Monday, July 30, 2012

They Live on Drury Lane

For the past few weeks I've been flirting with the idea of freezer cooking (also known as once a month cooking, or OAMC). The basic idea is that you set aside a single day, or a portion of a day and cook lots of meals that can be frozen. Then, for the next several weeks you can just pull something out of the freezer, heat it up and dinner is on the table.

This type of cooking has been on my radar for well over a year, and in theory it sounded great, but I wasn't so sure how practical it would be for me. Heck, I have a hard enough time getting the kids out from underfoot so that I can spend 30 minutes cooking one dinner, let alone an entire day in the kitchen.

There were some other concerns as well. The main one being that we have a side by side refrigerator freezer, and no extra freezer in the garage or basement or wherever people with extra freezers keep them. If you've ever owned a side-by-side, you know that it ranks pretty high on the Useless Inventions list. Ours can hold the rough equivalent of the freezer in a dorm fridge.

There were also the questions of what I would cook, how I would reheat it, how I would shop for this kind of cooking extravaganza.

And yet, there was something appealing about spending an entire day cooking mass quantities of food. I grew up with six siblings, so I'm undaunted by the idea of cooking in bulk- but back then all of the food was consumed at one setting. I also liked the idea of only having to plan meals once a month rather than once a week. And I sure wouldn't miss those nightly half-hours of attempting to cook while keeping a toddler away from the stove.

So I did what any Domestic Engineer of the 2010s would do, I turned to the internet! I read lots of blogs by women (and maybe a guy or two?) who freezer cook and were kind enough to share their knowledge with the world. Danielle over at Blissful and Domestic had some great info on OAMC and also on OAM Shopping! Frugal Mom has also been a great resource for organizational ideas. And I found that has a ton of recipes. You just type OAMC into their search tool and you'll definitely find something appealing.

With all of this information, I decided a slow start would work best for me. I didn't want to dive in head first, get overwhelmed and give up before I really got started.

I kicked things off yesterday by baking a batch of pumpkin muffins that The Boys can eat for breakfast. I used a pumpkin bread recipe that I've had for ages and just baked them in muffin tins.

I should mention that at least one of my kids is what I like to call Breakfast Phobic on any given day. One or the other or the other of them will decide that he doesn't want to eat anything, doesn't want to eat what you've given him or only wants to eat one bite of three different things. So I was a little skeptical as to how things would proceed this morning.

Because I am the luckiest woman in the world, I'm still asleep when Cap'n feeds The Boys breakfast, but because of the aforementioned phobia, I am often awakened by the screaming of one child or another or another as he reacts to his daily breakfast. But this morning I just got to sleep- no screaming, no crying! All accounts confirm that I missed a perfectly lovely breakfast experience!

Here's the recipe, which you can tinker to meet your personal nutritional tastes:

Pumpkin Muffins

1 1/2 Cups Sugar (you can reduce this to about 1 cup if you like)
1 Cup Canned Pumpkin (or fresh if you prefer and have the time)
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 Cup Water
2 Eggs
1 2/3 Cup Flour (you can use all or part whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/2 Cup Walnuts (optional-- also yummy with Chocolate Chips instead)

Combine sugar, pumpkin, oil, water and eggs in a large bowl. Beat until smooth- you can use a standing mixer, hand-held mixer or a whisk.

In a separate bowl, combine all dry ingredients except nuts. Add dry mixture to pumpkin mixture and combine. Fold in nuts.

Spoon* into greased muffin tins (or use cupcake liners) and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes**.

Cool in pans on wire racks for about 15 minutes then turn the muffins out onto the racks.
When completely cool, set muffins on a pan (or plate, whatever will fit in your hopefully-bigger-than-mine freezer) in a single layer and pop in the freezer for about 20 minutes.

Then move muffins into freezer zip top bags and toss them back into the freezer.

When breakfast rolls around, take out as many muffins as you need and defrost them in the microwave for about 1 minute. If you've got a six-year-old, he or she can do that part, leaving you to sip coffee or doze at the table.

*Whenever I make muffins or cupcakes, I spoon the batter with one of these things:
I think of it as a melon baller, but a friend once told me that it was an ice cream scoop. Who the heck eats such little scoops of ice cream?? (If you look closely, you can see me and my camera in the scoop!)

** My oven is wonky and cannot be depended upon to cook anything at an even or accurate temperature. So, 20 minutes is how long it took in my oven, your experience may vary!

Later this week I'm going to be adventurous and make a double batch of BBQ Chicken so I can freeze some for later!

If you've got any tips on OAMC, please leave me a comment!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Science Camp- Part III

By now you know that I'll do anything in the name of science. That is, of course, anything except that 10th-grade Science Fair project that I never turned in. But that was nearly ten years ago- water under the bridge. (For the record, I was never very good at math!)

Our third science experiment was comprised of a series of mini-experiments. And it took a loooong time. You could probably do it in less time if you're not limited to experimenting during your toddler's nap time.

I didn't take a picture of the necessary ingredients since I didn't know just how far we'd be taking this one, but here's a rough list- note that I used two of everything since I was working with two little scientists:

Cups/glasses/bowls- whatever you've got to hold an egg with room for expansion
Food Coloring
Corn Syrup
An Iron Stomach (yes, you'll need two of these)

Step One is easy enough.
That's an egg in each glass with enough vinegar to more or less cover the egg.

Step Two is harder- especially if you're a kid. That's because Step Two is waiting. There are no pictures of Step Two.

Step Three wasn't much more exciting.
Step Three is peering into the glass to see if anything has changed in the last 24 hours. You can see that there's a foaminess developing on top of the vinegar. Not much else was happening at that point.

Step Four was more waiting. Another 24 hours of waiting.

Step Five was the same as Step Three.
Those eggs don't look too exciting, do they? Hold on, let me remove them from the glasses so you can get a better look at them.
Pretty grody, huh? Those eggs are nude, naked, undressed, in their birthday suits (though I'm not sure that idiom applies to eggs). And they are very rubbery; they feel like super balls. But don't try to bounce them! It's not easy to see in the picture, but the eggs expanded while soaking and the membrane holding everything together is stretched really tight.

So we all learned that vinegar will eat the shell off an egg. And make it swell up like a tick.

But we couldn't stop there. There were so many more possibilities. What else could we do with naked, bloated eggs? We did what anyone with an over-abundance of food coloring in her cubbard would do.
I have completely lost track of what step we're on, but whatever number it is, it was to fill the glasses with water, stir in some food coloring and put the eggs back in.

After another full day of Step Two, we checked back and found this:
As you can see, the water level has gone down a bit. A-Train hypothesized evaporation. Not a bad guess for a six-year-old, but still wrong*.

Then I carefully scooped them out and put them on a plate for closer inspection.
Still rubbery and more swollen than ever. And check out that deep coloration-wish I could get my Easter eggs to look like that**!

You're probably hoping we're done now so you can get back to doing whatever you were doing before you started reading this post. Sorry, we're still going strong!

Next step- put the eggs in clean glasses and add corn syrup. Yes, corn syrup***.
You won't be able to completely cover the eggs because the corn syrup is too dense, but make sure you've got plenty in the glass.

You guessed it, more Step Two.
They're starting to look as weary as you are! And yes, I did brush Big D's hair that morning. And no, there's nothing that can be done to prevent him looking like a rooster.

Check back in about a day to find something like this:
The only word that truly does these things justice is flaccid.

Then, because you love your kids more than life itself, stick your hand in there and pull those eggies out and put them on a plate.
Again, some things are hard to tell in the picture. The yolks in these eggs were rock hard. I'll wait here while you go lose your lunch.

Guess what The Boys wanted to do next. Yep, make them expand again.
Back in the water they go.

And the next day:

The Boys wanted to shrink them again, but a mama has got to draw the line somewhere. This experiment had been going on for a week and my house had gone from smelling like I'd read too many Pinterest pins on how to make all-natural household cleaners to smelling like an Easter egg had gone undiscovered.

A few notes:

I used Wilton gel colors when coloring the eggs. I'm not sure if your colors would be as vibrant with standard grocery store food coloring.

The moving of the eggs in and out of glasses is best handled by a grown-up, or at least a big kid. I did all of the transfers very carefully with my bare hands rather than a spoon and we didn't have any casualties, but it seems like you could break one of these guys open pretty easily. If you do tear one, please leave a comment to let me know what it's like on the inside.

I don't recommend eating the eggs, mostly because they've been sitting out for a while. And also because they've soaked in vinegar and corn syrup- two mediocre tastes that I'm certain taste less-than-mediocre together.

That said, if you do eat the egg and live to tell about it, please leave a comment!

*Absorption, not evaporation.

**I don't think that could actually happen since in this case the color has crossed the membrane of the egg and it's colored on the inside and the outside.

***Corn syrup only has a little water in it, so the water will flow out of the egg and into the corn syrup.

And that concludes our rundown off Week One of Science Camp. There's another week coming up and I'll be sure to include you in all the fun!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Science Camp- Part II

Given the amount of cleanup that was required after our first science experiment, I thought it would be best to take things down a notch. There would be no microwaving or bubble making.

Everything we needed for the experiment is here:
Let me rephrase that, everything you'll need is in the foreground of this picture. You won't need the fruit bowl, baby wipes or whatever that colorful thing is on the right.

So, to be clear, that's:

Empty Water Bottle
Baking Soda
Funnel (optional)
Measuring Spoon
Kids (Not pictured and optional)

First you put a teaspoon of baking soda into a balloon. The funnel was really helpful with that part. Then, put three tablespoons of vinegar into the water bottle-- again, I recommend the funnel.

Stretch the opening of the balloon over the opening of the water bottle.

The kids were skeptical.

Or maybe just goofy.

Lift the balloon so that the baking soda pours out and into the bottle.

And then watch the magic happen!

Sorry, but the magic is not that the balloon changes colors! But it does expand. We did this several times with several balloons. It was a real crowd pleaser.

I liked this experiment a lot because it didn't require any special ingredients- we had everything on hand, it was easy enough for a three-year-old to actively participate and it was very quick. Within seconds the balloons started to rise.

Check back to read about egg un-shelling, dyeing (on the inside), expanding and shrinking!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Science Camp Part I

T.S. Eliot obviously didn't grow up in the South. Any Southerner knows that it is July, not April, that is the cruelest month. The kids have been out of school for a month and we're all plucking each other's nerves. And yet, there's still a full month to go before school begins again. Oh, and it's hot. Surface-of-the-freaking-sun HOT! And humid. Sauna humid.

I have to limit outside play so that no one keels over from dehydration or heat stroke. And the options of indoor entertainment that will suit a 1.5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old are few and far between.

I ease the burden on all of us by sending The Bigs to a few camps throughout the summer, but there's still more togetherness than we're used to. And a lot less routine than we're used to. We don't do well if we don't have a plan. So this summer I planned some at-home camps. So far we've had cooking camp, circus camp and science camp. There was a feeble attempt at sports camp, but that shriveled up and died in the 100-plus-degree heat.

Circus camp was fun because Cap'n led the charge with his ability to juggle and spin plates and do all sorts of other fun things that I am far to busy (read: uncoordinated) to do. And cooking camp was as much fun for me as it was for The Boys. But the stand- out has been science camp. So much so that I think there will be another session in the coming weeks.

I like to start things out easy and work up to the big finale. (I'm like a fireworks display.) So with the help of my two best friends, Google and Pinterest, I set out to find some simple and fun science experiments*.

Let this picture serve as a warning of what will happen to your bathroom if you put too much trust in my buddies Googs and Pinnie.

Here's what you'll need to have a bubbly bathroom just like mine:

2 Bars of Ivory Soap
1 Microwave
Microwaveable Plate
At least 2 small children
1 Bathtub in need of a scrubbing

Things started off well-enough. We dropped our Ivory in a bowl filled with water alongside another bowl in which we'd dropped a bar of Dove. The Boys hypothesized about why different things happened in the bowls.

Then we put the first bar on a big plate, put it in the microwave and set the timer for 2 minutes. As we all huddled around soaking up micro-waves, it became obvious that 2 minutes was about 1 minute too long.

When the soap started to reach the walls of the microwave we took it out. And because I'm so smart and forward-thinking, we then did the exact same thing with the next bar!

There's another view of it on the kitchen counter.

The Boys thought it felt like paper- and it did. It's what I imagine papyrus must feel like- very fragile. Very cool, indeed. After much crumbling and attempted sculpting I was ready for the soapy goodness to go away. And that's when inspiration struck.

I think all of the Ivory fumes coming from the microwave must have gone to my head, and I decided to fill my garden tub with water, Ivory flakes and The Boys. I'll remind you that this is TWO FULL BARS of soap. Once everyone was settled in, I slipped out of the bathroom to steal a few minutes to myself.

When the crying started about ten minutes later, I went back in to find Big D with bubbles all over his face. And in his eyes! I'd forgotten to mention that Ivory is not tear-free! Once I'd helped him clean up, he wanted back in the tub, and really, what little boy wouldn't want to play in this:
The following morning I still had about six inches of bubbles in my tub.

So, what lessons did we learn with this experiment?

-If you put a full bar of Ivory in your microwave for 2 minutes, you're likely to be chased from your home by a foaming mass of 99.94% pure bubbles!
-Even at 99.94% pure, Ivory still burns the eyes.
-Green beans steamed in the microwave used for this experiment will have a mild soapy flavor.
-The smell of Ivory lingers in the home and hair for at least a week.

Stay tuned for more excitement from science week!

*Yes, I know, there is very little experimenting going on here. To hell with the Scientific Method!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy

The questions started when I was pregnant with A-Train. Barely able to see through a fog of nausea and heartburn, I was pelted with questions about the baby's gender.

Have you found out the sex?-- No
Are you going to find out the sex?--No
Do you want a girl or a boy?-- We don't care.

And, my personal favorite: What is it? (To which my personal favorite response was a stoic: We're hoping it's a puppy.)

These were not the answers that anyone wanted to hear. People would claim to need to know the gender of my unborn. And seemed unwilling to accept that, as far as I was concerned, gender was just an insignificant detail that would be revealed soon enough.

The questions didn't stop once the baby had been born and his gender made public.

When are you going to have another one?-- Have you never read Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior?

Were you disappointed to have a boy?-- Are you trying to be rude?

Aren't you going to try for a girl?--What does that even mean?

Wash rinse and repeat this entire process substituting Big D for A-Train.

Then, when pregnant with Mr Butler, it was assumed by seemingly everyone, that the only reason I would have a third child was so that I could "finally get my girl." Obviously, I bombed that one and produced yet another boy child. Clearly I missed my calling as a queen or princess- with the rate at which I produce male heirs, I'd be worshipped in some countries!

Even with no more babies on the horizon the comments keep coming. Usually they're harmless if, irksome.

Are they all yours?-- No, I picked this one up at the bus station.
Three boys!-- Yes, it seems that way.
You've got your hands full!-- Is that an offer to help me carry my groceries?
I bet you're busy!-- Yes, I am. And I imagine you're pretty busy at your job, too.

But occasionally, they're so rude I can hardly believe I'm hearing them. Case in point, last week I bumped into an acquaintance whom I haven't seen in a couple of years. She has two boys around the ages of my older boys. As we caught up I mentioned that I'd had another baby. Her first question was about gender. And when I told her that I'd had a third happy, healthy, beautiful boy, she frowned and said that the number one reason she didn't have another baby was because she'd "get stuck with another boy."

Usually, when I get less-offensive versions of her reaction, I just say something like, "having boys is awesome!" But this one really took me off guard. She clearly pitied me for getting myself stuck with my children. There were lots of things I wanted to say to her, but none of them were appropriate for a children's sporting event.

So I did the only thing I could, walked away hand-in-hand with my oldest boy feeling pity for someone who's missing out on the fun of a third child because she doesn't have what it takes to love a child unconditionally.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Tooth Fairy Cometh

A-Train lost his second tooth yesterday, and with it went all traces of the baby boy I first held in my arms six years, five months and four days ago. The sweet, chubby baby face is gone, replaced by a much slimmer, more mature version, one that is a near perfect reflection of my own. And soon will come the giant teeth- the ones that are too big for his precious face. But, last night there was more pressing business than the worries of adult teeth in a child's mouth. Last night, the tooth fairy had to come.

Truth be told, I loathe the Tooth Fairy. It's not her (or even him, as A-Train has suggested), it's me- all me. I feel a bit of guilt every time I perpetuate a myth of childhood. Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy- they're all hard for me to swallow. Part of it is the lie, but a greater part is the unfamiliarity I have with these creatures.

Growing up, I never believed in any of them. All I was taught about them was that they didn't exist.

When A-Train was a baby we didn't know what we would eventually tell him about Santa. We settled on letting him decide for himself. Each year we brought him to the mall and propped him on the jolly old elf's lap where he (A-Train, not Santa) screamed himself silly and we documented his fear for the photo album. But we never said who Santa was, or what he did.

Then, the December just before he turned 3, A-Train announced to us that Santa brings you presents on Christmas Eve. And thus it was decided. A-Train has passed his beliefs on to Big D and now we have two boys who are enthralled with the magic of Christmas.

And one mom who is kind of on the fence. I just feel too guilty. And so unprepared.

And that leads us back to the Tooth Fairy. Having never been on the receiving end of the TF's good will, it's hard to know what to do when you are the TF! And there are so many questions from The Boy that Mama doesn't know the answers to:

How does she know I lost a tooth?
How much money does she bring?*
How does she get in the house?**
Does she have wings?
Where does she live?
Does she visit little boys who don't do their chores?***

I get a little nauseated. And then I see the sheer look of excitement in the eyes of my six-year-old. Those eyes so much like my own, but filled with a wonder my own six-year-old eyes never held. And I just do it.

I answer his questions by asking him what he thinks. And late in the evening, when he's fast asleep, I sneak into his room, reach under his pillow, remove the ground-down, bloody stub of a tooth that I made when he and I were one, and replace it with *three crisp dollar bills.

And this morning, the nausea having subsided and The Boy having discovered his treasure, I know that allowing him the joys of the innocence of childhood is worth a little stomach ache.

** The current theory is that she snuck into the garage a few days ago, hid there waiting for the tooth to fall out, then slipped in through the cat door.

*** As it turns out, yes, she will.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fourth of July and Not-Quite-Best-Laid Plans

In my quest to prevent The Boys from becoming selfish and self-absorbed adults, I've given them a summer-long project. It's all about doing nice things for people who aren't expecting them. We have a long list of ideas- everything from leaving a little treat for our mailman to bringing some dog and cat toys by our local SPCA. Our niceties are not expensive grand gestures; they're just our way of passing on our own good fortune, showing The Boys that it feels good to make other people feel good and hopefully, through the actions of others, showing The Boys how to be gracious and grateful.

Last week we mailed a package to a friend who is in the hospital in another state. And we made cookies for the librarians at the branch we go to weekly. I'm going to give those two librarians the benefit of the doubt and guess that they don't get a whole lot of cookies or even thank yous and that they were probably taken off guard by our offering, but between you and me, they didn't accept their gift in a way that would make young children feel good about doing a nice deed.

But, we can't let a couple of grouchy ladies rain on our parade. And so, yesterday we set about making some yummy cupcakes for the fire fighters at the station just up the road. We wrote a nice card thanking them for working on the holiday and for helping to keep us safe. I sent Cap'n, A-Train and Big D off on the delivery while I waited at home, all the while patting myself on the back for a job well done.

When they hadn't returned after about 20 minutes, I set myself to imagining all the wonderful things they were getting to see at the fire station. The brave men and women they were meeting. The pictures JBB was surely taking. And then they came home, disappointed and with cupcakes in hand. The station had been empty, no fire fighters in sight and no one answered their knock on the door.

We called the station then, but no answer. Seems they were out on a call or napping or just didn't hear the plaintive cries of two little boys who so desperately wanted to give them a treat to brighten their day. It's too bad, because those cupcakes were beautiful and delicious!

And though they didn't get to visit with any fire fighters, the boys did get to see their favorite person in the world- Auntie! We had a great time setting of fire works and annoying Auntie's neighbors rather than our own for a change.

Turns out Big D is not a big fan of fire works, even the smallish ones. He's not real big on noise unless it's coming out of his mouth. But you give that boy handful of Pop Its and he's in his element.

A-Train loved the whole experience! He's a cautious kid, not the type you have to worry will blow his fingers off. It wasn't until the end of the afternoon that he agreed to hold a lit sparkler. Then, of course, he wanted to do it 100 more times.

I spent much of the afternoon chasing this guy away from the smoldering ashes of spent fire works and wishing he had just a bit of the fear or caution of his older brothers!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

By Way of Introduction

The Cast of Characters:

Sarah: (Alternately known as Mama) That's me over there on the right. Mid-thirties mama to a trio of boys. Focused on raising great kids, keeping my sense of humor and holding onto a bit of myself.

Cap'n: (Alternately known as John, Papa or JBB) Unmarried domestic partner to Sarah and father of The Boys. Knower of all things computer programming, 20th Century Canadian literature and the consumption of fried foods. Notoriously uncomfortable with being photographed.

A-Train: (Alternately known as Brother, Grandissimo, Don Diego, The Boy and occasionally, Foxy Loxy) First-born child of Sarah and John. Six years old. Frighteningly brilliant, unbelievably stubborn and incredibly beautiful.

Big D: (Alternately know as Brother, Mediano or any of 100 variations on his given name) Second-born child of Sarah and John. Three years old. Deafeningly loud, unabashedly exuberant, irresistibly sweet and one hell of a dancer.

Mr Butler: (Alternately known as Brother, The Baby, Poquito Tito or Flaco) Last-born child of Sarah and John. One year old. Frighteningly fearless, frighteningly nimble, frighteningly fast and completely irresistible.