Friday, December 31, 2010

Little lessons learned in 2010

2010 was the year of distractions. That much was evident from the response to my Christmas letter this year: "I can't believe everything you did despite things..."

2010 was the year of setbacks. Camping trips were put off after my husband's shoulder and knee injuries. Great plans put off due to financial hiccups. Little plans set aside due to the ups and downs of parenting.

So 2010 was not a year of great revelations. It was instead a year of little lessons learned, most at the hands of my children.

We watched as Hermie, and more Hermies, and still more Hermies (apparently caterpillars love my carrot leaves), found new life as a butterflies.

We went on hiking trips, played in ponds and destroyed mom's garden more than once.

We learned that generosity doesn't take a certain dollar figure, and sometimes love takes the form of cards to hospitalized kids or outgrown shoes sent abroad.

I learned that despite my summer gardening failures, there's always another season, and basked in a bowlful of fall carrots after my first real attempt at fall gardening.

What happens in the coming year I have no idea. I'm already viewing my year in pieces: the part before our big project that peaks in March, and the life after.

Maybe next year I should just stick with what my children told me: Just eat more dessert.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Note to self for next Christmas

Reminder to self for next Christmas:

If Kid 1 brings home "Reindeer food," make sure you have all applicable ingredients before you promise to make some for Kid 2.

Smoked paprika is not an acceptable substitute for red and green sprinkles. Even if you tell the child some reindeer like theirs spicy, when said reindeer go to "eat" it, the end result looks like a big blood stain in the snow...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chestnuts roasting and other Christmas classics

The children are nestled snug in their beds, and it's nearly 7 a.m. That in itself is my Christmas Eve miracle.

We're looking forward to four days as a family, a rare treat.

I know a lot of people seemed surprised when we'd tell them we were spending the days just the four of us, but we have never had a quiet Christmas just as a little family. Not in 14 years of marriage. Not even the year I came home after a c-section on Christmas Eve. (Though I didn't mind sharing my son, that Christmas was exhausting.) And while I'm happy to host or travel to see the grandparents, as my husband's aunt put it, "little ones should be in their own homes for the holidays and in their own beds to wait for Santa. That's where the best memories are made for them!"

This year, we want to make some memories for them. And yes, we've done Christmas activities at school, at church and with others, but now it's time for us. We've watched classics like The Christmas Carol (not the best thing for a 5 year old with an active imagination before bedtime, in retrospect). Baked cookies. Meeting the rush of shoppers at the store before this afternoon's winter snow. Slipping back into our old pasttime of noshing our way through Christmas Eve day, rather than sitting through a meal. Avoiding the hurriedness and excitement of traveling and sitting through Christmas Eve service in favor of a much more settled-down version tomorrow morning.

I've got chestnuts, found at an apple orchard, which we'll try roasting for a recipe. (One less thing to explain - "What are chestnuts?") I've got a gingerbread train, given to my son for his birthday, that we may assemble once the excitement settles down. I've got carrots for our snowmen we'll likely make (when the kids aren't hurling snowballs at mom).

But mostly, I've got time.

In the end, I don't care what we fix for Christmas dinner, what's opened from under our tree or what we end up doing. The important part is we reconnect as a family. And that, as my 5 year old continues to tell me, is what Christmas is about. Family.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grandma Johnson’s XMAS Cookies

Grandma Johnson’s XMAS Cookies
2 cups sugar
2 cups shortening
4 eggs
2/3 cups milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking Soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons salt
6 cups flour or a little more

Mix altogether. Roll out on a floured board. Cut with cookie cutter and bake in 375 degree oven until light brown. Frost when cool, or sprinkle with sugar before baking.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Apple streudel: From Grandma's Kitchen

apple streudel recipeI intended to only do 20 days' worth of recipes, but this one is a must-have. In honor of my brother, Grandma's apple streudel recipe:

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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grandma Johnson’s Giblet Dressing: From Grandma's Kitchen

I admit we get our stuffing from a red box, but I know some families are different...

Grandma Johnson’s Giblet Dressing
For an 18-pound turkey:
9 cups bread cubes
1 3/8 cups chopped onion
2 1/4 cups celery
1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
1 1/2 teaspoons sage
1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning

Cut bread into cubes and let dry out partially, either by standing out for a day or by putting in oven at 300-350 degrees. Cook giblets until tender in slightly salted water, about a half hour for the liver, about an hour for the gizzard, heart and neck. Save the broth. Chop meat finely or put through a meat grinder.

Saute 3/4 cup chopped onion and 1 1/2 cup cut up celery in 1/3 cup butter or margarine until tender or onions are clear.Add 6 cups bread cubes to the onion and celery mixture and stir to absorb butter. Add sage and poultry seasoning to taste (about 1 teaspoon each), and salt and pepper to taste.

Pour hot broth over bread cube mixture and mix lightly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Favorite Overnight Rolls: From Grandma's Kitchen

My Favorite Overnight Rolls
2 packages dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
3/4 cup soft shortening
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs beaten
8 to 8 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons salt

Soften yeast in warm water – then add to the flour and other ingredients.

Knead on floured board until smooth. Put in large bowl or kettle with tight cover. Place in refrigerator or where it is cool overnight or until needed. It will keep for 2 days. Shape into rolls, dip into melted butter or margarine and put into greased pans. Let rise in warm place (not hot)
until double in size 1 hour or more. Bake in hot oven 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn out on rack or board to cool.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crusty Rolls: From Grandma's Kitchen

Crusty Rolls
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
1 cake yeast or 1 package dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon soft lard
1 tablespoon sugar
3 1/2 cups flour

Let raise and punch down. Let rise again. Roll out and cut. Place on greased cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.

Brush with cornstarch glaze. Let rise about 1 1/2 hours. Brush again with cornstarch glaze (see below). Sprinkle with salt and caraway seeds. Bake about 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until brown.

For Cornstarch Glaze

Mix 1 teaspoon cornstarch with 1 teaspoon cold water. Add about 1/3 cup
boiling water. Cook until smooth. Let cool before using. Caraway seeds
or poppy seeds are optional.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pecan Dreams: From Grandma's Kitchen

So not good for you. So worth it...

Pecan Dreams
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups flour
4 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups finely chopped pecans
Sprinkle of salt

Cream butter and sugar; add vanilla, flour and chopped pecans. Roll into little balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Place in 300 degree oven for 30 to 45 min. Remove from oven and roll in powdered sugar. Let cool and roll in powdered sugar again.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No-Cook Fudge: From Grandma's Kitchen

No-Cook Fudge
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup mashed potatoes
1 pound sifted confectioner’s sugar

Melt chocolate with butter over low heat. Add mashed potatoes, salt and vanilla. Mix well. Add sugar. Knead until smooth. Press into buttered 8-inch square pan. Cool and cut into squares.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sweet way to introduce science - for less than $5

Science gifts for kids. Easy. There are scores of them on the internet, at children's museums and educational stores.

Ones under $5 that's not simply a piece of plastic junk? That's a different story.

Last week, we had the challenge of picking a school-age kid for the daycare gift exchange. We had a $5 limit, per our sitter's decision. And because of the way our schedule falls, I'd never met this child in my life.

She was eight and liked science. And that's all I had to go on.

I figured it'd be easy to find something science-oriented with a quick internet search and a jaunt to store, right? Wrong. The cheapest thing I could find was in the $15-20 range, and even from the web photo, it looked like it would break.

My solution? Hit the science fair project circuit.

After a quick search, I stumbled on a great website - There I found a project perfect for a wintery afternoon: Using chemistry concepts to create marshmallows. I printed the directions and packed the dry ingredients in a decorated shoebox. Ready to go, in less than 10 minutes and fewer than five dollars.

Yes, science is sweet. I just hope her parents can forgive me for the mess!

Waiting for snow

Silent night. The kids are in bed. The husband asleep. And the countdown begins.

Yep, we're waiting on another winter storm tonight.

After nearly nine years in Indiana, I still haven't gotten used to Old Man Winter. Particularly when he comes before his time.

I've decided I'm fine with snow. When it's still white, fluffy, and only covering the yard. I'm fine with cold temps, as long as it doesn't broach the teens or come with it a hefty wind chill.

I am not, however, fine with sleet. Or ice. Or more than a few inches of snow.

And so the anxiety begins.

I pray for the safety of those who, like my husband, have to venture on the roads before daylight and the salt trucks have struck.

I worry about getting my kids to school and day care, safely, the curse of a working mom and primary provider.

And I pray for those who are trapped out in this cold, wet night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fudge Nut Bars: From Grandma's Kitchen

Fudge Nut Bars


1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick oatmeal

12 ounces chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoonsvanilla

Cream together butter & sugar, mix in eggs and vanilla. Sift together flour, soda, salt and stir in oats. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture.

Set aside and make filling.

For filling: In a double boiler saucepan, mix chocolate chips, condensed milk, butter and salt. Stir until smooth. Stir in nuts and vanilla.

Spread about 2/3 of oatmeal mixture in bottom of greased jelly roll pan.
Cover with chocolate mixture. Dot with remainder of oatmeal mixture and swirl it over chocolate filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Cut into squares while still warm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chocolate Fudge: From Grandma's Kitchen

Chocolate Fudge
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2/3 cups syrup
1 1/3 cups milk and a sprinkle of salt

Boil together until a soft ball can be formed when a few drops are dropped into a cup of cold water. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 cup butter and cool a while. Then beat with spoon until mixture starts to lose its shine. Chopped nuts may be added. Pour into buttered 9 x 13 inch pan.
Cut in pieces when cool.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Keeping Advent Real

Advent is a time of preparation. But sometimes we're so busy preparing that we forget why we're even doing the work.

For too many years, Christmastime was packet with a to-do list. Christmas shopping. Christmas cards. Parties. Shows to watch at a specified time. Routine, routine, routine, crammed around work.

And then I had kids. Granted the first few Christmases were a blur in their own right, but as my children have aged I have realized I've wanted something more with the season.

Not more gifts. More meaning.

At the end of the day, my kids don't lose sleep over whether they got a certain toy their friends didn't. They just want to enjoy life.

So this Christmas season, I've tried a little harder to keep Advent real for them. We've largely kept off the TV and the commercials and stayed out of stores. Instead, we've been doing what we can to inject a little spirit into the season as we can.

These last two weeks, we've been busy in our little house. We made our own Nativity scene. Wrapped some needed items for children who need our love this season. Started baking cookies for my son's daycare party. Made a few Christmas cards and gifts for people we love.

We also experimented with a little more of the reason for the season. On Monday, we enjoyed a visit from St. Nicholas (not his watered-down, portly alter ego). In their slippers, the kids found a small piece of (admittedly leftover Halloween) candy and an encouraging note. A week later, my daughter was still telling her friends how St. Nicholas had written on a piece of paper from her Tinkerbell notebook because he didn't bring any.

On Wednesday, my husband and I quietly slipped away for a noontime service. It's amazing the difference no wiggling, giggling children make in your ability to relax and appreciate the words of your faith.

On Friday, we celebrated a service for Our Lady of Guadalupe, an amazing celebration that brought 35 brightly dressed children in traditional Mexican clothing together to relive their faith and a small bit of our heritage.

And yes, I realize this week and next brings the flurry of activities. The kids' Christmas programs. (Oh, and the angel costume I need to crank out beforehand...) The rest of the holiday baking. Not one but two weekends' worth of guests. And our "birthdayChristmas" as my son refers to his special day.

Even with the holiday hubub, a few short hours of refocusing on the real Christmas season was worth the investment. I hope you take the opportunity to do the same, and enjoy Christmas for all it's worth!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We all have gifts to bear

The Christmas season can bring out the best in us, but many of us want to do more, but simply can't.

I know finances can be a strain, and it's tough to see sometimes that there are people out there who have it worse than we do. It can be even tougher to see that our little ways can make a difference.

If you're torn this holiday season about whether you can truly make a difference with what little you have, I ask you to take a few minutes and read this story. Living it really opened my eyes.

Wishing you a happy holiday season,
Robbie @ Going Green Mama

Christmas cards a blast from the past?

Christmas cards have a bit of nostalgia, but I think they're truly a way of connecting in a world reduced to 140 characters. In today's Green Phone Booth, I'm urging you to make a connection this Christmas (or New Year's, or Valentine's Day) and send an old-fashioned card and letter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Cherry Winks: From Grandma's Kitchen

Cherry Winks
2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
2 cups corn flakes, crushed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
Maraschino cherries

Sift together flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Combine shortening and sugar, mix well. Blend in eggs. Add milk and vanilla. Blend in dry ingredients, mix well. Add pecans and dates; mix well. Roll dough, one level tablespoon per cookie, in crushed cornflakes.

Place on greased baking sheet. Top each cookie with 1/2 cherry. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Caramels: From Grandma's Kitchen

1 cup white sugar
1 cup syrup
2 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
1 cup cream or evaporated milk

Boil to soft ball stage. Add another cup of cream or evaporated milk. Boil
until it makes a firm, pliable ball in cold water. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and some walnuts. Pour into a buttered 9-inch pan. Let stand 12 hours before cutting. Wrap in wax paper.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

California Christmas Cookies: From Grandma's Kitchen

California Christmas Cookies
Beat 3 eggs, add 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup orange marmalade. Sift
together 3 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon soda, 1/2 teaspoon
cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/4 teaspoon cloves.

Add to first mixture. Spread about 1/2 -inch thick in greased shallow pan.

Bake 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Frost while hot with icing made of powdered sugar and cream.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amish Sugar Cookies: From Grandma's Kitchen

Amish Sugar Cookies
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup margarine
1 cup cooking oil
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugars, oil, and margarine; beat well. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Make small balls of dough and put on cookie sheet. Flatten with a fork. Bake 10-12 minutes in 350 degree oven, or until golden brown.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sea Foam: From Grandma's Kitchen

Sea Foam is a favorite of my sister's. She always has good results with it.

Sea Foam
2 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup corn syrup, light
2/3 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg whites, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup walnuts

Cook together sugar, white syrup, water and salt to hard ball stage or 265 degrees. Pour slowly over 2 beaten egg whites. Beat until thick. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup walnuts. Pour into buttered 9 x 13-inch pan.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Scotch Shortbread: From Grandma's Kitchen

Scotch Shortbread
1 cup butter
10 tablespoons sugar or 5/8 cup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Mix and roll 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut in moon shapes with a glass dipped in flour. Bake at 315 degrees until light brown. Double the recipe.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chocolate No-Bakes: From Grandma's Kitchen

Chocolate No-Bakes

1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1/3 cup butter or margarine
16 large marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups quick or old fashioned oatmeal, uncooked
1 cup any combination of raisins, diced, dried fruit, coconut, miniature
marshmallows or nuts.

In large pan over low heat, melt chocolate, butter and marshmallows,
stirring until smooth. Remove from heat, cool slightly. Stir in remaining
ingredients. Roll into balls and put on waxed paper. Store tightly covered
in refrigerator.


What is it about snow?

The allure that ensures that, even with a dusting, the kids have to stop and rub their hands in it on their way out the door to school.

That makes them actually stop for five minutes to watch it fall from the sky.

That makes them declare, just minutes after complaining that one's stomach hurts, that she is not that sick and trounces back out of her bedroom, snowpants on, talking about a snowball fight. Before 7 a.m.

Yes, this morning, we woke up with our first real snow of the season. At last check, we're expecting to get about 4 inches of the fluffy white stuff. So, barring any health disasters today, we'll be bundling up, dusting off some items to decorate our snowmen, and, if my daughter has her way, making snow candy a la Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Thankfully, we don't have much for holiday plans today, so we can keep things simple and enjoy the season!

Scramble to shop

What is it about mandatory gift giving? Somehow, the "must buy" has to take the spirit out of the holiday spirit and defeats the purpose and joy of gift giving. Not to mention adding to our clutter and our debt.

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm chatting about obligatory gifts and whether people are finally waking up to the fact that they don't have to buy equal for everyone.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Fruitcake: From Grandma's Kitchen

Fruitcake. You know it was going to show up at some point. Thought I'd get it over with.


1 1/2 cups butter
3 cups sugar
3 cups sweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg (if desired)
6 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
1 pound mixed candied fruit
1 pound candied cherries
4 cups raisins
3 cups walnuts (if desired)

Sprinkle flour over the fruit and nuts. Mix together. Grease and line pans with brown paper. Grease again. Bake 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees or until brown. Makes 4 or 5 cakes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Poopaki: From Grandma's Kitchen

Poopaki I believe is a Czechoslavakian bread dish, but one my brother couldn't get enough of as a child. Even to this day, when I ask what he wants for Christmas, he says apple streudel and poopaki.

Bread dough
Ground poppy seed

Take bread dough already mixed. Cut in small pieces and place on greased cookie sheet. Leave room between each. Cover with a towel and let raise until the size of walnuts. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.*

Before serving, pour boiling water over them just long enough to moisten. Pour off the water. Sprinkle with ground poppy seed and sweeten with honey.

You can buy poppy seed that is already ground and canned.

* Linda’s note: Oven temperatures may vary from 350 to 400 degrees.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Stollen: From Grandma's Kitchen

Family packed around the old farm table that had seen generations of Christmases gone by. Frigid temperatures and 100-below wind chills. Cousins I hadn't seen in a year.

When I think back to Christmases as a child, the ones I'm most fond of are the ones spent at our grandparents' homes in Wisconsin. And my grandmother was known for her hospitality (and the five pounds you'd gain on your visit.)

This Christmas, I thought I'd treat you to some family recipes from my grandmother's cookbook. Enjoy!

Christmas Stollen
1 package yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 cup butter or margarine
3 beaten egg yolks (or 1-2 whole eggs)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
1/4 teaspoon lemon rind (optional)
2 to 2 1/2 cups flour
1 pound dates or raisins
1/2 cup or more nuts
1 cup maraschino or candied cherries, cut up
1 slice candied pineapple, cut in pieces
1/2 cup choppen citron or mixed fruit (optional)

Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water; add 1 teaspoon sugar. Scald milk and cool to lukewarm. Add flour and beat well. Cream butter or margarine and 1/2 cup sugar, eggs and salt. (You may use nutmeg or lemon rind if you wish.)

Add to above mixture with flour, enough to make a soft, smooth dough.

Knead until elastic. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until double, about 3 hours.

Divide dough into 3 pieces. Roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Brush with melted butter. Cover with dates or raisins, nuts, cherries, candied pineapple, citron or mixed fruit.

This amount is for the 3 stollen. Roll dough like a jelly roll. Place on greased cookie sheet. Let rise until light and doubled in size.

Bake at 375 degrees about 40 minutes or until browned. Ice with powdered sugar icing and decorate with nuts and fruit.

White chocolate blueberry bark

Need a holiday treat in a flash? Here's a fast surprise that I stumbled across last year. I adapated a recipe I found online that called for dried cranberries. And it was a success - my sister-in-law hurried it into her room on Christmas Eve, hiding it for snacking throughout the day.

White chocolate blueberry bark
1 12-oz. package white chocolate chips
1 cup dried bluberries

Melt white chocolate chips in microwave, stirring every 15 seconds. Mix in dried blueberries. Pour over cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Cool, then break into pieces.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Recycled Nativity for the kids

Yesterday, our church had a display of more than 50 Nativity scenes for show. It only took a few minutes before I realized that Baby Jesus could be in jeopardy if He came out in our house this season.

Rather than risk my "good" pieces to the whims of a toddler and his 5-year-old partner in crime, we opted to make our own set this year. It took time, and leftover materials around our house.

With empty toilet paper and wrapping paper rolls, a shoe box for a manger, and the backsides of work paper, we created a Nativity scene worthy of any child's imagination. And the best part, the pieces are easily replaceable!

(You can find directions and printables here.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sending gifts of Christmas past

The 4 a.m. hits were large HDTVs yesterday, from what my weary eyes could see...but what are you doing with your old TVs come January? In today's Green Phone Booth, I'm sharing resources on where you can recycle or donate reusable TVs, printers and other electronics.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Trio of turkeys

This adorable trio of turkeys was made in minutes by my kindergartener and I. Simple and cute - and her secret pal loved them!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thankful eyes of a 5 year old

The Green Eyed Monster shares a moment of gratitude...

I am thankful for my cousin and my brother and dad and mom.

Thanksgiving is when you get to eat turkey. It's going to be a great Thanksgiving because you get to have people come over. I like Thanksgiving. It's my favorite time of year because children's grandparents and their uncles and their aunt get to come. Kids like to play with their grandparents and uncles and aunts.

God loves me and all of us! I'm thankful for all of those stuff.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Entertaining your turkeys at Thanksgiving

Keeping my kids away from the pantry and stove at mealtime is tough under the best of circumstances, but at a holiday, the excitement just amplifies. Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm sharing a few recycled Thanksgiving craft ideas I found.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Homemade Gift Ideas

Looking for some homemade gift ideas? Even if you're not handy in the kitchen, or overly crafty, there are some great ideas to consider, if you just have time. Visit the Green Phone Booth to check out Jenn's ideas.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Counting my blessings

It is one thing to see families lined up against a wall, waiting for food, in Depression-era photos in your history book.

It's another thing to see them on a weekday morning on your way to work.

It's tough to see a mom, in not the warmest of jackets and jeans, huddling to keep her little girl warm as they wait. Especially when she's not much bigger than your baby.

It's tough to give people dignity that they have every right to be there, while respecting your privacy.

And it's tough to not walk away crying.

Yes, yesterday morning rocked my day. I'd found a place that collected clothing for families in need, and wanted to make the most of any outgrown kids clothing and coats we had collected. And as I dropped the bags off that morning, I couldn't help but pray for them. And count my blessings.

For every frustration I have about stretching my funds to pay my bills, my heat is on this chilly morning.

For every frustration I have about my kids not wearing their hoods, they have hoods to wear on their coats.

For every frustration I have over lost mittens, my kids have mittens to lose - and I can, in a moment of desperation, buy another cheap pair at the Dollar Spot.

For every frustration I have over my kids refusing to eat, at least they have something to refuse.

For every frustration I have about my job (and Lord knows, I have my share), I've got one.

For every frustration I have about my messy house, at least I have a roof on my head.

For every frustration I have with friends or family, I know they're behind me.

And for that, I'm grateful.

Offering holiday support to unemployed loved ones

The holiday season can be a happy time, but for friends and family who are unemployed, it can be a time of anxiety and stress. Today, I'm guest-posting at Life as Mom on how you can help your loved ones during this Christmas season.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Turkey marshmallows and other curious creations

Turkey and sweet potatoes. Sure it's on our mind these days. But in marshmallow glory?

That's right. At the Indy Winter Farmers Market opening this Saturday, I tried just that. Nestled among the raw foods, the fall veggies and the tea and meat vendors, was 240sweet, a local producer of gourmet marshmallow makers. We'd seen them at markets past and have been amazed by the varieties they'd come up with (and how spot on the flavors were). But turkey?

My husband and I tried a bite, just browned from a portal burner. Yes, the flavors were true to life, and a combination of packets of turkey and sweet potato marshmallows was the hot seller for hostess gifts that morning. Me, I think I'd have stuck with the salted caramel variety.

Owner Alexa Lemley gave me a window into her world earlier this year.

Why, of all things, did you decide to specialize in homemade marshmallows?

While searching the internet for recipes, I came across one for homemade marshmallows. Since I had never made them before, I decided to experiment. I started off with with Martha Stewart's vanilla flavor. Soon, I was creating my own recipes with ingredients that I found appealing. It was really just a way for me to play with flavors for fun.

How do you come up with the flavor combinations? What's the most unusual flavor you've made or had suggested to you?

I am inspired by the flavors of some of my favorite dishes. For example, Saffron and Pistachio is like kulfi. Avocado and Lime is from my favorite Vietnamese treat, avocado milkshakes. After making some Fleur de Sel caramels, I wondered what a salty caramel marshmallow would taste like. I'm not sure which would be most unusual. In my catering business, I use a variety of ingredients and flavors in my dishes to create foods that my clients request.

How do you get people past the idea of marshmallows being used for cocoa, smores or Rice Krispy treats? What other ideas do you have for them to enjoy these?

Actually, my marshmallows are great in cocoa, s'mores and Rice Krispy treats. However, they stand on their own as a treat. My puffs are also great as a dipper for fondues.

What ingredients are used, particularly for flavoring? Are they all-natural? Organic?

Whenever possible, we use local and organic. We use both granulated and powdered beet sugar from Michigan and Indiana corn starch. I make my own vanilla extract from organic vanilla beans. This summer, I made some delicious puffs using peaches from Double Oak Farms. We don't add any colors or artificial ingredients.

The marshmallows are admittedly a sweet splurge - three packets for $10 - but are a great idea for a stocking stuffer for your favorite foodie!

FTC Note: I received no compensation from 240Sweet for this article. I simply found it to be a fun idea!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Giving the gift of experience

A few weeks ago, upon the request of their auntie, I asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas.

My daughter wanted one thing. The other items? Experiences. Classes at the parks and rec (gymnastics and ballet topped the list). Spring soccer (which now she wants to do again). And, lately, she's asked to go ice skating.

My son, was easier. If you must know, he asked for jelly beans. (For my family: Santa has that covered!) Of course, after hearing his sister, he asked for gymnastics class as well, and we're hoping both can enjoy that come January.

I admit I've dealt with minor guilt when looking at the kids' presents this year. They're largely practical (books and clothes) and each of them got one toy outside of the trinkets and art supplies in their stockings. After all, isn't Christmas supposed to be about swarming children with toys?

And then I think. Perhaps the kids only asked for minimal stuff because they need...minimal stuff. (Of course, that's changing, as my daughter sees commercials at extended care, flips through mom's magazines or talks with friends.)

So if you're like many of the people out there collapsing under the clutter or wondering what to do for the kid who seems to have everything, consider giving the gift of experience this holiday season.

We asked for ballet classes for my daughter last year at the parks department. She still talks about it - and wants to know when she can go again. And the photos and little videos allow other family members to share in her joy - something we might not have replicated with a Barbie outfit.

Here are some other ideas for experiential gifts for young families:
  • Zoo or Children's Museum passes. Some even have reciprocal agreements with other cities - which makes it a blessing if you're traveling! Check out savings sites like or groupon - we were able to get an amazing deal to our local Children's Museum for our children to enjoy all year!
  • Passes to seasonal activities, such as ice skating, miniature golf or the minor league ball team.
  • Classes at the art center or parks department. (Or for those in more remote areas, an art or science kit of some kind!)
  • Movie passes. For a family, a night out to the movies is hardly cheap - and a welcome treat!
  • Support a Scout troop or other activity that perhaps a kid couldn't do otherwise. (For example, our council does a lot of add-on activities, such as getting to go to plays, games, etc., and costs for child and adult start to add up.)
  • Finally, consider the gift of time. A good friend of mine at work has a special weekend with her nieces and nephew to mark their birthday. Whether it's a whole weekend or an afternoon of one-on-one, memories like that can last longer than you can imagine - for both of you.
And just as good, no clean-up!

Friday, November 5, 2010

In every snowflake, a miracle

In every snowflake, a miracle. And those miracles showered from the sky.

It's what happens when your toddler utters those words in a simple prayer. No sooner had he asked that fireworks not scare him (it's Diwali) and that we please get snow, than he got his wish.
The booming stopped, and snow showers poured from the sky.

I opened the door for the kids to watch the season's first snowfall. Mesmerized, they stood there, watching the flakes, then crouching down by the floor to watch more intently. An amazing moment of silence, as their father was trying to sleep, then:

"Snow coming down. On the ground," my youngest said breathlessly.

"God listened! He knows how kids like to play in the snow!" my oldest cried out. "God listened!"

"To me? To you?"

And the pair turned toward me. "Please sit down and watch," my oldest said. It was an offer I couldn't turn down.

We watched the tiny balls of snow pile up on the windshields, until the shower slowed to light flakes. Then the two tottered back to their sleeping bags.

And as the snores began, the fireworks once again broke through the night sky.

In every flake, a miracle.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Daisy Girl Scout Memories

Every child's activity comes with memorabilia, and scouting is no exception.

So when my daughter joined Daisy Scouts this fall, I knew this scrapbooker was in trouble. After all, I'm behind on my photos, can't justify buying large album after album and can't always spring for supplies.
And then I found my answer lying on my ledge. There, in my stack of things that should have been put away, was a small 6-inch green polka-dot photo album that I have no idea how it made its way into my home.
It was pretty drab, to be honest:

But add in a few Daisy Girl Scout stickers from a package my mom had bought and drab turned into fab:

After each Girl Scout activity, my daughter can complete a page and include pictures, drawings or other memorabilia from an event. Her first page included a cut-out trefoil that had the Girl Scout promise on it, which they made at the first official meeting, as well as a humorous drawing of her and a friend - where she's twice the poor girl's height. (I'd post, but my computer keeps crashing as I'm trying to photoshop out names.)

Is it the kind of scrapbooking I would do? No. But then, I'm also not 5.

The best part? We would have never used the items if doing traditional scrapbooking, where I'd likely cram a year's worth of things into one page.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend worth remembering

Four states and nine hours separate my children from their cousin, so they're only blessed to see her once or twice a year.

Thank goodness for fall break.

This time, they made the trek eastbound, and despite the fact my house still wasn't in tip-top shape for guests (but then, is it ever with two kids?) I consider the fact it's 7 a.m. and all other parties are asleep a minor miracle.

Take Wednesday, when my toddler woke up at 3 (a most unholy hour of night) to ask if his aunt and cousin were here. The next day it was 5. And naptimes? Forget about it. It's been a losing battle, though one I've largely stuck to at least trying to make happen.

But late, late Thursday night (OK, technically Friday morning), it happened. They arrived. And it's been a whirlwind ever since.

We started slowly, with the painstaiking process of making the world's best cinnamon rolls, forgetting that it's a four-hour process! But every kid got their hands dirty, from rolling the rolls (the girls) to punching the dough (perfect for 2 year old energy!). We went to the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, a rare treat that we could afford thanks to an awesome Groupon, to check out all things girl (a Barbie exhibit) and boy (dinosaurs and trains) and to experience the kids' first Haunted House (during not-so-frightful hours).

We went to the Broad Ripple Farmer's Market and scarfed down amazing pretzels that come in braids of three pretzels each - that my toddler knows are at this market and starts asking for the minute we arrive. We joke about the Bloody Mary mix in the bag, which we nix, and savor the chocolate milk from the local dairy.

We burn off our energy at the local park, where the girls opt for swings and mom somehow gets sucked into playing truck - which translates to: Sit on the step, immediately get up, get off the truck, get some mulch, put it somewhere and gt back on the step. Repeat for 30 minutes. I figure it's good for the thighs.

We've gotten our share of movies and Great Pumpkins and have toyed with carving our own pumpkin. We've had our share of minor squabbles and glimpses into funny conversations between the kids. I only wish 10 months didn't separate those.
Today will be another day of memories, and tomorrow they make the trek home. But really, the time is too short, and the breaks too long. Sometimes, I wish you really could click your heels three times to get to Kansas...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin bread recipe worth repeating!

Pumpkin bread is generally something you can't go wrong with, especially in the fall. I stumbled on this recipe in my grandmother's church's old cookbook, and it was gobbled down within the day. The biggest selling point? The neighbor girl down the road - one of the pickiest eaters I know of - couldn't get enough.

Pumpkin Bread - makes 2 loaves
1 c. vegetable oil
2/3 c. water
4 eggs, beaten
2 c. pumpkin
1 c. chopped pecans
3 1/2 c. flour
3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

Combine oil, water, eggs and pumpkin, stir to mix. Combine flour and remaining ingredients; stir. Add nuts. Pour into greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 1 1/2 hours.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Light bulbs for Haiti - a little lesson in empathy

"We need to buy light bulbs for Haiti," my daughter announced one afternoon as I picked her up from school.

Wow. Heavy response from a 5 year old, who usually reports in on what she played at recess. But, as she explained to me, the kids in Haiti don't have lights in their classrooms. And that day, they colored in the dark to see what it's like.

"I didn't have any problems," she reported. But something stuck with her nonetheless. For the first time, she talked about sharing her toys for the Haiti sale and giving away clothes and shoes that didn't fit her - instead of dramatically insisting how "special" each item was.

This week, priests from Haiti are visiting our church. And my daughter, just 5, is learning about life an ocean away and a little bit about generosity as well.

In recent years, my parish has made an affiliation with a church and school in Haiti. The wonderful thing about this mission is that they have made it very real for the families. We support it through an annual children's clothing sale, and fundraisers include buying a desk (about $30-40, by my recollection). It makes it real, as few people are actually able to make the mission trips.

But what's impressed me most is what they've impressed upon the children. My daughter did her school work in the dark to see what it was like without lights. They talked about how little the children had, how many needed shoes or school desks. Each day sparked a little lesson, and our conversations this week have been sprinkled with facts about the Haitian people - from the earthquake, to the fact they speak Creole, to their diet of rice and beans.

In fact my daughter, whose refusal to eat black beans led me to donate my stash to the food pantry last weekend, announced she wanted beans for dinner. When I told her I donated them to people who were hungry, she told me, "But the people in Haiti already have beans!"

Still, we've had many conversations this week about life in Haiti and about poverty - each sparked by a blossom planted by my child. I'm grateful for those. As she grows, she'll become an amazing member of this world!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Parenting efficiency?

Efficiency as a parent?

I had to chuckle this morning reading Sweet Eventide's column on her rough adjustment to life as a working mom. Is there such a thing as efficiency as a parent?

Yes I know there are super moms out there, like my former coworker, a single mom, who juggled four kids, a job and nursing school. But chaos lately seems to rule my life.

Take the other morning, so typical of my week.

My daughter wakes me up around 6 a.m. by snuggling in my bed. A few minutes later she goes back to hers. I eventually get up.

By 6:45, I've showered, dressed and asked her to get her uniform on.

By 7, I've done diaper duty, dressed the toddler and have gently reminded my daughter that while the Barbies are now dressed, she needs to be too.

By 7:15, I have a toddler begging for breakfast and am praying for patience over my daughter, who's figured out how to get a shirt on but that's all. I order her to get dressed (which she mostly does) and head downstairs for breakfast negotiations. Negotiations fail. I get a confirmation of what the toddler wants to eat, only to have him get upset when he doesn't get the same cereal as his sister. (Nevermind that he finished off the other box.) I try to remember my own breakfast while I fix breakfasts, get refills on milk and fix a lunch despite my daughter's insistence that this week she should have an additional day of hot lunch beyond the Mondays already promised.

By 7:45, I realize I've lost my morning, despite best attempts. We scramble upstairs, attempt to locate where the Elmo toothbrush has snuck off to now, let my toddler spit into the toilet, then race back downstairs.

There, I realize that our systems have once again broken down. My daughter has no socks on. One or both kids failed to put their shoes on the shoe tray last night. The backpacks have been relocated from their spot. Somehow we make it to school on time, and I just thank God for those days I don't have to be there at a specific time.

Evenings, however, are more relaxed. We benefit from the down time offered by after-school care or the daddy-daughter time on his days out of class, but the toddler is ready to eat by the time he hits the car door on his way home. Thankfully, we've worked out a meal system to feed the beast by the time he gets home. Evenings are filled with long walks, homework (yes, even the toddler gets "homework," coloring on the backs of old school papers), story time, library visits and the occasional Thomas movie. Now that the garden is largely to bed for the season, that's one thing off the worry list.

Bedtimes, like for most parents, are a challenge, and I admit there are more days than not where we're exhausted by the time little ones are asleep! (By then, my husband is in bed as well - the result of a 4 a.m. work schedule.)

Those quiet hours (or hour) is usually spent with laundry or other "quiet" chores, but more often that not it means catching up on a growing workload.

Weekends are treasures. And while I don't offer people exciting news of travels or big nights out at the start of my Monday, I get 48 hours to savor my family without the burden of schedules. And at this age, a little less adherence to the clock is just what they need.

I admit I envy those parents who work from home (and can just pop in a load of laundry while they're working) or are at home full-time (and are exempt from the harriedness of getting young kids to and from daycare and mealtime madness at the end of the day).

But for now, our chaos works. Would I like to streamline it and remove the daily headaches? Of course! But that's what makes us real.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jupiter, fog and other fall wonders

Being with a young child is a chance to rediscover everything again. And this fall is no different.

Take today, for instance. We started the day being amazed by the fog dancing across the ponds by our home, and watching the wispy clouds float across the road.

"Can we touch it?" our 5 year old asked. Running late for school, I promised that the next foggy morning we'd try to find out.

Tonight, we were treated by the bright glow of Jupiter, about an inch or two below the moon by the naked eye. The kids were amazed by it, despite our pathetic attempts to remember anything from college astronomy. My 2 year old declared he would "climb up a ladder and touch it, and then jump back down."

Or the other evening, when a family walk became a hunt for the largest, the pinkest, the most oddly shaped leaves we could find, our kids expressing joy at each find, carrying fistfuls of stems all the way home, only to toss them in our yard.

It's little moments like these that make you savor fall even more.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Meatless meals: When you're in a pinch

Six o' clock in my home is the witching hour. The kids are hungry, mom is cranky and dinner needs to be done. Fast.Drive-through may have never looked so good.Relax. You can get through a dinner in short order - in fact, meatless meal prep - chopping produce aside - can tend to go more quickly, as you don't have to worry about meat being cooked thoroughly.

Here are four easy meals that you can whip up to feed a hungry crowd of kids:

Pasta with ricotta: I read this in a cookbook about a year ago, and it's a standby for our kids on hectic nights. Cook 8 oz. pasta according to directions, drain and toss with 1 c. of ricotta cheese and a bit of butter. I'll mix it up with herbs, peas, whatever I have on hand.

Quesadillas: This is the ultimate in fast-food in our house. I keep tortillas and cheese on hand just for this. Sprinkle cheese between two tortilla shells, melt in the microwave for a minute, and serve with salsa for hungry toddlers.

Spaghetti marinara: Yes, you can grab a jar from the pantry, but fresh is best. And in late summer, when farmers are practically begging you to take their tomato stash, I score by buying the "ugly" tomatoes cheaper, make huge pots of spaghetti sauce from scratch, and freeze to reheat and enjoy year-round. I usually serve this with whole-grain or protein-enriched pasta.

Veggie stir-fry: I know the idea of preparation (cutting, washing) a bunch of veggies to eat sounds like a deal-breaking. Here's the trade-off. Because of the high heat and smaller pieces, stir-fried veggies cook extremely quickly. Plus, you don't have to worry about whether the veggies are completely cooked through (crunchy is OK), and you have the added benefit of allowing them to munch on the raw deal while you're prepping.

Having an "appetizer" of raw vegetables, crackers, etc., is not a bad thing. Take yesterday, for instance. My preschooler and I were trying a recipe, and I set aside some extra cheese and cauliflower for munching as she went. It curbed the hungries while food was cooking, and admittedly kept her a bit occupied when Mom had two pots going on the stove.
Originally published at the Green Phone Booth, April 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

What can you live without?

Reposted from last week's Green Phone Booth...

Ever have one of those days when you're feeling down on yourself? And then God slaps you back to reality?

I've had more than one of those moments lately. But one in particular I want to share. It's about an employee at our company I've never met.

This person had the misfortune of losing every possession in her home last week. Every item, as her family watched their home burn to the ground.

The cool part was watching how employees came together to help this family, people that they've never met. They brought diapers, and clothing, and shoes. An empty office stored items that were being catalogued by a coworker to make sure the family's needs were being met. It was an amazing thing to see, and I felt humbled and apologetic for my two bags of baby gear, plucked from the stash for my sister.

But the whole experience got me wondering. If I was in her shoes, what did I really need?

My library of books crammed on the shelves? Fun, but truthfully collecting dust. My stamp collection from when I was 11 that I've kept for years? Stealing space in my storeroom. Those extra clothes in my closet, waiting for a size change? Held captive from a person who could use them.

In the end, it's about keeping my family safe from harm. The other things are just ancillaries.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Afternoon at Anderson Orchard

Twist and pull.

All the way to Anderson Orchard in Mooresville, I heard that sage advice: Twist and pull, and that way you won't break the bud, and more apples can grow there. So says my well-versed 5 year old.

For our family, field trips mean activity. And while visiting places like Apple Works in Trafalgar have become a fall family tradition, between school and visitors, they will have visited it three times before the snowfall hits. So when I learned about Anderson, and how a fellow family at daycare loved it, we figured it was worth the drive to check it out.

And it was worth it. The children loved hiking (as my toddler put it) through the rows of apple trees and were thrilled to be able to harvest bags of red, yellow and green apples from the low-hanging branches. My toddler announced the apples were "juicy and crunchy" when he snuck his first bite. Pumpkins promised new another visit when their cousin is coming next month. A small shop offered pre-bagged apples of more varieties than you could count, nuts, persmissons and more. And, yes, there was a playground for them to burn off some energy.

Anderson Orchard may become our next fall treat!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Apple Priss

On the way home from the apple orchard Saturday, my daughter announced that we would make Apple Priss on the way home.

"You mean Apple Crisp," I said.

"No, Priss. With a P."

So I asked her how to make Apple Priss. Here's her advice:

"First you make the priss. You use whippped cream, and if you don't have whipped cream, you use milk. And then you use brown sugar and flour. That's how you make the priss.

"And then you put apples in it. You've got to bake the priss in the microwave for half an hour. After you're done making the priss in the microwave, put it in the bown and put apples on top of it."

Here's how it really played out:

We cored and cooked four apples, unpeeled, in the microwave for six minutes, then chopped them after they cooled. We added a random can of cherry pie filling.

For the "priss" we mixed 1/4 cup melted butter, about 1/3 cup of oatmeal and four tablespoons of brown sugar (I knocked her down from "10 scoops.")

The reality is it's an approximation. Why? I let her do her own thing, which meant that both of my kids got busted by their dad for eating the "priss" topping.

Anyway, if you're still following, we mixed the topping, put it over the pie filling, and microwaved for another five or six minutes. And for a completely made up kid recipe, it turned out great!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Indy winter markets coming soon!

Sadly, our favorite local market closes this weekend. The good news is alternatives will be open soon.

Here are a few Indianapolis and Bloomington-area winter markets opening up:

The Indianapolis Winter Farmers Market is moving this year to The Maxwell, 530 East Ohio St. It will be open Satrudays beginning Nov. 13 through April 30. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Traders Point Creamery Winter Green Market opens Nov. 6 through April, from 9 a.m. to noon on the northwest side of Indy, near Zionsville.

The Bloomington Winter Farmers Market is back at Harmony School Gym. Dates are Satrudays, Dec. 4 to March 29, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ginger chicken noodle bowl

It's not often I can cook something with a little bit of kick that all four of us can enjoy. But this recipe, tried on a chilly weekend afternoon, hit the spot. And even the child who refused to eat asked for seconds!

Ginger chicken noodle bowl
adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe

slightly less than 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
2 large carrots, shredded
ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
6 cups chicken stock (increase to 8 cups if increasing spaghetti to 1 lb.)
3/4 lb. thin spaghetti
4 green onions, cut into 2 1/2 inch lengths then cut into matchsticks
2 cups fresh crisp bean sprouts

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat; add in vegetable oil, then add in the chicken; cook until lightly browned. Add in the garlic and ginger, stir; add in the carrots; season with salt and pepper; add in the cumin and five-spice powder.

Add in the stock and bring soup to a boil. Add in the spaghetti and decrease heat to a simmer; cook for 3 minutes. Add in the green onions and bean sprouts and turn off the heat; let the soup stand for 5 minutes.

Even better the second day!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Unexpected blessings

Sometimes blessings come when you least expect it. Or most need it.

Take our little instance this weekend. We made the mistake of paying our electric bill.


Yes, my well-meaning husband paid it early online, just as I wrote the check and mailed it. A more than $200 error. Yikes. But something funny happened on the way to the poorhouse.

We decided to part ways with my daughter's kitchen, which was in great shape but outgrown, and a few other items also outgrown. I put the photos up on our employee classifieds page of our intranet. Within two hours, I had offers totalling $175. Clothing and a few other items netted another $18.75 at the used kids' shop.

A more than $200 travesty now was down to a tenth of that mishap. A crisis largely averted. And no, I don't think it's a coincidence.

Even better, some little girl is going to have one heck of a Christmas.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Weighing weight issues at 5?

My daughter is five years old. And is worried about being fat.

There, I said it.

After weeks of increasing pickiness that have peaked this week with my formerly healthy eater injesting only a bite or two at a meal, we're worried. And just a few days ago, we found out why: she's worried if she eats too much, she'll be fat.

The interesting part is that mom, who is more than a little overweight, is "just right" in her eyes. And I've been careful to never breathe a word about weight worries or dieting in our house, instead focusing on how we need to take a family walk or eat healthier instead.

And because we've tried to shelter her as much as possible, my only guess is to look at the messages she's exposed to elsewhere. Dieting messages are rampant in the media. Billboards, radio, television, you can't escape it. Even the ads on the Food Network - the ultimate celebration in food - focus heavily on what you should take when you eat too much of it.

The idea that my daughter has weight worries in kindergarten terrifies me. Granted, I've had close experience with watching a coworker's son battle an eating disorder in middle school. I expected to have discussions about the media and messages about health in a few years; I'm not naiive. I just wasn't ready for that talk yet.

However, now we're having to ramp up our talks, focusing on the positive (lots of foods are healthy and make us grow and be strong) and sadly, dabbling in the negatives of getting sick. And we've been trying to give lots of reinforcement and addressing her questions, reassuring her that we're not going to give her so much food that she gets fat, and really too much junk food is a big instigator of it all (in many cases).

We've decided to tap in my daughter's love of cooking and having her start helping me plan meals again, seeing if that won't spark her interest at mealtime. And we've decided the TV will stay off unless we're in the room and able to discuss what's on. Because little minds are curious minds, and you never know what ideas will stick.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Green (and budget!) carpet cleaner recipes

Nobody likes a sick child. And nobody likes the aftermath.

After my daughter threw up on the carpet, the recliner and a multitude of blankets last night, I realized something. As we came out of the bathroom, we were met from a chemical stench of Woolite carpet cleaner, which had drifted upstairs, overpowering everything else. Yuck.

This morning, I decided things needed to be different. I went to work trying to find a homemade solution that would be less fragrant.

Here are a few options I found online that hopefully wouldn't require a trip to the store for that 2 a.m. pinch:

Dry Carpet Cleaner (from
2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
4 to 5 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cloves

Spot test a small, inconspicuous area of your rug first to test for color stability of the fibers. Put the ingredients through a sifter until blended. Sprinkle lightly on your carpeting and allow to sit several hours overnight. Sprinkle lightly on carpet and let stand for a couple of hours. Vacuum up and enjoy your fresh fragrant carpet. Store dry carpet cleaner and deodorizer in a coffee can.

Homemade Spot Remover (from
Mix white vinegar and baking soda together to form a paste. Then, work the paste into the carpet stain with an old toothbrush, or something similar. Allow the paste to dry; then vacuum up the baking soda, and the stain should be gone.

Green Carpet Cleaner (from
Spots in carpets often remove with a simple dilution of one part vinegar, one-sixteenth part lemon juice and eight parts distilled water.

There are hundreds others that include essential oils, borax or other ingredients. But when you're tired, simple is the way to go!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Praying for an iPad

This is the saddest confession of my life. I actually prayed for an iPad.

You see, I was at a conference last week, and more vendors than not were doing a giveaway of a new iPad. And I was hooked.

And I actually prayed for one, because in just a few ways it'd make my life easier in the coming months. Sad, huh? But with my job I feel like I need some kind of mobile device (I'm in web communications after all!) and with our negative budget it's just not happening.

Not to mention the appeal of being able to log on to do my email by my kids, while they're playing, instead of traipsing to another room to boot the PC and monitor. (I could even argue it'd be an environmentally friendlier option!)

Sadly, it's not meant to be. But it would have been a great idea...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Halloween costume swaps in Indianapolis

Finding a Halloween costume without breaking your budget can be a challenge. I've been fortunate in five years of parenting to be able to have found a suitable costume out of our closet, hand-me-downs or just a small purchase of accessories (dog ears and tail) at a shop.

This year was the first time we actually bought a costume, but for a combined $15 at the resale shop, I'm not complaining too much.

Wish I had waited, though. This year, several costume swaps in Indianapolis are scheduled. Here's a few:

Carmel: Re-boo! Re-wear! Re-Scare! Oct. 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. you can green your Halloween at the Cool Creek costume swap. Bring an unwanted costume and swap it for another.

Franklin: Respook Rewear, Rescare" Oct. 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Johnson County Solid Waste Management District office. Simply bring in a gently used Halloween costume and swap it with one of our other gently used costumes. Open to Johnson County residents and families.

Not in Indy? Find other costume swaps closer to home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Garlic mushroom soup

The other day, I was dragged out to lunch for a pick-me-up at a Greek restaraunt. There, I had the most fabulous garlic-mushroom soup. I've been thinking I should make some ever since.

While I haven't yet found one with that creamy consistency, I think I could settle on this recipe, and will be happily tormenting my husband with fungus soup sometime this week!

Garlic Mushroom Soup
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
20 cloves garlic, peeled
1-1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups toasted bread crumbs
1 bunch fresh parsley, stems removed and finely chopped
10 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper

In a food processor or by hand, finely chop the garlic and 1 pound of the mushrooms. Cut the remaining 1/2 pound mushrooms into thin slices. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and saute the garlic and mushrooms for 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and saute the bread crumbs. Add the mushroom mixture to the crumbs, stir in the parsley, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the broth and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I deserve better

Two hospitalizations ina week can really get you thinking. Especially when the heart in question is someone you love.

And so the last week or two, I've been thinking. I deserve better.

I've been diabetic for more than a decade. And I deserve to keep my blood sugars in tight control, even if it means turning down the random treat in the office.

I've been a parent for five years. And I deserve to eat and drink things without worry about how they will harm my health - not to mention help me stay strong enough to keep up with my children.

I've been stressed at work and at home for longer than I care to admit. And I deserve to take the time to get the sleep at night I need, and start my day in a reasonably good, well rested mood.

Frankly, I deserve better. Maybe it's time I start showing it...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Was my conference green or just cheap?

This week, I got a break from the office and was able to carpool up to a conference for work. It was a wonderful break, I learned a lot, but I began to wonder: The conference touted itself as green, but were organizers just being cheap?

Check out my post at the Green Phone Booth.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Raspberry dessert - for diabetics!

One of the biggest treats during summer trips to Wisconsin was enjoying my grandmother's raspberry dessert. And while I remember it, I also remember her kindly setting aside a bowl of raspberries and whipped cream for my mother, a diabetic.

Years later, I realize why. The recipe was great, but it's also loaded with sugar.

This summer, I retooled the recipe with a little less sugar and a little more raspberries (taking into account a fortunate finding of a bag of frozen raspberries in our freezer).

So here is a diabetic-friendlier (albiet not perfect) recipe. I hope Grandma would approve!

Raspberry Dessert (Revisited)
1/2 cup margarine
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cups flour

Mix until crumbly. Pat into 9 x 12-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until light brown.

While baking, make topping:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups Spendla
1/4 cup cornstarch

Cook until clear in saucepan. After it is clear, remove from heat and add 1 small box sugar-free raspberry Jello. Cool.

On crust, spread 1 1/2 quarts fresh or frozen berries. Pour Jello mixture over berries. Refrigerate until set and top with whipped topping.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

More fun with less

The Conscious Shopper posted the other day about having more fun and less stuff. And there's a lot of truth to that ideal.

You have less stuff, there's less time cleaning, and more time to play.

You have less stuff, there's more room for the imagination to grow.

You have less stuff, there's more appreciation of what you have.

The challenge is getting your kids to play along.

My kids have toys. Not huge amounts of toys, but there are days it feels like it. And they don't quite understand why their friends have more electronics, more dress-ups, more Barbie accessories, more movies than they do. I try to explain it's fun to play with different things at different friends' houses, but sometimes my oldest doesn't quite get it.

The idea of sharing our blessings, too, is a tough lesson to swallow. Lately I've been back on my cleaning-out kick, and we've been rustling out baby towels to toys. But any seldom-touched toy becomes "special" in a moment's instance the minute that the idea of sharing with another child comes up. Heck, we have two Chutes and Ladders games, both given as gifts, and we're having problems getting one out of the house to give to an underpriviledged child.

But at the end of the day, despite our clutter, we can - and do - have more fun with less. At the end of the day, there are but a few treasured toys that are played with each day. At the end of the day, it's those trips to go hiking or get the rare ice cream or go to a local festival that are remembered, not the days spent shopping or watching movies.

At the end of the day, we can have more fun with less. And it's just up to us as parents to sell it.

Fall in love with gardening again

While some of the women I work with are busy ripping up their dried-up gardens, I vote it's time to start again. This weekend, I'm busy doing another round of planting (and hoping that it finally rains). On the Green Phone Booth today, I share with you a few tips on how you can fall into fall gardening - and get results.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Save the world, one drink at a time

I saw this at Fake Plastic Fish today...All I have to say is...

Who buys one glass of wine? Save the world... buy a whole bottle!!

Wednesdays and weekends

Welcome to Wednesday. Thank God the week is half over. After being sick for five days and a parent in the hospital, here's hoping for the better half!

Thought I'd key you into my new schedule. Yes, I'm officially gearing down for awhile. I'm tired of apologizing for a crazy life. And I'm sure you're tired of reading said apologies.

Instead, I promise you'll see me here on Wednesdays and weekends for the near future.

The reasons? Work. I've been blessed with one of the biggest challenges of my career, and it eats a lot of off hours as well.

Health. Seriously. My tendonitis is flaring up, the worst it's been since my reporter days. Pain is not a call to creativity.

Family. Because they count too.

So that being said, see you this weekend!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hungry in America

Wanted to share a great post at Greenest Dollar on hunger in America and the many small ways you can help. Donations to pantries are down everywhere, and the need continues to grow. Please consider helping your fellow neighbor.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hey Carmel, here's where you can stick your school supplies

I don't know whether you read the Sunday Star, but the front-page feature was on a public school teacher determined to have supplies ready for each of her students this fall.

So determined she was, and knowing that many of her students were impoverished, she ended up dumpster diving at the very affluent Carmel Public Schools. She ended up with three carloads worth of school supplies, many of them in wrappers.

This story really struck a nerve with me. And the more I've thought about it, the madder I've gotten.

It's not even about the wastefulness of tossing these supplies. It's that these could have with very little effort gone to brightening someone's day.

So, Carmel (and any other school where this occurs), here's where you can stick your school supplies:
  1. Scout troop.
  2. Freecyle.
  3. Vacation Bible Schools, preschool programs and Parent's Day Out.
  4. Day care centers.
  5. Homeless shelters.
  6. Any social service organization - many clients may have to take their children with them, and art supplies and notebooks would occupy them while they are waiting.
  7. Goodwill.
  8. Garage sales.
  9. Survival packets to take to church (or any other place where kids have to be quiet but struggle.) It's great to be able to hand a frustrated parent some extra crayons and pages to color on!
  10. Retirement homes. You'd be surprised what craft supplies will do to help our older generations who just need some stimulation!

Any place else I missed? Where else would you tell them to stick it?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Full moon kind of week

I am so glad this seven-day stretch is nearly over.

Keeping up with two kiddos is tough enough under normal circumstances. Toss in a sick husband (I'm not sure what it is about colds that makes it like kryptonite for men...), vomiting followed by more time out of daycare for pinkeye for the toddler, 5-year-old meltdowns as we adjust to school life, the kitchen sink leaking everywhere (some seal broke), and the dishwasher suddenly deciding to do little more than click-click-click and we're ready for the week to be done. Currently, we're sitting here waiting for the repairman to take one of our worries off our list. (I will never be so glad to wash dishes!)

I suppose it could be worse. Take the case of our neighbors, who lately have been rivaling us in the bad-luck stretch category. Their house was struck by lightning. The daughter, who was laid off from the school, was suddenly denied unemployment because the state can't find records from her teaching the last two years. The future son-in-law has had his car totaled not once but TWICE in the last two weeks.

Really, it's been a full moon kind of week.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not tired of zucchini yet?

For you zucchini lovers who need some more inspiration, I stumbled across this in my grandmother's recipes. I can't speak to how it tastes as I don't can yet and I don't recall trying it.

Zucchini Jam
6 cups peeled and shredded zucchini
5 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
20-ounce can crushed pineapple (drained)
1 can pineapple juice or water

Cook altogether for 6 minutes. Add 6 ounces strawberry jello and cook 6 minutes more. Pour into pint jars. Put into hot water bath 15 minutes to seal.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Roasted Corn with Basil-Shallot Vinaigrette

Amazing. That's all you need to know.

Roasted Corn with Basil-Shallot Vinaigrette
originally published on

4 ears corn
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss corn and oil to coat and spread out on a large baking sheet. Bake, stirring once, until some kernels begin to brown, about 20 minutes. Combine basil, shallot, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the corn; toss to coat. Serve warm or cold.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Squishy food

Packing school lunches is an interesting task for us. The good news is my daughter loves a lot of food.

The bad news are 1) I think her classmates' habits are rubbing off on her and 2) she's lost a front tooth. Which means along with it, she's lost her confidence.

Gone are the baby carrots we bought the first week of school. Gone are the shiny, red apples. Gone are crackers, or anything else with a crunch.

In the hopes of packing any kind of produce in her lunch, I've been reduced to the "fruit-only" bars and prepacked containers of applesauce.

Any other suggestions to make a meal?

Summer, it was good to see you

Over at the Green Phone Booth today, we say our goodbyes to the season before we take another excursion outdoors...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How does your garden grow? (Or not?)

Ninety-plus degree temps. High humidity. No rain. No relief.

I moved out of Kansas to avoid that.

But still, eight years later, this weather has found me this summer. Weeks of unseasonably hot weather has wrecked havoc on people's patience - and my plants.

I wish I could say I've had gardening success. But I've gotten less tomatoes than I have tomato plants; my lettuce and broccoli bolted before I harvested anything. My melons are the size of plums and don't grow beyond that. My zucchini I think just now is kicking out its first fruit - of three plants. In fact, I'm giving up (at least in the short term) on growing much other than a small amount of compost.

The only thing that's doing well - and very well at that - are my asparagus beans, which are vining over my raised beds and throughout my yard, producing lots of leaves and a few beans that are the length of my toddler's arm. And the flavor is wonderful in a stir-fry.

Sad to say, I've been in a holding pattern the last month, hestitant to start any fall planting, but worried that I'll miss my small window of opportunity before the October frost begins.

So how has your season held up?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hot oatmeal peaches

The other day, we stumbled on fresh peaches at a local farm stand, and each kid bought a bag. Which meant we had a lot of peaches to

Our breakfast solution was a quick (and hopefully healthier?) version of peach cobbler. The kids couldn't get enough!

Hot oatmeal peaches
5 peaches, chopped

2 T. butter
1 c. quick-cooking oatmeal
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. cinammon
1/4 c. flour

Pour topping over peaches in casserole dish. Heat in microwave for 5 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve as-is, or as a muselix with milk.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Welcome (back) Hermie!

We had a little bit of excitement in our family today. No, it wasn't that tooth, still clinging on, or the first day of kindergarten.

No, it was Hermie, who emerged 14 days after he (she) cocooned.

As my husband was cooking lunch, he noticed poor Hermie beating its head against the top of the container, trying to get out, so the kids said their goodbyes and sent the black and gold, spotted and striped butterfly off into the world.

It's a happy ending for at least one of the Hermies.

"Hermie Hermie," as my toddler calls it, was the only caterpillar our children got to see turn into a butterfly. Two fuzzy caterpillars, Jack and Lucy, met their ends in unpredictable ways. Jake escaped (but we think turned over a new leaf by getting into the other container.) Lucy was unceremoniously tossed into the trash with the container's contents after mom freaked out over Jake's escaping (not my brightest moment, true). Hermie Jack, our latest addition to the family, was another green caterpillar who sadly passed away one afternoon. As there was something liquidy in the bottom of Jack's container, what might have been Jack's chrysallis went out as well.

When you consider all the predators in this world, seeing one out of four reborn isn't bad. And I'm glad the kids got to see nature at its finest.

Monday, August 9, 2010

School lunch review: Keeping it together

Maybe it's a virtue of the economy, but lunch bags and supplies are everywhere this year. Full aisles are devoted to lunch boxes, bags, cooling packs, sigg bottles, etc. It seems not that long ago, I lived in the plastic lunch box with thermos days, so it's a bit of a surprise for a shopping mom.

I realize that I have a little higher criteria than just buying cheap supplies. I want something that holds up well, is easy to clean and hopefully BPA free. And I don't want to invest in boxes and boxes of plastic baggies to store my daughters' particular desire to eat fresh fruits and veggies!

Recently, I had the opportunity to test a few lunch supplies. And when I say test, I mean, packing a picnic lunch, stuffing it in my bags for work, leaving the leftover peanut-butter and jelly smudges and leftovers in the car in 95 degree heat and forgetting to wash it all until the next day. After all, that's very likely my life very soon!

I was able to try out products from two companies: Eco Lunch Gear, a Michigan company specializing in cloth wraps and snack bags, and Kids Konserve, a California company whose products include complete BPA-free lunch kits, thermoses, and stainless steel containers.

I love the fact that both companies were driven by mothers' desires to reduce the amount of waste created by their childrens' school lunches, a fact I'm keenly becoming aware of as I'm planning lunch menus.

Here is what I tested:

Kids Konserve Snak Pak: I have to say, while the name says "Snack," it serves well beyond that purpose. I was able to fit in a sandwich, two drink boxes, the stainless steel cup-sized snack container crammed with goldfish crackers, four granola bars and napkins, with plenty of room leftover. The "food cozy" (which at first glance I really thought was just a placemat) would work as a great solution for damp tables. I found everything easy to clean, which is key for those days that the dishes don't get done at a reasonable hour. And my stainless steel container survived my well-meaning husband's attempts to take control of the kitchen by throwing everything into the dishwasher.

Eco Lunch Gear's Sandwich Wrap: These organic cotton/nylon sandwich wraps claimed to hold in the messiest of sandwiches, promising to keep that peanut butter and jelly from inevitably leaking throughout the lunch. I didn't think fabric bags could contain it all. Surprisingly, they were right.

The bags also are machine washable - great for parents who just don't want to mess with scrubbing them at the end of the day.

Family friendly!
The great things about these items, other than they're better on the environment than boxes of baggies, is that they're easy for a young child to use. Frankly, all the environmental goodness is a waste if my kindergartener can't manage the contents. And the rubber tops and velcro closures made these things easy for her to use.

I'll be the first to admit that my samples took a bit more abuse than they might have by other testers, but it's reflective of a sometimes harried night. And I will say, even on a time strapped night, the products were easy to clean and were dry and ready to go for the morning. Makes making lunches a bit easier!

Disclosure: I did not receive any benefits from these companies other than samples of their products to try.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Blue corn cakes

This blue corn cake recipe is adapted from a recipe from Keith Snow's Harvest Eating Cookbook. It was well worth the extra effort for dinner time, and was good even reheated and served with honey at breakfast.

Blue corn cakes
Makes 10-12 corn cakes, depending on thickness and diameter

2 ears corn, silk removed
2 eggs
1 T. sugar
1/2 c. milk plus 1-2 T.
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 c. blue cornmeal
1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3-4 T. unsalted butter, divided

Toss carn with 1-2 T. olive oil and salt and roast at 375 for 15 minutes. (I roasted extra ears for later.) Cool and remove kernels.

Beat eggs and sugar. Add 1/2 cup milk and baking powder. Mix in cornmeal. Whisk in flour. Add 1-2 T. milk to "create a thick, pourable batter." Fold in kernels. Season with salt.

Health skillet and 1 T. butter over medium heat. Add 1/4 c. batter and cook until golden brown.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Harvest Eating Cookbook: A review

Practically jumping off the shelves at me at the library, Keith Snow's The Harvest Eating Cookbook: More than 200 Recipes for Cooking with Seasonal Local Ingredients is a delight to read. More than 200 recipes - and even more tempting photographs - provide fodder beyond the usual "tomato and basil salad" thought of seasonal eating. And where many "seasonal" cookbooks begin in late spring and progress through fall, Snow provides ideas to keep us going through the winter months as well.

Granted, I'm always interested in ideas for eating with the seasons, but I was just as intrigued by Snow's story. He quit his career as a hotel chef and moved to a rural area to refocus his entire way of life, following a battle with inflammation. He focuses on a need to re-establish a connection to our land, and provides resources for finding local sources of foods - always something of interest.

I dreaded the day I had to return this book. The recipes are fabulous, and I'm sure this will be a book I'll revisit soon!

Want to check out some of Snow's recipes? Visit to visit his online library.