I can’t believe this day is finally here. The day the younger Heathens finally go back to school, like in-person, not-in-my-house school. They haven’t been in a classroom with their peers since March 13th, 2020. That’s a long ass time. A loooooooonnnnnngggg ass time.
As much as I have moaned and groaned about how freaking of a hot mess this year was, I am self-aware enough to know that I will look back and be grateful for this time. We spent more time together as a family in the past year than ever, and were able to take unique opportunities that we never would have been able to had we been tethered to classrooms/offices. I avoided the dreaded carpool lines, enjoyed mostly unstructured days, and didn’t have to roll out of bed until after seven everyday. On the flipside, that’s a whole lot of togetherness. Like, a lot.
So, Bean is headed to 4th grade while Bear is, *gulp*, a SENIOR. How in the hell did that happen? My sweet little freckle-faced baby had his last first day today. It still feels surreal, but then again, the last sixteen months have felt strange and unsettled.
Well, if you will excuse me, I have a few glorious hours to myself. I’ll try to keep the happy dancing to a minimum.
Ya know, it was inevitable. It really, really was. And like most crap I mess up, it was totally preventable.
You see, Bean goes back to school soon for in-person learning. She hasn’t been on campus since March 13th of 2020 (which coincidently was also a Friday…omen much?). She has not needed to wear a school uniform in a looonnng time, and added to this fact, she’s grown like a weed. Which means, she needs all new shirts, skirts, pants, leggings, sweaters, belts…the whole enchilada.
This is not news. This did not come as a surprise. I have been well-aware that this situation needed resolution.
So what did my ass do? Procrastinate to a level worthy of a lazy Olympics’ gold medal. I put off shopping, ran away to Alaska, and generally was like, “meh, I’ll tackle that tomorrow.” Well, I finally decided that those “tomorrows” needed to end and set myself to surfing the Target and JCPenney websites this morning.
And boy did I learn the hard way why you don’t wait until less than two weeks before school starts to handle your business. What wasn’t out of stock became out of stock before I could even check out. JCPenney even gave me the panic warning by telling me how many sold in the past hour, as seen above (those bastards). I felt like it was frantic digital race and I was losing. How in the hell is there a school uniform shortage in August?
After a few hours, many websites, and a slew of profanity, I managed to cobble together what she needs. I promised myself that I will not do this again next year, though we all know the likelihood of that.
Luckily, I ordered her school supplies through the school itself, so I am spared the five-store scavenger hunt for the very specific folder colors and many packs of index cards that will probably be returned to us unopened at the end of the year.
Whelp, we limped across the virtual schooling finish line, not with a bang but a whimper. No rocking out to Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer” in the carpool line as is our tradition, but rather a heavy sigh that this chapter is hopefully, maybe, possibly, better-be-or-my-liver-can’t-handle-it closed. My two youngest kids have not been in the classroom since March 13th of 2020, and while they made virtual school work and received excellent grades, I think we can all agree that no one wants to experience a repeat of this academic year. It’s weird to think that a few years from now, some doctoral candidate will publish a study on just how this pandemic turned a generation of learning on its head.
Now that 80 percent of our household is vaccinated, life is returning damn-near normal. After school concluded, I called my friend who is also a travel agent and had her throw together a quick, impromptu vacation for us. We ended up in Jamaica! This was our first family trip outside of the states, and it was both fun and educational. I learned so much along the way, while also realizing how much I need to learn.
We swam with dolphins and went snorkeling, tubing, and deep sea fishing. After all of the missed milestone celebrations last year, this trip was a blessing and the perfect summer vacation for the family. The voyage back to Louisiana had its hiccups, but after the past year, well, perspective has become something we strive to maintain.
While we still have a lot more summer to go, it’s difficult not to think ahead of how much our days will change when the Heathens are back in the classroom this fall. We will be back to carpool lines, school lunches, routines, and socializing, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that we will all make the transition seamlessly. I’m mentally preparing myself for how tired they will be resuming full schedules and being more active. Also, Bean’s virtual learning only took up about 4 hours of the day, so she is used to large sections of free time between lessons. Will they be ostracized from their old friends and peers after being home for the year? We shall see, I suppose.
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here canning and counting down the days.
PSA–pssssst. The Halloween décor is hitting the shelves at places like At Home. If you know, you know.
Spring has sprung here in Louisiana, and while I am loving all of the flowers and returning color, my allergies are off of the charts this year. It’s a pollen wasteland, and my poor car looks like someone doused it in a vat of yellow powder. I’m still in phase 1 of my allergy shots, so I’m hoping next year will be better.
The bright side of the season is that we have been heating up the pool on the weekends, so we are getting plenty of fun exercise, which is especially important for the virtual school kids. I can’t even believe it’s been a year since they have been in a classroom. When we first went on lockdown last March, I thought the two-week window was sure to be enough. If you told me that, a year later, I would still have my kids home, I would never have believed it. I confess I’m worried about how this year will have impacted them both academically and socially, but I guess only time will tell. We made the best decisions we could when we had to choose.
Looking back over the past year, we experienced a lot. From the early days of cooking with limited resources and making masks for my friends and family, to household-only holidays and the pains of virtual school, it’s certainly been a wild ride. It’s so weird how you can get used to the unimaginable. Walking around the store last March, with everyone wearing masks and the empty shelves, felt like some kind of dystopian nightmare. Now, it’s just your average Tuesday. Even though we have a much more normalcy than we did in the early days, I still wonder how long it will be before we ever feel truly “normal.” I received my first shot of vaccine, which was a little morale boost. I told my friends I will never complain about the school carpool line again. (Yeah, we all know that’s a lie)
On to happier thoughts. Unfortunately, our winter garden took a beating in Snowmageddon, and we lost all of the broccoli, lettuces, and some of the cabbage. The carrots are ok, and the brussels sprouts are iffy. We already planted our tomatoes, jalapenos, and cucumbers, and relocated the herb garden to a better area in the yard. Since the yard was a construction zone last year, it was nice to go through our spring routines of planting the garden and freshening the flowerbeds. The best news, however, is that our irrigation systems emerged unscathed from the storm, other than a tiny part that our landscape guy replaced in about 30 seconds (for free, no less. I send him a lot of referrals). With so many burst pipes in the area, we could not believe we got so lucky on that deal.
Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Can you tell I’m avoiding cleaning out my closet? Procrastination is my middle name.
During what would have been Mardi Gras Break, we ended up taking a quick trip up to Utah with the Heathens. Which coincidently, we made it up to the snow just as Snowmageddon hit Louisiana. With G-Man in college, it’s rare that he gets a break that coincides with his siblings, so we wanted to do something as a family when we could. I’m not too familiar with Utah at all, nor do we have any experience with winter sports/activities, so we just kind of winged it. Here’s a rundown of what we did, where we ate, and what we learned.
I felt wayyyyy too intimidated to try and plan a ski outing on our first trip. We would need (I think) equipment, lessons, and as warm-blooded southerners to the core, I already had to spend the big bucks on cold-weather gear. Seriously, the heaviest coat I own is a fleece hoodie, so outfitting everyone with coats, boots, pants, etc. was a project. But seriously, skiing seems like something that you don’t just try on a whim, and we probably would have needed the “complete idiots guide” or something. When you have never even driven in snow, hurtling down a mountain and busting my uncoordinated ass didn’t feel like the best way to start the vacation.
However, we still had a blast in Park City. We started the day at Park City Peaks, where we went on a two hour snowmobile excursion. The ranch is located about a 20-25 minute drive from town, and their trails are amazing. We started by driving to a practice area to get the feel of the snowmobiles. G-Man drove one by himself, I drove one with Bear riding on back, and the husband drove the third with Bean. (We did let Bear and Bean drive a little in the practice area, but not on the trails or up the mountain). If you have never driven one, I will say it took a bit of strength to steer and keep on course, and we certainly felt some soreness the next day. We went through backwoods trails, up the mountain and back down again. Two hours was PLENTY of time, and felt longer, but everyone had a blast. We were careful to dress appropriately in multiple layers, waterproof boots and outerwear, gloves, and googles. They provided helmets and the guide was super-nice. I’d definitely do it again.
After a quick lunch, we then moved on to Woodward Park City to go snowtubing. This destination also has skiing, snowboarding, and such, but I just purchased a two hour pass for the tubing. Luckily, they have a conveyor belt type of escalator to help you get to the top of the hill, and also a smaller hill available for younger kids. We loved it, especially going down the hill together as we held onto each other’s tubes. I wish I had pictures, but I was more focused on keeping my gloves on and my hands warm.
While we wanted to eat dinner in Park City, and even had reservations, we were worn out after tubing and headed back to the hotel. However, if you are planning a trip, I highly recommend planning dining reservations in advance. Even with almost two weeks lead-time, most of my “first pick” dining options were booked up already, or only had super-late seating available. In fact, this was pretty much the case for most places we went on this trip.
SLC and Surrounding Areas
Beyond our snow adventures, we did some exploring around the SLC area. The kids loved K1 racing, which was basically indoor go-carts on steroids, and I enjoyed the Natural History Museum. We also checked out some record shops (Sound & Vison Vinyl was the favorite), yarn shops (Blazing Needles was awesome and welcoming), and the City Creek Center for shopping.
As for food, here’s a quick summary:
We dined at the Red Iguana, which has been featured on Food Network. We enjoyed it, and I will definitely go back. They had a menu full of authentic Mexican dishes, but also plenty of options that are more familiar for those who expect “Tex-Mex”, *cough, cough* like my kids. (In Louisiana, Tex-Mex dominates, so I loved experiencing new-to-me flavors and dishes). Again, get reservations in advance, because they stay packed.
We checked out the Strap Tank Brewery and Squatters Pub Brewery, both of which offered typical pub food. Both had plenty of options for our diverse group of eaters, like sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, steaks, etc.
The kids and I had a hearty breakfast at Black Bear Diner, which is a chain I was unfamiliar with. It had a large menu of typical diner fare, and is a good spot for families. I really liked the waffle.
For date night, the husband and I went to Cultivate Craft Kitchen, which we love. The menu is creative and seasonal, and we sampled the Toffee Brie, English Chips, Risotto, and great cocktails. Highly recommend, but probably not a good place for kids, hence the whole date night thing.
After loving Cultivate, we all went to its sister restaurant, Cliff Dining Pub the next night. This is more family friendly but still has an upscale atmosphere. Everyone really enjoyed this spot, and we will be back.
So, overall, the trip was a fun break for us, and I can see giving skiing a try next time. I think the area is fairly easy to navigate, though be prepared to walk forrrr—-evvvvv—errrrr in the new airport. That was a workout! For this Louisiana girl, the liquor laws are a head-scratcher, but everyone we met was soooo nice. If you have any must-see/do/eat suggestions for next time, please leave a comment. We only hit up what I threw together in a quick google search, so I’d love to know what to add, especially in warmer weather seasons. I highly recommend getting dining reservations in advance, as well as attraction tickets (the Natural History museum is on limited entry, so you have to buy tickets in advance).
Now, it’s back to virtual learning, spring cleaning, and knowing that just when we get settled in, Daylight Savings Time will be here to mess it all up again. Send margaritas, stat!
**Just a reminder–This post is not sponsored, and any included links are NOT affiliate links. My blog is not monetized, and these are places I went and spent my own money.**
Welp, we finished up the first quarter of the school year, and while virtual learning is the definition of the fifth circle of hell (rivaling my nemesis known as the school carpool line), Bear and Bean kicked ass and took names. Their report cards were a huge weight off of my shoulders. I’ve struggled with the decision to keep them virtual while so many of their peers returned to full-time classrooms. Would they be able to keep up? Would they resent missing out on the fun parts of school? Would they still learn with equal quality from home? I’ve been more stressed than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But, in the end, they ended up being pretty dang good at managing it.
Meanwhile, at some point, it occurred to me that, if all they needed to do school was an internet connection and a workspace, well, that did not necessarily have to be at the house, right? Two margaritas later, I threw together an impromptu trip to Destin, Florida. October is pretty much the end of beach season, and hurricanes have been like “Hey 2020, hold my beer.” So, I easily found a condo, we hopped in the truck, and that was that. Despite G-Man being off to college, the remaining four of us have been together all day loooonnngggg, every day. Just experiencing a change of scenery made all the difference in the world. The only downside was tire issues on the way back that transformed an 8 hour drive into 13 hours of no fun. Regardless, fresh air, good food, and quiet days made it all worthwhile.
Other than the last-minute trip, we’ve been cooking, baking, and sharing time with our neighbors.
But now, I’m looking forward to the holiday season. Normally, I am the drill sergeant that refuses all Christmas until after Thanksgiving. Thanks to 2020, I’m like, “Turn on Hallmark. I need cotton candy for my brain!” So, I’m throwing my arbitrary holiday rules out the window.
I went to order my yearly planner as I always do in November (my favorites are from Commit30 fyi), and it dawned on me that maybe I am jumping the gun. My 2020 planner sits on my side table, mostly blank or full of plans that never happened.
Is ordering the new one inviting trouble? Us Louisianans are a notoriously superstitious bunch, so I am hoping I’m not daring the universe to up the ante in 2021. In the meantime, it’s time to break out the Thanksgiving binder, hunt down the turkeys, and accept the fact that, yes, we are all still in this for the long haul. But I live in the land of the drive-thru daquiri, so it’s all gonna be ok.
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.
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.
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.
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**
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.
While the onions cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a sheet pan or pizza pan with non-stick spray.
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.
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.
Distribute the chicken, onions, garlic, and sundried tomatoes over the pizza. Top with mozzarella and parmesan and return it to the oven.
Bake an additional 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and starts to brown a little in spots.
Let pizza rest about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.