Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

How do you work this thing?


I get requests from time to time that I dust off my old soap box here. More often, folks just tell me that they miss it rather than asking me to revive it. I think many of us got out of the habit of reading blogs around the same time we got out of the habit of writing them. I said more than once that Facebook killed blogging in my circle. Well that and Google Reader folding. (Wasn’t that the name of the blog reader we all used?) And then the one I migrated to folded too. From time to time, I check in on some friends who continue to blog but most often I see what the old gang is up to via Facebook. I miss the community we built when we all blogged. It got me through some rough times with adoption and some isolating times with infants. I also miss the cheap therapy. I read old posts and think damn I used to be witty and have all sorts of things to say. I no longer feel like I have much to share – until I go comment on someone else’s post on facebook then I ramble on and on and on. But Cass tagged me on a taking stock post and I thought what the hell. Why not? So here we go, I’ll see if I can remember how this blogging thing works. (Hey! I remembered how to link a post! Woohoo!)

Cooking: I’m not very adventurous with my cooking these days. I don’t try a lot of new recipes and fall back on the tried and true. But I’ve enjoyed cooking with fresh veggies from our tiny garden and our CSA this summer. Last night, I used some of the last of our summer tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. There are probably just enough left for a batch of salsa.

Drinking: I bought myself a Nespresso machine with milk frother last year. I LOVE it. It makes morning happy. My keurig services my husband and children (hot water for instant oatmeal) but I rarely touch it these days (other than to refill the water because apparently no one else is capable.) Other than my morning double shot latte, I mostly drink water. Although, I have discovered in my old(er) age that I really appreciate a good rum. This is my current favorite when I can find it.

Reading: I just finished a not so great book for a book club. Prior to that, I read The Hand That Feeds – I recommend that one.  My mom sent me a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated (which ironically isn’t particularly illustrated – no shiny photos). Despite my apathetic cooking, it is a cool cooking magazine. They talk through all of the testing of the recipe and the WHY for different ingredients. I appreciate how thoughtful it is and I have a couple of recipes I want to try.

Making: Pottery. Specifically Christmas ornaments today. Anyone who has been in contact with me the past couple of years is aware of my new obsession with pottery. I have a wheel and baby kiln at home. I’m getting really close to opening an Etsy shop. It is all very exciting. Making pottery feels like a super power. I take dirt and turn it into pretty things! I’m constantly learning.

Watching: I’m watching in amazement as my girls grow into people. I started this little blog before they existed. And now Sabrina is 10. Tessa is 8. And they have lives outside of us and are full of attitude and opinions and sass. Some days I am just gobsmacked by how fast it all seems to be going. And then I think a little more about it and I remember how long the days were when they were little. It was hard. I wasn’t a great mom to toddlers. But we all made it through and now I like the people they are becoming.

Lunching: Friends are harder to keep touch with expiration of my Mom’s Club membership. People are busy with school activities and part time jobs – older relationships sometimes fall down on the priority list as new ones are made. It is just life. And despite my introverted tendencies, I need people who make it (read: me) a priority. I have a little group who keep 1 date clear every month and we have a 3 cocktail lunch. It is delightful. We eat, drink, and are merry. I cherish that monthly date. It matters. Girlfriends are good for the soul.

Loving: My husband. Still. More. I don’t know how that is possible but he continues to be even more amazing. He supports my pottery obsession. He is unfazed by my complete lack of ability to say what comes next for me. There is a big question mark looming out there for my future. And he is okay with that as long as I am. He continues to be an amazing father and husband. And he has found his passion in his current job.

Dipping: For the first time since moving here, I’ve started dipping my toe into local politics. We moved here when Sabrina was less than a year old and then I got pregnant with Tessa and life just kind of took over. I just finally feel able to look up and see what is happening around me. And unfortunately, it was a school board gone mad. (You might have heard about us on the national news. The crazy folks who wanted to remove all mention of Islam from our social studies/history books because our 99% white, Christian teachers were obviously indoctrinating our children to become Muslims? Sigh. Yes. That’s us.) We live in this vanilla suburb because of the schools and there was no way we could let the crazy take over. A lot of parents agreed so grass roots style we got some sane folks elected to our school board this year. We still have a couple of questionable members but they are out numbered by reasonable people. I’ve also got a yard sign for a lovely woman running for our state house. (Perhaps you heard about the TN lawmaker whose office was moved to a separate building because he couldn’t stop harassing all of the women at the state house? Also us.)

Wishing: We have built a great life here in Tennessee. But I wish we were closer to home. I wish we were closer to family. I wish we were closer to my BFF who has had some rough patches and I’m too far away to support her with anything other than ridiculously silly phone conversations. Our life here is great and we have great friends but I do miss home and those connections. (And it is SO conservative here that it makes me a bit crazy.)

Dreaming: Steve and I dream of being able to travel together. We both traveled before we met but started down the kid path pretty soon after getting together (that happens when you don’t find The One until you are in  your 30s) so we never had a chance to do that together. We have a laundry list of place we want to go. Someday.

Laughing: I find it hilarious to think what my 20 year old self would think of my 44 year old self. I was passionate about changing the world, my date book ruled my life – the fuller the better, never wanted kids or a husband, suburban life sounded so DULL. I’m a stay at home mom in the suburbs of Nashville. My life is dull. But that is okay. I told Steve after years of change and upheaval, I wanted some boring. Now I have it. I prefer to think of it as roots. I want my girls to have roots. I need to feel settled. A series of small choices all led me here. To this place. To this life. And it looks nothing like I planned or envisioned. But it is perfectly imperfect for me. For us.

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Proof of Life


Well look at me. I’m writing on my blog. It was a long winter and spring here. Anyone who knows me in person or on Facebook has seen various updates on my health. I had surgery in February and again in May. That was fun. And a great reminder from both my doctors and my body that 40 takes a lot longer to recover than 20. But I’m finally nearing normal again. I would say I’m at 85% and will get back to 100% once I get my butt in gear and do some exercise to rebuild my stamina.

So, what else…school ended. And is about to start again. Summer vacation was the annual beach trip and a couple of days in Asheville. I spent the first part of summer resting and recovering so it has been a pretty quiet one. The girls have been amazingly patient. No recipes – I haven’t been loving food much the last few months. No pottery to show off – I had to quit my class after the last surgery. I don’t have a lot to say – really thought I’d drop a photo and run. Getting ready to send Sabrina to the 3rd grade and Tessa (my baby turned 6 yesterday *sob*) to kindergarten. As most moms, I’m wondering where the time has gone. Here is my little fam in Asheville a few weeks ago.



I’m hoping to stop back in soon with actual words but no promises.

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You’ll shoot your eye out


I’m struggling with Christmas this year. It seems each year I like Christmas a little bit less. Not the season – I love the season with everyone being merry and jolly. It is the actual day of Christmas that I struggle with. I dislike it. The pressure and consumerism…it bothers me more every year. I adore spending the week up north with our family. It is really amazing. I love getting a bit of alone time with Steve in the place where we spent our magical first couple of years together falling in love (I know, I know – but we are schmoopies like that). It is fantastic that we get to spend the week of Christmas kind of suspended from our normal lives. Watching the girls surrounded by aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins is fabulous. If I could just remove December 25th from the mix, it would be perfect.

Enough of my being grinchy. You come to see the girlies. I haven’t had my camera out much. In fact, my mom was here for 5 days at Thanksgiving and I didn’t take a single photo. Life is moving along. The %$#@ elf showed up again this year. His hi-jinks are definitely petering out. I’ll be glad for him to return to the North Pole. We’ve watched our favorite Christmas movies and cartoons. We baked cookies on a “snow” day and took them to some neighbors. My girlfriends and I had an ugly sweater party. I won. It was really hideous. Homemade is the key to a really bad holiday sweater. Sabrina finally lost her front tooth after months of it hanging loose. These 2 phone photos as all I have to offer.



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I wish I knew what they were thinking…


I found this the other day. I wonder what the story was in Tessa’s head when she surrounded my phone with her albino frogs.


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Another school year is behind us


Time needs to stop flying by. Sabrina finished 1st grade. Tessa perhaps finished preschool…I’m still not sure yet. On the left is the 2 of them on the first day of school in August 2012. In the middle and right are the last days of school yesterday (Sabrina) and today (Tessa). Not a huge difference but both definitely are a bit taller and lost a little more of the round baby-ness in their faces.


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What I’ve been up to…


We’ve got all sorts of projects going on at Chez Smiles. First, I have been searching for chairs to go in our eat in area for 2 years. I finally found 6 at a reasonable price. Now to paint them. I’ve been wanting to play with chalk paint so I bought a super ugly, super cheap end table (soon to be bedside table) to practice with it on. I love the way it turned out but I will admit it was way more work than I was anticipating. First comes paint, then sanding to distress it a bit, then clear wax, then some steel wool, then some more clear wax, then some dark wax to age it some more, then some more clear wax. The 6 chairs will likely take me six months. Here is the before and after of my $8 side table. For my first attempt, I am pretty pleased. Let’s hope the chairs turn out well.



Last year, I blogged a bit about our CSA experience. We loved it. It changed the way we eat and the way I cook. I found ways to incorporate vegetables that I never dreamed of – and I learned that a lot of things I thought I didn’t like just hadn’t been cooked well when I tried it. We were going to do it again because it was such a fun experience. But after some discussion, we decided to try something different this year. There was some waste with the CSA either because it was something we never learned to like (beets for me…some greens for all of us) or because of an over abundance of 1 item (can only eat so many kohlrabi  or because of just an overabundance (another box before we were done with the previous week’s box). This year we decided to set aside the same amount we spent on the CSA each week and spend it on local foods at local farmers markets. That way we can tailor it to what we want and need. We also decided to plant a garden. That means as the summer goes on, we can spend less on veggies and more on dairy and meat. We are doing square foot gardening and have planted two 4′ x 4′ raised beds. I am skeptical about growing so many things in such a small space but am excited to see how it turns out. We’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, pumpkins (the small pie variety), baby watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans, carrots, and lettuce. The gardening has made me think so much of my dad. First because he would be shocked to see me planning to eat so many veggies. Second because he gardened (which I hated as a kid – forced to weed in the heat and bugs but didn’t like anything that came out of it) and took pride in trying to have the first red tomatoes in the county every year.


The past month has been filled with birthday parties. Sabrina got to go to another horse riding party. Lucky kids! I never got to do cool stuff that like as a kid.



I’ve also been agonizing over some art pieces I was working on. A friend asked me to do 3 canvases her daughter’s nursery. She showed me her nursery and just said have at it. For whatever reason, this completely made my brain freeze. The canvases were bigger than I have done in the past. I had no idea what would make her happy. I wanted them to look nice together but not to be 1 connected scene. It took me months of starting and stopping to get these done. I learned that I either need to just do canvases and THEN let people buy them so that I know they like them or I need to just get out of my head and just do it. Because there was no reason for that to take so long and to paralyze me that way. Rather ridiculous. But, in the end, I was happy with what I did. And so was my friend.



Mark this under: I really need to get out more


I have this person at the grocery store that I think of as my Newman/arch-nemesis. He is a 20-something guy who mans the self checkouts. I cringe every time I see him there and consider waiting in line for regular register. I’ve had numerous issues with him – the take away being that he just isn’t the brightest/fastest/most aware human being.

We have a mutual dislike which I will admit I am responsible for. Shortly after we moved to this little town, we were walking through the produce department. Sabrina was pretty young. He walked up to us and said “Where did you get her?” I was in a mood (I think I was pregnant and therefore perma-cranky) so I didn’t respond in a kind way. I said something snarky like “Wal-Mart.” He took a minute to figure out my response and then said he was only asking because he was adopted (he looks Korean or Vietnamese…I’m not good at telling Asian heritage). I immediately felt like an ass. I apologized and told him I was just crabby. Then much more pleasantly answered his questions. Obviously, not a good start to our relationship. Over the years, I have gotten irritated with him repeatedly for not paying attention, walking away, having a bad attitude, and generally sucking at manning the self check out. He has not been a fan of mine since our first interaction and I can’t blame him.

He sealed my dislike of him during The Yogurt Incident. It was marked on sale. It didn’t ring up on sale. He very grudgingly went to check on it (there was a large price difference or I wouldn’t have made a big deal). After taking his sweet time, he finally returned and said the sale signs had been incorrectly left up (this was 3 days after the sale would have ended) so he guessed he would give me the sale price. I thanked him. Then he revealed how horribly our education system is failing our youth because he had to figure out what to charge me per item because the sign said 4 for $2. He got out his calculator. Then he got very confused because his calculator told him they should be $2 each. I then had to explain to him that they were $.50 each. He never looked convinced that I wasn’t scamming him. I was sad that he couldn’t figure out the cost of each yogurt in his head or with his calculator but my dislike was sealed by his surly attitude through the whole interaction.

Every time I see him at the registers I mutter “Newman” under my breath. I really need to get a life instead of creating feuds in my head. He gives my children copious amounts of “I’ve been Krogering” stickers so that there is no surface in my car or home that doesn’t have a sticker on it at all times as payback. Well played checkout guy. Well played.


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Things learned while working retail


1. People suck. Some folks feel they can say anything to a service worker they feel is beneath them. One person, angry over the denied use of expired coupons, told a co-worker that her sweater would look better on someone who wasn’t so fat. Another person commented that a co-worker, who was in a horrific car accident several years ago that required complete reconstruction of her face, would be pretty if she would just fix her wonky eye. A customer told me, after I couldn’t give her a teacher discount card because she had no proof of employment as a teacher, that maybe if I had stayed in school and listened to my teachers I wouldn’t be working at SchmoAnn’s at my age. (Me with my 19+ years of education who is still paying off my student loans – I laughed.) Who says those kinds of things?

2. People are awesome. I’ve seen folks share coupons, advice, and stories in the long Christmas line. I’ve been on the receiving end of heart felt thank yous and smiles that made my day brighter.

3. There is a special place in hell for people who don’t put things back on the shelf where they found them. I used to be headed there but I like to think this experience has paid up my karmatic debt. We literally spend HOURS daily putting things back because someone couldn’t be bothered to put it back where they found it. You want to know why prices are high? The payroll required for putting stuff back is part of it.

4. A smile and honest attempt to be helpful really does go a long way. I already knew that because it is what I want when I go into a store but it is amazing how most (rational) folks can be calmed by someone just stopping and listening to what they want and then making an honest effort to help. Even if ultimately we can’t help, they were heard and someone cared.

5. Coupons rock. Seriously. Check for apps for all of the stores you shop in. It is worth downloading that app at SchmoAnn’s.

6. Stores put shit on sale a tiny bit so that you can’t use the big value coupons. That expensive thingy you want? It is on sale 10% off so that you can’t use that 50% off any non sale item coupon. Yes, it is done on purpose. They plot that shit out carefully.

7. They also price shit high just so they can put it on sale. The day the spring inventory came in, it was marked 30% off. It will never be full price.

8. Employee discounts are pretty puny. I can do better with coupons.

9. Women can be more disgusting than men. It blows my mind the things I see in our public restroom. It also makes me retch sometimes. I can’t wrap my brain around anyone doing that in public.

10. Pinterest was started by one of the crafty store corporations. I can not tell you the number of times in the past 3 months someone has said to me “I saw this thing on Pinterest…”

11. I’m a chatty cashier. Who knew? I don’t particularly like chatty cashiers. I want you to ring up my stuff then let me go home. I don’t want to bond. But being a cashier if pretty freaking dull so chatting with people is really the only way to entertain myself. Plus, I’m always curious what they are doing with that strange assortment of items. So I chit chat while ringing people up. If they don’t respond, I stop but I’ve had some great conversations.

12. The amount of money women in my town spend on purses and wallets exceeds the GDP of most third world countries. The coaches and dooney’s and prada and louis vuitton and michael kors and fendi and chanel and kate spade. It is ridiculous what we ladies spend on purses. (Yes, I include myself because I love me a classic coach or dooney and bourke…I can’t help it.) And women carrying a $2000 Louis Vuitton and wearing $20K in diamonds will fight HARD over saving $2 with her coupons.

13. Comfortable shoes are the secret to a happy life if you work retail.

14. Glitter really IS the herpes of the craft world.

15. Mommy guilt SUCKS. Tessa cries when I go to work and asks me not to go. Sabrina says she has bad dreams when I’m not here when she goes to bed. While it has been nice to have days where I am not a human kleenex, it isn’t worth the tiny amount they are paying me to miss out on so much. I have worked every Saturday and Sunday (except those we traveled north) since I was hired. That is so much time away from the girls and Steve. I just can’t justify it. So, my short career at SchmoAnn’s will be ending in the coming weeks.

16. Boys buying fabric for a toga party are hilarious. And clueless. And full of hair product.

17. It is hard to curb my smart ass ways for 8 hours. Do you know how many times I’ve had to bite my tongue and nod when someone has looked at me stocking a shelf, wearing my SchmoAnn’s apron and name tag and asked “Do you work here?”

18. Working retail at 40 is way different than working retail at 18. Nothing a customer says bothers me. Nothing (bad) that happens sticks with me. I’ve never had a bad day at work. I do my job to the best of my ability but then I go home.

19. Be nice to a cashier. We can be A LOT more helpful (and sometimes have extra coupons tucked away) for those folks who are kind. I never give bad service but I am not inclined to go the extra mile if you are growling at me.

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Awesome 80’s


A friend had an 80’s murder mystery party for her 40th last night. Man, the 80’s were bitchin’. My full get up here.


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Guess it beats the alternative


Well. The big day is here. That birthday that I’ve dreaded and joked about since I remember my mother turning it. The big 4-0. Forty. Four decades. 14600 days. (My husband will likely point out I didn’t include the extra days for leap years. He would be correct.) And honestly? Today will just be another day. My youngest is home with me. My oldest is in school. Husband at work. But the day will end with my favorite annual treat. (Usually bi-annual but our Bruster’s closed and just re-opened a month ago so I didn’t get my Mother’s Day ice cream cake – can you believe he refused to drive to Chattanooga to get me one?) So there is that to look forward to – coffee ripple ice cream with chocolate cake. Yum! And my girlfriends want to go out this weekend for a little celebration. Another thing to look forward to. My husband and some friends surprised me with a celebration last weekend at a local winery that we’ve been talking about visiting for years. The weather was A-MAZ-ING. The vineyard (Arrington – owned by Kix Brooks if you are a country fan) was lovely. The wine was flowing freely. And I was surrounded by some of my favorite people. It was a great night. (Photo taken by a friend’s husband. After multiple bottles of wine had been consumed.)

It was a great way to ring in a new decade. And I look forward to some other faces joining the celebration this weekend.


Remember back in May, I said I was going to do 40 random acts of kindness before my 40th birthday? I said I would document them and share. I started to do that (the documenting). Then I realized that while I was documenting these things, they stopped feeling so random and started feeling rather self congratulatory. I was thinking about things I could do that would make good blog fodder. That was so not the point of that. So I stopped the documenting and just starting doing them when opportunities occurred. I completed #40 this weekend. The recipient of that act may not realize that she was part of my birthday goal but I was happy with my final act. I’m not going to list them all here as I originally intended but some examples: complimenting random strangers, paying for the Starbucks order behind me in the drive thru, leaving a handmade gift for someone who was struggling, mailing some surprises to folks who could use a pick-me-up, taking carts left in the parking lot back to the store, and other small gestures. None of them were huge. But they all likely made someone smile. My favorite was standing outside of Aldi’s and handing out quarters to women digging in their bags for one. (You have to have a quarter to get a shopping cart at Aldi’s. It is a pain in the butt if you aren’t prepared ahead of time.)  It was just a quarter but several people just lit up (others were very confused). I had fun with it and it made me feel a little better as I approached this big day.


I’ll get a post up soon about Sabrina’s 6th birthday which was last week. Going out of order is just how we roll around here.

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