Friday, June 27, 2008

Photography Friday: I've got some learnin' to do

Lori over at Just Pure Lovely has been offerring up photography tips all week and encouraging us amateurs to get out there and play with the camera. I mentioned earlier this week that I just got a new camera, so this gave me the perfect excuse to get out there and snap some pictures. Unfortunately, I've got a lot of learning to do. I took about 100 shots. Most were stinky. So, here's the best -- a small handful. I like the one of my son in "mid run" because that really sums up life with him. And, I like the picture of Grace's feet, even with the little piece of apple on them. Thank goodness I didn't have to pay to get all 100 pictures developed (one of the numerous reasons I love digital photography).
If you want to see some really great pictures, head on over to Lori's blog. Check out what she posted and the other links, as well. There are some incredibly talented photographers out there.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Crisis Felt Around the World

Rising gas and food costs seem to be the topic of discussion these days.

$4 for a gallon of milk.

Over $4 for a gallon of gasoline.

A loaf of bread has doubled in price from a year ago.

Iowa, our country's No. 1 state for corn production, has lost 2 million acres of soybeans and 1. 3 million acres of corn due to the recent floods. Sixteen percent of the state's tillable farmland is underwater.

Clearly, things are going to get worse, before they get better.

And while our family has felt a slight squeeze on the pocket book, we're still more than getting by.

That's not the case for other people around the world.

We're in the midst of a Global Food Crisis.

The increased price of food has left many people starving. Other people rioting.

People who are surviving on $1 a day (that's about half of the world's population, by the way) are being forced to spend nearly 80% of that $1 on food. Imagine spending 80% of your paycheck on groceries. That leaves little for anything else. As food prices continue to rise, more and more people will be affected (some reports have predicted up to 1 billion people).

Compassion International has started a Global Food Crisis Fund to aid those most adversely affected by rising food costs. But, perhaps even more importantly, they have set aside tomorrow, June 25th, as a day of prayer and fasting to honor and pray for victims of this crisis.

Not everyone will be able to offer up funds, but most everyone can offer up a prayer.

Please consider doing what you can to help.

Honing My Photographic Skills (or lack thereof)

Have I mentioned before that I lived abroad?

It was years ago, in the beginning of our marriage. My husband was transfered to England for work. It allowed us to do a lot of traveling. We visited nine countries in Europe and Asia within a year.

My pictures from those trips, I'm ashamed to say, probably total about 40. Most were taken by my husband, who feels a snapshot is not worth its salt if it doesn't have a smiling person in it.

Looking back, I could kick myself at the missed photographic opportunities. But, at that point in my life, photography just didn't really appeal to me. I was always forgetting the camera or forgetting to get the film developed. Not to mention, film developing is expensive and, with photographic skills like mine, I could only be guaranteed one or two good shots out of a roll of 36.

But then two random events came together and changed my perspective. First, I had a baby. A subject to photograph! Someone who would look adorable, no matter what kind of picture I snapped. Then, there was the advent of the digital camera, which meant I could take as many pictures as I wanted and only develop the best of them.

So for my birthday six years ago, I got my first point and shoot digital camera. Since then, I've taken hundreds, probably thousands, of pictures. It's been a good little camera, my Canon Powershot. But recently, I discovered that I've reached a point where I need a better camera. One with faster shutter speed (don't I sound like an expert all of a sudden?).

This year for my birthday, I got a Canon Rebel Digital SLR.

It is fancy.

I'm sure if I hit just the right buttons, it would prepare a delicious dinner for me.

Or it would self destruct.

One or the other.

So, I keep the dial safely on the "auto" setting.

But, I do need to get out there and practice with it.

Lori over at Just Pure Lovely is encouraging everyone to pick up their cameras and do just that. Lori's pictures are amazing. This week, she's offering up a few photography tips for us beginners, starting with "take a lot of pictures." The more pictures we snap, the more likely we are to capture that perfect moment on film. On Friday, Lori will post a Mr. Linky so everyone can show off the best photos they took this week.

I'm going to play along. You know, give it a shot.

Or several hundred.

Whatever the case may be.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Books and Stuff

Whoo! It has been a week. We've had family in town and we've been running around doing every recreational activity under the sun -- tennis, golf, swimming, fishing. It's a tough life, I know. ;) And, in my down time, life could be summed up in a continual routine of feeding the masses and cleaning up after the masses. Six kids running around can really wreak havoc on a house. But, truth be told, all the work is more than made up for in the laughter, memories and time spent together.

I've also just finished reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I've got to tell y'all, I couldn't put it down. If you're at all into Gothic fiction (think Jane Eyre and Rebecca), this one really is a must read. It starts off a little slowly, but picks up quickly and holds you in its grip right to the end. The writing is beautiful and the plot is well thought out. I was so sad to see it end.

But, I needn't be sad for long because my reading pile continues to grow. This week I actually won TWO books! Can you believe it? I never win anything! First, I won a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil from Domestic Spaz. The book and movie are legendary, and I've read/seen neither. It's been years since I've visited Savannah. This book might be just the inspiration I need.

Then, over at Jo-Lynne's review site, I won a copy of Practically Posh: The Smart Girls' Guide to a Glam Life. It's all about living the high life on a budget. I am going to be fancy, folks! Move over Posh Spice, there's a new sista in town.

That's right.

The name's "Practically Posh."

You can call me "P.P." for short.

Um, on second thought, maybe not.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sweet Tea: A Love Story

I'm just going to come right on out and say it:

I was not born in the South.

Despite the fact I've lived in the South for nearly 10 years, I'm a transplant. A visitor. A Yankee. And, I'll be the first one to admit, when I moved down here there were some things I just didn't get.

Boiled peanuts.

Southern slang.

The slower pace of life.

Sweet tea.

Up north, we drink our iced tea unsweet. It's socially acceptable to stir in an occassional sugar packet. But, we generally stop at one.

They don't do that in these here parts.

For the first few years down here, I continued to drink my tea sans the sugar. Then I got pregnant with my daughter and was hit with a horrific case of morning sickness. I'd drag myself to work each morning and spend the first half of it sprawled across my desk praying for mercy. I tried lemon drops. I tried ginger. I tried eating something. I tried eating nothing. The results were always the same: I felt like I was going to die.

One morning a co-worker, who also happened to be an Atlanta native, shared that when she battled morning sickness, she found a nice tall glass of sweet tea always did the trick. After all, in the immortal words of Truvy in Steel Magnolias, sweet tea is "the table wine of the South."

Seeing as how real alcohol was off limits, I peeled myself off the desk and stumbled into the cafeteria. I was desperate. I poured myself a glass.

Amazingly, it worked.

And so began my love affair with sweet tea.

Now before you attack me in the comments -- yes, I drank caffeine while pregnant. I didn't go crazy, but with my first child it was either drink caffeine and join the Land of the Living or skip it and feel like ick. (As a side note, with subsequent pregnancies, I also drank sweet tea/caffeine. Because, I needed to be awake at three o'clock in the afternoon. It was a child safety issue.)

One morning, I recall asking the cafeteria lady if she would mind making the sweet tea a little earlier than usual, as I was feeling particularly green. I laid sat down at a nearby table and watched as she happily set to brewing the tea. Then she rolled out a cart with the biggest tub of sugar I have ever seen and dumped it all in. There were pounds of it, I tell you.

No wonder I liked it so much.

Now that I'm an official convert, I happily preach the "There is nothing that a big ol' glass of sweet tea can't fix" gospel to anyone who will listen.

Feeling nauseated?


Kids wore you out?

Come on in. Pull up a chair and let me get you a nice big glass of sweet tea. You'll be feeling better before you know it.

After all, it isn't called the Table Wine of the South for nothing.

(If you're interested in reading what other people are thankful for, head on over and check out Fussy's new Thursday feature!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Keeping Kids Entertained

We don't go out to eat a lot these days. Taking three kids under six to a restaurant is not really my idea of a good time. It's always chaotic. I inhale my food without tasting it. I'm always in a rush to leave before the inevitable meltdown.

I'm usually pretty good at pre-packing activities to entertain my children at restaurants. But, there are many times we decide to go to dinner "spur of the moment." I don't have time to pack an activities bag and we wind up at the restaurant without any form of entertainment at all.

Not too long ago my sister-in-law purchased small cloth bags for each of my kids. I wasn't sure what to do with them until one day, it hit me. I filled each bag with small, age-appropriate activities and stuck them in the trunk of the car. Keeping activity bags ready in the trunk at all times has been an absolute life-saver! We can bring the bags into restaurants and other places where the kids have to wait (like the doctor's office -- do you really want them touching the germ-laden abacus?).

Here's my son's bag:

Here's my daughter's bag:

I even pack a small bag with baby toys and a bib for my one-year-old (because I am always forgetting to bring a bib). Some smaller type items that I have found work well include crayons, Matchbox cars, small puzzles/games, silly putty (my son's favorite), Brainquest cards and stickers.

Every now and then, if I see something at the Dollar Store or the Target $1 section, I might swap out a few items and add a few new ones. I try to keep things interesting. But having it with me, has spared me many a public meltdown.

For more helpful tips and ideas, head on over to Works for Me Wednesday at Shannon's place!

What happens when I try and entertain two kids at once...

Like the wedding veil's dual use as super cape? Things have been a little slow for Spiderman these days. He's resorted to working retail in his off hours.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Everyone Has Momentary Lapses in Judgement; Here's My Biggest

Sweet Kellie over at La Vida Dulce has tagged me for a Scariest Moment Meme. Here's how it works:

What’s been one of the scariest (in a terrifying or humorous sense) things you’ve ever experienced?

Well, I try to avoid scary moments as much as possible. I'm no thrill seeker (I leave that to my husband), I don't thrive off adrenaline, I tend to avoid making rash decisions. I try always to err on the side of caution (sometimes to a fault). In short, I'm a pretty level-headed gal.

But, at the tender age of 15, when faced with taking the long route or a short cut, I took the short cut and got burned. What happened turned out to be pretty darn scary, indeed.

School had ended for the day. I was waiting around for cheerleading practice to start and found myself a little hungry. A fellow teammate and I decided we would make a quick run to Wendy's, which was across the street from the high school. (Don't you miss the days when a frosty and fries could be considered a guilt-free afternoon snack?)

It was fall and a little on the cool side. I was dressed in an oversized sweater (gotta love those old fashion trends), a pair of black Bermuda shorts and black dress flats. I hadn't brought a coat that day. We walked outside and headed toward the street. It was cold. I hate being cold. As we walked across the parking lot, I noticed that really it was a much more direct route to Wendy's if we skipped the crosswalk and just headed across the street. Because, after all, using the crosswalk would have added an extra 15 minutes to this little trip -- and that would mean an extra 15 minutes of being cold.

Now, the friend I was with, we'll call her Stacy, was also a very level-headed girl. She pointed out that it was a four-lane road, with a turn lane in the middle. Perhaps we ought to use the crosswalk. No, I assured her. I had done this a few times with friends. We'll cross the first two lanes, wait in the turn lane and then cross the other two lanes. Stacy wasn't sure, but after some more gentle peer pressure, she agreed.

So, there we were. At the edge of the road. There was a lot of traffic, but we found an easy opening and crossed the first two lanes with no problem. As we were waiting in the turn lane to cross the second half of the road, a steady stream of cars continued to whizz by. That was when it crossed my young pubescent mind that maybe this wasn't the best idea. I kept looking for an opening to cross and didn't see one. I started to panic. And then -- Halleujah! -- I saw a car put its right turn signal on. It was going to turn in to one of the restaurants before Wendy's. I saw my shot and took it.

Stacy tried to grab my sweater to pull me back. She realized the car wasn't going to turn where I thought it was going to turn. And, after running a few feet, I realized the same thing. I tried to stop, but those darned dress flats...

That's when I slipped.

My legs caught under the front left tire. The car skidded to a stop pushing me down the road in the process. I remember distinctly thinking, "Oh my gosh -- someone please STOP the car." And poor Stacy, the one who wanted to use the crosswalk, had a front row seat so she could watch the whole thing. I still feel horrible about that to this very day.

Everything after that moment is fuzzy -- some of it has been completely erased from my memory (they say that's a coping mechanism). I remember the car coming to a stop. I remember the older woman who was driving the car stepping out and putting her hands to her face. I remember the ambulance arriving. Most of all, I remember the strongest urge I had to just stand up, brush myself off, apologize and walk away. I was going to be late for practice. I remember even telling the paramedic, "I'm fine really. I'm sorry to have caused all this trouble. I'm okay. I'm just going to get up."

And then I saw my legs (remember, I was wearing shorts?). I wasn't going anywhere.

I'll spare you the gory details. Suffice it to say, I suffered burns on my shins and knees. My right ankle needed to be skin grafted. The skin had been burned away completely.

The policeman who had arrived on the scene, later told my mom that I was incredibly lucky. The car that hit me was a Cadillac. If I had flipped over a car that big, I probably wouldn't have survived. The fact that the driver had the presence of mind to step on the brakes (thus locking the wheels) prevented the car from rolling over me. Today, you can still see the four inch scar on my ankle, but the others that ran up my legs have faded. Thankfully, I have no lasting problems.

And I consider that nothing short of a miracle.

Part of this meme includes tagging five people to write about their scariest moments. So, I tag:

Kendra at A Superhero, Princess & Monkey

Tracey at Just Another Mommy Blog

Rachel at A Southern Fairytale

Pink Mommy

Kristen at We are THAT Family

And...if anyone else wants to play along, please do! Just let me know in the comments so I can read your scary story.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to Care for Your Swimsuit

I've mentioned before that Sister Honey Bunch helped me find a swimsuit this year. Because of this Fight the Frump post I was able to find the perfect suit for me.

Let me say that again. I actually found a swimsuit that I like. On me.

Finding a bathing suit that actually fits all of my criteria is akin to me winning the lottery. Back in the days of my youth, I wasn't so picky. But, then I went and had three kids.

That changes things.

A lot of things, if you get my drift.

I need a swimsuit that makes "The Girls" look like they haven't nursed three babies. I need tummy coverage. I need a suit that affords me freedom of movement, because very often I'm picking up toys, bending over to pick up children, etc. I can't have things riding up and/or falling down. So, this suit is a winner on all accounts. Here it is in all its glory:

Because it is so hard to find a bathing suit that I feel comfortable in, and because bathing suits cost a small fortune, I'd like this one to last forever a few years. So, I did a little research on swimsuit care. Here's the best way to care for your swimsuit and ensure you get the most wear for your buck.

1. Rinse the swimsuit with tap water after swimming and hand wash with a mild detergent in cold or warm water after every wear. (Just rinsing your suit will not remove all the chlorine and/or salt.)

2. After washing, roll the swimsuit in a towel to absorb extra water. Then lay it flat to air dry indoors. Laying your suit out to dry in the sun with discolor and toughen the fabric. Never wring it out or put it in the dryer. Never.

3. Only store your suit when it is completely dry (storing it slightly damp will affect the color).

4. Skip the hot tub. Chemicals and high water temps will do your suit no favors long term.

5. Take care with tanning oils and sunscreens. Some of them can stain. Others can deteriorate the elastic in your swimsuit. To prevent this, be sure to wash your swimsuit in warm water with a mild detergent.

6. You can machine wash your suit on a gentle cycle after every three or four wears. This will help remove a lot more of the chlorine, sand, salt and sweat than can be removed by hand washing. Just be sure to put your swimsuit in a mesh lingerie bag while laundering.

7. Before storing your swimsuit for next season, wash it in a washing machine as outlined above. Residual chlorine and/or salt can deteriorate the suit over time.

8. Try to always place a towel beneath you if you're going to sit on the side of the pool. Rough surfaces can snag, pull or tear the fabric.

9. Consider buying two suits if you're planning on being in the water frequently, as it will take a bathing suit a good day to completely dry and return to it's original shape after washing.

10. I don't really have a tenth tip. It just seemed weird to only have a list with nine. :)

For more Frump Fighting Tips, head on over to Fussy's Place!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Be a Pot Luck Rock Star

Summer's here and chances are you're going to be invited to a fair share of barbeques and potlucks. I always agonize over what to bring to these little get togethers. I want to bring something kid friendly, but a dish adults will enjoy as well. I want to bring something "out of the ordinary," but I don't want to spend hours in the kitchen.
Well, I have found the "Holy Grail" of pot luck recipes: The World's Easiest Ice Cream Cake.

It's not something you want to set out on a picnic table next to the potato salad, but once the dinner plates are cleared, take this one out of the freezer and watch everyone swoon. This recipe is insanely simple, but people will think you worked long and hard on it. Seriously. The toughest part is peeling off all the wrappers.

World's Easiest Ice Cream Cake
Serves 12 to 14

1 (24-count) package ice cream sandwiches
2 (8-ounce) containers frozen whipped topping, thawed, divided
1 (8-ounce) package mini milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (2-ounce) package chopped walnuts
Caramel or chocolate syrup
Maraschino cherries, sliced (optional)

Cover the bottom of a 9"x13" glass baking dish with ice cream sandwiches. Spread with 8 ounces whipped topping. Add another layer of ice cream sandwiches, placing sandwiches in the opposite direction as the first layer. Srpead remaining 8 ounces whipped topping over sandwhiches. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and walnuts. Drizzle generously with caramel or chocolate syrup. Garnish with cherry slices. Cover with foil and freeze at least 2 hours before serving. Cut with a sharp knife while still frozen.
And then, be sure to get it out of the house. Because, if you're like me, you will not rest until every bite is gone.
For more great ideas and tips, head over to Shannon's place.

It Brings Me to Tears, Every Time

Each night before the kids go to bed, we read to them. It's almost always a book of their choosing (unless I'm too tired) and I usually look forward to reading most any book they pick out. Except for one:

When they run to the closet and emerge with this picture book, I begin shifting around nervously. I look at my watch. Wow, is it really that late? Wouldn't you rather hear Meet Strawberry Shortcake again? How about Good Night Moon? In my head, I'm begging. I'm pleading. Anything, but that book. You see, I can't get through that book without collapsing into a bawling, emotional mess.

When I first read Love You Forever, I was pregnant with my first. My sister-in-law sent it as an early baby gift. She enclosed no word of warning. No box of tissues. And so, in my hormonal pregnant state, I cheerily sat down and started to read. By the last page, I was so distraught my husband thought something truly terrible had happened.

Love You Forever is the story of a mother who loves her little boy through the many stages of his life. He never grows too old for her to rock him and sing:

I'll love you forever,

I'll like you for always,

As long as I'm living,

My baby you'll be.

That's touching enough, but here's the real clincher: eventually the mother gets old and the boy does the rocking and singing. Then he drives home and sings to his own baby.

Oh, I'm tearing up right now just thinking of it!

After my initial reading, I purposely hid shelved the book. When my daughter was about two, she discovered it. As she handed the book to me, I took a deep breath and tried to convince myself that it would be okay this time around. Now that I was familiar with the story, I could surely steel myself against the emotional onslaught.

But, by page eight, my voice began trembling.

By page 12, the floodgates had opened. Again.

I'm not the weepy type. I pride myself on never crying during movies. But I am powerless in the presence of this book. And while my summary makes it sound a little cheese ball, I'm telling you, this book can make even a grown man weak in the knees.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago, my husband came into the kitchen after tucking my son into bed.

"Thanks for the warning," he said.

"What are you talking about?"

"The book. You could have warned me about that book. I was crying like a baby."

No futher explanation needed. I knew exactly what book he was referring to.

I was just glad to know that I wasn't the only one.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Easing Up

When it comes to the everyday grind, I'm a task-driven kind of girl. I love a schedule and I love keeping life predictable. I can be perfectionistic at times. I've got control issues. I tend to worry. On the continuum of temperaments, I tend toward the "tightly wound'' end.

I have a very good friend who is my polar opposite. She rarely follows a schedule. She nurses her baby on demand, whenever and wherever. She might be 30 minutes late picking up the kids for carpool because her son didn't feel like finishing his breakfast or brushing his teeth. Her feathers rarely get ruffled. She's a master at "winging it." And while I'm not sure I could ever relax my grip on life to that extent, there's a part of me that would clearly enjoy the peace that comes from easing up a bit.

Enjoying the moment, instead of moving on to the next thing on my to do list is a constant struggle for me. Anna Quinlan says it best:

"...but the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in a hurry to get on to the next things: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less."

Summer, with its longer days and relaxed schedule, has encouraged me to ease up a little and experience life with my children as it happens. I'm trying to "be" in the moment just a little more, instead of tirelessly working toward the next meal, the next appointment, the next load of laundry or the next bedtime. I'm taking time to revel in the silliness. To enjoy the sticky kisses. To chase lightning bugs in the backyard.

Because the to do list will always be there tomorrow.

The moments with my kids, unfortunately, won't.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What's for Dinner This Week...

My apologies to Oprah, but I just didn't find her Mar-a-Lago Turkey Burgers anything to write home about. They were alright, but I didn't think the effort it took to prepare them was worth the end result, frankly. I may have mentioned that I'm a bit of a turkey burger connoisseur, and I really like my tried-and-true recipe best. I'm not making turkey burgers again this week, but I'm going to post the recipe below. Oddly enough, the recipe is called "Best-Ever Turkey Burgers." I'll let y'all be the judge of that.

Monday: Baked Chicken, Rice, Corn and Apples
Tuesday: Cherry Pepper Chicken, Brown Rice, Green Beans
Wednesday: Dinner out
Thursday: Turkey Meatloaf, Salad, Brown Rice
Friday: Thai Chicken Wraps, Edamame
Saturday: Beef Taquitos with Salsa and Sour Cream, Fruit, Salad
Sunday: Creamy Sausage Tomato Pasta, Peas, Fruit

(If you're looking for an easy, downloadable menu planner, you'll find a great one here.)

For more menu-planning tips, head over to Laura's place!
Best-Ever Turkey Burgers (courtesy of Tufts University Health Newsletter)
Turkey burgers can be a healthier alternative to beef only if you choose 99% lean ground turkey breast. The "regular" 93% lean ground turkey is not really much different calorie and fat-wise from ground round. Just note that this recipe only calls for 8 oz. of ground turkey, so if you use a whole package of turkey breast, you'll need to scale the recipe accordingly. You can always make extra burgers and freeze them for grilling at a later time.
8 oz. 99% lean ground turkey
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 cup grated zucchini (1/2 small)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion (1/2 small)
2/3 cup whole-wheat Japanese-style breadcrumbs (panko)
1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 Tbsp. prepared barbecue sauce
4 whole-wheat hamburger rolls
Preheat grill. Combine ground turkey, egg white, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, zucchini, onion, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in large bowl; mix well. Form turkey mixture into four 1/2-inch thick patties.
Lightly oil grill grate by rubbing a piece of oil-soaked paper towel over the surface (use tongs to hold paper towel). Grill patties, covered, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side, brushing cooked sides with barbecue sauce. An instant-read thermometer inserted in center of patties should register 165 degrees. About 1 minute before patties are done, place buns, cut side down, on grill grate until lightly toasted. Place patties on rolls and garnish as desired. (If you prefer to cook patties indoors, you can broil them.
Calories 270 (13% from fat)
Total fat 4g
Sat fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 25 mg
Sodium 700mg
Fiber 5g