Thursday, December 1, 2011

Project Five- Make an Awesome Birthday Cake

Objectives-Make Me a Better Mom

Injuries sustained-none, but my hands were stained for a few days from the black fondant...

Difficulty level-It was very time consuming but not super difficult!

How Maya “Helped”-She didn't, she went to grandma's so I could surprise her:)

So I have always dreamed of making my kids ridiculous over-sized and beautiful birthday cakes. It is an ultimate Donna Reed type goal for me.  Last year, I bought a hello kitty cake pan and followed the instructions and made a decent cake. It was my first attempt, and it wasn't half bad. That being said, it was NOT something I was overly proud of. Being a perfectionist, I have a hard time claiming anything that doesn't look professionally done. I seem to always expect to get professional results with no training or tools. I know this is a little unrealistic, but hey that's why-most perfectionists are unhappy. As a matter of fact, I was going to include a picture of said cake, but I didn't take any because it wasn't perfect. Go figure. 

This year, thanks to Pinterest (Pinterest deserves its OWN post) I found my dream cake, well sort of. It was an owl on top of multiple tiers.It was a fondant wonderland. My one problem was I had never made or used fondant OR made a layer cake. Due to my ridiculous overconfidence and my tendency to be a dreamer, I decided it couldn't be that hard and recruited a good friend to make it with me. 

I found a blog with a good tasting fondant made out of marshmallow, a butter-cream recipe, and some great cake tutorials at Adventures in Savings and went to work. SHOCKINGLY, everything fell into place. We baked the cakes, iced them, covered them in fondant, decorated with fondant, and made a chocolate coated rice crispie treat owl for the top.

 I enjoyed this so immensely that I decided to sign up for cake decorating classes and learn to do it correctly! I looked at the finished cake and felt like the best mom in the world. It wasn't perfect, but when Maya walked in and screamed OWL CAKE!! I knew it was a success. 

Project Four- Make Time for Me (and This Blog)

Objectives-Make Me a Better Mom. Make Me a Better Wife, Make Me a Better Person

Injuries sustained-none, but I experienced some unexpected and unnecessary guilt...

Difficulty level-It's pretty difficult and still a work in progress.

How Maya “Helped”-She loves her night with Daddy:)

So I am sure you have now given up on me as I have not written or updated on her in weeks. It's sad. I love writing and this is an accurate representation of the priority I give it in my a matter of fact, it seems to be a pretty good metaphor for the priority I give ME in my life...last.

Why is it a mother is always last to eat, last to sleep, and last to rest? We are stretched so thin there is literally not enough of us to go around. I sometimes feel like I am simply a series of roles and functions, not really a person at all. Breakfast maker, clothes washer, dish doer, boo boo kisser, floor cleaning, puppy scolder...the list goes on and on. But when am I "Amy Jo" ? Even when I do things for myself-like take a bath or go for a run, the entire time I am feeling guilty for the things I SHOULD be accomplishing for someone else. I know that once you have children, they should come first, and mine certainly do. But it seems that there should be room, somewhere in my day, for me to breathe.

I have been working for a while on a solution to this problem...while I haven't solved it I HAVE taken some steps. First of all, I am getting up crazy early in the morning. I have been getting up between 5 and 6, before the kiddos and taking a few minutes to just BE. This helps my mood immensely, the quiet is almost a religious experience when you have two little ones around most of the time:) My mother always did this and I am beginning to see why it was worth getting less sleep. Secondly, I started taking a class:) A friend and I signed up at a local Joann's for cake decorating classes. This gives me an APPOINTMENT with myself. This is important for a few reasons. ONE-it is on the calendar and set in stone, I can not miss it if I feel too busy or guilty to leave the kiddos. TWO-my hubby knows about it a head of time so I don't have to feel guilty asking him to watch the kids-which is such a crazy concept anyway. Why is it babysitting when he watches the kids yet it's my job??? (that's a whole other post ). THREE- It gets me out of the house which keep the kids from seeking me out and demanding my attention (which is what happens if I try to do things at home). 

It has been nice to reclaim my "Self" and to create a few moments to be "Amy Jo". Honestly,  I kind of missed her. But with all the craziness of my life and the work that never ends, I wouldn't trade it for the world...I am so blessed to have a home, a family, even this crazy never- stops-destroying-things-puppy we call Lucy. But sometimes, a few hours away  makes it easier to see, I am truly living the dream.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Project Three- Stop Being So Strong

Objectives-Make Me a Better Mom. Make Me a Better Wife, Make Me a Better Person

Injuries sustained-none

Difficulty level-It's pretty difficult and still a work in progress.

How Maya “Helped”-A two year old is a pro at sharing their emotions:)

So, I have a terrible habit that I acquired from my mother. It seems like a good thing,and I think it is in small doses, but I am strangely addicted to being "the strong one".

I have been through a lot in my life- let's face it-we all have. But no matter how painful,difficult, or impossible to deal with each situation seems, I inevitably deal with it by being "strong". Strong, in my case, comes as a result of acting calm, cool, and unaffected. This results in a lot of issues for me, one being the fact that I tend to look like an uncaring robot to those around me. On top of that, it leaves with me with tons of carefully hidden emotional baggage just waiting to seep out at an inopportune moment.

Yesterday, we had to put our dog down. It was horrific. He was amazing and the greatest dog I have ever had. I knew that I was going to be devastated. All week long I dreaded it, worried over it, lost sleep because of it. I was physically sick about it. Yet, when the moment came, I couldn't help but shake it off, console my husband, and look perfectly unshaken. This wasn't easy, but years of training made it possible. The real question is why? Why bother? Certainly no one would judge me for crying over a lost friend. Even if they did, I wouldn't really care. But then why the charade? I'm not really sure but I am confident there is a genetic component. My mom has the same disease.

We are " fine" just ask us. No matter the situation, the pain, the heartache, our answer is the same. " I'm fine." I think part of the reason I do this is that one of my greatest fears in life is being vulnerable. I hate to be pitied. By being in a constant state of  "okayness", at least on the outside, I can avoid those awkward moments where people search for comforting words. Somehow I believe if I can just keep it all together, I will be stronger,braver...better.

But last night as I crawled into bed next to my husband, with no one but him left to judge me, I cried. For my lost puppy, for my broken heart, and for a hundred other things that I had hidden away. For an hour I cried there in the dark, hard enough to shake my whole body. And you know what?  I  didn't 't feel weak. I felt strong, stronger than I had felt in a long time.  Ironically at my "weakest moment"  when I finally stopped pretending and admitted my humanness and my own emotional fragility, I realized I was stronger than ever.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Project Two-Say "yes" more

Objectives-Make Me a Better Mom. Make Me a Better Wife

Injuries sustained-amazingly-none!

Difficulty level-HARD for me to do but that's because I am a control freak!

How Maya “Helped”-She had some fun ideas of things just begging for a "yes":)

With a daughter edging closer to two every day, I find myself saying "no" CONSTANTLY. No cupcakes for breakfast, no eating the crayons, no spitting, no biting, no poking out your brothers eyes... I feel like a human "no" machine. Little by little I could tell my Maya-Bean was beginning to view me as the one who always shot down her ideas. The free-spirit hippie chick in me HATED that she viewed me that way.  Had I tried so hard to be a perfect mom that I had forgotten how to be a fun mom? I thought of my own mom, guiltily, she had always encouraged my ideas, let me learn from my own mistakes, and empowered me. Where had I gone wrong? I seemed to be missing the balance. Yes, she needed boundaries, structure, and consistency- those things were important.  But, I wasn't so sure that they were any more important than having a mommy who was fun.

My plan was simple, say "yes" more. This was tough at the beginning. It seemed saying no had become a habit. It was easier to disregard her ideas and replace them with my own. So in order to make it simpler to stick to, I made a rule for myself. If it doesn't hurt her or anyone else, teach her a bad habit, or destroy anything, I would say yes. I know to people reading this it probably sounds trivial and silly. But, for me, it was not. I had become a dictator and I needed to change.

I am happy to say-simply saying yes has worked smashingly! I have said yes to loads of things that would have been automatic "no"s a week ago! The most amazing part is that she's great at finding new things to do that are entertaining and fun! I no longer have to rack my brain for ideas. This week I have "yessed" the following ideas:

Washing her doll in the sink with a washcloth and soap-yes my kitchen got what?
Washing dishes-I only gave her spoons but she stayed busy for HOURS
Turning the crank on the apple peeler-it took longer but she LOVED it!
Taking a bath, in the kitchen, in a washtub WITH her baby
Wearing sandals over her socks
Putting on her own shoes-(on the wrong feet of course)
Brushing her baby brothers hair
Putting lotion on her baby doll
Using a pen
Sweeping with the broom
Folding the laundry-(more like unfolding)

There are tons more. Let me just say some of these things were messy but the whole mood of our house has changed. She is a much happier girl knowing her ideas are being heard and considered. I am a much happier mom, not spending my whole day saying no.  Keep in mind there are still plenty of no's. I don't let her poke her brother's eyes out, eat cookies for breakfast, or stand on the table. But now days there seems to be more balance. I feel like I have finally escaped my role as the dream-crusher. "Yes"-saying yes is definitely helping me to become a better mommy.

As for the second objective -being a better wife- well I'll let you decipher how "saying yes more"can help your marriage LOL

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Project One-Canning Homemade Tomato Juice, Spaghetti Sauce, and Pizza Sauce

Objectives-Make Me a Better Wife, Make me a Better Cook,

Injuries sustained-1 burned finger, not too bad for me

Difficulty level-medium

How Maya “Helped” (How we kept her busy)-stirring in spices and delivering tomatoes to the sink

Honestly-I had done this before but not since I have had two little ones so I think it counts! I went and purchased two bushels of tomatoes at our local farmer’s market. I had to pay $18 a bushel (last time I got them free!) But it was still a great deal. I do recommend asking around and checking your local craigslist for free or cheap ones before buying. Many people produce too many in their fields and they simply let them rot away on the vines! It makes me sick to think of all that deliciousness rotting away!!

Out of the two bushels, and with the help of my fabulous Mom, I got 18 quarts of spaghetti sauce, 10 pints of pizza sauce, and 13 quarts of tomato juice! I did have to buy some ingredients for the spaghetti sauce, but the prices at the end worked out to be about $1.64 a quart for tomato juice, and $1.17 a jar for the spaghetti and pizza sauce! The tomatoes were organic so I think finding anything that pure or delicious for the price would be tough.

It was hard work. But it felt great to look at all the shining jars on my counter.I swear they were smiling at me in approval of a job well done. Interested in learning?? Here is a step by step tutorial! Canning Tomato Juice For The Domestically Challenged

Canning Tomato Juice For The Domestically Challenged

Step 1- Clean the tomatoes in cold water and cut out the cores and bad spots-NEVER can moldy, or tomatoes off of vines that have frozen they may not preserve correctly!
Step 2-Put them into the biggest pots you can find and cook down until mushy
Step 3-While they are cooking, wash your jars and lids in hot water.
Step 4-Take out your cooked tomatoes and run them through a food mill-this part is messy and kind of annoying but hey- so is life!
Step 5- Cook tomatoes AGAIN for 20 minutes. Also, fill your canning pot halfway with water and put it on the stove to get hot. This saves you time later!
Step-6-Sterilize and heat your jars upside down in a cake pan.
Step 7-  Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and a teaspoon of canning salt to each empty jar.
Step 10-Fill your hot jars with the funnel and put on your lids. Put on the cap, and screw the ring on tight but not TOO tight. Also, make sure you wipe the top of each jar so you get a good seal. 

They sell a nifty little thing for getting the lids out of the pan but we rigged up our own with a magnet and a spatula.
Step 11-Put the jars in the rack of your canner-evenly from side to side so it doesn’t tip. Make sure the water is at least one inch above the jars. Let them process for 45 minutes-don’t forget to start your timer AFTER it’s boiling good!
Step 12- carefully pull up the canner rack up out of the water-I use two wooden spoons to get the handles of the rack back up on the side of the pot.
Step 13-and my FAVORITE part-listen to them POP! You will soon start hearing the greatest sound a canner can hear-your lids all popping one by one as they seal!!
Step 14. Sit the jars on a heat safe area-I use a towel on my butchers block-out of reach of any little hands your home may have. 
Step 15. Give them a few minutes and then check your seals by pushing the center of each jar lid-there should be no popping when you do this.  If you hear one pop it did NOT seal-just stick it in your fridge and eat it first!
Tada!! Fabulous, homemade deliciousness! Sit back and envision yourself as Donna Reed! You did it!!!

Amy Jo Stays Home & So Can You!