Monday, January 30, 2017

Cookie Pizza

I was going to make a post about immigration today but, with everything going on right now, I just can't.  My heart is heavy and I can't believe this is going on in my own (formerly great) nation.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I life my lamp beside the golden door."
I'm going to leave those words to people who are so much better at expressing them. 
And I am going to share a recipe for a cookie pizza that I made Saturday night in between reading articles about the travesty going on in our nation.
I didn't take a picture until my family dug in but, y'all, it was seriously SO GOOD.
Here's what you need:
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1tsp vanilla
6 tbsp. mayonnaise (follow me here, folks!!!!)
chocolate chips to taste
vanilla frosting

Rockin' the paper plates!

What you do:

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix together flour, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add in brown sugar and vanilla and mix well.  Add in the mayo until well blended.  Pour in your dry ingredients gradually, mixing well.  Finally, add in your chocolate chips and blend well.  Spread the dough over a well greased round pizza pan.  Bake approximately 15 minutes and remove from oven.  Allow to finish cooking on pizza pan -- you want it to still be just slightly doughy.  Extra moist that way!  Once it's cooled, top with frosting and sprinkles.

Y'all.  This cookie pizza is SERIOUSLY delicious.

A couple months ago, I was making cornbread and realized I had no eggs.  Google to the rescue and I ended up using mayo instead.  The same thing happened to me Saturday.  I was creaming together the sugar and the butter when I realized . . . no eggs.  Sigh.  I decided to give the mayo thing a try and, I assure you, this was the best variation of the chocolate chip cookie I have ever made EVER in my life.  Ever.  Don't let the mayo sway you -- give it a try!

(And before I go -- please, please, please call and email your congressmen today about the Betsy DeVoss nomination.  I know that she will likely be confirmed tomorrow but we MUST make our voices heard!)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Foodie Friday: Meal Planning

I was going to do two weeks worth of our menus in this post but, um, I already forgot what we ate last week. 


Leftovers! - We had so.many.leftovers from the birthday party that we just had a smorgasbord of leftovers Monday night.  Steak, meatballs, baked potatoes, salad, etc.


Pasta with turkey Italian sausage - Kathy made a huge batch of meatballs Friday night and gave us some.  We ate all the meatballs but had so much sauce leftover.  So I threw some turkey Italian sausage into the sauce.  I originally planned to try my hand at zoodles but Aldi was out of zucchini and I didn't really feel good either.  I boiled spaghetti noodles for everyone else but I just ate the sausage and sauce.  We served this with salad and bread.


Chicken Taco Soup - Wednesdays are a crazy afternoon for us, we all eat at different times, and really need a good crockpot meal.  Chicken taco soup to the rescue!  Here's my recipe:

1 can tomato sauce
2 cans Rotel
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can corn
Taco seasoning*
Chicken breasts

Throw everything in the crockpot and cook on low until chicken is done.  Shred chicken, return to soup and mix in well.  Top with shredded cheese to serve.  I usually double this recipe since there are six to seven of us eating it.  I love having the leftovers for lunch too.

*Taco seasoning -- my Hispanic friends think those are dirty words.  The other day I told them I was planning on holding a "fiesta" on Cinco de Mayo for Kyan's birthday and asked if that would be offensive.  "Only if you serve white people tacos" and "just please don't use taco seasoning" were my answers.  Ha!


Leftovers/ Sandwiches/ Mama Ain't Cookin'

My reading club met last night so Mark was in charge of dinner.


Grilled pork chops - I mean, they're set out and all but, let's be real, Friday night meal plans are often thrown out the window!  We plan to serve with roasted sweet potatoes and salad.

As far as the weekend goes, it's going to be cold and I'm DYING for some of Mark's chili.  Here's hoping he'll make a big pot and we'll eat on that all weekend long.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday Things

1) Aldi is, hands down, my favorite grocery store.  Lucky for me, there's one so close to my new house.  One way Aldi is able to keep prices so low is that they have very few employees.  Which means, ya know, if you have five kids and you're in there every other day then you'll develop an acquaintance-ship of sorts with the people who work there. 

I had to run to Aldi on Friday and, not going to lie to you, I was feeling pretty down about the day in general.  Donald Trump is our new president, Donald Trump is our new president, Donald Trump is our new president.  I got my groceries loaded onto the conveyor belt just as the guy in front of me was handing stuff back to the cashier in an effort to get his bill down under a certain amout.  I immediately told the cashier - a guy who always asks me if I remembered my mints since he knows I like my Aldi mints! - to add the man's things to my total.  It added less than $5 to what I spent and, selfishly, it made me feel so good on what was such a bleak day.

Even better was Tuesday when I went back to Aldi.  On that day, the same cashier was stocking and when he saw me he told me he really appreciated what I had done the Friday before.  "There are still good people in the world."  My heart soared, what a great feeling.  This is kind of a long story and I'm really just trying to say this: Be the good.  Do something kind, it doesn't matter how small it is.  People are watching, people are encouraged.  And we NEED that in today's world.  Oh my, do we need that.

2) I absolutely hate to see Donald Trump's young son the source of snark and downright hatefulness.  I remember the way Chelsea Clinton was treated back in the day.  She and I were the same age and I look back now cringing at how awkward that age was for me.  I cannot imagine being that age under that kind of scrutiny.  And, now, I have a son the same age as Barron Trump and can only imagine what that sort of pressure would do to his self esteem.  I hope that his mother shields him as best she can.  If I can say anything nice about Hillary Clinton, she did her level best to tell the media to stuff it when it came to her daughter.

3)  A few other politically-related things:
a) This article is a MUST READ about the women's march.  Must read.
b) Regarding my post yesterday about Betsy DeVos, check out the comments on this post by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton.  Cotton is a conservative senator from a conservative state.  95% of the comments from his constituents are against DeVos.  These are people who voted for Cotton and agree with most of his political leanings.
c) I'm terrified at the direction our country is taking.

4) K2-isms:

K2: "Am I going to live in this house forever?"
Me: "Nope.  Your eviction date is May of 2029."
Bye Felicia!  Bye all these Felicias.

*Finally watching the inauguration because K1 wanted to*
K2: *points at Trump* "What color is that guy?  Is he orange?"
Me and Mark: *Dying of laughter*

5) Let's talk Super Bowl!  We were kinda dreading it because we were very afraid it would be Packers/ Patriots.  There's no way Mark would cheer for the Packers and no way I would for the Patriots.  We lucked out, though, and --- I see you, Atlanta, looking like you WANT that title.  Go Falcons!

6) Last week was back to school for me.  One of my classes only has six students and the professor had to fight to keep it on the schedule (the only other time to take the class would've been at night.) So the class is now "hybrid," meaning we meet in the classroom on Tuesdays but our Thursday class is done completely online.  Today is the first day for the online portion.  We'll see how it goes!

7) I popped into Target yesterday because K2 seriously cannot own a pair of leggings for longer than two weeks without getting a hole in the knee.  Anyhow.  HOW adorable is their Cat and Jack line?  I wanted to buy all.the.things.

8) We're trying out some new activities this spring.  The girls will be taking a tumbling class and the boys are playing baseball for the first time.  I've told them that, at the ages they're at and trying it for the first time, they'll either be really bad at it or they'll be complete naturals.  We'll see.  Also, I feel like I should add that we're doing baseball because . . . #momfail . . . I forgot to sign J up for basketball. 

9) I can't believe we're less than a week away from the month of February.  2017 is already zooming right along.  Also, I legit typed "2007" at first!  How was that a decade ago? 


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I Did Something Yesterday that I've Never Done Before

I consider myself to be fairly interested in politics however yesterday I did something I've never done before: I contacted both men who represent the state of Tennessee in the US Senate.

I am fearful of many things in our country right now but forefront in my mind is the probable confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

This is a woman who was not educated in public schools, did not send her children to public schools, has never worked in public schools.  She is poised to take over the Department of Education because she's a billionaire who has thrown money at the Republican party.  She is grossly underqualified and the most disgusting thing about this is that it hurts our children.

This isn't even about politics. It's nothing to do with Democrat vs. Republican.  It has everything to do with a woman who stumbled through her confirmation hearings and made them look like a bad SNL sketch.  A woman who obviously has no clue what IDEA is because she just wants the states to handle it. 

Yesterday I clicked on an article about there being no second confirmation hearings for DeVos, even though there are new financial reports and ethical concerns since her initial hearing.  The announcement of no second hearings was made by the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.  It makes me a little sad that I had to see my state mentioned to be spurred into action but I'm also relieved I finally made my voice heard.

Honestly, I doubt that any email I send or call I make will do any good.  Alexander has already come out in support of DeVos.  He will be close to 80 the next time he's up for re-election.  Our junior senator from Tennessee, Bob Corker, will be pushing 70.  I'm not sure how much they care about re-election, especially in a solidly red state.  But you know what?  I feel better for making my voice heard and I urge you to do the same.

Please read this article about Betsy DeVos and please, please, please consider contacting your senators.  Our children deserve better than this!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A Bear-y Fun Birthday

When I asked Mark what he wanted to do on his birthday, he told me "rotisserie prime rib on the grill."  Most people don't want to cook on their birthday but the grill is pretty much his favorite thing ever so . . . there ya have it.  We decided to make it a party and invite a few friends over as well. 

I couldn't resist doing some kind of theme.  Not as much as I've done for the kids but, I mean, he NEEDED the Bears tablecloth, right?

My "centerpiece" also served as party favors . . . shots for those over 21 and suckers for the kiddie crew.

I found both the tablecloth and balloons on Amazon and paid less than $5.  That's pretty good for party decorations!

Russell and Kathy bought the prime rib as a birthday present which, HELLO!, amazing!

Ahhhhh . . . good stuff.  He said he should've pulled it about ten minutes sooner but everyone else thought it was absolutely delicious.  We served it with baked white and sweet potatoes, roasted zucchini, salad, and bread.  I also had apps for everyone to snack on while we waited on the meat . . . salsa verde bean dip, beer weenies, a veggie and cheese tray, and a fruit tray.  Kendra brought buffalo chicken dip and Cady made deviled eggs (topped with bacon and jalapenos!)

I think somebody wanted to turn it into a spa party . . .

Let's talk about the cake, okay?
Mark's favorite cake ever is a butter pound cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting like his grandmother used to make.  I made one last year and it came out beautifully (I tried to get it out of the pan too early but the cake baked beautifully.)  I made one Friday night, went to check on it, and it had fallen and the top was slightly burned.  I figured I'd make another one Saturday, adjust the oven temperature a bit and we'd have a yummy cake. 
Bout dat.
The second cake not only fell but it bubbled over before falling and was all over my oven.  You're dead to me, butter pound cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting.
Luckily, I had the foresight to come up with a plan C and had a chocolate cake mix in the pantry.  Crisis (kinda) averted.

It was just such a great night.  The weather was amazing and we spent most of the night sitting on the back deck.  It really made me ready for true spring and summer nights!

Now, with that party, we get a bit of a reprieve from birthday parties.  Birthday season 2.0 starts in April but we've officially already got planning underway!

Monday, January 23, 2017

My Favorite!

My very favorite person on the planet had a birthday on Saturday!  Of course, I had to write a little post about him.
I could go on and on and on (and on and on and on . . . you get the drift) about this guy.  He's my person.  He's my best friend, my second chance.  I wish he had come into my life when I was 24 rather than 34 but I'll take what I can get!  Here's a little list of five of my favorite things about him:
1) He is incredibly thoughtful.  When we're getting ready to go out of town to visit my mom: "did you get your mom a bottle of wine?"  When he knows a friend is having a bad day, he'll invite them over for dinner.  A few weeks ago I mentioned that I didn't have a quarter to get a cart at Aldi so I only got the things I could fit in my shopping bags.  The next day, there was a stack of quarters in my car.  (Total side note: I realize that I could save and use the same quarter over and over again but leaving my cart with the quarter in it for someone else to grab is a tiny little random act of kindness that makes me feel good!)
2) He is SO friendly.  The guy has never met a stranger.  I'm pretty social but he's more social than I ever thought about being.  I LOVE this!  You know I love throwing me a good party and he's always down to have people over.  He's also the guy who is going to go out of his way to be kind to the waiter at the restaurant, to the guy behind the counter at the gas station, to the person working on  his car.  He's so kind and so friendly.
3) He's an awesome dad!  He loves his kids and it's very evident.  When we first met and were discussing our divorces he told me the worst thing about it, for him, was all the divided time with his kids.  He is the guy who throws the football around with the kids, the guy who takes off work to go have lunch at school with them, the guy who let Karis fix his hair "like a pretty, pretty princess" the other night.  He's that guy.
4) He is the most fun person I know.  And I know a lot of fun people!  ;)  He really is the life of the party.  He'll get up to sing karaoke and, heck yeah, he'll do that contest to win a free cooler even though it'll make him look crazy. 
5) He is, simply, a good man.  This is important to me because I know, sometimes, a man can be a good father but not necessarily a good partner.  He's a great partner and that's because he's a good man.  I don't worry that he'll cheat on me.  I don't worry that he'll verbally or emotionally cut me down.  I don't worry that he won't keep his promises.  I don't worry that he'll hurt me.  Why?  Because he's a good man.
There ya have it!  A little look at the reasons I call this amazing guy my favorite!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sad Day

Last week, my kid asked me if I would record the inauguration in case he didn't get to watch it at school.  I immediately said no.  Mainly because of this:

I instantly felt bad.  This is the first inauguration he'll remember and he's showed a lot of interest in politics.  It's history and I can't deprive him of that.  I apologized and told him I would record it for him.

I still feel bad, though, mostly because I can't believe this is the first inauguration he'll remember.  This is the same baby I rocked back in November of 2008 with tears in my eyes because I really thought the future was going to be so much better and brighter for him.  I saw that graphic: "Rosa sat so MLK could march.  MLK marched so Obama could run.  Obama ran so our children can fly" and I believed it.  I never thought that, eight years later, we would take such a humongous step backward. 

I have a whole lot I want to say.  I want to go on and on about how trashy it is that we will have a First Lady who once posed nude in a men's magazine.  I want to rally on about the reality of actually defunding Planned Parenthood.  I want to scream at the people who were born on third base but think it's their "hard work" that got them where they are in life.  I want to bring up the cyber bullying that happens in cocaine-induced late night Twitter rants.  I want to bring up that stupid ass billionaire donator that's never been involved in public education, ever, and thinks guns are needed in schools because of Grizzly bears being nominated for education secretary.  I want to talk about the racism and the misogyny.  I want to cry.

Instead, I'm going to link to this article because he said things so much more eloquently than I could ever begin to.  Some highlights:


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Things

1) The holiday on Monday has thrown my week completely off kilter.  And not in a "hey, it's already Thursday!" kinda way either.  More like, "shit, it's only Thursday?!?"

2) My semester started again on Tuesday.  The first week is always slow but it still takes some adjustment. I was off for nearly five full weeks!  Also, I managed to get almost none of the organizing done I planned to do over my break.  I did some work in the laundry room . . . on Monday.  Yeah.  I suck.

3) On Saturday, we signed a kiddo up for a program that she'll attend four hours every Saturday for the next few months.  So, that means one Saturday a month we'll have a kid-free afternoon.  That hardly ever happens!  This past Saturday we decided to go to Hooter's to watch some college basketball and split an order of smoked wings (garlic habanero is so good!) then went and did our Sam's trip completely kid free.  Amazing.  And much cheaper.

4) Last weekend's football games.  Sigh.  I was pulling for Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City.  Obviously, I ended up pretty disappointed!  I guess we're pulling for Atlanta.  Worst case scenario is a Green Bay/ New England Super Bowl.  Mark won't cheer for the Packers and I hate Tom Brady.

5) I shared this on Instagram last week but thought I'd post over here too:

One of J's teachers is having a baby boy (and having him today!) so I went to Target last week to get a couple of baby gifts.  Actually, I went in for a package of diapers and ONE outfit.  I left with no diapers and THREE outfits.  I couldn't help myself.  And I found myself feeling this pang of baby fever.  I picked out a little polo-style romper and my ovaries ached.  My boys wore those all the time and they looked so precious in them.  I realized it wasn't so much that I was wanting a baby.  It's that, hard as those days were, I now have these boys who are smelly and cop attitudes and there's no way they'd let me dress them.  Ahhhhh.  I miss those babies I already had.  Only sometimes though.  There is MUCH to be said about not having to wipe another person's butt.

6) So my kids have started using "gay" as an insult and it drives me INSANE.  I get on to them, I treat it like a curse word, I compared it to the "r-word" but they still let it slip every once in a while.  I really hate that they do this and wish they would be more sensitive.  If anybody has some advice on how to curb this particular habit, please let me know!

7) Biden memes.  May they live forever.

8) Kendra, Cady, and I went out for a GNO at Pinot's Palette last week.  SO FUN!  We ended up having the place all to ourselves, too, essentially a private party.

I feel the need to point out that my grandmother was an artist, like she owned her own ceramic shop for several years and made a living out of her art.  I inherited her big booty but only like 2% of the artistic ability.  Sigh.

9) I sincerely have the sweetest, most thoughtful boyfriend on the planet.  However, the following conversation happened last week. 
Mark: *Rifling through the Tupperware drawer looking for matching bowl and lid* "I'm throwing all this out and starting over.  All of it.  Throwing it out."
Me: "Okay."
Mark: "Do you want it for your birthday?"
Me: "Um, Tupperware?  No . . . "
Mark: "Why not? I asked for fireplace tools for my birthday."
Me: "But you enjoy getting a fire going in the fireplace."
Mark: "You don't enjoy being able to find matching Tupperware?"

I mean . . . what?!?!  He is schooled now and we picked up new Tupperware when we went to Sam's last weekend, you know, four months before my birthday.  Sometimes even the ones who were married previously have to be trained in a few things!

10) Accurate.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Date Night!

The other day a girlfriend said something about how Mark and I have a  "fairytale relationship."  I literally laughed out loud.  Since when are there five kids in a fairytale!?!?  Honestly, though, we really do have a great relationship. I mean, we're human so we do get frustrated with each other but we pretty much never fight.  And I do not ever complain about him to my girlfriends (hence the comment made?)  We both learned a lot from our failed marriages and that's a lot of the reason we are so in sync and so where we are today.  I also get the benefit of being in love with my very best friend and that helps a lot

You know what else helps?

Making our relationship a priority.

Date nights.

One weekend every month, we only have one kid and we try to make this the weekend of our date night.  We trade babysitting with either Kendra or Cady and all the girls involved love it because they think they're having a sleepover.  And, in the meantime, all the couples are able to get alone time, to date, to have a motherfreakin' conversation without being interrupted by "Mom.Mom.Mom." or "Hey Dad!"

Last Saturday was our January date night.  Mark's birthday is this coming Saturday but last weekend was our chance for a kid-free celebration.  All week I asked him what he wanted to do.  "Steak."  Of course.

We hung out at Russell and Kathy's house for a bit, watching the end of the Atlanta/ Seattle game, then went in search of a steak house.  Kathy recommended one we'd never tried but the wait was two hours and the bar was three people deep.  We decided we definitely need to try it but, next time, when we have reservations.  We headed to our old standby, The Butcher Shop.

You know how to tell we've been dieting?  Because when this food came out, it looked so damn delicious that I had to whip my phone out and take pictures of it.

That bacon wrapped filet is one of the best steaks I've ever had, ever in the history of ever.  Ever.  Also see that salad in the background?  That would be a Caesar salad with trace amounts of Caesar dressing which defeats the purpose of a Caesar salad and is the reason it was barely eaten.

Anyway, we had a great dinner and just really enjoyed each other's company.  Dining with four or five kids - hell, dining with ONE kid - means a majority of our conversation is centered around them.  I love when we're able to be just Mark and Brandi instead of Dad and Mom.

We were supposed to meet Russell and Anthony at Doc's after dinner but, uhhh, we went home instead and were asleep by 10:00.  Because that's how you do date night/ celebrate your birthday when you're in your 30's/40's?

Date night was the highlight of our three day weekend.  We spent the rest of it getting things done around the house and (me) getting ready for the second semester to start.  Oh, and watching three of the football teams we wanted to win lose.  What the heck, man? 

Next month's date night we'll be going to see Eric Church and I cannot, cannot, cannot wait!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Some Things About My People

Last Friday, the 13th, was Mark's 20th anniversary with his company.  He will celebrate this Friday and we have a new set of knives coming our way, his pick from their anniversary catalog.  He has worked for the same company since graduating college.  How many people can say that?  He's worked for them in Omaha, the outskirts of Chicago, and this company is what brought him to Memphis back in 2006.  I, for one, am VERY grateful for the company for bringing him here so that we could find each other almost nine years later.  Moving up much more in the company would require a transfer to Minneapolis . . . and that REALLY bites me in the butt for saying, "I'll move anywhere with ya, babe . . . except Mississippi" while we were house hunting.  (We are NOT moving to Minneapolis!)

One of the things I love most about Mark is that he works very hard -- let's be real, we all know it's his job that puts the roof over our heads -- but he also plays hard.  The guy knows how to have a good time.  He's the most fun person I know and I'll forever thank God for bringing him into my life, for making him mine.


If that wasn't mushy enough then hold on for the next little update on my peeps.

It's a fine line to walk when blogging about older kids.  You know?  Especially when your blog serves as essentially your family's scrapbook.  You want to share but you don't want to share too much.  I didn't care when they were toddlers but now several of them are in the "omg, you're so embarrassing!" stage so I have to be more careful.  That's a long and convoluted way of telling you: I ain't naming names in this story.

One of my boys has a "girlfriend."  She's a sweet little girl and the two of them even pulled a milk crate over to share what I called a "romantic breakfast" at their holiday party last month.  She also happens to be the daughter of my other boy's teacher.  Meaning, I know where here mom works and even have her mom's email if she ever decides to hurt my boy . . . ;)

Anyway, Teacher Mom called me the other day to thank me for sending her some cake balls.  She then asked if I knew that my son asked her daughter to be his girlfriend.  I told her I did and the conversation from there:

"I asked her if she said yes and why.  She told me because he was cute and funny but also because he was *Other Boy's* brother and that means his mom is the one who made those awesome cake balls you brought home!"  (Referring to the ones I sent for Christmas.)

I laughed so hard!  Then went to Kroger and bought the stuff to make more cake balls for the girl because, really, a girl who loves to eat is my kinda gal!


I'm going to throw in a little brag on my K1: he came home with straight A's on his report card!  One of J's teachers told me last year, when he was in third grade, that it's the hardest year in elementary school. So many new things are thrown at them and, in her words, "every third grader in Tennessee is struggling right now."  Education standards have changed so much since back in the day when I was in Mrs. Tubbs' third grade class and I'm just glad my kid is rocking it. 


In not quite good "things about my people:"  we are having major issues with one child and lying about school work (to us and, sadly, to the teacher.)  We are at our wit's end as far as what to do.  We've denied privileges, we've grounded, we've yelled and we've cried.  This child is even on a "no electronics ban" until they can admit they lied about something that happened last Tuesday and they still have no budged.  HELP!  It's times like this I wish my dad was still around.  I lied about school work ONE TIME (and when I was older) and he put the fear of God in me.  I would appreciate any advice anyone out there might have because, alas, I am not "PawPaw Bill" and my capacity to put the fear of God in children is severely lacking.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Let Them Eat Cake: Reese's Cake!

I made the most delicious cake I've ever made - ever! - for the boy child's birthday back on New Years Eve. 

Like, doesn't that make you want to lick the screen?!?
His favorite candy is Reese's so I decided to set out to figure out how to make a Reese's cake and I'm really glad I did.  It was rich and super delicious. 
I found the recipe here but I'm going to share it also!
Whatcha need:
For the cake:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract (P.S. I bought some while I was in Mexico.  Is that stuff not the BEST ever?!?)
1 cup boiling water
For the icing:
1 cup butter
1 pkg cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup peanut butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp. milk
For the garnish:
Reese's!  All the Reese's!  I broke up some big ones but also used the mini ones
6 oz melting chocolate
6 oz butter
Whatcha do:
For the cake:
Mix together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder,baking soda, and salt.  Add milk, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Pour in boiling water.  The batter will be VERY runny and you're going to be wondering "what the heck" but I promise what will come out is a deliciously moist cake!  Pour into two greased round cake pans.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Let the cakes sufficiently cool before icing them.
For the icing:
Mix together butter and cream cheese.  Add in vanilla.  Once fully combined, add the peanut butter.  Slowly add in your powdered sugar.  Add milk one tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency.  This makes A LOT of icing.  So, you know, beware if you're going on a diet January 2nd.  You may have leftover delicioso peanut butter frosting in your fridge!
Let's assemble!
Frost the top of your bottom cake -- you can be generous with the frosting because, seriously, there's SO MUCH.  Top with Reese's cups -- I used the big cups here.  Attach top cake.  Cover that baby in your peanut butter frosting then pop it in the fridge while you prepare the garnish. 
For the garnish:
Melt chocolate with butter, stirring often. 
Continue assembly!
Pour melted chocolate over the cake and then go to two topping it with Reese's cups.
It's a time consuming cake to make but, oh my, so very well worth it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Foodie Friday: Meal Planning

Let's just call this the week of Skinnytaste, shall we?


Grilled sirloin steaks (we had set them out for Friday night and they needed to be eaten), baked potatoes, salad

Steak is, hands down, the favorite "everybody" meal in our house.  What's an everybody meal?  One that's not geared just to the kids . . . like their version of Stromboli or chicken bits wrapped in bacon.  Everybody loves steak.  I swear, my boys would eat it every day for every meal if they could.  So would Mark.


Pickle Brined Baked Chicken Tenders

We love Chik-fil-a and I saw on the Skinnytaste website that this is a sort of knock-off.  I had to give it a try! The result: meh.  The chicken tenders were all eaten and everyone pretty much enjoyed them.  I think I would have liked them if they were a little crispier.  Mark said he would like to try them on a sandwich (hullo, like Chik-fil-a!.)  Everyone agreed they had a CFA-ish taste to them.  Not sure if I'll make them again. 

We served with my favorite roasted sweet potatoes (you can find the method on Tuesday of last week's meal planning post) and roasted zucchini and squash.


Cheesy Baked Penne with Roasted Veggies

I had originally planned to make Salisbury steak meatballs but, um, NO ONE in my area had extra lean ground turkey.  I went to two Krogers, an Aldi, and even Walmart (I hate going to Walmart) and  Mark finally found some Wednesday night at a different Kroger.  But, what the what?  I guess everyone is snatching up the ground turkey for their New Year's diets. 

Anyway, I switched things up and went with this cheesy pasta instead. I love roasted veggies so I was excited to give it a try.  The result?  This one was a HUGE hit!  I can't call it the best meal of the week because, ya know, steak.  But we all loved it.  Mark called it the best meatless pasta he'd ever eaten and, honestly, no one even missed the meat.  I did vary things up slightly from the Skinnytaste recipe: I used zucchini, squash, red pepper, orange pepper, and broccoli for my veggies.  I wanted to add onions but KIDS.  I also doubled the recipe so we'd have enough for all seven of us.  We ended up with just a tiny bit leftover and all the kids helped themselves to seconds.  That happens almost never.

We had a side salad with the pasta and a few of the kids also had toast.  (Mama might've over bought on bread this week.)


Salisbury Steak Meatballs

It worked that I had to move these to Thursday night.  I ended up having a Girls' Night but was able to cook these in the crockpot so that they were ready when Mark was ready to feed the kids.  I went to a Pinot's Palette class so my dinner was basically . . . wine.  Of course, I had to try a few of these before I went.  They were really good!  Needed slightly more salt but, other than that, really good! I have no idea how Mark and the kids liked them as they were all snoozing away when I got home.

We served with a mashed potato/ cauliflower blend and, what else?  Corn!  I told the kids earlier in the week that we'd be having a "TV Dinner Night" one night.

Tonight there are only three of us so we'll end up having leftovers or sandwiches or salads or something in that vein.  Tomorrow night Mark and I are going out to celebrate his birthday a little early so that'll be steak and way, way too many calories.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday Things

1) We had our final Christmas over the weekend.  We went to Arkansas to Christmas it up with my mom and, the next day, with my grandma.

2) Speaking of Christmas, I got some pretty great presents last week.  My Secret Santa sent me FOUR Elin Hilderbrand books.  I don't buy books in hard cover so I had yet to purchase the one she released last summer.  And I hadn't read the Christmas trilogy because I wanted to read them all together and the last one was still in hard cover.  Now I have them all.  Yassss!

My mom got me the Charlie cookie jar (and then I read on Monday that Charlie passed.)  I've wanted it for a long time but it's not something I would've bought for myself, you know?  Always something more important to spend money on than a cookie jar.

And, finally, THIS showed up on our doorstep Friday, from our friends Ed and Beth:

And I might have staged this picture:

3) I'm in the minority amongst my liberal minded friends, but I did not care for Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes.  I agreed with most of what she had to say but, damn, it reeked - REEKED - of privilege.  I think Trevor Noah summed it up best with calling her "tone deaf."  She came off so much like her character Miranda Priestly and, as someone who fears a Trump presidency, I cringed when she said, "you'll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts . . ."  Everything she said before that was perfect and poignant and then she went and insulted more than half the country. 

4) One more political rambling: I watched Obama's farewell address Tuesday night.  I know there are a lot of people, at least half the country, who don't like the man.  But he proved once again that, damn, he's just a class act.  I'm so upset that we're actually - we're actually doing it! - swearing DONALD TRUMP into office in just a little over a week. I know people throw around the phrase "career politician" but I'd do anything to have one of those!  Obama?  Bush?  Gore?  Clinton? ANY OF THEM.

5) This is Us.

This show always makes me cry. Like, from the very first scene this time.  I resonate so much with Rebecca and that both makes me cry and a little angry at myself.  I love Toby!  I love him!  "I would totally marry you . . . I would marry the hell out of you, Kate Pearson."  And Jack.  JACK!   This show . . . I need to just start live blogging it because I cannot even.

6) My mom bought K2 a nightgown for Christmas.  She's never had a gown before (that she remembers anyway) just two piece PJ's.  Soooo . . . when she put it on the other night, she wore it with jeans.  She looked like a Duggar.  Ha!

7) Remember how last Friday we were dumped on by a couple inches of snow?  And then it didn't even melt until Monday because it was so freaking cold? Yeah.  65 on Tuesday, 70 yesterday, supposed to be 70 today.  I'd say "go home, Memphis, you're drunk" but I've lived here long enough to know this is par for the course.  (Still love ya, Memphis!)

8) Confession: I still play (or was playing) Candy Crush Soda Saga.  I know. I'm a dork. I was on level 700.  SEVEN HUNDRED.  I deleted a bunch of apps from my phone because, you know, storage.  Soda Saga was amongst those.  By accident.  Know what happens when you delete the app the re-download it?

Yes, that.  Even on level 700.  *Cries*

9) Alabama losing the national championship was AMAZING.  I was happy for Clemson, happy for Dabo, and most of all happy that now all the bandwagon Bama fans will shut up.

10) The "and some weed" KILLS ME.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My First Christmas Without My Kids

I wanted to write a post about my first Christmas without my kids.  It's something so many divorced parents go through but really not something I've seen written about a lot.  Also, I wrote this post two years ago and comparing it with my life right now, I just wish I could go back in time a couple years and give that Brandi a great big hug and let her know that it really does get better.  (Funny side note: Mark and I were in the very early days of dating on that Christmas Eve, his first without his kids.  I can remember him texting me from a bar telling me it was like a divorced dads convention in there!)

When Kendra walked into our New Years Eve party, she asked me how Christmas was and I answered truthfully: "it was weird."  Very weird.

I've been a mom since 2006.  Ten years, I woke up every single Christmas morning in my own house.  With my children.  Not having them with me felt weird and empty and sad.  I want to say something like children belong with their mother on Christmas morning but, the truth of it is, I know how much my guy wanted to be with his son on that day too.

I woke up in tears Christmas morning but the day honestly got a lot better.  It helped being with Mark's brother and his family, to see their kid's excitement.  It made me miss my own kids a little more but it's hard to be sad when there are squeals with the opening of every Barbie or Nintendo DS or Jack yelling, "this is what I've always wanted!" after every single thing he opened.

Really, Christmas Day was much easier than I thought it would be.  The time leading up to Christmas break was what was more difficult, mainly because the kids weren't altogether happy about the arrangement.  They wanted to see their dad and spend time with them but they had never spent a Christmas morning without me and it was difficult for them.  I had to give the pep talks, "you're going to have so much fun!  Santa will find you, doesn't matter where you're at!" One of the kids cried when I left their with their dad after school the day their break began.  Let me tell you, that gutted me.  Another kid told me he cried Christmas morning because I wasn't there.  Gutted.

This was the first year and I know that's why it was so emotional.  I keep telling myself that next time we have to do this, my youngest will be eight and the oldest twelve.  It's very likely Santa will be a thing of the past.  I mean, Karis came home telling me that "Jackson doesn't believe in Santa because he celebrates Harmonica."  Christmas will always be magical, no matter the age, but these days of childhood wonderment are winding down.  I'm glad I had all those years, all those memories.

Now that I've gotten the bad and emotional out of the way, let me talk about the good.  Yes, there was some good!

1) We had to have all of our Christmas "bucket list" items knocked out by the 16th of December which means I was on the ball this year!  We visited Santa, did our Polar Express night, built a gingerbread house (sorta), baked our goodies, etc.  All EARLY!

2) We were able to extend Christmas a little longer.  A HUGE compromise on my part, in my parenting plan, was agreeing to let whoever has them on the front half of Christmas keep them until the 26th.  I didn't want to do this: I knew it meant I wouldn't see them on Christmas Day at all on even years.  But, it allowed them to go see family without having to worry about traveling home on Christmas Day.  Anyway, my kids didn't get home until the afternoon of the 26th . . . and that's when we had our Christmas.  So we extended it a tiny bit longer.  And, no lie, bought a few presents that morning.  Ha!

3) We were able to travel.  Since we only had one child to find care for, it was easy to find a willing sitter.  And that meant Mark and I got to jet off to Cancun for some one-on-one time, to relax, to celebrate our anniversary.

4) The kids were getting much needed time with their dad.  He's not a very sentimental guy and, over the years since splitting up, didn't express a lot of interest in Christmas.  I mean, he came over one year and watched them open gifts and a couple years took them to visit family right after the holidays.  But, I guess, he kind of took a passive role in the holiday.  This year, though, he did a lot more and that's so, so good for the kids.  They need to have Christmas memories with their dad too.

If I'm being completely honest, I don't know if I would've been able to get through the holiday without Mark.  I told him a year ago that he would have to distract me and he did a very good job of doing so (I mean, I seriously wasn't thinking Mexico when I told him that!)  The holiday might have panned out much differently if not for my relationship.  Maybe I would've gone to visit a single girlfriend whose family didn't mind a straggler.  Maybe I would've jetted off to the beach by myself for a few days.  Maybe I would've sat on my couch crying into a bottle of vodka.  Who knows.

In the end, though, the only thing that matters is the kids.  And they had a great Christmas -- both with us and with their dad.  They came in chattering happily about visiting family in Texas and "Aunt Tammy says to tell you hi!" and they played a game with their dad's girlfriend's family that they are STILL talking about.  You can't get too much Christmas and you can't get too many people to love your kids. 

Weird Christmas, yes.  But happy kids were the goal and happy kids happened. 

P.S.  I just want to say if you spent your first Christmas without your kids crying into a bottle of vodka and throwing darts at pictures of your ex then, well, I probably would have too if I'd written this post two or three years ago!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snowpocalypse 2017

Memphis Rule of Thumb: if the newscasters say there's going to be a "dusting" of snow, we will either get absolutely nothing or dumped on with a couple inches. 
Last Thursday night, they were predicting a "dusting."  The kids went to bed with their jammies inside out, spoons under their pillow, and they flushed two ice cubes down the toilet before hitting the hay.
I woke up a little after 5:00 Friday morning with a text that school had been cancelled. I looked outside and saw what amounted to said "dusting."  I went back to sleep and woke up a little after 7:00 to the sound of very excited boys running down the upstairs hallway.  Seconds later, the girl child hit the floor in her bedroom (right above my head) so hard I thought she'd fall through the ceiling.  Of course, they came running into my room -- despite my warnings the night before of, "IF IT'S A SNOW DAY, YOU BEST NOT WAKE ME UP BEFORE 9!" 
We looked outside to see . . . well, a little more than just a dusting (and still snowing!)


We ended up with around two inches!

I realize if you live further north, that's nothing to you.  But in the south, it's reason for celebration. Yet also causes black ice, 385 becomes an ice rink, and there are cars off the road all over the place.  My plan whenever there's white stuff on the ground: STAY HOME.

Not gonna lie, I was NOT HAPPY about having a snow day so close to the end of winter break.  I mean, the kids just went back to school on Tuesday.  My break is only another week long and, frankly, having them home with me would interrupt my reading and watching true crime documentaries.
We ended up having a GREAT snow day!

After breakfast, we played in the snow.  That lasted all of about 20 minutes because, well, it was COLD!  The snow we get here isn't good for building snowmen or anything like that either.  It's too powdery and doesn't pack well.

The kids made snow angels and the boys played football.  Later in the morning, J rode his bike to a friends house and had a snowball fight.

The kids came in and warmed up with hot chocolate.  The girls and I set out to watch as many movies as possible: my rule was only things from the 90's and earlier.  We ended up watching Oliver and Company, Disney's Robin Hood, Beauty and the Beast, American Tail, Lady and the Tramp, and AnastasiaOliver and Beauty are my very favorite Disney movies and I loved sharing them with the girls.

We baked chocolate chip cookies (ahhhh!  Diet!  I only had two.  And a half!)  Lunch was the official snow day food: tomato soup and grilled cheese.  We ended the evening ordering pizza, continuing our viewing of older movies (Charlotte's Web, Bed Knobs and Broomsticks) and roasted marshmallows in the fireplace. 

It was pretty much the perfect snow day.  As perfect as you can get when you have a bunch of kids and can't just go back to bed and wake up when it's 70 degrees again!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rui Palace Las Americas

Mark took this picture from the boat on his deep sea fishing tour

We stayed at the most amazing resort in Cancun!  The Riu Palace Las Americas.
When booking our trip, we knew we wanted an all-inclusive that was right on the ocean.  We preferred adults only and wanted to be close to town.  The Riu Palace Las Americas fit the bill on all of the above and was in our price range.
View from our balcony

There aren't enough words to adequately express how amazing the resort was.  It was beautiful, the staff was awesome, and, I mean, food or drinks whenever we wanted.  What could be better?
Another balcony view, the building you see was a sister hotel that we had privileges to but we found we had no reason to leave our resort.

Let's talk about the restaurants, shall we?  There were six: a steakhouse, buffet, fusion, Italian, Mexican, and Japanese.  There was also a cappuccino bar that served sweet treats and sandwiches, a 24-hour snack room, and 24-hour room service.
We ate at the steakhouse one night.  The meal started with the server bringing out a seafood sampler: ceviche, alligator, and I can't remember what else was on it!  It was all delicious but the ceviche was my favorite.  The sampler was followed by salads and then our entrees were delivered.  The server told Mark he would have a little surprise on his plate and, sure enough, his steak was delivered with a lobster tail on the side.  We both ordered our steaks medium rare.  Mine was cooked to perfection but Mark's was a little over done.  The flavor was good.  Both steaks were served with potatoes and veggies.  We were FULL but they brought out a plate of mini desserts and we couldn't help but enjoy.  So yummy.
We also ate at the Japanese restaurant one night.  This meal started with a sushi sampler to share.  Then came the appetizers: I had the spring rolls while Mark went with tuna.  His was wayyy better than mine!  Mark had steak for his entrĂ©e (the many likes him some steak) while I went with grilled Mahi-Mahi.  Oh my goodness, probably the best Mahi-Mahi I've ever eaten.  EVER.  We asked the server for recommendations on dessert and I ended up going with a green tea cake.  I don't remember what Mark had.  Both desserts were good but nothing remarkable.  We actually enjoyed the Japanese more than the steakhouse, which kinda surprised me.
We also ate the buffet for breakfast several days and lunch once.  Delicious every single time.  They had chilaquiles every meal!  Yum!  They also had these absolutely insane fried bananas.  Room service was a little limited but very good, my favorite on the menu was probably the chicken Caesar salad.  We hit up the cappuccino bar for sweets a few times and grabbed our breakfast from the 24-hour snack room the day we went on our excursion.  Everything was very good.  The food was definitely a highlight.

The resort had three pools.  An infinity pool, a "main" pool with the swim up bar and where the staff entertained until the sun went down, and a smaller, more private pool that I never saw anyone in ever.  There were cabanas around the infinity pool but, obviously, those were snapped up early every day.  I like my sleep more than I like a cabana!

The service at the hotel was absolutely impeccable.  I don't think I can say enough nice things about how awesome the staff was.  Every single bartender, server, room service attendant, front desk person went above and beyond.  Our favorite, hands down, was Abu, the bartender who worked in the lobby bar.  They also had service on the beach which.was.awesome.  My pina colada never ran dry!

View from the pool

Infinity pool at night

One of our favorite features was the bar that was IN OUR ROOM!  They had vodka, tequila, rum, and gin.  The mini-fridge contained several mixers (all Pepsi products, but I'll try not to hold that against them) and Dos Equis.  Any time we ran out of anything . . . I mean, it was only a 6-pack of beer, people . . . room service would bring more right up to us.  Abu, Best Bartender on Earth, even sent us back to our room one night with a 6-pack.
A few pictures of our room:

We booked the smallest sized room in the resort but, when we arrived, we learned we'd been upgraded.  They gave us a nice little suite: king-size bed, sofa, and a little eating area.  We have a queen-size bed and anytime we travel somewhere that has a king, I always REALLY notice the difference in the size of the bed!  Mark does too -- my habit of taking my half down the middle doesn't matter as much in a bigger bed!

The tile was gorgeous:

The rooms also had large bathrooms with AWESOME showers.  I wanted to take the shower home with me!

Hands down, no questions asked, I would absolutely recommend Riu Palace Las Americas to anyone and would definitely stay there again.  I started giving Mark hints about another visit before we even left . . .