Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter


Happy Easter, everyone.  Our children are already full of candy and working their way through a major sugar high.

It all started with the Finding of The Easter Baskets:


I tried to get some photos, but everyone was moving around so fast that most of my pictures ended up blurry.



The Easter Bunny always hides our baskets on our first floor but he got unusually creative this year and things were (slightly) harder to find.


Henry found his basket first.


Georgia found her's second (and refused to stand still long enough for a picture)


But Josie's basket took longer to discover.  We ended up doing a hot and cold game to lead her to the right location.

Warmer...


hot!


Scorching Hot!!  Burning Hot!!


And then the children inspected their loot:




And the candy eating commenced.


We haven't had a chance to dye our Easter eggs yet, so that will happen later this afternoon.  


I'll probably post again later today (or if that fails, tomorrow).  

Hope you are enjoying the day.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Lactose-Free, Auto-Immune-Fighting Diet



I have been having health issues.  My already-cranky immune system has suddenly become quite peevish and I have found myself in a battle with non-cancerous (but still annoying) salivary gland tumors and swollen surgical areas that refused to return to normal months after surgery.  Add to that an over-active imagination and psychosomatical tendencies and you can understand why I have spent the last few weeks with a general feeling of malaise and unease.  The good news is that I have doctors working with me to figure out why my health has suddenly taken a nose-dive and everyone seems to think the matters are fixable, but while the tests are run and the appointments are waited for, I decided to try to take matters into my own hands and revamp my diet.

I am a firm believer in the power of good nutrition, but when sick, I tend to comfort eat.  

At a time when my body could use natural foods and nutrients the most, my mouth convinces me that multiple cookies and soft, warm baked-goods would be the better option.  I know that I should eat that vegetable soup, but being the champion of self-pity that I am, I convince myself that I deserve the soft sweet roll instead.

It's quite the mental dilemma.

Fortunately, for the last few weeks, good common sense has been winning the battle against my sweet tooth, but I've found that cooking a nutrient-rich, whole-grain meal that is also seafood, peanut and lactose-free is not as easy as it looks.  I've also learned that my three children and husband are not as enthusiastic about eating whole wheat pasta and endless amounts of sweet potato.  

Cooking the nightly meal has become a three-act play involving different meals for different people.  Wheat pasta for me;  white pasta for everyone else.  Spinach and kale added to the pasta sauce for me and kept on the side for everyone else.  You get the picture.

I HAVE managed to find some wonderful recipes that please everyone and which are lactose-free and safe for me.

For instance: 


Spicy, sweet-potato chili, which was absolutely delicious that night and even better the next day at lunch.  Okay, this one was really only pleasing to me.  Neither Gordy nor either of my girls like sweet potatoes.  And the girls also don't care for cilantro... or black beans.  Henry only tolerated the dish.

We had only slightly better results with this:


Soba Noodles with Sweet Ginger, Scallion Sauce (recipe and photo taken from Simplyreem.com)

Why did I not get my own photo of this delicious dish?  Well, it ends up that Chili Garlic Paste, whose printed ingredients were chilies, garlic and water, ACTUALLY included some sort of fish product and within seconds of putting the first spoonful of noodles into his mouth, Gordy began displaying the sickeningly horrific symptoms of anaphyllatic shock.

Don't worry!  Never fear!  Gordy handled the situation in the most unintelligent way possible:  he took antihistamines, made himself throw up, used his epi-pen and then went to hockey practice without telling anyone to be aware of his situation in case all that didn't work.

You can roll your eyes, it's fine.  

I had better luck with whole wheat pasta with homemade tomato / spinach sauce.  But that's only when you understand that I was the only person who ate the whole wheat pasta.  The children (and Gordy) ate white pasta with this recipe and complained that all they ever eat is pasta ..... while they consumed each bite.


Have I not managed to find SOMETHING that we can all eat?  Yes!

Quinoa-coated, baked chicken breast:


This chicken was moist and wonderful along with being extremely fast and easy.  Even Georgia - the hater of all chicken recipes - thought this dish was a good one.

I've posted all of these recipes on my Pinterest account.  click on these words to be taken to my pinterest page

I have three boards for recipes:  Lactose Intolerance, Improve Immunity and Recipes For Those Nights When I Don't Want To Cook.  Feel free to "Follow" me as I pin new recipes quite frequently.  If anyone has any recipes they'd like to share, I'd love for you to leave a comment.  I'm always on the look out for good, nutritious, easy ideas.

Let the healing begin!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Cold Day in Portsmouth, NH


Mark March 23, 2013 on your calendars because on that historic date, a miracle occurred (and prepare yourself for this one - you might want to sit down):  The Family Elliot had 24 hours without a single sporting event.  

I know!  It was crazy.

We knew that if we stayed at home, Gordy would spend those 24 hours running errands and puttering around the house, while the kids complained there was nothing to do.  Since none of us thought that was the best use of our first free day as a family in months, we decided a day trip was in order.  Instead of the puttering and whining, we packed up our warmest coats, hats and mittens and headed north to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Once we arrived in Portsmouth, we started off our visit with a walk along the waterfront and an inspection of a new bridge being built across the river (or is this a harbor?) 


It was incredibly cold and the wind was pretty biting, but it was nice to be in the sun and by the ocean.


My sister, Elizabeth, used to live very close to Portsmouth, NH and the two of us (plus baby Henry) used to go there frequently for meals, haircuts and a good shop.

Elizabeth was always such a generous Auntie - she would frequently take care of our pug, Nancy, when we went on holiday and she always happy to babysit for Henry, while Gordy and I went out to dinner.  We'd drive up from Boston, drop off the dog and the baby, and head over to Portsmouth for a good dinner alone.  Gordy and I were both so very thankful for the time off and I wish that we still lived close to Elizabeth & Sean now so we could repay the favor and babysit Owen for them.



One of my favorite Portsmouth memories involves the local toy store.  Twelve years ago, we left Henry's lovey (a soft, boy baby doll appropriately named Baby Doll) on a plane after a red-eye home from California.  After weeks of listening to Henry cry himself to sleep without his cuddle toy and hours spent on the internet trying to locate this impossible-to-find doll, I had given up the search for a replacement.  Cut to a few days later, Elizabeth, Henry and I were in Portsmouth having lunch at the famous Friendly Toast, when we stopped by the toy store to waste a little time.  

While Henry played at the train track, I wandered into the back of the store to look at baby toys - I was pregnant with Georgia and interested in what was new.  There, sitting in a basket with other soft toys, was Baby Doll.  I couldn't have been more relieved!  I bought (the new) Baby Doll plus the only other model they had, this time a pink version, to give to the new baby.  

Henry was so surprised when I handed him Baby Doll.  I remember saying "Henry!  Look!  Baby  Doll must have spent his month in New Hampshire on vacation!"  Henry was only 18 months old or so at the time, so he bought the story with no agrument.  He hugged Baby Doll tightly and didn't let go ... until his king-sized pancakes arrived.  Henry is sentimental but not when there is food to be consumed.


After our trip to the waterfront, we went shopping along the main drag of Portsmouth.  We went into that famous Baby Doll toy store, but we didn't see any of Baby Dolls' other family members.  We are now the proud owner of THREE of those wonderful dolls.  There's Baby Doll, Rosemary (Georgia's doll) and Agnes (the doll that Gordy's mother found in a toy store in California when I was pregnant with Josie).  No other soft doll has ever been more loved.  Georgia still sleeps with Rosemary and Josie brings Agnes with her whenever we travel.  Henry barely remembers his model, which I recently found in our doll bin in the basement.



Perhaps he would love Baby Doll more if it was attached to his beloved cell phone.



We had a mellow day.  We mostly walked around and visited the various knick-knack and clothing stores.  We did stop at a coffee shop and have a little snack by the visitor kiosk.


And we took a photo by the Friendly Toast to show Elizabeth.

(Elizabeth!   Look!  The Friendly Toast!)


Elizabeth left New Hampshire over ten years ago, and since then, my family has only been back a few times.  Portsmouth has lovely shops and excellent restaurants and while I never remember it being particularly crowded when Elizabeth lived down the road, it is incredibly bustling and busy now.

The tourists were definitely out in full force this past Saturday.  I'm sure the Portsmouth merchants were thrilled.

This has been a long, long winter and I'm sure New Englanders are sick of being inside, watching the snow fall from our windows.  We are all ready to stop hibernating and get back to living.  If only the weather would cooperate!

We went to "dinner" at 4:30 and the restaurant was so crowded that we had to wait 30 minutes to get a table.



I'm not complaining.  The waiting area was warm and the beer was cold.  


We had a lovely day off... but now we are back to normal.  Georgia had an outdoor soccer tournament the very next day and Henry had two hockey games.  This weekend, we will balance another soccer tournament, more hockey, Josie's swimming and the start of two lacrosse seasons.  I'm glad we got a day of rest first.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Life Lesson: Betting On Yourself



For the past seven months, Henry has been playing on two hockey teams.  That's twice the number of practices, twice the number of games, and twice the number of tournaments.  While sometimes Gordy and I thought we might pull our hair out in scheduling/carpooling exasperation, Henry has absolutely loved every minute of his double-the-fun season.

Henry's club team phases into a U14 league for next year, and Gordy thought this would be a natural time to segue back into a one-team existence, but Henry had other thoughts.  He had no interest in only playing on his town team and he fully expected to find a new club team to join for next season.

Henry picked two teams that he wanted to try.  Club team tryouts have been held over the last two weeks - alongside Henry's town team placements and Josie's town placements.  It's been a crazy few days -  way too much hockey and a whole lot of nerve-wracking hours at the rink.


I took Henry to the second night of the first team's trial.  I try not to watch my children's tryouts because I find myself getting nervous and anxious - two sensations that I've been working very diligently to avoid since New Year's - but I did look up from my book periodically enough to give Henry some encouragement.  The tryout went on FOREVER, at least fifteen minutes past the time when I had been told it would be over.  Henry looked exhausted when he got off the ice and he took his usual life-time to get undressed.  I couldn't tell how he had played or whether or not he was interested in the team at all.

When he did come out of the locker room, Henry was joined by the team coach who introduced himself to me and said that he wanted to offer Henry a spot on the team.

Yeah!  Right?  Well done, Henry.  

Of course, I know nothing about this team.  I don't know where/when they practice.  I don't know who this coach is or who else is on the team.... I'm not the hockey parent in this family and I plan to keep it that way.  When you are not the hockey parent, you can smile, thank the coach and say, with all honesty, "I'll tell my husband and have him get back to you.  I'm not the hockey parent."  

This simple statement buys us time to lull over the offer and for Henry to make up his mind.  Henry does not like to be put on the spot and making quick decisions is not his forte.

Within minutes of our arrival home, the coach had called Gordy, though, and the hard-sell was on.  The coach needed to know YESTERDAY whether or not Henry was going to take a spot on the team and he didn't like Gordy's answer that Henry still had one more team he planned to consider.  He reluctantly agreed to give Henry one more day to make up his mind or lose his spot on the team forever. 


I know what you are thinking:  where's the dilemma?  Henry wants to be on a club team.  Henry makes a club team.  Henry will choose to play on that club team, no?  What's the problem?  Where is the life lesson that I teased you with at the top of this post?

Here it is:  the team that offered Henry a spot is perhaps not the best team.  And the coach?  He seemed kind of pushy and angry.  And Henry really hoped to make the other team, which is a better organization and whose coach is someone Gordy knows (slightly) and respects (much-ly).

Gordy decided that it was time to call the coach of the second team - the man that he knows (slightly) -and ask if there is any way that after one night of trials, he might be able to give us an idea about Henry's status.  It is not uncommon for a coach (in these circumstances) to tell a player that they either have a shot at making the team or that they have no chance in H-E-double hockey sticks of joining the team's roster.  The second coach said he would be happy to give us an indication after the first day, but he warned Gordy that he wasn't looking for many forwards.  He suggested that another option for Henry would be to join the team as a practice player (meaning that Henry would practice with the team but not play in any of the games).


The first night of the second team's tryouts came and past.  Henry was absolutely exhausted from a solid month of non-stop, daily hockey and Gordy felt that Henry had not done his best.  Gordy said that Henry looked as tired as he felt and wasn't in the play as much as he should have been.  

I should stop now and tell you that we were disappointed.  Gordy did not want Henry to join the first team and had hoped that he would be able to call that first coach and tell him off.  Gordy had done some asking around, and he was convinced that the first team was not the best fit for Henry and besides, the pushiness of the coach rubbed Gordy the wrong way.  Gordy thought the practice player option was a good one.  Henry could still get the benefits of practicing with the better team and we would have less games to go to on weekends.  

Henry did not agree.  

Oh Lordy, did Henry not agree.

Henry wanted to be on a club team.  He wanted to be ON the team, and he wanted to play games with the team.  He agreed that the first team wasn't necessarily the right place to be, but he was worried that he wouldn't get an offer for the second team... and if that was the case, he'd rather be on the first team than on no team at all.

Is your head spinning yet?

Henry's head certainly was.


Should he take the offer and play for a lesser club team?  Should he join the better team as a practice player and never feel like a real member of the team? Time was ticking on the first team's offer and Henry was no closer to making a selection.

Gordy and I both talked to Henry about his options and we could see that the decision was nearly killing the poor boy.  There wasn't a right answer or a wrong answer and the amount of unknown in the equation was enormous.  

Gordy called Coach Team Two and asked for his opinion. Coach Two was blunt.  Henry hadn't done wonderfully, but he was still on the cusp and battling for a spot with three other candidates.  The coach said that he couldn't give Gordy an answer that night and that Henry should really come back for the second tryout and show the instructors what he had to offer.  Henry was to skate hard and put himself into every play.  Hope wasn't gone, but the chances of making the team were narrow.

Meanwhile, the first coach was emailing away and nagging Gordy almost every hour.  

Oh the agony!  Oh the hand-wringing!  What should Henry do?  

And then Gordy came through with the following zinger:  This was an important life lesson in betting on yourself.  Henry didn't want to be on that first team - if he did, he would have taken the spot and not bothered trying out for the second team.  But Henry was also feeling unconfident and unsure of his ability to make the better team.  Gordy argued that it was time for Henry to step up and fight for what he wanted.  Henry wants to be on the second club team?  Well, get out there and play your hardest.  Show them what you've got, Henry.  Believe that you can do it and then prove it to everyone else.

When you bet on yourself, sometimes you succeed and sometimes you fail, but at least you faced the battle and didn't just give up.


Gordy responded to the first coach's email and told him we needed another day and that if that was a problem, we understood.  He, very grudgingly, allowed Henry a bonus day.

And so we arrived at the second night of the second team's tryouts.  And guess who got the honor of accompanying Henry to the event?  Yep - me.  Lucky, nervous-stomach, tryout-hating me.  I was doomed to break my New Year's Resolution by the end of the night.

  I may not be the hockey parent, but I did my best to give Henry a pep talk in the car on the way to the rink.  My words were filled with inspiration and encouragement.... and Henry didn't hear a single word since he had his headphones on for the entire ride.  Sigh.

I didn't watch the trial.  I sat and read a book and when my nerves got the best of me, I watched an old episode of "The Office" on my ipad.  Two parents that I knew told me that they thought Henry had played well, but when Henry came out of the locker room, he told me that he hadn't handled the puck as much as he thought he should have and he second-guessed a lot of his on-ice decisions.

I felt sad for Henry.  I never played any sports growing up, but I played the violin and I endured many similar tryouts over the years.  I know what it feels like to not make a team or to wish that you had done something differently when the judge was watching (or listening, in my case).  But I also know that at some point, you have to relinquish control and so that is what Henry and I talked about on the way home.  He worked hard and did what he could.  The rest was out of his hands.  What was meant to be was meant to be.  

We arrived home after 9 o'clock and once again, within minutes, the phone rang.  

It was Team Two Coach and he offered a spot on his team to Henry.

Henry's bet paid off.  

And Gordy got the joy of writing to the first coach (Mr. Hard-Sell) and telling him that Henry had accepted a position on another team.  It was a real win-win situation.

I am so proud of Henry.  I'm proud that he worked so hard.  I'm proud that he believed in himself and I'm proud that his hard work paid off.

I'm also proud that he really thought the entire thing through and that he was willing to talk to us about what he wanted and what worried him.  It was a hard two weeks, but with the best possible outcome.  

Well done, Henry!  Life Lesson Learned.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ornithology Lessons At Our House


I just love it when I lift my shade in the morning and discover wildlife outside of my window.  There's just something so beautifully Disney-esque about a bird helping you start your day.  I know that I'm a self-professed city girl, but even I can admit that there is nothing so sweet as a plump bird, sunning itself on a tree branch.

Unless maybe it's TWO plump birds:


I caught the sight the above zaftig lady from the corner of my eye as I made Josie's bed yesterday morning.  


And when I stopped my work to watch her soaking up the rays, I noticed her mate two branches away, getting his morning sun, too.


Of course, I had to run and get my camera.  I wanted to know what kind of birds I was looking at and a photograph is the best description there is.  

I emailed my pictures to our family Ornithologists:  My mother and my sister, Elizabeth.


Elizabeth guessed a Flicker, but my mother said a Mourning Dove.


Ah, nature.  It's always fun when it comes to call.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It's Still Winter Here

One of my favorite things about the month of March is that it signals the end of the freezing cold days and endless snowy forecasts...

usually, I mean.

The last few days have been bitterly cold.  I sent my 10 year old to outdoor soccer practice dressed in more layers than an Arctic explorer.


Outdoor soccer in 30 degree weather!?!  What the heck!


It's way too cold.

And then this morning, I woke up to this crazy view:


Snow!  In March!  And yesterday, I saw crocuses (croci?) popping their little heads out of the earth.

What a nightmare.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't exactly "wake up" to see snow.  I "woke up" when the Superintendent of Schools called at 6am to inform me that today would be the children's SIXTH snow day of the year.  


It's 8:00 now and our road (which is always the last road in town to be cleared) has been plowed, and it's no longer snowing that hard.  I'm thinking a Delayed Opening would have been more practical - especially when you think about how our children will now be going to school until the very end of June.

I haven't gone outside yet - I took these photos from my front porch, while I searched (visually and unsuccessfully) for my newspaper.  It's a heavy, wet snow and my trees seem to be just as annoyed with the snow as I am. 


Judging from the porch railing, I'd say we have about 6 inches of snow.

I don't want to disparage my fellow townspeople, but aren't New Englanders supposed to be hearty and able to brave the elements?  Why on earth do we keep having snow days for six inches of snow?  


Last year, we didn't have a single snow day and the kids got out of school on June 12th.  The summer seemed luxuriously long and endless - it makes me smile just thinking about it.  


Oh well.

We will make the most of the snow day:  the children will go outside and build forts and try to sled.  I will get my daily exercise shoveling.  We will watch a movie and read books and Georgia will find time to practice her flute.  

And hopefully - Good Lord Willing and the Clouds Don't Reappear - this will be our last snow day of the year.  

We've really had enough!



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Georgia The Cake Decorator


Georgia participated in the Mentor Program at her school this year.  She and her friends, Caroline and Lulu, chose Cake Decorating as their career.  After three sessions with a professional baker and three afternoons of presentation preparation, the girls were finally ready for Mentor Night.

We were all ready, too.  It's hard to live with an uneaten, delicious-looking cake sitting in your refrigerator.  Especially when that sucker screams to be eaten every time you open the fridge door.  

I'm not the only person who hears baked goods calling my name, right?

The first session with the baker centered around a tour of the bakery.  But by the second session, the girls had gotten down to business and the results were a box full of wonderful whoopie pies and cream puffs:


Sadly, I can't eat whoopie pies or cream puffs, so I only watched with envy as Georgia prepared the cream filling and put together the desserts.


Georgia was quite the professional baker.

She tempered the frosting before adding the cream to the pastry.


She spread the cream with a flourish and put together the sandwiches:


I'm told the results were quite wonderful:



The last session with the baker was the most exciting.  Each of the girls made, assembled and decorated their own buttercream-frosted layer cake.

And they got to use pastry bags and everything.  

Behold Georgia's creation:


I should explain that it did have a small accident on the way home.  Lulu's mom had to stop suddenly for a pedestrian and both Georgia and Caroline's cakes went sailing off the front seat and onto the car floor.  

We thought it wise to turn the cake's slightly-less-perfect, crushed side to the back of the Mentor Night booth, but I did take the above photo of the damage for posterity.

Behold Master Baker Georgia, setting up for the big presentation:


The girls made a tri-fold poster ....


... and a Power Point presentation with photos of their work at the bakery.


The moms took tons of photos, as we are wont to do...


and we put out stickers to give Baker Eunice Feller (from Newton's Bread and Chocolate) some free publicity.


In addition to the three cakes, the girls also made cupcakes to hand out to people visiting their booth.  The moms made the executive decision to keep the cakes whole for the girls to enjoy at home:


Apparently, the Cake Decorating booths at Mentor Night are the most popular with the tag-along siblings.  There's nothing like a dinner of free cupcakes to sweeten an otherwise rather dull evening.

The girls' booth was very popular:


Georgia, Caroline and Lulu did a fabulous job of explaining exactly how each cake/cupcake was created and what they learned from their mentor.  They worked as a team to answer questions, fight off children who tried to take more than their allotted one cupcake and praised their mentor at every opportunity.

Lulu even graciously allowed a slice of her masterpiece to be cut so that people could see the various layers of cake, frosting, raspberry jam and chocolate chips.


At the end of the evening, each girl left school with a Certificate of Completion, their own cake wrapped safely in it's box and the satisfaction of a job well-done.  

Georgia would like you all to know that she happily make a cake for you.... for a fee, of course.  She learned that Cake Decorating is an actual business, you know!  That's the point of Mentor Night.

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