Michelle Smiles

Teaching my children to question authority, except mine.

John Denver ear worm


I’ve had various John Denver songs stuck in my head since we headed out for the mountains on Friday. Since my last update about Steve having to return to Pittsburgh, he accepted a new job here in Nashville. We are very fortunate that his skill set allows him to change jobs with relative ease. To celebrate, we decided to head to the Smokies for the weekend. We snagged Sabrina from school at lunch time on Friday and took off.

We are only 4 hours from Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg but we only made the trip once since moving to TN…about 3 1/2 years ago. Everyone got sick on that trip except for me so perhaps that is why we haven’t returned.  The amount of bodily fluids I had to deal with might have colored my memory. This time was much more successful. No one got sick and a good time was had by all.

We decided on a hotel instead of a cabin this time. Mostly because it was a last minute trip and I didn’t have time to obsess over cabins. And the hotel boasted a pool which is all that is required for a 5 year old and a 3 year old to have a good vacation. Traffic was horrendous, as always. We were trying to imagine how insane it must be at high season. Do you just rent a cabin and then not get in your car again until you leave at the end of the week?

A rare photo with mommy on the other side of the camera.

We drove up and down the mountain. We looked at scenic vistas. We ate BBQ. We took many photos. We took the girls walking in the woods. We swam with the girls (the pool water and pool room were FREEZING). The hotel was a nice solution for a quick weekend but we likely won’t do that again. Mostly because sleeping with Sabrina is torture. We had 2 queen beds and there is no way the girls would sleep together. They would giggle and fight and giggle and bicker and generally drive us insane. I slept with Sabrina the first night. She spent the entire night kicking me and trying to spin herself 90 degrees (by pushing off me with her feet) so that she could sleep sideways. She also hit me in the face 4 times and talked in her sleep and ground her teeth. I slept in 20 minute spurts. Thank goodness the hotel was nice enough to have decent coffee for the in room coffee maker.

The girls didn’t appreciate the beauty of the nature around us as much as they appreciated the pool and eating out. But they had fun. And they are great kids. The disruption to their schedules didn’t phase them much. They are good little road trippers.

We had gorgeous weather. It was cold and windy at the top of the mountain on Saturday but less so on Sunday. My hands were numb after snapping photos on Saturday but it was worth it. So many beautiful spots it was hard not to take some nice shots.

Tessa might be starting to get over her camera shy ways. Or maybe it was the thin mountain air?

posted under family, travel | 8 Comments »

I hate thinking up titles


I know it has been quiet around here but for once that doesn’t mean it has been quiet in my world. The cliff notes version? I shared that Steve was told he could work from home full time. About 10 days ago, his company took it back. Last week Steve returned to Pittsburgh. I’ll just let y’all guess how excited we were about that. That is all I have to say about that publicly right now.

Sabrina’s 100th day of school celebration (yes, apparently that is a thing now) required her to have a t-shirt with 100 things on it. No surprise that she chose something sparkly. Tessa wanted to make one too.

In other news, I am co-founding a non-profit. It will be called Small Comforts. We just had our first board of directors meeting last week. We are raising funds to pay for our 501c3 application (the IRS charges $400 to apply to be a non-profit…what a racquet). Small Comforts initial goal (it may expand with time) is to provide a backpack filled with personal items to each child removed from his home and taken to foster care. Many kids leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs…a few others are able to grab a few things and throw them in a Wal-Mart bag. Our bags would give them something of their own – some personal care items, a stuffed animal, some underwear and socks, a book, and hopefully a gift card to Target or a similar store to buy a new outfit. They can then take that bag with them to other placements and know they always have a little something of their own. Once we have the website live, I’ll talk more about what we are doing. I’m very excited to be involved in this – so nice to use my brain for something other than figuring out how to convince Tessa to use the potty.

Yes, at 3 1/2 my child is still in diapers and refuses all potty training attempts. Tessa has come to everything late so I’m trying to be patient. If she isn’t ready, it isn’t worth battling. Child is STUBBORN and isn’t going to do it unless she wants to. I’m just hoping she gets on board soon because after 5 years, this momma is over the diapers. That aside, Tessa is doing well. She finally decided to speak beyond the dozen words she used for a year (see? everything in her own time). Now she rarely stops talking. She will repeat a phrase until you repeat what she said so that she knows you understood her. We’ve counted but have always responded at some point to save our sanity. The highest I’ve counted her repeating is 23 times. She is also a complete instigator with her sister. She ignores rules until she is good and ready to comply. She doesn’t care about time out or having toys taken away – we have yet to truly discover what currency will matter with her. She gets her feelings hurt when we yell and totally manipulates momma because she is my baby. She doesn’t eat a single vegetable voluntarily and only a few fruits. She prefers meat and bread. Not potatoes- all potatoes that aren’t french fries are shunned. She has developed a great face when she doesn’t like the taste or texture of something – I should try and get a photo.  She loves school and is absorbing everything. We’ve decided to send her 3 days a week next year because she enjoys it so much.

Sabrina is doing well in kindergarten. She had a rocky start as she was behind in her letters and letter sounds. But with a little extra help at school and a very patient Daddy, she has improved a great deal. Her writing is still pretty atrocious but that is more being lazy than lack of skill. She is beginning to read which I find amazing. I haven’t loved her teacher this year because she is awful at communicating with the parents. But she was likely exactly what Sabrina needed because she is particularly warm and fuzzy. Sabrina ingratiates herself to all adults she comes into contact with but I don’t think her teacher gets pulled into her act. But everyone else in the school stops us to tell us how much they all love Sabrina. One teacher declared they want to clone her so they can all take her home with them. While I love that she is so well liked, I worry about her tendencies to people please and the lengths she might go in the future to please others. I don’t want her to not be true to herself to make others happy. Outside of school, she is doing well too. We are continually amazed by what a big girl she is – there is not a drop of toddler left. She is a drama queen – every little boo-boo (real and imagined) is cause for major waterworks. And she is the girliest girl you can imagine with everything being purple or glittery or sparkly. She loves all of the trappings of girlhood. She loves crafts and art. She is happiest when she is painting or making a necklace or drawing a picture.

I think I’ll save the other things until they are more official. And I’ll hopefully have some newly painted kitchen walls to show off soon-ish.


posted under Misc. | 12 Comments »



I don’t really do new years resolutions. Neither does Steve. But we did make a goal for the year – we want to do what we can to eat more local food. We’ve been visiting the Nashville Farmers Market in the summers but we’ve been kicking around the idea of joining a CSA (community support agriculture) for a number of years. I’ve been a little nervous about doing it because there are A LOT of vegetables I don’t like. Seriously, a lot. Let’s just start with the basics: tomatoes – hate, peppers – hate. See? Those aren’t even weird items. BUT. Over the past 5 years of being a stay at home momma, I’ve been cooking a lot more. I make a mean salsa and guacamole with tomatoes in them.  And peppers? Green peppers are foul. But recently, I’ve learned that I don’t mind a red pepper (diced small) in some dishes. I always liked cooking but I really enjoy it now. While I’m never going to cook like a pro, I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been learning to like other things that I never thought I would like. Onions? I now buy them by the bag. I’ve always hated onions but not as much now. Zucchini…I’m still luke warm on but I don’t hate it. That is huge progress for me. I’ve discovered that a lot of things I thought I hated were just cooked badly in my childhood years when I was forced to choke them down try them. Have you seen what passes for a pea in the school cafeterias? *Shudder*

That brings me back to the CSA. We had been picking up pamphlets about various CSAs for a couple of years. But we couldn’t commit. Now that Steve is home, we decided to make it a priority this year. We are committed to finding local sources for proteins and produce as often as we can. It can be more expensive – especially the meat. But we feel (for a variety of reasons that I won’t bore you with) it is important. We aren’t being militant in our efforts. Whatever we can do this year is better than what we did last year. And there are still cans and boxes of things packaged who knows where in my pantry. A friend of mine joined a local CSA last year and had good things to say about it. We decided to go with that farm since we knew someone personally who had done it.

I know the local food movement is growing in popularity. And I know a lot of people have the same fears about CSAs and not using all of the food that I had. So I thought I would use my space here to document what we receive and how we use it. Our farm largely raises animals and eggs. They work with over 40 Amish families which provide produce, baked and preserved goods. This allows our CSA to offer a large variety of items to its customers.

Our winter portion is a 1/2 bushel of winter vegetables and preserved items – delivered every 2 weeks. Our summer portion will be 1/4 bushel of produce, 1/2 dozen eggs, and 2 shares of meat (at least 2 meals worth) delivered every week. This week was our first box. Unfortunately, there was a mix up and our box wasn’t on the truck…but the guys threw together some extra stuff for us so that we weren’t completely left out.

Week 1: 2 bags of swiss chard, 1 bag of lettuce, 2 bunches of carrots, 1 loaf whole wheat bread

Pretty non-scary/weird. Neither Steve nor I had ever tried swiss chard before but were willing. I went to twitter to ask what I should do with it. Red Pen Mama said pair it with cannelini beans. Vanderbilt Wife shared a recipe using the stems and bacon. I thought the 2 needed to come together into 1. It was quite yummy – both Steve and I had seconds. The girls were less impressed but did eat the beans.  Here is what I did:

Swiss Chard with white beans and bacon

1 bag swiss chard

2 -3 slices of bacon

2 cloves of garlic

1/3 cup chicken broth

1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed

1 T peach basalmic vinegar (or other vinegar on hand)

Salt & Pepper to taste

I decided I didn’t want to use the stems. Mostly because I tend not to like them in lettuce or spinach so it seemed like a good bet I might not like them here. So I cut off the stems and washed the chard. It looks like a lot but it cooks down like spinach.

Chop the bacon into small pieces. Cook it in a large skillet.  Once done, remove the bacon to drain on a paper towel but leave whatever fat is in the pan. Add the minced garlic cloves, allow to saute for a minute and then add the chicken broth. Once the broth is hot, add the chard.

It will cook down in 1 or 2 minutes. Then add the beans. Stir often – allow to cook for approx 7 minutes (this apparently helps the chard not be bitter). Just before time is up, add vinegar and salt & pepper.

The peach vinegar is nice but I think red wine vinegar or whatever else you have would work.

So our first foray into the world of CSAs and new veggies was a success. Steve was a huge fan and I thought it was very good too.

As for the rest of our box, we’ve been using the bread for toast. The carrots will be part of dinner tonight (raw with dip because I dislike cooked carrots) and another night (cooked for Steve and the girls…I’ll try them but not promising anything). And we’ll do a salad with the lettuce and either this side dish again or something else new with the other bag of swiss chard.


posted under csa, food | 5 Comments »



One of the favorite Christmas gifts this year were the V-Tech Innotabs.  They love them. My only real complaint about them is they eat batteries. We went through 5 sets if 4 AA batteries for each of them in the first 2 weeks and then promptly bought wall plugs and new rechargeables.

It lets them play music, play games, read e-books, and do art (and who knows what else – I let Steve set them up). Part of me worries about the girls having too much screen time. The whole idea of these pads are almost intuitive for them. That seems weird to me. But I realize that screens of all sorts are part of their world in a way they never were or will be for my generation. So I try to not get too uptight about them playing with them. We are talking 30-60 minutes a day – usually not in 1 sitting so please don’t think I mean I allow them to vegetate in front of them. And we don’t let them play with our computers or phones.

Sabrina – I expected her to pick it up pretty quickly. But Tessa blew me away with her almost immediate understanding of how to work it. Oh, I do have 1 other complaint. I wish they made it harder to delete things. The girls deleted a lot of the items we loaded on there because they didn’t understand what “Are you sure you want to delete this?” meant when the computer asked. Not a big deal, just a pain to reload it all.

I can’t imagine what my childhood self would have thought of such a thing. I thought my Magic Merlin was the bomb and it can’t even be compared.

posted under family | 5 Comments »

Stuff I’m loving at the moment


Not everyone is aware of it because I tend to be quite laid back but lurking inside me is a version of Michelle who is a little OCD. I have an OCD streak that I don’t let run free because it comes with a perfectionist streak. And my version of the perfectionist streak wants everything done perfectly or we might as well not do it at all. So I tend to just be laid back about it all because perfectionism is just exhausting and way too much work. Have you been to The Container Store? It is so much fun and my inner OCD Michelle might have weeped with joy as we wandered around it yesterday. (Of course my 16 year old Michelle gave herself a concussion with the eye rolling.) I could financially break us in that place. It makes me want to completely gut my house and start over again – putting everything in neat little bins, baskets, boxes, and drawers. I had a gift card from Christmas (thank Cathie!) so I was able to get a few things to make my pantry prettier and a couple of things to organize my side of the table we use as a desk. But I want more!

Before – it was driving me crazy and I had been searching for something to organize all of the crap:

After a visit to the Container Store:

I will say their shipping charges tend to be INSANE so go to the actual store if you have one near you. But have a project in mind because it can be overwhelming.


My mom sent me a gift card for my birthday for Soma Intimates. They do nice bras but they do amazing PJs. They are so soft and so comfy. I likely wouldn’t spend that much on PJs for myself without the gift card (I is cheap) but I so love having some new jammies to enjoy. If you are looking to treat yourself and to give you husband an idea who he can give you a little treat for Valentine’s Day, this is a great way to do it. (I am writing this at noon still in my new PJs because they are so comfy.)


Something you can’t order but I am loving: this 60+ degree weather we are enjoying this week. The girls received scooters from abuela and bike helmets from Grandma Freida for Christmas. They had a grand time enjoying them after school yesterday.

I receive nothing if you click on those links and the items were gifts from family. But I wouldn’t want the FCC to be confused and think I wasn’t disclosing something.

posted under Shopping | 3 Comments »