Thursday, April 29, 2010

PROJECT 52 DATE NIGHTS: Chocolate Tasting

Again this week we put off our date night until Monday, as we were busy having fun with our friend Michele who was in town from Oregon. I also spent much of the weekend judging the hip annual event, The Chair Affair, hosted by the Interior Designers of Idaho. It was a lot of fun, and they gave me a really fabulous bag full of local goodies as a thank you. It included a half-pound box of handmade chocolates from a downtown candy shoppe, The Chocolat Bar. Now I know our date last week consisted of sweets and I mentioned that we were starting an 8-week challenge that included no sweets. Well, we (read: I) fell off the wagon in this catagory this past week. HARD. So, what the hell. Might as well go down with the best tasting delicacies of the local chocolatier in our mouths, right?

I set up a plate with the chocolates on us and hid the labeling sheet that came in the box. We had to try to guess what the secret ingredients in each were. Eric couldn't quite figure out what herb was in the Lavender Lemon White Chocolate Bark with Almonds, but I knew immediately. We both had trouble figuring out the special spice in the Dark Chocolate Nutmeg Drop. Pairing the chocolate with a nice red wine was perfect. All the goodness transported our mindset to a more leisurely place, and we ended the date making a few more summer trip plans. It was so nice.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

KIDDOS: A Ratatouille Birthday Fete

Both Lucy and Alice were born in April, not by choice, but simply based on the fact that I must be extra fertile in July. Since their birthdays are just two weeks apart, they will be forced to have a joint birthday party as long as they let me. This year we decided on a Ratatouille birthday party theme, based on the darling animated kids film of the same name. We own the movie and it quickly became one of our favorites; as a foodie and someone who longs to visit Paris one day, I am especially fond of this cute film. So, I started browsing the Internet for party ideas, certain that other parents had had the same idea, but was surprised to find little inspiration there. I did find some fun suggestions from other parents who had designed cooking themed parties, though. Mostly, I ran with the idea and used my own creative means to come up with what turned out to be a super cute French bistro party.

My sweet inlaws decided to get a few spring pots of flowers planted for my porch and I made the cute recycled plastic flower wreath for our front door (it's a little hard to see from this photo, but I'm planning another post on this soon). I cut the Bonjour letters freehand from glittery printer paper I had around the house and strung them on ribbon as a little French greeting for our guests.

The food and drinks were set up in the kitchen, and I already own a couple of red and white checked table cloths that seems appropriate for a French bistro. I used an old chalkboard to write le menu on, which included things like fromage, limonade, biere, and baguettes. I knew I kept my old English/French dictionary from high school for something! We already have a stash of white paper plates, napkins and silverware, so I didn't have to purchase those either. It was fun to pull out all our fancy crystal and white party dishes to use for the food, including a great crystal punchbowl that we recently scored for free.

I served fresh fruit, veggies, several types of cheeses, breads, crackers, beer, wine, and lemonade. It was an afternoon party, so light snacks were fine, as most people had already eaten lunch. The special treat, though, was the homemade ratatouille that Eric whipped up for the party. He used this recipe from The Joy of Cooking, and for those of you who haven't had it, it is basically a fresh vegetable stew that is too die for. I purchased the 3-D Eiffel Tower puzzle you can see in the background as a table topper at Pier 1, and it was fun for us to put together with Lucy the week before the party. Also in the background you can see some black rat silhouettes on the walls. They are something we already owned - Halloween decorations by Martha Stewart Crafts - but fit perfectly with this party theme!

I made the cake to look like a slice of Swiss cheese and found some plastic rats at our local party supply store, Zurchers, to place on top. I always try to make the cake myself (it's way cheaper and more fun) and almost always use boxed mixes for it, as they are easy, moist and yummy. I made the frosting myself with a super easy recipe from my new go-to cookbook, The Joy of Cooking.

We were lucky enough to have a sunny 70 degree day, so had the party festivities in the backyard. Once all the girls arrived, they decorated pink and blue aprons with Sharpie markers, stamps and stencils. We found these cute kids fabric aprons at Joanns Fabric for $1 a piece. I made these darling chef hats from this tutorial from Family Fun magazine out of white tissue paper and posterboard. They were super easy and fun and cost only about 60 cents total for the 2 sheets of posterboard, as I already had tons of white tissue paper. I used black eyeliner to draw whiskers and rat noses on all the girls, too, which completed their party ensemble.

I made a 'Pin le Tail on le Rat' game out of an old piece of cardboard and paint and Eric nailed it to the fence. We blindfolded the older girls but let the babies stick their tails on without.

Between games the girls played in our sandbox and with our various backyard toys. Next up was the pinata, which you can see hanging from our basketball hoop. This was my first attempt at making a pinata, and let me tell you, I fought with that paper mache like mad. It only cost my 50cents to make, and that was for the balloon I bought from the dollar store to use as my form. I hung it from my patio and used the traditional method of mixing flour and water and dipping torn pages from an old phone book to create each layer. On an especially warm day, my balloon expanded, causing my pinata to bust in half and later the whole bottom sunk in (AAHH!), but I managed to salvage it. The final layer of paper mache was pink tissue paper and Lucy decided it looked like a strawberry. It helped once I painted on the black 'seeds' and stuffed green tissue paper in the top as a stem. It did turn out cute and was pretty easy, once I learned a few tricks. I highly recommend giving it a try, and there are numerous how-to sites on the Web to help you out. It's WAY cheaper than purchasing one of those pre-made pinatas and a lot more personal. We filled ours with all sorts of dollar store goodies, including candy, bubbles, jewelry, whistles, and plastic coins. These treats, along with the aprons and chef hats, acted as the party favors.

Here are the girls getting ready for a relay game where I filled one large mixing bowl/pot with water and set an empty one some distance away. I divided the girls into two teams and gave them each a ladle or measuring cup. They had to take turns taking water from the bowl and filling up the other, and the first team to empty the bowl won. The babies kind of caused mass chaos, as they, too, wanted to play, dump water on the ground, and run between teams. This, luckily, caused hilarity and the big girls didn't seem to mind the lapse in order.

I set up our patio to resemble a little French bistro for the girls. I covered our kids' tables with white 'linen' tablecloths that I made from cutting up a white bedsheet I got at a garage sale. I placed our numerous crystal candleholders and vases of roses around and put up a lovely poster of the Eiffel Tower. You can't really see them in this photo, but I spray painted an old sign (now announcing Le Ratatouille bistro) and an old chandelier gold and hung them as well. My mom bought the girls the Ratatouille movie soundtrack and we played this outdoors, adding to the French bistro air. The kids sat out here to eat their snacks, cake and ice cream.

It was a cute, easy party to put together and only cost me around $100, which was spent on food (which we got at Winco the morning of) and drinks (which also came from Winco, with the exception of the growlers of beer from our local brewery, Tablerock), and is a great deal for a party for 25-30 people. I made most of the decorations myself from things I already had around the house or picked them up super cheap at thrift stores. It was really fun being creative with what we already had and it turned out to be a lovely, low-key party perfect for ma petite chouchou.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PROJECT 52 DATE NIGHTS: Sweets & Scrabble

Our date night this week had to be postponed until Sunday evening, as the girls' big birthday bash took all weekend to prepare, host, and recover from. By Sunday night, Eric and I were exhausted and I wanted to plan something mellow and easy and take advantage of the warm spring night. I lit some candles on the patio and pulled out two vintage games I picked up about a year ago at a thrift store but we had yet to open. One was a 1968 Scrabble Crosswords Cubes game and the other a 1966 Parker Bros. game called Spill and Spell. It turned out the two are almost identical games - each person takes a turn spilling the letter cubes and gets a minute to put together as many words as possible.

I busted out all the sweets we had in the house, which included some Girl Scout cookies, jellybeans and M&Ms. We gorged a little, as on Monday we started an "8 Weeks to a Healthier You" type competition with some friends, and one gawd awful rule is NO SWEETS.
It was a fun, low-key night and we even had to bust out our 1977 Merriam Webster to assist with judging on the game. It turns out Eric had never played Scrabble before that night, something I never knew about him. He was a little nervous, as I was a spelling bee champ in the 3rd grade and currently hold the self-appointed queen bee title in our family, but he held his own quite well, I'd say.

Monday, April 12, 2010

PROJECT 52 DATE NIGHTS: Would You Rather...

This was our second week participating in Simply Modern Mom's Project 52 and I have to say that this night was so much easier, cheaper and more successful than our first one. Taking an idea from Tiffany's list of 16 suggestions to get you started, I set up a game of "Would You Rather." Basically, you write down a bunch of different phrases on slips of paper (Tiffany gets you started with a great printable sheet) and put them in a bowl. (You could also print them instead of write them out longhand if you were more technologically hip than we are and actually have a printer that works.) Each of you takes turns picking out two and asking the other, for example, "Would you rather live with snakes or eat the same meal for the next 10 years?" The concept is simple and the answers always spark a little interesting conversation. It was fun to find out that we answered much the same on them.

I dimmed the lights and lit some candles. I poured each of us a frosty mug of beer (obviously I've never been a waitress, as my beer pouring skills have much to be desired) and popped some popcorn. Our poor 1960s transistor radio in the kitchen is on the fritz, so the only station I could get was some some light rock/Muzack type sounds. It felt a little like we were sitting alone in a really bad hotel bar, having a drink. Which, actually, suits us perfectly.

AMY & REE: Penne a la Betsy (week 14)

So, yet again, I've missed week 13. I don't know what happens, as I plan ahead and have all the ingredients on hand, it's just that now that I'm a SAHM, I don't really keep track of what day of the week it is that well, so the days all meld together before I know it. I know that doesn't make much sense, but I also don't really know when I've showered last, so bear with me. I'm trying.

Anyhow, this week was PW's Penne a la Betsy, a speciality of her little sister, Betsy. I didn't have penne on hand and used a different tube shaped pasta, which worked fine. I have to say that neither Eric nor I loved this dish; he probably liked it better than I did. It was just, well,...meh.

Monday, April 5, 2010

PROJECT 52 DATE NIGHTS: Dating My Husband, One Week At A Time (week 1)

Two weeks ago I stumbled across the incredible mommyblog by Tiffany Bird at Simply Modern Mom. Like me and my AMY & REE project for 2010, where I make a new recipe from The Pioneer Woman's cookbook each week inspired by the movie and blog Julie & Julia, Tiffany wanted to do something unique and commit to a project for the new year. She came up with this really creative idea called Project 52, dating her husband one week at a time for an entire year. As parents of two tiny girls, just like me, Tiffany and her husband, Nathan, suffer from very little time alone, very few babysitters, and a very minuscule budget. Her brilliant idea was simple and included a few "rules" and she and Nathan even signed a "contract" to keep themselves in check.
I talked to Eric about joining in the project three months late, and he was as enthusiastic as I am to jump on board. I have been lamenting about us not taking enough time to nurture our relationship - to remember how we used to enjoy each other's company before there were bouts of pink eye, mountains of laundry, swimming lessons, and bathtimes. We really miss each other. This seems like the perfect way to fit it all in, especially with Tiffany's guidelines, adapted a little to fit our needs:

1) Every Friday night from 9-10pm is our date night. We usually have both girls in bed by 8:30pm. One hour is easy to commit to.

2) The majority of the time the dates will be at home so we don't need a babysitter.

3) We rotate being in charge of date nights on a monthly basis.

4) We can't do the same thing twice in one month.

5) Dates need to be free most of the time. If not free, then a budget of $20 or less. Cheaper than if we went out.

6) Need to create a date-like atmosphere. No pajamas. Mind the details and create a special event. But keep it simple.

Like all rules, a few will always be broken, adapted, etc. but we are going to try our best to stick to them. Tiffany blogs about her dates each week, and I plan to do the same. Since April was just beginning, we started our Project 52 this past week. I decided to take the month of April as mine to plan, and the first date was to be extraordinary and easy. We already had a weekend away together scheduled. Months ago I was lamenting our lack of time together alone, and how we had only gone for one night without our kids twice in the past six years. SIX LONG YEARS. So, over Eric's spring break from BSU, we planned a really cheap getaway to Baker City, Oregon. Not the most exciting of places, but neither of us have ever been there, we wanted to stay in this cool newly remodeled historic (and haunted) hotel, and, honestly, we didn't really care if we just ordered room service and never left the room.

The plan was to take the girls to my dad's place in Ontario, Oregon, on Friday night and leave them there for our Saturday night of freedom. Friday also happened to be Alice's second birthday, in which she proceeded to get crabbier and crabbier as the day progressed and ended out her special day by projectile vomiting not once, but twice. And then developed a really high fever. Disappointed, I called the Geiser Grand and explained that I was going to have to cancel our trip and reservations. The receptionist could read the sadness and desperation in my voice and let me reschedule our room at a later date for no charge. It'll now be June before I get a night away with my hubby, but sometimes life and motherhood take precedence.

So we ended up tending to a really sick baby at my dad's place all weekend, but had a great time watching movies, playing Wii, hiding Easter eggs, and taking long naps. Eric and I did manage to get away for a few hours on a date on Saturday - we spent an hour or two browsing thrift shops and a flea market in Ontario. Later that night we spent more than $20, which totally contradicts the idea of Project 52, going to the movie theater to see Hot Tub Time Machine. The movie was horrible, but come on, our other options were Clash of the Titans, The Bounty Hunter, and that new Miley Cyrus thing. The date redeemed itself with a delicious Mexican dinner at Tacos el Zarape, a little gem of a place hidden behind the Pilot gas station near the freeway. While this was totally not within the guidelines of Project 52 or our normal nights, it is always fun, every once in a while, to have an old school, traditional date. It kind of felt like we were in high school again, holding hands during a really bad 80s movie. And we actually had time during our meal to enjoy it leisurely, order a beer, and have a conversation. And we sat IN THE BAR.

I'm really excited to post about our dates each week, and hope you'll follow along, as we have some fun ideas planned. Actually, YOU should think about joining in, too, with your significant other. It is a realistic project with a focus on nurturing our most personal relationships, so what could be bad about that? And we're bound to have a good time and learn a few new things about each other along the way.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Visible M(others): The Blog as Digital Family Scrapbook

I've been selected to participate in a gallery exhibition over the course of the next six weeks titled "Visible M(others): Images of Parenting in Visual Culture." The show runs March 4 - April 11, 2010 at the Boise State University Student Union Gallery and is free to the public (go see it!). I'm collaborating with Shannon Paterson over at We'll both be writing new posts on Thursdays of each week for the six weeks of the exhibition, exploring ideas of how our "mommyblogs" act as a sort of "digital front porch swing," a place to share information and be heard, a forum for asking questions, showing off our kids and our skills. Mommyblogs act not only as an informational outlet, but a creative force in our contemporary maternal culture, as the blogs are not only loaded with verbal creativity, but photography, crafts, and other digital imagery, documenting our lives as mothers. Provoking complex questions, the exhibition presents new perspectives on traditional, contemporary, alternative or imagined parenting and how they operate in a visible/invisible landscape of maternal visual culture.

My mom has been an avid scrapbooker for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, of course, I have the most pictures, many pasted and carefully captioned in a number of scrapbooks, from one lovingly hand-quilted and cross-stitched by my mom to a puffy painted one in my high school colors just for the hundreds of cheerleading pictures I have. Both my parents are really into family history and documentation, and I certainly gained that interest from them. As my adult life gets busier and busier, I still have the good intentions of scrapbooking but never seem to get around to it. I have boxes and folders full of old love letters from my husband, concert ticket stubs, restaurant menus, city maps, positive pregnancy tests, first haircut snippets, and, of course, photos galore. Like all first time moms, my documentation of my pregnancy with Lucy and her first year or two of life is great. But, poor Alice, got the shit end of the deal, as my second baby. I still have good intentions, mind you. My mother-in-law is a rep for Stampin' Up, so I've got gorgeous scrapbooking supplies coming out of may ass. I just don't really have the time. Nor do I have the inclination to print the hundreds of digital prints that are collecting on my laptop; there lies the unfortunate dilemma of film photography vs. digital. Thankfully, great sites like Shutterfly will do most of the work for you. I just did Alice's first year baby book on Shutterfly for about $25 and 3 hours of time. I do think, though, for that amount of time, I could've done it myself for free (sigh).

What I love about this blog, however, is that it acts in much the same way as a scrapbook does because it includes photos. To me, though, it's more like a journal. I don't usually cuss in my scrapbooking - "Happy Motherfuckin' Birthday, Baby Girl!" just doesn't seem appropriate. It is, however, a more accurate portrayal of my everyday life and is more real. Which is what I love about this online journaling. I get to document some unique, silly parts and activities of our everyday lives, like this:

Earlier this week marked the 1st Annual Brown Family March Viewing of The Wizard of Oz. When I was little, the airing of The Wizard of Oz on television in March marked the beginning of spring and my parents made it special.

We all put our 'jamas on, got our sleeping bags out, and ate Jelly Bellys. In the early 1980s in rural Idaho, Jelly Bellys were gourmet candy that we only got once a year. I anxiously waited for mixing those tasty little morsels in my mouth to make flavors all my own. It's Buttered Popcorn, however, that still remains my favorite.

While you can now pick up Jelly Bellys everywhere, including your neighborhood dollar store, I've tried to keep them a special treat just for this movie viewing occasion. We all love this movie so much and never tire of watching it. I've had this VHS copy of the film for as long as I can remember. In fact, Eric and I watched it on one of our very first dates and, years later, the iconic theme song played as we walked down the aisle after saying "I DO!" in Nevada.

So out came the Sleeping Beauty sleeping bag and all our beanbags, too. Alice was so worried for Toto and Lucy realized for the first time it was all a dream. These are the sorts of things I love documenting on this blog, these sort of special, ordinary moments. And, sometimes, some extraordinary, sad things, too. This week also marks the one year anniversary of my traumatic layoff - the one that scarred me, scared me, and shook me to the core. The one it took me a year to come to terms with. My metaphorical house was whipped up in a tornado and came crashing down, killing the big bad witch, but leaving me lost in a world I'd never seen before. With a little help along the way, from new friends and old, I grew to love Munchkinland and realized that there truly is "no place like home."

Thanks for coming along on this ride with me and reading my blog as I stumble my way through it. I do see what a special document this is, not only for my sanity, but what a unique chronicle of a piece of my family's life and our story for my girls to have and share with their kids in the future. Now, if I can only find the time to print it....