Saturday, August 31, 2013

Organization Tips

Life is Good: and back to being organized!

If you've checked out my Pinterest boards* today, you may have noticed that I have been looking for totes and bins and such. We've had a great summer filled with fun. However, the fun took up a lot of time and I feel like I haven't kept things as sorted and organized as I once did. And is it just me or has our stuff been procreating? It really appears that things have multiplied this summer! We had a place for everything once. How did this happen?

Two little people happened. Mmmhmmm. Mess makers. And hoarders! (At least the big kid is.) (And little does he know...his room is on my list. Including all of those "precious" little things of his. I thought I was so brilliant when I put a canvas shoe organizer over one of his doors to house little things. All it did was encourage him to keep little. thing. he. has. encountered. since!)

SO! This morning, Grant took the little boys to see the Dinosaurs! at the MN Zoo one last time before they leave for the season and I took to the walls trying out YET ANOTHER PAINT COLOR for the living and dining rooms. WHY OH WHY can't I find the perfect shade of blue grey or grey blue? I have taken pics and will write up a post one of these days soon so that if you are ever looking for paint, you can use my ongoing adventures as a little guide. Grant doesn't even comment on the color anymore! And I think my kids are getting used to living with patchwork walls. Uh oh. I think it may be five minutes before intervention time. I have told myself that this weekend is it. Both rooms must be painted and stay that way!

I've also been perusing bins and totes online and am happy to say that I have purchased what I need to in order to get this house back in order! I will have to go to four stores this afternoon, but the joy and giddiness I feel right now in anticipation of toys and artwork and everything else being hidden once again make it worth it! (Nerd alert! Nerd alert!)

I have developed a need to have things neat, clean and organized. This quote really speaks to me.

"Early in my career I felt that organization would destroy my creativity. Whereas now, I feel the opposite. Discipline is the foundation that allows you to be creative." (Verna Gibs)


Once I've sorted and stashed, I plan to write a back-to-school update post. I am so grateful to those of you who emailed, messaged, and shared my "night before" post with others. But before I can do that, I'll need to hug and kiss and sing along/play/read/dance/make lego creations/draw/paint/sculpt/drive cars/journey into space/make dinosaurs roar/go on a safari/play football and tee ball and basketball and much more with those two little blonde-haired boys, so it may take a while! Please keep checking back.I appreciate the support!

*PS: I'm now on Twitter, too! @HowtobePleasant

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back to School

Life is Good: even when the kids have to go back to school!

Well, the last day of summer vacation has come to an end. We started our new bedtime routine tonight. Dinner, bath, a little play and some stories. Long gone are the weeknights where bedtime is whenever we drag ourselves in from enjoying the fresh air or the clock shows that bedtime was supposed to be more than an hour ago (or more. gasp!).

Tomorrow, our big kid will officially be a kindergartener. KINDERGARTEN. Oh, how I dread that word! Me, the writer. Me, the lover of words. I get a pit in my stomach just thinking about it.

Our big kid will love kindergarten. I have no doubt he will thrive. We've chosen a great school. He's been gifted with an innate love of learning. He enjoys other children to no end. He will love kindergarten.

So, this pit thing? This pit is about me. All about me. And let me say, not much is just "about me" anymore. But this dreading the first day of kindergarten thing is alllllll me. And not because I am concerned about the bus. Which I am. (Safety and bigger kids teasing or teaching "new" ideas and words.) And not because I am thinking about how he will be in the lunchroom each day with hundreds of kids who may or may not be careful around him or wash their hands well after they have eaten something that he is allergic to. However, I am. And not because you have absolutely no control over anything that they come into contact with once they step foot onto the bus or into the school or onto the playground or back onto the bus again. But, yes, I am concerned with all of that, too, of course. Last year, I had all of these same concerns when he started a new preschool. And I know that it is all completely normal. And I know that as the days turn into weeks, I will settle into a comfortable discomfort about all of these things. I will get used to it all and I will regale in all of the new thoughts, ideas, and fun he will be privy to. What this sick to my stomach, frown on my face feeling is all about is... time. Time that has passed---so quickly. Like a bolt! And time yet to be. Time that, I have discovered, passes by way too fast. Kindergarten, to me, means less time spent together, more time apart, time whizzing by, time slipping out of my hands. Or rather, my kids slipping out of my hands.

And so, it is all about me. One mama who doesn't do a hop, skip, and a jump at the thought of the kids being out of her hair for 7 1/2 hours a day. But rather, a mama who has discovered her purpose, her great joy, the infinite possibilities for complete and utter bliss in two, small, blue-eyed boys. A mama who wants this over the top, joyful place in life to linger and not zoom away like a school bus.

Okay. There, I said it. I mooned a bit. I allowed the melancholy to take over for a while. And now, the all about me portion of this day/week/month maybe even year? is over. With every tap of the keyboard, the gray cloud lifts a little father away. I say this blog is a keepsake for my little boys, but it is also therapy for me.

The lunch bag has been packed except for the ice pack and frozen yogurt tube. The dinosaur tie t-shirt that our big kid has been aching to wear for weeks is waiting on top of the dresser. A giant banana bread muffin the big kid and I made for his teacher has been wrapped up with a pretty bow. The backpack and shoes await at the door. It is time to put on a happy face and celebrate what kindergarten is really supposed to be about---excitement, possibility, growth, and so much more.

I know that our big kid going to kindergarten won't be the last time that I wish that time would move more slowly. I know it won't be the last time that I mourn the passing of time, either. But I also know that our big kid is so ready for this adventure. And I know that he is going to walk onto that bus with a smile and walk into that school with one, too. I understand that this is a lot of what parenting is about. Loving, supporting and preparing them so that we can let them spread their wings and fly. Fortunately for me, my little bird is only flapping his wings for seven hours tomorrow. Then it's back to our nest. And you can bet this mama bird will devour every morsel of the accounts of the day.

“The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” (Frank Clark)

Friday, August 23, 2013

No Yeast Flatbread Recipe

Life is Good: and flavorful!

Last week, one of my friends and I met for pedicures to celebrate my birthday. My birthday was in mid-July, but it was the first time we could get together. It was so sweet of her to want to celebrate and treat me to one of my favorite toes!

We had so much to chat about that we ducked in to a little restaurant a few doors away from our nail spot for something to nibble and some good gabbing. We ordered a flatbread and a fizzy drink of seltzer, agave, and grapefruit. Both were divine. Our conversation hit on some really thought-provoking points. Important things like friendship as a grown up and faith and supportive relationships and expectations and children and family time and more. Important subject matter that I hope to revisit and ponder when my mind isn't so full of back to school. (Did I mention that the big kid starts kindergarten next week? KINDERGARTEN. KINDERGARTEN!)

Well, the next morning, I was still thinking about that flatbread! And at lunch. And so by dinner, well, you know what was on the menu!

I did a quick google search for a flatbread recipe and decided on this one, primarily because I didn't want to take the time to experiment with yeast. The ingredients are simple and all staples, so away I went! I told my hubs to get ready for a "Flatbread Extravaganza" as I pulled out olives and artichokes, cooked chicken, caramelized onions, and sliced fresh mozzarella. With all of my flavor combo ideas, I needed to double the recipe. This is a super big no-no in my book. Make two batches at once, sure. But never double the recipe because baking is a science and no, flatbread is not baking, but it does involved flour, right? And never double or change a recipe the first time you try it. C'mon. These are rudimentary principals that you created yourself. Stick to the rules. Follow the plan. Except, this recipe is so simple. So easy. So, go ahead. Double away. So I did. I doubled the olive oil and the water and the salt and then I started dumping the flour in just as I realized that I only had 3 cups of flour and I would need four. Wait a minute! Put on the brakes! Remember that whole stick to the rules thing you just read a few lines up? Now you know why you should not double the recipe! (And why you should gather all of the ingredients first before combining. And we all say a collective, "DUH!"

If I was going to salvage the ingredients and if we were going to have flatbread for dinner--flatbread I had been thinking about all. day. long. --then I was going to have to improvise. Aha. Another kitchen rule to be broken. Never improvise the first time you try a recipe!

I decided to add a cup of cornmeal to my 3 cups of flour and other doubled ingredients. At worst, the flatbread would be crunchier, right? Well, the cornmeal required more water, which made the dough a little wetter than it is supposed to be and it did have a "corn-like" flavor, but it worked. The kiddos loved it and the hubs and I gave it a B+.

My second dalliance with flatbread came with more success. I made one batch (foregoing the "doubling" idea) and added some herbs. Here is my version of the recipe with notes. Below it, you'll find some of our favorite topping combinations.

No Yeast Flatbread Recipe
2 cups flour (I have used all-purpose and whole wheat)
3/4 cups water (you might need to add a little more depending on your climate, etc)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or regular salt)
1 T. olive oil or cooking spray
1 T. minced garlic
dried herbs (such as basil, oregano,  cilantro, thyme, etc)
garlic salt (onion salt will work, too)

1. In a mixing bowl, add the flour, water, minced garlic and salt. Mix until the dough is flaky and pretty dry to the touch. You do want it to stick together, just not too wet. If you want an herbed crust, add your favorite herb or herb combination to the dough and mix gingerly.

2. Flour a flat surface and knead the dough for a minute or so. Divide the dough into four pieces (lumps). Divide into more pieces for smaller or individual-sized flatbread crusts.

3.  Flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough until it's as thick or thin as you like it. The thinner you roll it, the crunchier your flatbread will be. I prefer to make the flatbread rustic looking, so I did not try to make mine a symmetrical shape. Carefully shake a small amount of garlic salt around the edges of the crust. This is really the key to making this flatbread delicious. Either use the garlic salt or add herbs to the crust. Otherwise, it is pretty bland, in my opinion.

4. Coat the bottom of a pan with olive oil or cooking spray and heat on medium. I used a stovetop grill pan. I also think these would be fun to cook on the grill outside. You can also use a skillet. The flatbread cooks very quickly. Leave it on long enough to get some char, but not long enough to burn it. Cooking times vary with stoves. I made my flatbread a little thicker than thin. That sounds scientific, huh? And mine took about 4 minutes on each side to cook with char marks.

5. You will know that it is time to flip your flatbread to the other side when you see the edges crisp up and the inside looks less doughy. The original recipe says that the dough will get bubbly but mine has not so far.

6. Top your flatbread and put under the broiler to melt cheese, warm ingredients, etc. Again, how long depends on your oven and your ingredients. I would check every 1-2 minutes to avoid a catastrophe. Catastrophe = no flatbread.

Some of my favorite topping combinations are:
Margherita: tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella (or regular mozzarella is fine)
Artichoke, tomato, spinach, green olive, fresh mozzarella (similar to a pizza from our favorite neighborhood place)
Caramelized onion, goat cheese, red peppers (roasted or raw), mozzarella
Sausage, red peppers, tomato sauce, mozzarella (tastes like lasagna)
Caramelized onion, mushroom, red pepper, mozzarella
Truffled artichoke, shitake mushroom, ricotta (from the restaurant that inspired this all!)

I also think this flatbread would be divine with green or kalamata olive tapenade, which is super easy to make.

"Cooking is at once child's play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love." (Craig Claiborne)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Road Trips with Kids

Life is Good: and full of memories!

I've just downloaded photo after photo of summer fun. I have absolutely no idea when I will have the time to review them and put them into folders and then move them over to our external hard drive.  It is really delightful, though, to steal five or ten minutes to gaze at all of the fun we've had together. One great memory from the summer is our 10-hour drive back to Minnesota from my parents' in Kansas.

The drive back was full of giggles. We listened to part of a baseball game (MN Twins vs. KC Royals--the Royals won.) and counted road signs. I pulled out some new things to occupy the kiddos' time--namely catalogs (Oriental Trading is a fave), brochures, maps, and Playmobil set inserts. They pour over those things!

We also stopped in Kansas City to see one of my besties. She and I have been friends since we met at Vacation Bible School when we were in elementary school. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had seven more hours to drive...

So many people have asked me WHY we drive instead of flying. It's a valid question. We always flew until four years ago at Christmastime when our flights were canceled. That wasn't going to keep us from being with family for the holiday. NOTHING could keep me from that. We discovered that the drive was super easy (you can practically put your car on auto pilot!) and it took roughly the same amount of time when you figure how much time it takes to taxi to the airport, go through security, wait for the plane to take off plus layovers, etc. And hey, it's cheaper!

It was hard to say goodbye to my parents. Boy, did I hit the jackpot when I got them for parents. To say that seems unfair. Luck had nothing to do with that. They are a blessing. My great blessing. God knew exactly who I needed to parent me. Dramatic, emphatic, curious, talkative, sensitive me. To call my parents hospitable and accommodating seems like an understatement. The ten days we spent together were easy and smile-filled.

There was never a dull moment, either. We went to the park a lot. And visited a zoo in Goddard, KS. Or rather, a super cool zoo called Tanganyika Wildlife Park. I can't believe it is in Kansas! Don't tell anyone in Minneapolis, but I think it is better than our zoo! They had a lot of animals there that my kids have never seen up close before such as white tigers (adults and babies), cheetahs, and zebras. It had a lot of experiential opportunities like a kangaroo bin where you could pet the kangaroos and walk around them.

We also saw tortoises and fed goats and giraffes.

Back to the kangaroos...I've never seen a kangaroo in real life before! They have really interesting faces. However, I was most surprised by how the Joeys ride in their pouches...kind of a U-shape, with head and legs sticking out!

The little ones looked so soft and furry, but man, they look uncomfortable! Not exactly like Kanga and Roo from Winnie the Pooh!

Wichita, Kansas is not exactly a vacation spot, but if you ever happen to be there, Tanganyika is a "can't miss" sort of place. They also have a ring-tailed lemur area where you can sit next to and feed the animals. The ones in the photo were about four feet away from us at the time.

The weather was sunny and typical for Kansas, HOT. I mean, h.o.t. As in 100+ degree days. So we had lots of pool time.

Of course, it was just a 6-ft round kiddie pool. I grew up with a pool in the backyard. It was divine! But about five years ago, my parents decided to fill it in. And I withdrew their application for grandparents of the year. Okay, not really. I understand. It was a lot of work and they weren't using it that much. Soon after, my mom created a creek where the pool had been and enlarged her koi pond. So now, they have one less swimming pool and instead, a creek, four waterfalls, two koi ponds and a bog. All landscaped. Of course, I didn't even mention all of the little sitting areas including a walkway of Carrera marble stepping stones and a recovered and re-purposed tree-turned-bench. And yes, my mom designed them all on her own. All the way down to the shape of the rocks.

My mom is very creative. She decorates cakes, sews and paints. She cooks and gardens and builds. There is nothing (so far!) that she cannot teach herself how to make or construct or invent if she wants to!

The little boys loved watching Grandma's koi and feeding them each evening.

Many of the koi are the size of my forearm! She has them trained to come up to the pond's edge when she claps her hands. They all have such neat patterns and colors--oranges of all shades and white, too. One of them even looks like it has eyelashes hanging off of its scales. Or at least eyeshadow.  (Look on the left side of the pic below.)

I told my mom she should name it "Fancy" or "Maybelline"! She told me it is a male... Oh, well!

I have so many more photos from that trip to sift through. Photos are such treasures to me. When all is said and done, we only have our photos and our memories.

“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.” (Eudora Welty)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

School Lunch Ideas

Life is Good: lunch is ready!

Winter boots? Check. Winter parka? Check. Long-sleeved shirts, hoodies, sweaters, jeans, and pants? Check. I've purchased enough winter gear for the big kid to survive an early winter. Now, please, don't let us have to use all of this until January!

The countdown has starts on August 28th for the big kid. Not just school. KINDERGARTEN! For the past two years, I have been so excited for the big kid to start preschool. I knew he would love it. And he did. But this time around, I find myself a bit melancholy. I have to stop myself from thinking about it for fear of tears welling up. Like right now. So I will put on the brakes once again and save that for another post!

There is so much prep work in getting kids ready for school. I have been working on different pieces of this since July. Last week, the big kid and I sat down and wrote a list of good ideas for school lunches. In the past, he stayed once a week for lunch at preschool, but now he will take his lunch five days a week since his food allergies prevent him from eating foods at risk for cross-contamination.

I was really thrilled that the big kid listed things like red peppers and fresh green beans as lunch items! We've also discovered that Thomas brand whole wheat mini bagels work with our dietary issues so he added bagel sandwiches to his usual faves, grilled cheese. Ah, the glorious grilled cheese sandwich! I often hide spinach, carrots or other shredded meat or veggies in them. Cheese makes everything better, right?

I love the lunch bag we bought for him. I bought it when he was two and attended a Friday morning playroom where they ate lunch. We had his name embroidered on it and it still looks as good as it did when we first used it three years ago. I wash it in the washing machine and line dry it. I store it in the freezer so that it keeps the cold pack cold longer and therefore, the cold foods cold longer.

I've bought what seems like a million water bottles and cups with straws in the lids over the years. Each one ended up leaking at some point. Until I found these at the Container Store in the spring. So far, no leaks! And they are super easy for the 5 year old and 2 year old to open themselves. They are BPA-free, so I like that. But I have wanted to find something that wasn't plastic at all. The same goes for some BPA-free reusable plastic containers I use for yogurt, berries, etc. Then today, I noticed this post and was thrilled to find a list of tried and tested environment-friendly, kid-friendly products from a mama devoted to serving her family yummy recipes made from organic, unprocessed foods. I just ordered these great stainless steel containers!

As satisfying as it is to be prepared, my kiddos have taught me to live in the moment. And so that is what I am going to get right back to. Quiet time is over for the big kid so we are going to examine the "summer list" ("bucket list") we made in May and see what we need to accomplish in the next 15 days. No matter what is left on the list, I have no doubt that we have accomplished the priority for the!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Eggless Banana Bread Recipe

Life is Good: and yummy!

A few weeks ago, I helped make snacks for the kids with allergies at our church's Vacation Bible School (VBS). The first day, all of the kids had "celebration bread", which was a slice of banana bread topped with craisins, raisins, and whipped cream (frosting for the lactose-intolerant kids) to form a smiling face.
I've made this recipe several times and have altered it a bit. It's super easy and quick to make and simple enough that kids can do most of the prep. Here is my version:

Eggless Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups flour (I use all-purpose*)
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
3/4 cup sugar
4 large, over-ripe bananas*
3/4 cup applesauce plus 1 heaping tablespoon applesauce (I use organic, no sugar added)
4 T. butter, melted
1/4 t. vanilla extract (I use Madagascar)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix the first five (dry) ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas well.
4. Stir the butter or margarine, vanilla extract and applesauce into the bananas.
5. Add the banana mixture into the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients.
6. Mix gently by hand, just enough to form a thick, clumpy batter. If the mixture seems too dry, add    more mashed banana to adjust the consistency.
7. (Fold in chocolate chips and/or walnuts, if using.)
8. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes or until the bread is a deep golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

* NOTE: I have used the half all-purpose/half wheat version of this recipe in the past and while I agree that using wheat flour makes it a tad more healthy, I think using entirely all-purpose flour in this recipe makes it taste best. It also tastes MUCH better if you use very ripe bananas and I add one more to this recipe than the original recipe calls for. The applesauce helps create a soft texture and together with the bananas, binds the ingredients together so you'll never miss the eggs. The original recipe suggests that you add walnuts or chocolate chips. But in my opinion, this bread is divine as is.