Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Kids' Books for Christmastime

Before my sister-in-law gave this book to one of my boys, I'd never heard of it.  It wasn't long, though, before it became one of our favorites.

Elise Primavera writes a fun story of the mysterious Auntie Claus, who lives in penthouse 25C at the Bing Cherry Hotel.  Her niece, Sophie, is curious about her eccentricities and her snooping leads her on a fantastic adventure. The illustrations are terrific and the story is fun with a twist.  It's a perfect read this time of year, but I like it so much that we keep it out all year round.

 Another favorite of ours this time of year is Santa Mouse.  Something about this simple story and sweet illustrations stuck in my head from childhood.  I remember reading this book again and again.  When my turn came to be the mom reading Christmas stories, I hunted it down.  We look forward to it every year.

 Who doesn't love a little pig with sass?  Olivia helps with Christmas is a classic!  I absolutely love this book, from Olivia's insistence that her father not build a fire in the fireplace ("DADDY!  WHAT COULD YOU BE THINKING?  DO YOU WANT TO COOK SANTA?!") to her helpful decorating, which includes "finding" a little tree.  Curiously, the top of their "real" tree is missing.  This holiday story of the privileged, sassy pig brings joy every time we read it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Son Won't Put Down The Remote

This lament isn't uncommon among parents, and I'm always a tiny bit baffled by it.  After all, we control the remote, right?  Our kids can't use it without our permission, overt or other.

Ten years ago, we removed the television from our family room area.  We still don't have one on the main floor of our house.  Horrors, I know!  We are crazy, Amish-like even, right?  

Except, no.  Our kids love American Idol and crack up over Simon's outbursts.  They watch football on weekends and see just about every stinking movie that's made.

I don't have a problem with watching TV.  In fact, I enjoy it.  (For the record, we have two.)  But the reality is that TV takes time.  It's time my kids aren't building Legos or playing outside or reading a book.  It's time I'm not reading a book, for that matter. 

Parents ask me quite often how we manage without a daily diet of PBS and Nickelodeon.  The answer is simple.  Truly.  My kids don't know any different.

When they were little, they watched for 30 minutes every Friday afternoon because, Lord knows, I needed a little break.  When they got to school age, that time simply evaporated.  My boys don't even think about TV on a daily basis because they never have.

If this idea rubs you the wrong way, ignore it.  You are the parent and I am a firm believer that we each must parent in our own best way.  HOWEVER...

For those of you who read this idea and are intrigued, I challenge you to try it.  A new year is upon us, right?  If your kids are watching more than you'd like, try these ideas:

1.  Set a schedule.  Thirty minutes a week might seem like heresy to you (and your kids) if they're used to an hour a day.  Scale back bit by bit and let them watch their favorites WHEN IT WORKS FOR YOU.  Use your DVR or VCR, I don't care, but don't be held hostage by the time a show is actually aired.  Tape it one way or the other and use it during your planned TV time.

2.  Stick to it.  There you are, having a great week, on track and then, HEY, your kids go crazy.  Your strongest desire is to turn on the plug-in-drug and avoid conflict.  Don't do it!  Get out the play-doh, the puzzles or dump some rice in a huge bowl and let them "find" little toys in it.  Be creative and stick to your schedule.  One foot in front of the other...

3.  Introduce "Room Time."  If your kids have outgrown naps, you still need some time to get things done without them underfoot.  It's time to introduce this concept:  you work around the house, they play in their room.  By themselves.  Books on tape, puzzles, etch-a-sketch, a bazillion matchbox cars:  kids will learn to play with whatever is available.  Be warned:  if you've never done this before, start with a small amount of time, like 15 minutes.  Use a timer.  Have a fun reward at the end.  (Dare I suggest Candyland?)  Kids can do this for over an hour, I promise, but it takes time.  Give them some and you'll reap big dividends later. 

4.  Set an example. Ohhh, this one is ugly, I know, but I'm big on it.  It doesn't feel right for kids to see their mom or dad watching the Today Show all morning but deny them PBS Kids in the afternoon.  Yep, I know you love it.  Yes, the weather forecast, the gossip, the home tips, I know.  I'm just sayin'....what goes around comes around.  Try to cut down on your viewing if you want your kids to cut down on theirs.

5.  Don't go crazy!  We watch the Olympics all night every night when it's on.  We watch every Packers game that's aired where we live.  Movie night with popcorn is a family favorite.  Sure, you can completely disconnect and your kids will be fine.  (You, however, may go crazy.)  But you don't HAVE to completely disconnect in order to achieve your goals.  The whole idea is to KNOW YOUR GOALS.  When you understand WHY your desire is for your family to watch less TV you will be much more likely to make it happen.

Good luck friends!  I'm cheering for you.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Resolutions? Here's My Plan.

It's time to start thinking about those New Year's Resolutions, friends.

Lose weight!  Get organized!  Pursue purpose!

Do we make the same promises to ourselves year after year?  I know sometimes I do.

This year, some of my intentions will be the same, but I am focusing on living a true life.  We've all heard that there are so many good things to do that it's easy to say "yes" and lose ourselves along the way.  In general, this hasn't been the case for me, although I have certainly walked through overcommitted times where I felt I was doing good stuff that wasn't necessarily the right stuff for me.  All in all, though, I'm fairly good about focusing.  Sometimes, too good.

This year I have a few thoughts, rather than resolutions, that I want to pursue for 2010.

  • I have 6 years until my oldest son leaves for college.  It doesn't seem possible, but there it is.  I just had him, I swear, and now he is in full teen-years mode.  This year I will focus on trying to understand the young man he's growing into, to encouraging his gifts, to supporting his faith.  Really, these goals are no different than those I've had the past 13 years, they just seem bigger now, somehow.
  • In the coming months,  I plan to jettison the activities that aren't closest to my heart and focus more energy on the ones that are.  
  • As I do every year, I'll spend time with good friends.  Some years are harder than others.  I'll try my best to make sure this year isn't one of them.
  • Keep running.  And doing Pilates.  And, as long as my knees and hips hold out, playing basketball.  These are activities I enjoy that help my heart beat stronger. I love that.
  • My husband and I will celebrate 18 years of marriage this May.  We've been blessed with a strong committment to one another through thick and tthin.  My vow for this year is to make sure he knows how glad I am that we chose one another all those years ago.  I'd choose him again in a heartbeat.

Happy, almost, 2010 everyone.  Let me know your hopes, dreams & goals for 2010--how lucky we are to see another year.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from my family to each of you...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

And Unto Us...

From all of us Zany Brocks to you and yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a glorious New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

from Heather T...

All the best to all of you out the midwest and beyond! Have a wonderful, safe, and memorable holiday season no matter where you are. Peace.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If You're Gonna Live in the Midwest,

you deserve a White Christmas!
Don't you agree?

Merry Christmas, from my family to yours.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas from Heather and the gang!

Hope you have a fantastic holiday season and are able to spend time with those you love.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Corny

This recipe is a hit with kids and adults alike, travels well, and is great for the holidays. It's so darn easy. And it's CORN! You can't go wrong with CORN!

Corn Casserole
1 can whole corn
1 can cream corn
1 stick margarine
1 small carton sour cream
1 Jiffy muffin mix

Are you ready for how easy this is?


It's so stinking easy. But prepare to be celebrated for this dish.

Here we go.

Instructions are...

(drum roll, please)

Stir all together and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour in a 2 qt buttered casserole dish.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Open Book

We're a book family. There are shelves of books in every room, books crammed in every cubby, books wedged in random pieces of furniture.

When we had Noise, one of our showers was a Book Shower-- each participant purchased and inscribed a book for our new baby. (Hello, eight copies of "Love You Forever!")

By having many books in our home, and by reading to and around our children, we have been pretty successful in cultivating in them a love of reading. They love to read, to be read to, and to just enjoy books.

Because of their love of books and reading, the world will open up for them. Information will be accessible for them to achieve their dreams. Stories beyond their own imaginations will be available for their enjoyment. Reading is a phenomenal skill that can determine the whole of a person's success.

Teaching a child to read is so, so important. And having books around is fundamental to that teaching.

But did you know that many lower-income children live in households where there are few or no books that are age appropriate?
61 percent of low-income families have no books at all in their homes for their children. While low-income children have--on average--roughly four children's books in their homes, a team of researchers recently concluded that nearly two thirds of the low-income families they studied owned no books for their children.
Studies show that when children do not have access to age-appropriate reading materials in their home, it affects their literacy.
The single most significant factor influencing a child’s early educational success is an introduction to books and being read to at home prior to beginning school.
And when literacy is diminished, the lifelong effects can be devastating.
70% of mothers on welfare have reading skills in the lowest two proficiency levels.
One-half of all adults in federal and state correctional institutions cannot read or write at all.

Books are something that many of us, including myself, take for granted. There were books in
my home growing up, and a high value placed on reading. It never occurred to me that this was not how everyone lived.

In the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to bring to your attention two national organizations that exist to combat this problem, First Book and Reading is Fundamental. These progams take donations of time and money, and turn them into books in the hands of low-income families. It is a simple yet incredibly effective way to improve literacy-- just bringing books into homes.

If a monetary donation isn't possible for you, consider looking into local book donation programs. Your library is probably aware of the easiest way to get involved. Even something as simple as taking your spare copies of "Goodnight Moon," "Where the Sidewalk Ends," and "Cat in the Hat" to a local lower-income children's program can be a step in a great direction.

What a fantastic gift-- to contribute to someone's literacy. In the words of Eddie from National Lampoon's Christmas, "That's the gift that keeps on giving, Clark."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Big Thumbs Up

Recently, my daughter gave up sucking her thumb, something that I never thought she would/could do. We tried everything-- having the dentist talk to her, limiting her to her room when she sucked her thumb, putting nasty stuff on her thumb.

Nothing worked.

She liked sucking her thumb. It gave her comfort.

She had no intention of quitting.

One day, after looking through some pictures of her where her teeth were obviously askew from her habit, I tried yet another ploy: the infamous sticker chart. We'd offered a sticker chart before, but she never lasted a single day. This time, however, she was enthusiastic.

She knew just what she wanted her prize to be for a month of thumb-free living-- this atrocious Barbie horse that oozed pink. She only had one day where she did not get a sticker.

Quitting turned out to be pretty easy, but that darn horse had almost nothing to do with it. She's hardly played with it. She just decided she was ready to quit.

It was the same when my son toilet trained. After months and months of presenting big boy undies, bribing him with candy, and pleading, one day he just decided it was time.

And most of the time, this works for us. We introduce a concept we'd like the kids to work on (brushing their teeth twice a day, making their beds, giving up a bad habit) and then try to find the specific motivation to lure them toward their goal. My son is much more led by reward; doing something fun with us or receiving a prize. My daughter has to believe it is her own idea-- bribing her doesn't really work because she is intrinsically not extrinsically motivated. She's much more motivated to do something when the "reward" is a new "big girl" privilege-- like skipping a nap now and then.

By trying to figure out how out kids are motivated, and personalizing our efforts towards their preference, we've had a lot more luck getting them to grow and change.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Where Traditions Merge

My grandfather lived for Christmas. Loved it. On Christmas Eve, my mother's whole family-- her three siblings, all their kids-- would pour into my grandparents house for the yearly extravaganza. I've blogged about it before, but apparently when I did I cursed a lot so let me cut and paste...
In my family, we have a really fun tradition for Christmas eve. After dinner, Santa comes to visit our house. Now, as soon as we “hear the reindeer” we all rush to the bedroom to hide, since Santa only comes when we’re asleep. So the kids all pretend to be asleep, but they’re all peeking out the window. Then! All of the sudden, the least drunk uncle Santa comes around the house to admire our lights, and wave in the window (the year it was Hubs, my uncle made him sling the trash bag with the stinking turkey carcass over his shoulder, and Hubs had drank so much Jack by that time that we were really sure he was going to barf in front of the kids.) When we hear the the most drunk uncle shaking the heck out of some bells reindeer taking off, the kids all run out to the tree to see what Santa has left. This is usually an embarassingly ginormous pile (my grandfather used to go into 12 months of debt for this one day, and the stacks were to my chest as an eight year old.) There’s a frenzy of presents being opened, and batteries being scrounged for, and “thank you’s!!!” ringing through the air. It’s pretty awesome. The uncles mostly go back to drinking.
So, this was my history. Even after my parents divorced, this is how we spent every Christmas Eve. Eventually, of course, my grandfather passed on, and the torch was passed to my mother. It is still the same as I remember it-- a huge pile of gifts and food and chaos and love.

Hubs' Christmas is more... how should I say it... restrained. Their family gathers, a meal is eaten. There is no Santa show. Presents are opened, starting with the youngest and going in order of age, ONE AT A TIME. (My family would literally DIE if this was implemented at our Christmas.) Unfortunately, since Hubs' family has borne a lot of what he calls "God's downsizing" over the past few years, it is a small affair. My children are the only kids there, but they are adored and loved on. Quietly.

Pair family Christmas is a mesh of our childhood memories. There are still too many gifts under the tree, but Santa brings only one gift, the best one, and it is not wrapped. This was Hubs' tradition. We eat monkey bread (Hubs) and poppy seed bread (mine.) I do not force my children to eat breakfast before presents, as I was forced to as a child.

As we've come into our own as a family, we've been navigating what we will participate in at Christmas, and when. Until three years ago, we had never woken up in our own home on Christmas morning. We drove first to St. Louis on the 23rd, then to Hub's small town on Christmas day. It amounted to roughly 12 hours of driving in three days, with three Christmases thrown in. Each of us were desperate to take part in our own family traditions, and in the beginning we didn't spend much time trying to cultivate our own.

What we have now is a compromise, a work in progress. Every other year (the years my sister has custody of her kids on Christmas Eve) we are at my mom's big Christmas. We wake up at her house on Christmas morning, and Santa brings the kids their gifts there. Usually the next weekend, we go to Hub's.

On the opposite years, we go to Christmas Eve service at our own church, and wake up in our own home on Christmas morning. We drive to Hub's house (only 2 1/2 hours from us) around noon. My Mom's Christmas is rescheduled for a time when we can make it and my sister has her kids. (We did it one year without all the kids, and it just wasn't the same.)

I don't know if we'll do it this way forever. When Hubs and I start lamenting the idea of spending another Christmas morning in someone else's house, though, it is usually him who is staunchly opposed to missing my family's craziness. After all, the loudness, the cousins, the laughing, and the even the driving-- that's a part of their tradition, too.

How did you make it work melding your families for Christmas?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yummy Crab Appetizers

A former coworker brought these to the office one time and they were so yummy that everyone was asking her for the recipe. They're easy to make as well, and you can make them up in advance and freeze them...just bake them the day you need them.

One thing they are not is low-cal!


1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (5-oz) jar Old English cheese spread
1 1/2 tsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 (7-oz) can crab meat
6 English muffins, split

Combine the butter, mayonnaise, cheese and seasonings. Once these are combined, stir in the crab meat.
Half the English muffins.
Spread mixture on muffin halves.

At this point you can place the muffins on a tray and freeze, repacking them in freezer bags once the mixture is solid.
Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
To serve, cut the muffins into 4 to 6 pieces and arrange on your serving tray.

I'd like to add a photo of the finished product but I forgot to take one! But they look mostly like the above photo, except a little browner.
Also, little note: I discovered that I was out of garlic powder so I just used garlic salt and skipped the seasoned salt. They still tasted yummy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Goose Moon

My sister-in-law gave my kids a copy of this book because she happened to work with the illustrator. She even had him autograph the book before she gave it to us.

The story is a sweet story about a little girl missing the fun of summer and wondering when those days will return. She asks her grandfather when summer will return and he tells her it will be back when she sees the Goose Moon. As the days go by and the little girl continues to dream of summer, little by little she sees signs of Spring until one night the Goose Moon appears.

While the story is well-written and those of us here in Minnesota can certainly relate to being tired of Winter, it is the illustrations that draw me to this book. I can spend a lot of time poring over the intricate drawings that are so lifelike, yet retain the feel of a drawing.

My sister-in-law also gave us the second book illustrated by the same man, Best Little Wingman. It is a cute story about a child who rides along while her father drives a big snow plow and clears the streets during a snow storm. The illustrations are just as beautiful as well.

While looking up the links for this post, I noticed that Postier has illustrated a third book Turtle Girl I think that's next on our book list!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our Little Helper

We have a helper around here. He arrives right after Thanksgiving, and truth be told, this is only his second year visiting us. His arrival was anxiously anticipated this year.

I forgot his name. My kids did not. According to the rules, we should not share his name with others.

He comes to our house and sits in lofty perches. He moves every night as he heads to the North Pole to submit his report and picks a new vantage point. The kids compete every morning to be the first to spot him.

We have an “official” elf. He arrived with a book that explained the rules very clearly. But I imagine there are other elves out there that don’t come with a book. You can find our version here: The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition Elf on the Shelf Gift Set

Our elf watches and reports to Santa every night. He is a welcome addition to our family every December. We miss him when he leaves us on December 23rd.

I’ve been tempted to employ another elf the other 11 months of the year. Perhaps we need a house elf like in Harry Potter books.
If you need an elf in your life here is where we adopted ours: Elf on the Shelf

Monday, December 7, 2009

One of Our Holiday Traditions

My kids are a little like the retail stores. They start thinking about Christmas just before Halloween. They daydream about the presents they will receive and plan the best things to ask Santa to bring.

I've always wanted my kids to see the magic of Christmas and dream those dreams, but I also wanted to try to keep the greed monster at least a little at bay. When M was a toddler I heard another parent explain that Santa brings her children only 3 gifts. She explained that the number three was arrived at because the wise men brought baby Jesus three gifts.

Three seemed like as good a number as any to me. So this is the number of gifts my kids ask Santa for each year. Maybe I'm a Grinch that I limit the number of things they are allowed to ask the big guy to bring, but it also makes them think more carefully about what they really want instead of simply asking for everything that looks even mildly interesting.

Because the kids only ask Santa to bring three things, Santa has (so far) been able to bring them all the items they request each year. They don't write their letters to Santa until they've carefully considered what they want to ask for and know once they've written the letters that they're committed to their decisions.

Santa still brings a few more gifts along with the requested items, and I've told them that Santa only brings one really big item per child because he has so many kids that he needs to bring presents to each year.

This has worked for our family so far. What do you do (if anything) to try to control the greed and consumerism of the holidays?

Friday, December 4, 2009


To put it mildly, I HATE TO COOK!! I love to do hors de'ouevers for parties (with 4 kids under 5, I don't have many grown up parties)

I'm not the meal kind of making mama. Don't get me wrong, I do make meals, I just hate doing them and they are definitley not gourmet.

One thing I do love is finding a healthier version to foods my kids love, so I was excited to try chicken nuggets from this cookbook. Puree is so easy.
Find the recipe here.

I make them with broccoli but want to try sweet potato too. While mine don't look cute like the staged picture, they sure are delish! Serve with a salad, biscuits and fruit to make a wonderfully filling and nutritious dinner.

The kids love them, I love them, my husband loves them, and my parents love them. These are even more yummy as left overs.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

have you ever

had the feeling there's a zamp on the lamp...
Every night, each of my older kids picks one book to read before bed. Some nights, if they are exceptionally fast at getting ready for bed, I pick a book too. Or sometimes one will ask "Mommy, which book do you want to read tonight?"

Lately, I have been loving 'There's a Wocket in my Pocket' by Dr. Seuss.

It's super silly, makes no sense, and I love how the rhyming words flow off my tongue. {But I REEEEEEALLY love that it's short and quick and into bed they go.}

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What am I gonna wear?

As a female, I can always remember having issues with "what am I gonna wear today?!" After staring into my closet for 10 minutes, I'd try on 15-20 different outfits, finally decide on one and then frantically rush to finish up because now I was running late to school, to work, to ______ you fill in the blank.

{Even now as a work at home mom, I still have this issue. Probably because my maternity clothes are too big and my other clothes are either too small, too worn, or don't fit right any longer....but that is a whole other story. Please don't get me started!}

Once my kids were born, not only did I have to get myself ready but two babies too. After maternity leave, I headed back to my corporate career while my babies stayed home with a nanny and eventually daycare. Every Sunday, I checked the extended weather report and picked out clothes for each day of the week, folded them and stacked them in a pile by day in their closet. Then each night, I'd set out the clothes for the following day. This led to a less stressful morning and me being able to get out the door on time, except on those separation anxiety days (again another story for another post.)

Fast forward 2 years, I became a work at home mom and this organization went by the wayside, we had a lot of pajama days. In September, my big kids started am preschool and that meant getting 4 kids ready and out the door.

I'm back to every Sunday night, getting their clothes picked out for the week, so come Monday morning, all I have to do is grab the pile, add socks and underwear (or diaper) and we are good to go. No extra minutes figuring out what to wear (except for me) or fighting over clothes at least for now.

I'll just enjoy this time until my two girls get older and stare into their closet and say "what am I gonna wear today?!"

What do you do to solve this morning dilema?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh to be a kid again...

I love how any found object can be turned into something creative. Like, one warm fall day at the park, after running around in the grass, they found sticks and decided they were dinosaur tails.

Or how they can turn a roll of masking tape into a fun toy by rolling it back and forth to each other on the floor...
Or how having frosting on your face is adorable...
Or how garbage day is hours of entertainment...
Or how running around in their underwear is okay...
Or how playing with playdoh provides hours of creative entertainment...
Or how finding a feather turns into a story of where it came from...
Or how making food into faces on their plate is the coolest thing ever...Having young children teaches me to look at the everyday things differently, to find joy in simplicity, to appreciate nature, to slow down and take it all in.
Don't you wish you were a kid again?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies

My Mom made the best chocolate chip cookies ever! No fooling! She could make them perfectly, my friends would argue they were store bought cause they were always the same size and shape. She would make this huge batches and store them in the large coffee cans or ice cream pails. Of course, she would also hide them all over the house so we couldn't snitch them between meals. We always found them, and man, you were lucky if you could find one of the cans and re-hide it and not have to share with the older brothers.

These cookies were coveted... and as we all got older and moved away from home, Mom would send us a batch for our birthdays, usually in an ice cream pail. One year, she sent my brother a birthday card without cookies. He marked the card - "return to sender - no cookies" and dropped it back in the mail box. So, please don't tell my family I am sharing this well kept secret; I amy not get Christmas presents this year if you do.

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup shortening (Mom used butter flavored)
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Mix well on medium speed
2 1/3 - 2/1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
Sift together and add to creamed mixture
Add 1 cup chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
Bake on greased cookie sheet
350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. I usually take them out at 12.

I apologize for not including pictures like my co-bloggers did in their recipe posts. The cookies didn't make it to the camera session.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Books have always been an escape for me... I went to a small rural four room grade school (no I didn't walk four miles through snow up to my chin). The Brown County Library system had a bookmobile that came to our school every couple of weeks. I remember getting my library card and thinking I held the key to a whole world... ah the freedom to unlock a whole imagination was right there in my pudgy little hands. So off to the book mobile I trudged... and I checked out books. Man, did I check out books. By the time I hit 8th grade, I had read every book on the bookmobile. The librarian was reserving books for me and bringing me a stack of them every time she came. I read Roots, Centennial, and every other book I could get my hands on. Throughout the years, some of those books have stuck with me, and I have enjoyed them again and again. Here is a list of some my favorites - not ranked in any order and includes some recent reads.

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain To this day, I enjoy Twain's satire and view of the world. One of my favorite authors of all time.
  2. The Encyclopedia Brown Series - Donald Sobol
  3. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe
  5. The Hardy Boys Mystery Series
  6. Iron John - Robert Bly
  7. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
  8. Absolutely anything by Stephen King
  9. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett An exceptional book, well written and captivating.
  10. All Creatures Great and Small... As a farm kid, I could relate and laughed often.
  11. The Last Catholic in America - John Powers. Yes, I was raised Catholic, and yes, I could totally relate.
Next time around, I will actually write a review. What I will say is I have always enjoyed books on all subjects and of all genres. Books are an escape, an ability to travel to far away places, travel in time, and to challenge the imagination. My daughter is a book worm also, and like me you will often see her with several books started. My son, at 15 months, loves to sit on the floor and flip through his books. I can only hope they will learn, enjoy and share my passion for books.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

The pictures were taken in spring of this year at the Eagle Bluff Nature Center in Southern MN. I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter and her 6th grade class on a field trip there. A beautiful facility with lot's of great programming, staff and of course outdoor activities. The last picture is of my daughter conquering her fears on the ropes course: 30+ feet off the ground.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Best Entertainment for the Money

Every June, I spend $25. I have been doing it in the State of Minnesota for the last 6 years (since I moved here). For that $25 I have watched eagles soar before my eyes, listened to rivers run wild, met people from all over and watched the seasons change. What did I spend that $25 on - an annual pass to the Minnesota State Parks.

My family and I enjoy being in the parks and exploring. We have gone on hikes, had picnics, and camped. All for $25 annually - and guess what, I can go to the parks as much as I want. Camping is extra... but the memories are free. My daughter knows many birds by the song they sing, or the way they look. She has an appreciation for nature and conserving it for the generations to follow. We have seen trees formed in interesting shapes, paid our respects at Indian Burial Mounds, and been amazed at how water has carved out bluffs.

My daughter likes fly fishing, standing in water and trying to master the cast, and catch a fish. We have yet to be successful, but can't wait for my son to be older to join us. We have stood on the bluffs along the Mississippi and had bald eagles soar past us, close enough that we could only stare in awe at their majestic presence. We have had many discussions over what new trails to explore or conquering the "Five Boot" hikes.

In the future we want to try canoeing or kayaking. Most of the parks have geo-caching where you can borrow GPS units and go find hidden treasures that are left by others. The parks have done a great job of setting up great locations for the treasures that are a challenge and give everyone a sense of accomplishment when there are all found.

At the end of the day, we are all tired, yet relaxed from a day outside. We have gotten great exercise, spent time as a family enjoying nature, learned a few things along the way and marveled at all that being outside has to offer. In today's world of electronics, television, computers and ipods, I treasure those moments where we can explore in the woods. We all enjoy the quiet, the sounds of the wind in the trees, the birds singing and our time together. We have never left a state park wishing we had done something else. $25 well spent...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Frustrated with Sports on TV

I have several issues with NBC, ABC, CBS, ESPN and all the other channels that broadcast sports. I want to watch a game with my family. I want them to learn about sportsmanship, being a team player and the game. I want to root for my teams and see them play well... but in between the possessions, the caution flags or innings I cringe. You see, I don't think my 12 year old daughter should have to see an older couple sitting in bathtubs and discussing erectile dysfunction, or worse knowing the words to the Viva Viagra song. Thank goodness my son is only 15 months old, but I still feel the need to change the channel at every commercial. You see, if it isn't the commercials for the male organ obsessed, it is the violent TV shows or extreme video games. Why is there a video game with zombies called Left For Dead 2? Really, they needed a second one? I understand the target audience for sporting events are males. I get it... women and children don't watch sports. Perhaps they don't watch sporting events on TV because the advertising is insulting? I have to tell you the audience at games should give networks a clue. They do watch - in fact, my wife is a much bigger college football fan than I am.

My second issue I have with the networks in sports is the creation of the self-absorbed divas. When I see Chad Ocho-Idiot, or T.O. or any of these other numerous "role models" I cringe. For I never know if the camera will show them cussing at their coaches, doing some stupid dance in the end zone or talking trash. I remember being in Dick's Sporting goods after Randy Moss "mooned" the crowd after scoring a touchdown. A parent there was buying his 10 year old son a Moss jersey. Clearly there are deeper lessons here that could be taught. Sports shows have created these monsters and encouraged their behaviors. Bring some class back into the games, so when my little boy starts playing and I talk to him about sportsmanship, he understands what it means. I will have to go back and find footage of guys like Barry Sanders or others that were always classy. There are few in today's games, thanks to the ratings obsessions.

My third issue is the cheerleaders. Enough said...

As parents, we have to monitor what are kids are watching, and do our best to screen out inappropriate content. I can understand not watching prime time TV. But my kids should be able to watch a game without the content that comes in commercials and the shenanigans on the field of play. Encourage your kids to follow players that do it right, show sportsmanship and are examples on and off the field. I know as a parent, my opportunity to give the network gods a clue are slim to none... but what I can do is control the content, have discussions around appropriateness of behaviors and lead by example. Kids will learn their respect of teammates, the game and the people around them through the examples we set. Oh and for the networks, I am watching you... but more and more on DVR - where I can filter out your junk.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Apple pie guy

Randy's birthday is tomorrow, and he isn't a cake kinda guy. He is an apple pie kinda guy. I have been competing with his grandmother's apple pie for ten years, and I finally got the dip and kiss after this recipe courtesy of (where all the cool kids hang out). It is labor intensive, I'm not gonna lie, but it has a crust to DIE for.


  • Dough
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 14 tablespoons cold butter, diced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons cold water
  • Filling
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 pounds baking apples like Golden Delicious, Cortland, or Mutsu
  • 2/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling on the pie
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Generous pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten


Make the dough by hand. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Using your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean sized bits of butter. (If the flour/butter mixture gets warm, refrigerate it for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Add the egg and stir the dough together with a fork or by hand in the bowl. If the dough is dry, sprinkle up to a tablespoon more of cold water over the mixture.

Make the dough in a food processor. With the machine fitted with the metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles yellow corn meal mixed with bean size bits of butter, about 10 times. Add the egg and pulse 1 to 2 times; don't let the dough form into a ball in the machine. (If the dough is very dry add up to a tablespoon more of cold water.) Remove the bowl from the machine, remove the blade, and bring the dough together by hand.

Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.

Make the filling. Put the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Toss the apple with the lemon juice. Add the sugar and toss to combine evenly.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the apples, and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the apples soften and release most of their juices, about 7 minutes.

Strain the apples in a colander over a medium bowl to catch all the juice. Shake the colander to get as much liquid as possible. Return the juices to the skillet, and simmer over medium heat until thickened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the reduced juice and spices. Set aside to cool completely. (This filling can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up to 6 months.)

Cut the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half of dough into a disc about 11 to 12 inches wide. Layer the dough between pieces of parchment or wax paper on a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.

Place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with one of the discs of dough, and trim it so it lays about 1/2 inch beyond the edge of the pan. Put the apple filling in the pan and mound it slightly in the center. Brush the top edges of the dough with the egg. Place the second disc of dough over the top. Fold the top layer of dough under the edge of the bottom layer and press the edges together to form a seal. Flute the edge as desired. Brush the surface of the dough with egg and then sprinkle with sugar. Pierce the top of the dough in several places to allow steam to escape while baking. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Bake the pie on a baking sheet until the crust is golden, about 50 minutes. Cool on a rack before serving. The pie keeps well at room temperature (covered) for 24 hours, or refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Cook's Note: You may freeze the uncooked pie, but don't brush it with egg or dust it with sugar beforehand. Place the pie in the freezer for 30 minutes, to harden it slightly, and then double wrap it with plastic wrap. Freeze for up to 6 months. When ready to bake, unwrap the pie and brush it with egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake, from the frozen state, until golden brown, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Stink

Seriously? One of the best books for boys who love machines of all kinds. Both my boys (6 and 3) LOVE this book. They love to say, "You think I stink? whooooo-eeeeee do I ever! No skunk ever stunk this bad! But go on, think about it, without me? You're on mount TRASH-O-RAMA baby!"

It is a great stocking stuffer, a great read, and a great way to get kids to realize that their garbage has to go somewhere.

We read this after watching Wall-e one night and Drew said, 'Wow, mom. We make a lot of garbage. Why don't we recycle more?"

Good question from the 6 yo. He is pretty adamant about using our reusable bags at the grocery store, putting his trash in the garbage, but thinking about whether or not it can be recyled. If it can, it goes in recycling. Case in point, I said, "Hey, can you go put this in the garbage?" and handed him some old papers from his backpack. He responded, "No mommy, these are RECYCLABLE!" as if I was both deaf and stupid.

So I Stink is a fun and fast read perfect for those enviornmentally conscious kids in your life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

rest within the race

Two boys are busy. Now, it is all relative. My friends with 3 or more roll their eyes enduringly at me. They smile and nod with a knowing smile that says, in the nicest way possible, that I have NO idea.

But really, I think I have an idea….maybe just one, but I’ll put it out there.
When I started training for a ½ marathon, I had no idea how long 13 miles is. Really, I didn’t, or I wouldn’t have followed through probably, heh. I stuck to my training schedule and each time the mileage increased I’d start to get a bit anxious. Wow, 5 miles? That’s far. How will I make it? What if I have to walk? Do you think I should take some gel? Like I said, I had no idea. Each time I would come home from a run I’d tell Randy I wasn’t sure if I had another mile in me.
But I always did.

Parenting is a really, really, really long training schedule. Each child adds a different dimension. There are some “runs” that make us want to quit and throw it in. After others we feel like we “just don’t have another mile in us.” There is no throwing the towel in or returning a child, there is an acceptance of the training, and a moment in which finally, an answer, never the answer, is clear.
One child, two children, red children blue children, it doesn’t matter – there are challenges in this race, this race in which to raise creative, kind, confident kids with a heart for others. It is hard, and sometimes it takes moments of selfishness to really do the trick.

For my mother, it was walks around the house. When she couldn’t stand our bickering and complaining we would find her walking around the house. She would pause at the flowers, pull weeds, or just walk. Over and over, she’d walk. For me, it is running. When the boys become too much, when I’d rather put them to bed at 9 am than start the day, I know it is time for a run. My grandmother sewed, my husband fishes, and my friends read, go for coffee, scrapbook, and watch movies. There are times built into the training called rest days. Those are the days where 44 hours of wii is ok. Those are the days where one more movie isn’t going to hurt. Those are the days where ice cream for dinner is just about perfection. Those days, those rest days, are important. They allow us to build back, center again, and remember the goal at the end.

This Saturday was a running day. Randy and Drew went to the hockey game and Owen and I went swimming. This weekend poor Owen’s binky “broke” and they just don’t make any more. He was sad, couldn’t sleep very well, and was, frankly, mad at the world. It was time for binky to go, and it was time for me to man up and run the run. Somewhere in this week will be a rest day. A day to release all the tension and unrest from the weekend, but in the meantime I keep reminding myself that: A. My miles and someone else’s miles are different and certainly we are training for different races. B. that I can run another mile. And C. I love the process. I love the training. I love the challenges.

Enjoy the race.
Enjoy the rest.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Exhausting Hope

Finishing up the last week of the first quarter in a high school is close to the 9th circle. Each one starts to throw the others under the bus. “But he didn’t send me the links on time.” “But she didn’t text me with the time we ere going to meet.” “Can’t you grade us separately?” “When can I meet with you for my thesis?” “When was that due?” “Oh geesh, Brock, why do you teachers do this to uuuuuuuuuussssssssssssss???”
I know you now are desperate to enter into my room every morning where a sea of Abercrombie and Uggs swarm my door and I must swat them away just to put down my backpack. You want to come and calm fears, shush tears, and remind them that, in the end, they will A. live, B. learn, and C. thrive. Then I have to remind them that they, A. are more than a number, B. this is merely quarter, and the real grade isn’t until the end of the semester, and C. can’t argue about points, so shush it.
You want to walk into my room.
Really, you do.

In that room, where the anxiety level is through the roof, where they question the relevancy of English, literature, and me, they also are learning. OOOooooooooo, are they brilliant! They are learning that the “right” answer is one supported by text. They are learning that an easy “A” is less than a hard earned “B”. They are learning that literature is life. We are majoring in life within my room and for that, I am…

But in a good way
In a way that I can’t explain other through anecdote

I came in to meet with one of my students for her thesis and the entire back board was covered with purple and brown expo brain matter. She worked madly over the philosophical debate about why we must proceed on the archetypal journey. She pulled examples from three or four different texts. She worked with concepts like fate, free will, task, stereotype, mentor, deceit, and love. She grappled with motivation and the lack of. When I walked into that room after grabbing a quick bite of a sandwich I sat on the back table and allowed her to proceed through the trails of now red ink connecting ideas, erasing those that don’t fit. I watched and interjected here and there in order to streamline her thesis. Later that evening, during online conference hours, she typed. “Brock, I am so excited about my paper. In truth, I can say I have never said those words about any paper, especially at the end of the quarter  haha.”

I am telling you, you want to be in my room. You want to be involved with these amazing minds. You want to see what they do when handed 12 titles and told to go find something interesting to write about. You want to be here, in the sea of Abercrombie and Uggs. You want to be here and see what our future is doing in the present.

Here is the hope those looking over they shoulders are looking for. It isn’t a plan, it isn’t a policy, and it isn’t a system or a standardized test. It lies in the hearts of our children. If we nurture those beating, pulsing bodies, our hope, daily, is restored.

So I invest. I smile. I say, “I know you are frustrated, but I believe in you. I know you can do this. Just try. Just pick up the idea and try.” Most importantly, I say, “What do you think?”

And make them answer.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Orange Cranberry Muffins - perfect for Thanksgiving morning!

Before I jump into writing about cooking and food and recipes and the like, I feel it necessary to disclose the relative amateur nature of mah skilz, as they say.

I do not cook very much. I do not cook well. My husband, in fact, cooks more often and better than I do. It is not because he likes to do it or feels he is especially good at it. He does so because he likes to eat and he likes it to taste good. Ergo, he cooks for our family quite frequently.

What I DO do is bake. I'm much better at it than cooking. Each Saturday and Sunday morning, we have fresh baked goods paired with hot eggs, fresh fruit, juice and coffee. Halloween? I'm ready with homemade pumpkin bread and butterscotch cut-out cookies. For Christmas everyone knows to expect gingerbread men, sugar cookies, bourbon balls and pecan pie. Other specialties of the house? Key Lime Pie. (No, I will never give out the recipe here.) I make almost all the birthday cakes in the house. I bake my own yeast breads. Our house runneth over with scones and muffins and cookies and biscuits and popovers and such.

That being said, let's jump in: Orange Cranberry Muffins

For this yummy, we will turn to our trusty companion, the Better Homes and Gardens NEW Cookbook, publication date 1996.

In the chapter of the food group "Breads," on pages 118-119, we find the general recipe for "Muffins."

Lest you believe for one minute that I would give you nothing more than a recipe from a cookbook, have faith. I wouldn't lead you astray. No, I rarely make a recipe exactly as it's written. The recipe in the cookbook gives a variation to include cranberries, but even that would be too ordinary and trite. It takes a little bit of know-how, but one always has to change up the recipe and add a little something extra in order to make the end result "pop" (as Stacy London might say).

Here's my spice, seasonings and herb cabinet:

We buy such stuff from a local market and then fill jars we already have.

This makes it possible to buy only as much as we need, enabling it to always be fresh and also enables us to buy expensive spices that we otherwise couldn't afford (like saffron). The per pound cost is as much as 1/10 of what it costs at the grocery store. So, hello exotic things I normally wouldn't buy! Like:

dried orange peel

The perfect complement to the tangy flavor of the dried cranberries. Just the little extra something we need to make this otherwise ordinary, run of the mill recipe for cranberry muffins become something extraordinary.

Without further ado then, here is the recipe:


Orange-Cranberry Muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried orange peel
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cooking oil
1 cup dried cranberries

Line twelve standard muffin cups with bake cups; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix in orange peel. Make a well in the center of dry mixture; set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine egg, milk, and oil. Add egg mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir until just moistened (batter should be lumpy). Fold in cranberries.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes or until golden. Cool in muffin cups on a mire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and serve warm. Makes 10-12 muffins.