Monday, July 27, 2009

Simple Woman's Daybook

For Today...July 27, 2009

Outside my window...two of the largest robins I have ever seen, sitting side by side in our tree. The jungle-like vines growing on the fence we share with our neighbors have sprouted some bright red flowers. There must be 100 of them scattered about!

I am thinking...about my Mom and how she's doing after having foot surgery last Friday. She's an amazing athlete and a woman who never sits still for a moment. I'm sure the 3 weeks of prescribed bed rest is going to be very tough for her.

I am thankful for...good friends and the great conversations that are generated during get-togethers (gee, could I cram more words into that sentence that begin with 'g'?)

From the cocoa with mini-marshmallows (yes, even in July's heat), blueberry and strawberry smoothies for breakfast, chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, and taco potatoes with a side salad for dinner.

I am wearing...white tank top, black cargo pants, no shoes. My hair up and out of my way so I can hit the piles and stacks and full laundry baskets this morning.

I am lightweight pants for my children to protect their pale Irish skin from the harsh sun and the nasty mosquitoes gathering in our yard, thanks to the wet summer we've had.

I am the library this afternoon. It's been too long since we've had new books to sift through and snuggle up with around here. The kids love to snuggle on the couch under the blankets to read with me, even in the summertime. *Ugh* Why the heat doesn't seem to bother the little ones like it does grown-ups, I'll never understand.

I am reading...still working my way through Heaven on Earth, taking some cues from the book and trying to come up with a new rhythm for our days.

I am lessen my husband's stress level by doing some little things this week that I think he would appreciate: making some of his favorite snacks, keeping the kitchen clutter to a bare minimum, and maybe even encouraging him to go do his own thing when he gets home from work (instead of promptly handing the kids over to him so that I can have some "me time").

I am hearing...Rascal pushing Roo's doll stroller down the hall. The air conditioner just kicked on. "Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole on the radio (that song, by the way, was the Daddy/Daughter song we danced to on my wedding day. A fun memory to recall this morning!).

Around the's Monday, so that means clean sheets on the beds to start the week. I also have to mix up a new batch of homemade cleaning solutions.

One of my favorite things...Lately, Roo will say to me at random moments during the day: "Mommy, do you know how much I love you? Let me tell you: I love you and love you and love you and love you just keeps going on and on...and on!" Oh, how I love that child!

A few plans for the rest of the week...My sister and her son are coming over to play tomorrow. I have big plans for sewing (I always have big plans for this, but seem to always fall short of completing said plans!). Continue house-hunting, the novelty for which is wearing off fast. I just want us to find the right house for our family soon or shelve the whole idea for now and make the best of where we are currently.

A picture thought I am sharing...Mommy's Little Helper scrubbing potatoes for tonight's dinner. I love that she's at the age when her "help" really is helpful to me! I didn't have to go back and re-scrub any of those potatoes. Now if we could just fine-tune her mopping and dish-washing skills... Only kidding, of course. I need her to learn to vacuum and cook meals first. :)

Be sure to swing by Peggy's place to read more Simple Woman Daybooks or to add your own!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Story Behind the Book

I'm going to be honest and admit that I'm not a Shel Silverstein fan. If anyone out there reading this is a fan, I certainly don't mean to offend. The above book, The Giving Tree, is the only book by Silverstein in our possession. And my second admission: I used to frequently hide it under our pile of books, hoping my daughter wouldn't see it and bring it to me to read. Eventually, I put it completely out of her reach. I was thinking of saving it for a day when my children are older and we can talk about the book and its varied messages. However, she asked me where it was on several occasions. So, reluctantly, I brought the book out again and put it in our book box. It's now back in the regular rotation. *sigh*

So I suppose you might be wondering why I even have the book in the first place. Well, the truth is that this book and I have a little history together. And maybe I'm holding onto the book as a way of holding on to the memory.

Not too long ago, Roo handed "The Giving Tree" to me and asked me to read it -- again. Dutifully, I did so. When I had finished, she asked me where the book came from. Did we buy it? Did we get it as a gift? And I told her this story:

When I was in third grade, I entered a creative writing contest. I wrote an entry for the short story division and another one for the poetry division. I loved to write and my parents encouraged me to submit my work and see what happened. I remember not wanting to do it. My writing was, to me, private. Even at that age, I felt a bit exposed and vulnerable sharing my thoughts and ideas with "the world." Kind of the way I feel about blogging!

But I recall my Mom telling me that sharing my writing is like sharing a gift, and I should be proud that God makes it possible for me to put my ideas into words on paper. Such a "mom" thing to say, isn't it?

Quite unbelievably, I won for my short story and my poem. There was a big ceremony downtown in a large conference hall. You know the ones, with the stadium seating and a tiny little stage/platform down at the bottom? I should probably clarify here that I wasn't the only person being honored that day. That would be something, wouldn't it? All that fanfare for little old me?! :) No, I only represented the children's division. I remember seeing big kids (junior high and high school) there for their respective awards too.

Anyway, the day is as clear in my mind as if it happened just yesterday. I was wearing a turquoise blue dress with a white lace collar and a fake pink rosebud at the neckline. I had on white tights and white patent leather shoes. My mom had set my hair in rags (does anyone remember the rag curls from way back when?) the night before.

I was sitting there in the stadium, on the aisle. I was vacillating between nervous excitement and nausea. I hated being the center of attention (unless at home, however. I worked hard at being the center of attention at home, as my parents and my sister will attest). Being noticed in public was something I always avoided. As I sat there listening to the speaker, my mind drifted off....Why did I enter this contest? Why did I have to win? No one said anything about this ceremony when I entered the contest. If I had known I'd have to accept my award in front of all these people, I wouldn't have come. What if I trip and tumble down all these stairs to the bottom? What if I have to say something? What/why/how... etc. etc. Ah yes, leave it to me, even in the third grade, to suck the joy out of a situation by worrying excessively. Some things never change.

The speaker finished her speech by reading aloud a children's book clad in a green cover. Any guesses? Yes, it was "The Giving Tree." When she had finished reading the book, she called my name and invited me to come down to the stage. She shook my hand, congratulated me, and handed me a blue ribbon, a certificate, and "The Giving Tree." I managed to squeak out a "thank you" before hightailing it to my seat. And I didn't even trip.

So, that very same book, handed to me many years ago, still resides in this house. Why it resonates with my young daughter, I don't know. Maybe she likes it because she likes trees. Maybe it's the simple line drawings. Or maybe it's because she knows there's a story behind the book. Lately, she's very interested in hearing tales about my own childhood. Sometimes the best stories don't come from books, but from bits and pieces of our past, shared with the little people of our future. It helps my daughter get to know me better as a person, not just as her Mommy. She gets a kick out of the idea that Mommy used to be a little girl too. It's opened up a whole new dialogue between us that is so exciting and fun. And she's in for a treat -- I have no shortage of stories waiting for an eager audience (my dear husband will be so relieved, as my chattering will now be divided among several sets of ears!).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sweet Summertime

We are loving the summer picnic outings these days. We try to pack in a lot of variety by going to a different park each time. But something tells me that this one just might become the "go-to" picnic park. "Our place," if you will. It has so much to offer, without being too overstimulating. There were plenty of quiet, out-of-the-way spots to nurse the littlest guy and keep an eye on the action at the same time:

This park has a pint-sized train running through it every 10 minutes or so. It acts as a great distraction for the little ones while the grown ups scarf down some lunch (before the pleas of "When can we go exploring?" start up in earnest. It's so not about the eating for the kids on a picnic. Well, not our kids, anyway. Eating is merely an obstacle to running around the open space and checking everything out!)

On such a hot and sticky day as this, the cold stream was a welcome pit-stop.

Roo is attracted to puddles like a magnet, but she is rarely outfitted with the right shoes for puddle splashing. So imagine how ecstatic she was when Mom came prepared with water shoes and she was actually encouraged to stomp around in the water as much as she pleased!

Then, of course, there was the requisite rock collecting excursion:

I have never seen so many dragonflies in my life. They were buzzing (do they buzz or flutter or ??) around us in every direction. Check out these shots I snapped of them sitting on the rock next to us in the stream:

Such a lovely way to spend a hot July day. It even makes someone like me (this is my least favorite season) wish for an endless summer. Well, for a few moments anyway.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Colander Cruising

I haven't done a "Snippet of Sunshine" post in a while, so I thought this might be a good one to mention. With each passing day, I am noticing more moments when the children are entertaining themselves, and less moments of me playing Event Planner, if you will. This is huge in the world of parenting. It's especially exciting to see the sibling relationship evolving between my daughter and son. Big sister has an idea, little brother wants "in" on said idea, and she happily obliges!

Take the newest activity to hit our household: Colander Cruising! Roo just decided one morning to use the colander as a scooter of sorts, and she spent a good chunk of time sliding and scooching up and down the hallway. This is the same girl I found "ice skating" on the living room carpet this past winter by putting one bare foot (sweaty, sticky feet work best for this so there's less chance of slipping off the book. Gross, but true.) on a slippery-backed book (library books are great for this as the children's books generally have that plastic cover to protect the book) and using the other foot to push off the carpet: propelling herself around the room on her slippery "ice skate." Although, it resembled skate boarding more than ice skating, if you ask me. Not that I would ever tell her that. But, back to the current favorite:

She had a captive audience. And, being the kind of big sister she is, she couldn't wait to give her brother a spin.
Watching moments like these naturally unfold in our day fills my heart with much happiness. I love seeing the inner-workings of a 4 year old's mind put into action. I really love witnessing Roo drawing her brother into her world of play.
So, that's where I found my snippet of sunshine today. Where's yours? :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Simple Summer Pleasures...

My goodness! One and a half weeks since my last post. That certainly was an unintentional blogging break. Brought on by the little and big things of life, like chronic health issues with my son (the big), a possible move for our family (also qualifies as big), and my preoccupation with watching tv reruns from my youth (the little). Throw in the typical fatigue (mental and physical) and spending time with my husband in the evenings (my usual blogging time), and there you have it: a while since I've visited this space. But, here I am, so let's get on with it, shall we?

My kids love water. Playing in a sink full of bubbles has long been a favorite for my daughter. Recently, we introduced Rascal to the wonder of bubbles, warm water, and lots of kitchen gadgets for water toys. He's a convert. He totally loved it.

And the set-up? Genius on my part, I must say. I filled up one half of the sink with water and bubbles. I set Roo up on the counter nearest the water. Then I put a bath towel in the other half of the sink, and nestled Rascal right in there. Then, and this is the best part, I settled myself on top of an adjacent counter, book in hand. I strategically stretched my legs across to Rascal's side of the sink, so as to act as a barrier and keep him contained (as you certainly can't trust a newly-turned 1 year old to stay seated at all times). I was within arms-reach the entire time if need be, but got to dive into a good book while the children played. After all, I think children play best when adults aren't hovering over them, directing their activities. I also got to hang back and do a little eavesdropping, which is always fun. Roo's constant cheerful chatter is a hoot. Add to that Rascal's total conversational input (it's not easy keeping up his end of the conversation with his robust vocabulary of 4 words: "uh-oh," "sock," "hi," and "up") and you have yourself some real entertainment possibilities. I should have jotted down some of the back-and-forth dialogue, as there were a few gems in there. :)

Roo discovered how to make a volcano using a large plastic funnel. Just submerge into bubbly water and watch the flow of "lava" out the spout. They did this about 100 times, and it never got old. Don't you just love that about kids? It certainly makes my job easier (not to mention, it gave me time to make a good dent in my book).

It's been so hot and humid that a good drenching from water play was just what the doctor ordered. Plus, now one half of my sink is really, really clean. Everybody wins. :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fourth Festivities

Although this recap from the holiday weekend is a little bit late, I thought I'd give an overview of a wonderful day spent with family:

My Mom thoughtfully filled the baby pool and put it in the sun to warm up hours before our arrival. By the time the kiddos got in, it was almost like bathwater!
It didn't take long for Rascal to discover the bubbling fountain on the back porch (my Mom made this, by the way. It's one of many, and all are uniquely different. I love them all. Must see about getting one for my own back porch!)

I love how he squats down a bit, when he's checking out something new that he's unsure about... "No's just for looking" comment was quickly tossed aside:

But we quickly found a way to keep those mischievous hands busy: my Mom gave him a bowl full of rocks and let him drop them down a hole in the porch, where they promptly plopped (with a satisfying clunking sound, no less!) into the rock garden two stories below. My Dad commented on Rascal's persistence-- there were several rocks he thought Rascal would never fit through that hole. But Rascal kept turning and flipping the rocks around and over until he somehow managed to manipulate those rocks through that hole! Typical one year old, I say: if he wants to do something, he cannot be deterred.

There was some time for sitting on the deck before dinner, drinking and snacking and enjoying the trees and flowers in their seasonal glory.
When it came time for dinner, my sister's centerpiece graced the table: freshly plucked from her garden that afternoon:
Any summer BBQ would not be complete without my Mom's potato salad (a million times better than any deli. I think I might have to do a post on it someday).

I love seeing my daughter eat off the same plate I used as a child. Oh, how I loved these plates back then! Even today, I like my food compartmentalized.

We capped off a great meal with super juicy watermelon and peach pie a la mode (I didn't stop to snap a photo of the pie before gobbling it up!).

All in all, it was relaxed, cool, yummy, and it tired the little ones out: just the way I like a summer day to be!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Party Snacks, Part II

As promised, here are two more appetizers that fall into the Savory (and Simple) Category. I really meant to get them posted early yesterday morning in case anyone was looking for a simple party appetizer for the 4th of July. But, there are opportunities aplenty for cool, light, and refreshing snacks for the summer ahead!

Marinated Cheese Squares

1 (.7 oz.) envelope Italian dressing mix
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tbsp. minced green onion
2 Tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, thoroughly chilled for easy slicing
1 (8 oz.) block Monterey Jack cheese, chilled
1 (8 oz.) block Cheddar cheese, chilled
1/2 cup chopped pimiento or jarred red bell peppers, chopped
Assorted crackers

Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Then cut the blocks of Jack, Cheddar, and cream cheese in half lengthwise. Follow by cutting each half crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Arrange cheese slices in rows in a shallow baking dish, alternating the Jack, Cheddar, and cream cheese. Pour the marinade over the cheese. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours (I love preparing things way ahead of party time!).

Pour off marinade and arrange cheese rows on a serving platter. Top with pimiento or jarred red bell peppers. Serve with butter knife and assorted nibbles.

Greek Tomato Chillers

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
4 oz. feta cheese
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp dried oregano
salt and pepper

Cut off tops of washed, cherry tomatoes. Scoop out pulp (if using grape tomatoes, which are quite a bit narrower and smaller than cherry tomatoes, I find it easier to use a grapefruit spoon or the handle end of a teaspoon to get in there and scoop out the pulp). Turn upside down on paper towel and let drain. Mix cheese and onion and spoon into tomato cups (your fingers make a better spoon here -- freshly washed fingers, of course!) Combine oil, vinegar, oregano, and add salt and pepper to your liking. Spoon marinade over tomatoes. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Party Snacks, Part I

With the Fourth of July holiday soon upon us, I thought I'd share some appetizer recipes that have been well-received this past month of birthdays and other family gatherings. Granted, no one in my family is picky about food: you serve it and they'll eat it. But, these are quick and easy to make, so even if no one eats it, at least you didn't slave away for hours in the kitchen.

First up, the savory top-picks (and I apologize in advance for the recipes that are missing a photo--which is almost all of them--I completely lacked the forethought to take pictures last month when I served them up):

Layered Pizza Dip
1 container (8 oz) chives-and-onion cream cheese spread
1/2 cup pizza sauce
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup pepperoni, finely chopped
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
Bagel chips or cubes/slices of French bread
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grab yourself an ungreased 9-inch glass pie pan or shallow glass baking dish (1 qt. size). Spread the cream cheese on the bottom of the pan. Top with the pizza sauce. Then (I'm sure you can see where this is going, but I'll tell you anyway) layer the pepper, pepperoni, and cheeses on top of the sauce. Bake for 10-15 minutes. You could also microwave it if you are trying to avoid turning the oven on. If so, heat 1-3 minutes or until just hot and cheese is melted, not a roiling (or is it "rolling?") boil.
Serve warm with bagel chips or fresh (soft) French bread slices (although chunks is more accurate. Because have you ever tried to thinly slice fresh French bread without mutilating it? Yeah, we gave up on the slices and just cut it into small hunks for dipping. Still tastes the same, even if not as pleasing to the eye).
Cheesy Bacon Spread
1 pkg. (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives or scallions
1 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder
8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the food processor (I typed that in there because that's what my recipe says, but I always do it by hand because I try to avoid cleaning my food processor at all costs), combine cream cheese and mayo until smooth. In a bowl, mix the cream cheese mixture with the cheddar, chives or scallions, parsley, and garlic powder until well combined. Spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of a 9-inch glass pie plate or shallow baking dish.
Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the fully cooked bacon into small pieces (or crumble with your fingers) and garnish the top of the cheese spread. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve warm with crackers.
Coming up tomorrow: Marinated Cheese Squares and Greek Tomato Chillers (neither require heating up your house to make -- Yay!)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Oh Where, oh where...

has my clean laundry gone? Oh where, oh where could it be? I washed a very full load of cloth wipes, diapers, and the bright yellow diaper pail liner a few days ago. I remember taking it out of the dryer and folding it. I remember putting it aside because Rascal was sleeping and I couldn't put it away yet (for fear of waking him up). It has disappeared. Gone. Nowhere to be found. I've looked. My husband has looked (well, if you can count his scanning the room from one stationary spot, "looking"), and I've even had my guests keep their eyes open (you think I'm kidding--but, I'm not). I am obsessed with finding this clean pile of laundry.

I've taken a pair of scissors to my prefolds (that I normally use as cloth diaper stuffing) to make emergency wipes. I can't stand the thinness of commercial, disposable wipes. It takes me 3 of those to do what 1 cloth wipe can do. Basically, I am lost without my cloth wipes and diapers and that brand new waterproof diaper pail liner (did I mention that it's bright yellow? How does one lose something of that color??) Why couldn't I have lost a load of something as insignificant as clothes or bath towels? After all, we live in pajamas around here and, goodness knows, I never have enough free time to shower anyway.

I guess this MIA laundry load is so aggravating because it truly hammers home the point that a certain level of disorganization has descended upon this household. I pride myself on being a homemaker. How can I lose laundry in our not-so-big house? What does that say about my skills around here? Me, with my lists and to-do's and homemaking journals. I can't even get a load of laundry safely from the dryer to the dresser one floor up. *Sigh*

My husband says it is probably long gone. Given away with the donation bags last week or thrown away by mistake. I can live with the fact that maybe they were accidentally donated. Perhaps some other cloth-diapering mama will stumble across them. I cannot stand the thought that the diapers and wipes, I so carefully chose fabric for and sewed up during my last pregnancy, are in a dumpster somewhere. Heartbreaking. Heartbroken over some cloth diapers and wipes, you ask? Yes, I'm that weird. Now you know.

So, I've tried to forget about the missing laundry. Don't they always say that something turns up as soon as you stop looking? Well, I'm giving it a try. In the meantime, the children had fun using my empty laundry basket today:
That's the Princess pulling the King in his chariot.

You've got to admire their positive attitudes and the ability to make the best of a situation, even in the wake of things like the economic recession, political unrest, and...missing piles of clean laundry.