Thursday, January 31, 2013

A couple of updates

Sophie is doing much better!  Her fever went up and down for a couple of days, up to 103.1 when the meds wore off yesterday, but down to 99.0 all day today without meds at all.

Michael seems to be fine, but we know how these things go.  Every mood swing (and there have been a few) sends me for the thermometer, but he's stayed at 99 for the last few days as well.  Let's cross our fingers that he fights this sucker off--and Mike, my mom, and I as well while we're at it.  So far so good, but I know that's probably too good to be true.

I've heard several stories lately of kids in the hospital, lethargic and struggling with the flu, and of course stories of kids not making it.  Add in a fatal pile-up involving kids on a highway near work, and I'm hugging my kids this week feeling my gratitude for their health and presence in my life deep into my bones.

On a much lighter note, the other update I wish to share is about my stinkin' living room shelves.  All this time at home over the last few days with those empty vases giving me the side-eye drove me right to the nearest Dollar Tree for some flowers.  I wasn't sure I'd find anything that didn't look super fake and tacky, but I was pleasantly surprised what a $2 improvement could make.  Head back over to the original post to see.

Stay healthy, folks, and drive carefully, please!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hands On Influenza

We went to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum over the weekend and put our hands on all kinds of things, like...


...the steering wheel of an ambulance...


... plastic balls...


... and water table toys. 

While washing our hands on a potty break on our way out of the museum, it occurred to me that I probably should have put that hand sanitizer in my purse to use a few times earlier that afternoon.

Fast forward to Monday, and mother nature did a couple of remarkable things.  First she hooked me up with a snow day!  Gotta love an impromptu three day weekend with my peanuts.  Secondly...


...despite a pleasant morning of putting Pinterest ideas to work...


...and lounging in jammies well into the afternoon (Michael had to change out of his after getting lunch on his 'jama pants, but Sophie and I soldiered on), mother nature cranked our ear thermometer higher than I'd ever seen it.  Sophie woke up from her nap with a fever of 105.1.  She wore those jammies right into the doctor's office.

Turns out Soph contracted influenza B.  I'm doubtful that our sanitizer-free museum play time is really to blame with preschool playmates and teenaged students to consider, but it's crossed my mind again.  I've also been thinking of having the kids' birthday party at that museum.  Maybe we'll put handwipes in the goodie bags? ;)

Regardless of how the illness got here, we're hoping our vaccinations for influenza A and Sophie's prescription for Tamiflu keep her symptoms to a minimum and spare Michael.  So far she just has the fever (down a few degrees with meds), a runny nose, and the need for lots of mommy snuggles.

Looks like Mike and I are in for some more days at home as Sophie recovers, which doesn't sound so bad, actually.  I could use some more snuggles too.  Just feel better, Love Bug.  :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Valentine Kitchen


I'm usually not a fan of artificial flowers, but big fluffy ones do tend to turn my head.  I went with three white ones in turqouise glass vases, all from Michael's craft store, for our Valentine's kitchen table.  There aren't a lot of centerpiece options that wouldn't attract little hands (like candy) or kitty teeth (like real flowers).  Even this arrangement inspired Sophie and Michael to pull the flowers out and use them as umbrellas while waiting for dinner one night.  :-)  The napkin was a wedding shower gift that, along with its buddies, didn't get much use in our old green kitchen.  Now that our kitchen is gray with accents of blue, it's a fun addition, especially for Valentine's Day.



I couldn't resist the dual meaning of using X's and O's in the grid, suggesting a game of Tic-Tac-Toe as well as hugs and kisses.  The letters are also from Michael's with twine staple-gunned to the back.  The picture above shows how I taped the twine first to be sure the length worked with the hooks that were still up from the snowflakes.  It did take a couple of adjustments, so I'm glad I thought that one through.


Instead of going back to the mid-century album covers that I think of as the regular residents of this wall, I had the idea to get a few more albums of love songs for February. If garage sales were an option during a Michigan January, I might have upped the cheese factor, but for Ebay prices I had to resist Billy Ocean and Liberace and lean toward albums I would actually like to listen to.

On the other hand, if I was willing to increase the budget for this kind of thing and play the online auction game a little more, I might have worked even harder for Sid Vicous, Jimi Hendrix or a number of other decidedly cooler artists than Henry Mancini.  There's still admittedly a significant cheese factor with my taste accounted for, but what can I say?  Slow-dancing to Doris Day and scooting in circles around the table to Johnny Cash have become regular memory-making events around here, and it doesn't get cooler than that.


I was excited to mix the red and turquoise together for the holiday, a combination I love and even considered for the kids' room before giving in to the inevitablity of pink and baby blue elbowing their way in through blankets and toys and clothing.  I'm thinking of spreading more red around even after 2/14.  This heart is really the only detail that screams Valentine's Day.  That red napkin, at the very least, will likely stick around.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Totally Free Valentine's Day Decorating


Having had so much fun decorating our living room shelves for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, I let them sit empty for a few days after the holiday decor came down to see if a simple and inexpensive Valentine's Day idea would come to me.  It did.

*UPDATE: I added some dollar store berries, so I guess it cost $2 now.  Totally worth it, though.



Mike and I displayed some wedding portraits on one of the fireplace mantels at our wedding reception.  They were pictures of our parents and grandparents on, as I've explained to Sophie and Michael recently, the days they promised to love each other forever.  Since our wedding, those framed photos have just been sitting in a stack on a shelf in our storage room.  Pretty fitting for Valentine's Day, no? 

In addition to setting up those framed portraits on our shelves, I hung up a wedding photo of our own that was in our bedroom until I swapped it out for some vacation pictures a while back.  It's nice to see it up again. 

While I'm tempted to get some dollar or thrift store frames for those pictures and spray paint them all white or something funkier, I'm trying to stay true to that "simple and inexpensive" goal I had at the start of this.  Maybe I'll take it up a notch next year. 

With the frames I mixed in some glass candle holders and silver vases that I've had forever.  (I still might pick up a couple of flowers for those vases, or maybe I'll grab some small wintery branches from outside...)  Feeling the arrangement needed some color, I wrapped the vases with red ribbon I bought months ago for a headband I have yet to make.  The space in front of our own picture looked a little bare, so I came up with this little craft to spread the color around a bit more.


I convinced Mike to cut a piece of  scrap trim to about 15 inches long and to cut a slit for wooden shapes to stand up in.  I had the shapes on hand for a couple of years now, having opted against including those hearts and stars in the kids' mobiles.  Mike even filled old holes with putty and sanded the trim so I could paint it, the handy guy he is.

Finding time to paint coats of red on those hearts had been tricky enough, so instead of painting the base of the decoration, I wrapped it very meticulously...


...with vintage fabric I bought for another project I've yet to tackle.


Those wooden hearts had come conveniently in a package of four.  Do you recognize the letter stickers?  They're leftovers from the menu board.


I think it came out pretty cute for a bunch of crafty scraps!  I didn't spend a penny.

A pleasant result of the arrangement is Sophie reminding me in random moments that "Gigi and Papa got murrried!"

I've been spreading Valentine's cheer in the kitchen as well, but I'm waiting on a few ebay purchases similar to this one to round that room out.  Stay tuned!

Linked up at...

Head on over to Creations by Kara for more fun projects!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Matchbox Therapy

This week was a tough one with colds for the kids and myself, auto show work dinners for Mike, and end of semester chaos like I've never endured, and it proved what I've discovered time and again...once again.

Getting my butt on the floor, playing with my kids, engaging with them with 100% of my attention, it's magical stuff.

In the early days, in that first year of juggling work and home, at the end of the day you couldn't distract me from my kids.  Since time quantity was limited, I had to to maximize the quality, and I did so eagerly.  The phone, the laptop, the TV--all of that waited for bedtime, hardly even a temptation to me. 

Like so many things, it's different now.  We have discovered TV shows of George, and Einsteins, and Thomas, and I've discovered that half an hour of indulging the kids' TV request while I drink a cup of coffee and lose myself in Pinterest helps me re-energize for the remaining 4+ hours until bedtime.  Pretty or not, it's still an effort toward quality over quantity, and it happens almost daily.

Then they ask for more, and my dilemma begins.  By 3:30 in the afternoon, I've been going-going-going for ten hours with only a 20-minute lunch to inhale some leftovers and unwind my brain.  More time to decompress is so very tempting.  I give in to a show, and then a second show, more often than I'd like to admit, but I do try to remind myself of the magic of...






and how every time I opt for the playroom over a show, I'm glad.  Racing Matchbox cars, building Duplo castles, and making play dough pizzas is some of the most gratifying interaction of my life.  Never have I sat surrounded by a mess of toys, Michael and Sophie squabbling over turns, and thought thirty minutes of vegging out would have been better, that it would have revived me more fully. 

And if it feels that good to me, if it fills my soul with so much of what I need, I can only imagine how it impacts Michael and Sophie. 

A little pinning while blasting Rocket off on his mission has its place, perhaps a daily one, but it can't get too far in the way of the good stuff.  I can't let it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Now We're Cookin'

For most of their lives I've occupied Michael and Sophie with something (coloring, stickers, or even a show) while I've prepared meals, and it's been refreshing in recent months to instead make some cooking task that busy activity.

Ripping toasted bread for spinach-artichoke casserole (recipe below)

To eat or not to eat...


Since our recipe preferences these days tend to be ones that require as little prep as possible like "cheater soup," there's usually not a ton for the kids to do.  But even while preparing my latest slow-cooker favorite, Cranberry-Chipotle Beef from Better Homes and Gardens, Michael and Sophie enjoyed stirring the sauce in the bowl, counting how many times I chopped the chilis, and helping me dump the onions (frozen in bag--I don't even chop if I don't have to) into the crockpot. 

This week we made potato soup again (recipe below).


Spinach and Artichoke Casserole
(adapted from Cooking 'Round the Clock: 30-Minute Meals by Rachael Ray)
Loaf of crusty sour dough bread
Two cloves of garlic, peeled
Olive oil
One can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
Two boxes of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry in a towel
3 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
Black pepper
Shredded swiss cheese

Slice bread and toast in the oven.  Rub slices with garlic cloves.  Coat bottom of a casserole dish with olive oil, cut bread into bite-sized chunks--or let toddlers at 'em, and place in the dish.  Top with artichoke hearts and spinach and season with salt.  (We often add ham here as well.)  Wisk heavy cream and eggs, season with black pepper, and pour over top.  Sprinkle with lots of cheese and bake at 375 until golden brown (30-40 minutes).

Potato Soup
(adapted from Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook by Dawn J. Ranck and Phyllis Pellman Good)
5-6 baked potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups 2% milk
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
a bunch of green onions, chopped
package of diced ham (cooked bacon works too)
2 cups shredded cheese
8 oz. light sour cream

Scoop potato from skins letting it break into small chunks and set aside.  Brown diced ham and set aside as well.  Melt butter, add flour, and stir in milk.  Bring to a boil (should thicken significantly).  Add salt and pepper, potato, ham, 1/2 green onion, 1 cup cheese, and sour cream.  Cook for 5-10 minutes and serve topped with remaining green onions and cheese.

I'm fortunate to have two daring eaters on my hands who don't refuse much, but when they've had a hand in cooking the meal we're eating, they beam with pride and seem to eat a little more enthusiastically. Of course, Michael requested yogurt after a few bites of soup when leftovers were served for lunch the next day, but that's life with 2.5+ year-olds.

Look back at this oldie for some more of our favorite recipes!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Potty Mouth

On the drive home from work and the child care center the other day, Michael and Sophie were telling me about their days.  At one point Michael said, "something-something-something-great-big-shits!"

"Um, what, buddy?"

And he said it again.

"Did you play with a great big ship?"  I was hopeful, but knowing what he's been producing in the potty lately, I couldn't be sure.

"No, mama, something-something-something-great-big-shits!"

Saturday morning we worked this out.

Within seconds of watching the video himself, Michael's pronunciation changed appropriately.  It must be a great tool for speech therapists.

(And, yes, the paper tree and Christmas window decals that the kids and I put up are still in the playroom.  Add those to this weekend's to-do list...)

Friday, January 4, 2013

The usual BREAKdown

At their child care center Michael and Sophie rock circle time by naming shapes and colors on flash cards, counting to twenty and back, singing the ABC's, listening to stories, and dancing and playing with their friends.  They bravely run off to play at drop-off time and are typical toddlers at pick-up, greeting me with giggles and kisses while a little reluctant to leave their school toys, snacks, and buddies. 

But bring in grandparents and Santa for the center's Christmas party, and I get two munchkins attached to my knees.  At parties and playdates with unfamiliar kids in unfamiliar places, it's the same.  Eventually they warm up, but those better social skills that time in quality child care is supposed to cultivate are non-existent for at least the first fifteen minutes.

Duckies at the Mall
It even takes some nudging to get the kids to brave the masses of kids at the mall play space.
I took Michael and Sophie to a gymnastics playdate with my MoMs group during my holiday break from work.  I wasn't surprised that as the kids lined up to go into the gym, Michael and Sophie got clingy, wanted "up-up-up," and didn't really participate in the guided activities on the mat. They didn't want to leave my side to go in the blow-up castle or jump on the trampoline.  The rest of the bunch as far as I could tell was fully engaged and happy.  As always, Michael and Sophie warmed up over time, but also as always, it concerned me.

A number of thoughts have been circling in my mind in a more focused search for an explanation and a solution.

a) Our family time is limited by our various schedules, so we haven't really made room for structured activities. On weekends we play catch-up, getting groceries, doing laundry, and visiting family. The rest of the time then and on weeknights is when we like to just soak up time with our kids, playing at home or on outings, primarily without unfamiliar adults or kids involved.

b) My job forces us to be early risers (5:30 or 6 AM most days), so by a mid-morning event Michael and Sophie are nearing lunch and nap time, starting their tranformation into Sleepy and Grumpy.  Same goes for events around dinner time.  That window until bedtime is small.

c)  Since we don't do any classes or playgroups like we would if I stayed home all year, Michael and Sophie just aren't used to that kind of experience.  They can follow their teachers' directions and interact with other kids at their center, but outside of that setting they freeze up.  Perhaps they're even worried that I'm about to drop them off at these places they don't know with a bunch of essential strangers.

d) Michael and Sophie are little for their age, like 5th and 10th percentile little.  They seem to get intimidated by taller, faster, bigger kids.  I noticed this even when picking them up from the gross-motor room at their center where the kids are roughly their same age but jump and climb rambunctiously while Michael and Sophie are more likely to just hop and dance. 

e) I'm more of a fine-motor and cognitive activity kind of gal with neither athletic abilities nor interests.  I taught the kids to play Memory this week, and that was a major highlight of my holiday break, I loved it so much.  Mike balances me out a bit on that one, but he too loves quality time with good book or puzzle.  The kids seem to be the same, perfectly content to color or read or build with blocks.  I aim to get the kids outside once a day for fresh air and to help with sleep, but I rarely find they have excessive energy when we miss a day.  Perhaps encouraging more active play would boost their confidence. 

About to get all competitive!
f)  I'm a paranoid mama, I know it.  Our baby registry included Angel Care Monitors and Clouds and Stars sheets to ease my fears of SIDS.  I make the kids hold my hands everywhere, and we only recently turned their car seats forward-facing.  There was even some serious soul-searching involved this week in taking the kids sledding for the first time, stifling memories of Ethan Frome and the loss of Mike's brother (car accident, not sledding).  My paranoia about Michael and Sophie's physical safety could be affecting them.

Taking all of that into account, Mike and I have talked about signing the kids up for swimming, dance, music, or gymnastics classes for the last year or so. Long story short I have now looked further into some gymnastics classes for this spring and maybe summer, and we plan to make this happen when registration opens in February.

And of course my mind does wander again to that question that will forever plague me: Would my kids be better off if I stayed home? Maybe. Dare I say probably?  Perhaps their vocabulary and social skills are stronger than they would have been.  But will they be more disruptive in elementary school?   Am I at least happier putting my degrees to work and contributing financially to our family? Would a bigger home have been the possibility that it is currently?  Will it even happen now?  Hello, last few days of a break from work--this happens every time.

The kids were scrambling around the living room last night as I vented all of this to Mike. At the words "better off," Mike's smiling are-you-f-ing-kidding-me face said it all. Our kids are fine, beyond fine. Brilliant, compassionate, hillarious, and gorgeous more like it.

 But we're going to work on this.  I know I'm probably thinking harder about this than necessary, but that's what I do.  :)

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