Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Today is the 20th anniversary of my college graduation. If you had asked me on that day where I thought I'd be in 20 years, I am not sure what answer I would have given, but I think if I could have seen 20 years into my future, I would have been pretty happy with what it held.





(Photo of me and hubby-then-boyfriend, Sept. 1988, still framed in the cheesy brass heart-shaped frame. I adore this photo.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Happy Spring Things

My yard is not very big, but it holds a lot of magic!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Chicago Weekend

The children had spring break last week, so we went to Chicago for a few days for a short little get away.

As part of her birthday celebration, my daughter and I had plans to spend some time at American Girl Place. I made reservations for the 11:00 lunch, and my daughter had a wallet full of birthday money she wanted to spend on doll clothes and accessories. The night before our date, my daughter kept telling me her stomach felt "so excited."

When we got to the cafe, the server greeted my daughter by name. They made a big deal of seating my daughter's doll in a little doll chair, and gave the doll a crown and her own little tea cup.


Everything in the cafe was very pretty and feminine without being prissy. We looked at the menu and I noted that it was a multi-course lunch. First we would each get a cinnamon bun, then we would share a platter of soft pretzels and fruit, followed by an entree of our choice (there were several choices on the menu), and ending with a birthday cake. As I read all this to my daughter, she grew still. Her eyes filled with tears and she said "My stomach still feels so excited, I don't think I can eat anything." She is prone to car sickness, and I think all the driving we had done the day before to get to Chicago was still leaving her unsettled. She took one bite of her cinnamon bun, put it down, and I knew this was for real, because my daughter has the world's biggest sweet tooth, and for her to pass up a cinnamon bun is normally unthinkable! We had to excuse ourselves from the brunch, which was very disappointing to my daughter.

I took her to the restroom, where we found these cute little doll holders in the stalls.


Why don't all public restrooms have something like this for real babies? I remember when my children were babies, I never went out in public with them for very long because I never did figure out how to use a public restroom with a baby in tow.

Fortunately my daughter didn't need to throw up. She was okay as long as she wasn't trying to eat, so we still got to do some shopping, although the one thing she had her heart set on buying was out of stock. It just was not our day, I guess!

While we were busy being disappointed at American Girl Place, my son and husband went to the observation deck of the John Hancock Building. They had a great time, but they did find out that our older digital camera will no longer operate on battery power, so they didn't get any birds' eye photos of the city. When we met up with them, we walked to the Lego store and saw the Lego version of the John Hancock Building.





We walked down Michigan Avenue together and saw stores I have never set foot in







as well as some stores I wanted to go in, but no one else in my group had any interest.





I love the gorgeousness of architectural details and interesting city scenes, especially on a sunny spring day.































































































This building is a Chicago landmark. It's one of the first things that leaps to my mind when I think of Chicago.
I pointed it out to my kids as "that diamond building", and both kids scoffed and said "That's not a diamond, mom, it's a rhombus." Smart alecs! According to wikipedia, we are both right.
I haven't spent too much time in Chicago, so this was the first time I've seen the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park. It's a mirrored kidney bean, and reflects the buildings and the people in very cool ways. I only have close-up photos of it here.
Here is our reflection. Can you find us? My son is in a red jacket.

This is from the underside, which I found more fun than the outside. We are also in this picture, sideways on the left. And here we are again! We spent our second day in town at the Brookfield Zoo. The weather was so sunny and warm, we wanted to be outside. We never go to the zoo when we're home, because we'd choose to spend such awesome weather working in our garden or yard, or playing at the park, so the only time we end up at the zoo is when we are out of town!
Our third day we spent trying to get home, but just as we were leaving town my daughter had a spontaneous nose bleed, a real gusher that just wouldn't stop. After 45 minutes of bleeding, we took her to the ER. They squirted her with neosynephrine, and that, along with nose-squeezing, finally did the trick. This wasn't her first nose bleed, but it's been a few years since she's had one that lasted that long. It was a doozy, with blood backing up out her tear ducts and pooling under her eyes. She looked just awful! Poor thing, this was not the weekend she had in mind (did I mention that the hotel my husband booked for us didn't have a pool? which we didn't realize until after we checked in?), but I think she still had fun.
Now the kids are back in school, and we have less than two months to summer vacation. I wish it were sooner!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Winner!

The winner of the Anniversary Give Away is Cindy D.! Thanks to everyone for leaving such nice comments. Cindy D., I will get working on your deer card.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Kitchen

We colored Easter eggs on Saturday. Even though there are all kinds of cool decorating methods out there (check out my friend Lynn's eggs), I just buy the $1.99 Paas kit at the drugstore. My husband always skedaddles during this activity because he cannot stand the smell of vinegar.

We had a near-disaster with the dye today. Usually I put the cups on the dining room table and we pour the vinegar and water there, but today I thought I'd save myself the steps of walking back and forth to the kitchen to fetch more water, so I lined all the cups up on the kitchen counter to fill. My daughter, ever eager to help, wanted to pour in the vinegar. I am always torn about the "help". I want her to be involved, but I hate the ensuing mess. I can't turn her away, though, so there she was, pouring the vinegar, when whoops, there goes the cup of green dye, all over the counter, down the front of the (light maple) cupboards, and puddling on the (light colored) tile floor. It hadn't been diluted with water yet, so it was heavy and green and giving me a heart attack. I was yelling and screaming and, yes, swearing, not at her, just yelling and screaming and swearing in general, and feeling bad about it, because hey, this was supposed to be a lovely EASTER activity with my kids to make fond happy memories, but instead there I was having a conniption. My husband fortunately hadn't vacated the premises yet, so he came to help me mop it all up, and was smart enough not to make gagging noises over the vinegar smell. The dye got all over my shirt as it dripped off the counter while I was on my hands and knees with a toothbrush and bleach trying to save the grout. My son was laughing hysterically, which was not helping at all, while my daughter stood there with green dye dripping off her fingers, watching us and saying "Why did you do this in the kitchen instead of in the dining room? We always do this in the dining room!" Man, that was an unpleasant fifteen minutes!!

After that got all cleaned up, I calmed down, so we proceeded with the activities as planned. Now we have almost three dozen colored eggs in the refrigerator. We will be heartily sick of egg salad by the end of the week, for sure.
I also made hot cross buns on Friday.
I use the recipe in Betty Crocker's Best Bread Machine Cookbook, and they turn out perfect every time. So yummy! I only make them once a year, which makes them an extra-special treat.

That is the only recipe I use from that cookbook, not because the other recipes aren't tempting, but because I fall into a rut with my cooking and baking. When I got the cookbook out on Friday, I leafed through the pages and wondered why I haven't made anything else from it. I think the problem is that my kids have their favorite bread recipe, the Graham Bread from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook, so that is the bread I make several times a week, and really, how much bread do we need? I feel like I need to branch out a bit, though, especially since I have all these nice cookbooks. I need to have my husband and kids go through a couple of my cookbooks and pick out two or three recipes each that sound good to them, something we've never had before. That could be fun for all of us. I'll be sure to cook it all up when I'm home alone so that I don't have any "help" in the kitchen!

edited to add: There is still time to enter my blogiversary give-away! Leave a comment on that post by midnight on Sunday!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Anniversary Give-Away

Today is my one-year blogiversary! To celebrate, I am offering a give-away. I will make your choice of either the embroidered spider web card or the embroidered deer card. The inside of the card is blank, so you may use it however you like, whether you want to keep it for display or send it to someone else. I will send this anywhere in the world, so anyone can enter the giveaway. Just leave a comment on this post by midnight Eastern Time on Sunday, April 12 (you have until the end of Sunday to enter). I will do a random drawing and announce the winner on Monday.
The cards are from a Martha Stewart kit, and not my own design, but I will do all the stitching on them.
Thanks to everyone who checks this space. I really enjoy sharing a slice of my life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter Bread Basket

In 1982 my mom gave me a Betsey Clark craft-of-the-month Calendar. I saved my calendar and still do some of the crafts from time to time. This basket is the featured craft for April. My children helped make this basket last year.

To make your own, mix 2 cups flour with 1/2 cup salt. Add 3/4 cup water. Stir until the mixture clings together, then turn onto a floured surface and knead for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth but stiff.

Place an ovenproof bowl upside down on a cookie sheet. Grease the outside of the bowl with oil.

Roll two ropes of dough about 3/8 inch thick. Moisten slightly with warm water and twist them together. Place this "braid" around the rim of the bowl.

Roll the remaining dough to a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into 1/2 inch wide strips.

Lay the strips across the bowl, weaving across the bottom. Weave one or two strips around the bowl (the photo below will hopefully make it clear how to do this).

Using a small brush, wet all points where dough touches dough.

Press the bottom of the basket with a heavy pan to make it flat.

Bake for 90 minutes at 275, or until the basket is rock hard.




Saturday, April 4, 2009

Three Cake Birthday

Who knew one birthday would require THREE cakes for celebrating? My daughter turned 9 on Friday, and it's been one long celebration, filled with cake, cake, and more cake.



Cake requirement number 1: cupcakes for classmates. We used a box mix and canned frosting, and sprinkles, of course! Those went to school on Friday.



Cake requirement number 2: a cake to have at home after dinner on the birthday. Rather than make a big sheet cake, I searched for a recipe for a small cake, and found this one. I used the glaze recipe she recommends, but I think I might prefer frosting if I make this cake again.


This was perfect for my chocoholic daughter. We served it with vanilla ice cream.


Cake requirement number 3: a cake for the family party on Saturday. My parents and my sister came to celebrate, as well as my sister-in-law and her three children, so we needed something that would feed a crowd. My daughter's tradition for her birthday is to have a different cake every year. This year she wanted a Flower Pot Pudding Cake:



I had actually made one of these for her 3rd birthday. I figured a three-year-old wouldn't have any expectations for what a birthday dessert was "supposed" to be like, and I thought a flower pot cake would be so cute for a little girl's spring birthday. Much to my chagrin, on her 3rd birthday my daughter kept saying to me "I get cake today. I get cake today!" Oh, dear! I didn't have a cake for her! I told her yes, she would be getting a special dessert, not cake, exactly, but something yummy.




At dinner time I proudly presented her with the Flower Pot Pudding Cake, but instead of being excited, she cast a suspicious eye over it, then told me quite plainly "I don't eat dirt." Gulp! It took a lot of convincing for her to taste it, and for weeks afterwards I felt guilty that I'd spoiled her birthday.


Turns out she remembers none of this at all (so I could have spared myself some mom guilt), but when I told her the story recently, she was intrigued and wanted to try it again. I still had the flower pot, silk flowers, and trowel, all of which I purchased new, just for the cake, six years ago.

I added gummy worms and a little candy snail made with a mint and a gumdrop to complete the garden effect.
This dessert is really cute for spring and Easter. I can't remember where I found this recipe, so I'm sorry I can't credit the original source. If you want organic, wholesome ingredients, please read no further!!

Flower Pot Pudding Cake

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 - 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 - 3.5 oz packages instant vanilla pudding
3.5 cups milk
1 - 12 oz container Cool Whip, thawed
16 oz package Oreos (recipe actually calls for 2 packages, but I find one to be enough)

Crush the cookies very finely in a food processor. The white cream will disappear.

Cream butter, cream cheese, and sugar in a large bowl.

In a separate large bowl, stir together milk, pudding, and Cool Whip.

Combine the pudding mixture and the cream cheese mixture and stir until well blended.

Cover the bottom of the flower pot with a layer of cookie crumbs. Pour in one-half of the cream mixture. Layer more cookie crumbs on top of the cream, pour in the rest of the cream mixture, then cover the top of the cream with the remaining cookie crumbs. Be sure you have enough cookie crumbs so the top can be covered thoroughly to give the appearance of dirt. Refrigerate for 4 hours (or longer). Before serving, add silk flowers, gummy worms, candy snails, etc. Serve with a toy trowel.

I always line the flower pot with wax paper, because I worry about the non-food-grade plastic leaching chemicals. I also wrap the flower stem in plastic wrap before I stick it into the pudding. The wax paper and plastic wrap really stand out in the photos here, but in person they are less obvious and don't detract from the effect.

Oh, and the flower pot I used is 7 inches tall and 8 inches wide across at the top, which is just the right size for this recipe.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Foolishness

My son got behind in math the past few weeks, so he had to spend hours last night trying to catch up. Literally, hours. He left his stack of homework on the dining room table when he went to bed, and woke up this morning to find this horrifying sight:

Hot chocolate spilled all over his papers!

April Fool!

I made this cup of fake hot chocolate last week, following these directions, and I could not have asked for a better set up than him toiling over homework all evening and leaving his homework right there on the dining room table.

My daughter saw the "hot chocolate" and was inspired to trick me by pouring "glue" all over my favorite comb.

It's really some goop she made in school that looks like glue, but it's not sticky. I'm afraid she ruined it by leaving it on paper, though, because when we went to clean it up, a tiny layer of paper adhered to the goop. I wish I could remember how they made this concoction. I know it was with simple household items. I'll have to find out.

I'm home alone while everyone is off at work and school, but I'm treading very carefully. My family LOVES to trick me. I checked the sprayer at the kitchen sink first thing this morning, and sure enough, the handle was taped down. I have fallen for that one too many times to get wet again on April Fool's Day! One year my son removed all the lamp shades, and it took me several hours to notice. (After I typed that I thought hmmm, wait a second.... but I just checked, and all the lamp shades are in place!) I keep expecting to find plastic spiders in my underwear drawer or something, but the morning was going really smoothly until I walked into the dining room a few minutes ago and got quite a shock. Nothing prepared me for this!

OMG, it's an ostrich looking in my dining room window! EEEEEEE! I really did scream out loud, and I think my heart stopped beating for a few seconds before I realized it was a fake. Oh my gosh. I cannot stop laughing over this. I have a MAJOR bird phobia. They really give me the creeps, especially the big ones like ostriches. I can see this creepy ostrich perfectly from where I sit right now, and even though I know it's not real, I get a chill down my spine every time I look at it. It really does seem to be looking right at me, no matter what angle I position myself from the window. Shudder!
What kinds of trickery are you up to today?