growing up good

mothering, homeschooling, and me

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I love creative play.

There are times when I wonder if my children really know how to play with anything the right way.  On any given day, the pink toy high chair is on it’s side, the batcave is upside down and propped up on a cardboard construction block, star wars figures are scattered and more resemble a bomb filled with these figures went off in our playroom than any sort of constructive play, and puzzle pieces lay in disarray all over the floor. It’s not just the messes that drive me crazy, it’s the crashing, the dropping, the swinging of toys- not constructive play, but destructive play that happens that bothers me as well. It’s a source of frustration that keeps me trying to figure out the best possible way to store and organize toys while simultaneously allowing free choice of play AND limit messes. I’ve yet to come up with a solution that works.

However, organizational challenges are not the point of this post. I just meant to give a little background to some of the issues we face when it come to the kids’ playing.

At this point, Elliot is only allowed to play video games on the weekend. It just takes away the daily questions of “Can I play Mario?” “NO? Why not?” “When can I play Mario?” “Can I play it now?”. It got to the point where I felt so much energy was spent either asking to play the WII/playstation, playing, and talking about it, we needed to take a step back. So now he only gets to play on the weekends, and it’s working.

Unless he gets those privileges taken away. Then he gets to go without. And if his mouth keeps going the way it’s been, he just might find himself on Christmas morning with a new game and not being able to play it, but that, too, is a post for a different day.

THIS is actually, before I got on a rambling tangent, a sweet post. A post-weekend-breakfast, no video games, mommy-turned-on-Face-The-Nation so we can’t watch Disney, look what my incredibly creative kids got caught playing kind of post (insert a whole bunch of hyphens in there to make it grammatically correct).

Star Wars Restaurant.

Yeah, I’m sure you’re shocked at the Star Wars (though I can’t remember how much I’ve actually mentioned my husband’s and children’s obsession on here).  But the kids informed us they made a restaurant for their Star Wars guys, and we had to come check it out.

See each little cluster of guys? They're "sitting" at  their tables, enjoying their food.

See each little cluster of guys? They’re “sitting” at their tables, enjoying their food.

An upright high chair, where the Wompa sits at his orange table.

An upright high chair, where the Wompa sits at his orange table. In the background, you can see that Robin has joined C3PO and R2 at their table, made of a bread slice.

And off on the distance, connected with a lid to a storage bin, there are 2 more tables for the overflow crowd, along with the bus that gets them out to their table.

And off on the distance, connected with a lid to a storage bin, there are 2 more tables for the overflow crowd, along with the bus that gets them out to their table.

They played like this, TOGETHER, for a long time. Oh how I love it when they do this! I wish it was more often.  Elliot does little configurations like this at night in his room, when he’s supposed to be going to sleep. It just goes to show how creative and constructive and cohesive they can be when electronic stimuli are taken away.


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If you give a boy a peeler…

A couple days ago, I asked Elliot to help me make dinner. We’d had a rough day, with both of us getting frustrated with each other. When the other two kids were down for their afternoon naps, instead of just letting him go watch tv, I thought helping me in the kitchen might give us a chance to turn the day around. First we made “Muddy Buddies”, a delicious little peanut butter and chocolate coating rice Chex all tossed in powdered sugar snacky goodness.

He thought that part was fun, so I asked him to help me peel carrots. I showed him how to do it quickly, and I thought he had it figured out. He was working so intently, and I had a lot of other chopping to do, so it wasn’t until I had completely chopped my onion and garlic that I noticed he was STILL peeling the same carrot.

I had to laugh. He had to laugh. We called it the carrot light saber. Our day was fixed.

2012 12 December 21

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Birdseed Ornaments

When it comes to crafting, I don’t have time to be original.

I also don’t have a lot of time for Pinterest, much to my dismay.

What I do have is a pretty robust newsfeed on Facebook. Between blogs I follow and crafty friends, I get a steady stream of inspiration. The other day, my friend Emily posted pics of a craft project she and her awesome kids (who happen to be almost the exact ages as mine) did: birdseed ornaments (for outdoors).  They looked great! And…I had all the ingredients on hand, an added bonus. I jotted down the recipe and set it out to do in the next couple of days.

Emily took her inspiration from this blog here.

Basically, what you do is mix birdseed, gelatin, water, flour and corn syrup together in a bowl. Then you press into a mold that you sprayed with nonstick spray. For a mold, you can use open-topped cookie cutters or muffin tins. I used both. Then you poke a straw into the piece to make a hole to put a string through later. Then you let it dry, in the mold, for several hours. Then you can wiggle it out of the mold on to some wax paper, and then let dry even longer.

Here are the pics of our birdseed adventure, at the end I’ll post tip I suggest..what worked/what didn’t.

First, gather your ingredients with all intentions of taking pics of the entire process:


Little fingers helping.

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Mary stuck with it until we were all done, she was very proud!


Our finished product!


And, for full disclosure, the ones that didn’t make it- either parts crumbed, parts of a gingerbread man’s arm didn’t to come out of the mold, etc. I’m going to repurpose them for our local birds.


What I learned:

use simple cookie cutters. our “fancy” ones- a turkey, gingerbread people,  didn’t turn out.

or better yet, use muffin tins. You can press them down better, and they all turned out great.

LET THEM DRY. I lost a few when I tried to wiggle them out of the molds too soon.

Measure. I may have let the kids measure the flour and birdseed, and I’m pretty sure I just eyeballed the corn syrup. I think my proportions were off just a bit, and that’s totally MY fault, not the recipe.

What I’m thrilled about:

My kids got to help make REAL gifts for some of our family members who love watching and feeding birds through the winter. They were pretty excited to help out and make something with their hands, and I’m sure they’re going to be watching for the birds to come find their ornaments on our back deck.


Getting Packages!

The doorbell rings, the familiar double-ring we’ve been hearing a lot lately, right around lunchtime. They squeal and giggle and dance and run to the door. This time, instead of packages waiting on the doorstep, our postman is waiting, packages in hand with our mail and packages, ready to hand them over. The last two days he rang the bell twice, then left the packages on the steps. Both times Elliot ran out in his socks to greet him at the curb (we’re on a motor route) and get our mail. Today, the postman thought he’d save me some laundry. THAT was really kind!

Today our package was from my brother and his fiancee. Can I gush for a moment on how much I adore her? Not only is she incredibly sweet to my brother, but she’s wonderful to my children. She encourages us to visit, opening their home to us and not even batting an eye at the chaos that follows. She is so patient with them, and actually has games and activities waiting for them! In my experience, people in their 30s who don’t have children, don’t usually act like that! So yeah, she’s pretty great.

I had the camera handy, so I slowed them down, got the scissors, and let them open the package having no idea what we’d find inside. The kids were giddy!

Mary wonders what's inside.

Mary wonders what’s inside.

Elliot is pretty sure he knows it's presents!

Elliot is pretty sure he knows it’s presents!

It IS presents!

It IS presents!

Elliot: Hey! This says my name! This one is TO ME!

Elliot: Hey! This says my name! This one is TO ME!

Mary: That's MY name!

Mary: That’s MY name!

Elliot: These need to go under the tree!!!!

Elliot: These need to go under the tree!!!!

Elliot: These are going to look great under the tree!

Elliot: These are going to look great under the tree!

There they are! They had helped Kyle wrap presents for me last night, but JUST realized (it's about noon here) that there were a few more under the tree that were for them. NOW I get to keep an extra eye on that tree to make sure there's no peeking!

There they are! They had helped Kyle wrap presents for me last night, but JUST realized (it’s about noon here) that there were a few more under the tree that were for them. NOW I get to keep an extra eye on that tree to make sure there’s no peeking!


Thanks Uncle Joe and Sarah for thinking of us! We’re waiting patiently until Christmas to open them!




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Baking With Grandma…also known as Let My Mom Make Me Bread

My mom is an outstanding baker. She’s a pretty good all-around cook (she has this great ability to take ordinary ingredients and turn them into something totally delicious), but when it comes to baking, I have never met anyone with the skills she has. Her breads and not only beautiful, but they are sooooooooooo good. 

A little late in life, I’ve realized that I need to learn these skills. Slowly, she’s been passing recipes on to me.  Finding time to work on your baking skills with young children is proving to be difficult. Two years ago she gave me her Italian bread recipe, and I think I’ve made it three times. In my defense though, in those 2 years I had a baby AND worked really hard to lose some weight- and having homemade bread in the house is NOT conducive to weight loss for me.  

I have found success with her orange scones (mmmmmm, orange scones), I’ve made those many times. But mostly we make her sugar cookies (the cut-out kind).  Christmas isn’t the same (in our house) without them! 

When she came to visit recently, I encouraged her to bring along her challah bread recipe. First of all, it’s delicious. Secondly, one of the families I tutor is Jewish, and I thought this would be a nice just-before-Hanukkah gift for them. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to help her mix it up. I was either getting a baby to sleep, taking a shower, or planning lessons. But..we did get to help her roll it out and braid it! 


Wanda has a way with bread dough. She can pull it and stretch it and shape it, and it looks beautiful. I can pull it and stretch it and shape it, and it looks like a failed home ec project. This time, though, I can blame any irregularities on the kids, right? 

So here she is, helping the kids shape the three strands of the braid of one loaf. You can see that she already did the first one in the pan.


They had fun working with the dough! Which reminded me that we need to make pizza again (another dough I’ve had success with!).  

They’re pretty much a bunch of goofballs!

ImageAnd of course, I don’t have a final product shot. I had already delivered one loaf to the family I tutor, and the 2nd loaf was half gone before I remembered, and then I was too busy buttering a nice slice of homemade challah to care.




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My Chili

I love me a good chili. When the weather turns cold, I can make it at least once a month. I am not, however, some sort of chili purist- I don’t know what “Texas” style really means, or what should or should not go into chili. When I’ve looked to other recipes to find things to try and other ingredients I might want to use, I am always amazed at the amount of work that some people put into their chili.  I’ve never participated in a chili cook-off, nor have I attended one (but I’m pretty sure I’d like to!).  All I know is what I like: a thick, deeply-flavored chili that’s not too spicy, not too salty, with a nice balance of beans, tomatoes, and beef in each bite.

Some places (restaurants) try to make chili, and usually I’m disappointed. In the last few years I’ve had chili that was really more of a watered down, mildy beefy soup, one that was just a while lot of  meat with a little sauce in a bowl, and a delightful one- at a deli on a college campus, of all places- that was a real chili, but with chicken (not ground chicken but chunks of chicken).

My chili, it’s easy. And I highly doubt my list of ingredients is some sort of unique combination. There are many short-cut products one the market today- spice blends, cans of chili, cans of chili beans, etc.  I’m not a canned chili kind of girl- except for Cincinnati style, because I’ve yet to attempt that one on my own, but it’s one of my goals for this winter. But, for the sake of convenience, I use a lot of canned ingredients- mostly tomatoes and beans. I usually use the plain varieties, although I know you can buy chili-stated beans, because I want to stay in control of the flavors. If you have tomatoes you’ve canned yourself or you prefer dry beans, go ahead and sub your favorites. That’s the great thing about chili- it can be completely personalized.

Here is my own chili recipe, one that is never exactly the same the next time I make it. It is, for the most part, almost always good, always eaten, and there’s never leftovers for more than a day.  All quantities are approximate, and feel free to vary based on you and your family’s tastes.

You will need:

1 lb ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

at least 1 bell pepper, any color, chopped. If you have other varieties of peppers available to you, you can add them too.

at least 3 cloves of garlic, chopped, shallots too (I added one because I have a ton right now).

chili powder, at least 3 tablespoons

garlic powder, at least a tablespoon

cumin, 2-3 tablespoons

paprika, about 2 teaspoons

3 cans of kidney beans, drained

2 cans of diced tomatoes

1 large can of crushed tomatoes

water to rinse out the tomato cans (about a cup or so)

worchestershire sauce, a couple glugs

In a big pot, cook the hamburger until browned.

Add onions, garlic, pepper, and shallots, and some olive oil- if you have garlic olive oil or grapeseed oil, that’s even better. Saute  until tender.

This is when I season. I add the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, and worchestershire sauce at this time and stir it in over a med heat for a couple minutes. I like to think that this cooks in the flavor better, that it’s evenly distributed throughout the entire chili better this way. Granted, I have no scientific research to back this theory up. 🙂

Then I add in the tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and beans.

Give it a good stir, bring to a boil, then turn the heat waaaaaay down and cover. Simmer like this for a good hour or two, stirring a few times.

Taste. Season w/ salt, pepper, more garlic powder, chili powder, etc if needed.

Time to serve!

We like to top our chili in our house! Our favorites: shredded cheese, sour cream, diced raw onions, and FRITOS. Yes. Fritos. ON the chili (or under). It’s delish!

Here’s some pics I gathered from the process, I enlisted the help of my little sous chef:

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I gave Elliot my smaller chef knife to use, and he chopped up all the peppers for me (I had cut them into strips first). Then we both conquered the canned goods that needed opening. I’m pretty sure this was his first time using a can opener. He got a little frustrated with it (but hey, so do I, can openers taunt me on a frequent basis), but was very proud of himself when he got his first can open.

And the final product- topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese, diced onions, and fritos! 

DSC_0139And chili with a toddler:


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Thank You, Aunt Susie!!!

Kyle’s Aunt Susan has an amazing talent: cross-stitching. She has meticulously stitched a Christmas stocking for each of my children. We received Edison’s in the mail last week. Holy cow. I love it! It’s beautiful. I can’t believe how many stitches are in it.  It’s hard for me to find words for what these stockings mean to me- they are a very special keepsake my children will have for a really, really long time.  See? Emotion has taken over my vocabulary! I can’t come up with anything other than “very special” and “really”!!!!  I love how each one is different and personalized. Ugh. They’re simply awesome!

I tried to get a picture of all three after we had them unpacked. 2 of my 3 children were cooperative. The 3rd was ready for bed, so this was the best picture I could get at the time. I’m hoping to get a nicer one to send to her!

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