Monday, December 30, 2013

Mom's Jewelry

Motherhood has to be shameless. It has to be embraced. It has to be that thing in life that you know will keep you humble, but cannot get you down. From giving up on clean clothes and living in yoga pants for the first few weeks (months) of New Baby's life to acknowledging a date with Husband and a baby might turn into a date with Husband and a very naked baby. Sitting in church as a beautiful family can quickly turn into sitting in church covered in spit up on that black dress, and yet- remaining to the end of Mass because... well... that's what you do. Or having a kid that has an accident at the most inopportune time.

Embrace the embarrassment. Embrace the insane.

Today, I have a piece of twine tied around my neck with 12 beads on it of a smattering of colors and shapes. The necklace ain't going anywhere. It's tied tight. LMC made it for me. She also made me a spare in case I lose this one. I wear it with the five strand set of Tiffany pearls Husband gave me. I wear it with the antique turquoise necklace. I wear it under any necklace I would normally wear with whatever outfit I am wearing. I wore it to a benefit several weeks ago and Husband was wearing a tux. It matched my black dress and diamond (CZ) earrings beautifully. The candlelight caught it and really made it pop. LMC beams whenever she notices it or thinks that I might have taken it off. I show it to her proudly and whenever I get comments on it, and I get a lot of comments, I tell whomever that LMC made it for me and I am embracing it.

I learned this lesson without ever knowing I was learning it.

When I was a kid, maybe six? I found the Service Merchandise catalog in the mail. Remember being a kid and waiting until Thanksgiving to get this coveted catalog in the mail and, upon arrival, flipping through all those different colored tabs to find the green tab that meant TOYS!? Brother and I would grab Sharpie's and circle the things we wanted for Christmas. I started this activity with LMC this year. Service Merchandise is long gone, but toy catalogs are not. Only now do I realize that my parents did this with us as an activity so they could get other things done, because Heaven knows that is why I do it.

There were two Service Merchandise catalogs that came out- one in the late fall and one in the late spring. It was the spring catalog that I found of interest; of particular note... the jewelry section. At six, those things that are so incredibly tacky are just breathtaking. In the jewelry section- I saw it. The Mother's Day present to end all Mother's Day presents.

It was shaped like a heart.
It was pink ice.
It had a tiny diamond where the "O" should be...
On the 10k Mom emblazoned over the gem.

This beautiful heart shaped, pink ice ring, with Mom written in gold and a .0001 carat diamond for the "O" would be stunning on my mother's finger. My mother, who wore three diamond rings at the time, none of which could be missed due to lack of size, needed this addition to her daily jewels.

Needed.

Like yesterday, I needed to have purchased this $68 ring for her yesterday. Now... who could I get in on this secret present that would not spoil my surprise? My grandfather, that's who. I showed Big Dad the picture in the catalog and that I wanted to buy it for my mom, but I only had $55. He spotted me the last $13, drove me to Service Merchandise, walked me up to the jewelry counter and let me handle the transaction as an adult. I paid in cash (the only way to buy jewelry) and took home the best Mother's Day present ever.  How he kept a straight face, to this day-- I have no idea.

Mom opened that present and said over and over how beautiful it was. And then, she put it on her finger and wore it.

And wore it.
And wore it.
And wore it until her pinkie turned green (because that was the finger it fit, not because that is where she wears her jewels). Then she cleaned the green and continued to wear it.

I have no idea how long she wore that beautiful heart shaped, pink ice ring, with Mom written in gold and a .0001 carat diamond for the "O", but she did. Maybe a month, maybe a year-- maybe she was wearing it when I went off to college, I have no idea. But I remember the pride swelling within my kid-sized heart when I saw that ring on her finger. I showed it to all my friends as I am certain she probably showed it to all her friends- but for very different reasons.

To be honest, perfectly honest, I had completely forgotten about the ring until about a year ago when I was rifling through her jewelry box and came across it sitting with all of her other precious jewels. Tucked within the heavy green fabric sat that heart shaped, pink ice ring with Mom written across the top; the diamond where the "O" should be.

That sucker was heinous.

I laughed at myself and at my poor mother before putting it back where it belonged, hidden from the light of day.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks for wearing that ring and making me feel so proud at such an amazing gift. I love you. If you want to pass that pink ice ring on to SIL and those other oversized rings on to me, I would be okay with that. Totally okay.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Elf on the Lamp

The weekend before Christmas, I was at a brunch and several of us got to talking about our elves and their adventures. A friend started telling a story that I simply cannot do justice, but will try...

The dad was in charge of the elf. One night, he put the elf on a lamp-- with the light on. He wanted to make sure the kids could see it. Yeah, already-- you know where this is going.

Oh, the kids saw it.

The bottom half of Elf was charred to a crisp and the top half was Elf with that smile plastered to his face, lacking the knowledge that there would be no chance of Elf babies anymore. The kids screamed at the site of the smoking pixie. Dad ran up front to see what the shrieks were all about. Upon laying his eyes on the red clad ember, he grabbed the elf before the smoke alarm really set things off. The kids screamed louder. Parents and kids alike know the rules-- touching the elf makes him lose his magic and he cannot make his report to Santa.

Dad didn't know those rules, or maybe at the thought of the house burning down because of a poorly executed Christmas tradition, didn't want that little ember rushing off to the Big Man to report on Dad's poor planning- with evidence. So, the kids screamed.

Mom came up front to see the howling children, the husband's singed hand and a half molten elf, with the smoke alarm on the cusp of exploding this bad situation into something terrible.

The smoke alarm was blinking.

"Kids, calm down. Look up. See that blinking red light? Like Rudolph's nose? That light means we still have our connection with the North Pole. Wave! Quickly wave to it so they know we are here. Grab that towel and wave it. We're going to take Elf to the burn unit and get him all stitched up in time to get back to the North Pole tonight. They'll be able to replenish his magic that he lost."

Those parents now have an elf, a spare, and half of a second spare for when parts are needed. Just not the legs. Those are gone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bigger and Louder is not always Better

I have several friends that are pregnant right now and often, I get asked about advice. (Why people ask me, I have no idea...)

Got any advice for this new mom?
Buy wine before you head to the hospital.

Got any tips on how to assemble all these baby contraptions? 
If your husband drinks, he'll figure it out.

How do you get through the afternoon meltdowns?
I count down to 5pm.

Starting to get a theme?

People have opinions- even if they are not solicited, or wanted, they have them. And everyone is an expert.

A very sweet friend, "Mary," is currently about thirteen weeks pregnant and elected to do the quad screen. Mary asked my opinion on it and I told her, point blank, that everyone will have a very vehement opinion on this- as well as everything else about your pregnancy- but you have to do what is right for you. What we did was what worked for our little family. We elected to have all the testing done. Should something be less than perfect, we wanted to be able to prepare ourselves to get this kid on the ground and be ready for whatever God gives us. In our world, knowledge is power.

Mary mentioned to a co-worker that she was getting her quad screen and the co-worker jumped down her throat about a "selfish and senseless abortion." The co-worker should have kept her mouth shut. Instead of condemning another new mother for the choices she is making, maybe instead... just maybe, we embrace this time in our lives together and let other mothers know that their decisions are personal and opinions are not always appreciated. Even when an opinion is asked- handle those opinions with kid gloves. They might be asking because they are scared. They might be unsure. My money is on the fear.

I will admit that we will all do it differently and that we are all doing the best we can.

Because I had a c-section with LMC does not make me inferior to your 14 hour laboring without an epidural on an exercise ball in a birthing tub. Because I trust my doctor who told me that it was too dangerous to birth a second child without another c-section does not mean you have the right to tell me why having a c-section makes me an idiot. In the medical world, I trust my doctor first, my husband second, and myself third. Your opinion, while loud, is not something I need. I'm scared enough as it is.

I have opinions, I have big, bold opinions about you and how you are raising your child.

I think you are doing the best you can do. And I admire you for it. There are things that y'all do that I wish I could do as wonderfully. But, I fail at some and excel at others.

Help your friends be the kind of parent they want to be. Learn their language.

I have opinions and, when asked, I will carefully dole them out in measured time. They are as follows:

* Buy life insurance. I never met a widowed mother who said her husband left her too much money.
* Believe in something greater than yourself and practice it faithfully. Believe in God, the Universe, Yoga, a Lamp Post-- whatever. 
* Don't shake your baby. 
* Vaccinate your children. Vaccinate your children. Vaccinate your children.
* Remind babysitters that p*rn and alcohol/drugs are not allowed while babysitting. And please don't shake the baby. Don't think for one second that I have not told every single babysitter we have ever had those same rules.
* Don't be an idiot. Listen to your doctor. 

The bottom line-- believe in yourself and the decisions you make. Keep your opinions level when asked and, more than likely, keep them to yourself. Pregnancy and motherhood are hard. They're scary. They're tough. And it is the thing that makes the world what it is. It makes us who we are and who our children will become. Let's spend less time breaking each other down and more time building each other up.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Living Room

Family Room... Den...Music Room...Parlor..... Living Room... whatever you call it.... We have one.


That room that cannot be found in modern homes. That room where Christmas trees hide, prom pictures are taken, engagements are made, and those valuable things children are not allowed to touch are behind lock and key. My parents have a beautiful living room. It has an ancient rug, easily over 150 years old. If I'm exaggerating, it can't be my more than 40 years. The rug they have is gorgeous. Purples interwoven with mauves and dark pinks on a faded navy background make up the ostentatiously large rug. It's so big, when the house was being built and my grandmother was buying the home- she had them remeasure the living room in order to fit this rug that once belonged to her parents.

But this blog is not about my parent's living room-- it's about ours.

And I like to call ours the music room.

The Music room, with a tongue in cheek smile every time I say it, is painted the same turquoise as the dining room. Our red leather chairs have found a home in here until I can recover the sofa and chair. The old dining room table from DC holds lamps, and our grand piano sits in the corner.

What? You don't have a grand piano?


Like I said, we call it the music room.

Let's start with the grand piano...

After we bought The Money Pit house, my aunt called me and...

Wait, let's back up.

My godfather and aunt lived in the family compound long enough to raise four children and have them bring home nine grandchildren. Last year, they put their large house on the market in order to downsize. The sweetest new family bought the house almost instantly. They will raise their three children across the street from Brother and SIL.


In the living room sat an ancient piano that I knew nothing about, other than how pretty it was. It had a dozen or so silver frames that held debutante pictures, wedding pictures, black and white pictures, and a crystal vase that always had fresh flowers. There was a brass lamp over the shoulder of an old piano teacher's chair. These three things sat in a large room with the rug. The sofa that I wait to recover was also in this room with portraits of her children, wing back chairs, and the beauty of age that comes with a home.

They packed their belongings and downsized almost 3000 square feet. That piano was not going to make it in the new home. Their oldest daughter was going to take it, but there was no room. Of the other three children- no one played the piano. No one had the space for this large instrument.

Let's face it- grand pianos are big.

But, we were in the process of purchasing and remodeling our large home and only have enough furniture to furnish about 2000 of this 3800 square feet. Rooms sat empty or only partially finished. Old furniture that was going to be thrown out found new life as we graciously accepted things to help us make this house our home.

One night, before returning to DC, my godfather called me with that sweet slow voice of his with a question-- do you want my grandmother's piano?

The things I did not know, now I do. And I cherish them.


My godfather's grandmother was a piano teacher and a professional pianist. She taught the town children to play piano on this piano and it was a gift to her from her husband. She never told anyone that she was losing her hearing, but when they heard her pound the piano instead of playing, they knew. The piano that sits in our Music Room is 109 years old and (before it was moved) was pitch perfect. There is a key to lock it away from four year old fingers and the serial number hand etched under the lid, under the hammers and the cords. It is... beautiful.

I had no words. Absolutely no words at what this gift meant to me. What my godfather and aunt did not know is that my husband has been itching to learn to play and wants to take lessons with LMC- something they can do together.

It is one of those things that I love about family and about the fact we were Hometown Bound.


Sadly, the chair got caught in our basement pond and now needs to be refinished. All in due time. It's on the list of things to accomplish for 2014. Along with getting the piano tuned.

Enough about the piano.

I mentioned the dining room table from DC. It's such a pretty piece and was a gift from a family who did not want it anymore. We used it on Raymond Avenue for many different things before packing it up and taking our little four seater to DC.

It held fun dinners, Christmas plates, New Year's appetizers, art projects with LMC, and we had no use for it in our new home. I could not bare to part with it, and not just because we lacked furniture. It is a place of happy memories. Husband picked up a magazine one day and a few days later, I picked up the same one. In it was an idea that we both loved-- cutting a table in half and bracing it against the wall for end tables.


Neither mentioned it to the other, but it was in the back of our minds. Back at the house, the table sat collecting dust in the corner of the playroom and I was not ready to relegate it to the garage for Husband's work table.

Then he mentioned an idea he saw- and I loved it. He split the table down the middle, used L-brackets to mount it against the wall and there it sits, an ingenious solution to a problem. At some point, my mom will give me the wardrobe doors that once hung in my grandparent's house and they will go above these tables, but for now-- it is artwork and plates.


Dad gave us the piece above the table on the left. It is an opium high. Can you see it? The opium cigarette and the hallucination? Pretty cool, right? It needs a new frame, but-- all in due time. I love this piece.


Above the red chairs is an Ernest Lee painting of a marlin with tuna coloring. Clearly, he is not a deep sea fisherman. Husband and I found this when we were dating at the annual Attic Sale held by the local Junior League. There was a rip in the canvas and Husband knew that the canvas could be re-stretched. I had no idea what that meant, but knew that for $14, we could throw it away if he was wrong.

He was right.

The fish is not in the exact middle anymore, due to the stretching- but if I did not say it, would you have noticed? The colors are awesome and it brightens up a dank wall. However, this wall is anything but dank!

The lamp behind the piano is an IKEA special and I made the lamp shade for Bennie's nursery in DC.


Notice the floors. The hardwoods are run on a diagonal. This little feature is an added bonus to installing your own hardwoods. We talked about doing the whole house on the diagonal, but thought it would be too much. At some point, we will upgrade the carpet to a zebra skin. First, Husband has to find a zebra to kill and I think the only ones you are allowed to kill are in Africa. The zoo might not be impressed with him if he pays for admission and has his shotgun with him. Perhaps a zebra could pass peacefully onto zebra heaven and we could inherit his skin? I bet you have to know people for that to happen-- and I do not know those kind of people.


The windows are new. We had to replace them in both the dining and living rooms. We made a very important discovery-- windows ain't cheap. It is amazing the way it updated these two rooms and made us want to make the rest of the windows look as beautiful as these. Another day.... another day.

That's the living room. Wordy, wordy, wordy... I can get so wordy when it comes to the house!

-------

Last few things... this more about the Christmas tree than about the living room.

We have two trees this year. We went from a rosemary bush to two seven foot trees in a matter of two moves and three years. Last year, living on love, I hung our sterling flatware on the tree. So cheesy. It was one of my favorite things about our Christmas tree. This year, not quite as much living on love, but much more from nostalgia- the tree looked bare. I hung more Christmas balls from the old box that held my grandparent's ornaments. Still bare.

I grabbed a recent purchase (seen below, ice cream fork in Chantilly with MB engraved- yes, I started a sterling pattern for both my children.) and tied a little bow with a hook. On to the tree and it looked more complete. Another piece of flatware, another bow-- a little more complete. Husband rolled his eyes, LMC looked at me like I was crazy, but I clapped my hands and hung more pieces of flatware.


It's nutty, but I love I it.

This is probably the last year that my sparkle sticks will be in good condition, but I have no idea where to find them. Nor, where to find them for a dime a piece!


When my grandfather worked for Ma Bell for 40 years, they gave him a tea set. It has a creamer, sugar thing, tea pot, and sits on a small footed tray. I have the tray on the piano and the other three pieces on my entry table. At this very moment, the tray holds our Little People Nativity set that LMC loves. She moves a chair to the side of the piano. Standing on her tippy toes, she plays with Mary, Joseph, the fairy- Gabriel, and baby Jesus. They are not in a manger, rather a stable- according to my 4.5 year old. 


Gotta run-- late for ballet!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hallelujah

I made myself a promise when it came to blogging.

There are things we will not discuss. 

We won't discuss sex.
We won't discuss finances.
We won't discuss politics.
We won't discuss the benefits of paying with cash.
We won't discuss sex.
We won't discuss ill stories about anyone.

We won't discuss the monthly curse.

We're discussing the monthly blessing.

I said I wouldn't do it, but I lied.

Bennie ceased nursing a few months ago. With that, my friend returned. No big deal. It has not been consistent, it has not been pleasant. It has been one of those things that comes with life. While down here on the funny farm, my friend reared her head and said, "HELLO! Staying with the in-laws for a few days, are we? This seems like the perfect time to come visit."

My suitcase is always stocked with the necessities- wine opener, extra pair of socks, lip gloss... you know, the essentials.

I venture into the bathroom that is off of his sister's bedroom. Surely, there would be something in here that I can use. Surely-- surely... Shirley? Shirley is a liar. There is a box from circa 1994 with two left. In such straits, I contemplated. And then thought better of it. Not brave enough to search my in-laws bathroom for goods because, really? What if I find something else? Something other than what I needed. A bathroom is no place to go snooping. I come to the conclusion that there will be a trip into town in my immediate future.

My personal trip into town turns into my two daughters, my husband, my mother-in-law, and my father-in-law all heading into town for lunch, some shopping, and my "quick trip" into the drug store to pick up "nothing." We walk and shop around downtown before the family gets ice cream and I mention that I am going to swing into the Family Drug Store "real fast." 

"We'll wait right out here for you."

In I go and there they sat, eating the ice cream and waiting on me. What could I walk out of here with that could be any more embarrassing?

toe-fungus remover? 
Ex-Lax?
Scrunchie?
Nix or any other lice prevention? (I'm itching right now at the thought of this)
Any number of lubricants? 
Justin Beiber Greatest Hits CD?
Spice Girls?

Nope- just me and a box of $12 tampons... waiting in line, with my in-laws, my husband, and my children waiting outside, eating ice cream. 

It dawns on me, in this moment, that I am a walking Robert Earl Keen song. I am instantly punch drunk with my box of tampons, waiting in this cursed line while my in-laws, my husband, and my children sit outside- waiting for me.

The cashier rings me up and asks if there is anything else. 

"Do you have any Salem Lights?" and I start giggling. 
"No, no Salem Lights."
"Can of fake snow?"
"No... no fake snow."

She doesn't know who Robert Earl Keen is.

Little sister might not have brought home a Mexican boyfriend, but there was plenty of champagne punch, homemade egg nog, bean dip, and more than one trip to the Stop and Go. The photographer is on her way to take the family Christmas card picture in a few minutes. Do you know what I'll be saying?

CHEESE!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas- on the farm

Husband grew up in a small town. Like- they still string lights from the courthouse square every Christmas kind of small town. 


This is the same town his mother grew up in- and his father. MIL walked on this same wall with her grandmother when she was a little girl. They would go see her grandfather who worked on the top floor of the courthouse in the corner office of the east side of the building. He'd wave at her from the window and give her money to buy a cherry coke from one of the two drug stores downtown.


We came down south for a bit of a surprise visit. They knew we were coming, but they did not know we would show up a day early. We are getting to rub more than just two days together down in this little town.

Yesterday, the majority of the cousins came over to help MIL and FIL decorate their tree. She'd find the ornaments of their parents and pass them off to hang them. FIL held Bennie and directed traffic.


After hanging ornaments, the kids decorated sugar cookies that MIL baked. They made fairies (angels), stars, snowmen, and they were all covered in an abundance of sprinkles and red hots.


The tree needed more ornaments, the cookies needed more sugar.


The kids needed to hear a Christmas story while the adults sat around the table for an extra few minutes. MIL, FIL, two of the three sisters, one of the two brothers, one great-grandmother and this girl ate on Christmas china and drank from happy, old glasses.


The kids needed to help with more decorations.


And the youngest found what she wanted for Christmas. I get it. Diamonds are fun.


It's a quiet day and we are heading down the dirt road in a few minutes to make our way to the next town over for lunch and Christmas shopping.

"Our holidays were always such a mess, dad."
"Oh, yeah!"
"How'd you get through it?"
"I had a little help from Jack Daniels."
- Christmas Vacation

I get it- now that I am older. I get it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Niece

Niece turned five yesterday.

FIVE!

Five years ago, I was sleeping in a tangerine room, pregnant with a poppy and had a very broken foot. Husband dropped me off at the hospital and we sat.

And sat.

And sat some more.

Morning turned to afternoon, which then stretched into evening. It grew late and Mom said, more than once, that we were welcome to go home. I would not leave, nor would Husband. Why leave? There was a baby on the way!


And what a baby she was. The toddler could run as fast as her brother, eat more vegetables than her cousins, and sing the loudest- so her Woooo can hear her from the back. When LMC came into this world,  they instantly had a best friend in each other. Niece would crawl over to LMC on the floor and pat her head or lay down next to her, cuddling up close with her arm around her newest cousin. Of course, this first-time mother would get wide eyed and hope that this intimate moment between cousins would end expeditiously.

Niece keeps us on our toes. She is stubborn. Stubborn and defiant. Stubborn, defiant, and sweet. Sweet and loving. Sweet, loving, generous, and so very giving.


The other day, Mom picked up Niece from school. Mom needed the expertise of a four year old in the rubber band loom department. Niece had a special loom like her brother's -- which is all the rage now-- and Mom wanted to make sure LMC had one. From the backseat, Niece opened her book bag to get her money out. She wanted to buy it for LMC since she didn't have one.

Recently, I have discovered just how bratty a 4.5 year old can be with the last name that starts with "C" and ends with -agle. Whining about this and that, or that someone got the bigger whatever, Niece is quick to quell her cousin by trading with her, or holding her hand when LMC has been wronged.

They are thick as thieves at school, ever the protector of the other, ever the friend the other needs. The teacher has tried to separate them, not from bad behavior (which has happened-- but we won't go there), but so they can make new friends. These new friends quickly become their new friends and the girls are again reunited.


I get to see this- I get to see this precious niece of mine grow up. I get to watch her interact with her godfather, my sweet husband. I get to see the good and the bad of having children so close in age who have two sets of parents, instead of just one. Not from lack of love leading to divorce, rather so much love leading to aunts and uncles treating those nieces and nephews as their own.

This to say, about a month ago- Niece told SIL that she did not want to come over to our house anymore to play, because "RaRa and BooBoo are mean. They don't let us do anything." All I could do was laugh. She's right and I have since tried to loosen my strictness about what goes on in this house.

We do have more time outs over here, this is true, and they have to clean up their messes with a little more speed than at SIL's house, but these are just the differences in parenting- and both kids probably need a good heaping dose of how the other lives. LMC could stand to see parents who are a little more laid back.


Niece is amazing. She is humbling and frustrating and awe inspiring. She wants to be a gymnast when she grows up and flips herself into all sorts of crazy positions that I never knew possible. She is as skinny as a minute and loves her brand new American Girl doll. Her blonde bangs hang just over her baby blue eyes and those thick dark lashes. Her smarts are never ending. She is quick to give a hug.

She is quick to love.

She is as wild as March hare. And she is, for better or worse, good or bad, devil or angel, ours.

Happy Birthday, Niece. I love you to the moon and back and will always be your champion. Thank you for being nobody else but you.




Sunday, December 8, 2013

Jambalaya



I love jambalaya. It's warm, just a little spicy, and so... so very good. Over the years, I have tried several different recipes, several different shortcuts, and several different ways of cooking it. There has been but one conclusion--

This is the very best recipe.

I do make some modifications, as you can tell by all the notes. Other things to mention are:

- six cloves of garlic. No less. Smash with the flat side of your knife and slice until they are very finely minced.
- more bell pepper. If I had to guess, it would be about 1/2 cup. I use the frozen, bagged variety- not because I am lazy. Rather, I am cheap. Cheap-cheap-cheap.
- Thomson's sausage is no longer in business, or at least they don't sell it anywhere that I shop. Both the Publix brand hot sausage and the Jimmy Dean 1/2 hot and 1/2 regular make for good flavor.
- 1 1/2 cups chicken is an obscure number to me. Is that three chicken breasts? Two thighs and a leg? I have no idea. A whole rotisserie chicken is what I use and it has plenty of yummy chicken throughout. By using a rotisserie, it makes it easier to shred and shredding is the key.
- Hunt's diced tomatoes saves a step.
- Instead of water, use chicken stock.
- Instead of "stirring frequently for 30 minutes" - I put the lid on it and drop the heat, stirring occasionally for about an hour. You want the shrimp to just be cooked, if they are a little undercooked- that's fine. It's still going to cook more!
- Rice: don't scoff at this, but use boil-in-bag rice. Recently, they came out with Jasmine boil-in-bag rice and that really is the best. Using the parboiled type helps the rice maintain its consistency longer.
- Rice: Drop two bay leaves in the water while you are cooking.
- After cooking and combining, make sure the jambalaya is watery by adding more chicken stock. It's going to cook for at least another hour between 250-300 (not thirty minutes at 350). Keep it covered. About fifteen minutes before you are ready to eat, lift the foil and give it a stir. The liquid should be gone. If not, bump the heat and cook uncovered. Doing it this way gives you more flexibility as to when you can serve it.
- I always forget to butter the casserole... and have had no ill effects from it.
- If you have it, you can also add a second can of diced tomatoes in lieu of the chicken stock along the way- your call.
- you absolutely can add too much shrimp. That being said, as long as you keep it below 3 1/4 pounds, you will have a crowd pleaser.


As Dorothy says, "Do right and speak of your mistakes."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Front Yard

Before-- if you can see the pumpkin, we know it is October

Okay, I know the front yard is not actually in the house- but it is something that is bigger than me. There were more people involved in making the front yard become a reality.

You helped.

For that, I say, "Thank You."


Let's back up.


Remember when I talked about the back splash and the CPA put the smack down on the money tree? That morning- prior to the appointment, we met with a landscaper to see what we could do in the front yard to add depth,  making this rambling ranch house more polished and, mostly, just more finished.

We met with the CPA and as we were leaving his office, I got a text from the landscaper that told me the price. I sighed and responded that we were on a moratorium with spending on the house until further notice. He understood as he was also in the process of renovating a home.

But the front yard looked bad.
We were THE eyesore of the neighborhood.
So much work, so very much work had gone on in the inside, but it didn't matter- because people judge books by cover... and our cover was ugly.

What could I do to solve this problem? We had our budget, we had our play money, and we had goals. None of these things left room for the big expense of the front yard. And it was a big expense that would take months setting aside extra money on top of the other money we were already saving for all those other things that we needed and wanted to do.

The yard was not getting any prettier.

A few months ago, I retired from work. For years, I sold health insurance and loved the work that I did and the people I worked for. It was fun to go into businesses and be an expert on something that was so vital to everyone. It was rewarding to work for those who wanted to improve the lives of their employees.

And it was profitable.

Now, as I sit and type, Niece and LMC are sitting at the table eating a lunch I cooked for them and Bennie is on the floor, trying to figure out how to crawl while keeping her thumb in her mouth. The pay is not as good- but the rewards are greater. I get to see my sweet niece and nephew more than twice a year and get to be a part of their lives as much as they are such an important of mine.

What does this have to do with the yard? I'm getting there.

In the past, when I wanted to make a large purchase- I just did it. I made money. Husband made money. We saved money. Times are different now; we are a one-income family and decisions on this scale have to be anticipated and planned.

I grabbed my camera that I love so dearly and thought about all the times people have told me that my pictures are good. Next, I grabbed my computer and took to Facebook to see if people were willing to pay for pictures of their cherubs. Knock me over with a feather, they came in droves. I had to raise my prices. They came faster. I raised my prices again... and still they came. A third raise and I was booked every day for weeks on end. Though the price was raised several times over, I was still cheaper than the cheapest professional photographer. Maybe more entertaining? Maybe more fun? Maybe.

I was not doing this to put food on the table, rather to put plants in the yard. Within three weeks, I had reached my goal and happily contacted the landscaper to see if the price had changed or if it was too late in the season to plant.

We set a date and his guys got to work yesterday ripping out the scrawny twigs that were once azaleas. Pulling into the driveway in the afternoon, I literally screamed with glee and clapped my hands in exaltation at the amazing change that had taken place over the past six hours.

Our house is coming together.

We put [insert something I was paying attention to here] in the front of the house, lining the left and right side. In front of the dining and living rooms, we put tea olives in the corners, loropetalums in the back, miniature gardenias in the front and lining the top of the walkway. On either side of the door are two knock-out roses that I will try my very best to not kill.


Every southern yard needs gardenias and roses.

Those lovely plants that are lining the left and right side will grow tall and we will keep them cropped directly under the windows. The loropetalums will grow a few inches taller than the window base and the gardenias will be pruned into a snowball.

The landscaper made the recommendation of putting azaleas where the gardenias are. About that moment, SIL pulled in to pick up Niece and LMC for choir and I asked her opinion. She has opinions and I love her for it. She said not to do azaleas because they are only pretty only one or two weeks out of the year. She is right- she usually is. Insert gardenias. The even better part about going with gardenias instead of azaleas is that we have about 96 azaleas on this property. I am not exaggerating. Some day, I will get a head count. But, for the moment- let's just say that there are a lot of azaleas.


The yard makes the house looked less like an eyesore and more like a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Hopefully the neighbors agree.

They probably disagree with the blow-ups and the ornaments in the yard, but those are the things that LMC loves the most. She is not as excited about the landscaping as we are. But Mickey Mouse and Snoopy? Oh- she's all about those!

Cropped out of these pictures is the driveway. We have a one-lane driveway and a two car garage.... of which, neither car can fit inside. Husband and I cut across the pine straw next to the driveway and over the last few months, it has taken its toll on the bed. We are going to drop some crush and run in the next few weeks and put river rock over it until the next phase. The next phase will be to lay another concrete pad and file down the curb so that both cars can drive up and down the driveway without that Clampett look that we love so much.




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Just to have a close up comparison....




Thank you for trusting a novice photographer to take pictures of your family this year. I had fun and I hope you did, too.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kitchen-- before and after

I thought I took enough pictures before we started renovation... I have since learned that you can never take enough pictures when updating-- because, sometimes, you have to go back and look. You have to remind yourself how far you have come in order to keep going. Renovating a house is a beast. A financial beast, an emotional beast, a time consuming beast- but, in the end (with this house, at least) it has been worth it. We could never have afforded to buy this house move-in-ready. But, it's the way we want it, with our touches of love that make this house our home.

Now, if anyone wants to buy it... you can consider it sold! :)

Please see how far we have come in the kitchen.



these guys became...


these guys....


before...


after...


old... 


new...


what was once this...


is now this.... 


Remember those icky knobs, circa 1964...


updated...



old school...


new school...



This was going to be a spice rack, then a shelf, then nothing, until it finally became clear that unless we did something, it would remain nothing.


Not a bad transition, right? 


remember this place...


here is what it looks like today...