Sunday, August 7, 2011

Little Monsters

Somewhere around May or early June, I begin a planning session that could rival a small military operation.  School's on its way out, and I'll have a 3 year old and a 6 year old on my hands for three long months.  Many of you may be familiar with my calendar that lists every free activity in a 20-mile radius.  Any given week, we've got a variety of options.  I plan out our week on Sunday night, noting the activities we MIGHT want to attend if we get ourselves out of bed in time.  Needless to say, it's a very fluid agenda.  We have room for fun and room for being lazy.

So why are my kids such ungrateful little monsters?

Yeah, I know it's the age.  But last week, we played BINGO at the local library, which was generous enough to provide prizes for everyone.  We went to the pool with friends.  We had lunch out twice.  We went bowling.  We had a playdate at a friend's house.  I think they acknowledged that they had fun, but I also battled: "Can we go to Sonic for slushies?" (immediately after lunch at Jimmy John's); "I only won ONCE and that girl won THREE times" (at the totally rigged BINGO game).  "Can we go to the pool agaiiin?"

I had decided against enrolling them in any camps this summer.  But now, I think we could all use the space.  At least, I could use some space.  And let a paid counselor deal with the whining.

I almost sold our copy of "1-2-3 Magic" at our yard sale, but something told me to hang on to it.  Maybe it was the blurb that mentioned badgering.  The book comes highly recommended by our friend Aidan up the street.  When I was scolding Bug during carpool one day last Spring, Aidan told me to count to three, like that book his mom uses when he doesn't behave.  He offered to let me borrow it.  Thanks, Aidan, we'll just dig up our copy.

I don't think we spare OR spoil our kids.  They don't get the latest and greatest, and we often tell them no.  But we'll also take them out for a spur of the moment ice cream cone, or get them a DVD they might like when it's not a birthday or holiday.  Do we continue the little treats every once in awhile or strip everything back completely?  Does it make a difference?

Has summer been rough on you, too?  How have you handled your little monsters? 

"You can't be serious."
"Is that all I get?"

Friday, July 8, 2011

She Sells Sea Shells...

A recent trip to Myrtle Beach yielded a bag full of gorgeous sea shells.  We were pulling up handfuls of these perfect shells, and all I could think was, "These would make some pretty awesome crafts."  So if you have your own collection of seaside souvenirs, take a look at what the girls and I put together, and you might find inspiration for a rainy afternoon craft of your own.

Many shells we found had a small hole in the end, just nature taking its course, I suppose.  But nature's imperfections made me think that we could make some cool necklaces for the girls.

First, I wanted to make sure the shells were properly cleaned.  I've read that if you don't remove the residue from the ocean (and the little critter that once lived in the shell), it could start to smell.  I took a pan, filled it with water and shells, and poured some bleach in there.  The ratio of water to bleach is supposed to be 50/50, but that seemed a lot to me.  I just poured maybe a 1/4 cup in the large roasting pan that held the shells.  Let it sit overnight, and then rinse with some dish soap and water.  I've also read you can brighten the shell up by rubbing a little mineral or baby oil on it.

We bought some plastic rope at the craft store, the kind that's used to make braided lanyards.  You can use leather or suede cording from the jewelry section, too, which would look nicer.  The lanyard cost $0.99 for 10 yards and the jewelry cording cost $3.50 for 3 yards.  We were aiming for cheap!

Measure the lanyard around your child's neck, leaving room for extra.  We measured about half a yard.  Thread the shell onto the lanyard - the kids have a lot of fun with this!  After your shell is secure on the lanyard, tie a slip knot on each end.  This allows you to easily adjust the necklace and means you don't need any special clasp.

Depending on the cording you choose, you could have a really pretty piece of jewelry, or something quick and fun for the kids to add to their dress up costumes.  Either way, it's a nice way to remember a fun family vacation!

We're finishing up another shell project, which I'll feature in a few days.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"Give Me a Museum and I'll Fill It"

I'm going to try to get through this post while the events of the day are still fresh on my mind, but it's going to be tough.  I've consumed mass quantities of food today and I feel kind of green at the moment.  To gloss over the morning and early afternoon, let's just say that the new Belgian waffle maker made an appearance and we hit up a barbecue shack called Phat Boyz.  Moving on.

This is a post about art.   We're really excited about what's been going on at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts the past few years.  In 2009, the museum completed a $100 million expansion, a beautiful addition that has resulted in some stunning exhibits.  We saw a collection of Tiffany work last year - stained glass, sculpture and painting.

The highlight this spring is Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris.  The exhibit features works from the artist's personal collection, on loan from the Paris museum during its renovation.  There are only three U.S. stops on the tour, and this is the only exhibition on the East Coast.  One month in, 75,000 people had seen the exhibit.  It's only here until May 15, so get crackin'.   

To make it easier, here are our tips from today's experience:

Dummy's Guide to Picasso

Go even if you're not an art-lover.  Let me explain that I'm not well-educated about art.  Most of the time I look at it, head cocked to one side, trying to figure out what the heck is going on.  I can't understand why some choices are called "bold" or "provocative" when I just see a bit of a mess.  If you feel the same way, I'd still encourage you to give it a go.  It's the opportunity to see some work normally living in a Paris museum that was hand-selected by a legendary artist to define his legacy.

Get the audio tour.  We didn't, and it would have been helpful.  There's not much explanation of the work beyond the notation next to the piece.  You will get a booklet that explains his different periods, but if you're not familiar with the work, you'll get less out of it.  Or, download a free tour (thank to our friend Roger for pointing this out).

Appreciate the genius, even if it doesn't make much sense!  We were struck by Picasso's wide-ranging techniques and styles.  On one hand, you have finely drawn portraits, and on the other hand, less realistic images with weird, uh, hands.  All from the same guy.


Go with a friend.  I feel pretty dense about art.  Bobby does, too, but he's able to see more in depth than I am, and ask questions that make you think about what's really going on.  We try to talk quietly, though, because we don't want anyone else thinking we're idiots.  Because we're the first to make our own comments about that idiot over there waxing on about the Blue Period.

Be prepared for delays.  Now, we walked in at 4 pm on a Saturday.  It was a mad house.  The earliest tickets we could score were for 6:30.  That actually worked out great, because we walked over to Strawberry Street Cafe for a fantastic dinner.  The staff does well monitoring the flow of the group, but if you don't purchase your tickets online, don't expect that you'll walk right in.

Tickets are $20 each.  There are extended hours all this week.  Check the website for more details and to order online.  

Some of our favorites...

I really loved this sketch.  It's not pleasing or pretty.  It's supposed to indirectly represent the Spanish Civil War, but really it addresses more suffering in general.  All it made me think is that when I'm at a sobbing, gut-wrenching low, I feel exactly what he's sketched.  So if you get one "a-ha" moment like this, I guess you've experienced art?

We thought this one was particularly powerful, and had a discussion over coffee about the effects of war.  What's going on in the minds of the victims, and in the eyes of the soldiers.

And this one is still totally serious.  Still talking about suffering.  But all we could think of was Bug yelling, "I don't KNOW where my shoes are, mom!"

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Only Thing We Got Out of the Royal Wedding Was a Hankering for Scones

I've got a fun kid activity post idea, but it's going to take some preparation.  In the meantime, since things got busy after Spring Break and I haven't posted in awhile, I share with you one of my favorite recipes.  It's Teacher Appreciation Week, and we sent in some goodies to the kind ladies who manage my children a couple days a week.  I hope they enjoyed!

We love scones here.  We're not British (well, maybe way back down the line).  We weren't enthralled by the royal wedding.  But we do love a good tea party.  We've made scones from mixes, from Bisquick, and from fancy Food Network recipes.  We buy them from shops.  The very best we've had come from Market Salamander in Middleburg, VA (Resisting temptation to diverge into a road trip post.  Another time.  I promise it'll be good).  Anyway, scones: Butterscotch pecan.  Out of this world.  We also love 'em from Ukrops' (oh, ok, fine.  Martin's).  And this recipe tastes a lot like those.  Better than the mixes and the Alton Brown scientific scone-making method.

The original recipe calls for apricots, but I always throw in craisins instead because we have them on hand. I also cut them in eighths instead of sixths, because really, it's a lot of scone for one serving.  For the first time, I noticed the chocolate/almond variation, and I'm going to try that next.  With perhaps toffee chips.  Yum.  Anyway, I've made these before and been asked for the recipe, so I guess it's a keeper.  They're moist and cake-y and all sorts of good.

Cranberry Orange Cream Scones

2  cups all-purpose flour
3  tablespoons granulated sugar
3  teaspoons baking powder
2  teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup white vanilla baking chips
1 1/3 cups whipping cream
1 cup powdered sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice
Heat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease cookie sheet. In large bowl, mix flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, orange peel and salt until well blended. Stir in apricots and baking chips. Add whipping cream all at once; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.
On lightly floured surface, knead dough 6 or 7 times until smooth. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into 6-inch round; cut each into 6 wedges. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.
Bake 10 to 13 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in small bowl, mix powdered sugar and enough orange juice for desired drizzling consistency. Drizzle icing over warm scones. Serve warm.
Cranberry-Pecan Scones: Substitute dried sweetened cranberries for the apricots and add 1/2 cup chopped pecans with the cranberries. Double Chocolate-Almond Scones: Omit orange peel and apricots. Stir in 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips with the white baking chips. Add 1/4 teaspoon almond extract with the whipping cream. For the icing, substitute water for the orange juice and stir in 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Sprinkle tops of iced scones with 2 tablespoons sliced almonds.
For the lightest, most tender scones, quickly mix and shape the dough, handling it as little as possible. Use only a sprinkle of flour on the work surface.
Using whipping cream in this recipe eliminates the need for butter and eggs. The high fat content in the cream makes them very tender and rich.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Woo-hoo! Wild & Crazy Spring Break '11

The girls and I were fortunate to spend Spring Break with my sister in law and her family at the beach.  There are a couple of places that we always have to hit here in Myrtle - the buffet, the pizza arcade, the burger joint right on the beach.  We try to cook dinner at the house a couple of times since it's better for the waist line and the wallet.  But I don't like to put too much effort into it, because who wants to spend their time in the kitchen on vacation?

Our solution is the slow cooker.  Luckily, the condo here has one.  But I think it might be worthwhile to stick one in the car if you don't think your vacation home has one.  It's a little effort to pack, but gives you more time at the beach.  And isn't that why you're there in the first place?

So here's what we made this week:

Crock Pot Shredded BBQ Chicken

4-5 Chicken breasts (fresh or frozen are fine)
12 oz BBQ sauce
1/2 c. Italian dressing
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 Tbsp Worcestershire
2-3 Tbsp dried minced onions
dash of Liquid Smoke--optional

Spray Crock Pot with Pam. Put chicken in and top with other ingredients. Cook 3-4 hours on high (6-8 on low). Shred chicken and return to pot. Sauce appears watery until you put the shredded chicken back in and then it thickens up.

My friend Meg sent this to me and I make it regularly.  My husband is a BBQ snob and prefers to spend all weekend smoking a pig out in the driveway.  But popping this in at 9 am for a quick meal at 5 has a LOT of value.  And it's really tasty, too.  We're cooking up some mac & cheese and slicing up a cantaloupe to go with it.  I use this for "helping hands" meals, too.

1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle chili pepper powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 boneless pork loin roast (2 1/2 lb), trimmed of fat
1 poblano chile, chopped
1 jar (16 oz) Old El Paso® Thick 'n Chunky green chile salsa (I use 2 cans of salsa verde, which is cheaper)
Spray 4- to 5-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In small bowl, mix chili pepper powder, oil and salt. Rub mixture over pork; place in cooker. Sprinkle with poblano chile. Pour salsa over top.
Cover; cook on Low heat setting 8 to 10 hours.
Remove pork from cooker; place on cutting board. Shred pork with 2 forks; return to cooker and mix well.  (I shred it directly in the cooker).
Use regular chili powder in place of chipotle chili pepper powder for less heat.
The poblano chile is triangle- or heart-shaped, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches across at its widest part and 4 to 5 inches long. It's dark green in color—sometimes almost black—and ranges from mild to hot in flavor.
We LOVE LOVE LOVE this recipe.  Serve it with chips and salsa.
I omitted a few ingredients for ease of packing.  For the chicken, I skipped the Worcestershire sauce because it wasn't easy to pack and I didn't need a lot.  For the tacos, I didn't have a pepper so I skipped that.  For both recipes, I brought a bottle of dressing, BBQ sauce, 2 cans of salsa verde, brown sugar (in a plastic bag) and the spices with me.  

Cook it up in a plastic slow cooker liner and the clean up is a non-factor, giving you plenty of time to hit the beach after dinner!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hoppin' Down the Bunny Trail...

I'm the room mom for Bug's class, and I find the craft portion of the holiday parties sometimes perplexing.  I want to do something that is fun for the kids, somewhat lasting, but easy to prepare, which was especially important after a painfully long pre-assembly process for the Christmas craft (the party was postponed until January because of snow, but after DAYS of pre-assembling the Holy Family, we were doing that Nativity craft come heck or high water).

After some searching, I found a kit online but decided that the shipping cost and delivery time were a bit outrageous.  Armed with a Michael's coupon, I was able to buy the supplies cheaply and found it pretty easy to recreate!

The kids made a cute Easter Bunny magnet.  It's made of craft foam, and several "daisies" stack together to create a fluffy white bunny.  You could also use yellow foam and an orange foam triangle to construct a chick.  These look adorable on the refrigerator, and are easy for the kids to make themselves!

Easter Bunny Magnet

1 sheet white craft foam
1 sheet pink craft foam
2 googly eyes
1 pink pom pom
1 pink pipe cleaner
magnet tape

To start, you will need to trace and cut out:
2 small daisies
1 large daisy
1 white bunny ear set
2 pink bunny ear "liners"

Cut 2 pieces of pipe cleaner approximately 2 inches long each.
Cut 1 piece of magnet tape approximately 1 inch long.

The supplies (magnet tape not shown)

Start by gluing the googly eyes on the smaller daisy.

Next, glue on the pipe cleaner whiskers.  Use lots of glue!  Pipe cleaners require a lot of persuasion to stick properly.

Pom pom nose comes next.

Glue the pink portion of the ears to the larger white ears.

Glue one small daisy to the top of another small daisy, stacked so that the bottom daisy peeks through.  Glue the two small daisies to the large daisy the same way. 

Glue the bunny's face to the ears

After the bunny is assembled, peel the backing from the magnet strip and stick to the back of the bunny ears.  Wait a few hours until the bunny is completely dry, and then hang it proudly on the refrigerator!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the Files of Mrs. Clean

Someone recently asked me how I keep my house clean.  First of all, "clean" is a relative word.  When I think "clean," I'm thinking of the scent of almond Endust on the furniture and orange Mr. Clean on the floor in addition to putting most things (because really, most is all we can hope for) in their places.  Other people in this house have different ideas about clean.  Very different ideas.  We'll get to that later.

I'll freely admit we have too much stuff.  Toys are just the latest addition, joining the love affair that we have with books, music, and movies.  We just can't throw that stuff out, and at this point we could compete with the local library.  We already have patrons (you know who you are).  Our house isn't that big, which makes the disinfecting part of cleaning easy.  However, it's kind of tough to find a place for everything when there aren't that many places to be had.

At some point, I hope my kids note my efforts to maintain a clean environment.  Instead, when we should all merrily be singing "the clean up song," they whine, "I didn't make that mess!"  Which is my cue to stand in the middle of the room and bellow, "Well, I didn't make ANY of this mess, yet I clean up after ALL of you people ALL THE TIME!!"  I know the parenting books recommend starting the kids in on household chores.  Trust me, they'll get there.  We're just not ready to play with chemicals yet.

So while everyone in our house appreciates a fresh-smelling, dust-free home, the main issue is what to do with our extraneous stuff.  I try to put away; Bobby arranges in neat piles (neat = clean).  These theories are sometimes at odds.  I remember an article I saw posted from Family Circle, 18 Things You Can Get Rid of Today.  We are in violation of everything on this list - EVERYTHING! - except vases.  And that's only because my husband stopped buying me flowers, ever since I yelled at him for not realizing that "cut" flowers are DIY and don't come pre-arranged (a big deal when you're a week overdue with your first kid and are trimming 3 dozen roses at the kitchen sink). 

AFTER I tossed out the old magazines

Anyway, our biggest violation on the list is MAIL.  We have a mail basket on our kitchen island that functions as our junk drawer, containing: spare keys to unknown places, library cards, list of neighborhood home sales from 2002, old Christmas cards, pictures without frames, pens, tape, car title, old bills, new bills...the list goes on.  Basically, it's stuff that doesn't have a logical home and it drives Bobby absolutely nuts. 

In a nutshell, here's what the article tells you to do:
  • Don't sit down.  STAND with your mail in hand by the trash can.
  • Put bills in a pretty basket.
  • Take magazines to where you read them.
  • Scan and toss newspapers and newsletters.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  Here's why:
  • What do you do with the bills when you've paid them?  Toss them out?  Keep them in the basket until they breed more bills? (And sadly, doesn't that always seem to happen?)
  • What about those items that you don't know how to handle?  The coupon that you may or may not use?  That letter from somewhere semi-important addressed to your husband that doesn't require immediate attention, yet can't be thrown away, and still never gets read?
  • And isn't moving magazines to where you read them just creating a pile somewhere else?  We're a literate family.  We get something like 10 magazines a month.
  • Where do you put the stuff when the basket gets full?  We've been down that road before, and it's not a vacation destination, believe me.
As I said, this mail basket drove Bobby bonkers, so he came up with a solution.  One day, he brings in a clear plastic file box and spends an hour or two furiously sorting mail in the kitchen (possibly the first and only time).  I eyed him suspiciously, but kept quiet.  When he was finished, he brought me in to show me his handiwork.

You know something is not going to go well when you hear, "Now, admittedly, it's going to be up to you to make sure this system works."

He showed me the carefully marked folders for coupons and bills (paid and unpaid).  Even one for memories!  I protested that I didn't want that ugly thing sitting in my kitchen, and that I wanted to hide it away somewhere, which in his mind, completely negated the "Stand and Scan" principle that Family Circle recommends.

So where does this leave us, about a month later?

All of the junk that had a quasi-home in the mail basket, but was not welcome in the file box, is now sitting on the dining room table.

All of the mail that has a special file folder in the file box is sitting in a pile just outside the file box.  Actually, two piles.  Old stuff and new stuff.  It transitions from one pile to another.

The file box is still in place on the island.

The mail basket is on the dining room table.

The other day, I got sick of it and dramatically reduced one of the piles on the island, and filed some of the mail in the file box.  No one noticed. 

The File Box

When I first read the Family Circle article, I was skeptical.  But noticing in review that we hang on to all of this stuff, I have to take a serious second look, books and movies aside.  Why do I need to keep all that kitchen stuff?  Why do we need so many tools and so much gardening equipment in the garage?  Why does EVERY old t-shirt end up in the linen closet as a dust rag?  Why can't we all realize that not everything is going to be of use "someday?"

I'm inspired to look again and give some of the tips a try.  The file box is not a bad idea.  But it's not up to one person to make it work, and we've got to work out a few of the aesthetic kinks. I'll let you know if we have any success.

In the meantime, does anyone have any good ideas on how to organize my mail?!

Disclaimer:  I have the best husband in the world.  We share the load.  He spent the day cleaning up the yard, including the presents left by the dog.  If I appear a little critical of his role in housekeeping, it's for comedic effect, I SWEAR :)