Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Welcome, Summer!

The first day of summer vacation means I'm writing this post at the patio table.  Breakfast was late and leisurely, and the empty dishes wait on the kitchen counter.

The kids are decorating their backyard playset with sidewalk chalk.  They're still in pajamas, cinnamon and sugar mingling with colored chalk dust on their faces, and I don't mind.  I hand them a sheet of waxed paper to make the slide more slippery.  The neighbor kids squeal and shout from their trampoline.

There is no bus to catch today; no bell to beat.  The washing machine will hum and swish all morning and afternoon, taking on the challenge of chlorine and barbecue, strawberry juice and grass stains from a beautiful holiday weekend.  We may go for a bike ride.

I'm missing Mark, back to work and giving it his all, as always.  I wonder if he'll ever truly know how thankful I am for what he does so I can be here.

Noah wants to water the garden, and my coffee gets cold while I make trips into the house for washcloths and watering cans.  I'm loving every second of this.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What We're Reading - 5/23/12

Last week I raved about one children's book series we love, and today I'm featuring another!

Cynthia Rylant's Henry and Mudge books chronicle the tales of a boy and his big, drooly, cracker-loving St. Bernard, Mudge.  Henry and Mudge are best friends, and each have their own joys and anxieties to live through together.

The stories are realistic but fun.  Mudge is truly a dog, in that he doesn't talk or take on other human characteristics, yet he has a vivid personality that makes you want to give him a big hug (and a handful of crackers).  Henry's parents are important elements in the stories, and the family dynamic is sweet and supportive. 

Each book is divided into short chapters within the same story.  They're great for young readers, and not-yet-readers can easily sit through and enjoy the adventures as well.

Here are a few of our favorites:

The one where it all began, Henry and Mudge: The First Book introduces the relationship between this boy and dog and how Mudge became part of the family. 

Henry was lonely, with no other children in his home or in the neighborhood. 

While he couldn't have a sibling or a new house, his parents decided a dog would be okay.  So Henry picked out Mudge.  And what a dog he was!

In Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend, the whole family is feeling as lazy and gloomy as the weather outside.

With nothing but wet yuck outside and a whole boring weekend stretched out before them, someone needed to come up with a plan. 

Henry's mother remembered some big boxes down in the basement, and before long, everyone was hard at work at building the best castle ever. 

I love how this became a family project, with everyone genuinely excited and involved.  Even Mudge, in his own way.

Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat brings another animal into Henry's household for a short time.

One evening, Mudge discovered a strange cat on the doorstep.

Everyone agreed that it was a very shabby cat.  But this cat needed some care.

Mudge and the cat developed a close relationship, and everyone began to feel very fondly toward their new friend.  So what would they do when the cat's owner came to take him home? 

In addition to the ones we own, we've checked out lots of Henry and Mudge books from the library.  If your library hosts summer reading programs like ours does and you're looking for some ideas, this is a great series to explore!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Talking through the Target Ad

Yesterday, Mark and I enjoyed the beautiful morning weather with breakfast and the Sunday paper out on the back patio.  As usual, I reached for the Target ad.  And perusing its pages brought up some observations.

I've tried to understand the appeal of this product, but I find it so perplexing.  You spend $80-$100 on an appliance that allows you to make your own soda.  Then you buy the flavor bottles.  And voila!  Limited amounts of homemade "cola"!  (Or even lemon-lime!)  Hooray?

Maybe it's that the flavor bottles look like mini laundry detergents to me, or maybe it's because I'm big brand loyal when it comes to cola and diet cola and all their carbonated friends.  (Mark:  "That's because you're conditioned to think the other ones don't taste as good.  If you lived somewhere where they didn't have Coke or Pepsi, you wouldn't know the difference.")  I just wonder how many people purchase this product and are super-happy about that decision - and their homemade soda beverage - a few months later.  

(But what do I know?)

This is intriguing.  Magnetic nail color?  What does that mean?  Do I need to try it?

(Mark would probably say that I'm conditioned toward fascination when it comes to new cosmetic items.)

These glasses make me happy.  They lean in a delightfully playful manner.

"Helloooooooo there." 

Me:  "Oh wow, look at these s'mores!  They put two layers of chocolate in each one."
Mark:  "That's too much chocolate.  It's like what Alka-Seltzer did in their ad campaigns."
Me:  "Um ... what?"
Mark:  "Alka-Seltzer ran an ad at one point where they showed someone dropping two tablets into a glass.  And their sales started doubling.  Before that, people just used one tablet."
Me:  "Okay, so you're saying this is a conspiracy between Hershey's and Honey Maid?"
Mark:  "Not Honey Maid.  You don't want more graham cracker.  You want more chocolate after seeing this ad."
Me:  "Yes I do.  I don't even care that Hershey's is playing me."
Mark:  "And you're exactly the kind of consumer they're hoping for."

In addition to my susceptibility to tricky chocolate companies, Mark was also thrilled by the fact that we received three Old Navy fliers in the paper but no business section.

But I didn't care, because I discovered that Tostitos makes Lime & Salt Thins.  Which sounds like everything I've ever wanted in a tortilla chip.

Do you own a SodaStream and care to explain how I've misjudged it?  Have you experienced the Lime & Salt Thins?  Are you going to try a double-chocolate s'more?  Does your glassware have personality?  And what's this about magnetic nail color? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Favorites 5/18/12

This made me giggle.  A lot.

(Marla shared this on Facebook, and the original source appears to be George Takei from Star Trek (apparently), who had it sent to him by a fan.  RANDOM.) 

Sarah posted this YouTube video on Facebook this week, and I'm infatuated with it.

My favorite sitcom this season was a complete surprise to me.  I love Zooey Deschenel, but wasn't really looking for another television show in my life.  Megan insisted I reconsider and check out New Girl, and I'm so, so glad I listened to her advice because oh my goodness.  We enjoy it immensely.

A clip from the opening of the season finale:

And my favorite scene from that episode, where the group finds themselves stranded in the desert and Jess & Nick are confronted by a coyote:

I found a new baking blog to stalk.  Let's not talk about how many I have in Google Reader, okay?  It's slightly embarrassing.  But look how GORGEOUS!


Also?  Somebody please give me a reason to make this immediately ...


Happy Almost-Weekend!  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What We're Reading - 5/16/12

We loooove books at our house!  I'm not much of a collector of anything, but I do have a ridiculous need to gather and hoard children's books.  So I thought I'd highlight some of our favorites from time to time. 

(Sidenote:  I haven't been given anything to promote these books, the authors/publishers have no idea who I am, and I don't even have any links that make me some change when you click them.  I just love to talk about books!)  

(Another sidenote:  I take the worst pictures ever.  My apologies.)

Both of my kids are HUGE Mo Willems fans!  And while we adore his Pigeon stories, our very favorite Willems works are the Elephant & Piggie series.  Gerald the elephant and his best friend Piggie the pig are silly and endearing, and Willems' stories and illustrations are simple and smart.  My daughter can easily read these books, my son can memorize them to "read" to us, and (best of all) I don't get tired of them - even after many repetitions. 

Just a few of our favorites...

In Watch Me Throw the Ball, Gerald tries to give Piggie some tips on how to throw a ball, but she believes she already has it more than mastered. 

In We Are in a Book, Gerald and Piggie break the fourth wall with their discovery that a reader is reading them ("THAT IS SO COOL!").  The only problem?  Gerald does not want the book to end!

In There Is a Bird on Your Head, one bird takes up residence on Gerald's head, and the party just grows from there - causing Piggie much delight and Gerald much frustration. 

So much fun!  I highly recommend the Elephant & Piggie series for family reading times. 

Which books are your kids loving right now? 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Grace for Moms

Magazine cover controversy.  Mommy Wars.  The pressures of chasing parenting perfection.  Isn't it all a little bit ... well ... exhausting?

Couldn't we all just use a hefty dose of grace?  Grace for ourselves, grace for each other.  Reminders of the grace extended to us by our Heavenly Father. 

I am thrilled to be a contributing writer for a brand-new site called Grace for Moms.  Created by Jessica Wolstenholm and Kristy Chowning, the vision for this community is that it be a place for conversation and encouragement, safe for differing parenting perspectives, and saturated in grace.

Grace for Moms launched on Mother's Day, and a kick-off party is underway with 12 days of fantastic giveaways!  I'm posting there today to introduce a prize sponsored by Tommy Nelson.  Head on over to check out all the giveaways, meet the founders and contributors, and soak in a little grace. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Favorites - 5/11/12

Just barely getting this in on Friday!  Some favorite things this week...

1.   Waffle-and-Strawberry Trifle

 I love Everyday Food magazine by Martha Stewart because it casually tosses amazing recipes at you (it is Martha, after all), without making you feel as though you must serve those dishes with handcrafted potholders on custom plates fired in your charming backyard kiln.

I came across this dessert in the current issue and had to pause a moment to decide whether it sounded odd or delightful.  The latter won out, and I'm very glad because wow.

Waffle-and-Strawberry Trifle  
(adapted slightly from Everyday Food)

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar (divided)
3 T. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream (divided)
2 large egg yolks
2 T. butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 lb. strawberries, hulled and sliced
8 oz. frozen Belgian waffles, toasted and cut into 1-inch pieces (I used a few more, and I think next time I'll use homemade.
chocolate shavings

In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt, milk, 1/2 cup cream, and egg yolks.  Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until bubbling and thickened, about six minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and whisk & cook one minute more.  Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-proof bowl.  Stir in butter and vanilla until combined.  Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pudding and refrigerate at least three hours (or up to three days).

Toss strawberries with 1/4 cup sugar.  Let stand until berries have released some juice, about 20 minutes.  Beat 1 1/2 cups cream with 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form.

In a large bowl, layer half of waffle pieces, strawberries, pudding, and whipped cream.  Repeat layers. Cover trifle with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or up to one day.  Sprinkle with chocolate shavings before serving. 

2.  Speaking of recipes, I recently re-organized mine.  Which doesn't sound quite blog-worthy unless you realize how out-of-control the situation had become.  I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I went from a large box, several manila folders, stacks of random cookbooks and magazines, notebooks, and piles of loose clippings ...

... to this.


Also?  The sparkly lettering is seriously as crafty as I will ever get. I got those letters in the scrapbooking aisle at Target, making it the first time I've ever entered that section on purpose.


We finally have a grill!  I know.  Nearly fourteen years we've been married, and have only felt the need to own a George Foreman version.  Chalk it up to apathy, and also that Mark has to meticulously research every purchase over $100.  Last spring he decided on a model that would best fit our needs, and after a whole year with the grill in our Amazon "Save for Later" cart, we finally got around to actually sending it to our house.  And goodness, have we been enjoying it.  Grilled fish tacos and veggies are on the menu for tonight.

(Sidenote:  Any local people share our obsession with the CJ's Pub burgers you can buy at Martin's?  The black and bleu?  Bacon and cheddar?  Oh my word.)

4.  On Thursday, Noah and I went to a Mother/Son dance sponsored by our city's parks department.  Earlier that afternoon, he had suddenly exclaimed, "You know what, Mommy?  You're not young."  (Not a favorite thing from my week.)  But as we were leaving for the dance, he looked up at me and said, "Mommy!  You're beautiful."  (Definitely my favorite thing.)

Happiest of weekends and Mother's Days to you all!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hopes on Heartbeats

 Image credit: Koratmember

Our pediatrician paused too long with his stethoscope at Maya's routine check-up five years ago, and my own heart leaped to my throat as he recommended an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist.  We breathed much easier after the diagnosis - a small atrial defect that should close on its own over time.  There were follow-up checks at age three and age four, and while the hole still hadn't closed all the way, the cardiologist was comfortable waiting three years before our next appointment.

Last week we drove over for that check-up with a seven-year-old just excited to get a morning off from school.  Fully expecting this to be either our last appointment, or to get another three-year pass, we were surprised again by another referral recommendation - this time for an atrial defect specialist in Indianapolis.  Maya's defect is not worse, and her heart is showing no signs whatsoever of stress (enlargement, etc.) from the hole, it's just that it hasn't closed yet.  And while the doctor isn't concerned, and suspects that the specialist will likely still recommend a wait-and-see approach, he said that he hasn't had a lot of experience with patients Maya's age who have defects that are small, and yet haven't self-corrected by this age.

If she were a boy, there would likely not be any reason for a consultation, but aortic defects can potentially elevate risks for women during pregnancy, so girls tend to be watched more closely and procedures to close the holes are recommended more often.  We'll head to Riley this fall sometime - no hurry, we were told - to see what they say about procedure or no procedure.

In all honesty, we're not very worried about this.  We have friends who are facing far more serious health issues with their children. This situation is not even the tiniest bit comparable.  Maya has no restrictions on activity.  She danced this weekend at her spring recital, she'll twirl at her wedding someday, and she'll sway back and forth with a baby in her arms one day, God willing.  My main anxiety in it all right now is that it seems to be one of those on-the-fence things, where the defect is not large enough to definitely  warrant action, but is present enough to possibly (but probably not) cause issues later on.  Ack!  We'd much rather be given a clear recommendation than an ambiguous decision to make about a heart procedure.  Prayers for wisdom and clarity would be wonderful as we discuss timing for the consultation and eventually talk things over with the doctors there. 

These days, Maya runs and leaps and laughs and giggles and occasionally stops to present me with an outstretched wrist.  Her infrequent chest pain has been dismissed as almost certainly nothing notable or even heart-related, but the cardiologist wants me to check every now and then when it happens, to rule out a racing pulse.  So she runs over to lay an arm across my lap.

"My heart hurts, Mommy", she says almost matter-of-factly.  Her eyes watch mine while I count a few beats, give her a smile and a pat and release her with an all-clear to go play.

My heart hurts a little bit too, though. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Musings on May 1st

 - Yesterday, Maya had her first in-costume rehearsal for Saturday's spring dance recital.  The class is doing a Madeline routine, and Maya is playing Miss Clavel.  If you've never walked down the Main Street of your city with a seven-year-old dressed as a Parisian nun...well, it's an experience.

 - Temperatures around here are expected to climb into the 80s by tomorrow!  And last week I had the kids in winter coats.  Sounds about right.  Poor Noah has been so confused about the weather lately.  "Mommy, I don't need a coat because it's springtime and spring is warm."  Yes, dear, it is.  In books.  And Texas.

 - Three members of our family are currently campaigning hard for a dog.  (I'm one of them!)  The lone holdout may read this post, so feel free to leave any lovely comments about the joys of dog-ownership, and how it enriches family life.

 - Mark started a new position at work this week, and I'm so proud of him.  He's pretty great.  (Now if only he'd cave a little on this dog thing...)

 - I've started reading Brandon Hatmaker's Barefoot Church, and have decided it's now official that both Hatmakers are trying to totally mess me up.  And it's probably a good thing.

 - May means four more weeks of school and preschool, one more week of dance class, and four more weeks of  piano lessons, and Music Together.  I cannot WAIT to be in summer-schedule-mode!  (Although it also means we should really figure out the whole next school year thing...)
 - May also means no TV re-runs ... but also the end of another season.  Which means saying goodbye to the Dunfees and Hecks, the Leslie Knope campaign, and Jess & the New Girl guys until next fall.  *sigh*  (Anybody know a premiere date yet for SYTYCD?)

  - I'm mailing a copy of Spirit-Led Parenting to Singapore this week, at the request of a mom who saw it featured on one of the blog tour stops.  I think that's pretty fun! 

* * * *
<p><a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=587">Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a></p>