Friday, March 30, 2018

Sunshine & Miscellany

I've been meaning to blog all week, but between a late night PTA Nomination Committee meeting at my house Monday night (I'm the head of the Board Nominating Committee; would you like to be our President next year? Because we don't have one, despite our late night meeting and all the dark chocolate m&m's we ate), going to all the yoga classes, teaching Thursday night and drinking 1.5 margaritas which was 0.5 too many, I have lacked the time and/or brain-finger coordination.

But things happened all week! Funny conversations! Deliveries made to my house from online shopping done in long ago last week! I cooked many things and did all the yoga! Even though it was a super busy week it always feels happy to be back in the swing of things. Even if today's swing involved using up 8 vacation hours for constant cooking, cleaning, laundry, and errands. Sometimes you just need to do all the things and it feels REALLY good to get them done. Especially when you can end the day in a cookout at someone else's house drinking their delicious rose in a sweatshirt while your kids throw water at each other in the backyard. It's what spring nights are made of.

I think my favorite moment of this week was a conversation I overheard on Monday night. I was sitting at my desk in the sunroom while the kids were in the living room when Cora, as she does at least three times a day, randomly reminded everyone she would be 7:
Cora: Someday I will be 7.

Claire: Yes, and then I'll be 10.

Cora, knowingly: So then you will be crabby?

Claire, offended: What? No!

Landon, with the hard-earned knowledge of a man who's been taken to the brink and stared into the void, and then read some books and had some Talks with Dad: Yeah, when those hormones hit you... whoah. There's not really a lot you can do about it Claire.

My body was shaking I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud. And the best part is Landon wasn't even in the room for the start of the conversation. He was just strolling through, caught Cora's bracing reminder of what she knows happens at 10 and was like yeah Claire, it's happening, I've been there. I like that they know they're all in this together and Cora's just trying to keep everyone prepared.

Because I really do feel like we've been through the wringer together and come out the other side. Hormones have calmed, conversations have been had, true genuine joy and enjoyment of ALL the members of the house have returned. It's so nice. At least twice in the last week I've randomly leaned over and hugged a nearby Landon and held it to the point of awkwardness. He seems to understand.

On Thursday we FINALLY made it to Cora's preschool egg hunt. I missed it when she was 2 for reasons I can't remember. I missed it when she was 3 because I wrote down the wrong time and we arrived exactly when it was ending. So this year, at 4, and possibly her last year (I started the public pre-K registration process on Monday!!), I was DETERMINED to be in attendance. And I was and I learned that preschoolers run very fast when eggs are across the room and Cora runs with her tongue out for extra EXTRA speed.

It was adorable and I'm glad we finally made it there. Especially because I got this picture of her and James that I simply adore. It is so very them.

Today the kids had off school and used my aforementioned vacation hours to do all the things. We were up and out on our first long walk by 8:30 a.m. I felt bad for our neighbors - we're like a whole parade taking up the streets, but it's important to exercise the puppies early and often.

I did get to go to a yoga class I normally miss and it was excellent. I still have seven Orangetheory credits burning a hole in my credit card, but as much as I enjoyed that type of workout for nearly two years, ALL I want to do right now is go to yoga. This may be the incredibly rare occasion I just let something go to waste. I had to get charged this month in order to cancel my membership, so I'm trying to think of it more as a cancellation fee than me actually wasting money. And my yoga membership is unlimited, so I think of it as cheaper with every class I attend. So really I'm saving money. Somehow.

Speaking of saving money by spending it, I used my REI 20% off discount to get a new Hydroflask water bottle. I won my old one in a raffle at a now defunct yoga studio 3 years ago, so I felt it was time. And you don't get to apply coupons to those suckers too often. I immediately added my two favorite stickers and the bright mint color brings me joy every time I look at it. (And hydration every time I take a sip from the straw lid I also had to buy because I'm apparently too lazy to drink out of a normal mouth water bottle, bringing up the bottle ALL the way to my mouth is just too much and I never ever drink from it. Some things about yourself you just have to accept and try to work around.)


This was Cora at school one day this week. Her bow was clearly too frivolous for her "hard work."

She was wearing her bow again later in the pictures we got from recess. No preschooler takes her work more seriously than Cora; no "practical life" centers, no baby dolls or sorting or playing in sand- all things she loves doing at home. It's all handwriting and letters and numbers all the time. She has a job to do and she is 100% focused on doing it. I love that her preschool sends us snapshots into their day.

Speaking of Cora, Facebook did one of those heart-tugging timehop things on Thursday that let me know this delightful little ball of pure JOY looked like this 4 years ago. 4 years! And now she's tall and lean and strong and wearing a Girl's Size 6!

I no longer shop in the Toddler section and I never will again for one of my own babies. All those years of slightly cheaper usually even more adorable options? Gone. It's all big kid all the way. My wallet and my heart are sad. I miss baby Cora. I would like almost-big-kid-Cora to remain as well, but I would ALSO like a baby Cora again at the same time. I feel like science should be able to make that happen for me.

But since it can't, let's talk about shopping. I've decided I need a new date night dress. The few I have have been worn multiple times and I'm done with them. I want something new and in the fancy restaurant flavor of sexy. I have two contenders I just ordered from Nordstrom rack. They're nearly identical, which is making it very hard to choose.

Option A: bebe Mock Neck Strappy

Option B: Taylor Twist Neck Halter

This will probably get sorted when they arrive and I try them on, but why not agonize just a little bit beforehand? That's the fun part of shopping. I also snuck out for 20 minutes today to try to find a new Easter dress at TJ Maxx, the closest discount store to my house. I found this one and then rejected it because I thought it was too bright and unflattering, but now I'm looking at the picture and wondering why on earth I didn't buy it. We're leaving for Houston for Easter straight from Claire's soccer game tomorrow morning, so I have no time to rectify my mistake, but I now wish I had been able to pack this new little guy instead of a 3-year-old navy/white striped dress I've worn a million times. Sometimes restraint is not a virtue.

the one that got away

Moving on to food, but still also a little bit of shopping. I bought this new little new kitchen tool after using one at my aunt's house in Atlanta and I LOVE it. It breaks up ground beef/chicken/turkey/whatever and it is my new favorite toy. I made beef, bean, and cheese burritos on Monday night and I loved not trying to use the side of my big plastic spoon to break up the ground beef into teeny tiny pieces that soaked up all the seasoning so much better than big chunks. If you like kitchen tools and cook with the occasional ground meat or sausage, you should get one. It makes me happy to have something perform a specific function so very well.

On to the past week's menu!

Sunday: Vegetable Lasagna (inspired by that recipe, but it's pretty flexible; I dropped the turkey and added spinach, broccoli, and carrot). I made two because a friend hurt her leg Friday night playing softball and couldn't get out of bed. I feel like there's little more comforting than a carb-filled dinner you didn't make yourself.

Monday: Bean, Beef, & Cheese burritos (Cook and season up your beef. Take out a tortilla and layer refried black beans, ground beef, and a sprinkle of cheese and make a little burrito. Do that 12 more times until you fill a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with a little more cheese and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Serve topped with your usual taco toppings like diced tomato, avocado, and sliced olives. Your kids will love you.)

Tuesday: Sunshine Lentil Bowls. Family forever favorite. I don't make the dressing anymore because Trader Joe's has a refrigerated fresh Green Goddess dressing that is perfection. Make sure you add goat cheese. (Unless you're Landon, then don't, but everyone else thinks you're crazy.)

Wednesday: Pasta with Prosciutto and Peas. I used that recipe as a base but switched prosciutto for ham; it was good, but honestly not the best version of this recipe I've made. I need to google my way back to the last time I made it because it was better.

Thursday: Out. It was a gorgeous night and we needed tacos and margaritas, so tacos and margaritas were had.

Friday: Sausage and White Bean Soup. I think if you used fresh spinach this would be very good. I had some shredded up frozen spinach and it sort of disintegrated into the soup at the last stage. I still brought it to our friends' house and they said it was good, but I felt betrayed by the greenness of it and ate a brat and half a cheeseburger for dinner instead.

Also on Friday the kids helped me make two desserts for Easter weekend. I've secretly taste tested them both and they are DELICIOUS.

Lemon Bars. The little bakery in Kingwood that sold ones my parents loved is still closed from Harvey and the floods, so I thought I'd bring them some from my own kitchen. These are super lemony and while not as good as they bakery, my little sliver I cut out from the side to taste was very very good.

Oreo Truffles. I usually think of these as a December holiday treat, but why not Easter too? Mostly I just wanted something chocolate-y and didn't want to bake a cake while also attempting lemon bars. The kids loved being decorators and who doesn't love oreos?

I hope you all have a lovely holiday weekend!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

And the Children Will Lead Them

You guys, we did about 100 things this weekend (soccer game! birthday party! a Casa Manana children's play! Orangetheory! yoga! all the errands!), but I am still distracted, awed, and deeply moved by the power of the March for our Lives in Fort Worth on Saturday morning.

The high school age daughter of a friend of mine was the co-organizer of the March and I have never been a part of anything so powerful. Student organized- from meetings with the city, the police, and the permit office, to running the facebook page and answering questions near-instantly from those interested and defending their march just as quickly to those who quickly took to the page to try to tear it apart- and student led, it was an inspiration.

Claire had a soccer game, so James stayed with her while I left early to make it to the March with Landon and Cora. We arrived just in time for the speeches to begin, immediately running into good friends, and immediately impressed and overwhelmed by the articulate, passionate speeches being calmly given over the yells and bullhorns of the counter-protesters behind us.

Every speaker was a student. A few from our local high school, the school our kids will go to, and then more from other area high schools around us. My friend's daughter Lillian, is giving hers here.

As she said, "Politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now." My mom is a high school teacher, so I know well how impressive these students can be, but as I cried and cheered and snuggled my Cora in her butterfly tutu dress with sparkly star marching boots, I had such hope. These kids are the future and I stand behind them.

Oh, is this her first March?"
No, her 4th.

One of the other high school speakers said, "I was born the year after Columbine. This is the only reality I’ve known, and frankly, I’m ready for a new one.” I read something this morning that said, these students may be the generation of school shootings, but they're also the generation of Harry Potter. They believe they have power and they believe change is possible. I think that's such a powerful thing. Rather than my generation and the ones before me, which seem to collectively shrug our shoulders at the latest images of children in body bags with "if only there was something we can do" while living in the only fucking country where this happens, they call BS. We're the United States. We're filled with smart, passionate people. Of course we could do something, we and our elected leaders have just decided not to. I hope that changes. I hope those who won't work for a solution - who won't even TALK about a solution, who won't even engage in that debate of ideas or support research into measures that could help, who pretend that ANY regulation no matter how minor is a nonstarter- I hope those who send only thoughts and prayers are voted out. I hope the "well-regulated" part of the 2nd Amendment gets to have meaning again. I hope gun reform because the new single-issue vote. I hope that those who claim to be pro-life start acting like they mean it once that child actually has a life. I hope for much, but as I look at the students running every aspect of a massive event as smoothly as could be, I feel my hopes are justified.

And until then, we will donate and march and vote.

And we will be buoyed by a really good day.

A day filled with friends and neighbors, classmates, teachers, and fellow yogis.

Cora ran into four schoolmates from her class of 12 and none of us knew the others were going. James saw swim school clients and at least two of Landon's teachers were present.

I went to take a picture of a sparkly sign I saw a little girl was holding in her stroller and realized the sign-holder and her family were our neighbors down the street.

The grandmas were out in force, including dozens in "grannies for gun control" t-shirts and even more who couldn't march parked along the route, cheering and waving at us as we marched past. I saw both my grandmas in each and every one.

James and Claire made it just before the end, James as shocked and thrilled as me at the turnout.

All in all, Fort Worth turned out 8,000 people for the March for Our Lives. I LOVE this funky town.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a journalist, author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservationist, for whom a high school in Florida was named after long before 34 kids and faculty were killed and injured by a former student armed with an AR-15, once said: "Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption, and bad politics, but never give up."

I think she'd be so proud of her high schoolers now. (If you haven't watched Emma Gonzalez's speech at the 800,000+ person March in Washington, DC you should; it's here and it's incredible).

DC crowds

I read a heartbreaking interview between the 1999 Columbine survivors and the recent Parkland survivors and one of the Columbine students said, “I just hope you know that it’s not that we didn’t try. It’s not that we didn’t speak out. It’s just that nobody listened.”

Well, we're here and we're listening and we're with you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Blood Work and Other Recipes

So we're back in the real world where you have to go to work and you don't get to fly big airplanes or drink margaritas on a veranda every day at 4:00.

The real world kind of sucks.

It sucks more when your nanny gets stuck in Chicago coming home from Spring Break and can't pick up your kids and your husband's pool's electricity goes out on his first day of his busiest session ever (new swim school record! SO MANY people to contact to change plans!) so he can't do the grocery shopping. I had a splitting headache by the time I got home from work (stopping at our sweet friend's house who picked up both big kids for me) and rushed to get Claire ready for soccer (which another friend took her to) before picking up Cora and heading out to Costco and Trader Joe's to stock our fridge and pantry with food for the week. I don't know what James packed in the kids' lunches that morning, but it was not nutritionally balanced. I had planned to go to yoga that night after James got home, but he found me drinking a large glass of wine instead. That was my yoga.

On Tuesday I headed to an early doctor's appointment before work. It was supposed to be at 8:00, the first appointment of the day, but I wasn't seen until 8:55 which is SO annoying when there's no explanation or token apology or acknowledgement that you've been waiting for nearly an HOUR to see a doctor and then I had blood work after that required another 40 minutes of waiting. A 2-hour appointment all because I failed my glucose test as part of my routine blood work at my last OB/GYN check-up. I super failed it. Like when I googled my result the interwebs told me I had diabetes and should lose 10% of my body weight and introduce 30 minutes of exercise daily. I mean, I know I just turned 35, but it was not supposed to all fall apart this fast.

Obviously I freaked out and texted my nutritionist friend who told me glucose tests are finicky and to take it again before googling anything (too late; sorry Kelly). My OB told me to retake the test and follow-up with my general practitioner, so I did. I got the new result right before the trip and it was back down in the normal range (thus the allowable margarita drinking), skipping over the fairly wide "prediabetes" range yet again, but at least this time in the right direction? But it was still a high normal, which I did not like. It felt like I was getting a D on my test, so once again I texted my nutritionist friend. I needed to know: is this a test where any passing score is good? Or is a lower score better? Because I can study next time and take it again. I mean, I got a nearly perfect score on the SAT the first time I took it in high school and took it again because I wanted to know if I could fix what I missed (I could not; I got the exact same score, which annoys me to this day). She told me it was fine and then my GP told me I could get an A1C reading (3-month glucose average, which I think is an amazing thing for a simple blood draw to tell you) to reassure me, so I did that and it was my best score yet, and even though I suck at giving blood and my arm is all bruised because finding a vein is impossible, it did make me feel better. I do not like failing tests.

So that's my story of abnormal blood work. It leaves out a LOT of alarming google reading. Also my LDL cholesterol was on the high end of the normal range (and higher than it used to be) so I'm eyeing our menus to make sure we're getting enough fiber and adding more fish. My HDL number was high also, but that's the good one and my doctor said I got an A+ there, which balances the report card a bit. All in all, I love getting blood work results because it's a good check on various aspects of your health and it gives you lots of things to google which is an activity I enjoy greatly.

I also got back to yoga on Tuesday after a 10 day vacation hiatus. It was terrible and wonderful. My balance was shot all to hell and I nearly grunted the first time I pushed up into a high plank, a move I can usually do without any effort at all. It's always shocking how quickly you lose strength at something like, but luckily, it's also reassuring to know it comes back. You also get to be re-impressed with yourself for being able to do any of it because it's hard and you forget when you go every day.

I also did Orangetheory this morning for the first time in 2.5 months. It didn't bring me joy. I must say for as much as I still recommend OTF and think it's an excellent workout, I haven't missed it. I'm just in yoga mode right now. I want to listen to a soothing voice tell me I'm doing great and then verbally guide me to inner peace. I do not want to hear a pumped up voice yelling over music about upping my rowing RPM's. Both sets of instructors are awesome and doing exactly what they should be doing, I just only want one version right now. But I have 8 OTF classes to use up before my membership can be canceled and I will use them all because I hate wasting money even more than I currently hate rowing and running. But I'm power-walking them all. It's my subtle form of personal rebellion.

Moving on to food! That feels appropriately inappropriate to spend the rest of the post talking about. But it's the semi-healthy, hearty, homemade food and that really mostly dominates my life. I love and savor and greatly anticipate delicious restaurant meals, but I do not like lots of them in a row and by the end of any trip I'm always so sick of eating out and so ready for normal food again. I'm not even sure what normal food is... I just know I want it and I want it to come from my kitchen. We didn't even eat out that much on this trip (once a day? and several times that was a sandwich or salad to-go), but James and I were both giddy with anticipation at planning our next two weeks of meals on the drive home from Atlanta. And since this week's menu has a lot of recipes that are just "mine" - ones I've made so often they're memorized and/or tweaked so much they're no longer the recipes I started with, it seemed like a good opportunity to write them out. Because I use this blog to google my way back to my own recipes I've forgotten all the time.

First up, Lunches: Protein Egg Lentil Jars. I continue to love these so much. I don't usually add the quinoa, I just do all lentil because Trader Joe's sells pre-cooked ones in the refrigerated produce section and they're super easy dump in the mason jar. So portable, so yummy, sufficiently filling, and brightly colored. Everything I crave after a road trip.

my Tuesday, Thursday, Friday desk meal

And now dinners:

Monday: Mexican Rice

1 lb. ground beef (or turkey), browned with diced onion and garlic
1 small can tomato paste
1 regular can tomato sauce
1 can water (from tomato sauce can)
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
(1-2 tsp. sugar; I never add it, but it's in the original recipe)
1 cup cooked rice (I use the bags of frozen brown rice from Trader Joe's, microwaved just before adding to pot at the end.)

1. Brown beef with onion and garlic, drain fat.
2. Add rest of ingredients except rice, simmer for 20+ minutes (it's better the longer it goes).
3. Before serving, add 1 cup cooked rice, stir to heat through.
4. Top with shredded cheese, lettuce, diced tomato, sliced olives, avocado, etc. Fritos or tortilla chips on top are also a must.

(Meal unpictured, but Landon set the table and he turned all of our napkins into little dogs, complete with eyeballs from a nearby Sharpie and it was the cutest.)

Tuesday: Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwiches, leftover bags of baked chips from the car ride, bell pepper sticks and cucumber slices

Cooked, diced chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 cup pesto (homemade or prepared; the Kirkland brand pesto from Costco is amazing and I'll never make it from scratch again)
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced fresh mozzarella
Good rolls

1. Combine chicken, pesto, and yogurt (play with amounts until you get the mix you want; I like mine just wet enough to bind together, but not overly saucy). Refrigerate if not serving immediately.
2. Open roll, add pesto, then layer chicken salad, tomatoes, fresh mozz, and arugula. Wrap individually in foil.
3. Bake sandwich packets at 350 for 15-20 minutes until mozzarella gets melty and amazing.

Wednesday: Turkey & Vegetable Lettuce Wrap Stirfry

1 lb. ground turkey
minced garlic
1 onion, diced
1 can water chestnuts, drained then chopped (I buy the sliced ones and then chop up those, I find it's easier than chopping from whole)
2+ Tbl soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 Tbl rice vinegar
2+ tsp freshly grated ginger (it really is better fresh, but you can use powdered too)
Shredded cabbage (lots; to taste)
Shredded carrots (lots; to taste)
Other vegetables to taste (I like sliced up snow peas and broccoli; really whatever you have. If you're a mushroom person, I'm sure they would be delicious.)
Cooked rice or Trader Joe's frozen vegetable fried rice
(Sriracha optional)

1. Brown turkey with garlic and onions, drain fat.
2. Add wet ingredients and fresh ginger, cook 2-3 minutes until sauce melds into the turkey.
3. Add fresh vegetables and rice, stir fry 3-5 minutes until everything is warm and wonderful. Serve in bowls, topped with Sriracha if you're a spicy person.

(Forgot a picture until the end; the rest of us had inhaled ours, but Cora still had enough to capture in a photo. If you zoom in.)

Thursday: Balsamic Braised Chicken (I actually precisely follow the recipe here), mashed potatoes (from the refrigerated section at Costco; they are the BEST and I will never make them from scratch again because why), steamed broccoli.

Friday: Greek Farro Salad, Naan Pizzas (TJ's naan bread, drizzled with olive oil, then crumbled feta and shredded mozzarella and baked at 425 for 5-10 mins)

1 cup farro, cooked, drained and cooled (can also be quinoa, but farro is my new love)
1 pint (or more!) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 English cucumber, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1 purple onion, diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1 block feta cheese, chopped into chunks

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil (originally recipe called for 1/2; I like my dressing vinegary)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper

1. Whisk together dressing ingredients
2. Mix together all the rest of the ingredients, add dressing. Chill or eat immediately. Or both.

Saturday: Vegetable Lasagna, garlic bread. (I make it following this recipe exactly, except I double the carrot, add chopped broccoli, and skip the turkey... so almost exactly.)

And finally, as a gift for making it this far in a very scattered post, we had this potato salad at my aunt and uncle's house and it was AMAZING. Like many of the best recipes, it was copied from one of those compiled "send us your favorite recipe" church fundraiser cookbooks. I'm not a huge potato salad person (mostly because I don't really like mayo and I really hate mustard), but I loved this. I ate it in large quantities. Make it as soon as possible.

Maria's Zesty Potato Salad

4 large potatoes, cooked and diced
3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup sliced radishes
1 tsp Accent
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbl yellow mustard
2 tsp vinegar (*my aunt uses Tarragon vinegar)
1 tsp dill weed
1/2 tsp black pepper

1. In a small bowl combine Accent, salt, mayo, mustard, vinegar, dill weed, and black pepper.
2. Prepare remaining ingredients and combine in large mixing bowl.
3. Add prepared "sauce" and mix thoroughly, being gentle with potatoes.
4. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

And finally FINALLY, I was cleaning out my desk before dinner (the stirfy takes about 12 minutes to make, one of it's finer features, so I had lots of time for organizing tonight) and I found a stack of pictures my grandma had mailed me a few weeks ago. Here I am, age 4-5ish, proudly holding my new golf bag. I'm not sure why I was so proud given that I never played golf and when I tried I was terrible at it, but who doesn't love a new accessory? Do I look like one of my children? I feel like I'm a little Cora-ish? Hard to tell without a tutu.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Atlanta: Family, Food, Whale Sharks, and Airplane Slides

WE'RE HOME! It was such a wonderful trip and all went so well, but as Claire said when we crossed into Texas this afternoon, "Mom, this is going to sound weird because I LOVE our vacations, but I am just SO EXCITED to sleep in my own bed tonight.". Not weird at all baby girl. Though when I said that she immediately corrected me that I still don't actually get to sleep in my OWN bed, but I assured her I liked it that way and daddy was an excellent sharer of covers. So we're home; we pulled in the driveway at 8:02 p.m. and by 8:10 I was in my car headed to the grocery store while James and the kids started the unload/put-away process. The kids were in bed by 8:30 (Cora was already asleep when I got home from the store, poor exhausted bunny), all the clothes, snacks, and miscellany was put away soon after, and this post is now coming to you from my TV room couch while Sneaky Pete Season 2 plays on our old TV. It is glorious. I'm supposed to go to an Orangetheory class in the morning (I'd paused my membership to focus on yoga and now I have to use up some classes) but that sounds terrible and I have 26 minutes left to decide if I'm going to cancel or not. (I'm probably going to cancel. And then I'm going to regret canceling while also NOT regretting canceling; these unused classes are already inserting a lot guilt into my life.) So let's go back to our vacation!

Sharer of Covers; Explorer of Caves

Atlanta was our last stop. After a way too long drive over from Great Smoky Mountain (google originally promised 4.5 hours and it turned out to be closer to 7) right into rush hour traffic in Atlanta, we made our way to my aunt and uncle's beautiful home in Peachtree City. The kids exploded out of the car, gave many pets to the dog (actually my cousin Cara's dog, but she's a flight attendant so he's long-term camping out in Georgia with her parents), exclaimed over the THREE LEVELS OF STAIRS in the house, and were immediately whisked off on a golf cart ride with my Uncle Carl.

James answered some swim school emails that had popped up along our drive and my aunt and I made margaritas (and then dinner) in the kitchen. I'd already stuffed all our dirty clothes in their washer and it was so good to be home. Even better if it's not my home and I now live on a lake and golf course and have a golf cart with driver to take my kids on adventures every day.

We had a fantastic meal, much wine, and tucked the kids up in their separate rooms on the 3rd floor. So much good sleeping was going to happen in this house and after 5 days on the road, it was perfect timing. We woke up on Day 6 with plans to drive to my cousin Alyssa's house (a 3-story town home; once again my kids were overcome with jealousy over all the stair climbing our house doesn't have), get a tour, play with her dog, and then meet her husband for lunch at the Atlanta Braves stadium. Beyond all the stairs, and the dog, the kids were MOST impressed with Alyssa's Disney movie collection and movie room in the basement with projection screen. They were not at all sure why we had to leave such a magical place.

But leave we did, now with James who had woken up early to go swim (he did this in Gatlinburg too; trying out pools all over the country is an essential part of his vacation) and met us at Alyssa's. We headed to the Brave's stadium, possibly taking a wrong exit because my uncle, the airline Captain and Air Force Academy grad, is not the best navigator, for a delicious pizza lunch at Antico. We ordered an absurd amount of pizza but very nearly finished it all.

Post-lunch we were off to the Georgia Aquarium. While we are experts at zoos, my kids had never been to an aquarium! (Well Landon went in Chicago a few times, but he obviously has no memory of that.) They were enraptured.

They made friends with a whale shark.

And were awed by giant stingrays.

They popped their heads up in a penguin habitat, watched Belugas dance, and laughed over the antics of the sea and river otters. Cora danced in front of the wall with ALL the fishes and James's dreams of one day owning a giant aquarium were reignited, killing my dream that he'd forgotten about that one.

The evening was more tasty food, even better margaritas, and more golf cart rides for the kids. James worked, my uncle fell asleep, and I stayed up too late chatting with my aunt. On Saturday morning my uncle was up at 4:30 to get the pork butt smoking on his much beloved Big Green Egg. I have no idea when the kids got up, but they were happily eating poppy seed bread ("PapaSeed bread," per Cora, since my mom always makes it before we visit), cheese, and fruit when I got downstairs. James was off swimming in another pool and we had big plans to go to the Delta headquarters and museum when he got back.

This ended up being one of our coolest days of the trip. My uncle has flown for Delta since leaving the Air Force (well, active duty; he was a reservist for a long time), but we've never been to his office or gotten to see him in action. My parents had toured the Delta Museum when they visited a few months ago so we knew we were in for a treat.

The museum is great and shows the history of Delta, the companies it bought or merged with over time, and just generally of passenger flight in the US. It is also filled with vintage artifacts that we had to drag James away from (never go with him to an antique store; you will NEVER be allowed to leave) and even I got caught up in the display of flight attendant uniforms throughout the years. Cora buckled herself into the first coach seat she saw in the 737 and was ready to take off to Disney World immediately.

Ready to reunite with her princess besties

After exiting the museum we got to climb into a retired 747. I'd never been in a double-decker airplane and had to admit the same thrill as the kids to climb up stairs "INSIDE a plane!!" to go buckle myself into first class on the second level (I fit just fine in the lie-flat seats, but we discovered James had to keep his knees bent just a little, so really he might as well stick to coach). We toured the cockpit, the crew sleeping quarters, and pretty much every inch of the plane.

That awesome tour complete, we headed in to the corporate headquarters to see my uncle's office. We made our way through the command center and schedulers (very intense), the flight attendant training facilities (we now feel confident we can evacuate any of Delta's thirteen planes), the pool area where they test emergency water landings (we also feel qualified on those, should you need to fly over an ocean), and slid down an evacuation slide somewhere in the middle of the two. It was awesome.

Haven't you just always wanted to do that? But best of all was at the end when we got to get a look inside the training simulators! The cockpits of the new planes are really fancy and we were shocked to see how... less fancy the not-that-much-older planes were, like the one my uncle is currently flying.

Then we got to step up and captain our own simulated take offs and landings. It was amazing!! It was so shocking to do a run, feel the turbulence and movement and then step away from the cockpit and realize the rest of the simulator wasn't moving at all.

The kids took their flying very seriously.

Here Cora is captain and Landon is helping her with all the switches because her arms are too short. There's good reason to be fully grown when you start to fly.

I got to do a takeoff and landing. My landing was much better than my takeoff (which isn't saying much, since I crashed the former), but I wouldn't recommend myself as your captain anytime soon. In my defense, I haven't had much training.

Carl showed us how it's done and I must say, it turns out those extra years of training and experience REALLY do make a difference.

James loved it - I think he'd like flying a lot more if he could sit in the cockpit and drive the plane, and the kids are all going to grow up to be pilots now.

James and I are looking forward to a future of free flights.

We finally had to drag ourselves away about 2:30 when we realized we hadn't had lunch and were starving to death. A delicious lunch later and we were back at home, the kids once again in the golf cart with Carl (the Carl who'd gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to start dinner) and my aunt and I were prepping side dishes and blending more margaritas. I'm pretty sure I gained 10 lbs. in the 3 days at the house but man was every bite (and sip!) delicious. (Annnnd I just canceled my morning OTF class, which felt appropriate to mention here.) We ate on the porch, watching the sun set over the lake and waving at golfers as they passed by (and/or hit balls onto their yard). Dessert was homemade peach cobbler and seriously, I was so uncomfortable I could barely move or pack, but I had no regrets.

We left Atlanta at 8 a.m. eastern time this morning and got home at 8 p.m. central time. We gained an hour but wasted it on bathroom stops along the way. Cora is the only one excited about going back to school/reality tomorrow - when we were all complaining about our return to reality on in the car she perked up with, "Oh! I am SO 'CITED to go back to my school Mama!!" Though I guess if I could return to preschool, I'd be excited too. Mostly I think she just wants to nap again. "I'm so TIRED, Mama," she told me repeatedly today. That girl loves her sleep, though not enough to give up a viewing of Beauty and the Beast or the Aristocats on her kindle to get it.

We had a lively discussion somewhere in the middle of Mississippi over our favorite part of the vacation. The flight simulator in Atlanta! No, the aquarium! The golf cart rides! Oh wait THE CAVE! Climbing along the river rocks in Great Smoky! Touching the hot springs! Touring the old bath house! (Okay, that one was James.) Each part was so different (historic! mammoth! scenic! airline captainy!) it really is impossible to pick, but it was all so fun and worked out so perfectly.

We drove a total of 2,468 miles through 9 states over 8 days. We visited 3 National Parks, several cities, and one lovely branch of our family tree. Our new map pins are in place and we can't wait to plan to pin some more!