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.
The husband is home this week, so I finally tackled a cooking challenge that I’ve been putting off for awhile: Eggs Benedict. This is hands-down his favorite brunch choice, but since the kids and I are not fans of poached eggs, he usually only gets it when we are out at a restaurant. When a bad storm forced us to cancel our lunch date, I thought, “Why the hell not give it a try?” and headed to the kitchen.
For the recipe, I just browsed Food Network for something that looked fairly straightforward and basic (standard toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, poached egg, and the sauce). While I think some people are intimidated by Hollandaise sauce, I’ve made Béarnaise sauce before, which is basically Hollandaise with tarragon added, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
The poached egg, however? I think I was traumatized by the egg scene in the film Julie & Julia, and convinced myself the process would be complicated and fraught with missteps. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that I can cook, and cook well. After browsing other recipes, I did up the vinegar a little bit in the poaching liquid, and what do you know? Poaching eggs is a piece of cake if you chill the f@&k out and follow directions. The husband loved it.
So, what did I learn in this impromptu cooking adventure? I think sometimes we build up certain dishes or techniques in our minds as intimidating or too difficult. Just taking the time to experiment and practice privately can transform the way you see those challenges. Would I suggest trying a new technique while your judgemental in-laws watch and critique? Of course not. The pressure to preform takes the fun out of mastering something new (hence in my Thanksgiving posts, I say that holidays are NOT the time to try out a complicated new dish). But this little experiment reminded me that I don’t need to approach every meal as if it has to be flawless or agreeable to every picky palate. I have more fun learning and exploring than repeating the same catalogue of meals endlessly.
Also, at some point, picky eaters are gonna pick. If you don’t try new dishes because you know you are gonna hear griping, then you rob yourself and them of the opportunity to learn, grow, and expand culinary horizons. As any southern mama would say, “You get what you get, and don’t throw a fit.”
Actually, that’s the nicer way to put it. Pretty sure my mom would say, “Shut up and quit your bitching.” Just keeping it real.
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.
It’s a cold, wet, dreary day here in Louisiana, and I’m sitting by fire, basking in a few cozy minutes before I get back to accomplishing my daily goals. I had to take Bean to the doc first thing because she woke up with a bad cough, but luckily, her covid test came back negative. However, after spending the morning in the fifth circle of hell, otherwise known as the busy pediatricians’ office, I’m struggling to get over the feeling that my day has already derailed. Instead of getting in my workout, paying some bills, and tackling the laundry pile, I just want to sit here, maybe with a good book, or my knitting and Netflix.
But alas, I can’t give in, which means no more cozy-time until I complete my intended daily goals. As part of my resolutions this year, I finally committed to commit, which sounds kinda silly as I’m typing it. But honestly, as I mulled over my intentions for the year, the concept of “reset” kept surfacing. The past few years brought many, many challenges with them (blessings too), but over time, I found my healthy coping skills worn down significantly. After a while, it seemed easier to blow off good habits and positive routines, because I let any negative or difficult challenge become an excuse to go off the rails…very…very far off the rails.
I think the best way to describe it is toxic apathy mixed with pessimistic resignation, and a heavy sprinkling of “f**k it.” Add in the Dumpster Fire that Was 2020 on top of my already stressed reserves, and…well…I could write the book of how NOT to handle “these unprecedented times,” as every dang commercial seems hell-bent on reminding us. I wasn’t rising above, I was sinking. And come December, I finally had enough.
So, come the first of the year, I was ready to climb out of the hole, and I made “Reset” my made-up theme for 2021. I need to reset my health, my routines, and my attitude. The pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon, and I already know we have even more challenges on the horizon, so I can’t use the “when this is all over” or “if I can just get past this” excuse to keep putting off the work I need to do.
I vowed to break the concept down into logical small steps that I hope, over time, will rebuild an all-around healthier me. This month’s goals are simple: I committed to a “Dry January,” spending less time on my phone, and getting in 30 minutes of activity a day, even if it is just walking on the treadmill while I watch trashy shows on Netflix. I guess you could say that, if the year’s theme is reset, the January sub-theme is “creating a foundation.” Every time I’ve made a positive, significant, and lasting change in my life, I did so by starting with a small, manageable goal, and only adding a new one after the first goal stuck. A reward system helped too.
So, that’s the plan for now, and so far, it’s going strong. I’m feeling better, more focused, and motivated, and the small goals prevent the discouragement that can come from trying to do too much too soon. I also feel like I’m getting more accomplished each day.
Now, if I could just muster up more enthusiasm for cleaning. But that’s a goal for another day.
**Remember, my blog is not sponsored or monetized in any way. No link in my posts is an affiliate link, and these ideas are all my own. None of these companies know who I am, and all of this is crap I buy with my own dang money. I’m just not that cool, y’all**
The husband has recovered (mostly) from the ‘Rona, and through careful quarantining, the kids and I did not contract the virus. He has pretty sick there for a while, and is dealing with a lingering cough and fatigue, but we got lucky. Thanks for the well wishes.
So, as I have been shopping for the holidays and planning for the new year, I thought I pass along some of the things that I really enjoyed this year (other than the endless warmth of the 2020 dumpster fire).
I really love Knife Aid. It’s like the Netflix of knife sharpening. You pick how many you want sharpened and they send you the materials to pack up your knives and mail them in. Then, they send them back to you perfectly sharpened. It’s only about a week in turnaround time and very convenient. I have used them twice, including last month.
I love OXO containers. My pantry is out of control, and these are helping me tame the chaos. I still want more.
A bluetooth meat thermometer was game changer. Yes, I use it when smoking meat, but I also use it for so much more. For example. I used this on Thanksgiving for the turkey, which meant I could watch the temp in real time, and also not lose heat from constantly opening and closing the oven to check on the bird. I also use it for cooking roasts, prime rib, chicken and more. You can go about your day without worrying that you are going to overcook an expensive piece of meat or undercook the poultry.
I am totally OBSESSED with this one. So, it’s basically a murder-mystery subscription box you get each month, but think of it like a limited tv series with episodes. One “season” lasts a few months, or you can purchase past “seasons”/mysteries in their entirety. You get all kinds of clues and documents to investigate, but they also have cool online components to enrich the experience. We are currently working our way though the Blair Witch season and the Cadence Theater season. If you are stuck in quarantine, pouring over clues in order to catch a killer is a great way to pass the time.
I am in love with Hue-It Hand Dyed Fibers. This local-to-me Louisiana artist specializes in small-batch dying, and has an incredible portfolio of colorways. Most of her stuff sells out fast but she takes preorders if you missed out on a colorway. I recently snatched up a couple of skeins that are just waiting for the right pattern to come along.
My neighbors gifted me this book after we had a mini-Thanksgiving this summer (they are in our “pod/quarantine bubble”). This book is LEGIT cool. These recipes are not for those looking for basic pies. These guys compete around the country and their ideas are complete bananas. Favorites so far are the Strawberry Margarita Pie and the Caramel Popcorn Pie.
This cookbook was written by the founder of the Mosquito Supper Club restaurant in New Orleans. It’s beautifully shot and showcases Louisiana food traditions that are slowing being lost. If you have any interest an authentic Louisiana cuisine, this needs to be in your library.
So, my go-to recipe software, Living Cookbook quietly went out of business and has basically ghosted it’s customers. So, I spent part of the year test-driving Cook’n, MasterCook, and Paprika, which came out the clear winner. I think it was the easiest to learn/use out of the three, and with a more intuitive interface. I was able to import my Living Cookbook files, though I will say that some things did get lost in translation. I had to go back and check each recipe to correct some things that got garbled in the transfer, but the same thing happened with the other two as well. Otherwise, I’m happy using it, and very grateful for the cloud sharing ability.
This herb stripper was featured on Food Network’s The Kitchen, and host Sunny Anderson loved it so much she immediately said she was taking it home with her. I LOVE this. It strips those pesky thyme and rosemary leaves off of their stems in two seconds flat.
Oh man, it’s been a week, a no-good-very-bad week. While we all knew Thanksgiving would be different this year, I never saw this one coming. The Hubs caught the ‘Rona and was diagnosed this weekend. Cue an immediate two week (maybe longer) quarantine for our family, and the challenge of keeping him strictly isolated from the rest of the house in hopes of preventing it from spreading to me and the kids. (‘Rona+asthma=no bueno). So much sanitizing…so much hand washing…it’s a process. He is feeling pretty crappy, and we are missing him, but I know it could definitely be worse. The rest of us seem symptom-free so far, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we just might get lucky.
So our scaled-down Thanksgiving will now be even more so. I worked with the Heathens to edit the menu we had planned, though admittedly, it could still feed a very large crowd. If Thanksgiving feels lonely and less-than-special this year, they at least get to have their favorites stay on the menu. I already bought the 24-pound turkey, and I’m not giving up my Honey-Baked Ham, so the leftover game needs to be especially strong this year.
Since my last leftovers post, we have incorporated a few more recipes into the mix and I have other ideas to try.
I took this idea for Thanksgiving Tamales and ran with it. I did them with dressing, turkey, cheese, and spiced-up leftover cranberry sauce with sautéed jalapenos. And to make life easy, I steamed them in the Instant Pot. There are plenty of tutorials for cooking tamales both traditionally and in the Instant Pot.
I make Turkey a la King using this recipe. But instead of the cornmeal waffles, I take leftover dressing and add an egg or two to really help bind it together, then cook it in the waffle maker until golden brown. This is fabulous.
One thing I surprisingly never thought of is a classic Kentucky Hot Brown. Most of the ingredients are things I already have on hand from my Thanksgiving prep. I’ve also seen a ton of recipes for Hot Brown casseroles if you want to go rogue.
While we usually do the paninis I talked about in my last Thanksgiving leftovers post, I saw Jeff Mauro do this chimichanga of awesomeness on The Kitchen this weekend. Same principle as the paninis, just deep fried into pure joy. I will say that the size of the tortilla he used is not commonly found at the average Louisiana grocery chain, so I’m hoping to be off quarantine by then to pick some up from a local market.
I forgot to link my recipe for Cajun 15 Bean Soup in the Instant Pot last time. I always leave a good bit of ham on the bone before I toss it in the freezer. It’s a great rainy day meal.
I mentioned switching out turkey for chicken in recipes last time, but here are some specific ideas: Classic King Ranch, King Ranch Mac and Cheese, Fajita Chowder, turkey tacos, Thai turkey wraps, and a classic chicken noodle soup made with turkey, pictured above. For ham, consider classic ham biscuits, omelets/ scrambles, you can easily add chopped ham to this hash brown casserole to make it a main dish, and to a simple pasta alfredo with peas.
So there are some leftover ideas. I’ll probably be posting a lot to Instagram this Thanksgiving week since I’m still cooking, but not hosting a 20-30 person holiday. So, if you have questions, comment here or there. Quarantined is more fun with commiseration.
Finally, if you are a frontline worker, I want to personally say thank you. I can’t imagine how difficult this year has been for you, and it’s probably going to get worse based on the indications. I want you to know that you are what I am most thankful for this year.
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.
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 think this is the week when I hit the wall, and I’m just about over this crap.
I hate homeschooling with the fire of 1000 suns. I have zero enthusiasm in the cooking or working out department. I don’t think I’ve had a descent night’s sleep in weeks. Overall I feel antsy, irritated, and instead of getting things done, I spend too much time scrolling through my phone and zoning out. Even my knitting languishes untouched.
As I was unwisely watching the news this morning, I heard one of the reporters use the term “quarantine fatigue,” and I realized that this is exactly what has been weighing me down this week. I have plenty to do, and more than enough things to occupy my time, yet the general malaise and total lack of motivation persists. Every day for the past few, I keep telling myself that I’ll snap out of it and get back that determination and proactivity to make the best of a sh*tty situation. After all, we are healthy, my husband is gainfully employed, and we are not dealing with a fraction of stress and challenges that so many people face. While deep down, I still have an attitude of gratitude, why am I feeling as snarly as a irritable grizzly bear?
I think the term quarantine fatigue speaks to the heart of the matter. I accept that social distancing saves lives, and I definitely don’t understand these yahoos who vehemently argue against the reccomendations of the leading health experts…cause ya know, science. For the health and wellness of our family and community, we will continue to be cautious long after restrictions lift. However, the not-knowing takes its toll. I can endure discomfort, disappointment, and watching stupid people make even stupider choices, but the lack of an end-date creates a pervasive, ever-present, white-noise-like sense of anxiety. Even if you aren’t actively paying attention to it, it’s still there in the background grating on your last nerve.
Beyond that, there’s this constant, internal tug-of-war between petty disappointments that hurt deeper than they should, and the stark truth that they stem from ridiculous first-world problems. Yes, we lost our vacation, prom, graduation, First Communion, birthday celebrations (including my 40th this weekend), and the big family reunion. This was going to be a year of many milestone events for our us. But, with people truly suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally, feeling upset over not being able to have the graduation/18th birthday bash for my oldest makes me feel deeply ashamed.
But, for now? I want to get back the optimistic determination that carried us through the first month of quarantine. I want to not feel like I wake up each day with less energy and more pessimism.
So, I’m trying to get this listing mental ship back on even keel. It wasn’t much, but I baked Mom’s Pound Cake today, and will try to cook dinner and not stab one of the picky eaters with a fork when one of them complains about some aspect of the meal. I will promise myself that tomorrow, I will workout, I will get off the phone and read a book for a while, I will knit, and I will wage war against quarantine fatigue that came out of left field.
Or, maybe I’ll get a drive-thru daquiri. There’s always that option, too.
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!