Friday, September 23, 2011

Week in Review: Lazy Sunday, Writing Skills (Sept. 16-22, 2011)

This past weekend saw some cozy, lazy, quiet time after Sunday church and dinner -- much needed after what seems like a long summer of go-go-go. We spent part of Sunday afternoon with our games set (a box with several boards, cards, playing pieces, etc. all in one) and played a round of dominoes -- matching the numbers on the tiles -- and tried to play mancala. (Unfortunately, the "all-in-one"-ness of this set means it's not great for mancala -- the holes on the side of one of the playing boards are way too small for all the pebbles that need to fit in there to actually do so.) We also opened the deck of cards that came with this set and, after I got out my grandparents' copy of Hoyle (an edition probably from the 1940s) to refresh my memory, taught Nora how to play the card game "War."

She and I had spent Friday evening at the Unbirthday Party I coordinated for my women's service group, where we met other members and kids at a local pizza restaurant and packed bags with donations of birthday party supplies for the local food shelf. Packing over 50 bags (and loading them into two cars -- mine and the co-chair's), supervising rambunctious kids while simultaneously teaching them about charity, and then delivering the bags the next day was a tiring but satisfying part of the weekend.

This week, we also had a Parent Information Night at school, which proved very valuable in providing a lot of general information, curriculum overview, and an opportunity to meet other parents. The kids, meanwhile, identified their learning goals for kindergarten. According to Nora, one of her classmates wants to "learn how to be a paleontologist," while another wants to "learn how to ride a motorcyle." She identified her own goal as "learn how to read."

Her after-school activities this week included creating a version of hopscotch with blankets spread out indoors for "stepping stones." She also offered commentary, after reading a bedtime story of Jesus's healing of the 10 lepers from the Spark Story Bible, regarding one of the lepers in the illustration: "that guy looks like a potato."

What's the Weather: The week was cool and gray, with occasional rain. We needed to retrieve from the car a jacket with a pocket for hands that got cold on the metal monkey bars at a park. (After monkey bar mastery this summer, we've been trying them out at a variety of different parks.)

From the Kitchen: Some of the blueberries that came home with us from a family Michigan vacation this summer came out of the freezer this week got turned into Blueberry Muffins; the Beef and Cabbage on the menu plan went over better than I had expected (possibly because it was served with blueberry muffins...); and a bag of carrots that needed to get used up from the fridge were shredded in the food processor and turned into Carrot Cake, which proved to be a hit. (And if soome of us had it for breakfast for a few days -- well, carrot cake has veggies in it, right?)

Lifelong Learning: Nora seems to have been assigning herself homework; she spent much of the week working on early reading and (math skills with a sticker book she received for her birthday. (My Pretty Pink Sticker and Doodling Purse book) She's also been  practicing writing letters and numbers, and appears to have demonstrated her grasp of the value of writing by creating a sign filled with printed letters (not actual words) that she taped onto the door of her room and interpreted as stating,  "No Coming in My Room. Just Knock." She's also been helping with dishes, and with making blueberry muffins -- and, coincidentally, our card and board games work on number skills.

Something Seasonal: The fall decoration I won last week and the apple placemats are on the table, and that's pretty much it.

Feelin' Frugal:
Freebies received: 
Cerra Act, Think, Reflect kit
Nivea Touch of Cashmere body wash
Scholastic Parent and Child magazine

Whatcha Readin’?: Born To Rule by Julia P. Gelardi

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Menu Plan for Week of Sept. 19

Good grief, this is an incredibly lame menu. At least the banner from orgjunkie, the host of Menu Plan Monday, is pretty.

Monday: Leftovers or Hot Dogs

Clean out the fridge time! Don't we all love that? (Hint: if not, you can make yourself a sandwich, and not make a big deal out of protesting the Eggplant Parmesan from the weekend.)

Tuesday: Fish Sticks and Green Beans

Slightly cool factor: the green beans are of a variety that is purple until they're cooked -- they're from the CSA produce box we're doing this summer/fall. (The CSA also explains the eggplant.)

Wednesday: Church Supper

Thursday: Crockpot Beef and Cabbage

Guess what else was in the latest CSA box? If you guessed a head of cabbage, you'd be right. DH actually likes cabbage, and we've had and liked this dish before -- it's kind of like stuffed cabbage, without the work of stuffing. It will use the last of my previously browned ground beef from the freezer and some tomato sauce along with the cabbage -- planned to be shredded via food processor.

Friday: possibly sandwiches

I also shredded up a bunch of carrots this past weekend that I needed to use up; they became Carrot Cake, which lasts for a few days (of breakfasts, perhaps) in a family of three.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Week in Review: 2nd Week in September

My original plan was to post the first weekly wrap-up of the fall on the Friday after Labor Day -- but that week's schedule got thrown out of whack due to family circumstances. (DH's aunt passed away and he needed to go out of state for the funeral. She was 97.) So, second week of school, here we are. I'd like to find a somewhat structured meme to participate in for this, kind of like the Homeschool Mother's Journal at -- except our family isn't called to homeschool at this time. (I love reading Annie Kate's weekly wrapups at and Abbi's slices of life at  I might also try to categorize these things based on my own goals -- my "wannabes" in the blog header. I guess I'm saying this thing may evolve. :)

So, even though this was the second week of school, last week was a short school/work week due to the Labor Day holiday. Which means that we've had a lot of information meetings/orientations/kickoffs in the past week, for dance classes, Girl Scouts, Sunday school (complete with church picnic, petting zoo and bouncy house), church book group, women's service group -- I think that's it. In regard to my things, it's good to see friends again after being somewhat disconnected from friends for the summer, but this week has been just too busy.

What's the Weather: Second full week of September, and we had a frost overnight Wednesday into Thursday morning, and a few days with highs in the 50s or 60s. We'll probably warm up again for a while before true cold weather sets in, and the everbearing strawberry plant we got at a local plant sale this summer has been producing again the past few weeks. We also still have chives and mint outside, so we moved the plants closer together and covered them with the sheet for the guest bedroom. We'll wash it before our regular guest comes again. Probably.

From the Kitchen: The forecast had originally called for the cooler weather last weekend, which didn’t happen, but I kept my menu plan in place and we had the first soup of the season: some yummy ham and bean soup made with some of the leftover ham from last Easter that I’d ground up and put in the freezer.

Lifelong Learning: Nora has been pulling out her dry-erase letter tracing book in the afternoons and weekends, and asking how to spell different words and phrases. She’s practicing her writing. She also got out painting and stamping supplies this week, colored one of the pages in her stained glass flowers coloring book and added accents of glitter glue, and did almost all of the mazes in a little Dover Publications animal mazes book. We did science experiments on identifying acids and bases using goldenrod paper from her science kit, and then “homemade” paper from grape juice and coffee filters. She’s also working on memorizing The Lord’s Prayer.

Around the House-Keeping: Due to this week’s cooler weather, we spent most of the only evening without at least one outside commitment sorting through the box of fall/winter kid clothes. Other than that, I haven’t had time for any “extra” housekeeping beyond the basics. I did get the swimsuits washed up and ready to put away for winter, now that the beaches are closed.

Something Seasonal: Picked up our third-to-last box of produce from our CSA half-share for the year. Harvests are abundant right now, but we know the time is running short. Also saw an old red farm truck go into a driveway carrying a load of knobbly pumpkins. Seems a little early for that.

Feelin' Frugal:
            freebies received:
$1.00 off any milk coupon
won a fall plant decoration at women’s group meeting

Getting Organized: Had a few moments to make returns of things (and get the money back into my accounts or my hands): Target swimsuit bought on summer clearance that I realized would be too small by next year; one of the leotards found at the children’s consignment store that turned out to be too small  (the other two fit), Disney movies that I didn’t order and don’t want

Whatcha Readin’?: Simplify Your Life with Kids, The Cheapskate Next Door, If I Have To Tell You One More Time…           


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Read-Aloud Thursday: Kindergarten Books

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As I get back into blogging more, I hope to participate in a few more memes. It's fun, I enjoy reading them, and they help keep me accountable to my goals. :) In this case, Read-Aloud Thursday, hosted by, is all about my love of reading, kids' books and, of course, my kiddo.

Said kiddo started kindergarten this month, so our summer (and these first couple of weeks of September -- which I consider "unofficially" fall) reading has included a few of those "get ready for kindergarten" books. Two in particular that I have enjoyed are Kindergarten Day U.S.A. and China and Panda Kindergarten. (I originally saw the recommendation for the first one, at least, via Not sure about the other one -- I really wish my library's "list" function to save, well, lists of books you'd like to request in the future allowed you to annotate your entries.)

Kindergarten Day U.S.A. and China by Trish Marx and Ellen B. Senisi is a "day-in-the-life" book about a kindergarten class in upstate New York, and one on the other side of the world -- in China. The pictures are actual photographs of each of the classes, and the "plot" walks you through what each class does at each specific time of day (there's some not-so-subtle telling time education going on there).

In terms of getting ready for kindergarten this book actually did a better job of presenting the kinds of things a class would do than some of the oft-recommended others (Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten, etc.) that have been in our pile, many of which deal more with the feelings/worries associated with this milestone. Seeing the pictures and the description of the playground, lunchtime, listening to stories, getting along with other kids, etc. made it valuable even without the geography/cultural awareness aspect of the book.

Of course, I did also like that element of the book -- although one wishes there had been a bit more pronunciation guidance for a couple of the Chinese words (particularly on the days when the visiting grandma had to read it aloud ...), and so did Nora. She made friends this summer with a couple of little girls who were adopted from China, and she noted that the kids in the book looked like her friends. Reading the China section brought home both the similarities and the slight differences (different words, slightly different food, etc.)

Also appealing is the "gimmick" factor of the book: each half is bound upside down to other, so once you've finished Kindergarten Day U.S.A., you flip it over to read Kindergarten Day China -- or vice versa.

The second favorite among these, Panda Kindergarten by Joanne Ryder, is actually not about kids' kindergarten - it truly is about pandas. It's another true story, illustrated completely by photographs, of the pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve in China. The photos of the baby pandas, particularly the "tiniest one" in the photo of the lineup of 16 of them (Nora took the initiative to count them herself) are awe-inducing. And they're still cute and fuzzy and lovable as they grow and play on their playground -- with a child's teeter-totter in winter -- and all collapse into naptime together. The book is mostly about how the pandas grow and how the staff cares for them (did you know that pandas often have twins, but a mother can care for only one at a time? so the staff switches them off so that both get good care, but both also have time with the mother), and only gently touches on pandas' endangerment at a level that's very appropriate for little kids. (Some of the pandas that grow up from this panda kindergarten may go back to live in the wild, and use the skills they've learned.)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Suddenly, It's *Last* Summer

So, it seems that I took the summer off from blogging. That wasn't exactly intentional (at least at the beginning), but we had a good summer full of beach visits, berry picking, birthday parties, family reunion, festivals, parks, picnics, pony rides, science experiments, State Fair, swimming lessons  -- and a weeklong stay with family at a lakeside cottage. (There was debate as to whether it was properly a "cabin" or a "cottage." The dictionary was consulted.) With the travel and the activities -- and the soaking up the sunshine before a Minnesota winter (we're supposed to get a light frost tonight) -- wow. that went fast.

Wordless Wednesday: So Long, Summer; Hello, School

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cute Kid Quotes from a Four-Year-Old

(Because today is the last day I get to use the "four-year-old" tag; she turns 5 tomorrow. Sniff. My baby is growing up.)

1) Upon my telling her at a restaurant to "stop acting like a spoiled brat":

"I am not a wild rat!"

(There are times that's debatable...)

2) In another animal-themed comment, after I mentioned I had seen some sort of animal, too large to be a cat and too small to be a deer, crossing the road in a semi-wooded area of our town on my way home from a late-night meeting:

"Maybe it was a walrus!"

I know they're not indigenous to Minnesota. If they've been introduced, I can only imagine the havoc.

3) Not exactly a quote, but we went to the open house for our new summer childcare program the other day. It's being run out of one of the elementary schools, and has one of those big-basined handwashing sinks you may remember from your own childhood.

N thought it was a bathtub.

4) When holding my hand, walking across the parking lot to the grocery store, said with a tone of marveling surprise:

"Your skin is blond just like mine!"

5) After hanging from the rings at a park:

<i>accompanied by flexing her biceps, and strutting around the playground</i> "Look at my muscles! Muscleman! Muscleman!"

She has also, of late, informed me that she's a "tree expert." Which I guess is more humble than her previous assertion that she's an "everything expert."

In some ways, she's growing up too quickly. Which is why I want to hang on to these cute quotes, and her eating her "yo-grit" and turning her clothes inside out before they go in the wash to "pre-tect" the designs, as long as possible.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Books of 2011: 21-25

21. Outcasts United by Warren St. John
(church book group selection)

While the first part of this book seemed like it was going to be dry and difficult to get into, it turned into an interesting narrative of the soccer team formed in a traditional Southern town from the children of refugee immigrants. Since the refugees came from all different countries, and the coach was an immigrant herself, from an Arabic speaking country, it was interesting to read about how the soccer team helped people find a place of belonging. There was also some insight into the cultural changes of the town -- I liked the story of the grocer who saved his fading independent business from the chains' competition by listening to an employee from one of the refugee groups who helped him start stocking some of the specialized foods people were having to go out of their way to buy. Also, quite a bit of discussion about how the refugees did not share a monolithic experience; in fact, some of them may have been resettled in an area with refugees from an ethnic or other group who were their enemies and/or persecutors in their homeland.

22. Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene: Followers of Jesus in History and Legend by Bart D. Ehrman  
(from 2008 book list; read during Lent)

You have to love the concept for the title. And, while the author does bring in the folk group in his introductory and concluding remarks, the focus of the book is on the New Testament Biblical people of the names Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene. He shares what is actually known about these people through historical, archeological, etc. research into their times and their documents, as well as the legends that accrued about them in later years and their influence. I find this fascinating stuff -- even though, every time I read a book like this, I have to once again force my brain around understanding the concept of what gnosticism is (I don't seem to be able to retain it between readings).

23. Chasing Spring by Bruce Stutz
(from 2008 book list)

The author takes a cross-country road trip to various areas, from the desert to the Pacific Northwest, in search of natural signs of spring during the months of March through June. He is a naturalist, and it's interesting to hear his takes on various placess, plants and more -- although I don't think the book ever quite reached the level of appeal of Edwin Way Teale's writing for me. (So far, I've only read EWT's Wandering Through Winter, but I do want to read his approaches to the rest of the seasons.) He picks mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest (a section that reminded me of David Guterson's follow-up to Snow Falling On Cedars, Our Lady of the Forest), hikes with a friend in the desert, goes to rural Mardi Gras celebrations in Louisiana, and flies into the Arctic with bush pilots. A lot of his discussions about climate change and its impact are depressing, but overall, I felt it was a good read.

24. The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang
(women's group book group selection)

This book is getting attention in the Minneapolis area because it's by a local author, a young woman who emigrated to the Twin Cities as a young child to become part of the large Hmong community in the area. The book tells the story of her family pre-immigrantion, while living in and being hunted in Laos (the Hmong, who fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War, have no actual home "land" of their own and were forced into hiding after the war), their escape across the river into Thailand, their time in a refugee camp there and her grandmother's making a living for the extended family through sales of traditional plants, their trip across the ocean, and the years of settling in and making adjustments in Minnesota. It's a valuable glimpse into the Hmong people's experience and culture, especially for those of us living in areas with sizable Hmong populations.

25. Do-Over by Robin Hemley

It's probably supposed to spark some more introspection - what in your life woud you do over? what continues to haunt you? what can you do about it? questions like that -- but I mainly thought this was a fun read. The author is a forty-something-year-old man living in Iowa City who "does over" things that he feels went wrong the first time he experienced them: things like kindergarten, being in a school play, his prom, etc. Part of the fun for me came from having lived in Iowa City and still having family there, so that I recognized some references to places and such in the book -- his "repeat" kindergarten experience takes place in the school my mom attended -- but, overall, it's a fun memoir type book.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spring Vacation: It Was a Zoo (Or Two)

Our vacation this spring was a family "zoo tour."Since we are lucky enough that my mother gets us memberships to the Minnesota Zoo for birthday presents, we also have the advantage of getting discount tickets to other zoos -- such as Kansas City and Omaha. And, since DH's work schedule gets crazy busy in the summer, and N starts kindergarten in the fall, if we were going to fulfill this family zoo tour dream of his, this spring it was. We drove from the Minneapolis area to Omaha the first day, filling time in the car with a few extras for this extra-long car trip like audiobooks of Olivia and Arthur stories from the library, some laminated letter tracing pages from the preschool packs at Homeschool Creations, and mazes, dot to dots and a U.S. map from the  Travel Activities in a Binder eBook download that was available in April to subscribers to the Molly Green newsletter at (I had extra car time fun stuff stashed "up my sleeve," as it were, but didn't end up using it, as she did so well without it. I'm saving it for another long car ride later in the summer.)

I had had a heck of a time finding an open hotel room to reserve in Omaha; it turned out that weekend was the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' conference, which might help to explain that. We ended up staying at the Hampton, which was a bit more upscale than I had originally planned, but was a very nice hotel and hotel experience (some gift money covered the hotels). Luckily, it was next door to a Target, too, since DH and N had neglected to pack her pajamas. She was due for some new summer ones anyway, and the Target gift card in my purse from a previous deal came in handy for the pink nightgown emblazoned with a rainbow unicorn on the front.

The Hampton did have an indoor pool (my hotel requirements had been that they serve breakfast -- to save money and time - and that they have an indoor pool, since we would be taking a four-year-old on long car trips in the Midwest in early spring), but it was quite cool, and the water in the shallow end came to maybe an inch below the four-year-old's mouth. We went in there for a while, but I pretty much had to hang onto her the whole time. The breakfast was great, though. At one point, we got into the elevator along with a group of Japanese businessmen, who N at first thought were the president. (I guess there are a lot of Japanese people in Hawaii...) One of them spontaneously gave her a mini kewpie doll thing on a business card that said -- something-- in Japanese. It's attached to a string, so N told me she wants to hang it on our Christmas tree. I put it with the ornaments when we got home.

I was very impressed with the Omaha Zoo. They have a year-round butterfly exhibit, a huge indoor jungle exhibit with meandering rivers with hippos and such in them, and animal statues and fountains scattered throughout the zoo. There's a bridge with fish food machines where kids can throw food to very fat koi fish and some swans, and a farm petting zoo area with goats and such, right behind a very nice merry-go-round. We watched an otter try to get herself into one of the otter home holes and had a zookeeper tell us she was a bit confused, because she'd just been moved out of that hole and into the other one the day before. They also had a desert exhibit, and a huge nocturnal animals exhibit that was both cool and creepy, as you walked along very, very dimly lit bridges and occasionally saw an alligator, or a muskrat, or a beaver, in the waters below (if you had a flashlight or other source of light; that part wasn't very well thought-out). We saw a swan building a nest along a stream bank, and some storks nesting on the roof of a building in the enclosed aviary. It *was* a bit disconcerting that there was a small leak in the polar bear's exhibit out of which water was coming, but overall, the Omaha zoo was very cool.

They were having a DNA days special event the day we were there, so there were tables set up various places where the four-year-old got to do things like build a marshmallow and dry pasta critter sculpture using a roll of the dice to determine what features it would inherit from each parent, and to collect (well, I collected them for her) famous scientist trading cards.

After spending a day at the Omaha Zoo, we spent the next day driving to Kansas City, where our hotel was much less nice, the hotel was in a much less nice area of town, the indoor pool was in an enclosed building -- that you had to walk through the outside courtyard, in very cool weather, to get to -- and the check-in staff's computers kept breaking down.

Ironically, this place's pool -- despite the needing to go outside, in our bathing suits (and sweatshirts) in 60-degree weather to get there, turned out to be much more fun: the water was warmer, and the shallow end was actually shallow enough for young children. (Not unsupervised, of course.) N and I had some good play time there; she surprised me with how much of the skills drills (cleverly disguised as fun games) she remembered from last year's swimming lessons, as she told me what to do while she acted as the teacher.

Our day at the Kansas City Zoo was a cold one, despite being the first of May -- it sleeted on us briefly! but was still fun. You could tell it's an older zoo than Omaha, with several of the exhibits showing their age, but it's also quite spacious and in the middle of a park full of trees. That part impressed DH, and I would guess that, on a hot summer day, it would likely be nicely cool and shady.

One of the big draws for our family of the Kansas City Zoo was the African animals exhibit (for some reason, N is very interested in Africa and African animals). We saw the hippos, the lions and more. They also had elephants -- four or five of them, I was pleased to see, having recently read about how elephants get very lonely when there is just one of them. An unusual feature of the Kansas City Zoo was an Australia area where the kangaroos appeared to roam free on a veldt...or, in Kansas City, I would guess it might just be a field of grass...near a cafe where people could sit at outdoor tables and watch them. No fence, or at least none that was apparent. Also in the Australian area was a sheep farm exhibit, where shearing was taking place the day we were there. (Unfortunately, this did not appear to be an expert shearer; I happened to have just read a book partly about sheep farming, and there were way too many nicks on those newly naked sheep.)

There were some great climbing areas for kids at this zoo, including a rope net where you were supposed to pretend to be a spider monkey, and a huge baobab tree the kids could climb to the top of and peer out, with slides about halfway down it. We rode the zoo's train as a family; N rode on the carousel; and she fed the deer -- I've never been to a zoo with deer feeding before.

As her souvenirs from these zoos, N picked out a stuffed zebra in Omaha and a stuffed llama in Kansas City at the gift shops. Her favorite stuffed Sheep, who did of course accompany us on the trip, actually stayed behind in the hotel rather than riding in the car to the Kansas City Zoo -- but, as we walked out the gate toward our car after the day there, she called her Sheep on her pretend cell phone to say what was going on, "Oh, we went to the zoo..."

While we did not go to the Worlds of Fun amusement park, we did drive past it on on our way into and out of Kansas City, an it was quite visible from the freeway, particularly the large roller coaster. That prompted the comment from N, "Wow! Look at that! I would *pay* to go on that!" (I asked her how much she would pay. "One hundred ninety dollars," was the answer.)

Rather than driving all the way back from Kansas City to Minneapolis in one day, we stopped off at my parents' house in Iowa for a night. This also had the advantage of giving DH and I an opportunity to go out on our own for a belated anniversary dinner, whilst N stayed with Grandma and Grandpa. On our drive home, as were speculating whether she had convinced Grandma to go to the ice cream shop, we passed the two of them walking uptown headed toward exactly that destination.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May Days

The merry month of May has been a busy one for our family. A few days after Easter, we left for our first-ever family vacation that was not built around spending time with other relatives -- although we did stop for one night at my parents' on our way home. We celebrated Mother's Day at a local buffet, replaced a lawnmower and a vehicle, and attended end-of-the-school-year activities like a church service with performances by all --including the four-year-old's -- the choirs and an end-of-the-year party for that choir.

Grandma came to visit us to attend that church service concert as well, and we took her bowling and out for frozen yogurt with all sorts of healthy toppings that weekend. N's was quite an enthusiastic bowler for a while, although her technique involves running up to the lane and just generally "flinging" the ball. Made for some good rainy-day fun.

She and I also went out for ice cream after the last choir practice of the year, at which the three-to-five-year-olds' choir and the first-graders through fourth-graders' choir each performed three songs for each other. They were all very active and fun songs that involved a lot of motions and jumping around. Then, back in the regular practice room, there were pictures with the teacher, some treats, and, for those who took the time, stories (the teacher was going to read a story but ran out of time; she had to get to an event with her own -- high school -- daughter). N told me she's going to miss Mrs. D, her teacher, and she's been singing "Do Lord" (the song they sang in church) on a regular basis ever since the concert, plus making up her own songs with motions. That choir also helped the kids learn the Lord's Prayer; N chose it as her prayer at family dinnertime once this spring -- although that old-fashioned "art" language seems to be a bit confusing to the preschool set: she started out "Our father that aren't in heaven..."

Weatherwise, it's been a cold and rainy spring here in Minnesota; we bought some plants on Mother's Day, but didn't get them planted in our deck containers until at least a week later because of the cold, rain and wind. The dill didn't make it, but the chives, marigolds and the chrysanthemum N picked out seem to be doing OK. I filled in some blank spots on the west side of the house with some more salvia and some hollyhocks; the idea is to get the plants in that whole area to fill it out enough that I don't have to do any weeding. (It's right next to the house, so we don't want to mow there.) N's strawberry plant, which we got at a local plant sale that benefits the preservation of one of our wooded areas, is going gangbusters: we had to repot it into a bigger pot over Memorial Day weekend, and she's counted at least 29 flowers, buds or tiny strawberries on there.

We have, unfortunately, had to hire our neighbor to mow a couple of times this spring, but finally got a functional lawnmower. At least I hope so -- we haven't tried it out yet, but I'm actually kind of looking forward to it. This is a Fiskars reel mower, which has received very good reviews on Amazon, and eliminates past problems like the fact that I have never been able to get any gas mower started on my own (easy start my foot): this one has no starter. It also doesn't use any gas, so there's no additional expense to it. Plus, it's exercise - and the husband promised to use this one sometimes, as he says he likes reel mowers. (I've been doing all the mowing for at least the past two years -- except for when we hire the neighbor or my mom comes to visit -- but, since I couldn't get the thing started by myself, I still had to wait for him to get home before I could do so.)

One advantage of the lush grass growth this spring, though, was that N and I got the chance to try free foraged food by making up some dandelion greens. We don't spray our lawn -- my philosophy is that I would rather have a kid with a childhood of blowing dandelion seeds and making dandelion stem chain necklaces than an ostensibly "weed"-free lawn. (I also highly object to the categorization of dandelions as weeds and the imposition of cultural mores and, in some cases, municipal regulations, that promote the use of environmentally and physically harmful chemicals in order to destroy valuable, *free*, food-bearing foliage, especially in light of the recent economy and people's resulting struggles. Yes, I have a dandelion soapbox.) N was a very good helper at gathering the leaves and correctly identifying them, and was disappointed that I wouldn't let her help with the portions of the preparation that involved boiling water and sauteeing them in hot olive oil. Sheesh. There was also bacon and garlic involved. Both she and I ate some and had seconds of our mess of greens, which weren't the greatest thing ever, but were OK - they tasted kind of like spinach. (DH refused to have anything to do with this endeavor. He obviously has some dandelion issues.)

The rain and the cold continued on Memorial Day weekend -- I had to turn the furnace back on on Friday! -- so we didn't get to do outside things. We did go see the movie "Rio," and the four-year-old and I made Oreo Balls cookies. (After her request and an out--of-the-blue statement that, "Memorial Day is all about Oreo Balls.") We also went to a local children's theater's production of  Pinkalicious, a play based on the book by Victoria Kann. N chose to wear her pink skort with princess crowns on it (made by Grandma), a sweet pink shirt with some smocking, pink sandals, Care Bears socks (from the Easter Bunny), and a pink Hello Kitty watch, accessorized by a pink pony stuffed animal -- and a yellow headband. She loved the show; it was one of those special mom moments to watch her sitting on my lap beaming throughout the performance, especially the musical numbers, and giggling. At the end of the show, she spontaneously thanked both me and DH for bringing her to "the best show ever." She also willingly stood in the long line of little girls and had her program signed by every cast member.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Books of 2011: 16-20

16. Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson (from 2008 library list)

I enjoy Bill Bryson's writing, and I enjoyed this short biography of playwright William Shakespeare -- if, in fact, one can call it a biography, since the main point of the book is that historical research proves that we can actually conclusively prove hardly anything about William Shakespeare, including how he got involved in theater. Bryson does not subscribe to the theory that "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare," but does touch on a variety of these conspiracy theories, with a look at the leading contenders for "who Shakespeare really was."

17. Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that's Changing Your World by Hugh Hewitt

Published in 2005, this book is already outdated in some respects (for instance, there's no coverage at all of feed readers and how they impact blog audiences). It has some interesting things to say about blogging, particularly as it relates to commercial/corporate blogging - but it takes a lot of wading through a bunch of politically motivated rants to get there. The author (whom I had never heard of before) is apparently a conservative radio show host in California, who started his own blog to continue his political discussions. So I suppose it makes sense, from his point of view, to continue this discussion in his book -- but he frontloaded the beginning of the book with so much of this stuff that I almost quit reading. He also, probably based on his own perspective, seems to have political myopia when it comes to blogging and the blogosphere -- except for the corporate blogging stuff that is the most useful part of the book, he almost exclusively discusses politically focused blogs.

18. Tea Bliss by Teresa Cheung (received for my birthday, 2008)

it is obvious that this author has no children. Much of the book is about various relaxing, self-fulfilling, self-care things one should do  -- and some of it is fun to read about -- but almost all of them require large chunks of dedicated, uninterrupted time. And, given that she thinks one should get adequate sleep -- and not, I am guessing find such large chunks of dedicated, uninterrupted time between, say, 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., which is the most realistic time slot for such things for me -- one would have to do nothing else but her exercises during the waking portions of one's day. On the other hand, there are some intriguingly fun recipes for tea blends, information on types of teas that are good for certain ailments, etc. I've filed this one in the kitchen with the cookbooks.

19. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (from 2008 library list)

"Eat Food. Not too much. Mainly plants." That's the eater's manifesto - and the book explores a lot of the reasons, research and explanations behind that. My family and I are not wholly healthy foods eaters, but it's a process to get there, and this book is an intriguing help in the process. It explains the "whys" of why refined sugar, flour from the grocery store, excess corn syrup, etc. is bad for you. There's also a lot in there about how research has shown that the introduction of the "Western diet" introduces the "Western diseases" -- heart disease, diabetes and stroke -- and about how the government's supposed instructions for healthy eating and/or farm subsidies have just messed with our common sense about what to eat. For instance, "eat food" sounds simple -- except when the author points out that many things in our common grocery stores are "food products" instead of food. Years ago, you couldn't sell something fake and call it food -- I recall my dad, who grew up in Wisconsin during the 1940s and 1950s, discussing how margarine (or "oleo," as it's called in all the handwritten recipes from my grandma) was sold in white gelatinous packets with a little container of dye that you squirted in and rubbed through the margarine to spread the coloring around so it appeared yellow: it was illegal to sell yellow margarine, a competitor with butter, in the Dairy State. One of the most helpful and intriguing suggestions in the book was "if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it." For my family, as I said, this is a process, and we have not yet arrived -- but I did sign up for a CSA for this summer during the timeframe around when I was reading this book.

20. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (from 2008 library list -- and, coincidentally, selection for this year's church book group, May)

I put this on my "to-be-read" library list in, well, 2008, evidently, and it is finally not so hugely popular that there were 500 other people on the waiting list ahead of me. Having read it: it's OK. The narrator is a dog, and that's kind of a fun concept, when he gets into doggy perspective on the world -- although he does seem wise beyond dog years. The main character (other than the dog) is a race car driver, and that was kind of a fun aspect for me, too, as there was a lot of discussion of racing in my home growing up (my dad's a fan; I used to go to the races with him as a kid). The plot, which involves the illness and death of the race car driver's wife and the ensuing custody battle for his child, is interesting. Overall, though, it just didn't come together into "great" book for me, as it apparently does for some others -- it was just OK.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

(Almost a Month) in Review-Part Two: The Wedding

We made a trip down to Iowa this past weekend for a family wedding -- the husband's side of the family, but we stayed with my parents, due to the location. I don't know if her genetic farm background is coming through or what, but four-year-old N spent much of the drive down looking out the car windows at the fields and asking "What are they gonna plant in that field?"

Said car ride is not short -- at least three and a half hours, generally closer to four -- so it was nice that we had time after our arrival on Saturday to go visit the Y, which my mother has joined in her retirement, and use her guest passes for swimming in the rec pool. Unlike water-aerobicizing Grandma, we haven't been in the water since last summer, so my beach-lovin' little girl was having a ball. She went down the slide into the pool numerous times -- and there was a soft pad in the landing area, which did not have water above her head, so I didn't have to catch her! (It took me a while to recover from the force of catching an enthusiastic slider at an outdoor pool last summer. And she's grown since then.)

The Y's pool also had some communal toys, like soft pool noodles, floating around. After gathering several of them to support her torso, N was actually able to swim -- after a fashion -- with leg kicks and such. This was her idea, by the way.

Back at Grandma's house, there was time spent observing the animals, like the very fat squirrel who sat out on the branch and ate the corn from her squirrel feeder, the gray rabbit who sat outside the window for a few moments, and the raucous birds building their nest inside the holes of a stump -- the one with the birdhouse on top of it.

Inside, the plastic animals were also popular. As the four-year-old sorted them into "families" (daddy, mommy and baby lions, hippos, etc.),, and talked about the names for various baby animals (kangaroo = joey, etc.) she casually asked, "Grandma, did you know I'm an everything expert?"

Nothing like self-confidence. She has it in spades.

Since we were missing the egg hunt we normally attend in Minnesota on Palm Sunday weekend, Grandma created an indoor egg hunt for N, whilst I was keeping her occupied with bathing (and playing some sort of version of hide and seek that involved hiding small bath toys in "caves" -- also known as leftover plastic drink cups from, I believe, fast food promotions of the 1980s. The hunted eggs were rubber and plastic, but there was some dying of actual hard-boiled eggs (pre-bath). The dye kit my mom purchased included sports-themed stickers, which the four-year-old used to create an egg "for Grandpa," full of football, soccer and basketball stickers, as well as egg wraps that shrunk to fit around the egg if heated with a hair dryer.

Our noontime meal on Saturday was the Methodist church's chicken noodle dinner, at which I was served my chicken and noodles and mashed potatoes by my fourth grade teacher. Kids were free for this fundraiser, an unwise choice when it came to my hearty eater of chicken and noodles and mashed potatoes, green beans, pasta salad and a slab of blueberry cheesecake (she traded in her apple pie and passed up the chocolate brownies when she spotted the blueberries).

After afternoon napping, our late afternoon snack time at Grandma's of strawberry shortcake included conversation about the wedding coming up that evening. Our previous wedding attendance was at a reception only, so I had to explain, in the face of the four-year-old's anticipation that there would be eating and dancing and -- her highlight -- "then somebody brings you cake," that, prior to the eating and dancing part, there would be a "sitting and listening" part.

She had a bit of difficulty with behavior early in the evening (in part because the wedding was scheduled to occur during our family's regular dinner time, and then didn't get started on time), but once things got started, and there was in fact, eating and dancing, and also young cousins to play with, she was going strong until we left at nearly 10 p.m. The wedding ceremony occurred in the same park lodge where the reception was held, so we were all seated at our tables as the wedding party walked down the aisle -- and, in the solemn quietness that came about as the ceremony was beginning, I'm hoping not too many people heard the four-year-old's amazed question, "Are they gonna have a baby?"

The park lodge where the wedding took place had, as part of its decor, a mounted deer head -- right over the minister's head as the ceremony was taking place -- as well as a mounted buffalo head framed by two mounted geese on the opposite wall. One of my coworkers commented when I showed him the photos that "every good wedding needs some taxidermy" - and then shared the photo of the mounted porcupine he and his wife had received as a wedding gift.

Back at the park lodge, the little girls found additional nature entertainment in looking for the plants, animals and tracks whose images were engraved into the flags of the lobby's stone floor, and one of the highlights of the bathroom -- in addition to being decked out with floral displays, including tulips (my favorite) was the posters of animals and/or wildflowers on the back of the stall doors.

They spent much time out in the lobby post-dinner, pre-dancing, although there was some excited rushing in to the main room shouting "cupcakes!" after the bride had told them they would be serving them "soon." ("Soon" did not translate to "immediately.") The cupcakes were in lieu of a wedding cake; unfortunately, I just missed the photo opportunity of one of the little girls -- not mine, this time -- showing off her blue tongue after consumption of the frosting.

When the dancing did begin, it was this contingent of little girls who were some of the most enthusiastic participants -- although, again, they kept rushing in to the room upon hearing the music, only to leave again in slight disappointment as the bride and groom, bride and her father, and brides' parents danced.

Post wedding and family time, we went to church with Grandma on Sunday -- where, upon our arrival, the four-year-old announced "Nobody's Palm-ing Sunday-ing!" (Our home church has a Palm parade that begins outside the church, with signs, donkey, Jesus representative, etc.) There was a donkey and palm branches later in the service, however.

Then, it was brunch and time to head for home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Almost a Month) in Review - Part One

Aaagh! It's snowed again today. I am so ready for this to be done with: I completely agree with the comments posted on a local news channel's weather section, in which someone identified Minnesota's seasons as including Winter, Still Winter and Enough Already!

I do, however, feel vindicated that I had not yet got around to packing away winter coats and boots or doing the seasonal wardrobe switch. Truly, my distrust that snow season is over until some time after Easter -- no matter how late Easter occurs -- has proven wise this year.

We have, however, had some quasi-warm days in the past couple of weeks: warm enough, at least, for the four-year-old to engage in bike riding. Before (most of) the deluge of snow from the winter melted, she was fancying herself a tracker on some of those rides: she'd stop the bike to examine animal tracks in the remnants of snow left near the sidewalk, count the toes, and speculate on the animal that had caused the tracks. (Note: my vote is for a dog going for a walk.) She also directly transferred the sand buckets and shovels from use in the front yard -- where they had been building snow castles, pretend ice cream, etc., this winter -- to the sandbox in the backyard, where she has been spending much time. She gathered pinecones from a neighbor's tree that overhangs our fence and drops them into our yard for use in the sandbox as well; for what purpose, I'm not exactly clear -- although I do know that she's been playing "pirate treasure," which involves burying things and then digging to look for them.

Birds have been spotted in our yard, too -- we've seen robins, cardinals and mourning doves -- and we paid a visit to the Minnesota Zoo for their "spring babies" exhibit, which involved petting a baby rabbit and admiring baby chicks, calves, a camel and more animals. We had several conversations that the zoo would likely not be having any baby horses, since - I'm pretty sure -- all of their grownup horses are "daddies," and you need both a mommy and a daddy to have a baby animal.

I've made some minimal progress on spring cleaning. One thing I did accomplish was cleaning out the Tupperware/plastic dishes cupboard, doing such things as identifying which repurposed containers actually had lids, which lids fit what, and containing said lids of the repurposed containers in a Ziploc bag so they don't spill all over the cupboard. I also found the popsicle molds in the back of the cupboard and had to fend off a request from the four-year-old to make popsicles -- for one thing, it is not warm enough yet for popsicles (see note about snow!); for another, I refused to start on this year's batches of popsicles until I had cleaned up the sticky mess in the freezer from where last year's popsicle juice spilled. (She does not know that I also successfully cleaned out the grime from the fridge and its on-top freezer while she and her grandma were watching the movie "Secretariat" -- again. Complete with pretend horse races starring the four-year-old. It's a shocker that the knees get blown out of so many of her pants, I tell you ...)

Grandma's visit to us was in part to do fittings on the new spring dress and skirt she was making for the four-year-old and me, from matching fabric. (Four-year-old N has been wanting to have matching outfits for a while now, and I figured we'd better do this while she still thinks it's cool. I let her pick the fabric -- within reason -- which ended up being a purple background with a spring floral print.) I was also able to delegate her to four-year-old haircut duty, and to send home my yard waste from bushes trimmings with her (the lazy woman's way of getting rid of it before our yard waste season). Grandma also accompanied us to the movie "Hop" that weekend (meh. It was OK.) and to a spring craft show where I purchased some cleaning cloths and some Easter-themed cloth napkins, my mom purchased a couple of metallic garden flowers for outdoor decor and the four-year-old, after energetic play in the indoor playground of the community center, plus rearranging nearly every single one of the (possibly former kindergarten teacher, or at least blessed with patience) vendor's plastic eggs in her display, convinced her grandma to buy her one of these items: a washcloth folded into a bunny shape whose tummy holds a plastic egg which, in turn, contains a tiny ice pack, to be used as a "boo-boo bunny."

We've also remembered this month to get out our Easter books for our seasonal reading basket, and we made a plastic egg garland -- as suggested in Amy's Notebook of March 16 -- for a household decoration. (Plastic eggs saved from previous years' egg hunts, plus the four-year-old's crafts stash of yard sale yarn, provided easy supplies for this.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Plan April 18

(Find lots more menu plans at Org Junkie.)

Well, our "as yet undetermined" food from a couple of Saturdays ago ended up being Spaghetti, along with some Orange Muffins, which used up some of the oranges in the fridge from a good sale -- others of them were converted into grated orange peel (for use in our faux "tartar sauce" and other recipes) as well as orange slices for future smoothies. Both these parts of the disassembled oranges are now residing in the freezer.

We followed that up on Sunday with an after-church (and before-movie) meal at the Chinese buffet, then DH and I had another dinner out while my mom babysat the four-year-old and they consumed Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup.

Last week's menu used the remaining spaghetti that hadn't gone into Saturday's meal (which, in turn, was left over from the large box I used for making Spaghetti Pie), plus some other pasta, and some leftover garlic to create Garlic Shrimp Pasta Monday. Served with Lettuce Salad with orange slices (not the frozen ones). Tuesday for was for "Taco Salad" -- a quick purchase of some refried beans mixed with some previously browned and frozen (then subsequently thawed) hamburger, salsa, lettuce, chips and sour cream. Wednesdays are normally taken care of with Church Supper; and Hot Dogs were on the menu for Thursday, along with --- some sort of side item that I've forgotten (although it wasn't the Fruit Salad that I had at one point intended to make). We did actually have pizza on Friday, but I don't count it as part of my menu plan, since it was not part of our household's food preparation -- we were out of town visiting.

We got home Sunday afternoon, for an evening meal of still-good leftovers of Hot Dogs, plus Banana Bread, Strawberries and Hard-Boiled Eggs that had traveled home with us.

This week's tentative menu plan is:

Monday: Sausage Spaghetti Pie. Removed from the freezer, thawed, cooked.

Tuesday: Goulash. Incorporating leftover pasta from the box opened for last week's Garlic Shrimp Pasta, more hamburger thawed from the freezer, and probably some cheese and tomato sauce and stuff from the fridge/pantry.

Wednesday: Unfortunately, there is no church suppper this week, although we still have activities. It will probably mean a trip through the salad bar of a nearby restaurant.

Thursday: Fish Sticks, and perhaps the elusive Fruit Salad.

Friday: Pizza. (These two may be switched around, in recognition of Good Friday.)

Saturday: It's still a mystery to me.

I am thinking, however, that we may do some of our home egg dying early, so that Potato Salad can be worked into the week's menu. (Hey, if I get it made in time, it could go with the fish.)

Sunday (Easter): I've actually had this special meal planned for a while: Ham (although I haven't picked a specific recipe/glaze yet); Asparagus (a favorite of the husband's); Strawberry Jello Salad (a favorite of the four-year-old's), using some strawberries picked last summer from the freezer; Resurrection Rolls (a favorite participatory activity of the four-year-old -- placing the marshmallows in crescent roll dough, then rolling them up to form a tomb; as they bake -- in an oven guarded by Roman soldiers, aka stuffed animals -- the marshmallow melts and the tomb is empty as you open them); and Rice Krispies Nests. (These are the Rice Krispies treats recipe -- another recent request from the four-year-old -- formed into nest shapes. To hold egg type candy; we'll be using the candy coated Robin Eggs, I think they're called.)
Plus actual Hard-Boiled Eggs, in some form, I'm sure.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Menu Plan April 4 (Plus Catch-Up. Or Ketchup.)

(Find more menu plans at Org Junkie.)

I'm a couple of weeks behind on posting menu plans, but I'm writing down the already-eaten meals anyway, because it makes life easier for me. (I don't save the menu plan sheets of paper that I post on our refrigerator - they go into the recycling at the end of the week -- so this gives me a record of what we've eaten when.)

I did indeed make Morning Glory Muffins (shredded carrots, apples, raisins) a couple of weekends ago, served with Fried Chicken (made with olive oil in a hand-me-down Fry Baby, from a recipe from an old Taste of Home magazine). DH asked if the small chicken pieces were "gizzards"; I believe they were actually thighs from a previous sale of Gold 'n Plump. (I have now become pretty brand-loyal in my chicken buying, in large part because of the lack of hormones in this brand. Plus, the frequent sales don't hurt, either.)

I've also made quite a dent, over the past couple of weeks, in the frozen raspberries picked last summer that have been taking up space in the freezer. Still working on cleaning out the freezer so I can give it a good defrosting -- and then start filling it up again when summer produce comes into season. (We've signed up for a half CSA share this year for the first time, so we'll see how that goes.) Some of the raspberries went into Raspberry Muffins (a recipe that I think originally called for raspberry jam, but I substituted), eaten with our leftover Fish Sticks that same weekend.

And then, we had an uninspired week of: Blueberry Waffles (made with the last of last summer's frozen blueberries), takeout from KFC, church supper, some kind of concoction in which my husband mixed up pasta and rice and some spices and stuff and called it a Soup, Pizza, and Turkey Florentine, a recipe from a Quick Cooking compilation that used up the last of the ground turkey leftovers I had in the freezer (although there's still another whole turkey in there -- I need to get that cooked this spring). Also in Turkey Florentine were pasta (from a very good sale), broccoli (they called for spinach but I substituted), sour cream and gravy -- the last of the jars of gravy I bought during the Thanksgiving-time deals.

The following week, I actually got out my bulk purchase of beef and started browning away, creating a Sunday evening dinner of Sweet and Sour Meatloaf (Quick Cooking compilation, a microwave recipe) and Raspberry Cornbread Muffins, and seguing into meat already browned for the next day's Crockpot Lasagna, served with a salad made with Spinach and Orange Slices. (Bags of oranges and grapefruits were on B1G1 deals at my visit to the grocery store a couple of days earlier, and I figure it's getting to the end of their season -- and any relatively low prices on them.) Also consumed that week were Vegetable Stuffing Bake (frozed mixed vegetables, the last of the Stovetop Stuffing mix from Thanksgiving-time sales), church supper, and Fish Sticks with Orange "Tartar" Sauce (a dip recipe clipped from a Miracle Whip ad years ago, that uses orange zest, Miracle Whip and sour cream -- we use it for fish and, sometimes, veggies or crackers. You know, I suppose I could put cream of tartar in there and actually have a reason to call it tartar sauce...). Plus Pizza.

DH threw his back out over the weekend, and, at my quick grocery store run post-church, I forgot to pick up one of the ingredients for my planned we had some improvisations over this past weekend: leftover Blueberry Waffles from the freezer, or leftover Eggnog Pancakes (that's what we did with the leftover eggnog we had at Christmas before taking off for our travels), from the same source, served with Raspberry Citrus Compote -- raspberries (from the freezer), oranges and grapefruit. The next day's main meal (following the "everybody clean the leftovers out of the fridge" one) was "Spinach" Frittata and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. (Sort of. We tried some new greens, which neither the four-year-old nor I -- the ones who actually eat green salad -- liked as much as the spinach, but we needed to do something with the rest of them. Also, I really should have thawed at least two bananas from the freezer, instead of one, for those muffins. I did use up a a couple of partial bags of chocolate chips, though.)

Which brings us to this week. Here's the tentative plan:

Monday: Cranberry Chicken and Rice, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins.

Tuesday: Sausage Spaghetti Pie.

(This was what I was going to cook this weekend, but didn't have enough tomato paste -- and then I depleted my egg supply, also an ingredient, making the Frittata.) This is a freezer cooking recipe which makes three pies -- the plan is to have one to eat and two for the freezer, either for the family in the future or to be prepared if I get called upon to provide food for a funeral at church. I figure it's a good way to use up the bulk package of spaghetti from a recent pasta sale.

Wednesday:  Zippy Macaroni.

I have an evening appointment, and this is an easy dish that stretches a box of Kraft mac and cheese and adds some grownup taste to it (with salsa).

Thursday: Little Smokies, Hashbrown Casserole.

People in my household who don't really like cornflakes cereal nevertheless chose to purchase a box of it. I do like this hashbrown casserole recipe that my grandma used to prepare frequently, and it calls for cornflakes (and there have been good sales on hasbrowns recently as well). There is still a package of little smokies in the freezer from Christmas time, and it's an easy crockpot recipe that will also use some barbecue sauce from the pantry.

Friday: Pizza.

Saturday:  Some sort of food, as yet undetermined.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Week in Review, Part Two: Biking and Other Spring Exercise

So, spring was on the calendar last week, and it made a brief foray into Minnesota weather patterns as well. (It's back to snowing again now.) In fact, there was enough snowmelt that we went from sledding one weekend

to bike riding the next. (For a couple of days, anyway. And then complaining all day the next day about not being able to ride the bike because it was raining.)

The four-year-old is enjoying some newfound bike freedom this year: she gets to ride on the sidewalk up and down our block all by herself. It is not a short block, so this is some good exercise. She's not allowed to cross any streets on these forays, though -- as she informed our dog-walking neighbor when inviting herself and and her bike along on their walk, to the end of the block.

This is another spring phenomenon in Minnesota: not only does the snow melt and the grass green up (eventually), but neighbors you haven't seen since trick-or-treating suddenly reappear, almost as if they, themselves, are spring shoots of bulbs that have spent the winter buried underground (most likely, in the basement next to the fireplace).

And, with the reemergence of neighbors, my social butterfly seems to find new friends each year. This year's new playmate is an eight-year-old who lives a few houses down from us (and who has shown amazing patience in playing with my four-year-old). They were out this weekend biking, blowing bubbles and having a party on a blanket in the neighbor's driveway with Barbies and other dolls. And, in one of those transitional season things, also playing with our snowball maker in the remaining piles of snow. (I'm pretty sure the snowball maker at our house is one of the attractions for the eight-year-old.)

Meanwhile, the eight-year-old's mom was cleaning out the winter debris from their car in the driveway (I haven't tackled that spring task yet), and I was trimming back the bushes that line our front sidewalk -- the ones that, if you don't trim them, grow to proportions that take over the sidewalk and engulf small children. At least, I trimmed the ones that had emerged from the snow: there were still piles a foot or two deep on top of some of them, and it is way too hard to pull the branches out from under such piles for trimming.

That was my exercise for the weekend. The four-year-old, in addition to all the bike riding, had soccer practice at church on Saturday morning. This is soccer for pre-K and kindergarten age. Which means things like three of them standing in the goal (regulation size goals, so they really fit in the goal), holding hands -- while the other team's ball sails right past all three of them into the goal for a score. Also, when not directly interacting with the ball, the four-year-old and a friend were entertaining themselves by doing handstands against the gym wall.

At this age, as another of her friends reminded us as they engaged in church hallway pre-choir practice entertainment of lying on their backs on the floor and stretching their feet above their heads so their toes touched the floor, they are "more bendy" than grownups.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Week in Review (Part One): St. Patrick's Day- Sort Of

I think I'm over last week's cold, but it has had lingering effects on the productivity and fatigue scale -- meaning, for example, there is no menu plan in place this week, and I still have not put together a grocery list and/or a plan for grocery shopping. This is a problem because we are running out of things like milk, cooking oil and vinegar. (We have not been making a bunch of salad dressing. The vinegar was depleted due to volcano-making. The four-year-old remains fascinated with "science experiments" that involve pouring things into other things and seeing what happens. I blame her father. :) )

Despite best intentions, nothing really got done for St. Patrick's Day, either -- I was too worn out to prepare green food in advance, we have no St. Patrick's Day books, the four-year-old announced she would not wear green, the rainbow book I tried to get from the library still has not arrived, I have no white cake mix for making rainbow cakes/cupcakes, and the four-year-old was in a contrary mood when we tried making a tissue paper rainbow window display from a sheet protector (as we did last year, and as described in her March 2010 issue of Your Big Backyard magazine). We did do a couple of leprechaun/rainbow/unicorn coloring pages/mazes printables, and, post-St. Patrick's Day, tried making shamrock prints with our heart-shaped cookie cutter and green paint -- but she quickly lost interest in that, and just wanted to paint.

(Hmm, I see when I was looking for the tissue paper rainbow link that there is a Rainbow Cookies recipe - for which we have all the ingredients. We should do this some time.

The four-year-old is a big fan of arts and crafts. She's been making Play-Doh bracelets, with Play-Doh "jewels" on them, this winter, and she has devoted the table in her room (which she refers to as "my desk") to the art jar she got for Christmas. (We have not yet spring cleaned her room, which means that little fuzzy bits of feather are all over as, for some reason, one of the most appealing art jar projects for her has been cutting the feathers into pieces. She's also shown a renewed interest in her large Melissa and Doug coloring book as of late, and enjoyed a toy store craft this weekend of decorating coffee filters that were then tied up with pipe cleaners into butterfly shapes.

Getting back to St. Paddy's Day, I, of course, did wear green (it's my favorite color anyway, so I have a plethora of it in my wardrobe), as well as the green and orange "can't we all just get along" beaded bracelet my sister had made for me. And I attended the annual elections meeting of my women's group that night: it's a volunteer service group that actually had contested elections! For the first time ever! This was amazing, and really cool to see; I helped found this group about eight years ago (eek! that seems so long ago!), and it was like pulling teeth to get people to be on the board. This year, we had 23 people who said they would do so! It was a fun meeting, with the elections, talking about lots of great projects, and going out to socialize with friends afterward -- where our conversation ran the gamut from kindergarten to CSAs, spices suppliers, glasses measurements, "shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings."

Why, yes, we did watch Alice in Wonderland this past weekend. Why do you ask?

I also took advantage of a local kid's consignment shop's "50 percent off everything with green on it" offer. The four-year-old is in the stage where she is outgrowing or wearing out everything, yet it's close enough to the end of the winter clothes-wearing season that I don't want to replace the items with more winter clothes. It seems like every time I turn around, a shirt is too small, another pair of pants has holes in them, or the socks are worn through -- I convinced her that we are not giving her pair of socks from which, I saw when she removed her slipper, her big toe and a great deal of her foot were sticking out, to her younger cousin.

Also, it was probably the St. Patrick's Day conversations in the air that led the four-year-old to summarize her Sunday school lesson on Jesus's healing of the 10 lepers thusly: "They were thankful that Jesus healed them, 'cause they had leprechauns, so they were really sick."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Reading Thing 2011

The calendar has officially ushered in spring this week, and with the vernal equinox has sprung up the annual Spring Reading Thing hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days. During the months of spring (official dates: March 20 -- yes, I'm behind on getting this post up -- to June 20), you come up with a list of reading material you want to get read, post it, link to Katrina's post here with all the details, and get reading. (Family-friendly titles and pictures in the post, as kid participants are not unusual.)

So, without (much) further ado, here are my reading goals for the 2011 Spring Reading Thing

1) During this period of time, I want to catch up on my periodicals. For me, this means

a) going through the several weeks' worth of back issues of the local newspaper, reading and clipping what's relevant, and then recycling. (It's a very good local newspaper; it just gets delivered on a day that I rarely have time to read it, and then the "getting behind-ness" snowballs.) I generally start with the latest edition and work backwards, since the coverage of some stories -- such as the brouhaha about our local school district's redrawing of the neighborhood schools' boundaries -- is ongoing.)
b) by June, have read up to -- and hopefully including - the June issues of the magazines I receive (I'm a sucker for a free magazine subscription.) I may be forgetting some, but among these titles are Woman's Day, All You, More, Scholastic Parent and Child (yay for their summer break ;)), Family Fun, Parenting, Minnesota Parent, Minnesota Women's Press, my alumni magazine, The Lutheran and Lutheran Woman Today.

2) Finish my 2008 library list!

My library allows patrons to keep several "lists" in your electronic account -- of, says books you want to read. I started separating "my list" out by years when it got too long and unwieldy -- BUT I now have ONE title left in my 2008 list. I think I can achieve this goal -- especially since it's an audiobook download!

50 Success Classics: Winning Wisdom for Work and Life from 50 Landmark Books by Tom Butler-Bowdon

3) In the spirit of easily achievable goals, I'll put the April and May selections for my book group on here, too (since I know I'll read those)

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

3) And in the spirit of moving forward with goals and continually challenging oneself, let's start on the 2009 library list. :) (There are only 28 titles on here to start with -- I think the 2008 list began with a count somewhere in the 50s or 60s. I either got choosier, or smarter.) Hmm...I think four might be a good number to shoot for?

The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd by Mary Rose O'Reilly

Do-Over: In Which a Forty-eight-year-old Father of Three Returns to Kindergarten, Summer Camp, The Prom and Other Embarrassments by Robin Hemley

Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert by Terry Tempest Williams

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Like Mother, Like Daughter compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

It would also be nice if I got some of the books around my house read (these are all library titles listed here), but that may be a goal for a later date.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Week in Review: Online Organizing, Kindergarten Open House

I'm doing last week's week in review in the middle of this week in part because, this week, I have managed to acquire a spring cold that is making me not very happy. I was hoping it would get better, but so far, it's just getting worse. Also, I'm not getting much sleep, even though that would probably help with the cold, partly because it's a head cold that's making it difficult to sleep...ah, the irony.

I also haven't been getting much sleep because I finally, finally have managed to (I think almost) complete a project that's been on my "to-do" list for a long time -- organizing lists of all of my online passwords and log-ins so that I can remember all of them and/or know what I've signed up for, as well as unsubscribing to email lists/setting up e-mail filters. My email had been taking me ridiculously long to go through, and I have really needed to get a handle on this for a long time. It seems that, when one plunges into the frugal circles on the web, one ends up signing up for a gigantically huge list of special store programs and such for the deals and coupons. I think this project is mostly complete except for a few straggling issues like the fact that some companies' "switch your email programs" have an up to 10-day delay in making the switch -- which I think is patently ridiculous in this age of instantaenousness. Dear people: I changed my email address (I switched most things to a gmail address with excellent filtering capabilities) because I wanted you to quit sending me all this junk! Stop sending me even more junk the very next day after I changed my email address on your account! It's annoying me and prompting even more unsubscribes.

Of course, I have also discovered that some websites/programs do not have the option to unsubscribe/delete your account -- unless you go through some giant hidden hassle that has so far been impossible for me to find. I'm not impressed with that. Once all the stragglers are taken care of, though, my email should be spring cleaned and a lot easier to deal with on a daily time management basis. (And yes, I have deleted a ton of old emails - at least over 900, possibly up to 1,000. And then, yes, there was one or two that I needed but appear to have deleted. Oh, well, such is life.)

This has literally been days' worth of hours of work, and I think it's one of those things that I need to provide myself with a reward for for having accomplished it. I'm thinking a Hershey's bar with almonds.

In other news from last week, we took the four-year-old to the open house for next year's kindergarteners at what will be her school. She was slightly ill (guess from whom I caught this cold?), and hence cranky and shy when we looked around the classrooms, but the "practice" school bus ride was a hit with her -- and with most of the other kids there, I believe. (There was at least one family there we knew, but their four-year-old was not visible as he was hidden behind his mother's legs. Such are the hazards of future kindergarteners - who also have difficulty seeing out the bus window. :) )

We had a very pleasant family Sunday dinner at a new-to-us restaurant DH wanted to try, and took a late Sunday afternoon sledding trip to the park to get in a last hurrah of the season before the snow began to melt as the temperatures rose this week.