Are Your Kids Climbing the Walls? Holiday Inspiration May Keep Them Occupied

16 Jul

We’ve officially hit the point in the summer when my kids descend into endless bickering and I’m missing school like my skinny jeans. We’ve also hit the point when the heat keeps them inside most of the day, so burning off energy through play isn’t happening. It’s definitely time to break out the big guns.

Last year, during the Worst Summer Ever, my husband was gone for nearly a month. Keeping the Heathens entertained during all the calamity was a challenge, so I came up with “Holidays in Summer.” Basically, on each weekend, we would have a mini-holiday celebration (Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas). The idea was to give the kids something to look forward to and help plan. These celebrations included a special meal, a craft or activity, and holiday-appropriate movies. These scaled-down events ended up being a blast and the highlight of our summer. I also loved them because it gave me a chance to have small holiday experiences that did not involve the stress of hosting large gatherings. We have continued the tradition this year, and here’s how it’s going:

For the Halloween weekend, we made a pumpkin-shaped cake and got a bunch of snacks. For our craft, we made masks out of paper plates, paint, glitter, and popsicle sticks. Then, we watched scary movies and played with the glow necklaces I picked up for a buck. My husband was skeptical at first (especially when I broke out the glitter) but later admitted it was really fun.

For the Thanksgiving weekend, we made lovely Pilgrim hats (Ha-Ha!), and I cooked an extremely scaled-down version of the meal. We watched Charlie Brown and generally acted like sloths. The key to this one was to get the kids to help with the food, and we even used all of the Thanksgiving placemats and paraphernalia I have squirreled away.

We had to postpone the Christmas weekend due to a death in the family, but the plan is to decorate cookies, feast on appetizer-type stuff, have a small gift exchange (we drew names), and watch all our favorite movies.

So, if you feel like you may be one-less kid lest school start soon, try having a mini-Holiday. From the planning and shopping to the execution, they have something to focus on, even if it is brief and fleeting. If all else fails, put those boogers to work and sweat the whining right out of them.

Homemade Vanilla Extract and Why It Pays to Give Christmas a Passing Thought During Summer

14 Jun

It’s that time of year again. The time when I remind everyone that Christmas isn’t that far away, and it would behoove you to start thinking ahead. No, I am not one of those crazy Christmas people who count down the days like crazy. What I am is a mom on a severe budget, and I’ve learned that pushing off Christmas until Fall/Winter means that I end up stressed out and financially tapped out. While it does pay to wait in some cases so that you catch those holiday mega sales, your budget will thank you if you start the small gifts now. I try to knock out teacher gifts, neighbor gifts and some extended family gifts during the summer. Most of my smaller gifts are for this group are handcrafted, and by using those craft store coupons, I slowly put a major dent in that list. In the past, I’ve posted about some of my homemade gift ideas here, here, here, here, and my craft category is full of ideas too.

Today, the Heathens and I started homemade vanilla extract that will be used as teacher/neighbor gifts this year. If you are interested in this idea, start ASAP, as it really needs five or six months to marinate.

This is about the easiest, kid-friendly activity you can do. All you need are some glass bottles, vanilla beans, and vodka (the cheap, rot-gut, can-double-as-gasoline stuff…don’t waste good hooch here).

I picked up a bunch of bottles at my local craft store using coupons to get the already cheap price tag even cheaper. Looking at the size, I figured three vanilla beans per jar would suffice:

Better to have too much vanilla bean than too little. The kids were able to distribute the vanilla beans among the jars, so they got to feel some ownership in their teacher gifts.

**A quick word on buying vanilla beans. Your local grocery store is the MOST expensive place to purchase these!!! If you live around a specialty spice store or a World Market store, you’ll find better prices. Ordering online is a good option, but it pays to look around a bit. Don’t believe me? Two vanilla beans at my supermarket cost about $9.99, while World Market sells them for $2.99 (and I had a coupon for them too). See? Shop smart!**

Anyway, then I (not the kids, so don’t freak) poured vodka into the jars until the beans were covered. The kids closed the jars and we were done! Three minutes of effort:

And we got six teacher gifts that stayed firmly within my budget. Better yet, come December, that’s one less thing I’ll have to worry about. We are storing these in a cool, dark cabinet, and once a week, we will give them a quick shake just to keep things going. By Christmas, the vodka will be dark brown and infused with vanilla. We will do up some cute labels on the computer, and maybe pair them with a set of measuring spoons if I have any extra money in the budget by then. If not, no biggie. Regardless, we have a handmade gift that my kids helped create and will feel excited about. It also helps reinforce to them that it really is the thought that counts and that there is more care in “doing” than in “buying.”

So, what’s the moral of the story? Even if you aren’t particularly crafty, nearly every major craft store chain has weekly coupons of 40% to 50% a single item, so you can still pick up stuff on the cheap, including things like kids’ art supplies, home décor stuff, picture frames, and more.

Now, back to beating the heat with cocktails, fun times, and trashy TV that I’ll never admit to actually watching.

Breaking the Cooking Rut—or “No, This Still Isn’t a Restaurant, So Get Over It”

19 May

With all of the chaos of the move, I have been in a big-time cooking rut. I can’t entirely blame the move, however. Though they continue to improve, my kids are still extremely picky eaters. Together, they only have about 3-4 meals each that they actually “love,” and like any kid, they are prone to decide they don’t like something before they even try it. Every day, when I pick them up from school, they ask what’s for dinner before their butts hit the car seat. If my answer isn’t one of these 3-4 meals, I get the long-suffering groans and the sad, disappointed faces. Let me tell you, that wouldn’t inspire anyone to hop in the kitchen and cook. It’s hard to make the effort sometimes when you know dinner will be a fight of me watching them push the food around their plates with frowns on their faces. Despite this daily battle, I’m still holding fast to my philosophy that this is not a dang restaurant. Every meal is not going to be custom-tailored to special snowflake taste-buds, and they’ve been told repeatedly to build a bridge and get the heck over it.

My husband is also fairly picky, though he swears he is not. However, he hates onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green onions, squash, zucchini, spinach, shrimp, gnocchi, artichokes, mushrooms, and quite a few other things. So, yeah…But, he at least always is up for trying something new…except for the aforementioned items, of course.

So, to get out of my cooking rut, I decided that I would try at least one new recipe every day this week. Last night, I experimented and made Korean Beef Tacos with a Cucumber-Carrot Slaw to go on top. Though the kids balked at the cucumbers, they did eat the beef, and my husband and I loved the tacos as a whole. I wish I was able to take pictures, but after just getting off of a 15-hour bus ride for a school trip, my husband and Heathens were hungry, and I wasn’t about to test their patience with a photo shoot. I also made bread pudding for the hubby (as seen above), and topped it with Whiskey Sauce:

slice

This was my first foray into bread pudding, and I used this recipe as a baseline. Overall, it was okay, but we decided it definitely needs some tweaking. My husband said it needed more raisins and cinnamon, and maybe a bit more time to set up before serving. However, the recipe itself was a good starting point. The whiskey sauce is awesome, but if you’re sensitive to hooch, I’d cut it down a bit…we are not so afflicted, however.

So, all week I will be plowing through new recipes, and getting my kitchen mojo back. The Heathens may riot before the week is out, or they may actually try something new and like it.

*Oh the horror!*

G-Man is 12!

14 May

G-Man is 12 today. How in the hell did that happen?!? Just yesterday, Demon-Baby was terrorizing us to the point of me begging for a priest and some holy water. Today, I have a (are you f-ing kidding me?!) pre-teen who is just shy of high school and whose feet are bigger than mine.

I’m going to hide now and pretend he’s still 5.

 

Back On the Wagon—Rebooting Wellness, Roasted Tomatoes, and Why I Do NOT Need Cheese Grits Today

13 May

Waaaayyy back in the day, I decided to get less fat, and after about a year of hard work, I was rocking jeans I hadn’t worn since early high school. I was proud, and life was great. But then, I got pregnant with Bean. And then I decided to work from home as a freelance writer. And then I moved. And then…well, you get the idea. I’ve tried to reboot my level-headed, not-too-difficult diet/fitness efforts along the way, even going so far as to be able to run 5K on the treadmill without wanting to kill myself, but I’ve always fallen short of sticking with it the way I used to. Running everyday is kind of pointless if you are just going to replace those calories with whiskey, wine, and any food that holds still long enough for you to eat it.

So, after much reflection, I realized it’s time to get back on track. My pants are getting a little too snug after a month of eating out and drinking like a fish. I’m re-introducing my sloth-like body to the concept of exercise (hopefully in a way that won’t send it whimpering in defeat), and making smarter choices, even if they are small ones. Last night, instead of partaking in the “pizza” aspect of our Steakhouse Pizza, I grilled my portion of steak and then got creative:

I tossed some cherry tomatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of honey. I added a little salt and pepper and roasted these bad boys at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. Here’s what I got:

Sweet, savory, with a hint of carmelization, thus proving that my success with introducing more veggies or savory fruits increases when the foods in question are roasted. This was a nice little side dish to my steak that was so flavorful and filling, I didn’t miss the crust/cheese one bit (ok, maybe a little bit, but not as much as I feared).

As I was eating, however, I had to remind myself that dumping these over cheese grits would probably defeat the “healthier eating” purpose.

But, if that’s your thing, can I at least smell your breath?

Coming Out of The Dark…Or “Smack Me Upside The Head If I Mention Moving Anytime In The Next Decade”

12 May

one

At the beginning of the year, we set a goal to sell our house and purchase a new home that was better for our family. As much as I loved our house, the layout was impractical for our kids (especially with a soon-to-be teenager), and the utility costs of a poorly insulated, 100 year-old home were threatening to sink us. Within a week of New Year’s, we launched “Operation Sell The House 2014.”

I think moving is kind of like child birth in that you tend to block out how horrible and traumatic it was the last time, because if you didn’t, you would never, ever do it again. As my OCD-ish tendencies demanded, I attacked the selling/buying/moving process with an intensity that my husband frustratingly refers to as my “tunnel vision.” We cleaned, packed, and staged like our lives depended on it. While I will spare you the details, I feel like the last four months have been a marathon of work, stress, upheaval, tears, frustration, and ultimately success. We sold our house quickly, and despite the frustrations of just getting to the closing table, came away happy.

Thus began the frantic marathon of house showings to find a new house, and the debates of budget, neighborhood, and deal-breaker priorities. We finally found a great house in a great neighborhood, successfully executed the move, and have slowly been settling in. That’s the tough part about moving though–life doesn’t stop or give you a vacation to get it done. We still had school projects, business trips, and for me, trying to keep my freelance clients happy. Add cranky-pants Bean into the mix and yeah…just yeah. But we got it done, so everything should be awesome.

051214_1425_ComingOutof2.png

However, months of being surrounding by boxes and chaos have taken their toll on me. Instead of being happy and excited in our new house, I’ve felt overwhelmed and unsettled by all of the work still left to do. I am so ready for everything to be “done” already! When you are already neurotic and high-strung, feeling like everything is in a state of chaos is alternately depressing and paralyzing. First, we had a couple of unexpected surprises, like a dishwasher that requires immediate replacement because it sounds like an F5 tornado and leaves the dishes looking worse than they were before. Unpacking and organizing seems to progress at a snail’s pace, and we still have a lot of organizing ahead of us before we can declare unpacking complete. My dad reminded me that moving is one of the top four most stressful life experiences, and that it will probably take a year before the house feels like home. So, I get why the frustration lingers. After months of being in “project survival mode,” I am still struggling to get back in to “living normally” mode. Our schedules have changed, as has our neighborhood, and we are adjusting to 1000 changes to all those little routines, from grocery shopping to bill paying. Heck, even my email address had to change, so it’s no wonder I’m a little frayed around the edges.

As unsettled as I have been, I’m still grateful we pulled it off and am looking forward to “normal” day.

Ha! Like anything is ever normal in our house:photo 3

Selling a House, Buying a House—Which is Going to Be More Difficult?

21 Feb

After weeks of small projects, our house is officially on the market. Within two days, we had our first showing, and we have an open house this weekend. Guess who is going to be cleaning like a madwoman for the next three days?

Do you know how hard it is to keep a house “show ready” with three kids, one of which is a toddler of terror? Yeah…there isn’t enough hooch in the world to take the edge off on that one. You’ll be peeling me off the ceiling before the month is out.

Now, the great part about this much activity early on in the listing process is that it has made me feel better about getting the house sold, which I always imagined would be the hardest part.

However, we have now come to the part where I’m panicking…because finding a house WE want to buy is proving to be more difficult than I thought. Sure, I can find perfect, beautiful houses, but they are four times outside of our budget. This is the plight of all house hunters…our eyes are always bigger than our wallets. However, beyond the budget issue, my husband and I are starting to have a crisis of priorities/needs/wants/desires. When we first started our search, I THOUGHT I had a pretty firm idea about what we wanted. Newer, with a more modern, open concept layout, a remote master bedroom, a great kitchen and some modicum of energy efficiency. I want that open concept because it is more conducive to family living, instead of me being across the entire house cooking while everyone else is visiting in the living room. Sounds easy to find, right?

Mwhahahah!

Here’s the problem: everything that matches this criteria, in our price range, in our area, is in new subdivisions with small yards and a little too much Stepford sprinkled in for my husband. He has visions of land dancing in his head, but I’ve been firmly on the bandwagon of finding a home that’s better for our kids’ everyday lives, and that isn’t a project for us that we will never have time or funds to complete. We keep going back and forth over price, location, priorities and arguing about how to find a compromise.

Here’s what’s not helping matters…the reality that we are leaving a house we love is starting to hit home, and as much as I wasn’t opposed to the subdivision idea, I am starting to remember why I fell in love with THIS house. Its historic southern charm reeled me in and still tugs at me. I can’t find that kind of character in a subdivision. I spend hours on the front porch, and the kitchen has MY stove, the bathroom as MY bathtub and the attic is perfect storage for my ba-gillion square feet of holiday decorations. It’s so close to everything, our commute is miniscule and the excess of windows keeps this house bright and light all the time.

But, even as I love our house, I hate it too. I hate that the boys have to walk through my bedroom to get to theirs. I hate my electric bill. I hate that summer weekends mean hours upon hours of yard work for my husband. I hate that I spend too much time refereeing between my boys over who made what mess in their shared room. It’s the perfect house…it’s just not perfect for where we are in life right now.

So, after weeks of searching, we are back at square one trying to find the balance between what we want and what we can afford. How we will find the home that will be ours until the kids graduate? We’ll keep looking, but if our house sells before we find another, we may be renting until we do.

I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but in the meantime, cross your fingers and hope that this weekend’s open house leads to someone falling in love with this home as much as we are. If they do, drinks are on me…or my realtor J

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