Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

So, instead of attending mass and contemplating Jesus' death on the cross, I am working.  And, instead of working, I am taking a coffee break.  Guess what happens when you only eat half of your lunch?  You get hungry.

Almond biscotti with cafe almond biscotti flavored coffee?  Couldn't have planned that any better if I had tried.  Which I didn't.  I haven't planned much of anything lately.  I'm hosting Easter dinner on Sunday and so far my plan is ham.  Since everyone and their brother has ham on Easter I'm not even sure I can really take credit for having planned that.  Isn't ham just a forgone conclusion? And if you're having ham then aren't side dishes of scalloped potatoes and perhaps green beans more forgone conclusions?  Ha.  Look at that. I just planned my menu!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Sense of Wonder

I am sitting in bed watching stupid tv and listening to Maren breath.  It's little baby breaths, soft and short and just the sweetest thing to hear.  Sometimes babies are so quiet that you have to look at their chest to make certain it's still rising and falling but tonight I can hear her as she sleeps away on her boppy right next to me.  About a week ago we retired the rock 'n play and moved her into a pack 'n play, but we're keeping her in our room until she makes it a solid week without waking up in the middle of the night to eat.  I fed her a little earlier and she fell asleep in my arms.  Staring down at her peaceful face I just didn't have the heart to move her into the pack 'n play so I put her right next to me.  Soon, the husband will appear and he'll stare down at her and not want to move her and offer to sleep on the couch and I'll say no, just move her, and then we'll both just stare at her with an utter sense of wonder.  Wonder at how we made her.  Wonder at how at this time last year we were just adjusting to the idea of possibly having another baby.  Wonder at how she can be so beautiful.  And most of all, wonder at how we got so lucky.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Tale of a Toddler, Target, My Little Pony and Goldfish

I've got two problems.  First, I'm becoming slightly obsessed with coupons.  Not in a I have a coupon binder and am dumpster diving for trashed coupon inserts kind of a way, but in a I'm finding myself buying things because I have a coupon rather than because I really want or need the item.  Second, I'm finding myself buying toys for my kids for Easter.  Toys.  Isn't Easter supposed to be about eggs, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, Peeps and plastic strips of grass that end up everywhere and you're still picking them up from under the couch on the fourth of July?  Here's my tale of how these two problems collided.

While clipping coupons for Texas Toast and J-ello snack cups I came across a $5 off coupon for a My Little Pony Walking Talking Pinkie Pie.  Hmmm, do I  know anyone who would want a Walking Talking Pinkie Pie?  Yep, sure do.   It was just Quinn's birthday so the next real gift giving occasion is a long ways off and normally two grandmas would be asking me what to get the kids for Easter but this year the two grandmas are scaling back (which is a good thing) so that leaves me to get over enthusiastic and buy it and justify it by saying "I have a coupon!"  Cue a trip to Target.

My kid of choice for this trip was Sully.  We hit the shoe department and I tried on some super cute flats.

After not being able to decide what I would wear them with, or what color to buy them in (they come in blue and white and a pretty green too), we moved onto the kid's department.  There, I picked out a new spring outfit for Maren.  I figure she deserves a few new outfits instead of always wearing hand-me downs from her big sister.

A package of overnight diaper and six formula containers later, we finally found our way to Ponyville.  By this time, Sully was getting a tad antsy.  He was, however, fascinated once we found Walking Talking Pinkie Pie.

He quickly figured out that if he pressed the balloons on her back leg she would talk.  "Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie" and "Isn't it exciting? Aren't you excited? Are you? ARE YOU?"  Honestly, no, not so excited and even less so upon hearing that same question over and over and over again as we wandered through the books, garden section before making it to the groceries.  By this point I was getting glares and stares from other shoppers.  They had a pleading look in their eyes silently begging me to get Sully to stop pressing the damn balloon button.  I'd had enough too so Pinkie Pie was relegated to the back of the cart.  Cue screaming and crying.  My choices were to give him back the pony or what was that over on the shelf?  Goldfish crackers to the rescue!

All hail the mighty goldfish.

I opened the bag right there in the aisle, handed it to him and let him blissfully munch away while I finished shopping in blissful silence.  Sometimes you just do what you've gotta do.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

March Madness

Typically, March madness is a term used to describe the NCAA basketball tournament, but despite sitting here watching the Indiana Temple game, I'm thinking this year March madness really describes the weather.  It's snowing.  Not just snowing, but snowing large, fluffy flakes and at a fast rate.  I'm so tired of cold and snow.  There should never be a discussion of wind chills in March.  There should also never be a discussion about me being dead last in my NCAA bracket pool.  If Marquette could pull off just a few more wins, I wouldn't even mind finishing last.

I'm starting to let things slide a little bit.  Last week I think the only night I made dinner was Saturday and Sunday and even those were pretty simple meals.  The in-laws were in town so that threw our schedule off a little bit.  They had the kids at their hotel both Monday and Tuesday evenings so it was just the husband and me for dinner.  It was very strange being home without any of the kids.  One night was leftovers, one night we did take out sushi, one night was throw whatever is in the frig into a pan night, one night I went out with friends and Friday was fish fry.  Hopefully this week will go a little better.

Last Saturday I made a chicken tortilla stack casserole using Santa Fe Philadelphia Cooking Creme.  I had a coupon for the cooking cremes that was about to expire so I thought I would give it a try.  I started with a rotisserie chicken.  I shredded the meat from the breast and cut up the leg and thigh meat for the kids.

To the chicken I added one can of diced tomatoes, two sliced green onions and three quarters of the santa fe cooking creme.

After mixing gently, I spread about a third of the mixture on the bottom of a casserole dish.

I topped that with a flour tortilla, half of what was left of the chicken mixture and then added some shredded cheese.

Repeat with one flour tortilla, the last of the chicken, sprinkle with cheese, top with another tortilla and then spread the remaining santa fe cooking creme over the tortilla.

Of course, you can never have too much cheese so go ahead and sprinkle a little more right on top.  Then, pop into a 375 degree oven and bake, covered, for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 5 minutes.

The original recipe calls for black beans but I despise beans so I omitted those.  I thought corn would be a good addition but after searching my freezer I couldn't find so I will have to wait until next time to try that.  We ate it right after it came out of the oven before I even had time to snap a picture.  It turned out pretty well for something so easy.  The cooking creme definitely adds some flavor and it eliminated the need for sour cream.

Sunday was even easier as I made a quick, bean free chili to eat over spaghetti.

I offer the same toppings I always get at my favorite chili place, Real Chili, chopped onions, sour cream and shredded cheese.  I didn't have any oyster crackers but I did make dinner rolls.

Now, unless I plan on a repeat of last week, I should really get to planning at least a few meals for this week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Picture Overload

How many photos do you have of your kids?  How many do you actually have printed out?  If you're anything like me, you have thousands of pictures, all stored on various computers and phones and very few actually printed out.

In two short weeks, Shannon will be Star of the Week at school.  Although I'm still not quite sure what all that entails, I have been informed that a big part is sending in pictures from Shannon's life thus far.  He is obsessed with this - both with being Star of the Week and with pictures of himself.  Back in the day when I only had one child and more time on my hands, I made a photo book from the first year of his life.  There are pictures of me pregnant, seeing him for the first time, him in the NICU, him with a face full of peas, his chubby cheeks and it ends with his first birthday party.  He will spend half an hour or more going through the book, talking about each picture and I can see his little brain trying hard to remember back that far.  He loves thinking about what he was like as a little baby and loves comparing all those things to his new little sister Maren and what she's like right now.

So, I have one photo book covering one year of the six and half years of his life.  Pathetic.  Even more pathetic is that I have zero photo books for Quinn or Sully (I'll give myself a pass on not having one for Maren as she's only four months).  I know two kids who are going to grow up with some serious middle child issues!

I need pictures people, real, printed out pictures.  And, apparently I need poster board to adhere them to. 

With this in mind, I began digging through all of my digital photos.  What a mess.  Tons of folders with tons of pictures, somehow not all in chronological order and also somehow a million and one duplicates.  ARGH!  I remember reading somewhere once that the best way to get a handle on digital photos is to actually delete all the ones that are the best of the best.  Sounds easy, until you start looking at all those cute faces and think oh, but I want to remember that moment even if it was just half a second before the next picture was taken.  It would seem that as with most things in my life, I'm a little bit of a hoarder and filled with a whole lot of clutter.  But, I have a plan.  I bought a Picture Keeper  photo storage stick that will hold approximately, 250,000 photos. Yea, that should cover things for quite a few more years.  Since the stick will search my computer for photos and then save them to a portable drive, it suggests you get all your photos organized prior to downloading all of them.  And so, the last few nights, instead of mindlessly sitting back and enjoying the Real Housewives of Atlanta (Gone with the Wind fabulous!) or Beverly Hills (hate me if you must but I love Brandi), I have been renaming folders by months and years, deleting duplicates and just reliving the last six years with each photo I look at.  It's been a great ride so far.

Here's one picture Shannon really wants to use:

Awww, my little Anakin Skywalker and Quinny owl.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stuff the Kids Love

When I had Shannon I knew I wanted to have more children and therefore, I saved just about everything of his.  From clothes, to bottles, to toys, to sheets, to blankets - you get the idea.  Anything I thought could be used again got packed up and stored in the basement.  When Quinn came along I bought new clothes but things like toys emerged from their dark storage and some of the same ones Shannon loved, Quinn loved.  As she grew older those toys headed back into storage only to appear again with Sully's arrival.  And again, there were a couple toys that Shannon had loved, Quinn had loved that Sully end up loving equally as much.  I figure those are the winners; tried, true, tested and definitely Terry kid approved.  So, I figure from time to time, I'll pass along the kid's top picks.

Today, Sully recommends the Classical Baby 3-Pack - Music, Art & Dance
 which includes full versions of the Art Show, the Music Show and the Dance Show.

Each video features classic works of art, music and dances from ballet to jazz.  Babies, toddlers and even older children are mesmerized by the music and clever animation and in something quite rare for videos aimed at children, it's enjoyable for adults to watch as well.  I can say that even after six years of viewing these videos, I still enjoy them and can't wait for Maren to fall in love with them the same way Shannon, Quinn and Sully have.

Hint:  if you have HBO they show the Art Show, the Dance Show, the Music Show and even a compilation episode frequently so set your DVR, tape them and then you'll have them without having to buy the DVDs.

There is also a version called the Poetry Show but my kids must not be that sophisticated because that one has not been a hit.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spending Time

As the mother of four children, today was not the first day that I wondered how I will find the time to give each one individual attention.  Shannon was the first and got almost two and half years of my time without much interruption.  Quinn had two and half years before Sully came along but I feel she missed out on some quality time while I went through the two miscarriages and then both a mentally and physically tiring pregnancy with Sully.  And Sully, poor Sully.  He was only about nine months old when I found out that I was pregnant again and although my pregnancy with Maren wasn't as mentally exhausting as that with Sully, it was more physically exhausting than I could have ever imagined.  And so, sometimes, I look at Sully and feel as though I missed out on his babyhood.  Like I didn't hold him enough or cuddle with him enough or just spend enough one on one time with him.  Feeling that way I've been making more of a concerted effort to carve out some just Maren and me time, Sully and me time, Quinny and me time and Shannon and me time, but admittedly, it's hard when so much is competing for time.

Tonight, Sully and I headed upstairs before everyone else and had some "big bed" time, just the two of us.  Up until just a few weeks ago, time playing in the big bed was just for Shannon and Quinn.  Sully's bedtime is an hour earlier than theirs and they sometimes goof off so much that I was afraid Sully was too small to participate.  I didn't want him getting hurt or falling off the bed.  Well, the other night he realized what he's been missing out on and now each night he begs for someone to lift him up and let him join in the fun.  Imagine his delight when tonight he had the bed all to himself.

His favorite thing to do is to throw himself down onto the pillows.  Ahhhh, toddler heaven.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sunday Cooking

When I was a kid my mother made dinner every night.  How she managed this while working full-time and taking care of three kids with virtually no help from my father I will never understand, but she did, and sometimes it makes me wonder why I don't manage to get a home-cooked meal on the table more often.  But, I'm working on it. 

Sundays at my house meant fried chicken.  I'm not too into frying, too much splattering of grease, but I figured since I had the time yesterday I would make something from scratch.  Pork chops had been on sale so I hunted down a Paula Deen recipe for farmer's pork chops and figured I'd give that a try.  Overall I thought it turned out really well.  The husband enjoyed it, as did the kids, or at least they were willing to try it which is something.

I started by peeling and slicing five potatoes.  The recipes calls for I think eight, but I wanted to scale the recipe back since I only had four pork chops to make, not eight.

Once they were all sliced, I put them in bowl and covered them with cold water.

Next I chopped up an onion and then, while the potatoes soaked, I whipped up a bechamel sauce.  Bechamel is just a fancy way of saying I made a white sauce.  It all becomes less fancy when you find out that it's made out of flour, butter and milk.  So, don't be intimidated by the fancy, French name.

Butter, milk and flour assembled:

Melt the butter over a medium heat.

Once melted, take the pan off the heat and add the flour to make a paste.  Season with a little salt and pepper.

Return pan to heat and stir, stir, stir until the mixture starts to bubble.

Next you're going to add the milk, about a cup at a time.  Continue to stir until the mixture comes to a boil

Once it boils, reduce the heat and let everything simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  In the end you will have a thick sauce:

Now, the sauce needs to sit for about two minutes so I used that time to rinse my potatoes and layer them in a casserole dish, putting the sliced onion on top, sprinkling with salt and pepper and then another layer of potatoes, onions, salt and pepper.

Time to add the sauce!  Just pour it right over the potatoes.

Since the potatoes will take longer to get nice and soft than the pork chops will take to cook, I put them into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Looks like I need to clean the oven.

And finally it's time for the pork chops.  I sprinkled some seasoned salt on them and then dredged them in flour.

Into the pan they went to just lightly brown in a little bit of oil.  I didn't cook them through, just browned them.

Once browned, I simply placed them on top of the potatoes and threw the casserole back into the oven and let it bake away for 50 minutes.  When it came out it looked like this:

Ahhhh, bubbly, porky, potatoey goodness.  Yum.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Flat Iron Steak with Balsamic Glaze

I use a flat iron just about everyday on my hair but it's not everyday that I get to cook and eat a flat iron steak.  In case you've never tried one, they are pretty tasty, not as tender and succulent as a filet mignon but not as tough as say a chuck roast.  In restaurants they normally show up on your plate as a square of beef but when you buy them in the store they normally are long rectangles, weighing between 2-3 pounds.

Here's what  mine looked like:

To season it, I rubbed a little olive oil onto the meat and then sprinkled it with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  While that sat, I assembled butter (1-1/2 tsp), balsamic vinegar (1/2 cup), chopped garlic (1 clove) and some cut mushrooms.

The recipe I was following didn't call for mushrooms but they were on sale at the store and the husband loves mushrooms so I figured I'd tweak things just a little.  I melted the butter in the pan and then added the steak.

I like my steak rare, so I cooked it about three to four minutes on each side (my steak was about 1.5 pounds and not very thick.)

Once the steak was cooked, I put it on a plate and added the chopped garlic to the pan.

After about a minute, I added the balsamic vinegar.  Smoky!

Now is the time to scrap all the steak goodness up off the bottom of the pan so that it can help season the sauce.  After doing that, I added in the mushrooms and let them cook until they were nice and tender.

Earlier in the day I had thrown a couple of baking potatoes into the crock pot so those were ready to go once the steak and sauce were done.  If you've never used the crock pot for baked potatoes, I highly recommend it.  I rub them with a little butter, sprinkle them with some coarse salt, wrap them in foil, punch a couple of holes through the  foil to let the steam out and then cook them on low all day.  It doesn't get much easier than that.

Time to slice the steak and assemble a plate.

The mushrooms really absorbed a lot of the sauce so next time I might use a little more butter and vinegar to make a little more sauce but overall I think this all turned out really well.  I did have enough sauce to spoon a little over the steak, I just didn't get a picture of that.  We added salads to this to help add some healthy greens.

The whole meal (excluding the slow cooked potatoes) took about half an hour to make which is a success in my book.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Surgery, Sequestration, Savings and Sleep

This week really seemed to drag.  Right now I'm in bed with Maren lying next to me on the Boppy, Shannon squished in next to her and Quinn hanging out at the end of the bed.  They (Quinn and Shannon, obviously not Maren) are playing electronic devices (Nintendo DS and my old iPhone) while I sit here wondering how early I can get them all to go to sleep so that I too may go to sleep.  If I wasn't so darn tired I might feel guilty for wanting to shoo them off to bed, but honestly I'm too worn out to feel guilt.

Lots of stuff going on this week.  After finding out that Sully will need surgery I made an appointment with a pediatric surgeon.  The first available time was on April 15th so that is a bit of a ways off.  I still haven't gotten around to making an appointment for my follow-up Pap test.  Yea, I'm too chicken to even face making the appointment, much less to find out the results of the test once it's done.

Yesterday, I found out at work how the federal government's sequestration will effect me.  As it stands right now, I will most likely be facing taking two unpaid days off.  It certainly could be worse and so in so many ways I'm grateful that it might only be two days.  And yet, in other ways I'm disappointed.  Disappointed in our government which hasn't been able to pass a budget in years and deems it necessary to make cuts to personnel budgets over other, bloated areas of federal agency spending.  But, of course, no-one would care if agencies cut out say redecorating offices because most tax payers would agree that in lean fiscal times you shouldn't be spending money to redecorate and having the President and Congress on tv bemoaning how people won't be able to redecorate their offices wouldn't make a good news story.  And so, instead, personnel budgets get cut because saying that the FBI is going to have to furlough workers and national security will be compromised does make a great news story.  It's sad.

Knowing that sequestration and possible furloughs have been looming has helped motivate me to be a bit more frugal at the grocery story.  I've been making a greater effort to clip coupons, to use them on a double coupon day and most importantly, but hardest to pull off, using coupons that will double when the items are also on sale at the store that week.   I certainly am not anywhere close to the level of the extreme couponers who get their $300 grocery store tab down to mere pennies, but I did get a bottle of aspirin the other day for $0.13 and got two packages of the new Kraft Fresh Take kits for FREE. 

Now I just need to figure out what to make with them.  The packages all show pictures of chicken but ugh, chicken breast is just so boring, even when coated in cheese and breadcrumbs.  Kraft has put out a recipe book that includes ways to use the kits in different dips as well as some side dishes so I may explore something like that over chicken.  Stayed tuned for some serious meal planning coming up. 

Got all the kids in their beds and they are sleeping away so it's time for me to do the same.  Meal planning can wait.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sully Needs Surgery

I guess when it rains it pours.  Sully went in today for his 18 month check-up (at 20 months) and was diagnosed with not one but two epigastric hernias that will require surgery to repair.  The husband took him so I was not at the appointment and I'm sure you can just imagine my frantic googling upon receiving the call.  What?  There's something wrong with my baby boy?  Like, really wrong and not just my joking around about why doesn't he walk more, talk more and cry less type stuff, but something so wrong that he needs an operation????

Google provided this explanation of an epigastric hernia from the Children's Hospitals of Minnesota:

An epigastric hernia, also called a ventral hernia, happens when part of the intestines protrude through the abdominal wall between the belly button and the chest. If the hernia gets bigger, it can trap intestines in the protrusion, leading to intestinal blockage or damage. Epigastric hernias are more common in boys.

Trapping intestines?  Sounds painful.  Intestinal blockage sounds even worse.

Reading on:

Your child may have a bulge or swelling in the abdomen where the hernia is located. Some hernias cause a sharp or dull pain but other hernias cause no pain at all. The bulge or the pain may be worse when your child is standing, sneezing, coughing, or straining to go to the bathroom. If you suspect a hernia, see a physician immediately.

Immediately?  Sounds serious.  I've always thought his rib cage was very pronounced but more that he had sort of a hole underneath, not a bulge.  He hasn't been acting really any different or in pain, except one day a few weeks ago when he was inconsolable but I chalked that up to teething.

And for the part I find the most scary:

An epigastric hernia must be removed during surgery. During surgery, the abdominal contents will be returned to their normal position. Often, a plastic screen or mesh will be used to reinforce the area to make sure the protrusion doesn't occur again. Sometimes, depending on factors like the size, location, and other characteristics of your child's hernia, the hernia repair may be performed laparoscopically, which involves smaller incisions and promotes a faster recovery.

I'm 41 and have never had a "real" surgery so the thought that my less than two-year-old will need one is sort of freaking me out.

Sully was not happy upon hearing the news.

From googling more, I discovered that the surgery is fairly routine and normally done as a day surgery so that makes me feel a little better about things but I'm sure I'll still have a million and one questions for the pediatric surgeon.

I need a little less to worry about, not more, so this had better be it with regards to medical issues.  Oh heck, let's throw in other things as well, medical issues, car issues, plumbing issues, roofing issues, work issues, etc.  I need a break.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Four and More

Last weekend we celebrated Quinn's fourth birthday in grand Hello Kitty style.  Her cousin Natalie made a super cute Hello Kitty cake for her:

We had the party at Generations at Play which is basically a big room with a million and one toys plus a fancy coffee bar for the adults.  It was a great way to let the kids and adults have fun without me having to clean my house!

As part of the fun, the kids all got to paint magic wands.  At first Quinn was a little scared to put on an art smock but once she got past that she had a ton of fun.

She got quite the haul of toys, some of which are still not unpacked.  It just all adds up so fast.  I've already decided that for Shannon's party we'll ask for only presents of books which will then be donated to the school classroom or library and perhaps we'll do that for Quinn's fifth birthday as well.

I have no idea where the four years since she was born have gone.  It doesn't seem that long ago that we were going through IVF in an attempt to have her.  And it certainly seems strange to think that her "twin" is still frozen and that we may be doing a frozen embryo transfer as early as this August.  Not quite sure I'm ready for that yet.

In an attempt to make sure we can, at some point, do a the frozen transfer I started the mega-vitamin regime.  I now have an entire box full full of various vitamin bottles.  The kids love helping me every night to get out the ones I'll take the next day.  It's a little overwhelming.

And here they are all lined up from biggest to smallest.

That's a whole lotta pills.  I haven't scheduled my next pap test yet, I guess I'm nervous about setting an actual date by which I'll know if things have improved or not but I'll need to get past that and call to schedule it.  Taking all the vitamins may or may not work but at least as I'm choking them down I feel as though I'm doing something that might just help.