Sunday, February 26, 2012

Leap Day Silliness Plotted

It's funny;  I have never given a single thought to Leap Year or Leap Day before.  Not a thought.  Okay well maybe once back in the old days when I carried a checkbook, I might have written March 1 on a check and had to tear it up and write the correct date, Feb. 29.  And I've used Leap Year's to mentally tag "election year."  But that's it, seriously.

For some reason, this year, it has totally captured my imagination.  I am so excited about it!  Wound up!  Because I simply cannot resist the idea that suddenly, we have an extra day.  And we won't have another for four years.

Given all this enthusiasm, I am planning a surprise Leap Day event for the kids.  Now fair enough, the youngest  3 won't have a clue -- they are nowhere near counting to 29 -- but they love all the silliness because they are some silly-billies. None of my kids have ever had a surprise party so that should add to the fun. 

Here are my plans right now.  I am using a "frog" theme for lack of any other great "leap" themes.  Let me know if you have any ideas for me!
  • We'll start with Lily Pad pancakes.  These will be regular pancakes colored green, with a frog on each plate.
  • At breakfast, we'll make a list of words associated with frogs (on green paper, of course) and see if "leap" comes up!  Hopefully one of the "bigs" we'll figure out what's going on!
  • The bigs will be dispatched to find an interesting fact about Leap Year or Leap Day online
  • We will make thumbprint frogs (on cards for later usefulness)
  • We will have some sort of race with our pancake frogs
  • We will play a game of leapfrog
  • We will read a new book, All About Frogs by Jim Arnosky*, to rest up from the leapfrog game. (*Not now readily available - I suggest Frogs by Gail Gibbons.) 
  • We'll go outside on a frog hunt (sometimes we have tree frogs right next door in the greenbelt)
  • While outside, we'll learn the "Thirty days hath September . . ." rhyme
  • We'll play musical lily pads
  • We'll have a frog hunt (I'll hide the remaining frogs from the package in a couple rooms)
  • We'll finish with whichever of our FROGGY! books (by Jonathan London) we can find.
  • We'll hit the indoor pool at the Y; frogs gotta head to the water, right?
  • For tea-time (after nap), or dessert for dinner, we'll have Frog Cake!  
  • Spinach enchiladas for supper!  Yum. (It had to be green, right?)
  • At dinner, we'll talk about where we each see ourselves in four years for the next Leap Day
  • After the Littles go to Bed, we big girls will cap of the day with  a silly romantic movie, Leap Year.
Thus ends our funny, frivolous non-holiday nonsense day!

Now it's your turn!  Got any great "Leap Day" ideas for me?

Photo credit

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Friday - White Fish Risotto

I saw a recipe for white fish risotto on one of my regular blogs and thought, "Why not?"  Since it is the first Friday of Lent, I wanted to start out with something a little special.  This appealed to me because we everything I needed for the recipe already in the house! 

First I needed to make the fish stock.  It was easier than it sounds since I had snapper throat in the freezer. 

The risotto was as simple as risotto can be.  As long as you have everything to hand when you start, you can't go wrong.  It's flavored with orange (both zest and juice) and it was a light and delicate flavor.   I made the recipe just as listed except I cut the butter back a bit.  My only "do-over" is that I would have reserved a couple of slices of orange (similar to the photo) and some minced parsley (which went in the stock) to decorate the top of the dish, it was so white!

 This dish was fantastic!  Every single one from youngest to Dear Hubby asked for seconds. Try it for yourself and let me know what you think. 

Photo credit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Experimental Esthetician

 I may have mentioned that a few months back, Pepper started cutting the Littles hair.  She thought she could do it and we had the tools, so I let her start with The Blitz, since The Captain had a school party the next day. She did great, so I let her move on.

We have been making tiny adjustments along the way and she works like a pro now.  Here's The Blitz.

And his brother:

She's good enough that Dear Hubby decided to let her give his hair a try!  I think she did awesome, what do you think?

Oh, and she trimmed Tinks' bangs, too.  Now that we know Tink has cowlicks, we're letting the top of her hair grow out so those big curls won't stand straight up all the time.

In thanks for all the money (and perhaps more importantly, time) she is saving me, I bought her a hot wax kit.  She has been waxing her eyebrows for some time with this cheesy kit we bought at the drugstore.  It's not really wax.  So I got her the whole shebang for less than the 3 haircuts would have cost. 

We decided to let her try it out on my legs.  It hurt less that I thought it would and it was so worth it!  Sorry, no cheesecake photos here, folks.

Then she did her own brows.  Ever her mother's daughter, she decided to reuse some of the strips she had partially used ( to avoid waste) because that had worked on my legs.  She accidentally got a pea-sized glob of wax stuck to her eyebrow and pulled out a chunk she meant to save.  Oopsie!  I told her she could just draw it in and she did it so expertly you couldn't see the missing piece.

She had a good sense of humor about it and has given me permission to spill the beans to you!  So here's the photographic evidence!

And while we're at it, her only other mishap -- ever -- was this little bobble near The Blitz's ear.

 But hey, since he moves around like a bobble-head the whole time, it could have happened to anyone! I actually don't know how she does it.

There you have it; she's handy in the kitchen, she's an artist, and now an experimental esthetician.  Astounding!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love Day Round-Up

So . . . it's 2:00 and my MIL is coming for dinner in 3 hours.  I really should be cleaning and cooking -- or something!  But after a busy morning of trying to exceed my own (ridiculous) expectations of providing a heart shaped breakfast and lunch to the crew, making Pepper's valentines and cleaning up vomit from four rooms --all produced by one tiny 3 year old -- I have decided to put my feet up, eat Rolos  and blog about Valentine's Day instead.

We love the Love Day.  We are head-over-heels in love with love.  I blame it on homeschooling and a need to fill the days with  - - - s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g.  I also blame it on the fact that for 11 years, I had only two daughters. Girls and romance go together.  It's true.

Therefore, we started celebrating Valentine's day about two weeks ago when la pequeña muchacha was here.  We started with the kitchen hearts.  Everyone made a heart for each other family member saying something we loved about them.  42 hearts is a lot and our cupboards are thoroughly decorated. 

I've been working on the valentines with each child as time allowed and we came up with some cuties this year.

The Blitz's are the simple ones front right.  Many of his were complex affairs with a dozen or more foam heart stickers are stacked up and overlapping.  The one I pulled for the photo happened to be pretty organized.

These cute photos of Tinker did not turn out exactly as planned and were originally supposed to be photos of Bennie. He completely did not "get" what he was supposed to be doing and instead kept punching me.  I finally gave up. 

The Captain had a ball making the jungle animal ones. They really are so cute. (Thank you, Pinterest.)  He did not quite get the play on words -- e.g., "I'm not lion, you're my Valentine" --but Tinker thought they were hilarious.

I also made these cute nosegays of Hershey Kiss rosebuds for his teacher. 

I sent Rice Krispie hearts to school instead of my usual cupcakes because they have a gluten free child in the class.  I am not happy that they weren't even half as cute as the ones on the Kelloggs site but since I followed the directions exactly, I suspect food artistry is the culprit.

We have a big bouquet of the rosebuds for Grandma when she arrives. Maybe all the chocolate will put stars in her eyes and she won't notice the mess.  Fingers crossed!

Sunshine made these cute dynamite ones for her friends.  Pinterest again, thank you very much.

Pepper has been busier than a one-armed-paper-hanger trying to get her room in shape for homeschooling.  In honor of that, I made her valentines for her right quick this morning.  They're the ones (from the grouping picture) with the obligatory paper heart doilies that we have to employ at least once every Valentine's Day.

These are the folded paper valentines that I made for Dear Hubby, the bigs, and a couple of friends.  I am in love with these fun vintage crafties; to make them yourself, I YouTubed the tutorial for you!  I think they would make cute thank-yous to leave on wedding reception tables or as invites to a shower.  I will definitely be looking for ways to re-purpose this idea!

Our Valentine's Lunch.  The girls weren't hungry so only got 2 strawberries each; the Littles had a handful.  The eggs and ham rolls are both supposed to be molded into hearts; neither really worked.  Oh well! 

Finally, here are my returning bowlers.  I "got" to stay home with my little sick girl..  It's the first time I've missed Valentine Bowling in 11 years!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!  Hope it is a day filled with love!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Rainy Day Walk

Day 2 of the 10 Day Family Re-Charge:  Get Outdoors

When Pepper was a baby, I read a baby book from the 1950s.  It had, obviously, what we would call an "old fashioned" approach to child rearing but there was some sage advice in that tome.  The author said that no matter the weather, every baby needed a daily "airing" of one hour.  In truth, this was likely due to the fact that homes were heated with coal and that fresh air every day was crucial.

Nonetheless, it seemed like good advice to me.  So all my children get outside every day regardless of the weather.  Since we live in Texas, that means the winters aren't too bad, but the summer is brutal.  We often get our "outside time" at the local pool in summer.

Now for the confession.  When the Bigs were Littles, I was usually outside with them -- pulling weeds, playing, reading a book, just soaking up the sun.  I am not so good about that now; it's so easy to justify putting the Littles in the back yard where I can still see them and using that time to catch up on housework.  It wasn't that way when they first came; but has slowly evolved over the last year or so.  It's a combination of weariness and a false belief that the house really "should" be cleaner.

Yesterday for the Family Re-charge, we were to go outside.  Really the idea was for the whole family but due to a lot of "big girl" obligations with church, it wasn't going to work.  So while the rest of the family was away in the morning, I bundled the Littles and our foster child up and we went for a walk in the cold, cold rain.

I love the rainy day walks, usually more so in the summer, but the cold felt so cleansing after a week of everyone being sick.  The kids had fun playing with the raindrops on the plants and picking up this and that along the way.  They discovered some earth worms and wondered where the tree frogs  -- so prevalent in summer -- were hiding.  This precipitated an interesting conversation about the difference between winter and summer creatures.  We saw a fountain in someone's yard and learned the difference between waterfalls and fountains.  They picked up a ton of acorns which I let them throw in the street.  It is so fun to throw things!

The four of them looked so adorable toddling around in their winter coats and little hats.  [Well one of them wore shorts against my advice but when we got home I noticed he found his pants pretty fast!]  We had the wide, wet, wonderful world to ourselves, too, as everyone else had taken cover on this blustery day.

We tend to vacation and spend our weekends out of doors, we just need to let a bit more of the outdoors into our weeks.  Having now recalled the healing power of being outdoors together, I am going to reintegrate it into our days, and we will include the Bigs.  A walk to the park or the mailbox;  a stroller walk with the three oldest on bikes, a walk with Dear Hubby and all on the weekends, it fits nicely into the rythym of our life.   

I felt rejuvenated all day.  And once again, I am grateful.  Ahhhh.

I'm Yours!

So first, some unsolicited advice:  If you want to be challenged, blessed and occasionally provoked, start following Erin Barrette Goodman's blog.  Enough said.

So it is Day Seven of the 10 Day Family Re-Charge.  Today we are thinking about the things that make us a family:  our anchor points, our traditions and our memories. 

 Friday is definitely an anchor point for us.  Quite often we watch a family movie on Friday, all huddled together on the sofas, with pillows, blankets and popcorn.  We all unwind together.

Church is an anchor.  We don't go to the same service time every week, but as much as possible, we get there together.  Sundays are "project day" in our house; it's when we do that sewing project, craft thingy or whatever we've been too busy the rest of the week to get to.  It's family day and rare that we run errands or play with friends away from home.  It's our gathering and centering time.

We have tons of family traditions because we are "those" people but I think our simple ones are the ones that our kids treasure the most.  By way of example, years ago to teach the girls to converse, we started a sort of formal table conversation.  Each person answers three questions:
  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What was the hardest part?
  • What would you like a do-over for?
The Littles really don't quite get the whole thread, but they absolutely love having their very own turn to talk where no one interrupts and we all nod sagely as if we understand what they just said!  It provides us some really helpful insight into the big girls lives, too.  It is really connecting to make sure everyone gets some air time.

Another tradition or ritual is that I always check on the kids once they go to bed.  When I tuck the Littles in, I always say, "hasta mañana, see you in the morning" in a sing-songy voice followed by, "sweet dreams."  If I am distracted or interrupted and forget, they all shout it out to me, it matters. 

In the morning, when Dear Hubby heads to work, he has to kiss everyone who's up.  This can take some time, but we never skip it.  The little ones jostle for who gets that last kiss and then, ironically, they practically slam the door on him as he finally heads out. 

Our big traditions center around the obvious holidays, but also include Martin Luther King Day, New Year's Day Brunch (our anniversary), Valentine's Day bowling (and making our own Valentines).  The kids have also come to expect some Tom Foolery coming from Mama on April Fools.  I have come up with some doozies over the years and rest assured, I have some big plans for this year too!

When I was a kid, we did jigsaw puzzles on school holidays.  We'd set the puzzle up on a card table and people just sat down whenever they had the urge to put a few pieces in.  This is something we've done on occasion in this family and something I'll be more purposeful about in the future.  We also played a lot of board games and my "now" family used to have a family game night.  Where did that go?  Look for a come-back there, too!

I find it helpful sometimes to look closely at what it is that binds us together, the small things that say "I'm yours."  It's so easy to take those things for granted.  I can think of a few things, like "game night" that I want to re-institute and a few new things we may have room for.  My theory is, we can never spend too much time together or make too many memories. 

What are the little things you do that say, "I'm yours?"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fun in the Kitchen

So today was "fun in the kitchen" day.  And we did have fun!  Okay -- well actually it was more of a "mindful eating" challenge but you know -- my kids are great eaters!  So we just went for the fun.

First, we made these cool and easy bird feeders.  At least two of these little ones have sensory integration issues so this turned out to be a great exercise for them.  The combination of sticky gelatin and  lumpy birdseed was a good challenge.  The Blitz may or may not have eaten a couple teaspoons of the stuff.  What can I say, it was relatively edible.

Our second project was to mix up a batch of "real" fruit chews.  We have a section in our grocery that sells all this dried fruit I don't buy because it's full of sugar but then I thought, "Why not for a treat? Better than that artiticial stuff they call 'fruit chews'"  So we bought 3 packages based solely on pretty colors.  The kiwis were full slices so I cut them up; they required a sharp, heavy knife.  We mixed them all up with some mixed nuts.

I fogot to photograph the mixing but arent' they pretty?

Finally, before I knew today was cooking day, I had decided to mix a giant batch of meatballs to cook 2 ways.  Pepper had already mixed the meat, so all that remained was seasoning, shaping and cooking.  I knew it was risky but decided to have all the kids help.  I made them promise, promise, promise not to taste it and they had fun, fun, fun!

To make life easier for all of us, I readied a tub of warm soapy water for hand washing afterward.

I like a mix of ground meats for meatballs and I use the leanest available of each type;
  • 86% lean Ground beef, about 2 pounds
  • Ground pork, extra lean, about 2 pounds
  • Ground white turkey meat, about 1 pound
  • Italian sausage seasoned ground turkey, about 1 pound
I use about two pounds the mix to make the filling for this stuffed cabbage; it is a really wonderful seasoning so I use one head of Napa to wrap as many as I can, and the rest I just steam as plain meatballs.  They freeze great.  Notes:  I do not use onions (allergic).  You can use chicken stock and they are still great; I always have dashi stock so I use it.  Dashi stock is really easy to make -- Google it. 

The  rest goes for these Crock Pot Meatballs.

In between we had plenty of time for hanging our bird-feeders, playing in the unexpectedly sunny, warm day and saying good-bye to our little foster friend.   For fun, I gave them an all "round" supper; we made the Asian meatballs for tonight, so I made their rice into little balls, gave them a Satsuma orange (peeled of course), and Spinach Knobs.  They were in heaven with their round food.  For some reason it was really funny.

Another great day!  I am richly blessed!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I'm Glad to be Here

Day 1 of the 10 Day Family Re-Charge

I'm glad to be here.  I'm grateful for space and shelter and running water.

I'm grateful for hands suddenly able to cut a heart and for hands that reach for forbidden markers.

I'm glad to be here.

I'm grateful for the crisp skin of baked chicken and the creamy comfort of polenta.

I love the smell of cooking in the house.

I'm glad to be here.  I'm grateful for teens who cook and leave messes in the kitchen

and for the prayer of washing dishes.

I'm glad to be here.  I'm grateful for the blessing rain - so grateful -

and for the sounds of laughing and fussing; for running feet and banging doors.

I'm glad to be here. I'm grateful for one more day I have not earned;

Blessed to have one more day on this ancient earth;

One more chance to laugh, to live lustily, to reach out to love.

I'm glad to be here.

PS -- la pequeña muchacha returned yesterday evening for a short stay. By law, I can't post her picture here!  But if you email me, I'll send you her picture!  She's a cutie!