Saturday, July 25, 2020


My offensive spam comments remain out of control and it's led me to contemplate closing comments off completely. Which then led me to wonder if I'd blog at all without the feedback? I'm not a particularly active blogger these days, but I know some of you have been reading since my large teenage child was a tiny law school baby and I enjoy knowing you're out there and seeing your names popup in the comments always makes me smile. And the outlet remains important, though somewhat less so as I have more peers and local friends. This blog was one of my only connections to others for a long while and I will forever be thankful for the connection, support, and extrovert battery charge you provided me. I still love to write, but I write considerably less about the kids as they get older and will continue to funnel them down with age.

But more than the spam, which are gross but ignore-able, what has led me to thinking about just taking a break from blogging is that I just feel fragile right now. On my best day, I am treading water and that water is at my chin. The merging of all my roles into one house 24/7 has taken me from feeling pretty good about the wearing of my many hats to feeling barely adequate at any of them. And I think it's from that place, and that current lack of confidence, that I've found this push of fear every time a comment pops up in my email inbox. I find that rather than smile, I brace myself. It's like I know I literally cannot handle hearing that I am failing at anything else when I already feel like I'm failing at so much. And it has no basis in fact- y'all are great, and critiques and criticisms are voiced completely appropriately, but the feelings are there. Maybe it's all the spam putting comments in my mind but I have literally spent nights dreaming about people yelling at me in comments and been devastated until I woke up and realized they aren't even there. The irrationality of it all is what makes me realize that these feelings are coming from somewhere else, and maybe that somewhere else needs to be protected right now.

Signs that appeared on my door one day

On a practical note, now that I wake up and rollover to stare at my dual work computer screens and am never more than a couple hundred feet from them, I find I need the break at night all the more. As I read somewhere, we're not working from home, we're living at work, and even though work has been very accommodating, and I'm so lucky to have been able to just stay home during this time when so many of my local friends have been forced back to their offices, it's still always THERE. The unwinding at night, my hour or two away from devices to just be with James and protect that time that is ours, has grown more important now that we're always here rather than less.

How the kids have taken to communicating with me

But I don't know. My archives are precious to me. I use them all the time to find pictures or stories or recipes- like my own personal google. Maybe I will go to a password-protected version? I know readership would be much smaller, but maybe it will feel less vulnerable? Or will that lack of engagement, knowing few are reading, make opening my laptop to draft something even less likely than it is now? I've seen almost every blogger I started reading "retire" and have often wondered how long I'd keep going. After 13.5 years, more than 2,000 posts, and millions of words, it's hard to imagine being done. So I'm not, but maybe I'm pausing? I'm certainly thinking about it, and there's an element of relief to those feelings that feels telling.

Also telling, this is not at ALL what I intended to write about (thus, the title). Rather, I was planning to muse and update on some random things going on around here (to the extent anything is going on around here).

Like we sold the big heavy country style chairs that came with our table (generously donated to us from my parents' second lake house 8 years ago) and replaced them with these more mid-century modern-inspired teal chairs and I LOVE THEM. They completely change the look of the eating area and let the beautiful solid wood table really shine. This is also where my pets stare at me in the morning when I go to make my tea without feeding them first.

Speaking of pets, we took Maggie to the lake house last weekend and left Moose under the care of one of Landon's friends who adores our baby cat. His mom texted me that within an hour of leaving, A had taken off on his scooter to come check on Moose. "He needs me Mom."

Moose is very intrigued by my nightly bathing

Anyway, since we've been back, these two little fur siblings have been closer than ever before. Moose snuggles with Maggie wherever she may be and Maggie remains happily bemused by Moose's attempts to play with her. The other day I was standing in the kitchen and out of nowhere Moose shot across the living room, jumped upon Maggie's sleeping head like a springboard, and launched himself up on the couch. Maggie's head popped up mid-snore, looked all around, and then went right back to sleep. They crack me up.

In other updates, I assembled my new desk while on a conference call last week and I love it. As much as I can love having a desk in my bedroom anyway. It fits neatly in the corner, so our french doors are no longer blocked by my folding table, and my new chair is a huge step up from the dining chair I was using.

The accent wall continues to make my heart flutter. We have a new navy quilt and it's really made the old rug and bench shine. The art print I ordered on Etsy arrived from Spain yesterday and the frame I ordered should be here Monday. Someday James will paint the walls and ceiling and in the meantime I will continue to appreciate my new work/sleep space.

In another decorating nod, I finally gave in to the Facebook ads and ordered Mixtiles. We painted the tiny hallway that connects the kids' rooms to the TV room and replaced the light fixture back in April and now it feels like a real part of the house. And that part was barren and sad. Since it's a space no one but us ever uses, I decided to go with family pictures and the Mixtiles were a cheap and easy addition.

I picked out and cropped up some favorite portraits over the years and really love the results, particularly for a total of just over $100. They aren't the highest quality prints- definitely look elsewhere for that, but they have a sticky strip on the back that is easy to "hang," fully repositionable, and they really light up the hallway. The kids LOVE THEM.

Finally, I went to the dermatologist on Thursday and for the first time in five years, I didn't have a single thing to biopsy and don't have to go back for a FULL YEAR! As I've detailed here many times, I've put a lot of time, money, and effort into taking care of my skin since my first skin cancer at age 32. High-quality skin care I now use religiously, daily vitamins (Heliocare!), an obsession with shade and umbrellas, UPF protective clothing when shade can't be found (rash guards, tops, swim leggings, and even hats, though I still hate how they look on me; favorite brands are Free Fly, Cabana Life, and Coolibar; looking at a top at BloqUV- has anyone ordered from there?), IPL/BBL photofacials (that's mostly vanity, but it has mattered to me to pull out some of the damage to my skin and "restart" and feel proud of it again), and sunscreen EVERY DAY (Elta MD UV Clear is my favorite by far; my makeup also has SPF, but I so rarely wear makeup these days, I'm back to just putting on sunscreen each morning).

My two biggest PSAs are to get yearly checks at your dermatologist and put sunscreen on your chest and neck each time you apply it to your face. Growing up, I was actually pretty good about sunscreening my face, but my skin cancers have been on my chest and the side of my neck, which are just as vulnerable to regular sun exposure.

And finally, finally, food:

Sat: BBQ Salmon Bowls with Mango Salsa, with black beans and brown rice.
Sun: Aunty Lee's Lasagna, salad, garlic bread.
Mon: Summer Chipotle Chicken Cobb Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette.
Tues: Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls, with taco beef and flour tortillas on the side for those who need more meat and carbs on their plate.
Wed: Pasta with leftover lasagna sauce.
Thurs: Southwest Black Bean Casserole
Fri: OUT.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lake House Weekend Redux

Last weekend we went to visit my parents to reattempt our 4th of July lake trip and celebrate Landon, my brother, and my sister-in-law's birthdays. We drove over late Friday and on Saturday morning headed straight to the marina. It's a valet service, so the boat was already in the parking lot, we boarded, and then someone drove over with a tractor to tow us into the water. It was a pretty amazing setup, particularly in this time of social distancing.

We drove (boated?) to an island that the kids conquered during PapaGigi Camp and they were so excited to get to show us. I wore my other kimono over my suit and took what would be my last picture in my favorite sun glasses.

We lounged in the water near the boat, sat on the sand, and wore our protective SPF sun gear.

(Update: my mom is doing GREAT after round-2 of her post-skin cancer nose reconstruction; it was a really rough procedure, but she looks amazing and is so glad to have it behind her. SPF, hats, and rash guards forever.)

The swim mat was sat and wrestled upon.

My brother and his wife pulled up in their boat. As always, he was bearing toys and pretty soon everyone was attempting to stand-up paddleboard.

The kids mastered it immediately.

I did pretty well, but a boat went by and the waves knocked me down. I popped up laughing, only later realizing my sunglasses didn't come with me. We searched but the lake gods had taken them as a donation. Still, the day was worth the price of admission.

More boats arrived at the island, so we released our spot and headed for calmer water so I could redeem myself on the paddleboard. I did and set out to explore the shore with the 3 kids. Landon raced me heading back and beat me by an undisclosed number of yards.

We listened to music, lounged, ate sandwiches on the boat. It was such a nice day among the trees (Sam Houston National Forest!) and totally spaced out from other people on our little island of a tritoon.

Eventually Eric & Tamires headed home (they live on the other side of the lake from my parents) and we bowed to the kids pleas for a third and final anchoring - this time in the middle of a "deep part" so they could swim under the boat, another fond memory from PapaGigi camp. It cracked me up what pros they were on the boat. And how they always automatically sit in age order.

Apparently the deep water is where you do the jumping.

James declared that he does not jump on vacation.

We boated home, waiting near the ramp until our tractor driving friend could tow us out. He pulled us into a parking spot and drove off, leaving us to disembark and get in our cars to drive home. Turns out there's a drive through frozen margarita stand one mile down the road from their house, so obviously we made a loop through. It was SUCH a nice day.

That night E&T came back over for their birthday dinner of brisket, sides, and my now-famous ice cream cake (literally ice cream sandwiches stacked with cool whip and covered in crushed Oreos and Hershey's magic shell). We played games, me exhibiting my stellar ladders form.

It was a really nice weekend. Relaxed, sunny, easy, and only 95 degrees outside instead of 110.

We headed home Sunday after brunch (brisket breakfast tacos; a favorite combo), thankful for the escape. We returned home to groceries and laundry and were back at the working and stay-homing Monday morning. Despite the very best of my intentions, I have not worked out since I pre-recorded my barre class on Friday. Similarly, in a burst of physical fitness, Maggie attempted to explore my parents' backyard trail through the trees, but gave up partway down and surrendered to the elements.

Maggie is all of us. Or certainly me.

I think it's the heat, the fact that work is always within arm's reach, and the general lack of boundaries in my life right now that just make working out seem impossible. If I didn't teach two classes a week I'm not sure I'd ever move. Anyway, we're off topic. The lake was great, I felt good in this one-piece swim suit that mildly scandalized the girls with its visible cleavage, and I like kimonos now. On to food!

Sunday: Garlic Herb Spaghetti (skipped the meatballs, served with TJ's pre-grilled chicken), raw veggies on the side
Monday: Tacos, Rice, Black Beans, Toppings
Tuesday: Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup, Bread
Wednesday: BBQ Beef with Beans, served over Brown Rice with toppings; raw sliced pepper on the side
Thursday: Creamy Orzo with Chicken Meatballs and Peppers, Side Salads
Friday: Takeout TBD

P.S. Thank you so much for your recs on the last post! I started reading the Kingmaker Chronicles by Amanda Bouchet and LOVE THEM. I finished book 1 at 2:00 a.m. this morning, which was a terrible decision, but really, what even is time right now. I'm still picking through the comments and will try to do an update/roundup type of post. Oh! And I got Vuori joggers. They felt great but were too short on me (I do not like capris) but I threw in some sale Sequoia Lounge Pants when I made the order and I love them more than anything, so that was a big win and I will now be wearing them every day. Hopefully everyone has a win in something this week!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

And We Have a Teenager

On Wednesday of last week, we had a birthday.

Our tiny baby Landon turned 13.


We have a teenager. And it is quite awesome.

We celebrated with our traditional decor, donuts with dad, and gift opening. Everyone wore party hats, some with more enthusiasm than others.

We had homemade cards, surprise gifts from little sisters who pooled their money together, thoughtful gifts from a blog reader, and his requested family gifts all of which involved gaming equipment now that he's living in a pandemic and gets to play Fortnite for an hour EVERY DAY instead of only an hour on weekends. (Sigh.)

He immediately shared his sisters' gift of tiny squishies by diving them out among them, because that is just exactly who Landon is.

He spent his day at backyard swim practice, playing with his new toys, talking to family, and getting very excited about his chosen dinner of smoked sausage, homestyle mac and cheese ("from the blue box with the fat noodles"), mixed veggies, strawberries, and Red Lobster cheddar biscuits (also from a box). It might not have been my finest culinary hour, but it was delicious and the birthday boy was thrilled.

His dessert of choice was ice cream from Marble Slab. I did the ordering and everyone ate outside. Landon declared it his favorite birthday cake of all the birthday cakes.

It's so hard to believe that my teeny tiny baby, who gave us such a shock when my water broke in a restaurant in downtown Chicago more than 5 weeks early, is 13. He's more than 2/3 through his years at home with us and that math hit James and I right in the heart.

But he's grown into such an amazing kid and we're so proud of him. As I was cleaning up the kitchen that night I heard James talking to Landon in his room, "You know we're so proud of you Landon, the person you are- your grades, hard work, and commitment to whatever you do, but also how kind you are to your sisters, your generosity, and the way you think about others. You're so special and we love you so much." And I said a very similar version later when I went to tuck him in (we still call it that, though he's been doing the tucking for some time).

One of the most fun and rewarding parts of your kids growing up before your eyes is seeing the little bits of what you value emerge from them. It doesn't all trickle down- and we don't always do the job we wish we did with promoting them- but when he does something like get up early to decorate the table on the 4th of July and make everyone patriotic pancakes as a surprise, I know he's doing that because of all the times we've decorated the table in a homemade kind of way for them. The way he looks out for others, his delight in his family, his adoration of his baby cousins and all small children, the way he's always carefully made presents for all the extended family when we celebrate Christmas together, or how he wrote personalized notes on all his classmates' Valentine's Day cards in elementary school ("you are a fast runner!", "You are a good friend!"), or how he was so worried that the Easter bunny might not respond to Cora's picture on Easter Eve this year that he came and knocked on our door at 10:30 to make sure we had written her back... you get to see little bits of what he's observed and loved reflected back out on others, mixed in with plenty of what makes him him.

He's a sweet soul and even mixed with tweenage boy humor and annoyances, it's been a joy to watch him become himself. Because I really feel like when we look at Landon now, we're looking at the Landon for all time. We have some refining and we certainly hope to remain a source for advice and reflection and thoughts on how to handle all the things, but Landon is mostly who he is.

And as I wrote on his birthday, who is he is is our old soul and first baby, exceedingly kind big brother, and excited holder of all the babies; generous and gentle, lover of animals, maker of pancakes. An avid reader, fast swimmer, and head of the family scooter gang, he’s been waking up at 5:30 am 3x a week to run 3-5 miles before swim practice for reasons I don’t fully understand. Currently obsessed with Moose the cat and still sad we didn’t give him more siblings, we are so blessed to have him as the leader of our little pack and can’t believe it’s been 13 years since he made us parents on a crazy night and early morning in Chicago, IL.

Happiest Birthday baby boy who might still occasionally read this blog, we love you so, and we're so excited to watch you become even more you in the years ahead,

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Happy New Things

Mindy Kaling used to have a blog called Things I Bought That I Love and that's pretty much what's happening here. After buttoning down on all spending in April and May (and slicing our average credit card bills in half for both months, which helped substantially in balancing out the sudden closure of the swim school during that time), I loosened up a little in June and searched out a few things I'd had on my window shopping list for a few months.

Online Shopping Helpers

Jeans: It's been years since I had a pair of dark denim jeans that were comfortable and fit well (and were long enough!!) and I decided to make it my June mission. I tried pairs from Old Navy, Target, and Amazon and these were my top two:
- Signature by Levi Pull-On Skinny Jeans, Size 4-Long, Amazon, $24. These were great and came highly recommended in my law mom group. Unfortunately, to fit me correctly in the hips (and thus, stay up and not create what James lovingly refers to as my fabric hip flaps) they dug in more in my belly than I prefer for my stay-at-home life, so I sent them back. But I highly recommend them to anyone who isn't built like an upside down triangle!
- Women's Low-Rise Jegging Jeans, Size 4-Long, Target, $25. Ultimately my wider waist and super narrow hips led me to this now elusive pair of low-rise jeans (oh yes, bringing the 90's back!). I like them a lot (though I could do with a little more length; always), but they're pretty true to size and very comfortable. These are my new jeans.

Tees: Now that I live at home and wear pajamas almost all the time I decided I needed a couple basic tees in my wardrobe (something I weirdly didn't have? I have exercise tanks, dressy/work shirts, and SPF tees, but I was lacking the basic "I can wear this in front of other people but it also could be pj's" type of t-shirt). I tried Target but didn't love theirs.
- Amazon Essentials Classic Fit Crew-Neck Tee, Amazon, 2 for $16. These from Amazon are perfection. I think they run slightly large, so the small is a perfect "fitted but not tight" fit on me (normally I'd look to a Medium for that). I bought the white + navy pack and the dark grey + lilac. I'm wearing one right now (I should note that I started this draft a week ago but I am in fact wearing one again now as I type).

Kimono cardigan: Yes! I have ventured out in a HUGE stay-at-home chic kind of way. I have purchased and worn a kimono and I lurve it. It's so light and airy and pretty and I wear it with my new t-shirts! Because I have t-shirts now and can layer it under something! It is light and airy and pretty and makes jean shorts and a t-shirt look very stylish on a video call. I also have a navy swim suit I can wear it with by the pool or beach. All in all I'm very pleased with what felt like a big leap in my wardrobe choices.

Kitchen Tools: I cook a LOT and realized I was reaching over some things in my kitchen drawer every time in order to get my hands on other, somewhat worn out items. So I cleaned out the drawer and got rid of a few things I just never used and replaced 2-3 things that I used constantly and were showing their wear. So I purchased:
- Blender, Costco, $70. I was re-stocking our freezer and pantry at Costco two weeks ago when I realized we didn't own a blender AND I was never going to get to drink a frozen margarita in a restaurant again, so this little guy found its way into my cart/heart. It blends ice very well and makes margaritas that almost make me think I'm not at home when I drink them.
- OXO Flat Wire Whisk, Amazon, $8. Love this thing for a pan sauce and my old cheap one had separated from its handle a year ago.
- Offset Spatula, Crate & Barrel, $8. One of my faves, my old one had a painted handle that started flaking off.
- Good Grips Hand-Held Mandoline Slicer, Amazon, $16 (with Cut-Resistant Gloves, Amazon, $10). A totally new item for me and it is SO fun. I now keep a glass container of sliced raw veggies in the fridge at all times that the kids snack on like chips.

What are your favorite kitchen tools? I also love my metal flex turner spatula, medium-size cookie scoop, Silpat pan liners, garlic press, big flexible spatulas.

Baking Dishes: Similar to the cooking tools I emptied my cabinets and evaluated my baking and casserole dishes, donating a few I just don't use and purchasing these two new ones:
- Extra Large Potluck Baking Dish, Crate and Barrel, $37. We eat a LOT and I 1.5x or 2x every single recipe. Now I can mostly bake our meals in one big dish instead of dividing it between two. I also like the lid as an option instead of using foil I just throw away.
- Silpat Silicone Muffin Tray, Williams Sonoma, $50. My biggest splurge on a tough day of working and momming. I love baking but my loathing for cleaning out muffin tins is matched only by my children's love of eating muffins. I adore my Silpat baking pan liners and was overwhelmed with joy upon spotting this little miracle worker. Now I can bake all the muffins, grease nothing, pop them out when they're done, and toss this on the top rack of our dishwasher on top of the cups. WINNING.

Books: None of my authors are publishing new things which is killing me (Kresley Cole and Larissa Ione WHERE ARE YOU??), but I re-read every single Ilona Andrews book and I continue to just adore all of them.
- Nalini Singh put out a new one in her Changeling series (Alpha Night) which I appreciated very much.
- I really like Jeaniene Frost's spin-off series about Ian and Veritas and re-read the two she's published so far.
- I adored Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass series and enjoyed the Court of Thorns and Roses series (I didn't like that one as much as Throne of Glass? Loved the two main characters, particularly the male lead, and loved the side characters, but hated the initial main male character and that whole relationship; the series isn't finished though so maybe it will grow to be as great for me as ToG did).
- Gena Showalter had a semi-new book in her Lords of the Underworld series that was fun, but maybe not as great as the earlier books (a theme, I often find).
- I even dipped a toe back in my OG historical romance with some Lisa Kleypas and Sarah Maclean. Nora Roberts finished her The One trilogy which was better than most of what she's published in the last decade (she has some older books I still adore) but I thought book 3 wasn't nearly as good as books 1 and 2.
- I also re-read a bunch of Patricia Briggs and the latest Mercy Thompson book which was good, though she's re-treading some plot lines too.

So if you have a book, author, or preferably a long juicy series you recommend please let me know! Magic, action, paranormal elements, smart characters and dialogue, and amazing world-building HUGE pluses.

On a different literary note I bought this book for Claire a few weeks ago after some anxiety issues were ballooning beyond her (and my) ability to cope and it was really wonderful: What to Do When You Worry Too Much. We worked through a chapter a night, one time through with James, and then again with me and it opened a lot of conversations and gave great terminology and ways to re-frame and manage anxiety. It was maybe slightly young for her at a mature age 10, but still very relevant and she really liked working through it with both of us.

We continue to work on the master bedroom and I can't wait for the whole project to be done, though now that the swim school is back open, I'm not sure when James will have time to paint the walls and ceiling. My work also gave us a telework stipend and I used mine to buy an office chair and inexpensive desk that just arrived today. No more folding table and dining room chair and no more blocking our bedroom's french doors to the patio that have been inaccessible since March. My new desk should fit in the corner by his side of the bed and allow us to function a little more normally in what is now the new normal.

(Also normal: these two sleeping next to me while I work, often facing opposite directions.)

Have you bought anything that you love? Have any books to recommend? I would still love a pair of comfortable lounge pants that I could wear comfortably while seated all day (alllll day) but also wear outside on a Maggie pee break without it looking like I'm in pajamas. Frankly lately I find leggings too restricting. Similarly, I'm in the market for a comfortable, wireless bra that is similar to a non-tight sports bra with light padding and support. Something like this, I think? But in a nude color offering and comfortable for a 34DD. Like the desk and chair taking a permanent spot in my bedroom, this is my new daily normal, so I might as well embrace a new wardrobe for it. And maybe wrap up those pretty but constricting work clothes hanging in my closet in plastic or something...

(*Blogger note: I'm getting hit with a HUGE amount of spam comments. Deeply inappropriate disturbing spam comments that James happened to read over my shoulder last night and was like holy crap wtf is that. I have no idea how to stop them, but disallowing Anonymous comments has seemed to help. So if you were someone who preferred to comment without logging in to google or blogger, I am deeply sorry that you can no longer do so, but until I understand more about blogger, and perhaps the internet generally (oy; it's all pure magic to me), I don't know how else to get out of this spam pool I seem to be in.)