Sunday, May 31, 2015

How to Make Brownies in 100 Easy Steps

On the morning of my birthday I was awoken by 3 little bright-eyed, sandy-haired sweeties climbing excitedly into my bed chanting, "Happy birthday, Mommy! Happy birthday!" We gave hugs and kisses and I honestly could not think of a way I'd rather wake up on my birthday.

Unfortunately, I was only able to bask in the birthday adoration for a minute or so because their well-wishes quickly turned to shouts of "Where's the cake?! When are we having cake?!? We want cake!!" as if cake somehow magically appears just because it's your birthday, which I suppose, if you're a kid, does seem to happen.

But when you are thirty-something, any and all cake responsibilities generally fall to you, birthday or not, which is how I found myself digging through the pantry that afternoon and, thankfully, pulling out a forgotten box of triple-chocolate brownie mix. It wasn't cake, but it would do in a pinch.

"Just 3 easy steps!" the box cheerfully claimed. According to the box, we could throw this mix together in 10 minutes and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing while the oven did the rest.

The box lied.

I mean, I probably could have added water, eggs, and oil in 10 minutes, but when you have a couple of tiny sous chefs assisting the baking process, you just need a whole new set of directions.

So I wrote some. You're welcome, boxed brownie mix people.

And if you weren't craving brownies before, you definitely are now, amirite?

Jack and I belly laughed for 2 solid minutes over this photo.

How to Make Brownies in 100 Easy Steps

1. Put 2-year-old down for a nap. This is the most crucial step in the brownie making process.

2. Take boxed brownie mix out of the pantry.

3. Announce to children that it is time to make brownies.

4. Children pull a chair up to the counter.

5. Children fight for room on chair.

6. Explain to children that there are 5 more identical chairs around the kitchen table.

7. Three-year-old drags another chair to kitchen counter.

8. 3yo stubs his toe in the process of dragging chair.

9. Calmly put icepack on 3yo's barely visible booboo.

What? You don't dress like this when you bake?
10. Now it is time to begin. Take out a 13 x 9 pan.

11. 5-year-old sneezes directly into pan.

12. Wipe boogies out of pan. Try not to curse.

13. Spray Pam into pan, because the thought of ingesting mystery can chemicals is less troubling than the reality of spending 20 minutes scraping stuck brownie off the bottom of the pan. Ain't nobody got time for that.

14. 5-year-old wants a turn to spray.

15. 5yo accidentally sprays himself in eye.

16. 5yo screams as if his eyeball has popped out of his head and is rolling across the floor.

17. Place warm wash cloth over 5yo's eye. Practice those breathing exercises that you forgot to use during childbirth, but seem to come in handy while baking with children.

18. Assure 5yo that he will not go blind.

19. Approximately 30 minutes has now passed and it is FINALLY time to begin. Pour powdered brownie mix into a bowl.

20. Remind children not to touch brownie mix with their bare hands.

21. Again, remind children MORE LOUDLY that this is brownie mix in a bowl and NOT sand at the beach to bury their hands and squish between their fingers.


23. Smile through clenched teeth as you wipe up brownie powder that has been spread all over the countertop and on the floor.

24. Continue to reassure 5yo (who has a slight obsession with going blind) that he will not go blind.

25. Allow 5yo to pour 1/3 cup of water into brownie mix.

26. 5yo spills half the water in the process.

27. Estimate how much water is still needed in the bowl and dump it in.

28. One child declares that he needs to use the restroom.

29. Do nothing. Wait for child to finish in the bathroom because if you so much as stir the batter while he is gone THE WORLD MIGHT END.

30. Help child wipe. Try not to be reminded of said batter.

31. Wash all the hands.

32. Reluctantly allow 3yo to add egg to mix even though you know it will end badly.

33. 3yo drops egg on floor.

34. Pretend you are the cheerful Bounty commercial mom who laughs off spills and cleans them up with ease in order to distract yourself from crying.

35. Second egg makes it into the bowl.

Holy egg yolk, Batman!

36. Fish out eggshells.


38. Add 1/3 cup oil.

39. Children take turns stirring/slinging batter across the kitchen.

40. Children start to fight because 5yo is taking too long of a turn.

41. 3yo smacks 5yo in the eye.

42. Remove 3yo from the chair until he calms down.

43. 3yo does not calm down.

44. 3yo makes face at Mommy.

45. Send 3yo to time out.

46. Again, assure 5yo that he will not go blind.

47. 3yo screams bloody murder from time out.

48. 2yo is awoken by murderous screams.

49. Now 2yo also screams.

50. Sit down. Rest head between legs and take deep breaths so that there will be at least one person in the house not crying. Alternately, assume fetal position and hide in closet.

51. Announce "WHO WANTS TO WATCH A SHOW??"

52. Get 2yo out of crib.

53. 2yo does not want to watch show.

54. Pour brownie batter into pan with one hand.

55. Put brownies in 325 degree oven with one hand.

56. Clean up with one hand.

57. Dig box out of the trash to see how long to bake brownies. Also use one hand.

58-98.Tell children that no, the brownies are not ready yet. Repeat 40 times.


100. Smile as if your heart will explode when children bring you a misshapen brownie with lit candle after dinner and loudly sing "HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR MOMMEEEEEEE!" in their sweet, squeaky little voices.


"I know it's her birthday and all, but we gotta make sure there's enough brownies for us kids. There. Just barely big enough to hold a candle."  

There were even enough brownies to eat the next day.
(I'm almost positive this will be our Christmas card photo.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

Strawberry Picking at Ingram Farm

 Our new favorite spot for picking strawberries, Ingram Farm in High Point.

We've gone strawberry picking every spring since Jack could walk. It has inadvertently become an annual tradition that signals the rapid approach of summer, much like a Memorial Day cook-out or the sudden twilight appearance of lightning bugs or finally giving up on reading log homework. 

This month we've been busy with all the usual frantic happenings of May and by the time we found a day to go, we were very sad to discover that our usual strawberry farm had run clean out of strawberries.  

Luckily, I heard about another strawberry farm not too far away and thank goodness I did.

The new place was charming, quaint and picturesque. The old strawberry farm had strawberries; the new strawberry farm has everything it takes to make a kid blissfully happy in one afternoon. I couldn't help but imagine the conversation that they must have had before opening the farm (please note: farmers in my imagination are deeply southern and refer to each other as "Maw" and "Paw") :

"Alright, y'all, Maw and I have decided that we wanna create somethin' special at the farm that will bring people to us, somethin' real kid-friendly because folks just love makin' memries with their youngins. What are some things that kids go crazy for?" 

"Kids love diggin' in the dirt!"

"How about animals? They go crazy over anything they can pet."

"They love takin' just one bite of food and then throwin' the rest on the ground!"

"Kids love dessert. They'll do anything for dessert!"

"And ridin' in dangerous vehicles without seatbelts!"

"Alright, Paw, I got it! We'll turn our land into a STRAWBERRY FARM! We'll drive everyone to the fields in a bumpy TRACTOR with NO SEATBELTS. They can pick and eat and throw all the strawberries they want and when the tractor brings them back in there will be GOATS they can feed and a Dessert Barn where we will sell homemade STRAWBERRY ICE CREAM! Folks'll come from miles around!"

And that's how Ingram's Strawberry Farm came to be. Probably. 

I feel kinda bad for the old place. It didn't even stand a chance.

I consider the fact that her outfit coordinated with the strawberry patch to be my biggest accomplishment of the day.

At any rate, at Ingram's they have strawberries, tractor rides, goats and ice cream, which can only mean that we will never go back to the regular ol' strawberry farm ever again. At one point Jack even declared, "I didn't know strawberries could be this cool!"

I want to squish him.

The afternoon was so strawberry-tastic that we wrote a limerick when we came back home. And by "we" I mean me. Jack wrote a poem too, but his did not even rhyme.

Strawberry Picking, by Mommy

There once was a family quite merry
Who spent the day picking strawberries,
They plunked and they picked
And they chomped and they licked,
And they all ended up red as cherries.

They brought back home all they could carry,
"Now what can we do?" the kids queried,
So they made jam, cream and cakes
And drank strawberry shakes,

Monster, by Jack

It got on their faces.
Juicy red blood.
They looked like monsters.
They tried to scare their parents.
The parents thought it was a real monster.
They hid behind the big pillow.

I am both proud and disturbed.

Strawberries! Goats! Ice Cream! WHATEVER SHALL WE DO FIRST?!?

Henry and Elise did not write poems, but they have since made me read The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear so many times that they can now quote it, which kind of counts.  

The literary nerd in me secretly hopes that strawberry picking poems will be a new tradition they beg for each May, but regardless, we are ending the month in short sleeves with sun-kissed cheeks and a freezer full of strawberries, which can only mean that summer is as good as here. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This is How I Know My Mom Loved Me

It is late. Like, 10:00pm late. Bedtime has taken 90 minutes, 17 sips of water, 8 kisses, 5 stories, 3 cover readjustments, 2 trips to the bathroom and one final threat to stay in their room or else. I am ready to relax, just for a little bit, before the whole crazy production starts all over again tomorrow.

There is only one thing between me and my DVR:

School lunches.

I don't know why school lunches are such a thorn in my side. They only take about 10 minutes to throw together, but it's like reaching the finish line of a marathon only to discover they've added a few more laps on the end. (At least, that's what I imagine it would be like, having run approximately 0 marathons myself.)

At the beginning of the year I tried to be really creative and health-conscious with the food I sent to school. My goal was to stock my son's BPA-free, eco-friendly bento lunch box with colorful representatives from the entire food pyramid. The vegetables always came back untouched, of course, but I kept sending them anyway because the experts say that if you keep presenting nutritious foods to your child they will eventually try them, but really it was because I wanted the teacher to think I was a good mom.

Now it is May and, well, I'm tired. I'm 5 episodes behind on "Grey's Anatomy" and I had to find out that McDreamy died through Facebook. I am feeling seriously uninformed on pop culture and school lunches are to blame.

Click here for school lunch envy.
While I cut the crusts off ham sandwiches and shake goldfish into baggies, I resentfully think about all the things I could be doing instead. I could be reading a book. I could be shoe shopping online. I could even be organizing the giant pile that has accumulated on the dining room table. Anything but this.

And then it hits me. My mom did this every school night. She had 3 kids, so she made lots of lunches every night for lots of years. I pause for a moment to do a few calculations in my head, as well as I can at 10:00pm. 

My mom made school lunches from 1987 until 2009. TWENTY-TWO YEARS of school lunches. I mean, she got a break on Fridays when they served those killer rectangle pizzas, but for the better part of TWENTY-TWO years she unwaveringly packed white bread sandwiches and Handi-Snacks and Bugles and Fruit Roll-Ups and Capri Suns. You know, the kind of cool stuff that every 90s kid hopes and prays is is in their lunch because she not only packed lunches, she packed lunches that were the envy of the cafeteria table. And she did it for TWENTY-TWO YEARS.

My mom even packed our lunches for us through high school. I remember some of my friends were in charge of packing their own lunches by then; their mothers had passed the task on to them either with the hopes of teaching their children some responsibility or because they were just tired of the whole thing, but probably a little of both. Not my mom. She always handed me a lunch on the way out the door. She didn't have to, but she did. I don't even know if I ever said thank you. 

TWENTY-TWO YEARS. I just can't get that number out of my head. She did this mundane, tedious task for her children every school night for twenty-two years. She also sat in thousands of carpool lines. She lost hundreds of hours of sleep soothing fussy babies, caring for sick kids and staying up late to sew Halloween costumes or dance recital outfits. She spent her hard-earned money on things for me, things I probably didn't need, but things she wanted me to have because she loved me that much.   
My mom and me in 1982. She is oblivious to the fact that she has 22 years of school lunches ahead of her.

Sometimes love isn't climbing the highest mountain or swimming the deepest sea. Love doesn't have to reach as far as the moon and back. Sometimes the best kind of love is found in the ordinary faithfulness of packing twenty-two years of school lunches. 

So thank you, Mom, for all of the daily sacrifices you made for me that I never seemed to notice. At the time it was impossible for me to comprehend the true depth and scope of motherhood, but I knew I felt cared for, I felt safe and I felt special. You gave me an incredible gift. Because of you, I wanted to be a mom too.

So I will cut off crusts and I will slice strawberries because my mom did it for me, and I want to take the blessings that she poured into my life and pass them on to my children.

And maybe, every once in a while, I will pack them a Capri Sun. Just like my mom did for me. ;)

"I love you 2,340 school lunches!"

Saturday, May 2, 2015

4 Gifts Teachers Actually Want (and some they don't)

I taught 3rd grade for several years before my first child was born. My husband says I am currently on hiatus, but I like to think of it more as retirement (tomato, tomahto). At any rate, because I have been an elementary school teacher, I feel as if I am in the perfect position to write a post about what teachers really want. Not only I can write from a teacher's perspective, but I can do so without the fear of an irate parent barging in the principal's office accusing me of complaining about her on the internet, even though the comment was very vague and she was definitely not mentioned by name. Ahem.

Anyway, my oldest is in a Kindergarten program this year. He's been working on letters, sounds and sight words all year, but in the past couple of months, all of a sudden, he's been pointing out signs. And reading them. He's been picking up books. And reading the pages. I don't know why, but I was kind of shocked. When did this happen?? I can't even speak in secret spell-language to my husband anymore. I just dropped him off at school for a few hours a day and he emerged as this little literate person. Almost like magic. Except, it wasn't magic. It was his teachers.

And when you think about it, the gift of literacy is one of the most important, special gifts you can give to another person. There are no amount of Target gift cards that can ever truly show the depth of appreciation for a gift like that.

Still, it's nice to be appreciated, even if it's only a pack of Expo markers or a Mocha Frappuccino.

But first, I cannot in good conscience write a list of what gifts teachers want without specifically detailing the things they DO NOT want.

Please, just no.
Please, please no more mugs. If your child's teacher has been teaching for more than one year, chances are that she already has a whole cabinet full of mugs that remind her that she is the World's Best Teacher every time she drinks her coffee. Do not get the teachers in your life "World's Best Teacher" mugs, plates, plaques or chunky knitted sweaters, unless that teacher happens to be a first year teacher. In that case, shower her with "World's Best" superlatives because chances are the novelty has not yet worn out and even though it is probably not the truth, he or she could definitely use the encouragement.
This is so terrible I can't even think of a funny caption.
Secondly, no more regifts. Even if you are just dying to pass along that apple-shaped cutting board, I beg you to resist the urge. Here's why:

One Christmas a student presented me with an extravagant basket of body wash, lotion, bath gel and the like. It was a beautiful collection, sure to last me at least 6 months. The only problem happened to be the scent. While I'm sure smelling like "Christmas Cookie" would be very festive in December, I didn't think it would have quite the same effect come June. Confession: I decided to exchange the basket for another flavor.

After braving the mall crowds and lugging my basket through a long line, it was finally my turn. "I'd like to exchange this for a different scent, please."

"Oh my, that won't be possible," remarked the clerk as she wrinkled her nose. "This scent is from our holiday collection...three years ago."

And that is only one of many regift stories I could tell you. There was also the time I pulled a bracelet out of a bag that still had a card attached to it which clearly indicated it was originally for the student's mother. On another occasion a student handed me a package and announced, "Here, we forgot to get you a gift, so my mom got this out of the closet this morning."

Your child's teacher taught him to add fractions. Your child will never forget the state capitals because his teacher sang them in a song to him 87 times. The teacher read The Adventures of Captain Underpants out loud so you don't have to. She does not get the luxury of hiding in a closet when she grows weary of hearing her name called every 2 seconds. She loves your child when you are not there. Give the woman a gift she really wants.

4 Gifts Teachers Actually Want

#4 School Supplies

I read somewhere that teachers spend about $500 of their own money every year on school supplies. If you doubt this fact, you have never tried to keep a third grade classroom stocked with number 2 pencils. It does not matter how many pencils you start with on the first day of school. By the second day of school they are ALL GONE. You might as well be teaching a class of woodchucks, as you will soon come to the conclusion that the only way it is physically possible to dispose of so many pencils in such a short time is that your students are actually wood-consuming rodents in disguise. You begin to feel that if you hear the excuse of "but I don't have a pencil" one more time, you may be forced to open the classroom window and throw yourself out.

So please, buy the teacher in your life the largest box of No. 2 pencils you can find and, for the love of planning periods, go ahead and sharpen those suckers for her. Not only will you save her a trip to Staples, you may just save her life.

Teachers also have a strange obsession with Sharpies. If you buy the teacher in your life the biggest, most colorful package of Sharpies you can find, your kid will make straight A's the rest of the year. Probably. (source)

#3 Useful Teacher Items

Similar to school supplies, teacher items are things for the classroom that the teacher uses (as opposed to the students) that she might not think of buying for herself.

Here's a helpful rule of thumb. When considering a teacher gift, ask yourself these 2 questions: Will the teacher use it? Will the teacher use it before it has a chance to collect dust? If the answer is yes, then you are good to go.
I would TOTEally use this
Everybody washes their hands!
NO. I can see the dust collecting already.

One time a mom bought me the most heavy duty pencil sharpener on the market after she helped me sharpen 200 number 2 pencils during testing week. I LOVED that pencil sharpener. The students were not allowed to touch (break) my very special heavy duty pencil sharpener.

Another year the entire class went in together and bought me a fun, comfy chair for the front of the classroom. Class gifts, by the way, are the best way to go. Any teacher would much rather receive a $100 gift rather than 20 $5 gifts. If a parent is organizing a class gift, GET IN ON IT.


I know what you're thinking and you are wrong. Money is not an impersonal gift. Money is an AWESOME gift. When you take a teacher's salary and subtract the amount she spends on school supplies and also the amount she spends on trips to the dermatologist after an encounter with expired body lotion, that teacher makes approximately negative $2 an hour.

If you were that teacher would you rather head home for the summer with 25 new mugs? OR would you rather head home with actual money to buy actual necessities like groceries or a pedicure?

One year one of my fellow teachers received a gift to which the whole class contributed. She got a MONEY TREE. She was so excited that she carried that tree around with her all day long. The rest of us glared at her jealously as we sipped from our World's Best Teacher mugs.

It is so beautiful I want to cry. (source)
I know the thought of slipping the teacher a ten-spot feels awkward and kind of creepy, but there are plenty of ways to make a gift of money more personal. Pinterest has you covered. If it still feels icky, then go with a gift card. Gift cards are almost as good as money.
AMEN. (Free printable here!)

#1 Notes from the Heart

If you ask a teacher to name the one gift she would like most of all, she will probably say MONEY.

However, with the exception of the Bath and Body Works debacle, I don't really remember that many specific gifts from students. I don't remember what I bought with the gift cards or how I spent the cash. But I still have the notes.

Occasionally I will come across the box of kind letters from parents and heartwarming notes and pictures from students, and the memories come flooding back. I open a card and remember that S was an amazing writer with a keen sense of humor beyond her years. I unfold a colorful drawing and remember that C was a beautiful illustrator with an artist's soul. I find a note and remember the journey with J, how she was so difficult at the beginning of the year that I would pray for her to be absent, but by the time she handed me this note on the last day of school there were tears in her eyes; she had become one of my favorite students and I could hardly stand to say goodbye.

The notes are truly a treasure.

They almost make me want to come out of retirement. Almost. ;)


Now that my own kids are beginning to have their own teachers, I am going to take my own advice.

I may give school supplies or a gift card, or I may even initiate a class MONEY TREE!!, but no matter the gift, I will make sure to tell the teacher how much he or she has meant to us that year.

And I hope to teach my children to do the same.
Ok, I kinda like this one.