Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bennett Crocker: My Little Sous Chef

Lately Bennett has really started to love helping me cook. Without fail, every time I start cooking, within a minute or two, Bennett will come running into the kicthen. He'll look up at me with his sweet, puppy eyes and say, "Can I help, Mommy?"
"Can I help?" Sounds innocent enough, right? WRONG! These three little words can really stress a Mama out! Because when Bennett helps, I can be positive that:
  • We will be making a mess of cataclysmic proportions.

  • Egg shells WILL end up in whatever we're cooking.

  • It will take twice as long to make whatever we're cooking.

  • I will probably burn at least one food item as I try to referee my sous chef.

But more importantly, I've been trying to remind myself that when Bennett helps I can also be positive that:

  • We will laugh together and have fun.

  • I am investing in my son in a way that is meaningful to him.

  • We are day-by-day cultivating a lifelong bond as we share these little memories.

  • My son will know that I love spending time with him and value his help.

Messes can always be cleaned up. Egg shells can always be meticulously picked out of the batter before it is mixed together (well, almost always). But Bennett won't always be little. He won't always hang on my every word and get uncontrollably excited just to help me make cookies. So I'm taking the road less traveled by -- the messy, flour-covered, curvy, bumpy, super-fun road. And (I'm hoping) it will make all the difference.

Bennett and I made a cake together last week. Here is a picture of the aftermath. I know it doens't look that messy, but trust me, it was!

*Note: Only Mommy touched the knife, of course!

And here is the finished product. If you want the recipe for the most delicious chocolate sheet cake you will ever taste, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Nordic Friend: Things I've Done While Wearing a Baby Bjorn

I have a best friend. He is Nordic. His name is Bjorn.
Bjorn and I have done lots of fun and interesting things together. Here are just some of the things I have done with him tagging along:

Used the restroom (I'll just get that one out in the open right from the get-go)
Cooked dinner
Eaten dinner at a restaurant
Vacuumed the couch
Made pancakes
Gone on a walk
Gone on a hike (*see photo below)
Carried Bennett upstairs (with Mallie in the Bjorn)
Helped Bennett go potty (Sorry to say, but I think Bjorn got squirted ...)
Gone grocery shopping
Blow dried my hair
Painted my toenails
Mopped the floor
Watched a Movie (in a movie theater)
Airplane ride
Airport security check
Taught children at church
Fed the dog
Cleaned up toys
Played cars and trains with Bennett (while Mallie is in the Bjorn)
Played ball with Bennett (while shielding Mallory's head from near-concussions)
Packed boxes
Unpacked boxes
Rehearsed for a stage play (really!)
Checked my e-mail
Put on my makeup
Rocked my babies to sleep (my personal favorite)
Any many more...

I have often been asked how I can devote so much time to domestic things while caring for my newborn baby. The answer, my dears, is simple... and his name is Bjorn!
The picture up top is Bennett when he was around 4 months old. Ahhh... I remember those days, when Bjorn only came out for walks and the occasional fussy moment at the grocery store. Those days are long gone now that we have two kiddos. Bjorn makes an appearance much more often these days. Take for instance...
Our trip to Lake Tahoe, where Bjorn came through yet again. Thanks to my Nordic friend, our over-tired and cranky little Mallory fell asleep, and we were able to stay at the beach and visit with family.

And for the record, McPreachy and Bjorn are buddies too! Especially when we are hiking. (McPreachy doesn't trust me with baby-carrying duty while we are hiking because I am SOOOO klutzy!) So I guess I haven't actually hiked while wearing a Bjorn, but McPreachy has... and according to the Good Book, we are one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mambo Italiano: Antipasto on a Stick

I made these appetizers this weekend, and they were so easy and fun! They turned out to be quite a show-stopper for something so simple. Next time you want to add a little wowie to your zowie, try making these babies! Here's what you need:
  • wooden skewers (no need to soak, cause we're not grilling!)
  • 1 baguette, cut into cubes
  • 1 jar kalamata olives
  • 1 jar green olives (*insert McPreachy's gagging here.* He hates green olives, but I think they are like manna from heaven.)
  • 1 stick o' salami, cut into hunks (or chunks... whichever you prefer...)
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 1 tub of bocconcini (This is just a Fancy Nancy word for mozzarella balls. I got mine at Heaven's Threshhold, a.k.a. Trader Joe's. I used their marinated bocconcini for this recipe)
  • 1 package of basil
Now it's just time to get creative and skewer your delish antipasto items. My pattern was: bread (I put bread on the ends to keep it from getting soggy), kalamata olive, green olive, salami, tomato, cheese, tomato, basil leaf, bread. But who cares what I did... you just go with your bad self, and do it your way! Add your own favorite antipasto items, like peppers, marinated artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto... the possibilities are endless!

Happy Skewering!

Coconut-Macadamia Cookie Bars: A Little Taste of the Islands

I've made these super-easy cookie bars a few times in the last couple weeks, and they've been a huge hit! Not only are they delectable, but they couldn't be easier!

I like to keep ingredients for easy desserts like this on hand all the time so I can whip something up in a moment's notice. Here's the recipe:

Coconut-Macadamia Cookie Bars:

1 package dry sugar cookie mix, prepared to package directions
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup macadamia nuts, halved

Mix all ingredients together, and spread evenly into a greased 13x9 pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Cool and cut into squares. Or, if you are like me and can't wait, cut while still warm, and make a huge mess!


Friday, August 21, 2009

Murphy's Law: The One Time I Forget Shoes

I'll just say it -- forgetfulness is one of my downfalls as a Mama. I am constantly asking my friends to borrow diapers and wipes. I've had to stop at Target during many an outing to buy a sippy cup, binky, or new pair of pants for Bennett. I am lucky I have so many well-prepared, non-forgetful friends. Alas, none of them were with me today. Here's what happened:

This morning I gave Bennett a bath, and as I was drying him off, I realized his hair was almost as long as mine. So I decided on a whim to take him to get a haircut real quick. (And so says the Psalmist, "Mom's say 'real quick,' God laughs.")

So I got ready to go, and with the help of my super-sweet husband, (who had already cleaned the kitchen for me this morning, too!) piled the kids in the car. I even told Bennett we could go to the McDonald's play place on the way home from our haircut. I was feeling like I had things pretty together.

We arrived at the haircut place, and as I opened the back door to get Bennett out, I realized he had no shoes on. Suddenly I remembered Neil saying, as he was buckling Bennett into the car, "Honey make sure you grab Bennett's shoes!" I yelled back, "Okay! I'll get them!" only to head out the door empty-handed. Forgetfulness rears it's ugly head. Now, standing in front of the haircut place, I do a quick scan of the backseat, where an extra pair of Crocs is almost ALWAYS lurking. But not today...

I decide not to stress about it. I say to myself: No problem. Just because my kid has no shoes on in a public place, that doesn't make me white trash. Or a bad mother.

So I load Mallory's car seat into the stroller and proceed to carry Bennett across the street while pushing the stroller with the other hand, which is a feat in itself. I make it to the haircut place, and a kind gentleman inside opens the door for me. It's a small, crowded place, and I'm instantly self-conscious about Bennett's bare feet. I am just hoping no one will notice. The man behind the register is friendly at first.

"Hi! Just sign in, and we'll be with you in a... WAIT! Do you have shoes for him?"

The room is silent. Everyone in the small, crowded, space is now staring at White-Trash-Mom and her son's bare feet. In typical Casey fashion, I try to just charm my way out of my embarrassment.

Me: "No... can you believe it?! We ran out of the house and completely forgot shoes!" Smile, smile, smile...

Man: (not even remotely charmed) I'm sorry, but if he doesn't have shoes, you'll have to leave. It's part of our health code."

I feel the judgement of not only the man behind the counter (who will now be refereed to as "Health-Code Nazi") but of all the other moms in the room. I can just hear their thoughts: What kind of mother forgets her son's shoes?! I even see a few eye-rolls and head-shakes. The only one who is nice to me in the entire place is the gentlemanly dad who opens the door for me again as I leave.

As I walk to the car, I am both embarrassed and fuming mad. I mean seriously... are my two-year-old's chubby, little bare feet really going to compromise the health code? Quick! Someone grab the HazMat suits... there's a kid in here with no shoes on! Alert the Pentagon! Sheesh!

I carry/wheel the kids back to the car and decide that we're going home and NOT coming back! We can just get a haircut another time. As I'm unloading the stroller and putting it back into the trunk, a sweet, older lady who is parked next to me says, "Wow, I don't know how you young mom's today do it." And then, looking at the kids,"Your kids are just so beautiful." Those kind, validating words from a stranger just made my day and turned my attitude around. "Thanks," I said "I was kind of having a rough morning."

She continued to validate: "Raising little ones is so hard! You're doing a great job!" And with that my Golden-Girl Guardian Angel got in her car and drove away.

Then, I got back in the car and drove home. I grabbed Bennett's shoes, and we went back to the haircut place. We provided proof-of-footwear to Health-Code Nazi, got Bennett's hair cut and went to the play place. We ate McNuggets. And everything turned out just fine.

As we drove home (again) I got to thinking about how I myself judge other moms and how wrong that is. Shouldn't we moms be the last people to judge each other? Shouldn't we stick together because we know how darn hard it is to take care of little ones. Today's shoe incident reminded me that instead of judging another mom, it's so much better to say, "What beautiful kids you have," or "Great job," or even "I have an extra pair of shoes in the car if you need them."

Because a little validation and encouragement can mean a lot to a frazzled mama.

Here's Bennett after his hair cut:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Humiliation at Trader Joe's: The Complete Saga

Today, after what seemed like 3 hours of preparation to leave the house, (nursing, changing Mallory's diaper, making Bennett sit on the potty, getting both kids dressed, getting myself dressed, packing a snack, packing a sippy cup, grabbing extra underwear and shorts just in case, getting my grocery list ready, finding Bennett's shoes, forgetting Mallory's binky and going back inside to find it, buckling everyone in, realizing I can't find my Baby Bjorn, searching all over the house for said Baby Bjorn only to realize it has been in the trunk of the car the whole time, vowing I will never take both kids to the grocery store again... you know the drill) the kids and I headed off to Trader Joe's (the most magical place in the unverse).

It was just your typical Trader Joe's trip: Mallory in the Baby Bjorn, smiling at passers-by... Bennett asking to have a snack from the food samples, asking for chocolate milk, asking to see the "Moo Cow" sign over the dairy case, asking to look for the stuffed lemur they hide around the store for kids. It was during this last query that our story really begins...

Bennett: "Mama, where is dat monkey?" (He doesn't know it's really a lemur... I don't have the heart to tell him.)

Mama: (scanning the cheese section) "Hmmm... where did they move the provolone?"

Bennett: "Mama! I want to find dat monkey pweeeaaassseeee!!!"

Mama: (still looking for that evasive provolone) "I don't know where it is, Bennett. Let's look in a minute, okay?"

Bennett: (pointing) "Ask dat blue man over dere." (translation: blue man = man in a blue shirt)

At this point I look to where Bennett is pointing and see a woman in a blue shirt, definitely in ear shot of our conversation. What makes it really bad is that she does have kind of a masculine quality to her. I am mortified. Like an idiot, I try to fix it.

Mama: "Oh, do you mean that you want to find a man that works here and ask him? Hmmmm... I don't see him right now. Let's go look!"

Bennett: (pointing again) "No, Mama! Dat man right dere!"

The lady is listening now, aware that Bennett is pointing at her. She gives us a not-so-happy look and turns to leave.

And I don't say anything. I just stand there with a red face watching blue (wo)man walk away. Because when your two-year old tells a woman that she, in fact, looks like a man, there really isn't much you can do or say to make it better.

Lake Gregory: Childhood Nostalgia Re-Visited

When I was growing up, my family had a little cabin in Lake Gregory, California, and I have very fond memories of visiting this quaint little mountain town every summer.
Now that I have kiddos of my own, I felt it was high time to resurrect this family tradition. Cause those of you who know me well know that I LOVE tradition. I do admit, I can go a little overboard on family traditions sometimes... but I really do believe that traditions are a very important part of family life. They unify your family, making your kids feel like they are part of something special. And even as your kids grow up and enter their hormonal teenage years, your family traditions keep them connected and engaged with the family. (Or at least I hope so!) Plus, traditions are just so darn fun!
So this was the first year of our new Lake Gregory summer tradition. Here are some highlights!

Here's a video of Bennett in the car as we're getting ready to leave...

His excitement is just so precious... I'm sure Jesus got a good chuckle out of sweet Bennett calling him "Jewsus."

Here's our family enjoying the perfect summer day.

Here's McPreachy playing ball with Bennett on the beach. Bennett used his charm to weasel a little girl out of that ball. (We gave it back when we were done playing, of course). And check out my hot husband's killer physique!!!

Mallory is just so adorable! Sometimes she will be acting so cute, my Mom and I just start laughing because we don't know what else to do with ourselves when faced with such extreme precious-ness. This was one of those moments.

Here's Bennett playing with his sand toys...

...while his best buddy Bobob supervises.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Roller-Skate Romper: A Shameless Plug

My friend Katie is talented beyond belief. This girl can sew like the Dickens. And by that, I of course mean that her handiwork is comparable to amazing feats of literary genius, not that she gets paid by the thread.

Anyhow... I am so amazed by her sewing ability that I must brag a little bit.

Here is something she made for Mallory. It's called the "Roller-Skate Romper," and not only did she sew it, she also made the pattern herself. See... I warned you... she is amazing! (and probably SO mad at me right now, because she is very humble and not the type of person who likes attention drawn to her amazingness)

Anyway, back to the romper. Now granted, Mallory is probably the most darling baby girl that's ever lived, so of course anything she wears looks down-right precious. But PLEASE! The elasticized waist, the chic color-coordinating ribbon ties, the cute 70'ish vibe (hence the name). I'm in romper heaven!

Now onto her crowning glory as a seamstress (in my humble, non-seamstress opinion).

Katie made me this skirt, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it! It has a cottagy, Anthroplogie vibe, which is just my style. I wore it with a wide, red belt and white top, and I felt like a million buckaroonies!!!

I love my wonderful, talented friend!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day Trip With the Kids: The Prologue

Tomorrow we are waking up bright and early and heading out on a little day trip to one of my favorite childhood vacation spots -- Lake Gregory, CA. It's a quiet, little mountain lake near Lake Arrowhead, and since it's such a nostalgic place for me, I thought it would be fun to take Neil and the kids there.

So like any mother taking her young children on a day trip, I have spent the entire evening packing snacks, diapers, sand toys, towels, extra clothes, sunscreen, juice boxes, burp cloths, wipes, extra underwear, pull-ups, more snacks and every other possible thing we could potentially need.

The only item noticeably absent from the appalling pile of beach gear littering the front entryway... is my book. Cause let's face it, when you take your almost-three-year-old and your 5 month-old to the beach, the only thing you'll be reading is the back of your box of Cheez-its. (Can I get an "Amen!" from all the Mama's out there?!)

Goodbye, sweet bygone days of traveling light... of spontaneity and reading on the beach. I must admit, I miss you a little bit. But my son's excited little face as he splashes in the water and the sweet smile he gives me when I make sandcastles with him are more than worth it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Breakfast for Dinner: One of Life's Simple Pleasures

If you ask me, (which you didn't, but hey, it's MY blog!) nothing beats good old Breakfast for Dinner (BFD). Today was one of those days that didn't stop, (come to think of it, what other kind of days are there?) and I needed to do something easy. So we (by we, I of course mean me) decided to have BFD night! Bennett and I made these pancakes, and they were soooooooooooooo good. Try 'em... you'll like 'em!

I love the oats in the mix... they actually make it feel healthy to eat a butter-slathered, syrup- drenched piece of cake for breakfast! I also threw in some almonds in step one for some added protein and crunch.

Bennett, my sweet son who is always "all full" after two bites, ate two whole pancakes! This was a monumental achievement in his life. I wish they made certificates for pancake eating. I would fill one out for him right now.
Happy BFD-ing!

Repurposed Chalk Pots: A Good Thing

When decorating my home, I am a huge fan of re-purposing things we're not using anymore and using them in a whole new way. These chalk pots are a good example. My mom's group made them as a craft last year, and I just unearthed them from under an enormous pile of old blankets, paint cans, baby gear and empty cereal boxes (to be recycled, of course!) in our garage. You take plain, terra cotta pots and paint around the top of them with chalkboard paint. Then you are supposed to plant herbs in the pots and label them with chalk, all artsy-like. It's quite a darling idea... unless you have a black thumb like me. Somehow a trio of dead basil, rosemary and thyme in cute, little chalk pots just doesn't sound so darling, which is why I probably never used them in the first place.

So the other day I was hosting a little get-together and needed something to hold my cutlery (I use the word cutlery loosely, since it was really plastic wear from Albertsons...) I tried several containers, and they all looked pretty lame. And then... ta-dah! The light bulb went off in my head, and a re-purposed pot was born.

I love them so much, now I'm using them all kids of places around the house. Like here on my desk.

I also think they'd be super cute with kids art supplies in them.

See! With a little love and creativity, you can re-purpose almost anything!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Entertaining: Easy Schmeezy Appetizer

I'm a big believer that the simplest things are often the best. This especially applies to entertaining. I speak from experience when I say that biting off more than you can chew when entertaining will just end up stressing you out and make you never want to entertain again!

I love to offer a little something to nibble on when people are coming over for dinner... something simple and not too heavy since we will be eating pretty soon. One of my favorite things to do is a cheese board. It is simple, easy and just enough to tide guests over until the meat comes off the grill.

Making a cheese board couldn't be simpler. Here's how:
1. Grab a cutting board. Don't worry if yours is a little "rustic" (a.k.a. scratched up/stained). This gives character to your presentation! I made this one on a small cutting board, but if I were going to add fruit (grapes, still in a cluster and sliced apples or pears), salami or mixed olives (in a cute little dish on top of the board) I would have used my big mother of a cutting board, and it has a very, very used feel...

2. Head down to your friendly, neighborhood Trader Joe's for a selection of cheeses. Try to get a good, varied selection. Today's cheese board featured sharp cheddar (note: from here on out cheddar will be referred to as "cheddah"), mild muenster and a nice, soft brie. Other favorites include a big old hunk of parmigiano reggiano, blue cheese or smoked mozzarella. As goes the old adage, "It's hard to go wrong with cheese." Okay, that's not an old adage... but it should be!
4. Arrange your hunks/wedges of cheese on your cutting board, including a small knife, and place your crackers in a basket alongside. I put mine in this cute little sectioned wood server.
5. Now slice about 1/3 of your block cheeses, leaving the rest of the block on the board. This adds to the homey, rustic charm of this appetizer! For the soft cheeses, like brie and blue cheese, just leave 'em whole, and let guests have at it!
And that's it! This is a great example of how unique presentation can make simple foods into something special.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So, I've Finally Joined the Gazillions...

...I've started a blog! My husband (Pastor McPreachy) is not a huge fan of blogs because they tend to be "random diatribes of nothingness" (Pastor McPreachy is quite the philosopher!). I think he has a point. Still... I really want one! Of course, wonderful, supportive husband that he is, he said "Go for it!" when thoughts of this blog popped into my head. Look forward to his philosophical, preachy, book-readin', theology-lovin' comments from here on out!

I am dedicating this blog to the good old domestic life. What can I say, I love to cook. I love to bake. I love raising my kids. I love crafts. I love entertaining. I even love cleaning. But what I love most of all is my family. All of my domestic efforts are really just ways that I make my husband and kids a priority... whether it's cooking for them, cleaning the house, doing the dishes(again) or decorating to make our house an inviting place to come home to. It's my hope to use this blog to chronicle my adventures in suburbia, to share some of the things that make my home a happy place and connect with all the other Suzy Homemakers out there... Happy Home-making!