Monday, February 28, 2011

A Picture is Worth ...

...a lot, I hope! :)

Today is my mom's birthday!

Happy birthday, Mom/Nana/
Watercolor Extraordinaire/World Traveler/Friend!


This weekend we enjoyed celebrating together, eating lots of yummy foods (a delightful summer picnic in February) and plenty of laughter.  My mom's love language is "Quality Time" and so anytime that she gets all her kids and all her grandkids in one place ... she is happy!  So that was our primary gift for her ... but we wanted to do something else special, seeing as this is one of those big ?-0 birthdays.


What to do?  What to do? What to do? ...


After a bit of deliberation, we decided to rally the troops (all 13 of us) and get some professional portraits done for her.  Then she could hang them on the wall of her home and "visit" with us anytime she wants!  Not the same as the actual bubbling hive of activity that it usually is when we're all together ... but maybe a close second.


We set the appointment, set the wardrobe color and set ourselves up for some fun.  As it turns out, we probably should have brought my mom along just so that she could appreciate all that went into this one still, almost everyone is almost smiling picture ... because this snapshot didn't come easy!  I don't  think that we will submit anything to Awkward Family Photos, because we weren't weird, necessarily ... just challenging.


Being the wise parents that we are, we started the photo shoot with the kids.  Get them while they are fresh. Which apparently means for one shot.  The photographer got one picture and then things started getting wooly!  Actually ... Lydia started getting wooly.  She truly wanted no part in this shenanigan and refused to stay put.  And once she had been finally coerced into staying put, she continued to make "lovely" faces.  Of course her zerbets, writhing and wriggling got the other kids distracted from the camera and there was a lot of "keeping looking at the camera", "ignore her ... just worry about you" and "stay focused ... look at the camera and smile" being said.  Somehow we ended up with a good one:


What a cute bunch!


Next we brought the rest of the family in for a group shot.  This part of the photo shoot went really very well.  Lydia was relatively happy to sit on my lap, except for the one time that she smacked me in the face with the back of her hand when I was trying to keep her hands out of her mouth.  Such tender Mother-Daughter love. :)  Glad we didn't catch that on film!


At the end of the sitting, we were relieved that there was one picture where we all were looking at the camera and looking relatively happy.  This was not the one where Cousin Caleb looked terrified of whatever might happen next.  This was not the one where Cousin Mallory had a zoned-out, far-away look on her face.  This was not the one where Norah had her head cocked 90 degrees.  This was the one where we were all smiling ... and only Lydia had her tongue sticking out.  Perfect.


Can you spot the tongue? :P


So ... I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.  And I hope that every time that Nana walks by her framed portraits she will her us saying: 


"We love you!"
"You're the best Nana ever!"
"You're a wonderful Mother!"


... and ...


"We endured this for you!  'Cause you're worth it!" :)


Love you, Mom!
_________________________________________________


I hope that the portrait police will be lenient ... I promise not to sell this post to anyone. :)  You family members who belong to this crowd should know that there are probably pictures coming your way ... be patient. :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Food For Thought

I debated back and forth about what I would describe as the theme for today's Food For Thought.  It was either going to be WWW (Worth the Work & Wait) or The Tale of Two Spring-forms.  Both names fit so well!  I guess I'll let you decide which you prefer after you read through ... and after you make them, of course!  :)


The first one is a Sicilian dinner that I made a few weeks ago.  It was rich, delicious ... and equally rich and delicious the next day!


Sausage-And-Rice Timbale
(This recipe is from FoodNetwork Magazine, March 2011, with a few adjustments.)


Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups brown rice*
3 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 pound Italian sausage
2 t. dried basil
6 oz tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups chicken broth
4 T bread crumbs
4 eggs
1 1/4 parmesan cheese
4 slices provolone cheese


*The recipe actually calls for arborio rice ... but seeing as I was unwilling to pay $6 a pound for that ... brown rice worked great!


Prepare the rice according to the package directions.  When cooked, dump the rice out on a cookie sheet to cool.


In a large pot, melt 2 T of butter.  Add the chopped onion and cook until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add the sausage and cook until browned.  Add the basil, garlic and tomato paste.  Turn the heat up to high and cook until the tomato paste browns, about 5 minutes.  Keep stirring this mixture as it cooks.  Add the chicken broth and scrap up any browned bits.  Boil this on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes until it thickens.  Stir occasionally.


Meanwhile, grease the bottom and sides of a spring-form pan with the remaining tablespoon of butter.  Dump in the bread crumbs and then shake the pan around to coat the bottom and sides well with a thin layer of bread crumbs.  Dump out any leftovers.


At this point, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and slide a cookie sheet in.  You will want to put the spring-form pan on the cookie sheet when you bake it to keep your oven from being a Sicilian mess.


Dump the rice back into the large pot your cooked it in.  In a small bowl, beat the 4 eggs and 1 cup of parmesan cheese.  Add this to the rice and combine well.  This is going to be your crust.


Transfer about 2/3 of the rice mixture to the pan and pat it along the bottom and up the sides.  It's important that you moisten your fingers regularly to keep the rice from sticking to your hands and peeling away from the pan.  I ran a little drizzle of water from the faucet and re-wetted my fingers after every couple of pats.   When you are finished you will have about a 1/2 inch layer all along the bottom and up the sides.  Layer the 4 slices of provolone on the bottom of the pan.


Preparing the "crust".


Now spoon 3/4 of the meat sauce over the cheese.  Set the remaining 1/4 of the meat sauce aside for later.  


Notice the steam on left?  It smelled so good already!

Take the remaining rice mixture and flatten little handfuls into pancake sized pieces to lay on top of the meat.  This was a little tricky, but I carefully laid all the rice "pancakes" out and then pinched their sides together.  Sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese over the top.


The top is gently pieced together.


Place the timbale on the hot cookie sheet in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  Let it cool for about 5 minutes before sliding a butter knife around the outside the pan and then releasing the sides.  I left my timbale on the bottom of the spring-form pan rather than trying to transfer it.  Serve the timbale with a little of the extra meat sauce on top.  Che buorno!


Crispy on the outside ...

Saucy and savory on the inside!


The next recipe was actually our dessert at Christmas.  And, yes, while pumpkin is a seasonal dish ... cheesecake is not!  This is truly too decadent a recipe not to share with you ... we scraped our plates clean!



Pumpkin Walnut Cheesecake
(This recipe is from Taste of Home Magazine, Oct/Nov 2009, with my usual tweaks!)

Ingredients:
Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (grahams crackers chopped up in my food processor!)
1/4 cup sugar
6 T butter, melted


pre-chopped
post-chopped



Filling:
3 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
15 oz can pumpkin
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground cloves
5 eggs, lightly beaten

Topping:
6 T. butter, softenend
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup walnuts, chopped

First, prepare the spring-form pan by laying two sheets of foil on the counter and wrapping them up around the bottom of the pan. This will help keep all the cheese-cakey-goodness from running out the bottom.  Set the pan in a baking dish (I used my giant skillet that is oven safe).


The protective foil shield.
To make the crust, combine the cracker crumbs, butter and sugar.  Pat this in the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the side.  Set this aside for a bit.


The golden graham cracker crust.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugars until they are smooth.  Beat in the pumpkin, cream, cinnamon and cloves.  Add the beaten eggs and mix just until it's combined.   Pour this mixture over the crust (I think I had too much filling and had to toss some out ... bummer!).  Add one inch of water to the skillet/pan.


The cheesecake gooey goodness.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.  While the cheesecake is baking, prepare the topping.  Combine the butter, sugar and nuts to form a streusel.  After the first hour, slide the pan carefully out of the oven and use your hands to sprinkle the streusel over the top of the cheesecake.  Bake for an additional 30 minutes, until the center is just set. (If you move the pan gently and the center of the cheesecake doesn't slosh, it's ready.)

Cool the spring-form pan on a cooling rack (removed from the water bath) for about 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, run a butter knife around the edge of the pan.  Let the cheesecake continue to cool for another hour in a draft free location (I used my microwave).  Refrigerate overnight ... and then try not to eat it in one sitting!









The moment we were waiting for!








Delish!



If you would like to join me in praying for my mom-in-love this weekend ... we are praying for three S's:  Strength, Stability and Strong Spirits.  Thanks!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Downward Dog ... and Breathe

Recently I started doing some yoga as part of my morning exercise routine.

Translation:  A few weeks ago I got the crazy notion that one morning a week I should torture myself while being told to "just relax."  :)

The first morning that I tried it, I spent most of my thirty minutes in the child's pose with one eye on the computer monitor trying to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing.  ("This is a beginner's class?!?")  The rest of the time I was attempting to follow the instructions from the yoga pro and not get a cramp.  Strangely enough, even my haphazard efforts to breathe and relax and stretch and stand actually energized me.  I felt like I had gotten quite a work-out (and not just from laughing at myself) and I was charged and ready when the little wildebeests came downstairs at 7 am.  "Hmmm ... maybe I should try that again next week."

The next week I did the same routine and was surprised at how much easier it was.  Not because I was really any more fluid or controlled (insert image of me falling on my face here), but because I had an itty-bitty amount of experience in my belt and I could almost follow along.  I found myself better in synch with the breathing of the instructor in place of huffing and puffing and holding my breath.  I also found myself a tad bit surprised when I reached the end of the program.  "What?!  Done already?  Huh."

By the third morning, I could remember the rhythm and patterns of the movements and found myself actually enjoying the flow.  I still had trouble with getting my body down from the plank position and back up to downward dog (pathetic, little, weak arms ...) and I still had to manually pull my leg up to get into warrior pose (pathetic, little, weak legs ...), but I could keep in pace with the instructor and found myself actually enjoying it.  Especially that last part, the corpse pose. :)  "Hey!  I did it!  Boo-yeah!"

So the next week, I thought I'd try the next little step up.  Something about "Yoga for the hips and thighs". Little did I know that I was in for some fun!  At about the time I found myself in some crazy, deep knee bend squat position, I had second thoughts about this particular routine.  When he had us go back to that thigh burning position two more times while telling us to, "breathe, relax and let go", I knew I was really in trouble.  By the time we moved on to the endless chair poses (over and over and over, again) my hips and thighs were done ... and so was I.  I tried to finish strong, but I know my efforts were half-hearted.  I was relieved when he said, "Namaste".  "Whew ... that kicked my, uh ... hips and thighs!"

But again ... I felt a little charged.  A little empowered at having challenged myself.  A little stronger for my efforts.  I went back and did that routine again, and found that the second time through was easier.  I knew what to expect, I felt more confident, and I even managed to relax a bit when we "rested" in half-moon pose two for 45 minutes. :)  Surprisingly enough ... I looked forward to my next yoga morning ... my next 30 minutes of muscle burning, deep breathing torture. :)

Apart from the traditional advantages of yoga, I have been surprised by a few more benefits to this exercise:

  • Looking Thinner:  With my posture improving due to actually having core muscles, I find that I am standing up straighter and as a result looking a bit thinner.  That right there is worth standing in warrior one for 10 minutes!
  • Surviving Bleacher Seats:  We all find ourselves having to endure those dreadful metal bleachers when watching our kids in sports.  With my improved core muscles, I have found myself sitting better, too.  That means less hiney pain, less fatigue in my back and more of a smile on my face.
  • Being More Limber:  The stretching and toning of a yoga work-out means that when my little person calls from the waaaaay back seat that she can't get her seatbelt around her bulky, lumpy coat, I am able to reach over the middle seat, across the van and buckle her while balancing on one leg.  I think they call that the mini-van mamma pose.
  • Enduring the Perma-Squat:  That insane deep knee bend I mentioned before has been great conditioning for me in this era of "perfecting our potty training".  When we head to the bathroom at City Market for the 3rd false alarm of our shopping trip and I find myself once again squatted in front of the toilet helping my little peanut balance, I have what's-his-name to thank for my endurance.
  • Remaining Calm:  In each and every yoga position, the instructor encourages us to relax and breathe ... even if your arms are shaking and your thighs are burning.  This translates well to the need to breathe and relax when faced with parenting challenges.  So, when Ashley is sucking her thumb for the 10th time in 10 seconds ... relax and breathe.  When Lydia screams and shoves her milk across the table and onto the floor (the one not in a sippy cup) ... relax and breathe.  When Norah doesn't get enough sleep and is an Oscar-winning drama queen in the hour before school ... relax and breathe.  And when Aaron asks for the umpteenth time if he can play on the iPod after just having played Wii for over an hour ... you got it ... relax and breathe.
  • Feeling Stronger:  Being a mom is hard work and it's easy to feel ambushed by the kids, the daily schedule and surprise demands.  After a few hard knocks by our kids, it's natural to feel a bit defeated.  But ... if that morning I endured the eagle pose for an entire minute! ... Well then, I totally can take on whatever my kids (or the day) might throw at me!
Thank you to YogaJournal for today's links.  Just a reminder that I don't look like any of those people ... and I have no clue how I would ever get into (and then out of) the eight-angled pose.  I'd keep the phone nearby, just in case! :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time-Warp Wednesday

Last week, I highlighted the frosty, frozen tundra that was our backyard when we were growing up.  It was vast.  It was flat.  And in the summer, it was (sorta) grassy.  Imagine trying to water an acre of grass and mow it ... yeah, it was more like pasture-land than a yard.

But we still spent a lot of time there:  following our ducks around (quack, quack, quack ...), running through the sprinklers (and trying to miss the really scratchy grass that would shred your tender feet), and riding our bikes.  In the grass? you say.  Well ... yeah.  If given the option of riding our bikes on the rocky, dirt road in front of the house, on the 5-foot sidewalk outside the front door or biking around in circles in the "grassy" meadow, we inevitably chose the yard.  There was definitely better bounce in the pseudo-grass than in the real-deal rocks.  And there was another great perk ... the pseudo bike-ride.

In several places in the back-forty there were holes that had been dug for horse-shoe pits.  This consisted of a small divot of dirt with raised sides.  My sister and I discovered one day, perhaps out of sheer luck, perhaps out of sheer laziness, that if we had our training wheels on and if we positioned our bikes just so, we could have the training wheels on the grass and the back wheel spinning freely in the pit.  With this particular arrangement, we could bike for days without going anywhere, uphill or down.  We could imagine ourselves as secret agents biking (?) from international hot-spot and back to HQ without ever actually leaving our yard.  We could go really, really fast without any real danger or energy spent.  My kind of biking!  Sometimes we would clothes-pin playing cards to the wheels to enhance our biking excitement.  Now we were going "fast" and we had "engines".

Periodically we would free our bikes from the pits and actually bike across the yard, past the woodpile, down the little rock path and back around the house ... but we always ended up back in the yard in the bike pits ... speeding along in the same place.

I loved my bike:  blue and white with a banana seat ...

Someday, maybe I'll get a bike so that I can toodle along with the kids.  It'll probably have to be blue, but this time I want a basket and maybe a bell.  And this time, I'll probably actually leave the yard ... and leave the training wheels behind, too!

Thank you for praying for my mother-in-love yesterday.  She came through her surgery very well and is now on the road to recovery.  Of course, we would still covet your prayers for her healing, freedom from pain and her rehab as she begins to learn how to walk with her prosthetic foot.  Thank you!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Creatures of Habit

A few days ago, Brett tackled one of my least favorite jobs ... cleaning up the dish drain.  The slimey, slippery, sludgy dish drain.  Ewww ... and thank you!  In the midst of his brave scrubbing (I say "brave" because it gives me the he-be-jeebies to get that close to the grime), he also cleaned the wire dish rack.  Such a wonderful and thorough fellow!  He took the silverware drain out and gave that a little scrub and then he washed the wire parts until they were white again.  Now we have a clean place to dry our clean dishes!

When he put it all back together, however, he moved the silverware drain to a different corner of the rack ... and since then I have been blindly dropping forks and spoons through the rack into the sink below - clink! - just because of this crazy force of habit!  True proof that we find comfort in a particular groove and we can get a bit out of joint if anything changes.  Even when we are washing dishes!

I think our kids are very much the same.  Creatures of habit.  Critters of comfort.  Little people of predictability.

Even when our babies were babies, we were very intentional about creating a rhythm to their days and their nights.  We would develop a "way" that we did things and then we would do it the same each time. For example, when we wound our little one down at night, we had a routine that we would follow.  Into pj's and a fresh diaper, time for nursing and cuddling, then snuggling and reading (even when they were itty-bitty) and then we'd say the same thing as we bundled them into their crib, "Goodnight, Sweetie.  I love you and I'll see you when it's time to wake up."  Every time.  Both Mommy and Daddy.  A habit of winding down to sleep.  I believe that even little Aaron at three months was able to anticipate that he was headed to his crib and there was a comfort for him in the rhythm of bedtime.

We still have a routine at bedtime, even though our "babies" are almost 9, 7, almost 5 and 2 years old.  We give the five-minute warning ... a head's up that bed time is quickly approaching.  Then it's time for everyone to gallop upstairs for pj's, toothbrushing and bedroom tidying.  When Daddy and Mommy can see that everyone is ready, we give hugs and the little ones head to one room with one parent and the big kids to another room with the other parent.  Once they are snuggled in their beds, we can chat about our days, share our "bests and leasts", pray together, read a book and sing.  Every night.  Whew!

It is certainly a commitment of time and energy, but I will tell you with all honesty that it is one of my favorite parts of my day!  One of my "Bests"!  Time to snuggle and get caught up about what they liked and didn't like about school or a play-date or the lack of a dessert. And I'm certain that the kids like it, too.  In fact, on those nights when we are back late from a birthday party or baseball game, they go a little crazy if we try to eliminate anything from the routine!  You can bet that there will be tears if we try to nix the chatting, the book, the praying or the song.  Creatures of habit.

This practice of predictability can be implemented into almost every aspect of parenting.  When we are at the kitchen table, we have a routine.  We give the dinner call, "Time to wash hands!" and then you can hear the herd of feet heading to the nearest bathroom.  As they come to the table, we encourage everyone to sit and wait for everyone to be served.  Then after we pray for our meal (and anything else that needs to be prayed for) we can dig in.  At the end of the meal, we have additional expectations:  ask to be excused, clear your place, wash hands and face and head upstairs or downstairs to play.  The same every meal.  Even little Lydia knows the routine and can follow the big kids through the motions.  And if someone does something out of order ... like snitching bites before we are all served (gasp!) you can bet there are six other eyes watching and three other little mouths ready to remind and correct!  Critters of comfort.

As we have begun the hard job of sending our older little people out into the world ... okay, so just to elementary school, but still ... they are gone from me!  We have found that a routine for leaving and coming home lends a large amount of comfort to their days.  Before they leave in the morning they have gone through the process of packing their backpacks and ensuring that they have all necessary papers.  Then they load up their parts and as they head out the door to the cul-de-sac "bus" we have the same interchange of "love you's" and "see you at the crosswalk's" and "have a great day's".  Even if we've had a particularly challenging morning, they leave with the same comforting, familiar words.

And when they walk back in those doors, they have their, "home from school" routine:  un-pack lunch boxes, un-load backpacks, pull out notes and homework, check in with Mom.  Not until they have properly landed do we jump into the next thing, be it friends, screen-time or chores.  It's a chance for them to catch their breath after a full day and a chance for me to check-in and see how they are and what sort of afternoon we are in for.  The same practices as we leave and come home.  Little people of predictability.

I know that I like to know what to expect in my day and I've seen that my children truly aren't any different.  And little of "the same old same old" isn't a bad thing in the midst of life ... this fun, exciting, crazy life!

Would you please take a moment and pray for my mom-in-love.  She is having surgery at 12 noon (Colorado time :) today. ... Thanks!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can You Be Responsible?

I wrote this last week ...

We are in the middle of a little test of responsibility with our two older girls.  I have given them until Wednesday to show me proof that they can be responsible for their own personal items.  If they can show me evidence that they have properly taken care of their own property, then we will talk about giving them something a bit more with which to be responsible.  Pretty simple.  But pretty essential in this process of growing up.

What, do you ask, will be the evidence that our girls are ready for the next big thing?  Well ... let me fill you in.

My girls love chap-stick.  A lot.  Ashley and Norah like to wear it and Lydia likes to eat it.  Ashley and Norah like to dibby-dab it on their lips and Lydia likes to dibby-dab it all over her face.  And hands.  And feet.  Ashley and Norah like to carry it around in their pockets and Lydia likes to steal it out of their pockets.  As a result of all this love, we have several tubes of chap-stick that have been gouged out with tiny little fingers, several tubes that have been twisted up and jammed into the cap and several tubes that are empty because they have taken a ride in the washer and dryer (grrrrr ....).

Upstairs in the bathroom is a package of two, Hello Kitty chap-sticks.  They're pink.  They're girly.  They have little charms attached to the lids.  They are very, very desirable.

For the past several mornings, my big girls have come downstairs and asked if they could open the Hello Kitty chap-sticks and I have had to be the big, mean mommy and say, "No.  Where are your other chap-sticks?  The ones we bought last week?"

Then there is a chorus of, "Mo-om ... Lydia wrecked mine." Or "Mo-om, I lost mine." Or better yet, "Mo-om, Lydia has it.  And she's rubbing it all over her hair."  ...sigh...

As a result of this excessive chap-sticking by my baby girl and lip-pouting by my bigger girls, I came up with a plan.  A Biblical plan, no less.  And seeing as I am trying to not exasperate my children and instead bring them up with God's instruction ... I'm praying this will work!  (Check out Ephesians 6:4.)

Jesus mentioned this "rule of responsibility" in the Bible.  In Luke 16:10, He says, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much." If you can take care of something small ... and do a really good job at it, it stands to reason that you will also be able to take care of something a bit bigger.  Now back to this little test.

The bigger girls and I had a little chat this morning.  I explained that if they could show me some good responsibility with the chap-sticks they currently have I would be thrilled to open the fancy Hello Kitty chap-sticks for them.  All they have to do is take care to keep their chap-sticks out of Lydia's reach and show me, in two days time, a chap-stick that is in good condition.  And obviously not lost, empty or devoured.

With big smiles on their faces ... they ran upstairs, talking all the way about how excited that they were going to get the Hello Kitty chap-sticks this week!

A few minutes later, they both came back downstairs.

Norah:  Mom, I put my chap-stick up in my purple bag hanging from my bed.  The only way that Lydia can get it is if she climbs up on the bunk bed and hangs over the side and gets in the bag.

Me:  Okay.  But remember.  The test involves you actually using it and being responsible with it.  I'd like you to go and get it and put it in your backpack.  Then you will have it when you need it at school.  And you'll have to work at this a little.

Ashley:  Mom!  Norah helped me to hide my chap-stick!  Do you know where it is?  It's up in the flower pot (dried arrangement) in my room on the shelf above my bed.  I can't even reach it, so I know Lydia can't get it.

Me:  Uh-huh ... um, I think we're missing the point here.

Ashley:  Yeah!  We're going to get the new ones!  (runs off to play)

Lydia:  (walks by destroying a different chap-stick)

Me:  ...sigh... We all figure it out eventually ...

Update:  They got to have their new fan dangled chap-sticks on Thursday of that week.  One short week ago.  As of today ... Norah's Hello Kitty chap-stick is no where to be found and Ashley's was gouged out by a two-year old who will remain anonymous.  Short lived treat!  Maybe next time it will stick!  Get it? Stick?  Chap-stick?  Ahhh ... I need a break! :)


And just in time ... we are headed out today to visit Gramps and Grammy!  I am signing off until next Tuesday!  


In case you fear of going through Food For Thought with-drawals ... head on over to Mommie Cooks for some inspiration.  Just don't drool to much ... it's hard on your keyboard!


Have great weekend~

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Time-Warp Wednesday

Welcome back to another Time-Warp Wednesday!  It has been such fun for me to browse through old (and older) photos and find some fun snapshots to share with you.  Today we are taking a snowy walk down memory lane ... don't forget your boots and gloves!

Growing up we lived in a tiny house with an enormous yard.  While the thousand square-foot, shake-shingled, hundred-year-old house was cozy on the inside; outside, the yard was immense.  I believe that our house actually was perched on several town lots, hence the size.  The portion of the yard with the house was dotted with lilac trees, a honey-suckle bush, a giant blue spruce and an apple tree.  But back past that was a large stretch of lawn with numerous cottonwood trees on the perimeter, several boulders (that will be another Time-Warp post) and ... THE sledding hill!

When we were younger, my siblings and I would spend hours out on the hill.  We would pack down the fluffy snow with our floppy, blue plastic sleds.  Joshua would be the first to go down since he was bigger.  Then we girls would do our part.  Eventually, we would have a pretty good run prepared.  With each trip down the hill we packed the snow and polished it ... increasing our speed with each run.  Sometimes we even built a ramp at the bottom so that we could speed down the slope, shoot off the jump and land, sprawling, in the frozen tundra!

Here is the snapshot that brings back such fond, frozen memories:



That little cutie in the front (with the snow packed on the outside of her fur-lined boots) is my baby sissy, Allison.  On the front of the sled is my cousin Megan.  She appears to be sitting on my lap.  Perhaps she didn't what to get her tender California hiney to get cold!  That's me right behind/under Meg :) and Joshua, my big brother is ready to shove us down the hill.  The little hiney in the front, by process of elimination, must belong Megan's younger sister, Corrine.

Can you feel the excitement?  Can you feel the cold?  Can you feel your toes going numb?

I so terribly wish that our photographer had also taken a snapshot from the bottom of the hill looking up to get the whole effect.  She wouldn't have needed to back up much because that hill really only came up to about my hip.  And that's really saying something because I'm short.

Our sledding "hill" was a short, little embankment up to the ditch that ran along the west side of our property.  Our trip down on our sled took approximately 1.2 seconds.  It took us four big steps to get back to the top.

In reality it was more of a knoll.  A mound.  A hump.

But in my memories ... it was a Hill. (With a capital "H"!)  A big, powdery, frozen hill to careen down on our sleds.  We would go over and over again until we couldn't feel our fingers or toes and Mom made us come in and (painfully) thaw-out in front of the pot-bellied stove.

How many other memories are so much bigger because we were so small?  How many other memories are so magical because our eyes were so young?

That is one of my goals as a mom:  to keep my kids enjoying the small and simple bits of life ... because someday they will look back and those moments will be big and magical!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day Lesson

Yesterday I shared our Valentine's day creations:  Aaron's Harry Potter box, "Give me a valentine, or I'll use the tarantallegra spell on you!" and Norah's Puss-n-Boots box, "Candy, please ..." (big, sad, kitty-cat eyes...)  I'm so glad that they turned-out so well ... especially seeing as just five minutes into the project Norah was getting frustrated and saying, "no" to any and all of my suggestions.  Yep ... it was a doozy!

My sweet daughter has inherited a double-dose of the perfectionist gene.  Poor, sweet girl.  She has very, very high expectations for herself and everyone else around her.  Even Puss-in-Boots.  As I laid out for her my strategic plan for the boxes, she immediately began to second-guess all my ideas.

"How is that going work?"

"How will we do that?"

"What about his color?"

"What about his hat?"

....sigh...

I tried to encourage her to take each little step just one at a time, but she wanted to have the finished project right now and it needed to look just like the DreamWorks version she had in her head.  Aaron, meanwhile, was puttering along with his coloring and being his usual "go with the flow" self.  I love that boy.  :)

At about the time that we were tracing the cat's face, Norah started really getting upset.

"It doesn't look anything like Puss!  I want to just start over." (grumble, mumble, grumble...)

No problem.  I told Norah that she didn't have to do any of the ideas I had.  She could simply do what she wanted and I would help out where she needed me.  (Trying in vain to keep my voice neutral.)  Nope ... she wanted me to be able to see into her head, extract the image and produce it.  Here's where it got fun!  (And Mommy started her deep breathing and shoulder relaxing exercises!)

I sat at the computer with the traced image on the desk.  Norah perched next to me on the chair and told me where to color, what color to use and how to color properly.  Whenever I suggested that she would do a fine job, she returned to saying, "It's nothing like the real Puss."  My mantra sounded something like this, "Let's just keep working on it and I think you'll like it in the end."  Over and over and over again.  We chanted at each other for about 20 minutes ... good times!

Finally, I felt that we had colored, shaded and toned Puss as best as we could with the resources available to us (i.e. crayons and markers ... no CGI equipment available that day).  Norah was still uncertain, but Aaron (who had finished hours ago!) complimented her/our work and spoke her love language of encouragement.  Did I mention how much I love that guy?

After a few quick lines with my Sharpie, even Norah was satisfied that we had a rather convincing Puss on our hands.  Perhaps even worthy of holding her precious valentines.  As I finished gluing on her paper sack and cape, she was heard to exclaim, "I love it!  It's the best!"

I smiled.  I told her I was happy she liked it.  I took her picture.  And I tried not to cry.

So much work.  So much doubt.  So much energy spent.  And so much joy when it came out right.

It wasn't until later (when I cried) that Brett made a rather wise comment.  He said that this experience is a lot like when God is doing something in our lives ... making something happen ... making something new.  He has a great plan for us (a job, a relationship, an opportunity) and we get excited when we get a glimpse of it.  But ... then we try to take over and do it our way with our plans and our vision.  All the while, God is still doing it His way (in spite of us!) and we are really wrestling against Him.  We complain about the lengthy time-schedule, the bumps along the way, the internal work that is required.  How it doesn't quite look like what we had in mind.  It's hard.  It's not worth it.  I've gone and done it all wrong.

Finally, God is done.  (With that project, at least!)  The creation on which He has been working for us is ready and we stand back and say, "Wow, God!  I love it!  It's the best!"  And suddenly all that hard work; all that emotional stretching; all that growing up was worth it ... because God knew best.

He always has our best in mind when He's at work in our lives.  Even if in the middle of it all we question Him and try to do it our way.  Thanks, God, for working in my life ... in spite of my efforts and interference!

So, that was my Valentine's Day lesson via my kids!  It was tough ... but the smile was oh, so worth it!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Red & Pink Day!

This is the only day of the year where it appears to be okay to wear both red and pink simultaneously.  On the other 364 days of the year we say, "eek ... that makes my eyes go crazy!"  But today, we say, "How cute and festive!"

This is also the day when my kiddos come home from school completely and utterly sugared-up!  Almost as buzzed at Halloween ... but not quite.  I love that our teachers included in their letter home to parents the fact that they would also like to offer some non-sugar options:  meat, cheese and crackers; and veggies and dip.  I wish them the very best in getting the kids to choose carrots and ranch dip over cookies with frosting! :)

In addition to the sugar-coma in a bag that the kids enjoy in their classrooms, they also get the joy of exchanging heart-felt valentines.  This year, my kids stood for about 10 minutes in front of the wall of valentine cards and debated and hemmed & hawed and discussed and studied every box on the shelf.  Every.  Box.  At one point, Norah had Justin Bieber, Tinkerbell and Exotic Animals in her arms.  She decided upon the animals ... whew!  Aaron bounced back and forth between the Transformers box and the Spiderman Box ... and eventually walked away with a football themed set.  Ashley flitted from girly-girl box to sparkly box and finally chose the Tinkerbell box ... only to go running back as soon as we left the aisle for the Disney Princess set.  Such difficult choices!

This weekend, we had the job of designing the kid's boxes for the accumulation of similar valentines, packaged candies, tattoos, pencils and stickers that will be distributed this afternoon.  I remember vividly designing my Valentine's Day box in elementary school.  Cereal boxes covered in pink, red and white construction paper with paper, lace doilies, hearts and those little accordion folded paper arms that would sproing! out with little hearts glued on the ends!  With this fond memory tucked away in my mind, we started talking about what sort of box they kids wanted to do.  To my surprise ... they wanted to go a whole different route!

So ... I put away my red construction paper.  I stored my pink markers.  I didn't bother to buy doilies ... and pulled out the black satin fabric instead!

Here are my kids Valentine's Day boxes ... (drum roll, please .........)

Harry Potter and his broomstick!

Puss-n-Boots and his "pretty please" eyes!

Who knew that Harry and Puss could be iconic Valentine's Day characters?!?

I know that you are already done with Valentine's day for this year ... but if you want to tuck the following tutorial away for next time around, you'll have all you need to make your very own!

1.  I rustled through the recycling bin to salvage several cereal boxes and plugged in my glue gun.

Rescued for a second life as a .... box.

2.  I turned the box "inside-out" by sliding my finger along the glued seam.  I folded it back together with the print facing in.  This will save you from trying to cover "100% Natural Cereal" with your white paper.

Inside out ...

and rebuilt.

3.  I cut the opening in the side of the box with an exacto blade.  Norah wanted everyone to put their cards in the little paper sack, so her box is intact - purely the backdrop for the bag.

4.  I have a roll of newspaper print stashed in the pantry for just such projects.  I cut out pieces big enough to wrap around the boxes and then wrapped them just like a gift box.






4b.  From here, Ashley decorated her box with stencils of butterflies, bumblebees, her name and "D E F".  "D E F", you ask?  Well ... when you are using an alphabet stencil, those letters sit side by side and fit perfectly on your box!  Ha!

Proud Ashley and her butterfly box.

5.  I gently cut through the paper in the opening I had made previously and folded the little edges back against the slot in the box.  I used a little tape to affix the edges so that they won't rip (too badly) when kids put/cram their cards in.  For Aaron's box, I cut a little trap door in the back so that he can get his cards back out.  I cut a flap on three sides and then held it closed with a little piece of tape.  It is covered with the cape, so you don't even know that it's there.

6.  For the faces, I got on the internet and did a search for each character.  When I found the ones I wanted to use, I copied the image to a Pages document and then enlarged it to the right size.  Then I taped a piece of white paper to the computers screen and traced the outline of the face.  The kids then went back in (with a little help from mom) and blacked-in the outlines and colored the faces with markers and crayons.  Norah certainly had the most trouble with this because she had an image in her mind of what Puss-n-Boots should look like and he wasn't coming very close to what she imagined.  But ... more on that later this week. (That's a whole post on its own!)

Harry is coming to life.

Puss is getting some color.

7.  Once the faces were colored and cut out, I glued them to the end flap of a cereal box.  The face was glued to the front of the box with the chin hanging down just a bit over the lid.  When I cut out the face, I left the flap so that I had a long piece to glue to the top of the box and the face would be perpendicular.  Does that make sense?

8.  The cape material was left-over from when Aaron was a ninja for Halloween a few years ago.  I simply cut out a rectangle of the satiny fabric and hot glue gunned on the cape around the "neck" of the character.

8a.  At this point, Aaron/Harry was almost done.  Aaron added the drawing of the Firebolt broomstick while I worked on his wand.  We had a twig to which we glued a scrap of paper that had been colored to look like fire or sparks.  I then glued the "wand" to the side of the box under the cape.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is still attached by the time the actual party rolls around tomorrow.



9.  Norah had one more important part of her box to add and that was Puss' sack.  I used a brown lunch sack and cut about 3 inches off the top.  I also cut about 18 inches of red ribbon and glued this to the back of the sack about 1 inch from the top.   I crinkled up the bag and then glued it flat to the front of the box, making sure that the ribbon was secure between the bag and box.  I tied a little bow around the bag, but kept it loose enough that cards can easily be dropped in and retrieved.  I hope.  Or so Norah assured me.

9a.  Meanwhile, Norah was drawing, coloring and cutting out his sword which slid very nicely into his paws that are clutching the top of his sack.  Ta-dah!

Puss and Norah ... please give me some candy!  :)

All in all, it was a fun project (minus the not-fun that I will share tomorrow) and the kids were thrilled with their boxes.  Mommy enjoyed it because it was crafty and creative with a little problem-solving thrown in for fun!  All in a morning's work!

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Food For Thought

Sometimes I find myself in a bit of a rut.  Doing the same things (laundry, vacuuming, dishes).  Saying the same things ("Please turn that off."  "Please get your shoes on." "Please don't sit on the table.").  And eating the same things (hamburgers, sandwiches, tacos).  After a while, all this hum-drum-ness really gets on my nerves!  I need to shake things up a bit and breath a fresh breath into my daily routine, my conversations and my meals.  And some of that good healthy change comes when we think "outside-the-box".

I'm still working on how to freshen up my days and my words ... but I did find two new pasta dishes that certainly freshened up our meals a few times last week.  My kids love mac-n-cheese ... but Mommy can only handle that once a week for lunches.  So ... the task was to find some pasta meals that the kids liked and that didn't taste like the same ol' same ol'.  I'm happy to say that I was successful!  Thanks FoodNetwork! :)

Here are two meals that will help you think outside "the pasta box" ... and you might be surprised that the kids may ask you for seconds!

Spanish-Style Noodles with Chicken and Sausage
(This recipe is from FoodNetwork Magazine, December 2009 ... with a few tweaks.)

Ingredients:
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Salt & Pepper
1 t. oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 bay leaves
1 small can tomato sauce
2 T tomato paste
16 oz spaghetti, broken into thirds
Parmesan cheese for garnish
(Next time I will add some red bell peppers to the list.)

First, bring your teakettle to a boil.  You will need this later.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the chicken and kielbasa.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then brown the meat on all sides.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat to a plate to cool.  To the same pot, add the onions, garlic, tomato puree (and red peppers).  Stir well and then add the bay leaves.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook this mixture until the onions are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add a splash of water if things start to stick.  Pull out the bay leaves.

The tomatoes and onions mingling ...

Next add the broken pasta to the mixture and stir.  This was a little challenging, but with a little work, I was able to get the pasta coated in the tomato mixture.  Stir-fry this for about 6 minutes until it has turned a nice golden color.

The noodles trying to mingle ...

Add the tomato paste and the chicken and kielbasa back into the pot with enough of the boiling water to cover the noodles completely.  Simmer this mixture until the pasta is tender and the sauce thickens ... about 15 minutes.

Everything hanging out in one big pot.

Sprinkle each serving with a little parmesan cheese.  We had toasted pita chips on the side.

Yes ... that's parmesan from the green jar ... culinary cuisine!

The kids devoured this meal and asked for more ... yeah, Mom!


Cold Curry-Peanut Noodles
(This recipe is from FoodNetwork Magazine, June 2010 ... with a few tweaks, as usual!)

Ingredients:
16 oz. spaghetti
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 1/2 T. green curry paste
3 t. vinegar
Juice of 1 lime, plus wedges for serving
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 green onions, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large carrot (or 8 baby carrots!), coarsely grated

All those fresh veggies waiting to be eaten by the kids!

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add the spaghetti and cook it according to the label's instruction.  Ladle out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set this aside.  Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water.  Let drain.

Meanwhile, puree the peanut butter, curry paste, vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, 3/4 cup water and 1 t. salt in the food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth.

Chunky peanut butter and cilantro?!?

Green, creamy goodness!

In a large serving bowl, toss the noodles with the peanut sauce, green onions, carrots and cucumber.  I used salad tongs to mix.  Once the noodles and veggies are well coated, add some of the reserved pasta water to help loosen up the sauce.  Season with a dash of salt and top with extra cilantro.  I served this with toasted pita triangles.  Hmmm ... we appear to be in a pita-rut, too! :)

Seconds, please!

The kids asked for seconds for this meal, too!  I was bummed there wasn't more available for lunch the next day!



Spanish Style Noodles with Chicken & Sausage

Cold Curry-Peanut Noodles