Thursday, May 31, 2012

Recycled Bathroom Art

My sister-in-law gave me an old book of slightly altered nursery rhymes years ago.I'm not normally one to take apart books, but this was really an old marketing brochure, not something that I would read to my children. I was expecting my oldest at the time, and intended to frame some Mother Goose prints for the nursery. I got a little sidetracked, and never did it. He's twelve now, and doesn't want nursery rhyme pictures in his room so much.

I re-discovered the book recently while looking through a stack of old photos, and realized that they might be the perfect accessory for the kid's bathroom. At the craft store, I found some $5 matted frames, and set to work.

The finished pictures look great in the kid's bathroom, since many of them have little poems about bathing and washing. They're whimsical enough for a children's bathroom, and yet the black frames lend an air of sophistication appropriate for a room that guests also use.

I like the way they look so much that I'm going to buy more frames for the other pictures. There's one that would be perfect in the laundry room!

Sometimes good things really do come to those who wait!

linking to these parties:  It's A Piece O' Cake Linky Party  Serenity Now  Strut Your Stuff Saturday


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Plague is Running Through Our House

Since we've been homeschooling, I have to say that one unexpected perk is that we've been healthy. Sick visits to the doctor have been few and far between. Oh, we get the occasional cold, or one day stomach bug, but nothing drastic.

It's such a refreshing change from when K-boy was in school, and M-girl was at preschool. We got everything then, and it wasn't pleasant. Pink-eye, ear infections, strep...poor, baby D-boy got hit with them all when the other two brought them home.

The other day our lucky streak ended, and I should have seen it coming. M-girl got invited to the neighbor's birthday party. Contrary to a popularly held belief, we had firmly decided against locking the kids in the closet when we started homeschooling, so I let her go. It did give me pause that the party was being held at a germ palace bouncy house place in the mall, but I figured it's May. Nothing is going around now.

Was I ever wrong.

Poor M-girl woke up in the middle of the night after the party, coughing and wheezing, and burning up with fever. Did I mention that this was at the start of the long, Memorial Day weekend?

We monitored her symptoms, all ones that we had seen before with her - just not for years. I waited the requisite three days before calling the doctor about the fever. Amazing when you consider that my mother, the alarmist, was frequently calling to warn me what dire diseases the symptoms might point to.

When I took M-girl to the doctor, I was disappointed not to see our usual physician, Dr. Kim. Dr. Kim is my dream doctor, she listens, offers thoughtful suggestions, and actually talks to my kids. She's about the same age as me and also has three children, the same ages as mine. She's like my medical gal-pal, that I only see at the doctor's office.

Instead we met with her colleague, Dr. Not-Kim. She did not have the same bedside manner at all as Dr. Kim. I had to tell her three times that M-girl was having ear pain. When I pointed out a rash that I just noticed developing on M-girl's neck in the air-conditioned waiting room she replied, "It looks like a heat rash, maybe she was laying down?" Huh???? I think we were speaking the same language?!

At least they did a strep test, and looked at her ears. Both looked fine. Then Dr. Not-Kim told me, "I think it's just a cold."

"What about the fever that she's had for four days?" I asked.

"It's a virus," she replied.Then she gave me a prescription for cough medicine and told me to put cortisone cream on the 'heat' rash. She offered to give her steroids for her cough, even though she didn't hear any lung congestion, so they wouldn't do any good. I just looked at her in bafflement.

I miss Dr. Kim.

So now we're back where we started, except D-boy now has a fever too, and is vomiting in addition to that. Oh, and M-girl has her ballet recital coming up in a few days, and I have noooo clue if she's going to be well for it. I already bought the tickets too. $65 worth. Hmmmm.

Having graduated as a history major, I know that the plague was much worse than what we're experiencing, and we will come through this. I would just love to have a friendly chat though, with the parent of the Typhoid Mary that started this whole thing. I'd have a lot to say to her.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One Month of My Life

Ordinarily a month is merely are marker of time, with one day flowing into another. The small highs and lows of daily life are not long remembered or worth remarking on. Every so often, life is different  and each day is weighted with a poignancy and significance that marks it as timeless.

I have read many books where the characters have a dramatic daily struggle, and heard true stories from my parents' and grandparents' lives about such trials. These tales helped me to grow up with the knowledge that few lives are left untouched by tragedy, as well as the belief that faith and strength of character can overcome even the greatest challenges.

In my own life, I have just had such a month. I would venture to say that I am still having one, but the passage of time itself has rendered my extraordinary month over, and hurtled me into a new one.

To better explain the meaning of the weeks that I will write of, I must start by explaining that I entered that time period already knowing that my father was about to die. He was very ill, in the final stages of Alzheimer's Disease, and was sent home on Hospice, with the belief that he could not last long. This occurred during the week after Easter.

Now to begin the chronology of my month. My birthday was the starting point. It was at the tail end of April. My husband brought home a cake, and my children presented me with some homemade gifts. Not an auspicious occasion, but a happy one. In the back of my mind though, was the thought of my father, struggling through his final days, far away from me.

Our whole family worked madly for weeks to get ready for my daughter's First Communion during the first weekend of May. We put up drywall, painted, and picked out carpet.

My little girl's communion day went beautifully. She was dressed like an angel, and family traveled from great distances to celebrate with us. Not my parents. My mother was in tears about it.

The very next day, my husband and children drove with me on a four hour trip to see my parents. I held my dying father's hand, and tried to express a lifetime of love in just a few hours. They were all I had.

Then a few days later, my youngest child turned six. I prepared in my usual manner for my children's birthdays, and bought presents and made him a lavish cake. He grinned from ear to ear, and made it all worthwhile. His grandparents weren't there to see him.

Mother's Day came next in the month's slated celebrations. Life doesn't stop for death. The calendar cycle continues, come what may. My husband and kids treated me with extra kindness, and we had a pleasant day. I called my mother, and we both cried, knowing that my father was slipping further away.

For over a week more, I went through the motions of my daily life. I taught my children, I wrote my blog posts, I cooked, cleaned, and shopped for supplies. All the while I was getting frequent telephone updates from my mother about my father's condition. I was torn in two.

The day finally came when my mother thought it was the end. It was a weekday, and I could do nothing. I performed my usual duties, and waited with dread in my heart for the phone to ring. I was prepared, but when it rang, I suddenly wasn't. My mother put the phone up to my father's ear so that I could say some final words to him. Somehow the words came. I think he understood me through my tears. An hour and a half later he was gone.

After a flurry of shopping for mourning clothes for my children and packing, we headed back down to my mother's house for the second time in as many weeks. Somehow the wake came and went, and then it was time to say...goodbye.

On the morning of the funeral, I looked at the date and realized that exactly one month had passed since my birthday. A month full of living, while my father was preparing to die.

In retrospect, my father wouldn't have had it any other way. He was a man of quiet strength, and steadfast resolve. I learned from his example to overcome hardships and to always go on. I will, Dad...we all will. Your legacy of perseverance will continue.

linking to: Yeah Write Pour Your Heart Out

Monday, May 28, 2012

Apple Walnut Slaw

This coleslaw is the perfect blend of sweet and tangy. The crisp apples and nutty goodness make it irresistible. It's so easy to throw together that it can be made at the last minute, so there's still time to make it for today's barbecues.

Apple Walnut Slaw

1 16 oz bag shredded cabbage and carrots
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 apples, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Rinse and drain cabbage and carrots. Place in large mixing bowl.

Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yields about 10 servings.

It's a Keeper

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Make a Ballet Bun

Recital time is coming up for young dancers everywhere. M-girl studies ballet. I'm very pleased with her dance school. They focus on the technique rather than on costumes. In fact, the girls perform in the simple leotards that they wear for their classes. No expensive outfits to buy...hooray!

One thing that the school insists on however, is a proper ballet bun for the showcase. A ballet bun differs from an ordinary one in that it must be tight enough to withstand all of the jumps and twirls without falling apart. Once you know a few simple tricks, it's quick and easy to do.

First make sure to have the proper supplies on hand. You will need: a hair elastic, a hair net that closely matches the hair color, some hair pins, a spray bottle of water, and hair spray.

Once you have assembled your supplies you are ready to begin.

Start by putting the hair into a very high ponytail. Make sure the hair is as smooth as possible.

Next proceed as if you were making a regular bun. Twist the ponytail and wrap it around the outside of the hair elastic, pinning as you go.

Now it is time to strengthen the bun, so it will stand up to dancing. Place the hairnet on top of the bun. It will be much too large. Pull the hairnet tight, twist the extra net, and tuck it into the bottom edge of the bun. Pin it in several places. It should be nearly impossible to see.

Spritz any stray hairs with water, and then give the whole head a coat of hairspray. Your little dancer will look the part. Let's hope she'll remember the steps!

linking to: Weekend Bloggy Reading

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: I've Got Your Number

I just finished reading, I've Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella, published in 2012. As usual, she produced a fun, fast read that has the reader rooting for the main character. I thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover.

The main character, Poppy Wyatt, is engaged to Magnus Tavish, a handsome and brilliant scholar. Although his family intimidates her, Poppy is sure that all will be well after their lavish wedding. Her misadventures as she tries to make it work, will have the reader in stitches.

After losing her phone, Poppy stumbles across an abandoned one, and quickly begins using it. When the rightful owner of the phone turns out to be a dashing businessman named Sam Roxton, the two begin a bizarre relationship of texting and emails. In the cyber world, they each learn secrets about the other, and soon become friends.

Sam has a business crisis, at the same time that Poppy learns that her fiance has been unfaithful. In working through the repercussions, they begin to realize that they have developed feelings for each other.

The reader is left wondering until the end whether Poppy will call off her ill-fated wedding. Will she settle for a man that she doesn't really love, or will she find happiness with Sam? Regular readers of Kinsella's books can probably guess the answer. I'd urge anyone in search of a quick, cheerful book to read this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hamburger Soup

This delicious soup is based on a recipe that my Aunt Mary shared with my mother many years ago. I grew up eating it. I still make it for my family, with just a few changes to the original recipe. It's quick to put together, and is a hearty, scrumptious meal. Best of all, it makes a nice, big pot of soup so there's sure to be plenty of leftovers!

Hamburger Soup

1 lb. ground beef, or ground turkey
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 12 oz can tomato paste
5 or 6 beef bouillon cubes
1 32 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 cup orzo, or other tiny pasta
1 tbsp Italian seasoning

In large soup pot, brown ground beef, onion, and garlic, until beef is no longer pink. Drain fat.

Add 12 cups water, tomatoes, tomato paste, and bouillon cubes. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer.

Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring to rolling boil again. Add orzo, mixed vegetables, and seasoning. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often.

Yields about 15 main dish servings.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Front Porch Makeover

When we bought this house just over two years ago, we knew that there was lots that we wanted to change about it. Some of the renovations were major, like the kitchen and two of the bathrooms, and we undertook those first. Other problem areas were more minor, but just as irritating in their own way.

This is the mismatched, pink, front walk and porch that we lived with until recently.

We purchased our home in the middle of winter, so maybe the fact that this eyesore of an entrance way was partially, snow covered when we first saw it convinced us that it wasn't so bad. It was. I truly don't know what the previous owners were thinking.

Finally, this spring we had it fixed. We looked at our options and quickly realized that recovering the existing stamped concrete was the most affordable and quickest choice. We're thrilled with the way it came out. As my husband says, it doesn't stick out anymore.

What was pink is now a more neutral gray. Amazingly, our neighbors say that they never really noticed the pink. I wonder if they're just being polite?

Aside from some flowerbed work, that's one more project completed around here. Only a thousand or so to go. The joys of home ownership!

linking to:  Weekend Bloggy Reading

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Book Review: Midnight in Austenland

I recently read Shannon Hale's Midnight in Austenland, published in 2012. While it didn't grab me and hold me hostage until the end the way some books do, it was a pleasant read, with some mildly exciting parts.

The novel centers around the adventures of Charlotte Kinder, a newly divorced, thirty something mother of two. Although a successful businesswoman, her divorce blindsides her and shatters her confidence.

While her children are visiting their father and his new wife, she spends a weekend reading through the novels of Jane Austen and is hooked. When, at the advice of a friend, she decides to take a vacation, she stumbles across the opportunity to spend several weeks at an exclusive English resort called Pembroke Park. The guests and staff all dress up in Victorian attire, and play roles relating to a manor house party. Charlotte decides that is exactly the kind of distraction that she needs, and sets off to lose herself in Austenland.

On arrival, she is fascinated by the period details, and the determination of all to remain in character. She discerns quickly that the dark and dashing, Mr. Mallery, is scripted to be her love interest during her stay. Soon she begins to wonder if he can also fill that role when her time at Pembroke Park is done.

A mystery party game begins to turn all too real one night, when Charlotte is certain that she has found a human body in the pitch, dark attic. When no one will take her seriously, she tries to dismiss her fears, but much like the heroine in a Gothic tale, cannot.

Events take a decidedly sinister turn when twice attempts are made on her life, first by Mr. Mallery, and then her timid maid. An unexpected hero shows up to save Charlotte, and the day.

Readers will be glad to know that all is sorted out in the end. True love is found, and the characters all live happily ever after.

While I wouldn't call this book a 'must read', it is a good light read, perfect for times when one can't get into a book with a heavy plot. I did enjoy the impressions of a twenty-first century character thrust into an illusion of the nineteenth.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Family Bike Ride

When my hubby asked me what I wanted to do for Mother's Day, I didn't hesitate. I told him that I wanted to go on a family bike ride.

Last year we invested in bikes for all of us. BadDad and I hadn't been biking since our honeymoon, but after a rather embarrassing spin through the aisles of Dick's Sporting Goods, we were fitted out with the latest in trail bikes. I quickly realized that bikes have come a loooong way since my childhood ten speed. I haven't. I pretty much leave the gears set where the bike guys said to, and so far it's working fine.

On Sunday we miraculously made it to the early Mass (only slightly late). Then we went right home and started the process of loading up for our carefree bike ride.

While BadDad hitched up the bike rack to the family war wagon, I filled water bottles, packed trail snacks, and chased down the kids to apply sunscreen. All the while I offered helpful advice like, "You need to wear shoes", and ,"No, K-boy, you can't get a motor bike."

Eventually we drove off with the bikes in tow. I recently discovered a bike trail not 10 minutes from our house. Theoretically one could bike there instead of drive, if one were in great shape. Maybe someday.

Finally we got there and unloaded. BadDad had to hitch up the Tagalong that we purchased for D-boy last year. More about that in another post, but I'll just say it's awesome! It connects to an adult bike, and allows a little kid to keep up with the big bikes.

The weather couldn't have been nicer for a bike ride. The sun was shining, birds were singing, green leaves were wafting in the breeze. We set off for our ride. K-boy and M-girl vied for the lead, followed by BadDad with D-boy on the tagalong. I brought up the rear, to keep an eye on everyone. As it was the first ride of the season, we had to review some road rules with the kids.

BadDad, " M-girl, speed up. K-boy, you  can't stop in the middle of the trail!!"

Me, "Stay to the right, people are coming. M-girl that means behind K-boy, not next to him!!"

BadDad, "Watch where you're going!"

Me "Stay on the trail!"

Are you getting a sense how relaxing it was?

Later, M-girl shrieked because she accidentaly ran over a snake. I thought she was scared, but she was worried that she killed it. We had to go back and hunt for its flattened body, but never found it (much to my relief).

Then we found out that K-boy had forgotten to take his seasonal allergy medicine. His red, puffy eyes, and explosive sneezes said it all.

The bike ride came to a premature end. I'm not giving up though. Next week - Mother's Day bike ride redo!

linking to Finding the Funny

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unexpected Kindnesses

We all go through times that are challenging for us. That's the way life is. Often our challenges are hidden from the world at large. To most of our acquaintances, we continue to look the way that we always have. It's better that way really. Our society frowns on having emotional moments while up at a childrens' soccer game, or in the aisles of the grocery store. Still we all need to know that there are those who know what we are going through...and care.

As I shared on this blog recently, my father is dying from Alzheimer's. Every day, every moment that I am not distracted by something else, I wonder if this will be the day that we lose him. It's like an open wound in my heart that I'm walking around with, but no one can see it. Thankfully I am blessed with a loving family that is here to offer me hugs and tissues when the silent grieving gets to be too much.

It just so happens that a couple of people reached out to me and to my husband recently. One is a cousin of mine, the other an adult nephew by marriage. We don't get to see either person often at all, but they sent us notes and photos, and let us know that despite the distance and infrequent contact, they care.

Several weeks ago, the first unexpected package came. It was a bundle of photos that our nephew had sent to us. Apparently he had been going through his late mother's photos, and set aside those that he thought we would like. He couldn't have know this, but included in those photos was the youngest baby picture of my husband that I've ever seen.

As the youngest of ten children, my husband was photographed only infrequently. It was just not high on the priority list, with so many other things to attend to. I've always thought that the earliest picture of him in existence was from when he was nearly a year old, sitting amongst all of his other siblings. Yet, suddenly I found myself looking at a sweet photo of him as an infant, being held by my late mother-in-law. She was over 40 when she had him, and must surely have been exhausted with so many children to care for, but she looks as happy as a young, first time mother. To me, such a picture is priceless.

The second surprise came just a couple of weeks ago. My cousin (who knows what is going on with my father) sent me a handwritten note and a picture of my parents from nine years ago, before my dad became noticeably sick. They are standing arm in arm, with Fenway Park in the background. My dad was a lifelong Red Sox fan, and considered Fenway to be little less than a shrine. The reminder of happier times was just what I needed.

I'm grateful that there are people like that, who will think of others and reach out to them. Sometimes they do this knowing that the person needs consoling, and other times they do it just because they see an opportunity to offer a kindness to another, and they act upon it. I want to become more like that.

So to my cousin and nephew, and to all of the other giving people in my life, I say a heart felt thank you. Thank you for your unexpected kindnesses, and for helping me to get through this difficult time. The world needs more people like you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies

My mom would make these when I was a kid. Now my kids beg for them. They're not the prettiest cookies, but they're delicious - tasting more like candy than a cookie.I've tried to cut the sugar a bit from the original recipe, but they're also packed with wholesome ingredients like oatmeal. The instructions are so easy that kids can practically make them themselves (although they will need adult help to cook on the stove). The hardest part is waiting to eat them until they cool enough to be firm. Don't expect them to last long around your house!

No Bake Cookies

1&1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup skim milk
6 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups oatmeal

Line cookie sheets with waxed paper or parchment paper. Set aside.

In large pot on stove, combine all ingredients except peanut butter and oatmeal. Stir over medium heat until mixture is well combined and begins to bubble.

Remove from heat. Add peanut butter and stir until melted.

Add oatmeal and stir until well combined.

Drop mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets. Allow to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Kind of Mom I Am

Becoming a mother is a life-changing experience for anyone. Until you actually are one, you can't be sure how you will handle the different aspects of mothering. Sometimes we moms rise to the occasion, sometimes we fall on our faces. The challenge is to keep the goal in sight always, even when we're bogged down with details, and crying from weariness. Mothers are not just babysitters. We parents are actually bringing up the next generation of adults. The future is literally in our hands, which is both intimidating and amazing.

Over my years of being a mother, I've come to know what type of mom I am and how I tend to react to all kinds of kid related situations. I thought it would be fun to list out some of my mom qualities.

I am the kind of Mom who:

1-Shops the sales, and saves good quality hand-me-downs.

2-Has rules and expectations for my children.

3-Makes my kids do chores, because they do live here and are part of the family.

4-Is willing to drive miles out of my way to find high-quality, worthwhile activities for my children.

5-Actually enjoys camping trips with my family.

6-Can't go long without hugs from my kids.

7-Has a fridge that's covered in artwork that I can't bear to part with.

8-Would rather have a Mom's Night In, than a Mom's Night Out.

9-Thinks that having my family is and always will be the most important accomplishment of my life.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you wonderful, hard-working moms out there! I'd love to hear from you if you have any more mom qualities to add to the list!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Teddy Bear Cake and Other Adventures

I always bake the birthday cakes for my kids from scratch. It's just a memory that I want them to have, Mom's homemade cakes. Since they've been old enough to express their own opinions, I've let them choose what kind of cake they want. I thought they'd merely decide the flavor of the cake and frosting. Maybe they'd go wild and request ice cream cake. I was so naive then!

My forays into cake decorating started out simply enough. When my oldest turned one, I made rainbow colored cupcakes for his little, baby playgroup. The following year, I sketched an icing Elmo onto his cake. Eventually, between the various kids (and my husband) I made cakes with assorted superheroes, flowers, and sayings on them.

K-boy, as the oldest, was the first of the kids to begin unusual cake requests. He focused on flavor and texture, and I was happy to comply. We ate a cake with green chocolate chip cookies on the sides when he turned 11 (he was deep into his Percy Jackson phase). The cookies were supposed to be blue, but try adding blue food coloring to yellow eggs.

Somehow over time, my kids got the idea that I'm capable of the cake masterpieces that dominate Food Network shows.

For my daughter's second birthday, I made her a lovely, two layer cake with pink frosting and purple icing flowers. When M-girl turned three, she decided that she needed a pink, three tier cake....the third tier to reflect her advancement in age. I thought it was cute. Now every year she adds one more layer to her cake wishes. She's eight now. Frosting, it turns out, is not the best mortar for major construction projects. Yeah, next year I need to invest in some dowels to hold the thing up.

For three years running, D-boy wanted a cake shaped like Gordon the blue engine. They don't make cake pans for that. Did you know that Oreo cookies have hidden uses? Last year, Gordon was traveling up a mountain. I became an expert at train cakes.

D-boy turned six this week. I thought maybe he'd want a cake with some Lego Star Wars characters dueling on it. He had nothing so easy in mind. His birthday cake vision was of two Teddy Bears hugging. Not just any two teddies, but his favorites, Bob and Bentley.

In order to uphold my reputation I gave it my best shot. Despite my lack of time, professional equipment, and a small kitchen fire (hint: mini chips will burn much sooner than the regular size ones), the cake came out OK. Actually it looked pretty great, and it tasted delicious.

Now that I'm done wiping powdered sugar off most of my kitchen surfaces, all of the effort was worth it. The best moment was when D-boy looked at the finished cake and proclaimed, "It's amazing!"

Oops, I have to go. M-girl is already putting in her next birthday cake request. I've got to stock up on baking supplies!

linking to: Weekend Bloggy Reading

loving this crazy life

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Birthday Fritos

I've read that traditions are important for children, and help them to feel bonded with their families. Sometimes these traditions are solemn and long planned, and sometimes they are accidental and lighthearted.

We've developed a new birthday tradition in our family this past year. It began quite by chance last fall. The kids and I were in the car, driving home from the library. K-boy's birthday was coming up, and he was listing aloud some presents that he hoped to get.

As the list grew rather long I commented, "Wow, you kids don't know how easy you have it. Birthday gifts used to be so much simpler than they are nowadays."

I went on to share with them a birthday memory of mine, from when I was about four years old. I went with my mother to visit a friend of hers. It was around my birthday and the friend gave me a present. I unwrapped it as we were driving home in our little, red, 1970 Volkswagen Beetle. Imagine my delight when I tore off the paper to reveal.....a pair of red tights, and a bag of Fritos corn chips! Yes, I really was happy about the corn chips!

I'd like to say that my kids were so impressed with my recollections of simpler times that they immediately downsized their own birthday expectations and grew an appreciation for the little things in life. I'd like to say that, but.....

"Mom," K-boy said, after a moment's thought, "I hope I get a bag of birthday Fritos this year!"

"Me too! Me too!", chimed in M-girl and D-boy, laughing. They were all laughing, so was I.

When it came time for K-boy to unwrap his presents, there sitting proudly at the top of the stack, was an oddly shaped present that contained Fritos. Every birthday since, someone reminds me to pick up a bag when I'm present shopping. It's become for us one of those unplanned traditions that is likely to go on forever, and will always give us a chuckle.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Banana Bars

We had some rapidly ripening bananas to use up today. Lots of ripe bananas. After baking two loaves of banana bread, there were still too many bananas to for our family too eat. I found a recipe for Banana Bars, but like I usually do, I decided to make a healthier version. The result was a tasty treat that I can feel good about offering to my family.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Banana Bars

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup pasteurized egg product
3 medium bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned oats
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15x10x1 inch pan.

In large bowl combine butter, oil, sugars, baking powder and salt. Mix until well combined.

Add eggs and bananas. Mix well.

Stir in flours until well blended.

Add oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cool before cutting. Yields 36 bars.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Little Girl Growing Up

M-girl made her First Communion the other day. I'd been awaiting the day for years, ever since I teared up at K-boy's First Communion.

Months of preparation went into it. M-girl and I went on a girls only shopping trip to find her dress. She took one look at the rows of white lace and flounces and was in her element. She must have tried on twenty dresses, but in the end she found the one that was just right for her.

We knew that family would be coming in from out of town to celebrate with us. The whole family worked feverishly to get the house looking its best. Projects that had been delayed were finally done. Walls were painted, new carpet was laid, and every room was shined and polished.

A celebratory meal was prepared. I loaded down a shopping cart with special foods, and later my hubby shopped for the items that I forgot. The whole house filled with delicious aromas.

M-girl studied hard and attended classes. I taught classes, both at home and at the church, to help her and other children to be ready to receive this sacrament.

The morning of the ceremony was a flurry of last minute tidying and cooking. Then it was time to help M-girl dress and fix her hair. Before I knew it I was walking my daughter (who looked like an angel) into the church to meet her religion classmates. Then I had to let go of her hand and leave her, trusting that she would remember what to do.

I sat nervously in the pew with my husband and our boys. We watched the rows of immaculately dressed second graders enter the church, hands folded piously. At times, M-girl was able to sit with us, ever watchful for her cues to stand and join the other children.

Finally I watched as she received the sacred host for the first time. I saw the beatific smile that lit up her face. I knew then that she understood that that single moment was what all of the preparations had been for. My little girl is growing up.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Castle Book Review and Project

As part of our curriculum purchases this year we bought the book Castle, by David Macaulay. Published back in the seventies, it earned a Caldecott Honor for it's wonderful pen and ink drawings. The reader gets an inside view of the lifespan of a castle, from the initial plans, through its construction, daily life, and ultimate abandonment. It's a fascinating read that begs to be explored again and again.

Although my children are at different ages and grade levels, they each are able to learn from this book. History is brought to life in its pages, both in the storyline and in the minute, details of the illustrations. It's a purchase that I'm very glad that we made.

On a recent morning, D-boy was not settling down well to his schoolwork. Since he's a five year old boy, this wasn't too abnormal. Not wanting him to entirely disrupt my work with his older siblings, I decided to pull out something fun, but educational for him. I looked around on the toy shelves and found the castle blocks that he had received at Christmas.

One of D-boy's strengths is that he is very detail-oriented and will study directions to make sure he is doing a project correctly. I challenged him to build the castle, and left him to his work.

D-boy successfully constructed his fortress, and proudly showed me the results. We sat down to reread Castle together, making note of the similarities and differences with his block castle.

When clean up time came we decided to try for some authenticity. D-boy used a toy catapult to attack the castle. With its sturdy construction and clever design, the fortress did not fall easily to the enemy. However, like in days of old, it was eventually overcome.

D-boy's morning whim turned into a great, hands on history lesson.

Linking to Read Explore Learn

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Waffle Love

So, I am a from scratch baker - always. I enjoy it. In moments of stress I turn to cooking. I bake when I'm happy too, and generally whenever the kids or my husband talk me into it. I've never really seen anything wrong with this. After all, it brings me pleasure, and I can make my family's baked goods healthier than the store bought alternatives.

The other morning gave me pause though. Could I have spoiled my family with my from scratch baking?

This is what happened. We had all had a busy day on Saturday. M-girl and I had a three hour long retreat to prepare for her upcoming First Communion. My hubby and the boys spent the day painting the Florida room, in preparation for our upcoming party to celebrate said Communion. Then in the evening, we all attended a teen event at the church to which families were invited. (In the interest of complete disclosure, K-boy urged us not to go and possibly embarrass him in front of his friends said he understood if we were too busy to attend. Ha! BadDad and I wouldn't have missed it for the world!)

Usually we like to attend Saturday Evening Mass if we can. It just fits our schedule. Last week there just wasn't time. We decided to get everyone up and ready in time to go to the 8:30am mass on Sunday.

My offspring aren't exactly morning people, so on Sunday morning I decided to help ease them awake by making waffles. The only thing was I felt pressed for time, as I still had to get myself ready and make sure everyone was ready to leave on time. "No problem", I thought to myself, "I'll just do what normal people do and use a baking mix to speed things up."

I happened to have a whole-grain baking mix in the pantry, leftover from a camping trip. I mixed up the batter for banana nut, semi-homemade waffles in no time flat. Once the first batch was sizzling in the waffle iron, I called the kids. "Look!", I exclaimed, "I made you waffles."

They began drifting into the dining room, just as I set a platter of steaming waffles onto the table. Once their waffles were slathered with butter and drowned in syrup they dug in. They ate a few bites, and stopped. Bear in mind these kids usually wolf down at least two waffles each, even the little one.

I urged them to eat, telling them they'd be hungry in church if they didn't finish breakfast. Finally M-girl spoke up. "Mom", she said, "these waffles aren't the same as usual. They weren't made with love. Where's the love, Mom?" Her brothers seemed to concur. D-boy just looked at me sadly, as if I'd let him down somehow. K-boy later termed them, "Yucky Waffles".

I have only myself to blame for spoiling my family. I've ruined their taste for convenience foods. The major brands have offered easy alternatives to homemade all these years, and I've still done things the hard way. I'll just have to suffer for my deeds. My poor children though. They're either going to have to learn to cook or adjust their taste-buds by the time they grow up.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Last Minute Patchwork Chili

Lately it seems that we have more crazy, busy evenings around here than usual. BadDad and K-boy are taking Jeet-Kune-Do, M-girl has been doubling up her ballet lessons, and then there's the various meetings that just pop up this time of year. The other night, after a busy day, I had to drop K-boy off at his lesson and then try to come up with a quick dinner that would keep until the boys got home.

I had some ground beef thawed, but no rolls made for burgers, and not enough time for meatloaf. A craving for chili hit me, but I didn't have the ingredients for my usual recipe. I scrounged up what I could from the pantry, and came up with this recipe for Patchwork Chili. To my happy surprise, it was delicious and not a spoonful was wasted!

Last Minute Patchwork Chili

1 pound ground beef
l medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 sweet, bell pepper, diced
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
6 oz tomato paste
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 package taco seasoning
1/2 package chili seasoning
shredded Cheddar cheese and sour cream for serving

Cook ground beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic in large pan until no pink remains and vegetables are softened. Drain beef, and add remaining ingredients, except cheese and sour cream. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with cheese and sour cream.

About 8 servings