Back to School Pictures I Won't Be Taking

I spotted this on Pinterest today. Very bad idea to type in “back to school” in the search box. Very. Bad. Idea. I am more and more becoming that WTF!? mother. Four boys, and over 13 years of first days of school will do that to you. Yes, it’s absolutely adorable, and yes, I would actually like to snap some of those scenes, and yes, I am sure many mothers can and will complete this list.  And it will be awesome and memorable, and be stuck in the pages of a photo album (or in my case, on the cameras memory card) until I rediscover them a decade from now.  But whatever,  you go snap those pics supermom. You. Friggin. GO. Me? This is how I will handle the list.

School supply shopping

No way in HELL I take the kids with me anymore. It’s me gripping my $5 latte, shuffling around the Wal-Mart at 11 p.m. at night, tossing whatever the hell color folder I LIKE into the cart, and I am all ALONE. It’s awesome.

Lunches and backpacks by the door

WHAT? Uh, NO. Sorry, they are already in the trunk. Buh-BYE kids. 

School Lunches

If between the time they are packed and thrown in the trunk I have time to take a picture, well, you have permission to unfriend me.

Child’s name in their own handwriting

Know what? I’m good. I had enough years of my kid’s names in black sharpie on the furniture, the walls, the floors, their arms, their brother’s arms, my arms. I wouldn't know how to handle it written on actual paper.

Child holding lunchbox and wearing backpack

Yep. If they wanna jump in the trunk for a picture, that’s fine.

Number of their grade

Like I know. What year is it?

With mom/dad/siblings

First of all, I haven't  been in a picture since 1998, when first kid was in my belly. Secondly, getting them to all stand together, yea, that’s funny-unless dad was in picture, with a Darth Vader death grip on all of them, well, then maybe that could happen. But I doubt it.

In front of school

Ummm, just dropping off in the car lane. Guilt. Free. 

In the classroom

NO. Just no! I know their teachers. Trust me, they don’t want a bunch of giddy parents in there trying to capture a magazine cover quality shot of their kid sitting at their school desk. 

With the new teacher

See above. Plus, deep down teacher is mentally counting days until Christmas vacation. 

With friends

Hurry up, jump out of the car, and go stand next to another kid your size.  Say cheese!

In front of the school sign

I got this. Right after I drop you off, I am gonna do a slow drive by and get a shot. No worries. Will photoshop you in later.

School Bus

We don’t ride one, but if we did, the picture would be of me giving the driver a pitcher of mimosas to knock back after drop off and before pick up.

Walking into classroom or to bus

Ok, ok, ok. This one I will sort of do my way. Not walking, but in the car.  I will take a group shot  of all of you crying in the backseat on the first day. Then another of me, looking in the rearview mirror, with a smile so big I will have to use panoramic feature on my iPhone. Done. 

Here is mom's first day of school picture-

The South In Your Mouth- 4 Southern Cookbooks Reviewed

Southern food has come a long way, and so have southern cookbooks. Gone are the days of red gingham lined pages filled with chicken ’n dumpling, fried okra, and peach cobbler recipes. Modern southern cooking has spawned a new crop of talented foodies and chefs, born and raised in the south, who grew up eating farm to table and foraging their eggs from the backyard chicken coop way before was in vogue.  Some were classically trained at the world’s best culinary schools, some acquired their knife skills in the heart of their nana’s kitchen. Either way, they are reinventing southern cuisine,  by simply updating the tried and true with a swanky southern tweak, they are making the south taste even better. The four cookbooks below do just that - take the familiar (and the not so familiar) southern staples and recipes we know and love, and transform  them into southern epicurean deliciousness. And they manage to do so without pretentious ingredients or hard to find spices, because when you simply add a dash of sweet southern spunk and love to your dishes, you don’t need much of anything else.

The Southern Bite Cookbook by Stacey Little

From the creator of comes this amazing gem of a cookbook, created by a man with no culinary training, other than from the generations of women before him whose aprons strings he hung on to in the kitchen.  Gorgeous photographs of both Little’s food and his close knit family grace these 250 pages of pure and simple yum. Nothing too fancy or unreachable, The Southern Bite’s recipes are divided into just that, categories of bites; party, side, weekend, weeknight, potluck, holiday, sweet, and my favorite, heirloom. Each ‘bites’ chapter begins with a short story, memory, or homage to that chapter’s theme. Traditional no frills southern recipes make up the bulk of this book; Cornbread Dressing, Hummingbird Sheet Cake, Spicy Black Eyed Peas, and Squash Casserole.  Along side them are some jacked-up goodies like the Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, Sour Cream Chicken Enchilada Pie, Baked Turnip Green Dip, and Red Velvet Brownies. As Little puts it, The  Southern Bite Cookbook reminds readers that “Regardless of what you call it, or where it’s cooked, when you share your food, you share your history, your family, your life.”  If you are starting your family's cooking traditions and history, having this full-flavored cookbook in your home library is a great place to start. 

The Southern Slow Cooker Bible: 365 Easy and Delicious Down-Home Recipes by Tammy Algood

With the popularity and convenience of slow cooking on the rise, and the many sleek varieties of the good old fashioned crock pot out on the market, it’s no wonder southern cooking has jumped on the braise all day band wagon. That, and it’s awful hot in the south and sometimes  just better to leave the oven off. Nashvillian Algood, author of Farm Fresh Southern Cooking, presents a voluminous array of slow cooked southern meals, uniquely categorized by ingredient and food type. Also included are smart tips for ensuring correct use of your slow cooker, as well as conversion instructions to turn your oven meals into slow cooked ones. Chapters are specific to one main ingredient, like eggplant, carrot, peach, beans, and pumpkin, just to name a few. Protein chapters include pork, beef, turkey, eggs, lamb, seafood, ham, lamb, and chicken. There is even an entire chapter dedicated to chocolate, and one for grits. The chili chapter alone is worth the price of this book, as it features 15 variations of chili, including a vegetarian wheat berry chili. Recipes use fresh and easily accessible ingredients, and do not rely on processed creamed soups, dry spice envelopes, or heavy sauces. For the chic foodie, try the Southern Kale Lasagna and Wine Poached Pears, or the Toasted Coconut Chicken Thighs with German Chocolate Walnut Cake. My other slow cooker books have not been opened since I received this one. It is creative and comprehensive enough to replace all the others.

The Southern Vegetarian by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence

Ever pick up a vegetarian cookbook and feel as if the authors are presenting recipes in a holier than thou tone, and you end up feeling ashamed that you maybe eat meat once in a while? Rejoice meat eating veggie lovers, because this is not one of those cookbooks. From the creators of the gorgeous and eclectic food blog, comes this heavenly collection of dishes that transform down home southern vegetables into masterpieces of the modern vegetarian table. Forget your preconceived notions of the south being the bacon belt, perhaps no other region in the country boasts such deep vegetable roots as that of the south, the place where the original backyard vegetable garden was born. Described as a “fresh, fun, and slightly irreverent and joyful look at vegetables,” this cookbook is a feast for the eyes and the mouth. Intro includes an example of a well-stocked vegetarian pantry, and a list of essential kitchen tools for peeling, chopping, and blending your garden’s goodies. Chapters are comprised of breakfasts and brunches, appetizers, soups and sandwiches, mains, desserts, drinks, and the ‘basics’ (sauces, doughs, crusts, salsas.) Flavor combinations here are extraordinarily unconventional yet mouthwatering. Terrific addition to the vegetarian’s cookbook collection, as well as the healthy southern foodie.

The B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery Cookbook by Alexe Van Beuren with recipes by Dixie Grimes

Before I even opened up this book, the way the textured cover and heft of it felt in my hand made me want to love it. And then when I flipped through it, I fell madly in love. Water Valley, Mississippi, what a blessing you have in Beuren and Grimes, an unlikely pair who together have curated a little lunch counter from heaven, and a grocery selection that would make a Whole Foods patron jealous. Everything about this book, from the memorable stories of the small town folk who patron the B.T.C., to its humble beginnings, like how it went from a one tomato produce stand to a vibrant, delectable, and eclectic foodie heaven, makes the B.T.C.  (stands for Be The Change) cookbook one that should definitely sit on your shelf. The short stories Beuren intertwines throughout tell many charming tales, are unpretentiously written, and reflect a down home yet worldly take on  running a small business, sustainable supplying of groceries, and southern food culture. Grimes’ recipes, most of which are served at the B.T.C., is a mashup of the south meets sophistication. Consider the soup chapter, which includes a Catfish Gumbo next to a Roasted Pear and Zucchini Soup. Or my favorite chapter, breakfast, where your  mouth can water skimming over the  four recipes for gravy, as well as the Honey Goat Cheese Frittata with Prosciutto and Arugula. (Unbelievably, this is in Mississippi.) Along with these semi gourmet recipes, Grimes keeps it real with dishes like an amazing Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows and Coconut Crumble, Baked Brussels Sprouts Casserole, Tex-Mex Pimento Cheese Spread, and Peach Icebox Pie. This is 250 pages of appetizing heaven, and I haven’t even mentioned the full page gorgeous photographs. Do yourself a favor, either take a road trip to the heart of Mississippi and visit the B.T.C., or buy their cookbook. You will be happy either way. 

Retailers.....Can I Have A Moment?

They are BACK. Already. School supplies are back in stores. On the heels of the 4th of July, while I am still in hamburger inhaling, watermelon slurping, and swimming pool mode, I saw them. The golden square boxes of crayons stacked up and standing tall, almost grinning. The rainbow colors of spiral notebooks, the familiar squatty bottles of Elmer’s Glue, the little people hand sized scissors.  All of it, lined up in what was just a few weeks ago the sunscreen aisle. Attention retailers, can I just have a moment? And can that moment be called SUMMER? I still need popsicles, sunscreen, hot dog buns, and beach shovels and pails.  My brain and my kid’s brains are still currently on hiatus from structure of any kind. So when I see reams of wide ruled notebook paper and protractors staring at me  from store shelves on the third week of July, I get a little tense.  I am not ready people. Not. Ready. I still  have long lazy days to enjoy, mornings to sleep in, lunches to NOT have to pack and plan. I need our seasons of life to not be  determined by the front of store displays. I need it to still be the season of SUMMER, not the season of fall planning. 

To add insult to injury,  the back to school gear catalog from Pottery Barn Kids and Teens came in last week. Thank God, because now we can all breath a sigh of ivy league elementary school relief.  I was starting to get a bit nervous that my only back to school gear options were gonna be from that gawd awful red bullseye place, you know the one we sorta pronounce in quasi French.  I mean, I don’t want to buy my kid’s  lunchbox in the same place where I buy my tampons, just sayin.’  So when my mailbox unloaded those back to school pages of fall catalog euphoria, I  skipped into my house, practically giddy, holding all of its’ glossy goodness. Thank God. Now I can sit down, relax, and have  a perfect  bird’s eye  look at  everything my own children and my home are NOT. Man, I  don't know about you, but I personally cannot  wait to feel more inferior, more stylistically challenged and parentally inept than I do when I turn those pages.  Ahhhh, just looking at the cover, dripping with classic autumnal hues, wool cap wearing 7 year olds sporting sueded dirty bucks, tweed blazers and bow ties (who appear to be outfitted for a frat meeting at Ole Miss-not the 2nd grade,) I am immediately transported to the happiness that is the first day of school. Except that it is 99 degrees outside, and oh yea, STILL JULY. But hey, I am inspired by what I see, so I jump on the PBK design blog, you know, just to see what the latest and greatest in lunchbox, backpack, homework ‘station,’  and dorm trends are.  And here they are:

1. Your kid’s lunch better be Bento style 

 And also prepared by the staff from Whole Foods, and served in a $50 stainless steel divided feng shui style box. Because PB&J, a banana, and some chips are so 2005.  Do you get just a wee bit peeved when your kid loses a $1 Ziploc container? Just think how delighted you will be when they come home without this beauty. 

2. Your kid needs their own  home office

Complete with a $700 adjustable  leather chair, an old beat up suitcase a la thrift store, hanging industrial looking lights that scream jailhouse, a magazine sorting system, and a tin lunchbox circa 1940. Sorry mini CEO’s, but I did my times tables on the kitchen table, and turned out just fine. As a matter of fact, I am able to actually concentrate and write this post from my current office, the laundry room. 

3. College dorm closets are not just for beer anymore

Because you definitely need someplace to store the 30 pairs of shoes you brought with you. And your typical dorm room has plenty of space for rolling carts and boxes made of linen. I am sure those will never, ever, see pizza grease or vomit.

4. High school is hard on your daughter,  so she needs a ‘lounge’ room. 

After a long day of 19th century lit and negative integers,  I too like to come home and lie down like a Kardashian on a plush chaise with star pillows, under a chandelier, a wall light reminding me how ‘Wonderful “I am, and surrounded by old vinyl records and suitcases. Again with the vintage suitcases! Memo to self- next time you see one at the Hospice thrift store for $5, BUY and EBAY. Asap. 

5. Everything your kid owns needs to be personalized. 

Yep. Even that. My kid’s school supply list says he needs 6 spiral notebooks. No biggie, this will only set me back about $60, and they will stay as crisp and fresh looking as they do in this picture all year long. And honestly, it is such a pain in the ass for my kid to have to WRITE their name on all their stuff. It’s not like there are local children currently living in poverty, who I could entirely outfit with a backpack,  a lunchbox, and every school supply they need for the whole year with that same $60. Charity, shmarity- little Todd needs to know Spidey is all HIS.

So I am happily tossing out the fall catalogs, and sticking with corn on the cob and lemonade for a few more weeks. We will all be ready soon enough. I am sure, a month from now, having done every summer activity we can think of, I will be singing and pushing my shopping cart down the school supply aisle with enough glee to garner my own musical number. And then, a week later, the Christmas trees will show up. 

Check Out Lane Epiphanies

I stand in grocery store check out lines a lot. Like, all the time. Over and over and over again. I’m serious. I live with 5 humans of the male gender, and all they do is break stuff and consume.  And consume. Then consume some more. Soap, bread, razors, juice, toilet paper, cheese, chicken, tylenol, pretzels. Eat. Poop. Repeat. I stock the fridge, stock the pantry, stock the bathroom cabinet.  I go to bed, sufficiently stocked.  I wake up and POOF! They are glaringly empty. Heigh Ho! Heigh ho!  It’s back to the store I go! To fill, to push, to load the cart, heigh ho! And then I stand in line at the check out lane. And I wait. And wait.  20 items or less? Ha. That’s funny. I have 20 items alone that came from the same dairy case.  But hey, it’s not all bad, as it gives me  plenty of time to peruse the periodicals . Right now I can tell you which celebrity looks bad in a bathing suit, who is back in rehab, how to make a killer summer pasta salad, and the current cost  of a four pack of batteries, beef jurkey, and Peanut M&Ms. (Hey chocolate pushers at Mars, Inc., $1.49 is a bit steep for the small bag.)  I can also tell you that standing in lines give you plenty of time to think. And look around. And to think about the people you are looking around at. And as fate would have it, (Fate stalks me- you’re listening to a lady who  delivered the same exact baby four times in a row) when I find myself in front or behind these people,  I have all four kids with me. And I am at the end of a bad day.  A bad day which had me washing dishes, floors, and butts, but not myself. A day in which I embrace my morning lamenting “I just can’t do this anymore” and end it in the evening  saying, “I just can’t do this again tomorrow.”  That is usually when I meet the following check out line people;

“Young Lover Guy”

Inhale. Wow. He smells amazing, or my nose  has become so accustomed to toddler feces, that anybody who simply showers smells amazing. His shoes are shiny, he is clean shaven, his shirt is crisp at the cuffs, his smile beaming so brightly it almost hurts my eyes.  He is buying a bouquet of flowers, some good chocolate, and a Hallmark card. This guy is totally having sex tonight. He shyly grins at me, I return with a dumb stare, too sleep deprived to form an actual word.  I can’t even manage a weak “Hello.” I’m sure he thinks I am his mom’s age. I gawk again, and I pray, PRAY, that  my eyes can convey the following; “DUDE. Take a good look at me. Look HARD. Not with that. With your eyes. This is what getting laid looks like nine months later. It ain’t pretty, right? Listen pal, I don’t want to see you here in a year, sleep walking down the diaper aisle, on the phone with your screaming wife, tapping me on the shoulder to ask if I know where the nipple cream is. Got that? Now march your horny heiny all the way back to the pharmacy and pick up some condoms for God’s sake. Ribbed. For her pleasure.”   
He doesn’t move. Shame. He’s still single, and clearly hasn’t mastered the woman eye read yet.  He will. Ohhh will he ever.  At least I know where the nipple cream is so I can help him next time we meet. 

“Party Group”

Millennials, three guys and three girls, all uncoupled but curious. They are wearing torn jeans, North Face henleys, cross body messenger bags, flip flops, and smelling faintly of good weed. They are buying two cases of  micro-brewed craft beer, frozen pizza, whipped cream, a jar of honey, a couple cans of red spray paint, and Twister. The game, not the movie. I look into each of their faces, focusing hungrily, almost desperately. No chance in hell they can eye read yet but I give it a shot anyway.  “Please, please, please… for the love of youth, take me with you. I can ditch these kids in about 20 minutes and be free. I have not been on a reckless romp in almost a decade. Wherever you are going and whatever you are doing, take me with you. I know I look admittedly frumpy, and one housecoat away from your grandma, but I swear I can be fun. And bonus! I know people. Important community people, like cops, judges, and even the mayor.  Trust me. Whatever wicked trouble we get into, I can get us out of. Please. I’m ready.” 

“Doting Grandma”

She’s retired, with soft gray hair and light pink reading glasses chained around her neck. She is buying cat food, tea bags, and a frozen TV dinner.  Her kids are grown, now scattered around the country, her grandkids scattered around the world.  She gives me the once over, and I brace for the “Wow, you have your hands full comment! ” But she stays quiet. I look fixedly into her eyes, and she holds my stare. This one is different I think. She must of had all boys.  She’s been there, done that,  and knows what NOT to say. Right now she is remembering it,  her gaze passes beside me so she can recall the moments clear in her mind. We make eye contact. She can eye read. Of course she can! I pause, releasing the chaos of my kids, and look into her eyes. We silently converse. 

“I’m so tired. I can’t do this anymore.”

“I know it’s hard, really hard. I did it when cartoons were on only one morning a week!” 

“It never stops. The neediness, the housekeeping, the cooking, the whining. It never stops.”

“You can do it. And it will stop. And no, I am not going to say you are gonna miss these days, but you are gonna miss these days. You will blink and then be shopping alone, with nobody to cook for. You can do this. You have a beautiful family. You are doing a good job momma. It’s worth it.”

“Thank you for not saying I am gonna miss these days. I know it’s worth it.”  

I smile back at her, grateful and showing great aplomb, and pay for my stuff. 

“Twenty-something Girl”

I actually FELT her first. Not because she touched me, but because her stare was so condescendingly enveloping, it practically breathed down my neck. She came up in line behind me, perfectly wardrobed in a sheer black shift dress, belted for her workday look, but stylish enough to take her into evening. Carrying a Tory Burch tote, french manicured nails, shaved legs,  not a wisp of hair out of place, she was the epitome of  “I am twenty-something, I have a great job, and I totally have my shit together.”  She was buying a petite filet, asparagus, and a bottle of pricey pinot noir, presumably on her way to meet ‘young lover guy.’  She was everything I wasn’t, and she made me feel it.  Meanwhile, I was in the throws of post-partum hysteria, juggling a 3 month old in my arms who was trying to eat lunch through my shirt, another kid was in meltdown mode,  and another kid, well, I had lost him back in the ice cream aisle, and was currently screaming his name.  I was filthy, exhausted, brutally overwhelmed, and if provoked could go from zero to crying in roughly .3 seconds. Filet girl was silently chastising me, saying with her glare, “Lord help me but I will never turn into this mother; completely unkempt, her kids dirty, whining, and inattentive, wearing mismatched and lunch stained clothes, buying chicken nuggets. That will never be me.”  She had taken me down swiftly, and I had no reply, after three kids my quick witted brain cell bank was depleted. I drove home from the grocery store that day sobbing fat tears the whole trip,  and wondering, as many moms do, how did I get here and will I ever get out?

Years later, on a beautiful morning that saw me get my four kids off to school successfully, have a good run, shower AND shave, and put on something other than yoga pants, I decided I would treat myself to a well deserved lunch out, because for once I totally had my shit together. Then I would do some grocery shopping ALONE. I have come to a point in my life where grocery shopping alone is borderline orgasmic. I had also just started to feel like I had ‘gotten out.’ Out of all the sleepless nights, the toddler tantrums, nap times, snack times, the witching hours, diapers. I am slowly making my way into a new season of motherhood, and I kinda like it.  I happily filled my grocery cart, and headed for the check out lane. And that’s when I saw her, twenty-something girl. She was in line ahead of me, unloading her cart. It was full of pads; Swiffer, breast, maxi. Ah, the goodie bag of young motherhood. She was wearing sweatpants and an old men’s t-shirt. Her newborn baby was wailing in the bucket seat, turning a lovely shade of blue. Her hair was unwashed and in a ponytail she had slept on, her nails bit to the quick, her breasts leaking. Her toddler was shoving RingPops in his pocket, and from the smell of it, had just pooped a fresh one. She was stretching her neck over the lane, frantically calling out the name of child number three. “Emily!” Yea, I just saw Emily. She’s wearing two different sandals, a tu-tu from a halloween costume (It’s February) and doing cartwheels three aisles over. Oh, and there is gum stuck in her hair. 

I took a deep breath.  I had dreamt about this moment, actual fantasies about what I would say if I ever saw twenty-something girl again. I had the line ready. It was so deliciously revengeful, so spiteful and malevolent, I was practically drooling. I had to physically hold myself back from having the line leap off my tongue and stab her right in the back. Then, when I was good and ready, I let it rip.

“You look so familiar to me. Have we met? Your name is KARMA, right?”

“Oh thank you. I never thought it would be this hard. I’m glad to hear it gets better. Some days I don’t think I can do it anymore.”

You see, I couldn't do it. I couldn’t pull the trigger of takedown on twenty-something girl. Just couldn’t. Because if I did, I know her next few hours would include crying all the way home. I know exactly how she was feeling, and what she needed to hear. So in that moment, I became the “doting grandma.” I told her she had a beautiful family, and that these are the hardest years (ok, I lied there a little, teenagers SUCK) and that it will get easier. I told her, “You are doing a good job momma. You can do this.” 

She gathered her kids, paid for her pads, smiled admiringly at me, and left. Maybe what I said helps her get through the rest of her day. Maybe her week. Perhaps the whole year. Maybe she will pay it forward, when in the blink of an eye, she finds herself shopping alone, buying cat food and tea bags, and instead of silently chastising, she silently praises the young mom standing in the line head of her. I hope she does. Because I know I will.