To my Sisters-in-Mommying,
I usually get two kinds of comments from other mommies about this blog -
"I made your project with my kids, we had so much fun!"
"You make me feel like an inadequate mother".
The first comment can make my week.
The second, makes me weep.
The last thing in the world I would ever want to do is to make another mother feel like she is not all that. Because she is all that - and more.
"Trust me, a crafty mommy blogger does not a perfect mommy make."
Recently, several people have asked me how I have time for everything - cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework, arts and crafts and everything else that goes along with being the CFO of a family.
And this is what I tell them: I don't. I don't time have for it all, ever. I don't even think it's possible.
For example, my kids think dressers are there for climbing on because their clothes are never in the drawers. We live out of laundry baskets and my children think it's normal to go down to the laundry room to get a clean pair of underwear in the morning.
Everyone has to prioritize - and because I have been blessed with a very generous and understanding husband, I am able to make time for mod-podging mailboxes and baking from scratch and things that should be on the bottom of my to-do list instead of at the top.
The chores will get done - eventually. But the kids are only small once, and that is something I try to remember everyday.
"...you are the only one who knows what kind of shirt makes their necks scratchy..."
My prime motivation for blogging is to amuse myself. I don't have a lot of downtime, but pre-baby, I was once a paid writer and editor and I like to think that I can still, to borrow a phrase from an old work friend, bang something out. And my kids like the blog too, they like to look back and see all the fun things we did, and they especially like looking at the things we bake. They're always hungry.
Listen, some mommies go to work, and some stay home.
Some mommies bake cookies and some buy them.
Some mommies vacuum by themselves and some have help.
And some mommies grow tomatoes and some like to open a can.
But ultimately it makes no difference because YOU are the only one who knows how to kiss those kids goodnight, and you are the only one who knows what kind of shirt makes their necks scratchy and the only one who knows how to scramble their eggs and mix their drinks. (Ahh, a mixed drink. Don't you wish someone would bring you a mixed drink right about now? I do. With a little umbrella.)
My point is this: Whether or not you do projects from scratch, you plop your kids down with a bucket of paper, scissors and glue and leave them to their own devices, or if you don't know which end of the gluestick is up, you are a fantastic, dedicated mommy - and the perfect fit for your family.
And if by keeping myself sane by writing, I can inspire another mommy, in even the tiniest way, to break out the finger paints or maybe even just the crayons on a day when she would rather not, then I feel I have accomplished my mission of helping a fellow mommy for the day. And that's what it's all about in the end - being the mommy your kids need, and being the friend that the harried mom next door needs, because who knows, tomorrow you might (probably) be the harried mom next door.
Wishing you a Mother's Day filled with love, cards made from crayons and stickers and of course, crumbs in your bed.
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Did you know it was Teacher Appreciation Week? Yeah, me neither. Which is kind of ironic because Josh is a teacher and I used to teach preschool - and yet I had never heard of this little fun holiday. Well, wait, let me rephrase, I had heard of it, I just didn't realize it. At a school where Josh used to teach, there would be a teacher appreciation luncheon each year, (I kind of thought they made it all up), but I had no idea that it was this whole thing. And it really is a thing - every single crafty blog that I have seen this week was devoted almost entirely to ideas for celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week.
And then this morning I got a nice little email from a fellow mommy blogger, inviting me to join her contest for best Teacher Appreciation Week gift. (Yeah, so apparently there are gifts involved - how fun!) But the catch, the cost must be less than $3* for each gift. Three dollars. That's not a lot of money. And I was also determined to only use what I had in the house because it was pouring out and I had no desire to get wet with the girls.
Teacher Appreciation Week wasn't really on my to-do list this week but seriously, it's sounds way more fun than laundry and how could I turn down a chance to win a contest? I mean, I don''t think there is a prize involved or anything, but as I teach my kids, sometimes it's nice to do something nice just because, not because you get anything back. Usually they look at me blankly when I say that, but I am hoping that one day that message will sink in.
So after some thought today, this is what I made with the kids after school. Well, we started it and got as far as the brownies. Everything else was done after they were in bed.
We started by baking the most awesome brownies ever and I am not at all embarrassed to admit that they are Duncan Hines Brownies. Yup, a mix. I have tried countless other brownie recipes and Josh and the kids always comes back to Duncan Hines. So Duncan Hines it is. And even though the Duncan Hines boxes have become smaller over the past year while the price has remained the same, we are still loyal customers.
My boys have six classroom teachers between the two of them. I thought about making these for the specialty teachers too but the truth is, I didn't have enough containers so as much as we appreciate the extra teachers - and we really really do! - it's just the regular classroom teachers who will benefit this time.
And because I am terrible at math and yet, married to a math teacher who was not home tonight, I wound up with twenty-four rather large brownies, after cutting each 9x9 pan into 12 brownie squares. What my plan had been was to give each teacher 2 brownies and a tea bag, all packaged up in a pretty box (aka a knock-off brand tupperware with a purple cover), with a note to a Tea-riffic teacher. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's so corny, I know, but it was all I could come up with. And it kind of came out cute.
Back to my math problem - four brownies won't fit into my little boxes so the upshot, I have 12 extra brownies sitting around staring at me, the girl on the 1500 calorie diet. It's not going to be pretty.
Moving right along, I stacked the brownies in pairs, and wrapped each set in plastic wrap and tied it up with a bow. I put a piece of pretty tissue paper into each container (3 for $1 at Shoprite a while back - the containers, not the tissue paper). Put a flavored tea bag next to the brownies, click the cover into place and, woohoo - a tea-riffic little gift. (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist).
To make little tags, I cut out small squares of scrapbook paper, glued them onto the covers of the boxes. I used some mailing labels cut smaller than the scrapbook squares and wrote "for my Morah!"** on them and stuck them on top. Write a little thank you note to the teacher, using the "tea-riffic" phrase and all done. So to all teachers out there, Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! We love you for loving our kids, and even though we may sometimes have some "requests", we truly appreciate the love and care that you show to our kids and to all the kids in their classes.
*Under $3? Yup. All six gifts together cost me less than $5 (I already had the plastic wrap, ribbon, tissue paper, scrapbook paper and stickers, so they don't count, according to the rules.) And morahs, if you're reading this, it's the thought that counts, right? Right?
**Morah means teacher in Hebrew.
Man, I hope win the contest!
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I was in AC Moore today getting some more Mod Podge - the kind that can be used outside. I am going to attempt to decoupage my mailbox. Currently, it's a plain white mailbox on a tall while stand. Wait, wait, what I should say is that it was a plain white mailbox on a white stand, just kind of shoved into the ground in my front yard. After the digging and gardening and the use of a hammer and a wrench and possibly some not so nice words from hubby's side of things, it is now just a plain white mailbox. And it is sitting on the front steps. And while I would love to mount it to the outside of the banister, I feel that it could use a little pick-me-up first, hence the outdoorsy Mod Podge. I've never used it before so we shall what happens.
And my point here? Yeah, I was in AC Moore anyway, so I figured I'd look around. I didn't have much time because the girls had gone through most of their drinks and almost all of the pretzels that I had with me, but I did manage to pick up a new mini muffin pan. A 24 count one. I just love mini muffins. They're so cute and small and single-servingish.
So why I am sharing this with you? It's not just so I can tell you to look forward to many mini-muffin recipes, perhaps even one for Mother's Day. No, it's because while I was waiting in line to pay and rationing the last of the honey wheat pretzels, I remembered a funny story and I started laughing to myself, except that I might have laughed out loud cause the lady behind me moved her shopping cart back a few feet. Who knows? My point here is that I was remembering my old mini-muffin pan. I loved that pan, I received it as a gift at my bridal shower from a good friend who also loves to bake. But alas, that pan is no more.
And why is that pan no more, you ask? Because several years ago one of my boys filled the pan with mega size lego blocks, one block per cupcake space and fell in love with the idea of playing baker and baking his cupcakes in the little play kitchen. Adorable enough. And then one day, while dinner was in the oven, Josh came home and made a weird face. I thought maybe the chicken smelled funny - but no, not the chicken. Just the melted legos that had been cooking in the broiler - in the mini-muffin pan - the whole time the chicken had been in the oven. On 450. For a good hour at that point. I'll never know how many days that lego filled pan had been sitting in the oven, waiting for it to preheat. The lego was melted, the pan was ruined and there were tears all around.
And so today, when I brought home the bag with the new pan and my boys saw it, they started snickering (isn't that a great word? And it's exactly what they did) at each other, asking me if I remembered what happened with the other pan that Josh threw into the backyard. And I started laughing again too. But the best part, for me at least, is that these two little boys who could not have been more than 2 and 3 years old at the time, remember the first really naughty thing they did together - and they bonded over it. Brothers, forever. That's what I always tell them.
Today's cookie is mandelbread, which means nut bread in Yiddish, because mandel means nut and, as I am sure you can guess, bread means bread. The original recipe came from my mom's friend Beverly. I modified it slightly because several of my kids' friends have nut allergies so I try to avoid baking with nuts in general. And how did I modify the recipe? I kind of just left out the nuts and waited to see what happened. And you know what? Nothing happened. They tasted pretty much the same either way, which is a good thing because these are fantastic. I always always always get compliments on these cookies. These are my go-to cookies when I want to give something slightly fancier than chocolate chip cookies for a gift, and yet less fancy, than say a layer cake.
Without further ado, I present Beverly's Mandelbread:
1 stick margarine
1 cup sugar
2.5 tablespoons of oil
2.5 cups of flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips
(optional - 1 cup ground or chopped walnuts)
Prepare two cookie sheets by lining them with foil and greasing them with cooking spray. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a standing mixer. Add the oil, eggs and the dry ingredients, mixing on low until all the ingredients are just incorporated. Cover the bowl with the cookie dough and refrigerate for about an hour. About ten minutes before you plan to bake them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the batter into quarters, shaping each quarter into a log shape - you can make them long and skinny or short and well, dumpy, it doesn't really matter, but these baking instructions call for making them shorter and dumpier. If you choose the long and skinny, just shorten the baking time and keep checking them through the oven window.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until light brown. Remove the pans from the oven, and wearing your oven mitts, use a very sharp knife, kind of like one you might carve a turkey with, and slice the logs into slices. Turn the slices onto their sides - so they are lying down instead of standing up like they were right after you sliced them. Bake them again for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool and store in an airtight container until they're gone, usually about a day. These also freeze very well. I can't really say how many cookies you will get because it all depends on the size of your original logs and the size of the cookies that you cut once they come out of the oven. But it's all good. No worries.
You know the kids had a good day when, at the end of the day, the bathwater turns black.
We planted today. And when I say we, I mean me, because after ten minutes of shoveling soil into the window boxes, the kids walked away and headed for the swing set. And yet, at the end of the day, they were filthy. I'm scared to think what the bathtub would have looked like had they actually helped plant.
I went to Lowe's this morning, a Sunday in May - obviously a big mistake. There were two lines for the cashier in the outdoor flower section, with at least 20 people on each line and neither line was moving. I considered walking out as soon as I saw the circus but my four year old was with me and he really wanted to get the flowers now because after the trip to Lowe's we were going to Toys R Us to pick out birthday presents for his friends. So we stayed. And after picking out the flowers, I realized that all these people on line were idiots. There were a zillion cashiers inside the store, just waiting for someone to buy something, anything from inside the store. And there was no sign saying you had to pay for the flowers outside. So we went inside, paid and were back in the car three minutes later, very proud of ourselves. Those other guys are probably still standing on line waiting to pay. I shouldn't say it, but haha for us!
before window boxes
after window boxes
And so we planted our beloved flowers in the window boxes - and there were a ton of flowers left over. I feel I should mention that these window boxes have never actually lived on or near any windows in our house. Although they would look lovely on the windows, that is way too much work for us. All the banging and hammering and worrying if they were too heavy and were going to rip the siding off the house. Not for us. But lucky for me, and for the window boxes that I bought several years ago without thinking it all the way through, I have these railings flanking my house's walkway and the flower boxes fit onto these railings really nicely and securely, no hammers, nails or prayers needed.
So the flower boxes are full and hung up, and I'm looking around and I see a serious amount of flowers still waiting to be planted. At this point, I am starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I overbought flowers. What to do? The window boxes are full and we're running low on soil. And I really wanted to finish this project today because we are no good when it comes to projects that are not done before bedtime. We just never come back to them, either pretending we never started them or just plain totally forgetting about them.
Where oh where to plant these extra flowers?
And then I remembered reading somewhere that flowers can be planted in any waterproof container with holes on the bottom. But what's a waterproof container with holes on the bottom? That's pretty much the definition of a planter. But if I had a planter, I'd use it. Looking around, I saw we had some beach pails that no one ever looked at - until of course I took them off the shelf and asked Josh to punch holes on the bottom. Of course then, those pails were the super-extra-favorite-toy of all the kids. Whatever, they were my planters now.
These are the pails before Josh did whatever he did with his drill.
And these are the pails after.
Fill with soil.
And plant with as many extra flowers as you can cram in there. Ignore the instructions on the flower tag thing that says to plant 6"-8" apart.
Place on front steps, stand back, and smile.
Take pictures of pretty azaleas and hostas and some other little bush that you planted last week and reflect on how proud of yourself (myself) you are because we ripped out the huge diseased bushes the house came with way more than a year ago - possibly two, but who can remember - and have had nothing in the front yard but weird looking patchy grass. Okay, we still have patchy grass (see below) but we're working on it.
So empty and desolate looking was our front yard, that one neighbor actually said that we should have kept the ill-looking bushes and I'm pretty sure the other neighbors whispered to each other that we were the ones dragging down the property values on the block.
So there. We are no longer the hobos on the block. We have planted. There are still more flowers waiting to be planted (sheesh, I must have really overbought, way more than I first thought) but they will have to keep waiting while I look around the house for more containers that can have holes punched into them.