Monday, January 31, 2011

My Love-Hate Relationship With Legos

I love Legos. They are awesome for Mister Man, whose fine motor skills aren't nearly so developed as they should be. He's gotten to be really good at manipulating them, and I feel like it's really helped him improve his handwriting and other skills. While he's getting OT and ST specifically to address his deficits due to Asperger's, this is something he can do all on his own just because it's fun.

I hate Legos. The clear ones are the worst because I think the floor is clean until I step on them in my bare feet. I've yet to truly break skin, but I've felt the need to check more than once.

I love Legos. It's something that can keep Mister Man and Little Miss entertained for hours, playing nicely while I make dinner or clean or complete some other task that must be done.

I hate Legos. Neither of the wee ones are particularly adept at removing the super small pieces from any projects they've built. Rather than asking for my assistance, they frequently use their teeth to attempt to remove the pieces. I've yet to have to make an emergency trip to the dentist, but that is my fear. They have left dents in the pieces that has made them ... unhappy, however. I had to implement the "if I see a Lego in or near your mouth, it is now my Lego" policy.

I love Legos. The creativity they inspire is wonderful. Mister Man looked at the side of a Lego box once when he was relatively new to Legos and saw numerals built from Legos. He built the one, two, three and four he saw pictured. Then he made his own five through nine because he could. He's created whole worlds and stories and movies based on the Legos he's built.

I hate Legos. The Legos Mister Man wants now (Little Miss, too) are all Lego creations from Atlantis crab submarines to General Grievous's Tie-Fighter from Star Wars. Although there is tons of creativity going on with the way the wee ones play with them after they're built, I'm sad that their overall creativity with the Legos is somewhat stifled.

I love Legos. It isn't a "boy toy" that makes other children look at her oddly when she wants to play with them. It's all inclusive, and it's great for improving her visual spatial skills, something that interestingly isn't her best talent. I love that they are a toy both the wee ones can and do play with.

I hate Legos. Those things are expensive! And just like me who had 33 Barbies as a child because each one is different and there are different ways to play with each of them, there are always more and new and different Legos that the wee ones want.

I love Legos. They require no batteries. They don't make noise. They don't wear out suddenly where I need to immediately find a screwdriver to open a battery case and then pray that we have the dead battery size in stock.

I hate Legos. Those sets I mentioned above? The wee ones tend to misplace a single piece somehow all too often for my tastes. And then the world stops until one of us finds the mysterious piece that Mister Man can't quite describe to me but will know if he sees it.

I love Legos. They require patience. They require following directions. They require organization. Those are life skills that so many toys these days don't teach, and it's why I've bought varying sizes of Legos for the wee ones since Mister Man was old enough to push two blocks together.

Today, I really hate Legos.

Little Miss received the Pizza Planet Truck for Christmas (as did Mister Man, ironically). She put it together, with Mister Man's help, last week over a four or so day stretch. She's slower at doing the Legos, but she gets them done. This morning, she dumped out the Pizza Planet box with the Lego back into individual pieces. As I gawked at her in awe, she explained that she had made some mistakes and so needed to redo it.

She proceeded to work on putting it back together. As she had difficulties, I would help her put a piece into place. Or I'd dump out one of our massive boxes of Legos to help her discover one of the pieces to her Lego set that had somehow migrated into our general Lego population. A few hours later, she was nearly done, and I was called in to do the delicate work. I succeeded.

Once the truck was put together, Little Miss began putting the characters that came with the truck inside it to play - as described in the directions. We got Rex in with only minimal issues. She got Buzz in just fine by herself. I couldn't make Hamm stay they way he was shown in the picture. Trying to put the alien on, the Lego broke into a few pieces.

I hurriedly put Little Miss to the task of cleaning up all the Legos we had searched through while assembling her truck. I pressed the Lego back together. The more I put pieces together, the more they fell apart. Soon, I had to begin referring to the manual to figure out where pieces had dropped from. It was too fragile.

I continued working. Every time I got almost to the end, something else would break off. I did discover some major errors Little Miss had made early in the process and corrected them. That helped, but there were too many places that were too fragile to hold together as I needed to apply new sections to the truck.

Three plus hours later, the Lego sat on the floor in pieces. My back was so sore that I almost couldn't stand up. My composure was hanging by a thread. The Lego won, and I decided to wait until Mister Man was available to help us, trusting that his expertise would allow us to at least get the Pizza Planet Truck back into a single piece. And once it is, this is one that won't be played with. It goes on a special shelf where we can admire it from afar. With the Toy Story characters standing outside it.

Legos 1
Mommy 0

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Great Bathroom Remodel

I wrote awhile ago about the fact that we were remodeling our bathroom ... and that my husband and I had moved into the wee ones' bathroom, which was an interesting experience. That was back in October. Ahem.

The bathroom remodel is ... nearly done. In fact, it's been "nearly done" since the first week of December or so. This is a bathroom that needed to be remodeled for my own sanity. When you go to the gym because your bathroom is so icky and the water pressure cannot actually get the shampoo out of your hair, it's a sign.

This was our old bathroom. Do you like the dusky rose tiles? And the black and white diamond tile floor? And the corroded brass fixtures? Awesome, no? I'm almost embarrassed to put these photos up. The only reason I can do this is because it was like this when we moved in. This was not our decorating or choices.

Do you see that I have to actually climb into my bathtub to hang my towels? Raise your hand if you think this works out well on days when I'm tired and possibly my body isn't doing what I'm asking it to do without a great deal of thought and effort.

Soooo this is what we ended up with:

Note that I completely abandoned the idea of hanging towels over the tub. Instead, I had a little niche built in. I absolutely love how it turned out, and I'll be adding more beautiful things for the shelves as we get more settled in there. Suggestions of what to put there?

We used the same tiles as we did for the tub backsplash, but our oh so awesome contractor then cut the tiles into different shapes to make the edges of the niche and the walls of it. I love that it's the same color but a totally different look to it.

My shower is also larger. And it has a bench where I can sit or prop my legs or just feel cool. When I turn the shower on now, I no longer have to figure out where to turn the knob to get my ideal temperature; this one has a set temperature gauge, so even as we run low on hot water, it still stays hot. Sweet!

It's possible that my cats are really into the new bathroom, too. They love the glass door and the water that collects on it. Yes, they're ... special cats.

I always felt a little claustrophobic in my old shower. My initial goal was to have two walls of solid glass to really open up the space. Outside walls don't do well with plumbing in Chicago though, and creating plumbing up in the attic to have the shower come from the ceiling was ... more expensive than I was hoping. I like the compromise though, and the window is pretty cool in my mind - especially the curve that we put in it that goes with the shape of the shower handle below it and with the niche, as well.

This is one of the best parts of the bathroom. There are lots of buttons now instead of just the switches for fan and light that used to exist. Why? I now have heated floors. Hold me. They turn on by themselves on a schedule, so I walk into the bathroom in the morning and promptly collapse on my stone floors in gratitude. I do eventually manage to convince myself to stand up and begin to get ready, but this is the best spoiling thing we did.

The other cool things we put in? Our fan is now on a timer. My pet peeve was walking into a steaming, humid bathroom because my husband shut off the fan the second he was finished in the bathroom. Now it runs after he's gone and shuts off after a thirty minute cycle (or ten or fifteen or forty-five, depending on how I've set it). Love.

We also have various lights on different switches. Our fan now has a light that can be used as a nightlight if needed, and all lights are on a dimmer switch so when I'm stumbling around and cranky way too early in the morning and can't stand full light, I can convince myself to turn on a light - very dimly - instead of stumbling in the dark and hoping I don't break any bones.

And look! I have a tower, which means that things aren't left all over the counter - another pet peeve of mine. We put an electrical outlet into the tower, too, so my husband's razor and my toothbrush can charge and remain hidden. My anal retentive self just sighed with happiness as I typed that.

I do have a hand towel sitting on the counter right now. Why? Wellll, remember that issue about having to climb into my bathtub to hang my towel? Because of where we have windows in our bathroom, there are limited options for where we can hang things. I only ordered my "accessories" a week or so ago because I agonized over where to put them and what to use. Fortunately I have some very smart friends, one of whom came up with an awesomesauce solution for me.

I will use a ring hook on the wall under the light switches for the towel hook. And I am using robe hooks for my bath sheets (because yes, I'm a spoiled chica who insists on using massively large towels). I am putting one hook on the tile just to the left of my shower door where my towel will go when I'm taking my shower so it's within easy reach. And I'm putting two more on the back the door to the bathroom where they will hang the remainder of the time - out of the way, and yet easily reached. Thank you, Kristen!

Buuuuut, we aren't totally done. We're stuck in not quite done land, and my husband is starting to give me The Look that I need to finish this up. It took me forever to find lights that I liked - but as you can see they're finally installed (and gorgeous, in my humble opinion) as of a little over a month ago.

But it's really hard to use the bathroom - for me - because there are no mirrors. I am making progress though. Because there are only 20 1/2 inches between the two sconces, traditional mirrors aren't working for the space. They're either way too wide, or the ones narrow enough are too short and would look truly goofy in the space. That's why I instead have butcher paper cut into approximate shapes for my mirrors. I think I want them maybe one inch wider, but I can't decide on the shape, either.

Do I go with the arched top (yes, I cut it myself, so it's not exact)?

Orrrr traditional squared off top? They will be unframed with beveled edges regardless. Opinions?

Annnnnnnnd my cabinets are mostly empty. I have no way to open them. I can't decide on drawer and cabinet pulls. You have no idea how many sites I've browsed or stores I've visited, hoping to find a drawer pull with a golden halo of light shining down from the heavens telling me This Is The One. And so we haven't fully moved into the bathroom yet. I'm getting there, however. I purchased some. I kinda like the simple football shaped pulls. Kinda...

Of course, I'm debating putting in these pulls instead. Or maybe these pulls for the cabinets and the football shaped ones for the drawers? Or vice versa? Or something totally different?

This is why I'm a blogger and not an interior decorator, just in case you're wondering. While I can make instantaneous decisions when it comes to food or PTO stuff or my job and such, decorating is where I go hide in the corner to drool. It is not my area of expertise.

But I need to finish the bathroom soon. I need to move into the bathroom soon. Oh! And guess what? I finished the homework room, too. Finally. I'll post the awesomeness that is that soon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cooking Is A Learned Skill

My husband can cook. Sorta. He's generally my prep guy when I need one, and his part of the bargain involves doing the dishes that I've dirtied with my cooking and baking.

One of my favorite stories involves him needing diced tomatoes for a recipe he was determined to cook himself. I had a can of whole tomatoes but none diced. He couldn't use the whole tomatoes (for a recipe that would end up pureed). It made me giggle - cooking is all about the adjustments and the improvisation, but you don't know that if you don't live it.

The other day, he was making pancakes for the wee ones. I happened to come downstairs as he was measuring dry ingredients into a bowl. I watched him carefully dip the measuring spoon into the baking powder and pull out a mounded teaspoon. Gingerly, he tried to use his finger to try to scrape off the excess back into the can. Not surprisingly, he missed with a good portion of the baking powder, and it spilled onto the counter.

I watched in silence, with my jaw hanging open.

Maybe it was because my mom's best and most frequent cooking with my sister and I was chocolate chip cookies. I had that recipe memorized by the time I was four or so. She made it with us all the time, and she taught me everything from how to break an egg to how to mix the dry ingredients.

Apparently she also taught me a skill that I didn't even realize was a skill. She taught me how to properly measure out baking powder (and soda, for that matter). There is a handy straight edge on the top of each container. You simply drag a full teaspoon along the edge, and voila - a perfectly measured teaspoon!

I've now taught my husband this skill, but not before giggling at him a little. It really reinforces how many things are taught when it comes to cooking, so many things that I luckily take for granted.

But that doesn't mean it doesn't make me snicker at my husband anyway. Yep, I'm definitely a bad person.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No Need To Feel Guilty About Gifts Anymore

I know Christmas is over. I know it's time to start focusing on Valentine's Day. I know, I know, I know. I have to post this anyway because it still makes me giggle every time I think about it, a month to the day later.

Let me preface this by saying that I never expect gifts from anyone. The wee ones have more than they could possibly ever want, and while we appreciate each and every person who thinks so highly of my children as to bless them with a special gift, that doesn't mean I can't giggle sometimes, too.

On Christmas Day, we were at an aunt and uncle's house (not the ones featured in this story, just to be clear). It was gift-a-palooza for the wee ones as various family members showered presents upon them. It was all I could do to keep up with what they were opening and try to figure out what each child was looking at before the next thing appeared.

After a bit, Mister Man appeared at my side with a Gladware container of Legos, his favorite. It was a Harry Potter little Lego set, and he was thrilled. I was examining the set as he demonstrated it, thinking it was neat for someone to share their toy with him.

Soon enough, Mister Man was lured away by yet another present, and I went back to the wee ones opening their presents. An aunt (not the one hosting) sidled up to me.

I hope you don't mind, she smiled at me. I found that Lego set on a shelf in the basement, and I thought Mister Man would love it. I know how into Legos he is.

I smiled vaguely at her, nodding. Yep, he loves his Legos. That was so sweet of you to share that with him. I made a mental note to make sure he returned it to her before we left.

Jared (not his real name, but her grandsom who is in middle school and who visits periodically when he comes to stay with his dad) left it at our house one time awhile ago, and I figured he didn't play with it anymore, so it was perfect to pass along to Mister Man.

Oh, it's for him to keep? That's so sweet of you. He'll love playing with it over and over again, I smiled again before returning my attention to the wee ones.

I'm so glad you don't mind that we wrapped it up for him. It just seemed like such a perfect fit.



That was his Christmas present from you? You wrapped up a Gladware piece of a hand me down toy from a child who left the toy at your house and doesn't know that you've now given it away? And that's what you choose to give to someone for Christmas?

First, I don't expect a Christmas present from anyone, let alone from them. The wee ones have plenty, and we're just happy to see people and spend time with them. Second, regifting is ... interesting, but now you're openly, blatantly just passing this off as a gift? Really, just hand him the box unwrapped and tell him you thought he'd enjoy this. It isn't a Christmas present, and I'm ok with that.

Wrapping it up and pretending like it was a present (and no, they aren't in the least hurting for money - this isn't about that for them at all)? That is just plain weird. And makes me giggle.

I really am a bad person, aren't I?

Can I get you to tweet once a day for me so I can win a Super Bowl Party with Flatout Wraps pretty please? Just tweet this daily: I think @honestandtruly would make a fabulous @FlatoutBread Super Bowl party host! #FlatoutSB (And thanks!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tasty Tuesday!

This past week, I spent two days in Dallas at the Cooking Matters Bloggy Boot Camp learning about childhood hunger and some of the solutions that are out there (part 1 and part 2). We had the opportunity to try out some of the recipes that the class participants learn, and there was some good stuff out there. It's awesome to remember how some of the simple (and cheap) ingredients can come together to make healthy and filling foods.

The recipe I most want to recreate at home thanks to our awesome Chef Ellen?

Pasta with Beans and Collard Greens

13 oz whole wheat pasta
1 medium carrot
2 cloves garlic
2 medium onions
2 lb collar greens
2 T oil
1/2 c water
1 t oregano
1 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t pepper
3 15 oz cans lima beans (or frozen!)
1 t Mrs. Dash (or a bit of salt)
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes

Begin to cook pasta according to package directions, but make sure you leave it al dente. Save 1 c of pasta water, then drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, rinse and dice the carrot. Dice the onions. Peel and mince the garlic.

Rinse collar greens to remove all grit. Remove touch stems (cut them out) and chop the stems to the same size as the carrot. Roll the leaves and chiffonade (cut into ribbons by thinly slicing the rolled up bunches of leaves).

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and sautee the carrots, onion, garlic and green stemps until softened. Add the can of diced tomatoes (including the juice) and spices. Cook until greens are tender.

Drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Add the beans to the greens. If needed, add 1/2 c of the reserved pasta water to make a sauce. Add the chiffonaded greens.

Toss the greens and beans with the cooked pasta. If necessary, cook for five more minutes or until the pasta is heated through. For a bit of extra flavor, top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


Enjoy this and more at Tempt My Tummy Tuesday with Blessed With Grace!

Can I get you to tweet once a day for me so I can win a Super Bowl Party with Flatout Wraps? Just tweet this daily: I think @honestandtruly would make a fabulous @FlatoutBread Super Bowl party host! #FlatoutSB (And thanks!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Real Reason Behind Truancy

It's winter in Chicago right now. That means cold (high of 9 degrees, it was eleven below when I woke up). It also means that there is lots of salt and dirt on cars that can't be washed because it's too cold and it just goes right back anyway. And those of us with light colored coats - me with my champagne coat and Little Miss with her lilac one - have dirty coats. Except it's too cold to wash them because we don't have warm enough coats to wear while our coats are being washed and dried.

So our coats are dirty. Very dirty. Almost embarrassingly dirty. My next coat will be grey.

My mom mentioned this to Little Miss the other day, and Little Miss explained the too cold to wash the coats issue. But it's ok, Grandma. My mommy will wash my coat before we give it to the poor people. Because we do always donate our outgrown clothes, although I need to work on her phrasing.

Yes, I'm sure she will, Little Miss, my mom agreed.

Because if we don't give them our clothes when we outgrow them, then they won't have any clothes to wear, and they'll have to go to school n@ked, she asserted sadly, a knowing nod to my mom.

That's ridiculous, Little Miss, Mister Man retorted indignantly. The big brother always knows how things really work, and he's not hesitant to point out where someone else might be ... incorrect. If they don't have any clothes, they don't go to school n@ked. They have to stay home from school then!

*snort* *giggle* And yet, it's so wrong. Yes, we had a long talk about poverty and its implications (especially after I just got back from my No Kid Hungry Cooking Matters camp last night), but their logic still cracks me up.

Can I get you to tweet for me so I can win a Super Bowl Party with Flatout Wraps? Just tweet this daily: I think @honestandtruly would make a fabulous @FlatoutBread Super Bowl party host! #FlatoutSB (And thanks!)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

So Her Spanish Needs A Little Work

Little Miss is in a Spanish immersion kindergarten. Supposedly, the only English she hears during the school day is at lunch and library. We had seen the results of this from friends who've done this program and from the test scores in our district, so we weren't too worried about her academically. And anyone who knows her personality knows that she's absolutely A-OK in an unfamiliar and unusual setting.

That said, we were very interested to see how she did with the Spanish in terms of being able to understand what the teacher was saying and how things were working. One friend talked about how her child came home from school after Thanksgiving, picked up the phone to call a Spanish speaker from her class and yammered on in Spanish.

I think we might need a little more work for Little Miss. Tonight at dinner, she looked at me all proud as can be. Mama, I know how to say "McDonalds" in Spanish, she informed me.

Ummmm, really, Sweetie? I looked at my husband with one eyebrow raised in question.

Yep, it's "McCafe" in Spanish! Little Miss announced with the surety that only a five year old can produce.

Well, hey, I mean... she is reading the cup of coffee that my husband is apparently drinking in front of her. And "cafe" is a word in Spanish. So two and two equalled eighteen in this case. Is it bad that we laughed?

Can I get you to tweet for me so I can win a Super Bowl Party with Flatout Wraps? Just tweet this daily: I think @honestandtruly would make a fabulous @FlatoutBread Super Bowl party host! #FlatoutSB (And thanks!)

Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tasty Tuesday!

So today Mister Man has no school for a teacher institute day. That, of course, means that Little Miss's institute day for her school is next week. Fortunately, Mister Man's friend Violet is coming over today, so I have a plan to keep them entertained and occupied.

I'm not sure how it will go in the end, but I think it should be fun. I think. I've been promising Mister Man for awhile that I'd make homemade pasta with him, and I think this is the day. It's surprisingly not that hard, and it's a lot of fun.

Pictures to come later this afternoon, I promise - so check back!

Fresh Pasta Dough

2 c unbleached flour (you can use up to half whole wheat but no more)
1/2 c semolina
3 eggs
up to 1/4 c water when the weather is dry

Place the dry ingredients in a food processor. Add the eggs and process until it's well combined. If it it super dry and you can't get it to come together, slowly - very slowly - drizzle in a tiny bit of water at a time while the processor is g oing.

Form into two flat discs, and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. Roll out in a pasta maker until it's smooth and the thickness you desire (start at the widest setting and work your way down one number at a time; I always push it through then fold in half on the same number the first two to three numbers to get it extra smooth).

To cook and serve, plunge the pasta into boilding salted water and cook until tender. It will only take about 2 minutes. Serve at once with your favorite sauce.

Today, we're planning to make this into linguine, but I also make this into ravioli and tortellini when I have the fixings for them. Super easy! Yum!

Enjoy this and more at Tempt My Tummy Tuesday with Blessed With Grace!

Can I get you to tweet for me so I can win a Super Bowl Party with Flatout Wraps? Just tweet this daily: I think @honestandtruly would make a fabulous @FlatoutBread Super Bowl party host! #FlatoutSB (And thanks!)

Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

Monday, January 17, 2011

This Isn't The History I Learned - Thankfully!

Today is Martin Luther King Junior Day. The wee ones both came home this past week talking about him. They knew who he was, and approximately what he did (although Little Miss thought he freed the slaves).

Honestly, I was surprised that they were being taught this in school already. When I was their age, I'd never heard of him. And when I did first hear about him, I knew just the bare minimum. Little Miss's principal is encouraging every student to memorize his "I Have A Dream" speech and to understand the meaning behind it.

Back when I learned history, it was very simple and - pardon the expression - black and white. We fought the Revolutionary War because the British were bad and unfair. We (living in the North, it was always "we") fought the Civil War to free the slaves. We discussed little of the details of why things happened, but more just the dates and things that did happen.

It wasn't until I was a sophomore in high school and in Mr. Abalan's AP American History class that I first got a taste of the complexity that is history. I started to learn about why the British created their empire in the first place and how they controlled it and why issues came up. I learned about the economic issues that were facing the south and how the railroad development was creating challenges and divisiveness in addition to the question of slavery in terms of precipitating the Civil War.

Figures in history were the same way. We never heard about any of their faults or their foibles. They were mythical figures standing apart in history, something to aspire to but yet so far beyond us that it was an impossible task to live up to them.

The complexities in their personalities have also been shared since I was a school girl. They had their own scandals. They were selfish. They did right things for wrong reasons, and wrong things for right reasons. They were people, just like me - even if their official biographers frequently tried to convince us otherwise.

I'd rather know about what they did wrong sometimes though. Perfection isn't possible, and being human makes them more ... real. And believable. And it makes what they did even more impressive, and something that I feel like I actually can strive for. And I'd like to think that the wee ones feel the same way - understanding that they can do special things in life even though they aren't - and, like everyone else, could never be - completely perfect.

I love that they are talking about why things happen in the context of history. I'm glad that they are hearing about slavery and the complexity of race relations and how that tore apart our country. Granted, much of it has been toned down because they are only five and seven, but they are still learning things earlier than I did and with more truth than I did.

How were you taught history? And has your perspective changed as you learned more about the complexities involved in the people and events in history?

Family 4 pack of tickets to Toy Story 3 on ice in Chicago here
Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

PS Will you help me get a super fantastic Super Bowl party from Flatout Wraps? All you need to do to help is tweet (daily): I think @honestandtruly would make a fabulous @FlatoutBread Super Bowl party host! #FlatoutSB

This post was inspired by the book YOUNG MANDELA: The Revolutionary Years by David James Smith. It is the featured book in the From Left To Write book club where we write a post inspired by the book we read rather than an actual book review. There is no compensation involved, and all opinions expressed are my own. I did receive a copy of this book as a part of the book club

Saturday, January 15, 2011

It's Pick On Grandpa Day?

My dad came over for dinner the other night. My mom is visiting friends out of town, and he likes to just spend some time with them. I think he may have regretted it after that night's dinner. It did start off rather innocently, though.

Grandpa, Little Miss looked at him with worship in her eyes, Mommy told me that you were in the Army when you were in the war. And you had a gun then, too!

Yes, Little Miss. I was in the Army during the war, he nodded at her.

She paused for a moment, squinting at him - wheels visibly turning. That was a long time ago, wasn't it? I don't think they let you in the Army if you have wrinkles. Did you have wrinkles when you were in the Army, Grandpa?

As he stifled a snort, my dad agreed that yes, it was a long time ago, and yes, he was younger then with no wrinkles.

And Grandpa, when you were in the Army, you didn't have grey hair, right? And you had all your hair? Because they don't let people with grey hair into the Army either, I don't think.

My dad gave up at that point, me along with him. We tried to keep it to small, subtle chortles, but we failed miserably.

Mister Man had been observing the conversation and thinking, as well. Not to be outdone:

Grandpa, sometimes you lie to me, he asserted, looking serious.

What? No, I don't lie to you, Kiddo! my dad looked taken aback.

You do, Grandpa, you do! You told me that you get grey hair because of things I do to scare you. That's not true. You have grey hair just because you're really old! And no amount of reasoning could convince him otherwise.

My poor dad.

Family 4 pack of tickets to Toy Story 3 on ice in Chicago here
Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pancakes, It Is!

On Sunday morning, Little Miss hopped into bed with me to snuggle for a few minutes while my husband headed downstairs to make himself some coffee. As we lay cuddled together, I asked her if there was anything she particularly wanted for breakfast.

She looked at me blankly. Nothing was coming to mind, and I could see the panic start to creep across her face that she couldn't come up with an option.

What about an omelette, Sweet Pea? Or oatmeal? Or maybe we could make something, since we have some time this morning.

Her face lit up like the Christmas tree we uhhhhh just took down last night. Oooooo could we have pancakes and bacon? Or waffles? she began to bounce up and down on my bed in excitement.

Wellllll, I thought about it slowly. Maybe Daddy would be willing to make pancakes if you ask him very nicely.

Right. Because you can't make pancakes. If you tried to make pancakes, it would be a big disaster, wouldn't it? Little Miss peered at me with concern in her eyes. Ok, so the wee ones don't know I can make pancakes. I figure my husband has to have one special dish that he's in charge of, right?

Ummmm, it's just that Daddy is so good at making pancakes, so that's his job, Sweetie, I hastily corrected.

Okie dokie! she popped off the bed and headed downstairs. Daddy! Daddy, Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaddddddddddyyyyyyyy! I need you to make pancakes for breakfast. It's what we're eating today. Can I help you make them?

So much for asking. But boy does Little Miss have a knack for getting her way!

Family 4 pack of tickets to Toy Story 3 on ice in Chicago here
Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tasty Tuesday - Banana Bread

So last week, I had a desire to bake. And I had bananas in the freezer that were taking up too much room. Voila, banana bread, right? Wellllll, almost. Because it's easier to use my adapted recipes by looking them up on my blog, I searched for the recipe here. And I searched. And then I searched some more.

Apparently I always thought that since I make banana bread all the time, I already had the recipe up here. Ahhhhh, not so much. The good news for me is that I got the banana bread made for my PTO meeting. The good news for you? I'm finally posting the recipe. (That is good news, right?)

Banana Bread

Makes 2 loaves (because, really, who wants just one?)

2 1/2 c flour (I usually do about half whole wheat flour)
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
10 T butter, unsalted
1 1/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4-5 bananas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Add the butter and sugar into a bowl, and beat on high speed until lightened in color and texture, two to three minutes. Add the salt, baking powder, and baking soda, and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the flour, and stir until the flour is incorporated and you have a sandy texture.

Gradually add the already beaten eggs to the mixture. I slowly pour them in while the mixer is going. Add bananas one at a time, and keep mixing. I don't mash them ahead of time, as I like the sometimes surprise of a small bite of pure banana in my bread, but when you use truly ripe bananas, you don't need to mash them prior to adding them.

Grease two loaf pans. Pour half the batter into each loaf pan. Gently sprinkle granulated sugar atop each unbaked loaf. I usually use about 1/8 cup total, although I of course don't measure it because why waste the time!

Bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the loaves cool for five to ten minutes before you turn them out. Yum!

(So who loves the awesomely cool new white square plates I got for my birthday and Christmas from my mom? No more funky green ones for me! Yep, they've already been donated.)

Enjoy this and more at The Well with week with Blessed With Grace!

Family 4 pack of tickets to Toy Story 3 on ice in Chicago here
Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

Monday, January 10, 2011

Come Meet My Friend Julia

My Gram was my favorite relative growing up. She was a character, and she was always so much fun. She was the person who taught me some ... fun skills. We would go to restaurants and have our conversation while simultaneously listening in on conversations happening around us.

We made up all sorts of games that kept us constantly giggling to ourselves. Our favorite was making up stories about the people around us. We would see a young man sitting by himself and create a whole history for him. He was there waiting for his date - a blind date. His aunt was setting him up, and he didn't really want to be there, but he couldn't say no to her, and really, it was just one night, what harm could it do? He was thinking about how much he missed his sister since she'd gotten married the previous fall and wondering if he'd ever have a life like she'd built for herself.

Or there was the family in the corner. The mom is watching her toddler eat macaroni and cheese all by himself for the first time. She so wants to pick up the fork and do it for him, since half of it's ending up on the floor right now, but she's holding back so that he can learn to do it on his own. Hey, at least we're in a restaurant, she laughs to her husband. It isn't our mess to clean up. The husband looks around uneasily, as he's not used to family dinners yet. He's usually at work, where no one spills their food on the floor or screams when a cup goes rolling across the table. He's certain that everyone is staring at him, and he is secretly crossing his fingers hoping they don't get thrown out of the restaurant.

The stories go on and on, and our fun didn't stop there. We'd see the photographs of people that come in frames when you buy them and create identities for them, as well. It was because of her that for a long time I had a frame in my apartment that retained that fake photo. Her name was Julia, and this photo was the first one taken after she'd graduated college. She was on vacation with her friends in Mexico for one last blast before she started her job as an accountant. The job meant she'd have to move to New York, a place she'd never been - not even for the interviews. She wasn't quite sure how she was going to survive, but she still had a few weeks before that was her reality, and in the meantime, she was going to live it up in Cabo.

I wish that I still had her here to create those fun alternate realities with me. No matter what, though, I'll always have the memories of what the laughter and creativity we shared and the memories we created. Tell me I'm not the only one who's ever done this.

This post was inspired by the book The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. It is not a book review, as that isn't what we do with From Left to Write.

Family 4 pack of tickets to Toy Story 3 on ice in Chicago here
Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova as part of the From Left to Write book club where we write posts inspired by a book, as opposed to a true book review. There is no compensation involved, and all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Mr. Mathy

Sometimes my husband makes me giggle. My favorite is when he tries to show me up with some sort of a mental challenge (c'mon, he's a math teacher; he's got the confidence in his skills). He doesn't succeed as often as he'd like.

This morning was a perfect example. My husband was still sleeping, as were the wee ones. In an effort to keep from waking anyone in the household earlier than necessary, I carefully rolled over to grab my phone where I started playing with the new game I'd downloaded (sound off, of course!).

Slice It is a game where you essentially try to make even sized (by area) pieces of a shape by drawing the required number of lines through it. It starts off pretty easy with circles and squares and equilateral triangles, needing to create four or fewer pieces using one or two lines. As you get further into it, it gets a little more complicated.

By the eighth level, you need to split a rhombus into six equal pieces using four lines. It's not hard to get somewhat close, cutting it in half vertically then drawing segments horizontally. Depending on how close in area the various pieces are, you can receive one to five stars. Me being me, I want five stars for every level. Because that's how I roll.

The rhombus took me a few (possibly an understatement) tries to get five stars. By that time, my husband had woken up and was watching me. As I explained the game to him, he became interested. He scoffed at my method and declared that there was a better mathematical resolution to it. He could calculate it.

I smiled and handed him my phone, interested to see what he would do. In my way, I cut it in half vertically then added my segments. (See my really bad Paint pictures below. This is why I'm not an artist by the way.)

My husband stared at it a moment or two. Long enough for the screen to go black. He handed it to me to fix it, and I suggested he start drawing his lines. He drew his first line, then sat back and scratched his head. It wasn't as easy as he'd thought.

He erased the line. Then he started calculating the size of it and decided that it was a bad size. He needed pen and paper. I giggled.

He tried drawing another line but refused to let me see it. He puzzled some more, and the screen went black again. My phone buzzed to let me know it was down to 15% of the battery remaining.

I extolled the virtues of visualization and spatial relations. He waved me away. Seven or eight minutes later, he handed me the phone back, sighing. He had never even drawn three lines to make the cuts. He gave up before that point because he couldn't do it exact without calculating the exact area of what each segment would be with pen and paper.

I giggled again. This is the same man who could not use a can of whole tomatoes in a recipe because the recipe called for diced tomatoes - even after I offered to dice them for him (and yes, they would eventually have been pureed in that recipe anyway).

As he handed it back to me, he looked at me with a bit of embarrassment in his eyes. I suppose this makes it a little harder to talk you into letting me play games on your phone, huh? Mmmm yeah. Maybe.

Family 4 pack of tickets to Toy Story 3 on ice in Chicago here
Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here
Monster Truck Jam family 4 pack of tickets in Chicago here

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eat Across America

As I discussed earlier this year in my travel advice, we had some minor issues getting to Orlando for our vacation over Christmas. We didn't just have the expected issues related to not traveling as one would expect. Mister Man's Asperger's reared its head, and he had a really hard time with the change in plans.

He didn't understand why the airplane didn't get us there this time the way it had before. He couldn't comprehend or accept not getting to Orlando until Tuesday afternoon when we'd originally been scheduled to arrive Saturday (thank you, United!). Even when we made the decision on Sunday morning to rent a car and drive the remaining distance, we still wouldn't be there close to when Mister Man anticipated.

And he was having a hard time with it. His world was thrown into chaos, and as parents, my husband and I couldn't even tell him for certain when we'd arrive or what would happen along the way. He started to break down.

Somehow - somehow, and I suspect there was a minor miracle in the works - I stumbled upon something that distracted Mister Man from the disaster of our travel and instead turned it into an exciting adventure where he had something to look forward to.

I introduced Eat Across America.

He had eaten in the Milwaukee airport before we departed - just a small snack, but something nonetheless. He breakfast in Chicago before we departed for Reagan. He had a snack at Reagan while we waited to figure out what we were going to do next (gotta keep his energy level even to keep him regulated). And then we planned to stop to eat in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida on our road trip. On our way back, we had a connection in Detroit where I also promised him that I'd let him have lunch before we headed to Milwaukee.

His eyes grew big. Mentally, he started counting the states he'd get to eat in (nine - because I'm letting him count DC as a "state") compared to the total states in existence. And a smile started to grow across his face. As he bounced and stimmed, he excitedly talked about how he'd be the only one he knew who'd eaten in so many places and how he'd tell his friends about it when he got back to school.

He was a happy boy. Thank goodness.

And we did succeed in eating in each of those states - aided, I might add, by the ice storm that had gone through North and South Carolina, forcing us to unexpectedly stop for the night. Since that moment, I haven't heard one more complaint about the travel booking failure from him. He wasn't miserable, and we were able to move forward and have fun in Florida.

He's also eaten in Missouri, and his goal in life now is to eat in all fifty states. How fun is that? My mom is already planning a day trip with him to Indiana so he can eat there. I'm not sure how many states I've eaten in, but there aren't too many I've missed (Alaska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Maine come to mind). How many states have you eaten in?

Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

To Do Or Not To Do (Lists, That Is)

Do you know what I realized tonight? I volunteered at the December PTO meeting to chair and investigate doing a school supply program for Mister Man's school (no, they don't do one today). I forgot about that until now, and there's a meeting in a little over a week.

Any guesses what I'll be doing in the small bit of free time between eating lunch and heading to Mister Man's school to pick him up for his speech group? How did this happen?

Well, I know how it happened.

Right now, I sit with a to do list a mile long. Granted, it's only a mental to do list, as I haven't yet had the fortitude to actually write it down and memorialize what I need to do. Part of that is paralysis by the thought of so much, and part of it is sheer laziness, knowing I can get done the most critical bits based on what I've got in my head.

And that new commitment of looking into developing a school supply program? It slipped my mind because ... because it was the holidays and it happened on a Friday and I had gone downtown to visit my friend's twins immediately upon the conclusion of the meeting and well lots of reasons, none really good.

Do I think this is the only thing that's slipped my mind? Not even close. I watched Melisa put together a rather impressive list of goals for a twelve day period, and I was jealous. So many of the items on her list are the ones on my list, too, but I haven't had the "time" to do them.

To be honest, she's just as busy or busier than I am, yet she didn't find the time, she made the time. And she remembered what she had to do because she wrote put her to do list on a calendar online so she received reminders and knew exactly what she had to do. I used to do that - albeit on my pretty whiteboard that is currently laying under two Christmas decorations on my cats' condo.

That doesn't help me much.

As soon as I finish this post (really, I mean it!), I'm picking up that whiteboard and erasing all the tasks I completed a month ago, the last time I used it. I'm going to divide it into sections of tomorrow, this week, and future. And I'm going to start writing down what I need to do.

The hardest things for me when it comes to writing to do lists are breaking down the tasks into small enough bites and properly assigning time to each task.

If I write down that I need to "Provide proposal for School Supply program" that's a little overwhelming. There are so many things I need to do before I get to that point from identifying companies to working with teachers to ID their school supply lists to requesting quotes from various companies and way more. Those are the tasks I need to put into my to do list. Simply sending teachers an email alerting them to what we're looking to do and asking if last year's school supply lists are a good start is manageable. In fact, I might even do that tonight.

I'll also get going on a to do list kick and then start failing with my daily to dos. Instead of crossing off the seven items, I only completed three. Being more realistic in figuring out what I can do is critical to ensuring that I don't begin to feel like I'm drowning in seaweed. I think I'll actually start doing weekly to do lists rather than daily. That way if I can't get something done in a particular day because something came up (like yesterday when I tried to drop my ring off at the jeweler to be fixed only to pull into the parking lot and discover he's closed on Mondays), it isn't a big deal.

So if you'll excuse me, I have a to do list to create. But hey - if anyone has any experience with school supply programs, I'll happily take some advice!

Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of Take the Cake by M.F. Chapman as a part of the book club From Left to Write. There was no compensation involved, and our purpose is to write a post inspired by the book versus doing a traditional book review.

Tasty Tuesday!

Somehow, we seem to be busier than ever - especially over the holidays. I have been focusing on meals that are both quick and won't have a ton of leftovers since we have been running everywhere and haven't had as many meals at home as we normally do (generally all but one or two).

Of course that also means what I make needs to be something that the wee ones will eat or that's pretty much negated my goal. Fortunately, soups tend to be something that the wee ones really enjoy - and it even gets Mister Man to eat things he's not quite sure he really likes, such as tomatoes and celery. Win win for everyone!

Meatball Soup

3 oz whole wheat pasta
1 T olive oil
1/2 c onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (don't use the jarred stuff!)
2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes (go for the ones with no added salt)
1 t salt
3 c chicken stock (again, look for the low sodium ones)
1/2 lb ground beef or turkey (we use turkey for this - since it's in a soup, it stays really moist)
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c bread crumbs
1/4 c milk
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
pepper, to taste

Heat a heavy soup pot on the stove on medium. When it is heated, add the olive oil then the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is softened and translucent, generally about three or four minutes.

Add 1/2 t salt, the tomatoes and chicken stock to the soup pot. Reduce heat to low and simmer for fifteen minutes with the lid on.

While the tomatoes and stock are simmering, make your meatballs. Place the ground beef or turkey, egg, milk, bread crumbs, 1/2 t salt, and pepper. Use your hands to mix it together until it is uniform. Form into mini meatballs, and put in the fridge to chill until the broth is ready.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions once you've made the meatballs while the broth is simmering, cooking the pasta a minute or two less than the directions say to ensure it's al dente. Drain and set aside.

Using an immersion blender, puree the tomato broth (with the wee ones, we need to ensure they don't have the texture of the onion or tomato). Add the chilled meatballs to the broth and simmer for another fifteen minutes - ensuring that the meatballs are cooked through.

Serve the soup immediately, topping with pasta and some extra pepper, if desired. If you (like me) need more cheese, add some more Parmesan, too. Yum!

Enjoy this and more at Tempt My Tummy Tuesday with Blessed With Grace!

Win one of two copies of Avatar in Blu-Ray here

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How NOT To Travel Over The Holidays

We are home and safe, and in the end, we eventually had fun. That's what I need to focus on. But I'm not quite there yet. Plus, I wouldn't want anyone else to have the joy I experienced; I'd rather people learn from my (husband's) mistakes and avoid some of our disaster.

Top Things I Learned Over Break:

1) Do not let your husband make the travel arrangements. Or at least not my husband. While I have been known to be ummm frugal, there are limits to it. And why did we do this? It wouldn't have anything to do with my husband forgetting to make flight reservations, nope not that! We ended up flying out of Milwaukee instead of Chicago because it was cheaper. While Milwaukee isn't that much more of a drive, it leads to the next point.

2) Do not travel on connecting flights. The more connecting flights you have, the more potential for problems, especially in winter. And over the holidays. Ditto ten times over for connections where the second airline isn't the same as the first - which ours wasn't... to start.

3) Do not take the last flight of the evening. Aside from the obvious issues of tired and cranky children (and possibly parents), if there are any issues with your flight - like ohhhh say United being unable to find a gate for a flight for almost 50 minutes - and your connection takes off while you are still waiting for a gate, there are no options to get to your destination that day.

4) When rebooking your flight with the customer service agents, check the weather for destinations you weren't originally intending to go but are now being told you will go. Our direct flight from Chicago to Orlando turned into a connection in DC and a switch over from United to Delta. Had I not been so exhausted, I would have checked the weather in DC and discovered that Delta had already canceled all their flights for the current day because of weather that was supposed to get worse the day we were flying and refused to go there.

5) Don't simply show up at the airport the next day to see if there are any standby flights available, call the airline to check that night once you get to your airline paid for hotel room. We showed up at 5:15am for our 7:05 flight to DC. We went through security and asked Customer Service to check flights for us again. It turns out that there was a United Flight at 6am to Cleveland (where there was NOT weather) that would have gotten us to Orlando by 11:30am that had plenty of open seats. The customer service agent the night before had somehow overlooked that flight. Except it was now 5:45 and the doors were closing. There was no physical way for us to get to the gate in time to make the flight. To say I was unhappy was putting it mildly.

6) If upon arriving at your temporary destination, your new carrier has canceled all flights, don't wait in the super long line there. Instead, go talk to the folks at your original carrier. Delta's flight to Orlando was canceled by the time we arrived in DC. And that wasn't their only canceled flight. The line was hours long. I scooted over to United where there were two people ahead of me and had a nice chat with the agent there. The bad news? Although it was Sunday at 10am, there was no flight available on any carrier to get us to Orlando until Tuesday. Tuesday. It didn't matter if we were willing to go to San Francisco to fly to Orlando, there was nothing available. Zip. The galling part? Although we had asked for a direct flight (as we'd originally had) from Chicago to Orlando when being rebooked initially and United had sent us to DC instead - where flights had already been canceled and there was more weather scheduled - because this was now a weather related delay, we were on our own for finding and paying for a hotel for the next two nights. Ahhhh, no. That's not ok.

7) If your flight is being rebooked due to a missed connections, do your best to get your checked luggage back. We had our carry on luggage only, as our checked baggage was sent from Chicago to Orlando on the direct flight at 6:48 Sunday morning - a flight where there was room for our bags but sadly not us. And in DC, there was no hope to get our bags back. Although we'd be stuck in DC for an additional two days, United could not - or rather would not - get our bags to DC so that we could have a change of clothes or any of our belongings. And again... since it's a weather related delay now, there was no compensation for lost bags, meals, hotel, or anything. This was a big problem because of the next issue.

8) Make sure you always pack what you need in your carry on. I've followed this rule for years. I always have a change of clothes and other necessities in my carry on. Increasing restrictions over the years have made this more of a challenge, but I always focus on it. My husband learned this lesson the hard way. He didn't have necessities packed. And for some unknown reason, he took Little Miss's pull ups out of her carry on and put them into checked bags. Three days with no pull ups for her. Night one she somehow managed to stay dry. Night two, not so much. And United simply told us to head to the nearest store. In a strange city. Where we had no car. On our way to a hotel we were paying for on our own. Or not.

9) When desperate enough, rent a car to drive where you're going - but call to make a reservation first. I'd done that before when working in consulting in Detroit. Detroit more than once canceled the flights back to Chicago that we were on. Rather than be stuck in Detroit for another night, twice I rented a car and drove back to Chicago - once running into some co-workers in the rental car office who were trying to do the same thing only to discover that there were no cars available. I had called the rental car office as soon as I realized the situation and - as it turns out - had gotten the very last car once. I called again this time and was initially told all cars were gone before they finally found one for me. While it's more expensive to rent in one location and return in another, it isn't always - and this was one of those situations where it was worth it. We'll ignore the very nearly wiping out the car on a patch of ice in North Carolina while trying to slow down for a wreck ahead (thank you years of driving in Minnesota!) and the sixteen hours it took us to drive in favor of arriving in Orlando almost a full day before United was going to be able to get us there.

10) If you change your itinerary due to unforeseen circumstances, make sure you inform the airline. This is where being a consultant came in handy again. Because we chose not to fly the last leg of our flight down, I contacted United to let them know that we were not canceling the remainder of our itinerary and absolutely were planning to still fly home on Saturday. Had I not done so before the scheduled flight on Tuesday morning, our entire reservation would have been canceled, and we would have had to buy last minute tickets to fly home - not how I would want to end my vacation. Fortunately, this was not an issue.

And lastly...

11) Keep everyone informed of your status. We had a car rental reservation in Orlando that expected us to show up Saturday evening. Ditto with a hotel reservation. As I learned that we'd be delayed, I called both the car company and hotel to let them know that we were still planning to use the reservation but had been unavoidably delayed and to not release our reservation. While the rental car wouldn't be so big a deal - finding a car wouldn't be the biggest deal, although I'd lose out on the coupons I'd found and used - arriving at our hotel only to find that there was no room at the inn for us would have been the disaster that put me over the edge.

As I was, I felt rather like we were in National Lampoon's Vacation - less the grandmother tied to the roof or, thankfully, Wally World being closed once we arrived, but this is not a trip I'd wish on anyone. We lost days off our not quite seven day vacation and added some significant and unexpected expenses to it, not to mention we were all absolutely exhausted after multiple nights of very little sleep. All because United couldn't clear a gate at O'Hare for us and then did a poor job rebooking us; yeah, they'll be hearing from me.

On the plus side, we had a blast while we were there, albeit a much shorter blast with fewer days at Disney because we needed to rest. We didn't let our "adventure" getting to our vacation ruin it for us - although poor Mister Man (that whole Asperger's thing rearing its ugly head) very nearly did. I'll share my creative and surprisingly effective solution to that in another post.

But this? This was the last time we're traveling over the holidays. And here's hoping you can use some of what I learned to prevent misery when you travel.

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