Friday, June 25, 2010

Garage saler can’t part with every memory

If one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, someone is bound to hit paydirt.
We have, after procrastinating for many years, made the decision to finally have a garage sale. As a family, we know now that we are complete, with no more babies to grace the high chair or the play pen. No more infants to require squishy toys or any of the three thousand little outfits we have accumulated over the past nine years.
But as in most marriages, there is one sentimental sap of a pack rat, determined to find a practical potential use or a direct tug at the heart strings for each and every item.
This would be me, and our entire basement is filled to the tippy top with tender memories and future crafty endeavors.
“My baby wore this outfit when we ate dinner at my Grandparents. I just can’t part with it.”
“I could probably take this gross of receiving blankets and sew them into quilts or bags or something. Better keep them.”
The husband is more of the everything-must-go type, ready to unload and free ourselves from the clutter that makes our lower level more like a museum/obstacle course than anything else. Not being able to stand it any longer, he pulled rank and, well, the garage sale signs are up.
I should say that I’m personally not a fan of garage sales, neither shopping at them nor having them. For some people it’s a great hobby or a way to find great deals, and that’s wonderful. More power to you! But for a frugal pack rat who despises shopping, there is nothing more painful.
Still, I sort and sift through boxes and bags of clothes I’ve been saving up, wiping away the tears of sweet memories with stained onsies and socks the size of my thumbs. Out of the bags come each item, some with mysterious stains that I swore were never there before, some still with a scent that makes my olfactory nerve connect straight to the lump that forms in my throat when I think about how great it felt to hold a baby so tiny or a toddler so wiggly.
Is something that precious worth a quarter?
What about the favorite shirt of a toddler, who wore it every day and night during the beginning of his camouflage phase (which still continues, by the way, four years later) and even wore the ratty thing for his two-year pictures? I probably couldn’t give that away for a quarter.
There’s the rattle that was the only thing to please a fussy infant, and once when I thought we lost it I scoured the town with phone calls and shopping trips until I could go no more. Broken hearted, I returned home to take off my shoes only to find the smiling face of Winnie the Pooh peeking out at me from the pocket of my jacket. There’s just no way I could ever part with it.
So as I sift and sort, I make piles that appease both parties. There is a giant trash can, for those mysteriously stained and torn clothes, the mismatched socks, the chewed up toys. There are bins, labeled and organized, with things I suppose I can part with if I want to be able to actually walk through my basement some day.
And finally there is a box for each child set out, marked clearly with his or her name and a bold message saying “memories. Don’t touch or meet your Mama Bear doom.” In those boxes I will store those things that I’m not ready to part with yet, and that are worth more than the average garage-saler is willing to pay. Unless, of course, someone wants to shell out $1,000 for a ripped up camo shirt, size 2T.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Today's nature activity was well intended...but oh well

Today I lead the first of two summer hikes for children (and people who have them) at Wooster Memorial Park. I had a great plan where we would read a story, learn to truly observe nature, hike and use our new found skill, and finish off with a stunning craft. This beauty right here:

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3.

1. Find a leaf and glue it (Tacky Glue is the greatest stuff in the world) on some paper.

2. Using markers, add legs, arms, captions, etc.

3. Glue on some googly eyes. (Everyone loves googly eyes.)

What a great and free community event I had planned! I was so excited. In fact, I was so excited, that I loaded up my kids and our picnic lunches and forgot all of my materials at home, sitting neatly packed in my favorite backpack, in the mudroom.

Not so good.

But thanks to the fabulous parents that came out in the air so thick with humidity and mosquitoes, it was a wonderful morning, craft or no craft, book or no book. The skill of survival applies to everything, and with a stack of scrap paper and a crayon from some random restaurant, I salvaged the morning.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Battle of Fried Zucchini

It was a balmy summer evening. The faint sound of distant lawn mowers and children playing rang through the house loud and clear, for inside the home there were no sounds at all.
Not even the sound of a tiny mouth chewing a tiny piece of zucchini.
Food battles with children are just about as fun as ingrown toenails. For all of the begging and pleading and attempts to mask even the tastiest of vegetables, they still manage to sit there, arms folded, staring into space and not eating them.
“It will make you grow strong!” we say.
“It will make your hair curly!” we fib.
“It will give you magical powers!” we lie.
And eventually we just give in and hold nothing back. “You will eat this because I said so and I’m the boss and whatever I say you have to do.”
But they still don’t eat it, because it’s something horrible like a green bean. Or zucchini.
It all started during an afternoon of running errands cross county. When the troops got hungry (and maybe their mom was a bit hungry too), I offered to swing by a drive through and get them a snack of french fries. It was really the least I could do because I was dragging them around town. But with all good things, there was a catch.
“I’ll get you French fries, but you’ve got to promise to eat two, one more than normal, entire pieces of zucchini for dinner tonight.”
And easy as that, they sold their souls to the veggie devil for a little salty saturated fat.
Dinner arrives. I prepare, among other things, a delightful new recipe which includes discs of zucchini, breaded and lightly fried in olive oil. Seasoned to perfection, I myself ate one and a half zucchinis worth of the stuff. All my daughter had to eat was two small pieces.
The rest of us finished our dinners, and there she sat, still not eating them. We cleared the table. I washed dishes. Two limp and cold discs lay in their loneliness on her plate. I warned her again and again that she had to eat them, or else she would be sent to her room straight away, where she would have to clean non-stop until bed time.
For a time limit, I set the timer for two minutes, although she had already had over 40. Tick tock, tick tock, beep. One half plus two lifeless nubs remained.
At this point, she’s in tears and I’m contemplating if I should stay true to my word or let it slide. Today it’s zucchini, I thought, and what will she try to get away with tomorrow? Sure, she’s only eight-years old, but there was an opportunity to teach a lesson here, so I sent her right to her room over a quarter-inch slice of baby squash.
“You’re grounded.”
Oh, the drama that ensued. You’d think she was up for an Oscar or something, the pitiful way she danced up the stairs, painful sobs echoing down the hallway while she was sent to her doom. (Although if you’d see the mess in her room, it’s pretty much doomsday in there.)
And there I left her, in her room with her pathetic hungry eyes and a messy room, while the rest of us went outside and her siblings played in the evening sun and I sat in a puddle of guilt. This was the first time I had ever “grounded” her, and I have very limited experience with this type of thing. My husband, away for the night, told me that I should “go easy on her. I didn’t like that kind of stuff when I was a kid either.”
Truthfully, he still doesn’t like it. He’s lucky he was out on a business dinner and not at home, quite frankly, fighting his own battle of fried zucchini because I know exactly what side he’d be on, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a few rooms around the house that could stand a little cleaning.

Eat-Your-Darn-Zucchini Zucchini Rounds

2 small zucchini, not the giant honkers you find in late summer hiding in your garden
1 egg
olive oil for frying
1/2 cup panko flakes
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp italian seasoning (Really, you've got to try Tuscan Sunset by Penzey's. It's the best!)
grated parmesan cheese for topping, optional

Slice zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds, beat egg in one small bowl and combine panko, salt, and seasoning in another.
Heat oil in frying pan on med-hi heat.
Dip each round in the egg wash, then the breading, then fry it until golden on both sides.
To serve, sprinkle with parmesan.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sticky and sweet, two good (and odd) uses for vinegar

There are about a zillion uses for my favorite french fry topping, but lately I've come upon two new ones that have seemed to revolutionize my life this week. How revolutionary? I'll give you three words: DOLLY PARTON STICKERS
I'm a big Dolly fan, for those who don't know. Any woman who can endure that much plastic surgery and stand there and be proud of it (and how amazing she looks at her age!) is OK in my book. Not to mention her song writing talents, of which the world should be envious.
So finding an article on her in an old AARP magazine was like gold when I had this new craft project looming around in my head on a rainy day last week.
Make your own stickers, Dolly Parton or otherwise
1. Cut pictures or designs from magazines (covers don't work quite as well), craft papers, etc.
2. Lay them out on a cookie sheet, upside down.
3. Mix together equal parts white school glue and white vinegar.
4. Paint the back of each picture liberally. Let dry.
5. Repeat.
6. To use your stickers, you can lick them but it doesn't taste very good if you're going to do a bunch. My daughter suggests a sponge. I just licked 'em. I'm tough like Dolly Parton that way.
But wait, what do you do while you're waiting for the glue to dry on the back of your stickers??

Make a crazy cake
What makes it crazy? No milk, no eggs. In other words, dairy-free and vegan. In my words, super easy and cheap.

1. Preheat your oven to 325.
Directly into an 8x8 glass pan, combine:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda

2. Mix together well, but don't fling stuff around the room.
3. Make 2 large divots and 2 small divots in the mixture.
4. In the large divots pour:
1 cup water
1/3 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp vinegar

5. Combine well, wipe off sides of pan so it's nice and clean.
6. Bake it for 30-35 minutes, until center is set.
7. Cool completely before slicing, and enjoy washing down the taste from the vinegar and glue stickers with a big piece of chocolate cake.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Waking up is hard to do, but well worth it

I have these friends who have been getting up before the crack of dawn to jog for many years. And for years I have laughed at them because they were, in one happy-go-lucky moment, combining my two least favorite activities. Waking up early and running.
“Just you wait,” said the oldest and wisest of the group, “wait until your kids are older and involved in a million activities and one day you’ll realize that waking up extra early is the only way to get anything done for yourself.”
Wouldn’t you know, that day has come and shown its ugly crack-of-dawn head and stared right into my half-open, sleepy-puffy eyes. And smiled.
I am not typically a morning person, and when I wake up I operate in complete zombie mode for the first good 20 minutes of my day. (I often have to recheck mid-morning to see if I did things, like feed the dog, pack juice pouches in lunches, eat breakfast.) Eventually the coffee kicks in, but during that window of time before it does I am not the friendliest person, stomping around, complaining, and have no idea what I’m actually doing. My family likes to remind me of my rise-and-shine personality whenever they get a chance which does nothing but make matters worse.
The clincher is when I am woken up by the faint sound of the whispered “mommy…mommy…she’s still sleeping…mommy” and I jolt up, mid-dream, and open my eyes to see little people standing at the side of my bed, knocking on my feet.
“We’re hungry.”
“I’m sleepy,” I growl, but get up and out of bed and if they’re lucky, I’ll not feed the dog Cheerios and the children Kibbles ‘N Bits. Once fed and dressed, the rest of my day belongs to them, where each and every moment (especially when school is out) is theirs until the seas part, the golden harp plays, angelic singing plays softly in the background and it is finally bedtime. Unfortunately by the time that rolls around I’m way more exhausted then my kids are and I tend to fall asleep before they do.
In an attempt to gain just a few minutes of “me time,” I recently tried my hands at getting up early, even if it meant waking up while the streetlights were still shining away. But if the rest of the family was still snoring away, I could be grumpy and sleepy all by myself, which is really all that anyone really wants. Not only that, but I found that after a few days of this new routine, I actually got to consume an entire cup of coffee without reheating it, which is something I swear I haven’t done since 2001.
My new plan was working out quite well. By sacrificing just an hour of sleep, I was able to watch television that was not animated, check my email without someone randomly pushing keys, and even, I dare say, a smidge of exercise. (Although not jogging; I will forever stand by my dislike of running to get nowhere while making myself hurt.)
This wild taste of freedom before the sun rises has turned me around as a person so much that I do believe I’ve become an early morning addict. Every night when I set my alarm clock, I think to myself, “just how little sleep do I really need? How early can I sneak out of bed tomorrow?” and lo and behold, I am turning into not only a zombie for the first 20 minutes, but I’ve pretty much reached vampire status.
Watch for me, roaming the streets with a giant grin in the middle of the night, desperate for a little peace and quiet all to myself. At the rate I’m going, I figure I’ll be sprouting fangs and wings any day now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mooching with the First National PBA (Piggy Banks of America)

“Mom, now you owe me fifty dollars!”
It had been one of those days, the kind when by afternoon you wonder why your feet hurt so much and then you realize that you have neglected to sit down the entire day and you have literally run through the house trying to pack lunches and clothe children while you yourself forgot to eat breakfast and you’re wearing socks that were never meant to be together.
But as it goes, that’s just life with kids. As a parent, you start letting your guard down on things because you’ve got to choose your battles. When faced with one daughter eating crusty broccoli and noodles discovered from last night’s dinner and a son who is wearing the same old t-shirt and camouflage pants to school for the third time this week, I have to say the spoiled food won.
I can only be in one place at one time. I’m only person, and I’m certainly going to make mistakes. Perfect parenting doesn’t exist, and if it did, I’d surly pelt it with leftover broccoli and stick a piece of dried pasta in its nose.
Racing home from work, I had a few extra minutes to pick up some healthy food at the store before getting the kids from school. Some salad and strawberries went into my bag and I was feeling pretty good about myself because I knew it was going to be pizza night, and as much as I’d like to think tomato sauce is a veggie and cheese is calcium-rich dairy, the puddle of grease at the bottom of the plate is a true give away.
Quickly running through the check-out lane, I got into a lengthy conversation with the people at the store about vinegar and arthritis and ended with an impromptu miming of myself eating “medicinal” French fries dripping in vinegar.
Ha ha ha, ho ho ho, and out the door I went…with no change.
And this would have been OK, except that it was pizza night and I really should pay the delivery guy.
Sans cash, I turn to my own personal ATM.
Real money is so fleeting, I am more likely to have zero cash than any cash on any given day. But my kids’ piggy banks surely do. So before the doorbell rang, I went to a nice stash of communion money and saw that that I had already started a tab. Despite grumbles from the bank owner, I grabbed some cash and updated the I.O.U. “Yes, I owe you $50,” I told her. “I’m good for the cash, I swear.”
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who does this. A quick survey of friends proved to me that a large percentage of my pals are in debt to their children. My own mother confessed that they paid for my entire baptism party with the money I received. (They must have not invented I.O.U.’s back then.)
Feeling slightly accomplished, we went out to play after dinner, and wouldn’t you know, the same banker child comes running up with a bloody mouth and a tooth that has been hanging on for months, in her hand.
As happy as she was to have lost the tooth, my first emotion was panic. (You see, I like to be prepared with a couple of dollars just in case the Tooth Fairy drops her wallet on the way to my house. If she needs a two-spot, I’m her gal.) But there I was, wiping a bloody chin and cursing myself for jabbering at the grocery store and forgetting those very perfect dollar bills that would have come in handy right then.
Instead, I lovingly put the children to bed and slipped over to their piggy bank where I borrowed a buck or two for that klutzy fairy and all was right in the world. Especially since they’re not old enough to understand the concept of “interest.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nature Sensory Scavenger Hunt

I can't take credit for this one. Credit goes to a friend of mine who is an amazing outdoor educator. She created this activity for Camp Buckeye where we both do a little side teaching.
But it's just too good not to share.
You really only need an egg carton ('cause it makes it cool), some woods, a good idea of how to avoid poison ivy, a camera, and some simple art supplies.
Tailor this activity to match your child's age group be changing the number of 'holes' in the egg carton you use or the descriptive words you are searching for.
For the activity we did at camp, we used all 12 holes and listed the following adjectives along the top inside of the carton:
Smooth
Rough
Fragile
Dead
Alive
Red
Blue (*This one is really tough-- be creative!)
Spikey
Dry
Old
Beautiful
Soft
Once you've got all of your items collected, arrange your collection in a collage of some sort. You can spell out the first letter of your name or the letter of the week. You can lay them out, set them up, dump them out. Then simply take a photo and return your collection to nature, where it belongs.
When you've got your photo printed, either by home printer or commercial printing, mount it on some cardstock and decorate the outer part of the frame with the words that you used to describe the items in the collage.
This is an absolutely unique and creative project for children of all ages. Simple and can be the jumping point for so many discussions. Below is the sample I made to show the students at camp, but I am pretty sure my 6 and 8 year old kids can do much, much better.
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