Thursday, December 8, 2011

Misty Doesn't Know

In this season of hope and charity, I hesitate to report this sad news, but I've put it off for long enough:

Misty got fired, y'all!

Let me rewind a click for those who need to be brought up to speed. The Methadone Scarecrow, a.k.a. Misty, was my brother's co-worker for two or three years. She sat at a desk near my brother, and her propensity to overshare, her habit of jabbering incessantly, her absence of a filter, complete lack of inhibition or shame, and her eagerness to share her usually misguided and uninformed opinions was the stuff of frustration for my brother. Wisely, Jarred realized a long time ago that if he couldn't find a way to laugh at Misty, he might go insane. Thus, the Misty emails began. Jarred would type up their daily dialogue and forward it to a few folks, much to my delight. I laughed. I cried. I wet my pants a little. A little.

As I began writing this blog last year, I thought that my friends reading might enjoy Misty as much as I do. Folks seemed to respond to the posts, and I since I sometimes need extra blogging material, periodically I would update readers with Misty's latest ramblings. Still need a memory refresher? Click here to meet Misty. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And one of my favorites.

To those who asked: No, Misty doesn't know that I blog about her, and now that she's been canned, and I expect she'll never know. To those who wonder why Misty got fired: Come on. Haven't we been secretly wondering this whole time how she managed to keep her job this long? I know I asked myself that question. I asked Jarred. He shrugged.

Now, I am left with two options with how to distribute what remains of my as-yet-unpublished "Misty correspondence". I mean, it's not her best material, I pretty much posted all the good stuff, but I feel like I have to put it all out there. Do I roll it all out in this post, which has already gotten a little long, or do I publish part of it today, and the remainder at a to-be-determined date in the future? What? What's that you said? Save some for later? Ok! Here's a Misty Snippet for your afternoon. Savor it.

Misty:  Did you hear the government banned light bulbs?
Jarred: Get out of here!
Misty:  No really, they couldn't stop the block on the ban of the bulbs

Jarred: What?
Misty:  I mean they didn't ban the block...the banning of the bulbs

Jarred: Use your words
Misty:  Crap let me look it up, they did something

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

You See Your Gypsy: Lace and Paper Flowers Not Included

Hi, friends! It's been a while, yes? I had to actually take a peek at my blog to see where I left off. A lot has happened since my last post...

We sold our house
Goodbye House! In my grand tradition, I made a Shutterfly book to remember it by.
As I was driving around with my Two Mutts and a Tot while Real Estate Agents showed my house to potential buyers, I had all sorts of blog inspiration to write about my experiences selling my home. I may go back and post later on, maybe not. I had the good fortune of getting my house under contract in a mere eight days, and was given 26 days for my home inspection, appraisal, making requested home repairs, packing, securing temporary apartment was a whirlwind of planning and activity that left me too preoccupied to blog!

We were homeless...for seven days
All of this change has been rough on Robinson
Big thanks to our friends and family who graciously welcomed us into their homes during the week between vacating our old house and taking possession of our temporary apartment! It turns out that there is a difference between sleeping in someone else's home because you're on vacation and sleeping in someone else's home because you have no home. We're lucky to have good friends and family to help make the transition as smooth and comfortable as possible.

My brother got married!
The Happy Couple
In 2000, I was working as a hostess at J. Alexander's with this fabulous girl named Kelly. We soon became friends, and, as friends often do, we went to parties together! It was at one of these parties at Steve's apartment that I introduced her to my brother. The events that unfolded, and the ways our lives intersected over the eleven years that followed is the stuff of romantic comedies. Like all romantic comedies, this story has a happy ending: a wedding! I am so happy, and I have to tell you--their wedding was so fun! Like, so fun that I want to do it again. I wish I had a wedding photo to share, but maybe later I can update.

Two Adults, Two Mutts, and a Tot in 600 Square Feet
I slept here ^
"It's only six weeks, let's move in with the least amount of stuff possible..." Yeah. So, the mattress is on the floor, the clothes are in suitcases, and the food is of the microwaveable-comes-in-its-own-bowl variety. If you want to look at our living situation as "camping", I'd say it's a pretty sweet set-up. We have electricity, cable, and indoor plumbing. The only downside is the dogs have wicked separation anxiety since I picked them up from vet boarding after nine days. Laney acts like she just graduated from a Scared Straight program. She has barely so much as grumbled at Rob since returning to us. It's as if she believes she was sent to the kennel for being aggressive towards my son. Their anxiety has reached such a fever pitch that they cannot be left alone, for fear that their incessant barking would lead to our eviction--and as I've covered previously: homelessness < not being homeless. I imagined these six weeks would fly by, enjoying the outdoors with Robinson, running errands, picking out paint and fabric for the new house...if I want to do any of those things, I have to load up the dogs and take them to Steve at work. You see, when disclosing my pet information to the apartment leasing manager, I sort of fudged on Laney's size...and neglected to mention Libby altogether. You can probably understand why I'm trying to keep a low profile. So, that's the story of why we are hunkered down in this campsite like gypsies. Today is day 15 out of 42. Sigh.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Two Mutts and a Tot outdoors together = Mama tangled up in leashes, skittish mutts and screaming Tot.

We Are Getting A New Home for Christmas!
We're so excited, we can hardly stand the wait, but it will be oh-so-worth it!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Our family is extra thankful this year! xoxo

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I Put My House on the Market. Three months ago. I'm Exhausted.

Ok, full disclosure: I started this post back in September when I had just listed our house for sale. I was wide awake early one morning and jittery (probably from the stout pot of coffee I brewed) and so I attempted to tap out a post about my experiences selling our home. It was really rambling and disjointed, so I never published it. Here is the condensed version, mostly for Steve and me to remember the experience. Maybe you've bought or sold a home and have some of your own experiences to share? I'd love to read about it.

Selling one's home can't usually be done on a whim. Much preparation is required. First, I interview my Realtor. There are so many options when choosing a real estate agent. How was I to proceed? Basically, I selected one of the largest Realty companies in the city and scanned the agent directory until I found the agent with the most professional headshot (not the Glamour Shot where the agent is pretending to talk on her phone. "Get it? I'm so committed to you, the client, I'll take your call any time. And I mean any time.") An impressive website was the real clincher. You know whose website didn't impress me? The agent whose mission statement highlighted her goals for the year 2002. did 2002 work out for you? This website doesn't bode well for your attention to detail and your demonstrated ability to follow up. Also, I automatically eliminated agents whose email addresses contained their birthday, zodiac sign, or favorite hobbies. I'm sorry, if I had to give up "" when I graduated college and entered the work force, you have to grow up and get an email that legitimizes your profession. It's only fair. That is, if you expect me to entrust you with the sale of my most valuable asset. There are so many real estate agents out there, and I just don't feel comfortable emailing my agent at "" I need to feel like selling real estate is your top priority, not some side gig you use to pay the bills until your acting career takes off.

But I digress. I reasoned that the Realtor who best markets herself would likely best market my home.  I don't have the wherewithal for this to be a long and drawn out process. I have set a goal of being in my new home by Christmas, an ambitious but not unrealistic goal. I need a winner working for me to get this house sold, and my listing agent is a damn champ! Once she tours my home and begins pointing out the areas where potential buyers might find objections, I get to work with the help of a handy man. The hot pink laundry room is one, which I accept even though I love my hot pink laundry room.
The other major change was the carpet in the master bath. Yeah, you read that correctly. Until two weeks ago, my master bathroom was carpeted.  Let me just say that a carpeted bathroom is one of the worst ideas ever, right up there with the classic children's toy "Bag O' Glass".
Next, the handy man comes to make the requested improvements. Handy man is polite and courteous, but not what I would consider friendly; despite my attempts at friendly banter, his demeanor is very flat. This sorta bums me out. Why do I feel like I have to make friends with everyone I meet? I don't know, but the man caulked my tub, which is more than I can say for any of my friends. He may lack charisma, but damn it if he isn't handy.

After my home has been improved, I have thoroughly cleaned out all my cabinets and closets so that my home appears spacious, and I have packed up all my tchotchkes (yeah, that's the correct spelling of "chotchkies", and thanks to me, you just learned something new today. You're welcome) and other personal items that make the house look like someone actually lives here, a professional stager hired by my Realtor comes in to rearrange furniture and add decorative elements that at the same time make the house look more furnished and less lived in. I thought I knew what staging was about, but I had no idea. For instance, she removed my fluffy, expensive white Restoration Hardware towels from my double towel bar, replaced it with some paper-thin brown towel and tied a tulle bow around it. Additionally, she placed a basket filled with about a dozen wash cloths on my counter, and placed some sort of "decorative accessory" resembling a sheaf of wheat and a sign that says "Relax" on the seat of my garden tub. (Side note: Telling Steve that "Frankie says..." and pointing at the bathtub sign never stopped being funny to me). bathroom has never had more towels, but I'm not allowed to touch any of them. And the sheaf of wheat and the sign instructing me to "Relax" makes me do the opposite. Ok, I think I get it now. You want to fill the house with generic decorations to make the house look full, but you want it to be impersonal enough so that the buyer can visualize themselves in the house and not think about the fact that anyone has ever bathed in that bathtub. Basically I'm living in a model home. I feel like Michael Bluth.
Welcome to Sudden Valley!

Then she goes to my guest room, and her singular improvement is to turn down one corner of the bed. Wait, I'm confused--I thought the house was supposed to look like nobody lives here. Doesn't the turned down bed imply that someone may sleep here later? Unless we're showing this house to Goldilocks, this seems counterintuitive. I still have so much to learn.

After a whirlwind week of preparation, the house goes on the market. I had no idea how strange this would feel. Why? Let me count the ways:

1. There are photos of my house on the internet. Photos of every room of my house. There is a virtual tour online. Thousands of strangers can see where I sleep. I realize that isn't the same as thousands of strangers watching me sleep, but it's still unnerving on some level.

2. Strangers will tour my home outside my presence, make judgments and comment on whether they like or dislike my home, and I will receive feedback. I've been judged before; I competed in a couple beauty pageants scholarship programs and I went through sorority rush, and I know I was sized up and discussed, but I never had to hear about it later. I suddenly feel vulnerable. This is my home. I am a stay-at-home mom primarily responsible for the decoration and maintenance of this place. I know I'm not supposed to take this criticism personally, but if people dislike my home--it isn't pretty enough or sparkly enough--how is that not a reflection on me? If this house doesn't sell, I'll feel like a failure.

3. Preparing for a showing is not unlike Mission: Impossible. Robinson and I are enjoying our Saturday morning in the living room when a message appears on my phone:


It's like saying, "A stranger wants to snoop through your house, and possibly buy it from you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to clean up this mess, make your house look like nobody lives in it, pack up your kid and your dogs and haul ass out of here. You have one hour. This message will self-destruct in 60 seconds"

It is then I begin running around the house, like Jane and Michael Banks tidying up the nursery:

A key element in successfully selling one's home is to create an atmosphere where the buyer can visualize herself and her belongings in her future home. Part of that requires that the Potential Future Lady of the House never sees the Current Lady of the House. Buyer walks in the front door, seller walks out the back door, and never the two shall meet. I did have a couple of close calls where I was attempting to make a to-go cup for Robinson, and once where I was backing out of the driveway and remembered that I left my engagement ring inside. I stopped the garage door, ran in the house, heard the Realtor's voice calling "Hello?" from the front door, frantically darted into my bedroom, retrieved my diamonds and hauled ass to the nearest exit, breathless and with my heart racing. I had no idea that breaking in and out of your own house could be so suspenseful! I later told Amy, "I am my own cat burglar". It's a weird feeling, being a grown woman and sneaking in and out of my own house.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Next 30 Years

Hey, guess what? I turned 30 on Tuesday! I know, I didn't make a huge deal about it. No big "Birthday" post this year. It got me to thinking about my friends who make huge deals about their birthdays. You know the types, they begin discussing it in detail for several weeks leading up to the birthday, that way nobody can have an excuse for forgetting. They will often declare that their birthday isn't simply one day, that they celebrate a birthweek or even a birthmonth. For these friends, a sheet cake and a card are never sufficient. At the minimum, there is a party, but ideally there would be an entire vacation.

I have never been one of these people, and this is partly because of when my birthday occurs. Being born in a month like October, I cannot plunge a flag into the calendar and call the entire month mine. I can't change the name to "Samtober". It's not mine to take. October belongs to Autumn leaves, and football season, and Pumpkin Spice lattes, and Halloween, and Oktoberfest, and pumpkin patches and Columbus Day. If all of my family and friends can manage to stop whatever they're busy doing to call me/text me/Facebook me within the 24-hours of my actual birthday, I consider it a Happy Birthday. There is no big 30th bash for me. My birthday is on a Tuesday. My husband left for a week-long business trip that happens every year at this time. And I have a toddler who is with me constantly. (No, I still haven't hired a babysitter. I have control issues.)

Ok, so everybody makes a big deal about turning 30. It's a milestone birthday, and milestone birthdays are a time for self-reflection and goal setting. Well, let me clarify: milestone birthdays can be for self-reflection and goal setting, but I'd say that 30 is probably the first milestone birthday for this. The previous milestone birthdays are associated with other things:

1: cake
13: insert chosen "teenage" privileges here (makeup, phones, whatever)
16: driving
18: voting and legal adulthood
21: drinking

And...then you're 30. Turning 30 means joining a new club, a new demographic, taking on a new identity. You're a "thirtysomething". It also means that your membership in the twentysomething club is abruptly revoked, and that a major part of your identity--the age group to which you belong--is gone. Think about it, advertisers trying to win my business will market to me differently now. True story.

How does it feel to turn 30? Well, imagine you've never been to...Italy. You've heard about it. You've studied it in school. You've seen photos and movies set in Italy. Your friends have been there. You have an idea of what it would be like to visit, and you've thought about it. You've just never experienced Italy. So, one day, you fly to Italy. You step off the plane, take a look around, and--much to your surprise--discover that Italy looks a lot like Austin, Texas. You've been to Austin, and you love it. Italy is remarkably similar. It isn't mysterious or unknown. It's a lot more familiar than you expected. Now, this is just an analogy of course. I really haven't been to Italy and I'm not trying to say that it in any way resembles Austin. But, what I am attempting to illustrate, however poorly, is that turning 30 is like a long-awaited voyage to a far away land that feels surprisingly comfortable. Unlike, say, a trip to the moon, which is how some people act when talking about a looming milestone birthday. 

Of course, there are other issues to face when turning 30, because this is the first milestone birthday where people begin to think about things like aging and mortality, and let's be serious--that can be sort of a bummer. I have a friend who turned 50 a few years ago. He's a darling man. Imagine if Rock Hudson had collagen lip injections...
He explained to me that milestone birthdays in and of themselves typically aren't a reason to get the blues. It's when you reach a milestone birthday while at the same time feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with your station in life that a person gets a case of the sads. If, for instance, you are in a co-dependent relationship with an emotionally unavailable commitment-phobe, or that temp position you took as a receptionist right out of college has turned into your job for the past five years, or you're living in your parents' basement, a milestone birthday can shake you to the core. It can send you down a shame spiral, or it can be a catalyst to make you stop being complacent and start a fresh new chapter. Maybe take that trip you planned to take "someday" or take a risk you've been putting off out of fear. 
So, I've made it to 30. I have a happy family and I enjoy my life, but now what? What does "thirtysomething Samantha" want to do? I've got a few ideas:

1. I want to be a jogger. Why? Because honest-to-goodness "joggers" are physically fit pretty much 100% of the time, and jogging is free. Seems like a logical decision to maintain my overall wellness. Full disclosure: I have never run voluntarily unless I was earning college credit. Seriously, I took a class in college called "Jogging". I made an "A". For the Final, I think I ran a 15-minute mile or something equally ridiculous. To help me ease into running I am attempting the Couch-to-5k program. So far, I have run exactly once. Stay tuned.

2. I want to participate in something that isn't all about me. Perhaps something in my future neighborhood, some sort of charity work. I didn't even want to talk about it here, because I don't want to sound like some sort of do-gooder announcing "Look how charitable I am. Aren't I a great person?", but it's something I'm thinking about. I haven't really thought this through completely, but I figure there is more to life than online shopping and Pinterest and attempting to jog, so I'm gonna check it out and get back to you. Also, it would be nice to meet other grown-ups. At this point I spend most of my days jibber-jabbering with Robinson in some made up language that only he can understand. I may be losing my grip on reality.

3. I am decorating my new house in neutral colors. I know, shocking. The kaleidoscope color scheme that appeared in my current home will not be repeated. It's time to live in a grown-up house, and my grown-up house should have grown-up things, such as...
4. A wine refrigerator. I think my new house should have a wine refrigerator, and other accoutrements that say, "I'm a sophisticated, grown-up lady". I don't know why the wine fridge speaks to me on this level. I think it says, "I am an adult, so I drink wine, and I am successful, so I have enough money to purchase a wine fridge along with several bottles of wine at one time to necessitate a wine fridge, and I'm sophisticated enough to care about serving my wine at the proper temperature".  I've given this some thought. Help me out, what other items or possessions make up the trappings of sophisticated adulthood?

5. I want to be the friend who remembers birthdays early enough to send out a birthday card. In the actual mail. For some reason, that sort of thoughtful attention to detail says "I'm a grown-up" What other habits or behaviors should I adopt now that I'm the big 3-0?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Your Handy House Hunting Translator

"Be vewy quiet, I'm hunting for a three bedroom, two bathroom with walk-in closets!"

House hunting and preparing to list our house for sale has introduced me to a whole host of buzz words commonly used in real estate that I rarely have the opportunity to use in any other area of my life. Oh, and these words are almost always used in the first line of a real estate listing. For the uninitiated, here is a rundown of my personal favorite Real Estate terms:

Sparkling: Previously only used to describe Edward Cullen's skin and my personality, sparkling is *the* word that needs to best describe your home, specifically your home's surfaces like counter tops and floors. I have spent hours viewing homes that "really sparkle". Sidenote: I now use the word "sparkle" on a daily basis, and I am incapable of saying "sparkle" without incorporating an enthusiastic set of "jazz hands". I just need you to know this.

Delight: An ideal kitchen is characterized as a "chef's delight". This typically means that there is ample counter space, a sizeable oven, and there are often upgrades such as granite counters, stainless appliances and a gas stove (my personal favorite feature). When viewing photos of a "chef's delight kitchen", I immediately picture the Cinnamon Toast Crunch chefs running around the kitchen, jubilantly preparing Cinnamon Toast. Sometimes the Pillsbury Dough Boy and Chef Boyardee are there too. All are delighted, of course.

Oversized: An oversized mortgage is bad, but an oversized breakfast nook? Delightful. Especially if it sparkles.

Boast: In her song "Gossip Folks", Missy Elliott proudly announces, "I don't brag, I mostly boast". Your mama told you not to be boastful, but when it comes to your real estate, boast away. Your kitchen can boast granite counter tops, your entry can boast hardwood floors, your bathroom can boast a jetted tub. But if you buy this house, you shouldn't boast to your friends. It's tacky.

Delightful/Cute/Adorable/Charming: These words are selected when characterizing a lovely home under 2000 square feet. They're trying to accentuate the positive. Kind of like when a plus-size dress is described as "flattering".

Completely updated: "You should have seen what a train wreck this place used to be! It's all good though; we fixed it up real nice for ya."

Immaculate: If a house is described as "immaculate", its owners have gone to great lengths to make sure you can find no fault with this home. Not a speck of dust or so much as a burned out light bulb, a perfectly manicured lawn and carefully staged interior. They're basically killing themselves to please you, so you better recognize!

Move-in Ready: The entire house is beige.

Great Value: This means a low price per square foot. They don't price houses this way out of charity. There is something undesirable about this house, and the seller hopes an enticing price will help you to overlook the home's shortcomings. There is probably a neon orange stain on the carpet or the deck is about to cave in on itself. But at this price, you can almost visualize your dream home, yes? Used interchangeably with "great potential", "opportunity to make it your own", "UNBELIEVABLE price for this area!"

Exceptional: Ok, you know what "exceptional" means, but let me just say: I have yet to tour a home described as "exceptional" that was exceptional. I found them all quite ordinary. Charming? Maybe. Exceptional? Not so much.

Impressive: This word gets tossed around left and right. In my quest for a new home, I've learned that one of my top priorities needs to be to impress my friends. They need to walk away from my new house feeling like chumps for having to live in their dinky shacks [shakes head "No".] One salesman pointed out the brick pattern of the ceramic tile in the secondary bathroom shower as a unique feature that my friends likely haven't seen, which will therefore leave them impressed. If my ceramic tile impresses my friends...I need new friends.

Desirable: The home may be in a desirable school district, on a desirable street, or on a desirable, oversized lot. Most importantly, it will impress your friends. Used interchangeably with "highly sought after"

A Must-See: It doesn't photograph that well, but it's a cute house. I promise! It's exceptional, don't miss this opportunity to make this house your dream home!

Backyard Oasis: There is a swimming pool and/or landscaping.

And, finally, no good real estate listing is complete without an ENTHUSIASTIC use of capital letters and LOTS! of EXCLAMATION POINTS! For added EMPHASIS!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Picking Up Where I Left Off...

Previously, on Three Mutts and a Baby:

My Baby turned one.

My Mutt, George, passed away suddenly at the age of five.
Then I ceased all blogging. I was just in no mood. I had nothing to say. Can I even continue blogging on Three Mutts and a Baby when I don't have three mutts, and my baby isn't a baby anymore? How was I to proceed?
"I can't think about that right now. I'll think about that tomorrow."

If these coping skills worked for the incomparable Scarlett O'Hara, they can work for me.

Tomorrow came, and I received word that my 80-year-old maternal grandmother, widowed for twenty years and living independently, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and would have to move to a nursing home.

Later that same week, Amy boarded a plane and moved to New Jersey.
"She was my best good friend."

Forrest Gump coped with his grief by running. I only run when I'm being chased or when I'm trying to catch one of my mutts on the loose in the neighborhood. Instead, I fell into the rabbit hole that is Pinterest. I began compulsively cleaning out all my closets and cabinets and trying out craft projects I found on Pinterest:

I decoupaged a wreath
I began a t-shirt quilt project using all my old t-shirts that has, at the moment, stalled. If I can just complete the next stage, my Aunt Wilma will quilt it for me. Yeah, I have an Aunt Wilma. You wish you did, too.
I constructed a new jewelry display

I reorganized my closet for the fourth time in as many years

I made homemade laundry detergent. And I'm not even a Duggar!
I am obsessed with making Shutterfly books. My latest creation? A tribute to George. Obviously.

As a little side note, I learned a lot about crafting during this experience. It is expensive! I always thought crafting was a hobby for women who weren't athletic or rich enough to play tennis. Turns out you have to fork out plenty of dough to make your own decorative household items. If I hadn't clipped coupons and purchased all the supplies over a period of a couple weeks, from a number of different stores based on lowest price and special discounts, it would have cost me about $50 to make that little wreath. I spent about $25, but chasing down sales and waiting for coupons was kind of a pain in the ass. I realize that people craft as a hobby and they have a special satisfaction from making something themselves, but seriously? Did you know for another $10 you could have the peacock wreath from ZGallerie?
Me likey.

So, I was leaving Hobby Lobby the other day, when Steve calls me from work. He has a bee in his bonnet over the ever-decreasing home mortgage interest rates, and says he wants to refinance our home to get in on the savings. 

My heart sinks. 

We live in a lovely neighborhood, but it is more than 30 miles away from where Steve works. Steve leaves every morning between 6:00 and 7:00 AM to beat the traffic and get a jump start on his day. If he works until closing, he doesn't get home until 7:45 or 8:00 PM. He only takes a couple days off a month. What I'm saying is, we don't have much of a family life. We have always said that our next home will be larger (read: more expensive) and closer to Steve's place of work, and that we'll make the move once we've saved more money, but before Robinson begins school. Anybody who understands home refinancing knows that it is foolish to refinance a home you don't plan to live in for at least five more years. If we stay in this home five more years, Robinson will be playing tee ball, starting Kindergarten, he will have friends. We will have planted roots here, and we'll never leave. Since Amy has moved away, I don't really have anybody up here. The rest of my friends are scattered throughout the metroplex. I feel like I live on a deserted island. I never saw Amy on a daily basis, but now that she's gone, I realize how comforting it was just knowing she was down the road. It made me feel like I'm not alone. 

Through Steve's job, he's made a lot of friends and acquaintances in the community where he works. He is invited to socialize, participate with volunteer organizations, and just be part of the community. I want that for our whole family. I just want to be someplace where we feel like we belong. I want to run into somebody I know at the grocery store. I want to know my neighbors. I want to spend more than an hour a day with my husband. 

So I throw out a suggestion: "Hey, instead of refinancing this house and continuing this brutal commute, wha-da-ya-say we make a lateral move across town? Think of how much you'll save in fuel and tollway charges! And you can actually see your son before bed time every day..."

To my surprise (and delight. and relief.) Steve agreed. And so begins our latest adventure...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bye, George.

I lost my George last week, at the age of five. It was very sudden and unexpected, and caused by "a neurological event" (exactly what, we could not determine without a $3000 MRI and a time machine) and a myriad of genetic flaws that went undiagnosed until the day before his death. Over a period of about a week his body completely shut down to the point where he lost all the qualities that made him George, and he no longer had the functionality to do any of the things that brought him joy. I'm being purposely vague to save myself from launching into a detailed, tearful explanation of George's medical problems, which were shockingly vast. This entire experience has been excruciating. George's genetic problems are the result of inbreeding on a level that is to me grossly negligent at best, and at worst, highly unethical with a cruel disregard for the consequences. I had in the past raised concerns about some of these health problems that I'd observed, but they were dismissed by my former veterinarian as "behavioral problems." Even if I only learned the truth at the end, I'm relieved to know that George's quirks and problems all had a medical explanation, though nothing could have been done to save him ("George is a ticking time bomb" were my vet's actual words). In another home, George may not have lived more than a year or two. George was such a rascal, he cheated death a number of times. I grew to believe he had nine lives. Every time he found himself in a pickle, I prayed that he would survive his latest scrape, and it was such a helpless feeling to watch him die so young and be unable to help him, and to learn that I could never have helped him survive this.

My mom was by my side as we said goodbye to him. Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" was playing on the radio. I sobbed uncontrollably. As heartbroken as I am, I am glad George was mine. But I don't cope well with death or bad news. I'm not the kind of person who wants to be cheered up or is able to put on a smile and be a brave girl. I'm more likely to stay in my pajamas, in a dark room, listening to sad songs and eating chocolate, if I eat at all, and taking frequent naps. This grief is going to take a while to shake. Until then, I'll be on blogging hiatus.
"You know that place between sleeping and awake, that place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always think of you."
— J.M. Barrie

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I'm the Party of the Day!

Catch My Party

This is kinda cool. I shared Robinson's birthday party with Catch My Party, since it was such a great source of ideas for me when planning Rob's party, and guess what? Rob's party is featured on their main page as a "Party of the Day". That's so nice!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rob is One.

Robinson's birthday party was a big success! I was very touched by the excellent turnout...

"Uncle" Bean: [scanning the room filled with wall-to-wall people] This is a lot [of people]. I was not expecting this.
Me: I know! I can't believe so many people came out today!
Uncle Bean: How many people did you invite?
Me: Uhh...50?
Bean: Why did you do that?
Me: [quietly] I don't know. I didn't think anybody would come.

I don't know why I have this anxiety that nobody is ever coming to my parties. We are very fortunate to have lots of people who love us, and they all fought the oppressive heat to travel to our little corner of Texas to celebrate our baby boy's first birthday.

This was obviously my first time planning a child's birthday party, and let me just say that even the simple cake and punch home parties today are vastly more elaborate than when I was growing up. I began brainstorming and planning Rob's party way back in January, and it's a good thing I did, because it took a long time to make all this stuff and to get an education in Children's Party Planning in the Year 2011. I have to credit sites like Catch My Party and numerous blogs and sites where I researched and found inspiration in planning Rob's shindig. I feel like I ought to share some of what I learned here on my blog since I learned so much from the dozens of blogs I read. Pay it forward, right? 

The party had a vintage toy theme and a red and aqua color scheme. My inspiration? The invitations:
I found them on Etsy!
I turned the entry table into a display for vintage and retro toys and books. I "shopped my house", though I did have lofty ideas about a Classic Sock Monkey, jacks, marbles, yo-yo's, jump ropes and a Slinky. Ultimately, I chose to concentrate my party budget on the food instead of buying toys. And check out the photo collage that's hanging in the spot usually reserved for my bridal portrait. Do those pics look familiar? They are the monthly "Rob and Laney" photos arranged chronologically in a Shutterfly collage poster.  I also replaced other wall decor throughout the house with framed portraits of Rob. You know, so everyone knows that it's all about Robinson. 
Ever since I saw "sweets stylist" Amy Atlas on the Today show talking about creating dessert tables for holiday parties last year, I have been itching to create a dessert table. I had never heard of them before, but I suddenly felt that they were absolutely crucial to the success of a party.
I scoured the internet for blogs and photos to teach myself how to create a dessert table. Perhaps I could save people some of that work and share what I learned are the key elements to creating a dessert table:

  1. Identify a color palette to use throughout the table
  2. Create a backdrop. Mine is foam board covered in gift wrap, but there are loads of other clever and creative ideas. A Google Image search is a great place to start looking.
  3. Use a tablecloth. Aesthetically, the tablecloth was more important than I originally thought. 
  4. Use risers to create a height variation. Dessert tables where all items are placed flat on the table look a little "off". This riser was created using a giftwrapped box, but I've seen professional tables that use polystyrene blocks, acrylic blocks or're really limited only by your imagination and your financial resources. Mostly your financial resources.
  5. Create a symmetrical presentation. I've seen tables with a more varied presentation, with varieties of candies and sweets on pedestal stands and in jars, and it looks terrific. If you're a dessert table novice like me, and don't already have all the serving platters and pieces, it can get expensive in a hurry if you're trying to duplicate an elaborate display seen on designer blogs and in magazines. I had all sorts of cute ideas, mostly involving red rope licorice, blue sour straws, custom M&Ms, and apothecary jars. But guess how expensive it is to collect a half-dozen large apothecary jars and 20 pounds of candy to fill them? Very. Think in the hundreds of dollars, and you better be careful you don't buy old, gnarly candy from some wholesale candy warehouse unloading old product. Guess who can't eat candy? The birthday boy and most of his friends. Guess who won't eat candy? The health conscious adults who composed the majority of my guests. I loved the idea, but ultimately decided to pass on candy this year.

After a few practice runs, I baked this cake from scratch, y'all. My baking adventure deserves it's own post, so stay tuned for that. The bottom tier of this cake is 7-Up pound cake with lemon buttercream filling. My great grandmother used to make 7-Up cake for me when I was little, so it's a sentimental favorite. Added bonus: its density makes it ideal for stacking tiers of cake. The top tier is red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting filling. I covered the cake in marshmallow fondant. I won't lie, it's kind of a big undertaking, but I wanted a big cake, and I knew that a professional cake this size covered in fondant would have likely cost over $100. How much do I estimate I spent in supplies and ingredients to create this cake, plus the previous cakes I made as my "trial runs"? Let's not talk about that. I think by his third or fourth birthday this little investment will have paid for itself. Plus, I had fun. It was a great creative outlet for me. I wish I had cakes to bake for him all the time!
My kid likes banana pudding, and Paula Deen's "Not Yo Mama's Banana Pudding" is the tastiest recipe I've tried. So that's the story behind that. Not everybody at the party tried the pudding, but everybody who did try the pudding went back for seconds and requested the recipe.
It was important that I made treats for the party that my son and his buddies could eat, but that the adults would also want to eat. Hopefully I struck that balance with the blondies, brownies, and chocolate chip cookie bars that rounded out my dessert table. If I had a little more time, and table space, I think I would have included something like sliced strawberries. I offered no fruit at this party, and I think this group would have enjoyed something like that. I think next year I will omit one of the baked goods in favor of some fruit and a cream cheese dip.

Everything at this party was available in miniature. Miniature brownies, miniature burgers, and a miniature Radio Flyer as a cake topper! Apparently Radio Flyer made these a few years ago, but no more! I scored this bad boy on eBay.
I was convinced this party required a "birthday banner" and I enjoyed making this for Rob.
Sliders and mini hot dogs (or hot dogs that we cut in half, if you want to get technical). I called them "baby burgers" and "hot pups". You know, because it's a party for a baby. It seemed fitting.

 I may have gone a little nuts making tent cards to identify everything.
I made a huge batch of homemade mac n cheese, but even if nobody but Robinson ate it, the effort was well worth it! He had THREE bowls!

For all my planning, I wasn't quite sure what to do besides make sure everybody had a beverage and that all children who locked themselves in the bathroom were rescued. About an hour into the party, I asked one of the guests, a father of three, "What do I do? Cake, then presents?" Turns out you do presents. Then cake. This is what Robinson wanted to do while we were opening presents:
He's fascinated. Lucky for me, who felt a little silly and self conscious about opening a dozen or so presents intended for a one year old boy by myself, while my child sat absentmindedly nearby, there were a couple of sweet little girls who were super stoked about opening Rob's presents for him. Blogger's Note: Rubik's Cube was decoration from entryway, not a new gift.
 Could these sweet girls be any more excited to open these gifts?
"Look, Robinson!"

This party hat was made on impulse earlier in the week. I didn't even expect him to wear it, but "Uncle Scotty" was quick thinking and balanced the hat on his head in the middle of singing "Happy Birthday" so that Angie could snap a quick photo. He looks contemplative, yes? He was actually really happy to have all of us singing to him and cheering for him. I knew that could be a little overwhelming for a tot, so I practiced with him in the week or two before the party. Every time he sat down for a meal I would sing "Happy Birthday" and cheer enthusiastically. By the time of the party he was accustomed to this and smiled big.
A birthday bib might have been a good idea. I actually didn't plan a bib at all, and if he got dirty that was fine with me. It really made no difference. He played with the frosting a little, and ate a couple bites after some coaxing from me. By the time he blew out his candle, he had eaten the three bowls of mac n cheese and two cups of chocolate milk. He was STUFFED.
This was a favorite moment: Scotty took Rob's hands and plopped them splat against either side of the cake, and Rob just kept them there. I'm not kidding, he didn't move his hands for a full minute or two.

All the beautiful photos in this post were taken by Angie. Thanks, girl! It was great to be able to enjoy the party, mingle with guests and be "in the moment" without having to sacrifice having photos. Plus your camera is bad-ass, and you're highly skilled and loaded with talent.

We had a wonderful day. Thanks to everyone who helped make Robinson's day extra special, and for being so wonderful throughout the year! We love y'all! Already thinking about next year...