Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Having my hands full, and loving it

Yesterday afternoon I took all three kids on a walk, by myself, for the first time. The twins were in their double stroller and I had Ana strapped into the Mei Tae Carrier. It was hard to keep from laughing as all the people driving by were gawking at us. I will admit, we were a sight. But I was used to getting looks from people when we had the twins. Mostly it was just a double take or a quick smile. We would sometimes get the usual comments, "oh, are they twins?" or "You sure have your hands full." But almost always people were polite and happy for us. Now that we have an infant as well, it seems we've passed over into "crazy" territory. When I was still pregnant with Juliana we were walking through the grocery store and a clerk stopped us. He looked at my belly and then at the twins and said, "They're twins? I'm so sorry." I've had similar reactions out shopping where people just say "wow" or stare with their eyes bulged out and shake their heads.

We are a counter-cultural family. I am (almost) 27 years old, have three children under the age of 2 1/2, stay at home with them, do not intend to go back to work and plan to homeschool them. That is enough to make some people scratch their heads or say, "I could never do that." Giving up their career to stay home with children (and several of them) appears to be too much of a sacrifice. What about their dreams? Their career? Their time to themselves? Isn't it boring? Don't you get lonely? I don't have the patience for that. I would go crazy cooped up all day.

My dreams are likely different from yours. I have always wanted a family more than anything else. When I look at the faces of my children I am overcome by how much I love them, by how much joy they bring into our home. At times I get teary-eyed watching my husband play with the kids, everyone laughing and happy, and our sweet baby cooing in my arms. It seems as though every child makes your heart grow bigger, allowing you to love more than you thought you could. How anyone can think more than one or two children is a bad thing is beyond me. Yes, it is hard sometimes. We don't get as much sleep as we would like. There are always dishes, laundry and cleaning to be done, diapers to change and time-outs to be given. Sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes I just need a break. But never, ever will I regret my choice to have a family and be open to new life. Being at home with them allows me to share in their jokes and antics, take beautiful walks outside, watch their eyes light up as they experience museums and parks, hear their laughter as they play together, receive countless hugs and kisses and hear "I Love You" several times a day. I would miss seeing my children grow as individuals, sharing in their accomplishments and comforting them when they are sad. I would miss my children being children.

The fact that we don't use birth control (NFP only) and I have some 15 or so childbearing years left can be a little daunting. We are not setting out to have 10 children, but if that is what the Lord blesses us with we will be happy. If we don't have any more than our current three, we will know we are blessed abundantly. Children bring so much more to our lives than they could ever keep us from experiencing. Wherever our lives take us, God will be there, showering his graces and blessings down upon us. Seeing us through the hard times and rejoicing with us in the good.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Addie The Enforcer

We have known for a while now that Addie is... headstrong. She already has definite ideas about the way things are supposed to work and has no problem making them known. For instance, our kids are not allowed to touch the security system. Whenever one of them touches the buttons it's an automatic time-out. That doesn't stop them from trying though.
Yesterday afternoon I'm in the kitchen and hear the beeping of the alarm followed by, "No! no l'am. Tahm out! Tahm out!" I come around the corner and sure enough Gabe is standing on the chair looking guilty and Addie is next to him wagging her finger. Literally. I took Gabe over to the corner and sat him down for his two minutes. I stepped back and nearly tripped over Addie who decided to make it her job to be sure this time out was strictly followed. She initially came and sat right in front of him (I pulled her back to the stairs) and eyed him closely. He leaned forward to scoot and she jumped forward, wagged the finger, repeated "No, no. Tahm out. TAHM OUT!" and reached toward him to push him back on his rear. I was able to get her to go in the living room while he finished his sentence, but boy was it hard to keep from laughing. Of course she conveniently forgot her own rules when she touched the alarm 30 minutes later. Of course.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Easy Homemade Caramel

We had had two cans of sweetened condensed milk sitting in our pantry without a purpose for far too long. Yesterday afternoon we pulled out a stock pot and set about making our own caramel. It's really very easy: remove the labels from the cans, keep the cans fully submerged with roughly 2 inches of water over the tops (be sure to maintain this depth to prevent the cans from exploding) and maintain a low boil for 4 hours. Let the cans cool completely in the fridge then pop them open and enjoy the creamy result. Steve put some in his coffee and I made a small batch of caramel popcorn. That hasn't made a dent in our supply though, we're brainstorming ways to use the rest. Right now caramel apples and dunked chocolate pretzel rods are topping our list. Mmmmm.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A New Favorite

Last night we made Parmesan-ranch crusted chicken. We've made shake-and-bake before and tried a few other variations on breaded, baked chicken but this was by far the best we've made. There was plenty of the mixture left after preparing the chicken so I chopped a zucchini into circles and breaded them, too. I should have cut up two, even the kids scarfed them down.

For roughly 1 lb of chicken breasts, in a medium bowl mix the following:
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan
4 tsp dry ranch mix

Break and beat an egg in a separate bowl. Dip breasts into egg then transfer to crumb mixture and coat thoroughly. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees 20-30 minutes.
To make the zucchini, cut the circles about 1/4 inch thick and follow the same procedure. Bake for around 12 minutes, flipping once.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Toddler Speak

Some of Addie's favorite words and phrases:

Come on! (with the beckoning arm)
All beh-rer (better)
wahr-er (water)
What's wrong?
Watch! (usually while holding up a tupperware lid and looking at you through it.)
No, no... tahm out!
Tinky feet! (while sniffing her toes... I know.)
Mo choc-ock! (more chocolate. she's her mothers daughter.)
Hahm (ham)
ticken (chicken)
Goofies (Goofy, by far her favorite)
Mah Mouse (Mickey Mouse)
Big Jet! (when she sees an airplane)
Yoh-K? (you OK?)
Bacca (Chewbacca)
Whas-at? (what's that?)
dey-ih-goes! (there it goes)
oh yea, dey-ih-is! (there it is)

Some of Gabe's favorite expressions and words:

Sing! (with the arm motion. Swing: a desire to hit golf balls)
Goh (golf)
gauh-gock (chocolate. he's his mothers son.)
Rah-ret (rocket. accompanied by emphatic gesturing of the sign.)
Saine (sand)
Duck! (truck, or in referece to Donald Duck.)
Yuh-yoo (love you)
Peeees! (pea)
cohn (corn)
Yion (Lion, always followed by *raaahhr*)
Sit (sip)
bahng-it (blanket)
heh-yo dadee (his greeting to his father upon waking up)
Si-ehn (siren)
Yahh?! (yard; a desire to run amok)
Whas-at? (what's that?)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Planning Progress

This past Friday I put together the first meal plan I've made in months. Having the baby threw us off schedule and that kind of advance planning went right out the window. But I sat down with the last weeks coupon mailers, perused online coupon sites and checked out the weekly sale fliers for grocery stores near us. Harris Teeter happened to be having triple coupon week. How is it that I've never paid attention to these things before? So I marked down all the items we would actually use that were on sale or special then set about making my meal plan. (This meal planning website I found was a big help, allowing me to search for menu ideas by ingredient and then drag them to a calendar to put together the weekly plan.) I have to say this is the first time I've done it this way. Usually I just say, "Oh, that sounds good, lets have that" and then get to the store and see that all the ingredients I need are full price.

After I inventoried our pantry and freezer I typed up a detailed list with the item names, amounts, and sale or coupon information for each item. That may seem excessive, but I was sending my husband to the store and wanted his shopping to go as smoothly as possible. Have you ever been to a grocery store during the weekend of a triple coupon sale? Have you been with a toddler?

I am most pleased to say that all said and done we saved over $60 on this shopping trip, our biggest savings ever. Coupled with last weeks total our weekly average for the last 2 weeks is $100 for the four of us. Not bad. I'm hoping to bring that number down even further but it's an excellent start. The next change we're making to our shopping habits is to only go to the store once a week. It's hard enough to stick with just what's on your list, and if you run to the store two and three times a week you're opening yourself up for impulsive buying. Was I planning on making chocolate chip cookies but somehow managed to forget the chocolate chips? Well, then it's applesauce cookies this round and I'll keep a running list for next week. Rarely is there a situation where we can't get away with substitutions or simply leave a recipe for a later date.

It was actually quite enjoyable, seeing how much money we could save, and I can see how people can start to think of it as a game. I'm excited to see what we put together for next week and expand our recipe index at the same time. I think eggplant was $0.99 a lb....

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bored to sleep?

I had been rocking a fussy Juliana for 20 minutes or so when I stepped into the kids closet to pick out their clothes for the day. I placed her on the floor in front of me so I could grab what I needed and pick her up again quickly before she became too upset. Except she became very quiet, studying the white walls, rubbermaid drawers and rack of clothing hanging above her (impressive, I know.) After roughly 2 minutes her eyelids began to droop and she promptly fell asleep. Not wanting to move her for risk of waking I let her stay there, konked out while the kids and I played in their room. Whatever it takes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

20 Reasons to Love Fall

Fall is upon us. This is by far my favorite time of year, there are so many things that make this season special.

1. pumpkin pies
2. brightly colored leaves
3. apple picking
4. hay rides
5. corn mazes
6. bonfires and that wonderful smokey smell
7. cool, crisp air
8. mom's chili
9. hot cider
10. a crackling fire
11. pulling out the afghans and blankets
12. carving pumpkins
13. new seasons of my favorite shows
14. the State Fair
15. experiencing Halloween with my kids
16. fruit butters
17. baking with fragrant spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves
18. roasting marshmallows
19. The wardrobe changes (cute jackets, boots, and scarves!)
20. Oktoberfest with my family

What are you looking forward to this season?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rock Band

As an early birthday present Steve's mom got us Rock Band 2. We've been having a great time playing a few evenings with a friend who's living 2 hours away. Steve's getting pretty good at the drums while I prefer Bass guitar. Addie (if we let her play) would of course favor singing, but seems just as happy to carry around the guitar and look adorable. I'm happy with that arrangement as well.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Daddy is so proud

This is pretty much the only thing he wants to do outside now, he will hit balls for hours.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

2 months

Time is passing by so quickly here, I can't believe Juliana is 10 weeks old. She had her 2 month checkup on Monday and looks fantastic. She weighed in at 11 lbs 8 oz. What a chubber! When the Dr came in the room he laughed and said, "Who needs to go on a diet?!" *wink* She's in the 75% for her weight and length (23 3/4 inches.) She has also begun smiling and cooing at us frequently, it's enough to make you melt.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Water Play

I've come across another great blog, The Wonder Years. No, it's not about the tv show, it's a mom of two young children sharing toddler and preschool activities based on the Montessori approach. We've already tried a couple of the activities with great results.
Our first activity was water pouring. 2 trays (cookie sheets till I can get some smaller ones) with 2 plastic cups and one small sponge each. Simply pouring the water back and forth and wiping up the spills has become at least a twice daily event. I leave one stocked tray on their bookshelf and they bring the tray to the table when they want to work. When I introduced this activity I did it one child at a time and in separate rooms. Gabe started in the kitchen and Addie started at the kids table in the playroom. They were able to take in my demonstration and concentrate on trying it themselves without distraction. I think this was the key. They can work at the kitchen table together now without flinging (hooray!)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sick Days

Most of our family has been battling a cold for the last 5 days so it changed our routine for a while. Though I don't like relying on the TV to keep things running when everyone, including Mommy, gets sick I'm willing to bend the rules a bit. When you're feeling badly you take comfort in the little things so the kids and I spent the roughest days curled up with blankets and pillows, hot cider, tea and popcorn watching Mighty Machines and the Iron Giant.

They were, in fact, very nice days.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kickin' Chicken Gravy

Thursday night I made Chicken Pasties using a recipe I linked to a while back. I used ground chicken, onion, white potatoes, carrots and peas in our pasties and an easy homemade pie dough. The veggies and meat were well seasoned and the crust was very flaky and buttery, but what really made this dish sing was the gravy. In fact, it's so good that we'll continue to make it for other dishes; it would be fabulous poured over baked chicken and rice.

Chicken Gravy

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
2 tsp chicken base (or bouillon) dissolved in 2 cups water
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp italian seasoning (we used pizza & pasta magic which has parmesan cheese, garlic, onion, crushed red pepper, thyme, basil, and oregano.)

Make a roux in a deep saucepan with the butter and flour. Whisk in chicken base and cook at a low boil until thickened. Stir in soy sauce and seasoning.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Play Space

I've set up our playroom to be as organized and open as possible. The kids love to run amok and need plenty of space to do so. Since our downstairs is only around 750 sq feet I decided to devote one of the rooms for their use. We are planning on homeschooling our kids but won't officially start for a couple of years. We may still be in this house at that point in which case this would become their work room as well. For now though, it serves its purpose well.

This is the main entry into our playroom, being at the front of the house. The floor is covered with square foam mats that link together like puzzle pieces. Our entire downstairs is hardwood so they're great for extra cushioning (especially when kids are learning to walk.)

This is our current storage wall. So far, it's just the one bookcase and desk which serves as a changing table and place for child care supplies. I think in the next few months we may get a second bookcase to expand our storage and staging areas. The low exposed shelves display several activities and toys for the kids to use when they want. The top of the bookcase has doors which allows me to store the rest of their toys/activities conveniently out of sight. When I notice them not playing with something for a few days I switch it out with something new. This way there isn't an overwhelming number of toys for them to be distracted by.

Once you open up the doors you can see what I mean. Organizing like this also helps me stay on top of what they're playing with; things that are broken or they are too old for get thrown out/put away quickly instead of adding to a growing pile of "stuff" in a huge bin.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Clean Up On Aisle Two

When a scoop-and-pour bean activity goes horribly awry.

I guess that's what I get for trying this when everyone's sick. The kids were really into it though, we will be trying again. I need to get some good flat, plastic staging trays for them, I think that will help a lot. There is an added complication in that there are the two of them so if one does something not part of the activity (like dumping their scoop of beans all over the floor and not in their bowl) instead of a quick correction the other immediately follows suit. Then back and forth it goes as they find that flinging things everywhere is more fun than the sorting. This will take some tweaking.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Museum of Life and Science

There are so many places to explore here, it was a little overwhelming. The kids had a blast, but could have spent so much more time in each section. The next times we go we're going to stay in only one or two areas and let them play their hearts out, so each time we go it will be a little different. A year long family pass is available and we plan on taking advantage. It's such an amazing place to visit, I can't wait to take extended family, too!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Daddy's Girl

Sunday we made a trip to a museum of life and science with our friends John and Julie and their nephew Dennis. We all had a wonderful time; that place is amazing! We spent around 2.5 hours walking around and exploring but there was so much we still didn't get to! I took tons of pictures and video and will try to post them soon, but it was a very busy day and I am tired. So I will leave you with this great picture of Addison and her daddy. Such a pair.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

30 days of fun

Today marks one month of daily posts for me. A small victory (yay!) that I wanted to share. Now that I've met my little goal, the constant stream is probably over. But I will certainly post much more frequently than I used to.
What more perfect way to end that month than with the best picture of Juliana to date.

Her onesie says, "This is what CUTE looks like."
Darn right.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pig Tails!

Anyone who knows this child can appreciate the effort it took to get these pictures. Normally one to pull any kind of bow or headband off the moment she has a chance, she's actually done well with elastics. There are about 50 of them and so many different colors, she gets distracted by them when I'm working with her hair. She didn't try and pull these out, either. Hopefully she'll let me work with her hair a little bit more each day, 'cause dang it, they're so darn cute!

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Little Link Love

Have you heard of Ciao Bella? It's a wonderful brand of gelato and sorbet that I have recently discovered. As I type this I am enjoying a cup of Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet. It's so rich and smooth, I have never tasted anything quite like it. Yum!

This is such a great idea for keeping mementos from vacations and trips. I have never been one for scrapbooking although I like the idea of holding on to more than just pictures. -From The Inspired Room

This video clip of a musician explaining why he hates Pachelbel's Canon is hilarious. - Hat Tip: Many Little Blessings

What a sweet idea for a way to celebrate one of Juliana's Patron saints, St. Rose of Lima. I am excited to find ideas for Addie and Gabe as well (St. Irene and St. Gabriel.) - From Catholic Cuisine

Are you thinking about fall yet? This is my favorite season if for no other reason than the smells; burning leaves, pumpkin pies and all things apple and spice. I can just imagine how wonderful this garland would smell and it's easy enough to be an afternoon craft the kids could help with. Well, ok, by help I mean mush dough in their fingers and slap cutouts on it repeatedly. But they would certainly enjoy it. -From Skip To My Lou

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mall Fun

We've made a few trips recently to malls in our area to get out of the house and let the kids run amok in some great play areas. All these pieces are essentially large, spongy cushions so they climb up everything and jump off; everything they can't do at home. :)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pint-sized furniture

Mom picked up this table and chairs set for us the last time she was up at IKEA. Dad took it home, stained it and put on some polyurethane. The result is gorgeous and functional. The kids love having their own place to read and draw. Now if we can just get them to stop using it as a personal launch pad....