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Seeking Solace and Silence

It feels like most days she is constantly busting her buns to do nothing more than maintain homeostasis. Before dawn she arises to begin the day while her family stays nestled all warm in their beds. There may not be gumdrops dancing in their heads, but she senses their peacefulness. Rather than be jealous that they slumber while she works, she tries to enjoy the only calm part of her day. It is the thought of coffee coursing through her veins that her get out of bed most days.

Once caffeinated, she busts through her work to-do list, focusing first on difficult tasks while the silence reins. Some days she gets minutes, other times hours, but she cherishes what she can get regardless.

Once the house begins to stir, chaos ensues. There’s always someone who needs something, be it a hug to chase away a scary dream or a change of bed sheets. These moments interrupt her calm and any attempt at deep focus. She does not hate these interruptions, just that it means she must pause her work tasks in the middle of her flow. The seconds tick by, and she knows she’ll be back at her computer later in the day than she hoped. Work is abandoned…for now.

Life shifts to keeping the household operational. People are clothed, fed, and cleaned. The house stirs while the dog slumbers. (Lucky girl.) All chores abandoned the night before are tackled now: dishes, laundry, picking up, wiping counters. Children log into virtual school and tend to stay focused. Two hours pass in a flash.

Work beckons by late morning. Calls are endless. She joins them with more caffeine in hand and a basket of laundry to fold at her feet. There is rarely more time for more deep work. She races to lunch time trying to get done only those tasks that must be completed before the day is out. It usually feels like there is only time to react before she is pulled away with a request from someone else who needs something from her. Does she have more to give? Her energy is draining. Coffee won’t help now.

She feeds the family. Children gripe about what is served. This is par for the course. She is getting tired now. The children have also grown restless of virtual school. The afternoon is full of interruptions, questions, whining, and requests. Her workday is waning and deadlines loom. She must return to work. Calls continue. She logs off by late afternoon, giving up on the day. Work will be there tomorrow.

This is the dead hour. There is often nothing planned, and this small pocket of time often offers some spontaneity. The children may want to play. They may take walks or play cards. She may read or clean or actually talk with her husband that shares her abode. This is a blissful time if she can step away from work.

By twilight in this winter season, she is out of energy. Everyone’s demands and requests of her time have drained her to the point of exhaustion, but there’s still more to do. Again, people must eat. She finds this highly annoying. This supper meal results in the most commentary on how undesirable the cuisine is to some. Afterward, there is food uneaten and another stack of dishes. Children must then be compelled to complete what they often deem torturous tasks like reading or taking a shower. Their independence has increased, reducing the burden on the parents. This is a blessing. There are cuddles and cute moments but also sometimes tantrums and stubbornness. I’m stubborn too. I get it.

By 8pm, she is “off duty.” Lately she has been climbing into her bed to snuggle under her covers. Although she drifts off to sleep quickly, it is not restful while her mind listens to the sounds of her children talking to each other from their beds down the hall. Tomorrow comes too quickly.

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TV Favorites This Winter

I don’t normally watch too much TV, instead deciding to crack open a book. With the shorter days and colder weather, I’ve been watching more of it though. Here are my recent favorites from this winter.

Bridgerton (Netflix) – This is a Shonda Rhimes production and a costume drama set in London in 1813. It follows the lives of eight children in the Bridgerton family. This is no Jane Austin novel. Sure, there are balls and promenades plus social rules and courtships, but there is a lot more romance and sex than is permissible on U.S. network television. Highly recommend!

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) – I got this recommendation from a new-to-me podcast call Movie Therapy with Rafer and Kristen. Ted Lasso was recommended it for those who loved Schitt’s Creek. Ted Lasso is about a man (Jason Sudeikis) who was a U.S. football coach who moves to the UK to coach a soccer team. He is not well received by pretty much everyone, yet he maintains a positive attitude. You see how his coaching style and personality impact him and others throughout the season. There’s only a Season 1 right now, but it’s already been renewed through at least Season 3. Great show!

Antiques Roadshow (Pluto TV) – The show is about people in the UK who bring their antiques to the show to be appraised. I love the look of shock of people’s faces when they realize their grandmother’s knick knack could fetch a significant amount of money at auction. This show is great background noise if I want something on that the kids can overhear while they are running around. I can watch it while folding laundry or cooking. These certainly aren’t new episodes, but that’s the best part because it doesn’t matter! I can jump into an episode at any time.

(Side note: Pluto TV is channel we added to our Roku. There are likely other ways to access it too. However, it’s a free service where you can stream 100s of channels. They are often channels streaming a particular show or genre on repeat 24/7. Antiques Roadshow is one of the channels. They also have Star Trek, 90210, game shows, movies, etc. etc. seemingly forever.)

WandaVision (Disney+) – My husband and I just caught up on this new show (miniseries?) and streamed all available episodes just this weekend. It was a bit of a slow burn through the first couple of episodes, but I’m hooked now! It’s a continuation of Marvel’s Avengers storyline following End Game, so I don’t recommend it if you aren’t up-to-date on the Marvel movies.

Photo by Pinho . on Unsplash

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Hanging In There

I’ve been in such a funk lately and low on energy to write or do much of anything outside of activities needed to sustain life.

Work has been extra busy, although that’s not highly unusual. There are often busy seasons. Work has certainly demanded more of my brain space lately though.

Home life is still in a perpetual Groundhog’s day with each week a repeat of the last. My husband is eligible for the vaccine, but I can’t get him an appointment anywhere within a two-hour radius of us, which just makes me feel like we’ll be stuck in this Groundhog’s day situation for even longer.

In a couple of weeks the kids will be finally returning to school two days a week (supposedly – I won’t believe it until I see the school bus pull away). It will be almost exactly a year since they were last in a school building. Though, on the learning front I can’t really complain. They both have AMAZING teachers this year and have been learning a ton, even in front of a screen for hours a day. (I guess all the mom shaming about screens being horrible for you wasn’t so true after all. Ha!)

I’m torn on the whole going back to school business. I know it will benefit them, and I relish the idea of hours of quiet and focus in my house so I can actually get all of my work done during daylight hours. However, I know I will greatly miss them. I’ll miss the hugs in the middle of the day and the togetherness during lunch. I won’t miss the jumping around during gym class and wiggle breaks, the children yelling at that the other is too loud, or the interruptions every 15 minutes to see the funny hat another student is wearing or some other irrelevant revelation.

I’ve been focusing on decompressing this weekend, keeping the to-do list light and choosing to relax instead. For a bonus, I took today off since it’s a U.S. holiday and the kids don’t have school. We will attempt some fun activity with the boys today.

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Friday Fav: Wow in the World Podcast

Perhaps I should have titled this post as my sons’ Friday Fav because this is actually one of their favorites.

Wow in the World is a podcast provided by NPR. It is pitched as “The #1 podcast for kids and their grown-ups. Hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz share stories about the latest news in science, technology, and innovation. Stories that give kids hope, agency and make us all say ‘WOW’!”

Mindy and Guy Raz are wacky characters who keep the show interesting and end up teaching our kids a bunch of interesting facts. From what I’ve heard, Mindy is the comic relief and constant goofball, while Guy Raz is more practical.

We’ve started using the podcast as an incentive to get to bed. If the boys are ready for bed on time, they can listen to a podcast while tucked in their beds. If they go to bed early, they can have two podcasts. They decide who gets to pick the podcast for the evening based on whether it’s an odd or even day.

The next morning, we get a rundown of all of the new information they’ve learned. I got a full debrief on bees the other day after they listened to The Buzz on Bee Barf! Over the holidays, there was even some contest where the children were asked to submit a design for a gingerbread mansion in hopes of win a prize. Mr. 7-Year-Old is never into these activities, but he jumped at the chance to participate in this one.

I’ve found that kid centric podcasts are not only a great option at bedtime. They are helpful during long car rides (when we actually went places) or when you want the kids to stay engaged in a boring task like cleaning. It’s a win for them because they are entertained and a win for me because it’s educational. Love it!

Happy Friday!

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January 2021 Book Recs

Whelp, 2021 is officially underway. I’ve had a good reading month, ending January having read 5 books. If I can continue at this pace, I should be all set to meet my goal of 50 books for the year.

Here’s what I completed in my to-be-read list this month, along with brief notes or review comments.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith’s classic tale is actually one I hadn’t read previously. I appreciated the peek into Francie Nolan’s young life. I learned about her life and the life of the other Nolans as they navigated their poverty-stricken lives in Brooklyn during the early 1900s. It’s a long read, but well worth it.

Christmas Jars – This short book by Jason Wright was based on an interesting concept. On Christmas Eve, those in need find glass jars full of money on their doorsteps. The novel follows newspaper reporter Hope Jensen as she investigates the origin of the jars. Along her journey of discovery, she learns more than she anticipated about herself and others close to her. The main issue I have with the plot is that money is often found to be the solution to complicated troubles faced by jar recipients. This part of the story didn’t ring true to me.

Beach Read – There’s nothing like a summer beach read in the middle of Winter. Ha! Emily Henry’s book was a fun romance about a writer who is learning about her father’s secrets as she struggles to meet her writing deadline for her next book. She spends her time at her father’s beach house where she meets another writer with his own troubles.

Crazy Stupid Bromance – This is Lyssa Kay Adams’ third book in the Bromance Book Club series. (And #4 is due out this Summer!) I love her stories! They are completely ridiculous, and the author knows it. They are about a group of men who read romance novels to learn how to be better men and find romance for themselves. I am always cracking up reading her novels.

The Vanishing Half – This is Brit Bennett’s novel that is just as good as her first: The Mothers. It is about identical twin sisters who grew up in a small, Southern black community. You follow the lives of the twins over decades as one embraces a white identity and the other a black identity. It was thoughtfully written and thought provoking.

I’m well into a number of other books already as we lead into February, so I’m excited to keep reading. I think Mr. 7-Year-Old and I will finally finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this month, which we started last August!

Happy reading!

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How Our Children’s School District Saved My Sanity

This may be a controversial post, but I decided to share it anyway. This offering has helped save my sanity lately while the kids have been in virtual school and my husband and I have been working from home.

There’s no denying that I hate food prep, meal planning, cooking food that people end up complaining about, and then cleaning it all up. I especially hate that this whole meal process occurs three times a day. It’s one of my least favorite chores.

That’s why, when our school district started offering free weekly pick up of food for the children, I jumped at the chance to skip some meal prep and shopping. I make it a point to swing by each week to pick up the available meals.

Our county has committed itself to offering free meals to all students, regardless of need, for the school year. They are now providing breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner along with beverages. On top of all this, you get a weekly vegetable from a local farm with an accompanying activity to do with the kids. There’s a frequent rotation of school pizza and french fries, but also cucumbers, apples, oranges, squash, and beans.

Admittedly, my husband and I have been incredibly lucky throughout the pandemic to have stable incomes and jobs that allow us to work from home. I don’t take that for granted, and I recognize that we don’t NEED to take advantage of the free food offered by our school district. I don’t feel entitled to it, but – goodness – it is a nice benefit and wonderful support to a family working from home with children constantly underfoot.

It is such a relief to not have to think about every meal every day while adding a bit of variety to the boy’s diets. (Before this, I was limiting breakfast to cereal only and lunch to peanut butter and jelly, so this has to be better, right?)

I share this information because our family has really benefited from this offering, and if it’s available and potentially helpful to others, I hope they leverage it. It’s also important to highlight that everyone could benefit from a helping hand, even this momma. I’ll be the first to admit that there are still many days in this house when it just feels like we’re trying to get through each day in an attempt to balance work, school, and family. It doesn’t always work out. Having support like this definitely helps, and I’ll take all the help I can get.

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Striking the Right Mood In Our Alternative to the “Formal Living Room”

I’m a huge fan of making mood boards or vision boards for rooms before I redecorate. I’d like to say it’s for some sophisticated reason, but the truth is that I need to “see” something before I know whether it works or not. Since we’re in the process of redecorating around here, I’m sharing the mood board for our den that I made in a PowerPoint slide.

This room is technically supposed to be the “formal living room,” but seeing as we’re not really entertaining right now and these types of formal spaces are out of vogue anyway, we are going with a den. To me, a den is a space to unwind with family or maybe even escape to get away from others for a while. I want to use this room to play games and do puzzles with the kids, grab a book from the shelf and read in relative quiet, or escape to have a drink with friends. There’s no TV, but rather cozy places to chill out without a screen.

Okay, so I want this room to be all the things.

We’ll see what we can make happen.

Before we got serious about painting the room, the space was the kids’ playroom. It worked well for many years because the toys were largely contained, and I could easily keep my eyes and ears on them. This was a great solution with early walkers and destructive toddlers.

One of our original playroom setups

Now that the boys are 5 and 7 years old, though, I don’t need to hear and see them constantly. Honestly, I could go for a lot less noise and fewer LEGO pieces underfoot on the regular. Moving the playroom to an upstairs bedroom (with a door!) has given us this space.

My husband graciously agreed to support this redesign and move of rooms, thank goodness! We’re currently in the middle of the project having moved the playroom and painted the den. Now we’re waiting for furniture to be delivered, and then I’ll add the finishing touches. Now we’re getting to the fun part of the project! I’m sure I’ll share photos when we’re all done.

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Friday Fav: Costco Bookcase

It’s January, which means it’s that time of year again that Costco removes the Christmas trees and replaces the floor space with furniture. I spotted my Friday Fav there again this year: the Bayside Furnishings room divider/bookcase. And, it’s been on sale (in store only) for $99.99 rather than its older price of $129.99!!

I know, it’s a piece of furniture. I shouldn’t be so excited, but I just love it! It is hefty, versatile, and provides larger storage bins than those I see often at Ikea or Target.

We originally bought it for our townhouse to store baby toys in the living room. When we were staging the house to move, I took out the storage bins and turned it into a nifty dining room buffet table.

It moved to the playroom when we moved to our house, and I picked up an extra one that year to use as a credenza in my office. Now, both of them are flanking the TV in the kids’ playroom.

If you are in the market for additional storage, then check it out at Costco warehouses. It will likely be unavailable and out of stock by the end of the month.

Happy Friday!

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My Kids Share a Bedroom and I Don’t Feel Guilty About It

We live in a neighborhood where many families have three to five bedrooms and enough space for each child to have their own room. Even though we are lucky enough to have four bedrooms plus our not-technically-a-bedroom, guest room space in our basement, we have our boys sharing a room. When people learn this tidbit, I sense their surprise or curiosity about why we’d make this choice when we have the space for separate children’s rooms.

Well, there are several reasons. First, when my boys were little – maybe two and four years old – they wanted to share a room. Well, let me rephrase, the four-year-old munchkin was adamant that he not be left alone.

As I pulled the younger son’s crib into the room, I explained. “Here, kid. I made you a brother. You are no longer alone.”

My older son was happy, my husband and I were happy, the two-year-old didn’t care, and we all slept well each night. All was right with the world.

A second reason we made this change is because I was a fool. I worked from home 5 days a week and somehow thought it would be a good idea to share my workspace with the family space on the main level. The kids were in daycare or school all day, so I could work without them underfoot. It would be fine…until I had to work an evening or weekend or the boys decided to pull out every item in my desk drawers. Oh, what a naïve and silly woman I was!

That’s when I converted one of the bedrooms into my office. If you’re keeping track at home, that means one bedroom for the boys, one for my office, another is the master for my husband and me, plus the guest room in the basement. That leaves one more bedroom, which we recently turned into a playroom. I love it! We had the playroom in the “formal living room” space, and I was tired of it always being a mess and noisy. Now that the playroom is in a bedroom upstairs, when the playroom is a mess, I can just close the door.

I’m sure there are still some out there thinking, “But, why, Stephanie, would you force your kids to share a bedroom? Surely you could make something else work.”

Yeah, I could and maybe I will in the future when my kids are older. I refuse to feel guilty about this choice for several reasons.

First and foremost, everyone in my household is happy about our living situation.

Plus, I have to share a bedroom (and a bed, mind you!) so my children can share a room too.

There is also great learning to be had when you need to learn to compromise and share a space. I remember the struggle I saw in myself and others freshman year of college when people who were forced to share a dorm after living in their own rooms for so long at home. I have no problem with my children working through this life experience before they leave the nest. There are certainly a significant number of children, now adults, who shared their bedrooms with one or more family members and turned out just fine. No one is being hurt or emotionally scarred here.

Additionally, I absolutely love having my office (with a door!) where I can have my own private space. This is something I’ve learned that I need to maintain some semblance of sanity. It has the added benefit of helping to create boundaries with my work-from-home situation. When I leave my office, I’m off the clock. When I’m in the office, everyone knows I’m in work mode (and they mostly respect that).

Ultimately, I live by the philosophy that everyone needs to make choices that work best for them and their family. I certainly won’t be judging anyone else’s choices. You do you, don’t hurt others along the way, and all will be well. I’ll do the same.

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Friday Fav: Nice Cream

Move over, banana bread. You had your time to shine during this pandemic. Now it’s time for nice cream!

What is this deliciousness? It’s a non-dairy ice cream alternative made with bananas that hits the spot without all of the added sugar.

There are tons of flavors and varieties that you can find online, like here and there. My favorite is Cherry Garcia, made with only frozen bananas, frozen cherries, and chocolate chips all thrown together in a food processer until creamy. I think I lean toward this flavor because it is not one of my preferred ice cream flavors. (I mean, I’d never pick it if there was anything with chocolate ice cream available. Let’s be real.) Since I’m not comparing nice cream with its ice cream step brother, it stands alone and provides a guilt-free dessert that satisfies.

Based on this picture, I’m clearly not a food blogger.

The links above provide some recipes, but I don’t really follow a recipe anymore. After my mother showed me how to make nice cream, I just eyeball it based on the number of servings I want to make.

This is by no means a food blog, so you won’t find a traditional recipe blog post here. The directions are to literally put all of the ingredients into the food processer and blend until creamy.

However, here are a few tricks I’ve learned.

Image courtesy of Mr.-4-Year-Old
  1. Ripe bananas provide the best flavor. I just plop the entire unpeeled and brown bananas into the freezer and wait for the urge to strike for dessert. When I’m ready to make nice cream, I leave the bananas on the counter for a few minutes, then use a knife to peel away the skin.
  2. You can just drop the cutup frozen bananas, some frozen dark and sweet cherries, and a small handful of chocolate chips into the food processer and have dessert in a matter of minutes. If you want to get fancy, add a splash of vanilla.
  3. If you find the ice cream is too thick, add a bit of non-dairy milk. I use almond milk, but any milk or its alternative would work. Oftentimes, I don’t have to add anything extra.
  4. We have used semi-sweet chocolate chips in the past, but I found these Hu dark chocolate “gems” at Costco that are on point. I highly recommend them.
  5. Speaking of Costco, there you can also find a large bag of frozen dark sweet cherries, which is helpful when you plan on making lots of nice cream like our family.
  6. Personally, I think it’s best eaten the day it’s made. You can freeze leftovers, but I don’t like the ice crystals that form in the nice cream at that point.

So there you have it! I share in the spirit of giving during a time when many people likely have New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier. It’s not only my Friday Fav but one I share with my entire family.

Happy Friday!