Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why I Organized My Cookie Cutters

Alternate post title: De-Cluttering Baby Steps.

Recently, I've been trying to whittle away at the amount of stuff cluttering my house.  I (finally) went through my closet and pulled out a few things I never wear.  I reorganized Miss Mouse's art supplies and (finally) threw away the coloring books that are completely full.  I went through my junk drawer and (finally) chucked all the pens that don't write.

These are all baby steps.  Things that aren't going to completely overhaul my home, but which, taken together, do have an impact on the amount of random crap I'm tripping over on any given day.

This weekend, I weeded my cookie cutters.  This probably isn't a trouble spot for all of you, but I have a lot of cookie cutters.  I bought an awesome set of 100 a while back for every occasion imaginable and have supplemented it over time because, as it turned out, there actually were some occasions for which the makers of the set had not prepared (how did they not include a turkey?).

One entire drawer in my kitchen has been devoted to cookie cutters - they're piled into bags and shoved into a couple boxes in the drawer.  Today I managed to weed out maybe 20% of them.  Ones that were poorly designed and produced utterly unrecognizable cookies.  Ones that were too big.  Ones that were duplicates (I may have forgotten to check my stash before buying Halloween cutters this year).

I pared my collection down to what would fit into two cardboard boxes.  Another baby step.  But I feel like it's making a difference to my house, and my sanity!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dump or Donate?

Don't mistake trash for treasure!

Maintaining an organized and uncluttered home means that you must regularly assess your possessions, and frequently cull your belongings. Whether you’re clearing out the closet, paring down the tower of toys, or trying to make room on your bookshelf for the newest best seller, there will be items leaving your home.
The moment of decision looms: do you throw the stuff away or donate it to charity?
You can check out the rest of this post over at Life as Mom, where I am the guest contributor today!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

photo source

Sometimes, parenting a preschooler feels like going toe to toe with an atom bomb -- something sets them off and there's a truly massive explosion.  But other times, it's more like death by a thousand paper cuts.*  There's not one particular thing you're tussling over, but every interaction is a mini power struggle and small acts of defiance and obstinacy are woven into everything.

Miss Mouse was getting on my very last nerve tonight.  I don't know what happened to get her knickers (or mine) into a twist but she was six kinds of stress-inducing this evening.  Naturally I was flying solo as Josh was at a church function, and I'm sure that had something to do with it.

Every other word out of her mouth was no.  And when she wasn't actually saying "no" she was acting it out with selective deafness and small acts of petty meanness to her brother.  Like stealing his beloved stuffed giraffe and holding it over her head.  Or kicking his door from the outside while I tried to read him a bedtime story and tuck him in.

By the time I had Buggie stowed in bed (shrieking, I might add, which is weird because he usually goes to sleep beautifully), I was in a foul mood and she knew it.  But here's where a ray of sunshine appeared.  She asked to play a game.  I refused, citing a headache.  And she immediately offered -- "Maybe I can clean something to make you feel better."  It was so sweet, and so sincere, and so obvious that she totally "gets" The Dreaded Headache.

I told her I just needed a little alone time and asked her to please read a book in the living room while I cleaned the kitchen.  Which she did, narrating aloud from the couch while I loaded the dishwasher.  And by the time I was done, the storm clouds had parted and we spent a nice ten minutes together before I tucked her in.

*And some times it's sunshine and butterflies and three-year-olds wrapping their arms around their daddy's neck and whispering "I missed you" when he comes back from a meeting.  But that's not what I'm writing about tonight!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Please Don't Pet Me While I'm Eating

I have discovered that I have a new pet peeve.  I don't like to be touched while I'm eating.

Okay, I know that many of you are thinking -- "Huh, that's a weird thing to be irritated by."  But then again, you have may never have had the experience of trying to eat your dinner while a three-year-old pets your arm.

Miss Mouse and I sit next to each other for meals on one of the long sides of our table.  Buggie sits at the head in a booster (to my right), and Josh is around the corner to his right, across from me.  Miss Mouse has a very difficult time sitting still at the table under the best of circumstances.  She fidgets, she stands up, she gets up to pick a new spoon from the kitchen, she puts her feet on my chair, and...she touches me.

She'll rub her nose against my elbow.  Poke me in the leg with a finger.  And just run her hands along my arms.

It drives me absolutely insane.  I have a visceral reaction to it that makes my skin crawl and my flesh twitch.  Go figure.

But it's become a bit of a problem at dinner because She Won't Stop Doing It.  I routinely have to banish her to the end of the table now, out of range, and I'm seriously contemplating changing up the seating chart!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Ongoing Adventures of Monkey Boy

As I may have mentioned, my son has an...umm...adventurous streak.  Thus perhaps it should have come as no surprise to me that when I walked into the dining room after hearing an unexpected-and-not-immediately-identifiable sound, I witnessed this:

And yet, I was surprised.  (And secretly impressed.)

Note to self: push all dining room chairs in fully once you have vacated them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ginger Pear Muffins

Here's what I love about baking -- besides the fact that it makes your house smell divine.  Most of the ingredients you need to do simple baking are ones you keep on hand all the time, allowing you to produce baked goods on a moment's notice without heading to the store.

Which is particularly useful when you are snowed in when the desire to bake seizes you.

On Saturday, we got a layer of ice followed by a layer of snow deposited on our fair hamlet and the snow plow teams were apparently sleeping in so they didn't stop by until after noon.  We weren't going anywhere.  After romping in the back yard for a while, the next logical activity (obviously) was to bake muffins.  Lots of muffins.

Miss Mouse and I worked together to produce Blueberry Peach Cardamom and Ginger Pear Muffins.  The blueberry ones were only okay but the pear muffins were lovely.  I use the Mix and Match Muffins recipe from Good Cheap Eats and just add things to it.  It's a great go-to recipe and I like that it calls for (some) whole wheat flour and replaces some of the fat with plain yogurt.  I feel like these nods to nutrition allow one to binge, guilt-free.

Anyways, you can find the original recipe here.  My additions were to add 1/4 tsp of ground ginger to the dry ingredients, 1 tsp of grated fresh ginger to the wet ingredients, and a cup of chopped up pear (no need to peel).  Yummo!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Word from the Lord

As an addendum to yesterday's post about prayer, I wish to relate the following conversation which took place in the bathroom this evening between myself and my firstborn, who was singing at the top of her lungs in the tub.

Me: "Miss Mouse, please sing using your inside voice."

Miss Mouse: "Mommy, Jesus told me to sing louder."

Me: .....

Because, really, what do you say to that?

Monday, January 23, 2012

In which we pray for heart underpants

Boy and dog praying [NOT my picture - read description please]
I have got to teach Riley that trick!

As you might expect -- what with being married to a minister and all -- church plays a pretty central role in our lives.  We categorize our days as "school days," "church day," and "play day" (Saturday).  As Miss Mouse gets older, she is beginning to incorporate religious language and activity into her daily life -- sometimes with amusing results.

Take prayer.  We say bedtime prayers with Miss Mouse each night and have also begun encouraging her to say her own prayers.  This weekend, she was on a holy roll with prayers flying right and left.  She'd march into the kitchen and announce - "I'm going to say a little prayer" -- then dutifully fold her hands and start talking.  "Dear Jesus, thank you for the snow.  And for mommy and daddy.  And for my heart underpants.  And for spoons.  Amen."

Then she'd encourage me to say a prayer.  Then it was daddy's turn.  If she could have gotten Riley to participate, I'm sure she would have.

Miss Mouse also likes to sing.  A lot.  While she's engaged in other activities, like reading or doing a puzzle or coloring, Miss Mouse often invents songs.  They're somewhat atonal but clearly heartfelt.  And their content is an amazing riotous concoction of well-known children's songs, Christian radio, and snippets of daily life.

"Hickory dickory dock.  The mouse ran around and said boo!  My soul, my soul, magnifies the lord, my soul!  We're sitting at the table.  At the table.  Oh Lord."

We let Buggie get in on the action when he can, too.  For example, when we say grace at dinner, we all clap our hands in time to the prayer.  He loves it.  His face lights up and he whacks his hands together gleefully.  It's only a matter of time until they start composing songs together.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Buggie See, Buggie Do

It is a well-documented fact that little brothers and sisters like to copy their older siblings.  But, being an only child, I'd never really experienced this phenomenon personally until now.  

It's quite amazing to behold.  Just in the last couple days, I've watched Buggie watch Miss Mouse and then attempt to do the following (with varying degrees of success):
  • Climb onto the couch
  • Jump off the couch
  • Eat with a fork
  • Put on his socks
  • Climb completely inside of a cupboard in our entertainment center
  • Read a book
  • "Drink" from a play teacup

He also likes to "help" Miss Mouse arrange the cards of her matching game.

And, of course, there's the ubiquitous squabbling over mutually-desired toys and other items.  We have eight sippy cups of varying colors and configurations.  They always -- ALWAYS -- want the same one.  Ditto for books to read, balls to roll, baby dolls to hug, and cars to race.

This one flows both ways and Miss Mouse is actually the worst offender.  No matter what her baby brother picks up to play with, she instantly swoops in and snatches it from him.  He frequently responds with a physical assault and he's getting big enough to make his feelings firmly known (though he does follow up with a nice hug).

I have a sneaking suspicion this style of interaction will not be dissipating any time soon.  At least when they're teenagers they (probably) won't want to borrow each other's clothing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Recipe Binder

I love cookbooks.  I can sit down and thumb through a new cookbook for hours, making lists of ideas, drooling over the pictures, and pondering the untapped potential of ingredients like fennel or Manchego cheese.  But anymore, a lot of my recipe-hunting happens on the Internet.  My mom emails me ideas and I surf regularly to my favorite site -- AllRecipes -- for inspiration.

A number of years ago, I started compiling my printed-out recipes into a three-ring binder.  It actually started the year I studied abroad.  It was the first time I faced the prospect of apartment living and cooking for myself full-time.  I wanted to be prepared, so I printed off a bunch of simple recipes, glued them to cardstock, and stuck them in a binder.

I still have that binder.  It's grown over the years and gotten a bit more sophisticated.  I have color-coded sections for breakfasts/breads, soups, sides, main dishes, and dessert.  I periodically go through and weed out unsuccessful recipes by pasting new ones over the top.  I don't keep up with it as often as I like and usually have a file-folder stashed in the kitchen that is brimming with loose-leaf recipes, printed from the web or clipped from magazines.

But when I get a chance (like tonight!), I enjoy the chance to file things, often discovering recipes I'd forgotten about.  On the menu for next week: Hawaiian-style short ribs and spiced sweet potato fries (not necessarily together).  Mmmmm.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Chapstick Monster

My mother has created a monster.

The women of my family have a feverish (and perhaps unhealthy) obsession with chapstick.  My mom and her sisters all own zillions of sticks of lip-coating gunk and keep them stashed around the house, in their cars, in their purses, and under their pillows so that they are never more than a few inches away from a tube.

If you look carefully, you can actually see chapstick tube outlines permanently etched into the back pockets of my mother's blue jeans.

Somewhere during one of their visits, my mom introduced Miss Mouse to chapstick and it was downhill from there.  I am hit daily with a barrage of chapstick requests from my lip-smacking daughter.  She smears it onto her lips with enthusiasm, then goes on to adorn her chin, cheeks, and little brother's nose...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ulterior Motives

Do you ever get that feeling like your son purposely whallops his sister just so that he has an excuse to give her a hug?  

Yeah, me too.

The Last Bit of Christmas

This pile of tangled yuck is the final vestige of Christmas at our house.

What is the tangled pile of yuck, you ask?  Why, they're the lights off my pre-lit Christmas tree.  We bought our tree in an after-Christmas sale three years ago.  Which means this was only its second Christmas of use.  And yet, at least 1/3 of the light strings had gone out over the last two holiday seasons.

I was not amused.

To teach the tree a lesson, I decided to remove all the original lights so we can just string our own on next year.  I liked the convenience of pre-lit but not if they don't work!

What seemed like an easy-enough task turned into many hours of hand-scratching labor as I fought to unwind the zillions of lights from the prickly plastic branches, brandishing my wire cutters with gusto.

It was a pain in the butt, and it also pricked my conscience to realize that odds are good that somewhere in a sweat shop in a third-world country, twelve-year-old girls spend their days endlessly engaged in a similar pursuit as they wind the stupid lights onto the trees.  Sigh.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In which we frolic and play, the Eskimo way

Christmas was disconcertingly mild, but we've finally gotten some snow this winter.  The first good ground cover came shortly after new year, and we were ready.  Snow pants?  Check.  Long underwear?  Check.  Boots?  Check.  Hats?  Check.  Gloves?  Check.  Coats?  Check.

A Christmas Story references?  Check.  "I can't put my arms down!"

My folks got the kids a sled for Christmas and Miss Mouse was primed and ready to try it out.  Buggie patiently allowed himself to be hauled around the backyard, but seemed a bit confused by the whole affair.

He was similarly nonplussed when my mom and I taught Miss Mouse the fine art of eating snow off the plastic slide in the yard (don't tell Josh), but was really a good sport about the adventure.

Miss Mouse was in heaven.  She loved the sled, and her boots, and making snow angels, and throwing snowballs for the dog to chase.  I had expected to spend 40 minutes bundling the kids up, only to be outside for 5 minutes, but she played happily for nearly an hour before I declared myself a popsicle and forced her back in.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Two Kids Are Better Than One

When I began to get my head around the prospect of parenting two children instead of one, I failed to grasp one of the key benefits: they entertain each other.  Now, I love spending time with my kids.  We read together, play games together, have tea parties with stuffed animals, growl like bears in their tent, do airplane rides, blow bubbles, have dance parties, and generally interact together.  A lot.

But sometimes, I appreciate being able to sit back on the couch, and watch my offspring be ridiculous together, with no need for parental involvement.

The other day, Miss Mouse was sitting at the table coloring.  Buggie decided he wanted to play with her, and went stomping over, grunting and waving his fists at her.  She was in an obliging mood (never guaranteed!) so she turned around, stuck her face to the bars of the chair, and made a silly noise.

EUREKA!  Instant game.

For the next twenty minutes, that's all they did.  They took turns sticking their faces against the chair and making silly noises.  And laughing.  Oh, did they laugh.  I have absolutely no idea why, but I can say with certainty that the game would not have lasted as long if I had been the one in charge of keeping it going!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Boy and His Dog

This is Riley.  The furball has been part of our family since shortly after Josh and I were married.  The poor dear had a tough time adjusting to the arrival of children in his world, and after three years of life with kids, he tolerates the rug rats, but would be perfectly happy if they disappeared tomorrow.

Buggie, on the other hand, adores Riley.  Can't get enough of him.  He follows the long-suffering pooch around the house, alternating between patting (read: whacking) him on the head, hugging (read: squashing) him enthusiastically, and pulling (read: well, yeah, pulling) his tail.

When we pack up to leave for school in the morning and secure the dog in his crate, I usually turn around to find my son standing expectantly next to me, dog toy in hand.  He wants me to open up the crate so he can give a toy to Riley -- and I oblige.

At dinner, Riley has long since learned to camp out under Buggie's chair.  It's not just accidentally-dropped bits of food that come his way.  Oh, no.  My generous son deliberately shares his meals with his canine companion, alternating between putting food in his own mouth and throwing tidbits to the dog.

And then there's the fact that, other than Uh Oh, my son's first word was Ra Ra -- his name for Riley.  He says it all the time and refuses to say much else (though he can do a convincing cow moo).  We have regular conversations that go something like this:

Me: Buggie, say "Ma Ma"

Buggie: Ra Ra!

Josh: Buggie, say "Da Da"

Buggie: Ra Ra!

Me: Look, you ungrateful thing. I gave birth to you.  The dog doesn't even like you.  Let's try this again.  Say, "Ma Ma."

Buggie: Ra Ra!


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cocoa ala Mouse

During Advent, I posted about how I manage my time to get everything I want done even with two small people clamoring for attention.  My secret mostly involved being efficient when they're asleep.  A friend of mine pointed out that involving kids in day-to-day activities can also be an excellent bonding opportunity (as well as good example-setting).

She's right, of course.  As Miss Mouse gets older, she wants nothing more than to help me with household tasks.  She loves to fill the dog's cup with food, carefully carrying it up the stairs to pour into his bowl.  She adores helping me do laundry -- loading the washer, pouring the soap, pushing the buttons...upending my clean laundry baskets and jumping on the piles.  And she likes spending time in the kitchen with me.

So the other day, when I needed to be doing some baking, I set her up at our kitchen island with a couple bowls of flour and some measuring spoons while I did my own mixing and stirring.  She was in heaven.  Very quickly, she determined that she was making hot cocoa (a carry-over from when we actually made it together for her teachers) and she set to work making the best cocoa ever.

Looks yummy, no?

We added ingredients -- like Christmas cookie sprinkles! -- and she was completely entranced for about a half an hour.  

It made a huge mess and "wasted" a ton of colored sugar, but who cares?  It was quality time with my girl.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Just Can't Win

Five to Fourteen.

Eight to Eleven.

Six to Thirteen.

These are scores, my friends.  Scores of a few recent, extremely competitive games of Disney Princess Memory (you know, where you have the pairs of cards face down and you try to find the matches by flipping them over two at a time).

The little number always belongs to me.  The big number belongs to my three-year-old daughter.

I just can't win.

That's my pile on top.

Seriously.  When she was just learning, I let her win (and sometimes cheat).  Now, I put up a valiant and heart-felt effort, but to no avail.  That child has the memory of a precocious pachyderm.  Many times, she isn't even paying all that much attention. She rolls around on the floor, plays with toys, and acts silly -- pausing periodically to unerringly select a pair of matching cards from the mess.

The deck we play with has 19 pairs.  That 38 cards to choose from.  I have no idea how she manages to remember their placement so well.*

*Though I suspect it has something to do with genetics.  Miss Mouse's father has only lost to her once...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Gingered Apple Crisp (Recipe)

In honor of the New Year, we cooked up a nice brunch on Monday with my parents and Aunt Meg.  Homemade cinnamon rolls, Christmas Morning Frittata, sausage patties, and gingered apple crisp.  The last item was a Kate Creation (and those are rare).  I had a bunch of delicious ginger cookies left over from the holidays that I'd stashed in the freezer.  They form the base of this fabulous (and easy) recipe that works well for breakfast or dessert!

Gingered Apple Crisp

8 cups of tart apples, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 cups ginger cookies, crushed
5 tbs butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9x13 baking dish.

Arrange apples and craisins in the baking dish.  Sprinkle with salt, water, and cinnamon.

In a small bowl, combine ginger cookies and melted butter.  Sprinkle over the apple mixture.

Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  ENJOY!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Braiding My Daughter's Hair

I have had short hair for fifteen years.  Well, except for an unfortunate year I spent trying to grow out my locks for my wedding, thinking that "bridal hair" was synonymous with "long hair in an updo."  After torturing myself for about 14 months, I finally chopped the mess off three weeks before the wedding (and never have you seen a more nervous hair stylist than when I made that request!!).

Anyways, suffice to say I have short hair.  My daughter, on the other hand, has increasingly lengthy hair.  And her hair is gorgeous -- thick silky tresses that shimmer in the light.

I'm learning a new skill set as I try to gain control of her hair.  For all its beauty, it's also quite fine, extremely prone to static, and aggravatingly resistant to being corralled by clips, ribbons, and scrunchies.  But I love playing with her hair (even though it's sometimes a point of contention for us!).  I remember vividly the thrill I felt the first day I managed to put her in pigtails.  It was awesome.

And so I'm learning.  Today, I managed to wrestle her hair into two clumsy but respectable braids and we were both pleased with the result.

When I'm done typing, I'll be looking up "how to French braid" videos on YouTube!

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