Summer vacation

Day 5. We've already done a picnic outside (day 2), a little bit of swimming (day 2, with daddy since I don't have a suit that fits my enormous pregnant belly), a trip to the EcoTarium with friends (day 3), time with Grandma (sometimes babysitting, sometimes going out for food), and lots of outside time.

Their attitudes day to day crack me up, though.

First, I didn't realize how much this would affect Asher, since he's not in school yet. But he got very confused that we're not rushing to get dressed, eat, and take Claire to school every morning. So now, every day, he asks "Is it still summer vacation?" and today "We're staying home forever!" LOL.

Claire, on the other hand, got to day 4 before bitterly complaining that she's bored (mostly because I won't let her watch TV or play computer games all day - also she wants to do "crafts" which always end up needing help & supervision). I made the kids come outside with me (they had already watched almost 2 hours of TV at Grandma's), and after 10 minutes, she wanted to go back in. I told her "No, it's summer vacation and we're going to be outside." I gave a few suggestions as to what she could do outside... and she rejected all of them in favor of sitting in the shade and reading. Ah, a girl after my own heart.

The nicest part has been letting them play inside as long as they want in the mornings - it seems to be their most consistently creative time. And since we're not always rushing out of the house, I don't need to make them immediately pick up their (block, LEGO, puzzle, papercraft) creations.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out what else we can do while waiting for baby boy to make his appearance. Trying to make sure we're prepared with enough clothes, diapers, and gear... only a few days left!

Redemption in the book of Ruth

Pastor Mike has been preaching through Ruth recently, and it's really great - there's so much in there when you stop and take the time to research it.

My favorite quote from last week, regarding Boaz as a picture of Christ:

"By Nature God is a Redeemer
and by choice He is a kinsman."

Taco seasoning

In my slow-but-steady quest to eat and cook "real food", sauce packets were one of the first things to go. At first I just didn't make tacos or Hamburger Helper anymore... and I eventually found a good, easy mac & cheese recipe. But I missed the ease of these start-from-raw-hamburger skillet meals.

Well, food blogs to the rescue!

Dad's Cheeseburger Helper is pretty awesome. And not complicated.

And today, I finally found a homemade taco seasoning recipe that tasted right! (When I infrequently make tacos, I had been using some other recipes i found a few years ago. One didn't have the variety of spices you need and used maple syrup - weird... another was more like a mexican-style hamburger helper with rice, and it wasn't quite satisfying either.) There were two keys here:

1. I combined from two recipes I found, to make something that looked right to me.
2. There's starch (cornstarch) to give a little bit of body.

  • 1 1/2 T. chili powder

  • 1/2 T. dried minced garlic

  • 1 T. corn starch

  • 1 tsp. onion powder

  • 1 tsp. cumin

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1/2 tsp. paprika

  • 1/4 tsp. oregano

  • 1/4 tsp. marjoram

Use 1-2 heaping tablespoons per pound of meat. I also added a can of diced tomatoes - next time, I might also add chopped onion and some beans, to stretch the meat a little farther - my family is eating more all the time! I fear for our grocery budget in the days of teenagers.

Garden tips/thoughts for next year

1. Only plant ONE marigold plant, or plant multiples with the express purpose of digging the rest up as seedlings and planting them elsewhere around the yard. The three that are in the veg. garden this year are now crowding out the basil and the carrots.

2. Don't plant the marigold next to the carrots! It's tempting, but their leaves look very very similar, and they're both sort of feathery and get intertwined.

3. Be patient with the carrots. Wait until a bit of orange top is showing before harvesting.

4. Do something around the box to prevent plant growth - put down mulch or mats?

5. Get sturdy poles for vining plants (cucumber, tomatoes, zucchini?). Ask the next-door neighbors where they got theirs.

6. Plant at least 2 kinds of tomatoes - I'm thinking a cherry/grape variety and a larger variety. Some of them the kids will eat, and the rest can be made into sauce.

7. Start harvesting full mint stems BEFORE it starts trying to take over the whole garden. The stems can be hung up and dried.

8. The plants need a LOT more water in the summer. I definitely underwatered them this year.

9. The pepper plants will actually flower & fruit multiple times. Look up how to hand-pollinate them to get more fruit. (As of the end of August, one plant has had 2 peppers, one at a time, and the other plant FINALLY has its first pepper growing.)

10. If I plant chives, put them next to one of the walls of the box. In the center, they get hard to reach & harvest.

Garden update

So, for anyone who hasn't heard me gushing about this already: For the first time in my life, I have a vegetable & herb garden. Using the square foot method (more or less) in a 4x4 raised box.

The good so far:

  • enough lettuce for salads several times a week. I especially like the "Ithaca" type - curly and crunchy

  • mint and chives going like gangbusters. Mint tea, anyone?

  • the one lonely bush tomato plant ("Early Girl") looks like it's going to produce dozens of tomatoes.

  • I have broccoli seedlings growing in my house, ready to transplant soon!

Not so good:

  • One type of flower I planted from seed never even came up. I later planted a cucumber plant from my mother-in-law.

  • The basil I planted from seed took FOREVER to come up, and most of the seedlings didn't make it. I have one lonely basil plant and it's still small.

  • I just had to uproot most of the lettuces today. The red leaf & the "buttercrunch" started to bolt (growing huge stems - probably because I neglected them last week), and both the red leaf and the Ithaca were starting to have some sort of leaf rot. So I pruned back the buttercrunch and got rid of the others.

  • The onions I planted are "done" (tops falling over) but still tiny.

  • The carrots I think aren't in loose enough soil - the one I picked out was a few inches long, but no thicker than the stems growing above it. Tiny.

  • I keep getting mushrooms, which are highly annoying.

  • I planted 2 pepper plants: one only has a single pepper, and the other has none (but I think I see buds).

Next year: keep a closer eye on the lettuce, try some composting, and put up a real trellis/post system so I can have vining tomatoes (preferably the really small cherry/grape kind instead of the behemoths I'm getting on the bush) and cucumbers, without worrying about them taking over the rest of the garden. Figure out what other kinds of plants lend themselves to continuous harvest (lettuce, herbs, etc.) Maybe even put in a second raised bed/box or some fruiting bushes?

Movie: Sitting Pretty

Last night, I watched Sitting Pretty, the original "Mr. Belvedere", with nightskyre. It started as a curiosity, since I am mildly familiar with the Mr. Belvedere TV series from the 1980s, and I like some classic films. I figured we would watch part of it, find a stopping point, and go to bed.

However, once the movie got past the set-up of the suburban neighborhood, the nosy neighbor, the mildly bratty kids, and the awful dog, I was riveted. The humor and the story kept moving along. We laughed out loud several times, and held our breath when Mrs. King and Mr. Belvedere innocently get into compromising situations (which would not be scandalous at all today...)

Loved the way in which Mr. Lynn Belvedere gets his revenge on the nosy neighbor in the end. And although he continues to protest that he can't stand children, you see a hint of a twinkle in his eye when he tells the family he'll be staying for another two years... and begins knitting a sweater for kid #4.

Ham "Sandwich" Pasta Salad

For posterity's sake, before my newspaper clipping disintegrates. According to the newspaper clipping, this is originally from the 1997 cookbook "Desperation Dinners!" I've been making this for about 2 years, and it's always a hit.

Start to finish: about 20 minutes.
Serves 2 as an entree or 4 as a side dish (I often double it to feed our whole family).

  • 1 cup dry elbow macaroni

  • 1/4 cup "light" mayonnaise (we usually use regular mayo, but the recipe calls for light)

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (we usually use yellow mustard, more kid-friendly)

  • 1/4 tsp onion powder

  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper, or more to taste

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cooked ham (either leftover ham from a different meal, or deli ham)

  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half

  • 1 large celery stalk, finely chopped

  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and drain well.
2. While the pasta is cooking, combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.
3. Add drained pasta and stir well. Serve over lettuce leaves if desired.

Balsamic Tortellini Salad

For electronic posterity... since I've been making this recipe long enough that I'm on my second hand-written copy (I don't even remember if the original recipe was in a book or online).

Begin making this an hour before you want to serve it. I've done it in as little as 30 minutes, but it's better if the tortellini has time to really soak up the vinaigrette dressing.

For the marinade/dressing:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

  • 1 tsp oregano

  • scant 1/2 tsp salt

For the salad:

  • about 1 pound of tortellini (frozen or fresh)

  • 6oz (at least) of spinach (or lettuce - I usually buy a 6-8oz pre-washed bag and use the whole thing)

  • 1/2 cup chopped onion

  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles

1. Cook tortellini according to package instructions.
2. While tortellini is cooking, combine all the "dressing" ingredients in a large bowl (use a whisk or shake it up in a jar and pour into the bowl).
3. When the tortellini is finished cooking, drain and run cold water over it until it's close to room temperature.
4. Toss the cooled tortellini with the dressing; refrigerate for 1 hour.
5. Remove from refrigerator, stir to move the dressing around again, then add greens, onions, and cheese. Toss and serve.

Optional: add grape tomatoes to add a little color to the salad.
shopping math

Remember to vote!

Had a friend ask me to re-schedule something tomorrow for later in the day so he could make sure he had time to vote. Later realized this is his first chance to vote (he's 18). Hooray for representative democracy! I will celebrate by once again voting for my local reps and for a presidential candidate with no chance of winning. ;)

Also had a long talk with my mom today about political issues. Reminded me where I get my slightly off-kilter stance on certain issues. (I am definitely not a party-line voter. If I had to sum up, I'd say I'm conservative fiscally - except when it comes to local schools; and moderately liberal on social issues.) At least when WE talk politics, neither one of us comes across looking crazy. :)

In other news, took BOTH kids to Payless tonight to get new shoes. Some called me "brave". I'd prefer to think of it as "crazy". After an hour of running and chasing and calling and fixing and dropping and fixing again, we made it out with 4 pairs of shoes - 2 for each kid. Success!