Friday, December 31, 2010

Now Showing...

Ah, that little blogging hiatus felt good, and it was absolutely necessary. My fellow elf and I were up late, late a few too many nights getting ready for Christmas. With the presents to make and wrap, all of the fun to be had while Jeff was on vacation, and then my birthday to celebrate, there just hasn't been time to blog.

We had a great Christmas, and the cause of all the adult sleeplessness was a huge hit. Our big gift to the kids was to reorganize the basement playroom and build a little stage, complete with velvet curtains and a cabinet to house all the dress-up clothes. We also set up a new play area for cars and trucks that included a new-to-us racetrack with two remote-control cars. When the kids started jumping up and down on the stage and singing, we knew it was worth the three days' madness of building, painting, and sewing.

Check out the results:

Pretty spiffy, if I do say so myself. We were able to find mis-mixed paint that almost exactly matched our walls, the cabinet was $10 at the Salvation Army, and I got the already inexpensive "velvet" on sale, so this was a bargain project all the way around. We've decided to finish it off by using chalkboard paint on the wall behind the stage so the kids can draw scenery or anything else they'd like.

Jeff and I have already been treated to a number of shows, and believe me -- they are worth the price of admission, no matter how great the cost! Where else can you get entertainment like this?

Hope you all had a great holiday season, and I wish you all the best for the coming year! I hope you'll continue to join us on our journey. I have no doubt there are many laughs and surprises ahead of us.
© Trippin' Mama 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dear Santa 2010

Dear Santa,

Ho, ho, how are you? Just a little Kris Kringle humor to start things off right here.

I know this time of year is crazy for you. It's crazy here, too. Well, to be honest, every day is a bit crazy here, but it's a good kind of crazy.

But I digress. I'll keep my wish list short so you can get on with everything else on your to-do list.

For starters, I'd love to have a few of your elves help around here, during your slow season of course. I'll gladly pay them a small salary. No pun intended. Just be sure you send me your best multi-taskers. Housekeeping, cooking and laudry know-how are a given. Climbing skills and the capacity to do some heavy lifting would be a bonus. Whoever you send has to be able to keep up with the boys, and as you know they are big climbers. They are also getting big, so it would be great if I didn't have to lift them so much.

Second, I'd love to see the end of the era of diapers in my house. We're getting close, so maybe you could help things along with a little Christmas magic? I'd really appreciate not throwing away all that money, and I'd love to spend less time in the bathroom talking about going potty with my boys. I'm just not sure how many more potty, winky, pooping, flushing conversations I can stand.

And since you'll be pulling off one Super Nanny feat already, how about weaning the whole crew off pacis while you're at it. If you could accomplish that with a minimum of parental sleep disruption and crying, that would be great. If you can't, then don't bother. I'd rather have my uninterrupted sleep than be paci-free. As far as I'm concerned they can have those things until they move out of the house as long as I get to sleep all night.

Toss in another year of good health and lots of laughter and I'll be all set.

I realize I may be a bit older than your average letter writer, but I've been pretty good most of the year, so I'll hope you'll overlook that tiny detail. Travel safely on Christmas Eve, and thanks for considering my requests.



© Trippin' Mama 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Graham Cracker "Gingerbread" Houses

Aren't these cute?

Amelia and I made these "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers yesterday. I've seen them before, but never made them.

We had a blast!

It was easy to do, and the building went quickly, so we were able to get to the fun part -- decorating!

You can find directions all over the Web on how to make these. I happened to check them out on Martha Stewart's Web site, which has a photo tutorial. Her adorable creations make ours look like shacks, but I'll bet she didn't eat the candy, lick her fingers or laugh nearly as much as we did!

Besides, it was totally worth the inferiority complex to read the comment someone left saying "I made these and CitiBank foreclosed on them."

Amelia shows off her creation.
You can check out Martha's picture-perfect instructions if you want, but here are the basic how-tos with some handy hints I learned along the way.

1. Mix up a batch of Royal icing. You can find the recipe in most cookbooks or on the Web. I got mine out of my Joy of Cooking cookbook. If you don't want to make icing, you can use Wilton's candy melts of melted almond bark. This is the mortar that holds everything together.

2. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut two crackers into squares (walls and roof) and two into peaked ends. Use the lines on the crackers as a guide.
Handy hint: It is best to start your cut at the top of the peak. The crackers tended to break unevenly at the end of my cut, and it's easier to fix an uneven side than a flat peak! Mortar hides a lot of flaws.

3. Put your Royal icing or other "mortar" into a zip-top bag and make a small hole by snipping off one corner. Using a paper plate turned upside down, build your house by piping the icing onto the bottom and side of the crackers to keep them in place on the plate and stick them together.
Handy hint: As Martha suggests, use a small spice jar to help the first couple of pieces stand upright. Just don't forget to remove it before you add the roof! 

4. Let the house stand for about 5 minutes so the icing will firm up enough to withstand a fair amount of handling. Give it 10 minutes if you're decorating with a preschooler. If it's not pretty dry, give it a few more minutes until it's good and solid. It's no fun to start decorating and have your house fall down!

5. Get creative! Use the mortar of your choice to attach a variety of candies, cookies, pretzels and whatever else you can dream up to decorate your little house.
Handy hint: These houses are pretty small, so look for some small-scale candy. Next time I'll have mini chocolate chips and mini M&Ms on hand. Oh, and buy lots of green gumdrops. We ran out of green because we were using them for bushes and trees.

We gave our houses chocolate graham cracker doors and windows. We used Spree for windows, and Skittles, M& Ms, mint meltaways, and colored marshmallows on the roofs. We made trees, bushes and fences out of gumdrops and added jelly bean patios out back. Pretzels became fence rails and hard peppermints became stepping stones.

Beautiful and delicious!

Mom & Amelia with their graham cracker gingerbread houses.

I think we've just started a new Christmas tradition in our house!
© Trippin' Mama 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

From My Kitchen: Hot Cranberry Cider

Now for something entirely new to My Kitchen--a drink! Despite what you might expect from a mom of four kids 4 and under, it's non-alcoholic.

These cold days and frosty nights in my neck of the woods call for something hot to drink to warm us from our toeses to our noses. Hot Cranberry Cider fills the bill nicely. This sweet-tart cider is nicely spiced with cloves and cinnamon. It's just different enough to be a little special for your holiday guests, and easy enough to make anytime. And it is oh so good!

This recipe came from a Taste of Home cookbook years ago. It makes a full gallon, so cut it down if you'd like, but it does keep well in the fridge for a week to ten days.

Here's the recipe:

Hot Cranberry Cider
3 quarts unsweetened apple juice or cider
1 quart cranberry juice
2-3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a large kettle, and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick. Serve warm.

Makes 1 gallon, approximately 25-30 servings.

This is a great drink for a holiday party or just to sip while sitting by the fire in the quiet that reigns after the children are all in bed. Toss in a few Christmas cookies, and that is how I intend to savor mine!


© Trippin' Mama 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Writer's Workshop: Working in a Barrel of Monkeys

I know lots of people are braving cold temps and trudging through the snow and ice to get to work these days. Many of them are probably wishing they could just work from home.

Let me just say, some days I'd rather brave the weather than weather the storm here at home -- let alone try to get any work done in the midst of it!

It's not unusual for me to have to break up a fist fight, fish a child off a the top of a table or out of a cabine, take someone to the potty, or serve a meal all while I'm working from home.

I'm very efficient, and I can get a LOT done during naptime and after the kids go to bed, but sometimes I have to take a business call while the kids are up and active. I always explain the situation, and people are very understanding and accommodating, but still, it's mildly insane to juggle things on my end.
Thank heavens for the mute button on my cell phone. It saves those I'm talking to from the insane noise levels we can reach around here.

Despite the mute button, I'm almost certain that yesterday a client heard me ask "Where is your diaper?" before my call was completely disconnected.

Thankfully he wasn't still on the line for the "I was poopy," response that followed. That sent me on a four-room hunt for the phantom poopies. I didn't find anything, and I think that the perpetrator only tried to poop, but failed.

Oh well, if I'm wrong about that I'll find out sooner rather than later.

Today I had the misfortune of being on a dying cell phone. In order to finish my business I had to plug it into the wall. About that time the triplets pushed down the baby gate keeping them out of the kitchen and the bedrooms.

Note to self: Pressure gates were not made to contain triplets.

This is exactly the situation for which the phrase "run amok" was created. Exactly.

Those boys ran screaming through the house as fast as they could go. Almost everything was closed up, so I knew they couldn't harm themselves, but I shuddered at the thought of the damage they could do.

It took me seven minutes to finish my call. It took me an hour to clean up after the boys. F3 tornado, anyone?

To make matters worse, the boys knew they had me over a barrel. They would come running into the kitchen shouting and grinning at me and then turn and run away with a you-can't-catch-me look on their faces. That spells trouble, doesn't it? Whatever did moms do before cordless phones and cell phones? 

So to all you rush hour warriors out there, know that your commute may be bad, especially in this winter weather, but working from home ain't always what it's cracked up to be.

At least not when all three of your colleagues are two years old.

My little helpers: Isaac, Sam and Alex

Play along with Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop.

Mama's Losin' It

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From My Kitchen: Oreo Truffles

I have lots of tried-and-true recipes, but I always like to try something new. When I saw the recipe for Oreo Truffles in the December issue of Better Homes and Gardens, I thought it was worth a go.

This recipe met my standard of being easy to make--crushed Oreos and cream cheese--but you do have to dip the truffles in white chocolate by hand, so they aren't exactly fast. Sometimes though, it's fun to do some fussing around in the kitchen. And the results were beautiful.

Almost too pretty to eat!

I have to admit that this was not a knockout recipe for me, but Amelia LOVED them and Jeff thought they were pretty good. Those endorsements make it a recipe worth sharing. I did like the fact that it was different and something that looked special on the cookie and candy plate.

Here's the recipe:

Oreo Truffles
1 package of Oreos (16.6 oz.), crushed finely
8 oz. cream cheese
White baking chocolate, melted

Pulse Oreos in food processor until they are finely crushed. Combine with 8 oz. softened cream cheese. Roll into small balls. I found that a nicely rounded teaspoon of filling was about the right size.

Refrigerate or even freeze until firm to make the dipping easier.

Melt the white chocolate (not white almond bark or vanilla-flavored candy dip, but real white chocolate) according to package instructions. Dip each truffle into the white chocolate and coat evenly. I found it faster and easier to dip by hand, leaving the bottoms uncoated rather than trying to coat the whole truffle and fish it out of the white chocolate with a fork.

You can leave these as is, or decorate by using a tube of decorating gel or by piping a little colored frosting on them. You could also color the white chocolate and pipe that on if you want. If my chief sprinkler hadn't been in bed, we might have tried adding decorator sprinkles before the chocolate dried.

I used decorating gel, but next time I might buy a tube of frosting instead. The disadvantage of the gel was that it stayed a bit sticky, so I couldn't stack the truffles. Hence the recipients of my goodie boxes only got five truffles because that is all that would fit. Since the recipe made about 50 truffles and I only gave out six goodie boxes, that left quite a few for us to devour, which made Amelia very happy.

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sugar Wins!

Blog or bake? Bake or blog?

Sorry guys, but the sugar won out! I know you all understand.

I wish I could share the deliciousness via the Internet, but we're not that advanced yet. (And I'd have to do a LOT more baking!) So you'll have to settle for a feast for the eyes instead.

Clockwise from top left: Chocolate-covered Toffee, Oreo Truffles, Crockpot Chocolates and Mock Turtles

Yes, it's chocolate overload, but isn't that part of what Christmas is all about? Yum!

You can find all of these recipes in my kitchen, except for the Oreo Truffles. I'll be posting that one later this week. They are all super easy, so go bake up some homemade goodness of your own.

I'll be back to blogging soon. Promise!

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Of Coyotes, Christmas and Children

Time for a quick update.

First, there's no news on the coyote. Apparently someone spotted it in a neighborhood a mile or so south of here. It was acting strangely, just like the one in our neighborhood was, so we assume it's the same one. Either way, Tim the Wildlife Guy hasn't caught it yet. Maybe it went off into the woods and died. We may never know.

Christmas is coming fast! This week I'm pounding out some work before everyone starts leaving for the holidays, and it become impossible to get anyone on the phone. Next week is a whirlwind of my early birthday celebration, two Christmas programs for Amelia (church and school) and probably six other things I'm not remembering right now. We've got most of the Christmas shopping done, so there's just the wrapping to do. Whew!

This weekend Amelia and I baked up some more goodies for some treat boxes for a few people. I'll be posting the recipe for Oreo truffles this week. I wasn't a big fan, but Amelia loved them and Jeff thought they were pretty good. So, that's good enough for me. And, as usual, it's an easy recipe.

Jeff decided that this would be the year the Christmas cards went out BEFORE Christmas. God love him. If it weren't for his commitment to getting those out they really would be Valentine's Day cards. Unfortunately, we ordered some extras online with a coupon for free overnight shipping. That was four days ago and they haven't arrived. Hopefully the customer service folks can sort that out for us tomorrow.

Once we get our cards out to all our friends and family, I'll share it here with you, too.

On the freedom front, we are figuring out what works to give the boys a little more room without driving me crazy trying to keep up with them. We installed a gate to keep them out of the living room -- critical since that also keeps them away from the Christmas tree. And today I texted Jeff my list of childproofing needs. It was a pretty lengthy one.

Unless you've lived it, you can't imagine what three two-year-olds can get into. The other day two boys got into the pantry while I was busy getting someone else out of trouble. They started throwing the little plastic containers of blueberry applesauce and split two of them open all over the kitchen floor, cabinet and refrigerator.

Yep, time to lock that door up!

And just when I think I've removed everything they can use to climb in the playroom, they prove me wrong. Yesterday Isaac got stuck on top of the play kitchen. Later he and Sam were on top of my sewing table behind the TV. Then Isaac climbed out of his crib during a time out. Uh-oh. Crib tents here we come!

I can't keep up. Well I can, but I can't get anything else done in the house and I collapse in exhaustion the second Jeff comes in the door. So, a few changes are in order. Like everything else in tripletdom, we've had to figure out what works best for us. I am looking forward to the day when we aren't living in a maze of baby gates, though it seems we will have to add a few more before we're ready to get rid of them entirely.

Our potty training efforts are going pretty well. The boys mostly stay dry, and we've had a couple moments of major celebration over something else happening on the potty, too. We handed out Tootsie Rolls as rewards. (Don't think about that too much or ewww!) I managed to restrain myself from running through the streets shouting the good news, but barely.

Now it's time to get back to burning my candle at both ends like everyone else in this holiday season!

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

From My Kitchen: Crockpot Chocolates

Looking for a fast and easy addition to your cookie and candy plate for the holidays? Of course you are! These nutty, chocolatey goodies are a snap to make thanks to your handy-dandy crockpot. The salty-sweet combo is always a winner in my book.

And, of course, fast and easy is an absolute necessity when you're trying to keep four kids in line or just trying to keep up with the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Santa could make big bucks hiring out those elves this time of year!

Here's the recipe:

Crockpot Chocolates
1 16-oz package white almond bark
1 4-oz German chocolate baking bar (sweet)
1 12-oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 24-oz jar of dry roasted  peanuts

Put all ingredients in the crockpot on high for 1-2 hours, until everything is melted. Stir and drop spoonfuls onto waxed paper. I try not to make these too big because they are pretty rich. Pop them in the fridge until the chocolate sets.

It pays to check your progress at an hour, just in case your crockpot is pretty hot, or it has a hot spot, like mine. The first time I made these I burned a bunch of the peanuts. Yuck.

Delicious with almost no effort on your part. How can it get any better than that? Well, OK, they could be calorie-free, and the crockpot could clean itself, but I'm afraid I can't help you out there.


© Trippin' Mama 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Enchanted In Her Eyes

Christmas is not my favorite holiday. There's just too much to do in such a short time. Even the admonishments to "simplify and have your best Christmas ever" come wrapped in ecologically-friendly handmade paper ("So much fun to make with your kids!" ) adorned with the bounty of nature collected on walks with your little ones. 

I can start to feel a bit bah humbug pretty quickly in the face of a monstrous to-do list. Thankfully, I have Amelia.

Amelia is four and a half, and she is enchanted with Christmas. She loves Santa. She loves Baby Jesus. She loves Christmas songs and picking out presents and telling Santa what she wants him to bring her. She loves the decorations, the cookies and the tree. She even loves the snow and cold because it means "Christmas is coming!"

Every time she talks about Christmas exclamation points punctuate every sentence. "And Santa has reindeer, Mom!" "Baby Jesus is going to be born!" "We get to make cookies!"

You might think that her delight over Christmas would add to the pressure and the to-do list, but it has been just the opposite.

Amelia is thrilled with every little thing. "You got the stockings out!" Why, yes I did. Never mind that they aren't out of the box. The mere fact that I brought the box up from the basement is enough to make Amelia dance around the room.

That's a standard I can meet.

Since Amelia is so enchanted with all things Christmas, I've found myself focusing on the things that will bring her the most joy. I dug out a little tree and we spent an afternoon making ornaments and decorating "Amelia's tree" with snowflakes, bits of colored paper and ribbons. I gave her some small ornaments to put on them and she could barely contain her glee at getting to put them on her tree by herself.

When it snowed we shelved the efforts to get a Christmas card list in order and went outside to play in it for hours.

We got out the nativity sets and played with the kids' soft set for hours before we ever set the big one up. All the people and animals talked to each other and went on adventures. Turns out that shepherd is a pretty funny guy. Who knew?

I baked Christmas cookies with Amelia instead of cleaning the house. We made spritz, "the most fun cookies ever!" Not only did Amelia get to use the cookie press, she also got to sprinkle colored sugar on each and every one. And, after careful testing, she determined that all of the cookies tasted the same, even though they were different shapes.

So here we are, just a little over two weeks away from Christmas. We don't have our tree yet. We've only baked one kind of cookie. There's shopping and wrapping to be done. I have no plans for Christmas dinner. Oh, and I'm wishing my Christmas cards said "Happy Valentine's Day" instead of "Merry Christmas."

But none of that matters, because I am seeing this Christmas through the eyes of a four-year-old.

Amelia doesn't need the Martha Stewart decorations or the Paula Deen cookie platter. She just needs Christmas to get here, and quick! Well, that and a few presents under the tree, preferably a Barbie horse.

Amelia is enchanted with every little piece of Christmas this year.

And I am completely enchanted with her.

Play along with Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop.

Mama's Losin' It

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Warning: Helmets May Be Required

A couple weeks ago I heard the boys giggling and giggling as I unloaded the dishwasher, so I went to check it out. They were all sitting side-by-side on one of their little couches doing this:

Further proof that we should wear our bike helmets at ALL times...

Sam and Alex


...even when we're hanging out in our jammies!

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Animals Are Running The Zoo

Sorry for the radio silence all weekend. We were crazy busy Saturday and on Sunday we had Internet problems.

Today I've been chasing -- literally chasing -- kids most of the day.

You see, Jeff and I inadvertently created a problem for ourselves over Thanksgiving. The kids were sick and grumpy, and we were both here to keep small boys out of trouble, so we let the triplets have more freedom than usual. It kept them from fussing and whining so much, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Now they aren't satisfied to be in their gated play area. Think screaming. Times three. The boys will all scream and wail while holding their ears and saying, "That hurts my ears!" Apparently they are not bothered by their own screaming, just their brothers'. I'm bothered by all of it.

So, for the last week I have tried to make the boys happy in their play area and give them a little "run" time every day. But the more freedom they have, the more they want.

Since they've been able to open the baby gate for months now, they can get out of their play area if they want. And now they WANT, so breakouts are not uncommon.

Right now if I let them out of their gated play area they have the run of the house, and I get to run around the house, too, trying to keep everyone out of trouble. Nothing zaps productivity like three two-year-olds on the loose!

So it's time to make another round of changes here.

The question is what to do, and when?

I can barely muster the mental energy to think about moving furniture around on top of work, Christmas and everyday survival.

Maybe I'll just toss some Christmas cookies into the gated play area to keep the boys happy.

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

From My Kitchen: Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

These are some of the best pumpkin bars you will ever taste. Promise! This is an old recipe from a church cookbook. Nothing fancy, but bursting with spices and oh so good.

I made these for Thanksgiving because my house was awash with sick children and I didn't have time to make a homemade pie crust for a pumpkin pie. And I don't keep the ready-made ones on hand. So, no crust, no pie. But these were a delicious substitute that just might become a Thanksgiving tradition for us.

I had to borrow powdered sugar from my neighbor (thanks, Libbie!) to finish making the cream cheese frosting, and yum! Isn't everything better with a little cream cheese frosting on top? And I'm almost positive that the healthy pumpkin cancels out the fat in the cream cheese, so I declare these bars downright healthy!

Here's the recipe:

Pumpkin Bars
4 eggs
1 C. vegetable oil
2 C. sugar
1 can pumpkin (16 oz.)
2 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

8 oz. cream cheese
6 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
4 C. powdered sugar

Mix eggs, oil, sugar and pumpkin together. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured pan. You can use an 11x17 cookie sheet or a 9x13 pan. I like to use the smaller pan so the bars come out more like a cake than a flatter bar. They are delicious either way.

Bake at 350 degrees for 28-30 minutes if you use an 11x17 pan, and 38-40 minutes if you use a 9x13 pan. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, milk, and vanilla until soft. Add powdered sugar until you reach a spreadable consistency. I find that this makes too much frosting for a 9x13 pan of bars, so if you want to be frugal, you could halve the frosting recipe. Or you can spread the leftovers on cinnamon graham crackers for a treat your kids will love.

© Trippin' Mama 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One of Those Days

How about a little honesty today? Lately we're really up and down around here on the behavior front. Some days are great, but others--whew! Just plain awful!

Makes me wonder if I'll survive three kids in the midst of the terrible twos and one four-year-old drama queen.

Yesterday was one of those days.

The kids woke up crying and whining. They stomped their feet defiantly and shouted, "No!"

Amelia left the house with a scowl on her face.

The boys fought with each other. They kicked. They screamed. They wrestled.

They refused to eat what I made and demanded something different.

I tried books, Play-Doh, coloring, puzzles. I dispensed ibuprofen just in case it was two-year molars. Nothing made them happy.

I prayed for naptime and decided that until then I would settle for having one child not crying or screaming at any given time. It was still a tough standard to meet.

Naptime came at last, but that didn't go particularly well either. I started to wonder if the moon was going to be full. Or maybe it was the cold, rainy weather?

We forged ahead with Legos, dress-up, a favorite video.

Finally I put everyone in the van to pick up Amelia, thinking we just needed to be out of the house for a while. I traded three crabby kids for four. Good thinking, Mom.


It was just one of those days. One of those days when I want credit for STAYING. Because I certainly thought about leaving a time or two. What normal person wouldn't fantasize about that on a day like today?

I even would have happily traded in for a nine-hour layover in an airport full of angry travelers.

At least there I didn't have to change anyone's poopy pants.

Then, miraculously, everyone slept all night. And today was one of those shiny, happy days that the parents who live in diaper commercials always have.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Guess we'll just have to buckle up and hang on for dear life!

© Trippin' Mama 2010