Friday, May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008


You must listen very carefully if you want to understand my twins. What might sound like the nonsensical word "uppy" to the average person means "apple juice" or "pick me up" to the discerning listener. The definition depends on subtle differences in pronunciation.

Take the word, "uh-oh." When you hear the emphasis on the first syllable (UH-oh), you better run to the girls quickly because you don't know if they've managed to open their sippy cups and pour uppy all over the floor, scribbled across the freshly-painted nursery wall, or taken off their clothes, removed their diapers, and pooped in their cribs.

Then there's "uh-oh" with the emphasis placed on the second syllable (uh-OH). This means they are innocent bystanders who have come across something particularly ugly or disturbing. Say they find a puddle of cat vomit on the living room carpet or notice an angry red cut on their grandma's finger. Or see the birthday present recently given to their father:

Now, tell me. Don't you think this object lying in the middle of the floor deserves a big "uh-OH"? The twins thought so and were shrieking it at the top of their lungs.

I couldn't agree more, babies. I couldn't agree more.

Dinner last night: salmon steaks with dill sauce, twice-baked potatoes

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dirty Details Revisited

Guess who spent all of Memorial Day weekend working in the yard?

If you guessed the Mommy Machine, you'd be wrong. What good are husbands if not for shoveling, hauling, and raking out topsoil?! I must admit he did a beautiful job on this patch of formerly ugly, grassless ground. (It's still grassless, but at least it now is seeded, fertilized, and ready to sprout in 7–10 days!)

We have a difficult choice ahead of us regarding which evergreens to plant along this stretch. Do we head out to the back of our property and transplant some baby spruce?(Cons: labor intensive, no guarantee that they'll make it through next winter, high risk of spindliness. Pros: free.)

Or do we head over to our local nursery and purchase the trees? (Pros: nice tree shape, one-year guarantee, my back can handle lifting them out of the truck and dropping them in the ground. Cons: expensive.)

I'm leaning toward the free option, but my husband keeps reminding me that our trees won't serve their purpose, which is to provide a natural sight barrier. Their sparce branches won't offer much privacy. He wants to go with a row of hardy junipers. So I'm thinking a compromise: alternate spruce with juniper. Stayed tuned for the thrilling conclusion.

Dinner last night: Memorial Day barbecue (cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, watermelon)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dirty Details

As you can see through the trees, we have neighbors who own lots of vehicles. And trash cans. Since this is the view at which our parents must look whenever they stay in the guest room, we've decided to plant a row of young, fat spruce trees in front of those old, skinny cottonwoods. But first we need some good top soil.

Here comes the dirt!

We need every last drop.

Time to get to work. Daylight's a-burnin'.

Dinner last night: taco lasagna

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How Does a Busy Woman Cook Every Night?

Can a mother of four cook from scratch every night? I'm here to tell you it can be done. Okay, maybe not every night. My kids would run away to the neighbors' house if they weren't allowed the occasional hot dog, pizza, or bowl of Captain Crunch . . . so weekends are for leftovers, junk food, and dinners out with friends. But I do cook most every week night, and here's how I do it.

I plan ahead. Once a week, I sit down for about an hour with my cookbooks, a pad of paper, and the family calendar on which I keep track of everyone's schedule. I guesstimate which days are going to be crazy and which days I will have more time to cook. I make out my menu for the week and a shopping list at the same time.

I only go to the store once a week. Of course, the success of this shopping trip hinges on a thorough shopping list. In addition to the menu ingredients, I keep a second list on the kitchen counter where the entire family can jot down food items they want or need, like the DORITOES!!!! that my eldest daughter insists on scrawling at the top every single week.

Armed with my two lists, I head out early in the morning so I don't have to battle the crowds. Before returning home, I gas up the minivan for the week. If I get home only to realize I forgot to write something down or I overlooked an item while at the store, I do not go back. If it's a key ingredient, I make a substitution or cook something else.

I adopted this once-a-week-only policy out of necessity when my twins were about 6 months old; I was too sleep-deprived to get them or myself ready and out the door every day or every other day or even every third day to make a grocery run. With the rising cost of food and fuel, these weekly excursions save me time, money, and my sanity.

I buy in bulk and keep the pantry stocked. I don't have a pantry proper, so I've converted a hall closet that's around the corner from my kitchen. Because my twins like to stick their fingers in doors to get pinched, I use curtains that are easily pulled together to hide the mess.

Life is full of unexpected guests, surprise cravings, and pleading children. The beauty of a well-stocked pantry is that it allows for flexibility and last-minute changes in meal preparation. I keep most cooking essentials on hand as well as some—gulp, I admit it—canned and snack foods for the kids and my husband. Why is it that, if I'm gone for any reason, my husband will only feed the kids Chef Boyardee? Seriously, is it that hard to rinse off a piece of fruit?

I freeze. Whenever possible, I double recipes and freeze an extra pan for later. Lasagna, macaroni and cheese, enchiladas, manicotti, tamale pie, shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie . . . okay, enough with the pies, but you get my point, right? On those days when I will be running around like the proverbial headless chicken, I've got a homecooked meal I can pull from the freezer in the morning and pop in the oven that evening.

I also bag up extra spaghetti sauce, soups, and taco meat that I can freeze and add to recipes later if I unexpectedly run out of those items or want to make bigger batches. Because I buy so much in bulk, I freeze a lot of my staples: breads, tortillas, meats, chicken, milk (yes, even fresh milk). I buy huge blocks of cheese, shred them with my Kitchen Aid, then freeze them in storage bags. I chop onions and freeze them in handy-dandy storage bags (yes, onions freeze).

I'm BFF with my crockpot. Soooo many delicious soups, meats, and one-dish meals can be thrown together in the crockpot in the morning. Believe it or not, I still use the crockpot that I received as a wedding gift almost twenty years ago!

I use a bread machine. At the beginning of each week, I make up packets of my own bread mix. Then each evening, all I have to add is the liquid and the yeast to the bread machine. Making bread is super easy, fast, and inexpensive—have you seen the price of store bread lately?—plus the family loves waking up every morning to the aroma of fresh bread. I also use the bread machine for pizza dough, rolls, etc.

I prep and pre-cook when I can. I've got two babies in diapers who expect me to devote all of my time and energy to reading them stories, tickling their toes, and dancing like a robot for their amusement.  If I want to get anything else accomplished I have to seize the moment when it presents itself.

I've got three sweet spots in my day. There's about an hour in the early morning that I can make use of when I have a meal to throw together in the crockpot. Then there's a big chunk of change at midday when the twins take their nap. This is the perfect time to chop, pre-cook, and assemble casseroles. My final opportunity is late afternoon/early evening when I assign my older girls  20 minute "shifts" playing with their baby sisters so I can put together dishes that need to be served quickly after preparation and get the meal ready for serving.

I read cookbooks. Some people have a novel sitting on their nightstand; I've got a stack of cooking magazines to look through before I drift off to sleep. I also check out a variety of cookbooks from the library, which is how I discovered American Classics, a cookbook I liked so much I ended up purchasing it for my own collection. Reading cookbooks keeps me inspired in the kitchen, reminds me of the value of presentation, and teaches me useful techniques, tips, and shortcuts.

Everything I've ever read about the importance of sitting down for a family meal is true. We connect. We laugh. We share. We nag our each other to stop burping and get our elbows off the table. When I made the decision to start cooking for my family on a regular basis, I had to change my mindset, adjust my work ethic, and force myself to be more organized. While I definitely have had to develop self-discipline in the kitchen, I've found that there's really not much of a downside to cooking every night:
  • We're saving money.
  • We're able to discuss the day's events, catch up on each other's lives, and share a laugh along with the meal at the dinner table.
  • We're eating healthier.
  • We're saving money.
  • I've become more comfortable in the kitchen. The more I cook, the better I get. With experience comes expertise, and I'm getting pretty good at whipping up tasty meals (okay, some are less tasty than others) and even creating my own dishes, almost like a real chef!
  • I'm setting a good example for my kids. They are developing an appreciation for the responsibility, creativity, and love that goes into feeding one's family. One daughter has shown a real interest in cooking and loves to help me in the kitchen; I like to think that baking cookies with her mom might create some childhood memories upon which she'll look back fondly one day.
  • And . . . we're saving money!

Dinner last night: tuna noodle casserole, peas

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

That Darn Cat

Tie-Dye disappeared.

After three days, my seven-year-old came to me in tears. She was worried that her cat was dead or trapped in someone else's house. What's a mother to do? I tried to reassure her that Tie-Dye can take care of herself, then I told her to brush her teeth and go to bed.

I went outside on the deck and looked around. It was so cold and quiet, and getting dark. I called out weakly, "Tie-Dye? Tie-Dye! Come home!" I prayed silently, "Lord, I know she's just a cat. But our little girl is really sad. And she's been praying every night for Tie-Dye to come home. Please help that cat find her way back." I went inside to finish the dishes.

Fifteen minutes later,
Tie-Dye was meowing at the door.

Dinner last night: cheeseburgers, baked beans, watermelon

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dancing Fairies

As I sat in a hot auditorium watching a bunch of kids skip around, it occurred to me that ballet recitals are not my idea of fun.

Then my daughter appeared on stage.

I moved forward in my seat.

A smile crossed my face.

The music started, and my breath caught in my throat.

My heart swelled with love.

And I realized that every parent in the room felt exactly the same way about his or her daughter.

You know something? Ballet recitals aren't so bad after all.

Dinner last night: oven-fried parmesan chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, leftover chocolate birthday cake with vanilla ice cream

Friday, May 16, 2008

Things to Do with Your Kids This Weekend 3

Go to the playground.

Need more ideas? Here are some other fun things to do with your kids.

Dinner last night: tamale pie, sweet corncakes, green salad

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Signs O' Summer

The birds are arriving. This robin has been hanging out in the backyard for a couple of days now.

Watch out for Tie-Dye, my red-breasted friend!

My camera battery died right after this shot, so I couldn't get any better pictures of this woodpecker. Aaargh, stupid camera battery. He was really beautiful, too, with a brilliant red marking on his head. I'm always surprised at how small and delicate woodpeckers seem to be. I think it's because I grew up watching Woody the Woodpecker cartoons, in which woodpeckers are portrayed as big, goofy things.

Stay in the trees on the back hill, cute little pecker, and we'll all be happy. Last year one of your brothers kept pecking the cedar siding of our house right outside my bedroom window every morning and I was not amused.

Dinner last night: macaroni and cheese, peas

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Perfect Storm

This is the week in May when everything converges: family birthdays, end-of-the-school-year activities, beginning-of-the-summer activities, and the dreaded ballet showcase. Throw in a piano lesson and church, and you've got one crazy week.

The summer soccer season has begun. Practice runs three times a week. 

Ballet rehearsals are held every day this week (except Friday) in preparation for Saturday's performance.

The twins celebrated their second birthday.

We threw a party for our daughter's eighth birthday.

I made cupcakes for a school event. My hoity-toity nature required that I bake them from scratch.

On Friday, I'll be getting ready for a barbecue to celebrate the co-birthdays of my husband and our dear friend. Our friends are hosting this year, so I only need to worry about gifts, one or two food items, . . .

and keeping my husband away from the punch.

Dinner last night: halibut fish and chips

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sharp, Pointy Things Are Our Friends

If you object to seeing little kids sitting in grocery carts still in their pajamas, you may not want to approach my children until late afternoon. If I am a good mommy and dress the girls first thing in the morning, put socks and shoes on their feet, style their hair, and feed them a good breakfast I will be severely punished at naptime. They will strip to their birthday suits, pull out every last hair band and barette, then proceed to urinate and defecate from one end of the crib to the other. I cannot even tell you how sick I am of cleaning poopy cribs. 

Although I hear it's all the rage in New York City's abandoned buildings, sleeping on a bare mattress is not my cup of tea. While it would be easier just to pull off the soiled sheets and let 'em sleep on a plastic-covered crib mattress, I am forced by my own hoity-toity nature to remake two baby beds which, I can tell you, involves a lot of contorting, huffing, puffing, and swearing. Not to mention more laundry. 'Cause I don't do enough washing, drying, folding, and ironing as it is.

Solution? I keep them in their onesies until after naptime. A nice big diaper pin placed just so keeps tiny fingers from pulling the zipper down. They're trapped in their pajamas!

Dinner last night: spaghetti and meatballs, garlic parmesan bread, spinach salad

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Cat Who Came to Dinner

Meet Tie-Dye. She showed up on our doorstep late last fall and wouldn't go away. After almost a week of her peering in the windows, all skinny and pitiful, I put out a can of tuna fish.

Another week went by and the temperature started falling. When it hit an unusually cold minus 8, I opened the garage door and told her she could sleep there just that once. She, of course, discovered a doggy flap hidden at the back and began coming and going as she pleased. It was just a matter of time before our seven-year-old daughter was sneaking Tie-Dye into the house proper.

Now she's a member of our family. A lean, mean, bird-eating member.

Yesterday we woke up to a trail of feathers outside our bedroom door. Despite searching the entire house, we found only feathers. And one bird foot. Did our entire family suffer temporary blindness and/or amnesia? Surely someone would have noticed a bird in Tie-Dye's mouth when they opened the door to let her in.

Rest in peace, little bird.

Dinner last night: orange chicken supper, creamy fruit salad

Friday, May 9, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Signs O' Summer

You know that summer is on the way
when rhubarb starts to crown.

Dinner last night: Moose's Tooth pizza

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Grow Old . . . I Grow Old . . . I Shall Wear My Trousers Rolled

It's a slow but steady march to the brink of the generation gap.

First you're carded by the waitress at Applebees, then a store clerk calls you "Ma'am," and one day you hear yourself remarking, "Can you believe I used to think thirty was old?" Your kids' friends call you Mrs. H and you find yourself screaming up the stairs to turn that music DOWN!

I've realized with equal parts dismay and disinterest that I don't "get" texting, and I don't care. Proponents of texting find it a delightful, fun, and entirely necessary mode of communication while Mrs. Fussypants here dismisses it as rude, ridiculous, and completely useless.

I haven't just crossed the generation gap, I've leapt with so much force my feet have sunk several muddy inches into the other side of Curmudgeon Canyon.

Also? Fifty isn't that old at all.

Dinner last night: heavenly halibut, cous cous, peas

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Birch Trees and Birdhouses

Remember that birch tree that broke during the freak snowstorm? It just so happens that my eldest daughter recently brought home a birdhouse that she made in school. Instead of cutting down the entire tree, we leveled the trunk just under the break and attached the birdhouse on top. Perfect!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Things to Do with Your Kids This Weekend

Go to the beach.

Don't let a chilly day stop you.

Dinner last night: tortellini alfredo, asparagus

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mud Puddle Fun

Dinner last night: sour cream enchiladas, refried beans, green salad with salsa ranch

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Think Spring

When the pussy willows start to bud,
you know that spring is on its way.

Dinner last night: barbecue salmon, sweet potatoes, green salad