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.