Friday, October 30, 2009

A Winter Wonderland

We have been enjoying the majestic display of (an early) King Winter these past few days. This morning Rascal and I were up very early and he sat mesmerized while looking out the front door. The wind was howling (hence the blurry photo below -- this time it was not due to my poor photography skills!), causing the "pit pat tap" sound of the snow hitting the glass.

After sunrise, the weather was still fierce, but everything seems so much better in the daylight, doesn't it?

{We even spotted this little village of winter chalets peaking out from the drifts of snow!}

Luckily our feathered friends were warm in their nests, rather than spending any time in this drafty ol' place:

However, a few days ago, we were between snowstorms and we went outside to make a few snow sculptures. Armed with colored water and measuring spoons, eye droppers, squeeze bottles, and mini spray bottles we had a blast coloring the fresh snow:

My husband even made sure to help the little one make some snowballs to freeze (my husband said that they used to keep the snowballs in the freezer until summertime! What a fun tradition that must have been). We, however, are very short on freezer space, so I think I will just let our littles take a snowball or two into the next hot bath they take. Watching it melt away should provide much fun and plenty of giggles, I think.
Each Friday, The Magic Onions hosts Friday's Nature Table. Go there to read about what others are doing to soak up some nature love!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow Day

With another snowy day comes another opportunity to get in the kitchen and bake. Fall and winter are really the only times I feel a pull toward baking. While I do enjoy cooking for the most part, I don't really get into the baking swing until the weather demands it. Cookies, cobblers/crisps, muffins, apple cider doughnuts --- these don't generally make an appearance until days like today.

So, I thought it was the perfect time to make the sugar cookie recipe that appears at the end of this book we've been reading quite frequently:
It's such a cute story: all about a girl and her animal friends speculating what the moon is made of: cat thinks it's milk, butterfly thinks it's sugar, mouse thinks it is made of billowy clouds of flour. And if you add all the ideas together in a bowl (which they do at the end of the story), the end result is a warm sugar cookie.

So, while I added each ingredient, we thought back on the story and I asked Roo, "Now who thought the moon was made of a pat of butter?" etc. as I went along. She remembered every single one (not that I would have known the difference, unless I really gave it some thought -- my memory seems to be disappearing faster than these sugar cookies have today!). I love it when a story can be tied into an activity like this one. It's a great chance for my girl to flex her skills of comprehension and recollection. Plus, it's just fun to turn a story into a real life experience. Especially an edible experience!

Here are the "moon" sugar cookies which we turned into Halloween cookies. The shapes are somewhat ambiguous, so I'll tell you what we have: a cat, pumpkin, ghost, and bat.
The icing turned out a subtle orange, which I prefer as opposed to that garish neon-orange frosting you see on some store-bought goodies this time of year.
Sadly, it's after baking cookies like these, that I realize we don't have cookie decorations on hand. Thus explaining the Christmas tree and red/white sprinkles on the center cookie. The others have a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder which gives them a nice flavor since the cookie itself and the powdered sugar icing are sooo sweet. My daughter didn't even question the use of Christmas cookie sprinkles, she was just happy to decorate them (and eat one, of course!).

To balance out the sugar, I served a carrot and apple salad for lunch alongside some cashews and almonds. Then I made this yummy pasta salad for a light dinner:

It's very heavy on the veggies (here I used cucumber, carrot, tomato, green bell pepper, and roasted red bell peppers from a jar), which is one of the only ways we can get the amount we should in a day. I like to think of the pasta noodles as more of a "condiment," rather than the main ingredient in a salad like this.

As I usually do, I had some way overcooked, grilled chicken. I had sprinkled some chicken breasts with Montreal steak seasoning and left them to cook in a skillet. Then I went off to play with the kids, fold laundry, sort through some winter gear, etc. In other words, I totally forgot about the chicken and it was dry, dry, dry. Which, I have to say, normally I prefer dry chicken because then I know it's fully cooked. My family jokes because I am the only person they know who complains when chicken or turkey is too moist!

So, I've found that the perfect use for overcooked chicken is a pasta salad. The Italian dressing manages to seep into even the driest cuts of meat and make it moist again. Of course it's best when you have a few hours to let it chill and the flavors meld together. Not exactly a warming or comforting dinner for such a cold day, but I think the cookies fill that void nicely.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Today, Inside. Today, Outside.

While the blustery winds blew and big, fat snowflakes fell from the sky, we got busy warming up our tummies with some home-cooked yummies: chicken tortilla soup (which simmered in the crock-pot all day, wafting through the house every time I lifted the lid to stir) and oatmeal cookies (some with walnuts, some with raisins, and some with both. Unfortunately, we were out of chocolate chips or we would have definitely tossed those in too).
Oddly enough, the last time I did an Inside/Outside post, I included pictures of oatmeal cookies and the current weather conditions from the back porch (the lid of the sandbox, to be exact). These posts under Inside/Outside are supposed to be snippets of little moments worth remembering. I KNOW that our memorable moments cannot be summed up in thoughts of oatmeal cookies and our sandbox, but apparently that's where we find our pleasures lately. :)

Today wasn't our first snowfall of the season, but it was the first time it snowed all day without ceasing. Surprisingly, it didn't amount to much of anything on the ground. But, it was very chilly and crisp and beautiful.
We didn't get out of our pj's all day. Instead we baked, read mountains of books, and built igloos out of couch cushions and throw pillows. I just love days like today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poor Little Fella

Sunday was such a beautiful, warm (too warm if you ask me, it is October, after all!) day that we took a walk along the canal path. Roo chose to ride her bike.

While peddling ever-so-slowly up a hill, Roo was looking down at the sidewalk. Suddenly she stopped her bike and said, "Betcha that ant didn't like THAT very much."

My husband stopped walking and asked, "Uh-oh. Did you run over an ant?" {He was mentally preparing himself, thinking she might be on the verge of tears of anguish}.

He was relieved when Roo just chuckled and said, "He's probably never seen a big ol' bike tire before!!"

Um, no. And he never will again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumn Nature Walk Bracelets

Oh, I know I'm not alone, because I've been reading the same sentiment on many other blogs, but I have to say that I love the crisp, clean feeling of autumn. I find that "fresh start" feeling that I get in the springtime, also applies to fall. Maybe I feel like the cool breezes are sweeping away all the unwanted "stuff" from my life, and preparing for me a fresh, clean slate. There's just something about pulling out the fuzzy wool sweaters and chunky cable-knits. When pulling on a pair of jeans just feels right, rather than too heavy or a bit much (as jeans often feel, even at the tail-end of summer). It's the time of year when I look for recipes that keep me in the kitchen, versus the quickest/no-bake recipe I can find during the summer months. Fall also marks the beginning of the whirlwind holiday season, which I love. Regardless, this season brings contentment to my heart.

It seems that at this lovely time of year, we just can't spend enough time out of doors. So, we did what any self-respecting, autumn-loving family would do: we went on an impromptu picnic. One of my favorite things about these outings when it's just the four of us, is that we have absolutely no agenda. If Roo wants to climb on the rocks for half an hour (and she did), we can stop and watch her enjoy that (and climb too, for that matter -- which we did). If Rascal wants to scrawl in the dirt with a stick, we can do that. We have no destination or "point B" that we are trying to reach. It really does become all about the journey.

Making nature walk bracelets has become a favorite activity on our picnics and hikes. Roo really enjoyed making wildflower bracelets like this one during our summer outings. So now that we are in this glorious new season, we made another bracelet to showcase fall's offerings.

While our summer nature bracelets were bursting with purples, pinks, and greens, these nature bracelets took on the warm, rosy tones of fall. It was fun to add interesting seed pods and other dried bits that one only finds on nature walks this time of year.

And of course, one of the loveliest things about these nature bracelets is their simplicity. When something is constructed of mere masking tape and anything that a little one spots on the ground, there's no limit to the number of bracelets that can be made during a single outing. Which is a good thing, because once Roo made me a "pretty" (and photo-worthy) bracelet, she wanted to make one out of dead bugs and rocks (don't worry, I spared you the photo of that one!).

After constructing a few bracelets, we were off to explore. Having no plan or destination was so freeing. We just followed the little one as she meandered up one path and down another. With her walking stick in hand, she was ready to play tour-guide. Speaking of walking sticks, am I the only mother who is paranoid about her child putting an eye out with one of those things?? Even after snapping off the sharp end and warning her that she must only walk while holding the stick, I was worried. Because, as most 4-year-olds are apt to do, she would forget to walk and break into a run. I can't blame her, as she was just giddy with the fresh air and open spaces! I'm thinking of making a slit in a tennis ball and slipping it onto the end (near her face, not the end pointing toward the ground, just to clarify) of the next walking stick she finds.
Then maybe I can relax and enjoy the hike a little more, instead of repeatedly saying, "Walk, please" and "Do you want Mama to hold that stick for awhile?"

The patches of gold were so bright against the backdrop of blue sky, it looked as if there was a fluorescent bulb glowing behind each individual leaf! Truly a lovely way to spend the day. We will try to get out there as much as possible before the weather turns. Although, when the time comes, I'm sure we can find some unique additions to our winter nature bracelets as well. Go check out The Magic Onions for more nature discoveries and fun activities.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The 12 Weeks of Christmas, Reduced by Half

Oh my. It is now mid-October and I realized that I've been seriously slacking on my Christmas preparations. Just this week, two hopeful souls googled "12 Weeks of Christmas" and stumbled upon my site. Sadly, they probably read the lone post that I have dedicated to that topic, and moved on. Sorry about having absolutely nothing that would fall in the realm of helpful, folks.

I now have just 6'ish remaining weeks if I want to finish Christmas to-do's by my deadline. I really want this to be the year that I am sitting by the fire, sipping cocoa, watching Christmas movies and gazing at the tree lights from December 1st through the 24th. I do not want a to-do list hanging over my head while I am trying to immerse myself in some Christmas spirit. If there's anything that douses my holiday spirit, it is waiting in line at the post office, writing Christmas cards late into the night, and jockeying for position in the too-crowded, too-narrow baking aisle at the grocery store.

So, since we cannot control things like sudden illness and insomniac babies throwing a wrench into the works of the finely-tuned Christmas machine that I hoped I would be this year, let's just get on with the time we have left, shall we?

{My husband thought it was odd to have a photo about Christmas planning, all the while a pumpkin and fall nature tray sit in the background. As I explained to him, "The operative word here is 'planning.' And Christmas planning can never start too soon." }
For me, it all starts with the planning (heehee. Go figure, right? Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to plan and make lists. Execution of said lists is optional). I like to set the mood with Christmas music, something hot and yummy to sip, and "The Notebook." Yep, it's in caps and quotes because it is that vital to my preparations.

"The Notebook" is a binder that I decorated long ago with batting and Christmas fabric. Being pretty as well as functional is a prerequisite. Inside is every magazine clipping, printed Word document (made up of hundreds of ideas from the internet that I copied and pasted), and random thought I have ever jotted down that was related to Christmas. Every year I try to sort through the pages and toss out ideas that are unlikely to ever make the cut. But, every year, hope springs eternal, and I never throw away any of the ideas that are crammed inside that poor, weakened binder. "Maybe next year," I say as I look at how to make a miniature replica of the North Pole, complete with flying reindeer.

This binder also contains forms galore: budgeting, menu planning, decorating, online ordering, to-make, to-buy, holiday traditions (new and old), cards sent and received, receipts/tracking numbers, etc. etc. Forms, forms, forms! Ah, I love it. Many forms I downloaded from here and here, but some I drew up myself and photocopied.

I am the kind of person that gets overwhelmed when presented with too much information. Especially if it's information on a topic I am passionate about: such as, oh, let's say...Christmas. So I will try to show some restraint, and spare you the little details of my "planning plans," as I call them. They consist of lists within lists of what I am planning to plan to do. If that makes any sense. What I consider to be essential, however, may not be what you consider a holiday "'must." That's one of the great things about Christmas though, isn't it? What makes it special is unique to each individual and family.

Therefore, I think I will share some of the things that may have broad appeal: things that I'm making this year, some crafts for the kiddos, recipes, and any other cute bits I feel a need to throw in. But, before I can do those things, I need to sit down with my "Notebook" and my laptop and scour my resources. After I devise my plan for 2009, I'll be getting to work. Hopefully, I will have something accomplished by next week, and I'll show it here: the spot for my newly titled, "6 Weeks of Christmas." ;)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Don't You Love New York in the Fall?"

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

Those are some of my favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite movies, "You've Got Mail." Yes, fall is here and that means it's time for what's become one of the most anticipated of fall traditions: the annual viewing of "You've Got Mail" with a dear friend of mine.

The must-have's for such an event: comfy clothes, comfort food, and a cozy couch. My friend and hostess leaves no detail overlooked. She thinks of everything (and I mean everything):

*Warm and inviting ambiance? Check.
*Well-thought out menu, guaranteed to soothe and satisfy? Check.
*Pillows, throw blankets at-the-ready, and fall-scented candles? Check.
*Plenty of laughter and good conversation before, during (thank goodness
for the "pause" button), and after the movie? Check. Check. Check.

We take our tradition very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that neither one of us will watch the movie outside of that annual October day. This involves quick reflexes and discipline (because, hello, it's cuteness and humor make it a hard movie to pass up) to flip channels quickly, should one of us come across a showing of "You've Got Mail" on TV (which invariably happens, as this movie always seems to be popping up somewhere).

I can't tell you how much I look forward to being a guest at J's home. She makes every visitor feel like royalty. And yet, at the same time, she makes every visitor feel like family. That's a hard balance to strike, but she manages with ease to do so.

Isn't it a blessing to find someone with whom everything "clicks?" A friendship that evolves and sustains itself naturally and easily? It's such a gift to talk to someone who knows and understands your thoughts without you needing to say anything. Of course, we never manage to stay silent when we're together. For me, she's one of those friends that I could talk to 3 times per day and never run out of things to say. My husband doesn't understand how I can talk to J over the phone for an hour, when I'm going to be seeing her in person the very next day. And then, after seeing her, I can have a "re-cap" conversation with her for another hour over the phone. "You just saw her for 3 hours yesterday!! What more could you possibly have to say??" he says to me in exasperation. {No, he doesn't really get exasperated. I know that he's happy I have such a good friend. Plus, it takes the pressure off him having to listen to me chatter away so much!}.

One of God's greatest gifts is the gift of family. It's a special thing indeed when you find a friend that feels like family. So, treasure your family and those true friends that fall in that inner circle. This journey in life is so much more precious and fun when you share it with those near and dear to your heart.

And while I'm thinking of it, does anyone know of any good movies to kick off the other seasons of the year? J and I were thinking of starting a spring or summer movie tradition, but haven't come up with any movies synonymous with winter, spring, or summer. Suggestions, please?? Even if you don't know of any "seasonal" movies, any particular movies that are better watched with girlfriends than husbands/boyfriends? (I know my husband has ruined many a "chick-flick" with his eye-rolling, sighs, and "Oh, brother" comments!)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Botanical Goodness

While we normally choose cost-free nature outings, this time we splurged and headed to the botanic gardens. And splurge we did: breakfast and lunch in the different cafes and picnic stands, plus the admission fees gave my husband sticker shock. But it was so worth it, as we got a chance to see so many green, wondrous things we don't have growing in our own backyard:

It never fails to warm my heart to see the way she naturally takes him under her wing. Such a protective and nurturing big sister. At home, when he's tearing down her block towers and cities, it's an entirely different relationship, however!

Bees were everywhere, naturally. On a typical day, the sight of so many bees would be met with shrieking and tears, but Roo was so absorbed in the vast beauty and newness of her surroundings that she didn't even mention the bees (so, wisely, we didn't either).

Normally, Roo stays very close to us when we are in a new setting. But, in this magical place she was constantly bounding ahead, saying,"I wonder what's around that bend? I can't wait to go see. Come on, Mommy!" A few times she strayed a bit too far and nearly took a few innocent bystanders out in her excitement to discover where the path would lead.

We got many, many chuckles and smiles from the other visitors as we passed by them on the paths. They could hear Roo breathlessly telling us to hurry along because we just won't believe what she found around the next corner, "So unbe-WEEvable and a-MAZing!"

Instead of just stumbling upon the next section of the garden, I love how they created an unusual and beautiful entrance.

I told my husband that I'd like to lay a path like the stone one above: that winds around a luscious and bountiful garden at our "someday" home. He glanced at the path, glanced at me, and suggested a rustic, dirt path instead. Hmmn...I think I will take his lack of confidence in my abilities as a challenge. Stay tuned.

While Roo went off exploring with Daddy, I looked for a quiet, out-of-the-way place to nurse Rascal. He had missed his first nap of the day already, and now he was long-overdue for his second nap. To say he was cranky would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions. He and I came across this literal tunnel of vegetation. I liken it to something you would see in an enchanted forest. Beautiful and so secluded. It was much longer and darker than the picture below would have you believe.

As I was coming upon this tree, I thought the trunk was painted green and orange. But, no, it is called Lacebark Pine. Needless to say, I have much to learn.

Don't these look like champagne flutes ready for filling?

Lobster-lovers that we are, I couldn't resist snapping a photo of these lovelies.

All in all, a beautiful and serene way to wile away an Indian Summer kind of day (well, minus the missed naps and subsequent crying--but a small price to pay for the experience). I'm so glad we took time to take in the beauty before the snow hit (as I type this, it is a sleeting/blustery wonderland out there). I noticed a fun Friday "Nature Gathering" of sorts going on at The Magic Onions, so I'm joining in. Stop by there and check out the other "un-beWEEvable" nature experiences!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Day Full of Blessings

A magnificent autumn day was the backdrop to a momentous family celebration: my parents celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary today. Rightly, we filled the day with all things good: reminiscing, eating (lots of eating: with crab-stuffed mushrooms, a hearty and tender roast with buttered noodles and oven-roasted veggies, red wine, Boston cream pie and Irish coffee -- how could we not stuff ourselves??), laughing, playing in the leaves, sharing homemade cards and handwritten poems, and presenting gifts that could never rival the gift that my parents have given us: a living example of true commitment and everlasting love.

A beautiful day to celebrate love and a beautiful day to celebrate Autumn's arrival. The joy was positively contagious! Of course, watching sweet little ones reveling in the leaf piles will bring smiles every time.

Swinging on the swing is always a favorite. But swinging on a swing right through a huge pile of leaves is an experience not to be missed! All the hard work of raking...
...for a sweet reward!

All afternoon, while listening to constant happy chatter and giggles that could not be contained, I glanced around me and realized that there was a blessing of one kind or another everywhere I looked: in the bright blue sky, simmering on the stove, sitting around the dinner table, digging in the sandbox, crunching through the leaves. Enveloped by God's sweetness and goodness, I couldn't think of a more perfect day. It is such a satisfying feeling to go to bed after a day well-spent: we wrung out every drop of delight from the day we were given. Such a good, good feeling.