Gluten Free Ice Cream Cake {The Easy Way}

What happens when your Gluten Free Girl asks for your traditional
Fourth of July ice cream cake you've been making for the past three years? 
The one that you make out of ice cream sandwiches? 
Well you set to work researching how you can make this happen. 
You start out by looking into gluten free pre-made ice cream sandwiches. 
You realize they are super expensive. Like a dollar a piece. 
You then realize that your annual ice cream cake will cost like forty dollars 
(possible exaggeration, but only by like ten bucks).
So you do what most millennial moms do, Pinterest. 
One quick search for "brownie bottom ice cream cake" and Hello success.

For the record, I searched "brownie bottom" because I had a box of Trader Joe's GF brownie mix, which is delicious. Even people who are not gluten free love this brownie mix, as evidenced by the guests who almost ate an entire pan of it before I could physically restrain them. You can't beat the price on this mix, under three bucks. Which in my book is a gluten free success!

This, my friends is going to be the easiest ice cream you will make. Promise. The hardest thing will be the brownies, because they require the actual use of an oven. Also this is not a baking/crafty blog, so this is not really a tutorial. Just go with it.

Gluten Free Ice Cream Cake - The Easy Way

1 box Gluten Free Brownie Mix, I used Trader Joe's
1 gallon of ice cream, flavor of choice, I used Vanilla
1 jar of caramel ice cream topping, I used Smuckers
1 bag of "Bites" (see photo above), I used Snickers
1 tub of Cool Whip
1 bottle of Magic Shell

Bake the Brownies according to the instructions in a 13x9 pan. This will give your ice cream cake a thin crust. Let the brownies cool, at least to room temperature. I put the pan in the refrigerator for thirty minutes. I also put the ice cream in the refrigerator at this time as well so that it would soften. Set your timer on your phone so you won't forget while you go back to Pinterest to pin Halloween costumes even though it's not quite August. After thirty minutes, take out the brownie pan and ice cream. Pour the caramel ice cream topping on the brownie crust. Then scoop out the ice cream over the caramel and spread with a spatula. Chop your Snickers bits with a knife (only if you prefer them that way) and sprinkle them over the ice cream. Spread the cool whip over the snickers. Pour the Magic Shell over the Cool Whip. Put the whole thing in the freezer. Some directions say two hours. I say over night. Let those flavors meld together. Then let it sit out on the counter at least twenty minutes before trying to cut it. But just so you know, no matter how you cut it, it's gonna fall apart. Don't worry, people will eat it anyway.

This is an after picture on some really fine China (Dixie brand). It looks a little on the sloppy side. This didn't stop the Fourth of July party goers from slicing it up and devouring it in less than ten minutes. I served it to four people, went back in the house for more, and it was gone.

Your Welcome. Insert fist bump and emoji hands here.

This is What Sumemer Looks Like

Summer looks like...
Ice cream all over our faces.

Lunching on different kinds of sandwiches.

Finding a way to get more water into our bodies.

Dairy Free, Gluten Free treats after deciding to go to Walmart way past our bedtimes.

Pepsi late into the night. Because it's summer and why the heck not.

Waiting in line at the drive thru on a Sunday afternoon, because let's face it, ain't no one cooking tonight. And also cooking would require a trip to the grocery store, and the couch seems like a much more suitable place to spend my time.

Wearing a sports bra/lounge bra because it's summer and it's hot. Wearing work out clothes all day and refusing to get dressed or wash my hair. Sporting a no make up face for days. Letting my kids eat chips and and drink soda at eight o'clock because they are hungry, AGAIN. Waking up late, not bothering to do anything thing important, letting the laundry sit another day. Because this is what summer looks like.

And damn it looks good.

Five on Friday {seven twenty four}

Five things I'm loving this Friday...

ONE: Amy Schumer. This movie. And Bill Hader as a leading man. This movie was hilarious but also emotional. Amy is funny and messy and loud, which is my kind of people. Then she turns it on you and gets real and emotional. The Hubbs and I went to see this on a date day and we laughed the entire time. In addition to starring in it, Amy Schumer wrote it, which is totally inspirational to me. It's a must see this summer.

TWO: Spending time with my "sister wives". My neighbors are always up for some fun and when the pregnant one of our group says she needs some girl time without the kids, we are always game. This was a quick trip to Party City, but we totally enjoyed ourselves. It was the perfect selfie opportunity.

THREE: Sunday I made waffles that are grain free thanks to Against All Grain. I have both of her cookbooks and when I want a treat I turn to her for the goods. These waffles are made using a cup of raw cashews, which sounds weird, but they were delicious. I've missed things like waffles since going grain free, and let's be honest, baking from scratch sometimes sucks. But these were super easy and totally worth it.
FOUR: This shirt Caitlin found at Forever 21. I wish they had it in my size. "Dear Summer, Stay Forever. XOXO" is a perfect mantra these days as there are just about four weeks left of this blissful summer! Why does it go by so quickly??? We are going to pack in as much fun as we can before school is back to being a priority.

FIVE: This book, Cutting Teeth. I wrote a review, and I'm giving away a copy via Instagram. It's such a good book and has become a new favorite. I loved Julia Fierro's writing style, it was a page turner for sure. Plus I'm a sucker for good book covers and I just love this one. If you need something to read soon, add this to your reading list.

What are you loving this Friday?


Cutting Teeth {Summer Book Review}

***Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book to review. 
All the opinions are my own. I was also given a copy to give away. ***

photo cred

There have been many books written about motherhood. Fictional accounts of the trials and tribulations that meet us along our journey into the world of motherhood. Many tell the stories of mothers similar to us, trying to survive the daily struggles of play dates and GMO free food. Some of the stories shed light on how mothers "hold it all together" in appearance only. Other books give honest accounts at how mothers, no matter their backgrounds lie, cheat, and quite possibly steal to give the appearance of "fine". Why is it that we just love to read about the lies we tell ourselves?

Cutting Teeth, by Julia Fierro is a wonderfully written book about modern motherhood. It tackles friendship, marriage, motherhood and how those relationships affect us and those around us. Cutting Teeth focuses on four families of a New York City playgroup. Despite wealth and education, these millennials struggle in the same ways you and I struggle when it comes to issues that face modern parenting. Financials, addictions, obsessions, and and even lust, Cutting Teeth paints a picture of what goes one behind those beautiful facades.

The four core members of the playgroup are all so different, and yet it's not hard to imagine why they all find some comfort in each other.

Tiffany is the youngest of the group and reckless with love and opinions. After traveling a very long and abusive road to the upper-middle class, she appears so confident to hide the fact that she is still so insecure and broken inside.

Nicole suffers from extreme OCD, but is desperate to keep up the facade of perfect. She buys organic, follows the World Health Organization daily for communicable disease updates, and wakes up feeling that there is impending doom to be met every day.

Susanna is a pregnant newlywed when we meet her, mother to twins, wife to Allie. Susanna loves being a mother, and is confused as to why her new wife Allie hasn't come to the same conclusion.

Leigh is a mother of two and the most "upper crust" of the group. She is the treasurer of her son's fancy Prep Preschool. She is struggling with the behavioral issues that have manifested in her son, and she has always been the group pushover, until very recently. With the help of her Tibetan nanny, Leigh is barely holding it together.

Rip is the token Dad of the group, but quite possibly the most comfortable in his skin. He is a "new world" Dad, staying home with his son until he can get work again as an actor. He enjoys all the comforts of a Pinterest Mom making candles and organic baby food. At times the voice of reason, but also the one with the most to lose. He wants another baby desperately. Now all he has to do is convince his wife.

These four different friends decide to vacation together over Labor Day weekend at a beach house belonging to Nicole's parents. This is the perfect place for the four playgroup parents to honestly interact with their spouses, their children, and each other. Secrets, alcohol, and children under five all make for one hell of a weekend. Between Nicole's paranoia, Tiffany's barely there bikinis, Rips pent us testosterone, and Leigh's discontent and discomfort, it's hard not to keep turning pages to see how this will all play out. On top of all of that you have a very pregnant Susanna bumping heads with Allie more than celebrating their very new marriage. Cutting Teeth gives a very accurate portrait of modern parents wrestling with the standards they have set for themselves.

What makes this book even more interesting is how it plays the character of the Tibetan Nanny, Tenzin. Tenzin is there to help Leigh with her children, but in the end she touches all there lives in little ways. What I loved about Tenzin's character is that she was a muted voice of reason. Tenzin is a refugee waiting to be granted amnesty. She has left her husband and her children in Tibet, while she awaits amnesty so she can bring them to New York. It leaves you to wonder, what Tenzin must think of all these "millennial" mommies and daddies? How odd they must appear with their gluten and sugar free diets. In reflection I feel like the author put her in the background to remind us that even our worst struggles would be some one's best. 

The twist and turns are natural playing into the characters self doubts and insecurities. The parenting situations are realistic no matter your socioeconomic background. Children often bring out our worst and best selves. This makes it difficult to keep up appearances when you are all under one roof. Called a great summer read by more that one news outlet, Cutting Teeth will satisfy your beach read hunger, but be warned. It doesn't put the story to bed in the way you might think.

And I think that is what I like most about it.

Want a copy of your own??? Hope on over to INSTAGRAM and enter my giveaway!!

Summer Field Trips

I'm enjoying every single bit of these summer days. Those slow mornings. The ones I missed so dearly during the school year. Waking up late, after an even later night playing with friends. How I've missed these summer days, with no agenda, no reasons to be out, just some freedom to do as we please. This day was one of those "field trip days". Where we did all the fun things we had been talking about since school ended. Going to our favorite spots. The used book store. Target. Eating our favorite foods.

Summer is made out of days like these.

When you wake up well past ten, you can have both Starbucks and french fries for breakfast. Mackenzie said her blueberry muffin and french fries paired well with her Starbucks iced tea. I went through two drive-thrus and then parked it in the parking lot so these kids could eat. No food allowed at our next stop.

We have an incredible two story used books store where we live. I've blogged about it before, but every time I go in, it feels like an incredible gift. Sure my kiddos are loud, they stomp up the stairs, they giggle and shout with delight, because they enjoy books as much as I do. I get lots of side eye from one of the guys that works there, but seriously dude, they are enjoying the books. I search for books from my childhood, some best sellers of yesteryear. My girls look at Little Golden Books and always let me know where the Harry Potter books are shelved. My mom joined us this time, and said that she would be back, because she needed a couple of extra hours. I totally get that mom, in fact, I think I'm going to join you, The Hubbs can watch the girls.

My haul this time included two books from my childhood, The Cricket in Times Square, because I think my girls will love it, and Island of the Blue Dolphins, because it's a classic. The Stephanie Evanovich was okay, your regular standard Harlequin romance type. I read it in like two days, skipped some of it, because I was pretty sure of the outcome. It was a quick and fun read, which is totally the point. The Anne of Green Gables is for me to finally read. That's right, me the lover of books has not read any Anne. I just started, so more on that later.

We hit up Target and this girl fell in love with some modern art. It's a model of a home, very art deco, and it included paint and wall paper and floor coverings (all vinyl). She was in love and worked on it well into the night. She has such a fierce imagination. She even skipped some of the wall coverings, deciding to paint her own designs on the wall. Then she asked her daddy for a saw and some help to make more windows and doors. That's my girl.

Then there was a little bliss for me. My mom came over and helped me throw this cobbler together. It's nectarine and blueberry, and it was super delicious. You can find the original cobbler recipe here, just change the fruit to whatever you have in your house. The crumble part is standard across the board. And it's grain free, gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, but I promise not taste free! And really, my mom made the whole thing, I just watched, which is how I usually help.

Field trip days are my favorite, because some days, just getting out of the house is a whole trip in itself. I'm looking forward to a few more careless days with my girls, before school starts and ruins everything.

Fiction "Losing it" {Lenny's story: 8th Grade part 1}

I've been writing all day and night, and it still isn't right. But I'm going to hit publish anyway because it's a start, and I've told myself I have to keep writing even if it's shit. Here is another part to Lenny's story. It's choppy and may not flow as well, but I had to break it into parts because it just kept growing and growing. This is the first part, which is a lot of back story that will build up to part 2 next week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

 "Losing It"
That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
-R.E.M 1991

In eighth grade, friendship is the closest thing you will ever have to religion and faith. The simple act of being accepted by a group can make you feel invincible and give you the faith and courage to do almost anything. I was abandoned by my former group of friends two weeks into my eighth grade year. It happened so suddenly, it was like an illness that came along over night. One day were were the best of friends and the next day they were ignoring me at the lockers.

In the beginning, there were four of us, Sheila and Isabelle, who I had met in our “College Prep” classes, and Deb, who had been their friend since kindergarten. I didn’t have that kind of friendship history with anyone at that point in my life. I went to a school that was mostly populated with migrant farm worker families, and they moved with the harvest. In sixth grade, I decided I wanted to go to junior high in a different district. After years of using Esperanza's address so she could take care of me after school, Mom and I decided that Cal Valley Junior High was better for me academically. The decision broke Esperanza's heart as she had been watching me since I was an infant. Mom found herself relieved that she didn't have to rely on Esperanza as much anymore.

I met Sheila and Isabelle on the first day. We had three college prep classes together. I sat behind Isabelle in Home Room, and she was warm and inviting and oddly enough shook my hand when she introduced herself. She also looked like a fashion model. Tall and slender, her black, shiny hair hung like a curtain down her back. Her skin was so smooth and fair that it was such a contrast with all her hair. Sheila was almost as tall, but fuller around the hips and bust. She appeared more womanly than our waif of a homeroom teacher. She was loud and brash and wore her thick blond hair in a braid everyday with it falling out around her face by third period PE, which coincidentally, we had together as well. They invited me to sit with them at lunch, and that is where I met Deb.

Deb was a force before she even opened her mouth. It was the early nineties and Deb was a vision of denim and lace. She wore the right sneakers with the two Velcro strips across the ankle, and they were pink. Her jeans were cuffed perfectly and her shirt was hot pink and peeked out in the space of her open jean jacket that had white lace on the back. It was as if she had stepped out of a copy of Seventeen. Her hair was a light brown and curly, she wore it gelled and sprayed within an inch of it’s life, and instead of a boring navy Jansport backpack like I was wearing, she carried a tote bag that said “ESPRIT”.

“Deb, this is Lenny. Lenny, Deb. She can eat with us right?”, Sheila said in her almost clipped dialogue.

“Hey. How’s it going?”, Deb offered as she concentrated on opening a package of chips.

“Hi. Thanks for letting me join you”, I replied. Embarrassed that I didn’t have more to offer. I was wearing khaki pants, a floral printed blouse, and navy Keds. My hair was pushed out of my face with a headband, and unlike Deb and Isabelle, I wore no make up. Even Sheila had applied gloss after PE. I had a tube of Avon chap stick. I had a lot to learn about Junior High.

I spend the entire seventh grade with Deb and the girls. Isabelle taught me how to apply eyeliner and how to pick out the right lipstick. Sheila taught me to speak up for myself and how to survive algebra. Deb taught me the rest. She gave me my first Sassy magazine. She gave me her hand me downs, though none of them fit very well since she was almost a foot taller than me. She introduced me to Beverly Hills 90210, and we bonded over a shared love and knowledge of Saturday Night Live. Deb showed me how to watch for trends in Seventeen Magazine and on MTV to make sure we were always in style. It was easy to be Deb’s friend, and I fell under her trance. It didn’t take long for her to invite me to sleep over at her house, which was an experience in itself. Deb’s family ate at the table for every meal, I didn’t know families still did that anymore. My family never ate at the table unless we were at Esperanza’s. It was an entirely different world as Deb’s friend and I would have stayed there forever.

But slowly it started to unravel.

It started in the Summer. Isabelle invited Deb and Sheila to join her family at the Boardwalk for a weekend. It’s something they had been doing for years. Deb was more apologetic than the rest of them, telling me she would miss me and wished she could take me along. It didn’t stop her from going. That weekend yielded inside jokes that i didn't understand, memories that didn’t include me, and a weird exclusion that started to manifest in funny ways. I’d call Isabelle and invite her over to our apartment and she’d make an excuse why she couldn’t come, then I’d invite Sheila and she would say the same. Later Deb would call and invite me to meet her and the girls at Thrifty’s for ice cream. It was clear they had spent the majority of the day together. Then we got our school schedules mailed to us, and as luck would have it, I was the only one of us with fifth period lunch. Don’t worry they said, it won’t be that bad, but all I could think of was eating lunch alone.

I didn’t eat lunch alone that first day, thankfully Erin Saunders had fifth period lunch too. We had two college prep classes together this year and the last. She was sweet and quiet, but she too was fearful of eating alone. At lunch that day we figured out that many of our fellow college preppers had fifth period lunch too. Sofie Pearson and Hannah Green. Brothers Alex (eighth grade) and Adam (seventh grade) Moorehouse. Best buddies Kevin Mackey and Sam Gould. I didn’t know them all that well, but they made me feel comfortable and welcomed. We all sat together on the grass behind the gym. Laughing and talking about our summers that were mostly spent watching 90210 (the girls) and Major League Baseball (the boys). That day would turn into every day, and soon I found a comfort zone, outside of my original one with Deb and the girls.

As it turned out, my new comfort zone destroyed my old one. New friends served as the main reason I was dumped by Deb and the girls. They became suspicious of my friendships with my fifth period lunch friends. They accused me of acting differently after a weekend spent with Hannah Green and her sister Caroline. Caroline worked for Contempo Casusals in the mall and gave us a box full of hand me downs when I spent the night at her house the first Friday of the school year. I went to school on Monday wearing floral print leggings and a magenta tunic, which was met with disgust and jealously at Deb's locker. Then Sofie Pearson asked me if I wanted to walk to the "Ice Castle" after school for milkshakes the following Wednesday. I accepted and didn’t ride the bus home. Mom picked me up from the "Ice Castle" after work and when we got home the phone was already ringing. I picked it up to Deb who had a million questions as to why I had missed the bus. When I told her, she got very quiet, and made up an excuse to get off the phone. My attempts to call her back that night went bust. She was cold and ignored me for the rest of the week.

By Monday we weren’t friends anymore. Sheila and Isabelle refused to talk to me in class, which became a problem when we got grouped together for a project. I tried to start multiple conversations with Deb, but she would just look through me or over my head. I made a good solid effort for two days, but by Wednesday morning I was exhausted. I tried to fake an illness so I could get a break from all the embarrassment of losing all my friends, but mom put her foot down.

"It's your turn Lenny. You ignore them. You look past them. And when they see you with your new friends smile as big as you can", Mom lectured in the car on the way to school. I didn't think I would survive another bus ride to school with them talking bad about me three seats away. "You're going to have to put on a brave face and grow thick skin", Mom added as she kissed me good-bye. "You can do it, babe".

I spent the next few months of school wearing my brave face and growing a thick skin. I spent more time in and out of school with my lunch friends. I loved Sofie and Hannah. I loved eating lunch on the grass behind the gym. I loved the sleep overs and the study sessions and the group projects that we worked on together. Still, it didn’t make up for the ache I had for Deb and the girls. I missed them desperately. I would see them in the halls and they would giggle as they passed. I grieved the friendship that was now being destroyed by gossip and rumors about me and my mom. They told people I lived in the trailer park. That I couldn’t afford clothes, so that’s why we shopped at Goodwill. They told Sofie and Hannah about Benny, and that he was in rehab (which was usually true). They wrote notes to me that said I was a cow, that I had a fat ass, that I was an ugly four eyed bitch. All things that I already thought about myself. All things that seemed much truer in writing. All things that could ruin any reputation in eighth grade.

It seemed like a dream, but it wasn’t. It seemed that one day I had friends and faith in things like trust, passed notes in the hall, and Bonnie Bell lip balm. Then with little explanation or reason it was all gone. It was like they didn’t even know who I was. They acted as if I had never existed. They were gone, and even with a thicker skin, I still felt like I was losing.


Read all the other Musical Monday posts HERE

Five on Friday {seven seventeen}

According to Pacific Standard time... I've got just under three hours to publish this Five on Friday. I've been looking for a new link up, and here is a good one! Easy, straight forward, and the perfect way to share some of my Instagrams! It's a win/win everyone.

ONE: These cross stitch tattoos are the new infinity tattoo. And why the heck not? They bring a nice touch to what may be a boring heart or rose tattoo. I shared this picture with my bestie because we are always looking for ways to up our tattoo game... Considering we only have three between the too of us. Which is technically no game at all.

TWO: I apologize in advance if I have any Fifty Shades of Grey fans in the room. I tried to read it. Three times. I just couldn't get past the whole plagiarism thing, as a writer. So when the Internet was caught ablaze a few weeks back over Grey, Christian's point of view, I was beside myself. So I text my BFF and decided that we needed the POV of Anna's vagina. Because I'm sure Anna's vagina has a boat load to say about this whole "pain is pleasure" business. Look, I'm not a prude. My mom read Harlequin romance novels when I was a kid. I read my first one at approximately nine years old. I know what sex is, but the whole franchise is lost on me. So my first novel just might be the point of view of Anna's va-jay.

THREE: This tank is my new favorite tank. It's from Old Navy and I should have bought it in the peach color too. It's so soft, and with a peplum waist, it hides a multitude of flaws. This photo was taken to confess that i was wearing the same outfit two days in a row. The night before this picture, I went to see Magic Mike XXL with my girls. Listen. MMXXL is legit. Way better than the first, and if I be so bold, better dancing. Let's be honest, Channing Tatum could dance to the Polka and it would be hot. Just saying.

FOUR: These cups from Starbucks are tops. They almost make you forget that you are spending three dollars on iced tea you could brew at home. Almost. But they are super fun for summer, and how could a sunnies lover like myself say no? Obviously I couldn't. Next up, the boom box. Gotta get the boom box.

FIVE: My husband threw this card at me the other night and said, "Redeemable at any time". Is it bad that I laughed? Is it horrible that I have no idea where said card actually is? I laughed so hard when he threw this in my lap, that I just had to share it on Instagram where #absolutehubbs is quite Insta-famous. It's romantic gestures like this that keep the love alive.

Have a great weekend blog friends! See you next week!

Found the link up at XoKerry
That took me to A.LizAdventures
Link up with us!

Still. After all this time.

Some days I'm surprised he still loves me. I'm cranky and crazy.I throw temper tantrums and rarely cook anything that passes for dinner. I spend money on books and tank tops I'll never wear. I never wear sexy underwear. But here we are. Married. Still. After all this time.

He still looks at me the same way you know. The way he looked at me all those drunken nights in college. When we were way past pleasantries. When the booze continued to flow well into the night. It surprises me that he still looks my way when I undress. My body settling now. Jiggling in places it shouldn't. My belly still soft and squishy as if I have a baby in the house. Knowing all too well that that baby is five. But still he looks and cheers, as if he's won a prize. Still After all this time.

We fight. Just as passionately as we always have. We argue about the mundane. We debate over the obvious. Sometimes we disagree for fun, for sport. But we bring something out in each other. That love. That fight. That passion. To use words. To use our brains. To talk about something other than dinner and laundry, Dora or Adventure Time. We still fight. And make up and fight again. Still. After all this time.

We've come a long way since the early years. The years of going back and forth. Testing the waters. Somehow I always knew, and he did too, we just had to work on it. And we still are working. Our hardest job, besides parenting. We work every day to make it right. Make it work. And most days it does. We find comfort in the monotony. Comfort in the chaos. Comfort in each other. Because despite what I say or do, he is still my favorite. Still. After all this time.

He still take chances on me. He support decisions that I make, even when they aren't solid. Even when they are selfish. He take chances when I come up with big ideas, that almost always putter out in due time. He does it because he believes in me, in my voice, in my experience. Even when it does't seem that way in the beginning. He will fight it and debate it and then let me do it anyway and when it goes bust, he begs me not to cry, because my tears still kill him. My tears still do him in. Still. After all this time.

Some days I'm still surprised that we are married, because it was all I wanted when I was twenty two. At twenty two I wanted to be his wife so badly. To be in love, and here we are, still in love. That overwhelming sense of contentment washing over me. That sense of accomplishment when I see our children laughing and playing. Like our first day at Disneyland when I teared up almost immediately, because there we were, living out a real life dream. Family vacations, baby's first steps, our first dance, were all simple dreams of mine as a sorority girl hopelessly in love. He thinks I've forgotten. He thinks I'm complacent, but I'm content. No matter the fight, we still wake up under the same roof. No matter the debate, we still put the kids in the bath. No matter the issue, we still find ourselves in bed, mid afternoon, on a Sunday, hiding from the kids, eating ice cream, and watching movies that use the "F" word. Because it's my favorite thing to do. Here with him, is my favorite place to be.

Still. After all this time.

Cait turned Eight

Caitlin's birthday is always such a milestone for me. That sounds totally selfish, but it's really true. Caitlin made me a mommy. The day she was born was the happiest and scariest day of my life. Because to me that is truly what motherhood is, happy and scary. Every year is another badge of honor and courage that I made it. I waded through the chaos and the bullshit, the excitement and the joy, and survived this adventure of motherhood.

It seems that for Caitlin's entire life I've been looking forward. In those early days and months of motherhood, I couldn't wait for the days to pass. All the books and all the other mothers would say that as she got older, life would get easier. When she was eight weeks, she'd sleep better. When she was three months she be more content. When she was six months solid foods would do something miraculous, crawling would make her happy, walking would entertain her. There was always something for me to look forward to, hope to hang on to, that future where her and I would coexist happily, minus the tears and the night waking and the diaper rash. I held onto those hopes of the future so tightly that my knuckles were white.

The thing about looking forward and always waiting for tomorrow, is that you rarely linger in today. You forget that the chaos and mess you are currently in just may be God's greatest gift to you. Caitlin would now rather watch movies on the iPad than spend the afternoon sleeping on my chest. And sadly I never really cherished those moments. I was always thinking about all the things I could be doing instead of holding a sleeping baby while inhaling that once in a lifetime baby smell. The problem with always looking forward and waiting for them to grow up so things will get easier, is that they grow up, and nothing gets easier. Luckily, you just get better at doing motherhood.

Every year that Caitlin has celebrated another year, I've been able to reflect on how much she has changed me. I have regrets about the first few years. The ones that seemed so incredibly hard at the time. The time spent blinded by the crying, sleepless days and nights, and the literal poop that was involved in them. Instead of finding my happy place among the chaos, I chose to battle it, as if fighting for my life and sanity was the best thing for both of us. As Caitlin grows up, I grow up as well. Into a better human, into a happier one. I regret that I wasted so much time worrying about what everyone would think of a mother who let her children co-sleep. What people would think about a mother who didn't breast feed. I spent so much time with my head in What to Expect, that I stopped acknowledging what was actually happening. My daughter was growing up, and I was too worried to notice.  Too blind find joy and comfort in the process.

Cait turned eight, and I did too in a way. Eight years of being a mother. Eight years of really learning life lessons and things about myself that were ugly and beautiful respectively. At eight we have found a little harmony. There are no longer sleepless nights, but there are pockets of time when the rest of our world is asleep, that Caitlin and I can snuggle and watch old Full House repeats. We sneak out for Starbucks, under the guise of a trip to the grocery store. We started reading Harry Potter at her request, laughing as I try to do English accents. At eight, as we do every year, we find a sweeter spot. One that has a touch of ease, one that reminds me that there was nothing sweeter or more joyful than a sleeping baby on my chest. After eight years I finally realize that it's not the future I need to hold on to, but the present. This time, this year. It's the only one we will get, and I don't want to go blindly into it and miss all the stuff that matters. Because the tears matter, the laughter matters, the mess and chaos and bullshit, it all matters. At this point in my mothering life, I'm smart enough to know, it's the here and now I need to hold onto. Tightly, until my knuckles are white.

Lenny's Story {Fiction} #MusicMondays

Dear Readers,
This is a piece of fiction I've been working on for almost a year. It comes and goes but never really leaves. In an effort to write more and get the story out, I've decided to start linking up with My So Called Chaos and Music Mondays. That way I will have a goal of writing every week, and then you all can critique it every week since I don't have money for a proper editor as of now. I have some ideas on how I want it to go, but writing always takes me to different places. I hope you like it and as always, be honest. I'd love any and all feed back.
Thank you,


Ah, look at all the lonely people…
-”Eleanor Rigby”, The Beatles

John Lennon died on my second birthday. For most people this wouldn’t be a big deal. For most people, the death of a music legend, would just be something cool about the day they were born. For me, John Lennon has never been just some guy who died on my birthday. You can’t be born to my parents and think that John Lennon was just a guy who made music. I’ve been listening to The Beatles since conception. My mother never sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, instead she sang Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. My father sent me birthday cards that were little more than the lyrics to Hey Jude and Yellow Submarine, until the year he actually sent me a model of a yellow submarine. You don’t just grow up, celebrating your birthday on December 8th, and think that John Lennon is just some guy. Especially if you name is Eleanor Lennon Estrada.

I don’t remember anything about my second birthday. My mother has never really liked to talk about it. My assumption is that it has more to do with my father’s absence and less to do with Lennon’s untimely death. I have one photo, and one story told to me by a very drunk Tia Carmen when I was nine. Carmen said that on the night of my second birthday, my mother was very distraught. Always holding high hopes that my father would surprise us all with his presence. Carmen said that my mother was late getting to Abuelita Esperanza’s house, and by the time she arrived with my birthday cake, we had finished dinner hours before. My mother had spend the day and part of the evening working at her important office job at the local hospital. My father, according to Carmen, was “on the road”, a term I had learned early on in my life really meant “no where to be found”. My mother brought the cake and the tears and by seven forty five, I was crying too. Tia Carmen says that she begged my mother to leave me with Abuelita and go to Herman’s bar around the corner to watch the end of the football game. Monday night football was a big draw in the tiny farming town apparently. My mother resisted saying that I needed my sleep and she needed a nice long bath. So Carmen walked us out, and while we drove home, Carmen sat at Herman’s with a whiskey sour as the news broke that Lennon was dead.

According to Tia Carmen, this was why my mother has cried every year on my birthday. Why she listens to Eleanor Rigby on the stereo while she drinking her morning coffee every December 8th. And while the tears fall silently down her cheeks that she still thinks of my father’s call that night, and how maybe, just maybe things could have been different.

Ahh… Look at all the lonely people…

On my fifteenth birthday, I sat down next to my mother on the couch with Eleanor Rigby playing in the background. I didn’t look at her, but just grabbed her hand in mine. Then, in a voice just loud enough to hear her, I asked her, tell me about that night. Tell me about the night he died. It was like I was asking about a relative, and though I wasn’t, somehow I was. Mom squeezed my hand, and said, “Your dad missed that too”.

Mom told me that the phone was ringing off the hook as she opened the apartment door. She knew who it was on the line. Benny, my father. Even though she had left messages for him for weeks, she knew he was going to miss my birthday. Like the year before when he sent a wagon, from the Sears catalog three weeks after my first birthday party with the words, “Sorry, I was on the road”, written in the card. This late night phone call was no surprise.

“She’s asleep Benny. You missed it”

“Mary Elizabeth. Lizzie. Liz. Turn on Monday Night Football”, Esteban “Benny” Estrada choked out through one too many Coors originals. “Just turn on the game”.

“Benny, what in the world..”

“Lizzie. He’s dead. Lennon. Is. Dead”.

I’ve never really known if my father knew it was my birthday. I don’t think he realized it right away. He was just calling my mother to break the terrible and awful news that something in their lives had died. A part of their childhood, their teenage years, perhaps even their love. In the years following, Benny’s calls were always short, and sometimes sweet. I never really knew if it was me that made him so sad, or Lennon. Still, he called, sometimes at three minutes to midnight, but he called.

The only picture from my second birthday, the evidence that it actually happened, I’m sitting in my mother’s lap. There is a cake, which for years I thought had a sad clown, but upon further investigation have found is actually a really ugly Santa Claus. It took years and my cousin Mando’s magnifying glass in fourth grade to figure that out. My mother still has on her trench coat that she wore every winter until I was thirteen and it literally fell apart. She looks very classy and business like in it, despite the hair that is escaping from her once pristine bun. I’m crying, my mouth open wide, saliva dripping from my chin. I’m wearing red overalls and a white turtle neck, my hair in pig tails. My mother is smiling so big, that the only conclusion I could draw was that she was trying to overcompensate for her crying child and absent fiance. It’s a smile that would repeat itself in many a picture for the rest of my life.

Now as an adult, my mother calls me on the morning of my birthday, her nose a little stuffed. Emotion clouding her voice. I know without asking that she has listened to Eleanor Rigby with her coffee. I also know that she has probably shed many of those tears for my father, who she will always love.

Ah, look at all the lonely people….

Sometimes I wish I had a different name.

It’s hard to grow up as Eleanor Lennon Estrada and not hate your name sometimes. My mother says that Benny begged her to name me Lennon whether I was a boy or a girl. She may have, except he was on the road when I was born. Photographing The Clark Hammond Experience. Today the “experience” is just a memory, but Pete Clark is a legend of rock and roll, and my father was his first photographer. How he landed that job I will never know, but my mom says it has something to do with “the right place at the right time”. Unfortunately that turned out to be the wrong time for my mother, since someone had to be responsible. My mother left her life in San Francisco, returned home to a sleepy little farming town in California and had me. She will tell you that she had a good life too, that I was all she ever needed, but I think that’s only true because I was Benny’s daughter, and he was the absolute love of her life.

Mary Elizabeth Shaw met Esteban “Benny” Estrada when she was sixteen at the bowling alley. She wasn’t supposed to be there, not on that side of town. Her father was a farmer, with acres of lettuce, among other things, and Benny was a Mexican, who spent his summers working in those fields. Benny was also the younger brother of my mother’s best friend Carmen Estrada. So when Carmen invited Mary Elizabeth to tag along to her cousin Frank’s fourteenth birthday, my mother accepted. She liked Carmen, and Carmen liked The Beatles, which I think made them instant best friends. My mother had no idea she would meet a boy like Benny. So sure of himself and his camera, that he had gotten for Christmas that year. Benny wasn’t like the boys Mary Elizabeth knew. The ones who played football and baseball and drove their father’s cars to Roy’s hamburger stand. Benny dressed in jeans and striped t-shirts like the surfer boys she saw on TV, She said he walked around like he was in on a private joke. Like he knew the punch line of life. And when he shook her hand, her stomach fell.

The following Monday, she found an envelope with a picture enclosed. She wasn’t looking at the camera, but for the first time in Mary Elizabeth’s life she thought she looked pretty. She felt she could be a person who took a good picture. On the back Benny had written “Lizzie Bean - 1969”.  My mother would keep those photos in her white vinyl jewelry box for the rest of her life.

Mary Elizabeth and Benny graduated from high school in 1970. As planned, my mom moved to San Francisco to go to Secretarial College. Benny stayed behind to work in the fields for his dad, who was a foreman at one of the farms, and start community college. She called Benny every night at six from the pay phone outside the apartment she shared with three other girls at the school. No matter what Benny was doing he made sure to be home for her call. When she called in December to tell him she’d be home in three days for Christmas, he told her he had a surprise for her. Benny had been accepted at the community college in San Francisco, his first semester tuition paid by his parents, and would Mary Elizabeth Shaw do him the honor of becoming his wife. It was the happiest Mary Elizabeth had ever been.

At home for Christmas, Liz and Benny decided that it would be smarted to live together in the city. Mom called her mentor at the secretarial college and she put her in touch with her brother who was a landlord. They sealed the deal over the phone with Benny’s dad, Armando offering a sizable deposit by December 28th that was over two months rent. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until Liz went home to tell her folks. It was 1971 and Grandpa Shaw was a traditionalist. No daughter of his was going to be shacking up with some Mexican as he put it. He also let mom know that he couldn’t abide by no Mexican son in law, and if she moved to San Francisco, she didn’t have a home to come back to. Grandma Shaw cried with a broken heart, but didn’t offer a word otherwise to her husband. Mom packed up what she could in some old warehouse boxes and packed her little car. She didn’t even offer a goodbye because she didn’t want her voice to crack.

Benny’s parents Armando and Esperanza were overjoyed. Mary Elizabeth had been a part of their family since Carmen had invited her to cousin Frank’s fourteenth birthday party. Mary Elizabeth had spent countless nights sleeping over and enjoying Esperanza’s famous enchiladas. Armando and Esperanza offered to pay for the wedding before the love birds left for the big city, but Mary Elizabeth and Benny wanted to wait. Let us get settled they said, let us finish school they argued.  

They did both, and neither.

My mother graduated from the Secretarial College and landed a very solid and good paying job at City Hall. She worked for someone who worked for the Mayor or something like that. My father got tired of going to school and left his job to work at a hotel bar. That’s where he met Pete Clark and David Hammond. Soon Lizzie Bean and Benny were going out every night, listening to every gig Clark and Hammond played until they were discovered with a house band at the Fillmore. Soon The Clark Hammond Experience needed a photo for a Rolling Stone debut article, and it was Benny Estrada’s photo that was printed next to the article. From there Benny went on the road, and by 1977, he lived on tour buses and in hotels in foreign lands, while my mother lived in their walk up and worked overtime to make sure the rent was paid. On one of Benny’s stops in San Francisco in 1977, my mother became pregnant. When she told Benny, he promised her that he’d be back after The Clark Hammond Experience played their Midwest tour. Mom moved back to Salinas after Benny called from Flint to say he missed her, but that the tour was going to be extended.

Much to her embarrassment, she found herself with no job and no place to live when she arrived home. She stopped at Carmen’s new apartment to tell her the news about Benny and the baby. Carmen said she could stay there on the couch until she figured it out, but that didn’t last once Esperanza found out. Esperanza said that Elizabeth needed a proper bed, and the baby a crib. Esperanza opened her home and rearranged the room Carmen had just vacated. Carmen helped her move in and Armando brought home a crib he had bought at Sears. Overwhelmed my mother spent her first three days in the Estrada home in her bed, crying and pining for Benny. Benny spent those days in Chicago with an underage groupie and cocaine.

Mary Elizabeth found a new job and a new life in Salinas. A stellar recommendation from the Mayor’s office helped her get a job in the administration building at the hospital. Along with the job she was able to find an apartment, much to Esperanza’s dismay, and by her third trimester she was living a brand new life. Eventually Benny tracked her down. He begged her to come home, although he was living in the hotel he formerly worked. He offered to come to her, but she always said no. It was easier this way. It was better this way. In her heart she knew Benny was in no shape to be a father.

In the early morning hours of December 8th, 1978, Mary Elizabeth awoke to find her water broken. She called Carmen, and Carmen drove her to the hospital in her green Volkswagen beetle. Carmen held my mother’s hand, fed her ice chips, and cried with her when the pain was too much to bare. Mary Elizabeth accepted no pain medication, as her punishment for loving Benny Estrada the way she did. Instead she sang every Beatles song she knew from memory starting with I wanna hold your hand. She would start and stop with each contraction. Somewhere around noon, she had started singing her favorite, “Eleanor Rigby”, and in between pushes and screaming she would silently whisper, “Ah, look at all the lonely people, where do they all come from”. I was born after the second chorus, and given the name Eleanor Lennon Estrada. 
Which makes it impossible for me to escape my name and the soundtrack of my life.


Leave your edits and recommendations in the comments. And thanks for playing along.

My So Called Chaos

Finding happy again

It's easy to forget what happy looks like. Every day life gets in the way. Work, school, bills, laundry. All of those things pile up. Some days they suffocate you, and you can't see past bedtime. Some days breathing takes effort. Then, on other days, the laundry doesn't bother you. Chicken nugget dinners seem like your biggest success. The work load doesn't feel so heavy. It's in those moments that I don't recognize happy. I don't recognize content. I sometimes forget what they look like.

Recently I realized that I had been angry for the better part of a year. Damn, that's hard to write. At the time, I thought I was sad or just really stressed out. I felt like I was forcing the smile on my face. I was forcing the words that came out of my mouth. Every small detail of my life stressed me out. The littlest hiccup set me off. The slightest blip could bring my entire mood tumbling down. In my mind, I convinced myself that it was stress. The stress of being a working mom after so many years of staying home. I convinced myself it was because I was being a cry baby because I was going to miss this class party or that school event. Snap out of it, I told myself time and again, lots of moms miss school or dance things. They still go on, they are still smiling. They are still happy. So I waded through all the bullshit in my heart, I looked past all the disappointments that began to pile up. I told myself that if I just got through (insert life event here), then I would be able to pull myself out of it.

But I never did.

I left my former employer the day before my family's trip to Disneyland. I was too excited that we were going to the Happiest Place on Earth to really feel the magnitude of the goodbye. I spent a blissful four days in Anaheim. I said "yes" so many more times that I said "no". I teared up multiple times so thankful that we were on a family vacation, that we had hit a major milestone, that we had made it after all those days spent working out butts off. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that I was so much lighter in my heart and my mind. The very idea that I didn't have to go back to work immediately seemed like a freedom I hadn't tasted in months. Almost eighteen months to be exact.

In all I spent almost four weeks without working. Between my vacation and transitioning into my new job, I spent that time at home, with my kids and my husband. I didn't hate it. Sure there was laundry and a birthday party to plan. A preschool graduation and the last days of school. I enjoyed them all. Even when I did start my new job, it was with a new and fresh perspective. I was excited to move on to something new. Something that was exciting and scary and really out of my comfort zone. That changed my whole attitude.

My first few weeks at work have been completely different than what I was doing six months ago. Sure the hours and work load is different, but I'm flexing "muscles" I haven't flexed in years. I'm having to go back and re-learn things I once knew in my early years in retail. My new job doesn't exhaust my mind or my body. I come home with energy and positivity. It's amazing how different your day can be when you are no longer angry at every aspect of your day.

I'll admit that I really didn't want to go back to work in January 2014. I was happy being a stay at home mom, and a blogger/writer in progress. I enjoyed my day, even if they had no routine or schedule to them. But my checkbook didn't like my at home routine, so after seven years, I went out and made that change for all of us. And for awhile it was a good thing. I tried to stay positive, I tried to make the most of it. But really my heart was never in it. In hindsight it was the job, the actual job and job description that my heart was never on board. I loved the people and the idea of the job title, but the actual job drained me in a way I never knew could. Yet, I'm so grateful for having it. I learned so much about myself. I learned that I still could be a career woman. I still had some smarts rolling around in my mommy brain. I could be successful in a place other than motherhood. Those are all very good things, and I felt really good about those things for a while. But over time, I realized that they didn't really make happy. The hours, the exhaustion, and the resentment I felt about missing my family settled hard in my heart. In the end, I learned that this wasn't making me happy, and I missed being happy.

I don't want to be angry anymore. In the last six weeks so much has changed in this family of four. With their mother back, my kids are happy. I selfishly spent too long being angry at the world and at the circumstances. Sure I still yell, I still lose my temper over string cheese wrappers on the couch, but I'm no longer side tracked by anger. I no longer feel like I'm running out of time, that I will be working more than I'll be with my kids. Now, I hug more. I stop and say yes more. Yes, let's read Harry Potter. Yes, tell me all about your Shopkins. Yes, chocolate chip pancakes sound like a wonderful idea. Anger takes a lot of energy, I now realize, and without it, I have a lot more energy to be myself. The happy self. Even the Hubbs asked me for two weeks if I was okay. He must of thought I'd found a new drug, because it was that noticeable. Nope. No new drug, I just finally recognized what happy looks like.

A few weeks ago, when I was talking to a friend about my new job, we got to talking about the anger I've shed. I told her how much lighter I felt, how free I felt as I walked into a new job, quite possibly a new career. I told her that I would never go back to what I was doing before, I wouldn't sign up for angry and miserable again. She agreed and said something that is so quotable that it needs to be cross stitched on a pillow...

"We're too old to sign up for miserable".

Yes we are. I don't want to waste anymore time being miserable. I don't want to carry anger around like an extra twenty pounds. I want to forget what anger looks like.

Because happy looks like trips to Target just before bedtime because we are out of milk. Happy looks like sitting in our neighbors yard watching the kids fight over bikes and otter pops. Happy looks like my daughters sitting at the kitchen counter waiting for me to flip pancakes. Happy looks like a trip to the car wash with my family, on a lazy Sunday, followed by ice cream for dinner.

Today, I remember what happy looks like. It looks a lot like contentment. Lately, it looks a lot like me.