What You Really Learn When Fixing Up an Old House

I have to be honest with you guys.  I had a post planned in which I wrote all about what a great job I was doing at replacing the old, dated outlets in our house.  I had pictures, a mini-tutorial of sorts.  Goodness, but I was pleased with myself.  I didn’t say it outright, but it was most definitely communicated.

And then, I blew out a breaker and lost all patience.  Every thought that I’d had about how “grateful” I was to be learning so many things, how many wonderful teaching experiences there are in an old house… pfbbt!  They went out the window.  Here’s what happened…

I was thrilled at the progress I was making with replacing our outlets.  Below is a before and after photo:

UntitledOut with the old, in with the new.  Good-bye mismatched, chipped outlets.  Hello white, updated outlets.  In addition to looking nicer, the new outlets do a much better job at holding the babyproofing outlet caps in place.  Even I have trouble removing them, whereas they basically fell out of the old outlets if you so much as brushed up against them.

But before-and-after photos aren’t the main point of this post.  No, the main point is that I have learned some things while making updates around here, and those lessons haven’t all come along in an easily spelled out format.  Some have them have been hard to learn and have required repeated instruction :-/

1. Don’t do more than you can handle.  Seriously, with 2 little children I have learned through painful process that if you think you should call it a day, then for Pete’s sake call it a day.  Don’t be like me and say, “Oh, but I can probably squeeze one more thing in.”  That sort of thinking leads to you standing in the dark holding a flashlight in your teeth while unscrewing breaker boxes and grumbling about your many trips to the hardware store.  You’ll end up cranky and feisty and no one likes that.

2. Please, please remember that when you’re new at DIY and home repair, it truly is a “one step forward, two steps back” kind of process.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped, admired my handiwork, then cocked me head to the side and thought, “Well that’s not right!” and then had to take apart what I just did.  I feel like banging my head on the wall sometimes because, clearly, it takes a long time for me to get stuff through this thick skull of mine.

3. Buy quality products.  Did I tell you about the time that I painted the guestroom ceiling – two coats! – using the budget bin paint ‘n primer combo that the salesperson recommended?  It was their store brand, naturally.  Total waste of money and time.  Same thing with tools.  Don’t go cheap.  If you have to, save up your money and, in the meantime, find a handy neighbor who won’t mind letting you borrow a few things.  Or maybe you’re one of those lucky few who live near a tool library (if only they had one of these in Williamsburg… or a toy library… I’d take either one).  And when it comes to paint, go to a paint store, such as Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams, if you prefer that brand (I like Benjamin Moore).  I’ve gotten a lot of great advice from the salesperson at Benjamin Moore in our hometown.

4. Don’t put home repair or home improvement projects before the relationships in your life.  I’ve been fussy and irritable with the boys and with Chris when things don’t go according to my plans for where this house should be.  I have been irrational in my expectations and, while Jack hasn’t really felt it, I’m sure that Joe has.  There will be lots of time for painting and updating.  There is a limited amount of time that Joe wants to crawl up next to me on the couch and have me read book after book to him.  Sometimes I forget that when working my way through my list of DIY items.

I’m sure that I’ll learn a lot of other lessons as I continue to work on this place, but those are the 4 main things that I’ve taken away from the process thus far.  In the end, I think that a lot of it revolves around being patient :-)

Happy Meatballs

One of my cheap, go-to dinners is spaghetti.  A box of noodles + a jar of sauce = food that everyone in the family will eat, and it all comes together in less than 20 minutes.  Toss in some rolls and add a side of salad or frozen veggies, and it’s a fairly healthy meal.

Lately, though, it’s seemed a bit lacking.  I made my own sauce, but that didn’t help.  I tried adding Parmesan cheese.  Nope – that wasn’t the issue, either.  I had to be realistic – it’s spaghetti, for crying out loud.  There’s not much you can do to it to improve the end result, right?

Well, except perhaps add meatballs!

2014-04-09 17.11.11I’ve generally steered well away from making meatballs for two reasons: (1) they seem complicated, and (2) I can remember making them as a child and feeling as though my hands would freeze off thanks to the barely thawed beef.  I’ve only made meatballs once before as an adult and I didn’t like the end product enough to repeat the process.

2014-04-09 16.15.18I was inspired to try again when I saw a recipe in one of my new favorite cookbooks, “Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook” by Jessica Fisher.  Jessica’s is a basic version that makes a bunch.  I like that these meatballs can be dressed up (with BBQ sauce) or kept as is for a simple, filling add-in for pasta night.  The recipe was quick.  It was easy.  It was tasty.

2014-04-09 16.26.31My only moment of panic came when I realized I was short by about 1/3 of a cup of breadcrumbs.  Well, shoot.  Then, I remembered the bag of bread heels I had stashed in the freezer.  I don’t mind the heels – Chris, Joe, and Jack won’t touch them.  Rather than toss them (such a waste!) I put them in a Ziploc bag, stored it in the freezer, and figured that I’d eventually find a use.

Today was that “eventually”. I followed a recipe onlineet viola! – breadcrumbs.

2014-04-09 16.17.06I knew there was a reason to save those unwanted pieces of bread.  Now they’ve found a yummy home in meatballs.

A very yummy home, judging by the looks of the kiddos.  Joe and Jack gobbled up the meatballs..  I couldn’t believe how quickly they downed them.

2014-04-09 17.15.04Reaching for more meatball

2014-04-09 17.14.19“No time for smiles, Mom – I must eat more meatballs!”

Even Chris, who doesn’t usually order meatballs when he gets spaghetti at a restaurant, consumed them with a rapidity that would have impressed any competitive eater.

And yes, they’re freezer-friendly and yield a bunch – 6 dozen.  If you figure it as 3 meatballs = 1 serving, then a dozen meatballs = 4 servings.  That means for my family of 4 (and yes, Jack ate all of his serving) then 6 dozen meatballs means 6 easy spaghetti + meatballs nights.  That makes my boys happy.

Happy boys, happy pocketbook, happy mama :-)  You’re welcome.

Here’s a link to the recipe on Jessica’s blog, Life as Mom.  Click over there for the instructions on how to make these yummy meatballs.  I highly recommend her book, too.  I borrowed it from our local library at first (I hate buying a cookbook only to discover that I won’t use it, so I’ve started borrowing them from the library first).  I was bookmarking so many of the recipes that I realized I should just go ahead and buy the thing.  I’m so glad that I did – I make her drop biscuits every other week, or so it seems, and the tamales?  Delicious.

Petting Zoo, the Easter Bunny, and Yankee Candle

I’ve lived in so many places throughout my life, from growing up in the country to living in the ‘burbs to moving to a huge city to living in a small, historic town.  I truly can’t decide what place I’ve liked best.  I’ve found that each spot has its own perks and attractions.

One perk of living in Williamsburg is that there’s a lot of family-friendly things to do here, regardless of the season.  This weekend, we checked out the “Spring Fling” week at the Yankee Candle Flagship Store on Richmond Road, a 10 minute drive from our house.

YCFSimage via Google Maps

I read about Yankee Candle’s Spring Fling thanks to a great local resource – WilliamsburgFamilies.com – and decided that it would be a fun (and free) activity to do with the boys.  Petting zoo, Easter Bunny photos, scavenger hunts, paint your own toy horse… I was sold (and so were they)!

2014-04-06 11.33.32-2Joe and Jack loved seeing and petting the animals from the Teeny Tiny Petting Zoo (a mobile petting zoo in the Hampton Roads area – we’ve had the pleasure of visiting them before at a William & Mary event).  The zoo employees were hands-on as well as careful of the animals’ welfare.  Joe loved the baby bunnies and ducklings.  Jack loved everything!

Other animals included piglets, chickens, sheep, goats, a pony (or perhaps miniature horse), a calf, a llama (or maybe an alpaca?), and a mini donkey.

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Back story behind the above photo: Joe was nervous of this “strange-looking” creature, so he held Jack back to protect him.  Very sweet!

2014-04-06 11.29.11-2 2014-04-06 11.24.50 2014-04-06 11.29.59We headed into the Yankee Candle Flagship Store after the petting zoo.  It’s a big building and I expected to be swamped by the smell of scented candles, something that tends to give me a headache.  But, to my surprise, that wasn’t the case – we found that it’s a lot more than a candle store.  I remarked to Chris that it resembles a village, complete with a bridge.  It wasn’t till the next day that I found out that the “village” concept is just what Yankee Candle intended.  Here’s a brief tour of the store, if you’re interested:

We headed behind the village fountains for photos with the Easter Bunny.

2014-04-06 11.40.45The boys were smiley for the pictures and neither of them were scared (I couldn’t help thinking of the “Scary Easter Bunny” from AFP while snapping these pictures).

There are many other “Spring Fling” activities for the rest of the week – more Easter Bunny photos, crafts, LEGO building, and even children’s theater.  We’re glad that we were able to go and I’m thankful that we live in a town with fun events like this.

Children’s Museum of Richmond

This past weekend was “Museums on Us” weekend by Bank of America.  If you have a BoA or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card, you get free entry to any of the museums on their list.  We decided to use our BoA debit card and headed to the Children’s Museum of Richmond, or “CMOR”.

CMOR - WilliamsburgCMOR has 3 different locations: (1) Central Location, (2) Short Pump, and (3) Chesterfield.  We learned that they have plans to open a 4th location in Fredericksburg, VA sometime soon.  Of these locations, the Central and Short Pump ones were closest to us.  Each CMOR spot has different exhibits and, since we’ve never been before, we weren’t sure which one to check out first.  In the end, it was Chris’ stomach that made the choice – he wanted to eat at The Cheesecake Factory, so we chose the one that was closest to that.  I’d also driven past the Short Pump shopping center once before when meeting my brother-in-law and sister-in-law en route to their residency interview weekends, so I knew that it was a nice area with plenty of parking.

2014-04-05 11.02.25We showed our BoA cards and both Chris and I got in without paying any fee.  Joe was $8 and Jack, being under 12 months old, was free.  Four people for $8 seems pretty good, in my opinion.

Joe immediately ran straight for the vacuum-powered tubing system at the front of the museum.  It was a simple but clever design – put a scarf in the entry, and watch it zip through the tubes.  The scarf is then blown out of the system and floats to the ground…. or is chased maniacally by eager toddlers :-)

2014-04-05 10.04.26Putting the scarf in the tubing

2014-04-05 10.04.55-2Racing to catch it

2014-04-05 10.05.05-22014-04-05 10.04.45Got one!

All the boys were well behaved, including Joe, and took turns with only a few gentle reminders from parents :-)

Jack had his share of fun, too.  There’s an area for little ones with plenty of soft climbing pieces and fun toys.  Here’s a photo of “Mother Goose’s Tot Spot”:

2014-04-05 09.52.37Jack found all sorts of things to do in there.

2014-04-05 09.51.55 2014-04-05 10.26.51 2014-04-05 10.27.26-3Meanwhile, Joe was playing in the pirate ship, “buying” groceries, testing out the train table, and so on and so forth.

2014-04-05 10.01.29 2014-04-05 10.09.30 2014-04-05 10.08.21Jack didn’t spend all of his time in the Tot Spot.  We also listened to a story (“Smitten”) and checked out the indoor playground.

2014-04-05 10.00.39 2014-04-05 09.58.58-1 2014-04-05 09.58.58-2 2014-04-05 09.59.18-2 2014-04-05 09.59.09This was Jack’s first solo slide trip and it was a great success.  I see many more trips down the slide in his future :-)

One of Joe’s favorite aspects of the museum was the train ride.  Rides are operated by museum employees and only at certain times of the day.  Joe was having such fun that I couldn’t get a good photo of him, but I did my best.

2014-04-05 10.01.55 2014-04-05 10.42.34The museum is stroller friendly and has plenty of family bathrooms.  There’s even a special room for nursing mothers.  I saw these frequently in NZ but I think that this is the first time I’ve seen one since being back in the USA.  I had to get photographic evidence.

2014-04-05 10.46.08

The museum was fun and the Short Pump location has shopping, restaurants, and is fairly pedestrian friendly.  We did a bit of walking around while we were there.  I got excited when I saw Burger Bach, a New Zealand inspired eatery, but Chris was pining for Cheesecake Factory.  Since Burger Bach is so close to the museum, it’s just an excuse for us to come back to the area and visit again.

2014-04-05 11.01.47If you’re near Richmond, VA, I’d recommend checking out the museum.  It has plenty to do for small children.  I didn’t get any photos of the art area, as Joe didn’t have an interest in that, but that would be another fun thing to try out in the museum.

Homemade Pear Butter

Joe and Jack are big peanut butter and jelly fans.  We go through a lot of jelly these days.  I already make my own peanut butter (so easy) but decided to give making some jam a try.  The only thing is that most of the jam fruits that I would want to use (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries) aren’t in season yet.  I was walking around the produce section at the grocery, saw that pears were way on sale (even more economical than apples) and thought: pear butter!  So I bought 10 pounds of pears and got started.

2014-04-04 08.29.12I searched online and found quite a few yummy looking recipes, but ultimately decided on this one from Food Fanatic.  Her recipe calls for cardamom but, since cardamom isn’t a spice that I usually cook with, I decided to use a little extra nutmeg instead.  Tasted just fine to me!

2014-04-04 08.38.19A nice bonus is that when you make this, your house will smell delicious – like fall and an orchard and all kinds of yummy spices.  I kept wanting to eat the pear butter straight from the pot while testing its consistency.  Chris and I tested it that night on some vanilla ice cream… mmm, delicious!

2014-04-04 08.29.24

Another Freecyle Dresser

My new Freecycle dresser!  It’s currently located in the living room and will most likely remain there as an entertainment stand / storage spot.  A little rough around the edges (literally) but I still love it.

2014-04-03 07.36.112014-04-03 07.36.25Made in the ’70s (like our house) according to its former owner.  I managed to move it out of the minivan and into the house by myself.  Chris didn’t notice it at first, but when he did he was quite impressed that I’d taken care of all the moving on my own.  Now to figure out what color to paint it.  I was thinking I’d go somewhere in the gray color palette, perhaps along the lines of this dresser from One Kings Lane:

Dark gray sides, top, and fixtures with lighter gray drawer fronts.  I need to think on it awhile but we’ll see what happens :-)

Winston-Salem, NC

I took Joe and Jack on a mini-vacation to Winston-Salem, North Carolina this past weekend.  In good traffic it’s about a 4 hour drive.  With 2 little boys, it takes a bit longer :-/

WMG-WSOn the drive down, I ended up having to stop 3 times – 3 times for a 4 hour drive!  I was ready to pull my hair out but between Joe needing to use the bathroom (1 stop) and Jack having a meltdown (2 stops) there wasn’t much else that I could do.  Jack had another meltdown about 10 miles from our destination and I ended up “throwing” whatever I had at him – toys, snack cups with Cheerios (what a mess that turned into), my cell phone… anything to keep him happy.

We were in W-S to see my brother-in-law and sister-in-law as they did some house-hunting.  They’re both starting their residencies (internal medicine and pediatrics) later this year and will be at Wake Forest.  Along for the fun was my little nephew, J, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law.  I knew that it would be a short trip (Friday morning – Saturday evening) but I’ve never been to W-S, Chris had a lot of work that he needed to catch up on, so I figured, “Why not?” and headed out.

The weather there was gray and rainy.  Definitely a bit depressing.  I still went out as much as I could in such a short time and got to see some of the downtown arts district.  We also visited the SciWorks Museum.  Joe had a blast there.  It’s a very hands-on place and perfect for busy toddlers (not so great for babies, but it’s hard to find something to please everyone).  Here’s a picture of Joe riding the vacuum-powered jet-pack chair…

2014-03-29 11.02.57 2014-03-29 11.02.47These photos don’t do the chair justice.  It had a vacuum (pictured on the left-side of the photo) that was activated by pushing 2 buttons on either side of the chair (you can see them in the picture – they’re yellow).  Joe, who loves to push buttons, was in 7th heaven.  It went up really high, too – at full height, I’d say that the seat’s bottom was about the level of my head, and I’m 5’8″.  It was hard to get a decent photo because Joe kept pushing the buttons!  He ended up riding it on 3 separate occasions and loved it.

2014-03-29 11.05.37-2The above photo was Joe running around the spiral ramp encircling Foucault’s Pendulum.  It’s so hard to get a photo of this active little guy anymore!

2014-03-29 11.05.51-1Humoring me by standing still and letting me take a photo – clearly not happy at being stopped!

The museum was full of different exhibits ranging from engineering to nature to food to biology.  Here’s Joe climbing the tree slide and coming out at the bottom.

2014-03-29 11.07.49-2 2014-03-29 11.08.22-2Doing a wee bit of fishing with Gramma’s help…

2014-03-29 11.09.59 2014-03-29 11.09.21Running along the floor piano…

2014-03-29 11.20.15Riding “The Magic School Bus”…

2014-03-29 11.34.07-2As you can probably surmise by Joe’s facial expression in the above photo, he was going a bit crazy with all of the things to see and do at the museum.  This was the last photo of our trip there because, shortly after I took it, he had a meltdown.  Too many fun things to see and do all at once!

One feature that I particularly appreciated about the museum was the “FoodWorks” area.  Essentially, this was a big cafeteria-style space with chairs and tables, a microwave, and vending machines.  You can bring in your own lunch rather than having to stop to go elsewhere or feel like your only option is whatever the museum might be selling.  We brought some peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and other snacks and had a low-key meal before enjoying the exhibits.

Another nice perk is that the SciWorks Museum is a member of the Association of Science – Technology Centers (ASTC), as is the Virginia Living Museum.  This meant that our VLM family + guests membership got us into the SciWorks Museum for no charge (along with everyone else in our party since we have a membership that allows for 3 guests).  We are heading to Florida this summer for another family get together, and I’ve already scoped out the ASTC facilities there that niwe can visit at no charge.  I’ve also found that there are 2 participating institutions in my parents’ hometown, so we can easily visit those whenever we visit them.

We’re really glad that Chris’ brother, wife, and son will be moving a bit closer to us and I enjoyed our time in Winston-Salem.  I have no doubt that we’ll be back for a repeat visit before 2014 is up :-)

11 Months

And just like that, Jack has turned 11 months old!

Jack Tucker 11 mosJack Tobias Tucker – 11 Months Old (taken during trip to Winston-Salem, NC)

Here’s a little update on how things have been with this guy since last month’s update…

General Health

Wow – talk about teething.  With Joe, teeth seemed to just appear and we’d say, “Oh look – Joe’s got another tooth!”.  With Jack, we know that they’re coming long before they make an appearance.  I’ve been at my wit’s end a few times because it’s clear he’s uncomfortable.  My usual remedies of chilled teething toys and the occasional bit of Tylenol haven’t been helping.  I’ve started to use some dissolving natural teething tablets which have seemed to minimize discomfort, but I’m also thinking about purchasing one of those amber teething necklaces.  There are some for sale at a local shop (For Mom and Keiki), and I may buy one if he keeps up the teething troubles…

Polished Multicolor Amber Teething Necklace

Other than teething, he seems to be doing well overall.  We’ve had to start giving him a little bit of prune juice each morning to help keep things moving.  We had tried mineral oil, but that left such a mess in his cloth diapers – so smelly and trapping everything.  I ended up having to strip all of his diapers using grease-cutting dish soap and I’d rather not repeat that again.

Sleep

Jack is slowly weaning down to 1 nap per day.  He is about 50/50 when it comes to morning naps.  If we’re out doing something, he doesn’t need a nap.  If we’re at home, he starts to cry and rub his eyes.  It’s as though he’s bored and figures, “Well, if we’re not doing anything else I may as well sleep.”

He takes an afternoon nap without fail for about 2 hours, sometimes 2 1/2 hours.  Bedtime is around 7:30pm and he is generally up at 6/7am.  It’s not uncommon for him to wake during the night.  I’ve found that if I turn the baby monitor off for a few minutes and then turn it back on, he’s put himself back to sleep.  However, if I get up and check on him in person then he will be wide awake and wanting to nurse.  So, guess which method I always try first?  Yep – turning off the baby monitor!

Eating

Jack still loves to eat.  He’s begun to throw food a lot more which has led to some interesting interactions.  Whenever he does this we use the, “Oh, that’s sad” method.  We’ll say, “Oh, that’s sad – I guess you’re all done eating.”  I’ll take away whatever food is on his tray and push his highchair back from the table.  The other evening he was throwing his green beans.  It was clear that he wanted to eat the chicken that I had been feeding him, but in my book if he’s hungry, he’ll eat the green beans, too.  So, I did the “so sad” thing and after 3 times of doing that, he happily ate the green beans.  We had a similar experience with some yellow summer squash.

Jack does not like to wear a bib.  Putting one on him is an exercise in futility.  He will either rip it off immediately or right when you think he’s gotten used to it.  So, we don’t have him wear one.  Joe loves a bib, Jack doesn’t.  This means more outfit changes, but I’d rather do that than pin his arms to his sides each time he has a bib on.

General Activity

Jack is a scooter.  He’ll sit on his bum and scoot-scoot-scoot around the room.  No crawling and no walking, just a whole lot of scooting!

He loves to “share” whatever he’s eating and will often hold it up to me and attempt to put it in my mouth.  However, if I actually put it in my mouth and eat whatever he’s offering (a Cheerio, a piece of carrot, etc.) he looks shocked that I would do such a thing. I think he’s mimicking what he sees us do with him.  He loves to look at himself in the mirror and has been trying to pull himself up into a kneeling position using the kiddie table, the foot stool… basically whatever he can find.

2014-03-12 08.13.50 2014-03-12 08.14.02-2

He loves to be in the bathtub but really doesn’t care of lying down on his back in the water.  This is different if he’s in a pool – in a pool, he loves it.  Go figure.  He still loves stroller rides, being in the Ergo carrier, and has started doing this thing where he’ll sit with me on the bed or on the sofa, then throw himself backward and laugh and giggle as if it’s the funniest thing in the world.  Pretty cute :-)

Joe and Jack

Joe has really started turning on the big brother charm.  If Jack starts to cry, Joe will say, “Oh no – Jack’s not feeling well”.  He’ll give Jack sponanteous hugs and kisses that make me smile.

But there’s the other side of sibling relationships: Joe doesn’t care to share things with Jack at all.  We’ve had to have some discussions about how the toys aren’t just Joe’s toys, there the family toys and everyone gets to play with them.  We’ve talked to Joe about sharing and trading.  If Jack has a toy that Joe wants, he has to trade with Jack rather than simply snatching it away.

How Mom is Doing

I’m doing well.  I’m still taking an antidepressant and that seems to have helped a lot, but there are days when I feel like I’ve got a long ways to go before getting back to feeling normal and settled.  I’ve realized how much my depression affected our family dynamic and while I know that things will improve in that regard, I’ve got to keep working at it.

I’ve been taking more time to play and doing less work.  This means that walls still aren’t painted and things are taking longer to get done than what I’d like.  However, this doesn’t stress me out or fill me with anxiety as it has in the past.  I look at it and think, “Well – I’d rather have dingy walls than an unhappy marriage or unhappy children!”

Other Odds and Ends

Jack’s 1st birthday is coming up in April.  His 1st year seems to have gone by so much more quickly than Joe’s 1st year.  I guess it’s true that time does seem to speed up with each passing year.  I haven’t given much thought to a 1st birthday celebration other than to know that it will be small, low-key, and a lot of fun :-)

Freecycle Dresser Makeover

I love Freecycle.  I used it to dispose of some things we didn’t want to take from NZ back to the USA and have used it a lot since moving to Virginia.  It’s a great way to find new homes for things without putting them in the dumpster.  It’s also good way to get free stuff for yourself.

One of my more recent finds was this dresser, described in the Freecyle ad as “dark green”, a little banged up, but still intact with all of its drawers working.

2014-02-03 13.46.48Hmm.  Doesn’t look dark green to me.  More dark, denim blue, if anything.  There wasn’t a photo of it with the ad, but I’ve learned that most “Freecyclers”, at least in our area, give honest descriptions.  Besides, I wanted a dresser for the guest room and I needed a break from painting walls.  Painting furniture is much more fun than painting walls.

I cleaned off the dresser, removed the hardware and, after some paint, it looked like this:

2014-03-11 12.13.24I applied 2 coats of primer to the dresser and drawers (even the inside of the drawers), then used Wythe Blue by Benjamin Moore in a pearl finish, leaving the drawer insides primer-white.  I had an open can of Rustoleum Nutmeg spray paint that I used on the hardware and on our “Kiaora” sign.  I plan to have some glass cut to go on top of the dresser for extra protection but, other than that, it’s done.

If you haven’t visited Freecycle, you should.  There are groups all over the globe.  You find things on there ranging from pet supplies to baby/toddler clothes to partially used bottles of dishwasher detergent.  I once used it to get rid of a 3/4 full bottle of Burt’s Bee’s baby shampoo, of all things.  One person’s trash is someone else’s treasure.  The amount of group activity varies depending on the community and their socioeconomic make-up, so your area may not be as busy as ours.  We’ve appreciated what we’ve found on there and are always happy with being able to divert stuff from landfills :-)  Check it out!

Bye-Bye, Fence!

We have all sorts of landscaping plans for our house.  I’d like to put up some garden walls, a few retaining walls, re-do the bottom deck, put in an area in the front yard where I can have a baby pool and lawn chairs, and keep on with the overall sprucing up that I’ve been doing around here.  Another one of my plans has been to dismantle the inconvenient, falling down fence and wooden storage box on the side of our garage.  Here it is, pre-takedown:

2014-03-15 13.27.18The wood is in bad need of a paint job.  There were places where the nails had begun to work themselves out and were just waiting to snag a passerby’s clothes.  The gate was in sorry shape.  It took me about 30 seconds to remove it from the fence.  Here it is, propped up against the garage.

2014-03-15 13.28.06It was being held in place by a thin metal band screwed around one of the utility pipes and a small length of chain.  It had several large nails – pointy end out – sticking from the gate post where it had pulled away from the house.  It dragged along the ground, was a pain to open, and made it really tricky to take things like bicycles or strollers out of that entryway, something you need to do if you want to go for a ride or a walk but leave the main garage door shut (we only have 1 garage door remote that Chris takes with him in his bike bag… our minivan has the remote programmed into it).

The attached storage box was nothing more than an empty trash can holder and bug trap.

2014-03-15 13.28.41This is after I took off the soft, rotting lid that had a large piece of metal jutting out the back of it.  It, too, had a heavy chain attached to it with a small brick on the end.  I’m assuming that this was meant to be placed atop the lid to help keep curious critters away from the metal trash cans inside.

Except, we didn’t use those trash cans.  We used the one provided by our local garbage company.  And even if we’d removed those trash cans, it would have been pointless to heft that great big plastic wheeled trash bin into and out of this storage box every trash day.  At one point I thought that we might be able to use it for firewood, but decided against that.

No doubt about it in my mind – that fence needed to go.  It was a leaf catcher and a hazard.  The first time I opened the storage bin I was greeted by spider webs and camel back crickets.  We couldn’t even store our regular trash can in the fenced area because the storage bin took up all of the room.

Rather than doing the work myself, I decided to snap a few photos, take some measurements, and post it on Craigslist with the title “FREE wooden fence”.  I made it clear that anyone interested would need to be able to dismantle the thing and haul all of it away, and within 4 hours of the ad going online I’d gotten 2 replies.  The fence was completely gone, posts and all, in less than 24 hours, all with me doing very little work in the process.

Here’s a photo of the area with the fence down.

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That’s what I call thinking smarter, not harder :-)  It came with the added bonuses of making someone else happy (the husband and wife who took it away planned to use the wood to make planter boxes) and keeping as much of it out of the landfill as possible.

The area still looks rather sad and dreary.  I attribute some of that to the gray, rainy weather and the leaf litter.  The paint on the house doesn’t help much, either, but one thing at a time!  The next step is to make a corner out of privacy fence next to the side door so that we can store our trash bin outside (and get it out of the garage).  I’m so glad that the old fence and storage bin are gone!

Pests: Black Rat Snake

Remember that post about the snake?  Yeah, the black rat snake that we found holed up in our garage.

Oh, joy.  Here he (or she) is, up close and personal.

The windowsill in our garage was so dirty that it was almost perfect camouflage for the snake.  Ugh.

This one actually didn’t bother me too much.  I can remember picking up garter snakes when I was a little kid and teasing my sister with one (sorry, V).  And I can remember my older brother picking up garter snakes and teasing me with them (I forgive you, D).  I’ve seen snakes off and on and know that most of them are harmless.  I figured the one hanging out on our garage windowsill was, too, but didn’t want to take any chances.

So, I took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook to see if anyone could tell me what it was.  What’s a social network for, right?  And thank goodness for cameras with zoom lenses.

That, dear readers, was how I learned that it was a black rat snake.  Common in Virginia.  Even more common around food supplies like, say, a house with a mouse problem.

Thankfully our snake hasn’t shown up again.  Though I should add that I found a millipede about as large and as long as my pointer finger in the garage, too, and was pretty creeped out by that.  The garage has since been fully sprayed and I haven’t seen anything slithering around in there since.  Oh, the joys of woodland living!

Pests: Mice!

I’ve reached the point where I can blog about the pests that inhabited our house when we first moved in.  I’ve never considered myself to be squeamish, but dealing with the snakes, mice, spiders, and camelback crickets that we found here pushed me quite close to the edge.  In light of everything else that was going on (having recently had a baby, moving countries, quitting my job, buying a house, spending nearly a month away from Chris while visiting family) finding so many unwanted guests living here with us was almost too much to handle.

Here are some photos of what we were dealing with:

A brown field mouse.

Black Rat Snake

Camelback Cricket, or Cave Cricket (a cousin of the Weta)

And last but not least, a type of black or very dark brown spider.  I looked at photos online but, to be honest, I haven’t studied any of “our” spiders up close when I come in contact with them.  My M.O is to smash, spray, or yell for Chris whenever I see them :-)

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There’s a big part of me that thinks it’s silly to have been so upset by these pests.  I grew up surrounded by cornfields and soy beans.  Pests are a part of life out in the country, and I knew that living surrounded by woods, as we are here, would mean the occasional rodent, bug, or snake.  I just didn’t expend to find them in such large quantities.

I’ll begin with the mice.

When we first moved into our house, we had almost no furniture.  The previous owner left a queen-sized sleeper sofa, a large china hutch, and a 6 chair dining table with an extension leaf.  We arrived with our suitcases (4 of them), a queen sized blow-up mattress, a toddler blow-up mattress, and a portacrib.  That was it.  We had thought about sleeping on the pull-out sofa but quickly nixed that idea when, upon removing the cushions, Chris noticed a lot of “dirt”, as he put it.  I took one look and knew that that “dirt” wasn’t dirt at all – it was mouse droppings.  There were great big piles of it and the stuffing was sticking out in places.  I thought, “Oh no – this isn’t a good sign” but, to be honest, the rest of the house looked fine… superficially.  Yes, there was the dirt and grime that exists when a house has been inhabited by an elderly person who can’t always keep up on the chores, but the toilets, kitchen counters, and the floors were all neat and free of debris.

I quickly realized that getting rid of that sofa was going to be an expensive problem.  We needed it gone ASAP (the last thing I wanted was a mouse crash pad in my home) but I knew we couldn’t donate it to any of the local charities.  The rule for donation is to ask yourself, “Would I give this to a friend?” and I certainly would not have given that sofa to a friend.  We could throw it out at the local dump, but that meant renting a large truck and, in the end, it was more economical and convenient to hire a junk hauler to deal with it.  I requisitioned a pick-up on 1-800-Junk.com and a father-son team took it off our hands that same day.  It was a great decision despite the cost.

If only the rest of our mouse troubles were so easily dealt with.

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Chris assured me that the mouse droppings in the sofa were most likely old.  He reminded me that we’d gotten an “all clear” from both the home inspector and the pest inspector.  We later found that the pest inspector, who had been hired by the previous owner, had only checked for termites, nothing else, and the home inspector had completely missed the mice.  He had noticed the presence of bugs, but apparently didn’t feel the need to notify us of them because (a) they weren’t the types of bugs to cause damage to the structure, and (b) he figured that with all of the spiderwebs it would be obvious we had some sort of spider problem.  Well, yeah, but we didn’t realize how massive of a problem it was till we lived here, but more on that later.

Suffice to say that the droppings were not a sign of a past, now taken care of, mouse infestation.  It was a present infestation.  Very, very present.  I had a mouse visitor the very next morning while I drank my tea.  Me and Mr. Mouse had an up-close-and-personal encounter at 5:30am that ended with him running one way and me running the other in my slippered feet, bathrobe flapping behind me as I tried to keep my screams to a low decibel.

Over the next few days I killed more than 2 dozen mice.  I bought snap traps and went after them with shoes, a fly swatter, and at one point caught one under Joe’s yellow sand pail.  Chris came home to a note reading “There’s a mouse under the yellow pail in the kitchen doorway – you need to take care of it!” and found the yellow pail held in place by a tea kettle.

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I found mouse droppings galore.  I would reach a gloved hand holding a soapy rag into the kitchen cabinets and scrape it across the shelves, then lift up the rag and find it covered with little brown mouse pellets.  I wore a respirator mask and couldn’t vacuum because of not wanting the poo to became airborne and get inhaled by my family.

I called the home inspector – we purchased an extended home inspection contract and man, was I glad that we’d done that.  It included recommendations, repeat visits if needed, and help with fixing things or with giving advice on repairs.  He agreed to come back out and the woman I spoke with (his wife, I believe) was incredibly sympathetic.  She gave me the number of a pest company and I called them + 2 other companies toot sweet.

Long story short(er): all 3 companies told me that we had a major mouse problem.  One inspector killed a mouse right in front of me, leaving a bloody, furry residue ground into the carpet.  Another showed me video of our crawl space where there were mini-mountains of mouse droppings and walls covered with camelback crickets.  Another pointed out the claw and teeth marks on some of our cabinet doors where mice had crawled there way up over the months… maybe even years.

Is your scalp crawling yet?  Mine was.  I was ready to move into a hotel and Chris had to really work to convince me not to!

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The home inspector came back out and I think he got the picture that I was rather disturbed.  The house had been inhabited up till 10 days before we took possession, so the excuse of “Well, the house was empty, the mice probably made themselves at home once the humans were out” didn’t pass muster.  He agreed to pay half the costs of the extermination.  I’d already spoken with our realtor and been told that we’d be lucky to get him to pay for anything, so covering half the fees was likely the best we could have had done.  But I couldn’t help but feel a mite upset about the whole thing – had the infestation been noted before, we would have definitely had the previous owner take care of it.  Now, we were left holding the bag.  Part of why we’d chosen the extended home inspection package had been to get peace of mind regarding pest infestation, and yet there we were facing a big issue.

It took about 3 weeks for all of the mouse troubles to be cleared up.  During that time, I was told (a) not to vacuum up any droppings, (b) not to keep more than 2 days’ worth of food in the house at any one time… meaning lots of trips to the grocery store, and (c) to put any and all garbage outside in a sealed container immediately – no leaving it in a trash bin under the sink.

Now imagine being home with 2 small children during all of this.  Naturally, we wanted to play on the floor with toys, only the floor was covered in carpet and I couldn’t help but think of all the hidden mouse droppings buried in the fibers.  I laid blankets out for us to play on, but of course Joe wanted to go everywhere.  We would be playing and mice would sometimes run right across the floor – yes, across the floor, not hugging the edges – which made me feel that I couldn’t so much as leave the room with the boys playing in there.  What if a mouse came up and bit Jack or scared Joe?  Unlikely, but still possible.

For several mornings I would wake up to find mouse droppings on the counters or on the kids’ toys or, in some cases, on our new-to-us sofa.  I’d get up early to clean everything all over again and throw out the snap traps (the exterminator used poison, but I still put out my own snap traps).

A little note: the exterminator had planned to use sticky traps.  The problem with this was that I’ve seen mice stuck to these traps and heard the stories of them ripping their own skin off or pulling themselves across the floor while their hind legs are stuck.  They eventually starve to death, but it’s your job to pick them up and put them in the garbage.  I want the mice dead, but give me a quick… or at least quicker… death any day.  The poison is contained in traps that cannot be opened with anything other than a key (I insisted on the pest tech giving me a demonstration for my own peace of mind) and while death isn’t immediate, it is quicker.  It causes the mice to look for a water source which usually drives them outside.  Then, they die.  Yes, if you have a pet it’s a concern as the pet might eat the poisoned mouse and then be poisoned themselves, but we don’t have a pet and all of our neighbors with dogs keep them indoors and on a lead when walking them.

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So, the mice were poisoned.  As explained by the pest tech, we saw a decrease in mouse activity right away but then saw an uptick as the juvenile and baby mice came out looking for food.  I felt like a bit of a cruel brute when I saw those hungry, orphaned, baby mice scampering around :-/  Oh well.  The baby mice found the poison, too, I suspect, and eventually we saw them no more.

It seemed like all was better and, truth be told, I haven’t seen a mouse in over 6 months.  But their presence is still felt.  About a month after we got rid of them, I decided to remove all of the recessed lighting in the house.  I wanted to give it a thorough scrubbing and spray paint the fixtures with a hard white enamel paint.  All was rosy in the garden till I reached our master bath: I pulled down one of the fixtures and was right away showered with dried mouse droppings.  Ack!  It triggered some sort of acute stress reaction because I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety and started to clean everything in sight.  For the rest of the day, I was on edge and felt as though I’d been transported back to when we first moved in.

The mice also moved up our time schedule on ripping out the carpet.  After 2 weeks of being here, I knew that I couldn’t stand the carpet any longer.  Seeing how freely the mice roamed around and knowing that I couldn’t do any deep cleaning without making the mouse droppings airborne gave me the willies.  Chris wasn’t quite on the same page as me, but when he heard my reasons and saw how important it was to me to get that carpet gone, he said, “OK – if that’s what we need to do, then lets do it” and he supported me 100%.  I can’t say how much that meant to me – he was willing to spend the money, no questions asked.  I had 3 different companies out to give quotes and I’ve not been the least bit sorry that we got rid of the carpet and had the floors re-done.

We found traces of the mice again when ripping up the carpet.  Chris and I did that part on our own to cut costs.  We had to have that big heavy china cabinet moved out and I decided to donate it.  It was nice, but I realized that it was too formal for us.  I tried selling it on Craigslist but do you know how many people are getting rid of china cabinets in the Williamsburg area?  Lots.  In the end I figured it was more expedient to simply give it away.  When the volunteers arrived to haul it off, we found a carpet of mouse droppings underneath it in a perfect shape of the china cabinet’s base.  I was grossed out, embarrassed, and had to do my Lamaze-style breathing to keep calm!

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We live in the woods.  I fully expect that at some point or another, we’ll have mousy visitors once more.  I’ve even strongly considered buying a cat – something I never thought that I’d do – to help keep the mouse problem under control.  I’m not quite there yet :-)

In the end, this problem came with a few life lessons.  Always look for the silver lining, right?  I was reminded that it’s really hard for me to give up control and to admit that I’m not a super-human.  I like to think that I can do everything on my own.  When I got the prices on the extermination and regular bi-monthly treatments, I balked.  I thought, “I can handle this myself, can’t I?”  I also thought that I would be able to refinish the floors on my own.  I thought that I could do a lot of things on my own.  But in the end I learned that there are times when it’s worth every penny to have someone else do things for you.  It was worth it to sign up for regular pest treatment.  It was worth it to have someone else deal with refinishing our floors.  It was worth it to pay someone to haul away the sofa rather than dealing with it on my own.  I can’t do everything by myself, but I can outsource!

So, that’s the story of the mice.  It made me sad to think that the previous owner, an elderly woman, had likely been living with them for quite some time.  I’m glad that she doesn’t have to deal with them anymore… and neither do we!

10 Months (and then some)

Guess who’s 10 months old?

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Time sweeps by so quickly – one minute, Jack was a dream in my heart and then: poof! He was there.  I can hardly remember what life was like before he got here.

So, Jack – I need to apologize right off.  I haven’t done nearly as good of a job at providing monthly updates on you as I did with your older brother.  I know that you’ll understand this someday, but for now, the simplest explanation is that life got busy and things fell off my over-full plate.  Let me make it up to you by writing an update now :-)

General Health

You are a happy, healthy baby.  No allergies (that we know of), no major health concerns, and you always seem to be happy outside of the regular stuff that would make any baby cry (hungry, needing a diaper change, lonely, tired, etc.).  You had croup last month but recovered quickly.  It was nothing compared to when you had RSV at 4 weeks old.

Your weight-for-age is right around the 70th percentile (you were 21 pounds at your last appointment), but your weight-for-length has you down around the 35th percentile.  In short: you’re a string bean.  Tall and thin!  Your head circumference is spot-on where it should be at just over 18 inches, and your length?  Well, like I said, you’re tall.  You’re above the 97th percentile for your length, measuring around 31 inches long.

Sleep

You wake up around 7am, take a nap from 9:30-11am, take another nap from around 1:30 – 3:30pm, and then are down for the night around 8pm.  It’s not uncommon for you to wake up after an hour during your nighttime sleep, want to nurse some more, and then go back to bed till morning.  You’ll also occasionally wake up in the middle of the night and want to eat.  I’m OK with that.  I know how quickly these nursing days will be over and I kind of like to sit and sneak in some extra midnight cuddles.  You’re usually so busy during the day that cuddling is out of the question!

You haven’t always slept that well.  Ho, ho, no!  You had to stay in our room till you were 6 months old because your nighttime waking was frequent and regular.  It got pretty crazy for awhile, to the point where I thought you would never sleep well at night and your dad and I were both frustrated.  You can’t catch up on sleep when you have 2 children to look after, at least not to the same degree as when you only have 1 child.  With 1 child, you can nap when they nap.  You can’t always do that with 2 little ones.  I wasn’t getting enough sleep to think clearly or to take care of everyone + do the things that I needed to do around the house.

Thank goodness for your dad.  He stepped in and said, “Enough”, and we decided to move you to your own room for some fuss-it-out sessions.  If you started to cry, he turned off the monitor for 5 minutes.  If you were still crying after that point, your dad brought you to me rather than me going to you.  Once you were done nursing, it was back to your own room.  I slept a lot better.  Your dad got a bit less sleep.  You didn’t seem to be affected by it at all.  In the end, a happy compromise.  I’m glad your dad is here to help take care of all of us.  I shudder to think about what it would be like without him around!

Eating

You love to eat. You still nurse fairly frequently: after breakfast, before your morning nap, after lunch, before your afternoon nap, after dinner, before bedtime, and then sometimes another nursing session after that.  I don’t know how long you’ll nurse.  Joe went till 14 months.  You may go longer or end right around the same time.  We’ll see.  I’d be surprised if you finished sooner than that.

You love to eat all kinds of food.  Hmm – scratch that: you really don’t care for bland “baby food”.  I made up some first foods for you: pureed oatmeal, pureed carrots, and the like.  You wouldn’t eat any of it.  I began to think you’d never switch to solids until your dad gave you some beef barley stew.  You snarfed that down and haven’t looked back.  You’ve eaten all kinds of things, but we keep it minimal when it comes to dairy, eggs, peanut butter, and other common food allergens.  No honey, either.  You eat solid foods at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a few snacks.  It’s so fun to watch you eat!

General Activity

You love to roll around.  You’ll grab things and pick up things with your tiny pincer grasp.  You’re getting those fine motor skills down to a “T” but still aren’t that interested in crawling.  You’d rather scoot on your bum or reach for a piece of furniture and pull yourself over to it.  I’ve noticed that if you’re in a room by yourself (which isn’t often) you’ll end up in a completely different area than where you started out, so I know you’re interested in exploring and moving.  I think you’re playing it smart – why expend the energy on crawling when you’ve got a mom, a dad, and a big brother who are all too happy to bring things to you or to bring you to things?!  Clever lad.  And it’s oh so hard to resist you when you cry – I can’t help but pick you up!

You really enjoy stroller rides and being pushed in the swing.  You love to be in your exersaucer.  When we recently visited your grandparents in GA, you got to try out the walker and boy, did you make tracks all over the place.  You’re pretty interested in chewing on things and have 1 tiny tooth that’s popped through on the bottom.  I have a feeling that others are soon to follow.

Joe and Jack

You love Joe and Joe loves you.  If you start to fuss, Joe will tell me, “Jack’s crying” or “Jack’s not feeling well”.  If he doesn’t tell me, it’s usually because he’s already made his way to you to try to comfort you.  I’ve heard him saying things like, “You’re alright” in a sweet voice similar to how I sound when I’m trying to soothe you.

You can both be pretty rough and tumble.  The other day, your dad caught Joe sitting on your tummy, bouncing up and down.  You were laughing non-stop for most of it – towards the end you looked a little uncomfortable :-)  You two also love to “make a joyful noise”, as I call it.  Usually you start that little interchange out by shrieking happily.  Joe copies you, then you copy him, and back and forth, back and forth.  Sometimes those gleeful screams get so high-pitched that it seems to rattle the glass in the windows!

How Mom Is Doing

I’m doing pretty well.  Those first 6 – 7 months after you were born were rough, no denying it.  I ended up having to start an antidepressant to help me cope with all of the changes: moving, buying a house, quitting my job, having a baby, your dad starting a new job, and so on and so forth.  As one friend pointed out to me, all of those things that I experienced in less than a year are some of the most stressful things you can go through in life.  I think the only one missing is having a loved one pass away, and thankfully we haven’t had to face that challenge.

I was pretty stressed and anxious.  I’m feeling less stressed and less anxious now, but still have to remind myself to listen to my heart, to those around me (your dad!), and to keep in mind that relationships and people are more important than clean dishes or painted walls.  The fact that spring and summer are just around the corner seems to help.  I love to look out the windows and see the woods in our yard and to hear the birds singing.

Other Odds and Ends

There’s really not a whole lot else to add here.  You’re a charmer and a sweetie-pie, and I’m so glad that you’re in our family!  I can’t wait to watch you grow and change over the years.  Love you!

No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars with Coconut Oil

I’ve been using coconut oil more and more in my cooking.  It’s a healthy alternative to vegetable oil, butter, etc., and it tastes great.  I recently came across Iowa Girl Eat’s granola bar recipe.  She uses coconut oil, and knowing how much Joe loves to snack + needing healthy snacks to send in Chris’ lunch bag, I decided to give these a try.

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They’re delicious and chewy.  They remind me a bit of Quaker Oats Chewy Granola Bars that you can buy by the box.

I loved eating these when I was a kid, but I’m not a huge fan of the ingredient listing…

QO NICompare that to this ingredient list…

  • Old-fashioned oats
  • Almonds & Walnuts
  • Raisins
  • Coconut Oil
  • Honey
  • Vanilla & Almond Extracts
  • Cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

They’re easy to make, too, and the end results are delicious.

2014-02-26 09.57.25I mainly followed Iowa Girl Eat’s recipe, but made a few changes based on what was in my pantry.  If you want to use her recipe (which looks great!) then click here.  If you want to give my version a try, then read on.

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars

Yield: 36 small, thin bars

  • 3/4 C whole raw almonds
  • 3/4 C whole walnuts
  • 1/2 C salted peanuts
  • 2 C old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 3/4 C dried cranberries (can also use raisins)
  • 1/4 C dark chocolate chips
  • 3/4 C honey
  • 6 T coconut oil
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Prep 11 x 17 inch rimmed baking sheet (can use a smaller pan – bars will be a bit thicker and you’ll have a smaller yield) by lining it with enough parchment paper or plastic wrap to overhang edges and completely fold over top of the pan.

Pour 1/2 C almonds and 1/2 C walnuts into food processor or powerful blender.  Add 1/4 C salted peanuts and 1 C oats.

Note: I have a powerful Ninja blender that works like a food processor in many ways. If you’ve got the standard variety of blender, I would suggest adding just a bit of the nut-oat mixture at a time so that you don’t burn out your motor.

Blend mixture till coarse, but not too fine – you don’t want to end up with nut butter.  Texture should be like large grains of sand. Pour into medium bowl. Take remaining almonds, walnuts, and peanuts.  Roughly chop with large knife or a food chopper, then add to nut-oat mixture in bowl.  Add chocolate chips and cranberries, then mix to combine.

Combine honey, coconut oil, vanilla & almond extracts, salt, and cinnamon in medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir to combine and continue stirring occasionally till mixture starts to foam.  Allow to foam for 15 seconds, then remove from heat.  Pour over dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Dump mixture onto prepared baking sheet and use spoon or hands to smooth mixture to edges of pan.  Fold edges of parchment paper or plastic wrap over top, and press to smooth out bars.

Place bars in fridge or freezer and allow to harden.  If using fridge, leave them in for 3 – 4 hours till hard enough to cut into bars, but not too hard.  Freezer temps vary – I’d check them after 1 hour.  Cut into 36 bars and wrap individually in plastic wrap, in snack size plastic bags, or put them on a tray in freezer without edges touching then place in large Ziploc bag once frozen solid.  Store in fridge or freezer.

Obviously, I made a double batch of these.  If you don’t want that many, cut the amounts by half.  Also, feel free to use a different mixture of nuts (almonds, salted peanuts, walnuts, or pecans).  Just make sure that the total amount adds up to 2 C of nuts.  I used fewer almonds than the original recipe because almonds are a bit more expensive and I thought the peanuts would be a good addition.

Feel free to use some other type of dried fruit, too: cranberries, raisins, cherries, etc.  You can leave chocolate chips out entirely, but I knew that Chris would like the fact that they had chocolate in there, so I added a few.

I’d like to experiment more with these, perhaps use less honey and add peanut or almond butter.  I think that 3/4 C of honey is a lot, and as my mom and I say, “sugar is sugar”, whether it’s honey or granulated or organic or maple syrup.  It’d be fun to try using less honey and adding homemade peanut butter to get a similar consistency without so much sweetness.

Let me know if you try them.  Chris and Joe both gave them the thumbs-up, so we’ll definitely be having these again!

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Jumbo Bakery-Style Muffins

Yesterday’s weather was beautiful – sunny and 60 degrees.  I had clothes hanging to dry on the line and the sun was shining, but I couldn’t do much outside because Jack was napping and our baby monitor only reaches so far.  I remembered that I had some blueberries that needed to be used up, so I did a quick online search for blueberry muffins and found this recipe over at Sally’s Baking Addiction.  A read-through linked me to her chocolate chip muffin recipe, which is virtually the same as the blueberry ones.  You know me – if I’m going to make 1 batch, I might as well make 2 batches!

2014-02-24 14.54.11Since these were jumbo and bakery style, I opted against using regular muffin cup liners and made my own parchment paper ones, just like in many bakeries.  They’re easy to make and hold a bit more batter – here’s a good tutorial if you’re interested.  Each parchment paper cup is a 5×5 inch square, and you mist the muffin pan with either some baking spray or water to make the parchment paper stick (just be sure that the paper is pressed flat against the sides so that your muffins don’t have big creases with paper in them).

I doubled the batter recipe, then poured half into the bowl that I used to mix up the wet ingredients.  One bowl got chocolate chips.

2014-02-24 14.52.17The other bowl got blueberries.

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I followed Sally’s recipe pretty much to the letter.  The only differences were that (a) I cut the sugar by 25% (so for a double batch, 1 1/2 cups of sugar instead of 2 cups) (b) I left off the sparkling sugar sprinkles, and (c) I made 12 huge muffins rather than 15 – 16 standard muffins, and (d) I measured out my flour in the scale (6 cups of flour = 750g, or roughly 125g per cup… measuring it in a scale is so much easier than doing scoop after scoop, and more accurate in my opinion).

2014-02-24 14.53.35I popped them out of the pans and set them on paper towel to dry (the paper towel helps absorb some of the moisture that is released through the bottom of the muffins while baking).  Once cool, I popped 6 blueberry and 6 chocolate chip muffins in the freezer for a later date.  The rest went into the fridge for special snacks and dessert.  Something about having a giant muffin in it’s own parchment paper liner makes the day feel so decadent.  Joe seems to agree.

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Do you have a favorite giant muffin recipe or a favorite bakery that makes this type of muffin?  Be sure to share in the comments below :-)

Family Visits and a New Toilet

My parents, Bruce and Mary, flew into Norfolk Airport on Wednesday evening and I happily picked them up for their 3 1/2 day visit.  Such a short time, but so much was packed in while they were here.

For starters, my dad taught Chris about installing toilets…

2014-02-22 10.17.50There’s Chris, diligently observing and soaking up knowledge while my dad wrested out the old toilet and put in the new one, a Kohler Cimarron…

If only our bathroom looked as polished as the one in that photo!  Our bathroom, as you can see from the picture above, needs some love and TLC.  I did my best to be careful when I removed the old, nasty wallpaper but it’s hard to remove it when the previous owners didn’t prime before applying it.  Hence, the large sections where part of the drywall came off and lots of wallpaper glue remaining.  This is what the hall bathroom and main entryway looked like, too.  It took a lot of work to get them up to snuff: sanding the walls, patching the rips with drywall mud, filling in holes with spackle and sanding those down, applying GARDZ sealer to keep any remaining glue from seeping through the paint, priming it, then painting.  I can’t wait to repeat the process in this room.  Actually, I can’t wait for the process to be complete… doing the process isn’t a lot of fun :-/

We’re really glad to have a new toilet in there.  It works MUCH better than the last one, and we learned a few things in the process.

What else did my parents do while they were here?  Glad you asked!

  • Raked leaves and did some trimming in the yard
  • Cleaned out gutters and brushed off the roof
  • Installed (and taught me how to install) GFCI outlets in both bathrooms
  • Put in new light fixtures in the hallway bathroom
  • Changed out the switch in the ceiling fan so that we don’t have to pull it 15 times while simultaneously praying and crossing our fingers that it will turn on
  • Removed a very old antenna that was attached to the side of our deck
  • Went with us to Home Depot and ACE Hardware to pick up some necessary homeowner tools and supplies, thereby adding to our collection
  • Visited the Habitat for Humanity ReStore to see why I loved it so much (we came away with 2 matching stand lamps for $18 each, including nice white shades – hooray!)
  • And of course, the usual stuff like pitching in with dishes, transferring laundry from the washer to the dryer, vacuuming, and entertaining the boys

It wasn’t all work, I promise, nor did we expect them to come out here and do any of those things.  However, I wasn’t at all surprised.  This is how my parents are.  I can remember going on family vacations where we did clean-up and yard work at the lake cottages we were visiting or rolled up rugs to vacuum underneath them.  My parents have a strong work ethic, and they’ve instilled that same thing in me.  Hopefully Chris and I will pass it along to our children, too.

Did we do anything fun?  Of course!  Though, in my opinion, doing the work was fun, too ;-)  However, here are some of the more traditionally thought of as fun things that we did during their visit:

  • Toured Colonial Williamsburg (Joe loves to run free through there)
  • Went to Mad About Chocolate (Chris loves to run free in there ;-) )
  • Toured the Colonial Parkway
  • Got in a long bike ride for Dad
  • Took many, many walks in our neighborhood to discover secret pathways and trails
  • Visited the neighborhood playground
  • Went to Charly’s Airport Restaurant

2014-02-22 11.59.13-1

Charly’s is a fun, small restaurant – a hidden treasure.  It’s at the Williamsburg Regional Airport, a tiny yet busy little airport down a dirt road.  Charly’s is the type of place with daily specials, always posted on Facebook the day before (I got a laugh when one of the “specials” was “Whatever Chef Wayne cooks up – we’re sure it will be great!”).  They are open for lunch only, have indoor and outdoor seating, a playground, and you can take your children out onto the tarmac to view the planes.  Joe has been going through a “hairplane” fascination here lately, so he was in seventh heaven.  We were able to sit and watch planes land and take off.  The food was tasty and reasonably priced.

2014-02-22 12.16.41 2014-02-22 12.16.22 2014-02-22 12.18.26-2Both Joe and Jack had a wonderful time :-)

Here we are on one of the many neighborhood walks…

2014-02-23 09.34.47 2014-02-23 09.35.23If you look closely, you can see that Joe is pushing a little toy wheelbarrow.  He loves that wheelbarrow.  I found it underneath the crawlspace of our house along with a bunch of other plastic sand toys.  It was love at first sight for Joe.  He pushes it around the yard and in the house, constantly running it into ditches and giving worms rides (gross!).  He did momentarily abandon it on this particular walk – he saw a recycling bin that had wheels added to it and that was just too fascinating to pass up.  He dropped the wheelbarrow by the wayside, took off running for the bin, and pushed that into the ditch despite me telling him to stop! stop!  Little bugger.

We were sad to see my parents leave, but are already looking forward to another visit from them, whenever that may be :-)

Collecting for Discipline

What do you do when you have a 2 year old who starts throwing things?  I’m not talking about throwing a soft squishy Nerf ball or a teddy bear – I’m talking throwing his big plastic dump truck or his mini Radio Flyer red wagon.  Stuff like that.  Hard, heavy stuff that hurts (speaking from experience, here).

Easy.  You start a collection.

IMG_7721That’s the beginning of my confiscated toy collection.  I’ve since added the mini Radio Flyer red wagon, a Thomas the Train, and a few other bits ‘n pieces.

Joe has been throwing things.  He’s not angry when he does it – he just gets so excited or happy that he has to throw something.  Anything will do.  Usually whatever he’s got in his hand at the moment.  And this has led to some banged up heads (mine – thank you, Thomas the Train), his baby brother being knocked over, and a deep gouge in the wood floor.  You never get deep gouges with carpet!  Oh well.

I’d tried using time-out.  No good.  I’d tried saying things like, “Now Joe, I know it’s fun to throw stuff, but it hurts Mommy when your toys hit her in the head.”  Ha!  Reasoning with a 2 year old?  Every parent should know that doesn’t work (and it didn’t work, but I still wanted to try it).  I’d even resorted to yelling, sad to say.

Nothing worked.

Then I remembered something that I’d read somewhere about discipline: a lot of the time, children act up because they love the reaction it gets and the attention they receive as a result.

Hmm.   That got me to thinking.

You see, Jack has been sick.  I’ve been paying a lot of attention to him here lately.  If I’m being really honest, I’d say that it’s easy for me to pay more attention to Jack even when he’s not sick.  He’s 9 months old.  He needs to be nursed.  I have to spoonfeed him.  He can’t do anything by himself, so I am paying a lot of (necessary) attention to him.  There are only so many hours in the day, so… guess who hasn’t been getting as much attention?

Joe.

Except for when he misbehaves.  Then, hoo boy, he gets some attention.

I’m not saying that all of Joe’s bad behavior can be blamed on me.  I think that we’re naturally predisposed to misbehave, so Joe was simply doing what came naturally.  However, I do think that Jack’s illness + the fact that Joe has to share his mother played a part.

So, the next time he threw something, I reacted by not over-reacting.  I said, “Oh, you threw your toy?  That’s sad.  I guess you don’t want it anymore.  I’ll put it in my collection.”  Then I put it on the top shelf of the closet in plain sight for Joe, and you could have heard a pin drop.  I turned around and Joe was staring at me, bug-eyed, mouth forming a perfect “O”.  Then the tantrum began – yelling and crying and “but I need it!”

I used the shrug philosophy – I shrugged, said, “I know, it’s sad.  You’ll be alright.” and walked away.

Joe followed, sniffling, but got over it eventually.  And forgot about it, too, as evidenced by the other items in my collection.  Those toys on the shelf?  Those were accumulated over a period of about 3 hours.  Yep – lots of throwing going on around here, but you know something?  It’s diminished rapidly.  My collection has only had another 1 or 2 items added to it in the last few days.

In the meantime, I’ve been emphasizing the stuff that Joe can throw.  And paying more attention to him to boot.  We’ve been throwing squishy Nerf balls and kicking soccer balls and throwing wet clothes in the dryer (Joe loves that!).  We’ve been “throwing” leaves outside.  After all, it is fun to throw things – he just needs to figure out that some things are alright to throw, and other things aren’t.

Eventually, we’ll get those toys back down.  It’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of other things to play with.  And if he forgets and throws something, we’ll start the collection back up again.  In the meantime, I’m glad that I no longer have to dodge flying train engines or plastic oranges!

**********

Anyone else out there dealt with this sort of thing?  What kind of discipline tips or tricks have you used?  One of my favorite parenting books is “Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood” by father-son team Charles Fay and Jim Fay.  Are there any books that you recommend?

The Virginia Living Museum

This weekend, we headed out to The Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, VA.

2014-02-15 10.23.36-1Jack says, “Hey guys!”

I’ve heard good things about this museum for awhile now. Jack’s recent bout with croup has left us feeling housebound, so we decided to escape our cabin fever and the rainy weather with a trip.  It was a great decision.  At only 25 minutes away, it’s close enough to be convenient but far away enough to feel like a special occasion.  We decided to purchase a family membership with guest passes, so that we can come back whenever we want and bring guests with us when they visit us.

They had a special exhibit this past weekend – reptiles and snakes and all sorts of other things.  Joe had hands on time with tortoises, snakes, cockroaches, a Savannah Monitor, and several other lizards.

2014-02-15 09.44.40Observing the Tortoises

2014-02-15 09.45.42-1Petting an African House Snake

2014-02-15 09.48.17Just a little bit scary…

2014-02-15 09.48.37-3Turtles are fun!

2014-02-15 09.49.28-1So interesting!

2014-02-15 09.53.48Holding a Hissing Madagascar Cockroach

I was brave, too, and petted several snakes, lizards, and held the hissing cockroach.  Those cockroaches have sharp legs.  I’m glad Joe didn’t get scratched by one, but I did and it was hurt enough that I actually yelped. I thought it had bit me and had a throbbing hand for hours afterward.  Definitely glad Joe didn’t have that happen.

There was so much to see and Joe was beyond excited.  It was difficult to take photos, because (a) he could barely stand still and (b) the museum is dim.  There are many displays of fish, owls, bats, and other native Virginia animals and plants.  Joe had a wonderful time and we barely scratched the surface of what there was to see.

However, now that we have the annual membership, we can head back whenever we wish.  I’m looking forward to seeing the outdoor displays and trails, perhaps viewing a show in the planetarium, or simply being able to learn more about our new state.

Here are a few more photos of our visit.

2014-02-15 09.56.542014-02-15 09.58.23-2 2014-02-15 10.02.322014-02-15 09.59.48-2 2014-02-15 10.16.10 2014-02-15 10.18.09 2014-02-15 10.19.24If you’re in the Historic Triangle/Hampton Roads region, then I’d recommend a trip to the museum.  It’s a lot of fun, stroller friendly, and great for children.

Thankfulness

Tonight is one of those nights where I look around the house and think, “Things are good.”

I don’t mind the dirty clothes that Chris leaves on the living room floor.  Such a strange habit.  I don’t mind the toys that aren’t entirely put away.  Yes, there are a crumbs on the tablecloth.  I can see into the kitchen and view a pan soaking in the sudsy water but, you know something?  i don’t mind.

Things are quiet.  The boys are healthy.  And asleep.

We are happy, warm, loved, and all seems well.

It’s moments like these that make me realize how much I have to be thankful for – simple things like a full refrigerator.  Not worrying about how we will pay our bills.  Being able to take walks with my sweet baby boys whenever the mood strikes.

What a wonderful, wonderful feeling.

The Piano

Happy Valentine’s Day!

As a Valentine’s gift to you, let me introduce you to our new-to-us (but decidedly not new) piano!

2014-02-12 11.22.57Yes, it’s a bit of a mess, but you know something?  It was cheap.  How cheap?  Free (even the chair was free – a side-of-the-road treasure I picked up!).  Does it look better now?  It certainly does to me, helped in part by the thorough scrubbing I gave it once it arrived.  It was a mess.  I’m not talking cobwebs and spills, but more a layer of grime from not being used in years…

2014-02-12 10.56.45I’m sure that you can see my scrub marks.  The dirt layer remained after attacking it with a cleaning spray.  I finally rolled my sleeves up and went at it with a scrubby sponge and hot, soapy water.  The whole piano was like this.  Take a look at the lip of that lid…

2014-02-12 10.56.27Dirty with a capital “D”.  But cleaner now :-)

I took piano lessons for nearly 14 years, from age 4 1/2 – 18 1/2.  I used to own a baby grand piano but we sold it before moving to NZ.  Definitely the right decision (I can’t imagine how much it would have cost to haul that thing all over the place) but a sad one.  I’ve been wanting a replacement but our new house has required a lot of, er, attention.  And by attention, I really mean money.  So, I figured that any plans for a piano would have to wait, until this one about fell into our laps.

Well, maybe “fell into our laps” is oversimplifying.  It did take several months to sort out the details (like for the owners to find a 2 x 4 to screw on the back to replace the missing handle so that the movers could lift it) but never mind all of that: it’s here now.  And now, I want to paint it.  The red on that piano?  It’s red velvet cloth with nothing behind it.  I’m thinking that I’ll either remove it and replace it with a different fabric, or perhaps remove it and then completely cover those areas with MDF board cut into rectangles, surrounded by some quarter-round, and with a wooden medallion of some sort in the middle painted a contrasting color.  Something a la this

image via

Or something like this (though not in green)…

image via

In the meantime, I’m glad to have a piano once again.  Since it’s free and old, I don’t mind having the boys play on it.  Joe has been treating us to several concerts a day.  Here’s a sample of what I get to listen to:

Sweet music to my ears :-)

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