Friday, September 27, 2013

Best House Cleaning and Organizing Tips

Life is Good: Pinterest is here!

I often say that I would have made a terrible pioneer! I rely on technology of too many kinds for too many things. Something the pioneers definitely did not have is Pinterest!

I will admit that I am not a Pinterest aficionado by any means. I don't make much time for it and I haven't told all of my friends that I am on Pinterest or how to find me and such. I don't spend hours perusing the web and noting all of my terrific finds. But I appreciate those who do! And I have grown to like Pinterest especially for the info that it opens my eyes to. Most notably, cleaning and organizing tips!

Here are some of my recent favorites:
How do you clean in between the glass in the door of your oven? Oh, my! I have been trying to figure this one out forevah! And boy, did I feel dumb when this post showed me how easy it really is!

Photo credit:

And here's another DUH! moment: this post shows a great way to store important papers, pieces, and pictures from your child's school years using an accordion file. I've been using single file folders to store the papers we receive each day. Then, I go through them every week or so and take pics of the stuff I throw away, but I am left with the stuff I want to keep and have just been shoving them into a pretty box in the big kid's room. Now, I am going to trot myself off to pick up an accordion file. I think I will use one for all of the months of the year and then condense it down yearly.

This post not only told me WHY some of our pillows get yellow areas on them (it's from sweat! and surprise! surprise! my husband's pillow is the one that yellows!) (oops...sorry for the TMI, honey!) but also told me how to clean the pillow to get that yellow stain off and refresh it! Yay!

Photo credit:

I've been painting a TON lately! And I am usually pretty good about cleaning out my brushes in a timely fashion. But one day, the two year old awakened early and my brush didn't get cleaned up enough. After it dried, I went to put it away in the "painting stuff" bin and it was hard as a rock. This post told me how to get those hard brushes soft again!

I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me! I find that I am able to relax and enjoy myself best when everything is tidy and in its place! 

"A place for everything and everything in its place!" (Benjamin Franklin)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Eggless Pumpkin Bread Recipe

Life is Good: we have fresh-baked pumpkin bread!

I joined a new mom's group and we've had two meetings so far. I really enjoy all of the women at my table and am excited to get to know them better as the year progresses.

As one of the coordinators of the group, I was asked to bring a treat to share. September's weather in Minneapolis has been everything from crisp to hot, but I decided it wasn't too early for pumpkin bread!

And of course, I have to share the recipe with all of my How to be Pleasant friends! This pumpkin bread is quite possibly the best pumpkin bread you will ever consume! Really! However, there is a WARNING that goes along with it: you will have a hard time leaving it alone! (I have to hide it from myself so that I will only eat one slice!)

As with all of my recipes, this one is eggless because of my kiddos' allergies. It also happens to be vegan. The original recipe calls for eggs, but I have adjusted mine using applesauce and baking powder as the egg substitute. Many people ask me what I use as an egg substitute and why I use the applesauce/baking powder combo so often. The fact is, eggs act as a binder in baked goods. They aren't there for taste, just consistency. So if you ever have a recipe that calls for beaten eggs, the applesauce/baking powder combination is a perfect substitute. The baking powder makes the applesauce foam up just like beaten eggs.

The original recipe also suggests a much larger amount of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, which I have decided overpowers the flavor of the pumpkin, so I have adjusted that, too, in my own recipe. Here it is!

Susie's Eggless Pumpkin Bread

3-1/3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of ginger (may omit, if like me, you do not enjoy the flavor)
1 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups applesauce
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup water
2 cups canned pumpkin 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together applesauce and baking powder until foamy and fluffy.
4. In a separate bowl, mix together oil, water, and pumpkin.
5. Add applesauce mixture to oil/water/pumpkin.
6. Combine all wet and dry ingredients until smooth. (Mixer not necessary, this is easy to do just with a spoon.)
7. Bake in greased and floured loaf pans for about 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly, then turn out loaves on a rack to cool. Yields 2-3 loaves, depending on pan size.

NOTES: The baking time will depend on your oven, so start checking the bread after 50 minutes by inserting a cake tester or good ol' toothpick. You can serve this with a simple powdered sugar glaze or cream cheese frosting, but I think it is delicious without it! You can store this in the refrigerator for about two weeks (if you can leave it alone that long!) or freeze it. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Maintaining Healthy Friendships

Life is Good: good friends are great!

Being a good friend has always been important to me. "Good" meaning kind, loving, interested, supportive, loyal, and more. I've always made friends easily. This might be due to the fact that if I: a.) meet you and b.) we have a nice chat and c.) walk away smiling that I think that we should be best friends for the rest of our lives. I'm joking. Kind of.

Friends have always been important to me. And I can remember being fiercely loyal all the way back to grade school. As an adult, I have often wondered if this is nature or nurture? Was I born this way? Born to respect and honor true and bonded friendships? Or does this have something to do with my sister's death? I've often wondered if I'm looking to fill in that hole where a sister is supposed to be. I do love my friends like family, for sure. But I am also guilty of having a big, fat, sensitive-like-crazy heart that only has one gear: wide open. So I guess I'll never know.

So friendships have always been important to me. And in the last several years, having friends who are also kind, loving, interested, supportive, loyal, and more has become important to me, too. I'm idealistic and even now, naive about people. I simply expect the best of intentions from everyone. I assume everyone comes from a good place. Well, I've discovered that's not always the way it is. And I've also discovered that even the seemingly nicest of people can go down a bad path and take your reputation with them.

So way up high on my long mental list of parenting to-dos is friendship. I hope that my children will be kind, loving, interested, supportive, loyal, and more people. And that those qualities and a whole lot more will spill over into the kind of friend they are. I will do my best to lead by example. I will leave our front door open to celebrate the big and the little. I will knock on doors when there is cause for celebration or distress. I will give compliments and praise and big, deep hugs. When I ask, "How are you?" I will wait to hear the answer. I will never let a chance to laugh pass me by. I will not be snarky and excuse it as humor. I will not speak unkindly of my friends behind their backs. I will not try to affect other people's opinions of someone. I will not be a "joiner". I will be inclusive. I will be positive, upbeat, and encouraging. I will take time and make time for others.

It is surprising how many bedtime conversations that the big kid and I have had already about "friendship" and being a "good friend". Where do three and four and five-year olds learn to use their birthday party invitation list as power? Where do they learn to compete, to bully, to hit, to exclude? We can blame it on a kid at school or on the bus or even at church. We can blame it on a cousin we see once a year, but the truth is that, for the most part, children are a reflection of their home. They are a mirror of us. Now, to be fair, they do occasionally learn something "new" from a kid at school or on the bus or even at church. Even from the see-you-once-a-year-cousin. But we can't blame it all on somebody else. Which is one more reason why parenting is the most important work anyone will do in their lifetime. Heads of state, CEOs, airline pilots, rocket scientists, cancer-curing doctors alike---none as important as the work you do as a parent because you are laying the foundation for the future of your child. And that child will inherit the earth, so we parents are essentially responsible for the future of our world.

But no pressure.

So today as I was pondering "friendship", a notion came to me. True friends are not the ones who call you when they need something. But rather, they call when all they need is just to hear your voice.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.” (Muhammad Ali)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Who Am I?

Life is Good: even if I have expensive taste!

Growing up, my mom would joke that I could walk in to a store where everything was on sale except for one item and the only item I would find that I really liked would be the one at regular price. And then, I found this lovely little graphic online...

Yep, that's me! If I were a super hero, that would definitely be my super power! ; )

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kids and Cell Phones

Life is Good: even when they are growing up too fast!

Our two-year old and I were just playing in his room with the door shut. He picked up a block and began to have a conversation as if he were on a cell phone. I could understand "hello" and "hi" and then there were some sounds strung together that had a semblance to "what are you doing?". Maybe?

Then, he stopped, turned, and looked at me in the most deliberate of ways. He paused. Then he walked over to the door and said, "Need door ope peeeeeas" ("I need the door opened, please" for those of you who don't speak two-year old). I obliged and watched as he walked into his brother's room and went back to his "conversation" as he peered around his shoulder to make sure that no one was listening in on his "private tete-a-tete".

I thought I would have to wait at least ten more years for this kind of thing! Oh, my if he is doing this now, one can only imagine what his twelve-year old self may be!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Things to do in the Twin Cities

Life is Good: we're exploring!

If you are in the Twin Cities and looking for something fun to do, check out the Western Sculpture Park in St Paul. Remember our "staycation" I told you about? Well, when we decided to take a few days of dedicated family time, we decided to head over to St. Paul for some exploring. There is so much to do in the Twin Cities and we feel blessed for that. It is such a progressive, innovative, and creative community. The public art abounds. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is one of our faves, so when we discovered that St. Paul had one, too, we had to check it out!

Western Sculpture Park is located in between some apartment buildings, so the setting feels very urban. The sculptures are really fantastic and vary in style.

Our little guys loved running back and forth between the art, pretending to go into outer space, and "looking into the giant telescope". (I thought it was a megaphone!)

This sculpture was perfect for climbing and exploring...

It didn't have its name on it, but we called it "Hi and hello!"

We loved the giant bunny, too!

I feel like this post needs a disclaimer, though. As much as we loved the Western Sculpture Park, it wasn't ideal. We found a few pieces of trash and sadly, some graffiti.  

(This is where I would like to say, "Shame on you, Alexis!" But I will refrain. Or not!) It is so disappointing to me to see someone deface art like this. One piece, that our little boys thought looked like a ship sailing across the ocean, had three or four names written on it multiple times. I wondered how the artist would feel if he or she knew someone had written on their art. It was a real bummer. 

I also mentioned that the sculpture park feels very urban. The location is right off of a busy street. It is adjacent to an apartment complex's tattered and sun-dulled playground. It had some litter and graffiti when we visited. It isn't storybook. However, if you love art and keep a good eye on your kids, the experience was worth it. Just bring Purell with you! ; )

We worked up an appetite at the sculpture park, so we headed over a little further east to downtown St. Paul in search of food trucks, which was Grant's favorite part of the day! We settled on Vietnamese pork sandwiches from Asian Invasion...

This was quite possibly the best pork sandwich I will ever have in my entire life! The pork was juicy. And layered in between a soft, Vietnamese bun, was a medley of thinly-sliced cucumber, cilantro, mint, daikon, cabbage, and sriracha. Yummmmmmmmmm. With a capital UMMMMMMM!

Monday, September 2, 2013

More Back to School

Life is Good: even on no sleep!

Remember my "night before kindergarten" post? Well, we made it through the first day! And by "we", I mean me! There was no doubt that the big kid would shine. And he did! I, however, am not a morning person, but at 5:45, I rallied. The big kid was able to awaken happily (thank you, God!) and eat breakfast quicker than usual (sigh of relief) and we made it to the bus stop (less than a block away) with time to spare. The bus was seven minutes late, so we had plenty of time to take pictures and chat with our mama friend who lives one street over and has a first grader at the same school.

Our big kid jumped on the bus with a smile. And then we jumped into the car to meet it at school! When he stepped off of the bus, he was grinning from ear to ear. He gave his teacher the giant banana bread muffin we made for her and bounced off.

We discovered that some old neighbors of ours have a son in our big kid's class, so that was fun. We chatted about how the kids had grown, introduced them to the little one, and determined we should get out of the classroom so that everyone could settle in. We took one step toward the big kid and he yelled from across the room, "Goodbye!" with a wave. Grant and I smiled at each other and then walked across the room for a hug. He may not have needed it, but we did!

As we started to walk out, a little girl in the class, red-faced, burst into tears and hung on to the teacher. My heart ached for her. I said a little prayer for her on the way home. I hoped that she did okay the rest of the day. Later, during nighttime prayers, the big kid told me about her. He said that she missed her mama, but "Brown Bear" in the classroom gave her hugs and helped her feel better. Foster, the stuffed kangaroo, is in the classroom, too, "in case you skin your knee or something like that."

As we walked out of the doors of the school, Grant and I laughed at how quickly the big kid dismissed us. This is the response every parent wants, right? A sign of confidence, security, and excitement. We are so very grateful. The past two years of preschool have served him well. His school last year was especially nurturing and prepared him well for this day. (Shout out to his awesome teachers last year...if he could have you until high school, we would be thrilled!) It is my hope and prayer that he will always go to school with such enthusiasm.

It was a strange morning for the little one and me. The morning started sooooo early and yet flew by. Every once in a while, our little guy would ask where his brother was and point upstairs or out the door. We missed big brother, but it was really lovely to have the one-on-one time again, too. As much as I will miss the big kid, I know that this year will be a precious bonding time for our little guy and me. I have always had "second child guilt"--he has never had the undivided attention that our first born received, but the time we spend when big brother is in school makes me feel a little less guilty. Kind of. Sort of. For a quick moment. And right now, our 25-month old is bursting with words and personality, so it is an especially fun time in his life!

In celebration of back to school, I let the little one pull out practically every toy on our first floor. And then he decided he needed a costume to enjoy them all properly. This is the best photo I could snag of him. The lighting wasn't right, but he was too busy and the other ones are blurry! Please note, he needed TWO super hero capes. He is that super.

When our big kid got home, I greeted him with our first day of school tradition...a big cookie!

His first year of school, I decorated it with "preschool" on it and last year, with the name of his (new) school. So this year, it was "kindergarten! and the year", of course! (I should have taken the picture frosting color ran. Big kid didn't care, so why should I !?!)

He was excited to see it and then I cut it like a pizza so that he could have a couple of "slices". I love traditions and I came up with this one because my mom used to make "big cookies" for my teachers when I was in elementary school. She would use a cake pan in the shape of a heart and then fill it with chocolate chip cookie dough (when you cut it, the pieces were like "bars" or brownies). I remember the teachers reactions...they were always excited to get the big cookie. So this tradition of the big cookie on the first day of school is an homage to my mom and for that matter, her mama, too, who was a magnificent baker and taught my mom all that she knows. Here's a picture of them both that I love.

We also have a tradition of a picture in front of our brick orange door and a photo on the sidewalk with "first day of..." written in chalk on the sidewalk (see above). After three years, it is fun to see the differences in the pictures. Most notably, our big kid barely had any hair when he started preschool at three. And it was so light blonde that you could barely see what was there! Now, he is only about 13 inches shorter than I am and has a head full of curls.

I loved hearing about the first day. Apples and oranges for snack, playing with puzzles with so-and-so and on the playground with this one and that, going to Science Class (already!) then making buildings out of blocks with another kid. I also got the low down on who listened and who did not including a kid who "head butt kicked--that's a real thing you can do, you know?" another child and had to take a break. As usual, I got all of the scoop. Please, God, can he always be so informative and open!

Having the first day of kindergarten couldn't be enough for us, though! It also had to be the Open House for the new playroom that the little one will start going to one morning a week. AND the last t-ball lesson for the year.

The big kid loved t-ball this summer. He really blossomed--learning to field ground balls and really go after it.

Little brother had a hard time watching from the sidelines. He always wants to be in the middle of things and t-ball was no different.

I had prepared the family that the evening would need to be timed perfectly and I secretly worried that we wouldn't get home in time to have a relaxed, unrushed bedtime. I try so hard not to schedule things back to back. I feel like keeping a balanced schedule, keeps the peace. And on my own, finding balance has always been my Achilles heal, so I am especially sensitive about this with our family.

On our way to t-ball, we learned that the Minneapolis School District had decided to cancel school for Thursday and Friday due to the extreme heat and lack of air conditioning in some classrooms and some schools. We were having a really moderate summer until the past week when it hit 90+ degrees with equally high dew points. It appears that a lot of parents complained about the decision to start school in this weather and the district agreed after most students had been in school three days (and kindergarteners, one).

The big kid was super disappointed that there would be no school (is this really MY kid?) but his dad and I sighed with relief that the evening would be less hurried. (And I did a happy dance in my head that I would get to have the big kid home for two more days...and that wake up time could be 6:30 AM and not any earlier!)

We have really enjoyed the past several days together. We made art (of course), played with dinosaurs (of course), and sent astronauts and ourselves into space many times (of course). We played "Obstacles" and Simon Says and hide-and-go seek. We sang songs, had dance parties, made up rhymes, and told tall tales. We rode bikes, visited the Arboretum, ate frozen yogurt tubes, and read lots and lots of books. And I savored every moment. Filing it away in a safety deposit box in my mind. These moments are like jewels--they are my greatest treasures. Truly.

Tomorrow, the big kid starts his first four-day week of kindergarten, so tonight is another "night before the first day of kindergarten" in a way. And oh, what a difference a week makes! Sure, I am going to dread the alarm clock, be anxious about making him miss the bus, and I am going to miss that big kid like crazy. But I got through it last Wednesday. And I will get through it tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. It's what we mamas do. We do what's best for our children. We put ourselves second. Or third. Or most often, last. We cheer them on. We smile the widest. We listen with the greatest intent. We open the door and let them fly. We share our treasures, our children, with the world so that they might flourish and the world, benefit. And the sun goes up and the sun goes down. And we get used to it. And I will get used to it.

“Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ” (Elizabeth Stone)

What to do in Minneapolis

Life is Good: staycations are fun!

Looking for something to do on this beautiful Labor Day Monday in Minneapolis? A couple of weeks ago, we decided to take a few days and play like we were tourists in our own city... a "staycation", if you will.

We decided to go places that we haven't been to in a long time or to places we have never been. We've lived in the Twin Cities for more than twelve years, but there is still so much to see and experience.

We decided to focus on St. Paul, but before we crossed the river, we took the little boys to the Stone Arch Bridge.

The architecture is totally photogenic. There is a really great pathway that runs around the bridge and then across it. Perfect for runners...

It's hard to believe that this peaceful little walking area is in the heart of a bustling city.

It provided a great vantage point for viewing downtown's offices and condos.

Below the bridge, there appears to be some ruins of some sort. 

The five-year old declared that it had been a castle. Is our five-year old the only one obsessed with dragons & knights? It does look pretty magical...and you'd never guess how bad it smelled! (Some kind of sewage thing going on.) So we scurried up the pathway to the bridge as fast as we could!

 It didn't smell from up here! Once we were on the bridge, it made for a lovely outing.  The kiddos loved walking across and looking down at the water. A boat even passed through while we were there and sounded its horn. That's a big deal when you are two and five.

For dinner, we tried out The Smack Shack, which started out as a food truck. Their lobster roll became so coveted, that they started serving it out of a local bar and then eventually, opened a restaurant. And it.did.not.disappoint. We shared the oyster sliders appetizer (best oyster flavor I have had in MN) and then shared the Connecticut-style lobster roll and Blue Crab po'boy sandwich. The po'boy was good. Plenty of crab and its flavor wasn't covered up by mayo or aioli. But the lobster roll...well, let's just say that I have been dreaming of that lobster roll. It was the perfect combination of lobster, a hint of butter, and a soft roll. Period. Lobster doesn't need anything else. It was perfect. My mouth is watering right now. Seriously.

I wish I had a pic of the lobster roll, but we engulfed it as soon as it hit the table! I took this pic of the restaurant wall as we were leaving. It is off-center because of my lobster coma! ; )

Happy Labor Day! It's partly sunny and estimated to be a high of 76 in Minneapolis today...perfection! I'm turning the laptop off and we are heading outside. Right. now!