The Real Ideal


If I were to ask you to take an inventory of your kitchen counter at this point in time, what you report? Coffee maker? Stand mixer? Cookie jar? A bunch of 4 bananas nestled among ripe peaches and mangoes in a gorgeous ceramic bowl?

I absolutely love being a subscriber to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Every issue is like a mini vacation for me, full of color and ideas and food and inspiration. I enjoy taking a virtual stroll through the lush gardens and beautiful rooms of complete strangers, but I often wonder: “Where do they keep all their stuff? Do the kids really put their backpacks on the hooks in the mudroom? And do they really keep 4 bottles of sparkling water on their counter next to a full bowl of lemons?” I mean, what does their house look like on a Thursday at 6:47 pm?

In my house, there is a distinct difference between ideal and real. I really don’t like clutter, but it’s everywhere. My kitchen counters? Well, we don’t have a dishwasher in this house, so there’s often either a pile of dirty dishes next to the sink or a full sink of clean, air-dried dishes waiting to be put away. Next to that clean pile of dishes are about 4 items that should be put in the recycling bin. There’s a six-pack carrier half-full of clean beer bottles waiting to be taken down to the basement and stored till my husband can begin his small dream of brewing his own beer. There’s this funky, fun, eyeglasses-shaped drinking straw that the aforementioned guy got for free in the mail a few weeks ago — I can’t get the thing to dry out. I have a bucket of tomatoes next to my spice rack of half-empty spice jars that really need to be washed and refilled with spices I use more frequently than the ones that are currently in the rack.

On the other side of my not-quite-magazine-photo-sparkling-clean stove sits the coffeemaker, my travel mug, an empty jar meant to hold freshly-ground coffee, and an empty Kraft Marshmallow teddy bear cookie jar that’s standing guard over a pile of mail, an empty graham cracker box, and a basket filled with more paper, pens, and pencils. Please don’t ask to look inside my pantry closet. For the record, I did just clear all the army guys off the top of my microwave.

Sigh. Far from ideal.

But that’s life, isn’t it? You would think that a stay-at-home mom could and should be able to stay on top of the clutter. Yeah, I think that, too. Yet somehow things come up. Other work must be done. Piles of paper are simply re-piled and shifted elsewhere for a little while. Shoes are neatly lined up on the rug until everyone goes and comes back again, tossing them into the familiar heap. You get used to the few Duplo blocks laying on the living room carpet, the couch pillows carefully placed on the floor next to the couch as a landing spot, the kids books and mardi gras beads and naked baby dolls abandoned in the dining room and hallway, the playroom in the basement in which the toy box threw up. This is life at the moment.

Three days ago, Sarah started kindergarten — she’s now gone all day. Tomorrow our oldest daughter, Micaiah, starts second grade. She, too, will be gone all day. With only one left at home with me, I can’t help but wonder if my house will perhaps stay a little more picked up, a little less cluttered. Perhaps real will get a little bit closer to ideal. Yeah, probably not.

And yet, while I may envy those picture-perfect rooms full of color and sunlight and bright, bold bowls filled with fun objects, I realize that I have the ideal. My house is full of reminders of the many blessings I have been given, namely the three little ones with giggles and screams and sticky fingers (and the big one they call “Dad”, though he usually doesn’t have sticky fingers). This is real life at the moment — crazy, cluttered, and chaotic. This is no magazine; this is the real ideal.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up a bit. 🙂


Easy Cheesy Chicken with Grilled Potatoes

This dish isn’t fancy, but it’s homey and requires minimal dishes. It also works for those of us who may have forgotten to take out the frozen chicken until an hour before suppertime. Enough said.


  • 5 medium russet or white potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. Old World Seasoning or 1 tsp. each garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika
  • 8 oz. white or mini bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil


  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  1. Toss potatoes with oil. Place on rimmed baking sheet lined with double layer of foil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and Old World Seasoning.
  2. Preheat gas grill — one burner to high heat, remaining burners to medium-low heat. Place potatoes on warming rack of grill while preheating (should cook about 10 minutes before remaining food goes on grill).
  3. Place mushrooms and onions on large piece of foil. Drizzle with oil. Fold foil over mushrooms and onions into large packet, folding to seal the edges.
  4. Lay each chicken breast on cutting board. Cut chicken breasts horizontally into 1/2″ thick fillets (this works even if partially frozen). Sprinkle with salt.
  5. Rotate pan of potatoes. Place mushroom packet over high burner. Cook for 5 minutes.
  6. Oil grates and place chicken over medium-low burners. Cook about 7 minutes, or until chicken is browning on bottom side. Turn over.
  7. Turn over mushroom packet. Continue cooking chicken until juices run clear. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and cook until cheese is melted. Remove all food from grill and serve.

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