Friday, November 08, 2013

Way More than You Ever Even Wanted to Know or Care to Know about What I Have Done for the Past Two Weeks

Dear Internets,

Hi everybody! 
Oh gosh, do you know what it's like to have a running blog post in your head for two weeks!? One that you just can't seem to find the time to get out?  I've been itching to write again, but like so many of us I'm sure, I'm just ANNOYINGLY BUSY at the moment!!!!!

I kept waiting to come up with a decent chunk of time to write a nice post, but I'm starting to realize that if I want to get something out, I need to just do what I can, long or short post for now. Otherwise, I'll have a month of updates all at once!   (UPDATE! That is almost literally what happened.) Wait, get it? What LITERALLY just happened!? Ha! I crack myself up.

Things have been going well over here in the little yellow house. It's fall, so everything has to be happy and awesome and BETTER of course! Fall also means that busy rush as we go back to school. There's homework and playdates and dinners that have to get on the table in a timely manner. We've been to conferences already and had several classroom events. Halloween rolled around which was perfect, minus the rain. And then....then....Jon's birthday! And now, it's almost Noah's birthday! We have Thanksgiving after that, directly followed by Chanukah, followed by Christmas and New Years. Even just typing this paragraph makes me feel tired.

Any parent out there will understand why each of these activities, holidays and birthdays takes so much time and effort to pull off. I had a striking thought last month, that before having a child (and lesser so, before a house),  if I thought I wanted to go get a coffee or stop at the bookstore, I'd just walk out of the door. Now though, I could never just do that. For one, I'd have to stop whatever I'm working on at home, like at this moment for example, the two three loads of bedding that are currently in the washer and dryer, or the tomatoes that need to be chopped in a few minutes for our dinner tonight. I'd have to stop the work that I'm doing for home, and then I'd have to calculate what time Noah needed picking up, verses the time that I had to go to the coffee shop or bookstore. It's essentially just a new level of complication.  Before, celebrating a birthday might be last-minute dinner plans on a Friday night, and a gift picked up that afternoon. Christmas was basically showing up at my parent's on the 25th with a package or two under my arm. Halloween was just staying home, I didn't have any pressure to make a classroom snack to feed twenty, only a snack to feed one while I watched MTV's Real World.
These days, everything just takes more time and more planning.

It's all so strange how your life morphs into something so profoundly different. Partially without even realizing while it's happening. HOW does that happen!?

I'm off on a tangent that is no use treading down now. Except to say, busy days aside, I would love to blog and blog and go back to my lattes at the coffee shop - slash - writing sessions as soon as possible! 

So without further babbling, here is what's been going on around our neck of the woods.........

If you are a Trader Joe's fan, you will understand it when I say, that it was as if they were taken over  by the Great Pumpkin in October. Can you imagine the great pumpkin standing behind the big manager's desk? Ringing the bell over and over, while extolling the virtues of a sincere pumpkin patch?

They had pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin body butter, pumpkin cereal bars and pumpkin cake mix just to name a FEW pumpkin products. Our favorite hands-down though, are the organic, frosted, pumpkin toaster pastries. Like pumpkin crack. And soon, they will all be goooooooooooone. Good thing I still have two un-opened boxes in the pantry. When something is this good, you've got to stock up!

And whilst this is not a "pumpkin" product per-say, the Cinnamon Broom still counts as a much anticipated Trader Joe's autumn favorite. Yes, I present to you, the awesome cinnamon Broom ever. At $4.99, how could you not buy one, and make your entire home smell like it was doused in cinnamon by a gigantic giant who just dipped you in a cinnamon bucket. If a cinnamon bucket is such a thing?
Click on the picture to read the label. It's hilarious. That Trader Joe's, so funny. Haha.

Here she is next to the fireplace. Looking all cute and smelling like a candy red hot. 

My father is obsessed with outfitting Noah when cold weather rolls around. Which, I don't completely understand, but it's fine by me! Here he has sent Noah an adorable Patagonia Kid's fleece "Retro" vest, a pair of water-resistant Merrell Kid's "Jungle Mocs", and the cutest Gap Kid's hat and convertible mitten/glove set. I think he looks ready for late fall. Do you?

I absolutely adore the vest's styling. The colors too. It's quite thin though, with low-pile fleece and a nylon inner layer to stop the wind. It's perfect for early fall, and using for layering later on. The Merrell shoes are a classic, and surprisingly our first pair! Noah says that the heels are slipping, so I'm wondering if they're a bit big. Aside from that, the Jungle Moc is the perfect slip-on and go shoe for a young boy who's ready to run outside over wet leaves and mud.
The Kid's Gap fleece hat and gloves are fantastic. I love the bright, fun plaid pattern and the fleece is as soft as can be. As an added bonus, my hands actually fit into the mitten-glove, so I will steal them form Noah.
Thanks Dad!

We've been on and hosted some fun playdates in the last few weeks. Something that goes into having get togethers for the kids is snack planning, especially after school. Last year I blogged about making this quick and easy caramel sauce for apple dipping. I thought it would make the perfect after school fall snack. And, it's half kind of junk-food-ish and fun, but half healthy! (Depending on which half you eat the most of. ) 

Here is the recipe that I was emailed by my sweet friend Anna Margaret:

1 can eagle brand milk ( the sweet one )
1 tsp. cinnamon    
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar    
6 oz. butterscotch chips
Melt over low heat, pour into fondue pot or other
Serves 4-6   * the apples can be cut in wedges or cubed for the dipping*
Can make ahead and reheat slowly.  Don't microwave
I had this at a friend's gathering and she made it in a cast iron skillet (small)

The only down-side was that the boys were too busy playing to stop and eat. (Sigh...) I asked,  but they just never really made it to the mini-crock pot. Oh well. If you make some for your family and friends, I'm sure they'll enjoy it, it's delicious!

Sometimes playdates last until dinner time, and sometimes they end after dinner. On this particular day it was a play and dinner playdate. When we have little friends over, I try to make mealtime fun, and figured that I would try something new - these slightly healthier, baked mozzarella cheese sticks. (They went with spaghetti and peas.) You can find the recipe HERE.  Essentially, choose the mozzarella cheese sticks of your choice. (I like Trader Joe's low-fat, organic sticks) Then you cut each in half, dredge in flour, egg whites and a bit of bread crumbs and bake! They are quite good, and nice to dip into a simple marinara sauce. I recommend!
Also, we amazingly had ANOTHER playdate the next day. I prepared extra sticks the day before and popped them in the freezer instead of baking them. So, for our second get together, all I had to do was take a few from the freezer and put them in the over. In less than ten minutes, a snack! Voila!

Because of parent-teacher conferences and an in-service day, Noah had a couple of days off of school. Jon was also traveling, so I had to get creative with filling all of that down-time. Well, not "filling it", I'm a firm believer in relaxed days in pajamas with books and toys and cartoons, but we also needed an adventure of two. 
I've been missing my favorite coffee shop, so Noah and I walked over one day for hot chocolates and a game of chess. Mario chess to be exact. I'm not even going to tell you who won the game.......
For you holiday shoppers out there, I wanted to tell you that we've had this Mario Chess set for at least three years now, and I would say Noah has gotten well over it's worth in play. I highly recommend it. A set like this helps foster a love of chess in children, but also, the characters are great for imaginative play. It's a fun gift for many!

Some other fun that went on in October was our trip to Greenfield Village's "Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village". It was spectacular! Basically, a one-mile path is set up around the Greenfield Village. (For those of you who don't know, the village is basically a living American history museum. It's pretty cool.) The path is lined with carved and candle lit jack-o-lanters. It's INCREDIBLE! I was told there are roughly 1,000 pumpkins along the route, but I feel like it has to be many more. Along the path you stop at a whole bunch of Halloween and history inspired vignettes and skits and interactive displays. Things like a mad scientist's lab, pirates, a fortune teller, some ghosts and even singing pumpkins. There are also stations set up where treats are handed out, and lots and lots of fabulous costumes.

I was busy following Noah and it was quite dark out, so we don't have too may photos from the night, but here are a couple.  It's difficult to make out, but this was a 30-40' foot tree that was full of pumpkins. I'm guessing these were the carved foam pumpkins, but it was so cool!

This is Noah at the "Broom Shop" which the witches ran. As a wizard, he fit right in. 
This was such a fun event, I can't wait to go back next year! soon as Halloween was over.......Christmas began!
Home Depot started selling their holiday decorations. Noah immediately spied a giant, plastic candy cane and started dancing with it. And then somehow, he convinced me to it. 

And now I'm going to show you where I found it..... I'm none too happy......
In his secret "Weapons area"! You see, his father and I are mean, and we refuse to buy him weapon-like toys, so instead, he has conned other people  into buying him weapon-like toys, or he has turned peaceful objects into tools of death, and coyly stashed them next to a toy piano and behind some Lincoln Logs. I'm on to him now!

Behold the "nunchucks" early American dipped wax candles that Noah made at Greenfield Village. And, some kind of ear-splitting battle horn? That was a party favor that now "hides" the candy cane hook of evil. Please also note the bow conned off my Dad from the Harbor Springs Art Fair and the plastic shotgun that my stepfather bought him in a total act of rebellion against us. (The foam Minecraft pickaxe was our mistake. We thought it was for MINING. Also, the foam sword was purchased from the $1 spot at Target, during July, in a completely pitiful, desperate act of OMG, it's summer vacation, I'm loosing my mind. Here, have a sword and go outside and PLAY!)

So I came up with the following make-shift toy, in hopes of pulling him away from the evils of was candle nun chucks.  
Everybody, please meet "Mystical Rice Quarry".

Take one $3 storage bin from Ikea. Fill with 5lbs of rice. Add some drops of food coloring. Mix. Go to Michael's Craft Store and purchase all of the awesome 1/2 off germs and tiny trinkets that you can find. I bought "diamonds," keys, spooky miniature clocks, and a teeny tiny crystal ball. Then you hide everything in the quarry. You can cover small Tupperware boxes with tin foil as I did, to make mounds. Plop in some little construction vehicles and you're done!

I couldn't believe it. Noah LOVED the mystical rice quarry! I gave it to him with a silly poem that  I wrote about it being a mystical rice quarry and that he had to find the secret hidden treasures to gain powers.

He played.........

...... and played and played. For hours. HOURS!

Also that week, I received a note home in Noah's backpack to send in a set of unbreakable , GLAMOROUS looking plates, forks and knives and goblets. Whaaaaat? GOBLETS!? Glamorous looking plates and goblets!? What's that!? They were to be props for a classroom Harry Potter skit that, so I had a bit of a hunch. I didn't want to spend a lot of money, so this is what I did. They were lumpy, foil covered, plastic jewel encrusted, puffy glitter painted goblets and plates. But they worked!

This fall has been gorgeous. The weather has been lovely and the colors even more so. There's a tree just outside my bedroom window. It is more vibrantly yellow than any tree I have ever seen. It's just gorgeous. I feel lucky to have it right there.

Halloween was extra rainy. The week had beautiful weather, and just as Halloween rolled around, the rain came. It didn't matter I suppose. It was an adventure. I wanted to make our dinner a little fun, so I lit candles, and thought it gave everything a "spooky" feel. But it turns out only I am spooked by candles.

Noah dressed up as a wizard. I thought he was adorable. Noah received mounds of candy that night. Mounds! I told him afterwards, and I do think this is true (so listen up boys!), if you are a boy and you wear a "cute" costume instead of a creepy, gory costume, you will receive more candy. I have to believe that this theory is true. There were a lot of women at doors going: "Awwwww.....and stuffing handfuls of candy into his orange plastic pumpkin.
At one point, the pumpkin was so full that he had to dump his candy into my backpack and start collecting all over again.

He we are at the beginning of the wet night. Noah and I wore our Bog boots, so we stayed dry. Jon, not so much. Poor Jon.

Oh! And for my gray-haired readers, this is what gray hair looks like after standing out in the drizzle for two hours. Ok, so probably the same way black or brown or blond hair looks after standing out in the drizzle for two hours. It's strange how less gray my hair looks, when I pull back the top layer. Hmmm.

Another fall-ish thing that I did in hopes to make Halloween night fun, was to try out homemade Autumn Potpourri.
Basically, using my peeeeeeerfect Le Creuset cast iron pumpkin, I put in cinnamon sticks, some pure vanilla extract, a sliced apple and then, I filled most of the pumpkin up with apple cider and some water. It smelled delicious! You can add a bit of ground cinnamon for a stronger scent.

Quiche. Have you ever tried the magic, crustless Bisquick quiche. I think it's magic because it's so easy and tastes magically good. You can find the recipe HERE. I've tried this quiche with all kinds of different veggie combos, but this particular time I made it plain, with only some onion and cheese and  a few tomatoes on top for garnish, so Noah would eat it. And.....Noah would not eat it. Sigh.....

For dessert I made a few bakes apples using THIS recipe. Sadly, Noah would not eat it......
But I did! Very good, very delicious.

In the past couple of weeks we've also been to the cider mill. We have a wonderful cider mill just ten minutes away. It was built in 1837. That's old! I've been going to this cider mill my whooooole life. In fact, when I was in nursery school, my parents would bribe me with an after-school cider mill trip (it was right around the corner from my school), if I would stop crying at drop-off. 
(It never worked but they still took me to the cider mill.)

A few more things. One is that I am very relieved to say that I finally have ALL of Noah's birthday gifts, Chanukah gifts AND Christmas gifts purchased and mostly wrapped. The other day I wrapped twenty things! (Jon's gift included.)  With Chanukah's eight nights, the gift-count really gets up there. This is all stressing me to no end. When you count in both of our families, included seven nieces and nephews, it adds up to what feels like more than I can handle for Christmas and Chanukah. So far, I'm up to 40 presents needed. I'm just going to say it: I hate that Christmas and Chanukah mean that you have to spend way more money than you'd normally ever spend, any other time. I know that I could make some of our gifts, and I definitely will, but there are a few situations where homemade doesn't make sense or is not enough. Also, homemade costs money too, and takes a lot of extra time that I don't really have. It's just so stressful. I'm thinking for next year, I should start holiday shopping January 1st, and look for deals throughout the year.
I'm sorry to sound "bah-humbug", but it's been on my mind lately.
(Here is Hector helping me wrap.)

 I made this mostly crockpot version of Toovar Dal - Indian lentils. It calls for pigeon peas, AKA yellow split peas. Jon absolutely adores this recipe. It includes some sautéed garlic, tomatoes and lots of spices like turmeric and cumin. You can find the recipe HERE. Serve with Naan and/or rice and don't expect Noah to eat it!

I am still trying to get Noah away from the computer more often. Rather than just saying: "No computer" and being done with it, I want to help make things fun. So, while he was at school today, I came up with a surprise. This is one of my "starters" for creative, imagination play.  I set the scene in hopes that when he got home, Noah would build the rest himself and play!

This is a train track using some of his battery powered Thomas the Tank trains. I also took the pieces from his Mario Brother's chess set and put them in some of the train cars and around the track. Then I also put out the "treasures" from Noah's rice quarry. Some in train cars, some hidden, some in full site. I also started a Lincoln Log station. He can build the rest.

And guess what!? He loves it, and I can hear him in there now making up an imaginary game. It worked perfectly. :)

Today I finally finally made it back to my coffee shop to write. The only problem is, I had complete writers block!  At least there was Coconut Oolong tea. It was soooooo nice to be back.

You see, what's going on here is that it has taken me WEEKS to write this post, so every time that I come back to it, I have new pictures to add and more things to write about. It just keeps getting longer and longer and longer! 
I have to tell you that we just came back from the best dinner. I know, I know I was previously writing about stressing over Christmas spending, and here I am at a restaurant of all things. But, I cook all the time. We eat at home a lot these days, and I cook as often as I can. Sometimes I just feel like going out. And besides, I'd still be spending money on ingredients if I cooked at home!
 Fridays though, many Fridays are my "day off" from cooking and I can't tell you how HAPPY I am about that! 
Tonight we went to a place who's motto is  - "A Neighborhood Joint". It IS my favorite neighborhood joint'!  We walked over. It was freezing, but it was so worth it.  Jon looks happy.
We shared a roasted beet and endive salad. I love beets. Yellow and red! Noah had the kid's steak, Jon a giant burger with avocado and pancetta, and I had an amazing dish of ricotta gnocchi. The gnocchi were amazingly light and fluffy. They were dressed with a rich mushroom sauce that had lots of sauteed garlic, asparagus and spinach in it. The dish was great. 
Sometimes you just need to have someone else cook for you!

Ok, I need to end this post here before it gets even longer!!!!
Until next time!


Loulou said...

A good catch up. I can't believe you have the le creuset pumpkin. Nice! We also have pretty coloured trees outside our windows. Love them. Now I'm off to take a look at that Dal recipe. Sounds delicious.

Lauren said...

Thanks Loulou!!!!
Ooooh, I hope you like the recipe.
I think Toronto has some great Indian restaurants. Do you have a favorite? YUM!

Unknown said...

woow.. I like it...!