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.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Menu Plan March 14

This week's menu plan is, as Laura says over at OrgJunkie (where you can find a lot of other menu plans for the week), a flexible tool that helps things work for me. We may not have everything exactly as it says here (I have a lot of spinach to use up, but the four-year-old has been having "issues" with spinach lately --- even though, when she believes it's lettuce, she eats it just fine), but it gives me a tool to work from.

A couple of other things to mention, as I keep track of these recipes for myself: we supplemented our White Chili on Saturday with Spinach Crescents -- using some of the aforementioned spinach, plus a container of crescent rolls in the fridge -- a recipe from a Taste of Home Holidays & Celebrations cookbook (I got the names of these cookbooks wrong in last week's post). Notes to self: the fresh spinach does not blend as well with the olive oil in the blender as the frozen spinach the recipe assumes you're using; next time I make these savory breads, I should probably either a) use a different machine or b) only use a tiny, tiny bit of spinach at a time. You're supposed to be creating kind of a spread from the blended spinach, Parmesan and olive oil, to put inside the crescent rolls.

Also, Sunday's meal was Blueberry French Toast Casserole, a recipe from my personal notebook of recipes -- which means I collected it from somewhere, some when, but as for precise details, I have no idea. Used most of the blueberries in the freezer from last summer, a bunch of stale bread ends from the fridge, and some of freshly ordered maple syrup. (Having honeymooned in Vermont, we became maple syrup snobs and will only consume the "real stuff.") Sort of a seasonal meal, as it's getting nigh on to maple sugaring season; also I like to at least try to clear out the previous summer's produce from the freezer during Lent.

Monday: Hot Dogs, Carrot-Raisin Salad.

Not an inspired menu plan, but we had hot dogs and buns in the freezer. Also, I needed to use up the remaining carrots in the crisper drawer; this recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens red and white cookbook. It's an easy meal for the beginning of the workweek, since I chopped up carrots, threw some lemon juice, raisins and Miracle Whip in with them, and stuck them in the fridge yesterday -- the salad needs to chill.

Tuesday: Pasta with Spinach. That's the theory, anyway -- athough, as I've said, I may have issues with the four-year-old consuming this. I'm hoping the pasta will offset the spinach-ness, since I have a meeting on Thursday and am kind of thinkiing of this as a potential early St. Patrick's day celebration. (We did discuss this weekend, as she was eating snacks, that green grapes could be considered a St. Patrick's Day green food.)

Wednesday: Church Supper.

Thursday: Remaining Fish Sticks, Spinach Dip.

There is a partially eaten box of fish sticks in the fridge -- my mom only made some of them when she babysat for the four-year-old a while ago, and truly, it's sort of driving me insane. (I generally do the whole box, then have leftovers.) The Spinach Dip will be green -- and, again, I'm hoping its "dippiness" - potentially served with chips and/or raw veggies -- will offset the spinach-ness for the four-year-old to eat it.

Friday: Pizza.

Saturday: Chicken? Morning Glory Muffins?

Firm plans are not in place yet, but as I did a quick perusal of the freezer contents last weekend, I was reminded that I have a ton of basil/olive oil ice cubes from the plants we grew last summer on the deck -- and I haven't used any of them yet. I might try to do some sort of chicken/basil thing. Also, if there are still more carrots left (a friend brought a veggie tray to my house a few days ago; ironically, the broccoli, celery, and peapods have all been consumed, but hasn't been eaten are all the raw carrots), I haven't made Morning Glory Muffins -- a recipe from either a) my mom or b) the newspaper growing up (or both) -- for a long time. Ingredients include shredded carrots, some apple (I would use a bit of apple from the freezer and then make plans for the rest of the container that would be thawed), and raisins.

Also thinking I really need to start using up last summer's raspberries.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Books of 2011: 11-15

11. Run by Ann Patchett (from 2008 library list)

We read Bel Canto by the same author in my church book group, and that book was well written. This was one was, too, and was a good read about family, identity, choices and more. The plot of the book takes place over 24 hours, starting (mostly) with a car accident that occurs on the night a retired Irish-American politician in Boston has taken his sons -- young African African men raised by the father after the adoptive mother died early in their young lives -- to hear a speech by Jesse Jackson. One of the characters is a runner, but the title also envelops the idea of running for office, from -- or to - things in our lives, and more.

12. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (church book group, January)

(The January book group meeting occurred on a date that I knew I wouldn't make it, so I didn't read the book until afterward.) We seem to have been reading quite a bit about people with Alzheimer's disease in this book group this year (Still Alice was an earlier selection.) This one deals with an elderly woman who is a Russian immigrant to America and is suffering Alzheimer's in her later years -- so that the parts of her life that is most real to her, and to readers of the book, is what she experienced as she lived through the siege of Leningrad in World War II. As a worker at the Hermitage museum prior to the war, she lived in the basement of the museum during the siege, and conducted "memory tours" through the empty rooms of the art that used to be there before it was evacuated (including several images of the Madonna, hence the book's title). I had never heard of this book or author before it was selected for this book group, but I really liked the book.

13. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (for women's book group, March/church book group, April)

This book, on the other hand, is one that has been extremely popular lately. Set in the early 1960s, at the beginning of the civil rights movement, in Jackson, Mississippi, it tells the tale of a group of African-American women who work as maids -- "the help" -- and, to a lesser extent, of the young white women of the Junior League and the "proper social circle," and their interactions as one of the white women begins to write the stories of the experiences of "the help," including such things as needing to use a separate bathroom from the families for which they worked. Telling those tales can be dangerous at that time and place, and that's reflected in the book, although it doesn't have a lot of graphic depictions of violence. I really liked a lot of the characters and found the book very readable and interesting - it's a long book, but a quick read -- and the subject is  interesting, too. (One of our women's book group members went to visit relatives in Mississippi, and talked about and confirmed the very real existence of the separate bathrooms and such.) I don't think it's quite as well written as Ann Patchett's book, but it was a good read.

14. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

(We sometimes share books around in book group, and I think this one came from one of those friends -- although she claims ignorance. It's a mystery how this one found its way into my house, but it's on its way to another friend's knitting group.) I really, really liked the characters in this book, too, and in fact, for most of the book thought it was meant to be one of those character-focused slices of life. I suppose it is, in a way, but something actually does happen in the book -- but not until you're about three-quarters of the way through. The group is a bunch of women who happen to meet every Friday evening at a knitting supply store in New York City: the shop owner, her teenage daughter, a grad student who doesn't knit and feels out of place, a wealthy widowed woman, a  mid-career person with a ticking biological clock. The book, overall, was OK.

15. Perfect Family by Pam Lewis (from 2008 library list)

The adult children and widowed father of a New England family find that family secrets begin to unravel in the time following the death of the mother and the death of one of the sisters -- which may not have been an accident. (Huh. This theme of novels with dead mothers -- Things I Want My Daughters to Know, Run, this one -- was not intentional.) Perfect Family is a type of mystery -- it's not really a "whodunnit" - if you have pretty much one extra character, that's pretty easy to figure out pretty early -- but more of "whydunnit." And that did get interesting, with the twists and turns and far-reaching ramifications of long-held family secrets.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Week in Review: Singin' in the Spring?

I did a bit of cleaning this past week -- I suppose one could call it spring cleaning, as I did take most of the winter decorations down, and redid our seasonal table with some more spring-like decor. (The bird dresser scarf is from my grandmother, and some of the artificial tulips -- the silk ones -- in the vase were decor at my bridal shower several years ago.)

Part of the reason for this was that I hosted a "Sing in the Spring" brunch on Sunday. I really enjoy entertaining every so often, and used another of my grandmother's linens -- an card-table-sized tablecloth embroidered with spring flowers -- to cover up some of the scratches on my coffee table, which served as one of the eating surfaces. (It has also seen semi-regular use as a racetrack for toy cars, dumping ground for wooden blocks and puzzles, etc. -- hence, the scratches.) Menu consisted of orange juice and water served in pitchers -- as well as peppermint tea in a spring green teapot, but I don't thin most people noticed that -- fruit served in a cut glass serving dish that I think was a wedding present, microwaved sausages served in one of our wedding china bowls, Almond Cake (recipe from my grandma) served in a Tupperware® cake keeper, and Spinach-Egg Casserole served in the glass casserole dish I baked it in (the one with the lid; to make it easier to store leftovers).

After some time chatting and eating, a former coworker of mine, who left to actually pursue her dream of a career in music, led us in some semi-structured singing and in some singing exercises. (She's now running a "spontaneous singing" business, designed to teach people improvisational skills that can transfer to other areas of their lives -- whether they "can sing" or not.) I don't think anyone really knew what to expect, but we ended up learning a beautiful song in the Zulu language (the lyrics, which she eventually translated for us, translate to "every burden rolls away"), having a hilarious "story" communication around the circle which took place completely in invented language -- emphasizing the importance of nonverbal communication -- and created a samba rhythm with various groups counting different beats and combinations of "1 and 2 and 3 and 4." It was great fun to spend this time with friends, and to spend time singing -- and our singing experience used much more energy than I thought it would!

The four-year-old and the husband were not home for much of this event, but the four-year-old did help prepare the spinach for the egg casserole the previous day by helping me cut it into smaller pieces: I used the kitchen scissors; she used one of her pairs of safety scissors -- which I washed afterward, because she complained that they turned green.

And, despite the new decorations and the spring theme of the brunch event, spring has not yet arrived here -- it snowed again late Sunday afternoon and evening. Which is one reason why it's a good thing that our church is offering a youth soccer program on Saturdays in March: it's the time of year when parents and kids are getting desperate for opportunities to run off some of that pent-up energy. (We've played some Gator Golf in the house, but it's just not the same.) In fact, at last Saturday's first session of the pre-K and kindergarteners' soccer, as soon as the coach said, "Now I want you to run--" all the kids took off immediately running in the church gym. They didn't bother to wait for further instructions. The four-year-old actually did pretty well with the "skill drills" in practice, and played enthusiastically -- at least until she wore herself out.

Earlier iin the week, I also went to a Craft Night with friends, where we worked on various crafting projects in one woman's living room. I have a few cross-stitch things I'd like to get done before Christmas (especially since the original intent was to finish them for last Christmas...), but at least I'm not working on a needlepoint project begun 30 years ago. :)

And, last Wednesday evening, I saw four trumpeter swans flying north in the early evening. Perhaps it's a sign that some spring-like changes are on the way.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Menu Plan

I had a brief fall off the menu planning wagon last week -- which resulted in our having our Pizza dinner last Thursday, because I had nothing else planned -- but fortunately, I recovered quickly, and recalled that we had garlic and linguini in the cupboard, to create a Garlic Pasta (recipe from a Quick Cooking compilation) for Friday night.

i hosted a brunch for some friends on Sunday, with my version of an Egg Casserole recipe from a Taste of Home Seasons and Celebrations compilation cookbook (i.e., I left out the meat and seafood they called for and just made it with the eggs and vegetables), an Almond Cake recipe from my grandmother, and some Fruit and Sausages. It must have been a success, because I've had recipe requests for the almond cake and the egg casserole -- both of the things I actually cooked.

We'll be doing a bit of some seasonal celebrating this week with our menu, since Mardi Gras/Fastnacht/Fat Tuesday approaching before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Monday: Jambalaya. We haven't had this for quite some time, and it incorporates (or can, anyway...) rice, shrimp and sausage -- all favorites of the five-year-old. Plus, it has some Mardi Gras-like associations, for me in my mind anyway, since I associate them both with New Orleans (to which I have never traveled). Also, there's some sausage left over from the brunch that can go into it.

Tuesday: French Apple Pancake. This is an oven pancake that puffs up and is relatively filling for a family meal, without requiring the cooking of individual pancakes. Pancakes are also a traditional Fat Tuesday meal, as people used up their butter and eggs that they wouldn't be eating during Lent. Besides butter and eggs, we'll also be using some of the apples we picked and froze last fall for this recipe.

Wednesday: Church Supper, prior to church activities -- like Ash Wednesday worship.

Thursday: If there are enough leftovers from earlier in the week, that's what DH and the five-year-old will be eating while I attend a Bible study; if not, there's mac and cheese and/or a bag of Voila pasta in the house.

Friday: Pizza.

Saturday: White Chili. A recipe from my sister's college roommate, which my sister didn't like, but I did. Just haven't made it in a while, plus the theory is that spring should be springing some time in the next few weeks, and ending "soup weather." (My husband doesn't like to eat soup when it's warm.) Or, at least, one can always hope ...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Math, Science and My Girl

We went to a demonstration of the "My First Science Kits" products at Michael's craft store last Saturday. We did not buy any of the kits, but the four-year-old was fascinated with the demonstration. It focused on the color mixing kit, which also comes with a bag of small crystals you can grow in the test tubes from the moisture you've used in your color mixing (and the crystals also then absorb whatever color you've put in that tube). We got there late enough in the demo that the lady gave the four-year-old a tube of crystals (since she had the opened product and had to do something with it) -- I'm not sure what on earth we'll be doing with them, but the four-year-old occasionally picks up the tube and says, "Wow, look how much they grew!"

She also had a lot of hands-on participation in the color mixing itself, using a dropper to put water colored with tablets similar to those used in Easter egg coloring kits into plastic cups to create -- purple from red and blue! orange from red and yellow! green from yellow and blue! brown from everything mixed together! --- and so on.

This also resulted in experiments at the breakfast table the next morning: did you know  that if you pour cranberry/blueberry juice into water, and vice versa, they both turn purple? Shocking, I know.

Her father is a scientist, and she is very eager to do "es-spear-a-mints." I hope to maintain this eagerness, but we don't always get around to doing as much as we could -- although we have been doing some "what sinks and what floats" experiments at bathtime lately.

Still, it's an encouraging to me that in one day -- one day -- lately, the four-year-old, self-directed, has been exploring science and math skills. I did have to try to explain "one half" to her (I forget exactly why it came up), by demonstrating with the measuring cups we use for the cooking she helps with: I poured the half-cup full of water, twice, and then poured those into the one-cup measure to filll it.

Otherwise, pretty much all we parents have done is make the resources available to her. Resources like a simple wooden ruler for measuring "how long is...." a stuffed animal, a book, a game box, her leg, my leg, her arm, my arm, etc., etc.

Plus, the Usborne 1,1001 Things to Spot books (she's currently interested in 1,001 Things to Spot in the Town, a Christmas present). Numbers of how many of certain items you're supposed to find in each scene are called out along the borders of the two-page spread, so it's good for both number recognition and counting. Plus, the scenes show a variety of different towns, including a Middle Eastern market, a downtown theater district, and more, so it's got some social studies/geography in there, too. She loves the "finding things" books.

And, she's just started getting interested in another Christmas present, Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100. So far, we're just reading the story, in which Curious George counts up to 100 things (something like "11 socks, 12 shoes....17 birds," etc.) on the day of his town's Centennial celebration and not doing much of the other learning activities suggested within it. (As you can imagine, it's a rather long book.) But the story does incorporate the numerals for 1 to 100, and we have the hardcover edition which also has the numerals from 1 to 100 imprinted along the front and back covers. She has been interested in pointing to those and counting up to 100 -- we just have to watch the timing between her finger and her mouth, since they seem to race against each other. And, she's started independently counting up to at least 50 -- because she told me her Ariel mermaid toy was 50 years old so got to be the queen of the waves in her bath, as opposed to the smaller mermaid toy, who is apparently only 5 years old.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Books of 2011: 5-10

6. Grace (Eventually): Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (2008 library list)

This book appears to be a collection of her writings published in the early 2000 and, while some such column collections age well (for me, for example, Anna Quindlen comes to mind), this one hasn't, overall. The frequent George Bush-bashing just seems irrelevant and annoying. There were a few nice things in here -- some stories of acceptance of people at her church, and of the trials of teaching Sunday school to small children examined in light of the overall picture of grace, but overall, for me, it was a "meh."

7. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (church book group, February)

I actually didn't go into this with high hopes, and was pleasantly surprised. I found his examinations of the "whys" behind certain social phenomena very interesting. For example, the relevance of the logical approach of the Chinese language to math -- it's basically the metric system in words -- to Asian students' success in mathematical fields in the U.S.; and the examination of hockey success based on birth dates and season starts -- and, hence, amount of ice time practice. (As you can imagine, that one was a big topic of discussion here in Minnesota at the book group.) Kudos to Gladwell for also including his own family's experiences -- his mother is Jamaican, educated in England -- in some of these sociological explorations. I'm still somewhat disturbed, however, by his apparent conclusion that yes, people who succeed in any endeavor need to work hard, but if you work hard in a particular endeavor and it's not the right time for the succes of that area where your talents lie -- i.e., it's not the 1970s for Jewish laywers in New York, it's not the 1980s for computer programmers, it's not the late 1800s for wealthy industrialists -- well, then, rots o' ruck to you. A thought-provoking, memorable read.

8. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella (women's book group, February)

Picked as an easy, light, fun read, by the author of the Shopaholic chick lit series. This one's not part of that series (although I, personally, can see a sequel featuring the cousin of the main character -- even if others in the group couldn't), and I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the Shopaholic ones I've read, but it was still fun. The main character is in her 20s, rather aimless and lacking her own direction in life -- when she becomes haunted by the ghost of her great-aunt, a 1920s flapper with a mystery to solve/necklace to find. The great-aunt's gumption helps the main character get her life on track, find love, etc. Also, there's a lot of descriptions of 1920s fashion, and I kind of like 1920s fashion.

9. Retire Happy: What You Can Do Now to Guarantee a Great Retirement by Richard Stim and Ralph Warner (2008 library list)

I picked this up now in part because of my mom's recent retirement and because, as a person in her 40s, I probably should be thinking about retirement, well, a bit more than I have been. I liked that, while it did talk about the financial aspects -- and offered some very practical, clear advice -- the book also focused on other areas of life where one should prepare now to have a good retirement (and, as a byproduct, have a good "now," too): things like maintaining health, establishing and repairing family connections, and figuring out hobbies/interests/what it is you've "always wanted to do" -- and taking steps to do it. I would definitely recommend this book and may try to acquire it for our home library at some point.

10. Things I Want My Daughters to Know by Elizabeth Noble (2008 library list)

For some reason, I had been under the impression this was a nonfiction book. It's not: it's a novel -- one which I really enjoyed. I tend to like well-written books with all the family interweavings and such, and this book has all that: it's about the letters a mother leaves behind to her four daughters after her too -early death from cancer, what the daughters learn from the letters, what they do with their lives, how their perspectives of their past life changes, and so on.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: A Decorated "Cake"

"Cake" made by four-year-old and Grandma with sand buckets and snow. Decorated with squeeze bottles filled with water and food coloring.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Week(s) in Review: February Wrap-Up, Longing for Spring

(So, apparently one of the goals I should set for myself with this blog is "regular posting schedule." Duly noted.)

It's been a couple of weeks since I've written, weeks in which we've celebrated Valentine's Day, experienced One Gigantic Monster Snowstorm, hosted my mom for a visit, and more.

Valentine's Day: I love seasonality and holidays, but unfortunately never got around to fun stuff like making homemade Valentines, etc., this year. We did have a special Valentine's family dinner, consisting of spaghetti with red sauce; garlic breadsticks shaped into X's and O's; the molded strawberry jello salad (red) with a sour cream/strawberry juice layer (pink) that was such a hit at Christmas, only this time done with the heart insert on the Jello mold; and brownies with a heart shape in the middle of the pan created from broken bits of leftover Christmas candy canes. We also exchanged (storebought) cards, small heart-shaped boxes of candy, and gave my daughter Melissa and Doug puzzles featuring princesses and horses.

President's Day: Didn't do much for that, either, except that the four-year-old and I made some coconut-cherry cookies with a recipe from an old Taste of Home magazine. (They're President's Day cookies because of the George Washington connection to cherries, of course.) She's an enthusiastic stirrer/mixer operator/dumper in of ingredients, and I let her get some scissors practice by cutting the maraschino cherries into smaller bits.

She was in a musical mood for a while there, resulting in things like singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" incredibly loudly and with the wrong words (she somehow replaced "mild" with "wild") as well as "Jingle Bells" -- so that I had to explain what  a "one-horse open sleigh" (rather than a "10-horse two-ton sleigh") is. There was also a brief pretend concert with the toy piano and guitar Santa brought her for Christmas 2009.

After her church choir practice, which happened to be the day before her very good friend's fifth birthday (we sang "Happy Birthday" to J, a rather reserved child who doesn't like to be the center of attention -- what was that they say about opposites attracting? -- in the parking lot after choir), we had an interesting conversation on the drive home: "She's gonna be five and I'm only four, and it's Not Fair!" I gave up on the explanations after a while and just agreed with her. "You're right. It's not fair."

We've also been having constant conversations about whether "x food" is "healthy" or not, I think in part prompted by the discussion(s) resulting from having to stop her from opening the children's vitamins meant to be donated to our church's mission trip to Haiti. The gist of these conversations is that "your doctor says you don't need vitamins, because you eat so many healthy foods, but some kids aren't lucky enough to have enough healthy foods to eat."

 The healthy food conversations are also coming in part because I'm doing a winter weight loss/maintain (not gain) program at work, which I'm making sure to talk about in front of the four-year-old in terms of "health," not "weight." (It's being done by teams -- which got weighed as teams on the shipping scale at the beginning of the challenge, and will do so again at the end.)

And speaking of food-related conversations, we also made a grocery store stop the other evening. At one point she asked if we were going home now, and I told her that no, we had to pay first. Her response: "'Cause if you don't pay, God will be mad." This is part of her interpretation of the 10 Commandments.

I don't think it's exactly stealing, but I wouldn't want it repeated -- although a one-off was kind of...intriguing -- when my hairdresser actually paid the four-year-old two dollars when I got my hair cut (finally; it's been since August). The reasoning behind this was that the four-year-old, who was fascinated with the in-wall vacuum, actually completely cleaned up the cutting area of hair, resulting in the hairdresser not having to do any work at all.

Also related to girly "glamour," we spent an evening making bracelets and rings out of Play-Doh. Our other popular manipulative of late has been the Legos, which have been transformed into an ice cream stand, a picnic table, a swimming pool, a parade float .... can you tell that the wishful thinking around here is longing for spring and summer?

Not surprising, really, especially considering that our snowstorm a week ago dumped Nineteen. Inches. of Snow. on top of our already existing piles in the space of time between mid-Sunday morning (yes, we missed church) and Monday evening, when it finally stopped. I think the current total snow tally for this winter is something like 79 inches, and we are up there among the top three snowiest winters in recorded Minnesota history.

I attempted to have a cozy day of soup during our snowed-in period -- but unfortunately managed to break our ceramic pasta/serving bowl as I was pouring soup into it. We salvaged some of the corn chowder, but the bowl -- a wedding present that my husband particularly liked -- was a loss. Plus, I ended up having to pull the stove out from the wall and scrub the sides of it, plus the kitchen floor behind and underneath -- as well as the rest of it while I was down there; might as well -- to deal with the results of the corn chowder avalanche.

This past weekend, we attempted to embrace the snow (sort of) by engaging in some snow painting with food coloring-colored water in some empty dish soap squeeze bottles - and then playing with the soccer ball. Luckily, it's bright pink, so it shows up well in the snow, and the huge berms of snow on either side of the sidewalk deflect it from going out into the street. The snow is too deep to play in the yard.

We also thought of spring during my mom's visit when we accompanied Grandma to a couple of fabric stores to pick out fabric for spring/Easter (and maybe the spring family wedding) dresses and skirts. Which resulted in having the four-year-old try on some dresses from her closet to see what size pattern still fit -- and looking at how long her legs have become, so that some of those dresses now look the style on little girls in the 1950s, way up the thighs barely covering the rear ends. We're adding another tier of flounces to the Easter dress pattern to make it longer -- and one of the dresses from the closet has now become a shirt.

Our weekend excursions also included a trip to Target to hear the reading of Dr. Seuss stories, and a trip to Michael's for the demonstration of the My First Science Kit.

And, one reason my mom was visiting was to babysit while my husband and I got our taxes done, and also went to a movie (The King's Speech: very good, and we saw it before it won the Oscar. By a day. We're so prescient.) and checked out a new Vietnamese restaurant in our town (much improved under the new ownership).

And's March. Isn't this the month spring is supposed to start?