Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Story Writing

It probably shouldn't surprise me that my eldest daughter spends almost all of her time "writing" stories. From about five years old on if I didn't have my face in a book I had my pen in a notebook, writing. There are whole boxes of stories like these sitting in boxes in my basement. Cheyenne is definitely my kid.

Although at barely five years old her actual writing ability is limited, her imagination is not. She locks herself in her room or hides in the tent on the deck with a notebook and pens, gathers with crayons and journals at my feet while I feed the baby, or at the breakfast bar while I cook and all day long, she writes and draws stories about mermaids. This one is about a mermaid who meets a young man traveling in a submarine.

"Mom, how do you spell move?" "Did I spell Mermaid right?" "What letters did I miss?" Her natural curiosity for language and how it works excites me. She's really understanding writing not only as a tool for communication, but as a form of creative play. I love it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Frugal Cooking- Graham Cracker Pie

I was rummaging around in my pantry looking for something else when I noticed a graham cracker pie crust that was about to expire. Well, what is a frugal girl to do? I couldn't just let a perfectly good pie crust expire, so I made my Great-Aunt Beulah's Graham Cracker Pie. Confession time here, I spent the entire day accidentally calling the new baby by his dad's name, but I was still able to make this pie from memory. I know, it's kind of wrong. This recipe is obviously taking up valuable storage space in my brain that could be used for higher priority items. Like my kid's name. But it is a really good pie.

Here's the recipe.

1/4 c cornstarch
2/3 c sugar
1/4 t salt
2 c milk, scalded
2 beaten egg yolks
2 T softened butter

3 egg white
6 T sugar

In a saucepan, mix cornstarch, sugar and salt. Gradually add scalded milk and heat until thick. Temper egg yolks (add a little of the hot milk mixture to them) and mix into the custard. Cook 5 minutes. Cool a little. Add vanilla and butter. Pour into pie crust.

Beat the egg whites and sugar into a meringue. Top pie with meringue and bake at 350 until golden brown (maybe 5-10 minutes. I don't keep track of these things).

Luckily the baby demanded to be fed as soon as I was done with the pie. It gave the pie time to cool and set. Normally I am of the opinion that waiting for pie to cool before eating it is for suckers, but it was nice to have it solidified instead of running all over my plate.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Green Hour- Great American Backyard Campout

Yesterday was the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout. We started the event by spending some time with our friends the ducks at the pond in front of our house

followed by a dip in the pool

and hot dogs on the grill.

The whole family pulled together to set up the camp site. Cheyenne and Zach even put together our new outdoor table, which has been sitting in a box in the garage since April.

We played go fish and made popcorn on the camp stove.

We played with sparklers.

and ate s'mores, which Bella had renamed "choc-clouds"

During a brief rain shower we came inside and read The Boxcar Children, Surprise Island, a favourite of mine from childhood.

Then it was off to bed.

In the morning we made egg sandwiches on the camp stove. We grilled the bagels.

It was a blast! Next year I'm thinking of organizing a neighborhood campout with games, songs and plenty of food. There is a huge park across the street with 20 acres of oak forest for hiking, a lake for canoeing and a brand-new visitors center that is reopening in August. I wonder if they would be interested in participating?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Little Mommy

When Cheyenne first found out that we were having another baby she was so excited. She told me "You can be the big mommy, I'll be the little mommy and Bella can be the big sister!" She has certainly lived up to her promise. Baby James is a very mothered little boy. In fact, I think both the girls have taken to the roll of little mommy quite well, playing with him, giving him pacifiers and blankets and kisses on the head. It's fun to see them together and it's fun to see how grown up and responsible the girls are getting.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bryn Dial

That's the name of our house, Bryn Dial. It's Welsh for Hill of the Leaves. I've always wanted to name my house. Particularly as this house has now been inhabited by three generations of my family, it feels right that it should have a name. Today, while brushing up on my Sesame Street Welsh using the BBC's Learn Welsh website I came across this house naming application. I plugged in a few facts about my house, like the fact that it's on a hill with a view of a pond and woods and it gave me a few suggestions. I liked Bryn Dial, firstly because I can actually pronounce it and secondly because it really fits. I'm thinking of making a plaque to hang in front of the house. Maybe try my hand at painting or wood burning. Maybe something like this.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Perpetual Childhood-Embracing My Inner Peter Pan

We are really a very silly bunch of people. I was thinking about that tonight as we were swimming and goofing off, only to look up at the clock and realize that it was 7:00PM and we hadn't so much as thought about what we were having for dinner.

As I hungrily scarfed down my mac and cheese, carrot sticks and rainbow jello (Cheyenne's brilliant dinner suggestion) I felt like I was 6 years old again, playing outside until the last possible minute before running home for dinner, hoping I'd be on time and my mom wouldn't be mad. Only now I'm the mom and there's no one to be mad at me. The thought made me smile.

I remember thinking when I was a kid, "when I grow up I'm going to play outside until dark and eat macaroni and cheese and ice cream every day and never make my kids go to bed." Of course, as happens to most people, I have become more serious and less fond of macaroni and cheese (although not so much the ice cream) as I've aged. Still, I love those moments where I don't act my age, where I do something silly or irresponsible or just plain fun without a thought to bedtimes and nutritional value. I love momentarily inhabiting a world where the dishes are less important than cannonballs into the pool. I hope I never get too old for that.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Domestic Bliss

Something has come over me the last few days. After over a week of running back and forth to the hospital I'm thoroughly enjoying being home. My domestic side has kicked into full gear. While the baby sleeps and the children play I've been baking, making tea, tidying up the house, fluffing pillows and making beds. While he eats I've been reading stories to the kids, catching up on my reading and writing and just watching him, completely in love. I'm loving all the simple little moments; the smell of a freshly bathed baby, the sound of the girls playing happily in their room together, the site of James and his Daddy napping together on the couch. I'm even considering having company this week.

I don't remember being this pulled together so soon after having the girls. It's kind of surreal. I gave birth 11 days ago. It seems impossible that we are already finding our rhythm as a family, but we are. This baby seems to have folded himself nicely into our lives. I feel so much more confident this time than I did the last two times. It's a big deal, yes, but I know how to care for a baby. I don't sit around all day worrying that I'm going to mess him up for life with every move I make. I don't feel guilty for taking time for myself. I don't have the time or energy to waste on useless guilt and worry. It's very freeing.

This kid, being my third in five years, gets less attention than the other two ever did as babies, but paradoxically, he is happier, easier and we are all enjoying these baby days much, much more. There's probably a lesson of some kind in that. I'm a little to tired to figure out what it is right now, but no doubt it will come to me with time and better rest. :)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Strawberry Pancakes

We have a family tradition of having a pancake breakfast the first Saturday after bringing home a new baby. Cheyenne was born in Maple season, so she got maple syrup pancakes. Bella was born in blueberry season, so she got blueberry pancakes. Well, James was born at the beginning of strawberry season, so naturally we had to have strawberry pancakes. We stopped at a strawberry farm on the way home from the hospital and picked up these beauties. We managed to keep from eating them all in a sitting, which is something of an accomplishment for the girls. OK, and for me. I admit it.

There is nothing like pancakes from scratch. I made a double batch, thinking there would be leftovers to freeze. I should have known better.
For an added touch of elegance I served them on my grandmother's cut glass luncheon set. Because, you know, newborn baby boys appreciate that kind of detail. :)

Thoughts on Father's Day

I think my husband is an attractive man all the time, but moments like this absolutely melt my heart. Zach really is an amazing father. He was young when we had our first kid, just 21 years old and even then he was amazing. At a time when most young guys spend their boundless energy partying until dawn he spent his rocking babies to sleep and taking over midnight feedings. He worked 50 hour weeks and then came home and insisted that I rest.

Zach is a really fun dad. He's the kind of dad who pretends to be the Pirate King at the playground and has all the little pirates following him around battening down hatches and setting a course for the wild blue yonder. Neighbor kids wait outside with squirt guns ready to attack and have more than once been surprised that he was ready with a loaded squirt gun of his own. He takes the kids canoeing, fishing, swimming, sledding, skating and builds intricate snow forts and sand castles.

He's passionate about everything he does. Passionate about me, passionate about fatherhood, passionate about work and passionate about fun. He sets a good example for the kids, stopping the car to shovel a driveway for a little old lady or moving all of our neighbors furniture after a 12 hour workday because he found out the man had recently had a heart transplant.

The highest praise I can bestow upon my husband is that I hope that someday my daughters find a man like him and I hope that my son follows in his father's footsteps.

A Few More Pictures

OK, just indulge me. I know by now you are probably sick of all my baby gushing, but Sweet Baby James finally made it home from the hospital yesterday and, well, I'm in the mood to gush. I also thought it would be nice to post some pictures where he doesnt, as my nephew put it, "look like a robot with all those wires and things."

Look at how absolutely tiny he is sitting in his infant car seat!

Even his preemie clothes are too big for him. Luckily it's going to be 90 degrees this week, so he won't need much in the way of clothing.

I"m guessing the odds that I'll ever get a picture of these three kids sitting still are slim to none. James can't even move much and I still couldn't get a single shot where someone wasn't moving.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Frugal Baby

Baby James is getting ready to come home in a day or two. He arrived a little early so we have been using this time between my release from the hospital and his to get things ready for him. This includes making sure we have everything we need and getting anything we are missing. While I was sorting through the gifts and hand-me downs it occurred to me that Zach and I haven't really spent much on this baby. Just for fun I added up what we spent and it totaled all of $.49.50, not including medical costs, of course. I am blown away by the generosity of our friends and family. $49.50? I've spent that on dinner and a movie.

Here's what we did that saved us some cash.

-Most of the things we bought for ourselves were secondhand. For example the bassinet was purchased at the church garage sale and the bouncy seat (which my kids liked for people watching more than for bouncing) was purchased at a thrift store. There's no sense in paying full price for stuff they outgrow quickly if you don't have to.

-We have received so many hand-me-downs it's incredible. Almost all of James' wardrobe is made up of hand-me-downs and they are all in really good shape. We have a hand-me-down sling, a hand-me-down nursing pillow, a borrowed swing...you get the picture.

-Well-targeted gifts. People have been great about asking me what I really wanted and needed and getting me those items. When we did our baby registry I tried to be really judicious about what I added to it, making sure only the items I really needed made it onto the list. I also want people to feel like they can celebrate the baby with me without buying a gift. It's no big deal as far as I'm concerned. Non-traditional gifts are great also. My bible study group gave me a gift card to the grocery store to help with increased food expenses while I'm too tired to make everything from scratch. Another friend brought me a Jimmy John's sandwich when I was sick of the hospital food and has offered to watch the girls sometime for free. Stuff like that is greatly appreciated.

-We thought carefully about what we need and don't need. There are so many things marketed for babies that are really unnecessary. Some of it is nice to have, don't get me wrong, but it's not necessary. We tried to weed out items we hadn't found useful yet or could do without. For example, neither of my girls liked the baby bathtub. G.G.B. is the sink-bathing master, so instead of getting a baby bathtub I've opted to have her refresh my memory on her sink-bathing technique. There's something beautifully simple about it. It's just a baby, a sink, a towel and a little baby wash. It's easy on my back and there's nothing big and bulky to store.

-We went with a not-so-babyish room theme. This was Zach's idea. I have to admit that at first I didn't like it. I wanted something cutesy and....well... a little less masculine. Zach, who never puts his foot down on anything, told me no. He wanted input this time and he wanted it to be a boys room. Consequently, we are going with a classic car theme. Zach is ordering a sleek custom decal of a vintage sports car for the wall decoration and making a clock from a hubcap. He's making it a room that he, as a 26 year old man would appreciate. This lessens the chance that James will hit 5 years old and think his room is too babyish.

Overall the preparation for this baby has been incredibly simple and incredibly inexpensive. I wish I'd known when I had baby #1 how simple all this could be. I could have saved myself a lot of money and hassle.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Few Pictures

He's Here!

James Steven Griffith was born June 11, 2009 at 8:29 AM. He weighs 4 lbs 8 oz and he's too cute for words. He's in the NICU for breathing problems probably until mid next week, so any thoughts and prayers would be greatly appreciated. I'll try to update with a picture later tonight!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Happy Birthday to G.G.B.

This is my Grandma Barb, known to her six great-grandchildren as G.G.B. (Great-Grandma Barb). The kids absolutely love their G.G.B. and the feeling is mutual. She is Bella's semi-imaginary friend, joining her for tea parties even when she isn't here.

She is not your typical granny. She lives in Las Vegas and loves her sequins, fast cars and buffets. She is the queen of organization. I remember her futile attempts to teach me how to iron a shirt or smack all of the wrinkles out of a perfectly made bed and I wish I had paid more attention.

She's a woman to be reckoned with, a force of nature. I won't tell you how old she is because it's impolite to mention the age of a woman older than me, but I will tell you that in spite of our age difference she runs circles around me. The woman cannot sit still. She'll come to your house and, restless after a half hour chat, she will climb up on a chair and wash your windows just to have something to do. She's the last of the Old Guard who grew up in the days of hard manual labour and very little luxury. Sometimes the vastly different worlds we have inhabited makes it hard for us to understand the other person's perspective, but we love each other and that gets us through.

So here's to you grandma. Here's to a woman who was an entrepreneur at a time when women didn't do that sort of thing. To a woman who made it from abject depression-era poverty to an American success story and still makes a mean rhubarb torte. Happy Birthday from your loving family!

Monday, June 8, 2009


I love peonies. They are one of my very favourite flowers. Every year when they are in season I buy at least one bouquet of them at the farmer's market. They are expensive, but worth it. Not this year. This year there are other expenses that need to be met and there just isn't room in the budget for extras like peonies.

I've decided that instead of being disappointed I am going to make a spiritual (and fiscal) exercise of enjoying beauty without having to possess it. That's always been something of a problem for me. When I see something beautiful, I want to own it. Maybe it's just part of the human condition, longing for permanence and perfection in an impermanent and imperfect world. There's something about the transient nature of beauty that makes it all the more irresistible, and even when I can possess a thing I find beautiful I often find that the act of capturing it dulls my appreciation rather than increasing it.

Instead, I am letting myself be awed by it's grandeur

it's fragility

it's brilliance

and it's splendor, and leaving it just as I found it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Date with Bella

Every now and then Zach and I like to each take a kid and have a special parent/child date with each of them. Yesterday I took Bella to the St Paul Farmer's Market. We wandered the aisles enjoying all the beautiful displays of flowers and vegetables, stopping occasionally so mommy could buy some lettuce or Bella could buy a honey stick with her Christmas money.

I don't have the energy to garden this year, but the girls have their heart set on a "marigold garden" like the one Ruby of Max and Ruby has. I decided that a few marigolds, and just for fun a few violets, wouldn't break the bank and would give them something they could care for over the summer. Bella picked out yellow marigolds for herself and orange marigolds for Cheyenne.

We enjoyed a hot toasted bagel and a lovely conversation with the woman sitting across from us at the community table and retired home for a farmer's market lunch of summer sausage on fresh baguette with farmer's market butter, cream line chocolate milk and sugar snap peas with homemade ranch dressing. It was a wonderful morning with my girl.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I love people who have too much time on their hands

For example, the people at the Ramsey County Compost Center who found the time to label all the trees.

And, just so we wouldn't all get confused, the light pole.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Chocolate Hazelnut Zucchini Muffins

I've been working on using up last years frozen produce, so today I took out a jar of shredded zucchini to make these Chocolate Hazelnut Zucchini muffins. They are loosely based on this Chocolate Zucchini Cake I made about a million times last year. They were a huge hit on our afternoon canoe trip.

Here's the recipe. Or, rather, the directions since I didn't really measure everything exactly.

1 1/2 c Flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/3 c cocoa (approximately. I just guessed)
3/4 to 1 c sugar (one of those things I don't measure exactly)
1 c shredded zucchini
1/4 c oil
1 egg
a splash of coffee (a tablespoon?)
a splash of vanilla
two handfulls of chocolate chips
1-2 handfulls of chopped hazelnuts

Mix dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients and mix. Fold in hazelnuts and chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hidden Treasure

We are almost done with a year-long clean out of the basement. It's been an interesting process, sorting through all the flotsam and jetsam of my childhood. As of this morning only one corner was left untouched, and this afternoon it revealed it's hidden treasure. Books. My books. All of them, from birth to my teen years. This is a rare and valuable find to be sure. Included in the booty are:

-The entire works of L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series
-All the Nancy Drew Mysteries I spent every summer searching for at garage sales and thrift shops
-The entire works of Louisa May Alcott
-Several Doctor Seuss books
-The Gnome Book I was enamored of as a child
-Several books by Robert Louis Stevenson
-The American Girl's Handy Book
-Peterson's Field Guide to Birds
-Several Little Golden Books
-The Boxcar Children
-The entire Little House on the Prairie series
-G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown Mysteries
-Some Edgar Allen Poe

This is good stuff. I doubled the Children's and Youth Fiction section of my home library in one go today, and for free. I am feeling good!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thrifty Gifts- Homemade Children's Books

My father-in-law is an interesting man. He was older when my husband was born, well into his 40s, an old-school farmer and a single dad of four boys. He's gruff, opinionated, old-fashioned, eccentric and cheap, so of course I think he's pretty cool.

Born in the 1930s and raised on a farm, he is the kind of guy who doesn't think much of fancy toys and elaborate gifts for children, but the ones he comes up with tend to be solid hits. My absolute favourite are his homemade children's books.

The stories are all real stories from his family, for example there's a story about a pretty young girl in WWI who falls in love with a handsome boy just before he goes away to fight in the war. He talks about what life was like for the girl, waiting at home on the farm for her love to arrive, and (in child-appropriate terms) what it was like for the boy off fighting in distant lands and in the end, of course, the boy comes home and they live happily ever after. The girl is his mom and the boy is his dad, Cheyenne and Bella's great-grandma and great-grandpa.

The stories are printed on plain paper and stapled together. Phil is no artist, so he leaves spaces for the kids to illustrate the stories themselves. They are nothing fancy, but I can't help but think that 30 years from now, when the thrill of a plastic toy would have long since faded, these simple handmade children's books will still bring a smile to my kids faces.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fostering Independence- The Pickle Sandwich

As I made my sleepy way down the stairs this morning on my mission to somehow round myself up a cup of coffee, I was greeted by this sight.

"Whatcha doin' baby?"

"Making breakfast!"

"With mayonnaise and pickles?"

"Yes! It's a mayonnaise, pickles and polka dot cheese (Swiss) sandwich! It's my new favourite!"

A little put off by the sheer volume of mayonnaise and the thought of dill pickles for breakfast, I consider suggesting something a little more traditional, but the look on her face gives me pause. She is so proud of her new creation. I consider that my preconceived notions of what makes a tasty breakfast are essentially cultural and ultimately not important.

"Isn't it beautiful mom? It's going to be delicious!"

"Yes, honey, it's beautiful." And I mean it. These first steps towards independence are a beautiful thing.

Weekend Green Hour

This Green Hour thing we've been doing has been good for my soul. I can only imagine what it's doing for the girls. There's something about getting outdoors that makes all my petty little concerns seem as small and mundane as they really are. Problems that loom like black storm clouds on the horizon when I am alone in my house disappear in the rush of the creek and the quiet of the woods. I need to be awed. I need to be reminded that I am not nearly as important as I sometimes like to think I am. It's both humbling and freeing, this reminder in such graphic detail that I am just a small part of creation, not the center of it.