Thursday, May 29, 2008

And now, a moment at the playground...

In my few short years thus far as a mother, I have come to realize that there are two parenting realities, dictated by the gender of your children. They are called The Reality of Raising Boys and The Reality of Raising Girls. This discovery was a bit of a surprise for me, because before I had kids, I figured parenting a boy and a girl was pretty much the same thing.

Because before I had kids, I was a parenting expert.

It didn't matter that I only have a sister, and didn't grow up seeing boys "in action." I had plenty of ideas on how I would raise my boy, if I indeed ended up having one. No guns. No violence. He would sit attentively through an entire Kindermusik class instead of running laps around the room.


God does indeed have a sense of humor. He sent me Josh.

For the last six months, I've been up to my ears in superhero costumes, foam swords and Power Ranger games (despite the fact that he has never seen an episode of Power Rangers).

Which brings me to our playdate at the park.

The kids are happily playing with their friends, while I watch from a nearby bench with Grace (11 months) and the other mothers. Eventually, Josh finds his way back over to me for a drink. I hand him his juice box. After a long swig, he hands the box back to me, keeping the straw for himself.

I know where he's going with this. I know what he wants to do, and I know what he wants to pretend.

"No, Josh. Not on the playground. It's dangerous to run around with that," I say, hoping to diffuse the situation without a scene.

No such luck.

Josh puts his hands on his hips. I steel myself for what's about to come.

"But I need a gun!" he declares.

The other moms stop talking and shoot curious glances in my direction.

Josh continues, "How am I going to shoot people if I don't have a gun! I need a gun!"

Here would probably be an appropriate time to mention that Josh is three.

I desperately wanted to tell the other mothers, "I DID NOT teach him that." We don't have play guns at home. We don't practice shooting people. Violence is not encouraged. As luck would have it, I'm seated between the mother of a well-behaved girl and another mother who has one of the most laid back, unaggressive boys I've ever seen. I doubt either have had this particular parenting conundrum come up.

"You'll just have to find something else to play with," I say, purposely avoiding any further discussion about shooting people and hoping he'll drop it.

"But that won't work," he whines. I realize he's going to keep pressing me for a solution. "I need a gun!"

By now, everyone's stopped glancing and is just watching, waiting to see what I'll do. I'm at a loss. I don't know what to do with this. I have no idea how to channel the testosterone. Jillian never wanted to play with guns and shoot people on the playground. I rack my brain.

And do you want to know what I manage to come up with? Take a moment to brace yourself for the parental "wisdom" I put into action.

"Well, just use your fingers," I say feebly, with my pointer sticking out the the thumb pointing up.

Josh thinks about this potential solution and shapes his small fingers into a pretend gun. He happily runs off with pointed fingers, shouting, "Bam! Bam! Bam!"

Yeah. Thanks. I'll accept my Mother of the Year crown now.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Know it Sounds Crazy: Using NAET to treat eczema

My daughter Jillian has been struggling with eczema since she was 2 months old. And when I say eczema, I'm not talking about a few dry patches here and there. Her arms and legs are covered with it. Recently, it's moved to her eyelids.

In the past five and half years, I think I 've done enough research on eczema and skin to write a thesis. I've gone the standard medical route. I've used Eucerin and Aquaphor. I've applied steroid cream. I've given her Zyrtec religiously from 15 months old. Nothing changed.

So, I looked into other options. We saw the chief of pediatric allergy at a local children's hospital. I kept food diaries. She was allergy tested three times. Nothing ever came back positive except for one slight allergy to dog. The allergist told me that the Zyrtec and cortisone would be a long-term treatment. In the meantime, I could take comfort in the fact that she might grow out of it and her case was really not as severe as I thought it was.

I went back home. Did more research. I joined discussion boards. I prayed. I looked into nutritional supplementation. I dumped the petroleum based creams and switched to olive oil based creams. I began using evening primrose oil to treat the itching. I gave her cod liver oil and flax seed oil daily in effort to provide her body with the "essential fatty acids" her skin needs.

I would see improvement, and then for no reason at all, the eczema would flare up again. That's where we are now. Five and a half years later and I have no more answers than when I first started.

One of the things that surprised me most about motherhood is how horrible it feels to not be able to help your hurting child. I am desperate for an answer. Which brings me to the latest and greatest that I've been looking into: NAET treatments.

NAET stands for Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Techniques. Here's what the website says:

"a non-invasive, drug free, natural solution to eliminate allergies of all types and intensities using a blend of selective energy balancing, testing and treatment procedures from acupuncture/acupressure, allopathy, chiropractic, nutritional, and kinesiological disciplines of medicine."

That's about as clear as mud, right?

The technique claims that through muscle testing and acupressure, you can identify allergies and then desensitize the body to the identified allergens so that they no longer cause problems. Ever.

I know, it sounds too good to be true.

NAET can be used to treat everything from depression to autism. The practitioner that I found claims she has almost "cleared" her daughter of autism. That's a pretty bold assertion. She says that it's taken a year and a half of treatments, but her daughter is now in a class with children her own age and reading above grade level. According to her, NAET is just beginning to get some "mainstream" press. Oprah is supposedly working on an episode that will feature NAET and Dr. Oz sometime in the coming year.

My husband (ever the practical, scientific type) thinks it sounds nuts. And I'll agree that I do tend to be somewhat of an "easy sell" when it comes to these things. But, on the other hand, when I step back and look at the "solutions" provided by modern medicine -- giving your child an antihistamine and steroid cream every day of her life from 15 months old -- that sounds pretty darn crazy, too.

Taking Jillian to these treatments will not be easy. The nearest practitioner is nearly two hours away and I have to take her twice a week to start. But, based on the research I've done, coupled with the first-hand experience of friends, I'm going to give it a shot. And, while I have no intention of turning this blog into a blog about allergy and eczema, I will post occasionally about our experience with the treatment in the hopes that it might help someone else out there looking for answers. Friday will be our first official treatment, during which Jillian will be cleared for egg. She will have to avoid egg, chicken, feathers and all egg derivatives for 25 hours following the treatment to ensure that the treatment "takes."

So, interpeeps -- what say you? Has anyone out there had any experience with NAET -- positive or negative? Do you think it sounds crazy? I 'd love to hear from you if you'd be so kind as to leave a comment.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What's for Dinner This Week

I'm late in getting this week's menu plan up -- the holiday weekend has me a little bit off schedule. Would you believe the one meal I was dying to try last week was the one that I ended up rolling over for this week? I just didn't get a chance to make it, so you'll have to wait until next week for my review of Oprah's Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers. You'll be waiting with bated breath, I'm sure! ;)

I did have great success with two new recipes last week. The Salmon and Feta Pasta was delicious and the Southwest Black Bean Salad was to die for! Both are super simple dishes that are full of flavor and ideal for summer. I highly recommend both.

This week, I'm trying to keep things simple. Be sure and check out the recipe for the Orzo Salad. It is one of my all-time favorite summer salads. I make it regularly once the temperatures start to warm up.

Monday: Mexican Pizza, Green Beans, Fruit
Tuesday: Oprah's Favorite Turkey Burgers, Oven Fries, Peas
Wednesday: Dinner Out
Thursday: Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken, Corn, Green Beans
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Turkey Meatloaf Sandwiches, Chips, Orzo Salad
Sunday: Spinach and Artichoke Calzones, Salad, Fruit

(If you're looking for an easy, downloadable menu planner, you'll find a great one here.)

For more great menu-planning ideas, don't forget to head over and visit Laura!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On the Eve of Summer Vacation

Getting ready for your last day in Pre K.

You can write your name. First and last.

You've learned your address.

And your phone number.

You can tell your left from your right (better than I can).

You're even starting to read.

You can swing all by yourself -- no need for a push.

You make it across the monkey bars in a single try.

Where is the baby?

She's long gone now.

A little girl stands in her place, her eyes toward kindergarten,

anxious and excited for things to come.

I can't wait to see how high you'll soar.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This isn't one of my finer moments...

Due to popular demand, Shannon over at Rocks in My Dryer is hosting a messy car carnival, where we reveal what's lurking in the deep recesses of our vehicles. Are you scared yet? You should be.

We upgraded to a minivan in August of last year. With the birth of our third, plus carpooling to my daughter's school, it was a necessary investment.

Driving off the lot, I remember looking around at the sparkling interior, inhaling the heady scent of new leather and thinking, "Finally, I'll be able to comfortably shuttle around the kids and keep all of our 'stuff' in place."

But in the months that followed, I discovered something about vehicles -- they are a lot like purses. The bigger the purse, the more junk you can fit into it. And, if you're anything like me, it doesn't matter how many pockets or compartments there are, inevitably everything ends up lumped together at the bottom of the bag. The same principle holds true for my minivan.

Are you ready to take a peek? I'm warning you, it ain't pretty:

Here's the "main cabin." We removed one of the seats to better facilitate my strapping three preschoolers into the back row. This minor alteration has provided additional space, which you see I've filled with a case of bottled water.

Because I take hydration very seriously.

The blue box with all the junk necessary everyday items piled on top was my one attempt at "backseat organization." I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to how that's working. By the way, the white things you see on the floor are not used tissues, they are socks. My kids love to fling their socks off when I'm driving. It's a ridiculous habit and doesn't do much for keeping the car tidy, but you've got to choose your battles, my friends. It's not the hill I want to die on.

Obviously, if my kids are flinging socks, that implies that they first flung their shoes. My son has come to view the back of the minivan as his own personal closet. At any given time, one can find several pairs of shoes strewn around, which I feel keeps us prepared for just about any social occassion. Naturally, we also have an assortment of various toys that accompany us on errands around town.

Moving on to the passenger seat, you'll notice two containers of sidewalk chalk and the remnants of two "end of year" party bags. You'll also see a life vest. You never know when you'll encounter a water emergency, and I am all about the personal floatation device. Underneath the life vest are a few of my daughter's school papers and a scrapbooking magazine, for those moments when I find I have nothing to do (which is like hardly ever). Today's mail is on the floor in the lower right.

And finally, the piece de resistance -- I present the trunk. I realize from the picture, that it probably looks quite tame. A package of paper towels for my daughter's school party, a lightweight stroller and a beach bag. But, what's really impressive is all the crap necessary items I've managed to crush neatly store underneath. What you can't see are the pool toys, the sand toys, the picnic blanket, the boogie boards, three separate ziplocs with a change of clothes for each child, and the restaurant activity bags I've packed for each child. Always prepared, that's my motto.

I don't know about you, but I'm heading over to Shannon's place to make myself feel better check out all the other messy car posts. I'm hoping I'll find myself in good company. And then, I'm going to go clean out the van.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I think this is what they call "drowning"

End of the school year looms.

Parties to plan.

Sick child to nurse to health.

Teething baby.

Appointments to reschedule.

Birthday gift to mail.

Toys strewn everywhere.

A son who wants to play rescue heroes.

A baby who would like to eat.

Carpool to run.

Kitchen to clean.

And you don't even want to see my laundry room.

My family would probably appreciate my undivided attention today.

See ya tomorrow.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: Summer Edition

Have you noticed all the great recipes floating around the blogosphere? Everyone's getting ready for summer, posting lots of recipes for the grill or light salads. I've got plenty of recipe links this week, but for some you might have to scroll down to find the recipe that I've listed, as there were several recipes included in one post. Maybe you'll stumble across something else you might like to make in the process.

In other news, Oprah had her Favorite Things Show on Friday, which has very little to do with Menu Plan Monday other than the fact that she shared the recipe for the World's Best Turkey Burger. I love turkey burgers and if Oprah says that Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burger is the best, then I've got to believe her. Unfortunately, I can't give you the Weber Grill that everyone in the audience got. But, I can provide the link to the recipe.

Tuesday: Dinner Out
Wednesday: Picnic in the Park -- Southwest Black Bean Salad, Cornbread, Fruit
Thursday: Oprah's Favorite Turkey Burger, Oven Fries, Peas
Friday: Asian Chicken, Brown Rice, Tossed Salad
Saturday: James Beard's Favorite Hamburger, Oven Fries, Salad
Sunday: Chicken Pineapple Fajitas, Brown Rice, Green Beans

If you're looking for an easy downloadable menu planner, you'll find a great one here.

For more great recipes and menu planning ideas, head on over to see Laura!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Choose a Sunscreen

I have a confession to make: I only began applying sunscreen daily within the last couple of years. I have olive skin, which means that I tan without trying. Burning has never been an issue for me. And, for years, I never gave sun damage a second thought.

Until I turned 30 and looked in the mirror.

Ah. There it was. All my hours of sun worship taking up residence on my face in the form of hyper-pigmentation and even a few wrinkles. All that to say, I've been on a bit of a mission to preserve what's left of my skin. Which brings me to the point of this post: not all sunscreens are created equal.

There was a time, not too long ago, when buying a "good" sunscreen meant choosing one with a high SPF number. Well, in recent years there's been a bit of research done. They've determined that while UVB (burning) rays are responsible for sunburn and most non-melanoma skin cancers, it's the UVA (aging) rays that penetrate the skin more deeply, causing the majority of wrinkles and photoaging, as well as the more aggressive skin cancers. (As a side note, tanning beds primarily use UVA rays, another reason to avoid them.) SPF only measures UVB protection. So, if you're buying sunscreen only based on the SPF number, you may not be as protected as you think you are.

What's needed is a broad-spectrum sunscreen. One that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays. Even if the bottle says "broad spectrum" you've got to check the ingredients. (Federal regulations allow sunscreens and daily moisturizers with sun protection to be labeled "broad spectrum" even if they provide only partial UVA protection. They are working on a UVA-rating system that will eventually be implemented). Here's what to look for:

1) an SPF of 15 or higher for UVB protection

2) contains at least one of the following: Mexoryl, Helioplex, avobenzone (aka Parsol 1789), titanium dioxide or zinc oxide
While all the above ingredients block out some degree of UVA rays, the only one that blocks UVB, plus all (meaning long and short wave) UVA rays is zinc oxide. It's the closest thing to a total sunblock available. The good news is that zinc oxide has come a long way in the last few years. The latest formulations use a microfine form, which means you won't look like Casper at the pool. What's more, zinc oxide is non-irritating (there are no known adverse reactions) and it's safe for sensitive skin. (I use it on my kids.) Another added benefit is because it's a physical block (like titanium dioxide), you don't have to wait 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Once it's on, you're protected.

I am still on the lookout for a daily-wear zinc oxide sunscreen. So, what I've been using is a broad spectrum with avobenzone for daily wear. When I hit the pool or know that I'm going to have significant sun exposure that day, I use the zinc oxide lotion that I put on my kids.

Invest in a good sunscreen this summer. Apply it liberally and often. (And be sure to protect your neck and chest, as well as the back of your hands as part of your daily routine, whether you're at the pool or not.) When it comes to sunscreen, the old adage holds true: an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
For more frump fighting tips, head on over to see Karla, who is generously hosting Fight the Frump Fridays while Fussy snuggles her brand new baby!

Summertime Favorites

Megan over at Fried Okra just posted her top 10 favorite summer recipes and is asking for others to join in the fun. My favorite summer recipe is the Brown and Wild Rice Chicken Salad, which I've posted about before. I could eat it all in one sitting.

The recipe below is for a new pasta salad that I've made a handful of times already -- it's a great option for picnics and super tasty.

Summertime Tortellini (courtesy of Publix Familystyle Magazine)

1 9 oz. package refrigerated cheese tortellini
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1 to 1 1/2 Tbs. finely shredded lemon peel
1 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large yellow sweet pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup cubed mozzarella cheese (2 ounces)
4 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup pine nuts or chopped almonds, toasted (toasting them does make a difference)

1) In a large saucepan, cook tortellini according to package directions, adding green beans for the last five minutes of cooking. Drain. Rinise tortellini and green beans with cold water; drain again.

2) Meanwhile, in a screw-top jar, combine lemon peel, lemon juice, mustard, sugar, salt and garlic. Cover; shake well. Chill until needed.

3) In a large bowl, toss tortellini, green beans and yellow pepper with olive oil. Cover and chill for 2 to 24 hours. Just before serving, stir cheese, green onions and nuts into tortellini mixture. Shake dressing; pour over all, tossing lightly to coat. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 main dish servings.

384 calories
19 g total fat (5 g sat fat)
39 mg chol
503 mg sodium
41 g carbs
3 g dietary fiber
17 g protein

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brand New Meme!

I'm a little late posting today. Darcie from Such the Spot tagged me for a brand new meme -- but I needed to noodle this one around a little. It's a long one, so make yourself comfy. Here goes...

Favorite person (outside family)? Wow, that's a tough first question! It's impossible for me to narrow it down to just one person. I have a handful of great friends (y'all know who you are) and they mean the world to me.

Favorite food? I love Thai food. Pad Thai and Panang Chicken Curry are my favorite.

Quirks about you? I check for bugs hiding under the sheets every night prior to getting in bed. Then I scan the ceiling for spiders (they have a habit of descending on me, which totally grosses me out). I trap bugs under water glasses for my sweet husband to dispose of when he gets home (noticing a trend here?). Oh, and I absolutely cannot go to sleep at night if the kitchen is not cleaned up.

How would the person who loves you most describe you in ten words or less? I asked my mom on this one: warm, caring, loving, compassionate, generous, honest, trustworthy, beautiful, talented, tenacious, accepting. Okay, I'm so blushing right now.

Any regrets in life? Adding "fine china" to the wedding registry. All that money for something we never use. (It would have been helpful had I known then, what I know now: dishes with gold banding cannot go in the dishwasher.)

Favorite Charity/ Cause? There are a lot of good ones. We support the Salvation Army's work in the UK and Samaritan's Purse is also a favorite. Locally, I volunteer for a group dedicated to improving childhood literacy.

Favorite Blog recently? I have a bit of an internet shopping addiction -- the lovely Mir over at helps to fuel it. Also, Gourmet Momma is one of my new favorite sources for recipes. Every recipe that I have made from Nikki's site has been a winner.

Something you can’t get enough of? Chocolate.

Worst job you’ve ever had? My very first after-school job was as a clerk at an eye doctor's office. My primary responsiblity was refiling patient charts. There are a lot of patient charts at a doctor's office. It was was a never-ending alphabetical nightmare.

What job would you pay NOT to have? Easy. Bug exterminator. See question #3 if you need elaboration.

If you could be a fly on the wall, where? My son's preschool. It's a great school and I get reports from his teacher, but I'd love to see him in action without me around. My daughter always gives me a blow-by-blow account of her day at school, but my son just isn't programmed that way.

Favorite Bible verse right now? I've always loved Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." (NIV)

Guilty Pleasure? People Magazine.

Got any confessions? None that spring to mind...

If you HAD to spend $1,000 on YOURSELF, how would you spend it? Clothes. I'm a hopeless clothes horse. What Not to Wear is one of my favorite shows.

Favorite thing about your house? The natural light. We live in a ranch that was designed so you would never have to turn a light on during the day. Lots of windows, lots of skylights. Lots of light.

Least favorite thing about your house? Because our house was designed the way it was, it is very long (140 feet). So, walking the clean clothes from the laundry room to the bedrooms is quite a workout.

One thing you are bad at? Definitely math. The mere mention of numbers has me breaking out in a cold sweat and searching for the nearest calculator.

One thing you’re good at? Word scrambles. I can unscramble words with amazing speed. If only it had a more practical application in my daily life. ;-)

If you could change something about your circumstances, what? I wish I could find a cure for my daughter's eczema.

Who would you like to meet someday? Kelly Ripa. I just think she's great and she cracks me up.

What makes you feel sexy? My new bathing suit! Sister Honey Bunch helped me find the perfect one! Just the right amount of coverage for someone who has birthed three children. (It's option three.)

Who is your real life hero? Jesus

What is the hardest part of your job? Trying to fit it all in -- how do I do all the chores and necessary things like cook dinner and keep the house from collapsing, while also taking time to play and have fun with each of my kids.

When are you most relaxed? After a glass of wine.

What stresses you out? Screaming children is pretty high on the list. Especially if they're mine.

What can you not live without? My faith.

Do you agree or disagree with the recent article that reported that blogs are authored by narcissists? I disagree. In the case of mom blogs, I think the majority are authored by women who are just looking to build a sense of community around a job that can be very isolating at times.

Why do you blog? I blog because I'm a writer. It was my job in the "real world" and it's just part of who I am. Blogging is a great creative outlet for me, but also allows me to document and remember this time of my life.

Who are you tagging?

New/Newer bloggers - Finding Me in the Madness and A Superhero, Princess & Monkey

Bloggy friends - Domestic Spaz and Raising A&C

Bloggers you’d like to get to know better - Fried Okra and Ni Hao Y'all

Bloggers who you don't think will respond, but you hope will -
Toddled Dredge and This Ain't New York

Phew! That was a workout!

Okay - rules:

1. Answer the questions (Did I really have to include this as a rule? Duh!)
2. Link back to whoever tagged you
3. Tag eight bloggers to do the same, 2 from each category.
New/ newer bloggers (since we want to share the love and send them traffic)
Bloggy friends
Bloggers you’d like to get to know better
Bloggers you don’t think will respond, but you hope will

Good luck and have fun!

Storing Puzzles

My 5-year-old loves puzzles. She could do them for hours on end. So, it should come as no surprise that we have a lot of puzzles around the house. Storing puzzles? Well, that's where we had the problem.

First, all the boxes take up a lot of space. Secondly, the boxes are all different sizes, so even if you were trying to neatly stack them in a cupboard or closet, the stack eventually becomes disorganized. Finally, the boxes are so flimsy, they start collapsing after a few uses. This means pieces get lost. Tears ensue. You know the drill.

The solution? The humble Ziploc bag.

I choose either a quart size or, for bigger puzzles, a gallon size, ziploc. I cut the picture from the front of the box and use packaging tape to secure it to the front of the bag. (I try to make sure I also cut out the number of pieces and the age for reference). My daughter has a basket in her closet where she stores all the puzzles. It's that simple.

Pieces don't get lost. Storage is easy and takes up a lot less space.

For other tips to make your life easier, check out the growing list over at Shannon's place.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

For those who missed the show...

It's a bit of a slow news day around here, so I thought I'd take a second to fill y'all in on what went down on Mother's Day.

Because there is a story to tell.

Each year, we celebrate Mother's Day with brunch at the local golf club. It's a somewhat fancy affair. Last year I was about to give birth and my wardrobe options were severely limited. So, I was excited that this year I would have a chance to look presentable. I dove deep into my closet and emerged wearing a dress. This wardrobe choice made quite an impression on my oldest, Jillian (5).

Maybe it was the novelty of the dress.

Maybe she liked the feel of the fabric.

Whatever the reason, once I had the dress on, she wouldn't leave it alone. She kept tugging on it. Running the fabric through her fingers. Messing around with the hem.

So there we are. I'm standing in the buffet line fixing Jillian a plate. She is at my side, looking around the room, dancing in place, people watching.

"Do you want a waffle?"


"Do you want syrup?"


At this point, we head over to the fruit table.

"Do you want pineapple or strawberries?"

Jillian leans up against my leg and says, "Strawberries." So, I start picking out a few berries from the tray. That's when I noticed things felt a little "breezy" from behind. It took a few seconds for it to register, but as I turned to look down at Jilly, I realized she had pulled my dress up and was holding it there. My derriere on full display.

Did I mention I was holding plates in my hands?

"Jilly, what are you doing!?! Put my dress down!"

The sense of urgency at this age. Really impressive.

I manage a little half-turn so the dress falls out of her hands and quickly scan the room to see if anyone realizes they were just flashed. I think I'm in the clear.

Jilly and I quickly walk back to the table. As I sit down, I tell my sister, "You are not going to believe what just happened."

Her eyes wide, she asks, "You are wearing underwear, right?"

Uh, yeah. I'm no Britney Spears. But that's small comfort at this point.

"Did anyone see?"

That's when my dad piped up. "I think I was the only one."


That's comforting and mortifying all at the same time.

Why I Love My Daughter: Reason #582

Look what I found on my bedside table the other night, just before I crawled into bed --wildflowers picked as a surprise just for me. My sweet, sweet Jillian. Her tender heart is such a treasure. Her thoughtfulness often moves me to tears.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's for Dinner This Week...

After a busy week, I've been kind of dragging my feet in the menu planning department. There are just some weeks where it's hard to come up with a plan. So, I'm keeping it simple and using the grill quite a bit. The Parsley Parmesan Baked Chicken recipe was given to me by a friend (thanks, Lori!) and I love it because it's easy, healthy and flavorful. I've included the recipe below. We're doing dinner in the park again on Wednesday, so I'll be making a big summer pasta salad for my husband and me. I'll post that recipe soon.

Monday: Spaghetti, meatballs and tossed salad
Tuesday: Parsley Parmesan Chicken (recipe below), Brown Rice, Green Beans
Wednesday: Picnic at the park with Summertime Tortellini Salad
Thursday: Dinner out
Saturday: James Beard's Favorite Hamburgers, Oven Fries, Greek Salad

If you're looking for an easy, downloadable menu planner, you'll find a great one here.

For more menu planning ideas, head over to Laura's place!
Parsley and Parmesan Baked Chicken
1/4 cup bottled Italian Salad Dressing
Approximately 6 chicken breasts (I prefer Boneless and Skinless)
2 T water
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup finely snipped parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs
Pour salad dressing into 13" x 9"x 2" baking dish; add chicken, turning to coat on all sides. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours, ocasionally tilting dish and spooning dressing over chicken. Drain, reserving dressing. Combine egg and water. In plastic bag, combine cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, salt, paprika and pepper. Dip chicken into egg mixture, then shake a few pieces at a time in crumb mixture to coat. Return coated chicken to baking dish; spoon remaining Italian dressing on top. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes or till chicken is tender.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Letter to Mom

"A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly anything that stands in its path."
-- Agatha Christie

There was a time when I saw this picture as merely a childhood snapshot. A moment in time. A simple picture of you and me. These days, however, I see so much more. Things the naked eye can't see. Things I see only with my heart.

I see a mother's love.

The time spent.

I see the sacrifices.

The sleepless nights.

I see the times your heart was broken and the times it leaped for joy.

I see the moments you played the cheerleader, urging me on to my next endeavor.

And how you were always there -- arms at the ready -- to embrace me if I fell.

But most of all, I see how -- through it all -- you poured every ounce of your love and energy into me.

Day after day.

Month after month.

Year after year.

It was no small task. You did it faithfully, lovingly, whole-heartedly.

All those times you would tell me, "Someday, Michelle, you'll understand."

You were right.

It took several years and three kids -- but I finally get it.
I can't thank you enough.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Shaking Things Up

Sometimes, feeling "frumpy" has as much to do with what's happening on the inside, as what's happening on the outside. I don't know about you, but there are some days when I feel stuck in a rut -- each day seems like a repeat of the day before.

Change diapers.
Clean the kitchen.
Do laundry.
Clean the kitchen.
Run carpool.
Clean the kitchen.
Cook dinner.
Clean the kitchen.

All of those things need to be done. All of that is good.

But it's not everything.

I take my job as a mom very seriously. But while it's a 24/7 kind of job, with no sick days, it doesn't mean that I can't take an occassional "coffee break" to recharge myself.

One of the best ways I've found to "fight the frump" is to shake things up a bit. Try doing something you've never imagined doing before. Pursue an interest that you've always wanted to try. I'm not saying chuck it all and join the circus. I'm just saying, step outside of your normal routine for a moment.

I've just taken up tae kwon do. It's something I've always wanted to do. I went to my first class this week. I felt like a dork. I punched like a girl. But you know what? I'm going back next week. Because it's new. It's a challenge. It's something that seems so out of my comfort zone (maybe even a little risky) that it gets me excited. I'm not dropping everything to become a black belt. I'm just taking one or two hours a week and setting them aside to do something that stretches me.

So, what's it going to be? A writing class? Salsa dancing lessons? Planning a trip you've always wanted to take? We need to take risks. If we don't take them, we don't grow. When we don't grow, we end up feeling stagnant.

We end up feeling...well... frumpy.

So go ahead. Try something new. And let us all know how it turns out.
For more tips on Fighting the Frump, head on over to Fussy's place.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Strawberry Fields

Last Friday, I kept Jillian home from school and took the kids strawberry picking. The weather was perfect for our annual trip to the farm -- 75 and sunny. Last year, I pre-ordered a gallon of strawberries and let Jilly and Josh each pick a pint. I wasn't sure how long they'd last and didn't want to get stuck picking a gallon by myself if they lost interest. Well, they didn't lose interest. They loved it.

This year, they were both very eager and insisted on filling their own buckets. They picked a gallon each -- that's a lot of berries. But, one of the best parts of strawberry picking is coming home and making strawberry pie. So, this year, instead of one pie, we made an extra to share with a friend.

Now, I'm very particular about my strawberry pie. I don't like gelatin, I don't like glaze and I don't care for the addition of red food coloring. I just like nice basic ingredients: strawberries, sugar, whipped cream. Well, after hunting around for a recipe that would "fit the bill," it turns out the best one was right under my nose in the information flyer from the farm. It's very straightforward. It's so easy, in fact, that you really have no excuse for not making the homemade whipped cream to top it off.

Fresh From the Farm Strawberry Pie

1 qt. strawberries
1 cup sugar
2 ½ or 3 Tbs. cornstarch
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 baked pie shell

Wash berries and hull. Put one half of the berries in a saucepan and crush. Mix sugar and cornstarch. Add to crushed berries, along with lemon juice. Cook on medium heat until mixture thickens. Cool. Cut remaining berries into halves and mix with remaining mixture. Pour mixture into baked pie shell. Chill before serving. Serve with whipped cream.

Homemade Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbs. confectioners' sugar
In a large bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in vanilla and sugar until peaks form. Make sure not to over-beat, cream will then become lumpy and butter-like.

What Doesn't Work for Me: Having No Summer Plan

I'm a planner and I thrive on routine.

I think that's why the mere mention of Summer Vacation never ceases to send me into a cold sweat.

Don't get me wrong -- I can handle a couple days of spontaneity every weekend. But day after day of an open schedule stretching through the summer months -- I have a hard time coping. I've learned the hard way that I inevitably run out of fun things to do with the kids. Or, even worse, I stumble across some really great activities, but I'm too late to sign up or have missed them entirely. It makes for a very long 10 weeks.

What doesn't work for me is not having a plan in place.

That's where the Summer Planning Session comes into play. For the past three years, I've gotten together with four of my closest girlfriends for a "Girls Night Out/What are We Going to Do with the Kids This Summer" dinner. This is where we all pool our collective resources. Julie brings information on Vacation Bible School and music classes. Christine has a son on the swim team, so she's our go-to person for water sports/lessons. Abby, Bridget and I are always about town, so we bring fliers for things we've seen -- storytimes at the library, special community-wide events and the like.

After ordering dinner and drinks, we set it all out on the table and talk about it. We bring calendars so we can check our availability. We might even pick a few special dates for pizza night at the local pool or plan a field trip day to a museum. The goal isn't to create a jam-packed schedule, (it is vacation, after all), but we want to schedule some fun activities to keep the kids busy and to make the most of their time off.

We don't usually do everything we plan. Some ideas are never executed. Some classes are never attended. But in the end, we have a framework. In other words, some semblance of a clue of what we'll be doing for the next 10 weeks.

It's just enough structure for me to relax and enjoy the time I have with my kids. It helps me to make the most of our summer together, and allows us to make some great memories in the process.

To find out other things people have learned the hard way, head over to Shannon's place for What Doesn't Work for Me Wednesday!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Favorite New Gloss

I'm back over at Chic Critique -- this time spreading the word about my new favorite lip gloss. It glosses lips and whitens teeth. How does it do that, you ask? Well, head on over and check it out!

Being Number Two

My oldest daughter started talking at 9 months old.

My son began talking at 9 1/2 months old.

In both cases, their first word was, "Mama."

My third born? Well, she's Daddy's girl. All the way.

Grace started babbling early on. We first heard strings of "Dadadadadadada" when she was around 6 months old. In the weeks that followed, she refined it to sound like, "Dadada Dadee, Dadada Dadee, Hi Dadee." When Daddy walks in the room, the rest of us might as well disappear. In Grace's eyes, he hangs the sun, the stars and the moon.

I've got to admit, initially, my ego was slightly bruised. I mean, I was the one doing the majority of the diaper changes, waking up at night, feeding her and walking her around until she fell asleep. Hearing that first word is the reward for all your hard work. And when that first word is "Mama" well, life just doesn't get any better. You're A #1 tops.

Grace is 11 months old now, and I have a hunch she's been saying "Mama" for about a month, only every time she says it, my back is turned and I just can't be sure. I'll be feeding her lunch, turn around to get something and I hear what sounds like, "Mama." I'll swoop around, my eyes wide and exclaim at the top of my voice, "Mama? Did you say Mama? Say Mama!"

At this point, Grace just stares at me blankly. My overzealous reaction obviously stuns her into silence.

Then, "Dadada, Dadee."

I'll turn back around, set to work on something and hear it again. Something murmured. Can't be sure. Sounded just like... I'll turn around to look at her.

"Dadada, Dadee."

Well, last week I finally got the confirmation I've been waiting for. When I picked Grace up from her afternoon nap, she looked right at me, stroked my cheek and said, "Mamamamama."

Ah. It. Was. Heaven.

There is nothing like the first time your child calls you by name. I don't care if it's your first child or your 15th. It thrills your heart. And while I may not currently be Grace's #1 most favorite person in the whole world, I'll happily settle for being #2.

Because I've found the snuggles are just as tender and the kisses are just as sweet.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Talk about fodder for the ol' blog...

My very first karate class starts tonight! Should be good for a story or two, don't ya think? :)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

What's for Dinner This Week...

Okay, for those who have read my earlier posts, I will no longer beat the dead horse that is called, Try the Mexican Pizza Now. Just suffice it to say that if you're looking for a hugely delicious meal that's basically no work at all, that's your dish. It was the highlight of last week's menu.

Now that that is out of the way, tonight we'll be having a very simple and tasty lasagna. We'll also be trying a new pork recipe and salmon recipe this week. And, with the weather being so nice, we're taking the kids to the park for a picnic dinner on Wednesday -- a great excuse to make the Brown and Wild Rice Chicken Salad again (one of my new favorites).

Monday: Easy Skillet Lasagna, Salad, Fruit
Tuesday: Turkey Meatloaf, Oven Fries, Green Beans
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Pork with Sage and Apples, Salad, Brown Rice Pilaf
Saturday: Orange Glazed Salmon, Edamame, Corn on the Cob
Sunday: Beef Daube Provencal, Noodles, Peas

If you're looking for an easy, downloadable menu planner, you'll find a great one here.

For more great menu planning ideas, go and visit Laura!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I never thought I'd use these two words together in one post...

Okay -- two quick things that I found of interest this week:

If you don't know what you're making for dinner tonight, go to the store and get what you need for this Mexican Pizza right now! It is soooooo easy to put together and tastes awesome. To give you an idea, my 5-year-old daughter actually opted to eat a slice of this over the regular cheese pizza I made. That is no small feat. Believe me. (BTW, if you haven't checked out Gourmet Momma, you are so missing out. Nikki's recipes are always easy, delicious and figure friendly.)

Switching gears a little -- ever had a run in with lice? We had a lice scare last summer and it flipped me out, to put it lightly. That's why this post on conquering lice by Slacker Mom is so great. Tons of helpful information -- and even better, she gives ideas for preventing the little buggers from setting up residence in the first place. Mint shampoo, anyone?

I know. After that discussion, you're probably not hungry anymore.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Perfect Summer Skin

Science is not my strong suit.

Chemistry class gave me nightmares. For nearly a year.

Ditto for Physics, only those dreams didn't last quite as long because I dropped the class after a semester.

Really, I'm convinced my poor performance went back to practical application. If classroom experiments had been more applicable -- like, say, which self tanner gives the most natural looking tan -- I would have been all over it. Because, apparently, vanity motivates me like nothing else.

Last weekend, while catching up on all the world and political news celebrity gossip, I ran across this article: The Secret to Perfect Summer Legs.

Curious, I clicked on over. The article interviewed Dermatologist Amy Wechsler who was preaching the benefits of safflower oil. According to Dr. Amy, the solution to dry, ashy skin is as close as Aisle 3 of your local supermarket. You can take the same safflower oil you use for cooking and apply it directly to your skin as a moisturizer.

Now, let me just be clear for a second -- I would consider buying a bridge from just about anyone if they promised me it would a) reduce fine lines and wrinkles or b) improve the way I look at the pool. So, naturally, I hopped over to Publix and picked up a bottle of safflower oil just as soon as I could get there. My dry, ashy legs were depending on it.

And so began the first science experiement I've conducted in about 15 years.

For the past five days or so, I've been making an effort to use the oil both morning and night. I apply it to my legs and arms. The oil is actually a lot thicker than one might imagine, so the application is pretty easy and not too messy. (You do want to be sure you apply the oil when you're not in a rush, as it does take a little while for it to be absorbed fully into the skin.) The hardest part of the whole process is getting over the fact that what I'm smearing all over my body comes out of a bottle with a recipe for Vegetable Pasta Primavera on the side. If you can get beyond that, you've crossed the biggest hurdle.

Honestly, the results so far have been very favorable. My skin is soft and feels very moisturized. I purchased 32 ounces for around $6 -- and I've barely made a dent in the bottle. If you look at the comments on the article (there were nearly 800 comments, last time I checked), a lot of people already use safflower oil or olive oil on their skin. Safflower oil has the benefit of being odorless, and some were even suggesting adding essential oil to it for a kind of "make your own" perfume effect.
I'm going to stick with the whole oil thing because it really seems to work and because my glowing white, dry legs need all the help they can get, if only for the sake of the other poor people at the pool. (I may even try it on my daughter, who has stubborn eczema -- has anyone tried that before?)

And by the way, if you're looking for a dinner idea, I just happen to have a great recipe for Vegetable Pasta Primavera.

For more frump-fighting ideas, head on over to Fussy's place.

Because I'm nothing, if not a product of the '80s

I was recently perusing People Magazine online -- my source for all news and information -- and read that they are re-releasing the Sweet Valley High book series.

I'm probably going to shatter any ideas of my being high-brow and intellectual here (and clearly, if you're looking for high-brow and intellectual, you're reading the wrong blog), but I didn't read quality series-type books like Nancy Drew growing up. I opted, instead, for Liz and Jess. In fact, I spent the better part of a year channeling Elizabeth Wakefield, and don't think for a second I didn't have the polo shirts and khaki pants to prove it. In my pubescent mind, we had so much in common, only she was a blond and I was a brunette, she lived in California and I lived in Michigan, she had a boyfriend and I was too young to even think about dating.

Other than that, we totally could have been BFFs.

Anywho. In my eagerness to learn more -- I mean, I was ready to pick up where I left off with book #53 -- I hopped on over to Amazon. The reviews were not pretty. Apparently, they have decided to "modernize" the series for the re-release. (Which absolutely cracks me up to know parts of my childhood are now in need of being "modernized.") They're trading in the red Fiat for a Jeep. Elizabeth will work for a website not a newspaper (because apparently a newspaper is so last millenium). And the twins will no longer be a "perfect size 6" -- but a "perfect size 4."


What is wrong with people? Have they learned nothing from the whole "old Coke" vs. "new Coke" debacle of '85? You simply can't improve on a classic.

And while I might be willing to acquiesce to a little updating -- they so crossed the line with the vanity sizing.

It's a good thing I have the first 52 original books preserved in a box in the basement waiting to be presented to my daughters when they come of age.

I am not even kidding.

Because Nancy Drew's got nothin' on Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.

That there's some high-brow reading fun.