Sleepless

I’m sleeping not so well these days. I’ve instituted some mental health “rules” for myself, but truly what I need is to exercise. Unfortunately, dealing with several kid issues plus taking one day off this month means I’m behind on billing, so instead of getting up early to exercise I get up early to bill. And this weekend we have two kid birthday parties, two adult parties, the boys have testing for the free public school that won’t let us in, we have a Boy Scout meeting . . . I need a run, and a nap, and one extra day in the week. And a maid. Sigh.

Anyhow, just dipping in to note for you how absolutely lovely this quinoa corn chowder was. I threw a little bit of Parmesan and hot sauce in it when served, to give it a little kick, but I highly recommend. Although as time goes by and the leftovers sit in the fridge, the quinoa (much like pasta or rice would do) has just absorbed all of the liquid until know its texture is more like a casserole. Nevertheless, still tasty and healthy. Also, the jambalaya was the bomb. If you didn’t have a shrimp-allergic family member like we do, you could probably throw shrimp in there, too. Really good stuff.

My gigantic bag of Costco potatoes grew eyes quite quickly (wonder how old they were when I bought them), so last night I skipped choir and instead made mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potatoes au gratin, potato soup, and roasted potatoes. No joke. It was a pommes extravaganza over here. Luckily I have three hungry boys who will eat it all up. And since we have such a busy weekend, that means we have meals covered in advance – at least partially. A man/woman cannot live on potatoes alone.

It’s 5:30 am and I’ve got to go back to billing. Wish me luck surviving this crazy busy week/weekend!

Posted in Bitchin in the Kitchen, Domestic Bliss | 1 Comment

WMW – and Thursday Evening Meal Planning

Last Thursday, my colleague and I worked furiously through the morning to finalize some items, and then we gathered up our small overnight cases, headed to a big box store parking lot, and boarded a charter bus with 54 other people – women and men, all races, all ages, although most of them were college students and most of them were black. 18 hours later, we arrived at a hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was about 10 in the morning when we arrived, but luckily we were able to check in early and take long showers. We ate delicious sandwiches made on real, boiled bagels for lunch, and spent the afternoon touring Monticello. When the young and handsome (in a UVA bro way) tour guide asked us what we thought of when thinking of Jefferson (a BRILLIANT tour guide tactic, I now see – lets him know how to set the tone for the whole tour), one of the white students chirped “systemic racism!”  This phased him not a whit – he smiled, nodded, and said – “Absolutely. None of this would be here without slavery. For all Jefferson’s accomplishments, he owned people, he fathered children with a woman he owned who couldn’t say no.  His children by her were slaves. He was able to build this plantation because he didn’t pay the people who did the work here. That’s something we will keep in mind throughout our tour today.” And then he did just that. The tour was extremely informative, interesting, fair, and sensitive. It paid homage to Jefferson’s brilliance, the breadth of his myriad skills, the contributions he made to the Republic – and also gave juicy details of his quirks (of course a brilliant guy like that has odd tendencies, including spending wayyyyy  more than he earned, putting the whole place in pretty bad debt), and was open and bracing about his slaves and about enslavement at the time. Really, I can’t say enough good things about it. The house itself was much smaller than I expected – I’ve seen pictures of Monticello my whole life. It was beautiful, but also not large. I suppose I’ve been to too many European castles – I’m spoilt.

That evening, we headed home and met several of the students at a Chinese place for a really fun dinner. A couple of them are pre-law, so I gave them some advice about pursuing a law degree. They were all great kids, funny, kind – all students of an HBCU in town here. It’s a small college, and I was surprised how many of them came from really far-flung states to attend – Minneapolis, Chicago, California.

After dinner, we went back to the room. My colleague is a news junkie – she watches CNN, BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, even Fox. I stick to NPR and the BBC, mostly, but she watches it all, and knows all the anchors and shows. She’s actually a former conservative who now identifies as independent. And she’s a black female lawyer, so she, like me, finds this administration’s goals antithetical and a threat to her continued existence. Just ask her about the frou frou over the slaves who built the White House, and how “nice” their lives were. I dare you.

Anyway, all this to say I was ready to go to bed at 8pm that night, after our long bus ride and the next morning’s early wakeup call (4:00 am!), but she put on the networks and we watched the coverage of the inaugural balls for a while, as well as the commentary about the inauguration itself. We went to sleep at 11 ish, and the alarms woke us up five hours later. We were on the bus at 4:30 am, ready to go.

Several hours and a few wrong turns later, the bus parked in a kind of creepy, dirt lot by Nationals Park, and we filed out. I did not wear a pink pussy hat, but many of the group did. I didn’t carry a poster, either – I didn’t want to have to hold it for 12 hours. We walked to the metro and boarded our train with ease, but when we got off at L’Enfant Plaza, it was an absolute crush. I got a little nervous, thinking of the Hillsborough football disaster (I used to date a British guy whose birthday was April 15, and this disaster really captivated and horrified him, which is why I even know about this). It was extremely slow going to get out via the turnstiles, but full trains kept stopping and letting more folks off, so slowly but surely we were being packed in tighter and tighter. I had no reason to fear – D.C. is used to huge crushes of people marching, and they had it together. They simply paused travel to the station for a while, parking trains on the tracks, until the pressure eased off.

In any case, it was a crowd. Whole families with small children were there, people young and old, wheelchairs and strollers and everything in between. There were thousands upon thousands of men, too – many men carrying daughters. One of our bus compatriots brought her 12 year old daughter, and told me that after the Access Hollywood footage leaked, she’d already had to explain to her the slang use of the word “pussy” and how Trump was using the term.

We got split up from them very quickly, however. There was no way our group of 55 was staying anywhere near together, so I clung to my colleague and she to me, and we ended up losing everyone else over the course of the day. Once released from the L’Enfant Plaza metro station, we made our way through absolute throngs of people – well over half a million of us were there, and it certainly felt like it. My colleague and I ended up very near the stage – to the side of it. We were right by a jumbotron and speakers, and so we were able to see and hear everything. The rally went on way too long, but even so, it had some pretty amazing speakers. Sophie Cruz, a 6 year old immigration activist, gave her speech in English and then Spanish. The crowds chanted her name – So-PHIE, So-PHIE, So-PHIE. The Mothers of the Movement did a piece with Janelle Monae, where she asked them to shout their dead children’s names into the microphone as we shouted back. It was so raw – I can’t describe how it felt to listen to it. Alicia Keys was a surprise guest, as was Madonna. Ashley Judd read a poem by a 19 year old, one line of which struck me as so true – something like “I walk around studying my shoes, lest you mistake eye contact for wanting physical contact.” In my life, it was a long time before I realized how much effort I made to avoid the male gaze, since so unfathomably many times a mistaken shared glance led to a man following, grabbing, hounding me, convinced my looking up was meant as some sort of invitation. I stare ’em down now, older and more dominant.

So we stood, packed like sardines, unable to sit, pee, or eat or drink, listening to Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis and Linda Sarsour and various women, many carrying their babies onstage with them, for about seven hours. And then we started to march, which was essentially just a giant sea of people walking a few miles at a snail’s pace, to eventually stand like sardines once again, packed in before the White House with our signs, while President drove by in his motorcade. All of his sexual sins come back to haunt him.

It was wonderful. It was a moment of clear-eyed resolve, solidarity. Though since then, hateful and discriminatory executive orders rain down that are throwing my business clients into a tailspin, as none of it makes much legal sense and all of it is vague and leaves them not knowing what the hell is legal anymore (most of these try to implement things that the President does not have constitutional authority to do, for example, and some do flow from executive authority but are completely unclear – it’s almost as if the President has no idea how complicated governing is?) There is a multi-billion dollar wall that we are totally fine with Americans paying for, even though it is not practical (we don’t own the land it would be built on, and the estimates don’t even include cost for purchasing all of that land and the legal fees to structure those deals), it is ineffective, and has now caused Mexicans to boycott U.S. businesses. However, investing in universal healthcare, which would help the middle class consumer, is “too expensive.” So investment in government services that have real impact on improving the lives of taxpayers is ridiculous, but investment in government follies that have zero impact on anything is totally fine!

Worst of all, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a hastily signed Executive Order banned travel from all Muslim-dominant countries [that don’t have Trump hotels in them], meaning that Syrian children whose families have spent upwards of 2 years jumping through hoops, the most extreme of extreme vetting processes, in order to travel here and start a life were literally sent back on their planes, on the day they were to finally begin a new hope. Literally nobody qualified thinks this is a good idea or will reduce terrorism, but it’s red meat to throw to the supporters, who get more brutal by the minute.

So I guess you could say my fizzy joy has fizzled somewhat. But not my resolve. Make America Kind Again. We shall overcome.

**Meal Planning Portion**

This is what I plan to make this week. We are also grilling out on Sunday afternoon for mah babeee’s third birthday – just a few friends, some burgers and beers and a birthday cake. Happy birthday, Craig!

Easy One Pot Quinoa Corn Chowder – I bought the industrial sized quinoa from Costco, and this soup looks super delicious (or “souper” delicious – rimshot!)

Chicken broccoli and mushroom stir fry – I’ve made this before and it’s good stuff

Fried pork chops, potatoes, and peas – except we’ll probably have mixed veg since that’s what I have

Chicken and sausage jambalaya – not a NOLA recipe

Lemon butter chicken and baked potatoes – I bought a giant bag of potatoes at Costco so we gotta eat ’em up

 

 

Posted in Bitchin in the Kitchen, Resistance | 2 Comments

A French Quarter Story

509 Saint Croix Street* – there we are. I stand in a lather of indecision on the damp, grotty cobbled street, while my six and eight year old boys fiddle and jangle their limbs and punch each other half-heartedly, in that way children have when they can’t sit still. Drunk people festooned with beads and gripping giant Kool-aid drinks in plastic hurricane “souvenir cups” weave their way past piles of bagged garbage, dark and grimy puddles, and my minor children and me. The louvered door in front of me is flung wide open, and the hoppy, sickish smell of a century-old bar nearly knocks me out. Inside it is dark, but I can see a few doorways through the gloom. Outside on the streetfront, there is a separate stoop under the same address, with a center-split shutter door hanging half open – one shutter stuck closed, the other drooping into the street. I can just manage to squeeze through the half-doorway and behind the shutters I find a second large plain inner wooden door that swings inward at my slightest touch. Although I haven’t been told this, I figure out that we are heading to the residence above the bar, and I have my choice of doors, none of which is marked with any kind of balloon or “Birthday Party Here” sign.  It looks like the Labyrinth at the end of that David Bowie/Jennifer Connelly movie – stairs going up one way, then branching two different directions, and another door that leads to a hallway and another selection of stairs. I am pretty thoroughly knocked out by a cold at this point, exhausted, and I nearly turn us back – “Wouldn’t you rather play at home with your friend across the street?” I ask, but they whine “nooooo,” and in any case another family from Liam’s class drives up at that very minute and wave frantically at us. Looks like we’re doing this thing.

We are 45 minutes late to this surprise party for Liam’s classmate. Her mother had invited us to a party at a bounce house about three weeks ago – that party is next weekend. Then last week her father sends an email to the class inviting us to a different special surprise party at his house in the Quarter – he has hired a Mardi Gras Indian and a Cinderella princess, all are welcome, please come to this super special party. It’s either a colossal failure to communicate, or a purposeful failure to cooperate, but the entire class agrees we are all going to both, without making any big deal of it.

I had left our uptown home in plenty of time to get there, but was delayed for all the classic NOLA reasons. First, I got us stuck behind a poorly organized second line – no cops had blocked traffic, so in a big line of cars I just drove along as normal, pulled up short behind the celebration blocking the street, and then had to attempt a three point turn to back out (DOWN A ONE WAY STREET NO LESS), as everybody in front of and behind me tried to do the same. You could see us all piling up like dominos, realizing one by one what the hang-up was, and then calmly and chaotically getting out of there – no sense getting mad, and of course no order to getting extricated from the mess. Nothing more New Orleans than driving the wrong way up a one way street to get yourself out of a surprise second line traffic snarl.

Eventually I made my way around the blockage and found the address, but the Quarter was packed today and there was no parking anywhere remotely near. I crept at 2 miles an hour through the streets, windows down, usually following stumbling tourists and all the while trolling for a spot, but eventually I gave up and decided to park at my work garage about a mile away. Once parked, I dragged the boys past lovely storefronts with gas lanterns flickering, street performers tap-dancing, horse-drawn carriages clop clop clopping down the street, and Ooops let’s hurry past the Bourbon Street strip clubs, boys. By the time we arrive at the puzzle that is the labyrinthine stairs, which are located about 3 miles from my home, we have been traveling for about an hour.

Emboldened by the other mom, who seems equally nonplussed but performatively bold-for-the-children as I, I decide on the half-shutter route, and tiptoe hesitantly up some steep, narrow, dark, and slightly sticky stairs. At the top I hear children screeching, and I call down to the other mom “Got it! This is right!” I knock on the door at the top of the stairs a few times, but no one answers, so I open it. The boys rush past me and boil right into the room and disappear, and I’m relieved when I get a few steps in and see the giant Happy Birthday banners strung around the place. We must be in the right house, right? They haven’t just launched themselves into the bowels of a total stranger’s house, right?

Once inside, I spot lots of birthday decorations, a fireplace mantel with birthday presents on it, a large dining table with a spread of finger sandwiches and chips – and basically almost no other furniture. It’s one of those old creaky French Quarter residences without a hallway, so every room opens onto another room or two – you have to walk through a bedroom to get to the family room, that sort of thing. And since none of the rooms are furnished in any kind of sensible way, I’m struggling to get oriented to what’s what, to figure out which rooms are bedrooms and which are the entertaining spaces. No one greets us to say welcome, you’re in the right place, thank you for coming – I see adults in a nearby kitchen but they pretend not to see me. I’m really grateful at this point for Other Mom, whose name I think is Mary, and whose chipper “well, isn’t this a fun adventure!” attitude is keeping me from fleeing the awkwardness.

The boys run into a back room which is filled with fifth grade boys who immediately demand that the younger boys leave, and begin aggressively shooting them with Nerf guns until they flee and find another door to go through. Eventually we find the birthday girl, who is playing in a pile of chip crumbs on the floor of what appears to be the master bedroom, although it looks like maybe it should be a family room instead? But it has a king bed, plus two side tables stacked next to each other at the foot of the bed . . . and nothing else in it besides a few toys. The birthday girl, who is wearing what looks to be a dirty, tattered top and pajama bottoms, hair uncombed, takes one look at all of us arriving, and stalks into another room and slams the door. You guys, at this point I was like WHAT IS HAPPENING IS THIS THE TWILIGHT ZONE THIS ISN’T NORMAL RIGHT?

The boys are totally unfazed, and set to frolicking amidst the crumpled birthday napkins and food waste with the couple of other kids who are there, some of whom I recognize, thank God. Children thus deposited, I finally square my shoulders and make my way to the kitchen to introduce myself, whereupon I am met by a man so absolutely catatonic drunk he can barely stand. I shake his hand and he clings to me like a drowning man clutching a life preserver, then weaves in and close-talks a very awkward conversation that goes something like this:

Me: Hi, I’m [RG], Liam’s mom. Thanks so much for having us, this is great.

Him: Hi . . . . [pauses for eternity, blinks in glassy-eyed stupor at me] Have you been to the French Quarter before?

Me: Well, yes, I actually work down here, right on the edge of it.

Him: [leaning closer, forcing me to hold my breath as I’m hit with a wall of liquor-breath that would light on fire if I had a match] I’m the only living real Native American in New Orleans.

Me: [look at him, blond, blue-eyed, pale, about as Aryan looking as a guy can get] Well, thanks again, better check the boys! This is a great place you have! Thanks so much!

Him: [won’t let go of my hand for way too long]

Me: Gotta go! Where are those silly boys! See ya!  Great place you got! PLEASE LET GO OF MY HAND PLEASE PLEASE DEAR GOD I BEG YOU DON’T MAKE ME STARE AWKWARDLY INTO YOUR CLOUDED BLUE EYES FOR ONE MORE SECOND I’M ABOUT TO RUN OUT OF CHIPPER SMALL TALK NONSENSE TO SHOUT AT YOU

About three years later, I manage to extricate myself from his grasp and I decide to stick to the boys thereafter like glue. The few other parents who are there all gamely make attempts to engage with Drunk Dad through the afternoon (this party is at 1pm, by the by), but it does not go well. He carries some white bottle of liqueur everywhere he goes, walking at that precipitous pitch-forward stride of a drunk man trying to stay upright. He also loudly blusters numerous pretty shocking curse words in the vicinity of the children, and while I am not by any means a prude and have been known to lob a good f-bomb myself, even I generally avoid saying C U Next Tuesday around the boys.  At one point, Drunk Dad says “who’s spending the night,” and another dad says “you guys, I don’t think this is ending anytime soon, this rager is just getting started” and then I begin crafting a text to the Prof to insist he call and tell me that someone has died or our house is on fire or whatever, and I must come home immediately.

Eventually I meet Drunk Dad’s significant other, who spends the afternoon by turns having hushed, urgent arguments with Drunk Dad in the kitchen, and trying to be chipper and present for the rest of us. At one point she gives us a tour and someone asks how recently they’d moved in, gesturing broadly to the absolute chaos of the few sticks of furniture that were present, and she says “Oh, we’ve lived here for years!” There was just no escaping the awkward moments at this party.

Odd furnishing aside, the tour shows us that it is a cool place. High ceilings, original crown moulding and door casings, windows and floors recently re-done. It has those gorgeous iron gingerbread balconies, although we are not allowed out on them as they are apparently not sound and require some shoring up. It is also weirdly laid out in the way that old Quarter residences can be, designed for a different style of life. The lack of hall is odd, meaning  you walk through the front den to get into the kitchen, then dining room, then the birthday girl’s room which has at least four doors off it leading into the other bedrooms. You have to go through the master to get into the mother-in-law apartment in the back, which has a separate kitchen and bathroom and appears to be where all of the furniture in the entire house had been stacked, floor to ceiling and wall to wall. If you wade your way through the clothes hung up in the master closet, there is a door on the far end that, Narnia-like, leads outside onto a sort of courtyard – really just the roof of the bar below, with no railing to keep you from taking a misstep and falling at least 12 feet to the ground floor brick patio. If you jump from one rooftop level to another and walk across a tarpaper roof of yet another building, you get to their library – a quirky and giant room with floor to ceiling bookcases stuffed with books, much like the library in Beauty and the Beast (though not quite so giant), but also stacked floor to ceiling with so much furniture and trash you couldn’t even really see the books. We clamber over various rooftop levels and concrete blocks, past gorgeous old armoires and bookcases kept outside on the roof for some reason while the whole inside of the house is stark empty, and then wander in one of the half dozen exterior doors to find ourselves in yet another wing of the place. Eventually we finish the tour, and I am left feeling certain that this could be the coolest old residence with some planning and care, and further that these are probably not the people to accomplish it.

About an hour after we arrive, Drunk Dad gets a giant, really cool looking drum and begins beating it, and eventually a Mardi Gras Indian dances in and performs for us. Now this is part of why I’m sticking it out at this party – I’ve never seen a Mardi Gras Indian in person before, and have always wanted to.  The Indians are not Native American at all, but actually African-Americans who are part of a secret society. They have great beaded costumes, giant headdresses, and they parade every year at a time and place that is not announced or advertised, so you’ve got to keep your ear to the ground to ever find them. The man who performs for us today wears a giant yellow costume, with long fake black pigtails and actual gold front teeth. He struggles a bit with Drunk Dad as well – he comes in singing, then offers to tell stories or take pictures but Drunk Dad won’t quit with the drum, and so he is forced to keep singing one song after another. Stepmother holds the little birthday girl close while the kindly guy sings to her, but birthday girl is not feeling this display, and so it’s a little awkward and weird. I roll with it – it may be years before I see another Mardi Gras Indian, so I just focus on the rad costume. And even drunk, Drunk Dad is a pretty decent drummer, so it’s a neat experience. Several more times the Indian offers to take pictures with the children, but Drunk Dad rolls right past that, so we don’t get to do it because soon Cinderella is also walking through the door and then before we know it, the Indian has gone.

Cinderella is great – really sweet, engages both the boys and girls, sings songs and reads stories and plays dancing games. Birthday girl is way more into Cinderella than anything else the whole party, and finally opens up with big shy smiles that kinda hurt my heart a bit. While Cinderella has them all occupied, I start laying the seeds of an early departure with Stepmother – I have this cold, I’m so exhausted, we parked a mile away and we need to get rolling soon . . . She says “Oh, nothing worse than a cold!”, then gamely gathers the kids to sing happy birthday and blow out the candles on the king cake so we can go.  My boys each have a small slice while the big fifth graders, who have returned from whatever corner of the house they’d retreated to, begin shooting us all with Nerf guns again. I really do have a cold and this is all quite a lot of strangeness and chaos for my exhausted, blocked up head to handle, so I gather the boys and make for the labyrinth exit.  As we say our thanks and good-byes, I hear poor Cinderella trying to get paid and get gone, while Drunk Dad tells her “You know I’m the only living Native American in New Orleans.”  I grab the boys by the scruff of the collar and flee.

The Quarter is full of people 3 hours drunker than they were 3 hours ago, and I’m about to faint from overdoing it, so I hook an arm around each boy’s neck and drag them a mile to the car.  We are on a mission, slaloming tourists and street shysters and tarot readers, who tend to just set up their folding chairs and tables on the sidewalk when it’s busy like this. We eventually get to the car and I collapse in the seat, as do the boys, who are quite whiny about having been thus dragged when what they wanted to do was sit down on the filthy sidewalk and pore through their birthday treat bags. We pull up home about twenty minutes later and I tell the Prof – Oh my God, you will not beLIEVE the afternoon I’ve had, and then Jack drifts listlessly up behind me and says “Mom, can’t we do some adventure tonight?  We never do anything fun.”

We’re gonna miss him. Kid had a good run.

*Fictional address – to protect the innocent.

Posted in Jack, Liam, New Orleans | 2 Comments

Catastrophes, Great and Small

It’s been a helluva week. We started this week with me setting my glorious macaroni and cheese dish on fire, and are ending it with a really killer head cold, and some non-fun items got stuffed in between as well.

First, the Sunday tragedy that began it all. Jack had a Cub Scouts meeting, and while he and the Prof were gone, I enlisted the help of the two littlest boys to make the skillet mac and cheese with crispy breadcrumbs. Craig “measured” the ricotta and mayo, Liam measured out most of the other ingredients, cooked the onions, stirred in the cheese to melt, and did other helpful things. Truly, my only real part here besides supervision was to cook the roux, as that’s a bit tricky for a 6 year old. They were doing awesome, leaning near the gas cooker but careful not to get burned, helping open and close the oven door carefully, carefully. I was also making roasted pork chops with beets and kale that night, so when the macaroni was done I pulled it out and began that process. The chops and beets were pretty delicious FYI – the sweet beets really complimented the savory chops, and the shredded kale salad was divine, though I used balsamic vinaigrette instead of making the dressing from scratch because it was a long night already. Anyhow, I pulled the finished pork chops out to rest in their juices and decided to stick the cast iron skillet of macaroni back in just to give it a little warm-up and brown the breadcrumbs. I set a timer for 30 seconds because I know how quickly breadcrumbs can burn, and set to prepping the 5 plates (sometimes we eat family style, but often I just serve food plated since the boys need help serving themselves anyway and it saves a step). The timer buzzed, I turned back to open the oven door and check my masterpiece, and it was literally on fire. The entire circle of the cast iron skillet was a wall of flames. I had a millisecond internal conversation – how can I put this out without ruining it? – and then decided that it was going to destroy my oven and set the house on fire if I didn’t get it handled asap. So I grabbed the fire extinguisher from under the kitchen sink and sprayed.

It’s a gas oven, and I’d put it under the broiler  – well under, at least three full inches below – but I guess it was turned up too high and an errant gas flame caught a corner of breadcrumbs, and then the whole thing lit up. It might have burned itself out quickly – who knows – but I wasn’t betting my expensive oven/house on waiting it out. I guess I could have dampened a towel and thrown it on top but in the split second I had to decide, I went with the option that destroyed our gorgeous creation. Truly, it was barely burned at all. After pulling my smoking masterpiece out of the oven, I eyeballed it and actually started to just scrape the top layer off, but it was made in a cast iron skillet meaning it was pretty shallow.  As I expertly scooped the top inch off, little powdery extinguisher chemicals were drifting into the layer underneath. Ultimately I decided that I had to dump it all in the trash, and then I quickly made a 99 cent box of mac and cheese which the kids liked just fine anyway. (But not me!) Meanwhile I took about eleven million hours to get all the chemical powder cleaned up, and then I was coughing all over the place and googled whether it was going to kill me. The results are mixed – some websites said “this is an oxygen inhibitor, and it will coat your lungs and make you suffocate!” and others were like “yeah, it’s an irritant, but you’ll be fine.” Turns out the latter is true, of course – I wouldn’t bathe in the stuff, but a small under-sink extinguisher was just enough to save us from the flames and coat my smallish kitchen in dust, but not enough to kill me.

As the week went on, I had a parent teacher conference with Jack’s teachers to discuss some anxiety he is having, and solutions to some struggles with reading and math. I felt good about the outcome, but it was stressful to re-live all of his sensory and auditory processing issues, and to have to reckon with the fact that it will never go away for him. Then I also had to spend hours upon hours preparing the application for public school charter, then standing in a long-ass line to turn it in – on paper, in person, no electronic submission allowed. The boys will also have to take a test, and if they pass (they didn’t last year, the test is secret as are the test graders, it is total BS) then they get put into the lottery, and will have a 1/500 or so (that’s secret, too) chance of getting in. It’s very very frustrating to have my tax dollars go to a school that works so hard to keep us out, and to have to spend so much time on such a long shot. Plus I don’t really want them to move, as moving schools is kind of traumatic and I don’t like this school as much. But it’s free, vs. gigantically expensive private school, so we have to keep trying. Ugh. It put me in a bitter mood, however. As I stood in line, I observed the testing process for 4 year olds (yes, preK kids are also tested on reading and math before they are allowed in), and it made me furious. They are taken from their parents into a back room, asked to take a secret test on an iPad which many of them may never have seen before, and then the results of that stressful process dictate whether they’ll do well enough in school that this school will let them in??? Not only is this not how public education should work, it’s also dumb to think that their performance is indicative of their ability to succeed in school. UGH. Fury.

So after missing at least 3 hours of billable time for Jack’s conference, and 4 hours of billable time for this charter school nonsense, I’m super behind. I’ve already had a talking to. Great way to start the year. I try to catch up on weekends but there is so much domestic work that has to be done – laundry like crazy, grocery shopping and cooking, cleaning the bathrooms etc. To top off this crappy week, I’ve also got a raging head cold – nose that is by turns really stuffy and drippy, irritated throat, sneezing like crazy (which makes our corgi lose his mind). I caught it from Liam, who suffered through it all week without a single complaint. Meanwhile I was up about fifteen times last night to get a drink of water to soothe my parched, tickly throat. The end of this day can’t come soon enough.

Wish me a better week next week. No fires, no stressful school situations, full health!

Posted in Everyday Adventures | 3 Comments

Comfort Food on a Rare Cold Weekend

Thanks all for your comments – I’m so impressed you read my posts on Christmas, given how much came at you so quickly. I love my small but committed band of readers – ya’ll are great, and it always buoys me to see comments here. (I still read a lot of blogs and never comment, so I’m bad at commenting myself and am not trying to shame any lurkers into commenting – just appreciating those of you who do drop me a line once in a while!)

It is, lo and behold, freezing down here in the swamplands for once. I left work early to log in from home and get here safe, before the supposed Deathly Wall of Sleet comes marching towards us. Southerners are pretty bad at driving in any type of winter weather. All the partners were out anyway, so I took my prerogative to get home, get out of my suit and into my comfies and slippers, and get some chicken fajita soup started in my crockpot (I already cooked it, now I’m just -reheating).

This month’s Southern Living has some really great comfort food recipes – every single one sounds do-able, tasty, and a little different from the norm. As we were driving home from our trip last week, I made up a list of foods I wanted to prepare and make for the week – a homemade macaroni and cheese, a meatloaf, a chicken soup, pork chops and veg, etc. When we got home, our January Southern Living was waiting for us, and every single one of my meal plan choices was there, in that edition. I am clearly its target audience, and it clearly has my number. I suppose you could run American + white middle class + Southern + January + dinners into a machine and the algorithm would spit out a limited number of options, so it wasn’t so odd that the SL editors and I thoroughly agree on what should go on a January dinner table. Still, I laughed. And then edited my grocery list slightly to add the few newer, different ingredients that helped mix it up.

One final note before I post our meal plan and then get back to billing. Our Costco membership has been a great investment. We pay $110 a year to shop there, and we receive 2% back on all purchases.  We get at least $55 back at the end of the year – in other words, if our 2% cashback is less than $55, then Costco makes up the difference. If it’s more than $55, then hooray for us – bonus money. Given our food budget alone, it’s not outside the realm of the possible that we get more than $55 back. But even besides the membership fee, the savings on bulk items is great. I am careful to only buy things that are a savings – for example, unless they’re on sale, diapers are NOT cheaper in bulk there. I’ve been told to watch out for great sales but in the absence of a sale, I get my diapers elsewhere.  Similarly, alcohol, bread, and some produce doesn’t seem any cheaper, at least compared to our local grocery. But milk and dairy products are half, or less than half, the cost at the grocery. I get great, creamy Irish butter and cheese, milk, cream, eggs – all for way less. I also get bulk meat, which is considerably cheaper and it’s convenient to have a constant store of chicken breasts and thighs, ground turkey, sausages, ground beef, and pork chops on hand. I get flats of canned goods – Rotel, black beans, tomato sauce, cream of mushroom soup, pieces and stems of mushrooms. Juice boxes are half the price, and bulk juice, pasta sauce, syrup, paper towels, are consistently less as well.  T.p. is hit or miss, but I keep an eye on the price and keep our grocery store circular on hand so I know which place has it for less. I also bought a few Christmas gifts there, and you can get a $100 restaurant gift card for $75, for example, which is a big savings (only if you were going to go there anyway – I haven’t yet done the gift card thing but I’m keeping it in mind for the future).  They have other good deals on non-food items as well, including kids’ vitamins, turbo tax software, soap and toiletries, and even tires, travel, glasses, etc. Finally, apparently they are a great employer, and pay their employees well and have good benefits, and their CEO’s pay is only 123 times that of the base employee’s – not the 350x of many other wholesale retailers. I like knowing that the people who are serving me are paid a living wage, and I’m not benefiting off their labor without properly compensating them for it.  All around A plus for Costco.

We also recently had a Trader Joe’s open up nearby, where we can get cheap wine and some pre-made sauces that I’m eager to try. We walked through there quickly once, so I didn’t get a full lay of the land, but I’m totally down with going to TJ’s once a month, Costco once a month, and then the grocery for little stuff in between times. So far – this is not an exaggeration – we’ve saved $600 per month. I keep track of our food and other spending (loosely, and occasionally – I only have so much time) in a spreadsheet, and I was shocked at this. I double and triple checked. Astounding. I think this is probably because there is less impulse purchasing at Costco. We have little storage in this urban home, so I can’t grab bulk items without seriously thinking about whether the cost savings truly outweighs the burden of finding a place for the item. And you don’t just willy nilly grab 14 gallons of pancake syrup or whatever. I go so much less often to the normal grocery store with normal sized things, so I have less opportunities to grab impulse buys. Also, since we always have the ingredients to make something, be it black bean burritos or soup or chicken breasts with frozen veg, we definitely order out less.

A last note – my sister clued me in on a tip that I don’t think I’ve shared here, but which is important. Psychology can play tricks on you when you buy bulk stuff – e.g., bulk snacks. If it’s all there and visible in front of you, then you just eat it all up faster. While this isn’t a problem with the cans of Ro-tel or the bulk paper towels, it does happen with the packs of snack crackers and the Nutri Grain bars. So I pull out a small amount for our pantry, and hide the rest where it can’t be seen. That helps us save as well.

OK, enough Costco evangelizing. Below is what we’re having this chilly Southern weekend and coming week. We’ve been watching Stranger Things (at long last, months later), and we only have a couple of episodes left so we’re going to binge watch the rest tonight. It’s epiphany, so we bought a king cake and my militant, calendar enforcing husband flipped off the Christmas lights that I flipped on because apparently it’s bad luck to keep them on after Twelfth night. I say we just leave them up and call them Mardi Gras lights, myself. We shall negotiate this later. But the Christmas decorations will come off the tree, and our Mardi Gras decorations will go on the tree – we do keep that up through Ash Wednesday, and I love it. I have purple, green, and gold twinkle lights to string up around the house, and some fabulous masks and other ornaments that go up on the tree, as well my prized Muses shoe. I want a Nyx purse next. Thank heavens for Mardi Gras – it sustains us through the melancholy of the end of the Christmas season.

Meals last week and this, dressed up SL style:

Double Crust chicken pot pies – I used a rotisserie chicken though

Skillet mac and cheese with crispy breadcrumbs  – I am somewhat concerned it won’t all fit in my skillet, but we’ll see how we go

Roasted pork chops with beets and kale

Mini meatloaves with potatoes, leeks, and brussels sprouts

Spaghetti bolognese with crispy bread and salad

Chicken fajita soup with Fritos and salsa

One pan pasta with chicken sausage, mushrooms, and collards (I’ll probably use kale since we’ll have some leftover)

 

Posted in Bitchin in the Kitchen, Domestic Bliss | 3 Comments