Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why I Stay Up Late

My dad cut this great comic out of the paper for me the other day.  It could not better capture my life and energy level by the end of the day today.  On days like today, where I have started out the day as supermom with early morning kid yoga, back-to-back crafts, themed snacks, and a pancake lunch outing, and yet there still are shrill screams, demanding cries, and incessant begging for treats, I look at the clock obsessively and wonder if bedtime will ever come.  BR often asks me why I stay up so late.....I always tell him that I need a few solid hours of time in each day to unwind without children underfoot, whether it was a grouphug-don't-we-all-love-each-other type of day or a rip-my-sister's-hair-out-and-give-mom-a-hernia type of day.  Let's see, it's eleven minutes after midnight on a Tuesday....I'll let you guess which category today fell into!

This is the work of the genius that is Terri Libenston of the Pajama Diaries.  (In case it is too fuzzy to make out, inside the glass case is a "Disney DVD" and a martini and shaker.  Hits a little too close to home!!)  You can check out more of her work and even can subscribe to her daily comic strip. 

Thanks Dad!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Craft with me 1-2-3...Olympic themed ice skates!

Oh, the Olympics.  A time when channel surfing is limited and you find yourself getting lost in the excitement of winter sports you don't know the rules of and didn't think you cared about (curling, anyone?)  In honor of our favorite Olympic event, Tinkerbell, the Bear and I crafted a pair of ice skates out of an old cereal box using paint, glue, glitter, embellishments, and ribbon.

The hardest part of this project is drawing the figure skate itself.  I freehanded it and I tried to scan it so I could attach a pattern in these instructions but I couldn't get it to work- so my next best option was to outline the skate with a Sharpie and take a closer picture.

Next was the painting.  I let Tinkerbell choose two colors, which unsurprisingly were pink and purple.  Shocker.  I cut Tinkerbell's out pre-painting but decided to wait on the cutting for the Bear's.

By the time we finished washing the paint off our hands, the skates were dry enough to decorate.  The Bear required assistance; Tinkerbell refused it.

The final step was the ribbon.  My initial plan was to actually punch many holes and "lace" the skates but at this point I was ready for cleanup time so we just went with the simple one-hole punch in each skate, and Tinkerbell helped thread the ribbon through the hole and we had a learning moment as I attempted to teach her how to tie a bow (sidenote: further lessons will be required).  I also pulled out a Play-Do tool that looked like it would be perfect for pressing stitching into the skates....but then I remembered that my girls are one and three, and this project was for them and not for me- the simpler, the better :)

Go Team USA!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Update on the 5 Day Meal Challenge

We are finally on the last day of the meal challenge, and it definitely has gotten progressively harder.  This morning I woke up about an hour before I normally do and I'm convinced it was purely from hunger!  My belly felt empty as I tossed and turned.  Today I was signing an Easter package to send off to our World Vision sponsored child, 3 year old Thabo, and I felt especially close to him and his experience.  While this challenge was definitely a challenge, we didn't come close to emulating true hunger and understanding what it would be like to not know when we might have a meal again.  And I cannot even begin to imagine the anguish a parent must feel over putting a child to bed hungry (or to not even have a bed at all....or to not have a way to take care of a sick child....the list goes on and on.)  If you're reading this, you're likely similar to me in having never experienced any of these things, and I ask you to say an extra prayer tonight when you tuck your children into bed, with their full bellies, and ask how you might be able to make a difference in some small way.  And I encourage you to visit the World Vision website and find out more about sponsoring one child in need.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

5 Day Meal Challenge

This past weekend our church started a new message series based on Micah 6:8..."What does the Lord require of you?  Do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."  This powerful video was shown and I encourage you to take the time to watch it.
The takeaway from the first message of the series was that with our overwhelming access to information, we clearly are not ignorant about the need in the world, but we tend to ignore our responsibility to respond.  A question that I have asked myself before is "Why am I so lucky?" and the answer is that God has blessed me to be a blessing to others.  And I have not lived up to my potential.  While we can't do everything, we CAN do something.  And we must.

We were summoned this week to participate in a 5 day meal challenge in which we would eat like the poor to help change our perspective of world hunger.  As it said in the video, half the world lives on $2/day or less.  The weekly grocery bill for my small family of four is typically over $100.  We eat convenience foods, processed foods, fresh foods not in season and coming from all over the world, whatever meat or fish our hearts desire, decadent desserts and fine wines all without giving it much thought aside from staying within our (generous) budget.  So this week is different.  This week Big Richard (herein simply "BR") and I are drinking tap water and eating rice and beans....

Day One of the challenge was relatively uneventful.  Going off of the "allowed foods" list of oatmeal, beans/lentils, rice/millet (millet- really?), cornmeal, tortillas, and water, we started the day with oatmeal and had 1-cup portions of rice and beans for both lunch and dinner.  At dinner we allowed ourselves one small piece of cornbread.  While we didn't go to bed hungry by any means, we did go to bed realizing that a day without sweets (me), meat (BR) and coffee (both of us) was no fun at all.

Day Two so far has been more challenging.  This morning I ate a handful of Honey Nut Cheerios without realizing my mistake, and later two animal crackers were sacrificed before it occurred to me what I was doing.  But harder than resisting the food is simply drinking tap water and nothing else....JavaMama needs some java!  Or just some milk!  Two days into the challenge and I am more acutely aware of how much snacking and sipping I do throughout the day and how much FOOD is readily available.  Driving down the highway today, I noticed in a different way the exits marked for coffee shops, fast food, convenience stations, and pharmacies.  We live in a world of abundance where everything we need or want is at our fingertips.  Even when money seems tight, the stark difference in our lives compared to the world's super-poor is overwhelming.

Tonight's dinner plan is again rice and beans, maybe this time wrapped in a tortilla.  BR and I already talked last night about incorporating the rice and beans into our weekly menu as a way to remind us of this experiment and to symbolically align ourselves with the "least of these" is humbling to realize how insignificant this is in the face of those who have no other option.  Even knowing that we are doing this for just a few days makes it easier to stick to it because there is an end in sight.  But even two days in, I know that this is going to have some surprising outcomes.  One unexpected gem is how the simple menu has simplified my life.  Sunday night I lovingly prepared a big pot of rice and beans in anticipation of these five days, packed it all up in 1 cup portions, and aligned them nicely in our refrigerator.  So we had three days' worth of lunch and dinners all ready to go, shaving precious minutes of prepping, cooking and cleaning up off of my busy day, and allowing me more time to reflect, pray, relax, and be with my family.  Who knew?

I'm looking forward to what the rest of the week brings, and to where God leads us after these five days.  If you're interested in following along with the series, you can do so at the Eagle Brook website.

I'd love to hear what you think!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A recipe worth saving....Asian Lettuce Wraps

I was craving P.F. Chang's last week and having no P.F. Chang's anywhere close to my house, decided to try to copycat our favorite appetizer- lettuce wraps.  I found a recipe on RecipeZaar and decided it was worth working with.  The following recipe is what I came up with.  Two thumbs up from me and the mister!  Most of the things I make consist of ingredients that I have on hand or buy on a regular basis, but I realize not everyone keeps sesame oil, rice vinegar, and chili paste in their pantry......however I highly recommend that you start, because if you make stir-fry-like meals often (or want to) it will make a huge difference in the end result.

Asian Lettuce Wraps

1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 package tofu (extra firm)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small can water chestnuts, chopped
sesame oil
About 1/8 tsp each:
   garlic powder
   white pepper
Iceberg, romaine, or butter lettuce- anything with big leaves

Stir fry sauce:
2 T. reduced sodium soy sauce
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 tsp rice vinegar

"Special" sauce:
2 T. white sugar
1/4 cup water
2 T. soy sauce
1 T. rice vinegar
generous squeeze of ketchup
squeeze of lemon juice
dash of sesame oil
1-2 tsp chili paste

Optional: crispy rice noodles


1.  If you're an old expert at tofu, skip ahead to #2.  If you've never stir-fried tofu before, this is what it looks like packaged...

You can find it in the produce department, usually somewhere by the packaged herbs and refrigerated salad dressings.  When cooking with tofu, you should start by pressing the water out of it.  Extra firm tofu doesn't need as much prep as other tofu, but I still give it a shortened treatment.  I usually put it in a colander/strainer, set that on top of a bowl, then put paper towels or a (clean!) dish towel over the top of the tofu, and set something heavy on top of it.

Leave it like that for 10 minutes or so, flip it over and repeat.  Cut the tofu block in half and put one half in a freezer bag, give it an expiration date 4-5 months out, and stick it in the freezer.  The next time you use tofu in a stir fry it will actually turn out even better and crumbly and be more ground meat-like....don't be afraid of the yellow/brown color it will inevitably turn, I promise that does not mean that it has gone bad.

2. Mix "special" sauce by dissolving sugar in water, then add remaining ingredients and whisk with a fork.  Set aside.

3. Mix stir fry sauce by whisking brown sugar into soy sauce and rice vinegar.  Adjust to taste. (And by this I mean stick your finger in it and lick it!  If it's not sweet enough for your liking, add more sugar.  If it's too sweet, add more soy sauce!)

2. Cut tofu into 1/2 inch cubes.  Heat small amount of sesame oil in a pan over med- med/high heat.  Prepare stir fry sauce.  Toss tofu in hot oil, add about a third to a half of the stir fry sauce and cook 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Tofu should be browned, and feel free to crumble it as you stir, esp. if you are looking to "hide" it from someone :)  Remove from heat and transfer to bowl/plate and set aside.

3. In same pan, heat another splash of sesame oil.  Saute onions and garlic for a couple of minutes, add turkey, ginger, garlic powder, and white pepper, and cook about 3 minutes...add water chesnuts and remaining stir fry sauce, stir until well coated, then add tofu and stir and cook until thoroughly heated.

4. Scoop mixture into lettuce "cups" and top with special sauce and if desired sprinkle with crispy rice noodles.

5. Serve as an appetizer for four or light meal for two, and prepare yourself to be complimented on your top chef-ery.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Craft with me 1-2-3...Valentine's Day

Ahh, Valentine's Day. As a kid this was one of the BEST school holidays.  I remember very carefully reading each Sweetheart before joining it with the just-as-carefully-chosen card.  Always making sure to give "True Love" to the cutest boy in the class who shared his colored pencils with me and being very intentional when choosing "Neat" for the close-talking boy who always forgot to brush his teeth.  And what could be a better day in the life of a third grader- dressing up in festive heart-knit leg-warmers (and perhaps a matching scrunchie, or maybe a red banana clip), passing the day with semi-educational Valentine craft projects, and ending it with an all-class party complete with love notes that the teacher wouldn't take away, all-you-can-eat candy, and over-sugared punch.  As I grew older and the mandatory "give-everyone-in-the-class-a-Valentine" rule faded, I started to think that Valentine's Day was for chumps...a Hallmark holiday at best, a nasty trick on the na├»ve consumer, a dreaded mark on the calendar making single people of the world let out a simultaneous sigh of despair.  I had a few lonely Valentine's Days myself- one of which I actually had a boyfriend and STILL didn't have a date!  Eventually I rallied against the traditional Valentine's Day and declared February 14th Vagina Day! (explanation point mandatory!)  Instead of spending the evening having an expensive dinner of forced romance with my sig-nif, Vagina Day! was a day to celebrate the fabulous women in my life and thank them for their friendship.  Seemed a much more worthy way to celebrate.

Now that I am approaching my 30s and finally losing the self-consciousness that plagued me in my teen years and stuck around long into my 20s, my vendetta against this American tradition has been lifted to some degree- due to my own stability, an inevitable and ever-developing re-organization of energies, and also due to my girlfriends' respective stations in life- be they attached or single- and their similar "comes-with-age" confidence.  But most of all, my re-discovery of the joy of Valentine's Day is due to being a mom of two little girls who are elated at the sight of pink and red decorations and approach all things Valentine with the enthusiasm of, well, a kid in a candy store.

With Tinkerbell's inaugural year of preschool comes her first-ever Valentine's Day party, and thus a reawakening of my own love for this cold day in February.  Tinkerbell has an oft-read Mary Engelbreit book called Queen of Hearts that has made her privy to the details of Valentine's Day parties.  When she came home with a letter from her preschool teacher announcing the day of the her very first Valentine's Day party she was literally jumping up and down as the words bubbled out of her.  So this very long self-analysis and walk down memory lane has all been a verbose precursor to the real subject of this post, and that is the very simple Valentines that Tinkerbell and I created today for her preschool classmates.

Valentine's Day cards for kids

I am not at all exaggerating when I say that this is a quick, easy, and cheap little craft.  All you need is some red or pink cardstock, a pair of scissors, a pack of pencils, a hole puncher, and some fun decorating tools- markers, crayons, stickers, stamps, etc.  

Draw a heart onto a piece of cardboard or cardstock (or even print one off of your computer) and use it as a pattern to create your desired number of Valentines.  If your kids are older they could help with the tracing and cutting once you have a pattern.  Since my girls are three and one, I did the tracing and cutting myself; Tinkerbell and The Bear did the coloring, stamping, and adorning with stickers.  If you are confident in your skillz just freehand some heart shapes with a scissors to shave off even more time to the preparation.

Once the hearts are decorated, punch or cut two holes in each heart and slip a pencil through like an arrow....and you're done!  

Beautiful, unique, handmade Valentines that your little one will be proud to distribute and that even the strictest of dentists would endorse :)


(Click on picture for detailed view)

And, just because I can...

Happy Valentine's Day from Tinkerbell and The Bear!

Lastly, a special V-day! shout-out to my best girls.  You know who you are.  And I love you.