Goodbye, 2009. I Don’t Think I’ll Miss You At All.

Well…today is the last day of 2009. The year I lost my Dad and got laid off. My Mom was also hospitalized for a week, needing to have her gallbladder removed. And just two days ago, my in-laws lost their canine matriarch after a long life. No matter how long you’ve had a dog, the loss is always still very sad and Prissy dying just solidifies 2009 in my mind as THE YEAR FROM HELL. But…there have been a lot of moments I won’t forget, or don’t want to forget. And lucky for me, I capture most of them on camera. So…here is the full slideshow of random photos from 2009. Or the smaller/embedded version is below.

Happy New Year’s to you all! Thanks for sticking with me this year, without you I think I would have had a much more difficult time coping. You really are the best. Love you all! EVEN YOU!

Hopefully This Will Be My “Stupidest Food Mistake” Story Forever

Have you ever done something SOOOOOO stupid that you decide it’s better to never ever speak of it again? Well, what if it kinda has to be addressed because people who don’t realize your stupid mistake keeping bringing it up. OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN? Well, if you have a blog, you write a blog entry about it.

But then you’re faced with the dilemma: How do I write about this in a way to make myself seem maybe not so terribly stupid?

And then you realize: You can’t. You’re a total dumbass.

Where to begin? Let’s start with Halloween when I first fixed Red Velvet Cake balls Poppers. I didn’t make them fancy, just did the chocolate covering, no sticks. They weren’t pretty but EVERYONE LOVED THEM. I mean, people mentioned they were the best things they had ever eaten, they could not get enough of them, HOW DO YOU MAKE THEM? They were my first truly successful party contribution as the world swooned over them. I made several batches over the next few weeks and they were all equally adored.

Fast Forward to two weeks ago. I made a batch to distribute to the teachers at NikkiZ’s school. I felt like they didn’t turn out as red as the previous batches, but the teachers still loved them. As a matter of fact, one of them mentioned them to me TODAY. And said, “I’m finally done with them…can we get some more?” I made another batch, also not as red, for my family for Christmas. Everyone LOVED THEM. Just as much as the first few (and redder) batches. I kept telling everyone that I think I must have bought a different brand of Red Velvet cake this time because the last two batches weren’t as red as I remember in October.

You would have thought at some point I might have double-checked the recipe. Right? Because I swear by Pioneer Woman and her pictures, and one glance at her blog entry would have told me why they weren’t as red as the first few batches…the ones that I actually LOOKED AT THE RECIPE.

See? That’s where I went wrong. I assumed I could do it from memory…and I couldn’t. The End.

NOW…before I tell you my fatal error let me remind you: EVERYONE LOVED THEM. I swear, in terms of taste? I don’t think there was that much difference. The main difference was in appearance. Everyone LOVED THEM. I want to repeat that over and over again. And now? I will tell you what I did wrong.

Okay…I can’t do it. I can’t tell you. I’m that embarrassed. I’m embarrassed because my family and I actually talked about this one thing and I totally blew past it in conversation. I basically said, “Yeah! I did it wrong!” over and over and over again…never quite realizing that I DID IT WRONG.

It took someone going home and looking up the recipe at the website I told them to visit before I got a text that said, “Um…Pioneer Woman says to cook the mix first.”

I’ll let that sink in for a moment…let my full on stupidity REALLY soak in.

Yes…I made Red Velvet Cake Poppers and didn’t COOK THE MIX FIRST. I basically just mixed the cream cheese frosting in with the powdered mix and rolled into balls, coated with chocolate, and served.

And yes…everyone was amazed that you didn’t cook the mix and I kept saying, “Don’t cook the mix!” Even though several times before? I cooked the mix. As a matter of fact, if I had thought about it for two seconds I would remember how irritated I was that I had to wait for the cake to cool after cooking it. When I realized what I had done I was so SO mortified that I tried to just forget about it. Except everyone keeps emailing me and facebooking me and stopping me in public to tell me HOW AWESOME THE UNCOOKED CAKE POPPERS ARE! So, I have to come clean, and admit to the world: I did it wrong. Yes…they were good. No…they wouldn’t kill you. (It’s not like I put the eggs in or anything…just the powdered mix and the cream cheese icing.) But I did it very terribly wrong. And this is why I should never EVER EVER EVER cook without the recipe. EVER.

Please don’t tell Pioneer Woman or Bakerella about my ridiculous mistake. I’m new to the club and I’d hate for them to boot me out before I even get an excuse to buy one of those cute mortar and pestles.

Realistically Speaking

Every year I make resolutions. I just like the idea of it. Hell, every Sunday I feel like I mentally resolve to do things differently the next week, so of course I’m going to take advantage of the biggest Monday of all! There’s just something refreshing about the beginning of a new week, a new month, a new year. It’s so easy to convince yourself you have a clean slate…so why not take advantage of it by writing on it what you WANT to write?

But this year I’m doing things a little bit differently. I’ve found myself thinking more about what I’m not going to do. I’ve bagged up most of my craft items to give away, because I’m going to quit starting random crafty projects. I don’t even finish half of them anyway, and the other half tend to stress me out by taking away time from other things. I’m going to say, “No!” more often. I’m going to quit jumping on these unrealistic blogging bandwagons. I mean, I couldn’t even stick with NaBloPoMo for the entire month. One trip out of town and I dropped the ball. So I’m definitely not going to try any other 365 projects. No matter how much I want to.

My main resolution is that I’m forcing myself to stop and think before starting (or agreeing to start) any new project. I’ve removed the crafting temptation and am only going to focus on my photography for a creative outlet. (And my blog, of course, I don’t even consider that an option any more.) I’m going to quit telling people I’ll do things only to let them down. I’m just going to avoid committing to anything I’m not 100% certain I can do. JUST SAY NO. It’s something I’ve been working on over the years…but that I’ve never been really successful at. I just have a hard time letting people down, and if I say, “No,” I feel like I need to provide bulletproof excuses why I can’t. In my head, “I just don’t have the time…” is not a good enough excuse, I guess. Not unless it’s followed by, “because I’m spending all of my days helping refugees from Darfur.” If someone doesn’t understand/believe my claim of “not having the time,” then they probably aren’t someone I need to be working with or helping anyway. Because obviously they don’t know me that well. Right? BACK ME UP HERE! (See? The paranoid insecurity is already setting in and I’ve not even told anyone, “No.” yet.)

So…my main resolution? To stop doing, or saying I’ll do, so much extra stuff. Whether to myself or to others. (Because let’s face it…I let myself down on projects not completed more often than I let down others.) Three kids, a husband, a job hunt, a half-marathon training schedule and what will hopefully be a college schedule in the Fall? That’s plenty. RIGHT?

Is this considered convertible hair?
Is this considered convertible hair?
The best thing about the ball pit Santa brought us? Static Hair!

A little bit more about Knoxville, a lot about my awesome teenager…

I was rehashing Rick and my trip to Knoxville with a friend when I realized there was a whole section of the trip I forgot to mention yesterday. The part where I left a note with a $20 bill for housekeeping when I checked out of my hotel and how I lifted all cell phone curfews from LilZ’s phone as a payback for being the best son ever.

We only stayed in Knoxville two nights but my brother got us a hotel room adjoining his downtown so he could just get up and run in the morning and me and my kids would have plenty room to spread out. I learned the hard way on my trip to Slidell last month that my son does not seem to like the idea of sleeping in my Pack-n-play in the same room as I am. I slept about 8 hours over three nights on our trip to Louisiana and I knew after about an hour that Knoxville wasn’t going to be much better.

Then LilZ asked to give it a try.

NikkiZ and I stayed in my brother’s room while LilZ spent some time getting AndyZ to sleep. After about 20 minutes he came into the room we were in with a look of accomplishment on his face. He had gotten LilZ to sleep and put him back in the pack-n-play successfully…score 10 for the teenage baby whisperer!

After LilZ and NikkiZ and I went to bed that night, only an hour had passed when AndyZ woke up screaming again. As I spent a while struggling trying to get him back to sleep, LilZ kept offering his assistance. My high-school aged son stayed up just as late as I did trying to get my youngest child to sleep. Not because he couldn’t sleep due to the crying, but because he was helping? I am officially the luckiest parent alive.

I found the trick that worked for AndyZ (walking him up and down the hallway outside the room) and used that trick to get him back to sleep successfully twice that night. Allowing me (and LilZ) to get a decent night’s sleep when it was all said and done.

Fast-forward to the next night. AndyZ woke up about midnight and I was attempting the trick from the night before. I got back into bed with a slightly sleepy AndyZ and NikkiZ said, “I think I’m going to throw up.” I just blew her off because I wanted her to stay asleep so I offered her a drink of water. A few seconds later I hear the sound of her puking all over the bed. I panicked and woke up LilZ to take his brother and carried NikkiZ to the bathroom. Although it was too late…she had emptied the contents of her stomach all over the bed.

I felt AWFUL. What was I supposed to do? I made her a pallet on the floor with some spare blankets and I went downstairs with AndyZ and got some more blankets and a laundry bag. I came back up, stripped the bed, put the bedding in the bag and spent the next 3 hours with NikkiZ and AndyZ BOTH AWAKE. It was exhausting. NikkiZ finally crashed about 3:30am and AndyZ passed out about 5am. We left the hotel about 7:30 the next morning and I left a note apologizing profusely to housekeeping, explaining that everything in the laundry bag was contaminated, and left the $20 bill from my wallet as some sort of consolation prize. I would have loved to have left more…I hope the note, the money and the efforts I made to clean up – helped to make the situation not as horrible for them as it could have been. Because cleaning up someone else’s vomit on Christmas Eve? Has got to be the suckiest thing in the world.

So… moral of the story? When your child says they’re going to throw up? Believe them. And also? Reward an awesome teenager. I’ve always had a 10pm curfew on LilZ’s phone so he doesn’t text or talk all night. I took the curfew off until school starts back up because if the housekeeping deserved a note and $20? LilZ deserved a million dollars and a new car.

Feeling much better!

Fallen Trees, Vagrants, Poop-Bags…Oh My!

While I’d love to tell you all about our wonderful Christmas, I feel like I need to back up a few days and fill you in on our Dad Trip to Knoxville last week. It was too eventful to just let pass without documenting. And by “eventful” I mean “seriously depressing and also maybe creepy.”

Tree on my Dad's House

When my brother and I got to town, we dropped by Dad’s house and this is what we found. This is the only picture I have of it, however, as the company helping tend the yard at Dad’s removed it before we had time to take more pictures. (Christmas week and they had it down less than 24 hours after we called…if you’re in Knoxville? USE THEM. PLEASE.) This is/was the tree that my Dad knew was going to fall down on the house any minute. He was so sure of it that he had tied a rope around it anchoring it to another tree in a way so that when it fell, it may fall away from the house. He was so sure it would fall that he never re-wired my old bedroom after the last tree fell. He thought the tree would fall on my old room and didn’t want to have live wires there. Dad was actually hoping the tree would fall soon so that he would finally have the excuse he needed to either a) tear down and start over or b) move. It was very surreal to see it down. 9 months after he died. And you know what? He was off by one room. It fell on the kitchen. Not my old bedroom.

And as if that wasn’t enough…when my brother went in the house to investigate damage in the kitchen? He found evidence of a vagrant living there. It was late and dark and creepy, so we came back the next day with a police officer to make sure the person wasn’t still there somewhere hiding and waiting to attack us. I guess creepy may not be strong enough of a word. Realizing someone has been living in your old bedroom in the house you grew up in? It’s just hard to explain. Creepy? Yes. Definitely. But also so very sad. The more we investigated we realized the person hadn’t been there in a while. There was mold and dust on things he had used. We also realized that the person was probably a normal, good person. Aside from the whole squatter thing.

Someone Had Been Living At Dad's House

There wasn’t a lot left in the house. The person had gathered whatever blankets they could find and made a pallet. They tried to make use of the radio/stereo that we left behind. (Why did we leave that behind?) They cleaned up after themselves, for the most part. There was a bag of garbage. They didn’t take anything with them when they left the last time, not even things they could have sold. They didn’t vandalize. They just lived there. Ate peanut butter. And weirdest of all? Did puzzles.

Someone Had Been Living At Dad's House

We are 99% sure there were not puzzles in the house the last time we cleaned it out. So the person brought them with him? Maybe? I’m not sure why he never came back to finish them…I hope it’s because his life turned for the better and he didn’t need Dad’s house anymore. Because in terms of squatters? We had the best one you could ask for. No liquor bottles. Or mouthwash bottles, as the police officer explained was common to find in those situations. No evidence of drug use. No crack den. No signs of a group of homeless people. No vandalism. No theft. Just a person down on his luck maybe? Needed a safe place to stay – and do puzzles. In some weird way, we both agreed that Dad may have liked this guy.

We were doing a quick scan before we left and stopped to look at the board on the wall where we had measured our heights over the years. There was a name that looked like “Rick” on there. We are certain it was someone from our family scribed in Dad’s chicken scratch, but it looked like “Rick.” One of us laughed and said, “Who is Rick?” LilZ said, “The vagrant.” We cracked up imagining our squatter taking the time to add his name to the hatchmarks on the wall. From that moment on we referred to the homeless person as “Rick” – as in, “I feel bad about throwing away Rick’s puzzles.”

All in all? Between the tree crushing the house and the squatter…it was a truly surreal experience. And the best thing to come out of it? My brother and I seemed to finally be able to let go of the house. We no longer had weird pangs associated with getting rid of it. That one day and suddenly it hit us: This was not our house anymore. It’s empty of Dad and his stuff. It’s crumbling to pieces. It’s just an old building that happened to once be our home…but not anymore. The sentimental attachment to the place seemed to escape when Rick came in with his puzzles. We are now more than ready to get rid of it. I’ll be calling today to find someone to take it off our hands. It’s just a house my dad owned…it is no longer our home.

We also visited Dad’s grave at the cemetery. We took him tulips. When we got there we saw a beautiful image of hundreds of wreaths laid across the graves. They didn’t cover the entire cemetery, but most of the plots by the entrance. (Which happens to be where my uncle is buried, so there was one on his grave.) We inquired about them and found out about Wreaths Across American which covers all of Arlington every year. They also deliver batches to other Memorial cemeteries around the country and we got 400. Not enough for even 10% of the graves there, but still a wonderful thought. We’ll definitely be donating next year.

Wreaths Across America

Not quite the trip to Knoxville my brother and I had planned, but an eventful one nonetheless! We did take some time to enjoy downtown Knoxville and rode what was possibly the stinkiest horse/carriage EVER. I mean, I know they don’t smell like roses with those poopbags strapped to their butts, but OH MY GOD. I found myself thinking, “Would it be rude to ask to get off the carriage now because THE SMELL IS KILLING ME!” I guess I’m a city girl, or something. Either way…glad we did it once…NEVER DO IT AGAIN. A novel experience for the small children one time so that we can tell them about it when they get older and want to do it again, but nothing any part of me will ever opt to relive. Not without some sort of potpourri face mask, anyway. I get enough of the stinky poop smell from my youngest child, and I don’t have to pay $20 for that experience.