A Season of Change, Challenge, and Tough Choices

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of milestones, big decisions, and long discussions about what the future holds.

But first and foremost, G-Man graduated Magna Cum Laude for high school! I cannot believe that he is no longer my fussy, difficult, colicky baby, or my sweet little boy building train tracks across the living room floor. Though he missed out on all of the trappings and traditions of senior year, he did not let disappointment ruin his outlook on his accomplishments. He will be moving into his dorm in a few short weeks, and I confess that the reality of that fact weighs heavy on me. I know every parent deals with the sense of loss that comes from realizing your day-to-day family life will never be quite the same, but I also know he is close enough to come home when he wants. I’ll bribe him with home cooking if I have to. I draw the line at laundry, though, that’s all on him.

Though we are letting G-Man head off to campus with some trepidation (assuming the ‘Rona doesn’t keep f&%king everything up), we made the difficult decision to keep Bear and Bean home this quarter and utilize the virtual learning option. Though the schools in our area are going to do their best, we just don’t feel comfortable putting them in close quarters right now (Bean would still have 25 students in a classroom). Yeah, I know, “kids are resilient, blah, blah, blah.” It’s not just about the kids, but everyone else in our bubble, like me with severe asthma, our elderly neighbor who we check on, our neighbors who are essential workers, and more. We will re-evaluate after the first quarter, but for now, I get to dive back into the hell otherwise known as homeschooling. Some people are talented, passionate, incredible homeschoolers. I envy them deeply, as I am impatient, lazy, and not teacher-material whatsoever. All the margaritas in the world can’t fix that fact.

Meanwhile, I had my worst allergic reaction yet, and it landed me back in the hospital. I am going to write a post about that at a later date, because it was the first time I had to use my EpiPen, and my fear and second-guessing myself almost killed me. The only bright side of that event is that I will not hesitate next time.

If all of this was not stressful enough, Husband made the very difficult decision to leave his position at a company he has been with for nearly 20 years. It’s the right call, for many reasons, but mostly, he needs to focus on finding life balance and reclaiming his health. I have no idea what the future holds, and what other changes await, but it will be good to take a breath at a time when life just keeps getting more insane. 2020 needs to just cut the crap already, don’t ya think?

In the midst of all of this chaos, I am getting back to some basics, which I’ll be sharing soon. But in the meantime, if you are still feeling like 2020 needs be junk-punched, I suggest surfing the web for Halloween inspiration. If you say it’s too soon, I don’t think we can be friends right now. Zombie gnomes make everything better.

 

Summer Days and School Anxiety

It’s been a hot minute since I last posted, because we have been trying to enjoy this unusual summer as best we can. I tell ya, if ever there was a time to build a pool, or for my sister to build a lake house, we clearly picked the right time. Since they have been finished, both have been been a life-saver as far as family entertainment. Now, I can’t say I’m loving the treadmill in my living room (purchased once we realized going to the gym won’t happen for many more months), but it will move to G-Mans room when he leaves for college. Mostly, our days have been meanderingly unstructured.

Bean finally celebrated her First Communion, and has been plowing through a collection of Baby-Sitters’ Club books, with an occasional Nancy Drew thrown in. Meanwhile, Bear has been baking cheesecakes, and G-Man and his girlfriend eagerly plan for the start of college.

On their most recent visit to campus, they brought back a ton of peaches for me, so I canned Bourbon Peach Jam and Peach Jalapeno preserves. I really wish I could go to the local farmer’s market, but I’m not willing to risk the crowds. Since we did not get our garden built in time, it will be a while before I’m back to salsa and candied jalapenos.

We have also been cooking up a storm, while trying to support our local restaurants. It’s been incredibly depressing to see so many established, family-run restaurants close their doors permanently.

Overall, however, it’s been an uneasy countdown to fall, and wondering what school is going to look like for all of my kids. Will they go back? Will it last? Is it safe? Bean hated online learning, and right now, her school is giving us the option to go back full time or stay home for online class. Bear’s school offered an option to go back 2 days a week, with the others being at home, or all at home. It was easy to decide for Bear to stay home. He’s pretty much self-sufficient and adapted well to at-home learning. But I feel like, if this spring was any indication, Bean will not get much out of it. But, do we really take the chance of sending her? Don’t even get me started on the anxiety of sending G-Man to college. I know parents everywhere are facing these decisions, and I feel like there is no right answer. However, whatever it is, it will be an adjustment to return to days of structure. With so many big changes on the horizon, maybe these lazy days are what we need to prepare for what’s ahead.

This Too Shall Pass…

 

I was scrolling through my photos this weekend, hoping to clean up my phone storage, and came across this pic of G-Man. He presented a lecture at a local conference, just a week before everything went to hell in Louisiana. It was a bittersweet moment, finding this photo, because things have changed so much such a short time. Louisiana has been hit especially hard by this crisis, and we continue to adapt to a way of life that seems so incredibly foreign and surreal.

I can’t really compain about the quarantine. As a knitter, crafter, reader, and cook, I’m never, ever bored. I have enough yarn,  needlepoint projects, craft vinyl, fabric, and embroidery projects to last for years, and my to-be-read pile of books will barely have a dent in it by the time this crisis is over. Yes, I do get tired of cooking, and miss date nights with the Hubs, but I I’ve been challenged to be more thoughtful and intentional about meal planning during this time of scarcity.

While social media has it’s drawbacks, being able to stay connected with my friends and family is what makes this situation less of a challenge. We share silly memes and jokes full of pandemic humor, because a good laugh reduces stress. But even as we stay connected, I still feel the sting of how this quarantine impacts things that are trivial in comparison to the situation at hand, but still carry with them sadness just the same. We celebrated Bean’s birthday, and while she remained as positive as ever, I know she was disappointed about missing her planned trip to the amusement park. Bear turns 16 this week, and all he wanted was to eat at his favorite restaurant, which is clearly a no-go. So many of our favorite places have closed and it remains to be seen if they will be able to reopen when this crisis ends. So, a milestone birthday will feel just like any other day, even if we do our best to celebrate at home. We couldn’t even get his gift shipped due to overseas manufacturing shutdowns.

Most of all, watching G-Man’s senior year end like this has been especially difficult. Both senior prom and his graduation ceremony look doubtful, and the the huge party we planned and our first international vacation will not happen.  He also missed signing day at his future college, because they had cancel all on-campus events.

Despite these small disappointments, the Heathens have been amazingly understanding. They 100% get the magnitude of what is happening, and know we all have to do our part to flatten the curve. When I start to let the stress of these strange times get to me, or when I want to tear my hair out while attempting to homeschool, I also take a breath and focus on gratitude. These are miniscule drops in a bucket in comparison to the proverbial hurricane so many others face right now, as well as the real sacrifices being made by those most impacted by this pandemic.

Changing directions, progress surprisingly continued on the pool project:

The construction company decided they had to proceed, because once they dug the hole and placed the rebar, they deemed the project too much of a danger to leave in that state. Hopefully, they can continue soon, but at  least we aren’t facing severe threats of erosion or unintended impalement anymore.

If you have been following my Instagram, I have been posting frequent dinner pics as I try to make the most of our pantry and freezer. Last week, I made a brisket from See You on Sunday by Sam Sifton, and turned the leftovers into nachos, tacos, and shredded BBQ beef with hash brown casserole.

Then, I made a mini-Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and dressing and sides, and used the leftovers to make Turkey a la King with stuffing waffles, and finally turkey noodle soup. My friend created a Facebook group specifically devoted to quarantine cooking ideas, and between that and posting on Instagram, we are all trying to share inspiration as we think outside of the box.

Finally, I finished two more baby knits:

Pattern: Seamless Baby Booties

Yarn: Berrocco Comfort in the Adirondack colorway

Needles: US 4

Notes and Mods: If I were to do these with this yard again, I probably go down to a 3.

Pattern: Baby Sophisticate

Yarn: Berrocco Comfort in the Adirondack colorway

Needles: US 8

Notes and Mods: Cute little pattern, but I had to pick up a couple of extra stitches and decrease in the sleeve underarm to make the join less noticeable.

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So, as much as life is bananas right now, let’s take a breath, do something good, and stay the heck home. This is exactly why we have drive-thru liquor stores, after all.

Chicken Alfredo Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Sundried Tomatoes

So, I mentioned on the blog yesterday that I was going to start posting some recipes and ideas just in case they may help people navigate the ways quarantine is limiting our abilities and pantrys. Chicken Alfredo Pizza was something I made frequently when the boys were young. It’s fast, easy, cheap, customizable, and can stretch two smaller chicken breasts to feed a family of 5. This week, I made two versions: one with caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes added, and one with just the chicken, garlic, sauce, and cheese for the picky peeps. Before I list the recipe, here are some ideas to customize it or hack it if the grocery store is still a wasteland:

  • You can use any cooked chicken or turkey, or even brown up ground chicken and crumble it. When all the meat was gone this week at Kroger, there was a whole wall of smoked turkey legs. In a pinch, you can remove the meat from those and use it.
  • Who says it has to be chicken? Our store still had plenty of frozen shrimp in stock. Just sauté some until just under done, because they will finish cooking on the pizza.
  • Pizza dough: Making your own is easier than you think, and as long as you have flour and yeast on hand, you can do it. Alternatively, buy the tubes from the refrigerator case, which is what I did up until the Heathens were no longer tazmanian devils 24/7. My Kroger also sells fresh balls of pizza dough in baggies, which is in the deli section where they store the pre-made soups, salads, and take-home entrees.
  • While this recipe calls for the caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes, you could add bacon bits, sliced peppers, red pepper flakes for spice, toasted bread crumbs for texture, spinach to sneak in some veggies,  or finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.

Just remember, until life settles down and our grocery stores can catch up, not every meal is going to be a Pinterest moment, nor is every recipe going to be a favorite of everyone in your household. I will say, though, that I think both experienced and less-confident cooks are going to come out on the other side of this having learned something new about the ways we shop and eat.

**Note–I doubled this recipe to make two the two pizzas seen above**

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 ball or tube of pizza dough (basically enough so you can roll it out to the size of a half-sheet pan or a large pizza pan.
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 2 TBS olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup jarred sundried tomato Alfredo sauce (regular jarred Alfredo works too)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (or a couple of teaspoons of the jarred stuff)
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped (the kind packed in oil preferably)
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella (or pizza blend cheese).
  • 3 TBS grated parmesan

Procedure

  1. Start the onions first: Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onions and a small sprinkle of salt, stirring well. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they reach your desired level of caramelization.
  2. While the onions cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a sheet pan or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
  3. Dust your counter and a rolling pin with flour and roll out your pizza dough to fit your pan, then transfer it to the pan. Bake the pizza  dough for 11 minutes, then remove from oven.
  4. Spread the Alfredo sauce evenly over the pizza dough, starting with 1/4 cup at first and adding more as needed. The amount of sauce you will need will depend on the size of your pizza and your preferences. You want a nice even layer of sauce, but try not to drown it.
  5. Distribute the chicken, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes over the pizza. Top with mozzarella and parmesan and return it to the oven.
  6. Bake an additional 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and starts to brown a little in spots.
  7. Let pizza rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Quarantine Update and a Giveaway!

What a difference a week makes. So much changed so quickly, and like the rest of you, we are doing our best to adapt. No, I’m not making cute, color-coded homeschooling schedules, or using this “opportunity” to clean out my closet Martha Stewart style. If you are a Pinterest supermom, more power to you. We are just taking each day that is in front of us and making the best of it.

Other than a solo trip to the grocery store, the Heathens and I have not left the house since March 13tth. Though the older kids thought I was being a bit harsh by not letting them go see their friends, the changes over the past week have demonstrated to them why I took social distancing very seriously. First, I want to protect their health, but I also explained to them that I am in the high-risk category. I almost died of a respiratory illness that progressed to severe pneumonia as a child, and even after I got out of the hospital, I still had to have in-home care and rehabilitation. I would never wish that experience on anyone, so beyond our own bubble, we need to stay home to help our community and nation turn the tide on this terrible pandemic. My husband is still working, but continues to practice aggressive social distancing as well.The first week of at-home school was an adjustmenet. The teachers in our area literally had one hour to pull together the materials for the students and come up with a fast plan. Between daily online class and the remaining work, Bean and I are spending about 4 hours a day on school, not including independent reading. The boys are in high school, and are able to manage themselves. However, my friends with multiple elementary-age kids in different grades are struggling to juggle it, most especially those still having to work. Regardless, I admire Bean’s teacher for her dedication and the effort she is putting in to make this  situation work for the students. I swear, if we ever we had the opportunity to push through legislation for teacher pay raises, it would pass with flying colors the week the kids go back to school. Luckily, this week is our spring break, so we all have a chance to regroup.

As far as the emotional climate, our kids are pragmatic. They watch the news and understand the gravity of the situation. We are honest with them, and they get that our community as a whole is worried. This situation is a marathon not a sprint. However, we combat anxiety with practicality. We are ok, we are taking commonsense measures to protect ourselves and others, and we’ll get through this. I think the hardest part for my Louisiana community is the isolation. We can handle tornados, hurricanes, and being robbed of the Super Bowl #stillbitter, but we handle those things by banding together. The Cajun Navy loads up the boats, we gather, we feed one another, we volunteer, or we just spend time with our neighbors. It’s one thing to go through something stressful, but going through it in isolation makes it just a we bit tougher. But you know what? The drive-thru daquiri shops are still open! Gotta find the silver lining somewhere, right?

If you follow me on Instagram, I’ve been posting pics of our meals and other cooking adventures. Over the next week or so, I’m going to be posting some easy recipes, or ideas for making the most of what’s in the pantry.  We all could use some inspiration while adapting to this temporary normal.

On the knitting front. I have enough stash to last, not to mention needlepoint and 100 other crafting projects to keep me occupied when I’m not being the worst homeschool teacher in the world. I just cast on Fantastitch by Stephen West, as well as a baby blanket for my grandnephew. The one thing I can say about our time in quarantine is that I won’t be complaining of boredom any time soon.

 

*photo credit Stephen West *

So, in an effort to spread a little joy, I giving away a free downloadable copy of the Fantastitch pattern via Ravelry code. If you would like a chance to win a copy of this pattern, leave a comment about what you are doing to stay occupied during quarantine. I’ll draw for the winner this Friday! In the meantime, stay sane, my friends!

 

Totally About to Go All Marie Kondo Up in Here

Do you ever feel like you are a master imitation of a broken record? I finally realized that’s exactly how I sounded when, for the 1000th time, I remarked to a friend this that it’s been a tough year. Scratch that, a tough four-plus years. After losing Dad last year, we went on to lose both our neighbor and good friend, followed shortly thereafter by my uncle. Considering that I already win the award for “Most Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Grief,” I’m not at all surprised that I’ve been operating on semi-toxic fumes for far too long.

But this last week, we took a long-planned family vacation, which was amazing, exhausting, and magical. When we came back to Louisiana, spring was in the air, with the wisteria in full bloom and the grass already filling in the winter-brown lawn. I know the hellfire summer is just around the corner, but something about coming home to a landscape transformed on the tails of a truly epic vacation gave me the kick in the ass I sorely needed. I spent the past couple of days thinking about what needs to change, and as the title suggests, I’m about to go Marie Kondo both literally and figuratively on myself, and my environment. It’s time for some physical, emotional, and spiritual spring cleaning, and part of that is returning to this space and getting back to the things that spark joy, as cheesy as that sounds.

So before I get back to it, let’s take the 50-cent recap of the past months, shall we?

First, I invested in an amazing smoker and subsequently smoked allllll the things, including all my neighbors’ Thanksgiving turkeys, lots of pork butts, bratwurst, and so on. One day, I want to volunteer with Operation BBQ, and help those suffering from disaster or displacement.

Bean joined the Cub Scouts!

She’s having a blast.

I knit a blanket for a special baby and won second place at the State Fair:

We did a winter garden of cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and carrots. (We also planted strawberries in the fall for a late spring/early summer harvest):

And finally, I finished all of the Knitterati 2018 blocks (though I have yet to assemble the blanket and add the border):

Oh, and one more project. Dad’s wife asked me to make pillows from some of his dress shirts:

So, even if I was not at my best this past year, I can say that I kept making. However, I think it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and realize that maybe there’s a bit more nuance between seemingly normal and truly healthy. If anything, at least my house will be cleaner…maybe. Probably.

Definitely maybe.

Easy Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

School is out, which means we are in the final countdown toward Christmas. I’m making cookies with the kids, which is equal parts fun and frustrating as they argue about who gets to use which cookie cutter first. My kids could fight about what air tastes like if given the opportunity.

We are on to sugar cookies today, but ended up making Gingerbread Cookies last weekend. The recipe I use is pretty easy to work with and forgiving, so it’s great if you really want to get into decorated cutouts. If you need to distract restless kids, I highly recommend baking up a batch, and investing in a few dollar tubes of icing from the store so they can decorate and be distracted from arguing about that whole air thing.

Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Procedure

    1. In a large mixing bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg, mixing well to combine.
    2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, salt, and making powder, stirring well.
    3. Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, mixing to form a soft dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours.
    4. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out cookies with desired cutters and transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes until edges are firm. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Decorate as desired.

The Summer of the Fish

It’s no secret that we love to fish, and now that Bean is older and a wee bit more patient, we get to go a lot more often. Thus far this summer, we’ve fished the waterways of south Louisiana, a local lake, and down on the shores of Galveston. We still have plenty of side trips planned (assuming the brutal Louisiana heat doesn’t cook us to death), so I hereby declare this the Summer of the Fish!

Summer’s End

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imageimage image imageimage imageAfter the past two crappiest summers ever, I was determined that this summer would finally break the curse and help me not want to curl up whimpering under the covers until October. I’m happy to report that we managed a great couple of months, and in the end, I accomplished a singular goal–To live this season in the moment, enjoying my family, and making connections with my extended family.

At the close of this summer, I can say that there were: swimming, pools, pool games, waterslides, rivers, bonfires, barbecues, cookouts, card games, cabins, road trips, fishing, going-away parties, fire works, block parties, family reunions, and much more. Alas, however, I am ready for fall, and I foresee many Halloween crafts in the near future!

A Fish and a Finished Knit.

DSC_0011We ran down to south Louisiana this weekend for a little fishing and catching up with friends. Despite the fact that it was eleventy-million degrees, we still had fun.

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Despite the fact that I am working on my husband’s epic sweater, I needed an easy project for travelling so I whipped up a hat for charity. My cousins participate in a big Christmas project for the Seamen’s Church Institute  and I promised to send some hats their way. Overall, we caught many fish and had a blast. We’ll definitely go back when the weather cools off a bit.

hat

Pattern: Oliver’s Cap

Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Forest Green

Needles: Size 8 circulars and DPNs

Notes: As many other knitters noted, this pattern runs small so I added about 3/4 of an inch before starting the decreases. Next time, I may add another inch or so of ribbing as well.