my little ballet boy

Tonight I was quite torn on how to help Elliott. After his tap and ballet class (with a surprising healthy mix of boys and girls), we went to buy new dance slippers. His tap shoes fit well, but his dance slippers needed to be bigger. Since I just bought girl’s dance slippers at Meijers last time, off we went. Once we found them and figured out he was a size L, it seemed simple. There was pink and black. I grabbed black. But he stopped me, saying he wanted pink.

Before I go on, I will clarify my feelings on boys and pink. I actually have no real issues with little boys (or men) wearing pink, liking pink, and so forth. But I am very aware of other people’s feelings on little boys and pink and how they may have influenced their children’s feelings on pink.

So, I did not flat-out refuse, but I did not just toss the pink slippers in the cart either. We talked about it. I asked him why he wanted pink and he explained he saw others in class wear pink and he liked pink. I explained that often boy dancers wore black, but he could do what he wanted. Still he wanted pink. And then I got to the heart of my concern. I explained that other children might say something to him. Would he feel okay and want to keep wearing them? (See, my financial side kicked in too. I did not want to be back at Meijers after the next class buying black slippers.) He insisted he wanted them. Part of me wonders if he sensed the bit of rebellion in choosing them too, since he said it with such a big grin. But, regardless, now we own pink satiny slippers for dance class.

When he first said pink, I thought to my friend Jennifer who strongly supports her children’s decisions and think about how confident and in control it must make them, to make decisions for themselves and know they are supported regardless. I want to be that parent. But I also want to shield my child from nasty cruel remarks or even just snickers, mainly because I am worried it will destroy his confidence in his own decisions. I know – it is a lot wrapped up in dance shoes! And children overcome so much. But I guess that is part of being a parent. I just hope I found the best way to handle it tonight.

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apples and pears, oh my!

Every year we check my parent’s fruit trees, hoping for a good year for apples and pears. This year was a bit scraggly, but enough was found to be turned into delicious apple-pear sauce. And an extra bonus of getting apples from them: they do not spray their trees. So if I can overlook the worms, wait, not overlook… If I can commit the extra time to cutting out the worm holes, it yields a very tasty sauce.

My blend came about because that is what my parents had a few years ago. What we harvested of each was not enough to process all by itself. Now, I think I prefer them together. My parents gifted me a Victorio Strainer and it works like a dream for something like pears, which I hate skinning and do not work on a traditional apple peeler/corer. You wash the fruit, quarter it, steam it, and process it. Then you just heat on the stove until hot and add spices. Because of the strainer, you can get to the canning much faster.

On this nice Fall night, we unfortunately were not gathered around our fire pit with smores, but inside, just a bit too hot with all the burners going. But we had wine so I guess it is all okay.

washing the pears…

cutting the apples…

steaming the fruit…

processing…

look at it go…

the big vat of sauce, which yielded 12 quarts, plus some breakfast sauce for the wee boys…

clean up time (see that stack of pans and bowls, ugh!, but, see who is washing!)…

and time for steam facials with the leftover canning water (I went first, and then, hehe, snuck a picture when Mike tried it)…

my resolutions

While in line for coffee, Elliott asked for a cookie. I reminded him we were stopping the sweet treats, like HE had suggested. And amazingly he was fine with it. But he did make sure to point out, again, that I should stop buying coffee as well. Luckily, the drive-thru line was long and it gave us ample time to discuss bad habits, addictions, and gradual weaning, in a 4-year old appropriate way, of course!

I have been feeling rather disgusted with myself lately because my nail-biting habit was full-blown again and I was a cranky, nervous wreck with the boys. But when I was explaining about stopping bad habits to Elliott, it occurred to me that I am battling a few all at once. I am cutting bad coffee, I am reducing the number of to-go sweets I am eating, I am still fighting the nail-biting urges, and I am trying to make more time to exercise (not a bad habit, trying to make a new good habit). Well, instead of wanting instant success, I decided to cut myself some slack and give myself a few weeks to beat them all. It is may not be December 31st, but I am making some resolutions and trying to stick to them.

down and more down

When you are already contemplating life and what you are doing with it, how you got to this point, and what you want to do different and why you cannot do it, and how you will never do some things, it is a bad idea to watch a cheesy romance. While it seems like an excellent escape, it really makes you just wish that some (mythical?) handsome european man, with a luscious accent, would come sweep you off your feet. I mean in seven years with said (mythical) man, things would be just as great as the first day, right??

Ha! First laugh all day.

the good and bad of being hooked

For days now, I have been struggling with how to cope with my habit. A coffee-drinking, money-guzzling, gut-breaking habit. And then I realized my problem was far bigger than just wanting a coffee. I wanted the interaction with another (smiling) human being. I wanted the ease and instant satisfaction of the coffee, handed to me, ready to drink. I wanted the instant feel good feeling I get, the pleasure of 10 minutes where I feel like I can safely ignore the kids and relax. But with all this good stuff comes the bad. It is an expensive habit. It is a calorie-loaded habit (see, I tend to get a treat with my coffee too – a double whammy). And then the bad feelings creep in, the guilt totally negating all the good.  It is a lot of emotion wrapped up in one coffee.  And everyday I am riding this rollercoaster.

When I initially tried to cut back by getting smaller sizes, not ordering a cookie, or skipping a day, I started realizing I was compensating in other ways to get the same tiny relaxing high. I got take-out lunch (which was waaaay more money than coffee costs), I ate more candy and sweets at home (a lot more!), or I indulged in a marathon nail-biting sessions (a habit I did have broken). If I did not find a way to unwind and feel better, I was extremely snarly to the little men in my lives, and more often than not, the big man in my life too.

I know I have to break my habit(s). I also now realize I need a sane way of doing it – leaving me not feeling so guilty, so down. It took me 26+ years to quit biting my nails – with a list of arguments why I needed to stop, rewards, mental arguments, money blown on new ‘tricks’ to stop and a lot of frustration. Finally, it just clicked and I just stopped. But I do not have 26 years to break my newest habit. My piggy bank cannot take it, my waist cannot take it, my well-being is too tied to it.

I do not have a solution. Just spending another day thinking the problem over and wondering if I feel so good and then bad the days I splurge, will the reverse be true? Will I feel bad at first and then, once I see the benefits, feel good? Hard to believe it would be true the first cranky day without it.

singing to my dough

Often while trying to make some challah dough or olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I find I am easily distracted by children’s cries for help, non-stop chatter, or even my own brain thinking up what is next on the to-do list. Since I like to sing, I started singing to my dough. The most crucial point that I get lost in the recipe is at adding flour. Most recipes have you adding 6 to 7 cups of flour. So many opportunities to get lost in my counting! Seriously. So now, I sing each number over an over, changing the tune for each number. It is a kind of chant and song and keeps me on track. It also stops children’s chatter as they listen, thus freeing a little more brain power for counting.

fall apples for winter nights

There has been a lot of excitement here about the idea of putting food up (or ‘by’, just depends on who you talk to) for the winter. I love that my little boy shares the thrill of harvesting, preparing, saving and dreaming, all for warm winter stews and soups, filled with our vegetables. Today was a busy day in the garden – gathering carrots, picking tomatoes, getting more okra, and noticing that the Swiss chard was making a recovery from an insect attack (and we are fully stocked on chard already, YIKES!).

It was also full of little bits of learning. Elliott got an okra flower for a vase and analyzed the petals, the pistil, and all the yellow pollen, with all of his fingers. He collected two new caterpillars, one a black swallowtail, which provided lots of little lessons all day long: why it has orange horns (to scare off predators), how many legs it really has (six true legs, 10 prolegs), how and what it eats (carrot tops, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace), and how it will overwinter (in its chrysalis, but in our garage!).

Today was also full of cooking and kitchen work. Some days can feel overwhelming when I have this much to prepare. Luckily, today felt energizing and satisfying. The promised cookies were made with help from my little big boy. Carrots and Brussel sprouts were put up while dinner cooked. And apples, oh the big bag of apples from Rod at Farmer’s Market. They had to be dealt with today. Since we had other things to do, instead of applesauce and canning, I decided to tackle frozen pies and bagged apples for other desserts. Our favorite way to have warm apple pie in the winter is to do a bit of the work now with apples we have picked or bought and know the source, in this case a co-worker and vendor at farmer’s market. With my $7 bag of Golden Delicious, I set to work. I am using a trick my mom showed me. It may be well-known, but it feels clever and sneaky to me. You slice and spice your apple pie filling and freeze it in a bag right in the pie pan. Then, on baking day, just make the crust, slide out the pre-formed frozen apple pie filling from the bag, and bake. Genius! Here, I will show you.

Layout your pie filling ingredients – spices, sugar, flour. I am following the good old Betty Crocker recipe, which I cannot technically put on here without permission, but most any recipe will do.

 

If you have a apple peeler/slicer/corer, get it set up. Or buy one! It is quite handy for bulk applesauce, pies, anytime you have more than a few apples to peel. Do you see my company here? The caterpillars were my only pie-making companions today.

Layout the number of apples you need for a single pie recipe. I quickly lose count when I am cranking along.

Peel… which is very satisfying, and did I mention, easy.

Marvel at how fast that went.

Marvel at the pile of peels. Eat up if you pre-washed your apples (or if you are lucky to have apples that have never been sprayed).

Quarter the apple. Remove any seeds, bad spots, or peel that were not removed by the peeler/slicer/corer.

Throw the apple pieces into a gallon freezer bag. Yes, just skip the bowl and spoon. This was my revelation tonight (only after I made a mess of a bowl and spoon. Lucky you do not have to make the same mistake!) Make sure you have labelled it “Apple Pie” and got the date on the bag. Perhaps, like me, you will have no idea what day it is and just take a guess. Below you will see I was wrong. Hm.

After you finish one pie’s worth of apples, measure in the flour, sugar, and spices. Or, if you are like me, measure in the sugar and flour with a quick leveling shake (eh, close enough) and a few shakes of each spice (looks like a teaspoon!). The pie will forgive you and come out great regardless. Now, seal the bag, but leave the air in for now. It is time to spend a minute shaking the ingredients around, mimicking that spoon we cast aside. Once well shaken, then release excess air from bag and seal tight.

Shape the bag into the pie pan, pretending you are heaping it into a crust. (That part will really be months later.) *See, wrong date!* Now repeat all the above steps a few more times, depending on the number of apples you have and the number of pie pans you have on hand!

Marvel at your progress. Here, I am four pans down, one to go.

Time to place them in the freezer! A chest freezer is great for the number I was making. If you only make one or two, a small freezer will be just fine. Make sure you have level (or semi-level) space to set them until they are frozen solid. Once frozen, in a day or so, you can remove your pie plates. The pie filling can be stored vertically, you can stack things on it, whatever! 

Clean up time! I did not show the sticky counters, the drippy juices on the floor, the flour explosion. Yeah, that part just stinks. But the trip to the compost was worth mentioning. Two bowls worth! Since we do an open compost, it is great for the bees, wasps, other insects and big mammals who get their fill here. We have seen opossum, raccoons, and chipmunks all visit for a little snack. And it is two huge bowls we are not putting in the trash. We then use the composted material for our garden. Every spring we till it into the rows. If you do not compost, it is super easy and there are so many sites out there about how to set it up and how to maintain it. Basically, we add layers of leaves and grass, collecting and adding food scraps as our container fills up in the kitchen. We use a basic metal ice bucket – cheap, attractive, dishwasher safe, and it will not break like the expensive ceramic compost pails. And you do not need to worry about the smell. The lid keeps the smells under control and we have no filter to replace like the marketed compost pails. We add any fruit or vegetable scraps (except seeds!!), egg shells, and coffee grounds. You can add bread, crackers, even paper towels, but they do little to benefit the compost. It just cuts down on trash and is easily broken down in the compost bin. Do not add meat and pet waste! They attract to many animals and are not appropriate for a garden compost. Remember, you have to dig in that soil in the summer.

Here is ours, after adding the peels… you can even see all the carrot tops in the back. Oh, the best part, if you layer well enough, there is no need to stir. We just keep heaping and our super hot pile just keeps on working, even in the winter. Of course, this can be painful to look at some days so tuck it away, far from viewing range!

Now wait you say… all that work, all the cleanup, lots of pie filling in the freezer. But what do I do with them again?

Oh yes, off the compost talk. Pies, back to pies.

It is quite simple. On baking day, follow your recipe to make a fresh pie. Generally it goes like this: make your crust, place your (still frozen) filling into the pie plate on top of the bottom crust, dot with butter, cover with top crust, seal and flute, cover sides with foil, slit the top, and bake until juices bubble through slits. The  cooking duration might be a bit longer, so ensure the foil stays on until the last fifteen minutes or so. Serve warm with ice cream, or cool.

I am already dreaming of a cold winter evening and eating a *fresh* apple pie!

role reversal

Typically, you have a child whining for a toy or cookie. Today though, I felt like the whining kid, throwing out any thing I could to get what I wanted. Here is how it played out, driving right from the Y to Starbucks:

Me: Lets go get my coffee then we will head for home.

Elliott: Why do you buy coffee?

Me: I like it.

Elliott: I know, you could just make coffee at home! (expressed like a lightbulb/aha moment)

Me: But I like their coffee. It just tastes better than what we make at home. (slight pause, feeling desperate, pulling out the big guns…) Plus, if I stop getting coffee, then you won’t be able to get a cookie there either.

Elliott: But we could just make cookies at home! (stated like another brilliant idea had come to him)

(And brilliant it was, I know.)

Me: (with reluctance) You’re right. How about I skip the cookie and just get the coffee? (knowing full well I had a secret biscotti tucked in my bag) Maybe I will stop getting coffee too. It is expensive. We can make cookies this weekend if you want.

Had we not arrived at Starbucks at that point, and he was a bit older, he may have also pointed out the idiocy of driving right from the Y to Starbucks where I would consume the calories I just burned. But as I sip my coffee and munch my biscotti, at least I can say my whininess did not end with a tantrum. Because for today, I got my way. Hehe…

end of the season special

A few days ago I surprised my boys with a sand and water table. I am not sure why I held out so long, but one play experience at a friend’s home sold me on it (Thanks Amanda!). Originally, I was checking Craigslist for good deals, but most people wanted top dollar for an item that was very well used, at least around here. So a quick search on Amazon led me to dozens of tables to compare. I spent the best part of an evening searching and comparing, reading dozens of reviews. I finally found one that matched our needs: the colors were not obnoxious, the shape was rectangular which meant I could set it next to a wall or playhouse and it would fit snuggly, it had an umbrella for days when the wee little one played with it, and the price was right. It was discounted by a 1/3 off the normal price. That combined with free shipping made it a done deal.  

After a few days of water play for both boys, I put in the sand last night. It was so nice and clean, so inviting. In five minutes Elliott took care of that bit of order and got busy playing and mixing. Here he was busy making chocolate cinnamon cake, cinnamon cake, and mud bog cakes, which are to be served at – – mud bogs, of course! 

I did let Oliver have a go at it, but he was intent on eating the sand, despite the taste, the gritty feeling, and Mommy repeatedly saying “No!”

A reviewer of this table, Value Mommy, gave some wonderful tips for using the table. I liked them so much I copied them down, for days when I needed a fresh idea. I am sharing her ideas below for others to use to extend the life of their tables, even though the warmer season is winding down. 

(1) sand alone

(2) water alone

(3) potting soil/trowels/silk plants/plastic pots

(4) landscaping stones and small Tonka construction vehicles (aka “the quarry)

(5) bubble solution to use with the large wands and even the small and different wands (so that the kids aren’t fighting over the tiny opening of a tiny bottle of bubbles that inevitably gets spilled all over the patio)

(6) a Mommy-made iceberg (colored blue) on the hottest summer day with dollar store penguins and polar bears–you can even shave the iceberg to make snow (I used a putty knife) and put crushed ice (if your refrigerator makes it) in the water to make it a happier habitat

(7) dishwater and play dishes with sponges and scrubbers to play clean-up without making a mess at the sink like they do inside

(8) aquarium gravel/toys/plants with pretend fish

(9) sand over buried “fossils” (pretend dinosaur bones found at the local dollar store)

(10) sand sifter and dirt with various sizes of rocks that I spray painted gold

(11) measuring spoons/cups/jugs that teach lessons about volume — pair with bath color tablets to learn about color mixing!

(12) Did you know that Little People LOVE to go to the beach? (Off subject, they’re also not opposed to a tumble in the dishwasher!)

(13) any number of arts and crafts activities that I would rather do outside than inside (making slime, paper mache, etc.)

(14) tin pans/muffin cups paired with dirt/sticks/water mud for mud pies

(15) sand castles, of course!

(16) dinosaurs and various animals add a tremendous amount of play value to your basic sand environment.

For right now, I found the animal toobs on sale at Hobby Lobby and made a few bins for Elliott to add to the table.  As you can see, he was excited to get them out and set up a scene!

I foresee a great winter activity too – an indoor snow table! We already do that with a bowl of snow. But this, oh! I might be more excited than Elliott for snow. Okay, not really, but this will make the time pass faster the days we are trapped inside.

follow up on the yelling

We let the yelling jar go a bit beyond a week, to fall on a day of the week when we could fulfill the counting and family activity together as a family – a Sunday. To recap what we are doing, visit this post.

Total counts for the first week:

big E – – 19

mama – – 7

daddy – – 6

We found we had to find a way to throw a few extra stones in for Mike since he is gone during the day time. Even with the amount we decided to add in, he still came out with less. He decided we would play bocce ball on the front lawn, since little O desperately needed to get to bed. Next week I hope we can make sure we can all really be present and little O is not just known as part of the family by his snoring over the moniter!

Some things we noticed this week…

– Big E was quite honest and willing to admit when he had been yelling and to put in his stones. He even was willing to admit he had not calmed down and yelled repeatedly, so he put in two stones. (He actually said he should put in five or six, but I let that slide.)

– I also noticed that because big E would remind me that I was yelling, I was quicker to calm down, recognize I needed to rephrase, and felt better finding a way to change my reaction.

– Putting stones in for yelling did not change overall general nasty remarks or snippiness. As long as we were not yelling it, we had to let it slide, atleast for now. That may be what comes next for this family.

I realize that this is the first week so we were trying hard and really felt accountable. We will see what next week holds. Big E did seem to want to do better. Maybe there is hope.

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