Thursday, July 24, 2008

We're off

Well, the time has come for me to sign off for a little while. I'm not nearly organized enough to have posts appear while I'm away, and although I will try desperately to post something while I am on vacation . . . I will be honest when I say, it just might not happen.

My husband reminded me what a basket-case I become before we leave on vacation. Checklists, last minute errands, packing, and barking orders are a way of life for me this week. I tend to fear the unknown. I get agitated easily.

What is traveling in a van for several days with THREE small children like? Will Thing 1 vomit? Again? Will we get any sleep in the hotel the first night? Will we drive my family nuts? Will they drive us nuts? Will will be safe? And happy?

So, of course once I close the door van tomorrow morning and head East, all my concerns will be muted and a sense of calm will come over me. Because I will be able to focus on where we are going.

And why.

First, we will stop here.

We will swim in this river. The boys will have a blast. They will meet their new cousin.

These three are all one year older. Two of them are that much louder. And there are two more. Yes, that is FIVE kids.

This one came out in January, we call her Thing 3. She takes up an extra car seat in the van.

We will then travel to and spend time here.

It's really awesome. The water is @#$&! cold.

And last, but not least, we will probably end up doing a lot of this.

Au revoir mes amis!!!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Not Bad" Cookies

I made these cookies for our upcoming trip. I like to have lots of snacks along so we don't have to stop for fast food (not that we won't, but so we don't have to do it often). They are a tad on the healthy side with the whole wheat flour, and they really don't taste that bad. Don't get me wrong, they are not "wipe-the-drool-off-your-chin" delicious, but they are fairly decent and my kids love 'em. I have to admit that I found these a few weeks ago on another blog, and I totally forget where so I can't even give credit!! Yikes.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies:

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup natural peanut butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup oats
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter, sugars, and peanut butter until smooth. Beat in eggs. Combine dry ingredients and then add to creamed mixture. Mix in oats. Drop by spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake 10-15 minutes until light brown. Don't over bake.

Jerry Springrolls

For all those who asked, the "Jerry Springrolls" recipe came from the ever-famous Canadian sister team of Janet and Greta Podleski, in their cookbook Crazy Plates. These talented ladies also have their own blog. Check them out!

Of course I wasn't lucky enough to find the recipe online, so I had to re-type it.

Dipping Sauce:

3/4 cup of water
2 tsp cornstarch
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp of soy sauce (reduced sodium)
1 tbsp of gingeroot grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 oz rice vermicelli noodles
1 cup each grated carrots and chopped bean sprouts
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber
1/2 chopped green onions and fresh mint leaves
2 tsp sesame oil
14 6-inch rice papers

1. Whisk together all sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly. Remove from heat, let cool to room temperature.

2. Boil vermicelli in a large pot of water for four minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Blot dry using paper towels.

3. Coarsely chop noodles and place them in a medium bowl along with carrots, bean sprouts, cucumber, green onions, and mint leaves. Mix well. Add sesame oil and mix again.

4. Fill a mixing bowl with 3 inches of hot water. Keep some boiling water handy to add to the bowl as the water cools. Soak rice papers in hot water for 30 seconds, or until soft. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, lay wrapper flat and blot dry.

5. Place 1/4 cup filling in center of wrapper. Using your fingers, shape filling into a 3-inch-long cylinder. Fold bottom edge over filling and roll once to enclose. Fold in sides and continue to roll up tightly. Place seam-side down on a plate and cover with a damp towel. Repeat process with remaining wrappers and filling. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

6. Serve spring rolls with dipping sauce within 3 hours of making them, otherwise they'll dry out.
(I've actually eaten them the next day and they were totally fine).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quickie weekend wrap up

While faced with some less-than-stellar weather on the weekend, we decided to take the kids to the Children's Museum for a few hours. They were holding a Bob The Builder exhibit, so I figured it would be fun for Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Climb aboard out tour bus and enjoy the ride!

Thing 2 hops on Muck and gets ready to get down to business.

Thing 1 sports his hard hat and orders Lofty to the next building site.

Thing 1 rides his first camel.

Later that day daddy decided to torture them and make them pose for a photo in our big tree.

Notice the looks of fear in their eyes? Yes, that's real.

And I hit the kitchen like a madwoman again.

Here is the famous granola . . .

We made these spring rolls for friends who came over to dinner Sunday night. They were sered with a spicy Thai sauce . . . they were truly delicious and the best part of the meal, I thought. I will try to post the recipe later when I have more time. It's fairly long.

And for desert I finally caved in and made a Boston Cream Pie. Which isn't pie AT ALL, it's cake! Not sure what recipe rock I'd been living under, but I'm so glad I figured it all out and gave it a whirl. It was amazing. Everyone agreed.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Been eating some good food

Here's my second promised update . . . a crafty mom cooks more and eats healthier!

You may remember I mentioned that I was on a mission to eat healthier.

So far so good, as they say.

I have not managed to eliminate sugar from my diet, but I have cut WAY back, and it's making a real difference. If we are looking for something sweet, or feel like a treat, I make sure it is something I make myself. We haven't bought any cookies or pre-made goodies in a number of weeks now. Of course there are days (like those stressful ones where three Things and one mommy are all screaming in unison) when I crave some trans-fat-laden, sugar-infested snack the size of Mount Everest, but slowly my body is beginning to adjust and crave those things less often. Due to the fact that I'm such a stress eater, I'm trying out a few other techniques before I reach for a cookie or some ice cream. Sometimes counting to ten works, other days it only reinforces the actual number of brownies I feel I deserve.

Making things from scratch is wonderful. It tastes amazing. But it takes a lot of time. I find myself often up late at night whipping up something in order to use an ingredient that I don't want to have to throw away (see my budget tying in here??). For example, I had two zucchini left last week from our organic basket. I couldn't figure out what to do with them, so I searched for a recipe online. Ended up finding this little gem. The BEST zucchini chocolate chip muffins I've ever tasted. I even put less sugar in than they called for. The boys gobbled them up, oblivous to the fact that it had green chunks all the way through it. Score one for mom. I also made these blueberry muffins, which were not greeted with as much general toddler love as the "ones that had chocolate in them".

Whatever. The blueberry ones were awesome too. It may sound like I've never baked, but that is not the case. It just seems that recently it has become something at which I am quite good.

I found a number of menu-related and cooking sites and blogs, all of them excellent. I really like this one, called From Mommy's Kitchen. She has another blog I read, The Princess Chronicles, about her life with two and four-year-old girls. Since I have the same in the "other sex" I like to read her perspective and funny tales. I love her Monday Menu plans because the recipes are good and all seem to be things we like to eat.

Like the home-made granola I made. I will likely never buy another bag or box of granola for the rest of my life. This stuff is delicious, and you can substitute or add anything you like. I added the raisins and some slivered almonds and we're going to run out soon because we're eating it like a pack of wolves.

You know, if wolves had easy access to an unlimited supply of granola.

There seem to be many benefits to eating better. For the most part we all seem to be doing better. I know I certainly feel better emotionally. Now that I'm not really going on sugar binges when I'm stressed (don't get me wrong, I still eat sugar, just not in the quantity and forms that I used to), I seem to be a bit more level-headed and balanced, even when I am having a bit of anxiety.

Because let me tell you, anxiety exists in a home with Three Things so close in age.

And without causing anyone to hate me or put a fist through their laptop, I'm going to go out on a limb and admit, proudly, that I am officially at my goal weight now. As a matter of fact I am several pounds lighter than I was before I became pregnant with Thing Three, in May 2007. I am running and exercising and I really feel terrific. It's likely my stomach flu helped this along a little bit, but I'm hoping my healthier eating played a major role in it too. Because that might actually motivate me to keep eating this way!!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Purse strings tightened? Check!

Life has been swirling by me at a seemingly alarming rate the past few weeks. I promised a couple updates, and I've decided that it's time I delivered on at least one of them.

The Crafty Mom's Budget Experience:

Budgeting is going . . . what I will call "well". Avoiding annoying and unplanned costs is not going so well. I've been quite successful at tracking our costs and staying within our allotted dollar amounts. I enjoy finding little ways to save money every day. I'm much more selective in my shopping and never purchase anything anymore without carefully thinking about whether or not we need it. Meticulous thought goes into each dollar I hand over across a counter as I pay for goods and services . . . a practice I am choosing to use more and more lately as it really does limit my spending. When I have my debit or credit card available, it is far easier to spend more, without thinking enough about it. I take out enough cash for two weeks, and I make sure not to spend more than I have tucked away in my wallet.

Trying to save money from our fixed costs is proving tricky. Many of our bills are difficult to reduce, considering I feel we are already efficient in the way we use a lot of amenities already. For example, we don't use our dryer to dry clothes from April to October, I dry everything outside on the line. And although we use a lot of water because we are a big family, we don't waste water at all. We have quick showers and we don't leave water running from the tap. We turn lights off. We don't use our air conditioning very often, and we don't leave things plugged in when they're not in use. Our largest bill is our cable bill because that includes our home phone, cell phones, cable TV and high-speed internet. We have scaled back our cable a bit, but we see it as a cost that is important to us for entertainment. We don't go out or have any other entertainment costs at this point in our lives (sad, but true, although I'm confident this will change as the Three Things mature slightly and leaving them becomes easier), so we enjoy watching television, seeing movies and viewing our favourite sports in high definition. Our cell phones are bare bones service, and we've discussed canceling at least one of them, but haven't yet for fear of that "one time" we will really be in urgent need of reaching each other via cell phone.

While there is very little I can do about gas prices, the one variable I can change is how much I drive. We drive less. Plain and simple, I don't go out with the Things as much as I used to and we stay home a lot more and play in and about our own neighbourhood. We are very fortunate to have a totally awesome park across the street from us.

Our new healthy eating lifestyle is definitely easing the pressure on the purse strings as well. I worried that increasing the amount of organic food we buy would force us into a higher grocery budget, but on the contrary we are more careful with what we eat and we waste nothing. We use it all, no matter how difficult it is. And I'm cooking and baking more, so we aren't buying any processed foods. It is certainly time-consuming but I'm seriously surprised at how much I'm enjoying it. Mostly everything we eat now is from scratch, and it really does save more money than I expected.

All that being said . . .

Our budget has been BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER this month.

Did you hear that laborious sigh? Yup. That was me. And the noise following it was my heart hitting the floor.

It's the things we can't account ahead of time that are killing us. A flat tire on the van which ended in us purchasing two brand new tires (needed soon anyway), a service appointment for an oil change and radiator flush for the same van, a new car seat, a maintenance repair on our Volkswagon, and last, but not least, the purchase and installation of a brand new roof rack so we can actually go on our vacation next week. Three car seats, two adults and a tremendous amount of miscellenious gear do not leave any added space for important items like, say . . . SUITCASES holding necessary items like clothing, shoes, soap, shampoo!!!

So in our very first month of serious budgeting, we are way over in several categories due to these mostly unforeseen circumstances. But I haven't given up - and if anything - this has only caused me to be further frugal in other areas in order to help me recoup the “lost” money this month. OK, OK, I get that it's not lost money, but you know what I mean.

Since I was asked, I've decided to post some money saving tips. Please note that I am inexplicably far from being an expert in this area (some are likely falling off their seats and plummeting to the floor upon reading this), but that doesn't mean I can't share my two cents.

Two cents.

Get it?????

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Guaranteed to put a smile on your face . . .

Monday, July 14, 2008

Our first cavity

As my stomach twisted and turned in the van this morning, I realized that some of the things our children go through is far more difficult on us as parents than it is on our little ones.

Thing 1 had a cavity. He needed to have it filled, so we went to the pediatric dentist to have it looked after this morning.

I suppose a little background information is needed here. When Pete was three I took him to see my family dentist. She willingly takes children as patients, so I figured I would give it a shot.

It was a disaster. 'nuff said.

We were sent to a pediatric dentist. They had a long waiting list, so it was over six months before we could get in to see the ped dentist. We went, and for the beginning of the appointment Thing 1 did quite well. After all, we had prepared him, chatted, read the books, talked openly about the dentist, etc. At the point when she started taking the mouth x-rays, things started to go downhill. He wasn't able to hold the thing in his mouth for very long and she just couldn't get a good picture. Eventually she got one x-ray, but was unable to complete the second side.

By this time Pete was very agitated, and had become quite upset. She came back in to check his teeth and gave me the BAD news. He had a tiny cavity in his top back tooth.

My heart truly sunk. I thought I'd heard her wrong. She did say "tiny" . . . maybe that was more like . . . "nonexistent"???

Me? Have a child with a cavity? What kind of bad parent allows their child to get a cavity? I cried. I blamed myself. I wondered where I'd gone wrong. Did I not brush his teeth well enough? Should I not allow him to have sugar . . . ever? It's no secret that Pete is a poor eater, but I never dreamed it was to this degree.

She assured me that childhood cavities are usually due to poor teeth enamel and are hereditary. I hadn't had any cavities until I was a teenager, where I contracted two underneath my braces. Hmmm, isn't that an oxymoron - straight, rotten teeth? But my poor husband had a few when he was smaller, so it looks like our first Thing may have his daddy's teeth.

We made an appointment to have the cavity filled, and the lovely dentist recommended we use sedation due to the level of anxiety he had experienced with just the x-rays. Our appointment was scheduled for June 4th, although we had to cancel that when Pete came down with impetigo and was given an antibiotic. Oh, temporary joy. We got to put off the inevitable for another month.

So last night I sat down to read the list of instructions the dental office gives to parents with children who are to be sedated. The list of possible side effects was longer than most of the papers I wrote in university, so I figured I better prepare for the worst. Surely Thing 1 would exhibit ONE of these dreaded side effects?

The no food or drink prerequisite proved to be tricky, but not as difficult as I imagined. He asked for a drink and some food a couple times this morning, whined a bit, but that was the end of it. Our appointment wasn't until 10:20 a.m., so a big kudos to him for lasting that long on no food! (I think I would have died, personally.)

When we got to the office, Pete did fabulous. The assistant gave him the sedative (in drink form) and he drank it up with no problems. We were then sent to the waiting room to wait for it to take effect. For an HOUR.

An hour is a very, very long time to wait in a pediatric dental office waiting room. Thankfully, I came armed with some of our very best books. I read to Pete for about 45 minutes . . . and several other children pulled up chairs for the crafty mom's story time too. They're parents must have loved me, I kept those kids happy for ages. By the last 10 minutes or so, Pete was clearly lethargic and seemingly very tired, so I assumed the sedative was working. He did great in the dentist's office. They put a mask on him with a little bit of nitrous oxide and then asked me to leave and go wait in the waiting room.

I was terrified to leave him in there, I felt like he must need me there for support and to help him. But in all honesty, he barely noticed me leave. She came to get me in ten minutes, said they were finished and that he was perfect. She'd even been able to finish up the rest of the x-rays and conclude that the rest of his teeth were in great shape and there are no other cavities!

Mission accomplished. My heart palpitations immediately diminished and my stomach soon began to feel less like a tornado. I brought my little guy home and he's been asleep all afternoon (another side effect she had mentioned). I wonder if I can pick up some of that “special drink” so I can get myself a supply of that to have on hand at home?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

More on Thing 4

OK . . . I was catching up on some bleading tonight (blog reading - duh!??) and saw this on Creative Momma's site. I am nothing if not a sucker for a cute cocker spaniel, so I thought I'd dig deep into the PC archives to find some goodies.

In March of 2003 I went home for spring break to visit my mom and dad. Paul wasn't able to get the time off work, but since I was a teacher I had a week off. We drove down to visit my uncle for lunch one day, and to see his new litter of puppies. He'd bred one of his two cocker spaniels, and he had the litter at home. He graciously offered me one of the pups.

I fell head over heels in love.


I soon e-mailed Paul, back at home, this picture.

And a short time later . . . I was the owner of this.

We named him Rudy, after our very, very favourite all time movie about a football player from Notre Dame.

He was our first baby. He had just turned one when we had Thing 1 in March of 2004.

As a matter of fact, he was there when I gave birth to him.

He got cuter and cuter.

And although we love him to death, he has caused us some angst over time.

But we love that little guy more than anything and he is our true Thing 4, and will always be one of the gang here. Thanks for putting up with us buddy!! Here he is last week sporting a new short summer haircut.

The 3 Things Take a Nature Walk

For those who were interested, we did not end up going here this weekend. After two weeks of being sick, we decided it was a smarter parenting choice to take our well and healthy chillins out for a . . .

Nature walk! While the Minto Ecohome secretly called out to me all afternoon yesterday, I knew in my heart it was not going to be a completely children-friendly activity. We needed a good dose of kick-up-your-heels family time and a whiff of fresh air!

We buckled Thing 1 into his new, very pricey, car seat. Armed with oodles of market research and data, as well as testimonials from moms of young children, I headed out to purchase the Britax Frontier last week. While Britax has been a leader in car seat manufacturing for some time, they only recently started carrying them in Canada. Thing 1 is a slight little fellow. At age four he weighs only 32 pounds . . . which is eight pounds away from the required weight a child must be to ride in a significantly less expensive booster seat. This seat should last us a long time, however, because it converts to a booster and can be used up to 100 lbs. With three kids who are eventually all going to use it, I felt it was cost-effective enough for me! (Yet mildly painful for our new budget.)

"Let's go mommy! Wilderness beacons!"

Upon our arrival at the hiking trail, we were greeted by this guy . . .

. . . who turned around to give us a better shot.

We were later joined by his close friend and buddy . . .

and his long-lost cousin, twice removed.

It's such a beautiful time of year here, literally everything was in bloom, green, and growing like crazy.

Thing 1 searches for bull frogs. (He found many.)

Mommy gets a break to enjoy the sunshine. This is my "Swamp Mama" look, by the way.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I would live here if I could

Since becoming more passionate about the environment in the last ten years or so, I have always held the dream of one day building a completely green and environmental home.

I know they exist, solar panels are hardly new and are more common today than they were, say, twenty years ago.

Well, what a complete and utter surprise to me when I sat down to watch the news last night only to see that THE GREEN home is in my hometown. Wow. I became all giddy and excited.

I give you, the Inspiration EcoHome:

I was intrigued because the designer of the home was being interviewed on our local news channel, and he called it "the GREENEST home in North America". I did a double take because that's a fairly powerful statement to make, and he appeared to have no factual data to back it up. On the Minto website they claim it is one of the "greenest homes in Canada", which sort of sits better with me.

The cost to build a house like this clearly comes with a phenomenal price tag. BUT. And this a large, upper-case, BUT . . . once living in the home you actually MAKE money on the energy the house creates, instead of having to pay out funds to bills to provide energy for the home.

The house boasts all-off green switches and plugs, energy efficient lighting, double wall construction, triple pane windows, natural gas stove and dryer, natural ventilation requiring no A/C, built in recycling centre, and a rainwater collector . . . just to name a few of its environmental features. Are you drooling like me yet?

It looks amazing, and even better, they host tours on the weekends. I think it's time I picked up my newly-well fam and headed out to Manotick to catch a glimpse of "one of the greenest" homes in our nation!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tightening the purse strings

I'm certain this will sound just downright ridiculous to some of you. You will laugh and think to yourself, “is this nut for real?”. “Is she actually someone's mother?” “How could she possibly be educated . . . wait – isn't she a teacher?”

Brace yourself.

I just completed my first budget. A real life, actual budget that monitors and limits your spending. defines “budget” as the following:

–noun estimate, often itemized, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future.
2.a plan of operations based on such an estimate. itemized allotment of funds, time, etc., for a given period.
4.the total sum of money set aside or needed for a purpose: the construction budget.
5.a limited stock or supply of something: his budget of goodwill.
6.Obsolete. a small bag; pouch.
7.reasonably or cheaply priced: budget dresses.
–verb (used with object) plan allotment of (funds, time, etc.). deal with (specific funds) in a budget.
–verb (used without object) subsist on or live within a budget.

Number 10 kind of hit me like a speeding train at rush hour. I mean, this is what normal, grown-up adults and parents do, isn't it? And while I'm sure there are many of you shaking your heads, thinking I must be an unorganized, over-spending goof . . . there must be a number of you nodding in agreement, recognizing that a concrete budget is something that's been on your own to-do list for far too long.

Despite not having a budget on paper, I'm not a crazy over-spender. We don't live a lavish, extravagant lifestyle. At this point in my life, I choose not to work and I have an extended maternity leave from my career (and I have been fortunate enough to have retained my full-time status and position in my school board) so that I am able to spend this part of my life at home, raising my children. It's a choice. But one that comes with some restrictions and limitations. We live in a modest, small, home in a mid-sized city. We drive basic, no-frills vehicles (what I wouldn't give for a power window at the drive-thru). We don't have a home filled with expensive gadgets, equipment, or “things”. Our recent Wii purchase (for Father's Day) is our first video game and only item of that genre that we own. We don't eat out often, we don't own NHL season tickets anymore, I don' t have extravagant jewelry and we don't take world-class vacations. We don't have any debt outside our mortgage.

I used to work in a career where I made a fairly decent salary. I chose to leave that career to pursue a degree in Education and become a teacher. Not because I hated the previous career, but I felt that I had a calling to become a teacher, and I had always loved and felt natural teaching children. It was a huge life adjustment for me and a large pay cut (but evidently extremely rewarding). My husband and I used to be DINKS (double income, no kids) and we ate, drank, traveled and spent. Changing careers and then having three children was a real wake-up call to our financial stability.

After putting our budget discussion on the back burner for ages, we finally got our act together and did it. It wasn't so hard. I'd always been great at saving receipts and documenting all our costs, so I'm certainly aware of where we spend too much money, and where the majority of our money goes.

The biggest and most aggressive change we made was to deliver a largerer percentage of our income directly into savings for retirement, education, etc. What is left we divided among our bills and typical monthly costs. At the end of that, well, there is not a whole left. You can see this is not rocket science, I didn't even use a fancy program like Quicken, I did it in simple old Microsoft Excel.

So this is where things change for me. Suddenly every penny I spend comes from a pre-existing category. I have certain allotted amounts per month, per category. I'm careful with money and I don't believe I waste it, but I'm not used to contemplating every dollar we spend. This is really going to make me think about things, and ultimately, that's a positive thing for our family. I've found lots of useful websites and blogs with great tips, so I'm learning a bit more every day.

Be sure to stay tuned in the coming weeks to see how a crafty mom does on a budget!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

(well, not really wordless because that would be impossible for me)

Here are a few shots from yesterday . . . the kids were still not 100 per cent better from their stomach flu bout, so we walked around the neighbourhood, and hung out on the bed. On a non-sick day I couldn't have done anything in my power to put Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the stroller AND have them fall asleep!!!!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Mosiac of Me!

My creation

I saw this cool mosiac idea at Simply Shannon's blog. With a fabulous name like that, I couldn't resist, so I tried it out!!!

Here’s how it works . . .
Answer each of the questions below.
Surf over to Flickr (set up an account if you don’t have one–it’s quick and easy) and type your answers (one at a time) into the search bar.
From the choice of pictures shown only on the front page, click on the one that moves you.
Once the page with your picture opens, copy the URL.
Surf over to the Mosaic Maker, set up your mosaic, and paste your URLs.
Click “Create!”

The Questions:
1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What high school did you attend?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. What is your favorite drink?
7. Where would you go on your dream vacation?
8. What is your favorite dessert?
9. What do you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. Choose one word to describe you?
12. Your Flickr name? (I used my blog name.)

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