Friday, January 27, 2012

Never a Dull Moment

Someone Special (still have to think up an appropriate nickname for him) and I were having one of those conversations. You know...the queasy, mushy kind that only newly-in-love couples have:  So, when did you realize that I was "the one"?

Me: "Actually, I was convinced that it couldn't possibly work out. I knew one day you'd figure out how much smarter you are than me and that would be it."

Someone Special: "Really? So when did you finally decide that I was dumb enough that this was going to work out?"

And I had a sudden vision of what our life together is going to be like:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Make Now, Bake Later

Someone Special, who prefers to be called "Sexy, Hot Hunk of Manhood" from now on, has a friend who writes on his blog that you should always keep slice and bake cookies in the fridge. You know, for serious cookie emergencies.

I agree completely.

The problem, though, is that I don't trust packaged cookie dough because they are, by necessity for shelf life, packed with preservatives. One of my little goals is to find whole food ways to enjoy typical convenience foods, but cookies are a bit tricky. How can you enjoy homemade cookies without having to lug out the mixer or bribe a grandma every time you want some? The proverbial light bulb went off above my head when I recalled a memory from my childhood:

When we were little, my dad coached my brothers' little league baseball team, and my mom was expected to have homemade chocolate chip cookies ready for after practice.  She would mix up tons of chocolate chip cookie dough ahead of time, freeze spoonfuls of dough on cookie sheets, then transfer said dough to a baggie and store in the freezer. She could pull a few out whenever the boys on the team were over.


As our emergency cookie stash was running low, the girls and I whipped out our aprons and got right to work.

Everyone knows homemade cookies taste better when children stick their fingers in the dough.

Make the spoonfuls roughly the same size so that your cookies will bake evenly

I just place the cookie sheets in the freezer for an hour or so. 

Ready for the freezer, to be baked another day

So, with just a little bit of extra up-front effort, it is possible to have the convenience of slice and bake cookies with none of the additives. And to kill two birds with one stone, you can make the actual dough-mixing your math lesson for the day. Older kids can be challenged with a lesson on, say, fractions, while toddlers can develop motor skills by mixing, pouring, and stirring. Preschoolers can count out chocolate chips, kindergarteners can arrange the dough in groups of fives or twos to build the foundations of multiplication later on. And they're all learning to be helpful. It's a win-win-win-win-win situation.

That's the best kind.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Things I Love This Week: An Ode to Flannel

When we were buried in snow last year, I invested in some flannel sheets on final clearance at Pottery Barn Kids. While this winter has been strangely mild and our our days have been warm (in the 60's!), our nights have been crisp and I've taken to sleeping with the window open. It's been rainy and cold the last couple of nights, and my flannel sheets have made my bed so cozy to crawl into. When I wake up in the wee sma's, my room is icy cold and I am toasty warm. I can't get enough. I love it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Who's It For?

I am done with kids' birthday parties. I have never been one for over-the-top birthday parties, but I've always tried to do "something special" for the kids. I tried to do cutesy crafts and decorations, and spent way too much money on an intricately decorated bakery cake that appropriately complimented our party theme. I spent too many hours thinking up age-appropriate games and cut peanut butter sandwiches into butterflies and all kinds of crap. And all the while, I kept telling myself that I was doing it for my kids.


Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

(and one more for emphasis)


I was doing it for me.

What exactly this was fulfilling in me, I don't know. Was I trying to show off how creative I am? Was I seeking the approval (or, let's be honest: the jealousy) of other parents? Was I seeking to perpetuate the lie that I have it all together, that I am so organized and on top of everything that I have hours to spend planning a superfluous, ridiculous birthday party which makes no difference in the grand scheme of things? Or worse, was I trying to manipulate my child into thinking they had the coolest mother ever? I still haven't decided. Probably all of those things. The salt in the wound is that I operated totally for myself under the lie of doing it out of love for my children. This is a lie I sold to myself so that I could feel like a wonderful, selfless mother.

But I'm not. I'm the most selfish person I know. I can take a day that should be entirely about celebrating the life of one of God's most precious gifts, my child, and make it entirely about me.

Do I think that spectacularly planned children's birthday parties can only be thrown by desperate, selfish parents? No. But I had to evaluate my own motives. Was I having a party as a way to fellowship and share the day with loved ones? Or was I hoping to show off what a perfect life I've made for myself? What I found lurking in the darkest corners of my heart was truly disturbing to me. And it all seemed perfectly normal and reasonable on the outside.

That is what makes it a great lie.

It sounded perfectly reasonable, sweet even, to throw a big party so that we could have "special memories". But what about the other memories that I made in the process? What about the cranky-short-tempered-drill-sergeant-mess-up-the-house-and-you'll-get-it-I-can't-believe-you-spilled-that-on-your-party-dress-No!-don't-eat-that-it's-for-the-party! memories that I made for days, or even weeks, before hand? And what the hell was it all for?

What I found was that I was inspiring a lust for presents and attention in my children. It has built up to the point where every time we enter a store, my children find something that they want "for their birthday." There is not a day that goes by where they don't mention what they want for their next party. They are always craving bigger, better, more. They developed the attitude that they deserved presents and parties, not an attitude of graciousness and gratitude for what they received. And how could I expect any different when I have modeled selfishness and discontent for them?

I think what disturbs me so much is that in all that we do, even when we believe that we are operating out of good, we are actually being selfish and arrogant. It has been pressed upon my heart this year to celebrate birthdays in a way unseen by the world. To build memories of quiet moments instead of one big party. To spend my time actually being present with my children mentally, physically, and spiritually instead of spending my time planning one big hurrah while they entertain themselves. To model peace and contentment instead of a desire for more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Walking My Baby Back Home

You know what I consider to be the mark of a great song? When it gets stuck in your head and it doesn't drive you crazy. It just makes you love it more.

What an appropriate song after the weekend.
Happy Monday!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Intimacy in a Song

Have you ever witnessed a moment between two people-- a look, a small gesture, a laugh-- and the depth of tenderness and feeling behind it was so stirring that you had to look away? It will make you blush, even though you have no reason to. Chris Carrabba captured that kind of moment in a song. Some people think it's a sad song, others think it's a happy song. I find it deeply moving either way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Video to Prevent Chicken Back-Up

We signed up for a CSA last year through which we could get pastured, whole chickens. My mom went a little overboard and ordered us eight chickens a month. Eight chickens a month. Now, this isn't unreasonable to meet all the monthly chicken needs of six omnivores. The problem is that I was used to just going to the grocery store and buying six individual chicken breasts for dinner. Now if I wanted six breasts, I had to defrost and cut up three whole chickens. And then I had to use six legs, six thighs, six wings and not let the rest of the carcass go to waste. That bird, after all, was a happy free-range bird. She had a job eating bugs and scratching through manure, helping to both prevent parasites and fertilize the soil. She was a successful career chicken, an important member of the farm community. A chicken with a dream. I can't let a chicken with a dream die in vain!

But habits are hard to break, and needless to say, I still went to the grocery store and bought chicken breasts. This led to some serious pastured chicken back-up in my freezer.

I'm a little wiser now, having learned how to plan a little better. One way that I'm making things a bit easier is by picking up batches of whole chickens fresh on the farm the day of processing. I can then cut them up and freeze individual pieces, so it's more like going to the grocery store. I think there will be less waste this way, of both chickens and money. Here's hoping!

Even if you just go to the grocery store, you can save a lot of money by buying a whole bird and butchering it yourself. Here's the video that I watched countless times, my laptop on the counter as I stood next to my cooler full of chickens on ice, pushing the spacebar with my elbow to pause every now and then as I followed along. It's by far the best one I've found at explaining where to put the knife and it's pretty clear to see how she does everything in the video. And I think that it's awesome how she gives you homework at the end. I feel like writing and telling her that we cut up ten chickens, so could I have some extra credit? I know, I'm a total over-achiever. ;)

I hope you're having a great week!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pine Cone Bird Feeder Craft

Do you remember making bird feeders with pine cone and peanut butter when you were a child? I remember making them in kindergarten. I thought of this as an easy craft when we were desperate for something to do one afternoon while Pumpkin napped. The girls were wild and I had to get them out of the house so they wouldn't wake up their brother. It soon became one of the best afternoons we've spent together in a while. Being outdoors and exploring has a way of doing that to you: taking ordinary moments and making them extraordinary. The bird feeders were a big hit with Darling and Doodlebug, and ended up being free for us to make because I already had all the items on hand. Pine trees are so prolific here that they might as well be our state weed. Seriously, they are everywhere.

We started by exploring the vacant lot next door for pine cones. This ended up being 45 minutes of running, jumping, and general merry making. It was wonderful!

They gathered up tons of pine cones, and we made kind of a counting game out of it. See? You can squeeze some school in just about anywhere. We made quite a pile:

Then we had to separate the worthy pine cones from the unworthy:

Now for the messy part: the peanut butter! I found an unopened jar of Jiff peanut butter in the pantry that my mom bought an untold number of months (or possibly, years) ago. It has never been opened because I am a peanut butter snob and am particularly picky about peanut butters (and I'm comfortable okay with that label), so what better way to use it up than for crafting? I opened the jar, gave each girl a spoon, and let them go to town. It was a job which they took very seriously:

Next, we rolled the coated cones in bird seed.

It was pretty messy, but that's part of the fun!

Did I mention that it was messy?

And last of all, I used some crafting twine and my trusty hot glue gun to make hangers and, voila!

We hung them in a tree for the birds:

Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Blessed Beyond Measure

As we begin to blend our lives together, the kids and I have been spending more time at Someone Special's house (I need to think up a good nickname for him....hhhmmm) in order for them to feel comfortable there. Last night we went over so I could give the kitchen a test run i.e. cook dinner. After we all sat down at the table, I realized I had forgotten the kids' sippy cups in the kitchen and jumped up to get them. When I came back, Someone Special was saying, "Now what do you tell Mommy?" to which a three little voices replied in turn, "Thank you for cooking dinner, Mommy."

I think my heart grew three sizes that day.

I remember when I was a child, my brothers and I all had to thank our mother for cooking dinner every single night. My dad was a strict enforcer of this policy. Sometimes, my thanks would be very genuine (if I liked the meal she had cooked), and sometimes it was a rote reply, uttered only to avoid the wrath of Dad. But it impressed a couple of things upon me. First, it taught me that when people do something for you, they deserve to be thanked no matter what. Second, it taught me that Mom cooking and caring for me was a blessing, and that I should not take that for granted.  More specifically, it was her job to care for me, yes, but it was my job to not only feel appreciation for her, but to verbalize it, and that I was out of line if I just expected her to do it for me. A good mother is a blessing beyond measure, and I was damn lucky to have such a fine one. I didn't come to that realization on my own: my father taught me to recognize it. And it started first with him saying himself, "That sure was a good meal, honey. Thank you" and followed with, "Kids, what do you tell your mother?" Even though I could not realize it at the time, watching my father love and appreciate my mother defined the parameters of not just my own marriage, but my friendships and work relationships, and my relationships with my children, too.

Someone Special and I have not had a conversation about how important I think it is for children to be made to say "thank you" to their mother when she cares for them. To hear those words come out of their mouths, without me having to first lay out the rules for him to follow, makes me feel important and special and thought about in a way that I haven't ever experienced  before. These are the little things that you can't fake. These are the little things that you either get, or are oblivious to. That make us in sync. That make him my best friend. That make him a real man, and that make me blessed beyond measure all over again.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Morning Snuggles

I had a little visitor come crawl into my bed this morning:
We cuddled up in my cozy flannel sheets- which make it extra hard to get out of bed in the morning- and shared lots of snuggles and kisses, read stories and sang songs. What a great way to start a new day and a new week.

Happy Monday!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Project Update: Yemma's Dress

A while ago, I wrote about a dress that I was making for Darling. Well, I finally got around to finishing it and taking some pictures!

I'm very pleased with how it turned out! Darling picked out the fabric, which came from Hobby Lobby. The yarn is Knit Picks Shine Sport in the Cosmopolitan colorway, and I used about 1 1/2 skeins to make the 5T. The pattern is called Yemma's Dress. I happened to be on a Ravelry discussion board and noticed a thread asking for test knitters with basic sewing skills. As soon as I saw a picture of the dress, I knew I had to make it.

What I love so much about this pattern is that it uses the simplest techniques of two crafts: the skirt is a simple rectangle, cut to size and then gathered at the top and hemmed on the bottom. It's so simple, it's hard to mess up! I love the top is a scoop-neck, knit in the round so there are no buttons to mess with.  The bodice and skirt are sewn together by top stitching around, hiding the seam in the garter stitch rows. Genius. The pattern is available for $5.00 on Ravelry, and I highly recommend that you check it out. If you have any crafty people in your life, please spread the word about this great pattern. Yemma, the little girl for whom the pattern is named, has been diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, and all the proceeds from the pattern sales will go to her family to help with her care.

I did have an issue with the yarn growing through wear and washing. The dress I made was a size 3T for Doodlebug, which seemed to grow larger with every wearing! After making a new swatch and measuring my gauge before and after washing, I compensated for this growth on Darling's dress by making a size smaller- she wears a 6T normally, and I made a size 5T per the pattern- AND I went down a needle size. It fits her beautifully.

You can see in the picture above that the bodice of Doodlebug's dress is almost as wide as Darling's, even though it's two sizes smaller. I guess that means I will have to make Doodlebug another one! Oh, darn!

What will you be working on this weekend?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bye-bye 2011....

What a year. In 2011, I learned, in no particular order:

That it is possible to hold every thought captive
The marigolds fascinate my children as much as bubbles
That Pinterest is an even more dangerous time killer than Facebook
That the best way to exercise is an impromptu game of chase in the backyard.
That I can forgive the past and look forward, but I cannot magically disconnect all the emotion from painful memories: those spots are still sore. 
The meaning of the word "pejorative"
That there will never be a clean sippy cup, no matter how many I buy
That I am crunchy
That it is difficult to be part of a church family when attending church requires an hour drive
That I need my church family more than I ever allowed myself to believe
That homeschooling is as much a part of God's plan for me as it is for my children
That the sweetest-tasting watermelons aren't necessarily the ones you grew yourself, but there's always next year.
That I have become intrinsically connected to the town where we live
That the magic formula for keeping up with the laundry is 3 loads per day
That my mother is better at finding clothes that I like than I am
That my friends are better at finding a man to love me than I am
That the secret to sweet cucumbers is even watering
That throwing a tantrum as an adult makes you look like a jackass, even if you're right.
That I am absolutely not in control. Of anything. And you know what? It's better that way.

My family rang in the New Year very quietly...which is just my speed. The kids went to bed on time after much reading and cuddling, and I ended up greeting 2012 by watching the ball drop with someone special. We laughed and talked and made plans for the coming year, and when I fell asleep with my head on his chest and snored a little bit (I've got some sinus issues going on---really! No, no really!), he told me it was "adorable". That is true love. It was quite possibly the best New Year's I've ever had.

Now I'm looking forward to starting a new chapter in my family's life. There are going to be some big changes in the next few months. Changes that I never dared to hope would happen. Changes that I can't wait to share. And so, from my family to yours, I hope you had a wonderful end to 2011, and I wish you all the best for the New Year.