Gingerbread House R.I.P.

January 31, 2009

At long last, the gingerbread house is stale and done.

I’m so glad to get my wooden tray back.

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CATEGORIES: Food

A Very Merry Unbirthday to You

January 30, 2009

Once again, Eli is making his preference known regarding all matters birthday.

Henry: How many days until Eli’s birthday?
Julie: Twelve.
Eli: I don’t want a birthday.
Julie: No party?
Eli: No.
Julie [expressing deep relief]: Any special food you want to eat on your birthday?
Eli: Peanuts.
Julie: How about peanut butter cupcakes?
Eli: Ok.
Henry: But Eli! Don’t you want to have a party? You can get presents!
Eli: I don’t want presents.
Henry [perhaps knowing that he'd get to share whatever Eli got]: How about if you just get presents from us?
Eli: Ok.
Henry: Or you could have a moonbounce!
Julie: What?!
Eli: Ok! Let’s have a moonbounce!
Henry: That’s a great idea! We can get a moonbounce!
Julie: What?? No! We can’t get a moonbounce!
Henry and Eli: Why?
Julie: Well, I mean. Well. Ok. First of all, a moonbounce is expensive. Second of all, we’re not even having a party. Thirdly, it’s wintertime. You can’t have a moonbounce outside in the snow.
Henry: Do we know anyone with a moonbounce? Maybe we could borrow one.
Julie: Well, what you do is you rent it. But it’s still expensive [suddenly realizing she has no idea if this is really true...but they can't be exactly cheap].
Henry [ignoring adulty argument]: Do we know anyone whose birthday is in the summertime?
Julie [skeptical]: Well…your birthday is in August.
Henry: Ok! Ok! That’s great! We can just get a moonbounce for my birthday!
Eli: Yeah!
Julie: WE’RE NOT GETTING A MOONBOUNCE.

CATEGORIES: Eli, Henry, Parenting

Layers of Cake

January 29, 2009

Pear and Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

Yes, well, as Sarah pointed out, what do we do about the baked goods?

First I read about Pear and Bittersweet Chocolate Cake on Smitten Kitchen and I became this baking zombie where I walked, trance-like, into the kitchen, and basically didn’t snap out of it until the cake was all done. Because, I mean, Pear Chocolate Cake! Come ON! I will say, and I know this concept is sort of hard to get your mind around, that I put too much chocolate in. I upped the amount a bit because I felt like the cake needed a really liberal chocolate layer, and it was a little over-chocolatey. Follow the recipe if (when!) you make it.

And then it was Dave’s birthday yesterday, and Dave’s birthday equals carrot cake. Luckily, Dave likes his carrot cake with walnuts and raisins, and I want walnuts and raisins far, far from my baked goods. So I was not so tempted. I turned again to Smitten Kitchen for the recipe, and made it as a layer cake (always go for the layer cake if it’s an option), and Dave declared it the best carrot cake he’s ever eaten. So if you want a good carrot cake recipe, there you go.

Carrot Cake: First Layer

Carrot Cake: First Layer

Carrot Cake: Both Layers

Carrot Cake: Both Layers. I know I was probably supposed to trim them to be exactly the same size, but that seems like a waste of cake to me.

Completed Carrot Cake: Did I mention Maple Cream Cheese Frosting?

Completed Carrot Cake: Did I mention Maple Cream Cheese Frosting?

CATEGORIES: Food

Body + Soul Challenge: Day 23

January 28, 2009

Right now we’ve got giant snow mountains everywhere (outside, that is, my house hasn’t gotten so bad that we have mountains of snow inside, yet). It seems to be physically impossible for Henry to walk on the ground. He needs to climb the snow mountains and navigate his way to school from as great a height as possible. And, frequently, to throw himself down and slide to the sidewalk. While this can be very annoying when we’re late to school, or when it’s one degree out and we’re heading anywhere, I completely admire his desire for climbing and sliding, and, really, exercising. Though of course it’s not exercising to him; he’s just having fun. But when I watch him approach a snow mountain with the confident, loping, graceful stride of an Olympic high jumper, I envy the way he is exerting himself so joyfully.

I have gone through periods in my life when I was exercising regularly, going to the gym before work most every day. Those days are long ago, before kids. But I do think that, even then, I wasn’t that into it. I went because I was supposed to, but not because I wanted to. And, in fact, I don’t think I liked any bit of it at all, except for the part about not getting fat.

But something in me is different this time. It’s all about the mental shift we were talking about before. For the first time I’m not doing this for anyone else but me. I have made a lot of excuses in the past (“the children” is a good catch-all), but now I don’t want to make excuses. Yes, it’s three degrees outside, yes, Eli freaks out if I leave him anywhere, but there is always a solution if you really want to do it.

And so I have gotten four exercise DVDs (see links at the bottom of this post — they were really pretty cheap), and I have to say that it’s perfectly easy to do an exercise DVD at home in my little living room with children scattered about and playing along (mostly at the jumping jacks part, but also using little cans of beans for weights, which is very cute until I realized with horror that there was the possibility this might actually make Eli stronger and good lord what then? he will be Paul Bunyan by the time he’s 12 I swear it). It’s actually fun. And while I’m not yet all sleek and sculpted (the paper tells me it will take six months), it feels darn good to have sore muscles.

I’m not sure how you can get the mental shift until you’re ready for it. I think a huge part of it for me is knowing that I am done being pregnant and so let’s just get a regular body back and be able to fit in clothes, already.  The food issue is still a sticky one for me. The baked goods, really. Somehow it just happens that this week I have made two cakes and a batch of cookies. Plus of course the siren song of dark chocolate. Though I have to say I can feel a weensy shift in that regard too; roundabout the second fistful of chocolate chips, I start to feel gross and regretful and like I don’t want it (which is a change).

I am also happy to have realized that the Body + Soul Challenge transitions seamlessly to the Self Challenge, which officially starts on February 9.

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CATEGORIES: Julie

But which toilet flushes Legos and plastic dinosaurs best?

January 27, 2009

The big excitement of this past weekend was the installation of a new toilet in our downstairs bathroom. Our downstairs bathroom is one of the areas we can show people when we want to show how much work we (Dave) have done on the house, since it’s pretty indicative of the state of our house when we bought it: floral wallpaper, drop ceiling, oddly sized fixtures, blue tub and toilet, disgusting peeling-up vinyl floor. The bathroom as a whole is near the top of our to-do list, but the toilet had reached the point where we just couldn’t stand it anymore. In addition to being blue (which might have been reason enough right there), it had a plastic tank (why???) and used more than three gallons of water to do a terrible job of flushing.

We had never bought a whole toilet before, and now I feel like we’re officially responsible grownups, having bought something so boring yet so important. The funniest thing was how the toilet industry falls over itself coming up with euphemisms for “we’ll flush all your poop even though we use less water than your old toilet.” Things like “Water Efficient Yet Gets the Job Done” or “1.6 Gallons Per Flush/Highly Rated for Bulk Removal” or, for the one we ended up buying, “Can Flush a Whole Bucket of Golf Balls!” (we kept this advertising tidbit from the kids, in case it gave them any ideas). The toilet we got is called “The Champion” which also seemed to hint at its superior bulk removal properties. (I’ll also say that we felt a little sheepish buying a toilet that so boldly advertised itself as the champion of buckets-of-golf-ball flushing, but we got over ourselves because it was also the right size and looked like it would go best with our imaginary future bathroom.)

All I can say is, what took us so long? SuperHandyman Dave installed the new toilet in what seemed like five minutes (taking a break for us all to marvel and gasp and retch at the state of the warped flooring under the old toilet), and it’s just so much nicer to have a clean white toilet that actually flushes. Dave did point out that we probably ended up averaging 3 gallons per flush anyway because we were having such a good time flushing our new toilet and watching the vortex action.

It’s one of those things where I wonder how the whole episode plays out in the kids’ minds. Did they think our old toilet was gross, since it’s the only one they’ve ever known? Did they grasp the largeness of spending money on a thing like a toilet, and why it took us so long to choose the right one? Did they think the new one was better? (Well, I’m pretty sure they did. How could they not?)

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CATEGORIES: housekeeping

Children's Book of the Week: The Little Fisherman

January 26, 2009

The Little Fisherman by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Dahlov Ipcar

These days in our house, a good measure of a children’s book is how quickly and totally it gets adapted to everyday play. There are some books that are read and absorbed and maybe even discussed, and then there are the Really Good and Influential Books where suddenly the boys are saying, “You be her and I’ll be him and Zuzu will be Princess Penelope” and then we have a whole day with Lollipop, or what have you.

That’s one reason why The Little Fisherman is working for us. We’ve had many days of Henry being the Big Fisherman and Eli being the Little Fisherman. But I’d be recommending it even if it weren’t for that. First of all, you’ve got Margaret Wise Brown. Who doesn’t love her? Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of her books don’t work quite as well for me. I couldn’t get the rhythm of Big Red Barn until about the sixth time I read it. And My World only makes sense if you’re tripping (“Daddy’s kitty has gone to the city! How many stripes on a bumblebee?” Wha?). But kids love her no matter what. And then you’ve got Dahlov Ipcar, famous Maine artist, author of our beloved Lobsterman. Basically, you can’t go wrong with this book.

A big fisherman and a little fisherman go out to sea, one in a big boat, one in a little boat, to catch big and little fish, respectively. The whole thing is riveting, what with the big/little dichotomy, the wondrous pictures, and the fairly realistic fishing scenes (well, fairly realistic except for the fact that you’ve got two fishermen who are crazily different sizes) (I don’t know about your kids, but something about realistic fishing, or firemanning, or trainworking, does a lot for my kids, story-wise).

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Saturday Zuzu

January 24, 2009

As Eli says, “She’s so cheekable.”

(5)

CATEGORIES: Zuzu
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Waiting for the Dinner Bell to do the bell thing.

January 23, 2009

Not long ago, Henry and Eli became obsessed with “Dinner Bell” by They Might Be Giants. After listening to the song approximately three billion times, they secretly conferred and then came to me wondering, “What is a dinner bell?” This led, happily, to my mom bringing us my grandmother’s old dinner bell. Now, most nights (and some mornings), we ring the dinner bell when it’s meal time.

Turns out there are lots of dinner bells available for not too much money, and I’m honestly highly recommending them for everyone. (You could get a ranchy chuckwagon triangle, or just get a regular one like we have.) The first best part is that the children don’t stand three inches behind you asking when dinner is; at least, not after you’ve reminded them that dinner is when they hear the dinner bell. They go off and play and await the ringing.

But the other day I realized the other great dinner bell use: calling the kids home. Since I have a voice that seems to carry about as well as a mouse’s, it’s very handy to have something louder to send out the “it’s time to come home” alarm. Henry was playing in the backyard of the kids across the street and one house over, and when it was almost dinnertime I opened the front door and rang the dinner bell. And then, to my great satisfaction, I heard Henry say, “Oh! That means it’s time for dinner!” and he was home in less than a minute. SO much better than me squeaking, “Henry! Henry! Dinner!” and having him ignore me/really truly not hear me.

And I hope you’re all appreciating the truly stupendous all-day-long bed head that Henry has developed. That little bent-up winglet is a force to be reckoned with.

CATEGORIES: Parenting
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More mess, piles of messes, big messes, little messes. Make it stop!

January 22, 2009

You know it’s bad when you have the urge to stop in the middle of dealing with your children, say, “Wait right here!” and go consult all your parenting self-help books. What exactly was I supposed to do? I hadn’t slept at all the night before, between teething Zuzu and continues-to-scream-out-for-me-every-night Eli. The boys were playing together fairly well, but their playing seemed to consist of making a giant mess and then moving on to trash the next room. I suddenly felt like (once again) we had way too much Stuff, and it just got thrown around everywhere, and all the kids do all day is make demands on me and Dave and then whine if they don’t get their way (Henry actually said, at one point, “I command you to read me a book!”).

So then they totally deconstructed their bed, unmaking the whole thing, including pulling off the very-heavy memory foam mattress pad. And they upended the rocking chair for good rock star measure. And I completely lost it. It was so much the last straw, and I was so tired, but you know? Even if I wasn’t tired, it was still totally not ok to just trash a room so much that you can’t even open the door, and then leave.

I made some fairly unintelligible squawking burbles, and then just righted the rocking chair, sat down, closed my eyes, and sat (mostly because I didn’t feel like struggling again to open the door so I could go downstairs to all the parenting books). I breathed. I could think of two options. One was to take away some toys (just because this is my default). The other made more sense: make them clean up their mess.

So I called them back in and told them they’d have to clean it all up, to remake the bed. It took them three hours. Sometimes I’d sit with them and talk them through it, other times I’d have to leave because I felt like my head was about to explode. Three times I got so annoyed by their lack of motivation and seeming lack of caring that I got a plastic bag and filled it with toys (saying something about “if you won’t respect my things, I won’t respect yours”). Which seems heartlessly cruel now, but at the time seemed like I was letting them off easy (like my only other choice was to sell them on the street corner). (Ok, and in my defense, most of the toys I got rid of were baby toys that we would be getting rid of soon anyway, but I also included this horrible noisy fire station and a Popeye lunchbox which serves no purpose in my mind, though Eli does like to put things in it sometimes. We’ll see if I take out the fire station before I unload these toys.)

Three hours. They were literally in the room the whole time, alternately whining and rolling around in the comforter and just chatting with each other. What kills me is I’m not even sure if I made an impression with any of this. It’s highly possible that they could repeat the entire episode today.

And part of me knows they were just playing around, and having a good time together, but my current rant is something about “there are five people in this family, and I have enough to do taking care of my own stuff, I can’t do everyone else’s too!” I know they say that kids have to try a new food 15 times before they like it; how many times do you have to ask them to clear their dinner dishes or put their pajamas in the hamper before they actually start doing it? I don’t expect them to do it after one time, but it’s been years at this point. Figuring in a margin of error surrounding being too young to comprehend what I’m saying, this gets them cleaning up after themselves in…what?…2018?

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CATEGORIES: Parenting

Another snow day

January 21, 2009

We got dumped with another foot (more?) of snow on Sunday. It’s getting to the point where the kids can barely walk through it.

I love that Henry plays as much on the playset in the winter as he does in the summer.

And Eli can shovel all day long (which is actually really helpful).

There’s always a rush to be the first one to knock the snow off the banisters and fence.

Henry said, “Oh! Mom! I know a GREAT picture for you to take!” and then hid so well under the big pine tree that it took me a really long time to find him in the camera (I could see him, just couldn’t find him through the lens for some reason).

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CATEGORIES: Eli, Henry
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