Thursday, November 14, 2013

50 by 50

(Yes, I know it has been a looooooong time since I last posted.  There's no better way than to start back by just jumping right in, right?)

Sometimes I lie in bed at night, unable to sleep.  As I lie there, listening to the heavy breathing of my husband...notice I said, "heavy breathing," not, "snoring."  Thank you, Lord, that he rarely snores!   Since the beginning of our marriage we have made it a habit to always go to bed at the same time whenever feasible.  Obviously, over the years, there have been exceptions with babies, illness, etc.  However, with my husband's busy work schedule that often takes him away from home, we made it a priority early on to appreciate the time that he is at home.  Usually, it is not a problem for me, but over the years we have discovered that I lean toward "night owl" while my husband does not.    This becomes much more apparent when the time changes in the fall.  Suddenly, it is dark when he gets home from work.  We eat dinner, it's dark outside, and he is ready for bed.  Seriously.  Early on in our marriage he would often want to go to bed by 8pm during the winter months.  Thankfully, we have gradually pushed back to at least 9 or even 10 most nights.  (Let's just not discuss how late I stay up when he is out of town.....)  Still, there are times when I just can't fall asleep so easily.  Then I begin to think and come up with ideas....and plans.  This can be dangerous.  Most of the time, by morning light, I've forgotten my previous night's thoughts or they just get pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of the new day.  But not always....

Now that you know way more than you ever wanted to about my sleep habits....back to last week.  As I lie there in bed, thinking, I started thinking about travel and upcoming plans we already have.  Then I started thinking about where I've traveled in the past and how we want to travel with our kids more (once the "baby" is just a wee bit older).  Then I started thinking about how many states I've visited or lived in throughout my life, recalling a few trips from early childhood to Massachusetts and Missouri, neither of which I have visited since. hit me.  50 states by age 50 or "50 by 50", for short.  Wouldn't it be cool if I could visit all 50 states by the time I am 50 years old?  And when I say "visit" I mean actually "do something," not just sit in the airport during a layover (Michigan) or drive straight through with only rest breaks on the way to another destination (Arkansas).

It's pretty obvious which part of the country I'm from, huh?

So, the next morning, the 50 by 50 idea popped back into my head and I decided to color a US map, indicating all the states I have already visited.  That's the "homeschool mom" breaking out in me.  :)  Based on my "mommy brain" memory, I have already visited 21 different states, leaving just 29 more to visit over the next 16+ years.  Sounds reasonable to me....Of course, my husband asked, "Are you sure you want to go to every state?  Like North Dakota?"  Good point, but I'm sure that every state has something interesting to offer.  I also like the idea of exposing our kids to different parts of the country. 

We already have tentative plans to make southwest (Grand Canyon) and New England trips with the kids in the next several years.  With just a little more planning, I think we could cover all the states!  I also think it would be awesome to take the kids to all 50 states before they are grown.  Before you know it, I'll be coloring 5 more US maps!

Will I succeed in my mission?  Only God knows, but it sure will be fun trying!  I've already got plans to knock out another one this summer.....

I'll try to update as the adventure unfolds......

Edited to add - My 9 year old just reminded me that I went to Nebraska and Iowa last year to visit my husband for our anniversary while he was finishing up a 4 week class.  23 down, 27 to go.  Yes, I edited the map.  No, I am not posting another picture....yet.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Small Potatoes

No, this post is not about potatoes...or any food for that matter.  It's about challenging yourself, setting goals and then working hard to achieve those goals.

This morning I ran our local 5K Memorial Day race, the Cotton Row Run.  It was an honor to run in honor and memory of our fallen heroes who helped make our country free.

First of all, I am not a runner.  Never have been.  In the past I tried running with my husband and could never make it even a half mile.  I decided in January that I wanted to run the Cotton Row and set out to meet that goal.  My first training run consisted of running for only 30 seconds and then walking for 5 minutes....I had a loooong way to go!

So, for all you experienced, marathon runners, my little 5K may seem like small potatoes, but for me, it was a huge undertaking. 

My cheering section

 I had 3 goals for today:
  • Finish the race
  • Run the entire distance
  • Finish in less than 37:12 (average 12 minute mile)


My mottoes for the day were:  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" and  "One foot in front of the other.  Repeat."

I am happy to report that I met all 3 goals, with a finish of 36:35.  Based on my training runs, I actually thought I would finish closer to 34 minutes, but I discovered today that the ipod I have been using for training purposes is not accurately calibrated.  Before I reached the finish line, my ipod said I had already run 5.6 km.  I'll have to keep that in mind for next time!

While I did not "win" the race (much to my children's disappointment), I am pleased with my performance and that I accomplished the goal set before me.  And no, I do not foresee any marathons in my future....although I might go for the 10K next year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Disney World!

We recently returned home from our first family vacation in a long time.  In fact, during our drive down to Florida, Eli asked if he had ever been on a 7 day vacation....umm, no.  So, I started thinking back and the last time that Ezra and I took a 7 day vacation was on our honeymoon....almost 10 years ago.  Yes, we've taken several 3 or 4 night trips over long weekends, but this was a true vacation

I will admit that I spent a lot of time planning for this trip, from reviewing hotels, height requirements for rides and park maps to menus for every possible restaurant that we might eat at.  If you are ever planning a trip to Disney, I highly recommend the website

And if you want to kick it up a notch, go for the $11 annual subscription to Disney touring plans.  (My cousin let me use the last 3 weeks of her subscription so I was able to take advantage of the program).  Oh, my!  The touring plans program statistically analyzes the crowd levels at every park 365 days a year as well as the wait times for every ride/attraction 365 days a year, giving you the best possible recommendations on when to go and how to organize your day.  Yes, I used the program, and I was in "organization heaven."  However, because it is based on prior activity, there are no guarantees and you also have to consider that we were traveling with children who have opinions.  By early afternoon, we had usually put the plan aside and were just trying to finish seeing what we wanted to.  It was nice to have a printout of everything that we had planned to do, and as we completed each event we marked it off and saw what else we needed to get to.  Basically, we had a plan, but we stayed flexible as things changed.  For example, we arrived at Hollywood studios 15 minutes before the gates opened, passed through security (for our backpack) and the entrance turnstiles at 5 minutes before opening time.  Apparently they opened the park a few minutes early (it was not an Extra Magic morning), but I figured rides would start operating exactly at 9am.  We were not the very first people through the entrance, but we followed our plan and walked at a good pace directly to Toy Story Mania as recommended by "the plan."  It estimated that we would only have a 3 minute wait.  We arrived exactly at 9am and there was already a 30 minute wait.  After riding, we realized why it was so popular and decided to obtain fastpasses for later in the day to ride again.  So, by 9:45am (when the park opened at 9) we got our fastpasses that were not valid until 2:40 in the afternoon!  Everyone might not understand how fastpasses work (you can read all about it on all ears), but I was shocked at how quickly the fastpasses were going!  When we returned in the afternoon, all fastpasses for the day were already distributed.  Anyway, back to my original point, the 30 minute wait first thing in the morning, got us "off the plan" pretty early on, but we managed to still see and do everything that we had planned for that day. 

We spent 4 days at the parks and packed as much as we possibly could into those 4 days!  After the Disney portion of our trip, we then visited with my sister's family for a few days before heading home.  We did leave the 2 youngest little ones at home with a wonderful friend who took very good care of them.  After a lot of thought we decided that everyone would enjoy the trip more (including the babies) without toting a double stroller, fixing bottles, changing diapers all day.  And I must say that after seeing the double strollers trying to squeeze into the monorail or folded up on buses and exhausted, cranky toddlers, I think we made the right decision.  Matthew (4 years old) was the youngest child we took and he measured exactly 40 inches, the minimum height requirement for most of the more exciting rides.  There was usually 1 ride at each park that he was unable to ride (48" requirement), but it was nice to be able to all ride together on most rides without having to swap out to stay with younger kids. 

By the way, according to the Touring Plan, our crowd levels at each park were in the 3-5 range (out of 10), and we usually waited 10-20 minutes for most rides unless we had fastpasses.  There were a few rides where the wait was a little longer, but it was manageable.  This trip confirmed that I would not want to go in the summer (80 degrees in February was warm enough!) and I would not want to go during Christmas/New Years when the parks are packed with crowd levels at 10.

For now, I will just post the pictures, but I will be happy to share details about our experiences, restaurants, shows, rides, etc to anyone who is interested or might be planning a trip soon.

Packed and ready to go!

1st Ride!  The People Mover!

Eli's 1st attempt at taking a picture of us...Mad Tea Party

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Swiss Family Treehouse

Eli's 2nd attempt....Swiss Family Treehouse

Snack break while Mama and Maggie are riding Mt. Everest

"You WILL get wet, you MAY get soaked"  Just ask Matthew...

Kali River Rapids

Jungle Trek

Jungle Trek....just after Kali River Rapids

Jungle Trek

Triceratops Spin

Tree of Life

Magic Kingdom

Royal of their favorites

Royal Carousel


Toy Story Mania...waiting in line

Toy Story Mania...still waiting in line.  At least they were outside the jail!

An entire store and sweet shop!

"I'd like a Matthew in a cone, please."

Eli finishing my Mint Bliss Sundae, after he had finished his chocolate milkshake

Enjoying her own mint chocolate chip

Working on his mint chocolate chip

Still working....
  We had a wonderful time while at Disney.  We stayed at the Shades of Green resort, right next to Disney's Polynesian resort.  It is a military only resort on Disney property with many of the same benefits of staying on Disney property.  The rooms were much more spacious than other Disney resort rooms, with a sofa bed (allowing 5 per room rather than 4) and a balcony.  While it did have its own bus transportation, we found that we preferred the 10 minute walk to the Polynesian where we then caught the monorail to either the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT.  The walking also helped justify the 3 rather large servings of ice cream that I consumed throughout the week.... We did use the bus transportation for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.  We really enjoyed Shades of Green and would recommend it to any military family looking for a nice resort at a decent price.  I'm not sure about the Disney resorts, but the Shades of Green pool was not heated.  Of course, that did not stop my kids and husband from jumping in!  I, on the other hand, chose to watch from afar and catch up on some reading.  For four days we were up at 6:30am and going strong until about 9 or 10pm.  I was impressed that the kids managed so well with such long, busy days, including lots of walking, but the weather was wonderful and we all slept very well every night!

Favorite Attractions:
Eli - Splash Mountain, Maelstrom, Toy Story, Kali River Rapids
Maggie - Splash Mountain, Test Track, Tower of Terror, Mt. Everest
Matthew - Royal Carousel, Test Track, Extreme Stunt Show, Kilimanjaro Safari

After our stay at Disney, we visited with my sister and arranged to have a play date at a local park with a college friend and her family.  It was a great vacation and we thoroughly enjoyed it!  The kids are already talking about going back once Charlie and Cooper reach the 40" mark. 

A day at the park with cousins and friends

Monday, January 30, 2012

January goals update

Ok, so January is almost over.  Time to check in on my goals and progress this month....

I originally posted my goals for the year here. I have found that having my goals written down and reviewing them periodically has really helped me to stay on track. 

Reading -Finished the following books
  • Ten P's in a Pod
  • The Help (well, almost, but I will have it finished by Feb 1st!)

Education -
We are visiting the library every week, and Eli knows exactly where the Boxcar Children books are.  Although I'm still working on reading aloud to the kids every day, we have read Blue Hill Meadows, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, Eli Whitney, Uncle Jed's Barbershop, and Why Alligator Hates Dog.

The current library stack

We have not yet started the The Chronicles of Narnia, but it is on the iPod, and I think we will start it on our long drive to Orlando in February.

Personal Goals
  • Weight loss - I've only lost 1 pound since posting about losing the baby weight from the past 8 years, but considering that my husband brought home Krispy Kreme doughnuts one night, followed by the crazy idea I had to make homemade oatmeal creme pies the same week, I think I'm doing good to have not gained any weight this month!
  • Run a 5K - I've completed 2 weeks of training and there is a noticeable improvement in my endurance, although I am still in the very beginning stages of running and my speed leaves a lot to be desired.
  • Wake up at 6:30 on weekdays....FAIL!  I'm doing good to get out of bed by 7:15.  Maybe I should start utilizing the nifty little invention that sits beside my bed.  It's called an alarm clock, I think....
  • Freezer cooking - I had a "mini" freezer prep day chopping and freezing veggies to prevent having to take out 1 or 2 peppers, the cutting board and knife 3 or 4 nights a week.  Now they are already ready and I just have to scoop out what I need for each recipe.  It has worked great!  I also had one full freezer cooking day this month and loved it!  The "plan" I followed is pictured below.  I accomplished everything on the list, resulting in at least 16 easy to put together meals.  I liked focusing on one meat all day and plan to do beef when we butcher a steer in February or March. 

The freezer plan

  • New DIY projects - I've successfully made wheat thins, cheese crackers, oatmeal creme pies, hummus and bubble bath so far. I've also attempted pita bread twice now, and while my family loves the bread and I have made some great toasted "pita" chips with it, it never puffed up the way pita bread should, leaving the middle pocket.  Therefore, I can't really call it pita bread...maybe just round sandwich bread.
Oatmeal creme pies....put Little Debbie to shame

Cheese crackers....If you like baked on, crunchy cheese, these are for you!

Garlic hummus with "pita" chips

  • Involve the kids in cooking - They helped with several of the projects above, but I am still struggling with the frustration of having kids on the counter looking over my shoulders and 3 chairs pulled up to the counter (blocking every drawer or cabinet I need to get in)!  Eli and Maggie especially love to measure out the wheat that I need and then monitor the grinder while it is grinding.  
  • Go to bed with a clean kitchen - I've been successful most nights, but my wonderful husband has often helped out.
  • Praise music - I started out good the first 2 weeks, especially when I was cooking, but lately I have been listening on my own when I am out running or walking. 
  • Pray through our Christmas Cards - Inconsistent at best, but the funny thing is, when I was praying for each of the first four families, I always included the baby that was in the mommy's tummy, and when we were finished my kids said, "I didn't know Mrs. so-and-so had a baby in her tummy."  We then came to a family whose children are grown and have kids of their own, and my kids asked, "Does she have a baby in her tummy too?"
  • Reducing clutter - In progress....My specific goal for January has been to prepare and sort all the clothes for Kids' Market in preparation to move them out of the house the first weekend in March.  This includes all the remaining maternity clothes, baby girl clothes (and shoes, hats, bibs, socks, blankets, etc) newborn-5T, and all infant boy clothes that Cooper has outgrown.  A very big undertaking....  Although the clothes are still taking up 2/3 of my closet, almost all of them (that I have hangers for) are hanging and tagged.  I've actually established a system for "decluttering" that has worked wonderfully for the Kids' Market clothes that I will implement in other areas of the house later in the year and blog about as well.
About 1/3 of the Kids' Market....
  • Taking pictures - FAIL!  The only progress I have made here is ordering some hard copies of pictures we took last year.  I need to get on the ball before my kids are grown!
  • College Funds - up to date and in progress
  • Dining Room furniture - The plan is to look at furniture in March and probably purchase in April.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Homemade wheat thins

Here is the requested wheat thins, or thin wheats (to avoid any copyright infringement), recipe...

The original recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion cookbook....Of course, I made some changes to make them more Sugar Busters friendly.  The recipe I used is listed with the original in parentheses.

2 cups whole grain wheat flour (or 1 cup all-purpose & 1 cup wheat)
1/8 cup sesame seeds (1/4 cup)
1/8 cup granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda (not in original recipe, but supposedly makes crisper crackers)
4 Tbs butter
scant 1/2 cup milk
Coarse salt (optional, but makes them extra yummy!)

Preheat oven to 325.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sesame seeds, sugar, salt and baking soda.  Using a fork or pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is like coarse meal.  Slowly stir in milk, adding just enough to form a workable dough.   Using additional flour to prevent sticking, roll the dough out to 1/16 inch thickness, if possible.  Sprinkle with coarse salt and use rolling pin to gently press salt into the dough. 

I used hard white wheat, but store-bought wheat flour will work

Wheat grinder attachment for Kitchenaid mixer

Fresh whole wheat flour

The dough rolled out

Using a pizza cutter (or fun cookie cutter shapes), cut the dough into desired cracker sizes.  Transfer crackers to ungreased baking sheets and bake for 20-25 minutes*, until they just begin to brown and are firm to the touch.  Cool on a wire rack.

The kids were begging to use some of the new cookie cutters they got for Christmas
If using cookie cutters, take scraps and re-roll, then cut again

 Yield: 7 to 8 dozen 1 inch crackers

*Thinner crackers will brown and crisp faster than thicker crackers.  After 20 minutes check for doneness and go ahead and remove any that are crisp.  Return remaining crackers to oven and continue baking for 2 minutes at a time, until all crackers are done.

3 out of 4 of my children (who are old enough to eat crackers) love these and often ask for a "cookie" when referring to these, probably because of the cookie shapes!  They are crisp, have a great cracker flavor and texture and are not as greasy as store-bought crackers.  I have a feeling these will become a staple around our house.