Monday, December 30, 2013

Recovering from Christmas

Christmas Day was just a few days ago.  It feels like it was just yesterday.  I'm tired.  Being a mom never gives breaks.  But.  That's okay.  I had an interesting conversation today with a family friend.  Their Christmas this year was hard.  I felt bad for he and his wife.  

Christmas seems like it would and should be fun and easy to navigate.  But, it often isn't!  There's so many expectations that get wrapped up in Christmas.  Expectations about gifts, family traditions, what's going to happen when and who's going to come...  It's hard to navigate.

Back in November, I was a part of a conversation where two moms I know were sharing about how their own families don't have any Christmas traditions.  Each Christmas Eve and Day are held at their in-laws according to their in-laws' traditions.  As I listened, I felt a pang of sadness.  Did these in-laws realize what they were taking from these families?  When we grow up and start our own families, part of Christmas is forming a new set of traditions--partially taken from the wife's family and partially from the husband's and partially new to both.  These are traditions that our children will remember and associate are very special.  

The conversation really made me think.  The in-laws were also being selfish about wanting everything to stay the same and not changing.  I don't know these families personally and I say this from the outside listening in.  I also say this because I saw the same thing in my own heart.

Two years ago, my mom, mother in law, and youngest brother in law moved to where we live.  My husband and I had formed our own set of family Christmas traditions over the previous ten years.  My mom had been there each Christmas because that was her annual visit to our home for a week.  But, my mother in law and brother in law hadn't.  

Listening made me reflect on my own selfishness.  Have I been extending myself to my in-laws when it comes to my family traditions?  Am I holding on and not changing because I don't want to?  Am I including all in the discussion?  I perceived them as joining our family.  They perceived us as a part of theirs.  Perhaps neither is correct actually.  Perhaps, it is actually all our family and thus we all need to sit down and discuss, delegate, share, and rotate responsibilities.  If one person wants to always take the same holiday, that's okay--if it's okay with everyone.  But, I've realized it's good for everyone to get to host if they want to.  I realized that it's okay to let go.  It's okay to decide together.  And it's even okay to change.  I realized from listening that I needed to communicate with all my family why I want to do certain traditions and which family each one comes from, too.  

I also realized that I can do other traditions in my home that still make the holiday unique for my children and special just to us.  Christmas morning it's just us and our kids.  Everyone else comes around 1 p.m.  We open presents one by one and savor that time.  We enjoy it like a long meal instead of gorging ourselves the way I picture Animal from the muppets would probably open presents.  It's the way we like to do things.  Then, we get together with our family and enjoy the rest of the day together and one another's company. 

This Christmas was one of my better Christmases.  I was thankful that everyone enjoyed the gifts we'd picked out.  I was thankful that my kids were just starting to get colds, so they weren't too sick to enjoy all of it.  I was thankful that we all enjoyed being together.  A lot of work went into it and there were some bumps a long the way, but as a friend told me today---when you become an adult, you become responsible for the work that goes into Christmas!  

I am thankful for the love the Lord has blessed us with.  I am thankful for the children He has entrusted to us.  I am thankful to Him.  It was a rough year, but God is faithful and it is good to savor times of joy.

Adding spice to our diet

I realized that our family menu had gotten very repetitive of late, so I tried two new recipes this weekend.  One was America's Test Kitchen's Skillet Tamale Pie.  It has a great flavor!  I found the recipe online HERE.  I didn't use the topping from this recipe.  I actually used the corn muffin recipe from ATK Family Cookbook Here.  The only issue I had was that I didn't halve the cornbread.  It was too much.  I probably would even make a third next time as the topping to make the ratio better.  It was really good. 

The second recipe I made was Chicken Tikka Masala, but I couldn't find the exact recipe that I used online.  It was from America's Test Kitchen's Quick Family Cookbook.  I have to be honest, this cookbook has sat on my shelf for a while.  I have the ATK's Family Cookbook, Healthy Family Cookbook, and the Quick Family Cookbook.  This Chicken Tikka Masala recipe was unusual, but so good!  My family all thought it was as good as what we ate last time at the nearby Indian restaurant.  

So, if you have this cookbook, here's the changes I'd suggest for this recipe...  only use 1/8 tsp cayenne and mix the spices into the yogurt before coating the chicken.  Don't rub the chicken with the spices and then in the yogurt.  Definitely pound the chicken thin and then slice into pieces.  Also, add 1/4 cup chopped raisins to the sauce.  My husband loves it spicy, so he added cayenne to his dish when it was served on his plate.  But, my kids and me... well we need mild food.  So, this dish worked well for us!  

Tonight I made a Chicken broccoli stirfry for dinner.  I used the Asian Wing sauce (with half the honey) as my teriyaki sauce from the ATK Family Cookbook.  These really are my go to cookbooks.  

It's felt good the past few days making something completely new.  It's something I want to keep up this year!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Shopping


I heard a story of a couple spending hours shopping for a purchase recently.  It reminded me of a frustration my husband and I frequently experience around Christmastime.  You want to find the "perfect" or "right" gift. So, you start looking (if you're like me) and sometimes you find it quickly and sometimes you don't!  

I think the thing I often forget is that the extra time I take shopping takes time away from other things I should or could be doing.  And it makes an interesting comment about what I value.  Specifically, the value I put on "things" and pleasing others.  

Yesterday morning, I had one last gift to purchase for my mom for Christmas.  It's actually her only gift because it's a big gift.  I looked for about fifteen minutes and then went to check with my husband about whether what I'd found was okay.  He had a suggestion about what might be a better choice, so I went back to the drawing board and started looking around at three other websites.  I found about ten options and started narrowing them down.  After about thirty minutes, I settled on my choice and picked it.  I picked one that was guaranteed to arrive by Christmas (with free shipping) at a store that had a better and easier to deal with return policy in case she doesn't like it.

I'm thankful for internet shopping because of my kids.  It's easier to shop online for a few minutes than get in and out of the store (which I did six times with my kids yesterday in the span of three hours) for a single gift especially when I'm trying to think about it and don't know exactly what I'm getting.  But, I do hate how the time adds up!  

I think it all comes down to something a friend of ours said--that with more choices comes more unhappiness.  If you have a lot of choices, it's harder to choose because you think you might be happier with something else--even after you've chosen.  I think that unhappiness is a potential consequence whether you're purchasing something for yourself or someone else.  

I think my Christmas shopping is almost done.  I have one gift that I need to buy on Friday without my children, one gift card to mail, and one more gift for a family member.  Yay!  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pad Thai from Scratch

One of my favorite dishes is Pad Thai.  I have tried to make it at home before, but the smell of the fish sauce just overwhelms me.  In our new home, we actually have a vent fan that vents out to the roof (not one that just spits the steam back into the room).  So, I thought I'd try again with the help of a new cookbook.

Enter Everyday Thai Cooking by Katie Chin.  This is a fun cookbook to look through and it has many of
the standards you'll find on the menu of most Thai restaurants.  There are many ingredients in this cookbook that are hard to find where I live.  But, that's where David Joachin's Food Substitution Bible comes in handy.  There was one thing that I most wanted from this cookbook--a good Pad Thai that I could make.  And I found one.

One night a few weeks ago, I gathered the ingredients and started with fixing the noodles.  This was the area where I made my one mistake.  Rice noodles get mushy if you leave them in the hot, boiling water too long.  I forgot to set a timer and remove them from the water after ten minutes.  I won't forget to do this next time.  I also had to substitute lime juice for the tamarind concentrate.  (I had to substitute after looking in three local grocery stores for this ingredient.) I was concerned that this would make a big difference, but it worked out quite well.  The pad thai was recieved well by my husband and oldest daughter, the most experimental eater of my three children.  I will be making this recipe again.  

As for the rest of the cookbook, it is formatted well.  The directions are easy to follow.  I liked that the ingredients were in a different color ink than the directions.  But, neither color was hard to look at.  I've read some cookbooks over the years printed with light colored ink that were very difficult to read!  For every recipe, there was a beautiful color picture.  Being a visual person, I love pictures.  The photographs were very well composed and the focus was on the subject.  I find the more I get into photography, the more I pay attention to photos and their composition.  

If you're looking for an engaging and fun thai cookbook to try, take a look at this one.  But, be prepared to look for a few substitutions unless you live near an asian market.  The closest big asian supermarket to where we live is 45 minutes to an hour away.  So, I'll plan on making a list from this cookbook and picking up a few ingredients the next time I'm in that area!  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review from the publisher.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gift for parents of 1s and 2s (and 3s and 4s)

The other day a good friend of mine came by with her 1 1/2 year old and the baby she's visiting.  Her little boy so wanted to go up to the tree and touch the ornaments.  She stopped him and redirected him.  As I watched him, the memories came flooding back of when my kids were that age and how they wanted to touch everything.  It was a bit stressful to me.  We worried about the tree tipping over on them.  We worried about damage to the ornaments that had weathered the years through both of our families and many that my great grandmother had made.  

It's an interesting thing.  Should I have cared?  How important was it?  What's a good solution?  What's most important?  That's the question that's easier to answer.

My kids and the memories they'll have when they grow up of our Christmases.  I don't (and didn't) want them to be stressful ones.  I'm afraid that's what my kids often think of me!  They still love me though.  Anyways, I was working on a gift for my brother and his wife when I thought of a good gift for friends...

Child Safe ornaments!

So, here's my plan.  I went to this website.  There's a bunch of great Christmas shape templates.  My plan is for my kids to color them with me.  Then, I'm going to laminate them and cut them out.  We're going to tie a string through each so that they can hang on a tree.  

This is the laminator that I have...  and the laminating sheets that I use...  The sheets end up costing 13 cents each.  5-6 ornaments can be laminated with each sheet.  

We're going to make these ornaments for our friends with 1 and 2 year olds--who love to touch the tree.  My hope is that it will make my friends' Christmas' a little less stressful when it comes to their Christmas trees by having some kid safe ornaments to hang on the lower branches.

I wish I had thought of this when my kids were really little to begin with.  After a year or two with my little ones, I did come up with the solution of giving my kids their own tree.  So, that's what we've done for three or four years.  It has all kid friendly ornaments that aren't easily broken.  

There are lots of things we change about our lives when our kids are little.  We do these things so that we can enjoy them instead of being stressed because they're who they are--Little kids love to touch things!  It's totally natural.  They do have to learn boundaries and as parents we try and be reasonable.  But, if you have to constantly say "No! Don't touch!"  it can get very stressful and disheartening.  It can steal the joy from many moments.  So, my approach has always been to do what I can to make our home more child safe, but at the same time say "No. Don't touch." when I needed to.  One example of this was two years ago, when I took all of my Willow Tree figurines and put them in a box downstairs.  Three had been broken accidentally in the course of two months.  Rather than getting upset again, I thought it would be better for all of us if I just put them away.  I know a lot of people would disagree with me, but I know my personality and I knew it was the wisest thing for me and for my kids.  Though my patience and grace for my kids has grown a lot, there's wisdom too.  Knowing that it's wise to simplify so that it's easier to cope.

I'll post a picture when they're done!

Oops! I pureed the bay leaf!

The other night I made a buttermilk broccoli soup for dinner.  But, right after I'd pureed the soup in my Vitamix, I realized that I hadn't taken out the bay leaf!  I panicked.  I've been trying to teach my girls how to cook simultaneously while I cook the main part of the meal.  Having conversations and cooking can often get mixed up in my head and it's hard to keep track of ingredients once in a while.  

I sent the kids out of the room while I tried to recover and figure out what to do.  There wasn't time to cook anything new before dinner.  Otherwise we were going to end up eating at 8:00 p.m.!  I looked online for information and to try and figure out if we could eat the soup or not.  Here's what I discovered...

The bay leaves we cook with aren't actually poisonous unless they're consumed in large amounts. There is ground bay leaf in Old Bay Seasoning actually.  Some people can react to bay leaf and have stomach aches.  The biggest reason why is that bay leaves are tough in cooking and they usually don't puree very well.  The rough edges of the leaves can tear you up inside.  In my case, there was no trace of the leaf to be seen.  It pureed so well.  I couldn't pick out any pieces, because there weren't any to be picked out.  

I called my mom and another gal I knew to ask their opinions.  Both had never made the mistake I did, but both thought it would be fine.  So, we ate the soup.  And we were indeed fine.  Thankfully.  I'm going to try and remember in the future though.  The bay leaf did give the soup a much stronger flavor when it was pureed and my kids ate it, but didn't care for it.  

So, in case this ever happens to you--toxicologists did agree on everything I read on the internet that bay leaves aren't poisonous. But, the flavor is very strong and you wouldn't want to eat one if you happen to see one in some soup you're about to eat.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Good Deal on a Jim Weiss MP3 Album

We have several audiobooks/recordings from Jim Weiss of Greathall Productions.  My kids love them all.  I love that they're usually educational--either from classic literature, history, or the arts.  Recently, I had a $3 MP3 promotional credit on Amazon.  I discovered that Jim Weiss' album "Mystery! Mystery! for Children" is only $3 on Amazon.  It's $14.95 to purchase the cd.  This album includes: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, The Blue Cross by G. K. Chesterton and The Red Headed League by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

My kids have listened to it and all love it.  When you purchase it, you do have to download it to Amazon's cloud player and then export it to Windows Media Player in order to burn it onto a playable cd if you have a PC.  I couldn't burn a cd directly from the cloud player.  My kids take the cds and listen to them in their rooms or in our car.  If you haven't listened to an audiobook by Jim Weiss before, you can hear samples of the album on Amazon.  

PS  In order to find it on Amazon, search for the title with the word MP3 after it.  When I typed in simply the name of the album, only the cd came up the first time.