Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

Trading cotillions for terrible towels


Remember this post where you all kindly weighed in on what color I should paint my kitchen?  Let’s put in a pin in that discussion, shall we?  Because I might need your advice again – for my next kitchen.  Just 12 days after that post, I have to announce that I am selling my dream house and we are heading home.

(I loved working downtown even if I didn’t love my job.  They towed my car up from the wharf as the river rose no fewer than 4 times. But damn parking is ridiculously expensive downtown and the wharf was the cheapest option.)

Why yes, we did just buy this house 6 months ago. And yes, I did just finish unpacking a few boxes that were originally packed 4 years ago when we left Pittsburgh.  And as a matter of fact, I did say that I was never moving again and Steve would have to drag my cold, dead body out of this house.  *Awkward chuckle*  Never say never and all of that.

Steve was offered a dream job. It happens to be in Pittsburgh.  We couldn’t turn it down. So off we go.  Again.

Please be prepared for several months of my being mopey and moany and verklempt.  I am very sad to be leaving the amazing women who have made this period of my life so much fun.  Being a stay at home mom, especially in a new place, can be isolating and lonely but I met a great group of women who embraced me and my special brand of crazy quirky.  I will miss them terribly.  I thought we would do the PTA thing together while figuring out what we wanted to be when we became grown ups again.  Instead, I am heading back to Pittsburgh which holds family but few real friends.  (Not that I don’t consider my inlaws friends as well as family – I do.  But you know what I mean.)  I won’t go into the long story of what happened with Steve’s group of friends after we left – the end result is returning to very few folks we would call for dinner on Saturday night.  It makes leaving my friends here even more difficult.  Also? I am bitter about only getting to keep my dream house for 6 months.  Wah, wah – I know, my husband has been offered not just a job but a dream job in a time when many people are scrambling for jobs so I really shouldn’t whine.  But, fair warning, I probably will.

In the long run, I know this will be a great thing for my little family.  My girls will get to live near family.  My husband will be fulfilled professionally.  In 5 years, I have no doubt I will be so glad we did this.  But for now, I’m focusing on the things I need to get done.  And trying not to complain too loudly about the fact that I will be a single mom for the next several months while Steve starts his exciting new job.  And I’ll try not to belabor the fact that yet again I am left to pack up a house by myself and put it on the market.  Really, I will try not to make you all roll your eyes as me too much when I have pity parties here at casa de Smiles.  Because I am blessed with an amazing husband.  We are starting yet another adventure together back where it all started.  I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.  Home is where we are.  Everything else is gravy.

posted under family, travel | 16 Comments »

Christmas wrap up


I love the Christmas season but I am truly ready for it to be over by a few days after.  We arrived home this afternoon and had our third and final Christmas.  First, we had Christmas in Pittsburgh with Steve’s side of the family.  Then in Ohio with mine.  Now at home with our gifts and the things my mom sent.  My children are spoiled (as am I).  Now I am ready to clean it up and put it all away.  I have a date with the tree tomorrow I think.

I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do this year.  I was too busy watching the girls have fun.  But here is our Christmas in photos (minus our little family celebration here because I didn’t even get the camera out).

First just a quick look at our present under the tree because they looked so pretty all wrapped (loved the paper this year – Hobby Lobby has great paper, huge rolls, not see-thru…for great prices).  My husband and children didn’t appreciate so I put it out there for my fellow moms (or at least my mom).

Decorating gingerbread men at Grandma’s.

The kids were instructed that they needed to dry before they ate them.  Sabrina decided that meant the candy was free game.

Tessa couldn’t help herself.

I arrived Christmas morning to find Sabrina looking ready for her close-up on Toddlers and Tiaras.

Tessa’s Christmas outfit from Grandma was much less ruffly but she wouldn’t model it for me.

I took even fewer photos in Ohio but here is some of the carnage.  It is a shame my children don’t have any toys.

Uncle Mike is bound and determined to see exactly how much sugar it takes to make my girls throw up.  Here he is giving them hot chocolate (after the 6 or 7 hershey kisses and cake and who knows what else).

Time was short.  The trip was great.  The drive was long.  As always, time up north leaves Steve and I terribly homesick.

Sabrina’s favorite gifts (so far…she hasn’t even had a chance to play with them all because we haven’t gotten them all out of the packages): Barbie, Mobigo, and Go Go dog.  Tessa’s favorites so far: her little laptop, car garage, and her furreal kitty.

Steve and I received a fabulous (although largely unintentional) gift this year.  The girls are both old enough to stay at Grandma’s with their cousins while we were in Pittsburgh.  We had more time alone than we’ve had in 4 years and it was lovely.  We had dinner and talked about adult topics.  We watched a movie in bed at the hotel.  We slept in one morning.  It was such a treat.  We’ve been talking about how badly we need some time away together and this wasn’t exactly that but it was a great start.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.

posted under travel | 8 Comments »

Post Turkey Day Catch Up


We shall not discuss the 32 hours I spent in the car over the holiday weekend.  Let’s not mention the Disney movies that I can now recite verbatim.  We also shall not discuss the approximately 5.3 hours of sleep I managed to get over the holiday weekend.  Why?  Because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, damn it, and we shall focus on the happy parts of it.

We went to visit my mom in central Florida.  The weather was mostly lovely – we were wearing shorts on Thanksgiving.  We had a fabulous meal.  We got to hang out with my mom for 3 days.  My momma took me to a very cool pottery shop where we spent too much money.  I can’t wait to see what he got me for Christmas!  With the exception of the parts above which I am working hard to block out, it was a great weekend.  I really do love Thanksgiving – you get all of the warm, fuzzy family time without the pressure of gifts and decorating.

My mom and Sabrina (all decent photos of my mom are when she is not looking at the camera…I haven’t seen a decent photo of her in a couple of decades where she was actually looking at the photo):

You think I am kidding or being mean?  Nope.  The moment she looks at the camera, something weird happens and either her eyes close or her face contorts into a strange expression.  The only photo I have of her this weekend where she is looking at the camera:

Mom asked us to bring toys for the girls to play with.  Sabrina was way more interested in the dog leash.  She played with this leash for 2 days.

Tessa stuck to the more traditional toys.  Girl knows how to chill…she will plop down in the middle of the concrete patio.

But also enjoys the recliner.

Sabrina did show off her puzzle skills to Abuela.

For the first time ever, we decided to let Tessa sleep somewhere unrestrained.  We usually travel with the pack n play but she is getting a little big for it.  We’ve been talking about a toddler bed but we were afraid of how she would do.  Sabrina loves to “camp out” in her sleeping bag when we travel so we thought we would see how Tessa did.  She rarely slept in the bag and moved around a lot but she does that in her crib too.  She seemed to think it was neat to sleep like Sabrina so I guess it was a successful experiment.

The girls both did so well.  They were pretty patient with all of the hours in the car (as long as we kept the movies going).  And they were pretty flexible with going somewhere else and getting out of our routine.

Hope you all had a great holiday weekend!

posted under family, travel | 3 Comments »

Vacations then and now


We spent last week in Corolla, NC.  It was the first vacation we’ve had in over 3 years so it was much needed.  We rented a big house in the Outer Banks with my in-laws.  OBX is a really long drive from Nashville so we broke it up into 2 days each way.  During the many, many, many hours on the road, I was thinking how road trips and vacation have changed for me in the past 10 years.

Then: I made sure I had lots of mixed tapes or CDs (depending on the decade) and some audio books for the road trip.

Now: We bought a DVD player and listened to Nemo, Ariel, Aladin, Tiana, and other assorted characters. The radio wasn’t turned on once. I may never be able to permanently remove the lyrics of “Ain’t Never Had a Friend like Me” from my brain.  I’ve been singing it for 12 days now.

Then: I had a stash of cigarettes, diet soda, and junk food for the trip.

Now: A stash of goldfish, juice boxes, and a cooler with yogurt and grapes keep the girls happy.

Then: I made as few stops as possible on the road – as long as I had my smokes and some tunes I was good to go.

Now: I am held hostage by a 4 year old bladder, diaper changes, and the need to feed the girls something with nutritional value every few hours.

Then: I spent hours on the beach reading mindless novels and baking in the sun while listening to the waves crash.  I was determined to return home with a burn tan to prove I had just vacationed at the beach.

Now: I wear SPF 85 and a hat and a tshirt and sit under an umbrella.  Sun poisoning sucks. So do wrinkles. No one would guess I just spent 7 days at the ocean.

Then: I plopped into a beach chair, put on my sunglasses, and relaxed.  Not a care in the world while at the beach.

Now: I spent my limited time on the beach fretting about the children getting sunburned or drowning.  I rarely sat because Tessa seemed determined to dive into the ocean and swim to Africa.

Then: A week in the sun left my skin fried clear and glowing.

Now: A week of sun screen left me with the first zits I’ve had in ages.

Then: It was all about coming home with some great stories from my vacation.

Now: It is all about making great memories for my girls.

posted under family, travel | 11 Comments »

Not just a blogging vacation – a real one


We did a lot of this:

To get here:

To do some of this:

And a lot of this:

Then we spent a lot more time doing this:

Now we have to do a lot of this:


posted under travel | 5 Comments »

Recap for vicarious living


p1020715Saturday morning’s drive to Louisville was unremarkable except the joy of listening to NPR for 2 1/2 hours without anyone in the back seat (or front seat for that matter – Steve isn’t a fan) complaining.

I was late (shocker – I know) because apparently my brain isn’t smart enough to calculate a 1 hour time change.  I was aware of it.  I mentioned it.  I apparently thought it meant I had an extra hour rather than losing an hour.  I was exactly 1 hour late.

After checking out the restaurants in the hotel and wandering a few blocks only to realize none of the restaurants were serving food at 2:15, we headed to Joe’s Crab Shack.  It might not have been new or different but Joe knows big fruity drinks.  And the food was better than it was the last few times I was there (or maybe it was the drinks – who can say?).  We laughed.  We drank.  We provided a little entertainment for our young waiter.  We ate.  We tried really hard not to boo the waitresses.  If you’ve been to Joe’s, perhaps you’ve seen the wait staff stop during specified songs and dance.  They have little routines and climb up on tables and chairs when one of the songs come on.  In the past, it was quite entertaining and the staff seemed to have fun with it.  YMCA started to play and the waitresses grabbed little signs with the letters on them instead of doing the motions with their arms.  And they were mostly phoning it in – no one was having fun.  Finally a few of the guys started doing it right, including our waiter which earned him drunken praise and an improved tip.

p1020682Self portrait

We stumbled walked back to our hotel and laid in our beds talking about how luxurious it was to be able to lay there in the middle of the day with no children bothering us.  Then we took turns going to the bathroom alone.  No one knocked.  No one barged in.  No one needed anything in the 45 seconds it took each of us to go to the bathroom.  Luxury.  We wanted to nap but decided not to waste this precious child free time unconscious.

p1020681It was after 5 and no shops appeared open so we decided to wander a little south to the Zappos outlet.  You know Zappos?  Yes, that Zappos.  Purse and shoe shopping without children?  I was giddy with excitement.  However, the outlet didn’t live up to my imagination.  Unless you are a hooker or a 75 year old grandmother, there wasn’t much you would want. It was truly the left over dregs…things that no one would buy or returns that had been worn too obviously to resell online.  The only exception was kids shoes – I didn’t buy anything but there were a few  pairs of kids shoes I considered.

p1020693We had a very late dinner around 9:30.  Then a couple of drinks in a bar in hotel.  There was a prom going on – it was fun to see the dresses and overhear the girls in the ladies room.  We managed to stay out until 12:15 and then retired for the night.

The next morning we had reservations for brunch.  It was heavenly.  No one informed me that part of the restaurant revolved…until I realized something was terribly amiss because we were moving but the table next to us was not. Yes, I’m a classy broad.

The food was lovely but the opulence of lingering over a meal and not having to cut up any one else’s food was better than the food itself.  We felt quite pampered.

I’m embracing my new southern home – I tried shrimp and grits.  And I loved them.  We spent 2 hours lingering over brunch.  There was even a chocolate fountain on the dessert table.  And of course I took photos of my food.

Sadly, we headed home.  I was happy to see my girls and Steve but could have stayed another day or two without any trouble. We’ve decided this will be a semi-annual event.  I’m already dreaming of October.

Shrimp and cheesy grits


Waffle w/blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream.  The waffle was amazing.


The dessert table


A sampling of goodies


In the dining room




Proof we drank something other than booze


It certainly wasn’t the wild and crazy weekend it would have been 10 years ago but it was just what this momma needed.  Can’t wait to do it again!

PS Does anyone have a good recipe for cheesy grits?  I looked quickly on allrecipes and the couple I found used Velvetta…I can’t believe that the ones I had this weekend contained processed cheese food.

posted under travel | 14 Comments »

Speaking of Christmas


p1010747I do have a photo or 2 to share from our trip north.  We left on the 22nd at 9pm so that the girls could sleep in the car.  The plan was for me to take a nap when Steve got home from work.  That didn’t work out so well because I am always forgetting that I can’t get anything done with 2 toddlers running around.  Sabrina isn’t too bad but Tessa just won’t stay out of anything.  It is impossible to accomplish anything when I am home alone because she is at an age that requires full time direct management.  But she is so cute that I forget until the next time I think I’m going to get something done while Steve is at work.

p1010744No nap, Steve and I both a little tense because we are tired and trying to get things to fit in the car, and an overnight drive – recipe for a good time, no?  We had to change drivers every 2 hours because we were both so tired (have I mentioned that I can’t sleep in the car?) but the girls did great.  They both stirred every time we stopped but went right back to sleep.  We were having breakfast at Eat N Park in Pittsburgh by 8:30am.   Let the festivities begin (after a 3 hour nap at my MIL’s house because we couldn’t check into our hotel yet…)!  Complete with gingerbread houses.

p1010780Christmas the First. The girls had matching outfits for Christmas although you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t look at multiple photos because I couldn’t get a single photo of them together.  Sabrina was way too busy adoring her older cousins and basking in the attention of aunts, uncles, and Grandma and Pap-pap.  Tessa, while not disliking or afraid of folks who aren’t designated bottle sippy cup getters any longer, still greatly preferred the company of Mommy and Daddy (although she had taken to calling both of us mommy now and pointing to the one she wants).

Christmas day was fun.  The kids all had a great time tearing into their presents.  Sabrina really got the whole gift thing this year so she had a grand time asking what she could open next.  It took some convincing at first for to put some of the gifts aside to keep going but once she got in the grove there was no looking back.  With every gift she opened, she gasped and asked “For me?!?”  And then “Can I open another one Mommy?”


The most popular gifts of the day seemed to be the musical gifts.  Sabrina got a keyboard and Avadar received a Barbie guitar that everyone wanted to play.  Sabrina and Uncle Pat had a jam session.



Tessa’s favorite was a cow lawn mower.



Tessa kept her security froggie with her all week.  She rarely let go of it.



Several dance parties were had by the kids.

Sabrina slept at Grandma and Pap-pap’s with her cousins the whole time we were in Pittsburgh.  When we finally told her she had to come to the hotel with us because we were heading to Ohio in the morning, she sobbed.  It broke my heart.  She sobbed that she didn’t want to leave.  I, of course, started sobbing too.  I hate that we are so far from so many who love our children.  I hate that family gatherings are special occasions instead of any random Sunday.  I hate hearing my oldest baby so heart broken.  I was ready to turn in my mommy card on the spot.

Christmas the second. We headed to Ohio on Sunday morning to spend a few days with my family.  We had dinner and did gifts with my step mom, sister, brother in law, and nephew.  It was a nice, quiet day.  (Don’t get me started on the Steelers game not being televised 100 miles from Pittsburgh.  Stupid Browns.)  Sabrina was over the previous night’s heart ache and enjoying a new group of people paying attention to her.  Tessa was still carrying froggie and sticking close to Mommy and Daddy.  We enjoyed a few days of hanging out in Ohio and watching it snow.  My sister enjoyed flipping me off every time I tried to enforce a rule with my child while she fed her sugar and painted her nails orange and green.  A good time was had by all.


Sabrina definitely had the opening presents thing down by this point.


And Sabrina was in heaven when Grandma Freida made cupcakes with her.


Tessa was a fan.  This was her first cupcake since she didn’t eat her birthday cupcake.


p1010959We drove overnight again to get home.  It went a little more smoothly than the trip up but still a couple of tired adults.  We arrived home around 4:30am.  We put both kids to bed and we fell into bed.  We all slept until 9am.  Christmas the third. We gave the girls their presents from us and from Abuela.  By this time, even Tessa was old hat at unwrapping.

See previous post for photos of their cottage and market.  But I think the biggest hit was the play remote my mom got Tessa.  Tessa is ALWAYS trying to steal the remote and press buttons so I suggested she might like one of her own.  She does.  And Sabrina is constantly stealing it from her.

There were some other popular gifts that I’ll share in the coming weeks because I know I’m always curious what is a hit in everyone else’s house so I know what to think about buying or skipping in the future.

posted under family, travel | 14 Comments »

Best. Mother’s. Day. Present. Ever.


Sorry about leaving you hanging…I was very tired (partying like a mom away from her children rock star takes a lot of out me) and Tessa was very cranky (teeth emerging) so I didn’t have a chance to blog again yesterday.

dsc09670I spent the weekend here.  For those of you who didn’t attend the best university ever, that is Ohio University.  (No, not Ohio State – very different places.  I hear they play football there or something.)  A group that was a big part of my college experience had a reunion for its 30th birthday.  My old room mate called and said she was going.  Steve told me I should go.  So on Friday morning, I headed to Athens. Steve stayed home with the girls.

dsc09677I always forget just how much I love Athens until I go back. And the Student Alumni Board is a huge part of my great memories of my time there.  It was a group of amazing students.  We worked hard and played hard together.  I had the best time with everyone who came back.  We were saying it felt like it could have been any random Saturday 15 years ago.

n1616780293_206361_3332300This was the first time I’ve been away from the girls over night.  That means it was my first child free weekend in over 2 years.  I missed them but a weekend not being a mom is the best mother’s day gift EVER!  This is a photo of part of our group this weekend in an old favorite bar. (I don’t think they’ve cleaned the bathrooms since we graduated.)  All of us, without discussing it ahead of time, left our spouses and children at home so it really was like old times.

dsc09696I didn’t want to go to the annual street party that started back in my day and has grown into a huge thing.  I told everyone I was too old to drink bad beer on strangers’ porches.  But I am sure to be the only mommy on the playground this week who can say they attended a party that had to be broken up by the riot police this weekend.  The orange glow is a couch on fire.  You might be able to take the mom away from her children but you can’t take the mom out of me anymore.  I might have uttered the following phrases: “Who is going to clean this mess up tomorrow?”, (in reference to the tiny porch roof holding 75 drunken students standing on it) “That is going to collapse and someone is going to die.”, and “That fire is awfully close to those electrical lines.”  I also insisted that we leave when we realized the riot police had arrived although I bet the toilets in jail are much cleaner that the ones in the Pub.

Some things never change. There was a lot of this:


And we had to grab a burrito from the Burrito Buggy after a night out uptown:


Some things do change.  Tex insisted we take a cab to the street party just because we could:


And we were so shocked by how cheap drinks were that we talked about it all weekend and took pictures.  (That wasn’t the case when we were poor students.)  This was a round of 7 draft beers (not rot gut cheap stuff – at least 2 of us were drinking Leinenkeugal Sunset Wheat) for $7.


And on my way home, I was able to meet up with my BFF for a cup of coffee.  It was a fabulous weekend – exactly what I needed.  Thanks Steve!

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Running the numbers


The number of times Tessa threw up the entire contents of her stomach while on vacation: 5

The number of photos we took: 138

The number of nosebleeds Sabrina had between 4am and 8am on Monday: 4 (me thinks she doth pick too much)

The number of breathtaking views while driving through the Great Smokey National Park: countless

The number of hours of sleep I lost because I was convinced Tessa would get sick while sleeping and choke: countless – I woke up every time she made a sound

The number of healthy individuals by Monday morning: 1 (me)

Overall, it was a really nice trip.  It was a belated anniversary gift to ourselves.  The not so nice aspects of the weekend could have happened in my normal surroundings or in a cozy cabin in the mountains – so why not deal with it in the mountains?

I’m not sure what is up with Tessa.  She woke up every morning starting on Friday at 5am and threw up until getting the dry heaves.  It was completely heartbreaking – she looked so miserable.  And then she was perfectly fine until the next morning at 5am.  She changed it up on Sunday and got sick in the evening too.  She hasn’t gotten sick at all yet today so maybe she is feeling better.  Her doctor doesn’t want to see her unless it continues for a few more days.

Sabrina almost flipped the rocking chair – she was having a ball.  I brought it inside for our Christmas photo shoot since it was way too cold to do it on the front porch as I planned.

Tessa tried to warn Daddy off with a look that said “Watch it Daddy, I’m loaded” but he didn’t heed the warning and a few minutes later she threw up all over him.

The trees were encased in frost and ice and looked so cool – I took quite a few photos but none do it justice:

And because I can’t talk about a trip without mentioning food – had the best smoked pork at a BBQ place in Pigeon Forge.  Yum!

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Technology free weekend


We went here (the Smokies):

Saw lots of this:

And this:

But due to a sick baby, we did precious little of this:

More words tomorrow.

posted under travel | 7 Comments »
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