Thursday, March 31, 2011

Strange Wednesday Night

So last night I got the Bugs tucked into their beds, Hubby was home from work and happily playing around on his computer game and I found myself restless with nothing to do!  Hubby and I have been without television for six years now and while I generally like the way the absence of TV impacts our life, there are times it would definitely come in handy.  Without any accessible distractions, I paced the house for a while, irritated Hubby for a while, looked for things to clean and finally decided to go drop some mail at the post office (even though it wouldn't be picked up until the following morning.)  While I was out I decided to stop off for dry goods, since I noticed I was running low on bread flour when I had made our bread that morning.  I took my time at the store, slowly strolling up and down every aisle, examining new products, reading every magazine title, the new best seller book titles, etc.  Eventually I bought a magazine and a book I have been wanting to read and decided I had been in the grocery store so long I had long since crossed into "pathetic" territory.

On the drive home, I decided to swing through Arby's because I had been thinking about a turkey bacon sandwich for days (weird, I know.)  When I pulled up to the drive through, I had a most interesting experience.  It went something like this - "Welcome to Arby's would you like to try one of our (insert current promotional item here)"  "no thanks" "okay, order when you are ready"  I order. "Would you like to large-size that?" "no thanks" "would you like to add a (insert current dessert promotion here) to that for only a dollar?" "no thanks."  Seriously, I think this might have been the most up-selling attempts I have ever endured in the drive through line placing one single order.  As I pulled my car around to the window I felt a mixture of total irritation and admiration for the employees obvious commitment to her training.  When I made it to the window, I noticed the employee was a fairly young girl.  She instantly started to chit-chat with me about my menu selection, telling me "you picked a great sandwich, it's my boyfriend's FAVORITE."  Then she asked me to park my car and wait, apparently they were making new curly fries.  A few minutes later, another employee brought my order to the window.  As she handed me the bag, I noticed she couldn't be more than 16 years old.  She was very professional and friendly, telling me to enjoy my night in her little baby voice as she went back inside.  As I pulled away I found myself saying "what a little cutie" and then I just burst out laughing.  When did fast-food employees become babies?!  Have I really become old enough to see these ladies as girls?  Surely not!  But then I realized I am in fact a decade older than the girls who just handled my order.  I alternated laughing out loud and shaking my head (and munching on curly fries) the whole way home.

As I pulled onto my street however, I noticed the green glow of an animal's eye-shine in the middle of the road ahead of me.  I slowed to a crawl and as I approached I could see whatever it was was fairly good-sized.  The wrong body shape for a dog, but much to large to be a cat.  I was thinking perhaps it could be a large raccoon when suddenly a second pair of eyes turned toward my car. It then became quite obvious that it was not one, but TWO cats out taking care of business in the middle of the street.  I continued to inch my car closer to them, expecting them to move out of the road, but feeling a little guilty about interrupting.  But would you believe, those darned cats wouldn't move out of the way! And with the neighbors' cars lining both sides of the street, I couldn't squeeze by. I ended up having to wait a few minutes for the cats to finish up and move along before I could drive passed and turn into my driveway.  It is undoubtedly, spring.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Going on Safari

We hosted playgroup at our house last week and had such a fun time!  We put together a "back yard safari" for the kids and really lucked out weather wise, considering the season.  I made some little field journals out of construction paper, notebook paper and bug stickers and all the kids arrived decked out in their safari gear.  There was a pretty complete set of supplies ranging from critter habitats and butterfly nets to binoculars and safari hats, super cute!  I picked up a tube of larger-than-life plastic bugs and hid them around our yard before the kids arrived.  When the safari started, the kids got to hunt through the yard until they found a bug. Then they got to catch it, sketch it, and return it to the wild for the next explorer ;-)  I was really impressed with how on-task the kids were the whole time, they really took their bug hunting seriously!  As a bonus, we actually found a real beetle (a huge sucker!) and a couple of earth worms

This was our first time hosting an outdoor playgroup since the pirate ship has been up in the yard and it was a blast watching the huge pack of children pile into the ship, then shoot themselves (with the imaginary cannons) across the grass to a treasure island (our patio) where they drew out maps (with sidewalk chalk) and then ran back to their ship to seek out the treasure. Hilarious!  The only down side? It has become very obvious to hubby and myself that we have to do something about the mud in our back yard! The poor kids were little mud monsters by the time we headed back inside for lunch (though I don't think they really minded much.)  I'm thinking pea gravel around the play area is in our near future.  Ah the little joys of living on a creek ;-)

A Pirate Party!

I am about a month late getting this up here, but it's here!

Big-Bug has been on a huge pirate kick lately and decided he wanted a pirate party for his fifth birthday. There is a pizza arcade in town that has indoor black light pirate miniature golf and it seemed like the perfect setting for a swashbuckling good time.

I always make the kids' birthday cakes myself, somehow it seems a home made cake tastes better (maybe it's the icing?) but I will admit it adds some stress to the party prep...especially when the birthday boy changes their mind about the cake's theme a million times before the big day.  Thankfully this year, Big-Bug was super decisive - he wanted a pirate cake and pirate cookies. I found a tube of pirates on amazon that were the perfect size to decorate a cake; just like those little green army men, except they're pirates instead ;-)  I was actually pretty impressed when they arrived, I had not expected so much detail on the features.  There was even a ship, cannon, barrels of powder and a skeleton! (or as the boys call it "a bone pirate!")

I wanted to have "something for everyone" so I decided to do a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting for the pirates treasure island, and then chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting for the surrounding sea. I an effort to avoid food coloring on the cake, I tried adding blueberry juice to the icing instead of food coloring.  It came out pretty good.  Not a vibrant blue, but it definitely gave the impression of sea water ;-)

Since the cake ended up fairly involved, I wanted to keep the pirate cookies simple.  I had read a blog with a cute recipe for pirate cookies a week or so prior, and I intended to use the pictures of those cookies for my reference.  That is, until Big-Bug took a peek at the pictures and saw that the pirates were actually just pirate faces.  Apparently that simply would not do, the body just had to be included as well.  So...I ended up using a basic sugar cookie recipe for the cookies, cut them out with my gingerbread man cookie cutter and then iced them in about fifty different varieties of royal icing (okay, so maybe it was only three varieties...but it felt like 50!)  In the end I was really happy with the way they turned out, and I think the birthday boy enjoyed them as well.

I learned a neat tip a while back about rolling sugar cookies.  If you use powdered sugar instead of flour, you don't end up with that nasty flour-powder smudge on the bottom of your finished cookies! "

Putting down a base layer of royal icing

Pants, sea-weary faces and eye patches

Shirts and bandannas

I cut my sugar cookie recipe in half and I still had way too many!

All wrapped up and ready to party!

devil's food and classic vanilla

I read another neat tip about faux sand.  Crush graham crackers and mix the crumbs with some brown sugar, then sprinkle it on the cake.  It turned out perfect!

The swirling seas ;-)

Treasure island, chilling until party time

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Friends and Family

Anyone who knows me in "real" life knows the boys and I belong to an amazing playgroup!  At my most recent count, there are eighty (yes 80!) moms in our playgroup which makes for literally HUNDREDS of children! We could probably start our own private school here in the valley, ha ha! We have been active members of our playgroup for a little over three years now and I have enjoyed watching the evolution of play :) When we first joined, Big-Bug had just barely turned two and Middle-Bug was only 4 months old.  Most of the playdates we attended at that time were focused on floor play for babies, or outings that involved stroller rides (like trips to the local tulip festival, park walks or on rainier days - mall walks)  Over time our play dates have become much more elaborate and often themed.  We now attend things like Hungry Caterpillar playdates, painting with marbles, creating pet rocks, exploring different kinds of dirt, or touring the local fire station or humane society.  As the kids have grown, so have the adventures!

Aside from the adventures though, the best part of this group is the wonderful friends we have made.  Anyone who knows me in "real" life also knows that we are Oregon trans-plants. We moved down here from Washington when Big-Bug was only 11 months old and it was a hard adjustment, to put it kindly :)  We were suddenly isolated from our family, our friends, our support network!! Add to the mix the fact that Hubby was working hard to get a business off the ground so he was working long hours and it was a great recipe for crazy-mom! haha  I toughed it out for the first year we lived in Oregon, Big-Bug and I spent many, many, MANY days sitting in starbucks having "co-co" or shopping for things we didn't really need at the mall. Eventually I had to find some way to connect with other adult humans.  That's when I stumbled upon the website for our playgroup (thank you wondrous internet!) and the rest is history :)  When we joined, I thought perhaps we would meet people we enjoyed enough to meet up with at the park for a picnic, or to invite them to our home for a play date now and then, but I never imagined we would find friends that felt like family. Over the years the children have been lucky enough to form rich friendships with a smaller group of children that has only grown stronger as the time passes.  Sometimes I watch the boys chasing each other around the house or embarking on an imaginative adventure around the back yard and I like to imagine the boys as teenagers, and wonder how their relationships with each other will grow or change throughout the years. As for myself, I have been lucky enough to make some true friendships with women who have made such an impact on my life, I can't remember what my life was like without them! These are the kinds of friends you can see three or four times a week and never run out of things to say to each other.  The kind of girlfriends you can stay out all night with because you just don't want the fun times to end, even though you'll probably see each other again the next morning for a play date :)

It's still hard at times to be so far from our family-family. Thankfully, it is only about a three hour drive so we still have the ability to visit with relative ease and we have the option of spending maintaining our holiday traditions.  It would be nice to have the spontaneous visit I hear about from other families "Oh, the kids' grandparents took them out for lunch today" or "we are having my parents over for dinner tonight."  But I will settle for the fact that we have managed to see our family almost monthly during the three+ years we have lived out of state.  I would say that is pretty impressive!

Making Grass Caterpillars

hungry caterpillar playdate

hungry caterpillar craft!

hungry caterpillar goodies

Strawberry picking

Exploring different types of dirt

Decorating pet rocks

Painting with marbles

Pi Day potluck

Pies for Pi day!

Touring the fire station

Apple Picking

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Backyard Pirate ship update #2

All accessories have been successfully installed! :)  The boys requested a plank, so I constructed one using concrete stepping stones, I will have to get an updated picture of that as well.  We are still on the hunt for a great ship-bell to hang from the tree, I am surprised at how difficult that task is proving to be!

Now that the ship is complete, hubby and I are starting to dream up ways to expand it! Go figure :)  Our first challenge is to construct an actual crows nest around the "tree-masts" that would be a few steps up off the ground.  We're not expert builders, so we are trying to figure out how to create the curved rail we would need for the upper railing....thank goodness for internet how-tos!  Wish us luck :)

You can see more on the pirate ship here and here

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Just passing through

I had to take a small break from my mountain of term papers, books and exams to share a quote that I have recently come across.  I am finishing a course right now on holistic rangeland management and as a part of this class we read a wonderful book called " Revolution on the Range: The Rise of a New Ranch in the American West."  The author tells an intriguing story about the transformation that is taking place on ranches across the country and he includes numerous accounts of individual ranchers throughout Colorado and Wyoming. It is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it to all of you!

One of my favorite passages in this book is right at the beginning where the author quotes John Ingalls on grass.  He said:

"Grass is the forgiveness of nature - her constant benediction. Fields trampled with battle, saturated with blood, torn with the ruts of cannon, grow green again with grass, the carnage is forgotten. Streets abandoned by traffic become grass grown like rural lanes, and are obliterated; forests decay, harvests perish, flowers vanish, but grass is immortal."

Now isn't that just beautiful!

Reading this book, I found many of my prejudices against ranching to be deeply challenged.  At first it was a bit unsettling to feel my beliefs being challenged in such a way (beliefs upon which many of my values and opinions are founded.)  My initial reaction was to reject the message of this book because it made me uncomfortable.  This was especially true when the author recounts a story about a rancher using a charge of dynamite to blow up a beaver dam because it's presence was causing the creek to be too deep for the man to walk his horse across.  I instantly stereotyped this rancher as a red-neck, "Good ol' boy" with no understanding of the dynamics of nature. (Unsurprisingly, he found his creek filled with sediment and the banks eroding terribly a few days later.) But as I continued reading, I discovered this rancher allowed his world view to be changed by the changing sentiments and values in society.  He listened, he learned, he went back to school and now he actually gives seminars on holistic range management.  Towards the end of the passage this rancher is quoted saying one of the most insightful things I have read/heard about modern day ranching.  He said it's not enough to make changes to your ranching that benefit the environment, you also have to sell your changes to the public.  He goes on to explain the challenges that task can present and says to be a successful rancher today, you have to be trilingual. "Ranchers speak in stories, the BLM (bureau of land management) speaks in data and the environmentalists speak in poetry."

In the end I find myself whole-heartedly behind the ranchers on the "new ranches" of the American West.  I feel like my former prejudices have been pushed aside and I can now see these individual and family ranches for what they truly are; something completely distinct and different from the corporate meat industry that damages our lands, mistreats cattle and passes additives and antibiotics into our beef.  For the first time, I feel like I can clearly see the differences between these two drastically different variations of "ranching" and I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to allow myself to really see what now seems to be painfully obvious.

Another great thing about this book? It's not propaganda., It's not written by an environmentalist.  It's not written by a rancher.  It's written from the outside perspective of an archeologist who was disheartened by the constant conflict between ranchers and environmentalist in the 90's.  He was motivated to act and ended up producing a very good book and founding a non profit called the Quivira Coalition that works to bring ranchers and environmentalist together on common goals.

A voice says, "Cry!"
And I said, "What shall I cry?"
All flesh is grass,

and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
- Isaiah 40:6