Tuesday, June 24, 2014

..a birthday and an anniversary..

Ten years.

 That is how old this boy is. An entire decade spent keeping us on our toes. This child, being our firstborn, came with no instructions, and has thrived despite many parental missteps.  All new parents think this, I am certain. 

 He is, without a doubt, an embodiment of what his name means -- laughter I loved his name from the get-go, before I ever laid eyes on him. Isaac.

On his birthday, we were making a trip north to LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Neither Rich nor myself had thought much about what we would do -- this day he hit the double digits. We wanted to make it special, but not the kind of special that breaks the bank. All Isaac wanted for his birthday was an Xbox....something neither of us were willing to give.

We came upon a perfect compromise, however, in the form of Shenanigan's. Thank goodness for friend recommendations and happy hour. For one full hour, all three of our babes enjoyed a semi-deserted warehouse of fun: high ropes course, bouncy house, bumper cars, hamster ball, mini bowling, climbing wall and arcade games galore.

At the end of the hour, they had tickets to redeem for prizes. 2,200 of them. Most of those points allowed Isaac to choose a mini pool table, which was a wonderful present that made him and us happy. Birthday crisis averted.

3 days later came the anniversary. 11 years.

I can happily say that it doesn't feel that long. It only seems long when I start to think about all that has happened in those 11 years. Amazing.

For our anniversary, we did make a point to go out -- Wisconsin style.

We went to a campground bar to listen to a dixieland band, The Basin Street Boys. Rich knew the percussionist -- he was a former student. As crazy as the date sounds, experiencing it in real life was even better. The band was fantastic. I was smitten with the loud, casual nature of a bar riddled with deer antlers, deer heads, and even a black bear. It was Mardi Gras night too, so people were bedecked in purple, yellow, and green, and beads galore. $4 Hurricanes. $8 Shrimp Etoufee. I was completely in awe, and loved every moment of this eleventh year celebration.

Our summer continues, and while our anniversary marks the end of "celebrations" for now,  we still have a lot of summer fun to soak in. It's all good.  Yes, this first Wisconsin summer is very good, indeed.



Friday, May 30, 2014

..good libations..

Here we sit, poised to start another summer. The kids have a couple more days of school, Rich has wrapped up his 4th year as a professor, and there are graduation parties, end of year parties, and barbeques galore.

With planned celebrations and impromptu meals alike, a special drink (or drinks) always adds a nice (and sometimes necessary) touch.

Enter: basil sugar.

I created this on a whim. I had purchased some basil at the market, and used it to make a pesto. This pesto, however, did not call for all of the basil, so I had a bit left over. What to do? Rich loves to give me a hard time about having left over odds and ends in the fridge that get overlooked, so I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction.

Fancy drinks on the brain, I wondered what a basil sugar might be like. So I, quite literally, mixed the basil leaves with sugar in the food processor. That's it. So simple. Utterly divine.

Having a mason jar full of these beautiful green-flecked crystals, I started to think of all the ways I could put this jar to work -- immediately. I bordered on obsessive, really.

Some ways that have worked:

basil sugar, lemon juice, lime juice, hendrick's gin, sparkling water

Rimming a glass for lemonade, or a variation on lemonade-adult style. 

Topping blueberry muffins. Kids were not a fan of the green on top of their muffins, but it was delicious.

Filling for a homemade pop-tart. Ricotta + basil sugar = mmmmm.

As I continue to look for other uses, this marvelous sugar is keeping just fine in the refrigerator.  I do believe my very favorite use, thus far, however, has been to rim my glass. Try adding some rhubarb syrup to a little St. Germaine, sparkling water, and a glass rimmed with basil sugar ... divine.

I urge you to give this a try, I really do. You won't be sorry.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

..on the mend..

It was a tough winter, but I hadn't any idea what lay in store for us this spring.

About a week before spring officially arrived, Rich was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a shock to us all--something we were not expecting. Thankfully, his prognosis is the best we can hope for, as surgery removed the tumor and should be enough to be curative. There will be rigorous testing for the next couple of years, to make sure there are no changes. It's a small price to pay for peace of mind. And to have peace of mind is a wondrous thing.

I suppose we are fortunate. Our situation is one in which we can look forward and leave these moments behind. We will be cautious going forward, but we can go forward with hope -- with the knowledge that the odds are in our favor.

Oh, I have been on the other side of that fence too, though. I remember the weight of finding out my mother suffered from progressive dementia. There was no cure, there was only the knowledge that things would get worse, and then she would die. I know that pain and fear, and the dark cloud that seemingly follows you everywhere you go. From that experience (which I have the benefit of having some distance from now), I learned that sometimes, maybe most times, in order to endure the pain, you must find the good.

Strangely, this whole ordeal illustrated that good in many ways: the devoted and caring family and friends we have, and the wonderful community in which we have chosen to make our home. Rich's care while in the hospital (and even before, when we were still figuring things out) was better and more honest than I could've expected. I appreciate those people that know their limits, and are not afraid to voice them.

Even in times of panic, when I wasn't sure how to function, it was the people closest to us that offered us prayers, encouragement, meals, comradery, and enough humor to forget for a moment that darkness we found ourselves in. It's marvelous, isn't it? Sometimes I think these things happen to serve as that very reminder...we are not alone. We do not need to, and sometimes cannot, do things alone.

I am thankful for and humbled by each and every person who lifted us up. Your kindnesses continue to be felt by all of us, and someday, those kindnesses will most certainly be returned.

Rich has since recovered from surgery, he is back to work, and life is back to (semi)normal. We're now in the midst of a school year winding down, with lots of grading, field trips, and school functions. The kids spend a larger proportion of the day outside, and later sunsets mean later bedtimes. Our yard-full of mud and dirt beckons, with plans being made for concrete and *eventually* some gardening boxes. I am back to unpacking boxes, slowly and methodically, trying to make sense of how everything will fit together -- for now.

Spring is normally a time for renewal, refreshment, an opportunity to start over. I suppose in some ways our spring has been just that. We can look forward, continue onward, and enjoy what lays ahead.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

..special week..

This week is Margot's special week at school.

She came home on Friday with a poster to complete, and a twinkle in her eyes. She wanted to complete the poster Right. That. Instant. She couldn't contain the excitement about being the center of attention at school for the whole week, and had been waiting for this week all year.

On the poster she had to include her name, some pictures, her age, favorite food, favorite color, and favorite activity. Filling these out, I was surprised at the decisive nature of her responses.

Name:  Margot Scot Dhyanchand

Age:   5

Favorite food:  Lasagna

Favorite color:  Orange, but later it will be something different, like Silver (she likes all colors)

Favorite activity:  coloring

This little girl of ours is both outgoing (at home) and shy (outside of home). She is dramatic and playful, knowing when to take the lead and when to hang back. She wants nothing more than to do everything her brother and sister do. She plays football with Isaac, she plays dolls with Evy. She has a love of shoes and accessories that has been with her since birth...truly, the first thing she has ever noticed on someone new is their shoes and purse. She adores music and I love to see her sing along to songs in the car for no other reason than the expressions on her face. A whirlwind of emotion, is our little Margot.

We poured over old pictures, trying to pick out the perfect ones for her poster.

"Mommy, I want a picture of you kissing me and Daddy kissing me," she stated with authority.

Done, and done.

I cannot believe that this little peanut is going into kindergarten next year. I remember all too well --  the early morning "shift changes" that Rich and I used to have with her...Rich taking the night until about 2 or 3am, then me taking over until morning. How she used to scoot like a pirate across the floor, with one elbow and one hand, and at 10 months (!) how she started walking. Her belly laughs as Isaac and Evy used to fawn all over her, and her shrieks when it got to be too much. This little girl who used to become a nightmare during the witching hour, and remembering the exact moment when I was able to prepare dinner with no crying toddler at my feet.

This little girl is quite the blessing, and I thought I'd share some of these memories with you.
 Happy special week, Margot.

**The pictures of Margot as a wee babe and Margot at her current age were taken by GoochToo Photo. A fantastically talented friend of mine, Renee, who has such a great eye and a wonderful way with children. If you're in the Chicago area, I highly recommend her.**

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

..busy as bees..

On any given day, there is tremendous activity in our house. I'm not so different from most people with kids similar in age to mine, I'm certain.

We have acclimated to our new small town quite well. I have enjoyed becoming a part of the community, as have our children.

Since moving here, we have enjoyed all manner of activities, and I thought I'd share with you what we have busied ourselves with in the last couple of months.

:: Little Arrows -  Isaac participated in an introduction to basketball program through the elementary school. It was a Saturday activity, where he learned the basics of basketball. The highlight of the program was a half-time show at a varsity girls' basketball game, where all the participants displayed the skills they had learned. It was even set to music, which made it all the better.

:: Pinocchio -  Evy auditioned and was cast in a production of 'Pinocchio.' The Missoula Children's Theater came to our little town in late January. In the course of one week, they cast and produced 'Pinocchio,' with costumes, sets, and everything. Evy was a ballerina toy, and enjoyed being onstage with her friends. They did two performances at the end of the 6 days, and it was quite an impressive accomplishment. Evy did not, however, care for sitting backstage for the entire one-hour production.

:: Family Skate Night -  Family skate night amounted to rollerskating in the gym. It was tremendous fun, although I had some difficulty avoiding the kids who frequently fell. I also learned that I have a real difficult time skating clockwise. Who knew? The physical education classes at their school had all been doing rollerskating, and this served as their culmination event. I felt badly for Rich, whose monstrous feet barely fit into the largest size skate they had. Somewhat fortuitously, Margot didn't care for the skating, so instead he kept her company and chatted with some neighbors, while the rest of us enjoyed whizzing around the gym on 4 wheels.

:: Sock Hop - The build-up to this event was pretty exciting. Girls talking about what their poodle skirt looked like, pleas for help from the parents, and numerous save the date flyers and invitations coming home in folders. Initially, Isaac was disinterested in attending. Dancing is not his thing. Evy and Margot didn't feel strongly one way or another, and I was willing to skip it only because it would've been our 4th night out that week. I thought better of it, however, and we went. It ended up being great fun for the kids, and tolerable for the adults. I'm not one to jump in and start cutting a rug with a bunch of elementary kids. I'm the wallflower that likes to watch from the sidelines. Unless it's rollerskating, of course - but even then I refuse to limbo. There was hula-hooping, poodle skirts galore, a picture booth, dinner, and much fun had by all. I'm so glad that we made the decision to go.

:: Dinners with New Friends - Evy has made the astute observation that we have been having "a lot of customers" lately. By customers, she means dinner guests. One thing the distance kept us from for the last 3 years (as a family), was having people over for meals on a regular basis. We enjoy sharing meals with others. We both enjoy cooking, and my kids enjoy having playmates. Since we've moved, we have dinner with friends at least twice a week, and lately, more often. We've made a point to invite over some people that we've wanted to break bread with, in an effort to get to know our community and the community that Rich is a part of at the university. It has been hard being away from family back in Illinois, and even friends. What makes our move all the sweeter, however, is the friends that we've made (and continue to make) since we've been here. It's reassurance to me that we picked the right place to settle. One could not ask for better customers.

:: Valentine's Tea/Classroom helper - I have the privilege of working in Margot's class for a short period of time once a week. I have been going in regularly for the last few months now, helping with centers in her classroom. We have done all sorts of neat activities, and the kids in her classroom are all familiar with who I am, which is a nice feeling for this former teacher. On Valentine's day, Margot's class had a special tea party where we made cards, friendship bracelets, read stories, ate a snack, and listened to and sang along with some songs. I will always feel fortunate to be able to share these kinds of moments with my kids, and hang onto the memory of them when my presence in school will be viewed as a threat instead of a treat.

:: Snow days - Ugh-this winter. We have spent far too many days home from school. It has been a brutally cold winter with piles of snow. In our move, things climate-wise have changed insignificantly. But this winter has chewed us up and spit us out. Right when you have a mild and sunny day -- BAM! -- Old Man Winter brings you a snowstorm the next. There is a little bit of rain falling and -- KA-POW! -- Old Man Winter drops the temperatures to negative 500 degrees and now the roads are sheets of ice. Not fun. At last count, we have had 7 snow/cold days. I have tried to make the best of them -- but even the novelty of them has worn off for the kids and all I'm left with is a bunch of whining about how they miss their friends or their teachers or their science experiment they were going to do in school that day. I've done the best I can to make up for what they are missing, and sometimes we're fine and enjoy our day together, and other times we all go to our separate corners.

Soon, spring will come and we'll be enjoying a whole host of new activities. I might actually get to start biking all over town instead of putting the car in to a lower gear just to get up the damn driveway. *Sigh* 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

..the help..

When it comes to parenting, there are a couple of areas in which I consider myself less-than-stellar. The first is potty-training. I was horrible at potty-training. I'm so glad it's over because I don't think I could take it again. And to be clear, I know it was all me. I take full responsibility for the advanced age at which my children learned to use the porcelain throne.

The second area, is getting my kids to do chores. Growing up, I had chores, but there was little incentive to do them, as my mother always re-cleaned whatever I had attempted to clean for her. She had little patience, bless her soul, and liked having things done just so.

Now I am not as particular as my mother was. I am pretty easygoing, and somewhat of a slob, depending on who you ask. The thing is, I am only tolerant of my messes. Other peoples' messes in my home make me crazy.

Enter 3 kids.

These children are not clean and tidy. Left to their own devices, they will tear up a home in the course of a mere hour. My artistic girls will fill the room full of paper scraps, yarn bits, and markers without caps. My son? He'll destroy a room by reliving imaginary football plays and basketball shots. A recipe for destruction, indeed.

As I survey the house and all that needs to be cleaned, I thought, these kids are old enough to help me now.

We have done chores before. They never really *took*. Again, I blame myself. On preschool progress reports, each of my kids got the same grade in cleaning up -- developing. Not successful, not mastered, developing. Why? Because to sit with a 3-4 year old for what seems like an hour waiting for them to put toys into a bag/bin or onto a shelf was, in my estimation, a tremendous waste of time. Especially when those same kids would begin playing with the toys they were to be picking up within 3 minutes of clean-up time. It was just a battle I did not want to fight.

Fast forward 6 years.

We are now at a place where chores can be done with minimal supervision. This, I can do. I don't mind showing them where to find certain cleaning items, and I don't even mind showing them how something should be done. They are now at an age where showing them does not require me to sit over them and guide their hand to do it.

It's a much better place for this Mama. A place where I can see this chore chart through, and perhaps find some success. And in case you were wondering, money plays no part in these chores. We are all contributing members to this mess we live in, and we should all pitch in, no payment required.

So each child has their own chart. I change the chores weekly, except for those of: homework, putting toys/clothes away, properly putting away backpacks, coats, etc., making beds, and brushing teeth.

There are 2-3 chores that change on a weekly basis and are usually something that is done once a week (except for the help that I require with dinnertime). I am trying out different chores, in the hope that I find something that works for each age. Also, by rotating the chores between what I do and what they do, I have the opportunity to re-clean if necessary, a week later.

How is this going, you ask?

I am actually a bit surprised with how well my kids are doing. I am learning their limitations, and I am learning how to motivate them. Surprisingly, Isaac and Margot are diligent about finishing what's on their lists on any given day. It is a challenge that they want to finish as quickly as possible. And Margot is quite insistent on trying everything that I give to Isaac to do, which is encouraging.

Evy, however, is a different story. My middle child that is meticulous in all other endeavors, the one who wants a calendar to plan out every minute of every day, rarely finishes her chores without coercion. I think she likes to have control, and since this list does not come from her, it's easily forgotten.

I do feel fortunate that they all willingly help. For myself, I try to overlook the imperfection. The water that splashes all over the floor or the lumps that might remain on the bed. Now that we are over a month into this "experiment," it's safe to say that these tasks are becoming a part of their everyday, or every week, as the case may be.

Perhaps I'm not so bad at this chore thing after all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

..unfinished-part two..

The last area of our home to share is our outdoor space. We sit on a plot of land that is about 1 1/2 acres. It's not a tremendous amount of land, but it's the most we've ever had. And right now it sits *snow-covered* as a blank slate.

Our land: pre-house and pre-snow

Blank slates make me nervous. I know that sounds funny to say, seeing as we have just built a house, but even those plans started with a basic model. We took that basic model and changed it in ways we thought made sense for our family. Those changes came with input from a variety of resources. There were the friends we have that had built their own homes, questions posed to various friends and family, and numerous internet resources, namely houzz. In short, our home was, we feel, a group effort.

This yard? Well, there is still the seeking out of opinions and ideas. The problem is, there is no basic blueprint to start from.

There are plans for a deck, which will start behind our family room and wrap around the north side of our home. We've already planned for this, as we have two patio doors, one off the dining room and one off the master bedroom. Beyond this, it's anyone's guess.

Since we have a septic system, care must be taken to keep that area clear of flooding. We are considering a rain garden, which would then serve as a barrier of sorts between us and our neighbors, and also suck up any excess run-off before it would get to our drainage field. What this rain garden looks like or what plants/shrubs/trees it includes, remains open for discussion.

There are patios that will need to be constructed, either with pavers or concrete. There is a door that is off our laundry room, as well as doors leading out from the basement. Ideally, we will have some area for a grill and an earthen pizza oven -- most likely to the rear of the house.

Gardens and laundry lines make the most sense on the south side. It will have ample sunlight, and with the laundry room door, it's the most convenient access.

Eventually, I would like a yard that serves to nourish our family with fruits, vegetables, chickens, and even bees. I envision a space that we can spend time in during the milder months of the year, either with outdoor meals, games, stargazing, or tending to what we've created.

So I suppose this blank slate really isn't so blank after all. But the possibilities it holds are what overwhelms me at times. What plants? Grass or prairie? Playset? Tennis court? *oh yes, this has been discussed!* What kind of trees? Flowers? Which way will the driveway run? So.many.decisions.

But right now, our yard is a dumpster and two large dirt piles. A snow-covered area full of promise. Although, for the record, I do not look forward to spring rains, which will turn our snow-covered paradise into an acre-plus mud pit.