Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Good Stuff - March (formerly Things I'm Loving)

I became inspired this afternoon when I got a package from Kat containing a box of homemade, hand dipped truffle candies. I sank my teeth slowly into a dark chocolate pistachio truffle and moaned to myself, "Ohhhhh....that's the good stuff." So as I sat down tonight to put March's installment of Things I'm Loving together, I decided to change the name. I'd change the name of the whole blog if I could come up with the perfect one. I'm still waiting for that inspiration. In the meantime, enjoy my good stuff:

Grown-up Good Stuff

Heightened Vanity in the Form of My Blog Book - Finally, almost 3 months after thinking about it, I got my rear in gear and made my blog book. It took about a month, formatting and tweaking it here and there, to get it how I wanted it. And the jacket design was the hardest and most fun part of all. When it arrived in all of its published glory a week ago I brimmed and glowed with pride, took it to bed for a good night reading, and have been lovingly showing it off every chance I get ever since, with no sign of stopping. To Ed's shock I even asked to be photographed holding it - 204 pages of my posts and your comments from 2007 in hard copy. I'm hooked. I have already started a book of Hazel's birthday party and am taking on the project of a Younce family cookbook (volume 1, to be sure), hopefully out next Christmas. And of course, OF COURSE, DMTotW will now be an annual publication.

iPod - I know I am painfully and embarrassingly behind the times here, and I expect this trend to only worsen in the future. Neither Ed nor I are computer or electronic fanatics so we rely on friends and family who are to keep us at least within a decade of basic technology. I never really cared or thought about wanting an iPod until my trip to Florida, when I flew by myself for the first time in many years, and felt a little self-conscious sporting my cd player on my lap. Ed picked up on my heavy hints and used some bank reward points to get me one for belated Valentine's Day. I love it sooooo much and the chances it provides for me to rock out to old and new music alike. For Easter Ed got me the FM transmitter adapter that lets it transmit to the car radio so I can use it in the car. There is hope for us yet!

RCA Headset Phone - After Ginger had been with us a few weeks my neck was getting really sore from holding the phone between my ear and shoulder. With a newborn and a million things to do there's not a lot of time to sit around holding the phone to your ear like a woman of leisure, using up one whole hand for minutes at a time when you need 8 hands 36 hours a day. So since our phone was on the fritz and needed replacing anyway I did some research and we got this one last summer. Talk about changing my life! The phone rings, I grab the headset, turn it on, and I am a phone-talking fool with 2 free hands to wash dishes, change diapers, fold laundry, hold children, fix snacks, and other glamorous acts. Highly Recommended!

Shaklee safe & organic cleaning products - In January I posted on living green, and some changes I was going to try. One was natural household cleaning products. So I bought the Basic H2 cleaning concentrate and the set of three spray bottles (I know, I'm a sucker and could just buy spray bottles at the dollar store, I don't want to hear any crap about it.) The three bottles are for creating three strengths of cleaner using the concentrate and water - a glass cleaner, an everyday surface cleaner and a grease cutting cleaner. The concentrate goes a very long way - I will probably have it for a year or more. But the reason it makes the Good Stuff list is because it does a beautiful job doing its job - cleaning. Certainly as good or better than 409 or whatever else I've been using. For example, in one try it dissolved the sticky gummy grease that gathers on the surface of my tea kettle, and it wiped away like magic with a paper towel (I mean earth friendly reusable rag.)

Wrapping Stuff - I've had a couple of good breakthroughs this month with gift wrapping, again bringing myself a little closer to this decade. When I hit Target early December 26 morning for Christmas supplies I grabbed a wrapping paper cutter for $1 to see how it works, and I'm pleased to say it also does its job and cuts a line much straighter than my scissors ever have. Also I finally took Oh Happy Day's wrapping advice and got a couple big rolls of double faced satin ribbon. What a difference it makes, immediately classing up a present over the curly "ribbon" I usually use. Finally, a few months ago I sprung for a clearance mixed bag of gift tags from The Paper Pixie (I love to support Etsy sellers, in the fantasy I might one day be one). Again, it's a long way from the folded piece of wrapping paper I usually tape to a gift, naming giver and recipient.

A couple of goooooood chocolate blogs - Chocolate in Context, Chocolate Obsession, The Chocolate Nerd, The Girl Who Ate Everything (love that name - about all food, not just chocolate)

Kid Good Stuff

A Box of Treats by Kevin Henkes - Ginger got these books from a friend for her birthday and are they ever adorable! My personal favorite is Owen's Marshmallow Chick but Lily's Chocolate Heart is a close second. The size and text are minimal enough for Ginger to enjoy, but the thinking behind the simple stories are interesting enough for Hazel to ponder and discuss. This is an awesome birthday gift for a 1 to 3 year old!

Chalet Dollhouse by PlanToys - I am slightly obsessed with this dollhouse. Things going for it include the open plan, the height so kids don't have to hunch to play, and the rearrangability of the separate pieces (and I'm not talking furniture - the house itself is 2 pieces & staircases that can be put in different configurations.) Not to mention it's clean and modern looking. This was definitely going to be Hazel's birthday present until I found out we are inheriting the enormous dollhouse my grandfather built and I played with as a girl. That's the only dollhouse that could trump the chalet.

Vintage Kids Book Blog - Literally a book a day, one vintage children's book every single day gets posted here, I don't know how she does it. My problem with things like this blog, the unstoppable Lindsay's list, Listmania lists, and the like, is that they cause me to desire my children to know and love every fabulous book out there, which must be impossible. It also causes me to scorn the questionable mix of literature currently stacked on our shelves. And the process usually ends in an Amazon order to be proud of, but that the girls show little interest in 4 times out of 5. I don't know what's wrong here but please don't suggest the library. My current lifestyle only results in late fees higher than book prices. What I need is a circle of other moms with this very specific problem, with whom I can exchange "wonderful" children's books that we buy for our kids but they don't like...maybe the next kid will. I digress.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback - And, speaking of wonderful children's books, this is one I'm loving this month. Hazel is lukewarm but she doesn't get the visual humor snuck into every clever picture yet. I'm keeping it for sure. Here's a little synopsis:
When Joseph's favorite overcoat gets old and worn, he makes a jacket out of it. When the jacket is more patches than jacket, Joseph turns it into a vest. When the vest's number is up, Joseph makes a scarf. This thrifty industry continues until there's nothing left of the original garment. But clever Joseph manages to make something out of nothing! (And that's the foreshadowed moral of the story.) The story is an adaptation of a Yiddish song from Taback's youth.
Totally funny, stunning, and teaches the moral of frugality, which we could all use a little more of.

So Good Stuff is all good and stuff, but what do the kids really love this month?

Seashells...and...

Furniture!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Great Exchange

What can I say? The Easter Basket Exchange was a rip-roaring success. My basket arrived on Monday but I was very disciplined and waited until this morning for the great satisfaction of getting an awesome Easter basket I didn't make, and opening it in my pajamas.

Mine came from my friend Melanie who I roomed with in the BYU Spanish House and traveled to Mexico and cross country with, but we haven't seen each other in many years. Nonetheless I know her to be fabulous and I was not disappointed. My basket included several kinds of awesome chocolate, a springy shade of nail polish, Mel's favorite lip gloss, a cool make-up case, handmade card set, an Easter dish towel, an actual basket, and an amazing handmade apron! Here are some of the other baskets that got passed around:

(I am still receiving pictures by email and will put them in the slide show as I get them.)

But it was equally about the baskets we gave as the baskets we got, wasn't it? I was collecting things for mine long before the names were assigned, and even before I wrote the original blog post announcing the exchange. At one point I had way over $25 worth of things I wanted to include (and I know I'm not the only one!), and worked very hard to pare it down, often laying things out, admiring, rearranging, etc...and I know I'm not the only one who did that, either! I did end up making small Easter baskets for my family, but my basket for the exchange was by far more fun and satisfying, making the whole experience more than worth it to me.

As the exchange "administrator" I had all the fun of hearing the cool and funny stories everyone had in the process. There was Tamara in NY who went to Enrichment one night where a girl in her ward came up and said, "My sister-in-law (Mia) in Tennessee has you for an Easter Basket Exchange!" There was Cherry in my ward who chased me down the hall at church to breathlessly gush over her new friend Jen in Colorado and how much they have in common, including the same birthday. There were several who emailed their giftee detailed surveys in order to perfectly personalize a dream basket. Everyone's emails to me seemed to carry a slightly giddy tone. And there was me, who excitedly unearthed my beading supplies to make Katy several pairs of earrings, only to discover she happens to have "crazy mad healing powers" and her pierced ears have closed up...thrice.

I hope everyone who participated will leave a note here, mentioning something about the experience and maybe the favorite things she got or gave. I hope everyone got as much enjoyment out of this as I did.

And I hope to see you all, and maybe more, back here next year for:
EBX '09!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Kari Math

When Hazel goes to college the kids that are in college now
will be my age.

Huh.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Yogurt Pies

Here's a total blast from the past. I used to make these all the time when I was a kid...and, ahem, a grad student, but I haven't thought of them in years. Then out of nowhere they popped into my head yesterday and I wanted them.

The beauty of yogurt pies is that they are simple to make and delicious to eat. They're also super easy and fun for kids to make, and while not exactly good for you, somewhat healthier than other things I can think of that satisfy the requirements of one's sweet tooth. They're cold and sweet and a lovely pink (or peach or green or whatever yogurt you choose) color. The recipe does not require any kind of perfection so anything goes.

Yogurt Pies

12 ready made individual graham crusts
1/2 to 1 carton of Cool Whip
About 20-30 oz. of any flavor yogurt

Stir the Cool Whip and yogurt with a wooden spoon to combine. Eat as much as you like. They can be in any proportion you want, adding more of whichever until you like how it looks and tastes. This is a very satisfying experience. Who doesn't love to stir yogurt and Cool Whip together? It's so fluffy and fruity and...Hazel put it nicely:
"Ooh, swirly!"

Use a large spoon to fill the pie shells. Do not fail to lick the bowl...and spoon. Place on a cookie sheet or tray, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, several hours. Eat with your hands or a fork. Heck, top with more Cool Whip if you have any left. YUM!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Easter Egg Birthday Party


Today was Hazel's birthday party (though her birthday isn't until the 27th.) Knowing how stressed out I get over hosting anything, I really tried to keep the party as simple as possible. Even so, it took all week to prepare, making sure I had all the food & supplies and of course a major Friday night cleaning overhaul with Ed. Saturday morning did require a last-minute run to the store for vinegar, but no other major problems, as opposed to last year when we had to cancel the party because Ginger was in the hospital. Here are the party facts and a few pictures:

Theme: Easter Eggs

Decorations: A couple balloons & streamers, a construction paper Easter egg welcome sign on the door
Guests: Lucas Richardson, Bruce & Dyani Fuhriman, Kaleigh Galatro, Apani & Kaitlyn RoweFood: Mini chocolate chip pumpkin muffins (Trader Joe's mix), fruit platter, small water bottles
Favors: Lavender take-out boxes with orange Easter shred, tiny play-doh, homemade cupcake crayons, dum-dum lollipop, eggs the kids dyed
Activities: Egg dying, general playing & eating, pin-the-egg-on-the-basket, story The Golden Egg (abbreviated due to loss of attention), some action songs, more general playingCake: Strawberry mix with strawberry yogurt for part of the oil, pink frosting, decorated with chocolate eggs. A cake decorator I am NOT but whatever, it was for 3-year-olds.

After everyone but Kaleigh had left, Ed and I were talking with Kaleigh's dad Chris while the girls played in Hazel's room. When we went to get Kaleigh to put her shoes and coat on, we found the girls had put themselves down for naps - Kaleigh in Hazel's bed and Hazel on the changing pad. They weren't asleep yet but I honestly think they would have fallen asleep if left alone.

So you know it was a good party.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"Delicious Rolls"

Here's the recipe for "Delicious Rolls", otherwise known as Beef Broccoli Wellington. We can trace this recipe back to one of Tona's Young Women advisors. It's fairly simple, it's fairly cheap, it's hot, savory, and delicious, and it's made with and looks like rolls, so my spontaneous nickname was not totally off.

Beef Broccoli Wellington

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 10-oz pkg of frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
- (OR about 2 giant florets of broccoli, steamed in microwave and chopped coarsely)
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup shredded Jack cheese, and more if you're like me
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
2 8-oz cans Pillsbury Crescent dough
1 beaten egg or about 1 T eggbeaters
poppy seeds

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Brown the meat, drain. Add onion, broccoli, 1 cup cheese and sour cream. Simmer for about 10 minutes and salt/pepper to taste.
3. Open the dough cans and separate and arrange each one into a long skinny rectangle, pressed or rolled so that seams are sealed. Do this for each can so you have two long rectangles. Lay them on a foil or parchment-covered cookie sheet.
4. Spoon half the meat mixture into a 3-inch wide strip down the center of each loaf. Optional: sprinkle some more cheese on top. Bring the long edges up over the filling, overlapping the edges slightly. Pinch to seal and tuck the ends under. Brush with egg and dust with poppy seed.
5. Bake for 20-22 minutes.

Number Of Servings: 8 (I cut them in 4ths or 6ths) but can cut smaller for potluck or buffet

Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Be warned that when you put them together they will look like a disaster and you may think you did it wrong. But when they cook up the dough puffs up and the egg brush turns all golden and shiny and you will feel like a culinary genius. Makes good microwavable leftovers, too. The filling can also be used by itself over noodles or rice. Enjoy!

Snapshot

Tonight, 5:37 pm.
Dinner cooking in the oven. Hazel walks into kitchen.

"Mommy, I smell something."

"I know - it's dinner."

Hazel peers in oven window to investigate.

"What is it? What's it called?"

Pause. Crucial moment.
Can only imagine how "Beef Broccoli Wellington" will be received. C'mon, think fast! Think, think, think.


"Delicious Rolls."

Pause. Mentally cringe. Too obvious? Trying too hard?
Make no sudden moves!


"Mmm, I love Delicious Rolls!"

Let out a sigh. We'll at least make it to the table.
Name approval is half the battle.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fine, Obligatory PR Finale Dish

Did anyone see the SNL skit about Christian this week? Pretty good.


But honestly, what is there to say? While all the collections were amazing and way better than past years, I again disagreed with the judges on the winner. Last year I definitely thought it should have been Ulli (sp?) and they chose trashy Jeffrey. This year I thought it should have been Jillian. I agreed that Rami's color choices were his downfall, though his actual designs were awesome. As for Christian, it's like the judges themselves said - how long can he get away with black ruffles? My friend Kristin came and watched with me and she made a good point that Christian probably was pushed over the edge because it was most Victoria Beckham's style and the guest judge probably gets more weight.


Anyway, I was disappointed because I thought Jillian's was best in so many aspects, her indecision and poor time management notwithstanding. And I'm already sick of the word "fierce."

Can't wait for next season.


What did everyone else think?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cupcake Crayons

Next Saturday is Hazel's birthday party. I'm pacing myself on the preparations so today I worked on the favors. One of the things going in them are these homemade "cupcake crayons" I read about in a toddler activity book I have. I've been waiting for an excuse to try them and today was it. It's really a way to reuse crayons that are old or broken but of course you can use new ones, too. Besides being a cool gift or party favor, it's just a good rainy day activity, especially for older kids who can peel the crayons themselves - keep them occupied for awhile.

Here's what you do:

1. Preheat oven to 300.

2. Peel crayons and break them into pieces no longer than 1/2 inch. Don't use gray, black or brown crayons. I just used the deep and bright colors, and stayed away from neutrals.3. Put double liners in a muffin tin and put crayon pieces in until they at least cover the bottom, or more if you want.4. Put in the oven until crayons melt, about 5-10 minutes. Watch them closely after about 5 minutes so they don't melt too much.5. Remove from oven and cool completely until they are hard again; remove from liners and have cool rainbow fun coloring!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I May Be Dumb, But I'm Slow

That's just something us Younces say when we've done or said something stupid, or encountered someone we are unimpressed with.

It was a typical Thursday morning for us. The girls and I have music class at 10:30 and we leave about 9:30 so Ginger can get a morning nap in the stroller and wake up when class starts. It's only a few blocks away but if I let Hazel walk and dawdle as much as she likes it can take an hour. If I make her hurry we can get a few errands in.

First we stopped at the cleaners - dropped off and picked up Ed's shirts, laid them across the top of the stroller. Next the grocery store for a few essentials - yogurt, goldfish, bananas, carrots. Nothing too heavy because these go in a tote bag over my shoulder until we get home. Then we had about 20 minutes until class only a block away. Oh, well, I guess we had to go across the street for a cupcake.

Little Cupcake
is this super cute bakery, with cases full of colorful, frostingly endowed treats and counters lined with dome-covered 4-layer cakes. It also has a full line of gourmet coffee, tea and muffins. And in the summer? Fresh lemonade. The shop girls wear pink t-shirts, pink aprons and pink hair kerchiefs. Ed gave me a $20 gift card in my Christmas stocking and I have been whittling away at it, usually on Thursday mornings.

Hazel and I picked out our cupcakes (strawberry for her, lemon for me), and a mini cheesecake to take home for Ed. They don't have their gift cards computerized with the cash register, so they keep a paper list of gift cards by number, and manually record how much is left on each one. The girl looked up my gift card on the list, then she asked her co-worker where the calculator was. Neither girl could find it. Meanwhile the line behind me grew. It was only then that I looked at the cash register and saw that my total was $7 even. I looked down at the paper and saw that my former balance was $16.50. Calculator? Giving up on finding it, the girl gave a loud sigh and hunched over to write out the equation:

16.50 - 7 =

Then she lifted her pen and looked up at the ceiling, concentrating. I took note that it was daytime and public schools were in session so she must be at least out of high school. I considered biting my tongue and actually waiting to see how long it would take her to figure the math out, but I went ahead, "It's $9.50."

"Really?" she said. "Are you sure?"

Am I sure? Suddenly I wasn't. Did I do that wrong? Could I still trust my mind to do automatic arithmetic? Could I trust my own knowledge of the properties of 9 better than hers? Uh, YES.

"It's $9.50."

"Ok, if you say so."

Luckily there's a job for someone like her. Luckily I'm not the dumbest person I've ever met, like I sometimes feel. Luckily she wasn't bothered by the fact that such a simple equation was baffling. Luckily this gave me something to think about today besides the breeding patterns of dirty dishes in my sink and the triple pile of clean laundry waiting to be folded. And most luckily of all, my lemon cupcake was awesome.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Walking Down Memory Lane - Bit Parts

This morning I took a walk. By myself. The weather is warming slightly, Ginger is mostly sleeping all night, and Ed gave me an ipod - my first - for Valentine's Day. So I had the thought to start taking early morning walks like I used to many years ago. Plus we have this fabulous path across the street that runs along the water (Upper New York Bay). In one direction is the majestic Verrazano Bridge. In the other is the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan in the distance.

So this morning I took off, walking briskly and breathing deeply and feeling. I am still learning to use the ipod and put it on 600-song shuffle, just listening to whatever came up and enjoying every bit. When you have a situation like this - sea breeze (bay breeze), scenery, movement and awesome music pumping into you, it is natural to let the mind wander and enjoy the journey as thoughts come and go. Today I wandered all over my life and memories and found myself thinking of a few people I haven't thought of in a long time.

They played bit parts in my life, nothing very remarkable, but left lasting impressions. We have not kept in touch and will probably never meet again. But these high school companions were with me on my awesome walk this morning so I want to give them a little shout-out anyway. I know this may not be very interesting to readers but maybe it will remind you of some of the memorable one-scene-wonders from your own life; if so, please share.

1. Greg Youngman was my locker neighbor for six years - from 7th to 12th grade. We also sat together for standardized tests, hearing screenings, graduation and other alphabetized events. He was friendly, chill and good-natured in 7th grade and hardly changed (except his voice) the whole time I knew him. This says a lot because I know I changed a great deal over those years but Greg was always cool with me. We were always happy to see each other when school started - locker neighbors yet again, with G-Sue Yi unfailingly on my other side - and bid farewell when it ended. I have occasionally thought of Greg since high school, and though I haven't been able to track him down (though I think I just remembered today his real name is George...), I hope he is unbelievably successful and happy.

2. CJ Oakley was my music stand partner in Guitar Ensemble. Close your mouth - yes, honestly, at one point I played guitar well enough to perform in a group. I don't remember how we became partners - I think positions were just randomly assigned - but CJ and I sat together and shared a music stand for the entire 1991-92 school year. He was awesome. We would never have otherwise met, I'm sure. He had a feathered mullet, a bowlegged strut, and a hick accent, though I think he faked that for effect. He loved country and heavy metal. He was a piece of work and probably thought I was, too, but he was so nice and made sport out of whispering funny comments to me while we played, trying to mess me up. When we passed in the halls, he with his hair band friends, and me with my hippie ones, he always called out to me, with his own nickname for me, "POUNCE!"

3. Ted Arnn was the best friend of my first boyfriend. Ted drove a rockin' navy blue '65 mustang and wanted to be a policeman. He also thought absolutely nothing of the fact that I was his little sister's age - a freshman, while he was a senior. Ted was highly enthusiastic about music and was the first to introduce me to The Smiths, one of my all-time forever favorite bands. This has earned Ted a place in the Disco Mom Hall of Fame. He went to George Mason and did a weekend show on the school radio station; beyond that, we lost touch. I Googled him and found this article - turns out he is a captain with the Fairfax County Police Department, and again hosts a WGMU radio show. Good for you, Ted.

4. When I was a sophomore, my friend Brad Artman asked me to be his escort in the Mr. Robinson pageant. Brad did play a small but cherished role in my life but this isn't about Brad. A pageant escort is just supposed to walk out at the beginning of the show on the arm of the contestant, wait while he introduces himself at the mic, smile, take his arm, and walk off stage with him. It's a formality. Then you go sit in the audience. Being a formality, you are supposed to dress up very nice. Most girls wear skimpy formal dresses and high heels. I didn't have either (wouldn't have worn them anyway!), so I just did the best I could - a long sleeved blouse that I actually ironed, a long crushed velvet skirt, and actual eye makeup. Unfortunately Brad didn't win, but it was a fun contest anyway.
Afterwards I was waiting for Brad backstage when a classmate of mine, Nathan Baker, came over to say hello. He had been in the pageant, too. We chatted a little small talk and then I will always remember the compliment he paid me. He told me that he noticed I was the only escort that had dressed modestly, and he thought that was really cool. I was floored at that compliment coming from a 16-year-old non-Mormon guy. He said it let people focus on my face, and that's how it should be. That spontaneous conversation with Nathan was more affirmation on the virtue of modesty than any church lesson I'd ever had...before or since. Thanks, Nate.

Well there are more but that's enough for now. I promise not to expound so every time I take a walk. But it is nice to have time with my thoughts, and a place to record them.

Who has played an important bit part in your life?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Last Call for Easter Basket Exchange

Just a reminder that the Easter Basket Exchange is open for two more days. Thursday morning I will pull names out of a hat and email assignments. So far we have 24 fabulous participants, from Massachusetts to Texas to California. You know you've been thinking about it - if you want in on the fun, email me your address and chocolate preferences by Wednesday night!

SO FAR WE HAVE:
Kari
Tona

Melanie H
Ellie
Kat
Cherry
Melissa F
Margaret
Mia
Erin M
Shells!
Jill G
Jen A
Kelly
Katy C
Kristina
Jen C
Tamara
Amy M
Monica
Sara M
Portia!
Heather
Adrienne
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