My mom adventures in Fort Collins


Getting crafty: Homemade Playdough
March 28, 2012, 1:40 am
Filed under: Crafting, Family | Tags: , , , , ,

This one is especially for RFL, but I thought it would be a fun post for all. Today we made some fresh playdough to upgrade our supply.

A disheveled helper showing you her Kool Aid packet (and yes, she's wearing Christmas jammies, don't judge)

I give you the world’s easiest (and best smelling) homemade playdough.

Ingredients:

2 ½ Cups All-purpose flour

2 Packages Kool Aid

½ cup salt

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups boiling water

Directions:

Mix in order (dry ingredients first, then add oil, then add water).

That big ball of dough should come out looking something like this (we used Grape flavored Kool Aid)

 A few thoughts: I use bleached flour for this, in the hopes that it picks up more of the pigment from the Kool Aid (not sure if it actually has any impact on the hue, though). Use the old school Kool Aid, not the sugar-free kind. Since the recipe requires the use of boiling water, I let my kids do all the mixing until that point (though other recipes I have found actually make it on the stove-top, so you pick your non-kid-friendly approach). Once you stir in the water, it will look kinda wonky. Let it cool a bit more, and then knead it to fully integrate all the ingredients. Also, you will find that since there is a fair bit of vegetable oil in it, that your playing surface may take on a greasy sheen. If that bothers you, cover your table with one of those wipe-off picnic table table-cloths. The upshot of all the oil is that this stuff stays pliable for a long time. I think the last batch I made was last summer, and kept in a cheap-o air tight container, it has kept amazingly well. The only other down side is that if you want a variety of colors, that’s going to be more difficult. You could definitely half the recipe and make two batches with two different Kool Aid packets, though.

Happy playing, folks!

Enjoying the finished product



On making friends as a grown-up
March 27, 2012, 1:59 am
Filed under: Family | Tags: , , , ,

There is something very strange about making friends as an adult. Maybe it’s just me. I found this to be especially true when I became a stay-at-home-mom and there was no longer a unifying force driving me into the friendship: no co-workers, no fellow students, no membership to a jelly-of-the-month club that keeps you in touch. You have to rely on your wits, don’t you? I’m out there, on my own, trying to use the sunny disposition that God gave me to win the love and affection of a stranger. It’s humbling.

My life since moving to Fort Collins has been an experiment in making new friendships. It’s a paradox. Right now is the precise time in my life when I would most benefit from something as simple as sharing a sweet bit of dialogue with another living, breathing human being over the age of thirty. It is also the time in my life when I cannot feasibly have a decent, uninterrupted conversation without neglecting two small children.

Another interesting aspect to this whole quandary is that I get to watch my two daughters experiment with this at the same time. I have observed the interactions between toddlers and preschoolers in the play arena.

My test subject, toddler

Apparent criteria for friendship when you are a toddler:

  1. You are also a toddler.
  2. You have cool stuff and you let me touch it.
  3. You have awesome snacks and you don’t bite me if I steal them.

    My test subject, preschooler

Apparent criteria for friendship when you are a preschooler:

  1. You are somewhere around my age, but not as young as my younger sibling. (However, you can be a baby. I will definitely get down in the face of a small infant and touch his impeccable face and hands with my grimey germy mitts.)
  2. We speak the same language, and even if we don’t it’s probably not a big deal.
  3. If I am a girl and you are a girl, we’re cool. If I am a boy and you are a boy, we’re cool. And sometimes this doesn’t matter at all.

Using my powers of inductive reasoning, I’d say that toddlers and preschoolers are generally open-minded, flexible people when it comes to making friends. They don’t require a litany of prerequisites to get to work in the sandbox with someone. They put little emphasis on outward appearances, and they don’t care where you went to school, who your employer is, what your political leanings are, or even whether or not you’re potty-trained.

Thing is, I’m pretty much already doing what they’re doing. I’m open, I’m flexible, and I rarely ask investigative questions of a would-be-friend. Some of my closest friends in the local area are people I have met through other friends. I’ve also met a number of really fabulous people through Scout’s preschool. But, sure, I’ve had my random hook-ups. I started out in Fort Collins with a mom’s group that I just never quite clicked with (after being invited by a sweet mom I’d met at a park), I picked up another mom at the park, and another woman and I met by way of my older daughter’s dance class.

When you meet people through chance encounter, you don’t really get a buffer zone. I’ll explain what I mean by “buffer zone.” When you’re in college, you might nod your head in agreement with a classmate a few times before actually bridging the gap to take it to the next level of small talk, and then bump it up to grabbing coffee or something. When you are a mom picking up another mom at the park, the stakes are high. It’s all, “Do you want to hang out again?” You’re not going to say, “Want to meet back here in a week or two and we can just be in the same place together and I can continue to get a feel for you from afar?” The only thing I could compare it to is a blind date. You get to the end of your time at the park, and I feel a definite sense of, “Is she into me? Because I’m kinda into her. Should I just ask her out or wait for her to make the next move?”

My children pose an added difficulty. I want a friendship that works for my kids. It becomes increasingly important that I enjoy spending time with my kids’ friends’ parents, and that my kids like my friends’ kids. As much as I would love to branch out, at this point in my life almost all of my local girlfriends have small children that are my kids’ playmates. I still have my “old friends” that I can call and chat with, even visit with on occasion. Not all of these “old friends” fall into this category of being a mom of small children, but some do.

As I grow older, I want something different out of a friendship. Companionship, laughter, the ability to simply be present. You don’t have to entertain me, and I sure don’t care what kind of housekeeper you are. In a perfect world, I want what I can’t have: I want to have the security and unconditional love of an old friendship that has seen me through it all (and vice versa), but I want the proximity of a new friendship. It feels too weird to put an ad like that on Craigslist.

What do you do? I’d love to hear how your grown-up friendships have flourished. Or maybe you can just commiserate with me.



Dear Lent, a confession

I’d like to give a public progress report of my lenten resolutions. I gave up facebook for Lent, and this is something that I’d done the past two years. This year, I decided to ratchet things up a notch if you’ll remember. I gave myself the additional ascetic observances of only an hour per day of internet time and restricting my consumerism.

On the logging off facebook front, I’m pleased to say that has been a major success. I did realize recently that I changed my fb password prior to Ash Wednesday, and I now have no clue what I changed it to. Hopefully it’s safe in my cookies. The hope with giving up fb was that I would make more of an attempt to connect with others through email, phone calls and snail mail. I’ve sent several cards and letters since lent began. However, there are several friends that I have had on my list to “catch up” with for a long time, and I’ve still yet to call them. Grade: B

Now, as for the time I spend on the internet, that’s a tougher claim. Though I did completely log off for the entirety of my week in Sedona (and I figured out how to post in the future—or, rather, set my account to post for me), I’m afraid an hour a day is probably a far cry from what I’ve actually done each day. I justify it by doing most of my online time after the kids are asleep, but nonetheless, I’ll try to work on this for the remaining two weeks of lent (and, really, I should probably work on this for life). Pinterest is easy enough, but it’s wordpress that is my new time suckage. There’s just so much to read! So much to enjoy! I can’t help myself. Grade: C-

The most challenging lenten resolution of the bunch is my self-imposed task of restricting my purchases. This is actually a bit pathetic. I’m sorry to say that the thought doesn’t even enter my head when I’m in the store, being lured by luxuries such as a microplane (I did buy this, but I justified it by buying it for my mom for her birthday). Also, we went to Trader Joe’s, and I cannot restrict myself when I see things in this store. Since my last visit to TJ’s was two years ago, I justified it. I did buy two books for myself (justified since I couldn’t wait out the hold list at the library), and I bought some Easter gifts on Amazon. I can honestly say I was a complete failure at the grocery store as well. When Simply Orange is on sale, I cannot resist the urge to stockpile. It’s in my blood. The upshot of all my purchases is that our refrigerator now runs more efficiently. Grade: F

Honestly, the point of all of this is to remind myself of the lenten season, to appeal to my own interest in living a value-oriented life and reconnect with my catholic heritage. Since lent began, I have not gone to church. I have not opened the Bible. I have prayed. I have considered joining a church, but the only remotely religious appeal I have made is opening up this book I had bought long ago. I did this yesterday, so it’s not exactly something I’ve been working on all through lent. All Saintsis a book organized into daily mini-biographies of inspiring individuals from history. Some of these folks are Catholic, but many are not. As luck would have it (and if you are like many people I know, you would call this a “sign”), the biography for yesterday, March 24, was that of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I don’t know if there is any single person in history that could make me feel more proud of being a Catholic. So there’s that. I still have two weeks left of lent to work on this aspect. But I have been reinvigorated by the words of Archbishop Romero many times.

Icon from bridgebuilding.com

I leave you with this, the prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, martyred in 1980 while saying mass in El Salvador:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Amen.



Sometimes you just get lucky
March 23, 2012, 6:33 am
Filed under: Family | Tags: , , , , ,

Several years ago, my friend Beth told me this story about how she found a thousand dollars in cash. It was autumn, and she was walking home. As she walked along, she was swinging her feet through the piles of leaves that had accumulated along the sidewalk. She literally stumbled into a dirty, rubber-banded stack of bills. Fairly certain that this money was not the milk-money of a quiet suburban housefrau, she figured that the money was hers. Good, bad, whatever, the money was hers. She chose to look at it as providence, and it made a few different travel arrangements possible for her at a time in her life when she was broke, lived far from her family and desperately wanted to see them.

Personally, I haven’t ever experienced luck like this. Well, not exactly. There was the time I watched the documentary about “The Secret” (you know, the book that Oprah popularized a while ago). The film spoke about the laws of attraction, and mentioned specifically that if you want your finances to improve you need to picture money arriving in your hand. I did that for a day or two, and then a few days later we got a $300 refund from Verizon. I wanted to believe that I had stumbled upon a magic genie, but either I lost the determination to keep visualizing the copious amounts of cash rolling in or the checks dried up.

But in general, I don’t consider myself lucky. True, my life has been blessed with good health, fun adventures, and lovely people I hold dear, but in the traditional sense of winning bingo, leaving with a door prize, or even coming up with a $5 win on a scratch-off, not so much.

In any case, what happened to me tonight seems way better than $300 from Verizon.

Tonight was a small miracle for my little girl. After all the anxiety of the past week, where the mere mention of swimming lessons would send her into a puddle of tears, she went—willingly—to her swimming lesson. Despite protests earlier today when she claimed she would just sit on the sidelines and watch her sister’s lesson, she did actively participate in her lesson. I watched happily from the bleachers. I seriously couldn’t believe my eyes.

How did something that prompted such worry and so many tears suddenly become a non-issue? Do I question it, or do I just embrace it? I’m positive that the issues with her fears, worries and anxiety have not simply disappeared, but for a night they were transformed. When we left the pool, she said to me, “Mom, I really liked my swimming lesson.” I still get all smiley just thinking about it.Image



Kitchen Success: Quiche
March 21, 2012, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , ,

I’m so delighted to say that today was a much better day in mommyhoodland. Reading this post late last night was medicine for me. I don’t know if the sunshine today helped console me, but it sure didn’t hurt. We are still at an impasse regarding swimming lessons, but I have decided to drop it. Time to relax. And have a glass of vino. Anyway, thought I’d share this easy peasy recipe that you can doctor as you wish.

This dish is made more fun if you pronounce it “Quickie,” as my husband does.

This one was just gruyere cheese and broccoli

I loosely follow my ol’ gal Betty’s recipe on this, but the quiche is meant to be messed with. Toss in what you have on hand, and make things up as you go along. The quiche will not let you down. While not totally without its time-consuming effort, it is worth it. Everytime I make a quiche, it looks like such hard work but it really wasn’t. I make it for breakfast when people are coming so that they think I went all out for them. Such a fun trick to play on them.

Ingredients:

Pie crust—1 c flour, 1/3 cup plus 1 T shortening, ½ t salt, 1 T cold water (or slightly more if needed)

Filling—4 eggs, 2 cups heavy whipping cream or half-and-half (or some mixture of the two), 1 cup shredded cheese, ¼ cup onion, ½ t salt, ¼ t black pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and some other veggies or meat (like broccoli, bacon, ham, roasted red peppers, chorizo, spinach, mushrooms, etc.)

Bowl o' dough, with messy pastry blender (and you can see Betty guiding me)

Step one: Make the pie crust (or skip this step entirely and use a store-bought crust)

In a big bowl, mix the flour, shortening and salt together with a pastry blender (or you can use two butter knives and criss-cross them again and again, which I did for years until I bought a pastry blender). When your flour-shortening mixture looks like sand crumbles, add the water and mix until you form a dough ball. Wrap that in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge while you work on the rest of the stuff.

Step two: Prepare the filling and pre-heat oven to 425

Shred cheese. (I like swiss or gruyere in a quiche because it browns up nice and integrates nicely into the creamy texture of the dish, but you can absolutely use whatever you have on hand.) Chop onion finely. (You can even shred this if you feel like it.) If using bacon or sausage in this dish, you’ll want to cook it and crumble it first. Chop veggies (if using) small. If you fear your chosen veggie may impart too much moisture (like mushrooms or green peppers), you can always sautee them first. In another bowl, lightly beat your eggs before adding the whipping cream/half-and-half and spices. Have all this stuff at the ready, because you’ll fill that pie after you roll out that pie crust.

Step three: Roll out the pie crust

Get the lump of dough out of the refrigerator and get yourself a pie plate, some more plastic wrap, a rolling pin, and a clean, spacious surface area to work on. I personally hate working with pie crust dough, so I roll it between two sheets of plastic wrap. Seems like cheating, but who cares? Not the person eating my delicious quiche. You put that rolled out pie crust into the pie plate and do some rearranging as needed. Pick up an extra flap from over here, add it to the lacking area over there, you catch my drift? No need to make it perfect, but you want the pie crust to cover the pie plate entirely.

My pie crust between two sheets of cellophane. Do you see how sad and un-circular it looks? Doesn't matter! Tastes deeeelish!

Step four: Add filling and bake

You’ll dump your cheese, onions, meats and veggies in the pie plate first, then pour the egg mixture on top of that. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 300 and bake another 30 minutes. Check to see that a knife poked into the center of the quiche comes out clean, and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Voila! Breakfast, lunch OR dinner is served.

Doesn't it look pretty?

Plus, this keeps well. Let it cool completely, keep in pie plate with plastic wrap in the fridge for two or three days. Warm individual slices in the microwave for 1 minute.



A few things I’m loving right now

Today was probably the most difficult parenting day I’ve ever had. I’ll be able to post on it sometime, but right now I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what happened and how we move forward. But the gist of it is that I cannot figure out how to lovingly deal with my 4-year-old’s anxiety level. Rather than picking apart the day from Hades, I think I will dwell on the things in my life that are making me happy lately. Yes, THINGS. As a mom I’m so programmed to just (supposedly) reap joy from being in the presence of these (mostly) delightful little people, that I tend to ignore simple materialistic pleasures. But, hey, sometimes those simple pleasures are what gets you through the day.

From lunch.com

Trader Joe’s Marcona Almonds:You’re going to think that I’m making this up, but Colorado has no Trader Joe’s. It’s weird. Actually, it’s annoying and silly, but I guess one is coming to Boulder soon. Nevertheless, when we made a day trip to Scottsdale and Phoenix during our recent Arizona trip, I had to stop by and wander the aisles a bit. I found these. Almonds are really lovely in general, but these are ratcheting up the fancy-ness level a bit. And I like it.

Photo submitted by Marc, on awkwardfamilyphotos.com

Awkward Family Photos:If you have never been to this site, go now. It’s nothing but guaranteed laughter. Possibly for hours. I discovered it right around Christmas, and their countdown to the best holiday card photo was pretty fantastic.

From talentigelato.com

Talenti Gelato:I stumbled on this because it was a “manager’s special” deal, and I think I’m in love. It comes in this cute tub. Though it’s true I’ve yet to meet an ice cream that I’d turn away, I certainly have my favorites. This is not only delicious, it just looks so pretty. It sits in my freezer saying, “Hey there, after you’ve finished your wine, how about we take a minute together?”

Downton Abbey poster from imdb.com

Downton Abbey: I know, I know, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon. But seriously, some things are worth jumping on the bandwagon. This period piece of a family of British aristocrats and their servants is so engrossing, it makes me want to go to England, ride horses and ring a bell to call for my lady’s maid.

The Two of Us: This song came on the radio while we were riding home from Arizona. My husband and I like to joke that we have to go for a ride in the car—all four of us—for the two of us to have any alone time. It’s weird, sharing the front half of the car is definitely a place where we can talk and catch up. When this song came on, we both looked at one another. “We’re on our way home… We’re going home.” It was auspicious.

From insidemovies.ew.com

The Hunger Games: Again, bandwagon. Plus, I’m late to it. Yet, Katniss Everdeen and I really bonded over the last week and a half. I still have to read Mockingjay, so I can’t be fully accepted into the tribe just yet. For me, this book series was the palate cleanser that I needed to get me reading again. I’d been in a slump lately, and this makes me feel rejuvenated. Yes, I can read. I can even read more than one book in a week (I don’t expect that to happen again anytime  soon).

 What are some things that you are enjoying right now?



Ahhh… Vacation
March 20, 2012, 4:33 am
Filed under: Family, Just making conversation | Tags: , , , , ,

**While reading this post, I strongly urge you to hum  the Lindsay Buckingham tune “Holiday Road,” which appeared in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation.**

From Bear Mountain (Truth be told, I totally didn't do this hike. Photo by Cory)

We recently spent a week in Sedona. Spring Break, actually. It’s funny, even though Scout is only in pre-school three days a week, I still find myself not wanting to pull her out of school. So, it’s dawning on me that I will likely not be taking a vacation other than during school break times for the next fifteen years or so. Eh. As long as I get a vacation.

In true Griswald fashion, we drove all the way from Fort Collins. It’s about 14 hours drive time, accounting for stops to fill up. We took interstate until Flagstaff, Arizona (which is gorgeous in its own right), then from Flagstaff to Sedona is a breath-taking (Is it okay to say “breath-taking”? It really is stunning, I swear.) drive down Oak Creek Canyon that is probably only twenty-some miles, but takes a while because it’s basically all switchbacks. Our drive was pretty uneventful. Just the way I like it. As long as I can handle the dvd player , then Cory can handle the driving. I read nearly the entire first book of The Hunger Games on the ride. Overall, I’m a huge fan of traveling with kids the fastest way possible (that’d be teleporter, but darn it if ours wasn’t broken), but at this awkward toddler stage, it is nice to have the freedom to stop when we need to. Plus, my husband claims he loves to drive and I know it’s easier on his anxiety level.

Is there anything that says "vacation" more than a margarita? (Photo by Scout)

If Virginia is for lovers, then Sedona is for families. This was our third time staying in Sedona. Over the course of the past four years, we’ve gone once at the end of May, once in early August, and now mid-March. For weather, it really depends on what you’re after. I loved the weather when we went in August—still plenty hot, but not nearly as hot as Phoenix. But that kind of weather is awful for hiking, unless you’re my husband who relishes getting up at 4:30 am to hike for the sunrise photos. For us, this springtime weather of low-70s during the day (cooling off significantly at night) suited us just fine. If you’ve never been, you might think that it’s all red rocks and new age communes. Not so, I say. Sedona is such a fun spot, very low-key, very family-friendly. If you love to hike, this is a fabulous destination. Trails are a lot of fun for families, although you could find a challenge if you wanted to. Our kids did well. We chose hikes that were not a big deal in terms of elevation gain, but had some fun features—rock formations to look at, a creek to run through, a canyon arch to see. It’s all there. And certainly, if my four-year-old had wanted to find a source of spiritual enlightenment, I’m sure we could have done that, too. Ah, the vortex will still be there next time.

Just a suggestion: Don't dress your kid in a Red Sox shirt on a hike unless you want every person that passes you to ask, "Oh, are you from Boston?"

It’s funny. Before the trip, I went to the eye doctor and we were making small talk and I mentioned going to Sedona. She was like, “Oh, I don’t like the desert.” The good doctor went on to say she’d never actually been to the desert, and she’s sure she’ll go someday, but she just doesn’t see the appeal. As she tells it, she’s from the midwest. She likes trees. Well, sister, I’m from the midwest. I, too, like trees. (And actually the desert, at least the desert you drive through in Arizona and New Mexico, has trees.) But I find it odd that a person would just sort of lump all categories of “desert” into this big steaming heap of crap. How odd. Anyway, I digress.

Just some more of that boring ol' desert (And I should say, this is one of Cory's photos from last summer since I don't have any good ones taken with my 10 year old Canon. Shocker.)

When we travel with the kids, we prefer to go out for breakfast or lunch, as opposed to dinner. Number one, when on vacation we like to have a beer (or two, or three…) and it’s nice to not have to drive anywhere in the evenings. Number two, we’ve always stayed at a place that has a kitchen, but even better, the resort has all these grilling stations strategically placed throughout the property with great views. (Cook a chicken breast, catch a breathtaking sunset. It’s a nice combo.) And number three, our kids just generally do better with the whole restaurant etiquette earlier in the day when they’re not as whiney, tired and hungry. As an added bonus, lunch and breakfast tend to be less expensive than dinner, so there’s that.

I love that when I checked out the photos that Scout had taken with the camera, I found this one she took of her shadow. Stinkin' cute.

The family vacay is such a fun time for us. I know we’re lucky because my husband works from home and I stay-at-home, so my kids don’t really understand that many families juggle their family-time so differently than we do. But there’s just something different about being away from it all, enjoying new experiences together. My husband is the kind of person that can’t sit still when he’s at home because he’s always thinking about things he needs to do. When we’re away, he’s so relaxed. And therefore, I’m so relaxed. (See how that works?) And while I could never say that my kids are “a dream” to travel with, I think for being 2 and 4 they do all right. There’s no way to eliminate all variables when you travel, so you do the best you can.

This photo is really just to prove that Cory and Ruby were there with us too

I’d love to hear people’s suggestions for family vacations. Where are some fun spots that we shouldn’t miss? Where are you planning your next vacation? Any travel tips for the pre-school set?