Saturday, December 11, 2010

How I Make Home-Made Stock

Have you ever made home-made stock, either beef, chicken, or vegetable? It's so much more flavorful than the store-bought kind, but to be honest, I used to think it would be too much trouble to make. Every celebrity chef has their own recipe for chicken stock, but I always find it so wasteful. They often want you to use the whole chicken (or two, or three!)  and then just throw it away once you have strained the liquid. This offends my sensibilities. Waste a whole chicken???? What are they thinking? Likewise with the vegetables. Veggies are relatively inexpensive (only compared to meat and dairy, though), but I still find it bothersome to have to buy vegetables just to make stock.

At last I found a kindred in The Unplugged Kitchen, by Viana La Place. She suggests saving all your kitchen scraps: onion and garlic peels, vegetable peelings, tops, and stems, cheese rinds, and even bread crusts and making soup every week. Then, one of my friends wrote on her blog about saving vegetables scraps in the freezer and making vegetable stock with them. So I decided to try it. Voila! Luscious, dark, flavorful broth, made for free, out of the stuff you usually throw away. And it's super easy to do.

All week long, I save my vegetable scraps, and I mean, everything. Tops, peelings, and root ends of carrots, turnips, eggplants, sweet peppers (though not the seeds or core), celery, okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes, stems of herbs, the tiny little garlic cloves that are too small to use, you name it, I save it. Because I'm using the scraps instead of throwing them out, I make sure to do an extra-thorough wash and rinse of everything before I use it. I put trimmings in baggies and store them in the freezer. We eat a lot of veggies in this house, so I end up with a lot of scraps. One day a week, I roast a chicken. Whatever day that falls on is the night I make stock. Before I go to bed, I ceremoniously dump the carcass and all the pan juices into my large crockpot (not sure of the actual capacity, but it's at least 6 quarts), then I dump all the frozen veggie trimmings on top, and cover everything with pure, filtered water. The only thing close to measuring I do is to make sure I don't over-fill the pot. I add the tiniest pinch of salt and two or three black peppercorns, put the lid on, turn the crockpot on low, and forget about it until the next day. Whenever I get around to it the following morning, I pour the liquid through a fine colander and into 3-cup-capacity Tupperware containers. I use a ladle to press and squeeze every last drop of goodness out of the scraps, then throw the scraps away. Then I label each container and put it in the freezer.

If you are only making vegetable stock, you could make your scraps do double duty by then throwing everything in the compost pile once you've strained your broth. If you are making a stock with meat in it, then throw the scraps away, as animal products are not supposed to go into a compost pile.

The flavor of the stock will not be consistent when made this way, as it would if you followed a recipe, but I have yet to make a batch that didn't taste good. And, I make mine almost for free with hardly any trouble, which is more than I can say for the Barefoot Contessa recipe (although I'm sure hers tastes fantastic). Oh, I do have to confess that I do not include beet scraps. The thought of red or pink stock is just not appealing to me.

And finally, I'll leave you with a link so you can read up on why broth and stock are so very good for for the body. Everyone's grandmother says that if you are sick, you need home-made chicken soup. Well, it turns out there is some actual science behind that old wive's tale. You can read about how good broth is for you here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Weely Menu and Recipe: V-8 Soup

Here is my dinner menu plan for the coming week, plus my recipe for V-8 Soup. This was originally my mother-in-law's recipe, and it's a good one. There are so many ways to vary it to your taste! The recipe I'm posting here is not her original, but contains my own additions, like fresh root vegetables rather than canned potatoes. I like my soups to be so full of vegetables that it's almost a stew (or a "stewp" as Rachel Ray would say). Recently, I have learned that you should not stir ground beef as it browns. Instead, flip it once so it can brown on both sides, but other than that, leave it alone. My absolute favorite ingredient to add is orzo pasta, but since I'm cutting back on carbs, I've been leaving that out. If you do add pasta or rice, cook it before adding to the soup.

V-8 Soup
1 48-ounce can V-8 Juice
water- half a V-8 can's worth
1 family-size bag frozen soup vegetable medley (or two smaller bags)
1 10-ounce bag frozen sliced okra
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fingerling potatoes, washed and diced (I leave the peel on, but you could peel them if desired)
2 large turnips, peeled, tops and root ends removed, diced
olive oil, about a tablespoon, for sauteing the onion and garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds more. Add ground beef. Break the beef up into a thin layer, but then do not stir it while it browns! When it is thoroughly brown on one side, turn it over to brown on the other side. This allows it to build up more flavor.  

When beef is browned, add V-8 juice, then fill the can 1/2 way up with water (should be about 24 ounces) and add the water. If using turnips, add them next and bring soup to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes before adding potatoes and frozen vegetables. If you're skipping the turnips (and you're missing out if you do!), go ahead and add the potatoes and frozen vegetables and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and let the soup simmer for about 45 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Salt and pepper to taste. V-8 contains quite a bit of sodium, so start out lightly with the salt and add more as needed. If adding cooked pasta or rice, add 10 minutes before the end.


Weekly Menu, December 6th-12th
note: I don't actually plan what meal I'm going to make each day, because it inevitably changes. I just write out six or seven dinner plans, then usually decide each day which one to make. I've linked the recipes when applicable.

Roast Chicken (a la Alice Waters), Creamed Spinach, Orange-Maple glazed Carrots

V-8 Soup

Baked Ziti, Roasted Broccoli

Melissa's Chicken, Arugula-Corn Salad

Lamb Shank, Beet and Pomegranate Salad, Baked Sweet Potato

Broiled Salmon, Buttery Mashed Potatoes and Turnips, Peas

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Start of Disney's Newest Golden Age?

I'll get right to it: I loved Tangled. I felt like I was eight years old again! Sitting in the theater, a daughter on each knee, laughing and crying together---it was truly Disney movie magic. We all three loved it so much that we went to see a second time. That's big for me! It held up to a second viewing, too.

 Tangled has a fresh, modern feel to it. I can't decide whether it benefits from that or not. My biggest fear is that the modern feel will date it, unlike the other princess movies which are timeless. I could definitely see the John Lasseter moments, and the elements that were surely there to appease the board of directors. Still, I think it was all pulled together with a very deft hand. This film is very funny. It's got some great dialogue as well as a few slapstick moments (which I felt it could have done without), but they didn't take it too far. There were some great, emotional scenes as well. I think the flying lantern scene was magical. The music wasn't bad, either. Nothing was a catchy as Under the Sea or Be Our Guest, but that's a good thing, as it doesn't get stuck in your head. I don't think the music ever takes over, it gave it just the right touch. I really like the pace of the movie. There is a lot of action and adventure, but there are some great pauses for character development without it ever dragging on. Again, it was just right.

I felt Tangled was as good as a Pixar film, it was just completely different. Pixar would never have made this film, because this isn't their style. But that doesn't automatically put Tangled in a 'lesser' category. Pixar is much more off-beat, much more quirky. But Tanlged was just as funny and had a whole lot of heart, too. I like the idea that these two studios make completely different styles of movies. There are all kinds of stories to be told. Telling the story well is really all that matters.

Hopefully, Tangled and Princess and the Frog are the beginning of a second renaissance for Disney Animation. Now, I know they won't be making any more princess movies for the foreseeable future, but what makes these two films so good was not that they were princess movies. They were just great films. Hopefully, there will be more great films to follow.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Old Fashioned Bean Bag

I don't know why, but I love to browse through fabric. If I find a pretty fabric on sale, I always buy a yard or two, even though I never sew since I had kids. Consequently, I have lots of pretty fabrics on hand. Sometimes I just pull it out and look at it, and it makes me smile. I love that it's still completely untapped potential. I can make it into whatever I want it to be. And I think, "Someday, I will start sewing again.
Well, that day has not come, but I did whip this adorable bean bag for my girls to play catch with.
pretty calico print

soft chenille


 My girls LOVE beanbags. Actually, they absolutely love to throw whatever is in their hands, and I prefer that they throw beanbags. Bean bags are perfect for small children, because they are easier to catch and throw than a ball. The fact that there is no bounce or roll means they don't have to go running after it, and more time is spent throwing rather than chasing.

This bean bag is about 6 inches square finished, and I used two squares of polyester batting to make it sturdier. It is filled with actual dried beans (because that's all I had on hand), so it is not washable, but if you filled it with poly pellets it would be. This is going to be a stocking stuffer for my kids. If you have ever sewn before, you probably already have everything you need to complete this project for free, as I did. It took me about half and hour to make it start to finish, and I'm just a novice seamstress.

I realize that this is a super simple achievement, but it is my super simple achievement, and so I'm excited about it just the same!

Hallelujah!

Here's a little holiday treat to kick off the season! I was a choir snob in college, and found myself singing along. My kids loved it, too. ;)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anger Management

I hope that everyone had a very wonderful Thanksgiving! We had a very quiet---busy---Thanksgiving. For starts, my children went with their dad on Friday. This has bruised my ego, as this was my year for Thanksgiving, and our divorce agreement says the Thanksgiving custody is Wednesday through Sunday. The agreement he signed. But instead, he just told me he had bought a ticket and would pick the kids up on Friday. I cannot express to you how hard I have worked to keep my pissiness factor under control over this. I believe that throwing a tantrum makes you look like a jerk. And I understand where he was coming from, and I don't want to keep the kids from him. They look forward to Daddy's visits, and I want them to have whatever time with him they can. What irritates me is that if he couldn't get a ticket for the week before (when he originally said he was coming), then I have to give up my holiday time so he could have them. I have to be the one to sacrifice to cover his mistake. Again. Because heaven forbid he should have to suffer any consequences.

See? Pissiness factor is in full swing. Big time.

I think I'm just mad on principle. Sometimes I feel perfectly, well, not satisfied, but okay with how Thanksgiving went down, and even relieved to have a small break, and sometimes anger just washes all over me and I'm red from my painted toe-nails to the roots of my hair. I have to breath deeply and say "don't react! don't react! don't react!" to myself. Because going off on someone and ranting just proves what an asshole you really are. I have so much to be thankful for that it seems silly to get hung up about something that is really insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  In fact, it is silly. And I am not justified in getting angry just because he is out of line. That's the terrible thing about being human: I cannot whitewash my old sin nature. It's always ugly. It's always there. It's always a battle. And sometimes, I lose.

I have changed a lot this year. I would like to think that I'm more relaxed, less self-absorbed, and more gracious than I was at the beginning of the year, but unfortunately that isn't true. However, it happens one decision at a time and every moment is a chance to try again. I know this is a random, rambling post. I have found that if I write things down and send them into the void, I can finally quit thinking about them and really move on. Maybe this is a sign of my immaturity. Perhaps real maturity is being able to deal with things internally, and then let go without spewing like a volcano or being eaten up inside. Unfortunately, I'm not there yet.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Multi-tasking

I was going through photos of the past year, and came across this one, which I took this past summer in my backyard. In case you can't tell, this is a picture of insect copulation. I think it sums up men nicely. Here the female carries him on her back and continues to work through it all, while he rides around, concerned with only himself. Apparently, male chauvinism is not a trait confined to Homo sapiens.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Knitting Love

Well, I did not meet my deadline for Pumpkin's blanket, although I came pretty close. After chatting with a more experienced knitter, I have come to think that I was a bit too ambitious about my time-line for my skill level...but I'm still disappointed. I am roughly 2/3 finished with the cable-knit border. Then there are just a few details to add and I'm done. I'm sewing the border on as I go, so when I weave in the last strand, that will be it. Hurray! It is even cuter than I hoped it would be.

I did take a two-hour break from the blanket to knit up these fingerless mitts for Pumpkin last week. This was out of necessity, as we have had a cold-snap, but not playing outside simply isn't an option for us. One of Pumpkin's favorite things to do is sit in the grass and play with pine straw. He has mittens, but he was frustrated that he couldn't pick anything up, so I decided he needed fingerless mitts. They keep his little hands so warm! I was really, really surprised, to tell the truth. I thought the tips of his fingers would still get ice cold, but they were nice and toasty every time I checked. I think I am going to knit up several pairs of these in coordinating colors so that I can mix and match them together. That way, it won't be a big deal when we lose one (because I know we will).


I already have the yarn for my next few projects. I'm planning on making these adorable fingerless mitts for myself, and then making convertible mittens for the girls in the same stripe pattern.  Then, it's on to Christmas toys! I have so many ideas, I don't even know where to begin, BUT I do know that a little knitted 'Ponyo' is going in Doodlebug's Christmas stocking! That is her current favorite movie (we are big Miyazaki fans), and she carries around this plastic bucket and talks to her pretend Ponyo. It is so darn cute! I was planning on making them some playfood and a teaset from Itty-Bitty Nursery, but if I am being honest, I think that I really want the teaset. I think they would like it, but there are other things they would enjoy more. Like a pink and purple dinosaur, and a pink and purple-striped shark (yes, those are two very real requests by Darling). It's going to be a busy couple of weeks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Real Food for Weight Loss, or How I've Lost 25 Lbs (and counting)

A quick hop on the scale the other day brought the rare good news that I have lost weight! Almost twenty-five pounds in the last six months, to be precise. I always shut my eyes as I step up on the scale, not able to bring myself to look at the number until it stops spinning. This time, I just starred at it in disbelief. I have not been at this weight since before I was pregnant with Darling, five years ago.  I am also a mere six pounds above my my first goal weight! The astonishing thing is that after five years of feeling like I had to starve myself to simply not gain any weight and constantly losing my battle with sugar cravings, the weight has just melted off without exercise or restricting calories in any way. It has happened very steadily these last six months. So what's changed? Well, my diet has changed, yes, but also my mentality. See, I decided to only eat Real Food. When I say "real food", I mean Nina Planck's definition of real food. In my own words, I eat the food that God made. Lots of grass-fed beef and dairy, pastured pork, chicken, and eggs. Tons upon tons of vegetables. As much fruit and nuts as I want. I sweeten things with honey and real maple syrup. Salad dressing is olive or hazelnut oil and balsamic vinegar. I never count calories. In fact, I way upped my fat intake so I wouldn't get hungry. Just between you and me, I eat insane amounts of butter. In the morning, I have a slice of sprouted-grain cinnamon raisin toast with a huge pat of butter, along with two scrambled eggs and half of a pink grapefruit. I eat pasta or rice only occasionally. I indulge in dessert at least four times a week. Usually it's a small scoop of all-natural ice cream (the closet kind to home-made that I can find), or frozen berries topped with heavy cream and sprinkled with real maple sugar. Carbs and sugar are the only thing I monitor, and I still eat plenty, I am just careful not to over-do it. But I don't eat food unless it tastes good. I just enjoy food too much to starve myself. I found that once I brought my meals into balance, the food cravings vanished. I don't snack anymore. I finally gave up all sodas and haven't missed them. I no longer have those unbearable moments of, "I need sugar!" that used to plague me every night. And meanwhile the weight is coming off very steadily, at about a pound a week.
While I am doing so much better, I do find that some foods are hard to eliminate totally. Damned if I don't love Pepperidge farm goldfish!

Anyway, I have just been so flabbergasted by my results that I had to share. If you are wondering what in the world we eat, here is my menu plan from last week:

Sunday: homemade chicken soup with celery, carrots, potatoes, and turnips
Monday: apricot chicken, bok choy with cashew
Tuesday: meatball stroganoff, roasted Brussel sprouts
Wednesday: home-made tacos
Thursday: pot roast with celery, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes, roasted cauliflower
 Friday: girls were with Nana and Papa for dinner and I ate leftovers
Saturday: Ratatouille with zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, green peppers, and tomatoes

If you are interested in learning a little more about real food for health, I would highly recommend:
Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck
The Schwarzbein Principle by Diana Scharzbein
I have read a lot of books about real food, some better than others. Those are my two favorites.

You know, of course, that this is just my personal experience. If you want to know what you should eat, do your own research! Don't listen to a rambling hobbyist like me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Playing Dirty



I believe that when God created dirt, He knew that, among its many other attributes, it would make the best toy.

We are big fans of dirt in this family. First, because I love to garden, and second, because it has provided hours upon hours of delightful childhood fun and exploration. I am a big believer that one of the great joys of childhood is getting dirty. We have an old flower bed, bare except for a few resilient shrubs and weeds hanging on for dear life, that is dedicated solely to the purpose of mud pies and dust piles. I cannot count the number of hours my children have spent digging, building, and pretending there. Dirt really is the best toy ever!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Adventures in Bok Choy

I have a confession to make: I have never had bok choy before. Until tonight! I'm always wanting to expand my vegetable horizons, and while browsing Simply Recipes, I came across this recipe for Baby Bok Choy with Cashews. I thought, this is the recipe for me! I was a little skeptical as I chopped it up, but when I ate the first bite, I became a bok choy convert! Tender, crisp, lightly sweet-- delicious! Not stringy, like celery. I decided to do a little research, as bok choy isn't a vegetable that I knew anything about.

In the West, we associate bok choy with Chinese cooking, and that's because it's been cultivated in the Far East since ancient times. It make appearances in Korean, Thai, and Philipino cuisine. And it turns out, bok choy is just as good for you as it is delicious! It's packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and folate. It also contains beta carotene and vitamin K, phosphorus, and magnesium. With that list of powerful anti-cancer nutrients, it's no surprise that bok choy is a proud member of none other than the brassica family! It may not look anything like the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages that we see in our supermarkets, but bok choy can definitely hold it's own in this prestigious family, and it does it without that super-strong, cabbag-ey flavor.

If you hate broccoli and cauliflower, try bok choy. It has a nice mild flavor and an addictive crispy crunch. Head on over to Simply Recipes and find a good recipe to try. It just might become your favorite vegetable!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Link: Simply Recipes

For the first time ever, all of my children are sleeping though the night. It's been a long, winding road to this point, but I finally feel like all the sleep battles and nighttime parenting has finally paid off. This means that mommy has a little more time for herself these days! One of the great benefits of not being so exhausted all the time is that I'm cooking more. In my search for whole-food recipes, I came across this lovely blog.  It was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for-- lots of yummy recipes that don't require a gazillion ingredients, have a range of flavors, and basically only use real foods. No condensed soups here! The recipes posted seem to be seasonal as well, although you can of course browse the archives for whatever you're craving. It's great to plan your meals according to the season, because the ingredients taste better, but are cheaper, too.

Check out the Butterscotch Pudding recipe....I must make it! Also, the Apricot Chicken and Baby Bok Choy with Cashews are on my meal plan this week.  Yum!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pumpkin's Blanket

I have learned to knit in the last couple of months, and I am addicted. It is so relaxing. And portable. I love how I can take it anywhere and start and stop easily-it isn't like sewing where it takes a lot of set-up. Just cast-on and you're on your way! And there aren't a gazillion tiny pins, thimbles, etc.. for my kids to prick fingers or choke on. This really fits my lifestyle right now. And while it does take concentration, I find it much less complicated that crochet. I can never keep up with how many extras you're supposed to chain for each stitch.

I decided to learn to knit right after Pumpkin was born. You see, my ex-husband and I separated before I knew I was pregnant with Pumpkin, and we officially divorced soon after he was born, so his arrival was not exactly under the best circumstances. However, Pumpkin is a shining joy in both my life, and his dad's life (he finally got that boy!) and we're both so glad that he came along. In fact, it probably sped up a lot of healing between us, because we had to keep dealing with each other and trying to get along in the months leading up to Pumpkin's birth. However, since his dad and I weren't together anymore, Pumpkin got short-changed in a few areas. Each of my girls, as well as my nephews and niece, all have a special hand-made blanket from my aunt, but she didn't make one for Pumpkin. And while I'm sure that she just didn't think about it (he is my third, after all, and she is certainly under no obligation to make a blanket for my child!), the reality is that my little Pumpkin is the only one without a special blanket, and as his mother, of course, I want to change that. I didn't want to bring it up, because I was afraid that someone would think that I was actually upset, and nothing could be further from the truth. All I want is for Pumpkin to have a blanket! I don't care who made it. So this left only one logical option: learn to knit and make it myself. I even bought Debbie Stoller's book, Stitch n' Bitch as as a testament to my sincerity to learn, but of course, I had just had  a baby, so that resolution quickly went on the back burner. That is, until I stumbled across the website for Spud and Chloe yarn, and the Spud Says! blog. I was completely inspired, and have fallen in love with Susan B. Anderson's warm and whimsical patterns and yarns. I bought two of her books, Itty Bitty Nursery and Itty Bitty Toys, joined Ravelry, and was off! I had to wait until after we moved and Pumpkin began sleeping through the night to really get going, but now I'm making great progress every day.

Pumpkin's blanket is based on the pattern, Patches from Itty-Bitty Nursery, with a few of my own modifications (can I ever do something without making changes? I doubt it).  There will hopefully be 32 patches (maybe 28 if I run out of time- I want to finish it before his birthday this month), and a cable-knit border. Each patch is done in simple garter stitch, and the designs are free-handed using a chain-and wrapping technique found in Itty-Bitty Nursery. There will be many more designs, all based on the theme of exploration, as well as more striped patches, and just a few solid ones. I've actually made several more patches, but I decided to omit most of the ones with the letters of his name from the picture for this blog. Still, it's coming together!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gnuts for Gnocchi

I made gnocchi for dinner tonight, and it was so simple and quick that I just had to share! I used a prepared gnocchi, which takes only a few minutes to cook, and but if you have a recipe for the real thing, that would be even better. I had major resistance from my preschooler--she doesn't like tomatoes--but after I coaxed her into trying it, even she like it. The addition of fresh parsley really brings a sparkle to the sauce, and the sour cream brings a decadent creaminess. I meant to make it with ground beef for a heartier sauce, but supper was so late tonight that I just skipped it. However, I think adding shrimp or pan-seared chicken tenders would be divine! I also think this would be a great vehicle to get some zucchini or spinach (or both!) into your diet! This recipe is going into my regular rotation, for sure!

Super-Simple Gnocchi Supper


1 box Delallo Gnocchi
1 can diced tomatoes with garlic, onions, and basil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablspoons chopped fresh parlsey
2 heaping tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
Fresh Parmesan, for garnish


Directions
Heat a medium saucepan of med-low heat. Add butter. When butter is melted, add minced garlic and sautee for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and heat until it simmers. Add sour cream and parsley. 

Meanwhile, cook gnocchi to package instructions. Drain and add to sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

I dressed it up with a Pocoyo bowl. Fancy!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Trip to the Farm

I took the kiddos to a local farm for their annual Apple Butter Day, where they make apple butter the old-fashioned way: in a copper kettle over an open fire! It was truly a great day. While we were there, we took a hayride and saw one of the surrounding family farms. We watched cows, sheep, and horses grazing lazily in the fields, turkeys actually running around and puffing up trying to impress the ladies, and chickens pecking at bugs and trying to find some shade (it has been unseasonably warm this year). When they realized we weren't bringing food, they soon lost interest in us and went back to scratching. In the afternoon, we ate dinner, complete with butter so yellow it looked like margarine. Except that it wasn't. It was the real thing. Not like those white sticks you buy at the grocery store, oh no! I'm talking real butter. Spread on home-made bread, it was just about the best thing I've ever eaten in my life.

It was so wonderful to be able to see where my food, the food that I feed my kids, comes from. Every time I hear of a salmonella or e.Coli outbreak, I can rest easy: I know where my food came from. And if I needed to, I could probably track down the cow from my plate back to it's birth, and everyone who handled it in between. I pay good money for good food, but the piece of mind is priceless.

I developed a hypothesis about food when I was in college. At that time, I knew very little about actual nutrition, I basically starved myself to be thin, and, not coincidentally, I was sick, sick, sick all of the time. But oddly enough, I still have my little hypothesis, and the more I learn about nutrition and real food, the more I think I was right on the mark. Basically, I believe that if God made a food, our bodies can process it and use it. And if man made a food, it's poison and will kill you very slowly, painfully, and most likely, expensively.

Here are a few pictures. It was really one of the best days.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Life Without Kids....

So, the kids were with their dad for a week, and I got a lot of projects accomplished. Nothing to crow about, just marked things off the "to-do" list. I got to knit, watch a movie, see a play, catch up on the laundry, clean out closets, clean in general, go shopping, get my nails done, catch up with old friends, catch up on sleep, and go out to eat, just to name a few things. I finally got to have some "me" time and really tried to pamper myself. And what I can tell you is: living your life for yourself is for the birds, because life without kids is BORING!!!!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It Ain't My Job

This picture always cracks me up.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Perfection Infection and the Mess I Made of Things

This morning, I read this excellent post about the "perfection infection" that plagues our society. "Perfection" is a world view that does not, has not, and will not make anyone happy. No exceptions. Where my view differs from the rest of the world, is that our willingness to buy into this view stems from our own arrogance, and not from anyone else. Even a low self-esteem is fueled by a preoccupation with ones' self, and stems from arrogance.

I know how the world looks at me: like I washed up after I had so much promise. Everything comes easy to me, yet I've failed at everything I've ever tried. I'm twenty-six, divorced with three kids four and under. I never finished college. I live with my parents. I was going back to school, but I stopped that, too.  How pathetic. But you know what? It doesn't matter. If it were someone else, I'd be saying the same thing. But for the first time in my life, I've got it together and got my priorities in line.

The truth is, I married a man I never really loved because I thought he was safe. I was devastated by things that went on in my parents' marriage, and I thought, "He'll never do that to me. We'll have a good life together." I was dazzled by his potential. I was blinded by the desire to be married and plan a wedding and play homemaker. I made him up to be something he was not, and refused to acknowledge the doubts I had because he was going to "get me out of Arkansas." He had these big dreams, and I thought, "that's the kind of life I want." That's all I focused on instead of, you know, the way he treated me. I saw how smart and talented he was, but I ignored how he wasted it. I glossed over the fact that we didn't match up in our spiritual views. I discounted the fact that we grew up with two different views of marriage. I built him up into Prince Charming, and then was stupid enough to be shocked when the armor came off. Yes, I was that stupid girl. And then I wasn't strong enough to make it work. I wasn't strong enough to stick it out and just live with my mistakes. I loved his family, really more than I loved him, and I wanted to be a part of it because I so desperately craved that stability after it was broken in my own family. I have a deep confession to make: I knew by month two of our marriage that I had made a horrible mistake. But I was also so ashamed to be that girl who ran away after six weeks of marriage that I just kept pretending to love him. And then I was pregnant and I felt I had to stick it out for the baby. I thought, "I'm stuck now, so I might as well make the best of it and put my whole self into this marriage." So that's what I did. I failed him by not being honest with him from the start. I thought only about what a fool I would look if I broke up with him. I never thought about him, and how he thought he was marrying someone who was crazy about him. I never thought about how I was derailing his life, too. He deserved better than that. And then I was ready to step up and make it work, but he wasn't. And that's when he failed me. I was standing there, going, "Let's do this. We've got kids, we can make it work. We can still have a good life together." But he was off playing video games instead. And it got to the point where I just couldn't keep pretending anymore. I was crazy about my kids and being a mom. I thought, "This is what I'm on this earth to do. Everything else was just killing time until I got here." I begged him to jump in and experience it, too. I begged him to go the park with us. I got answers like, "I've already played with her today." "I just don't feel like going anywhere today" "Alright, but I don't want to be there more than 20 minutes." "Maybe next weekend." And what was he doing instead of being with his family? Playing video games. Watching movies. Surfing the internet. Oh, he was working, too, but he was off every weekend, and he didn't spend it with us, although we were home together. The point of this? We were both idiots. We both wrecked our marriage. My family needs to realize that I made horrible mistakes and it wasn't all his fault, and his family needs to know that he failed miserably as a husband. If I wanted to be treated better, then I should have married someone else. If he didn't want to treat me better, then he should have married someone who didn't expect to be treated better. We were both stupid. And now our kids have got to pay for it. That's the real tragedy. And that's why I'm living with my parents and pushing off school until they're older. Because they deserve to have a magical childhood, no matter how stupid their parents are. They deserve to have a mother who's there to see every magical moment, who bakes cookies with them and takes them to the zoo. They deserve a mother who can read them the same story ten times in a row because it's their favorite, who lets them finger paint, make a mess (as long as they clean it up!), and thinks that a tea party with Mr. Jumbo is the social event of the season. They deserve a mother who'll dress up in gossamer wings and a tutu and dance around the backyard singing while looking for fairies, even though the neighbors just shake their heads turn the other way. A mother who is an expert in the art of giant bubbles. Who'll dance around the living room with abandon even though she's a terrible dancer. They deserve a mother who can get along with their father, and move on no matter what happens. A mother who will shut her mouth no matter how much she wants to bust his balls (because she's not perfect, either). Who will welcome every visit from their dad, because they are his children, too, and she can't ever change that. They deserve a mother who will take on every tantrum and never let it slide because she's too tired or has to be at work. They deserve to have a mother who can out sit them at the dinner table until they eat their vegetables. Because it's for their own good.

I could never give them that if I were on my own. They would be in day care, one of fifty kids supervised by two workers who would rather be somewhere else. Bullied and ignored, or worse, they would be the bully because their mom is always too tired and overworked for them, and they are desperate for attention. And for what? For some superficial show of independence that is worthless in the grand scheme of things.

My parents understand that. They know that what my kids need more than anything else after what they have been through is their mother. And that's why they are taking care of us: not so I don't have to pay for my mistakes, but so my kids don't have to pay for my mistakes. We're blessed that they are in a position that they can do that. They are the real heroes here. They are better than I deserve.

I blew it. I know it. I pretty much have no chance at a loving marriage now- I have no illusions about that. I'm looking at being single for the rest of my life, and that's okay. I can still be happy. Because I made the mistakes, but God provided the answers. I am the luckiest woman in the world because I can advance the Plan of God without fear of persecution for what I believe. I have a comfortable life in a free country. I won't lie, there are times when I think it would be a relief to go back to school. To only be responsible for myself! There are days when I am so close to losing it I have to go scream into a pillow. Or worse, I do lose it a scream at my children. I'm always so ashamed of myself when that happens. It happens less and less because I'm stretching and growing, but I'm far from perfect. If I went back to school, got a degree, got a job, got my own place, maybe got married again, the world would look at me and say, "Finally, she's got it together!" But I would be remiss, because my orders are, "raise three children to the best of your ability."  Not "go out and do something for you and raise your kids in your spare time." It isn't about me anymore. It hasn't been since the strip first turned pink. And it doesn't matter if the world thinks I'm the biggest loser in the world. God gave me three children to raise, and I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. I'm going to give them everything I have, till there's nothing left of me but some water and a few minerals. And when that job is done and I get new orders, I'll give everything to those, too, until God takes me home. No one has to know what I'm doing: God knows. And that's enough.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Life: 10-1 (and 2)-10

Wow, can if possibly be July since I've posted anything? I thought that was like last week! Okay, so that's an exaggeration, but it has been crazy around here!

First of all: WE MOVED! This is my 7th move in 5 years---certainly not as many times as an army wife, but a fair amount just the same. Hopefully, this will be my last move for a long time, as I hate to move! I am craving some stability after all the drama of the last few years. However, we are in a really great place, and we're all excited to be here, so that makes it a better move than some of the others.

Then, Pumpkin is crawling everywhere! He cannot be left alone for a second, especially now as there are boxes everywhere. Also, at ten months old, he has finally decided that he likes solid food. First, he hated it and cried and cried whenever we went near the high chair. Then when he was old enough for finger foods, he thought meal time was fun, but he didn't care about eating the food as much as he liked squishing it between his fingers and throwing it on the floor. But now, he has decided that he really does like food, and could he have more, please? He is still nursing, and I am convinced that he will be a long-term nurser. My mom disagrees. She says he's not going to want to sit still to nurse as he gets older, but he is Mama's boy and I think that as independent as he is becoming, he is not ready to give up his special time with me.


Darling and Doodlebug continue to blossom every day. It is truly a joy to watch. I'm always amazed at how imaginative they are. We really had the best week this week!

*yawn* too tired to write more, but I have ideas for lots of posts, so hopefully there will be more updates soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Library List

Welcome to the second edition of our Library List, where I share the books the kids and I have checked out of the library this week! I must clarify why I am posting this one so soon: we actually go to the library on Friday, so right after I posted our first library list, we returned those books for several more. On Friday, I'll post our next batch of books and will be all caught up to start a weekly post.

On our bookshelves this week:

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Famous, famous illustrator and author. We checked this book out for an imaginary break from the sweltering heat we've been experiencing! It really did work! The girls really responded to this one, especially when Peter drug the stick in the snow and then banged the stick against the tree. They really identified with that! They are also obsessed with making footprints and were fascinated with the idea that you could make footprints in snow (instead of with wet feet, the way we do). Too bad we don't get much snow here in the South!

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus. Cute little story about a boy who believes his carrot will sprout even when his family tells him it won't! This book opened the door for a nice discussion about patience and perseverance.

Curious George Flies a Kite by Margaret and H.A. Rey. What will that little monkey do next? My girls love Curious George! Not my favorite George story, but the girls love kites, and they really enjoyed it. I had to read it three times in a row.

Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger. This was really over Doodlebug's head, but she liked the beautiful illustrations. Pretty story. Gorgeous pictures.

Dinosaur Roar! by Paul Strickland. A favorite by far! I must have read this six times in a row and had to calm cries of protest when I suggested we move onto something else--especially from Doodlebug!  Simple text and nice pictures present dinosaur opposites with rhyming words.

The ABC Bunny by Wanda and Howard Gag. This has to be one of the nicest alphabet books I've read, and we've read several.

The Sun, the Wind, and the Rain by Lisa Westberg Peters. I just happened across this title and thought it would be good to introduce the idea that the earth is millions of years old and how the mountains were formed. We haven't made it to this one yet, but still have several days to read it.

 Color Zoo by Lois Elhert. My girls picked this one out all by themselves and we've read it twenty times if we've read it once. I find it odd that it's called Color Zoo when what it is actually presenting is shapes, but it is very colorful so there is ample opportunity for me to talk about colors, too, and shapes is what I'm working with Doodlebug on anyway, as she is getting good with colors now.

AND......

Elmer by David McKee. It seems that I underestimated this title! When we went to the library, Darling simply would not part with it, so here it is again this week.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Slow-Cooker Love

I am totally in love with my slow-cooker. Have I said that before? Head-over-heals in love. It is now a permanent fixture on my counter top, no longer banished next to the fondue pot under the cabinet. I have seen the light!

This weekend I made Creamy, No-Stir Risotto in the crockpot, and now, I am (of all things!) making home-made yogurt in it. I am so excited about it, I am smiling as I write this post! I plan on posting the recipe for the risotto, but I am still tweaking it. My idea is to use prepared butternut squash soup (the Cambell's in the green box) to make a no-fuss, dump-it-and-leave-it butternut squash risotto, and my results were promising (and quite delicious). It's just that the proportions were a little off, so I want to refine it before sharing. However, I will post the link to the original recipe that inspired me:
No-Stir Crockpot Risotto

The yogurt was a surprise. I've been wanting to make home-made yogurt for years, ever since I saw my aunt do it. Only fear and the price of a yogurt maker kept me from doing it. So I get the bright idea to Google "How to make home-made yogurt", thinking surely there is a way to do it safely without a lot of trouble or fancy equipment, and what should pop up in the results but how to make yogurt in the crockpot! The blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, is one that I actually became familiar with way back before it was very big. Wow, has it grown! I highly suggest that you check it out, if you haven't already.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Of Webs and Things

Darling came to me the other day and informed me she was going to make "an elephant web" in order to "catch elephant food." She found some of my pink embroidery floss and asked me for some tape. I told her no tape on the walls, so she made the web inside her play tent. I don't know why I find this so darn creative, but I do!





Friday, July 23, 2010

Library List

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of our library lists! I've been taking the kids to the library and hope to make it a weekly habit. My kids love to read. Well, they can't read yet, but they love for me to read aloud, and they love to look at pictures books by themselves and "pretend" to read. In fact, they know some of the stories so well, that it seems like they are reading because they can recite all the words, verbatim, from memory. Many nights, when it's time to turn out the light, Darling will plead, "Can I please read books by myself?" I've been trying to read to Doodlebug especially, as she still isn't talking very much (which is why there aren't as many stories about things she says....she doesn't say much).  I am thrilled to see her taking such an interest in reading, too.

I have lots and lots of children's books that are supposed to build the foundations of literacy, but I've been looking for books to build other subjects, too, like science, social studies, math, and geography. Here is a list of books that we have been reading this week.

Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. When we finished the first reading of this book, Darling said, "That was good!" Very simple story about an inch worm who measures things. I have this idea to cut an inch of string and let the girls go around and measure things. Good to introduce the idea of measurement.

How to Bake and Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. This was great to introduce the idea of geography, but also science (the recipe!) and social studies (different cultures). I think it will be fun to make an apple pie after reading this story and talk about where the ingredients come from. Even more fun: eating the apple pie!

Elmer by David McKee. I checked this book out simply because my kids are fascinated with elephants. Cute story about being different and being comfortable with yourself. My kids liked it, but I'm glad I just checked it out of the library.

Uncle Elephant by Arnold Lobel. Author is more well-known for his Frog and Toad stories (which my kids also love), but I checked this out, again, because the main characters are elephants, and my children love elephants. These stories definitely have the same flavor as Frog and Toad. Easy to read, short, and a little odd.

Katy No-Pocket by Emmy Payne. You might think that the pictures have a familiar quality about them, and that's because the illustrator, H. A. Rey, is famous for the Curious George series. This is a cute story about Katy Kangaroo, who doesn't have a pocket to carry her baby! We talked about the points outlined in Before Five in a Row. Great for science! It was a nice way to introduce how different animals carry their babies.

Is This a Home for Hermit Crab? by Megan MacDonald. My girls wanted to read this over and over and over. Good for toddler science! They loved it when I would read the little noises that Hermit Crab made on the sand. They loved the repeating phrases. We must have read this ten times in a row and it's always the first read before bed now. I think I'll take them to a pet store to look at Hermit Crabs. We'll be re-checking this one!

Life and a Recipe: Someone's in the Kitchen with Mama

After a year of letting the Darling "help" in the kitchen-- hold stuff, pour stuff, stir stuff, etc...I decided to let her actually help cook dinner one day this week. She now has enough awareness of the danger of fire and sharp objects that she is actually competent to really be my sous chef! Hurray!

I let her help me make one of our favorite entrees, what we affectionately call "Melissa's Chicken". During season 4 of "Next Food Network Star" mom and I rooted for Melissa D'Arabian, who eventually won. In a test pilot, she talked about her simple "4-Step-Chicken" and it looked so easy and tasty that we just had to make it. It was delicious! We've been making it every one or two weeks ever since. Although Melissa's pilot was on The Food Network website for a while, now that she has her official show and Next Food Network Star has moved on to season 5, I can't find the recipe anywhere on the Food Network website, even when I search for it. I'll share it here, with just a few of my modifications. "Melissa's Chicken" meets my dinner criteria: it is easy to double and freezes well! I'll often make up several batches at once.


It was Darling's job to pound the chicken. Putting the chicken between two sheets of wax paper before pounding makes for easier cleanup.


Dredging the chicken in flour

Yum!
"Melissa's Chicken" with Apples

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally and pounded with the flat side of a tenderizer (optional, I just do this for faster cooking time)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
3 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced
salt and pepper to taste

flour for dredging (I start with about 1/3 cup), seasoned with salt and pepper. I put it in a plastic baggy and shake it up.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dredge chicken in flour on both sides. When oil is very hot, add chicken. Cook chicken several minutes on each side, until golden brown on the outside and done in the middle. Take chicken out of the pan and set aside on a plate. 

Add onion to your pan and cook until tender and translucent. Be sure to scrape up all those lovely brown bits of chicken!  Next, add the apples to the pan. Cook until tender, and then add the juice and broth. When it starts to get bubbly, add the chicken, reduce heat to low, and cover. Let the broth reduce by at least half. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Enjoy!

(I usually make this with 3 sliced red onions only, and 1 cup lemon juice instead of apple juice, with or without 1/2 cup white wine. It's always delicious and is so versatile! You can add whatever vegetables and liquids you want. I'm planning on trying it with apricots, too!)



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Life: Pumpkin Pulls UP

I had told him that I didn't want him to do it. I begged. I pleaded. Eight months is just too soon. But, defiant and totally heedless of my wishes (he gets that from his father), there he was when I opened the door:
And he looked very smug about it, indeed.
With a lump in my throat that my last baby is growing up much too quickly, I hurried over to his bed.....and pushed him back down.
(not really!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Stitch School Blog

I have been playing around with making play food out of felt. So far, I have made a loaf of French bread and an eggplant with moderate success. However, I had no pattern, no poly-fill, and no idea what I was doing, so I think I did pretty well for the first time. Plus, I made them for about 60 cents instead of $5-$8. Hurray for being mildly crafty!

But, I came across this fabulous blog and I had to share: The Stitch School. I looked up how to do a Blanket Stitch for my next play food project. I have a feeling I'll be visiting often!

So Simple Pasta Salad

Here's a typical lunchtime in my household:

I get the girls their lunch. I sit with them and nurse the baby while they eat. I have my own plate of food. They crawl down off the stools and attempt to run around. Still nursing the baby, I chase them down and haul them to Time Out. During the chase, the baby quits nursing and cries in anger and frustration that his lunch has been interrupted. During the girls' four-and two minutes (respectively) in Time Out, I re-latch the baby and eat a bite of my own lunch, (hopefully using a utensil other than my fingers) while standing at the counter. Time Out is over and the girls crawl up on their stools. They finish their lunch. They take their dishes to the sink. I send them back to their rooms to play. Still holding my 22-pound, 29-inch-long baby in one arm, horizontally while he nurses, I stand at the counter and take another bite of my lunch (hopefully using a utensil other than my fingers). Screaming starts at the back of the house and gets louder as it comes closer and closer. Darling races into the kitchen pushing a pink doll stroller, looking behind her and laughing, while Doodlebug chases her, screaming, "My sthtwower! No my sthtwower! My! Myyyyyyyy!" They run around the island a few times. The baby, who was almost asleep, unlatches and cranes his head back, eyes wide, to see what has interrupted his lunch, again. I take another bite of my own lunch (hopefully using a utensil other than my fingers) and chase down the girls, boob flapping every which way until I re-snap my nursing bra. Let's hope the postman doesn't drive by, as all the blind are wide open. My lunch is left on the counter, forgotten until three hours later, when I return. Hungry, I attempt a quick algebraic equation in my head to determine how many times the germs in my food have multiplied while my lunch sat at room temperature. Unable to complete the equation, I just decide to risk it and take a few bites (hopefully using a utensil other than my fingers). Germs build immunity.

If this sounds like just another day at your house, then you need quick, easy to prepare recipes like I do. Here is a pasta salad that is simple to throw together (the hardest part is cooking the pasta!), is excellent hot or cold, is mighty tasty and is excellent leftover. It can be a side dish or a main course. And, as an added bonus, it can be eaten with your fingers if need be, without too much mess.

So Simple Pasta Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked according to package instructions and drained (or other shape, although I like spirals because it holds the sauce so well)
1 jar prepared pesto (I use the Classico brand)
1 wedge (big or little as you like) sharp provolone cheese, cut into small cubes
1 cooked ham steak, cut into small cubes
1/2 jar pitted katamala olives, sliced (or whole if you prefer) 

Dump all ingredients into a large bowl. Stir. Eat. Enjoy.

Additions that would be delicious:
marinated artichoke hearts
heart of palm
sundried tomatoes

While the Kids Are Away, Mommy Will.....Read

What else would I be doing? Cleaning? Hah! (although I am making meals for the freezer!). The kids are with their daddy this weekend, so Mommy is getting some real reading time. Not just a page here, a paragraph there like usual. Actual sit-down-and-read-for-an-hour and it isn't even midnight time. Naturally, I feel guilty that I'm not writing down titles and values of books that I'll be donating to the library, but hey, if there wasn't always some chore to be neglected, I wouldn't be a mom.

I am reading the most amazing book, Mommy, Teach Me! by Barbara Curtis. I read a review of it on Cathy Duffy's Homeschool curriculum reviews and immediately purchased it on Amazon. I try not to impulse-buy like that, but I thought it sounded just like what I wanted. So far, it's been a home run for me. Barbara is a mother of twelve and a certified Montessori teacher. This is a list of Montessori-style activities to do in the home with your toddlers and preschoolers. There is a companion, Mommy, Teach Me to Read, which I also have but have not gotten to yet. I love that these books are slim and easy-to-read. Reading her words was like finding a kindred spirit. In fact, I have said, nearly verbatim, what she said about spilled milk. I can't wait to do these activities with the girls when they get home.

Do you ever have periods where you just know that you're growing and stretching? I feel like I'm in that now. I've spent the weekend making plans, reading, journaling, making lists, solidifying plans, and preparing materials (and cooking meals for the freezer--which is a strange expression as I am actually making the meals for my family and me and am not really feeding the freezer).  I have been trying to put all electronics away when I am with the kids and have been getting up early to have computer time for myself. I canceled the internet on my phone. I've quit trying to get them occupied and instead have gotten them involved with me. It has made such a huge difference! I was falling into this terrible rut of yelling. I hate yelling. I hate to yell and I hate to be yelled at, so I was pretty appalled when I found myself beginning to yell in frustration. I feel there is no place in my parenting for yelling, so I knew I had to find the source of this frustration and nip this in the bud. I found that I was the source of frustration, not my kids. They're just being kids! They're just curious, and energetic, and want to be with mommy because they love me! Why should that cause frustration? No, the problem was in how I handled the day. The problem was that I got frustrated because I felt they were interrupting my own selfish desires to do this or that. I don't mean that Mommy can't do some things for herself, I just feel that I should only do it on my own time, when they are in bed. I have marching orders straight from the top: raise three kids! I cannot stand in the court of Heaven at the gates of eternity and say I failed that mission because "I needed something for me." And then I realized that we are only children once. I often say that my only goal in raising my kids is that they come to know the Lord. "I cannot live in eternity if they aren't there with me." But then I realized that in Heaven, they will be their mature selves, not my little ones. My time with them when they are babies is for Time only, and will never, ever happen again. And it's gone in the blink of an eye. Am I going to miss it so I can have "something for myself?" Absolutely not! Being with my children is what I'm doing for me. So now a new resolution for me: be mentally present for my kids. Being "there" in the room but fiddling on the computer is not enough. It leads to whining, frustration, and ultimately, yelling. It's just not an effective way to parent. Being actively engaged with them all day is the hardest thing I have ever done. But the more I do it, the easier it is. I wrote in my journal, "It's like being a better mom leads to being a better mom." The more I do it, the more I do it. You know?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Life: 7-17-10

You know you're a bit of a health-nut when your four-year-old comes to you and says, "Mommy, I need to take my fish oil."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Crafty Blogs

Check out these cute, crafty blogs that I came across tonight while looking for craft ideas to do with the kids:
One Crafty Mumma
just what i (squeeze) in

Printer Made Out of Legos

 For your Friday enjoyment, a bit of fun! This guy made a real, working printer out of Legos and a felt-tipped pen:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How to Wash Fewer Dishes

My mom was complaining to me about how many dishes we wash. I said, "well that's an easy fix: get rid of half the dishes."

For some reason, she didn't appreciate that.

Random Thoughts

A lot of time I hear of moms who want to keep their kids busy while they "get something done." This isn't my philosophy at all (although some tasks are not safe for a pre-schooler to perform). I want my kids to actually do the tasks with me so that they can learn what it takes to live every day life. They need to know what it takes for the dishes to get washed, the laundry to get folded, the beds to get made, and the toilets to get scrubbed. Because if they don't know how much work it takes, they will never be able to appreciate me, their mother. And if they do not learn to appreciate me, they will never learn to appreciate anyone.

Of course, it takes about a bazillion times longer to do anything when I've got three little ones trailing behind me like ducklings.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cloud B Sea Turtle

For her birthday, I gave Darling this Twilight Turtle by Cloud B. It has to be the best present I've ever given her! It projects stars and the moon onto the ceiling in either green or blue (or both). She's now had it for a little while, and it seems my fears that she would be "over it" in a couple of days were unfounded. How well the stars show up probably depends on how high the ceilings are and how big the room is.
We have eight-foot ceilings typical of an eighties ranch, and it really is lovely to lie in bed and gaze up at the stars on the ceiling. We keep the turtle at the foot of her bed. Darling, who has lots of trouble sleeping, does really seem to sleep a little better with it on. I think that she just gets so excited about the stars that she forgets to be scared about the dark. That's okay, though- I will take any help I can get!

Free Kid's Music

Have to share another link: Free Kids Music has high quality children's music to download for free for your personal use. The artists have released these songs as a promotion, hoping you'll go back and purchase the rest of their albums. However, all the songs shared are free and yours to keep-- and no subscription required. There are a lot of contemporary artists, but check out the "Traditional" section. There are a lot of songs you remember from your childhood, and they are very well done!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Life: Summer Cooking

Tonight, I made the first pot of okra and tomatoes of the season! The onions, garlic, and okra all came from my garden (my tomatoes are hopelessly late this year). It was spectacular! Find my recipe in the recipe box on the left. Next okra recipe to try: gumbo!

Pumpkin can officially crawl, and he is trying to pull up onto his feet. All I can say is: No! No, no, no, no, no! 

I'm taking the kids to Kindermusik this summer, and it is going so well. We're in a class that all three can be in together and they love it! Doodlebug is really coming out of her shell, and even little Pumpkin squeals and smiles at the music. I'm so glad I decided to sign us up.

I took Darling to the library today, and we found tons of pictures books about elephants. We checked out six books. I think we will start doing weekly visits. It was such a nice time together.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lovely Links

I've been scouring the four corners of the internet recently, looking for educational/craft ideas. I have found that for my family, the best defense against toddler meltdowns is a well-stocked craft cabinet and a little imagination. This has led me to find some really fantastic blogs/sites that I just have to share.

First, The Rhythm of the Home. One of my friends from NorCal posted a link on her blog to this excellent online magazine. What wonderful ideas! It is specifically for families with young children, and from the articles I have read, has an unplugged childhood vibe, which is exactly what I strive to give my own children. Check out the blueberry pie recipe!

Next, Jump Into A Book. This blog has me completely inspired! It is exactly the kind of thing that I want to do for my kids to encourage a love of reading. I think it really makes everything come alive. Although my kids might be a big too young now, I'll be saving these activities and ideas for a few years down the road when we are ready for them, or maybe I can modify them to be more age appropriate.

Next, NotebookingPages.com. I read about the idea of notebooking a few years ago, and filed it away in my memory for later. Tons of freebies, but also lovely notebook sets that you can purchase to download and print. Lots of information on notebooking, too.

Along the same vein, DonnaYoung.org. FREE printable organizers, calendars, weekly curriculum planners, shopping lists, menu planners, the list goes on and on....If you are a mom, you may want to bookmark this one.

And store it all in a Mom Agenda folio. These organizers, planners, and calendars (with separate schedules for mom and up to four kids in one weekly planner!) are pricey, but are gorgeous, well thought-out, and just plain nice. I think they make a great gift for any mom who has suffered through losing all her contacts and calendars in a computer crash or phone upgrade, and wants to keep a paper back-up. Plus, free printable pages, and the planners and folios can be personalized.


For free children's books online, check out The Baldwin Project and The Rosetta Project.

For free classical music downloads, check out Classical.com. Get a new, free,  editor's pick album every week, plus unlimited online listening. You have register, but it is free (although there is a paid subscription option) and the albums are yours to keep forever.

And to expose your toddler to great music and audio books, check out the SweetPea3 MP3 player. I'm in love. It is childproofed (unlike that $400 iPod), and can be dropped and chewed on. It also has a speaker, so does not need headphones (which are very bad for your ears) but can be used with headphones when your children are older. These suckers also come pre-loaded with songs and audio books (20 in all, which is at least $20 of free stuff) and they only cost $60, but with a new Audible.com account, you can get them for $40 a piece. Just check out www.audible.com/sweetpea. Although I went ahead and bought one for each of my girls, I'm putting them away until Christmas. However, it's all I can do to not break it out of the box. They are just so darn cute!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Life: Butterfly Birthday Bash!

Today was Darlin's 4th birthday party! She is very much into butterflies right now, so that was her birthday theme. We sang butterfly songs (thank you, Cullen's ABCs!), read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, drank "nectar" (a 1-1-1 mix of pineapple, orange, and cranberry juices), made butterfly PB & J sandwiches (celery-stick body, triangle-cut bread wings), and learned that butterflies do not emerge from a cocoon, but rather a chrysalis.  We also made bug jars from the Oriental Trading Company, and I printed out free coloring pages of butterflies and made a coloring book for each child (just Google "free coloring pages" for a plethora of sites). It was a lot of fun. Because it was such a small party (three friends + 1 sibling + birthday girl = 5 kids), everybody stayed all day and we played outside in the sprinklers until the kids were worn out. Then we let them watch a movie and made spaghetti for supper before the friends went home. This has to be one of the best days that I can remember. I hope it was memorable for Darlin', too.

To me, this is what it is all about. It just doesn't get any better. I am so blessed to live a life where, although it was a "party", this was just another typical great day.

Updates

After browsing some excellent home school blogs, I got the idea to use nicknames for my kids rather than their initials. They don't really have "nicknames" but all mothers have little pet names for their babies that we use when we are rocking or comforting, so that's what I'll be using to refer to my kids from now on.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Quiet Time

All the kids are in Quiet Time, meaning Mommy gets quiet time, too! I've been perusing free ebooks and free audiobooks online, and came across this volume of Poems Every Child Should Know. 
I just had to share two poems that I came across in the first few pages of the Gutenberg text. For some reason, I am completely struck by the fact that these poems were written so long ago. I'll bet the authors never could have imagined that a woman in the 21st Century would be reading their works over the internet, yet the theme of each poem still rings true today.

               Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite

Let dogs delight to bark and bite,
          For God hath made them so;
        Let bears and lions growl and fight,
          For 'tis their nature too.

        But, children, you should never let
          Such angry passions rise;
        Your little hands were never made
          To tear each other's eyes.

          ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748).
 
LITTLE THINGS.

    Little drops of water,
      Little grains of sand,
    Make the mighty ocean
      And the pleasant land.

    Thus the little minutes,
      Humble though they be,
    Make the mighty ages
      Of eternity.

     EBENEZER COBHAM BREWER (1810-1897).
 

Life: 7-6-10

E tried to pull up in his crib today. He managed to get up onto his knees. This means he'll be pulling all the way up very soon, and then *gasp* walking. By the third child, you know what this really means: commence chaos in 5-4-3-2.....

E is also trying to crawl, and he clapped his hands for the first time about a week ago. I forgot how wonderful this stage is. It seems like every day he learns something new!

I used felt to cut out shapes in various colors (each shape in several colors) and the girls and I now make up games using these felt pieces. I don't have a felt board, so I just used clothespins to clip a sheet of black felt to our easel. They cannot get enough of the games! After just three days,  M is already doing better with colors and shapes! Sometimes, I put up all different shapes and ask them to pick out a certain color. Sometimes, I put up different shapes in the same color and ask them to pick out specific shapes. For R, who has known these things for at least two years (but still has to be included in everything M does) I'll put up all the squares and one circle and ask her which one is different. We spent at least an hour this afternoon just making up games as we went. I also made up a new song to signal that they need to be quiet. Sung in a whisper to the tune of Where is Thumbkin

Let's be quiet
Let's be quiet
Ssh! Ssh! Ssh!
Ssh! Ssh! Ssh!
Le-et's all be quiet
Le-et's all be quiet
Ssh! Ssh! Ssh!
Ssh! Ssh! Ssh!

I had read that the quickest way to get the attention of a toddler/preschooler is to start singing a song, and it worked like a charm! 

I have two recipes that I need to write about (like my search for a "real food" mac n' cheese recipe), but there always seem to be too much to do and too little time....

Monday, July 5, 2010

Free Coloring Pages

Mommies of young children (or "kid-at-heart" adults), check out Coloring-Book.info for free pages to print and color. It has pictures from tons of animated kid movies and tv shows, including more obscure shows. All the classic Disney and Pixar films are represented, plus Curious George, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and tons of shows I didn't even recognize (I don't let my kids watch live TV-- just pre-approved DVDs because I hate commercials marketed to kids).  It's well worth checking out!

And for the preschooler who needs a challenge, check out Color Me Masterpiece. Print out coloring sheets of famous masterpieces for you child to color, and teach them about art at the same time!

"And in Circle Time today, kids, we're going to learn about Raphael's Madonna and Child."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Random Favorites for Kids

Just wanted to share some favorites things old and new.

First, head over to Great Hall Productions to find fantastic audio recordings of children's books and fairytales. I bought a few MP3 Downloads of Jim Weiss' from iTunes. It's great for the car! We really like the "Just So Stories" by Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book).

And while you're browsing iTunes, check out the MP3 recordings of the classic Lux Radio Theatre productions. During the glory days of Hollywood, some of the most famous films and musicals were adapted for the radio and performed by the original stars. Hear the original cast perform! I bought The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis, both featuring the amazing Judy Garland. There are a lot of films that I recognize, but not very many are musicals. Still, great to introduce my kids to these two classics while battling boredom in the car!

If you have toddlers or pre-schoolers, head over to The Letter of the Week to find a full, free pre-school curriculum to use. Full of print outs, themes, fingerplays, poems, songs, and just plain great ideas for little ones, plus links to even more great resources.

If you're looking for more great ideas for pre-schoolers, check out YouTube page of Cullen's ABCs and KinderArt. More fantastic ideas for projects, crafts, songs, and more to keep your little ones busy!

And just because I have friends ask me a lot, some of our favorites authors of children's books are:
Paul Galdon-- retold fairytales you can trust. We especially love The Little Gingerbread Boy and The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Robert McCloskey- Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, Homer Price, One Morning in Maine are just a couple of his wonderful children's books. Lovely illustrations.

Virginia Lee Burton- My absolute favorite is The Little House, but we also love Maybelle the Cable Car, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Katy and the Big Snow.

Marjorie Flack- Ask Mr. Bear and The Story About Ping are two classics, among others.

Those are just a few of the classic, well-known authors of great children's literature. Enjoy!