What I did on my kid’s spring break

We’re getting our St. Louis house ready to go on the market. It’s been a lot of work, and Alex volunteered to spend his (and his girlfriend’s!) spring break moving stuff to storage. We focused mainly on the garage but he also helped me move some furniture.

For some reason, this didn’t post when it was supposed to, and I was too busy to mess with it last week. We pushed hard and did almost everything we needed to do. It’s enough to start showing, and the listing goes live this week. Let the games begin! Here’s what we got done:

IMG_3517 We moved this








into this:












We cleared most of this,










and moved this,

IMG_3521_2partly so it would be visible from the foyer, but mostly so I could paint the wall it had been partially blocking.










Oh, and we donated all this:












Lest you think it was all work and no play, we met my friend Jenn (who was also on spring break) for dinner.







To recap the last month, as far as I can remember, we took 9 loads of stuff to storage, 3 full loads to Goodwill, made two scrap yard runs, 1 trip to the local compost site with branches and bush clippings, had two pickup truck loads of junk burned, and donated two refrigerators from the garage. We also added trash to our neighbor’s garbage bin twice. I was absolutely sure, right up to the last day, that there was no way we’d pull it off, but somehow we did. Special thanks to Mom and Step-Dad, Alex, Emma, and Vicky for all your hard work.


Mole Chili

You know that recipe I promised that won our church’s chili cook-off? The one I was going to post in the middle of the week? Here it is! I’m taking a break from working on the house (more on that in a few days) and thought I’d better do this while I was thinking about it.

I divided it between a large crock pot (for the chili cook-off) and a small one (for us). It should be pretty easy to scale back and adjust to taste. Oh, and about the the seasonings. I don’t measure. I dump, and you’ll want to adjust them to taste anyway.  I seasoned the meat when I browned it, seasoned the chili in the crock pot, and then, about an hour before we had to leave, I tasted and seasoned it again. I used a lot of cumin and somewhat less of everything else.

One other thing: wear gloves when you cut the peppers. Trust me on this. You’ll think you washed the juice off your hands, but you’ll be wrong, and when you touch your face you’ll get zinged. Seriously, I cried my make-up off. Learn from my folly. Wear gloves.

Mole Chili

2 lbs ground beef (I used 80/20 because it was cheap)

1 lb ground turkey

2 poblano peppers, diced and seeded

1 jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded*

2 large cans (22 oz? 32 oz?)** tomato sauce

1 large can diced tomatoes

1 can (16 oz) each pinto beans and kidney beans, rinsed

3-4 tablespoons powdered dark chocolate (I used Hershey’s)

Cumin, garlic powder, and smoked black pepper, divided to taste

Cook the peppers with the meat and some of each seasoning (including the chocolate).

Toss it all in the crock pot or dutch oven and cook at least 4 hours. I think mine cooked about 6.

That’s all there is to it. If you make it, let me know how it came out!


*If you want more kick, add another jalapeno or two. You can also leave the seeds in it to make it hotter, or substitute the jalapenos for habaneros if you want even more heat.

**I don’t have any in my pantry right now, but they’re the next size up from the 16 oz.

Unplanned hiatus, done.

I don’t know what it is about Chicago winters. Last year I thought it was because of the polar vortex and my culture shock, but we didn’t have either of those this year. I haven’t been in here for a while because I didn’t feel like I had anything interesting to say. With the exception of my annual Florida pilgrimage, I didn’t do much of anything. It’s more complicated getting around in the city in the winter. There’s all the layering and suiting up, even if it’s just to take out the trash. Sometimes people don’t shovel the snow off their sidewalks, making walking an adventure. Suffice to say, I’m happy spring is around the corner.

I will be in and out the rest of this month. I’ll be spending a lot more time downstate getting the house ready to sell. It goes on the market April 1, so after that it’s really a matter of waiting, and then moving the rest of the furniture out once we get a contract. I hope, with military move season about to start in earnest, that we’ll sell quickly.

I’ve had some requests on Facebook for my award winning chili recipe. I’ll put that here later in the week, when I’m desperate for a break, after which I will likely clean painted fingerprints off my keyboard. Thanks for checking in!

Happy New Year!

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m pretty happy to see the tail end of 2014. We did some very cool things, but there was a lot of stress involved, too. I won’t even talk about my 2014 goals. I didn’t do them. Apparently, there is some truth to having them written out where you can see them. I did a word doc, and I left it on my desktop, but it got opened, oh, maybe three times this year, the earliest being November. That’s when I realized I couldn’t write 200 days this year even if I wrote every day left. I didn’t get in shape, didn’t visit Grandma enough, didn’t focus on clean eating, you get the idea.

I haven’t written anything down for 2015. I don’t think I will. I have my word count spreadsheet set up already with my 200 days already noted. I think that’s enough to worry about. Mostly I’m over 2014 and ready for a fresh start. We’re starting the year with uncertainty, but really, everyone is. No one knows what will happen later tonight, let alone the rest of the year.

I’ll leave you with this. I wish for you health, happiness, perspective, empathy and a little bit of joy for each of the next 365 days.

Birthday Misadventures

My birthday was Monday, and I planned to spend the afternoon at the Chicago History Museum. As I usually do, I did some online research on parking in the area and compared public transportation routes. I decided to take the bus–there was only one interchange.

Like half the nation, it was cold here on Monday. I put on what I thought would be enough layers given the amount of time I anticipated walking and the desire to not need a sherpa in the museum. Dressing for Chicago weather is tricky, and even though I was here for most of last winter, I haven’t quite got the hang of it. I should have worn a heavier coat.

Then I left late. And the bus was slow. I realized that I hadn’t coordinated a meet time with Eric for our early dinner. (If you get to Flat Top Grill before 4, they charge lunch prices!) He’d planned to stop work at 3:20. That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the museum. Instead, I stayed on the bus a few more stops and waited in the warm building about 20 minutes for him to get off work.

Dinner was good, though, and I heard from my kids, so it wasn’t a total loss. When I do make it to the museum, I’ll get back to you on how wonderful it is.

Random bits

Today is the 39th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. For some reason I never realized it was the day before Veterans Day. I found this video on YouTube among several others, but I chose it because it has video footage of the dive when they found her in 1995 as well as the names of all the men who perished. I don’t remember the wreck myself. I was too young to take an interest in current events in 1975, but Gordon Lightfoot’s song has always resonated with me. I can’t help but feel sad when I think of the 29 families left behind. Rest in peace, lads.

In happier news, I’m plugging along with NaNoWriMo. Word count as of last night was 18,491. That’s almost 3,500 ahead of the minimum. There’s a method to my madness this year. I’m trying to front load as much as possible because The Boys will be here in two weeks for Thanksgiving. If I’m going to finish on time, I need to work ahead, but frankly, if I don’t finish, it’s not a big deal. This year it’s more about getting as much as I can as quickly as possible, to power through to avoid getting stuck in the middle. I hope if I can get through the middle before they come, I’ll be able to finish it after they leave.

One thing I will be doing is taking next Monday off. It’s my birthday. I’m going to do something fun. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll be turning off the computer for the day. Actually, I might turn it on in the evening so I can report on the fun I had, if I’m not still having fun.

So that’s what’s been going on here. What have you been up to?



The Ada book signing went great! We had a good turn-out–better than I expected, considering Ada is one of those “can’t get there from here towns.” It’s adorable, to be sure, and apparently everyone supports everyone else because we even had trick-or-treaters come. I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked since I was busy signing books. I signed my name so much I felt like I was buying a house. Somehow I managed to not get a single picture of Gail Henderson, who was our social butterfly and worked the crowd beautifully. Thanks to Gail, Stephen Bagley, Jean Schara, and Tammy Jones (who joined us via Skype) for making it a memorable evening!

book signing food

book signing food











Book Table

Book Table











Jean and Stephen talking to Tammy via Skype

Jean and Stephen talking to Tammy via Skype










Stephen with R-tutu-D-tutu

Stephen with R-tutu-D-tutu











Are you in the Oklahoma area?

Imagine my surprise when I looked to see what I’d blogged about in the recent past, and didn’t see anything about Blackbirds First Flight! If you’re my Facebook friend (and if you’re not, why?), you know all about it. You’ve seen the pictures of the cover and the hype about the release. If you’ve missed it, here’s the skinny:

I was invited to submit dark, gothic short stories to my friend’s anthology. I sent four, he accepted three. The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Lulu, but if you happen to be in the area of Ada, OK (more or less halfway between Dallas and Oklahoma City) on Thursday, you can come by the library, pick up your brand new shiny copy, and we’ll sign it for you. Four of the six authors will be there, including yours truly. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Stay tuned–I’ll be back next week with pictures. Or check my Facebook page (Wendy Blanton, Storyteller).

Nine Months On

Nine months ago last Monday, my husband was laid off. It wasn’t completely unexpected. The contract he was working on had to reduce the number of workers. We mistakenly thought that the lowest producers would be cut. Instead, the highest paid (and highest producers) were let go. To say we were shocked is an understatement. It was the first time he’d ever lost a job instead of leaving it on his own terms.

We were blessed when he got a job offer two weeks later. The catch was the move from St. Louis to Chicago. But it was a job, and being retired military, moving for a job was no big deal. Or so I thought.

I’ve written a little bit about the really hard parts, about the grief of leaving my old life to step into the unknown. Again. The grief was new. We moved five times in the last seven years of Eric’s military career. I never grieved my old life. I picked it up and moved it.

Now that we’re settled in to our new place and have had friends come to visit, we feel more at home. I’m starting to see the possibility in the new normal and have learned to embrace both the good and bad of city life.

One thing I’ve learned is grief isn’t linear. I can go weeks without thinking about it, and then something comes out of nowhere and reminds me of where I was a year ago, and it makes me cry. Usually it’s something innocuous, but these days it’s as much gratitude that I’ve come through the worst of it as it is missing my kids. I was waiting to stop missing them so much, and then my mom told me it’s not going to happen.

I’ve come to realize that although chronologically I’m well into adulthood, I’m still a kid in God’s eyes. I still have a lot of growing to do, and He knew it wasn’t enough for my kids to leave the nest. To take my next step, I had to leave the nest, too.

100 Years

One hundred years ago today, Austria declared war on Serbia and set into motion a chain of events that would irrevocably change our world. The assassination of the Austrian heir and his wife was all it took to light the tinder, and secret alliances throughout Europe provided the fuel for the worst conflict known to man at that time. The United States stayed out of the conflict for three years, but did not join the war unscathed. Loss of American life began before the declaration of war.

Today our world is vastly different. Technology has exploded in ways people never dreamed of the day Austria declared war. It’s a lovely sunny day here in Chicago. The breeze has a hint of chill and my windows are open to catch it, heedless of the noise from the traffic. The weather is unheard of anywhere in the Midwest for late July. The breeze brings hope for the cool crispness of autumn, which is still more than a month away.

Our world is still in conflict. Areas that were part of the conflict a hundred years ago today are again in conflict. Between Ukraine and Gaza, our world could erupt into world war again. This time could very well be worse now that women are in harm’s way beside men. But I don’t think it will happen today. Today it’s sunny with a lovely breeze. It’s best to enjoy it because tomorrow may not be the same.

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