Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Going on safari, or to the bank

I was feeling particularly brave yesterday.

That, and I just couldn't bring myself to spend another minute of the beautiful day in the car.

The bank is only a mile and a half away, but getting in and out of the car with three in tow could have taken us at least 45 minutes.  

Instead, I decided to spend
twenty minutes applying sunscreen,
fifteen minutes collecting hats, shoes, and sandbox toys
ten minutes changing diapers,
five minutes cleaning out the stroller,
two minutes (per child) inserting children in their appropriate transit location.

Then, it was time to start walking.

We spent
five minutes chatting with a neighbor,
forty minutes walking to the bank,
twenty-five minutes playing at a park along the way,
three minutes requesting free ice water and lollypops (for good behavior!) when we arrived at the bank,
forty minutes walking home from the bank,

all to make a deposit, which took a total of 90 seconds.

But oh, was it worth it!
The sun was bright, the sky was blue, the breeze perfect, the temperature warm!
Yesterday, no safari could have been more satisfying than our trip to the bank.
After all, it's the journey, not just the destination, right?

This mom needs a t-shirt that says: "I survived a trip to the bank with three kids."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Chiefs' Last Hurrah

T and his residency classmates officially rode off into the sunset of residency last Friday.
After five long years, they have left the ranks of residents.

The eight chief residents, class of 2011.

Last Friday, all eight of the outgoing chief residents and their spouses spent the afternoon and evening celebrating victory over the past five years.  These eight worked so hard and have grown so close, as have their loved ones.  We celebrated these special relationships, significant accomplishments and five years of memories together.  Now it's time to go our separate ways as they study for Boards and head off for fellowships.

We are going to miss our precious friends,

Don't these eight look happy to be done?

but we're all pretty excited that residency is over.

The spouses celebrating.
Who do you looks more excited about graduation?

And T, I have said it before but I must say it again,

I am so proud of you.   
I love you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grocery Bag

Who doesn't love a good take-out menu?  We won't be eating restaurant take-out this week, we'll be making it at home!  I am continuing my efforts at cleaning out our pantry as our move approaches.  These recipes combine lots of pantry staples and fresh produce to make delicious take-out taste healthy and at home.

Day One
 Our favorite Bourbon chicken with basmati rice 
One of our favorites!  I switch up the veggies depending on what looks good at the grocery store.
This week it will be snow peas and red peppers.

Day Two
Split Pea Risotto from Fake Ginger
with green salad and strawberries
A new recipe that I can't wait to try.

Photo and recipe from Fake Ginger

Day Three
Veggie fried rice from Southern Living Magazine
with peaches and homemade tortillas
Another family favorite!

Photo and recipe from

Day Four
Mongolian shrimp from 
with basmati rice and Sichuan green beans from Sunset Magazine
As the picture suggests, I usually make this recipe with beef, but this week I am going to try shrimp.
I only use a few tablespoons of oil and saute the meat and beans rather than frying them in a pot of oil as the recipe suggests. It turns out great every time.

Photo by T,  Recipes from and

Day Five
Tortellini with pesto
peas, watermelon, and homemade bread
This quick and easy meal will be my end-of-the-week saving grace.  I sometimes dilute the pesto into more of a sauce with a few tablespoons of pasta water.  The kids love it.  Store bought pesto works great, but homemade is also easy and fun now that basil is abundant!

Blessings on your kitchen!

And the award goes to.....

In our family we have a tradition of occasionally awarding the very prestigious "Super-Duper Trooper" Award for extraordinarily good behavior, supportiveness, or other heroics.  I think T and I began giving the award to each other even before we had kids, although I can't really seem to remember the genesis of this esteemed prize at the moment.

Tonight, it is with great pride that I announce the winner of this weekend's "Super-Duper Trooper" Award is (drumroll and envelope, please) ...........

..... Baby Bear! 

This is a particularly momentous occasion because this is Baby Bear's first SDT Award.  We are all very proud of him for earning this distinction at such a young age.  He rocketed into the favored position for the award during our 3 hour ride home from the cabin this evening, as he was the only passenger under 5 years of age who did not holler, wail, cry or whine for most of the trip home.  His behavior was, in fact, quite impeccable.  We applaud you, Baby Bear!  May there be many more SDT Awards in your future!

*Judges' note:  Although E-Bear and G-Bear did not win the SDT Award tonight, I must in fairness admit that I remember Sunday night car rides home from the cabin when I was their age.  Three hours in the back of a minivan can feel like a purgatorious lifetime for children ages 6 months - 18 years after a weekend of late nights and sugary desserts at the cabin.  I did my share of wailing in the back seat of my parents' car when I was the Bears' age.  My parents will likely chuckle that tonight's car ride was just deserts for me.  Ah, well, thanks to Baby Bear's excellent contribution, the commotion remained at only a moderate roar.   Who's ready to drive four hours to GG's cabin next weekend ?!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Go Fly a Kite

"Let's go buy a kite," T said last week.  

His suggestion was not only surprising but a bit mystifying to me.  Thoughts of kites conjured up a mix of fanciful final scenes from Mary Poppins and confounding, unsuccessful experiences with supposed-be-flying objects from my childhood.

I have never been able to fly a kite.  

There was a sparkle in T's eye as he made his suggestion, a sparkle I hadn't seen in some time.  How could I refuse?  Plus, he was home early from work, all the kids were napping (hallelujah?!) and Nana was visiting (a babysitter!).  The moment was perfect.  We may have levitated as we skipped out the door to the mall.  

The saleswomen was young and cheerful, impressively enthusiastic when we told her we were looking for a kite.  "I LOVE kites," she said, "I actually know quite a bit about kites."  Her tutorial quadrupled our knowledge in about 90 seconds:

1.  The larger the kite, the better it flies.

2.  Delta (triangle shaped) or parafoil kites are the easiest to fly.  

3.  Diamond-shaped kites are actually surprisingly difficult to fly.

4.  No need to wait for a blustery day to fly a kite.  In fact, a really windy day often makes it harder to fly a kite.  A large parafoil or delta-shaped kite will fly with as little as 5 mph of wind, which is just enough to blow the tops of the trees.

We bought a frameless parafoil kite, successfully avoiding the inevitable disappointment that would result should someone step on the frame and break it within the first 10 minutes out of the wrapper.  Last night we took the kids over to the park to try it out.  

The air was calm at the park, but that didn't stop our crew.
We found a gentle breeze at the wide open running track field.

The kids were mesmerized. They loved it.
That was even before we got the kite to fly :)

If the wind was just right, our kite would lift off right out of my hand.
The kids ran themselves into exhaustion chasing after it.

By the end of the evening, even G-Bear and E-Bear had successfully flown the kite.
Who knew we would have so much fun?  

It is supposed to rain the next two days.

But you can bet that when the wind picks up to blow these rain clouds away,
we'll be back out at the park

ready to fly our kite.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Poems on the Couch

"Listen to the mustn'ts, child.  Listen to the don'ts.

Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.

Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me.....

Anything can happen, child.  
Anything can be."

~Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

The couch is a whimsical place for our crew with T at the helm of Where the Sidewalk Ends.  Thanks to Nana for making such sweet moments possible by bringing us all of T's old Shel Silverstein books.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Two Months, Baby Bear

His smile is here, it's here to stay,
Our Baby Bear turns two months today!  

He's growing up quickly, so much he can do,
 hold his head up and read with Daddy too.
(just kidding on the reading part!)

You snuggle and sleep, our sweet Baby Bear,
eyes turning brown to soon match your hair.

"Please bring him in here!" Your siblings will say,
as they tuck in for sleep or wake with the day.

We can not replace you, 
adoring we are,
two months a beginning, 
we know you'll go far!

Grocery Bag

We'll be missing our Nana this week, who departed from us yesterday after being in town for T's graduation.  I'll be cooking for the five of us alone this week, so preparation, flexibility and ease will be the keys to dinner!  Thank goodness for all the fresh summer produce!

Day One
Barbecue roasted salmon  from Cooking Light Magazine
with polenta and steamed green beans

Photo and recipe from

Day Two
with basmati rice and peas
I'll be trying another recipe from the cookbook T gave me for my birthday. 
Branching out in my Indian cooking is always rewarding!

Photo and recipe from "The Indian Slowcooker"

Day Three
Peanut noodle salad from 101 Cookbooks
with mixed berries
This is a new recipe recently recommended by a friend.  
I'll probably mix up the veggies in the salad to suit the kids' tastes.  

Photo and recipe from 101 Cookbooks

Day Four
Beef broccoli lo mein from Cooking Light Magazine
with pineapple
One of our tried and true favorites!  We can't go too long without it, or I go through withdrawal.  

Photo and recipe from

Day Five
Tuna noodle casserole from Gourmet Magazine
with homemade bread and fruit salad
This looks like a great dish for a rainy, chilly summer night.  
We're supposed to have several this week, so I'll have to try this new recipe.

Photo and recipe from

Blessings on your kitchen!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Residency Graduation Day

Today is our day to toast five long years of residency,

from the first days,

to the last days,

and all the days between,

T's pile of consult cards from one 6 month rotation,
and his completed operating case log book.

here's to the skilled and compassionate surgeon you have become,
and the loving husband and father you have remained.

Congratulations to T and his fellow chief residents on their graduation today!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Grocery Bag: Behind the Scenes

A reader recently asked me to share the "behind the scenes" of my weekly meal planning.  I can't claim my methods to be either grand or ground breaking, but I am proof that motivation and a little extra effort can go a long way when it comes to making healthy, homemade meals for a growing family. 

I was first motivated to start a weekly dinner meal plan about a year ago.  We were in the midst of our previously mentioned "(mini) Food Revolution,"  and I had hit a breaking point.  I was trying to implement  improvements in the food we were eating: eat fewer meals out of boxes, freshen up with fresher foods and make more meals from scratch.  But, these changes were coming at a high price that I couldn't afford: the price of my time.  Because fresher, healthier food often takes longer to prepare, I needed a better game plan.  One year later, my weekly "Grocery Bag" meal plan has become an indispensable part of our life.

One of the many perks of meal planning is that it allows me to look for new, varied recipes for our family to try.  When it comes to eating, my kids are pretty average for preschoolers and toddlers.  If they are starving, they will try just about anything, but usually they are somewhat skeptical of things I put on the table.  I don't cater to their pickiness in my planning, but I do my best to make the food on their plates look as inviting as possible.  For me, this means separating out the various foods into separate, identifiable portions on their plates: if T and I are having a stir fry or pasta dish, I may separate the ingredients into piles for my kids rather than leaving them all mixed together.  I always try to plan a fruit and a vegetable as part of the meal, offering our kids something familiar with each meal regardless of the main course.  I also employ kid-friendly tricks in my cooking, such as pureeing or finely chopping veggies to hide their foreign texture before adding them into casseroles, sauces or pastas.  We always ask that our kids take one bite of the dinner they are given before they leave the table.  Beyond that, if they choose not to eat, that is ok, but no other dinner or bedtime snack choices will be offered other than their dinner plate that night.  Many nights our toddler leaves the table having eaten only one bite, and we have to be ok with that.  However, as a result of this, my kids will eat many foods that they wouldn't otherwise try if I didn't offer them as part of a meal on a regular basis.

Here is an outline of how I get meals on the table:

*Depending on when I am going to do my grocery shopping, I try to assemble my recipes for the week during the weekend before.
*I make a grocery list and a plan for when and where I will do my shopping for various groceries.
*I also make a plan for when I will do the prep and cooking for each day's recipes.  That way I know what preparations I have to do in the evenings and mornings in order to prep for the next day's dinner.
 *I have several go-to sources for my recipes, including a store of monthly cooking magazines (Everyday Food and Fine Cooking are my current favorites), a few favorite websites (MyRecipes, Fine Cooking,, Tasty Kitchen, The Pioneer Woman, and my friend SnoWhite's cooking blog, Finding Joy in My Kitchen) as well as a few cookbooks.  
*I only plan five dinners each week.  This is allows for at least one night when we eat leftovers and one night when our schedules will be too unpredictable for me to cook a full meal (perhaps we will be eating with family, T will be on call, we have an event out and much pack sandwiches to go, etc).

The evening before:
Part of the benefit of meal planning is that I can make double use of my preparation time during the week.  I don't make many meals that require prep time the night before,  but my meal plan allows me to anticipate my needs for the next days as I am working on tonight's dinner.  For instance, if I am chopping a cup of onion for tonight's dinner, I may know that I will need another onion and a green pepper chopped for dinner the next night, and I will be able to chop and set them aside while I am poised and ready.  Additionally, because I make our bread in our breadmaker, I may fill the maker and set the timer so the bread will be ready the next morning.

The morning before:
Similarly to the evening before, I try to use time in the morning to advance the evening meal along.  I may chop veggies, make dough, fill and start the slow cooker, defrost meat, make a sauce, etc.  Ultimately this means that I won't have as much prep work to do in the evening.

This is go time for dinner.  My kids still take naps, so if I am at home during nap time (i.e. not at work) I try to take a few minutes to finish any prep work that may need to happen before the evening low-blood-sugar-craze hits.  My kids wake up from naps/rest time right as dinner prep is in full swing.  This time of the day is often devoted to puzzles, coloring, playdough or another semi-independent activity that I can observe while finishing dinner.  If someone is particularly squirrely or just interested in dinner prep, I have them in the kitchen to help "cook" or  "sample" what I am making.  We have a Learning Tower in our kitchen, which is indispensable.  While in "The Tower," my toddler & preschooler can join me at counter height, play with playdough or color next to me as I cook, see what's going on, or sample what I am making.

*Note:  Because we make and eat nearly all of our meals at home, I have been forced to teach my kids that post-nap time is dinner-making time for mommy.  I have explained to my kids over and over that they are welcome to join me in the kitchen or choose a semi-independent activity to enjoy while I make dinner.  Over the years we have had many timeouts for whining or poor behavior while I am trying to cook.  Many nights still melt down and I miss my goal time for getting dinner on the table.  However, meal planning has helped me to limit these episodes because I am better prepared and have less prep to do on any given night.

Record-Keeping and Follow-up:
A final, important part of my meal planning is storing the meal feedback and recipes we like in an easily-accessible format.  For me, this means having a digital recipe library on my computer.  This makes future weeks easier, as have a whole set of old recipes at my fingertips.  I used to just have a folder on my computer for my recipes where I stored electronic copies of my recipes for later review.   This quickly became cumbersome as my library ballooned.  I now use a Mac application called Yummy Soup, which I love.  It allows me to create a recipe library, easily import recipes from the web or create new ones, store recipe pictures, make meal calendars, grocery lists, and easily search my recipes by name or ingredient.    Yummy Soup is available in the here at the Mac app store for users of Mac OS 10.6 or newer.  You can sign up for a free 15 day trial here and purchase it later if you like it.  I bought it at one point when it was on sale, so keep an eye out for discounts if it looks helpful.

A few notes on breakfast, lunch and left-overs:
What about our other meals during the week?  I do far less planning when it comes to breakfasts and lunch.  Our breakfasts tend to involve less variety and require less preparation:  homemade granola, yogurt, peanut butter toast, eggs, even pancakes, all come to the table in a few minutes.  When it comes to lunch, we eat a lot of sandwiches (so I have to be sure I have made bread), raw fruit, veggies, and LEFTOVERS.   While cooking dinner for our family, I almost never make a recipe with less than 6-8 servings.  This means that I almost always have some leftovers to use for lunch the next day or a train-wreck dinner later in the week.  

I am always on the lookout for additional tips, tricks and new recipes, so please feel free to share them with me in the comments or after future Grocery Bag posts!  Finally, as I have written before, I try to remember to keep a balance perspective when it comes to feeding my family:

"Food is essential to life.  Therefore, make it good."
~S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A

....yet sometimes it's best just to... 

"Start where you are.  Use what you have.  Do what you can."
~Arthur Ashe

May God bless our kitchens!

Something tells me...

...that these three are up to something!

Quick, send reinforcements!  
These three have turned their mother into a total mushmellow with their cuteness!
I have been totally won over!