Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Didn't Know...

I am a planner.  I pretty much research the heck out of anything:  new restaurant, vacations, houses, and certainly having kids.  By the time my first child arrived I had read about 30 books and countless blogs, taken classes, quizzed friends and family, and purchased size 3T Winter clothes.  That's just how I roll!  So, imagine my surprise that I am continually, well, surprised by this whole motherhood thing.  Here are some things that I didn't know:

Breastfeeding hurts.  A lot.  A lot, lot.  And yet, most of us who try it end up loving it.  I'm not sure what that says about us.

When you finally get a night out with the hubby and friends, chances are you will find yourself discussing your baby's poo like it is the most interesting (and appropriate) dinner conversation ever.  This will continue for years.  Moms are poo-obsessed.

You will refer to yourself in the third person.  You will also call your husband Daddy (and not in a fun way).

At some point you will be, um, indisposed, and both of your children will simultaneously have some sort of crisis on opposite ends of the house.  Breathe deeply, and think "This will make a really funny story to tell my friends."

Good neighbors are golden.  If you have bad neighbors, then move.  It is that important.  Family is great, but they are not next door.  If they are, then you are either the luckiest or unluckiest mommy in the world.

There will be times when you will be shocked by the anger and frustration you feel towards your children.  There will be times when you will be equally as shocked by the fierceness of your love for your children.

Yelling pretty much never works.  And yet, 99% of us do it.

You should always have snacks with you, but don't bring them out until you really need them.  Nothing quells a tantrum quite like a full mouth. 

You will simultaneously doubt every decision you make and also think that the world would be a better place if everyone just listened to you. 

You will jerk awake in the middle of the night with visions of terrible tragedies befalling your children.

You will fight and plead a pray for them to just go to sleep only to sneak in when they do so that you can watch them sleeping and pet their precious heads. 

Every day will be completely exhausting in some way.  Every single day. 

You will become a cryer.  News stories of both good and bad things happening to children will especially get you going but it can really be anything.  A well-scripted AT&T commercial, a friend's photo of a motorcycle escort for a fallen soldier, a homeless person on the side of the road.  All of these things have brought out the waterworks for me in the past few days alone. 

Basically what I am saying is that motherhood is full of ambivalence.  And that it makes you completely insane!  But, then again, I'm probably preaching to the choir here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mommy Day!

Hallelujah!  School is in session!  I took some serious heat from my friends last year for sending my kids to Mother's Day Out on different days.  Honestly, I did have fun hanging out with them individually last year.  Especially my daughter since we got to do bigger kid stuff without me chasing after a baby the entire day.  My poor son really just got to accompany Mommy on the various errands I didn't get to do the rest of the week.  However, it really did pretty much nix any free time I could have had.  

So this year I signed them up for the same day once a week, with a second day for my daughter.  That means I am guranteed an entire 5 hours a week just to myself!  Oh the bliss, the confusion, I mean, what do regular humans do with themselves without tiny people to herd all day?  My goal is to mostly use this time for myself, within reason.  Let's face it, there are still kitchens to be cleaned, bills to be paid, and groceries to get.  But, I'm off to a bang on my first day.  Today I worked out at a new gym (more about that later), then hit the sales at the mall.  Weirdly, I didn't find much.  I think my brain was in some sort of peace-induced shock and I just stared at the same handful of bags for about 45 minutes, unable to make a decision on which one I liked best.  It seems that my brain works best when it is at the mercy of a toddler's wild mood swings  I'm pretty sure the saleslady thought I was a shoplifter.   

For extra fun I picked up a pint of mint gelato from the new Natural Grocers Store.  Hey, I worked out right?  Overall it was a good day.  Thank you friends, you were absolutely right!  Next week, I'm imagining pedicures and a long lunch.  It's gonna be a good year!  

Oh, and the kids loved school too!  

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

I read this book for our book club at the library.  Come join us next month if you love reading!

I have never read anything by Binchy before, which is strange because she is a very popular author and I generally love Irish fiction.  It always seems so quirky and poetic.  Anyway, this book certainly was quirky.  Each chapter is devoted to a different character, with many of them intersecting.  I generally enjoy books with multiple points of view and I enjoyed this one as well, but I have to admit it was sort of confusing starting each chapter with a new character.  It was almost like a chain, with one sort of organically leading into another. 

What each character does have in common is a connection to the well of St. Anne.  Deep in the whitethorn woods, outside the village of Rossmore, is a shrine to St. Anne where locals believe wishes are granted.  However, the town is divided over a proposed highway that would cut through the woods and destroy the well.  Some believe that the road would symbolize progress, others are adamant that the woods and the well be preserved.  As the stories unfold, you find such a cast of amazing and appalling characters, all desperate for St. Anne to grant them their wish.  Does the wishing well work?  It depends on who is asked.  Regardless, everyone has something to learn as they visit the famous well.  This books was a fun and interesting read with so many well-developed and dynamic characters.  I will certainly be reading Maeve Binchy again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Overheard at the table...

Sometimes I think mealtime with a three-year-old and a two-year-old is enough to drive me to drink.  I have semi-seriously considered instituting a "no eating in the house rule."  Maybe if the weather is ever decent again we will move at least part of our meals outdoors.  Just the instructing and clean-up with these children through three meals a day plus snack is a monumental part of my day.  So, here are some of the things that typically are said at least a time or 20 during any given mealtime at my house.

"Sit on your bottom."
"Use your fork, not your fingers."
"Mommy has the same thing on her plate as you."
"Stop drinking your ketchup/salad dressing.  No, I will not get you more."
"Please say 'excuse me' when you make that noise."
"Get out from under the table."
"Stop digging your fork into the table."
"Eat like a little girl/boy not a doggie."
"No, you cannot have a cookie instead."
"Sit on your bottom."
"Eat at least two bites of everything."
"I'm sorry you don't like it but this is what's for dinner tonight and you need to eat some anyway."
"Get back in your chair."
"Stop picking your nose."
"This is the squash/pepper/whatever that YOU picked out.  This is YOUR special vegetable."
"Sit on your bottom."
"Get your fingers out of your drink."
And finally, from Hubby in his best/worst British accent:  "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?"

Really, it's no wonder why I barely eat my dinner and then have waaaay too many snacks after they go to bed!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sunday Supper: Roast Chicken

Last week I found myself with some lemons and limes that had seen better day.  So, I thawed out a whole chicken that had been hibernating in the freezer for a while and decided to make a "classic" Sunday supper:  citrus herbed roast chicken.  The secret here is the herbed butter under the skin.  If you put it on top of the skin it just melts off Mr. Chicken and burns in the bottom of the pan.  Again, I did not invent this concept, I just know that it works awesomely.  I probably got the idea from my secret best friend, Rachael Ray.  Secret as in she doesn't actually know that I exist.  But one day she will, and then we will be best friends!  Annnnnyyyyway, back to the bird:

1 medium whole chicken, rinsed and cleaned (go to your happy place and think of the yummy end result), and patted dry
1-2 assorted citrus fruits, thinly sliced and zested.  I used 1 large lemon and 1 large lime.
1/2 onion
3-4 large cloves of garlic, divided
2-4 T butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
Sea salt and cracked black pepper

To make compound butter:  Combine 1/2 garlic, butter, herbs, citrus zest, and salt and pepper in a bowl.  Use a fork to smoosh it all together.  Don't melt the butter, you want it to be semi solid for "stuffing."

With your fingers (again, go to your happy place), separate the skin from the breast, thighs, wherever you can make a little pocket, and shove in some pats of the herbed butter.  Slip a few slices of citrus under the skin with the butter and smooth it all out.  If you have any citrus left, put it inside the chicken cavity with the reserved onion and garlic. I also tucked a couple of slices under his wings and tossed a couple more on was a large lemon.  Pat any remaining butter all around the chicken and season with extra black pepper.  At this point, if you are more talented than me, you can "truss" the chicken by tying his little legs and wings close against his body.  If you are lazy like I am, you will place him breast up on the roasting pan (with rack) and just tuck his little legs and wings under his body.  The point is to get everything to cook evenly by not having the limbs flopping around and burning while the rest of him is slowly cooking.  So, once your bird has been poked, prodded, and seasoned in every way possibly and you are sick of the sight of him, toss him in the oven at 350 for 1 1/2-2 hours.  After 90 minutes, pull him out and wiggle his leg.  If it wiggles loosely and easily, chances are he is done.  Or, you can inspect the "juices" coming out of him and see if they are clear.  Either way, cook until he's cooked!

When he is about 45 minutes from being finished (after about an hour or so), toss some veggies with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper and herbes de provence.  I used carrots, onions, and portabella mushrooms.  Add them on a baking sheet to the oven with the chicken.
Let the chicken rest for 10-15 minutes when it comes out of the oven.  This is when I would prepare Stove Top Stuffing!  I'm not Betty Crocker, I do not make my own stuffing.  Serve and enjoy the accolades.

You should have enough left over for sandwiches, enchiladas, or soup.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cheesiest Story Time Ever!

I love cheese... and wine.  Wine and cheese, what's not to love?  So, long ago I signed up for the newsletter at my local rock-star independent cheese store, Forward Foods.  They do several cheese courses a month, including of course, wine and cheese.  I have the best of intentions of taking one someday but it's always something:  I have to work that night, it's $35, I have to drive all of the way to their Oklahoma City store, you know the drill.  Then, I saw a different cheese course, FREE cheese tasting story time!  Are you kidding?  I had my kids signed up in the time it took me to say Yippee!  It's about time I ratcheted up the "good" food brainwashing on those little sponges, and this was the perfect opportunity.  Of course, the excitement only lasted a few minutes (I have a pretty short attention span) and then I promptly forgot about it.

Luckily, they were kind enough to send me a reminder email the day before.  So off we went to the big ol' city.  Their new store is beautiful, with wide aisles, endless yummies, and a little mock grocery store just for kids.  Our lovely cheesemonger, Bailey, greeted us and set up the kiddos with coloring while she got their snack.  On the menu?  Fresh buffalo mozzeralla, organic apples, organic milk, and Annie's bunny grahams.  Did I mention that this was free?  She read the kids stories and kept them entertained while I shopped.  Oh the bliss, roaming a gourmet grocery while my kids were happily entertained!

Yum, yum!
The selection at their Oklahoma City location was a bit larger too .  There is a wonderful olive bar, lots of fresh produce, and of course, the cheese.  The kids had a blast and it was fun to explore their store without feeling rushed or waiting for something to crash at my feet.  Bailey said that they would like to do more of these story hours but they will need to get the word out. Well, Bailey, I'm doing my part.  Story time at the cheese store: happy kids, happy mama, happy day!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer

I have read a couple of Meg Wolitzer's books before and have always enjoyed them.  They are usually packed with social commentary, particularly as it relates to the place of women and mothers in society.  I hesitate to use the word "feminist" but there is definitely a focus in Wolitzer's work on modern women's roles in an out of the home.

In this latest novel, we are introduced to an ordinary couple who teach in an ordinary school in an ordinary town.  After many years of marriage, they are still in love, kissing in the halls between classes at the high school where they both teach.  Life at Eleanor Roosevelt High School (Elroy for short) is Americana-classic.  There is the married couple who always win teachers of the year; the socially-dysfunctional math teacher; the exotic Indian guidance counselor; and a host of average teachers and average kids going about their average lives.

When a strange new drama teacher arrives the local ladies are intrigued by her non-traditional marriage and her bold choices.  Suddenly, one by one the woman fall under a strange spell that makes them "turn away from their husbands."  I like the concept but this part did seem a little contrived, the whole "spell" thing.  What made this book so interesting is the way the entire dynamic of the couples, the school, and the town changed just based on a lack of, well, s. e. x.  No one can quite put their finger on the change but it is tangible and confusing to everyone.  Suddenly teachers are giving lower grades, couples are fighting, and people all over town are feeling angry and depressed.  The spell seems to be affecting everyone, young and old, except for the new drama teacher.  As the "sex strike" continues, each couple must figure out how to break the cycle of monotony and regain the romance in their lives.  This book was an interesting read and a good reminder of the importance of keeping life interesting, in all aspects.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Come on preschool!!!

I will admit, these last few weeks, I have been "angry mama."  Who would have seen this coming?  Once I found out I was pregnant, I couldn't wait to be a stay-at-home-mom.  I wanted to sing silly songs at story time, have play dates, and cuddle warm little bodies while we watched Sesame Street.  And all of that has been wonderful, truly I know how blessed I am to get to stay at home with these little miracles.  But, there is also the tedium of day in and day out with two creatures who are more strange and noisy aliens than fully-developed humans.  Sometimes it's all a bit too much.

When my daughter was almost one, I started her once a week in the Mother's Day Out program at our church.  It was with a good amount of guilt that I decided to pay someone else part of my limited budget to do what I was "staying at home" to do.  I remember the first few weeks when I would drop her off, hover psychotically in the parking lot or the director's office, then drive around in confusion, then go home and call the director (a very, very patient woman), then come and pick her up early.  Luckily for everyone, I got over this!  My daughter loved going and her caregivers loved her.  Fast forward a few years and both my kids are always thrilled to go to "church school."  For some reason I did not sign them up for the summer session.  I guess I had visions of idyllic stay-cation day trips, swimming, and lots of play with friends.  Instead, it has been hot, hot, hot and I am losing my mind.  We have had some very fun times but many of my plans just didn't seem as fun or were downright impossible because of the weather.

Then there is the fact that my son is now in a toddler bed (not my call) and the days of putting him in a crib and being guaranteed that he would just fall asleep are gone.  So now I spend my afternoons chasing two kids back into their beds and feeling like I am swimming upstream.  All of these things have added extra madness into an already chaotic "job" and I am starting to feel like a yelling, threatening, pleading, teeth gnashing, caricature of motherhood.  I mean really, we all have bad days but this is turning into a bad month.  So, what I am saying is: I love my children, I love my "job" and I thank God every day that it is an option for our family.  However, next Tuesday my children and I will be outside our church the minute they allow, falling on our knees in gratitude at getting away from one another for a few blissful hours.  Absence: it DOES make the heart grow fonder!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Marina Singh has carefully created a safe, quiet life for herself.  After a tragic mistake during her residency, she gave up the life of a surgeon and became a researcher for a pharmecutical firm.  However, when her partner mysteriously disappears in the Amazon while trying to locate a rogue field researcher, Marina finds herself on a plane to the jungle.  It is a world she has been terrified of her whole life: wild, chaotic, confusing.  It is a world where nothing and nobody are as they seem.  A world where the lines of medicine and ethics are constantly blurred and where Marina feels simultaneously terrified and fascinated.

As she tracks down Dr. Swenson, the researcher who claims Marina's lab partner has died, she discovers a lab where life-changing breakthroughs are just under the surface.  In the middle of it all is a tribe of people who are profoundly strange and tender, and very vulnerable.  They are the keepers of a secret, a secret that could cause an end to malaria worldwide, or could create bloody battles for control of this powerful new discovery.  As the book spirals towards its climax, Marina is forced to make decisions that no doctor, or no human, could easily make.  

If I had to use one phrase to describe this book it would be "thought provoking."  I found myself contemplating it long after I had read the last pages.  It is beautiful and tragic with strong and dynamic characters and an intricate plot.  It is a story that will possibly change the way you think about the world around you.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stomp Dancing and Spider Man

Last week Hubby took a day off of work and we had a little staycation day.  I have been wanting to go to the Chickasaw Cultural Center pretty much since the day it opened so off we went to Sulphur.  It is only about an hour's drive from Norman, perfect for a little nap for the kiddos if they so chose, which of course they didn't.  The grounds alone of this place are so gorgeous and worth the trip.  Gardens, natural architecture, and water running through the entire place in the form of streams, waterfalls, fountains, and simple reflecting pools.

Careful, if you have kids and it's a hot day you really have to make certain they don't mistake it for those streams at the zoo that you can play in!  Just sayin'.   Here's mine with their little noses inches from the water.

One of my favorite parts was the Honor Garden.  It is a beautiful fountain surrounded by a labyrinth garden.  On the walls are photos and brief biographies of deceased Chickasaws.  It was a beautiful, peaceful place.  That is, when I wasn't busy trying to keep my kids out of the water!  The water serves as a common theme running throughout the entire grounds.  There is also an exhibit hall filled with Chickasaw art and cultural information, a cafe, a large library and research center, a traditional village, a "Sky Pavillion" with an amazing view of the surrounding grounds, and an amphitheater.

At 10:30 every day there is a presentation on stomp dance rituals.  the dancers and musicians were fun to watch and very informative.  I would have liked to see the entire presentation, but my blondie girl was literally wilting under the hot Oklahoma sun.  We ended up spending most of our time in the exhibit hall in the a/c and did not make it to the village.  I plan on going back in the fall and spending more time, and maybe trying the cafe where local produce and native dishes are served.  This was such a beatiful and fun experience, I can see it being a place we visit yearly.

We ate lunch at an old-fashioned diner in Sulphur and then headed for home, the long way.  As in opting for the little country highway instead of the interstate.  It turned out to be a great idea because we happened upon the Toy and Action Figure Museum in Pauls Valley.  I had heard about this little museum before and knew we had to stop when I saw it.  I don't know who's zany idea this was, but it a weird way.  The displays consist of a humongo "bedroom" scene filled with every action figure you have ever seen, and about a thousand you haven't, then there is PeeWee's big green chair, a display of GI Joes and other "soldier" toys, a Batman through the ages display, a whole Mickey Mouse section, and a whole list of other random, strange, and fascinating toys.  There is even a "hands-on" section with dress-up clothes and lots of strange and random toys, super fun if you can get over the germ factor.  My daughter was tickled by the wall of action figure underwear, particularly strange as they were clearly grown-up sizes!  Seriously, this museum takes "quirky" to a whole new level!  I'm not sure if you are going to expand your brain by going, but you are guranteed to at least once say "Awwwww,  I had that when I was a kid!"

Batmobile anyone???

Fun for the kid in everyone!

I'd call it a balanced day; we visited a peaceful and educational oasis and then made a pit stop in the land of kitsch!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

As you may well know, we got a "cool" front here in the Great Plains!  That means the temperature today is slightly under 100 degrees and everyone is celebrating.  It's a strange, strange world we are coming to.  Anyway, Shepherd's pie is just about Hubby's favorite dish and I figured I owed him since he was so sweet about the "burgers" I served earlier this week.  And since it was non-scorching outside, I decided to go ahead with this "heat up your kitchen" dish.  Yep, you know you're an Okie when even slightly cooler weather makes you start thinking of warm and hearty dinners!

This week, I had sweet potatoes but no regular ones.  Generally I do a combo but considering sweet potatoes are the most nutrient rich food in the grocery store (according to Rachael Ray), it can't hurt to do all sweet!

For the potatoes:

2 medium sweet potatoes, washed, roughly peeled, and cut into 1 inch-ish cubes
3-4 green onions, sliced
1/2 C low-fat cream cheese
1/2 C low-fat milk
Parmiggiano-reggiano, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Garam Masala (I have a fellow blogger friend who has reminded me of the magic of this seasoning blend, magic with sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other orange veggies).

Boil potatoes in enough water to cover until fork-tender (about 10-15 minutes).  Drain and put back into the hot pot.  Add all other ingredients and mash with a potato masher until well mixed.  If you tip a little too much milk in (like me), turn the burner back on low for a few minutes until you dry out the potatoes to your desired consistency.  Save some parm for the top, it browns very nicely.

Meat 'n gravy:

1 lb ground beef (or lamb if you want to be authentic, but it's quite a bit fattier)
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 8oz package white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T flour
1-2 C beef stock
Handful of frozen peas
Pepper and fresh rosemary to taste

Brown 1 lb ground beef in large skillet.  Use local, grass-fed beef if you can.  Trust me, there is a difference.  No yucky grey stuff, no pink slime, just yummy "real" meat that looks, smells, and tastes better.  Okay, sorry for the soapbox!  Anyway...cook beef until browned, try to not turn or stir it too much until it gets a nice browned crust on it; it will deepen the flavor of the whole dish.  Remove meet to drain on paper towels.  Add olive oil to skillet, then add mushrooms and onions.  Cook until brown, then add garlic.  Give another stir or two and then add the flour.  Cook flour in for a couple of minutes (it gets pretty goopy at this point), then add stock, stirring well to incorporate flour into liquid and pulling up brown "crust" from the bottom of the pan.  Start with less and then add more until you get the desired  gravy-ish consistency.  Turn heat to medium-low and let cook for a few minutes as sauce thickens.  Season with pepper and rosemary or herbs de provence.  Turn off heat add the ground beef back in, along with a couple of handfuls of peas.

Stir well, then pour into a deep casserole or baking pan.  Top with an even layer of potato mixture, add extra cheese (sharp Irish cheddar would be delicious), bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until browned and set.  Enjoy!

I had the best of intentions of taking a picture of the finished product when it came out of the oven, but somehow it didn't happen.  I blame it on the two concentration-zappers living in my house!  Oh well, it's really not the best-lookin' meal anyway.  Just trust me, it's tasty!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Service with a smile...

Today, in honor of the rain, I took the kiddos to a very special lunch out.  When we pulled up, a snappily dressed man with a black umbrella rushed out to greet us.  He held it over my head as I unbuckled both of my children from their car seats, then made sure to keep all three of us covered as we entered the building.  At the door, two more employees in matching black and white held the doors open for us.  We placed our order and were escorted to a table with a fresh floral arrangement while we waited for our food to be delivered.  While we ate, a nice young woman periodically checked on us to see if we needed anything, anything at all.  After we were finished eating, dessert was quickly brought for my children to share.  Then, another woman asked if she could clear the table.  Finally, we were ready for the main event:  shoes off and into the noisy chaos of the play area.  Yep, that's right, we went to Chick Fil A!

I love Chick Fil A; it's pretty much the only fast food I feel good about feeding my kids.  I love the healthy-ish options, the cute books and games that they give with the kids' meals, and the fact that the stores are always clean and staffed with friendly people.  But, the Chick Fil A in Moore is going above and beyond!  Seriously, people with umbrellas?  Fresh flower bouquets?  And I'm not talking about a single carnation, these were some serious floral arrangements.  Not to mention that they have always been a great friend of the Moore Library.  What a fun treat for a rainy weekday.  Way to go Chick Fil A of Moore!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

OKC Zoo, Off the Beaten Path

I am a creature of habit, a routine follower.  I sit in the same pew at church, I have the same shopping routine on relatively the same day.  And, when I go to the zoo, I walk relatively the same route:  elephants, Oklahoma trails, carousel, aquarium, herpetarium, Children's Zoo, parking lot.  Today we went with some pretty zoo-savvy friends and saw some completely new things.  My daughter acted as though she had never seen the giraffes before.  Silly girl, your daddy took you to see them...once!  I always plan on seeing the giraffes but they are kind of out on a big, exhausting loop of hyenas and "hoofed animals" and once you get stuck out there on a hot day, you don't feel like repeating the experience!  We also saw some Red River hogs and their little babies.  Interestingly enough, they were from West Africa.  For those of you not in Sooner-ville, the Red River has a whole different meaning around here!
Another rare one for us, the cat forest.  We usually hit the lions briefly, but don't take a lot of time to see the leopards, ocelots, etc. and it was a nice treat to really check these guys out.  We spent a lot of time in the Oklahoma Trails, which is always a fun experience for the kids to learn about their home state.  This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest exhibits at the zoo.
Of course, my kiddos cannot spend the day at the zoo without a turn on the carousel.  Their picks today:  the zebra and the walrus.  My daughter thought it was great fun that her friend behind her was on a leopard; she kept turning back and making her most aggressive zebra noise to scare the chasing leopard away!

Somehow, on the way out, we took a different turn than we have ever taken before and ended up at a great cacti garden.  It's strange how you can go to a place a hundred times and still find something new.  Then we did a quick tour through the aviary, another new stop for us.
It was fun to see a familiar place from a whole new angle.  Makes me realize that I need to break out of the routine a little and see what other sights/experiences there are out there!  Maybe I'll make an effort go to the zoo with a different friend every month; who knows what else we will discover?
What, you ask?  No elephants, no Children's Zoo?  These are, after all, probably the biggest draws for families with children, and rightly so.  Don't worry, elephants, we will be back!  But today was a fun day for new discoveries at one of the favorite places for this mommy to go!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Falafel Burgers

So here it is another meatless Monday and I had not planned ahead.  I find myself staring into my freezer and wondering what the heck I am going to feed my family in a few hours.  Then, peeking out from a bunch of other stuff is a box of Morningstar meatless burgers that I bought an embarrassingly long time ago.  Hmmm...I wonder if I could pass that off to the hubby and kids?  What the heck?  Along that same theory, I scanned the refrigerator and found 1/4 tub of sour cream that was about to expire, a bag of salad greens that had almost seen better days, a jar of kalamata olives with exactly 5 left, 1/2 an onion and 1/2 a red bell pepper.  At this point I was feeling pretty creative and just knew that I could come up with something really yummy, and guess what: I did!  The secret is in the sauce; isn't it always really?  So, here it is:

1/4-1/2 cup light sour cream (non-fat Greek yogurt would probably be even better)
1 clove garlic, pasted
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper
5 Kalamata olives, chopped.  Or six, or seven...

Mix all ingredients and let sit for a couple of hours if you've got it.  This was so yummy I could have spread it on anything and been happy!

1 package Morningstar Grillers burgers.
1/2 tub of feta cheese
1/2 package of mixed field greens, or any other greens you like, rinsed and dried
1/2 each red bell pepper and onion, sliced
1T Extra virgin olive oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary or Herbs de Provence (my magic "everything" herb mix)

Heat olive oil in cast iron skillet, add veggies with rosemary and cook 10 minutes or until soft and browned.  Remove to plate.  Add burgers and cook until brown and crispy-ish, about 5 minutes per side.  Once burgers are fully cooked (or warmed, really),  toss a handful of feta on top of each patty, cover with a loose tin foil "tent" and turn off heat.  Feta cheese won't really melt but it will get warm and "smooshy."  Assemble burgers and enjoy!

Looks super yummy, right?  Now, for a bit of a disclaimer:  I served this to my husband, a burger lover if ever there was one.  He took a bite, chewed, thought.  "What do you think?" I asked.  "It's...fine.  The sauce is great."  He added helpfully.  "What you have to do is just not think of it as a 'burger'.  Think of it more as a, as a, well, as a falafel."  He considered this, took another bite, then another.  "It's good."  He declared.  Then he finished his burger and had another. I even heard him saying to the kids "Eat your falafel!"  So, what I am saying is that this does not taste like USDA prime beef.  But, it was really pretty good.  Especially with the sauce and the feta.  Mmmmm....the sauce!  Give it a try.  If you're not a vegetarian this will probably not replace your regular burger, but it did make a nice change.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Heat Wave Survival Guide

Yes, it's hot.  There is nothing I can say that hasn't already been said.  It is freakin' unbearably hot.  And school is out.  So, if you are like me you are now facing day after day after day in this stifling heat with two very young children to entertain.  Here is what I have come up with so far:

Playground mornings:  Like at 8am.  Not so bad really, we have had quite a few nice, peaceful mornings hitting the local park or neighborhood playground early.  There is still a nice breeze and you can rest assured that your kids have earned some "outdoor" time, which will ease the guilt of letting them watch 17 DVR'd shows in the afternoon.  Invite friends for extra fun, and distraction!

Pools:  Sure, a no-brainer for hot weather.  We're up to about three times a week swimming, a pretty big deal considering we don't actually have a pool, just a good neighbor who loves kids!  Again, outside time without roasting under the sun.  At least, not if you time it right!

Libraries:  Trust me, I am not the only one with this idea.  Libraries have been extra busy this summer.  Thank your local librarian; chances are she/he is overwhelmed and under-paid.  Just a guess.

Crafts:  I am seriously craft-challenged.  But, I am learning a few simple things that can keep kiddos entertained for at least a little bit.  Toilet paper roll binoculars, anyone?  Collages from magazine and broken down picture books?  Markers and crayons are especially fun if you have a roll of really big paper, like for tracing little bodies or drawing treasure maps.  Yesterday, I gave my kids an empty wrapping paper tube to play with (can you say desperate mommy)?  In the last 24 hours this thing has been a telescope, rocket ship, an oar, Pinocchio's nose, a leaf blower (my weird son is obsessed with these), and of course, a handy tool for hitting a sibling over the head with.  Tomorrow, maybe we will break out the cotton balls and glue sticks and make our own snowy dream-scape!

Museums: air-conditioned, fun, always changing, and often free or very low-cost.  Enough said!

Finally, TV.  Normally, I would not consider this an activity, but clearly the rules are gonna' change to get though this summer.  If you watch your whole library of kids' movies in two days, what the heck?  We're in survival mode at this point!  What else are you supposed to do when it's 113???  Come on autumn!!!

I will get through this summer, I will get through this summer...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mommies say the darndest things

I promise I went into parenthood with my eyes wide open.  I planned my children.  I had friends with children.  I took a class on caring for children.  Still, nothing prepared me for actually having children.  In my house.  Every single day!  Sometimes the things that come out of my mouth are pretty silly, or a little shocking.  It truly is an adventure having to explain every single thing that I know about being a human to these creatures.  It's not just the language, or how to use a potty, they truly are a blank slate and have to be told everything about what is and is not appropriate behavior.  So, for your entertainment, here are a few of the strangest things I have had to say:

We do NOT drink from the doggie's bowl.

Give the princess shoes back to your brother, he was wearing them first!

Where are your listening ears?

Is that poo on your hand?  Is it yours?

Stop licking your sister!

If you don't go to sleep, the magic fairies cannot come out to visit you.

You can't take off your shirt at the library/mall/grocery store.

Mickey Mouse always eats his sweet potatoes.

We only eat food.  That mommy gives you.  From the table!

I know you are a princess but you still have to pick up your room.

And finally, the ultimate mom-ism:  Because I said so!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Birthday Parties, learning more every year

I am not a natural hostess.  I am overly fussy about things like crumbs on the floor and toilet lids left up.  I over think things like food and prep, trying to make everything special and pretty.  The result is a bunch of fussy food that most people don't recognize and decor that is either not as cute as I imagined or doesn't really matter anyway.  Also, I get nervous and rush about trying to speak to everyone and probably do not listen as well as I should.  That's probably a long enough list for now!  So, with that said, children's birthday parties are a definite work in progress for me.  For one thing, I have yet to find that magic hour when all children are awake, well rested, and in a good mood.  Also, the thought of lots of preschoolers eating cupcakes in my house pretty much makes me want to rush for the nearest hand vac and pack of Clorox wipes.  But, I think I get a little better with every party and here are some of the things I have learned:

Keep the food very, very simple.  Like hot dogs, small sandwiches, fruit, things like that.  Don't get overly hung up on everything being healthy or serving a "square meal."  I remember researching low fat/sugar/artificial cake recipes for my oldest child's first birthday.  Thank God I abandoned that idea and just ordered some cupcakes from the family bakery!

Keep the list small.  That rule of number of kids equaling the age of the child?  Pretty good.  It's hard because you want to include everyone but it is much easier to deal with 3-4 three year olds or 1-2 one year olds than say, 15.  Also, from the age of three on, you'd better ask your child who they want at their party, and respect it.  Trust me, it's embarrassing calling a parent three days before a party to say "My daughter reeeaaallly wants your daughter at this party. I'm sorry I didn't think to invite her before but you see, I forget they are people with feelings and opinions of their own so I just invited the children of my friends."  Or something like that.

Keep the party favors simple.  I've seen some pretty cute stuff in goody bags but really, we all have snacks, candy, and small toys at home already.  Instead, pick one cool toy/craft that goes with the party theme and use that as the favor.  The child and parent will probably appreciate it more than a bunch of tiny stuff.  I learned this tip from my birthday ninja friend.  For this last birthday party, I found a bunch of giant beaker-style bubble wands on clearance at Target.  I literally emptied the entire shelf into my cart!  The kids had a blast running around blowing bubbles in the backyard so it was a "goody" and an activity.  Of course, somehow I didn't get across that they got to take them home (bad hostess-itis) and so my yard ended up littered with bubble wands!

Move things along in a timely basis.  No one wants to hang around your house for 4 hours waiting to see their gift opened.  Meet and greet, activity, snack/meal, cake, presents, thank-you-for-coming.

Keep it simple.  Especially for little ones.  We will all get to the years when children think they must have elaborate, expensive birthday parties.  So take advantage of the fact that most very young children have pretty simple needs.  Try not to over-stress it and relax and have fun.  I'll have to come back and re-read this myself in three months when my daughter turns 4!