Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chalk Walk

Yesterday, we participated in a Chalk Walk at the library. Each child is armed with a couple plastic baggies of chalk, a small carpet to protect their knees from the hot asphalt (which Audrey, of course, disregarded), a pre-drawn square "frame" (We monopolized two squares. Oops. What can we say? Sometimes our art is too big to be contained in one small box.), and their imagination. What comes next is a little chalk-meets-pavement magic.

Followed by a walk (wearing 3-D glasses, if you prefer) to admire your work and the work of your fellow chalk artists. So without further ado, we bring you some summer art (Audrey's favorite, showcasing a dog, is at the end). Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dinner Out

This weekend we dined at the local Ribfest. The kind of establishment where the chef sporting a bandanna around his skull is a sure-fire sign of good things to come.

A place where red-checked tablecloths are in abundance and your condiments are served by the gallon.

The entertainment is live, and you can dance like no one is watching.

Or just take a moment to pick flowers straight from your table and tuck one behind your ear for safe-keeping.

And the food? Well, it was delicious, but you'll have to take my word for it. We had already devoured ours before I thought to take out the camera. Oops.

Friday, June 26, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 25

On Sunday, while we were out to lunch, a man asked Audrey if she was being good to her dad for Father's Day. Audrey answered, "Yes. I like Daddy."

Audrey began singing in the shower on Tuesday. It went a little something like this, "Eight, nine, ten, he has eleven" (from Dr. Seuss's One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish). Look for her in "Seussical The Musical 2029."

On Thursday, I told Audrey she could sprinkle the cinnamon on our oatmeal at breakfast. She puffed out her chest and said, "I'm big!"

That evening I asked her to set the table for dinner. She opened the silverware drawer, pulled out a vegetable scrubber, and began brushing her hair. Meanwhile, I set the table (making a mental note to wash the vegetable scrubber).

We had blueberry pancakes for dinner that night (I hadn't made it to the grocery store yet, and I was still pretty excited about our fresh stash of blueberries in the fridge). In the past, I've always cut Audrey's pancakes up for her before passing her plate over. This time, I grabbed a pancake and began tearing it in two pieces. Audrey screamed. I put the pancake back together on her plate (I hadn't torn all the way through yet). She yelled, "Can you fix it?!" Jason flipped it over to the side that didn't show the tear. She yelled, "No! No! Can you fix it?!" This continued (with us trying all sorts of methods to soothe her - adding syrup, telling her she was just going to tear it up anyway...) until I told her to put the pieces on my plate and then gave her a new, whole pancake. She said, "Thank you," an almost audible sigh attached at the end as if to say, really mom, how difficult was that?

Today we did some window shopping (and I found one gift to stow away for later). Window shopping being quite the athletic adventure (and Audrey being a good sport), I decided we needed a frozen yogurt break. I got a cup for Audrey and I to share. We got comfortable at a table and she gently touched my cheek as she said, "Don't drop it, honey."

Tonight, she and I were having a pre-bedtime snack. She asked, "Where's Daddy?" I told her he was going potty and would be right back. Then she said, "Daddy is a big man."
"Yes, Daddy is a big man," I said.
"The big man is going potty," she said.

After the big man reappeared to tell her goodnight, he asked her what she had done earlier. The correct answer was that she had gone potty like a big girl. She said, "I picked blueberries!" Then he asked something about what we're doing tomorrow, and as the answer has been several times since Wednesday, she yelled, "pick blueberries!" Looks like we'll be headed back to the patch.

I find myself running a lot these days: swim lessons, errands, play dates. At the same speed, I find myself building an internal catalogue of all things Audrey, as she lets them appear to me. As her vocabulary and physical strength build, her quirks, her likes, her hopes - they all become more clear and I begin to learn the things that are her: those things that are too sacred to spill (frozen yogurt); those things that stand tallest in her mind (her Daddy); and the feats that make her feel a little more like the big girl she is becoming (fixing her own pancake, sprinkling her own cinnamon, and oh, those blueberries). And, while I know we are all more than the sum of our parts, those little parts make for some pretty remarkable memories - and a very remarkable little girl.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Days Unseen

Between Father's Day and our anniversary, I haven't spent much time this week writing about our daily adventures. So here's a little picture summary of how we've spent some of our time:

A trip with Audrey's friend Thad (and mom, Hilary) to the zoo;

Followed by a run through the sprinkler;

Sous-chef practice;

Some card art for me;

Some body art for her;

A shopping excursion to a local farmers' market;

A playground romp;

A close encounter with ducks;

A mother-daughter hike (I like how she's moving so fast the leaves look like snow);

And a banana bread baking session this morning. (The reason for the pictures in the swim cover-up? We snuck a couple swim lessons in this week, too). Oh, the busy days of summer…

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Farm Fresh

We are hot and tired, and our quart containers are brimming with our success (well, not quite brimming, but it feels like success). We spent the morning tagging along with friends to a berry farm. On the menu: pick your own blueberries and black raspberries.

This was Audrey's first foray into berry picking (and my first time to pick blueberries). If you want to take your toddler berry picking for the first time, blueberries are a pretty ideal start. The taller bushes reach their eye level. The berries are easy for little fingers to pull off, without thorns or anything to prick them along the way. And, after a little explaining, they can pretty easily discern the dark blue ones from the green. (Oh, a blue or purple outfit to camouflage stains doesn't hurt, either).

Audrey's concentration bobbed between picking berries and chasing her friend, Michael, down the walking paths between the bushes. There is much to be discovered in a berry field: sticks; flowers; bugs; other kids, picking with their parents, who just want to be left alone and don't understand why a little blond keeps tailing them; dogs; more sticks; mom's water bottle. It's a bit of a hot, sticky adventure - one with a built-in snack.

If fact, the toddler years may be some of the best for dragging your little one around the berry farm, while they still have that odd internal thermometer that says 50 degree water is ideal for swimming and 90 degree weather is perfect for running around and performing manual labor.

As for me, after spending more days than I care to count quarantined inside in an attempt to keep incessant sneezing at bay, this trip seemed like a nice introduction back into the best of what summer has to offer. Deep purples and blues against a sea of green. The sound of kids discovering outside. Fruit so fresh it begs to be eaten before you can leave the field - before it makes it from bush to carton. Work with a reward so great, it becomes more of a quest than work - a scavenger hunt for fruit.

We left the field with some sun on our faces, some grass on our knees, and berries in the backseat. Tired in the best of ways. Thankful for some time outdoors and time among friends.

And then we journeyed home to find rest. And taste summer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Eight years ago today, I married my best friend. On that day he told me, "It only gets better." I couldn't see how. Sometimes, the man just knows what he's talking about.

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Those Who Do the Heavy Lifting

Dad, I have a confession. Remember all those road trips or all-day shopping trips when we would get home after dark and I'd be asleep in the backseat? You'd scoop me up, carry me upstairs, and tuck me in bed. Well, I was only asleep half the time. The rest of the time, I'd lean my head over and clamp my eyes shut right when we got into town and stay as still as I could. What can I say? Sinking into you as you lugged me up the stairs felt like a warm extended hug. I couldn't think of a better way to settle into bed. I probably owe you a trip to the chiropractor.

My parents worked hard and did without certain things because they wanted to provide for my sisters and I. Our pantry had an abundance of snacks for us and whatever neighbors might be over to play; I always had the athletic shoes I needed (even when I decided to play four sports a year); I was even given the money to attend basketball camp each summer (sorry about your return on investment there, guys); and college, well, according to my Dad, I was going and that was final.

I appreciated those things, and as a parent now making decisions about what things we should give up in order to enable us to give others, I appreciate them even more. But the biggest advantages Dad gave me never came from his wallet. He coached our softball and soccer teams, and showed up at every track meet. He was the first man to show me what it looks like when a guy feels you are worth his time. At dinner, he asked about the school day, or sports practice, or choral auditions. He was the first man to show me what it looks like when a guy is genuinely interested in you. And after dinner, when he watched tv, he would leave a small space at the back of his chair just big enough for me to squeeze into. He was the first man to show me that when a guy loves you, he will always make room for you. So while the stocked pantry was nice, when it came time to head out and find someone to build my own pantry with, these other provisions fed me a little more.

I snapped the shot above last night as Jason carried Audrey up to bed (of course, as soon as she heard the camera click, Audrey's head popped up and I decided that bedtime might not be the best time to take pictures). She likes those extended hugs, too. Jason is always willing to stop what he's doing to give them. And last night, like so many nights, as I watched Jason carry her upstairs, I thought of how lucky she is to have a provider in every sense: someone who not only buys the books, but reads them to her. Our Father's Day was a simple one. One that probably did not do Audrey's father justice, but one that perfectly exemplifies who he is. Jason volunteered his Father's Day to help a friend install some laminate flooring. Audrey and I spent the afternoon at the zoo visiting with the other man's wife and son. When we got back, per the Dads' requests, we ordered a pizza for dinner. I thought of the lessons Jason is already teaching Audrey: no day is ever too special to keep you from helping your neighbor; and the elegance of the food isn't nearly as important as the company with which you eat it.

I hope your Father's Day was as meaningful as ours. And, for all of you fathers who give and give and give, and then get out your wallets, I thank you (just in case your little boy or girl forgot).

Friday, June 19, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 24

I find myself being stopped in my tracks lately. A lot. This happens everywhere: the dinner table, while driving the car, in the middle of the bedtime routine. I go through the motions of the day: chauffeuring, organizing, sweeping things up. Then it happens. I haven't even seen the wheels turning, but I hear Audrey explain something in a new way. She tells me how the things around her work, only as she can. And, I stop to listen, because this kind of teacher only comes around once. Here are the lessons from this week:

On Tuesday, while doing the most ordinary of things, she said, "Mama, I want you. I'm gonna miss you." I'm not sure where she thought I was going, but watching her change at a pace that seems lightening-quick, I think, Me, too, baby girl. Me too.

During breakfast-for-dinner Wednesday night, she took several bites out of her slice of turkey bacon, then studied the shape. "It's a key," she said, showing it to me. I could see it.

En route to swim lessons on Thursday, she told me, "You're a big woman. You can't take it off you. It's stuck on you." (I think she meant the woman part is stuck on me, not the big part. I could be wrong).

As Jason put Audrey to bed on Thursday night, he tucked her bear in, giving it a kiss. Audrey watched, then asked, "Can you kiss me, too?"

This morning I told Audrey we had to apply sunscreen before going out to weed the garden. She had found some plastic rings and put them on her arms as bracelets. I'm not sure what the sunscreen was in her mind, but as I rubbed it into her arms, she looked down at them and said, "I'm beautiful."

Everyday brings something new to amaze me. I'm awestruck by the amount of learning that happens in two-and-a-half short years - how many times one person can change in that time span. I keep moving the dangerous and breakable items to higher shelves and reassessing what seemingly-innocent objects can be transformed into step stools or balance beams or a toddler version of the "Wipeout" obstacle course. I forget how much knowledge can hide in the crevices of a still-changing brain until I hear a vocabulary word that hasn't popped up in a while, and I'm reminded, oh yeah, she already knows that one. But most of all, I'm amazed by how the most complex of ideas, when seen by the littlest eyes can be explained. So easily. And I can't help but think, if we were all just children, maybe the world would be a much simpler place.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Loving Right Now

:: That there is fresh fruit - growing in my backyard!

:: These "Grab 'n Go Crispy Granola Bars" from Missy Chase Lapine's The Sneaky Chef cookbook. I grabbed this used book last week (it's a title I've had my eye on for a while). I have to say, I found it slightly disconcerting to pick up a cookbook that someone else had already deemed discard-worthy. But these granola bars have put me at ease. As summer outings become more frequent, I've been looking for something we can easily take on the road that I can feel good about feeding my child. While these aren't completely homemade (they contain brown rice cereal), they fit the bill. Oh, and they're yummy. This was the perfect rainy morning project to begin our day. We just might have to do an encore performance tomorrow. Yes, something tells me that the author's intent was not for us to eat all the bars (uncut in the picture, with Audrey picking out the chocolate chips) in one day. Oops. While her website doesn't have this recipe, it does have a list of freebies to try: www.thesneakychef.com. But I have to warn you, as soon as you pick up a cookbook specializing in techniques such as hiding pureed cauliflower in macaroni and cheese, you may find yourself fielding questions from your husband such as, "What's in this that I won't eat?" "Did you hide anything in here?" Maybe your poker face is better than mine.

:: The blooms of the balloon flower - blaring evidence that this perennial has decided to survive another year! Oh, and the purple blossoms aren't too shabby, either.

:: Audrey's suit drying on the fence. The leftover bits of a successful swim lesson, and the hour of splashing and playing around in the pool after, just because.

:: The thyme, growing like wild and thriving without any help from me. Now if only I could get the rest of my time to multiply this way...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I tend to always have some sort of chocolate on hand, a bag of truffles or just a good quality dark chocolate bar. The love of chocolate runs deep in my family, to an extent that leads me to believe in some kind of overpowering chocolate gene that thrives and grows stronger (survival-of-the-fittest style) with each generation (Audrey had determined before even trying a piece that chocolate was something for which to fight to the death). So when determining how I would fill the bag I made for my mother, it didn't take long to decide that chocolate in some form would be present.

Truffles are my favorite, so when I ran across this recipe with few ingredients and simple enough sounding instructions, I decided I had found a winner. And, for the most part, it was, just as long as I kept one thing in mind: I'm not a professional and it's ok for my food to behave as if it were prepared by such. These are the steps I took (I halved the recipe since I had only bought enough chocolate to halve it and I didn't need 50 truffles hanging around:

I slowly heated 1/2 cup heavy cream over medium heat (I actually began at low heat and worked my way up just to be safe) until the cream was boiling. I turned off the heat and added my "chopped chocolate". I skipped the chopping part by using 1/2 pound Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. After letting the chocolate and cream sit for 2 minutes, I was supposed to stir the mixture until it looked "smooth." Mine was never what I would call smooth, but I decided to move on to the next step, regardless. The next step was adding 1 Tablespoon butter, which did make mine look a little smoother, but still not as smooth as I would have imagined.

Once the butter was mixed in, the entire mixture got poured into the bowl of an electric mixer to rest until "set." I waited until the bowl was cool to the touch and the chocolate seemed thick with a little bit of a shiny buttery layer on top (as I waited, I fit my fit the paddle attachment to my electric mixer).

Next, I beat the chocolate mixture on medium-speed until it was fluffy and looked a little like icing. This process was supposed to take 2 minutes. I decided to beat mine an extra minute or so just to make sure it was the consistency I thought I was looking for (and, I knew I was skipping the next step, which required beating the mixture a while longer). At this point, you can add liqueur or another flavoring, if it strikes your fancy. Not knowing if my mom prefers her truffles spiked or cinnamon-flavored, I decided to keep things simple.

My chocolate mixture complete, I grabbed a pastry bag and filled it up. I didn't have a 1/2" plain tube tip, so I didn't use a tip. I simply left the bag tipless. I did use the pieces that typically secure a tip in place, just to give the bag a sturdier feel. (I will warn you, using a pastry bag without a tip makes it difficult to keep the chocolate mixture in between truffles).

Cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, the mixture was meant to be piped out into 1/2" balls. I never mastered the truffle "ball." Mine had the shape of Hershey Kisses, only with a jiggly appearance, like the little wiggling blobs found in the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, which were supposed to be scary, but just made me hungry. I have never met a shape of chocolate I didn't like, so I decided to be happy with the blobs just as they were. The jiggly blobs found a place in my refrigerator to chill completely.

While the blobs chilled, I worked on tempering some chocolate. I used leftovers from a 2.5 pound Ghrirardelli Candy Making and Dipping Bar I bought at SAMS for some other candy-making adventures. I finely chopped a good hunk of the bar.

I put the chopped chocolate into my makeshift double boiler (a saucepan with a little water in the bottom and a bowl set snugly on top). As the water boils in the bottom, the chocolate melts in the top. Once the chocolate hit 110 degrees, I took it off the heat and stirred in a little more unmelted chocolate. Then I got down to the business of assembling my truffles. The recipe tells, in detail, just how to set up your workstation to finish the truffles. I set up my workstation, just so. I followed their directions, just so. I ended up with a huge mess: a chocolate-doused hand, too much chocolate running off the truffles, and a cocoa coating that made me cough from the powder going down my throat first when I tried to eat it. I regrouped. I resorted to the master candy-making tool of my childhood (a plastic fork with the middle two prongs broken off). I used this fork to dip my truffles, one-by-one. The excess chocolate falls off the truffle through the hole created by the missing fork prongs (a little bit of genius passed on from my parents). I set these freshly-dipped truffle blobs back onto the parchment paper to set up, just a bit. Then, while the chocolate was still a teeny bit damp, I used a tiny mesh strainer to shake just a little bit of cocoa over the tops.

I couldn't work fast enough to keep the blobs from going a little soft before getting around to all of them. Once they became soft to touch, I popped them back into the refrigerator to chill again. When my tempered chocolate hardened while I still had loads of truffles to coat, I popped it into the microwave and heated it until it was smooth again. The recipe says the finished truffles don't have to be refrigerated, but I decided to refrigerate mine, anyway, and kept them in a cooler en route to Mom's, since it's a bit of a drive on a warm day. And, while they didn't look quite gourmet, my mom didn't have any complaints, neither did the rest of the truffle tasters.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gifts To Go

This is the gift (for my mother) I was finishing up this weekend. And yes, that would be the car in the background, as all photographs were taken en route to drop it off as I finished up loose ends and tied bows. Down to the wire? Yes. Finished? Yes. Yes. Yes! Here's the gift breakdown:

:: A little something pretty. This is the plant we found (and couldn't resist) during our nursery adventure. I believe it's called a Purple Parasol.

:: A little something practical. A couple of washcloths made using this free pattern from Homespun Living. They are made out of Lion cotton in White and Espresso.

:: A little something decadent. Truffles made using this recipe. As usual, I didn't follow the directions to the letter, so more on that tomorrow. The white serving dish is Bianco Nero. I nabbed several of these a year or so ago at TJMaxx or Marshalls for a few dollars a piece with holiday candy-giving in mind.

:: And finally, something part style/part function to store it all in. This whole gift came to fruition one day when I found a free pattern at Jo-Anns for this bag. They call it the Market Bag. I call it the Whatever-Suits-Your-Fancy Bag. I made it using a home decor fabric called "HS Courtyard" by Home Seasons. (I don't remember the name of the fabric I chose for the straps.) While the color isn't one I would normally choose for my mom, I kept getting drawn back to these same fabrics. It wasn't until I got home and began cutting out the pattern pieces on the family room floor that I realized the fabric matches my furniture. Hmm, I might have to go back for some more and make myself some pillows.