Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The strangest sibling battle we've had to date

Tonight as I picked up my kids from day care, I fully expected a sugared-up nightmare. After all, there was not one but two birthdays in the house that day.

Instead, I was happily greated by the birthday princess, complete with tiara and new Barbie doll (making the Barbie count for this week exceeding her years of life!). My son, however, was not empty handed.

No, he was toddling around with his prized possession: A cucumber. And not just any cucumber. One that stretched nearly to his knees, curling around in just such a way it looked like he was playing a trumpet.

Because you see, circling his lips were tiny slivers of cucumber skin as he knawed away at it. To each his own.

It only got stranger on the way home. He knawed away at his cucumber, until his sister declared that she was hungry and insisted on eating some cucumber as well. So that poor cucumber was passed back and forth for the next 10 minutes, each kid chomping away at it while the other protested furiously that it wasn't in their hands.

As a parent, I expect sibling rivalry. I expect fighting over toys. Fighting over cucumbers? That's not in the parenting books. That much I am sure!

Monday, June 29, 2009

City girl, country girl

Twice a year, we're blessed to visit with my sister-in-law and niece, who live a nine-hour drive away. We just finished playing host for a four-day visit, and we'll be mopping up tears for the rest of the day.

Our visits are always marked by the contrasts in the way we live our lives. The "city girl," my daughter, is very much a hands-on, get-in-the-dirt kind of kid. She comforts slugs and snails at the park. She prides herself in the garden and chases frogs in our backyard. She can't go a Saturday without a drive to the farmer's market.

The "country girl," my small-town-living niece, splits her time between her parents and lifestyles. She's used to eating out all the time, going to movies, and running around. Our pace - driven by baby brother's schedules and other priorities - is a stark change for her.

Seeing the cows at the farmers market? It's the one thing she talks about - other than the community pool - that she wants to do during her visits here. She thinks it's a treat to bake a pizza or snap beans.

And our visits to her home? Often marked by tiredness. Tired babies from a long drive and disrupted sleep schedules. Tired from being in the car from driving to all the events and places that we "must" somehow visit before we leave Kansas City. It's a pace that's doable for parents on a family visit, but it's tiring for the kids.

The truth is, sometimes it's the little things that matter. And what stands out in their minds isn't the tourist stops or favorite haunts we visit. It's eating at a place that had a train. Or having ice cream with a cow. Or playing splash party in the sprinkler. Those are the things that they remember.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A declaration of war

We have a war in our house. It’s the battle over food. And when did I miss the first strike?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve always somewhat smugly wondered why other people’s kids didn’t eat healthy food. Did they not introduce them? Did they not put their feet down? Did they live on McDonald’s fries? What was the deal?

And then karma happened.

My 3 year old, one day, decided she wasn’t hungry at dinner. But she wanted a snack 30 minutes later. And the game happened the next day. And the next.

So we offered her meal for snack time. No luck.

Frustrated, we declared no dinner, no snack. She’ll be hungry tomorrow, we reasoned.

Hardly. Instead, she’s insisted on cereal and milk only for about two weeks. I suppose it’s fortified, but it’s not a particularly varied diet. This morning at breakfast, I offered her a nectarine, which she was practically drooling over last night in her “I want a snack” mode. She ate two bites.

Dinner is hardly different. My resident green thumb, who loves to pick out and grow vegetables, declared last season she liked to grow tomatoes but not eat them. Since then, the "grow-only" list has expanded to green onions and shallots – and that’s just what she’ll admit to. The sweet potatoes she used to not get enough of? Sunday she declared she no longer would eat the “orange part.” The lettuce she loves – and loves to grow? “I don’t want that at my party,” she said, when choosing her lunch choices.

So we have a pint-size dictator declaring war on virtually anything healthy. And I’m just sure what to do. Any brilliant ideas? I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sharing our land: A great neighbor story

There's a lot being said these days about helping feed and empower those in need. There's the planting a row for the hungry campaign, for one. But what if you could do more?

What if all it took to get a family on their feet was a little bit of land?

Today's Indianapolis Star features a farm stand on Indy's south side that opened its doors - and its land - to Burmese refugees. Traditionally farming families, once arriving in a metropolitan area, they faced challenges in adjusting to a new life and way of making ends meet.

Waterman's Market, off of I-465 on the southeast side, is helping these families get a fresh start. Now the market, traditionally known for its berries, sweet corn and fall festival, will expand its offering to traditional Asian vegetables, including yard-long beans, winter melon and white eggplant.

"There's a call for that that isn't being met in our area," Lisa Waterman told The Star.

Not to mention, it's the right thing to do.

The market is also marking World Refugee Day this weekend with a festival featuring food, music, dance and storytelling from a variety of cultures. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. For more information, call (317) 626-0520, or visit http://www.watermansfarmmarket.com.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My apologies to the Neelys

The last week was not an inexpensive one in our household, and it was a stark reminder that we need to redouble our efforts to watch our spending. So meal planning is back on the menu.

But it isn't a simple task. If you saw the contents of our kitchen, you'd shake your head. A half-bag of cheese and chips leftover from taco salad. Two-thirds of a roasted chicken from Saturday. Leftover pizza. A few garlic scape and green garlic that I hadn't yet used. Pretty pathetic. Yet I wasn't up for a Monday evening shopping trip with kids in tow. So I got the brilliant idea of barbecue nachos, a decidedly Memphis dish that my sister showed me three Christmases ago (and I hadn't tried since.)

There was only one challenge: Selling it. My husband, a decidedly Kansas City-barbecue fan (yes, there is a difference!), was mildly supportive. My toddler wouldn't care. My oldest, however, was defying her genes by declaring that she doesn't like barbecue because "it's spicy." (Maybe we shouldn't have cut her teeth on Daniels and Jack Stack.)

So, driving home, I considered it. And I came up with the solution for my Food Network fan: "Neely's Nachos." She likes watching the Neelys. She likes nachos. A win, right?

She was sold. Until she saw, clasped in my hand, a jar of Daniels' championship sauce.

"That's barbecue sauce," she said flatly.

"No, that's Neely's sauce," I said, knowing full well that I was losing this battle. I got the look.

"I like ketchup," she declared. And so, she made her "Neely's Nachos" with chicken, barbecue seasoning, cheese and ketchup. Her brother, bouncing in his high chair, could hardly contain himself, begging for "barboo," drool rolling down his chin.

And the funny thing is, one liking it "spicy," the other going as lame as could be, they both happily munched down their dinner. And Pat and Gina, I thoroughly apologize!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

$5 market adventure

Shopping at a farmers market is easy. Shopping on less than $10, however, can be a challenge.

And so I debated this morning: Do I bother going to the bank (knowing many vendors no longer take checks)? Or do I just make do and see what happens?

Facing one cranky toddler whom I had in tow, I chose the latter. And I promised my 3 year old she could do the shopping with five dollars (the sum of my purse's usable contents). That meant no plants, I explained (which was probably a blessing in my husband's book). She nodded her head in agreement, grabbed a green bag, and followed me across the lot to the market.

First stop? A table with peas. Two rows of baskets sat there: snap peas and shelling peas. Her hand reaches for the shelling variety. I sigh. "Are you sure you don't want this one?"

Of course she's sure. So I try a different tactic - a math lesson. "That costs three dollars. You'll only have two dollars left after that. Let's look and then decide."

My daughter tolerates me and we continue looking. We stop at the tomato guy (I've yet to learn his name, but he and my daughter talked weekly last season on the progress of her "'matoes.") and she chooses garlic scape, five for a dollar. Of course, true to form, he always offers her a few extras.

We look around, but I have to face the facts: She wants those peas. So we return to the first table, and she happily snaps up the shelling peas. Of course, they're all sold out of the other kind, and rightfully so: They're easier to cook! But my daughter is happy.

Down the last dollar, we walk around to see what we can find. We visit another vendor we see frequently, and we ask for $1 worth of shelling peas. Sold. And we're done.

The price of planning your menu is execution, and as soon as we're home, my children are at the table, shelling peas. It's little surprise how quickly it goes, given my daughter's recent penchant for taking the "peas" out of green beans in record time. We wrap up the peas while the chicken is roasting in the oven.

Unsure how exactly to cook "shelling peas," I call my mom, who reassures me it's just like using frozen peas. So I opt to saute' them in olive oil, one leftover shallot, some garlic scape and a few tablespoons of a dried garlic and red pepper mix. It turns out great, with the exception that the garlic and shallots a tad overcooked while once again juggling too many tasks in the kitchen.

My daughter, however, does not notice. "Is this bacon?" she observes as she takes a first bite.

Um, no. "Prosciutto?" (Yes, prosciutto's in her vocabulary.)

No again. She bites. "Yes it is!" she declares. Too tired to fight, I declare to myself it's vegetarian prosciutto and leave it at that.

Friday, June 12, 2009

High cost of free items

Freebies are not a new thing. I remember as a kid getting free stickers or other junk in the mail.

But the Internet takes it to a whole new level. In my reader, I subscribe to several sites on stretching my budget, and on a daily basis I see new offers for free items, Internet coupons or calculations to add coupons from the March 15 flyer to this week’s sale item.

And sometimes, I get sucked into it.

Sure, I’ll try the new shampoo. Or a new beverage. And my kid inevitably needs a diaper when we’re out. Or I can send the sample to the next baby drive at work. So why not?

The reality is, we all pay the price for freebies. Freebies are another way of marketing, and while the Web may seem “free,” product distribution certainly is not. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve requested an item, only to receive it, weeks later, swaddled in plastic, bundled with brochures and coupons, and covered with a plastic, padded, waterproof envelope for shipping.

Yes, it’s “free.” But it costs the manufacturers. It costs the marketers. It costs us.

Think of all the trash this creates. I won't even begin to guess the impact this creates. And it's a problem made worse by the fact some people utilize multiple accounts to reach the same offer.

"Do you need 8 versions of the same free sample or coupon? Probably not," urges Northern Cheapskate. "If you're not going to use the product, then it is a waste of those resources. And if you throw it away.... well that's even worse …."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Can't chill out

The minute our children set foot into our house after daycare, they're begging for dinner. Tuesday night was no exception.

I set the little ones at the table and went to get them some milk while I quickly pulled something together. I reached in the fridge, pulled out a jug...and poured out a glass of room-temperature milk. The cheese for the quesadillas? Room temperature as well. The meat to defrost? Leaking juice all over the bottom of the shelf.

Sure enough. My poor fridge had died at the tender age of four.

Now, I realize some people are content to make the move to living without a refrigerator or a deep freezer, and I totally respect that. These are people who have the talent and confidence to can or can figure out a awy to live in a land that doesn't have leftovers. But as a working mom of two kids under the age of four, it's just not in our cards right now. After all, we buy three different types of milk (whole/2%/skim). We store two types of insulin. We make enough dinner to have leftovers for a lunch at work. And frankly, all the great stuff I buy from the farmers market shouldn't be wilting quickly, as it would in my home on an 80-degree day.

Several frantic calls later, I find out that I can't find the coils on the fridge but we do have a warranty. And a repairman could come out two days later.

Again, not my ideal situation. I spent three hours Tuesday night scrambling to save what I could. Baking bread. Cutting and freezing strawberries and peas. Making a loaf of bread's worth of French toast to freeze, ready for a busy morning. Thankfully, I had space in my freezer, and the Styrafoam container that I rolled my eyes about when my insulin was shipped was still waiting in my garage. And the ice packs were still frozen so I could keep my meds cold.

Yes, we lost some things, but I'm surprised at how little.

And today, I got the best call ever: The blower was fixed, and we'd be back to cold milk in a day or so.

I am so glad to be back to 20th Century living!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Milking more life from your bottles in the garden

When your milk jugs or water bottles are empty, it's easy to casually toss them into the recycle bin. But you can actually extend the usefulness of the bottles by taking them outside.

How? Two ways:

While I can't speak as to the long-term implications of leaving the plastic in your garden, it's a temporary solution to a problem.

Want to learn other ways you can repurpose items for your garden? Read Second life for stuff in the garden.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Feeling Blue

We're feeling blue this weekend in our home, and not just because we're battling bugs, exams and more than our statistical share of injuries.

We have blueberries!

Despite everything that I've read that says you shouldn't expect blueberries in year-2 plants, we've got them. My daughter, posing last night for a photo in our garden, squealed that "The blueberries are ready!"
Of course I thought no, as most of them were a strange green-blue.

She was right. Three tiny pea-sized berries were purple and ready to pick. A little tart, but then it's just early June. What a treat for her... and I am sure they'll make it no farther than our strawberries, which rarely pass the front door!

38th and Meridian Market Opens Thursday

Can't make it to the Saturday market? Wait no longer. Thursday nights are market nights again.

Going Local reports that North Meridian Church in Indianapolis will play host to the 38th and Meridian Farmers Market begining this month. Hours are 4 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays - perfect for on your way home.

Southsiders can note that the Greenwood Market is now open for business on Wednesdays in the early evenings near the Greenwood Public Library.

Looking for other Indianapolis-area farmers markets? Find a listing here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Asparagus + Eggs = Happy Kids

I confess: Of the two bundles of asparagus I happily picked up last weekend at Your Neighbor's Garden, two bundles were still in my fridge as of yesterday. Not the best of moves, I'll admit.

My excuse? One part schedules and one part husband wanting to control how we make asparagus. (Not that I don't love grilled asparagus, but sometimes you've got to inject a little creativity into your menu.)

So when I saw this recipe on Crunchy Chicken for Asparagi alla Milanese, I was intrigued. I was facing several days home as a stay-at-home mom and needed some new - and fast! - food ideas. But as mealtime rolled around, the chants of "I'm hungry!" and "Want foo!" became too much, and I succumbed to the ease of mac and cheese.

Then Saturday, sick baby in my arms, I watched 5 Ingredient Fix. On the brunch menu? A much less fancy-sounding dish with the same results: Scrambled Eggs over Asparagus. So I asked my tsou chef if she'd like it for lunch. The verdict: Yes, but the eggs would have to be next to the asparagus, not on top.

I ended up taking a mix of both recipes. Eggs were scrambled with a bit of milk, as we do in our home. Asparagus roasted with olive oil and black pepper. Both served, as neighbors, on a plate with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. And we had two happy kids at lunchtime!

Just because it seems out of the ordinary doesn't mean it's not worth a try when you're cooking for your little ones. Sometime's it's as simple as asking "What would make it OK?" and you might be surprised as to what their answers might be.

Another thing to add: Since asparagus is in season, we were able to feed the family for about $3. Always great in this economy!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Green on the Cheap: Steal on Laundry Soap at Kroger

Landed a great steal at Kroger today. In their organics/naturals section, I found Seventh Generation laundry detergent for HE washers at a manager's discount of $4.99 each (for 32 loads worth). Add the "$1 off two" coupon from the leftover "Earth Day" coupon books, and I ended up with two containers for $9. Not bad, considering that "regular" laundry detergent is easily $5 or $6 these days. It's worth checking to see whether your Kroger has a similar deal!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How much should your child know?

In the last week I've been made acutely aware by my daughter that our family is different.

She and her imaginary friend Asa won "two trophies, and there were only two trophies" at her imaginary gymnastics. (Her friends take tumbling classes.)

She was bummed because we couldn't go on rides at the church carnival (Mom doesn't carry cash.)

She's made it clear that everyone else has TV's in their rooms.

Despite all the upheaval in our lives the last year, as parents we've worked hard to create a sense of normalcy within reason. Sure, there are some things we wouldn't do based on principle (like the TV thing). But there are others that we know truly that we would love her to be able to experience.

We've worked hard to create memories as a family. We bake cookies. We garden. We see cows. We attend local events and go to the farmers market and other activities. We create art. We play.

But sometimes, it doesn't seem enough. Like when your daughter asks why you don't have money to go on the carosel. (Does it help that she's terrified by the merry-go-round at the park?) Or she asks why she can't do something her friend two doors down can.

How do you break reality to your preschool-age child? That their values may not be your own? And that some things are just not in your control?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Last night's storm

Once again, I had an evening of great intentions. Get the kiddos to bed. Get working on the garden.

Mother Nature had other plans. Check out these photos from when the storm came rolling in from the north. The clouds almost look like they have fingers curling at the ground. (And of course, the camera didn't do it justice.)

Farmers markets at your local hospital?

Health care institutions are supposed to be the hallmark of how to live a healthier lifestyle. So I was surprised many years ago when I worked next to a hospital that had a McDonald's right inside!

Today, times are changing. Healthier menus are on the platter, and some hospitals are even playing host to farmers markets. It's a great idea. Check out this article at CNN.

Monday, June 1, 2009

When is a cow not a cow?

When is a cow not a cow?

When it looks like this:

Let me explain.

Saturday we visited Traders Point Creamery's open house and free ice cream day. We'd been bothered by our oldest about going to the "cow farmers market" (they have a Friday evening green market), and we know the highlights are not just the four-legged kind. They also come in the amazing ice cream cones found in their dairy barn. So Saturday, we went up to enjoy them all.

We had an amazing time on the farm. Both kids were impressed by the cows, who were "eating cow grass." We loved seeing the newborn calves, some just two weeks old, who were hidden in the shade of the barn.

My little guy was so impressed, he added a new word to his vocabulary, even when it meant the two-legged kind, which he wanted to chase.

Yes, to a 17-month-old, these are "cows" too. Spoken like a true city slicker!