Friday, December 30, 2011

I Just LOVE This!

Her somewhat smug, self-satisfied little smile
just fits me to a T right now.
Girlfriend, you have got to have yourself one of these!

Inspired by a recent post at Keeper Of The Home, I promptly shared it with everyone I could and then ran to my generous husband to put in my request for a Mom's Day Out.  I don't even know if he knew just what I was asking for beyond a time of reprieve; he's great that way - it was enough and I picked my date.  I have looked forward to "my day" ever since I read that post; anticipation is a small word for the relish it spread over my heart.  I have spent the past two days doing all sorts of organizing in our bonus/school room - purging, sorting, coordinating, and bringing some sort of cohesion to it all once again.  Last night I picked out a few things to bring along with my computer and finally, today came!

Reading through Erin Odom's post, it is clear she and I are cut from very different cloth.  She's much more of a stoic, spartan sort. (Forgive me if that paints an ungenerous picture, Erin!  But rising every day at 5:30?!!!)  I'm more of a marshmallow by comparison.  But she has inspired me.  The thing is, I'm such a wuss I won't even post all the plans I'm coming up with.  I'm still "trying them on."  Actually, my start to my big day was a giant tell-tale.  I slept til 9, got up and had leftover beans and sopa (thanks to my gourmet son) and some homemade broth for breakfast; visited with my honey; showered and dressed; dealt with kid issues; and finally rolled away from the house around 1pm.  "Ah well," I thought, "if I stay out until nine that'll still give me a solid eight hours."  And that's what I did.

I needed it.  I am not an organized person, even after homeschooling five kids over seventeen years.  It is still a process of growth, reach, and change for me.  I hope you find that comforting.  For me to try to locate and pull together even the beginnings of the 'planning' part of this retreat took a good deal of time and effort.  Still, I was able to accomplish some basic bones and I feel quite cheered by it.  I'm hoping that my notes on the rest of it make sense to me later on.  I have to look for someplace to squeeze the other two days worth of planning I find I was not able to fit into my time away today!  A little here, a little there I guess.

Now it's off to bed so I can get some much needed rest before rising for a Prayer and Pancakes Breakfast a good friend is hosting tomorrow morning as further bolster to our start to 2012.  I am so blessed and so thankful!

How are your preparations coming along?  So what if tomorrow is New Year's Eve, you still have time before things really get underway; and as I'm sure some will be reading this after we've moved on into January, it's the intentionality that counts, not the date.  Get yourself a planning retreat!

Linked with Domestically Divine, Time Warp Wife, Works For Me Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday

Monday, December 26, 2011

Clearing a Clogged Drain Naturally

Ever notice how you'll put up with much more of your own junk/mess/stuff than you care to of other's? I've found this to be true in the area of kids, dogs, homes, habits, you name it, really.  We just tend to overlook and minimize the flaws and failings we possess; but if we see these same things in another...  "Well," we say,"I'd never put up with that!"  Maybe it's just me...

One area where I think this is true is the bathroom.  I know my family has come out of other bathrooms clearly thankful for escape.  "Mom," they whisper in horrified voices, "you just wouldn't believe it."  And yet their own bathroom can suffer neglect for the same amount of time and, well, it just doesn't bother them in quite the same way.  To be fair (and because I am similarly challenged) some of them truly cannot see their surroundings very clearly what with all the steam buildup combined with their lack of vision sans glasses. But we need to assume that other things are building up too.  Like crud.

This evening that agglomeration resulted in a clogged shower/tub drain.  I always take a bit of pride in being able to solve these kinds of dilemmas ourselves, repairing dishwashers, washing machines, blocked pipes and the like.  My youngest seems especially to get a special satisfaction from these challenges too. So while my husband ran out to the store to get a drain cleaner (he did pick out an environmentally friendly one!) I engaged us in a game of beat the clock to try to clear this problem before his return.  Some time back we'd ordered some really helpful little home snakes to help us with our occasional sink issues.  They have worked great, and we employed them to attend to our trouble this time as well.  When that didn't do the trick, I had my daughter try the plunger.  The problem just seemed to get worse.  Water was clearly jumping up and out through the overflow opening.  We had to create a seal in order to ensure the plunger's pressure would go to the source of our blockage.  I didn't have any duct tape, so we used packing tape and sealed it up tightly all the way around.  Now we were in business!  Taking turns, my daughters and I really worked that sucker. The water got smellier and dirtier, but we took that as a sign of progress.  We fished it out to dump in the backyard.  (Occasionally I flushed the toilet as well, thinking that they are somehow connected and this would work in our favor.)  Eventually...., after some sore backs and a bit of sweat... we were rewarded.  Yes, we did it!  The sweet sound of solid suction - the water was twirling down and away! L put on a pot of water to boil and A brought me vinegar and baking soda.  We poured the latter down the drain and once we heard the shrill whistle of the teapot, I brought the boiling hot water upstairs and poured it down as well as a chaser.

After a good tub washing tomorrow, we'll use that drain cleaner my hubbie brought home for good measure. Yeah girls!!!  We did it!!!

Happily shared at Time Warp Wife, Domestically Divine, Works For Me Wednesday, Ramblings of a Christian Mom

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Shyla, Shyla, Quite Contrary

I was a frustrated woman.  We live in a subdivision, so all my dreams of chickens, goats, and gardens have to go through a hesitating process.  About ten years ago, my husband, sons, and our neighbor put in a two raised-bed gardens, to the back and between our houses, each about 3X6 ft square.  We own one of them and have simply tomato-ed it out for the past decade, poor thing; it desperately needs a change of roots and I need somewhere else to plant my tomatoes.  In truth, I am a "baby gardener." My husband has been the faithful tenderer of our little plot of soil for these many years, and I would just cook up what we reaped, wishing we had more.  But this past year I was the one who planted, watched over, and gathered from it - and I really liked it.

So this summer, I started looking for a new place to live.

After dragging my husband from one old house with some land to another, and another, and another, (Read: much work required in order to make it what we'd like) over numerous weekends, he asked me over after-search coffee, "What will it take for you to be happy with the house we have? A garden?"


And so he hired someone to build me a garden.  The animals just aren't going to happen, I know; but I'm grateful that I can purchase eggs from other local hen-owners.  I'm still hoping a goat's milk source might open up somewhere (and realistically, that's more to my liking than the thought of twice daily milkings.)  But this summer 2012, I will have the garden I have waited for and wanted! It was an early Christmas present that will continue to give for a long time to come - perfect for me.  Thank you, Honey! I have some time to lay out a design with forethought and intentionality.  I've ordered seed catalogs tonight and perused a few online as well. My smile as I'm writing this is one of satisfaction and excitement.

Here are a few pics.
1) "The crew" spreading out our organic soil
2) A view from the street, what a passer-by will see (Yes, the bold orange door was also part of my season of changes)
3) This was work we had done near the front and I have three blueberry bushes planted on that back edge
4) One of the finished product (from my upstairs' bedroom window.)

my dirt crew.JPGstreetview.JPGby the box.JPGfrom my window.JPG

I'll post an update this summer to tell you how my garden grows!  Oh, and those are lovely gardenia bushes planted between my garden and the street... heavenly.

Linked to Simple Lives Thursday and Works For Me Wednesdays.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blessed w/ a Sick Day

I have had, in the words of one of our favorite unseen characters ever - the soothing Lemmony Snicketts, "A Series Of Unfortunate Events."  Ever since the weekend after Thanksgiving, I have been prone to tummy cramping ranging from mild to intense, private moments in the loo ranging with challenges from one extreme to the other (you get the idea, I'm sure) and three incidences of vomiting. Quite out of my ordinary.  The most recent was yesterday.  I have been to the doctor and had several tests of various sorts, and of course done my own personal research.  I'm thinking it might be IBS?  Anyway, under doctor and husband's orders I was instructed to remain on clear liquids and rest today. Upon rising this morning, my dear daughters met me and insisted I stay put as they would serve me.  I was presented with this beautiful menu from which to choose my fancy. As I told them, "I don't think anyone has ever made such a thing before - at least not to my knowledge."  What a blessing!  Wish me recovery, as I'm sure will soon follow such good care...

French Hot Chocolate

As promised, here is the recipe for the most delicious, luxurious hot chocolate ever!  I made this back during the early days of my marriage when my sister came to visit our home - and it was actually during the Thanksgiving holidays - but she raved about it then and for years afterwards.  The original recipe (from the North American Cook Book) is supposed to serve eight, but I guess we just prefer a more ample serving per cup so I doubled it for the same number. Simple. Scrumptious. Sublime.

1 cup cocoa
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
dash or two of salt
1 cup of whipping cream
8 cups of milk
1 pure chocolate bar

Place a metal mixing bowl in the fridge to chill for whipping your cream later.  Put the first four ingredients in a saucepan.  Heat over medium heat, whisking and blending as it warms and becomes smooth and fully incorporated.  Turn off and remove from burner, allow time to cool well.  I like to just put it on the porch railing outside for a bit if it's really cold. Once chilled, take your metal bowl out of the fridge and pour in the cream, then whip it into beautiful pillows of  fluff.  Bring your chocolate mixture over and gently fold it into the cream.  Place it in the fridge to wait as you heat up your milk.

Once you have your milk hot, place a generous dollop of the the chocolate cream in each cup.  Pour your milk in, give just a little bit of a stir, and take a satisifying sip.  This is the most creamy, heavenly cup of chocolate you'll find anywhere... umm... ummm..... ummmm........

(I'm under the weather today, so I'll post a personal photo later... my apologies - but trust me, the cocoa more than makes up for it.)

Shared with Far Above Rubies, Time Warp Wife, We Are That Family, and GNOWFGLINS

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Early Christmas Memories

Like our parents before us, my husband and I definitely had our struggling first years - college debt, entry level pay, two babies before our 2nd anniversary, major surgery w/o insurance that first year (more debt), a decision made as a child for me to be a stay-at-home Mom, but lived out in the real world of grown ups now. Put simply, times were tight and everything was accounted for.

Although I am the oldest of six children, sadly, I didn't come to my marriage with a great many culinary skills. Essentially, I could basically make around three dishes that served eight, so when I made spaghetti my husband and I would be eating it for a week.  Poor M!  I would buy milk by fours - one in the fridge, three in the freezer.  It was an adjustment cooking for two, but living frugally and from scratch was my rich inheritance.  One of the treasures that my Mom passed on to me was her North American Cook Book.  It looked old when she gave it to me, and I knew it would serve me dependably as a much-needed guide.  The cover has held up well over the years, but the inside binding came loose long ago; and although I don't exactly recall doing so, I must have attempted to re-glue the pages back in.  Most are solidly affixed to the spine, albeit not exactly aligned with one another.  Maybe one of my kids did that.

To me, this book was the sacred writ of domesticity.  Like many cookbooks of its time, it was written in rather cryptic fashion with succinct instructions such as, 'put chicken in a hot oven.'  Um... What?!  I'd include in my allotted monthly-hour's-worth of call*  a clarification from Mom to find that everyone knows a hot oven is a standard 350 degrees.  I pored over the drawings and diagrams of various meats, trying to educate myself on how to cut up a chicken.  Never did manage that one well, but I found it saved the day to roast them or boil them whole.

Of course, for Christmas we had very little extra.  I don't just mean money for gifts.  I mean what we had in the house was what I had to work with.  No mixer. No rolling pin. No wisk.  And if we couldn't eat it, I didn't have the luxury of running out to buy it.  So for those first Christmases, I made our own gifts for our families.  Enter the North American Cook Book.  Homemade fudges (chocolate and penuche), divinity, peanut brittle, rolls of noughat covered in pecans, gingerbread pigs, and sugar cookies painted with care and artistry.  I must have read these instructions fifty times, determined to break the code:
Fudges are made up of tiny crystals; the finer the crystals, the smoother the fudge. Beating initiates the growth of crystals, and if crystal formation takes place early, they will be large.  Avoid excess stirring while cooking, and do not beat or agitate the cooling syrup after cooking until it has reached the correct temperature for beating.  The use of brown sugar, syrup, cream of tartar, or vinegar in a candy mixture tends to retard crystallization of the syrup; butter and cream also have this effect.  Always choose fudge recipes which contain at least one of these ingredients.
So... should I beat or not - and when?  I couldn't afford to make a mistake, and this was clearly a lesson in chemistry impeding my attempts to create candies of perfection!  Armed with three wooden spoons (each broken in succession) and two bowls, I did as I best I could. Somehow, I managed, and shipped off my delicacies with homely pride and satisfaction.

Our tree was another area I felt the challenge to pinch pennies while making our apartment a festive home.  M was able to bring home two boxes of store-bought ornaments, bright globes of iridescence against the evergreen tree, and twinkling strings of multi-colored lights.  Still, I longed for a more personal touch.  I popped corn and painstakingly strung it with thread, draping it over the tree - just like home.  Then, I experimented with mixing up flour and water.  No rolling pin, remember?  So I patted my dough out into the most uniform thickness I could master, cutting shapes from the fairly even plane with a butter knife, and baking them to hardness.  Bringing out my watercolor paints, I applied layers of color, striving to build up the most intense pigments possible, then coating them with clear nail polish to preserve and add a glisten. A few of my treasures have survived the years to adorn our Christmas tree even this year, although faded with time, still bearing the bumpy imprint of my palms and the homemade mark of loving industry.

My oldest daughter picked up the North American Cook Book the other morning, flipping through the stubborn pages, finding the treasures within.  Her eyes lit up, and my heart warmed within me.  I'm thinking French Hot Chocolate - but that's for my next post.

Shared at Simple Lives Thursday, Works for Me Wednesday, and Ramblings of a Christian Mom

*Yes, young mothers, we paid by the minute back then - and long distance meant each minute was more precious - and consequently, more expensive.  No internet either!
** The second year, I borrowed a neighbor's mixer and burned it out.  Wound up having to buy two - one to replace her's and the other my very first. ;D

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Perfect Gift for Writers

A pad of paper lies on my bedside stand, but I've never been able to establish the habit of jotting middle of the night thoughts down there, probably out of a desire not to disturb my sleeping husband.  I used to walk through the dark into the schoolroom down the hallway, not bothering to turn on a light as I scribbled down to-do lists that would not let me rest, cogitations that I hoped would make sense in the morning. Then I could quietly return to my bed and the sleep of unburdened peace.  At some point we removed that board, but I think it would be good to return it to its well appointed and sensible spot.

I've had myriads of notebooks over the years, of course; as many as six at a time placed in various strategic places awaiting deposits of creativity as they strike me.  But this simply seems to create a jumble of what are already chaotic snatches.  Sigh...

I have a smart-phone, and my most used app is the notepad.  I don't really like hen-pecking out my memory joggers, but when it's all I've got - better to save my reflections there than allow them to vaporize.  I also carry a little mini black composition book in my purse - three for a dollar, and one of the best purchases I've made within the past five years.  I often have my girls take dictation of whatever is on my mind while I'm driving - phone calls, grocery lists, cryptic blog ideas.

However, the shower has always been my most fertile plot for original thought, and therein lies my dilemma of frustration.  With wet hands, I try to keep a grip on my meditations, repeating key phrases and attempting to arrange them in some sort of anagrammatical order as I lather and rinse.  They slip away faster than a silky bar of soap.  The tighter my desperate attempts to cling to them, it seems the more uncertain my grip will be.  Foam, bubbles, a lingering scent are all that remain of but a few.  I'm lucky if I still have hold of a solid sliver when I get out and am able to find a pencil to scribble something down.

And so I recently went in search of the answer to my particular predicament and found two websites that offer exactly what I am in need of:  AquaNotes and Rite in the Rain.  They seem to be close in price and are both environmentally friendly!  AquaNotes does have the "benefit" of suction cups used to attach the notepad (and one for the included pencil as well) to the shower wall.  I say "benefit" simply because I've found those little suckers to be an unreliable bunch, haven't you?  Still, it is a thoughtful touch and particularly suited to my need for retaining ideas while washing - if they work.  

Put this on my list, Santa! (Along with that Moravian Star....)

Linked at Time Warp Wife, Far Above Rubies, We Are That Family, and Simple Lives Thursday

Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Building the Bonds of Attachment

This book was recommended to me by a friend.  It has been such a source of light and reassurance for me.  We adopted our daughters seven and a half years ago.  Many of the suggestions and explanations for this parent-based/therapist assisted approach to helping children work through their issues and come to a point of trusting another person have been how my husband and I have dealt with all of our children.  The depths of importance this holds in helping an abused or neglected child sink all the deeper. If you read this book, no doubt many of you will find this highly counter-cultural. I particularly appreciated Stephen's role (the social worker) in the book.  His observations and questions, as well as honest, contrasting thoughts mirrored so much what I have felt I was/am dealing with.  He provided the voice that says, "Are you sure?" "Wouldn't it be better to...?" And served as counter-point for almost every decision made, providing an opportunity for explanation of reason.  What we do cannot be understood from the other side, although he was open to learning.  Oftentimes, he felt that a softer, gentler approach would better serve the child. It takes a tremendous amount of faith and love to retain the dedication of seeing the course through with a hurt child, and sometimes it looks very different than the "norm."

I found immense comfort and support here.  I'm not a perfect Mom by any stretch, but it is my life's calling and I've always felt it to be a true honor.  Many of the precepts found within this book are guidelines and decisions that I have made purposely with all of my children, before and after adoption was added to my mothering role.  For instance, early on I truly wrestled with how to handle the issue of praise and pride.  Celebrating accomplishments and cheering on advances are natural responses as your little ones grow and learn.  However, I didn't want them to develop any sort of idea that my love for them was dependent upon their success, nor an unhealthy inner teeter-totter of self-esteem that rose and fell with scores and accolades.  I chose to focus on loving them, lavishly and sincerely.  I was honest in assessments and feedback, aiming for gentleness in truth, looking for something to highlight. I rather avoided the words proud or pride as a rule, and praise was aimed at encouraging an inner eye to their own character, nature, and workings.  This book understands the intricate importance of such a large subject and doesn't agree with the common knee-jerk reaction of puffing our children up with false accolades so that they don't know the meaning and rewards of work, effort, and consummation.   Attainment of goals, simple contentment from doing your very best even if the mark fell short, or the self-awareness that no, you really didn't try as hard as you could have, all these are appreciations that must be acquired by striving - nobody presents them to us pre-packaged.  Knowing yourself comes through the grunts and strains on the wrestling mat, not the smooth hand off of a relay match.  For a child who was deprived of healthy, vital attention these are understandings all the more difficult to teach down the road.  Thank God we are here to try.

This book has also helped to open my eyes and heart to some of the maddening behaviors we are currently dealing with. ;D  From our first meeting, I have felt the myriad of questions accompany each puzzle and cloud.  Is it me?  Personality clashes?  Character issues?  The past which is a fog to me, and I don't know what to them?  Adoption related?  Growing up pains?  The recognition and resonance with what I live with brought me deeper clarity and understanding.  I am very grateful for this resource, and recommend it to all families, especially adoptive families - and those who love them.

Shared at Above Rubies, Time Warp Wife, Works for Me Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday