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TeaTitles

So, December got a bit nutty, and we all got plague, and everyone died.

Or, at least that’s my excuse for not accomplishing the newly-8yo Lefty’s birthday celebration in a timely fashion back then.

Lefty, however, is a sadly suspicious person, for being so young.

She doubts that we all died and thinks we should have a party.

Her sister, Spicy, is a very pragmatic child. We are still pretty sure she’s 92 years old in her little spicy heart.

Wavies

So this wee miss decided to pull a Classic Dowager Duchess Grantham Maneuver. Her birthday closing in upon us, she sat herself down, took up her pen, and wrote out a stack of invitations to a Wonderland Tea Party, to be held the upcoming Saturday from 12 to 2 pm.

And then she and her sister delivered them around.

Because when Miss Spicy and Miss Lefty conspire to celebrate, they understand that the issuance of invitations will obligate their Slacker Mother to Do Something About It.

So we made petit fours and tea sandwiches, and had a party. We’re all mad here.

All-Mad-Here

The ingredients for a party of this sort include:

GUESTS

I suggest having, at a minimum, two very silly sisters, three brother-sister sibling sets, two neighbors, and a cousin with whom the sisters can swap clothes, because that’s inevitable. We very much missed one of our favorite fake cousins (who moved far south to Texas) and a few neighbors who weren’t able to come this time, but our attending blend of guests proved an admirable one. My Spicy’s Lady Grantham Skills are prodigious.

TREATS

Treats1

These needn’t be too terribly strenuous, but ought to include things like raw carrot coins, raw cucumbers (I can hear my  auntie delicately retching now…), a selection of tea sandwiches (in our case, wheat and white bread spread with Dilly Garden Veggie Cream Cheese, and encasing cucumbers, or ham. Interestingly enough, there was not a single cucumber sandwich remaining, and only four ham. Apparently, our Wonderlanders were pleased.); mismatched goblets and teacups and “Martinny” glasses filled with buttermints and jelly beans; the aforementioned petit fours (vanilla poundcake with strawberry jam and Lemon Cheese inside), and pink lemonade made up with club soda for appropriate Fizz. Oh, and multiple pie plates of popcorn. Short people adore fresh-popped, buttered popcorn.

Early on Saturday, we hit the local thrift shop and picked up a selection of lovely glass punch cups, some very pretty china plates, and a lovely tall china coffee pot from which to pour our beverages. And since it’s a Mad sort of tea party, the guests get presents… so the cups and plates were chosen by each guest, and taken home after.

MAKING

In my own personal quest to stop being a control freak, I deliberately plan party activities that involve Children Making Things That I’m Not Allowed To Direct Much. And since we do not believe in exclusively boyly/girly activities, we do things that Small People can all equally enjoy. Or, at least, that’s the goal.

One thing I’ve discovered in the last 19 years: kids like fridge magnets. So we made some.

I found some absolutely smashing graphics through The Graphics Fairy, and printed out plenty of bits in black and white. I roughly cut them before the party to speed things up.

Magnet Supplies

The guests chose their favorite elements, added color as they desired, and trimmed them out neatly (and this Mad Crowd has excellent scissor and crafty skills), and brought them to me for sandwiching between layers of clear contact “paper”. Another trim out (it works best with a small margin of sealed contact paper around the edges), and they were ready for strips of self-stick magnetic tape.

Sillies2

Coloring

SILLINESS

Rather than running too many directed activities, we chose to free-range the guests, which resulted in a lot of self-guided feasting, giggling, some LEGO play, Making of Magnets, more giggling, some knitting, Dramatic Speeches, “tea” refills, and a rousing game of Two Truths & A Lie.

SilliesIt is really quite a lot of fun to hear what Shocking Lies kids of 6 to 11 will come up with, and how their real life adventures can be entirely truthful, and fool you completely. This is an adventurous bunch. Over half have had staples and/or stitches in the noggin regions. I am wondering if this has played a role in their mutual and significant Oddness/Wonderfulness.

They were all highly suspicious of my Shocking Lie (that I have met the Queen of England) and guessed that of my more hopefully-mysterious truths was a truth (that I have mutant molars.)

Our smallest guest was a wee little sprite of a girl, who was a delightful addition to the party. She’s the smaller sibling of one of the fellows, and Lefty was anxious she should be included, because said sprite is a sweet thing, and Lefty knows how hard it is to be the youngest and left at home during the fun parties. We were delighted she could come!

Sprite

Costuming was optional, but of course, the guests got in on the fun! One of our neighbors wore a smashing chapeau:

Snail-Bomb

Sadly, she was Snail-bombed.

My children seem to think that photo-bombing is the bomb. Also, they think the classic “Party On!” hand thing looks like a snail, and will pop their index and pinky fingers up and down to mimic a snail extending and retracting its eye stalks.

So they Snail-Bomb people in pictures.

And they Snail-Bomb their sisters:

Sister-Snail

And they Self Snail:

Self-Snail

Because we are all Mad, here!

(Note on Lefty’s Hair: Yes, that’s her real and curly hair. No product, no enhancement, just left to dry on its own. Last week, in the midst of a very, very busy spurt of work for me, she climbed out of bed at 11pm and said, “I am very itchy on my back, will you scratch it? And also, my hair is to0000 long and I want it cut short.” And I realized that Right That Very Moment was the only time I’d have to cut her hair for the next month, so we cut it. And her hair has remarkable rebound, because it was cut to mid-neck, and recoiled to this delightful mop. She’s happy, I’m happy, and she went back to bed by 11:15.)

(Note on Spicy’s Hair: to get slight pre-Raphaelite waves into her lovely locks, the poor smidge slept on 12 lumpy braids all night. She is pragmatic and resolved about her own hair, which normally falls in glossy sheets to nearly her waist. It’s just that sometimes, she *really* wants some waves in there, and is willing to suffer for fashion.)

Click Here for the Food Nifties, of course!

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The Goodies We Ate:

Dilly Garden Veg Cream Cheese

This is great on crackers or bagels, stays spreadable even after the fridge, and makes a nice spread on bread for tea sandwiches. It’s more a process than a recipe, so quantities are variable.

  • 1 8oz brick cream cheese, paddled to death in a stand mixer
  • 1/2 cup good sour cream (Daisy brand is good. Guar gum and carageenan are not good) paddled in with the cream cheese.
  • Teeny pinch each of granulated garlic and granulated onion
  • Good sprinkle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt (accept no MSG-laden substitutes!)
  • Thumb-and-two-fingers generous pinch of dried dill
  • Several tablespoons of *very* finely minced raw carrot (whole big ones, not “baby” ones, which are never nice)

Blend all that together, and refrigerate overnight to let the flavors marry.

Lemon Cheese

This gets put between poundcake layers with jam. Or, you know, eaten from a spoon. It’s really good.

  • 1 8oz brick cream cheese, paddled to dickens in the stand mixer
  • 4 oz room temp butter, likewise paddled
  • zest of one fresh lemon
  • juice of said lemon (paddled… the theme of the day)
  • enough powdered sugar to make a lightly sweet, still-a-bit-puckery cross between glaze and frosting. I think I used about 2 cups.

Fizzy Punch

Totally cheated.

  • 2 frozen canisters of pink lemonade mixed with half the water
  • the rest of the water replaced with chilled club soda

I could have downed the entire gallon by myself.

The Poundcake Petit Fours

I used the recipe here at Rose Bakes and really liked how it tasted and turned out! I was short of shortening, so it was 3/4 butter rather than half-half butter and shortening. I also don’t buy condensed milk usually, and didn’t want to go to the store, so I used heavy whipping cream instead. Perfectly lovely.

A Note on Parchment Paper:

If you have not done so, use parchment paper rather than tin-foil, for everything. It’s awesomely wonderful and keen. No worries about aluminum, either! Baked goods release perfectly without added fats, petit four coatings slip off like a summer breeze (for those of us who sacrificed our baking racks to corral the last batch of baby chickens and never replaced them… ahem…). It also feels very British And Traditional. So, use parchment paper. It rocks.

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If You’re Going to Be…

We have an absolutely hilarious and inappropriate saying around here:

If you’re going to be a turd, go lay in the yard.

Because that’s pretty much what that sort of thing does, right? Lay in the yard?

This is the result when two large teenage boys spend two days doing all sorts of work, including going to bed at midnight and getting up at 3am to make crepes before trotting off to help staff at a charity triathlon, and they’ve been warned that any turd-like behavior on account of their own poor sleep choices will result in Consequences: they snarf food, then assume the correct postures in the correct environment, and rapidly drop off to sleep to prevent any turdly behaviors. Boys are lovely people.

Post-Prandial Coma

Post-Prandial Coma

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Rites of Passage

Stylish

What’s that by the door? Why, It’s SPIFFY MAN!

Anyone who thinks that boys don’t care as much as girls about going to real social dances, where they can actually dance with people who are not their own sistren, is just silly. In our circles, teens don’t start going to social dances until 14, and since The Boy’s friend turned 14 back in early winter, The Boy has been hatching plots with said Friend regarding how to go about this new experience.

The Eldest put her oar in, much as my mom recalls me putting my oar in when my brother approached a similar milestone. In The Boy’s case, being pretty business-savvy, he played upon her sense of horror at the thought of him actually using “compliments” such as “The red in your dress really brings out your zits!”, and he ended up making $5 by “allowing” Eldest to give him a few tutoring sessions in Appropriate Approaches And Other Niceties That Won’t Get You Killed By Your Sister and All Her Friends.

Why, yes, I do find the politics of West East Australia a fascinating contrast in dominant paradigms... Also: Bow Ties are COOL!

Why, yes, I do find the politics of West East Australia a fascinating contrast in dominant paradigms… Also: Bow Ties are COOL!

Of course, we had another challenge: The Spiffy Outfit.

My Boy is a Spiffy Dresser whenever he can make an excuse to do so. 99% of the time, Spiffy = Kilted, and he does look dashing in his kilts! But, the local social dances have a “thing” about kilts (I know, it’s silly, but–there it is.) Being quite a lovely fellow, he simply decided to approach the style issue as he does all costuming issues: what Spiffy items might he wear that would both fit the requested dress code, and express his own Sense of Splendiferousness?

My Boy is also Exceedingly Frugal, and Fully Man-Sized. So he trotted off to our favorite local resale shop, and found spiffy clothing for not a lot of cash. And Spiffiness was Accomplished.

Snazzy? Oh, yes! How YOU doin'?

Snazzy? Oh, yes! How YOU doin’?

The Eldest celebrated her brother’s Spiffy Accomplishment by using her new posing skills (acquired after a documentary and training session with friends who recently moved back to the States from China.) (To the I-Girls, we could not enjoy this Personal Photographic Attitude Success without you all!)

PPA3

Posing for Peace!

Posing for Peace!

A pack of kids went to the dance. A pack of kids came safely home. Girls of the Non-Sistren-Type were danced with. Nerd jokes were shared with other Bow-Tie-Clad awesome kids.

Anyone who doesn’t get to associate with teenagers in their homes is really missing out. These are really neat people, and I’m glad I get to know them!

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Ditto

It’s important to keep in mind that my goal is to raise adults, not children… our own path to this is meandering, but yes, I’m actively teaching all my kids to be competent and independent in the kitchen. The Boy has a list of meals he’s determined to master (his favorites, of course), as do each of the girls. The Little Girls are working on things like Cinnamon Toast and Peanut Butter Toast and Jelly Toast (I’m sensing a trend), but Spicy is now ready for “reheating on the stove” and “careful microwave use”; she and Spicy are usually in charge of slicing olives and celery, and definitely in charge of measuring rice and oats.

But, for another fun take on it: ditto to Jennifer, better known as FishMama, right there on her own blog:

Teaching Boys To Cook on Life as Mom

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The other night, our family was gathered around the computer to watch an episode of one of our geek-favorites (we like sci-fi and fantasy around here, quite a lot). Watching on Netflix, we’re spared commercials, but some of “our” shows are only on Hulu right now… and I was reminded, once again, why I’m not all that fond of some modern attitudes.

Actually, I wasn’t just reminded. I was appalled, and offended.

Go here and watch the previews, but you might want to duct-tape your skull first, because I think I felt my brain explode.

It’s a “comedy” titled “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.”

Yeah.

Ouch.

Is this really what we, as a culture, have decided to be “entertainment?” Do we really want to celebrate generational disrespect, cruel comments, destructive relationship patterns, weakness… in short, do we actually glamorize a cultivated hatred for our loved ones?

People have debated the merits of nature versus nurture in the development of traits and characteristics for quite a long time. In this situation, I’d argue that the whole negative ball of wax is a cumulative effect of nurture: how we train ourselves, and how we train those around us. Our nascent attitudes become our studied character, if we don’t watch out. Small cutting remarks grow into a habit of cruelty in thought and deed. Laziness becomes a pattern of weakness that leaves our families rudderless and grasping. Lack of respect for the inherent divine spark in every creation leads to laxity and emotional neglect, to denigration, rather than elevation.

When a child is “treated” to a decade and a half of a parent stating, right in front of that tiny personage, how Mum or Daddy “can’t WAIT til the kids are back in school,” or “how great it was before kids” or “we’re turning his room into a sewing room the weekend he graduates, so he’d better have something planned!”, how on earth is that supposed to do anything but alienate the affection that ought to exist between parent and child? Would we, as reasonable adults, ever deign to waste our emotions on people who treated us this way?

When interaction with a child, time with a child, is routinely passed over in favor of “mature” pursuits, “me” time, and other semi-selfish desires, what message does that give to a formative character? What worth must they assume they have, if they are never “worth” our time and effort?

None of this is to say that a parent ought to devote every single breath of every single day catering a child; quite the opposite! Children need not be catered to at all: they deserve nurturing and mentoring, not catering. Catering connotes “serving up on a platter, satisfying every whim”, which leads to an aggrandizement of self versus the control of self and channeling of passions in productive ways. Children need (crave!) both interactive time with parents, and quiet time alone to process what they are learning. Adults need mentoring time with children, as well as quiet alone time to continue to develop in their own passions and pursuits.

(The two are not mutually exclusive! It might be as simple as having together story time, and independent reading time, with both parent and child snuggled together, reading from their individual books. It could be as easy as inviting our children to join us in as many aspects of life as possible: preparing food, working in a garden, shopping, strolling along a riverside, listening to music, going out to a nice restaurant, spending an hour at the Lego aisle or following music paths on YouTube, just to delight over the delights of our child’s heart.)

From the show’s description, we find that it’s about “single mothers struggling to raise their over-privileged teenage daughters, whose mean-girl antics have begun to cross the line.”

Really.

If the girls are “over-privileged”, who indulged them and turned them in that path? If they are “mean-girls”, whose parental neglect and inattention allowed small negativities to blossom into a full-blown poor character? Who decided to allow “antics” to become systematic cruelties? Who decided it was too much work to take a hand in raising (elevating!) their own child?

At what point did tiny cruel “jokes” become a character trait and lifestyle habit? When did verbal abuse become “comedy?” When do we decide to put a stop to training ourselves to hate our children, and our children to hate us?

I’m offended.

I’m offended for my fellow mothers and fathers who love their kids so much it hurts to watch them sleeping.

I’m offended on behalf of those who look into the eyes of children across the world, and want so much for them.

I’m offended for the teen boys and girls in my acquaintance who add so much to our home, when they “invade” and play our piano loudly, and bake pies in my kitchen while singing along to all their favorite songs; when they work in my gardens just because they can, and lounge on the floor playing with Legos; when they read books to my little girls, and break out drum pads, pipe chanters, and penny whistles to make music; when they drop by to introduce us to a friend or (oooooo!) an important young fellow or young lady; when they share meals with us and fill the narrow living room with size 13 feet and giggle over silly movies with us.

I’m offended on their behalf, because I feel privileged to know their young hearts, to visit with them, to discuss important things, to breathe in the passion with which they approach life. They are wonderful! They are delightful! They are good people, trying so hard to be acceptable and worthy. They deserve so much affection and kindness.

They do not deserve, in any way, alienation and disaffection. They do not deserve hatred.

If they have rough spots? Well, they’re still in formation. So am I. I’d far rather love them with their warts, than discard them and abandon them to whatever a dissolute world would inflict upon them.

When I initially posted my astonished, offended response to this show trailer on Facebook, it sparked a pretty lively discussion. A few things that came out in that discussion are particularly interesting:

1: Attitudes and affection really do change when we indulge in small, nasty comments as “jokes”. When we re-school our tongue to speak (and think) kind things, rather than cruel, we retrain our affections. We can act as agents of alienation, or of increasing respect and love. It’s entirely a personal choice. Habits can be formed for good or ill, dependent on our personal will.

2: There are so many cultural points that speak to “hatred” today! Rejection of children is a prominent one in many areas. Individual circumstances differ, of course, and not everyone will raise and parent a child, but there are so many ways to share love and life, even without having children in the home through birth, adoption, fostering, or mentoring. Loving people across the world stimulate their “affection zone” by contributing to local, regional, national, and world-wide projects that aid children, and those actions increase the natural affection inherent to the human soul.

We were not meant to be loveless. We were not meant to be self-focused. We were not designed to emotionally abandon our children (though a few generations of laxity and lack of parental example and societal pressure to “do what feels good right now” have created just such abandoned children).

We were created for better, more elevating, finer things. We were created for life, love, and joy. We cannot serve without increasing our joy… it’s quite impossible! We love whom we serve, and true love is found in the service of others, whether those others reside in our own homes, or in the far reaches of a land we’ll never see with our eyes.

That’s our nature: our inborn traits of the heart, our spark of divinity.

What we nurture? That’s entirely up to us.

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I’m not a big fan of disposable things. I like enduring. I like real. Single-use plastic does not get me jazzed. Disposable napkins don’t work for me. I don’t like plastic plates, and get cranky at throwing away packaging, because I would prefer to not have the packaging in the first place. Re-using the glass jars some of our foods come in has been a nifty thing for me. Even though the shapes and sizes vary, there is continuity in nice, clean, clear glass.

I can make quick, simple labels with a bit of plain paper, a fine-point pigment marker, and some white glue smeared on the back (which soaks off easily later, no nasty sticky label residue!) Grocery items in glass jars come in so many different shapes and sizes, it’s easy to find just the right combination for a lot of my staple pantry items (which I like to buy in bulk from our local WinCo grocery store. I love that place. Where else could I buy, quite literally, 2 cents-worth of a particular herb to try it out in a recipe? No, I don’t want a $4 plastic shaker of the stuff… I just need 1/2 teaspoon, thanks!) The jars are a whole lot nicer than juggling a conservative estimate of 19 bazillion little baggies, otherwise.

I end up with a lot of small, squatty, rounded-off jars from marinated artichoke hearts. I love those things. Better than dill pickles. I love how decadent it feels to crack open a jar of marinated artichokes to nibble along with our normal picnic lunch of good, crusty bread, real butter, a bit of garlic-dill goat cheese, and some fresh fruit. I’ve never been to Europe, but I feel O-So-Continental sitting outside, all vulnerable in The Nature (it could touch me!), eating really tasty food with my chevre-snarfing minions.

We also find some really cool bottles, like this tall squarish one, filled with interesting preserves at the dollar store! This one held marmalade to begin with. Now it is destined for greatness as  a receptacle for grapefruit sugar scrub.

Who knew a huge jar of pickles had, hiding under the label, some really decorative bits molded in? It was lovely of the pickle people to provide me a nifty new tall jar for… something. Perhaps spaghetti noodles, or cookies, if I could get cookies to last more than the afternoon. Also, since I have a slightly odd sense of humor, I think it’s funny to store dried dill in a dill pickle jar:

It’s become normal for my children to ask, “Soak the labels off, Mom?” when there’s a new glass bottle and lid sitting next to the sink with the other dishes. I love knowing we can go to our small stash of Found Jars to find just the right container for a homemade foodie gift, if anyone has a yearning to give something to a friend or neighbor. Even leftovers in the fridge look more decorative and appetizing in clear glass jars, rather than oddly-stained plastic tubs. (And, if something gets left too long, turns sentient on us, and begins to moan every time the fridge is opened, I feel a lot better about my ability to sterilize glass, than in getting post-zombie-food plastic tubs really, truly clean.)

Is there a durable “found item” you prefer for household organization?

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