Friday, November 28, 2008

The Not-Ready-for-Kindergarten Players

You might think that Thanksgiving is about counting your blessings and eating turkey. WRONG. Thanksgiving is that special time of year when you trot out your children to recite their ABCs and perform songs to guests who are too polite to extract themselves from the room.

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Dinner last night: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, corn, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, green salad with parmesan ranch dressing, pistachio salad, pumpkin pie with whipped cream

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Snow Babies

I think my back went out. Let's just crawl home.

We're ready for some cocoa. And a Kleenex.

Dinner last night: macaroni and cheese, green peas

Monday, November 24, 2008

Step 1: Planning

This is the second installment in my ongoing series, "Stocking a Pantry for 6–12 Months." You can read the Intro here.

To prevent myself from running off willy-nilly to Costco to buy a dozen institutional-sized cans of sliced peaches, I completed a three-step process to clarify what and how much my family could eat if we had to depend on nothing but what I stocked in the pantry. I first calculated a rough estimate of how much food I'm going to need to store. Then I created a list of meals we like and what ingredients I would need to prepare them. Lastly, I took a good hard look at where in the house I could store everything without creating an obstacle course (not that my kids would mind climbing over stacks of flour bags one bit).

Food Storage Calculator. I plugged my information into this handy-dandy online calculator, which gave me an overall indication of how many pounds of food I can expect to purchase and store. Let me stress that this was just a guide to keep me on track as I planned, shopped, and organized; I do not intend on bringing home the recommended 6 pounds of molasses. I don't care if I hide it in a chocolate cake, and my apologies to those of you who enjoy molasses, but there is no way Mommy my kids will eat 1 tablespoon of that stuff.

List of Meals and Ingredients. I wanted to stock my pantry with ingredients I could actually use in my every day meal planning. My goal was to come up with a list of 30 meals that I could multiply by 12, which would provide a year's worth of dinners. I asked family members for their five favorite meals, and agreed to make some items (like spaghetti) more than just once a month. I rounded out the list with other dishes that are not only tasty, but easy for me to make. Let me dispel any doubt . . . we are not a family of vegans. Here's what we came up with:

Baked Ziti
Spaghetti & Meatballs (x2)  
Rigatoni ala Vodka  
Tacos, Beef
Chicken & Dumplings  
Sour Cream Enchiladas  
Tacos, Halibut
Salmon Patties & Creamed Peas  
Chili and Rice  
Heavenly Halibut  
Pot Roast
Tuna Noodle Casserole (x2)  
Tamale Pie  
Hot Dogs (x2)
Pork Chops and Stuffing  
Chicken Pot Pie  
Shepherd's Pie
Chicken and Mashed Potatoes  
Pizza, Cheese
Pizza, Pepperoni  
Macaroni & Cheese (x2)

The most time-consuming part of this entire process was creating a master list of ingredients. It took me several sit-down sessions with my recipes and a notebook as I kept a running tally of what I would need to prepare each recipe. Once I had all my ingredients listed, I multiplied everything by 12. It's too long of a list to print here, as you can imagine, so I'll just give you a sample:

12 pounds of ground meat x 12 = 144 lbs.

3 pkgs. whole wheat tortillas x 12 = 36 pkgs.

2 19-oz. cans chili x 12 = 24 cans

4 6-oz. cans tuna x 12 = 48 cans

Emergency preparedness experts recommend your foodstuff be nonperishable, because during power outages you cannot depend on refrigeration. However, I live in Alaska; even if we lost electricity for six months, we'd simply carry the stuff from our freezer to the outdoors, and it'd be fine. To be honest, I don't think I could realistically store a year's worth of food without my chest freezer. Assuming the worst—we lose power in the summer and all of my casseroles, meat, and fish are spoiled—I'd still have 6 months worth of food in the pantry. I could make spaghetti without meatballs, tuna noodle casserole with evaporated milk instead of fresh, or chicken and dumplings with canned ingredients

*Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? If a year's worth of food seems too much, try listing all the ingredients you would need to make 7 meals, then multiply by 4. Now you've got one month's worth of dinners—which is a great start, more affordable, and easier to store.*

Where to Store Everything. Fortunately, I've got some extra space. With the birth of our twins two years ago, we realized that we would need a larger home. My first project upon moving to our new house was to convert a hall closet near the kitchen into a pantry where I could keep all my supplies. Storing a year's supply of food, however, will require a larger area. In addition to the chest freezer in the garage, I'll also be using the back of the closet in the guest room.

If your kitchen wasn't designed with a pantry, maybe you can organize a food storage area in your attic, garage, basement, or shed out in the back yard. Many homes have a closet near the front door; perhaps you could hang coats on hooks in the hallway instead, and turn the closet into your pantry. Think about freeing up a shelf or two where you keep the towels and linens. Towels can be rolled up and kept in a basket in the bathroom and you only need one extra set of sheets per bed, so tuck each set between its corresponding mattress and box spring. Maybe you've got an unused bookshelf, empty corner, or blank wall where you can put up some shelving and then hang a panel of pretty fabric to cover it. Don't forget about under the bed; shallow plastic bins would hold quite a lot and be easy to slide out.  You'd be amazed at all the nooks and crannies you can use when you get creative.

Planning was the hardest part. Now it's on to the most painful part: Budgeting and Purchasing. I'll discuss my thoughts on shopping in the next segment, which I may or may not subtitle, "Hi There, Mr. Paulson! Do You Think I Can Get Some of that Bailout Money for Groceries?" 

Dinner last night: veggie stir fry over rice

Friday, November 21, 2008

Barbie vs. Bratz

Seeing as my 8-year-old loves dolls, Christmas is approaching, and toys are on my mind, this news headline caught my eye. Personally, I don't much care for Bratz dolls. They're a little too cheeky, if you ask me. But I do like Barbie dolls—probably because I only ever possessed one Barbie that I had to share with my sister. We named her "Penny" and made a bed for her in our sock drawer. She came with only one dress, but we crocheted many scarves and little blankets for her. Penny was precious to us.

So I'm rooting for Barbie to kick Bratz's bootay.

It's not going to be easy with those tiny little feet of hers. Barbie may have seniority on her side—she's been around awhile and knows the score—but Bratz has freakishly large feet in sky high platform sandals that can be literally torn off and replaced with mutant go-go boots. That Bratz is one tough chick.

I hope that Barbie resists making fun of Bratz's eye shadow or pointing out the shortness of her skirts. Smear tactics have a way of backfiring. Little girls think neon purple eyelids are pretty, not garish, and who cares if the skirts are short? They're sparkly! Besides, Barbie's no angel herself. I seem to recall seeing her in some rather itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka-dot bikinis of her own over the years. Not to mention the fact that, in our household, Barbie is often found lounging in the toy box completely naked. What's up with that? It's not like my daughter doesn't possess 50,000 articles of Barbie clothing with which to dress the little minx.

Don't mistake nudity for street cred. People see right through her attempts to impress . . . which is it, Lawyer Barbie or Disco Barbie? One minute she's Pediatrician Barbie, and the next she's Beach Barbie. She really expects us to overlook Teenage Barbie dating Ken just because she's got an alter ego named Teacher Barbie? Bratz, on the other hand, doesn't care what we think of her. She is what she is. Edgy. Hip. She's fun-loving and impudent, and doesn't give a rip what the old fogies say about her.

Sure, Barbie possesses the undying support of millions of middle-aged youthful and lively women who grew up with her. But Bratz is backed by screaming, allowance-clutching preteens who have been trained in the art of shopping through years of watching Hannah Montana and Cheetah Girls.

It's going to be one tough battle.

Can't we all be friends?

Dinner last night: pizza

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Does This Make Me an Air Hockey Mom?

I'm not exactly clear on the rules, but I think there may be some cheating going on here.

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Dinner last night: spaghetti with meat sauce, steamed carrots

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stocking a Pantry for 6–12 Months

Probably since I'm isolated up here in wintry Alaska, I'm more than a little freaked out by the tanking economy. We rely so much on the transportation of goods to our state, the necessity of electricity and gas in order to heat our homes, and a decent cost of living to allow us to buy and sell that it's a little scary to consider what could happen in an emergency situation. What would we do if trucks stopped bringing in fresh food, if our one power company in town shut down, or if the value of a dollar changed significantly?

One thing that would make me feel better is knowing I could feed my family. We've got warm clothes. We can heat our house with our wood-burning stove. But food? Is my pantry stocked well enough to get us through a lengthy crisis? I hate to admit it, but no. I've got enough supplies to feed us really well for a week or two, maybe a month if we're willing to eat a lot of canned soups and goldfish crackers, but I want to be better prepared. 

I got to looking around the Internet for ideas. Lots of sites offered to sell me huge drums of bulgar wheat. And many blogs encouraged me to buy brown rice and dried beans in bulk. A couple of posts referenced the Mormon Church's guidelines for building up a community food bank. But I had a tough time finding one place that outlined clearly what a real family who doesn't like lentils can do to stock a pantry for 6–12 months.

So I worked out my own plan. The first step was to assess my family's needs, which I will detail further in the second installment of this series that I'm considering titling, "How Not to Panic When the Auto Industry Takes Us Down."

Dinner last night: chicken and rice casserole

Friday, November 14, 2008

Don't Touch Mama's Clogs

You've probably heard the saying, "as comfortable as an old pair of shoes." I don't think I truly understood that expression until the other day when I was putting away my clogs for the winter. My snow boots just won't provide the same ease and comfort as these bad boys. 

These are my oldest shoes. How old are they? Let's just say that I stole them from my mother's closet at some point in my late teens. So they're a good five years old.

I bought my daughter some clogs last Christmas . . .

. . . but she prefers her Crocs.

She's young. In time, she'll come to understand the superiority of a quality wooden shoe over a rubber slip-on. And when that time comes . . . 

She'd better stay out of my closet.

Dinner last night: tacos

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finding the Moments

I'm not going to lie to you. This is my least favorite time of year, weather-wise. The sky is gray. The air is cold. The trees are bare. The ground is hard.

November in Alaska serves to remind you that beauty is where you find it . . .

in the sunrise behind the mountains,

in the crunchy footprints across a deck,

in the icy cloud of a horse's breath,

and, most definitely, in the smiles of apple-cheeked children!

Dinner last night: manicotti, garlic bread, green salad

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aha! Moment

I worry about my second daughter. I worry about her weight. I worry about her social interactions with other kids. I worry about her inability to complete a task. I worry about how she will do on the big third grade writing project coming up next semester. She has never—I mean, never—written more than two sentences together. Here's a sample of a thank you "letter" to Grandma from my daughter:

Dear Grandma,

Thank you for the gift. I like it.

My daughter was talking to me the other morning about a dream that she had. It was about Barbie and an evil queen and forest dwellers who had been transformed into butterflies. She thought that the story her mind had created while she slept would make a good Barbie movie. She wanted to direct this movie some day, but didn't know if she would still remember all the details by the time she's old enough to get it made. I suggested that she jot down some notes to help her remember. She disappeared. The next thing I know she's showing me this:

She'd taken several notecards and filled them with her ideas for her story! I was in shock. Those right there, folks, are SIX notecards covered in her writing. But it gets better . . .

She grabbed some notebook paper, spread her 3x5 cards across the table, and wrote out her story. 
Three pages, single-spaced!
And an additional cover letter
to send along with her manuscript
to the people who make Barbie movies.

I guess I'll stop worrying about that big writing project next semester.

Dinner last night: parmesan chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn

Friday, November 7, 2008

To Blog or Not to Blog

I've been stuggling—no, "struggling" is too strong a word—let's just say, going back and forth in my mind about whether to cut back on blogging.

I made a commitment to myself when I first started blogging to post every day, excluding weekends. I felt that consistent writing—if you can even call what I do "writing"—would be important for several reasons, the least of which I thought was to build a readership. But, of course, Kind Readers, you now have become my main reason for jumping out of bed at oh dark thirty, putting on the coffee, and getting to the computer before the rest of the household stirs. I imagine a vast army of blogoholics stretching from Maine to SoCal moving sleepily to their computers, impatient for their daily fix of The Mommy Machine. I know, I know, I'm severely lame when it comes to the visualization department, but it's kept me posting regularly, hasn't it? "HASN'T IT?!" she screamed in delirium at the empty screen.

My time for accomplishing anything is limited to before the twins wake up, during their nap, and after they've gone to bed at night. If you're thinking, Good heavens! That's an enormous amount of time, Kim, why haven't you finished your novel and repainted the house yet?, please remember that I also have a husband and two other children whose needs chip away at the chunk of opportunity available to me while the twins are sleeping. And let's not forget my normal To Do list that is a mile long, several home projects that I really must tackle, and a holiday season that is bearing down on me like a plane full of drunk hunters on a pack of Alaskan wolves (some post-election humor for all the PETA members out there). In other words, I'm just like every other mom on the planet!

Anyway, I'm going to slow my blogging down for awhile. Until Christmas, at least. Starting next week, I'm dropping Tuesdays and Thursdays. I need to free up some time, and I know my army of one or two faithful readers will understand. Catch ya back here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and TGIFridays.

Dinner last night: pizza

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Fashion Plates

If you're like me, and I pray you are not, your kids stay in their pajamas clean and beautifully dressed for most of the day. If I can scrounge together an outfit, it (a) does not match and (b) is stained and/or dirty. You'd be wise to ignore any sort of fashion advice coming from me.

I got this shirt at Kimtees (my name, but not my business—I swear!)

Baby's Language carries t-shirts designed especially for twins. I ordered my girls this set:

Dinner last night: macaroni and cheese, green peas

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Kims for the Price of One

I don't place much stock in astrology. Most horoscopes are written with enough generalities that just about anybody can recognize a part of themselves in the descriptions. That said, I am such a Gemini! I'm a walking mass of contradictions. According to the stars, I possess a "curious duality of nature" that has nothing to do with hormones, postpartum depression, or—knock on wood—schizophrenia. I was blessed at birth with this freaky temperament. Or was it cursed? Both are true. See?!

I'm a shining beacon of joy in the morning, and a screaming banshee by day's end. Okay, perhaps I'm a shade hyperbolic with the "shining beacon of joy in the morning" . . . I'm actually a groggy, cranky person in the early hours. But I usually cheer up by mid-afternoon. With the help of a little chocolate. And a nap.

I was going to paste the definition of Gemini, but the "dark traits" are so horrifying I daren't print them. Let's just admit that the Son of Sam was a Gemini, and leave it at that. So you don't think too poorly of me, I shall instead list the positive traits that 9 out of 10 astrologists agree describe me perfectly: adaptable and versatile, communicative and witty, intellectual and eloquent, youthful and lively. There. I'm feeling much better about myself now. If an astrologist says I'm youthful, who am I to disagree?

It just occurred to me that Gemini is the sign of the twins . . . and I have identical twin daughters! Coincidence? It would be really weird if my little girls also fell under the sign of the twins, but they're merely Tauruses. Tauri? Whatever you call them, they are stubborn little bulls. Just like their father. Their dark traits include "self-indulgent and greedy." Oh, dear.

I suppose it could be worse. They could be Geminis.

Enough with the pink wig already!

Dinner last night: mushroom-stuffed meatloaf, zucchini

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Almost Over, People!

May we never again be subjected to opinion polls, political ad after political ad after political flippin' ad interrupting our feel-good TV, the phrase media elite, or the sight of Charles Gibson's reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.

And now, without further ado . . . my husband and I shall perform our happy dance in celebration of the presidential campaign finally ending. Pardon our exceedingly large heads.

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Dinner last night: chicken pot pie

Monday, November 3, 2008

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Hard to believe, but it's going on 6 months since I started a-bloggin'. As we move into winter, I figure it's time to update the season in my header photo.

Since one good update deserves another, I thought I might as well use a new picture for my profile. But the only close-up I could find was this:

Pssst! The idea is to welcome readers to your blog . . .
not cause them to press the "flag blog" button.

I've decided to leave my profile picture alone and mess around with the entire look of the page instead. Anyone who knows me IRL is annoyed by my perpetual rearranging of the furniture in my living room, so they shouldn't be surprised that I'm changing things here on the blog.

Okay, let's cross our fingers and hope I don't lose everything.

Ready . . . Set . . . CHANGE!

Dinner last night: ramen noodle soup with cut-up hot dogs