Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Twin to Twin

It's twin picture book time again! In a previous post about another twin book, I mentioned that I'm always on the lookout for some books about twins. Today's review is Twin to Twin, written by Margaret O'Hair and illustrated by Thierry Courtin, and published by Simon & Schuster.

The picture book is about boy/girl twins, which is always a favorite of mine since my twins are boy/girl. This book definitely celebrates the "double nature" of twins in house, both good and bad. Twins means twice the dirty diapers and toys and mess and work, but also twice the love and blessings.

The illustrations are very sweet, and the text is written in a very sing-songy, rhyming way, which is great to read aloud as a bedtime story. It's simple enough for a sibling to read to her brother-and-sister, something Big Girl likes to do, as well as short enough to put on a pile of bedtime stories.

I definitely recommend this as a baby shower gift, new baby gift, or even a "1st Birthday" gift to a set of twins!

You can find more reviews on books about twins on this blog at this link. If you have any favorite twin books, please leave a comment!

Friday, April 27, 2012

In the Kitchen: PIZZA!

Pizza time! Note the sauce-less corner for Big Girl.
I make homemade pizza often. It's easy, it's cheap, and everyone will eat it.

I don't make my own dough; for just over $2, I can get a 3 lb.-bag of dough that makes two sheet pizzas. That's right -- no round pizza in this house -- we make large pizzas on cookie sheets and I cut square pieces. It's easy, and simple.

Basically, I leave the dough out for the afternoon in the bag so it will rise... When I'm ready to make the pizza, I heat up the oven to 450 degrees, divide the dough in half and stretch it out over two cookie sheets -- I rub a litttle oil on them and sprinkle white cornmeal on the pans.

After the dough is stretched out, I brush olive oil over it. Then I add sauce (a half-jar covers both pizzas; some herbs like oregano, basil, salt & pepper; some grated Parmesan; and then I add toppings -- kids love to help with this part. For toppings, I just check out the fridge to see what I can use. I like peppers and onions; sometimes I add crumbled bacon; we always seem to have pepperoni slices on hand; fresh tomatoes sliced thin can be good too, etc. I even leave a slice or two without sauce since Big Girl does not like sauce on her pizza. (One of her favorite foods is the humble tomato, yet she doesn't really like sauce on her pizza or pasta...)

Toppings, toppings... my fave is on the left: roasted peppers and onions.
Then put a bunch of shredded mozzarella on top and bake away. (Sliced fresh mozzarella is awesome too!) It takes about 20 minutes to get the crust cooked and the cheese melted, but cooking times vary depending on the toppings.

And... done!!! The best part about pizza night is that we almost always have a few pieces leftover for a quick lunch. And no, we don't only make our own pizza -- we still order pizza out, and I'm not shy about buying a take-and-bake pizza from a store either. But there is nothing like homemade pizza and a salad for a weekend dinner that will appeal to everyone, and it's very affordable too!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pet Memorial Garden

Big Girl making a stepping stone last year.
Perhaps we should make another one this year to include in our pet memorial garden?
When our beloved dog died last year, I can't even explain how difficult it was for all of us. She was 10 1/2 years old, and was sick, and I felt that we had been robbed of a few more years of her presence in our lives. I wanted to honor her memory and her legacy in some way, and I started dreaming of creating a small memorial garden in her honor. I thought it would be healing not only for myself, but for Big Girl, who has struggled with this loss and still does.

Unlike when a human dies, we really don't have real closure to a pet death -- there is no wake, no funeral, no cemetery to visit. Yet pets are clearly important members of our families, and their loss is felt daily, as suddenly we don't have pet dishes to fill or dogs to take outside and walk or to brush or to sit on our feet at night while we watch TV or sleep next to our bed. A small garden in their memory can give families a chance to work on something together, honor their pet, and give a place to grieve or remember them.

I searched the internet to see if there were any ideas on pet memorial gardens, and found very little information. Not long after, I joined Pinterest and started "pinning" or bookmarking things that would be special in my very own pet memorial garden, so I thought I'd share a few of them here for those who find them selves wanted to honor a deceased pet.

One of the things that comforted me after our dog died was the "Rainbow Bridge" story. It would be lovely to recreate a rainbow in a pet memorial garden, in honor of this idea. I was able to find this gorgeous photo for inspiration:

Of course, I don't have the space or the budget to create such a large rainbow, but it is very pretty, isn't it?
Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

Clearly a large rainbow will not fit in my yard or the abundance of those flowers in my budget. However, I was able to find a great blog post about planting a rainbow. The post is actually tied to the Lois Ehlert children's book Planting a Rainbow, but it gives ideas for rainbow plant selection and shows that you don't need a great deal of money to execute the idea.

Many plants have different meanings as well. Dogwood trees are often planted in memory of our canine friends and can be a beautiful centerpiece to a garden area. Lavender plants signify love and devotion; rosemary is for remembrance. An all-white garden is also beautiful. (For other ideas, here is a decent page on creating a memorial garden.)

Whatever plants you choose, be sure to consider the amount of sun in the area. A mix of perennials and annuals is also lovely, and give thought to plant sizes at maturity, as well as different textures of plants. Also, consider how much time and care you can give to your garden when planning the size and choosing plants.

Garden ornaments are will personalize your pet memorial garden. When searching online, I found several gardens that were actually where pets' ashes were buried and had little tombstones or name stones. Ours will not be like that, but rather a place to honor our dog's memory. I would still like to include a stone with her name, and offers a very affordable personalized garden stone that one can personalize with the dog breed. (They also offer stones for cats as well.) Many web sites, including, offer garden stones with quotes or images relating to the death of a pet. Some companies even offer pricy options with pet photos on them.

I would actually like to add either one or both of these garden ornaments to my pet garden:
This one is pricey, but it looks exactly like my Bailey!

Looks like my Bailey as well, of course, and I love the heart and wings on it.
I've had both these garden ornaments bookmarked for a while, but have not broken down and ordered either yet. I'm sure I'll have to get one of them for our garden. I just can't decide which one!
Including the little ones in creating the garden can be a healing experience for them. In addition to planting flowers, have children make stepping stones or other garden ornaments to place in the garden. (The garden could also end up being a place where future pets go to rest, such as goldfish, etc., so keep that in mind regarding the garden location as well as the thoughts of what "creatures" reside in your house.) Creating a safe, peaceful place will help kids with the grieving process.

Other nice touches for a pet memorial garden could include:
  • St. Francis of Assisi statue, since he is the patron saint of animals
  • a bird feeder or bird bath, to attract wildlife
  • angel statues
  • solar lights
  • a fountain or solar fountain
  • windchimes
  • garden flag, with pet breed, angel, quote, rainbow, etc.
  • a bench or stone seat
Right now I am still deciding exactly where our memorial garden will be. I will be sure to share it with you when we make some progress.

Do you have a pet memorial garden?
What did you include in it? 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This MoM Can't Live Without: Superyard XT Gate

My living room, with twins. Early 2011.
For many months, we lived in a gated community. As in baby-gated community.

Any MoM will tell you that once the babies are able to crawl or walk, it gets a little crazy. No matter how hard you babyproof, it's pretty hard to keep the little ones safe when there is only one mom and multiple babies who like to travel in opposite directions.

Enter the Superyard XT Gate. Times 2. I was lucky to get this gate from my parents, who had bought it as a puppy pen. And then we bought another gate set and made it even bigger. And basically it was in my living room for months, and months, and months, giving the twins a safe place to play.

The twins were totally not like Big Girl, and liked to crawl their way into trouble. This gate worked on containing them for a very long time. A very long time. A few toys, the gate and Nick Jr. and I was OK for a while. Until they learned, through teamwork, to push it around and pull it up and crawl under it and escape. That was end of the gated pen.

But that said, I still use this gate, in a different reincarnation. I have one piece tied to block the stairs and another to block off the dining room, which is the only room on the main floor where I can keep stuff out of the twins reach, like the garbage can and the pet frogs! The gate has been one of the best investments in our lives, and continues to be. (And likely will continue being useful when we get another puppy in our family :)

If you have twins, or are having twins, be sure to pick this up or put not only one, but two, on your baby registry!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Review: I'm Having Twins

When I realized I was having twins, many of my thoughts were about my older daughter. How would she handle all this? How would she handle the thought of TWO siblings? Watching her Mom deal with a twin pregnancy and have to slow way down? The arrival of TWO babies at once?

She was turning 7 years old at the time, and clearly she was old enough to understand more than a 2- or 3-year old, however, she had also been an only child for a long time. Being the bookwarm that I am, I immediately started searching for a book about becoming a big sister of twins. Basically, there was one -- ONE!! With the proliferation of twins lately, I was kind of shocked about this. (Note to self: Write children's books about twin siblings? :)

I'm Having Twins is written by Paris Morris, an actual big sister of twins, who was 3 when her siblings were born and "wrote" the book (and its sequels) with the help of her parents. The book is more expensive than most paperback children's books, but the book is a decent quality, with really bright, lively, color illustrations in it. Although it is about a much younger girl than my daughter, my daughter did really like it and it helped get her excited about her future siblings.

The book addresses everything about the arrival of a sibling or two -- fear about sharing rooms and toys, picking out names, Mom's baby shower. The best part for me, however, was preparing Big Girl for one side effect of twin pregnancy: bed rest. Luckily, I was not on a doctor-ordered bed rest, although I did just physically have to rest a lot at the end. We did exactly what Paris and her mother did in the book -- read, play puzzles, etc., while resting in bed or on the couch. I was happy that she could see from the book that this was "normal" while waiting for the twins to come.

And I like the fact that in the book, little Paris keeps referring to the babies as "my" twins. I wanted my daughter to feel that same way -- that these babies were not just Mommy's and Daddy's special gifts, but hers as well. I think I can say that two years later, we have accomplished this.

This book had four sequels, but I never purchased them. The next book, My Twins are Coming Home, chronicles talks about dealing with the new babies staying in the hospital for a few weeks before coming home at different times -- a fact that many twin families often have to deal with more than singleton birth families. If we were in that situation, I was prepared to order that book! The other books are My Twins' First Birthday, My Twins' First Halloween and My Twins' First Christmas. The Halloween book is not available on

Paris Morris, who also is the author of some "Paris" travel stories, also has a very cute Website where you can order books and print out adorable coloring pages for your future big siblings of twins. The real Paris is a teenager now, but her books are still teaching many lessons to big brothers and big sisters.

These books would make a wonderful gift to a future sibling of twins at a baby shower. I am happy that we have this in our library, and it will likely be a wonderful keepsake and memory for Big Girl after she grows up.

You can find more reviews on books about twins on this blog at this link. If you have any favorite twin books, please leave a comment!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pie Love

A favorite pie book. A pie plate. My gram's rolling pin.

I have this "thing" about pie.

Not just eating it.

But pie as a complete symbol of what I consider the good life.

The good life for me is not about jet-setting and diamonds, but about small town loveliness and aprons and vintage dishes and my grandmother and Laura Ingalls Wilder and black-and-white TV and sittin' on the front porch sippin' iced tea... THAT sort of good life. When families ate dinner together every night without beeping phones, everyone had a newspaper delivered and read it religiously, when there were only three TV networks and everyone was on the same page with information about what was happening in the world or entertainment... THAT sort of good life. When we visit Vermont and I have pie warmed and crust blackened in American Flatbread's pizza oven with yummy Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream on the side, or when we drive north towards Stowe past a sign that says "Fresh Pies!" and my husband and oldest daughter scream "fresh pies!" every time we drive by it and I obsess over finding a sign that says "Fresh Pies" for my kitchen wall because it is a sweet memory of the country and Vermont and the simple life and my happy family... THAT sort of good life.

Homemade pie totally reminds me of that. So therefore I am addicted to the idea of pie. It's like a very comforting sort of food, isn't it? It's simple and not-so-simple, plain but sometimes fancy, with crimping and lattice tops and all that, and can cover sweet or savory aspects depending on what you put between the crust.

Now, I'm not a pie baker. But it is my goal to become a pie baker, and master all sorts of pie and the perfect, ultimate pie crust. But in the meantime, I just obsess over all-things-pie. If there's a book about pie, or a movie about pie, or a TV show about making pies, I am all over it.

Let's see... A few years ago I read American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads by Pascale Le Draoulec. This book was just so totally everything I love in a book -- the author drove all over the U.S. in search of pies and told the stories of the people who make them. It was an extended "CBS Sunday Morning" story over and over, page after page, and I loved it. Every chapter was a story about a different person with a different pie, and recipes were included. It was the ultimate pie book for me.

Last year my daughter and I read Pie by Sarah Weeks, which was about a girl name Alice whose aunt is incredibly famous for her pies and her pie crust. When she dies unexpectedly, and someone tries to steal her pie crust recipe, Alice must figure out the mystery of the thief as well as find that elusive recipe. The book was entertaining, and each chapter started with a pie recipe -- yummy reading -- but the end/epilogue was slightly off for me. All in all, my daughter and I enjoyed reading a chapter each night. (I'm hoping to pass on my pie love to her, although now she seems slightly loyal to the current cupcake trend.)

I just found another must-read pie book a few days ago -- I was reading Real Simple magazine when I this:

It was part of an article written by a woman named Beth Howard. Howard just published a book titled Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie, after explains how pie has changed her life, including 10 solid reasons. She's a girl after my own heart. I closed the magazine and downloaded her book on my Nook faster than you can say "rolling pin." I'll let you know what I think when I finish it.

Howard blogs at and lives in Iowa in the "American Gothic House" -- you know the famous painting of the old man and woman and a pitchfork? She lives in THAT house. And has a pie stand there. I just LOVE that.

Of course, no homage to pie could be complete with mentioning the movie "Waitress." Although it had some really dark moments, the film succeeded in pie love to me -- anything with pie has to make you totally want to eat pie, and "Waitress" mentions enought oddball, off-the-wall pies to make one drool. If you've never seen the movie, check out the trailer here.

Perhaps my favorite blog EVER because it incorporates both pie and the whole "good life" that I crave is Sugar Pie Farm House. It is just a devine ode to my vintage Mayberry-style of life and includes some pretty awesome pie recipes too. She has the best recipes for just about everything, and the most awesome pantry I've ever seen, ever...

Now back to my ode to make the perfect pie. Some day, I will... My grandmother's pie crust recipe, which was really great, included vinegar -- I was just watching a "Pioneer Woman" program on The Food Network (love her!!) and she uses vinegar in her pie crust. The recipe looked so simple that I think I'm going to begin my quest with that recipe, in homage to my gram. You can find her Perfect Pie Crust recipe on this link.

Now let me go get my apron on...

Pie, pie... do you love pie as much as I do?

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Love-Hate Relationship with The Duggars

Don't tell anyone: I own the Duggar book. I got it for free. Jim Bob would be proud.
I have a total love-hate relationship with The Duggars. I've been watching them on TV forever, and I DVR their current program, but they often totally annoy me. For starters, I do think it's kind of irresponsible and narcissistic that they have all those children and seem to pursue having more. Why? Because it seems to me as if the older daughters are essentially raising the younger ones, basically, and there is no way the parents can seriously spend enough time shaping each little mind individually or enjoy their children. It seems that they are not receiving the best education they deserve, homeschooled or not.  And it seems that they are very sheltered in many ways -- too many!

That said, I don't really have a huge problem with their Christian views, or how they dress, or how they eat. And frankly I think it's fantastic that they basically seem to be taking care of themselves, financially, without relying on government assistance -- the "Buy used, save the difference" motto is one from which we could learn a lesson in this economy. And their life story is pretty interesting. I did read the family's first book, The Duggars: 20 and Counting!, which was released in 2008 and features the family's early story, including the financial struggles they faced, how they organize and run their large family, recipes and shopping strategies, among other interesting facts. Who knew Jim Bob was robbed and tied up and left? Fascinating.

As a busy mom with two toddlers and a tween, I am always looking for tips and tricks to teach my children how to behave, how they can help out, etc., and the Duggar book definitely has several tidbits here and there. The whole "blanket training" thing is definately a tempting tool for my busy twins -- Mama Duggar basically has taught the kids to sit quietly on a blanket for 20 minutes or so and NOT MOVE. While I don't want to be a control freak, I do need to teach the twins this for social gatherings. Seriously. I started trying this but it is a lot of work, but I think if the Duggars don't give up, neither should I. (It's kind of the whole "if Supernanny can do it, so can I" mantra I sometimes get with my kids. It's all about reinforcement, right? Schedules and rules and consistency do work!)

Big Girl has seen their show, and I sometimes secretly hope that the Duggar children's work ethic will inspire her, and sometimes it does. She is definitely a helpful girl despite her more-modern-than-the-Duggars tendencies. She is one who wants to and strives to be a good girl. But do I want her to take care of my twins all day? No. Do I want her to wear long skirts and not know who The Beatles are?

H-E-double-hockey-sticks NO!!!

But basically the Duggar kids are respectful, help their parents out, love their family, and aren't talking back like all those tweens on the Disney channel, so I don't mind if she watches their show every now and then.

Big Girl and I watched the old "16 Kids and Counting" hourlong special recently. Sometimes the TLC network will re-run those old specials and they are fun to watch, especially considering how much the Duggar family has changed (and grown) since they were on TV. And on this particular night, Big Girl asked me to make Tatertot Casserole -- a famous Duggar recipe. I had to laugh at this because Big Girl is, well, extremely PICKY about what she eats. But if she'll eat Tatertot Casserole, and help cook that night, then I'm making it. (She also wants me to make the ice cream cake out of ice cream sandwiches. I'll consider it if she eats the Tatertot Casserole.)

My love-hate relationship requires that I read everything I come across about the family, including the Television Without Pity message boards about the show, which can get overly snarky. Too snarky, in some parts -- this poor family can't breathe without TWoP forums criticizing them. And despite my penchant for Duggar info, I don't think I'll read the second book the family published, because the description doesn't appeal to me. But I continue to watch the show. I'll wait to see if the only-married child Josh and his wife Anna -- for whom I really have a soft-spot in my heart! -- will follow his parents' lead and have a zillion children with names starting with the same letter, or if some of the Duggar girls will marry and leave parenting duties to their parents.

Because when it comes to the Duggars, it's like a lovable train wreck. I need to watch and see what happens. I know some day that 20th child will come, don't you? And what will the next chapter be after that? It will be fun to find out.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mom's Guide: Beluga Whales

Big Girl, in blue on right, watching her beloved beluga whales earlier this week.
Sometimes I think I should have been a homeschooling mom, because Big Girl and I get engrossed in learning about something. We could spend hours researching and I enjoy it so much. This week, we spent a day at a local aquarium and my daughter was obsessing over beluga whales.

I can understand why she loves them so much. They are pretty cute. They are so clean-looking with their all-white skin. They look like they are constantly smiling. Of course, she had to spend her own cash in the gift shop on a stuffed version, which she named Juno after one of the whales at the aquarium. (I can't say I don't blame her for loving these creatures at her age -- I was just a year or two older when I visited the same aquarium with my school, and I remember buying a little beluga whale necklace in the gift shop and wearing it forever. It kind of looked like this.)

Whale feeding!
We have been looking up stuff online about the whales, and in the spirit of educating children -- homeschooled or not -- I decided to include a bunch of information and links in this post for anyone who would love to learn more about these gentle sea creatures. There is nothing I love more than finding a comprehensive list of information online, with links, on a specific subject. Consider this the first post on many topics we research, which I will dub "A Mom's Guide to..." Enjoy! 

A Mom's Guide to Beluga Whales!

The beluga whale is a small, toothed whale that is born grey but turns white as an adult. The word "beluga" means "white one" in Russian.  Native to the Artic region, they grow to be about 15 feet long, and can weight around 3,300 lbs. They have a large "melon," which is their bulbous forehead, and lack a dorsal fin which makes swimming under ice sheets easier and also helps with retaining heat in their bodies. Their flippers are short, rounded and white. The whales have a very flexible neck, allowing it to turn its head, unlike other whales.

Belugas are very vocal -- so vocal that their nickname is "sea canary." Other nicknames are white whale, white porpoise and squid hound, the latter coming from a popular food in its diet.

Their tendency to be vocal, which can even be heard above water, is due to the whales' use of echolocation to locate prey, find breathing holes through ice and to navigate deep water. Basically, they use their voice to throw out a sound and see if it bounces off  "something," like prey or ice. They also are very social, living in large groups, or pods, and use many sounds to communicate with other Beluga whales.

Belugas have 34 teeth, which are not used for eating -- they swallow food whole. The teeth are used for grabbing and tearing prey. They eat a varied diet of fish, squid, crustaceans, octopus and more.

Enchanted Learning has a great unit on Beluga whales with activity pages to print out for elementary school students. National Geographic's beluga page has audio capture of the whale. National Geographic Kids has a little fact card which kids can print out.

Other great links: SeaWorld's "Infobook" on belugas, a homeschool unit perfect for a whale lap book, a beluga coloring page (although you just might want to cut it the whale out and mount it on blue paper, since it's white!), an adorable mom-and-baby beluga page, or make a beluga mobile or puppet-on-a-stick by printing out this page on white cardstock and cutting the animals out. Older children may enjoy this lesson plan, "Beluga Whales In the Ice." Whale facts can also be found at this link.

There are seven aquariums in North America where one can see Beluga whales: Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, Vancouver Aquarium in Canada, SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Antonio. Visit each site to find out more information on the species, on each aquarium's specific whales, or even Webcams to watch live video of the animals. Many of these aquariums have interaction programs, where for a fee you can interact personally with a beluga.

Both Atlanta and Shed aquariums have pregnant Beluga whales. Did you know that a Beluga mommy is pregnant for 14 months and the newborns weigh around 50 lbs?

You can adopt-a-beluga via the World Wildlife Fund. It would make a great gift for a beluga fan!

The twins did not come with Big Girl and I to the aquarium, but I didn't leave them out of the beluga fun. We surprised them with this little book from the gift shop:

Baby Beluga (Seaworld Library)

Although it's a board book, it's a great book for older kids too, with a lot of information on belugas and real photos. If you search "beluga" under the children's books section on, you'll find many books on beluga whales for children. Another one for the tiny toddler set is "Baby Beluga," based on a song by Raffi. Little whale fans might also feel at home in a variation of the children's room below, which has a whale mural and framed beluga photos. (Framed photos that you've taken yourself are a great and inexpensive way to decorate a room and become not only art of a favorite animal, but memories of a fun day!) I was thinking that this room would be cute not only for a baby, but also for a toddler transition or big kid bed room, and perfect as a gender-neutral option for boy/girl twins, which I am always researching! It's very calming and sweet:

If you are looking for beluga "stuff," I did a quicky Etsy search and here is the link. There are some really cute things, including adorable little necklaces and a sweet crochet pattern for a stuffed toy.

Finally, I could not write about beluga whales without sharing this: My daughter has been a big fan of the video below since we first saw it last year. In fact, this was taken at our local aquarium, and my daughter named her stuffed beluga "Juno" after this very whale, who is the exactly the same age as she is, right down to the month. The video shows how very sweet these whales are:

I hope you enjoyed our beluga whale research as much as we did!
When you take a day trip, help your kids learn a little "extra"
to feed their natural curiousity!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Milestone Birthday Gifts

My sister-in-law recently turned 40 and I wanted to give a cute gift. I couldn't afford 40 diamonds or 40 bottles of wine, etc., so I started searching Pinterest for something cute. I made the little above jar of bubblegum, and attached a gift card for $40 on the top. I thought my little bubblegum gift was pretty cute and colorful, and everything, except the gift card, came from the dollar store, of course!

In my search I came across a few other "milestone" gifts -- you can make them work for any milestone birthday, like 30, 40, 50, etc. There were many variations on Pinterest for this one:

Some pins were of the lollipops in jars, in buckets, in flower pots, shaped as flowers, etc. The sentiment was always the same: "(INSERT AGE) SUCKS!"

Of course, any variation on the birthday number is fun: For 40, try 40 cards, 40 instant lottery scratch-offs, 40 anything. Or put together a gift basket in memory of the year the person was born.

This gift is also pretty creative: A "Bucket List Scrapbook."

Each page has a different adventure, and leaves room for notes and photos. Some of the options can include "Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain," "Swim with the sharks," "Ride a mechanical bull," "Take your children to Disney World," and more more. You can find out more about it here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Spring Break Bucket List

"Busy hands are a great help to being cheerful." -- Ma Ingalls in These Happy Golden Years
Big Girl is out of school this week, so last Friday afternoon she got off the bus, ate a snack, and we made a list. The chalkboard was wiped clean and we brainstormed a bunch of things she needed to do as well as might want to do. We know we may not accomplish every single thing on the list, but it's nice to see everything in one visible place. It's nice to keep busy. And being busy can mean happy kids on vacation and that means a happy mom.

In boring moment over the 9-day vacation, we can glance at the wall, realize we haven't had "movie night" or worked on her sand art craft kit or opened the pottery wheel, visited the library or read more about our new frogs, and an activity is born. It's a fun way to keep busy and find something fun to do. Usually our chalkboard is a source of our week's activities, so those are on there too, marked by the day.

You know when the kids arrive back at school after a break, the first thing they do, or the teacher does, is ask "What did you do on vacation?" We don't usually go away on trips, except in the summer, so Big Girl doesn't have any major accomplishments to brag about when she returns to school, unlike peers returning from Disney or trips to warm weather locations. And I am not a "need to do some day trip every day" sort of person either -- there is room for down time for just playing and hanging out at home. I still have to work for my part-time job, chores still need to be done, toddlers still need naps, but the difference between this week and a school week is to find ways to squeeze in some fun. This week's big fun trip to a newly opened Titanic exhibit; Big Girl is fascinated by Titanic history, so I was able to get a work assignment to get us there for a mother-daughter day.

The list helps keep me on track for the week too. It sets goals to give Big Girl a good vacation as well as remind me of what we need to accomplish this week. For example, Big Girl is participating in the school's St. Jude Mathathon, and needs to finish her math booklet for that. Also, since the weather is warming up, Big Girl's closet needs a clothes clean-out, so we can make sure we have a warm weather wardrobe that fits her. It may be her vacation, but this is a necessity and it's easier to do it on a day off rather than squeeze it in a busy school week. We all have responsibilities in life, even on school vacation, and I think it's important to teach children that life is a balance, don't you?

The goal of the Spring Break Bucket List is like any list -- check off our accomplishments and have fun doing it. I'm hoping that by the time Sunday night rolls around that Big Girl will feel her week was not wasted, but was one full of accomplishments, big and small, both fun and needed, and that she will have a long list of conversation starters on Monday morning.

Monday, April 16, 2012

We Have Frogs... Yes, Frogs!

Frogs, frogs, freaky frogs!
 So.... We now have frogs.

Freaky little frogs that completely freak me out but these frogs have turned around life in my house, in a nutshell.

Until Aug. 1, 2011, we had a dog. A lovely dog, which I considered my first child. My husband and I got our dear Bailey, a Sheltie, about 18 months before my oldest was born. Last year, when she was 10 years old, we discovered she had cancer. It was sad, and awful, and mournful. I felt as if I lost a child, and I felt robbed since she clearly could have lived another four years or so, but that was in the cards for our dear Bailey. I still get so upset about it, even typing this post. She should still be with us, but I am thankful for the decade we got. She was a wonderful, good, friendly dog.

Big Girl did not know life without this special pet of ours. Althought we have lost family members, most have been elderly, and clearly did not live with us. I was grateful for our dog's passing prior to the start of school, allowing for some healing. However, that said, the grief has been dredged up in recent weeks. I'm not sure why. We have talked about getting another dog, but Big Girl is hesistant, which makes me feel she is clearly not ready, at all. She is definitely not sure. She wants a dog, but she is afraid to lose another dog. I desperately want a dog, but I have 2-year-old twins who are like puppies in themselves, so I am leaving the moment of adding a furball to our family up to my older child. When she is ready, we will be ready. And hopefully I will be ready for the "work" a new pup will entail.

Big Girl seems consumed lately about pet talk: Kids talk about pets all the time. In school, one of the most common get-to-know-you question is about pets. Lunch with the principal: "Do you have a pet?" is asked. Watching a science video: Cats and dogs are featured. Eating lunch in the cafeteria: "My cat did this..." or "My dog is ..." becomes the topic of conversation. Big Girl has taken these situations especially hard recently, and many tears have been shed over missing the companionship of our pup, and not having any animal to fill the void.

In a moment of weakness amidst a recent rash of what seemed like anxiety and stress in Big Girl's life, I decided that perhaps we needed something... just something... that was a living being other than 2-year-old siblings in this house. Something that could be declared pet-worthy. So this MoM scoops up the toddlers and loads them into the car to go purchase these tiny frogs that are a popular item at the local teacher supply store. Yes, not even a pet store. (Please, no "hate" comments on this. They seem healthy and have all their limbs and were well-cared for by the staff there, who were knowledgeable.) As far as expense: I had a coupon -- $10 off the $25 price tag! So many families I know seem to have these creatures (and they have survived years in these families!) that I thought maybe this is a good transition. Possibly a good "pet" to ease the tenuous pet converstaion among tween friends. Not furry, so less attachment, but living, and needing minimal care. Pet-worthy.

The twins and I did our best picking out a pair of African dwarf frogs. (Actually, we picked out the color of the aquarium rocks that Big Girl would like the best. It's hard to choose between pairs of tiny freaky frogs that basically look the same.) We brought them home, and later that day, after school and activities, I surprised the oldest with her new pets.

She was so thrilled! We brainstormed names, and since they are supposed to be two boy frogs, we came up with Phineas & Ferb, after one of her favorite TV shows. It is cleary appropriate phonetically to go with the whole "F" sound in frogs, don't you think? Here, check them out, ready for their close-up: 
Phineas & Ferb? Or Ferb & Phineas?
Now the basics. These frogs are from a company called Wild Creations, and they are apparently as much a lesson in science as they are pets. The frogs come in a little tiny acrylic "box" called an Ecoquarium. There's no need for a filter or anything -- a stick of live bamboo provides oxygen. Food? Basically, we feed them these tiny pellets twice a week. Every few months, we need to empty out about 3/4 of the water out and refill with spring water. Everything else takes care of itself, due to special gravel in the bottom and the bamboo that oxygenates the whole kit-n-kaboodle. It's an ecosystem in itself -- that's science, moms! I consider it not only a pet, but a learning tool. (Check out how it works here, which includes a PDF file of the ecosystem.) Coincidentally, Big Girl is studying ecosystems right now in school. So I get the double-whammy award for a pet and a connection to the school curriculum. Applause for MoM!

The end result of this whole frog lesson is this: Big Girl can now say she has a pet. She's happy about that -- very happy! It's not as much an emotional attachment, as no petting and hugging is involved. So it's safe in her eyes. It's not a lot of work. Yay for me. Food is cheap ($3.99 for a year? Sign me up!) Another yay for me. It doesn't take up much space. Woo hoo! They are very entertaining to watch swim around and hide and stretch their webbed limbs. And it's so cute to hear the twins say "Froggies!"

Let's just hope they don't decide to set them free one day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Banana Bread

Yummiest snack ever!
Everyone I know makes banana bread regularly. And everyone I know seems to love it. Banana bread is a staple in our house and it's probably one of the easiest baking chores I know. I'm almost happy to see bananas get too ripe, because that means banana bread is on the menu!

My favorite banana bread recipe comes from this cookbook:

The Clueless Baker by Evelyn Raab is one of my favorite cookbooks ever, with many simple but yummy recipes, including a killer carrot cake. It's out of print now, but perhaps you can find it a second-hand store. Raab also wrote another great cookbook, Clueless in the Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens, another great basic cookbook, which is still in print. (Don't let the 'teen' in the title scare you -- it's perfect for a beginning cook of any age!)

Blender Banana Bread is so simple it's really a sin. And you can modify anyway you want, and really, you don't need to make it in a blender. I just use a hand mixer.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar (*I use about a 1/2 cup)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 ripe bananas
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar and baking soda.
Put oil, bananas and eggs into another bowl (or the blender!) and mix/blend to a smooth goo.
Pour the banana mixture into the flour mix and stir until combined.
Pour into a well-greased loaf pan and bake for about an hour.

NOTE: *I cut back the sugar because it seemed like a lot and I usually add a handful of chocolate chips. You don't notice the difference.

Batter in a pan, ready to bake!

You can add in "extras," which I often do. Just throw in 3/4 cup of anything or combination of anything: nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, etc. Change it up every time! My favorite is mini-chocolate chips. Delish!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Reading Gardens

Every year when my family travels to Vermont, we eat at one of my favorite places ever: American Flatbread in Waitsfield. There are many things I love about American Flatbread, but this post will just focus on one little thing that has inspired me.

The flatbread place is actually at a farm, and outside the restaurant are campfires. One campfire has a circular wall around it where people can sit while they are waiting for a table. Just beyond that wall is this:

A simple podium, with a weather-proofed copy of Dr. Suess' The Lorax. Now, in Vermont, environmentalism reigns supreme, so the choice of including this book here, on this farm, is completely understandable. But it's also another inspiration for me: A garden that includes reading.

I am currently working on planning a Beautification Day project for Big Girl's school. I'm in a time crunch, and trying to not to spend money on the project, so I have an idea of what I can accomplish in my head. It's not grand, or large, but an improvement. And that said -- a girl can still dream... And my long term dream for the school is to have what is called a "Reading Garden."

A reading garden is really a place where a teacher can take a class outside, with places for students to sit, surrounded by the beauty of nature and the warm sunshine and fresh air, to read or learn a lesson. I've been busy pinning ideas of other schools' reading gardens. Here is one of my favorites:

I love the benches, the pergola, the patio (no mowing and trimming!) and the flowers around it. This one is located outside a school's library, which is perfect location.

Here is a simple idea of a reading garden on another school property:

This one may not have the pretty red benches, but it's got room for a whole class to sit for a lesson or a meeting. Here's one with stone seats:

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

The current beautification plans at Big Girl's school are to clean up an existing, but neglected garden and expand it it, as well as pick up some litter. I'm thinking the oldest grade at the school will do some kind of "leave behind" project, like stepping stones; the younger ones will help with planting seeds and perennials which will bloom in the fall. I'm basically working with no budget, so I need to get everything going with donations.

Hopefully this will turn into an annual project, and we can landscape other areas and eventually get a reading garden established.

Do you have a reading garden at your child's school, or local library? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Peas in My Pod

After I found out I was pregnant with twins and finally shared it with my family, my mother decided to give me a baby shower to help me out with all the extras I was going to need. Of course, we had to have a theme, and I really wanted the "Two Peas in a Pod" theme. Although the twin thing totally freaked me out, I also knew the experience of carrying, birthing and raising twins was going to be a totally special thing that not everyone experiences. "Two Peas in a Pod" celebrated that experience.

Ever since my baby shower, I have been obsessed with peapods. Especially those with two or three peas -- two for the twins, who were and are my "two peas in a pod," or three, for my three children. The peapod means so much to me that I named this blog after it.
These were the favors for my twin baby shower.
At the time of my baby shower, partyware was not available in the peapod theme. Now you can get it for showers or first birthdays pretty easily. My mother did have a cake made with peapod sugar cookies, and we had the candles show above as "thank you" favors as well.

My next peapod came in the form of a necklace:

My mom saw it, and my husband bought it, and I wear it often. (You can buy here.) I love it. It's beautiful, and different, and meaningful since it stands for all three of my children.

This winter I bought this necklace from Coldwater Creek -- I had to buy it, it had 3 peas! Although it's only costume, it cost more than I would normally spend (but I got with a discount and a coupon, of course). I do love it because it is different than my other one: The peapod is smaller, the metal is darker, the "peas" are off-white and the chain is longer -- a completely different look. Of course, I think I would justify buying a new peapod because it's just a peapod.

My obsession with the peapod theme continues through other things too -- I have peapod Christmas ornaments for the twins' Christmas tree in their room. I have two porcelein peapods that my mom got me -- one with 3 peas for the kids, one with 5 peas for the family (see top pic) -- that sit in a dish in my china cabinet. My littlest daughter has a "sweet pea" soft doll that has a peapod jacket.

And I have a wishlist with new peapods. I just saw this necklace...

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

It's different than my others and I don't have a "green pea" necklace so I might have to add it to the collection! (You can get it here.)

The other thing on my wishlist is something that I always wanted, and never received or purchased:

It was on my holiday wishlist to my husband (hint, hint). And I once saw it in a store, but it was at Christmas, so I didn't buy it for myself. When I had some "pin money," I went back to get it, but it wasn't there. Now I'm seriously going to order it soon, because I so want this!! You can get it at here, at, which also has many other awesome twin things, as well as more peapod stuff.

Since I had my twins two years ago, the peapod theme has gotten more and more popular, as more and more sets of twins are born. You can get bedding for nurseries, stationary, and many other items with the peapod theme now.

I'm sure the peapod will continue to be a symbol in my life.
Do you have a special symbol in your life?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Garden Dreams

One of my gardens, June 2011
It seems that spring has officially sprung, as they say. For a little while, I was not sure if we really were here yet; our winter in the Northeast was so mild that I kept thinking that we were going to get an Easter snow or something. But we didn't. And it seems that the good weather will be staying now.

Every year, at that first glimpse of spring, my thoughts turn to the yard and gardens and outdoors. I always have grand plans, most of which are not executed due to two obstacles: Time and money. But nevertheless, a girl can dream. Pinterest has been a great source of dreaming about gardening, among other things, so I've been pinning and pinning and dreaming and dreaming. I know some plant purchases will be in my future, particularly for the edges of my front yard, for some much needed privacy for the neighbors. And I will like do some "house cleaning" of the garden, moving a few things, tidying things up, etc.

I've started the tidying while doing the dreaming, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite things for the Peapod Garden Plan 2012, as I will call it.

Of course, decorating is leading my plans. First, I need to make this:

My Flower Pot Person will be much cuter than this one. I swear.

I have been coveting a Flower Pot Person in my yard ever since I spotted one at the Cherry Hill Cottage. Her flower pot lady is so adorable! (You MUST click on the link to see Toots. I will be making her twin, apron and all.) I have yet to get out and buy all the pots needed to make it, but this year might be the year. I just have to figure out where they will be sitting in my yard permanently, since once you make one, it's pretty difficult to move it.

And how fun is this:
Sittin' pretty!
Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

I used to have a similar thing in my front yard garden. The chair was painted red, but it rotted from being rained on so much. I love the colors in this, and I think I need to find another old chair to put in my garden again. And I need to figure out how to keep it from falling apart.

I need to spruce up some shady areas of my backyard, so I've been pinning shade ideas a lot. I need low maintenance, because I don't want to be trimming and clipping and weeding any more than I already have to do. Hostas clearly fit that bill, and I'm thinking planting different varieties in an area for interest might be nice. And don't they cover up a wide area pretty sufficiently?

Hostas, hostas, everywhere: Get a few, keep dividing for many!

Here's another pretty shade shot. I love the little accent wall. Did I mention I love stone walls? I do.

Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

I also have this disgusting ugly hill in my backyard that is not landscaped. When we moved here when we were married, the woods came practically right up to our house, right where this hill now starts. My husband cleared back the woods considerably, mostly so we could have room to do stuff in our backyard, like put in a swing set for the kids, have a garden, etc. The result is we are left with an ugly hill with weeds growing on it. I want to landscape it, somehow, but the budget is too tight to spend thousands on the retaining walls and bushes of my dreams, not to mention that it would be a huge job that I cannot undertake with two toddlers. I'm forever thinking of ways to create a low-maintenance and attractive solution to this problem. I recently pinned this photo:

A pretty landscape for a hill
Source: via Kellie on Pinterest

I love the rocks at the very bottom -- we have a lot of large rocks at the bottom of our hill, and this might be a way to incorporate them into a plan without moving them too much! I love the different colored shrubs on the hill too. I'd like to get started on our hill re-do sometime in the near future because, honestly, when I am in my backyard with the kids looking at that hill, I want to cringe. I hate looking at it. There are a lot of things I would like to change about my house/yard, but most I can live with and "prettify" on my own. This? Ugh. Despise! Disgusted! I need to fix it somehow without breaking the bank so I can be proud of my backyard.

And speaking of rocks and stones:

Rocks and curves and textures add interest!

Rocks rock! This pic made me realize I need more stone, more rocks, in my garden. Little stones, big rocks, rows of edging rocks... It just makes it all look so interesting. I'm planning on digging in my rock pile this spring and putting them to good use. Plus rocks, when found in the yard, are very friendly to my garden budget. They are free! But that said, I'll probably purchase a few bags of rocks too to put in little spots here and there. (Mental note: I must pin more pics of rocks!)

Of course, since I am in the dreaming mode, I have to include MY DREAM SHED. A photo of this shed has been on the front of my fridge for years. Years. When the Family Handyman issue arrived with this on it several years ago, this became my dream shed and I never looked back. Nothing has ever topped it for me. Someday my wonderful husband will find it in his heart to build this for our backyard. I've saved the plans. I guess I just need to save the money.

The Schoolhouse Shed, which fulfills all my Laura Ingalls Wilder Dreams.

I have a million other pins to tell you all about, but I think I'll save them for many other posts as I get ready for my garden season. I can cover veggie gardening, fairy gardens, a pet memorial garden. I'll get to them all. And I'll likely report on all my garden experiments throughout the year. Stay tuned, and look for another garden post later this week.

Want to follow my Pinterest board In the Garden?
 You can find it here.