Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 26, 2009

Alaskan Food: Straight from the Whale’s Mouth

Dear Michelle,

I have just started to have an interest in Alaska. I found your blog yesterday and have been trying to read the whole blog to catch up. I do have some questions. One is are you a native of Alaska? Another is about your recipes–why don’t you have Alaskan native dishes that might include, moose, caribou or whale? I read another blog yesterday and the guy was traveling to Alaska to take pictures and every time his family ate out they never ate any Alaskan foods.

I’m used to getting all kinds of questions about Alaska: what kind of currency do we use? Do we live in igloos? Do we have polar bears for pets? In fact just a month or so ago I got an email from an Australia television crew who were looking for an Alaskan mother to film and they wanted to know if I cooked seal and drove my children to school in a dog sled. I kid you not. (The answer is no. On both counts).

However, I had fun this past week exchanging emails with the person who wrote the above letter and I’ll tell you what I told her about Alaska food.

First, no I’m not a Native Alaskan. Native with a capital “N” that is. Native Alaskans are those who belong to one of several tribes of people around the state including the Athabascans, Aleuts, Haida, Alutiqs, Yupiks, Inupiats, Inuits, Tlingits, etc. I could write posts about these cultures and how they have shaped Alaska’s history, they’re unique and fascinating, and maybe I will down the road but for now all you need to know is that Alaska Natives are those people who claim ethnic origins with one of these tribes.

I am considered a native Alaskan (lowercase “n”), having been born and raised here. My grandparents moved to Anchorage in 1949 when Anchorage was little more than a tent city and most of my family still lives here which is a little unusual. Most non-Native people in Alaska came up following the oil market that boomed in the 70s and are transplants from other states.

Now it’s very common for people all over the state, including Anchorage residents, to hunt and fish. We personally have lots of friends who go hunting for moose and bear or fishing for salmon and halibut to stock their freezers for the winter, that’s not unusual at all. Moose is probably the most popular meat next to salmon but people also regularly eat bear and caribou (reindeer are the domesticated version of the species).

I don’t care much for moose myself (though I’m not a big meat eater anyway) but I do like caribou well enough. In fact there’s a guy who has a hot dog cart in down town Anchorage who sells reindeer hot dogs with onions that he caramelizes in Coke and they are TO DIE FOR. He’s so popular that plenty of competing carts have sprung up over the years and I read in the paper that he sells enough reindeer dogs (an oxymoron if ever there was one) to spend his winters in Hawaii. That’s the life.

Our family eats lots of salmon and halibut because it’s plentiful and I’ve met others who own shrimp pots or go crabbing though that’s a bit more unusual. I’ve know people who swear bear and musk ox are good to eat, (apparently musk ox is very lean and red) though I haven’t had a chance to try it.

However, once you leave Alaska’s cities (some would call them towns, Anchorage is by far the biggest with only 300,000) the people in rural communities are predominantly Alaskan Natives and live a subsistence lifestyle which means that they hunt and fish for food to survive. Caribou, walrus, seal, salmon, whale–these things are still hunted and eaten regularly by Native people all over the state as part of their tradition and livelihood.

We less-hardy city folk? Well we don’t typically have whale on the menu. Native cuisine consists of mostly meats and berries because very little actually grows on the harsh tundra that covers much of the state. Vegetables, spices and herbs aren’t easy to come by so if you want to talk about authentic Alaskan cuisine you’re really talking about meat, fish and berries with very little else except maybe a little cow parsnip thrown in for variety.

Maybe you’ve heard of “fish ice cream” which is the modern nickname for a dish of caribou suet mixed with flaked fish and berries. If caribou isn’t in season then modern mixes might use straight Crisco but fish ice cream isn’t something you’re going to find easily here in town, being an acquired taste and an ethnic tradition rather than something you’d find between a bun at McDonald’s.

My husband works for a company owned entirely by Native Alaskans and last Christmas in much the same way you’d expect people at your office to bring in plates of fudge or cookies some of the women he works with brought in muk tuk and mikiaq (mi’-kee-ack).

Muk tuk is raw whale blubber which is commonly served after a whale hunt (a community event filled with tradition and ceremony) and mikiaq is raw whale blubber that has been left to soak and ferment in the whale’s blood.

If you don’t know my husband I should mention here that he’s what you’d probably call a picky eater. Tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, pickles, olives, guacamole, sour cream, cherries, the list of things he won’t eat tends to be rather long so for him to walk into the office Christmas party and be faced with raw whale blubber would really be a Kodak moment.

Luckily the people he works with are very kind and understanding so they weren’t offended when he politely refused a chance for some of the mikiaq. In fact one of his coworkers confessed that though he loves the stuff he can only eat a small amount at a time because it bothers his stomach and makes him quite sick.

One has to wonder how mikiaq became popular with a review like that but then I suppose it’s no different from when I lived in North Dakota and all the Norwegians cooked up the lutefisk each Christmas. Lutefisk is cod cured in lye–you know, the stuff that can kill you? So I guess each culture has its delicacies that are an acquired taste.

So to finish my story Andrew’s coworkers were kind enough to accept his reluctance to sample the muk tuk and mikiaq though I don’t know that they understood completely. One woman confessed that at her house when they make mikiaq her children fight over which one of them gets to do the daily stirring of the whale blubber as it sits in the bucket of blood, fermenting. They each want to be the one to stick their arm into the bucket and stir so that they can lick the juice and blood from their skin afterward.

All I can say is that Andrew was very grateful for their graciousness as he went for a plate of fudge instead.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 25, 2009

Homemade Maple Syrup

Homemade Maple SyrupI hesitate to publish such a simple recipe–it doesn’t take a genius to make this stuff–but I get regular comments from people saying, “You make your own syrup???” in the same tone as if they’d seen me knitting a sleeping bag.

All you have to do is get the maple flavoring, which should be carried in the spice section of the grocery store, and you’re on your way to pancakey goodness.

If you’re interested in cutting pennies here and there making your own syrup not only tastes better it saves money. Ditto for homemade pancakes (I’m throwing that recipe in at the bottom for good measure).

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring such as Mapleleine

Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil. Let it cool slightly and serve. Just don’t let it boil over onto your stove, that’s an unholy mess for sure!

for pancakes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Mix all the ingredients together and whisk them until nearly all the lumps are gone (but leave a few, that’s not a bad thing to have a lump or two in your batter). Then pour on greased skillet and cook just as you would expect to do for pancakes.

Sponsored by Pink and Blue: for unique baby gifts to make them “ooh” and “ahh.”

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 24, 2009

Pepsi Ultimate Super Bowl Party Giveaway

Pepsi Ultimate Super Bowl PartyAre you going to watch the Super Bowl? I have a son who lives and breathes football so I have been thoroughly indoctrinated this season about the wonders of Landanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles and how the Steelers should “die a slow death.”

Spencer lost a bit of his spark once San Diego lost to Indiana and hasn ‘t had quite the enthusiasm for the remaining games though I’m sure he’ll be watching the Big Game eagerly when it comes down to it.

But for those of you not mourning the Chargers, who are thrilled for whoever will be playing February 1st Pepsi is offering this Ultimate Super Bowl Party Kit which includes the following for your football viewing pleasure:

• 1 football
• 1 beverage pail
• 1 snack helmet
• 2 key chains
• 2 hats
• 2 t-shirts
• 5 Pepsi 24 pack coupons
• 5 Frito Lay coupons

A total value of $250–but really, who can put a price on four hours of football? Even without the Chargers?

Here’s how to win:

Before 12 am Monday morning click here to reach the giveaway entry form then enter your name and email. I will pick one of the names at random, contact the winner via their email and publish the winner’s first name and home town in next Tuesday’s post. See the bottom of the entry form for more details.

This giveaway is open to all readers so good luck!

***

InkheartAnd if that’s not enough contests for you check out the Message Board where there are 50 other contests you can sign up for.

Meanwhile . . . I took the kids to see Inkheart Friday afternoon, I had seen a preview for it when we saw Bedtime Stories. It had looked pretty exciting so with Andrew out of town this week we needed a good pick me up.

I thought Paul Bettany was great, his character was the best and most interesting and was actually pretty complex for what you might consider a “kid’s” movie. Playing the role of a character in a story he faces existential questions that made him appealing and more human than the “real life” characters he stands alongside. Every scene he was in was interesting.

I’m a closet Brendan Fraser fan (I’m a little embarrassed to admit how I laughed in George of the Jungle) though this role isn’t really comic, the few one-liners are given to his co-stars which was a little disappointing, but I can’t help but find him enjoyable nonetheless. The whole thing was generally well-acted but I warn you that Jim Broadbent plays a character that you just want to wrap in duct tape and leave for dead by the side of the road out of frustration.

There were several places where the characters did things that didn’t make a lot of sense. You know, the kind of situation where you say, “Why didn’t they just do such-and-such which would have taken care of all their problems right then and there?” It also took a little time to get the story established and the first 45 minutes were slower than the previews had indicated.

But anyone who has a love of books and literature–particularly children’s literature–will appreciate the constant references to classics such as Alice in Wonderful, the Wizard of Oz and other great books I remember so fondly. If it is a bit slow at the beginning it does have that magical quality that is appealing.

All in all not a bad movie. Lillian (age 6) got bored in it, it was a little too old for her, but the other kids really liked it and Grace said it was fairly faithful to the book which will make the fans happy.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 23, 2009

A Parting Word

As I check out for the weekend I wanted to leave you with a few of the fabulous things I’ve found around the internet lately.

Best craft projects:

Best recipes:

Best reads:

Best shopping finds:

Best activities:

Best blogs I’ve added to my reader:

Best contests:

Anything listed on the Message Board! Eighty blog contests and giveaways to enter so take a peek!

Sponsored by Pink and Blue: for unique baby gifts to make them “ooh” and “ahh.”

Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 23, 2009

January’s Write-Away Winner

Write-Away ContestThank you to Summer at Summer’s Nook who volunteered her time this month to read the 20 entries on the theme of “The Finish Line” and picked her favorite. Be sure to check back next week when I’m able to interview her and show her off properly.

And last of all, thank you to our entrants.

. . . And the winner is:

A Writer’s Dream with It’s about Time

Honorable Mentions:

Glacier Racing with The Finisher
Grandma Henke with It’s How You Run Your Race

***

Here are a list of the entries in the order they were received:

1. All Stace, All the Time with My Disney Diet–Day 124: The Finish Line Is Within Sight . . .
Okay, I leave for Disney in one day, nineteen hours and 59 minutes! Woo-hoo! I don’t know these actual numbers in my head, I have a neat little countdown clock on my computer. LOVE IT! So, as I mentioned previously, this last month on the diet has been a real struggle. I lost some of my ‘umph’ for it and therefore, did not lose the weight the way that I wanted to.

2. Messy Mommy Life with The Finish Line
As the new year approached I tried harder and harder not to think about setting weight loss goals. At this time last year I weight twenty pounds more than I do now. I have since then quit thinking about losing anymore weight. Am I at my goal? Heck no! Did I ever reach my goal? Not even close! I have settled. I have settled at the weight I am because it is easy.

3. Neurotic Grad Student with Dear Tony
Dear Tony Dungy,
I want you to know that I had a sign all made up that said “Go Tony” for today’s game against the San Diego Chargers. I want you to know that before the game started, I made my licorice spice tea, curled up under a fleece blanket on the couch, smiled at my little sign, and prepared to watch your team kick the crap out of the Chargers.

4. The Dayton Time with The Boy Who Says ‘No’ or I *Will* Be There at the Finish Line
It is a hypothesis of mine that the person who came up with the phrase Terrible Twos had no actual experience with two year-old children, and was actually mistaking three year-olds for two year-olds.

5. No Sex in the City with Post 49: The Finish Line: The End to Love and Peace
My three year love came to an end just as the most recent Hamas vs. Israel war began. The words “The Finish Line” bring to mind a race or a marathon, something that requires a lot of training and energy but then ends, one way or another.

6. Stories for us with The Motherhood Road
It was a quick conversation with few words exchanged. I was just at her house to pick something up. I should have been there the day before, but with a sick toddler and a recovering pre-schooler and a mountain of post-holiday laundry, I had completely forgotten about the pickup.

7. Blog o’ Beth with Parenthood: The Race with No Finish
Goal setting and resolution making seem contradictory to parenthood. I can set the goal that Max will be potty-trained by July or that Lucy will be reading by October but I’m not the one that actually has to achieve these goals – they do.

8. Grandma Henke with It’s How You Run Your Race
When he ran across the finish line, there arose a mighty din,
For the little lad who finished last, yet tried so hard to win.

9. Flea’s World with The Finish Line
I really am eye-balling a finish line of sorts, whether I realized it previously or not. Hunny and I have been married 17 years this weekend (no, not THAT finish line – we’re happier now than we’ve ever been).

10. Gaining Equilibrium with The Finish Line
It’s always been there, stretched out across the horizon, beckoning. And I’ve crossed it countless times. It’s so final–The Finish Line.

11. Glacier Racing with The Finisher
It was the cruelest thing I’d ever heard said. My sister was teen angst-ing and lashed at our mother. “Do you remember when it happened, the exact moment you gave up your dreams? Was it a choice to throw away your goals and ideals.., or were you oblivious and just let them slip away?”, she screamed.

12. Ad libitum with The Finish Line
I have never run many races in my life so far, whether rat or otherwise. So I do not have any ‘record-breaking’ memories to choose from when I think of a finish line.

13. The Diaper Diaries with Slowing Down to the Finish Line
I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions. I used to make them, but there is nothing more depressing than realizing on Jan. 17th that you are going to fail miserably. Still there is something about a new year that makes it impossible not to think about fresh starts. So I am renewing my commitment to eat healthy, exercise more, read the bible, gossip less…all the usual suspects.

14. Organized Every Day with Extreme Muscle Therapy
Why is it that we equate “massage” with something that feels… good? A few weeks ago, I decided to catapult my exercising efforts, pretending I was on the Biggest Loser, and ended up pulling something.

15. Little Footsteps with My Finish Line
The calendar is marked for the big day
Training begins
A proper diet of lean protien and complex carbohydrates
Hydrate with lots of water

16. Candid Carrie with The Finish Line
Divorced again. I had worked so hard to remain married. I was an adult child of divorce with an adult child of mine own from divorce. My second marriage had lasted seventeen years, the last two years were the worst and now it was over. Finished.

17. Whitterer on Autism with The Finish Line–Sophie’s Choice
As I sprint through the average day, I am far from health conscious, but that’s because I know that life is a marathon, more about survival than winning.

18. TJHirst.com with Persevere through the Januarys of Life
My son reached The Wall in piano. He’s been playing five years and sees his growth waning. He wants to stop. His father tells him, “Push past the wall, and in a couple of years you’ll be able to teach yourself to play most anything you want.

19. I’m a Drama Mama with Still Trying
It scares me. When it comes right down to it, I am scared by the reality of winning. I love the IDEA of achieving my goals, of finally making it to a finish line, of crossing things off my “life list”, but the reality of it all scares me.

20. A Writer’s Dream with It’s about Time
I swear his eyes got wider every time I saw him. His face a little paler. His voice catching each time I made even the slightest of movements. I readjusted for the hundredth time, glancing at the clock and cursing myself for not having the restraint to keep from tracking every minute that had elapsed.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 22, 2009

The Scribbit Mailbag Second Edition

Weird Google SearchesGoogle is one big Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, answering questions from the masses behind the magic curtain. As it happens, I have Google Analytics installed on my blog which tracks not only how many visitors drop by but what web site they click in from, how long they stay, which of my pages they look at, what color their eyes are . . .

Okay that last part isn’t for real but it’s nearly true. I can see what queries people use to arrive at my blog and let me tell you it’s eye-opening. You’ll never look at humanity the same way I promise you.

So thanks to Jennifer at Family Musings’ gentle prodding I’m sharing some of the searches with you–and I swear on a stack of Bibles that I have not made any of these up nor changed so much as one word of them.

These are questions I got during December 2008 and yes, there really are people out there who are asking Google these things and they’re probably in line behind you at the grocery store.

Here they are, along with the answers I would give if I had the chance.

1. Questions about Alaska

Can southerners survive living in Alaska?
-Only if we let them. Muaha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!

How did Alaska get its shape?
-One very, very big cookie cutter.

How far does the Alaska darkness go?
-All the way to the border, then it goes through customs and becomes Canadian darkness which is subsidized by the Canadian government and worth about 2% less than its American counterpart.

Where do I buy dried sea slug in Alaska?
-Dried sea slug? Dang, I just ran out or I would have loaned you a cup, Dude.

Who was the first person to cut down a tree in Alaska?
-An Aleutian man named Koyukuk in 9845 B.C. Really. Didn’t you see the press conference?

Do houses in Alaska have showers?
-No. It’s too cold to shower when we don’t have any hot water. We’re still working on that whole indoor plumbing thing . . . they’re hoping to have it installed in most homes by 2012.

Does Alaska give you ten thousand dollars when you move there?
-Sure, but only if you live in Barrow. Heh. Yea, Barrow’s the place you want to be.

(and my personal favorite) What do they call darkness in Alaska?
-Uh . . . Night?

2. Marital Advice

Why am I being kicked out of bed?
-One can only imagine . . .

Is wife swapping good therapy?
-I suppose it really depends on what condition you’re treating.

Are you cheating on me?
-Absolutely.

3. Fashion Advice

(this one cracks me up like the “is your refrigerator running” classic)
How do joe’s jeans fit?

-Not sure, why don’t you ask him?

Can you wear burgundy shoes with a purple dress?
-Yes if your name is Liberace, otherwise a resounding NO!

Can you wear velvet in May in Alaska if the temperatures are cold?
-Not apparently–unless it’s held together by duct tape–otherwise you’ll be completely overdressed.

4. Safety Issues

I want an injury so I can have a cast.
-Now you are aware that technically you can get a cast without having to break your own arm, right? Whatever floats that boat of yours my friend.

Can Muggles be bit by werewolves?
-Gosh, I’m not even sure where to start with this one.

Can you die of hiccups?
-Happens all the time and the FDA is in the process of passing a ban on them.

Can you die from a box jellyfish?
-Sure, the Miami Herald had a piece about a lady in Tampa who had a jellyfish from the gulf infiltrate the sewer systems, crawl up the pipes, right into her toilet and got her when she wasn’t looking. The encounter killed both the woman and the jellyfish so PETA is looking into the situation as well. You’ll never use the restroom at night without turning on the light again my friend.

5. Celebrity Gossip

Does Catherine Zeta Jones have permanent eye liner?
-Yes, and she’s had her eyeballs surgically enhanced with food dye to make them appear more luminous.

Doesn’t Patrick Dempsey’s wife look like the jealous type?
-She is. She’s VERY jealous of women bloggers with suh-weet blogging skills because that’s all Patrick ever talks about any more. Forget those Grey’s Anatomy women all he ever says now is how hot mombloggers are. It’s mombloggers all the time with him now.

How can I get Candice Olson to come to my house?
-A trail of upholstery tacks leading up to your front door usually does the trick.

Who is sexier: Spiderman or Superman?
-If you have to ask I’m ashamed for you.

6. Cooking Tips

How did they cook vikings?
-With herring and cabbage?

What’s wrong with eating cheddar cheese popcorn?
-Nothing if you care absolutely nothing for the environment, democracy or fluffy white bunnies you sicko.

What about macadmia nut cookies?
-I don’t know . . . what about macadamia nut cookies?

What do I do with a cold lamb?
-Give him a blanket?

7. Legal Advice

Can my mom have me arrested?
-If you’re asking this chances are she already has a warrant. I’d be worried if I were you.

Can they arrest me with a child in the car?
-Depends. Whose driving? You or the child?

What will happen if I rip a smoke detector out of the wall?
-It will no longer detect any smoke.

Can you be arrested for a bad prescription you tried to pick up but didn’t?
-I don’t know, you might try asking Rush Limbaugh or Cindy McCain.

How do I cheat at Chutes and Ladders?
-Really people, that’s what graduate school is for. It takes YEARS to master that art.

I am a plant killer.
-I’ll keep it quiet. I promise.

What ever happened to Orville Redenbacher?
-He’s buried in my back yard. Under the rhododendron.

8. Health Tips

How do I floss my own teeth if my hands are big?
-That’s what toes are for, Baby.

Can worms crawl up your throat?
-And you’d want to keep them down there. . . . Why?

How can I make the swelling go down?
-Not going to touch this one.

Why do children need to go to bed?
-I’m trying to fathom the individual who would even question the beauty of the system.

9. Shopping Tips

What department of Lowes has the lazy susan bearings?
-Aisle 17–though it might take you a while to find them, they’re tricky so you’d better look good and long . . .

10. Miscellaneous Advice

What do I do to acorns so they bring good luck?
-Uh, that’s kind of the thing about good luck charms, they just have that stuff built right into them already, it’s not like you can buy a jar and brush it on or anything. Or am I wrong on that?

What would you do if you loved hockey and wanted to play hockey but everyone made fun of you because you couldn’t skate and had hand-me-down skates?
-[sniff] I’d think about learning to skate.

Why can’t people teach boys manners?
-I think it’s rather that boys have a set of manners all their own and they’re wondering why we don’t follow their system.

What would be a cool city name?
-Planning to build one soon Mr. Trump? Then I’d suggest Scribbitonia.

What are some names for my new venus fly trap?
-Besides the obvious “Flaming Killer Jaws of Wicked White Hot Death”? I’ve got nothing.

***

If you’re curious about the first edition of the Scribbit Mailbag you can read my answers to Google queries from two years ago there.

Sponsored by Dimples and Dandelions–for the Serena and Lily Bedding Collection for Children.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 21, 2009

Mini Sand Boxes for Indoor Play

Mini Sand BoxesIf you missed me whining last week we were stuck in a nasty cold snap that started well before Christmas and lasted until a week ago. We were enjoying a hardy 20 below and were really starting to complain until things swung the other way and warmed up last Wednesday to nearly 50 degrees. As in 50 degrees above zero.

A seventy degree swing and suddenly the warm southern winds picked up (they’re called the Chinook winds) and everything was a soupy, melty mess with highways thick with ice and topped with a couple inches of water to boot so that they canceled school Wednesday due to the 50-70 mph winds and icy roads. Things didn’t get much better so they canceled school Thursday and Friday.

If you’re not following this boring lecture on our weather the point is that I had my kids home from Wednesday through Monday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) for a total of six days proving once again that I am completely unfit to homeschool my children.

Mini Sand BoxesIn desperation I glued together some wood scraps to make a little 12-inch square box, painted it and filled it with wheat to make a small indoor sand box for the kids. As an extra feature I glued a square of felt to the bottom of the box so it wouldn’t scrape up the counter.

I should also mention that you could use all sorts of things to fill the box including pretty colored sand (available at craft stores or pet shops), beans, rice or even tiny colored aquarium rocks depending on how easygoing you are with the potential sloppage that might occur. Lots of possibilities here folks.

They used their space creatures in it and called it a moonscape, they buried treasure and played pirates, they used cowboys and sunk them in the “quick sand,” they dug up dinosaurs for a little paleontology and used their cars and bulldozers for a construction zone.

Normally tiny kernels of wheat all over the house would terrify me but it just goes to show how desperate I was getting. And the idea was a gem–they played quietly for several hours nonstop, enough for me to actually write this post and answer some emails.

Sponsored by: Beau-Coup–Fine and unique baby shower favors.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 20, 2009

Deep Thoughts by Andrew

Spongebob SquarepantsFriday night all six of us were downstairs watching television while we waited for some dinner guests to arrive for dinner. I’d just finished fixing dinner and Andrew had just come home from work so we sat down with the kids who had picked out an episode of Spongebob Squarepants–the one where he gets on the wrong bus and gets stuck in a town way outside the limits of Bikini Bottom. Spongebob waits for the return bus and every time a bus comes he misses it.

Spongebob turns and looks the other way and misses a bus, he goes across the street to the candy vending machine and misses another, he ties his shoe and misses again. Over and over again in that classic stupid humor that has us all cracking up (I don’t know if you aware of how much I love Spongebob–which I hesitate for fear of revealing my total lack of sophistication for all the world to see).

Anyway, our guests came, the evening was nice and that was that until the next day when I was talking with Andrew during our daily lunchtime phone chat.

“You know what’s really weird?” he said.

“No, what?”

“Well I was thinking while I was eating lunch about how we were all watching Spongebob last night.”

“Yea?” I answered, wondering where this was going.

“You know how Spongebob kept missing the bus?”

“Okaaaaay . . . .” I said.

“Well I was thinking about how when he kept missing the bus that I was really, really rooting for him. I really wanted him to make the bus.”

“What??”

“I mean I recognized that it’s a cartoon and everything but it was this weird realization that I was really really pulling for him. I knew he wasn’t going to get on but every time I kept hoping this was the time he was going to make it. When he went across the street to get the candy I was thinking, ‘NO! Stay where you are! Don’t go across the street! You’re going to miss it again!'”

“Andrew?”

“What?”

“You know I love you right?”

“Yea.”

“So maybe you oughta lay off the cartoons for a bit okay?”

“Oh come on, don’t tell me you weren’t thinking it to.”

Sponsored by: Wedding Paper Divas–Fine wedding invitations for the perfect wedding.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 20, 2009

Kansas City Activities for Kids and Families

Alison KerrAlison Kerr lives with her family in the Kansas City metro area and she writes about Learning Stuff (not just homeschooling) for all moms and kids, and even some dads, at Homeschoolers Guide to the Galaxy. Visit Alison’s blog for her recommendations on places to eat with kids.

If you have your own recommendations of things to do in Kansas City feel free to leave them below in the comments section.

For the Nature Mamma and her Sprogs

The 300 acre Overland Park Arboretum is a place to find bullfrogs, giant butterflies and zooming dragonflies. The flowers are nice too! My favorite spots are the Monet Garden, with its spectacular waterlilies, and the Woodland Glen which is shady, cooler than the open, sunny areas, and has trickling water features to soothe the soul.

Kids can enjoy the Koi pond in the Woodland Glen and the special features built for them in the Children’s Discovery Garden. It’s pretty easy to spot a bullfrog in the pond, which my own kids love to do. Be sure to take sunscreen and insect repellent if you plan to be there at the height of summer. It gets pretty hot and there are a few mosquitoes!

Kansas City Activities for KidsAt Lakeside Nature Center a visit to the center is free, though there is a small fee to attend one of their programs. Cool things to see include the birds of prey, which are tethered out in the sunshine during the day (not hidden behind cage bars). Before and after your visit you can check out the animals at Critter Corner, read their newsletter for young naturalists, Mudpuppy’s Pond, and learn about building your own backyard habitat.

Critsite’s Prairie and Wetland Center in Belton, Missouri is the Midwest’s largest producer of containerized native plants, trees and shrubs. You can visit their display gardens and talk with the members of staff to get ideas for your projects. I absolutely love their online plant picker which lets you to pick out plants based on all different criteria including, height, spread, color, blooming season, sun exposure, water needs, which wildlife it attracts, and whether it produces edible nuts or berries.

If you plan to shop you can make up a shopping list before you go. Then again, I usually end up leaving my shopping list at home! They also have recommended plant lists for things like rain gardens, quail gardens, and hummingbird gardens, and tip sheets for native plant gardening.

Three more great nature places, some free, some not, all popular: Kansas City Zoo, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, Powell Gardens.

For the Shopaholic Mom

Kansas City Activities for KidsKansas City is otherwise known as the city of fountains. The Country Club Plaza, America’s first custom-designed suburban shopping district, is great for strolling around and just taking in the ambiance. Shops specialize in high fashion with boutiques, home decor and gift stores, and wonderful, quality restaurants. I always take my visitors there to enjoy the fountains and European architecture.

Take a look at the virtual walking tour and you’ll get an idea of what’s in store. During the year they have events like the Kansas City Literary Festival (in May) and the Plaza Art Festival (in September).

I recommend Crown Center Plaza because it’s not just another place to shop. They always have some kind of free exhibition which kids love. Wizard of Oz fans take note, beginning January 31st, 2009 you can visit 70 Years of Oz Oh My! Kansas City is home to Hallmark cards and the Hallmark Visitor Center at Crown Center Plaza is also free. I don’t know if you dare, but at Chip’s Chocolate Factory you can see delicious, gooey, chocolate candy stuff getting made right before your eyes! The parking is free for 3 hours – just validate your ticket in one of the stores. They even have free movies outside in the summer, and musical performances by local groups inside during the year. Unfortunately the shopping and food are not free!

Towne Center Plaza in Leawood, KS doesn’t have the same great history or spectacular architecture, but with really easy parking, a nice variety of stores, and kid-friendly places nearby, it’s worth a look. The Learning Tree is great for the preschool and elementary ages. They have a special child-sized door which kids love, a well supplied Brio table (last time I checked) and storytime twice a week. Barnes and Noble also has storytimes and Pottery Barn Kids has a Book Club. Other nearby things kids love are: Leawood Pioneer Library (with free summer and after-school activities and free internet access), and Tomahawk Park south of 119th Street. Back at Towne Center Plaza my teens enjoy being left to explore Gamestop.

Three more popular places to shop: Oak Park Mall with a carousel ride for the kids; Great Mall of the Great Plains for uncrowded shopping and bargains; Legends at Village West a popular new outdoor mall area.

Keeping Dad Happy

Kansas City Activities for KidsHarley Davidson’s Vehicle and Powertrain Operation in Kansas City, Missouri takes you on a free factory tour. Don’t do what I did when I took my dad there! Fully read the tour guidelines and have something with you to occupy youngsters. The visitor center allows all ages, but only kids 12 yrs and up can go on the factory tour. Also, you need to wear fully enclosed shoes and there could be a wait of up to 1.5 hrs if you go at a busy time.

If Dad loves hunting or fishing head to Cabelas, a favorite stopping off point for all the supplies and clothing he could want. The store is huge and contains a very large diorama called the Mule Deer Museum, which includes life-like posed animals including deer, sheep, elk, moose, wolves, and rabbits displayed in different environments. I have to say that it’s a better wildlife display than you can see in any Kansas City museum.

There is also a large aquarium with every kind of fish you’d find in local lakes and streams. As long as you can stand to be surrounded by guns, knives, camouflage and people who love that kind of thing it’s a fun place to learn to identify animals, birds and fish. And it’s certainly not only dads who love hunting and fishing in Kansas! By the way, Hunting and fishing in Kansas is strictly regulated and enforced to be sustainable.

Three more things for dads (and moms and kids): Golf, baseball, and the National World War One Museum, which I thoroughly recommend for the whole family.

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If you’d like to write about the activities in your area you can see the details at Your Chance to Play Tour Guide.

Congratulations to Mary from Hampton, Virginia for winning the three bracelets from Touchstone Crystal-I haven’t heard from the other two winners so check your emails!

And I’d like to invite you to read the interview I did with TJHirst.com all about our remodel. It’s a three part series and I’m looking forward to the next installment. It’s a well-written blog and talking with Theresa was so fun.

Kansas City fountain, bullfrog, and Harley Davidson photos reproduced here under a creative commons license. Copyrights belong to the respective owners.

Sponsored by Tiny Prints–The place for the perfect holiday invitations.

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Posted by: Michelle Mitton | January 19, 2009

The Science of Setting Goals

Everyone has goals. It may be something as immediate as just “Survive this day” but everyone has something that they’re working for whether it’s long term or short term, concrete or abstract. With all these goals floating around you’d think it would be easier to accomplish things but the irony of life is that while we all have things we want to do–it may be as simple as taking an afternoon nap or making it to the bus on time–so few of us are able to get much done.

It doesn’t matter that the average American has more leisure time than those 50 years ago it seems that everyone sees themselves as busy enough that by time February rolls around all the resolutions for the new year have melted–unlike the pounds or the laundry or the bills which haven’t gone anywhere.

This is because we’ve lost the ability to set and execute goals and believe it or not setting goals isn’t an easy thing because if it’s not done properly they’re nearly guaranteed to fail.

G – Get them on paper

O – One at a time

A – Add the details

L – Lay out a plan

S – Set aside time for review

Let’s take this a step by step and using one of my own goals as an example:

1. G is for “Get them on paper.” Until you physically write down a resolution–I prefer to say goal–it will never be a commitment. Something about recording your objective makes it more tangible and real and having a real, honest-to-goodness copy you can hold in your hand makes it more difficult to ignore.

I don’t care if it’s a 3 x 5 card that you stick to your bathroom mirror or a post you write about your abstinence from sugar until it’s written down it’s nothing more than a vague wish floating around in your head.

As a personal example I’ll use something I’ve had as a goal: Be a better mom. There, I did it. It’s written–though it would be most effective to have it written down in a location where I can see it and remember it frequently rather than having to comb through my archived posts to get to it.

2. O is for “One at a time.” It’s very easy to look at your life stretching out before you and make a list of all the things you’d like to do and accomplish. I want to learn how to ride a horse, I want to travel to Italy, I want to be a better person, I want to learn how to make my own root beer, I want to write a book . . . all of it can be very overwhelming. While it’s good to have a list of long-term goals and short-term goals don’t fall into the trap of working on more than you can handle.

While you may have the desire to tackle bone fishing, ballet and Bulgarian all in the same year hold back and be realistic about what you can tackle then pick one or two to focus on. Yes it’s possible you won’t live to be 120 and you will probably run out of time to accomplish all on your list but taking manageable bites will give you a better shot at finishing the whole sandwich rather than stuffing in the whole thing at once and choking.

While I’d personally love to be able to eradicate all my bad habits and petty imperfections in one year by being a better wife, athlete, mother, artist, sister, friend, church goer, chef, writer and citizen it seems a bit more than I can handle in a mere 365 days. Focusing on one or two areas–such as being a better mom–increases my chances of success by something like 93%. On most days.

3. A is for “Add the details.” “Be a better mom” is about as vague a goal as you can have. While it sounds really nice on paper who’s to say what “better” means? Are we talking about a mom who learns to fix organic and healthy snacks? Or one who speaks only Japanese to her children so they can learn a new language? How about a mom who refuses to go to bed until all the day’s laundry and ironing is completed?

It’s all in the details. As soon as you can fill those in your goal comes down from being a mystical abstraction to a concrete objective.

If you want to lose weight you have to be specific by saying “I want to lose 20 pounds by July.” If you want to graduate from college you have to say, “I want to get my last 7 credits by August.” If you want to improve your blog you have to say, “I want to increase my readership to 100 readers per day by the end of the year.”

These details are usually things that are measurable and quantifiable. A number, a frequency, a deadline, a percentage–something that can be held up as a ruler so you know when you’ve achieved your goal.

For example: In my life being a better mom means a couple of things. First, I recognize that it’s easy for me to focus on the negative things my children do rather than the positive things. Instead of seeing how my kids are falling short I want to see their good qualities and reinforce those to them. Second, I yell too much. I get frustrated and I yell (my, isn’t this turning into a “true confessions” post?)–not every day or even every week necessarily but it happens and when it does I feel horrible.

While it’s possible that many women could completely eradicate these bad habits from their lives for me it is quite a struggle and if I were to say “I’m never going to yell at my kids again” I can guarantee that I’d fail in time for the weekend. So I want to make my goal more specific and measurable by saying “I want to control my temper by not yelling at them–specifically during the next four months during the hours of 4pm to 6pm.”

Why those hours? Because those are the hardest hours in the day for me, the time after the kids get their homework done when they tend to get bored and start picking on each other (oops, I’m being negative again) and I’m trying to get dinner fixed or kids shuttled to activities and praying for Andrew to walk through the door at 6 so I can have another adult in the house.

So while this may seem kind of funny to be so specific, now I have identified exactly what I want to accomplish and the next step is that much easier.

4. L is for “Lay out a plan.” Once you have the specifics of what you’d like to do you must create a plan of action. Take those details you’ve come up with and figure out a way to address them. If you want to lose weight are you going to put together an exercise schedule and menu? If you want to graduate from college are you going to sign up to take those remaining seven credits?

Going back to my own goal, I want to focus on the positive things my children do by making a special effort the next four months to notice when they clean something up, do well in school and are kind to another person. I want to refrain from yelling at them during those hours by not putting off my housework or dinner preparations until the last minute so I’m rushing around during a stressful time. If I can get my work done first then I can set aside time for other things like playing a game or reading with them instead of frantically working on dinner and getting short-tempered.

Please pardon that I’m being so personal but it’s one thing to say “have a plan” and it’s another to give you an example–you’ll have to check back in a few months and see how it goes.

5. S is for “Set aside time for review.” Once you have your plan of attack make another little tiny goal to set aside some time each week to review your progress. For us Sunday night is a good time, there isn’t much going on and we’re gearing up for the coming week and making plans.

Maybe you review your goals with a partner so you can keep each other on track, maybe you review on your blog so you can interact with others who are doing similar things, maybe you are just recording how you did in a notebook or journal or pulling out that index card with your goals on it to refresh them in your mind–whatever you do that review process is critical or you’ll soon forget what it was you’d set out to do.

Setting goals is a little like planning a road trip–you have to know exactly where you want to go, you have to plan how you want to get there and you have to periodically stop along the way to check the map and see if you’re still going the right direction.

It’s the best and most reliable way to get where you want to be.

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