Friday, March 28, 2014

How to Ride a Horse Indoors



One of the awesome things about kids is seeing their creativity in action.  I love this "horse" the Rabbit made.   She used a tote bag for stirrups.  And do you see the face she drew for it?  What a brilliant child!  

The Secret to Perfect Lemon Bars


Lemon bars are one of the first things I mastered when I was learning to cook years ago.  However, I very quickly stopped making them-- and I almost never make them anymore.  The reason is that I can and I WILL just stand there and eat the entire pan.  

I am typing this with sticky fingers and frequent breaks to go back for more.  I broke down today and decided to make them for the first time in years.  My friend brought some over the other night when she came to dinner and it got me thinking about them and there were these lemons in my fridge and....

My lemon bars are perfect.  Crispy-flaky on the bottom and tangy sweet on top.  It's my sister Pineapple's excellent recipe, but the recipe isn't critical.  The secret to perfect lemon bars is this: real butter and fresh squeezed lemon juice.  That's all there is to it.

Ah, this battle I have with sugar is one I fight Every Single Day.  At the beginning of the year I was very motivated about cutting carbs and when I did, I started losing weight at a rapid (though not an unhealthily rapid) pace.  It was amazing.  I have lost 10 lbs this year overall.  However, ever since my girls' birthdays and birthday parties I have been yo-yoing.  

After all, I have such a talent with carbs.  My homemade bread just keeps getting better and better (post soon!) and my homemade tortillas are to die for.  Cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, brownies, frostings, lemon bars...  I am just brilliant with anything carb.  

If I wasn't trying to shed pounds I would be fine.  I have this challenge with addictive binge eating, but I am also getting better and better at healthy eating and exercise and the two seem to balance each other out to the point that I can maintain my weight.  I don't have to deny myself the opportunity to taste the fruits of my talents forever.  That's encouraging news for the day when I finally do meet my goal.  

And I WILL meet that goal.  Yes, I will.  After this pan of lemon bars is gone.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Rare Perfect Moment

Four little kids playing calmly and happily in a relatively clean room with one toy set which they are keeping in one general area...




I think the last time this happened was 2008.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Pinewood Finale

There are all these sad "lasts" as Fish approaches the end of his Cub Scout career:  last Blue and Gold Banquet.... last Pinewood Derby....

Fish's last Pinewood Derby was great.  Even after all these years, I still haven't really gotten the hang of putting the cars together.  We are always lucky to show up with something with four wheels, let alone try to craft a car that might actually win.  I have learned that the alignment of the wheels is extremely important, but I've never gotten good at aligning the wheels properly.  (And it always seems like the Badger ends up out of town when we're trying to make our cars!)

This year, the Badger shaped Fish's block of wood with what tools he still has after our move.  Together they spray painted it brown.  Then the Badger left town and it was up to me to make sure everything else got done.  I turned full responsibility for this over to Fish.  He painted wavy green lines on the car and called it his "nature car."  He was very happy with it.  And then he put the wheels on himself.






I managed to get everyone to the derby-- on time!  A nice dad helped Fish adjust his wheels and apply graphite to them.  And the racing began.  






Fish's car came in first three out of his four heats, and second in the last one.  He was so happy to see his car win!  I was excited too.  We haven't won very many Pinewood Derby heats.  It was great to go out with a bang.  

St. Patrick's Day

For several years now I have been watching the evolution of St. Patrick's Day with mixed feelings.  Like the writer of an article currently circulating on facebook, I remember it as a day when you wore green.  End of story.  And also like the writer of said article, I think that expectations for holidays might be getting a little out of hand.  However, a part of me thinks some of these new St. Patrick's Day traditions are really neat and way more fun that just wearing green.  I have been watching some friends-- my friend Melissa comes to mind-- do some really fun things for several years now and I have thought "maybe we could do fun leprechaun stuff too."  But we never did.. until the kids went to public school.  

Roo came home about a week before St. P's day with an assignment to build a leprechaun trap and bring it to school.  At first I was a little annoyed-- craft projects are not my forte, and with everything we've got going on around here when we were going to find the time?  Why was this necessary?  But once we got going, it was fun.  It turned out really cute and then it was really fun to take it to school and see what all the other kids had built.  The whole thing was festive and exciting.  



The tall box idea was not a new one, but putting the tissue paper "grass' on top to hide the trap door was pretty clever, we thought.  Alas, she did not catch a leprechaun, but the bait (green taffy) was gone and she is sure that she *almost* did.  

The Rabbit's Kindergarten class built a trap as a group at school.  Then the morning of the 17th when they came to school they found that their classroom had been messed up by a mischievous leprechaun.  Things were strewn all over the floor: markers and books and carpet squares.  The kids were delighted (and happy to pitch in and clean it all up!)  So it was a fun day for them, and then the Rabbit came home wearing these leprechaun ears she had made, which I thought were adorable.  





I was happy that they could do fun stuff at school, because the 17th was a regular crazy Monday at our house.  The Badger was gone on a flight (to Minnesota, actually!) and so I was left to handle all the afternoon activities alone.  We got through after school folk dance, ballet, and delivering birthday party invitations and then had about 45 minutes to make dinner and feed everyone before we needed to get Bean to his Civil Air Patrol meeting.  So I made macaroni and cheese from a box, which at our house is a rare treat reserved for crazy days like this.  It was Annie's White Cheddar, so I added some green food coloring and we ate green mac and cheese.  It was a party, I'm telling you.  

I am rather enchanted by the idea of glitter and little footprints and gold coins and presents and things... it sounds like fun.  I just wouldn't want it to get to the point where the kids had really high expectations.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Edible Cell



Science has been our toughest homeschool subject this year.  I love the Apologia science curriculum we are using, but I always seem to run out of steam when it's science time.  It's not Bean's favorite subject either, so he doesn't exactly make it easier for me.  So we've mostly just been reading the book out loud and discussing it.  

But sometimes... sometimes Bean wants to do the activities and projects in the book.  Like this edible cell (we recently started the Anatomy and Physiology book).  Maybe it was because it's Jello filled with candy.  Yeah, that's probably it.  Anyway, he hassled me until I bought the supplies and then very happily assembled some edible cells.  I hope that will help him remember the names and functions of the organelles a little better. 
 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Jellicle Ball

We got out the sidewalk chalk the other day, what with the milder weather and all.  We have a large back patio with lots of room for chalk art.  

However, my kids never do what they are "supposed" to with their toys.  If you get sidewalk chalk wet it is much more fun to draw on skin than to draw on boring old concrete.  




So this is what the Rabbit did to herself and Peanut.  She said they were cats.  They then spent the next half an hour or more crawling around the house on their hands and knees meowing wildly at the top of their lungs.  It was as bizarre and charming as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Prince Charming's New Throne

I believe in good car seats.  A few years ago when the Rabbit was a baby I somehow got onto the topic of car seat safety and watched a bunch of crash test videos.  So when it was time to upgrade her from an infant car seat I bought her a Britax Marathon.  Good seat, that.  Britax seats have a lot going for them.

But then my friend introduced me to the Radian car seats.  They are similar to the Britax seats in terms of quality and safety (and about in the same price range) but they have one redeeming quality that is critical for a large family: they have a narrower base which allows you to easily fit three across in a car.  You can't do that with any other seat on the market, even the cheap ones.   

I bought a Radian a couple years ago for Roo and I have loved it, especially the narrower profile.  The Radians can be used from birth to 80 pounds or so, but I like to put my tiny infants in an infant seat so I can take them in and out of the car in their seat.  So Prince Charming has been riding in a Graco infant seat until now... when he finally exceeded the weight limit (he's a little on the small side so it took awhile.)  

I planned ahead, I budgeted, I shopped for a deal (got a good one!), and I bought Prince Charming a Radian RXT.  I am so pleased with it!  I think he finds it very comfortable:


Must be all that memory foam.  He's clocked.  

I will keep him rear-facing for at least another year.  Rear-facing is SO much safer for little people in crashes.  
The challenge I have now is playing car seat shuffle once again with four car seats, trying to position everyone so that they are optimally and comfortably situated.  It's getting harder and harder.  Right now the way things have to be is that the Britax seat I bought for the Rabbit (that is now set up for Peanut) has to go next to Prince Charming's Throne.  And since I don't have a sliding door on the driver's side and since the Radian seats have a way lower profile than the Britax seats, it's a little awkward getting my little guy in and out of his Throne.  


If I could buy another Radian seat to put in that spot it would make it a lot easier, but I will have to wait a couple of months before I can work that into the budget.  In the mean time, at least everyone is safe and secure and comfortable in the car.  



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Winter Organization

With all the winter gear it takes to outfit a family of eight, I am grateful for a foyer and a coat closet.  I had neither in Oklahoma, but all we needed there was the nifty coat hooks and shoe rack that the Badger made and installed next to the front door.  

We still have those in our foyer, but the coat hooks were getting completely overloaded with all the snow pants and heavy parkas. I started out the winter by just putting all the mittens and hats and things in a laundry basket at the bottom of the coat closet-- I figured it would be more likely that the kids would put these items away if they just had to toss them into a basket.  But there got to be so many in there that it was getting hard to find stuff-- especially MY stuff.  So I got me one of these:



This isn't anything new or remarkable, but I am sure loving it.  I used four Command adhesive hooks to hang it up instead of the metal over-the-door hooks.  We still have the laundry basket for the kids to toss into because there aren't enough pockets for all our hats/gloves, but at least I can now find MY hat and gloves easily.  

Then for the snow pants I installed some hooks inside the coat closet.  These were some hooks I already had and was wondering what to do with.  I was tickled to find such a good use for them.



And, finally, I have always bought cheap plastic hangars, but they just weren't holding up our heavy winter coats.  So I looked at Walmart and, Behold!  Heavy-duty plastic hangars!  You probably all knew about these ages ago, but this was the first time I had discovered them.  I am in love.  The Badger's enormous 20 pound Land's End parka doesn't fall off the hangar anymore!  See how much thicker they are?



It has taken us clear until March to get this all figured out, what with everything else we have going on around here.  But little bits of progress in organization feel so good to me!  The way your family flows through your house makes a big difference in the tone of your home, and the larger your family the more important good flow is.  

The weather here today was gorgeous.  The Badger cleaned out the garage and Bean got up on the roof and took down the Christmas lights (he had a blast up there!)  So it looks like we got winter figured out just in time for spring.  

But I am definitely not complaining about spring!

The Promised Skirt Pictures

I promised my dear mother-in-law that I would send some pictures of the Rabbit in the skirt Grandma made for her for her birthday.  And, finally, here they are!  


She loves it so much!  And it is so utterly darling!


Thank you, Grandma Badger!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What I've Been Doing Lately

I think it's time for another General Update.  Life proceeds at a gallop.  We are very, very busy.  Mondays we have four after school activities.  Tuesdays five.  Wednesdays three.  Thursdays two, and Fridays one.  It sounds ridiculous, but when you break it down by kid there's not that many for each one, and often they are taking place at the same time at locations within a couple of blocks of each other.  Like on Mondays I usually go to the Y while the Rabbit is at her ballet class.  Roo could just play at the playland there while we're all there, but there happens to be a music class at the same time for her age group.  She really enjoys that music class, and it's no skin off my nose to get her there.  So it's not as bad as it sounds.  Still, though, our Mondays through Thursdays are a little insane and we probably ought to scale back a little bit.

When everyone homeschooled I got in the habit of enrolling my kids in every possible extracurricular so they would have opportunities to learn things I couldn't teach them at home.  Now that they are in school I am realizing just how little time I get with them anymore and I wish we had more unstructured time at home all together.  But at the same time they are having some really awesome opportunities to develop their talents with these extracurriculars.  The activities I did as a child (ballet, piano, Girl Scouts, baseball, etc.) had a profoundly good influence on me and I want to make sure my kids get those same benefits.  Within reason.

Part of all the busyness is just them getting older.  Older kids have more to do and have more structure in their lives no matter where they are being educated.  Bean is on the cusp of those super-busy years where there is so much to learn and do to prepare for adulthood.

Anyway.  I love weekends.  And I am really looking forward to spring break.

I have been making more jam.  We are buying a half a beef from a local rancher this weekend and so we need to clear out as much freezer space as possible.  I have a lot of frozen fruit, so it is getting jammed.

                                      

Here is rhubarb orange jam on the left, made without pectin (made the kids do all the stirring last night while I read aloud to them!)  On the right is "bluebarb" jam: blueberry and rhubarb.  Made with pectin.  The kids are wild about the bluebarb, but not so wild about the rhubarb orange.  I think both are delicious.

And then, because I am completely insane, I decided I needed a quilting project.  I just had this tremendous need to have a creative project working with something beautiful.  I find it soothing and stress-relieving and satisfying.  One day I stopped by the little quilt shop in town while I was waiting for one of the kids at one of their activities (and for once I had no one in the car with me!)  A little jelly roll caught my eye.  If you do not know what a jelly roll is, it's where they cut 2 1/2 inch strips from every single one of a line of coordinating fabrics (usually about 35-40 different prints) and roll them all up together in a cute little package.  This fabric line was called "Chance of Flowers" and it just looked so fun and springy.  And I had never bought a jelly roll before but I had always liked the idea of working with small amounts of so many different, yet complimentary, prints.  It sounded very satisfying.

So I bought the jelly roll, and then I had to decide on a pattern.  I love looking at quilt patterns.  There are some really neat patterns out there specifically designed for jelly rolls.  I tried to find a free pattern that really appealed to me, but I kept coming back to this one.  Quilting fabric isn't exactly bargain-bin prices to begin with, so I figured it I was going to work with this fabric I paid good money for then I wanted to really love the pattern.  My time and money are very precious so I get a little obsessive about having everything just right.

Anyway, so for a few days I felt a little frustrated because I kept trying to sneak away to work on this project and kept getting waylaid.  Finally, I got going, and I can't tell you how good it is for my ch'i to have something like this to play with for a few minutes here and there (mostly late in the evening after the kids go to bed.)  I am just a happier, more contented person.

The nice thing about piecing quilts is that you can put one block together and feel like you got something done but it didn't take you very much time.  I have been working on the first style of blocks and I think they are turning out just darling.


Don't they make you think of spring?  

Meanwhile, I am perennially behind on my laundry and if it wasn't for the Badger we would have serious issues with the dishes as well.  :)  And I DO do a lot of housework.  You can just only do so much before you need to take a break, you know?

Today I am blogging because Bean is sick and we are not doing much homeschool.  But now I think I am going to go take a nap.  


My New Favorite Room


I was pretty excited about my (main floor!) laundry room when we moved in here.  It is a huge step up from the last 3 or 4 laundry rooms we've had and is the first laundry room I have ever had that has a sink.  Sinks in laundry rooms are so useful.

When we moved in, there was a fluorescent light in the laundry room that was not working properly.  It flickered badly due to a faulty fixture.  Doing the laundry was like being at a dance club with the strobe light going.  I spent as little time in there as possible.  The Badger had a lot of things to do around the house that were more critical than the laundry room light... I knew he'd get around to fixing it eventually.

Then one day the light fixture stopped working altogether.  Suddenly this project jumped to the top of the Badger's to-do list.  He went and got an inexpensive incandescent fixture and installed it in no time flat (love that Badger!)

It feels like a whole new room.  I am so excited!  Isn't it beautiful?

I am very sensitive to light.  Fluorescent light really bugs me, even when it is not flickering.  It just feels... wrong.  Don't get me started on compact fluorescent bulbs.   So I was totally thrilled to get that nasty fluorescent fixture out of there.

I feel very blessed to have such a pleasant place to do laundry.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Winter

It's definitely still winter here.  The cold and the snow have not let up yet.  



It has taken us awhile to get used to shoveling... in fact I have often felt guilty this winter because our neighbor always beats us to shoveling in front of the neighborhood mailbox, which is mostly in front of our house and only a little bit in front of his.  Our neighbors on either side of us grew up in these kinds of climates and both of them are shoveling machines.  They can clear a driveway in ten minutes flat.  It's inspiring to watch them.  


But Bean is getting better at shoveling.  He likes it now that he has started trying to pile all the snow up in two huge piles on either side of the driveway.  He is going to build snow forts out of them.  The more snow he can shovel onto them the better his forts will be.  So lately he is always excited to shovel.  


We have cool icicles on our house!  Can you see  them?  


I wondered how I would handle the winter here.  I am doing fine.  In fact, I am still enjoying it.  I think the snow is so pretty.  Bean is the only one who is struggling.  I didn't realize how hard it would be for him.  He is used to being able to jump on the trampoline all year round and in Oklahoma jumping on the trampoline was a huge part of his emotional health.  I knew he jumped a lot and it helped him de-stress, but I didn't realize how much it meant to him.  He is doing okay, he just feels really cooped up right now.  

Even  though it's March now, I am not letting myself think about spring yet.  It probably won't be here for six weeks or more, so I am just trying to keep on enjoying the beautiful winter.