Tuesday, September 29, 2009

God gets out His robe

The concept of time is tough for a preschooler to grasp. When is tomorrow today? Does holiday stuff in the store mean we can celebrate this afternoon?

We've been trying to illustrate the span of time with my 4 year old of late. Christmas is after Grandpa's and Mom's birthdays, after the weather turns colder, the grass turns brown(er), the leaves fall from the trees and snow tumbles to the ground. And I thought we got it.

And then this morning, fall weather finally hit. Dressed in fuzzy tights and jackets this morning, my daughter was ready to go. I asked her, "Why do you think it's colder?" - hoping she remembered our "fall" talk from the day before.

"God," she answers. OK, I can't argue with that. "But why does God want it colder?" I ask.

"So He can wear his robe."

Well, He's definitely got one on this evening. I tried to explain that a flowered skirt and palm-tree tank top does not make an appropriate outfit for working in the garden this evening, to no avail. (She later layered up.) Tonight, as the sky turned pink, we had our first reality check that fall's arrived. The tomato plants and cages were ripped out to make room for fall garlic. The dying bean plants were torn up as well. As we're waiting for our fall round of plantings to show the fruits of our labor, we're only hoping the first frost doesn't cut it short. Here's hoping God doesn't want to throw on a parka too soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday madness and a few links to check out

Light on the posts this last week. We had a major deadline at work, followed by short notice that we’d have unexpected company (the in-laws) in town.

I confess I actually have posts written out – the really old-fashioned way - on the back of scratch paper; I just haven’t had a moment to post.

I admit I feel like I spend a lot of time apologizing for not posting as frequently as I should. But I would rather spend time to write something of interest than write to just make a self-imposed deadline. The beauty of the Web (especially if you have an RSS reader) is that you can come back any time!

Until we get the family back on schedule (hopefully by mid-week), here are a few links to check out.

A great-sounding recipe for roasted Roma tomato salsa over on Going Local.

One Green Generation shows you how to clean out that cooking standby – baking soda – and 20 ways to use it up: I’ll add No. 21: Getting crayon creations off your walls!

Parenting has no-sew Halloween costumes – if you're needing ideas

Green Phone Booth has some interesting ideas for a second life for old wool sweaters.

Conscious Shopper has some early fall seasonal recipes to share.

Have a great Monday!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The hunt for a Halloween costume

Halloween is only a few short weeks away, and the coming of fall and the bright costumes in the stores means only one thing: Trick-or-treating is on the minds of my little one.

I'll admit this season makes me cringe. I hate the idea of wasting money for a costume that will be worn for an hour - barring any meltdowns like last year, where we made it about half a block - or is so cheap that it falls apart during the requisite dress-up times. That being said, I also can't shell out for a $45 dollar-plus-accessories princess costume, either.

Thank goodness for hand-me-downs.

My daughter, who's intrigued by her friends doing cheerleading, is happy to dress up in a gently loved cheerleading costume from a coworker's daughter. And the little guy, who in his recent growth spurt outgrew the one costume we'd been given, will be able to be cozy in black sweats and the dog ears his sister wore two years before.

But the best costume ideas were for us. The other day in the car, we started discussing Halloween. My daughter still was very excited about being a cheerleader. And then she offered ideas for mom and dad.

"You will be a Kansas Mommy," she informed me. A Kansas Mommy? "That's when you wear a shirt that says Kansas on it, but not a shirt with a Jayhawk on it." (Smart girl!)

"And Daddy will be a basketball daddy. He can wear a basketball shirt."

I love the way my kid thinks!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cycling, community and a little TLC...Other writers' views on being green

The last few weeks, I've been up to my ears in work projects, so I'm slowly getting a chance to catch up on my reading. Here's a few articles from other writers worth looking at:

Recently I was inspired by a man I met who lost more than 250 pounds. It started with bariatric surgery but his success was largely due to his love of cycling. Just for fun, he rode across the state of Indiana the other day. Yep, biking isn’t just for kids. I’ve had to listen to my father and brother tell their tales of what I consider extreme bike rides for years, but other people are jumping on the biking bandwagon too, for fun and for transportation. Chile shares her experiences during a month-long personal challenge to drop her car and writes about “falling in and out of love” with her bike.

Fall means back-to-school nights, football and fall festivals. We’re coming back from trips around the country and re-settling in at home. But it’s more than just getting together with the neighbors. A strong community means a greener planet, too. The Conscious Shopper gives you five reasons why.

For all of my gardening mishaps this year, the biggest is that little thing called watering. As my lawn browns to a crisp – interesting because it really hasn’t gotten past the 80s much this year – I keep forgetting that I need to water more than my weed patch in the back. In My Kitchen Garden gives me a little more inspiration – and a reminder that a little TLC now could pay off next spring.

And the September APLS carnival is up! Does size matter when it comes to being green? Find out!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ten dollars worth of memories

Ten dollars and an afternoon with the kids. It doesn't get very far.

I suppose you could get ice cream, or rent a movie. But really, your options are limited. Unless you get a little more creative.

Today was a very filled day for us. We were able to visit the Fishers farmers market and arts market with a friend, where we picnicked and snacked on blueberries from one of the stands and watched the kids dance to classic rock covers. Oh, and I had some adult conversation. From that standpoint alone, the day was a success.

But the ride home proved interesting. I had errands she needed to squeeze in, a few tired kids and no desire to get back out once she got home. And so I promised them a trip to the "adventure store." My daughter was intrigued.

We pulled into Goodwill - hardly glamorous, I know - where they had a 50 percent off everything sale and went to work to find a surprise. I scored with a nearly new business suit for $4.50 - enough to later justify springing for a pair of navy heels to go with it - and we poured over the Christmas tins (picking out the clean ones--yes, you must check) for my daughters' baking endeavors at Christmas. (At 50 cents each, you could hardly complain.)

And then, we hit the jackpot. My daughter's been begging for dress-up clothes for some time. Granted, it's a very specific branded princess kind, but she wants dress-up clothes no less. And we found them, crammed among the racks. Four dress-up "dresses" (admittedly two were shiny women's nightgowns that we're just going to shorten the straps on) for less than $10. All the way home, I heard how she now had dresses for her and her three neighbor friends to play dress up with!

The funny thing is, I have never seen something put away so quickly in my life. No sooner than we were in the door than she spirited up the stairs to put dress #1 on for dinner. It was proudly worn until PJ time, and she puffed up her chest with pride when she told her friend tonight, "I have new dress up clothes. I got them from the camping store."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tomato tip from Dr. Greene

In one of the strangest ways of work and life intersecting, I'm listening to an online presentation by Dr. Alan Greene, the author of Raising Baby Green.

He mentions that 40 percent of kids won't touch tomatoes - but they're twice as likely to actually try - and enjoy - the tomato if you had them the knife! "It's a simple thing to do to involve them in the meal preparation," he said.

"If you take them to the garden and have them pick it, you're more likely to have them try it. If you have a child plant a tomato, wash it and pick it...it becomes a treasure."

Yes, they are treasures in our house. Tomatoes make a great use as balls. And my kids love to grow them in the garden. But eating them? Hardly. They just make my daughter in her words, "sad." Guess we aren't statistics in this family!

Flu prevention: Can you do it without Clorox?

Flu prevention - particularly H1N1 and pandemic planning - has been on my list of hot projects lately at work. It's hard to advise people when even the CDC is evolving its understanding of the virus.

Many of the recommendations I read involve super-sanitizing everything - including regular use of hand sanitizers as your Plan B. Clorox and other cleaning wipes and hand sanitizers are well-positioned next to every cash register these days. And a coworker of mine is already choking us with regular use of Oust in the office. But can you take your flu prevention efforts a little greener? Yes!

Here are some of the CDC's recommendations on preventing the transmission of the flu (including H1N1):
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands immediately after.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters and toys for children) clean.
  • If someone in your home is sick, don't use their dishes or utensils if they haven't been washed.
  • Avoid “hugging” laundry when you're carrying it to the washing machine it to prevent contaminating yourself. Wash your hands with soap and water after handling dirty laundry.
  • Wash linens using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. (I know, not the greenest, but it beats getting a bug!)
  • When possible, keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house.
  • If you use cloth towels, assign different colored cloth towels to each person in the household.

Hmmm....Sounds like a lot of common sense during a potentially stressful time!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Streudel for one

"Apple streudel."

Every time we have a holiday and I solicit requests, that's the answer I get from my brother: "apple streudel." That and Pupaki, a bread dish.

They're dishes that just feel like home to us. Each time we went to Wisconsin, my grandmother would make our most-requested dishes. And usually that involved her lugging up a five-gallon bucket of diced apples from the freezer to make apple streudel. It's a long process that involves eating up your entire kitchen table and a few hours before it's done. And my grandmother and us would work to spread out the apples, the sugar, the cinnamon, then roll it up in the sheet and prepare it for baking.

I can't tell you how many photographs were taken over the years that involved making streudel, but it was a definite rite of passage. My husband was called into service on one visit. My grandfather even was put to work when my grandmother had injured her arm. No one was immune.

And so, years later, streudel is still part of our family tradition. Many of us cousins shake our head at our failed attempts - mine, most notably by commiting the blasphemy one Christmas of trying to make it with some kind of fake butter. Somehow, it never seems to be quite right.

making apple streudel
But still we try. We would whack up our apples on Christmas Eve, my brother and I cracking jokes and ultimately tossing apples at each other. And I still fondly recall the Christmas, where my 18-month-old little girl stood on tip-toes to try to line the apple pieces oh-so-carefully along the edge of the dough. Alongside her was her mom and her siblings, in town from miles away.

Tonight, on an unseasonably warm evening in September, I realized what made it special. It's not streudel time, but I thought of it as I was dicing another bag of apples from our babysitter. This time, instead of making just an overnight batch of applesauce, I thought I'd hold some back in the freezer for Christmas baking.

And tonight, I stood at the table in the silence, cutting up apples to freeze. And it just wasn't the same. Something was missing.

Really, it's not just about the food. It's about family.

Grandma Johnson's Apple Streudel
4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup lard or shortening (we use butter or margarine)
2 beaten eggs
1 cup warm water

2 quarts peeled and sliced apples(or more)
2 cups sugar
2 handfuls of Corn Flakes
1/2 cup raisins

Mix flour, salt and shortening. Add the eggs and enough warm water to make a soft dough. Knead on floured board until smooth and elastic (the longer you knead the better it pulls later). Cover with a bowl and let rest about 2 hours.

Cover table with a large cloth. Sprinkle cloth all over with flour. Roll dough long and narrow to get it started. Then put hand under the dough and keep stretching dough gently until it is very thin, trying not to tear it.

When dough is stretched very thin, scatter the sliced, cut up apples all over the dough. Sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon, raisins and the crushed Corn Flake crumbs (or you may use 1 cup fried bread crumbs).

Roll up into a long roll. You may do this by raising one side of the cloth and the strudle will roll up by itself. Cut the roll in half. Place streudel rolled with open side up, on two greased cookie sheets with four sides. Pinch ends shut. Grease top with melted butter or margarine.

Put in 400 degrees oven for 15 min. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 45 min. more until brown. Remove from oven. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Remove from pan while hot using a pancake turner. Is best when warm.

Note: The dough pulls easier in a warm room rather than in a cold one.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It's not the size, it's what you do with it that counts

I miss the days of carefree living, when I could stop what I was doing at the drop of the hat and...

Have a 5-minute uninterrupted conversation. (OK, a 1-minute uninterrupted conversation.)

Leave the house on a whim, with nothing but a small purse.

Go for a long walk without someone whining about having to use the potty.

Spontaneously road trip some place.

Make a 3-course Chinese dinner for some friends.

(Where did you think I was going with this anyway?)

I confess I had to chuckle when Tina at Crstn85 proposed a topic of "Does size matter?" for the September APLS carnival. Does it matter, she wondered, if you're a singleton or a party of five when it comes to being green?

Oh yes, yes, it does.

Before I was a mom, I didn't give much thought to environmental concerns. Sure, we were card-carrying members of the Sierra Club, loved to hike, recycled our cans, had our 40-mpg little car. But I didn't think about bigger picture items. Like the amount of plastic we chucked each week, or what it contained. Or the amount of chemicals coating our food. Or what really the world would be like a generation from now if we didn't change our ways.

Before I was a mom, my trash can and recycle bin were a lot emptier. I didn't have to juggle three versions of milk, or sippy cups, or random Happy Meal toys saved lovingly by my mom, or craft projects from day care (now multiplied by two).

Before I was a mom, shopping at the farmers market, cooking a healthy dinner and working in my garden were a heck of a lot easier.

Before I was a mom, I didn't realize how much fun making a batch of muffins, or playing in the puddles in your garden, or taking a walk at a snail's pace could be.

And I say all of these things, as a mom, full well knowing that whatever I do, I'm in the middle of a spectrum. I'm in the middle of the fast-food-for-dinner crowd and the stay-at-home, handmade-everything moms. For every mom who amazes me with her ability to make well-rounded dinners from food in their backyard, presented on recycled placements recreated from repurposed materials, there's the mom who frankly, thinks I'm nuts to go as far as I have.

And I know that circumstances in my life will change. Someday, we could have more financial resources again. Someday, my kids will be able to be left alone for five minutes without fear of them using the magazine rack as a stepping stool to the stove. Someday, we'll be able to work in the yard without worrying that the kids will run in the street or fling all of my tomatoes like softballs. And someday, this too will have passed.

For now, though, I'll enjoy my seemingly weird Saturday traditions of chasing my babies at the farmers market, cooking with my kids, playing in the mud patch that was a garden and thinking someday I just might get that laundry done, even if it means putting them in the dryer on high.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Seed saving - now what?

The idea of saving seeds from this year's garden was a bit intriguing to me, I'll admit. But what to do with them once I had them, I was completely unsure.

Few garden catalogs in my home offered options, and they were in the $20 or more variety - far exceeding my budget for this little experiment. I asked online to my fall gardening group, and they offered varying advice, including double-bagging them in Ziploc bags and putting them in the freezer. (I suppose seeds in the "real" world can handle a freeze or two.)

And then I stumbled on an article on making seed packets, which is an incredibly easy thing to do. So my oldest entertained herself for a few hours designing custom seed packets for our squash and bean seeds. You can find a kid-friendly template here. Want a "grown-up" version? Download a template here.

Happy Labor Day

Hope you're enjoying a restful weekend!

The children are watching

You ever wonder whether your kids are paying attention? It doesn't matter whether you're leading deep discussions at the dinner table. Actions speak louder than words.

Case in point: Our toddler has decided it's high time to start recycling his sippy cup. when he's done drinking from it. We've caught him at this more than once!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Christmas is coming

Only 113 days until Christmas, the front page of my newspaper promises in 48-point or so black type, with a photo of a big box with a bow prominent on the page.

Usually, I’d just shrug my shoulders at such “news.” I’ve typically been the joke of the family for having the audacity to have my shopping wrapped up around this time of year.

Not so much now. Our financial situation means that any shopping has been minimal at best and any shopping we will do will be spaced out even more than usual.

Add in the challenge of shopping not only for Christmas but my youngest’s birthday less than a week before, and it’s a fiscal nightmare.

Sure, I’ve tried to be proactive, dropping big hints lately that our toddler will need clothes for next summer, when the seasonal sales are wrapping up. And I always reassure my sister that shoes for the kids really aren’t boring, that both of mine could theoretically match Almeda Marcos in the love of a colorful pair of shoes. Or I recommend books they’ve loved at the library or activities they enjoy. (If anyone wants to spring for soccer for next spring at the parks and rec, I'm all for it!) But I can’t shake the feeling that we’ll be swimming in a sea of plastic come Christmas day.

The practical parents in us decided early on that the kids would get three presents from us at Christmas – it was good enough for Jesus, and frankly, we're not the only ones the gifts would be coming from. And so far, we’ve been able to brainstorm ideas for the oldest fairly easily. Her wishes for this year? Among them are dress-up clothes (easy enough to come up with at a resale shop) and, more interestingly, for her kitchen: “a greasy spoon for my pretend greasy eggs.” Frankly, not sure how to address that one. And we hit the back-to-school sales hard for new art supplies for her as well.

But the baby – can I still call him that as he approaches 2? – is a challenge. Sure, he loves to comment on every truck and bus he sees. But how many of those can you possibly buy, especially when you have a half-dozen cars you’re already tripping on that were his sister’s? Or when he loves to play with her kitchen, stroller, balls and toys as much as she does? Or when you practically step on a new Lego "creation" everywhere you turn?

Maybe I’m weird or old-fashioned, but I think gifts should be as much as about fun as they are about being useful. And not useful in the “let’s buy socks and underwear” sense as in buying things people will truly appreciate and use.

So I’ll throw it out to you. Any suggestions for the practical mom who needs to start planning for those special dates now? How do you treat your children without spoiling them too much?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Random stuff (the 1 a.m. edition)

Random thoughts at 1 a.m....

Actually starting to plant for fall. After taking a fall and winter gardening class through Sharon Astyk, I feel I know enough to be dangerous -- or at least know what I'm doing wrong. But as I've been pulling out plants, I've started up another round of peas, beans, spinach, arugula and carrots. Who knows what else will work, as Indiana's had one of the wierdest weathers I've had since moving here.

Speaking of gardening, I won a Cobrahead (it's a kind of curved weeder and cultivator) the other day through a contest on May Dreams Gardens. I love the way it works, but I can't get out of my mind my husband's comment that it looks like something from Children of the Corn. (Yep, we're dating ourselves, but still...)

I'm loving my babysitter this week. When I picked the kids up Monday, I was greeted with a huge bag of apples from her father's orchard and a few butternut squash, which I've never before cooked with. (Any ideas?) Spent Monday night making a light oatmeal apple crisp and a crock-pot full of applesauce, which I simply left on low overnight to make. It was positively yummy to wake up to the smell of warm apples, cinnamon and brown sugar!

The fall carnival season for APLS - Affluent Persons Living Sustainably - is posted. Feeling less than affluent these days? Your sense of sustainably slowed to a halt? Don't let it stop you. Let's hear your thoughts!

Realizing that I've been slow on this blog lately. Being a working parent, wife, housekeeper (in theory), freelancer, gardener, and all the other hats I wear sometimes means things like this blog drag to a halt. For those of you bearing with me, I appreciate it! I just wish we had more hours in a day sometimes.

OK, hopefully will catch some ZZZs soon... Have a great night!