Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This past weekend my blog hit 1,000 page views.  I was so excited and had all these words just forming in my head about a post about reaching what felt like a milestone in my little blog world.  And then our world got rocked.  I got that phone call when your heart stops...my sister had taken a turn for the worse.  And, as I watched the helicopter take her away from our hospital to a bigger hospital so they could prep her for freakin brain surgery I felt shock.  The emotions of the last couple days are just too much to write about right now.  I just wanted to share why this space may be a little empty for a few days while we all try to help my sister and her family during this hard time.  I'm not an overly religious person, but I do have faith and I have been praying up a storm and if you are so inclined, send a prayer up for my sister.  I'm going to try to step up and fill her enormous shoes as a mommy to her littles (and not so little ones) who are all being so brave and strong.  I'm gonna love them like they are my own and try to make them feel safe during a scary time.  
And, now we wait and hope and pray.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Happy Memorial Weekend.

Feeling a little bit in a funk as we approach the long weekend.  I'm pretty sure the main cause of this is the snow falling down outside.  Having a hard time thinking glass half full with the spring time snow.  I know the weather is ALWAYS bad on Memorial weekend, it's like a law or something, however I am always hoping this is the year it'll surprise me and we'll get to go camping and be outside for three whole days.  I guess we'll actually have to move for that kind of Memorial weekend.  The spring has been such a tease…last weekend the sun was out, sunscreen on and we were out enjoying it.  This weekend we will stay tucked inside out of the cold wind and snow.  I could totally handle it if it was just a dreary, rainy day…that is spring appropriate.  Temperatures barely reaching 40-degrees is not.  Not in my book anyways.

Enough about the weather.  Too add a little color to this grey I made a wonderfully colorful salad one night this week...
I got this recipe from my little sister...it was originally an Asian Chicken Salad, but seeing as we don't eat chicken, I have modified it.  It is fantastic with blackened salmon or without any meat as we had it this night.  I did do some lime coconut shrimp on the the side and that was a nice compliment.  Here's the recipe:
Asian Salad:
-Chop cabbage for the base.  Add sliced snap peas, any color of pepper and onion.  I had a little corn leftover so I threw that in this time too.  
-Take around 1/2 cup sliced almonds, some sesame seeds and broken pieces of dry Ramen noodles (toss the seasoning from it or use it for something else)  Spread this all out on a baking sheet and cook in a 350-degree oven for around 6 minutes.  Add to the top of the salad
Mix 3 tbls canola oil, 2 tbls rice vinegar, 2 tbls soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp sesame oil, a little black pepper.  Shake it up and pour over the salad

This was a good week.  We didn't get much outside playing time but we did enjoy stuck inside type things.  It was a week where we didn't have any activities any evening of the week.  No ballet classes, no family dinner at my parents, and even Ava's soccer practice got cancelled.  What we got was some family time every night after dinner right until bedtime and it was splendid.  One night the girls set up a "store" in our room where we got to go shop and ended up in a family wrestling match…me & Layla against Matt & Ava…those are always fun (until someone inevitably starts crying…it was Layla this night), we had a game night one night and then a night of slowly meandering through the grocery store to pick up some groceries for date night (more to come on that!).  This may not seem like a fun activity, but we somehow make it one.  Browsing through the yummy cheeses in the deli, trying to find a new bottle of wine to try and getting the girls samples from the bakery while appreciating the beautiful cakes and cookies.  Just a lot of good old fashion family fun.

Yesterday Ava had early release and I wanted to do something fun with the girls for the afternoon.  We decided to set up a "spa" and I went all out...

Layla set up all the polishes for them to choose from...
I got out my old jetted foot soak (which they thought was hilarious)...
And there was lemon water in fancy glasses & soothing music in the background.  Fun was had by all...

I'm loving this trying to go without distraction and totally focusing on what I'm doing at the moment.  I tend to be the type who tries to do so many things at once and then nothing gets done well.  When you stop and focus in and not get distracted by all the little things you can really enjoy the other little things.  I feel like I was very successful with that this week and it left me feeling happy and content.

Onto this weeks date night, when I asked Matt if he had any ideas of what we should do he said let's do dueling appetizers.  Now, this instantly sounded like a competition and if you know me at all you know I love any sort of competition.  Here was the plan…we each pick an appetizer to make, cook them that night and each got a vote as to whose was best.  Matt made stuffed onions and I made bacon guacamole won tons.  (thinking if you have bacon and then wrap it and fry it I would be a shoo in)

Matt's took a little more time, I was totally impressed…he boiled the onions, hollowed them out, mixed the insides with fresh herbs, bread crumbs, cheese and dried cranberries, stuffed the onions with the mixture and then baked them.  For mine I cooked the bacon, chopped it in pieces, made some fresh guacamole (without tomatoes, but chopped onions instead), wrapped them in won tons and then fried them until they were brown and crispy.  Matt also got a bonus point for making bread.  (he topped it with ricotta, honey and basil…SO yummy!)

So….after tasting them both we declared Matt the winner.  The flavors were just so unique, sweet and rich and very good.  Mine would have totally won at a Super Bowl Party.  Next time I would use less bacon to let the guacamole flavor come out more…they were tasty little bites and would be a total crowd pleaser.

Now we are all settling in for a three day weekend.  I can't even remember the last Memorial Weekend when we didn't go someplace…camping or to the lake.  Three whole days with the family and not one. single. plan.  I am embracing it and look forward to what comes.
Happy Memorial Weekend. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Butterflies, S'mores and being Hands Free...

Today the butterflies emerged....
And, just as I suspected I went from thinking this was pretty gross, to pretty amazing.  
Now, that they are all out I feel a little bad having them in captivity.  However, if we release them right now they probably won't survive the weather, so we are gonna keep them in for awhile and then let them go when it warms up.  Despite so many of the gross parts of this whole thing I have found it completely fascinating to watch and have totally enjoyed it.  

The weekend was wonderful.  The best part of it was seeing my sister on the mend.  She turned a corner and started to be herself again and that was great to see.  By Sunday, she got to go home to her family and is now working on getting all the way better.  Knowing she was feeling better we started our weekend with some time with our girls.  Saturday morning the sun was shining and at Ava's suggestion we headed for the mountains for our first hike of the year...
Okay, maybe Drinking Horse Trail isn't exactly a mountain, but this time of year there aren't a ton of places to hike that don't still have snow on them.  
I see how much the girls have grown this past year now.  We can now hike without one little girl whining that their legs hurt or want to be carried.  It made me think back to the first time Matt and I decided to take little tiny Ava on a hike, just a couple months after she was born.  She snuggled up on me in the front back and we didn't venture very far, but it still felt good.  Being out in the fresh air, in our mountains, doing something Matt and I both feel so passionate about, and just adding our newest family member to this hobby.  We've spent the last several years going about hiking in various ways, front packs, strollers, back packs, piggy back rides and slowly these little girls have figured it out and found a love for it also.  Ava may wear a dress while she's doing it, but she'll be the first one up the mountain and the last one you will hear complain.  Layla, in the last few years, has had her break downs doing this, but this year was right up with her sister. She even took a couple tumbles on the rocky path and just stood up, wiped the dirt off and kept on going.  That makes me one proud mama...watching my girls with their tiny, yet strong legs running up the trail.
That evening we had Amy and Chad and their kiddos over for drinks, dinner and the hopes of a fire for s'mores.  Oh, we are so lucky to have such awesome friends and that we all have kids together.  They have been our friends forever and I know this friendship would have continued even if we would have had babies at different times, but how lucky are we that Ava and their son were born just 13 days apart?  We've gotten to go through all of this parenthood stuff together and are at a point now when we get together the kids all need us less and we all get to visit over the noise of the four kids just running around playing crazy games.  

Time just flew by and before we knew it we were putting sleepy girls to bed, past their bedtime and all feeling content from a well spent Saturday.

Monday the girls and I got to go pick up my niece Kim after school.  We didn't get Greg also cuz he had soccer practice so it was just girls.  What better treat for three little girls on a Monday than Frosty's.  I spent the rest of the car ride listening to them crack each other up with jokes that didn't even make sense and was more about who could be sillier.  Wendy's must put something in these things.

When I have these three girls together like this I can't help but think of myself and my two sisters.  Sometimes it makes me wish we had one more.  I would take Kim in a minute if my sister would let me, but I have a feeling her and Dave are pretty fond of her as well, so I'll have to settle for moments like this.  

This morning as we were all getting ready for the day I told Matt something I have been thinking about lately.  It went something like this...
Me:  I'm thinking of cutting back on cleaning this summer
Matt:  (talking through a mouth full of spit while brushing his teeth)  Uh, what?
Me:  Yea, I think I should cut back on it, spend more time playing with the girls
Matt:  (very sarcastically)  I'm thinking of cutting back on work
Me:  I'm being serious...I think I clean more than some people.  (at which point I mentioned a few people who I have talked to about this and how they go about their house cleaning)
Matt:  Yeah, but "so and so" (don't want to mention names) works full time
Me:  Excuuuuuuuuuse me?!!?!?!

Not wanting this conversation to actually turn into an argument I tried to explain how I feel like sometimes I worry too much about getting everything done and not enjoying that time with the girls instead.  I have been recently inspired by this idea of going "Hands Free"  It started when I saw someone share this blog on Facebook.  It's about a mom who has decided to step away from all the distraction to focus on enjoying her children and family.  Things like leaving the cell phone at home when heading to the park, not checking email all throughout the day, leaving the piles of laundry in trade for some playing goldfish with your kids.  I have really loved reading it and have been trying to take it to heart and implement it in my day to day.  Not jumping to check my phone as soon as I hear a text come in, especially if it interrupts my kids.  I've been trying to do these things not just with the girls, but with Matt.  Unplugging and taking in the moments without distraction.  The emails and facebook and phone calls can wait.  I'm pretty good at being able to do that, but for some reason have a much harder time leaving things undone around the house.  That is what I meant by cutting back on cleaning.  I know there are some things that need to get done every week, but there is a lot that is just not that important.  Today was the day I started this and this is what I got in return...
Blowing bubbles with Layla and watching her giggle as she tried to catch them.  Chalking on the sidewalk.  Quiet, totally connected moments with my baby girl.  
I think it's gonna be a good summer.  And, I promise Matt...I won't cut back on cooking.

Have a lovely week.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

To Health.

This week did not go as anyone in my family planned.  My sister got very sick and ended up in the hospital.  This illness runs the spectrum of being a really yucky illness to a really scary one.  She is fortunate that it has turned out to be the not scary one, but the week has still not been easy on her.  It's hard to see her in so much pain and so uncomfortable as this horrible virus gets through her system.  She is one of the strongest women I know (she had an 11 pound baby at home...I had to have drugs for my 6 pound nuggets) so to see her like this is rough.  It's hard to see her kiddos and know they are worried about their mama and not be able to just scoop them up and bring them to our house because of concerns of spreading the illness.  It makes me feel so helpless to not be able to make it all better for her and her family.  I went into cooking mode on Thursday and have pasta sauce, bread and cookies in the freezer ready to take over as soon as she gets home.  A small gesture, but feels like something.  I heard this quote awhile ago and after this week I keep going back to it:

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship. 

Health truly is the greatest gift we can have.  Without it everything else kinda falls apart.  I work so hard to keep my family healthy and feel so fortunate to have healthy kids.  My sister is a healthy person also, so when you see her get knocked down by something like this you see just how fragile it is.  I come home after visiting her and can't stop thinking about her being so sick.  I try to go on with our normal day, but my thoughts are with her so I feel totally distracted.  I also get feelings of guilt that I get to be out in the sunshine, playing with my kids while she is laying in a hospital bed feeling just lousy and can't even hug her babies right now.  I know this will pass and she is getting better everyday, but right now I wish I could give her the gift of health.  

Because I've been a little lost in my own thoughts and to try to keep some order to my random thoughts I think I'll just go with a list of happy things from the week…

1.  Doctors, Hospitals, Medicine.  We are so very lucky to live in this community, in this country where health care is readily available.  When my sister came down with her illness they were able to determine what it was and immediately begin the proper care and give her medicine to keep her as comfortable as possible.  This is not a given for everyone in this world, or even in our country.  For this we are lucky and I am grateful
2.  First Grade Field Trips.  I got to join Ava and all the first graders for a field trip to the Fish Hatchery where they got to learn about bugs, birds, fish, their habitats and the environment.  It was fun to get to be a part of this and any chance to spend time with Ava is a joy.  It's great to see her in her school environment, with her friends and watch them all learn.  First graders are awesome…they are old enough to handle a field trip like this and still think learning is fun.  None of them have an attitude about being too cool for any of it and they participate and ask questions and are kind to each other, it's so wonderful to witness.  I kinda wish we could keep her in first grade forever.  
3.  Family and Friends.  Anytime something like an illness or something comes up I realize what an amazing support system we all have here and how fortunate we are to have it.  We all jump right in and try to find a way to help and support.  I had texts and calls from friends, checking in on things, and my in-laws who became babysitters on call so I could go up and see my sister when I needed to without having to take the girls.  We are so fortunate to all have one another and sometimes things like this help me realize it even more.
4.  Summer like weather and rain storms.  The week has been beautiful and warm with a few wicked rain storms thrown in just to keep everything fresh and green.  Oh, and the smell after the rainstorms…nothing like it
5.  My Girls.  When my sisters and I were little we loved putting on "shows" for our parents.  We would make up plays, dances (doing "Kid's Inc" was our specialty, remember that show?) and have our parents come watch.  It is so hilarious to see my girls doing the same things.  Last night the show was outside and involved their giant balls as props.  They practiced the routine before dinner and after brought us out to enjoy the show.  I love it.

6.  Date night.  Friday nights if we are home, almost always are at home date nights for us.  Matt asked if I wanted to just chill out because of everything, but I really wanted to have a normal night.  So, we put the kiddos to be early and cooked up a fabulous meal and enjoyed it over a bottle of wine.  Just what I needed.  We had pasta cuz I think pasta is perfect date food.  I made a very simple tomato, basil, cheese sauce that tasted so fresh and light.  We had that with bread and some balsamic/olive oil to dip.  A very simple, but fantastic meal.

I'm not sure what the weekend will bring.  The girls and I were going to go out of town to visit my little sister, but plans changed and now we will be staying home.  We are hopeful that my sister will get to go home so there will be visits to her and trying to help her family out as much as we can to get them settled.  Ava really wants to go hiking, so maybe we'll throw in some much needed family time and do our first hike of the year.  I can't remember the last time we had a weekend without something going on, so I think this will be nice.  No plans so we can be available when help is needed, but still be able to enjoy the beautiful weekend we are supposed to have and based on the sunshine blaring in is going to happen.  We'll continue our latest Sunday tradition of heading to the soccer fields to cheer Ava on to wrap up the weekend and get ready for a fresh week.

Wishing you a healthy weekend…the greatest gift of all.

Tomato Basil Pasta:
(as with any pasta, I think this is best served over homemade noodles!!)
-1 Pint grape tomatoes
-2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
-1/2 tbls red pepper flakes
-3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
-8 Basil leaves, torn
-1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs (toast some good bread, chop into crumbs with the food processor, spread on a baking sheet, drizzle a little olive oil over top and cook at 350-degrees until brown)
-Cook pasta until it is almost done, drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water to use later
-Heat some olive oil in a large skillet.  Add tomatoes, garlic slices, red pepper flakes and some sea salt.  Cover, but leave slightly open so steam can escape.  Cook for around 10-minutes, swirling pan often
-Remove from heat and push down on the tomatoes so they crack and the juices come out.  Add pasta and pasta water and return to medium high heat and cook, stirring to coat the pasta, for around a minute.  Add cheese and basil and stir gently until cheese is melted.  Top with toasted bread crumbs and salt and pepper to taste.  Simple, Perfect.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day. (A Day Late!)

Yesterday was Mother's Day.  A day to celebrate all the moms out there.  It's taken me a few years to figure out how you are supposed to celebrate this day once you are a mom.  At first I thought it meant taking a day to yourself to relax because of all you do everyday being a mom.  Now I find that all I want to do is have it be a normal day where I get to embrace my littles because they are the reason I am a mom.  That morning I woke up with Ava climbing into bed with me.  I wasn't quite ready to be awake yet so I just laid with her.  She so generously told me I could sleep until 7 and then proceeded to tell me how many minutes I had left every time a minute passed on the clock.  Once Layla was up also, Matt tried to get them to leave so I could sleep more, but I wanted to be with my babies.  All day Matt wanted me to go do something for myself or not let me do anything.  So sweet of him, but I just feel like on this day I want to be with my family and enjoy them.  I did enjoy him cooking breakfast and cleaning up however.  I'll take that any day.  Once it was decided that we'd all just stay cuddled in bed the girls wanted to give me their gifts.  I love this part of this day, seeing what they have made for me.  There is nothing better than seeing the proud look on my girls faces as I open and ooh & aww over the gifts they've put their little hearts into making.  I proudly display their works of art and love their creativity.  I think the sweet gifts I get from them are more than enough, but I'm spoiled in the husband department so I also got a gift certificate for the spa from him.  

After breakfast we all put on our Sunday best and headed to church on a beautiful spring morning.  After that Matt continued to try to get me to go do something, or take me out for lunch but again, I really just wanted to come home, hang out with the family and just do nothing.  We don't have a lot of nothing lately so I wanted to take advantage of just enjoying our own back yard before we had to head out to soccer games in the afternoon.  It was the perfect day for soccer games...blue skies, warm air and good company to cheer on the teams.  My nephew is also playing soccer so it becomes a family affair with grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins all sitting on the sidelines-snacking, laughing and watching the games.

We started our weekend out with a date night on Friday.  We had spinach and cheese croquettes and they were so good.  I roped Matt into helping and he ended up rolling and cooking all 51 balls (yes, he counted)  I think he was a little over it, but was a good sport and they were worth it.
Here's the recipes....
Mini Italian Burgers:
-1/2 lb ground beef (we always use local grass fed beef for best quality)
-2 tbls tomato paste
-1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
-2 cloves minced garlic
-2 - 3 tbls fresh cut basil or parsley
1.  Mix all the above and roll in small balls and flatten into patties.  Grill to desired temperature
2.  Take some ciabatta bread and brush with olive oil.  Top with cheese (I use extra sharp white cheddar) and some fresh basil leaves.  When burgers are almost done, broil so cheese melts
3.  Top the burgers with basil/chive  mayo (chop some fresh basil and chives and mix with mayo and a little s&p to taste)
These are so good you don't need ketchup, mustard or any of the usual condiments that go on a burger.  (and, I usually pile my burgers high with all that!)

Saturday Layla had dress rehearsal for her recital that night, so I took her to that and Matt and Ava had a little Daddy date.  They took the bus downtown, did some shopping, ate lunch outside and then headed home.  I was quite jealous to read the text that they were sitting outside having lunch while I was sitting in a dark auditorium waiting for Layla's turn.  Oh, well.  I love that they get that time together and that Matt makes it a priority to do that with each girl.  It is something we both like to do with them and will continue as they get older.  That night was Layla's dance recital and I was such a proud mama.  I know just last week I said there was nothing cuter than a girl in cleats and shin guards…however, I think a little ballerina with her hair all pulled back in a bun is equally adorable...

Layla has this confidence and just rocks it.  Being away from us with all the commotion of backstage doesn't even phase her.  She was all smiles when I dropped her off and so happy when I picked her up.  It was fantastic, she's a natural.

I think Mother's Day is an appropriate time to gush about how much I love being a mom.  I feel so fortunate to have these happy, healthy little girls.  I hear a lot of sad stories about struggles that other families have and feel so blessed for what I've got.  Sometimes I feel like when is the bottom gonna drop out for us, we can't possibly be this lucky.  I try not to let those thoughts linger and just embrace and feel gratitude for what I've got.  When we were kids my sisters and I used to play "house" all the time.  We would have our dolls and pretend kids, and purses with all our stuff in them.  We would use the stairs as our cars to drive kids places and do errands.  If we were playing Barbies, there was always a mommy, daddy and baby and it would be the same thing.  It's like getting to do what I used to play as a kid now in real life and I love it.  I know the time that I have with these girls is short.  If a few years they will begin to need us less and less and will gravitate towards friends and hobbies.  I want to know that when this starts that I took full advantage of the time that they were solely mine.  That I fully embraced their childhoods and gave them my all.  I want to realize everyday how lucky I am to be their mom and get to help shape them into the young women they will become.  I want to know that by doing this, when they do grow from happy little girls, to independent women that I will go from being their mom to being their friend.  That is my biggest hope.  So, when it comes to celebrating a day that is all for mom's, I just want to get to do just that…be a mom and celebrate it.  And, to celebrate my own mom who helped me become the mom that I am.  She was there for us for everything and still is and I'm so fortunate for that.  For all the mom's I know…friends, sisters, mother-in-laws, Grandma's, Aunts…Happy Mother's day.  I have learned from each and every one of you.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

Spring Time Friday Things....

I have this love affair with lilacs.  

It begins every year around the middle of May and we usually call it off when the last of the fragrant  purple petals drift away in June.  The smell of them to me is the epitome of summer coming and they make me smile.  I could be having the worst day in the world and I'll get a whiff of a fresh lilac and I get so happy I could literally start skipping.  We have one little lilac bush in our backyard that has had a rough time surviving the last few winters but is holding strong and manages to give a few blooms each year.  Our front has two large lilac bushes that basically cover our front window in purple and are big enough now that when in full bloom you can smell throughout the house if the window is open.  Sigh….I'm like a love sick puppy with that.  I wanted my wedding bouquet to be just lilacs, but we got married in August when they are no longer in season.  I settled for Sweet Peas, which are similar to me, kinda like the lilacs more popular big sister.  Most would prefer a sweet pea over a lilac because who ever heard of buying lilacs at a floral shop?  The Sweet Peas made a beautiful bouquet, however they can't hold a candle to my love of lilacs.  
Moving on from talk of lovely spring things, I move on to not so lovely spring things.  This watching caterpillars turn to butterflies is really freaking me out.  I know it is an amazing metamorphose that these creatures go through, but what began as cute little baby caterpillars quickly grew to kinda creepy full size caterpillars all in a tiny little container, crawling over one another and then eventually moving to the top of the container and forming cocoons.  Now they have shriveled up and they are just barely hanging on there and it is the weirdest thing ever.  My sisters and I used to catch caterpillars when we were kids and put them in a jar with some grass and hope we could see them cocoon and turn into butterflies.  Never happened.  Now, as I am getting that childhood wish it's creeping me out to watch.  I know that in a week I'll probably be writing about how amazing these butterflies are, but for now I'm not too sure about the whole thing.  The girls continue to be fascinated with it and I'm trying to keep my opinions to myself.
This was a good week.  Matt was gone for work stuff for a majority of it and we missed him so, but we always manage to make the time go fast and take advantage of some just girls time.  We eat light, go to bed early (girls do, I tend to sleep less when he's gone) and enjoy getting to talk to Daddy on the computer.  The girls get a kick out of this…kissing the computer screen, making faces, it's pretty funny.  Ava had a musical at her school and that is always fun.  She had a little speaking part and she is so not the child that loves to be the center of attention.  She walks up to the microphone, says her line as fast as possible and then turns around before she's even done to get back to the safety of the bleachers with her classmates.  I get teary eyed every time for what I of course consider an Oscar worthy performance.  She was feeling braver by today when she got to bring our dog, Sadi, in for show and tell.  She was so proud to have her fluffy yellow dog at the front of the class and give her three facts that she thought of for her.  1.  She's very fuzzy.  2.  She's 8 years old.  3.  She can do tricks.  Ava proceeded to show the trick by putting a treat on Sadi's nose and making her wait until she said "ok" to toss it up and catch it in her mouth.  It's Sadi's claim to fame and the class gobbled it up.  Then Ava pranced her around the classroom so her friends could all pet her.  Ava was so proud of her dog and I was proud of my girl.  

Earlier this week I got the opportunity to go out for a beer with Amy.  My sister was having a little party and I decided with it being a school night to leave the girls with Grandma and Grandpa and go with just Amy.  Since neither of us were taking kiddos we decided to go out for a drink before and went to the Rooftop downtown.  It's a totally cheesy cowboy bar, but when the weather gets nice they have a bar on the roof and it is so great to be outside, staring at the mountains with your best friend.  We don't get the chance to hang out just the two of us like we used to as much, so anytime we get the opportunity we take advantage.  It may have only been an hour, but we can cram a lot of girl talk into that time over a Corona. Good times.

Matt got home last night and we are looking forward to having him home for the weekend.  After not cooking much this week and not many plans of cooking this weekend because of Mother's Day and other things going on, I am excited to make a yummy dinner tonight for date night.  We are having Mini-Italian burgers and spinach & cheese croquettes and it is gonna be good.  Recipes will come next time.  The spinach and cheese croquettes are inspired by our favorite restaurant here in town, Over the Tapas.  They are so good there and I make a decent replica of them at home.  Poor girls…they really miss out on date nights, they are having leftovers.  I don't really feel bad, they get all sorts of good food and at this point in their lives have never even eaten at a McDonalds or Burger King.  (I'm either depriving them of an American childhood tradition or saving them from eating that crap…I think the latter and since it's my blog I get to say that.)  Tomorrow Layla has her ballet recital and I am so excited about it.  Layla has not mentioned once that she is nervous and can't wait to dance on the stage again.  Ava always enjoyed doing the dance recitals but was a bundle of nerves before going on stage.  She's more like her mama and Layla is definitely more like Matt in that regard.  I get nervous in front of crowds and was always so scared going on stage, but once there loved it.  Layla won't even think about being nervous and will just go out and dance her little her heart and I'm sure I'll be sitting in the crowd with tears in my eyes.  Sunday will be more soccer games and some Mother's Day celebrating.  The weather promises to be good and the snow of yesterday is long gone.  Matt is home so our family is complete again and we're ready to enjoy the weekend.  I leave you with some pictures of my baby girl.  I've been trying to get better at my photos and using Matt's fancy camera.  (This is very nice of him to trust me with it considering the last camera I broke because it got full of sand and the one before that I dropped in the river)  I was just playing around and got a couple cute shots of little Miss Lay...

Happy Friday!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Full Weekends, Spaghetti & Stuffed Pizza

Today was an awesome Monday cuz we ended our day with the first visit to Dairy Queen of the year...  
My girls and I love us some DQ and with it being a beautiful sunny spring day we decided it was time to break it in for the season.  It did not disappoint.  (Does it ever??)  Happy girls, happy mama.  After our sugar fix we passed a park we haven't been to in awhile on our way home and did what I like to call "speed parking"  I put the stop watch on my cell phone and tell the girls whatever amount of time we might have...even if it's just five minutes...and say "GO!"  and these little girls run and try to do everything at the park in that amount of time.  Great way to get in and out of the park when we have less than 15 minutes.  They have as much fun in that little amount of time as if we lingered there for an hour.  

Weekend re-cap.  It was full, it was fun.  I went home Friday night after a little break feeling totally refreshed and ready for date night.  I made what I consider the ultimate comfort food...pasta.  And, not just any pasta...good ole spaghetti....
I used to buy spaghetti sauce at the store, then I got my mother-law's spaghetti recipe and I have never had to buy sauce again.  If you have a few spices and a can of tomato paste you can make the best sauce ever.  I really like her original recipe, but have modified it slightly because I don't usually do meatballs when I make it, so it needs a few veggies to take away a little of the acidity.  

Spaghetti Sauce (best served over homemade noodles!)
-1 small can tomato paste
-2-3 tomato paste cans full of water
-1/2 cup finely diced carrots
-1/2 cup finely diced celery
-1/2 onion chopped
-2 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 tbls sugar
-1/2 tbls freshly grated Parmesan cheese
-1 tsp each of basil, oregano, marjoram
-salt & pepper
-1 bay leaf
1.  Heat some olive oil in a sauce pan, add onion and garlic and cook for around 5 minutes.  Add carrots and celery and cook for 5-10 more minutes.
2.  Add tomato paste, water, cheese and spices and bay leaf.  Simmer for around an hour on low-med heat until sauce thickens.  Remove bay leaf.  Serve over noodles and top with more Parmesan cheese

After Matt and I completely stuffed ourselves with pasta, brushetta and roasted brussel sprouts we decided to have our first fire in the backyard.  We had a glass of wine by the campfire and I didn't think it could get much better.  And, then it did, cuz out popped a full moon in the beautiful clear sky.  I went to bed that night very full, happy and smelling of campfire.  (which I decided is not a great smell in the morning unless you are actually camping)

Saturday the girls and I got to go visit our local Humane Society for the first time since they got a new location.  (first time ever for the girls)  A friend of Ava's was having a birthday party there and when the mom asked if I would be able to stay and help out I was all about it.  I LOVE animals and up until I realized I had a queasy stomach thought I'd be a vet when I grew up.  (Probably a good idea I didn't go that route since I have several incidence of passing out when giving blood).  Nevertheless I still love being around animals and was looking forward to seeing them.  I do find going there a little heartbreaking and leave wishing I could take all of them home.  I promised Matt we would not come home with an animal unless there was a fluffy white kitten there.  At one point, Ava pulled me over and said "Mom, look"  She was pointing to a very large white cat.  She asked "Is that white and fluffy?"  I hated to burst her bubble and tell her no, that's not a fluffy white kitten, but give her props for picking out the only white cat there.  The one animal Ava really wanted to bring home was this sweet thing...
Luckily this pup belonged to one of the staff there otherwise I probably could have been talked into those big brown eyes.  The girls had an absolute ball and I realized that I could have done nothing for their birthday parties at all and just had them at the animal shelter and they would have been very happy girls.  Maybe next year.  Not for lack of wanting, we did not come home with any animals...just doggy treats for Sadi that they got to make at the party...

Saturday night we did a little celebrating Cinco de Mayo style...We had our neighbors over and chowed on yummy Mexican food, margaritas and ended the night with another campfire under the moon.  Matt gave me a hard time doing a Cinco de Mayo theme when I didn't know what it was and I informed him that it is the celebration of Mexico's victory over France during the France-Mexican war, thank you very much.  Good times.  (our evening, not the war)

Sunday was a very big day for little Miss Ava.  First soccer game and with a clear blue sky no chance of cancellation!  She was ready and excited.  I used to think there was nothing cuter than a little girl all dressed up in ballet slippers and a tutu, but now I'm thinking there's nothing cuter than a little girl in cleats and shin guards...
The game was hilarious!!  These girls have only had a few practices so watching them all chase the ball around and kick it here and there was so adorable.  Ava got in there, it's great to see my shy girl in the mix kicking the ball, full of smiles.  Her team totally lost, but they had so much fun and that is all that matters.  I like seeing her part of a team.  Some of my best memories are being a part of a team, whether it was intramural basketball or cheerleading, that being in the group, working together always felt good.  After her game, we stuck around to cheer on her cousin Greg for his game.  Ava, Layla and Kimberly were quite the cheerleaders for that one.
I know I've said it before, I just feel like the gang is complete when the girls are with their cousins.  I can't wait for summer when they all get to hang out more.  These three were pretending to be penguins sitting on their "eggs" during the game...it was pretty funny!!

Once home it was time to throw some girls in the tub and get some dinner going.  After they were all cleaned and jammied they wanted to go back outside to play.  Ava came running in after being out there for a few minutes to grab a couple hats because their wet heads were cold.  When I went out to tell them dinner was ready, I found two girls, in their pj's, with winter hats on playing horses.
I managed to snap a few pictures through my laughter.  These girls crack me up everyday.    We ended this lovely weekend with stuffed olive and artichoke pizza that was crazy good.  The pizza looks small, but it is about 3 inches thick so it is filling!!  I make my pizza sauce and dough like I always do, then split the dough in two.  I roll out one and put it in a 8 inch baking dish, fill it with cheese, artichoke hearts, garlic stuffed green olives and fresh basil.  I then roll out the other dough, put it on top and pinch the sides.  Cook it at 400-degrees for around 30 minutes, then add the sauce to the top and some Parmesan cheese and cook for ten more minutes.  Be prepared to be totally stuffed.  

And that is what you call a very full, fun weekend.  It doesn't look like it will slow down anytime soon and I'm good with that.  I like the hustle and bustle of all the activity and all the experiences the girls get to have.  I also like the simplicity of just watching my girls let their imaginations run wild and play for hours in the backyard during the downtime.  It reminds me of my own childhood.  My sisters and I would play for hours out in the field and the old barn of my Grandpa's.  We'd find rusty tools in there that would become our "kitchen stuff" and just play.  It was simple...we didn't need anything fancy, just our own creativity.  I think that gets missed with some kids and I am so happy that our girls have wild imaginations. There has to be a good balance of activity and nothingness.  And, even though we have plenty of activity going on we are sure to take advantage of the nothingness as well.  
Have a fabulous week.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Ramblings....

I love getting to spend time with Matt and my girls.  It's how I happily spend the majority of my time.  However, there are times when I don't even realize that I need a little break.  That's where Matt comes in…it's like he has this sixth sense for when I need to get away and have a little bit of time to myself.  Today was one of those days.  This morning, I felt off for no reason.  It was a Friday, the sun was shining for the first time in a few days…I should have been ready to rock the day, but kinda felt like I just wanted to go back to sleep.  As I pulled away to begin the morning drop-offs-Ava's school, Layla's school, me to work, Matt said "hey, why don't you take a little time to yourself tonight?"  He knows me so well.  I don't like to be away from them, but know that it is so important to take a little time to just chill out.  Even if the only thing I did was run errands like going to the bank, taking my parents paper in since they're on vaca, etc.  At least I get to have the car all to myself and blare really bad music with the windows down.  Case in point, as I was driving Sir-Mix-A Lot's 'Baby Got Back' came on the radio.  This song takes me back.  Amy and I used to sing this song ALL the time…we knew all the words.  And, of all the useful information I have probably forgotten in my life I found that I still know EVERY word to that song.  Anyways…after the mindless errand running I cozied up at a coffee shop for some uninterrupted writing where I won't feel compelled to rush because I should be doing other things.  And, enjoying a nice mocha while doing it aint too bad either.

So I learned this week that I still have mad storytelling skills.  When I was little and shared a room with my baby sister I used to tell her stories at night.  They were usually only partially made up from books I had heard or read at school, but she didn't know that.  Well, on Monday Matt was out of town for work and I had made a promise to Ava awhile ago that next time Daddy was gone she could sleep in my bed with me.  We have never done the family bed thing, even when the girls were little, but lately when I lay Ava down she hugs me really tight and says "please sleep with me, I don't want to sleep alone, can I sleep with you?"  All in one sweet breath.  I give her a big squeeze back and tell her that we all sleep better if we stay in our own rooms.  I believe this, but it doesn't mean it doesn't tug at the heart strings.  Hence, the promise one night that we would do it when Daddy was gone.  One to always try to keep my words, especially with my girls, on Monday night after I laid Layla down I told Ava "Get your stuff"  She looked at me like "Huh?"  I reminded her of my promise and said she should grab her blankie and stuffed animal and crawl into my bed.  My girls go to bed early, this was only around 7:00 so I had no intention of going to sleep, so I laid down with her and asked if she wanted to hear a story.  She was all smiles and said yes.  So…I began on a story about a magical horse named Sparkles that came to her room in the night so they could go on far away adventures in the night (to beaches and mountains and Australia, not sure where that one came from but I went with it).  After their world adventures the horse would bring her back to her room and she would fall back asleep like no time had passed.  By the time I got to "And they lived happily ever after" I had a very happy girl with big sleepy eyes that I kissed good night.  I won't be doing the family bed thing in our home anytime soon, but there was something to be said about snuggling next to my baby girl and listening to her breath.  She would stir in the night and kinda wake up, look over at me and grab my hand…like she was trying to keep me close.  The next morning Layla came into the room and could have cared less that she was left out of this.  Little Miss Independent likes her room and sleeping…at night it's a quick kiss after prayers and she's out.  I know I've got storytelling skills cuz the first thing Ava said when she got up was "Can you tell me another story about Sparkles?"  Well, I didn't want to disappoint my latest fan so of course I told another story about Sparkles.  This one complete with a magical horse for Layla, Streaks, that joined them on magical adventures.  Even more affirmation…Layla requested a story after we dropped Ava off  one morning on our walk home from school.  This one had horses, bunnies, the jungle, dolphins and a leprechaun in it.  (getting creative…when your audience is 5, anything goes)

It felt weird this week not having any major party planning to have to do.  For the last three weekends we've had Easter, Ava's party then Layla's party…I almost felt like I should bake a cake just for the hell of it.  I opted not to, instead deciding to bake cookies.  After trying to make creative and fun desserts I really just wanted to bake something I know I can rock.  Chocolate chip cookies it was.  My best friend, Amy gave me a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla pudding recipe years ago which is always my go-to classic.  So, when I was at the store I grabbed chocolate chips (mini ones, per Layla's request) and vanilla pudding.  However…once we got home I realized that all the baking adventures had left me with only one stick of butter.  I was ready to just say forget it when Layla said "just make a different kind"  We went through our cookie cookbook and it's very hard to find a cookie recipe with little or no butter, so we improvised.  I don't often improvise when baking, but these turned out great.  They had the mini-chocolate chips and sliced almonds and were just so yummy.  I didn't have vanilla extract (don't know how I thought I was gonna make cookies), so I used almond extract and it added such a unique flavor.  Baking success.

We also got caterpillars this week.  For Layla's birthday I had found this Butterfly thing.  You buy the butterfly kit, send in for caterpillars that arrive in you mailbox a few days later in a bright green box that say "LIVE CATERPILLARS, OPEN IMMEDIATELY"  That's gotta make the mailman smile.  Inside were 5 baby caterpillars that over the course of the next couple weeks will grow and turn into beautiful painted lady butterflies.  I love them...maybe even more than the girls.  I've been getting out the magnifying glass, checking them out.  (mainly to make sure they are still moving and we didn't already kill them)  I will be updating their progress as we go.  (unless they die, then I'll just never mention it again)

It was a good week, we missed Matt when he was gone but it gives me a chance to catch up on all my trashy reality tv and some girls nights with my little ladies.  I got the opportunity to coach Ava's soccer team and that was a hoot.  The coach was sick and was looking for parent volunteers.  Now, I know NOTHING about soccer.  I was a cheerleader and a dancer and could coach something like that no worries.  I waited for someone else to step up and volunteer, but no luck.  I hated to see another soccer event canceled after the games did last weekend so I thought, hey-how hard can it be?  I figured I could Google "soccer plays for 7 year olds" or something like that.  Luckily, I didn't have to, the coach gave me a very specific plan for how she ran practice and only a few girls showed up so I totally did it.  I'm not signing up to be coach or anything like that anytime soon, but it was fun for a night.  Even funnier to see how sassy Ava was when I was the coach…gone was the quiet girl paying attention…in her place was a funny, loud girl who had a comment for everything.  Pretty funny to see how your kids act in different situations.  

Just a couple more things that made me happy this week...

After school picnic snacks to enjoy in the sun (before the winter weather comes again!)

Lazy morning baths for Layla...complete with Barbie audience...

Wearing a new piece of jewelry for the first time, and the compliments that go with it...

Creating a new recipe that the family likes and is super healthy (and colorful)...Pepper and black bean quinoa (recipe at the bottom)

Seeing the girls create this beachy world in the sand box for their Polly Pockets...

The weekend looks full…a birthday party (to go to, not to throw!), dance practices for Layla and soccer games for Ava.  We're going to do a little Cinco De Mayo celebrating with our neighbors complete with margaritas, salsa, quac, and chile relanos!  Looking forward to that.  I've enjoyed this time to myself…now it's time to go home and help tuck my babies into bed and get ready for date night.  Homemade spaghetti, roasted brussell sprouts and herb baguettes…can't wait!
Happy Friday!!

Pepper and Black Bean Quinoa:
-1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
-Chopped red, yellow and orange peppers (just as many as you want)
-1-2 chopped tomatoes
-Prepared quinoa-Soak 1 cup quinoa for around 20 minutes, then drain.  Mix it with a combination of fresh squeezed OJ and veggie broth...to make 1 and 1/4 cup total and around a tablespoon of orange zest.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 35 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Spread it out on a cookie sheet to cool completely before adding to veggies
-Dressing:  Mix juice of one lime, 1 tbls Dijon mustard, s&p, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 garlic clove, 1/3 cup olive oil and a sprinkle of taco or southwestern seasoning
Combine the dressing, veggies and quinoa and serve cold.  It was fresh and yummy and quinoa is like a super grain.  Lots of protein, which is good for a semi-vegetarian family like us.