My life right now…

…is not very interesting if you are not actively leading it. Recently, it has included:

  • Sitting in the carpool line. (This is actually a great development of kindergarten…since the girls are in their carseats, as long as I make sure they also have books, I can get 15-25 minutes of reading time in!)
  • Checking a backpack each afternoon and morning for lunchbox, homework, notes to teacher, etc.
  • Getting up at a reasonable hour every single school day.
  • Teaching my first Sunday school class of the year.
  • Getting free dinner from my husband’s amazing advisor and his extremely gracious family.
  • Shopping for kids’ shoes and clothes.
  • Falling onto the couch around 9 and wasting my life on sitcoms until bedtime (although I am enjoying our new discovery time-waster of Parks and Recreation.)
  • Praying that the U.S. does not attack Syria.
  • Dishes and laundry.

I think that’s most of the highlights. I’ve cut back from an average of 3 blog posts a week to 2 anyway (to be explained in a future blog post I have only started drafting), but as you can see, this week is not much to write  home about. I’ll still have library books on Thursday, though!

Despite the lack of blog fodder, life is good, and I hope the same is true for you.

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SAH Sanity Tip #3: Remember It’s a Gift

This was actually going to be my first tip, as it’s the one that first occurred to me, and is one that I have to keep reminding myself when I’m losing my temper or the kids are running around screaming.

The chance to stay home with my kids is a gift.

Not everyone has the opportunity to do this. I wasn’t able to for about two and a half years. Now I am, and I need to enjoy it while I can. I know this doesn’t mean I will enjoy every minute, but it does help me to remember that this is a (finite!) special time, and that I get to enjoy my kids’ company more now than I probably ever will again.

It may be a mind game to repeat this to myself, but it’s a truth that I am repeating, so it makes life a little more sane (at least for a few minutes at a time!).

Guacamole Soup and the Wonders of Buttermilk

Last week, I dug out a recipe that we hadn’t made for years: Cold Avocado Soup, from our (1997) edition of The Joy of Cooking. My husband made it as a first course for a fancy dinner once, and I remember eating it, but not loving it (I still tend to approach cold soups with some suspicion–something just seems wrong about them). However, I was looking for something easy and cold, plus we’d been using up a lot of meat lately, and I wanted something with less or no meat.

Plus, all three kids love guacamole.

Here’s an overview of the recipe, the simplicity of which I’d forgotten:

Scoop out the insides of 2 avocados. Process in a food processor (or a blender would probably work, assuming the avocados are ripe) with 1-2 cloves garlic until smooth. Remove to a bowl and stir in 2 cups of buttermilk and a little bit of lime juice, plus some salt and pepper to taste. Chill.

That’s it.

I had forgotten how easy this was, but I was thrilled to rediscover it. We served it with tortilla chips (for everyone) and salsa (for the grown-ups), plus some CSA heirloom cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese on the side, rechristened as “Guacamole Soup.”

It was a huge success. Everyone ate at least 2 bites (this is already a big success given our current dining crew), and the two older kids ate two servings each. We had no leftovers.

I then had a good deal of buttermilk left, so we proceeded to do the following things with it:

  • make ranch dressing (and I know I’ve tried this once without success, so I need to share the cookbook I used for this at a later date)
  • make chess pie (my husband, the real family baker, did this, but I can write more about chess pie later, if anyone wants to know)

We still have a little left, so I may put it in some biscuits or get my husband to make pancakes.

It was an all-around happy rediscovery, both of the recipe and the usefulness of buttermilk.

*Update: I was playing around online this evening and happened across this article: http://www.npr.org/2013/07/31/207060436/buttermilk-makes-everything-taste-a-little-better

Apparently, I’m not the only one with buttermilk on the brain.

SAH Sanity Tip #2: Leave the House

This is pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who already stays home, but it really does make life easier if you can get out of the house. My challenge is always to make sure I don’t stay so busy with playdates or field trips that I either lose track of chores that really do have to get done sometimes or tire us all out too much.

Some of our favorite places to escape:

There are lots of other places we visit less frequently–especially when we have playdates–but those are our standbys. I am grateful to have so many places around for when we just need to get out of the house! I also just recently discovered The Stir Crazy Moms’ Guide to Durham, which is a treasure trove of places in the RDU triangle area to check out. We’ve been busy enough this summer that I haven’t had a chance to check out someplace new recommended here, but I have it in mind for later in the summer or early fall!

Stay at Home Sanity Tip #1: If They Want to Go, Let Them!

I’ve been toying with doing a “sanity tip” list for awhile–several have occurred to me over the past months, and the idea of having some quick posts in the works also appeals. These are simply tips that have helped my sanity as a stay-at-home mom–if they end up helping someone else, that’s great, but I’m not claiming any sort of cure-all in them.

I had some more philosophical tips in mind, but I’m starting out with one that’s been very practical in the last few weeks: if my kid wants to go to the bathroom, I should take her! This may sound like a no-brainer, but here’s the thing: I am not talking about the kid who already knows how to use the bathroom. I mean the kid who don’t quite know what she is doing yet. Taking a potty trainer to the bathroom every time she wants to go can be very time consuming (it seems like she want to go every 20 minutes, and each visit can take 20 minutes by itself), so it can get in the way of normal life activities.

I easily fall prey to doing what’s easiest at a given moment (and sometimes this is necessary!), but I finally found that sacrificing short-term convenience in this area does pay off in the long run. With my first two, I introduced the potty, I tried to take them regularly throughout the day, but I often sacrificed using the bathroom regularly to getting them down quicker for naps, or to making an outing easier.  But with the third, I’ve finally gotten tired enough of diapers that I decided, what the heck, if the child wants to go, I’ll take her.

Wow! We are not out of diapers, but I am impressed at how well it’s going. Additional benefits:

  1. I got to switch from humongous backpack diaper bag to very small backpack/purse/diaper bag this week.
  2. We used cloth diapers but not cloth pull-ups (we can discuss environmental/economic impact later–I have not found a great cloth pull-up, but admittedly I haven’t looked very hard), so washing diapers is just about over.

Obviously, this trick probably works better with non-first children, since the biggest incentive to use the bathroom (in my observations) is definitely not seeing parents do so, but other kids.

I promise the next few sanity tips will not be bathroom-related!

School choice

“School choice” has been on my radar a lot recently. Our oldest starts kindergarten in the fall, and in Durham, NC, there is a lot of school choice available. First, there are the choices offered just by our local school system: magnet schools, or schools with varying calendars, to which families can enter a lottery to be assigned. Then, there are area private and Catholic schools. There are also a proliferation of charter schools, which are technically public schools (they are basically free, as I understand, and they are publicly funded), but they run under their own “charters” and aren’t part of the regular school system. There’s always homeschooling, too.

We’ve decided to go with our neighborhood school. Here are a few reasons:

  • The lottery for the school system’s varying options happened in January. We watched some of our friends go through the school decision process last year and it seemed fairly stressful. Since I’m a high-stress person anyway, I need to save my school-choice stress for college, not kindergarten.
  • I am a result of public schools, and my husband mostly is, too. I went to a high school that was (and as far as I know, still is) considered fairly low performing and rough. I got an excellent education there. There are certainly conditions under which we’d think seriously about pulling out of public schools, but I am overall a believer in the value of public education.
  • Because I’m a believer in public education, I don’t really like charter schools. I think that the money and parental buy-in invested in them would probably be better spent on improving the local public schools.
  • We believe that teaching our children to follow Jesus is more important than teaching them how to make lots of money as adults (not that we’d succeed at the latter, since we haven’t figured it out ourselves). This means being part of the community we are in and loving the people around us, even when they are different. I think public school is a great place to learn this, both for kids and for parents.
  • I know several people who homeschool successfully. I’m pretty confident that I could not be one of those people unless I felt a very compelling need to. (Passage of this bill would be compelling enough for me.)
  • Oh, and the local school is 5 minutes from our house. This logistical factor is worth noting, too!

I am a worrier, and I completely understand the tendency to worry about one’s kids, whether they are getting a good education, and whether they will be ready for the future. This is one decision that lets me combine my effort to not worry with my natural inclination, based largely on my own school memories, to make use of our local school.

I’m not the only one who has neighborhood schools on my radar. I enjoy reading the NY Times’ Motherlode blog, and a recent post had related thoughts:

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/why-i-want-to-choose-the-disadvantaged-local-school-and-why-i-might-not/ 

Field Trip: North Carolina Zoo

As other stay-at-home parents know, sometimes you just have to get out of the house. This most recently happened a few weeks ago, when our visit with an aunt, cousin, and great-grandmother came to an end. My lovely children were bouncing off the wall. My husband had to go in to work, so while I usually reserve the zoo for a both-parent, pre-planned outing, I decided to go for it. It was a beautiful day and I was reminded once again how great the North Carolina Zoo is.

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Zebra.

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Lions lazing around.

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Elephant.

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Good giraffe photo.

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Baby giraffe! (Already looking pretty big.)

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Baby gorilla!!

Not all of these photos are from our most recent visit, and I realize that I don’t have any good photos of the North American animals that are kid-free, but they give you a good taste of what the NC Zoo offers. Also, the baby animals photos are from this April, so if you want to see baby animals, now is a good time to go!

The zoo is located in Asheboro, NC, and it’s a large zoo, especially in terms of area. There is a LOT of walking, and while trams are available, the waits can be long, so don’t count on using them to get around most of the time. The zoo is divided into two sections, Africa and North America. Our usual method has been to park in Africa, eat lunch before we go in (we do not generally get out of the house early enough to make the hour and a half drive before lunchtime), see African animals, see North American animals, then take the tram back to our starting point. This plan has changed somewhat as our oldest’s favorite animal has become the seal (in North America): the last time we went as a family, we parked in North America, and my (somewhat fluid) plan this past time was to see a few African animals, get to the seals in N. America as quickly as possible, then work our way back to the car and see what we had time for on the way.

Aside from the baby animals, some of the highlights from this trip included getting to play on the “Garden Friends” playground in North America (we usually make the kids skip it) and seeing the lions just before closing time, when they weren’t just lying there. We got to see the male and female lion give each other nuzzles just like in The Lion King!

Even with the workout (and with small children, sometimes because of it!), it’s a fabulous zoo and well worth the trip. While it’s not ideal to go in the middle of summer, there is a good amount of shade to help counterbalance the walking. You can bring your own stroller or rent one there. The entrance fee is quite reasonable (although the food’s pretty pricey, hence our tendency to pack a picnic), and you can also become a member, which covers your admission all year to both the zoo and the NC Aquarium. The zoo is one of our favorite  family outings here in NC.