Wednesday, May 28, 2008

One year down...

A few weeks ago Ella finished her first year of school. Only preschool, but still, it counted as her first year of school in my book. I know that kindergarten is truly there first year, but since I'm at home with the kids, going to school, even if for only two mornings a week, is a significant step for us and for them. We all came to school for the end of the year program.

I have a picture of the whole class, but one little girl right in the middle chose that moment to lift her dress up. Way up. You can't see her face, and I'm sure her family would never see it, but even so I'm sure her mom unknowingly appreciates me not posting that one! So instead here is another of Ella with a beautiful smile on her face.
And another one. About a week later, right before bed she asked me if I saw her up on stage "smiling so big." She told me that her belly was going thump thump thump. I asked if she was nervous or excited - of course she replied - excited!
She wasn't the only one who was excited! Catherine sat there beaming the entire time - clapping after every song - she even sang some of them the next day (and week).

Here is Ella being a bumble bee - or a mosquito. Not sure which in this picture. I'm pretty sure she's a mosquito...
Finally here she is receiving her "diploma" for her completion of the three year old program.
Not sure what's going on with her dress there - looking a bit disheveled.

On the way out with a backpack full of end of the year projects, I realized that we also had our first report card. It was simple and basic - just "+" for good and "N" for needs improvement. I felt so proud of Ella when I saw that she had all + 's along with some areas that were noted for being extremely good. For example, apparently she has excellent scissors' skills. I thought back to all those times that she shredded every piece of paper in sight with her new found love of cutting and realize that she was basically studying - not driving me crazy with the amount of clean up I had to do. If only I had known.

Also, the teachers wrote a little note about Ella. It was all positive and the first line read "Ella is a sweet and happy little girl." My heart swelled with pride for my Ella and I just wanted to give her a big squeeze and let her know how proud I was of her. Literally thirty seconds after I read those words, Ella started what would become a wopper of a tantrum over a misunderstanding about having a friend come over. It was so ironic that Matt and I continually repeated to each other "sweet and happy little girl" as we tried to deal with Ella's out of control behavior.

I am proud of her and so glad she did so well in preschool. If we have to have occasional tantrums, I'm glad they are at home rather than at school. My new mantra will be "sweet happy little girl" as I spend the summer listening to her whine about not being surrounded by friends. Fun times ahead!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Very Special K

This week I started doing the Special K diet. Please don't yell at me - I do need to lose a few pounds that are starting to accumulated around my mid section - don't judge until you've seen me in a swim suit! I did the Special K diet once a few years ago and I was actually able to stick to it for the two weeks - something pretty unheard of for me. I once tried a motified version of Atkins while I was pregnant to support Matt in his attempts and after one day (I literally was just avoiding bread with dinner and sandwhiches - it was soooo not truly Atkins) I caved and ate three pieces of bread - AT ONCE. I don't pride myself on my self control or discipline.

For some reason the Special K diet appeals to me. Probably because I like cereal and Special K with strawberries is quite yummy. Also, you can eat a normal dinner so I don't feel like I'm cutting anything out - basically I'm just trying to lower my calorie intake a bit and it help me be mindful of the mindless snacking I typically do on a daily basis.

Yesterday was our year end brunch for my MOTS group (MOPS for the rest of the country). Which meant that I was going to be faced with a number of egg casseroles, potato casseroles, french toast casseroles, and lots of sweets! So I decided yesterday that my brunch would be my dinner and I would just have cereal for lunch and dinner afterwards. It worked out fine yesterday, but by lunchtime today I was definitely looking forward to a break from Special K.

It was one of those nights when dinner ended up being a last minute decision and Matt went out to get one of the ingredients that was missing. He got a bit waylaid and was home pretty late so I didn't get dinner in the oven until late. It was a pretty simple chicken casserole served with steamed green beans and a pan of Pillsbury biscuits. Simple, but after four straight meals of cereal, my mouth was watering as the timer on the oven counted down.

After 4o minutes of waiting I pulled the dish out and pulled a piece of chicken onto my plate only to discover that it was still almost completely raw! I shoved everything back in the oven and then turned to see the Pillsbury biscuits sitting on the counter, fresh and warm and perfectly browned. They didn't stand a chance. I don't even want to tell you how many biscuits I ate - I'm actually not sure and you know that's not a good sign.

After an eternity or maybe just 30 more minutes the chicken was finally done and I ate a ginormous piece and now I feel way overstuffed and too full and I have no desire to eat any time soon. To tell you the truth I'm actually looking forward to more Special K tomorrow. I think I'll pretend this was all part of my plan!

Tune in next week to hear me groan and complain about how much I dispise the Special K diet - because I'm sure it won't be long before I'm there....

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How does your garden grow?

The past few years we've had a lot of success growing tomatoes and herbs during the summer. This year I really wanted to try my hand at a real vegetable garden. We have plenty of yard for it, but not enough sunlight. UNTIL....Matt chopped down our Holly tree. The Holly tree provided me with beautiful festive greenery each Christmas, but it also liked to drop prickly leaves during the spring and summer months, which made it not so fun for the kids to play in the yard barefoot. When the Holly tree was gone, Matt decided we now had a place for a small garden.

I have to say it, even though I know I shouldn't, but Matt picked the spot for the garden primarily based on the fact that the area didn't have grass already and the area in the backyard (behind the creek) that I believed to be the sunniest spot in the yard - sun being essential to the grow of vegetables - had thick green grass covering it. You can see that our priorities are a bit different. But Matt tilled up the ground and got it all ready for me to plant and I don't think he would have gone to all that work if he wasn't hoping for success. We planted seedlings of lettuce and broccoli and seeds of sugar snap peas and green beans.

Check out my beautiful row of broccoli. I took these pictures a few weeks ago and since then they've gotten a little taller and the based is thicker and stronger. This slightly unfocused picture is the beginning of a sugar snap pea plant. Since then they've really taken off and I have about ten plants growing and they're at least six inches tall (as opposed to an inch in this picture).

Here you see a green bean plant just starting to unfold. Isn't that cool?

Unfortunately, that's as cool as it got, because only two plants really started coming up and those two have really stalled and it looks like they aren't going to make it. In their place we've added cucumbers and green peppers.

As for the lettuce, I don't think it looks any different today than it did a month ago. I also don't know how to know when it's ready to eat. It looks like I could eat it now and just call it baby lettuce. Anyone, anyone? How do I know that lettuce is at it's peak and ready for picking?

Another development since planting our garden is blooming of our neighbor's tree which is on the other side of our fence (you can see a corner of it in the top left of the first picture). Matt said he forgot about how much shade it gave us - probably because previously we had a big tree there giving us its fair share of shade.

So now between noon and two - the hottest hours of the day - our garden is completely in the shade. If I happen to be outside at that time, I just look at it, and then look to the back of our yard that is still bright and sunny, and sigh. I think I've done a pretty good job (for me) of not mentioning it too many times to Matt - only twice...okay...maybe three times.

Another new thing I'm doing this year is growing strawberries in planters. Last year Matt bought some hanging plants for our fence that turned out to be shade plants. I realized how much sun we got there because the plants were completely wilted if I missed watering them for one day. So the strawberries hang from the fence, hopefully out of sight of all the little critters that come prowling about.

Don't they look lovely? The first one is just now starting to turn red and I can't wait to see how it turns out.
This might be pretty obvious considering this whole post is all about it, but I am pretty obsessed with watching things grow. I go out every day and check out everything to see how it's doing. It's been pouring out today, but as soon as it lets up I'm heading out to check out my plants and vegetables. You might think I'm crazy, but you really can see a difference on a day to day basis. It is so exciting and interesting to watch plants and vegetables grow. I have no idea how our new vegetables will turn out this year, but we'll take what we learn and make it better the following summer.
Another thing I've thought about and talked about with others is finding a plot of land and teaming up with some friends to get a serious garden going. I'm sure there are places out there that rent some of their land for people to garden on, but I have no idea how to go about finding something like that. Anyone, anyone?
Any other gardeners out there? Any tips or advice for me? Also let me know if you want some sugar snap peas - I think we're going to have a bumper crop!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

All Scrambled up!

I've slacked off on my blogging this week. As usual, there is probably a lot I could blog about but the thinking involved in putting out an interesting anecdote just proved to be too much.

It seems that all the brain cells I could be putting towards blogging have joined me in my newest addiction - Scramble!!! Scramble is a facebook application along the lines of text twist, or a computer version of Boggle (which is available on the internet) - and who doesn't know Boggle, right? Scramble is fun because you can play matches against your facebook friends and then trash talk them - well, I really only trash talk with Chrissie, my sister in law, when we're both playing at 11:30 at night. Yeah, it's that bad.

So, I've been a bit distracted as of late. I was all set to post some pictures of our garden but blogger was not letting me move them around the way I wanted and I just had to get back to my Scramble game, so I didn't get to finish it.

I also took some good pictures of the girls on the swing set that I hope to post later this week. And more thoughts on movies and books and shows. I just have to stay away from Scramble long enough to string together some intelligent thoughts.

Some random bits...

Matt and the girls made me breakfast in bed for Mother's Day. I was starting to make the bed when they came upstairs (at 9:30 - it was a beautiful thing to sleep in that long). Ella was a little disappointed that I wasn't still in bed. She told Matt "for Father's Day, just stay in bed!"! I also got a gift certificate for a massage that I am very excited about. Both girls drew me pictures/cards and Ella gave me a card with a satchel of potpourri inside that she made in preschool. It came with the required little poem that never fail to remind me that my little girl is growing up! The day before we enjoyed some time at Lakeshore Learning Center where the kids made, not one, not two, but four Mother's Day crafts! I have flower bouquets, handprints, picture frames and cards - I think I got the motherload this Mother's Day! hee hee....I warned you!

This is Ella's last week of preschool. It seems pretty early to be ending. As quickly as those 2 1/2 hours went on Tuesdays and Thursdays I think I'm going to miss them this summer. I am imagining making many play dates and park trips to keep up with my social butterflies' desire to be in constant motion!

It's so nice that Catherine knows when she's had her limit. Yesterday we weren't going to put her down for a nap so we could head out for an early dinner. But she informed us that she wanted to lay down and proceeded to take a two hour nap. That is so different from my experience with Ella that I still marvel at a child who actually wants to sleep when she's tired.

I got an eyebrow wax this week and it made me breakout in a way that I don't think I've ever experienced even as a teenager. So now I'm nervous about running because I might get a migraine AND I have to worry about breakouts after getting my brows done. Just great. I'm out of shape with a unibrow.

I'm having a hard time not looking at my words and thinking about Scramble. As I typed brow I thought it looked funny and I took the "w" away and thought, oh "bro", I bet that would count as a word on Scramble. That's a freebie for everyone out there - because most likely I'll be challenging you to play me, to attempt to bring you down into the long spiral of addiction with me. I'm such a good friend.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I'm always looking for an excuse to make a Mexican feast and since Matt is off today I was able to head to the store to pick up some fresh ingredients to make yummy fajitas, homemade guacamole, yellow rice and perhaps a chocolate cake (ok, cake not at all Mexican, but I promised Catherine a cake when she was potty trained and we're closing in on two weeks in underpants and very few accidents and her telling us that she needs to go! wahoo!).

Because I am in a sharing mood, I am going to post my favorite fajita recipes, compliments of Tyler Florence from his show on the Food Network, Tyler's Ultimate.

I think one of the keys to this recipe is the cut of meat you get. It calls for Flank steak or Skirt steak. Both are harder cuts of meat for me to find, but if you are able to find it, it is well worth the search. You end up with a steak that is very buttery and tender. I'm sad to say that I couldn't find either one so I had to settle for London Broil. I just wasn't up for driving to multiple grocery stores.

Also, it calls for Chipotle Chiles in Adobo sauce. I've had a hard time finding those as well so I just end up using regular green chiles (from a can). I believe the chiles he calls for are pretty spicy, so I was fine with a more mild flavor.

Tyler Florence's Fajitas
Marinade (Mojo):

1 orange, juiced
2 limes, juiced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 chipolte chiles, in adobo sauce
3 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt

2 1/4 pounds skirt or flank steak, trimmed of fat cut into thirds or 8-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Lime juice, olive oil, optional

12 flour tortillas,
warm Guacamole
Good quality store bought salsa

In a small 2 cup measuring cup, or something similar size and shape, combine all the marinade ingredients. Using an immersion blender, puree the marinade until smooth. Transfer to a re-sealable plastic bag and add the steak, seal and shake to coat. Refrigerate the beef for 2 to 4 hours to tenderize and flavor the beef.

Preheat a ridged grill pan on high heat.

Drain the marinade from the beef. Lightly oil the grill or grill pan. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill the steak over medium-high heat and cook for 4 minutes on each side and then transfer to a cutting board and let rest. Depending on the size of your grill pan you may need to cook in batches.

Once the beef is off the grill pan and resting, add the bell peppers and onions tossed with lime juice and olive oil, if using. Grill the mixture for 7 to 8 minutes until the vegetables are just barely limp.

While the peppers and onions are cooking, heat up the tortillas. Turn any free burners on a medium low flame. Place a tortilla on each flame and let it char about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the tortilla and repeat on the second side. Once heated and charred remove the tortilla to a clean tea towel and wrap to keep warm. Repeat until you have warmed all of your tortillas.

You can also heat your tortillas in a microwave, lightly dampen a tea towel with some water, wrap the tortillas in the damp towel and heat in the microwave for about 1 minute. Check to see if they are warm, if not repeat the heating at 1 minute intervals until they are warm and pliable.
Thinly slice the steak against the grain on a diagonal.

To serve:
Spread some guacamole on a tortilla, top with a few slices of steak, peppers and onions, and salsa. Roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling.
May also be served with sour cream and shredded cheese

I am excited just thinking about it! Enjoy your Monday and I hope you too get too enjoy a taste of Mexico tonight!

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