Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Twins Turned Three!

Can you believe it?! We survived another year of parenting! More to the point: they survived another year of parenting!

Now I don't know about you, but I have a hard time coming up with themes for birthdays. To me, the theme of "Party" is good enough. Instead, I just make the food, send the invites and we all pile into my house and yard and hang out. After, of course, hours and hours of house cleaning, baking, multiple shopping trips, fretting, failed cupcakes, more shopping and more baking. Oh and woodworking. Don't forget the woodworking and the mulch.

A few weeks back I decided it was time to ditch the square foot garden and trade it out for a 6' x 6' sandbox. Reusing the same frame and same location would be key to our sandbox success. First, though, we had to rip out and/or relocate all of the plants, remove all of the soil, then rebuild the frame and fill it with play sand. Oh and don't forget the 5 cu yards of mulch that was piled on top of the now emptied frame until I could throw it around the garden, one week before The Party. So there I was at dusk on Friday throwing the final forkfuls of mulch into a wheelbarrow and unloading it around the front yard when my mom said to me, "You don't do anything by halves, do you?"

I stopped, sweating and covered in dirt, dust and mulch, looked her dead in the eye and replied, "Nope." Then I continued moving mulch until it was all gone, and cleaned the yard until it was full dark, because nothing is a motivating as a birthday party.

Saturday, Eric and his dad put the frame back together and attached landscape fabric to the bottom and began dumping bag after bag of sand into it. Saturday night, the kids got a chance for a pre-party sandbox test. They instantly loved it.

Sunday, all of the kids loved it.

Seven kids, one sandbox, and no fighting. Genius!

I keep trying to keep the birthday parties small, but they keep getting away from me. Considering that the kids are just 3 and don't have any friends of their own from preschool or anything to invite, I still managed to have 26 people attend, only 7 of which were children. This birthday we had all 3 sets of grandparents, one uncle, one aunt and a passel of cousins.

Grammy and Grampy.

Grampy and Logan. Clearly, this is the best seat in the house.

Grammy, Caitlin and Aunt Jenni

Pop-Pop and Nana-Sue.
Nana-Sue got renamed to Banana-Sue by Emma. She looks OK with it.

Now that's a good lookin' bunch of babies right there!

And Grandma and Grandpa.
Just so you know, there was only one other picture of my mom and it was way worse than this one. Note that the fact that she complained while I was taking it was probably part of the problem. Next time I walk up to you with a camera, strike a pose or be prepared for the consequences! MOM!

There were cupcakes, by the dozens.

And friends to frost those cupcakes. And take pictures, change diapers, bring snacks, balloons and bags of sand.

And yet more friends to eat those cupcakes.
Why yes, I DID make coconut cupcakes and Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Filling. Thanks for noticing!

But first there was the singing,
Logan is loving the singing. Emma...not so much!

and the blowing out of candles,

and the eating.

Then the present opening.
I love Emma's reaction face!

There were sand toys a-plenty!

There was one drama, though. Only one big dump truck.

"I can't believe I have to share!"

Emma fairly mowed Logan down to get this truck to the sandbox first, leaving Logan screaming and crying and left me sheepishly opening the rest of the presents.

Must be my party, now! Woo! Sheets! Total score!

He calmed down pretty quick once we opened a huge box of cars. Then he started filling his hands and pockets like squirrels do with nuts and scampered off, happily.

There was talk and laughter and general hanging about.

Look! Uncle Ian! We lured him in with promises of jam and chocolate.

Logan even got to play with the new truck...eventually!

Note the iterative dump truck action and the fist full of cars. You think I joke about the magpie thing, don't you?

"Who? Me? Pushy? No way! I'm too cute to be bossy!"

There was even time for me to be in the photographs, which only happened when I kept thrusting my camera into someone else's hands. Thanks Scott! Thanks Eric! That's right. I can delegate!

Parents of twins. Can't you just see the hearing loss?

And even though everyone thinks I'm insane* for going crazy making cupcakes and buttercream frosting from scratch and building sandboxes and gardening like a fiend (Misty said she was glad she wasn't the only one!), everyone went away happy with full hearts, hands and bellies. And my yard looked pretty good, too.

Happy birthday little monkeys! Mommy loves you.

Yes, that chin gene IS dominant. How did you know? Also note the dimples. Eeee!

And is very tired now. Good thing your birthday only comes once a year!

* It's not like they're wrong** or anything.

** Did I mention that as soon as the party was over I had a cool idea for painting the sandbox cover with chalkboard paint and turning it into a giant outdoor drawing pad? Yeah. I'mma work on that one...tomorrow!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Work, work, work!

I've been a bit busy, this last week.

The day after I wrote this I received 5 cubic yards of mulch. Then the heavy lifting began. Eric started moving it all to the backyard. while I threw about .5 cu yd around the sidewalk garden. You've never seen speed weeding like a motivated Hatchet with a load of mulch headed her way! After the remainder made it into two HUGE piles in the backyard, it was time for me to throw it around the border garden in back.

You know, the garden I spent all summer ripping plants out of in order to install my new shrubs? Yeah. This is a desperate attempt to not have to weed so bloody often next year. After all, that's part of mulch's job: keepin' the weeds down! That plus water retention. I also badgered Eric into installing that new sprinkler line to keep my plants in the corner happy per The List. I haven't done 6, 12, 13,19 and 22 yet, but the year isn't over yet!

To add to the chaos, I ripped out Caitlin's square foot garden since she wasn't weeding it and I have plenty of garden to weed, without adding hers to the list. Instead we're going to turn it into a giant sandbox just in time for the twins' birthday party! This was also motivated by the fact that Caitlin and the twins are like puppies: apparently they all really need to dig! Now that I've moved the final wheelbarrow of mulch, Eric will smooth the spot out, build the frame and start unbagging bag after bag after bag of play sand.

I've also been making yet more jam, as part of the goodie bag for the kids at the party and I've started cleaning. There's an awful lot of cleaning that needs to take place since I regularly avoid it in order to weed, plant or jam.

I know, I'm bad. I'd rather spend hours making and cleaning up after my jamming mess than have to mop the floors. They're just gonna get wrecked again the moment the twins wake up, so what's the point? Besides, I'm convinced a little (OK, a lot!) of dirt is what keeps them all so healthy! Or maybe it's just the good food?

Anyway...my folks just flew into town and that is bringing up all kinds of other issues, that I'll have to talk about later. You might want to bring tissues.

At some point I'll actually take pictures of the garden and you can see what all of the hoopla has been about. It doesn't look like much now, but just you wait! In a few short years -- POW! There should be massive flowering shrub action!

I hope.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Body Issues at 9? She's Too Young for This!

Getting Caitlin ready for school on a daily basis is one of the most frustrating aspects of our morning routine. As soon as the thump-thump-thumping starts up from the twins' room, we roll out of bed, already somewhat out of sorts. Logan, you see, lays on his back in front of the door and kicks it to let you know that he's awake, dammit! Come and get him!

So that's fun.

Then, somehow, the thumping that wakes me up from down the hall has no impact on Caitlin, who is right next door to the twins. Or the cats miaowing to be fed. Or the alarm going off by her face.

First thing's first: I open Logan's door and he either immediately impresses upon me his dire need of food ("Hungreeeee! Food! Beckfast! Food! Food! Food!" Repeat until your brains drizzle out of your ears.) or he goes all cute on me and reminds me why I keep him alive on a daily basis (Holds his blanket up to his face, leaving only his eyes visible and gives me the Prince Charming smile and then snuggles into my lap after I've melted into the floor from the power of his smile.). Once the beasts are freed, I then have to go and boot Caitlin into action.

Normal idealized routine:
  1. Caitlin wakes up.
  2. Gets out of bed.
  3. Brushes her teeth and hair.
  4. Gets dressed in Parent Approved clothing (e.g. appropriate for current weather conditions, cleanliness and eyestrain).
  5. Feeds the cats.
  6. Makes her lunch, with assistance where required (e.g. slicing bread).
  7. Gathers up her class materials, finished homework and lunch and gets in the car.

Normal actual routine:
  1. Eric or I ask Caitlin to wake up.
  2. A parent returns, somewhat grumpily, in 5-10 minutes to get her out of bed.
  3. After yet another round of Get Up, Caitlin!, Caitlin finally gets out of bed. Attitude turned On and set to Petulant.
  4. Caitlin goes to feed the cats. Or maybe the twins have fed them with me, when Caitlin didn't appear within a few minutes of being told to wake up. Caitlin may decide to play with the cats or the twins, pet the cats or read a book.
  5. Grumpy parent grumps at Caitlin to work on items 3, 4, 6 and 7 from the list above.
  6. Caitlin gets dressed. Sets off Inappropriate Clothing Warning. Those capris have already been worn this week! Argument ensues.
  7. Lunch is made with some level of grumpy parental involvement. Parent is also making breakfast for twins who are yelling 'encouragement': "Syrup! Syrup! Syrup! Syrup! I want syrup! Syrup! Syrup! Can I have Syrup? Hungreee!"
  8. Remind Caitlin to brush her teeth. Receive attitude because asking such a thing Represses Her. Who needs good dental hygiene anyway?!
  9. Ask Caitlin to brush hair. Also, have you brushed your teeth yet?! You're running out of time!
  10. Throw breakfast together and hand it to her to eat while on the drive to school.

Last week, during the argument as part of step 6 from the Actual routine above, Caitlin hollered that she didn't have any pants to wear. When I checked her dresser, however, I found plenty of shorts that had been worn all summer. Suddenly Caitlin was throwing a fit because she cannot possibly wear shorts.

Mom-tuition flared up and I went into Detective Mom Mode.

Me: Why can't you wear shorts?
C: [After much wailing and attempts at dodging the question] Because my thighs jiggle in gym class when I kneel down!
Me: That's normal. You have muscles and tendons and a thin layer of fat under your skin that keeps you from dying. You are not fat. Did someone say something to you?
C: [Attempts to dodge question]
Me: YOU. ARE. NOT. FAT. Anyone that says so is INSANE. What's going on?!
C: [Crying] Bleeaaaaaargh!

It turns out that some boy at school has determined that Caitlin is neither girlish enough for him (Your hair is too short! Only boys have short hair!) or boyish enough (Your clothes are ugly! Red and blue don't go together! [Say what, white boy?!]) for him. She'd been trying to make him her friend and he was ripping her to shreds on a daily basis. She no longer wanted to wear any dresses or any shorts that showed her thighs all because of some jerk that has no clue about anything. Caitlin hasn't yet learned that not only can you not be friends with everyone, but that not everyone is worth being friends with!

So there we were, sitting on the floor of her bedroom, with our normal routine shot all to hell and it doesn't really matter, all because some brat is messing with my kid's body image. At the end of the hullabaloo, Caitlin was dressed in shorts and ready to go. However, I'm pretty certain that we haven't heard the end of the body issues. Ugh!

Nine is way too soon for body issues.

Isn't it?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Jam Lineup

They're so pretty, I needed to photograph them in the sunshine.

Top row: Australian spiced fig jam (for fig cookies!), freezer minted raspberry peach jam, and peach raspberry jam.
Bottom row: the first peach jam of the season (made in the crockpot and not very firm, but delicious!), the second peach jam (with Ball pectin and a boatload of sugar), mango raspberry jam, spiced peach jam, cherry, peach jam (with Pomona pectin and a LOT less sugar!), peach cranberry conserve (with Amaretto!), and mango jam.

This is what I've been working on for the past couple of weeks. Part of the insanity is that I'm planning on giving a jar away to each couple that attend the twins' 3rd birthday party, instead of grab bags of junk. I'll also make some peppermint bark for the kids that are coming (Because just how many little kids would appreciate jam for a gift bag?) to the party and I also have to make enough to send some home with my mom for my sisters.

That meant a lot of jamming sessions.

The fig jam is really an experiment (they all are, really) to see if I can make a yummy fig cookie of my own and the freezer jam seemed like a good idea at the time but is too sweet for me. The mango jam is my secret stash and I'm only likely to share it with one person: my mom. Unless I make another batch, that is!

The cool thing is that I ran across a different kind of pectin at the natural food store and found that I can use a lot less sugar using it than the regular Ball kind of pectin. This thrilled me to no end because the concept of 5 1/2 or 7 cups of sugar to 4 or 5 cups of fruit makes my teeth ache. On the bright side, I learn new things with every batch I make (Like the fact that I need a longer spoon to avoid getting splashed with molten hot jam!) and I have yummy presents for the folks I love.

I only stopped when I ran out of glass jars. The people I love are not so good with returning the of the glass jars. (This is a hint, y'all!) I'm sure with a little prodding, they'll remember! Also, the threat of no more jam might just do it! (HINT!)

Anyone have a favorite recipe I should try? I'm dying for some rhubarb, but it's currently out of season and I don't have any rhubarb plants of my own! Next year, however...!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

We be jammin'!

In case you were wondering why I've been MIA this week. I blame the peaches.

That's right: peaches.
Peaches from Morton's Orchards. I love their peaches. Love 'em!

And mangoes, raspberries, cranberries and other fruit.

I'm on a canning bender.

Partly it's because after eating several pounds of peaches fresh, you've just gotta do something else with them. Partly it's because my mom is coming out for the twins 3rd birthday party and I'd better, by gosh-gum-golly, have something nummy for her to take back to NY for Dawn and Canada for Cindy. Thus, I've determined that I must can like a mad woman to be "ready" in 3 more weeks. Ready to part with 3 or 4 or 5 different versions of peach jam and mango-raspberry jam and cherry jelly and so on and so forth. Also, my nephews love me more every time I give them fresh peach jam, so I must enslave lure them to me with new offerings.

I don't have pictures of all of the ones I've done so far, but here's a quick look at me canning mango-raspberry jam.

I love mangoes. Have I ever told you? I mean, I really love mangoes. If there's a dessert on the menu at a restaurant that has mangoes in it, changes are extremely good that I'm going to order it. Dicing mangoes can be a lot of fun, too. First, you slide your knife down on either side of the flat pit and lop off the pieces on either side. Then you slice through the flesh, but not the skin.

Once you've cut it horizontally, turn it 90 degrees and slice it again. Then invert the mango. Suddenly you have a mango porcupine! So cute! Now you just slice off the individual pieces and you're done. Repeat x4 to get 4 cups of diced mangoes.

You'll also want 1 1/2 cups raspberries. Fresh or frozen. I went with frozen, since I was able to get 40 ounces frozen for the same price as 24 oz fresh. Defrost, then mash and measure. Throw them in the pot with the mangoes, lemon juice and pectin and stir.
Keep stirring.

Are you tired of stirring yet? You're probably not done yet. Keep stirring.

Meanwhile, you should have had your lids and jars hot and ready. You did remember those, right?


You'd better still be stirring that pot!

I learned something new this year: in order to form a gel, the boiling jam needs to read 8 degrees (Fahrenheit) above the boiling point of water at your elevation. That's key. This whole imprecise blather about a "full rolling boil" doesn't mean a thing to me. I like scientific, repeatable measurements. Also, at our elevation, the boiling point is 204 F, instead of 212F, which means I actually need to get the jam to 212F and keep it there for the 1 minute the recipes always require. Thus the need for a good thermometer. Suddenly, I now know exactly what the gelling point is and what "sheeting" looks like on a cold metal spoon!

It was a jamming revelation.

At that point, you can finally stop stirring since it's time to take the jam off the heat and start pouring it into hot jars. On go the 2 piece tops and into the canner!

Now it has to process for 20 minutes (At my elevation, we add 10 more minutes to the standard processing time. The things you learn!) at a full rolling boil in the canner.

Et voilà! Jam!

It is a beautiful and tasty one, too.

Yup. Jam.

And yes, I really did mean for you to hear this song while you read the post.

What have you been up to this week?
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