Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to make a peanut butter sandwich (if you're 3)

Because if you're capable of reading this, you probably already know how.

Dinner on Saturdays is a pretty casual affair at our house. We usually have things going on, or Chris and I have a stay-home date night and want to eat our own fancy food after the girls are in bed. So Saturday dinners are usually things like nachos or, if I'm feeling especially generous, ramen. This weekend we went for the mother of all meals: good old PB&J.

Ellie decided that she would make Daddy's sandwich and I would teach her how (see how effectively she runs the show? One day I'll do a whole post about this.) Of course I had to take pictures. I asked her later to remind me how we made the sandwich, and this is what she told me:
"First we got out peanut butter and jelly.

Then I spread them on the shawich.

Then I cutted it up and gave it to Daddy.

The end."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My "I told you so" moment

It was bound to happen. With illness in the house, it's only a matter of time before someone else catches it. Early this morning Lexi woke up crying that her throat hurt. When I checked her temperature, it was 102. So I dosed her up on Tylenol, turned on Kung Fu Panda downstairs (thank you Netflix) and crawled back into bed.

When we all got up this morning, she seemed fine. But, hot on the heels of my own sore throat, I wasn't convinced. So I called the doctor's office and related my tale to the friendly advice nurse, who said she thought it would be a good idea if we went ahead and had a test done, since we already had strep in the house. Thankfully our clinic is open on Saturday mornings, so we were able to get an appointment with no problem. It wasn't our doctor, but we'd seen Dr. D. before, so we were okay with that.

Dr. D. took one look at Lexi, bouncing around the room just being Lexi, and I think he pretty much made up his mind then and there that this was a case of overreactive mother, as opposed to an actual medical condition. But, nice gentleman that he is, he listened to me explain (again) why we were there and why I hadn't waited another day or two to see if she was actually sick, which is what I would have done had I not just been diagnosed with strep. He checked her over and did the dreaded swab, which I purposely did not explain to Lexi before we went. Then he said, "Well, it'll be about 10 minutes!" and left us. I could tell he was feeling pretty positive that it would be negative.

10 minutes later he came back in looking slightly dejected. "She tested positive," he said gruffly.

Ha HA!

To his credit, when I mentioned that we might be back again in a couple of days because I had two more kids at home, he said if they showed the same symptoms to just call and they'd call in a prescription for us. Now he trusts my judgement, see?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random Thoughts Thursday (Friday Edition)

I don't get sick very often. Sure, I catch the colds the girls so thoughtfully carry home from school, but really and truly sick? Nope, not me. The last time I had a fever, Lexi was a baby.

Until yesterday.

I have strep. Oh, how fun. 102-degree temp, body aching, painful swallowing, giant pink pill strep. Woe is me.

So for those of you who checked here repeatedly and frantically yesterday for Random Thoughts Thursday, well, my mind was certainly random, but be thankful I didn't feel well enough to share it. Today I'm feeling better, but still not 100%. But I wouldn't want to let down my loyal readers (all five of you), so here is what the mind of a not quite 100% mama comes up with for a really-not-so-random, mostly-about-being-sick post.

I slept until 8:00 this morning. Normally I can't sleep past 7:00 (stupid body clock.) And the only reason I woke up then was because my friend called me, assuming that we'd all be up (my children seem to have body clocks that work against me - when there's no school they're up at the crack of dawn, where there is school I have to drag them out of bed.) She felt really bad when she asked me, "Whatcha doin'?" and I answered, "Sleeping."

Breakfast this morning was yogurt. That's it. Anything harder makes my throat hurt.

But I've been drinking practically nonstop the most soothing drink known to man: hot honey lemonade. Ahhhhh...

I told Chris to take the car to work today. Ordinarily Friday is my run around and get things done day, but I'd be surprised if I even got out of my pajamas today.

They're cute pajamas, though, so no worries. Well, at least the pants are. Thanks, Adrie!

The girls are fighting downstairs. Or at least they're screaming at each other. But I'm not shouting at them to work it out nicely like I normally do, and I'm certainly not going to get up from my chair, (as uncomfy as it's becoming on my poor achy body) to do anything about it. If the screaming stops abruptly, maybe I'll just make sure no one died or is bleeding seriously, but other than that, well, they can fend for themselves.

I plan to allow them to watch TV until, in the words of their father, their brains shrivel up to the size of a pea and fall out their ears. They will love me for it, so it's all good.

I also plan to do only slightly less sitting around on my backside today than I did yesterday. I read an entire book yesterday (The Book Thief again, if you must know. Go read it. Seriously.)

When I asked Vicki last night if she could help Daddy tidy up the living room, she said, "Yeah, he needs help, because he's not used to doing everything that you do all the time. And he doesn't do it as well as you. But he tries hard, huh?"

I will say, though, that he was a saint yesterday, coming home from work after being there only an hour when I called to tell him I was dying. The man NEVER takes days off work, so it meant a lot to me. And I needed him here. By the time I got home from the doctor's office and the pharmacy, it was all I could do to walk up the stairs and crawl into bed. What a guy.

Okay, enough of the pity party. I hate whiny blog posts. In honor of my lazy bum-ness, here is a link to a humor column in our local paper. I want you all to read it, figure out your hobo name, and then report back to me. To get the ball rolling, I will now introduce my hobo self:

Pleased to meet you. I'm Boxcar Four-Flush.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What we learned at the zoo today

From far away, a baby elephant looks "almost as big as me!" to a 3-year-old.

Marty and Melman live at this zoo. But Alex does not, and Gloria was in the water sweeping (no, not sleeping; Ellie's positive Gloria was just tidying the pond up a bit and that's why she couldn't pop up to say hello.)

Giraffes don't poop much, but elephants sure do.

You can tell a girl bat from a boy bat. But you can't tell which one is the girl and which one is the boy. They're a little indeterminate, but definitely different. Thanks, Vicki, for pointing this out.

Goats will eat hay right out of your hand. This tickles.

Now we know why they're called naked mole rats. To echo Lexi's sentiments on this matter: Ew.

The animals actually do play with the toys in their cages/pens/habitats. Polar bears like big plastic barrels.

One $4 elephant ear will divide four ways quite nicely. That's still a dollar a person, but I try not to think about it.

Bobcats are scary kitties.

You can tell what a bear has eaten by looking at its poop. This makes little girls giggle uncontrollably (probably little boys too, but I have no experience with that.)

Stay to the right means stay to the right.

We do not go inside the gift shop. It doesn't matter how many times you ask.

Orangutans have cool playground equipment.

It's okay to skip the sea lions because "we see them every single time!"

Penguins never cease to make me smile.

The 3-year-old will be the last one ready to go home. The mom will be the first.

If you're going to the Oregon Zoo over Spring Break, pick a yucky weather day, because most people stay home.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Read with me!

I have read a lot of really good books lately. And I'm getting close to the end of my list and starting to panic, because what will I read next? So I've decided to create my own blog tag. Here's now it works: I tell you about the good books I've read lately. You go to your blog and do the same. There's no set number, so you can write about one book or 20, and no set format for reviewing the books. You can write one sentence or five paragraphs about each book - it's entirely up to you. Some of us are excellent book reviewers and some of us just spent the better part of two days writing nine measly paragraphs. I just want to know what other good books are out there, and I trust you, my friends, to tell me what you love.

There's only one catch: you have to leave a comment here telling me you've done this so I don't miss out on any great reads!

So, without further ado, some of the best books I've read in the past year:

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

This book should be required reading for everyone. It tells the true story of Greg Mortenson, an avid mountaineer who, after an unsuccessful and near-deadly attempt to summit K2 (the world’s second-highest peak), stumbles into a small village in northern Pakistan. The people there instantly befriend him and nurse him back to health. During the course of his recovery, he learns that the children of this village are attending school, weather permitting, on a windy hilltop just three days a week. He is so taken with this small village, and their kindness towards him that he promises to return and build them a school. This snowballs into an opportunity to better the lives of thousands of people who would otherwise have never had the chance to be educated. I can’t even begin to describe how inspiring this book is, so I won’t even try. I’ll just give you a quote, which I think sums up the message of the book quite nicely: "I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death." There is also a young reader's edition and a picture book which I plan on purchasing for the girls. This is a story that everyone needs to hear.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This may be the only book you’ll ever read that’s narrated by Death. And he does a superb job of telling us the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl, who discovers the power of words by stealing books. We follow Liesel on a journey to discover the meaning of family, friendship, loyalty, and love during WWII. It left me feeling like I will never see words in the same way again, and now I feel like I don't have the words to do it justice. Powerful, beautiful, and moving, this is another one that I think everyone should read.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Bengali tradition dictates that all people have two names: their “good” name, which is their legal name and the one they are known by at school and work, and their pet name, which is what the family and close friends know them as. When Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, new immigrants to America, give birth to their first child, they are still waiting for the “good” name to arrive in a letter from Ashima’s grandmother back in Calcutta. They quickly learn that things work differently in America – you can’t take your baby home from the hospital without a birth certificate, and you can’t get a birth certificate without a name. So they decide to go ahead and put their son’s newly chosen pet name on his birth certificate and change it later when the “good” name arrives. And so Gogol Ganguli begins his life. On the surface, this book is simply about an Indian kid growing up in America with a weird name. But more than that, it’s about family: what makes a family, what ties them together, and what’s really important in life. Side note: I also highly recommend the movie based on this book.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Author Vida Winter has written more than fifty best-selling novels, including the sensational Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which, to the frustration and despair of all her devoted readers, contains only twelve tales. She’s given countless interviews, and with each one she’s shared a different version of her life story. Ill and convinced that she doesn’t have much longer to live, she commissions bookish, unworldly Margaret Lea to write her true biography. She begins with a story about an odd girl and her brother which quickly turns into a mysterious tale involving strange and feral twins, a library, a devastating fire, and a ghost. I love this book and have been recommending it to everyone who asks. What are you waiting for?

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Henry met Clare when he was 28 and she was 20. But Clare met Henry when she was 6 and he was 36. You see, Henry is a time traveler. However, he doesn’t get to decide when or where he travels. Instead, one minute he is there and the next all that’s left is a pile of clothes, while Henry finds himself naked and somewhere in time. How the two of them deal with this is the basis for a wonderful love story. The premise alone is fascinating, and the writing manages to live up to it. Side note: some may find the language offensive.

Famous Writer's School by Steven Carter

Wendell Newton is a magazine editor and “published author” (although of what he never quite discloses) who is offering a correspondence course on how to be a good writer. The entire novel is made up of letters to and from a few of his students: Rio, a lounge singer and grad school dropout; Dan, a tractor salesman seeking serious reviews of his writing; and Linda, a bored housewife whose stories become increasingly bizarre. Wendell’s relationship with each of these potential famous writers becomes increasingly hilarious as we read the correspondence between the teacher and students. There’s a great story-within-the-story in the form of Dan’s writing, which is on its way to becoming a sort of noir-style detective novel. Nothing serious or mind-blowing here, but definitely a fun read and a unique way to tell a story. Side note: some may find the language offensive.

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

San Francisco socialite Bibi Chen is found dead, apparently murdered, just days before she was set to lead an excursion to Myanmar (Burma). Her fellow travelers decide to go anyway, hiring a new guide to take Bibi’s place. Christmas morning they depart on a boat trip across a lake and simply disappear into the mist. Fortunately for us, the readers, Bibi’s ghost has decided to travel with her friends, and it is she who narrates for us. While it’s a very different style from any of Tan’s previous books, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Best of all is the claim in the introduction that the whole thing was written by Bibi Chen herself, as channeled through a “ghostwriter”, and simply organized by Tan. Love it.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This moving story takes place during the Nigerian civil war in the 1960s. Told from the point of view of four people – Ugwu, houseboy to Professor Odenigbo; Olanna, the Professor’s mistress; Kianene, her twin sister; and Richard, a white man intent on studying the history of the Igbo people – we see their lives intertwine and intersect as they struggle to survive and make sense of the war around them. It’s a fascinating look into African culture, the relationship between Nigerians and the colonial British and visiting Americans, and the impact of war on all classes.

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

17-year-old Francis Ross goes missing on the same day that his mother finds a fur trader murdered in his own cabin. Of course the boy becomes the main suspect, but his mother is determined to prove his innocence, embarking on a journey that will take her across the Canadian frontier in the dead of winter to seek out the true murderer. The POV changes made it difficult to follow at first, but the overall story is worth the time it takes to get past that.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Random Thoughts Thursday

Girl Scout Cookie sales are finished for the year! Woohoo!!!

Fevers make my kids hilarious. Last night at about 10:30 Vicki called me into her room to ask me, "Where have I been all night, on a hippogriff or a flying elephant?"

I am firmly convinced that everyone is making their jeans a size larger, but still labeling them the same. So a size 8 is really a 10, but we all feel good because we think we're skinnier than we really are. Because I really don't think I've been losing weight - GS Cookies, remember?

On a related note, do people actually pay $100 for jeans? Seriously?

I am proud to post my results on the Make a Word test:

Click here to play Make-A-Word word game, and TRY to score better!

Yes, that's right, I am a Master. Bow before my awesome word-making skills. And don't ask me how many times I had to take it to achieve those results.

How long will it be before Ellie stops trying to get people to believe she's older than she actually is and starts trying to pass for younger?

The suggestions Word gave for "correcting" the phrase Ellie stops trying to get people to believe that she's in that last sentence were:
-Ellie stops trying to get people to believe that she are
-Ellie a stop trying to get people to believe that she's
-Ellie stops' trying to get people to believe that she's
This is why our schools still need to teach grammar. 'Nuff said.

I am so ready for Spring. Without the rain. Oh, wait, this is Oregon. Okay, just Spring -I'll take rain if I have to, just please let it be warmer than it has been!

Why is it that when one ore more of the girls are not in school, it totally throws my day?

We watched The NeverEnding Story with the girls a few weeks ago. Lexi is now obsessed with the Childlike Empress and I love it.

It's ridiculous how much the phrase, "Mom, you are so weird!" makes me smile.

What is it about Band-Aids? Why are they so cool? Why do kids feel like life is not complete unless they have at least three in various places on their body?

Legos are awesome. I don't think there's another toy on the planet that is so universally adaptable. Our boy friends like to build Star Wars ships. Vicki and Lexi build castles, houses, and wishing wells. Ellie builds mommies and babies and has elaborate conversations with them. Everyone is happy.

Easter candy is in the stores....mmmmmm...Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Grass is Always Greener

Chris is in California again; it’s another single mom night for me.

Before we moved to Portland, when Chris was still in school and we were living at the University Village, we had a neighbor who was a single mother to one little girl. One afternoon we were out in the courtyard while the kids played, and she watched me chase, chastise, and comfort Vicki and Lexi in the continual process that parents of more than one child are so used to. During a break in the chaos she commented that she didn’t know how I did it with two kids. I was completely in shock, because just a few days before that I had mentioned to Chris, who had been at school late into the night again working on projects, that I really admired this particular mom because she had to do it alone all the time. Everything fell apart whenever he was gone, and I had no idea how single moms ever got anything done.

Fast forward 5 years or so, and I’m almost wishing for the days when Chris came home for dinner before heading back to school until the wee hours of the morning. Sure, he was gone all night, but he was still there. Now I’m a single mom for three days every other week (it feels like a lot more than it really is when you write it out like that. Huh.) And I feel like I’m becoming good at something I never really wanted to do. Gone are the days when the house fell to pieces because I was the only adult around. Sometimes I’m almost more motivated to keep things clean when he’s gone, because otherwise I have a huge mess to deal with before he comes home on Fridays and no one willing to help me take care of it.

Bedtime goes fairly smoothly now. I don’t always read stories like Chris does, but then the girls like him reading stories much better than me, because he does the voices, and the sillies, and the fun, and I just read. But we don’t all fall apart come 8:00 and Daddy’s not here.

I can even handle it when one of the girls is sick. Possibly even more than one, although that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it used to. The first time Vicki was really sick, when she was just a year old, Chris wanted to go to a church meeting, and I called my mom to come be with me for the two hours so I didn’t have to be alone with my own sick child. These days I can handle coughs, colds, fevers, even throwing up without another grownup there to hold my hand.

There are even some good things about being on my own. I can stay up as late as I want without worrying about disturbing anyone when I finally crawl into bed. I can watch stupid TV shows without Chris teasing me about it, because he’s in California and doesn’t know. No one steals the covers while I’m sleeping. If I have a big Girl Scout project, like sewing patches on 14 brown vests, I can leave it spread out all over the kitchen table without driving anyone else nuts. These are the nights where we “get” to eat dinner in the living room, but rather than being irritated that the table’s covered in stuff, the girls just think I’m really awesome for letting them watch TV with dinner. In the summer we have girls’ movie nights, where we watch movies he’d never care to watch with us. Girly bonding nights, good times.

So, yeah, I can do this single parenting thing. It’s not easy, I would never choose to do it, and I pray that I never will for any other reason than bi-monthly business trips. But I do wish I was still in contact with that mom from the Village, because she had a wedding planned for not too long after we moved, and I’d love to compare notes and see if she’s learning from another perspective these days, too.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Children's Museum, hooray!!!

Our library has a pass to the Children's Museum that you can place on hold, and I finally made it to the front of the line. I've only been waiting since the beginning of October. Fortunately, they are only closed on Mondays during the fall and winter, so today I took Ellie and her friend Katie for a morning of kiddie chaos.

The girls gave each other checkups,

Did some shopping,

And then fixed me a tempting meal at the bistro.

They brushed Mr. Crocodile's teeth,

performed a variety of interpretive dances onstage while wearing a variety of fancy clothes,

and then operated the lighting and sound for the other performers.

We painted pink hearts on our cheeks,

played in water (and managed to stay reasonably dry in the process!),

and helped Bob the Builder and his friends build their new town in Sunflower Valley.

And finally it was time to head home, exhausted but happy. I think I was only slightly more exhausted, and they were only slightly more happy - it was a blast for all three of us! We couldn't leave, though, until we took advantage of one final photo op:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Random Photos Friday

This will most likely not be a weekly thing, like Random Thoughts Thursday, but I have these pictures I wanted to post without doing a whole bunch of random little posts for them, and I like the sound of "Random Photos Friday".

Ellie made me a robot out of Legos yesterday. He has stripey pants and a purple flower on his shoulder. I loved him, but, alas, he is no more. Good thing I took a picture.

Then, also yesterday, Ellie came up to me wearing our ugly dress-up wig (yes, it's THAT wig) and said, "Look, Mommy! I have hair just like you!" So of course I had to take a picture of our matching hair.

No real reason for this picture. I just really love this guy.

This past week was Girl Scout week, and a local pizza place, Papa's Pizza, was giving away free personal sized pizzas to any Girl Scouts in uniform, so we met up with some fellow Brownies and had a good time. The pizza's not bad, and even better (if you're a kid) is that they have a big play area. The kids may not have eaten much pizza, but they had a great time!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Random Thoughts Thursday

I have felt a bit like Miss Hannigan, from Annie, all day today. Not because I’m being particularly mean or drunk (at least no more so than usual), but because I’m surrounded by little girls. Everywhere I turn, I can see them.

The other day Ellie came up to me with a dollar bill in her hand. We had the following conversation:
E: Mom, how much monies is this?
M: It’s a dollar. Where did you get it?
E: In your pennies jar.
M: You were in my penny jar?
E: (wide, earnest eyes) Not now!

Last Friday I was in Walmart with all three girls. We walked past the women’s clothing and happened upon a rack of acid-washed jeans – the kind that looks like bleach was poured on them in random places – the kind people were making for themselves by doing just that when I was in 5th and 6th grade. The girls couldn’t understand why I was having hysterics. Did someone honestly think that those jeans were a good enough idea that they needed to be brought back? Haven’t we embarrassed ourselves enough? Soon we’ll be pegging them and pairing them with an oversized sweatshirt with Esprit or Guess printed across the front in huge letters. Oh, and we’ll be doing our hair really big. Heaven help us all.

I saw this product on a comment on Daring Young Mom’s latest post at Parenting.com. While I have never personally needed something like this, it does look like it could come in handy. However, I could not stop laughing at the pictures. The endorsements above the pictures are priceless, too.

What part of “please don’t play in the playroom closet” do my children not understand? Judging by today’s activities, I’m guessing the “don’t” part.

The other night Lexi was humming a song she learned in class. They’re studying the water cycle. We know this song because Vicki had the same teacher two years ago. It’s to the tune of “My Darling Clementine” and goes like this: “Evaporation, condensation, precipitaaaaation on my mind.” Well, while Lexi was humming, Vicki started singing. However, over the course of two years she’s apparently forgotten the words. What she sang was this: “Emancipation, constipation, proclamaaaaation on my mind.”

Today I made lasagna without looking at the recipe once. I’m so proud of myself. It’s yummy lasagna, too! The only thing missing will be the garlic bread, but our broiler broke and I didn’t plan ahead to do it without the broiler. Bummer.

But I made the lasagna without looking at the recipe!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Common Word

A few months ago I read a book called The Faith Club. It was written by three women – a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew – who met together in the wake of 9/11 to discuss their beliefs and to try to come to an understanding of each other. It was fascinating to follow the journey each of them made as they learned and reached out to each other. What on the surface seemed like a simple thing – a social gathering, a time to build friendships and learn a little from each other – became a turning point for all three as they struggled not only to understand the beliefs of the other two women but also to gain a deeper understanding and testimony of their own as they were challenged in ways they had never been before. It was inspiring. I have a friend who is an Orthodox Jew, and we’ve discussed our religions, and their similarities and differences. Reading this book made me wish I knew a Muslim woman, too, so I could start my own faith club. Of course, I’d probably include another Christian, of the more mainstream variety (I already have one in mind!), since Mormonism is different enough to warrant some discussion there as well.

Anyway, since reading this book, I have had such a desire to come to an understanding with people of different faiths. I’m not looking to agree with them, or have them agree with me. I just want to understand and find common ground. All three of these major world religions come from the same beginning. We are all Abraham’s seed. There are major doctrinal differences, things that will probably never be agreed upon, but we all pray to the same God, whether we call Him by the same name or not.

This brings me to the purpose of this post. Lately I have noticed that a lot of Christians (Mormons included) still seem to harbor ill will towards followers of Islam. The more I see or hear of this, the more it upsets me. I’ve been having a hard time sitting by quietly and allowing these things to go unchallenged. I suppose I can understand the sentiment behind the mindset; after all, terrible things have been done in this world in the name of Islam. However, I firmly believe that these things are being done by people who either do not fully understand the true message of their religion, or who chose to follow only select words, without giving heed to the full meaning in conjunction with the rest of their religious beliefs. I am no expert on Islam, and cannot even claim to be an expert on Christianity or Mormonism, but I do believe that none of these faiths condone the things that are being done in the world today in the name of God. It makes me sad to see the way all of Islam is being lumped together as a religion that tolerates, supports, and even encourages violent acts.

The truth is that, just like there are different sects of Christianity who hold to different sets of doctrine, there is a small portion of Muslims who believe it is the will of God that they engage in jihad, or holy war, against other nations. But this is not true of the majority of Muslims. It amazes me how we Christians are so willing to believe this misleading information when there is so much out there that gives incorrect “facts” about our own beliefs. There are websites dedicated to informing the world that all Mormons are polygamists and all of Mormonism is of the devil, in the same way that there are sites that would have the world believe that all Muslims are jihadists and that all Islam is evil. They’re out there; we’ve all seen them at some point, and when they’re about our own beliefs we’ve all been disgusted and outraged that anyone could be so misinformed and disrespectful about something we hold sacred. Why, then, can we be so willing to believe things about other religions without doing unbiased research. Ah, the appeal of a Faith Club…

I have been bothered by this for awhile now, feeling like I should say something to stand up for a people, who, in my experience and study, I have come to believe are generally kind and peace-loving, but I haven’t known how to go about it. Until yesterday, that is, when I read this article in The Oregonian. It talked about an open letter to Christians written and endorsed by many Muslim leaders. This letter, titled “A Common Word Between Us”, calls for an understanding between Muslims and Christians, using passages from both the Qur’an and the Bible to make its point. It establishes the fact that the two greatest commandments in both Islam and Christianity are to love God above all else and then to love your neighbors – all your neighbors. Who can argue with that? And, given that, who can really believe that Islam teaches unprovoked war with others?

I’m not writing this to start anything. I’m not necessarily even looking for comments this time (although they’re always welcome!) This is just something that has been on my mind for a long time, and I finally found a way to bring it together and put my thoughts and feelings down in print. I have a great love for my Father in Heaven, and for the faith that has led me to that love. But I also have a great respect for those who are strong in their own faith, even though it may not agree with mine. I want to learn as much as I can about those faiths so that I can understand my fellow men, and grow to love them as my neighbors. Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to take a look at the Common Word website, and to take some time to think a little bit about loving our God and loving our neighbors, and allowing all men the privilege to worship how, where, or what they may.

I will leave you with the concluding paragraph of “A Common Word”:

So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill.

Monday, March 9, 2009

VitalSmarts and you

My brother Robbie (sorry, but I just can't call you "Rob") works for a company called VitalSmarts. He films, edits, and produces promotional videos for them. Recently he posted on his blog about how they were searching for various items in order to finish up filming. The things they still needed were:
  • telescoping document tube w/strap
  • men's leotard
  • spiked black leather steel-toe boots (size 13)
  • ferret
  • old man
  • water cooler
He did stipulate that not all of these items were in the same film, but still...I've been holding out hope that the ferret, old man, and men's leotard might wind up in the same film.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. However, the videos did turn out to be as great as anything left to the creativity of my brother. With the exception, of course, of "The Texas Pop-Tarts Massacre". Nothing will ever equal that in greatness. Maybe one day he'll post that on YouTube for the world to enjoy (hint, hint, little brother.)

You can watch all the videos on a playlist at the company's website, or you can watch them individually on YouTube:
If you've ever met Robbie, you'll know instantly that he's found a stable film career that will allow him to be himself. He helped shoot the first 4 and did most of the editing for "Jurassic Sales Call", "The Layoff", and "Casual Friday". Yay Robbie!

Now, I'm off to find me some Ferret Chips, because, as it says right on the package, they're "real yummy!"

Friday, March 6, 2009

Random Thoughts Thursday (Friday edition)

Don't miss the post below with all the tasty recipes!

I spelled my name wrong yesterday while trying to log into blogger. It drives me absolutely nuts when people spell my name with just one "l", and then I go an do it myself. I'm so embarrassed.

I also just spelled "embarrassed" wrong. Remember the "No Excuse 50" from 8th period remedial English, Mela? Yeah, now I'm truly embarrassed.

I discovered yesterday that if you catch it quickly enough, a piece of dry tissue will remove crayon from walls. Just passing that on.

I bought one of those automatic-sensor nightlights for the hall so we could stop leaving the laundry room light on all night. The little girls in my house yesterday had never seen anything so amazing ("It's magical!" were the exact words.) You all should shell out $2 for one of these babies - even if you don't need a nightlight, the entertainment value alone is worth its weight in gold.

I'm sorry for being so needy last week, begging hinting for comments. It's nice to be validated. I'm trying to be better about leaving comments on other people's blogs, because I know how happy it makes me feel. It's very much a Sally Field moment - "You like me! You really like me!"

I stayed up way too late last night. It's hard to go to bed when Chris isn't here - too big, cold, and lonely.

Ellie seems to have some sort of internal radar that allows her to wake up at 2:30 in the morning when Chris is out of town and demand to sleep with me. She doesn't do this when he's here. I think this may be partly my fault, since a few months ago I let her climb in bed with me early in the morning (5am early, not 2:30am early!) when he was gone. As cute, sweet, and cuddly as she is when she's sleepy, this is not a habit that I want to encourage.

I've been wearing my glasses full-time lately because I need new contacts but can't get them until I see the eye doctor, and I don't have an appointment for another week. I haven't worn my glasses this many days in a row since the 8th grade. It's very strange.

Interestingly, Lexi also has an eye doctor appointment next week. Believe it or not, she failed the school vision screening. Huh.

There is no school today. It's a gorgeous day. We were planning on going to the zoo, but Vicki made some unfortunate choices yesterday evening and is now grounded for the day. Talk about a learning experience. She is one unhappy camper. Good times.

Why can't we all just get along?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

By popular demand...

I now bring you the recipes from our immensely tasty Valentine's Day dinner. They all look really long, but they're actually not that complicated. The chocolate mousse one is possibly the most precision-demanding, but it's soooooo worth it. Trust me. Try it. You won't regret it (unless you don't like chocolate, and then I can't do anything to help you.)

Without further ado...

Mushroom and Chestnut Soup
I called this Three Mushroom Soup because I couldn’t remember the real name. It technically only calls for two varieties of mushrooms, but we changed it a little. We couldn’t find porcini mushrooms, so we used shitake instead, and we used half white button mushrooms and half Baby Bella mushrooms, which appear to be hybrids of white and Portobello, but could just be a gimmick. We couldn’t find vacuum-packed chestnuts anywhere, so I’m fairly certain we just left that ingredient out. Chris did come home from Trader Joe’s with a large bag of hazelnuts, after remembering only the “vacuum-packed” and “-nuts” among all the other things he was trying to keep track of, but we opted to not put them in the soup. We also did not use truffle oil, because we can’t afford to even look at truffle oil. And we simply garnished with a slice of mushroom rather than the chives, which I believe got left off the list accidentally, and of course through no fault of my own.

1 oz (30 g) dried porcini mushrooms
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
½ tsp each salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb (500 g) white button or Portobello mushrooms, stems trimmed and finely chopped
3 ½ oz (100 g) vacuum-packed chestnuts, finely chopped
2 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup half-and-half
Juice of ½ lemon
Chives, chopped, for garnish
Truffle oil, to garnish (optional)

1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 cups of boiling water for 15 minutes. Put the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan, heat to medium-high, and add the onion, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 4 minutes, then add the garlic. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the fresh mushrooms and chestnuts, and sauté for an additional minute before adding the stock.
2. Drain the porcini, reserving the liquid. Rinse, chop finely, and add to the soup. Strain the liquid through paper towels to catch any remaining grit or dirt, pour the strained liquid into the soup, and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream and lemon juice. Season to taste, then transfer to a blender and puree. Return to the saucepan to warm through. Serve in cups or bowls, garnished with chopped chives and a drizzle of truffle oil, if using.

This soup can be made 2 days before, refrigerated, and reheated. It may also be frozen for up to 4 weeks.

Spinach and Peppered Pear Salad with Raspberry Walnut Oil Dressing
We do not have and couldn’t be bothered to find pink peppercorns, so we just used black. Our biggest cheat by far, though, was that we decided not to shell out for walnut oil and instead just bought a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette dressing. It was still yummy. We made our own Parmesan chips by dropping about 2 Tbsp of grated Parmesan onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and baking them for about 7 minutes at 400°F.

1-inch cubes sourdough or French bread, about 2 large handfuls
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 ripe comice or similar pears, quartered and cored
1 Tbsp freshly ground pink and black peppercorns, plus more as needed
Juice of 2 lemons
1 small red onion, finely diced
8 large handfuls baby spinach or mesclun (mixed baby lettuces)
1 cup pecans, toasted
Parmesan chips or ½ cup roughly grated Parmesan

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp raspberry vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
½ garlic clove, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
5 Tbsp walnut or hazelnut oil
½ tsp each salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread out the bread cubes on a nonstick baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for 6 minutes, until golden. Remove the croutons from the oven and leave to cool.
2. Roughly chop the pears into ½-in wide slices. Transfer to a small bowl with the freshly ground pepper and 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice, then toss to coat. In another bowl, mix together the onion and remaining juice.
3. Pour the recipe ingredients into a jar, close the lid, and shake well to combine. Arrange the spinach, pears, pecans, Parmesan chips, and croutons in small individual bowls. Just before serving, pour on the dressing.

Golden Phyllo-Wrapped Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream

9 Tbsp cream cheese, softened
¼ cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes, drained, patted dry, and chopped
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloin removed
Salt and pepper to taste
12 phyllo sheets
½ cup unsalted butter, melted

1. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Divide into six equal portions and set aside.
2. Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise, not quite all the way through, and open like a book. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Place a portion of the cheese mixture on one half and fold the other half over to close.
3. Carefully place one phyllo sheet on a clean, dry work surface and brush liberally with melted butter. Place another sheet directly on top and brush well again with the butter. Place the chicken breast 2 inches from the bottom of one of the shorter ends and fold over the long ends on both sides. Now roll up the breast in the rest of the phyllo to make a neat package. Place seam side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush all over with the butter. Repeat with the remaining five breasts. Leave at least an in between each wrapped breast to allow for browning.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered until the phyllo is golden and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the chicken reaches 165°F, about 45 minutes. Transfer each with a spatula to a warm dinner plate, ladle the avgolemono sauce over, and serve immediately.

Avgolemono Sauce
No, I do not know how to pronounce this.

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 large eggs
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the broth in a medium-sized saucepan to just boiling, then remove and set aside.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs until somewhat frothy. Whisk in the lemon juice until well combined. Continuing to whisk, slowly pour the hot broth into the egg-and-lemon mixture. Pour back into the saucepan and over low heat, cook, whisking gently until the sauce has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but still a bit thin and pourable. Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set in a warm place until ready to serve, or pour into a thermos and set aside.

Lemon Garlic Greek Potatoes

6 medium-sized russet, Idaho, or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges or 1-inch cubes
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/3 cup olive oil
¾ cup water
2 tsp finely chopped, fresh oregano leaves
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy roasting pan and stir well. Bake, stirring occasionally, until a golden crust begins to form on the potatoes, about 40 minutes. Add up to ½ cup more water if the pan appears dry, and continue baking, stirring often, until the potatoes are crisp and golden brown, about 30 minutes more. Taste for the addition of salt, pepper, and lemon, and serve immediately.

Dark-Chocolate Mousse
Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the results of consuming this mousse. However, I will say that it is To. Die. For.

5 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup water
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 66% cacao), finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream, chilled

1. In the top of a double boiler or in a heat-proof bowl, whisk the yolks and sugar together until pale yellow and thick. A ribbon should fall back into the bowl when the whisk is lifted, and the sugar should begin to dissolve.
2. Stir in the water. Place over simmering water and cook, whisking vigorously, until the mixture is quite thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 160°F.
3. Remove from the heat and add the finely chopped chocolate. Stir until melted. Continue stirring until the mixture is cool to the touch.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the melted chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate about 4 hours. Serve cold.

If any of you try any of these, you have to let me know! Bon appétit!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The gospel according to Ellie

First of all, this becomes more entertaining if you know how Ellie pronounces "Jesus". Or maybe it won't. But I think it's cute, and it's my blog, so you'll all just have to deal with me. Ellie says all her "j" sounds like "zh", so "Jesus" becomes "Zhezhus" (she throws that second "zh" in there just to spice things up, I think.)

Okay, on to the funny stuff.

Awhile ago (to be honest, I've just been waiting for the opportune moment to blog this) Ellie and I had the following conversation:
  • E: Mom, who is Jesus' dad?
  • M: Heavenly Father.
  • E: Oh. Is Jesus' dad in charge?
  • M: Yes, He is.
  • E: Hey! Just like I'm in charge!

Then today we had this discussion while driving to the store:
  • E: I know, Mom! Let's go to Wendy's for lunch!
  • M: No, Ellie, we just had Wendy's the other day, so we're not going to have it again for a while.
  • E: Aw, Moooooom...
There is silence and I assume we've moved on.
  • E: Hey, Mom? Jesus wants us to follow His directions.
  • M: That's right, He does.
  • E: Mommy, we're not following Jesus' directions.
  • M: We're not? How come?
  • E: Because Jesus wants us to go to Wendy's for lunch.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The all-consuming, consume-them-all cookie

Girl Scout Cookie sales are still going strong. And by that I mean that they have taken up my last three Saturdays and a good part of the days before and between. On Valentine's Day I had to go pick them up from the depot, drop roughly 120 cases off at my co-leader's house (ha, ha!), and unload the remaining 50 at my house. Then I had to wait for parents to come pick them up, which resulted in one of the moms nearly getting towed from in front of my house by the devil of all towing companies, hired for whatever bizarre reason by our HOA to do "patrol towing". But that's another story. Back to cookies.

We delivered as many of the girls' cookies as we could, even spending an afternoon at Chris's office, the same way we did nearly a month before when we took orders. Many of his co-workers love us for supplying them with their version of heroin. We took some to church with us that Wednesday to deliver to Vicki's Activity Days leaders, and it was a good thing I brought some extras with me, because the sight of those colorful boxes produced 18 more sales. My co-leader doesn't understand why we don't just set up a booth after church one Sunday, no matter how many times I try to explain that that just wouldn't go over well. She thinks we're missing out on an abundance of sales. She's probably right.

I have spent a total of eight hours over the last two Saturdays standing in both Fabric Depot and Fred Meyer, encouraging my daughters to hawk their cookies to poor, unsuspecting shoppers who left their houses with the intention of bringing home a couple yards of quilter's cotton or a carton of ice cream and a case of beer, and found themselves unable to resist the unbearable cuteness of little girls in brown vests. Who could possibly resist that? Oh, yeah, we made a killing - an average of 60 boxes in each 2-hour block of time. Plus this experience always helps to renew my faith in mankind. With the economy like it is, we were expecting a decrease in sales, but we haven't really seen that. If anything, we're doing better this year than last. And people seem more apt to make donations to the troop, which, to be perfectly honest, is almost better than actually buying the cookies. See, we as a troop get $0.65 per box, but if you just hand the girls a dollar, it saves you $3 (cookies cost $4/box) and gives us an additional $0.35. Of course, then the girls don't get any closer to their sales goals, so it's kind of a give-and-take thing. But people are generous, that's what I've learned.

I have been terribly proud of the fact that, up until this weekend, I had only eaten three cookies. This, I will grudgingly admit, was due to no particular willpower of my own, but rather to the fact that we hadn't actually bought ourselves any cookies yet. Vicki and Lexi each bought two boxes (well, Vicki bought two and Lexi bought one and had one bought for her by a cute little old man at Fred Meyer who bought them for her), and they shared a little bit, but that's all I'd had. Until yesterday. I finally bought some, and now that the boxes are open there's no turning back. I more than doubled my consumption in less than 10 minutes. It's like those old Pringles commercials (these may have only been on in England): Once you pop, you can't stop! They're sooooo good. Soooooo irresistible. They're calling me as we speak (write? read? you know what I mean.) The only good thing I can say is that I bought two boxes of Tagalongs and then had to give them back to the troop because we were running out and couldn't order more before our sales this weekend. When I get those back, well, let's just say they won't last long, and neither will my figure (such as it is.)

Cookies are available through March 14. Get them while you still can!
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