Monday, October 16, 2017

Pumpkin Bonanzas!

This post has everything- label makers, new shoes, date nights, pumpkin villages, and bulldog bonanzas. We'll start with my FAVORITE day- it's here and it happened!

It's Dallas Arboretum Pumpkin Village Day!

To be fair, I have lots of favorite days, but this is DEFINITELY in the top five. Something I hissed at a mopey Landon who was mad/furious/overwrought and refusing to join the family because Claire noted his feet separated from each other when he hopped over a cone in the parking lot. Ten, you guys. It's an emotional time.

an hour later on the upswing of the emotional roller coaster

And then a blog reader introduced herself to me just as I was struggling to keep my temper with my beloved eldest child who kept purposefully getting separated from our group and then hiding behind other crowds of people before flopping on a hay bale and declaring Sunday the worst day EVER and wondering why can't we just go HOME because this is STUPID and I don't want to be HERE with YOU. Why hello Blog Reader Jennifer! So glad to meet you. You saved my beloved from a pointless tongue lashing and you saved me from making the situation worse. After the greetings, I took a breath and remembered that I control my emotions because unlike SOME people, I'm not 10, and told him he could have 10 minutes separated from his family ("just like he wanted ALL DAY") to get the fuck over himself, shake it off, and move on without any of us mentioning it again.

So that's what we did.

And while he was sulking, I got some pictures with the girls! Because I'm in charge of my day.

And then the rest of the day was quite great!

The Arboretum is so beautiful and so fun.

It's really one of the only reasons to drive to Dallas.

We went to the Children's Garden, a Lag Liv family favorite. Our view of the kids looked like this, pretty much the entire time.

They climbed the ropes of the tree house, Cora flinging herself on to the nets with glee, and I could not stop thinking about this photo I remember from 2014 when she had to watch from the bridge but wanted SO BADLY to be a big kid.

And now here she was, rocking the Children's Garden big kid style, with nary a stroller, diaper bag, or holding hand in sight.

If I wasn't busy enjoying my Favorite Day, I might have been really sad and nostalgic about it.

We finally forced the kids to leave at 1:30 because I was getting cranky and Taco Deli - our FAVORITE taco place from Austin - has a location in Dallas but not Fort Worth and any drive in the vicinity requires a stop for two Cowboys and a Heather taco (and a million other things because we eat a shocking amount of food)


I was so happy. Pumpkin villages, a smiley tween, and Taco Deli tacos, what could be better?

Why a BULLDOG BONANAZA, that's what!

Oh yes, as soon as we got home, we put Sir Winston in his fall best bandanna and headband and loaded him in the car to go to W. 7th for a fundraiser for our awesome local bulldog rescue group! He rolled up the street looking like a goddamn celebrity.

He's such a stud. I love him a ridiculous amount.

For a dog who does a lot of posturing around other dogs, he was incredibly chill among his brethren. He even assumed a previously unseen (by us) submissive bow pose with almost all of them. It's like he realized, "oh, you're bulldogs too? I don't need to pretend to be tough? Oh thank god, I'm actually super submissive and pretending otherwise was exhausting." He had the best time, as did our resident dog lover.

Though I think Winston felt a bit emasculated by the giant English Mastiff Cora adopted, he was clearly proud to be around his fellow adoptees with his forever humans. He had a little extra sway in his walk.

It was a super fun event. Friends of ours were there looking for their own bulldog to adopt- bulldogs for everyone!

We followed that fun with a bit more organizing. My label maker had arrived from a late night Amazon purchase and I can't believe it took me 34.5 years to own one. As I sat in the girls' bathroom with my stack of new plastic bins and shiny new labeler I felt like my whole life had been leading to this moment.

While James cursed at the new rack storage system I had him installing on the blank wall of our pantry, I lovingly filled our new spice rack, cleaned out our own bathroom cabinet, and walked around the house wondering what else needed labeling. (Everything did, obviously. I've already purchased more tape.)

And that was Sunday! Saturday was soccer and exercising and errands and fun with friends. Cora really rocks the "third baby dragged to a big sibling's soccer game" look.

Friday was a date night to celebrate James's upcoming birthday. We started at Fireside Pies for appetizers (omg their baked goat cheese with pesto and olives is so dang good), salad, and pizza. It was all delicious, but we were still a little hungry. When we found out a second pizza would be a 45 minute wait, we closed out and wandered over to Tortaco for James's favorite Truffle Steak Torta and a frozen beverage. From there we attempted SusieCakes only to discover they close at 8 p.m. (what dessert place closes while many people are still eating dinner on a Friday night?) so we drove over to longtime Lag Liv family favorite Stir Crazy Bakery for a crazy good flourless chocolate cake. It was an accidental progressive birthday dinner!

Perfect for the big eater in your life. I wore new shoes I'm sort of obsessed with because they're beautiful and crazy comfortable and only $40!! There really haven't been enough beautiful new shoes in my life lately.

We followed it up our five semi-related courses of food with a viewing of The Matrix because I've never seen it and James likes movies with lots of action and bloated plots. We'd forgotten Winston was in the room until we turned off the TV before the movie was over and he popped his head up to let us know what he thought about that.

He is the best.

And, because it's nearly midnight, let's wrap this up with the meal plan for the week:

: French Dip Sliders (SO GOOD; every time I make them I wonder why I don't make them more often), followed by Great Pumpkin Dessert Bars I baked and brought over to a friend's football gathering

Sunday: Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili - I was so proud we put this in the crock pot before we left for the Arboretum, but sadly this did not turn out well for us and I can't figure out why because I know I've made it before. So try at your own risk, I guess? Skinnytaste has never let me down; I'm sure the error is ours, it just didn't have much flavor and was very liquidy. The fritos and wine I paired it with were good though.

Monday: Sheet Pan Roasted Sausage and Veggies - a family favorite, I double it and serve with a simple herbed angel hair pasta.

Tuesday: out for a school fundraiser dinner!

Wednesday: James's Birthday! He's chosen a Meatball Sandwich, chips, and fruit. And cake. Simple pleasures.

Thursday: Crockpot Creamy Taco Chicken Chili - tasty and easy on a night I teach barre.

: more of Trader Joe's pumpkin pasta and Autumn sauce because it's delicious and Fridays are for easy, delicious things.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Burning the Midnight Oil

I have work spread out on the table before me, but what I really want to do is pour a second glass of wine, take an indulgent hot bath I'm sort of not supposed to take anymore because I now have eczema/psoriasis slowly turning me into a scaly lizard creature, and listen to the last 15 minutes of yesterday's Pod Save America (the only downside to a 10 minute commute is no time for podcasts, especially when your favorite one drops the F bomb a lot and you can't listen to it on your house speakers while cooking dinner). Instead, I had James install new shoe racks- now all matching and with a bonus fourth rack- to our closet wall and fill them with shoes and scarves and then stand and gaze happily at the organized bliss of it all.

But, though I do not regret any minutes spent living my organizational love language, I really do need to start my detailed review of the exhibits I pulled for my testimony on Thursday. Just as soon as I finish this blog post. For you all, I will skip my bath, but after 9 days away (oops), not even the knowledge that I'll be working until midnight is going to stop me from updating my blog. Consider this post a proof of life.

And, of course, a photo dump.

The last week has been good. I'm slowly adjusting to our new schedule that everyone else adjusted to immediately. We even still get to eat together every night! Later than usual, but everyone but me seems to be okay with their new 8:30 bedtimes. Sometimes I make eye contact with the couch I should be sitting on during our 8:05 p.m. dinner, but my endurance is slowly increasing. I love our evenings and I can handle the cooking and carpools and crazy but not being able to go off-duty for an extra 30 minutes is tough, but it's worth it to eat together. I've adjusted our meal types based on the night's schedules- Monday has to be something I can start early and then takes a while to cook while I'm dropping off Landon, Thursdays are for crock pot meals I can come home to after teaching barre, Tuesdays and Wednesdays get to be normal, and Fridays- my favorite day- can be whatever I want because 0 kids have activities and James is done coaching at the happy-hour-friendly time of 5:30!

So that's all going pretty well. I'm surprised how tired we are each night when we finally sit on the couch together. With babies and toddlers you're so physically drained, but though the kids are older and super independent and easier in so many ways, it's somehow still just as exhausting. Mentally, emotionally, "Mommy are we still enemies with Japan like we were in World War II?" kind of exhausting. And the days are just longer with so much more in them. Weekends are like that too. I should have worked this weekend, but now that no one naps, it's just a non-stop adventure until bedtime at 8:30. It's hard to throw on the brakes and sneak away to read a large stack of legal papers. Especially when you'd rather bake pumpkin bread and clean out your kids' bathroom cabinets with that time. Which is why I'll be up until midnight.

Speaking of cleaning out kids' bathroom cabinets- we cleaned and reorganized ALL THE THINGS this weekend! Our garage project was finally completed last week, so Saturday involved three trips to Target for organizational items (the cashier asked if we'd just moved; I said yes, the finished out garage feels like a whole new house) because the garage made me realize there were at least 5 cabinets in our house that lacked sufficient organizational bins and off to the races we went.

My whole family hated me by Sunday afternoon, but it's really not my fault they're incompetent organizers who lack any endurance or focus whatsoever.


And look- so pretty!!! We still need to install the wall A/C unit, and the sports rack, cube storage, and lawn tool rack I ordered haven't arrived yet, but it's SO. MUCH. BETTER. It's bright and has walls and insulation! There's an attic and lights and shelves and REAL WALLS (did I mention that?). It was a very exciting day for me.

Somewhere in the middle of those two days, we went to our first children's play of the Casa Manana 2017-2018 theatrical season!

Mr. Popper's Penguins was excellent. It was a 4 person cast who performed the entire show, transitioning seamlessly through dozens of characters while also working the penguin puppets. I think it was really neat for the kids to see and quite different from their usual play. They all loved it and have been making penguin noises non-stop since Saturday evening. (And it was only almost cute the first few times they made them...)

On Friday night we were good and ate at home even though we wanted to go out, but then we immediately followed it up with $22 of cake from my new love SusieCakes on the river. Still, cheaper than a dinner!

Winston came with us. He's really come so far from those first few weeks that we had him. So much calmer and more settled. Part of that is adjusting to a new home, but his training made a HUGE difference too. We still do our homework every day and repeating those basic commands and reasserting our leadership has calmed him so much and made us feel confident doing more with him.

He's enjoying it VERY much and he gets a lot of attention when we're out, especially since Cora introduces him to anyone who dares to make eye contact.

"Did you know I have a doggy? His name is Winston. You can pet him if you want."

Cora has also been inviting everyone she sees to her birthday party. There was a little girl, probably about 8, in line with us to use the bathroom during intermission at the play. "I like your dress," said the sweet girl. "Thank you!" exclaimed Cora, "it's 'Punzel! Do you want to see her?" She shoved the picture of Rapunzel on a plastic brooch attached to the neckline towards the girl's face, then nodded decisively, "You can come to my princess party."

When we exited the bathroom to the lobby a few minutes later, Cora looked around asking "but where is my new friend?!" She's a delight.

But the main thing I've been doing this week, besides online shopping, Disney-prepping, working, carpooling, cooking, and organizing everything in the house, is PHOTO BOOKING. Oh yes, that albatross. I love my photo books. I love them so much when they're done. And in the right mood, I even love them a little while I'm making them, and I've learned to indulge that mood whenever it happens to hit. Last week I was working on shutterfly until midnight every night and I was exhausted and possibly giving myself carpal tunnel, but now our 2015-2016 school year book is done!! I need to personalize the covers and intro pages for each kid's copy, but it's done!!! And we did SO MUCH that year! Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Minnesota- Claire starting Kindergarten, Landon in 2nd grade, Cora walking and talking- swim team, gymnastics, lake house trips- so many adventures and activities and shenanigans to include. I also painstakingly pull in quotes and stories from the blog and facebook (just going back through those archives is a couple night's work), weaving in snippets and stories with the pictures and hopefully really capturing each kid at each age as I go along. I do love them. The kids love them. James loves them. But omg they're a pain in the ass along the way (literally, my butt hurts from sitting for so long each night).

And now I can start on 2016-2017. Oy.

Oh, I also bought a used couch on our neighborhood buy/sell page for $150 and it's perfect and comfy and classic and fits one extra person than our old couch. Obviously, it required new pillows and possibly a redesign of my whole living room. We'd bought the original furniture from the previous homeowners and always planned to replace, but not exactly now. Stay tuned. A new coffee table, bar cart/cabinet, and bookcase are being obsessed over.

In the meantime, here are some recipes from the last week! Many involve pumpkin. It is decorative gourd season after all.

My Mom's Pumpkin Bread
. The best.

MORE Superhero Muffins - now a go to breakfast on busy days, they take a lot of ingredients to make but they're super hearty and healthy and I love how much the kids love them.

Italian Chicken Stew
- I used to make this all the time, but forgot about it; it's flavorful and filling but still light and broth based. Great with a big loaf of crusty bread and butter. I double or triple the broth and add some small shape pasta close to the end.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal - Delicious! Made it for lunch yesterday and the kids loved it too.

Crock Pot Chicken Wild Rice Soup - So good and so easy.

Slow Cooker Beef Tacos - These were great! I've been experimenting with different seasoning blends and this was a new favorite. I used 1.3 lbs. of beef (those organic packs you get from Costco) but kept everything else the same. I also just browned my beef in a dutch oven and then covered it and kept it on low stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes- it was still delicious, though I'm sure if you properly slow cooked it longer it would be even better.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pasta with Pumpkin and Butternut Squash Tomato Sauce.

OMG. Go buy these things immediately. I had a little bit of the pasta and sauce as a sample and promptly bought 6 bags of pasta and 8 jars of sauce. Then James bought more this weekend. The pasta is more of a novelty, but it does have butternut squash in it and the kids LOVED the shapes. The sauce is where it's at- the first three ingredients are: Tomato Puree, Pumpkin Puree, and Butternut Squash Puree. Then there's some heavy cream, garlic, salt, and that's about it. And it is SO. GOOD. My kids are obsessed (Landon just had some tonight because he won't eat lasagna because he's a crazy person.) It's a great keep-it-in-the-pantry-until-there's-a-night-you-don't-want-to-cook back-up. And it's delicious. We've served it on ravioli, tortelloni, and the now famous pumpkin pasta. If I had a spiralizer I'm sure I could tell you it was great on zoodles. It's just great. If you live in Fort Worth I've probably bought it all, but if you live near a different Trader Joe's, go get some.

And now it's time to work. At 11:07. I suppose it's a nice break from the late night photo booking.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Grands

Even in a hotel room, alone and 3.5 hours away from James and the kids, I end up blogging at 11:30 p.m. It's just when the words come. Also, I don't sleep in hotels so I might as well use the time productively. I'm here in San Antonio for a work thing Monday morning and used the opportunity to fly out earlier in the day today to get to see all four of my grandparents! My heart is so full.

I haven't been doing as well on the updates, but my Grandpa Glenn was flown home to San Antonio about 10 days ago after many weeks in cardiac ICU and cardiac rehab in Minneapolis. He went straight to the healthcare section of their retirement community- home, but not quite, but still very thankful to be 1300 miles closer. He went back into the hospital late last week when he was having difficulty breathing. After 1 liter of fluid was removed from his lungs he is feeling MUCH better and was told he would be discharged today, making it the perfect day for me to arrive. I got to help him and my grandma get out of the hospital and get home, but first, I got to cry when I walked in his hospital room and heard him joyfully exclaim my name.

After spending 2 days by his side while he remained unconscious in Minneapolis, it was very powerful to hear his voice- his real voice, a little weaker, a little breathier, but full of his love and exuberance all the same. To hear his whispered "you are so special honey," as we hugged and just to feel his love. It's such a force; he's such a force, and it is such a striking contrast from his inert ICU days.

And then, even better, he was told he could be discharged to his apartment, not healthcare; no longer "home," but HOME. I swear he jumped ahead a few weeks in his recovery just by walking in the door. I am so, so glad I got to be part of their homecoming. I got them settled and left them sitting in their chairs simply beaming, my grandpa back in his clothes in his apartment, wearing his wedding ring and watch again, knowing he'd get to go to bed next to his Mary for the first time in far too long. And my grandma, so thrilled to have her boyfriend back in their home, to get to sing "You Are My Sunshine" to him in their bed as they wake up in the morning instead of as a goodnight tradition in the hospital. They are so happy. I walked out knowing they'd be sitting there smiling at each other for at least another hour or so. My grandpa still has a ways to go in his recovery, but oh how far he has come and how lucky we are to have him with us.

After I left my grandparents to their smiles, I got to take the elevator down 6 floors to my other grandparents to enjoy a perfectly timed glass of wine! It was so wonderful to see them. I feel like my Grandpa Glenn's experience this summer has just made us all happier to be here, wherever, together. I went with them to eat in the downstairs dining room and we enjoyed such a lovely meal (with surprisingly good french fries, because of course I ordered some) and stories and laughs and conversation- and my grandpa's snazzy paisley blazer. It was a really really nice night.

The last weeks have been a lot for my family- I cannot believe the first photo in my September photo is my mom and I standing in the drywall covered wreckage of their flooded house, but we are so lucky to all have each other, and I’m so thrilled to have been able to spend today making a few new memories with all four of my grandparents.

~ ~ ~

And now, catching up backwards, few snapshots from earlier in the week- Landon had a sleepover party Friday night, so I abandoned all reason and meal planning and went to R Taco yet again with James and the girls.

We got to order 4 fewer tacos (Landon is getting expensive, though not nearly so much as his dad who ordered NINE; for comparison, I get 2) and our first round of margaritas were made wrong (i.e., not frozen), so they gave us another and told us to keep the first. All in all, I felt like I was winning at tacos.

We had a flyer from a new bakery in town that Friday would be free slice night, and never ones to turn down free sugar, even after margaritas and queso, we headed over to try them out.

And omg, I didn't realize SusieCakes was a pretty big chain, but wowza, they make a good slice of cake. The cookie and trick-or-treat bar were solid, but the cake slices were exceptional.

As was the weather and the company.

Claire requested a picture "just by herself" and I was happy to oblige. She is such a delight right now. Landon is occasionally waylayed by big tween emotions and Cora just realized she's a toddler who is supposed to communicate displeasure by screaming and flopping about like a trout, but Claire, Claire remains her affectionate, enthusiastic, super sweet self and it's delightful.

I stopped in Gap for some returns on Saturday and found a bunch of super cute clothes for her on the clearance rack. I'm concerned about this particular Gap staying in business, but I'm in love with the fact I got this adorable dress for $5 and these shoes for $1.50. $1.50!!!

I also grabbed Cora this superhero set at the Target dollar spot and she hasn't gone anywhere without her star wrist guards and headband since Saturday morning. It's fabulous.

And Landon called me tonight to show me his water cycle project for school and make sure I'd seen Winston to say goodnight, so I'd say all the kids are doing well.

Our garage will be done someday (it is so different when the renovation is happening outside the house; sure our garage contents are freaking everywhere, including the inside of the house, and it rained for a million days and everything is wet, but it's not my kitchen and that makes it all very bearable), I bought us a new living room couch for $150 off our neighborhood buy/sell page and I love it, and my fall online shopping packages are rolling in and 50% of the items involve a Disney character. Summer is done, fall is (sort of) here, Disney is soon, and I got to see all my grandparents tonight. I feel like Winston when he's riding as co-pilot.

Life is good.