Big girl’s bedroom inspiration

I’m thrilled to report that Miss Seven’s obsession with all things pink has run its course. She doesn’t hate pink, but these days she’s more likely to choose blue or purple as her favorite color, and–get this!–her favorite sweater is charcoal gray. So a bedroom makeover is on the horizon. If you know Miss Seven, you know that although she’s incredibly quiet, she is not without opinions. Very Firm Opinions. I knew I couldn’t get away with redesigning her room myself and springing it on her. Instead, I’ve been using Pinterest to collect ideas to run by her. If she doesn’t like it, I remove it from the board, and slowly we’re narrowing down a vision of her new room.

Here’s the before picture!

The palette we’ve chosen has pale aqua walls, with pops of bright pink and yellow and plenty of white in the furniture and linens. Other changes include:

  • a bigger dresser (she’s inherited my old one, and we’re going to strip it and stain it a dark pink)
  • a reading nook (yellow wicker chair with bright cushions and maybe her canopy around it)
  • a sturdier nightstand with storage
  • a different headboard (probably white)
  • a larger area rug (I found a large rag rug in multicolored pastels on Craigslist)
  • a bigger book case and a large pin board for her art
  • declutter and rearrange

As usual, our budget = As Cheap as Possible. I like sturdy furniture for kid’s rooms, but I don’t like investing a lot in pieces that are sure to take abuse. As an example, Miss Seven has a desk that came from my grandparents’ house that I painted white. As these things happen, some nail polish remover soaked onto the desk top recently and peeled away some of the paint. If I had paid good money for a new desk, I would have been upset. But since I only invested some time and spray paint in it, I’m not concerned. One of these days I’ll touch it up and all will be well. Until the next accident!


Getting organized for homework and music practice

This is a project I should have tackled a month ago, but better late than never, right? Mr. Nine and Miss Seven, in fourth and second grades, have daily homework this year. Miss Seven and Little Four take piano lessons, and Mr. Nine is starting the clarinet in band. Now that the dust has settled on the first few weeks of school and lessons, we need to get organized.

I’ve been keeping the kitchen desk fairly clear, but today things seem to have piled up. I cleared off the desk–sorting, recycling, filing–and then moved on to the file boxes I have for each child. They were overflowing with papers from last year, most of it obsolete now. I kept the nicest artwork and a couple writing samples to keep in their files in the basement, and recycled all the old spelling lists, classroom newsletters and old book order forms. I even organized my own file box with labeled folders.


My last step was to clear the memo board and reorganize the important information so that we can see it and reach it. The kids each have a clip with their current week’s homework and any logs they need to fill out (reading log, math facts log, karate practice log). Finally, I found a basket to contain their math fact practice workbooks and flash cards. We use them every day, so they need to be accessible.

I added one last touch: a jar of candy kisses. I just read The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, by Daniel Coyle. I’ve used several of the tips this week to help with piano practice, and the difference has been amazing. Tip #41 advises, “End on a positive note.” That is, give a small reward at the end of a successful practice. For Miss Seven, one candy kiss to put in her lunch box at the end of her morning practice has transformed her attitude. Instead of racing through her assigned songs, oblivious to the quality of her performance, she has willingly repeated sticky passages and improved her technique. (By the way, other tips have been equally effective and easy to implement. I highly recommend the book to anyone who needs some help learning or coaching a skill. Thanks to the folks at Dinner: A Love Story for recommending it!)

Monday Menu

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s Tuesday. But yesterday was a holiday and we treated it as one, puttering around the house. (Mostly, I tried not to leave the house so I could ignore the oppressive heat and humidity. Fall, I am ready for you.)

Though the big kids have been in school for more than a week, this week marks the beginning of most of their extracurricular activities. Three nights a week we have two activities, with dinner sandwiched in between. On those three nights I will have to make dinner ahead of time, because there’s just enough time to eat and run, but no time for prep. I won’t lie–I’m a little anxious. We’re a family that needs our down time. And we still need to squeeze homework into the equation.

Monday: We received a bounty of garden veggies from Aunt Karen, so we had BLTs for lunch, and Moosewood Country Style Moussaka for dinner (2 out of 3 kids were not thrilled, but we made them eat it anyway).

Tuesday: Chili and cornbread (make ahead and reheat between piano and karate)

Wednesday: Asian Cabbage Salad (more garden veggies to use), grilled chicken and potstickers

Thursday: Pan-fried pollack and fried green tomatoes with avocado mayonnaise, Cumin seed roasted cauliflower

Friday: Pasta pesto

I’m also hoping to make a streamlined version of this Pasta and Chicken Gratin (using extra grilled chicken) and freeze it for next week. And if we have any leftover chili, I plan to freeze it immediately and use it later (maybe there will be enough for chili dogs).

How do you manage dinner when there are multiple evening activities to juggle?


Back to school baking

It’s the first day of school for my fourth grader and second grader. (Little Four has a couple more weeks before Pre-K begins.) You might be under the impression that their lunches are lovingly crafted, homemade works of art, but you would be mistaken. Today their lunchboxes contained applesauce, orange juice, animal crackers, and a thermos of spaghetti and meatballs from a can. They had goldfish crackers and water for snack. Not the best, but not the worst, either.

But hey, now that they’re out of my hair for 6.5 hours each day, I can take a little time to bake something healthy. Our school district has banned all peanut and tree nut products from snack time (which is eaten in the classroom), so I need to pay a little more attention to what we pack. I used up some bananas in banana-chocolate chip muffins (using half whole wheat flour, half all-purpose flour, and a good dose of wheat bran), and then tried something called “breakfast cookies.” I was going to make granola bars, but Miss Seven has a mouthful of orthodontic appliances and shouldn’t be eating sticky foods.

These cookies are 100% whole grain, mildly sweet, nut-free, and full of fiber. I think they are little more like tea cakes or hearty scones than cookies, but they’re yummy. If you can’t find quinoa flour (or don’t want to pay the outrageous price for it here in the U.S.), just use a cup of cooked quinoa and omit the milk (as in the original recipe).

Whole Grain Breakfast Cookies

adapted from Dinner: A Love Story

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup quinoa flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

1 cup old fashioned oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add eggs and milk and beat until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.

Mix flour mixture into butter mixture 1 cup at a time. Stir in oats, sunflower seeds and raisins. With your hands, roll dough into balls about golf-ball size and then flatten into 1/2-inch thick disks. Arrange 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges.

Does your child’s school have a ban on nuts to protect those with allergies?

Cleaning the basement…AGAIN

These photos are embarrassing. I’m warning my husband right now: DON’T LOOK! If he has a mantra, it is “Mess is Stress,” and this mess would make his head explode.

Playroom or crime scene?

What is that stuff, you ask? It was one of Little Four’s Christmas presents, the Moon Dough Mega Food Club Pack. It will give your little darlings hours of fun molding little hamburgers and pizza toppings, but rest assured, the aftermath will make YOUR head explode. Then you have two messes to clean up. You should also know that they will drop the Moon Dough all over the floor, step on the crumbs, and track it all through the house. You will have to put those sneakers in the wash yet again.

I am not telling you not to buy Moon Dough. I just want you to make an informed decision. There has been a string of pleasant playdates (read: kids in the basement hacking this dough to pieces while parents are upstairs in relative peace) at my house in the past few months. However, all good things must come to an end, and I couldn’t face the basement disaster any longer.

Looks like someone was practicing his knife skills.

I salvaged a small portion of the dough and packed it and the accessories up and stowed them on a very high shelf. And then I vacuumed. And vacuumed some more.

Can we play a nice game of restaurant? Do a little coloring?

I would still like to make our mostly unfinished basement more hospitable for rainy day playing (or as an escape from the heat)–without actually finishing it. So I’m pondering the lighting (very poor) and I may survey the kids to find out what kinds of things they would play down there. Now that we’re past the toddler stage, there are all sorts of possibilities. Maybe a permanent art workspace. We have a very long shelf that could work for Legos. They could set up marble runs and leave them up. As Little Four might say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a SWING?”

Stenciled Star Wars Cake

You guys know I don’t have any actual training in cake decorating, right? Whatever I do is self-taught, and I’m always looking for ways to simplify. So when my best friend asked me to make a small cake for her Star Wars loving son because she couldn’t find one at the grocery store bakery, I gave it a shot. I scrolled through pages and pages of Star Wars cakes on Google Images, many of them elaborate sculpted R2-D2s or giant Millennium Falcon models. I knew I wasn’t going to drape anything in fondant or pipe complicated patterns. (Have I said this before? I don’t like how fondant tastes, so I don’t use it.) Then I saw this cake and this cake. I decided the cake needed to be blue and say “Star Wars.” Anything else would be the proverbial icing.

Luckily, I had some of this food color spray left from another cake, and I decided to experiment with a stencil. I printed out the Star Wars logo and cut it out with a craft knife. I laid it gently on the frosted cake, sprayed a couple light coats of blue, and very gently lifted off the stencil. We found a Darth Vader candle at the party store and called it good. (Oh yeah, there’s some sparkling sugar scattered there as “stars.”)


If you can find a graphic that you can cut into a stencil, you can put anything on a cake to fit the birthday boy or girl’s interests. Don’t trust your piping skills (or lack thereof)? Stencil it!

Kid’s travel neck pillows

Like many of you, we’ll be doing some traveling with the kids this summer. Planes, trains, automobiles–we’ll be doing it all. I’m glad we won’t be toting any bulky baby gear, but big kids in booster seats don’t have those nice headrests to prop their heads up during a nap on the go. But nothing passes the time better on a long travel day than a nap, so I made the kids some travel pillows.

I almost bought them something like this or this, but didn’t really feel like spending almost $50, since I need one for each child. This was a project that fit my mediocre sewing skills and short attention span, and it cost me nothing. I used fabric and polar fleece remnants from other projects. As usual, I searched for an online tutorial, and found several to choose from (here’s one and here’s another). I traced out a pattern on newspaper, cut out all the pieces of fabric, stitched, turned and stuffed. I invested at most an hour for all three pillows. I’ve got other things to spend $50 on, thank you very much.

Are they perfect? No. Perfectly functional? Absolutely. The kids are excited to have their own special pillows, and maybe…just maybe…they will take a little nap.

Cleaning carseats

We bought a new car recently (new to us, anyway), and for a moment–the blink of an eye, no more–the interior was beautifully clean. After a couple of days of the school carpool and other errands, there was enough dirt tracked in to give my shiny new ride that lived-in look. But the polished dashboard and unstained upholstery also made me notice that the kids’ carseats and boosters were awfully dirty. Icky is really the only word for it.

Once school got out and I didn’t need to shuttle around the neighborhood kids, I began cleaning one seat at a time. The boosters are easy: remove the cover, spray heavily with your stain remover of choice, wash on cold and hang to dry. I also wiped off the plastic frame and all the stickiness lodged in the convenient pop-out cupholders. Repeat on all other boosters.

Clean seats!

Little Four has graduated from his toddler carseat to a high-backed booster seat, and I promised to hand down his seat to a cousin’s toddler. I couldn’t in good conscience pass on the seat without cleaning it first. It has a black cover that is extraordinary at hiding stains (there’s a tip for new parents: skip all those pretty light-colored prints). I had not washed it once in the four years Little Four has used it, and I’m pretty sure he’s not extraordinarily neat and tidy.

I’ve removed and washed many a carseat cover, but this one was on the tricky side. You’ve got to detach the straps and wriggle all the buckles and clips through slits in the cover that are just a little too narrow. Then I worked on the frame, which had collected all sorts of debris. The crevice tool on the vacuum worked well for this job, sucking up all the crumbs from every nook and cranny. Another wipe down with a damp cloth (and some Mrs. Meyer’s All Purpose Cleaner), and it was time to reassemble. Truthfully, it took me longer than it should have, because I kept forgetting to slide all the attachments onto the shoulder straps in the correct order. But the seat looks (and functions) like new, and I’m happy that this expensive piece of baby equipment will get some more use.

Packed and ready to deliver to its new occupant.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

I love getting out of bed before the kids. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, if I plan to get up before they do, someone inevitably hears and pops out of bed ready to start the day. So much for a quiet half hour with my coffee.

But yesterday morning I hauled myself out of bed in a desperate attempt to silence the cat, who was going door to door, loudly trying to rouse someone to fill his empty dish.

So. I was up, and my husband had already filled my coffee cup. A good time for some muffins, before the children started caterwauling, too. They came out of the oven just as the first riser stumbled down the stairs for her dose of morning television.

Applesauce Bran Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 cup wheat bran

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup olive oil (or any vegetable oil or melted butter)

1 cup applesauce (I used unsweetened)

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 eggs

Heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin cups and set aside.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Whisk the liquid ingredients together well (I add them to a 2-cup glass measuring cup and whisk them right in the cup). Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and stir together no more than 20 seconds. I like to use a large spatula to make sure I scrape everything off the bottom of the bowl.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Put the tin in the oven and immediately reset the temperature to 400 degrees F. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm.

Moving the dishes to kid-height


It seems like just the other day that I cleaned out the drawer of plastic kids’ cups and dishes, eliminating the sippy cups and mismatched lids that nobody uses anymore. Turns out I just didn’t go far enough.

Our everyday dishes and glasses live in the upper cabinets over the sink and dishwasher, convenient when I’m unloading the dishwasher. But it’s not so convenient if I want the kids to help set the table or put away some dishes, or even serve themselves a bowl of cereal. It’s time for a little rearranging so they can become more self-sufficient.


I emptied the drawer, wiped it down, and washed the baskets (seriously, where do all those crumbs come from?). Then I sorted. We still use the water bottles regularly, as well as a few plastic snack bowls. I moved the plastic cups to the new water cooler spot on the porch, and the plastic plates to the bin of picnic supplies in the basement. Hiding behind the baskets are thermoses for school lunches, Snack Traps (Little Four uses them on outings), and reusable kid cups from Sweet Tomatoes (bring your cup back and the drink is free).

Then I relocated our smaller Corelle plates (inherited from my grandmother), cereal bowls and glasses to the other basket. All of these are sturdy, kid-sized, and nothing is precious or irreplaceable if it breaks.

I think my next project had better be creating some self-serve snack stations. They’re going to need something to put on those plates.