Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Time to put on our big boy/girl pants

The last three years we've been through a roller coaster, and my credit has paid the price. Sure, I've paid my bills all on time but my debt to meet living expenses has piled up too.

So what have we done? We've found ways to trim our expenses. We cook (and grow) more fresh foods. We save by buying resale clothing or gratefully accepting hand-me-downs. We don't buy what we don't need. We track religiously any in-kind donations (something we previously didn't do) for taxes. I weigh heavily short-term versus long-term costs - everything from repairs to cloth pull-ups for my preschooler. And as our income increases, we've used those dollars to pay down our bills, instead of splurging on meals out, trips or extra "stuff". And eventually we will pull ourselves out of our crisis.

So why can't our government do the same? Why can't our legislators put on their big boy and big girl pants, play in the sandbox, ignore what "team" they're on and truly work together to solve this debt crisis?

There are few times I've been as disappointed in my government leaders as I am now. As for us, it's time to hop off the fence, write your representatives and tell them to work together for a long-term solution!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Uniform Exchange?

Uniforms save you money on clothes, my mother used to remind me.

Except have you priced them lately? Thirty dollars for a skort. Twenty for navy slacks. Fifteen for a polo. And these babies don't go on sale.

Uniforms are noticeably void from the back to school sales each year. Easily I could rack up more on costs for my growing girl than I could for one in public school. And I doubt somehow I could get away with the deals I found last year.

So I brought up to some moms I know from the school a simple idea: Why not create a uniform exchange? Those teflon plaid skorts could be traded to smaller girls, closets get cleaned and families are helped. Then I posted it in our parish bulletin: A no-strings exchange of uniforms, simply email the needs and I'd match them up with a family.

I have exactly four takers. And I have a bag full of kindergarten-sized clothing waiting to be picked up from the mom who said weeks ago she was interested.

Is there a stigma in wearing second-hand uniforms? It's hard to tell. For me, I'm surprised that parents wouldn't want to save a few dollars on their August expenses, not to mention eliminating the need to travel to various stores searching for navy slacks.

Sure, we want our kids to look good, but doesn't one wear qualify an item as "used?" And, even if you didn't want used for yourself, what's the harm in helping others?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Virtual Bible School

Vacation Bible School is a great idea - unless you're a working parent.

It's tough to tackle carpools, cranky not-old-enough siblings and schedules. Yet, most churches around here do daytime sessions.

A church en route to my work was offering an evening Vacation Bible School this week, one my preschooler could even attend. Yet I did the math.

5:30 leave office
6:00 arrive at daycare
6:30 arrive at VBS
8:30 pick kids up
8:45 home
9:45 battles continue over bedtime...
7:00 am fight over wake ups

(repeat)

Of my 30 minutes between pickup and VBS, every minute would be spent commuting. Which meant that we'd be eating takeout or cheese and crackers in the car, neither of which are appealing. Coupled with a forecasted excessive heat watch this week, and my husband and I did something I never thought we did.

We ditched the church. And went online.

Earlier this summer, I'd signed up for a virtual Vacation Bible School based on the recommendation of another blogger. I thought it would be at the very least an option for activities during the week.

Instead of plays and group games, we watched videos online and did coloring pages. Instead of baggies of goldfish crackers and juice boxes, we had cooking activities that tied in with the day's lessons. Instead of being constrained to a five-day period, we've dropped in activities as interest arises. Crafts are coming, as are the rice krispy treats that are part of "Day 5" activities. (Not sure about the theological aspects of marshmallows, but what the heck.)

Yes, I miss the idea that my kids will miss out on the camaraderie of being at a traditional Vacation Bible School. But with $3.79 gas, a heat wave and overly tired children, I'm glad to know there are alternatives out there, too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crispy

A week ago I was worried about how I would get rid of my produce. I was swimming in snow peas, buried in purple beans and desperate to find any possible way to whip up zucchini.

And then summer really hit.

I don't believe we've had rain since our storms that included a few rounds of hail a few weeks back. Coupled with the fact it's hotter than Hades, things are getting crispy.

My zucchini plants have yellowed and withered, despite my best attempts at watering. My pea plants, which I admit lasted longer than I'd ever thought, browned and gave up. My beans gave up literally two days' worth of beans, then seem to have quit. My radishes never seemed to have a chance.

Not that it's all bad. My garlic needed harvesting anyway. My bok choy long ago bolted, and I'm waiting for the seed pods to cure.

But in the meantime, the only thing seeming to grow much are the weeds. Despite my watering, my beds are cracking, my plants are wilting. And I'm just glad we don't have things worse.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bringing on the baby food

Hey sis,

It's hard to believe your little one will be ready to eat soon! I'm glad you liked the book on making your own baby food that I brought down, but I know you had some questions too. I'll try to answer them the best I can:

What to make: The best advice I can give you is to follow the flavors your family eats. (Realizing that's a bit tricky with what your husband doesn't eat, we'll work around that.) If you like zucchini, blend it up. If you can't live without plums, give it a whirl! It's much easier to introduce flavors that are an extension of your regular palate. Kids in other cultures are introduced to spices and herbs at an extremely early age; it doesn't hurt to add spice to your baby's plates!

The best thing is with your growing seasons, you're fortunate that you'll be able to offer up fresh food for a long time.

On recipes: I'll admit with our first kid I followed that cookbook faithfully, mushing up mixtures according to prescribed guidelines. That's all well and good, but I'll be honest that by #2, you tend to roll with things a lot more! It's very easy to modify something you're already cooking into something more baby-friendly. (Oh we're having zucchini or carrots? Let's nuke it a little more to soften and mush it up. Having a complicated dish? Pick out one or two elements and prepare it for the baby.)

Fitting it in: And being a working mom, cooking that extra meal does take some extra effort. What I tended to do was make up a small batch of vegetables or fruit from whatever was in season, proportion it out in small containers (no fancy baby food tubs), freeze and use when needed.

The great thing is, unlike just a few years ago, you have more options for organic and natural baby food. Six years ago (is it that long?) you struggled to find anything. So even if you don't have time to make everything, or you don't want to cook up something, you may be able to find alternatives at the store.

Growing into it: As she gets older, she'll want more complicated flavors and more "people" like food. She may let you know just by grabbing and gumming. Before my kids were a year, they were knawing on roasted asparagus, sucking out the insides!

And about teething: Whatever you do, shy away from those store-bought biter biscuits. I looked at the nutritional information - and with the sugar and fat, they're virtually candy bars! Instead, it's easy to make your own. That simple step probably saved me the cost of that cookbook.

Good luck with making the baby food! And don't get discouraged. No matter what you prepare, something will eventually make her mouth! :-)
Robbie

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Unplugged

The last few weeks have been hectic. Company many weekends. Parties. Projects. A car wreck. Hail damage on our home. Home projects. Work projects. And kids.

Amid our frustrations an unwelcome thing occurred. Our phones and internet from Comcast have been on the fritz for the last several days. No checking something online. No quick calls (it's like playing roullette as to whether you'll get through.) No voice mails to be grabbed - as they don't go through.

But even with these headaches I've appreciated the quiet. I hd a welcome break from my late-night catching up on work emails. I've resisted the urge to "check one thing" on the computer. No phone calls interrupted our family at bedtime or dinner.

What did we do instead? Enjoyed family time. Evenings at the pool, playing in the sprinkler while mom weeded, long walks to the park. Kind of what summer should be about: slowing down.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spiced Zucchini Bread

Spiced zucchini bread is a recipe based on Emeril's Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh cookbook. I swapped out some all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour, dropped the nuts and upped the spices.

I never thought I would like zucchini bread until my mother brought up a loaf she'd baked last summer. I never did get her recipe like she promised, but this one has quickly become a family favorite.

Spiced Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
3/4 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 c. grated zucchini
2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 325. Grease two bread pans.

Beat eggs until foamy in mixer. Add oil, sugar, zucchini and vanilla. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients and mix until well-blended. Divide the batter evenly between the bread pans. Bake 55-60 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Free at last!

After our trip to 100 Acre Woods the other day, we made a surprising discovery: Hermie had hatched! It's truly amazing to watch the first flutters of a butterfly's wings, as it tries to dry off. The kids were anxious to see the first flight, cheering it on ("Fly, butterfly, fly!"). But eventually as the rains picked up, it left its comfortable cage for a new adventure.

One chrysallis down. Two to go.







Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Beach party birthday cakes

Our birthday beach party was a success! At the peak we had 34 happy kids playing games in the yard to celebrate my daughter's and a neighbor's birthdays. (We had some party crashers.)




The beach party theme was a bit downplayed due to the number of guests. We didn't decorate as we kept the kids outside, but my daughter's cakes stuck to the theme.






Her cake to blow out the candles was a simple one-layer 8-inch round cake, decorated with a flamingo that matched the napkins and plates. Not bad for someone who can't draw!









The cupcakes were decorated with paper drink umbrellas, with a little bit of sprinkles underneath for sand. (We are drowning in orange sprinkles thanks to my mother-in-law, and I'm glad they finally got some use!)




For daycare though, we took a safer option. With the Wrecking Crew (my son and his buddies), we didn't want to risk anyone poking each other with the toothpicks on the umbrellas. Instead, we took advantage of a few packs of strawberry marshmallows that came in a goodie bag from the other party we attended that weekend:




Sure, I could have bought cupcakes from the store that were more icing than cake, but making your own (especially if it's from a box) is amazingly simple! And it's so easy to personalize it too.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Shade vegetable gardening?

Growing vegetables in the shade would be a huge triumph for me. I'm cursed/blessed to have half my yard be shaded due to the direction of my house. Cursed for gardening; blessed because my kids have a shaded area to play outdoors!

And as I continue to push the boundaries of my raised beds, the idea of gardening in the shade has greater appeal. Apparently I'm not alone. From what I'm able to see, the general consensus is leafy vegetables like lettuce, seem to be ok.

Root Simple has tried other veggies with some success:


  • New Zealand spinach

  • cucumbers

  • tomatoes (not as much growth as in the sun, but they are fruiting)

  • Swiss chard

  • dandelion greens

  • raspberry (Really! I had just purchased another bush...)


Colleen Vandereim from organicgardening.about.com puts this rule of thumb forward:



Basically, a good rule to remember is that if you grow a plant for the fruit or
the root, it needs full sun. If you grow it for the leaves, stems, or buds, a
little shade will be just fine.


After checking out this list of shade-tolerant vegetables, maybe I need to rethink my planting for this fall, as my flowers begin to die back. I see possibilities ahead!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sweet start to a life


For the last two springs, we've had a nest in a tree in our front yard. This weekend, we were able to see an amazing sight: the first haphazard attempts at a first flight. The baby bird took off and tumbled, jostling, to the ground.

My daughter took pity on the baby, and after I explained we shouldn't touch the baby bird, she came up with another way to show kindness. She plucked a strawberry from our garden and presented the berry to the bird so it would have something to eat. It's those little bits of kindness that just make me love her!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I have a baby bird

A song by the Green Eyed Monster....

I was six and I still have a nest in my tree. And in the tree there was a nest and the nest in the tree and the tree in the hole and the green grass grows all around, all around. And the green grass grows all around.

And in the nest there was an egg, the prettiest little egg that you ever did see. And the egg in the nest and the nest in the tree and the tree in the hole and the hole in the ground and the green grass grows all around, all around, and the green grass grows all around.

And in the egg there was a bird, the prettiest little bird that you ever did see. And the bird in the egg and the egg in the nest and the nest in the tree and the tree in the hole and the hole in the ground and the green grass grows all around, all around, and the green grass grows all around.

(Whew! Mom's hands are tired from all this typing!)

Salmon with snow peas and dill

Snow peas freshly picked from the garden. There are few things better. And that's the reason I snuck home early before getting the kids yesterday to harvest some: The snow peas would have never made it to the plate otherwise!

We wound up feasting on a makeshift dish that took advantage of not only the snow peas, but also some dill that has cropped up unexpectedly in our garden. Simple, one pan, and happy kids with clean plates!

Salmon with snow peas and dill
8 oz. salmon
3 c. snow peas, trimmed
2-3 T. olive oil *
1 T. fresh dill

Chop salmon into 1-inch squares. Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat, cook salmon until mostly cooked through. Add dill and snow peas (additional olive oil if necessary) and cook through.

*We probably used a bit more olive oil than would normally be needed because of the pan we used.