Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend worth remembering

Four states and nine hours separate my children from their cousin, so they're only blessed to see her once or twice a year.

Thank goodness for fall break.

This time, they made the trek eastbound, and despite the fact my house still wasn't in tip-top shape for guests (but then, is it ever with two kids?) I consider the fact it's 7 a.m. and all other parties are asleep a minor miracle.

Take Wednesday, when my toddler woke up at 3 (a most unholy hour of night) to ask if his aunt and cousin were here. The next day it was 5. And naptimes? Forget about it. It's been a losing battle, though one I've largely stuck to at least trying to make happen.

But late, late Thursday night (OK, technically Friday morning), it happened. They arrived. And it's been a whirlwind ever since.

We started slowly, with the painstaiking process of making the world's best cinnamon rolls, forgetting that it's a four-hour process! But every kid got their hands dirty, from rolling the rolls (the girls) to punching the dough (perfect for 2 year old energy!). We went to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, a rare treat that we could afford thanks to an awesome Groupon, to check out all things girl (a Barbie exhibit) and boy (dinosaurs and trains) and to experience the kids' first Haunted House (during not-so-frightful hours).

We went to the Broad Ripple Farmer's Market and scarfed down amazing pretzels that come in braids of three pretzels each - that my toddler knows are at this market and starts asking for the minute we arrive. We joke about the Bloody Mary mix in the bag, which we nix, and savor the chocolate milk from the local dairy.

We burn off our energy at the local park, where the girls opt for swings and mom somehow gets sucked into playing truck - which translates to: Sit on the step, immediately get up, get off the truck, get some mulch, put it somewhere and gt back on the step. Repeat for 30 minutes. I figure it's good for the thighs.

We've gotten our share of movies and Great Pumpkins and have toyed with carving our own pumpkin. We've had our share of minor squabbles and glimpses into funny conversations between the kids. I only wish 10 months didn't separate those.
Today will be another day of memories, and tomorrow they make the trek home. But really, the time is too short, and the breaks too long. Sometimes, I wish you really could click your heels three times to get to Kansas...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin bread recipe worth repeating!

Pumpkin bread is generally something you can't go wrong with, especially in the fall. I stumbled on this recipe in my grandmother's church's old cookbook, and it was gobbled down within the day. The biggest selling point? The neighbor girl down the road - one of the pickiest eaters I know of - couldn't get enough.

Pumpkin Bread - makes 2 loaves
1 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. water
4 eggs, beaten
2 c. pumpkin
1 c. chopped pecans
3 1/2 c. flour
3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine oil, water, eggs and pumpkin, stir to mix. Combine flour and remaining ingredients; stir. Add nuts. Pour into greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Light bulbs for Haiti - a little lesson in empathy

"We need to buy light bulbs for Haiti," my daughter announced one afternoon as I picked her up from school.

Wow. Heavy response from a 5 year old, who usually reports in on what she played at recess. But, as she explained to me, the kids in Haiti don't have lights in their classrooms. And that day, they colored in the dark to see what it's like.

"I didn't have any problems," she reported. But something stuck with her nonetheless. For the first time, she talked about sharing her toys for the Haiti sale and giving away clothes and shoes that didn't fit her - instead of dramatically insisting how "special" each item was.

This week, priests from Haiti are visiting our church. And my daughter, just 5, is learning about life an ocean away and a little bit about generosity as well.

In recent years, my parish has made an affiliation with a church and school in Haiti. The wonderful thing about this mission is that they have made it very real for the families. We support it through an annual children's clothing sale, and fundraisers include buying a desk (about $30-40, by my recollection). It makes it real, as few people are actually able to make the mission trips.

But what's impressed me most is what they've impressed upon the children. My daughter did her school work in the dark to see what it was like without lights. They talked about how little the children had, how many needed shoes or school desks. Each day sparked a little lesson, and our conversations this week have been sprinkled with facts about the Haitian people - from the earthquake, to the fact they speak Creole, to their diet of rice and beans.

In fact my daughter, whose refusal to eat black beans led me to donate my stash to the food pantry last weekend, announced she wanted beans for dinner. When I told her I donated them to people who were hungry, she told me, "But the people in Haiti already have beans!"

Still, we've had many conversations this week about life in Haiti and about poverty - each sparked by a blossom planted by my child. I'm grateful for those. As she grows, she'll become an amazing member of this world!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Parenting efficiency?

Efficiency as a parent?

I had to chuckle this morning reading Sweet Eventide's column on her rough adjustment to life as a working mom. Is there such a thing as efficiency as a parent?

Yes I know there are super moms out there, like my former coworker, a single mom, who juggled four kids, a job and nursing school. But chaos lately seems to rule my life.

Take the other morning, so typical of my week.

My daughter wakes me up around 6 a.m. by snuggling in my bed. A few minutes later she goes back to hers. I eventually get up.

By 6:45, I've showered, dressed and asked her to get her uniform on.

By 7, I've done diaper duty, dressed the toddler and have gently reminded my daughter that while the Barbies are now dressed, she needs to be too.

By 7:15, I have a toddler begging for breakfast and am praying for patience over my daughter, who's figured out how to get a shirt on but that's all. I order her to get dressed (which she mostly does) and head downstairs for breakfast negotiations. Negotiations fail. I get a confirmation of what the toddler wants to eat, only to have him get upset when he doesn't get the same cereal as his sister. (Nevermind that he finished off the other box.) I try to remember my own breakfast while I fix breakfasts, get refills on milk and fix a lunch despite my daughter's insistence that this week she should have an additional day of hot lunch beyond the Mondays already promised.

By 7:45, I realize I've lost my morning, despite best attempts. We scramble upstairs, attempt to locate where the Elmo toothbrush has snuck off to now, let my toddler spit into the toilet, then race back downstairs.

There, I realize that our systems have once again broken down. My daughter has no socks on. One or both kids failed to put their shoes on the shoe tray last night. The backpacks have been relocated from their spot. Somehow we make it to school on time, and I just thank God for those days I don't have to be there at a specific time.

Evenings, however, are more relaxed. We benefit from the down time offered by after-school care or the daddy-daughter time on his days out of class, but the toddler is ready to eat by the time he hits the car door on his way home. Thankfully, we've worked out a meal system to feed the beast by the time he gets home. Evenings are filled with long walks, homework (yes, even the toddler gets "homework," coloring on the backs of old school papers), story time, library visits and the occasional Thomas movie. Now that the garden is largely to bed for the season, that's one thing off the worry list.

Bedtimes, like for most parents, are a challenge, and I admit there are more days than not where we're exhausted by the time little ones are asleep! (By then, my husband is in bed as well - the result of a 4 a.m. work schedule.)

Those quiet hours (or hour) is usually spent with laundry or other "quiet" chores, but more often that not it means catching up on a growing workload.

Weekends are treasures. And while I don't offer people exciting news of travels or big nights out at the start of my Monday, I get 48 hours to savor my family without the burden of schedules. And at this age, a little less adherence to the clock is just what they need.

I admit I envy those parents who work from home (and can just pop in a load of laundry while they're working) or are at home full-time (and are exempt from the harriedness of getting young kids to and from daycare and mealtime madness at the end of the day).

But for now, our chaos works. Would I like to streamline it and remove the daily headaches? Of course! But that's what makes us real.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jupiter, fog and other fall wonders

Being with a young child is a chance to rediscover everything again. And this fall is no different.

Take today, for instance. We started the day being amazed by the fog dancing across the ponds by our home, and watching the wispy clouds float across the road.

"Can we touch it?" our 5 year old asked. Running late for school, I promised that the next foggy morning we'd try to find out.

Tonight, we were treated by the bright glow of Jupiter, about an inch or two below the moon by the naked eye. The kids were amazed by it, despite our pathetic attempts to remember anything from college astronomy. My 2 year old declared he would "climb up a ladder and touch it, and then jump back down."

Or the other evening, when a family walk became a hunt for the largest, the pinkest, the most oddly shaped leaves we could find, our kids expressing joy at each find, carrying fistfuls of stems all the way home, only to toss them in our yard.

It's little moments like these that make you savor fall even more.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Meatless meals: When you're in a pinch

Six o' clock in my home is the witching hour. The kids are hungry, mom is cranky and dinner needs to be done. Fast.Drive-through may have never looked so good.Relax. You can get through a dinner in short order - in fact, meatless meal prep - chopping produce aside - can tend to go more quickly, as you don't have to worry about meat being cooked thoroughly.

Here are four easy meals that you can whip up to feed a hungry crowd of kids:

Pasta with ricotta: I read this in a cookbook about a year ago, and it's a standby for our kids on hectic nights. Cook 8 oz. pasta according to directions, drain and toss with 1 c. of ricotta cheese and a bit of butter. I'll mix it up with herbs, peas, whatever I have on hand.

Quesadillas: This is the ultimate in fast-food in our house. I keep tortillas and cheese on hand just for this. Sprinkle cheese between two tortilla shells, melt in the microwave for a minute, and serve with salsa for hungry toddlers.

Spaghetti marinara: Yes, you can grab a jar from the pantry, but fresh is best. And in late summer, when farmers are practically begging you to take their tomato stash, I score by buying the "ugly" tomatoes cheaper, make huge pots of spaghetti sauce from scratch, and freeze to reheat and enjoy year-round. I usually serve this with whole-grain or protein-enriched pasta.

Veggie stir-fry: I know the idea of preparation (cutting, washing) a bunch of veggies to eat sounds like a deal-breaking. Here's the trade-off. Because of the high heat and smaller pieces, stir-fried veggies cook extremely quickly. Plus, you don't have to worry about whether the veggies are completely cooked through (crunchy is OK), and you have the added benefit of allowing them to munch on the raw deal while you're prepping.

Having an "appetizer" of raw vegetables, crackers, etc., is not a bad thing. Take yesterday, for instance. My preschooler and I were trying a recipe, and I set aside some extra cheese and cauliflower for munching as she went. It curbed the hungries while food was cooking, and admittedly kept her a bit occupied when Mom had two pots going on the stove.
Originally published at the Green Phone Booth, April 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

What can you live without?

Reposted from last week's Green Phone Booth...

Ever have one of those days when you're feeling down on yourself? And then God slaps you back to reality?

I've had more than one of those moments lately. But one in particular I want to share. It's about an employee at our company I've never met.

This person had the misfortune of losing every possession in her home last week. Every item, as her family watched their home burn to the ground.

The cool part was watching how employees came together to help this family, people that they've never met. They brought diapers, and clothing, and shoes. An empty office stored items that were being catalogued by a coworker to make sure the family's needs were being met. It was an amazing thing to see, and I felt humbled and apologetic for my two bags of baby gear, plucked from the stash for my sister.

But the whole experience got me wondering. If I was in her shoes, what did I really need?

My library of books crammed on the shelves? Fun, but truthfully collecting dust. My stamp collection from when I was 11 that I've kept for years? Stealing space in my storeroom. Those extra clothes in my closet, waiting for a size change? Held captive from a person who could use them.

In the end, it's about keeping my family safe from harm. The other things are just ancillaries.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Afternoon at Anderson Orchard

Twist and pull.

All the way to Anderson Orchard in Mooresville, I heard that sage advice: Twist and pull, and that way you won't break the bud, and more apples can grow there. So says my well-versed 5 year old.

For our family, field trips mean activity. And while visiting places like Apple Works in Trafalgar have become a fall family tradition, between school and visitors, they will have visited it three times before the snowfall hits. So when I learned about Anderson, and how a fellow family at daycare loved it, we figured it was worth the drive to check it out.

And it was worth it. The children loved hiking (as my toddler put it) through the rows of apple trees and were thrilled to be able to harvest bags of red, yellow and green apples from the low-hanging branches. My toddler announced the apples were "juicy and crunchy" when he snuck his first bite. Pumpkins promised new another visit when their cousin is coming next month. A small shop offered pre-bagged apples of more varieties than you could count, nuts, persmissons and more. And, yes, there was a playground for them to burn off some energy.

Anderson Orchard may become our next fall treat!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Apple Priss

On the way home from the apple orchard Saturday, my daughter announced that we would make Apple Priss on the way home.

"You mean Apple Crisp," I said.

"No, Priss. With a P."

So I asked her how to make Apple Priss. Here's her advice:

"First you make the priss. You use whippped cream, and if you don't have whipped cream, you use milk. And then you use brown sugar and flour. That's how you make the priss.

"And then you put apples in it. You've got to bake the priss in the microwave for half an hour. After you're done making the priss in the microwave, put it in the bown and put apples on top of it."

Here's how it really played out:

We cored and cooked four apples, unpeeled, in the microwave for six minutes, then chopped them after they cooled. We added a random can of cherry pie filling.

For the "priss" we mixed 1/4 cup melted butter, about 1/3 cup of oatmeal and four tablespoons of brown sugar (I knocked her down from "10 scoops.")

The reality is it's an approximation. Why? I let her do her own thing, which meant that both of my kids got busted by their dad for eating the "priss" topping.

Anyway, if you're still following, we mixed the topping, put it over the pie filling, and microwaved for another five or six minutes. And for a completely made up kid recipe, it turned out great!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Indy winter markets coming soon!

Sadly, our favorite local market closes this weekend. The good news is alternatives will be open soon.

Here are a few Indianapolis and Bloomington-area winter markets opening up:

The Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market is moving this year to The Maxwell, 530 East Ohio St. It will be open Satrudays beginning Nov. 13 through April 30. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Traders Point Creamery Winter Green Market opens Nov. 6 through April, from 9 a.m. to noon on the northwest side of Indy, near Zionsville.

The Bloomington Winter Farmers Market is back at Harmony School Gym. Dates are Satrudays, Dec. 4 to March 29, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ginger chicken noodle bowl

It's not often I can cook something with a little bit of kick that all four of us can enjoy. But this recipe, tried on a chilly weekend afternoon, hit the spot. And even the child who refused to eat asked for seconds!

Ginger chicken noodle bowl
adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe

slightly less than 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
2 large carrots, shredded
ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
6 cups chicken stock (increase to 8 cups if increasing spaghetti to 1 lb.)
3/4 lb. thin spaghetti
4 green onions, cut into 2 1/2 inch lengths then cut into matchsticks
2 cups fresh crisp bean sprouts

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat; add in vegetable oil, then add in the chicken; cook until lightly browned. Add in the garlic and ginger, stir; add in the carrots; season with salt and pepper; add in the cumin and five-spice powder.

Add in the stock and bring soup to a boil. Add in the spaghetti and decrease heat to a simmer; cook for 3 minutes. Add in the green onions and bean sprouts and turn off the heat; let the soup stand for 5 minutes.

Even better the second day!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Unexpected blessings

Sometimes blessings come when you least expect it. Or most need it.

Take our little instance this weekend. We made the mistake of paying our electric bill.


Yes, my well-meaning husband paid it early online, just as I wrote the check and mailed it. A more than $200 error. Yikes. But something funny happened on the way to the poorhouse.

We decided to part ways with my daughter's kitchen, which was in great shape but outgrown, and a few other items also outgrown. I put the photos up on our employee classifieds page of our intranet. Within two hours, I had offers totalling $175. Clothing and a few other items netted another $18.75 at the used kids' shop.

A more than $200 travesty now was down to a tenth of that mishap. A crisis largely averted. And no, I don't think it's a coincidence.

Even better, some little girl is going to have one heck of a Christmas.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Weighing weight issues at 5?

My daughter is five years old. And is worried about being fat.

There, I said it.

After weeks of increasing pickiness that have peaked this week with my formerly healthy eater injesting only a bite or two at a meal, we're worried. And just a few days ago, we found out why: she's worried if she eats too much, she'll be fat.

The interesting part is that mom, who is more than a little overweight, is "just right" in her eyes. And I've been careful to never breathe a word about weight worries or dieting in our house, instead focusing on how we need to take a family walk or eat healthier instead.

And because we've tried to shelter her as much as possible, my only guess is to look at the messages she's exposed to elsewhere. Dieting messages are rampant in the media. Billboards, radio, television, you can't escape it. Even the ads on the Food Network - the ultimate celebration in food - focus heavily on what you should take when you eat too much of it.

The idea that my daughter has weight worries in kindergarten terrifies me. Granted, I've had close experience with watching a coworker's son battle an eating disorder in middle school. I expected to have discussions about the media and messages about health in a few years; I'm not naiive. I just wasn't ready for that talk yet.

However, now we're having to ramp up our talks, focusing on the positive (lots of foods are healthy and make us grow and be strong) and sadly, dabbling in the negatives of getting sick. And we've been trying to give lots of reinforcement and addressing her questions, reassuring her that we're not going to give her so much food that she gets fat, and really too much junk food is a big instigator of it all (in many cases).

We've decided to tap in my daughter's love of cooking and having her start helping me plan meals again, seeing if that won't spark her interest at mealtime. And we've decided the TV will stay off unless we're in the room and able to discuss what's on. Because little minds are curious minds, and you never know what ideas will stick.