Our Summer Calendar

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I used to have a few weeks off during the summer when I worked at a middle school and Jake was a baby. The first few summers being home with him were H-A-R-D. But 2017 turned a corner and it was glorious. The main reasons being that Jake was getting older and we could do more stuff, but I also realized that my summers had to be dedicated to the boys, and not my personal projects. Once I jumped on board, I realized I could PLAN my summer out and have something, no matter how small, planned for each day. So that was great for 2017, and then 2018 came and I started a new job that was year-round, so that was my last summer of adventure with the boys.

The years in between we’ve been lucky enough to have them spend time with grandparents, but this year they get to spend it with daddy! I realized that Jeff would also need to have some stuff planned to get him out of the house with THREE boys, or he might very well leave and never come back, haha

And, obviously, I jumped at the opportunity to research, plan, calendar, and color code things.

So, here’s our summer plan, generally:

  • Monday’s are for exploring new trails/hikes
  • Tuesday’s are for crafts
  • Wednesday’s are for exploring a new park/playground near by
  • Thursday’s are for science experiments
  • Friday’s are for the beach or…doing nothing after a busy week!

First I printed out a blank google calendar for the summer months, then marked it up with the things we already had planned (camping trip, chess and golf camp, etc.). Then I researched a bunch of family friends trails/hikes, new playgrounds, and reviewed my Pinterest kid activity board for crafts and science experiments. I assigned them to available dates, and then I added each of the planned activities on the Google calendar I share with Jeff. I know it seems redundant to write it out on a paper copy and then transfer to a digital one, but I love the visual of the paper copy when I’m starting things out, and the usefulness of sharing the digital one. I included the Pinterest link and the list of supplies for each activity on the Google calendar so Jeff could easily locate what was needed for that activity and how to do it. I also included links for locations for trail and park days.

The super fun part once activities were decided on: making a list of supplies to buy, heeeeyoooooo! I tried to support our local school supply store, but they really didn’t have as many of the items as I hoped, so we ended up resorting to Amazon and our local grocery store for most stuff. This may be showing my OCD too much, but here is the list I created in case it’s helpful. And yes, I DO sort it by date, or activity, or supply location…and yes, it makes me so so happy. And yes, I do have various versions printed…Anywho, purchased the supplies and placed them all in a big plastic bin in the garage so they’re all in one location, but also out of the way.

Here’s what I came up with:

TRAILS AND HIKES

  • Aliso Summit Trail
  • Buck Gully Trail
  • Thomas Riley Wilderness
  • Santiago Oaks Regional
  • Peters Canyon
  • Fullerton Panorama Trail

CRAFTS

PARKS AND PLAYGROUNDS

SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS

While at the teacher supply store I also purchased a couple different achievement certificates. We’ve decided when they earn five of them, they get the prize they convinced me to get them when I took them shopping for supplies…

What does your summer with kids typically look like? Any wonderful links to share with ideas?

When something sticks…

One evening last month we were planning on ordering Chinese food along with Jeff’s parents. I got a text from Jeff that went like this:

The fried duck was really a reference to A Christmas Story (fa, ra, ra, ra, ra…). And I’ve never ordered duck-anything in my life, so I was surprised Jeff considered this a serious request at all. But between the moments I texted that and then clarified it, he had already mentioned it to his dad, who was more than happy to oblige (even if it WAS a joke).

Once I get to my in-laws, Jeff informs me that the duck has indeed been orders. I vehemently express that I will not be touching it, but that it’s super funny.

Comes along: duck. My father-in-law (whom I like to just call dad, so we’ll keep that going from here on out) LOVES it, and Josh LOVES it! They gobbled it up!

We’ve ordered Chinese once since the initial duck request, and dad ordered the duck again and I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing he ate. With Josh’s help. AND Jake’s help. Jake. My super picky eater who won’t eat Mac n cheese with the cheese, or a hot dog with ketchup (mustard only), or BLT’s for lunch (they’re only a dinner things…), or a SINGLE vegetable that’s not in a salad. He doesn’t really like anything we order on Chinese food nights, so he was surprisingly willing to try the duck, and LOVED it.

Randomness of a wrong order gone right.

Our Family Vacation to the Sequoias and Yosemite!

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Ladies and gents: IT CAN BE DONE! I know other people have done it…but WE did it. We took a trailer and did a road trip with three kids (ages 7, 5, and 1.5) and survived to tell the tale!

I did a lot of research and planning for our trip, so thought I’d share what worked for us in case it’s helpful for anyone else.

Our first destination was Sequoia RV Ranch, in Three Rivers. It’s a short 15-minute drive to the Sequoia National Park Foothills entrance, and maybe an hour to the Giant Forest Museum.

SATURDAY. The temperature at the Ranch was 108 degrees when we arrived a little after 4:30 p.m. – yikes! The great thing about this campsite is FULL HOOK UPS. We got to use all of the trailers amenities, including A/C. Honestly, with that kind of heat (and a low of mid-70’s at night), we were checking out surrounding hotels on our way there in case the A/C didn’t work. Thankfully it did, and we left that going while we went to check out the local swimming hole. I highly recommend getting a site closest to the swimming hole, or even a site that has the river next to it – the river was our salvation for that heat! After heading back to our site for a quick dinner (see below for our meals), we went back to the river a little better prepared: camping chairs for Jeff and I and the 1 year old (Jonny), water shoes for everyone, and most importantly: beers (no glass allowed, so we poured into cups and took down).

SUNDAY. We headed out as early was we could with three kids to get ready. I packed a quick lunch and put that in a small cooler I took specifically for days like this one. My oldest is super picky, so I write everyone’s name on a paper towel, wrap their sandwich in it, and then place all the sandwiches in a large ziplock. I sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and placed in a separate ziplock to add to our sandwiches later. I also know us well, so packed plenty of bars, chips, and snacks. And water, of course. We bought these canteens for the boys, which not only got lots of attention from everyone, they also allowed the boys to carry their own water without complaining ;) We also waited until 9:00 a.m. for the office to open so we could check in, since it was already closed when we drove in on Saturday. Office employee was very nice and pointed out a kids scavenger hunt and treasure chest. They also had a bunch of board games in the office – I imagine you can hang out there to get out of the heat, if needed.

Sadly the Giant Forest Museum was still closed due to COVID, but we took the Big Trees Trail which was just passed it, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. We took the stroller with us which worked out great for Jonny: the entire trail is paved, although there are some stairs from and to the parking lot on either end of the loop of the trail, so definitely need a couple people to carry up and down the stairs. After we crossed the street on the trail to the meadow, we found some people climbing on a giant log, and I’m so glad we saw them, otherwise we would have walked right by it! A little sketchy, but beautiful view from the top!

Oh Joshy…

The meadow itself was absolutely breathtaking, we even saw a black bear sprint through it! I highly recommend taking the full loop around the meadow – it’s not very long and every angle of this meadow is stunning. We were quite hungry at this point, so we found a log and some shade in the parking lot to scarf down our sandwiches before heading to Crescent Meadow.

The beginning of this road is super narrow and a little sketchy, but widens a bit later on. This meadow also has a fully paved path, so again great for strollers (or for using the stroller to carry all your waters when your one-year old doesn’t want to sit in it). We saw a buck on this trail, which was pretty exciting! We were trying to make it to Thorps Log on this trail, but we turned out right before we got there – everyone was getting tired and grumpy. I later found out the log we climbed in the first meadow was probably more impressive, although less kid friendly, than Thorps Log.

We ended our day by waiting in line for a ridiculous amount of time to get our photo under the Tunnel Log. A couple notes: you have to pass this in order to get to Crescent Meadow and there was quite a back up when we got there – we had to wait in what is supposed to be the bypass lane, in order to turn off left to keep going to Crescent Meadow. We decided to wait on the way back for the photo op. A note to future travelers: please be considerate if there’s a line and make it quick! People were taking forever and doing full photo shoots while 20+ cars waited in line.

I really wanted to check out the General Sherman tree, but Josh and Jon were both asleep by the time we got there, so Jeff and Jake literally ran down and back. My request for photos was forgotten during the quick sprint, ha! Next time!

We stopped for ice cream at Reimers Candies & Gifts on our way back to camp. This was a win-win: the kids love ice cream, and it killed some time on getting back to our hot campsite. We turned on the A/C as soon as we got back to camp, and repeated our schedule from the day before: dip in the river, then head back to camp for dinner. Since everyone was pretty tired and we could use the trailer TV, we opted for a movie night instead of going back to the river.

MONDAY. We had a quick breakfast and tried to pack up before the heat really got in. We were still sweating by the time we headed out. Our next stop was Cedar Bluff Campground, next to Bass Lake (I used the recreation.gov app for two of our reservations and was really impressed with the app). We stopped at a Wal-Mart in Fresno to stock up on some food and other supplies, and found a local pizza place for lunch. I figured eating out for lunch on travel days would break up the monotony of sandwich lunches. We rolled in late in the afternoon and did just the basics, then headed to the lake with our fishing poles, since Josh (our 5 year old), had been dying to fish since we left the house. We tried fishing by the dam, as was recommended by a couple people, but had no luck. Easy night of dinner, campfire, and s’mores.

TUESDAY. Again, we TRIED to head out early, but it’s hard to wake up sleeping kids. The drive from our campsite to the Yosemite National Park entrance was only 21 miles, but there was already a line of cars to get in that took an extra 30 minutes or so. I will say – there are worse places you could be stuck in: the trees were just beautiful! We played some hangman, built some legos (I bought two giant pencil boxes and had the boys pack legos before we left the house), and tried to keep a one year old entertained. This is COVID-era specific, but you had to purchase your pass ahead of time, as they only sell a certain amount per day. The passes are valid for three days, so although they didn’t have any available for Tuesday when I was purchasing it, they had one available for Monday, that was valid for Tuesday and Wednesday also (phew).

The drive in to the valley was…you guessed it…beautiful. We pulled over after the tunnel for the classic look out photo, and then pulled over a little further down the road where we could scramble down to the Merced River and drop in the boys fishing lines. We decided to eat our packed lunch here, which was a bit of a challenge with a one-year old, but it was beautiful. No dice with the fish, so we continued on.

I had to use the bathroom at this point, so Jeff turned off at the Swinging Bridge. I used the loo, then we walked over the bridge, and let the boys get their feet in the river. We realized the paved walking/bike trail was right there as well, and decided to bike around rather than try to find parking deeper in the valley. Best. Decision. Ever.

We biked to the Lower Falls Trail, locked up our bikes and headed to the falls. Scrambled over some rocks to dip our feet in again, and then Jeff had to carry all three boys back over the rocks to the trail. I’m excited to hike up closer to the water fall when the boys are a little older.

Is Jeff wearing a Pokemon backpack, you ask? Yes, yes he is. #bestdadever

We continued around the trail and ended up at Degnan’s kitchen/cafe, where we filled up our canteens and water bottles with fresh water, picked up some ice cream, and a beer for Jeff and I. We sat outside and relaxed a bit before biking back to the truck. On our bike back, a little alcove caught Jeff’s eye, so we all turned back to explore it – wow!

We toured the rest of the valley in the truck, and decided to head home. We were hoping to check out the Mariposa Grove on our way out, but everyone was pooped.

Back at camp, the boys made friends with neighboring campers and stayed up late throwing around a glow in the dark football I bought at the Dollar Tree. It was a HUGE hit. Dollar Tree for the win!

WEDNESDAY. I had originally planned to drive into Yosemite Tuesday and Wednesday, but as the week took shape and we realized how beautiful Bass Lake is, we decided for a “staycation” on Wednesday, and just spent the day around the lake. We headed to The Forks to check out their boat rentals (the original plan was for Jeff to take the older boys on a small fishing boat, while Jonny and I went into town to do laundry, gas up, and…maybe do some antique shopping…?). The woman at the counter was incredibly friendly, and upon seeing the age of our boys suggested we take a larger boat out, as the smaller fishing ones can be pretty scary with that age group. Unfortunately their boat fleet was a little limited and out of our price range, so she recommended we check out Miller’s Landing, which had a little more variety in size and pricing. The staff at Miller’s Landing was equally helpful – the cashier even gave the older boys each a quarter for a gum ball machine, and gave Jonny his first lollipop. We did a two-hour rental of their cheapest patio boat available. It still was more than we’d hope to spend, but figured it would be worth the experience. The staff there did mention that the cheaper boats (less horsepower, cheaper boat) are reserved way in advance, so next time to call at least a week ahead to reserve it, or even A MONTH ahead for holiday weekends! (Noted.)

I’ll just say: it was worth every penny! Even though, again, we caught no fish. Also, kids are funny…they want to fish, but really, they just want to cast their line over and over again. Which is understandable – what kind of fun is leaving your line in and WAITING? Josh had again but asking to fish all morning, but as soon as we stopped somewhere on the lake he was ready to head back to camp to find his new friends, ha!

We fixed hot dogs for lunch, then packed up and headed out to find a little beach spot on the lake. Bass Lake has a bunch of little turn offs where you can park and walk/hike down to the lake, so as you drive around the lake you’ll find canopy’s and chairs lining the edges of the water. You can also pay $10 at the ranger station for a day use permit and park in the parking lots they have around the lake. We found a nice little turn off that even had shade, so we didn’t have to lug our canopy down. We all enjoyed staying out of the heat and by the water for a few hours, although I will say the smell of that water is something else…we all got wash cloth nature baths when we got back to camp.

The boys enjoyed another night of playing with their friends, and we enjoyed getting to know all the parents. I do think camping folks are the happiest folks!

THURSDAY. We started packing up early since we had a long drive to our next site. The boys spent most of the morning playing with their friends while all the parents worked frantically to clean everything up (we decided it will be nice when they are all teenagers and can pull their own weight, haha). Us parents exchanged contact information at the insistence of all the kids – I do hope we get to see them again!

Our next and last stop was Reyes Creek Campground. This was another 4+ hour drive. We stopped at a WalMart again for some basic supplies, including a lot of water since this last site has NO water, and grabbed some El Pollo Loco for lunch. The drive from Bass Lake to Reyes Creek was…interesting. Has anyone driven through Taft, CA before? Weird, desolate, oil lands. This was the campsite I was the most worried about, since it has no water and only vaulted toilets. But I picked it because it broke up our drive home, and technically was only 2.5 hour from home…

Again, I think our site was the best around: we had shade and the creek ran at the end of our site. But, it’s dirt camping which is not our favorite, and there were ants EVERYWHERE. We took a very quick bike ride around the grounds, and decided one night here would be enough. Our site was right across from the bathrooms and wow…that smell was something special when the wind kicked up! Jonny was too tired for the campfire, but Jeff and the older boys had a great time being silly and spitting kernels into the fire (the result of a failed Jiffy Pop attempt).

FRIDAY. We made one last ditch effort to catch some fish by hiking through the creek to a little waterfall area, and dipping our feet in the water. We packed it in after a late pancake breakfast, and hit the road around noon. There was no service when we left, so we couldn’t map our way home, and assumed we’d keep going down the road that brought us to the site…which actually took us through the entire Los Padres National Forest. As scenic as the drive was, it was a little longer than we’d hoped. We also didn’t take into account Friday afternoon traffic in LA – we’ve now learned this lesson the hard way, as our 2.5 hour drive home turned into 5 hours. We even considered staying at a hotel near Malibu just to break up the dreaded drive, but it was hard to find something reasonably priced that wasn’t a shit hole, and therefore trucking on to our comfortable home and beds was more appealing.

Although the final leg of our trip was a little disappointing, the trip overall was AMAZING. The kids, and us, had such a great time, and I’m so thankful for all the memories we made on this trip. We can’t wait to travel again! We’re thinking our next trip will be to Zion, with an overnight in Vegas on the way there. As much as we love camping, I think our next trip will involve hotels ;)

MEALS.

We stuck to easy meals. The Friday before we left we made pulled pork in the slow cooker, which we had for dinner and knew we’d have lots leftover, so we packed that up for Saturday nights dinner. I also prepped teriyaki meat skewers on Friday and packed those in a ziplock back for Sunday’s dinner. I prepped the veggies and packed those in a separate ziplock, and threw them in with meat to marinate on Sunday morning. Monday night we fixed pork loin with boiled corn and leftover Suddenly Salad from our lunch, and Tuesday we ate at a local restaurant since we got back late to camp from Yosemite. Wednesday we did burgers for lunch, and Thursday we fixed breakfast burritos for dinner. Lunches were sandwiches, hot dogs, or stopping somewhere during our drive. Breakfast was mainly cereal, yogurt parfaits, or packaged pastries. I also took bagels and cream cheese, but we only had access to our toaster the first two days when we had full electrical hook ups. I also pre-made ranch and onion dips before we left, and those were great to pack up with our to-go lunches or when we needed an afternoon snack at our site. We also double down on all things snacks: bars, cookies, chips, cuties, apples. You can imagine which snacks the kids prefer.

Cooking with a one-year old was…fun?

PACKING. You may know I love lists. Going camping gives me the opportunity to use a list that’s been perfected throughout the years for our family. Every trip there’s something that gets added or updated as the kids get older and the items I need for them shift. Here’s my master list in case it’s helpful to work off of and personalize for your family (there are different tabs for different destinations).

RESEARCHING CAMP SITES. I did a LOT of research to find out where to stay and which sites to choose (that were available). Aside from our last stop, I think it paid off! Things I looked for where: location and driving times between sites and places we wanted to see, amenities (hook ups, water, bathrooms), and with the trailer, the size of the site was important. On the Recreation.gov app, each site tells you the max size of a trailer/RV recommended for the site. I also checked Yelp and Google reviews for each site, especially if there were particular sites recommended. General Google searches also helped with locating campground maps to see where the sites were located and to find random sites that have campground reviews. It’s definitely a rabbit hole that at some point you have to pull yourself out of, and just pull the trigger on a site!

And now…the good photos from the professional! All credit to Jeff Armstrong Photography ;)

I hope some of this was helpful, or at least entertaining! What are you favorite places to visit with kids? Any tips or advice to add?

Literate Lushes: May 2020 to April 2021

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It’s been a busy literary year! I was finally able to start reading more than just my selected monthly book club each month, so lots to share!

May 2020: The Witches Are Coming, by Lindy West. It’s been so long that I can’t remember exactly how I felt about this read. I think I enjoyed it for the most part, but it didn’t blow me away.

June 2020: The Winner, by David Baldachi. I’m not a fan of murder/mystery/thrillers, and to be honest, I think I was already in a fragile place mentally in June after being in quarantine with three kids for three months, so I chose to skip this one.

July 2020: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. This was a nice and easy read. I liked the intrigue in the story although I couldn’t quite figure out the motivations for some of the characters. I enjoyed the contrast of two very different households in totally opposite socioeconomic stratas.

August 2020: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Marcia Semple. It took me looking back at my reading list for this post to realize I purchased this book on Audible but never listened to it! Again, I blame COVID and quarantine and children…but now I’m excited to listen to it!

September 2020: Girl, Serpent, Thorn, by Melissa Bashardoust. I really liked that this book took place somewhere completely foreign to me. I enjoyed the exposure to a different culture and traditions that I’ve never learned about. The plot itself had some challenges, but generally an enjoyable read.

October 2020: Hocus Pocus: the All New Sequel, by A.W. Jantha. This was a nice seasonal read around Halloween, but the beginning was super frustrating to get through. It retells the entire original Hocus Pocus, which at that point my boys had been watching on repeat for a while. It didn’t seem necessary to retell the entire story just to get to the sequel. Once I got past that, it was a good enough YA book to enjoy during Halloween.

November 2020: Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson. I really liked this book. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. As a mother of three, I just can’t quite comprehend the decision’s that Melody’s mom made or how she acted towards Melody, but it is beautifully told.

January 2021: The Flight Attendant, by Chris Bohjalian. The Literate Lushes had fun poking through all the plot holes in this one, but I really enjoyed that it was such a light and easy read.

February 2021: Maid, by Stephanie Land. I love the awareness this book brings: it provided so many different topics to discuss during book club, mostly revolving around how a country like the United States can still be so behind on providing basic necessities to all of its inhabitants.

March 2021: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker. This book was impressive in its subject matter: following the lives of a family with twelve children, six of whom suffered from mental illness, and following the developments of how schizophrenia was diagnosed and treated. The story wasn’t exactly captivating to me, but I did enjoy learning about the scientific developments and how the family got a long. It’s another book that makes me want to tell my children: “You’re so lucky! You have great parents!” Jeff and I have our shortcomings, as we all do, but generally I think our children are safe and happy and know they’re loved. I thought the end of the book dragged on a little – I felt like every paragraph could have been the last, but it kept going!

April 2021: The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. Although the Audible version was challenging for me at first, I was quickly swept away by this memoir. Holy shit, the things some people put their children through. I still find it hard to believe that Jeannette Walls’ parents were intelligent enough to raise incredibly smart children (outside of the traditional school system, for the most part), but lazy and maybe mentally disturbed enough to put them through such a difficult childhood. I also found it amazing that most of the children could have a relationship with their parents as adults. Kudos to you, Jeannette (and siblings)!

A quick note on my extra reads: I picked up my reading last year, but starting in January I decided to not check Facebook and Instagram as much, but realized I still gravitate to my phone. I’m trying to make it a point to open Kindle instead…or you know…put the phone down.

Extra “reads” on Audible

All Adults Here, by Emma Straub. I really enjoyed this book, although along with The Most Fun We Ever Had (below), it makes me think that no matter how we raise our children, we’ll still be able to fuck them up somehow. You love them too much, or not enough. You pay too much attention to them or not enough. Someone tell me where the balance is! Anyhow, great read…great read.

Green Lights, by Matthew McConaughey. I think this book HAS to be listened to on Audible – Matthew McConaughey (“MMC”) reads it himself, and it’s just hilarious. It’s filled with random, and sometimes unbelievable anecdotes of his life and childhood, but hearing them read them by MMC is pretty great. It’s also exactly what I expected from someone whom I think is a bit quirky and off the beaten path. Something that really struck me with this book (and many others, to be sure), is just how different all of our lives are. I know…duh. Just read me out. For one, I can’t relate to someone that is talking about lounging outside the cabana on his privately rented beach (I might be exaggerating a little) and taking leisurely walks with the woman he’s trying to woo. Someone that can wake up from a crazy dream and go to Brazil to figure out what it was all about. But also, there’s a scene where he talks about the first time he met his wife, and I can’t stop wondering what HER trajectory was to be in that place. This is obviously personal since she’s only a year older than me, and I just can’t imagine having her confidence at the age that she met MMC – I can see why he fell for her! I mean, I feel like I’d still be a fumbling idiot next to her even at 37. I’m sure part of it is jealousy: not that she snagged MMC (nothing personal MMC), but that they have such a rich and affluent lifestyle. But I also just find it amazing that all of our lives have such varied, yet “set”, trajectories, if that makes any sense? Meh, I’m rambling now – maybe this should be a flushed out, separate post…but I’ll leave as is for now…

I Miss You When I Blink, by Mary Laura Philpott. I really enjoyed this book. Quite the opposite of Green Lights, I found this book very relatable. It’s books like these that really make me want to write a book – about what and who would read it…who knows!

The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo. This one was a long read, but a good read. As I mentioned above, it makes me think about whether I can raise my boys without saying or doing something that will have a long-term and negative impact on their lives; maybe it’s unavoidable to some extent? It’s also a good reminder that we’re not perfect, but we can still be good people.

The Education of an Idealist, by Samantha Power. This was my current read when I wrote my last Literate Lushes post. And I gotta say I was right: it was an intimidating read, but wow, what an amazing woman! It was great to get insight into how she got to be who she is, how she handled international situations, and some wonderful anecdotes about Barack Obama and her time in the White House.

Extra reads on Kindle

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. This book was HIGHLY recommended on a book blog I follow, and I was not disappointed. I found it be surprisingly lighthearted given that it recounts events from WWII, although it also had it’s fair share of emotional moments. Funny side note on this one: I often talk to Jeff about what I’m reading, and often he’ll ask if I think he’ll enjoy it, to which I almost always say “no,” even if I’ve just declared the book is amazing and I couldn’t put it down. I just know we have very different taste in literature…but he pointed out before that he likes genres other than sci fi or…I don’t know…dark/heavy fiction? So when he asked me if I thought he’d like this book, I said “sure,” even though I really didn’t think he would. Given that he’s with the kids all day, Audible is an easier format for him, so even though I had already purchased this book on Kindle, I graciously gave up my Audible credit for him to listen to it on Audible (by gracious, it sounded something like “you better like this book…”). I don’t think he made it past the first ten pages….he wont’ stop making fun of the fact that it’s an epistolary novel (aka, all letters back and forth). MEN!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab. Oh ma gawd. One of my new favorites. I LOVED this book (and I very clearly told Jeff he would NOT like it). I loved how Addie’s relation with the devil/demon shifted across the centuries, and of course the historical events that were referenced throughout.

Raising Good Humans, by Hunter Clarke-Fields. I never finished reading this book, but it really did help us through a particularly rough parenting patch we were having with Josh a few months ago. And yes, I made flashcards. And posted them on our fridge.

The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell. It took me a while to finish this one – it was not necessarily a page turner for me, but I really, REALLY enjoyed reading it and learning about the differences in the United States and Denmark. Basically, I want to move to Denmark and be a happier person. I mean…I probably won’t move to Denmark….but I was constantly frustrated by how much better Denmark is at A LOT of stuff (which also coincides with some of the conversations the Literate Lushes had about Maid). But I know their population size and homogeneity are a big part of why they can do what they do…I just wish there was a way to make incremental improvements here.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, by Rebecca Raisin. This book is literally 99 cents…it was an impulse buy but a nice read if you’re looking for something light and semi-romantic.

Wow – if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a gold star! Do you have any recent favorite reads to share?

I also just saw that our local library is having a 100 Book Challenge to celebrate its centennial. I’m thinking of signing up the family. Join me?

Donut update: it still works like a charm

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I know some of you were wondering (ok, maybe one of you, but I’ll take it), so I wanted to do a quick check-in from my last post.

I’m not going to lie…I was a little anxious to see whether Kyle was working the meat counter this morning…I’d have no feedback for another week if he wasn’t! But regardless of that, I hit the produce section first, as is my yush (phonetic for the short hand of “usual”? which when you have to explain it, obviously loses the “short hand”). I was greeted with a very warm hello by the employee stocking the produce, who had received the first pink box last week. So: a win there!

After circling through a couple dry good aisles, I approached the meat counter and was pretty thankful when Kyle was the one to approach me. When he saw me he said “Ohhhh, my donut girl!” (I wrote this down on my grocery list so I wouldn’t forget…I was pretty excited!) and he had a genuine smile on his face. I’ll confess that I’m most proud of this in particular because Kyle has seemed like one of the hardest employees to get to smile…and I do take that as a personal challenge. I’ve converted no less than three non-huggers into huggers (pre-COVID, obvies), and I’ve been known to win over some difficult personalities. I have one hold over at work, and I’ll confess, I’ve lost faith in that one ever working out…

But I digress…he remembered me, he smiled, and he did not seem the least bit put off when I was very choosy about my chuck roast. Happy Sunday y’all – go buy some donuts tomorrow!

P.S. Have you watched Sweet Magnolias on Netflix? I binged it post-kids bedtime for a week or two, and I loved it. It was the exact light-hearted drama I needed for this time in my life. And it’s inspired me to make margaritas…or at least to WANT to make margaritas. Let me know if you have a good recipe, and any suggestions on shows that are similar.

P.P.S. Have a great week!

The good ol’ donut trick

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There’s just something about donuts.

I still remember going to coffee and donuts in the Large Hall after mass on Sundays. I also remember feeling guilty about whether our family was “donating” the right amount to account for all the donuts my cousins and I ate, ha!

But there’s some kind of pull that donuts have, whether free, paid for, or under the pretense of “free.” As guilty as people may feel about eating them, they’re almost always worth the guilt. They make people happy, they bring people together, and they make a good impression.

I started “using” donuts when I was a new secretary for an intermediate school. I interacted on a daily basis with so many people at the District Office that I never actually met face to face. And I relied on them and their kindness – whether to be responsive to my 100th question as a newbie or to expedite something I needed done or approved right away. And somehow donuts came in to the equation. Every now and then (not often because let’s be real, they’re not THAT cheap and I was pretty fucking broke) I’d drop off a dozen donuts to various departments. At first it was just the maintenance department since I put in a million facility requests…but once I saw the positive effect, it quickly expanded to Ed Services, Fiscal, and HR (a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do).

Although I usually put my school name on the box of donuts rather than my own (it felt selfish and too transparent, ha!), I interacted with people in those departments when I dropped them off. And they were appreciative: it was a kind act that didn’t go unnoticed. And they always remembered who dropped them off. So they remembered me. So my emails were replied to quickly…my work orders were addressed when I called to check up, and usually with a kind word.

Fast forward a few years, and I now work at the District Office. I truly believe my easy transition into that work place was because of the familiarity those donuts gave me with a lot of individuals. I had already established connections beyond the emails back and forth.

Pre-COVID, donuts worked with my new co-workers as well. It’s something so small, but a little donut breaks up the monotony of one morning running into all the others. And I love being the person that gets to provide that moment of happiness, or distraction.

And they obviously work on my kids, too.

But I have to confess I’ve taken my donut scheme to a whole new level: my grocery store.

I love Stater Brothers. It’s my go-to grocery store every week (although our boys are quickly moving us toward Costco size grocery purchases…): I love that it’s kind of old-timey and not super modern, I know where to find everything, their produce is always great (no brown stem lettuce here…I’m looking at you, Ralph’s!), and….the meat counter. I mean…it’s a thing of beauty and wonder.

Recently I’ve been regaling Jeff with stories of my gradual conquest of the older gentleman that is most frequently attending the meat counter. It’s taken years, but recently I’ve gotten past the simple “can I get you anything else?” He’s used some terms of endearment (sweet, not creepy), and gone the extra mile to get me the cuts I wanted. So last week I thought I’d seal the deal…with donuts. I decided to split the dozen with the produce crew that also deserves and receives my gratitude, but that I don’t usually interact with directly. But it seemed like the right thing to do. So a small pink box with six donuts went to one of the produce stockers that I recognized, and another small pink box with six donuts went to Kyle behind the meat counter.

(Don’t worry everyone – I don’t call him by his name (not yet!), but there’s a name badge and how can I just ignore the fact that I now know his name?!)

We’ll see on Saturday morning if they did the trick: if my face will be more memorable because of the donuts I delivered. But on delivery day Kyle did go out of his way to thank me a couple times for the donuts. And I’m not gonna lie…I was nervous enough about my whole scheme that I forgot the ground beef.

Grocery Store Zen

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Well, if finally happened. On a perfectly sunny afternoon in February (the 6th day of February of the year 2021, aka yesterday, to be exact and for posterity), I finally reached my Grocery Store Zen. I had stopped by Starbucks for a little pick me up, then strolled in to Stater Brothers, pulled back my cart, pulled over by the avocados, put on my sweater (because I get COLD in the store, even if it’s 100 degrees outside), put in my AirPods, got my music going, pulled out my list, pen, and reusable produce bags to place on the kid seat portion of the cart, placed all other reusable bags on the bottom of the cart, and I just knew it: this, this is my Grocery Store Zen.

Quick aside: why is it always avocados, or tangerines, that they place at the entrance of the grocery store? I mean, they ALSO have them in the produce section…is it because they spoil quickly? I’d imagine almost all produce spoils fairly quickly…I’d say it’s because they don’t need those little water sprayer things…but neither do apples, and they NEVER have apples there! The INJUSTICE is all I’m saying….

[Insert Nacho Libre “Anyways” GIFF that I couldn’t find]

Cart. Avocados. We’re back.

After having kids, probably shortly after the second kid (of three), Jeff and I realized meal planning was our game changer. We hated having to figure out what we were going to have for dinner every day, then stopping by the store or whatever. And after thirteen years, we finally realized that meal planning our lunches is also necessary for us.

So on weekends I use my meal planner to lay out our dinners for the week, and make my grocery list, then I go shopping on either Saturday or Sunday. I go during the boys nap time – which I sometimes hate because I lose that down time for myself, but it’s what works for our little fam. It’s a strange thing: it’s such a pain to sit down and think of meals for the week, and go to the store, but also…I do get a little thrill in pulling down my meal planner and setting about this habitual task.

So buying groceries is definitely a part of my weekend routine, and I’ve gotten my system down pretty well, starting on the right with produce, then working my way across and ending with dairy/refrigerated stuff (it’s also the order of my grocery list, hellooooooo A-type personality!). Sometimes I would take my headphones and either listen to a book on Audible, or music, but the headphones usually got stuck on something, which would then make my phone fall out of my purse, or a headphone fall out…and then I had to add a mask to it, and well, it was a pain.

Then: Christmas. My in-laws bought me AirPods, and they’re also a game changer. No getting stuck on anything, no problem with my mask…the only difficulty is adjusting the volume when I get to the meat counter: I liked the ease if the pause button my the headphones, instead of having to take my phone out now. But you know…first world problems and all.

So, yeah, that brought my Grocery Store Zen to the ultimate level of bliss (if you can use “bliss” to describe shopping for groceries). I guess that and finding good music/playlists to keep me awkwardly singing out loud while I pick my groceries.

What about you? What’s your dinner/grocery buying routine? What makes it easier?

Literate Lushes: August 2018 to April 2020

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Wow. I couldn’t even keep it within a year! Let’s get to work.

August 2018: The Cabin at the End of the World, by Paul Tremblay.  It’s obviously been a while since I read this one.  It’s an apocalyptic scenario, and I gotta say, not my preferred scenario to read about, haha.

September 2018: Circe, by Madeline Miller.  This book has the same author as The Song of Achilles, which I LOVED.  I also really enjoyed this book.  It’s an engrossing story, and I loved learning a little more about Greek mythology through it.

October 2018: Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn.  We’ve read a couple books by this author before.  Also not my favorite category of books, but an easy and entertaining read.  Definitely had some good twists and turns.

December 2018: Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.  This book was heartbreaking and heart warming.  I loved the “insider’s” perspective of someone going down the path of Alzheimer’s.

January 2019: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures, by Robert K. Wittman.  This was an interesting, historical book.  The writing wasn’t as enthralling as some other books, but the topic was interesting.

February 2019: Tin Man, by Sarah Winman.  Another book that was entertaining, and an easy read.

March 2019: What Dreams May Come, by Richard Matheson.  I skipped this one, and can’t really remember the movie, haha.

May 2019: Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.  This book has made it to some pretty popular book clubs, including the Literate Lushes!  A good read – although I have to agree with some critics that some of it was unbelievable to the detriment of the story.  But intriguing and definitely kept me hooked to the end, which I kiiiiiiinda saw coming.

June 2019: Eva Luna, a Novel, by Isabel Allende.  I’m a huge fan of Isabel Allende, but not a fan of this book.  It was sometimes fiction, sometimes surreal, and the mix was just confusing (not sure I’m using the right literary terms…).  It also seemed at times like a collection of vignettes rather than a novel.

July: Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult.  I had read this book a while back and chose it as my pick for the month.  It was a big hit, and provided for some great conversations.

September: The Power, by Naomi Alderman.  This book was giving me the major creeps until I realized what the author was doing, and then it was genius.  I thought it was a very clever way to show the challenges and disadvantages some women have in our world.

October: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, by Erik Larson.  I’m not big on criminal/murder mysteries, and I was pretty pregnant at this point, haha, so I skipped this one as well.

December: The Vine Witch, by Luanne G. Smith.  I felt like the wine metaphors and descriptions were a little over done, but I guess to be expected from the title!  A nice, easy read.

January 2020: Educated: a Memoir, by Tara Westover.  With the holidays and a baby in the house, I didn’t have a chance to finish reading this one, but enjoyed what I did read.  The challenges some humans overcome amazes me, and makes me so thankful that my life is not book-worthy.  A really good read from what I read, and from the discussions at book club, very relatable for many people on the front of domestic violence and family relationships/dynamics.

February 2020: Less, by Andrew Sean Greer.  Not gonna lie, it was hard to believe this is a Pulitzer Prize winning book, ha!  An easy enough read, but I didn’t think the writing was that great, nor the story super entertaining.  I never grew to like the main character, which makes it hard to stay engaged.

March 2020: A Murmur of Bees, by Sofia Segovia.  One of my new favorite books!  I read this book in the original Spanish version, but heard that the English version translates just as well.  This book was heart wrenching and also, oddly relatable to our times since some chapters talk about the original Spanish influenza.  We actually had to cancel our book club meeting for this book because of the COVID-19 developments, and ended up eventually doing it via Zoom once we realized we wouldn’t be able to do it in person for a while.  The writing was spectacular, I loved so many of the characters, and loved the surrealism that was woven into the story.

April 2020: The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides.  This felt like a super quick read, but maybe that’s just because I’ve had a lot of down time while nursing all the time at home!  I enjoyed this book and definitely was surprised by the ending.

Extra reads:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Novel, by Gail Honeyman.  I think I’m coming to realize that I really like European novels.  This was a great read!  Funny and sad, light and heavy.

The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson.  I loooooved this book!  So quirky and silly, and adorable.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel, by Robin Sloan.  Another fun read!  This one involves book stores, mystery solving, and secret societies – what’s not to like?

Beartown, A Novel, by Frederik Backman. How have I not written about this book yet?!  I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love everything this author has written.  This book is heartbreaking, and beautiful. “We are the bears, we are the bears, we are the bears of Beartown!”

Us against You, by Frederik Backman.  A sequel to Beartown.  My review is the same as above.

Things my Son Needs to Know about the World, by Frederik Backman.  Super short and adorable read, with little “life lessons” on parenting.  Super relatable for me.

The Century Trilogy, by Ken Follett.  I read book 1 (Fall of Giants) and 2 (Winter of the World).  I love historical fiction, and really enjoyed reading these books and the historical moments surrounding them.  I loved that the characters spanned generations.  I read some pretty terrible reviews about book 3, and given how long they are, I just couldn’t invest the time based on the reviews.

Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis.  I had mixed feelings about this book.  Part of it was motivational, another part felt like high school peer-pressure to be a cool kid.  It didn’t change my life, haha.

Handcrafted: A Woodworker’s Story, by Clint Harp.  En enjoyable read.  My take-away: sometimes you just have to be in the right place, at the right time.  It does give me some hope that maybe someday Jeff and/or I will strike out on our own to do whatever it is that we find our passion for.

Currently reading/listening to: The Education of an Idealist, a Memoir, by Samantha Power. As someone who dreamed of being an ambassador as a child, I’ve been avoiding reading this book.  I’m afraid it will point out how I’ve fallen short in my professional achievements.  Which leads me back to “letting go of expectations,” and it becomes a vicious circle, haha.

What are you reading these days?  What’s been your favorite?

Quarantine Diary: April 13, 2020

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Today was a month since all this madness started (hard to forget when it happens on a Friday the 13th!). Wow.

We took a family portrait to commemorate the occasion. I saw someone else do something similar on Facebook, and thought it was a great idea to memorialize this time of our lives. When I first saw the idea, I thought Jake would have my phone since he’s always using it to play Pokémon Go. Josh would have a basketball since he was really enjoying shooting hoops in the back yard. And I would be holding our daily schedule.

Since the inception of the plan, it’s been raining non-stop, the boys found their tablets and I’ve lost some of my will to argue. And the schedule has gone to shit. So, this has been our reality:

Jeff’s artsy version:

The boys and I were walking around the neighborhood last week during a rain break. It was the day after trash day, and a neighbor’s bin had fallen back and was partially blocking the sidewalk. The boys were ahead of me on their razors, and I was catching up while I pushed Jon in the stroller. I debated going onto the street to avoid the blockade, then decided to just pick up the bin. The boys had stopped to see what I would do, since they had gone around it but realized I wouldn’t be able to get by with the stroller. After I picked up the bin, Josh came up to me and said “you get five kisses from me right now, and five hugs from me and Jake when we get home.” He gave me five kisses on the spot. “Is this all because I picked up the trash bin?” “Yeah, because that was really nice!” he said, as he sped ahead on his razor again. I hope I never doubt doing the right thing again. Although they didn’t pay up on those hugs when we got home…

I’m one of those people that likes an organized pantry. There’s a place for everything, and it irks me when things are not in there place. But these days….

Just throw that shit anywhere. Yeah, leave the pasta on the cereal shelf. Who cares if the boxed pasta is in the canned section. And that box of cereal? IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER ANYMOOOOOOORE!!!

Sorry. Emotions are high these days.

We had sunshine on Saturday. It was glorious. Jeff and I were full of smiles, being silly, and generally just giddy. We realized we were just happy to see the sun, ha! We can never leave California…we would not survive actual weather.

Josh’s 4th birthday is on Friday, and he’s super bummed we had to cancel his party. He wants all his friends to come over. We’ve had to tell him multiple times over the last month why they can’t. Today I was asking him what he would like me to fix him for dinner on his birthday (pizza), and he followed up with a question of his own: can my friends come over when the corona virus is over?

It crushes me that my not even four year old has to use “corona virus” in a sentence. And yes buddy, you absolutely can. Once this is over, we’re re-doing Easter, and his birthday, and probably Mother’s Day, and everything else that we’re missing out on. We’re celebrating big time. Because look at these faces!

Easter was obviously very different this year. I was missing family, and the tradition of going to church. And the weather sucked. I dragged my feet through most of the day; I couldn’t even fight the boys to get dressed, so they stayed in pajamas all day. Until right before dinner when Jeff told them he needed their help and disappeared. The three of them came back out all dressed up and ready for our Easter dinner. My heart was so full. My eyes were pretty full of tears as well…

Quarantine Diary: April 1, 2020

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I tried something different today. Monday and Tuesday were not my best days. I found myself with a super short fuse, filled with anxiety about Jake’s school work, house work, my work, keeping Josh entertained, and the baby alive. You know – the basics.

Today I woke up and decided I needed to take it easy. I said screw the schedule, and enjoy the day. I basically took a mental health day, haha. I started the day in a much better mood, and was way more patient and graceful about the boys going through their morning. I told Jeff I was switching things up, and that I’d need him to watch the baby during Josh’s nap so I could dedicate some time to Jake’s school work after lunch. Jeff is working from home also, so we’re trying to be good about communicating our needs to each other-when he has meetings and can’t help, when I need to respond to work emails and need him to take over, etc. It ain’t easy, folks. There’s guilt on all sides….I feel guilty for asking for his help when I know he has work to do, I feel guilty for not dedicating more time to a job that I’m so fortunate to have during these times (and all times), guilty that we let the boys watch MORE tv last night while we had our first zoom “happy hour” with some of our dear friends, etc., etc. But I digress….

During breakfast I talked to the boys about using a safe word when mommy gets frustrated or upset. Sounds ridiculous, but I think the boys holding me accountable for my mood, in a kind way, could be helpful for me. I decided on “spaghetti.” Ha! Jake thought we should also say a rhyme or joke, which I thought was overkill, but he put it in practice later that morning: the boys were brushing their teeth and started to argue about who was using what stool (a frequent argument in this house) and I told them to use their words. Jake said “spaghetti…what do you call a three humped camel?” Josh and him started talking, and Jake said “wow, that worked really well.” I had to laugh. The joke helped diffuse the situation, which was pretty genius! I also had to explain that he couldn’t call spaghetti on me for everything, like asking him to flush the toilet.

Instead of jumping into our schedule and doing school work (which has become a loosing battle with Josh), we went to a neighbors house and decorated her sidewalk with chalk to wish her a happy birthday.

We did some art work in the front yard. I got supplies for a couple different ideas I saw in Pinterest…neither of which interested the boys in the least. They just did their thing, which I’m learning to accept and embrace.

We had to pick up some materials at Josh’s school, and his teacher was wearing a mask. On the way home, Josh asked me why she was wearing a mask. I explained that people wore it so they wouldn’t get sick or get other people sick. He then told me he needed a mask. My heart broke. I told him we don’t really go out anywhere, and the people that need them are people that are sick or work in hospitals. “But I need one so I don’t get everyone sick.” Oh my baby. I tried explaining that he wasn’t sick, that there aren’t really many available, that we really just need to wash our hands all the time, etc. He wouldn’t let it go until I told him I could try to make him one. As soon as we got home, he went and washed his hands without me asking him too. My heart aches for his worry.

The boys played together in the backyard for a bit, they played while they ate their lunch (which I usually fight), and have them each a warning about what we had to do next: nap time for Josh, school work for Jake. Neither was super excited, but it worked out. Jeff took the baby so I could put Josh down for a nap, then I helped Jake get through his work. It was a lot faster when I could sit with him and get through it, then when I’m trying to do multiple things and push him along, and get frustrated that he isn’t do it quicker on his own.

I’m glad that we tried a different schedule and a different pace. I’m not looking forward to the rainy and gloomy weather we have coming up-it makes such a difference to be able to enjoy the outdoor spaces in our house. But, hopefully changing up our routine every now and then will help out.

What’s working for you and your family? How are you trying to keep it all together?