PVC bike rack

 

Raise your hand if you have a two-car garage and can’t fit your cars into that garage because there are too many bikes, scooters, tricycles, hula hoops and Cozy Coupes littering the floor? That’s what I thought. Please note that I am NOT raising my hand, because both of our cars fit into the garage and the bikes are parked in this nifty bike rack! (Feel free to applaud.) Do I feel smug? Why, yes—yes, I do.

In the winter, we hang the bikes from hooks in the garage ceiling, but in the summer months, the kids need to be able to reach their bikes. Finally, it occurred to me that we needed somewhere besides the garage to park and lock the bikes; you know, like in the bike racks at school. Why couldn’t we have a bike rack?

Normally, I would search Google and Pinterest for “DIY bike rack.” But before I got around to that step, fate stepped in. I was reading the great craft blog I Am Momma Hear Me Roar, and Cheri posted a link to a bike rack project! Thanks to Kristen from Hostess with the Motzes, I could stop thinking and just follow the directions.

Miss Six and Mr. Nine accompanied me to Home Depot to buy the pipe. While I balanced the 10-foot lengths of PVC pipe on my shopping cart, they carefully counted out all the elbows and T-connectors we needed. At home, Mr. Nine measured all the pieces and even took turns cutting them with the hacksaw. Finally, with the help of a rubber mallet, we assembled the rack (the fun part!). I should note that this is a perfect project to do with a kid. The measuring and cutting does not need to be perfectly precise or straight, and it doesn’t take too much strength to cut the pipe with a hacksaw.

But what would a DIY project be without some kind of glitch? I knew exactly where I wanted to put the rack alongside the front porch, but I neglected to measure the space and compare it to the measurements of the rack before we started. Soooo…the beautiful 5-slot bike rack didn’t fit in our space. The fix was easy, though, since we skipped the PVC cement when we assembled the pieces (being able to disassemble the rack for storage sounded like a good feature). I just popped one end off and removed one slot, turning five slots into four. Still enough room for three bikes and three scooters, and a perfect fit.

Coconut banana popsicles

What do you feed a kid with the stomach flu so she doesn’t get dehydrated? Did you know the BRAT diet isn’t recommended for children anymore? I didn’t. Miss Six was home from school yesterday, and it was real challenge finding something she was interested in eating. Her total intake yesterday was a piece toast with Nutella, one tube of yogurt, a bowl of popcorn, and 1/3 of a banana. And a popsicle.

I didn’t want to give her a bunch of sugar or juice, fearing it would make her symptoms worse. Banana was an obvious choice, and that carton of coconut milk sounded like a tasty pairing. (This is a good option for my gluten- and dairy-free friends, too.)

She’s feeling good and back at school today, but I’ll be making these popsicles again. Her brothers gave them the thumbs up, too (and then requested chocolate popsicles–maybe next time, boys). If you have extra liquid in the blender, call it a smoothie and drink it up!

    

Coconut Banana Popsicles

2 ripe bananas (frozen ones work fine, too), cut into chunks

1 1/2 cups coconut milk, well-shaken

2 Tbsp. honey

Purée everything in blender until smooth. Pour into a popsicle mold (I like this one from World Market; the kids like how the handle collects the drips and has a spout for drinking them up) and freeze until solid. To unmold, let them sit out for 10 minutes, or run the mold under warm water until the popsicles come loose.

               

Choose a chore, kids

I’m still waiting for the magic moment of parenting when I can delegate a bunch of the routine housekeeping chores to my children. I want them to learn to be competent, self-sufficient adults who can care for themselves, and naturally, it would make my life a little easier. We’re still in the stage where they have to be reminded 17 times to brush their teeth, put their clothes down the laundry chute, and clear their plates. They can perform all those tasks acceptably, but the effort on my part to remind them repeatedly wears me down. And of course, teaching them each new task involves time and effort, too.

Clearly, I’m not the only parent who struggles with this. Did you see this blog post in the New York Times? All I can say is, I’m happy to report that my six- and nine-year-old can tie their own shoes (though my first grader tells me that not everyone in her class can do so).

We’ve flirted with chore charts before, but they’ve always been paper charts, so that I needed to print new ones every week. I liked the customizable charts at Goalforit, but was forever running out of printer ink or forgetting whether I’d paid the agreed allowance. If your child is old enough to fill in the chart online, it could be a great tool. It just didn’t work for us. The other down side was that I had to assign sets of chores to specific kids, and then they would get tired of doing those chores or argue that someone else had a better slate.

So I’ve been thinking about making some sort of reusable chore chart or system. Pinterest was a great resource for ideas. Most of the ones I found are a lot prettier than ours, but I don’t spend that much time crafting and I don’t have a ton of supplies. No stash of scrapbook paper, no Cricut machine, no assortment of craft sticks, magnets or chalkboard paint. I did not want to spend more at Hobby Lobby to make a homemade chart than it would cost to buy a cute finished one on Etsy.

I finally settled on a magnetic memo board from Ikea. I also bought the coordinating magnets, which are conveniently large enough to write on. I didn’t have much of a plan before I started, but I pulled out my set of Sharpies and a ruler and jumped in. I drew lines to mark off a section for each child, and left a section for the unused magnets. I wrote a chore and its value on each magnet (there are multiples of some chores, like cleaning up the kitchen and tidying a room). Whenever they like, the kids can choose a chore to do and then put the magnet on their section. When I get around to paying them what they’re owed, I move the magnet back down. And from now on, they will use their earnings for school book orders and other small treats, or they can save for something larger.

One week in to the system, it seems to be working. They like the element of choice (what to do and when to do it) and the ability to earn more for doing more. I like that I don’t have to calculate anything or remind, nag or bribe anyone. I have had to supervise and give some direction for some chores, but the older two have surprised me with their skills. I’m really optimistic that this system might last. I can add and subtract chores from the chart as the kids grow. And just days after I hung the chart, all three kids had tidied their rooms, loaded the dishwasher and begged for a turn to clean the bathroom sink. It’s progress.

A safe haven from pollen

The air outside smells so good. The trees are greening up, daffodils are bobbing in the breeze, and we can hear a woodpecker hammering away. The temperature is a perfect 73 degrees. But today I closed up all the windows, turned on the air conditioner, and dragged the vacuum cleaner upstairs, because my poor kid suffers from allergies to tree pollen.

This week his eyes have been red and watery, he’s had long stretches of serial sneezing, and last night, just after midnight, he had his first big nosebleed of the season. Our pediatrician recommended Claritin (we buy the generic loratadine), which definitely helps manage his symptoms. We have also started giving him a dose of Benadryl at bedtime to manage the watery eyes and sneezing, which often triggers his nosebleeds. (The drowsiness side effect is just a bonus.) I am grateful that he doesn’t have asthma or any other condition that can be exacerbated by allergies, but the symptoms he does have can be miserable, distracting him at school and disturbing his nighttime sleep. I can’t put him in a plastic bubble. He has to go to school and I’m not going to discourage his active playtime outdoors. But here are a few ways we help him stay comfortable at home during the spring allergy season.

6 ways to alleviate pollen allergy symptoms:

  1. Close the windows. I hate to do it, but if the pollen isn’t blowing in, he isn’t breathing it.
  2. Especially in the bedroom, vacuum (with a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, if possible), dust with a damp cloth, and wash all the bedding in hot water.
  3. Change the furnace filter regularly.
  4. Have your child wear a hat outside and change clothes after playing outdoors for any length of time.
  5. Encourage kids to shower before bed. It rinses off the pollen (especially in their hair) that they’ve accumulated while playing outside, and the steam helps clear the nasal passages.
  6. To keep nasal passages moist and prevent nosebleeds, use a saline mist or ointment in the nose morning and night.

   

Now, if anyone can suggest six ways to convince a nine-year-old boy that taking a shower every day is a good idea, I’m all ears.

A little spring cleaning

Feels like spring! With temperatures in the 70s this week, I was propelled to do a little work in the garage. Nothing major, but I finally gathered all the boxes we flung into the garage on Christmas Day, plus all the ones we tossed on top of the pile in the months since. I even got them all out to the curb in time for the recycling truck. Okay, there’s still one giant box from the new desk in our bedroom and a stack of styrofoam, but I plan to break that down and get it into next week’s garbage (unfortunately, it seems there is only one recycler of styrofoam in Illinois, and it’s not that close). Now the kids can find their scooters and there’s an actual path from the door to the van that isn’t strewn with crumpled wrapping paper and plastic grocery bags.

The next day I took the string of snowflake lights down from the porch and put away the basket of snow toys. I wiped down the tables and chairs and dragged the porch rug out of the basement. I even cleaned the light fixtures. A couple hours after I set the chairs at precise angles and swept all the pine needles from the concrete, half a dozen kids gathered, lounged on the porch swing, scattered pine cones, doodled with sidewalk chalk, and tossed each other’s shoes into the hedge.

    

I love having a front porch.

Pasta with pesto

No doubt the internet is awash with pesto recipes, but just in case you haven’t been inspired to make your own, I’m sharing ours. If you have small children who have not yet declared their undying hatred for green food, then I would advise putting “Green Noodles” into your meal rotation as soon as possible. My kids regularly snub green vegetables, but when a bowl of green noodles appears in front of them, they magically shut up and eat. Whew!

Once you’ve made it a few times, you’ll be able to get dinner on the table in about 20 minutes, or however long it takes to boil a pot of pasta. (I like to keep angel hair pasta or capellini on hand because it cooks in just 4-6 minutes.) Add a salad (sometimes just sliced tomatoes with a drizzle of vinegar and oil) and some crusty bread if you have it.

Pasta with pesto

1 lb. pasta (whole wheat, if you like)

a bunch of greens: basil, spinach or arugula, or a mixture; washed and dried

about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 large cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (or walnuts)–omit if you have nut allergies

salt and pepper to taste

juice of half a lemon, optional

freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add a couple teaspoons of salt to the water. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Before draining, scoop out about a cup of the pasta water and set it aside.

While the water is boiling, put the olive oil and garlic into a small microwaveable bowl. Warm the oil and garlic in the microwave for about a minute on half power. (You can do this on the stove top, too, in a small saucepan or metal measuring cup. And if you don’t mind the bite of raw garlic, you can skip this step entirely.) Fill the bowl of the food processor with your greens of choice, add the warm oil and garlic, salt and pepper. Purée the mixture until it is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl, and adding a little more olive oil when necessary. Taste the pesto, and add salt, pepper or lemon juice to taste.

Mix the drained pasta with the pesto, adding the reserved pasta water as needed by the 1/4 cup, until the pesto has coated all the pasta. Serve with grated parmesan.

Artichoke Heart Variation: Substitute the greens for one 14-ounce can of drained artichoke hearts. Add a small handful of parsley or spinach if you have it. Don’t leave out the lemon. We call this one “Yellow Noodles.”

Battle of the basement

Our basement is nothing to get excited about. It’s unfinished, though someone slapped up some dark paneling at some point (in the ’80s, maybe). Not long after we moved in (in reality, not long after we unpacked the last box–probably a year after moving day), my husband painted all the paneling. We laid some rugs down, stashed the noisy toys down there, and let the kids play. Unfortunately, they didn’t play down there very often, preferring to be upstairs with Mom and Dad.

Now all the kids are old enough to play unsupervised in the basement (especially when they have friends over and are reenacting Pokémon battles or shooting Nerf guns), but it’s often too messy, and the many florescent lightbulbs are always burning out. Along with the garage, the basement is always the staging area/dumping ground for all the stuff we don’t want in the rest of the house. After Christmas and clearing out the kids’ rooms, the piles had toppled into one another and all but blocked the path from one side of the basement to the other. Empty boxes, suitcases, bins and bags of outgrown toys and clothes…

Halfway through the process…I found the floor before I remembered the camera.

For me, one of the easiest motivators to get clutter out of the house is to have a deadline. Wednesday the Amvets truck was scheduled to do a pick up, so I had to have everything boxed up and on the porch by 7 a.m. (Someone calls me about once a month to ask if I have anything to donate. If I do, they send me a reminder postcard and call the day before. No loading up the van, no carting things to Goodwill. I just leave it on the porch for the truck and they leave a receipt.) Over the weekend I listed several items on Freecycle–mostly items that were generously given to us: a toy box, a toddler bed rail, multiple bags of toddler board books–and all were picked up. I found a new home for the train table, which I will deliver tomorrow.

Again, only about half of what I donated.

I filled a bin with recycling (mostly empty boxes left from Christmas), put away the luggage, sorted and stored all the hand-me-down clothing for Little Four to grow into. While I was at it, I sorted the laundry and washed a couple loads. I reduced the clutter pile to a single box of stuff that still needs sorting.

There’s that final bin, waiting patiently to be emptied. It may take a while.

I’m proud to say that there’s a large swath of floor that is completely clear. It’s an ugly concrete floor, and perhaps one of these days we’ll get around to painting it. In the meantime, I need to reconsider what is on the basement shelving. I need to find a better container for the gift wrapping supplies. I have a big stack of empty plastic Ikea bins that might be useful in organizing the stuff on those shelves. My sewing area needs some work, and there are several boxes of old photos, sheet music, and kitchen supplies that need purging. Now that I can actually get to those things without climbing over a mountain of junk, I only have one excuse left.

We need new lightbulbs.

It’s not beautiful, but there’s nothing to trip over. And the laundry bin is empty!

Whole wheat cheese crackers

I think my children could eat their weight in Cheez-Its or goldfish crackers if given the opportunity. I don’t buy either one regularly (unless there’s a good sale and I have a coupon!), but that means I’m often scrambling to find something to pack in their lunches or dole out as an afternoon snack. I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for a long time, but I knew anything involving a cookie cutter–especially a teeny tiny fish-shaped one–was going to be filed under Too Fussy in my book. Finally it occurred to me that I could just cut the crackers into squares. I know! What a revelation! I happen to have a fluted pastry wheel, so that made the edges decorative, but a pizza cutter or a knife would work just as well. These took about 15 minutes of prep, with another 15 minutes for chilling and 15 minutes for baking. Not bad at all.

The trouble with these little crackers is simply that one batch is not enough. I am going to have to hide them from myself. The cheese flavor sings out and they are satisfyingly crispy. It makes me wonder what other flavor combinations might work…add some herbs? A little garlic? I do know that next time, I’m going to double the recipe.

      Whole wheat cheese crackers

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups grated hard cheese (I used a combination of cheddar, colby jack, Jarlsberg and Pecorino Romano)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1/8 tsp. onion powder

4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Put all ingredients into the food processor. Pulse a couple of times, and then run the processor for about 2 minutes, or until the dough is well-mixed and easily pressed into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes (or freeze for 15 minutes). Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch between two sheets of wax paper. Cut the dough into 1-inch squares with a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or sharp knife. Transfer squares to an ungreased baking sheet and prick each one with a fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a rack and cool completely.

Makes approximately 100 crackers.

Bedrooms

It has been a good week for organizing and completing projects. Not exactly all the projects I had planned, but I think it’s good to stay flexible. I finally got those pillow covers made for the master bedroom, and I couldn’t be happier. Credit goes to Jenn, who suggested the envelope closure so I wouldn’t have to mess with zippers or velcro.

            

I added some flowers, and it’s a pleasure to work and rest here in my little suite.

I also intended to get those knobs onto the closet doors, but abandoned that project in favor of overhauling the big kids’ rooms. On Saturday we had nowhere to rush off to, so we dug in and worked.

Miss Six, sorting through the contents of her bookcase.

Here’s only a fraction of what we purged from their rooms:

I removed several bags of garbage and recycling, and freecycled a Barbie camper and cruise ship that were taking up prime real estate in the bottom of Miss Six’s closet. The rooms are certainly not magazine worthy. They retain a certain amount of clutter (they call it “treasures”), and what they choose to display is not always what I would choose. But we weeded out all the toys they don’t play with anymore, the hidden candy wrappers and crumpled school papers wadded into desk drawers, the baby books and the broken crayons. Now there are dedicated drawers for craft supplies and American Girl accessories, shelves for Legos and Zoobles. The jewelry is all put away, and all the hair accessories are corralled in a cute tin pail.

       

Mr. Nine now has room to display his precious Lego Harry Potter sets, his cayman head keychain and his ship in a bottle.

  

The books are alphabetized and there is a clear surface on the dresser to display his new karate trophy.

      

I was able to vacuum the floors for the first time in weeks (a month?), now that there is no longer any danger of sucking up a valuable Lego piece from Diagon Alley. We washed all the sheets and dusted all the shelves. Both kids have even made an attempt since then to make their beds.

  

I did say “attempt.” Good enough for me, and the cat, too.