Saturday, December 17, 2011

Donating this holiday season

We often find ourselves making split-second decisions to handle a problem as we try to raise these boys. Everyone does. Today was no different. And while we are not sure it was the best choice, once the words were uttered we rolled with it, to see where it took us.

Since we are traveling next week and Santa is visiting us at Grandma and Grandpa’s house this year, we opted to do our family presents early. This morning was our family holiday time – sitting by a fire, opening gifts to one another, warm tea at hand, mom and dad watching the boys play joyfully. Well, that is how we thought it would go. But with two boys up before 6 am, whining and asking to get up to open presents, the morning got off to a bumpy beginning. After too much, I grabbed a bag and declared that if there was any more whining over gifts, it meant they were spoiled and had too much. I would put gifts in the bag and donate them. For right or wrong, it is how I felt watching Elliott ask (demand) to open gifts.

Shortly after this we settled in to give gifts with no more whining. Elliott was allowed to pick the first gift he opened. It happened that he chose a big box of 50 blank rainbow note cards, a gift I thought he would love since he enjoys card-making for friends and family. He immediately started grumbling that he did not like his gift and scowling. I plucked it from his hand and put it in the bag, stating someone else would be pleased with the gift. I explained why it upset me and what thought I put into the gift. What really made me mad though is that he did not seem to care. I was appalled at how my child was acting about a gift. A GIFT!

Since I could not bring myself to scoop up all the toys and gifts, we ate our breakfast and tried again. Apparently something must have sunk in because he thanked us for later gifts, even new sheets and new pencils, though he did not seem as excited about them as he was about legos.

I do feel lucky that after each present both boys took time to play with each item before wanting to open another. But I see a need to teach Elliott manners on gift giving and receiving and a bigger need to start curbing my impulse to buy or give both boys too much at any time of the year. Otherwise we may have a new holiday tradition – a donation bag under the tree.

And on a side note, after three years, I think we have established another actual holiday tradition – fuzzy bright socks from Mike to Diana. And I was actually looking forward to them this year!

To counter Mike’s sock gift this year, I gifted some socks his way too. I bought them from Etsy to match a hat I knit last year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our sick day

Elliott is stringing beads. To decorate for his wedding. To Sofia. “Later, when we are adults.” He declared he is worrying about the decorations since she might forget as she will be busy with other wedding plans. As I hear how the marriage was arranged by them – “we talked and talked and talked, and Sofia said we should get married” – my five-year self comes back to mind. That first kiss I got, after being chased by a boy I thought I liked while playing house. And it makes me giggle over the cuteness of my little boy’s beginning of love and how he is making memories he might not forget either.

We have been home all day since Elliott is working on day #2 of a fever. Both boys must have needed the respite from the school day. Both have been crafting cards with stamps, pencils, and stickers, watching video after video, and just playing quietly.

I have savored the day too, despite the work I felt compelled to do with so much free time. Before , I had a load of dishes done, a few loads of laundry going or done, the house tidy, and Montessori labels printing out to laminate.  But, it has been quiet here, dimly lit, and with plenty of hot tea and a few pages of reading snuck in. I think that is what my body and mind needed badly too. It has been just wonderful! Now, we will roll into a family weekend with more holiday crafting, a wee bit of holiday shopping, and plenty of cozy time by our fireplace. Have a peaceful, cozy weekend.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Since starting my job two weeks ago, life has felt extremely hectic. After each long (very long) day, I have to muster a little extra patience for my boys for the car ride home, dinner preparations, and bedtime rituals. Every moment seems valuable, time I have to be engaged doing something or spending time with one of the boys. Even watching movies or TV shows to take time to relax still means my hands should be busy. Needle felting or knitting a Christmas gift or folding laundry are perfect multi-tasking activities.

On top of having mental stress as I transition to work, there are physical pains too. My knees, unaccustomed to so much up and down all day (really, even with two kids) are in varying levels of pain.

And I am tired. In order to be ready for the next day, exercise two to three times a week and still have quality time to read or relax, I am up too late every night. I had grand plans to pace myself each day and be in bed by every night. Two hours after the children were in bed seemed like plenty of time to do a little bit of what I had to do and do a little of what I wanted to do. The reality of packing snacks for the car, running errands, checking email and the bank statements, planning meals, coordinating schedules, and many more things means I am just finishing those have-to-do things up by 10:00. And then I want to do something to unwind since I feel I could not possibly fall asleep after the energy put forth getting all the other work done.

These are my personal struggles with a new job, not to even address any transition difficulties at my new job!

But what is making it better is reflecting on the good happening. While Oliver is exposed to new children/friends and starting in the Montessori toddler community, where he has transitioned so much better than expected, he is still in the bumpy beginning. He is bring home a few bad habits from other children (more screaming, more pushing, and a bite here and there) and he is still upset to part from me on the community playground where we see each other two to three times a day. The good that is really making me feel good is seeing Elliott’s progress at his school. After a conference with his teacher, I can tell he is rapidly taking to materials and lessons he could not or would not do with me, growing beyond friendships with younger children to encompass children his own age while still helping and caring for younger friends, and developing a strong sense of ownership and responsibility towards his new community at school. The way he acts and talks about his school in two short months makes me feel that whatever stress and sacrifice it takes will be worth it.

And a positive note for me... with all the activity of my classroom and lack of sheer time to eat, or energy to even eat, I am down to my weight before I had Elliott, beating my original goal of weight loss. So in 10 months, I have lost 22 pounds, 17 of that in the past 3 months. It feels good to cinch my belt tighter and contemplate a trip to the thrift store for another size of clothing, one I have not seen in over 7 years.

Here are pictures of the past few weeks… And they may not be perfectly cropped or altered for lighting.  But, like I said, it is a bit hectic here. I know you will be understanding.

Elliott is making a dog toy with the yarn and knitting dolly.

After coloring his window art at home and reading about cathedrals with stained glass Elliott was writing about it with the movable alphabet. Here is what he was conveying: stained glass is stained. rose w_____ (windows)...

Oliver's first day of school
Elliott is working with older boys in the class on the addition bank game. Seeing him work with the golden bead materials is so thrilling since it was something we could not do one-on-one in our home environment. It is such a strong foundational material for mathematics in the classroom too.

Elliott is sorting blindfolded, a fun game with a purpose!

Elliott was thrilled to fill three rugs when writing with the movable alphabet. Words listed, translated from phonetic spelling as needed: cat, bat, sat, boo, root, cake, back, jat (?), bat, sat, bad, sad, rats, boot, hoolhoop, bob, sob, blood, cup, pup. While Elliott can write print, I am happy he is getting back on course with cursive (teaching cursive first was my training too). While he develops a hand for writing cursive with a pencil, he can still write as much as he wants, and much faster, with the movable alphabet.

Grace and courtesy practice with friends - Elliott is the visitor being served tea. Elliott felt very proud to be allowed to serve Mr. Jim, a visitor to the classroom later.

Soldier for the 'yoonyin' (as written by Elliott) for Halloween

Oliver as a firefighter. By the second house, he knew to run to the door and demand 'treeeat!"

On a day off from school, Elliott got to go to K State with Mike, napping while Mike did meetings with students.

Elliott went to the art museum with Mike to draw on his day off of school.

Elliott created his own dog, Fang, to demonstrate he could care for him and walk him on a leash to prove he is ready for a hamster. So far, Addy's bowl has been a bit dry at times, and her stomach has to growl a bit before he notices. We may be a little ways off from a pet hamster.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New job

So I spend time planning, shopping, chopping, slicing, dicing, all in the name of serving a healthy home cooked meal. And the boys generally eat some of it and I feel good. But I cannot think of the last meal they asked for seconds of. Typically, they sample some of everything, eat their favorite item, and then scoot off to play.

Tonight was different. Elliott asked for more after eating a giant bowl. Then Oliver, the child who I have never heard spontaneously demand more dinner, cried out “More!” We had a busy afternoon after naps with a job conference call, playing at the park and carousel, and a quick trip to the library. So, when we walked in the door, little time was left for dinner.

I bet you want to know what they wanted more of.

Ramen noodles. Ramen frinkin’ noodles. With a side of green beans, which neither boy touched. Elliott showered praised on the noodle, saying how great they were, such a good food for winter, how we needed to buy more.

Normally this would be a blow to me. I like cooking good, healthy meals and see some enjoyment come from them. Today though I learned my new job in a primary Montessori classroom would start a week earlier than I originally thought and I am suffering through lots of (pre-)working parent stress about the decision. I am thrilled both my boys will be able to attend Montessori schools as I had hoped, and stay enrolled all year long, now that I have a paycheck to afford it. But it will be long days for everyone. Will the boys be happy going to school full days? How will Oliver transition to all day away from home and mom with so many new, young children around? How will I handle the sick days and schedule conflicts with boys at two different schools? Can the dog wait all day for us to care for her? How will this effect Oliver’s sleep and his moods, (hopefully) napping at school and then going to bed much later than normal? How will I cope with the new position I am walking into, the class and the staff all in their rhythm? Will we have enough down time for everyone when we are home? Will I have enough energy leftover for the boys at the end of the day?

So with all that on my mind for the past four weeks, well, really as long as I have been applying for jobs, I can find a little comfort that the boys happily and heartily eat ramen noodles. I think we will be buying and eating more of that in the near future, for some of the nights we roll in the door and dinner needs to be on the table in five minutes.

With that said, to all the few readers who do pop over here, I will likely cease blogging. I will keep the site open, just in case. But with such a high value now placed on free time, the list of things I would rather be doing with the boys will win out nearly every time. So I am not saying good bye, but I know it might be a long break.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A little love and logic

We were going to go hiking. We were driving out of the apartment complex. And Elliott was asked to cease a loud, irritating behavior because it was distracting for driving. He threw the item of concern and started going bananas. The car stopped. We waited for some behavior to change, but instead it increased to nasty giggling and then crying to go and kicking. So Mike pulled around to our apartment. And then Elliott was begging not to go back home. And then he was screaming and crying. I removed him from the car. Then he started hitting. I stopped and said “this is so sad.” And that stopped him for a moment. He resumed until we reached the apartment. I sent him to his room to take a break and calm down. Once he was done being angry, he wanted a hug. Then I explained that I felt really sad we had to miss out on the hike and that he was so angry that he hit me. I asked him if he had any ideas how to fix the situation. He kissed me and then thought for a moment. He asked if he could do one of the chores we had discussed the other day (his new weekly chore list, with choices of jobs to be completed each weekend). I said that was a great idea, and would make me feel better. After he looked over the list, he selected cleaning the bathroom. Since it was the first time, I explained each step and then allowed him time to complete each section.

When he was done, instead of flaring up again, or asking to be left alone, he asked if he could help with dinner. (To be fair, I asked if I could make the drumsticks he selected today at the grocery while he was cleaning the bathroom.) We worked side by side on drumsticks, he picked the vegetable, and together made these apricot bars for dessert and tomorrow's breakfast.

cutting butter for a double batch of apricot bars
(ignore the mountain of butter and make them!)

The way this all unfolded was a big deal for me because I lose my temper, easily, very easily, when the boys get out of control. And, while it might seem obvious, it does not help them get under control when I am getting angry or upset. Hmmm. I wonder why! I have been reading Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years. I hate the cover graphic, the format was not the easiest to follow, and I don’t care for all the examples the authors lay out, especially when they make leaps from not disciplining your toddler to wild teen behaviors with no real support for such arguments. But by taking the meat of the book and applying it to our family in my mind, I was able to see the main points and put them into practice. The main idea is to give your child the opportunity to make mistakes now and learn from the consequences while they are young. And when they do make mistakes, if the adult stays calm and shows empathy, it sets the stage for better learning from a situation (sounds easier here than in application!). Because the boys are different ages, I made notes about how to approach each child’s situations. Elliott gets to spend more time problem solving when a mistake is made while Oliver is still learning that a behavior is not appropriate and that it will not be allowed. While the Love and Logic approach may not be for everyone, and I realize I might fail to follow everything the way I plan, the past few days have been far better than I realized they could be. I had my doubts and I am happy to find I was wrong.

The key to staying calm? Having a phrase to utter, with lots of empathy, when something happens. I chose “This is so sad” and from there I feel under control. No fake empathy either because it really is so sad. I can then state the problem and roll into a logical consequence. That is only part of the plan and part of the book’s approach, but getting started is the one of the hardest parts for me - staying cool and not allowing his problem to overtake me. Here are examples that I can see happening, all giving me a good start to staying calm with my initial empathetic phrase.

“This is so sad. You are throwing food off the table so you have to leave the table.”
“This is so sad. When you behave like this, we cannot take you to the park.”
“This is so sad. You broke Grandma’s vase throwing the ball. How can you fix this? (Pause for thinking) Would you like some suggestions?”

And so on…

 And, like the authors promised, at the end of the day, while we may have had to give up part of our day to challenging behaviors, in the end, I feel happier and less worn out and the boys are sweet and happy. Oh, and in the case of today, I have a slightly cleaner house.

A little grocery store adventure

Taking Elliott to the grocery store means a few new foods will come home. He is ever interested in trying something new or something we have not had in a long time. Today was no exception. Rutabagas, shrimp, a new shape of pasta, pepitas, a new frozen veggie mix, and strawberry cream pudding made their way to our cart. I am likely to say yes to most things, provided we needed something similar to it anyway. But I am known to cave on non-essentials too, even if I am not sure anyone will like it (uh, like the strawberry cream pudding). I will put a limit on how many new things from any given aisle though. For instance, today in produce he got to pick one fruit and one veggie.

Elliott was drawn to the rutabagas today since we last bought them months ago. I wanted to make soup, so I was glad to revisit them. Elliott introduced us to these over a year ago as his grocery store selection back then and was happy to watch how to prepare them and, when ready, eat them with his soup. So when he wanted to get jicama, I was willing to find out what it was and how to prepare it. Though I admit, because of placement, I assumed it was a fruit.

After this YouTube video, we figured out how to pronounce it, how to peel it, and what to do with it. And I am glad to see after a little Internet research, it can be served in fruit salads or treated as a veggie for soup or used in a "potato" salad, as in this recipe.

Anything exciting coming home with you from the store?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy Coffee Day

My coffee – a timeline, like most days

I start my morning with big, hot, fresh mug of my favorite caffeinated beverage.  

With half of the coffee consumed and emails checked, the cup is set aside on my desk. Often I am called away by a child or some other urgent matter.

10:15 I search for my coffee mug, forgetting it never left my desk, stupidly sip to see if it is still warm (ew, its not),  and then get called away to help someone. I place the coffee in the microwave, determined to come back and heat it up.

This time I remember to come back. I reheat coffee for 30 seconds, but in those mere 30 seconds, I get started on something else and forget my coffee.  

Feel thirsty, I look for mug on desk. Not seeing it, I realize I don’t recall finishing my coffee but assume I must have so I get a cup of tea or water. I have to hurry along to get Oliver to bed.

As I try to reheat my lunch, I discover the coffee mug, smile at my forgetfulness (which seems a habit), set coffee to side while I heat lunch, and then, finally, heat it up.

After lunch, I recall that I left mug in microwave yet again and zap it another 20 seconds. I sip a few long sips and then set it on top of my desk to do lunch clean up and a pick up of toys.

I sit down at computer, stare longingly at my cup, but now I am tired and want to just sit down. I am also knee-deep in emails, etsy, and ‘compelling’ Yahoo news stories. I just cannot get up to heat it up again.

1:15 I finally pry myself away from the computer to heat up the coffee, but I sit down to work on the computer for those long 30 seconds and forget it, again, somehow not hearing the four shrill beeps.  

I vaguely remember my coffee, but I hear Oliver waking up, so I am not going to bother to reheat it and forget it again anyway.

I finally heat the coffee up and chug the last bit down while someone asks for something at my side. I did finish my coffee, heated for atleast the 5th time by now, if not more. I am not sure I can always really remember how many times I have hit the start button.

3:10 After finishing my coffee and sit down to check email and other news, I discover that it is National Coffee Day and remember I was typing this post!

Happy Coffee Day!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


In the middle of the night, when little feet pad into the room, looking for reassurances, my first reaction is an inward groan. I am tired. But Elliott wants to snuggle in bed. For various reasons this occasionally happens (more since we have moved) and we allow it, though many times, after a while we ask him to move back to his bed, or he ends up on the floor to have more room. The big person bed gets awfully crowded with two big people, a pushy dog, and a sprawl-legged boy in it!

Last night, after he was snuggled next to me, I felt how hot he felt. Fever. So I got the thermometer. After a few minutes and a few coughs, I got a drink. And then I lay there snuggling him, but thinking the following:

-         there goes my exercise time at the Y tomorrow… no sick kids
-         there goes school for Elliott
-         there goes the chance to take Oliver somewhere like the zoo or park
-         there goes the chance to buy the book I decided I wanted to grab at school
-         the whole day might be filled with not a sweet, loving sick child but a whiny, not-really-that-sick kid
-         we might all get sick, sicker than the colds we already have

But pushing those thoughts aside, Elliott stroked my face with his warm hand and snuggled closer. It is so nice to know he feels safe and comforted coming to me for care, trusting I will help him. (And I won’t say out loud everything I am thinking.)

(*But I recognize that I am not a supermom. If in two or three nights he is still clammering into my bed, exhaustion tends to short circuit the nice nighttime mommy into a nasty, grumpy one. I hope this is short lived!)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Watching them grow up

Today each boy hit memorable milestones. Not that doctor check-list stuff, but ones that stand out to a parent. Not even the walking-talking-lose a tooth kind of milestones, but the stand out, memorable ones that make you a bit more amazed at your children that you will not forget for quite sometime.

Today was the book fair at Elliott’s school. After browsing and buying books for the holidays, I picked him up and went to the book fair again. We shopped for 30 minutes, with the goal of buying one book. Elliott observed other children being told they could also only buy one book and others buying a basket full. He asked why and accepted the answer. He pointed out gawdy pencils, little toys and various odds and ends meant to make a few extra bucks for the school and told me that we were not buying those today. And after browsing and comparing book after book, I asked what he was most interested in. I pointed out what books he had spent the most time with and then tried to step back while he decided. He surprised me by selecting a book on the Titanic (Titanic by Philip Wilkinson), stating that he was very interested in it and he needed to get it to learn the facts. To see him accept the limitations (despite of the tantrum we saw over more books, or maybe because of the tantrum!) and make a thoughtful choice in such a courteous manner made this mama proud.

And, on the 30 minute ride home… Elliott was engrossed in the pictures in the book. He was telling me about what he saw in the real pictures and the fake real pictures (realistic illustrations), asking questions, and really taking in the information that I knew and could provide (ah, that front seat parenting again). He then said (and I paraphrase here), “When I am an adult, I am going to make a movie about the Titanic. It won’t be for little kids, like one year olds. It will be for big kids, like teenagers. It will be sad. Some people will be on the ship when it sinks.” He added a few more details about his movie and then said, “I will ask a lot of dollars for it.” Why? I asked. “Because it will take a long time.” A long time to make the movie? “Yeah. And when I get home, I am going to make my Lego boat into the Titanic.” (I opted not to mention the numerous attempts to capture the story of the Titanic in video and documentaries. Why crush those dreams?)

And what did we read at bedtime, after Lego Titanic was in the initial construction? The new Titanic book, of course. Sneaky, the way history can be so inviting and interesting, working its way into the day to day.

So that could have been enough to make the day great. But Oliver found his own way to make me excited for his own growth.

Oliver is a boy of few words. Lately he has been adding to his vocabulary, but rarely does he choose to use words we feel he knows quite well. Tonight, I pretended to drop to sleep on his bed. He hoisted the big bin of Fisher Price people and all their household and farm items up next to me, with a big grin. These are the little vintage sets, not the newer, bubblier, bigger ones. I mention this because there are a lot of pieces in this box, ranging from vehicles to playground equipment to people to furniture. So I tuned in, to see what kind of play he had in mind. Typical Oliver play is to select two cars to carry around or dump the bin out, just because. Different than any other day, he wanted me to name objects, one after another, like he could not wait to hear the words. As he held up each object and heard the name for it, he often would look to his growing pile of previously named objects to classify it with others. When I said little girl, he heaped a pile of them together. When I said wagon, he searched for the other wagon. When I named animals, he followed it up with the noise they made and tried to find a match in his pile. If it took too long, he just grabbed another object, so eager to hear all the names. You could see the ‘gears’ working as he took in the language, categorized it and then tried to make the matches with similar but not identical items. This happened with Elliott one magical day too about this same age while we lived in Muncie. Elliott he ran pointing to objects in the kitchen and dining room, eager to know every object by name. And now, the same feeling as it happens with Oliver. Magical. No camera to document this milestone, no sudden change, but something inside is changing for Oliver. And I got to be there for it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cleaning or cliffs?

So I wrote down ‘Clean House?’ on the to-do list for the weekend. Anytime there is a question mark at the end, I have a pretty good idea that it will not happen. Generally I give myself permission to procrastinate and move that back a few days. And that is just what we did. The sky was too blue and the weather too clear to be inside with stir-crazy boys. With Fall upon us, outside activities trump indoor ones, especially when it is cleaning.

Instead, we headed over to Dover, Kansas to visit Echo Cliff Park for the first time.

While it seemed small at first, we spent plenty of time examining the cliff, lifting rocks, and chasing and catching wee little frogs, plus a few big ones. Oliver observed Mike hunting for salamanders by lifting rocks and believed the only way he could find a frog was to lift rocks. Oliver did need a bit of help to catch one, but handled him so well once he had it.

Elliott got so good at catching things; he caught them before he assessed what he was going after. Luckily, Elliott let this little ‘sweet’ thing go quickly because this thing was not so thrilled to meet Elliott. Anyone know what it is???

The boys delighted in dirty hands, the tossing of rocks, and the hunt for little creatures. We found wolf spiders, water skeeters, and even a tadpole.

After plenty of water and dirt exploration, we found little trails. We did not travel far when we discovered paw paw trees. We knew they were here in Kansas as we saw some earlier at a more local park. But these trees must not be recognized by as many people visiting the park as an edible fruit since there was plenty for us to take. We took home at least a dozen fruits, some ready and ripe, some to wait for later. What a treasure to find!

This morning, I got myself to the grocery store for limes to squeeze over the paw paws for a tasty addition to lunch. I even found a few minutes to clean up the seeds to list on Etsy.  

And for house cleaning? Not on great Fall weekends like this.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Adapting routines

Sleep or shall I say the way little boys go to sleep around here was slowly becoming a battlefield. It seems we cycle through easy phases and challenging ones with sleep. Elliott was moving back into a challenging one – getting up to go potty, needing to say good night to Daddy since he forgot, coming to see what was happening or tell us one last thing. And since Mike and I are overtired and just ready to work on our own tasks without constant interruption, this is enough to drive us batty and make us quite angry. Which, I always need to remind myself, does not solve the problem. Since I was reading a Love and Logic book, on recommendation from Elliott’s Montessori school, I decided to try a different approach, a gentler approach, seeing as how getting angry was not helping Elliott relax into sleep. (Hm. Wonder why?)

In looking over my old documents, I found a chart I made way back when, at another challenging sleep period. Yes, I type nearly everything and save it all, just in case! I also found a morning chart called The Morning High Five, which I had downloaded and considered using a while ago. Combining both of these for the past two days has really seemed helpful to get Elliott back on track and hopefully over the bumpy patch.

In the morning, Elliott simply works his way through the five simple things written and illustrated on the chart that are his responsibility. Since he wakes up in the morning in his room and his clothing is there, we hung the chart on his bedroom door. Our list included: eat breakfast (which to him also means clear his plates), make bed, get dressed (which also means clean up pajamas), brush teeth, and put away toys. Elliott interpreted it to mean he needs to complete steps 1 through 4 so he can actually get out toys to play with. That also works just fine for our mornings. Once all are done and we are headed out the door to school, we review the list and, you guessed it, give a high five. Sounds corny, but I think it will help as the past two mornings have felt a bit smoother.

Moning High Five chart, with no need to cross things off

In the evenings, Elliott was well aware of the general routine as it has been the same for some time. But having a check list makes it crystal clear without verbal reminders from me. I could hear him tonight telling himself that next he needed to go have his last potty chance. But, different from last time when we used the night time chart, I explained that if he said his last good night and remained in bed to get his rest, the next evening he would be well rested to stay up for five extra minutes of story time. On the nights he felt compelled to act silly or pop out of bed, he would not have the rest he needed and would need to go to bed early, thus shorter story time the next evening. This chart we posted on our bedroom door since Elliott falls asleep in our room. Little brother does his best to keep big brother awake at night so we felt it was best to keep them seperate as they fell asleep.

Bedtime chart, missing tonight's marks and with Elliott's accidental 'X' thru the cup

For the past two nights, not a peep has been heard from Elliott after last big hugs and kisses and the door closes. Now, Oliver on the other hand… That is a problem for another day. Perhaps I will have to pull out that bedtime book we made once upon a time for big brother at this age…

Here is a link to Morning High Five and I have posted my chart below, if it can be of any service to you, if you are suffering through any morning or bedtime troubles we are (were!) going through.

* Unfortunately, since making the chart customized to each family means moving images and words in this chart, I do not have something like that on here, only this picture you can print. But it was easy to create - just finding fun images online and making a basic chart. If I recall Elliott may have helped the first time with that very task. Or write the list and draw the pictures together with your child.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Freecycle find

Freecycle rocks. It is a community effort to share unused items and keep those usable items out of the dump. I have given away cardboard boxes, an old trimmer, children’s toys, owl pellets… oh the list goes on, ranging from quirky to mundane. I have found many great items on there myself too… a fabulously large, healthy cactus, a huge set of shelves to make into an art cabinet, disposable diapers, kitty litter buckets, and so on. If you are not part of your community’s Freecycle, I highly encourage you to check it out. And then, go directly to your closet or garage to get your first ‘offer’ listing made!

Here is a story, and another, of people who had great luck on Freecycle. And my head was full of these super Freecycle finds when I saw a  listing for a 40 gallon fish tank complete with stand, filter, fish (not really supposed to list animals), and all the equipment. And the woman emailed me and said I could get it. Yippee!

But not all Freecycle items are the ultra fabulous finds one hopes for. With Mike’s help, I arrived to help this woman be done with her fish tank. I mean it is a 40 gallon tank and stand, which I interpreted to mean heavy-duty wood stand to hold that 40 gallon tank. So a sitter was called in for an hour since pick up time was after bedtime and Mike came along. Only to discover it was in no way a 40 gallon tank. And it sat on a metal stand that might prove dangerous in a home with small children. And the rusted screen top and light were designed for reptile use, not aquariums. And the d├ęcor was pretty atrocious. And it is infested with mini snails. And there was a layer of scum covering the upper edges. And everything that could absorb order, including the water, reeked of smoke.

Mike asked, nearly clear enough for the woman to hear, if I was sure this is what I wanted. And I of course said yes. I just cannot show up to take something and not take it. No matter what cost.

Cost indeed. Since most of my aquarium goodies are still at ‘home’ in Muncie and this 29-gallon tank is bigger than previous tanks I have owned, I had to suddenly purchase a new glass top, a new light (which they only had one of in our size and it was the ultra fancy-pants LED ones with nighttime lights), a few new plants, a new filter and a new drainage hose (since I uh, now have two tanks to empty and fill regularly). Oh, and fish. Elliott was pretty excited that we would now get to have an aggressive tank and a community tank, like we did in Muncie. He even drew a picture to plan for how big the fish could be in the new tank. How could I disappoint him? Add to those costs the time to clean the tank and set it up and it seems like maybe more than should have been devoted to it.

Newly setup 29-gallon tank

Tank and stand

But am I happy with my Freecycle find? Yes! I wanted a bigger tank and this was the push to get it. Plus, it is a savings of a tank and stand, if I had decided to just go buy the tank (IF!). I realize I could have Freecycled to find some other equipment, but we were eager to get the tank set up. But I did turn around and list what we were not going to be using and the man who got them was quite happy to have those supplies.

Simulated moonlight LED lighting, or a nice nightlight

So don’t get me wrong. This is a good Freecycle story, after a little elbow grease, a little additional spending, and a little time setting things up. And if I scared you from ever wanting to take someone up on their offers on Freecycle, atleast realize that Freecycle can help you unload anything from your garage or basement. Be it Tupperware from 30 years ago or a broken guitar or a box filled with Elvis Presley buttons, someone can find a use for whatever you’ve got. Because most people are like me – they will take anything if it is free.

Happy fish!
***Had I known I planned to post on this, I would love to have taken a 'before' photo. That would be a great comparison!
***Also, apologies for the poorly taken photos here! Nighttime and glare were conspiring against me.

Friday, September 16, 2011


So while the goal was to start making more meals from scratch, ones we love that just take a little more chopping and a few extra bowls and spoons to make. I guess this was not the week for that.

Trying to use up ingredients in the fridge and cabinet became the main objective this week. So for lunch many items were wash and serve - grapes and berries - or a quick slice and serve - cheese and olive oil bread. But I also have had six tubs of yogurt  to use up these past two weeks. Uh, yes, six. Hoarding coupons for free yogurt meant they all expired at once! So enter instant breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack - smoothies! (Or as Oliver says "moo-thees")

It may sound hard to believe but this may only be the third time in my life that I have made smoothies. I used to not care for the texture or worried over what to put in to them. So at first I searched recipes. And then I quickly realized I would not have some suggested items, like almond milk or limeade or even orange juice. So instead we threw in spotty bananas, less than ideal berries, and yogurt. Voila! Instant slurpable food.

Imagine my delight later in the frozen fruit section when I discovered a bag labeled "Great for smoothies!" with pineapple, mango, peaches, and strawberries all mixed up for me. And in jumbo size. Now I had every excuse to serve up smoothies whenever I pleased.

Tonight was one of those nights. The boys wanted to play at the park and I wanted to stay as long as they wanted. But in the back of my mind I fretted over supper and the nasty scene that could unfold when we walked in the door. No matter how happy we are after the park, tummy grumbles set in instantly after you leave and that can be ugly. And of course, smoothies came to mind since it is the easiest peasiest solution.

The best part of smoothies? Both boys have participated in making them and it is the first food item I have let both boys work on together in the kitchen. One peels the bananas, another one puts them in. One scoops the frozen fruit in, another presses the blend button.

So go see if your freezer has some jumbo bags of frozen fruit and go buy six tubs of yogurt. Okay, you do not need six tubs, maybe just four or five! And feel no guilt over smoothies for supper. I don’t because right now, with full bellies, Oliver is playing with his cargo trailer and Elliott is making his pirate outfit.

* To be fair, this was not their only supper. But it did buy me time to get out some leftovers and heat them up, which they likely won't eat much of anyway!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Small Mountain Meals

No, this post is not about preparing meals to make while living or camping on small mountains. While that might be interesting, remember, I am in Kansas! So read on…

Lately, meal preparation has not been on the top of my list as we adjust to school routines, try to spend ample time outdoors, and, well, I just don’t feel like standing in the kitchen to chop, slice, and cook. Even my easy meals feel laborious at the end of some days.

So, finally, I felt a twinge of motivation and made a meal plan laying out the eight meals I was willing to make over the course of the next two weeks. Typically, when I make a more elaborate meal, I make enough for leftovers - two nights of eating for one night of effort. Those leftovers, along with occasional meals we have out, make up about 14 meals. I still left my easy meals on the list – meatball subs, pizza, pasta and bread, chicken quesadillas, but I added a few manageable prep-required meals. Tonight being a weekend with Mike home, I tackled one of them – my Udon Noodle Dish – which I modified from an udon noodle package years ago.

And I was rewarded for the work involved. I was able to savor a meal I had forgotten I enjoyed so much and all the boys ate it up. Elliott is typically not a child to eat a mixture of foods together, so when he cleans his bowl up, it can make one feel pretty good.

If you are interested to give this meal a try, you will find it is not that difficult in terms of preparation, but I am starting with a small mountain. Another day, a bigger mountain!

Chicken Udon Noodle Dish

Diana’s Udon Noodle Dish:

3.5 ounces udon noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium to large chicken breasts or pork fillets, thinly sliced
½ large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 to 3 medium carrots, thinly sliced using a carrot peeler (making slivers down length of carrot)
8 mushrooms, thinly sliced
salt, to taste
pepper. to taste
1 ½ to 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Cook chicken or pork with olive oil over medium heat in large skillet. When meat is done, remove to a small bowl. Add onion, and additional oil if needed, to pan, cooking for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the carrot slivers and mushrooms and cook until the vegetables are tender. If in doubt, sample a carrot or look for an orangish shade in the oil. While starting onions, boil udon noodles for five minutes or as directed on package. Drain, rinse, and set aside. Once vegetables are done, add meat and noodles back to pan. Add salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Mix well as dish is reheated. Serve immediately. If doubling recipe for leftovers, do not double soy sauce and oil. Adjust oil for amount needed to cook and soy sauce to taste.

Makes 2 good-sized adult servings.

Note: I used Hakubaku organic udon wheat noodles and modified their recipe on the back wrapper. They come in a 10.58 oz package, with three 3.5 ounce wrapped packages. Noodle amount can vary with no major consequence. Really, any of the ingredients can be altered for more or less with little consequence.

Car Parenting

While I realized it was 9/11 (really hard to not realize it with the internet), it was farther from my mind. I was trying not to think about it. I did not know anyone who did not survive. I do not know anyone who lost someone. It just is upsetting and I did not want to think about it.

But on an errand, Elliott and I saw a motorcycle group with flags on an overpass. He asked why there were so many chiefs. (The vest with patches appeared as chief clothing, I guess) What started out as explaining in simple terms why they were there led to a few tears on my part as I answered questions. “Did people die?” “Were they sad?” “Was their family sad?” “Where were you when the towers went down?” “Where was Daddy?”

Amazingly, since Elliott has no real concept of time and his own existence relative to past events, he said he would have been sad if Daddy had been in an airplane and died. Not meaning to minimize his feelings, I tried to explain he would not have been born if that had happened or been there to feel sad at that moment, but yes, it would have been very sad. He was very quiet thinking this over.

The most sensitive and difficult questions and discussions always come while riding in the car. A lot of serious parenting happens in that car. While I started out trying to avoid the day and the subject, I am glad though to have a small chance to discuss it with Elliott and recognize my memories and feelings from 10 years ago.

Friday, September 2, 2011

For my boys

I am so tired today. Every night there is more to fit in, along with the leisure I desire. I am knitting for the boys and for a trade on Etsy for Christmas gifts. I am applying to jobs and trying to secure a space for Oliver at a Montessori school, in the event I find a job. There are dishes, laundry, picking up toys, helping little boys, reading to little boys, phone calls for appointments, meals to set out, and so on.

So by the end of the day (well, everyday) all I wanted to do was read my book or knit for pleasure or watch a movie. But yesterday, I sewed Elliott a bag. He started school yesterday and I already made him a small stamped dinosaur slipper bag. (At his Montessori school they wear slippers in the classroom – to keep the room clean, to walk with quiet care, to have a better sense of their movement) But after realizing what he would need to have at his hook in this bag each day, I knew he needed a bigger bag. I searched our current luggage, knowing we have about 20 canvas totes, all the perfect size. Of course, after battling with the suitcase to get it out of the closet and digging through all the pockets, I figured out I left those behind at our house in Muncie, assuming we had enough packed with us.

Elliott's First Day of School

After hearing him describe his excitement and his fears, all I could think of was doing something to make his next day a little better. So no matter that I was tired, that I wanted to read, that I was cursing at my antique sewing machine and the mistakes I made. Hearing him excitedly show his teacher his new bag this morning was worth it.

Which is why I scraped all morning work plans today and took Oliver to the park, to the donut shop, to ride the carousel and to ride the train. Because my little boys are worth it. I will catch up on reading later.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Visiting the Little Apple

There is something about the ribbon of highway that holds the power to lull little children to sleep. And I enjoyed the lack of sound all the way to and from Manhattan, Kansas today. We visited Mike’s new office, the Sunset Zoo, and City Park and Splash Pad. Then we ended the day with the beginning of the year architecture party held at Lazy T Ranch.

Some of the highlights: seeing the chimpanzee baby roll and wrestle with his mother and the boys identifying with that play, watching another chimp poop and carry said poop in his mouth (I wish that was a joke), forgetting the poop and enjoying ice cream for dinner, being able to say yes to an impromptu splash pad visit, and watching my two big boys enjoy themselves without much help from mom and dad at a big gathering of new faces.

And here is the day in photos. Thankfully, there were no pictures of the chimpanzees in action.

Between I-70 and Manhattan, KS

Hard to always get comfortable for a nap

Hitting the splash pad in those pink crocs

Splash Pad!

Oliver had no fear, until water got him in the face

So now, he just watches big brother act crazy and stays dry

Crossing through the crackly grass after visiting the horse

Headed to the hay bales, after one more look back on the party

Elliott the cat? Jumping bales was HIS highlight

Thoroughly enjoying being a big enough kid and the freedom that permits

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Willpower please!

I have a problem. It feels quite serious.

I had not been baking bread. But this is not really the problem. I knew it was just a matter of time until we felt settled in and I could resume such domestic duties. I make sandwich and toast breads in the bread machine and dinner rolls and loaves with my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book.

Here is where the problem begins. Instead of making my reliable Olive Oil dough recipe for pizza crusts and round, crusty loaves, I skimmed the book for new ideas. Uh-oh! First I hesitated on the Challah dough recipe. For those of you not familiar with the recipe, it makes four 1-pound loaves but takes 4 eggs and 1 stick of butter. It makes delicious bread, tasty and light. But, instead of hurrying to start mixing up my dough, I turned the pages and my eyes fell upon the Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls. This is where the problem really, really begins.

Growing up my mom made tasty cinnamon rolls at the holidays. You made the dough and let it rise and punched it down and let it rise. Then, you rolled it out, spread it with butter, and sprinkled on cinnamon sugar and pecans. Next you rolled it into a long jelly-roll log. From there, my mom would shape it into a candy cane or wreath, snipping and gently turning the rolls for a lovely display. After baking, it was drizzled with icing, and decorated with alternating halved maraschino cherries and whole pecans. If it was a wreath, it got a red bow too. It was a process, often made over and over again for holiday gifts to neighbors and friends. And I have the recipe, to make whenever I want, anytime of year. But I never make them, even at the holidays, because I am lazy. Since I started making dough the way described in Artisan Bread (a big bucket full, to make four loaves whenever I want) I simply do not have any desire to make bread the traditional way anymore (except my foccacia recipe, but that is for another time!).

So when I stumbled on to the Caramel Rolls recipe, my mind’s gears started turning. What if I took the dough they recommended for their rolls, but ignored their recipe, just substituting my simple cinnamon roll steps instead? Okay, this is not a huge leap, but I hate experimenting, which has the potential to waste ingredients and my time if something fails. The trouble with this particular dough, which by now my mouth was watering over, is the Brioche dough. This dough comes with 8 eggs and 3 sticks of butter. Yes, it makes four 1-pound loaves, but still, three sticks of butter!

I have been trying to lose weight. I want to shed the baby (babies!) weight I still have hanging around. Before moving I had exercised for a whole year and had lost only five pounds. True, my cholesterol scores were greatly improved, but I wanted some lower numbers on the scale too. Since moving here, I came to some conclusions that have helped me already lose five more pounds.

  1. I have to combine exercise and good eating skills (not a diet). I feel happier and healthier when I exercise which makes it easier to eat healthier foods.
  2. Even if I eat less at a meal, I still feel pretty full, as full as if I ate the whole portion.
  3. Leaving food as leftovers, saving treats for another day, or skipping food (like a cookie at the coffee shop) is always okay. I can always make it another day or buy it another day.

It seems pretty simple, but it is essentially willpower. The beauty of this plan is I still give myself the luxury of eating cookies, ice cream, or any snack I wanted, but just in moderation. Remembering step number 3 has been my saving point. Until a yesterday, I never felt like I was missing out on anything. Yesterday, I made the rolls.

One lone roll, just waiting to be eaten

So you can seem my problem. Favorite cinnamon rolls + easy to whip-up recipe = eating out of control. When they are hot out of the oven, my willpower melts like the sweet sugary cinnamon inside these rolls.

So, while I muster up my willpower, I will direct you to the brioche recipe and get you started on your own batch. Isn’t that nice of me? I find these little sweeties so good I do not add any icing. I suppose that is for the better!

To make these, you will need:

Brioche dough, made in advance and chilled
extra flour, for rolling
cooking spray or shortening, for pan
glass baking or pie pans

Spray your glass pans with cooking spray or grease them up. Mix about ½ cup sugar, give or take, with 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon and set aside. Chop ½ to 2/3 cups pecans and set aside. Take ¼ of the brioche dough, and roll it out on a thin cutting mat with a moderate amount of flour under and on top of the dough to reduce sticking to maybe ½ inch thick, or so. Spread the surface with butter or margarine I love margarine for some recipes so I spread that on nice and thick. Next, sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar all over the butter or margarine and top that with pecans. Time to jelly roll it up! Add flour to your fingers to help it along, if dough is at all sticky. Once rolled, using sharp kitchen scissors, cut into 1 ½ inch thick rolls and place into pan with room for expansion (inch around, give or take, but they can be up against edges). Cover and let rise 60 minutes. Start oven heating to 350 degrees 15 to 20 minutes before rise time ends. Bake rolls 20-30 minutes, checking every few minutes for golden brown edges on top. Serve directly from the pan, hot or cool.

And try to share with your family and not eat too many. Maybe this little story will be inspiring as we all search for willpower!

**Apparently, I have none. The roll seduced me while I photographed it. That tantalizing swirl was too much. I ate it. End of story.**

And, AND, I just found another great recipe to use up more of that brioche dough. See, this is a serious problem!