Archives for June 2010

I Caved.

Yes. Take a minute to absorb the cute.

After much begging and pleading on behalf of the shorter people in my home, I have caved and said, FINE. We can get a dog. Previously, I’d been following the college dorm rule of pet life: If you can hold it under water and it doesn’t die, you can keep it as a pet.

Thing is, fish die. We’ve had two fish die in the past six months and frankly, the girls wanted a pet that could be more easily embraced into the family. They wanted a pet that they could love that might love them back, a pet they could hug and take for walks. A fish may be nice and quiet and a fish may never poop on your carpet but hugging a fish isn’t fun. Also, it’s messy.

Hence the totally adorable labradoodle that we’ll be picking up tomorrow night. The Princess researched to find a breed that would be most likely hypoallergenic, which is a nod to the whole “mommy likes to breathe” thing, and we’ve purchased a book on dog training (positive training, yes).

But, I’m looking for other puppy wisdom. Like babies, there are 101-bajillion things on the market for your pet – and some I’m guessing, I probably don’t need (seriously – I saw doggy diapers at PetSmart yesterday). What do we need for our little puppy? Any training tips you recommend? Help a girl out.

For the love of cookies

I love cookies. I kind of love cookies a lot.

Baking was one of the first things I ever found I was good at – and once I learned to bake, my mother stopped. I remember my mother making this phenomenal brownie pie when I was younger. Once I could reach the knobs on the oven and read a cookbook? Those days were gone.

There are cooks and there are bakers, and often a person is one or the other but rarely both.

I am a baker.

And just as much as I love to bake cookies, I sure do love to eat them.

Baking is a therapeutic activity for me – sometimes, I bake just for the end result: I crave cookies, want cookies, need cookies. There’s a bake sale. There’s a birthday. There’s a {insert activity that requires a baked good here}. Those are the times when I like to get my kids involved in the process.

Sometimes, I don’t necessarily want or need something sweet – rather, I need the process of baking: I need to measure, mix, scoop. I need the scent of vanilla and the crack of fresh eggs into a mixture of creamed butter and sugar. I need the task of scooping dough onto parchment and the scent of those ingredients becoming cookies in a 350 degree oven. I need a cooling rack filled with treats and that first bite of a cookie fresh from the oven, chocolate still oozing.

My sister is a cook. She doesn’t enjoy baking. The precision is not her thing – she hates to measure. Baking is dependent on precision to a degree.

I think the fact that I love it so much is one of the key ingredients in everything I bake.

But for those of you who are not inclined to bake, here are some of my favorite tips on making good cookies:

  • Use real butter. There’s a time and a place for the fakey stuff. I understand, you’re watching your cholesterol which is generally a good idea – but fake butter has no place in cookies. The consistency will be off – and your cookies will probably end up looking more like tortillas.
  • Speaking of the real thing: Imitation vanilla is for chumps. I know it’s cheaper, but it doesn’t taste as good as the real stuff. It doesn’t even SMELL as good.
  • Know the difference between baking powder and baking soda. There’s a difference. They are not interchangeable.
  • Parchment paper rules the world. See that picture up there? My cookie dough balls are on parchment paper. This makes cookies easier to get off the pan when they’re done. Also, I break and burn fewer cookies using parchment paper.
  • Don’t be afraid to improvise somewhat. One of the best cookies I’ve had recently was a chocolate chip cookie sprinkled with sea salt – and I am KICKING myself I didn’t think of it first. Yum. Recently I made a cookie with peanuts, pretzels, M&Ms and chocolate chips. It was the Queen Bee of PMS cookies. Think of flavors you like and try them together – the worst thing that could happen is you throw away a batch of cookies.
  • Share. Everyone asks how I can fit through my door way – I’m always baking cookies, so I should be like ten feet wide, right? Wrong. I eat one or two and give the rest away. It’s just enough to kick a craving, but not too much. Also, it makes people happy when I share. And that’s awesome.

As time goes by, I’ll share some cookie recipes with you. Maybe. If you’re nice.

Do you have a favorite kind of cookie? Mine’s peanut butter. Or is that chocolate chip? Or oatmeal? Or gingerbread cookies? Or….

Weekly Winners, Week ending 6.26.10

I’ve gurmbled and griped a lot this week, but no matter how busy I’ve been or what part of the state I’ve been in, OF COURSE, I had my camera with me. Here are some of my favorite shots. For more awesome weekly winners be sure to visit Lotus and the other participants.

The Dude must live here.

The shutter speed made this look like pieces of glass coming out of this fountain.

I Get Allergic Smelling Hay

I used to think that Indiana was the most boring state to drive through. You can go for hours without passing anything of note (LIKE STARBUCKS), and the scenery consists mostly of farmlands, fields, adult bookstores and religious billboards. I was wrong, however.

Northern Michigan is more boring to drive through. It doesn’t even have billboards. Or bookstores. Or Starbucks. (You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a McDonalds though, and as someone who doesn’t eat McDonald’s this is a pretty neutral discovery for me).

Three plus hours in the car with the girls to attend the memorial service for my mother’s sister-in-law, a woman I barely knew, but who my mom and her husband loved tremendously. A woman who was a fantastic sister to my mom’s husband, and in recent years, a wonderful friend to my mom. I went to be of support to my family and their extended families.

I have to say that I’ve been in a somewhat funky mood for the past several days – nothing about this trip seemed right for me – starting with the fact that it required the purchase of a new portable DVD player since ours had gone kaput in the middle of our last (TEN HOUR) road trip. I wasn’t about to replay that scene, so a new machine was in order. Got that installed minutes before hitting the road.

Actually, it did a fantastic job of keeping the kids occupied. However, because the thought of my kids having sound blasting directly into their eardrums for hours on end, I didn’t opt to have them wearing headphones. Instead from their dual screens I had movies playing into my ears the whole way. This meant: NO RADIO FOR SARAH. And to me, driving without music is TORTUROUS.

So, no music.

Nothing to look at either. Hills, trees, grass.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

I’m not immune to the charms of how beautiful Michigan is or can be. I am, however, kind of a city girl. Yes, I prefer a Starbucks on every corner to a local espresso shop that doesn’t open before ten on a Friday (seriously, what is THAT all about?). I prefer knowing that I can essentially throw a dart at a map to determine what kind of fresh cuisine I could eat, if I wanted to (this is nearly a moot point – I will almost always pick Mexican, Spanish or Cuban food if presented with a host of options because …YUM) over a local pub that reheats frozen entrees from a local distributor’s freezer section.

Like I said, I was kind of cranky on this trip.

We arrived to a hotel that hadn’t been updated since the 70s, complete with wood paneling, a blue toilet, and pink tile in the bathroom. None of the outlets could accomodate my laptop’s power cord. The room key was AN ACTUAL KEY. And I picked up the wifi of the hotel across the street better than this motel’s so-called wi-fi.

Thursday night, I slept horribly and woke up several times. This was in part due to the fact that Pumpkin evidently talks in her sleep and partly because I was at a really tense part of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” right before I went to sleep. Oh, and partly because the hotel skeeved me out.

Friday morning, we drove around for an hour looking for a place to get donuts for the girls – a Friday tradition we relish, whether we are home or away. AN HOUR. And after all that? After I found grocery store donuts? I still had no coffee.

And yet, there was so much beauty. So much beauty and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it – so frustrated I was by the lack of convenience, the bickering of my daughters and the sleep deprivation.

Because really? This is pretty.

I know that. You know that.

And I love the water, and the lakes and the oceans and beaches, and I love the serenity of waves crashing and sand between my toes and yet…

I love the roar of a city street. I love street vendors selling pretzels. I love the architecture of a skyline punctuated with skyscrapers. I love a glass building that reflects all it sees. People playing guitar on the street for change. The blur of a yellow taxi streaming by. Neon lights. Anticipation and energy hanging on the wind.

And though one is not better than another, for me, someone who needs a lesson or two on how to chill out – the bustle of a city makes it easier for me to catch my breath.

Thursday Ten: Developing Theories About Yogurt Edition

1. So you know my love for Greek yogurt and honey, right? It’s kind of MY THING. Fage 0% drizzled with honey has been my go-to snack for months and suddenly? It makes my stomach feel like it’s being jabbed with a hot stick. Now, I’m not a girl who has ever been even the teesniest bit lactose intolerant – so I thought maybe it was bad honey. So I tried with new honey. And then I thought it was the yogurt itself. So I bought more. And NOW, now I’m developing all these crazy yogurt theories and I’m making myself crazy.

2. I have to keep eating yogurt because it’s one of my healthiest favorite snacks. Beats the hell out of my love for chips. I am more than halfway through my hot-air balloon size bag of PopChips. I cannot be stopped.

3. Thunderstorms again yesterday morning and evening. I’m getting a little tired of this stormy summer weather. Fortunately, after the storms that ripped through Michigan Monday evening, I went to Target and stocked up on glowsticks. I find them easier and more fun than candles when the power goes out.

4. I finally started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this week. I am not even halfway through, but I already picked up the second book in the Millenium series to start reading immediately after I finish this one.  And though I have never wanted a Kindle, this book has 600+ pages and kind of makes me wish I was reading this on an e-reader of some sort. {Yes, those are affiliate links. Why? So I can save up to buy a Kindle}

5. World Cup Soccer – ARE YOU WATCHING? Me? No, not so much. But: Go USA!

6. There was an earthquake in Canada and instantly Twitter and Facebook blew up with people in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio who say they felt it. Really? I’m thinking if the quake epicentered in Canada was 5.5, that it would be maybe mere tremors at the most at such a great distance from the epicenter. But maybe I’m just bitter because I didn’t feel it? Maybe my childhood in California has made it so my brain doesn’t register tremors? Anyway. I’ve talked about weather related issues twice in this post, so I expect that next I’ll have my AARP card and I’ll be putting my teeth in a glass before I go to bed at night.

7. I have renewed my summer addiction to Edy’s Lime Fruit Bars. If you live on the west side of the country, these are marked with the Dreyer’s brand name. Here, they’re Edy’s. And I love them. Just a smidge sour, kind of sweet. Pictures of fruit on the box so I can fool myself that they are healthy. No, they didn’t sponsor this or give me anything (but if they wanna send me free popsicles, I’ll take them. Hey Edy’s, call me. *wink*). And while I’m on the Dreyers/Edys love train – the Whole Fruit Lemon Sorbet was the cure to my morning sickness during both of my pregnancies.  That and Hot Tamales candy. And breadsticks from Papa John’s. And no, I really didn’t have the much morning sickness I just liked to eat. Don’t look at me like that.

8. I’m working on another Taylor Swift song on guitar for my kids. So far it seems that if you can play one, you can play them all. But The Princess and Pumpkin are happy, so, go me. Taylor Swift aside, I had a great lesson the other day with lots of praise about my progress from my guitar teacher, and that’s kind of exciting for me. I’ve got a long way to go — but I’ve come a long way – so I’m pretty excited about it.

9. My kids don’t want to see Toy Story 3. I may have to go see it without them.

10. I slept on my arm last night. I woke up this morning with that horrible “can’t feel my arm” feeling and actually had to LOOK AROUND to try to figure out WHERE my arm was because it had no feeling whatsoever. Then there was that fun moment of trying to move my sleeping arm with my other arm to get it out of the way so I could get up. Bodies are weird.

A Letter To Mother Nature

Dear Mother Nature:

In college, I used to fall asleep each evening to the sounds of pouring rain and crashing thunder from a Nature Sounds Thunderstorm CD. I would pop that CD into a boom box (I know! Remember those?) and before the one hour of recorded storms receded into a gentle pitter-pat of rain, I had fallen into a deep dreamfilled sleep.

This habit of listening to this each night was tremendously useful for many years – because when an actual storm did occur, I was able to sleep right through it. Other people would wake up from the jolts of thunder that would rip through an otherwise quiet night – but not me. Oh no, I was a smug little snot, “Oh really? There was a storm? Hmmm. I must have SLEPT RIGHT THROUGH IT.”

Yeah. Eating those words now.

Because I haven’t listened to that CD in years.

Last night’s storm? SCARED THE BEJEEZUS OUT OF ME.

I was awake for hours. Crashes of thunder shook the house and nearly constant flashes of lightning had me fixated on the tall trees that my next door neighbor has “fencing” his house in – I was waiting for the temperamental reach of lightning to knock one of those trees right into the side of my house.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Didn’t stop me from laying in bed thinking about it for ohhhh, an hour or two.

Today, Mother Nature, I am tired. The sun is shining and an amazing cool breeze blows through my window but my brain is like mush. I am too tired to enjoy this.

Sometimes you’re a big meanie.



P.S. I’m also bloated, no thanks to you, but that’s another letter.

image source

Weekly Winners – Week ending 6.19.10

This week was a tough one – we started the week on Sunday a three hour drive back from one of those vacations that’s not really a vacation to find that my mother’s sister-in-law and her aunt both passed away on the same day in what can only be described as one cosmically messed up coincidence.  Meanwhile, in the midst of all this the kids and I kicked off our first week of summer — and we’re in the process of trying to find our groove. And, well, there’s been other assorted stuff going on that has made for a less than stellar week. We rounded out the week with Pumpkin’s fish dying this morning — so, I figure I’m kind of justified in not having taken any fabulous pictures.

Be sure to stop by Lotus’s place and check her out and see the other Weekly Winner peeps (all of which will have maybe had a little more somethin’ somethin’ to show you).

Crappy week? RETAIL THERAPY! My new High Key camera strap.

Welcome to the family, Belle. This was a gift from the friend whose wedding I shot in May. Pretty awesome gift. I had been drooling over Belle on the epiphanie bags website for a LONG time.

Canon 4EVA

THERE’S a way to make laundry exciting

Okay, admittedly, I’ve become a little bit of a laundry nerd since I returned from my trip to Cincinnati for Fabric Care University.  I learned things that blew me away (things that you all probably learned from your parents when you first learned to do laundry, but I didn’t – I mean, my family is lucky that I even know enough to sort the clothes into different loads). At Target yesterday, I picked up a new detergent* and today – even though it’s NOT MY NORMAL LAUNDRY DAY – I decided to get all ridiculous and wash a load of brights.

So, I go about my business – add water, add detergent, add clothes. Not so many clothes that they can’t joggle around in the washer – apparently that part is important (WHO KNEW?!). When the washing machine stopped, I slowly gathered the clothes out and tossed ’em into the dryer. Once all the clothes were removed, I caught a glimpse of something shiny out of the corner of my eye.

I leaned closer to the washer.

Reached my hand in.

Pulled out a diamond ring.

Uh. What?

Yeah, I don't find it pretty. But I bet someone misses it.

I knew nothing about it. Hubby knew nothing about it. “Hey Princess, I just found a ring in the wash – do you know where it came from?”

“Oh yeah, a kid gave it to me.”

“What kid?”

“Some kid from my school.”

In what can only be described as one of those mind-numbing conversations where I tried to get her to spit out the story and she tried to not say anything because she knew she shouldn’t have the ring, I found that a boy in her class had given it to her – I found out his name and then told her: “This has to go back. Someone probably misses it.”

The boy’s family isn’t in the phone book so I left a message at the school letting them know who I was and what the deal was, and asking the school if they could pass my number on to the boy’s parents as I would surely like to return to them what is theirs.

Whoo boy.

I thought I had a few more years til boys were plying my daughters with jewelry. (I also kind of thought that once it happened, it would at least be pretty jewelry but it’s all a matter of taste and I’m sure someone misses that marquise cut diamond ring. Even though, hmmm, maybe she lost it on purpose?). We had a talk today, about accepting things from friends – accepting gifts. When it is a big gift like that how The Princess needs to say that she can’t take it – that it’s too much.

The only jewelry I want her to accept right now should be made out of Froot Loops and candy and not involve the 4 Cs or anything remotely related to the 4Cs.

Laundry just got a whole lot interesting for me today. In the future, though, I hope to only find whiter whites and sweet smelling towels. I’d rather find no more jewelry. Unless it’s for me.

*I can’t tell you how my laundry came out because it’s still sitting in my dryer where it will stay until I need to put a new load of laundry in there. I’ll report on it then.

Thursday Ten: OMG, Ke$ha Is Stuck In My Head Edition

1. I don’t really like Ke$ha. She gets a lot of popular radio play and I get a little squidgy when my daughter sings along about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack, but, I have to admit, “Your Love Is My Drug” is catchy. I mean, I guess I had no choice but to catch it – it’s getting A LOT of airplay. In ONE hour on a radio station in northern Michigan last weekend, we heard it THREE TIMES. In one hour.

2. With my limited time to get things done in the summer, I have taken to doing the Jillian Michaels Shred again. I tend to not enjoy it while I’m doing it, but I do like a condensed workout. Admittedly, I’ve taken to scowling at the television during lunges though. I know it must totally break Jill’s heart.

3. Father’s Day weekend is approaching – do you have cool plans? I asked the girls what to get for Hubby, and Pumpkin said, “DEFINITELY a new golf club.” Fantastic, right? I know hooey about golf and golf clubs – don’t know what clubs he has, what clubs he needs and uh, aren’t they all the same anyway?

4. I hope y’all know I’m kidding in the above statement. Golf has been my saving grace with my photography hobby. What easier way to justify needing new lenses than to explain that different lenses do different things. Kind of like golf clubs. Whoa. Look at that bag full of clubs in the garage. Hmmmm.

5. The Princess has started gymnastics team practices – and while I think three hours of practice twice a week is a little hard core, she seems to be enjoying herself. She also seems to be progressing more quickly than I would have thought. Just a week ago, she struggled with a front walkover – and now she has it (nearly) down. I’m pretty surprised with how rapidly she’s picking these things up – but it’s exciting as well. The excitement she feels when she masters a new skill is pretty easy to read on her face – and that’s awesome.

6. It’s just past lunch time and I’ve already gotten dinner started. Whoa, right? I’m actually utilizing my crock pot for the best (homemade) pork tacos ever. And yeah, my house smells AMAZING.

7. I’m due to start a conference call shortly for an explanation on a project – a conference call that will likely leave me more confused than not. I am not 100% how to bridge the gap – when you have one person who needs to explain a project outloud to truly feel like they’ve explained it, and one who needs to read the detail to truly understand it. Writing down project details isn’t my coworker’s strong suit, but reading details is mine. Sigh. Somehow, it all works – once we muddle through the frustration.

8. I went to Costco on an empty stomach yesterday – and was thoroughly disappointed to find that there were hardly any samples out. Costco, you’ve failed me! They did have a PopChips sample. I ate mine. And then I ate the samples my daughters grabbed (stop looking at me like that. They’re GOOD). Then I bought a bag of Pop Chips that is big enough to be used as a hot air balloon once I eat all the chips.

9. I treated myself to a new camera strap this week. I had seen the link to High Key Camera via someone’s Twitter stream awhile back and had bookmarked the page.  In need of a lil retail therapy earlier in the week, I picked a funky green colored strap. Amazing and speedy service – and adds a little personality to my camera. Adorable.

10. My feet are almost completely healed post-Avon Walk. I definitely bounced back quicker this time. Thank goodness. There’s definitely an advantage to having known what to expect this go ’round. Who wants to join us next year?

School’s Out – Where’d My Balance Go?

Day two of summer vacation for the girls and I’m already in a minor panic, trying to reconfigure my daily schedule so that I can keep on keeping on, getting done all the things I need to do.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse get into a debate about the merits of stay-at-home-moms versus working-moms. I also don’t mean to imply that if a parent doesn’t work outside the home, their life is free from struggle and that they immediately have balance.

I’m sure it’s a struggle for everyone.

Which is why I’m here.

In addition to the care of my children and my house, I do have a job. I’ve been fortunate. I work from home. I make no mistake of how lucky I am that I have ultimately the best of both worlds (cue Hannah Montana…) in my life. During the school year – I am easily able to find that balance: When the kids are at school, I am able to wear my Worker Bee hat. When the kids are at home, I am able to put on my (much sportier) Mom hat. It’s easier for me to turn off the work part of my brain once the kids are home because I have such ample time to get things done.

In the summer, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

My ultimate goal is that I’m fully present in whatever I am doing (or at least 98% focused. My attention span kind of sucks). I don’t want to be the one constantly saying “just a minute” or “I’ll be right there!”, nor do I want my coworkers to be left in a lurch if I’m in the Mom Zone.

I already have some strategies I’m working on putting in place – including: waking up earlier (bleh!) and utilizing my mother’s helper again to watch the kids while I work on demolishing my to-do list one day per week.

What are your go-to strategies for getting stuff done? How do you find balance?  Will you come over and mop my floors so I can hang out with my kids?