Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Basketful of Affordable Preschool Ideas (Under $30 total)

Simon's Stash is still an important part of my interaction with him. More than ever, since the arrival of Julian, Simon needs to have one-on-one quality time with me. Here is Simon's latest stash, along with a little cost analysis to show you how affordable it can be to grow your child's creativity and knowledge.  So many of the items are reusable that the actual cost of the basket is miniscule! (Reminder, I refill this basket weekly and we attempt at least one project per day).

First, a coloring project to create an alphabet banner. The banner came from Dollar Tree and the crayons came from Dollar General. Total cost: $3

Second, some really cool window markers. These came from Kohl's. They were on sale and I had a coupon. Total cost: $5

Third, stamps, stamp pads, and paper. The paper and two of the stamps were leftovers from when I used to scrapbook, so they will be declared "free" at this point. The ink and the other two stamps were in the clearance isle at Micheal's. Total cost: $4.

Four, supplies to make a collage. I have found that heavy duty paper plates work best for this project at the moment because Simon likes to use more glue that a normal piece of paper can tolerate. The plate came from a pack we bought for a party and the pictures were cut out of old magazines, so they shall be declared "free" .  The glue is from the Dollar Tree. Total cost: $1

Five, sidewalk chalk to be used on the front sidewalk and the privacy fence in the backyard. This came from Dollar Tree. Total cost: $1

Six, a Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle. This is a heavy wooden puzzle. Somehow the box got lost. Oh, well. More challenging for the brain = maybe we should lose more boxes. Total cost: $2

Seven, a bag full of Play Doh and Play Doh tools. This was a Christmas gift from a friend. Total cost: $0

Eight, the Boggle, Jr. game. This is a great game to foster early reading skills! I recommend it both as a mom and as a reading specialist. Simon thinks it is great fun. I ordered this from Amazon when it was on sale. Total cost: $10

Total Cost of Items I Purchased for Simon: $26

We have already enjoyed working the puzzle,

 coloring with the window markers,
and playing Boggle.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Butterfinger Pie

I have been calling this vasectomy pie...but that probably doesn't sound as appetizing as Butterfinger Pie:) I am 35 years old + I hate being pregnant + neither Stone nor I have a lucrative career + the earth is way overpopulated = we are done having children. Since he is a man among men, Stone volunteered to have a vasectomy so that I don't have to continue on birth control. Yay for Stone! As I am so grateful to him, I decided to make sure that there was something amazing in the fridge to welcome him home after surgery. I found the recipe for Butterfinger Pie on Pinterest and thought it was just the thing. My pictures completely suck because I had to take stills with the video camera due to a housewide battery shortage.

Butterfinger Pie

2 cups graham cracker crumbs (digestive biscuits would also work)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup sugar
6 Butterfinger candy bars, crushed
1 Butterfinger candy bar, chopped
1 (8 oz) package cream cheese
1 (12oz) tub whipped topping

1. In a medium bowl, mix graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar. Press into the bottom and sides of a pie pan. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Allow the crust to cool.
2. In a large bowl, mix 6 crushed Butterfingers, cream cheese, and whipped topping with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended.
3. Spoon the cream cheese mix into the crust and top with the chopped Butterfinger.
4. Chill before serving.

This is really, really delicious! Well, it was really, really delicious. It took the two of us only two days to finish it off. Thankfully, I managed to eat my half without gaining weight since Julian has been nursing for 6-8 HOURS a day. As much as I wish I was exaggerating, I am not. Oh, least I can eat pie.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Good Man

Just a little over five years ago, I was sitting in my therapist's office discussing the events of the night before. My husband and I had been having a conversation during which we had been in agreement on some issue when I said something that he didn't like. He reacted by screaming at me until I cried, at which point he threw a bowl of hot food at me and punched a hole in the wall. Just a normal night in my first marriage.

I moved on to talk about how I had been longing to have a child, something I could not discuss with my husband because it made him angry (in fact, on our third date, I had brought up the topic of children and he had screamed at me while repeatedly punching the steering wheel of his car). My therapist looked at me and said, "If you have children, he will treat them the same way he treats you."

My whole world stopped. Her words were so powerful it was as if they were visibly hanging in the air. I realized, for the first time, I really realized that I could not ever have children with this man. Even if, after years of knowing how much he despised the idea, I could convince him to have children it would be irresponsible and reckless to allow him near a child. At the same moment I realized that I was not willing to give up on motherhood.

I tried to change my marriage into an environment suitable for a child. I stood up for myself - not only telling my husband that I would be leaving the house and spending the night away each time he was abusive, but actually following through and doing it. I nagged him to go to marriage counseling - he went once and yelled at the counselor.  I told a couple of close friends and my parents the truth about what went on (because hiding it gave him power to continue). It turned out, he didn't like these changes at all. He told me he wanted the old me back.

My marriage officially ended when I refused to sign a contract. My husband came to me and said that he couldn't live with the "new me" and that he had written up a contract I had to sign in order to stay in the marriage. I wish I had kept a copy of it because it was so unbelievably ridiculous. It included such items as:

1. I will submit to my husband in all things.
2. I will quit my job and stay home.
3. I will never return to Africa for a visit.
4. He will choose all of our vacation destinations. 
5. I will agree to never have children or talk about it.

I refused to sign. I got my own apartment and a lawyer.

After that I thought that I might never have children. I didn't think adoption was even an option for me because who could afford that on a single, teacher's salary? I could barely afford rent and food.

I wish that me could have seen me now, but she probably would not have believed it. I found a man who is not only the most patient, loving, forgiving husband anyone could imagine, but who also displays those qualities with the two beautiful boys who bless our household.

Everyone who knows Stone truly knows him - he doesn't hide anything or have deep dark secrets. He is an open book. It is, therefore, very telling that everyone who knows him also likes him a great deal. He is the sweetest man you could meet - hardworking, intelligent, compassionate, and crazy sexy.

Simon knows how lucky he is to have Stone. He tells me that Stone is more fun than I am - which is true because Stone is much better at playing Batman, baseball, and frisbee than I. But Stone is also good at reading stories, putting band-aids on boo-boos, and  making Saturday morning breakfast. Simon wants to be just like Stone someday, and I sincerely hope he will.

For Father's Day, Simon filled out this great template that I found at Two Journeys: One Life. Here is a picture before I let Simon put the finishing touches on - at which point the camera batteries were tot.

Here is what it says (Simon's answers in all caps):
My dad's name is DADDY
My daddy is 9 years old.
My daddy has BLACK hair and his eyes are BLUE
My daddy's favorite food is KETCHUP AND CARROTS
My daddy's favorite color is DARK BLUE
My daddy likes to wear BLACK
My daddy likes to eat CARROTS
My daddy is smart because he knows THAT I LIKE HIM
My daddy words hard at SCHOOL
My daddy always tells me THAT I LOVE HIM
I am happy when daddy LOVES ME AND PLAYS WITH ME
I love my daddy because I JUST LOVE HIM

So much love...more than I ever could have dreamed of! Happy Father's Day, Stone.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Keeping It Together: The Master List

Right now I feel supremely disorganized. Having a baby has thrown my whole routine into complete and utter disarray. My house is cluttered, my meals are sporadic, and my marriage consists of a business like relationship based on conversations like this:
"When did you feed him?"
"Eleven and three. When did you feed him?"
"Two and five. I think he is ready to eat again."
"Okay. I will go make Simon breakfast while you feed him."
"Great. See you after the next diaper change."

What gives me solace is that my friends, family, therapist, pediatrician, and lactation consultant are all in agreement that this phase will pass and my life will return to some sort of organized chaos rather than just all out chaos. I am looking forward to that.

I do have a few things that I cling to in an effort to stay sane. Some of them were tools I was using before the baby was born and some of them are new. Obviously, they have not made my life perfect but they do help. A couple of friends have mentioned that they liked the ideas, so I thought I might as well share some of them with you.

The first one is the Master List. This is a tool I have been using for a long time. Before you start looking at this and freaking out about how long it is, let me state empathically that these are goals. I do not complete all of these tasks each week. Ever. I don't beat myself up about what gets done. This is just a tool to help me focus my priorities when my brain is going in a million different directions. I also love checking stuff off of lists.

The top section of the list is a table showing the chores that need to be done on a daily basis:

Those are dishes, 1 load of laundry, pack lunches for the next day, take care of the day's mail, wipe down the bathroom counters (every other day), lay out clothes for the next day, clear off the dining room table, and spend 15 minutes picking up. These are our first priority for the day. Our next priority is the Weekly section:

These are vacuuming, dusting, mopping, cleaning the mirrors/doors, cleaning out my purse/work bag/ or the magazine pile, changing the sheets on all beds, updating the budget, updating our calendars, making the weekly menu, grocery shopping, cleaning the toilets, refilling Simon's stash, cleaning out old stuff from the fridge, and watering my orchid. This section was loosely adapted from FlyLady. Frankly, FlyLady has no concept of women who work outside the home - I tried her system and it depressed me.  Our next priority in the goal section:

These are things that are not housework related that we would like to get done. For example, getting the Father's Day presents and cards together was a goal. The last work section involves a list of each room of the house along with a few things that need to be done in each room.

For example, this week I would like to santize Simon's bathtoys and Julian's bathtub. The last section is where I keep track of Simon's schedule for the week. This is not the calendar as it doesn't include our appointments, etc. It is just a place for me to plan ahead how Simon will be occupied each day. I have found that the best strategy for dealing with my two boys during the summer is to get them out of the house and/or have a playmate for Simon. (I nearly laughed when a woman came up to me yesterday and said, "Oh, he's so little, is this your first outing?" Um, no. Julian had his first outing before he was a week old.)

Remember: these are goals. Do not fool yourself into thinking this is what I actually get done in my house each week. I am just trying to keep the chaos at bay as much as I can. Which, really, is very little....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chicken in Peanut Sauce

This is another pre-baby meal (I am still struggling to find time to cook "real" food since the baby got here - in fact, I struggle to do anything). One of my oldest friends is a global traveler who has lived in several different countries. Most recently, she is residing in the United States and preparing to move back to South Africa. Before moving to Jo'burg, she was in Cote d'Ivoire. It was from there that she got this fabulous recipe for Guinean peanut sauce, which she shared with me. Of course, given the peanut butter content, it is full of calories....but it is SO worth it.

Guinean Peanut Sauce
6 cups water
5 chicken bouillon cubes
1 large onion, chopped
pinch of oregano
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 large tomato, diced
1 (14oz) jar smooth peanut butter (she recommends natural peanut butter)
2 chicken breasts, cubed
4 habanero peppers
3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp oil

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until tender. Add everything except the chicken and peanut butter. Bring just to a boil. Lower to a simmer and add the peanut butter. Simmer about 1 hour. Add the chicken breast. Simmer until the chicken breast is done (about 30 minutes). 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Really, Rolling Stone?

Along with my husband came several magazine subscriptions, including the iconic music magazine Rolling Stone. I love good music - regardless of genre - so you would think that I would enjoy flipping through this periodical. I also assumed I would enjoy it and gave it an enthusiastic go. After a few months of slogging through its pages, I had to face the fact that I do not like Rolling Stone. I opine that it is simultaneously pretentious and pandering. It just tries way too hard to be cool.

I should not, then, be surprised that this month's issue has interviews with both Charlie Sheen and John Mayer - two men who spout quotes on the level of middle school bathroom graffiti. I read both articles. Frankly, my curiosity is stronger than my pride. John Mayer did have a blogging related quote that I thought was interesting. He said, "I don't Google news-search myself. It gives you this sense that the whole world is thinking about you, when really it's just, like, the Hindustani Times and a mommy blog."

You could take it the way he meant it - that neither your opinion as a blogger nor the Hindustani Times amount to anything important. But, since he himself recommended interrpreting things as you choose (which, honestly, seemed like a very thinly veiled attempt to cover for the fact that he had no idea what Kanye West is actually rapping about), how about we put our own spin on it?

John Mayer thinks your blog is just as important as the Hindustani Times! :)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Chocolate Chip Shortbread

Here is a recipe from before I lost any control I had over my life (a.k.a before there were two children in my house - how are two so much more work than one?). I love chocolate chip cookies, so I thought the idea of making chocolate chip shortbread sounded like a delightful play on a familiar treat when I saw the recipe at Create with Mom.  Being eight months pregnant, I was not in the mood to do the work of making actual cookies, so I turned the recipe into bars by spreading the dough in a cake pan. I increased the cooking time by ten minutes. My little family greatly enjoyed these! They were not in the fridge for long. Please click the link to Create with Mom in order to see the recipe.