Traditionally Speaking

The question has always stumped me.  I have never come up with a really good answer.  My whole life, I have always been flummoxed when someone puts me to the task of explaining my family traditions or heritage-related stuff.  I guess it is because I wasn’t really raised in any kind of specific, culturally rich atmosphere.

We only spoke one language in my house.  I didn’t have a crazy grandmother always yelling things in Greek or Italian or Chinese at me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I definitely had a crazy grandmother.  It’s just that she yelled, “Dammit!  Who hid my cigarettes again?” and “Don’t be a beer counter, you little jerk!” in English.  Nobody came to America on a boat or was smuggled in a truck (or even flew here on a plane for that matter) for at least a few generations back.  We definitely didn’t celebrate any holidays that weren’t pre-marked in red or depicted in the monthly picture on the linen hand towel calendar in the kitchen.

If Snoopy wasn't drinking a margarita, how were we supposed to know to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

If Snoopy and Woodstock were slinging back sunflowers instead of margaritas, how were we supposed to know to celebrate Cinco de Mayo?

There was always talk that my father’s side of the family was German along with some other Western European sprinkles (French, English) and my mother’s side was similar, minus the German, and somehow plus some Native American.  I think that my ancestors have lived on American soil for a really long time, but honestly I’ve never actually entered my credit card information on ancestry.com to confirm or find out otherwise.  I don’t know what is true and what is made up.  I have always just considered myself kind of a cultural mutt.  And I am okay with that.

Until Thanksgiving, that is.

‘Tis the season for unveiling your cultural relevance and family traditions.  The friends with whom we will be celebrating Thanksgiving asked how we could incorporate ours with theirs.  This year my parents and two of my sisters and their families are going on a cruise in the Carribbean.  I was just going to watch football and make stuffing from the box, so… um, just run with yours.  Most of my kids are working on homework assignments and projects that involve where they came from and how we as a family celebrate that.  I think that the kids are as frustrated about the family void when it comes to this subject as I was, so they are finally employing some creative license to get the job done.

Kid B was given the assignment by her Spanish teacher to make and explain a traditional, cultural recipe as it applies to her family.  She asked if she could instead make an old, family dessert recipe* that would represent our heritage, even though it had nothing to do with us maybe being slightly German-English-French-1/16th Cherokee.  The teacher said go for it.

So Kid B went to the grocery store and got the ingredients for cookie dough, a box of Oreos, and a brownie kit.  She mixed them individually, layered the cookie dough on the bottom, covered it with the Oreos, and then spread the brownie mix on top.  And, voila… a batch of “slutty brownies” was made.  Yes, that’s really what they are called due to the wicked threesome of ingredients.

According to family lore, you can make them even sluttier by adding a layer of dulce de lece before the brownies.

According to ancient family lore, you can make them even sluttier by adding a layer of dulce de lece before the brownies.

So now I guess, traditionally speaking, I can finally say we have a cultural identity.  And I am okay with that, although I do hope it translates to something a little nicer in Spanish.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

*Slutty brownies are not, in fact, any kind of old, family recipe.  I have never made them in my life.  As far as I know, they started going around the internet a few years ago.  They are both easy to make and sinfully delicious.  Kid B was just looking for an excuse to make them.

This is Not a Post About Resolutions

Well, with the “winter break” (Ha!  Raise your hand if you actually feel any kind of post-vacation bliss right about now.  Nobody?  Me neither.  How about if I ask who feels “winter broken?”  Yep… me too.) drawing to a close, things are starting to get back to “normal” around here.

I fully acknowledge the overuse of quotation marks in that opening statement.  Cut me some slack as I ease back into this writing thing.

Sheepdog is spending more time at the office, the teenagers are slowly backing off from sleeping during business hours more than nighttime ones, and the littles are walking around like zombies, muttering “I’m hungry” and “I’m sooooooo bored” even after they have eaten us out of house and home and played their way through every single clamshell case and blister package that found its way under our Christmas tree.

What?  Those were legitimate quotes.  Compulsory marks do not count.

So, after just ONE MORE DAY of winter break, Sheepdog will go to work and the kids will go to school and I will…  I will…

Wait.

What will I do?  What will I do?  What will I do?

What will I do?

There are no more decorations to put up or take down.  There are no more presents to buy or wrap or deliver (well, Kid A does have her 18th birthday coming up in a few days, but how do you even begin to wrap a tattoo?).  There are no more goodies to make or bake or eat.  There are no more envelopes to address and cards to mail, no more trips to pack for (or unpack from), no more holiday parties to plan or attend.  It’s like November and December are 100-mile-an-hour months in a BMW hard-top convertible (sometimes with the top down…BRRRR, Green Bay!) – fun but fast.  Then in January you can’t go over 50 m.p.h. because you are driving around in one of those exclusively electric cars, like a Nissan Leaf.

Seriously, what will I do?

SAHM-meme1

Fortunately, there is always something to do around here.  Mostly, there are chores… shopping for, preparing, and cleaning up after meals, laundry, cleaning out closets and the garage to make room for our holiday haul.  Then there’s the driving… lots and lots and lots of driving.  And sometimes I have to take care of sick kids.  And following the hustle and bustle of November and December, I now have to add “pay many, many bills,” “exercise,” and then “exercise some more because you sure didn’t ever say ‘no’ to the shrimp fondue or the wine, dummy” to my To-Do ASAP list.

All legitimate quotes, dammit.

So, I have all of the boring, repetitive stuff, but I also have some fun stuff coming up too.  I plan on being really committed to my attempts at writing a book this year.  I started in November during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which challenges people to write over 50,000 words during the month, using inspirational quotes and emails and a really unrealistic timeline.  I wrote a chapter (a good one!) during the first few days, but nobody showed up at my front door to rough me up or chase me if I didn’t keep it up, so then I did the other things first that were higher on my priority list.  Seriously, who has time to flesh out the back story of a secondary, yet pivotal, character while they are simultaneously basting a turkey and making cranberry sauce from actual cranberries and agave nectar for 30 people?

"Ain't nobody got time for that." - Sweet Brown

“Ain’t nobody got time for that.” – Sweet Brown

But I do have time to continue to keep up this blog and occasionally write chapters of a book that has been knocking around in my head for years.  Especially during January.

And then there is my workout routine, which over the years has been spotty at best, and non-existent if I’m being realistic.  I have two workout speeds… maniacal and eating raw cookie batter when nobody is watching.  Acknowledging that unhealthy discrepancy, and the fact that I have been blessed with an extremely responsive overall body type, I have decided that 2014 is going to be the year for me to stop making excuses and screwing around and I am going to get healthy.  Even if nobody chases me.

When I go to Atlanta Blood Services to donate platelets, my body can produce three bags at one time.  Every time.  No kidding.  And that is apparently not a normal thing.  I am freakishly strong.  I once moved a couch and a love seat from the living room on the main floor down to the playroom in the basement all by myself.  And then I carried two ginormous leather chairs up the stairs.  I grew five healthy babies from scratch in this body (with a little starter help from Sheepdog, of course), and helped them grow even stronger and healthier by breastfeeding them.  And a year after I had Kid E, I did P90X and I was legitimately rocking a bikini on the beach.  I just got lazy and let things slide after that.  And that’s just wasteful.

Well, no more.  No more sliding, no more excuses, no more cookie batter.  Santa brought me P90X3 and I’m going to go push play.  Right after I finish this post and fold the laundry.

I’m just keeping it “real,” folks.

OK, I’m done with the quotation marks now.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Whiplash

“Mom!  I can’t find my North Face jacket.  I think I left it in North Carolina.”

“Mom, my elf didn’t do anything last night.”

“(via text) We need to discuss 2014.  Let’s talk tonight.”

“Stacy, I swear to God, if you don’t get me your Christmas lists right now, I’m gonna make you buy all your own shit.”

It is December.  The smell of fried turkey may still linger in the garage, but Thanksgiving 2013 is already a distant memory.

It is December: put up tree and decorate house http://www.amazon.com buy Sheepdog some egg nog design Christmas cards remind kids of real reason for the season ask them for wish lists Nutcracker end of season team party ding-dong (www.amazon.com delivery) make and refrigerate cookie dough watch “Love, Actually” design photo calendars for family presents class party money collection for bus drivers buy Sheepdog more egg nog ask kids for better wish lists (no, you may not ask for cash) http://www.amazon.com go to stores for things not available on amazon label and stamp and mail Christmas cards decorate gingerbread houses money collection for teachers buy dress for Sheepdog’s law firm’s holiday party buy snowman tablecloths and small water bottles and help with wintry craft at another class party watch “Elf” ding-dong (another http://www.amazon.com delivery) wrap presents Toys for Tots go see Santa get hair cut and colored need to buy Sheepdog more nog go to Sheepdog’s law firm’s holiday party bake cookies drive around to look at lights wrap presents hide presents http://www.amazon.com because there is not an even distribution of presents watch “Rudolph” cousins pollyanna party unwrap presents pack suitcases pack presents pack Christmas socks (that’s what Kid E calls our stockings) ding-dong (whew – glad that last delivery made it in time!) wrap presents hide presents make more cookies because we tore through the first batch Christmas Eve remind kids (again) of real reason for the season visit family deliver presents Christmas Magic wake up early run down stairs make strong coffee open presents open more presents finish off second batch of cookies and egg nog while sitting in sea of crinkled wrapping paper plastic toys electronics and happy faces.  Count our many, many blessings.  Whew.

Stress over Christmas bonus

Don’t forget to stress over the Christmas bonus

It is December.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Got Wood?

I can’t remember if I told you all this before, but in the 8th Grade I won the Industrial Arts Award.  Yes, I deserved it.  And yes, I went to a co-ed school.  At my school, the boys and the girls had to take both wood shop and home economics.  I was okay at the home economics stuff (much better at the cooking and baking than I was at the sewing).  But I was really good at the wood shop stuff, both in theory and practical application.  Plus, I really enjoyed the class.  When you pulled my elephant’s trunk, that light came ON!  Every time.

Here is a picture of me receiving the Award for Excellence in Industrial Arts at my 8th grade graduation ceremony.  I am the one dressed like an Amish girl.  What you can not see (or hear, actually) is my dad in the bleachers proudly exclaiming, "That's my SON!" when the award was announced.

Here is a picture of me receiving the Award for Excellence in Industrial Arts at my 8th grade graduation ceremony. I am the one dressed like an Amish girl. What you can not see (or hear, actually) is my dad in the bleachers proudly exclaiming, “That’s my SON!” when the award was announced.

I guess you can say I have had a life-long admiration for quality woodworking and beautiful things created from quality wood.  Maybe it comes from me being born so close to all of those Redwood trees in California.  I find wood to be amazing.  Wood is very pleasing to my senses.  Whether rough or smooth, natural or stained, I love the feel of it.  I love to touch it.  I love the smell of it.  I love it in all forms… raw and freshly cut, finished, or even as sawdust.  The lines and the swirls in the grains of each piece of wood, as unique as snowflakes, are incredibly interesting and I love imagining the stories of how they came to be.  Hard wood, soft wood, dark wood, light wood… it is all good.  Wood is very, very sexy.

But even more amazing to me is someone who has the ability to manipulate wood into something more, something functional.  A person who can take a piece of wood and build something beautiful and strong is a true artist in my mind.

That is one of the reasons why I love everything about the show “This Old House.”  I started watching Norm Abram on “The New Yankee Workshop” back when Sheepdog and I first got married.  I was in awe of what he could do with pieces of wood in that magical barn.  “This Old House” was a companion show for me… it took it up a notch by delving in to building and renovating entire homes, but it also strayed from the actual woodworking and furniture making components that got me hooked in the first place.  Together, these shows and the people on them (Kevin O’Connor, Norm Abram, Rich Trethewey, Tom Silva, and Roger Cook), have helped foster and intensify my love of all things wood.

I have been playing my favorite game of “Million Dollar Listing” again by perusing the local real estate market.  During my birthday week I went with my dad to see an 8.5 acre property that was on the market for $1.875 million, after having been dropped down from $2.3 million (that made it a really good deal in my mind).  It was spectacular for so many reasons… the privacy, the wooded land, the gunite-salt water-infinity pool out back, the gorgeously refinished kitchen and bathrooms, but mainly because of all of the wood inside of the house.  There is no drywall in this home.  All of the walls are made of wood.  It felt like a mountain cabin in Colorado.  It seriously took my breath away and made me all tingly.

Wood.  On.  The.  Walls.  And notice how the inlayed starburst pattern mirrors the beams on the ceiling.  How does this NOT turn everyone on?

Wood. On. The. Walls. And notice how the inlayed starburst pattern on the floor mirrors the beams on the ceiling.  How does this NOT turn everyone on?  P.S.  There is no way I can afford this otherworldly home.

So now you will totally understand just how freaking excited I was when I found out recently that one of my fun college peeps actually knows Kevin O’Connor, the host of “This Old House.”  They went to high school together and are still good friends.  When I told him how cool I thought that was, he was like, “Seriously, you actually watch PBS?  He’s no Ty Pennington.”

Last week a package arrived for me in the mail.  When I opened it, I could not contain myself.  I was giggling and laughing and smiling and could not wait to put on my new t-shirt and read my very own signed copy of The Best Homes from “This Old House.”  I was ecstatic.  I was over the moon.  I was so excited.

I got wood.

This is some good SWAG

Now this is some good SWAG.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Crash and Burn Upon Reentry

I am officially back, both in the real world and here in This Is How I Do It-world.  Great trip.  Fun times.  Incredible experiences that gave me a little of the travel bug.  But for now there will be no more exciting travel-around-the-globe stories that are posted two weeks out because I didn’t have internet (gasp!) when they occurred.  I am back to real-time, this-crazy-shit-happened-yesterday posts.

It is very easy for me to leave behind my roles as  Mrs. Sheepdog/ Five Baby Mama any time I go on a trip like I just did.  Right up until the moment I walk out the door, I am making schedules and washing laundry and planning meals and rides and doctor’s appointments.  But the second I pull out of my driveway, I let go.  I figure that I have done my best at preparing for coverage in my absence, and at that point I no longer have control over what happens.  I just let it all go and really enjoy every second of being away.

It’s the reentry that is usually so much harder.

The other day Sheepdog and I were in the kitchen discussing the kids (ours) and the state of the union (also ours).

Sheepdog confessed, “I don’t like where we are right now.”

Ugh.  You’re killing me, husband.

Sheepdog and I are fine.  We really and truly are.  Even he admitted it later.  I promise that I’m not ignoring any problems or issues so that Sheepdog is going to turn to a sympathetic boob-job at his office for comfort.  It is simply that he is not getting enough of my time right now.  It’s also likely that I’m not giving him enough of my vagina right now (I am hormonal and tired, people; I’m not a sex machine), but mostly he just wants my undivided attention.

But these pesky kids are demanding my attention even more loudly.

How in the world did two weeks away lead to so much craziness?

I won’t bore you with the details, but every single one of our kids has something happening in their lives right this moment that requires my immediate attention.  Nobody is sick or in a major crisis or anything, but there are things happening that I need to deal with, or they could get out of control.  It’s pre-crisis management time.

And I’m doing my job as best I can.  But it is definitely stressing me out.  And making me a little snippy.

To make things worse, my home phone rings about six times a day.  Every single call begins with a pause… and then comes the “exciting news” about a painter/ home improvement/ security company that will be in my neighborhood and would like to tell me all about what they can do to make my life better.  I’ve started to ask them point-blank if they can cure teenage depression, or stop a 3rd grader from calling my kid a “fucker” during playground kickball, or cure cancer… easy stuff like that.  Usually they hang up on me.

One day last week I was wound way up in the throes of crazy.  It was after school and I was emailing a teacher, making dinner, supervising homework, and trying to get somebody dressed and ready for baseball.  We had to be out the door in less than ten minutes and I had at least thirty minutes left of shit to do.

Kid A came home from 121 Reach (high schoolers tutoring middle schoolers) to pick up Kid C because both of them have ballet at the same time.  Even though I told her to be ready by 5PM, she wasn’t.  I was standing half in the kitchen/ half in the garage yelling at her for being inconsiderate, holding a spoon covered in red sauce (I was making lasagna).  Kid A had gone back to her car in a teenage huff because she was definitely going to be late now.  Another sales call came through on the house phone.  The boys were running around the yard throwing a football, but nobody had their shoes on or put their gear in the car, like I asked them to do.  Kid B was moping around the house in the middle of it all.

Next thing I know, an inconspicuous white minivan pulls up to my driveway.  I don’t recognize the car or the driver.  I automatically presume that it is a cleaning service or a painter about to put rocks or tape on my newly painted mailbox and I scream at her from the garage, “DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN THAT MAILBOX!” in an admittedly scary, I-am-so-about-to-lose-it-on-you tone.

The woman looks at me quizzically.  Then she says innocently and apologetically, “I was just dropping off an invitation for my daughter’s birthday…”

Well, didn’t I feel like a complete and absolute jackass?

I dismissed the tardy Kid C to Kid A’s car, shook my head and took a very deep breath.  I apologized as best I could to the innocent bystander.  “I’m sure you’re going to totally want to have my kid come to your party now!”  She laughed nervously, said, “No worries” and waved goodbye.

Turns out, I agree with Sheepdog.  “I don’t like where we are right now.”

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Wish me luck for tomorrow…

It Never Gets Old

Sister C and her husband came over with their four kids to help us celebrate the 4th of July.  We didn’t do anything outrageous… we grilled some burgers and dogs, ate some cupcakes that were homemade by Kid B, drank some wine and fired up a few amateur sparklers in the light rain that has been falling on us for well over a week now.  We are missing our Kid A, who has been away for two out of an overall four weeks, but we had a really fun time together nevertheless.  God Bless America.

Actual warning on sparklers: "Flamable.  Do Not Put in Mouth."

Actual warning on sparklers: “Flamable. Do Not Put in Mouth.”

Somewhere in the middle of putting out dinner I realized that we were dangerously low on ketchup.  And I had no back-ups anywhere.  As far as Sheepdog is concerned, this is an unforgivable offense.  We are allowed to run out of toilet paper in this house before we are allowed to run out of ketchup according to him.  I think ketchup is vile, so I wanted to tell him to squeeze a tomato and some sugar on his tots and deal with it.  Sister C’s husband had already made a last minute run to the store for 17 kinds of Triscuits and the aforementioned sparkle wands, so nobody was going anywhere else in the middle of the meal.  It’s not like we ran out of alcohol, for goodness’ sake.

I promised Sheepdog that I would get more ketchup (and a few spares, just to make him feel safe) the next day when I went on a regular grocery run.  I had a few other things I was running low on anyway.  I asked Sister C to start a new list for me so I would not forget.  The next morning I thought of some more things that we needed, so I just added them to the list.  This went on throughout the day.

I never actually made it to the store on Friday (I made sure not to serve anything that would require ketchup, lest Sheepdog have an aneurism), but sometime over the weekend I had occasion to go out.  In the middle of the produce aisle I pulled the paper from my purse and I began reading over it to make sure there was nothing else I needed to add when I noticed Sister C’s special request.  I burst out laughing and then I remembered that we also needed yogurt.

grocery list

Having sisters is awesome.  I sure do love mine.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Let Them Eat Cake

Making breakfast every morning is not so bad, especially since most of my kids can pour their own cereal and milk.  I will even occasionally make them an omelette or cheesy eggs or pancakes when it strikes my fancy.

Making sandwiches every afternoon can sometimes get my goat, especially since I have to line up the bread in assembly line fashion, 14 slices at a time.  But I still spread the peanut butter and stack the turkey breast and cheese with love, because lunch lady duty is certainly not the worst chore in the world.

Making dinner every night is what sometimes makes me vexed, especially when I plan and shop and prepare and chop and sauté and grill and boil and toil, only to be met with insulting commentary from the peanut gallery.

“Can I have a sandwich for dinner?”
 
“What’s that smell?” followed by a gagging noise.
 
“What’s for dinner tonight?  Can I stop and pick up something because I’m REALLY hungry?”
 
“Is there any leftover pizza?”

Ingrates.

But my favorite thing to do in the kitchen is bake.  I just love making cupcakes and cookies and pies and muffins and cakes.  Especially the cakes!  I love the smells that fill the house and I love flour on the counters and the perfect sweetness of a really good vanilla extract.  I learned my mad baking skills from my mom and from her mom as well.  They showed me how to sift flour and to grease a pan and to whip cream into perfectly stiff peaks.  They taught me to bake bread and pie crusts and fill cream puffs, all made from scratch.  I learned how to flavor and spread real icing, drizzle chocolate melted in a double-boiler, and how to make art come out of a pastry bag.  The rest I have learned from watching hours of cooking shows and even more hours of trial and error.  There is little that can make me so happy as a cake made and decorated in my own kitchen to celebrate someone I love.

As I have struggled with my stupid thighs and general time management over the years, so I have used mixes and canned shortcuts and cheaters, and even foregone the desserts altogether.  It was just easier that way.  I bought finished products right from the grocery store.  It got the job done, but it just wasn’t the same thing.  Oh, how I have missed real baking.  I missed it so much!

Kid E contributed the last quality of “A Good Friend.”  Cake is awesome.

I recently rediscovered the love and I started baking again.  This time around I mix the old school with a few shortcuts, and I try not to sample the goods as much.  I also try to have a reason for baking… holidays, birthdays, rainy days, PMS… you know, something legit.  We celebrate five family birthdays throughout the month of September, two in this house alone, so I have had an excuse to bake until my heart is content.

Kid E’s 5th birthday came first and he let me bake him the moon.  I made 24 cupcakes to bring to his school, a traditional double-layer round decorated cake which we used to sing “Happy Birthday” to him on his birthday, and an additional 24 cupcakes to “have around.”  What?  Cupcake Emergencies are a real thing.  I even let him choose icing colors and decorate his own cake.  It was fabulous.

“Happy Birthday” written out by mom. Lego guys (one on a chain), Super Mario character with a broken wing, Double X-eyed guy, blue plastic bear, and a “See No Evil” monkey all added by Kid E.

When Kid B’s 14th birthday rolled around, you’d think that I was all baked out, but no!  I was on a roll.  Bring on the sheet cakes, bring on the fancy decorations.  I set aside a day just for baking on the weekend prior to her actual birthday.  My mixer and my spatula were ready.  I was about to explode with the baking love.  I even offered to try making icing roses (if she wanted a girly cake), or an icing field that looked like actual grass (if she opted for the soccer theme).

So, I guess it was predictable that teenage Kid B asked for an ice cream cake from the store.

Sigh.

I definitely feel a Cupcake Emergency coming on now.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…