Friday, December 30, 2011

Post Christmas wrapup

Christmas has come and gone, overall it was good. It was quite a few crazy days trying to buy all the gifts once my husband's advance check cleared, but I managed to get it done. I didn't go very crazy, total cost for Christmas was a few hundred (I had used a gift budget app, but unfortunately my phone reset so I lost all the info). Cool app though, I'll have to find it again next year, it let's you list all the people you are buying gifts for, enter each gift and price and add it all up to keep you on budget. Also helped me track how many gifts I had for each kid. I realized quickly I had more for my son than my daughters, rather than buying more for them I just put some of his away until his birthday.

The kids were happy with their gifts and excited about their surprises from Santa. We kept it pretty low key and my husband and I didn't exchange gifts. I made the French Toast Casserole for breakfast with spiked syrup, always well received. Lunch was processed meats and cheeses (aka Hickory Farms) for everyone but me.

For dinner I made Honey Baked Ham, scalloped potatoes and Green Beans in a Bacon vinaigrette, followed by Swedish Apple Pie.

The next day I made split pea soup with the left over ham bone. I just used the recipe on the back of the split peas, as it is easy and good. Even though split pea is usually served with pumpernickel (which I did have) my husband asked me to make garlic bread. It was really easy and very good.

The next day my parents arrived. It gets pretty crowded and mine had to sleep on our pullout in the basement as my in-laws were in the guest room. For dinner, my husband grilled chicken breasts and I made rice pilaf and asparagus.

In the past we've gone out for dinner on our one night with all the parents in, but this year we weren't in a position to do it. Instead, I finally made something I've been wanting to make for a while, but was too nervous - beef tenderloin. Buying a $40 cut of meat was a bit of pressure, but my Mom convinced me it wasn't that hard, and she helped and together we made the beef and a mushroom red wine sauce, asparagus and another round of potatoes au gratin. It turned out really well. Admittedly the kids didn't really like it, but the rest of us thought it was tender and tasted great. Restaurant quality as my husband likes to say.

After dinner, my daughter put on her Brownie vest, and sold cookies to her grandparents. My parents ordered some to be sent to the troops as they don't actually like the cookies (I don't blame them), my in-laws bought a couple of boxes and we ordered a couple of boxes for us and a few others to send to the troops.

This morning my in laws I took my in-laws to the airport around 830. My parents got settled into the guest room and I started to getting the house back together, doing laundry etc.

As usual my parents have a shopping list of things they want to get. Some things online that we ordered so they can arrive before they leave. Tomorrow we head to LLBean to check on a jacket my Mom wants to get. I'm going to look for gloves for me, and exchange the shirt I got for Christmas from my in-laws. I feel bad, but the past few years they've gotten me sweaters in colors I don't have, and make a point of saying that that's why they pick them, but the reason I don't have the colors they pick is they aren't good colors for me - pinks and light greens mostly. This year they gave me gift receipts for the first time, so the return should be easier. It's mostly my fault though, since I usually have trouble coming up with a wishlist.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Quiet House

It's Christmas Eve Eve as my kids call it. Presents are almost all bought. I just need to pick up a Hickory Farms pack tomorrow for my inlaws. I never saw them in the malls today so hopefully can find one tomorrow. I hate those processed meats and cheeses but my husband and his parents like them and it's become something of a tradition to eat it after opening presents.

My husband was working today and I spent this morning shopping with my oldest for stuff for her siblings. We lucked out at local independently owned stores (places I really need to shop at more often). We have a nice women's clothing store that has cute kids stuff in the basement. Lots of Alex crafty things and girlie stuff. My daughter picked out a book for her sister and I got some "geodes" for our budding geologist to crack open and find crystals:)

We also stopped at an independent toy store. It's very small but the shelves are stocked with great things - no licensed merchandise here. My daughter picked out a make your own fairy tale book for her sister, and I got a forklift for my son and a reversible spiderman/batman cape. It's not officially a Marvel (or whoever) item and is really cute. I was thinking i would make him one, and this was a bit pricey - $30, but by the time I buy the fabric, and get around to making it, well, he probably wouldn't want it any more. The past couple of days he's been asking me to tie a bandana around his neck as a cape. Poor kid needs more dressup clothes. Done.

We went to the supermarket and bought all the things I need for Christmas dinner and the next day (I hope). While we were at the store I found $2 on the floor. I asked the only guy in the same aisle if it was his, nope. So we bought a lottery ticket. The drawings not for another 22 minutes, might as well stay up.

After lunch and putting my son down for a nap, I went to the mall to get the last of my shopping done. I lucked out with parking, hustled through the stores I needed and as much as my FB friends were complaining of rude shoppers and sales people, everyone I encountered was nice and helpful (when they could be - of course this late pickings are slim).

I stopped at Honey Baked Ham on the way home and was home by 530. After dinner, we watched Rudolph with the kids - my first Christmas special this year. The kids were sitting in their chairs facing the TV, my husband and I on the couch off to the side. Our daughters have seen it a few times at this point, but I think this was the first time our son watched it all the way through. It was fun watching his reactions. He definitely got a little nervous with the Abominable Snow Monster. It was very cute.

After sending the kids to bed, and my husband and in-laws going to bed, I started wrapping. I was worried that this Christmas would be sparse given our financial situation but I managed to get a lot of what the kids wanted without spending a lot.

I ended up with a few extra gifts for my son, so put those away for his birthday (or to be returned) so it's not too lopsided. He's just too easy to shop for. Anything with wheels or sports oriented, he's happy. My older daughter is in that tween age where I don't want to get her teenage stuff (even though she may want it) but she's outgrown a lot of the toys and stuff. Still I found some good things for her. My younger daughter has tons of clothes and loves crafty things but her list was based on one catalog, and by the time I had money to buy gifts it was to late to have stuff shipped. I think the things I did get will be good substitutes. I hope.

My husband and I agreed not to exchange gifts this year, which is fine but then he asked me if I thought the kids would think it's weird that we're not. I don't think so, but at the same time I did get him a movie on behalf of our son, and slippers from my parents. Our daughters made stuff at school for both of us. It's possible that there will be only a couple of things under the tree for me, which is fine. I did get myself a new pair of slippers too (and wrapped them). Really what I want is a day off once all our house guests leave. My parents gave me money for my birthday so I may go and shop with it, or just go chill somewhere.

I didn't specifically get anything for my in-laws from the kids, as they each only asked for one thing and I don't know what else to get for them. Unfortunately my husband is of little help this time of year as he gets pretty busy workwise and doesn't have time to shop.

I think it's finally time for me to go to bed, as I have a busy day of baking ahead. We have no cookies left for Santa. I did put the last of the advent gifts out - Christmas pjs. This way I can be sure that they have cute pjs for Christmas morning :)

BTW, I just checked the lottery numbers, I didn't win :(

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trying to get into the Christmas spirit despite feeling sick

My in-laws arrived Friday night and as has become tradition I made spaghetti Bolognese for dinner when they arrived. After dinner my stomach was starting to feel bad. At first I thought maybe it was the wine, but I had only had 2 glasses. Since my son had been sick earlier this week I was afraid I was getting sick too. Sure enough, shortly after I got the kids to bed, I got sick :( I went to bed around 10, and not long after I heard my daughter crying. I went out to find her coming out of her room, she had thrown up too :( I got her out of her dirty pjs and started stripping her bed while occasionally darting in to my bathroom to get sick since she was using hers.

I got her cleaned up and back to bed, and about an hour later heard her getting sick again :(. I went in to help her and then my oldest came out of her room. At first I thought she was just coming out cause the bathroom light was shining in to her room, so I said, "Welcome to our puking party, do you want to join us?" Not funny since sure enough she was sick too. I sent her to our bathroom while I sat and waited for either one to finish hoping I wouldn't get sick in the meantime.

The rest of the night is a blur of who was sick when, it got to the point that I didn't respond to every sound like I normally do as I just wanted to get some sleep. I figured if they really needed me, they'd come get me, which they didn't.

By the morning my oldest and I were pretty much back to normal, but my middle one was still pretty tired. We had planned to head down to Christkindlmarkt to see the tree and have some German food. We decided to take the L rather than driving and parking two cars. The two youngest kids were free so it was much cheaper this way, and my little guy was very excited to ride the train. We got off a block away and managed to get a table in the tent pretty quickly. After some beer and gløgg, we got brats and potato pancakes. It's kind of tough to go with kids because of the crowds, although stroller parking helped. The only bathrooms were port a pottys so no changing tables.

They used to have a nice train set but not this year. They used to have a tree that was made up of lots of smaller trees and branches and while it looked nice and full, it always seemed lame that they didn't get a real tree like at Rockefeller Center. This year they got a real tree but it was very sparse and people were calling it the Charlie Brown tree. It wasn't quite that bad, but there is no doubt in my mind, they could have found a better tree.

We didn't try to walk around and look at the different stalls. It was too crowded and after being sick the kids were too tired. We headed home, everyone took a nap, and we ordered a pizza for dinner.

Then finally we decorated the tree. My oldest and youngest had a lot of fun helping and it looks good. Unfortunately my middle kid was still tired after being sick so after putting a couple of ornaments on, she laid down on the couch and just watched. When we were all done, my oldest played all the Christmas songs she has music for on the piano and then everyone went to bed. A nice ending to a rough day.


200 g flour
1 tbsp sugar
20 g yeast
3 dl milk (approx)
3 eggs
Butter for greasing pan

Mix the flour and sugar. Warm the milk and add the yeast in some of it. Stir yeast/milk mixture into the flour/sugar mixture. Stir in the rest of the milk a little at a time. Add the eggs one at a time. Let the dough rise in a warm place for approx an hour.

Before frying, pour the dough in a pitcher. Warm the pan and add butter to each hole. Then fill with dough. Once they are browned on one side, turn over to the other side to finish baking.

Serve warm with powdered sugar and raspberry jam and gløgg.

Chicken Marsala

1 lb boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup Marsala wine or sherry
1 cup chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup mushrooms

Heat oil over medium heat, sauté the chicken until browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside. Add the butter, wine, bouillon, pepper, garlic powder. Reduce heat and simmer 2-3 minutes. Return chicken to skillet, add mushrooms and cover, simmer for 10 minutes more on low heat or until chicken is for tender. Serve with mashed potatoes or pasta.

Adapted from Mr Food Cooks Chicken cookbook

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Early Intervention - Part 2

Today the Early Intervention ladies came by to analyze my little guy.  When they rang the doorbell he was there to greet them holding a mini Bears football and his sister's baby doll who he occasionally babysits :)  I brought them in to the kitchen and as usual he was chatting up a storm.  They were quickly able to cross verbal delays off their list of possible problems.  One woman was a speech therapist, the other a developmental therapist.  We started with the speech therapist. She gave him some tests to see if he had any muscular problems in his mouth, having him move his tongue from side to side, up and down, blow bubbles, etc.  He passed all no problems.  Then he happened to get hungry so I gave him his usual bananas and they could see that he could spoonfeed himself well. 

The therapist then asked me for some Cheerios so she could get him to play with his food.  She had him smash them, stack them, play with them in some of the banana puree.  He went along with everything aside from putting one in his mouth.  

Then it was time for the developmental therapist.  She asked a bunch of questions and then asked him to do a bunch of things that most 2 1/2 year olds can do - identify colors, shapes, do simple puzzles, make a tower of blocks, follow instructions to color, etc.  The funniest was after asking him to hop in each direction (forward, backward, left and right) she asked him to show her how he walks up the stairs.  He paused for a minute and looked at her. Then he said, "Well, I take a step like this" and put one foot in front of the other, "and then I do this" and moved the other foot next to it.  We all got a laugh out of that, and then I told him, "why don't you take her to the stairs and show her?"  He said, "Oh, ok, come here" and ran off to the stairs, where he then walked up and down :)

Bottom line, they want us to encourage him to play with his food, make a point of brushing his whole mouth (tongue, sides of cheeks, etc) to get him used to those sensations and at any meal where he sits down with us, put some small pieces of what we're eating on his tray.  They're going to file the paper work with insurance and the state and assign a feeding specialist.  They even told me that there is a group of 4 or 5 kids that meets once a week around lunch time to get attention from one of these feeding specialists and see/encourage each other to eat.  They also recommended getting off the sippy and on to real or straw cups. All good ideas, so we'll give it a try. The state covers some of the cost of this until age 3, so hopefully we get it all solved by then.

Proud of my big girl

My daughters' school has a holiday sing every winter before school lets out for break.  There is a prelude at the beginning for kids who take music lessons to perform a song on the instrument they are studying.  Each grade performs a song and at the end, all the kids in the school (over 600) perform a song together.  I'm not an overly emotional person but the last part always gives me goose bumps, it's so sweet. Last year the song was something about seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child (sung by a bunch of K-2 graders, even the Grinch would tear up). 

My oldest came home from school the other day and said that for music class each kid in her class was given the opportunity to audition for the solo for their class song. They were given a microphone and were amped (to make it like the actual performance I guess). She said that some kids were laughing at their classmates during the auditions.  I asked if anyone laughed at her and she said no but she felt bad for the kids who were laughed at.  After music they went back to their classroom and their teacher asked how it went.  My daughter without naming names said that she felt bad because some of the kids were laughed at, and she didn't think that was nice because it's hard to get up in front of a room full of people and perform and if you get laughed at you get embarrassed and may never want to do it again.  The teacher took the opportunity to talk about why it's important to respect other peoples feelings and keep negative opinions to yourself.  She even took it a step further and touched on bullying, although according to my daughter no one was teased after the fact, but still a good time to bring that up. 

I was proud of my daughter for standing up for her classmates and was a little surprised to find out that her audition had earned her a call back (although I would never say this to her, but she's not the best singer : ).  The callbacks took place during lunch and a couple of her friends were also called back, but one was not.  The one who was not was sad to be excluded. My daughter tried to make her feel better by telling her, that sometimes it's better to be one of the crowd.  Being a soloist is a lot of pressure, everyone is looking at you and if you make a mistake, it's embarrassing.

She's been taking piano for a year and a half now and has performed in three recitals. The first one she played a duet with her teacher and did great.  The second one she played on her own and stumbled at one spot when she lost her place, but otherwise played very well. She was embarrassed after that second one, but her teacher and I consoled her by saying she played very well (or as her teacher said "she played musically" - meaning that her mistake didn't take a lot away from the song, as she picked right back up and finished the piece). Third time was a charm :)

She had music class again today and was not picked to be a soloist but has been asked to play the bells for one of the songs (one of her friends will play the maracas).  I have a feeling the recognition was due to the way she handled the whole audition process, so I have to say I'm pretty proud of her.  And yes, she will be performing on the piano in the prelude as well, and is working hard at memorizing her piece. She's pretty much got it down and still has 5 days to go.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Early Intervention

My little guy is 2 and a half and still not eating ANY table food. No Cheerios, no banana chunks, no cheese, no chicken, NOTHING. He only eats Yobaby and stage 2 pureed baby food. Nothing with chunks and no meats. I've let it go for a while as he is getting plenty of vitamins and protein and his diet is probably healthier than the beige diet his sisters ate at the same age - breads, chicken nuggets, Mac & cheese and occasionally applesauce or bananas. The only thing he is not getting is iron. He's on track with the growth charts and is otherwise hitting all the developmental milestones at the appropriate age ranges. I sent him to camp this summer thinking that seeing other kids his age eat, he would want to try too. No luck. He just sat and waited during snack time.

The few times he has tried something like Cheerios he gagged pretty violently and threw up. I think that's why he hasn't tried again. I'm not sure if he has a strong gag reflex or if he's just stubborn.

Well, I know for a fact that he is stubborn and will usually do things on his own timetable. At 1 1/2 I decided it was time to switch from bottle to Sippys. When he didn't make the switch we went cold turkey, in the summer. He went 43 days without drinking anything. I would give him a Sippy with milk with every meal, and he would just ignore it. He just ate more food to get his fluid.

It took him ages to feed himself. He always insisted I do it. I would give him a spoon with the food and walk away and again he would just wait. Then one night this summer he just picked up the spoon and did it himself. We made a big deal of it, he got all excited and now he always feeds himself. The funny thing is as this all was happening, the song "At Last" started playing on the iPod :)

Tomorrow I have people coming from Early Intervention to try to figure out what we can do. It's paid for by insurance and the state, and they're sending out a speech therapist and somebody else to evaluate him. I really do think he's just stubborn, but if the stubbornness stems from remembering those times he gagged and threw up then I'm hoping they can teach me and him some tricks to move past that. At least that's what I'm hoping cause the cost of baby food adds up pretty fast when he eats 6-10 a day.

Day out

We had our cleaning lady come back after skipping 2 times while my parents were here. Thankfully, the little guy was feeling much better (he even said a couple of times throughout the day "I'm feeling better"). In order to stay out of the house we went to Target to get the last of the lights for the tree, Binny's to get a bottle of wine for my husband's guys night out tomorrow, the post office to get airmail stamps before getting my daughter from school. My son had brought his Rudolph stuffed animal and started singing the song when we were at the post office. He sang "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and then one of the postal workers sang "had a very shiny nose". My son got all surprised and said, "Mommy, he knows the song too" :)

We went and got my daughter after Kindergarten and went to her favorite lunch spot - Jason's Deli - for lunch. Actually I like it too, their salad bar is really good. Unfortunately their ice cream machine was broken but they offered free chocolate chip cookies instead.

I thought it was funny that they even posted a sign on their front door saying that the machine was broken as if people would only set their if they got the free ice cream. Or maybe to avoid kids having tantrums if their parents don't realize it til after they've had their kids set a good meal :)

Then off to the mall to pick up my mother in law's fur coat from storage and then a quick stop at the library before picking up my other daughter at school. Our cleaning lady was finishing up at our house so I took my daughter to piano and went to the store to pick up dinner.

Finally home to relax a bit before dinner. Tonight Tortellini Alfredo with prosciutto and peas. Then laundry and getting the international Christmas cards ready to be mailed. Domestic will have to wait til I go to Costco on Friday.

Rough morning but productive day

I had plans to run all sorts of errands yesterday but unfortunately it didn't work out that way.

I dropped my daughters off at school, went to the supermarket to cash in some coins for Starbucks gift cards for my son's teachers, dropped off used batteries and Christmas lights at the public works office for recycling, and went to Barnes & Noble to get gifts for my nieces, nephew and my kids. I still dislike Barnes & Noble because of their strict 14 day return policy but they are allowing 60 days for the holidays. I think after the holidays I'll write a letter to the company. I've told any store employee who will listen that I don't like their policy but that's not going to change anything.

As we were finishing up in the store my son said his tummy hurt and he was tired. Unusual for him so I decided to go home for the stroller since I was planning to go to the mall next. On the way home, he threw up in the car :(

We went home, I got him cleaned up and put him down for a nap. With my extra time I made the dollhouse that my daughters will be getting from Santa as a surprise. I got it at Tuesday Morning for $50 (marked down from $100). I wouldn't have paid full price for it, but for $50 it was cute. Pretty basic, but it's much nicer than the plastic FP version they saw in a catalog a while back and said they wanted (but have now forgotten about). I figure if they continue to be interested we can slowly upgrade the furniture and eventually the house too. My Mom still has my old dollhouse furniture and has offered to send it if they are interested.

I picked up my daughters and brought one to a friend's house to play. Her first time going to this boy's house, and then took my other daughter to dance class. I ran to the store for dinner stuff while she was at dance and when I came back saw that they were all just sitting and watching the Barbie version of the Nutcracker. A one hour class and they only danced for the last few minutes. I'm not sure why, but it's the last class of this session so I guess the teacher wanted to give them a treat. Personally had I known I probably would have had her skip class.

We picked up my younger daughter at her friend's house and she had had a good time. She had been a little apprehensive about going over as apparently he has a little bit of a speech impediment and she was afraid she wouldn't understand him, but it ended up not being an issue. The only thing she didn't understand was his cat's name. They played board games and hide and seek and she said she'd like to have him over to our house a different time.

When we got home my son was finally able to eat. Lucky for him, bananas are part of the BRAT diet. He had one container of it, and then asked to rest before dinner. I didn't want to put him to bed without a bath and wanted to make sure he didn't throw up again do left him in his high chair while I made dinner. It didn't take long before he dozed off. I finished making dinner and he woke up on his own and happy just when it was time for the rest of us to eat. He had more to eat and then I gave him a bath and put him to bed.

After the kids were in bed I finished making vanilla cookies (I can't call them wreaths cause I still can't get the darn piping bag to work) to give to my daughter's piano teacher along with a Barnes & Noble gift card. Personal plus useful :). Long day but I feel like I got a lot done, and now I just hope that I was successful in keeping my son's germs away from my daughters. Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peasant Pasta

1 lb bulk Italian Sausage
28 oz crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb penne or farfalle
Grated Parmesan

Cook pasta as directed. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown sausage and drain fat.  Wipe out skillet and return to heat.  Add cooked sausage crumbles back to pan and add tomatoes. Bring to a bubble and cook for 5 minutes.  Add peas and cook for 1 minute more.  Stir in cream to blush the color of the sauce.  Simmer until the pasta is ready to drain.  Toss two-thirds of the sauce with the pasta and transfer to serving bowl.  Top with remaining sauce and serve with grated cheese and crusty bread.

From Rachael Ray - Top 30 - 30 Minute Meals - Kid Food

I'm tired

Long but fun weekend. Friday night my husband didn't get home til about 10.

Saturday morning, we took the kids to a breakfast with Santa. We have gone to a different place pretty much every year. This year we went to a public golf course that my husband has been to before. It was a nice buffet brunch with omelet waffle and carving stations along with the usual stuff. It was extremely reasonable $53 incl tip for the 4 of us (little man was free). Santa was on a stage and there was a short line to see him. The kids were all excited (although my oldest said she didn't think it was the real Santa as his beard didn't look real.) My youngest daughter had brought her Book About Me to get the autograph of a man with a beard. After that they all told him what they wanted - Build A Bear furniture and accessories, Baby doll high chair and a golden treasure chest with a key, and a fire truck and a garbage truck. Luckily for Santa only one challenge - the treasure chest - which actually shouldn't be that tough. I think I can probably find something at Michael's I can get to work.

After getting their picture taken, my youngest asked me where his present was? Oops, I guess he thought you ask Santa for the present and he gives it to you. Instant gratification. Sorry, buddy, it doesn't work like that.

After brunch we went home and changed and then got our tree. The usual 8 foot Fraser fir. It's resting in the living room to settle in before my husband puts the lights on and then we'll decorate this weekend when my in-laws arrive.

Saturday night we went to a black tie event for one of the hospitals my husband works for. It was at a suburban hotel so not a very exciting menu but still nice. They had a whole international theme since they have people from lots of different countries on staff and had a slide show of the employees and then well known sights from their respective countries.

We were seated with a nice couple, but we left before dessert to head downtown to go to another party - 70th birthday of a woman I used to work with. Her kids threw her a party in her building. Lots of my old work friends were there so it was a nice mini reunion. We didn't get back til after 1am.

The next morning my husband left early for the Packers game and I took the kids to a friend's 5 year old birthday party at the children's museum. It was a fun time and my kids always like going there. They have a science exhibit going on that they all enjoyed - wearing lab coats and playing with microscopes and glove boxes. The theme of the party was rainbows and the Mom had made a rainbow cake which was really cool. One layer was swirled red and orange and the other was yellow, green and blue. She had candies in each of the rainbow colors.

My oldest asked me if she could take a butterscotch and I told her that was fine. Not long after I walk by her and the host Mom was trying to comfort her. She had started choking on it, but luckily was able to cough it out. She was pretty scared by the whole thing but overall ok and after a few minutes we left the party room to play some more. She's still talking about it, but in a way that shows now she knows what it feels like and she'll be more careful.

We got home around 4 and every one went to bed easily after dinner. Even I was asleep by 1030. Fun weekend but busy. Next weekend is just as hectic if not more so.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nut-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Thyme

Recipe from 'Cooks Illustrated Cookbook.

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed, trimmed
kosher salt
1 cup almonds, chopped coarse
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, minced
1 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest,
zested lemon cut into wedges
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Using fork, poke thickest half of breasts 5 or 6 times and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer breasts to prepared wire rack and refrigerate, uncovered, while preparing coating.
2. Pulse almonds in food processor until they resemble coarse meal, about 20 pulses. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until butter is browned and releases nutty aroma, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallot and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, add bread crumbs and ground almonds and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer panko mixture to shallow dish or pie plate and stir in lemon zest, thyme, and cayenne. Place flour in second dish. Lightly beat eggs, mustard, and pepper together in third dish.
3. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Working with 1 breast at a time, dredge in flour, shaking off excess, then coat with egg mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat all sides of breast with panko mixture, pressing gently so that crumbs adhere. Return breaded breasts to wire rack.
4. Bake until chicken registers 160 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.
Note: This recipe is best with almonds, but works well with any type of nut. We prefer kosher salt in this recipe.
If using table salt, reduce salt amounts by half.
Servings: 4

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Baked Chicken Parmesan

Prep time: 10 min
Total time: 45 min
Makes: 6 servings

What You Need
2-1/2 cups pasta sauce (I use Barilla)
6 Tbsp. Parmesan Grated Cheese divided
1-1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Sliced Mozzarella Cheese (1 for each piece of chicken)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour sauce into 13x9-inch baking dish. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Dredge chicken in egg, then coat in breadcrumbs. Add chicken to baking dish, turn to evenly coat both sides of each breast with sauce. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake 30 min. or until chicken is done Meanwhile, cook pasta as directed on package

Top chicken with remaining cheeses; bake, uncovered, 5 min. or until mozzarella is melted. Drain spaghetti. Serve topped with chicken and sauce.

The Funk is Lifting

I've been in a funk for a while now but am finally starting to feel better.  I don't know if it was the trip to see my sister, the fact that my husband and I went out for the first time in a long time, or that Christmas is my favorite holiday and we've already been busy making cookies and decorating the house.  Whatever it is, I'm glad to be finally pulling out of this funk (I won't go as far as to call it a depression, it wasn't that severe).

We had a great trip to Boston, and all the cousins got along great.  We mostly hung around their house but since the weather was good the kids were outside a lot of the time playing, collecting sea glass and seashells at the beach, and playing with the dog my sister's family was dogsitting for.  We ventured into Boston twice, once to the Aquarium with everyone, and then one day by ourselves.  We met some friends in the morning at the Commons and then met my sister and her kids and another friend of ours at Faneuil Hall for lunch.  A great day and fun place to bring the kids with all the different kinds of food and the street performers outside.  We tried to get a picture of all the kids in front of the Christmas tree, but unfortunately didn't get a good shot.  Getting 6 kids to smile and look at the camera and not blink all at the same time is like catching lightning in a bottle. The travels home were pretty smooth, the kids are all asking when they can see their cousins again.  Hopefully it won't take another 5 years.

The night after we got back, we took advantage of the free babysitters (Mom & Dad) and went to see David Cook play at the House of Blues with a work contact of my husband's.  They are a fun couple who enjoy music and are members at the Foundation Room so we were in a box looking down on David.  It was a fun show and you can totally tell that he is enjoying what he's doing.  He played a good set, with a few covers, all of which I liked but some - a song by Muse in particular - didn't go over that well with the rest of the audience.  He and his band (and amazing drummer) were rocking out on stage and for a lot of the song the crowd on the floor was just standing there not sure what to do.  I guess as he gets more shows and songs under his belt he'll get better at reading his audience, and his audience will now that even though he got his start on Idol, he is definitely more rock than pop.

We're now a little over a week into the mini gifts and the kids get all excited to go down and see what's in their stockings everyday which is fun. I still have to get about 10 more things for my daughters but so far they've liked everything. I think part of what got me out of the funk is that no matter what happened the day before the three of them always wake up happy and eager to start their day. There's a lot to be said for seeing the world through the eyes of a child.

I also feel that writing all this is helping me get some of the negative stuff out of my head and helping me move on. Some stuff I write up but don't actually publish, just the writing helps. I also recently read in some home organization blog about this woman who divides her "rainy day projects" into one week tasks that she maps out far in advance and that makes them more manageable. I think I'm going to start that in the New Year, not because I'm big on New Years' resolutions but because I've finally gotten the house in order after my parents stay, my inlaws arrive next Friday and then my parents come back after Christmas, so it makes more sense to start tackling this stuff after they all are gone.  In the meantime, I'm going to start writing and prioritizing the list. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

MS Study

I've been busy trying to get our house back in order this week, and as part of going through the mail took a couple of minutes to spit into a testtube. Why? My Mom was diagnosed with MS about 5 years ago, and at this point there is no known cause or cure. I read about a study to test for a possible genetic link currently being conducted at Brigham & Women's hospital in Boston. It's the Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) Research Study. They are looking for first degree relatives of someone with MS in a certain age range (18-50) I will receive no compensation for participating but that's not my reason for signing up anyway. My Mom's diagnosis was a shock to all of us as she was diagnosed late in life, and it's hard to see her struggle to walk.

Once my spit sample has been analyzed (I think they use it to collect an initial DNA sample), I will need to submit blood samples. I may be asked to have an MRI. The only test that I would maybe need to go to Boston for would be the MRI. They will compensate for some of the travel expenses, and since my sister lives there it would be nice to have an excuse to go. All the other samples/tests can either be done at home like the saliva sample or at local facilities.

I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was doing this, and she asked if I was scared. I said no it's just a blood test and an MRI. Then she said, but what if they do find a genetic component? I have to admit I hadn't really thought it through that far. Most of these studies take years of research before any conclusions, and this is one where you agree to followup tests for years, but at the same time, I feel pretty helpless with my Mom, so if I could do one little thing to help her or prevent the disease for someone else why not? I guess in the back of my mind, there is a small bit that would be worried that they find something, but if there is a link, better to find out early. Since there is no cure the earlier you start therapy, the better you can slow the progression. At the same time, when I signed the consent forms, it specifically said that they would not provide individual results, although would advise if the MRI showed evidence of a cerebral aneurysm. Which makes sense, this is not meant to be a pre screen test, but I do wonder a little bit, that if they do find that there is a genetic component, wouldn't they tell those who had proved it? If nothing else, I figure if they find that MS is based on genetic, environmental or immune factors, I'll be among the first to know.

Vanilla Wreaths

My favorite butter cookies in the little Danish tins are the vanilla wreaths. Since I prefer homemade cookies, I've been looking for a recipe for a while. My cousin posted this one the other day and they turned out really well.

300 g sugar
1 vanilla pod
350 g salted butter (cold)
400 g flour
1 egg
50 g finely chopped almonds
1 piping bag with star shaped nozzle

Preheat oven to 375.

First prepare the vanilla sugar mixture. Carefully scrape the seeds out of the vanilla pod. Add 2 tbsp sugar and mix well. Then add the remaining sugar a little at a time, stirring each time to keep the vanilla evenly mixed.

In a large bowl, crumble the flour and cold butter together until it has a crumby texture. Add the sugar mixture and almonds and stir well. Then add the egg and mix until the batter is smooth.

Fill the piping bag with dough and make little circles on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

I couldn't find my piping bag so instead I made a long roll in wax paper and cut off cookies about 1/3 inch thick. I also forgot to use parchment paper on the sheet. Despite these two modifications, they still turned out well. I did buy a piping bag today so will try that with the next batch.

The recipe was attributed to Ilse Jacobsen a Danish designer, I'm not sure if she came up with it herself or where she got the recipe from.

Note: I got a piping bag and I still can't get them to pipe out in nice wreath shapes, so still just doing a logrolling and cutting them.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Time for Cookies

Stockings are hung by the chimney with care, children have scattered decorations around the house, frames with old Christmas card pictures are spread around, velvet ribbon has been hung to receive Christmas cards from friends far and wide. The only thing left to do this weekend is to start on the cookies. I love butter cookies and the best recipe I've found is from the experts at Land o Lakes.

Best Ever Butter Cookies

I do omit the orange juice but otherwise these are perfect. We'll make the batter this morning and since we have a busy afternoon with dance class and two parties the actual rolling, baking and decorating will probably have to wait til tomorrow.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Traditions

As much as I dismiss Hallowe'en as a kids holiday and don't get into the spirit of Thanksgiving, I do love Christmas.

Growing up we had a tradition that starting December 1st we would receive a little gift everyday until Christmas. Once I had kids I decided to continue the tradition. I had assumed that the gifts were from Santa as we got them in our stockings, but traditionally I guess they are from the parents. At this point my kids also believe that the gifts are from Santa (or actually his elves, who are checking in on Santa's behalf).

Traditionally the first gift I give is a Christmas calendar. My parents give the chocolate one so I just do a regular paper one. That was yesterday's gift. Tomorrow's gift will be a little Cars book for my son and Christmas puzzles for my daughters. I try as much as possible to get little things from the Target $1 section or holiday crafts from Michael's or packs of things at Marshalls that I can split up. For my son I managed to stay under $1 a day. The girls will end up being a little more and I still have 10 days worth of gifts to get for them. I try not to get candy but should be able to pick a few more things before the big day.

Cajun Chicken with Linguine

2 medium onions, diced
1 1/2 lbs. of chicken breast (cubed)
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 tsp cajun spices (they sell this in the spice section)
1 tsp cayenne
1 cup of chicken broth
1/2 cup of milk
1 Tblsp worchestershire
2 Tblsp of diced jalapeno
1 cup of Monterey Jack (shredded)
1 cup of sour cream
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 lb. of linguine

Clean and cube the chicken. Season chicken with S& P, cayenne and cajun seasonings.
Saute the garlic and the onions until nicely browned. Add the chicken. Brown the chicken and remove.

Add the chicken broth, milk, worchestershire and jalapeno.
Simmer for about 20 minutes to 1/2 hour. 

Add the cheese, sour cream and the red peppers. Return the chicken to the pan, and simmer until tender and peppers are slightly soft.
Serve over linguine.

Notes:  A friend of mine posted this on Facebook and I like the idea of the recipe but even though I've tried it a few times, I still can't get the consistency right.  Mine ends up soupy when I prefer thicker creamy sauces.  That said, I keep trying because my finicky kids ask for it. I also skip the jalapeno since neither my kids or I like things real spicy.  I'm sure my husband would prefer I add the jalapeno though.


Thanksgiving has never been a very meaningful holiday for me. As a kid my Mom never made turkey since we weren't American. All the years living in the US as a kid I remember a handful of times that we would go to a friend's house, but more often than not we'd just stay home and have a regular dinner, which was fine with me since I don't like most of the Thanksgiving food anyway.

For my husband it is a more meaningful holiday. For a long time, it was the one day out of the year that his parents would actually cook and they did a more Southern style spread. They have the tradition that before we start eating everyone says what they are thankful for, which is probably a common tradition but a nice one. In the years since college we've been adopted by friends and families again as my husband's schedule usually did not afford him enough time to fly home.

There was one Thanksgiving where my husband had to work. I never told other people that I was going to be alone. Instead I had a very peaceful day at home by myself. In the afternoon I walked along Michigan Avenue looking at the store displays and started to mentally put together my Christmas lists. No I was not preparing for Black Friday madness.  I usually avoid the malls at all costs until that first crazy weekend has passed.

The past few years we've been invited to my husband's partners house. Their kids are a bit older than ours but some of the cousins are our kids' ages so everyone has fun, and after all these years we know the whole family pretty well. They do the traditional meal plus the deepfried bird which is delicious.

This year we all flew to my sister's house. It was the first time we had gotten everyone together in about 5 years. She has been cooking the full spread every year for years. She enjoys cooking and did almost all the cooking herself. I did make an apple crisp and gave each of the kids a task to do to help me. Earlier in the day my sister had been shooing the kids out of the kitchen as most are not old enough to help, and we wanted to keep my little guy far from the hot oven.  I think they all enjoyed helping me, and when they finally got to eat some I told them it was thanks to their help it turned out as well as it did. 

The thing about Thanksgiving is that the meal itself is such a lot of work to put together and even with the snacking all day, it always seems like the actual meal is almost anticlimatic. I mean, you cook all day and then eat the formal meal in about 30 minutes.  Maybe it is supposed to be that way.  I guess the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to be thankful and to enjoy the company of the people you are with. Every year I try to get myself to get more into the spirit of it, but so far it hasn't happened.  Having said that I do have a lot to be thankful for and need to spend more time focusing on that in general. I had a friend who for about 2 weeks leading up to Thanksgiving posted things/people she was thankful for. It wasn't every day, but each post was well thought out, well written and quite touching.

I'm not going to go in to a long list of my own, but am definitely thankful that we finally got everyone in my family together for the first time in 5 years. The kids really enjoyed spending a week getting to know their cousins and are already asking when we can see them again. From what my sister told me, the feelings were mutual from her kids.

I am thankful for my health and the fact that my children are healthy. I realize how lucky we are that all our kids are healthy, and as a sidenote am happy to say that the little boy with leukemia I know is home from the hospital and getting stronger every day. 

When dinner was finally ready I went in to take a picture of the kids at the kids table and asked them what they were thankful for. Some of the answers I got - family, friends, food, cheese, Obama, bologna :)

I think for me Thanksgiving is mostly a milestone before Christmas. I get annoyed at the stores who decorate and turn on the Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  Once Thanksgiving is over we start decorating our house.  We don't get our tree until closer to Christmas, but everything else goes up November 30th at the latest. 


1 cup snaps or vodka
4 cups red wine (do not waste an expensive wine on this)
1-2 cinnamon sticks
6-8 whole cloves
2 tbsp sugar
1 orange
Raisins and sliced almonds as desired

Boil stick of cinnamon and cloves in a little water in a large pot for a few minutes.  Add the wine, sugar, raisins and almonds and heat.  Do not boil.  Add the zest and some of the juice from the orange.  Serve in small cups or glasses with spoons for the raisins and the nuts. Best served with æbleskiver

Friday, November 18, 2011

She's still scared of me :(

I was tucking my daughter in two nights ago and asked her if she had had anymore bad dreams. She hesitated but admitted that yes she had. I asked her what happened and after a pause she said she dreamt that I threw her down the stairs. At that point I started to cry. She gave me a big hug, and I asked her if she really thought I would ever hurt her and she said no. I told her she's right I love her very much and I would never hurt her. We stood there for a long time hugging and finally I tucked her in.

At that point I went in to my room. I sat there for a while in the dark and cried some more. My husband came in after a while and told me that I'm putting too much weight into a 7 year olds interpretation of her dream (probably true), that she's a great kid which he credits me for since he works so much (true) and that she loves me, and knows that I love her (true).

I don't know why she is having the dreams. I will admit I raise my voice more than I'd like. I have never physically hurt her or her siblings nor have I threatened too. I hope that with some extra hugs and positive attention her subconscious will catch up with the reality that she knows I love her and she'll go back to having happy dreams again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me

It was my birthday yesterday. My husband was working over the weekend and my daughter was in the school variety show so we didn't do any pre-birthday festivities. My parents are in town and not really able to babysit. They could certainly handle the older two, but my little guy is strong and sometimes fights me on diaper changes and things. I leave the house without bringing all the kids with me on short trips but would feel awkward asking them to sit for a night so my husband and I could go out. And fact of the matter is we can't afford a night out at the moment given the mess I've made of our finances.

So yesterday began like any other day, getting kids to school, and then running errands with my parents. That evening my husband called to say he would be home around 630 and asked what was for dinner. I got upset and told him since it was my birthday I wasn't going to cook, so I assumed they had made plans. He hadn't so I ended up ordering a pizza. After dinner the kids reset the table and we had cake and the kids gave me a card and the Steve Jobs bio.

What annoyed me the most was that despite the fact that yes he was working this weekend, it's not like my birthday was a surprise. He remembers important dates, and our oldest had already told me that she talked to him about stuff she wanted to do. When we went to bed, I basically told him that next year we may as well skip my birthday, cause what's the point. A bit dramatic maybe but still.

Today when I woke up I realized the problem isn't him and what he did. It's me. It is true that Mom's birthdays do kind of get overlooked even though we are the ones organizing everyone else's. (I don't remember doing much for my Mom's birthday when we were kids). The root of the problem though is that I'm still in this big funk, and can't figure out how to get out of it. Money is part of the problem but so is the lack of having good friends to go out with on my own. My husband has made some new friends recently through Indian Princess and work, and has been going to hockey and football games with these people. Fun for him, and while I don't begrudge him his fun time, I am jealous (of him having friends and of how much easier it is for guys to make friends).

We talked for a while and some more the next night. The next night I admitted that I shouldn't have gotten so upset, and told him I've just been in this funk I can't get out it.

As I'm writing this I all of a sudden get U2 "Stuck in a Moment" in my head, started playing it on my iPod and now have Bono trying to cheer me up. Admittedly some of the lyrics are a bit of snap out of it. I liked this part...

Youve got to get yourself together
Youve got stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it
Don't say that later will be better
Now you're stuck in a moment
And you can't get out of it

And if the night runs over
And if the day wont last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass
Its just a moment
This time will pass

Now if I could just get myself to do it. My husband understands and supports my need to have time for me, and opportunities to meet new people, I just find it hard. Sometimes I feel like since I spend almost all my time with my kids, I don't really have anything else to contribute to an adult conversation. I know I'm being too hard on myself, and I just need to find something to make me happy again.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

She's scared of me?

Last night I was trying to help my daughter with her vocabulary homework and she started getting frustrated, which got me frustrated. I started to yell and told her that if she didn't want my help, then she could do it herself. She got more upset, started to cry and then told me that she's scared of me. She even said that sometimes she has bad dreams that I get so upset that I pick her up and throw her on the floor. Wow! I have never physically harmed any of my children and do not believe in spanking. I know words can hurt but I never realized that when I raised my voice I was hurting her that much. I don't call my children names, and try to be careful about the words I choose when I do get upset with them. Obviously I am failing miserably.

When she told me this I was shocked, I brought her in to the family room, sat her down, gave her a big hug and apologized. I asked her why she had never told me this before and she said she didn't want to embarrass me. I promised her I will try much much harder to control my temper and choose my words more carefully. I also asked (calmly this time) that if she gets frustrated at her homework, and if asks me for help, that she listen to the help I give, and if she still doesn't understand we will work through it together.

I have been trying to reach her to manage her time better so that if an assignment takes longer than she thought, she doesn't get so nervous about not finishing in time, since that's usually the main reason for her frustration. I don't make her do her homework the minute she gets home from school, but we talk about when she will start. If the time she picks seems reasonable I agree and let her do what she wants until that time comes. Lately when I remind her that the time has come, she gets annoyed, that she has to stop playing. I've tried to explain to her that the earlier she starts the sooner she'll be done and the easier it is for me to help her. Once I need to start making dinner it gets harder for me to focus, and then she has a harder time focusing too.

We started today with everyone in a good mood, hugs all around as usual. Everyone got ready for school in time (and even went quickly enough that I had time to shower - which improves my mood considerably). She ran off to school with a smile and will greet me with a big hug when she is dismissed, as she always does.

Luckily this afternoon is pretty calm, home for snack followed by piano lesson and no homework tonight. Should make it easy for me to keep my cool. I sure hope so.

I never had a temper before I had kids. If something upset me I would cry not yell. I don't know when that changed or why, all I know is I don't like the way i'm acting and it needs to stop. Luckily with my parents arriving today, I won't raise my voice as much with the kids as I'm more aware of what I'm doing when other people are around.

I feel bad that she doesn't get as much good time with me as the younger two, and hopefully will be able to make that happen more while my parents are here (and next month when my in laws are here).

Parents visiting

My parents are coming to visit and staying til the end of the month. In the past they were very easy houseguests, going along with whatever I needed to do, coming to kids' activities with me, and shopping for things they can't easily get at home. The best part was if I didn't feel like doing anything they were perfectly content to stay at home and read or just be. No special plans necessary. My Mom usually helps with cooking and laundry just to be helpful, which is wonderful. She's always been careful not to overstep any bounds (something I know other peoples Mom's do)

For the first time, I'm a bit anxious about their visit. I haven't seem them in the past 10 months and in that time my father's mental health has slowly begun to deteriorate. He hasn't officially been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or anything, but according to my Mom he misplaces things a lot, forgets words and gets very frustrated about it. I had already noticed this when they were last visiting but apparently it has gotten worse. His frustration gets my Mom frustrated as well. Sometimes when I talk to them on the phone, they start bickering at each other, which they never really used to do.

Despite her MS she has started driving again, figuring it's better for her to do it than him. When I talked with her on the phone the other day I basically had to force her to tell me these things, and she would only talk about it after my Dad had left the house to take the dog for a walk. She said we would definitely notice a difference in him. I went back and forth with what if anything to tell the kids. My husband recommended not to figuring that then they would be looking for it. He's probably right, and then if they notice anything, they are usually trained well enough not to bring it up in front of them. I guess so far the things he's forgetting are small things. It's not as though he won't remember who the kids are or anything.

I think they both need a break from their daily routine at home where it is really just the two of them all day almost every day. They've travelled extensively their entire lives but can't really travel except to visit my sister and I anymore. My Mom is frustrated by this as there is still more of the world she wants to see but feels she can't.

I think my Dad's frustration probably comes largely from knowing that he's having trouble remembering and can't do anything to stop it. Also knowing that the more forgetful he becomes, the more dependent on others he will become. My parents are both very independent people which is something I've always admired about them, but now one of their greatest traits is what's hurting them the most.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Consignment Sales

I never shop at thrift stores, rarely stop at a garage sale, have little patience for stores like Marshalls and TJMaxx, but when it comes to buying kid stuff I love consignment sales.

I am a member of a women's group that puts on 2 sales a year, and I always try and wait to buy my kids clothes until I've shopped the sale first. When I first joined the group my oldest was just a few months old. I volunteered at the sale and wondered why people would buy used clothes. Over time I realized the benefits of these sales. You can get almost new stuff for the really young kids. Think of how fast newborns out grow clothes. All the clothes being sold in the 0-6 mth sizes and even a lot of the 6-12 mth size was probably only worn a handful of times.

I gladly accept handmedowns from friends and neighbors but I have to admit that when my kids outgrow stuff, I don't pass it on. I sell it. That may be a little selfish, but my stuff is still being used by someone else, and anything I don't sell I donate. My goal is always to break even. I haven't managed yet, but this year I was pretty close. After subtracting my profits from my sold stuff from what I bought, I only spent $10. Some of what I sold I had purchased at the previous year's sale, so it was almost as though I was borrowing it. I know some people upcharge after getting a great deal, but I always charge a couple of dollars less than what I paid if it was something I bought on consignment.

This year I got the following:
For my son
2 sweaters
5 long sleeve shirts
2 button down shirts
1 turtleneck
5 pairs of pants
4 pairs of pjs
1 pair of overalls
1 puffy winter jacket
For my middle daughter I got
2 pairs of pants
1 pair of leggings
1 velour top
1 sweater
For my oldest
1 turtleneck
2 dance leotards
1 sweater
1 pair of leggings
1 tutu from Claires -NWT
1 pair dance tights -NWT
Grand total was $76 (incl. tax)!!!

The most expensive thing was the winter jacket for $6, and it looks new. As kids get older it's harder to find stuff. I've pretty much given up getting any fitted pants for my daughters, that kind of stuff they need to try on. Sizes vary too much, but for the younger ones it's great. You still need to be a little careful with sizing as some things shrink. One of the pairs of pjs I got for my son were too small so he only wore them once but for $1.50, I can't really complain. I didn't find any books or toys for them this time around, but that stuff is always hit or miss anyway.

There are tons of consignment sales out there and a couple of websites list them. is one. They are often advertised on community bulletin boards, in the garage sale section of the local newspaper, on Craigs List, or in church or school bulletins. But the best way to find the good ones is word of mouth. They are often held by women's groups or parents of twins/multiples, some are private businesses. Talk to other bargain seeking parents and they'll probably know. It can take a little work to find the good ones, but once you do it's worth it. How do you know a good sale before you get there? Check their seller/consigner guide.
- Do they list brands that they will not accept? The more brands they list as unacceptable, the more high end stuff you will find. Usually the unaccepted brands are the store brands like Koala Kids, Circo, Jumping Beans.  One sale I like to shop won't even accept Carters, which I love and I think has some of the best quality cotton around.  Since I don't sell there, it doesn't really matter though, it just means there is more Hanna Andersson, Gymboree, Ralph Lauren etc to choose from. 
- Do they require sellers to make an appointment to drop off their items? If so that probably means that they are individually sorting through the items to make sure they are acceptable. They check for stains, missing buttons, broken zippers, and reject any of those items.  I'll admit we don't do this at our sale as we don't have the time, but I do feel better about shopping at sales that do this.
- Do they limit the number of items sellers can drop off? Some sellers want their unsold items returned to them and often they will try and resell it at the next sale. Limiting the number of items people can sell forces the sellers to weed through their items and sell their better merchandise.

Selling at a consignment sale is great for a couple of reasons.  Obviously getting rid of your unneeded stuff that's still usable is part of it. It's another form of recycling. Think of all the plastic toys kids get these days, reusing them keeps more plastic out of the landfills and cuts down on demand for new plastic toys. I realize toys are a small part of what ends up in land fills, but every little bit that we keep out helps.

I even got my kids excited about it this time.  I had them sort through their toys and told them that any of their toys that sold I would give them the profits.  They each earned $9.  Anything unsold I donate.  For our sale it goes to a charity that helps low-income families.

While my kids were excited to get the cash when my youngest came with me to pick up my check she saw the truck being filled up with things going to charity, and asked me what was happening with all that stuff.  When we were going through our list of sold items instead of getting upset that something didn't sell, she felt glad that some kid whose parents didn't have a lot of money now had a "new" toy to play with.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thinking of you......

At a time when I want to express sympathy for someone, those words just don't seem very powerful.  I am not a religious person so never offer my prayers to people as that would be insincere, but somehow telling people you're thinking of them doesn't seem to carry the same weight.  Two families have been in my thoughts a lot lately.

The first is a schoolmate of my daughter's. I know the parents casually but we are not close. Their son is in 7th grade and has had leukemia on and off since he was 3. Twice after chemo and other treatments the cancer went into remission only to return a year or so later. It recently came back for the third time. This time around they are trying a bone marrow transplant. His younger sister (age 7, same as my daughter) is the closest match in their family and will be the donor. He is currently in the hospital receiving the pre-transplant treatment. She will be going in to the hospital on Friday for the transplant (is it called a harvest when it's marrow, I'm not sure?).

She is in the same Brownie troup as my daughter and we stopped at another Brownie's house this morning to sign a card for the girl. My daughter and I talked for a while about what to write and what was going on with the family. While she is old enough to understand death, so far those deaths have been of older people or pets, not kids. It's been hard to talk about terminal illness in a way that doesn't scare her. Having said that I did encourage her to think about the emotions her schoolmate is probably feeling right now and even if they are not close, it is important to support people in tough times. On the way to the house we talked about what she would write and she settled on, "I am proud of you for being so brave. I hope everything goes well." and signed her name. Simple but sincere.

The family has set up a blog on to keep everyone up to date on the treatment and progress, which is great. I can't imagine what the family is going through. I have 3 healthy kids of my own, and I can't imagine having the strength to go through everything they've gone through especially now 3 times, and still manage to take care of their other two children. They have a lot of people praying for and supporting them, which I'm sure helps. At this point I am not ready to leave a comment on their page as I'm not sure what I would say. I'll let my daughter's words be the voice of support from our family for now.

The other family is one that I thankfully do not actually know. I say thankfully because I have absolutely no idea what I could possibly say to them. My husband is a surgeon and occasionally gets called into the ER to deal with traumas. The other night he got a page and rushed out saying that a TV had fallen on a 6 year old kid. I had visions of broken bones, skin lacerations, broken glass, things like that. It takes him just under 30 minutes to get to the hospital. He called me less than an hour after he had left and said he was heading home. The kid had died. He didn't know the full story of how the TV had fallen etc, but it's basically irrelevant. The kid was probably playing before going to bed, knocked into the TV rack or climbed up on it to reach some toy, and the whole thing came crashing down. In this case the kid was most likely dead before he got to the hospital. My husband never spoke to the family. There was no point as there was nothing he could have done, and there were already ER docs and social workers talking to them. I can't imagine what that family is going through right now. There are no words you can say to comfort them. As hard as terminal illness is, there is a progression and in most cases time to prepare yourself somewhat. A freak accident like that, you can't prepare for.

I'll end this by saying if you have healthy kids, go give them an extra hug (and maybe some extra Hallowe'en candy) and be thankful for what you have. If you are dealing with a sick child or the death of a child, know that along with the close friends and family who help you get through each day, there are many more people who are supporting you but maybe can't find the right words.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hallowe'en & Operation Gratitude

My kids have been looking forward to Hallowe'en for quite a while. They picked out their costumes ages ago (and thankfully never changed their minds).  The weather was cool, but not so cold that they needed to cover up their costumes with jackets and sweaters.  Lots of crunchy leaves on the ground to set the mood. The kids had a great time.  My older ones finally wanted to venture beyond just our block for trick or treating so after I took all three around our block, my husband took our vampire and butterfly to venture further while Bob the Builder and I stayed home and handed out candy.  He won't eat any of the candy anyway so it worked out better for everyone that way.  My daughters came home with full buckets and tales of the scary houses they saw and friends they bumped in to along the way.

While we waited for pizza to arrive I had them start sorting through their candy. Our local orthodontist buys candy from the kids ($1 per pound) and sends it to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you're looking to get rid of some candy, I'd definitely encourage anyone to participate in these programs. Most kids end up with more candy than they could/should eat, so why not support the hardworking men and women of the armed forces by helping them get a care package full of candy.  I know they appreciate and they certainly deserve it.

There is a group called Operation Gratitude that coordinates some of the buy back programs and lists a lot of information of different dentists, but you can also google "Hallowe'en candy buy back" and find others that aren't listed with OG.  They usually have certain drop off hours and our particular guy gives the kids the gold coins which they always get a kick out of (much cooler than regular old singles).  I think my oldest has about 3 pounds worth to donate, my middle one maybe one pound, and I will be donating all of my youngests' probably 2 pounds worth - his sisters added some old goody bag treats to his donation bag to help him.

Hope everyone had a happy Hallowe'en.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Roadtrip Day 8-10 - Atlanta, GA

We hit the road bright and early knowing that Atlanta traffic is notoriously bad.  Our friend lives in the middle of downtown, so at his recommendation we wanted to arrive by 3 pm.  We gave the kids a quick breakfast and then said our goodbyes.

We stopped for lunch at a barbecue place in Tifton Georgia.  I think it was called the Pit Stop.  My husband found it on line, and when we arrived realized it was a popular place with the locals - always a plus.  Lunch was good, and after seeing all the signs for pecans, we stopped and picked up a few bags of those as well.  Can't visit Georgia without getting some pecans.

We made it to Atlanta in good time and pulled up to his building shortly before 3pm.  He lives in a high rise condo - one bedroom unit. It's loft style so the walls to the bedroom don't go all the way up to the ceiling - this was going to be a challenge for bedtime.  We went to the pool for a bit to let the kids burn off some energy and then went to the Mellow Mushroom for pizza.  Before heading home, we stopped in Piedmont Park to let the kids run some more.

We decided the best sleeping arrangements were for our whole little family to sleep in the bedroom, and our friend offered to sleep on the couch.  We set up the pack n play, and two air mattresses in a horseshoe around the bed.  Knowing that the kids wouldn't fall asleep if we stayed in the apartment, we set up the cell phone monitor and went downstairs for a beer. Once we were sure the kids were asleep we headed up to bed.

The next morning we headed to Stone Mountain.  Our friend wasn't feeling well so stayed home, but we had a fun day. I didn't really know what to expect with Stone Mountain, and while it was more expensive than I had thought it would be, there was a lot yo do. We parked near the base of the gondola, and took that to the top of the mountain. As you ride up you are able to get a view of the carving on the mountain, which is great as it makes it easier to appreciate how big it really is.  There is a small restaurant on top and a viewing platform on one side but most of the summit us wide open for people to walk around on. The rest of the surrounding area is flat and you can see pretty far.

We had read before going up to the top that it's a mile and a third walk down, with some steep spots tgat have handrails. Seemed doable. In hindsight, shouldn't have done it with the kids. It was pretty hot at the top, and while we should have bought drinks for the walk down we didn't. There were a few trees here and there towards the top but for the most part we were under the blazing hot sun for a most of the walk down. The steep parts are slippery as they have worn down over the years from people walking down. The handrails are pretty slick too. Add to that that I wore flipflops that day, and the kids were wearing sandals. Not the best idea since we all had sneakers with us. My son was going pretty slowly and soon started asking me to carry him. I held off as long as i could but did finally end up carrying him the last third of a mile or so.

At the base is a exhibit hall with water fountain and bathrooms as well as a geologic exhibit detailing how the continents formed and explaining why there is a mountain in the middle of flat Georgia. There was a short movie on how the carving was made, but at that point our kids were thirsty and hungry and we didn't stop to watch it. We caught a shuttle to a different area of the mountain for lunch. The shuttles don't run very often but there is a schedule. Try to get one when you arrive so you can plan ahead. 

Fall has fallen

And I couldn't be happier. I know many people are lamenting the end of summer as Labor Day weekend comes to a close. Not me. I love fall. Fall to me is the crunch of colorful leaves, apple picking, pumpkin picking, kids jumping in the piles of dry leaves, leaves crunching under your feet as you walk, baking, cooking all that comfort food that you didn't want to make all summer cause it was just too hot. So after the temperature dropped from 100 degrees on Friday, to 65 degrees today I have just one thing to say. Bring it on!!!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Roadtrip Day 5-8 - Jacksonville, FL

Our next stop was one where I knew the kids would have the most fun. We went to Jacksonville to see my husband's uncle. He has 4 daughters, 3 our age, one older and 9 grandkids. Two of the grandkids were 8 year old girls who the aunt and uncle sit for. We were all excited for some to relax and go to the beach and just let the kids play. Living in Chicago, we do go to the beach along Lake Michigan, but there's a world of difference between a lake front beach and an ocean beach.

As we crossed the stateline into the sunshine state we were greeted with a torrential downpour. I would have taken a picture of the sign welcoming us to the "Sunshine State" but I couldn't see it. When we arrived the two girls were still there and apparently had been eagerly awaiting my kids arrival. They quickly became friends and ran off to play as we unloaded the car.

That night the two girls Moms came over for dinner along with their other kids. Honey Baked Ham with all te great sides.  Yum.  When it was time for my little guy, I asked him what he wanted, and he said, "a buffet".  One of the cousins overheard that and laughed.  I explained that a while back when I was trying to get him to eat some of his leftovers, I lined up 4 different flavors on his tray and called it a buffet.

We quickly learned that in this house the door is never locked when they are home as someone is always stopping by. While I'm sure that can be hectic, we are so far from extended family that plans are made months in advance, I thought it was great. There was the typical joking that comes with being family, and everyone gave as good as they got.

The one thing that I knew would be different for my kids though is that pretty much everyone in that family had been divorced (most remarried), some had kids very young, one of the granddaughters is mixed race, and her mother is now married to a different black man.

These days our little family is pretty unique in that everyone is still married to their first spouse and no kids out of wedlock. Ok, that last one is pretty outdated but most kids believe that first you get married then you have kids. I haven't had the talk yet with my kids, so they think pregnancy is always a planned and happy event between two married people. We knew there would be some questions, but also saw no reason to bring up questions that really were irrelevant. Family's family in my mind. Doesn't really matter what connection got you there in the first place.

The next day a bunch of us went to the beach. Our oldest daughter wanted to play in the water (although needed a little encouragement once she saw the waves). My younger daughter was very excited to look for shells. We had told her you could find shark's teeth but we never found any. But we found plenty of scallops, a couple of broken sand dollars, sea urchins, and tons of clams in different sizes and colors.  My little guy still prefers to play in the sand but is slowly getting more comfortable in the water. My husband took the kids out to the water to play in the waves. It didn't take long before our oldest was splashing around with her cousins. Our younger daughter spent some time in the water bit really for her a day at the beach is all about finding shells. Little man split his time in the water and the sand. We saw dolphins a bit off shore jumping out of the water. My younger daughter thought they were sharks and though I tried to explain to her the difference between the tail fins of a dolphin v shark, I don't think she ever really bought it. So back to collecting shells.

At one point the kids decided to dig out a little ditch and fill it with water. My son though this was the greatest thing ever and declared it his pool and would stand on the highest part of the ledge, jump into about 3 inches of water yelling "cannonball". He did it over and over until finally the tide came in and washed away his pool. He tried to go to a different kids pool when they weren't using it, but they didn't like that, so I led him away.

That night we took the uncle and aunt out for dinner while one of their daughters watched our kids.  I had told her a few things in advance but didn't need to give too much of a download since she has kids of her own.  When we came back from dinner everyone was sleeping soundly and she told us that our little guy had gotten really tired really fast, and actually asked to be put to bed (unusual for him), she changed his diaper and was ready to put him to bed, and my oldest tried to insist that he needed his teeth brushed a story and pajamas.  They couldn't find the toothbrush and from the sounds of it, the poor guy was pretty tired so I would have skipped the pjs and story as well.  But that's my little rule follower.  If we usually make a point of doing all those things, then we must always do all those things.  No exceptions. 

The next day we went to St Augustine for the morning.  We wandered around the fort but it was pretty hot.  The kids thought it was interesting but we still went through it pretty quickly.  We headed to the walking streets and had lunch at a Cuban restaurant called Columbia.  It's a chain in Florida but the original location in Tampa opened in 1905. The food was good, but the decor was what made the place really nice.  We were seated in the main room which had really tall ceilings (maybe two stories) and were right by the fountain.  I've never been to Cuba, so don't know how authentic it is, but it felt very Spanish to me.

After lunch we went to the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the US. It's right on St George Street and a real quick but interesting place to stop.  Our kids liked seeing it, and got a little diploma at the end (just a xeroxed piece of paper with room to put the kids name in).  It would have been nicer if one of the staff had actually written the kid's name since they weren't really busy, but they didn't.

We stopped in a couple of gift shops, my oldest daughter bought a little ship in a bottle as a souvenir.  I wanted to check out the gift shop at Columbia as they had a lot of nice pottery, but at that point the kids were wilting, and close to meltdowns.  It was the hottest day of our trip, and not the time to go shopping.

That night everyone came over for dinner - good Southern barbecue.  Everyone got a kick out of our little guy.  He wanted his "buffet" again.  Then when he was finished eating, he and I were sitting at the table with one of the cousin's husbands and his son.  Littleman looks at them and says, "I like sports".  They laughed but at the same time, it started a conversation about the kind of sports everyone liked.  Very funny. 

All in all a great couple of days, reconnecting with people we hadn't seen in 13 years, and some of whom I hadn't met before.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Roadtrip Day 5 - Savannah, GA

On day 5 we drove from Columbia to Jacksonville.  Pretty much half way is Savannah.  I had never been but had always heard it was beautiful.  Even though we wouldn't want to spend a ton of time, it seemed like the perfect spot for lunch.  Yes, I managed to convince my husband to take a detour.  But to be fair, I also thought it was right off of 95.  In reality we had to get on another highway to take us to the coast, but still not too far.  For lunch we stopped at The Pirates House based on a recommendation from a bloggy mom.

It was perfect.  We made a reservation (just because I like to earn Open Table points whenever I can) but on a Tuesday afternoon I don't think we needed them.  My husband and I got the buffet and my oldest duaghter ordered a grilled cheese off the kids menu.  The buffet had probably 10 items so not huge, but covered everything we expected from a "Southern Luncheon buffet".  My husband loves Southern food, so he was in heaven, even I went up for seconds of the barbecue pork and rice.  My daughter was happy because we were able to get her mac and cheese from the buffet.

We were seated in one of the rooms that was connecting the two main buildings.  The whole place is a maze of various size rooms and has been around since 1753. They do have "pirates" who come by your table and pose for pictures.  Usually that kind of stuff bugs me, but they're not trying to sell you photos, you use your own camera if you want a shot.  My kids I think were a little put off by it though cause they were hungry and didn't want to stop for a picture, so we didn't get a really good shot. Oh well.

I had read some reviews by people saying that they were disappointed because they were expecting something more like "Pirates of the Caribbean" but honestly that's what I liked about it. It was old, but maintained, there were little signs posted around telling the history of the house and what the rooms were used for in the past.  In the room we were in, there was a sign over a tunnel that had been discovered maybe 30 years before that had never been on any plans and they're not quite sure what it was used for.  Makes for good lunch conversation, was it where they hid their treasures? a dungeon?

There is a gift shop upstairs which has some cute things but a lot of it is typical kitschy gift shop stuff but pretty reasonable prices.  My daughters each bought a necklace and bracelet set, and we got them each a "gold pirate coin" - the coins were only 50 cents each.   We didn't spend a lot of time exploring the other rooms, but still the kids liked it and I would definitely recommend it to others. 

After lunch we decided to take a short walk along the water and back towards our car. It was really hot so they kids didn't have much patience for it, but I still enjoyed our brief stroll.  I love the trees in this area with the spanish moss growing on them.  So pretty.  My daughter was fascinated with the streets that were paved with brick or ones paved with seashells.  All in all a great stop.  I would have liked to linger a little longer but it was just too hot, so after our walk we filled up our water bottles at the cooler that the Pirates House very nicely has for public use in their courtyard and headed down to Jax.

This is the fence of a private home next door to the Pirates House. I just thought it was really creative instead of the standard old fence where all the posts are the same. I don't know if they were left over from another project, salvaged from somewhere, or purposely made this way for the fence, but whatever the case, it caught my eye, especially the way it played off the blue house.