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March 30, 2012

Works for Me Weekends: Appetizers for Supper

With few exceptions, I make all the food we eat. Breakfasts are usually comprised of warm cereal with eggs or cottage cheese. Lunches alternate between fresh veggies and sandwiches. And I cook the vast majority of our main dishes as "from scratch" as I can. Every meal is served with fresh fruit.

While I love the satisfaction of taking care of my family and myself in the kitchen, by the time the weekend rolls around, I'm usually ready for a break.

Most Saturdays we eat out for lunch. And I've started doing something new the past few Saturday evenings...serving appetizers for supper.

It definitely feels great to mix up the routine, and -- since we've usually had a larger-than-average lunch -- it just seems to hit the spot, too.

Here are a few of the standards that we mix and match...

Shrimp cocktail...boiled shrimp, served with extra-spicy cocktail sauce and fresh lemon.
Salami or summer sauce, served with sliced cheese and crackers.
Fresh veggies and dip.
Spinach and artichoke dip with veggies or crackers.
Stuffed eggs.
Some variation of cream cheese-based spread, like cucumber-garlic, or Cajun crab.

If I'm feeling fancy, I occasionally make stuffed mushrooms. A couple of weeks ago I made Maryland crab shells with phyllo dough, and they were delish.

One of our very favorites is homemade guacamole. I got this recipe several years ago from one of my very favorite New York City restaurants, Dos Caminos. They're known for their tableside guacamole preparation, and they have magnets at the door with the recipe.

As written:

2 Tbsp. cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 tsp. yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tsp. jalapeno, minced
2 large ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
2 Tbsp. plum tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
2 tsp. lime juice, freshly squeezed
Kosher or coarse salt

For us, per two avocados:

I LOVE cilantro, and I use about 1/2 a bunch. I use a small onion, or 1/2 of a large, very finely diced. I start with one jalapeno, not seeded, finely diced. Peppers are hard to predict...sometimes one jalapeno makes it pretty spicy; sometimes I need to add another. I mash those ingredients together, along with my diced avocado, until I get a chunky texture. I gently stir in tomatoes, the juice from 1/2 a lime, and more sea salt than I'm willing to measure.

Pardon my poor attempt at food photography (where is the focus in this picture???)...but even this picture makes my mouth water!


Served with chips...or pretzels...or crostini...ahhhhh-MAZE-ing!!!

Whatever the combination of appetizers, I serve it with fresh fruit, or a fresh fruit salad.

Relatively speaking, I love to sit back, relax, and enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary meal.

***

I'm linking up with my sweet friend Marcia at 123 Blog today for her monthly Creativity Challenge. I love getting *creative* in the kitchen!

Fab Friday!

Thankful for lots of fabulous stuff, sprinkled throughout this beautiful week!

1) Last Saturday, I was explaining to the girls that a lot of people were watching basketball that day. Why not football? Baby A asked. Be still my Southern heart!

2) We were at lunch last weekend, and we saw a ~two-year old drinking soda. “Mommy! That baby is drinking soda!” B LOUDLY exclaimed. “Babies need milk!!!” And later in the week, while we were grocery shopping, B noticed a baby teething on an actual set of keys (not plastic toy ones). “That baby has keys in her mouth! Keys don't belong in babies' mouths!” Yes, Baby Police, on patrol.

3) I took the girls to lunch on Wednesday…all by myself. I have done that once before, and it was “OK”…not great, certainly not relaxing, but “OK”. This week I was just feeling brave, and oddly calm. I chose our favorite pizza place downtown. It has a relaxed, shabby-chic atmosphere, but without too many distractions. (Maybe that was part of my challenge with the Mexican restaurant before…too much going on???) The girls were amazing! We had to wait a little longer than I anticipated for our food, but they were so patient! We mostly talked about the artwork on the walls, and it somehow held their attention. They waited nicely for me to cut our pizza, and then they ate like champs. I truly had such a fun time…I’d almost call it relaxing, even!

4) On Wednesday afternoon, we needed to pick up our remaining items from the consignment sale I participated in. I only had two bags (woo hoo!), so the girls and I made two short trips to the car. Afterwards, we walked to the edge of the parking lot, which borders a pasture. We’d seen a horse there once before…and to our delight, there was a little boy feeding the horse apples. He invited us to stand beside him at the fence, and the girls were enthralled to meet “Cody the Horse” and see him CRUNCH the apples. They couldn’t wait to tell their daddy when he got home.

5) After lunch on Wednesday, and then again on Wednesday afternoon, I only had one hand available to get the girls to the car. I held B’s hand, and had her grasp A’s hand, very tightly. I was nervous walking down the sidewalk, for sure, but they did a great job!

6) I made guacamole this week, and it turned out a little hotter than I’d intended. Still, the girls devoured it, asking for more. They also asked for a couple of refills on their milk…but I love that my babes like it hot!

7) Baby B was “reading” a book to her sister one morning. Baby A was sitting there patiently, until B missed a word. I couldn’t help but laugh at A, “correcting” her sister!

We've had a fantastic week of weather. It does our bodies and souls so much good to enjoy time outside...sunshine and fresh air!

March 29, 2012

Beauty Through the Eyes of a Child

On the way home from the grocery store yesterday morning, as we were at a traffic light, Baby A said from the backseat, “Ooooh, Mommy! I see a beee-you-tiful steering wheel!” You do? “Yes!!! It’s pink and fluffy!!!

Later in the morning, we went for a short walk. We passed a house a few blocks over that has a short fence around their backyard. You can see bits and pieces here and there, and it’s not what I would call “manicured”. There are quite a few trees and some tall grasses, and a number of garden statues (I guess you’d call them) in decoration.

Ooooh, Mommy! That looks like a beee-you-tiful forest!” Baby A remarked.

I didn’t see the steering wheel Baby A was talking about, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gasped at its beauty. And when we walk past this particular house in our neighborhood, I actually wince a bit, thinking there are surely critters in those grasses…things I don’t want to think about in our suburban neighborhood.

Still, I work hard to remind myself not to share my jaded judgment with the girls. I understand how pink and fluffy equates with something beautiful to a three-year old’s mind...how a shady, overgrown backyard looks luscious and inviting, the stuff of fairy tales.

It dawned on me that this is not unlike my protective stance of the rat species a couple of months ago. I want the girls to form their own opinions about the world, particularly when it comes to benign things like steering wheels and landscaping.

And it’s a pretty sweet reminder for me that it’s OK to like some books, just judging by the beauty of their covers.

…as long as the girls don’t insist on gifting me a pink fluffy steering wheel cover for Mother’s Day, that is.

March 28, 2012

Morning Moods

I remember my mom saying how she would go into my room when I was a baby, full of song and dance. She said she so wanted me to be a "morning person"...but she lamented she must not have sung joyfully enough.

[I'm just guessing I wasn't always a joy to rouse in the mornings.]

These days, I function just fine in the mornings...although I do like to get up in time to have a little time to myself.

I enjoy using the bathroom without an audience, and eating my cereal in a timely fashion, so as to have it as crunchy as possible. As much as I would love to have an extra hour of sleep some days, I could never be one of the moms who wakes up with her kiddos. I need to be able to put my game face on so I can be ready to dance and sing.

Since this time about a year ago, our girls have been rising relatively early. The OK to Wake clock has really helped...98% of the time I can count on them staying put until 6:30am.

While I think that Baby B might sleep a little longer, I usually hear A rolling around shortly after 6:00.

Given that dynamic, I think it's so interesting that Baby B is usually the one full of smiles in the morning...much more likely to dance and sing, if you will.

While Baby A doesn't cry or fuss, she rarely utters anything for a good 10 or 15 minutes. She often gets out of her bed and heads directly to the little couch in their room to stretch. Or sometimes she just wants to cuddle in my lap.

Here's a picture of Baby A that I took on their birthday, first thing in the morning...

This is a pretty typical face!

And here's another from last month. We'd just come downstairs and were snuggling together. Baby B was wearing a big smile, while her sister -- also full of snuggles -- couldn't be bothered with any expression...


I have to laugh...I can only imagine this is a preview of what A will be like in another 10 years...going from the bed to the couch, me having to roll her onto her feet some days.

Or maybe if both B and I continue to sing and dance, we can convince A that mornings aren't all that bad???

Or, ya know, if mornings are that hard, you could just sleep a little longer, A! Just a thought!!!

March 26, 2012

Welcome Spring! {CRAFT}

Ever since we did a heart-shaped sun catcher craft as part of our MoMs group Valentine's Day party, I've been anxious to use more contact paper. I love the smooth feel of it...and it's not even very messy!

To welcome spring, we made a rainbow.

The girls started by applying different colors of tissue paper to our rainbow-shaped paper.



I then put their completed rainbows on a larger sheet of contact paper, and cut around it.



We talked about needing a mix of rain and sun to make a rainbow, so we made a fluffy cloud [cotton balls on white card stock] for one side of the rainbow...



...and a multi-rayed sunshine for the other side.



Here are our final products!



And the girls were so excited to see I'd hung them on the window during nap time!



[Just don't tell them that this rainbow craft was originally planned for St. Patty's Day, but Mommy ran out of time. Rainbows and spring...that's believable, right???]

Linking up with Charlene at Adventures-in-Mommy-Land for Hey, Mom! Look What I Did! Pop on over for some great crafting inspiration!

March 25, 2012

Weekend Awareness: Creativity in the Kitchen

I recognized some time ago how therapeutic crafting...creating...is for me.

There are plenty of days when I feel like turning in as soon as my evening chores are done...and sometimes even before then. While the extra rest is certainly a good thing, it's easy for me to start to feel like I'm in a rut if I do that too often.

I know I'll feel better if I can break out my scrapbook papers, my funky scissors, and my pretty ribbon. I can so easily get lost in that little world -- a world that is so different from playing puzzles and washing dishes and folding laundry -- it's truly good for my soul. I usually wake up the next day feeling refreshed, inspired, a bit more in touch with "me".

I recently joined Pinterest, after waiting months and months, fearing it would be a huge time-suck. I am proud to say I don't feel like it is. And further, I've truly gotten so many great ideas.

Over the past week or so, I've made a number of things I've pinned. I haven't acted on any of the crafts, though...all my creations have been in the kitchen.

I've been reminded -- made once again AWARE -- how much I enjoy being in the kitchen...that, for me, creating is not just about scissors and glue.

I feel very alive when I'm in the kitchen. I love making good food for my family. I love the tactile nature of measuring and mixing. I love the smells. I love the hot, hot oven and the ice cold ingredients from the refrigerator. I love knowing I'm cooking...just as my mother, and her mother, and countless generations before me cooked.

Here are the "keepers" from my recent Pinterest finds, in addition to the Pretzel-M&M clovers and S'meeps...

Make-Ahead Stuffed French Toast. I used whole wheat loaf bread and fresh strawberries. This was definitely a hit at our house on Saturday morning!

Carmelitas. Thank goodness I made these to take to my girlfriend's house on Thursday...it got at least a few of them out of my kitchen. I swear I could have eaten the ENTIRE pan. Chocolate, caramel, oatmeal, brown sugar...oh...my...so...amazing! And easy, too!

Bird's Nests. I made these for our MoMs group meeting on Sunday. I used Cadbury mini eggs and made them in my mini-muffin pan.


Get it? Two eggs...twins??? Note, I used natural peanut butter, and these didn't set as much as they should have. Next time I'll buy the regular stuff.

I'll confess these are all sweet treats. (I did make one chicken recipe which was not a keeper. I have since un-pinned that sucker!)

I promise I've been cooking more than chocolate and cream cheese for my family! But being energized by butterscotch chips and strawberry syrup reminds me to savor steaming my broccoli and zucchini.

March 24, 2012

Super 8 on Saturday

...not the motel chain! No, just thankful for lots of super fabulousness over this past week!

1) We enjoyed an extremely rare treat on Saturday, eating out for breakfast. It was such an awesome family-filled morning…breakfast, a walk to the post office, making pictures as we walked around downtown, capped off with a trip to the grocery store. It was nothing fancy, but the wholesome family goodness certainly abounded.

2) The girls have been giving me huge, full-body hugs as I’m putting them to bed at night. They wrap their legs around me so tightly, and hold on with their arms around my neck for all they’re worth. Even though bedtime can sometimes be a little daunting, it’s truly the sweetest ending to the day.

3) Baby B has been particularly affectionate with her words lately. It’s so very sweet to hear her say, “I love you, Mommy!” or “I love you, Sissy!” for no reason at all. One day, out of the blue, she said, You’re sweet, Mommy!

4) I had my belated birthday massage on Monday. The girls asked where I’d been, and I tried to explain to them. After bath, I gave them a “massage” with lotion. They loved it! And since then, every time I’ve applied sunscreen, they’ve asked, “Are you going to give me a massage?” Um, no, not here in the garage, Honey.

5) On Wednesday, I had a couple of errands to run at the mall. I loaded the girls in their stroller, and off we went. Whereas we walked in the mall a lot last year, we hadn’t been there in quite a while. The girls were excited to wave to the carousel horses, and they were SO patient while I shopped for dresses for them. When we finished, we put the stroller in the car and walked across the parking lot to the dollar store. The girls each got to pick a new puzzle, and they were so tickled. It was such a smooth morning, all the way around!

6) We’ve enjoyed more beautiful weather this week, and lots of time outside. The girls are just getting the hang of waving the bubble wand (sometimes), and they’re trying to learn to blow bubbles themselves. They have been asking to play with chalk all winter. I kept saying, “When it gets warmer.” I finally let them pull out their buckets of chalk on Friday, and they had so much fun.

7) One very windy afternoon, I was blowing bubbles for them to chase. It was the picture of pure joy to see them running like mad, only to spin around and yell, “More, Mommy! At one point, Baby B almost ran straight into a bubble, and the surprise on her face was priceless!

8) One night as I was making supper, Baby A was playing Match with Daddy. I had fun listening to them play…especially hearing Daddy’s amazement at A’ prowess. A couple of times, she beat him, fair and square!

And I enjoyed some super “me” time this week, too…a massage on Monday…an impromptu catch-up with Aunt Karen on Tuesday night over chips and salsa…and coffee and dessert with a couple of twin mama friends on Thursday, on Demara’s back porch, nonetheless…bliss!

Hope you had a super-fabulous week, too!

March 23, 2012

A Bit About Me, March Edition

My birthday is February 23. On the 23rd of each month, I post a couple of random facts about myself. So for March, here 'goes!

37) My favorite flavor of ice cream is mocha almond fudge.

I first fell in love with the flavor at Baskin Robbins, and I used to always look for an ice cream shop when I traveled. Something about being away from home – even on business – made me think an ice cream treat was in order. Since our frozen yogurt shop opened about a year and a half ago, I haven’t indulged in ice cream very often. When I do, it’s usually courtesy of the local dairy farm, which is nothing short of amazing…and I feel better with the girls having “real” ice cream.

Hmmm…I might just have to sneak out to BR some time sans kiddos. I wouldn’t want to share my mocha almond fudge, anyway!

38) I was in the Girl Scouts until I was 12.

In the first grade, I joined our local Brownie troop. By the second grade, my mom became our troop leader, and I stuck with it through the sixth grade. I loved the camping, and the arts and crafts, and of course, the cookies. I recently reconnected with some of my old Girl Scout friends, on Facebook. There were a few of us online one evening, helping one of our fellow Scouts, now the mom of a Brownie (!!!), plan activities for this summer’s day camp. It didn’t take long before we were reciting old songs and reminiscing about campfires and skits.

And then I had to make some S’mores.

March 22, 2012

A Reminder to Myself to Encourage Independent Play

The girls' love of puzzles started around 18 months old. They loved the chunky wooden ones where you match the piece to the picture and wrangle it in the cut-out. Just after their second birthday, they graduated to alphabet and number cut-out puzzles. Those were definitely more challenging, but they soon grew to love them, too.

At some point last fall, after the girls turned 2 1/2, I bought their first cardboard puzzles. Each puzzle had 25 pieces and was marked "For Ages 3 - 7".

I'll admit I didn't give the girls free reign with those puzzles for a long time. In comparison to the nearly-indestructible wooden pieces they were accustomed to, the cardboard pieces seemed so fragile. I didn't want them to get bent...or worse yet, lost.

[Is now the time to admit I have slight OCD tendencies???]

[I partly justified my approach, since a kid is "supposed to be" at least three, and my girls hadn't yet had their third birthday...I couldn't expect them to play alone, right???]

Certainly at first, the girls needed a lot of help with those puzzles, too. It seemed that they needed help in identifying shapes...is that an edge piece? And they also needed help in looking at the picture...is that part of the lion's mane?

It was a really interesting study to watch them look at the shape of the pieces, and the color of the pieces...what seemed like independently of each other.

For a long time, we always worked on the puzzles together...all three of us. The girls would usually take turns putting pieces in place, and a certain someone would always make sure she got to add the last piece. (Note: it was not me!)

One day, a month or so ago, the girls wanted to play puzzles. We probably started out together, but after a minute or so, one of them wandered off to something else, taking me with her.

And whaddaya know??? The lone puzzler completed that puzzle all by herself! And she didn't bend any pieces! No pieces were eaten! No pieces were lost forever into the air conditioning vent!

Within the next couple of days, both girls were doing puzzles by themselves, left and right. We made a special trip to the store just to buy some more.

I was so proud...and slightly ashamed, too. Who knows how long the girls possessed this skill.

It was a great reminder to challenge the girls...and to encourage more independent play.

Within the last couple of weeks, we've invested in several bigger puzzles, 48 and 60 pieces.

We often sit down with those together, but I encourage the girls to work on different scenes of the puzzle. (Baby A may take the fire truck, while B works on the farm.) It's an exercise in finding the pieces of each scene, and then it's fun to put A's quadrant together with what B has done.

Last weekend, Baby A asked to work on a 48-piece puzzle. It was "coffee / newspaper" time for Mommy and Daddy, and Baby B was involved in something else.

I could not believe my sweet girl spent close to 45 minutes on that puzzle...and completed it!!!

These girlies never cease to amaze me, especially when I challenge myself to give them room to grow.

March 21, 2012

Green Memories

My friend Jenny originally sparked my interest in comparison pictures, and I'm so glad she did. How fun it is to look back and see exactly what we were doing a year, two years, three years ago!

Of course there's usually a story to go along with a picture, too, and those are always fun to revisit as well.

Here, a little walk down St. Patrick's Day Lane...

I'm sure I could find a picture taken on or around March 17, 2009...but I can tell you that celebrating the luck of the Irish was probably the last thing on my mind then. At that point, our girls were about 2 1/2 months old. We were past the "babymoon" stage, if I remember correctly...and just desperate for our little ladies to SLEEP!

I began to pull my act together a bit by the girls' second St. Patty's Day, when they were 14 months old. We still didn't "celebrate", but I at least managed to get green pants on them.


At this point, the girls were walking well, but not yet climbing. The furniture was strategically arranged to keep them in the den. (That's an ottoman behind them.) And we kept king-size pillows in front of the windows to guard them from the perils of the sharp windowsills. Baby A is holding a piece to their shape-sorter, which is still a beloved toy.

By the girls' third Irish holiday, I had discovered my love of holiday-themed shirts...and the headband section at the dollar store.



This was the girls' first time to play with headbands, and they had lots of fun figuring them out. This picture also shows the girls sporting what they wore every.single.day...onesies! Not long after St. Patty's Day 2010, we had a very serious (read: smelly!) breach during nap time. And from that day forward, until Baby A was potty-trained, not long after St. Patty's Day 2011, onesies were a necessity.


On St. Patty's Day afternoon in 2011, we took the girls downtown for a special snack, ice cream at the coffee shop. I would like to tell you they were singing an Irish ballad in this picture, but I clearly remember they were both asking (yelling?) to go to the fountain, still their favorite downtown destination.

And that brings us to St. Patrick's Day 2012. We enjoyed more holiday shirts, and more time downtown. This year the treat was breakfast at a downtown bakery, followed by a field trip to the post office...and of course a walk around the famed Fountain Square.


We enjoyed our green headbands again. Here the girls are sporting them for an extra-special dessert after supper, GREEN pudding!



I love stepping back to see how things have changed...and appreciating how some pretty sweet things -- like the joy of celebrating fun holidays with my baby girls -- remain the same.

Thanks to Miss Cheryl at Twinfatuation for hosting Way Back When-esday! I always appreciate the prompt to dig through my files take a trip down memory lane...no matter what the occasion!

And Cheryl, please know our thoughts are with you and your family as you face the challenges ahead...

March 20, 2012

I Will Not Say, "I'm Sorry"

The girls and I were leaving Target a couple of days ago, and we saw a grandma wrestling a four-year old little girl out of the cart and into the car. The little girl was screaming and crying, and the grandma was saying, "I'm sorry, honey," over and over.

My guess is that the grandma hadn't accidentally whacked the kid in the head, but rather that she hadn't allowed her a toy, or a slushee, or to walk in the parking lot, or whatever it was the kid wanted.

In life, learning to say, “I’m sorry” is an important skill, and it’s a big part of being a parent, too.

“I’m sorry you don’t feel well.”

“I’m sorry your toy broke.”

“I’m sorry it’s raining and we can’t go outside.”

“I’m sorry I stepped on your toe.”

“I’m sorry I raised my voice.”

One thing I’ve had to break myself of, though, is apologizing for imparting a punishment.

As someone is being marched to timeout for breaking a rule, I have to remind myself not to say, “I’m sorry.

The truth is, I’m sorry that the rule has been broken, I’m sorry that our playtime is being interrupted, and I’ve very sorry that the following three minutes may be very excruciating for all of us…

…but I’m not sorry that you’re being punished.

You do the crime, you do the time.

If I tell you that you can have one cookie, and you cry for another, I will not say, “I’m sorry.

The rules of engagement were clearly outlined when we sat down for this special treat. I’m sorry that you’re upset, I’m sorry that your fussing is likely clouding the enjoyment I know you had from eating the one cookie…

…but I’m not sorry that you can’t have two cookies.

One of the things I really like about the 1-2-3 Magic method of discipline is that it aims to put the onus on the child for her actions. The rules are outlined, and she has three chances (in most cases) to mind them. If she chooses to break the rules, then she must pay the consequences.

It helps keep the parent’s emotion out the situation, and I think it helps teach children that they are responsible for their behavior.

Saying “I’m sorry” in a disciplinary situation has been a tough habit to break. I hate, hate, hate to see my babies upset, no matter what happened…but in addition to teaching my girls responsibility for their actions, I want to save my “I’m sorry’s” for when their meaning is true. And that’s another valuable lesson, I hope.

March 19, 2012

A Very Sweet Look Ahead

Yesterday our MoMs group hosted a panel discussion. On the panel were 30-year old identical twin girls; and a mother and her 23-year old daughter whose twin brother wasn’t able to join us.

We covered a lot of your “standard” territory, like dressing alike, sharing rooms, and classroom dynamics. We hosted a similar discussion a couple of years ago, and it’s been so interesting to hear fellow MoMs ask questions, and to hear perspectives from the “grown-up” side of things.

I came away from the discussion yesterday with so much more than that, though. It was so incredibly heartwarming to hear the three adults talking about how special their twinship is, how much they cherish their unique blessings.

I read Abigail Pogrebin’s “One and the Same” a year or so ago. It was such a great exploration of the science and psychology of twins. One of my primary takeaways was, “Don’t over-romanticize the twinship.” Pogrebin presents several instances that, I think, ultimately caution families of multiples not to put undue pressure on them to have supernatural powers, to be joined at the hip, to be the bestest of best friends.

And one of the first things I remember our pediatrician saying is, “They’re just sisters, who happen to have been born on the same day.”

And there is so much written about encouraging individuality among multiples.

I had a realization yesterday that I may have been so concentrated on our girls’ individuality that I rarely stop to acknowledge that they are – in fact – twins. And that is pretty special.

I jotted down one phrase that really resonated with me, specifically with respect to competition. I know our girls will have their unique strengths, and this is something I think about quite a bit.

…we were encouraged to be each other’s biggest fan…

I know three grown-up twins does not a statistically significant pool make, but it was really encouraging to see them all talking about the [mostly] great things about being a twin…and not lamenting that they didn’t feel like individuals, or that they competed so vehemently against each other.

I know it’s a balance…certainly our girls need to develop as individuals and to be comfortable in their independence...but yesterday’s discussion reminded me also to encourage them to appreciate the wonderful blessings they are to each other.


…and I can only hope and pray that my girls will speak of their relationship so fondly in 25 years’ time.

March 18, 2012

Weekend Awareness: Core Values

I had something else in mind for my weekly AWAREness post, but I saw a similar list that Rebecca, and then Amanda, posted this week, and I just had to work on mine.

Marcia once asked me to describe my mom to her. When I started writing the email, I realized how telling it was...to capture little details about how she loved her coffee and a good book, how she had a powder blue VW Beetle when I was a little girl, and how she could engage a telephone pole in a really rousing conversation.

I'm not sure "core values" is exactly how I'd define this list, but it's been a really fun exercise to step back and try to describe myself in such a way. This list is not all-inclusive, but I think it paints a pretty decent picture.

I believe you create your own happiness.

I believe in the healing powers of a soak in a hot bath.

I believe in ample-creamer’d coffee from my very favorite coffee mug.

I believe that an itty bitty Diet Dr. Pepper in the afternoon is good for my soul.

I believe in fuzzy fleece pajama pants and t-shirts from college.

I believe in the amazing softness of babies’ feet, and the wonders of children’s laughter.

I believe in fluffy white towels.

I believe in “To each, his own,” to the very core of my being.

I believe sweat is therapeutic, as long as it’s followed by a shower.

I believe in the importance of date nights.

I believe in spending time alone.

I believe in trying to be the kind of person I want my girls to be.

I believe in no toys at the dinner table…for kids OR adults.

I believe in pets being members of the family, and that a cat’s purr is one of the sweetest sounds on earth.

I believe in being able to cook…good food.

I believe in the magic of sisterhood, because although I don’t have a sister, I am blessed to see it every day.

I believe a creative outlet is a necessity.

I believe in getting lost in a good book.

I believe in being able to use chopsticks.

I believe in gourmet pizza, homemade ice cream, and ice cold beer.

I believe in sunroofs, seat warmers, and singing out loud to the radio.

I believe in family, and I believe that best friends are the family you get to choose.

I believe in the magic of childhood, and I hope my girls do one day, too.

I believe in traveling as far and wide as I can, and in the unmistakable feeling of coming home.

I believe in curiosity.

I believe in hard work.

I believe in not wearing shoes in the house.

I believe in having pedicured toes.

I believe that grammar is important.

I believe in hand-written notes and pretty paper.

I believe I was meant to be a mommy.

I believe in being AWARE of the things that make us uniquely who we are.

March 17, 2012

Super Stuff on a Saturday (with Pictures!)

I don't think I've gone more than 72 hours without posting on the blog in ages...it feels kinda weird...but we're just having such a great time celebrating Daddy's four-day weekend that we've been running pretty hard!

Here are a few snippets from our super-fabulous week!

1) We had a great lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant on Saturday. The girls love the teriyaki chicken and shrimp (along with edamame, Daddy’s soup, and Mommy’s salad). This week I ordered a crunchy shrimp roll so they could try some “safe” sushi. They loved it, too! This is another love they come by honestly!

2) We had a fun play date with K&S on Tuesday. We had a themed lunch in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and the girls are still talking about their sandwich in the shape of a clover.

3) Tuesday afternoon, the girls napped exceptionally well, and we invited Daddy to meet us for an afternoon snack at one of our favorite sandwich and salad places. The girls sat so well and shared very nicely. It was such a sweet treat, all the way around.

4) This week marked the girls’ first time wearing short-sleeve shirts since last fall. The sight of their precious little arms never fails to awe me.

5) The girls and I went for a walk in the neighborhood on Wednesday morning. It was super sunny, and after I applied their sunscreen, I asked if they wanted to wear their sunglasses. They’ve had sunglasses for ages now, but they’ve always fiddled with them after just a couple of minutes (and I’ve always been scared they’d poke their little eyes out). They did so well, though! They just marched along, giggling occasionally…and I managed to snap one of my new favorite pictures, the girls checking each other out after our walk!


6) On Wednesday night, we took the girls out for an extremely rare mid-week dinner, to celebrate the start of Daddy’s long weekend. They picked our favorite pizza place, Greener Groundz. As we were waiting on our food, B said so contentedly, “I’m so glad we’re here!

7) I’ve noticed how many times in a day Baby A remarks about something we haven’t done / seen / had in a while. The way she says it is so darn cute, though. “Oh! I we haven’t been to Target in a whiiiii-yul!” with huge emphasis on while. You’d think the poor child was deprived or something. :)

8) The girls are even more into singing “The Name Game” this week, and they’re getting really good at it. One day they entertained themselves (and us!) for at least 30 minutes in the car. And they would sing the most random words…grass, tree, car, truck, interstate, and even phrases like “some more”. HA!

9) On Thursday morning, B made two awesome comments, even before breakfast. She commented that my shirt was “a pretty melon color”, and – as she got into her chair – she said, “I’m trying to be expeditious”. How old is this kid???

10) On Thursday, we surprised the girls with a trip to the zoo…and then with a ride on the carousel there. And, despite Baby A being pretty scared when she first got up on the zebra she chose, the girls were over the moon! I got another favorite picture after our ride…B was waving to the little old man who ran the carousel, who faithfully waved to the girls every time we went around. And A was telling her zebra thank you for a nice ride. I really can’t stop looking at this picture…it just seems to encompass the pure joys of childhood.


11) Mid-way through our zoo venture, we stopped to share a little snack. I took another favorite picture, of the girls sharing a bottle of water. They were holding the straw for each other to drink. This mama could hardly stand the sweetness!


12) On Friday, we treated the girls to their first-ever hibachi experience. I was a little worried they’d be too “entertained” to eat, but I think the lure of the white sauce was even greater than the chef’s tricks. They had so much fun…and I think we’ve satisfied our sodium quota for the month.

So thankful for all the super fabulousness (and for the not-so-super-fabulous, too...it's not all rainbows and butterflies, but maybe that's what makes us appreciate the times when it is)!

March 14, 2012

One Last Stronghold

As I have documented over the past six or so weeks, we have taken down the baby gate that used to separate the girls’ playroom (our den) from our open-floor-plan house.

[Perhaps I have documented this in such excruciating detail as it is pretty momentous in my little world!]

Mostly, things have gone very well. It’s SO nice to feel we’re all part of the same house…definitely a huge step in that warm-and-fuzzy “family” feeling.

In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I must confess that I am hanging on to one last stronghold…highchairs.

Yes, the girls are three years and two months old. Don’t judge.

The girls are fully capable of sitting in regular chairs; they’ve been doing so in restaurants for close to 9 months now.

But I’m just not ready to go there at home.

Our girls are very good eaters, and I definitely credit part of that to them being focused on the task of eating. I don’t force our girls to eat – there is no “clean plate policy” here – but I do require the girls to sit in their chairs during mealtime. Taking away the lure of playing allows us all to have a [relatively] relaxed meal together, and – I think – may encourage the girls to appreciate their mama’s cooking a little more fully.

And in the spirit of even fuller disclosure, I do sometimes take advantage of having them contained, even for a couple of minutes. As they’re finishing their snack, I might slip upstairs to put in my contacts in blessed peace. I also have the girls sit in their highchairs for messier crafts – namely glue and finger paint.

Still, I know our girls can’t sit in highchairs forever. I bought some booster seats last week – ones that don't even have a belt!

I’m still working up to take them out of the package.

My plan is to continue to use highchairs for breakfast and lunch, but allow the girls to sit in the booster seats when the four of us are at home together, usually for supper. And I anticipate being pretty strict, especially the first week or so. We’ll obviously have the highchairs available. If you play, you go back in your highchair.

Baby steps here. But I feel really confident that we’ll have them transitioned by Kindergarten.

March 13, 2012

You Know What They Say about Green M&M's...

...apparently, you have to be LUCKY to find them!

What did you think I was going to say???

I have seen a couple variations of sweet little treats on Pinterest, using green M&M's to make a clover for St. Patty's Day.

I began searching for an elusive bag of green M&M's, rumored to be mint-flavored. (My mouth waters as I type that.)

The girls were troopers, looking at four different stores over a period of a couple of days. And they began to employ a cute phrase in the process, "Our quest continues!"

Finally, close to defeat, I summoned my inner MacGyver. I figured there had to be quite a few green M&M's in a standard bag, right?

If I had been thinking ahead, I would have had the girls help me sort the M&M's by color. But this leprechaun was working the second shift, and I engaged in that little exercise myself.

Here's my resulting version...


I dipped small pretzels in chocolate, and pressed M&M's into the cut-outs. I love how they turned out! And they're yummy, too...a delicious combination of salty and sweet, with crunch from the pretzel and the candy coating. Mmmmm....

If green M&M's were more readily available, how cute would these be in cellophane, tied with an "I'm so LUCKY you're my friend!" tag?

I don't see that happening for this holiday, though, as I would have to buy an awful lot of bags of M&M's...and neither my wallet nor my thighs would be very happy.

I'm already looking forward to possibilities for future holidays...like dark chocolate-dipped pretzels with brown, orange, and yellow candies to welcome fall...and white chocolate-dipped pretzels for Christmas, with green and red M&M's.

And in case you're wondering, in an 8-serving, 12.6oz bag of M&M's, I found 43 green M&M's.

(It feels really sad that I know that.) :/

March 12, 2012

Chefs, Marshmallow Fluff, and S'meeps, Oh, My!

We've had such a fun few days!

On Thursday, Aunt Karen joined us for lunch. She gave the girls a belated Christmas gift...aprons, chef's hats, and pot holders. They have had SO much fun! "I'm a chef! I'm a chef!" they keep exclaiming. And this mommy can hardly stand the cuteness.



We've had some beautiful weather lately, but it's been pretty windy. It's finally perfect for the girls to weather these light puffer jackets I bought at the end of last season. I can hardly stand the cuteness here, either...and I can't resist calling the girls "my marshmallow fluff". They, of course, think that's pretty hilarious, too.


And on Sunday night, I employed yet another Pinterest find...S'mores made with Peeps. Aunt Karen and Aunt Shanda and I embarked on this endeavor together, and Karen immediately coined the term "S'meeps". I think it's a keeper.

While we toyed with the idea of starting up the fire pit, I didn't know how Peeps would respond to open flame. We instead relied on Shanda's toaster oven.

Here are the pink bunny Peeps, nice and toasty...


Carefully place toasted Peep on its chocolate / graham cracker bed.



Tuck him in, nice and tight.



And enjoy the ooey-gooey goodness!



As our sugar high began to kick in, we turned "S'meeps" into a verb, and then an adjective. "S'meeping is fun!" "You're a great S'meeper!" "These are S'meep-alicious!"

***

I'm linking up with Cheryl at Twinfatuation today. My sweet baby girls, in all their marshmallow fluffiness...and some pretty great sugar-loving friends who appreciate some good, old-fashioned silliness...that Makes My Monday!

March 11, 2012

Weekend Awareness: Friendship

I just finished reading a great book, recommended by Marcia, "MWF Seeking BFF".

A memoir of sorts, it chronicles Rachel Bertsche, a late-twenty-something newlywed who recently relocated to Chicago. She has best friends in New York, where she grew up, and she has plenty of acquaintances in Chicago...but she feels a palpable void without a local BFF. She details a year filled with 52 "girl dates", on which she meets lots of new people and learns a lot about friendship, and herself.

In the book, Bertsche presents some interesting research about the science and psychology of friendship. Between reading her book, and following Marcia's weekly posts on friendship, I've been thinking quite a bit about my relationships.

I consider myself to have three BFFs, two local, and one from home.

Since the girls were born, I'm so thankful to have made some wonderful "mommy" friends. (They're much more than that, but I characterize them as such, as we met after our kiddos were born.)

I have quite a few good friends that I don't see as often, but we could easily fill a three-hour lunch without taking a breath.

And I have met some wonderful friends through blogging, too, many of whom I'll probably never meet for lunch, but ones who definitely make my short list.

I consider myself to be very blessed with some wonderful friends, and this week, I'm reminding myself to be AWARE of these friendships, to appreciate them. Maintaining a friendship takes effort, particularly as geography separates us and our busy lives can easily consume us.

I got a belated birthday card from a very sweet friend from high school this week. In the several years since we graduated (ahem), I don't think she's once missed sending a birthday card. In all those years, I've only seen her a handful of times, but she never fails to deliver a hand-written card, catching me up-to-date on what's going on in her life.

I generally do a pretty good job with birthday cards, but it's something I'm going to make a greater effort with this year.

To this end, I've just gone through my Christmas card list, cross-referencing against Facebook (employing the wonders of modern technology and social networking!) to enter my friends' birthdays in my calendar.

It's one small way to show my friends - near and far - my appreciation.

March 10, 2012

Hook, Line, and Pin-ker

It was probably inevitable.

I could only resist it for so long.

The pull was so strong, the lure of the unknown, so tantalizing.

I have officially succumbed to Pinterest.

"Welcome to the vortex," said Julia, when I made my Facebook confession.

I have technically been on Pinterest for quite a while. I solicited an invitation (thanks, Rebecca!), and set up an account.

But there was a little voice in the back of my head saying, "Don't do it! Don't go there! You might get lost and never see the light of day again!"

In the same way that I just don't buy candy [most of the time]...as I have very little willpower, I kept myself off Pinterest, fearing a[nother] time drain.

I have been on for about a week, and so far, so good. To date I have 10 boards and 55 pins. I'm pinning only things I actually think I can do, like crafts with the girls, fun things in the kitchen, and recipes that I actually "approve" of the ingredients.

I don't feel like this is a "time suck"...maybe because my Facebook time is more limited these days, so overall it's a wash.

I think the bigger test will be, how many of my pins do I actually act upon.

So far, the only one I've executed are these yogurt drops...


...they were a huge hit as part of a "very special snack". [It's a long story, but our girls don't eat yogurt, so they were over the moon with 6 or 8 "drops".]

And I have plans over the next couple of days for some St. Patrick's Day-inspired fun in the kitchen and at the craft table.

Like most anything else, I think Pinterest will be a lot of fun for me...as long as I enjoy it in moderation. [Similarly, jelly beans are OK, as long as I don't eat a family-size bag in one sitting. Ahem.]

March 9, 2012

Fab Friday!

So thankful for lots of fabulousness with my baby girls this week!

1) The girls and I met Aunt Shanda and her boys – 9 and 12 – on Saturday morning at the book store. After enjoying a [second] morning snack of donut holes (for the girls) and a blueberry cake donut (for me) [Shanda, you shouldn’t have! HA!], we just hung out. We browsed around, read some books, played with the train set. And then we six went to lunch. Just hanging out??? A [mostly-] relaxed lunch??? Yes!!! It was!!! And it felt so nice to be able to do it with my girlies! And she truly has the sweetest boys, who doted on my little girls.

2) The girls and I had a really amazing morning on Tuesday. We had to go to the post office downtown, so we made an adventure of it. We happened upon a new bakery, and decided it would be a great place for a mid-morning snack. We split an ahhh-mazing cinnamon roll, and the girls were so chilled out! Mommy enjoyed a full cup of coffee – and a refill! We went to the post office, and then – the weather was so beautiful – we walked around for about 30 minutes downtown, admiring the spring blossoms. Bliss!

3) As we walked downtown, the sun was sometimes to our backs. What a gorgeous sight it was, seeing our three shadows, walking in step.

4) The girls and I paid a visit to the toy store this week. We found an expansion kit for their train set (on sale!), and a couple of new puzzles. The girls have had an absolute blast setting up an even bigger train track – including a very cool bridge. And together we’ve been working on a 48-piece puzzle. It won’t be long before they’re doing it themselves, I think. They’ve mastered all our 25-piece puzzles in less than five minutes!

5) On Thursday, Aunt Karen came over for lunch. We ordered pizza in – a very big treat! And the girls delighted in showing her their scrapbooks that we just updated through the holidays. Aunt Karen gave them belated Christmas presents – miniature aprons, complete with chef’s hats and oven mitts. They wore their aprons – and hats! – all day long. They kept exclaiming, I’m a chef! I’m a chef!

6) Both of my girls love to sing, but Baby B, in particular, has been full of song lately. She puts words to all sorts of melodies (or just sings at random). This morning, on the potty, she started singing, “I love Mommy…I love Mommy…yes I do…yes I do!” followed by the happiest humming.

7) And in pop songs, B recently picked up “Yesterday” by the Beatles. It’s too funny to hear her wistful “…all my troubles seemed so far away…” HA! And she literally heard me sing, “Tonight, tonight / there’s a party on the rooftop, top of the world…” and she picked it up! She can string her words together pretty quickly now, so she was [at least sorta-kinda, relatively speaking] in rhythm!

8) Both girls are all about “The Name Game” song. This doesn’t always feel fabulous…but they can go on for a long time, asking Mommy to sing the song with different words. And the girls are getting better at singing it themselves!

9) The girls are really into rhymes right now, too. They surprise me sometimes, at random, by shouting, “Bunny…honey…money…that rhymes!” And they crack me up, too, with tries like “Chair…cheese!

10) I told the girls one night that I was making broccoli for supper. Baby B pranced around, chanting, “Bro-cco-li!” “You haven’t made this in a long, long time!” she said. And then she proceeded to ask me to make Brussels sprouts, and Baby A requested cauliflower. I love my veggie eaters!

Hope you found plenty of fabulous in your week, too!

March 6, 2012

Sticker BINGO! The Game Continues...

When our girls were about two, I started playing "sticker bingo" with them. It was an exercise in following directions, being patient (relative to a two-year old!), and hand-eye coordination...using one of their favorite mediums, stickers.

The object was simple, to put one sticker in each box on the grid. As they got more proficient, I made the grid boxes smaller.


A few months ago, I added a twist to our game, to incorporate letter and number recognition.


Sometimes the girls would get "sticker happy" and not want to follow my directions. It helped if I would ask them to first show me the "M" with their finger, and then put a sticker on it.

And, in a variation of this game, I saw a friend made a "parking lot" letter game. The girls loved driving their cars to the correct spot!


These days, while they still need to work on some of their numbers, the girls are really proficient with letter recognition. They can list several words that begin with a most letters, and they are pretty good at naming the first letter of most words.

I upped the ante in our sticker bingo game, putting a mix of numbers and simple words in the boxes. I don't mean to suggest that my three-year olds can read, but they know "boy" starts with "B", and they were able to find a "B"-word.

I did have two "H"-words, "house" and "hat". I spelled those words for them, sounding out the letters, and they were able to find the correct box.


The girls had a great time...and so, the game continues!

I'm linking up with Charlene for Hey, Mom, Look What I Did! This isn't exactly a "craft", but -- in addition to great crafts -- she has some pretty great learning activities on her blog, too!Link

A Mullet, an El Camino, and My Girls in their Stroller

Hearing the words "Business in the front, party in the back" -- usually to describe a mullet -- always just cracks me up.

Maybe it's having grown up in the south, where -- at least according to media portrayals -- there are more mullets per capita than in other areas of the country.

The phrase gained deeper meaning a few years ago, when I heard someone use it to describe an El Camino. "Business in the front" -- the "car" part of the vehicle, and "party in the back" -- the "truck" end.

See, my dad had a 1975 model El Camino, red and white, when I was growing up. It wasn't his primary vehicle (thank goodness!); I think he actually bought it for the "truck" component.

As a little kid, maybe six or seven years old, I thought it was so incredibly neat. What would now be considered child abuse, I got to ride on the arm rest console sometimes, and he'd let me sit in the back of the truck after he'd stop to get the mail occasionally, the wind blowing my hair as he drove our 1/4-mile driveway.

As I got a little older, maybe 10 or 12, the El Camino definitely lost its cool factor in my eyes. PLEASE don't let Dad show up at school with that thing!!!

And then, as I got older still, late high school and early college, the El Camino became a bit of a joke between Dad and me, akin to having an embarrassing cousin. I even found an old tag for the front of it at an antique store as a present for my pops.

When I heard the "mullet" comparison to the El Camino, I shared it with Dad with a tad bit of reservation. The El Camino had since gone on to junkyard heaven, but he found it mostly funny, rolling his eyes in a knowing way.

Fast-forward to yesterday afternoon, when I had the girls in their front-to-back stroller as we were shopping at the toy store. The sales lady was making small talk. B was smiling and giggling, while her sister didn't have much to say.

Both my girls are radiant, jubilant babies...but Baby A doesn't often give it up for random people, at least not at first. Yesterday, I'm quite sure she was focused on completing our transaction and getting home to play with the expansion set of tracks we bought for her train set.

C'mon, Mom...quit wasting time with this empty conversation! I have track to lay and trains to engineer!

The sales lady remarked, "Miss Blue Eyes is full of smiles, but it's all business in the front!"

I gave my usual response, along the lines of, "They're both full of smiles, just not always at the same time,"...but I couldn't help my mind from jumping over to a mullet comparison.

What, exactly, are you trying to say about my kiddos???

Happy Birthday, Aunt GG!

Happy birthday, Aunt GG!
We love you so!
Thinking about you, makes our hearts glow!

We can't wait to see you,
and play and sing songs...
And your Grecian orange cake surely wouldn't last long!

[We don't mean to drop hints on your special day...
but you know how we love your cooking...so what can we say??!!]

Baking a cake would be great, but it's not something you have to do...
It really doesn't matter, we just love you!




Wish we were there to give you birthday hugs! Know we love you and hope to see you very soon!
 
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