Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

Slip sliding away


We had a lovely weekend here in middle TN despite some rain.  We had warm temps and some sunshine.  The girls took advantage of the nice days to play outside.  The grown ups took the opportunity to clean out the garage.  Well Steve cleaned it out while I tried to keep the girls from helping.  They are growing up so quickly!  Tessa has especially been making big leaps forward after quite awhile of stagnation in the development arena.  She is learning to identify her letters.  Mama and dada became mommy and daddy this weekend.  She is trying new things physically.  And she is making more attempts to talk.

And Sabrina has mastered the art of belly swinging

And sliding head first:

Tessa isn’t quite tall enough for the belly swing move

They pick at each other 75% of the time but they can be so sweet together the other 25%.  Sabrina likes to be the big sister (actually she tries to be the mommy and I have to constantly remind her that I am the mommy).  How sweet is this? She is helping Tessa get strapped into her booster:

And here is what happens when mommy goes to the bathroom…I should have been suspicious when I didn’t have an audience. Rookie mistake:

posted under family | 3 Comments »

Preschool Competition


In my area, getting your children into preschool isn’t for the faint of heart.  You know the movies and sitcoms that joke about signing your child up for preschool while still in the womb?  Around here that wouldn’t be a bad idea.  It isn’t uber-competitive as in “My Johnny speaks 3 languages, walked at 4 months, and potty trained at 6 months.”  It is uber-competitive as in there are 250 preschool slots available locally but we have 679 toddlers who want to attend.  (I totally made up the numbers but the ratio feels right.)  There just aren’t enough spaces.

Your best bet is to find a brand new, not yet open, never heard of preschool and sign up immediately.  That was my strategy with Sabrina’s school.  It was only open for 3 months when I toured it and signed her up.  The other option seemed to be camping out like preschool is the new Springsteen ticket.  My girlfriends, Crystal and Rachel, got in line at 4:30am to get their kids into one of the local preschools.  And they weren’t the first ones in line! When the preschool opened at 8 to give out numbers to come back and sign up, there were approximately 50 people waiting for only a few slots.  They both got in since they were near the front of the line but how crazy is it that we have to go to such lengths to pay for the privilege of sending our children to preschool in a church basement?

I’m not in love with Sabrina’s school and it is a 20 minute drive one way so I let my opportunity to sign up Tessa (current students and siblings get first dibs) pass.  With Sabrina starting Kindergarten in the fall (I! Know! *SOB*), it wasn’t feasible to get both girls to school in 2 different places at the same time.  Despite the logistical nightmare it would have created, I started to feel a little panicky about Tessa not having a spot in school this year.  I was on the fence about her attending this year but was afraid if I didn’t get her in somewhere now, there wouldn’t be any spots open next year.  I put Tessa on a couple of waiting lists.  As a last ditch effort, I called a local school that a lot of my friends have used.  I figured one more waiting list.  To my absolute surprise, they had 2 spots open for 3 year olds next year.  I toured and wrote a deposit check the next business day.

Steve initially asked if 1) Tessa was ready to go to school and 2) I was ready for Tessa to go to school.  I wasn’t sure on either answer.  But during our tour, Tessa took off her coat and sat right down.  She picked up a crayon and scribbled.  Then went over to a little boy playing with the train tracks and joined in.  She threw a fit when I told her we had to leave.  So I guess she is ready.  I was happy to see her excited and overjoyed at having found an open class for her at a school I was comfortable with (without standing in line in the wee hours).  Then I got into the car and realized my baby will be going to preschool 2 days a week.  *Sob*  How did that happen?!?

In defense of couponing


I started couponing a little over a year ago.  I took a little class with some friends on how to do it effectively.  I go in fits and spurts with it.  When my stockpile gets full or I get sick of buying 3 Sunday papers, I stop for a couple of months.  Then when there is a really good sale or my stockpile gets low, I start buying papers and get back into it again.

It isn’t a quick and easy thing.  It takes time to put together your list – matching up sales and coupons and getting everything organized.  Fortunately, there are a lot of sites out there that help with the match ups but you still have to locate and organize your coupons.  At the store, you have to pay attention so that you buy the exact size and number of the items or you aren’t maximizing your savings.  Add in 2 toddlers and it is downright difficult.

I’m not a coupon queen.  I don’t come home with 2 carts full of groceries for $1.19.  I still have a few brand loyalties which I am supposed to give up completely in the name of couponing (if a brand I don’t use is a good deal, I buy it and donate it to the food bank).  But if I can save 50% or more, I’m pretty happy.  I tell you all of this not because I’m an expert but because I still get attitude from some folks who insist that you if you use coupons you must buy a bunch of junk for your family. No, you don’t find coupons on produce or fresh items often but my savings on staples allow me to spend more on produce.  And yes, sometimes you have to go to multiple stores.  I don’t know if I could do this if I worked outside the house.  I feel like part of my job in being a stay at home mom is saving money where we can so some of my time is working at couponing.  And yes, the savings can be a little addictive…I get a little rush when I see how much I saved on a good trip.  Why yes, I am a dork.

I had a good trip to Publix this week so I thought I would show off that you don’t have to buy crap in order to use coupons. Here is what I bought (this was a just a stockpile trip – I didn’t need milk or butter or produce):

(Can’t believe I took the time to lay out my groceries to take a photo.) Okay, the Chef Boyardee ravioli kind of falls in the crap category but Steve loves it for lunches (he does eat the 99% fat free so it isn’t as bad as the regular).  But other than that, it is all canned veggies, canned beans, bread crumbs, chicken broth, canned diced tomatoes, frozen veggies, fresh pasta, a Macaroni Grill frozen family dinner, and dishwasher detergent. Before tax, my total was $29.68 (after it was 33.80 – we don’t pay personal income taxes so our sales tax is sky high).  I saved $65.36. I saved around 65% and not one of those items is something I wouldn’t normally buy except the Macaroni Grill entree and that is because it is normally too expensive and I don’t know if it is worth the money.  I simple bought quantities I wouldn’t normally buy.  But stockpiling allows me to wait to buy things again until they are on sale.  I also picked up some dishwasher detergent at Target this week – one box was free and the other was $.50 after coupons so between the 2 trips, I won’t need to buy it again for several months.

Nothing wrong with deciding your time is worth more than you can save with coupons but don’t assume that people who are doing it are feeding their families ho-hos and frozen pizza.  Mmmmm…ho-hos.

posted under Shopping | 9 Comments »

Peanut Butter Pie


Church lady cook books.  Did you all have those growing up?  They were a staple in rural Ohio.  The church ladies would all throw their favorite recipes in and publish a spiral bound cook book to raise funds for something.  Those little cook books were gems.  Sometimes the recipes were downright humorous – find one from the 50’s and count the jello molds.  Sometimes the recipes were fabulous.  Sometimes you wouldn’t know until you tried if whether the recipes was a keeper or not.  This is one of those recipes.  It is one of those that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  It doesn’t sound like much to read it on paper but it tastes amazing.

I used to make this pie all of the time for picnics and potlucks and gatherings.  And then I lost the cookbook somewhere along the way and I kind of forgot about it.  Fast forward 10 years to a gathering of my friends here in TN.  Some friends were asking Jennie for a recipe for her peanut butter pie.  I heard her mention the ingredients and a light bulb went off in my head.  MY PIE! I asked her to send me the recipe as well.  We started discussing it and found that she had spent some time living in a small town in rural Ohio not far from my hometown.  Her mother had gotten the recipe from a church lady in another town.  We found it funny that our source was possibly the same all these years and miles later.

For some reason, it took me a year after she sent me the recipe to get around to making the pie.  I forgot how yummy it is.  The ingredients are simple.  You’ll see my back story is much longer than the recipe itself.  Make this.  Take it to a picnic.  Everyone will love you.

Church Lady Peanut Butter Pie

1 large box vanilla pudding – cook & serve (Don’t use instant.  If you want to be lazy buy 2 tubs of Kozy Shack prepared pudding.  Also, you can use chocolate and make it more of a reese’s pie.)

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tub of cool whip (8-10 oz)

1 pie shell (you can buy one of the refrigerated ones and bake it or you can use a graham or chocolate crust already prepared…I used chocolate)

Make the pudding according to the directions on the box. Allow it to cool at least to room temperature – it doesn’t have to be chilled but you don’t want it warm enough to melt the peanut butter.

Mix the peanut butter and powdered sugar together with a fork (use it like a pastry cutter).  It will form crumbs.

Put half of the crumb mixture into the bottom of your pie shell.

Put all of the pudding on top of the crumb mixture.  Then put most of the remaining crumb mixture on top of the pudding making sure to get to the edges.  Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the crumb mixture for garnish.

Top with Cool Whip and then the remaining crumb mixture.  Chill.

I took this to Bunco this weekend and everyone seemed to like it a lot.  My husband refused to try it – he has a weird custard issue and said it looked too much like custard.  Whatever.  That just means I don’t have to share when I make it.

Click the button to see more Mouthwatering Monday recipes.

posted under food | 24 Comments »

Favorite view


I’ve been slow to share photos of the new house – mostly because it feels like such a work in progress.  But I realized that it will likely be in progress for the next decade.  Our wish list of things to do and things to buy/replace is at least a decade long.  I was thinking about what to share and decided I would share my favorite view in the house.

It is the view from my shower.  There is no rhyme or reason but this view just makes me feel happy.  I like that I can see the window from the shower.  I like the little plantation shutters on that window (I keep them tilted so that no one is subjected to a view of me better left private).  I like seeing my happy flowers in my colorful vases that used to sit on my kitchen window in my last house and sat in my living room window in our house in Pittsburgh. Maybe it is because the shower is one of the few places I’m not often bothered.  I usually shower while the girls are in bed so I am left alone.  (On the weekends when they aren’t in bed, they come in and stare at me and I suddenly feel like a fish in an aquarium must feel.)

While our bathroom isn’t anything special, it is the nicest and largest bathroom I’ve ever had.  I like the separate shower and tub.  I like the empty floor space that has me daydreaming of some type of interesting furniture to use for linens.  There are things I find odd – there were no hooks or towel bars when we moved in,  there is no medicine cabinet, and no linen closet.  (Our first 2 home improvement purchases were a new shower head and some towel bars.)  And those glass doors are a b*tch to keep clean.  But I still smile when I stand in my shower and look out the window.

posted under House stuff | 2 Comments »



This is what you get when you wait until the Sunday night before Monday Valentine’s day to buy kids valentines.  I bought a box for Sabrina’s school party weeks ago but didn’t consider the MOMS Club party.  So I thought I would just pick some up at the store.  There were 2 boxes left on the shelf at Kroger.  One was pixie sticks and I just can’t do that to my friends.  So I went with the LifeSaver Gummies version.  (When I was a kid they sold plain old cards…now they all seem to contain candy, stickers, or tattoos.) The smashed, crumpled, shoved back in the corner last box of its kind.

Between snow and illnesses (mine then Tessa’s and now Sabrina’s), we’ve been stuck in the house for a very long time.  I got a little desperate and pulled out the crafts one day.  We made some heart garland and the girls were very proud.

Grandma is always good for some holiday themed goodies.  The girls love getting mail – especially when it contains presents.  I made them wait until this morning to open it.  They had a great time checking out their loot.  Mommy even let them have a lollipop after breakfast.

The weather has taken a turn for the better – it has been in the 60’s.  Unfortunately, illness still lingers so we haven’t been able to enjoy it much.  Today, Sabrina suddenly developed pink eye.  So off to the doctor we go in the morning.  Hope you all had a great Valentine’s day.

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Antipasto pasta salad


I know, I know.  Antipasto pasta salad is an oxymoron but if the vegetarians can have meatless hamburgers, why not?  This came about last summer.  We were going to a friend’s for a potluck gathering and I had said I would bring a pasta salad.  I don’t particularly like pasta salad but it is easy to make.  Pasta salad always sounds like a good idea but rarely tastes very good to me.  I was in the mood for antipasto but didn’t want to bring something other than what I had promised.  So I decided I would marry the 2.  And the results were fabulous.  Seriously lick the bowl, eat until you want to burst, get your cholesterol checked on Monday cuz this ain’t health food good. Great to take to a party because it makes a ton.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to dream this up but here is how I make it.  It is simple – just a lot of chopping.  Anything you can buy already cut up, do it. And feel free to substituted and add things – anything that you could put on an antipasto platter (think artichoke hearts) or in a pasta salad (more veggies) would work.

Antipasto Pasta Salad

1 box rotini pasta (my box was 13 oz), cooked and rinsed in cold water

1/3 lb sliced pepperoni, cut into bite sized pieces

1/3 lb sliced hard salami, cut into bite size pieces

1/3 lb sliced ham, cut into bite size pieces

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

1 tomato, diced

1/2 jar pepperoncinis, sliced

1/2 jar kalamata olives, pitted

1/3 jar green olives

Mozzarella cheese – I’ve used both fresh, chopped and the regular shredded.  Whatever you prefer.

1 bunch broccoli, boiled 1 minute, then plunged in ice water, then chopped

Toss all of this together in a really large bowl.  Pour dressing over.  Let refrigerate for a few hours or a day.

Dressing can be any Italian dressing you like but use a good one – this deserves more than Wishbone.  I used one loosely based on this one.  I used plain yogurt instead of mayo, only 1/3 cup of water, a squirt of Dijon mustard, more lemon juice, a tablespoon or 2 of the juice out of the pepperoncini jar, added some thyme (fresh is great but dried works), and a packet of splenda.  Basically, I played around with it until it tasted good.

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posted under food | 1 Comment »

My happy thought


Hey y’all!  Remember when I moved south?  I was all “oh the summers will suck but we’ll have mild winters to make up for it!”

Yeah.  It isn’t working out that way.  Every year we’ve been here, we’ve had snow.  But this year, it has been ridiculous.  Yes, I know places like NY and Boston have so much snow piled up they don’t know what to do with it.  I get that.  I get that my whining about repeated snows of an inch or two will not receive much sympathy.  But an inch or two shuts this place down. And I lived on the surface of the sun in June, July, August, September, and part of October with the understanding (do you hear me Mother Nature?) that I would get some reciprocity.  I would be able to be a little smug about our 40 and 50 degree temps while my northern friends and family shoveled snow.  WHERE IS MY MILD WINTER MOTHER NATURE?!? *Shaking my fist*

I went to Trader Joe’s earlier this week.  I saw a pot of tulips which were so tightly budded that I couldn’t tell their color.  Looking out at the 9 degree morning, my yard covered in snow yet again, I was feeling rather grumpy.  They picked a great day to reveal themselves to me.  A spot of bright, spring filled hope.  So, I am trying to focus on my pretty fuchsia tulips and remember that this winter will eventually end and spring will come.  And then 10 days later it will be 95 degrees and I’ll be bitching about the heat.

posted under nashville | 2 Comments »

Here we go…


Sabrina always accessorizes her football gear with fairy wings.

posted under Misc. | 1 Comment »

Make it stop!


Odd moments make me stop and catch my breath at how quickly my girls are growing.  Tonight, we ordered pizza.  We let them eat at the coffee table and watch a movie (this is a big! deal!).  I was watching them and felt the sucker punch of reality – these girls aren’t babies anymore.  It might not resonate with anyone else but I had to grab my camera because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – such little people instead of babies or toddlers.

A friend’s little girl rode with us to school this morning.  On the way, Sabrina was chattering to her and told her that we were buying a new car for her so she could drive herself to school (no idea where this came from…I’m blaming Dora because I always blame Dora – in her mind, if a squirrel can drive, why not her?).  I laughed but in a blink of an eye she is going to be asking for that for real.

posted under family | 6 Comments »