Saturday, January 30, 2010

A little bit of this and then some of that

I feel like I should apologize for my frequent food posts the past few months. My life sort of revolves around food right now. I have been eating. A lot.

I have had a lot on my mind lately and many potential blog posts running through my head. Some of them are kind of serious, though, and after a month of recipes, I'm afraid I will drive away all of my readers.

So, here are some other things happening at the everydayHouse.

1. Little everydayBaby is starting to sleep five to six hours in a row at night! Just a week ago, I was convinced the girl had colic because she would cry so much in the evening. Suddenly, over the past few days, she has been giving me some long stretches of sleep. Of course, this requires me to go to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. if I want to sleep when she does. But we're making progress!

2. My husband loves bees. I'm not sure when it happened, but he stumbled across a story or a book about the bee crisis in America. The bees seem to be going through some kind of an insect panic attack and huge crops (flocks, herds, swarms... yes swarms) of them have been dying by the thousands. This is creating a huge problem because farmers and orchard owners need bees to pollinate pretty much every type of food they grow. We would secretly (OK, no longer a secret) like to move to the south and become bee farmers. Well, bee farmers who raise bees who don't have stingers and don't suddenly die by the thousands for unexplainable reasons. So, maybe not. But we would like to move to the south.

3. The kids and I are getting ready to learn about the Iditarod race across Alaska. We joined a Yahoo group that will help us map the race, choose our favorite musher and follow along during the race.

4. I haven't been doing a very good job this year teaching my kids geography. So to make up for it, I was thinking we should drive across the country to get a first-hand view of the United States. We are actually planning a drive from Illinois to Florida. We are thinking of renting a house and doing school there for a week or so. If you know of any good sights to see along the route, let me know. We are getting ready to plan our journey.

5. The kids are taking "recorder karate" this spring at their home-school co-op. They learn to play little songs on the recorder and they can earn colored ribbons, sort of like karate belts. So far, they haven't become confused and tried to use their recorders in a fancy karate chop move, but I won't be surprised if they try it soon. They are really excited about learning to play the recorders. They want to practice. All the time. I sort of forgot they would need to practice or maybe I wouldn't have signed them up for the class.

6. It's time for me to make lunch. And I'm quite sure you aren't interested in what I'm about to cook. So, I'll just move on.

What's going on with you?? I would love to hear any random news in your life this week!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WFMW: Backward meal plan

I don't know about you, but the hardest part for me about cooking dinner has nothing to do with cooking.

It's simply coming up with the ideas for what to cook.

I go through spurts with my meal-planning efforts. Sometimes I plan out meals for a month. Other times, I do Sunday planning sessions for the next week. And then there are many, many days when I'm just hoping to come up with an idea by 5 p.m.

When Jan. 1 rolled around, we were still adjusting to our new life with four children and getting into a routine with a newborn. I definitely wasn't in the mood to think of meals for the month. But the pressure was on. Our string of wonderful meals that had been showing up at our door in the hands of smiling, caring friends was about to run dry.

So, I decided to plan my meals in reverse. In other words, when Feb. 1 rolled around, I wanted to be able to look back at the meals we had in January to use as my foundation for the month.

Each night, I would try my best to come up with a decent dinner idea for my family and write it in my planner. I wanted to make something different each night. By the end of the month, I should have at least 20 dinner ideas I could use in February.

I used lots of family favorites. I tried some new recipes. I mixed in some super simple ideas. And usually on Friday or Saturday night, we ordered pizza.

If you are in need of meal-planning ideas, here's what we have been eating for the last month:

  • Pork roast with carrots and potatoes
  • Italian beef (made in crock pot)
  • Vegetable soup, made with leftover meat from the pork roast. I simply put the meat in the crock pot and added one can of each of the following: beef broth, diced tomatoes, green beans, corn, as well as some chopped carrots and a potato.
  • Manicotti (when I made the manicotti, I doubled the recipe, then divided it into four small pans. I froze the other three pans for a quick meal another day.)
  • Kluski noodles cooked in chicken broth with diced chicken and carrots
  • Chicken enchiladas
  • Biscuits and gravy
  • Potato soup with sausage (a friend brought this one)
  • Frito tacos (this is taco meat and toppings served with Fritos instead of taco shells)
  • Homemade waffles
  • Lunch meat sandwiches with chips and dip and pasta salad
  • Chicken patties (from the frozen aisle) with sides of corn and fruit
  • Cornbread chili
  • Shepherd's pie
  • BBQ chicken thighs (I buy a big package of chicken thighs and cook them in the crock pot on low all day with a bottle of BBQ sauce.)
  • Hot dogs, baked beans, chips
  • Crepes with cream cheese filling
  • Spaghetti with homemade meatballs
  • Pasta with bacon and chicken

I have a few new recipes that I want to try later this week. And I'm hoping to look for some healthier meals next month.

Will you help me come up with some new ideas for February? What is your family's absolute favorite meal?

My backward meal plan worked for me! For more great ideas, head on over to Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Haiti on my mind

On Friday, someone from my church posted a message on Facebook that more than 60 orphans from Haiti would be arriving at O'Hare International Airport and they needed places to stay.

My first reaction was, "My house would be way too small to help."

I've been a little consumed lately with the idea we need a bigger house. When we moved here nine years ago, our three-bedroom home seemed perfect for my husband and I and our infant son. We both thought we would live here a few years and then move on.

Now that the housing market has crashed, the six of us living in a three-bedroom home makes it seem so much smaller. So, I've been daydreaming about a place with a big yard and a guest bedroom and a full-size basement. Oh, and a room for home-schooling and a three-car garage.

Then I started looking at some photos on the Internet of children sleeping together on a mat out in the open in Haiti.
And I realized those kids probably wouldn't think my house was too small. They probably would be happy to sleep on our sleeper sofa. And maybe we could put a few more on the queen-sized bed in the basement. And even the couch in the living room might seem comfortable enough.

Because, really, it's all about perspective, isn't it? Sometimes I want to smack myself in the head for having such an American perspective. We are so blessed in this country that we easily lose touch with the reality of the real hardships faced by people in so many other nations.

This weekend, I couldn't stop thinking about Haiti.

I was getting kind of grumbly because our 7-week-old goes through little spurts where she cries and cries when I put her in her crib to sleep.
I eventually give in and put her beside me in bed and nurse her to sleep. Then I whine because I didn't get enough sleep.

In my king-sized bed. With the big comforter and all of the pillows.

Because she wouldn't sleep in her crib, which is in our room. Her very own crib with the nice soft blankets.

And sometimes when she needs those extra feedings every few hours all night long, I feel exhausted, and I get extra hungry myself. And poor me. I have to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and get a snack.

I have been thinking about the moms in Haiti. The ones who are sleeping outside in tent-like structures with their newborns. They don't have a crib or even a clean place to lay their babies.

I think about how they probably give any morsel of food they can find to their children. And how they probably get so malnourished themselves that their milk runs dry.

I can't even imagine that helpless feeling of devastation of trying to feed my baby and having no milk. And so much worse than starving to death, watching my baby cry because she's hungry. These are harsh, difficult mental images, but they are absolutely true for another mom who doesn't live that far from the United States.

This weekend, we cleaned out all of our cabinets and took stock of all of our food.
I want to use up some of the things that have been sitting in our cabinets for a while. We had a big container of individual-sized pudding and applesauce cups that were left over from last year's hot lunch program.

I put them in a bowl and told the kids to eat as many as they wanted, any time they wanted.

"So this is FREE food?!" they kept asking. They meant "free" as in, "we don't have to ask first."

A little later, I was reading a blog where they were asking for doctors and nurses to go to Haiti. They warned them that they should be prepared to eat only snack food for weeks on end. They would need to pack snacks in their luggage, and they might not eat a meal the whole time they were there.

Each time I looked at our bowl of "free food" I kept seeing it in such a different light. What if that was all we had to eat, instead of just our bonus bowl of food that I'm trying to get rid of because it's taking up space in my cabinet?

The only first-hand experience I have with living in an impoverished nation was the 12 weeks I spent in Zambia, Africa, after college.
I had seen so many pictures of Africa and had read a lot about it. But nothing could prepare me for the smell.

There is nothing like the smell of a nation that lacks running water. Here in America, we might think less of someone who doesn't take a shower everyday or use deodorant.

But in a nation where people have to get up before dawn and walk for miles to a water source and then carry a huge bucket of water on their heads back to their compound, it seems ridiculous to take a bath. Why would you waste water that way? Add in the fact that it's hot and dusty and people walk for miles just to do what they do in a day.

I don't say this in a demeaning way at all or to be critical. But it's just a smell that Americans aren't used to. And I hope I never forget it. Because it's such a reminder of the things we take for granted in America. Water and soap.

One day I was out walking to get some exercise.
Now, this idea alone is so American because in Africa you don't go for a walk for exercise. Each day is filled with so much walking just to get through the day that no one needs to walk for exercise.

Anyway, I was wearing my Nike tennis shoes and my Walkman (remember those?) and carrying my camera. I suddenly realized that the value of what I was wearing on my body was more than the average yearly wage of $300 in Zambia at that time.

I started to fear for my safety as I tried to get back home. But (from my experience), people in places like Zambia don't commit crimes for the same reasons they do in America.

Here it seems that people commit crimes because they are filled with hatred. They are mentally ill. They want to hurt someone. Or they are greedy.

In Africa, when we heard of people committing crimes, it was because they were hungry. They were usually trying to get some food to feed their families. They don't really need a Walkman because what would they do with it? Who would they sell it to?

I look at the photos of the men with guns guarding the caved-in grocery stores in Haiti. I see the pictures of men looting the stores and running away with canned good under their arms.

Then I think of my husband who runs to the store every other day to get a couple more gallons of milk. I can only imagine the feeling of desperation for those fathers who are going through the rubble to find something for their children to eat. We can't even imagine what it would be like to have to fight for food. To do anything to feed our children.

I don't know what I can do for Haiti.
I have heard missionaries who are there simply begging us to pray for them. That's something I can do.

It's hard to think about Haiti. I would prefer to put it out of my mind. And yet, I don't want to stop thinking about it either. I don't want to be so consumed in my American way of thinking. I want to smack myself over the head and remember to be thankful for what I have.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chili in a pan, chili in a bowl, chili on the blog

Last night, I served my kids one of my favorite comfort food recipes. It's officially called "Meat and Corn Bread Squares". But I think we will rename it Corn Bread Chili, since it's basically chili mixed with corn bread in a pan.

I wasn't sure if my kids would eat it, but all three reported, "Wow, Mom! This tastes good!" I'm so glad they have learned that sometimes food tastes better than it looks.

The second recipe in this post is for my friend Lisa's Award Winning Chili. (She won the award from me and all of our other friends who have tried it.)

This recipe makes a huge quantity. The next time I make it, I'm going to try putting together all of the ingredients and freezing it before I cook it. Then, I can pull it out of the freezer and cook it the day we plan to eat it.

Corn Bread Chili

1 pound ground beef
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 4-ounce can diced green chili peppers, drained
1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix, plus the ingredients to make the mix
1 cup cheddar cheese

Cook the ground beef and add the cornstarch, chili powder, garlic salt, diced tomatoes and peppers.

Mix up the muffin mix and add the cheddar cheese.

Spread half of the batter into a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Spoon meat mixture atop. Top with remaining batter.

Bake in a 375 degree oven about 30 minutes.

Lisa's Award Winning Chili

3 lbs. hamburger
1/2 cup onion
1 cup celery
4-5 tsps. chili powder
chili beans (2 40 0z cans of Brooks)
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 large cans tomato juice
2 to 3 cans tomato soup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar

Dice celery and onion.
Brown hamburger, onion, celery, part of chili powder, salt and pepper.
Drain most of the grease; leave some to taste.
Put meat mixture in pot and start adding liquids, tomatoes and beans.
Salt and pepper to taste. Add rest of chili powder. Add sugar.
Simmer 3-4 hours. Stir often.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WFMW: Spelling for right-brained learners

My son has a hard time with spelling words. So, in the past I did what any good mom would do. I would make him practice writing troublesome words over and over again.

And over.

And over.

But this year, we are trying something new. Instead of writing the words, I let him do what he loves best. I ask him to draw the words.

Before I explain, I have to say that this idea isn't mine. In fact, it's the farthest thing from my left-brained way of thinking.

I went to a seminar this summer by this woman who gave me lots of great ideas for teaching my right-brained learner.

I've always loved the subjects my son dreads: math facts, spelling words and grammar. Left-brained learners like me excel at memorizing data, lists and rules.

But my son sees the world in pictures. His favorite subjects are history, science and Bible. While I struggle with these subjects, he can visualize the stories we read and re-tell them in great detail.

Did you know that half of all children learn best with their right brain? I also learned that if your first born is a right-brained learner, your second born probably will learn best with his left brain. Kids who have a learning glitch often are right-brained learners, making it even more difficult to thrive in a traditional classroom if it emphasizes memorizing data.

I learned that the right brain is where we store long-term memories. So, I'm trying to help my son visualize his spelling words and math facts so he can plant them in his right brain -- the more creative side of the brain -- and store them long term.

The first step we use is to separate troublesome words into colors, so that the part of the word that he tends to misspell stands out from the rest of the word.

In this example, he kept forgetting the "p" in empty, the "e" in pretty (he substituted an "i"), and the "a" in heavy.

If he continues to misspell a word, I ask him to draw a picture of it. I don't set any limitations on his drawing. I want him to feel the freedom to use his creativity, so that hopefully, it will help him remember what he wrote.

This is his picture of "pretty":

We also purchased these cards that we use for familiar words. They each come with a story on the back that explains the drawing. On the cards pictured below, the top one is a story about a boy who threw the ball over "there". The bottom one is about a family with a dog. "Their" dog is very big.

We use the same concept for math facts that he misses repeatedly. Each of these cards has an elaborate story to explain the picture. On the one below, an 8-year-old boy was afraid of a 7-year-old bully. Even though the 8-year-old was older, the 7-year-old was much bigger in size. To protect himself, the 8-year-old got a big dog, named "56", who scared the 7-year-old away.

To help him memorize this way, I ask him to look at the card for a few minutes. I then put it down and ask him to tell me the whole story on the card. When he comes across that math fact later, I ask him to tell me about the picture that he memorized, which helps him recall the answer.

We still have a long way to go, but I have seen progress using this method. I'm hoping it will Work For Me!

For more great tips, check out Works For Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cucumber pasta salad

I have so many favorite recipes, but I often have to go on a search to find them when I need them.

Some are in cookbooks. Others are on the Internet. And others are stored on little pieces of paper tucked somewhere in the cabinet.

Recently, I've started using my own blog to find recipes that I have published here. So, today's post is written for myself! I can never remember where I originally found this recipe on the Internet and have to go on a big Google search each time I want to make it. Now I'll be able to find it!

This pasta salad has a great flavor. The original recipe said to use 3 Tbsp. of the Salad Supreme, but I have always used 1 Tbsp. because I'm cautious that way.

Cucumber Pasta Salad


1 box Bowtie pasta

1-2 Cucumbers

4 Green onions

1-1/2 c. Miracle Whip

3 tbsp Vinegar

1 tbsp Salad Supreme (in spice isle)

1/2 c. Sugar

Salt & pepper to taste


Prepare pasta and drain. Slice cucumbers and green onions, and toss with pasta. Combine remaining ingredients and mix into pasta. Serve cold.

How do you organize your favorite recipes so you can find them when you need them?

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ribbons and bows and flowers, oh my!

I've never been a girly-girl.

I can't remember ever in my life wearing a bow in my hair. I don't think I've ever owned a ribbon. I look horrible in pink. My favorite colors are green and brown.

I was born 16 months after my older brother and spent most of my childhood playing outdoors with him and his friends. I liked to ride bikes and play kick ball.

I wasn't necessarily a tomboy. I liked to get dressed up, and I've always loved fashionable clothes. But I've just never been overly girly.

So then God had a big chuckle when he sent me our first daughter. She loves dresses and ribbons and bows. Even when she was about 2 years old, she would cry if I didn't dress her in pink. I'm not kidding. She would cry and shout the word, "pink"!

It hasn't come naturally to me to dress her up like a girly girl. I love to buy her cute, trendy clothes. But I simply forget about all of the little accessories.

After five years and now with a second daughter in the family, I am finally starting to catch on. In fact, I might even be becoming girly!

I have been thinking I should try to make some bows to put in my daughter's hair. Never before would such a thought have crossed my mind.

So last week on our big trip to the mall, I was drawn to a kiosk in the middle of the hallway filled with big bows, headbands and flowers. Much to my own disbelief, I suddenly became an impulse shopper.

I purchased things like this:

That big flower can be worn as a barrett. Or it can be attached to baby's headband.

The pink bow can be removed and worn on its own or attached to my older daughter's pink headband. Here's another version in purple:

Now, to all of my mom friends who have known about things like this for years, please don't laugh. You can see how excited I am about this new discovery in girly accessories. I'm even blogging about it!

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Up close

I have been feeling like a new person the past few days.

Babycake has been giving me some four- to five-hour stretches of sleep at night. And the doctor took care of THE string, which has allowed the incision from my C-section to finally start healing.

I actually took all four children on our first outing together (without my husband to help), and we had a great day together at the mall. The kids all took turns pushing the stroller, we ate lunch at a real-live restaurant and played at the play place.

I wanted to get some professional photos taken of the four children together to mark the baby's 6-week birthday. This one was my favorite of all four of them together:

The full body shots also turned out really cute:

I don't normally like photos of the children looking serious. But I fell in love with these close-ups:

And, of course, Little Miss Serious herself:

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sweet Mama bakes a cherry pie

I'm on sort of, what you might call, a high-sugar diet.

I like to keep a steady stream of sugar flowing through my veins pretty much all day long.

I start each day with two cups of hot tea, each loaded with two tablespoons of sugar. I then follow that up with a can of Coke around lunch.

My standards for portion size also seem to be a little, um, higher than other people's. For example, if I were to make Triple Chocolate Brownies, I would think it was perfectly normal to top them with a scoop of ice cream and some hot fudge sauce.

Around here, we joke that I need all of that sugar to make me the nice, sweet mama who gives my kids lots of love. And as a result, I have earned the nickname, Sweet Mama.

When I dole out three chocolate chip cookies, rather than one, that is called a Sweet Mama dessert. When I give two scoops of ice cream, compared with a half of a scoop from dad, the kids cheer, "Sweeeeeeet, Mama!"

But there is one person in the house who doesn't go near my high-calorie creations: Capable Dad. He doesn't even put sugar in his hot tea. (Gasp!)

While friends rave about my chocolate molten lava cakes or my cream cheese squares, he has never even tried my world famous chocolate chip cookies. He is not tempted by chocolate. Too much sugar gives him a headache. And he doesn't even give a second glance to my best friends, Skittles, Smarties and Milky Way.

So on Capable Dad's birthday, which is today, I can not show my love with a birthday cake made of triple chocolate or a Tiramisu trifle. My Cinnamon Coffee Terrine with Chocolate Ganache would be the worst possible dessert to celebrate his special day.

This is when I must pull out the pie pan and do my best to create something tart and tangy on which to plant his birthday candles. My man's favorite dessert is a cherry pie.

Never fear. I have my top-secret recipe.

It involves two pre-made pie crusts (one for the top and one for the bottom) and two cans of cherry pie filling. I cut cute little hearts in the top crust. And even though I know this probably ruins the pie, I can't resist sprinkling it with sugar.

So, tonight we will dine on cherry pie in honor of CapableDad. It doesn't come naturally for Sweet Mama to serve a "dessert" with fruit. Isn't that considered a side dish? But I do my best for the man I love.

Would you be so kind as to wish him a happy birthday in the comments section? If you don't normally leave comments, you can click Anonymous and type your message. Just be sure to leave your name. He does check my blog and read the comments, so I know you would make him smile.

And if you want to add a pie-baking tip, please feel free. I'm sure he would appreciate it.

Happy Birthday, Honey!

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mommy math

I've been trying to work on this math problem all day in my head. Maybe you can help.

There was once a mom who had 24 hours in her day.

She attempted to sleep for 8 hours, in various shifts throughout the day and night.


She nursed a baby 8 times a day for 30 minutes, which equals 4 hours.


She did home school with her children for 6 hours a day.


She spent 1 hour a day taking a shower, getting dressed, putting on make-up and helping her children look presentable.


She spent 2 hours a day cooking, eating and cleaning up after three meals for five people.


She spent 1 hour a day (on average) taking children to various activities and waiting for them to complete those activities.


She spent 1 hour a day on laundry, picking up the house and cleaning.


She spent 1 hour a day interacting with her husband and kids and/or running errands, grocery shopping, thinking about exercising, taking various people to the doctor and dentist, paying the bills or returning phone calls.


She spent every hour of the day multitasking to make room for a quiet time, reading and writing about it all on her blog.

And she feels like she doesn't have time for herself. Hmm? I guess it's not just a feeling, it's a mathematical equation. And math makes it a fact, right?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Six weeks

Little hands.

Little feet.

Little face.

Big smile.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

The one in which Emily buys ricecakes

At least once a week, my 5-year-old daughter comes home from preschool with an important piece of information.

"Mommy, did you know that WE can bring the snack to preschool if we want to?!"

"Yes, honey," I reply. "We sure can, but we need to wait until it's our turn to be the class shopper. The teacher will let us know when we should bring the snack."

"Mommy, did you know I can bring a poster to school with photos of me that tells all about the things I like?"

"Yes, honey," I respond. "And when you are the Star Student, I will make the poster and send it to class."

"Mommy, did you know that I can bring a special treat to class for everyone to share?!"

"Yes, honey... and we did that. It was called your birthday. Remember when we brought the ice cream sandwiches that all of the kids loved?"

"Well, all of the kids except Ally, who was mad and said she hated ice cream sandwiches."

"Yes... but everyone else loved them."

Well, on Friday, we got news that it was finally the long-awaited day. She had been selected as the snack shopper.

I can't even begin to tell you the level of excitement this brought to my daughter. She has reminded me every few hours since 11:45 on Friday that she IS the class shopper and WHEN will we do the shopping?!?

I was determined to complete this assignment to the best of my ability, meaning I would not forget and I would not have to do it at 6 a.m. on Monday morning and I would not have to bring the snack midway through class.

I mean, really? How hard could it be?

I have already had two children make it through two years of preschool. I am familiar with the class shopping list, and I know how to find myself a jug of apple juice, a bunch of bananas and a bag of pretzels.

Nevermind that I have only left the house one time in the past two weeks. And nevermind I haven't even stepped foot in the grocery store since November. It's OK that I only got two hours of sleep last night. And who cares that it's about 30 degrees below zero? And big deal that it's Sunday afternoon when everyone in town floods to the grocery store at the same time and the parking lot is so full you have to park in the farthest spaces, which are at least one-fourth mile away from the door.

But I did forget one important detail, which if I had remembered I would have begged my husband to be the class shopper: My daughter does not have an ordinary preschool teacher.

Oh no, she has the most creative preschool teacher in the history of the universe. And that meant that bananas, pretzels and apple juice were no where to be found on her shopping list.

No problem. I found the first item in record time: 3 lemons.

I waited patiently for the woman in front of my to inspect every single lemon in the lemon bin, and then I quickly grabbed the three on top. It has to be "L" day because I can't imagine that the teacher is going to feed 16 hungry preschoolers three lemons for snack.

The next item on the list: 4 pears.

Again. No big deal. I was stalled for a second trying to decide if I should buy the Anjou, Bosc, Barlett or Red Barlett. But I can handle tough decisions.

I mean every morning, I face hard choices like whether I should wear my brown snow boots or my brown cowboy boots. Other days, I have to decide which pair of black shoes to wear. And although I admit, I have been known to make a few poor choices and grabbed the high-heeled black boots when a galosh would have been more appropriate, I chose my pears with confidence and didn't look back.

Next up: One lemon pound cake.

A-ha! That proves it! The letter of the week MUST be "L"!

Now, where to find a lemon pound cake? I searched the bakery and found a buttery pound cake and a quite tempting cinnabon pound cake. I found some lemon poppy seed muffins, but no lemon pound cake.

I looked through the Little Debbie section. I begged Little Debbie to please, please, please make a lemon pound cake. No such luck.

I held onto hope as I pushed my cart to the frozen aisle where I knew I would find a pound cake. A butter pound cake.

I started to imagine myself running from Jewel to Dominick's to WalMart Super Centers for the rest of the afternoon without any luck finding a lemon pound cake. And then I finally came to my senses.

Are 16 4- and 5-year-old children going to care if I buy them a lemon layer cake instead?!

Of course not! In fact, half of them would probably throw away their slice of lemon pound cake, and they would probably be more than happy to at least lick the frosting off of the lemon layer cake.

Only one more item on the list and it was an easy one: Cinnamon Apple Rice Cakes.

I headed for the cookie/cracker aisle to grab those ricey cakes and finish my shopping.

Hmmm. They must have moved the rice cakes over with the chips.

But they weren't there either.

Maybe they are with the cereal? Nope. Over by baking supplies? Nope.

They have to be by the popcorn then. Because rice cakes seem a lot like popcorn, except for the fact that popcorn is made of corn and rice cakes are made of, well, rice.

But no.

I would not let this little challenge deter me from completing the list. I worked in a grocery store for four years in high school and college. I have stocked shelves. I have checked out groceries. I have mopped the aisles after a spill. I can find rice cakes.

I decided I would carefully walk up and down every single aisle and methodically look high and low until I found the rice cakes.

I swore to myself that even on the off-chance that I did happen upon a Meijer employee I would NOT ask for help, unless the employee asked me if I needed help. And I knew the chance of that happening was less than .05 percent. (I would have said 0 percent, but I wouldn't want you to think this post was full of sarcasm.)

Up and down the aisles I went. Repeatedly. Back and forth. Once. Twice. I looked high and low. I looked in every reasonable location, except, of course, the very last aisle, which is clearly marked, "juice".

Finally, realizing this is the most exercise I have had in three months and that I would probably have to be confined to bed for a week afterward if I didn't stop pushing that cart around Meijer, I found Bernie, the dairy-shelf stocker. Conceding defeat, I sheepishly asked him if Meijer did indeed carry rice cakes.

"Umm... yes.... they are in Aisle 16," he informed me.

"Aisle 16? The very last aisle in the whole store? The one marked 'juice'?"

Amazingly enough, they did still have a couple of bags of cinnamon-apple flavor. And since the rice cakes were on sale, and I had gone to so much trouble to find them, I bought two more bags for our family. (We don't actually like rice cakes, but I thought it would be best to grab some while I was in Aisle 16, just in case. Who knows when I would ever be back there again, so better to be safe than sorry.)

Exhausted from my efforts, I realized that the only way to eat a rice cake is with peanut butter. And so, for the first time in five years, I bought a jar of peanut butter, knowing that I would have to hide it from everyone in the family and only get it out in the middle of the night to use on top of my toasted rice cake.

And now, if only I can remember to send the snack to school with my daughter in the morning, we will be all set.

Until March, that is. When she is the Star Student. And I get to make the poster.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Right brain, left brain, Mickey Mouse and Mike

Our "family nights" around the everyday house the past few months have involved watching Christmas movies, playing games together or watching all of the episodes of Little House on the Prairie in chronological order.

But the past few evenings, we've been taking a break from all of that to have "Family Drawing Night".

I bought these cool books for my boys for Christmas. But once again, it looks like I might have actually purchased them for myself and only used the excuse they were for my boys. Anyway.

The books give step-by-step instructions on how to draw Disney characters and superheros. The instructions always start by asking the artist to draw simple shapes and a couple of lines to create a "grid" for the rest of the drawing.

From there, the artist fills in the details and finally colors her completed picture.

This type of drawing is perfect for me. I am a left-brainer. I love lists, details and following directions. I am creative, but I'm not the kind of person who can pull an image out of my mind and draw it on paper.

My oldest son is probably the most artistic person in our family. He is a right-brained learner. He can see the big picture. In fact, he thinks in pictures. He can visualize what he wants to draw and transfer it from his head to a piece of paper. This type of creativity amazes me.

On the other hand, lists and data trip him up. Spelling words. Math facts. Phonics rules. Those are hard for him. So, we are learning to translate some of the mundane lists that come with learning into pictures that appeal to his right brain. (More about that later. Back to Mickey Mouse.)

Our nightly drawing parties have been therapy for me to help relieve my January funk. It feels so good to unleash a little creativity. (I even secretly start plotting early in the day which character I want to try next.)

I love following the process, one step at a time and then looking at the whole picture to see I have actually drawn something!

The process has been a bit more frustrating for my son. He usually attempts one picture from the book each night, but then declares, "It's time for free draw now!"

But he's been impressed with his mom and her hidden talent.

"HOW did you learn to do that, mom?!?"

I'm just good at following directions.

How about you? Are you more of a right-brained learner, or a left brainer? What does your family do for fun together?

Friday, January 8, 2010

What I learned in preschool

It's so much fun having a daughter in preschool. When my boys were in preschool, they would come home with news like this: "We played in the big room. We had pretzels for snack."

That's IT?! You were there for 2.5 hours and that's all you have to say?

But my daughter? She gives the full report.

The first few days of preschool, she kept telling me the same thing. "Ally was mad again today."

"Really?" I would ask. "Why was Ally mad?"

"I don't know," my daughter would reply. "She was just mad."

A few more days into the school year, she started telling me the emotions of others in the class. "Carter was happy, and Cameron was sad. Lanie was happy!... But Ally was mad."

"Wow!" I was thinking. This girl really has her finger on the pulse of the classroom. "Does she have her own Lucy-inspired psychiatric clinic over by the play kitchen, too?"

Finally, I got to the source of her intuitive knowledge. Her teacher has a chart.

That's right. When the kids come in each morning, they find their name tags and place them on their emotion for the morning. They get to choose happy, sad, mad or excited. My daughter is the queen of all things social and loves her time away at preschool, so I asked her where she puts her name tag.

"Oh, I'm happy," she said. "I always choose happy. (Except one time I chose sad when I was the line leader, but that was just because I missed you.)"

"Way to go, sweetheart. When you get to preschool, I hope you always choose happy."

I have to admit, I've been wanting to hang my name tag on grumpy a lot lately. It's winter in the midwest, and I don't do winter. (It's supposed to be the worst winter in the History of the Universe, as if the usual eight months of winter here weren't already bad enough?)

I love to sleep and taking two-hour naps repeatedly all night long is not sleep. (Thankfully, I get to see my super cute bald girl every time I wake up, though.)

I'm stir crazy. We have six people living in a small space. The laundry keeps piling higher and higher. We have crumbs on the floor. We have a pile of snowpants, coats and boots the size of a couch blocking the door. And when the house gets really, really messy, I start to break out in hives. (OK, not really. It just feels that way.)

I'm doing my best to stay on top of the homeschool situation, but not feeling very good about my teaching ability. Because, did I mention, I need a nap?

I'm pretty sure that putting my name tag on the grumpy face isn't going to help matters. But it's so tempting. I know what I need to do. And I know it all starts inside me. In my heart and in my mind. It's all about where I choose to focus.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I wish I were naturally more like my daughter, who wakes up almost every morning with a smile on her face, bounces into my bedroom and chirps, "Good morning!"

But I do get to choose.

Life is short. Choose happy.


And speaking of happy...

I want to wish a big happy birthday to one of my favorite commenters. Happy Birthday, Laurel! You are officially fabulous!

Even though I haven't met Laurel in real life, she has been a huge encouragement to me in my blogging effort. She is a faithful reader and takes time to say something nice, which I greatly appreciate!

I hope you have an awesome day on your Big 4-0... I mean 29th birthday!

Happy Day!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

WFMW: Having fun with photos

Hey, this week is the Works for Me Wednesday backward edition, so not only do I have some ideas today, but a question, as well.

If you want advice on how to take great photos, I'm sure you already read one of the many blogs by expert photographers.

But if you are looking for a couple of tips from someone who usually takes mediocre photos and is shocked when her photos actually turn out well, then you have come to the right place.

I've been taking lots of photos the past month. And I have to say no one was more surprised than I was when a lot of them turned out really well!

Here are my completely amateur tips for taking better-than-blah photos:

1. Candy.
If your photos involve children, do not hesitate to bribe them with candy if they cooperate. Feel free to up the ante if they continue to smile for additional poses.


2. Natural light.
Rearrange the furniture. Take down the curtains. Go outside. Do whatever is necessary to get as much natural light behind you as possible.

3. Turn off the flash.
You will need lots of light so the camera shutter won't stay open super long, which causes the photos to be blurry. (I'm sure I could use some technical term like aperture or ISO at this point, but I can't remember what those mean.)

4. Keep shooting.
We took lots of posed photos, but some of the best ones were taken without any preparation, "smile" warning or countdown.

5. Get close.

OK, closer.

Now, closer.

A little closer.

6. Have fun.
Sometimes the best photos are the ones where we aren't in a traditional pose.

7. Crop.
Crop like crazy. I use either iPhoto for simple editing or Photoshop if I want to try a tiny bit more editing.


8. Increase the color.
You can do this using the "effects" button in iPhoto. Or switch to black and white for a cool effect.



9. Remove any unwanted blemishes.
The "retouch" button in iPhoto can work miracles. It not only removes unwanted shelf-hanging brackets on the wall (see below), but can work magic with blemishes on the face. (IF you have any. NO ONE in our family would possibly have any blemishes though. Ahem.)



I have been taking my photos with a very simple Canon point-and-shoot camera, which has been working for me.

But this week is a reverse edition of Works For Me Wednesday where I get to ask YOU for advice. I have been thinking about buying a better camera and I would love to get your input.

What higher end, but not super expensive camera would you recommend that I could use to improve my photography? I also would love to hear your tips for taking better photos.

Go ahead and give me some advice! Then head on over to We are THAT Family for more Works For Me Wednesday tips.

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