Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

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 »

Perfect Pumpkin Cheesecake


My husband declared this the perfect dessert.  (It marries his 2 favorite things: cheesecake and pumpkin pie.)  I’m not a huge pumpkin person (I eat a piece of pumpkin pie once a year on Thanksgiving out of obligation) but I’ve been having daydreams about this cheesecake.  Really y’all – it is that good.  If you need any more convincing, I found the recipe on Pioneer Woman’s site and we all know that all things sinfully yummy/awful for you come from her site.  I rarely try any of her fabulous recipes because I don’t work on a ranch therefore can’t even pretend I burn enough calories to use the amount of butter and cream she is famous for.

Sorry for the rather crappy photo.

I bought a cheap spring form pan a few months ago after thinking about it for years.  I kept thinking I wanted to try making cheesecake but I didn’t have the pan and it seemed so intimidating.  I finally made my first cheesecake (plain to start) a couple of months ago.  I don’t want or need to have a whole cheesecake around the house so I have to wait until I have an event to take it to and something finally came along.  It was okay but nothing to make your eyes roll back in your head.

I started seeing pumpkin recipes popping up last month and had a vague memory of a yummy pumpkin cheesecake my ex-sister-in-law made years ago for Thanksgiving.  So I went on a recipe hunt.  And once I saw the one PW featured (it wasn’t her recipe but one given to her to try), I stopped the search.  Here is the link to her photos and step by step commentary.  Here is the link to the recipe.  I changed just a couple of tiny things but it was out of necessity (lacked ingredients for the crust) and personal taste (I like my pumpkin things a little spicier).  I didn’t change the core recipe because she is PW – she just beat Bobby Flay in a Thanksgiving Throwndown on Food Network!  Who am I to change her recipes?  (Can you imagine being her future daughter in law?  You would ever be able to have her over for Thanksgiving at your house.  Dude, she beat Bobby Flay!)

Perfect Pumpkin Cheesecake

Sorry, I have no idea how to provide a printable recipe – I’m not really a food blogger…just a blogger who likes food

For a graham cracker crust (she used a yummy looking gingersnap crust):

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I actually bought a box of crumbs so no idea how many crackers that is)

1 stick of butter (this ain’t health food), melted

1/3 c sugar

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Lightly spray your 9 inch spring form pan with non stick cooking spray.  Mix the above and press it LIGHTLY into the bottom of your spring form pan.  If you pack it in too tightly, it becomes difficult to cut and serve.  The cheesecake will compact it down sufficiently. No pre-cooking of this crust is necessary.  If you are using PW’s gingersnap crust she directs a pre-bake so follow those directions.

For the cake (I doubled the spices so see the link above for PW’s way):

Let all items come to room temperature before beginning – including your eggs

3 8oz bricks of cream cheese (full fat…sorry, no making this healthier…it is cheesecake after all)

1 15 oz can pureed pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling…plain pumpkin)

3 large eggs

plus 1 egg yolk

1/4 c sour cream

1 1/2 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbl all purpose flour

1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350*.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the pumpkin until incorporated.  Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, scraping the sides of your bowl between each egg.  Beat in the sour cream.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until combined.

You need a water bath which sounds intimidating but it doesn’t have to be.  Use your turkey roasting pan.  Most recipes will have you wrap your spring form pan tightly with foil so that you can put it in the water bath.  I mentioned I bought a cheap spring form pan…I was nervous about trusting it to be water tight even with the assistance of foil.  I read a brilliant idea on another cooking blog.  I’m sorry I can’t recall where I read it so I can’t give credit.  Instead of foil, buy the big turkey roasting bags (they are meant to be water tight and stand up to the heat of the oven).  Use that to keep the water away from your precious cheesecake.

Scrape the filling into the spring form pan onto the crust.  Using very hot (or softly boiling) water, fill your roasting pan with hot water until the level comes halfway up the side of your cheesecake.  Carefully put it into the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes give or take 10 minutes (a light jiggle in the center is perfect when you take it out…but not a jello-y jiggle.)  Run a knife around the side of the pan to loosen the cake sides to prevent cracking as it cools and pulls away from the pan.

For whatever reason, my cake cracked in the oven rather than during cooling.  Wasn’t pretty but it was darn  yummy!

You must have patience and put the cheesecake (still in the spring form pan…but not in the water bath) in the frig for 8 hours.  I know, I know, it seems cruel.  Kind of like buying a gun in non-red states, there is a waiting period so that your hips can decide if they really want that cheesecake.  It is worth the wait.  And you could always have cheesecake for breakfast if you make it the night before (not that I would know anything about that).

posted under food | 3 Comments »

Rain, rain go away


The week started very, very dreary here.  Gray, rainy, and cold.  In an attempt to make the world seem a little more cheery while running errands yesterday, I pulled out my hot pink rain boots.  (They didn’t help.  Only being at home, on my couch, sipping hot chocolate while watching When Harry Met Sally would have helped.  Just saying.)  Tessa loves to wear my shoes and clop around the house.  And anytime Tessa appears to be having fun, Sabrina must horn in.

Kind of fun to watch Tessa try to figure out how she might get a boot on that comes to her armpit. The girls both struggled to get into a boot.



posted under Misc. | 2 Comments »

Tomato cream vodka sauce


My BFF visited over the weekend.  It was so awesome to see her but she didn’t stay long enough.  Our friendship is woven through with stories of traveling, drinking, and eating.  We always laugh a lot, and eat good food when we are together.  She wasn’t here long enough for either of us to cook but she brought with her a drink concoction that required heavy cream.  I was trying to decide what to make for dinner last night and kept coming back to my desire for pasta and the heavy cream in the frig.  Alfredo?  Nope.  Primavera?  Sounded better but I only had broccoli and peas in the vegetable category.  I started thinking about a vodka cream sauce.  In all honesty, I’ve never had one that I thought was all that great.  Most that I’ve tried have been out of a jar and quite forgettable.  I figured it was worth a try and combed through a half dozen recipes to get an idea of how to throw it together.

YUM!  It turned out fabulous.  I was really surprised by how different it tasted from my normal red sauce.  It had a deep, kind of smoky flavor – and it tasted so indulgent with the cream and cheese!  Before anyone asks, I have no idea if you can make it without the vodka.  I don’t know what it adds to the flavor because I never cook with vodka – but the result was yummy!  It certainly isn’t health food but worthy of being an occasional treat!


3/4 lb ground meat (I used lean beef but sausage, turkey, pork, or chicken would be good)

1/2 med yellow onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup vodka

6 oz tomato paste

15 oz can tomato sauce

1 Tbl dried Italian seasoning

1 Tbl dried basil

2 tsp smoked paprika

red pepper flakes to taste

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup heavy cream (half and half would be fine)

1/3 cup shredded Asiago cheese (Parmesan or Romano would work too)

Salt & Pepper

12 oz  pasta

Brown the meat.  Drain off fat.  Throw in the onion and garlic.  Saute for 5 min or until onion becomes translucent.  Add the vodka.  Allow to simmer for 4 min or until the liquid has reduced by about half.  Add tomato paste, tomato sauce, seasonings, and Worcestershire sauce.  Add the cream and cheese (salt and pepper to taste).  Allow to simmer while you cook the pasta.

Toss with cooked pasta.

posted under food | 3 Comments »

Horsing around


Steve was out of town on a business trip for a few days.  The girls are always bummed out when daddy is gone because he is the fun parent (well and because they love him and stuff).  Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t just the Fun! Dad!  He disciplines and enforces rules as much as I do.  But he is the one who rough houses (I tend to get an elbow to the lip or nose early on so my rough housing attempts usually end in me bleeding).  He is the one who plays silly games.  He is the one that at 5pm has the patience to hear the song that Sabrina has been singing for 8 hours.  He is the one who allows the occasional rule infraction because he doesn’t then have to listen to an argumentative 4 year old throw a fit when the rule is put back in place.  (E.G. One time allowing Sabrina to hang on the back of the cart instead of sitting in the basket turns into 9 months of “But daddy let me!  I don’t want to sit in the basket!”)  So I am often left feeling like the mean, boring mom blob.

I decided to take the opportunity of being single mom last week to try to be more Fun! Mom!

The first night, I told Sabrina she could sleep with me in my bed.  She didn’t go to sleep until 1 am and every time I moved, she pet me and talked to me in soothing voice.  While sweet, it wasn’t conducive to sleep.  When I rolled over at 5:30am, she was again awake and announced it was morning and time to get up.  After more petting of my arm, I finally growled (I’m not a morning person) that she wasn’t to touch me or speak to me again until the alarm went off at 7.  Of course when 7 rolled around, she was fast asleep and crabby that I had to wake her up for school.  We can call that Fun! Mom! experiment a big old FAIL.

One night, I offered the girls anything they wanted for dinner.  First Sabrina picked Red Robin (she is a sucker for balloons) but I had to veto because it is too far away.  Her second choice was bananas.  I should have let her stick with that but I pestered her for a more fun choice.  Pizza was the final idea.  She spent an hour pestering me if it was time to get pizza.  When we finally got it, I spent 45 minutes haranguing her to eat the pizza while she whined that she didn’t want it.  Fun! Mom! dinner experiment = FAIL.

When I picked her up from school on Thursday, I thought I would take the girls to a fun frozen yogurt shop.  You get to pick your yogurt flavors and choose from a couple dozen toppings.  How could that go wrong?  Yogurt was fun. We even had fun walking back to the car and playing little games.  But somewhere between getting in the car and arriving home, things went horribly wrong.  The sugar crash left me with cranky, disagreeable children who wanted nothing more than to whine and pick fights with each other.  They ended up in bed 45 minutes early.  Fun! Mom! ruining dinner experiment = FAIL.

On Friday, my moms club took the kids on a tour of a local stable.  They kids got to pet the horses, feed them carrots, watch them canter and trot and gallop, and groom them.

I really thought this would land me in the books as the Best! Mom! Ever!  I spent much of my grade school years plotting and scheming ways to get my parents to buy me a horse.  (Apparently, divorced parent guilt will score you a canopy bed and pierced ears but the line is drawn at a horse.)  But to be honest, the interest in the horses was mild and the barn cat proved to be much more awesome.

The horsey tire swing also seemed to rate pretty high.

When I prompted Sabrina to tell a friend about their day, she couldn’t remember anything remarkable.  I asked if she saw any animals and she mentioned the cat first and had to be prompted about the horses.  Fun! Mom! horsing around experiment = a wash.  Guess Daddy doesn’t have to worry about his most fun parent status being in jeopardy.

posted under parenting | 4 Comments »

A little verklempt


I took both girls for a quick hair cut last night.  It was Tessa’s first. I was surprised by how close to weepy it made me later that night when I realized her pretty little wispy baby curls in back were gone.  It isn’t any great change other than a quick trim of bangs and the curls coming off the back but being a blogger I thought it deserved a photo this morning.  Tessa disagreed.  I took 23 photos of her laughing and hiding:

Until she finally determined she would deign to allow a quick snapshot:

She is such a butt.  (Please to ignore the sidewalk chalk all over her shirt.)

posted under family | 2 Comments »

My old friend Murphy


Anyone else think all she needs is a sweatshirt hanging off her shoulder to complete the Flash Dance vibe? (Also a haircut.)

Tessa had a grand time today at a holiday craft event.  Although most of the fun was running around while holding an ornament. (That is an adult t-shirt she is wearing for a paint smock not a weird outfit.)


Three weeks after we moved into our house in Pittsburgh,  the hot water heater went kablooey.

The apartment we rented when we first moved to Nashville – no problems.  The house we rented when we moved to this suburb had only 1 maintenance issue while we were there – the ice maker…who cares?

We have officially lived in the new house for 3 weeks.   On Sunday, we all went to Home Depot to buy, among other things, a new garage door remote opener.  We only received one when we bought the house and Steve thought it might be nice to have one since he, you know, lives here too.  We pulled out of the driveway, I pushed the button on my remote, the door closed.  We returned and pushed the button, nothing.  Pushed the button again, nothing.  Huh.  We went in the front door and pulled the release arm on the opener to open the door manually.  Nothing.  Couldn’t budge the door.  Huh.  Called the garage door guy and he immediately diagnosed it.  (The huge spring thingie broke in half and a steel cable on one of the side pulleys broke.  Steve wanted to know which happened first.  I don’t know.  Chicken and the egg – doesn’t matter…just make it work.)  So tomorrow I have the privilege of paying for our first home repair in several years.  Fun stuff.

posted under House stuff | 2 Comments »

Boo and stuff


We went to a little Halloween party last night and trick or treated with friends.  A good time was had by all.  I will say that letting my children run around, in the dark, when hoards of other kids are running amok, in the dark, while disguised gave me a few moments of feeling anxious because I lost sight of one for a moment.

After about 2 blocks, we called it a night.  (We didn’t want them to collect too much – I gave out some of last year’s Halloween candy this year to our trick or treaters because candy is a rare treat for the girls.  They get to pick a treat a day the first week after Halloween…after that it goes into a communal bowl that is then given out as an occasional treat.)  This was the first year Sabrina anticipated Halloween and the first year Tessa went trick or treating so it was fun.

In other news, we spent 4 hours cleaning out the old house, scrubbing it down, etc on Saturday and turned in our keys.  All of our stuff now resides in one place.  My hands are raw from the mix of chemicals I used to clean different areas of the house.  But it is nice to be done with that.

Nice to be done with the process but a little sad to leave that house – only a little.  We didn’t love the house but it is the only home Sabrina remembers and the only place Tessa has known.  So many firsts and celebrations happened there.  When we closed the garage door for the last time we said “Goodbye house.  Thanks for taking such good care of us for so long.”  And off we went.

We are still waiting for the new house to feel like home.  We love it and are comfortable here…it just isn’t ours yet.  We need to hang some more things.  Unpack some more things.  Figure out where everything is.  Be able to find the light switches in the dark.  And we probably need to spill some things on the carpet – with children is anything ever truly yours until you’ve spilled on it?  But it feels good here so I know it will make its way into our hearts quickly.

The girls continue to love the play set best of all…with the play room as a close second.

posted under House stuff | 5 Comments »