All I Want for Christmas

My kids don’t want anything for Christmas, and it’s ruining my Christmas.

Leo, even though he stopped believing in Santa this year, very much believes in waking up and finding that one exact perfect thing under the tree. The problem is, there is no one exact perfect thing he can think of. He’s as stumped as to what he wants for Christmas as we are.

Puzzles? Nah. Board games? Nope. Arts and crafts? Hates them. Books? We already own them all. Clothes? Doesn’t care about them. Toys? Not into them. Sports? Just soccer, and we already have 82 soccer balls. Personal claw machine? Laser tag? Cotton candy machine? Already freaking have them.

All the people in my family are hard to buy for—except Rocco, who will take just about anything. He is currently my favorite child. But even he doesn’t have anything specific on his list; just a general guideline of “lots of pieces.”

“If not toys, then how about clothes?” you ask. Unfortunately, my boys don’t care what they look like, they don’t care what other people think they look like, and they especially don’t care what their mom thinks they look like, even though she has said much on the issue.

Still, I decided I might treat them to a new set of athletic clothes. Something bright! Something fun! Something different! I scoured all stores everywhere to find that the only options are solid color shirts with a gigantic logo on them and solid color shorts with a slightly smaller gigantic logo on them. Once I eliminated all the colors that don’t hide stains or don’t look good with their red shorts (orange, purple, green, and slightly different red), that left two choices: gray or black.

Sigh.

Somewhere in the world there’s a National Geographic with a picture of me on the cover, holding a gray shirt and a black one, with the caption: In some places, women struggle to buy Christmas gifts for their kids because they already own everything. A lady picks up the magazine as she stands in the check-out line, shakes her head and says, “I wish we could do something to help,” and the cashier says, “It really makes you count your blessings, don’t it?”

I wish I didn’t feel the need to get the kids anything, but Leo is still just nine years old and it’s his first year of not believing, and I don’t want him to wake up to nothing but a note saying Welcome to the real world, kid and a pack of cigarettes. Even kids who don’t want anything don’t want nothing for Christmas.

And so I will continue to scour. I will rack my brain. I will keep trying different search phrases like Christmas gift 9-year-old boy and trendy gift 2021 and WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY KIDS?! I will be brave and relentless, I will persevere, until I find that one perfect thing that will make Leo believe, just for a moment, that magic still exists.

And I will have a happy Christmas.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Berbere spice meatballs (thanks for the recipe, MIL!)
Jasmine rice
Cauliflower with papperdelle, mint, and pepitas
Pineapple upside down cake

Christmas Tree Hunt

No, the hills are not on fire; this is just what it looks like when you live inside a cloud.

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We don’t dream of white Christmases here. We dream of wet ones, because we don’t like to be disappointed.

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But hey, a few clouds and puddles can’t dampen our spirits!

Except maybe this guy.*

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He has the look on his face of someone who only uses a handsaw once a year.

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Okay, so it was wet. So my husband made his usual comments about the perfectly fine pre-cut trees at Costco. So my kids are not ones to wear flannel shirts and knit hats and stripy scarves.

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The day was not picture perfect, but you have to admit, these are pictures.

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And they’re my kind of perfect.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pasta with chicken sausage and broccolini
Pumpkin pie

*My overheard comment of the day was when Kevin walked past a group of people who were having a tough time figuring out what to do with the tree they had cut down. “Look, there are six of us here and that guy just walked by carrying a tree by himself. I’m sure we can figure this out…”

Cool Sub

I subbed in a fifth grade classroom on Friday—one that can be quite challenging. We had a rough time together in September. I didn’t think I’d come back, but I gave them one more chance and then they Rick Rolled me IRL and I told them that was a dank meme and I only tolerate fresh memes, and since then we’ve gotten along just fine.

Still, I always feel the need to be prepared when I sub in their classroom, so I asked Vincenzo for some cool words I could say to the kids.

He said I should find a time in the day when I can say “cracked.” I wasn’t sure how to use it so I asked for an example. He said, like, if I’m playing video games and I’m popping off and my k/d ratio is high, then I can say, ‘I’m cracked.’”

I told him it was unlikely I’d be playing video games with the kids, even though I have a sweet gaming computer (which is true, and the students are obsessed with it), but maybe we’d play chess and then I could yell out, “Yeah! I’m cracked at chess!”

“No,” Vincenzo said, “you can’t be cracked at chess. There are only certain things you can be cracked at.”

I said, “Well what if I’m an egg and I’ve just been smashed on the counter?”

“That one I’m not sure about…”

I said, “What if I’m a human and I smash a dozen eggs on my forehead and it’s not even dented?”

“Yes, then you’re cracked.”

“Yeah,” I said, remembering the time I smashed a dozen eggs on my forehead. “I was so cracked.”

“No, no, no,” Vincenzo said. “Cracked is present tense.”

My brain started to implode a bit.  “So I can’t say, ‘I’m cracking it,’ or ‘When I was popping off on video games and my k/d ratio was high yesterday, I was cracked?’”

“No,” he said firmly.

“Wait, what exactly does ‘cracked’ mean?”

“Goated.”

My brain finished imploding. Without a brain, it was much easier to follow the next part of our conversation.

Vincenzo explained, “Like the word ‘cracked,’ you could never say ‘I’m goated’ or ‘I’m goating’ because it’s an acronym. It stands for Greatest of All Time. Tom Brady is the original goat.”

“Ohhhhh, so it’s GOAT, not goat.”

Vincenzo looked at me weird. He couldn’t hear the capitalization in my voice.

“Okay, this one makes sense,” I said. “So if I’m teaching a sentence diagramming and I explain the dangling preposition so well that the kids stand on their desks and cheer and some maybe even cry tears of joy, I could yell, I’m a GOAT!’”

Vincenzo shook his head. “No, let me make a correction. Tom Brady is not a GOAT, he’s the GOAT, so you can’t say, ‘I’m a GOAT,’ but you can say, ‘Tom Brady is the GOAT,’ and in all other cases, you say ‘I’m GOATed,’ but you can never say “I’m the goat.”

“Wait, so if I pop off in video games, I have to say, ‘Tom Brady is the GOAT!?”

Vincenzo face-palmed. “Maybe ‘GOAT isn’t the right word for you. Let’s try flex instead.”

I asked him a lot of questions about flexing, and here’s a summary of what I learned:

Flex is cool word to say. You can use it in any tense—past, present, future, subjunctive pluperfect etc. etc. For example, if there’s a challenging math problem you could say, “If you want to flex, you can try the challenge problem.”

If you plan to solve the problem in the future, you’d say, “I’m going to flex.”

While you’re solving the problem, you can say, “I’m flexing!”

After you’ve solved it, you can say, “I totally flexed that.”

And, of course, in the pluperfect tense* you could say, “I would have flexed that problem if Mrs. Beto hadn’t taken up all my math time talking about how cool she is.”

Flexed is…flexible. I get it.

You’re probably thinking now that MrsMouthy is cracked. She’s dropping knowledge bombs all over this blog and flexing so hard she’s totally goated.

And that, of course, is totally poggers.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Indian take-out!

Halloween 2021

We are not a thematic family. You would be hard-pressed to come up for a theme that involves a penguin, a dragon, and Bob Ross.

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I tried to tell Vincenzo Bob Ross was more of a blue denim shirt guy and he certainly wasn’t a gold chain guy, but V didn’t care. He liked his look.

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He also could have called his costume “my dad as he would have been in the 70s,” as this was Kevin’s real hair in high school.

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Seriously. I married that.

Back to Halloween: we had quite the crowd for pizza and trick-or-treating.

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A couple of my favorite costumes:

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Once the pizza was eaten and the candy was trick-or-treated, the kids all went to the basement, dumped their buckets, and began the economics lesson that we call “candy trading.”

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It was like the stock market floor, with kids calling out names of candy bars and holding fingers in the air to show how many, everyone yelling at once, candy being tossed overhead, plus a healthy amount of jostling and grabbing. I missed filming most of the madness, so here is one of the milder moments:

And now Halloween is over, which leaves one question: Have you ordered your Christmas cards yet?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Jamaican “patties”
Roasted broccoli
Spanish rice
Candy shop pizza

Small Moment

As I drove Leo to school today, my mind was chock-full of the usual stuff: reviewing the day’s schedule, trying to remember that thing I was supposed to add to the grocery list, worrying about the boys’ missing assignments, making a mental note to bug the refrigerator repair guy again, deciding if I have time to fill in for a play chaperone this afternoon, and feeling baffled that another month is nearly over.

Then I glanced at Leo sitting in the back seat and, like a kid giving a speech who has a notecard that says “smile” on it, I asked, “What’s one thing you’re looking forward to today?”

“That it’s one day closer to Halloween,” he said. He paused. “And also, I have fruit snacks for a lunch treat and a Clif bar for snack time.”

For a minute my mind stopped spinning. The world stopped spinning. I forgot all those things I was worrying about and remembered what the most important thing in the world is.

The most important thing is that Halloween is 4 school days away and 6 days in total, but really 5 because as soon as you wake up on Halloween it’s Halloween, and you don’t have to wait a 6th day. Or so I’ve been told.

And also, today there will be fruit snacks.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Breaded rockfish
Butternut squash ravioli
Green beans with dill
Cream puffs

Baby’s First Homecoming

Vincenzo went to homecoming, which is crazy, because I still have my own homecoming dress hanging in my closet, so mine couldn’t have been that long ago. And yet!

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(Doesn’t this picture have an album-cover feel? Just add guitars!)

He went with a unique group of individuals, and I absolutely love that they didn’t look like any of the other homecoming groups.

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They only lasted 30 minutes at the Covid-safe “festival,” as the two bowls of chips, one game of Mario Cart, and single beach ball didn’t have much staying power.

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(This one feels more High School Musical.)

Then their dinner plan fell apart and they ended up at QFC, browsing the deli for homecoming dinner.

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(A sweet Breakfast Club vibe here.)

So we picked them all up and brought them to our house, where we ordered Thai food and they spent the rest of the evening baking cookies, playing Overcooked, and wrestling each other in the basement.

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It was a one-of-a-kind homecoming  experience, which makes sense for this group of originals.

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I’m so happy these guys have each other to go through school with. Lucky them!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Italian wedding soup
Garlic broccoli
Sugar cookies

Sweet 16

Guess who turned Sweet 16?

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Good guess!

I tried to embarrass him with the sign but he just looked out the window when he got up and said, “Cool sign!”

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For his party we took his friends to play whirlyball, which is a combo of bumper cars, trackball, and basketball. The place was awesome! It had a roller rink feel and smelled just like 1984—popcorn, carpet, and fluorescent lights.

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The only difference was that instead of standing around comparing their stone washed jeans and talking about Corey Haim, they all stood around and did this.

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After they got their fill of whirlyball and curly fries (so many curly fries, so many, many curly fries) we went back to the house for pizza, and then the kids started spontaneously leg wrestling.

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And then arm wrestling.

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And then boxing.

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And then someone claimed he was 5’8 and no one believed him so they all took their turns at the growth charts.

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Then they wanted to go to the elementary school to play soccer in the dark, and at this point it was clear the adults were not in control and had to do whatever they said so we drove them down and Kevin stayed there in the cold, contemplating the decisions in life had led him to this moment. For three hours.

It was one wild and crazy party. Since then, half the group has bought boxing gloves and I heard them reminding each other to bring them to homecoming. And this is my quiet kid. These are the quiet friends! I can’t even think what Rocco’s 16th birthday is going to be like!

That was all a couple weeks ago, and I’ve had some time to reflect on the whole thing. So honestly, how was it, hosting a group of high schoolers for my kid’s 16th birthday?

It was a piece of cake.

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One big, messy piece of cake that just might set the house on fire.

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Happy 16th birthday, Sweet Baby D!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Costco pizza!

Waiting for the Thaw

I was doing all great and was super happy and even had a blog post drafted about how I’ve finally unlocked the secret to happiness, but then I got some tough critique and now everything is hard and upsetting again. I am fighting the instinct to nudge my latest batch of stories out of the nest, like a mother bird who knows her chick isn’t going to survive.

I’ve been through it enough times now to know it will pass and not to buy any shoes until it does because I shouldn’t make any major decisions right now. I will not say, This is too hard. I quit! until after the emotions pass. (Okay, I’ll say it. But I’ll try not to believe it.)

This is the point in my wallowings at which I show my blog draft to Kevin and he says, “You also shouldn’t publish any blog posts until the emotions pass.”

Whoops.

I’m not depressed, just frozen up. The sun will come out and I’ll thaw, and the fact that I know that shows I’m fine. I really am. I’m good!

In fact, coincidentally (or not), as I write this last sentence, the sun actually did come out, and also coincidentally (or not), as I write this last sentence, I realize I’m still writing. I can’t be all that frozen up.

Plus, it’s Friday, and I hear Nordstrom is having a shoe sale. So…

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Spaghetti squash tacos
Quesadillas (for dissenters)
Roasted broccoli
Boston cream pie

Fall knocks

When the days begin to shorten at the end of August I start to panic. I try to grab onto everything around me—the warmth of the sun, the green of the leaves, the smoke of the grill, the length of the days. I gather as much as I can and and hold it tight to my chest, hoping to take it with me into the dark and cold that lie ahead.

Then fall knocks. I ignore it. But fall opens the door anyway, and a cold breeze comes in, and yellow leaves too, and suddenly there are soups and stews and sweatpants and even though it the sun is barely there, I am warm and full again.

The weekends are largely made up of soccer games, some in gorgeous 70 degree weather that makes me wish they would last all day, and some in rainy 50 degree weather that makes me wish the boys had chosen basketball instead, but which also create a certain comradery with friends and family braving the rain along with me. Dumping the rain off our umbrellas, stomping our feet, watching the sky to see what it might do next. Some days, I forget the game for the green of the field, rimmed with autumn trees and white barns. Instead I watch the clouds boil and roll above like paint blooming on paper.

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In between chatting and cheering, my mind slips back to that pot of chili in the crockpot on my counter. The game ends. (Big cheer!)

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The boys come home and strip off their muddy clothes in the garage, and soon there is the hum of the washing machine and the steamy sound of water running for showers. There is a warm evening cozying up to Kevin while we watch football, the boys drifting in and out until it’s time for chili, and then apple crisp, and then board games or movies or more football. We lean all the way into cozy, knowing that we earned it.

That’s what fall is to me.

Fall is pulling a pan of enchiladas out of the oven one night and scalloped potatoes the next. Fall is gingerbread, apple crisp, and peanut butter cookies. Fall is the feel of lying on a dock after a day of chasing waves. It is hectic mornings and evenings bumping up to peaceful days of reading and writing and watching the leaves change color outside my kitchen window. Fall is a time to gather the thoughts that feed my soul.

I wouldn’t trade a single day of fall for one of summer, in the same way I wouldn’t trade a day of summer for fall. They are two of the most perfect things in the world.

But February? February can go boil its head.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Butternut squash gnocchi with fried sage
Chicken noodle soup
Parmesan cauliflower
Gingerbread cake

Magical Mt. Baker

I’m going to reverse time a bit here and take you back to the weekend before school started. Beedleeboop, beedleeboop, beedleeboop, (that’s the sound of time going backwards)—

–and here we are, deep in the heart of the very fringes of the north Cascades…

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…peeing out gigantic streams of Monster Energy Drink.

McStreamy’s family rented a little house for our families that was straight from a fairy tale, with lots of nooks for reading and sleeping in, checkered flannel bedspreads, and sloped ceilings to really clinch the cozy feel. There was more charm in the cabin than in the charm necklace I had in 1987. (Remember those?)

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The boys instantly fell upon a box of baby toys that kept them happy for several hours.

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After our porridge the next morning (we were careful not to leave any out, as Goldilocks seemed like a real possibility here), we set out for the river.

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On the way, we met this little guy. He was probably a prince, but we’ll never know, as no one wanted to kiss him.

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And, surprise! We’re here already, at the Mighty Nooksack!

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Kevin had a way of saying “Nooksack” that made it sound like a dirty word, so let’s try to ignore him and enjoy its beauty for a bit.

That’s the way, Vincenzo!

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Leo channeled the spirit of the river nymphs.

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Rocco failed to not look awkward, despite my instructions on leg arrangement. (This is not what I instructed him to do.)

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I don’t know where he gets it from.

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I went to join Kevin and this happened.

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That’s just the kind of magical weekend it was.

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(Still working on the leg placement.)

Thank you for a memories, McStreamy, and for the photoshopping. Just to be clear, there was no photoshopping present in this post. I’m just saying it in general.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Apricot chickpea soup
Grilled cheese
Salad
Santa Claus melon, whatever that is
Nectarine blackberry cobbler a la mode