Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Grand Bluffs

Not to leave you hanging about the remainder of our fabulous week of Spring Break, I thought I would share one final outing idea with you who are St. Louis near or bound.
The Grand Bluff was another locale I researched on a recent trek to my favorite bookstore, Barnes & Noble.  (Who doesn't like train tables, frozen cappucinos and racks of virgin cupcake and self-help books??)  I learned that it was the tallest bluff overlooking the Missouri River.  It was not far from St. Louis (although admittedly farther than I thought or had planned).  And it was an adventure.

I was in.

Now.  There was the question of the children.  Remember how their hearts desired all things ChuckECheese and having friends over whereas I was more interested in biking across old bridges and ... apparently... hiking up tall mountains?  Yeah?  Well, we got there.

It was amazing, actually.  The Katy Trail goes right along the river/bluff in Montgomery County.  For our 10th Anniversary, Hubs and I rode by bike the same stretch of road the kids and I were on that day of Spring Break.

I told them stories of the old "On Walden Pond-esque" woman we'd come across while resting near her freakishly foreboding property.  And the honor system snack bar in the middle of absolutely no where where you can grab a bottle of water or a granola bar (unlike my ever least-favorite Mean Park gas station in the city...). 

And we drove by this gorgeous, towering cliff-like structure, at which point I chirped, "If you wonder what a 'bluff' is, get a look at THAT!"  Around one more river-road corner we went and nearly ran right into the microscopic road sign that read "Grand River Bluff --->."  We pulled onto a gravel road.   And eventually climbed that same ginormous rock wall...only via a leafy, wooded path replete with animal tracks and butterflies flitting about.  And one antler.

Rabid dogs barked.  Jedd came out of his planked shack again (I kid.  Total Chain of Rocks reference.  And my inherent ability to be a chicken who takes her kids on apparently dangerous, death-defying adventures on Spring Break all in the name of fun and togetherness! ... OK, I actually only partially kid...)

Anywho, once I convince you to visit this amazing monument...

We climbed (I carried Sashi). 

And climbed (And carried Sashi). 

And climbed (And carried the 40 pound 3 year-old). 

I believe at one point T said Diamond Head was easier (I tended to agree...when Daddy carried Sashi).

And once we reached the summit, everyone gushed that the views made it totally worth the blood, sweat, and tears. 

We made it back down in record time, me joking about the time Daddy and I literally ran down the mountain last August in the Redwood Forest in an effort to visit the wineries of the Russian River Valley near SanFransisco before they closed for the evening.

So in true Jackson spirit, we found a suitable reward back in Herman (I was just bummed Time for Pie had closed - and the town's authentic german bakery - closed, too!  But just for the day...).  And we even stopped in at Wings Ablazin' and grabbed Big Daddy a bucket of yummy wings for dinner!

It was a good day.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Looking Upward

Basketball season is over.  Even our brackets didn't pan out well.  (I originally poo-pooed hubby's idea to give any attention to March Madness.  I admit it.  I was wrong.  The kids and I had a HOOT cheering for teams!  Who knew there was a winning Gorganzola team??)  Anywho, before we hit full swing baseball season, I figured I'd better re-cap our first year of basketball at Upward.

Can I tell you it is my favorite sport experience EVER?  Someone told me that - the night of try-outs.  I probably didn't pay much heed to it, but hands down.  Best EVER.

I don't know if it was the coaches. 

It was.

I don't know if it was the Christian message at every game.

It was.

I don't know if it was embracing a variety of abilities.

It was.

Upward Basketball is the Best.  And WE totally would have taken KU, too.

I'm just sayin'.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cake War :: Boy Scout Edition

You all know I love to bake.  I also love watching Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss.  For someone who really doesn't watch a whole lot of tv, I love love love those two shows!  Fortunately for me, my oldest daughter is becoming quite a fan of baking and of watching baking shows on tv, too.  We watch them together.  :) 

I've also started a collection of cupcake books, a list of favorite baking blogs, and have made a fair share of both cupcakes and {birthday} cakes alike.  Whereas I used to be the girl who bought boxed cakes and canned frostings, I have come to appreciate melting chocolate for homemade cakes and creating a nice homemade butter cream.  I would call us - me and The Pooks - amateur oficionados.  We know good cake when we see it.

You can imagine, then, that when the call came from the boys' Scout Pack leader that there was to be a cake baking contest, I believe but will not verify that I did a little happy hippy dance, flung my hands in the air, and shouted "Yahoo!"  May or may not have been me.  But I was stoked.

First rule in Boy Scout Cake Baking is that the boy perfoms 80% of the work.  In my book, that includes coming up with the theme of the cake.  T immediately decided "Camping" without hesitation.  He baked a two layer cake.  Dyed vanilla frosting a perfect shade of emerald green.  Frosted the sides and top in an un-uniform 'grassy' forest bed.  He piped stars along the top and bottom of the cake.  He frosted ice cream cones to look like conifers.  T arranged poptarts to mimic a tent, pretzels and M&M bits for a fire, and - using a technique from Hello, Cupcake - formed marshmallows, Starburst, and mini Vanilla Wafers into sleeping campers.  His creation?  Divine.  His persistence and patience and ultimately perseverance? Inmitable. 

He did not win.

Meiners chose to look through my cake books.  I guided him to Hello, Cupcake - knowing cupcakes would be slightly easier for his 6 year-old hands to manage.  Much to my excitement, he chose "Popcorn" cupcakes, using mini marshmallows to create the kernels of popcorn.  I cut the mini marshmallows into three pieces for each popcorn kernel (mini marshmallows, a pair of scissors, and a 6 year-old middle child did not seem like a good equation).  Meiners dolloped frosting on a whole mini marshmallow and smooshed it into the center of each 3 piece clover-shaped cut mallow.  Over 200 times.  He baked 24 cupcakes with his grammie and frosted each.  He and I positioned each of the 'popcorn kernels' onto the cupcake - at least 4 white clusters and 3 yellow clusters apiece.  On 8 of them, he sprinkled powdered cheese from a package of mac&cheese.  On another 8, he drizzled melted chocolate and melted caramels.  He left the final 8 plain - or 'buttered.'  Then we filled an old BoyScout popcorn tin with newspapers and piled his 3 'flavors' into the tin and titled the creation "Boy Scout Popcorn: YUM!"

He did not win.

When we arrived home, their sister stealthily disappeared into her room.  Ten minutes later, she emerged and presented the boys with their award. 

We then celebrated their hardwork and creativity by cutting into and enjoying their fabulous, award-winning, clever, tasty, and absolutely perfect Boy Scout cakes.

Win or lose, I have the best kids.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I learned from Martha Stewart

I received the latest issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine.  (I love that my mom gave this to me as a Christmas gift.  Plus, we got one for getting one, so I also gifted a subscription to my b/f!  Score!  All for a very reasonable price - double score!  I could keep going - you know, like it's in my mailbox at the end of my drive.  Score...!  It's a gift that puts fun in functional ---->  no clutter! --- Score!...)

Anyway ~ I know you've all been dying to know what came of 52 recipes in 28 days

So, without further adieu...


I failed.

Well, one could say I 'failed.'  But really, I'd say I was incredibly successful.  (There's always a way to spin - just look at the media and politicians...ahem - I digress.) 

I succeeded because we tried a heckuva lot of new recipes.  We ate shrimp.  We ate chick peas.  We ate ground pork.  Maybe you and your li'l peeps eat these things all the time.  We do not.  Well, we did not.  But certain recipes that we would certainly not have tried before were hits!  And some were flops.  And that's OK.  I'm just grateful that there were some that the kids promised they would eat again.  :)

I succeeded because I didn't go broke buying food...that was healthy.  Spinach.  Pineapple.  Fresh thyme and parsley and ginger root.  I am flabbergasted by how little my total bill came to each week (actually - I only shopped twice, so bi-weekly) despite how much food I bought!  And the fact that I really only had to go to the store a handful of times - even for an item I missed here or there - was wonderful (no nightly heading to Schnucks to grab some vital something or other because I didn't know what I was going to fix until 5:12PM).

Speaking of which, I succeeded because I had a plan.  And having a plan is actually quite liberating.  Even if I changed my mind and decided paperdalle pasta did not sound as wonderful Wednesday as I'd thought Tuesday, at least I had a backup plan of bread and shrimp skewers that I could make while pushing paperdalle to Thursday...Relief.  And less gas.  You know - from taking fewer last minute trips to Schucks.  *ahem*

And finally, I succeeded because I tried something extra-ordinary.  It's not everday (well, it is Everyday Food) that just anyone will announce "I shall make every recipe in this cookbook"...aside from Julie Powell). I survived, my marriage and my children survived, it was fun, and I really didn't care if I actually made it through 52 recipes in 28 days.  Sure, that was my ultimate goal.  But I realized about half-way through the process/experiment that it didn't matter if I truly finished.  I'd already won.

Now, in case you're wondering - and I'm pretty sure you are - I decided not to post the recipes after day 2 because I didn't want to be sued a la This Young House turned Young House Love.  And I didn't post more pictures - even though I took pictures of everything - because I'm basically lazy.  And since receiving the newest issue of Everyday Food, I have officially decided not to make every recipe in a cookbook again.  Except cupcakes.  Martha Stewart's Cupcakes now sits on my shelf.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to make every cupcake in it in a year.  One per week.  Anyone want to help me eat them?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

I know you'll believe me when I tell you St. Louis is quite seriously a great place to explore.  I mean, you already know about the arch - even if you don't live here!  But we have a wonderful zoo that is - get this - FREE.  We also have another cool spot called Grant's Farm which is free, too, although you pay to park.  Anyway, there are tons of fun, inexpensive things to do around here with your kids.  Tons.

I think we've done them all.  Seriously.

When I think about things to do during our annual Spring Break StayCay, in fact, I'm beginning to feel a sense of de'ja vu.  Facing a week at home with the kids and no beach in sight (I quite literally pine for Hawaii, I kid you not), I really needed some new ideas to entertain us.  The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge proved to be one such adventure. 

:: watch Sashi in each of the following photos ::

First of all, everyone was very, very, very excited about the prospect of riding their bikes across a bridge over the Mississippi River.  (*cue sarcastic laughter*)

Daddy actually told me, "Don't do it."  He was convinced the Chain of Rocks Bridge was a death trap wrought with semi-tractor trailers, racing motorists, and a 12" path for only those bikers crazy and daring enough to risk their lives to cross it.

And maybe the boys were more into dinosaur battles and wrestling each other on the living room floor than the prospect of hiking their bikes into the back of the van only to risk *see above*. 

And Sashi, the whole time, repeated, "I do not like this.  This is not fun."  Over and over again as we headed into Illinois.

I was pretty, fairly, almost certain, however, that the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic.  At least I thought so.  And since Pookie and I planned to run the distance of the bridge and back of 2 miles (I'll tell you more about her upcoming 5K race another day), I packed lunch and off we went for what proved to be - a wonderful experience!  The kids are already making plans to do this again and again!

When we arrived in IL, however, countless signs read "Dead End" and "Road Closed" and "Do not enter."  Surveillance cameras marked a path that I timidly approached by van.  I nervously rehearsed to myself what I would say if stopped by gunpoint a la military base. (I would plead ignorance, speedily maneuver a u-turn, and get the heck on out of there!!!)  Fortunately, I summoned the courage to keep driving straight and, eventually, we came upon a barren parking lot and a bridge proclaiming "Old Chain of Rocks" (and no army vehicles or Jed Clampett-looking characters!).  And no vehicular traffic whatsoever.  Unless you consider my two boys and little Sash on their self-propelled two-wheelers 'vehicular.' 

The round-trip across the old route 66, two lane bridge lasted about 30 minutes since Pooks and I were on foot.  We saw two antique water towers built in the river.  We marveled at Route 66 paraphernalia.  We ended at a single picnic table eating ham sandwiches and scarfing down Girl Scout cookies.  And, like I said, the big kids are planning annual trips.  Perhaps even one for each season in between.

Win won for Mommy and our St. Louis StayCay!!!  
See where else we spent our week tomorrow!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Break 2011

Months ago I sat on the couch with my sweetie and whined I meaned begged I mean asked if we could please, please, please GO somewhere this year during spring break.  It seems every year that this week rolls around I find myself planning the St. Louis StayCay.  Not that there's anything wrong with's just been the case every year for 7 years.  And apparently I was getting a 7 year itch to travel!!!  But because Hubby was in Southern California the first two weeks of March (yeah - I know), he felt he needed to be in the office rather than at the beach.  (*hrumph*)  So we were in the Lou once again.

Once I made amends with that (which was, like, 20 seconds, because really I love our town and I love being with my kids more), I asked the kids what they wanted to do - Zoo (always!).  Check.  ChuckECheese.  Check.  Friends over.  Check.  That left at least two free days.  I trekked to the bookstore looking for ideas on other things to do. 

A great nature book I found spoke highly of two spots we'd never been.  The first - The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge - is a spot I've often wanted to visit.  The second - The Grand Bluff - sounded dangerous and steep and different and exciting!  The week was planned!

Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn't show up to play near the beginning of the week - when I'd planned to do our outdoor activities.  My attitude stunk.  The kids got squirrely.  My patience wained.  The kids got squirrelier.  But in the end, I think we made it a memorable week.  I look forward to sharing some of our adventures in the next few days!  (My computer is finally home from the shop - for good?? - so I should be good to my word this time!!!)  See you soon!

Monday, March 14, 2011

By This Time Next Year...or better

Usually by the end of the school year, I get my act together.  Just in time to enjoy 2 1/2 months off and then we start the attempt to figure out organization, life with four children, and the school year all over again.

A few weeks ago, Mr T lost out on a very important opportunity.  Apparently, his gifted resource teacher sent home a note indicating that T needed to be at school early on the morning of the 15th if he wanted to be considered for a city-wide math tournament (math is his thang, people).  I found the note on the 28th.   Crumpled.  At the bottom of his backpack.  With stars all over it.  To remind him to give it to me.  The contest was scheduled for March 2nd.  I emailed his resource teacher and said, "Hey, I know it's a great object lesson in organizational skills if he can't, but is there any chance he could still participate?"  She responded, "No, no.  You're right it's a great object lesson in organizational skills.  And no he cannot."

I was livid.

A little at her.  A little at him.  A little at me.  And a lot all around.

Fast forward a few weeks...We do things differently around here now.  {Just in time for a 10-day break for (apparently *snow*) spring.}  Every day after school, the kids line their backpacks up at my feet.  The first kid shows up and we empty out the backpack together.  I sign all the necessary folders and file all the papers and give them a dollar for Hat Day and we zip the backpack closed and that kid hangs his/her backpack up in their cubby in the garage.  I do this for all four kids.  Immediately after school.  Every day.

On Sunday nights, I sit down with the kids with three sheets of blank paper.  Each (big) child is responsible for making a 5-day checklist of the things he/she has to do before and after school and before bedtime for each day of the week.  So, for example, if your library day is Wednesday, you're going to write on your Tuesday night list, "Find library books."  Or if you have basketball practice Thursday night, Thursday after school will read: "Lay out basketball clothes."  Likewise, if Mom and Dad have shelled out a few hundred dollars for you to play violin, there is a spot every day for "Violin Practice."

The change has been remarkable.  Astounding.  Amazingly Awesome!  Just in time for (apparently *Snow*) Spring Break.  But nevertheless, papers are turned in on time.  Kids aren't calling from the office to ask me to bring up their library books.  Or their hat.  Or their dollar and their hat.

We're trying to raise mature, independent, responsible members of society.  Too bad it took losing out on an important math tournament to remind me.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's That Time Again!

This is the third year in a row that I have been writing a blog when Lent arrives.  One of the best things about writing is the ability to reread what is written.  So, in years past, I have given up eating out and I've given up coffee out.  I've limited computer time and finished The Love Dare.  I've gotten rid of 40 bags of things in 40 days.  Before written documentation, I gave up sugar.  And chocolate.  While pregnant.  ...that was the year we went to Disney and I gained 15 pounds the week we were gone from eating little frozen sticks of chocolatey Mickey wonder.  Oooooh my mouth waters even as I type.  So sugar and chocolate had to go that year.  This year, notsomuch. 
{  I <3 chocolate :)  }
This year I've decided to spin the 40 bags in 40 days concept into 40 minutes for 40 days.  I vow to work on 'extra' house projects (not the mountains of laundry or the stacks of dirty dishes or straightening, dusting, or vacuuming.  But the extra piles of stuff that I've let go for a year.  Again.) for 40 minutes each day.  I plan to not go to Bread Co on my own (but as I informed Hubs this morning - he can go for me as often as he'd like!!!).  And it's time to get serious about this Nashville run coming up again in April.  So I'm hitting the streets with my new Brooks.
We're also hitting the streets with our bikes.  I challenged the kids to ride their bikes to and from school every day during Lent.  After I figured out that I come and go from my driveway 6 times just getting the kids to school, and with rising gas prices, I thought it would be a healthy challenge for all of us.  The thing is, there is no distinctly safe route to take to school.  One way requires crossing a busy street - twice.  The other way requires traveling on a busy road for half a block.  Oh.  And did I mention there are no bike racks at our school? 
I enlisted the permission and help from our principal (love that man) and we succeeded yesterday in getting three kids to school at two different times.  Parked the bikes in the school office.  And traveled safely home in the PM.  I felt GREAT not even getting the van out but one time!   Funny thing is, the kids thought going to school was way too cold.  By the time I picked them up in the afternoon, I was pretty convinced my idea stunk.  But they were ROCK STARS.  Apparently absolutely everyone at school saw them riding their bikes that morning and now they are in it to win it.  Except this morning.  We let this one slide since Sashi goes to a different school at a different time and by the time they all managed to get ready, it was too late to ride.  Not to mention freezing, so we'll be back riding hot and heavy after spring break.  Weather permitting, of course.
What about you?  Are you giving anything up - or adding anything in - for Lent?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

on motivation

I spent some time considering Why Am I Doing This Cooking Challenge?  Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that it was about COLOR.

Now how does that make sense?

Well, I've determined that there are times when I live in a world of grey.  Let's call it a room, just for the designer in me.  I look at the room ~ my schedule ~ and I plow through the tasks and everything sort of starts to blend together and it's not really a bad room ~ it has all the ammenities and it's quite comfortable, but really?  Really when you look around the place you just see grey.

So I've discovered about myself that every year I find a throw pillow.  In a lovely vibrant shade of something.  Maybe garnet red.  Cuz I love red.  Maybe a tempting turquoise.  Or an apple green.  Cuz I'm current and hip and trendy like that.  But every year, I splash a little extra life into this room I  The year I wrote letters to all my friends - every month.  The year I devoted Lent to giving up Icee Mochas.  *CHALLENGING!*  The year I decided to run a marathon.  The year I cooked and baked every recipe in the Martha Stewart Everyday Foods Magazine.

It gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Maybe instead of corporate accolades.  Or awards.  Or prestige.  Or pats on the back.  It's my own little way to say, "Yes I Can."  (*cue Obama Inaugural speech*)

So, anyway.  In the silence that is known as my blog sometimes, know that I'm over here...redecorating.  It's not world changing.  Maybe in the scheme of things, it's not even really life changing.  But it's what I do ` and this is why I do it. 

Do you set new, unusual, interesting challenges for yourself?  What drives you to succeed in them?  What derails you?  Why do you do it?
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