Friday, July 29, 2011

Birthday Boy!

This week was my son's second birthday.  I'll admit I was really at a loss of how to celebrate it.  I mean, we have a big cookout/water party planned for the weekend, but for a regular Wednesday for a 2 year-old, what to do?  Well, in a "happy" turn of events, our garage door broke that morning, forcing Hubby to call into work so that he could figure out a fix.  Hmmm...bonus!  He wanted to fix the garage door, silly man, but I convinced him that this was meant to be, suddenly at home on son's birthday, we can't let that go to waste!

So we started with Hubby's famous (at least in our house anyway) homemade pancakes, a special batch with fresh blueberries and whole wheat flour, yummy and semi-healthy.  Then we headed to the zoo, nice and when it was only 87 instead of 107.  At the Oklahoma City Zoo, Wednesdays are "way back Wednesdays" which means $1 admission, hot dogs, carousel rides, and probably some other things.  In honor of the big 2 we let our son ride one of the actual up and down animals on the carousel instead of hanging with mom in the big peacock bench seat.  The look on his face when his tiger started going up and down was priceless.  Such a smug and surprised little smile.  It would have been a beautiful picture.  Of course, the memory card for the camera was in the computer as usual.  Oh well.

After the zoo, it was off to Moore for a visit to the Cupcake Lounge.  What's that you say, an entire store devoted to gourmet cupcakes made from scratch every day????  Mmmmm....  I was dying to try the cheery limeade cupcake (brilliant!) but sadly they did not have any that day.  What they did have was a "Take me out to the ball game" with caramel filling, creme cheese frosting and buttered popcorn on top; a "funky monkey" with banana cake and chocolate fudge frosting; and a "King" cupcake with all of Elvis's favorites.  And many, many more!  I got the "summer breeze" which was a raspberry cupcake with lemon butter creme frosting.  My daughter got a chocolate cupcake with caramel filling, chocolate frosting, and sea salt.  Hubby went with a classic red velvet with creme cheese frosting and the birthday boy went with raspberry with chocolate mousse.  All very, very good.  And I don't even like sweets!

Next up, nap time for the boys while the girls went shopping.  Can we say Pier 1 summer clearance???  I thought about making him a special dinner but really, he's two and I just honestly could not think of what would be "special" to him.  Ham and cheese sandwiches seem to be his favorite food but that just didn't seem very festive to me.  So, we just went to a restaurant.  Tomorrow is the big family/friend backyard birthday bash.  It's only supposed to be 100, which is downright chilly in this new post-global warming world in which we apparently now exist.  Hip hip hooray!!!

By the way, the garage door IS fixed and Hubby even called in an actual technician to fix it.  Apparently it is sort of dangerous and I managed to convince him that his fingers were worth at least a couple hundred dollars.  I love that my guy is "handy" but seriously, there are times when it's just better to call someone!

Monday, July 25, 2011

And the award goes to....

...Readers!  Yes, it is summer reading time at the library.  My kids have participated since they were babies and it is always a treat to see them at their "ceremony."

At our library, rather than choosing X number of book to read, you are asked to commit to reading for at least ten minutes a day.  Then you get a reading log and a sheet of stickers, the stickers representing a day's reading.  Of course, our stickers had to go into one of the special cabinets high, high up or they would have ended up on the floor, the brother, the toilet, you name it, on the very first day.  So periodically throughout the summer I have retrieved the reading log and stickers from their hide-y hole and estimated the number of stickers the kids get to put on.  It was pretty funny watching my determined daughter carefully select just the right little bubble to place her sticker while my son kept getting his stuck to the table or his fingers.  Last week I was heading to the library where I work and decided it was time to "complete" summer reading.  So I got out the logs and let the kiddos have at it attaching the remaining stickers to the remaining bubbles.  We were curiously short a few stickers but oh well.  And no, I have not been counting the number of minutes we have read each day.  They're two and three, we read every day, enough said!

So off to the library we go!  They each handed the librarian their little reading logs and stood proudly (and maybe a little confusedly) as she played the special music and announced to the building that they had "succeeded" in completing their reading goal.  Then, it was the receiving of medals with the entire library cheering.  Over the top?  Absolutely!  But to see the look on their faces as they get their medals is priceless.

I am not one of those people who thinks we should coddle our children or have them exist in a world where they get a trophy just for showing up.  But the library, well that's a different kind of place.  A place where you should be welcomed with a smile and allowed to be your own individual.  Where it is important to read what you choose.  I love that there is a place that rewards children just for showing up, for trying and finishing something they started.  There are no tests, no points, no value added to particular selections, just a congratulations on finishing what you started.  I think it lays a good foundation for the later years, start small and build up!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Crazy title right?  I couldn't resist this book when I saw it on the "new books" shelf at my library.  It is a beautiful, quirky little book complete with detailed sketches of, well, a wild snail.  Page by page, this little snail roams across the text, raises its antenna, stretches, explores, and accompanies you through the book.

While on vacation in Europe, the author contracts a strange and debilitating bacterial infection and finds herself bedridden.  On a whim, a friend finds a small woodland snail and brings it to her in a pot of violets.  This small gift, this tiny creature, becomes an endless source of entertainment and companionship for a woman who feels as if he life has been taken away.  She becomes enraptures with the tiny creature's physique, habits, and preferences.  Before long she is requesting any material in print about these woodland creatures and is carefully observing and appreciating the life cycle of her snail.

Over time, her illness abates slightly and she is able to slowly return to normal life.  However, her prolongued exile with only a mollusk as company has made her a quieter, more intuitive individual.

Heavily footnoted, each chapter and section of this book contains a small quote, exerpt, or poem about the life of the mollusk.  I was surprised and entertained about how carefully observed and appreciated these tiny creatures have been.  This is a quick and relaxing read, almost like an extended poem.  It is a good reminder of the importance of taking life more slowly, stopping to observe and appreciate the wonders of the world, large and small. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cool Science

Inspired by my creative mommy friend, we ventured to the Science Museum Oklahoma today.  If you grew up in Oklahoma, you probably are still calling it the Omniplex, and that's okay too!  I'll admit this museum was a bit off my radar.  I went several times as a kid and loved it, but I guess I was thinking my kiddos were not old enough to enjoy it yet.  Not true it turns out!

For one thing, they have a pretty cool young kids play area with water, bubbles, a John Deere (it IS Oklahoma you know) and lots of other hands-on stuff.  A lot of the exhibits here reminded me of the Jasmine Moran Children's Museum, also an excellent museum.  My kids particularly liked roaming around in the giant mouth,  I thought that part was a bit strange, but whatever keeps them from pulling each other's hair.  They had an amazing space exhibit, a really cool optical illusion art gallery, a great play area complete with ginormous twisty slide, and lots of lumberjack-inspired toys, games, and machines.  What I loved about this museum was that it really expands upon the idea of what people see as "science."  We saw exhibits on weather, simple machines, sound waves, space, art, oral health, bicycles, too many to list.  It makes kids realize in creative and fun ways that science is everywhere and that it can be really exciting.  Plus, I don't think there is anything in the place that is "no touch" which is great for little kids.  They really are able to get in and explore, learn, listen, feel, and unfortunately for my son, taste a few things!  Off the radar no more, we will be hitting the highway for this gem on a regular basis from now on.

Here's an extra tidbit:  I found a discount coupon for myself here.  Plus, children under 4 are free (and mine are) so it was a pretty cheap outing as well!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Greek Pasta Salad

Yet another work night for me.  Yet another triple-digit day.  This means I need some dinner for my family that is fast, cool, and can be ready whenever they want to eat.  Time for pasta salad!  I've been working on quite a few meatless meals lately and what I've found is: my husband prefers a little meat in his meatless meal!  I know this sounds contradictory, but what I mean is that he doesn't require a big ol' steak, he will happily eat something with just a tiny bit of leftover chicken, turkey pepperoni, bacon, whatever.  So, I guess what I'm saying is I have been doing a lot of "mostly meatless" meals!  Here's one of them that is a perfect prep-ahead or hot day meal (or both).  Also makes a good side dish.

Greek Pasta Salad

1 box of pasta, cooked and drained (I used Target brand roniti plus)
1 C light Italian dressing (Greece adjacent, right?)
1 large shallot or 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 handful fresh spinach, choppped
1 handful pitted calamata olives, roughly chopped
1 handful turkey pepperoni, cut into ribbons
1 handful cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 handful feta or goat cheese
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
Lots of cracked black pepper

Assemble dressing and veggies in the bottom of a large bowl.  Toss with pasta.  Toss with feta and parsley last so that the feta keeps its shape a bit.  You can serve immediately but it tastes better if you chill it several hours and let the flavors get to know one another.

Clearly my measurements are inexact and you can take away or add whatever you want.  I intended on putting a cucumber in it but I forgot that my daughter ate the last one for dinner last night in protest over my daring to make Mexican lasagna (her most hated meal).   Anyway, here it is assembled:

Now that is one big bowl of yummy goodness!  I will likely spend the afternoon snacking on it and ignoring the Jillian video in my DVD player.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Smoothie...Turned Popsicle!

Here's a simple recipe for a yummy smoothie; they also make great Popsicles.  And with this crazy hot weather, anything frozen is A-Okay!

1 ripe banana
6-8 medium strawberries, halved
1-2 T Organic agave nectar (or honey)
1 C orange juice
1/2 C plain, non-fat yogurt
2 T ground flax (yep, that's right...I sneak flax into my kids' Popsicles.  I am THAT mom!)
1 C ice cubes

Blend until liquid-y and enjoy in  a mug or fill into Popsicle molds for an icy treat later!  They are sooo yummy and just perfect for triple-digit summer fun.  Mmmmmm....

Book Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

This book is the exact opposite of what I like to read.  It is dark, twisted, techie, and just downright strange.  I loved it!  That's the mark of a really good book, even if it isn't exactly your thing, there is just something compelling about it.  I'll admit, it was difficult for me to get into it.  It is told from multiple points of view and it is quite a while before these characters begin to connect.  Plus, the book contains a lot of Swedish names and places that an Okie girl can kind of get hung up on trying to process.  Still, I stuck with it and was pretty soon sucked into the deep, dark web that Larsson created.

After being publicly disgraced and sentenced to a brief term in prison for liable, Mikael Blomkvist (see, I told you) is approached by an aging industrial giant (Henrik Vanger) with a strange request: find his great-niece's murderer.  The catch?  The murder happened 40 years ago and there is absolutely no evidence of a crime.  The girl simply vanished one day.  So, Blomkvist moves to a fishbowl of an island, surrounded by Vanger's strange and hostile family, to investigate and solve a seemingly-unsolvable crime.

Then there is Lisbeth Salander (the girl with the dragon tattoo).  A young, angry, genuis of a girl, she is the perfect mix of tough and vulnerable.  In addition to her own complicated personal problems, she stumbles upon Blomkvist and his investigation and is quickly drawn into the increasingly mysterious chain of events that Blomkvist is uncovering.

Part murder mystery, part family drama, this book reminded me of the mid-century "hard boiled" detective fiction, but with a few extra twists.  Like a mixture of Dashiell Hammet, Ernest Hemmingway, and James Patterson.  It really was a strange and enthralling book and I am glad that book club gave me the incentive to read a book that I have passed over many times but never felt motivated to up.  

Interesting factoid:  this title is the most downloaded ebook of all time.  Also, there have been Swedish movies  produced based on all three of the books in the series and there is a Hollywood version scheduled to release in December of this year.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Party at the Firehouse

This weekend we attended a birthday party.  I am blessed to have many great and talented friends, many of them being slightly more experienced mommies that I can go to for advice or tips.  One of my mommy friends in particular is the birthday party ninja.  There are no bounce houses or paid entertainment at her childrens' parties, not that I don't love a good bounce house!  At these birthday parties, we have gone on a backyard lion hunt (safari theme), created individual mini pizzas (chef party), and even had an entire party dedicated to the color orange!

Well, this time it was a fireman party.  Seems simple enough, but we started the event with a tour of a real fire house.  We watched a safety video, talked to firemen, and learned some valuable information on preventing fires, and what to do if there is a fire.  One key tip for all of the parents: firemen are scary to small children!  Who knew?  They came into the room dressed in their gear, hats, masks, boots, tools, and the children were terrified.  Imagine being very small and your house is on fire and you are so scared.  Then this big, noisy, strange, monstery thing comes in and tries to get you!  It was so important to learn how to talk to our children about firemen and what they actually look like on the job.  We have met firemen before but it has always been in their regular uniforms, not with all of their gear and the "Darth Vader" sounding mask.  It was great to be made aware of this and to have the children get a little more familiar with what a fireman in full gear actually looks and sounds like.

So, after the demonstration, it was on to the fun stuff: checking out the fire house and of course, the truck!  You know it's all about the truck!  Every child got to look at, touch, climb on, and explore the truck.  They rang the bell, and they got to go on a real ride in the truck, with lights and sirens of course!  What fun!  Every child learned a lot, had fun, and came away with books, crayons, and stickers all courtesy of the Norman Fire Department.  The guys were so great with the kids and adults, they answered questions, shook hands, and really took time out of their day to make sure everyone was having a good time.  So, thank you firemen!  And thank you birthday ninja!

Apparently touring a fire department is as easy as calling them up and asking.  It's amazing what you get when you ask, isn't it?  What a fun and important activity for a birthday party, pre-school, daycare, or playgroup.  Get out, and get to know your local fire department!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Surprise at the Library

I know, I know, I'm constantly waxing on about the wonders of the public library!  Here's what I love, within 20 minutes of my house my kids have THREE great public libraries.  Each one is unique and has different strengths (and a few weaknesses).  So, last week we decided to go the the "little library" in a small town to the South of us.  A former co-worker of mine was going to do a "learn Spanish story time" and I thought this would be great fun.  I even talked one of my mommy friends into making a caravan with me.

Well, as life often goes, the plans were changed at the last minute.  The "knows Spanish" librarian ended up being sick that day, leaving a "does not know Spanish" librarian in charge of story time.  But this crafty librarian had a few tricks up her sleeve.  She called the chief of police, who called the fire department, and the EMT's.  So, instead of learning Spanish, we had stories read to us by the police chief and the fire captain!  They read, of course, stories about police officers and fire fighters.  They told us a little about their jobs, and then....AND THEN...we went outside where they had a police car, a fire truck, and an ambulance!!!  The kids had fun crawling all over the vehicles and touching the tools and gadgets.  Well, except my daughter, who put her complimentary coloring book over her head and complained that it was too hot (she WAS right, but still).  It was a "happy accident" to quote the great Bob Ross.

I think it is very important that children see emergency responders as friendly, approachable people and this was a great opportunity to meet them up close, see all of their cool gadgets, and thank them for the services that they do in our communities.  Yet another fun, free, and educational outing at the library!

Check out if you are interested in learning more about the Pioneer Library System and all of the fun activities they have for all ages.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

VBS-Let's Go to Nazareth!

So this week's go-go activities are at Vacation Bible School.  I remember VBS from my own childhood and am so happy to pass this tradition on to my children...well, really just the one for now.  I think my son is learning the traditions of eating leftovers and watching DVR'd Discovery Channel shows!

Our church does such a wonderful job at so many things, VBS being one of them.  It truly is a church-wide effort with so many different "actors", helpers, shepherds, cooks, you name it from teenagers all the way up to grandparents.  And the sets, my goodness, those small children actually think they are in Nazareth!  My daughter told a friend of mine last night "I met Jesus's Mommy!!!"  It is just magical.

Okay, enough gushing.  There is the fact that my fingers may be permanently stained from tie-dying 25 t-shirts for pre-schoolers, or the looming possibility that my daughter will be an over-tired grouch for the rest of the week!  But, it's just four days.  Our church, like most I suspect, welcomes happily any child in the community who wishes to have some fun and fellowship for the week.  There is no charge, there is no dogma or doctrine you have to adhere to, it is a true community service.  I am so proud and happy to be a part of this great event.  Wherever you are, I strongly encourage you to check out the local vacation bible school near you.  Chances are, your child will have a great time and make memories that will last a lifetime.  And if you're feeling extra enthusiastic, join in the fun yourself!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

This is number 12 in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  I suspect that it is also the last one but we will just have to wait and see.  As these books are really just a continuation of the same theme, so this will pretty much be a review of the entire series.

I really do not like mystery books.  I don't have the patience for them and I'm not a big fan of gore.  These books, however are such a treat.  They are more "detective fiction" than mystery and are very character and place driven.  Throughout the series, we get to know Precious Romatswe, the "traditionally built" and infinitely wise woman who has decided to become the only private detective in Botswana.   Let me just say, this woman is awesome!  You want her to be your best friend, or next door neighbor or something.  All of the characters are a hoot, but Mma (Mrs. or Ma'am in Setswana, the language of Botswana) Romatswe is absolutely the driving force behind these books.  She is just, humble, knowledgeable, and very funny.  Each book has a couple of "cases" with interesting twists and turns, along with lots of back story and development of the characters, each of whom the reader will come to love over time.  None of these books are going to win a Pulitzer, but if you are looking for a "cozy" read with really good life lessons and beautiful imagery, these are the books for you.  You can just feel the love of this tiny African nation coming off of the pages.  I'll bet the tourist industry of Botswana is completely indebted to Mr. McCall-Smith!  Truly, these are all very good, easy and life-affirming reads, perfect for a hot summer afternoon.

Oh, and I tried the wisdom often espoused in the books that hot tea is useful for cooling oneself on hot days....I'm not sure it really worked but then again it was just regular green tea, not Mma Romatswe's special red bush tea!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Four Letter Words

I admit it, I use them sometimes.  Less and less with every passing year but there are time when they just slip out, or when frankly, they are just the only word to convey a certain situation.  But, as I have become a parent, and more recently a parent to two talking children, I have come to take on an absolutely never, ever, not-in-my-house policy to two particular four letter words:  CAN'T and HATE.

I know, not the typical f-bomb but I have come to realize that these two words are just as dangerous, maybe even more so because they are very easily picked up and internalized by pre-schoolers.  For example "Mommy, I hated binkies when I was a baby."  Well, yes she is absolutely right, particularly thanks to a well meaning nurse who insisted we just hold the dang thing in until she liked it.  But, I digress.  Somehow hearing the word "hate" come out of the mouth of my precious baby girl is disturbing to me.  Next, she will hate what I've made for dinner, or the new shoes I've purchased her, or the girl who is mean to her in class, or someone who is different than her.  Paranoid?  Maybe, but it seems to me a slippery slope.  There is almost always a better choice of words, one that conveys a more accurate and less hostile message.

And then there is "can't."  Ah, this one drives me especially batty!  "I can't put my pants on myself; I can't pick up my room; I can't eat this; and on and on and on."  It blows my mind how many things my smart, sassy children cannot do, without even trying to just do.  Yes, they are very young and they may need to ask for assistance with some things but trust me, they are not being asked to do anything that they absolutely can't do at this age.  Every "can't" in my house is immediately met with "try."      

Often, the "can't" comes out when they don't want to do something; it's too hard, or they might miss part of a show, or it's something they don't like to do.  Well, tough cookies kiddos!  I was not blessed with a great skeletal system.  It is crooked and creaky and often causes me great pain.  It would be easy sometimes to say that I can't do something, but then what?  The next time I don't feel like doing something, out comes the can't card again and before you know it, I'm one of those reality-show wrecks who hasn't left the house in 76 years!  Instead, I try, which usually leads to doing.  So, for me can't is the ultimate four letter word and one that sometimes brings out "mean mommy."

 I could care less if my children are math geniuses or soccer stars, but by gosh, they are going to give their all whatever they do, and they are going to be nice and polite about it too.  Or else!

PS-I may count this as my PSA, wonder if I can get .org status now???

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Trips with Toddlers: The Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very Ugly

So we just got back from our first vacay with the kiddos in tow (San Antonio for what it's worth).  The kids had a blast!  Hubby and I, well, we are a little shell shocked.  Here's the breakdown:

The Good -
Our Hotel.  We stayed a Holiday Inn near Sea World and it was awesome.  Thanks to my Superhero friend for the tip.  Great pool, check.  Restaurant with full breakfast, check.  Friendly staff, check.  Hourly shuttle to and from Sea World, check.  Seriously, this was a great hotel.  Oh, and it was "green" and you know I loved that...although it would have been nice to have a couple more lights in the room.  I'm all for green but one tiny light bulb in the living room and one lamp in the bedroom was a little ridiculous.  Great windows though!

Panning for gems.  We randomly stopped along the way at Natural Bridge Caverns.  I love caves and I remembered hubby and I having a blast in this one on a previous trip to SA, in another pre-children life.  However, the kids were near meltdown stage, the tour was 75 minutes long and I had visions of freak-outs 1 mile underground so we skipped the cave tour.  But we did buy some bags of what looked like dirt and panned for gems in their old-timey sluice.  Everyone had so much fun, it was probably the best part of our trip. And, we came home with a couple of bags of really cool gems.  I love geology!

Ernesto's.  This restaurant was soooo yummy.  It was like Mexican food all fancied up!  Their tortilla soup was apparently the first served in the city and it was a m a z i n g!  Everything was great, including the fact that Ernesto himself came over and talked to us, remarking on how beautiful my babies are.  He knows how to get a good tip out of a mommy!  If you are ever in San Antonio, this is the place to eat.

The Bad -
Sea World.  Sorry, but this has to go on my bad list.  There were some good things.  We enjoyed the shows, feeding the sea lions, and the pre-schooler ride/water area, but overall I was not impressed.  There were not nearly enough actual animal exhibits and the ones they had didn't allow for much interaction unless you pre-booked and payed extra for the "experience."  In Orlando, they have humongous tanks of sharks and things that you can walk through in a giant tunnel, you could hand-feed manta rays, and lots of other great educational things.  And that was in the 80's!  Also, this Sea World was randomly and strangely laid out, and besides the shows, you have to pay extra for everything.  I wouldn't have minded the price tag if there had been more to do and see, but for the money I can think of lots of more exciting or educational things to do with kids for the money.  It didn't help that my kids were not sleeping well and by 10am (their opening time) they were already exhausted and ready to nap in the stroller, or throw tantrums.

The Ugly -
US.  As in myself, my children, and my husband.  Ah, where do I start?  My children thought it was great fun to shriek at the top of their lungs in the car all of the time!  This, coupled with traffic and road construction in unfamiliar cities turned my normally sweet hubby into a raging, fist shaking, threatening angry dad.  The kids did not sleep.  Bedtime every night was a several hour process of more yelling, threats, pleading, song singing, you name it.  The do not share a room in our house and the idea of staring at one another across the bed said "playtime" not nighttime.  Ahh, it was exhausting.  Not to mention it made for more meltdowns during the day.  As for me, I was so occupied trying to cram as much "fun" into the trip, that I pretty much exhausted myself and my family.  Here's a tip, a two and three-year-old don't really give a flying poo about the Alamo, save that for when they are at least school age.

So, I think we probably had a pretty typical trip with kids.  Some fun, some screaming, some more fun, some "kill me now" moments, and so on.  In the future, it will likely be just hubby and I again.  If I do travel with the kiddos again anytime soon, it will be a much shorter, closer to home trip.  If we went to San Antonio again, I would skip Sea World altogether, stay downtown, and do the museums, parks and zoos there.  I wish we would have had some more time to do those things but it just didn't happen.  Maybe next year!