Muffins. And Recitals. In the Opposite Order.

Dear Millie,

Both those recipes are fantastic!  The roasted cauliflower is one of my favorite recipes ever in the history of the world (and you know how much food means to me)!  The Man Salad.  I am not big on salad to begin with, so the fact that I even HAD the recipe to begin with says something!  It’s called Man Salad because men actually like it.  Abe proves it yet again!  I got the recipe from our sister-in-law.  She’s the sister who CAN!

Kyle, Paul, and Truman had their first piano recital this weekend.  As I was waiting for it to start, I realized that I could FaceTime Mumsie and Pops and they could watch it with us!  I quickly called and they were available, so being the doting grandparents they are, they sat through lots of beginning piano songs (including “Myrtle the Turtle” and “The Funny Bunny”)…you know, since they didn’t get enough of that with all of us kids.  I was very proud of how well the boys (and grandparents) did.  Because I was using my phone to FaceTime and Gordon was wrangling Lucy and Vanessa, a friend of mine offered to take video with Gordon’s phone.  I only just now watched the clips and realized why Mumsie and Pops may have been so entertained.  The video of Paul also includes a view of a kid on the front row who was digging in his nose the ENTIRE time!  HA!

Speaking of Paul, I have a recipe that he particularly loved.  The rest of us did, too!  You know those giant chocolate muffins from Costco a certain sister of ours used to bring to family reunions?  Sure, everyone liked the banana nut or blueberry ones too, but those…YES.  This recipe is a lot like those!  Possibly better?  You’ll have to try them yourself!  I’d definitely recommend chocolate chunks.  They’re SO good!  I think I got 18 out of the recipe?  I filled them up pretty full, too.  Vanessa helped make them and we had them ready when the boy got home from school.  They had their chores done in no time at all!  Awesome.  Paul describing the Double Chocolate Chunk Muffins said, “It’s like a celebration in a wrapper!”  Moments later, a chunk fell out of the muffin and he exclaimed, “My muffin just pooped!”

You could use the muffins to bribe your Cub Scouts.  And if they don’t behave, you can eat theirs.  In front of them.  With a big glass of milk.  But not a glass of milk from my house, because when I have the kids help with dishes, my glasses of milk look like this:

If you come visit, I will wash all of the dishes, I promise!

Love,

Grace

Date with Disaster

Dear Millie,

Date with disaster!  Ah ha haaaa!  Oh, you kill me!  I’m stealing that.

And hey!  Your blankets don’t look too shabby.  At least the fabric is cute?  And the pom poms?  I think your colors are better than the tutorial, if that makes anything better.

Picture day!  It was definitely memorable.  Since it happened to be my wee one’s birthday, we opened gifts to start the day.  She tossed the dress I’d picked out for her and kept rummaging disappointedly through the gift bag.  Win!  ??  I convinced/bribed the children to get dressed in the outfits we’d picked for the occasion and we headed out.  I wore flip flops because 1. I’m so fashionable, and 2. the blisters!  At least I was able to walk again, albeit not comfortably nor gracefully.

The van ride over was filled with every sort of lame joke, bathroom-related sound effect, and excited talking to be sure the children were all in happy moods.  We arrived on time for our appointment (even a couple of minutes early, if you can believe that!).  I’d grabbed a cart in the parking lot so I could better corral my children (okay fine, and so that I could use it as an inconspicuous walker).  Another set of (CUTE!) kids and their mom were already there taking pictures.  One of those cute kids was a newborn and he was not cooperating, so they were trying all kinds of tricks.

We were there waiting a good long while and everyone was behaving spectacularly.  Except then we were still waiting and my feet were starting to have issues.  The 2yo was reaching the end of her patience quota, the 4yo was telling me loudly that it was OUR turn and WHY was it taking so long??, the 6yo was running circles around the cart, the 8yo was doing some kind of kangaroo/T-rex hopping/screeching thing, and the 10yo was trying to pretend we were all just doing what we should.  The mom mouthed, “Sorry!” to me and the photographer and assistant/receptionist (the one with the “Disaster” tattoo) said they’d be with us in just a few minutes.  I felt bad glancing at my watch, but it had been nearly 20 minutes and we were running out of time.  Not that I had anywhere to be, but there’s a window where things come together and then it just…doesn’t.  You miss that window, and it’s over, my friend!  I’d had the kids perfectly coiffed and pumped up for our appointed time and things were caving.

The mom felt terrible that we’d had to wait so long and I assured her that it was just fine.  I don’t think she’d gotten what she wanted, because they hung around while we tried to set up.  They set the background up and positioned the older kids and by then, the 2yo had had it.  She was wailing.  I set her in the group and stepped away and she’d come running after me.  I tried sitting just off to the side with my arm stretched out holding her hand (or maaaybe forcing her to stay there).  No good.  The photographer was not very helpful (why wasn’t she trying any tricks with my cute kids as she had with her previous customer?) and she asked what I could do to get the 2yo to stay put and smile.  I assumed that was her job?  My mistake!

The other children were trying their best to be patient and it just went on and on with the photographer sighing loudly and tapping her foot while I repeatedly placed the 2yo in the frame.  I told the photographer I’d just like the picture and I didn’t mind if my daughter was crying.  There!  She’s there!  Everyone is looking and it’s actually kind of funny!  Please just take the picture!  The assistant/receptionist came over and tried to give my poor girl a stuffed bear.  She calmed down and the photographer said, “Oh!  I think she must just be freaked out by me!  Here, see if you can get a good picture.”  She handed the camera to the stunned Disaster girl (we’ll call her D) and walked off.  And then she left to get a soda.

D wasn’t sure how to hold the camera.  She knelt down and tried to get the children to all look at her.  She took several pictures and I could see on the monitor that none of them were centered, and that her finger had blocked the lens on a few of them.  I know they do editing afterward, so I was trying to not be worried, but three of the images did not include heads on my older children and another couple didn’t include at least one of my children at all.  Technology is amazing, but I was a little nervous about how they’d manage to pull an image together.

The photographer had returned by this point and seemed exasperated that we were still there.  Another group had arrived and the mom with the newborn was there and instead of taking over the camera, the photographer set her soda down and went to the register.  There were people gathered at the front who needed to be attended to, after all!

My 2yo by this time was screaming.  She could not be consoled.  I tried holding her and talking softly in her ear for a minute, but she was having none of it.  She wanted off the set.  I calmly told the camera-holding girl that I would very much like a photograph to be taken of my children as soon as I set my little girl down and got out of the frame and that I didn’t care what it looked like.  She looked at me wide-eyed and nodded and I looked at my children.  My oldest was doing his best to keep a smile on but it was coming off like a creeper.  The 8 and 6yo boys were wiggling around and were clearly done.  The 4yo was sitting on the bench with her arms folded and she was scowling.  I smiled and told them that this was it!  We really just needed one picture.  Everybody smile!

I set the 2yo down and she lost it.  I was backing up to quickly get out of the frame and knew that there was a board under the backdrop that I’d need to step over.  I felt the back of it with my flip flop and lifted my water balloon foot, but the flip flop caught and I slammed down on the blisters so I wouldn’t trip, but then I did anyway, so I reached my left hand out to grab onto the counter but I missed and grabbed onto something metal and I was falling and the metal thing I’d grabbed was part of the printer and it broke off and I came crashing down in flailing slow motion and naturally the metal tray didn’t land flat, it landed facing up so it sliced the webbing between my thumb and index finger and (sorry for the graphic) scrunched the skin accordion-style as it did its damage.

“Whoa,”  the photographer said.  “Oops?” was all I could say, and I set the metal tray on the counter.  I grabbed some tissues and jammed it in my hand so the kids wouldn’t know what had happened.  I’d apparently startled the girl holding the camera when I fell, so the photograph she’d taken had the girls’ heads from about the bottom lip up, the boys above them, and then a lot of empty space above them.  Awesome.

I asked if we could maybe come back later as the other mom had.  The photographer turned with an exasperated look and said, “30 minutes.  These guys have been waiting,” and she gestured to the group who had been witness to one of my life’s crowning moments.

I thanked her, gathered my children into and next to the cart, and we left.  I was trying not to limp and the 2yo was just at her wits end.  We walked away and I picked her up and let her snuffle into my shoulder, leaving a wet blob on my shirt.  I had bled through the tissues I had.  Luckily, a girl from church was walking toward us.  I asked if she could stay with the kids for a minute while I used the restroom.  I hobbled to the restroom with the 2yo and did my best to wash up my hand while holding her.  I glanced in the mirror and was sorry I had.  I looked like I’d come through a terrible ordeal.  Well!  Not as bad as a pregnant grandma, eh?  I squeezed some paper towels in my hand to help with the bleeding and returned to the cart.

I couldn’t walk very well anyway and my feet were giving in.  I tried making small talk with the girl and ended up agreeing to anything and everything she said because I couldn’t think straight enough to do otherwise.  That conversation is how I ended up driving her to and fro and hearing about her potato picking adventures.  I know you can’t wait to hear about that!

I’d done my shopping the weekend before and the only thing I could think of that we needed were mousetraps.  We walked clear across the store to the place where they carry them, and there was an empty space where they used to be.  The time was nearly up, so we made our way back to the portrait studio.  My feet were killing me and my hand was throbbing.  I smiled at the mom with the newborn who was with D having her pictures printed off.  The other group finished up and it was our turn.  The photographer took over the printer and waved for D to finish up with us.  I told the kids we could be done really quickly if everyone cooperated.  The younger boys were completely wound up and were hopping around.  My 4yo rolled her eyes.  As soon as we stepped onto the set, the 2yo started screaming again.  Big, heavy sobs.

I assured D that I just wanted a nice-colored, centered picture, not necessarily with smiling children in it.  She just shook her head and when I saw the kids, I pointed and said, “Now!”  The bulbs flashed and I knew we had a masterpiece.

The photographer was now filling up helium balloons in the front to put around the entrance and my 4yo wanted one.  The photographer scowled at her, because these were for advertising, not for clients!  D quietly filled a few and handed them to the kids and tried to get pictures with them holding them, but the girls’ blocked the boys and no one could focus on the camera when there were bobbing balloons.  The 8yo was yawning in one of the pictures.  I announced we were done and I would like to just print some pictures.  The children immediately brightened and started playing.  The 2yo had calmed down but was so exhausted from all her crying that she just laid right down on the bench with the stuffed bear.

The photographer had left again.  D pushed her glasses up on her nose and squinted at the screen.  “I’m not sure we have ones we can work with.  Do you want to try again?” she asked.  NO.  She wanted to try some enhancements and maybe softer sides.  I was trying not to be rude, but her color enhancements were terrible.  I did my best to kindly point out exactly what we wanted, over and over, with no special enhancements or color treatments, please.  When she finally narrowed it down to her recommendations and the one I insisted on, she asked for my final selection.  I picked one of hers to humor her, and then I got what I wanted.  She hit print.  Nothing happened.  She jiggled some wires behind the printer and turned a circle and leaned around the corner to see if the photographer was anywhere nearby.  Nope.  She tried a few other things and the photographer finally returned.  “This will take awhile.  Why don’t you go shop or something?”

I’d already wandered around for half an hour with the children before and as much as I wanted to see if they had restocked the mousetraps, no thank you.  It was nearly nap time by this point, and by jingo I wanted the pictures and I wanted out of there!  I felt a little misled by the company name.

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In all fairness, they hadn’t said how many minutes.  I wasn’t trying to be rude or disruptive to other customers in Wally World, but it’d been 2 1/2 hours.  We had all reached our limit.  We waited for the prints as nicely as we could and then tore out of there.

The portrait?  Brilliant.  The boys were standing in the back.  Starting from the left, 6yo Truman is punching himself in the side of his face, 10yo Kyle is gripping his brothers trying to keep them in place with a hurry-and-take-the-dang-picture smile, and 8yo Paul is in the middle of making farting sounds.  The girls are sitting on a bench and 2yo Lucy is crying and reaching out for me with a tear running down her cheek and a wet stream under her nose.  4yo Vanessa?  She’s covering her ears with both hands and glaring at Disaster.  It is awesome.  I have it hanging next to the front door.

It has been a few weeks since our “date with Disaster.”  One of the girls I visit teach had heard about having had our pictures done and when I went to visit her last month, she had new family photos on her wall and individual shots of each of their three boys.  “Oh yeah, it was great!  The boys were already dressed nicely one day, so we decided to stop in and get pictures.  In and out–Portraits in Minutes!”  Indeed.  Disaster and the photographer are no longer there.  I don’t know what happened.

Love,

Grace

P.S.  I told you my favorite biddy hooked me up with butternut squash, right?  I had seen online that I could cook it up in my Instant Pot pressure cooker (if you have one and you definitely should, place it on the steamer rack/basket thing, add 1 cup of water, hit Manual, set the time to 10-13 minutes depending on how big your squash is, let it cook and natural release for 10 minutes, manually release any leftover pressure, remove the basket and squash and let cool a bit, slice it in half and remove the seeds and goopy stuff, peel off the skin using a paring knife where needed, and then mash the squash until smooth–if you have an awesome blender, throw it in there–and then use it however you’d like!  I froze most of mine to use later).  I wondered if I could get away with making pumpkin pancakes subbing in squash and it worked great!  The kids had no idea and it was really good.  I made it just like the recipe said except I used squash.  Try it!  Pumpkin Cheesecake Pancakes.  You’re welcome.