Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Fun Project

It's easy for me to get into a rut...the same things tend to fill even our days that don't have much routine.

So this week, we created a Summer Fun jar...a creative project for me to unwind...full of fun activities to help the kiddos expend some of their energy...and probably create more!

I used:

~ a mason jar
~ Classic Teal paint from Claudine Hellmuth Studio and white acrylic paint
~ leftovers from Jenni Hufford's fabulous mini-album kit she designed for Elle's Studio (you can see my album in the background)
~ alphas from Studio Calico's March kit, "Into the Woods"
~ some bakers twine and a few spare flowers I had laying around
~ a snippet of paper from Glitz paper layers

To begin, I was inspired (by this pin from my pinterest boards) to paint the inside of the mason jar.

It was quite easy...I mixed the teal and white paint until I achieved the shade I was looking for...spooned about a tablespoon or so of paint into the bottom of the jar, and then turned and tilted the jar until the paint had entirely coated the inside of the glass.  Towards the end, I placed a paper towel over a kitchen towel and gently tapped the jar (upside down) to finish coating some spots.  

Honestly, it took about 5 minutes to coat and then overnight to dry.  (I dried it for a few hours with the opening of the jar facing down over a paper towel, and then allowed it to dry with the opening up for the remainder of the night.  This way, there wasn't a ton of paint pooling on the bottom.)

The rest was simply figuring out which letter stickers I wanted to use and how to arrange them.  I centered my title, added a bit of bakers twine, and adhered the sweet Summer poem found on one of the Glitz papers. (Could the colors and sentiment be more perfect?)

I traced the lid on a sheet of patterned paper, cut it out, glued an Elle's Studio tag in the center, and added two flowers for good measure!  Then I adhered it to the lid.

And of course, the most important part: brainstorming activities to fill the jar with your children.  Some of our ideas included roller skating, snow cones, blowing bubbles, planting flowers, sidewalk chalk, getting gelato, running through the sprinklers, etc.

Oh, and "man building time" for building a wooden Anakin spaceship. Yep. That's my boy.  (and obviously a project that requires Daddy. Whew. Thank goodness for Daddy.)

After assembly, smile and enjoy your children's smiles each morning when they select an activity!
Sweet Summer, indeed!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Easy Peasy

Summer dinners should have their share of easy recipes.

Quick on time. 
With plenty of much so that someone would think you'd spent all day in the kitchen.

Enter Greek nachos.

Mmmmm.  Think fresh and light and flavorful.
And easy peasy.

Greek Nachos

Greek Nachos

1 lb. ground lamb
1-2 tsp. cumin
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
3/4 cup plain nonfat  yogurt
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
juice from one half of a lemon
2 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
salt to taste
1-2 cups grape tomatoes, quartered
Kalamata olives, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 English cucumber, sliced moderately thin and quartered
2-3 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
8-10 wheat pitas

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut each pita into 8 equal wedges.  Place all pita chips onto a baking sheet and bake 5-6 minutes per side, until crisp but not burnt.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

2. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, feta, lemon juice, mint, and salt.  Stir to combine.  Chill until ready to use.  (It's a good idea to prepare this at least 30 minutes ahead of time, to let the flavors blend.)

3.  Brown meat and onion over medium heat.  Season with cumin.  Drain meat.

4.  Arrange tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, mint, yogurt sauce, meat, and pita chips in serving dishes. Layer toppings over pita chips and enjoy!

I have had these dishes for a long time...and this was a perfect occasion to bring them out!  This is really a delicious meal...our whole family enjoyed it!  (Feel free to play with the amounts of toppings to meet your needs!)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Happy Monday

Lately, I've been making real use of the time I've spent on Pinterest.  

Lots of recipes...all with terrific results! 

Lots of crafty fun with the kiddos!

But sometimes, I just love to look at Pinterest because there are so many ideas and images that are just so inspiring...they just make me happy.

So, today, on a Monday when we've watched dark clouds on the horizon avoid us yet again (although the morning held temps in the 80s that we enjoyed) are a few things that have brightened my day:

Yes, I'm already craving autumn.  Weeks on end of 100+ degrees will do that to you.  Additionally, this is in Vermont, which has special place in my heart, as we spent our honeymoon there.

This one makes me smile and laugh...because I used to love to keep pretty shopping bags. And boxes.  Remember when Ann Taylor did all those beribboned boxes? I had quite a collection.  Brent was thrilled when I realized I didn't need to keep them all!


I know these are paper flowers, but I just love the look and the color combination.


Because I love happy mail...and to receive it in this letterbox would make it EVEN better!


This reminds me of our beautiful rehearsal dinner, though ours was slightly more in-laws did a breathtaking job, creating a beautiful and very special evening.


Okay. Who else had one of these?  I remember having mine in kindergarten...I especially remember my record and toothpaste tube charms.  And I think a telephone.  I remember trading charms with friends...I wish I still had would be fun to show my girls!

And last, these red poppies just make me smile.  I'd love to see an endless field of them one day.  And this makes me want to play with watercolors...

What's making you happy on this Monday?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cue the Hallelujah Chorus...

brush to replace all brushes.

(What can I say? I have two daughters.  Their favorite colors are pink and purple. Most of these have a matching companion in the other color.)

My firstborn is very tender.  
Tender-hearted? Most definitely.  
Tender-headed? Oh my.  That doesn't even scratch the surface.  

It's an inherited trait, you know.  Thanks Aunt Katy. ;)

For almost six years now (because in all honesty, none of my children have hair you'd consider brushing until at least age two) each day of brushing Hadleigh's thick and naturally wavy hair has been a lesson in patience and event always bringing wailing tears and frustration (on both parts).  She'd be happy to never brush her hair again.  Sometimes I agree with her.

So I was ever-so-doubtful when I read the claims on the box of the Knot Genie I discovered at my grocery store (of all places) this past week.  And they're not cheap for something that might not work on your tender-headed daughter...$19.99. But I decided twenty dollars wasn't much if it worked.

Welcome home, Knot Genie.

After first brushing Madeleine's whispy-thin hair, Hadleigh let me attempt to brush hers.  They had been outside playing in the sprinkler...wet hair was a great test of the new wonder product.  I began hesitantly...but there were no wails.  No tears.  Just a few reminders to brush slowly.

And when we were done, she was smiling. I was smiling. And her hair? Smooth. Straight. Shining.

That night as I tucked her in, she told me it was the "bestest surprise ever".  Well, how about that?

Here's a view from the side.  It's a bit hard to tell from the picture, but the bottom of the bristles form a gentle curve to mimic the curve of the head.  There are two sets of bristles that alternate across the entire short and one long.  The long bristles bend easily to keep from getting stuck in tangles and pulling the hair, but the short bristles make quick work of finishing the tangle off.

I will say that the bristles can hurt if brushed too hard or fast...or if they come into contact with be careful.  The website recommends apply counter pressure to untangle by brushing the hair over your hand...this will also protect sensitive necks and backs!

It fits comfortably in your hand...though it takes a bit of practice to use it while styling hair...I still prefer that silver and grey brush up top for fixing a ponytail...but I'll always use this one first to combat the tangles...and the tears!

They are available in pink, purple, green, and blue...though pink was my only option at the store.

So tell me, are you or your little girl tender-headed?

If so, you just might want to bring one of these home!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Our Fair Share of Swimming

Yes, indeed.  We have spent a lot of time in the water this summer, compared to previous ones.

While at the beach, the kids practically lived in the pool.  My Dad said we had all spent more time at the pool in that one week than in all the time over the past 10 years put together. :)

We returned from the beach to have two weeks of private swimming lessons.  I discovered after one attempt with Hadleigh a few years ago, that group lessons were not her thing.

And then I found our swim teachers last summer.  Two sisters (both of whom swim at the collegiate level) who have taught lessons each summer for many years.  They have a perfect blend of gentleness, fun, and firmness...which I think is essential in teaching young children to swim.  My kiddos adore them.

The home where they teach is in the country and is just gorgeous.  I always try to get early morning lessons (this year was 8:30-9:30am) so that it is cooler (for me), there is no need for sunscreen yet (given the shade of our location), and the day gets started immediately!

Last year, Hadleigh & Nathanael were a bit reluctant (to say the least) to do anything other than go after rings...always keeping a watchful eye on the steps.

But this year?  We had no tears.  In fact, on our one day that we had to reschedule for rain, a couple kiddos cried because we weren't going to go. Wow.

My little guy still loves getting the rings best...but he has also mastered a pretty good backfloat...and can swim wherever he needs to get to...using a cross between a dog-paddle and breast stroke.

Madeleine pretty much looked like this for two weeks.  All smiles in the pool.  She LOVES it.  She jumps in and immediately turns to float on her back...forever.  She treads water like a pro...and is starting to get the hang of swimming.

My only fear with her (as evidenced above) is her lack of caution that her older siblings have in spades.  The other two would have to know exactly who was going to be near to catch them...but she has no problem jumping in without telling anyone or needing someone there. Thankfully she treads water or flips to her back...but I must admit, she makes me a bit nervous.

And this picture just makes my heart burst.  After wondering at age three (and then four, five, six...) if Hadleigh would ever swim (I know, I know...) she just took off this summer.  I love seeing her begin to learn and use different strokes.  She worked on the front crawl and backstroke...but when swimming for fun, usually propels herself underwater with a breaststroke...just like her mom.  She asks to go to the pool every day.  :)

And what would swimming lessons be without sweet treats afterwards?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy Monday

I did not mean to disappear last week!  It was our first week of the summer with ~nothing~ scheduled to do each day. Whew.  

But we did manage to fill it up with crafty projects...involving my sewing machine (I'll reveal more when we're all finished!)...

...and lots of time in the kitchen.

Here are a few kitcheny things making me happy on this Monday:

 ~  Making good use of our bumper crop of mint, Brent has been trying to replicate an amazing tropical mojito I had here this past spring.  It's a delicious work-in-progress! (And I just discovered there's a new location in Tulsa!!! Can't wait for our next trip there!)

~ A friend made Pad Thai for us a few weekends ago, so Brent has been perfecting the delicious meal.  To help, I've been seasoning a cast-iron skillet...I can't believe I haven't owned one until now!

~ My tea kettle got a nice polish...which has made each cup of tea since a happier occasion!  It was definitely time.  I need to remember to do this more frequently! (Don't you love Hadleigh's reflection caught in the copper?)

~ And I'm still going strong with my summer breakfast of choice:  plain, nonfat Greek yogurt (Fage brand only, please) topped with a bit of agave to sweeten, 2 Tbsp. sliced almonds, and sometimes a few fresh berries when I have them. (But I love it without the berries too!)  Fresh, easy, and healthy for these summer mornings.  A cup of Earl Grey ensures that I'm satisfied until lunch!

What's making you happy today?

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Little Gymnast

I forgot to share this earlier...but Hadleigh completed her first year of gymnastics in May, and they all celebrated with a meet-style performance, though it was not competitive.

Here she is, warming up for the uneven bars....which was her favorite apparatus. (Mine too, once upon a time!)

I love how comfortable she was, despite the really large crowd gathered.  She talked with her instructors easily before and after each was so fun to see her at ease.  She even stopped in the middle of her vault to have a conversation with her coach about which jump she should do.  (Talk about interrupting the flow of the vault...but really cute, nonetheless!)

Hmmm.  I guess she realized it's not real gold, huh? ;)  She was so excited about that medal!

This might be my favorite picture of the day.  Love that high five captured in motion! Both Nathanael and Madeleine were so excited and encouraging.  Makes my heart happy.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

It is HOT in Oklahoma right now.

Hot weather means I like to stay inside...and if I must be outside, I require something cool and sweet to sip on.

Needless to say, I've been freshly squeezing lots of citrus juice over the last two weeks.  I was inspired by a lemonade recipe on Pinterest...and altered it slightly...and then came up with my own limeade recipe that can continually be found in my fridge.

The crucial ingredient in each recipe makes me so happy...and is such a summer memory for me.  


Mint takes me back to my childhood.  At the end of my fourth grade year, my parents bought a new home...their dream home.  There was so much to explore as children, while my parents worked on renovations and details. It's three acres of land seemed an entire forest and meadow to us.  

One of my favorite places outside was (and still is) a beautiful herb garden. With stone pathways, rock walls, and grapevines surrounding it, it seemed magical...if not a bit overgrown at first.  I think I must have felt a bit of what Mary Lennox did when she discovered that hidden spot in The Secret Garden.  And my favorite plot was where the mint many varieties of mint. Over the years, the garden has changed.  A perennial garden replaced most of the herbs.  A hefty stone sundial in the center of the garden was replaced with a fountain and then an outdoor dining set.  But the mint remains.

I've been so excited (and thankful!) to transplant some of that fragrant mountain mint to each place we've called home. Eastern North Carolina.  Northern Texas. And now Oklahoma.  This mint has exploded! I can't say that I mind the invasive tendencies of this delicious herb...and so here are a few recipes where it takes the spotlight!

Blueberry-Mint Lemonade

Blueberry Mint Lemonade

fresh lemons (6-10 depending on size, to yield one cup juice)
1/2 to 1 cup sugar, to suit taste
5 1/2 cups cold water
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed
5-6 sprigs fresh mint (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup leaves)

1.  Squeeze enough lemons to measure one cup of lemon juice.  (I love this juicer.)  Pour lemon juice and water in a pitcher.  Add sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

2.  Add blueberries and mint to lemonade and allow to chill for several hours, to let flavors mix.

Minted Raspberry Limeade 

Minted Raspberry Limeade

fresh limes, 6-10 depending on size, to yield 1 cup juice
3/4 cup raspberries, plus more for garnish, rinsed
5 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
5-6 sprigs fresh mint

1.  Squeeze limes to produce one cup of lime juice.  Pour into pitcher.  Add water and sugar to pitcher and stir to dissolve.

2.  Place a fine-mesh sieve over the pitcher and place half of raspberries in the sieve.  Using the back of a spoon, press raspberries to release juice.  Continue until only seeds remain.  Scrape the remaining juice from the bottom (outside) of the sieve into the pitcher.  Discard seeds.  Repeat with remaining raspberries.

3.  Stir until the limeade is a lovely shade of pink.  Add mint sprigs and raspberries to garnish.  Allow limeade to chill and flavors to mix.  Serve, allowing some raspberries and mint for each glass.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Happy Fourth (on the Fifth!)

I hope you enjoyed your Fourth of July weekend!  

I spent much of Sunday and Monday singing patriotic songs, both aloud and to myself.  I just love those tunes that I don't even remember learning.  I love the patriotism and poetry of the words...and I especially love singing them in their entirety...rather than just the first familiar verses of each song.  

I love that those who penned these songs (My Country Tis Of Thee, America the Beautiful, the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America) long ago recognized the "Author of Liberty" in each...the One in whom we should place our trust...through whom we know ultimate freedom and peace.

Recently, at a Parent Practicum (training conference) for Classical Conversations, we examined the "Star Spangled Banner," using the three stages of the classical model of education.  I really enjoyed this exercise.  I had never read the entire song, much less sung it.  I learned so much...

The four verses of our national anthem are written below...I challenge you to read them aloud slowly (pay attention to the punctuation!)...not getting lost in the familiar rhythm of the song but pausing to reflect on the words.

The Star Spangled Banner
by Francis Scott Key

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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