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!

Everyone gets a break sometime

Elliott must have sensed the level of tension building or finally the day played out just right to encourage self-entertainment. After the boys lending a hand to start the laundry, I took the boys to the park and out for lunch. Once home, the rush was on. Oliver needed to eat his lunch and get down for a nap. I had to get the laundry, unload a few bags from the car, take out the trash, and take Addison out to the bathroom. All of it needed done immediately. I put Elliott to duty supervising Oliver while I handled other issues. After Oliver was finished eating, I asked (well, told) Elliott to read Oliver his stories, tuck him in and close the door. Elliott was a tremendous help, depsite Oliver's escape tactics. Then, oh, the wonderful, then, Elliott filled his time with a the five objects pictured below. Over the course of an hour, while I made cinnamon rolls and cut veggies, he assmebled a few legos in new patterns, sketched the wagon and lego vehicle, and told a few stories to himself. After that he requested more help from me to write a letter, get out paintbrushes, and listen to his stories. But what a nice reprive from the normal demands, requests, and chatter of the past few days. Something aligned today to make it happen. Now, how to make it happen again??

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The sum of the days

I am not sure what it was about the past few days, but doing much of nothing but thinking about all that I should and will be doing has been wearing me down. In just over a week, Elliott will begin attending Raintree Montessori School which will flip the daily life we know on its head. And since I have not heard about a job, I will continue doing the stay at home thing with Oliver. How we will juggle the new demands, I am not sure. Somewhere in there Oliver will learn to be a great car traveler, Elliott will become an all day student (Oh the mama dread!), and I will tackle more potty-learning, tantrum-throwing, busy-as-a-bee, hands-on, “I do it” little boy days (a boy with a whole different personality and energy level). And if a job magically appears in the next few weeks, we will all roll with those transitions too. What I dread most of all is starting Elliott full day and later having to adjust our schedule to half day (due to cost, scheduling, etc) because it means a classroom change for Elliott. Just the other day he saw a little girl shopping with her dad in the grocery and asked, “When will I have friends?” I feel awful to promise friendship at school and then face the situation of making him start again in a new classroom with a new teacher. (It had been my hope to secure full day in case I was working and found all day care for Oliver)

Equally exhausting has been the storm of ideas coming from Elliott. When we made gingerbread boys, Elliott was full of how-to’s for cutting and icing, despite times it would not work as well as he imagined. When I made Oliver’s birthday cupcakes (working with stored-bought mix, icing, the works, fondly remembering my self-designed childhood tiered cake) I offered Elliott the choice of colors and decorating. From there, he had to dictate more color choices than I planned, including, most importantly, HIS cupcake color and how to decorate each one. When we had free time during Oliver’s nap, he wanted to read, sew a mini blanket for his doll, sew a stuffed animal for himself, and play a game. We isolated one activity to do – a new game – but after one time playing through, he was begging to begin the sewing. Thankfully, Oliver woke up to end that discussion. Today when I asked his choice of one of three hats I designed for him to pick from, I mistakenly offered that he could change the design if he wanted. What ensued was over an hour of me sketching, coloring and planning a hat to fit the bill, only to realize he was wishy-washy about what he liked and I was not happy with the designing when I took a second look.

What starts off as a simple bonding or fun activity is quickly taken beyond the limits I can handle because he simply cannot rein in his enthusiasm for the task at hand and for all that comes next. Which is a wonderful trait, but utterly exhausting for the adult who is needed to help. I am now realizing this is why I feel like I do not get much done, but a lot is happening at the same time, especially these past few days. For this reason I am excited for Elliott to start to work at school, working on what he can, at his pace and skill level or with other children, working together for a common goal with all their energy bundled together to overcome problems.

Here are a few shots from the past few days. I had entirely different post ideas in mind, until the sum of the days led to the realization that the days had not unfolded the way I had imagined. The days of parenting – so little and so much happens everyday.

Tasty, huh??? Yeah, not so much.

Oliver loves the birthday song.

Big brother helping as needed on the birthday present.

Hat sketches and yarn, ready for a choice to be made.

The designing and counting, all shoved in the book for another day.

Helping measure his head... did not notice that little finger until upload time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

After the storm

Last night a powerful storm can through our area. We got only a part of it, but it felt intense, especially being in a second floor apartment with winds whistling and 'whooing' through the cracks of glass. Power went out, lighting flashed and filled the sky, and rain pelted down so hard we could barely see through it on the balcony. Even a cicada took shelter on our window screen for the duration of the storm.

This morning we found ourselves wondering how the animals at the zoo felt about such a storm. Elliott felt sure they all had shelters and were okay. Since we could pop over and find out, we headed out after tossing a few drinks and snacks in my bag.

The storm did a lot of damage to trees within the park, but the animals were out, doing their regular zoo thing. Oliver was tickled to see the 'raff munching newly fallen leaves. And Elliott enjoyed seeing a trumpeter swan like Louis.

Raff! Raff!

Meeting a Trumpeter Swan like Louis

After the zoo, a relaxing train ride around the park finally afforded me the opportunity to snap a few pictures of the park and train.

The train headed for the tunnel of screams

Oliver and me (ill-timed, getting a chewing picture!)

My favorite nook in Gage Park -
a pond by the rose gardens with bridges and a wishing well

After posting yesterday, thinking nothing could possibly ruin all the good feelings I have forming for Kansas, my mind was changed a bit last night when I started thinking about the power of the storms we might see. A tornado could really come through this area, could really take out this apartment while we hunker down in the laundry room, and that might dampen my fond feelings a bit (maybe more than a bit). Still though, the storms are impressive and until that moment comes, I think I can even find something to enjoy in the storms.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Falling in love with Kansas

Everyday I have had moments that draw me up and make me pause, where I realize how lovely Kansas, and Topeka, is to me. Yes, everyday, often many times a day. And each reason is different from the other which leaves me in a constant state of wonder and amazement. The wave of emotion is intense, strangely intense. You see, when Mike was hearing about jobs, Kansas quickly became the state I absolutely dreaded moving to. I had reason upon reason for not moving here and I was looking at the move with some dread. After a short spring visit to scope out apartments and the landscape, I had a suspicion I might feel differently once we got here.

I just was not prepared for how much better I would feel about Kansas. These past three weeks have let us discover Gage Park. A zoo, a children’s museum, a dog park, a carousel, a mini-train, a large public pool, flower gardens, fishing ponds, and numerous playgrounds offer up so many choices that it seems the park may never get old. But the green space, wildlife, and trees are truly the best part. There are lots of spaces to be alone and explore little nooks, run and kick balls, to wander around and unwind, to picnic. Today I was struck with how we can just nearly walk out our door and be there, much like our own personal land to explore. We have been enjoying it, to the point of failing to take a camera along to capture any of it, except for my phone camera today. So we have few pictures, and not good ones at that. 

Oliver, constantly on the run (from us!)

Another special discovery was MacLennan Park. It has hiking-biking-running trails, over rolling wooded hills. Hills! Ah, visits there are bliss. This summer, I discovered a love of trail running while at Punderson State Park in Ohio. Finding these trails and plotting the next time I could get out on them made me want to jump up and down with such a thrill. Actually, I think I might have when suggesting ideas to Mike. Breaking out into sprints through these zig-zagging, dirt paths feels so refreshing, like I can conquer nearly anything. At least for the hour I am out there! And the pleasure the boys can take from seasonal walks in the woods at a moments notice is quite satisfying to a my motherly wants for my children.

Even indoor spaces are taking me surprise. Today I wandered the Topeka Library, in awe of its size, with lovely spaciousness and cozy feelings all at the same time. I got to marvel at how friendly the staff was, how easy it was to find my hard-to-find books, and how much my boys will love their selection and the coral reef fish we cannot have.

And seeing a sky like this one tonight is delicious. To me, Kansas sky seems so much more open than skies in the Midwest. The land in Kansas seems wider and more open, yet it still has many trees where we are at. It might be cresting hills everyday, opening the world up, making it a bit bigger than before.

Evening sky over MacLennan Park

I wonder if these amazements will cease, if I am idealizing too many places, events, and minute details. But surely, I cannot for everything that is making me giddy with excitement and happiness. I hope I can still get this same inner thrill (like butterflies in my stomach!) months from now over little discoveries.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


As of late, the impact of how we interact with each and every person has been on my mind a lot.  Feeling let down has a way of drawing attention to such things. I am not talking some big butterfly effect thing, just the day to day interactions and choices.

If you wake on the wrong side of the bed and blow up at the first person you see, you might in turn make their day start poorly, leading them to yell at someone, feel down, or even cause their focus to be elsewhere than their own matters. Even non-verbal behavior can wreck havoc in the right situation. For example, if I am slamming pots in the kitchen and seeming angry or rushed, my boys might begin to throw fits and act out, sensing the change in dynamic. The consequences can be minor and unnoticeable or quite large and obvious.

Anytime we enter into relationships with people, chosen or not, we are acting in them and affecting them. Well, of course! We know it, right? But how much do we know it and respect it? We tend to know that if we are kind to the waitress at dinner, we likely will get better service. Or that you might wave to someone to thank them for letting you out because you feel grateful for their understanding and patience, causing warm and fuzzy feelings for them. Or that RSVPing to a friend so they can make better plans will be appreciated. Just like we know that yelling at our parents will not make (most of) us feel better in the long run or flipping off the car rudely passing is not going to solve much.

It comes to mind so much for me because of family – with such an intense and close relationship, moving beyond 2 people and their needs to the larger scope of 3-4-5 or more peoples’ needs. In each and every action, or lack thereof, you affect that many people. It might seem so simple, like one spouse not calling when running late. In turn, that can cause anxiety in the other spouse, which then becomes anger when they realize the disrespect when the delay happened. The child or children in turn feed off this and act out or be in some way inwardly impacted.

Taking an attitude of that each person is their own person and can do as they like in a family dynamic (and even in a marriage with no children) will no longer do when you moved beyond a single person. Perhaps this is the real reason some people feel their world ends with marriage (or children), as is often joked. It is not that they can no longer go out with the girls/guys or stay up watching a movie and just sleep in the next day. It is that every choice they make affects the other and they cannot get around it. When children are added to the mix, it complicates it all the more. Every single decision and action – to snipping when stressed, to not mentioning your work commitments in a timely fashion, to ignoring basic tasks around the home, to pretending to listen, to not noticing a change in your child, all of these and much more can cause mild to intense problems for the family. Some of the effects last a day, some a week, some for so much longer. Especially when they become habits.

To me it seems quite obvious. So obvious, I would like to say I never fall into those traps of a bad mood or forgetfulness or disrespectfulness. It is clearer to see those faults in others and expect changes. But waiting and expecting behavior to change to make your own changes is unlikely. So how much can one give and keep trying to change themselves while waiting on those changes? Each person chooses which things irk them the most and how much they can take? I have no answers, just a lot of questions as our family moves into new roles with new expectations and commitments.

And to humor myself, since I felt a bit of déjà vu, back to Muncie Mama I went. (I know that these are ongoing issues for my family, but I could not shake the sense of writing these feelings down before) Lo and behold, here is what I found!

Not sure the answer out there or what will happen with the start of school and jobs. We’ll see. We’ll see.

(and not to be 'crude' with my post title, but it seemed really fitting after finding my old post)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Getting to our new home

Parts of this move from Indiana were easy. I had lists telling me what order I wanted to do things in and which calls to make. I had a box with necessary essentials like tape, sharpies, and screwdrivers always at hand. I had a Mike helping with each and every step, doing what was needed from childcare to packing to cleaning to phone calls to furniture break down. I had some boxes already packed from a year before ready to store or pack with us. I had free boxes, saved or passed along from friends. We had done major repairs the year before in anticipation of selling our home.

The part that snuck up out of nowhere (seemingly) was the feeling of needing to hurry. Once we secured a renter for our unsold home, we had a deadline to be out of our house. Additionally, we also had an apartment lease we were paying for. We needed to move by August 1st with no wiggle room even if we encountered delays. So when a job took longer than expected or children interrupted (despite our plans to work mostly when they slept and keeping many toys out of boxes until the last day), it was enough to make me fly off the handle. As much as I hate to admit it, there was frequent yelling, tears, and distractions (read: bribes!) to get through difficult patches - all things that make a transition even harder for the littlest ones of the family. A few of those days I was not proud of the parent I was being. 

But, once the truck was packed and good byes said and inwardly felt by all, the drive out went better than expected. My biggest laugh for the trip was taking the boys into a hotel alone and trying to juggle in all the luggage we needed for the night, plus one very helpful toddler pushing the luggage cart and one chatty boy with a body in constant dancing motion. With many reminders that I was ‘just one mama’, we had a good dinner, swim, and bedtime rest.

With my parents there to help on our first day and movers hauling most of our stuff in the 100+ degree heat, the first day was not too bad. The boys room was quickly readied for sleeping and we said our good byes to Grandma and Grandpa. But with wicked heat still filling the apartment, sleeping in a new place was near impossible for the boys. The next few nights of the boys' new found joys and difficulties of sharing a room got quite stressful on the whole family. Little sleep = crabby family, repeat on day 2, repeat on day 3.

Over the course of a week, despite having a dog in for emergency bladder stone surgery and with some rather lack-luster parenting, we got shelves up, boxes unloaded, and our space to a cozy home. I wish it had been as easy as saying 'Poof!' and it was done. Sitting here now, it does sort of seem that way! To start mending bridges with the boys and relax ourselves, we have made numerous outings to the park across the street and trails just down the road. 

By spending time walking and exploring, I feel myself and see my boys unwinding a bit. While a move is stressful for the work involved and the friends, family, and home we have moved away from, having something new and wonderful to explore has made all the difference these past two weeks. It just might help us get back to the place we want to be as a family.

And to help you visualize this whole move, here are a slew of photos! To start, take 4 pack rats living in a 3 bedroom home with garage and move them into a 2 bedroom apartment with storage only with space still in Indiana. This is what you get…

The living room, before and after

Our bedroom, before and after (including the Closet of Crap)

Boys' Room (without showing their Closet of Crap, and yes, it is full)


And a happy little nutella boy, pleased with the progress

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pack ‘em up and move ‘em out...

It’s time to move to your brand new house.

Well, apartment to be exact. But this little song runs through my head every time I have moved. Counting since I was a child, and including this time, that make 6 states with at least 15 homes, dorms, or temporary apartments. But none have been quite as drawn out and challenging as this move. More on that later.

To complicate matters further, I opted to start a new blog, rather than let my blogging days fizzle. I am moving from Muncie Mama to start sharing in the pleasant surprises and discoveries my family is finding here in Kansas.

And in just over a week, it has surprised me, much more than I expected. While it is not where I imagined living or think I may live for life, it is wowing me in unexpected ways. My husband thought I was trying to be ironic with calling my blog The Hills of Kansas. But the eastern part of the state (at least) is full of rolling, lovely hills. I am finding I am just as thrilled at the bottom (and top) of a huge road hill as my boys. From the back, Elliott will call out "Do we get to go up THAT?"

In that spirit, I wanted to start this blog... for all the wonderful surprises we find in Kansas and are just delighting in.