Archives for July 2013

Happy Birthday Pumpkin: To My Daughter on Her 8th Birthday

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Dear Pumpkin,

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about your letter for this year. Mostly because after so many years of writing letters for both you and your sister, I’m always wary that I’m going to repeat myself – that some day you’ll find yourself faced with years of these letters and you’re going to finish, look up at me and say, “Mom, REALLY? Did you have to mention every year how I’m such an awful sleeper?” (The answer is yes, yes I do.)

Pay attention to those reoccurrence, though, these things that I repeat year after year, for those will likely give you the truest window of memory, your childhood. How you have woken up painfully early nearly every day of your life from the day you were born.

And you were born at 5:53 in the morning, delivered by the family doctor I have been seeing since the day after your sister was born. From the time I woke up until the time you were born, less than a handful of hours passed. And so begin my life with you.

This has been…a year. You’ve grown in leaps and bounds and you are still very much my little girl all at the same time. You’re so very excited to finally get to ditch riding in the booster seat. Today we’ll go on a booster-seat-less ride somewhere, anywhere, so you can get the most immediate gratification from being eight.

Third grade is on the horizon after you breezed through second grade. Your teacher loved you this past year – which doesn’t surprise me much. She told me how kind you are, how you were friends with anyone, everyone. In a world where boys still have cooties, your teacher said you didn’t object if you happened to be paired with one for classwork. She commented on your heart and how sweet you were. Later in the year, she started to comment on how talkative you became. “It’s a good problem,” she said at our conferences. “I’d much rather report to parents that their child is too social than the opposite.”

You have had a tough time occasionally this year adapting to having two houses – “When I’m with dad, I miss you and the dog. When I’m with you, I miss dad.” I’m grateful for technology to bridge the distances in those moments. I am grateful for FaceTime and for your sister iMessaging me pictures of you both on Friday mornings when you’re with your daddy, because I miss our coffee and doughnuts tradition when you’re not here. Seeing your faces for a Friday morning picture makes it easier for me – because when you’re not here, I miss you too.

You still love dogs – so so much. You have always been this way – when something catches your interest, it grips you and you devour information about it, a nearly unquenchable thirst for knowledge. It used to be dinosaurs when you were smaller, and now – as it has been – it’s dogs. You know so much about them, and I made your birthday cupcakes this year to resemble little dog faces. Your sister and I struggled to break those pretzels just so for those dog ears and dog mouth pieces. You apologized for picking the most difficult recipe in the book. I meant when I said that it wasn’t too difficult and that I was happy to do it.

The other night, a piece of the hardware in my bathroom sink broke and I was struggling to fix it with a steak knife – trying to unjam the drain plug because it was wedged so tightly and wouldn’t come loose and the water in my sink wouldn’t drain. It was ridiculous, in retrospect, but I was frustrated. And so I sat on the bathroom floor pouting about it. You came into the bathroom with a heart shaped sticker, pressed it onto my shirt and you hugged me. You know, you always know, when someone needs a hug, needs to know they are cared about. I am grateful for that.

Your love of animals may at some point turn into experiments with vegetarianism – and I’m already sensing that. Recently, at Uncle J’s birthday party, you ate a few bites of the barbecued pork and then stopped. It was a pig roast, and yeah, they still had that whole pig carcass on the grill – its face too, even. “I’m just too sad for the little pig to eat anymore,” you told me. Then you filled up on potato chips. Since then, you’ve also expressed concern about how your cupcake feels (I assured you that the cupcake has no feelings) – your big heart holds so many things dear.

You love your sister, even though the two of you still bicker a lot. You hug her and tell her you love her, even though she doesn’t always hug back. You miss her when she’s with her friends and I can tell how you admire her. You’ve just mentioned wanting to do gymnastics again, I’m sure it has more than a little to do with The Princess.

Your eyes are the most beautiful I have ever seen in my life.

You are an amazing reader, and you devour books as I do, as your sister does. The three of us can go in a library, go our separate ways and meet in the middle, all of us with towering stacks of books. By the time we get home again, you’re halfway through your first one. I love that.

You lost SO MANY teeth this year and after months of wide open spaces where teeth should be, they’re finally growing back and it’s fun to see these big teeth in the small teeth places.

Your favorite color is purple.

We sing before you go to bed every night – “I love you so much, I love you so much. I can’t even tell you how much I love you. You’re special to me, you’re special to me. I’m lucky to have you as part of my life. I love you I love you I love you. I love you I love you I love you. I love you so much, I love you so much, I can’t even tell you how much I love you.” Once we sang over FaceTime. It as relaxing a part of my night as it is to yours. Most nights, thirty minutes after I tuck you in, you’ll come back downstairs, ask me to snuggle, and I’ll go to your room and we’ll sing. (You wake up too early, you go to bed too late.)

It’s your birthday. Another year has gone by, sweetpea. I can’t wait to see what eight looks like.

I love you with my whole heart, and I’m so very lucky to be your mom.



Thursday Ten: Summer Birthdays Are Tricky edition

1. As I type this, I’ve received one confirmation and one decline for Pumpkin’s birthday party tomorrow. She only invited three girls. That third kid, well, who knows if she’ll show or not. IT’S A MYSTERY! Having said that, planning parties for my summer birthday kiddo each year has been tricky. We must be the only family that doesn’t travel or do anything in the summer.

2. Someday we’ll travel and do stuff. I saw San Francisco on some show on HGTV and sighed because beautiful, I miss it and I wish I could go more often. But… not this year.

3. I finally took the plunge and painted my kitchen and living room this week. I’ve wanted gray walls SOMEWHERE in my house for a very long time – and now I have ’em. Of course, now I really hate the carpet and the curtains in the dining room. Can’t win ’em all. (But sigh. These walls. I love them so big.)
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4. The weather finally broke and Tuesday and Wednesday were DELIGHTFUL. Hey Michigan? I want this all the time. ALL. OF. THE. DAYS. Like that. I call it “cheap weather” – cool enough that the AC isn’t needed, warm enough that I don’t have to turn on heat, either. Perfection.

5. My work week is over for the week already and it’s amazing how quickly a 24-hour work week flies by and ugh, I don’t even want to see what a 24-hour work week paycheck looks like but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. (Don’t worry, I’ll have a paper bag on hand for the inevitable hyperventilating)

6. The Princess mastered two new stunts in gymnastics this week. I’m almost looking forward to the new competition season. Almost.

7. I did a cool Pinterest-inspired photo shoot with my kids this past weekend – I made them fly. Shooting up at the sky while my kids bounced on the trampoline to look as though they were being lifted by a bunch of balloons. It worked better than most Pinterest-inspired things do. I was ridiculously pleased with the result. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken shots I can’t tear my eyes from.

8. It was a cool morning yesterday so I made coffee before leaving for work. I added to it a massive dollop of homemade whipped cream. It was delightful (and probably horrible for me). It was a lovely treat, with a hint of vanilla. Not sure what made me think of it but I’ll have to try to not do that too often.

9. I switched purses yesterday. Ladies, can I just say that if you ever find yourself in a restroom and you don’t have the feminine hygiene products you require, you may just really wish I happen to be in that same restroom because WHY DOES A PERSON NEED TO CARRY SEVEN TAMPONS IN HER PURSE? I am evidently way prepared. Also, my purse was a big stupid mess and I didn’t even realize until I started pulling everything out just how many were in there. (I also have an excess of grocery store receipts, morning notes, and loyalty cards from various retailers.)

10. I missed National Tequila Day yesterday and why is that even on a Wednesday. Idiots. Rain check?

Kitchen Through the Lens: Where It Is and Where It Will Be

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Just over a year ago, I launched a project. I put together a list of recipes, things I’d always wanted to try to make but hadn’t, as well as things I never thought of making but the internet thought I should. It was a weird point in my life – newly separated, I wanted to create something for myself, something that the kids and I could look forward to. I didn’t know how I was going to cook for our little family of three, or even what I would be cooking for our little family. I wanted to branch out, try new things, and try to learn to love cooking.

Along the way, I wanted to hone my food photography skills as well.

What happened?

Well, cinnamon bread happened. Caipirinhas. Vinaigrettes. Mmmmmmargaritas happened (and then they happened again. And again). Beer braised tacos. Lemon pasta. Cream puffs. Pesto. Beer bread. Patatas bravas.

I haven’t made the whole list yet and I haven’t even made anything new from it in awhile (though, I’ve got infused vodka on the brain – thinking a basil infused vodka, maybe a lemon simple syrup – might be a fun summery drink. I’m making this up as I type this post – oooh! I’m spontaneous).

But the cooking projects along the way became a little expensive – and hey, that may be why I didn’t make some of these things in the first place. I mean, I love hummus and it was fun making it, but I’ve spent more than a few bucks now on a jar of tahini and what the heck else do I do with it (besides make a lot more hummus)?

Not only that, but…

I kind of learned to really enjoy cooking. Part of it was opening up my mind to expand beyond the normal repertoire of things I’d always cooked (and no matter what, the kids won’t let me stop making spaghetti). Part of it was spending time in the kitchen with someone who really loves to cook and learning to see why the process can be enjoyable and finding his joy and discovering that yeah, it’s fun.

Grilled spicy Sriracha burger with crispy shallots and ginger-chili aioli

It’s fun to move around the kitchen cutting and chopping and laughing and knowing that in the end you’re gonna have something like that burger, for example. (The second time we made them, I actually made a homemade bun to accompany it. Wow.)

Circumstances have changed – I’m taking a break from spending a fortune on every new meal I make (that job thang, always gettin’ in my way). Not only that but the girls and I aren’t in that place where we were a year ago. We no longer need to manufacture things to look forward to because life is actually pretty good. Add to that the part where I accidentally learned to like spending time in the kitchen for something other than cheesecake, and well… you can maybe see why this project has dwindled.

But it won’t go away. I’ll finish that list – I mean, I haven’t even made my own sourdough bread yet and I’ve been wanting to try that forever.

So, stay tuned. Don’t go away. There will be more food and more pictures. I promise.


Thursday Ten: I’m Meeeeeeeltiiiiing edition

1. So apparently the thing now is that we’re not supposed to complain about the weather. Apparently the thing is that now we complain about the people who complain about the weather. “You spend all winter saying it’s too cold and you spend all summer saying it’s too hot. If you don’t like it, just move!” I’ve seen variations of this all over the place – and from some of my favorite people – so I’m not giving hate, just gonna say this: some of us can’t move. Some of us landed where we are by circumstances out of our control and some of us will stay where we are because of  circumstances out of our control and sometimes that means that yeah, we’re going to bitch about the weather. By the way? A heat index of nearly 100? That’s TOO HOT.

2. The second week of working part time is over and it was a little less emotionally fraught as far as the whole “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MYSELF” feeling – but that’s mainly because I have 101 things to do to distract me from the fact that there are two days this week I won’t be working or making money. I’ve got a busy day planned for today and tomorrow? Well, I should probably get all caught up on cleaning all of the things before the kids come home from their dad’s.

3. Nope. Still not entirely used to them being gone for a week at a time, but grateful that there’s time built in to that week that I can see them, and even additional time that’s managed to come my way when I wasn’t expecting to see them but did.

4. I’d hoped to paint my dining room and kitchen while they were gone – somehow it seemed a productive thing to do – but with this heat? No way. Hoping the heat wave abates soon so I can get that done.

5. A year ago this week, I had photographed several of these. I love black eyed susans – they’re just such a photogenic little flower. And it’s mind boggling, though it’s started and ended with these flowers, how different of a place I am in now than a year ago.
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6. I have watched one episode of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix and so far I’m not really getting the big fuss. I’ll watch another episode or two , but for now, I’m really not understanding why people say it’s so great? Are you watching it? What do you think?

7. Given this excessive heat, I’ve been having to change up the workout routine. Go outside to walk or run? Um. The air isn’t even moving, so why should I? Stay inside to do a workout with the Nike Training Club app? Well, no. It’s still too warm indoors. So, I’ve ventured over to my mom’s for the past two nights to walk laps in her pool. I feel like a little old lady, but for the first time this year, the water feels great (like bathwater!) and I get a workout without being miserable.

8. And I need to keep finding ways to work out because it’s not as easy to find time anymore. And I’m getting older. Bah. Having to work harder than I used to for the same result is just another of the many indignities of getting old. Boo.

9. My grandpa is hanging in there and doing as well as he can. My grandmother is having a hard time with knowing he’s not doing well and she’s acting out in ways that are truly obnoxious. It’s been hard, but we’re all doing the best we can.

10. Have I mentioned I’m going to be an aunt again BECAUSE I AM GOING TO BE AN AUNT AGAIN. My sister is due in January. I can’t wait.

Thursday Ten: A Haircut Without Trauma edition

1. When you complain about your hair on Instagram and someone says, “Hey, you should call my sister!” and you do and she does a pretty good job and it’s reasonably priced too AND you don’t end up in tears? We call that a win. A big big win.

2. My work week is over. Do you know how short a 24 hour work week is? Pretty short. Soooo, the weekend is in full swing, and by full swing I mean I have a list of errands a mile long and I’mma start with getting some dough going for homemade hamburger buns, then taking the dog to the groomer, then to wax my unruly eye brows, by salt for the water softener, and and and… yeah. I just honey’do listed my own day away.

3. Yeah, I said HOMEMADE HAMBURGER BUNS. Seems like a really good burger deserves a better canvas, if you will, than some store bought bun. I made a test batch earlier in the week and the kids gave them two very enthusiastic thumbs up each. So, we’ll see.

4. The temperature FINALLY dropped yesterday after several unbearable days of humid air so thick it was like walking through honey. Humidity is so yucky.

5. Yucky.
Hey, you're not in the family.

6. My kids are amazing and I am so blessed to be their mom.

7. Oh, you have a Twitter account? You must be a social media expert. TALK TO ME SOME MORE ABOUT SEO. (“You can twit about that on your Tweeter,” as Pumpkin says – I am pretty sure she stole that from one of her awful shows)

8. Didn’t it used to be easier to make ring tones with iTunes? I am not sure why I want to make one – because I almost never have my ringer one- but now that I know what I want and I can’t do it easily? A POX ON YOU, APPLE. Things were easier when Steve was alive.

9. I’m trying to read more books again. I’m not as good at losing myself in a book as I used to be (or else the books just aren’t as good), but I used to read a lot. I’ve said it quite a few times lately, that I need to get that back, but I really need to get back into reading.

10. What is your dream vacation? If money was no object, and you had all the vacation time you needed for this trip – where would you go? What would you do? Tell me about it.

Sometimes Introspection is Just a Gigantic Pain in the Ass

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When I was a kid, my dad used to make my lunches for the week on Sunday. He’d make five peanut butter on sourdough sandwiches and wrap them in aluminum foil and put them in the freezer. Each morning, he’d pack one of the sandwiches in my lunch, and by the time lunch time rolled around my sandwiches usually were still frozen.

I can still taste it on my tongue, somehow, these frozen sandwiches.

I have no idea what made me think of these sandwiches today because it’s been years since I’ve had one just so, but it made me want to revisit that taste of frozen bread.

It… was a tough day.

Though last week was the first week of part time work, it didn’t feel like it because everyone’s week was shortened by the holiday. This week, it’s just me. And then someone from HR came to talk to me about COBRA (The short answer to that little question is: Uh, no. COBRA, why you gotta be so expensive?). And then we discussed the work week. I’d assumed I’d just work my hours, but two fewer days. Uh, nope. So then suddenly I needed to cut 90 minutes out of my day in order to not go over my number of hours this week (I suppose I could have just gone in late tomorrow. Really late). It’s just a bizarre thing, cutting my week short by another three hours when it’s already been cut by ten.

And then I started doing math.

It was with that heavy feeling of being overwhelmed by things outside of my control that I grabbed my camera bag and stepped into the heavy, humid Grand Rapids air this afternoon to take an hour long lunch, with no real plans and no real destination. It’s a weird feeling. I typically take short lunches if I take a lunch at all, and when I hurried out of the office today it was with thoughts of budgets and COBRA and “these circumstances really effing suck.”

Somehow I ended up thinking of frozen sandwiches.

Believe me when i say it was a welcome relief from thinking of numbers.

I have never really minded being in my head like I am – usually it’s fine. Being thinky is as much a part of who I am as my dimples, my big feet, my tendency to laugh at inappropriate moments. When times are stressful though, the introspection gets to be TOO much. Alright already, I want to tell my brain. That’s enough outta you. You’re done. Shhhhhh.

I looked up and I saw that garbage can. Tagged with the “Seek Joy” tag I’ve been seeing in places around Grand Rapids. Out of nowhere, seemingly. I smiled. Snapped some pictures. Grabbed my camera bag and made my way back to the office through the thick mid-day air.

At my desk, shirt sweat damp, brain slightly slowed, a bit more ready to face my afternoon. To work through the noise. To keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Today is my Thursday. Or is it my Wednesday? I don’t know, but tomorrow is somehow my Friday and I hope that it’s easier. I hope it keeps getting easier.

Our Favorite Children’s Books For Summer

One of my favorite blogging perks – since no one is clamoring to send me on lovely trips to write about them (though I’m TOTALLY open to that, FYI) – is getting brand new books in the mail to review. I get quite a lot of books, and it makes me and the little people tremendously happy. It also makes me friends happy because for some reason, I get a bit of romance novels and I really don’t care to read or review those so they immediately get passed on to friends who will dig ’em.

The kids’ books I mention on my blog have met a few criteria:

  • My daughters like them
  • I like them
  • I believe they have enough staying power to not get annoying after you’ve read it to a kid four times in a row

When I get books, Pumpkin goes through them first (most of what I’ve received has been more fitting for a 4 – 8 year old age group, so The Princess opts out of a lot of the reading). She tells me what she likes, and I read and pare the list down from there. What you’re seeing here are some of our latest faves.

Fanciest Doll in the Universe

Fancy Nancy: Fanciest Doll in the Universe

I’m forever a fan of the Fancy Nancy series – I love the illustrations, I love the concept, and I love the sneaky vocabulary lessons (“Then my mom tries consoling me. That’s fancy for making me feel better.”). In this latest book, Nancy’s little sister draws all over Nancy’s favorite doll with a permanent marker. Nancy is devastated that her doll is “ruined” and mad at her little sister. In the end, of course, the sister-drawn tattoo ends up being a good thing, and Nancy realizes her sister won’t always be little forever. I kind of dug this – I remember Pumpkin ruining her older sister’s stuff. It’s a sibling thing and it’s pretty common and I love how they covered it.

Sticky, Sticky, Stuck!

A family so wrapped up with work, cell phones, television and the like that they fail to pay attention to little Annie except to tell her she’s sticky. So when Annie makes a sticky sticky sandwich and the whole family gets stuck they realize they actually kind of like to spend time with each other and it’s good to put the phones down and connect with the people in front of us. Uh, whut? Yeah. Kind of heavy handed, but a cute way to share a good message. And yes, I put the iPhone down for awhile after reading it.

Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach (My First I Can Read)

The Pete the Cat series (we just received Pete at the Beach, Pete’s Big Lunch, and Play Ball) are great because they are for beginning readers and are entertaining and somewhat challenging but not so challenging that you’re filling in every third word for your reader.

Tyler Makes Spaghetti!
But perhaps my favorite of the bunch is this offering from chef Tyler Florence (apparently, he’s also penned Tyler Makes Pancakes! which sounds equally fun). With the focus I’m working on instilling in my kids – eating more whole foods and less meals from packages (I’m not all the way there yet, by the way. My addiction to snack foods isn’t likely to end any time soon, but for meals, I’m doing a pretty darn good job), I love this book’s focus on the simple and natural ingredients that encompass a meal of spaghetti and meatballs. The book finishes with Tyler Florence’s recipe – and yeah, I’ll be giving that a try soon with the kids in the near future.


So these are some of the latest pages we’ve been turning. What have you been reading with your kiddos this summer?


Though these books were sent to me free for review, the opinions expressed are my own. Amazon affiliate links used because why on earth not.

Thursday Ten: On the Fourth Edition

1. Happy Fourth of July (Apparently, AP Style rules say you capitalize all that stuff – if you care about AP, you should be super happy). Here’s hoping your day includes perfect weather, s’mores, a great view of fireworks, and a day off from work.

2. Realized earlier in the week that we missed our dog’s Puppiversary. Three years ago this week, Sir Pups-A-Lot* was welcomed into our home with open arms (and wallet). Can’t believe how the time has flown. Also, I’m pretty sure I’d never get another puppy but I think an awful lot these days about getting another dog. That’s not a great move either right now.

3. I really have a hard time with this summer parenting time schedule that the ex and I have with our girls because they’re with their dad for a week right now and I miss them terribly. They’ll be home Friday and with me for a week. It’s really really tough. When I was a kid and shuttling back and forth between my mom and dad’s houses, I never really thought about how it impacted them emotionally. Me? I miss my people.

4. The first week of part time work during a holiday week in which it is a short week for everyone makes it a bit easier to kind of ease into that new schedule but even so… meh. It’s not ideal. But, you know, I’m trying to stay positive and keep my eyes open to opportunities and solutions because yeah, otherwise I’ll stress myself out and NO ONE wants that.

5. Finally made it to the beach last weekend and had a terrific time. Didn’t stay long – long enough to feel the warmth of the sun and the sand between my toes and the cool rush of the water as the waves crashed in on our feet. Left before sunburn and brought some of the beach home with me. Hello, lovely.
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6. Had the opportunity to shoot family portraits for a friend and her extended family last weekend – and had a blast. I sure do love capturing those candid moments – I know the tendency is to want those posed shots, but I’m really aiming to focus on more of a life-style, photo-journalistic approach to my business. Why? Because anyone can line people up and make them say “cheese” (Okay, not just anyone, but y’all know what I mean) but I think my ability to capture those real moments in the way that I do sets me apart. Now, to find a way to focus on that, find my target client and work on it. That might help item #4 up there.

7. That I still remember birthdays of people I went to high school with probably contributes to why I use the calculator on my phone to calculate tips. There’s no room for math brain; it’s filled with birthdays.

8. Sometimes desperation triggers creativity. Like when I needed to re-do my toenail polish and couldn’t find any cotton balls nor could I find any nail polish remover wipes. I, uh… used a pantiliner soaked in nail polish remover. It worked…okay. But I would only recommend it in cases of extreme desperation because it’s surely not cost effective and it will make you feel ridiculous.

9. I fought the urge to buy the super big box of Cheez Its at Costco and I’m telling you this because yes, I think y’all should pat me on the back for that because THE BIG BOX OF CHEEZ ITS OMG. (I totally have I-didn’t-buy-it-remorse).

10. I’m still working on my 40 before 40 list and even though I haven’t completed my list I almost did the first thing on the list the other day. I want to buy a lemon tree. Yes, I want a lemon tree SO BADLY that it’s on my 40 before 40 list. I saw some at our local greenhouse-type place. Indoor lemon trees for about $40. While part of me should probably not go spending money frivolously (refer to pesky item #4 again… Grrrrrr…), I can’t help but think how happy that darn tree would make me. Tune in next week to see if I caved and went back.

*not his real name but how cool would that have been?