Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Anniversary of Sorts

Today is my six month anniversary from being laid off. While this past half a year has been filled with much pain, depression, and stress as a result, it has also been overwhelmingly wonderful, soothing, exhilarating, and love-filled. I have shifted my priorities, my career goals, my parenting style and almost every aspect of our daily lives in a new, positive way. So, in celebration, this post is dedicated to the last six months of my girls' lives. Here's to many, many more.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

FOODIE: Sweet 'Tato Fries

These are such a deliciously simple snack I almost feel silly posting about them. We often make our own french fries or home fries with baking potatoes, but it wasn't until the girls were born that we discovered making our own sweet potato fries. Like most babies, our girls' favorite first baby food was sweet potatoes. When they made the transition to more solid foods, we got the tip from a friend to make our own sweet potato fries, a delicacy that we'd only had at a few restaurants before.

So we bought a few sweet potatoes, sliced them into strips, coated with olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, pop them in for about, oh, 15 minutes, turning once. And voila! We learned this "trick" about 5 years ago and have made them ever since. My beloved Sandra Lee on the Food Network has a recipe for sweet potato fries in one of her cookbooks which calls for sprinkling them with pumpkin spice before baking. Since it's now officially fall, it sounds like a perfect time to give that a try!

Monday, September 21, 2009

STAYCATION: Miracle Hot Springs

I wasn't sure whether to qualify this is a staycation or an Idavation, as Miracle Hot Springs is near Hagerman, and it only takes about 1.5 hours to get there from Boise. You can easily go for a day trip, but I highly recommend getting the full experience (not to mention, getting the hell outta town) by staying a night. Or two. I had heard nothing but great things about this private little retreat spot and was thrilled to hear that my dad had booked our Pence Family Reunion there last month.

As you can see, we brought littles galore with us, not to mention just about as many adults. The hot springs site not only boasts some killer hot pools, but 5 domes of various sizes to rent. They are similar to a yurt and run from only $39-$64 a night, which is a fabulous deal. Everyone shares the bathroom/changing room at the hot springs and there are no showers. Our group occupied 3 of the domes over the course of one weekend. They vary in size and sleeping options (ours had a queen bed and some of the others have numerous sleeping pads), but they all have a fan and a space heater to accomodate the seasons.

The largest dome not only acted as an event space for us, with large tables and a fridge, but was also sleeping quarters for about 15 of my relatives.
Miracle Hot Springs has two fabulous hot springs pools that are attached, one hotter than the other. They are open until 11pm, and night swimming was a hoot. There are also around 20 private hot tub rooms that surround the larger pools which you can rent by the hour for around $6. This is a real treat, and my stepmom and I spent a great evening in one chatting over a bottle of red wine.

Being it was a family reunion, we had lots of fun activities planned, which included a lot of watching the alligators that live on site. Yes, I just wrote THE ALLIGATORS THAT LIVE ON SITE. I'm not quite sure what the deal is with how in the world alligators got to this part of Idaho, but there are several private alligator swamps and they even serve alligator bites on the appetizer menu at Hagerman's Snake River Grill. Anyhow, the kids loved them (the live ones, that is) and were very concerned when Lucy's red styrofoam ball accidentally got tossed in the pit.
We played lots of games, including frisbee, softball and a strange strength pulling game with a broom handle. My aunt Dana also brought lots of fun family-friendly activities, including this cute alligator pinata, which was a big hit.

The hot springs offers these carts to guests to load in and out their bbqs, tents, luggage, etc. and our kids, of course, used them as go carts to race down hills and loved being pulled around the campground by the adults. You can also see the fire pit in this photo, which is shared by all the domes on site and was great in the cool mornings at breakfast time and was great for smore-making in the evenings.

We stopped back at Miracle Hot Springs to go swimming on a more recent camping trip. I has just sprained my elbow in a silly bicycle accident and I tell you, it's no wonder those are called miracle waters. They are warm and soothing and not only a terrific and inexpensive place for families, but also an ideal spot for a romantic getaway for two. In fact, I'm already scheming a night there sans babies as I write.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

DESIGN: Baby Alice's Nursery

When we found out we were expecting a baby almost two years ago, we were excited to turn this tiny little room off the kitchen in our 1950s ranch house into a nursery. And by tiny, I mean TINY, it is about 7'x10'. We picked a butter yellow color to lighten it up and immediately planned a trip to Salt Lake City to visit IKEA. Okay, so we kind of used the baby's nursery as an excuse to get our IKEA fix, since I missed it so desperately since our move from Minneapolis the previous year.

Of course, IKEA's furniture is made for small spaces and for those of you who haven't yet made the pilgrimage, GET YE THERE. I can no longer find our exact crib on their website, but this one is similar in design and cost (ours was around $129). It also converts to a toddler bed, which is ideal. I wanted plain sheets and neutral bedding, which was a bitch to find at the time, so I opted for solid colored sheets from Babies-R-Us (about $6 a piece) and a light blue and white gingham bumper pad from ($30).

The pink nightstand, the white shelf above it, and the white book rack are thrift store finds (less than $5) that Eric and I spray painted. The baskets of toys and books came with gifts in them at my baby shower, and the crib CD player was a baby shower gift as well. It took me a while to find the lamp I wanted, especially on a budget, so I ended up buying the shade and lamp separately, at Walmart and Target (lamp $9.99 and shade $7.99). The darling birdie clock on the wall was on clearance at Urban Outfitters downtown Boise for $9.99.

The best part of Alice's room design, however, is the vinyl wall art designed by my friend Geoff Beard, based on the Urban Outfitters clock and some great books on modern Japanese graphic design. It is removable, though I intentionally chose a design that could grow with my girl. This was Geoff's baby gift to Alice so it was free, but similar original mural designs can cost a pretty penny.

We bought the matching dresser to the crib at IKEA, as well as the changing table attachment to go on top (about $100). It can be removed when we no longer need it and function as a regular dresser. The blue door hangers ($15.99 each) came from Babies-R-Us and hold esentials like diapers, wipes and burp clothes. The darling felt animal mobile also came from IKEA ($4.99).

We bought the lampshade and hanging contraption at IKEA to create a little story nook in the bedroom ($20 for both). The pink rocker was a garage sale steal at $3. Eric painted it bright pink to match and my stepmom recovered the chair pads in a matching blue and white gingham fabric. There is also a large closet in this room that we built shelves into for blankets and toys. I think it is a fun and funky example of converting a teeny space into a whimsical and lovely little room.

Friday, September 11, 2009

FOODIE: Cannin' Jam

A few weeks before our recent "Idavation" to southeast Idaho, I was chatting back and forth on Facebook with a dear friend of Eric's mom, Marian, who lives in Idaho Falls. I had been inquiring of my Facebook friends of must-stop places to eat in the area and Marian shot me a note back about coming over to make raspberry jam at her house. I was almost so thrilled I couldn't respond. Raspberries?! Canning?!! At your house?@!#!@

Of course, we were all over it. Marian invited us all over one Sunday morning to pick the fresh raspberries from her backyard. The girls loved it but, of course, more went in their mouths than in the bucket (the same thing happened when we picked huckleberries in the mountains a few days later).
Next, Marian let Lucy wash the berries in her sink and taught me how to get all necessary supplies out ahead of time. When canning, apparently, you must move swiftly and carefully.

So, while Lucy got to mashing the berries, I helped Marian lay out dry towels, measure the enormous amounts of sugar, wash the jars, boil the lids, and get the canner set up and the water boiling. I also took a minute to read over the pectin box instructions. Marian, who is an educator at heart, took the time to explain to me the various types of canning options, different ways to make jam and jelly, and a bit about the history of it all.

After boiling the raspberries, sugar and pectin together, I made a huge mess pouring the concoction into the jars, which is why the many towels and washcloths came in handy. We put the lids on and whisked them into the canner until they were ready, lifting them carefully out with some large device so we didn't burn ourselves. Within minutes the lids began to POP!, which meant they were sealed and I could breathe easily again. While Marian has spent her life canning and moved around the kitchen like a pro, I was a bit worried I'd mess up what was left of her precious raspberries.

But I didn't. And we had an iced tea party with fresh biscuits and the "fuzz jam," Marian's children's name for the raspberry fuzz you skim off the top of the berries before pouring the jam into the jars.

It was a delicious treat, and we enjoyed sitting outside on Marian's new patio on a cool Sunday afternoon. We have since scarfed down two large jars of jam and I have given a few away as gifts. And let me tell you, these were very special people who got my first batch of jam I ever made. Not only is it hard work, the jam is so amazing that I want to hoarde it all for myself. Luckily for me, Marian keeps on making it but doesn't eat so much of it herself these days and has offered up more when I run out. Which might be tomorrow.

Monday, September 7, 2009

FOODIE: Basilio's Taco Truck

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of taco trucks. Every where we go I seek them out, and even have Lucy trained to spot them. Not only do they provide the most authentic and delicious Mexican food in Boise (and most American cities I've been to, to be honest), but the cheapest. I've been to several of them around the Treasure Valley and my favorite thus far is Basilio's on State Street.

Almost always I'll order several soft tacos at $1 a piece, with the carne asada and pollo topping my list of favorites. On this particular afternoon, I also ordered a side of beans and rice for Alice, who couldn't get enough of swiping finger fulls off my plate.

Not only is Basilio's picnic table eating area clean, but their tent also has a cool misting system, which, on a 100 degree Boise summer afternoon, may be a make or break deal for me. That, and their green sauce, sets Basilio's apart from other local taco trucks. Seriously, I'd have bought a bottle of that green sauce had they offered it, it is that wonderful. I recommend everyone stop by Basilio's before they call it quits for the winter, or any of our plethora of taco trucks for that matter. You'll never have more authentic Mexican food this far north of the border.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

THRIFTY: Kid Finds

This summer I've been on a roll finding great stuff for the girls at my local thrift stores, so I've decided to highlight one day's purchases and pass on some killer ideas for repurposing goods for the kiddos.

I've always loved vintage suitcases, and in fact we have several we use for weekend travel. However, I have discovered that they make great storage for toys and look really cute stacked upon one another. The girls love opening the suitcases to find all kinds of toys they haven't seen for a while. Alice is holding a set of mini bundt pans that I couldn't resist getting for the kitchen. I have plans to make some cute individual dessert cakes in them this fall.

Thrift stores and garage sales are perfect places to find kids movies and games in good condition. It's so much cheaper than buying them new, and we can then pass them on to our littler friends when the girls outgrow them.

Here's Alice with another suitcase that is now filled with toys and some old Disney kids records. We have scored big time this summer by finding about 10 old Disney record storybooks. The girls love turning the pages with the chime, and it brings back great memories from my childhood as well. The old frames are part of a grouping being painted and prepared for a new art installation in my redecoration of the girls' joint room to come this fall. Stay tuned for more darling thrifty finds in that remodel!