Monday blargh

Happy Monday.

If you hate Mondays, feel free to start laughing at the combination of the words happy and Monday in the same sentence.

I don’t dislike Mondays. I don’t dread them on Sundays or anything like that. But I do tend to prepare for them as if I am preparing for battle. That means the house is clean and tidy, the laundry is caught up, and the fridge is stuffed full of food for the week.

Last night, I was so on my game that I actually chopped beef and vegetables for tonight’s slow cooker beef stew. Hell, not only did I chop all the beef into chunks, I got my sous chef (a.k.a. Pete) to toss in the herbs and spices and all that, so that all I had to do at 6:30 this morning was pull the container from the fridge and dump it into the crockpot, along with the requisite amount of water. When I walk in the door at 5:30 this evening, I just need to throw in the vegetables I chopped last night. Like I said: On. My. Game.

I wish I could say that every day is like that, but the fact is that some days we walk in the door at 5:30, ask each other what’s for dinner, and then shrug because we have no clue.

But this Monday at least, my house will smell good when we walk in and dinner will be nearly ready. Which will be perfect for a chilly, rainy Monday two days before the autumnal equinox.

What’s new in your world and what’s on your table for dinner tonight?


Fall is here.

I know this displeases some of you, but for me, this is delightful. I love fall. It is, by far, my favorite season. I love the crisp in the air and the apple crisp* in my kitchen.

The weather has taken a wonderful turn for the cooler here in Virginia. Last Saturday, I sat on the sidelines of a soccer game wearing jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a long sweater vest, a scarf, and boots. El was sitting next to me in long pants and a heavy fleece and was huddled under a blanket. (Pete, on the other hand, was coaching while wearing a t-shirt and shorts.) (I know you’re surprised by that revelation.) (Oh boy, do I wish I had a sarcasm font.)

This week, it has been a bit warmer, with highs in the 70s. Really, not all that chilly, but compared to the highs we had just a month ago, it feels downright nippy out there. I’ve seen lots of people breaking out coats, scarves, and other layers. I’ve even worn long sleeves and long running tights on a couple of my recent early morning runs. (Gettin’ ’em in while I can.)  Heck, I pulled out gloves for a bike ride last week because a local friend warned me that he’d already been out on his bike and his fingers were practically frost-bitten.

The funny thing about this is that six months ago and again six months from now, a 55 or 60 degree day is going to seem downright balmy compared to winter in Virginia. We’ll be shedding layers like snake skins and basking in the so-called warmth. But for now, we’re all reveling in the chilliness.

Out in the garden, I’m getting things ready for the cold months. I’ve cut back the asparagus, weeded thoroughly, and generally cleaned things up in that part of the garden, so as to avoid an infestation of asparagus beetles. Trust on this one, if you have asparagus in your garden, do not forget to clean the bed out or else you’ll regret it come spring.

The tomato plants are gone, not because they were finished producing, but because some fucking deer decided to frolic through them one day and pretty much trampled the hell out of my Brandywines and Yellow Pears. (So help me, next year is the year I put up an electric fence.)

My roses are putting forth one final display of color for me, as are the hydrangeas, which are El’s particular favorite out in the garden.

I desperately need to weed the mulched areas in the front yard, but my knee simply won’t allow it right now. And yes, that is how I weed — down on my hands and knees, pulling plants out by the roots. It’s therapeutic and I highly recommend it.

Did you know that blueberry bushes turn vivid red in the fall, just like burning bushes? It’s true and mine are in the early stages of going scarlet for me.

It’s raining here today, but I don’t mind.

Normally, I’ll go for a run in the morning just as soon as I walk with the girls to the bus stop.  Today, however, because of the rain and because I needed to go to the grocery store to stock up on ice cream sundae fixin’s for Graceful’s party, I drove the girls to their respective schools first. Graceful got Adele’s latest CD for her birthday and I can now report that it takes exactly the first two songs (“Rolling in the Deep” and “Rumour Has It”) to get from Jenworld to Graceful’s school, then those same two songs again to get from Graceful’s school to Elegant’s. I’m sure there are other great tunes on the album, but right now, we’re listening to the same two songs over and over.

The kitchen smells good, due to the pound of beans simmering in the slow cooker. Because of Graceful’s birthday yesterday, we broke with tradition and did not have our usual Thursday night dinner. She requested grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and creamy tomato soup, so that’s what we had.

Tonight, we’ll have Thursday night on Friday night, then tomorrow night, we’ll have Friday night (pizza) for dinner at Graceful’s birthday party. For Sunday, I’ve already decided to use the leftover mashed potatoes, some leftover pot roast in the freezer, and various vegetables to make cottage pie.

I’ve been fooling around online all morning and have stumbled across some fun things that are surely going to lead to blog posts next week or, at the very least, spirited discussions on Facebook.

As I type this, it’s coming up on noon and it’s still raining. Rain or no rain, pain (in my knee) or no pain, I will be going out for a run shortly.

And on that note, I’m going to wrap up this scattered randomness and hit “publish.” Have a good weekend, my friends.

~ ~ ~

* Super easy apple crisp: Chop and peel 3-6 apples and put them in a pie pan or baking dish. Sprinkle cinnamon on top and maybe drizzle on some vanilla extract. Melt one stick of butter and then mix with one cup of flour and one cup of sugar. Add cinnamon to taste. (The flour mixture can be easily modified to include oats, wheat flour, etc.) Bake at 375 until lightly browned on top. This should be around 15 minutes, but watch to make sure the crisp doesn’t burn. Eat with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. This is excellent as a leftover for breakfast.


One of the things that is difficult for me as a parent is knowing when to give my children independence and how much of it they need. We’re long past the phase of holding hands when we cross the street, yet I often find myself putting a hand near one of my children, sort of like I’m using the Force to guide them across safely.

As we get closer to the teenage years*, I find myself thinking more and more about the girls’ independence and assessing where they are and where they should be. If I didn’t stop to consciously ponder these things, I’d probably still be doing far too much for them instead of having them learn for themselves. Forget about being a helicopter parent; my natural inclination is to be a tank parent and I have to fight it regularly.

What is it about my generation of parents that causes us to hover so much? Is it because we grew up on a steady diet of ABC Afterschool Specials about drugs, bullies, kidnappers, and pedophiles?

But, as I said, I can’t protect my girls forever, so I am trying to teach them what they need to know and then allow them to go out on their own. I’ve been leaving the girls home alone for limited periods of time — Graceful for a few years and Elegant within the past year. We’ve established the rules and things have gone well.

The biggest thing we did this summer is allow Graceful to start working as a mother’s helper. She took the Red Cross babysitting class last year and has been desperate to start her career as a babysitter. Mother’s helpering was a good first step for her, because she watched a baby while his mother worked in another room. The friend of mine who hired Graceful this summer had her come over once or twice a week. For the first two weeks, I walked or biked with her to and from her job — it’s .8 mile straight down the road from us. Starting with the third week, I walked to the end of our street and watched her bike off alone, with Pete’s cell phone tucked in her pocket. She called me as soon as she got to her destination, then later on when she was leaving, she called to let me know she was on her way home.

That first day, as I watched my baby bike off, I had a lump in my throat. This is just one of many times she’ll go off without me, but that time was significant. I had never allowed her to bike anywhere by herself, other than on our street within sight of our house, yet there I was watching her bike down a road alone. She knows the rules of the road and she’s a cautious biker who pays attention, so I knew she’d be okay. I also knew that she needed this new step toward eventual total independence.

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about independence and how I should be encouraging it without totally pushing my chicks out of the nest. (Time enough for that later.) For example, the school bus stop is two-tenths of a mile from our house. Graceful walks to and from on her own, but Elegant — who rides a different bus that comes and goes on a different schedule — does not. She’s younger and is also often the only student getting on the bus there, so I’m just not comfortable with her going on her own, especially since it’s a high-traffic area where drivers don’t watch out for kids who might be crossing the street. But maybe I’m being too cautious?

What about the rest of you? How old were you when you started being more independence? If you have children, what have you done so far to encourage it?

~ ~ ~

* Happy 13th birthday to this beautiful baby:


One issue that crops up when one is losing weight is what to do about one’s wardrobe as it needs replacing. It’s hard to stomach the idea of buying clothes that are essentially disposable if you know that you’re only going to be in them for a few months. Or, worse, you think you’re going to wear something for a short time, so you buy a cheap something that’s just fine but not 100% great, but then you end up wearing that cheap something for a few years because your weight loss stagnates.

A few years ago, I lost enough weight that my jeans were too big. So much so, in fact, that they slid right off my butt right in the middle of Target. (Hellooooo Housewares! How YOU doin’?) Figuring that I’d have just as much luck losing weight and getting to the next size down, I picked up some cheap jeans while I was there at Target. They were far too long — like 4 inches — so I just rolled them up rather than walk the excess length off. Why bother having them hemmed if I’m just going to be passing them on to someone else at some point in the very near future, amiright?

You know where this is going, yes?

I hit a plateau not long after that, induced mostly by the winter of 2009-2010 when we got 60 inches of snow in two months and I apparently spent much of my time in between shoveling snow eating foods in the au gratin and bacon food groups.

So I regained some weight and the cheap temporary jeans didn’t fit, but then I lost the regained weight, so the cheap temporary jeans fit again, but I still never got around to having them hemmed. Because, again, I was going to lose that weight quickly, so there was no point.

So here we are in the fall of 2011. The jeans fit fine, but I’m back on a losing streak, so to speak, and I am again hoping the jeans will soon be too big for me. In the meantime, however, I need jeans that fit. What self respecting soccer mom doesn’t have jeans for Saturday games?

I pulled the far-too-long jeans out of the drawer and started wearing them. Only, they’re still too long, as fairies did not magically appear in my house and hem all pants that are too long. (Which is nearly all of one’s pants when one is 5′ 4″.)

And that excess length annoyed me and annoyed me and annoyed me and irritated me and got on my nerves and annoyed me more. Finally, two weeks ago, I’d had enough. I had cuffed and recuffed those jeans far too many times.  And, much in the same way that a woman will grab her nail scissors at 10:00 one night and start hacking at her bangs in desperation, I grabbed bigger scissors and cut the excess length off my cheap temporary jeans.

(Only, there’s no way I’ll ever hack at my bangs with nail scissors or anything else because Richard the Hair God would kill me dead if I did something like that. At which point I’d have to I’d have to go into Witness Protection in order to hide from him and I’d up in some farming community in Idaho where I’d be the only blogger with fabulous accessories for a 13 county radius. So really it’s just best if I keep my cutting hands away from my hair.)

So where I am now is that I have jeans that are the correct length, but they’re cut off and fraying.

And this should be the point where I tell you that I’m embarrassed about my fraying jeans, but the fact is, I’m not. I simply don’t care. Because who’s going to give a crap about jeans that are worn to the soccer field or the grocery store or to pick up someone from fencing or take someone for a horseback riding lesson or to a casual lunch with a friend?

Well, okay, someone else might care, but I don’t.

What I am happy about is that the jeans are the correct effing length. Finally. After three years. It’s about damn time, I say. I should have cut them off years ago.

(Said jeans were worn yesterday with a fabulous navy blue henley from J. Crew that I got supermarkeddown, plus some red L.L. Bean driving mocs that were also supermarkeddown, as well as a fun scarf in bold colors of red, navy, golden yellow, and more.)

(What I’m saying is, there was no black involved with said outfit.)

Tell me I’m not alone in this. Who else has had a moment of utter desperation that might or might not have involved cutting jeans or hair or doing something else entirely?

Chocomania: Easy to find, easier to eat

Part of an occasional series about chocolate

Oh my holy heck y’all, has it really been FIVE MONTHS since my last Chocomania post? Of course, it was Parisian chocolate, so that was a difficult act to follow…

Still, I have a couple of yummies to report on today and I think they’re worth the splurge for those of us who are being really careful with how we allocate our food calories. So brace yourselves, chocolate lovers, and try not to lick your computer screens.

Today’s featured chocolate is made by Ghirardelli. Those of you who’ve been reading for a while might remember that a couple years ago I took issue with Ghirardelli for adding high fructose corn syrup to some of their chocolates. I won’t eat that shit, no matter how good the chocolate in question might taste. So, for over a year, Ghirardelli was dead to me because I was pissed at them for adulterating gourmet chocolate with lab-produced offal.

What finally broke down my defenses was an email from my friend Heather last fall, who gleefully told me about a new Ghirardelli treat that I had to try, ethics be damned.

Pumpkin spice caramel squares, y’all. Can you imagine a more perfect concoction for the crisp days of October and November?

I started looking for the pumpkin spice crack chocolates here in my town, but with no luck. I griped about this hardship* repeatedly on Facebook, to the point that even my friends were on the look-out  for the pumpkin spice carameth chocolates too, just so that they could get me to just shut up about them already.

(* Yes, I know, first world problems, yo.)

Finally, a friend finally found the goodies at le Tarzhay and emailed me the news posthaste and I hied myself posthastier to Target in order to procure some. Once there, I was faced with the dilemma of how many bags to buy. On the one hand, these were rare treats that would be available for a limited time only, so perhaps I should stockpile? On the other hand, I had recently been burned when I had listened to friends’ food suggestions and found myself in Starbucks trying to drink a gingerbread latte that smelled foul and tasted worse and then, just a couple weeks later, back in a Starbucks again choking on a peppermint mocha that tasted like coffee laced with chemicals, so would the pumpkin heroin caramels would be yet another culinary disappointment?

I bought one bag, paid, and left the store. In the car, my hands were shaking a bit as I opened the bag, reached in, and pulled out one chocolate. I took a bite. Savored. Another bite. More savoring.

And then I got out of the car and went back into the store and bought several more bags of pumpkin spice cocaine chocolates, took them home, and stashed them wayuphigh in the pantry so that I couldn’t access them easily. And after that I doled them out very carefully for the next couple of months until my supply was depleted. (Updated to add: There’s no pumpkin flavor in these — it’s pumpkin spices that are mixed into the caramel. Just trust me and go buy some.)

So if Ghirardelli comes out with these goodies again this year, go buy some.

(Unless, of course, if you live in my town, in which case I encourage you to avoid them like the plague. They’re nasty, so just stay away. I’ll buy all of the bags at Target and will dispose of the chocolates on your behalf so that you don’t have to.)

Having dipped a toe into the Ghirardelli waters again, I was more open-minded this summer when I discovered the company’s new dark chocolate with sea salt caramel filling squares. People, they are GOOD.

The pumpkin spice crank chocolates are milk chocolate and, I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to be disciplined around them. I don’t remember if I read the ingredients list carefully or if I was already addicted at first sight, but clearly the Ghirardelli folks have laced that particular treat with something that’s going to land us all in a 12 step program. So, proceed with caution.

The dark chocolate sea salt caramels, however, appear to be drug-free. It’s easy to eat just one and be done.

One big difference between the two is milk chocolate vs. dark chocolate — a little dark chocolate goes a long way, while a little milk chocolate leads to more and more and ultimately leads to elastic waste pants and a possible need for Weight Watchers meetings.

The great thing about both chocolates is that they’re individually wrapped. You don’t open the bag and get a huge waft of cocoa scent up in your nose, so it’s easier to resist temptation. The dark chocolate sea salt yummies are 210 calories for three squares, so you could do what I do and have only one square and you really haven’t fallen off the wagon too far. And, as we all know, occasional indulgences are important.

So that’s the latest chocolate report. I’d love to hear other people’s feedback, plus suggestions for other goodies we should all be trying.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not employed by Ghirardelli — although I wouldn’t mind some sort of sweet (heh) consulting gig — and I was not asked to review their products. Blah blah blah, legal mumbo jumbo, etc.


I was out with a friend the other day and we passed some flowers that smelled especially good. I commented on them and then my friend and I started talking about floral scents that we both love. (So not just any good smells, such as freshly-baked brownies, but flowers in particular.)

Gardenia, for example. That definitely makes my Top 5 of favorite floral smells. And since it doesn’t grow here, it’s something that I almost never smell. I’ve tried raising a gardenia plant inside but the results were rapidly tragic. (In spite of what people think — and the serious number of hours I give over to gardening every year — I actually do not have a green thumb. The only reason that things grow outside for me is that gardening fairies come by at night and sprinkle magic dust on everything.)

Lavender is another smell that I adore, which is mostly why I have loads of it in my yard, with plans to plant more. (And also because it’s one of those super easy plants that just grows and grows and you don’t have to do anything to it. Plus, it’s hard to kill, which is another mark in its favor.)

Jasmine, for sure. Totally love the smell of that. I didn’t think we could grow it here in Virginia and then last week I just started noticing scads of it around town. I’ve never noticed it before now and I happen to know that it only grows in zones 9-10, while around here we’re in zone 7, so I don’t know what’s going on. Global warming, perhaps. Or maybe it’s an imposter jasmine.

Honeysuckle is another scent I can’t get enough of. I love when it starts to bloom in May and then I run by and catch a whiff. It’s not quite strong enough to mask my personal sweaty stinkle, but still quite lovely.

Another fragrance I was reminded of while gardening yesterday is smell of bee balm (a.k.a. monarda). The leaves have a spice-y (as opposed to spicy) smell that’s reminiscent of cloves and other similar spices. So maybe I like the smell because it reminds me of gingerbread?

My favorite smell, however, the scent j’adore most of all, is freesia. Unfortunately, freesia doesn’t grow here and it’s only rarely found in the floral section of the grocery store, so I don’t get to sniff it all that often. On the rare occasion that I do buy it — once or twice a year — a single stem can fill the first floor of my house with its lovely smell for days. The fragrance is heavy enough that I feel like I should be able to roll around in it and coat my skin with it. Truly divine.

Unfortunately, freesia is a smell that is best fresh and never, ever fake, as in, created in a lab. It is the rare freesia soap or lotion or shampoo or other product that smells like the real deal and not like some cheap, wannabe knock-off.

And for some reason, until yesterday, it never occurred to me that someone probably sells essential freesia oil and that I could buy said oil and be able to smell it whenever I want, rather than once a year. A quick Google search showed that LOTS of people already knew this and were capitalizing on my nose’s desire. There’s now a bottle in my Amazon shopping cart, waiting for my next purchase.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the smells that I loathe. I’m not talking about the obvious ones, like garbage or decaying road kill. No, I’m talking about the ones you wouldn’t expect. For example, I cannot stand the smell of roses in lotions, soaps, or even in real life. Gag. I don’t why, only that I disliked it as a child and it’s only gotten worse over the years. That hasn’t stopped me from planting loads of roses in our yard, but you’ll never see me sticking my nose in a blossom.

What about y’all? What is your favorite smell and what’s your least favorite?