Riverdance

Dear Millie,

Hey!  I had such a blast with you and Abe (and Jake and Cara and our padres and everyone else we got to see)!  I figured after waiting so long to send our Christmas card, I should just deliver it in person.

I can’t stop laughing!  Abe’s offer to riverdance at the family reunion in a speedo to techno music . . . oh my word.  How did that conversation even happen?  And do you think Jake would join him?  Gordon is a definite NO.  But ha ha haaaaaa the imagery!  St. Patrick’s Day was all the better because of that.

“His legs flail about as if independent from his body!” –Chandler Bing

I hope you have a fabulous weekend!

Love,

Grace

A Series of Unfortunate Purchases (mostly pants)

Dear Millie,

Cucumber crap!  That’s just terrible.  But your chicken pies are beautiful!  I’ve never attempted puff pastry.  I think I need a special occasion to try that out soon!

Following our dog’s passing, I don’t know what happened, but every time I went out, I started buying things that weren’t on my shopping list.  This is an unusual behavior for me, and especially since (thankfully/surprisingly) it wasn’t food-related.  My pants purchases in particular surged.  This needed to happen since I only really have one pair of pants that fit.  Gordon asked me recently if they were my favorite pants because I wear them all the time.  I hung my head as I answered that I was too big for the bajillion other pairs I own.  He was surprised!  Bless him.

Anyway, I kept picking up what I thought were giant pants (according to the tags, they’d all be a couple of sizes bigger than the “favorite” pair I was wearing), only to find that I couldn’t even pull them all the way up.  Booooo.  I did get another pair of pants that fit great until the top, where it flares open like Goofy’s water pants.  You know the ones!  I can’t find a picture, but I’m feeling like these are a close match:

Somehow, they were manageable in the fitting room, and flattering, even, but that was for the two seconds I had them on.  My home experience has been ridiculous.  For one thing: NO FRONT POCKETS.  What the heck!?!  They look like they have front pockets, as there’s a lovely seam where the pocket opening should be.  These ersatz pockets have been the subject of my rage every time I decide that this time will be different and the pants will be just fine!  Also.  ALSO.  There seems to be an overabundance in backside material.  Once I have them on, the gapingness at the top forces repeated hitching, and when said hitching is done, my back pockets seem to be more in the back region than the seat region.  While it’s not a pleasant experience to have my phone buzzing on my backside, I keep thinking I’m having back spasms every time I get a message or phone call.

Along with the ersatz-pocket-pants, I had all the other erroneously size-labeled pants.  Instead of putting them back, I thought they looked cute and will fit eventually (hopefully soon), so I bought them.  Let’s be clear: I ALREADY HAVE PANTS IN THE SIZES I PURCHASED!  Plenty of them!  I was supposed to be finding pants that fit now so that my “favorite” pair aren’t the only pair.

I also bought a stair stepper.  Because why not?  I should be out of my clown pants and into my billion other less circus-type ones in no time.  🙂

Love,

Grace

 

Cucumber Crap & Chicken Pies

Dear Grace,

Lucy! What a little mischief-maker! But she is just so cute, how can you even get mad at her?

I am sure I mention this frequently, but Abe and I are trying to get healthier. I think we would be doing better if I found any joy whatsoever from cooking healthy food. One week we ate nothing but chicken and rice. I wanted to die. Then I baked some cookies and all was right with the world. Then I gained back the five pounds I had lost. I am in a constant battle with the same five pounds. Go me!

The other day, Abe brought home some exotic healthy juices that sneak vegetables into the concoction. This particular brand was “It Tastes Raaw” and Abe selected the pineapple cucumber variety. I was doing things around the house when Abe called me to the living room to try this amazing juice. It smelled like cucumbers and dirty socks and tasted worse. It certainly did taste raaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwrrrrrr. We immediately threw both bottles away.

That weekend, Netflix acquired two new seasons of my favorite show: The Great British Bake Off. Abe and I spent our weekend watching delightfully polite British people bake amazing breads and pastries. Naturally I was inspired, and decided (at Abe’s request) to try a chicken pie recipe and make puff pastry from scratch. Despite my poor photography and amateur baking skills, they turned out AMAZING. I was just tickled with myself. The pastry had this amazing flakiness and it was just so darn delicious. All that butter just made a world of difference between these and an American chicken pot pie. Hearing the sound of the pastry flaking was even more enjoyable than eating them. I used this Mini Creamy and Cheesy Chicken Pie recipe from The Flavor Blender, and I also used her puff pastry recipe. 

 

 

 

 

 

The recipe took some time to make (mainly because of the pastry), and I wish I had a larger dough cutter (mine is about 2″ in diameter), but they were amazing nevertheless. I will probably make them again, but will most likely keep them as a special occasion food.

It all boils down to this: Healthy food is terrible and butter makes everything better.

Love Always,

Millie

Shopping List and Carmelitas

Dear Millie,

I keep a running shopping list as we run out of or get low on things.  A couple of days ago, here’s what was on that list:

  • Bacon
  • Tub butter
  • Shortening
  • Prilosec

Ha ha ha!

I don’t think I’ve told you about Carmelitas, but they’re the best!  I’ve been making them for a couple of years now, which makes me a terrible sister for having not shared!  They’re pretty forgiving, so feel free to change up the amounts of things in the middle layer.  I based off of Your Homebased Mom‘s Oatmeal Carmelitas and Averie CooksCarmelitas recipe because I wasn’t sure what to do if I didn’t have caramel sauce for Your Homebased Mom’s recipe, but I did have wrapped caramels.  Or caramel bits.  I’ve used both.  So here you go!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup oats (I use quick.  Or old-fashioned.  Whatever I have.)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cube + 2 Tbsp butter, softened (yup, 10 Tbsp total, although Averie uses 1 1/2 cubes, so you can also do that if you want it a little less crumbly)
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (or more, if you like!  I already upped it from 1/2 cup and would recommend 3/4 cup)
  • Either 1/2 cup caramel sauce, or a bunch of wrapped caramels or caramel bits and cream.  Or water.  Because you can totally melt the bits with water.  Probably wrapped caramels too?
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare an 8×8 pan by either spraying with cooking spray or lining with foil or whatever.
  2. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar, and then add butter using a hand mixer, pastry cutter, or two knives until combined and crumbly.  I have melted the butter before and then mixed it in by hand or used softened butter and mixed with a hand mixer or cut in with knives.  It works any way!  You can also add a little vanilla if you’d like, but not necessary.
  3. Press half of the mixture into your pan.  It needn’t be exactly half, but you do want the bottom covered.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes.
  5. While it’s baking, prepare your caramel.  Melt the caramels with the cream (or a bit of water or even milk) in the microwave in 1 minute increments, stirring between increments until nice and smooth.  Or melt it on medium heat on the stovetop in a saucepan, stirring lots.  You don’t need a lot of cream, maybe 1/8-1/4 cup?  If using milk or water, I’d decrease the amount compared to cream.  Depending on how much caramel you want, add more or less to melt.  1/2-1 cup yield is about right.
  6. When the 10 minutes is up, pull the pan out of the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Pour the caramel over the chocolate chips, and then sprinkle the remaining oatmeal mixture evenly on top.  I love that darn oatmeal stuff so much, I can never seem to have a very full top layer.  Ha ha!
  7. Bake the entire concoction 18 minutes.
  8. Best to let them cool a bit before trying to cut.  Just a heads up.  Or just grab some spoons.  I like them best when they’ve set up after an hour or two, but that’s usually as seconds because we can’t wait that long!

I hope you make them soon and I hope you love them!

Love,

Grace

Resident Artists

Dear Millie,

I’m so happy to hear from you!  Jake is the best.  I can’t believe he finally “can’t”!  I also can’t believe Chloe is three!  She was nearly two when she last visited us here and was singing, “Let it go,” over and over to herself.  So cute.

I wish you were here baking me cookies as well!  Things are going better.  I keep thinking I’m hearing clickety-clacks on the tile from our dog’s toenails or that I need to step over her in the middle of the night or let her out or feed her, etc., etc.  I thought she’d pretty much lost her appetite there by the end, but as it turns out, she was probably eating plenty–I’ve discovered that we are incredibly messy eaters!  I’m having to sweep up a lot of food that I think she would’ve taken care of.  I also realized I will probably have to buy a fly swatter soonish.  I haven’t owned one in years!

I was talking with a mom friend of mine last night and we were laughing about the things our kids do that give us gray hair and I realized I hadn’t told you about one of Lucy’s doings.

It was in December when things get kind of crazy just before Christmas.  I can’t remember where Gordon was…board meeting?  Class?  Anyway, I had all the children with me and we had to go to the church.  We quickly finished whatever we had to get done and headed out the door.  Someone in the gym spotted me and asked me to come in to check something.  They were putting together the big baskets of food for different families in our ward and weren’t sure about the number of extra family members living/staying with some of the families and wanted to make sure they were putting enough food in the baskets.  Anyway, I asked the boys to keep an eye on the girls while I double checked numbers with the coordinators.

My kids love the church library.  Paul loves creating crafty things with all the paper, tape, and staples and the girls love getting into all the dry erase markers and such.  I was worried about leaving the kids alone while I helped out, but since it would take me just a minute or two, I figured they’d be okay.  When I was finished, I noticed that someone had closed the library doors.  Locked them, actually.  Good thinking, I thought.  I was able to round up my children pretty quickly except for one.

Lucy.

I had just seen her in the gym and watched her walk out into the hallway as I finished up the last basket.  Where could she have gone so quickly?  We spread out and were bobbing in and out of rooms throughout the church.  It’s not even a full-size building, so I was starting to feel frantic when I’d been in every room and even peeked outside with no sign of her.  I started asking people in the foyer if they’d seen her and no one had.  Bishop came out of his office and saw people moving quickly and joined the search.  She’s big enough now that she can push open the doors to go outside.  It was dark and snowy and it’d be hard to see a tiny girl in the parking lot.  Having been through every room, there was nowhere else I could think of that she’d be.

Just as I headed outside, I heard Bishop laughing.  I turned to see what was happening and he motioned for me to come back.  He’d found Lucy.  She had locked herself in the library (two doors!) and was happily coloring the walls with permanent markers.

I keep thinking that my boys never did such terrible things to my walls, but I recently found a picture I’d taken of five-year-old Kyle’s doing.  I admit it was hard to make him clean it off when I found it on the back of the bathroom door.  It still makes me smile:

It even has a check mark indicating that it “looks good!”

Love you,

Grace

Edited to add:

P.S.  I forgot to tell you!  I finally made the dessert I’d planned to make for Valentine’s Day.  It was delicious and Lucy and Truman especially couldn’t get enough of it.  Double Chocolate Mousse Torte from melskitchencafe.com.  You want some:

Photo from melskitchencafe.com (used with permission)

 

The Brother Who Can’t

Dear Grace,

Your past several posts have just made me cry. I am going to miss your shaggy dog, and I wish I was there so we could bake cookies to make ourselves feel better. Because that is how we handle emotions around here.

In the absence of me and cookies, maybe this brief anecdote will make you feel slightly better.

A couple of weeks ago, Jake and Cara asked to come stay at Dutchman House for a night as they passed through on their way to wherever they were actually trying to get to. Abe and I were so excited for them to come, even if for a night.

I am not sure if I have ever mentioned how difficult Dutchman House is to locate. One can go one of two ways: First route: through a nonsensical maze that twists and turns about the subdivision to the very last street that borders the desert. It takes five full minutes to get from our house to the main road. And yes, I have timed it. Second route: through the desert on the world’s least maintained dirt road that Google claims is the fastest way to find our house. Although the dirt road is faster (distance-wise), it is much less comfortable as one must dodge abandoned furniture and giant dips and ditches in the “road”.

As Abe and I sat calmly awaiting their arrival (i.e. scurrying about the house trying to clean), I got a call from Jake. Good news: They were mere minutes away. Bad news: They were stuck in a giant mud puddle mere minutes away on the abandoned dirt road. Abe and I had recently sold Abe’s clunker Jeep, so we only had our Chevy Cruz to attempt to get their car out of the mud. I put on my muddy times outfit: knee-length leggings and mid-calf cowboy boots which is quite the ensemble. Surprisingly, our Chevy was not at all helpful in getting the car out of the mud, so we all waited together in the desert chill for a tow-truck while three-year-old Chloe serenaded us with songs from Moana. It was quite the evening, and I think we will be making fun of Jake forever in his persistence that he could in fact drive through the puddle.

Turns out “can’t” runs in the family.

Love Always,

Millie

Snow

Dear Millie,

We spent the weekend rearranging our bedroom and such.  I couldn’t stand seeing our dog’s empty bed at the foot of mine and without it there, it was just a sad, empty space.  There are other things I should tend to–her water and food bowls are still sitting there, waiting for her.

On Friday, I had our dog come downstairs into the living room so I could brush her a bit.  Always good to look nice for the doc, right?  She did get compliments when Gordon walked her into the lobby.  🙂  I had to go searching for her since she wasn’t in her usual resting places.  I found her in the boys’ room on the far side of Paul’s bed.  “Come on, Pup, let’s go downstairs,” I said.  She picked herself up and headed into my room.  “No, come downstairs. Come on, Pup-Pup, come on,” I cheered.  Her back end slipped when she got on the wood, and she couldn’t grip with her front paws.  I basically slid her over to the couch where she could lean on it while I brushed her.  She was so thin.  I did as much as she would allow and then let her go while the girls helped me clean up all the hair.  I had it all gathered up in a bag to take to the trash and realized the trash bin was still down by the road, so I set it on the steps in the garage to take out later.

I was anxious all morning and procrastinated doing anything I needed to get done.  I didn’t want to go shopping because I didn’t want to leave her.  I wanted to sit and stroke her fur and talk to her, but was worried it would upset us both over nothing.  Knowing what I know now, I wish I had.

Gordon came home to pick her up at about 1:45.  He came upstairs, and I excitedly told our dog that he was home.  She perked up and her tail was wagging as she followed him into our room and back out again with a little hop.  I hoped it was a happy hop.  He let her outside and I went in the basement to get the leather leash.  She came back in and I thought we should get a picture.  Gordon wasn’t so keen on it and I tried to get the girls and dog situated and cooperating, but the dog kept wandering off and the girls couldn’t stay put either.  Gordon said we shouldn’t be fussing and making things a big deal when she was just going to get tests.  The dog was ready to go out with him, so I pet her and said, “Be a good girl,” and watched her climb up in the van.  Lucy and I stood in the doorway to the garage and waved until the garage door closed.

I called Gordon just after he left so we could talk during his drive to the vet about a half hour away.  I could hear the dog wandering around in the back and it took her a long time to settle and sit down.  Gordon kept laughing about how bad her breath was (it really was!  I thought her teeth must be rotting out or something, but the vet said her teeth were all in great shape.  Gordon commented to the vet that it smelled like something had died in there, and she said, “Well, she IS dying in there.”).  When they pulled in to the vet, Gordon said he’d call me back later.  At 2:48, he texted me:

Waiting for results

He included a worried, sweating emoji.  I was trying to calm myself by playing Tetris and half-joked back to him about looking for a bag to breathe into.  I kept trying to tell myself that whatever the case, it would be a relief to know.

Time seemed to drag on and I finally texted to find out how long before the results would come back.  No response.

Gordon called at 3:25.  “Hello?”  Nothing.  I listened for a minute, and could hear that the phones had connected, but he wasn’t speaking and I heard a couple of sharp breaths drawn in and let out in short, unsteady beats.  I realized it was Gordon crying.  And then I knew.

There are paw prints in the snow all over our yard.  It’s been getting warmer and while I know it’ll take awhile to melt all the snow, it breaks my heart knowing that when it does, her prints will be gone, too.

Our dog with her neighbor friend frolicking in the snow last winter

Love,
Grace

I’d Choose the Same

Dear Millie,

Happy Friday!  Do you have any plans for the weekend?  A garage sale, perhaps?  I still laugh about your signs!

Gordon is taking our dog to the vet today.  I’m not sure what to do, exactly, so I’m anxiously procrastinating anything else that needs to be done today.

You’re in trouble for two things: 1-) eating on my couch!  And, 2-) feeding our doggie Pop-Tarts!  Except that we eat on the couch all the time when the kids aren’t around, and the unfrosted edges of Pop-Tarts are pretty worthless.

Valentine’s Day!  Oh my.  I always have such lofty plans.  I think I need to stop doing that so that I won’t be disappointed.  I’d hoped to have the house covered in paper hearts and red and white everywhere when the boys got home from school.  We’d have a fancy dinner and just have a marvelously good time, complete with valentine trinkets and love notes.

I started the night before (after the boys all finished their class valentines [speaking of which, Truman was cutting his out a day or two in advance and I noticed he was cutting left-handed.  I asked him what the story was on that he he replied, “Oh, I always write with my right hand and cut with my left.”  Why not?] [Also, the boys had wanted to attach Starbursts to their valentines.  Apparently, the tape we used didn’t hold up too well because the day after Valentine’s Day, Truman opened up his backpack and pulled out a bag full of Starbursts and began eating them.  He guessed some *might* have fallen off the valentines he gave out.  I counted 17.  There were 23 kids he gave valentines to and each kid was supposed to get two.  I hope all of them at least got one!]) and it went downhill from there.

I’ve had a mailbox sitting in our entryway since about Thanksgiving.  I’d hoped to encourage the women at church to write little notes to the missionaries and servicemen/women from our ward.  A friend had an extra mailbox at her house and brought it over.  I never got around to painting it or getting little note-sized papers and also pens to organize craftily on a table at the church. Consequently, we didn’t get anything out for them for Christmas.  I ended up buying colored index cards and envelopes and putting them on the foyer table so that all the ward members could participate in sending a little love their way for Valentine’s Day.  I still have two of the envelopes in my car, needing addresses.

I just realized I still haven’t sent you our Christmas card!  Ha!  I was joking when I said you could plan on seeing it around Valentine’s Day, but I think I underestimated myself.  Ha ha!

Back to the mailbox.  My friend said she didn’t want it back, so I decided to spray paint it white and maybe get some red vinyl letters to put on the side.  What ended up happening was a colossal craft fail.  I never claimed to be a Banksy, but I also had no idea I could ruin a spray paint job.  I read and followed the directions carefully, and still ended up with dripping paint streaking down the sides and uneven coats.  By the time I finished it and brought it in the next day, the door wouldn’t open or close properly.  It looked really, really bad.  My idea for vinyl lettering was a great one, except that I don’t have access to vinyl letters.  I saw some gel clings at the grocery store and slapped those on.  It’s a sad-looking mailbox.

Kyle had taken brownies for his class party.  The teacher had sent home a list of items needed, and I detached the slip and sent it back and even messaged about whether Little Debbie cosmic brownies (which are processed in a facility where nuts are also handled) would be acceptable in their nut-free classroom (I can’t even tell you how sad I feel for families who have to deal with food allergies!).  Kyle returned with a box of brownies because apparently, another kid in his class had brought ALL of the treats requested plus some, and so most of his classmates didn’t want even more.  ?  My kids scrambled over the cosmic brownies (a rare treat at our house), and I tried to figure out whether the brownies I’d stashed in the mailbox would be enthusiastically welcomed or passed over.

I decided on chicken cordon bleu for dinner.  I made mashed potatoes in the Instant Pot (BUY ONE!!!) and timed things wrong enough that the chicken was nearly cold by the time I had everything served up on very fancy heart-adorned paper plates.

BUT.  I had found a valentine-themed tablecloth at Walmart that had activities on it and such.  We let the kids use markers to decorate it while they waited for dinner.  It was such a hit!  We’ve had company for different meals the last couple of days and they’ve also enjoyed doodling.  I wish I’d bought ten!

I also stuffed the mailbox (which they LOVED) full of little doodads for the kids.  We opened it after dinner and the kids were thrilled with playdough, stickers, brownies (yay!), and also the heart-shaped straws I’d forgotten we should’ve had for dinner.  Ha ha!  There was also a package from Mumsie and Pops that had valentines for each of the kids, a couple of my favorite children’s books, and a big bag of M&Ms (you should have kids so Mumsie will send you chocolate!).  I also included notes to each of the kids and told them things I love about them.  I’d meant to have one written for Gordon, but was going to spend a little more time on his note and ended up forgetting until you sent me your letter!

I loved your card!  You’re not a sister who can’t.  Good gravy.  That’s so cute!

I also loved the one at the end of your letter.  I did print it out and wrote quite the letter inside.  It was getting a little flowery and mushy as I basically told Gordon he’s my everything, so I also told him that the sun shines out of his bellybutton.  If you need me for poetic wordings, I’m your girl!

Valentine’s Day was, despite my craft and cooking fails, such a fun time.  The family evening prayer and the next morning prayer with the boys were both filled with expressions of gratitude for such a fun day.  My expectations often get in the way of enjoying things as they are and for what they are.  When I look back, it’s with a smile.  I need to do more of that in the moment.

I closed up Gordon’s letter with a quote, but I feel the same for my family, my life.

“And I’d choose you;
in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality,
I’d find you and I’d choose you.”

– Kiersten White, The Chaos of Stars

Love,

Grace