We Can Work It Out

We Can Work It Out

Over the course of my daughter’s life, I have made many mistakes. I’ve scalded her in the shower. I’ve let her roll off the bed as an infant. I’ve given her cookies and fruit snacks for breakfast. I’ve inadvertently taught her all the swear words. I’ve left markers within her reach. I’ve done many, many stupid things. However, I am convinced that my most recent mistake is the biggest to date.

Let me back up a bit.

Before The Princess was born it was decided that I would stay home with her. If I’m going to be entirely honest, as soon as I realized that being a stay-at-home-mom was even a thing, I knew that I wanted to stay home with my kids…at least until they started school.

For a variety of reasons, I decided to turn in an application to the local daycare center a couple of weeks ago. It seemed like the perfect solution. I could make some extra money, The Princess could spend some time with kids and get used to a school-like setting, and the daycare prices are significantly reduced for the children of staff members. Plus, I would be right there in case of an emergency.

Truthfully, when I turned in the application I didn’t think for a second that I’d get a call back, so I was surprised when I was asked to come in for an interview a week later.

When I came in, the director asked me some basic questions about my application and then cut to the chase. “The hours are 9:30 to 5:30. The first part of the day you’ll be cooking, and then you’ll be in the baby room. The pay is minimum wage. If you want it, you have the job.”

So, we dove into the paperwork. She had asked me to stay and get started right then, but I had to get back home and get my daughter so that Almost-Husband could go to work, so I declined. She then asked about the next day, but it was the day before I was leaving for vacation. We talked a bit and it was decided that I would start work the following Tuesday when I returned.

And that, my friends, was the mistake to end all mistakes (thus far in my parenting career).

I left town Thursday evening for my annual trip to The Fest For Beatles Fans. Since the drive is so long, my mom, best friend, and I drive up to my aunt’s house and crash for the night before she, her daughter, and my grandmother join us and we continue on to Chicago.

I spent the next 3 and a half days blissfully enjoying the rare opportunity to exist as my own entity. Until I returned home at 6:30 Monday evening, I was just Brandyn. No cries of “Mommy I need…” or poop-filled pull-ups or throwing away barely touched meals. No responsibilities. Just family and fellow Beatles fans. I participated in a 60s costume contest, listened to amazing live music, heard some fantastic speakers, made some frivolous purchases, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

However, as the weekend drew to a close, I began to wonder if I was going back to work too quickly after spending so much time away from my family. When I finally walked through my front door, my daughter ran at me shrieking with laughter and delight, “Mommy’s home! Mommy’s home!”

We spent all evening snuggling and playing and laughing and I knew I should have taken an extra day to be with her. But, I reasoned that this was good. I had come home refreshed and energized and we would be starting a new journey together.

Tuesday morning I woke up with just enough time to get myself dressed before waking up The Princess and getting her ready for her first day at “school”. She was convinced that Practice Baby would be there, and I reluctantly informed her that they would be at different schools. She seemed happy enough and bounded out the door eager to make new friends.

As soon as we got there she ran off to play with the other kids and I breathed a sigh of relief as I went into the kitchen to start my day. With the help of the lady in charge of training me, I prepared lunch for the kids and helped serve the meal. I sat next to my daughter to eat my lunch, grateful that we would be able to make this a part of our day.

When it was time to clean up, the first meltdown occurred. She needed her mommy. Now.

I took some time to console her and left her with the big kids so I could learn the ropes in the baby room. She cried and cried. My heart broke.

Soon, I peeked out the door and caught her enjoying herself. I smiled and returned to my job. This was going to be gravy. A while later, I had to leave the room and she spotted me. Another meltdown ensued, but I knew I had to push through.

The end of the day came and after yet another round of hysterical tears, I brought her in with me while I cleaned up and prepared to go home. I reminded myself that it was only the first day and vowed to spend some extra quality time with her when we got home.

She had other plans. As soon as we were in the door she demanded to watch Curious George and be left alone. I made dinner, called my mom, and cleaned up the house a little. All told, I thought it was a pretty good first day.

The next two days, however, were just as tearful. She stopped trying to play with the other kids, opting to stand to the side and pout in between crying sessions. I’m not going to lie, I may have cried a little myself over this.

At this point, I’m at a loss. I want her to get used to a more structured setting before she starts real school. I want her to make friends. I want to bring in a paycheck. But, I can’t help but feel guilty when I’m giving attention to other children while my own child is screaming for her mommy. I can’t help but worry about the strict routine destroying the beautifully wild and independent nature of my little one. I can’t help but be concerned that I’m teaching her to settle by taking a job that isn’t my dream job.

I can’t help but wonder if this is really right for us.

At the behest of my mother, we are going to stick it out for at least two more weeks. If she doesn’t adjust, we’re probably going to have to rethink this move. For now, however, we just have to plug along and hope for the best.

Any of you amazing parents have any tips on how to handle this transition? I’d love to hear them!

Pork Roast/Pork Cassarole Two-Fer {Recipe}

Pork Roast/Pork Cassarole Two-Fer {Recipe}

One of my very favorite things in life is cooking a big meal for family and friends. I don’t know why, but there is something very fulfilling to me about ensuring the tummies of my loved ones get full.

One of my other favorite things is stretching a buck. Typically on a Sunday night I will make a large meal and then use the leftover meat for an easy Monday night meal.

I ran across the basis of this recipe a couple of years ago and couldn’t wait to try it out. I called up a few friends and excitedly whipped it up. It was a huge hit! Over time, I tweaked it until I got it exactly how I wanted it and it became one of Almost-Husband’s favorites. 
Since this recipe takes so long to make and yields so much food, I was hesitant to make it for just the two of us (plus a picky toddler!) without a plan for the leftovers. Not one to back down from a challenge, I concocted a delicious casserole to make the day after. What’s better than getting two meals from one cut of meat?

The casserole was a huge success–Almost-Husband devoured all the leftovers within 24 hours! 

First, we start with the main dish.

Sunday Pork Roast

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons flour (divided)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoning Salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (finely crushed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Thyme
  • 1 pork roast (4 to 5 pounds) 
  • 2 medium carrots (chopped)
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 1 rib of celery (chopped)
  • 3 and 1/3 cups cold water (divided)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can vegetable broth

Will also need a baking dish or roasting pan, a large measuring cup, a turkey baster, a large skillet, and tin foil.

Directions:

  1. Combine 2 tbsp flour and seasonings in a small bowl. Rub over entire roast and place fat side up in baking dish or roasting pan. Arrange vegetables around roast and pour 2 cups of cold water in the pan.
  2. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 2 hours, basting every 30 minutes with juices in pan.
  3. Baste, sprinkle with 1/2 the brown sugar, baste again, and top with remaining sugar. Bake for 30-40 more minutes.
  4. Remove Roast to serving tray and tent with foil. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  5. With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables to a separate bowl (you may serve with the meal, if you wish). 
  6. Pour liquid from roasting pan into a measuring cup. Add vegetable broth until it measures 2 and 1/3 cup. Pour into skillet.
  7. Combine 3 tbsp flour and 1 cup cold water until smooth. Whisk into broth. Bring mixture to a boil and stir until thickened.

Serve with mashed potatoes and your favorite vegetable. 

Save your leftover meat and your gravy, you will need both tomorrow.

Pork Roast Casserole

Ingredients:

  • Leftover pork roast (cubed)
  • Leftover gravy
  • 1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup + one can of water
  • 1 packet of dry gravy mix (pork flavored)
  • 1 16 oz. bag of mixed veggies-frozen. 
  • 2 1/2  cups of dry egg noodles 
  • 2 or 3 small potatoes (diced)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp Lawry’s salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Directions:

  1. In a large baking dish, combine gravy, soup, water, dry gravy mix, and seasonings until well blended.
  2. Stir in vegetables and potatoes.
  3. Stir in meat.
  4. Stir in noodles.
  5. Cover dish with tin foil and bake at 450 degrees for 1 hour or until both noodles and potatoes are tender.

Life Tip: You can use this basic casserole recipe with any leftover meat and gravy. Just substitute the dry gravy packet with the corresponding meat (chicken with chicken, brown with beef). If you do not have gravy from the previous meal, you can use a canned gravy or a corresponding “cream of” soup. If you use the soup, add about a half can more of water.

I hope you enjoy this two-for-one dinner plan! Do you have any left-over make-over dishes? I’d love to know about them! Leave a comment below!

Anxiety, Grief, And A Glimmer Of Hope

Anxiety, Grief, And A Glimmer Of Hope

I have been trying to write this post for nearly 2 weeks now. Dozens of drafts have been started and discarded during a series of late nights and early mornings and who-knows-how-many declarations of “I’ll get to it later”. Since I can’t seem to force these thoughts into any sort of outline, I’m just going to do this stream of consciousness style, so please, bear with me.

Tonight, I can’t sleep. A million thoughts are running through my head at full speed. The bills are piling up, as is the housework. I need to get something written for the blog. I need to get something written for my book. My trip to Beatlefest is coming up. I need to decide on clothes. I need to get packed. I still need to find a sitter. I need to pull some spending money out of thin air. I have 2 appointments tomorrow. I need to go shopping. I have a dentist appointment next week, I can’t forget. Did I write it down? I think I wrote it down. I need to catch up on all my emails. I still haven’t unpacked my office. I just applied for a new job. I hope I get it. I hope I like it. I hope I don’t have to quit the blog because of it. I hope my daughter is okay at daycare. With her attitude she might get kicked out. How did I raise such a brat? I suck at this motherhood thing. I suck at everything….

On and on and on it goes. The list of worries, tasks to be done, appointments to be made and ridiculous self-criticisms is endless. It is suffocating. It drains me of all my energy, making it impossible to complete even the most basic of tasks, which in turn adds fuel to the inner chatter.

Life with anxiety is difficult, even when you are taking the necessary steps to control it. Sometimes, it still shines through. This is one of those times.

It makes sense, of course, that I’m dealing with this right now. I’m not good with change. I’m not good at unexpected events. Try as I might, I’m not a roll with the punches kind of gal. And there have certainly been a lot of  changes lately.

Moving into our new house and getting our puppy were two big changes. While I was mostly prepared for them, it did require a period of adjustment. Our whole routine was upended and it took me quite a while to find our rhythm again.

Unfortunately, as soon as I was back on a somewhat even keel I got a devastating phone call from my best friend. One of our dearest friends, who we have known since the 6th grade, had passed away suddenly. Dropping everything, I jumped in my car and took the half-hour drive to my hometown where a few of us gathered. The weekend seemed to drag on as I sat with my grief. Guilt consumed me as I thought of how long it had been since we had last spoke. The last time I had seen him in person was when he came to visit me in the hospital the day The Princess was born. I berated myself for letting so much time pass. How hard is it to pick up a phone? Why hadn’t I tried harder to stay in touch? I thought I had time. I was wrong.

The following week brought the visitation, the funeral, and my class reunion, which featured a tribute to the friend we had lost. On top of mourning someone dear to me, I found myself mourning the loss of a simpler time. I mourned the loss of friendships. I re-experienced grief for my grandmother and for others I have lost. I mourned the loss of the child I was, of the teenager I was, of the young adult I was. For the first time, I was confronted with my own mortality.  My tears came in waves, broken only by grief-induced sleep and the demands of my child as I adjusted to this new reality.

I would be lying if I said that I was one-hundred percent okay right now. These things take time and I have a lot of thoughts and feelings to sort through. On top of an anxiety flare-up, it’s been a mess.

However, I will say that I am steadily getting better. During this time, I have had to be gentle with myself. I’ve had to remind myself that all the busy-work of life can wait. I just have to get through each day as it comes. I have to remind myself of all the good things in my life and remain focused on the positive, even when the only positive I can see is that it’s close to bedtime. I have had to be honest with those around me and let them know how I am feeling, instead of hiding away, which has been rough since my instinct is to disappear when I am in any kind of pain.

Most importantly, I have become more focused than ever on changing the things that I can. I am relaxing my standards a bit as far as housework and my writing go to allow for more time with family and friends. I am trying harder to really be in the moment and enjoy whatever it is that I am doing without allowing my mind to dwell on the past or the future. I’m trying harder to control my to-do list instead of letting it control me. We are all here on borrowed time. I want to make the most of it while I can.

25 Reasons Why I Love My Life

25 Reasons Why I Love My Life

It’s easy to get caught up in all the stress and negativity that permeates our daily lives. Gut-wrenching news stories, family drama, financial struggles…the list of things that can drag us down is endless.

We’ve all heard about finding at least one thing you’re grateful for each day as an amazing way to counteract that. While I do find this exercise helpful, I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately, so I thought it would be a good idea to make a longer list.

Originally, the list was just for me. However, as I read back through it, I thought it would be nice to share it here and maybe encourage others to do the same.

My life is far from perfect and struggles certainly abound, but it’s not all bad either. So without further ado (and in no particular order) here are the…

1. Morning snuggles with my daughter. She’s so busy now, it’s nice to have some quiet time with just the two of us. I know she’ll outgrow this routine eventually and I intend to soak it all in while I can!

2. My morning workout. It’s amazing how much more clear-headed and energetic I feel after I exercise. I never thought that I would be the kind of person who looks forward to a work-out session, but here I am!

3. This blog. While I do my fair share of complaining about the technical issues that crop up from time to time, this blog is what maintains my sanity. Having a space to explore my thoughts and engage with others is amazing. Writing is as essential to me as breathing, and having a place to share my work ensures that I keep at it!

4. My nearly completed novel. Okay, it’s a first draft…but it’s almost done! Knowing that I’m close to the finish line is a wonderful feeling and to be honest, I have had so much fun writing it that at times it has been hard to pull myself away from it to do other important tasks–like putting away the laundry!

5. Music time. Whether it’s helping out in the studio, playing my guitar, or just singing along with the radio, getting in some music time everyday is something that always makes me smile. Everything is better when the tunes are cranked up!

6. Lazy afternoons with my family. This may just be my very favorite thing.  Just lounging around with Almost-Husband and The Princess doing absolutely nothing is sheer bliss.

7, The new house. I never thought we would ever have a home as nice as the one we just purchased. I never thought we’d actually be able to purchase a home! The security of knowing that it is ours has taken a huge amount of stress off my shoulders, and the freedom to really make it our own is fantastic!

8, Our new puppy. Seriously, though. This guy.

He may be huge but he’s still a pup! Although he’s only been in our family a short time, he is already one of my best friends. He has done wonders for my anxiety level, and he makes me feel safer. He’s pretty much the coolest dog around!

9. Beatlefest is coming up! I am so excited to be counting down to a weekend of peace, love, and the company of my amazing family. It’s always the highlight of my year and I can’t wait to get away, relax, and recapture a bit of myself.

10. Electricity. I know it sounds hokey, but how often do we take things like this for granted? With all the financial problems we’ve had, knowing that we’ve never had to go without electricity is a blessing. Plus, it powers all our cool stuff!

11. Water. Honestly. How great is indoor plumbing? It’s another thing we take for granted, but I am thankful that we have this luxury when there are many people in the world who do not.

12. My partner. We’ve been through a lot in our 9 years together, both good and bad, and our relationship continues to grow stronger each day. As much as he can drive me nuts sometimes, he is also an amazing source of support, friendship, and love and is such a fantastic dad! I’m incredibly lucky that he supports our family and I’m sure I don’t thank him enough for what he does for us.

13. My ninjas. One of the perks of blogging is all the wonderful people you meet along the way. These 4 lovely ladies in particular have been a godsend. It’s amazing to me how the five of us can come from such different backgrounds and still be so similar. I’m thankful for the bond we’ve developed and the unwavering support we have for one another.

14. My besties. There’s nothing like sisterhood…especially when they’re sisters you got to choose for yourself! These two wonderful ladies (you know who you are!) have always had my back and have been there through thick and then. Knowing that I always have someone to turn to is invaluable. I love you both!

15. My Mommy. I could write a thousand words on why my mom is such a blessing. She’s been my teacher, my cheerleader, and one of my best friends from day one and I am incredibly lucky to have the bond we share.

16. My siblings. We may not see each other as often as I’d like, but we always remain close. Having people who can share in your earliest memories is something worth celebrating!

17. Hell, this could go on forever–all my friends and family. I am incredibly blessed to have such a rich network of people who care about me and my family and whom I love deeply. Thank you all for being there for us no matter what!

18. Shorts. I hate pants. I hate skirts. I hate the heat. Shorts solve all these problems.

19, Being barefoot. Nothing makes me happier than feeling the earth beneath my feet. It’s my favorite part of summer and I have been taking full advantage of that!

20. Good food every day. We may not be able to go on fancy vacations or buy ourselves a lot of “fun” stuff, but we always have good food. I love to cook and I love knowing that my family is never hungry. In a world where so many go to bed on empty stomachs, the fact that there is always food on the table is something to be grateful for.

21. Netflix binges. This is one of our few indulgences. Nothing beats re-watching your favorite show, beginning to end, over the course of a day or two.

22. Coca Cola. I can’t start my day without it! It may not be the healthiest beverage, but it puts a smile on my face. Not only does it taste good and give me my caffeine fix, but it also brings back many happy memories of my grandmother.

23. My cat. He may be antisocial and spend his days hiding from us, but that makes it all the more sweet when he finally decides to give us some attention!

24. My SUV. I love my 2003 Sante Fe. It’s the nicest vehicle we’ve ever owned, and the freedom to just pick up and go is awesome! After spending considerable amounts of time without a car, it is not something I take for granted!

25. My bed. Honestly, at the end of the day nothing is better than collapsing into my big comfy bed. It may be full, with 2 adults, a toddler, and a dog, but it’s one of the happiest places I’ve ever found. Falling asleep and waking up with my loved ones is truly a blessing!

If there’s a lesson to come from all of this, it’s that the key to happiness is learning to take pleasure in the simple things in life.  We only get one shot, why not enjoy it?

How To Deal With Writer’s Block

How To Deal With Writer’s Block

Over the past few days, I have found myself struggling to write. Every night, I open up my laptop, stare at the screen for who knows how long, and type out a few sentences that ultimately lead to nowhere. Since the move, I’ve started 9 posts, all of which I have given up on for the time being.

It seems, my friends, that I have a crippling case of writer’s block.

For me, writers block isn’t so much about having a lack of things to say. It’s more like being mentally constipated. Tons of ideas crammed together in my creativity tube that just won’t come out, no matter how hard I push. My brain’s just all stopped up. It’s uncomfortable, it’s irritating, and it’s slightly painful.

Much like being constipated, the worst thing you can do is try to force it.

If you find yourself in this situation, the first thing to do is try to loosen up all those backed up words. I know, I know. Easier said than done. Here’s three methods I’ve found that can get those ideas flowing smoothly.

1)Switch gears. Try writing something different. For instance, instead of writing about the things I learned while moving, I am writing about writer’s block. Take your mind off of whatever it is you are struggling to create. If that doesn’t do the trick, try doing something unrelated to writing. Draw a picture, sing a song, rearrange the items on your desk. Stepping away from the project at hand can give you fresh perspective, and if you’re like me, once you’re focused on something else your brain will go back to whatever you were trying to do in the first place in a bid to procrastination.

2) Try free writing. Grab a sheet of paper and just write the first words that come to mind, even if it is as silly as “I am writing. Watch me write…” continue this stream of consciousness scribbling for a few minutes. Don’t worry about things like grammar or whether or not it makes sense. The point here isn’t to create great content (although it’s always a nice surprise if you do!), it’s about getting the creative juices flowing. Once you get in the writing zone, it’s hard to get back out of it!

3) Have some story juice. If all else fails, pour yourself a glass of whatever adult beverage you prefer and relax! Sometimes all it takes is a nice buzz and a peaceful setting to make those words come pouring out! Pro tip: edit sober!

Now that you’ve conquered your writer’s block, let’s look at some ways to prevent it in the future.

1) Don’t wait to write. Just like you should refrain from holding in bodily functions, the longer to put off writing the harder it will be to get the words out. Keep a small notebook in your pocket or purse to capture your ideas as they come, or jot down some quick notes in your phone’s memo pad. You never know when inspiration will strike, be prepared!

2) Flex your creativity muscles. Do you usually write romance? Try writing horror instead. Get outside of your comfort zone! Try other forms of art, do various puzzles, visit an art gallery, read something challenging, try to understand viewpoints other than your own. The key to keeping your creativity high is to keep your mind engaged. Give it the food it needs to stay active!

3) Try new things.  While it would be awesome to just pick up and visit a new country, you don’t need to do anything quite that drastic to reap the benefits of new experiences. Try a new food. Visit a nearby town you’ve never been to. Take a different route home from work. Say yes to that invitation. Pick up a new hobby. The more experiences you have, the more you have to write about!

4) Create a routine. What time of day do you feel most productive? Schedule yourself some writing time as close to that time slot as possible. If you can, write in the same place everyday. If that’s not possible, create another constant (use the same pen or drink coffee from the same cup each time). The idea is to train your brain to recognize a symbol that this is writing time and draw in your focus. Give yourself a goal. Set a timer, for example, or set a daily word count. Even if what you generate isn’t usable, just getting some practice and developing the habit is a win!

5) Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Eat good food. Get some exercise. When you feel good, it’s easier to be productive. Don’t forget to tend to your emotional, mental, and spiritual needs as well. The healthier and happier you are, the better!

While I wouldn’t say that I’m an “expert”, these are the things that I’ve found help the most. Now, let’s hope I can follow my own advice and keep the writer’s block at bay for awhile!

Do you have any tips of your own for beating writer’s block? Tell us about it in the comments!

Ch-Ch-Changes (Adventures In Moving: Part Three)

Ch-Ch-Changes (Adventures In Moving: Part Three)

As I stare at the blinking cursor on my computer screen, my mind is filled with a million thoughts, most of which center around the pile of boxes across the room that still need unpacked and the stack of dishes sitting in the sink. I feel torn between writing about all the new changes taking place in my life and getting a handle on my never-ending to-do list.

After typing, deleting, and retyping the opening paragraph about 30 times, I almost give up. Maybe I just can’t write anymore. The thought is frustrating. There is so much I want to tell you, but I don’t even know where to start. 
The sound of Almost-Husband playing with our new dog on the living room floor is distracting. I think about heading up to my new office, then remember that there’s no air conditioning up there and it feels like a sauna. Still, the thought makes me smile. 
My own office. In our own house. Our own house!

After nearly 10 years of rentals, living with friends, living with parents, and more rentals…we finally have our own space. A place to call home. 

I’m not sure I can put into words how much a relief it is, especially after all the hoops we had to jump through to get here. A year of fixing our credit. Another year of looking for houses. And then weeks and weeks of sending paperwork, followed by a period of time where we were told the bank was backing out due to a bad landlord reference, which was eventually determined to be unfounded (as we knew it would be). 

With closing pushed back on us three times, when the actual day came we were more than a little nervous when they told us they needed even more paperwork and verification. We got that squared away quickly and we were told to meet them at 3 o’clock. 

Once we got there, we were told there was another issue and we had to run to our bank to get copies of a check and race back to the bank handling our loan, where we were told that it might have to be put off another day. At 4:55 PM, with five minutes to spare before the banks closed for the day, they called us back. They were willing to stay late to get us in. 

In the end, we wound up with no closing costs, no down payment, and actually walked away with a check. After all the craziness that it took to get us done, the outcome could not have been better!

It’s been 13 days now since we’ve moved into our home, but it feels like it was yesterday. I don’t think my mind has fully processed that it’s really ours. To have an entire house to ourselves is surreal. It’s so much nicer than anything I thought we would ever be able to afford, and there are a few times that I’ve found myself feeling as if we’ve stepped into someone else’s life. It’s a crazy feeling to go from a beat-up apartment with sewage in the basement, bats in the walls, and any number of other issues to a clean, safe, beautiful home in the blink of an eye.

The Princess has transitioned wonderfully, although we do need to get back to some sort of routine. She’s suddenly decided that it’s time to use the potty and to sleep in her own room, which is fantastic! She’s also started to play more independently, which is a godsend with all the work it’s taken to get the house in order. 
Saturday, we added a new member to our family, a one year old Akita/ German Shepard mix named Kuma.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried at first about bringing such a big boy home, but he just fit right in. It’s like he’s always been here! He’s already protective of The Princess and has been great playing with her. He’s already housebroken and knows a few commands, which eliminates most of the work I thought was ahead of us. And most importantly, he seems so happy here! I’m so glad we found this guy!

After all the ups and downs that life has thrown at us over the past few years, things finally seem to be evening out. I know the road ahead will still have a few bumps and unexpected curves, but it is also bound to be a beautiful path. Once we get our bearings, I have no doubt that this is the road that will take us to our dreams.

Brandyn Blaze’s World Famous Pizza {Recipe}

Brandyn Blaze’s World Famous Pizza {Recipe}

I believe that every woman should have a signature dish or two; just a handful of recipes you can pull out for a variety of occasions that you know is going to kill every time. For barbecues my go to is a killer Italian potato bake, for super special moments I’ll pull out the steak with red wine sauce, when I know I’m having company I have an amazing pork roast–all of which I hope to share with you as this blog goes on.

Today, however, I want to tell you about the one dish I’m really, really proud of : my homemade pizza.

I believe we’ve covered my extraordinary love of pizza before. I’ve even told you about this wonder-food’s enormous role in my childhood. What I haven’t told you, is that I have big plans for me and pizza in the future.

One of my dreams is to own a bar and grill, where one of the menu items will obviously be pizza. More specifically, you’ll be able to order up my specialty pizza and naturally, it will be the best selling item. It will be raved about by all the food critics and people will come from miles around just to grab a slice. It will be heaven on a crust.  In fact it will be:

Since perfection doesn’t happen overnight, I’ve been tinkering with my recipe over the years. I’ve still got to develop my own crust and sauce, but the basics are there. So, without further ado, I give to you the current incarnation of my world-famous pizza.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages of crust mix (yes, you will need two for one pizza, since this thing is loaded with toppings.)
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Italian Seasoning (divided)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 6.5 oz. can of mushrooms
  • 1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce (I prefer the type with herbs included)
  • 1 1/4 cup 5 Cheese Italian Blend (divided)
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese (divided)
  • 1/2 cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese
  • 1 6 oz package pepperoni
  • 1 green pepper
  • Parmesan cheese 
  • flour (for hands)
  • cooking spray (for cookie sheet)
  • 1 cup water (or as directed on your preferred brand of crust mix)

Tools:

  • 15 X 10 cookie sheet
  • Pastry brush
  • Paper Towels
  • large bowl (to mix crust)
  • microwave safe bowl 

How It’s Done:

1.)  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, or as directed on your package of crust mix. 
2.) While your oven is heating up, combine both packages of mix, garlic powder, 1 tbsp Italian seasoning, and water (as directed by package).

3.) Cover with a damp paper towel (to prevent it from drying out) and let it stand for a minimum of 5 minutes. I usually place the bowl on top of the stove (between the burners to prevent any mishaps!).

4.) While your dough is rising, put the butter in a microwave safe bowl and add the minced garlic and remainder of the Italian seasoning. Melt it in the microwave (about 1 minute on high). If you haven’t already, use the remaining time to dice your green pepper, open your jars and packages, and grease your cookie sheet.

5.) With floured hands, press the dough into your cookie sheet, taking it all the way to the edges.

6.) Brush your garlic butter onto the crust, concentrating on the edges and then blending into the middle.

7.) Brush on your sauce, leaving about a half inch of buttered crust exposed around the edges. It is best to sort of dab it on and then smooth it out. It will blend with the butter and seem a little watery. This is normal.

8.) Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over the sauce.

Now it’s time for the toppings!

9.) Sprinkle about 1 cup of the 5-Cheese blend evenly over the sauce.

10.) Add your pepperoni in a single layer, leaving as little cheese exposed as possible.

11.) Sprinkle 1 cup of the Mozzarella cheese on top of the pepperoni.

12.) Add your mushrooms, spacing more or less evenly to cover the whole area.

13). Add your diced green pepper, again, trying to evenly cover the pizza.

14.) Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of Mozzarella over the pizza.

15.) Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup 5 Cheese blend.

16.) Top it with the 1/2 cup of Cheddar cheese.

17.) Bake at 450 for 13-18 minutes (or as directed on package of crust mix). You will want to keep an eye on out as it bakes, to ensure that your crust does not burn.

18.) Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes before you attempt to cut it, otherwise you risk losing your toppings.

19.) Enjoy!!

A word of caution: this is not a low carb food. Nor is is a low calorie food. This is pure indulgence. Deliciously fattening indulgence. Plan accordingly.

It’s The Little Things…

It’s The Little Things…

As many of you may remember, I have a ridiculous obsession with lists. In fact, on top of my binders full of various to-do lists, I keep a daily have-done list in my journal.

Every now and then as I go about my day I think about all the things that don’t get written down in my “have-done” list. Today, I thought I’d take a moment to acknowledge all the things that never seem big enough to bother keeping track of.

  1. Gave my daughter 6 sippy cups full of chocolate milk. Yes, I know it’s added sugar and calories and that it should probably be a special treat instead of a go-to beverage, but it makes her happy and a non-screaming toddler makes mama happy.
  2. Tried to get my daughter to use the potty approximately 900 times…without any success. 
  3. Gave my daughter 8 million snacks. Seriously, I don’t understand how such a tiny human can have such a big appetite!
  4. Cleaned up approximately 7 thousand spills. I’m not sure how it happens, but somehow there’s a new mess to clean up every five minutes or so. 
  5. Refolded the same pile of laundry 4 times. For some reason, my daughter loves to knock over the stacks of freshly folded clothes and watch me re-do them.
  6. Hid in the bathroom to squeeze in a few moments of sanity (at least twice). I don’t know why I continue to attempt this. It almost never works.
  7. Made two runs to the grocery store after realizing I forgot milk. Again. I wish someone would have warned me that “new mom brain” never really goes away.
  8. Switched out the Disney DVDs that are always droning on in the background (at least 6 times). Whatever allows me to get some housework done, right?
  9. Read “Green Eggs and Ham” no less than 7 times. I really need to hide this one and get her hooked on a new book. Also, has anyone else noticed that the message of the book is less “try new things” and more “give in to shut up incessant nagging”?
  10. Gave at least 20 piggy back rides. I don’t know why this is my child’s preferred mode of transport, but I’m sure it’s a good workout for mom.

I’m sure I could stretch this list out to include a hundred or more little things that I do–many of them repetitively–throughout the day, but I think you get the point. What’s crazy to me is I look at this list and I know that many days this is on top of several loads of laundry, dishes, cooking 3 meals, messing with this here blog, and so much more!

The other thing that sticks out to me is that there are many, many nights where I plop myself on the couch and I look at my short have-done list, feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing, yet my body is screaming at me to get some rest. It is in these moments that I wonder, “Why am I so tired? I didn’t do anything today!”

But I have. I’ve done a lot. I just don’t give myself credit for it. 

So, my fellow tired moms (and dads!), I issue you this challenge: really look at what you’ve done with your day. Allow yourself to acknowledge all those little tasks and feel accomplished. You’ve spent your day taking care of your child, as well as dealing with all the other tasks life throws at us. You’ve done a lot today! Take a moment to bask in that glory, and then do something to recharge your batteries. Read a chapter of that book, play that video game for a few minutes, call that friend–whatever it is that you’d like to do–and then get some of that sweet, sweet sleep.

Weathering The Storm

Weathering The Storm

Growing up, I never thought twice about tornado warnings. According to my dad’s favorite story, our hometown is protected from tornadoes. An Indian Chief stood “right here” and proclaimed that a tornado would never touch this land. It’s a story I’ve heard at least 800 times, and the stats seem to back it up. Our little town has had very little tornado activity compared to the surrounding areas.

This story came to mind as the sirens started blaring Monday afternoon. I no longer live in the protected area, a fact that became very clear when I received a text from Almost-Father-In-Law telling me to get to the basement.

I turned on the radio and listened to the reports. A tornado was spotted 8 miles away and was headed towards us at 20 miles an hour. We were advised to take shelter now.

I was rounding up The Princess when Almost-Husband rushed in the door, telling me that we needed to get the basement. Upon opening the door, we found it flooded out, which seems to be a recurring problem. He advised me to stay in the hallway, which runs through the middle of our apartment and has only one window at the far end.

So there I sat, phone in hand and daughter in lap, listening to the droning voices on the radio as they repeated their warnings and gave the latest updates. Damage was indeed occurring in our area.

The air went silent as darkness filled our home. The power was out and suddenly it all seemed very real.

A number of thoughts ran through my mind as we hunkered down in the hallway. Ranging from the practical to the ridiculous:

  • The house can blow down, as long as we’re safe and the box containing all my baby pictures and other family mementos doesn’t get destroyed.
  • Oh wait. My computer! 300 pages of my novel and countless other ramblings are on there! I’ve never backed it up anywhere else! Why haven’t I backed it up? If it’s destroyed all that work is gone forever…
  • I just spent all day cleaning this house. If this tornado ruins all that work I’m going to be pissed.
  • What about the new house? We close in three days…it would be just my luck if it get’s wiped out right before we get the keys.
  • Why did we ever move? We were safe from this tornado b.s. back home!
  • Does our car insurance cover acts of God?
  • I really need to steam clean this carpet again when this is over with.
  • We’ve only had our car for a month. I don’t want to car shop again.
  • Where’s my cat? Is he okay? Why won’t he stay in the damn hallway?!
  • I wish I was wearing real-person clothes. I don’t want to be rescued in my sweatpants. I at least should have put on a real bra. 
  • The Princess is naked. At least she has a pull-up on. From now on she’s wearing clothes, whether she likes it or not. You can’t be naked in an emergency.

Soon it had died down and it was safe to leave the hallway again. Almost-Husband returned to work and I set about finding candles, since the power was still out. The good thing about being Wiccan is you always have enough candles to light a small village. Unfortunately, 90% of my possessions are currently in boxes in preparation for the move, so I had to dig a little to find them.

Once I was sure we’d be able to see, I began worrying about the power being out. I was worried about the food in the fridge going bad. I was worried about the fact that our stove is electric and it was past dinner time. I was worried about not being able to listen to the radio for updates. I was worried about not being able to charge my phone and having an emergency pop up. I was worried about passing the time without my computer, which needed to be charged. I was worried about my schedule being thrown off. I was worried that the worst was yet to come.

I set about letting everyone know that I was safe and started making plans with what to do with the remainder of the night. A friend sent me a text telling me she’d heard that our grocery store had been leveled and the magnitude of the situation really set in.

Almost-Husband returned home shortly thereafter. The shop was closed since there was no power. We milled around the house, trying to decide if the rain had stopped long enough to get the grill going so we could have some dinner.

About an hour later, the power was back. The storm had passed. We hopped in the car and drove over to the new house to see if any damage had been done. A tree had come down in the yard, but it had missed the house and all else looked fine. We decided to head to the gas station and found that everything on that side of town was still without power. Roads were blocked off and there was no where to turn around. We drove out past the grocery store and saw that the diner area had been wiped out along with some other damage to the building.

We had to drive a bit to be able to turn around. The traffic was a bit heavier than normal and when we got back to our side of town, the two gas stations were jam packed. People were coming from surrounding towns to gas up and get whatever they needed, in addition to everyone in town.

As I sit here writing this post, it all seems very surreal. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything is peaceful. Although there was significant damage to many buildings and homes, the damage wasn’t nearly as widespread as it could have been, which is something we should all be thankful for. To those who did endure property damage or had their place of business impacted, my heart goes out to you.

As for my family, I am extremely thankful that neither the apartment, nor the home we are purchasing, sustained any damage. We weathered the storm together. Despite my anxiety issues, I managed to stay relatively calm and collected, which is no small feat. And, although there was certainly some fear involved, we made some interesting family memories.

Today, I feel a new sense of clarity. Life is full of storms, and it seems to have been a rather rainy season for our family for a while now, but we always get through it. More importantly, we always come out stronger. There is always something to learn, even from the worst of times. As long as we have each other, what’s a little rain?

Yes, Her Shirt Is Backwards. No, I Do Not Care.

Yes, Her Shirt Is Backwards. No, I Do Not Care.

It may come as no surprise to most of you that independence is something I believe in fiercely. In fact, it was Almost-Husband’s non-conformist, free-thinking attitude that first attracted me to him upon our first meeting way back when I was 16.

It follows naturally then that now, at 28, it is a value we both wish to instill in our daughter. We also want her to have a sense of creativity, competency, and confidence. I’m assuming most of you feel the same to one degree or another.

The thing is, these are not lessons that can be taught with words alone, especially when your child is very young. Instead, they are taught not only by our actions, but by our reactions to daily occurrences. We must be mindful of the kind of messages we are sending if we want to raise children with a healthy sense of self.

To illustrate these types of non-verbal lessons, let’s look at the example that seems to be drawing the biggest reaction in my daughter’s life right now: dressing herself.

We let The Princess pick out her own clothes each day, the only exception being occasions where we are expected to dress up (weddings, holidays, etc), in which case she still gets to choose from pre-approved options. I want her to feel free to express herself in anyway she chooses and to develop her own sense of style, which often results in hilariously mismatched outfits, because let’s face it, 2 year olds don’t really care if vertical stripes go with horizontal stripes.

They also don’t care what the weather is like or whether their clothing is on backwards…

You may note that both her shirt and her shoes are on backwards. What you can’t see in this picture is that it was also 80-something degrees out. You also can’t see the attempts at getting her to at least put on shorts.

“Mommy’s wearing shorts. Daddy’s wearing shorts. Do you want shorts?” I ask, as my child runs up to me with a pair of long pants.

“No, just fine,” she replies.

“Are you sure? It’s hot out.”

“Just fine,” she repeats, a bit more emphatically.

I shrug and let her continue. When she starts sweating she’ll change her mind, or she’ll learn to deal with the consequences of her decisions. Either way, it’s her body, not mine.

As she puts her shirt on, I gently point out that it’s backwards. She does not care, once again replying with “just fine.” We do the whole dance again when she puts her shoes on the wrong feet. We point out what’s “wrong” and offer to help, but we don’t push the issue or force her to change. There is a reason for this. A few reasons, actually.

The first has to do with fostering independence. We don’t want her to feel like she absolutely has to do something one way simply because that’s how everyone else is doing it. We want her to know that it’s okay to think outside the box and march to the beat of her own drum. Just think of all the great inventions and advances we would have missed out on if no one dared to try anything different!

The second reason, which may be even more important, has to do with developing her inner voice and her sense of competency.  It’s the same reason I don’t refold the towels in front of her when she’s helping with the laundry. Or, for a more concrete example, if a child brings you a drawing that looks like this…

…and tells you that it’s a bird, you don’t say, “That looks like crap. You should have done it this way…”. You tell them it’s a very nice bird. She’s proud of accomplishing a task and I don’t want to trample on that. By constantly correcting a child, you’re giving them the message that they are always wrong. I don’t know about you, but I do not want my child’s inner voice to be one that says, “I never do anything right. I’m stupid. I fail at everything.” I want her to feel like she’s capable and to celebrate her accomplishments so that she keeps practicing those skills and naturally progressing, instead of giving up.

The third reason really comes down to a simple phrase I heard my grandmother use quite often, “pick your battles.” Why waste energy on something as silly as clothing? If you make everything a fight, kids learn to be secretive or combative. If they feel you are on their side, they are more willing to listen to you when you offer advice.

Whether it’s dressing herself or some other task, we help her when she asks for it and offer help when she looks like she’s struggling, but we don’t push or step in unless it is a health or safety concern. 

I believe children learn best through exploration and encouragement. I also believe it is my job to merely guide her as she develops at her own pace. To me, being a successful parent is raising a child into an adult who is capable of thinking for his or herself and running their own lives. To get there, we must begin with allowing them to master tasks on their own, started with the basics and increasing with difficulty as they grow mature.

Tomorrow it will be more household chores. In a few years, it will be schoolwork. Before I know it, it will be bigger decisions, like choosing the right career path. But today it is clothes, and I embrace her backwards shirt.

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Cape Town, South Africa