White Weekend*

With Trump’s inauguration week pending, casting a large and gloomy shadow in front of itself, I was so glad when our friends invited us up to their cabin in the mountains for MLKJR weekend.  Up there in the woods, surrounded by woodland creatures who had never heard of Trump or any other president, with the falling snow providing its surround sound of quietude, it felt like some things—some of the very best things, in fact—will not change come Friday at 12AM. 

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As we drove up the mountain, first we came to some patches of frost, then a couple small piles of snow, then trees wearing the lightest coat of snow.  Our excitement grew and grew until we arrived at our friends’ cabin (more of a personal lodge, really), where there were two feet of snow and endless sledding paths.  We were in a different world, I wanted to live in the weekend forever.

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On the drive home, my emotions went in reverse, and those same trees with the light coating of snow that made me excited on the way up now made me melancholy, marking the end rather than the beginning of our escape.  But not that melancholy, because I was sitting in the car with head and heart full of memories of cold and thrilling outdoor moments followed by warm and cozy indoor moments.

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As I sit here blogging to the persistent rain outside, I know that somewhere not too far away, the same clouds that are dumping raining on our house are sprinkling snow on another.  The gray world outside my house is connected to a snowy white world conjured up from the best kind of magic.

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Enough of all that, though.  Mostly the weekend was fun and funny and the opposite of whatever it is that’s happening in our country this week.  Like when Kevin wanted to get a picture of me and Rocco on a sled and I jokingly asked Rocco how my hair looked.  It went like this.

Me: How does my hair look?
Rocco: Gray.
Me: Seriously?  You’re seriously going to go there?  Okay then, Leo, how do you think my hair looks?
Leo: Good!
Me: That’s more like it!
Leo: Because you’re wearing a hat.

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Clearly, these boys are not nearly as sweet as they look.

And now…moar pictures!!!

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Some of those sled rides were wild and out of control, and the paths were riddled with trees, and it is actually a pretty good metaphor for how I feel about this week.  I’m sitting on a sled and I don’t have much control over it, and I just hope there’s a chance to bail before we hit that tree.

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Am I being overly dramatic?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Omelet-wrapped poblano potato quesadillas
Cumin black beans
Fresh fruit/vegetables
Candy cane cheesecake

*Wow, I was just about to publish this when I realized how inappropriate that title is to describe a MLKJR weekend.  I should probably change that.  But then, it’s pretty appropriate for Trump’s inauguration, so maybe I should just leave it?

Happy 2017!

Okay, it feels kind of weird to go from an “I’m so bummed out” post to a “Yay, party!” post, but then again, borderline manic depressive writer here.  This is just my life.

I used to hate New Year’s with a passion.  I felt like New Year’s was something mean that the world did to me to show me that a) I am not a fun party girl, b) I don’t even like drinking very much, c) I hate staying up past 9:30PM, and d) Christmas is undeniably over

Fortunately, about ten years ago I realized my friend, McStreamy, also hated New Year’s, so we decided to have an “I Hate New Year’s Parties” on New Year’s Eve.  We had quiet conversations, we drank very lightly, we ate lovely food, and we ended the party at 8.  We’ve gotten together every year since then, sometimes with a bigger crowd and sometimes with a smaller one, but I realized after sending the guests home at 8:01 last Saturday night that, and this is shocking, I love New Year’s.  I do!  I use it as an excuse to cook something I would never cook on my own, make an over-the-top dessert, and spend a few hours with some of my favorite people in the world.

Every year I set out a bunch of board games but every year we are talking and laughing so much that 8:00 comes way too quickly and we never even need board games to bring the fun.  We are already having it! 

This year, my neighbors brought the entertainment.  It was their one-year-old son, who ended up with his pants halfway down his legs and spent an hour throwing his arms in the air when we yelled, “Raise the roof!”  He’d laugh, we’d laugh, he’d try to walk, he’d fall down, we’d laugh, he’d laugh, he’d stand up, we’d yell, “Raise the roof!”

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Many, many roofs were raised that night.

This year’s spread included a giant hunk of prime rib, smoked gouda mashed potatoes, a pear and gorgonzola salad, baked brie with pepper jelly, crusty bread, cheesy bread, and for dessert…

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…a triple chocolate peppermint mousse trifle covered in chocolate leaves.  I’m all about the show stoppers.

For entertainment, the boys made their own New Year’s crackers.  (The present kind of cracker, not the kind you eat or the kind that  was white and owned slaves.)  They were super fun to make!  First we went to the bathroom regularly for two months and wiped consistently until we had about 8 TP tubes.  Then the boys made various Lego creations like cars, houses, and dragons.  They dissembled them, stuck the Legos for each creation into a tube and  labeled each tube.  Finally, we wrapped them up in a way that doesn’t make you think “Did I remember to wash my hands?” when you see them.

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Guests each chose a tube and did their best to make whatever the tube told them to make. 

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It was fun for the boys to see how differently others made the Legos from how they were originally constructed, but like a dunce I did not take any “before” pictures.  Here’s the “after” though.

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That little collection of misfit robots, houses with car doors, and cars with house doors made for a lot of laughs. 

At around 8 we decided it was time to ring in 2017, so Kevin found a free New Year’s countdown on-line.  It was comically generic, with messages on it saying things like “Insert company name here,” but we counted down nonetheless because, after all, it was 8:00.

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The funniest part came when we got down to 0 though.

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Well, I did mention it was free, didn’t I?!

Happy 2017, everyone.  Heck, have a happy 2016 as well.

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I heart New Year’s.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Orecchiete with chicken sausage and broccoli
Fresh vegetables

Goodbye, Christmas

Kevin is back at work after the holidays, the boys are back at school, and I miss my family.

Back when I was a teacher, I always had the hardest time going back to school after Christmas break.  I knew that once the kids walked into the classroom my post-holiday blues would fade and I’d move on, but that was the problem—I didn’t want to move on.  I didn’t want the previous days of my family all packed into one room, laughing and teasing each other, to fade into memories.  But they had to and they did the minute my students came in the classroom and we all looked to each other for help in moving on from something most of us didn’t want to move on from.

As a stay-at-home mom I haven’t gotten that feeling after the holiday break.  Until now.  I don’t know what’s different this year; maybe it’s because Kevin actually took two weeks off of work, which he’s never done before.  Maybe it’s because the boys are old enough to do the things I remember doing over my winter breaks—OD’ing on board games, playing basketball with the neighbors, watching movies together, spending afternoons sprawled around the house reading books.  Maybe it’s because of all the afternoons we spent trying out new recipes together, making chocolate chip brioche pretzels and Korean pancakes and popcorn cookies.  Maybe it’s because I know that this feeling of “it’s all over” is just a tiny piece of what I’ll feel next year, when Leo goes to kindergarten and my days of parenting little ones are over.  Maybe it’s because I am borderline manic-depressive and December is always one huge, manic month of bliss for me, which means that  January is always pay-back time.

I am sitting here in a sparkling clean house, staring out at a blue sky and snow-covered mountains above beautiful Lake Washington.  I have a cup of my favorite coffee in front of me.  The kitchen is putting out smells of roasted squash and toasted pumpkin seeds.  I am doing one of the things I love to do most (blogging, if it’s not obvious), and I can’t wait for everything else that’ I’m going to do today and this week.  This month.  This year!  And yet, I feel like I am mourning the death of another holiday  season.  I hum a few lines of “White Christmas” and Christmas 2016 flutters its eyelids a bit, but that’s all I get out of it.  It’s time to put on some other music, I guess.

Right now I feel both blissed out from all the holiday joy and at the same time bummed out that we can’t live in that world of carols and nogs forever.  I’m sitting on the middle of a teeter totter, trying to inch my way toward the side that’s up instead of slipping to the bottom as I usually do in January.

I’m hopeful, as I am every year, that this time I won’t have to pay for all the happiness I spent in December.  Maybe this January will be different.

I reach out my hand tentatively toward 2017 and hope that it is taken gently.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Spaghetti squash tacos
Steamed broccoli
Triple chocolate peppermint trifle

Christmess

Wow, it’s tough to know where to begin about Christmas.  It was big and messy and overwhelming, and because of that this blog post is going to be big and messy and overwhelming, too.  Is there any other way to do it?  (Seriously, if you know how to have a neat, tidy little Christmas please send me tips.)

Christmas morning started with our traditional breakfast sausage, where Rocco demonstrated both his drive for efficiency and his love of sausage in a new eating technique:

After breakfast we all emptied our stockings and applied our new chapsticks, sampled our new chocolates, wound up our new wind-up toys, and tried on our new t-shirts.

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I guess Santa was trying to make up for any damage Kevin did by wearing this shirt around all year.

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I can barely remember the time when that shirt was funny.

I dug a rainbow-tape-pooping unicorn out of my stocking and it fell instantly in love with the Handicorn that Kevin pulled out of his stocking.

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So much for marrying your opposite.

The kids emptied their stockings, unwrapped all their gifts and sat there amidst all their new stuff, wondering vaguely where the floor went, when Rocco looked at me sadly and said, “Mom, I don’t think Santa came last night.” 

After two months of buying small but thoughtful gifts for him and imagining how excited he would be about each one, then topping it off with the #1 item from his Christmas list (a giant Lego set), who can blame me for strangling him just a little bit right then?

P.S. Here’s what it looks like on Christmas morning when Santa DOESN’T COME to our house.

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Leo, on the other hand, was the other end of the spectrum.  Here’s how happy the chapstick alone made him.

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Actually, that might just be a chapstick thing.  He was ho-hum about the friggin’ cotton candy maker Santa had left him below his stocking.

(He came around when we fired it up a few days later.)

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Vincenzo opened half his stocking, found a book in it, and had to be continually reminded to open his stocking after that.

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His new hat helped him focus.

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My favorite moment of Christmas, though, I’m not sure if I can explain properly.  It started a few weeks ago when my mom sent out a group text to “us kids.”  We adult children have always done Santa Bags for each other, filling each other’s Santa Bags with gifts under $10.  My mom sent out a text  saying she wasn’t going to organize them this year, though.  The text looked something like this:

I keep forgetting to let everyone know I’m not organizing Center Biggs this year.”

We have been laughing about Center Biggs ever since, saying Christmas wouldn’t be the same without ol’ Biggs, calling Mom/Dad’s house and asking for Mr. Biggs, walking in on Christmas day and saying how different it felt without Center Biggs here. So it was only fitting that for Christmas I ordered her something very special to remember our dear Center Biggs by.

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Of course, by the time Christmas had rolled around my  mom had sent out another text to my SIL in which she mistexted, “White goes with everythong,” which kind of took the pressure off of Center Biggs to be the primary source of humor.  I told my SIL I thought it was sweet my mom is passing on some of her motherly advice to her DIL.  And my mom is very lucky that this mistext was sent out too soon to Christmas for anyone to run out to Victoria’s Secret for a last-minute Grammy gift.  Granny panties ain’t what they used to be.

You know, I should have made this whole post about my mom, because just after we were laughing about white going with everythong for the fourth time, my nephew came in with a broken pitcher and an apology to Grammy.

Ari: Grammy, I’m sorry I broke your pitcher when I threw a pillow and it hit it.
Grammy: Oh, that’s not a big deal, Ari.  I didn’t ever use that pitcher.  It was nothing special to me at all.  I think I’m even glad you broke it.
Me, gaping: Mother!  I gave you that pitcher!  That was a gift from me!

As Grammy tried to assure me she actually did have some kind of relationship with the pitcher and it wasn’t as unloved as she had made it out to be, my brother had to go and mention that  he was the one who gave me the pitcher in the first place.  Everyone looked at me. 

Everyone: Is that true? 
Me: [Looks down shamefully]
Mark: For your wedding!

I guess I had it coming, after making Grammy the butt of so many jokes.  This one’s on me, Grammy.  Merry friggin’ Christmas.

The day passed way too quickly for how long it had been anticipated, sung about, and planned for, and suddenly it was dinnertime.  We had watched the National Lampoons with my boys on Christmas Eve, which may have been a mistake because when my dad asked who wanted to say grace before dinner, Rocco said, “I do!”  We all looked expectantly at him.  “Grace!” he said, and I piped up in my best old-man’s voice, “The BLESSING!”  That is why Kevin and I were snickering during the whole prayer.  My mom says we are a couple of eleven-year-olds trapped in adult bodies, and we can’t argue with her.

There it is, my big and messy Christmas post.  I’m sad it’s over (Christmas, not this post), but then again there’s only so long you can listen to the same 10 songs and watch the same 3 movies over and over again before even you admit that it’s time to move on.

Is it okay to look back over my shoulder while I’m moving on?

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ham and chicken crepes
Sweet and sour broccoli Ramen salad

Believers

Vincenzo, like I said, is growing up.  I think.  Or maybe he’s not.  Vincenzo may or may not be growing up.

This Tuesday, two big little things happened in his life.  One was that I let him ride his bike somewhere without me.  His friend Alex, who lives a couple blocks away, wanted to ride down to the school to play basketball and when V asked me if he could go I heard myself saying, “Well…I guess so?” 

He does have 11 years of me by his side, saying, “Stop, look, and listen.  No, really look this time.  Now tell me everything you hear right now.  Wait, look again.  Any cars?  No?  Okay, now we can cross.”

I was going for a walk anyway, so I decided to walk Vincenzo up to Alex’s house, and that’s where the second growing up thing happened.

I decided to have “the talk” with V.

You know, about Santa.

V is 11.  He’s in the fifth grade.  My parents told me about Santa in the second grade and it was crushing.  I am still traumatized by the news even to this day—that everything magical is not real.

I wasn’t sure whether or not V still believed in Santa.  He’s said a thing or two to me that made me think he knew and was playing along, but I couldn’t tell.  This is the boy who spends 95% of his free time reading books about dragons and wizards, magical eggs and mythical worlds, so I don’t think there’s a hard line between reality and fantasy for him anyway.

So on the way to Alex’s house, I said, “Vincenzo, about Santa…” 

He looked at me with his green owl eyes and said, “About Santa…”

I tried again.  “About Santa…” 

He repeated, “About Santa…”

I said, “I’ve heard you and your friends talking about whether or not Santa is real.  What are your thoughts on the matter?”

Vincenzo told me the same thing I’ve heard him tell his friends: “I have no opinion on it.”  I tried to get him to expand, but he remained completely opinionless.

So I threw my hands up in the air and did a little dance like I had just done something wonderful.  I wished I had a handful of glitter to toss and I sung out, “It’s me, Vincenzo!  I’m Santa Claus!!” 

He didn’t have much reaction.  I couldn’t physically see his soul being crushed or his world breaking apart.  He just listened to me babble for a couple minutes on the topic, then said, “I wonder what Alex and I are going to do today?”

Then I realized there was something really important I still needed to tell Vincenzo.  I said, “Vincenzo, about Santa…,” then I dropped to a whisper, “You can still believe in him if you want to.”

By then we were at Alex’s house, so V waved goodbye to me, hopped on his bike, and the two of them rode off down the street.

I stood on the street, feeling my own world break apart a little, but not in a scary way.  It was just a small “poof,” like when someone blows all the seeds off a dandelion in one breath.

Poof, make a wish, pedal down the street, turn the corner, wait–mama loves you.

I went on my walk, questioning whether I should have told V at all or let him go on believing.  I have a whole other blog post to write about my friend Holly, who never stopped believing in Santa even as an adult, and it was the most beautiful thing in the world.  But Holly is gone now and I don’t think I can pull it off without her.  I thought I’d feel relieved when I had told Vincenzo, but instead I just felt…weird.

Vincenzo came home later that evening.  I was just sitting down to help Leo write his letter to Santa.  Vincenzo saw us there and sat down next to us, helping himself to a piece of paper.

“I think I’ll write a letter to Santa, too.”

He still believes.

Poof.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Fettucini carbonara
Balsamic glazed pearl onions
Anticipation, adrenaline, and excitement

Winter Break Woo Hoo!

I’ve had a *little* extra time with the boys lately, which means we have had many more bloggable moments than usual.  Here are a few of my faves from this week.

First of all, Leo has something he wants to say to you all.

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What he wants to say is, “Look what I found under the bed!”  I’m going to have to remember that one.

Secondly, if you’ll remember, my oldest son has such an obsession with books it’s more like an affliction that has led to him reading in some very strange places.  I realized this winter break that whatever Vincenzo is suffering from, Rocco has it, too.

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Later, Rocco read the cover of Vincenzo’s school notebook and said, “So Vincenzo is getting ready for college already.”

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It wasn’t a joke—his humor’s not that advanced yet.

We decorated cookies.  Here was Leo’s.

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He didn’t just dump a jar of sprinkles on it, either—he methodically put them on pinch by pinch.  I told him to pick up the cookie and he searched around in the sprinkles for a bit then cried, “But I can’t find my cookie!”

Then there was the day I was teaching Rocco how to play the piano and I noticed Leo had finally stopped saying, “What should I do now?”  I turned around to find the activity with which he had busied himself.

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He was just standing there motionless, and he must have kept his head in the cuddle lounge too long because all week he has decided to sleep on the floor of his bedroom with his head on the vent.  (This is following a week of him refusing blankets but instead using his pillowcase like a sleeping bag.)  He says he is pretending his bed is his room and his room is his bed.

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I went to tuck him in tonight and noticed not only was Leo sleeping on the hardwood floor, but he was also lying on top of a dozen marbles.  I think it’s actually a war crime to treat people like this, isn’t it?

Also, can those feet sticking out of the blanket really belong to Leo?  I must have forgotten not to blink one day, and BLAMO he just grew up!

Vincenzo still exists, too.  I am seeing less of him over break than during the school year because he’s eleven and he’s got places to be.  I will write a post about him growing up that will get you right in the feels, but I’m not ready to write it yet.  My own feels are still feeling very tender.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Cheeseburger soup
Roasted asparagus with parmesan
Fresh fruit
Christmas cookies

Winter Break Woo Hoo!

I’ve had a *little* extra time with the boys lately, which means we have had many more bloggable moments than usual.  Here are a few of my faves from this week.

First of all, Leo has something he wants to say to you all.

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What he wants to say is, “Look what I found under the bed!”  I’m going to have to remember that one.

Secondly, if you’ll remember, my oldest son has such an obsession with books it’s more like an affliction that has led to him reading in some very strange places.  I realized this winter break that whatever Vincenzo is suffering from, Rocco has it, too.

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But none of that explains how I found Leo the other day when I was teaching Rocco how to play the piano.

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That’s the same guy who, this week, decided to sleep on the hardwoods with his head on the vent instead of in his bed.  He said he is pretending his bed is his room and his room is his bed.

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Can those feet sticking out of the blanket really belong to Leo?  I must have forgotten not to blink one day, and BLAMO he just grew up!

Vincenzo still exists, too.  I am seeing less of him over break than during the school year because he’s eleven and he’s got places to be, you know.  I will write a post about him growing up that will get you right in the feels, but I’m not ready to write it yet.  My own feels are still recovering.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Cheeseburger soup
Roasted asparagus with parmesan
Fresh fruit
Christmas cookies