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Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Photo credit: David Lim

I have always loved to dance.  As a little girl I would occupy myself for hours on end dancing to the radio, tapes, even records.  I didn’t matter what the songs were as long as it made me want to move.  I danced all though high school.  In college I tried out for the dance team, but didn’t make it.  I was crushed, my identity was suddenly fuzzy.  Who was I if I wasn’t dancing?  I struggled with this identity crisis until my Sophomore year when I discovered ballroom dancing.  It was fabulous.  I learned all the smooth dances (except the quick step), but fell head over heels in love with the spicier Latin dances.  After college I was even a member of a salsa troupe in Sacramento as I pursued my Masters degree.  While I still love salsa, the one dance that has stuck the most is west coast swing.  I think it’s the openness of the dance, the ability for the follower to create movement within the structure of the dance, and the variety of music (blues, pop, oldies) that hooked me.  That and a handful of really awesome women and a few men who have become amazing friends.

Like all things, what goes up must come down.  It is a very costly hobby, unless you are one of the few fortunate enough to make a living off of it.  So, I took a break, birthed my son and became a mother.  Now that he’s almost a year old and sleeping through the night (yay!) I was getting the urge to get back on the dance floor.  I was nervous, but excited and thank goodness for muscle memory.  I was concerned that I had forgotten how to dance, how to move, how to create, but it’s kinda like riding a bike.  I lost myself in the music, laughed and poked some fun at my friends, and had a great time.  And honestly, it felt great to go back to doing something that I have loved for so long and it’s nice to know, that it will always be there for me.

Here are some videos of some of my favorite dancers:

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Messy Manicotti

Tuesday I found myself wandering around the grocery store looking for dinner inspiration. I came across the pasta but still wasn’t sure. I had half a jar of pasta sauce in the fridge that I needed to use so I started looking harder. And that’s when I saw the manicotti. I’ve never even eaten it let alone made it, but what could be so bad about cheese stuffed pasta?

To prepare for my inauguration I did some research and settled on a classic recipe. The prep work was easy and quick and my little one was being cooperative. Then it all went south. My son started getting clingy and he was crying so I had to attend to him first. By the time I got back, the manicotti had sat too long and were starting to stick together. I tried filling them with a spoon but the noodles kept splitting. According to America’s Test Kitchen using a ziplock bag with one end cut off like a piping bag is the best method for filling. So I stuffed it all into a ziplock, cut the end off and before I could even get a pasta tube it started oozing everywhere. I did manage to get a few filled this way, but it wasn’t pretty. Meanwhile, my son was still fussing and I had no idea why. By this point I’m pretty frustrated because the pasta keeps breaking, I can’t get the filling in the tube properly and my son desperately wants my attention.  So I do the only thing left– I fill the rest of those tubes with my hands.  When all’s said and done, sometimes the best tools are the ones attached to you.  At this point I was able to set the pasta (which looked horrible) aside and calm my son.

When I looked up again, I saw the kitchen was a disaster! It looked like I had been attacked by a flock of sea gulls.  I decided then and there that I am never attempting manicotti again.  It isn’t worth it, no matter how delicious it is.  By the way, it did turn out to be pretty tasty.  A glorified lasagna if you ask me, but still tasty.  And I learned that a little pasta sauce and lots of cheese makes them look a lot more appetizing.

After all of that, I forgot to take a picture.  Oh well, I’m sure you can use your imagination.

If anyone has any manicotti stories, or secrets on how to fill them, I’d love to hear all about it!

This is what they were supposed to look like.

Finger Puppet

I belong to a small group of mom’s that get together every other Monday.  It’s a great group and the kids get along so well together.  We try to have one “activity” and this week was my turn hosting.  Since all the kids are young (the oldest is 20 months) it’s difficult to find something that they all can do and have fun with.  We’re not really at the coloring, building, digging, pay attention for long stretches of time stage yet, so it’s pretty challenging.  In lieu of having the kids do the crafting, I decided to make something that they could play with later.  After browsing around online I settled on knitting finger puppets  (as seen in Knitty).

The eyes and mouth were very difficult for me, but at least they have a face.  We tried to corral the boys to read Peter Rabbit with the puppets, but mostly they just wanted to run around and climb the stairs.  Boys (sigh).  Once they get older I’m sure it will be more fascinating.

If you do have an older child, this could be a really great way for them to get engaged with books and identifying animals.  I made an elephant as well, but have yet to put eyes on him.  The ears of the bear were giving me some trouble so I have yet to figure that out.  Either way, their very quick to work up and don’t require a lot of yarn (I just used stash yarn).  If you’re looking for something quick and easy to knit, these fit the bill.

Start the Day off Right

A few posts ago I mentioned oatmeal brulee.  I love it, and that’s saying a lot coming from someone who used to hate the stuff.  My husband loves old-fashioned oatmeal, but he makes it look like one large glob of glue.  Hardly appetizing enough for me, so I refused to eat it.  I was able to eat the instant stuff if I didn’t overcook it and I added milk.  It was palatable.  Then we ate at Gravy and it changed me.  I love this breakfast place on N Mississippi in Portland.  They have the most awesome oatmeal.  I feel head over heels in  love with this stuff and decided that I needed to try and recreate it.  After months of researching and experimenting, I have it.  It may not be exactly like their oatmeal brulee, but it’s close and it sure is tasty.

So here it is for you to try at home:

Banana Walnut Oatmeal Brulee

Ingredients

1 cup old-fashioned oats (I like thick cut)

1 cup of water (I use half the amount of water than normal because I like a firmer consistency to my oats)

1 banana (diced)

walnuts pieces (as much as you like)

half and half (~1 TBS)

brown sugar

Directions

Pre-heat broiler

Bring water to a boil

Add oats, turn down the heat to medium and stir.  Boil until the water is almost all gone, but before the oats stick to the  bottom of the pan (about 4 minutes).

Remove from heat and add diced banana and walnut pieces

Add half and half.

Spoon into broiler safe bowls (I like ramekins)

Pat brown sugar in an even layer over top of oatmeal (1-2TBS)

Place under broiler for a couple of minutes until bubbly and golden brown.

Remove and let cool for a few minutes.

Eat and Enjoy!

Variations:

berries instead of the banana

any nuts for the walnuts or none at all

you can add spices like cinnamon if you so desire

If you add apples or pears for the banana I recommend cooking them before adding them to the oatmeal.  I usually cook them with a little butter and Cinnamon but you can play around with it.

So far my favorite has been the banana walnut, but I encourage you to take this recipe and run with it.

10 ways to increase creative thinking in your children

Photo Credit: Laffy4k at Flickr
Found on Abundance Tapestry (http://www.abundancetapestry.com/)

After my rant yesterday (Imagination required?) on children’s toys and their marketing I feel much better.  Since I’m clearly not crazy about these toys that do everything but dance, I decided to put together a list of activities that I feel boost imagination.  Most are not new ideas, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded.  All require some level of engagement, at least at first.  However, I have found that once the brain is stimulated, my son is less bored and able to entertain himself.

Without further ado….

1) Books.  You can learn everything from your ABCs,vocabulary, sentence structure, mental imagery and so many more things just by reading.  What’s not to love?

2) Crayons, markers, paint: A classic way to helping your child tap into his/her creative side.  You can even make a book together complete with illustrations.

3) Cooking (if old enough):  We will definitely be doing this in the future because I feel it has all kinds of side benefits.  Not only are they more likely to eat their dinner because they helped  make it, but it helps make them feel included in the family decisions.  My plan is to give start by giving him one night a week where he gets to pick (out of two options) what to cook and then we’ll do it together (me doing all the chopping and dangerous stuff).  Also, in the long run, not only will you eventually get a night or two of not having to do the cooking, but you’ll teach your child a valuable life lesson.

4) Have a dance party: When I was a kid I could occupy myself for hours with the radio.  It’s a great way for kids to burn off energy and get creative with their bodies.  With Childhood obesity being such a huge problem, this is a great solution to get your kid moving and it’s not weather dependent.

5) Make music: It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive.  Just open your cupboards and get out your pans, lids, spoons and bang away.  You can even get Tupperware containers and fill them with beans, rice, whatever makes noise, to make maracas.

6) Build something:  as I mentioned in my previous post we build and attack castles using the jumbo blocks.  The possibilities are endless and it’s a great way for kids to experiment.

7) Soft toys/ stuffed animals:  For the really young babies, make sure that you are supervising at all times.  However, building stories using these toys are great for inspiring imagination early.  My son has bugs that crinkle and squeak.  We used to create stories around them and have the bugs give him flying kisses.  Now we’re onto larger stuffed animals like dogs and bears.  He gets the giggles when the doggie pants and barks at him.

8) Let them choose their clothes:  I know, sometimes it’s hard when they want to wear things that clearly don’t go together, but as long a they don’t mind, why should we?  I think it’s never to early to start.  Right now I give my son two options every morning and ask him which top and which bottoms he wants to wear.  It’s adorable the way he evaluates each option and then lays his hand over which one he wants.  I think it gives him a sense of empowerment and there is certainly less fuss.

9) Tap into your creative side:  If you’re inspired your more likely to be able to inspire.  I know it’s difficult when most people work and the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day, but parenting is hard work.  I feel so lucky to be able to be home with my son and have the time to spend with him.  I guarantee  a little goes a long way, so even an hour is worth it.

10) Have play dates:  Not only does it take a lot of the pressure off of you, but kids learn so much from other kids.  My son is the youngest of our play group and I know that he has learned a lot already by observing what the bigger kids do.  It’s also nice to be able to have some adult interaction.  I knew I needed to start finding a group when my son started getting really interested in other kids and I started talking to my husband in simple sentences as if he was a child.  oops.

One last thought, it’s never too late to start cultivating imagination.  It will help in school and in life, and I think most everybody wants to see their children succeed.

Imagination Required?

This is a two part post because each topic is separate, but yet they feed off the other.

Part I:

The activity center:

ImageI highly dislike these types of toys.  In a world of smart phones, high speed Internet, cable TV, this is just one more flashy thing, that keeps your child “occupied”.  I feel these are more for the parents than the child.  So what don’t I like about them?  For starters, It doesn’t teach your child as much as you do when you talk and interact with them.  Secondly, it doesn’t require imagination or creativity.  When did blocks and stuffed animals get replaced with a hunk of plastic adorned with flashing lights and music?  I’m not against all of these new age toys, I just believe in moderation with a good dose of parental involvement.  We have two ‘electronic type’ toys, one specifically designed to help with balance and walking.  But, his favorite toys are the most simple: blocks, balls, and pots and pans.

Here’s what we do many times a day.  I build a castle while narrating a story

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and he tears it down

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We’re working on him helping to build the castle, but either way, this is much more fun than sitting or standing around a bunch of flashing lights.

So what was the fuse that lit this match?  On to part II.

Babies R US: 

After being told that we had to visit Babies R Us and register when I was pregnant, I went and hated it.  Not only was it overwhelming, but I had done my research and earmarked a few brands that I wanted to look at in person only to find out that they didn’t carry them in the store.  Not only do they not have them in the store, but they are allowed to only carry certain brands (their online selection is much more varied).  I haven’t been back since, until yesterday, and was reminded why.  I feel that they push brands and products by making it seem that your child will not survive without this list of stuff.  I always seem to end up questioning my parental choices and thinking, “maybe he needs this?”  So far, my child has thrived with out half the stuff on their list.

Furthermore, I feel that they are not giving the consumer enough of the big picture to make choices about what they want for their child.  It’s seems like brainwashing.  Have we become so busy that we fail to research all our options?  Take diapers for example.  I wanted to use cloth diapers because I believe it’s more kind to the environment.  There is one tiny rack, hidden and almost impossible to find, dedicated to cloth diapers and covers when really there are so many options.  I understand that this practice is not mainstream, but what if these options were prominently displayed and the sales people were more educated on all the choices?  With all the information, would you choose differently?  Fortunately for me, where I live there are plenty of baby stores that cater towards this way of thinking.  They carry a variety of environmentally conscious brands as well as mainstream. Not only that, but I find that they tend to carry many more toys that require imagination.

Between the few choices of creatively inspiring toys and the lack of options, Babies R Us, I don’t for foresee us having much of an amicable relationship in the future.

Growing Greens and other veggies

I love the process of gardening, particularly food.  I grew up around it and as a result it has influenced my life in everything from my schooling, my first job and how I view produce.  My  grandparents whom I adored, were orchardists.  Beyond the orchard my great-grandmother and my grandparents, who all lived in the same house per tradition, had a mammoth vegetable garden every year.  It was fantastic.  They grew everything from pole beans to rakkyo (a Japanese scallion).  I have very vivid memories of helping hoe the ground, watering the furrows, planting seeds, harvesting, and most importantly enjoying the most delicious food ever.  There is nothing like the taste of fresh vegetables and fruit.  Nothing.  My great-great, as I called her, and my grandparents gave me the gift of understanding where food comes from.  It is a gift that I will pass down to my son.

There are many web sites and books available telling you how to get started and various methods for planting, etc.  I prefer the get dirty while trying method.  This year, because we just moved from the country to the burbs, we are significantly reducing the size of our garden, for the time being.  We have a lot to do in our yard before we feel ready to tackle a full on veggie garden, so I am going to attempt a container garden.  The climate here is much more mild and I think I will be getting started in April, so stay tuned for future posts on my progress.

However……I was anxious to get started way back in October, so I planted a few seeds to try and nurse along through the winter, hoping that I might get some fresh herbs earlier than if I had sown in spring.  My husband constantly teased me that they were dying and wanted to know if he could ‘toss them out’.  Well, two Basil seedlings have survived and are growing quite nicely.  Ha!  Now he gives me a quirky smile and tells me he told me not to give up on them.  He’s so hilarious.

My Top 10 Ways for Finding Inspiration

Most everybody I know lives a busy life filled with work, kids, school, etc.  There seems to be little time for creative pursuits, if you even know what inspires you in the first place.  It can be difficult to figure it all out.  I few years ago I had a conversation with an old friend of mine who asked me how I knew what my hobbies were, how I knew what made me happy.  Well, I’ve always be a curious sort, so I guess I’ve just always known what I was attracted to.  That conversation has stayed with me and I’ve begun to wonder, what if I didn’t know?  How would I figure it out?

This is where I’d start and is my personal go-to list whenever I get the urge to try something new.

1)  The craft store: If you like paper, stamps, ribbons, painting, yarn….just about anything, this is a great place to start.  There are usually samples scattered through the store and they have classes for further inspiration.

2) The library: Library’s have books on everything and anything.  I’ve found that one of the best ways to know if you’re interested in something is to read about it.  If you find you still want to know more, than chances are, you’re onto something

3) A community center: Usually there are a variety of classes on everything from music to basket weaving.  It doesn’t cost much, the schedules are accommodating to working people, and it’s a great way to introduce yourself to a craft while meeting others.  It’s a 2fer!

4) Spend a day touring around: Rather than plop yourself down in front of the tv (Avoid marathons that suck you in.  I’ve done this plenty of times) take a walk or a drive around.  I have found that getting out in the world can be inspiring if you allow yourself the time to enjoy and reflect.

5) Write: Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.  Make a journal (be honest!) and re-read at a later date.  You might be surprised by what you find

6) Get organized:  You can’t start a project or even find a shred of inspiration if your scattered.  My husband would disagree because  he thinks I live in constant disarray, but to me it’s all organized.

7) Start with something small and everyday:  Cooking is a great way to start adding creativity into your everyday.  We all have to eat sometime, and it doesn’t have to be elaborate.  How many times have you been to a restaurant and thought, I wish I could make this at home?  Okay, so maybe some of you never have at all, but I know I have.  Actually, I did this past month with a wonderful oatmeal brulee at one of our favorite breakfast spots.   I’ve actually managed to perfect it too, but that will be a post for another time.

8) Find a friend: We all need encouragement, and sometimes it’s easier to get inspired with someone else.  Just like working out is easier when you have someone else to do it with, finding inspiration or trying something new is easier with another person.

9) Allow yourself to think like a kid: Remember when you were five?  Everything was exciting and new.  I think we all need to get back to that spot where anything is possible and you want to try everything.  It’s never too late to make all your childhood dreams come true, even if it’s only for a few hours.

10) Be well rested and Have Fun!: Two of the most important parts.  If your sleep deprived, you can’t think clearly and if you’re not having any fun, well, then it’s probably a sign.  Weekends are the best time to start finding and diving into the creative.  So have fun and create!

My First Fritata

In a diet obsessed world, my son and I have to be on a diet of sorts.  However, instead of losing weight, we are trying to gain it!  Yes, gain weight.  Sounds easy and fun, right?  Not really.  It’s just as tedious and makes you think about exactly what is in that lovely meal you’ve just made.  As someone who naturally gravitates towards fruits and veggies (don’t worry, I love a rich chocolate dessert as much as the next woman) this has proven to be quite challenging.

So, for the past month I’ve been having to get creative in the kitchen and figure out exactly how to increase both my son and my calorie intake (my husband is less than thrilled about this) while still maintaining a healthy diet.  You would think it’s just a matter of eating more, but really it’s about eating food that have a high calorie density.  More bang for your buck so to speak.  So far, it seems to be working.  

  Here’s what I’ve been doing:

1) Adding butter to vegetables and pasta

2) Increasing the amount of protein (eggs, soy, fish, beans and meats)

3) Eating and incorporating more dairy (cheese, milk, cream, etc)

4) avocados, avocados, and more avocados.

Since my son isn’t even a year old yet, and I don’t love peanut butter, I haven’t eaten too much of it despite it being a good high-calorie food.

Today for lunch, I was feeling like something other than scrambled eggs, and I’m sure my son was too.  So, I decided to spruce up the eggs and  make a leek and mushroom fritata loaded with cheese and a dash of dill.  It was surprisingly easy and tasted delicious.  Next time though, I will turn the heat down on the pan, cook the leaks for a shorter amount of time and try to spread out all of the good stuff so that it’s evenly distributed.  Overall, not bad for my first try.

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Recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen

For the love of Yarn

I started Knitting about four years ago.  I first learned to crochet from my grandmother and after two years, I was ready to try something new, something that had seemingly endless possibilities.  I started browsing the web searching for knitting and found tons of information.  However, the most helpful tool of all turned out to be YouTube.  It’s amazing what you can find on there, including videos on how to knit.  That’s how I learned and how I continue to learn.

Why do I knit?  I enjoy the feel of good quality yarn, all the colors and all the combinations of garment, pattern, and stitch.  You can create a sweaters, hats, gloves….anything!  I love the sense of accomplishment after I have finished creating something.  While I enjoy modifying patterns or attempting to make my own (although I’m still very much a novice at this), I don’t have the time to indulge myself at present, so I turn to Ravelry (www.ravelry.com) and Knitty (www.knitty.com)  for most of my inspiration.  Furthermore, there is something meditative, cleansing, about losing yourself in a project.  I find that when I’m stressed or have a lot on mind, knitting (as well as other crafts, but mostly knitting) help to clear my head and refocus my perspective back to the present.

It seems that there has been a recent spike of people having babies, myself included.  Not only does it seem that a large number of my friends on Facebook have recently had a baby or are having one this year, but I’ve been noticing an increase in baby/parenting related ads, TV shows, and pregnant women.  At any rate, all of this baby bombardment has given me the itch to knit cute baby clothes.

My recent projects have all been baby related, so I thought I’d share some pictures of the results.

Here are the fruits of my most recent knitting projects:

My sister commissioned me for this project: a pair of baby janes for her best friend who is having a baby girl.

I had extra yarn from the baby janes, so of course I had to make a matching hat! It's a bit squatter than a normal hat because I started running out of yarn, so I increased the number of decreases toward the top. However, I think it still has a nice shape and should fit just fine.

I made this for my 10-month, almost 11-month old son. I used acrylic yarn, which I never do, but I wanted something that I wouldn't mind if it got dirty and that I could machine wash. It's a good fit for him and oh-so-cute on.

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