The enemy’s gate is dinner.

Warning: Mild Ender’s Game spoilers ahead.

When I was in my early teens, I really liked reading girl books, like horse books, Nancy Drew novels, the Little House on the Prairie series, and some fantasy. So when my dad told me I absolutely had to read Ender’s Game, I resisted. For years. His summary was something like this:

There’s this alien race that almost wiped out humanity, so humanity needs to raise a military genius so that if and when they ever come back, we won’t be wiped out. To raise such a military genius, the military trains promising kids in space in a battle school. The book is about one such kid, and he plays battle games, but he’s so good at it that they keep making the game harder and harder for him, stacking the odds against him. It’s like if the game was chess, they would take away his queen at the beginning of the game. Then, when he still wins, they give the opponent two queens and him none. And so on.

This summary still sounded totally not like my thing, so I didn’t read it until I basically had to for a class in high school. And of course I loved it and fell in love with science fiction as a whole and read everything by Orson Scott Card and met my husband through his web site, so yeah. My dad was right.

The reason I’m posting about Ender’s Game today, though, has to do with the dinner game. I mean, even the moms (and dads) who love to cook struggle to come up with something yummy, nutritious, and fast enough to put on the table every single night. It’s not an easy part of being an adult.

But I feel lately like I’m Ender and the odds are increasingly stacked against me. I am pretty good about planning and shopping for meals well ahead of time, and I usually have cooked real meals every night. I can say that there has only been one occasion when we had cereal or sandwiches for dinner. Yeah, we do hot dogs or frozen pizza or fast food on a fairly regular basis, but on the whole, I was pretty decent at the whole dinner thing.

When Jonathon and I got married, I worried about what we would eat. I am very picky about dairy. Basically, anything cultured is a no for me (with the exception of mozzarella on pizza). I don’t eat cheese, yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, even butter (unless it’s in things and not very noticeable). Meanwhile, Jonathon doesn’t eat potatoes or some other vegetables. He doesn’t care for soy sauce. What this meant was that we had to try a lot of new recipes when we were first married. We fell in love with Thai and Indian food together, and we ate a fair amount of Mexican food (I would just leave off the dairy). I joked that we’d be in big trouble if our kids didn’t like spicy food or meat.

Well. Let me tell you.

Lego and Duplo refused to eat anything even slightly spicy for years. They are only recently coming around to Mexican food (and the past few months are actually eating Indian and Thai food without too much complaint, even though they don’t prefer it). But El Guapo is almost completely a vegetarian. He used to eat hot dogs, but now he doesn’t. At least soft, easy to chew chicken is now on his okay-to-eat list, where it wasn’t for a long time. Ground beef is a definite no, as is pepperoni, sausage, pork, roast beef, steak, and any chicken that is too dry or tough for him. Duplo didn’t like rice for a long time, but he’s finally eating it as long as it isn’t plain. Lego doesn’t like tomatoes but will tolerate them in some sauces (not spaghetti sauce, alas).

And that was before Robo joined our family.

Plus, I teach piano until 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, until 6 p.m. on Friday, until 4 p.m. on Wednesday (but I hold cub scout den meetings in my home at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays), and until 4 p.m. on Mondays (but we have Family Home Evening at 7 p.m. on Mondays). Dinner is ALWAYS rushed and almost always late (6:30 to 7:00 p.m.).

Now, here are my restrictions on dinner:

  1. Must not contain potatoes
  2. Must not contain wheat
  3. Must not contain dairy
  4. Must not contain eggs
  5. Must not contain nuts of any kind (except coconut)
  6. Must not be too spicy
  7. Must contain enough calories if El Guapo chooses not to eat the meat portion
  8. Must be able to be prepared in one hour, start to finish (almost every day)
  9. Must not be too expensive (Robo’s allergies require us to buy expensive foods for breakfast and lunch, so I try not to go overboard at dinner)

Some people recommend using my crock pot, and I like the idea of that, but so many crock pot recipes are soups or meat-with-vegetables concoctions that are no-goes for my family. Or they contain dairy. Or wheat.

I remember when I found out what Robo’s allergies were, and I sat down with my list of dinner ideas to see what was still on the list. Black beans and rice: check! Mexican food with corn tortillas or shells: check! Thai and Indian food: check!

There was one category that was almost completely eradicated, and that was the “easy meals” category. No more chicken nuggets (wheat, eggs, dairy). No more frozen pizza. No more hamburgers or hot dogs (buns), macaroni and cheese, omelettes, breakfast for dinner, quick quesadillas, bread-based meals, etc. And almost all fast food or pizza restaurants have nothing to offer that Robo isn’t allergic to. So giving up and ordering in is usually not an option anymore. Even gluten-free pizza crust contains eggs.

Lately, I have been making two meals, one easy one like macaroni and cheese for Jonathon and the older boys and one Robo-friendly one for me and Robo (gluten-free spaghetti, tacos, and stir fry are some favorites). But making two meals, even two easy meals, is a LOT of work, and, worse, it makes a LOT of dishes.

I’m still doing it. My family eats dinner every night. But I have come to hate dinner, to feel like the whole things is rigged, and to put off starting it in the evening, which makes the whole thing later and worse. Ugh. Ender got to confront Graff about the whole thing. Who do I call to complain?

Our Home

It has been almost five months since I posted last. What a whirlwind these last months have been! I almost haven’t had time to think, let alone write about everything. House hunting, keeping a house spotless (mostly) for showings, packing up to move, vacation in Washington, DC, and surrounding areas (fantastic!), closing on our house, moving, unpacking, two family reunions, and five birthday celebrations, all before mid-July.

I have been so happy with our new home and excited to share pictures, especially with those of you who live far away, but there has always been a reason why I wasn’t ready to post them. There were boxes everywhere at first, and when we unpacked, we still hadn’t hung art or painted. Then, we finally did paint, but there was a lot of clutter remaining from the painting process until we were all the way finished. Last weekend, Jonathon finished painting the living room and painted all of the office (go Jonathon!), and I have spent the week getting everything clean and pretty. I finally whipped out my handy dandy phone and took some pictures today.

I still am not ready to post pictures of bedrooms, but I am really excited about the potential in our master bedroom. I can’t wait to furnish, decorate, and paint in there! At least we bought curtains. 🙂

So, without further ado, here’s the house! First up, the front room, which I am using as my piano studio.


I will hang some art above the piano, but otherwise, it’s pretty much done. I love having all my piano music and teaching supplies close at hand and a room that is separate from our living space so I don’t have to banish my kids from their usual play places when I teach.


I’m pretty pleased with the $80 green couch I found on KSL and the throw pillows I got for $20 that almost perfectly match it but also make it look more updated.

Next up, the kitchen!


First up, the amazing island with TWELVE drawers. Can you imagine what you would do with twelve drawers in your kitchen? And yes, there’s something in each one. 😀


Another view of the kitchen. Are you a fan of the diagonal handles? Opinions seem pretty split among people who have seen them in person, so far. I like them, personally, but I don’t care that much. The backsplash is a small glass tile.

Now the living room, which is right next to the kitchen, with the dining area just behind the red couch. I didn’t take pictures of the dining area because it’s not really done yet, but use your imagination. 🙂


Okay, there’s a lot that is new here. The living room is actually a super long room with the blue curtain window at the back of the house and the love seat on the right of this picture dividing the room. Behind the love seat is the play room. Before moving in, I had been worried about how to divide the room to use it for two purposes (living room and toy room). I had considered some sort of an IKEA shelving unit, but it probably would have taken two of them to do what was needed, and I wasn’t totally sold on the idea.

The night before we moved, a tan microfiber love seat was left on someone’s front lawn just half a block away from our new house, and it had a “free” sign. We ran over with the van and brought it straight into our new house, and while it is a bit dirty (I’ve cleaned it, so it’s much better than it was then), it’s in good condition, and it works perfectly to divide the room.

I bought a set of five matching bookshelves on KSL for $105 (they were $125, but I guess the sellers felt bad because we couldn’t fit all five of them in our van at once and had to make two trips, so they gave Jonathon $20 back). They are not SUPER high quality, but they are the more expensive kind you can get at Target, which is good enough for us right now, and they look good with our other dark wood furniture.

I found the curtains for $20 on KSL (regular $70 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond). I love the branch pattern at the bottom.

But changing the curtains to blue meant the sage green and gold and brown and orange in our throw pillows didn’t work anymore, so I reupholstered them, found another couple of pillows at two different yard sales, and brought a few blue and red accessories in.

At that point, the room looked so good that the old entertainment center was sticking out like a sore thumb, so I used all the earnings from our yard sale in August to buy a new one—again, on KSL. Sensing a pattern? I don’t feel like the room is completely done, but I am very happy with how it looks.




No, I don’t actually keep the flowers and stick thingy on the end table all the time. Ten seconds after I took the picture, Robo carried both off and left them on the floor. Back up on the bookshelf they go!

Here is the play room. You can see the back of the love seat on the left and the front room on the right.


It’s usually a total mess, but I do have to say that we’re doing better keeping toys put away now that they’re right in the center of our living area. We have a wood stove in the corner that we don’t really want and don’t know what to do with. I guess we’ll just leave it for now, and if the world ends, we can use it for cooking and heat, right?


These are the other three of the five bookshelves I bought together. They are against the staircase and kind of in the play room, off to the right of the previous picture. The stairs actually stare you in the face when you come in the front door, which isn’t my favorite, but seems like a silly thing to worry about in a house I love.

Go up the stairs and you see our office. We also keep the Lego table up here in the hopes that we can keep Robo out of it because he thinks Legos and crayons are the two tastiest objects in the house. I am really looking forward to him not putting things in his mouth anymore. As I said before, Jonathon painted the office on Saturday in a burst of crazy ambition, when he finished painting the living room earlier than he had expected. It looks much better now than the rather bright green it was before. We had wanted to paint the office blue, but we had 1.5 cans of paint left of the tan and no use for them, so we just went ahead and used that. The Sherwin Williams guy thought we’d need three cans just to do the kitchen and living room, but he assumed we’d need multiple coats, and we didn’t.



So that’s the main living areas of the house. One of my favorite things about this house is the yard. It’s not huge (0.18 acres), but it is packed with goodies, like this grapevine, which produces delicious seedless grapes in abundance:




And scads of raspberry plants. That small black fence you see in the background of this picture?



It’s about 3 feet tall. So that gives you an idea of how many raspberries we’re getting every day. It’s a little overwhelming.


We have tons of raspberry plants cropping up in the garden area, which right now is growing nothing but those, weeds, volunteer tomato plants I’m trying to take care of, and asparagus plants that I will hopefully not kill by lack of know-how. Next year I will plant a real garden, but we moved too late for that this year, and the summer was too busy anyway.

Behind the grape vine, not pictured, is a covered patio where we put a picnic table and a sand box (Robo’s birthday present). Someday we’ll get a real, grown-up grill.

The front yard has an apple tree with yummy apples we’re already enjoying, even though they’re not fully ripe yet (we just eat the ones that fall and cut off any not-ideal parts).

There’s a three-car garage with ample storage and a flower bed that I planted a bunch of perennials in which are doing varying degrees of okay. Anyone know why daisies might get really bushy and healthy but not bloom?

Anyway, it’s a really, really good house for us, and it is only now, three months later, starting to feel like maybe it’s real and not a dream.