my bloomingdale

Today I threw a pillow into a wall. Really hard. And it felt fucking great.

I’ve been bottling a lot over the last two months. I’ve been doing that thing that I do where I’m desperately clinging for dear life onto anything I can grasp, anything that’s concrete, anything at all.

And it hasn’t made me happier; it has only made me more confused.

Today I did a search on padmapper for apartments, except I didn’t limit my search by location. I feel like I’m ready to go anywhere. I’m glad that my landlord made sure that I had a new gate. I feel much safer now than I did when I didn’t have a gate or a proper door. But I still don’t have a proper door, and I don’t understand what’s taking so long, and the longer it takes, the longer I feel like I have to cope with the trauma of having my home broken into in the first place. To make matters worse, there was a flood last week. Just a little flood, but just enough floodwater to fuck shit up and ruin my week.

I know I’m not usually so vulgar, but I think I really have to be right now.

The break-in, the identity theft, the new challenges that come with parenting a toddler, the flood, the campaign that thought it could. It’s all weighing on me. On top of that, I feel like my choices are constantly under scrutiny by a heteropatriarchical society that just doesn’t get single motherhood – that sees it as a flaw or a source of misfortune, that puts added pressure on me to compromise what I want to meet its definition of family, even if it’s not right for me or Max (or Lucy).

I’ve had friends who I thought would be major parts of Max’s life, and not all of them have consistently been around him, but this inconsistency doesn’t matter to people; it’s romantic relationships that matter, for some arbitrary reason that no one can define.

I think I can define it: You, perhaps unknowingly, believe that there’s only one way to have a family, and for some reason, my way doesn’t fit.

I am stressed, but I’m happy with my perfect little family – and with all the villagers who have come into our lives in loving ways. There have been so many.

I think that’s the hardest thing about really leaving. This apartment – with all its flaws, with all its history – is my home. I’m happy here. I love Bloomingdale. I like being the lady that neighbors can come to for cookies and beer. I like being well-known on my street, in my corner stores, at my parks. I love the community that I’ve built here, in the very strange three years that I’ve lived in this lovely, tiny, doorless but gated basement apartment. I’d hate to leave this place.

I hate to leave on such a cliffhanger, but I have to complete day two of my 30-day fitness challenge.

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There’s no such thing as normal.

Today I celebrated the graduations of two good friends, and because they’re both a bit older than many people are when they graduate from college, it made me think about the unreasonable expectations that we set on people to accomplish certain things on some arbitrary timeline.

These two friends are exceptional. One took time off to work and intern and save money and find the right school. She has moved around the country a few times, and she’s had some cool jobs along the way. She eventually found the right fit, and it’s taking her to exactly where she wants to be – both in her career and in her life and pursuit of love. All the puzzle pieces just fell into place in a way that they couldn’t have if she’d followed the traditional, the expected path.

There is no one size fits all approach to life.

My other friend served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. He got married and bought a house because those were the things that made sense at the time and in that context. He had a whole life, and he lived it to the fullest. It wasn’t until after he completed his military service that he decided to go back to school to pursue a degree.

And I think about the way I did things, too. I dropped out, worked full-time, learned a whole new city and made it my home, and then I moved across the country to create a new home. I tacked on a year to my undergraduate career, and it was weird for me, even being just a year older, to be surrounded by so many people who were younger than me, partially because their experiences were so vastly different from mine. I think that maybe if we felt a little more free to do what’s right for us rather than what’s expected then the student body would have been more diverse. As a young mom, too, I see that there are still people who think it’s completely absurd to have a baby out of wedlock or for a woman to raise a child on her own. But it works for me.

I used to (and honestly, sometimes still do) measure myself against what many people perceive to be normal. But I’m not normal, and I don’t want to be. In many ways, I think that striving for what’s normal and what’s socially acceptable can hurt us, because we go against our selves, our truths. We’re all so different; how can we all have the same path forward?

That’s absurd.

I reject the idea of being normal in favor of being true.

Max’s generation might face fewer obstacles to pursuing happiness, to telling their own stories. There’s more awareness now about the broad range of gender identities and about sexual and romantic orientations. We’re becoming more likely to call out tragedy porn and tell the truth, even when it’s not sexy or it doesn’t have a happy ending. We’re moving in the right direction in many ways.

And then there are times when I hear his class singing, “The girls on the bus say, ‘Look at my hair, look at my hair, look at my hair,'” and “the boys on the bus say, ‘Look at my muscles, look at my muscles, look at my muscles.'” and I worry that we’ve made no progress at all.

the cake is social norms because symbolism

There’s something attractive about being normal. I wish it weren’t the case; fitting in isn’t a good enough reason to be unhappy.

You always have my unspoken passion.

When I opened my front door yesterday, I found a single rose. I thought it might’ve fallen there, maybe, but there was nowhere it could have fallen from. So then I thought it must’ve come from a neighbor. Just yesterday, on Mother’s Day, a neighbor said to me: “I wish I had a rose for you because you’re doing a great job every day.”

Comments like that have warmed my heart in the past few days, because motherhood is the most important job I’ve ever taken on, and I so appreciate being cheered on. I cheer myself on all the time, and I think it makes people believe I’m strong and confident. To some extent, I am. But I also recognize that I cheer myself on because I’m scared that no one else will.

I had forgotten about the rose by the time I got to the office. I was so distracted; I’ve had trouble letting any positivity in because lately I’ve felt like I was being attacked from all sides – from my front door to my character. When it rains, it pours.

Vince walked me home, and when we walked in, I remembered the rose. I picked it up and told him, “I found this at my door this morning! I think it must’ve been a neighbor.” He just said, “Oh.” I didn’t even realize how oblivious I seemed.

vince textI keep thinking: How long have I pushed him away? It’s been almost a year, and I keep telling myself that it’s just a fling, it’s just a night, we’re just friends. I keep telling myself I don’t care. I keep finding reasons to keep my guard up.

Last weekend, I let my guard down, and it was glorious.

But on Thursday evening, I came home to find my door ajar, with a piece of the door kicked out. Someone had broken in and stolen my laptop. (They also found my old laptop – the one that’s covered in stickers and missing a few keys – and they checked it out but decided that they wouldn’t take it even if it was totally free…)

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It was just the laptop. A new laptop, with lots of baby photos and videos, but just a laptop nonetheless. My family wasn’t home, and we weren’t hurt. I found Lucy wandering around near the door. But I was terrified about what was inside. I crossed the street. I called my landlord, I called the police, I put my guard back up.

This isn’t who I want to be.

I don’t want to be so alone, caged in my own insecurities. I can spend the rest of my life criticizing his every move and every word, but it won’t change the facts: He cares about me, and he shows it. He supports me. And he doesn’t only think of me; he thinks of my son, he thinks of (don’t laugh) MY CAT. He’s becoming an indispensable part of our family. And I’m terrified sometimes. I tell my friends, and myself, that I don’t care and that I want space, and sometimes that’s true. Other times, I’m just scared of being loved, because of what that’s meant for me in the past.

I’m scared when he’s the first one to text me in the morning, wishing me a good day. I’m scared when he tells me I’m beautiful. I’m scared when he showers me with superlatives. Because I’ve been here before, and I don’t want him to build me up just to break me down. I don’t want my confidence, my self-esteem to be dependent on him. When he offered to stay with me after the break-in, I said no, because I don’t want my safety to be dependent on him. I need to be okay – I need to be happy and healthy and confident and safe – on my own.

It’s already been almost a year, and I should know by now that he’s not going to snap. There haven’t been red flags. He has never raised his voice. He has never hurt me. He has never made me feel small. Still, I can’t help but be afraid. Somehow, he’s been patient with me.

That has to count for something, huh?

Maybe I’ll always nitpick, and maybe that’s okay. He will always have flaws, and so will I. But there is so much I can learn from him, and I think there are things he can learn from me, too. We don’t agree about everything, but that seems unnecessary. I feel like I’ve grown with him, in happy and healthy ways.

And if you’re reading this, all I guess I can say is: thank you for being an amazing lover but an even more amazing friend.

Finding independence

From the second he was born, Max has been engulfed in the principles of attachment parenting. After his natural Birth Center birth, he was placed on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin contact with his momma, and within minutes I breastfed him for the first time. He had the whole kit and caboodle — babywearing, breastfeeding, bedsharing, even a nightly infant massage with grapeseed oil. I’d pick him up the second I heard him whimper, and I’d rock him for hours on end if it kept him happy. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that he was happiest when he was being held.

infant massage

max just living his life, getting his infant massage on

We have grown very close. I’m not only his mother; I’m his caregiver and his friend.

Many people praised me, and some people criticized me — for extended breastfeeding, for allowing him to sleep in my bed, for never letting him just cry.

People suggested that he’d be spoiled, he’d never learn to be independent, and he’d never outgrow breastfeeding. But I’ve trusted my gut and the very many parenting books that I’ve read and the doctors and child care providers that I’ve consulted, and I’ve parented according to his needs and not the advice of people who don’t know him as well.

It’s hard, sometimes, to go with your gut. Especially when you’re a young woman of color. You’re constantly challenged and questioned by backseat drivers who want to tell you how it’s done. There was one time that Max’s daycare closed because there was a petroleum in the water scare, and since we were having a holiday party that day anyway, I decided to bring him to work. The first half of the day was a four-hour staff meeting, which Max (then ten months old) endured pretty patiently (and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom and think he’s perfect!). There was a point that he was ready for his milk, so I took him back to my desk and breastfed him. I had brought some toys and random items to keep him occupied through the day, but in general, Max was (and still often is) very patient and happy as long as he’s being held. I brought him back to the conference room after the meeting, and he started to groan and whimper — not quite a cry but an expression of discomfort. I wasn’t surprised; it was naptime. I knew that he was going to fall asleep any minute, but he was grumbling because he was still at an age at which he didn’t quite understand the feeling that was overtaking him. Imagine that – being so tired and not knowing what’s happening to you. It’s probably uncomfortable. What did surprise me was the reaction of another mother in the room — a lovely woman who has a daughter just about the same age as Max. She asked me if she could get Max a toy, and I thanked her but declined. He’s just tired, I let her know. It was a kind gesture, and I appreciated it, but then she started to try to amuse him to make him stop crying. He grew increasingly frustrated, and I knew why: In trying to console him and make him laugh when he just wanted to fall asleep, she was telling him, “I don’t understand why you’re crying, so I’m going to try to distract you from what’s upsetting you.” This was upsetting to me because she ignored what I had told her and dismissed the idea that I could know what was wrong with my baby – the child that I was still nursing and closer to than anyone else. She is a white woman, and from my perspective, she was parenting through privilege.

Young mothers of color are constantly questioned and dismissed and challenged; it’s assumed that we do not know what’s best for our babies, how to hold our babies, how to console our babies, how to care for our babies. When a white woman sees another white woman doing something that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, it’s accepted as a different style of parenting; but when a white woman sees a woman of color doing something that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, it’s viewed as being wrong. She feels comfortable intervening and correcting her. It is a microaggression.

But I didn’t come here to talk about racism. I came here to say: My attachment parenting critics were wrong — not because attachment parenting is right for everyone, but because it was right for Max.

Max is more independent than I could’ve ever hoped. He can walk, run, climb, and play independently for long stretches of time. He doesn’t love to hold my hand when we walk down the street, but once we reach the end of the block, he reaches his hand out because he knows that he can’t cross the street on his own. He likes to try to climb off the curb along the way, and sometimes he gets upset when I stop him or guide him back into the direction that we’re going. When I try to hold his hand on the sidewalk, he sometimes throws himself on the ground dramatically. He wants to be independent; he wants to be free. He’s growing up so quickly, and I’m so proud of his growth.

There have been power struggles — the biggest one being that he hates holding my hand when we’re walking, and that makes it really hard to get him to stay the course when we’re on our way to daycare in the mornings. I’ve tried to cheer him on and praise him when he walks in the right direction. I’ve pulled him away from the stairs when he tried to climb them and go back home, and I redirect him. I’ve called him, over and over, in English and Spanish, to come and follow me. I’ve gotten frustrated and said, “Come on, Max, we’re going to be late.” I’ve given up and carried him the whole way.

But now, as I’m continuing to read Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, I’m learning new ways to encourage him to be independent and still do the things that he has to do, like walk to school in the morning without getting too distracted by dandelions.

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ok sometimes you do have to stop and smell the dandelions

I appreciate having spaces like our back patio where he can roam freely, and I don’t have to pull him away from an electronic device or something dangerous every three minutes. And when it comes to walking to school and walking back home, I’m finding ways to make it less of a chore for him. When he doesn’t want to hold my hand, I take both of his hands and turn our walk into a dance while I sing “Pop Goes the Weasel” (swinging him at the “popping” part), and it makes him forget that he’s holding my hand because he’s enjoying the dance. This evening, on the way home, I managed to get him to run in the right direction for a whole block by chasing after him saying “Momma’s gonna get you” and “I’m going to catch up with Max!” and then grabbing him and picking up a few times along the way to make him laugh (and confirm that I could indeed catch up).

The most important lesson I’ve learned from books on positive discipline is that discipline is teaching, not punishment. Even time outs should be used in a positive way that lets both child and parent cool off — it should be future-oriented, not past-dwelling. Power struggles, to me, are a sign that I’m trying to take control in an area that Max is seeking independence, so I need to find better balance to allow him to be independent while setting simple (but fun) guidelines to keep him safe. There’s no point in getting frustrated.

I think the next thing I need to do is learn to apply these principles in other areas of my life.

Bacon peanut butter chip pancakes

It’s been a while since I’ve come up with a recipe. Lately I’ve been obsessed with bacon. I made a delicious spinach mac ‘n cheese dish last week that substituted macaroni with cauliflower. And what made it especially delicious was the bacon I added on top.

IMG_8571You can find that one out on the interwebs somewhere, but that’s not what I’m making tonight. Tonight I’m going to attempt bacon pancakes. Maybe even bacon peanut butter chip pancakes. For dinner. Because YOLO.

Ingredients
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 and a half cups of flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 egg
1 clean diaper
powdered sugar, as desired
a teensy bit of vanilla extract
peanut butter chips
bacon
butter
syrup (or a corner store)
beer (note: this doesn’t go in the pancakes)

Directions

  1. I started with the buttermilk. I didn’t have any buttermilk because who buys buttermilk? So I knew Google would have a solution for me. And she sure did.
  2. Does it still count as a recipe if I write it in blog form but with numbers?
  3. I poured a cup of milk into a measuring cup (that’s how I knew it was a cup…), and I added a teaspoon of lemon juice. As per these instructions.
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  4. I let my homemade buttermilk sit while I oiled a pan and slapped my bacon strips on it. I started preheating the oven to 400 degrees, and then I went to change a diaper.
  5. If you just changed a diaper, please wash your hands.
  6. I poured the milk into a bowl, added flour, a tablespoon of baking soda, and an egg. I mixed that up and then dropped in a bit of vanilla extract and maybe three teaspoons of powdered sugar.
  7. Mix.
  8. At this point, I googled “best fluffiest pancake recipe” to see if there was anything else I should add to make my pancakes better and fluffier, and the secret ingredient was melted butter.
  9. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter, and add it to your pancake mixture.
  10. This might be a good time to figure out if you even have any syrup.
  11. You don’t.
  12. Put your bacon in the oven, put pants on your toddler, and run to the corner store.
  13. You bought beer, didn’t you?
  14. I hope it was the good stuff, girl, you deserve it.
  15. Or guy, I’m not sexist.
  16. Or other gender nonconforming individual, I’m not ignorant.
  17. Pour in peanut butter chips.
  18. Your bacon still isn’t ready, so crack open a beer.
  19. Turn off the fire alarm. That thing is so sensitive.
  20. Take out your recyclables. You can’t move forward until the bacon is done.
  21. Turn off the fire alarm again. It’s the other room this time.
  22. Take a selfie.
    Photo on 4-21-15 at 6.47 PM #7
  23. Bacon is ready!
  24. Allow your lieutenant kitchen deputy to taste test the bacon.
  25. Surprise, surprise – bacon passes.
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  26. Break the bacon up into bits and throw it into your pancake mixture.
  27. Your pan should still be pretty drenched in butter. If not, proceed to drench.
  28. Your kid is so cute – he’s singing along to “Eye of the Tiger.”
  29. No wait, that’s my kid. Maybe your next one will be as adorable as mine.
  30. While you were here bragging, your kid got into the flour.
  31. You’re a mean mom because you took the flour away.
  32. Now he needs a hug.Photo on 4-21-15 at 7.54 PM #3
  33. Are you going to just die if you hear that fire alarm again? Just me?
  34. Beer, Jessica. Beer.
  35. Max and I have a “whoa whoa whoa” playlist now. He likes to sing along to songs that he can say “whoa whoa whoa” in. This is a surprising number of songs.
  36. Oh, you can start making your pancakes now.
  37. Voila!

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I know what you’re thinking: “Why didn’t you just give me the cheesy spinach cauliflower recipe? I would never feed my kids pancakes for dinner!” And to that I say: at least we brushed our teeth afterwards?

(i have a hilarious video to include here, but it’s an unsupported file type so your loss)

Saving tip: Don’t upgrade your phone.

The savings gods came to me today, in the form of a Verizon Wireless ad, and the gods said, “Don’t upgrade your phone, Jessica, for $15 in monthly savings shall be bestowed unto you.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.55.33 PMApparently, once your two-year contract is up, you can enjoy discounts of $15-25 per month (depending on how many lines you have and how much data you use) by simply choosing not to upgrade (which I wasn’t going to do anyway because I literally don’t care to have a better phone, nor would I have any idea how it is better).

This was a glimmer of hope for me in an otherwise overwhelming month of ridiculous charges and another hour-long conversation with Comcast.

On the bright side, Comcast also upgraded my Internet service to a faster speed for free to apologize for the inconvenience of all the hours I’ve spent on the phone with them explaining that I don’t even have a TV so please, please stop charging me for it.

One step closer to Project Home!

Chicken Enchilada Pot Pie, Easter Bunny Cookies, and Max’s Happy Place

I just discovered three wonderful things that turned out to be surprisingly easy. According to my Mint.com account, I spend a silly amount of money each month on three silly things: coffee, alcohol, and eating out. I put about $100 towards coffee and alcohol each month, and I spend hundreds on Rustik Tavern, pizza, and other restaurants. I’ve decided to completely cut out buying coffee at coffee shops. This is a huge sacrifice for me, but I know that it’s an important one. Sometimes I spend $5-6 on a single cup (because sometimes I just NEED a chai latte with a double shot of espresso). I bought coffee at the supermarket and plan to commit to making my own coffee at home and at work. I love my wine, so I’m not making any changes there, though I will commit to not buying alcohol for the rest of April (mainly because I already got a great deal on three good bottles of wine for $25 – boom!). When it comes to eating out, I think it’d be easy for me to say “I’m done eating out for the next six months,” but since it’s such a reflex for me, I know I need to take baby steps before I can truly cut out that expense. I attempted this yesterday by planning a bunch of meals I can cook this month and then writing a grocery list based on those meal plans. But I ran so many errands — including going to the supermarket — and I hadn’t had time to get home to cook lunch. Max and I were both hungry, so we stopped at Chipotle and spent $11 on a burrito bowl. What I’m saying is that, even when I’m being vigilant about my spending, it’s tough to cook or prepare three meals every day. It also gets boring. I tried to overcome the second issue by finding a lot of different easy recipes. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of buying a ton of the same few ingredients and then making the same dish week after week. It was great for my budget, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to eat lasagna again. IMG_8481 As a compromise, I’m allowing myself to spend $20 per week — or about $80 per month — on fast food and eating out. That means that if I get stuck somewhere, or I get sick, or I’m just tired, I don’t have to worry about preparing a meal. I have a lot on my plate, so I need that cushion to give myself more time for self-care. This reduction in my restaurant/fast food budget led to a fairly significant increase in my grocery budget, which I’m aiming to keep below $150 per month (and I’ve already spent $137 for April). I need to focus on being extra frugal for the rest of April and reevaluate my grocery spending in May. If I’ve done this well, I’ll be able to spend even less at the supermarket next month. I do admit that I splurged a little on some last-minute Easter treats, but if you scroll down to the video below, you’ll find that it was totally worth it. So here are the three wonderfully easy things I discovered this weekend!

Chicken Enchilada Pot Pie

Because I found out how easy it is to make chicken pot pie, and then I found a can of enchilada sauce in my cupboard. Ingredients

  • Puff pastry shells
  • Chicken
  • Frozen veggies (peas, carrots, corn)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 can enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream — but if you don’t have heavy cream (I didn’t), I found out that you can mix milk and cornstarch to make it.
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, oregano, garlic salt
  • Olive oil
  • Two tablespoons of flour

Directions

  1. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, thyme, oregano, and garlic salt. You can also simplify by using Adobo (I don’t even know why I own other seasonings).
  2. Chop your onion.
  3. Heat the olive oil on a pan, throw your chicken guys on there, and saute them.
  4. If you’re using the same frozen pastry shells that I used then this would be a good time to bake them. I used Pepperidge Farm’s pastry puff shells, and the instructions were on the box (though I did not read this box until after everything else was cooked, so you’re welcome for not putting these steps in the order that I did them).
  5. Move chicken to a plate once it’s cooked.
  6. Toss your onions and veggies onto the same pan, and sprinkle salt and pepper on those guys.
  7. Yes, everyone is a guy — your chicken, the little carrot guy and his corn and pea friends.IMG_8509
  8. This is where I get a little cray with the garlic salt — just splatter it on everyone in the pan.
  9. Mix in about two tablespoons of flour.
  10. Here, you’re supposed to throw in some chicken broth, but I poured in one can of enchilada sauce to give it a little Latin kick.
  11. Once the mixture has thickened, you can add heavy cream (or whatever you have in your cupboard, I don’t judge).
  12. Throw your chickadees back into the mix. IMG_8517
  13. If you followed step four then your pastry shells are probably ready by now. Take them out of the oven, remove the tops, and fill them with your chicken enchilada goodness.
  14. Because I didn’t measure anything, I ended up with a lot of chicken enchilada goodness leftover. The good news is I tasted it on its own, and it was wonderful, so it made a great side dish.

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    Chicken enchilada guys in pies with a side of chicken enchilada guys not in pies — dinner is served!

Meanwhile, Max and I were also working on dessert — a new Pinterest-inspired Easter treat that we invented and will call Easter Bunny Cookies because they are so bunny-centric. I found that the fun level of making these cookies increased by 1000000% if you bake them with a toddler.

Easter Bunny Cookies

Ingredients

  • Carrot cake — you can make this from scratch, but I’m not going to tell you how to do that. I used Duncan Hines cake mix!
  • 1 egg
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • vanilla extract
  • Cadbury mini-eggs
  • Rolling pin
  • Toddler

Also: The part of this recipe that was inspired by Pinterest is actually the part that I barely used. I bought Peeps and green cake frosting to top the cookies with grass and bunnies, but it was almost sickeningly sweet, so I added this topping to only a few of the cookies. Directions

  1. Mix your cream cheese and butter in a bowl.
  2. Once that’s thoroughly blended, add in your cake mix — just a bit at a time so that this is mixed perty thoroughly, too.
  3. Plop in an egg and a teensy bit of vanilla extract.
  4. More mixing.
  5. Now comes the fun part! Grab your toddler and a rolling pin. (Note: If s/he is not your toddler then you should not grab him/her/preferred pronoun. I do not condone kidnapping for this recipe.)
  6. SMASH THE CADBURY EGGS! As demonstrated in Exhibit A below. (pretty sure I’ve watched this video of my own child an unreasonable number of times…)
  7. Add your smashed Cadbury bits to your cookie mix, and freeze for a couple of hours or refrigerate for more hours.
  8. Eat dinner! The chicken pot pie was a hit, thanks for asking.
  9. IMG_8523

    My sweet boy using his table manners.

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    My sweet boy abandoning said table manners.

The numbers on this post are being screwy, but it’s okay — there aren’t that many steps left. Bake them for 10-15 minutes (12.5 is probably a good compromise). Let them cool, and you have delicious Cadbury Egg Carrot Cake Cookies! IMG_8529 Then if you still want your bunnies on there, this part is super simple. You just top your cookie with green frosting for the grass and plop your Peepkachu guy on there!

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Happy Easter, y’all!

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peepkachu