Monday, May 30, 2011

Dr. Pepper Cake

CAKE

1 box extra moist German Chocolate Cake
1 box (sm) vanilla instant pudding mix
1 12 oz can of Dr. Pepper
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil

FROSTING

1 large package cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 capful vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa
1 pound of powdered sugar

  1. Mix all cake ingredients together.  Bake in a 9 x 13 pan at 350 for 30 minutes.
  2. While cake bakes, prepare frosting by mixing all ingredients together.
  3. Pour frosting over warm cake.  You can eat immediately!

Amanda and two of her equally fun and creative friends got together this weekend to do all of the things that they had been dreaming up all semester long. It was a varied list with no real rhyme or reason (probably spurred on by a trip to Hobby Lobby with a nice mom -- not me -- who bought the supplies last weekend).



They didn't get to all of it, but there was picture taking and printing (I think that there's some sort of poster activity to come later), flip flop making (tie water balloons around the flip flops to get this look), sand art, some velvet poster coloring, and sock creature making (as inspired by The Lonely Sock Club: One Sock, Tons of Cool Projects).  This book is so clever. Of course anyone knows you can sew buttons on errant socks to make a puppet, but the ideas here really got their juices flowing.  Kyle wants to make some of the projects as well.



The activities that they didn't get to include experimenting with popcorn flavors, a Cupcake Wars type of cookie creating showdown (Kyle was very disappointed that he didn't get to judge that), hat making and more.

But for me, it wasn't about what they didn't do.  It was about what they did.  They laughed a lot, they listened to girly tween music, they collaborated, they used their imaginations, and I benefited from the fruits of their labor.  That Dr. Pepper cake was good. It tastes like moist creamy chocolate not like soda, and due to the frosting it tastes like creamy delicious fat as well.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quality Time

Amanda's first Monster. She begged and I relented a couple of weeks ago, in honor of her Band lock-in which lasted until 11pm.

It hadn't been an easy day.  I had been on the go since 8:30 a.m., first to Kyle's school for field day, aimlessly following him around for a couple of hours on a warm windy day.  Then I had errands to do, so by the time I returned home, I was wiped out.

Amanda had a band concert, and her white long-sleeved button-down shirt was nowhere to be found.  She found it, but it was badly wrinkled.  I was trying to fix some sort of dinner that the kids could eat before we had to leave at 6:30 and was also encouraging her to study for her tests this week. 

"I don't really study," she said. "That's not how I learn.  I always do fine on tests."

She's right, and I understand that all too well, because until I was in high school, that approach pretty much worked for me as well.  But I reminded her that these were final exams, and she should at least read her notes.  She continued to argue with me, and by that point it became less about the fact that I thought she should study and more about the fact that I thought she should obey.

I yelled. She yelled.  It wasn't pretty.

She apologized for "overreacting" once she'd cooled down as she generally does.  I reminded her that sometimes she just needs to do what she's asked without questioning it.

We both moved on, attended the band concert, and settled back in once Kyle was in bed to zoom through the commercials and some of the performances on the American Idol finale that we had recorded.  We enjoyed watching it together, as we have all year.  When it was over, she got up and headed to bed, but not before coming over to me and hugging me.

"Thanks for watching American Idol with me.  It means a lot to me."

It means a lot to me too.  I'm thankful that the quality time that Amanda craves hopefully smooths over the not-so-quality moments of disagreeing and discipline and devil-mom yelling.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Live Blog of American Idol Finale

I haven't been live blogging about Idol this year (or blogging at all, really), because Amanda and I can't watch on Wednesdays, because she doesn't get back from Youth Group until 9pm, so we've been watching it on Thursdays after school.  But since it's on Tuesday tonight, we are watching LIVE.

This has been a good season.  We've really enjoyed it.  Lauren and Scotty are both sweeties, and I know that they've had consistent fans.  I personally would love to see Scotty win, but I won't be disappointed with either of them.  I really thought that James was going to take it all.  He definitely has the talent.

Scotty and Lauren are up there with the doctor, and Scotty looks nervous. He always looks nervous when he's just sitting there, but he has a ball when he's performing, and that's what's happening now with "Gone".  I just love him.

Lauren -- "Flat on the Floor" -- she's good and awfully sweet, but I just think Scotty's something else.

I like this round 2 idea of having their idol pick the song for them.  However, even when George Strait released "Check Yes or No" I thought it was a very VERY boring song, and so I don't think that this was Scotty's best performance at all.

I could care less about the Oprah show (her influence scares me!), but I love that commercial that just came on, showing some memorable goodbyes -- Ted Danson on Cheers, Walter Kronkite etc -- and asking "Where will you be?"

Carrie Underwood is Lauren's idol, and she selected "Maybe It Was Memphis."  This is a good song, and Lauren's doing well, and most importantly, having fun.  Amanda says, "Her dress is very fluffy." She's presented herself as you would think that a 16-year-old with a wardrobe department would -- like playing dress up.

Now their singles.  Scotty's was okay, but from the first line of Lauren's, I'm with her.  She's got it.  I'm pretty sure that if there was any doubt, the difference between these two songs will put her over the edge.  She's not just singing the heck out of this song, but she's performing it too.

And the judges just confirmed what I thought.  It's funny, because Amanda and I always said that Steven had a favorite, and it was Lauren.  I think that Randy grew to love Haley as his fave, and Jennifer was pulling for Scotty (as she just said here), but even she said that Lauren could have just won it with that song.

I'm not at all worried about Scotty though.  I think that everyone was pretty sure from about week 5 or 6 on out that win or lose, he had a contract waiting.  Sheryl Crow said as much when she was there mentoring.

And is Scotty not just adorable standing there with Lauren, listening to them tell her that she might have just won it.  Because of that, I redoubled my efforts and I'm placing some votes for that boy! Of course, Amanda's voting for Lauren, so whatever.

What's on my nightstand -- May


Since my actual "Nightstand" is a wrought iron and wicker basket that is cute, but doesn't showcase a stack of books well, I lined up my books on my chest of drawers. The books above are books that are in progress:

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography -- Oh, Rob Lowe, Rob Lowe. I do love him. To be honest, the St. Elmo's Fire bad boy Billy character didn't really do it for me (I was more a fan of the sensitive and underappreciated Andrew McCarthy). I'm listening to this CD as I run around in the car, and I find myself wanting to be in the car more often (without my kids), so I can listen to this truly fascinating inside look at the acting business.

Zero-Sum Game: The Rise of the World's Largest Derivatives Exchange -- My husband Terry already read this book by my bloggy friend Erika Olson of Redblog, and he doesn't think I'll like it. It's been "On my Nightstand" since February, so it's time to get it done!

Amanda and I read the first book in Aprilynne Pike's Faery series, Wings, a while ago. Somehow we missed the second book, Spells, completely even though we both liked Wings, but then I was offered a copy of the 3rd book Illusions. I just finished Spells, and Illusions arrived yesterday. Check out 5 Minutes for Books tomorrow for a giveaway of 7 books from Harper Teen (including Illusions) celebrating the Summer releases and The Dark Days of Supernatural.

Joy For Beginners -- Reading this book has reminded me just what I loved about Erica Bauermeister's first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients (linked to my review).

I accidentally left two out that weren't actually in my Nightstand/Caddy.
  • The audiobook that I'm listening to on my ipod is The Throne of Fire, the second in Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles. The first audiobook was in the top 3 for Audiobook of the Year, deservedly. They are great audio versions, especially since the book is really a transcription of an audio that Sadie and Carter Kane have sent to someone! Amanda already finished it, and I'm 3/4 of the way through already.
  • Nerd Camp-- I'm finally doing a read-aloud with Amanda! I received this a middle grade novel for review that I thought we'd both enjoy, and I was right. It's a little younger target audience than her 12 3/4 years, but we're both liking this sweet and funny novel.

The picture below features books that I hope to get to this month.


I think it's a good mix, including some light fiction (A Pug's Tale), multi-cultural fiction which I love, and some interesting non-fiction. I forgot Just Moms: Conveying Justice in a Unjust World, which I definitely hope to get to this month.

I also think that I might listen to Daisy Goodwin's The American Heiress before the YA title pictured above, because I'm hoping to do a June giveaway for Audiobook month in June.

See what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books the 4th Tuesday of each month!

Recently Reviewed:

Too Small to Be Big (with giveaway)
Some gardening books and supplies for families, a $250 giveaway courtesy of the Love Your Veggies crew
Splish, Splash, Splat -- a fun picture book

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I love a good bookstore trip


When Amanda was a baby, we lived in Portland, Oregon. Portland is such a wonderously bookish city, and has the best independent bookstore chain ever.  It's been 10 years since we lived there, and I still miss  Powell's City of Books.  Seriously.  As in now that I'm thinking of it, I have a little nostalgic ache in my chest. I have such wonderful memories of taking the compliant Amanda and strolling the aisles.  Powells sells new and used books, but the unique wonder of these stores is that they shelve all the books together.  So if I was looking for a copy of my latest bookclub pick (which was much heavier on the "club" than the "book"), I could go to one spot and select from whatever they might have available -- new hardback, new paperback, used.

At the time, I was going through a bit of a cookbook phase.  I'd bring 3 or 4 books to sell, and then leave with one or two books to take home.


In New York, there were bookstores that we frequented as well, primarily The Strand, which had a big basement section of what I've now come to figure out were publicity copies sent to reviewers.  Some of them still had the press materials in them!



In Texas, our bookstore of choice is Half-Price Books.  While we were away, in our visits home to Houston, we left room in our suitcases so that we could stock up on paperbacks and children's books and whatever we wanted.  They also buy books, so on our trips now, I load up a box of books to sell, and hope that I'll be offered enough to be able to buy some books at no cost.

Yesterday I had such a trip.  I scored so many finds that I buzzed with excitement all afternoon.  First, I had a successful selling trip, making $30 on my box of books.  I had been browsing the Children's and YA departments, looking for some books for Kyle and Amanda.  I was specifically hoping to find a copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Outsiders, but I found neither.

However, a quick browse in the Children's Non-fiction shelves yielded exactly what I had hoped to find -- a quirky book of fun facts for Kyle, Actually, Factually: A Fascinating Collection of Myths, Mistakes, and Misconceptions -- with the Truth Behind Them   and it was way less than half-price!


I also looked, as I always do to no avail, for Abraham Verghese's memoir, My Own Country: A Doctor's Story, that I've been intending to re-read over the last year or two. No luck.

I decided to check the Clearance section, where I've often found paperbacks for Amanda for as low as 50 cents, and it was there that I hit paydirt!

Kyle ordered one of the Teacher from the Black Lagoon short chapter books in his last Scholastic class order, and proclaimed that he was reading those books now. So I decided to go with the theme and get The Little League Team from the Black Lagoon.

The books on those shelves are a jumble of "catch as catch can" deals. Miraculously, my eye was drawn to My Own Country, the book I've been literally (if casually) hunting for years! I grabbed up my $2 bargain, and kept scanning the shelves, a little invigorated by my find.

What I found next literally caused my heart to skip a beat: Christy Miller Collection, Volume 1, a hardbound collection of the first 3 of the Christy Miller Christian teen novels by Robin Jones Gunn. I bought these books for my sister-in-law Dana when she was about Amanda's age! As a super-cool aunt, I read them as well, and got caught up in the young Christy Miller's adventures.

A little more browsing uncovered Volume 3, books 7 - 9, and for $2, I decided to go for it. If she liked them, I figured I could find the middle three. Since these two volumes were shelved nowhere near each other, I decided to keep looking, and I uncovered Volume 4), books 10 - 12, which I'm not even sure I knew existed -- Christy Miller in college!

More hard searching paid off, and I found the missing Volume 2 as well! For $8 for 12 books, it was a no-brainer. I took the collections home and hoped that Amanda would be as happy as I was about them.

She was, although I couldn't get her to call Aunt Dana to share the excitement right away. "I'll call her after I read them," she promised.

And that's exactly what I love about books. They connect people. When I bought the Christy Miller books for my new sister-in-law, she thought I was pretty cool. When I read them and we talked about them, it helped us connect. When I was teaching middle school girls a couple of years later, I was able to connect with them over those books too.

Like most kids, my kids love getting stuff, and I figure that $2 on a book that they might love is money well spent and affection easily given.

*******

Speaking of books -- here are some recently reviews that I've posted at 5 Minutes for Books:

Books (adult reads) with current giveaways:
  • Alice Bliss, a delightful coming-of-age novel written for adults, but that would also be great for a high schooler. 
  • Paris, Baby! a funny yet heartwarming memoir by Kristen Lobe
Other adult fiction and nonfiction:
Picture books:
Young Adult fiction:
  • Abandon, the first in the Underworld series by Meg Cabot
  • Enclave, a very Hunger Games-esque novel from a new author, Ann Aguirre
  • Awaken (with fun mother-daughter video), another dystopian novel

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Swimming


The kids have LOVED having the pool.  This was their first real swimming session, back in March, when it was still too cold to swim, but they didn't care.

And can I say thank you to Old Navy for making semi-modest one-piece swimsuits and tankinis (because some of those aren't even modest) that my 12-year-old daughter doesn't mind wearing???

For other (mostly) Wordless Wednesday, visit 5 Minutes for Mom.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Mom Magnet



I hope that I'm not the only mother who has preferences about my children's friends.  Actually, I don't really hope or care what you think.  I'm human, and I'll admit freely that some kids are easier to have over for playdates, some bring out the best in our kids, and when they spend time with others they display less-than-desirable attitudes.

Since I'm so quick to  judge assess other children, I know that other moms have feelings about my own as well.

My children are not perfect, and because Kyle is the 2nd child, much younger than his sister, he's probably that precocious kid who picks up his older sibling's likes and vocabulary that I wouldn't have wanted my sheltered first/only child Amanda to have hung out with at the time.  But it is what it is.

But Amanda -- she's a mom magnet.  They love her! One of her best elementary friend's moms told me that when she (the mom) met Amanda in the classroom at the beginning of the year, she told her daughter that she thought Amanda would be a good friend.

She went over to someone's house last week to finish up a group project, and when I picked her up, and I thanked the friend's mom, she said, "It was no problem.  She can come back any time.  Any time."

When I am frustrated with typical adolescent behavior of spaciness, independence (which sometimes shows itself with acting out that might seem disrespectful), and withdrawal, I always remember how Amanda looks to the outside world.  She's a good kid, and I'm very thankful for that.

******

Speaking of Amanda, did you watch her first vlog appearance?  We did a mother-daughter video book review of Meg Cabot's Abandon.  Check it out.  I'm giving her a little bit of a hard time, because that's my job, but I think that she shows in this video why she's so darn lovable!

Monday, May 09, 2011

What my kids have been reading

I used to participate in Kids' Picks each month at 5 Minutes for Books, and then we discontinued it for a time, but we've brought it back!

I know that people enjoy hearing what my kids have enjoyed, and I missed posting about it, so I'm glad that this scheduled reminder will cause me to take stock each month.

Kyle will be 7 this month.  His reading has just taken off this year.  His 1st-grade teacher told him that she was going to stop testing him, because he was reading on a 5th grade level now.  I'm not really sure about that, but I do know that he went from reading pretty well even at the beginning of the year to being able to READ -- like, anything.  As I've admitted before, just because he CAN read, doesn't mean he does read.  I am still challenged to put interesting reading material in front of him to entice him to spend time in the pages.

He spends a lot of time reading his National Geographic Kids magazine: in the car, when I make him turn off the screens and sit with me on the sofa, right after it arrives in the mail etc.

As for reading books, I ordered a short chapter book from Scholastic Book Clubs, hoping that he'd want to read it himself. Case of the Secret Sauce by Aaron Rosenberg fit the bill perfectly. Siblings Pete and Penny need to find out what the secret ingredient to their family's pizza sauce is so that they can keep their pizza business going while their parents are out of town. They end up finding a clue from their grandfather that has them doing mazes and cracking codes which helps them discover the secret to the sauce.

Kyle is reading this on his own a little ahead of me, but he wants me to read it aloud too, so that's the way it's working.

As for 12 1/2-year-old Amanda, in addition to become a vlog review star with her mom, she's been revisiting her audiobook of The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, in anticipation of the release of The Kane Chronicles, Book Two: The Throne of Fire.

The audiobook arrived today, and she already started listening to it (like her mama, audiobooks help her tackle that pesky task of cleaning her room). These are excellent audio versions, with different narrators (Kevin R. Free and Kathrine Kellgren) for Carter and Sophie. It's a finalist for the Audie Audiobook of the year -- only one of 3 titles, regardless of genre.  You can listen to the first 2 chapters of Throne of Fire HERE.

Find out what more kids are enjoying at the newly revived Kids' Picks carnival the 2nd Tuesday of each month at 5 Minutes for Books.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day, from Kyle and Amanda

Our traditional Mother's Day picture -- 2011

On days like Mother's Day, Kyle tells me, "Remember, Mom, stay in bed.  Do not get up."  As I heard him telling Terry or someone, "Everyone knows that moms get breakfast in bed on Mother's Day."

Well, yes, theoretically, but since I wake up naturally anywhere between 6:45 and 7:15, laying in bed in a dark room where my husband is still trying to catch up on his sleep, waiting for some special surprise is not a treat for me.  Call me Killljoy.

However, I did agree to go into the study and shut the door and relax in the big leather chair while they "surprised" me.  I had suggested to Amanda the night before that all I really wanted was toast, since we would be having a big and early lunch right after church.

In typical Amanda-style, she made it cool and creative:



Kyle read me a special letter that they worked on at school.  "The speech" was part of it, so I don't know if the teacher encouraged that.  Here is the letter, corrected for spelling.  Kyle is a very sweet and loving child, and this is truly a gift.  I've made clarifications in the footnotes were necessary.

Dear Mommy,


Thanks you for school supplies, a great school, everything you buy for me, sometimes doing the silverware*, playdates, great trips, raising me, getting Shadow, adopting Amanda,** the great house, everything you get or do for me.


You are the greatest mom I could have.  I love you so much. I love your cooking skills.***


Your favorite child,****
Kyle

*unloading it from the dishwasher, which is supposed to be his chore
**Amanda is not adopted! I let him finish his "speech," and asked him if he knew what adopted was.  He said he didn't, and so I asked why he said that.  He said, "I just meant that I'm glad that I have Amanda as my sister."
***I'm pretty sure that this is just sucking up, especially since his eating of homecooked meals has been less than stellar of late.
****He read this will all seriousness, and Amanda wasn't even around to joke with about it, so I don't know whether or not to think that this is totally sweet or to be worried about it.

Amanda has another "special surprise" for me that she's working on.  I'll update if it makes an appearance.

I hope that you all had a lovely Mother's Day yourselves!  Did anything touch you or make you smile?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Sticking with It


One of the things that we love about our new house is all the living areas.  At any given time, one or all of us will be hanging out in the family room, the study downstairs, or the media room upstairs.  One of my favorite spots is the Quiet Reading Room.  This room is what is usually called a game room, fairly open upstairs, but because of a remodel the previous owners did, it's nicely set apart.  The man of the house displayed all of his trophies in this room, and I'm not talking Little League.  I'm talking Game -- heads of all sizes from all countries adorned the wall.  There was also a TV, but since the room right next door at the end of the hall is a media room with our giant screen TV, I was determined not to have a TV in there.  My dad and our friends questioned this decision: "What are you going to use that room for?"

That's where it got its name: The Quiet Reading Room.  It's come together quite nicely with a beautiful bargain sofa set that Amanda and I found at the Star outlet, a beautiful rug from Marshall's, our first married-people kitchen table that had been used in our Connecticut basement (Doesn't it just scream early 90's style??), and a place for Kyle's LEGO and other toys. 

The table is where the Donna Reed/Suzy Homemaker in me imagined passing fun Friday nights playing card games and whatnot.  I can't say that's happened yet, but I did buy this puzzle a couple of months ago and set it out, urging the children to join me.  It was easy at first, but then the stars and stripes tripped us up a bit, and I ended up finishing it myself, but I love the idea of having a puzzle table, so after I am able to appreciate the finished work a little longer, I will put another one out.

I almost gave up, to be honest.  The kids weren't interested anymore, and I was left with a sea of red, white, and blue pieces that could go anywhere.  After I stared at them a while, small differences the red and white pieces helped me find their homes.  Finishing those gave me a sense of accomplishment, but the blue and white field of stars was still a challenge.  After finding a piece or two on occasion, I was tempted to just call it a day, but one day I found four or five pieces, and the next I found a few more, and then one time I sat down and the last 20 pieced their way right in.

I started exercising two weeks ago.  I'm doing a very challenging system, thanks to Amazon Vine. I didn't really think that  Jillian Michaels Rip 60 Fitness DVD Set might work for me as a very soft, decidedly un-ripped person.  But you know what? Thanks to the instructor Jeremy Strom's gentle encouragement, I'm sticking with it.  I worked out all last week, and today I will do my 5th day of week 2, moving on to week 3.

Am I looking to get ripped?  No, but I am looking to get healthy, and yes, to lose some weight and look fit.  I've realized that I have so much time in my day, but I have to commit to work out every day.  And most importantly, even if it gets difficult, or I'd rather sit around and read a book, I have to stick with it.  The pieces will come together each day, as I fit it into my daily schedule, sometimes having to search out the exact right place for that piece of the puzzle.  

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Time in a Bottle


I'm no Jim Croce fan, but I'm finding myself more and more wanting to save time in a bottle.

I wish that I could put things aside for later -- to save my kids' raucous laughter and cutting up (that inevitably turns to wailing as one torments the others).  I wish I could preserve the physical contact that my son so craves now, so that I could have it later, instead of now, when I want to have some time to exist as a singular entity, instead of sometimes feeling as if wants to crawl back into the womb, cuddling right up beside me.

I feel like a grinchy miser when I react with frustration or indifference to this kind of behavior.  What kind of mom is irritated by her children's exuberant laughter?  I certainly hope I am not the only one.

But what I really want to save, tuck it away to use later like a "Get out of Jail free" Monopoly card, is the words.  Whereas right now I often want to tell the 6-year-old to put a cork in it, because the constant barrage of words overwhelms me and wears me down, I know that in a few years, I will covet anytime that I get more than a grunt in response.

It's already happened with his big sister.  I remember well when I had to tell preschool-Amanda to just sit and be quiet, especially after a long day confined to the car doing errands.  "You're not in trouble, honey, but you just have to stop talking for a little while."

She's not a sullen, silent 12-year-old, but she's definitely found the filter.  Unlike her younger self and her brother, she doesn't express every thought she has.

The time is going to come -- soon -- when they are around less; when friends, and jobs, and activities pull them away; when car keys offer cause me to lose my loathsome job of driving around, dropping off, picking up from church events, sports, friends' houses. . . .

The time will come.  I know that.  In my heart of hearts, I appreciate them.  I love their spirit, their exuberance, their laughter, their chattiness.  But I do wish that I could bottle some up so that I could appreciate it in future years when it's gone.