Tuesday, November 27, 2012

something sad...

I was recently made aware that our beloved alphabet book, alphAmuse, is missing the letter S. Although I would love to blame the printers, the fault is entirely my own. As such, for those who have purchased the book, it will sadly remain s-less forever.

I've given a lot of thought about how to remedy the situation. I briefly considered giving everyone a 1/26th discount ... it seemed impractical.

Instead, I am posting the missing page here, along with a special tribute to S. Also, I will be looking into how to update the book currently available on Amazon.

An Ode to _elf-Publi_hing

Silly socks secretly samba.
Sweet strawberries succulently smell.
Stately sweatervests sagaciously sit.

But even a jazzed up reader 
may zoom from cover to cover 
through a new alphabet book and unequivocally 
fail to meet the nineteenth letter 
before exiting.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pilgrim in butter. Circa Thanksgiving 2009.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

8 things I am loving right now

In the spirit of Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday - here are a few things I have been enjoying this month.

1. Gregorian Chant radio station on Pandora. It's like doing yoga without having to do yoga.

2. Winter layers! But only because I get to wear all my combinations once and then move to California before real winter comes.

3. Hot cocoa made with milk, cocoa powder and just a bit of sugar. So dark and delicious.

4. Deciding to work out every other day instead of every day.

5. "Close Your Eyes" children's book by Kate Banks and illustrated by Georg Hallensleben. My favorite line: "Dark is just the other side of light. It what comes before dreams."

6. My kids both demanding to sit at the piano and play together while I make dinner.

7. Neatly packed and stacked boxes, ready to move. As much as moving isn't fun, given that we have to do it, I like having some of it done.

8. Pumpkin flavored everything! (Except the decaying Halloween pumpkin that is currently over-flavoring my porch.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Costumes 2012!

Theme: music.  From left to right, a Victrola (gramophone), Mozart, Half Note, and Viking Opera singer. This is the only picture we got of my costume and Abe's. I had an awesome gold skirt and green robe. Abe's Victrola reproduction was something to behold. He hid a portable speaker inside the box to play music too. 

Genghis considers his wig. He was very into being Mozart. It's his favorite composer. If you ask him what his favorite song is, he replies "Sonata by Mozart".

 Xena' half note was meant to attach to her shirt. But she made it clear that holding it herself was much more fun. (Side note: check out how she curls her right foot around - I never thought feet could look graceful until I met Xena.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

in anticipation of "the hobbit"

reenactment: seeing the Ring on Frodo's neck.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

published book!

Check it out! I published a fully illustrated alphabet book, Alphamuse, and it's available on Amazon.


In 2010, I ran a blog where people could submit alliterative sentences for each letter of the alphabet. I then illustrated winning letters with colorful construction paper cutouts and created a 26-page book. This fall, I published the book through Amazon's self-publishing vendor, CreateSpace.

So now, anyone can buy a copy of Alphamuse through Amazon and receive a printed paperback version in the mail.

I'm so excited, I just have to use multiple exclamation points!!!!!

... !!!!!!! ...

You can even do the "look inside" preview through Amazon to see a few of the pages.

Now I'm going to go stare at my Amazon page again in amazement.

Monday, October 22, 2012


One of my favorite things about Genghis getting older is the conversations that we can have. One of my favorite times of the day is lunch time, because we just sit at the table for 15 minutes talking about whatever. I like that Genghis has no concept of small talk (e.g. "How are you today, Genghis?" ... blank stare) so we can really go to the heart of issues.

Here are two memorable Genghis conversations.

[while sitting at the dinner table]
Erin: "I want to talk about something at dinner tonight."
Abe: "Mom has an announcement! Before she gives her announcement, let's see if anyone else has an announcement."
[brief pause]
"But first I need to use the bathroom."
[a minute later, Abe returns]
Abe: "Okay. Xena, do you have announcement for the family?"
Xena: [flaps hands and smiles]
Abe: "Thank you. Genghis, do you have an announcement?"
Genghis: [thoughtful pause] "Daddy goes to the bathroom!"

[while driving with the babysitter]
Genghis: "I see a bulldozer!"
Kelly: "You see a bulldozer, that's great."
Genghis: "I see a dump truck!"
Kelly: "Wow, a dump truck."
Genghis: "I see a escalevator."
Kelly: "Oh, that's nice."
Genghis: "You don't know what that means."

[escalevator = excavator]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Minutes before another presidential debate, I find myself lost in metaphysical ruminations. (Okay, maybe not, but I wanted to try that phrase out.)

I've been reading "Bringing up Bebe" by Pamela Druckerman. Aside: does anyone else find it hard to say the title out loud without feeling completely self-conscious of trying to pronounce "bebe"? It's basically a book that compares American parenting culture with French parenting culture and, surprisingly, finds American-style woefully misguided. There's a lot about the book that rubs me wrong, but I do agree with many of the parenting principles addressed. For example, pausing for a few minutes when a baby starts to cry instead of jumping immediately to intervene. Or feeding children on a routine (and diet) similar to adults, almost from the beginning. And establishing firm limits but allowing children free exploration and discovery within those limits.

But there's a contradiction throughout the book. The author talks about how American parents read and develop an arsenal of parenting theories, intensively try to implement them to accelerate kids' growth and potential, and then suffer from "mom guilt" when we and our children don't live up to expectation.

And yet, while reading this book, I am tempted to do exactly that. To read about theories or principles of French parenting, and immediately decide that I have being doing the wrong thing and need to change, to make our family better.

In some ways, I don't think that's a bad thing. I would hate to think that what I know and do now is the best I can ever know and do. I don't ever want to stop growing. Ideas - from books, from conversations, from quiet reflection - are good to chase after, to evaluate, to allow to change who we are.

At the same time, I like the idea of taking a stand on who I am, what I value, and what I do. To be comfortable with what I am right now. To relax and savor a moment, without worrying about improvement.

So when do you accept a good idea because it will change your life?
And when do you reject even a good idea because it complicates life?

Friday, October 12, 2012

friday photos

In photos, I'm behind by not one, but two grandparent meet-ups! Plus a sibling reunion (luckily I took approximately 1 photo during the reunion).

Genghis at the Sault Ste. Marie Locks in Michigan's Upper Pennisula.

 Grandpa showing him the boat.

 Xena and Grandma at the park.

 Grandpa and Genghis coming down the twisty slide. California is a lot farther from Grandma and Grandpa Olsen, which makes us a little sad.

Some bonus smile photos.
Adorable Xena smile.

And ... Genghis smile, in his pink Sunday shirt and red scarf.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

the best thing about california

Is all of the songs about California. Stats from wikipedia:
  • There are 395 songs about California (including covers by different artists).
  • Of those, 80 are titled simply "California".
  • There are 213 songs about San Francisco, in addition to the 395 California songs.
  • Wikipedia did not have a page for songs about Michigan (Elizabeth Downie, I formally challenge you to write this page)
Based on this musical enamoration, we have decided to move to California at the end of the year. Also, Abe got a job in San Francisco.

We're pretty excited about this next phase of life, when we're not feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of the cross-country journey. I just have two questions.

1. Does anyone know of a modest home in a good neighborhood somewhere in the Bay Area that costs less than approximately a gazillion dollars?
2. Does anyone have a recommendation for a company to move our car across the country?

I really do need help on Question #2. We'll need the car to live out of (see Question #1).

Friday, September 21, 2012

friday photos

It's been over a month since our family reunion with Abe's family in California. Just getting around to posting some photos. Turns out, I didn't end up taking many...

Genghis takes on the Pacific.

With some help from Dad.

Learning to fly a kite. Or, Genghis lets go of a string and Chris chases it down the beach.

Family hike on the coastline.


Goofy faces with Grandma.

And food.

Baby Xena was here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the law of conservation of calories

In the middle of the summer, I started getting tired of excess post-baby flab around my middle. I pondered about why this flab wouldn't go away, and finally decided it may have been because I was doing absolutely no regular exercise.

I embarked on Jillian Michael's "30 Day Shred". My friend talked about how there were these 3 levels to the workout, and you were supposed to do each level for 10 days. The workouts are supposed to be pretty intense and only last 25 minutes.

It went pretty well at the beginning. After Level 1 I actually slimmed down enough to fit into some shorts that had been too tight on me. But since that initial loss, I haven't seen the flattening and washboarding of my abs that I imagined in my head when I started.

Today I started the 3rd level (if you're trying to do the math, don't worry. i'm sure that from the middle of summer to September 19th is exactly 20 days). During the workout, Jillian mentioned that if we'd come this far in the series and had been following the diet, we should have amazingly honed figures by now.


What diet? I didn't know anything about a diet. This must be something that is mentioned with all the materials that come with actually buying the DVD and not just watching copies on YouTube.


It's probably a good thing I didn't know about the diet, though. Because this is how "regular exercise" plays out in my life:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meal Planning Solution

For the last 8 years I have been trying to figure out an efficient way to get good food on on the table for dinner. When you think about it, this is a complicated process.

Step 1: Get ideas for meals.
Step 2: Put the ideas somewhere where you can find them later.
Step 3: Plan some meals to eat for a given week.
Step 4: Figure out what ingredients you need.
Step 5: Buy the ingredients at the store.
Step 6: Find time to cook everything before the entire household goes into meltdown.

Add to that preferences for variety, changing food tastes, health and nutrition, seasoning cooking... Like I said, complicated.

About 2 years ago I decided I really wanted to get organized. I create an Excel file and then Access database that combined recipes with meal planning with automatically-generated shopping lists. It worked pretty well, but there were a few kinks in the system. Also, it took some effort to add new recipes to the database, so after a few months, the database felt stale.

At this point, my friend Kristin and I actually played around with starting up an online business meant to solve the meal planning problem. We did some opposition research and were feeling pretty good about the superiority of our idea. And then we found Plan To Eat.

Warning: for the next few paragraphs, you may think that Plan to Eat is paying me to write this. They aren't. I just really, really, really like what I've found.

Plan To Eat is an online meal planning tool. You create an account, add your recipes, drag and drop recipes from your cookbook into your calendar, and then get a one-click grocery list based on your meal plan - sorted by section in the grocery store.

Some things I like:

  • The interface is pretty clean. Not 100% intuitive or efficient, but not bad and getting better. Compared to other similar websites, this one is really simple, which I love.
  • There's a browser widget that lets you save recipes as you are browsing on the web - makes it easy to save new recipes.
  • You can search and sort your recipes as you're looking for things to add to your meal plan. You can also create a "queue" of recipes that you want to plan soon (but not now).
  • It automatically tags ingredients from your recipes so they pop up in the right aisle in the grocery store. But you can easily edit the tags for exceptions or personalizing.
  • You can use the mobile site while you're at the grocery store to see and check off your list. No more forgetting the list at home or in the car.
  • They have a pantry function that is meant to automatically keep track of what you have on-hand so you can "cook from your pantry". I don't use this feature and I've heard it's not perfect. Conceptually, though, I like that the site is trying out these kinds of things. 
  • I've heard that the company is pretty responsive to comments from users on their forums, which is cool.

Since using Plan To Eat, I probably spend about 10 minutes planning out our meals for the week and getting the grocery list ready. I never forget to pick up ingredients for a particular meal at the store. This part of my life has gotten so much more simple.

Thinking about joining? Here's the start-up cost:

  1. $39 a year (I think this is really reasonable.)
  2. About 1 hour to enter in your top 20 recipes, to get you started
If you decide it's worth it, use the link below and I get a referral bonus. (...so I suppose they are sort of paying me to write this review...)

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Friday, September 14, 2012

friday photos

For Family Home Evening a few weeks ago (for those who aren't members of the LDS Church, Family Home Evening is an evening we set aside each week, usually Mondays, to have a brief gospel lesson and activity as a family), Abe told us the story of Captain Moroni, from the Book of Mormon. He is a captain of the people's army who tears his clothing into a banner proclaiming their commitment to their God, families, and freedom.

Abe introduced Genghis to the concept of flags, flagpoles and banners through some Google images. Then we turned one of Xena's burp clothes into a flag, writing our family values on it with permanent marker, and tied it to a broom as a banner.

Genghis was pretty excited about the whole concept.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

toddler activities: painting

I talked about painting with toddlers several months ago. It's become a regular activity at our place, so much so that it surprised me to compare these photos with the ones from my previous post to see how differently Genghis interacts with painting after just a few months.

That's one of the things I love about an activity like painting - it grows with your kids.

I'll make you look at all of these great photos, and below, some of my thoughts on ways to do painting with a 2 year old.

Some of my thoughts and tips on painting with 2 year olds:

1. Keep a tub of wet wipes handy for quick cleanups along the way.

2. Expect (and plan for) everything around you and your toddler to get painted on.

3. Start with just the primary colors and talk about mixing them to get different colors.

4. Related to #3, buy big bottles of inexpensive paints. At this age, quantity matters a lot more than quality. One of Genghis's favorite parts of painting is requesting (and receiving) more paint.

5. Try to paint using different brushes and sponges, as well as fingers and hands. Finger, thumb, and hand prints are a lot of fun.

6. Use a painter's palette (a paper plate taped to the table) to squirt paints on, and have toddlers transfer paint to a paper. This works well for generating a few "finished" pieces to send to Grandma and Grandpa (and yes, Grandmas and Grandpas out there, we are working on getting some of Genghis's pieces to you!)

7. Use painting as a way to have meaningful conversations.
  • Tell stories about what happened that day (e.g. "Do you want to paint what we did this morning? We went to the park. You could paint trees with green. Or a yellow slide.")
  • Talk about space and movement (e.g. "Let's paint way up high on the paper. Now let's paint way down low. Can you paint fast? Can you paint slow?")
  • Explore emotions ("When I'm mad I feel like painting like this... When I'm happy I feel like painting like this ...")

Friday, September 7, 2012

friday photos

It's Xena time! She's so cute...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

toddler activities: kiddie pools

After owning a kiddie pool for over a year and seeing some of the wonderful and hilarious things that can come from it, I think this makes the cut for fantastic toys to own.

This fall and winter I'm hoping to explore some different ways to use kiddie pools, especially indoors. But it's just barely after Labor Day, I don't even want to think about the weather getting colder. So today I'm going to list some of my ideas on having good ol' water splash and play with toddlers.

#1: Bag up everything you need and bring it outside. I get a big canvas bag and fill it with our pool toys, sunscreen, snacks, lunch, water, and towels. Makes set up and clean up much easier.

#2: Involve the kids from start to finish. Genghis loves helping set up the pool, turn on the water, choose toys to take out to the pool, and dump the water out at the end. I usually don't like activities where I have to do set up and clean up by myself, because then I spend more time managing the activity than enjoying it.

#3: Get in the water, too. I've noticed a huge difference in how Genghis plays with the water and how long he plays in it when I get in with him.

#4: Use bowls and balls. Our pool toys mostly consist of Genghis' colorful plastic bowls, a few large tupperware, and an assortment of balls. We have a few squirting fish and squeaking sharks. Water is a great medium for moving, dumping, swirling, and floating - you don't need a lot of other stuff.

#5: Dish soap bubbles. Squirt some dish soap into the streaming hose to make great bubbles. I suggest holding your thumb over the hose so the water comes out harder, which makes more foaming bubbles.

#6: Invest in a big-ish pool. I have an inflatable pool about 5 feet in diameter. It cost less than $20. I love having the extra room in the pool, and the inflatable sides turn out to be really fun for bouncing plastic sharks or people.

Friday, August 24, 2012

friday photos: big blue armadillo?

I love seeing my kids play with things in unexpected ways.

Our inflatable swimming pool, for example.

We spent the first two hours of the morning splashing in the pool. When it was time to clean up, we dumped out the water in a huge waterfall (the only acceptable way to say goodbye to swimming is to give the water a grand exit). I turned the pool over to dry out, and instantly Genghis and his playmate turned it into a ... well, it's just more fun to watch.

We should go swimming more often.

Monday, August 20, 2012

10 stay-at-home date ideas

Either because we are totally unaware of the exciting things happening around us, or because we are tied down to kids being in bed at home, Abe and I tend to not get out much on the weekends.

And so, through the years, we've tried out many different stay-at-home dates. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Learn how to play an old-timey game like Cribbage or Backgammon. We were on a Cribbage streak for several weeks and had a ridiculously fun time saying (as the rules state) "One for His knob!" at the appropriate time. We also played Backgammon by printing out the board on paper and playing with nickels/pennies as pieces. Bonus: this will prepare you for retirement.

2. Read poems, a play, or short story out loud. If it's October, Edgar Allen Poe does not disappoint. But I'd worry less about what you read and just start reading.

3. Play "Six degrees to ..." on Wikipedia. This game is probably only good for about 20-30 minutes, but it's pretty fun. Each person thinks of something (person, place, concept ... whatever) and then you both say what you were thinking. Start on the Wikipedia page for one of those things, and then navigate to the Wikipedia page for the other thing, using only the URLs on the pages you visit. The goal is to use 6 or less links to get from one page to the other.

If I remember right, we did this for "Gordon B. Hinckley" (who is a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and "NASCAR".

4. Make dinner together and eat by candlelight. Try something new, or just make what you have on hand. Any meal tastes better when you make it together and then set the atmosphere with candles. We spread out several tea lights along the middle of the table.

5. Make a new dessert together. This requires a bit of planning to have the ingredients on-hand. Or you can do a last-minute trip to the store. This can be a good option if you've already done dinner with the kids and date night is starting a bit later in the evening.

6. Make a board game. Okay, maybe a little ambitious. Here's the back story. Abe and I have recently wanted to play an old board game called Survive! It's not longer in print, so is a bit difficult (and pricey) to get a hold of. Plus, last month we cracked down on our budget, so we're extra price sensitive at the moment.

Several years ago, our cousins Eric and Sherry actually hand-made this exact gameInspired, we have recently set out to create our own copy. The materials: large foam sheets, air dry clay, markers, paint. The price tag: $15. And it will definitely take up several evenings of date nights.

7. Watch the "Horatio Hornblower" A&E miniseriesMovies are sort of cheating, and Abe came very close to rolling his eyes when I mentioned this particular one, so maybe this isn't a sure-fire date night idea. But I have fond memories of watching this miniseries as date nights, either at our house or with friends. They are well done, but just corny enough to make for fun viewing with someone else.

8. Drink hot chocolate, smoothies, or lemonade. This is a great go-to for busy times - when you want to make some space for being together, but don't have much time or energy. Simply sitting down at the end of the day over a glass of something hot or cold and chatting can do wonders for keeping close.

9. Play or listen to music. I play the piano, Abe is learning guitar, and we both like to sing. Any combination of these makes for a fun evening.

If you're not into creating music, listen to some new things together. Youtube is great for exploring old music videos, especially Christmas songs from the 80s. I just got into an app called Songza, which has awesome situation-based playlists ("Unwinding after a long day" or "Working or studying - no lyrics"). This Monday afternoon, it suggested playlists for the situation "Walking away from an exploding building". Possibilities included Epic Soundtracks (think, Lord of the Rings) or Superheros (Avengers and the like).

10. Build a fort. One of my favorite methods for inspiring creativity for something like this is to set limits. Build a fort in under 5 minutes. Build a fort using only brooms, blankets, and bungee cords. Build a fort - no hands allowed. Note: this is a completely untested date idea. We have never tried to build forts together. But maybe we will now.

Friday, August 3, 2012

friday photos

Genghis celebrated his second birthday this week. It's been sort of a rolling celebration. Gifts one night, cake the next, and ice cream tonight. Unfortunately, that order of events meant that he covered his new birthday clothes in ice cream. But who wants to give a kid ice cream in a cup?

Note the ice cream cone in the last photo in this series: I think that's the cone dripping at the bottom, not ice cream.

Also, after eating a gigantic cupcake just before bed yesterday, Genghis woke up several times in the night asking for milk. I swear he was being paid to run an ad campaign.

Friday, July 27, 2012

friday photos

We've been lacking in photos lately, in part because I managed to lose our camera. ... You know what, I'd feel better if I phrased that in the passive: our camera is lost

The Zen approach often works well in cases of missing, non-critical items. Wait patiently, and the item will soon turn up while you are doing something totally unrelated. Unfortunately, it's been over a week and no camera sightings.

Luckily, I have this great series of photos from our trip to Wisconsin a few weeks back. Who do you think is the older cousin here?

Maybe Genghis and I will practice singing Jack Johnson's "The Sharing Song" this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

it's finals week

You know how most college students go crazy at the library during finals week, cramming for exams, writing papers in their own blood, cursing all group projects ever created?

That was never me.

I either had professors who gave finals during the last week of class, so they could have more vacation time, or I had done well enough during the semester that I didn't need to do very well on finals. (Or the reason could simply be that I was an English major.)

Anyway, finals week were the best. Because I didn't have any classes to go to, I had just enough on my plate to keep from going bored, and I could usually talk people into participate in fun alternatives to studying in order to stay sane.

For the last month, I feel like I have been making up for all of those lovely finals weeks.

I am not in any classes. But every deadline in existence has been on my calendar. Along with doctor's appointments, house-hunting, Major Financial Decisions, exercise goals, birthdays, vacations (ack - did that just make my to-do list? something is amiss). I feel like my body is breathing but my brain is not.

I think I'm going through a grown-up growth spurt. Terribly busy and totally unexciting.

Does that mean I can eat that last brownie to make me feel better?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

toddler activities - home on a hot day

Before it was a billion degrees (and don't even make me go to the heat index), I got the great idea to scrub the walls of my screened-in porch. This wasn't totally crazy. They do get pretty dirty with wind and rain coming through.

The job took a while, but to my delight that Genghis was incredibly helpful. He industriously used the squirt bottle to wet the walls and even tried his hand and wiping them down. In fact, he stayed out cleaning the walls for about 30 minutes after I had finished. Although evidence suggests that a good portion of that time he was squirting the water directly into his mouth. (We'll stick with water or water/vinegar cleaners for now).

Playing with the water bottle is on my checklist for hot afternoons at home.

Another idea for hot days inside? Flashlights in the closet. If you have a walk-in closet, laundry room, or dark room, take the kids in and turn on some flashlights. Genghis was really pleased that we had a regular flashlight that gave off yellow-orange light and an LED-light that was more blue. A twist on this would be to rubber band a piece of tissue paper over the light for different colors.

We also like ending every day with Otter Pops (pre-bath).

Friday, July 13, 2012

friday photos, with a long preface

Where does the time go?

Actually, I can tell you exactly where.
- A week of strep throat
- A week of vacation
- An increasing stack of work assignments
- A faster-than-expected job search for Abe that leaves us making a decision about graduation, employment and cross-country moves by next week
- An adorable but biologically needy 4 month old
- An adorable but psychologically exhausting 2 year old

All of the non-essentials have been totally neglected, this blog included. (Baking cookies and making smoothies on a regular basis, by the way, is definitely an essential.)

It was eye-opening, really, to realize that the world basically keeps moving along just as it did before, without me blogging about it. Who knew? Of course, this realization tempted me to never click the "new post" button on this blog again. Maybe not open my Google Reader. Maybe even delete my Facebook account! (confession: I go on Facebook approximately once a month.)

But then I remembered that I just got my first smartphone, so I'm stuck with social media for the time being. (another confession: when I had my flip phone, I slept with it by my bedside as an alarm clock. I haven't yet slept with my smartphone by my bedside. It's unnerving to have something that intelligent right by me while I sleep blissfully unaware. No offense, Abe.)

And so, after that meta-analysis, on to some popcorn photos.

These are a few shots from a trip to Wisconsin with lots of family. Here Genghis prepares for the merry-go-round at Green Bay's Bay Beach amusement park.

The fearless gunner.

 Serious play at the Green Bay Children's Museum.

Xena leaning back to watch the mounted T.V. at Zesty's lunch stop.

And that's it for today. Maybe not the best capture of all the fun and excitement around here, but it's something.