February 27, 2008

Brain Power

Because people are so afraid of getting alzheimer's disease, there has been a lot of interest in puzzles and other games that are supposed to keep your brain sharp. Some people do sudoko, some do set puzzles, and I'm sure there are dozens of other such activities.

Those are great, but all you really need is a boy who recently turned 4-years-old, and who prefers toys that are made for children over 6 years old.

Currently, Jack is obsessed with Transformers. As you probably gathered from the name, they transform from some kind of vehicle into a robot... and back again.... like a puzzle.

This one is pretty easy, and he can do most of the transforming himself. I only have to help with the final step in transforming from truck to robot.

This one is a little bit harder, so Jack needs a little more help with it.... though he doesn't play with it that much because he informed me that it's a Decepticon ("bad guy"). This one is a bit more complicated. Jack tries, but he gets frustrated and pops the pieces off. So, I have to put the pieces back on and then transform it.... from robot to jet.... and back and forth again. (He likes this one, even though it is also a Decepticon, because "it's a cool jet.")

This one is his favorite though, and it's really tricky. (OK, it's not as bad as a Rubix cube, but it's pretty complicated.) Jack doesn't even try. He just hands it to me and says, "Mom, can you transform this?".... about 20 times a day. I'm getting pretty good at it, but it still keeps me (and my brain) on my toes.

February 25, 2008

The Lesson of the Lock

Last week, as we prepared for a Primary Quarterly Activity Day, one of my counselors, Catherine, was at the church with the ward librarian making copies for one of the activities. As they were finishing up, the librarian had to be somewhere else, and since Catherine was just finishing cutting and folding some papers, she said she would go ahead and lock up.

The librarian left, and when Catherine finished a few minutes later, she closed up the library, and went to lock the outside door of the church. The key fit in the lock, but it would not turn. After trying for several minutes without success, she called me and asked if the building had been re-keyed. I wasn't aware of that happening, but since I live just across the street, I said I would be right over with my key and maybe we could figure it out together.

I tried my key and the same thing happened... nothing. The key slid into the lock easily, but simply would not budge. I struggled with it until my fingers were sore. We tried our keys in the other doors and they worked just fine. Obviously something wasn't right with the particular lock we needed to lock!

We knew we couldn't leave the church unlocked. I finally suggested we should call one of the counselors in the bishopric and hope someone was around and that they could help us. Since it was the middle of the day in the middle of the week, it wasn't very likely that we would find any men home since they were probably all at work. But what else could we do?

I was about to run home to get the cell phone numbers of the bishopric, when I realized how ridiculous I had been. I had forgotten to do what we teach the Primary children to do. I said to Catherine, "I need to try one more time." As I walked back to the door, I silently pleaded with Heavenly Father for help.

Once again, I put the key into the lock, and just as I expected, it turned smoothly without any effort at all. I was very humbled and grateful. I needed that.

It was such a small and simple thing, but I was anxious to tell my children about the experience later that evening after family prayer. I saw the hand of the Lord in my life, and I needed to share it.

February 19, 2008

Favorite Kitchen Gadgets - Part 3

When it comes to butter... real, sweet, creamy butter... I don't give a hoot about fat or calories or cholesterol. I'm sorry, but I simply refuse to substitute it for anything else.

The Butter Bell is the ONLY way to go. It keeps a cube of butter at the perfect consistency safely for 30 days (as long as you change the water every few days). [Though who would ever need to keep it that long.... eat it!] There is nothing better than a slice of warm whole wheat bread just out of the oven, slathered with butter. Mmm.

And for those times when you need to melt that butter and brush it over something, you must have a silicone pastry brush. I would never dream of using a bristle one anymore... those disgusting old germy things.... ewwww!
I mean, really. After you brush melted butter over your lovely [raw] rib eye steaks (and then rub with a mix of coarse salt, fresh ground pepper, crushed garlic, rosemary and thyme; grill and then think you died and went to heaven while you eat it.... which I only do once a year) will you EVER be able to use it to brush butter on dough to make cinnamon rolls? With a bristle brush, no way. (I don't care how much you wash it.) But with silicone, just throw it in the dishwasher and you're good.

Thank you silicone!

February 16, 2008

Jack's Birthday

Jack turned 4 years old on Wednesday. Today we had a little party for him with his friends; a STAR WARS party. It turned out to be a lot of fun.

Here is the birthday cake I made. What a lot of work! I'm embarrassed to even post this picture because Melissa's cake are so gorgeous. I know it's not very professional (what do you expect from someone who uses a zip-loc bag-with-a-hole-snipped-in-the-corner in place of a pastry bag with a decorating tip?), but the kids thought it was cool, and that's what counts. [A toothpick, a glass of warm water, and a butter knife come in handy.] In case you don't have any sons under the age of 40, or aren't married to a man of that age, or if you have been living under a rock for the last 30 years and therefore are unfamiliar with "Star Wars," this cake represents the helmet of Jango Fett (or Bobba Fett, since it's impossible to get colors just right when you are dealing with frosting!), who is the coolest villain ever.... next to Darth Vader, of course. And if you are unfamiliar with Darth Vader.... well, then I just feel sorry for you.

The kids were invited (I love Evite!) to "Jedi Training," where they each received an official Padawan tunic and a training light saber. They enjoyed the light saber training, and other jedi training exercises.

And to complete their training, they had to face Darth Vader-the-Pinata (darn, I didn't get a photo of it). After eating cake and ice cream... and opening presents, they had to face..... the REAL Darth Vader. Some of the kids really freaked out at first...

....but Jay... I mean, Darth Vader, really charmed them until they were all under his spell.

After Darth Vader dueled with a few of the new Jedi Knights........ they all enjoyed a game of "Darth Vader Says."
And, of course, the big guy posed for photos.

Favorite Kitchen Gadgets - Part 2: SALAD

I make a lot of salad, which absolutely requires a lettuce knife. No more brown lettuce! Instead of buying those expensive bags of pre-washed/pre-cut lettuce that seem to contain more stem than leaf, and which seem to go bad quickly, you can pre-wash and pre-cut* your own. (Just remember to dry it and store it wrapped in slightly damp paper towels, and sealed in a zip-loc bag.) Lettuce knives are pretty cheap, and they all work the same (plastic or vinyl) so it doesn't really matter where you buy it or what brand it is. (I got mine at Target... about $3.)

Before you store all that lovely pre-washed/pre-cut lettuce that is ready to grab [so you can throw together a salad at the last minute to make your otherwise lonely pasta dish seem more like a meal instead of a poor excuse for dinner], you need to dry it off.

A salad spinner is the ONLY way to do this (it's also great for spinning other veggies you have washed and chopped for a stir-fry or something, so the water won't splatter when it hits the hot pan).
I have owned a few salad spinners, but this one is the ultimate! It is huge (Zyliss has two sizes, so make sure you get the larger one!) and super strong! I works unbelievably well. The mechanism is genius.

Now you need some great vinaigrette with yummy fresh garlic in it. I think I have owned every gadget invented for garlic. Some have worked better than others, and some not at all. I finally found a garlic press that is really nice (and way too expensive for something so simple, but I bought it anyway because I love garlic and use it a lot).

But this summer my mom introduced me to a new (to me) method, that is surprisingly easy. You probably already own one of these mini-graters. (This photo is about life-size!)Just take your clove of garlic (peel and all) and hold it by the root end, in the tips of your fingers. In the other hand, hold the grater, and shred that little clove. The skin stays together and protects your fingers, and the flesh comes out perfectly minced. (If you are worried about your fingers smelling like garlic, don't worry.... when you rinse out the grater you will be rubbing your fingers over the metal, which makes the smell disappear. I don't know how it works. It just does.)

And if you want to know how to get your kids to eat salad [and maybe even learn to like it] then read this.

*FOR BEGINNERS (or dummies, like me): I used to hate washing and cutting lettuce because it was such a pain... until my little sister (who went to culinary school) taught me the right way to do it! Don't wash and cut... cut and THEN wash. And DON'T chop off the end first, like I used to do. While the head is all still attached together, make several slices from the root to the tips, then slice in the opposite direction from the tip down, and it's ready to wash.

Now for washing; take the bowl of your salad spinner and take out the strainer and set it in the sink. Put one drop of mild dish soap (I like Method Cucumber!) in the bowl and fill it with water. Chop your lettuce, dump it in the soapy water, give it a few swishes, and then pull it out by handfuls (don't dump it because then all the junk that settled to the bottom will wash back onto the lettuce) and drop it into the strainer part of your salad spinner. Rinse with clean water (use your sink sprayer if you have one), and then put the spinner together and give it a whirl!

February 12, 2008

Favorite Kitchen Gadgets - Part 1

Whenever Jay asks me for gift suggestions, I always come up with kitchen items, and he always rolls his eyes and groans, "I'm not going to give you that. That's boring." But then I always explain that kitchen gadgets are "toys" for someone like me who spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

So, here are a few of my favorite kitchen gadgets. More to come.

Since the only peanut butter we eat is the all-natural kind (and we eat a LOT of it) with the separated oil floating on top, this item (discovered by my mom at the incomparable Lehman's in Ohio) is a huge time-saver (and mess-saver) for me. (We go through at least a jar a week.) It is truly amazing. And to think I used to torture myself stirring that mess without this wonderful low-tech gem.
For someone who rolls a lot of dough, a tapered French rolling pin is the ultimate. I will never go back to one with handles. You have a lot more control this way, and it covers a much larger area. Now I can roll an enormous circle of dough in seconds.
When you need to slice a large bowl of strawberries, a basket of mushrooms, a can of olives, etc. (or eggs of course), this cheap little egg slicer does the trick in a jiffy. Way cool!

February 05, 2008

Pinewood Derby

Collin participated in his first Pinewood Derby for Cub Scouts. He was so excited... and so was Jay.Collin decided on a police car theme, and did most of the work himself, with Jay teaching and supervising along the way. It turned out really nice.

Collin's car made it to the semi-finals, and he was pleased enough with that. (Fortunately, he didn't have high expectations going into it.)

Of course, Jack wanted a car too, so Jay bought an extra kit and made a very basic car for Jack, but he didn't spend much time on it. He asked the Cub Master if Jack's car could race a couple of times in the beginning, just for fun.

Well, wouldn't you know it, Jack's car kept winning, so they kept calling him up. He was beside himself with glee. It was hilarious to watch him. (Though it was a little embarrassing since he isn't a Cub Scout... he isn't even 4 yet!) All the boys were cheering him on, chanting, "Jack! Jack! Jack! Jack!" every time his car was racing. (Of course he thought that was great.)

He would have taken 4th place if they had actually given a 4th place award (they only gave 1st, 2nd, and 3rd), but they did give him a "Speedy Youngster" award, and he was thrilled with that. (He can't read.)

Student of the Month

Collin was selected as "Student of the Month" for January. He was so excited, especially since it was his first time, and Mary was selected in both kindergarten (last year) and 1st grade (this year). Each teacher selects one student from their class each month that has shown exemplary behavior, particularly in the area of the "Virtue of the Month," which was "Honesty" for January. Collin's teacher said that he is always honest, even when it might get him in trouble. He is a good boy and always wants to do what is right. We are very proud of him.

Rainbow

We have had a LOT of rain recently, including yesterday.

The kids were thrilled with the rainbow that appeared in the backyard above our shed. It was the highlight of their day.

February 01, 2008

For Jane Austen Fans only....

... yes, you. You know who you are. You are the ones who read this, perennially watch (and perhaps own, as I do) this, are surely tivo-ing this, and [even if you are happily married] you drool over him. (And if you didn't know who "him" was before you clicked on the link, then you, my dear, are not a true Austen fan.)

If you haven't read Shannon Hale's "Austenland" then you are in for a treat. I just finished reading it (in practically one sitting, I might add, which isn't such a tremendous feat considering it's less than 200 pages long, and is a delightful and easy read). I absolutely giggled and grinned my way through the book. If you are a true Austen fan, you won't be disappointed.... how could you not love a book that begins with a dedication reading, "For Colin Firth: You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends." Though if you are an Austen-purist, you should probably stay away.

The first time I saw the wonderful BBC (1995) version of "Pride and Prejudice," I was already engaged to my own Mr. Darcy (see photo below), so I didn't fall in love with Colin Firth... exactly. But I certainly don't mind watching him on the screen. And I know I'm not alone. It's a girl thing.
By the way, I didn't much care for the 2005 version of "P&P." It simply pales in comparison.

[On a side note, this afternoon, while downtown, Jay ran into Adam Sandler getting out of a car, surrounded by security (and people flocking to get his autograph). As Jay was talking to one of the security guards, a stranger walked up to Jay and said, "Are you
Jon Cryer?" Jay tried to assure her that he wasn't, but she insisted, saying, "It's OK, I won't tell anyone." He wasn't sure what to think. I suppose there might be a SLIGHT resemblance, but I assure you Jay is MUCH taller.

P.S. "Hiding Out" was one of my favorite movies when I was in high school. ]