Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Two Anniversaries

We recently celebrated our 12th anniversary.  We were married on Flag Day, June 14th, but we didn't end up celebrating on that date.  We had a chance to see Jason Isbell in concert in Bloomington on the Thursday before our anniversary.  After some discussion, we decided it would be much more fun than going to see a movie we didn't really want to see anyway (which is what we've done the last two years). My parents took the kids for the night and we were off.

We had a fabulous time.  Mr. Isbell is amazing, a real poet and kickass guitarist. He knows exactly how to do it. I am currently obsessed with his music.  If you're interested, check him out here or here.  Anyone who can make the phrase "water table line" poetic is worth a listen, in my opinion.

It had been a long time since we had been to a concert.  You currently could not get me to attend a large live performance of any major group or artist, as I think that most popular acts are overrated.  I also hate crowds.  But this?  This was a smallish renovated theater.  This is exactly the venue I've always enjoyed watching music in.  Plus, they served beer.


Exactly right.

We did spend the day together on our actual anniversary.  We went out to lunch with our kids, did a little shopping, and just hung out at home together in the evening.  Those are some of my favorite things to do.  My husband bought my two favorite kinds of flowers and put them together.  I think it turned out kind of awesome.  Who knew he was also a pretty good floral designer?  That man never ceases to amaze and surprise me.

We also finally pulled the trigger and ordered a new fancy camera as a gift to each other that I am hoping to be able to learn to use to sharpen up the look of the old blog. 

Speaking of which, today I celebrate another anniversary.  It's been one year since I started my blog.  My intention was to start writing again.  Fairly straightforward and it has helped me do exactly that.  I've also learned lots of other stuff as I've developed it that I was completely unfamiliar with pre-blog.  The first time I actually got the code right to link with my Facebook page and Pinterest page I was elated.  I've talked to people I've never met who have taken the time to read it. 

As I come close to 4,000 page views, I want to say thank you to everyone who reads it.  Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me along the way.  Sharing anything you've created is a somewhat terrifying proposition. It gives me a deep appreciation for anyone who is willing to put something original out there. As I said in my first post ever, I was trying to find my way back.  I think I've also found a path going forward.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oatmeal Cookies and Wisdom from My Dad

The Summer Schedule for today was What's Cooking Wednesday.  I told the kids we needed to make some cookies for my dad.  They call him Grandpa. 

There he is, behind the kids.  This was on his birthday.

Oatmeal raisin are his favorite kind.  With Father's Day this weekend, this will be part of his gift.  It didn't hurt that we had another rainy, cool day because the kids didn't even ask about getting in the pool today.  It was a fine day to bake.

The best recipe I have ever found for oatmeal raisin cookies is the one that comes on the top of a container of Quaker Oats.  Someone else gave me one once.  When I told her I had to have the recipe she informed me that's where she got it. She didn't have it because it was always on the container.   I went out and bought a container of Quaker Oats just that one time for the recipe.  After that I've always used the generic brand of oats, but I've saved the top of that container for years.  No need to keep buying the more expensive brand, right?

 It sits in my recipe box I've had since I've been out on my own along with a few other choice recipes I have acquired over the years.

The kids did 99% of the work on their own.  I was basically just supervising the use of the oven.  And taking a few pictures.

The cookies turned out delicious.  As I'm typing this, I'm remembering that I was a little older than my daughter when my mom started letting me make cookies on my own.  I absolutely loved that feeling.  And I mostly made oatmeal raisin cookies for my dad.

So in honor of him on Father's Day, I'll share some of the best pieces of advice he's given me and things I've learned from him over the years:

1. During a very difficult time in my life personally, I remember him saying to me, "Keep your chin up."  I actually think of that during times when I'm feeling particularly downtrodden.  I will literally lift my chin up in the air and therefore straighten up my posture when I think of it.  Always makes me feel better and stronger.

2. In another challenging time during my career, I had a horrible boss.  I was talking to my dad and mom about quitting and doing something else, I was so fed up.  He said something that stopped me right in my tracks.  "If I were you, I wouldn't let them run me off."  I realized he was right. This was the job I had worked hard to get.  Now I have the frame of mind, "You want me gone?  You're going to need some dynamite."

3. Using humor to deal with things improves the situation the majority of the time.

4. Money: It's not how much you make, it's how much you keep. My brother wrote a song about this in which he succinctly summed up my dad's views on finances with this one line.  I've never had credit card debt or a bad credit score. I paid off my student loan for my Master's degree completely on my own.  I know that's in part due to the example he set. 

5. Sometimes it's just the "Nature of the Beast".  This was one of the phrases I remember him using, particularly when I was in college.  To me, it's a reminder that you'll never find a completely ideal situation 100 percent of the time.  Life isn't all sunshine and unicorns.  Difficulty comes along with everything.  You need to learn to deal with it.

So Happy Early Father's Day to my Dad!  We love you!  Oh, and here's the official Quaker Oats cookie recipe for you other readers in case you don't want to waste your money on the name brand oats.  I know my dad would approve if you didn't.

1 cup (2 sticks) margarine or butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
3 cups oats (quick or old-fashioned)
1 cup raisins

Bake 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Men Plan...

You've heard the saying, "Men plan and God laughs."  Yes?  Good.

Yesterday I shared a post about our Summer Schedule and said I was going to try to post every day about what we did and how it went. I really want to try to step it up with posting more often, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.  So today was Tuesday which meant either a trip to the library or somewhere else.  We had just been to the library on Saturday, so I was thinking maybe a trip to the beach 30 miles away.  We haven't been there since my daughter was two.  But then we woke up to rain.

Not a problem, I thought.  Maybe we could use our tickets to the Children's Museum that the kids earned in the summer reading program last summer.  (Just on a side note, I hate going to the Children's Museum.  I think it's a great place.  I'm glad my city has one.  My kids love it.  But for me, it is just two hours of unmitigated noise.  I'm not the mom you see playing in the pretend grocery store or forming giant bubbles in the bubble table.  I'm the one with the pained expression on her face on the bench.)  Then my daughter came downstairs and told me she had a bad earache.  So I ended up scheduling a doctor's appointment for the afternoon instead.  This was even less fun for me than the Children's Museum. 

Okay, I thought, I can still get my workout in on the treadmill which I also mentioned in yesterday's post.  Guess what?  I'm afraid that after four years, the treadmill has picked this summer to hand in its resignation sans the two week's notice.  It seems to be a problem in the digital controls instead of a mechanical issue that my husband could almost certainly fix.  Perfect.

So after the doctor's office where we learned she has a case of swimmer's ear (not surprising since she has been in our pool every day for the last three weeks), we settled for stopping at the new frozen yogurt place out by the mall that we had yet to visit before picking up her ear drops.

So the best laid plans sometimes go astray.  Or when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Or - well, I don't want to kill you with more clichés. I like the one in the title best anyway.



Monday, June 9, 2014

The Years Are Short (Summer Schedule)

I am against overscheduling children.  I think way too much of that goes on today, and as a consequence, children never know how to entertain themselves or even learn how to be at peace with themselves. 

That being said, I also know how things that you plan to do when you have the "time" in the summer can slip ever so easily through your fingers.  I'm lucky to have the time off with my kids in the summer.   I have all these ideas of things I want and need to do over the summer, but I know most of them won't get done if I don't have some kind of plan for the week.  I want to go to the zoo and beach and theater with my kids.  I want to have afternoons where we make cookies or they play with their friends.  I know it's important that they read.  I need to clean out the freezer, deep clean every room in the house, and organize all the junk that gets thrown in our extra bedroom during the school year.

How to accomplish this or at least not totally fail to do any of it?  A summer schedule.  I saw a version of this on Pinterest, but I tweaked it a bit to fit our needs. 

I was inspired to do this for my daughter, who always wants to know, "Are we doing anything today?"  She is a "doer".  She is happiest when she has a project to work on or people to socialize with.  My son could not care less.  He would be happy to be left to his own devices all day, every day as long as we're home.  Anyway, it goes like this:

Make Something Monday (crafts of projects)
Time to Read and/or Travel Tuesday (library or other type of outing)
What's Cooking Wednesday (baking or cooking)
Be Thoughtful Thursday (do a service for someone)
Friend Friday (invite a friend over)

I realize I started this post with saying how I don't think kids should be overscheduled and this may look exactly like what I'm doing.  Stay with me.  This isn't a way to overschedule them.  It's a way we can plan on doing something a little different every day for an hour or occasionally an afternoon.  It also ensures that the first week of August, I won't be thinking, "Oh crap!  We never made it to the beach!  We only went to the library three times! I had all this time and I wasted it!"  Overscheduling and structure are very different.  Kids love structure. They crave it.  They need it.   That is one of the Big Truths I have learned during my teaching career.

 I put some of the onus on the kids to come up with some ideas. I want them to realize they can entertain themselves by planning to do things.   When I talked to my daughter about the schedule, she immediately showed me a papier-mache project that was in one of her many craft project books.  "Can we do this?"  After looking it over and noting that we already had all the stuff, I assured her we could.  "I'll help you, but you'll have to do most of the work.  Including the clean up." I told her.  She happily agreed. 

This is how I'm planning to do this and how it worked today.  Our morning is pretty free.  We have breakfast, I get a workout in on the treadmill in, my son reads to me.  I try to tackle one daily chore: sorting and starting some laundry, running the vacuum, etc. They play or watch  t.v. while I'm doing my things.  It's usually about time for lunch by then.  The t.v and all other electronics are off until after dinner.  After lunch today, I told my daughter to start cutting the newspaper strips.  I asked my son if he wanted to make a piñata too.  He was busy playing with his toys and did not want to, so I did not press the issue.  He was already entertaining himself, so why make him do something different?  I gave her a dishpan, some flour, and water.  She went to town.  I helped a little, but she did the majority herself. 

How is it possible that after teaching for almost 20 years I have never done a papier-mache project?  Oh, that's right.  It's because I am not insane.  Papier-mache is a huge mess.  I can't imagine doing it with 30 kids.  But one kid?  Yes.

The whole process of the first layer took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  This was what she left to dry:

Afterwards she cleaned up outside.  Not one complaint. 

When she was done cleaning, she came back in, sighed happily, and went up to read her library book for about an hour.  While she did this (and my son was still playing with his toys), I cleaned out the freezer (one of my to-do items for the summer).  If I can tackle just one of my must-do's a couple of days a week, I'll be in pretty good shape.

I hope we can keep this schedule up.  I'm going to try to post every day this week about what we did.

Some day soon they won't be interested in making papier-mache piñatas or going to the beach with me.  A book I just read summed this up about life really well, "The days are long, but the years are short."  I'm starting to get a sense of that as my kids get older.  I won't have this time forever.  Sometimes you need an insurance policy that memories get made during the days you do have.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Book Exchange Party for Kids

I decided to write a post on a party we had two years ago for my daughter and her friends the summer after they were in third grade.  Why share it now?  Isn't it obvious?  I didn't have a blog two years ago!  Also, it was partly a pool party so it's a great and very easy idea if you're looking for a fun summer party theme that's a little different.

We threw a Book Exchange/Swimming Party.  I actually saw a similar party for adults with a theme like this (book exchange, not swimming) for Pinterest.  Adapting it for kids seemed like much more fun.  It seemed like a good way to encourage kids to keep reading over the summer. The concept is simple: Everyone brings a book (or two or three) they've already read and don't mind giving away.  Everyone chooses a "new" book (or two or three) to go home with at the end of the party from the books the guests bring. 

We went with an owl theme for the party.  Owls were just beginning to get really popular then.  I am such a sucker for a cute owl .  I made a simple invitation on the computer explaining the premise of the party.  She only had ten girls in her class, so we invited them all!


My daughter was so excited to get involved in the preparation for this party. There is nothing she loves more than a social gathering of any kind. That's one of the main reasons I was willing to do it. It kept her busy for a week.  First she found an American Girl sewing project to do that we were going to use for the décor.

This guy (or maybe girl, yeah, it definitely looks more like a girl) went into the basket we used to hold the books that the girls brought to exchange.  Fun fact: this was one of the baskets we purchased for my wedding to hold the rose petals people threw at us after the ceremony.   I still have both of them and have used them numerous times. 

I bought some wooden letters to spell "READ" at Hobby Lobby and let my daughter paint them to match the colors of the party.  Then I tied the basket with an owl ribbon and stuffed the pretty little girl owl in the basket with the books.

Treats for the party were simple to make.  Pinterest to rescue again!  We made chocolate cupcakes from a mix and decorated them with Oreos and Reese's Pieces to make them into owls. 

She got such a kick out of doing this.

We used some previously purchased accordion spheres and a Dollar Tree tablecloth to decorate the table.  We also had mini fruit pizzas (sugar cookies with store bought icing, topped with strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and grapes), Chex Mix, veggies and dip, and punch.  So easy!  Wish I had taken some better pictures of the spread!  I obviously wasn't "blog thinking" yet!

A party's not a party without goodie bags.  I did make these mostly on my own based on an idea from Pinterest. There were no directions with these, but it wasn't hard to figure it out from the picture.  We already had the lunch bags, construction paper, and scrapbook paper it took.  For the "bib" of the owl, I scanned some pages of two vintage children's books I have, Alice in Wonderland and Andersen's Fairy Tales
Each girl got her own bag.  I ended up making a whole flock of owls.  Is that right?  No, a quick search on Google confirms that it is not.  It is a parliament of owls.  Now doesn't that just seem right?  I love it.
 A Parliament of Owls - How dignified!
I wasn't looking to spend a lot of money to fill these.  Here's what went inside:

A package of bookworms (three packages at $1 each filled ten bags)
The little tab on the top says, "Here is a bag of bookworms to eat while you read today." 
A little reader's journal we made out of Dollar Tree notebooks, scrapbook paper, and 3-D owl stickers

 and a bookmark my daughter made for each of her friends stamped with their names and made out of cardstock I already had on hand.  Didn't take a picture of that one!  Darn!

Oh, and of course, their "new" book they picked out went inside at the end of the party!

A good time was had by all.  They swam and picked a book from the pile the guests brought.  Many of the girls brought more than one book.  Actually, maybe I should consider doing this for adults.  Sounds like my kind of party.



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Road Trip

My last day of the school year was Wednesday.  I go through the same thing every year in the last few weeks.  I stop believing that the end will ever actually arrive because it seems to stretch out into forever as the temperature in the classroom climbs and the kids get more and more anxious for the last day.  Then it does, and it's like I can't believe it for a few days.  It's a shift to get out of the "school" frame of mind and into the "summer" one.

My kids did not have school on Thursday, but they did have to go back for a full day on Friday.  I took this opportunity of a strange day off to take them to our local zoo to see the newly added penguins. 


Those penguins looked nice and cool, but man, we were we hot!  Afterwards we went to lunch at Panera and hit Target.  Yay air conditioning!

It was back to school for them the next day.  Me? I drove about 35 miles to a large "upscale" thrift store that I have been wanting to visit forever.  Wow!  I spent two and a half hours there and almost experienced sensory overload.  Four tops, two skirts, a jacket, and purse later and it was time to go. 

As I made my way back to town after the mother of all thrifting trips, I still didn't really feel like summer had begun yet.  And that's when it hit me.  Road trip.

My older brother is a singer/songwriter and was playing a show in southern Illinois.  I called my mom and asked her if we could drop off the kids to spend the night on the way down to watch him play.  Then I called my husband and told him.  He said yes immediately.  We almost never have the opportunity to do this kind of thing.  He had many questions, but I silenced him.  I would take care of it.  Just pick the kids up from school and get home as soon as you can, I told him. 

I packed a quick bag for the kids and for us, made a hotel reservation, (one king bed with a hot tub, uh, yes), and overfed the cats.  A quick trip to our neighbors to ask them to let our dogs out a few times was next. 

Off we went!  See those smiles on our faces?
I didn't tell my brother we were coming.  He was quite surprised when he saw us in the audience.

The restaurant/bar he played, Fat Patties, is known for its burgers.  Rightly so, I might add.


My husband did partake of the bison burger.  He said it was very good.  I have eaten buffalo before, but I was satisfied with taking his word for it this time.
It bears mentioning this is a university town.  It has been a while since I had been in a college bar.  After several beers, I decided to take some pictures to commemorate the whimsy of the place.

Yes, that is a pink beaver on the door to the women's restroom.

Inside the restroom was one of the Three Wise Men.  How do I know?  He's telling women, "Do Not throw Rubbish inside the toilet bowl!"  If that's not sage advice, I don't know what is. 
I also loved this poster.

Who doesn't love Bigfoot?  Anybody who grew up watching him on The Six Million Dollar Man has a special affinity for him, I can tell you that. 
After the show we hit another bar with my brother.  Some time around one a.m., we all remembered we are old and left.  The next morning I was pleasantly surprised to remember how easy it is to get out of a hotel room when there are no children involved.  We made a quick trip to see my brother's new digs, Resurrection Mule Farm.

No, those are not mules.  These are the horses that also live there.  It was nice to finally get to see the new place he calls home. 

We headed for home, picked up the kids on the way, and came back to find two of our peony bushes blooming.  I'd been waiting for weeks for that to happen. Every morning I'd look out the window and hoping to see flowers but just seeing tight, round green spheres.   I guess I had started to believe that it wouldn't happen.  But it did.  Just like summer has finally happened.

As I unpacked I found myself thinking that there truly is no place like home, but sometimes a road trip is just what you need to change your frame of mind.