I intend this #YOLO satirically

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What’s your drink of choice for NYE?

And just so there’s no confusion like there has been with Shia LaBeouf and my personal hero, Mark Driscoll, the title of this post was thought up entirely by me. It was not, as some may think, slightly modified inspired by Steven Moffat’s genius series, Coupling.

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Resolved: 2014 will be what it will be

I somehow managed to have energy today after the long car ride home from North Carolina yesterday. While we were down, Mike and I were able to visit one of my favorite restaurants, Print Works Bistro. I fell in love with it for the first time over coffee-crusted lamb chops with blackberry compote, ratatouille, and cream-filled beignets with chocolate sauce. Basically, food porn. Sunday night, however, was disappointing. I ordered duck confit cassoulet for my entree. The cassoulet was fantastic! The white beans were creamy; the sausage was slightly smoky with a touch of crust seared on slice; perfectly seasoned sauce binding together the beans, sausage, and soft, but firm, carrots. But the duck leg? Overcooked. It was like chewing on shards of meat that stabbed the insides of my throat as I swallowed them. So disappointing! And I had so looked forward or it after having some of Mike’s last year.
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I feel bad that Daffy had to die for this meal.

I got what I deserved for dessert. I ordered layer cake. WHAT was I thinking? Usually, I avoid cake in restaurants because it’s almost never good. This was no exception. Even though it was called chocolate caramel layer cake, there was barely any caramel in it. Just a touch at the skinny end. And it managed to be dry. This is why I don’t try new things, people!
I say all of this to say: I have my new culinary projects laid out before me.

A new year is ahead. Blog posts, statuses, and tweets abound with resolutions for the coming year. Some come across as seriously as things everyone needs to pretend they’re giving up for Lent. I stopped making resolutions a long time ago. To me, resolution can be defined as the naming of something at which you will fail and then become highly disappointed or depressed over in the coming year. While I don’t have resolutions to make, I do have hopes. To me, having hopes about certain things allows me to be flexible and not endure self-punishment if it doesn’t happen. I have learned in the past year that life often gets in the way of very specific plans. Things are already a little bit nebulous for me; why not settle in and not allow it to always be a negative thing?

I hope to be healthier.
Gee. Soooooo original, Julie. Here’s the thing: I know myself. I know that after having two kids, medication that has made me gain a lot of weight, and that fibromyalgia doesn’t allow me to exercise the way I used to, I’m going to have a hard time with my weight. I know that while I sometimes eat healthily, I’m not great about it, especially when I’m not able to cook or crap is laying around the house for me to shove in my face. I also know that with all the factors working against me for losing weight, if I set a specific number goal, I will fail. I will fail and cry into my extra serving of baconated ice cream chocolate triple cheesy burger with sugared French fries dipped in whipped cream….with a diet coke…that none of it matters, no matter how hard I try, so what’s the point in trying? So, rather than set myself up for failure like that, I figure I will purge the house of the things I know I will binge on. I hope to get back into some gentle exercise, like walking and light weights.

I hope to be more patient.
I have a hard time not going from 0 to Bitchy McScreamymonster at times. Lately, those times have been pretty often. Exhaustion + kids losing their minds = losing temper. I’m also wondering if my medication isn’t working nearly as well as it used to. I remember when I first started taking it. I called it patience in capsule form. But none of those are good enough reasons to not treat others with the kindness and respect they deserve, especially my kids and husband.

I hope my fibromyalgia gets better.
I know that this is a chronic condition, one that I am likely to live with for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t hope that it will get easier. I know that in order for that to happen, I will need to become more proactive in my own care. I will need to do more research, especially with regard to homeopathic and natural remedies. I will need to ask more questions and be more persistent, even to the point of changing doctors if I need to. It will also means putting on my big girl panties and doing what I’m supposed to do, e.g. getting more sleep, eating less processed food.

I hope to be more hopeful.
Mike hates it when I talk about our Hokies. Of course I’m a fan, as they are my alma mater. But I tend not to be too hopeful when it comes to them winning, say, the bowl game they’re currently playing against UCLA. I call it realistic. Mike calls it negative. This negativity tends to translate to other things in my life. I assume things will be horrible or go poorly. I have a hard time not dwelling on what went wrong, rather than moving on and focusing on what I can control. Some of this comes from my depression and anxiety and some of it is learned behavior. It’s always easier to tear down than it is to build up, but it leaves you with way more useless rubble. And I’m tired of useless rubble.

What do you hope for in this coming year?

Christmas is over. Party planning has begun.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Festivus, or Wednesday. Santa came to our house and both girls were pleased. After reading both my Facebook and Twitter feeds, it seems as though Rachael may be the only little girl her who didn’t receive a Barbie Dreamhouse. (When did this become a thing again?) Christmas Eve found us at church for the first time in months. We went to the my children can get away with screaming and dancing in the aisles family service, which had the children present a live Nativity. It. Was. Hysterical! Mary sat with Joseph on a quilt-covered bench. In her shiny black kitten heels, she looked about as forlorn and nauseated as I’m sure the real Mary must have felt after giving birth as a young teenager. (Side note: Even if the birth of Jesus was devoid of the miraculous, i.e. Virgin birth my ass, it’s still an awesome story. Rather than following the custom and dropping Mary’s ass after knocking her up, Joseph still married her.) The angels clomped forward, resplendent in lacy, golden tablecloth fabric, and kneeled before the holy family. The three shepherds meandered forward uncertainly. The oldest appeared or be about 8, while the youngest looked around 3. They held staffs. Someone had decided it was a good idea to give three little boys staffs. It all devolved from there. In between carols, the pastor read Isaiah and Luke with all the zeal of a lima bean. About the time that a two year old wise man walked forward, Zoë started testing the limits of her boundaries. By the time said wise man dumped his chest of gold, she discovered her reflection in the grand piano. The shepherds were full on sword fighting by the time Mike left the sanctuary with Zoë. I feared for the poinsettias and the wise men, which were placed on the communion altar far from the Nativity scene, (as they should be.) The angels began to wonder around and disrobe, while the oldest wise man, (a girl of about 12) sat at the front looking embarrassed and bored. Everyone in the congregation breathed an audible sigh of relief once the pastor called over the buzz of the kids that they could return to their seats.

This morning, Zoë woke us sweetly with sounds of vomiting. Our trip to Mike’s home in North Carolina delayed, I’ve been hanging out on the couch with Zoë and scouring Pinterest. I was asked to throw a baby shower for one of my oldest friends yesterday. She’s due in late April, so I don’t have too terribly long to put something together. I have to say, I really don’t understand cakes with baby faces or the pregnant torso cakes. They’re cute….until you realize that you are eating a baby. I mean, maybe cutting into the torso cake is a creative way of telling everyone that you’re having a scheduled C section? I think if I did that kind of cake, I’d have to go all out and make it out of red velvet cake and have some kind of gelatin in the middle for the afterbirth. Apparently another popular cake design is a raised baby toush under a blanket with feet sticking out. It’s bad enough imagining that you’re eating baby feet and whatever was in that diaper, but what about the other half of the baby? That is some serious King Solomon shit!
I think I may be required to throw a John Deere party, as dad is a country boy, but I hope not. There isn’t a lot on Pinterest to copy from which to draw inspiration. Much of what is there is ugly or…… “classy”. I mean, we’re talking recreating the butterfly tattoo mom has on her belly on a pregnant torso cake classy.

The other party is Zoë’s 3rd birthday. She is obsessed with Sheriff Callie on Disney Junior. We’ve been watching the same six episodes that are out over and over again. As I write this, we’re making our way through the list for the second time today.
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Related: If anyone happens to know Mandy Moore, I can pay not much for an appearance at a birthday party.

So the planning for a Kitties and Cowgirls birthday is underway. There is a farm nearby that does birthday parties where you can meet baby animals, (which would be perfect in April!) and wagon rides. I made the mistake of looking on Pinterest for cowgirl birthday parties first. Everything was pretty much the same: light brown and dusty rose desserts, ruffles, and accents; the girl’s name was written in thin rope on a board background, (admittedly cute, but done again and again); categorized as vintage cowgirl. What the actual fuck is vintage cowgirl? I mean, besides something some party planner made up so they could charge a family with too much money to spend extra because they used the word “vintage”?
A couple of “glamping” pins were thrown in too.

Glamping acceptable only if Aziz Ansari and DJ Roomba included.

Of course, when I searched for cowboy parties, there was variety and creativity. It would have made me ragey had I not been grateful for the search results.

So, I suppose stay tuned for lots of party planning angsty posts where I wonder why the universe has not already created what I have in mind so that I don’t have to figure out how to make it myself.

Thinking, grace, and other annoying crap

I’ve been completely out of commission since Tuesday night. I started off feeling nauseated and ended with a trip to the ER a couple days later. I still don’t feel great. I’ve been swallowing old anti-nausea meds and TUMS like candy, but at least I’m sorta kinda back to solid foods. Having the sniffles really sucks.
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“When it’s stomach stuff, you just say ‘under the weather’ or people start picturing you doing unspeakable things.”
(Note: must get GIF maker so I can use the exact scenes I’m thinking of. Why doesn’t the Internet anticipate me?)

So last night, with a giant Sprite in hand, Mike and I stood in line at the store to get my Christmas present: an upgraded phone. Naturally, because I felt like crap, the upgrade counter was understaffed, one staff member was having trouble porting someone else’s phone, and there was someone else in front of us in line. Someone in front of us in line shouldn’t have been that big of a deal, but of course she had brought along her big ole bag of crazy. She would only deal with one salesperson. She had a laundry list of questions for the sales associate who was managing the the queue because she, evidently, had never heard of her owner’s manual or the Internet. It was like she was having phone therapy. I went from being amused to wanting to throat punch her as she took up valuable time asking inane questions. She took her sweet time picking out a case for a newly acquired phone. The sales associate, with a look of slowly dying and desperation in his eyes, quietly asked the associate who was helping us to help with a data transfer. There was a condition, though. The customer had requested that he not get any fingerprints on her shiny, reflective, chrome phone. Naturally, our associate laughed, asked if this was a serious request and threatened to kick the phone down her throat, while the other associate pleaded with him to be cool.

In the meantime, we had my phone set up, traded in my old phone, and rang out the sale. Phone woman was still there, standing off to the side, reading through papers with a look that I recognized. You’re looking at the papers, but you’re not really reading. Nothing is being absorbed, but you want everyone to think that you’re reading it through like the intelligent, well-informed person that you are. By that time, pretty much everyone was aware of phone woman and was laughing and rolling their eyes at her. I’m sure she knew everyone was laughing at her.

In that moment, I began to feel sorry for her. I looked at the woman whose hair was messily pulled back and yoga pants barely hung on to her tiny butt and I wondered. She looked melancholy. With no ring on her finger, perhaps she was unmarried. (And no, I’m not suggesting that one needs to be married in order to be happy.) I started to wonder. I wondered if perhaps, at this time of year when togetherness with family and loved ones is so important, she was alone. Maybe the sales associate for whom she was waiting is the most stable thing in her life. Could the conversation about keeping fingerprints off of her phone have been the most interaction she’s had in awhile? I started to humanize her, to think about her background, to let her off the hook a little for being such an annoying person. I was no longer able to reduce her to her behaviors and laugh away her existence.

And THAT is annoying as shit.

Baked French Toast with Strawberry Compote

This morning we had the opportunity to have brunch with some great friends. Rachael and their oldest children have been friends since they were babies in the same daycare. Their teachers referred to Rachael and Will as their old married couple; even while bickering, they were inseparable. Rachael and Henna loved on each other and always chatted excitedly about the other. Whenever pictures were sent home, there they were together: The Three Musketeers. Over time, a genuine friendship developed between the parents. Not a, “We have kids the same age, so we’ll share polite chatter and terse smiles, but then move on,” kind of friendship. It’s a, “We actually share common interests, (FOOD!) and an inappropriate sense of humor,” deal.

Then one day, sadly, Will and his family moved away. It was only a few towns over, but in the DC area, it felt like it might as well have been a few states. Rachael handled it as well as anyone who had had their right arm cut off could have. Four months later, Rachael came to stay home with me after Zoë was born. But we were determined, dammit. In this area where the friendships can be as transient as the jobs and housing, we were determined to not allow these bonds to be broken. As the kids have grown older, numbers have been added to our families, and schedules have less space in which to pencil things in type things into iCalendar, it’s becomes harder.

So we were all excited when we were able to get together for brunch this morning. We all love food and to cook. Mary made delicious strata and frittata and a white cranberry spritzer that I am obsessed with. Rashmi brought fudgy brownies. I wanted to keep it simple, what with the mental health cocktail I’d been served for the month. I brought truffles and baked French toast. We ate. We drank. We joked inappropriately. We made memories.
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As Mary said, it was an opportunity to wear sequins before 11 am.

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Baked French Toast

Ingredients

French toast

1 loaf French bread
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp vanilla extract

Topping

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
Pinch of nutmeg
1 stick of cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Strawberry compote

1 pint (16 oz) strawberries, diced
1/3 cup sugar

To make French toast:
Butter 9×13 pan. Tear French bread into large pieces and place in the pan. Whisk together eggs through vanilla. Pour egg mixture over the bread. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight.

To make topping:(can be made ahead and refrigerated)
Mix together flour through nutmeg. Cut butter into flour mixture until the butter resembles coarse sand. Evenly sprinkle the topping on the French toast. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Compote:
Mix strawberries and sugar together in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and allow sauce to thicken, approximately 10 minutes. Allow sauce to cool for a few minutes before serving. Compote can be reheated in the microwave if it is made ahead of time.

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Baked French toast recipe from The Pioneer Woman

Christmas is coming. Run away! Run away!

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU *deep breath* UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKK *cough cough* *sputter*

Ahem. Now then, that’s out of the way.

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“Christmas is cancelled,” one of the paralegals, with whom I used to work, said it at least once a day in the run up to Christmas. I never fully understood that until this year. I think I must feel like a lot of people this year; the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has been way too short. Every day, I feel chased by a feeling of panic. I’m not really sure why. The shopping is pretty much done. I don’t have an inordinate number of things to do. But December 1st hit, and so began the anxiety, depression, panic, brain fog. It’s like I was thrown into the sarlacc pit of mental health. It seems fitting that this is what my Charlie Brown Christmas village looks like.
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As I’m being slowly digested over this month, my family is getting the shit end of the stick at times. I’m easily losing my temper. Although, seriously, the girls deserve it sometimes. I don’t know if it’s the negative energy in the house or perpetual anticipation of Christmas, (particularly by Rachael) but they seem to have lost their damn minds. Everything seems to involve them screaming or melting down. The other morning, Rachael whined that she didn’t want to wear jeans because she doesn’t like wearing dark blue on a cold winter’s day. The ability to listen also seems to have left them. Some days, I just want to run from the house screaming. Of course, I wouldn’t get too far, what with how sore and fatigued I’ve been. Oh. Also, I love my kids.

I honestly don’t know that I can write more than that. Not many words are actually formulating into coherent thoughts at the moment. But I don’t want to leave the post on a completely negative note, so please enjoy the letters I arranged in Target the other day.
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I was 2/3 of the way to spelling “merkin”, but Zoë kept running off. I decided to be a good mother and not confine her to the cart so I could finish spelling naughty words in Target.

Homemade gingerbread houses

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Yesterday and today have been snow days for Rachael. We had sleet and freezing rain on Monday and a couple of inches of snow that hit during rush hour today. Since the government is closed, Mike is working from home. So we were able to all go outside as a family and play in the snow for a bit.
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They named him Olaf.
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I am unbelievably sore from playing outside. It was not helped by the fact that Mike tackled me to the ground during a snowball fight. Yes. He tackled the woman with fibromyalgia to the ground.

I decided that yesterday and today would be perfect days to make gingerbread houses with the girls. I wanted to make them from scratch, rather than using a store bought kit, for a few reasons.
1) Store bought kits can be really expensive.
2) The “gingerbread” in the kits is stale and gross.
3) The candy in the kits can be stale, too.
4) The pouch the icing comes in is really difficult to use.
5) A kit a friend bought ended up having a couple of maggots crawling inside the box. Just..eww.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say this process is quick and easy. If you really just don’t care about eating the house and want to make the house in quick order, (although putting together a kit isn’t a super fast process either) then just get a kit. But if you want to inhale the wonderful warm smell of orange and spices as you assemble your house, knowing that you’ll have a fantastic snack for later, a Christmas party centerpiece, or even a gift, this is for you.
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It’s a Christmas-themed snack.

Gingerbread

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp + a tiny pinch kosher salt

2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

Sift together into a separate bowl the dry ingredients, flour through salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, molasses, and orange juice. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest. Beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Mixing on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Scrape the bowl to fully, making sure to check the bottom of the bowl, as necessary. Add the molasses mixture to the bowl. Mix until all ingredients are fully integrated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.
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Divide batter in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Try to make the batter uniform, patting it into a flat disc. Refrigerate for one hour.
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Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Take out one portion of dough from the refrigerator at a time. Flour a clean surface and knead some flour into your dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it will be firm, but still wet. Kneading some flour into the dough will make it manageable when you cut out your pieces and lift them off of the counter. Roll out the dough to approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. (The thicker the dough, the more difficult it will be to bake it uniformly and use for assembly.) Cut your pieces using a sharp knife with a smooth blade. I used these templates from Martha Stewart’s website: 1 and 2. Use a metal spatula to lift the pieces. If the dough is really wet and not coming off of your rolling surface easily, knead more flour into your dough and try rolling out your dough again.

Bake your pieces at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Smaller pieces will only need 8 minutes, while larger pieces may need 10+ minutes. If the middle of your large piece still feels extra soft to the touch, it may need some more time. Once out of the oven, allow your cookie sheets to cool on racks for about 5 minutes. Transfer pieces to cooling racks to cool completely. The larger pieces will be fragile, and require the use of a very large spatula, (I used a pancake spatula) for the transfer.

So, you’re going to need some glue to hold this all together. Enter royal icing. It’s super simple to make.

Royal Icing

Ingredients

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp meringue powder
5 Tbsp water, plus more for thinning

Combine the ingredients in your mixing bowl, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low for 5-7 minutes, until the icing is no longer shiny. At this point, your icing is going to be too stiff for decorating. Add a small amount of water, about a teaspoon at a time, until you are able to pipe it through a piping bag and tip. If you add too much water, add more sifted powdered sugar to thicken it back up. When not in use, keep the icing covered in a air-tight container. If the icing is already in a bag, wrap the tip with a damp paper towel and place the bag in an air-tight container. The icing will keep on the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you want a color other than white, you can tint it with gel food coloring. Liquid food coloring will thin the icing out.

Assembly

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You’ll need to pipe a line of icing and settle the front piece into the icing. Have a can ready to keep your pieces standing until the icing hardens. Allow the bottom pieces to set before attaching the roof pieces. Use your candy of choice to decorate, using the royal icing as glue.

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Gingerbread recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli, Food Network.
Royal icing from Annie’s Eats.