Friday, December 23, 2011


He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.

He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter's shop until He was thirty. Then, for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never had a family or owned a home.

He never set foot inside a big city.

He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place He was born.

He never wrote a book or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While he was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had-- His coat.

When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Two thousand years have come and gone, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race.

All the armies that have ever marched and all the navies that have ever sailed and all parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that have ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this

One. Solitary. Life.

Merry Christmas!

**Reprinted from a Christmas program. Author unknown, but it's not me.

See Y'all!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 Christmas Letter

Landaker 2011 Christmas Letter

This year we have watched our kids transform before our eyes from dependent little homebodies to real ”big kids”. Quartz is leading the big kid revolution as he learns to curl ribbon, makes contraptions with LEGO motors, and does home science experiments. Onyx has entered kindergarten and is learning to read, and has been working on building from every LEGO instruction booklet every published. Sapphire is old enough to make her own dinosaur chicken, paint pictures, and go to her ”Growing a Scientist” class with mom. Andrea has enjoyed their kids' new independence and interest in big kid things, as well as her own projects at home. At work, Wes lead several projects, and at home he set up amateur radio equipment.

We wish you a joyous season, and a happy new year!
The Landakers (Wes, Andrea, Quartz, Onyx, and Sapphire)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sunday Supper: Revival Edition

I just broke a fingernail into the quick and tripped over the computer cord which would normally render me useless for the rest of the evening, but I've decided to persevere.

I am one day of grading exams away from total liberation and full-on holiday jubilation!

So, tomorrow I'll layer on the polar fleece, sit myself next to the Christmas tree with a box full of exams and threaten to shoot anyone who talks to me with the Red Rider BB Gun.

Oh yes, we absolutely have one, and don't think I won't use it. Just ask the dang rabbits that ate my tomatoes this summer. And the moles. And the owls. And the foxes. And the coyotes. And the possum. And the annoying little black dog that runs through here every morning.

I have lovingly named the summer of 2011 The Summer of the Wild.

Aaaaaah summer. When my yard looked like this...

And we ate things that were growing on a vine mere minutes before they were in our mouths. I'm already dreaming of Summer 2012; I'm also planning a garden expansion; Coach will be thrilled.

Speaking of summer, late in the summer Coach and I went to see his college roommate, B. Mac, at the Tomato Fest in Nashville.  He was cooking Jambalaya, and his parents were here from New Orleans.  The first time I met his momma I fell in love with her, and honestly, that is why I wanted to go; I'm not big on trying new foods. So we went.

Coach offered me a bite of the jambalaya.  I didn't want to be rude, so I partook.

Y'all.  Y'ALL.  It changed my life.

I told him we needed to do a video cooking segment for the blog, but he has three kids, a wife, a job, a dog, and an impressive addiction to LSU athletics.  So, obviously he's having a big year, and I've been swamped with Momsense here which has prevented any Creole cinematography.

So, instead, we went to their house the very next day, kept all three kids from napping and forced B. Mac to write the recipe down while he tried to eat his lunch.  I'm not even kidding.

Now, I need to tell you a few things.  Apparently B. Mac and his momma make two different types of Jambalaya.  B. Mac makes the hoity-toity Creole kind with tomatoes and butter, which from what I understand, is very controversial to the Cajuns, who make a more countrified type of cuisine. 

And Cajun is how Mrs. Bonnie makes her Jambalaya. (I have her recipe too.  I need to ask her if it's okay to make it public- if it is, I'll post it.)  Rumor has it that sausage is also a controversial ingredient- and some use seafood.

I don't care if they put dirt in it, this stuff is a game changer.  Anyway, I made a slight tweak in B. Mac's recipe, and I feel like I need to confess that now in case his head blows off when he reads this.  (I'm not a Louisiana native and certainly not well-schooled in NOLA cuisine.)  His recipe calls for 1 pound of "ham seasoning" cut up, but I used bacon. 

You can never go wrong with bacon.  I don't think. 

My personal belief is that any dish that combines two different types of smoked pork product is blessed by the Lord Himself, but just in case I broke some Cajun cooking law, I wanted to take responsibility so that B. Mac's street cred isn't questioned because of my naivete.

Another disclaimer-  This recipe will make enough Jambalaya to feed the LSU football team.  Seriously, our family of five eats it for dinner and we put away two LARGE Rubbermaid containers full.  You could easily cut it in two and still feed 6-8 people easily.  I make the full batch because we have a 15-year-old and Coach. 

B Mac's Jambalaya
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1" pieces
2 pounds andouille sausage, sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 pound bacon diced (this is a deviation from B Mac. He says use "ham seasoning")
1 large onion, diced
6 ribs celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons butter
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
2-3 bay leaves
4 cups white rice

In a LARGE stockpot (at least 7 quarts), cook bacon until done. Remove bacon, but leave drippings. Add sausage and brown in batches. Don't crowd the sausage. (I don't know why it matters, but B. Mac and Julia Child agree on this one, so it must be important.) Remove and brown all sausage. Repeat process with chicken.

When all meat is browned and set aside, add the butter to the drippings. Then add the onion, pepper, and celery and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook another couple of minutes.

Add the tomatoes, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. TASTE. Add more seasoning as you see fit. I always see fit with the cayenne.

Add the bay leaves and chicken stock and return to a boil. Pour in UNCOOKED rice and return to boil.

Then add meat back in, stir thoroughly, and lower heat to a simmer. Let simmer 20-25 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Remove the bay leaves.

Now, go make yourself some and eat until your sick! 

See Y'all!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

TMI Quotes

Fun at the Library

Q: "I love my burp when I just had brown sugar oatmeal".
O: "I don't want to do my chore but I'm doing it anyway."
S: "What if there was a googol o'clock?"
A: "Biscuits, we eat them for our dinner // Biscuits, we eat them for our lunch.  Biscuits, they won't make you any thinner // Please eat them up, because I made a bunch."
W: "I need to wash my hands because I was playing with the kids.  You know, because you're supposed to wash your hands after handling raw meat."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving: Take 2

Every year, my husband and I take the kids to our parents' houses for multiple turkey dinners. But, in our own little world of insanity, we also cook a Thanksgiving meal of our own the next day.

If you know anything about me, you probably have heard me admit that I am a terrible cook. My husband, on the other hand is actually pretty talented. He's not one to create his own masterpieces, but give the man a recipe and he delivers every time.

We both like to experiment and find new recipes online. So, this year, I was really thrilled with our final products and thought maybe I'd gloat some of you guys might like to check 'em out. The sad part is, I didn't take any pictures. What can I say? I was too excited to eat.

The first thing we did was brine our turkey overnight. My ingenious friend, Seth Pollins, had a great instructional video, but the link no longer works, so we'll just go with outright instructions:

3 cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 gallons water

For a 12 to 20 pound turkey, you can submerge it in this solution for 4 to 12 hours.

Then, when we cooked it, my husband found this Black Pepper Pomegranate Molasses Glaze recipe.

Holy bejeezus, this was the best turkey I have ever eaten. Even days later, the turkey is still juicy. I feel like I have Rubbermaid tubs full of crack in my fridge because I can't stop consuming it.

Another recipe that my husband tackled was this basic cranberry sauce. Growing up, all I ever saw was that tin can-mold of jelly slurp out into a bowl, so I never touched the stuff. Even though I wasn't excited about the recipe, once it started cooking, the whole house smelled incredible. And so, another addiction was born. The flavors burst in your mouth, coating it first with the tart of the cranberries, but then the sweetness of the brown sugar and honey smooth it out. It was super easy to make and an excellent dish to impress.

I actually made a sweet potato-marshmallow casserole, which is something I never even ate growing up. Never once did sweet potatoes cross the threshold into our home. I don't even like them that much. So, I took the time to bake the potatoes. I mashed them with the electric mixer and love. (Yes, I said that.) For the record, I love anything with brown sugar. I can eat brown sugar right out of the bag.


But, read carefully here...DO NOT add the marshmallows until the last 5 or 10 minutes of baking. Otherwise you will have burnt marshmallows. They neglected to mention that in the recipe, but thankfully, I was leery of cooking them that long and saved them before it was my usual disastrous ending. And surprise! I loved it.

These may be some fairly basic recipes for some, but they are all flavorful and simple ways to create a meal that everyone will drool over.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Yes, here in Albuquerque we go crazy over 1 inch of snow on the ground.  We even try to sled on it:

We build alien snowmen with it.

And we make snowcones at 8am with it.  We have to hurry, because it's all melted by noon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time For a Sea Change

I love to read. There was a time I would read anything I could get my hands on. My mom would tell you that she spent the better part of my 19th summer worried about me because I chose to read The Autobiography of Henry VIII for fun. It was longer than War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and my mom would swear it was longer than the Bible.  I don't really know, but I've read those three from cover to cover as well.

The last few years I've been devoted to chick lit. It's entertaining and light, but not anything that will give the  medulla oblongata any sort of meaningful workout.

Enter Sea Change by Jeremy Page. I read it. It's not chick lit. It's not funny. It's not light. But, it was intriguing and haunting and terrifying at times.  Page reminds you constantly that "life has an elegance about it sometimes, of moments playing out you never thought would."  It's those moments that he writes about: the string of moments in your life that seem surreal and distant, the moments that make you, the moments that ultimately break you.

Guy has lost his daughter in a freak tragedy which subsequently causes his divorce from his wife Judy. Unable to deal with the loss, Guy lives on a barge in the North Sea where he spends his days passing time and his nights creating the life he lost in a journal. It's a fascinating concept. He just writes the life he imagines he would have had. He is paralyzed by his grief and his past, and you honestly feel like you will drown in a sea of grief with him. Just as the writing becomes unbearable, Page throws you a life preserver- a love interest, a storm, something to bring you back to the light, and then he you are forced to dive into the grief again.

Sea Change is not uplifting, but it's not hopeless. It's not entertaining, but it's mesmerizing. Just as grief is surprising with its many ironies, so is this novel. Page has been able to freeze pivotal moments in the grieving process and drive readers to compassion. 

So, if you're looking for light-hearted holiday entertainment, this isn't your book. But, if you're ready for an honest and introspective story about a man who loves and loses his family, this one's for you.

If you want to read more about Jeremy Page and Sea Change, go here. There are discussions, reviews, and summaries for you.

"I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own."

See Y'all!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

The mall halls are decked, the movies are playing, and the music has started. 

It's officially holiday season. 

Yesterday I ordered a fresh turkey from a farm in East Tennessee because Coach wanted to have our very own Thanksgiving here which will include all the kids helping with the cooking, china, silver, manners, and maybe even shoes.  It has Griswold written all over it.

Of course, all of this will take place on Thanksgiving Eve because we both have humongous family celebrations on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving will begin with all 5 of us running the Turkey Trot 5K to help Graceworks before we eat a celebratory Krispy Kreme and race home to dress for the day's festivities. 

And you know what?  I can totally relax then because the Christmas Card is complete!  It will be addressed, stamped, and mailed Wednesday afternoon, so those babies will start arriving first thing Friday morning!

And then....

IT'S ON!!!

In the meantime, here's a preview.  I feel very old.  VERY OLD.  The kids were not amused at our idea, but we didin't let that stop us.  Some friends of ours did this last year, and I cried when I opened it, so we hijacked their idea (Thank You Reynolds Family!). 

I'm climbing back on the blog horse this week.  I have a book review coming, some recipes, and maybe an adventure or two!

Bright Merry Cheer Christmas Card
Shop Shutterfly's collection of Christmas photo cards.
View the entire collection of cards.
See Y'all!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sapphire!

Sapphire's three!  She likes to draw and make crafts, play make-believe with her brothers, help mom with chores, and read books with dad.

Sometimes she joins me for yoga

We made LEGO guys of our family for the top of the cake.  She liked the herb tea in her tea set more than the cake

We played pin-the-mouth-on-Hello-Kitty

Andrea: Wes, do you remember if giant rats are safe to eat? [in Nethack]
Sapphire: I want to play the Curious George game on the computer.
Quartz: You are the most insane mom I ever heard. [for letting them have huge pieces of chocolate cake]
Onyx: What if there was a LEGO battery as  big as this room?
Wes: The basting will continue until morale improves.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween and Quotes

First, our Halloween costumes!

From l-r: Lisa as Renaissance beauty, Onyx as Pharoah Mummy Amset-Ra, Sapphire as ghost, Andrea as mad scientist, Quartz as C3-PO, Wes as Renaissance doctor.  The Renaissance costumes are actually from Assassin's Creed 2 (courtesan and doctor).  Well, I suppose I could be an Abstergo mad scientist.  Yeah, sure, why not?  :-)

I am actually rather proud of some of the sewing exhibited here -- mostly Lisa's skirt, which is a circular tablecloth with some lace curtains added; and my lab coat which is patterned after a too-small lab coat from the thrift store and made of white pleather.  It's nice to have a long jacket that fits!

Andrea: "Would you like to be my -- er, *try* my latest experiment?!"
Onyx: "If I take off my shirt, you will see gold coming out of my belly button."
Wes: "Whatever, I'm a cursed princess!"
Quartz: "I AM RUDE!!!"
Sapphire: "I am a big girl that wears underwear!!"
Sapphire: "If a bear comes in our house and wants to eat me, I will run away."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dentist Love

Sapphire went to the dentist for the first time today.

She grinned when she got to sit in the dentist chair.  She grinned when they made it go up.  She grinned when the chair tipped back.  She grinned when they counted her teeth.  After they cleaned them and put on fluoride, she grinned when she got a new toothbrush and got to pick a prize.  Then she asked when we were coming back.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Does This Happen??

I know a lot of people have issues with custody battles these days, but when I heard about this, it really makes my blood boil. Below is a letter from a guy I know from high school. We keep in touch on Facebook and this is what he's been going through recently:

Dear Sir,

Please allow me to express my concern with the way the Child Protective Services has been handling the case involving my 14 year old daughter Katty.

On April 8th, 2011, my daughter was taken by Texas CPS from her mother, my ex wife, for a variety of reasons. These reasons I do agree with.

Everything else from that point on I have many concerns with.

First, I was NEVER notified by the state that this had happened. After a month of not being able to reach my daughter on her cell phone that I was paying for, I finally got a hold of her mother who filled me in on what had happened.
I am not a hard man to reach. I am on numerous social networking sites, and a simple google search of my name would provide enough results to find me. I also was paying child support, so I would be easily found through them. One of the papers i recieved after i made contact with CPS which i believe was the "motion" stated clearly that " with due diligance, the natural father will be searched for and notified with in 24 hours". This clearly did not happen. I could have been on the next flight to Texas and this whole next 4-5 months could have been avoided. Granted, her mother also should have called me right away, but being she is deemed and unfit mother, I can not put all the blame on her when there is a system in place by our great goverment that should be followed to the T.

After finding out about my daughter being in protective custody, I immediately began my own google search to contact Texas CPS.
This was June 6th.

I learned of a hearing regarding my daughters placement to be held on July 7th in Houston.
I drove to Texas from SW Florida for this hearing and attended it, pleading for my daughter to be placed into my custody. I am a family man, with a new wife of 4 years and another daughter, Kattys half sister, I have a clean criminal record, I own my own business and am respected amongst my peers, professional and personal. I came to this hearing prepared with bank statements, photos of the inside and outside of my single family 3 bedroom home. letters of character from local law enforcement and professional peers, none of which the court was interested in looking at.

I was told that with in 2 months, Katty should be in my custody.

It has now been more than 3 months since this hearing, and my daughter is still in foster care.

I used to talk with my daughter on the phone a couple times a week, since she has been taken I have only been allowed to speak with her 3 times.

Since this has happened, my daughter has been admitted into a mental hospital twice for manic depression, for a week at a time. She never had any mental issues until all of this had happened.

A few weeks ago the case worker actually allowed my daughter to contact me while she was in the hospital. While speaking to my daughter, i was asking her about her feelings and explaining mine to her, as to do with her violent thoughts she was having. At this time, the case worker took the phone from Katty and began to BERATE me over the phone, telling me I was not allowed to speak the way I was speaking. We began a shouting match for more than 5 minutes, when all i wanted to do was try to understand what was wrong with my daughter. Completely unacceptable and unprofessional.

My daughter and I are being treated like we have done something wrong. All I want is whats best for my daughter, and her living with me, her biological father, is what is best for her.

I do not understand why this has been going on for so long. Her 15th birthday is the 31st of this month, and it seems like she will be spending it in foster care.

I love my daughter very much, and miss her terribly. I have spoken with supervisors and other people at CPS, writing you this letter is my last resort.

Everyone at CPS has passed the buck as to why this is taking so long. Ive been told that I had provided a bad address, or a bad phone number, yet the paperwork i recieved from the courts on July 7th had my correct address.
When i changed my phone number, I immediately called and left a voice mail for the case worker, which she claimed never happened. I changed my cell phone number in late July, but my old phone was not shut off until September 1st, and NEVER once recieved a voice mail on it from CPS, so the case workers point is moot, being she never tried to contact me on either phone about my daughters status, for over a month and a half.

I dont know if there is anything you can do about what is going on, I know you are a busy man and really am not sure if you will even get this letter.

Please, my daughter and I are at your mercy, if there is ANYTHING you can do about any of this, please, please help us.

Now, the reason this makes me so angry is that there are fathers out there that don't give a damn and don't pay child support and act like they don't even have a kid. They have no consequences to face. But here is a man trying like hell to take care of his daughter and can't get a hold of her? How is this fair?

Just this week, he finally received a call from the police regarding a home check. If any of you out there have any advice for my friend, please let me know. And I hope you'll share this post with others, please. Maybe someone out there can share some advice. Thank you!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

We love Fake Camping!

Kids Quotes for the week:

Quartz: "I never get a day off!"
Onyx: "I can see inside my head right now.  I have an alien brain."
Sapphire: "I'm your pet frog!"

We went up to the mountains for a wonderful evening picnic.  It was cool, but not cold, we built a fire and had hot dogs and s'mores, found a geocache, and played hide and seek with flashlights in the dark.  Then we came home and went to bed.  Onyx calls this "fake camping," and likes it a lot better than real camping, where you have to sleep in a tent all night long and wake up in the cold. 

Wes also shot some great photos of everyone in our family.  The kids didn't quite know when to smile for the group shots:

 ...but they had no trouble making silly faces for our silly shot.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Little Love

Y'all. Y'ALL. Life. Has. Spiraled. OUT. OF. CONTROL. School started 9 weeks ago, and we've been on a death march from day 1. I'm hoping it will slow down a bit. But, I haven't been totally devoid of joy.

Coach has been dustbusting with a vengeance this season as he has taken a new job as a defensive coordinator. It's becoming more and more difficult for me to fake any sort of football knowledge. He uses words like Wildcat, and Defensive Line. I tell him that I know First Down, Off-Sides, and Touchdown Tennessee! He tries to hide his disgust as he suggests that I enroll in a Football 101 course, but I don't need a class to enjoy this....

We're enjoying a very fruitful season at our little school. We have a new head coach, and he has injected a little life into the program. It's one of the joys of my week to see my boys enjoy lavish success. And while we're on the subject of football and lavishness...

Mmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmm. I do love this man's pants. And I'm going to see them this weekend up close and in person. There will be pictures.

 I've also been having an affair with Pinterest. You want to follow me? I'd love it. I'm addicted. And I have a burning desire to redecorate my house.

Speaking of love affairs. Have you made Ree's Cajun Chicken Pasta yet? No? Do it now. RIGHT NOW. You won't be sorry. I changed things up a bit and added a couple of handfuls of parmesan cheese to the sauce. My family devoured it like unmannerly wolves.

And my last love for today is this book- Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons. I can't tell you how much I'm loving it. Get yourself a copy, grab some tea, and go sit out in the fall weather and enjoy a fiction blessing.

And I also had one of the most pleasurable afternoons of the fall yesterday at the auto repair shop.  I'll tell you about it soon.  I'm thinking about going back today just for the ambience.  You think I'm kidding.  I'm absolutely not.  In the meantime, you all enjoy the fall temperatures (unless you're not having fall temperatures, and in that case, I am so sorry, because OH MY WORD the weather here is FABULOUS!!!)

See Y'all,

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I finally finished and tested the parlor LARP I've been writing called Quarantine (kind of like a murder mystery, but without the murder).  It went over pretty well, so I'm posting it here in case anyone would like to make use of it.  "Quarantine" takes place in a futuristic setting with good ol' sci-fi staples like faster than light travel and anthropomorphic aliens, but also has plenty of intrigue and mystery.

So, anyway, check it out if you like that sort of thing.  It takes minimal preparation, is for 6 players, and lasts about an hour or two.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gotta train 'em early...

Gotta train 'em be geeks.  First, they must know how to create their own costume for an occasion other than Halloween:
Then, they must attend gatherings of fellow geeks, such as a local convention or Renaissance Faire.  

Next on the list: quoting from favorite geeky movies, such as Star Wars, or the Princess Bride.  :-D

Monday, September 12, 2011

Amazing Customer Service

Sometimes it seems like companies have forgot about one crucial element in their business -- the customers.  We had a bad experience with Hotwire on a vacation where they wouldn't give us a non-smoking room (it finally got resolved through the Better Business Bureau and American Express, who were quite helpful, but Hotwire was very annoying about it).

Usually you just expect decent customer service, but once in awhile you get blown away by a company who does it right.  In this case, I need to recommend to you Cedar Works, the company who made our wooden playset.  We bought one about two years ago, and it's held up really well, but some of the rubber on the chains was getting sticky and oozing.  I figured we'd just deal with it, but I sent them an e-mail in case they had some snazzy idea.  They are replacing all the affected swings totally free.  So awesome!  :-)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

School and Bubonicon

Quartz and Onyx are both in school this year, and I love how they are good friends at school!  They play at recess, and sit next to each other on the bus, and seem to get along really well at school.
Shhh, this was actually the 3rd day of school

Since Wes' mom is in town, we thought we'd take advantage of her and let her enjoy the kids for a weekend while we went to the local sci-fi convention, Bubonicon with our friend Lisa.  The theme was steampunk, so we all dressed up and had a great time seeing all the costumes and listening to George R. R. Martin and geeking out with other fans.  I wish there would have been like a masquerade or parlor LARP or something, but it was still pretty fun.
weird angle and lighting, but it's the only picture we got
And now, for some quotes:
 S: "Mom mom mom mom mom mom mom, baby doll is going to bed" (to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star")
O: "It was just a little bit fun" (talking about pedal boats)
Q: "Do we each get to eat seaweed?  Yum, yum, yum!"
A: "That's totally going on the blog!" (when Wes said something funny that I can't remember anymore)
W: "Wesley: romantic bourgeoisie space pedagogue" (magnetic poem)

Birthday Party!

OK, this was a long time ago (mid-August).  But somehow school has made things busier, even though there's less kids at home and they both ride the bus.  I guess I'm finally getting around to all the projects I've been putting off all summer ("I'll wait until the kids are in school").

So, Quartz and Onyx had a joint birthday party with a LEGO theme.  I'm not sure for how many years they will want to do joint parties, but I'm happy about it because it feels more worth it to put in all the effort (without feeling like I'll have to do the same thing again for the other kid next time).

I'll just let the pictures do the talking now.
Build the coolest Duplo tower you can in 5 minutes!

I made a treasure hunt for the kids

Snacks under the play set

Blowing out candles on the LEGO cakes

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Well, it seems my mom-blog is a hit in Slovenia...27 hits. Hmmm???

First Day of School Brings Mixed Emotions

It was cooler this morning.  Sorta like the weather knew it was time to start school and put away all the fun and frivolity of summer.  As we dragged our second grader out of bed, fought for space in the bathroom and grabbed the kids in time for in-front-of-the-maple-tree, annual first day of school pictures, I couldn't decide if I was happy or sad to see it all end. 

I was certainly ready for structure and a chance to work in my home office without the blaring of Sponge Bob and various neighbor kids poking in their heads to ask for treats.  The house would look the same when I got back from work, as I left it in the morning (OK, I know that might not be a good thing, but come on!  What teenager decides to clean and straighten up the house while on summer vacation?).  I wouldn't be scrambling to make sure that bathing suits and towels weren't congealing into some mildew-infested mass in the nether regions of tote bags and closets.  I was ready for some normalcy in our lives.  Well, as much as we ever have it in our home!

However, this year the transition back into the school year felt different.

I've had enough children, and first days of school, to know that each new school year marks a passage of time, and bittersweet moments you can never get back. 

This year my third child is starting her senior year in High School, and this is her last "first day of school". Her older sister was starting her first day at the University, and my oldest son was on his way to work.  Only the youngest still needed a walk to the bus stop and kiss on the cheek.

How in the world did this happen?  It feels like it was just  a couple of years ago that I put my oldest on the bus for his first day in Kindergarten.

So today, I am reflecting on all the times I wish I had spent more time enjoying and noticing the little moments of each of their childhoods.  I really do wish I had cleaned less and played more.  I am sad because it has all gone very fast.

I feel fortunate to have ten more first days of school with my youngest child, and am enjoying the excitement of my daughter's senior-year experiences.  But, believe it or not, I wish I could have all of the other ones back again to do over.

So as the big orange bus drove away, I'm not too embarrassed to admit: Those were tears in my eyes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Returning from the Land of Oz: Do people really live like this?

I recently went to a family reunion held in a relative's lovely neighborhood.  As we pulled up to their beautiful (insert: clean, orderly and meticulously decorated) home, I marveled at the row upon row of manicured lawns, weed-free gardens and picture-perfect children we had passed.

Where was I?  Was this heaven?  Was this Iowa?  No, I was merely in a suburb a scant twenty minutes from our own home.  So why did I feel like I was on a different planet?

"How do they do it?" I asked my husband.

"Huh?  Who does what?" he replied distracted, attempting to park between the numerous cars of our various family members.

"All of these houses.  All of these people.  How do they, I don't know, keep it all so...Better Homes and Gardens-esque.  So perfect!"  I was amazed.  I was taking in sight of the stone-front-wood-shingled-bricked-driveways all in a pristine row.

"Maybe they have a lawn service."

"Maybe," I said uncertainly.  If I lawn service could do all this, I wanted one.

 "They probably don't have a dog,"  I suggested uncertainly.

We have three dogs.  Two labs and a bigger-than-life Maltese. They dig in our yard, pee on the floor and shed all over creation.  Yeah, they're loud, messy and lovable, and my husband and I are our own lawn service.  Even if we hired those guys in the green trucks and farmed out our menagerie,  I'm convinced we could never reach this level of orderliness.

"I'll bet there aren't many big families here.  The kids are probably all grown up,"   I continued.

My husband looked confused.  "Who are you talking about?"

He stopped the car and we got out of our family SUV.  As I open the door, I bump over the baked beans I have brought to share.  Only lost a scant blob on the passenger side floor mat.  Have to remember to clean that up later. 

"Never mind."  It seemed my husband didn't notice that we had just entered the Twilight Zone.

My car door slammed.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by birds flying about, wafting scent of flowers and a community of orderly houses, filled with apparent peace and bliss. I followed my two of my four kids and the love of my life up the driveway, lugging a crock pot and an overflowing bag of clothing, sunscreen and towels.  Shaking my head I disputed his assertion that the lawn service could do so much.  I was walking up the Yellow Brick road and entering the Land of Oz.

We rang the bell.  The door opened.  It wasn't the Wizard, but a distant cousin.  As we piled into the house, I climbed over a pile of shoes.  Down the hall I could see the bowls of jello salads and mounds of desserts, napkins and casseroles.  The noise of children running drifted up the stairs.  There was a smudge on the wall.  I think it was chocolate.  Their cat ran up the stairs, a nephew in hot pursuit.

Hey wait a second.  

This isn't perfect.  This isn't meticulous.  It's not even pristine.  It wasn't far different from my world.

The house was still beautiful and still decorated, but it was truly a home.  Looking at the relative uproar, I realized that we all have things that are a bit different behind the closed door or our public facades.  We often don't get to look behind the scenes.  But even without that glimpse, its important to remember that the man (or woman) behind the curtain, may not be the Wizard of Oz, but may be a member of normal, crazy, sometimes messy family like the rest of us.

Gosh it felt good to know I'm not alone!  

Take that Rod Sterling.  And Dorothy, no need to click those ruby slippers, cuz you may be already home.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm Bored Mom! Ideas to save your day

I don’t know about you, but am really feeling exhausted after coming up with an entire summer of activities for the kids. With only a few days left until school, I needed some quick options to get me through the week, and few remaining nice weekends.

So here are a few ideas to share with you. They don’t cost much, if anything, and beats hearing “I’m bored.” Enjoy!
  1. Call a friend and meet at a park. Babies in strollers and teens with attitudes are fine.  Try and leave the ear buds at home and talk during the walk over.

  2. Bake cookies, or take the fast and easy way out and add frosting and sprinkles to purchased ones. Take some to the neighbor lady who lives alone down the street.

  3. You can also have the kids decide what’s for dinner and let them help cook.

  4. Go rollerblading or strollerblading. You can go around the Twin Cities lakes, or try out the Metrodome or a local roller-rink (remember those?  They're still open!)  for an indoor option.

  5. Go to the State Fair and check out the animal barn.

  6. Go to an indoor playground. Invite the other parent, have coffee and TALK! The Eagles Nest in New Brighton, Maple Grove Community Center and Edinborough Park in Edina are all great Twin Cities Metro options.

  7. Explore your local wildlife park. In the northern Minneapolis suburbs Springbrook Nature Center and Silverwood are great options.

  8. Try bumper bowling. There are coupons online and in the Happenings/Entertainment books that make this a cheap fun option for ages five and up. I love the bumpers, because then even I can look like a pro!

  9. Go to the zoo. The Como and Minnesota zoo have indoor and outdoor choices. 

  10. Organize a Kid-Swap with friends. They take your kids for a morning and you take theirs for an afternoon. 

  11. Visit a farm and see all the farm animals, you maybe be able to feed and pat some of the tamer ones. Emma Krumbees in Belle Plain has a nice one that is perfect for smaller kids.

  12. Go to a local museum. The Minnesota History Center or Gibbs Museum is a great to show the kids how things use to be. The Minneapolis Art Institute is free and is next to the Children’s Theatre. Rush tickets are half price and if the kids aren’t too tired after the museum, it’s a perfect add-on. Get in line a half an hour before the show!

  13. Grab your bike helmets and go for a bike ride.

  14. You can also give them the video camera, and have your own Oscar-winning production. 

  15. Stop down at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. They are open until Christmas and even have healthy snacks and coffee for the adults.

  16. Have a movie afternoon. Rent a couple of good kid’s shows on NetFlix, make some popcorn and snuggle up with blankets and enjoy.

  17. Try family camping at Baker Park. They also have fun family classes and year round campfires.  You can even try a tent and campfire in your own back yard!

  18. Weed the garden and check out the progress of the tomato plants!

  19. Try Horseback riding or a wagon ride. For an easy short option, try the Forepaugh’s area in St. Paul or down by the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

  20. Take a day trip to a historic town. Red Wing, Afton and Stillwater are fun year round!

  21. Have an indoor/outdoor picnic lunch. Let the kids help pack their own, break out the picnic basket and spread out a blanket. 

  22. Play a game of Hearts or Uno.

  23. Smile! Get out the digital camera, let the kids take some pictures, download them and create a slide show, or go online and make a book or poster.  

So give these ideas a try, and know you can make it until school starts!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Five is the New Forty

I have a theory that answers all of life's relationship questions.  Not discovered by Freud, Jung or even Dr. Phil, all our interpersonal issues boil down to a simple fact; No matter our job, our social status, our fame  or our chronological age, we're really all just five years old.  

No really!  It's true.

Okay, give me a second to prove my point.

That angry check out clerk?  A vinyl nap mat and a snack would do wonders.  Very Kindergarten. Very five.  

Great-Aunt Minnie arguing at the family reunion with her 87 year old brother, Milt over an ear of corn?  She needs a five minute time-out and a reassuring hug.  She's still five.  

The President of the United States and Congressional Leaders arguing about the National Debt Ceiling?  Definitely a group of  I'm-taking-my ball-and going-home five year olds. Gentle limits and defined consequences could have made all the difference, and may have prevented the US credit rating from taking a dip in the world's financial potty chair.  They were all just five, and we forgot.

Think about it in your own life.  When things aren't going quite your way, inside don't we really just want to stomp up and down and cry giant crocodile tears?  Sometimes, I'm tired of pretending that I don't want to have an all out hissy fit about having to be the grown-up, when I just really want a hug and a graham cracker.

Actually, Robert Fulghum had it right in his poem  All I Really Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten.  Sharing and playing fair are still some of the most important rules to live by.  What parent wouldn't love their teenager to put things back where they found them, and clean up their own mess?  (My teen is obviously one of the late birthday kids that should've been held back a year.  She hasn't yet reached the All I Really Need To Know Kindergarten clean-up level yet).  

However, as chronologically-aged adults we still struggle with the lessons we learned at five.  I have a hard time saying sorry when I hurt somebody I love. I don't always take the time to play, or sing or dance.  But inside, I still really would love to do just that, and top it all off by skipping down the street.  I miss finger paints and might still enjoy a side-order of paste with my Play-Dough sandwich.  

I think we'd all be so much happier if we let our inner-child free to have a warm cookie and a tall glass of milk, and forgot the double mocha with a low-carb something.

More importantly, remembering that everyone else is five, can help us forgive the little pouts of our spouse, the temper tantrum of the boss and give us the ability to smile at the angry waiter as he slams down a bowl of pasta in an attempt to provide customer service.

We all want to be liked for who we are, and sometimes would feel less alone if when we go out into the world, there was still someone there to hold our hand, and keep us safe.

So, I'll be there for my five year old family and friends, and take care to be kind to the rest of the Kindergarten class I interact with out in the big, bad world every day.

Are you convinced?  If not, have a nap and a couple of raisins on me.  Things will look better in a little bit.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

So What Do You Say to MIA?

I've gone missing.  Really and truly what-ever-happened-to, you'd-better-return-my-call. bad-PTA-parent MISSING.  Last December I was beginning to embark on a new position in my paying job.  The job involved some travel, some additional education and a bit more time.  I was really was excited to start, and have loved the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment I've gained from the endeavor.

What I didn't realize was that the job would cause me to disappear from my social life, my blogs and even the fun and interesting woman who cuts my hair every six weeks.  I am over scheduled.  My hair is a hot mess.  I am missing in action.  And I am not apologizing for it.

After a job, a house, a husband, four kids, three dogs, a cat, two fish and a frog, I am accepting that I am done, and its OK.  While in my twenties, I tried to be superwoman and made myself (and everyone around me) stressed out and miserable.  All I had to do was to look to Martha Stewart to realize that my options were divorce, jail or a fabulous line of personal crafting supplies.  She chose all three.  I chose to keep trying to have the parties, the exercise classes, the parent meeting and the fully balanced dinners.  Then one day, I grew up.

I realized, I didn't have to do it all.  I wasn't Martha, and in that light-bulb moment, I was relieved.  I suddenly understood that there would be moments where I couldn't take on one more thing.  Moments that I had to just say no, or perhaps not even pick up the phone or sign on to Facebook and say just that.  At those times I began to disappear.

I disappeared from the have-to social obligations.  Oh yeah, I missed a lot of great things too, but I realized that, unlike the song,  sometimes it was too hard to have too much fun.  I didn't sort through the 300+ emails that mysteriously would fill my box in a day and a half.  I gave myself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink, to use baby powder to fluff up my less than pristine hair and to acknowledge that I wasn't a bad parent if I let someone else volunteer for whatever school event was upcoming.  In disappearing, I had the energy to take care of myself, be with my family, focus on my job and be happy being less than perfect.

Disappearing was a good thing.  Being missing in action didn't diminish my tour of duty when it came to being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend.  It allowed me to have some perspective and realize that I wasn't all that vital in the scope of the world.  Things proceeded just fine without me.  My real friends understood that I just needed time to reflect and take care of me, my family and my new position.  The Facebook friends survived as others moved forward to fill their status with exciting events and insights.  I learned how large an email box can get without emptying it for 3 months.  A social experiment in living in the new world of instant social media gratification without interacting was invigorating.

So I am back now, somewhat.  I will probably never return to my previous level of connection, but am content with my decision to drop out for a bit and drop back into my life and the lives of those I love so closely and deeply.  I am here, not MIA, but I now will only do that which I can and wish to do.

Martha, take note.  I'm glad I did.

Sunday Supper: Best Darned Edition

Like I said earlier, I spent the majority of my summer doing exactly what I planned  on doing.  That NEVER happens.  Now, I had also planned on blogging regularly and finishing a novel, and neither of those tasks were completed, but at least I made a stab at it.

You might not know this about me, but follow-through is not exactly my strong suit; I lose interest in things pretty quickly.  I have managed to stick with parenting for almost 15 years, which is a record for me and stick-with-it-ness.  I guess we can chalk that up to the fact that there's no real way not to follow through on that task without going to jail. 

So the parenting gig has been good for me.

The cooking gig has been good for me too.  Well, for my taste-buds, not so much for my hind-end.  I did a lot of cooking and canning and kitchen-related minutiae over the summer, and I managed to perfect some things.

And so, I'll start sharing. 

Best Darned Barbecue Sauce
You'll never buy another bottle of sauce as long as you live.  Not. Even. Kidding.

1 Tablespoon Canola Oil
1/4 whole Onion, Diced
2 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 cup Ketchup
1/4 cup Packed Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons (additional) Brown Sugar
4 Tablespoons Distilled Vinegar (less To Taste)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 cup Molasses
1 Small Can of Chipotle Adobo Sauce (the adobo sauce chipotle peppers are packed in- just pull the peppers out, but for the love of all that is holy, do NOT lick your fingers. Trust me.)
Dash Of Salt

Heat canola oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for five minutes, stirring, being careful not to burn them. Reduce heat to low. Add all remaining ingredients and stir. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Best Darned Cookie:  Lemon White Chocolate Chip
If you need a wedding/baby shower cookie, this is your girl.  If you just need a good cookie, this is still your girl.

2-½ cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
½ teaspoons Baking Powder
1 cup Butter-Flavored Crisco
1-½ cup Sugar
1 Egg
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Zest of One Lemon
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Heavy Cream (up To 4 Tablespoons)
1 ½ cup White Chocolate Chips
Optional: Raw Sugar or Colored Sprinkles, For Sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients. Add enough of the cream to moisten the dough and make it soft, not wet. Mix in chocolate chips. Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place on a ungreased cookie sheet and slightly flatten the top of each cookie. Sprinkle with raw sugar or colored sprinkles.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly golden. Let stand for 2 minutes before removing to cool on a rack.

Best Darned Cookie #2:  Rolo Cookies
I found this one on Tasty Kitchen, and modified it a bit.  AC practiced her baking and her fractions by baking these babies.  You're welcome.

1 cup Sugar, Plus Extra To Roll Cookies In
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 cup Butter Or Margarine
2 teaspoons Vanilla
2 whole Eggs
2-½ cups Flour
¾ cups Unsweetened Cocoa
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
36 Rolos- unwrapped of course

Beat sugars and butter together until fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs; beat well. Add flour, cocoa, and soda. Mix well. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

Shape 1 tablespoon of dough around 1 Rolo (unwrapped, of course), covering it completely. Roll each ball in white granulated sugar.

Place the balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375ºF for 8–10 minutes.

There's more where these came from, and I'll share over the next few weeks.  I'm in a jambalaya coma right now.  Coach's college roommate, a native of Louisiana, gave me a Creole recipe.  I'm a little green on the whole Creole/Cajun thing, but I'm fascinated.  Apparently there is a whole controversy over using sausage or not, using butter or not, and using tomatoes or not.  And since I do love a good food-related fuss, I do see a cook-off in our future.  Anyway, more on the jambalaya later. 

In the meantime, go barbecue some chicken legs and eat some cookies.  You'll thank me later. 

See Y'all!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thus and Such

Because sometimes, the list is a God-send.

1.  I miss reading any old time I want to.  I did just finish a great read though.  I might have mentioned it a time or eighty.  Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  It made me fall in love with New York all over again, and re-emphasize my desire to live their, briefly, some day.  He's a little less committed to my NYC dreams.  Anyway, Rules of Civility is a must-read.  I reviewed it on BlogHer, so you can check out my full review here

2.  Someone is turning 11 this weekend.  Stop for awe and wonder.  We've been celebrating since April.  She loves a thorough baptism of celebration.  She also loves Lay's Potato Chips- plain.  She put them on her birthday list.  Along with a Nook, Tom's shoes, frozen yogurt gift cards.  Her list reminds me of a desperate grocery store purchase over the summer which included an Us Magazine, Stri-Dex, Kraft Caramels, Hebrew National Hot Dogs, nail polish, and some pickled relish.  It's like I was stricken with  the palsy.

3.  In honor of AC's birthday I am making a red velvet cake.  FROM A BOX.  I NEVER do that.  Really, I don't- it's a travesty.  It's like making Hamburger Helper and calling it dinner.  Hamburger Helper being scarfed down whilst standing in front of the fridge, however, is a totally different story.  Anyway, I had to make the hard decision between baking all day Saturday or floating in my float reading the books that are screaming to be opened from my Nook. So, box it is.  And honestly, it was really more a stress reliever because the amount of red food coloring that you have to put in a homemade cake just sends me over the edge.  And it reminds me of the bleeding armadillo groom's cake scene from Steel Magnolias.  So, box it is.

4.  We've been in school for 7 days.  That means 173 more to go before I am back on the beach on Hilton Head Island, and don't think for one minute that I am not keeping an up to the minute count down.

5.  And, speaking of countdowns, we are a mere 3 weeks away from this...

PRAISE GOD!  And I'm about to bust a stitch.  Marching bands, whistles, majorettes, Smokey, the smell of bourbon and body odor- well, I cannot wait.

6.  I love the song "Good Intentions" by Randy Travis.  It's exactly the right beat for my running speed.  Sad, but true.  AC/DC had to go off the old iPod a while ago after a sprained ankle, torn spandex, and a terribly bruised ego.  Anyway, I've been INTENDING to get a couple of posts up for a while.  This week I've jumped off the road to Hell and committed to it.  One on good anti-aging products.  And one I'm going to call "Best Darned" as in the best darned food in many categories that you've ever eaten.

Until then...

See y'all!