July 31, 2012

You Should Try This...Date Day!

If you are married, with kids, then you are likely very familiar with the term "Date Night." Am I right? Well, since we had kids, once a month, my husband and I get a sitter and have date night. Typically we go out to a nice restaurant, oftentimes one a bit farther from home than we are likely to do with children in-tow. Sometimes we'll catch a movie. Every now and then we'll do something with friends. But, more often than not, it's a nice dinner and drinks out, just the two of us. Which is absolutely lovely.

However, a few months back, we realized two things: one, there were things we wanted to do with each other, without kids, that couldn't be done after 8pm. Things like shopping for clothes for us, leisurely exploring other small town's shops, playing golf, and the like; and two, it was really hard to share a bottle of wine and get home late and then get up with small children at 6 o'clock the next morning. So we decided to try something new...

And "Date Day" was born!

The following month, after this rough-Sunday-morning's epiphany, we booked a sitter for 11am-4pm on a Saturday. First of all, it was super easy to find an available sitter on a weekend afternoon. So that was an added bonus. Plus, we realized that we were actually paying a sitter to play with our kids for 5 hours, rather than paying her to put them to bed within an hour of arrival and then sit and watch our TV for the next four. Another bonus!

Then we headed out for a day together. We still got our delicious, relaxing meal at a nice restaurant, it was just lunch instead of dinner (which is cheaper, as well!). After lunch we went shopping. Just the two of us. Wandering leisurely through store after store. No toys in sight. Trying on clothes without worrying about kids running around and getting into stuff, or having a meltdown in the middle of a store. Being able to focus completely on one another.

It. Was. Wonderful.

We arrived home at 4pm totally relaxed and rejuvenated. And we then thoroughly enjoyed the evening with our kids. We did dinner, bath and bedtime with everyone smiling. And then...another big bonus...just continued our date. After the kids went to bed, we popped popcorn and cuddled up on the couch with a new Netflix movie. A full day, jam-packed with enjoyable stuff and quality time together, and we still made it to bed at a decent hour. So we awoke rested and ready for kid-fun the next day.

Seriously, I'm a genius.

Since that first date day, we have done many more. We've spent afternoons exploring other nearby small towns, we've spent hours in bookstores and coffee shops...but really, the options are limitless! Next month we'll go golfing and to some wineries. You could go mini-golfing or bowling (I think we'll try bowling in the winter.). You could explore a farmer's market or an art fair or a museum. Catch a baseball game. Go for a hike together. Have a picnic. Whatever suits your fancy.

And we still do date nights too. We've found it's great to mix it up. Both are good for our relationship. But we've really enjoyed the addition of the date day option. So I thought I'd share it with you all too. Maybe you'll enjoy adding a date day in here and there too.

It's funny. We used to do "date days" all the time, before we had kids. Except then, we didn't call them "date days"...just like we didn't used to call an evening out "date night." It was just days together and nights together. But adding kids to the equation forces you to plan, and to set boundaries around "mommy time" and "mommy and daddy time." You have to work at getting special time together to focus on your relationship. But it does make that time together all the more special. Just like getting away together in the middle of the day makes coming home to your little darlings all the more sweet.

So that's date day...you should try it!

July 28, 2012

They're Crafty...The Amazing Things The Grandmas Have Made For Our Kids

My family and I are blessed in many, many ways. We truly lead charmed lives and are incredibly grateful (though we may not always appear that way!) for all we have--health and happiness abound! Among the gifts we have been given is the gift of talented, creative grandmothers! Both Rolland and I have incredibly gifted, creative moms who love to bestow their talents on our children with amazing creations. I recently took it upon myself to photo-document the many beautiful gifts our moms have created for our kids so far (I fully expect more great stuff in the years to come!). And, as a way of pulling them all together in one location, I thought I'd share them here with you.

So, here we go...

My mother is an interior designer by trade, but I have always known her as a true creative person. When I was a kid, before she got into interior design, she had her own sewing and applique business with a friend. If it was today, they would have had their own etsy shop! They created all kinds of treasures. And I have many memories of Mom cutting, sewing and creating...of hours over a lightbox and in front of a sewing machine...using spray adhesive and and iron as she worked...and creating all sorts of wonderful things.
When my daughter was born my mom created a teddy bear and two blankets for her. The bear was eventually named Ny-Ny and, at three and a half, she still sleeps every night with Ny-Ny and one of the blankets. In addition to these cuddly wonders, my mom created another blanket using the antique hankies I collected when I was a kid...including some that belonged to my great-grandmother.
This is a keepsake so wonderful, and meaningful, I know that both Portia and I will cherish it forever.

When my son was born, my mother created lovies for him as well. This time an adorable blue dog and matching blanket. We will see what he names his dog as he gets older...Seriously, how cute is this little guy!
As Portia got a littler older, my mom created this beautiful stacking toy for her. It is on display in her room still and she finds all sorts of creative ways to include it in her growing, imaginative play--you'd be amazed by the many different ways you can play with soft, stuffed donuts!
Thanks, Mom!

Enter: my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law, Susan, is a retired grade school teacher and re-discovered artist. Now that she has time away from lesson plans and classroom bulletin boards and the like, she has blossomed as an artist (again)...and we are the lucky recipients of many of her creative endeavours. And every visit brings a new treasure!
This is the refurbished toy box of my husband's youth. It was once a quite plain, typical wooden toy box, that she re-imagined into this dress-up box wonder. It is the focal point of our sun room/play room and wins raves at every playdate!
Books. These are the five children's books Grandma Susie has created for our kids so far. The first was The Hippo Hunter, inspired by Grandpa Danny's love of hippos and collection of small hippo figurines that Portia played with on one visit to their house. Then came Walking Around Florida, about her first trip to Florida with her grandparents. Next was Tick Tock the Changing Clock, a result of Portia's love of Grandma's grandfather clock. Then came Finding the Perfect Present, and, most recently, Holden's first book, Horsing Around with Holden.
Above and below are pages from Tick Tock The Changing Clock

This is a page from The Hippo Hunter...Super Baby Portia!
What makes these books so cool, and so special, is not just that Grandma Susie wrote and illustrated all of them, but that she uses cut-outs of actual pictures of the kids and other family members for all of the characters. There is nothing a kid loves more than seeing themselves in books!
Grandma Susie also makes birthday t'shirts! Portia's she actually made for her to wear to Rolland's surprise 40th birthday party last year...of course she also wore it for her own birthday last year and on other random days when she just feels like it (like last Saturday). And Holden's was for his first birthday in May.
This is the sock monkey and black dog that Grandma Susie made when Portia was younger. They are cuddly little guys that live in the dress-up toy box.
You'll also find this super hero cape in that dress-up toy box! We have adorable pictures of Portia running around Grandma and Grandpa's driveway with this on at about 15 months old. And I think it may be part of this year's super girl Halloween costume.
Now, for the ultimate in dress-up chest wear, the Harry Potter robe and magic wand..."Ridiculous!"
It will be a few years before Portia fully understands the extreme coolness of these items, but she already loves them anyway. Though she has only seen choice scenes from the first HP movie, she already loves him and wanted her own wand. Grandma Susie was nice enough to make a complete family set, since Rolland and I are big HP fans too! I imagine a future with family wand fights and spells flying everywhere!
She made this lady bug pillow a while back...I can't even remember what the occasion was...it's possible it was a "just because we're visiting" gift...maybe birthday...I don't know.
Keeping with the ladybug theme...one of Grandma Susie's specialties is stained glass. This is the stained glass ladybug she made for Portia last year. And here are the three stained glass mermaids that swim in the corner of Portia's room.
She's also made a beautiful stained glass lawn ornament for Rolland, some butterflies that rest on our kitchen window, a beautiful stained glass wedding present for us, and other lovely items.
This is a tutu she recently made for Portia...I think this is the second tutu she's made for her. This one is particularly cool. As you can see, it has flowers floating in the skirt, and a button on the bow with Portia's picture on it.
For Holden's first birthday, Susan created this Horse theme. I already mentioned the book earlier, but she created a t'shirt, a stuffed horse and a stained glass horse to go with the book. By themselves, each of these is so wonderful/cool/special. But what really makes these amazing is that they are all based off a horse drawing that my husband did as a kid...the shaky, three-legged horse you see on the cover of the book, the t'shirt and the stained glass. This one actually brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. So beautiful. So wonderful. So sweet. (By this point, I know you all are incredibly jealous...hopefully you're also getting inspired to create cool things of your own!)
Grandma Susie also made cool dinosaurs for Holden's birthday! The blue and purple one is actually Portia's, but the rest are Holden's. His current favorite is the dinosaur egg with the baby dino that he can take out and put back in...awesome!
And some dinosaur "scrub" jammies to go with his dinosaurs. These match his new Holden doll's scrub jammies...which I'll explain below. Ready for this? Check it out...
These are, hands down, the funniest, freakiest, silliest, greatest of Grandma Susie's inventions! They are stuffed fabric dolls created using photos of the kids for the doll faces! (Notice, the Holden doll is wearing dino pjs to match Holden's.) Not only did she create the dolls, but their clothes (and slippers) too. Too cool! Thanks, Grandma Susie!

And that's not even everything!! I am sure I have left some things out. And when I come across them, I will update this. I will also update as we get new Grandma creations. For now, I will say this: I know we are amazingly lucky to have a couple of fantastically talented, creative and generous Grandmas on our hands. They definitely inspire me to get creative too. (They also inspire me to send them cool stuff I find on pinterest in hopes that they'll make it for me!) And I cannot wait to see what they will come up with next.

Hurray for wonderful Grandmas!

Hopefully they inspired you too.

P.S. Creativity is not restricted to grandmas in our family, either. Since I'm already sharing, I thought I'd share one of the many things my nieces, Katie and Lexi, have made for their cousins...
Though they have made many things, I think this is my favorite. And I wanted to share it because it's such a great gift idea, and something anyone could do. This is the alphabet book Katie and Lexi made for Portia.
Each page is a different letter with fun drawings of things that start with that letter. They did all the drawings, then my sister-in-law, Linda, had the pages laminated and the book bound. This is such a treasure and we play with it regularly as we work on Portia's letters. Love it!

Are you inspired yet? Now, go get your craft on! (I know I'm going to!)

July 22, 2012

This Week In Food...Super Simple and Light, Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Okay, I haven't thrown any recipes your way in a while, so I thought I'd do a quick recipe post...because I love you and want you to eat well.

We had this dish again last week and I was reminded how much we all love it (kids too!). I was also reminded how easy it is. And I like that it's easily customizable...you really can do whatever veggies you and your family like, and you can change it up whenever you make it. Plus there's an added bonus...it makes the kitchen smell good when you're cooking it!

So here it is...

Roasted Vegetable Pasta (adapted from Cooking Light)
8 oz. sliced gourmet mushrooms (baby bellas, shitakes, or a mix of what you like)
1 red pepper, chopped into large bite-size pieces
1 onion (red, yellow or sweet, whatever your preference), quartered and sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 c. dry white wine (whatever you're happy to drink is fine...and pour yourself a glass while you're at it!)
8-12 oz. Farfalle (bowtie pasta) (depending on how many you're cooking for and whether or not you want leftovers)
1 c. frozen peas, thawed
1/4 c. thinly shaved fresh parmesan cheese (you can also use grated or shredded)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Combine mushrooms, peppers, onions (or whatever veggies you're using), oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss to coat. Arrange mixture in single layer on jelly-roll pan. Bake at 475 for 15 mins. Turn veggies over. Drizzle wine evenly over veggies. Bake an additional 7 mins. or until veggies are tender and lightly browned. While veggies are cooking, cook pasta according to package directions, drain and keep warm. Combine pasta, roasted veggies and peas in large bowl and top with cheese.

Remember, you can change the roasted veggies to your taste. Here are some ideas: summer squash (or even butternut), zucchini, tomatoes (try cherry or grape tomatoes and you can leave them whole for roasting), broccoli, carrots...really anything that roasts well...use whatever is in season or whatever you have on hand, and play with your combinations! Just keep in mind that some veggies may require a little additional cook time, so check for "doneness" before you take them out of the oven...and try to keep the veggie pieces similar in size for roasting (i.e. don't chop your peppers tiny but your carrots in big chunks...aim for on the large end of bite-size).

Also remember that not everybody in the family needs to like every veggie you use. The design of this makes it very easy to pick around the things you don't like. For example, I love the mushrooms, so more of those go on my plate; Portia doesn't like red peppers, so we scoop around them when serving her's up.

That's it for today. More to come. Go forth and create yummy eats. And, as always, happy cooking!

July 10, 2012

Sunday Night Crazy

I continue to marvel at the never-ending, low-level of crazy that permeates my daily life nowadays. Gone are the days of big drama that made up my pre-marriage-and-kids life. Those days were filled with dating drama and trauma (Will he call??? Is he really interested???...Now I'm pretty sure he will and he is.), late-night bar-hopping and crazy antics with friends, lunatic travel schedules and long, stress-filled work days. Not anymore. I don't typically have the stress-level spikes I once had. What I have instead is a constant, easy-flowing stream of chaos. Like my life has become a babbling brook...lots of little ripples, no major water falls. Which is good. Except that I often don't get a break from the constant crazy. Sunday night is a fabulous example.

After a wonderful weekend at my brother and sister-in-law's place in Indianapolis, we arrived home late in the afternoon Sunday. We unpacked the car, picked up the dog from the Pooch Palace, then I bustled around unpacking and settling us back in before dinner and bedtime. Neither of the kids had slept well while we were gone, so both were exhausted and went down relatively easily and even a little early. Which was great. Until about 9pm, when Holden started fussing. We let him go for a while, since he was back in his own bed in his own room, not wanting to encourage bad habits. But after three rounds of cry-fall back asleep, cry-fall back asleep, cry, we decided it might be teething pain that's been bothering him the last few days and got out the baby Advil.

I went in to pick him up and soothe him while Rolland got the goods and came in to dose him. It was a bit of a challenge to settle him down and get the medicine into him, but we finally managed it. Rolland had work to do, so I sacrificed the last fifteen minutes of the show I had been watching and settled into the chair in Holden's room to give the Advil a chance to work and get him back to sleep.

About five minutes later I hear a loud crash, followed by a series of thundering bangs and then a big thud. Something just went crashing down the stairs!

I jump from the chair-- Holden starts crying again, either from the loud noises or my reaction, not sure which-- and run from the room. I round the corner to the stairs and this is what my eyes take in: The heavy, wooden banister is pulled from the wall and laying across the stairs and Rolland is laying facedown at the bottom of the stairs.

Enter: panic.

While clutching Holden to my chest I rush down the stairs quietly calling to Rolland, "Are you okay? Are you okay?....Oh my God, Rolland, are you okay?" I am trying to maintain composure and not further upset Holden or wake Portia if she hasn't already woken from the crashing, and my mind is already racing forward...how do I get him to and ER and cover the sleeping kids?

Rolland lays on the floor with his eyes closed, head turned to the side, and quietly sighs, "I'm okay."

I am now crouched down on the floor by him. "Are you sure? Are you sure you're okay? Oh my God, Rolland, what happened?" I say, softly.

As he slowly rolls over and sits up, Rolland explains to me that after cleaning up the medicine stuff in the bathroom he headed downstairs, lost his footing about three stairs in, grabbed the banister to steady himself, snapped the metal brace, slammed into the stairs on his back, whacked his head on the then-fallen banister, and careened down the remaining stairs and into the wall at the bottom.



So we get him up, get him ice packs for his head and back and get him to the couch. After multiple assurances from him that he is, in fact, okay, I take Holden back upstairs. We settle back into the chair in his darken room only to hear the loud pops of fireworks outside...followed closely by low whining outside the bedroom door...and a moment later, more firework pops and slightly louder whining and thumping, as the dog attempts to break-in to Holden's room.

Yeah, Cooper's afraid of fireworks.

So, I get up once again to let the dog in to lay on my feet while I rock Holden. Once we are settled back into peace and quiet, I can't help but think that Portia will wake up screaming from a bad dream in the next minute or two.

Thankfully, she does not. Awesome girl that she is, she sleeps through the night and doesn't learn of its events until the following morning.

At 10:30pm, I finally lay a soundly-sleeping Holden in his crib and quietly usher Cooper from his room, holding his collar so he doesn't wake the baby with one of those crazy dog-head-shake-collar-jingle things that he always does at the most inopportune times. I then head CAREFULLY downstairs to check on the patient. I do a full assessment of his head and back and we decide he will be sore and bruised, but otherwise fine. Thankfully. We then check out the banister damage-- a ding in the wall and the need for new braces (one is snapped and the other bent), close-up shop, and head back upstairs for bed.

Where I sleep soundly until 5am when Holden starts fussing again. Ugh.

Babble, babble, babble. Ripple, ripple, ripple. Chaos, chaos, chaos. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Such is my life. Crazy and wonderful.

And at least I know he'll call.