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Monday, September 28, 2009

Feeling the chill, heating the pot

Many thanks go out to the cold front that came crashing through and provided constant thunder from 4:12 - 4:48 AM. I didn't really need to sleep anymore, really.
But making lemon out of cranky and sleepy lemonade, I will say that I love the drop in temperatures that we're feeling here today. There are many reasons, but mostly because I get to dig out the sweaters that all smell like the cedar chest and pretty much live on soup and stew from now until March.
I love soup. It's genetic. My grandfather says he could eat it every day, and I agree. It is comforting for the mind and body, and who doesn't eating out of a giant bowl?
Today in the spirit of the chilly and blustery air, I'm sharing two things. For one, a family favorite of Chicken Stew with pasta, that even my picky kids eat. It is simple to make and already comes cut up for little people. I usually double the recipe because it goes fast, and it makes terrific leftovers for lunch the next day.
Chicken Stew with Pasta

1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl cold water
1 pound chicken breast (boneless) cut into small cubes
2 cups frozen mixed veggies of your choice (carrots, peas, beans, corn, etc)
3/4 cup chopped onion
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked small pasta
Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Set aside.
Heat a bit of oil in a big pot over med-hi heat and add chicken, cooking until browned. Remove chicken, set aside.
Add a bit more oil if necessary and add veggies and onion. Cook until crisp tender.
Deglaze pot with the broth, and then heat to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, time depending on your pasta directions. Return chicken to the pot and heat through.
Stir the cornstarch slurry into the pot. Cook and stir until it boils and thickens.

Serve this with a fat hunk of crusty bread and some sliced apples. One dish to cook in, one dish to eat out of. I love those minimal dish dinners!
And secondly...
I crafted it up this weekend and thought this came out better than I expected. I can't claim this idea-- I saw it somewhere on line that I can't remember, so apologies to whomever came up with this festive decoration:

Very simple. Just some templates from clipart and stiff foam. A lot of cutting, and then I let my kids put them "in order" while I sewed straight across. I gave them the rule that no two colors or shapes could touch, and they did a great job. Best part? We can pack it away and hang it again next year, when the temperatures drop and the soup pot finds its semi-permanent home on the stove top.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The allure of the lunchbox and all its fillings

Many moons ago when my daughter started kindergarten, she asked me if I was a buyer or a packer. In all honesty, I had to tell her that my mother packed my lunch every day. For my entire school career. Yes, even in high school.
“I think I’m going to be a packer, too,” was her response, and I immediately felt tired for the years of getting up early to pack tiny sandwiches that I knew were in store.
Sure enough, I found myself setting my alarm clock earlier and earlier to wake up and concoct a smorgasbord of edible delights, somehow packed with as much love as I would give her at home, if not more. There were days when I thought I would need a bigger lunchbox because I missed her so much. As if packing it full of her favorite things would somehow make me miss her less as she because her educational career and I sat home and dreamed up creative ways to make peanut butter and jelly.
“I like peanut butter and jelly” she told me after just a week or two of school, but I, in my ate-out-of-a-brown-bag-for-13-years wisdom, thought that she would like something else.
So I set to challenge the lunchbox, to shake things up and serve my kid a variety of vittles.
I created my own lunch-snacker, where I meticulously cut up cheese, trail bologna and neatly packed it with crackers.
I sent cold pizza when the leftovers were just right and no one got to them for a midnight snack.
I even created this great noodle meets chicken meets broccoli dish that I would heat to near vaporization and pack in her cute thermos so that by the time she cracked it open it would be mildly tepid.
There was the infamous wrap, which I thought allowed me to sneak in really obscure foods like lettuce and cheese and maybe a bit of meat.
“But I like peanut butter and jelly. Can’t you just make me that?”
So I tried again.
I tried nuking macaroni and cheese and putting that in her thermos, again proving the well-known fact that it is absolutely impossible to reheat that stuff without it going through a state of matter metamorphosis, congealing to itself while creating a most powerful glue. “It’s got to be better than PBJ day after day,” I convinced myself.
I went the sweet route, serving up raisin bread with jam and cream cheese.
And the savory route, thinking that if I eat cold chicken nuggets standing up while washing the kids’ dishes and call that a decent lunch, she might too. Especially when served with ranch dressing, aka the stuff that kids are truly made of.
“Hey, tomorrow, can you make me peanut butter and jelly?” she asked.
It took nearly a year, but I realized that as much as we foodie parents like a change of menu, kids don’t. Aren’t these the same little people we literally trained to go to bed at the same time each night? It actually makes sense that they find something they like and stick with it.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to throw in something new and crazy every now and then, but I know that when it comes down to it, it’s the routine and the normalness of her lunch that she needs, even now that she’s in second grade. She’s still stuck on her one, single favorite dish.
And for my daughter, it is obviously the good ol’ PBJ. So to satisfy my own selfish needs to serve something different, I get up extra early every Friday morning and cut the sandwich with mini cookie cutters until she’s got a little container filled with tiny tea-sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The rest of the lunchbox? Love, love, love. And you know, a few more snacks. And hopefully I remember the juice box.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A dark and crafty night

20 free sewing/knitting/printing/crafting patterns!! I'm locking myself in this weekend. I suggest some of you do the same.

Click HERE.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ahh, the smell of hot wax in the Autumn

And they'll last longer than that rotting pumpkin on your front porch.
(Directions here.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Seasonal Changeover

So this idea, as awesome as it is, I cannot claim. There is something along these lines in a book called The Creative Family which both made me long for more time to do these things and want to barf because any person who has this sort of time is barf-worthy.
In any case, I half stole the idea and it brings me great joy.
We started this summer, when an old basket became our official "Summer basket." In it we collected items from nature-- both from camps and random days outside. It contained rocks, feathers, nuts, shells. And on the first day of Fall, we dumped it. (not the yarn, close-photo-viwers)
...and brought the basket it, ready to be filled with fall collectibles.

It will be overflowing with leaves from the maple out our side door, I'm sure. Along with acorn caps and beech nuts from the forest at the top of the hill. Rocks, sticks. And all other wonderful fallish things that make this one of my top four favorite seasons.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Welcoming Fall with open arms and applesauce

This whole idea of season changing celebrations started a couple of years ago for me. Although we are not of a religion that officially worships the change of seasons, there's something deep down inside me that needs to mark the point at which our Earth travels around the Sun.
Tomorrow is the first day of Fall, and believe it or not, there are way too many people who slept through second grade science class and don't know that the Autumnal Equinox is the exact mid-point between the time when our Earth is tilted towards the sun (Summer Solstice) and away from the sun (Winter Solstice.)
Mathematically, it just gives me the willies that we can even figure this out. How massive the planets, the sun, the solar system. How obscure are rotations and revolutions. And yet, even on the cheapest calendar from the cheapest store, tomorrow is marked as the first day of Fall.
And so, we celebrate. Just as we do the first day of each season.
In the past, the first day of Winter we toast hot chocolate. In Spring, we plant a seed, any seed. In Summer, a campfire. And in fall, we're trying something new.
In the past it's been baked apples, but my picky kids drove me crazy one too many times with their complaints about a normal food being an abnormal consistency. So instead of me yelling "HAPPY FALL EAT YOUR BAKED APPLES WE ARE CELEBRATING HERE BE THANKFUL blah blah blah" we're making applesauce.
And applesauce couldn't be easier, almost as easy as driving to the store and buying a jar that's half filled with apples and half filled with high fructose corn syrup.
For me, it's one of those simple things in life, the old fashioned kind, that "modern" and "educated" people are so very afraid of. Other things in the same category? Baking bread. Knitting. Gardening. Canning.
All so very simple to do, all with great rewards. Like all good things, it just takes a little time. And what better time of year to actually make the time than on day of celebration.

You know, stop and smell the apples.

Really Basic Applesauce
You can get really fancy with applesauce. This is a very basic recipe, one that's super easy, requires no special equipment, and is just right for kids to help with. Get creative if you want-- add orange zest, brandy (wow, kids, good sauce!), nutmeg, cardamom, other fruits, etc.

3 pounds of apples, different kinds preferred, peeled, quartered, and cored
1+ cup water
1/3 to 2/3 cup sugar
1/4+ cinnamon or spice of choice (optional)

In a large pot combine apples, water, sugar (1/3 cup) and spice if you want. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until apples are tender. (Add more water if necessary.)
Once tender, remove from heat. Mash apples with a potato masher, or put them in a processor a blender. Add more sugar to taste and process to desired texture. Serve warm or cold.

Check back tomorrow for my other first day of Fall tradition, and have an excuse to go outside!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The bruised up building blocks of childhood

There are few things as unnerving as when the phone rings and the caller ID comes up as the elementary school where your child attends. What’s worse is when the phone conversation starts with “I don’t want you to worry, but…”
It’s enough to send a parent into a whirlwind of well, worry.
Such was the situation that I recently went through, but I’m happy and relieved to say that it wasn’t much of anything.
“I don’t want you to worry, but your daughter fell at recess and is a little scraped up. Just wanted to explain the four hundred bandages before she got home.”
She went on to tell me that once the teary eyes dried up, my kid, the academic trooper that she is, asked to go back to class. She later told me that walking up the flight of stairs was one of the hardest things she ever did.
“I had to limp, mom. Like this,” she said, and hobbled around the kitchen after the administration of magic creams by Nurse Mommy and experiencing the healing power of a chocolate chip cookie.
I told this entire story to my mother, laughing the whole way through. My daughter, as wonderful as she is, sometimes has the coordination skills of the Bozo the Clown. Apparently she tripped on a rolling ball on the playground, and that’s what caused her to kiss the pavement in a speedy fashion. I explained the injuries to my mom: the scraped knee, the sliced hand, the elbow that took the brunt of it.
“Oh, poor baby!” and so on and so forth, the good grandmother gushed. “Is she OK? Does she need stitches? Did you put some cream on there?”
Funny, I don’t remember her being all ga-ga over my own gashes and lesions that shaped my childhood.
Like the time I fell at Girl Scout camp, and my mom was a co-leader. I believe an entire case of glass bottles made its way under the skin of my right knee, and there I was, sitting on a picnic table in the middle of the woods with my mom trying to pick out each and every piece with a pair of tweezers and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. I remember howling in pain and someone stuffing a washcloth in my mouth to muffle the sound. In fact, the only other sound besides my screams was the giggles of the adults.
“We’ve got to, hee hee hee, get this, ha ha ha, glass out! Ho, ho, ho!”
Or then there was the time I turned quickly to go upstairs and in preschool-aged fashion, ran smack into the corner of the wall. My forehead swelled up like an egg was under the skin and both of my brown eyes had gone to black and blue.
How do I know this? My. Parents. Took. Pictures. About two dozen Polaroids, to be exact.
And who could forget the time I, at the unstoppable age of 4, picked up my father’s accordion and pulled something or ripped something that shouldn’t have been pulled or ripped in my neck, and had to walk around wearing a most unattractive brace?
Again, photo proof.
I’m sure my parents were concerned about me, just as I was concerned about my own kid’s clash with the playground blacktop. But they knew, just as I know now, that kids are amazingly resilient. They cut, they scrape, the bruise and bleed. Sometimes they even attempt to lift polka instruments well beyond their size.
But they live and they learn and they grow, and they have the battle scars to prove it.
And we love and we laugh and we put on cartoon bandages, and we have the photographs to prove it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"You can't believe everything that kids say."

First week of school, my second grader comes home and says, "I have a very important job. I get to lead the class on fire drills all year long. They line up behind me and I lead everyone down the hall, down the steps, and outside."

"Wow!" I replied, "that's a very important job! So proud of you!" and I gushed all over her because, well, it is an important job.

Fast forward to the following week, when my kindergartner started school. We were on the way home and he says, "I have a very important job. I get to lead the class on fire drills all year long."

"Reeeaaaallllly?" I asked, knowing full well that if someone was going to try to pull one over on me, it'd be him.

"Yep. I stand at the door and everyone lines up behind me."

"Reeaealllllly?" I asked again.

"I don't believe it," said the second grader sister.

"Tell me exactly what you do," I said, trying to catch him in a lie. But it didn't work, because he explained, in detail, how they line up and where they walk and where they stand.

Second grader, age eight proclaims, "I still don't believe it. You just can't believe everyting that kids say."

But apparently you can. Two weeks later I ran into his teacher and wanted to find the answer to this question. She said that indeed my son was the line leader for the fire drills. [insert raised eyebrows] She went on to say that normally she has an adult there to help her but not this year so she needed someone really responsible. [insert dropped jaw]

"So you picked my kid?" I asked.

"Oh yes. He takes his job really seriously. He's on a mission and does a really good job at making sure people follow him and walk out.



And with that I thanked her, shaking my head about how the same kid who wore the same special pair of underwear for 2 1/2 weeks, and the same kid who spent 2 years digging a giant hole in the back yard, and the same kid who is known to bust out some dance moves when he can't keep his emotions in, and the same kid who goes outside to pee on a regular basis, and the same kid who spends more time on his bike and skateboard than on his pointy-non-existant butt, could ever be chosen to be the most responisble kid in the class.

Maybe you can't believe everything that teachers say.... or maybe it's just hard to believe everything that your kids do when you're not around.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Aging well

The boat is gone, sadly the uncle is too; but looking like you did when you're five seems to last forever.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What's for dinner? Non-lazy SSDF (say what?)

For what it's worth, I can be a very lazy person. The difference, however, is that I don't want to be a lazy person.
I want to be the person who hangs her laundry on the line, letting the fresh air fluff and freshen it.
But instead I stick it in the dryer.
I want to be the person who bakes her family's bread, keeping extra loaves stashed in the freezer, all that have a handful of ingredients instead of the long list of non-pronounceables that appear on the store bought kind.
And occasionally, I do. But normally, I shell out the $1.89 for the Italian loaf. I cannot tell a lie.
I'd like to be the person who doesn't have the entire Noggin and PBS schedules memorized and instead does wooden puzzles and fabric crafts with my kids all day long.
But instead I record Yo Gabba Gabba and play the same dang episodes over and over just to get the dishes done. In the dishwasher. With non-ecological soap. And then they'll probably sit in there for a few days until the dishes pile up on the counter and I have to replay Yo Gabba Gabba just to unload the dishwasher, so I can load it back up again.

But salad dressing, my friends, is one aspect of my life where I totally splurge on time. The bottled stuff, no matter the brand or price, just isn't as good as homemade fresh stuff. And if you're going to make yourself eat salad by the bowlful, it really deserves a good douse of tasty dressing.
It can be as easy as oil and vinegar with a little chopped shallots and still be delicious.
Don't believe me? Ask the group of people I served this salad to last weekend.
This week's recipe goes out to them, and not our OSU Buckeyes because they blew it.

The SSDF stands for "Same Salad, Different Fruit" because my family has served this same salad with mandarin oranges, strawberries, blueberries, etc. All delicious.

Salad base:
Romaine lettuce
Chopped celery
A little red onion if you like

Fruit of your choice
Sugared almonds (Place sliced almonds in a frying pan and cover with sugar. Toast/caramelize over med-hi heat stirring constantly until the sugar is just melted. Watch-- it'll burn quickly. Immediately pour onto a plate to cool. Break apart before serving.)

Dressing, which goes great with any salad, not just this one:
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 Tbl sugar
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
2 Tbl fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt
a few dashes of tobasco sauce

Get your lazy self up and make this one-- it's a keeper!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An early resolution for 2010 and a Sunday afternoon declaration

Last night while our husbands watched the football game and the women played spud and otherwise corralled the many children, we also chatted about where we were going on Sunday morning.
This church, that church. "I'm thinking of heading to "Our Lady of the Holy Mattress," said one very honest friend. I kept my mouth shut, but secretly had plans to head to my favorite place to spend just about any morning. The Woods.
We took the kids on a four-mile trek up and down the hills and valleys of Wooster. If you think that Wooster doesn't have hills, you've never been to Wooster Memorial Park. You should go. It just may surprise you, and kick your butt all in the same wonderful visit.
Down the ravine, across the creek, up the other side, etc. etc. etc., we were about 3/4 of our way through and I had a revelation. When you're in the woods, the air must be better and a little more oxygen gets to the brain. It lets you think, put things into perspective, and reflect on everything that isn't in your normal life. Maybe it's the fact that you can't see anything but trees and dirt or maybe it's that cell phones don't work down in the thick of it. Maybe it's just one of those cosmic things.
In any case, here's the glorious thought I had: (Thanks to kerc for the initial idea!)
"I've got our New Year's resolution for 2010. We're going to spend 10 nights in a tent and hike 100 miles next year."
This, I think, should be very doable. 365 days to get it all done. I'll buy a notebook, keep a log. If it goes well, in 2011 we'll shoot for 11 days and 110 miles. And so on, and so forth.
I realize some readers are thinking that I'm absolutely crazy, that any night in a tent or any measure of wooded walks that hit the three digit mark (toting three kids along, mind you) makes me completely off my rocker, a half a bubble left of plumb, a few raisins short of gorp.
This is where I come clean.
There are things you know deep down, the things that make you feel absolutely at peace with yourself. These things make you happy, give you energy, and become an obsession and/or passion. Some people go ga-ga for horses. We all know at least one horse person, the kind who wear western clothing in non-western places. They've got horseshoe stickers on the backs of their pick-up trucks and talk about their animals more than their kids.
They love horses. And that's wonderful.
There are also the people who are really passionate about politics. Their bumpers are covered with political stickers and can change any conversation into a debate about health care or government funding.
"I made chicken for dinner last night. It was delicious."
"Good thing it wasn't undercooked. You'd have to go to the doctor, and then you'd have to wait four hours and get poor care all because....yadda yadda yadda...." (I tend to block it out.)
There are the school sports people, the ones whose entire lives revolve around home vs. away games and that name their pets after school mascots.
There are the ocean/beach people, who would sell everything they have just to live in a shanty where the roar of the surf puts them to bed every night.
I am, I declare, someone who belongs in the woods.
I love the smell of dirt, walking on a bed of pine needles. I get all googly when I see an odd mushroom or a chipmunk run across the trail. Creek crossings send me sky high and stopping for a quick break on an overlook is as about lovely as it gets.
Last weekend on a short hike I got a bug in my eye that went in so far I had to pick it out with a Q-tip. And you know what? I didn't care.
I have poison ivy on the back of my leg and a skeeter had a nice dinner on my neck today. Don't care.
It's all part of finding that place in your life where you belong and it makes you so happy that people start referring to you as "that" person. The beach bum, the horse lady, the democrat/republican. The woods girl.
I'd better go get some stickers for the back of my car.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why we do what we do

It was the loveliest of late summer days. With two children officially in the care of the local school system, I had the great pleasure of being a mom to only one. A little blonde toddler whom I am quite fond of, and if I may say, is as sweet as the day is long.
She was enjoying her time alone with mom, too. Without the background skateboarding noise or incessant talking, she could focus and play at her level. So there we sat, she and I, with a bucket of rocks and a bucket of water smack in the middle of my driveway, washing each rock individually and watching the colors just jump out at you.
My geology background tried to get her to say words like “granite” and “quartzite” and “fossiliferrous limestone.” My mothering background just sat and loved every minute of the magical time in the sun.
In fact, I got so carried away that I didn’t notice her disappear into the garage until she came back, spitting out and basically trying to eject something from her mouth.
It was, I admit, a teddy bear shaped cookie that had been sitting on the running board of my vehicle for over a week.
Truthfully, it had fallen out of her tiny snack cup a week before and landed on the said running board. Too lazy to pick it up, I wondered how long this little bear would hang on. He lasted through multiple hour long car trips, a week’s worth of errands, a torrential rainstorm, and a dog in the garage. But he was no match for a hungry toddler.
Surely caked with road grime and cinders, I scraped out her mouth as much as I could and ran to grab her a drink of water to flush down the rest. Once I knew she was fine, I then ran to grab the phone and the computer to tell someone I know about this, quite frankly, hilarious event.
Since then, I’ve told this story to a lot of friends and acquaintances, mostly other mothers who upon hearing just toss back their heads and laugh, and then go on to tell me a similar story of their own. Perhaps something about one of their own kids who ate something really heinous that he found under the couch, or how their own laziness resulted in someone’s misfortune. Usually their own.
And together we laugh and think to ourselves, “gee, we’re not such bad mothers. Did you hear what so-and-so’s kid ate/did/drew-on/threw-up/wore/said?” There’s just something about not being alone, especially when being a mom often feels like it. Those of us who are fortunate enough to stay at home with our kids really do find ourselves feeling completely lonely, even though we are totally surrounded by small plastic toys, cartoons, and tiny people. Even with all of that we crave, no, require, adult conversation.
So we create these mystical play dates and park dates and frequent coffee shops where our kids run wild and grab flyers off the walls and tug on the legs of strangers. We tell ourselves that it’s for the good of the kids, to learn to socialize and share, but really we know deep down it’s for our own sanity. Just knowing that someone else has spent an entire day with spit-up on her shirt or a pocket full of Legos amazingly makes everything OK. Even though our adult conversation focuses on our kids, we know talking it all out gives us an even playing field where we’re all on the same team. Strength in numbers, coffee in hand, and most likely tiny teddy bears on our running boards, these days are just as lovely as those late summer ones when the sun is warm and the rocks sparkle.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"You WILL like this! Have fun, I say, FUN!"

My mom makes me play with rocks.
(note: Read this week's column to see what happened after we finished up our rock game.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

The brown bag queen*, and some goto Chocolate Chip Blondies

So we are "packers" here in the house. When my daughter started school she quickly decided that she was NOT going to be buying the school lunches and I absolutely agreed. Did my barely-six-year-old need to eat a scoop of chili and a bag of Fritos for lunch? Not really. Needless to say, I was happy when she came out with her proclamation.
"We are packers. Packers. We pack our lunch in this house. We don't buy lunches. I don't want soggy lettuce and chili for lunch. We paaaaaaaaaack."
Therefore, when my son started school this year, I went from packing one to packing two lunches every morning.
It's a pain in the beezer, but I admit that someday I'm going to wake up when my kids are off at college and get teary eyed about waking up extra early to construct tiny sandwiches and cut up apples in lemon juice.*
This week's recipe is my absolute goto dessert. In the fast-paced world that I live in, making individual cookies seems to take an eternity. These bars follow my "keeper recipe" rules which are:
1. Ingredients easy to keep on hand
2. Can prep the stuff before the oven heats
3. PDY, which stands for "purty durn yummy"

They also are super awesome in a lunch box when you use mini cookie cutters to cut out cutsie little shapes...

Chocolate Chip Blondies

1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. Melt butter in a big bowl in the microwave. Once melted, add to the bowl the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla and mix until blended. (I use a hand mixer for this quickie job.) Add baking powder and salt. Mix again. Add flour. Mix yet again. Stir in chocolate chips. Spread into a greased 9x13 pan and bake for 18-20 minutes.

*We don't use brown bags. In fact, I'm proud to say we are trash free packers. Recycling drink pouches and using fabric lunch baggies. Yay Earth!

**Here's a great tip for packing apples in school lunches! Slice and/or peel the apples and place into bag/container. Pour in a tsp or so of lemon juice and about 2 tsp of water. Seal and shake the liquid around, then dump it out. This works really well and doesn't leave that awful lemon taste on your fruit.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Feng shui-ing the family room

Like most good mothers, I walked into my family room today and realized that I no longer had control of the most popular room in my home. It was complete chaos, as it usually is, especially about five minutes after I have picked up all the toys and said to myself, “oh yeah, my carpet is brown. I couldn’t remember if it was gray or not.”
Instead of my normal routine of cramming everything into cutsie baskets, bookshelves, and the catch-all toy box where I’m pretty sure there is a year’s supply of pretzel pieces, this time I have decided to stop the insanity and start the organization.
I’m taking back my family room. Or at least I’m going to try.
A quick trip to the magazine aisle at the store will advertise a thousand new and exciting ways to organize your life, your room, your toys, your kitchen drawers. Someone is always coming up with a new idea that essentially says to throw out three-quarters of the stuff you have and put the rest in coordinating boxes with handy labels.
I am fully aware that this method is as unrealistic as expecting a child that to sit quietly, eat bran flakes, and read the New York Times. I needed something different. Something time-tested. Something mystical and ancient.
And that’s when I decided to feng shui my family room.
Not knowing much about it, I attempted to educate myself on the web. It didn’t take long until I was sold on this art that was going to bring my family room and probably my entire family harmony and peace. My couch was going to be a blissful paradise. This would be good.
Turns out that feng shui is pretty complicated. The five main elements of this ancient practice are wood, earth, metal, fire, and water. And these five elements need to be strategically placed based on directions using a feng shui compass, which of course I didn’t have unless it was at the bottom of the toy box. I did, however, have a regular old compass, so I pushed the toys out of the way and sat down in the middle of the room with it and a feng shui map.
The direction north, a water element, is the direction for career and education. The north side of my family room is taken up entirely by a fireplace and two windows, not to mention a hearth covered in wooden puzzles and ripped up business magazines.
“Not a bad start,” I thought. My husband and child educate themselves with magazines and puzzles, and I can make a whole job of watching my kids out the back window. I quickly put a glass of water on the fireplace mantle and turned to my right.
East. Wood. Health and Family. The east wall of my family room isn’t really a wall, just a giant doorway into my kitchen, where my family eats healthy food and we have wooden floors. Wow, this was easier than I thought, and turned around to face the western wall.
West. Metal. Righteousness, as well as helpful people and travel. My western wall is a television and a doll house, both of which have pieces parts spilling all the way into the north wall’s property, as if wooden dolls with yarn hair are trying to spread their helpfulness to the fireplace mantle. Nothing on the western wall was metal, so I quickly ran for some aluminum foil and stuck pieces of it all wadded up in every available nook.
Finally, the south wall, which claims the fire element and symbolizes fame and wealth. My southern wall is a nothing but a giant pile of kid—the toy box and a shelf of more toys and books in complete disarray. I supposed, in my growing wisdom, that it could potentially symbolize the wealth that the grandparents have spent on my children and how famous it makes them look in the eyes of the kids, all the while being a fire hazard.
And there I was, in the center of the room, rooted in the earth element on my dirty floor, having convinced myself that I have totally succeeded in feng shui without even knowing it.
Who needs coordinated boxes with fancy labels when living in total disorder energizes my spirits and improves our life? All I needed was a glass of water and some foil, and my messy family room was in perfect, child-friendly harmony.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mother Nature's Homemade Birdfeeder

Right out my office window is a perfect example of why things happen for a reason, even a dead and drooping sunflower signaling the end of a great summer.
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