Friday, January 30

Cheap, hot date ideas... okay maybe they're just cheap

Flat line the bank account or grab dinner with my husband to escape the craziness of parenthood for one night? What a quandary.
Unfortunately I’m afraid this is the sentiment of all too many people in recent months as it seems fraudulent CEOs are just about as plentiful as the steady decline in personal stocks, checking and savings accounts nationwide.
While maintaining some gross income for the family to eat and stay warm for the week are the top of my priority list, so too is the priority of my marriage. But how to do date night on as little cash as possible has become a challenge of sorts. Perhaps you too are thinking how it is possible to get out of the house to breathe away from the kids, pile of laundry, mountain of junk mail, and never-ending overly ambitious to-do list that popped up post-New Year’s.

Below find some cheap if not completely do-able date ideas as we approach the hallmark-y holiday of holidays: Valentine’s. [If you’re a VD-hater, opt any choice below for any time other than feb 14!]

Most would require you to find a babysitter which also implies more money spent which may leave you digging in the couch cushions before you head out the door. Instead, if you have friends with kids, trade off. One week is your night without kids as they watch your darlings and vice versa for the week after.

  • Make a thermos of hot cocoa [perhaps with or without irish cream] and go for a scenic walk or drive
  • Cook-in with each other AFTER the kids go to bed, and do a dinner with movie inside the comfort and warmth of your own home… perhaps even in your pjs. RedBox is now available in many grocery stores nationwide for as little as $1 a day for a DVD rental! [check out to find a location near you!]
  • Enjoy some local music at a coffee house, or the like, over a cheap cup of coffee, tea or chai
  • Rise early on the weekend and visit the local farmer’s market, where fresh food, free samples and sometimes music abound
  • Physical activities are always free, healthy and beautiful. Dust off the bike, slip on your running shoes, or pack up some hiking gear and do something together.
  • After eating dinner “in” go out for dessert to share. Whether warm apple pie a la mode or crème brulèe.
  • Visit the galleries of local art schools during year-end shows
  • Volunteer for something together-- whether its an event for disease awareness or helping out at the soup kitchen once a week
  • Post-bedtime for the kids, turn on some music and dance together. Okay so maybe I couldn’t take myself that seriously, but we can’t afford dance lesson so self-taught activities will have to suffice.
  • Adult beverage on order? Mix your own cosmo and throw it in a mug, with your hubby’s Corona and take a walk down town, or around your neighborhood if you’re not that thrill seeking to drive with alcohol in the car. Who’s going to pull over your mini-van any way, in search of open adult beverages?

When in doubt, there’s always just good conversation on a comfortable cushion in the family room couch, but I do dare to live on the side of wild from time to time.

Go ahead. Be crazy, and indulge in the romantic life of a thrifty Juliet.

Wednesday, January 28

Winter Protest

I hate the winter.

Not just because of the ridiculous expense of heating oil. Not because I wear three layers so the thermostat can comfortably sit at 65 degrees to save energy. Not because of the condensed wet snow that waited so patiently to be shoveled today.

I agree that upon a new snow there could be nothing more beautiful. It’s tranquil-- especially in the midst of snowfall at night or upon daybreak when few cars loiter the roads. The snow is still white, and looks beautiful as it dusts the evergreen trees lining the park in my back yard.

I think the reason I mostly hate winter is the pent up energy that resides in my house. The testosterone levels that gradually build up in my little sons’ bodies every day, and the ungodly cold that offers them no release outside. Peyton is only beginning to crawl and it is uneventful bringing him out into the cold. Mason would probably last until frost bite occured before wanting to come inside.

With the normally high toddler energy levels matched with the normally mediocre mom energy levels it makes for an interesting battle every day to keep them occupied and with all appendages attached. Occupancy is key, and I usually run out of ideas shortly after Elmo and prior to snack time.

This morning I began to wonder if the boys’ dislike for winter came to rise to the surface too. They appreciated the “snooo” as Mason described the frozen matter outside while he and his brother peered outside their bedroom window. But lately since we’ve been cooped up inside they’re aggression has increased way too much for my liking. Mason has ceased hitting his little brother for the most part, but instead now turns his little fist toward himself. Self-hitting is beyond my understanding to the degree at which they do it. I can identify with, You idiot, Steph! You locked yourself out of the house again for the third time today without your spare. Off to see hubby at work again. Won’t he be thrilled, as I turn my palm to my forehead in a quick “duh” realization.

Peyton, all 14 months of him, started hitting himself and creates a deja vous moment for yours truly upon every thwap to his tiny little head. Mason started this vicious cycle shortly after Peyton was born when he was 14 months old too. Jason and I assumed the cause was two fold: frustration and lack of verbal capacity to express his feelings. His physical motor skills are finely tuned, but his verbal skills are slowly catching up. Recently we’ve seen a rise again in this self-hitting for Mason when we thought it abandoned him for several months.

It’s not only frustrating [and seemingly painful to onlookers], but as parents it’s upsetting to watch this. Upon finishing the workout of clearing our snow-paved driveway I sat down on the computer chair to google, or wiki-search anything involving toddler self destruction.

I became aware that there are at least 100 other people responding to similar cries for help. Parents cited similar findings: lacking verbal expression. I was unable to find, however, any resolutions. Many parents stated they saw vast improvements with elevated physical activity and that it was a release for their child [most of which were boys that were in the 2+ year old category]. Snow snow go away.

I’m not terribly naïve enough to think that with the quickly approaching early spring crocuses and daffodils that my sons will cease their destructive behaviors but my god I certainly have hoped for crazier things in my life.
Like my driveway shoveling itself.

Tuesday, January 27

Savory Spreads

I had great intentions to indulge all of the fabulous findings of my recent trip to visit my bro and sister-in-law in Austin, TX with my hubby but quite honestly my mind cannot escape food right now. Nor do I have the time.

I will further detail the 18,745 things I loved about the city at a later time but at the present moment Mason is exercising his lungs for his brother to wake up, and testing my willpower not to exercise my own lungs for his insistence to pound Elmo's plastic eyeballs off of the headboard of his crib. He's only two. He's only two.

So for the time being I want to share a great personal hummus recipe I have become addicted to since Christmas. [Number one thing I loved about Austin was the degree of amazing FRESH, unique foods, so this is in lieu of my travel entry.]

This is my own lil' diddy to a black bean spread.

Smoky Black Bean Hummus
2 15oz. cans of black beans
1/4 c. tahini paste
1 lime, juiced
1/2 t. cayenne pepper, ground
1 t. cumin, ground
1/2 t. chipotle pepper, ground [hard to find, but I use McCormick's Gourmet version] or use one chipotle in adobo sauce
1/2 roasted red pepper
2-3 T juice from jar of red pepper
Fresh cilantro, to taste [I use a handful or two, but use more or less to liking]
Salt & pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to stand for a few hours if you can resist, but this is some great stuff. I've made this similarly with garbanzo beans [with hulls removed] and it was equally as amazing. Add more juice [another lime perhaps, more pepper liquid, or perhaps water] to thin if the consistency doesn't suit your likings. You really cannot screw it up. I've frozen this in smaller portions and works great. I love hummus but I can't ingest the amount this makes before it spoils.

Jason, however, would have no qualms with the challenge.

My oldest son, Mason, will eat the hummus alongside tortilla roll ups [with cheese melted inside] or just about any vegetable. It's great with pita, and is just as delish as a condiment alternative to improve the dull turkey sandwich.

All that said, I can still hear Elmo getting a beating upstairs so perhaps that's my cue.

Monday, January 26

When in doubt, and it's cold: roast!

Ok. So not a pot roast. No no. Although the meat lovers out there would salivate over a juicy pot roast done to perfection, my idea of a fabulous roast includes vegetables.

Slide over carnivores, and feast your taste buds on this not so traditional method of roasting, but in my opinion offers a far greater taste than a hunk of meat. No offense.

Charred Tomato Soup [adapted from Rachael Ray]
6 ripe plum tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion
2T EVOO, and extra for drizzling
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half, regular or fat-free)
20 fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn

Preheat the broiler to high.
Arrange the plum tomato halves skin side down with the onions on a rimmed cookie sheet. Drizzle EVOO on the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Broil for about 4 minutes, flip and continue to broil for 3 minutes or until the tomatoes and onions are slightly charred.

Place the tomatoes and onions in a blender or food processor, and puree until somewhat smooth.
Preheat a soup pot over medium high heat. Add the 2T of EVOO, garlic and the 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes. Saute the garlic for a minute, then add the pureed veggies and the chicken stock. When the soup comes to a bubble, add the cream, then season with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup for 8 to 10 minutes.
When ready to serve, turn off the soup and stir in the basil. Adjust the salt and pepper.

This soup is amazing. It actually calls to be served with pesto-prosciutto stromboli's, which I admit are equally delicious. However, posting a recipe with meat would defeat the purpose of my intent for this to be vegetarian-minded. But really. This soup is awesome and perfect this time of year. It also freezes really well. I often double or triple the recipe and freeze several containers.

Enjoy. No filet but just as delish!

Tuesday, January 6

For the Last Time

“Time is too slow for those who wait, too
swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who
rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” Henry Van Dyke
When I began this entry my family was celebrating my baby boy‘s first birthday. Leading up to his big day I was surprised at my strength, and that I hadn’t yet shed a tear. I had Mason’s birthday in October; Justine’s birthday in November. Between those two celebrations my Grandpa died. I made Thanksgiving for 14 people. Then I was preparing for the holidays. And of course, I was getting ready for Peyton’s first birthday. Perhaps in the midst of chaos I didn’t have the chance to dwell, and maybe for that reason I was avoiding the inevitable bittersweet feelings.
On the eve of his birthday, I sat in our living room and began to write in Peyton’s journal. I started individual journals for each of my two sons in hopes of preserving my memories as a mom for them when they’re older; however, I don’t know that I’ll honestly be able to part with them. Regardless, as I opened the book, I leafed through its brief history. Before I started a new entry, I read through the book sitting next to me I got him for his birthday.
Let Me Hold You Longer.

If you’ve never read it, grab some tissues before indulging and don’t expect to be able to muster the strength to read it aloud to your children without your throat constricting around the enormous knot that is bound to form. The author included a forward prior to the story that detailed how she realized how little we celebrate the last things our kids do but almost always remember the first. What if I knew it would be the last time my son played in the sandbox. Would I let him run his tractor until the sun set through the tunnels of sand? Would I ever put him down if I knew it was the last time my son would run into my arms wanting to be held? Yes and yes. The book is entirely about that.

From birth to empty nest, and it’s beautifully illustrated book. What got me was the things that have already passed for my kids. The “last” things that already happened. While I realized there are many pages that haven’t been covered with them, it will approach all too quickly. After all, our “lasts” with Justine take us nearly to the end of the story which caused the knot in my throat to become larger.

And so I finished reading that book, put it aside to be wrapped, and picked up my pen to etch another piece of history for Peyton in his journal through my blurred eyes, and tear stained paper.

Peyton’s birthday was wonderful. It was a beautiful day, and we spent wonderful time together. His first Elmo doll. How much better does it get? Not much, my older son would admit. The following day, my older son, Mason, was playing in front of me while I fed Peyton his bottle. As he nearly finished the milk in his bottle I noticed Peyton’s eyes becoming increasingly heavy to hold open. Peyton and Mason were both “babywise” babies, which means they learned early to go to sleep on their own with a fairly strict schedule at my very-type A discretion. They don’t fall asleep in our arms, or in the car, or in a rocking chair. It’s their cribs on their own time that they rest to sleep. This is a huge blessing to have a babe learn how to fall asleep on their own but in two years I’ve learned to deprives a mom of holding her still, soundly sleeping baby in her arms-- a gift unlike any other.

Peyton finished his bottle, and began whimpering for more. I put the bottle down on the floor, and he turned toward me with his eyes shut and put his thumb in his mouth and nestled against me. He slept on me. My little baby. As I sat in awe for a bit, it dawned on me that perhaps this too was the last time my baby would do just that.
Tears began to stream my face, and yet at the same time I continued to recite over an over again how fortunate I felt to remember the last time it happened.