Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter!

Well, we made it!  Hubby and I managed to successfully cart the Bugs up to Washington, attend mass on Easter Sunday as well as two separate Easter parties and cart the Bugs back down to Oregon in about a 36 hour window. It was busy, but a lot of fun and we were able to see so much of the family!!  This year was a special treat for two reasons; one - my Aunt and Uncle from Texas were up for a spring break visit and were able to join us at Easter party number one.  Two - Hubby's Grandad is over on a visit from Scotland and he was able to join us (along with Hubby's parents) at Easter party number two!  The kids were able to visit with all eight of their grandparents on the same day, such a rare treat!

And speaking of treats....the Easter bunny(s) were extremely generous this year! On top of the Easter baskets of cake pops, chocolate peanut butter eggs, apple spice cookies, fresh berries and carousel tickets the Bugs received bendable bunny figurines, glitter stickers, a peter rabbit book, cute carrots stuffed with reeces pieces, chocolate bugs, an Easter sticker book, crayons shaped like rocks and authentic cadbury button eggs that came all the way from the UK. Wow!

Of course we had a ton of delicious food at the parties as well! My aunt made a wonderful crustless quiche that she served with ham, french toast, muffins and a yummy fruit salad with mangoes, strawberries and kiwi.  At the second party we potlucked and there were so many tasty things! Two types of ham, garlic potatoes, deviled eggs, pistachio salad, trifle, pasta, a pea salad, home made creamed corn, hot crossed buns, and much more!  My mom made a cute bunny cake for the kids to enjoy and I made some marinated mushrooms and tried really hard not to eat them all myself! haha (I do love the mushrooms!)

Now we are trying to settle back in and catch up on the house work that always seems to pile up when we are planning a trip out of town (even for only one night!)  We are looking forward to a busy month ahead full of many more exciting times!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lemonade...that made itself!

As I mentioned earlier, Hubby has been working the closing shift while he looks for a new employee for one of his stores.  I have been trying to make the best of the long LONG days this creates for me and the boys!  It's amazing how that small but crucial 2 hour difference really upsets the flow of our days around here!

Well today, I didn't even need to work to turn my lemons into lemonade, they did the transformation all on their own!  This morning was our playgroup's annual pre-Easter Easter egg hunt and since Hubby is closing tonight, he was able to join us at the park!  The Bugs were SO excited to bring their daddy along, the joy of bringing Daddy to playgroup might even have overshadowed the joy of egg hunting :)  To top it off, the weather was beautiful and we were able to spend a fun morning together in the park, coffee mugs in hand, watching the Bugs scurry around with their friends as they gathered eggs.

When the hunting had ended, Big-Bug suggested taking Daddy to his new favorite restaurant - Sweet Papaya.  This is a relatively new establishment in the north side of town that serves frozen yogurt.  What is unique about this frozen yogurt bar (at least it's unique in our area!) is it is self-serve and there are an overwhelming number of flavors to choose from as well as an enormous topping bar!  When you are finished customizing your creation, you weigh your cup and pay by the pound (well, ounce really.) We had the whole place to ourselves this morning and created some delicious, sickeningly sweet goodies!  Big-Bug tried the chocolate frozen yogurt with a variety of chocolate chips, m&m's, gummy bears and reeces pieces on top.  Middle-Bug had strawberry frozen yogurt with blackberries, raspberries, gummy bears and chocolates, Baby-Bug had vanilla frozen-yogurt with black berries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and mango on top, I tried the white chocolate macadamia nut frozen yogurt with a variety of berries and mango on top (and I will admit - some english toffee bits!) and Hubby tried a mint vanilla frozen yogurt swirl with strawberries and walnuts on top.  It was all so delicious!!

By the time we made it home, the bread machine was just finishing and it was time for lunch.  The Bugs all sat down to eat while hubby got ready for work and then he was on his way. True - he won't be home tonight to join us for dinner or read bedtime stories.  But if he had opened this morning we would have missed out on a wonderful time at the Easter egg hunt and a great family outing to Sweet Papaya! I'll take that trade any day!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flowers and Mud!

Today the boys and I met some of our friends at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm up in Woodburn, OR to enjoy a day at the tulip festival.  The day started unusually early because Baby Bug decided to wake his mommy and daddy up at 6:30 (instead of the usual 8am wake up) and instantly demanded breakfast.  Sometimes I am so proud of him for learning baby signs, other times I wish I had never taught him ;-)

Since I had an early start on the day, I decided to take advantage of it by baking the bread, running some laundry, making the essential morning coffee and then heading out to pick up some extra almond milk, special breakfast fixings and some wind break jackets for the Bugs to wear at the tulip field. While I was at the store I contemplated buying the Bugs some new rain boots.  I went back and forth - debating with myself - and finally decided to just head home.  I was pretty sure the boots they already had would still fit them, and I was fairly confident there would be a hand-me-down pair the right size for Baby-Bug somewhere in the house.  When I returned home I got to work grilling up some sausage links, making hashbrowns (From scratch Peggy! You inspired me to give it a try!) scrambling eggs and slicing up strawberries. After a fantastically yummy "special day" breakfast with the whole family, I went to the garage to check out the boot situation.  The biggest two pair we had were a size seven and a size nine.  Unfortunately - Big Bug is wearing an eleven and Middle-Bug is wearing a ten! No good!!  So, back I went to the store where I snagged two new pair of boots, then realized I forgot to check for a hand-me-down pair in Baby-Bug's size!  I quickly grabbed him a size six, paid and headed back home.  When I got back, Hubby had the kids dressed and I started putting their new boots on their feet....that's when I realized I had misread the tag on Baby-Bugs boots and they were actually a size NINE!  Oh boy!  No way was I running back to the store a third time! The mad hunt for hand-me-down boots was on and thankfully, we found a size six in the garage. Hubby cleaned them inside and out with baby wipes to make sure there weren't any creepy crawlies inhabiting the toes of the boots and we were back in business.

When we got to the festival today it was raining pretty steadily and it continued to rain for most of the day.  We all had such a good time looking at the beautiful flowers and the kids really enjoyed the big slide, hay-bale mountain, tire swings, playhouse, and rubber ducky races!  The blooming fields were a fair distance from the entrance, so we opted to ride the tram out to the fields (little legs and all that.)  Oh boy was that an adventurous ride!  Five adults and nine children all crammed on to three bench seats...I am still not quite sure how we did it.  When the tram took off with a jolt and immediately tipped to one side as it rounded the first corner - we felt pretty lucky that we didn't lose a few passengers!

When we were done looking at the tulips, we decided to try taking the walking "trail" back to the main area.  I am sure at one point this actually WAS a trail, but today it was just mud soup.  At times my feet were actually sticking to the ground when I would take a step. It's amazing to me that Baby-Bug was able to trudge on!  The farther along we went, the deeper and wider the puddles became.  Us moms were watching our poor cross trainers fill up with muddy field water while our boys were splashing and laughing and hooting it up as they jumped from puddle to puddle in their rubber boots.  Baby-Bug was so anxious to get in on the action that I had to literally hold him back from the larger puddles that would have hit him at knee level. (I did let him splash it up in the more shallow puddles though and he was in heaven!) All in all it was a fabulous time and the rain and resulting mud just added to the memorable experience.  Definitely a good day!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Making Lemonade

Hubby and I have been luckier than we deserve in our life, and we recognize this almost every day.  When we weren't sure how we were going to be able to live on one-income after our son was born - a friend called out of the blue and offered my husband a job. When my husband's friends decided to take control of their own future and go into business for themselves, they invited my husband to join them on the journey.  We have been the grateful beneficiaries of our friends' and families' generosity on numerous occasions and we have been so thankful. During the past few years, we have watched the job market sour and we have watched friends deal with layoffs and hard times, and yet we have somehow been spared.  It's not unusual for Hubby and myself to spend some time counting our blessings in the evenings.  He has a promising career and a secure position with a successful company, we are able to afford me staying home with the children, we have a warm, dry home to call our own (well, as warm as it can be when the thermostat is set to 68 degrees) and we have three healthy, happy, intelligent sons who are a source of never ending entertainment :)

And yet- it is so easy to become accustomed to these blessings and start taking them for granted. It's easy to adapt and re-acclimate to these conditions and start to feel dissatisfied. "If only the house was a little bigger" "If only we didn't have to worry about budgeting" "If only we could travel more" 'If only..."  It's alright to have ambition and big dreams, but it is also important to stop to realize how good you have it!  For me, the biggest challenge is appreciating my husband's job.  He is in the job of his dreams.  He LOVES what he does, he enjoys the level of influence he has in his company, he appreciates the relationships he has with his friends and the trust they have in him. He has amazing flexibility when it comes to his schedule - he writes it himself. And for the most part, his job is extremely secure.

The problem for me is, I get so used to his flexibility that it comes as a shock when that flexibility is temporarily taken away.  Recently, my husband had to terminate an employee (for good reason) and found himself short staffed while he looks for a replacement. As a result of this, my husband has had to step in to cover the shifts that are now unassigned.  This has put him back on the "closing" schedule which means he comes home after the kids' bedtime every night.  It means he is working 6 days a week (plus running a late-night meeting every Friday night as well.)

This really starts to take a toll on me because, without my husband home in the evenings, my days all start to blend into one looooong day of housework and childcare.  By the time he comes home at night, he is exhausted and just wants to eat some dinner, unwind with a little reading, and go to bed.  Without play dates I would probably go crazy for lack of adult conversation! I noticed that old familiar resentment creeping up on me this week as I did bedtime on my own night after night, was forced to cancel my rsvp for a babies-only playdate I had been planning to attend with Baby Bug and had to back out of a much anticipated sushi night with my girlfriends. 

Luckily, I had a moment of clarity before the downward spiral took hold.  It's not fair to my husband if I am resentful of his work schedule when he has been doing such a wonderful job of providing for our family these past 5+ years. It's not fair of me to resent his operations management role, even thought that role requires him to pick up the slack when the are things that need to be done. His dedication to his job and loyalty are things I admire about him.  So instead of spending the next few weeks feeling bitter and agitated - I decided to make some lemonade out of my lemons.  The boys and I rented "Swiss Family Robinson," we baked up a half-batch of soft molasses cookies, popped some popcorn, got into our pjs and snuggled up on the couch together for a movie night. If the boys and I are going to have our evenings to ourselves these next few weeks, I am going to do my best to make the most of that time!

(and if you were wondering - the boys LOVED the movie and are now even more excited about our upcoming Disney Land trip this fall)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Home (made) for the holidays

I am not a "stuff" kind of gal.  There are some things I absolutely WANT to have, but as a general rule those "things" are museum memberships or mp3s or concert tickets.  I have never been a person who craves shoes, or clothes, nick-knacks, status-cars or gadgets.  For me to really, truly want something, I have to feel like that item will fill some kind of need in my life.  A perfect example would be my bread machine.  I wanted to switch to homemade bread full-time to avoid the preservatives and additives that are in most commercially produced bread.  However, I didn't want this switch to tie me to my kitchen for four hours a day - covered in flour in the wee hours of the morning.  The bread machine was the perfect answer because it enabled me to avoid the preservatives without also giving up my freedom! Other items I have wanted in the past would be things like a camera to document my boys' childhood, a tea pot for serving company, couches for my friends and family to sit on when they visit my home, a winter coat to keep me from freezing, etc.

This mind set has done a couple of things for me over the years.  First - It has enabled me to feel satisfied with the "stuff" I already have.  With the exception of items that have broken or stopped functioning in some way, I have had a very easy time making do with the same jacket I have been wearing since I was in high school, making the most of my one solitary sauce pan, and finding creative ways to re-purpose my gardening tools to help in all outdoor tasks. Being disconnected from that desire for "things" has been very freeing. I have never felt driven to over-spend, or accumulate debt, which has made it easy for our family to stay on budget (which consequently makes it possible for me to stay at home with the kids.)   On the down side - this mentality also causes me to forget entirely about fashion.  I routinely let my wardrobe dwindle down to a ridiculously small showing of worn t-shirts, jeans with holes in the knees and ripped hoodies. My poor husband!  He is always so well dressed in a shirt and tie, with his blue jeaned-pony-tailed wife at his side ;-) Because shopping for things like clothes doesn't come very natural to me (in fact I hate doing it) the only way I ever venture into a clothing store is out of sheer desperation. I'm referring to that morning when all the laundry is clean and I quite literally don't have a thing to wear.

Luckily for me, my husband shares my aversion for "stuff" accumulation. He prefers the look of a bare wall to the clutter of framed photos and nick-knacks and he thinks very long and hard before making most buying decisions. His only weaknesses would be trading in used books and occasionally purchasing a computer game here and there. Before we had children, we used to fantasize about a future home that was minimalist to the extreme.  We even had a folder going on our computer where we would tuck away photos of room designs we found online, or a stream lined sofa we wanted to remember for our future dream-house....

Then we had kids.

Kids - they accumulate so. much. stuff.  And when you have three of them (like we do!) it is stuff times three.  These kids don't wear their clothes until they are thread bare and holey like their mama.  Instead, they outgrow their clothing at a mind-boggling rate which results in a dresser over-stuffed with too-small items, items that currently fit and hand-me-downs they have yet to grow into.  I make a steady effort to weed out the too-small clothes and transfer them to the appropriate hand me down pile (or the consignment store depending) but it still manages to stay ahead of me.  But the biggest of all stuff-piles in our home is undoubtedly the toys. Toys, toys, toys.  Everywhere! Hubby and I are careful to only gift one (maybe two) toys at any occasion.  Even then, we try to choose a lot of books, or arts and craft supplies to ease the rapid expansion of the toy collection. But still, the toys multiply! And with three kids having birthdays and three kids celebrating the holidays - it adds up fast!  We are a family of five in a 1008 square foot home and there are days I worry I will be up to my eyeballs before too long.I try to weed through the kids' toy collection a couple of times a year to pull out anything that doesn't get played with.  Sometimes I will make a giant pile in the middle of the floor and ask the boys to sort the toys themselves.  "keep" in one basket "donate" in another.  That tactic actually seems to work surprisingly well :)

The other day I was sitting at my kitchen table having coffee and it just hit me in the face - I am sick of consuming.  Obviously there are some things I will continue to consume for practical reasons (toilet paper anyone?) but I just want to put a stop to all the "stuff." I decided to start with the holidays - with Easter coming up first - because these are the peak times of accumulation around here.  This year I refuse to buy the kids another basket that we will only use once and inevitably break, I will not purchase a bag of shredded plastic "grass" and I will not buy processed, packaged marshmallows rolled in sugar or giant foil wrapped chocolate bunnies. This Easter the boys and I will make their own baskets out of paper and other recyclables we have around the house. And this year the baskets will feature fruit and berries, with homemade goodies and treats.  I am in love with this idea already because, while it allows me to reduce our consumption, it has a couple of additional side-benefits.  A home-made Easter will become a tradition for our family over the years (and I am a big fan of family traditions) and it will also instantly personalize our holiday.  Instead of generic fillers - our baskets will have 100% unique content and I am loving that already.

I am not a super crafty person (I haven't been able to figure out my sewing machine and I have been trying for over five years!) but I am hoping to come up with some home made ideas for Christmas as well.  If our first home made Easter is a success, I have a feeling I will be diving into Christmas ideas immediately after :)

What are your favorite family traditions for the holidays?  Have your ever gifted or received a homemade gift you were crazy about? :)