Friday, January 27, 2012

Perfect Picture Books- All Aboard The Dinotrain

It's Friday and that means it's time for Perfect Picture Books, thanks to the amazing efforts of Susanna Hill. Earlier this week I finally took a trip to the library with both my son, the four year old who chose last week's book, and a list of books I've been wanting to read with him since this series started. The library only had two of them, but I'm hoping the others will arrive soon via inter-library loan. We had a great time, he and I, reading new books-some of which he asked to read over again. It's amazing how much young minds absorb! So, for this week I went back to our bookshelf and found a book that I loved reading as much as my kids enjoyed listening to it. I'm still hoping for the Dinoplane book to come out!

Title: All Aboard the Dinotrain
Written by: Deb Lund
Illustrated by: Howard Fine
Published by Harcourt, Inc., 2006
Suitable for: Preschool and up.
Theme/Topics: Dinosaurs, trains, accidents, recovery, fun
Overview/Synopsis: "They're loading up the dinotrain/ With coal and lumber, oil and grain/ And high above the whistle's chord,/ Ring dinoshouts of "All Aboard." This is the opening from the first page. As the dinosaurs, of several varying types board the train, it's clear each one his has own job, and all are looking forward to the ride. Amidst mishaps and challenges, the dinosaurs arrive safely at their destination and are already looking forward to the next adventure on the Dinoplane.
Activities: Have children name their favorite dinosaurs and make a train for them. Take toy dinosaurs and put them on their own train to follow the adventures of the Dinotrain. Ask children if they could be a dinosaur, whit kind would it be?
Why I Chose This Book: I picked this book up years ago on a whim while in the bookstore. It turned out to be an instant hit in my house with both of my boys. It was also one of my favorites to read once I mastered the meter of the rhyme, which is not difficult; I'm sure I was just tired.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Stuck At Home

I am stuck at home today with a sick child. We are well beyond the drippy nose phase here, complete with a fever and glassy eyes. So, in A2ZMommyland, this means my plans shift, change, and rearrange. What was planned? Nothing crazy, coffee with one friend, a walk in the park with another, and then some errands- I desperately need new potholders and one of my favorite spice blends is just about gone.
What does this mean for how my day will actually play out? Well, I've got some reading to do, some writing to do (and see that 12 x 12 in12 button?), laundry to fold, a closet to clean out, and some experimenting to do with my Crock Pot. I'm going to try Chocolate Molten Lava Cakes. They are my absolute favorite, next to Creme Brulee, and with Valentine's Day coming up this could be a great family dessert.
I used to get very frustrated with these types of changes in plans. Having spent years "just home" with little kids, once they got into school the time my time was so precious that giving it up used to be frustrating. I've since learned to take it in stride and remember that this is why I'm home. No work to call in to, no meetings to cancel, no shushing of small children in the background. Been there, done that. How great is it to be a write-from-home mom? Really great.
I will take my day in parts and pieces, tending to my youngest who needs a little extra TLC and my closet, which needs a lot of TLC. In the end, what can get done will, and what's left will just shift to tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Osso Buco And My Crock Pot

My Osso Buco is a lot like my chicken soup and my spaghetti sauce: a little different each time I make it. I won't say if that's a good thing or a bad thing, it's just my thing.
I loved Osso Buco the first time I tried it–which was when my dad ventured into cooking Italian dishes that ranged from home made pasta to Veal Piccata to, you guessed it, Osso Buco. I've been hooked ever since. The difficulty was that it was tough to find a recipe 16 years ago when I wanted to make my own. I am lazy, so I went by memory of what my dad did rather than buy and search through dozens of cookbooks. The internet was in its infancy then so an online search was not an option. Hence, the slight difference each time I made it. I can honestly say, however, that there was never a bad version made from my kitchen. 
What I have found I don't care for so much was ordering it in a restaurant and receiving meat that was not fall-off-the-bone tender and was sitting in an tomato based sauce, rather than a lemon white wine sauce brightened up with some fresh parsley. So, I have stuck to making my own, and loved every minute of it. I like it the way I make it–kind of like Mom’s Thanksgiving Turkey. It just isn't the same when someone else makes it. So, this recipe is a combination of what my dad did, what I have done, and a the one recipe I was able to find several years ago when I started making my own.
What I love about making this in my Crock Pot (the best Christmas present I have ever received!) is that I can start at 10 a.m. and dinner is ready whenever we are hungry. For my kids, that's somewhere around 5 (I have a snack cut-off time of 4:30) and for me, it's whenever my husband gets home from work. My Crock Pot keeps the dish warm without drying it out which is very beneficial in my house. The added bonus- my kids love this meal and I'm not a make-two-kinds-of-dinner mom. The photo unfortunately doesn't show the true beauty of this dish- I had a different camera then but haven't had time to remake the recipe and take new pictures.
Slow Cooker Osso Buco
4 veal shanks
1 cup of flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 large onion cut in eighths
3 carrots cut in quarters lengthwise
2-3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2-3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
Juice from ½ lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 small can of diced tomatoes, drained
Italian Seasoning, lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste
What’s Next:
  • Put flour, salt and pepper in a pie plate or shallow dish.
  • Coat veal shanks in flour-salt-pepper mixture. Set aside.
  • Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven or large wide pot.
  • Brown veal shanks in olive oil for 3-4 minutes per side. Place in slow cooker.
  • Next, saute onions, carrots, and garlic in Dutch oven, adding more oil if necessary. These should only be cooked for 5-7 minutes. The vegetables should be browned, but not too soft. Toward the end of cooking, add a generous amount of Italian seasoning. Transfer to slow cooker with veal shanks.
  • Add chicken broth to slow cooker, filling to about 2/3 of the way up to the sides of the veal shanks.
  • Add white wine, bay leaves, lemon juice and cover.
  • Cook on high for 4-6 hours.
  • About 30 minutes before cooking is done, add the parsley, diced tomatoes and lemon zest if desired.
Notes from my experience
  • While I don’t typically enjoy browning meat before placing in my CrockPot, for this recipe it’s definitely necessary. The shanks are very thick and with so many mild flavors, the flavor from the browned meat really is necessary.
  • Recently, Costco started selling 4-packs of veal shanks at a very reasonable price. I paid roughly $16 or $17, which is very affordable.
  • I typically don’t stress over what kind of white wine to use when cooking. I use whatever is leftover in my refrigerator.
  • My kids ate this, too. I told my 3-year-old it was chicken and that seemed to work out well for everyone.
  • I served this over risotto, something I don’t normally make. In the spirit of keeping dinner time manageable, it was from a box, but the flavor goes so well with Osso Buco, that I just had to do it.

Perfect Picture Books- What Makes A Rainbow

Today is Friday and that means Perfect Picture books from Susanna Hill. I have read so many great titles of books from other people sharing, it's really just amazing.
The book I chose for this week, I have to say, is one that I didn't choose. My now four-year old son chose it. Not because he said, "Mommy, this is the book you should include this week," but because since he received it for his birthday, just last week, he hasn't put it down. Both his older sister and brother have read it to him, and I read it to him three times yesterday afternoon. He loves it, and to me that is the sign of a perfect picture book.
Image courtesy of
Title: What Makes A Rainbow?
Written by: Betty Schwartz
Illustrated by: Dona Turner
Published by Piggy Toes Press, 2003
Suitable for: 12 months to any older sibling who can read to a younger one.
Theme/Topics: Rainbows, colors, field animals and insects
Overview/Synopsis: From the first page: Little Rabbit and his mother were sitting under a big, red flower petal. "Look!" said Little Rabbit. "It stopped raining." "Yes," said Mama Rabbit. "Soon we'll see a rainbow." The story continues to follow Little Rabbit's search for the colors of the rainbow, all with the help of animals and insects in the forest.
Activities: Look for rainbows (I always do with my kids after a storm). Have children arrange the colors of a rainbow, and then rearrange them. What do they like/dislike about it?
Why I chose this book: I chose it because there is something so simple, beautiful, and appealing about it that my son constantly wants it read to him. That's worth sharing with others.

Monday, January 16, 2012

There's A New Button On My Blog

And therefore a new challenge. Launched by Julie Hedlund this month, the 12 x 12 in 2012 is a great way for writers of children's books to communicate, brainstorm, and most importantly keep motivated.
In an earlier post, I wrote that I abstained from a Perfect Picture Book Day post to focus a bit on what my future holds. As I told a friend the other day, my writing seems to be the thing that fits around my being a mother, rather than the other way around. From what I've read, that seems to be the norm, rather than the exception.
I started writing almost four years ago, around six months after my youngest, and last, child was born. It started as a way to prove the nay-sayers, namely my father, wrong and show that it is possible to have three children and survive at the same time. Writing was my outlet and continues to be to this day. I felt I had something useful to say and share with other mothers, and who wouldn't want to read about that? While a manuscript was produced, that was really all that happened with it- good thing too because the writing isn't very good and scares me. It was my own writing so I can say that.
Since then though, I learned there was a need among moms, slow cooker recipes. So, I moved from being the one to prove the nay-sayers wrong to being a resource for the busy mom who needs an easy, and early, way to make dinner for her family. Crock It! was born and still lives on today, two years later.
I mentioned earlier that my writing revolves around my being a mother. Lucky for me too. My children are an inspiration and the main source of content for the children's book I've been working on for about three years. The upside? The more I write and the more my children grow and experience life, the more content I'm finding for future children's books. So, I'm taking on the 12x12in12 challenge. I've thought about this a lot, and in the spirit of remembering and striving to reach my own goals for the year, I'm going for it.

From Julie's blog:
12x12 in 12: Twelve complete picture book drafts. Twelve months.  2012.  Are you with me? Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write one picture book per month for each of the twelve months of 2012.  This means a first draft: beginning, middle, end.  NOT a submission-ready piece. 

If you're looking to participate in this challenge, and it's all on the honor system and between you and your pen, paper, computer, etc, you can register here. I did.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Perfect Picture Books-Too May Toys

It's time for Perfect Picture Books! 
I took last week off from this activity on purpose. I love doing it, but really needed to focus a bit on how my 2012 is going to play out. While the plan is not fully formed yet (is a plan ever really fully formed?) it's in better shape than it was. It's mostly in my head and the next step will be to get it on paper, or some electronic format thereof.
That said, here is this week's Perfect Picture Book. Thanks to Susanna Hill, I keep finding myself looking at children's books in new ways and thinking beyond the words and pictures on the pages. And here, I'll also thank Miss Patty, one of my son's nursery school teachers, for sharing this book with me.

Title: Too Many Toys
Author: David Shannon
Publisher: Blue Sky Press, 2008
Suitable for: Age 4 and up
Theme/Topics: Abundance, Cleaning up
Overview/Synopsis: Spencer has too many toys! His father trips over them, his mother falls over them, and the house is overflowing with junk. Now its time to give some of the mountain of goodies away, but Spencer finds it hard. In the end, he fills a box, but decides the one toy he can't part with is the box!
Activities: Especially with 4 year olds,I think it would be fun to ask them how many toys is "too many toys." Their perception of numbers and amounts is not yet formed, but it could be fun exercise to try to count some of the numbers that come up. With older kids, a toy purge/giveaway to less fortunate kids would help teach the value of giving to others.
Why I chose this book: This book is my life. My kids have too many toys- we are partly to blame for that. However, the funny part is that just like Spencer, my four year old still finds just as much pleasure in the box and using his imagination to make the box into other things; like a boat, a tent, or a rocket ship.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Etiquette for Walking and Texting

When this piece from the NY Times showed up in my inbox, I was taken by surprise about two things. The first- I didn't know that the Times had started an Op-Doc series, and second, I was surprised that I wasn't in the film.
I walk and text all the time. Better than texting and driving, but still. Sometimes I need to remind myself that until POTUS  follows my name, I probably don't need to walk and text. I've walked into poles without texting. (I wasn't drinking at the time either)
Last summer t-shirts popped up in Manhattan which read, "Pick your head up," clearly speaking directly to masses who were also walking and texting.
This Op-Doc format was fun to watch. It not only put into video what I was expecting to see in words but showed me what I must look like walking and texting.
Satirical in nature, the piece is unoffensive, but does take liberties to show proper walking and texting etiquette. Just as one cannot always get to a quiet place to have a quick conversation, which is always welcomed by those around who don't want (or need) to hear said conversation, practicing a little public etiquette while walking and texting is always appreciated. Especially if you're trying to avoid poles, people, or even cars. I think I'll start practicing some of those new rules myself.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Taking Stock and Setting Goals

I stopped making New Year's Resolutions a long time ago; probably around the time I stopped trying to give things up for Lent (the way I saw it, once I had kids I had given up enough). To me, the NYR is an act of giving something up in the hopes of achieving something better. As a new mother, I struggled with giving up my sleep, my time, my career, and for anywhere from 10 to 18 months, three times over, my body.
All for a good cause, I know, but still. Having been raised to be a strong, independent young woman, what is given up for motherhood caught me way, way off guard. I've since come to terms with that, but on occasion remember too well that feeling of having given something up. I am therefore no longer in the habit of giving things up or resolving to not do something.
The beauty of being a mother is that there are now times when I feel nothing other than pride when my children accomplish a task, win an award, or succeed in any way possible. I also still have my "what if" moments and questions. No resentments, just questions. The "I was born to be a mom" mothers out there would probably take issue with this. Any therapist would say "it's totally normal and of course it's OK to feel that way." (Yes, this is coming from experience in case you are wondering).
So, here I am at the start of another New Year. Glad for the opportunity to have my health and have another year to live. Another year to plan. Another year to be proud of my children and their accomplishments.
This year, I am setting goals. Personal goals, family goals, and professional goals. In the spirit of really giving myself an opportunity to work on those goals so I can see them to their (hopeful) success I am passing on today's Perfect Picture Books series. I have a book in mind, but it will have to wait until next week. Today, is Mommy's day to take stock and set some goals.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Saving My Fondue

My life seems to revolve around food and kids, kids and food. Even before having kids, the food part was always there but then it was work and food. I suppose the food is the constant.
Makes sense. We need to eat. I enjoy eating. Thankfully, I enjoy cooking too. But a lot like parenting, I make plenty of mistakes along the way. With my kids, so far my mistakes have been pretty small; yelling too much, not having enough patience, forgetting what it was like to be scared of the dark, things like that. I hope those can be repaired over time. With food, that's a different story. Not all food mistakes can be easily fixed, but I think they can all be learned from, just like parenting mistakes.
My most recent food mistake was chocolate based. I love chocolate, but am not an expert. This past New Year's Eve I had a fondue themed night. The dessert was, not surprisingly, chocolate fondue. The past two times I made it, I burned the chocolate. Most recently, when trying to make a chocolate coating for shortbread cookies, I seized the chocolate in an effort to thin it out. Bad. Bad. Bad.
I was concerned for my dessert. Thanks to Chef Scott of Cuisine Inspirations, and his ability to simplify just about any recipe to make it delicious and easy, the end result was a fabulous and fun dessert that the kids enjoyed as much as the adults did.

Chocolate Fondue
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Whatever fruits and pastries for dipping you want.

Place cream in fondue pot.
Place that pot over a larger pot with hot, simmering (not boiling) water.
Allow cream to warm up and then add chocolate, stirring constantly.
Voila! Chocolate that is beautiful and silky and smooth and ready for dipping.