Saturday, June 23, 2012

Spring Reading Thing Wrap-Up

Officially, this week, spring is over. And, with it, comes the end of the 2012 Spring Reading Thing challenge hosted by Katrina at Callapidder Days.

How did I do on the challenge? Well, I read all but one of the books on my list. I plowed through Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnley
by Alison Weir -- in which those who had motivation for the murder could be summarized as "everyone in Scotland" -- and, after reading a book about British history with the constant references to "Lord So-and-So," which was, of course, not his name but merely his title, so that he (and there were many, many such "he's") would be referred to a couple of pages later by his name, or later, by a new title he might have acquired ... my brain just was not up for more mind-taxing references to titled nobility. So, "The King's Mistress," despite its being a fiction title and likely a lighter read, was postponed.

I did, however, read: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand, Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2)
by Suzanne Collins (plus Mockinjay), State of Wonder: A Novel (P.S.)
by Ann Patchett, Food in History
by Reay Tannahill, North With the Spring: A Naturalist's Record of a 17,000-Mile Journey With the North American Spring (American Seasons, 1st Season)
by Edwin Way Teale, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation
by Andrea Wulf -- and a few more that were not originally on my list. I'm still working my way through my chronological read-through of the Bible this year (currently in Kings and Chronicles), and my read-alouds to the (now) six-year-old have continued, even though we haven't managed to get in there all of the classics that I'd like to implant in her brain. (It's hard to balance this out, with also having enough time to do read-alouds of the books she picks -- like the entire unicorn oeuvre of our library.) Probably our biggest read-aloud success this spring was Uncle Wiggily's Story Book. I was even willing to incur a two-day overdue fine (we couldn't renew it because it was on someone else's request list) so we could finish the book.

All of the books I read this spring were good; I loved Founding Gardeners. (I also felt very patriotic for reading it over Memorial Day weekend.) It focused on four (and a half, sort of --- Benjamin Franklin was referenced quite a bit, but he didn't get his own section) of the Founding Fathers -- George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison -- and their involvement with plants, plantings and gardenings. (I can't remember what order they were addressed in the book, but it amuses me to list them in the order they held the U.S. Presidency; the first four people to do so.) I feel like I have not read as much about Madison before as I have the others, and was particularly intrigued by his section of the book. Also, now I want to go back to Monticello some day and focus more attention on the gardens during the visit.

I liked North with the Spring, but I think I liked Wandering Through Winter, with its daily diary approach, better. This one did make me wonder, though, what some of those natural areas Teale traveled in the 1950s look like today. Can you still camp on the island he references, etc.? 

Probably my favorite discovery during this challenge -- partly related to the challenge, partly to the need to read it for a book group -- was my use of my library's "Bestseller Express" program for Unbroken. I had never used it before and, while I still have some resentment about paying to use the library service, the 10-day rental fee of $4 for a book whose free circulation copies had 400-plus requests ahead of mine on them was pretty easy to use. I might use it again if there's something I really, really want to read right now (although usually, I can wait).

Thanks, Katrina, for hosting the Spring Reading Thing; I always find it encouraging to have some external motivation for accomplishing something (in this case, reading certain books) that I've been wanting and meaning to do anyway.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Some Science-y Stuff

While we don't homeschool, per se, we do engage in some (very informal) "supplemental" schooling. And, since there's an interest in science from the household small person, we're trying to encourage that. A few science-y things from the past week or so:

- We watched the solar eclipse on May 20. Poked a hole through a sheet of white printer paper and held it over another, intact, piece of paper until we could see the glowing dot of the sun -- and the shadow of the moon moving across it. My mom was visiting that weekend, so she, Nora, and I were all outside doing this for a while -- we kept having to move to slightly different spots around the yard/neighborhood due to trees and the process of the sunset. We also got a neighbor girl involved for a little while after she came home from dinner with her family while we were all standing outside.

- When I repotted the ever-bearing strawberry we purchased at this spring's plant sale into a larger pot, I found ants herding aphids within the soil it had come with. While we had a brief discussion of the concept of ants herding aphids -- like the uncles in our family raise cows (sort of; the uncles raise beef cattle, while the ants drink the aphids' excretions -- which would be more the equivalent of dairy farming), the upshot is: we want to eat the strawberries. Not feed them to aphids. Which led to some methods of natural pest control: spraying the plant and the soil for a few days with a mixture of warm water, dish soap -- and cayenne pepper. (So far, it seems to be working.)

- We discovered, as a result of a 5-year-old kindergartener performing self-designed experiments with the equipment from the science kit she received for her last birthday, that
a) one good reason to have hummus containers (and their well-fitting lids!) on hand in the "plastic containers" cupboard is that they are clear, so they make a decent substitute for test tubes in which to grow the polymer crystals that have been mixed into a solution of water, red cabbage juice, citric acid, baking soda
b) regular spray stain remover will not remove red cabbage juice from a pale purple shirt; you need to use something like "Goop" -- or possibly another enzymatic cleaner
c) when the 1 tablespoon measuring spoon is missing from the kitchen, perhaps Mommy should check the baking soda supplies in the science kit

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Thursday Report on Wednesday's Cleaning Activities

Today’s outfit is a cool contrast to yesterday’s. Today I am attired in dark lime-greenish slacks, lime green sandals, a faux-wrap style white T-shirt, with a three-quarter sleeve white cotton jacket, with a scarf with a lime green and white geometric design threaded through the lapels.

Yesterday, on the other hand, was sweaty and sticky, in a stripey T-shirt and capris. The sweat and stickiness was partly due to the humid, muggy weather -- the predecessor to last night's and today's pouring rains -- and also partly due to finally getting to some of the tasks on the spring cleaning list. I did a major clean of the master bedroom, which also involved doing my seasonal wardrobe switch. (I took advantage of this opportunity to dust and vacuum the closet. Which has really scratched-up walls and will some day need to be repainted. That day is Not. Today.)

Of course, now that I have the summer clothes at the ready, the temperature dropped along with the rain. Sigh. I also purged a few items from the wardrobe, made notes of things I need to add and/or replace (for both winter and summer), and began the process of washing and drying sweaters. (This would not take as long if I actually remembered which ones I had previously washed during the course of the winter wearings. Maybe I should make a checkoff list or something for next year.)

Plus, I took all the drawers out of my dresser and dusted the interior recesses -- and found an earring that had been missing for months!! Score!! I took down and washed the curtains, and spent some time trying to remove a piece of hardware on the curtain rod that belonged to the blinds that we got rid of, I believe it was last year. Unfortunately, not having a sledgehammer on hand, I think I'm stuck with that darn little bit of metal for a while.

I moved (some) furniture and vacuumed behind/under/the spaces that don't normally see the light of day. There is some furniture, like our headboard with built-in nightstands, that I don't think has been moved since we moved into the house. Because I am not moving it. And, seeing as I feel I need to remove the mote from my own eye -- or, more specifically, the piles of papers I'm supposed to be organizing in the household -- before attacking DH's mysterious piles of paper in the bedroom, I choose to let that sleeping dog lie. (Currently, I just vacuum the dust bunnies they attract, and think that some day, in the future, we really could get rid of that paperwork from an insurance company we don't even use anymore...)

I also stripped the bed down to the mattress -- and beyond. I washed the dust ruffle, mattress pad, and bedding, then remade everything without the extra blanket for winter and with the summer bedspread. (And without the dust that probably accumulated on the bed while I stacked things on there during the whole cleaning process.) And I did move the bed to vacuum under it (luckily, it's on wheels), and I flipped the mattress.

I also, yesterday, managed to get some salmon grilled for supper before it started raining, and served it with mashed potatoes heated up in the crockpot from a container that had been in the freezer. (I'm trying to get the freezer contents down so I can defrost it before stocking up on Memorial Day meat sales, this year's berry-picking season begins, etc.)

Plus, I sewed and/or ironed on patches to a Girl Scout uniform. Oh, and I stopped at a neighborhood garage sale run by a family with a girl two years older than mine. Nice when they have clothes for 50 cents or a quarter; I bought some winter pajamas and a few long-sleeve shirts for next winter, plus a Care Bears Christmas book and a Disney princess towel set.

And, today, it was back to the daily grind. Where I discovered that a bunch of things I typed into a file on Tuesday did not, for some reason, save, so I had to retype them all. over. again

Monday, May 21, 2012

Comestibles from the Kitchen

While, at the moment, we're in a season of not doing a great deal of decent cooking (everything either seems to wind down in May for the end of the school year, or gear up for the summer), there have been a few comestibles of note lately for one reason or another.

For one, I used up the beets that had been preserved in our freezer from last year's CSA produce boxes. My original intention had been to use them as borchst, but I think I missed the winter window for that. But, since I don't actually like beets, I needed to find another option. (I know: I don't like beets, but I do like borscht. Or at least, I have liked the borscht I've eaten that was actually made by Ukrainians. It's entirely possible that if I were to attempt to cook it myself, it would have been a different story.) I ended up making them into a Chocolate Beet Cake. It's similar to the idea of replacing some of the liquids in a cake recipe with applesauce, except this uses pureed beets. Some people might use it to hide veggies from their kids. I told the kid upfront; I just wanted to hide the beets (or at least the taste of them) from myself. It worked! I liked it, ate it, and now know of at least two useful uses for beets. (Plus, I got to use the Tupperware cake keeper my grandma gave me when she cleaned out her house: always a bonus getting to use some fun specialty kitchen item.)

We're still using up some other CSA stuff, too: some garlic went into a spaghetti and shrimp dish recently, and tomatoes got unfrozen (in boiling water) to be plopped into a cheeseburger pie. It's possible the tomatoes may have come not from the CSA, but from the generous neighbor. My attempts at growing tomatoes myself have been fails, so I didn't even buy any plants this year. Perhaps the neighbor will again be generous? I had intentions of using the raspberries thawed from the stash from last year's raspberry picking in some sort of recipe, but they got eaten plain. I find them rather tart served so, but apparently the kindergartener who complained after I quit putting them in her lunch (because she'd eaten all of them) disagreed.

And we've had a couple of fun opportunities to review foods, too. I received a free sample of Knorr Homestyle Stock from Smiley 360, and we cooked it up as part of the broth for a dish of pork chops baked atop stuffing mix (yes, this was back in the cold spring -- you know, a couple of weeks ago). It's little packages of dried broth ingredients that you reconstitute with boiling water. The idea, I guess, is to replace cans of broth. It does take up less storage space -- and I imagine would hurt less than a can if you dropped it on your toe -- but I'm not particularly happy about the relatively high sodium content in the ingredients list. When I do buy canned broth, I generally opt for the low sodium type. And the taste was just OK - I didn't find it spectacular, and I don't think the rest of the family even noticed. Still, it's nice to have some broth on hand (we have one more package we haven't used yet.)

I also received a coupon from Kraft First Taste for their new Teddy Graham Soft Paws. It's a snack item in their Teddy Graham line, except instead of being tiny teddy bear-shaped graham crackers, it's a larger, bear (cub) paw-shaped softer pastry, with filling in either apple cinnamon or oatmeal raisin flavors. We tried the apple cinnamon, since the kid has decided that her growing palate now rejects raisins (grrr!). It was actually a pretty tasty little snack, had whole grains -- and was hugely convenient for packing in the lunchbox.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Weekend Update

Dear Weather: Get with the program! Tomorrow will be the first of May, and I'd like to be done for a few months with my feet feeling like icicles. Thank you.

Last Friday afternoon, I volunteered as a "book club" leader in the kindergarten class. That involves reading a storybook to a small group (thankfully, my small group was less rambunctious this time than previously; and this includes my kid) and then doing some activities based on the book. We read Dear Bear, about a little girl who is scared of the bear living in the closet under the stairs. Our activities included making bear puppets with paper lunch sacks, cutting and assembling (with glue sticks) sandwiches from coloring pages, and then having a brief tea party with a toy tea set and some pretend tea.

The weekend was cool and rainy. We spent time indoors, watching the Chimpanzee movie at our local movie theater and visiting the play area at the mall. Sunday was a special celebration of music at church, with musical participation from all the choirs -- from the littlest ones, including the three- to five-year-olds choir that Nora sings with -- on up to the adult choir, as well as the bell choir. (There were also some people sitting in the choir loft with trumpets, but they never appeared to play them. I haven't figured that out.) The music was wonderful and joyful, as befitting the Easter season, with the little kids giving a very enthusiastic singing of "We Are the Church" (which I also frequently hear practiced at home).

After church and dinner on Sunday, we headed over to St. Paul for the Minnesota Horse Expo. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until I had time to flip through the program on our way home that Kate Chenery Tweedy, daughter of Secretariat owner Penny Chenery, had been there. (Our family owns the movie Secretariat and has seen it many, many times --- particularly the smallest, most horse-obsessed member of our family.) We did, however, see and pet lots and lots of horses, and Nora took one of the free pony rides. She informed us that Chester was a nice pony. She was also impressed with the horses that had won prizes -- and the pony with the pink nail polish on her hooves. And we watched for a while as some members of a group that does gymnastics while standing on a horse's back demonstrated some of their techniques and talked about their training.

We also finished up reading The Unicorn Princess (Fetlocks Hall) by Babette Cole, a chapter book that was one of our library finds a couple of weeks ago. I don't think we knew what we were getting into: it's the first in a series that's essentially Harry Potter with unicorns instead of wizards. Between the British-isms, the horse terminology, and the words the author made up, I don't think either of us knew what was going on half the time. I console myself with the thought that it's increasing her vocabulary.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

April Spring Doings

So, if I update once a week, can I call it weekly updates? I don't think so, since I'm still catching up on my remembrances of more than a week ago.

Lately, in our household: we learned a bit about how to use the library catalog to find books. This came at the request to "use the computer to find books about unicorns." We did a subject search, wrote down the title, author and shelving locations, and searched for and found the four titles deemed acceptable. (Our library system evidently has 76 children's books under the subject of "unicorn," but the catalog displays cover images, and some with jousting knights in stormy backgrounds were deemed "too scary.") So far, we've made our way through a Candy Fairies book, A  Valentine's Surprise by Helen Perelman.

After that library outing, we then attended our city's parks and recreation department's Animal Open House. The resident reptiles (turtles, lizards, etc.) of the Outdoor Center were on display, and additional animals were brought in for the day: a chicken, a couple of miniature horses, a raccoon (used in a demonstration by the city naturalist), a chinchilla. There was a display of pelts for the kids to feel and guess what they had come from, and a "quiz" game for prizes of a bottle of water or a box of Cracker Jacks. (I do think they could have geared the questions up a little bit from the toddler/preschool level for some of the kids. One of the queries was: "What color is a bluebird?") Nora also got her burning question of the day answered by the city naturalist: "Does anything hunt owls?" (Answer: "Other owls.")

It was kind of an animal-themed week, as it also included a kindergarten field trip to a nature center, and a special guest star at the Girl Scouts meeting: one of the other girls' family dog, who was there for a discussion about "how to take care of dogs and other animals." And we followed up the following weekend with a trip to the Minnesota Zoo to see the annual Animal Babies exhibit: bunnies, chicks, calves, piglets and excitedly hopping goat kids at the farm, a baby monkey clinging to its mother's tummy.

I spent part of a weekend this month volunteering at a fancy gala, too: I got to get dressed up and go to the ball -- to work the carnival games and sell the fundraising beads. :) The money from the event goes to support a variety of local charitable endeavors.

Nora and I made a pecan pie with the leftover pie crust from our Easter lemon meringue version and some pecans picked up on sale after Christmas. (I figured we should probably eat the pecans before they went bad. And we haven't attempted homemade piecrust yet.) I also baked some banana muffins for breakfasts this weekend with some bananas from the freezer. I've been in a bit of a menu planning rut lately, and I've kind of lost track of my freezer inventory, but I do need to see what other produce is in there that we should be eating down before the next season.

The weather this month has been alternating between lovely spring, and rainy. There has been some park time, but probably not enough. I did finally find a dry (enough) day to mow the lawn and trim the edges. I chopped off a bunch of dandelions in doing so, making the yard noticeably less yellow, but two full bouquets had already been displayed in a green vase indoors. I'm enjoying watching the birds this spring, too. I've seen wild turkeys wandering about on my drive to work, a ring-necked pheasant running across the street in front of my car in our suburb, robins hunting in our yard, chickadees perching in our trees, and a pair of purple finches sitting on our deck with nesting material in their mouths. And, upon our return from church choir last week, we helped the next door neighbor uproot some of the dozens of maple seedlings that had self-sown in her yard (with a brief discussion of how we'd end up living in a forest if we let them grow, and a suggestion from the five-year-old that we could turn our house into a maple syrup factory).

I'm attempting to enjoy spring as it's here (I did finally finish reading North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale; for some reason, it took quite a while), but summer approacheth -- at least, in terms of planning kid activities. I need to get on that.

Dance class had costume/photo day this week (so they make sure all the kids are looking right for recitals), and they handed out the class schedule for next year already. I asked Nora if she was taking dance next year, and her reaction, in a tone of voice that assumed this was sooooo obvious, was "Yeah! Every year!" I guess there's an interest. (Which I knew: she frequently tries to teach me dance steps, and her dance teacher's evaluation sheet for her, with recommendations for next year's classes, said she's a natural dancer -- and "full of energy.")

And, oh yes, I also meant to write down: inspired by the litter we've seen blowing into yards in the April winds, Nora's current plans for her grownup years include being "a paleontologist, what digs up dinosaur bones, a mom, and someone who cleans up all the litter in the world."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April - Easter (Was) In It

Somehow, I need to find time to blog. The longer I go without doing so, the harder it is -- the harder it gets to think, even.

So, April. The cruelest month? Perhaps. After early warm spells, we had to dig out our winter coats again yesterday. At least we didn't have tornadoes -- just a hailstorm early in Holy Week. (The guy who is supposed to be checking the roof for damage has so far managed to miss two appointments. Frustrating.) We need rain, and have been getting some -- but this also means that the grass has been too wet to mow when I have time to do so. Pretty soon, it's going to be too long in spots for our reel mower to handle, and I'll have to call in the yard-obsessed (soooo not us) retired neighbor and suffer through his ill-concealed disdain for our natural approach. (A different neighbor refused the five-year-old's proferred bouquet of a fistful of dandelions the other day. I can't imagine why....)

I started out in productive mode this month (helped by the spring break trip of DH and daughter to visit his old college friends, so that I actually had time in the house By. Myself. for a couple of days) -- but I have since fizzled. The "scary room," however, is no longer scary, and is actually clean (for the first time in, yes, years, because it had been so messy it had been impossible to clean in there). It's neat, too: a section of project A that needs to be done, Project B that needs to be done, etc. and so forth. Not that they're getting done.

Fun stuff: Easter was a beautiful day, and Nora's choir sang nicely as church began, standing in front of all the lilies on the altar. She had a new dress -- pale blue with different colors of flowers on it, including purple, which matched a little purple shrug sweater from The Children's Place. My mom made the dress -- and matching ones both for her 18-inch doll and her favorite stuffed sheep. (The doll has since been spotted wearing her Easter dress along with a jaunty riding hat.) My only new "clothes" this year was a purse, but I wore the skirt my mom made me last year.

Our Easter menu entailed: Resurrection rolls (crescent rolls, rolled up like shrouds around marshmallows that have been dipped in melted butter and then rolled in cinnamon-sugar -- symbolizing the oils and spices that the women in the Bible wanted to apply to Jesus's body; the marshmallows melt when the rolls are baked, so the "tomb" is empty); ham done in the crockpot with pineapple and pineapple juice, mustard and brown sugar; asparagus (DH's favorite); a green salad with some of last year's strawberries from the freezer; Rice Krispie treat nests (we formed them up the sides of our muffin tins and then made indentations in the middle), filled with egg-shaped M&Ms; hard-boiled eggs; and lemon meringue pie. Breakfast -- for us and for contribution to the church's Easter breakfast (I made two) was rhubarb coffee cake, with some of last year's rhubarb from the freezer.

We did an egg hunt and Easter story at a local church the day before (outdoors, and it rained just beforehand, so all of the eggs -- and kids -- were pretty wet, but it was fun), and Nora received an Easter basket (which, conveniently, has now morphed into something that looks *exactly* like those dollar store wastebaskets and is now serving her in her room. We spent some time blowing and chasing bubbles from the bubble wand outside. (She also received several books, including One Lost Sheep, a retelling of the parable but that may be a little too young for her, as well as some "I Can Read" type titles; elastic ponytail holders and headbands; a Barbie sticker book; paint -- to replenish the dwindled supply --  and fingerpaint, and fingerpaint paper. Plus some candy.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Reading Thing 2012

So, I have been in a bit of a bloggy slump for -- checking post dates -- about the past month. It could be attributed to busy life, end-of-winter dreariness, etc. But: now spring has sprung, and it's time for the 2012 Spring Reading Thing (hosted by Katrina at CallapidderDays). That means it's time to post my personal list -- a challenge to myself, as it were -- of books to read during spring 2012.

1. Another of my goals for the year is to do a chronological read-through of the Bible, using this Bible reading plan. I'm using a study Bible for this read-through, and reading the footnotes and such as well.

2.  I'm supposed to be reading Unbroken
by Laura Hillenbrand for a book group, but considering the huge number on the library wait list -- and some of my other reading goals -- it kind of seems unlikely, especially in time for the early April meeting date. Luckily, this particular book group is mostly a gals' get-together with the book as an excuse. :)

3. On the other hand: Catching Fire
by Suzanne Collins is the second in The Hunger Games trilogy. We read the first volume for my church book group, and now I want to find out how the story ends. (I'm borrowing these from a friend, avoiding the library issue.)

4. Another friend from the church book group gave me her copy of State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett. I've got about two and a half chapters left. I've also read Bel Canto (P.S.) and Run, and am really impressed with this author's writing. Reading this is also part of my personal "off-the-shelves" goal: reading some volumes that have been on my bookshelves for a while, and likely determining that some of them are not keepers which can therefore move on to their next home (and declutter mine).

5. Another "off-the-shelves" book given to me by a friend (and yes, there's a subtheme here of "books I feel guilty for not having read yet" and/or "books from friends") is Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Murder of Lord Darnleyby Alison Weir. Nonfiction history.

6. Still another "off-the-shelves" book from a friend is Food in History by Reay Tannahill. I had never heard of this book before and have no idea what it's about -- other, than you know, exactly what the title suggests. Since I generally like books that deal with the subject of food in history -- with, you know, less "in-your-face" titles about it -- both she and I are guessing and hoping that I'll like this one.

7. I also need to get "off-the-shelves" this historical fiction book that I received via the Crown Publishing Read It Forward program. I enjoy expanding my world history education -- which was quite wanting -- via historical fiction; this particular novel,  The King's Mistress: A Novel by Emma Campion, is about the mistress of England's King Edward III.

8. Next up are a couple of seasonal books (from the library). I stumbled across mid-20th century naturalist Edwin Way Teale's  Wandering Through Winter
at a used bookstore a couple of years ago, and greatly enjoyed the journal entries for his travels across the country on each day of the season. I would eventually like to read all of his seasonal books. North With the Spring somehow seems a logical choice for the Spring Reading Thing.

9. Also spring-y -- and historical; see, I've combined the two! -- Founding Gardeners by Andrea Wulf is sort of like The Federalist Papers of gardening. Kind of. Well, anyway, they both relate to historical figures of the Revolutionary War era like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and others. Nonfiction. With plants.

10.? I feel like I should have a number 10 to round this out; however, at the moment, I have no number 10. (Not that I won't read 10 books this spring; I just don't have anything specifically planned out.) I will just have to feel incomplete. Or else, I could count some reading goals with the five-year-old as number 10: I would like to incorporate into our read-alouds some additional classic works that I feel are basics she needs to have under her belt -- things like (more) Beatrix Potter stories,  Dr. Seuss stories (in addition to those we've already read), Winnie-the-Pooh books, the Blue and/or Red Fairy books, Betsy-Tacy, Milly-Molly-Mandy...and the list goes on. This is part of the problem: it's a challenge to fit so many good books into a family schedule, while simultaneously letting her pick out some of her own reading material.

Are you going to read this spring? You can find Katrina's Spring Reading Thing guidelines here and the post with everyone's link-up here. Happy reading!

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kid Sayings Catch-up

I haven't recorded cute kid sayings and doings in a while, so I'm feeling a need to catch up for my memory banks. Here's a few highlights from the past few months:

Thanksgiving: We hosted Thanksgiving at our house last November -- just us, my sister's family, and my mom. That resulted in my five-year-old, my sister's four-year-old and her then-seven-year-old, who had declared themselves "the superheroes" at a family lakeside vacation in August, attiring themselves in superhero costumes -- at one point, this was blankets used at capes; later, they raided the dress-up bin to become a super ballerina/fairy, a super mouse and a super flower-headdress-wearing/tutu-attired/wand carrying something. (I suspect that may have also been a fairy.) They also had "flying practice": jumping off the steps leading down to the lower level of our split-level home. They never jumped off any steps higher than the third one up and, while I was speculating on whether we adults should stop this for safety reasons, my mom happened to inform me that, "I'd tell them to stop, but I remember doing the same thing." The things you learn about your relatives.

Christmas: The eve of our departure for Iowa -- which had been the last day of school before break -- Nora had a somewhat predictable meltdown. Her response, however, when I tried to reassure her about the part of her worries that entailed that she wasn't going to see her "best friend" for a "whole week!" by telling her that, "Well, you'll do different things over break, and M will do different things, so when you do see each other again, you'll have lots of new stuff to talk about" -- was met with, "But Mo-o-m! We don't wanna *talk* about stuff at recess! We just wanna run around!" How dare I.

January: Nora is taking dance lessons, and is immensely excited about the upcoming recital -- the one at the end of the dance year. She found out the date at a lesson in January and *immediately* upon coming home, had to tear up pieces of construction paper so that she could write the date on them so that her teachers knew when her recital was. (Yes, it's six months away.)

We had one day in January (a far cry from last year, for sure!) when the good sledding hill at the nearby park had enough snow upon it be open and we had time to use it, so we seized the day by spending an afternooon sledding. Several other children/families had had the same idea, and it may have been inspiration from some of the boys that led Nora to begin a practice of perching her plastic sled on the very crest of the hill, and launching herself onto it with running jumps so that it began its descent with extra momentum. (There are some days I think I gave birth to
Evil Knievel.)

February: Ah, the vagaries of elementary-age relationships. Nora knows a boy from our neighborhood who rides the same school bus, and she sees him sometimes at school. She told me that, the other day, W was "having a hard day. So I gave him a hug in the lunchroom. I think I made his day worse." We had a little talk about how second grade boys don't always like to be hugged.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Menu Plan Monday, Challenge Update, Weekend Review

Well, this weekend, I got my closet and dresser mostly cleared out. I still have a couple of drawers to organize and a couple of other categories to organize in my bedroom. There are a couple of big bags of clothes that will be traded and/or donated at an event this weekend, plus I worked some more on sorting the "stuff to shred" pile as a continuation of January's paperwork concentration. I'd say there are at least 29 items among both these categories (one for each day of February, as per Carla's challenge). While they haven't left my house yet, they will!

I worked on some of that paperwork stuff while the family watched the Puppy Bowl and Shrek (the latter as part of our free Blockbuster Online membership) over the weekend. I think I actually may need to start watching more TV in order to get things accomplished. Hmm.

I also finished reading The True History of Tea over the weekend and started on the book for church book group, Altar in the World, An: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Saturday started out as a cozy day, lying in bed reading a bunch of books to the five-year-old. She and I also baked another batch of cookies on Saturday afternoon; this time, Sparkling Sugar Cookies. (They're sparkling because you flatten them out with the bottom of a glass dipped in colored sugar before you bake them. I have had colored sugar containers in my cupboard for...years, possibly...but I'm thinking they're not going to have the same shelf life as the five-year-old gets more involved in the cooking.) For the record, I keep offering chocolate chip cookies as one of the options for these baking sessions, but she keeps turning that down.

We also attended a children's theater production of Llama Llama, Red Pajama, based on the book by Anna Dewdney. It was part of the premiere run of this show, and, of course, they had to make some changes from the book -- primarily by expanding the cast to incoporate six different baby llamas and accompanying mama llamas. Each baby llama had their own personality -- a soccer player, a tap dancer, etc. -- and each also had their own "dolly llama." (Say that out loud. :) )

We went to the show on Sunday afternoon, in part because we could then incorporate our family's traditional weekly meal out into the day, without adding a restaurant meal to the week. We tried a newly opened barbecue restaurant in our town. It was OK, but I've had better. On the plus side, kids eat free there on Sundays.

So far, we have had one no spend day in February: the 1st. Today could have been another one, but DH has to go to an out-of-state funeral, so he will be buying gas. This is the last family member of that generation on his mother's side to pass away; the last on his father's side passed away last fall. That means it's down to his generation. (He is one of the youngest.)

At least my doing after-school kiddo care for a couple of days will give me time to bake Zucchini Bread with last summer's shredded zucchini that I thawed from the freezer, and thereby provide breakfast material. (ETA: No, it won't. I did make brownies from a mix in the cupboard.) I am also going to try to have my book group at my house tonight instead of trying to reschedule everyone (we usually meet at a bookstore's coffee shop). We will see how that goes.

Here is this week's menu plan, starting with what we ate over the weekend.

(You can see more menu plans at Org Junkie's Menu Plan Monday link-up).

Saturday: Apple Oven Pancake.

Sunday: DH was happy with chips, salsa and chili cheese sauce in front of the Super Bowl. Nora and I partook of a few of these, but we also had a "real" supper -- of Scrambled Eggs and Toast (with "Grandma Jam," as we call it -- my mom makes it from her rhubarb patch every spring).

Monday: Goulash: we have enough macaroni left in a container for a two-people meal, but not three. It will get thrown in with some already-browned hamburger from the freezer.

Tuesday: Macaroni and Cheese with Tuna: a childhood favorite, from boxes and cans  from the cupboard (not really DH's favorite).

Wednesday: Black Bean Taco Bake. Nora requested tacos recently, and we need to use up more of those tortillas from the fridge, plus some homemade salsa from last summer's veggies in the freezer.

Thursday: Brats and Sauerkraut. We have several jars of sauerkraut in the cupboard. We need to get eating.

Friday: Probably Pizza.

Saturday: Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup? It depends on the day's activities, and who needs to get where when at what time.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

February First Goal Post (and Carla's Challenges)

Happy Groundhog's Day! Evidently, Punxsatawney Phil saw his shadow, leading to a prediction of six more weeks of winter. Here in Minnesota, it was so foggy this morning that seeing any shadows was unlikely, and it seems like winter has already ended, we have had so little snow.

The year, however, continues apace, and it's time to look at another month of goal-setting. I'm trying out the challenges from Carla at My 1/2 Dozen Daily this time, and this post is my starting one for that, as well as incorporating my own personal goals for the month.

Carla is running both a Low(No) Spend Challenge and a Declutter Challenge for the month.

While I don't know how Low I'm going to go in the spending this month (there are a couple of purchases I've been putting off), I do have financial goals for the month. (And I think I'm "officially," for me, starting this challenge on Monday, because that works better for me -- and that gives me a couple of days in this week to achieve my unaccomplished January goals :). )

So, here are Carla's rules:

1. Choose a financial goal for the month!

My January goals to finish up:
             1) create a monthly budget

             2) changing direct deposit allocations into checking/savings (need to do because our bank is changing its accounts and we will get hit with fees if we keep our current configuration)

February financial goals:
            1) tally up taxes info (get in order and get totals for charitable contributions, educational expenses, extra income from online surveys, etc.)
            2) set tax appointment
            3) set up automatic deposits into Roth IRA

and, if I get really ambitious in February (although these parts of this year's goals may need to move to March)
            4) reallocate 401K
            5) open a savings account for the kiddo

2. How will you achieve your goal this month?

I have all the records for the tax stuff, but they're all thrown into one big folder and not sorted. I need to sort them logically (and, um, probably start keeping the 2012 ones in better order for next year... ) and just do the calculations. I also keep lists on Remember the Milk, which also helps in the tallies.

I need to complete the monthly budget -- again, I have the information (saved via documenting our spending on Spending Diary, thanks to Sharon at Midlife Mom Musings); I just need to work with it -- in order to figure out the proper allocations for changing our direct deposits. Then, it's just a matter of paperwork and potential phone calls to the bank...oh, joy.

Getting a tax appointment set up is another phone call -- but we're still waiting on a 1099.

Setting up automatic deposits to the Roth IRA is more phone calls/paperwork. Both DH and I are taking less in our dependent care FSA's this year, and there were some slight year-end raises, so I think the small amount of extra money from that can get shifted into IRA funding.

3. How will you allot your spending this month?

I don't know yet, because I haven't done the budget. :)

4. Track your purchases!

This, I already do through Spending Diary, and it is pretty darn helpful.

5. Are there any “exemptions” for the month?

The aforementioned "stuff I've been putting off," which includes a haircut, some stuff for the house that will help in the ongoing organization--file folders, for instance, and possibly some clothes for me, plus a family trip to a children's theater. I would also like to make a couple of book purchases. These are all things that fall under my other goals, for which the broad categories are "Family and Friends" and "Health and Beauty" along with "Crafting/Creativity and Faith/Spirituality." My fourth category is "Finances and Organization" -- and I think Carla has that covered. :)

Now, for Carla's Declutter Challenge:

The "Week One" is a Personal Space Challenge, for which I'm taking on: my bedroom. It will involve a closet purge, and a "top of the dresser"/"stacks on top of the cabinets" purge and organization. Photos forthcoming.

And, my own February goals. (This month's theme goal for me, since it holds Valentine's Day, is "Family and Friends.")

Family and Friends

• Work on building N's cooking skills, let her choose recipes
            1) Make at least one batch of cookies and one batch of muffins
• Read-aloud books using lists as suggested in Read-Aloud Handbook, Honey for a Child's Heart, Ambleside Online
            2) Read at least two books from "book lists"
                 - start read-alouds of Laura Ingalls Wilder books?
            3) Reward successful completion of school read-a-thon mid-month. Might let her pick out a new book at a bookstore. (I have a coupon that would make this free.)
• Encourage Bible reading/devotions

             1) Figure out something age-appropriate for Lent, beginning February 22

Family Fun
• Attend children's theater production
• Kid's church choir performance
• Plan family Valentine's Day meal and/or activities
• Plan family Mardi Gras meal and/or activities

Extended Family
• Re-extend dinner invitation to husband's cousin and actually get a date settled on the calendar
• Order Girl Scout cookies 

Friends (and also Extended Family)

• Read Facebook updates at least three times a week; post at least once a week
• Attend at least two women's group/friends events


• Read through Bible chronologically
         1) Follow reading plan here
• Read at least one book "off the shelves"(a book that I already own and that is on my shelves, thereby accomplishing potential decluttering and achieving a "should do")
       1) I'm thinking The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts
may be a good candidate for this
• Update and improve style
       1) Purge wardrobe; any replacements or updates should follow style guidelines for body type and coloring
       2) Admit that I can probably only squeeze one more application of skin-treatment facial cleanser out of that bottle, if I squeeze really hard and hold my tongue the right way, and actually buy a new one (see "exemptions" to spending challenge above)
      3) Get haircut
      4) I might have to buy socks and underwear.

It's a short month, with a lot of goals -- which is why I'll probably be doubling up some of them to accomplish in a "two-fer."


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Goals Post: The Wrap-up

So, it's the last day of January and people are writing about how their goals have gone. I do indeed have goals, even though I haven't yet written about them because I've been trying to get them into some sort of orderly format. Something like "broken down into areas of focus for me, with subsets" kind of a deal. I've also been working on adding a goals tab to this blog, with such breakdowns. But it's slow going when, in such workings-on, I manage to erase more than half of a list.


My (unstated) focus for January has been "finances and organization." In practice, what that has meant is that I have put in extra effort to organize all the accumulated paperwork, particularly that which relates to bills, finances, etc. -- and get rid of some of it.


Accomplished: Organized all file folders from kitchen basket into actual, logically sorted files. Sorted out lots of stuff for shredding. I shredded some of it, but I think I am actually going to pay to have an office supply store do a bunch of the piles: we have a home shredder, but considering that it jams up every few minutes on stuff like this, and I have a lot to shred, I think that's a better use of my time.

Bonus: Getting all the paperwork sorted meant that I submitted the paperwork to get the last out of our FLEX accounts from 2011, and was able to get paperwork for a couple of things (childcare and kindergarten tuition) that could be deductions on our taxes.

Also, the kitchen island is looking soooo much better.

Accomplished: De-Christmas-ing and storing all of the Christmas decor together.

Accomplished: Sorting through my books in family room, and doing a purge. (I admitted to myself that if I ever read some of those books again, it's probably not going to be in French.)

Bonus: Was able to sell some books online for what should be a total of about $13.

Accomplished/Bonus: Sorted and organized the kid's craft supplies kept in a three-drawer rolling bin and a large tote in the living room coat closet. I wasn't necessarily planning this, but when the five-year-old says, "Mommy, I think we should clean out the closet today," I'm going to jump on it.

I spent a lot of time on the phone, tracking down paperwork -- and a check the mortgage company managed to lose (not for a payment), but otherwise, didn't accomplish my specific financial goals for the month. They need to move into February;

1) creating a monthly budget
2) changing direct deposit allocations into checking/savings (need to do because our bank is changing its accounts and we will get hit with fees if we keep our current configuration)


Overall goals for the year include
- Work on building N's cooking skills, let her choose recipes
- Read-aloud books using lists as suggested in The Read-Aloud Handbook , Honey for a Child's Heart , Ambleside Online

Accomplished: We've read at least Aunt Minnie McGranahan , The Truth About Poop , The Mitten (for school book club), as well as others

Accomplished: Made Squash Muffins, Strawberry Muffins and Molasses Crinkles cookies together


Goals include
- Read through Bible chronologically
- Read "off the shelves" (read at least one book a month that I already own and that is on my shelves, thereby accomplishing potential decluttering and achieving a "should do")

Accomplished: Read through Genesis, Job and parts of Chronicles using this chronological one-year Bible reading plan:

Accomplished: almost finished The True History of Tea, a previous year's birthday present (January is National Hot Tea Month, as well as National Get Organized Month. It's also usually a good month to snuggle under a quilt, which explains some more of those titles on my 2012 Book List  page)
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