Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

every parent loves to look at the beautifully and carefully completed schoolwork their child brings home every day.  (feel free to insert sarcasm where necessary).  it's fun to see what they've done that day or mark their progress from earlier in the year.  the dilemma most parents face, however, is what to do with all those papers day after day.  i've come to the conclusion that most parents fall in one of two categories: 1) keep every blessed scrap of paper that Junior ever touched and 2) throw those crazy papers away as fast as they leave their folders.

admittedly, i'm a keeper.  when my kids were little and i was knee-deep in baby books (and, trust me, 4 kids in 4 years will have you knee-deep in baby books), i held on to everything.  by the time each one was 2 or 3, i realized this was simply not practical, so i refined my strategy so that i was only keeping the "stuff" that held a certain meaning.  i'm big on "firsts."  i also like the things that made me laugh - for example, patrick's very first drawing titled, "a duck spitting juice."  he was only 2 and the sketch remarkably looked just like a duck spitting juice.  we were not surprised when patrick quickly emerged as the artist in the family.

once the kids started school, the amount of those little paper treasures grew exponentially, and i realized that i needed a plan before i became known as the-mom-under-that-stack-of-paper.  what i do works for me, so i thought i'd share it.  if you have a system, great!  if you don't, find one.  really, people, it's eat or be eaten out there... we all need a plan.

every year, i keep a folder for each child in school.  i do not keep every paper that comes home.  i keep a lot - but not all.  any paper or piece of artwork that catches my attention (because it was so good or so bad or just amusing) goes in their folder.  i also hold on to anything that they were particularly proud of.

at the end of year (ideally), i get those folders out and let the kids "review" their year.  surprisingly, they get very excited about this.  

they enjoy taking a look at assignments they had enjoyed or projects they were proud of.  ultimately, someone is impressed by the progression of their handwriting or some other skill.

this is the artwork patrick was most proud of from this year.  every time he sees it, he remembers, "everyone thought i traced it, but i didn't!"

sometimes they find awards that meant a lot...

and they remember activities that were a lot of fun...

it's fun to hear them re-read the stories and papers they wrote...

after browsing through their folders, sometimes we thin them out a bit, but we end up with a collection of papers that sums up their year.  when the folders are ready, we get "the boxes" out.  see, as much as i like to keep and collect, i still hate clutter, so there has to be a plan even for our neat pile of folders.  for me, that plan involves big, labeled plastic tubs that can be stored in the basement.  

each child has their own bin, and in those bins we keep special childhood memories.  
here is chloe's:

these bins aren't very full, because the kids are still young.  but in chloe's bin, i have her school folders, her first year calendar, the bonnet she wore for her dedication, and her favorite book from when she was a toddler.

it's funny how much the kids enjoy going through all these old memories.  they each grabbed their "old" books and ran off to read them.  looking over papers from previous school years is also a big hit.  

patrick found his turkey hat from his kindergarten thanksgiving party.  as he tried it on, he happily declared, "it still fits!"  you wouldn't think it matters to him... but he got such a kick out of that.

there are, of course, other strategies for storing kids' artwork and school memories.  when patrick was in his draw-15-pictures-a-day phase, i would scan the best on to our computer and keep them in his own file.  i've since done the same for the others.  i've heard other people talk about keeping art portfolios for their children's best artwork.  sometimes, framing a particular piece is a great way to showcase their talent and show them that you are proud of the work they've done.  our kids get to have one thing on the refrigerator each week.  at the end of the week, it gets filed or pitched... and they've come to learn that throwing out their work doesn't mean it wasn't good; we appreciate it and move on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this week, i couldn't decide between two tips.  i promised coconut rice, so that's what i'm posting this week.  but tune in next week for some ideas on what to do with a year's worth of school papers and art projects!

i love coconut.  admittedly, i go through weird flavor obsessions.  no joke, a couple months ago, i was putting blue cheese on everything.  but i like experimenting with different flavors in regular foods - makes for a nice change of pace.  coconut rice is nothing new to many asian menus, but it's not as common in western foods.  you don't have to love coconut to love coconut rice, because the flavor is pretty subtle.  and, if you're totally anti-coconut texture, you don't have to add any coconut at all - but give it a try - the texture of the coconut is practically undetectable amidst all that rice.

this recipe began with one i found online, but i tweaked it to make it mine...

Coconut Jasmine Rice

1 TBSP butter
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 tsp sea or kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
2 cups jasmine rice (washed and drained)
           if you never have before, you MUST try jasmine rice.  it is amazing.  and so very different from every day white rice that we americans use in everything.  in fact, i've given up on "normal" rice forever.
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (shake can to mix well before opening)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cups coconut flakes
1/4 - 1/2 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup diced bell pepper (i like using red, yellow, and green for color)

heat butter in a medium sized, heavy saucepan.  when melted, add brown sugar and salt, stirring until dissolved.  add rice, turning heat to high, and stir until all grains are evenly coated. *  add coconut milk and water, stirring well.  when boiling, immediately cover with tight fitting lid, turning heat to medium-low and simmer undisturbed for 20 minutes.  remove from heat but do not open lid for 10 minutes.  seriously, the key here is leaving that lid ON.   every time i've made it, it works perfectly.

while rice is cooking, toast coconut flakes on a dry skillet over medium heat.  stir / move frequently to avoid burning.  remove from skillet as soon as coconut is golden brown (about 2 minutes).

after rice is cooked, add coconut, pineapple, and peppers.  stir well and serve!

* the first few times i made this, i noticed "crunchy" pieces in my finished product.  i finally realized it was bits of brown sugar that had clumped together.  the next time, i was careful to use my wooden spoon to break up all clumps after i added the liquid.  chuck later informed me that those "crunchy" pieces were one of his favorite parts.  either way, you can't go wrong.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this one will be quick and painless...

if you have kids, you can't even get near summertime without hearing about your local library's summer reading program.  of course, it will depend on your specific public library system, but most require that children read a certain number of books (10 for school-age children) within a specific time period during the summer.  sign them up and return their completed book list by the end date (mid August).

there are all kinds of fun coupons and bookmarks - and usually a cute bag - that accompany the sign-up process.  my favorite thing, though, is that the kids get a free book when they finish the program!  last year, my kids participated in Harford County's summer reading program, but were disappointed that all their school friends went through Baltimore County (i'm not sure why it bothered them so much).  so, this year, i signed them up for both.  that means, 2 free books at the end.

of course, i happened to stop by Barnes and Noble this evening and was asked if i wanted to sign my child up for their summer reading program.  the incentive?  a free book upon completion, of course.  so, i grabbed 4 blank forms...

recording their books on these forms gives my kids a sense of accomplishment during the summer... but this summer it will also land them 3 free books each.  that's 12 new books in our house by the end of August.  

i am sure there are lots of other reading incentive programs out there, as well as other fun free summer activities.  (my bonus tip:  free movies at regal cinemas!)  do a quick check in your area and see what you can find.  and then get back to me, so i can use it, too!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

safe in the tourist trap

last week, my mom and i (along with two of her friends) took the megabus to new york city.  although i've been to nyc on a few other occasions, this was purely a tourist's endeavor.  we walked through time square, stood in line for discounted broadway tickets, took in a 2:00 show, and enjoyed a nice dinner in the city.  i even stopped to pick up a few souvenirs for the kids.

somehow, i had always felt as though being a tourist was not quite enough.  visiting big cities (even though, yes, i've lived on the edge of one my whole life) has never been my cup of tea.   and when i'm there, i've often felt as though i should look like i belong.  i hear friends talk about missing the city life or loving their current city of residence... and, although i never quite got it, i always felt a little less mature for not wanting the same thing.

this trip cured me, i think.  i enjoyed walking the busy sidewalks and looking up a little more often than i needed to.  and, although the perfect tourist trip would have been completed by the presence of my trusty digital camera, i was glad i left it behind.  instead, i got to really watch what was going on... and appreciate what i saw.

i saw a city that is completely and utterly resilient.
where a cab driver can maneuver his car in a ridiculously small space simply because that's all that is there.
where the guys on the sidewalks who sell maps and bus tours at penn station pull out a handful of umbrellas when it starts raining and start selling those.
where a perfect stranger who is walking confidently to her destination can pause, without missing a beat, to give directions to two middle aged women who can not find Lincoln Center.
where street vendors don't give up because they're being ignored... they just yell louder.
where mothers push strollers covered with clear plastic shields because it's raining... but they still have to get where they're going.

and, i guess what amazed me, is that no one is bothered by any of this.  because it's life and it's what they do.
in the suburbs, i avoid going places where i may have to parallel park.
and rain may be grounds to stay home for the day.

and, thankfully, that's ok... because i don't need to adopt city life to prove that i, too, am resilient.  for the first time, i realized that going somewhere and relishing in someone else's strengths is just one more way of appreciating this amazing country we live in.  and if a city-dwelling tourist ever has a burning desire to come get a good look at the suburbs of Baltimore county... well, i'll be here to show him around.  in the meantime, i'm happy to simply remember every time i use my Starbucks NYC souvenir mug.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

quite honestly, i could get several weeks' worth of tips out of today's post.

i'm not a magazine reader.  i love magazines.  i love the idea of magazines.  but for some reason, i just don't remember to read them.  

however, there is one magazine that i consider an investment.  if you haven't yet discovered Real Simple it could very well become your best future investment, as well.

it's a magazine that is devoted to efficiency and time savers and money savers and multiple uses for household items.  (can you tell why i love it?)  but it's practical advice extends past the concrete with articles like, "how to write the perfect note" and "etiquette for how to confront."  

of course, Real Simple is online and their website offers a variety of resources.  one of my favorite monthly articles is a column called "New Uses for Old Things" and can be found here on their website.  i won't give you a run-down of everything you can find there (because it would take way too long) but the latest issue suggests using Crocs as hanging planters... cute and worth considering as your kids outgrow them.

you can also become a fan on facebook.
check it out and let me now what you think!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

today's tip is actually a follow-up to a tip from a few weeks ago...

my friend amanda suggested i try making pb&j sandwiches ahead of time and freezing them for greater school-lunch-making efficiency.  i loved the idea.  in fact, i loved it so much, i thought i'd try it with other types of sandwiches.  it worked amazingly well!

here are a bunch of lunch meat / cheese sandwiches (yes, i sometimes use the little sandwich rolls because it breaks the monotony of the same ol' bread but is small enough for my not-quite-famished kids to handle).

once made, the sandwiches go right back in the bread bag and are kept in the freezer.  i also made a bag of pb& honey and pb&jelly.  

my kids report that their sandwiches have tasted fine and are never frozen or soggy.  in fact, when chloe saw me making lunches the other day, she was surprised to see me putting a frozen sandwich in her lunch box.  she was even more surprised when i told her i had been doing that for over a week.  

lunch time has never been so easy!  give it a try...