Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Heart and Flower Cookies

These were for my cousin's wedding shower a few weeks ago. I didn't get great pictures, boo.

I tried one with a leaf – cute!

Flowers aren't my favorite, but I liked the way the hearts turned out. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Meet Penny!

Guess what? We're dog owners! I can't believe it either! Jeff had dogs growing up, so he has been ready to adopt as soon as he got the okay. I have always been staunchly anti-pet (I even hated the fish), but Clark is a born dog lover, and he's been asking for one of our own since he was about three. Last year, Dora got on board, and they slowly wore me down. Finally, in the spring, Jeff pointed out that if we were going to go the dog route, summer would be an excellent time to do so. 

We started visiting two local shelters and watching Petfinder to wait for the perfect pet to come along. Penny is a daschund-something mix who is under two years old (we think). She's so sweet and very well-behaved. 

Choosing a name was fun – we debated over whether she should have a people name or not. Jeff kept circling back to characters we like from books and movies. When he suggested the title character from one of Clark's favorite stories, the name clicked! Lucky penny, find a penny, plus she's the color of a penny ... it suits her! My cousin asked if her name was from Penny on Big Bang Theory, which I admit, we hadn't thought about. It will be interesting to see if she reacts when the show comes back on in the fall, since she already goes bananas every time there's a knock (even if it's on a table or from the tv.)

While Clark and Dora were over the moon, Theo was really not into the dog thing. Like really upset. Jeff and I had countless conversations: are we doing something damaging to one kid to bring a lot of joy to the other two? It's very much his personality to resist change ... my hunch was that it was more about things in our house changing than the dog itself. I told him that I wasn't really thrilled about the idea either, but was willing to give it a try. We also assured him that if a pet really was not a good fit for our family, that we'd have to find her a new home. 

Week one has been good. A few small accidents, which we were prepared for, but for the most part, she's fit in to our family very nicely. (She's also fiercely stubborn! Just like us!) The first day home was so fun. She was SO happy to be here. I'm enjoying the daily walks – it's much easier to get motivated to move when you've got a furry someone asking you to go. (Though I know when the cold weather comes, I'll be the crazy lady outside in pajamas and a parka shouting "Come on! Potty!") But the best thing of all is how quickly Theo bonded with her. At the end of the first day, he said that he couldn't remember why he didn't want a dog. He feeds her, takes her for walks, plays fetch with her and she'll snuggle up with him on the couch. Happily, she's very easy to love! 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Baking Monday – Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

Theo's request: "Can we make chocolate chip cookies that stay soft?" After a Pinterest search, I decided to make this recipe with Theo's help (more on that below).

And? We're happy to report that these cookies stayed soft for several days, yay! Theo was happy. And as for the helping bit? I'm going to summarize: two cups of flour and mixer turned up to four. (Long, flour-coated sigh here.) He just needs more practice! 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

On Audiobooks (Hotcakes Version)

(AKA, My Linky-est Post Ever!)

Kirsten recently posted about her family's interest in audiobooks, and while I was in the middle of a lengthy comment in response, I thought it might be easier just to write about it here. (Hi, Kirsten!)

Our family loves audiobooks. The kids have always fallen asleep listening to story recordings since they were little (yes, maybe a bad habit, I know) and Jeff has had an Audible subscription for years.  And what Kirsten mentioned is so true – the narrator makes all the difference! We recently listened to one of the Willow Falls series books and the narrator was making me crazy. She read every line ... as if it were a question? Because ... that's how pre-teen girls apparently talk? But the story got really good around disc four (I know, I can't believe we lasted that long), so we stuck it out. 

I love listening to audiobooks while walking or doing housework. I'm particularly drawn to funny books (Bossypants and Seriously ... I'm Kidding are so much more entertaining when read by their authors!) and I really like the narrator of Jen Lancaster's memoir stories (start with this one, then these two.) Recommended from Mr. Hotcakes: Gone Girl and Anansi Boys are both terrific on audio, thanks to talented narrators.

We mostly listen to audiobooks in the car during the summer months. I have a little trick – the kids don't often like my book suggestions, but will listen to anything in the car on audiobook, so I get to sneak my picks in then. It's also a great way to springboard them into more titles by an author. Clark had an easier time breaking into chapter books (Stink, Geronimo Stilton, Magic Treehouse and Wayside School series) because he spent time getting familiar with the stories on recording first. That's also how Theo got into Harry Potter a few years ago: he listened to the first one read by his sister ... then got too impatient to wait for her to read more, so he finished the series himself. When they pick their own audiobooks from the library, they usually go with titles they already know and love (Rick Riordan,  Gordon Korman, Andrew Clements), which makes them good choices for bedtime listening.

Where do we find all these audiobooks? Happily, our library has a very good selection of juvenile / YA titles, and we also check them out online from the New York Public Library.

Some favorites from this summer:

Dora went on to read the rest of the Willow Falls books ... not a huge stretch, because she was already a fan of Wendy Mass thanks to The Candymakers, but she tends to ignore books that look too "girly", so I don't know that she would have picked up the series on her own, and she ended up really enjoying them.

Another Dora favorite was The Sixty-Eight Rooms. I didn't know this was a series when I picked it out, so she was thrilled to find the other ones at the library and read those, too. They really get a kick out of stories where magical things happen to ordinary kids ... good thing that there are many, many of those titles to choose from!

Mr. Chickee was not my favorite – I thought it was a little too silly – but Clark really enjoyed this one. We're listening to the sequel now, which is just as silly.

This was a weird, twisted story that got everyone sucked in ... and then totally let down at the end. (Similar to my disappointment in LOST.) We were actually yelling at the audiobook in the car. Sorry, kids, it's a harsh lesson to learn!

Ahhhh. Best. Book. Ever. I could not convince Dora to read this story for the longest time, and it was making me crazy. Eventually, some time last year, she spied it on her teacher's bookshelf and decided if Mrs. Keough had it in her collection, that it MUST be good. (God bless fourth grade teachers!) I knew it would be a tough sell to the boys, so audiobook to the rescue. Everyone enjoyed it, needless to say. (But I'll say it anyway: Hey, sometimes Mom is actually right!)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Baking Monday – Mini Donuts!

Baking Monday is officially on hiatus from June – August, but I still manage to try out a few new treats during the summer months. I tease Jeff because in the past, he's used the kids to ask for desserts, but I applaud his forwardness as he looked me in the eyes last week and said, "Sweets ... I'd like some baked goods, please." 

I'm not in the habit of buying specialty baking products, but this little donut maker was on super-sale at Target a few months ago, and I couldn't pass it up. Look how cute!

I broke it in using the original recipe that came with the maker (plus 1/4 tsp of vanilla). Recipe said it would make 10 donuts, I ended up with 16. They were glazed with Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting (1/2 recipe made more than enough).

This was fun! Yes, it was kind of a pain to only cook five donuts at a time, but start to finish, from mixing to frosting, these only took an hour of kitchen time. I used a fabric pastry bag to fill the pan, a squeeze bottle would probably also work well. No substitute for the real thing, but still a yummy snack. I'm looking forward to experimenting with other donut recipes!