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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Killing the family with kindness

Thanks to all of my readers who have sent me their favorite oatmeal recipes! If you've got a good one to share, post it in the comments for all to read!

“Dear, I love you and everything, but this is the worst dinner you have ever cooked in all of our ten years of marriage.”
All of that from one meal that Wilford Brimley told me was “the right thing to do.” But I guess it wasn’t “the tasty way to do it.”
I have this odd relationship with oatmeal. Always have, always will. I think it stems from the fact that I figured out, at a young age, that if I taught myself to like things that other people didn’t want, I would have more. The revelation hit at Girl Scout camp when I watched so many mistakenly burnt marshmallows go into the fire. With the limit set at two per girl, I quickly upped my intake by offering not to waste the burnt ones.
It naturally follows then that I also learned to like black jelly beans, mushrooms, and prunes.
Added to the list is oatmeal which was never really a competition food, but something I truly enjoyed as a kid. Rushing to open that new variety pack and get the brown sugar and maple before anyone else was a challenge, and after winning that battle I’d work my way down through the apples and cinnamon, the cinnamon spice, and I honestly to this day don’t know whatever happened to the oodles of unflavored oatmeal that no one ever ate.
But back to torturous wife and mother I have become.
A dear friend shared one of her family’s favorite recipes after learning of my love for oatmeal. “Baked Oatmeal,” she said, was such a hit that her husband said he could eat it multiple times per week for dinner.
Inexpensive, easy, and healthy, I was so excited to serve the dish to my own family. The simple ingredients went together with ease, and it smelled so delicious in the oven! I sniffed and imagined all of the money and time I would save by happily feeding my family this nutritious and hearty meal. I set the table and put little bowls of brown sugar and raisins out and gave everyone an oversized bowl in which to scoop what was quickly becoming the world’s best meal.
But then we sat down to eat. And the comments came.
Besides that humdinger from my husband, I also got a request for leftovers from one child and the other charmed us with a made-up knock-knock whose punchline was “scoopy-poopy oatmeal.”
I admit the recipe might have needed some tweaking for my liking, but still, it was oatmeal. It was good, and good for you, and really I was just trying to do the right thing for my family. But I can admit failure and while I finished my own bowl, the rest was scraped away and I sadly boiled up some last minute pasta for the rest of the gang.
Time passes and a completely different friend shares a new and exciting slow cooker oatmeal recipe with me. The thought of waking up to the nutty sweetness made me sleep soundly and I confess with more than normal drool. I even woke up early without the aid of an alarm clock and served myself the largest bowl that I could, which, as we oatmeal-eaters know, isn’t very big because as wonderful as it is, the stuff sits like a boulder in your belly.
Sweet and drippy, I finally thought I had found a way to share oatmeal with even the pickiest eaters of my family and get them to eat this naturally delightful food that I was convinced would keep them all healthy for life. One by one, they came down the stairs, only to crinkle their noses and ask for cereal. Even my husband who kindly ate half of a small bowl eventually turned to something else.
And then, right then, I realized why the single serving packages are so popular. But I’ll never know what to do with the unflavored packs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weather wonderings of a snowman

A snowman's life
Is a pitiful thing,
When it ain't exactly Winter
And it ain't exactly Spring.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunshine on a dark winter night

The rest of the world has moved on since Christmas. No so in my house.
So very long ago, at our Christmas Eve church service, my son actually paid attention. All of those Sundays when I thought he was just swinging his legs back and forth and staring up in the dusty rafters remain a mystery. But on Christmas Eve, he was listening.
I know he was listening because the priest’s homily was all about the season of Christmas. He spoke about many things, but he mentioned at some point that Christmas was not just a day, but an entire season. And by kid standards, seasons last forever.
Summer may fly by in the blink of a lightening bug, but winter, in the eyes of a child is longer than time itself.
And therefore, according to my son, Christmas lasts until at least March. I know this because he told me.
“We have to leave the tree up until at least March. That’s what I learned in church.”
So as long as we could, we left up our Christmas tree. I admit I enjoyed the soft glow of the lights as they twinkled through the dark nights. But I did not enjoy the sap that scented my sticky clothes every time I brushed past, nor did I find having needles poke into my feet, sometimes causing bleeding, one of my favorite things.
Eventually I figured the tree was becoming a bit of a fire hazard and one day while the kids were at school, I, in my solitude, put on shoes to protect my feet and donned some rubber gloves to avoid the sap and took down each and every ornament and light. It was the first step in losing the luster that decorated our home for so very, very long. And then later that night when my husband got home, we dragged the sorry and naked tree straight out the back door and I promptly vacuumed up the last of the nasty prickers.
We stood, all of us, and looked at the hole in our family room. No one needed to say it.
In the deepest cold of the winter, when the snow doesn’t even crunch for being so frozen and there’s a big, empty, sad hole in the middle of your family room, there’s only one thing to do. I grabbed a pad of paper and the latest seed catalog and we sat down in that hole of our tree and planned our next year’s garden.
I don’t claim to have the greenest thumb. I’ve over and under plucked my tomatoes and watched my fair share of seeds rot into the over-watered dirt. But every year when nights outlast the days I can’t help but dream of homegrown tomatoes because, as one of my favorite songs states, the only other thing that money can’t buy is true love.
We drew pictures of carrots and beans, lettuce, sunflowers. Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli. We flipped through the catalog and discovered more varieties of vegetables than we could grow in our entire yard and drooled a little at the juicy sunkissed produce. *My son drew a laser force field that he would install should the rabbits have their way like they did last year.
“Not this year,” he said, getting a little fired up about the whole thing.
Suddenly, the evening didn’t seem so cold and dark. Suddenly there was a hint of warmth in the air and sunshine in the forecast and if I’m not mistaken, someone asked where their flipflops were and if they could have a popsicle.
It was as if the seasons had already begun to change, faster than the blink of a lightening bug, or even the flash of 300 tiny twinkling lights.
*Note: The son wants all to know that this is not the laser forcefield picture...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter in the wilderness

We had a great day today, romping around at a winter program for kids at The Wilderness Center. We learned a few things...the kids can now tell the difference between moss and lichen, we know that they recently discovered that the red bat hibernates under leaf litter, and how to identify the beech drop.
I also realized that my kids have been paying attention all of these years. They were whizzes out on the trail, spotting animal trails and tracks, bird and squirrel nests, etc.
I was a proud mom to say the least.
But what makes me even more proud was the conversation we had on the way down there, about why they love the wilderness. In perfect kid form, they argued about who likes it the most, and why they like it so much.
"It's everywhere you look. You just need to pay attention."
"But I think it's so cool because, it's like, beautiful and science all together."
"I like it more."
"No, i'm the wilderness kid."
"Well, you're a butthead."
Punch, punch, punch.
And then, just a bit later, they discussed hibernating animals and shared their collections to make amazing art projects.
It was just one of those simple days as a mom I want to remember. Nothing extraordinary happened, nothing extremely noteworthy. Just a better than average, average day. The kind we tend to glaze over if we don't stop and pay attention.
Just like the nerd/dork/butthead said.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A glimpse of motherhood on my way to an RWC

It was my lucky day. I was actually going out to dinner in a nice restaurant with my husband and other people, all of whom were adults. Commonly called a RWC, a Restaurant Without Crayons is something special, especially when you consider that the placemat doesn’t double as an activity pad and a menu serving hot dogs.
In a life of motherhood like mine, this doesn’t happen very often. It’s practically the Halley ’s Comet of my dinner hour life. And so I began on an evening of preparation for a single and wonderful meal without my kids or my diaper bag in tow.
It started off with a bit of a morale booster when my six-year-old son said exactly this to me. “Who makes the best dinner and is the most awesome mom in the world? THAT lady,” and he pointed to me with his tiny fingers held like little pistols and he clicked his tongue as if he were calling a dog.
Keep in mind that the world’s best dinner according to my kids is anything that contains plain noodles and steamed broccoli which is normally not a child’s favorite vegetable, but somehow I was granted the gift of broccoli acceptance but unfortunately denied any other vegetable.
Once fed and happy, I rushed upstairs to put on something that didn’t smell like the fish sticks I had made them to accompany said veggie and noodles. I had to find just the right balance of fashion, something that says “I’m old, but not that old” and, you know, also something that didn’t have any stains and wasn’t circa 1993.
Piecing together something tolerable, I figured that if I could still squeeze into my boots that I wouldn’t have to change the overdue holiday socks with the giant hole in the toe, just below Santa’s sleigh.
And there I stood, decently dressed and in my holy socks, and I looked at myself in the mirror. And what was staring back made me wonder if I should ever be allowed to enter a RWC again.
There in my hair was a globule of something toothpaste-like, yet strangely not minty. I rinsed and combed it out before trying to fix my hair and cover up the fact that I had survived a pillow fight battle earlier that day.
And looking back at me was my bloodshot eye, the one that hasn’t quite healed since the gift of pinkeye was bestowed upon me. Or if it wasn’t pinkeye, it could very well have been the 3.2 hours of sleep I was getting every night and the fact that I had chopped 3 onions earlier that afternoon.
But it ain’t nothing a little a few eye drops won’t fix.
Leaning into the mirror and attempting to get the red out, I notice out of the corner of my red eye that right there in the crook of my collarbone, is a small and green unidentified object. Perfectly round and so stuck to me that it had survived the mad dash of searching for something to wear, nice and snug on my shoulder.
So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I picked it off and squished it between my fingers and gave it a good, hearty smell.
It was ABCB. Already Been Chewed Broccoli.
Apparently in the midst of the dinner frenzy, when the littlest one became unhappy about something and I threw her on my hip to comfort her, through her tears she deposited a tiny reminder that even though I may have been going to a RWC wearing my nice clothes, I was still THAT lady, the one who makes awesome dinner and isn’t afraid to brush a little ABCB off her shoulder.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Totally Irresponsible Martin Luther King Day

Call it an impulse purchase, but a few months ago I couldn't pass up "The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science." It was calling my name. Literally.
Although all of the experiments haven't worked perfectly for me (c'mon, I burned through about 2 dozen tea bags and nearly set off the smoke alarm for trying to make the hot air balloon) but one experiment was way too fun.
So if you're home on this Martin Luther King Day with kids driving you batty, here's a disgustingly fun way to amuse yourselves and pass the time.
Turning milk to stone.
(I would post a photo, but my camera is having some charge issues.)

1 1/2 cups skim milk
microwave safe mixing bowl
4 teaspoons vinegar

1. Mix milk and vinegar in bowl.
2. Microwave on high for 60 seconds.
3. You'll notice that the liquids and the solids have separated. Pour through the strainer.
4. Let the solids cool just a little until you can touch them, and then mold them into little shapes. They'll harden as they cool. Which is pretty cool.

The book says that the protein in the curd (the solid part) accounts for its rubbery quality. It adds that some of the earliest plastics were produced in a variation of this experiment. Imagine the stink in that laboratory!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Carpe dirt

Avid readers might notice that I recently changed the name of this blog. I wanted a catchier name, something that summed it all up in one happy little phrase. After much deliberation and a vote or two, "dirt don't hurt" won, hands down.
It comes from the saying, "God made dirt, and dirt don't hurt," something that I've heard and said over the course of my lifetime, mostly when someone in the crowd is ewwwing about dirt somewhere on their body.
Personally, I love dirt. It's good fun stuff, especially when it's got a little water mixed in with it. I know this because I have many photos of myself, all pretty much looking like this one (taken waaay back in the late 90's)

I also know I love dirt because I refuse to wear gloves when I garden and boots in the creeks. If you've felt the good feeling of dirt under your nails and between your toes, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you should.
My children are learning these life lessons, too, and for that I am quite proud of them. The bathtub water is usually the lovely color of dull chocolate milk and I challenge anyone to find a pair of my son's pants that don't have a hole or a stain on at least one knee.

But beyond the actual love of dirt, there's something else to the "dirt don't hurt" phrase. I'm taking it to the next level, in my own smalltown, backwoods way. Consider it a non-latin Carpe Diem, where instead of walking around the puddle, you jump, as hard as you can, right in the middle of it because tomorrow, that puddle might not be there.

Or as it is in my case, drive through the puddle on a 4wheeler, over and over and over and over and over, until someone snaps yet another muddy photo of you and your dad yells at you like you were 14 to go hose down the vehicle.

That's the good thing about dirt. It washes off (usually), and most of the time, doesn't hurt a single bit.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Mom who Stole Winter

Every Kid down in Kidville liked Winter a lot…
But the Mom, who managed the Kids, did not.
The Mom hated winter! The whole snowy season!
And if you want to know why, she’ll tell you the reason.
It wasn’t always this way, no she liked the snow quite.
She snowboarded and skied and prayed for the white.
She spent most every day that the winter winds blew
Out in the cold. It’s what she liked to do.
But then came the children, one after another
Until there were three to be cared for by mother.
When there was just one, it wasn’t a problem at all.
Cute sweaters and knit hats to wear in the fall,
And then when the snow fell, no one minded the least.
There were two little boots and a suit made of fleece.
But soon after that, another babe to adore.
And those two little boots soon became four.
And two little hats, and four little gloves,
And two little noses to wipe clear with love.
And each time the small family got ready to leave,
It’d be five extra minutes to tuck each coat sleeve.
And five minutes more to find a lost hat
And five minutes of boots and gloves after that.
It took hours to even head out the door,
Yes, the Winter was becoming quite a dull chore!
And then it got worse! Oh my, oh dear me,
The two little children then became three!
Six boots, six gloves, three hats and a muff,
This Winter weary Mama had soon had enough!
The Kids down in Kidville, with each flake of snow
Begged her and begged her outside to go,
To play and to sled and to have snowball fights
In a wintery wonderland so wonderfully bright.
But the Mama, how angry, she loathed even more
The wet, soggy jackets that would soon grace her floor.
She hated the slush from the boots they’d trudge in,
And she crinkled her nose and said with a grin,
“No outside play. It’s just far too chilly.
Besides, playing in the snow is just silly silly silly.
You get wet and get cold and your nose runs and drips.
Stay inside instead. I’ll let you eat chips.”
She thought she could bribe them with saturated fat,
But the Kids, delightful, were too smart for that.
The smallest Kid, she knew what to do,
Dear little Kid, who was no more than two,
Looked up at the Mama with big puppy eyes
And said just the words that were no surprise.
“Puh-weeze?” said the baby, “puh-weeze go outside?”
“Mama get sleds? Together we ride?”
Begrudgingly she grabbed the large plastic bin
With hats, gloves, jackets, and snowpants within.
They donned their gear, Mama grumbling away,
And 20 minutes later, they were outside to play.
Sleds and shovels and snowballs did pelt,
And something strange happened, the Mama did melt.
Away went her grinchness for the season of cold,
Away went her whines about being too old,
Away went the complaints of the work to be done,
And all that was left was a sled full of FUN.
The Grinch that was Mama remembered that night
Of what a good time it is to play in the white!
And there, in the driveway, cheeks all rosy red,
She stole every last turn of the Kid’s racing sled
And tore down the slope in the snowy front yard
Thinking the dressing and cleaning work that’s so hard
Is worth it for one single ride when you hit Mach 4…
And the Mom who stole Winter would steal no more.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Small successes are actually pretty big thanks

Months ago I went through a phase where, each Thursday, I would post three small successes. These could be as minimal as "wore matching socks" or "mowed the lawn without having to stop 37 times to yell at the kids...only 32." But the point was that we need to take the time to recognize these little things because, face it, we can all use a little morale boost from time to time. I know I sure can.
Today's small success isn't small at all, and it's not really as much of a success as a thank you.
Yesterday I came down with the stomach flu. Bad. I knew something was up when I couldn't finish my 3rd cup of morning coffee, but I traveled off to work anyway, leaving my youngest in the care of my mom.
Going through my day (did y'all know I'm a music teacher?) I began to fade in the afternoon until by the end of the last class my quarter notes and eighth notes were dancing around and off-beat. I sped home, sped to the bathroom, and then sped to bed where I stayed. All night.
And who does one want when they are sick? Mommy.
I am so thankful that my mom was there. She took care of me and my children while my husband wasn't able to be home. She checked on me, offered me tea, had a campout with my kids in the family room so they wouldn't be so worried about their own mom.
After a long night, I woke up still weak and weary, only to realize that my mom would take care of everything. She packed lunches, served breakfast, packed bookbags, took them to school, and even took out the trash.
Small successes? I think not.
Big thanks? Most definitely.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Resolving to hit the trail

I’ve always thought it was pretty funny to make a resolution the day after a week of indulgences ends. As if for some reason we actually have the willpower to promise away all of the treats we consumed over the previous week, while at the same time some of us are stuffing our faces with pork and sauerkraut, juices still dripping down our chins as we curl up for a midday nap.
Because really, aren’t most resolutions just about being more healthy and to take better care of ourselves? To make the choices we know we should be making but really that pork and sauerkraut taste so good we might as well have one more helping while we can because we can always get up early the next day and go for a jog?
The only resolution I ever made that didn’t have involve calories and sweating was a few years ago when I decided that I would do whatever it took to finish each load of laundry in one day. This brainy idea lasted a few weeks until I reverted to my old routine which required us to streak through the house on a quest to find clean undergarments. It was then, with my kids shivering in only their bath towels, that I realized that resolutions cannot be life changing. It’s impossible.
Almost as impossible as trying to find a matching pair of socks in four laundry baskets.
If I’ve learned anything from being a mother to young children, it’s that the reward system really does work. Eat your dinner and all of your veggies? Get a popsicle. Use the potty? Have a sticker. Practice the piano? I won’t scream and yell. It’s really a win-win situation for us all. Some may call it bribery, but I like to think of it as positive reinforcement.
So this year, as we welcome 2010 and hang our new calendars, I’m planning on using positive reinforcement. Will there be sugar and stickers involved? Probably. I won’t lie, especially since I’ve made this year’s resolution family wide and will drag (or be dragged) until we make our goal.
In the year 2010, I resolve that my family will hike 100 miles.
Oddly enough I made this decision long ago, on a delightful day on the trail when there was little whining and even fewer mosquitoes. But back then it seemed like a really good idea, and I suppose in a way, my actual resolution will be not to resolve to laughing at myself and actually sticking with the plan.
We chose 100 miles because it was something significant, and we chose the woods because that’s where we are happiest. It will be a daunting task but one that I think will make us all feel good about ourselves if we can actually achieve it. And we will achieve it. I will make sure of that.
Because when it comes to positive reinforcement, I am not one to give up. It may take me fruit snacks and M ‘n’ M’s by the case, but I am bound and determined to welcome 2011 with my boots a bit more worn, my head a little higher, and my own taste buds smiling, because I know full well that I’ll be using positive reinforcement on myself as I down dark chocolate covered coffee beans along the way.
Yes, bribing myself because 100 miles is a long way to go for a busy family. I won’t deny that in the back of my mind I imagine myself hauling three children in a sled through the snow come December 31, 2010 around in circles until we have met the full 100 miles.
“And miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep.” And as I whip a few stickers and some candy back at them, “until we get up and eat some pork and sauerkraut.”

100 mile GORP
“Good Old Raisins and Peanuts” is just a starting point.

Dark chocolate chips (not for summer fare)
Salted almonds
Sweetened banana chips
Small pretzels
Carmel corn

Mix together and store in small containers. Great for munching on and off the trail.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years 2010: Sick, Soup, and Supercute

We ended our New Year's Eve toting home a child sick with the stomach flu. A late night turned into a really late night (I was up until 4:30...and not having much fun, unless your twisted idea of fun is changing bed sheets multiple times.)
But some things happen for a reason. Our New Year's Day has been nothing but rest and quiet, a relaxing start to a new year. With the rowdiest member of the family down for the count, I got to spend time with my oldest daughter, reading books and making crafts. Usually when we attempt such things, there is a spontaneous sword thrust into our chests or a paper airplane comes zooming through the air. (Really, did I birth Max and Ruby??)
But today, oh today, at 6:30PM we are still in our pajamas. We have only eaten soup all day, if you don't count the Popsicles I just fed the sickie etc. Table strewn with paper scraps, twigs, and bits of wire, there's a beautiful craft in the corner that will remind me of this strangely odd and strangely wonderful day.
Not quite pork and kraut soup
2 Tbl olive oil
1 onion (sweet), chunked
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (I like Penzey's Tuscan Sunset. A LOT.)
2 large carrots, sliced
1/2 cabbage, sliced
12 oz. ham steak, diced
5-6 cups chicken broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cans cannellini beans, undrained
red wine vinegar to top (optional)

In soup pot, saute onion in olive oil for 5 minutes. Add italian seasoning and cook 1 more minute. Then add everything else (not vinegar) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, as soup does best, until veggies are cooked and the smell can't keep you away any more.
If you're a vinegar person like I am, give a shake of vinegar in your bowl when you serve it.
And while it's cooking, here's a cute craft to work on.
It's one of those things that requires no explanation-- we just used fancy flower punches and colored paper. Poked a wire through two of them and wrapped them around some dead twigs from the yard. It came out better than I had hoped, and sits on my baker's rack, a constant reminder of how we ushered in 2010. Party on.
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