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.
I’m deep into my summer cooking rut. So, to break out of it, I’m dusting off the Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday inspiration. I wanted something quick and easy, so I turned to my collection of old-school Junior League Louisiana cookbooks.
If you are familiar with community/church/Junior League cookbooks from the 50’s through the 80’s, you know that measurements were questionable, the contributors assumed brand-names would last forever, and that they expected you possess an intuitive knowledge of whatever the hell they were talking about with their minimal instructions. So, with that disclaimer, let’s dive into the experiment of the Tamale and Chili Pie.
This recipe was submitted by Mrs. Alan Thigpen (Catherine Lagrange) in the Pirate’s Pantry Cookbook, which was published by the Junior League of Lake Charles in 1976. This book, along with The Revel and Cotton Country, are staples in our house. Yes, they are dated, but they are also amazing.
Now, here’s how it went. First, ingredients:
Check. Obviously, the brands have changed, but I think I got pretty close. I misread the size of the casserole, so I probably set myself up for failure in terms of the intended tamale-to-chili ratio. However, I think my alterations and notes may land this one as a win for a fast family meal or for hangry teens. Here’s what I did:
First, I bought the 28oz can of tamales, hoping to stretch the recipe for the five of us. Despite being slightly alarmed by the reality of canned tamales (do you seeee that????), I recovered and realized that, after cutting them up, I really needed two of the 28oz cans to cover the bottom of my 9×13 casserole. My cutting hack was a failure, and I think the original chili to tamale ratio was not optimal al all. So, moral of the story? If you want to make a 9×13 casserole, just get 2 28-oz cans of tamales to line the bottom of it.
I made the “chili” as directed, using canned chili beans, ground beef, and a packet of chili seasoning. My other deviation from the recipe was to sauté the onion with the beef, as these clowns need their onions cooked into submission.
Finally, I spread the chili on the tamales, added a wee bit (your discretion) more Fritos than the recipe called for, and sprinkled cotija cheese on top in addition to the cheddar. Baked as directed.
The verdict? I hacked this recipe a bit for our tastes, but dang if it’s not an easy, cheap, teenage guy friendly dish. It’s a Frito pie on steroids. I think the original had a much heavier chili-to-tamale ratio situation, but by adding more (really inexpensive) canned tamales, you can stretch that fresh ground beef to feed a ton. However, if you like chili, double that part for the 9×13 casserole. I paired this with a southwest chopped salad, but grilled corn would also be awesome with it.
No, this is not gourmet food, nor is it something I would serve to company. But you know what it is? Meaty, cheesy, crunchy, spicy food that was quick, easy, and satisfying for kid/teen tastes. Perfect for a movie night, horrid Tuesday, or a pantry-pull situation. Now, I’m going to go back to dreaming of cooler weather and Halloween season.
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 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.
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.
School started this week, and for the first time, its arrival felt bittersweet. Usually, by this time, I feel like I will sell my soul to their teachers in exchange for removing the Heathens from my home for a few hours a day. August means we’ve devolved into who-looked-at-who the wrong way, which in turn, ends up being a crossover between “Who Moved My Cheese?” and The Hunger Games. This year, however, summer seemed to fly by at a too-rapid pace. It doesn’t help that G-Man is a junior, Bear is a freshman, and Bean is in (gulp!) first grade. I wish I had a few more days at the pool or the camp, but in the end, the promise of less than 100-degree heat means that I’ll get over it quickly. So, the summer recap:
We had our epic family reunion with my 80-plus cousins who are just as zany as we are, fun days at the Gulf and the camp, questionable fishing, and general mayhem:
There was some knitting, which I will post about tomorrow:
I smoked and cooked at bit (including hosting 4th of July for our neighborhood, and tackling fresh pasta):
But, if I had to sum up this summer, I would call it The Summer of Canning. We spent the spring installing and planting several raised beds in our postage stamp-sized back yard. We hope to adopt a year-round gardening plan down the road, but ultimately, I think the Husband and I feel called to find a balance between the frantic digital pace of modern daily life, and the skills, traditions, and values that we internalized from our parents and grandparents.
We want to raise well-balanced, knowledgeable kids that have adequate life skills by graduation, or at least some exposure to many things and the attitude that they can figure crap out if they try. This isn’t just about gardening. G-Man must have changed tires on the family car six times this summer as we dealt with failing tires and those pesky nails the contractors down the road kept dropping. He also has a bank account, and I’ll send that kid to the Kroger at the drop of at hat, which means he now knows where to find vinegar and pectin, and the difference between a poblano and a banana pepper. G-Man and Bear can cook a meal, bake a mean cookie, and follow a recipe while adapting if needed. As such, the garden is another extension of our desire for fresh produce and deliciousness, while modelling life skills that might keep our kids from being left for zombie bait in the event of a Walking Dead scenario. Kidding…Kidding…
But, with that garden, came the dilemma of keeping up with it. I swore to the Husband that I would not let his efforts go to waste. I’ve written about canning before, but this behemoth was beyond my ability to manage, or at least my available time. But then, the blessing came. My neighbor had never canned and wanted to learn, so I did a quick recipe with her (that she brought over) so she could get the basics. One thing led to another. Before long, we transformed into a well-oiled operation of shared labor and shared bounty. We worked side-by-side each week, harvesting, prepping, and putting up recipe after recipe. We fought the bugs, the heat, our restless kids, and the burn of hot peppers from forgotten gloves. As the days blended together, we visited, shared stories and memories, and ended up with overflowing pantries of salsa, jalapeno jelly, serrano jelly, pickled peppers and onions, cucumber relish, pickles, spicy tomato jam, pickled jalapenos, and more.
We even put together and vacuum-sealed bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers for fall and winter entertaining. A full pantry and freezer soothes my soul and makes me feel more connected to the strong women in my family tree. That was something I didn’t expect, but I’ll take any day.
Over these intense kitchen sessions, I noted to my neighbor that I can now see why chores like canning, quilting, butchering, and harvesting historically often turned into group events. People helped their neighbors or friends with these labor-intensive activities not only to share the load, but also to connect in a way we now have lost, and which we often miss in our disconnected, overworked, digital lives. (and yes, I get the irony of saying that on my digital blog, but I do believe we can all find a better balance between the power of the internet to connect and educate us, and the temptation for it to consume us at the expense of genuine experiences). Whether we were enveloped by steam from the canner, or got lost in the hours of chopping 12 pounds of tomatoes at a time, we strengthened our bonds as both friends and neighbors in a way that made me feel closer to her, and my family’s history and traditions.
So, as I come to summer’s end, I still feel like it flew by, but as I reflect, I also think of it as time of connecting with family and neighbors, cultivating skills, and transitioning from the tragedy of losing my father to letting the light back in. That, if anything, was probably the best takeaway of all.
But you know what’s even better about summer’s end? I can now plan the Halloween decorations and party. Mwhahahah!
Back in the day, I made Bean this hat, which her melon head quickly outgrew:
So, for Christmas, I decided to whip up a larger version, especially since this pattern takes no time at all. Normally, I refuse to use variegated yarns on patterns with cables because they end up looking too busy. But, alas, Bean is often a too-busy hot mess who marches to her own drum anyway:
Pattern: Snappy Hat (available on Ravelry and it’s free). This is the medium size, while the first pic/hat was the child’s size.
Yarn: Premier Yarns Deborah Norville Serenity Chunky Prints in DN 6005-15 colorway.
Needle: Both circular and DPN’s, size 10.5
Notes: After making this again, I think something about the decreases at the crown give this hat a tendency to pull back off the head. That’s not a good trait in a kids’ hat as she keeps having to pull it back down to stay on. However, it is a cute, fast hat, and ensures that all the Heathen’s get something handmade from mom this year. Let’s call that a win, even if it looks like unicorn…never mind.
When the kids were much younger, I started an Advent tradition for our family that I hoped would bring some sanity to dinnertime. Each night at dinner, as we light the Advent candles, we take turns reading a small reflection and prayer. It helps everyone get a small daily reminder about the meaning of the season, and also helps the kids keep at least some focus away from gift fever. Last year, as I was struggling with my own inner-apathy, I added a new component to this routine.
I place a Mason jar in the center of the wreath, and next to it, I add a small container with blank slips of paper and a pen. Each day, everyone writes either a good deed that they did that day, or something for which they are grateful. They fold up the slips and place them in the jar. On Christmas morning, after the bustle gifts, we sit down to a big breakfast. While we are eating, we pass around the jar and each person takes out and reads a slip. It’s amazing to hear all of the wonderful things the Heathens did or thought, and drives home how blessed we are. The unexpected side effect is that this really motivates the Heathens to do good deeds so that they will have something meaningful to add to the jar.
This year, as we continue to grieve and heal, I hope those good deeds help bring some holiday spirit to others. In the meantime, that whole dinnertime sanity thing is still pretty much a pipe dream…
Last week was not a good week around here. My little corner of Louisiana broke the record high temperature for October at 97 degrees. You read that right. Ninety-freaking-seven. Fall is still elusive, and rather than boots and scarves, I’m still rocking the cutoffs, tank tops, and sandals. The heat that never ends has made everyone snarly, and it’s definitely worn our it’s welcome. It’s not helping things that my Fitbit confirmed that my sleep habits lately leave a lot to be desired. I need a nap and a major attitude adjustment.
With the school Halloween carnival just around the corner, I’ve been deep in planning and organization mode, while also trying to balance work and the Heathens. While my sewing machine has taken up residence on my dining room table, it’s been cranking out carnival booth backdrops rather than anything fun. However, the boys brightened up this less-than-fun week with perfect report cards, which earned them dinner at their favorite restaurant and this mom a margarita.
After our week of record heat, my husband was out of town over the weekend, so I hosted my sister, her boyfriend, and his kids for a delicious Sunday lunch and fun. In typical sister fashion, she played on all the scooters, the seesaw, the pink powerwheels, but boyfriend and I drew the line on riding the skateboard. She has a tendency to forget that she is no longer 13, and very accident prone. I’m sure my neighbors wonder if she’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket, but’s it is highly entertaining to watch a nearly 40 year old woman ride a go-cart.
Meanwhile, I cast on for the Starshower cowl, but progress is slow with so much to do.
Now, I’m off to buy pumpkins for next week, as I learned my lesson last year. Come Monday, you will be hard pressed to find them as retailers are clearing the way for Christmas inventory. And maybe I’ll make some pumpkin bread. If it doesn’t feel like fall, at least it can taste like it, right?