Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Time to Get Baking!

It's hard to believe Big-Bug will be five years old tomorrow.  It seems as if the time has gone by in a blink!  At the same time, I can't even remember my life without him in it.  To mark the occasion we are making some cupcakes with cherry buttercream frosting and sprinkles! I am finally finding a way to break in my too-cute mini silicone baking cups as well.

Assuming there isn't too much snow tomorrow, Big-Bug will be going on a field trip with his preschool class.  They are taking a tour of a local grocery store.  He is very excited to experience his first school-day birthday and has picked out some cute bubble wands to distribute to his classmates to celebrate. This weekend we are expecting both sets of grandparents and my sister to arrive in town.  We are going to have a small birthday party for Big-Bug at a local pizzeria and arcade (by request.) 

I am making Big-Bug a pirate themed cake with two varieties of cake and two varieties of frosting.  I have been planning, designing and scheming about this cake for so long, I can hardly wait to get baking!! We are also planning some pirate sugar-cookies to give to our guests as favors, so I will be getting cozy in the kitchen for the remainder of the week!  I just LOVE to bake :)  It is like one big, tasty art project!!

Rocking and Rolling - painting with marbles

We hosted a play date at our house today and the kids had a ton of fun.  I've been trying to come up with some new ideas for children's activities, and I had recently read about a cool way to paint with marbles.  We gave it a try this afternoon and the paintings turned out really neat!

I set up a few stations with a shallow-sided box with a sheet of black construction paper inside, a few marbles and some tempera paint.  The kids were able to select their paint colors, add a few drops (or perhaps a large splurt!) of paint to their paper, then drop in the marbles and start rocking the box back and forth.  The marbles running through the paint created some awesome patterns on the paper!  We will definitely be doing this project again in the future :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Backyard Pirate ship update #1

The ship is painted!! I think I am going to do a second coat of the red once it is dry, but I am not 100% convinced yet.  I am a little fond of the semi-distressed look of one layer.  Kind of gives me the impression the ship has been at sea for a while ;-)

I also received the steering wheel this week :)

Now we're just waiting on the spy glass and we can stick those accessories on and we're in business!! (You can read more on the pirate ship here and here. )

Peanut butter "sushi"

I will admit it, I am in love with my bread machine.  We lovingly call him "machinie" and he has made my life a wonderful thing.  Who would have guessed a small kitchen appliance could make such a big difference!  Our little bread-making robot (as the kids think of him) has been making us fresh, homemade, preservative and additive free bread every day since he entered our family.  We have even used him to make an incredible (best EVER) pizza dough as well....yum!

I have been timing it just right so "Machinie" finishes our sandwich loaf in time for it to cool about an hour and be cut up for the day's lunch.  Today however, I was not on time getting the bread started!  As lunch time approached I could no longer deny the fact that our bread would NOT be making an appearance.  Ordinarily I would just push lunch back a bit, but today is one of Big-Bug's preschool days and I can't send him off on an empty stomach!

As I surveyed the contents of my kitchen for alternate lunch options, I noticed the left over flour tortillas in the fridge.  Suddenly...inspiration struck!  Drawing from the fabulous do-it-yourself sushi experience I had just last night, I was able to create a peanut butter "sushi" that the boys declared to be "DELICIOUS!!"

It was really the most simple of things.  I spread a wide band of peanut butter down the center of each tortilla, then spread strawberry jelly of the top of the peanut butter layer.  Next I split a banana into it's natural thirds (making long, skinny strips) and lay a banana strip on top of the peanut butter and jelly.  Then I rolled the tortilla up, used a little peanut butter to stick it closed and sliced each tortilla into rolls.  Presto!  Peanut butter "sushi"  :)  The kids couldn't get enough of it, and I have to say I enjoyed it as well.


Aside from the fact that my kids are able to socialize with their peers and explore new concepts, ideas and environments, maybe the greatest part of my mother's group is moms' nights out! It seems to happen just about once a week on our calendar, a game night, dessert, coffee, the movies and tonight...sushi! But this wasn't just any regular sushi night, this was a "roll your own" sushi night! One of the awesome moms from our group invited us to her home where she and her husband gave us a crash course on home made sushi.  She had an amazing spread of ingredients ranging from tempura shrimp, flake tuna, and smoked salmon to eel, sashimi and crab.  The icing on the cake? Her kind husband served as our personal sushi chef!  Giving us the step-by-step instructions, he assembled roll after roll of sushi, then plated it up complete with garnishes and served us! After a fabulous meal of incredibly fresh sushi, we were treated to a bowl of plump strawberries and left to enjoy our "girl-time." I am now convinced that every moms' night out should involve a husband chef and waiter combo ;-) 

beautifully arranged sushi

every fixin' you could possibly ask for!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Tease

Man, the weather has really been teasing us these past couple of weeks.  We have had some beautiful days, some gusty, windy, rainy days, a power outage, even snow!  Mother nature can not make up her mind. This morning the sky was clear and blue, the sun was bright, the birds were singing and the air just smelled like damp earth and spring time.  I spent my early hours in the front yard pruning my rose bushes, then poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down near the open window to listen to the song birds who were perched in the lilac bush outside my bedroom. I love these birds so much I found myself obsessing over ways to win their affection and encourage them to maintain a more permanent presence in our yard.  Eventually I became convinced that we absolutely must set up a bird bath and feeder near the lilac bush.  I set about browsing the infinite shopping possibilities on the internet, but slowly talked myself down and reminded myself it would be best to find a way to re-use or re-purpose something we already have laying around the house. The bird feeder was a piece of cake.  I had some empty water bottles sitting in the back of my car, left over from a recent visit to a hospital waiting room.  I also managed to find an unsharpened pencil with a missing eraser in the kids' craft cupboard (score!)  I punched two small holes in the opposite sides of the base of the empty water bottle and slid the pencil through until it was centered.  Then I cut two more holes (slightly larger) above the first two holes, filled the bottle with seed and replaced the cap, tied some twine around the neck of the bottle and...TA DA!  Instant bird feeder :)  I hung the feeder out on the lilac tree and then spent the next half hour obsessively staring out the window, waiting for a bird to land on the pencil perch and check it never happened. But I have faith! If you're interested in making your own, and want to follow directions that are actually clear and well can have a look here!

I'm not sure how I am going to create a bird bath however.  We don't seem to have any old pie pans, cake pans or hub caps hanging around the house. I haven't given up looking quite yet, but I DID find a local artist who forms bird baths out of concrete.  If all else fails I will console myself with the knowledge that, even though I didn't find a way to make a recycled bird bath, I purchased one that was created locally.

This is a picture of a gray-crowned rosy finch.  These little guys are all over our lilac bush!
more about gray-crowned rosy finches here! of the awesome western scrub-jays comes along and scares them all away!  He may be a bully, and he isn't much of a singer, but he sure is beautiful!
more about western scrub-jays here!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quick Fix Valentines

Big-Bug is going to his first-ever school valentine's day party this afternoon.  All the kids in his preschool class made "mailboxes" out of shoe boxes last week and today they are gathering to eat goodies, make crafts and distribute their first valentine's day cards.  Big-Bug picked out some pretty awesome Toy Story 3 valentines that come with themed pencils.  He then spent hours carefully writing out each of his classmate's names on the cards and signing his own name along the bottom.  It was great writing practice!

I have the valentines all bagged up, the shoebox ready to go, his outfit laid out, yep - we're all set!  Or are we?  It suddenly occurred to me this morning that Big-Bug does not have valentine cards for his teacher and the two classroom aids!  Luckily, I just read a really cool blog post by my friend Peggy about homemade Valentine's Day Yarn Hearts! This seemed like a great craft the boys could whip together this morning before school.  Since we only needed three valentines, Big-Bug was able to stick them together in no time and I popped them into the oven to speed-dry.  To finish them off we just attached a ribbon hanger to each one with a little hot glue and added a gift tag.  Simple, easy and fast! Thanks Peggy :)

Now we're in business! :)

Refreshing Strawberry-Mascarpone Tart

For the Crust

1 1/4 cups of flour
1/2 cup of softened, unsalted sweet cream butter
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla

For the Filling

1 pint of organic strawberries, rinsed and sliced
1/4 cup granulated sugar
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp pure vanilla


1. Mix crust ingredients in a medium sized bowl until a dough forms
2. Divide crust evenly amongst six miniature tart pans and press dough up along sides and around bottom
    of pan
3. Prick holes into the bottom of the crust with a fork
4. Bake shells at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes until golden brown, cool.

5. Toss strawberries in a bowl with 1/4 cup sugar and let them sit for 20-30 minutes

6. Meanwhile, mix mascarpone cheese, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a medium sized bowl
    with an electric mixure until all ingredients are well mixed.

7. Assemble tarts by spreading the mascarpone mixture between the six shells, top each tart with the sliced strawberried (drained) and serve

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope everyone had a good valentine's day today, I know I did!  For me, every holiday (no matter how small) is a fantastic excuse to cook up something new :)  Today started with heart-shaped french toast with sliced strawberries, then I enlisted Big-Bug and Middle-Bug to help me decorate some valentine's day cupcakes (naturally they needed to sample one as well when they were finished.)  These cupcakes were a huge triumph for me. I have been trying to replicate my favorite cupcake frosting for YEARS now, and today I am pretty sure I finally got it right!  Unfortunately, I didn't write my proportions here's hoping I can do it again next time :)

This afternoon, Hubby set up a wood working project in the garage and Big-Bug and Middle-Bug got to build a wooden ship with their Daddy while Little-Bug napped and I ran out to take care of a few errands.  While I was out I picked up the mail and found a hilarious envelope from my in-laws.  Of course, there was also a nice card inside, but this envelope is the best!

For dinner tonight the boys got to top their own heart-shaped mini pizza and they really enjoyed themselves.  Surprisingly though, they weren't too interested in actually eating them...possibly because they were saving room in their tummies for a second cupcake ;-)

Hubby and I tucked the boys into bed early tonight and had our own valentine's dinner just the two of us.  I made Hubby's favorite, spaghetti bolognese, and I spiced it up a little with a pear and prosciutto salad.  We shared a nice bottle of lemon Perrier, since we aren't big wine drinkers, and finished with a strawberry mascarpone tart.  It was delicious!!

This was my first experience with prosciutto and I was impressed.  Super tender and more mild than I had expected.

Mascarpone and strawberries is maybe the best food combo in the history of food.

Budding Artist

I don't really have much to say about this.  I think it's one of those situations where a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will simply state:  It appears Little-Bug is a budding artist...yay?

Thank goodness for washable markers.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Unintentionally Productive Day

Today was one of those unscheduled, rainy days that make it so easy to sit around and do nothing but read, drink coffee or play board games with the kids. Unfortunately for me (or maybe fortunately?) Sundays are also the days I do my grocery shopping.  So, rain or shine, every Sunday I trek out to the store for another shopping adventure.  Today I was able to escape the house on my own (since Little-Bug is on house rest following his outpatient surgery) so you would imagine I was able to zip in and out of the store in record time, right? Not a chance.  The trip got off to a rocky start when I started up Hubby's car and saw the gas light flashing at me.  After a detour for gas, I made it to the store and started my routine shop.  Since I make the same seven dinners each week, my grocery list is almost always the same.  Obviously there are random additions here and there when I run out of pantry staples, or if I am making a dish to take to an event of some sort. You would imagine a person with a 7 day dinner rotation and a shopping list in hand should have a fairly easy time navigating the grocery store they shop at every single week, but that was not the case this afternoon. It has been a long time since I have felt so scatter-brained, but I couldn't get organized in the store today for the life of me!  At one point I looked at my list and realized I had overlooked five (yes five) items that were all in opposite corners of the store *sigh*  I finally managed to finish shopping, loaded up the car and was halfway home when I realized I forgot to buy bananas (which were on the list!) So I had to make a second stop for groceries at the more expensive grocery store near the house before I could head back home.

The grocery trip inspired me to clean out my fridge when I came home, which inspired Hubby to wash the dishes - he just wanted to be closer to me ;-)  While he was doing the dishes, Hubby decided it was high time we cleaned out our Brita pitcher and put it back to work.  We had been all about the Brita in the rental house, but when we moved it was packed up with a little moisture left in the pitcher.  We didn't unpack the box with the Brita inside for a couple of months, so it had grown a little mildew in the process. I really wanted to make sure it got a good, intense cleaning before we put it back in the it has sat in a cupboard, unused for the past 18 months.  Thanks to Hubby's scrubbin' we now have a sparkling clean pitcher of ice-cold, filtered water in the fridge.  Yum!

Later in the day, my sister called and I stepped outside to chat so I wouldn't wake Little-Bug and Middle-Bug, who were taking naps while Hubby and Big-Bug played chess together.  While I was outside I figured I might as well get something done, so I started to prune the shrubs that had been nagging away at me lately. It took me an hour and a half of chatting and clipping, but I was finally able to shape up the junipers and the rhododendrons!  I discovered it is quite challenging to operate loppers while holding a phone to your ear with your shoulder :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Something From Nothing

We've lived in our house for a year and a half and I have been itching to put a swing set up in our backyard since day one. While we were going through the process of house hunting two summers ago, the first thing I had to see at each new house was the back yard.  I had to be able to envision my kids playing in that yard, myself planting a garden, putting up a fire pit, hosting BBQs, playing with a dog.  If I couldn't, the house was scratched from the list. When we found our current house the yard was love at first sight. We left the open-house and called our real estate agent to put on offer on the house an hour later.  It was only when we were doing our final walk-through that I realized I had never even looked inside the kitchen cupboards or stepped foot inside the bathroom, the yard was all that mattered! I could see the garden, the kids running through the sprinkler, playing fetch with our future dog, it was all there. I was never quite sure what type of play structure would be just right for our yard though, but I tested more than a few ideas over the past 18 months.

There were a few problems with each new idea I examined.  1- Hubby vetoed every one of them (haha!)  2- there was a high cost associated with the installation (safety material, cement for sinking posts, material to edge the play area, etc)  3- The yard space required to accommodate the play structure AND the safety area was significant  4- Most of the play structures are not designed for 1 year olds, which would require very close supervision of Little-Bug (meaning no reading or gardening for me while they kids were playing)

Needless to say, I was becoming pretty discouraged when suddenly, an idea occurred to me.  I could build the boys a play pirate ship that actually sits on the ground!  They would definitely enjoy the pretend-play aspect of a backyard ship, it wouldn't require a safety buffer zone, and I could definitely do a little yard work while they sailed off on an adventure.  I decided to get started on the project that very day!  We had some fence work done last summer (thanks to a good friend of mine who drove 4 hours to build us our new fence extension!) and we removed a few old fence panels and still had them stacked up in our dog run in the back yard.  With a saw, some old cedar fence panels, a couple of wooden stakes and some left over nails from the garage I was able to knock the boat together in an afternoon, and it looks pretty amazing if you ask me ;-)

Next I just needed to accessorize the ship and give it a coat of paint.  The kids had a pirate flag hanging in their bedroom already, so I positioned the pirate ship near the cottonwood in our backyard and used the tree trunk as the ship's mast.  Then I secured the flag to the tree trunk and presto!  The other accessories and the paint were going to be a bit of a bigger challenge.

As luck would have it, I received an email from a few days later asking me if I was interested in re-selling any of my old textbooks.  Since I order most of my books from Amazon, they apparently knew which titles I had lying around.  I logged in to check it out and quickly realized those books would be worth a lot more to me if I traded them in then they were worth gathering dust on my bookcase!  I shipped off a large box of textbooks and a week or so later, a nice credit was applied to my amazon account :)  I used a chunk of the credit immediately to order a couple cases of diapers (oh joy) and I also purchased a bread machine, which I have been wanting for quite some time.  I was able to use the rest of the credit to purchase a playground steering wheel and telescope for the pirate ship, along with some glossy black and cherry red paint :)  (If you are curious, I also picked up a set of popsicle molds)  I am now anxiously awaiting the arrival of good ol' UPS so I can polish off that ship and snap a few pics!

In the end, instead of spending $1k+ on a nice cedar play structure, installation, and safety materials I was essentially able to create a great pirate ship out of....nothing!  I feel so inspired, I find I am now searching my house for other "do-it-yourself" projects or opportunities to re-use or re-purpose something we have laying around.

 *update* First photos here!
*update* New photo here!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cool Tee's

Today I read about a really great line of children's clothing called Barley & Birch.  Apparently the company was started by a 26 year old law student who gained some spooky insight into the children's clothing industry.  Through some volunteer service work over seas and some domestic internships, she saw that many of the so-called "organic" children's clothing is not even close to environmentally friendly or healthy. Many of the lines use organic cloth, which they ship overseas for manufacturing, then the clothes are dyed with dyes containing toxins and metals, then shipped back to the US and marketed as "green" and "healthy."

This woman decided to open her own clothing line in an attempt to provide a product that is truly good for the environment and good for our health.  The company Barley & Birch is located in North Carolina and all the cotton for the clothing is grown in the state, all the manufacturing takes place in the state and the designing and dying of the shirts also takes place in the state.  The clothing is made from real, organic cotton and all the dyes are natural and water-based.

Aside from producing an awesome domestic product that is good for the environment and good for our children, Barley & Birch is also carbon neutral, and they donate 15% of their profits to charity!

This oak tree tee is definitely my fav :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fun with Rocks!

We hosted play group at our place yesterday morning and had a real great time :)  The boys and seven of their friends spent the late morning creating pet rocks out of landscape rocks from my flowerbeds, paint and craft supplies.  Some of the creations were amazingly creative! I was so impressed with the kids imaginations and the amount of effort they put into their painting.  I even let Little-Bug get his hands (and face) messy, he had a blast (and I was covered in paint by the time I got him cleaned up haha)  We now have three adorable critters guarding our front door :)

I just love the play group we are involved with, the other families are so wonderful and we have had an opportunity to make some great friends!

Making the most of it

From time to time throughout my degree program, I have had a professor who requires proctored exams.  I think most professors of online classes have a concern that their students may try to cheat if they are offered an open-access online exam (after-all, for all they know the student has the textbook wide open, or is asking their friends to chime in on the answers.)  I have found professors take one of three approaches to combat this problem.  1- They drop exams altogether and go with term papers instead, 2- They put an extremely short time limit on the exams to make it impossible to finish unless you can whip through all the answers, 3- They require a proctor. Having three children and a husband who works during the days, I GREATLY prefer professors who go with option 1 or 2.  Proctored exams requires me to find a sitter for the boys and drive an hour (each way) down to the campus where I check into a testing room and take my exam.  If I could easily accommodate trips to the campus, I probably wouldn't be in online classes!! Well, this term I have one class that is requiring proctors and not just a few...there are FIVE proctored exams within a ten week period. Four of these five exams are actually "quizzes,"  which I have found other professors don't normally bother to proctor.  My first trip down to campus this term I spent an hour driving south-west, then I spent another 20 minutes circling campus looking for a parking space, next I trekked all around looking for the building I needed, only to realize I had left my ID card in the car, so I had to go back and start my walk again! When I finally made it to the testing room, I checked in, got settled into a computer station, opened my exam and.....there were two questions.  Two.  I was finished in 8 minutes and walking back to the car.  So all told, I spent 2 1/2 hours of my day taking a 2 question quiz.  *sigh*  Since I now know what to expect, I have been dreading the remaining three quiz trips.

Yesterday was quiz number 2 (and also Hubby's day off)  so I decided we would try to make the most of it.  Hubby and the boys drove to Corvallis with me and dropped me off in the center of campus (eliminating the parking problem AND allowing me to review my notes one last time on the drive down)  I walked straight to the testing center, took my quiz (2 questions, and took me 4 minutes!) Then they picked me back up and we headed out to do a little sight seeing.  A good friend of mine had recently mentioned a cool toy store in Corvallis, so I had contacted her for the name and address.  We went to check it out and I will admit, it was VERY cool!  I think we spent an hour walking around, inspecting each toy.  Big-Bug's favorite find was a game called "Castle Keep," Middle-Bug was infatuated by a Curious George "Jack-in-the-box," Little-Bug fell in love with a little animal shaped bouncer and Hubby was most impressed by a giant spinning top! haha  The boys each got to pick out a para-trooper to take home with them, and I must say it is the best $1 I ever spent! They have been playing with those guys non-stop and even took them to bed last night.

After the toy tour we stopped off at a pizza place called Woodstocks that another good friend of mine had recommended.  This place makes some fantastic pizza!  The boys had to order their favorite (pepperoni) so Hubby and I were free to order our own pizza without worrying about kid-friendly toppings :) We tried their "Spicy Beav" and it was delicious!  Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms and olives with spicy Italian seasonings, I would definitely order it again.  Naturally we ordered some of their garlic bread sticks as well, yummy!  I am hoping I will be able to schedule the rest of my tests on days Hubby is off work so we can do a little more exploring and make the drive feel more worth-while :)

So, what is your favorite place to visit in Corvallis?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three little words

Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.
Rita Mae Brown

It's amazing how much someone's words can impact our day, the way we feel, the way we see ourselves. Sometimes these words can bring us down, fill us with doubt, frustrate of anger us.  Other times these words can lift us up, encourage us or brighten our day.  Yesterday was one of those days when a small comment from a stranger put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. 

I do my weekly grocery shopping on the weekend and yesterday I hit up the store with all three boys in tow. Our grocery store has a children's play area that the boys LOVE, so Big-Bug and Middle-Bug checked in to play while Little-Bug and I made the rounds.  Once our cart was stuffed to the max with our weeks supply of groceries, we headed to the check out line.  As I was loading our order onto the conveyor belt, I couldn't help noticing the woman in front of me was inspecting each item I places on the belt.  I was starting to get a little uncomfortable, thinking "WHAT are you looking at!!" When she turned to me with a kind smile and said "Looks healthy mom!"  I thanked her and we continued to make small talk about babies and motherhood until we finished checking out and parted ways.  But even though our conversation ended, the impact of her words stayed with me all afternoon.  

Healthy eating is something that is so important to me, but the challenge of feeding unprocessed, nutritious meals to five people while maintaining a budget can be a bit of a challenge.  I know I have a tendency to obsess over menu planning and really over-think food choices, so receiving approval from an unbiased, outside observer really means a lot to me!  

Lately we have implemented a 7-day meal rotation to take some of the pressure off of menu planning and to allow me to stock up on basic ingredients in bulk to help out the grocery budget!  So far it seems to be working well, 7 dinners provides enough variety for me to enjoy my meals without becoming bored (which happens to me easily) yet it is a small enough number of dinners that I can quickly memorize my recipes, making dinner prep smoother/faster and I know exactly which ingredients to stock up on when they go on a good sale.

Our current dinner menu is:
  • black bean - zucchini quesadillas with spinach salad
  • baked tilipa with brown rice steamed broccoli and steamed carrots
  • broccoli - mushroom quiche with spinach salad and green beans
  • white bean chicken chili with spinach salad and steamed carrots
  • black bean - sweet potato casserole and green beans
  • chicken stir fry with brown rice
  • red bean taco salad
The kids do a pretty good job of eating each of the dinners, although Big-Bug sometimes has objections to his steamed broccoli.  Most surprising to me is the fact that the boys always finish their salad first :)  Little-Bug has even started eating his, which is a big step for him since the texture must seem a little unusual for the little guy.

The boys still eat their favorite lunch every day: PBJ, milk and apple slices, but Hubby and I have recently revised our lunch.  Hubby is trying to eliminate refined sugar from his diet, so things like bread are off his menu for the time being.  I am participating for moral support (but I still love me some sugar!)  Our new lunch consists of vegetable sticks, roasted cashews and almonds and cubes of cheese.  It's actually pretty satisfying and sometimes we throw in some apple slices :)

Lunch Time!

White Bean Chicken Chili

Black Bean Sweet Potato Casserole.
This doesn't look super appetizing, but it is SOO good!

Red Bean Taco Salad