31 days, frozen vegetables, and math

smashball{from a trip to the beach a week ago, because I didn’t think a photo of frozen vegetables would be nearly as endearing}

:: 31 Days

I’ve thought really really hard about joining the 31 Days project – blogging about a topic of choice for the 31 days of October.  As you can tell, I’m either a day late or decided not to.

Option B ruled the day.  Hello, practicality.

There just isn’t enough protected time to commit to something like that.  And by that I mean – unnecessary with a deadline.  Especially the deadline bit.  Try to avoid those whenever possible.

{I just discovered that if I hold two fingers down and click a word, I can have immediate access to a definition and synonyms! My writing life as I know it has just been revolutionized.  <GASP> it works in Pages, too.  Coooool.}

But I am really jazzed about my topic of choice, so I’m actually writing out my series anyways and having a grand old time.  At a pace my life can manage.

I’m writing about “31 Days of Becoming”.  Devo even made me a button in case I decided to venture forth into Deep Commitment.  Truthfully, another reason I decided not to publish it is because it contains a lot of personal stories that I still feel vulnerable about.  There is vulnerable on purpose and there is vulnerable please-don’t-hit-me.  The internet is probably not the wisest place for sallying forth with the latter.

But I may change my mind.  Because I can.

 

:: Frozen Vegetables

Speaking of revolutionary discoveries, let’s talk frozen vegetables.  I grew up putting the frozen vegetables in a pan, covering with water, and heating on the stove.  It took long enough that generally I would either find that there was a frozen mass that had formed when I added the water or they would boil and I’d end up with overcooked color-leached mushiness.  Then we would fish our vegetables out of the water with a slotted spoon.

About a year ago (or maybe two?), I watched my friend Andrea break out her bag of Trader Joe’s peas with some buttery goodness and all she did was put them in the pan, cover it with a lid, and stir occasionally.  Whaaaaaa?  You can do that?

You can.

I don’t know what sparked that memory (maybe I had finally worked through the incredulous, paradigm shifting jolt of the new method), but a month or so ago I tried it for myself.  It’s awesome.  It has revolutionized my life as pertains to frozen vegetables.

I realize that everyone else in the western world has probably been cooking their frozen vegetables this way since the Dark Ages, but in case there is someone else out there like me with an iceberg in their pan, I’d just like to put it out there.  Try it.

 

:: Life of Fred

On the recommendation of a friend, I ordered a new math curriculum for Lia.  She had been ho-humming through Math-U-See, not protesting but not particularly engaged either.  Just putting in her time.

I ordered Life of Fred on the premise that the program is story based.  Maybe a good fit for my voracious reader.  I read that each book should take about a month to work on, so I ordered the first three.  We’ll try it until Christmas, I thought.

She finished the first book within 24 hours, and the first three books within a week.  She can’t wait to get to calculus (I think because there is the promise of learning Fred’s entire history).  She sits every morning (and sometimes in the afternoon) with her little notebook, reading and working her problems.  There are only about five problems to work per chapter.  Just the right amount to feel competent and eager to get to the next chapter.

I think she’s on book five now, but I’m not really sure.  I can’t keep up.  Every couple of days we sit down together and l catch up on the story (she always wants to share the story) and we take a look at the work in her notebook.

There are definitely some holes in her understanding of the material.  That doesn’t bother me at all because (a) she’s interested and intrigued by math for the first time ever and believes herself to be competent – that in and of itself will give her everything she needs (b) who ever completely understood everything before reaching out for more? and (c) she goes back and rereads the books because they are so much fun.

Amelie can’t wait until she’s ready for Life of Fred.

end of summer, photos and notes

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:: Friday night supper on the back porch, blueberry cornbread and a strawberry smoothie.

:: And we’ve discovered Monopoly.  Any game with play money is of utmost interest.  Today’s school (actually, today’s dayconsisted entirely of games with money.  (Or, as we discovered with the new-to-us Bibleopoly, it’s not money, it’s offering.  Whoever made up that particular knock off certainly had a sense of humor.  At least, I hope they weren’t serious.)  Lunch and supper were not eaten at the dining table, as it was holding the ongoing Game of Life.  Fascinating to see how acing worksheets of place value exercises don’t seem to make the jump to understanding the difference between $5,000 and $50,000.  They understand now, now that it matters.  I particularly loved how they love to acquire children in Life.  Children, I am informed, are what make them rich.  Indeed.

:: We did our first one-night camping trip.  (Did you see the deer?) I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the effort packing and unpacking for just one night.  It was! It was!  I loved packing only one day’s worth of clothes and one day’s worth of food.  It took us two hours to pack up and go, and everything was clean and put away by bedtime after we got back.  Without monumental effort.  Our next trip is already reserved – Joshua Tree in October.

::  I’ve picked up a total of three pairs of roller skates for $2 a piece over the last several months.  Our church’s thrift store is a gold mine of treasures with golden-hearted people who do the pricing.  Roller skates are an excellent way to get from your bedroom to breakfast.  Most days our house resembles a roller derby.  Even Kiri can put one foot in a skate and hop along to get where she wants to go.

:: We made an awesome geoboard using this tutorial.  We eventually filled in the entire pegboard with the screws.  The geometric exercise often shifts into rubber band shooting sprees (I’m sure shooting rubber bands is teaching them scientific principles).  It’s big enough that several of us can play at the same time.

:: A “This is How We Roll” photo to add to my collection.  Home Depot has awesome new car carts.

:: A photo of a lovely, lovely moment during the school day.

:: The obligatory, traditional First Day of School photo.  We go to the same lake and take a picture on the same stump every year.  After our stint as tourists this summer, we’ve taken to trying to strike some sort of pose other than Stand and Smile.  I like to think of this one as “I’m Going Somewhere”.

:: I love the last photo of me and my True Love.  Love.  Warm.  Kind of smooshed.  Happy.



Eliminate the crazy -and- create an inheritance

It’s that time of year.  The weather hasn’t gotten the “fall” memo, but the sun has, and it’s almost dark when I leave yoga class now.

School is in full swing.  I’ve waded through curriculum choices and internet ordering, identified needs, and sketched out vision and goals for each child.   The daily routine has already undergone three big tweaks.  (Can a tweak be big?)

But really, I only have one big focus for this year.  All the rest are small details.  My big goal?

I don’t want to feel crazy this year.

I’m so over crazy.

I’ve taken a big look at what factors into the recurring feeling that things are spinning out of control.  What things contribute to thin (cough) patience.  What is happening when I feel that things are running smoothly.  What is going on when I feel rooted in the moment and available to whoever or whatever is in front of me.

And I made a list.

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  1. Get enough sleep.  Amen.
  2. Take time for myself first thing in the morning to find some space and a sense of equilibrium.  I had thought that rolling out of bed to do some yoga would be a good thing to do, but it turns out that I prefer to wake up my mind before I wake up my body.  I was so glad to find the idea of Morning Pages.  It’s a practice that fits me just right, clears the cobwebs, orders the day, and sometimes turns into an early morning free counseling session.
  3. Take care of My Things first.  I make my bed, shower, and clean my room before facing the world.
  4. Keep the kitchen clean.  This includes a number of tasks.  Wash the dishes, dry and put them away, clean and clear all the counters.  If my kitchen is clean, I am 89% more likely to cook.  (Hey, hey, another week has passed and I’ve cooked at least four meals that we would have eaten out for in the past.  My shoulder is getting sore from patting myself on the back.)
  5. Keep the Holy Triangle clean.  All the living spaces in our house are open to one another.  The Holy Triangle includes the kitchen, the dining room, and the breakfast nook turned desk/sewing.  If this space is free of clutter with surfaces cleared and chairs pushed in, I feel like I can conquer whatever the day throws at me.  It doesn’t matter if a typhoon has gone through the living room, as long as it all stays outside my Holy Triangle, I’m fine.
  6. Take a break in the middle of the day.  I usually take some time for myself during rest time (the kids rest every day for one hour right after lunch).  I use that time for getting things done, computer work, do errands, or to spend as I choose.  I’ve learned in the last week that working feverishly through this hour does not provide the mental break I need to enter into our afternoon activities fresh and patient.
  7. Grocery shop and meal plan.  Meal planning is, as you know, new to me (still a fan!  revamped plan going well!).  But dang if life isn’t always easier when there is ample food in the pantry.
  8. Do things that feed me.  Practice and take lessons.  Write.  Study.  Sew.  Do something creative.
  9. Clean up everything, every morning and every afternoon.  Eliminates (or, greatly reduces) meltdowns.  Parent or child.
  10. Be faithful to routines.  It’s my current mantra, befaithfulbefaithfulbefaithfull.  If I shift or neglect one thing, it creates a snowball effect and I get effectively crazy.  And we don’t want crazy.

It seems like a lot of things to do, sometimes it seems like I’m asking for the moon, being wildly irresponsible with my demands on myself, my family, and my husband.  But at this point in my life with four small children, free flowing creates unhappy people.  Every time.  It particularly creates Crazy Mama.  And I’m tired of being crazy.  Did I say that already?

School morning have been going remarkably well, everyone settling into their routines.  The first truly smooth day came and I realized that everyone was calm except me.  I’ve felt the crazies for so long that I didn’t know how to NOT be crazy.

I’m retraining my automatic reactions, and I’ve been proactive in asking for help for things I need help with.  Sometimes I tell myself that this is a good thing to do because how I feel affects so many people.  If I feel calm and centered, I am so much better at parenting.

And that’s true.

But the truth also is that even if I didn’t have other people depending on me so heavily for so many things, I would still go to such lengths to create a healthy, happy me.  I’m worth it.

………………………………………………………………

I’ve sat here for awhile, wondering about keeping or deleting that last sentence.  “I’m worth it.”  Would that seem self-flaunting, self-ish to my readers?  Would it make me seem like a head-in-the-clouds tra-la-la-ing airhead?  Or worse, a full of myself braggart?

I’ve decided to not ignore that voice, but to address it full on.

How is it that to take care of our basic needs for peace and sanity is considered selfish?  Where did we, as women, inherit these ideas that we are not worthy of feeling good?

Ah, there’s the answer right inside my question.  We inherit them.  We inherit them from the women around us, from the words that are spoken and the examples that are lived.

And as with all things passed down to us, we need to decide — is this something I want to keep, or is it flawed and I choose to uproot it?

I say that this particular idea – the idea that we, as women, are not worthy of peace and happiness – is bogus.  Time to give it the boot.

A woman who has learned to care for herself with gentleness, strength, and faithfulness has a beauty that is irresistible.   I don’t want my children to receive an anemic inheritance.  I desire wholeness for them.  And I desire no less for myself.  Wholeness for all of us.

We’re all worth it.

 

 

meal planning, woot

I probably should have started a support group.  A group of people to cheer me on through the ups and downs of starting something new.

Yes, I’ve finally jumped on board the Meal Planning Train.  A summer full of millions (millions, I tell you) of minute decisions that only I could (or would) make has made me run full steam ahead back into the safe and caring arms of Routine.  <cue cozy blanket and fetal position>

Ah, Routine.  You make my heart sing.  You make everything….easier.

The first two weeks were great.  I totally get the amazonian compulsion to give five stars to something you just started using this morning.  I love it!  This is amazing!  Why didn’t I try this before! Everyone should try it!  

The next two weeks were great.  (And 21 days makes a habit, right?).  We cut our eating out expenditures into about one sixth of what it was.  Take that, Achilles.  Big pats on the back for me, by me.

I made several versions of a meal plan and decided to go with the “make one big pot of beans at the beginning of the week and then have Variations on Bean for the rest of the week”.  We had Pinto Week, Black Bean Week, and Garbanzo Week.  I did sketch in an Asian Week – but only 1/3 of the family would be satisfied at any given time.

I finally realized that paying an extra five dollars for something special at the grocery store (avocados! peaches!) is a way better deal than taking a family of six out to eat.  It sounds like a no brainer, but I ask you this – when you read about household budgeting, what is usually the first thing to take a hit?  The grocery budget.  And I bought into it.  Grocery budget is a place to cut, not a place to increase.

Apparently I am not the average grocery shopper, because if I cut my grocery budget any more, we wouldn’t have anything to eat.  I love what Renee says about grocery budgets — basically she says that it takes a lot of money to feed a family good food and it’s worth it.  My new philosophy and Devo and I are both jazzed.  Abundance.

But I digress.

After culinary success and psychological enlightenment, Weeks Five and Six weren’t so great.  And now is when I’m wishing there were people out there cheering me on because my own cheering mechanism has petered out.  <cue sound effect of mechanism petering out>

Some notes towards the long-term success of this project.

Variety is important.  I think this is where my Train began to derail.  I got sick and tired of meals that contained tortillas or chips.  Like, I’m going to hurl if you make me eat one more haystack.  (Haystacks, in case you don’t know, are a quintessential Adventist meal.  Think taco salad on a bed of chips.  Kinda.)

Grocery shop regularly and with an eye toward abundance.  And here’s where we fell off altogether.  Extra expenses this last pay period had me thinking that we could just eat out of the pantry.  Warning: This is a death knell to the Meal Plan.  You can’t cook from a Meal Plan if you don’t have the ingredients for the Planned Meal.  You can eat, but it won’t be pretty.  (Hello to the minimum of three meals my family walked away from virtually untouched this week).

30 minute meals are where it’s at.  Change my name to Rachael, I’m a 30 minute meal kinda gal.  30 minutes?  I can handle that day in and day out.  More than that?  I’ll crumble under the commitment.  Know thyself.

 

Any other meal planners out there?  (And if it’s not a success story, let’s wait until next week to hear it when I’m feeling more optimistic, okay?)

 

 

 

 

popcorn (again), etc.

:: popcorn update

I figured if I was making enough popcorn to write a post about it, maybe I was making enough popcorn to merit spending money on and allotting precious kitchen space to a machine dedicated to making popcorn with ease.  Gone are the days of my childhood where popcorn makers were larger than your stock pot – or so I hoped.

We welcomed an air popper into our household this week and immediately put it to the test.  A whole stock pot full of popcorn in two minutes, wowee.  Everybody knows how to make popcorn now, and we all stand around and watch them pop.  Very exciting.  Also very satisfying.

The popcorn still could probably use a minute in the oven to crisp up.  Because it’s an air popper, it doesn’t use any oil and I’m having wild thoughts about using butter solely for flavor.  Because I can.  But I probably won’t.

Turns out the kids love plain popcorn liberally dusted with cinnamon.  I shouldn’t have been surprised — they all love to eat applesauce with more cinnamon than you can shake a stick at.

:: lumps, bumps, and sunscreen

I went to the doctor on Friday to check out a lump on my chest that I saw in the mirror that morning.  I won’t kid that there aren’t some scary thoughts associated with the word lump.  (Lump.  Rather an ugly word in itself, but kinda satisfying to say.  Lump.  Lllluuuummmmp.  Not like the word “vulgar” – that’s just ugly all the way around.)

It turned out to be a sebaceous cyst.  (Not worrisome).

Then, since I was there, I made the doctor (made being the operative word) do a breast exam as well — I hadn’t had one since I finished breastfeeding.  Can we just talk breast exams for a moment?  I really don’t see how a brief feel-feel, and another brief feel-feel qualify as a thorough breast exam.

And then, since I was there (let’s kill all the birds with the stone), I had the doctor look at a rough spot on my temple.  Pre-cancerous sun damage.  Ouch.  He froze it with his big bottle of frozen torture and I squeezed my eyes shut and remembered holding my great-grandma’s hand while she got a spot frozen on her nose.  I am now one with the ladies in their eighties.

I’ve been a faithful sun screener.  Most of the time I try to just stay out of the sun.  After all, sunscreen and sun damage seem to be a classic case of d-d if you do and d-d if you don’t.  This summer I bought Neutrogena baby sunblock.  Hypo-allergenic this and free and clear that.  Thick, white sun block that takes hours to rub into a family of 6 but still leaves us looking like escapees from Clowns Anonymous.

A couple of years ago my mom gave me a bottle of the most delightful sunscreen.  It sprays on, light and clear.  It’s the work of a second to rub it in.  A little goes a long way.  It was quite expensive, so I guarded it carefully.  But not carefully enough, because somebody got into the cupboard and dumped it out.  I don’t remember who the somebody was in this instance.  And I was horrified at the waste and sad to say goodbye to such a delightful product.  But a little relieved as well.  Surely something so very nice was way toxic and I was poisoning my family, sacrificing them on the altar of easy application.  I was so convinced it was highly toxic that I couldn’t bring myself to look it up in the toxic database, I held tightly to my ignorance.  I currently have the same problem with my antiperspirant.

I finally looked it up this summer.  My free and clear Neutrogena Baby?  Toxicity level of 7.  My beloved I’m-sure-it’s-killing-us-and-I’m-using-it-anyways KinEsys sunscreen?  Toxicity level of 3.

Bazinga, baby.

My sister left me her bottle of KinEsys – she figured she won’t need it much in London.  Sunscreening my family is now a joy unparalleled.  Spray, rub, done + peace of mind = I’ve become an evangelist.

So let me do a little evangelizing.  If you’re of the sunscreening type, I’d like to highly recommend KinEsys.  (It’s worth the money.)  I also recommend keeping the bottle out of the hands of people who might pour it out.  Don’t want to be crying over spilt sunscreen.

 

popcorn (on the stove)

Thursday night is yoga night for me and movie night for the kids.  It’s morphed into a popcorn and smoothie supper night, which I like.  Easy.  Although I usually eat a heartier supper after the kids go to bed.  Because I can.

Let’s talk popcorn today, shall we?  Specifically, popcorn on the stove.

Making popcorn is supposed to be super easy, like making beans.  When you make beans, you basically put them in a pot with water and cook them until they’re done.  Super easy, right?  Well it seems so, but it’s not.  I think it took me four or five years to figure out how to cook beans well.  My trick after years of trial and error? I put them in a pot with water and cook them until they’re done.

Same thing with popcorn.

We don’t have a microwave. (I just can’t bear to allow something to take that much of my precious little counter space.  Also, I confess to paranoia that we will eventually find that microwaves are, indeed, killing us.) So no packets of popcorn, no putting plain popcorn in a paper bag and making your own packets with grand DIY style.

To make popcorn on the stove, all you do is put some oil in the bottom of a hot pan, pour in some kernels, give the pan a shake, and let them pop until there are a few seconds in between pops.  Easy peasy.

After many burnt batches, batches with more kernels unpopped than popped, and hours scrubbing off oil that had burned to the bottom of the pan, I’ve kind of figured out something that works and I thought I’d share how I make popcorn.

I put oil in a hot pan, pour in some kernels, give the pan a shake, and let them pop.  

 

First, the pan.  No heavy bottomed pan for me – the oil is either not hot enough to pop the kernels or it pops the kernels and burns onto the pan.  My trusty cast-iron skillet is The Bomb.  No scrubbing, good heat.  I can’t wait until I finally get the cast iron dutch oven I’ve got my eye on.  It will be The Triple Bomb.

Second, the oil.  I use canola.  I’ve tried coconut oil and grapeseed oil (both of which came highly recommended on the healthy side of the internets), but both smoke a great deal for me.

Also about the oil, no healthful oil skimping allowed.  (Oh. My. Goodness.  I just typed “aloud” instead of “allowed” and couldn’t figure out why it looked wrong).  My unscientific observation is that more of the kernels pop when there is more oil.  You need a down right oil slick across the bottom of the pan.

Third, the kernels.  Put a couple in and wait until they pop and then add enough kernels to not really cover the bottom of the pan.  Give them a stir to coat them in your generous amount of oil.  (We’re not talking Paula Deen generous here, we’re talking my kind of generous).  Put on the lid (and crack it to let out some steam) and wait for them to pop.  You’ll have to figure out your own heat — my wimpy stove and mighty cast iron do well with the heat just a bit above medium.

Fourth, the crisping.  The popcorn comes off the stove a bit…not crispy.  I dump it into a 9×13 pyrex casserole dish and then season it right away.  My theory is that the moisture from the steam will help the seasonings to stick without adding more oil or butter.  It kinda works.  I usually season with salt, garlic powder, and nutritional yeast.  Sometimes we add dill.  Pop the pan into a 325 degree oven for one minute (set the timer!).  It crisps right up!

Bon appétit!

 

 

mostly plants

We’ve seemed to reach our semi-annual desire for Great Changes.  At Christmas, it was our reworking of routines and general organization.  Here in Spring-Almost-Summer both Devo and I have our minds on road trips and camping, and food.

I haven’t been doing a great job of feeding my family recently.  One Sunday I was griping to Devo (it truly was a gripe) about my dismal meal planning and pantry stocking of late.  He kindly began to offer ideas on how to be more efficient (you know, meal planning and scheduled shopping).  I interrupted him with a hand in the air.

I don’t really want to talk about the details right now.  I just want to do some self-bashing. 

I almost gasped as the words that came out of my mouth reached my ears.  Self-bashing, what a ghastly, ugly, damaging past-time.  Of course I know when I’m participating in self-bashing.  But to have the truth of the matter come, unedited, out of my mouth without warning – it was sobering to see that nasty habit in the light.

I’m taking a tighter rein on my self-talk.  Again.  Weird how it starts out so innocuously and spirals so quickly down to loathing and despair.  Trippy.

But back to food.

 

I took a look through the documents on my computer this weekend, searching for previous meal plans for inspiration.  I found that we basically don’t eat anything that we ate eight years ago.  Or five years ago.  Even three years ago only has about half the meals to be what we would eat now.

Our eating style has changed so drastically that we have basically started from scratch.  Started back at basics with plants.

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants. -Michael Pollan

I’ve been vegetarian since I was 17 (Hong Kong chicken flu and Mad Cow disease in one year helped with that decision), and Devo converted around the time we were married.  During the gestational years, we did both eat some fish, but it seems that that has phased out.  (I am planning, however, to have some Alaskan salmon when we visit my dad in Anchorage this summer.)  The kids are vegetarians.

Dairy has slowly left our refrigerator.  A bit of Tillamook cheddar and parmiggiano reggiano.  Occasionally a tub of Greek yogurt.  Mayo is gone for good.

“Vegemeat”, long a staple food in my life and heart, was eliminated first for budgeting purposes and now because we are soy-free at home.

We eliminated soy at home last fall, due to concerns about endocrine disruption in our children and myself.  It has made a difference, I might add.  But I mourn the loss of soy milk and tofu (not to mention that it’s in just about everything).  And vegemeat.

And now, the most recent challenge is to move away from relying so heavily on breads.  Sandwiches and burritos have been the core of our meal repertoire.  But when I buy bread, it gets eaten for at least two, if not three meals a day.  Too much.

We’re sick of corn tortillas, and I can’t in good conscience have us eat so many white flour tortillas any longer.  My body rebels.  There are some good whole wheat tortillas, but they are worth their weight in gold and we eat a lot of food around here.

Which leaves us with Mostly Plants.  

 

For a long time, I have cooked under the following formula ::

One legume, one grain, one green vegetable, one yellow vegetable.  

It’s a wonderful way to start learning how to make meals that are not based around a main dairy, meat, or vegemeat item.  Tossed salads, grain salads, bean bowls, fried rice, pasta with vegetables, sandwiches, burritos/tacos.  All of these are great ways to use the vegetables that are on sale and in season at the grocery store/farmer’s market or that come in the farm box.

But I seem to have reached a point of stagnation.  With the elimination of soy and moving away from breads, I’m left without the foundations of our staple meals.  Also, this year has matured our family so that there are more apparent food preferences and aversions.  Our policy is that everyone must eat, without complaining, a modest helping of whatever is served.  But as main cook, I must say that I prefer a table full of enthusiasm and second helpings over grim endurance.

All of which means, it’s time for a change!

 

I’ve cancelled our farm box for the time being so that I can do some picking and choosing of my own at the grocery store.

I’ve signed us up for 30 Day Vegan.

Devo and I are seriously considering investing in our first juicer.  Recommendations?

I have planted 12 tomatoes, six cucumbers, way too much squash (Mom, you have to promise to help eat it), and seven bell peppers.

I’ve reworked and updated my perpetual grocery list.

I am trying hard to develop a manageable and tasty meal plan.

I’m on the lookout for new complete-meal recipes.  I enjoy cooking from whatever I’ve got, but it’s time to find and plan for full meals.  Preferably ones that everyone loves.  Or almost everyone.

 

Might I just say that eating with a conscience these days is a very very hard thing to do?  Eat in season, buy locally, buy organic, avoid cans, stay in budget, eat a balanced and healthy diet.  Just those criteria alone can leave us with hardly anything to eat.

I call for new criteria to eating with a conscience : use your brain! don’t get hung up on getting it all right!  eat well!

Anyone have a plant-based, fresh, simple and easy meal to share?

 

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Tuesday is Dress-Up Day.  Medieval Princess practices the piano in beauty and grace, swathed in a sumptuous red velvet cape lined with golden satin over a hoop-skirted ball gown.

Please note: the cape is made out of an old pair of curtains, the dress out of an old pair of sheets.  And bless those sheets.  It was a risk to make a play dress out of white fabric, but everything seems comes out of it.  So far.  I did note a spot of blue food coloring from the celery experiment today, we’ll see how the magic sheets deal with that one.

Our days are filled with excitement due to Amelie’s upcoming 6th birthday.  She has planned about a year’s worth of celebrations so far.  She brings up the subject, oh, 8 or 10 or 18 times a day.

Today’s big plans include balloons, water balloons, and candy corn.  With umbrellas and fans.

It will be a medieval party!  No, let’s do a 40s party with hair and makeup!  

She went to make herself an umbrella today.  And as she told me later, “It was harder than I thought it would be.”  As I peeled Umbrella Prototype A off of the comforter upon which -and to which- she had glued it.

Tomorrow morning she and I are going out for Mommy-and-Amelie breakfast.

(This week’s breakfast is not with Levi, as I had said last week during a brief (ha, brief, she says) mental lapse.  We do things in order around here.  In this case, age-order.)

We plan on taking a paper and a pen and making some real decisions about this celebration over our smoothies and pastries.

I’m a little nervous.

………………………………………………………………

In other news, Lia and I made this gluten/seitan today.  (Lia is a vegemeat fiend).  It’s so easy and uber delicious.  So glad we doubled it.  And cheap – holy cow, that much vegemeat from the store would cost upwards of $12 – I think I probably made it for $3.  I hope hope hope I get around to making pot pies tomorrow.  Yum.

this morning

lia breakfast

Today was Mommy-and-Lia breakfast out.  Wednesday mornings, Jamba Juice.  Order anything you want.  Devo and I switch back and forth taking the kids–  one-on-one has to be scheduled in around here.  Next week, Mommy-and-Levi.

Chatter, chatter, our boots match!, with freckles sprinkled across her nose.

We squeezed in a trip to the used book section of the thrift store and added a like-new copy of Ramona the Pest to our permanent collection of favorites.

Back in time for Devo to leave for work, and school to start.  (Showers, breakfast, practicing, all done on time today!)

Kiri is entertaining herself.  Her activity of choice is to push a dining chair to a destination of her choice, climb, and get in to something purposely kept above the high-water line.  I’m keeping up with my exercise by lifting chairs up to the table, getting them down when the school kids need them, realizing the chairs have been abandoned and Kiri has requisitioned one for her own use, then racing around trying to put them all back up before she runs off with another one.

As Levi sounds out words, and Amelie dashes off a page of math problems, and Lia types away.

A lesson on chloroplasts leads to a study of Seurat, pointillism, and the color wheel, painting with dots of color.  And, of course, we have to try it out for ourselves with paint and Q-tips.  (Does anyone actually call them “cotton buds”?  Devo calls them earbuds, but he’s not from around here.)

Lots of roasted broccoli with garlic spaghetti and fresh parmesan for lunch.  With sauteed, salty mushrooms if you’re so inclined.

The kids and I tried out a friend’s soymilk maker to make almond milk.  Generally, we use the vitamix and a bag to strain out the solids.  Neither Devo nor I care for the zen-like process of squeezing the milk out in the midst of the bustling morning routine.  It’s fun for occasionally, exasperating for routine.  I think what we really need is a salad spinner-like apparatus that spins the milk out.

Almond milk for dessert, in fancy glasses and teacups.

An after-lunch, before-rest, clean up session.  I, again, contemplate therapy, seek a release from the daily freak-out (mild today).

Resting time is in full swing for the older three, and the Mama.  Devo works from home and keeps an eye on Kiri.  (A new and blessed commitment this year).  Always an hour rest after lunch.

 

misc.

photobooth

 

:: We went to the Living Desert today for one last time before our passes run out.  My favorite animal there is the serval, maybe because it reminds me of Lia, our long-legged, graceful, beautiful girl.

:: I’m having a food/cooking crisis of sorts.  Apparently it’s time to (a) grocery shop and (b) try some new recipes.

:: According to Amelie, she only likes fruit, macaroni and cheese, and sweets.  After long deliberation and much discussion, we have compiled a list of other foods that she deems edible.  Not surprisingly, this list contains sweet potatoes, sweet red bell peppers, sweet carrots… sweets for the sweet!

:: Devo and I went on our first completely successful date in recent months.  Levi did fall out of bed  while we were gone (no injuries), but was content to snuggle on his auntie’s lap and go back to sleep.  I’m thinking that we have gone on more dates in the last year than in the previous nine.

:: I haven’t watched the most recent Downton Abbey episode.  But everyone else has and has made scathing remarks in my presence.  Now I’m scared.  I’m trying to remember that these aren’t real people and that nobody really dies, it’s all pretend.

:: Devo knows what happens.

:: In other news, after about three weeks of a fussy, clingy, I-am-the-coconut-tree-to-her-monkey Kiri, she is returning to her cheerful and independent self.  Oh, the relief.  There’s something so uniquely insane about caring for a fussy baby – I am sure there isn’t anything like it in any other job.  You start to think that maybe you’re a weakling, blowing things out of proportion, just get a grip wouldja?

And then your husband takes over for an hour and affirms the crazy.  (Bless him both for taking over as much as possible and for affirming the crazy.  Both were balms for a storm-tossed psyche.)

A friend who had worked (and worked hard) in the corporate world for five years before having children told me this weekend that staying at home with her children is by far the hardest thing she’s ever done.  That soothed me.

Beans, Mayo, and a Story (not a recipe)

:: Simple Beans

There was a big pot of black beans on the stove today.  Delicious.  Just cumin and salt.  I’ve dutifully cooked my beans with onion and garlic for years, but recently I’ve been having brilliant, delectable results with only salt.  Simple.

Our weeks go so much better, culinarily speaking, when I start off the week with a big pot of beans.

Today’s lunch was simply black beans and brown rice.  With a squeeze of lime.  I had intended to add to it, but didn’t.  No one complained.  Indeed, Lia complimented me on the delicious lunch.

Now to play how-many-ways-to-eat-black-beans-this-week.  This is a game I like.

:: Mayo, ewwww

The girls’ hair has been fried this summer with sun and chlorine.  They look like wooly sheep.  Wooly sheep with highlights.

Now that the end of swimming is in sight (is this wishful thinking? heat wave, you are not welcome here!), I’ve started being proactive about counteracting the damage.

Yes, I did the mayonnaise rinse.

I was underwhelmed by the results and overwhelmed by the smell.

Mayo and I are not on good terms since someone popped an individual serving of mayonnaise on the couch and didn’t ‘fess up.

I couldn’t figure out where on earth that mayonnaise smell was coming from and it just kept getting stronger and stronger.  And then I found the little foil bag under a couch cushion, deflated, lying in it’s innards.  Whaaaa?

I wrung a confession out of someone, wondering again why I bother with the “why on earth would you doooooo that?” technique, and thanked my lucky stars I had found it quickly.

The smell comes back when there is moisture in the air.  In our old house, humidity brought on a dog smell.  Here, mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise lingers in the nostrils (and in the upholstery) like a stench.

I used to love mayonnaise.  Now I don’t.

I’ve been rubbing small bits of coconut oil in their hair occasionally.  Maybe with some lavender essence.  Much better.

We are currently trying out a swimming cap in order to be better prepared to protect our flowing tresses next summer.

:: Amelie Tells It

Amelie was reminiscing about her first piano recital back in May.  “I was so scared that I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t.”

 

Carol’s Chili

It is nowhere near fall here, despite what the calendar and the early sunsets say.  Nonetheless, I am craving warm, hot, fall-y foods.  Baked potatoes, apple galettes, soups.

Whenever I’m tempted to serve hot food on a hot day, I’m reminded that Judy in Pat of Silver Bush says that people who serve ‘boiling soup on a dog day’ have no gumption.  I like to think I have gumption.

As a concession to the broiling outside and the AC that still must run yet another day, there is a big pot of my Aunt Carol’s chili on the stove.  A hot food that can pretend to be a summer food, if need be.  The only thing hard about this recipe is remembering to start it early enough.  Everything else is easy peasy, fast, and plant-based.  Score!  Thanks Carol!

For lunch today we had it over chips with sauteed kale and shredded carrots.  Tomorrow we’ll have it over Crash Hot Potatoes.  I was hoping for a third day, maybe with brown rice?, but it’s not going to last that long.

 

Carol’s Chili

5 cups dried red or kidney beans

1 tbsp cumin

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

 

1 onion, chopped

2-3 red bell peppers, chopped

A couple of pepperoncini’s and juice, to taste

 

Crockpot method : In a large pot, cover dried beans with water and bring to a boil.  Boil 3 minutes.  Let sit one hour.  Drain and rinse.  Put the beans in a crockpot and fill with water to the top of the pot.  Add the salt and spices.  Let cook overnight.

Stovetop method (which I prefer) : Put the dried beans in a large, heavy pot with 12 cups of water.  Add the spices (not the salt).  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cover and simmer for a couple of hours (cooking time depends on what kind of beans you use and how old they are).  When the beans are mostly soft, add the salt and adjust seasonings.  Simmer until the beans are nice and soft.  Remember, you can add water if needed.

In the meantime (or the next day if you’re using the crockpot), sautee an onion and two or three red bell peppers.  Add to the cooked beans.  Add pepperoncinis and juice, if desired.

Simmer, adjust, taste, enjoy.

 

ugliness, downton abbey, vegetables, and a brilliant idea

:: ugliness
Not enough {continuous} sleep + not enough exercise + not enough time to my self + several very rough days = ugliness.  (And now I find out, severe thyroid imbalance.  Still.)

We made an effort to regroup this week.  Being more faithful to giving me some time on my own to finish a thought or a task without being interrupted.  A little space to breathe.

It’s always a clue that I’m not taking adequate care of myself when I feel like everyone is taking something from me.  I need some space in order to be able to give.

And I’d like to say that I’d be very happy to obliterate this particular cycle.  Self-loathing makes me feel so juvenile.

:: Downton Abbey
We’ve become Downton Abbey groupies.  It’s ‘our’ show, Devo and I, our little evening respite from the cares of the day.  A little toast with apricot jam and we’re content.

(It’s really good, really interesting.  If you like period pieces, definitely check it out.)

:: today’s brilliant idea
I have this idea for an automatic dispenser for bathrooms with kids.  It doles out the correct portion of shampoo (or conditioner, or toothpaste) after fingerprint verification, and will not give out any more until the next session begins.

Only parents can override the system to get more than one dollop on an as-needed basis.

(Two guesses what is all over the bathroom).

:: vegetables
We’ve been significantly increasing our vegetable intake this last week.  I’ve hopped on the big salad bandwagon and we’re taking it for a ride.  Sure makes for an easy lunch.

I washed, chopped, and dried three big heads of lettuce, and stored it in canning jars in the fridge.  I think we got four meals out of it, maybe five.

Salads take so much chopping to make them interesting.  I’m thinking to try a formula of lettuce, two chopped vegetables, one protein (bean, tofu, egg, etc.).  And wouldn’t it be fun to have a little selection of seeds to sprinkle on top?  (Would it be fun or would it be a pain? Not sure yet.)

We’ve been trying out new homemade dressings to liven things up.

Today I overcooked a week’s worth of organic broccoli, which puts a stick in my meal-planning spokes.  Do you think there are any nutrients left?  There certainly isn’t any texture.

feng shui, lent, birds

:: Today we carted off a pile of stuff from the garage floor.  It was a gigantic pile.  It was seriously messing up my feng shui.

We made three or four personal deliveries, and a whole trunk load for charity.

It’s the first time I’m not saving stuff “for the next baby”, so we are experiencing the joy of passing things on to others.  Freely we have received, freely give.

:: If I had been really brave, we would have carted off half of our furniture, too.  So tired of our tired old couch.  But as we like to sit all together snuggled and scrunched up, I kept it and managed to round up some goodwill towards it.

(Do you know how many ugly couches there are on craigslist?  Do you?)

:: My grandpa has been in and out of the hospital the last two months or so.  It’s hard being so far away.

:: Lent has started and I’ve decided to mark these days with prayer.  Didn’t start on time, don’t always remember, sometimes don’t even have a clear idea why I’m doing what (in more ways than one, haha), but still moving forward towards Holy Week and Easter.

:: My Whole Foods Online Workshop is in it’s fourth week now.  Truthfully, I’m feeling discouraged about how little I’ve been able to do with it.  I haven’t gotten to try hardly any of the recipes (haven’t been to the grocery store where we buy our fruits and vegetables…apparently in a month), haven’t gotten to really soak in the modules.  I haven’t even gotten to watch any of the videos all the way through.  (The kids have, though.)

This week I’m aiming to move past my discouragement and cultivate gratefulness to the box of fruits and veggies that arrives on my doorstep every Friday.  I may not have all the ingredients to make new and tantalizing recipes, but I do have good, healthy, organic food to cook with.  Lots of leafy greens this week.

:: We are continuing our study of birds for another week.  The girls and I are LOVING The Trumpet of the Swan.  It’s living up to all my childhood memories.  What a delightful story, and so fun to read aloud.

We’ve discovered a house sparrow’s nest in our neighbor’s eaves, and we can see it from our upstairs windows.

We’ve identified that the birds in our backyard are white crowned sparrows, winter visitors to the Inland Empire.

Most exciting, we saw a hummingbird’s courting display.  Up it zooms, high into the air, then swoops down.  Again and again.

I’m liking bird courtship study as an antidote to princess stories (in which the boy does the choosing).  In the bird world, the boys do acrobatics and sing beautiful songs, and the girls do the choosing.  No passive acceptance of fate here.

 

Whole Food Kitchen – Week 1

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I have food on the brain tonight.

Today I started my first online workshop (first anything workshop, really) Whole Food Kitchen and I’m off and running.

It probably points to my personality that I didn’t run straight to the kitchen to whip up one of the ten recipes Heather gives each week.

No, I did the philosophical assignment first. (Does that surprise anyone? I thought not.)

What surfaced through the exercise is that I am ready to let go of guilt and fear when it comes to food.

The voice thunders from above, “You must eat in this [insert most recent health hype] prescribed way of true healthfulness, or you will suffer from cancer, chronic illness, and all other manners of diseased being. You are pond scum, you are a loser, you have no self-control, you should berate yourself for your failure with many emotional flagellations.”

I admit I am susceptible to cowering. Or, more often, cringing, which has the same root as cowering.

I’m tired of being swayed by the capricious world of “healthy eating”. (Eat soy, it’s the wonder food! Don’t eat soy, it will harm your children, give you all manner of diseases, ruin your existence!)

Guilt and fear are highly overrated. I prefer balance, common sense, and some intuition.

Three things from my week one assignment ::

1. One of the steps I’m taking towards the eradication of fear and guilt is to avoid dogmatic health messages in all their forms in order to make room for a more spacious working philosophy.

(That was a very long sentence.)

2. I have set my intention for this workshop. (I love that Heather is a yoga teacher, “set your intention” is such a yoga thing). Wide open. Gather.

3. And lastly, the articulation of my current food philosophy :: Eat well. Most of the time that means to eat healthfully of simple whole foods. But to eat well also includes eating for pure pleasure and epicurean joy.