nose, and a heart full of blogging intentions, but then James rented Molly's Game and I had to do lots of wikipedia'ing to find out how accurate the movie was and I feel down a poker/Olympic skiing internet wormhole. Friday nights around here are crazy.

On the Thursday night before that, I met up with a group of my favorite women for Ladies Night at a restaurant with $5 frozen cucumber margaritas all night. Mom friends + cucumber margaritas restoreth my soul and then, even better, I got an after party on the front porch of another friend who couldn't make it over and we drank prosecco with a light breeze accompaniment until nearly midnight. I’m an extrovert and a night-owl, so I always love a good after party. And then, that night, my laughter and alcohol-soaked brain dreamed up a fantasy so hot, so enticing that I lay in bed an extra half-conscious few minutes the next morning just so I could keep it true.

I had dreamed that my WHOLE family had cheerfully and productively helped me clean out, organize, and label bins for everything in our house. A part of me knew it couldn't be real, but the other part was tired and happy and thoroughly woo'd by the lies my brain was feeding me. It was so sad to wake up and realize that couldn't have happened between midnight when I went to bed and 6 a.m. when I forced myself up, heart now pounding about how much I had to do at work. I shook off my fantasy by racing off to work to get on top of *something*.

I was at my desk by 7 a.m. and worked straight until 5 p.m.; no lunch, no yoga, no breaks to obsess over news articles. Just testimony prep. Not quite as good as home reorganization but man did it feel good to know I can still be that productive when needed. I was billing in double-time.

When I got home that evening, I decided cooking dinner was beyond me so we should all go out for pizza. I yelled to the kids to get dressed to head out and they assembled a few minutes later in outfits so perfectly them, I had to get a picture.

One of the great joys of parenting is how incredibly unique each child is. Same environment, same genetic mix, and yet they are so VERY MUCH themselves (and so very much not me) from their first moments. It delights me. My athletic-clothes-only Landon, my boho chic Clairebear, and my Princess Cora going full-Ariel with a Mrs. Potts purse stuffed with one of Landon's Spy Gear toys.

This morning I called them from my hotel room to say hello before they went to school and I went to take my first of two rounds of witness testimony and their distinct personalities shone again:

Landon: Hi mom! I got a 100 on my Benchmark and my teacher was really excited. Love you!

Claire: Hi mom, I love you so much, are you lonely in your room? I miss you!

Cora: Mom, I just really like sleeping. And also I like gnocchi.

I love them so much.

Other highlights of the last 14 days -- two Saturdays ago, James and I went out to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the swim school. Five years! Can you believe that? I kind of can't. Back then we were reeling from months of unemployment, our move, my pay cut, and our decision to have a Cora. He started the company when I was 5 months pregnant and it was more than a little terrifying.

But man, I'm so damn proud of this guy. Five years. He started with 24 students and now has 300 in this session and has taught thousands of swimmers since the beginning. He has taught kids to save their own lives in the pool, to love swimming, to get better at it, to work hard at it... He recently got an email from a new client and I happened to see if up on his computer- he never shows me these things and I know he gets them often- and it just made me smile. The parent wrote: I just wanted to thank you for your coaching style with our group of girls. We like the structure & we love your passion for what you do. You are very reputable around our community & we are honored to be part of your organization. Thank you so much!

So proud! I bought a new dress and earrings to celebrate him. And then we celebrated my dress and earrings with a fantastic meal and two bites too many of dessert.

In other celebrations- Claire was named Student of the Month for her class in April! She was very excited. She continues to adore school, her teacher, her work, her social interactions, and walking us through every second of all of those things every night when we get home, so being able to announce Student of the Month when I walked in the door was really all her favorite things happening at once.

My parents treated us all the ice cream to celebrate. She and Landon have each now gotten Student of the Month every year of their elementary school careers and my parents have sent money for ice cream every time. There is much motivation to keep this tradition going. Mostly from Cora.

And Landon, he's so enjoyable these days. Other than his need to constantly walk me through the more intense scenes of Unbroken (the Young Reader's edition, thank god; he's already read it 3x) until I finally told him to stop because the stories upset me and he's old enough to start learning how to cater conversation to your audience (like not the dinner table when your two younger sisters are listening with wide-eyed looks of fascinated horror), he is a cheerful, emotionally-balanced DELIGHT.

I got home from yoga this past Saturday morning to find him in the playroom, all the toys dumped out all around him, "I couldn't take it anymore!" he exclaimed when I walked in, "there's no order!" I completely understood. While he spent 5 hours cleaning out and reorganizing every inch of the playroom (final results pictured above), I did my closet, bedroom, pantry, kitchen, and the girls' closet. We were the only two people rejuvenated by this experience, but the girls played quietly elsewhere and James was blissfully unaware of all the cleaning he was missing while he got lifeguard/CPR re-certified. By the time he got home, I was just standing in my pantry, gazing at my newly labeled bins and feeling a little high.

I've learned that the answer to home organizing happiness is to do it when my disorganized spouse is missing. I don't actually need his help, but when he's home I feel like he SHOULD help but his brain is incapable of allowing that to happen. Like literally incapable. He tries, he just freezes, and I have no choice but to yell and no one wins. This time, we all won, especially when he came home from training and said, "do you feel like a margarita?" Because I DID.


Also exciting! Landon brought home his recorder this week and it brought back SO MANY memories. I loved my recorder. I loved that I could learn to read in a whole new way with a whole new alphabet. Landon is similarly entranced and after mastering Hot Cross Buns I taught him Mary Had a Little Lamb and we've all now heard both songs a few thousand times. Cora sings to each one.

I got out my flute so Landon and I could play together. My embouchure is crap now and I can't get many of my old notes out, but my fingers remember everything. It's really unbelievable. My mouth stumbles behind, but my fingers played every note of my first ever trio from 6th grade. The kids were very impressed with the flute, even if not the sounds I can now make from it, and the old band medals I pulled out from the same bin. Someday I'd like to relearn how to play, I did love it.

Seven days later our home remains filled with the delicate sounds of Hot Cross Buns over and over. We need to get him a song book of some kind... practice hours seem to not be a problem.

Other high points: a friend came over last Monday night after our kids went to bed to plan out all our summer camps for our kids (the first hour) and chat and finish a whole bottle of wine (the next 3 hours) until James came out and told us it was Tuesday and he was going to bed. Planning summer camps is usually such a burden emotionally and financially, and it was SO FUN to share it with someone else. I highly recommend this method to all. I barely even minded how many times I typed in my credit card information.

But then, even better, this little gab fast also SAVED me money when my friend off-hand referenced a "TCU employee discount" for a summer camp I was considering. "But I'm not a TCU employee," I countered, confused. "Um, yes you are," my friend reminded me, the person who had just entered a W-2 from TCU onto her tax return the day before. You guys, my four hours a month of barre teaching makes me an EMPLOYEE and employees get discounts!! My kids are getting to do some seriously awesome camps for way less money and the value of that far exceeds my $25/hour barre salary. I would never, ever have thought of it if she hadn't mentioned it to me. God bless friends and discounts. I owe her another bottle of wine.

Earning my discounts!

Speaking of the place where I buy my wine, have you had Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Seasoning? Do you like things that are delicious? Because if so you need to buy some immediately. Make some toast, or use a toasty cracker, add avocado, sprinkle with EBTB Seasoning. (Egg optional.) Savor. Make noises. Force your husband to eat some and then make more. One of the greatest things about working from home on Fridays is making this toast with this seasoning. It doesn't pack well in a lunchbox and I don't want to share with the kids, but at 11:30 on a Friday morning, with my laptop up, citrix connected, and James at swimming- it's the perfect coworker.

Wrapping up (it's so late; I'm so tired; work travel at the beginning of the week is the worst), we've had family pictures scheduled for both Saturdays of the past two weeks, and on both Saturdays of the past two weeks, after gorgeous weekdays with mild temperatures, the temps have plummeted 40 degrees, the winds have kicked up 30 mph, and we have found ourselves with canceled picture dates, watching family movies on the couch all snuggled under blankets. No one is sad about this.

Coco was first and it was FANTASTIC. Gorgeous, moving, and so perfectly done... we all loved it. This past weekend was The Greatest Showman, which the girls and I saw in the theater but Landon and James only know from listening to the soundtrack one MILLION times. It was a huge hit. Landon kept yelling out, "oh, THAT'S who's singing that song!" I think the whole world made more sense to him once the movie was over. We watched it twice more over the weekend to be sure.

And finally(ish), another exchange that made me chuckle this week that I don't want to forget. On Saturday (I think?), the big kids set up the gymnastics mat for a game of "fight." Obviously I assumed this would end terribly, so I popped my head up to tell them no when I heard:

Landon: okay Claire you can be Hog Rider or P.E.K.K.A who can knock down towers or a Valkyrie who has axes!

Claire: Um, how about I’ll be a unicorn named Ashley?

I was laughing too hard to intervene, and so decided to let it play out. Within a few minutes, Cora had entered the ring, everyone had lost a round to everyone else, and they were all playing gymnastics to Claire's gymnastics coach and realized that indeed, the unicorn named Ashley had won.

And at 11:58 p.m., that seems like the perfect place to stop. Unicorn Ashleys forever; I'm so glad to be back, I've missed you guys.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

And on the Seventh Month, the Lake House Rose Again

This past weekend, almost 7 months to the day since I last drove to Houston and pulled up to devastation of Hurricane Harvey, I walked back into my parents' house.

They just moved back in, the first of their flooded friends to do so.

It looks fantastic. Back to the way it was before the waters rose, when they'd just finished the renovations on what they thought was their retirement/forever dream home. The kids and James never saw it any other way, but it was a remarkable transformation for me to see.

It was such a relief to see my parents in their home again, to see them enjoying themselves and my kids in their home again. From the pictures of the weekend, you could think everything is back on track- that was what broken was fixed and we can all move on, with them finishing out their final years of working and teaching in Houston and us looking forward to many more lake visits in our future. But in reality, they're done with that house. It broke their hearts. The rebuild was necessary and I hope they are able to regenerate some of their original love for the house over the next two years before they retire and sell it, but they're done. In a surprise move, they bought a house in the Colorado mountains over Spring Break and it's really that house they were far more excited to talk about during our visit. It makes me sad- I was really looking forward to finally having retired semi-local parents and I loved how much they loved their new nest, but after a really difficult year, I'm glad they're so excited about this next step. Harvey hit them much, much harder than they expected. Not just physically, which was obvious, but emotionally. It's really not surprising when you think about it, but I know the impact came as a surprise to them (and us) just the same.

But let's get back to the fun times we are back to making in the house while they have it because we did make them! We had Claire's soccer game at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, so we packed up the car at 7:30 and headed off. For a 24-hour visit, we needed a surprisingly large amount of things: swim suits! church clothes! secret Easter bunny items! Easter baskets! the desserts I made! lunch to eat in the car so we won't have to stop after soccer! car entertainment! SO MANY THINGS to pack. We got to the game 5 minutes before it started and declared it a victory all around.

As always the soccer fields were 50 degrees colder than our driveway 8 miles away, but after four years of soccer I think I have FINALLY nailed my outfit: lined leggings, thin tank, new Patagonia 1/4 zip wool Better Sweater, and a light North Face windproof shell jacket. For the first time in all the soccer games I've attended, I was comfortable and it felt amazing. Oh, and Claire played well too.

Soccer game completed, we piled back in the car where Claire immediately changed into a lake appropriate maxi dress in the backseat and I stripped off a few of my layers and we were off to Houston! Where James and the kids hadn't been since last summer! As I noted above, their house looks beautiful, but most homes in their neighborhood are still visibly under construction and rehabilitation. So many small businesses we loved along Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway are still closed, many probably forever. The storm left so many scars. But the day was beautiful and the pool was back to being bright and beautiful with a pleasant lack of dead fish, mud, and other people's jet skis. The kids got in immediately.

I wore a new swim suit and a new hat (I finally bought one! I'm adjusting to it) and carried my own little island of shade with me around the yard to protect my now 2-year-old skin cancer scar slathered in sun screen. At some point James and I shocked everyone by schooling my parents in Bocci Ball. Landon disappeared to read and the girls were mermaids on the rock fountain. It was lovely.

The kids ate early and made s'mores and then once they were tucked in their triplex bunk bed upstairs, we had a fancy grown-up meal in the beautiful new/old kitchen. Post-delicious dinner, the Easter Bunny roused itself to put together the kids' baskets and hide them around the house. The hunting grounds were much improved over our own house, with its lack of built-ins and closets, and we had an overload of ideas on where to hide things and a debate on how difficult the search should be.

On Easter morning the children were released from the second floor a little after 7 a.m. and the hunt began!

As predicted by James, Claire found hers first (and it was really hard!), then Cora, and then last Landon.

Everyone got new swimsuits and flips flops, as is traditional, plus a few fun Spring clothing items and books. Basically all stuff the Bunny would have had to buy for Spring anyway, with a chocolate bunny thrown in on top.

Landon was SUPER excited about his new books. He started and finished the Young Reader's edition of Unbroken on the car ride home. The Bunny also brought him I am Malala, Hidden Figures, Irena's Children, and Snow Treasure. It's Wednesday and he has two left. He is very hard to keep flush in books, but the suggestions you guys gave me are helping tremendously! (Other huge hits so far: the collective works of Gary Paulsen and Will Hobbs.)

Everyone loved their new swim suits and immediately had to try them out in the pool.

I love the sunrise in the background of the picture. It was still REALLY EARLY.

We pulled the kids out of the pool at 8:30 and got them ready for church.

I had run to TJ Maxx earlier in the week to buy myself a new Easter dress, but walked out with dresses for the girls instead. I'm such a giver.

But seriously aren't they beautiful? (The girls too.) And only $12! (Not the girls.)

My mom and Cora matched perfectly. It wasn't planned, but it's an excellent display of the Gigi's sartorial powers. I feel certain she directed the TJ Maxx gods to put Cora's dress into my hands.

We went to my childhood church, where I always reminisce a bit about getting married up on that stage, now 12.5 years ago. There were treats in the fellowship hall after and we managed to emerge without green cupcake frosting all over our new dresses. High fives for everyone. After you wash your hands.

My mom had bought the CUTEST Easter egg for the kids' egg hunt so she and my dad went back a little early to get to hiding. When we arrived the kids changed into their hunting gear and got busy.

The eggs looked so adorably eager to be found.

Cora had the pink bunnies and was surprisingly good at catching them unaware.

Claire's were yellow chicks and she had a novel approach to search from higher elevations facing the wrong direction from where they were hidden.

But she still found hers!

Landon's were orange carrots and some of them were hidden REALLY well. Each discovery was a victory.

The kids were thrilled to their toes at finding their FAVORITE candy inside each egg (mints and gum; all the chocolate for Cora) and then we went on a boat ride. This required yet another wardrobe change.

Hurricane Harvey also ate my parents' boat, so we got to check out the new one and it is SNAZZY. We also saw some remaining evidence from the storm- the roof of the boat house where the shingles were pulled up by the water that was OVER THE ROOF. It's so hard to imagine.

Slightly less hard since the lake level is still so high, the water lapping up my parents' yard, past the fence, when normally it would be way down by the dock. We had to dodge new sand bars on the water and saw lots more debris leftover from the storm and stuck up in trees, but it was still a really nice ride.

All the kids enjoyed it.

My mom made fresh squeezed orange juice and the grown-ups added champagne to take along on the ride. The mimosas went perfectly with the gorgeous weather and our spring dresses.

It's so hard to believe this was our picture 7 months before. We've come a long way! (And one of us now owns a home in Colorado!)

We had a delicious fajita lunch when we got back and the kids swam more. A four-hour drive and full week ahead of us, we were supposed to leave by 2, but ended up pulling out around 3:45. It was rough getting back and unpacking the car, food, Easter goodies, feeding the kids, starting laundry, and making grocery lists at 8 p.m. but it was a wonderful weekend trip. We had three unconscious children when their alarms went off at 7 a.m. the next morning for school- Claire remained non-responsive through the overhead light turning on, me gently (then not so gently) shaking her shoulders, and Cora yelling at her from across the room. But the week began and they made it to school mostly on time, and if everyone cried at me at some point Monday evening, well that's the price for a great weekend.

And it was a great one. Fast, fun, full of food and splashing (and adorable eggs!). After seven months, it was so nice to see them settled in their home, for my kids to do something as normal as go visit their grandparents' house, for my parents to get to host us again. The effects of Harvey remain in so many ways all over Houston and beyond (and in us, I will never ever forget driving up to their house at twilight that first day to find my mom standing in waterlogged garbage covered in the front yard covered in drywall), but I was glad that on Easter weekend our little piece of the flood plain got to feel like it was brand new and shiny again.