Thursday, February 28, 2013

Today's News


I made 35 pots out of recycled newspaper this afternoon/evening, and planted my squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.  It took me a lot longer than I expected, but it is finished.  These can be planted directly in the garden beds once the danger of frost is over, and will continue to decompose there.


Hooray!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pothole Season

I heard on the radio this morning that from late February to Spring is considered "Pothole Season" in our neck of the woods.  There is some truth to that.  Our little, back-country roads are not really paved with asphalt, but covered with tar and chips.  This eventually hardens and smooths into something that looks like asphalt, but falls apart more easily.  With all of the extra drilling and pipe-lining traffic on these roads lately, some of them are in terrible shape.

I'm not sure what else to call this in-between season otherwise.  Winter isn't quite over, because we will occasionally get a snow storm that drops an inch or two of snow, but it doesn't usually stick around for more than a couple of days.  We get glimpses of Spring, when the sun pops out and the weather warms up slightly for a day here and there.  I know it's close, because my eternally seasonally naive bulbs are peeking out of the mud, but I have no delusions that Winter is done yet either.

It messes with my mind, this time of year.  I start thinking that I can't possibly tolerate a single day more of cold, gray skies, and then the sun breaks through...but not for long.  L and I are planning to make newspaper pots and start our indoor seeds tomorrow.  Growing things is usually my therapy in late February/early March.  Hope it works this year!

A friend of mine recently posted a picture of ruby red beans, and remarked on how much she enjoys seeing the colors in her food.  Here is my colorful picture...the eggs that we gathered today from our hens.  After I've washed all the eggs, it makes me smile to see all the varied colors of pink and brown and speckled.


In other news, I tried to perk up myself as well as the girls by adding a little surprise to the new closet doors that I painted and installed for them.  I spray painted stars with glow-in-the-dark paint on the panels.  Unfortunately, I was unable to photograph it in the dark, but you can see the outlines of some of the stars in this picture.


We do what we can to get past this bump in the road that is February.  I'll leave you with my thankfulness post for today:

Today I am thankful that the girls and I had the chance to spend an hour to have tea and chat with my Mom.  It was nice to take that opportunity, and I hope to do more of it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Out of my Head

For the past couple of days, it seems like I have been only going through the motions of my life...nothing has seemed quite real.  Perhaps I'm coming down with whatever nasty thing J had last week?  I dunno.  I was painting again this afternoon (hmmm...could it be paint fumes???) - trying to get decent closet doors reinstalled for the girls.  They have gotten torn apart 3 times now (and of course no one seems to know what in the world could have happened to them???), and the last time they were not repairable.

So anyway, I was painting again this afternoon, and in the solitude, I had plenty of opportunity to think.  As I hinted, my thinker isn't doing well lately, but here's the biggest think I had:  I'm not where I thought I'd be at this point in my life.

The problem is, I'm not sure exactly where I thought I'd be.  I guess I hoped that by the time I was in my 40's, I'd be in a routine: my kids would be lovely, intelligent and obedient children who were loved by all, my house would be charming and clean, and everything would just work out the way it is supposed to.  I wouldn't be dealing with a trench running through my front yard where the ground settled after the last time they worked on the grey water drainage system.  I wouldn't have half a pile of gravel in my driveway - the first thing I can see when I look out my kitchen window, where I seem to spend half my life washing dishes.  There wouldn't always be muddy dog prints across the floors.  I would cook dinner, and my children would say "Why thank you Mother, this is delicious!", instead of whining about how they HATE this or that.  I guess that I never realized how messy life could be.

Am I really doing anything worthwhile?  I feel like I run from this thing to that thing, trying desperately to keep things running:  both family and animals fed, and the floor reasonably clean.  I'm trying to put back together all of the broken things that end up on my desk, along with paying the bills, taking the vehicles for maintenance and repairs, and the kids for well child visits as well as sick ones.  The things I do get overlooked, because we eat the food that I shop for and cook, the dishes that I wash get dirty again, as do the clothes and the house, the things I fix or iron get broken or wrinkled again.  I do the same things over and over and over again! 

All this dashing around, and I never feel like I get time for the really important things:  a cup of tea with my friends (haven't seen any of them for a few weeks), sitting on the floor and playing Play Mobile with my kids, actually sitting and visiting with my Mom, going out for a quiet dinner with JP.

Maybe my problem is that I chose a nurturing career.  I spend my time away from home taking care of needy people, and then I come home and do it some more.  Maybe I'm all nurtured out!

Usually at this point in the year, I am eager to start planting my garden.  Typically my seeds have already been ordered, and I should getting ready to plant the tomatoes and peppers and squash indoors.  So far, however, all of the seed catalogs have been tossed directly in the recycling bin without even being opened, and I can't seem to get excited about digging in the dirt.

Does it sound like I need a vacation?  I think that may be the case.  It also may be that I'm tired of Winter, and longing to see the flowers bloom in my flower gardens and the hummingbirds flitting about the geraniums on my deck.  I'm weary of the cold and the dark and the snow and the mud.

Probably I should simply restart my thankfulness project that raised my spirits in the Fall.  It's worth a try.

I'm thankful today that through all the busy-ness and running around, we always make time to sit down and eat dinner together, and 9 times out of 10, snuggle together on the couch to read books out loud before the girls go to bed.  These moments ground us as a family, and honestly, they make me feel as if I've done a half-way decent job as a nurturer each day.

So, let's see how tomorrow goes...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

98.4

That was J's temperature today...TWICE now!  It's pretty remarkable considering that it hasn't been less than 102* since Friday.  She hasn't had any appetite, has slept a lot, and occasionally complained of stomach pains and sore throat.  I was completely torn by wanting to let things run their course and feeling like I wasn't doing enough to make my child well.  I finally threw in the towel last night and took her to the urgent care clinic in town.  The provider there diagnosed J with ear infections, (although Daddy wasn't convinced.)  I actually took her there instead of to her regular Dr. so that they could run tests at the same time, but they ordered nothing.  So WHATEVER she had might have gotten better on its own, but she had her first dose of antibiotics last night.  This morning, and again this afternoon, her temperature was NORMAL...finally.

I'm completely frazzled.  You would think that some mandatory down time would be restful.  Instead I worried almost constantly about schedules and doctors and make up tests.

Since she was feeling better today, she came along to L's Speech Therapy appointment.  We sat together on the tiny, uncomfortable couch in the Hospital hallway and read for an hour.  After that, we took the van to finally get the alignment completed...it was rescheduled from Monday.  We ate lunch while we waited, and read some more.

On the way home, the container of deli olives opened up.  My eco-responsible grocery bag leaked oil all over the back of the van.  While I was cleaning up that mess, I figured I'd just vacuum out the car and clean the hand prints off the inside of the windshield...took longer than I thought.  After I finished that job, I came inside to finish up school with L, only to find that the dog threw up twice while we were away.

So...a few minutes ago, I made a cup of tea and was all ready to sit down to sip it and blog, but I set it down not QUITE on the counter, and spilled most of it.  Another mess to clean up.  Now it's past time to start dinner, so I can't really linger like I'd like to.

Suffice it to say, I am incredibly relieved that J is doing better and is heading back to school tomorrow.  I'm also looking forward to some down time after the girls go to bed tonight.  This time I think I can actually relax.  But we made it through Hump Day, and every one is doing ok.  It will be another weekend before you can say "olive oil."  Thank goodness!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Post Valentine Post

Well, here we are, several days after Valentine's Day.  The February slump has finally hit me.  I feel pretty miserable, and sorry for myself, and pathetic.  It's a good thing y'all are not here.

Part of my misery has to do with my throbbing nose.  I slammed into the glass door at the Post Office last week...saw it out of the corner of my eye while I was calling L, and thought it was open.  It wasn't.  I think I probably broke my nose, but the door is ok.  Now, a week later, it is still somewhat swollen, although the bruising is fading.  It is still VERY sore.  If I forget to take Advil for a while, it starts throbbing and the pain spreads into my left eye and cheek.  Moan.

The girls are sick.  Well, L is feeling better, but J came home from school with a fever on Friday, and is still running a fairly high one today.  My plans for our day off of school tomorrow, part of which involved brunch at Waffle House while they finish aligning my van, are off.  So are this weekend's plans of shopping for new chairs for the dining table.  After 15 + years, they are wobbly and worry me quite a bit.  I've tried a couple of times over the years to shore them up, but the fix never lasts long.  I finally decided this week that they have got to go.  After all of my pouting and sighing, JP finally offered to go do some shopping for me.  He's very sweet.

L and I "helped" out at J's school Valentine's party on Thursday.  J was acting a bit strange...didn't seem to want to hang with her friends, or with us.  Instead, she sat alone at her desk and ate her pink cupcake and played Valentine Bingo.  Now that I think about it, she was probably starting to get sick on Thursday...could explain her behavior somewhat!  She spent several hours last Sunday making her valentines, which I forgot to photograph.  They looked something like this, and we got the photo and the idea from Family Fun Magazine.


Lauren made a few valentines too, which we passed out to family and friends after J's party.  We have made these colorful flamingos before, and this idea too was from Family Fun.  I made a template for her to trace the body and head, and bent the pipe cleaners for her.  She did all the rest by herself.




I had seen a cute picture and recipe for Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies in a magazine last week, so made a recipe.  They look nice, but taste only OK, so I won't share the recipe.



It snowed again Wednesday night, and dumped 2 or 3 inches of heavy snow in about 2 hours.  It was beautiful on Valentine's morning, but it didn't last long.



It has snowed again and melted again twice since then.  Today it is bitterly cold (in the teens again), grey, and blowing snow...typical February.  I have lots of things I SHOULD do, but no motivation to do them.  I arranged specially to take the day off work tomorrow so that I could do something special with the girls, who are both off school for President's Day.  I need to buck up, put a smile on my face, and still make that happen.

Ok, here we go...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Share the Warmth

J has been bringing home many random flyers since starting school.  Most recently, they have been about Football, Cheerleading, and Softball sign-ups, as well as lots and lots of PTA fund raisers.  Most of these just go in the trash, but one that came home a couple of weeks ago caught my eye.  The PTA was planning a service project on a Saturday morning to make fleece tied blankets and then deliver them to nursing home patients.

My children have never been involved in a service project before, although I keep intending to take them to the Soup Kitchen to help out some day.  I thought this sounded like the perfect opportunity, and we would only have to invest 3 hours of our Saturday!  So, I signed us up.

Our friend, C, ended up accompanying us to the Elementary School Cafeteria on Saturday morning.  The girls each chose a stack of fabric, which included 2 coordinating colors/patterns of polar fleece.  We spread out over 3 cafeteria tables to trim the fabric, cut strips, and then tie the 2 pieces of fabric together into one blanket. 




They all seemed to have a good time, and felt quite proud of their accomplishments.


I asked the girls if they wanted to help distribute the blankets at the Nursing Home, and to my surprise, they did!

After returning C home, we grabbed some lunch, and headed up to the NH.  We waited and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive with the blankets, and then began our very unorganized mission to give them to patients without family members who would most likely appreciate both a visit and the blankets. 

After about an hour and a half, I was getting a bit ancy.  I had lots to do at home, it was sweltering there (they must keep the thermostats set at 75* or better, plus I was walking around carrying a stack of fleece blankets!), and I was ready to leave.  I watched the girls though...L was determined to give her blanket to a man (and they are few and far between in this NH), but she persisted, and found just the right gentleman to give hers to.  He praised her work, thanked her effusively, and told me how beautiful she was.  J pitched right in, and while some of the younger kids were a bit shy about entering a room to present a blanket, she marched right in and did it.  "This is really fun!" she told me.  That did my heart good.

We saw a range of reactions to our gift giving...a few tears, some foks were worried about how to pay for the blankets, but most of all, we saw smiles.  JP asked me later if they really needed blankets there.  I explained to him that most of the recipients were chosen because they had infrequent or no visitors, and that most of them seemed extremely happy to 1) see the children, and 2) be given a gift.

In the end, our 3 hour service project ended up taking most of the day on Saturday.  The girls returned home with the sense of a job well done, and the memory of all those smiles.  I started in on my weekend projects a few hours later than intended, but having spent a lot of worthwhile time with my kids.  That's even more valuable than a To-Do List with all of the items crossed out.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cooking

What better way to keep warm when it's cold out, and pass the dark February hours, than to cook (and then eat) lots of good food?  I've tried several new recipes lately, and found a couple of keepers!

In the meantime, my Dad has tapped the Maple trees.  He says that the below freezing nights and warmer, sunny days are what gets the sap flowing.  He and my Mom have been stuck up here on the hill for a couple of weeks, since their Subaru has been in the shop for repairs.  Their other vehicle is not reliable for getting up our snowy drive this time of year!

Yesterday, I tried a recipe for Chicken Enchiladas from "Cook's All Time Best Recipes" that we received as a free gift last week.  I adapted it somewhat to use some of my canned chicken instead of boneless, skinless chicken breast, and it was delicious, and fairly quick to prepare!  As a bonus, I used up most of the leftover corn tortillas from the past few taco nights that were in the freezer.

Chicken Enchiladas with Chili Sauce
adapted from Cook's All Time Best Recipes
serves 4-5

1 1/2 T vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 T chili powder
2 t ground coriander
2 t ground cumin
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1 pint canned, shredded chicken, drained
15 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 c broth from chicken
1/4 cup jarred jalapenos, chopped
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 c chopped, fresh cilantro (optional)

10 6 in corn tortillas
vegetable oil spray
3/4 c shredded cheddar cheese

toppings:  chopped avocado, sour cream, shredded lettuce, lime wedges

Heat oven to 350*.  Heat oil in med saucepan over med-hi heat until shimmering.  Add onions and cook until softened and lightly browned, stirring occasionally (5-7 min.)  Stir in garlic, spices, sugar and salt and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant (30 sec), then stir in chicken until completely coated with spices.  Add tomato sauce and broth and cook until heated through.  Strain through fine mesh strainer into bowl, pressing on chicken mixture to extract as much sauce as possible.  Cool chicken mixture in freezer while prepping tortillas.

Spray both sides of tortillas lightly with vegetable spray, then spread in a single layer on two baking sheets.  Bake 2-4 min. until soft and pliable.  Increase oven temp to 400*.

Stir 2 cups of cheese, jalapenos and cilantro into chicken mixture.  Spread 3/4 c chili sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish.  Spread 1/3 c chicken filling in each tortilla, then roll tightly and place in baking dish, seam side down.  Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas and sprinkle with 3/4 c cheese.  Cover tightly with foil and bake 20-25 min until heated through and cheese is melted (20-25 min.)  Uncover and serve immediately with toppings.


Tonight, I made Ultimate Butterscotch Pudding, from the Jan/Feb issue of Cook's Illustrated.  It was labor intensive, but oh so delicious.  JP described it as "melted toffee."  You should try it at least once!

Best Butterscotch Pudding
Cook's Illustrated
serves 8 (but only if you share)

12 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c water
2 T light corn syrup
1 t lemon juice
3/4 t salt
1 c heavy cream
2 1/4 c whole milk (I used 2% and it's decadent anyway)
4 large egg yolks
1/4 c cornstarch
2 t vanilla
1 t dark rum (optional)

Bring butter, sugars, corn syrup, lemon juice and salt to a boil in large sauce pan over med heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar and melt butter.  Once mixture is at a full rolling boil, cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 min (to 240*.)  Reduce heat to med-lo and gently simmer, stirring frequently until mixture darkens slightly and has a slightly burnt smell (300*.)

Remove pan from heat and pour 1/4 cup cream into caramel mixture and swirl to incorporate.  After the bubbling subsides, whisk vigorously until smooth (30 sec.)  Return pan to med heat and whisk in  remaining cream and 2 cups milk until smooth.

Microwave remaining milk 30-45 sec until simmering.  Whisk egg yolks and cornstarch in large bowl until smooth.  Gradually whisk in hot milk until smooth.

Return caramel mixture to med-hi heat and bring to a full rolling boil, whisking frequently.  Once mixture is beginning to climb the sides of the pan, immediately pour into the bowl of yolk mixture in 1 motion.  Whisk thoroughly for 10-15 sec until mixture is slightly thickened.  Whisk in vanilla (FYI, the next time I make this, I'll skip the rum.)  Spray parchment or plastic wrap with vegetable oil spray, and press on surface of pudding.  Chill 3 hours until cool and set, and whisk smooth before serving.


So there you have it:  dinner and dessert.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Groundhog Day...Again

Are you familiar with that movie with Bill Murray, where he wakes up and it's Groundhog Day over and over and over?  We have a tradition with my parents that we watch it every year.  Of course, a week after the first time we watched it together, the power went out for 8 days.  Every day seemed the same that week:  wake up in the cold, make a fire, haul wood, haul water, make coffee, shovel snow, rinse and repeat.

We watched it again on Saturday.  Punxatawney Phil did not see his shadow this year, thus we are promised an early Spring.  I doubt it.  And it's been snowing ever since.  Here we go again:  shovel snow, slide sideways down the driveway in the van, rinse and repeat.

Sigh.  I REALLY dislike February.