Monday, February 25, 2013

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

...and the walls came tumbling down...

What is the origin of that phrase?  Nursery rhyme or biblical quote?  I'm sure I can't remember the source - but that is the phrase I can't get out of my head... the day the walls came tumbling down... otherwise known as the day I lost my shit.  The day the facade of a mom-who-has-it-all-together crumbled into a heap on a tiny sofa outside of my Sunday school classroom.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted it.  I can't tell you one specific thing that happened or one event that made me say 'that's it.  No more.  I'm done.'  Rather there was a whole lot of crazy building up to this day.  This utterly embarrassing and sad, sad day.

'I don't know how you do it.'  I'm told that a lot.  On a very frequent basis - daily it seems.  I'm not sure if it's a compliment or a statement from the person saying it to themselves of 'thank God I'm not her and I don't have to do it.' My reply?  'Well, I just do it.'  There isn't another choice, really, other than to let my kids skip school and fend for themselves in the manner of feeding and grooming.  But scenes from Lord of the Flies come to mind - and as much as I detest certain aspects of my daily life - I just can't let my off-spring fight it out among themselves to determine who really is in charge.

So I do it.  Every day.  By myself.  And it wears.  It wears thin.  Apparently so thin that the threads holding my sanity together start to give - and then break.

Now - I know that my life and my struggles are insignificant on the grander scheme of things.  My kids don't know hunger or cold or horrible child abuse.  They want for nothing - and have very privileged lives.  And I don't know hunger or cold - and I'm not the victim of domestic violence.

But still, this is hard.  Really hard.

Exacerbated by my daughter - who I find myself in constant battle with.  It's such an odd place to be.  To want to grab her, hold her tight, love her and kiss her and protect her from herself.  While wanting to throttle her and lock her in her room or sell her to the circus (if they'd take her.)

I know there's a clinical reason why she struggles like she does.  I know.  I realize her lashing out and mean behavior is the cause of her inner struggles and frustrations.  I know this.  But it does little to settle my heart when I'm burning with anger at the latest mean thing she's said or done.

It seemed we'd come to a sort of impasse for a while.  Where I succumbed to the fate of single-parent-of-ADHD-child.  Where I admitted defeat of having a relationship with my daughter where I could truly enjoy her.  A relationship where we could talk and laugh, share and giggle, hug and commiserate about the ups and downs of girlhood.  You know - like normal mothers and daughters.

I guess I thought I sort of gave up on that dream.  Admitting that I might never be able to have that with her... that I'd never be able to share in that deep bond and eventual friendship, akin to what I had with my own mom.  I listened to Deonne - and admitted that he was right - she is not me and I am not my mother.  I get that.

I thought I'd moved on from that - and accepted and loved her for who and what she is.

And then she had a friend spend the night Saturday night.  Her 'bff' who she's been friends with since before the two could walk.  The little girl who I treat like my own - because I've known her for her whole life - and sort of do think of her like my own.

And I saw in an instant how different the two are.  Yes, alike in their love of Monster High girls and Taylor Swift and girl giggles.  But oh, so different.  I could joke and laugh with this girl.  I could ask her to do something simple, like get dressed and brush her teeth.  I could ask her to collect her belongings or pick up Anna's toys.  I could tell her it was time for bed - to turn out the light - and when it was time to wake up.  And she was able to do all of these things without repeated hounding.  She was able to do all of these things the first time I asked.

With a smile.

And when Anna got angry and yelled at me or asked 'Why do I need to wear nice clothes?!?'  she quietly replied 'because we're going to church.'

Now - I know children act different when they're not at home.  Hopefully they obey and act better for others than they do their own parents.  And I know how rotten this little girl can be - I've seen it multiple times before.  So I'm not deluding myself into thinking she is always compliant and agreeable.

But it did give me pause.  Seeing my daughter sit next to her friend - wailing and crying and sobbing with a red face and snot pouring out of her nose because I gave the last waffle to her brother (not understanding what she actually wanted) made me really sad.

Hearing her be completely mean and saying horrid things to James - made me really sad.

And the more I heard, the more I saw, the more the obvious differences between these two girls surfaced - the sadder I became.  And the little tiny bricks that were holding up my wall of sanity began to crumble.

And fall.

And by the time we got to church - I could barely keep it together.

Which is why the tears started to fall.

And when they started to fall - I couldn't stop them.

Oh, I tried to pull myself together.  I went to the bathroom and tried to make my face not look like a big red ball of tears, and to wipe up my eye makeup that had dripped and drooped and started hanging out near my chin.

But it didn't work.

You know how it goes, the more you try to stop - the worse it gets?  Yeah - that was me.

I guess it all hit at once.  Feeling so sad because of the ongoing struggles with Anna.  Missing the girl I want her to be - is that even right to admit??  Missing Deonne who needs to be here to help deal with all of this.  (And yeah, on some level, being mad at Deonne for not being here to help deal with all of this, despite the sane part of my heart telling me he's doing what is best for our family.)  And lonely.  Completely and utterly alone.  Lost without my husband and best friend there to help.  Needing to talk to my mom but not able to do so.  Just.  Alone.

Whatever the cause - the proverbial dam broke.  And all of that sadness came out.

Thankfully my good friend Cat found me in my puddle of tears.  And she did the best thing possible.

Let me cry.

She just held me.  And let me just cry - without trying to fix it or solve it or in anyway make it better.  She allowed me the space in the comfort of her arms to just let the sadness come out.

(And then she offered to take Anna for the afternoon - which was the second best thing possible.)

It was completely embarrassing - because I'm not one to let people see me cry.  Oh, I do my fair share of crying and sobbing...just in the comfort of my own home - or by myself in the car - which is my secret place to let all of the hurt out.  Sometimes I wonder what drivers in the cars next to me must think when they look over and see me sobbing into my steering wheel...but that's become the time and space where I allow tears to come - tears that I wipe and put away when I walk in the door to pick up my children.

And it was completely humbling.  On some level - I'm kinda proud that I've been able to keep everything together without publicly letting my wall come tumbling down.  Crying in front of people - even friends - is completely humbling for me.  There's nothing left to hide - and your innards are all out there for the world to see.  It's like publicly admitting you're not strong enough to live your own life and deal with your own messes.

Shortly after Cat arrived, our priest and good family friend also showed up.  (And I hope that was happenstance - that there wasn't some 'code red' button pushed to help sobbing lady outside classroom.)  What a gentle soul.  He provided words of wisdom as a parent of a child with similar issues, as a priest and caregiver of the soul, but most importantly as a friend.

So while I was mortified to have fallen apart - if it was going to happen in a public place - I'm glad it happened at church.  Where I'm not alone (even though I feel like it without Deonne here), and where I have friends who will help me put the walls back together.

Breath Catcher

Ever have those moments when your child says something out of the blue that completely catches your breath, chokes your throat where you feel like you can't speak, and fills your eyes with tiny pinpricks of tears? In an instant?

One question. Six words.

"Mommy? What did Nonna look like?"

An innocent question from a curious three year old boy.

One that I answer with a shaky voice. Completely saddened that my children have no memory of, no knowledge of my mother. My mom. My mommy.

God I miss her.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For James | On Turning 6

My dear sweet James,



Has it really been SIX years since you came into this world?  Has it really been SIX years that I've been blessed beyond measure to hold you in my arms and filled with the grace and love that motherhood to a little boy provides?

Surely that can't be right.  I know that if I close my eyes and blink hard you will become my sweet little baby boy, my firstborn son, wrapped in blue, who won my heart with a tiny smile.

The reality is, though, that if I close my eyes and blink hard, you will continue to grow and change at the rapid rate you are - and if I'm not careful - the next time I open them you will be even more independent and adventurous, yet your adventures will no longer be contained to experiments or pretend dragons in the backyard.

There is so much to say to you as you turn six - so much I want you to know as you depart early childhood and move on to the elementary years.  I want you to know how much I adore you - and how much joy you bring to the world around you.  I love that your first response to most anything is laughter - complete with giggling as you see the humor in various situations.  That is a true gift.  I hope you never lose that sense of humor and that ability to laugh at the curve balls life will inevitably throw at you.

I love your sense of adventure and your spirit of curiosity.  I realize that at times, it may seem that I don't want to answer all of your questions, or that I'm not interested in helping you figure out the world.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The honest truth is that a lot of the time, there are no answers to the questions you ask, like how do you make rain?  Similarly, there are many questions you ask that I simply don't have the answers for - like how big was the Angel Gabriel or what will Heaven be like?  But you know what?  Even if I or your dad or your priest or your teacher don't have the answers - I hope you never stop asking them.  I hope you always have a questioning and curious heart - the questions you ask make the grown ups around you stop and think ... and that makes us better people.

Your heart is so tender, and so sweet, and you are such a giving child.  You are rarely selfish - and I love that you so willingly share with your brother and sister.  I simply adore how they are foremost in your thoughts - to the point that you will have a special 'date' with your dad and/or I or receive a special treat and immediately ask or wonder how your siblings are - and if your treat can be shared with them.  You are a giving child - and I hope that you continue to give openly and willingly to those around you.

Of all three of our Party kids - you are my 'rule' follower.  I know there are times when you don't want to do what I ask (like brush your teeth or pick up your socks.)  But you do it - eventually - with minor grumbling and hesitation.  I can't tell you how much that means to me - to be able to trust that you will do what I ask, despite your strong opinion not to.

I am continually amazed by your creativity and your artwork.  Anna paved the way for the Long children by making a name for herself as quite the artist.  You are just as talented - if not more so.  I won't compare the two of you - but rest assured that your artistic talent is on par with that of your sister.  The things you imagine and create in paper and marker, pencil and crayon, glue and tape are amazing.  Simply amazing.

I think that your artistic abilities are what make you so detail oriented - which may be part of the reason you are always looking for random pieces of junk to pick up - whether we're walking across a parking lot or in a store, playing in the park or visiting a friend -  you are prone to come to me at the end of the day with a pocketful of 'treasures.'  Sometimes this gets you into trouble - physically - like when you ran smack into a parking meter when we were walking downtown because you were too busy looking for treasures and 'gold' on the ground rather than looking up to see where you were going.  And sometimes it gets you into trouble when you walk off with pocketfuls of shiny things that belong to others, like Mr. Brian's loose change that you fished out of his jar and took home.  But thankfully you are also honest - and did not hesitate or flinch to tell me the truth when I asked you where the $3 of loose change came from.

It's hard to see you growing so fast - and you are indeed growing FAST.  In the last six months you've pretty much doubled in size - and we're having a hard time keeping you clothed.  Every time I turn around you've outgrown another pair of pants or the sleeves have become too short or your pajamas and undies too tight.  And I confess, I keep trying to stuff and squish you into little boy sizes - probably because I don't want to admit that you are growing up - and becoming a young man.

(That makes my heart hurt a lot and tears come to my eyes just typing that.)

But a young man you are - and although you've missed your daddy terribly these past six months - you have risen to the occasion and have become the true 'man' around the house - including taking on the role of resident bug catcher (thank GOD.)  It was truly a happy day when after hearing Anna squealing that there was a bug in her room - I came upstairs and found you trotting to the bathroom with a wad of toilet paper and a squished up bug - heading to its watery grave.

Oh my sweet James - my Jamesy-Boy - how you have grown.  How you have captured my heart with your sweet disposition and your sense of humor; your love for exploration and your desire to please.  I hope you know how much you are loved, how much you are wanted, and how my life could never be complete without you.

Happy Happy Birthday my Sweet Six Year Old Boy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine Frenzy

We love decorating in the Party house. Barbie houses, tree houses, forts, cakes, cookies... We don't discriminate.

I know the children get that from me. And I in turn get that from my mother who always made holidays special. It didn't matter how big or small the holiday was we always marked the day in some manner. Dinner in the dining room on the fancy china. Little treats waiting for us at our places at the breakfast table.

I think she must have really loved doing it. Cause it's a lot of work. A true labor of love.

I really love doing the same for my children. Seeing the delight in their eyes over something as simple as a new paper heart plate or funny straw. Watching their creativity blossom as they create works of sugar art with sprinkles.

Yeah, I had to cringe and not think about the sprinkles going everywhere and stop Jack on multiple occasions for piling on 19 lbs of sugary goodness on his cookies. But witnessing his proud smile when he held up his multi-colored cookie that the lucky recipient will probably break a tooth on was more than worth the future dental bill.

Let the love-fest begin!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monster Jam

A few years ago (two to be precise) Deonne introduced James to the wonderful world of monster trucks.  Here's where I'm grateful that our kids have a well-rounded who happily treats his daughter to a night on the town at the ballet - and a few weeks later takes his son to see gigantic trucks perform amazing feats around a big dirt track.  (or so I'm told)

James looks forward to this annual trip with eager anticipation - and this year was no different.  As soon as the radio started announcing MONSTER JAM IS COMING SOON and he started seeing Grave Digger commercials on TV - he began asking when he would get to go.

Which meant that little Mini-me (James' doting yet sometimes irritating roadie, Jack) started asking as well.  He knew that this was his year to get to attend the elusive Monster Jam - and was beyond excited to go.

Unfortunately - the way the calendar fell with the ballet one weekend, our annual parish retreat to the mountains of North Carolina two weeks later, and Monster Jam sandwiched in between - there was no way Deonne could make it home.

Frankly, the thought of taking the boys to Monster Jam made my skin crawl.  It's not the actual trucks that seem to give me hives - rather the thought of screaming crowds, two little over-excited boys, and the noise of all of those revving engines reverberating throughout the indoor coliseum.  I had foreshadowing thoughts of them not being able to hear me through their ear plugs - then wandering off or falling down the steps or incurring some other inevitable catastrophe.  I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.

In other words, me taking them to the big event was just not a possibility.  Besides, it's a 'boy' thing.  And the boys needed other boys to go with - so they could grunt and scratch and do all those testosterone things I'll never understand.

So after discussing this with Deonne - he came up with the idea to ask someone to usher the boys through this manly time in his place.  Last year he and James attending Monster Jam with a good friend from church and his son - so he thought he'd ask him if he was willing to take on the Long Boys for a night.  He also thought his brother might like to take the boys with his two sons - for a full-on Long Family Man Night.

Both were great options, and our sons would surely love to go with either group.  So Deonne asked.  They both said yes.  But apparently there was confusion, and I'm still not entirely sure how it came to be that both families planned to take our children, other than the fact that I left it up to Deonne to do the planning.  (And people wonder why I typically take the lead and make the plans for our family.)

Which was not a big deal at all - in the end - other than that weird moment in time when Deonne asked 'well who do you want to take the boys and I'll tell the others not to take them.'  Hello?!? - how do you ask someone to take your children somewhere - have them purchase tickets - then tell them 'nope, not going with you - someone 'better' came along?'

I wasn't going to do that - and it was silly to because each group planned to go on different nights - so what happened instead?  Our boys were INCREDIBLY blessed to get to see Monster Jam not once, but TWICE!!  Two trips to see Grave Digger (that's the only one I know by name), some dog truck that had ears and a tail and a tongue that went in and out of his mouth (according to Jack), motorcycles in a cage(?), and some 'little' monster trucks that I finally figured out were remote controlled trucks.

Night One | Fleischers
Monster Jam - Night 1 (I'm not sure what this look is on James' face...)

Eagerly awaiting the trucks to start rolling!

I think this was the favorite 'dog' truck of the evening.

Night Two | Longs
Hanging with Burke - they look like brothers, not cousins, no?

Rapt attention...
Love love love this little face!
And after back-to-back evenings of seeing the trucks perform (is that what you call it - or is it show off - or roll around - I certainly don't know ...) Jack's fate was apparently sealed.  He has proclaimed he wants to be a monster truck driver when he grows up.  Awesome.

Could be worse - at least he has aspirations...

But in all seriousness - a heartfelt thank you to both Scott and Darron for taking our sons to the show.  It meant the world to them, to me, and to Deonne.  The past six months have been really hard on our kids - and the love, care, and compassion you share with them means more than you can really know.

Fun Dad

It goes without saying that it's been hard on the kids to not have their dad around on a day-to-day basis, which makes the times he is home with them even more precious.  They each yearn to spend that 'one-on-one' time with their dad - something that is quite often difficult to do when there are three children, two days, and a list of 'stuff' that he needs to attend to when he's home.  (Like fixing the crap the kids break while he's away, replacing light fixtures, you know - the guy stuff that I either can't or refuse to deal with.)

A few weeks ago, Deonne came home with the sole intent to catch up on his one-on-one time with the kids. I made sure The List was minimal, and cleared the calendar so he had ample time to take each child out for something deemed special and worth by each of them.  (And yeah - I also scheduled a little mommy time for me - and gave him the fun of cooking/feeding/bathing/putting to bed for ONE night while I went out to a much appreciated dinner and movie with a good friend.)

First up for Daddy Fun was Anna.  Deonne purposely scheduled his trip home the weekend that the Columbia City Ballet was performing their spring piece, 'Snow White.'  It's become an annual event the past three years for the two to get dressed up, go to dinner, and see the ballet.  A real 'date night' for the pair.  This didn't disappoint.

She started the evening by getting all gussied up - including curling her hair with that horrible no-clasp screaming hot curling iron I hate ... but she insisted on for the ringlet curls.  And getting Matilda (favorite American Girl doll du jour) dressed and gussied up as well.  (The matching dresses were her idea.)

Then daddy came round with a corsage of red roses...

 ... and they were off!  Dinner at Gervais and Vine - then the ballet - where they had awesome seats - that just so happened to be next to a good friend of ours who was there with her daughter - someone who we adore but haven't seen in ages!

And following the show - our princess got to meet Snow White - and all was right in her world.

I don't have any special photos of Jack from his daddy-date (nor James for that matter) - but can report that Jack and Deonne had a super duper time with an early morning treat of  'Arnie' donuts (chocolate glazed and sprinkled donuts from Dunkin' Donuts - Jack's FAVORITE treat EVER) followed by a trip to the local music store where Jack charmed the store owner with his love of music and subsequently got to play with the strings on the electric guitars, try out the cymbal on the drum set, and ended up with a kazoo (compliments of the owner) to take home as a parting gift.

Later that afternoon James got his turn - an afternoon of whatever he wanted to do.  He chose lunch at McDonald's (of course) and a trip to the SC State Museum - where Deonne reported he ran all over the  museum - thrilled beyond measure to be the official tour guide.  Meaning he got to decide what they saw, what order they saw it in, and how long they stayed at each exhibit.  I think he was running around so fast that Deonne was never able to snap a photo to record the event.

That's okay.  The memory is there - of a fun afternoon being completely in charge.  It's the little things...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Reach For The Stars

One of the things I love most about the kids' elementary school is the sense of family you get when you walk in the door.  I know that sounds all cliche and like propaganda from the school district website, touting the awesome opportunities available to our children, but the truth is, Forest Lake really is indeed a family.

Every nine weeks or so (I think it's that often - I can't remember without digging out a calendar) the school and PTO host a family NASA night.  It's a chance for the kids to bring their families to school to eat dinner, participate in a whole host of cool activities, skype with astronauts, and get general school updates.

The 'NASA night' comes from the school's heavy involvement with NASA - since it's a NASA explorer school and all.  The theme this past family night had to do with the science behind winter.  Think the symmetry of snowflakes, different types of ice and temperature, that sort of thing.


Seeing as I have two hands and three children to wrangle, I tapped into Emma who happily (I think) joined us in the family fun.  She helped get dinner to the table - no small feat when juggling pizza and drinks with excited children.

Following dinner, Emma took off with Anna and James (and their friends) to crawl through the mobile star lab and create some snowman art while Jack and I took the opportunity to sit in on the Skype session with the NASA folks in Pasadena who are working on the Mars Curiosity project.

Not only did we learn all about the latest happenings of the Mars rover, but we also got to see some cool footage of the drill getting ready to auger into the crust of Mars.  (The astronaut guy we were talking to said we were the first to see the images - I'm not sure if I believe him - but whatever - it sounds cool, right?)

Then question and answers - to which my three-year old asked 'how do you fly?' - and was given a great answer  (including unplanned short video) of how Curiosity got to Mars from Earth.  How cool is that?

We eventually caught up with the other kids - James in the second grade hall where they were experimenting with candy - and given the chance to prove (or disprove) the old wives tale 'does your stomach explode if you drink soda after eating pop rocks?'

James was a little skeptical at first - but he's not one to back down from a challenge - especially one that involves candy ...

... so he sipped his soda - then sprinkled in his pop rocks ...

... and waited to see the reaction ...

... which was priceless.

(Jack refused to even consider trying - and whenever we asked him if he was interested he clamped his hand over his mouth and ran the other direction.)

Moving on - we ended up in the fourth grade hall to learn about the different temperatures of different kinds of 'ice' - dry ice vs. ice from water.


Especially when they got to learn about the temperatures of ice - and how it is actually colder when salt is added - kind of like when you make old-school, old-fashioned ice cream.

Which they did - by shaking a bag of ice cream mix inside a bag of ice + rock salt.


Walking through the Second Grade hall again, I paused to take this picture of Anna's thoughts on technology:

Yeah.  I'm a proud mama.

But my heart really wanted to burst when I was stopped on multiple occasions, by multiple teachers (many of whom I do not know or recognize) to ask 'are you the Long children's mother?  We LOVE your children.  Just LOVE them.  They are so well behaved and so much fun to have in class!'

Guess some of that parenting is actually sinking in - despite having to do my Mommie Dearest impression.

All in all a fabulous night.  And certainly one of those things I'm really going to miss if we ever move to Virginia and have to leave this little school we call home.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Few Updates

A few updates from the Party of Five ... in no particular order ...

9 Rats.  32 Squirrels.  That's the number of creatures our 'wildlife experts' trapped, killed, or otherwise removed from our property.  (And if that doesn't gross you out - I don't know what will.)  Now not ALL of the squirrels were in the attic - I think a good many were removed from the traps in the yard.  But the rats came from the attic.  All nine of them.  (Can I get a resounding 'EW'?)

Multiple showings at the old homestead.  Too many to keep track of.  But zero offers.  I'm starting to wonder if there's something really wrong with my house (other than said vermin) or if there's just a lot of proverbial tire-kicking going on in Columbia.  The crazy thing is that we don't receive any negative comments from the realtors showing our home.  We hear lots of things like 'great kitchen' or 'big backyard' or 'it feels like a home.'  But no offers.  Sigh.  (I did come home the other day to our nanny telling me that the house smelled like gas when she walked in - and she discovered that one of the knobs on our gas stove was slightly  ajar.  The cleaning lady must have bumped when she was working on the stove, and thankfully the kids were on early release so it couldn't have been on for that long before Emma and the kids arrived.  Although - that's one way to get rid of the house ... JUST KIDDING.  Sort of.)

Speaking of Emma, our nanny - I triple-heart her.  Did I tell you we had a nanny this year?  Yeah - we have a nanny.  She's amazing.  A double finance/Chinese major at USC - super smart and bubbly and bright and fun and loving - and utterly dependable.  She's made my life manageable this year, and I seriously don't think we could have functioned as well as we have without her.  She picks up the kids from school, brings them home, feeds them snacks, oversees homework, plays games, referees the inevitable arguments, takes them around town for 'Fun Friday' activities - and the best part - drives them around to their respective activities.  (I think I hear a chorus of angels singing hallelujah.)  She's only with them for 2-3 hours a day - but because she is in our life - the children can do things like acting class, art class, baseball, and the mid-week children's programs at church without me screaming at them to hurry up and get in the car because I'm always late trying to run out of the office.

I'm finally getting a handle on mealtimes at home.  Thank goodness.  We'd slipped into a bad habit (from a health and financial perspective) of eating out nearly every night.  I'd get home around 5:30, exhausted, with zero idea of what to cook - and it was so much easier to pack everyone in the car and go out.  When the kids started asking me 'Mommy, where are we going tonight for dinner?' on a daily basis - I knew something had to change.

About the same time - I received an email from a good friend (hello Ashley) inquiring if I'd be interested in a meal-club of sorts.  She and another good friend and I met to discuss - and we came up with a 'freezer' method where we each cook one meal a week in triplicate that can either be frozen for later use or reheated/cooked within a few days.

I was skeptical at first - and worried that freezer cooking meant we'd be exchanging cream-of-whatever casseroles.  Boy was I wrong.  We've had really yummy dinners ranging from chicken tenders in some sort of apricot sauce that you serve over rice, shepherd's pie, roasted lemon and herb chicken breasts, turkey parmesan meatloaf, oven roasted potatoes, roast pork tenderloin, and the list goes on and on.  My downstairs freezer is stocked with a variety of meals that I simply defrost the night before and then cook when I get home from work or in the crockpot depending on the recipe.  We each add in the side (like a vegetable or starch) on our own - because that's the easy part - and voila!  Dinner is served!

I'm happy to report that with an exception of when Deonne was in town - we haven't eaten out ONCE.  We've saved money, eaten healthier, and things are a lot more relaxed when I can hang out with the kids while dinner is in the oven and rice on the stove rather than scrambling around trying to prepare something from the start.

I'd recommend this to anyone - just make sure you have the freezer space to store the yummies you and your friends exchange.  Or if you're not in a place where you can exchange - the method works on your own as well.  I typically prepare three dinners at once (or nine meals) at one time - then store three and exchange six.  Last Sunday it took me all of two hours to prepare everything for all nine meals and get them all packaged for the freezer.  So even if I wasn't exchanging - I'd still do this if for no other reason than it makes things insanely easier during the week.

I have many other random things to blog about - but this post is getting really long - so I'll stop.  For now.