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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Channeling my inner six-year old

It occurred to me just the other day that I’ve really only got a few years left of being cool. Soon enough, the fact that I can bust into a twirling jump rope on the playground or tell a killer knock-knock joke isn’t going to get me very far. It’ll probably happen about the same time that I am done changing diapers, cutting up food into very tiny pieces, scraping oatmeal off of the bottom of the kitchen table and reading books made of cardboard.
And just about the time that I start celebrating my new found freedom from the rigors of raising young children, I’ll realize how very sweet it was and how very much I miss it.
So this summer, when the children are all officially home from school and my house becomes a Mecca for popsicles and muddy footprints, I have decided to take it all in before it vanishes as quickly as a newly mopped floor.
It ain’t gonna be easy.
I know how I get wrapped up in my own agenda with simple little things that are a really big deal to me. Things like eating fresh food off of clean dishes. Or wearing clothes that don’t stink or aren’t visibly filthy.
A study done around 2007 showed that mothers today spend more time per week focused on their children compared with the 1960’s, a whopping 14.1 hours per week to June Cleaver’s 10.2. The same study found that modern moms spend 40% less time on housework than their 1960’s counterpart, which explains why my house is always so messy and probably why I don’t wear frilly aprons. Whatever time that is spent doing housework still seems to me like it’s never enough. There is always one more chore waiting for me, one more dust bunny calling my name and laughing at me while I use a butter knife to scrape the oatmeal off of the underside of the table.
But frilly or not, I’m ditching the apron for the next few months. Not only is my kingdom of cool waning, but my children are at the most perfect ages (1, 5, and 7) for crazy summer fun, the exact kind of summer fun that we all want to have but never quite seem to make the time for doing. We’re too busy with this or that. You know, the whole “cat’s in the cradle” syndrome that our parents sang about back when we were kids.
It is with great pride that I share my summertime pledge. Feel free to set the paper down and raise your own right hand, put your left hand on a bottle of bubble soap and recite this with me:
“I, [state your name], do hereby declare this the summer of renewed childhood. I promise to let the mail pile up on purpose and play outside at least once a day. I vow to have a stockpile of water balloons, squirt guns, sunblock, bug spray, popsicles, sidewalk chalk and Frisbees, and to participate in every game of Freeze Tag and Hide-and-Seek that I can find. I will chase after the ice cream man and stay up too late looking at the stars, grass-stain at least one pair of jeans and ruin one pair of shoes by stepping in creek mud. I will touch a frog, catch a lightning bug, and put X’s on my mosquito bites even though I know it doesn’t do a darned thing. I will make an entire meal out of marshmallows and potato chips and drink fruit punch so bright that it nearly glows. I will do this all because I can, because I should, and because next year I just might be the giant nerd my children don’t know about yet.”
And then I will take a nap.

Yes, that's me at age 6. Note the rocking ET shirt and Freckles bike!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The perfect teacher's gift

I literally loathe the end of school because of teacher gifts. There's just something about giving someone something for doing their job when all day, every day, I get pretty much squat for busting my butt taking care of kids, keeping the house in order, mowing the lawn, etc. etc. etc. Other SAHM's will know where I'm coming from.
But still, I am drawn to the gift giving when the time comes and always stressing about what to give.
What's too much?
What's not enough?
Should I make it?
Should my kid make it?
What doesn't qualify as "stuff she doesn't need?"

When my children were in preschool, I came up with some relatively clever ideas. One year I designed some blank recipe cards and left one spot without lines so that my kid could draw a little something for decoration. Another year I had all of the children draw a smiley face on a piece of paper which I scanned and then had printed into blank note cards.
Very nice preschool gifts, I think.
But here I am, dealing with an outstanding first grade teacher and I go right back to my list of questions. And after putting it together rather haphazardly, I think what my daughter and i have concocted is pretty darn good.
This year, Mrs. D is getting: homemade cards from the kid (complete with flowers she picked, pressed, and glued), homemade cookies, and a small gift card. A little of everything, neatly packed into the cutest little basket.
I will rest easy tonight, and count the months until my new teaching job that starts next year comes to an end and wonder if anyone gives music teachers homemade cookies.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Today's 10 reasons to smile

1. No lunches to pack this morning-- all green reward day at school.
2. Coffee tastes especially good this morning.
3. The cardinal has only hit the window four times so far.
4. It's supposed to rain today.
5. The rain will hopefully wash the cardinal poop off of the back porch, side porch, front porch.
6. The garden is hanging on, but the rain will help.
7. We had a great weekend, in the style of my family. There was polka music, campfires, getting dusty on 4-wheelers, creekhikes, homemade fireworks, and my kids were visibly dirty.
8. I have just enough energy to get going on the laundry and dinner's in the freezer, so I may reclaim my crown as a domestic diva
9. I'm still glowing over the success of our sand candles. How-to here.
10. Five minutes of total silence before I wake up the gang, unless the cardinal comes back again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

All I need to know I learned from my lawnmower

Like most good Grandmothers, my mom loves to shower my children with gifts whenever she can. And just today, she awarded my youngest with a “I haven’t seen you in over a month” present, for which I am extremely grateful. I always am.
But more constant that my thankfulness is the type of toys you find these days.
Flashy! Sounds! Lights! Colors! Music! And yes, without a doubt batteries are not included.
All of this means this that the new toy from Grandma is Irksome! Maddening! Annoying! And I’ve got to shell out big bucks for a gross of double A’s just to make the on/off switch worthwhile.
My mom knows all of this, my anti-love for things that flash and sing, but she gets them anyway.
“She can mow the lawn with you while you mow the real lawn!” she exclaimed.
“Yes! And learn to count, read, do algebra, weave baskets, and play the harp, too!”
Because besides the on/off switch, there are options to have the purple and blue lawn mower sing the alphabet, count to ten, and play a variety of kiddie songs, all which are undistinguishable with the hum of the balls that click and clack at 4,500 decibels when the mower is pushed along.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great toy and my kid, I admit, even loves it.
“Look,” says my mom, “it’s even educational. There’s a setting for the alphabet, and another for counting!”
And suddenly I wondered how I ever learned to read, write, and count without the benefit of such toys. I must have had to, dare I say, sit and look at books or draw with crayons that didn’t light up.
I know I’m very classically old-fashioned when it comes to toys, but since when does every single toy need to include something “educational?” A quick look through my children’s toybox and I find item after item, all requiring batteries and none of them having them, that attempt to teach them the alphabet or basic math. And while I know that some toys have a sole purpose of teaching (such as those old-fashioned books and puzzles), I don’t quite understand why all of them have to. Have we become so lazy as parents that we can’t bother to spend the time teaching our children their alphabets that we have pawned the job off on the plastic lawnmower with the pretend speed setting and the smiley face where the intake should be?
When I was a child, I had, like most children, a plastic lawnmower of my own. I think parents for generations have been gearing up their children to take over the lawn care as early as possible, somehow subconsciously tricking them into believing that mowing is Fun! and Entertaining! and practically a Game! I know I followed right along behind my mother, pushing and sometimes dragging my lawnmower which was complete with an authentically long pull cord, sure to not exist today for its dangerous length.
But my lawn mower didn’t sing, talk, count, or even make noise for that matter. It didn’t need to—I provided the sounds. My lawnmower didn’t need batteries, either. I provided all of the energy it needed, fueled by Kool-Aid and chocolate chip cookies.
I did learn a few things from that old mower, though. I learned that mowing the lawn was a long, hard, and arduous task, but if you did it you were rewarded with more Kool-Aid and cookies. And because we were dog owners, I learned quite often the hard way to always pay attention to where you’re going and to avoid the bad stuff.
It all makes pretty good sense to me these days as I take the batteries out of the new fancy mower and send the kids outside to follow me around the jungle of late spring grass. We’ll end the day with some juice, some books, and call to Grandma to thank her for the educational toy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Black Bean Brownies. I'm now a believer.

I have a friend who is a little too healthy for my taste. Actually she's great and wonderful and amazing, but so much that even a simple conversation with her makes me feel pretty unhealthy, like pure lard is flowing through my arteries and I have the athletic stamina of a three-toed tree sloth.
So there's a lot to be learned from this friend.
At a recent playdate she threw out this story of how she made brownies with a can of black beans.
"HA HAHAHA HAHAHA" was my response, because for someone who loves black beans, I couldn't imagine them being in a brownie. I'm a firm believer of "if you're gonna have a cookie, have a cookie."
But on a whim, I gave these BBB's try today. And like the title says, I'm a believer. Sure, they're a little different than regular brownies, but not different enough that my kids can tell. And if I can sneak it by them, for sure I can sneak it by my husband, which is really the ultimate goal, right?

Black Bean Brownies

1 family size box of brownie mix (I used Duncan Hines)
1 15 oz. can black beans

Puree the snot out of the entire can of beans, liquid and all, and stir in the mix by hand. Don't add eggs, oil, or water, just keep stirring until it's all combined.
Then bake as usual on the package.

Quote from my son, "wow, mom, these are good. Can I have another one?"
Quote from my baby ('cause these puppies are dairy-free! whoo-yah!) "mmmm bababa dada mama bbbaaa mmmm."
p.s. That photo? That's the actual brownie, just before my kid ate it. No beans visible, so the eyes will be fooled. A few hours later, though, the nose might not be. :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Cardinal Rule

I’m generally not a morning person, known quite well in these parts to be totally nonfunctioning before my coffee. So you can only imagine what sort of demeanor I exhibit when I am woken up extra early by the tap tap tapping on my window.
It seems it is nesting season in the world of the cardinal, and my yard must be prime property because there are definitely some cardinals in the market for a new residence. Male cardinals, in establishing their territories, get a little testy during these weeks. They want to make sure that their spots are claimed, that no other males get anywhere near their ladies. They want to make their mark.
But this one very fierce cardinal keeps making his mark…on my doors and windows. That tap tap tapping that is so unpleasant in the wee hours of the morning is the bright red bird attacking his reflection and flying full bore at my house until his beak runs right into, well, himself.
Any quick look at a nature or birding book or site will tell you this activity is pretty common in the spring for birds like robins and cardinals. Their little brains aren’t smart enough to know that the other bird that is invading their turf is really just their own reflection so they return, again and again, for a red breasted wrestling match. This goes on and on until a) something is hung on the outside of the window to break the reflection, b) the nesting season ends, or c) the bird takes one last shot and finally knocks himself out.
Right now, there’s been no change at my house. I haven’t hung anything, and the bird has yet to do himself in. I still see that little guy out on my back porch, hopping around on my patio furniture, dancing like a boxer in the ring. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bird” I can almost hear him saying, and I picture him wearing a shiny silk cape and gearing himself up for that fateful flight towards his enemy.
“Bird brain,” I say to myself, but really, would I do any different?
Not to compare myself to my feathered friend, but I can’t honestly say that, if I was trying to protect something or someplace, I would do anything different.
Being a mom who is constantly on the lookout for her kids, I act about the same as that bird. If someone tries to encroach on my family in any sort of way. Any good parent knows that there are plenty of things that are learned in school that have nothing to do with the three R’s, unless the three R’s are disResepct, Raunchiness, and unResponsiveness…we all know that one kid who talks back, cusses, and stares into space when questioned. So we do our best as parents to protect our child’s territory, trying to keep the bad guys out and the good manners in.
It’s animal instinct we’ve got, that insanely annoying bird and I, to do what it takes to protect what we love.
There’s an old superstition that states that a bird in the house is a sign of bad luck or death. I’m not one to get wrapped up in superstition, but I might subscribe to it if it was talking about the bird that keeps tap tap tapping on my window. Protecting his territory I can appreciate, but not as much as I appreciate my sleep. So if his incessant flying into my window is a sign of death, it surely must be his own; because if he doesn’t do himself in, I may wander down in a tired stupor with a frying pan in hand.
A girl’s got to protect her territory, right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mushroom Spore Art

New article at Suite101. Read it here and look at the really neat and really easy nature craft! I just had to share...

Monday, May 11, 2009

A dumptruck load of love

What weighs hundreds of pounds and can spark your marriage better than a candlelight dinner?
Not a hundred pound diamond ring, or even a few sets of the world’s best golf clubs. It may sound a little crazy, but I think it is mulch that does a marriage good.
Every spring we home owners find ourselves laying tarps on our driveways or hauling bags of mulch at the same time that the birdies sing their sweet little mating songs and rabbits appear by the thousands. Love is, undeniably, in the air, as animals across the board partake in the season of new life and renewed romance.
And while the air is filled with love, back on the ground our flower beds need a little love themselves. I admit that in the past I have completely overlooked the whole philosophical aspect of mulch, but this past weekend with the undersides of my fingernails stained brown and my shoes filled with tiny wooden slivers, it hit me. There’s a reason the world works this way.
There I was, squatting, crawling, and kneeling around the flower beds, spreading out the piles of mulch that my husband was hauling via Amos, our wheelbarrow. We received Amos when we were first married from a great uncle who had pieced together parts from his barn and added a new handle. There were some odd scratches on the front of it and in the right light, it seemed to spell out “Amos,” and from then on, our favorite yard tool had a name.
Amos has served us well, through moves from house to house, carrying dirt for gardens, chicken feed, children on wild rides around the yard. And even though that great uncle has passed, Amos lives on, stronger than ever. He is an odd staple in our life, a reminder that strong that lasts a long time.
But enough sappy wheelbarrow talk, back to the allure of mulching.
So I was in the flower beds, knees very well caked with mulch and my five-year-old son says to me “how come you are doing the hard work spreading the mulch out while daddy just brings it over to you?” (In his young wisdom he has never had the pleasure of moving five yards of shredded tree around an acre, so I guess I can understand why he thinks I had the hard job.)
Not wanting him to think I was the slacker, I said, “my job is just as hard as daddy’s. We always do it this way. We work together. He brings it, I slings it. We make a good team.”
“OK,” he said, accepting my little answer and running off singing the Wonderpets theme song. What’s gonna work? Teamwork!
Spending some good quality time in the dirt gives a person time to think and reflect, and out there spiffing up our yard, I realized that my husband and I do this same thing every year. We work our tails off shoveling and hauling and spreading mulch around the flowers that are just waking up. We sweat, we curse a little, we throw away the socks that we were wearing that day, and then when it’s all said and done, we sit together on the porch and stare at how beautiful everything looks. The dark mulch against the bright green shoots, the crisp line between beds and grass. It’s quite a stunning accomplishment that we achieved. Together.
Maybe it’s just the warm air or the songs of the birds or the flowers everywhere that make the world a more loving place during the spring, but at least at my house I’m going to give some credit to Amos and to the mulch and sit a little closer to my husband on the porch. After he showers.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother's Day...again.

I thought I'd repost last year's column about Mother's Day because my cranky attitude brought me my first ever "hate" mail. Writer's love comments, good and, yes, even bad. We get a little steamed, then we get over it and time goes on, and eventually we find ourselves at the eve of another Mother's Day...
Read the old post below and Happy Mother's Day to moms everywhere!

A few words on the invention of Mother's Day
As far as holidays go, I’d venture to say that most were created by a man. On Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a man. Easter commemorates the rising of Jesus, again, a man. The Fourth of July is an observation of a new government that was mostly, you guessed it, men. And even Father’s Day, the day when we all treat dad like royalty? Yep, pretty sure that some guy made up that one, too.
But if there were ever a holiday that was most certainly created by a man, it’d be Mother’s Day.
Now, if you are a man and you are reading this, you are probably thinking to yourself, “oh yes, we men love our mothers and our wives, and we certainly want to celebrate the wonderful things they do for us and all that they mean to us, and of course we created the holiday as a day of honor.”
And if you’re a woman reading this, you’re probably thinking, “gee, she’s on to something! No woman in her right mind would create a holiday that would require so much work, stress, sweat, and overcooked scrambled eggs.”
Let me explain this to all of the men out there. As far as mothers go, most of us have mothers of our own. Not only our own mothers, but some of us even have mother-in-laws. And grandmothers. And for us lucky ones, multiple grandmothers. And somewhere in our wedding vows when we were all too emotional to pay attention, we somehow promised that we would bear children, love our husbands, and take care of all holiday celebrations until death do us part.
So come the second Sunday in May, we are required by that vow to manage celebrating and honoring all of our mothers, on a day when most of us could use a break and a little honoring ourselves.
Still confused as to why most mothers think Mother’s Day should be wiped off our calendars and out of our card shop shelves? Still don’t understand how no woman in her right mind would create such a complicated and distressing holiday? I may best be able to convey it in anecdote. Here is a characteristic Mother’s Day for a mother such as myself…
6:30 AM. Get woken up by the baby.
7:30 AM. Told to go back to sleep because the kids (ages 4 and 6 with mediocre culinary skills matched only by their father) are going to make breakfast in bed (ie. Scrambled eggs with bits of shell and toast with two pounds of butter.) Open homemade cards.
8:00 AM. Start the day by wrapping the gifts for all of the mothers in my life, bribing the kids with gum so that they’ll sign the card nicely (instead of writing POOP), and start preparing the Mother’s Day dinner that somehow I got conned into hosting at my house.
9:00 AM. Bribe the kids with more gum to help me clean the house. Have to wash the dishes from my breakfast in bed. Call all of the grandmothers, give holiday wishes, and hope that I put their cards in the mail early enough.
1:00 PM. Host a dinner party for one set of parents to celebrate that mother and the wonderful things she does and is.
3:30 PM. Drive an hour to visit my other mother, and celebrate her.
7:30 PM. Arrive home, feed kids bed-time snacks, give baths, read books, sing lullabies, put to bed.
8:30 PM. Clean kitchen from 1:00 PM dinner party.
10:00 PM. Lay on the couch, re-read precious homemade cards, begin to dread Father’s Day, and fall fast asleep.
Happy Mother’s Day, girls!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The view from the backyard

I spent today cleaning my house, going through baby toys and being over zealous and steam cleaning the carpet in the family room. I even went as far as to rearrange, including the amazing task of moving an entire giant bookshelf by myself. (Toby cheered. "Wow, mom, you're really strong!")
All of this work and sweat was really a loaded day of chores.
I'm kicking my kids out of the house.
The weather is good, the sun is out (most of the time), the grass is fairly dried out, and the poison ivy hasn't really reared its ugly head quite yet. So there's really no good reason that the kids should be inside at all, except maybe to use the restroom, although my son does have a special spot behind a fallen tree that he prefers.
But here's the thing: Kids SHOULD be outside, without any pushing or shoving. They should be out running and jumping and spinning in circles until they fall down and/or puke up their popsicles. They should be sneaking drinks from the garden hose and have mosquito bites and skinned knees and a farmer's tan to beat the band.
They should be out doing these things without parents asking them to-- by choice. And I don't mean taking the DS and sitting on the back step.
So this summer, I'm not giving my kids an option. The house is clean, the toys are stashed away for a rainy day. The backyard is theirs to destroy, steering clear of the garden and flower beds. They are free to build and break and jump and whatever, and as long as there is a stash of BandAids in the bathroom and popsicles in the freezer, they're game.
And I'm glad.
The truth will be told, however, if the family room stays this clean until mid-July.
(Track our outdoor adventures on Dirt Don't Hurt, and then go out and play for yourself.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Little girls are pretty in pink, but I guess that doesn't matter

There’s just no pretty way to say it.
I’ve got a bald baby.
And under some circumstances, this is perfectly fine. Like if she was a boy. But she’s not. She’s a beautiful little bald sixteen month-old girl.
Instantly, parents of bald baby girls reading this are all nodding their head and smiling in sympathy because they too have endured the same stress as I face on a daily basis. They too have been asked “how old is he?” or heard comments like “look at that little guy go!” as they have watched their daughters toddle along. I’m not sure if I speak for those parents, but as for myself, it is frightfully annoying. And not so much for me, because I’ve gotten used to correcting people. It’s making those people feel brainless and blind that makes it so difficult.
Because those people really are brainless and blind, and I know this because I go to great lengths to make my daughter appear girly with her short-top hair-do, and still nothing works.
I was having coffee with a friend when an acquaintance of ours walked up and noticed my baby. “Well isn’t he a cute little guy,” said the man. (I’ve found that older men in particular are the absolute worst when it comes to calling my daughter a “son.”) I looked at him, and then I looked at my “cute little guy” who was dressed in, no lie, a pink sweater, pink pants, pink shoes, pink coat, and purple hat. Apparently I didn’t work hard enough, or that man dressed his sons in head to toe pink (which is perfectly fine, I would like to add.)
And because the frilly wardrobe doesn’t seem to be working, I’ve recently resorted to adding hair accessories to the thirty-three strands of hair that range anywhere from .5 to 2.3 inches long. This requires great patience, nimble fingers, stealthy speed, and I’m assuming a miracle because I can’t for the life of me get anything to stay in there.
There are the clips that you have to press so hard to get fastened that I’m afraid I’m going to punch a hole right through her head. And no matter which type I try, they each fall out after only a few minutes. I admit I have thought long and hard about some sort of Elmer’s adhesive.
Or don’t forget the ever-popular itty bitty rubber bands that allow mothers to dress their young girls to resemble Pebbles, building ponytails on the tops of little heads that are just begging for a bone to complete the outfit. I have tried these little rubber bands as well, but I think it’s akin to wrapping a bungee cord around a toothpick—a daunting task, nearly impossible, and you know someone’s going to get hurt. In our case, the person getting hurt is me, because as much as I know how painful it must be for her to have her few pieces of hair tugged on and pulled out (there are always a few dozen casualties), I’m the one getting batted in the face and poked in the eye as I’m being dragged around the room.
Some mothers of bald baby girls go so far as to pierce their daughter’s tiny ears, and while I think diamond studs and golden hoops look darling on some darlings and pretty much clear up the whole “how old is he?” controversy, I’m just not ready to do that. Yet.
But if the hair doesn’t grow, I’m considering it. Either that or a wig.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Steak and Beans worth their weight in gas

There's a very good chance I'll regret eating as much as I did tonight, but the recipe is just so good and perfect for a warm evening. I just had to share.
This recipe comes from, I think, a Buehler's food demonstration. It's one of my favorites, and luckily enough, my kids don't love it so there's more for me!

Flat iron steak over warm bean salad

1 1/4 pounds or so of flat iron steak (if you've never had flat iron, give them a shot. Cheap and good)
2 cloves garlic, minced
~2-3 Tbl balsamic vinegar
Marinate steak in garlic and vinegar for at least an hour. Discard marinade, salt and pepper to taste and grill to preference, but please no more than medium. Let rest for 5-10 minutes and slice thinly on the diagonal. Serve over bean salad.

Warm Bean Salad:
19 oz can cannelloni beans (I like Cento, mostly so I can sound Italian when I say the name)
1 cup cherry/grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
Lettuce or spinach
Rinse and drain beans. Heat in a saucepan and when warm, add tomatoes, onion, oil, vinegar, and S&P. Cover and turn off heat. Let sit for a few minutes.

To serve:
Top a bed of spinach with the beans, then lay a few slices of steak on top.
Or, if you eat like my family, serve a salad, a side of beans, and some steak.

This is great because you can serve it at room temperature, in fact, it's even better when it is at room temp. Just make sure that everyone eats the same amount of beans....for obvious reasons.

Two annoucements

Before I post my flatulent recipe in the post that follows, I wanted to make two small annoucments.
One, I've added a handy "follow this blog" section to the sidebar. It'd make me super happy to have a few extra faces there, so sell your soul to google and get yourself a screen name and c'mon over.
Secondly, this has been happening for a few weeks now, but I wanted to say officially that my local columns are now running in the Holmes County Shopper and Orrville/Wooster This Week (a weekly wrap-up of The Daily Record, but if you get the DR, you won't get the This Week paper.) Thanks for supporting these publications!
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