Friday, April 19, 2013

New Design!

Guess what, y'all? The lovely Ashley of Little Leaf Design has worked her magic and I have a gorgeous new site. Click through to see!

It's still but isn't on blogspot anymore so you'll need to update your subscription if you'd like to continue to receive new posts. I'm sending this post out on the old feed, but after that all new posts will be through feedburner only:

(Which also means if you're reading this through the old feed, I don't think you can get to the blog by clicking on the post title the way you normally would. That link is likely broken. will get you there, though!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

What we ate: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Spinach Pesto, Chicken & Gnocchi Soup

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Funny story: I searched for quinoa recipes thinking I had this big jar of it in my cupboard that needed used. Turned out it was couscous. Oops. I made this anyway, with the couscous, and we thought it was pretty good. I don't even like olives normally, but didn't mind them in the salad. The dressing was tasty enough we might just put it on couscous or quinoa for a side dish when we don't feel like making the whole salad.

Spinach Pesto

I was looking for a way to use the spinach left over from the quinoa salad and this recipe was in my May Redbook. I couldn't find it on their site, but it's pretty simple: combine 2 cups fresh spinach, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, 2 tbsp pistachios, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 garlic clove, and 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Blend in the food processor, or a mini chopper if you have one, until smooth.

(That mini chopper is seriously the very best wedding present we got. We use it all the time and it's much easier to clean than the big ol' food processor.)

The pesto was pretty good. Obviously no basil pesto (my favorite) but yummy. I mixed it into pasta with chicken, then wilted another several cups of spinach in a frying pan and put it over top.

Also one of my favorite wedding presents: our brown everyday dishes
(OMG, when I went to link to that I saw they were on a big sale so I
replaced everything we've chipped or broken over the years. Yay!)

Chicken & Gnocchi Soup

Okay, so I tried this again. April linked to an alternate recipe in the comments the first time I made it. I was initially disappointed because the recipe is almost identical, but I thought, well, if this really is THE way you're supposed to make it I must have done something wrong. So I pretty much did the same thing again, just tweaking a few things. I cooked the roux twice as long as the recipe (both of them) said and I added a little chicken stock as I went along so it didn't get too paste-y and stick to the bottom of the pan. Also, I kept the heat really low and let the soup simmer between each step for much longer than the first time. I cut the gnocchi pieces in half (a good recommendation from the second recipe) and cooked it for less time.

Guess what? It was AWESOME. I loved it. It's still not an everyday kind of thing, what with the quart of half and half and all, but my craving was finally fulfilled.

Same picture as last time because I didn't bother to take another.
It would have looked the same, anyway.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Iowa State Fair

I found this in my drafts folder. Look at the wee little Paul! And my two-year-old Margaret!

Taken in August 2011

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

52 Date Nights, Week 23: Light Candles ...and Take Pictures

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

Friday night Thomas banished me to the basement after the kids were in bed. It's a testament to how tired I was that I didn't suspect anything beyond what he said: he wanted to pick up a little and then he'd be down to watch The Office with me.

Ten minutes later he asked me to come back upstairs. I sighed heavily as I dragged myself off the couch. When I reached the top of the stairs and found this:

That right there is our unity candle, some much-needed munchies, and glasses ready for wine.
The whole room was filled with candles. We got out the tripod to take pictures, which led to messing with the self-timer and my new lightscoop for self-portraits (another date night activity!)

(flash free)
Taken in the same lighting with flash + lightscoop
The best part is that when I downloaded the pictures a few days later I found this:

(Taken the next morning while I was still in bed.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

What we ate: Coconut Ginger Chicken, Cauliflower Pizza, Salsa Verde Beef

Coconut Ginger Chicken & Vegetables

The first time I made this (a few weeks ago) I thought, oh wow, this is better than a restaurant. And I made it. At home! COOKING IS AWESOME.

Make it as written, though, because the second time the store was out of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They had whole chickens on clearance (I guess not as many people bought them for Easter as expected?) so I threw the whole thing in there. The chicken itself turned out great. When it was done, I broke it down and put all the dark meat back into the coconut ginger sauce and saved the white meat for other days. The sauce ended up watered down from the juices of a whole chicken, though, and it was just blah.

Cauliflower Pizza

To paraphrase Shalini: this is not pizza. But it's pretty good not-pizza.

My biggest beef with cauliflower pizza is not that I expect it to taste like pizza and it doesn't. I do not expect pizza. But I DO expect to be able to eat it like pizza, namely, by picking up a slice. But you can't do that, either. The recipe (which, to be fair, doesn't promise anything about picking it up) says to cook until it's good and crispy and we've cooked until it's burned around the edges, but it still disintegrates when you try to pick it up. So this is fork pizza.

That said, I still like it a lot. I put it on the meal plan this week because I was craving it, actually. I love that the base of dinner is basically a big ol' pan of vegetables. I like that it makes cauliflower edible for me since I don't like it in floret form. I topped it with the white meat from that chicken, green peppers, and Roma tomatoes. Delicious.

Salsa Verde Beef

We've been making this ever since Katie wrote about it on Food Lush forever ago. She recommended it with chicken, but we use it for any cuts of our beef share that are especially tough because it will turn anything, no matter how tough, into yummy goodness. We eat it over brown rice and lettuce because apparently that's how Thomas' family always ate stew-like things. (Like chili. They serve their chili over lettuce.) I was skeptical, but you know what? It's pretty good. I'm a fan.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

21 months

I’ve been reading my archives lately and smiling a lot at how much Paul is like Margaret at the same age.  He adores the bath and so did she. He plays this game where he runs in front of the vacuum seemingly trying to get his toes run over, which is quite stressful for someone who generally tries to avoid running over little feet. Apparently she went through a phase where she did the exact same thing.

He’s discovered this little barn full of plush horses someone gave us when he was born and is obsessed. Except half of the time he calls them “moo’s.” I always correct him and say they’re horses; horses go neigh! He said neigh once, but now he calls them ho’s, so…oops.

His favorite things right now are “uchs!!” (picture a real German throat clearing in there) When we go for a drive, he stares out the window intently and announces every time he sees a truck.

Dogs are “woof woofs.” Ducks are “duh duh.” That one is my fault because for some reason I call the rubber ducky ‘duck duck.’

Grandma is ah-ma, which sounds a lot like mama and can get confusing.

He was pretty close to my sister who moved to Spain in January. She sent him a postcard and he sleeps with it every night. They Skype once a week and he thinks she should be available in the computer 24-7.

Margaret is hooked on Llama Llama books right now and Paul has followed suit. He said llama the other day and when I didn’t get it (mama? Wawa?) he turned straight at me, all frustrated, and said LLAMA LLAMA clear as day. Then MAMA. Because he wanted to read Llama Llama Mad at Mama. (Which Margaret reads to him, by the way. It’s adorable.)

His favorite thing of all time is the Lion King. We have it on my iPad and whenever he catches sight of it he begs and begs (roar? Pees? ROAAAAAAAR?) He and Margaret also have an unfortunate game where they trap the cat somewhere (under the couch, under the crib) then lean down and roar at her.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

52 Date Nights, Week 22: Play Twister

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

We’ve been trying to do this date night thing on the cheap (figs and brie nonwithstanding) and we don’t own Twister. I asked all my local facebook friends if they had one we could borrow (no luck) and checked the game aisle of Goodwill several times.

Then we went to my in-laws for Easter this weekend and Thomas spied Twister in the game closet. Which led to…
What, do you guys just hunt eggs and stuff?
Playing Twister in my Easter dress.

Having your daughter man the spinner and your mother-in-law take pictures completely takes the flirting-while-Twistering option off the table, but it was still a lot of fun.

Our taskmaster:
Later she said to me "Mommy, I had fun playing Twizzle."
Of course, once we played with the kids we wanted to buy our own. It was great for Margaret to work on right/left (she knows which is which, but it takes some thought) and Paul to work on colors (his favorite is BOO). I think after all that searching I’ll end up just buying one from Target. Looks like flirting is back on the table.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

March 2013 Books

I only read TWO BOOKS this month! Operation: read less books in 2013 is coming along. Unfortunately I seem to have replaced reading time with Candy Crush, so...that's something to work on. Baby steps.

Bloom: Finding Beauty in the Unexpected--A Memoir by Kelle Hampton
I am terrible at reading books I own. Awful. I usually have so many library books I struggle to keep up with them and don't read anything else. I pre-ordered this book and received it the day it came out. A year ago. (April 3, 2012) I read a few chapters, but was soon pulled back to my library list and...yeah. Finally finished it this month. The first half was AH-MAY-ZING and the second half dragged. Still a really good book, though. I started reading Kelle's blog around Nella's first birthday, so it was nice to get more of the backstory. (This comes out on paperback today, I think.)

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
I didn't know enough about this one to be super-into reading it, so it languished at the bottom of the library pile for awhile. I finally picked it up when I couldn't renew anymore and was hooked immediately. I read it in a day and a half and wanted more.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What we ate: Korean Beef, Emeril's Turkey Club Casserole, Mexicali Skillet

Korean Beef

A++, five stars, straight to the top of the dinner rotation. This was SO good and SO easy. Plus, it took like 20 minutes to make, so. Wins all around. Make it tomorrow. Use fresh ginger. Try not to grate your finger.

This did not take 20 minutes. More like way-too-many-minutes-for-a-sandwich. It also created a ridiculous amount of dirty dishes, creating extremely high expectations for the finished product. If I’m going to dirty a pot for b├ęchamel, a frying pan for bacon, a cutting board for bread, a mixing bowl for the eggs/cream, a casserole dish to make it in and another to weight it down, then yeah. It better be good.

Also, the grocery bill is a bit of a deterrent, both price-wise and health-wise. A pound of bacon, a pound of turkey, half a pound of ham, half a pound of cheese, 8 eggs, and a cup of heavy cream. Recipe for casserole or a heart attack? (And yet I chose to make it, so.) (I made a half batch, though.)

I viewed it as sort of a special occasion (calorie wise) and a project (time wise). It turns out since I now have the time to cook, it’s become a hobby. So while I might whine about the dishes, I actually didn’t mind making this.

I thought it was fine. Thomas liked it a lot. I'd eat it again. I'd even make it again, if I wanted a project. I don't think I'd ever make it just because I wanted to eat it, though. The work to yumminess factor ratio wasn't high enough.

Quick, Easy Mexicali Skillet

It seems my meals fall into two categories: Takes all afternoon to make and Throw it together in 15 minutes. This was, as promised, quick and easy. I've always hated taco seasoning packets, though, so I made my own from Holly's recipe.

The finished meal tasted exactly like you'd think taco seasoned ground beef + pasta + diced tomatoes + black beans would taste. No surprises. A perfectly respectable 15-minute meal, but nothing anyone is going to rave about. (Unlike, say, the Korean beef which I almost made again instead.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

52 Date Nights, Week 21: Watch a Movie

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

For this week's super thrilling date night we...watched a movie. It didn't provide too much blogging material, but we were pretty excited about finally seeing Argo. Plus, Thomas, knowing I needed some sort of picture for my post, went through all of our movies and picked out the ones that won a Best Picture Oscar. (Aww.) He also cued up our not-yet-fully-watched Academy Awards recording to the point at which Argo won and we watched it before the movie.

We didn't have any movie candy, but Oreos worked juuuust fine.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What we ate: 2 Ingredient Pizza Dough, Coconut Bread, Chicken Gnocchi Soup

Coconut Bread

My mom used to make coconut bread occasionally and I'd completely forgotten about it. It is so, so good. This recipe popped up in my feed Monday morning and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, so this happened pretty much immediately:

Margaret could not understand what on earth I was trying to say about it being kind of bread, but not really and not like sandwich bread. Then she wanted to know what "sort of like cake" meant and after going around in circles about the whole thing for half an hour (what does 'the same shape as bread' mean?) I changed the name to Coconut Cake and seriously, someone else can explain quick breads to her.

2 Ingredient Pizza Dough

There was a war in the comments on this one debating whether you should use 1 cup self-rising flour and 1 cup greek yogurt or 1 cup flour to every 1/2 cup yogurt. Of course, I didn't read this until after I'd made the recipe as stated (1:1). The dough was SUPER sticky, but with my hands all  covered in the gunk I couldn't open the flour canister so just used the dough as-is. I spread it out on parchment paper and it baked up fine and didn't stick. I couldn't really get it to brown, but I don't know if that's because I needed more flour or if that's just what it's like.

The taste was much more flatbread-y than pizza dough-y, which happens to be what I like, so I was happy with it. This would make an excellent party snack/appetizer flatbread with some olive oil, tomatoes, and cheese. You're not going to get a thick takeout-pizza crust from it, though.

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

I looooove Olive Garden's chicken gnocchi soup. BEST SOUP EVER, seriously. A calorie bomb, for sure, but worth it. (Also, I only have it four or five times a year.)

I didn't think I would necessarily be able to make a soup just like it, but I hoped it would be close. It was not. It wasn't even very good. (Sigh. I was hoping it just wasn't Heather's kind of thing and not a bad recipe.) I mean, we ate it. It was a decent dinner. I'm not keeping the recipe for future reference, though. If something is going to call for four tablespoons of butter, four tablespoons of olive oil, and a quart of half and half it better be DAMN good.

It was better the next day as leftovers. Still not fabulous, but better. Maybe the flavors needed longer to come together? Regardless, a quart of half and half means this isn't an everyday meal.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bible story time with teacher Margaret

This is Joseph. See his brothers? They is mad, because they want his pretty coat from his father.

His brothers were mad because they didn’t have a pretty coat, so they decided they would go buy a pretty coat. And then Moses was born.

See this Bible, Paul? This is a true story. Everything in it is true.

Do you ever get thrown in a lions den? Yeah, sometimes I do, too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

52 Date Nights, Week 20: Make Music

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

This was another one where we were at a loss. Neither of us really plays an instrument and the 'pots and pans' idea wasn't really floating our boat. Then I realized we do have some musical instruments in the house.

We didn't even have to disturb the kids because all of their musical instruments have migrated to the back of a closet in the basement. (I admit to nothing.)

I pulled out the instruments pictured above, then gave the closet one last glance. And that's when I saw it. My nemesis.
Please no.
Pretty soon we were torturing each other with "witty kitty songs." (witty kitty songs, people. This is what they're actually called.) If you're not careful, I'll come after you with "'Where's our gerbil,' sung to the tune of Skip to my Lou." A classic. Thomas might even come along to accompany it on the toy drum. We scared the daylights out of the real cat.
I like to think that with enough practice we, too, could find "The Sound."

Monday, March 18, 2013

What we ate: Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Cheeseburger Casserole, Chicken Tortilla Crock Pot Soup

Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps

This was a Runner's World recipe Thomas requested, as he loves chicken wings and we never have them. I even resist all attempts to go to  Buffalo Wild Wings and the like. But crock pot + lettuce wraps won me over and I agreed to make them.

You may think crock pot means 'easy,' but I don't mind labor intensive recipes. For me, crock pot mainly means make ahead. This recipe took over an hour to prep, but I got to do it while the kids were eating lunch instead of during the witching hour. I try to always make as much of dinner as possible during lunch time, actually. The kids are out of my hair and their requests for 'more this!' or 'more that' or 'I need a DRINK' don't bother me as much if I'm already up and moving around the kitchen.

Of course, looking at this recipe it doesn't SEEM like it should take an hour, so maybe they had more requests than normal? Also, during that hour I portioned a huge pack of boneless skinless chicken thighs into freezer bags. (They were on a great sale, so I used some of them in this recipe instead of the chicken breasts and froze the rest in 1 lb bags.)

I also took the 'way more work than necessary' path with the carrots, buying them whole and lugging out my huge food processor instead of just buying shredded carrots. That thing takes FOREVER to wash and I include washing dishes in my prep time.

But! THIS WAS REALLY YUMMY. I halved the hot sauce, because the kids and I don't love things hot, and wow, was I glad I did. They were still really spicy. So spicy I quickly threw together the next day's dinner so I was sure the kids had something to eat. Of course, saying "this is spicy, you might not like it" was apparently code for "eat as much as you can to prove mom wrong." Much like saying "this is yummy, you should try it" means your kids won't touch it with a ten foot pole.

Cheeseburger Casserole

When I said "quickly threw together" I meant it. This was really fast and easy. I had it in the oven in 15 minutes. We all liked it, but I found it a little bland/boring. Maybe I'm just used to all the other recipes I've been gravitating toward that involve at least 8 spices each. I also didn't get a cheeseburger feel from it, but that could be because I don't like pickles so I left them off my portion.

I think we'll be making it again, though. It involves basically all the same ingredients as spaghetti and I'm really sick of spaghetti. A remix is nice. It's a good kid-friendly meal.

Chicken Tortilla Crock Pot Soup

I've been using dried black beans instead of canned lately and the first time I made this, I had a slight issue with them (didn't cook long enough) so I ended up having to put the soup on the stove and boil the heck out of it so as to not have raw beans.

This week my beans were fine, so we used the crock pot only and ended up really disappointed. The soup was WAY better when the sauce/broth reduced on the stove for awhile. I think I'll be making this on the stove in the future instead of the crock pot.

Also, I don't separately cook the chicken. I just put it in the crock pot with everything else at the beginning and shred it right before serving.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to backup your Blogger blog // How to move your Blogger blog to a new URL

After Google decided to discontinue Google Reader Wednesday, a few of us started getting a little worried about Blogger. It seems ridiculous to think they might get rid of that, but...wouldn't you have said the same of reader?

Now, it's not like your blog is ever going to disappear overnight, but I like to keep a backup around just because backups are good, right? Right. It's really easy, too.

Go to your Blogger homepage and select your blog. (The top one is my current blog and the bottom one is my old URL.)

Next, click on settings

Then "other"

Under "blog tools," select "export blog." You'll get a dialog box like the one below and can click "download blog." The download will be titled with the date - mine from Wednesday was called "blog-03-13-2013," which is convenient for making sure you don't accidentally use an old backup if ever you need one.
If you want to move your blog, yet stay on Blogger, simply sign up for the new URL you want, export your old blog, then go to Settings > Other > Blog Tools on your new blog and select "Import blog." All of your posts, including pictures and comments, will then be in both places. (This doesn't delete the old blog, but you can do that afterward. Or keep it around, like I did.)

I don't have screen shots of the import process on other platforms (wordpress, typepad) but it's very similar.

Children are an excellent diet mechanism

I’ve lost 15 pounds since I quit work in January. Part of it is due to the fact I no longer sit on my butt and each chocolate for a large portion of each day. (RIP, desk full of snacks.) Part of it is that I’ve started running during naptime a few days a week. But mostly, eating has become way more trouble than it’s worth. I cannot deal with the two little bottomless pits dancing around me and snatching food out of my hands, so I just…don’t eat.

I’ve never been a breakfast eater. It turns my stomach to eat so early during the day. When I was working I was pretty good at making myself eat breakfast, only because “making myself eat breakfast” was code for “putting off the point at which I’d actually start working.” (A hobby of mine.) Now I just can’t muster up the energy to make and defend food first thing in the morning. Also, it turns out eating just delays the skipped meal. Yesterday I forced a fiber bar down my throat at 8am while walking around with little people trailing me saying “I want some! Me! Mine!” Then I turned right around and didn’t eat lunch. Not even on purpose! I was just BUSY and not hungry!

I always thought being at home would make me fat what with the snacks all around, but it turns out in this house even uttering the word “snacks” is an invitation to be swarmed. I swear I feed these children! ALL THE TIME, I feed them. I've just stopped feeding myself. If I didn't have the nagging thought that skipping meals is a terrible way to lose weight, it would be a pretty ideal situation.

(It probably has more to do with portion sizes, anyway. I no longer eat for sport/pleasure which means no third helpings and very few second helpings.)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

52 Date Nights, Week 19: Create a Playlist of Love Songs

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

We thought this would be a quick and easy ‘throw some songs on a list’ thing, but we actually ended up doing it more formally. We each came up with a list of songs, then alternated playing them for each other.  We picked a lot of songs with memorieeeees attached and it was fun to reminisce and awesome when the other person would come up with something you hadn’t thought of in forever.

(I almost left off Fly Me To the Moon! I've loved that song forever! So much so that we danced to it for the first dance at our wedding!)

Now, just so you know, my taste runs toward cheesy love songs in the country pop genre. Thomas even let me put one of my all time favorites, Bless the Broken Road, on the list.

When You Say Nothing At All was a last minute addition, after I watched Notting Hill last week. (Man, I am a sucker for that movie.) Cheeseball as the song is, I just love it. I also find it especially appropriate because Thomas is a do-er and while he does still say he loves me, he also shows it constantly with no words at all. I realize the song isn't so much about doing without saying anything, more just looking at each other and not needing words, but whatever.

Font downloaded from here! (It's cora.)
Songs I recommend if you're making a playlist of your own: Then (Brad Paisley), I Won't Give Up (Jason Mraz), Wanted (Hunter Hayes). They're pretty sappy, but that's the way I like 'em.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Scenes from Arizona

While playing mail delivery:

Grandma: C.O.D., cash on delivery!

Margaret: Cats on delivery?!


She doesn't know what telemarketers are:

Margaret: Why did that person call you?

Grandma: He wanted to sell me something.

Margaret: But why did you hang up on him? Don't you know him? How did he know your phone number?


He doesn't know what landlines are:

Paul: Hello! Hello! Hello!

Phone: If you would like to dial a number, please hang up and try again.

All adults in the house, ad infinitum: That's not a toy!


We have a 'safety' can opener:

Me: Please be careful not to touch this lid, it could cut you.

Margaret: That's not very nice. Our cans don't do that.


Busy little boy:

Mom, in pantry: Talk, talk, talk

Grandma, in kitchen: Talk, talk, talk

Paul: *running back and forth*

Grandpa, sitting in front of a whole pile of potatoes: How many of these do we have in there?

Friday, March 8, 2013

On buying books

The December issue of The Atlantic had an article about Ann Patchett (author of State of Wonder) opening an independent bookstore. She talks about having wonderful childhood memories of small bookstores and how people long for that. Many others say the same. But I’ve never understood why. (I kind of think that’s why I never ‘got’ You’ve Got Mail. I enjoy the love story, for sure, but Meg Ryan’s speech about bookstores? Don’t get it.)

What I remember about the local bookstore growing up is that it was welcoming, cozy…and so expensive I had to stretch to buy two books a year. It wasn’t an upscale store, but $10-$15 (I always bought paperbacks) is a lot of money to a kid! I didn’t want for a lot as a child, but I certainly didn’t have much cash. I always longed to buy books, but on those occasions I actually did I almost felt sick even as I tried to pick one out. I knew I would finish it quickly and think:  was that really worth $10 for two hours of entertainment?

Maybe it’s because I’m a fast reader. Maybe it’s because I prefer to read mysteries and once you know the ending, there isn’t much point in reading again. There were certainly books I loved and read many times and I was thrilled to receive books as gifts, but I rarely saw them as a good use of my limited funds.

The library, though, oh, the library. THAT is where my happy childhood memories of books are. I get nostalgic just driving by it when I’m in town. The library is where everyone knew me and what I liked to read. The library is where I discovered Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High. And the teeny church library! I loved that place so much. They had all these books about a girl, much like Nancy Drew, I guess, who solved mysteries. It’s bothered me for YEARS I cannot remember the name of those books. I’m sure they were Christian books, but I liked that they weren’t overtly so (you know how some books, it seems like the actual plot doesn’t even matter because the whole thing reads like God! Pray! Bible! Jesus!).

Then there was the school library and the thrill of reading for POINTS. The proud feeling when you read “above grade level.” The row of Little House books. The Boxcar Children bookcase. Those early reader books about Ned the detective and his dog I read the entire shelf of in first grade (gah! What were they called??)

I’m well aware of the fact authors have to make a living. I’m selfishly happy other people buy books. I’m kind of terrified at the thought they might stop. I don’t doubt book prices are reflective of what it costs to produce them. I’m not saying they need to be lowered. Just that I…can’t afford it. I read 120 books last year. I would happily pay a yearly subscription to the library. (Actually, I should. I should donate every year.) (Though they do get about $5-10/month from me in fees and fines.) I buy some of the books I read, of course, but very few. The majority of what I buy is used anyway, so I don’t think that counts. I’m not really sure what to do about it. I do want to support my favorite authors, but…120 books!

Do you buy most of the books you read? Or do you have your library card number memorized, like I do?

P.S. Ginger wrote a similar post back in November that I found interesting.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

52 Date Nights, Week 18: Home Improvement

Previous date night posts here. Free stay-at-home date night ideas PDF download here. (Not sponsored.)

This one was technically called "paint a room," but the fine print said any home improvement project would do. My mom found an old Curious George book in a thrift shop last week and I just loved the artwork. I thought it would be a cute decoration to go above Paul's crib and, luckily, Thomas was on board.

We went on a family excursion on Saturday to look for frames and found these that were just the right (odd) size AND on clearance (what are the odds?!).

So, 75 cents for the book, $12 for frames, and $1.50 in hardware to hang them = new art for our little monkey's room.

While we were already measuring and hanging, we put up all of the rest of the artwork we had for the kids' rooms - something that had been on the to-do list for YEARS.

I bought these prints before Paul was even born. (I was six or seven months pregnant, so the one in his room was purchased for him specifically.) A year later I finally got them framed. Another year later and we finally put them on the wall.

The one on top (Paul's) and the lower right (Margaret's) came from Emily Burger Designs on Etsy. Maggie linked to something from her once, I think, and I noticed she lived in Des Moines, like us, so I got to go to her house and buy these directly from her! How cool is that? Handmade AND local. (Plus, no shipping cost!)

The one above Margaret's head in the lower left is one of these custom personalized maps from Leen Machine paper studio. A'Dell recommended them on Style Lush and I thought instead of doing it as a wedding gift, I could make one birth-announcement style for Margaret. The heart is over Des Moines, where she was born, and her date, time, and location of birth are listed. The colors are custom chosen to match her wall colors and I can't say enough good things about Leen Machine for going back and forth and back and forth with me to get the colors right. I cannot believe I bought this two years ago and just now got it on the wall!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I really hate change

One of my biggest worries about possibly trying for a third baby is that it will change the way I love my other two. Because I already love them differently. Not different amounts, but differently. Paul is my baby. My little dude. My snuggler. Margaret is my big kid. I love her imagination and independent play. I love her relative self-sufficiency just as much as I love Paul’s constant need for mama hugs. Would she still be my little baby at almost-four if she was an only child?

Maybe not, but even so, I feel like I gave it up too soon. When she was Paul’s age she was already the “big sister.” (In quotes because Paul wasn’t actually born yet.) I still saw her as my baby, but I knew the days until I’d have a newborn were rapidly slipping away and all the ways in which she’d grown up would be apparent.

I promised myself I’d never be the mother who came home from the hospital with my newborn and said my older kid “looked like a giant now!” She was my first baby. She was only two. I was not going to let her littleness slip through my fingers. I memorized everything about her in the months before having the baby. I noted her size, her weight in my arms. When Paul came home, I took comfort in how Margaret felt the same as she always had. She didn’t grow up overnight. She was still my baby, too.

Two years later, though, she is firmly in the big sister position. She’ll always be the older one. The first to do new things. The one who sets the example.

Who will Paul be? The youngest? The middle child? The one who’s “bigger than the baby”? Or the one who IS the baby? 

What we ate: Honey Sesame Chicken, Spanish Chicken & Rice

This is actually from a few weeks ago. I didn't get one of these written before leaving for Arizona and since we got back (a week ago!) we've been kind of just winging it. A lot of "it's 5:00, what do I dooooooo," kind of stuff. Hopefully this week will be better.

Crock Pot Honey Sesame Chicken
We made this and had my family over for Chinese New Year. Thomas was getting a little sick of all the chicken crock pot recipes, so we tried it with pork instead. After it was all cooked, I mixed in a bag of snow peas and it was pretty dang good. I've made several crock pot honey something recipes and I liked that with this one you thickened the sauce. Between that and the peas, it really tasted like Chinese takeout. Americanized Chinese, of course, but that's the kind I like.

Spanish Chicken & Rice
My sister spent 6 months in Ecuador during college and once she was back home she found this Ecuadorian restaurant in town that makes pretty authentic food. I love their Arroz con Polo, but always feel like I shouldn't order it because chicken and rice is as simple as it gets, right? I'm at a restaurant! I should get something something fancier!

So I saw this recipe and decided to try it at home. We rarely go to the restaurant, especially since my sister has now moved away (to SPAIN), and if I could make good Arroz con Polo at home I could 1. Have it more often and 2. Order something else if we go to the Ecuadorian place.

Well......I'm going to have to go order it. Maybe takeout or something. This did not work. It might not be the recipe's fault, because I used the spice blend substitute listed as an option instead of the sazon. Also, when the rice was cooking down, I got distracted and it overcooked a little. Plus, as the recipe says "Arroz con pollo can be made so many different ways and also varies from country to country," so I knew it might not be exactly what I was looking for. But, regardless, we probably won't making this particular one again. I thought it was OK, but not worth all the work and dirty dishes. The kids found the spices too strong and refused to eat it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

February 2013 books

Winning Balance: What I've Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams by Shawn Johnson

I love Shawn Johnson. She's so cute and sweet and she lives in West Des Moines, which is where I live. I listened to the audio book, which she read herself, and it was nice to hear it in her own voice. It's like she was dishing all about the Olympics and Dancing With the Stars just for me. Also, she really does dish - all about crushes and boyfriends and, man, that was brave. There is no way I would want my sixteen-year-old self on record talking about that stuff.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I went into this expecting a humorous autobiography, Bloggess-style. I found it lecture-y and rather screechy. Also...boring. My expectations played into this a lot, so maybe if you have a better grasp of what the book is about (mainly feminism) you'll like it more than I did. I rather like Caitlin Moran now, enough to consider reading her next book, I just didn't like this book. It was not the fluffy vacation book I was expecting, but it was great for putting me to sleep at night. I mean that literally and I'm SORRY it's such a cliche, but I seriously read a few pages before bed each night for the express purpose of putting me right to sleep.

This is basically a depressing take on human nature. No one is happy. Nothing will ever change (except maybe to get worse). It was almost ridiculous in it's negativity, but the awful part is it all rang true. There are three-year-olds living terribly neglected with their junkie mothers. Fathers hit sons. Teenagers are horribly cruel.

It was basically the opposite of a Harry Potter book that gives you that "the world is magical and good can always defeat evil" feeling.

After finally slogging through the Casual Vacancy I went on a 'comfort books' tear. My comfort books are mystery/suspense, sometimes formulaic, hopefully engrossing stories. Some of them were good, some not. But it was nice not to have to think, you know? I tried to make it so if you click on any of the covers it would take you to my Goodreads review, but blogger is being difficult today. They're all at the top of the recent updates list on my Goodreads page at the moment if you want to see what I thought of any of them. (Hint: I still like Mary Higgins Clark's old stuff, Julie Hyzy is cheesy, and I'm now caught up on Sookie Stackhouse.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

You need kitchen advice, you come to me

I stumbled upon this gem at an estate sale in Arizona (those are mega depressing, by the way) and unlocked the secrets to 1972 kitchen planning and decorating.

Step 1: ORANGE 

See? You didn't even have to open the book for the first secret.

Step 2: Washable vinyl wall 
Washable vinyl wall, you guys.

Step 3: Consider combining the most used rooms in your house

Why didn't I think of a combination kitchen-sewing room?

And finally: If you're looking for low cost, easy to install flooring, asbestos tile is for you.