The Undate

For our 15th anniversary, Kevin and I planned a trip to Vancouver.  We sent the boys’ to my parents and then I went home to pack and noticed a little detail: that my passport expired three months ago.

Oops.

For two seconds, we thought of all the other places we could go instead, and then we shook that thought off and decided to just stay home.

He told me to make a list.   I already had.  We got right to work.

I spent most of the weekend in the boys’ room, which started out looking like this:

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20180811_173601327_iOSThe mess is the result of two years of Saturdays where they were told to clean their room and they did so by putting everything back exactly not in its place.  I was able to do what they never could have: fill up two garbage bags worth of old toys, papers, candy wrappers, certificates of showing up, etc. etc.  I sent one to Goodwill and one to the dump.

There were treasures hidden in all the junk, like an unspent Toys R Us gift card, an entire Easter basket’s contents, unopened, and an unusual amount of legitimate postage stamps. But my favorite find in their bedroom was this:

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Yes.  A booger.  And before I even finished asking Kevin which kid do you think did this, we already knew the answer.

Coincidentally, one of the things on the weekend list was to hang the letter R that Rocco got for his birthday two years ago.  Zoom in.  You will see the booger exactly in the middle of the round part of the R.

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Even more coincidentally, this was the exact place I planned to hang the R.  Zoom out…

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I’m not even going to say anything to Rocco.  Not a word.  Then one day he is going to discover this blog and discover this post specifically, and he’s going to go to his bedroom to see if I was BSing or not and he will find that no, I was not, and all these years his boogie was framed in the letter R on the wall beside his bed and he didn’t even know it. 

Then he’s going to say it’s not his booger.

[The last time we found boogers on the wall it was an entire collection, in the bathroom, and no one would claim it so finally I said then it must have been me.  I must have made a booger collection on the boys’ bathroom wall.  I apologized to everyone and scrubbed it off while they watched and told me how disgusted they were with me.]

Over the weekend, we made other little improvements to the boys’ room, like adding a hole to their desk to hide cords, installing a hook for V’s headphones, hanging R’s geosphere lamp, adding power strips to each side of the desk so that both their lamps would plug in, and unburying and plugging in the lamps that wrap around their bedframe.  I was very excited about these little things.  With each improvement I told myself that this, this is the missing piece, the reason they couldn’t keep their room clean.  I told myself I was turning their room into a magical fairy land and that they will take pride and delight in, so much so that they will want to keep it pristine.

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I imagined the boys rushing into their room when they got back and exclaiming over all its new features.

And finally!  They were back! 

Vincenzo instantly retreated to his bed and covered himself all the way with a comforter and Rocco went outside to whittle weaponry on the front porch, not to be bothered with the details of interior design.

I ripped the covers off of Vincenzo.  I made Rocco come inside.  I showed them how their lamps were now plugged in and working!  They said, “Meh.”  I asked them if they knew how many teeth I would have given to have a bendy lamp on my bed when I was their age.  “How many?” they asked.  “All of them!” I said.  “All of my teeth!”  Vincenzo went back under the covers.  Rocco went to the kitchen to build a ham radio.  The lamps remained un-turned on.

I was just about to declare our kids completely broken when I remembered that wait!  I have another kid!  I called Leo downstairs to the panic room—that dark room underneath the stairs–where we had hung light up Minecraft torches on the wall.  “Behold!” I told him.  “This room is just like real Minecraft now!”  He glanced at the torches, unimpressed.  “No it’s not,” he said.  He went on to tell me all the reasons it’s not at all like real Minecraft, then left me alone in the panic room to contemplate all the decisions I’ve ever made in life.  He never even turned the torches on.

Seriously, what is wrong with my kids? 

I peeked in on the boys last night after hours, just to see if maybe they were using the lamps after all.

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It’s hard to see what’s going on in this picture due to the obvious LACK OF LAMPLIGHT, but Rocco is scrunched at the end of his bed by the window, reading by the feeble amount of light coming through the closed blinds, while not one but two lamps on the opposite end of his bed are sitting there in the dark like a couple of chumps.

Seriously.  Broken kids.  Duds.

But you know, maybe I’m looking at things wrong.  Maybe I should stop evaluating my boys based on their lamp-turning-on skills and start evaluating them on their mess making skills—to look at the situation in a different light, if you will.

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There we go.  Absolutely brilliant.  Top shelf kids.  Friggin’ geniuses.

(And no, the light coming from the right side of the picture is not lamp based.  It’s just the window.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken sausage
Kielbasa
Potato & corn salad
Soba noodle salad
Kale, date, & parmesan salad
Sugar cookies

The Gardener

Many of you know of my lifelong fight against nature in trying to grow vegetables in my backyard, population 3 boys,  5 deer, 18 birds, 22 rabbits, umpteen slugs, and every species of vegetable eating bug known to man.  A couple years ago I tried to give the vegetable garden to Kevin so when things went wrong I could just look at him pityingly and tell him better luck next year instead of feeling wrath and rage and responsibility of my own.

That didn’t work very well.  I’m not a great liar, and we both knew whose vegetable garden it really was and who should take the blame.  I learned that there was no point in planting carrots, that any attempts to grow peppers will result in mutations, and you have to offer up the first crop of beans to the slug gods.

But now my sister is in horticulture classes and she has actually taken over the vegetable garden and holy cow, I can’t keep up with it. 

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We had peas!  We have beans!  We have tomatillos, which I think I know what they are!  Red peppers, green peppers, jalapeno peppers which are sometimes red and sometimes green, which is confusing!  We have tomatoes!  We have rhubarb!  We have pumpkins!  We have a stressful amount of cucumbers!  A troubling amount of yellow squash!  An alarming amount of kale! 

Now, if only I could train myself to enjoy eating cucumbers, kale, and yellow squash!

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I’ve learned so much about gardening this year, like how the only possible answer to the question, “Could you use some kale?” is, “Nah, I’m good.”

Even though I am excited at the enormous success Jnet has brought to my garden, I have to say I did feel a little I-told-you-so when the eggplants only made one measly little eggplant and the rabbits ate half our peas and the voles ate all our carrots and the peppers looked like they might have teeth and the slugs ate our first crop of beans.  But I’m a grown up now and I don’t say things like, “See, Jnet?  Are you reading this right now?  Because I told you so!”

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I have never before felt empathy for a vegetable.

Anyway, my sister didn’t just stop at the vegetable garden; she took a look at our fruit trees as well.  When we bought this house fifteen years ago, I decided to plant a fruit tree a year until we had an orchard positively dripping with fruit.  We started with a fig tree.  Each summer, the deer would eat the entire tree until it was just a single, scraggly stick.  One year the deer left it alone and we let our hopes rise, but then we looked outside to see little Leo beating the fig tree with a bat until there was only one stick left.

The pear tree I planted died, as did one of the apple trees.  The plum tree got huge and thrived, but only one year did it get a single plum.  We’d go out every day to look at that green, growing plum and talk about how it would taste best.  In a pie?  A pudding?  A sauce?  Sliced razor thin and drizzled with honey?  But then one day we went out to discuss the plum and it had disappeared. Was it was something we said?

After about five years of planting trees with the vision of an orchard in our backyard, I gave up.  We were left with a barren plum tree, an apple tree whose apples made you desperately thirsty with one bite, and a very depressed fig tree.

Jnet looked at our fruit trees differently.  Not as someone whose romantic orchard dreams withered on the vine but as someone who sees a terrible car wreck at the side of the road and gets out to help.

Normally when the apple tree gets its fruit, we count the apples and then decide which members of our family will get a whole apple this year and which of us will need to share.  There are five of us, remember. 

But this year we got dozens of apples!  I didn’t even count them,* there were so many.  And you don’t need to chug a cup of water in orderto eat one!

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Also, for the first time since we planted it fifteen years ago, our fig tree got a—wait for it—a FIG!!!!  A real live fig!  And even if it only grew to the size of a sidewalk ant before something ate it, still.  A fig!

I think I can say my dream has been achieved.  We have two fruit bearing-ish trees.  In our orchard.  Which looks like this.

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Right.  So we still have a ways to go.

In conclusion, I mostly wrote this post because I wanted to use the line “I have a stressful amount of cucumbers.”  Anyone who has ever grown a single cucumber plant knows exactly what I’m talking about.

And now for some beautiful pictures of vegetables, most of which, especially the first one, are technically fruit.

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Thanks, Jnet! 

And also, could you use some kale?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Gado gado salad (goodbye, yellow cucumber and beans pictured above)
Applesauce (goodbye a bunch of the apples pictured above)
Fruit
Blackberry cheesecake bars

Rocco’s Bday, the sentimental post

Actually, Rocco is my one kid who I don’t feel sentimental about when he has a birthday.  He was one of those babies who was irritated that he was stuck in a baby body because his brain thought he was older. He’d get so frustrated trying to make his dimpled fingers build train tracks that were too complicated for my feeble brain to even imagine.  I know because he’d loudly express his disgust at my attempts to help.

So each time he turns a year older, my thought is, “Finally!”  Instead of “Already?”  I’m happy he’s a year closer to being able to do all the things he  really wants to do. 

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Not that he isn’t perfectly happy now, building Lego creations and playing games and drawing up plans for world domination with Crayolas on lined paper.  Rocco is never short on ideas.

Here he is, building a stone and log bridge so he could walk across the river to a fallen tree.

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Along with all these ideas in Rocco’s head comes the conviction that he has all the answers and he knows a better way and he’s not going to wait around for directions.

He still asks a lot of questions, like, “What’s a mankini?” I told him there’s only one way I could answer that.

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On our trip to Yellowstone, at any given moment, you could hear someone saying, “Rocco. Rocco!” The first firmly, the second fiercely. It takes that to get his attention, and even then you never get his full attention because half of his brain is still listening to himself while the other half may be doing any number of things.  There’s not all that much room in his brain left for listening to things other people have to say. Like, “Watch out for the bear!” Or, “Your robot army is is attacking!”

If there’s a book character that reminds me of Rocco, it’s Zaphod Beeblebrox.  It’s uncanny, their similarities.

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Rocco’s voice has two volumes: loud and louder. He chooses friends who are also loud and louder, and they yell at each other when they’re happy and they yell at each other when they’re mad.  Arguments are settled by whoever’s voice holds out the longest.  It’s enough to bring a tear to any politician’s eye.

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The only time we can really get through to Rocco is when he’s eating, as he often uses one hand to jam as much food into his mouth as will fit and is unable to speak for minutes at a time.  We have to save up anything we want to say to him during the day for dinner time, when the food jammer comes out.

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(Rocco’s 4th of July outfit.  He insisted it was red, white, and blue and once Rocco makes his mind up, there’s no convincing him otherwise.)

He continues to be selflessly generous with everyone he encounters except for his archnemesis, Leo.  He gives away candy, Pokemon cards, money, Lego creations—but the minute Leo shows up, shop is closed.  “Sorry, I just ran out.”

During read aloud at night, Vincenzo has taken to sitting on Rocco’s head. Rocco laughs and laughs. Leo joins in the pile. Rocco gets mad.

Rocco builds something every day. Only the materials change. He builds things of sand, sticks, pillows, blankets, rocks, Legos, spaghetti, architect sets, robot sets, mashed potatoes, carpet fuzz. If it is within reach, Rocco will build out of it.

A tiny sampling of some of the things he’s built this summer:

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Yesterday we had a babysitter over while I got some things done. I heard Rocco outside teaching her how to play soccer, then they came inside and he got out the beginner piano books and gave her a piano lesson. He’s had 4 lessons himself, you know. If he keeps this up, we’re going to have to start charging the babysitter instead of paying her.

Now for some random pictures that don’t quite fit in with anything:

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Hot slide face!

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(He loves to read.  Some days that’s the only way I know he’s mine.)

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Sometimes I worry about Rocco. I worry that he’ll never listen to what his teachers say, that he won’t listen to what his boss says, that he won’t listen to what anyone says, that he’ll drive whoever he falls in love with absolutely mad with all that not-listening. (I hope whoever they are, they have a loud voice.)

But I don’t worry about him much. Rocco has all the confidence I always wished I had, the ideas to back it up, the never-say-die attitude when things go wrong. He approaches failure as a challenge instead of a defeat. He laughs the loudest and longest, and he never takes it personally when you tell him you need a little break from him.  He wakes up every morning excited to see what he’s going to come up with today.

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I do too.

Hey world!  Are you ready for this guy?

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It’s okay. Neither am I.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Mexican corn cakes with pulled pork
Fresh fruit
Kale salad with dates and shaved parmesan
Leftover birthday cake

Mrs. Mouthy and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Birthday Party

I mean, not really.  The kids all loved it after all.  And no adults actually threw themselves off the deck, even if they all thought about it at one point or another

Now, to bring you up to speed on birthday parties: I no longer go overboard on the planning.  For Rocco’s 9th, he wanted old fashioned party games, and I made zero decorations for it.  Zero!  I planned it for a non-meal time to make it easier.  I did not invite the entire city and their Great Aunt Ethels; just a handful of Rocco’s friends.

I was smart about the party, too.  Knowing we’d have a dozen boys in our house I hid all the Nerf swords/battle axes, plus all the ammo to the Nerf guns.  I set up a quiet spaghetti-marshmallow building activity to settle the kids in when they arrived.  I remember feeling proud in thinking of those details. 

Within minutes of arriving, the dozen boys had turned our fort building poles into swords and battle axes, had found the one gun that had a bullet left in it, and had turned the dry spaghetti-marshmallow building activity into an all-you-can-eat dry spaghetti and marshmallow bar.  When they had eaten all they could, they experimented with throwing dry spaghetti and marshmallows around the living room.

Unfortunately, the pictures of this post lie.  The pictures were taken during moments I was not defending myself or my house from marshmallow damage, which I don’t think is covered by insurance.

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From there, the party lost all control and jumped the track.  At one point as we chased after a screaming herd of boys, my sister yelled, “You’re a teacher!  Where did your skills go?”  I looked at her helplessly.  It seemed this group of kids was far beyond, “1, 2, 3, eyes on me!”

It’s not that they didn’t like the things we had planned.  It’s that they liked them too much.

The game of Don’t Eat Steve turned into a game of How Many Skittles Can You Sneak from the Bag when Rachel Isn’t Looking.  When I got smarter about the bag, it turned into a game of Begging and Whining for More Skittles.

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Pin the Tail on the Donkey turned into How Much Can You Harass the Blindfolded Kid Without Him Noticing.  A spin-off version emerged called Let’s All Pretend We’re the Donkey.

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The main event of the party was a scavenger hunt that sent the boys all through the house, finding clues hidden on party blowers or on stuffed animals wearing party hats or on helium balloons that would fly out of toy boxes when opened.  It was like Oprah’s “Favorite Things” episode only if she had invited a pack of rabid dogs to attend.  The prize at the end of the hunt was a water fight.  I had imagined the boys squealing with delight as they soaked each other while I congratulated myself from a safe distance away.  Instead, they all grabbed water guns and balloons and then someone yelled, “GET HER!” and I found myself pelted and sprayed and dumped on by a dozen crazy-eyed third grade boys.  Me!  The one who gave them the water fight. 

There are no pictures to document the abuse I took, and be thankful for that.  It is the stuff nightmares are made of.

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It looks so innocent from this picture.  I assure you, it was NOT.  Oh well.  At least one of the adults was safe and dry on the deck, taking pictures.

Remember the last birthday party I blogged about?  The one at Chuck E. Cheese?  The one I considered the lowest level a party could stoop to?

From now on, all our parties are going to be at Chuck E. Cheese.  I stand in awe at the feet of Chuck E. and utter a thousand apologies and praises.

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Pah.  Third graders.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Black bean burgers with a side of 8 extra pizzas Kevin ordered for the party (I need to stop letting him place the orders)
Day old sushi
Fresh fruits & veggies  
Leftover strawberry, blueberry, raspberry cake

Back again

Well we just can’t stay put this summer.  As if we hadn’t gotten enough outdoorsing yet, we went and spent a weekend at Mount Rainier—the mountain we see just about every day of our lives but which my boys had never been to.  I didn’t want them pointing that out to me at some family dinner 20 years down the road and them realizing that all their life’s failures and disappointments came from never having been to the mountain that was right there all the time.

So.  First things first.  The mountain.

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Checkity check check check that off our list.  Now can we just skip forward to the part where I post the prettiest pictures from the bunch?  Because I might want this next one to be the last image I see before I die.

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Sweet Leo.  He had found a fishing float in the bushes and insisted we tie it to a stick, and even though we told him there was zero percent chance of catching a fish that way, still he sat there like that hour after hour.

The creek he was fishing at came with the house we rented, and I have since decided that all houses should come with their own creeks.

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That’s the key to world peace, am I right?

Now, ever seen a couple of marmots in love?

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(Actually, I think he was just looking for snacks in her teeth, but I didn’t want to ruin the moment by mentioning it.)

I mean, the wildlife was so fairy tale-like, this swan showed up next and, no joke, started singing Disney show tunes while the woodland creatures took up the percussion.

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Okay, okay, you called my bluff.  This swan didn’t just “show up.”  We saw it on a tram tour of NW Trek.  But the part about the Disney show tunes is definitely true.

And the most wildest of all the wildlife we saw on our trip:

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I don’t know why they all look so calm and well-behaved in this picture.  It’s probably not at all because they were promised gigantic ice cream cones if they would just sit still for ten seconds…

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(I used to tell Rocco his eyes were bigger than his stomach, until I watched him eat this entire thing.  Now I can’t say that anymore.)

That picture came from my mom’s collection.  I was going to steal a couple more for my blog, but mostly she had just taken a bunch of pictures of everyone’s weiners.

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Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see my mom’s face when she read that last line and then saw that it was true.

More on Rainier later.  Or maybe not.  It’s summer and I can’t be accountable for anything that shows up on this blog during summer.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Rocco’s birthday menu–
Steelhead trout with lemon
Gnocchi with browned butter sauce
Bread with olive oil & balsamic vinegar
Crudites
Watermelon
Pizelles
Chocolate cake with 7-minute frosting 

Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda

Rocco has been at camp this week, which has made things very quiet at home.  I have broken up zero fights between the boys, which is nice, but the excitement levels around here are hovering around nil.  I always thought the family revolved around me, but turns out it really revolves around Rocco.

Anyway, here’s the letter I wrote him today at camp.  It will catch you up to speed on summer hap’s.

Hey Rocco!  How’s your day going?  Have you reclaimed your status as the gaga ball Jesus yet?

Our day is pretty normal so far.  We took donuts to great grandpa, who asked if the kids are out of school yet (12 times), asked if they’re building any new homes in the area (15 times) and tried to give you $5 twice (we only took it once though).  Poor Grandpa!  He’s forgetful, but at least he seems happy.  Our game of Go Fish got a little out of control this week.  Grandpa thought he was playing poker so he and Vincenzo were trying to get a good poker hand while the rest of us played Go Fish and eventually just resorted to stealing cards from each other’s piles.  Surprisingly, Leo did not have a meltdown.

Except then at home, we were watching the World Cup and all the players were faking injuries and rolling on the ground, and I realized something.  Leo can do that!  I asked him to roll around on the carpet, pretending he had a hurt leg.  He did it instantly.  It was incredible!  It was convincing!  We started laughing, and then he got really mad and rolled around more furiously and gave us the stink face and said his leg really did hurt and it wasn’t funny.  So there you have it: a brilliant soccer star in the making.

Right now Dad and Aunt Jeanette are trying to fix the wobbly toilet.  They could really use your help!  They keep watching YouTube videos, then going back to the toilet and hammering things.  Then they come out again and say things like, “Turns out the pipe is cracked and we’re sure it’s been cracked a very long time and definitely did not get cracked in the last five minutes.”  Very suspicious.  I’m a little nervous because the last video they watched involved lighting the thing on fire.  I’m going to go make sure our fire extinguisher is still working!

Love you and think of you always,

Mom

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Picnic @ park—sammiches, chips, fruit/veggies, chocolate chippers

Yellowstone: the Inappropriate Version

Actually, this post isn’t about Yellowstone.  It’s about the Grand Tetons which, my younger sister informed us, loosely translates to “Big Tits.”

It was an accurate name for the mountains, if not very imaginative.

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We stood there in awe of the mountains while Kevin explained an app he was thinking about designing where the Grand Tetons are sitting there all mountainous and  majestic and then you touch them and they go “all jubbly.”

We were not worthy of this view.

That night when we went to the ranger talk and Ranger Garett held up a pair of moose antlers and said, “This is a particularly big rack,” can you blame our entire row for busting out laughing?

And can you blame us again when, at the end of the talk, Ranger Garrett wanted to show us the beaver he kept in a cage?

And yet again, when we rode across Jenny Lake and waved to all the people riding the Beaver Dick Leigh boat?

When someone goes and names a mountain range after a big set of “jubblies,” that’s just the way things go.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Grilled cheese sandwiches
Tomato soup
Green beans