Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mill City, Here We Come!

Today turned out to be a perfect day for our family field trip downtown.  It was sunny and forty degrees with no wind.  We started out by boarding the light rail train.  Although the boys have taken the train before, this was a first for Anna.

Along the way, we had previews of our destination.

Shortly after its 10:00 am opening, we arrived at the Mill City Museum. 

The museum is housed in a building that used to be the General Mills flour mill.  It ceased operations in 1965 when General Mills moved to Golden Valley.  In 1991, most of the abandoned building burned down in a fire that was presumably started by the campfire of homeless persons occupying the building.

At first, we nearly had the museum to ourselves.  Not too much later, several classes of first graders arrived from area schools {we must have been on the right track, bringing our first graders here}.  The boys enjoyed the water tables that demonstrated how the mill was powered by water from the Mississippi River {The machinery on all eight floors of the building was powered by the river!  Amazing.}.  Anna and I really enjoyed the "Flour Tower," which was a tour of the mill by elevator.

After we were done seeing the museum, we decided to take advantage of the weather and walk across the nearby Stone Arch Bridge to get a closer look at St. Anthony Falls.

We ate lunch at a little tavern called Tuggs.  I liked their "No Crybabies" clock.

Finally, we took the train back south and made a quick visit to Minnehaha Falls before heading home.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mud, Glorious Mud

First, you find a good "brush."

Next, you dip it in some "paint."

Finally, you get down to work.

And occasionally you must sing, "Mud, glorious mud.  Mud, glorious Muu - uud."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oh Shoot!

Yesterday, Dan asked me if I noticed the garlic was up.  I had not, so Anna and I took a little trip out to the muddy garden to inspect the situation more closely.  There they were.  Shoots of garlic about 2-3 inches high, and they did not look good. 

I'm sure the garlic sprouted in the beautiful fifty-degree weather we had, only to be struck down by the snow and bitter cold that followed.  The varieties of garlic I planted last fall are new to me, so I'm not sure if they are hardy in our northern climate.  Time will tell.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Truth is Out

Dad is the fun parent. 

This was confirmed when he called me at work to ask if I was taking any time off for spring break.  I asked him, "Are you?"  He thought we should do something fun with the kids over their break.  "Oh, right..."  Why hadn't I thought of that?  The Fun Planner had all kinds of ideas. So next week, we'll be taking a family field trip to Minnehaha Falls and the Mill City Museum.  Thank goodness for Dad.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our Chili

Big, beautiful bell peppers were on sale at the grocery store last week, as were canned tomatoes and chili beans, so it was time to make chili. There are a lot of amazing chili recipes, but here's the one Dan and I have worked out together over the years.

Our Chili

1 lb ground beef
1 large yellow onion (diced)
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic (minced) *
1 large yellow bell pepper (remove seeds & dice)
1 large red bell pepper (remove seeds & dice)
1 large green pepper (remove seeds & dice)
1 jalapeƱo pepper (remove seeds & dice)
2 - 15 oz cans diced tomatoes w/ green chiles
1 - 8 oz can tomato paste
2 - 15 oz cans chili beans w/ chili seasoning

In a large heavy pot, brown the ground beef over medium heat. Stir in diced onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add diced peppers, garlic and chili powder. Cook 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and beans. Stir, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for at least 30 minutes. Husband's note: Add a couple of dashes of every type of hot sauce you have in the house until you reach the desired level of heat.  He also wants me to note for the record that he prefers 2 lbs of ground beef and 2 cans of tomato paste.

* You can substitute 1 or 2 teaspoons of garlic powder if you don't have fresh garlic on hand.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rays of Hope

Yesterday the sun came out, both literally and figuratively.  Earlier this year, I shared that Ehren and Christian were being re-evaluated to determine if they are still eligible for special education services.  As I expected, both will continue to receive social skills training (to help with social awareness, personal space, and other behavioral issues) and speech therapy (to improve articulation of [s] and [z] sounds).

What I didn't expect is that both boys showed an above average IQ.  I have said Ehren and Christian's report cards look good in almost every subject except handwriting, so you may wonder why I was surprised by their high IQ scores.  On Christian's initial evaluation three years ago, he scored below 70 on the IQ test, which classified him as a person with mental retardation.  I think this has always been in the back of my mind, lowering my academic expectations for the boys.

Like you might expect for identical twins, their new total IQ scores were nearly equal, but the subtest scores were not.  Ehren's scores were consistent across all areas of the test.  Christian's scores on the verbal subtest were just average, but on the performance subtest, he was in the 99th percentile.  The school psychologist said she has never had a student score so high on the block design test, which is one part of the performance subtest.  Wikipedia reports that it is common for persons on the autism spectrum to have superior scores on the block design test, but Christian also did exceptionally well on matrix reasoning. 

Although IQ only measures potential, you can imagine with these new numbers, the word potential has taken on a whole new meaning for me.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cherish the Stories

Tonight, Anna reminded that she will be turning FIVE {but not until the end of the summer!}.  We had a long {one-sided} conversation about all the details of the outdoor birthday party she's planning.  But she's not five yet, and before my little girl grows up, I want to remember some of our favorite children's books.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse (by Kevin Henkes)

Anna received this book as a gift when she was a baby.  It collected dust on the bookshelf for a few years, while we were busy reading boy-themed books to her older brothers.  When Anna was three, we watched Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse at the Duluth Playhouse {my cousin was in the play}.  That's when we started reading the book, and I fell in love.  If you want to know how I thought and acted in elementary school, just read the book.  Lilly is me {except she's way more fashionable}.

Anna now has the book memorized.  I think her favorite line is in the description of Lilly's teacher, Mr. Slinger (who thinks desks in rows are old-fashioned and boring): "Can you rodents handle a semicircle?"  She laughs everytime I read it, and I've heard her quoting it.  Probably only Anna and I think this is so funny.

We also love another book by Kevin Henkes called Chrysanthemum.  It's about a little girl who loves her name (Chrysanthemum) until she starts school, and her classmates mock her for it.  Of course, it's a feel-good children's book with a happy ending, so go read it!

Time for Bed (by Mem Fox/Jane Dyer)

Time for bed is a sweet book with short soothing lines for small children.  Even though you can't see it from our battered copy pictured above, the illustrations are beautiful.  I loved reading this book to the boys when they were small.  They always referred to it as "Mommy's favorite book."  If they wanted me to read it, they would always say, "Mommy, what about your favorite book?  Read us your favorite book." 

I have it memorized.  Sometimes if they were sick or having a hard time going to sleep, I would just sit by their bedside and recite it to them in the dark.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whole Grain Irish Soda Bread

I was inspired by one of my favorite food blogs, The Parsley Thief, to post my favorite Irish soda bread recipe.  I don't have a drop of Irish blood, but I love this hearty whole grain bread.  My recipe is from the March 2010 edition of Cooking Light magazine.  One or two buttered slices with a side of fresh fruit make a fast breakfast.

Whole Grain Irish Soda Bread

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup steel cut oats *
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp wheat germ
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk (or sour milk) **
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray a bread pan with cooking oil.  If you have parchment paper, line the bread pan with it and spray the parchment with cooking oil {I don't always have this on hand, but it does help prevent sticking}.  Mix all ingredients and pour into bread pan.  Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

* If you live near an Aldi, they currently have steel cut oats.  Their price is significantly less than other grocery stores, so I stocked up on these.

** I prefer buttermilk for this recipe, but I don't always have it on hand, so sour milk can be substituted.  Sour milk can be made by mixing a few teaspoons of vinegar per cup of milk.

Wordless Wednesday: Easter Shopping Delights

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Falling Like Dominoes

Christian was down with a high fever and cough the last two days.  He spent last night right next to our bed.  His fever was too high to be left alone {even after children's ibuprofen}, and he was too hot to climb into our bed {where he'd get even warmer}. 

Thankfully, he sprung back today.  He was a homework superhero and made fast work of catching up with what he missed in school.

But shortly after coming home from school today, twin number two was down. 

Who will be next?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mitey Fine

Saturday, another fine season of beginner mites hockey drew to a close.

#5 - Christian


#6 - Ehren
Our family is still in negotiations, but the boys might have to move over and let this happy hockey fan have a shot at mite stardom next year.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

nearly typical

Most days, I don't really believe I live in the special needs world.  In general, I'm a "glass half empty" person, but when it comes to Ehren and Christian, I might be a "glass half full" person because I usually view them as nearly typical kids.  But then I have days like yesterday.

Because of work, Dad was unable to attend our Ash Wednesday church service last night, so it was the three kids and me.  The service was preceded by a tasty spaghetti dinner {at least I didn't have to cook}.  I wore a cream-colored sweater and managed to get spaghetti on it, so I had to wear my coat into church {it's red, so it's not exactly camouflage apparel}.  All three kids had their own idea about where we should sit.  Anna bolted into the sanctuary ahead of me and went right for the front.  NO WAY were we going to be sitting in front.  I went to retrieve giggling Anna, and then Ehren thought it would be funny to run down another row of chairs and crawl underneath them.  He thought he was so funny.  Is he seven or two?  I hauled Anna to the back of the church trying to scope out a more "private" section, but the whole last row was already taken.  We went for a spot in the second to the last row.  I plunked Anna and Christian into two seats.  Ehren was still "hiding" where I left him.  As I walked back up front, someone pointed him out to me {as if I didn't know where he was}.  I crouched down and whisper-talked to him.  Thankfully, he followed me back without incident.

Then the service began.  Anna was crawling under the chairs, running out the end of the row laughing at me.  Ehren was lying down on the chairs or taking his boots off instead of standing up and following along.  There was chair tipping {Ehren nearly hit the person sitting behind us}.  There were feet on the chairs.  Ehren pretended his arm was a gun and made shooting noises at Anna and Christian.  There was just constant motion and noise, and I only have two arms.  Anna wants to be just like the boys, so she's not on my side.  She's on their side.  All in all, Christian did a good job.  He's a lot better in church now that he can read the program and follow along.  That really grounds him.  However, he just had to join the circus too, so at one point, he started licking the paper program from bottom to top as he read along. 

Today, downcast and expecting the worst, I came home from work to find both boys proudly reading the chapter books they checked out from the library!  They had each read four chapters of their respective book from the Littles series.  Then, Ehren voluntarily started his homework, did it without help, packed it back into his backpack the first time I asked, and picked up the living room the first time I asked.  How was this the same kid?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Day

This little thing made me stupid excited.

To be fair, both boys got 100% on their spelling test last week.  However, seeing Ehren's test made my day for two reasons:  First, he got three wrong on his previous test; and second, this is a big improvement in his handwriting!  Neither of my boys have neat handwriting.  Their report cards look good in almost every subject except handwriting.  Oh the things that make you happy when you're a mom.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stockup Sunday: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

We had a busy morning: church, Sunday school, skating for Anna and then hockey for the boys.  The U6 girls hockey team hosted an open skate session and invited any girls who might be interested in playing hockey with them next season to come skate and scrimmage.  Anna had a fun time zipping around the ice with a hockey stick.  When she was done, I dropped off the boys for their hockey game, and then we girls went back home and got down to cooking.

We had lots to cook today, but most of it won't be staying at our house.  We made chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, chicken salad, and pasta salad.  A good friend of mine just had a baby, so I'm hoping to bring her some food later today.  My chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are just a variation of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe (which I can make from memory).  Incidentally, if you make the original Nestle Toll House recipe, I have to share this tip I learned from my sister-in-law.  Did you know the only measuring utensils you need are a teaspoon and a 3/4 cup measuring cup?  Everything is a multiple of these two measuring utensils, even the 2-1/4 cup flour is three 3/4 cups. 

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup butter (1-1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (one 12 oz bag)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Soften or melt butter in a microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Mix all ingredients except the flour, oatmeal, and chocolate chips.  Stir in the flour and oatmeal.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Drop spoonfuls of dough on a cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes or until done.

I highly recommend airbake cookies sheets for all cookies.  This wonderful invention allows you to bake soft cookies and never burn the bottom.  I have two, and I am very protective of them.  They never get used for anything but cookies, and they always get washed by hand promptly after the last batch of cookies comes out of the oven.  Happy baking, and if you have made any delicious treats recently and you'd like to share, please link me to them in the comments!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rotini Robot

Today was Grandparents' Day at school. It started with an all-school singing program for all the grandparents. Afterwards, back in the first grade classroom, Ehren and Christian read books to their grandma. Later they constructed silly robots with her.

There has been a mock grocery store in their classroom since Christmas. The kids brought clean, empty bottles and boxes from home to make a grocery store they use for math.  The silly robots were the end of the "First Grade Food Store" because all the grocery items were used to construct the robots. Here's Christian's rotini robot {actually, he named his robot, "fire"}.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Little Things That Make Me Stupid Excited

This month I'm joining one of my favorite blogs, Twinsomnia, for "Little Things That Make Me Stupid Excited."  So here's my list of things that make me stupid excited.
* one *
microfiber cleaning clothes

Okay, cleaning is boring, but I bought this 10 pack of microfiber cleaning cloths from Bed, Bath and Beyond, and I love them because:
- You can wring them nearly dry with little effort, so they don't easily become mildewy.
- They are super absorbant -- way better than any paper towel that is used and sent promptly to a landfill {I know that's a little preachy, but it's true}.
- They are my favorite color (green).
- As the package says, they come in 3 shades so you can designate different colors for different tasks.
- These cost less than other ones I've seen.
- They are as good as new after machine washing.

* two *

The TV show "Parenthood"
Parenthood is already in it's second season, but I just love this show!  You can see it Tuesday nights at 9 pm on NBC or online.  Who doesn't love watching the trials and tribulations of a big imperfect, but loving family.  Plus I love that they have a character with Asperger's (Max).   I can relate to some of the challenges the parents face with Max.

* three*

Jack's Salsa

Jack's Special Medium Salsa is fresh and delicious.  You find it in the refrigerator case, but it doesn't cost more than Pace Picante sauce.  Lately it's been kind of tricky to find.  I found it at one SuperTarget store, and there's a rumor that it's available at Super Walmart.  The point is that if you find it, just try it!  When I googled it, I found out that the critics agree with me about this salsa.

* four *

Garden Tomato and Basil Chips

Lay's Garden Tomato and Basil potato chips are yummy.  They taste like someone put a bowl of tomato basil soup into a potato chip. 

* five *

Verdi Olives

I don't know who discovered these and hooked up Costco, but Verdi Olives are so buttery, and they taste almost fresh if that's possible for a preserved food.  I've never been to Italy, and I hated all olives until I was almost 30, so I'm by no means an expert, but I really, really like these.  I hope you live by a Costco because I don't know any other place to find Verdi Olives.