Surviving restaurant week . . .

It’s restaurant week in Kansas City. Or, as my husband and I refer to it, “Amateur Week.” Neither of us is much of a cook. We don’t enjoy the process, and just don’t have a flair for it. So we eat out a lot. And when restaurant week comes around, it messes up our rhythm. Our usual places are busier than normal and some dispense with their regular menus, instead offering only a pre-set, fixed price three- or four-course meal. For me and my husband, who often split an entree and add sides, the price increase is pretty significant.

But worse, restaurant week means forced cooking — a stock-up trip to the grocery store and an attempt to feed ourselves at home. For seven days!! I’ve used my crock pot twice this week – pretty sure that’s a record. So far, I’ve made pulled pork, chicken and noodles, chili, and lemon-pepper baked chicken. Spaghetti is in the line-up for the weekend, and maybe a breakfast-for-dinner option or baked potatoes. Nothing fancy, that’s for sure!

This year, there’s actually a silver lining. Restaurant week just happened to coincide with a big snowstorm. This is a happy thing! I can escape the winter weather during a time when I was going to stay home and cook anyway! Hooray! Spaghetti is in the line-up and maybe a breakfast-for-dinner option or baked potatoes. Nothing fancy, that’s for sure!

Okay, I’ll mention that I did one time get what I consider amazing praise for my cooking. I had my daughter’s group of friends over for a baked-potato bar during senior year when they were allowed to go off-site for lunch. I was completely shocked to read that one of the girls had written in my daughter’s yearbook, “Your mom’s baked potatoes are da bomb!” I am not making this up! Haha! Who writes something like that in a yearbook? Must’ve made an impression, right?!

Anyway, I think we’ll survive, but I’m really glad it’s only one week!

Do you enjoy cooking? What are your easy go-to meals?

Darlene

2018 – Year of Memories and Modifications

Well, I didn’t publish a book in 2018. I wrote one, but it’s pending an agent’s interest. I took a break from working on two other novels to write this post. One is a women’s fiction, and the other a contemporary romance that might be the first in a series. So my goal for 2019 is to publish at least one of them!

penned con signingIt was a busy year. I attended several author/reader events locally as well as the Romance Writers of America conference in Denver and the Penned Con book fair in St. Louis. Met up with writer friends, made new connections and had a blast meeting readers.

Plus, we had a lot of action on the home front. Both kids graduated in May – fortunately, a week apart. One with a bachelor’s degree and the other, her masters. Being my son’s final college tennis season, we traveled to a few more of his matches, which took us from Orlando to Kalamazoo and several places in between. Lots of fun times and memories made! And, I’m happy to report both are gainfully employed and pretty much self-sufficient! Woo-hoo! I’m calling that parental success! 🙂

That said, we are now truly empty nesters. And that feels weird. And it changes everything! No more winter breaks that last three to four weeks. No more “Spring Break.” Our daughter was home for Christmas, but only for a few days. We were only able to fit in a quick overnight to see my folks because both kids had to be back at work the day after Christmas. Our daughter flew back to New York on Christmas Day. This new reality is cramping my style, for sure!

But it’s like the old saying, “The only thing constant is change.” It just keeps coming!

I don’t know what 2019 will bring, but I’m hoping for new adventures, new connections and new books! Wishing you all peace, good health and happiness!

What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Darlene

Stunning colors take the edge off

I know some people love fall. It’s their favorite season. For me, it’s generally okay. Not my favorite, though, because it puts an end to summer and is the prelude to the bitter cold temps and drab landscape of winter.

This year we haven’t had a lot of nice fall weather. It’s been a little rainy and on the chilly side for me. We never got that 70-something-degree Indian summer. Instead, it seems like one day it was 89 and then all of a sudden, it was 59.

But this year, fall gave us something else. It gave us absolutely stunning colors! I honestly can’t remember a fall that’s been as pretty. I can’t remember wanting to stop the car every couple of blocks to take pictures. The colors are brilliant and bright. The reds are vibrant, the yellows glow and the oranges blaze like fire.

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It’s already almost a week into November, and the gorgeous colors are taking the edge off of this transition that I usually dread. Hooray!

This is also the first fall in a few years that we haven’t ventured to central New York to visit our daughter and enjoy the spectacular views that are the hallmark of that area this time of year. So, I appreciate getting a taste of them here at home.

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I’ve taken so many pictures it was hard to narrow them down to just a few to share. But here they are. Enjoy! Hope you’re having a colorful season, too!

Darlene

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Ready, set, launch! Graduation hails accomplishment and transition

Well, we hit another milestone. Last weekend, we finished up the last of the college graduation festivities. For the first time in a couple of decades, we have no kids in school. We have no college tuition payments to make.

As many of you probably already know, this is big. Huge. In many ways.

As I reflect on what this means, sure, I see home projects and travel we can now do because we might have a little extra cash. It’s also been a fun trip down memory lane. But mostly, I see a transition to a new stage of life. We will never be as involved in our kids’ lives. They’ll have so many new experiences that won’t involve us. Meet so many new people that we may never know. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now that feels a little strange.

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There’s also a sense of accomplishment. Yay! We managed to keep them alive to “adulthood.” The oldest, who just graduated with her master’s degree, is already pretty self-sufficient. The youngest is now a young man also on his way to being self-sufficient. We’re so proud of both of them. Proud to be launching decent, functional, intelligent contributing people into the world.

I suppose the other emotion is relief. As the mom, of course I’ll still worry about them, but it feels different now. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Maybe I can relax a tiny bit and enjoy watching their progress from a little more distance. I can’t wait to see how the next couple of years unfold – where life takes them. And me.

So far, I have no big plans other than to buckle down and get some writing done, launch a few more books into the world. Maybe a trip or two. I think we’ll take some time to ease into this transition, and let things settle. And then . . .

Well, who knows? We’ll toss our mortarboard in the air and see where it lands. 🙂

As always, time marches on. Enjoy the ride!

Darlene

A little peace and quiet, please!

Sometimes you just gotta get away.

We were in Orlando a few days ago for spring break, the destination determined by our son’s tennis team. We deliberately elected not to visit the crowd-magnet attractions such as Disney World, Sea World or Universal Studios. And yet, we could not escape the crowds. Of course I didn’t expect to have the place to myself, but there were times I found myself about ready to run screaming to try and get away from all the people. They were everywhere. The beach was crazy. The parking was challenging. And. The. Traffic. The nearly stand-still lanes of cars creeping along the highways between Clearwater and Orlando made for a stressful and tedious drive.

But finally, on the next-to-last day of our trip, it happened. We got away. We found ourselves on roads with few other cars in sight. Call me crotchety, but I just don’t enjoy listening to screaming children, being run into, being coughed on or having my freshly-pedicured toes stepped on. Crazy, right?

P1080353The answer? Nature. I said before we left that I’d like to see some alligators from a safe distance, and preferably from our car. And we did!

We discovered that outside of Orlando, near the Kennedy Space Center area, are some awesome nature sanctuaries. We spent several hours meandering by car along gravel roads through scenic marshy areas that were full of wildlife – gators, turtles, hundreds of birds, butterflies, and the occasional wild pig.

Several times, we stopped along the road and simply took in the scenery around us. We gaped at the alligators and watched flocks of birds skim across the waters and lift into the sky. We saw interesting foliage and grasses. We took our time – and lots of pictures. It was quiet. Peaceful. Refreshing.

And for this introvert, much fun. 🙂

Do you have a favorite get-away?

Another anniversary. Another gift-giving dilemma!

IMG_3248Thirty five years is a long time. At least it’s a long time to buy someone gifts. My husband and I are celebrating our 35th anniversary today, and I’ve been running around trying to find something meaningful, functional, interesting, desirable (I’d settle for one of those qualities!) as a gift suitable for the occasion.

The fact is, I’m gifted-out. The creative juices in that department have dried up. And he’s pretty short on offering up ideas. He doesn’t need anything. Doesn’t want anything. In fact, he’s all for clearing out cupboards and closets and throwing things away! All of my cool ideas seem to relate to his business, so nix those. They’re business expenses. Tax write-offs. But . . . but . . . it’s our anniversary. Shouldn’t I do something to mark the occasion? I mean, I get flowers, probably a nice piece of jewelry and maybe a little chocolate, too! I’m easy!!! Those things work. Every. Time.

I remember when we used to celebrate, or at least remember, the anniversary of our first date. Of our engagement. Hahaha! Really? These days I’m more than happy to let those things petrify in the past.

Sure, anniversaries are special. And they only come once a year. But, hey, so do birthdays and Christmas and other holidays. Valentine’s Day!?! Are you kidding me? I just bought you a Christmas gift! And once we had kids? Oh, great, throw Father’s Day in there, too. Every year.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually like giving gifts. I usually enjoy the process of finding the perfect present. I like the creative task of wrapping the packages. But the rapid succession of birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and anniversary has really taken its toll this year. Today is also our daughter’s birthday, so there’s that. Spring break is next week, so there’s that. Not to mention a few books to write!

People say give experiences instead of gifts. Sure, we’re going out for a nice dinner. We’ll have wine and dessert. On our 25th, we took a trip to Hawaii. But those dream vacations are expensive. They require time off from work, a ton of coordination, details, decisions, etc. Maybe next year.

For now, I’ll just have to hope that the “it’s the thought that counts” sentiment still holds true! I tried! 🙂

Do you have any go-to gifts that always hit the mark?