Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy 2010! May it be a wonderful year for everyone. :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Another Step

We took another step in our journey towards vegetarianism today. We were planning to gradually eat the meat we had in our freezer from "BEFORE", but we found we just didn't want it. I finally gave it all away this afternoon and I was happy to do it. We needed the room in the freezer for all of our new goodies- more peirogies, (a family favorite), assorted items from both Amy's and Health is Wealth, frozen fruit and veggies, waffles, and so forth. I also cleared out the chicken broth and a few cans of salmon that escaped my earlier pantry purge. It feels so good to have all of that stuff OUT of our house! :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Quiet Family Christmas

How was your Christmas? Ours was lovely. The kids opened their presents in the morning then DH and I cooked and cleaned up the rest of the day. In the evening we shared a wonderful meal with family and friends followed by some lively conversation. In between kitchen duties DH managed to play a little, some on the new Wii with the kids and some on his guitar with the new amp Santa brought him. Unfortunately he didn't play with his new camera quite as much so I don't have pictures to share. :( I got several new books from my Amazon wish list- yeah! I'm currently reading a book on my (old) Kindle so I haven't cracked open the new books yet, but I will. One is the Alicia Silverstone book The Kind Diet; it's a New York Times bestseller so I'm sure it's going to be great. My mom sent me a Cricut machine which should be a lot of fun to play with too.

My dad and my brother joined us along with our family friend and her mom so there were 9 of us for dinner. My grandmother would have pulled out her fine china and crystal glasses but I settled for paper plates; no one seemed to mind. Dinner turned out well; here's what we had:

Butternut Squash Bisque Soup from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook
Turkey (humanely raised, purchased from Whole Foods)
Gravy
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Casserole (following the Cooking Light recipe instead of my grandmother's traditional, high fat recipe)
Steamed Green Beans
Cranberry Sauce (from a can; everyone likes it as well as the homemade)
Crescent Rolls
Iced Tea

My brother contributed:
wine
coffee beans from Starbucks (I even have a coffee bean grinder, bought on a whim a few weeks ago, so we were able to brew some coffee to go with dessert)

Dessert:
Key Lime Pie
Nut Balls (a raw, vegan dessert)
My dad brought a Panettone

The post dinner conversation was fun; we had 3 Spanish speakers in the bunch (my brother, who's mom is from Cuba), my friend, (who is from Columbia), and her mom, who speaks very little English, but we all communicated quite well, I think. We talked about the little ones and food and language and traveling and all sorts of things. My friend's mom said she would come and make Arepas for us one day- whoo, boy, we're looking forward to that! The evening ended too soon, but I was so tired! The Middle Child and I are fighting colds so I crashed as soon as everyone left. I just hope I didn't get anyone sick; I'd feel terrible if I did because this is an awful cold. At least it wasn't as bad yesterday as today; I'm so grateful I don't have any obligations to deal with today and I've been able to indulge myself by laying around all day reading Wives and Daughters. You just need recovery days like that every now and again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vegan Marshmallows

I made a brief mention of some vegan marshmallows I found on-line and ordered a while ago from Sweet & Sara. Well, they recently arrived and we put them to the test with a backyard campfire. I am exceedingly happy to report that they are GREAT!! They taste delicious before they are toasted and they toast well, getting that perfect lightly browned crust on the outside while going all gooey and yummy on the inside. (Some people like them burnt and charred; I am in the lightly toasted camp so I can't say how they taste when burnt.) They did seem to take a little longer to toast than the regular marshmallows but I didn't time them or anything; it may have been my impatience to try them that made it seem longer!!

The one big issue I can foresee is that I won't be able to order these over the warmer months. (And where I live, they are just about ALL warm months.) They sell ice packs and an insulated box to ship them in but even with that the ice packs were dead and everything was warm when we opened it up. It wasn't warm enough to damage the marshmallows at all, but any hotter and we would have had a problem. That nixes summer months for delivery unless we can get the local Whole Foods to carry them, and I'm going to try!

Disclaimer: I purchased these marshmallows at full price. No one asked me to write a review, I just liked the product and wanted to share the info.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Free Tickets to Disney

Along the same lines of my last post, Disney is offering a free day at one of their parks in exchange for a verified day of service. The offer starts as of January 1 and lasts until they run out of tickets or December 15th, whichever comes first. They are working with an organization called the Hands on Network to provide the opportunities to volunteer. It doesn't look like Girl Scouts is on the list, but many other organizations are! What's more, the whole family can participate. Children as young as 6 can get a ticket if they volunteer. Now talk about meaningful! How great would it be for a kid to know they EARNED a day at Walt Disney World?? That's got to feel good.

My Christmas List

If you are overwhelmed with material... blessings... as my family is, (and if you watch Hoarders or Neat or Clean House you know those blessings can actually be quite a curse if they are weighing down your life) then consider a charitable donation this holiday season. You can be like a couple I was told about recently. For their wedding, the second for both of them, they asked for guests to make donations to their favorite charity in lieu of gifts. Or you can be like my dear friend's Girl Scout troop. Her girls decided to buy toys for Toys for Tots instead of getting each other gifts for their holiday party. Warms my heart to think about it.

You could also consider making an investment that will do good for others. DH and I donated a small sum of money to Kiva a while back. Kiva makes micro-loans to entrepreneurs in third world countries enabling them to start or expand small businesses. Sometimes a bunch of neighbors will get together and form a community group that takes out the loan as one, then holds regular repayment meetings where they network and strengthen each other. The repayment rate is tremendously high. Once a loan is repaid you can take the money back out or reinvest, which is what we chose to do. Kiva also needs flat out donations to keep going as an organization, but they don't ask for much. You can read more about Kiva and how the loans are working in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, including benefiting the children in the communities where loans are being made. Turns out the entrepreneurs are often a civic minded bunch and start educational programs for the local kids.

Another favorite charitable cause is getting toys to kids for the holidays. The Eldest and I worked for the Salvation Army Angel Tree, but Toys for Tots is also a good organization. There are also other organizations that help children the world over and all year round. I've been donating to Child Fund International since I was in college.

Can't afford to donate money? Well, there are a lot of groups out there that could use your time. When I went to training to work the Angel Tree, for instance, they said they needed help not only at the trees but after all the toys are collected in their distribution center. They need drivers to pick up the toys from the trees, too, although the trees are all done for the year. (But there's always next year!) I'm sure there are many, many organizations in every community who need a helping hand over the holidays.

So what do I really want for Christmas? For everyone to help someone else in whatever way they can, peace on earth, and goodwill to all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Anniversary

My Darling Husband and I were busy getting married 21 years ago today. He was late to the wedding and someone asked me if I was worried. Well, yeah, about a car wreck or something. Worried he wouldn't show? No, I knew better. And now here we are, over 2 decades and 3 kids later with a pretty great life. I wouldn't trade what we have for anything.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's a Motto With You?

I was at a meeting last night with a wonderful group of women and a discussion of mottoes came up. A couple of the women told us they shared a motto, "it is what it is", but changed it when someone else was saying the same thing all the time. One of the other women said what I was thinking, "what's a motto with you", a quote from The Lion King. (A relevant movie quote is always good for a chuckle). Anyway, the discussion moved on, but it got me thinking about mottoes. I don't have a motto although I do have sayings, some of them passed down from my grandmother, that you'll hear me mutter from time to time. "It's not going to do itself" is one of them, when I don't want to do something but it needs to get done anyway.

Then there are quotes, which are kind of like expanded mottoes. I was never much of a quote person until recently, when I started noticing particular statements that resonate with me for one reason or another. At the moment, a particular favorite is this one: "...but what does it mean to lead an examined life? It means to be curious and ask questions. The reason you ask those questions is because you want to do the right thing, not only for yourself, but for the people around you as well." - Yvon Chouinard, founder, Patagonia, as quoted in Mother Earth News magazine. (I posted this on Facebook, too.)

Sometimes I don't know the right questions to ask, but I keep at it. I think of where I was at 21 when I met DH and where I am now at 46. I'm so much more aware; I've awakened to politics and people and our planet. I think the seeds were there when I was 21 but they needed time to grow. DH has helped with that growth because he is so curious and passionate about his beliefs. He was aware at 21 while I was still asleep, but I recognized that about him; it's one of the reasons I fell in love with him. He sets the example of reading the paper and watching the news and he debates and discusses things with me (and anyone else who will engage with him) and that has helped me figure out my own views. (Which are pretty much in line with his, but not completely.) Then I learned about spin, thanks to John Stossel. I didn't understand about spin when I was younger and I didn't know John Stossel's political leanings, but he was making an argument for something and I remember thinking whoa, this guy sounds so reasonable but I can see all sorts of flaws in his logic. He's not mentioning this, or this other thing, and that doesn't make sense at all. But if you didn't know about this or the other thing, he would sound perfectly reasonable and you would buy it. That's spin; making crazy and bad sound like logical and good.

Another incident comes to mind. It was in 2000 when Gore was running against Bush. For some reason, I was discussing politics with a bag boy at the grocery who was getting ready to vote for the first time. (Why, I don't know; maybe I had a Gore button on or something.) He said he wouldn't vote for Gore because he was too smart. Huh what? I commented "um, shouldn't we want somebody smart to be President?". That was just crazy! It still irks me when a good trait, like being smart or intellectual, is taken and twisted around and made out to be something bad. It's branded "elitism" with a sneer and made out to be something we don't want in the leader of the free world. Sheese; wake up, people!! It's spin!

DH woke me up politically but now we're both examining our lives and waking up about the vegetarian thing. This is due to the influence of friends. I've always admired my vegetarian friends through the years but I met them when they were already committed to that way of eating. Now I'm friends with someone who is going through the switch during the time I've known her, and we've had the opportunity to talk about it. She shared with me what influenced her, beginning with Food, Inc., and we've had discussions about the transition. She is the friend who invited me to a vegan Raw Foods un-cooking class which opened up a world of ideas for what to eat as a vegetarian. (We're not raw foodists, but the food they eat is really good and a lot more varied than salads and smoothies. Definitely worth eating for a few meals a week.) She also invited me to the book club where we read Eating Animals then had a fantastic meeting discussing it and enjoying the vegan foods our hostess prepared.

There's also a vegan-leaning-towards-raw mom in our homeschooling group and she's been influential as well. She also held an un-cooking class that The Middle Child and I attended about how to make ice cream with frozen bananas. (Peel and slice, freeze, let them thaw out just a few minutes so they don't break your food processor, then throw them in and blend away. She also threw a few other ingredients in there, but you can make it with just bananas. Yummy!) When the homeschooling group went to the library the moms were all checking out raw food and vegetarian cookbooks, too. I don't know that they are all vegetarian, but they are also apparently incorporating those types of meals into their diets. It's a growing trend, I'm finding.

It all comes from examining our lives, though. Asking questions and figuring out what makes sense to us based on what we are learning from a wide variety of sources, tying that in with what we know from past experience, and following the positive examples set by friends and loved ones. That's why the quote from the founder of Patagonia made such an impact at this point in my life. We are going through a process of examination which found our previous choices unsatisfactory. They didn't measure up. Eating meat on a regular, almost daily basis didn't meet the litmus test of doing "the right thing, not only for yourself, but for the people around you as well".

So that's a long, rambly philosophical post for you! Congrats if you made it all the way to the end. ;)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Parenting

These are the nights every parent dreads. (Well, dreads is a bit strong, but it's on the right track.) The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, woke up at 5:00 am with a sick tummy followed shortly thereafter by some tossed cookies. :( He didn't have much of a fever but he felt really bad so I settled him on the couch with some crackers, ginger ale, and a wet rag to wipe his face. It's a sectional sofa so I got my pillow and settled in on the other side. Not much sleeping for me, though; I roused up with every snort and snuffle he made after he finally drifted off. He woke up for a second round a few hours later then back to sleep, then again, without the tossed cookies part, for the third time. I finally called DH at that point; I was so tired I didn't know what to do for my sweet boy. He needed some Tylenol but I didn't want him to just throw it back up. DH said "liquid Tylenol", but with the arthritis in my hands (they are really stiff in the morning) and my old eyeballs I could neither open the bottle nor see to read the proper dosage, so DH had to get up to administer the meds.

After that we all drifted off again for an hour or so but then DH and the girls had to get up for their piano recital.(The Youngest isn't in music lessons yet; he's still too wild for structured lessons right now. Soon, soon.) I was so disappointed not to be able to go to the recital but someone had to stay home with The Youngest. DH offered to let me go and he would stay home but I was a wreck from the interrupted sleep. He called me when the Middle Child performed and put it on speaker phone so I could hear her live but he thought the call disconnected halfway through so he didn't call for The Eldest. (It didn't; I heard her all the way through.) He taped it though so I got to see the video after they got home. It's not the same as being there but it's still good to see them perform. My girls are so lovely and accomplished; DH and I are very proud of them both.

The Youngest seems to be a little better today. He's eating soup and hasn't thrown up so we're optimistic that this was just a 24 hour thing. Maybe he ate something that didn't agree with him; we've been eating out a lot lately. Regardless, I'm hoping the worst is over.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Transition

Things are going well with the Big Switch to a non-meat diet. A little too well, actually- I've gained 5 pounds!! We are enjoying a lot of new yummy food and I have a ton of recipes from various sources that we can't wait to try, but I'm going to have to focus on... healthier fare, shall we say. We ate out last night, for instance, and I ordered a veggie stir fry which SOUNDS healthy. Not so much when it's loaded with fat, however. (I hate it when I can FEEL the fat as I eat; that's when you know it's really too much.) The six large chunks of fried tofu were delicious and that's saying something because I'm not a big tofu fan, but the fat! Oh, the fat! It just kills me. I didn't eat all six pieces, of course, but there was still too much fat on the dish as a whole.

Now I'm all set to research vegetarian weight loss plans. Thank goodness for Amazon! I checked in a bookstore and couldn't find anything but Amazon had a few books for me. I've put the following cookbooks in my cart and will probably order them later today:
20 Minutes to Dinner: Quick, Low-Fat, Low-Calorie Vegetarian Meals
1,001 Low-Fat Vegetarian Recips: Delicious, Easy-to-Make, Healthy Meals for Everyone
Vegetarian Times Low-Fat & Fast: 150 Easy Meatless Recipes

I have to really watch what I eat or I gain so easily and I do NOT want to go back to where I was before I lost weight. :( I feel so much better now and I know I'm healthier. My triglycerides are at normal levels, for instance, and they were super high when I was heavy. I met the criteria for metabolic syndrome big time and was at major risk for heart disease as well and that's all under control now. I like my life; I want to live it and be healthy for a good long time. It's not about looks, it's about my health and quality of life which is so much more important than how I look. Carrying that weight for so many years was a self destructive behavior, the result of putting my needs on a back burner, and I'm not going back to that place anymore. No one asked me to put myself last, mind you, I did that on my own in reaction to the stress in my life when I gained the weight in the first place. Even when the stress lifted a bit it took me over a decade to get my head together again and lose the weight, but after a point my weight stabilized and I didn't continue to gain when I know I easily could have, so that was something!

But now we're making this major change to our way of eating so there's a learning curve for me to master. I'll get it together! :)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vegetarian Update

Things are going fairly well as to not eating meat. We still have meat in the freezer from before The Change and we are using it up slowly so DH made his regular spaghetti sauce with meat on Thursday. Other than that we've been meat free since just after Thanksgiving. We haven't starved, and in fact, if you remember my theory about being able to eat more? Umm, no. I've gained 4 pounds!!! Yikes! I've got to get that back under control. (Eating 5 pieces of Ghirardelli chocolate yesterday didn't help; I can't blame it on going vegetarian.) (But the peppermint bark is REALLY good and it was only a sample, and the other 4 pieces- they were all just sample sizes too so that totally shouldn't count, right?)

We're staying veg while eating out, too, although that backfired yesterday. The Eldest and I went to an awesome art show and ate at a Mediterranean food restaurant (somewhat spicy) then we all ate Thai food for dinner (very spicy) and that's not such a good idea with a sensitive stomach, I'm afraid. My tummy hurt! We did manage to find tasty vegetarian dishes to eat at both places, though. We had to ask at the Thai restaurant and the waitress was very helpful by giving us some options for items not listed on the menu. The Mediterranean restaurant had a ton of vegetarian options clearly marked as such on the menu, which was GREAT. There are some exclusively vegetarian restaurants in the area and we've checked out a couple of them, too. It's fun to explore new places and new cuisines, although the younger two children aren't so happy about it. There's been a lot of pouting lately! The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, was happy to eat chicken fingers at the Thai restaurant, though. I've told him he can, it's his choice when we go out. Just because we're vegetarian at home doesn't mean he can't eat meat on occasion when we eat somewhere else. The rest of us are sticking with it, though. The Middle Child decided she wasn't going to have chicken anymore when I told her about the fecal soup thing, as in chicken swims in it after slaughter. Which is true! You can research it if you don't believe me. (And that link is only one of many on google, so if you don't believe that source there are many, many, many others.) The manufacturers are allowed to let the chicken absorb water, which makes it heavier which means they can charge more for it, but the water they are absorbing typically has fecal matter in it. Yuck.

So that's how things are going up to this point. I found a link for a Vegetarian Starter Kit which is now in my "Links I Like" section. I haven't gone through all of it yet but I'm planning to. There is a Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid thingy, only it's not a pyramid, on the site which looks like a good reference. There's still a lot of learning to do and a lot of new things to discover! There are resources everywhere so the information is readily accessible, which makes learning about vegetarian nutrition and recipes a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Magic Moments

The two pupa (pupas? not sure of the plural) that we put in our Bugville Treehouse on Tuesday resulted in two Monarch butterflies today! When we have pupas (?) in there my habit is to check on them first thing in the morning... err, afternoon... as soon as I get up. According to the Monarch Watch website they usually hatch early in the day and sure enough, there they both were. They were pretty still to start out with, letting their wings dry I suppose, but then started fluttering around more later on. I decided on a 4:15 release time as that would allow us to invite some other kids from the neighborhood to see them go, plus it's right after The Middle Child's piano lesson. (The lovely and talented piano teacher also came out to see the release, btw.) This also gave them a good long time in the safety of the habitat to let their wings dry, which is an important consideration. I've seen pictures of butterflies with wing damage due to drying incorrectly and it is a sad thing, let me tell you. I was a little worried it would rain since it was a bit overcast (the website tells you not to release them in the rain) but the weather held. We let them go in the front yard since we have more flowers there but the flowers didn't seem to interest them. One landed on The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, for a brief moment before they took off. They flew up and off into the sky; they were lost to our sight in only a few moments. I think they were reveling in their ability to fly, personally! I mean, they are caterpillars before they go into their chrysalises (OK, I caved and looked it up- the plural of chrysalis is either chrysalises or chrysalides; the plural of pupa is pupae or pupas) then all of a sudden they emerge, and wa-la, they can FLY! I'd revel in it, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Proud Parents of a Bouncing Baby... Butterfly!

Our monarch butterfly emerged today! We kept it caged for a few hours then let it go during The Middle Child's Brownie meeting, which was unbelievably good timing. (I should play the lottery now, see if the luck holds.) When it was still in the Bugville Treehouse we were able to watch as it dried its wings by slowly opening and closing them; the colors were so crisp and lovely. The girls were enthralled with the release which happened far too quickly. It was there, then it was gone. DH tried to get pictures but all he got was a blur. Not to worry, however, as we rounded up two more chrysalises and installed them safely in the Treehouse. (It keeps them safe from predators like spiders, who can penetrate the pupa and kill the butterfly before it even has a chance to form,or at least I think they can. We saw a spider on a chrysalis several weeks ago and it had us very worried. I found the directions for moving them on the Monarch Watch website.)



Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Do We Eat Now??

I mentioned our plan to go veg to the moms in The Middle Child's Girl Scout troop at our last meeting. One of the moms responded the way I have in the past when someone told me they were vegetarian- what the heck do you feed your family, and what about protein? Yep, been there, had (have) those questions, and I'm trying to work out the answers myself. One thing I'm doing is combing through vegetarian and vegan cookbooks to find recipes we might enjoy. One author in particular is a favorite, Robin Robertson, and I have four of her cookbooks. We've used recipes of hers in the past and liked them a lot so she's my "go to" at this point. After drifting about menu planning, spending a lot of time doing my Radical Reading instead of looking for what we can eat now, I focused and found some potential recipes in a couple of her cookbooks. The next step is to WRITE THEM DOWN and put the items we don't have on hand on a shopping list so we can actually make said recipes. I can't just write them on any old scrap of paper, either; I've made an official document titled "The Food We Eat". (Actually, to distinguish it from the old "The Food We Eat" list that included meat, it's "The Food We Eat Now That We Are Vegetarian".) I typed it up in sections- what DH makes, what I make, what The Middle Child makes, Take Out, Delivery, and a section with a table I can fill in with new recipes we try and where to find them. (I HATE it when I lose a recipe, and I've done that several times in the past!) It's all very organized and a big help when I sit down to make up my weekly menu plan. I've really had a hard time NOT having that list up to date with vegetarian recipes, but now that I've plugged in the few new recipes we know we like, and I have space to add more recipes as we try them, I feel much better about the situation. This is an overwhelmingly HUGE change in our eating habits and it's easy to let it get away from me so I have to break it down into manageable steps.

Here's how it looks now:

The Food We Eat Now That We Are Vegetarians

DH’s Meals:
~ Lentil Tacos
~ Salads with Protein (egg, tofu, beans, nuts)
~ Veggie and Tempeh Stir fry
~ Veggie Deli Sandwiches
~ Vegetarian Chili (still have to find a recipe)
~ Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce (still have to find a recipe)
~ Black Bean Patties (Apocalypse Chow p. 120) with Rice, Applesauce, and Carrot Salad
~ Veggie Burgers, Waldorf Salad, Fries (that's IF we like the veggie burgers we bought to try)
~ White Bean Cassoulet (Vegan Planet p. 290)
~ Orecchiette with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts

My Meals:
~ Jamaican Black Bean and Vegetable Soup (Minutemeals Vegetarian page 40)
~ Bean-a-Roni (My own recipe modified from Beef-a-Roni by subbing a can or two of rinsed and drained beans for the beef)
~ Rotini with Tomatoes and White Beans with breadsticks
~ Pasta e Fagioli (New Vegetarian Cuisine p 82) The Middle Child loves this b/c of the mushrooms
~ Mediterranean Bean Ragout (Vegan Planet p. 291)
~ Bagel Egg Sandwiches

Meals We Both Cook:
~ Refried Bean Quesadillas

Meals We Cook Together:
~ Winter Crumble (The Little Book of Vegetarian Recipes p 28) for Earth Day; time consuming
~ Creamy Ziti Vegetable Bake (New Vegetarian Cuisine p 85) DH knife work; I assemble

Meals The Middle Child Cooks:
~ Pasta and bean soup (Minutemeals Vegetarian p 42)

Take Out:
(several local eateries)

Delivery:
Pizza Fusion

New Recipes We’ve Tried and Like

(This is a chart that won't copy here; it has one column titled "Recipe Name" and one column titled "Where to Find It")

New Recipes We Are Trying This Week:
(I actually put this in my menu planner which is handwritten every week and not part of my "What We Eat" list. I USE my "What We Eat" list and cookbooks to help fill out the menu planner.)
~ Potato and Onion Pierogi with Broccoli and Walnuts (Quick Fix Vegetarian page 111)
~ Fusilli and Summer Vegetables with Basil-Cannellini Sauce (Quick Fix Vegetarian page 120)

So this is how I'm figuring out the WHAT about our new way of eating. As for the protein question, that's really not as big a deal as I thought it would be. I'm finding throughout my reading that we are not exactly in any danger of protein deficiencies if we eat a well balanced diet, even if that diet is vegetarian. There's protein in just about everything and we don't need as much as we are led to believe. I like cookbooks that give nutrition info and I tend to choose recipes with a higher protein content, at least for now during our "transition phase", but on the days when we've been totally meatless it's been OK, even if I don't give protein a second thought. (Robin Robertson's cookbooks don't give nutrition information, my ONLY complaint about them, but the recipes use good, wholesome ingredients so I'm not going to worry about it.) That's where things stand for now; we're taking it one step at a time and figuring out things as we go. It's kind of like "sink or swim". We've made the commitment, now we have to live it.

PS: Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh, you know the Potato and Onion Pierogi with Broccoli and Walnuts recipe we were going to try from Robin Robertson's Quick Fix Vegetarian cookbook? We just ate it for dinner and all I have to say is YUM! It's on our "keeper" list for sure. Her recipes just do NOT disappoint!

Trails and Travails of a New Semi-Vegetarian; Traditions

We had our turkey for Thanksgiving and enjoyed it tremendously, kind of like a last supper since it's the last meat I plan to buy for some time. After our feast, we had pies for dessert. DH made the Sweet Potato Pie with Hazelnut Struesel from Cooking Light but forgot to pre-bake the shell. (He went off recipe and used a regular pie crust instead of the graham cracker crust called for in the recipe. You have to cook those before you put the filling in.) Luckily my dad picked up two pies from the grocery store to contribute and wound up saving the day; we ate those instead of the homemade pie.

Later on in the evening after it got dark, DH lit a fire in our fire pit on the patio. The plan was to toast marshmallows, make s'mores, and drink hot chocolate. In trying to avoid meat products, I purchased marshmallows from Whole Foods made with gelatin from fish instead of cows. Fish counts as an animal product, but at least there wouldn't be the risk of Mad Cow disease, or something. Whatever, it was a giant FAIL. While the mini-fish marshmallows (as the kids named them) were fine as a topping on the sweet potato casserole, they didn't work quite as well in a s'more. Might I say- BLECH. They were grainy like peeps before toasting, and edible. After toasting, they were grainy, like... something you wouldn't want to eat. Grainy mush; ewww!

Traditions

In spite of the marshmallow failure, we still had fun being together in front of the fire. The little ones especially LOVE a good fire and sat outside long after the rest of us went in. I've been searching for new traditions for our family since so many things have changed in recent years and a post-feast fire might be a good start. Except for my dad and brother, and my brother rarely comes to visit, we don't have any family left closer than 3 hours away. My grandmother, who lived about half an hour away, died in 2008. She was the cornerstone of my family and, until she got too elderly and sick, would orchestrate our holidays. Our traditions revolved around going to her house for the big meals and celebrations, seeing our aunts, uncles, and cousins. The last few years of her life my immediate family would still go to her house but we would cook and take the meal down to her. The aunts, uncles, and cousins tried to visit as they could but usually not on holidays. Now that she's gone I've been set adrift. Last Christmas, my first without her, was so hard; I couldn’t get into the holiday spirit but just went through the motions. I think this year will be better though, and my way to cope will be with finding our new traditions starting with that evening fire. I just wish the smoke wouldn’t make my allergies go crazy! ;)

PS: I found a place on-line that sells vegan marshmallows. I ordered a bunch; I'll write a review once I try them. I have really high hopes; after all, I'm a Girl Scout leader. Gotta have my s'mores!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What To Do?

What do I do with all of this new information I'm learning about? I'm now reading The Food Revolution, my follow up reading to Eating Animals. It is opening my eyes to the consequences MY eating habits have throughout the world and, wow, those consequences are a lot bigger than I ever thought possible. I've heard the term "lifting the veil" a lot lately, both in the book and in Food, Inc. and that's what it feels like. A veil of ignorance has been lifted and I can never go back to what I was before.

I challenge you, too, to learn more about what you eat, where it comes from, how it affects your body, the animals, other people, and the planet as a whole. I'm over halfway through The Food Revolution and I'll post a review once I finish it; I'm taking notes as I go so I can share some of the more powerful quotes. Of everything I've read and watched, this is the one book that is the most thorough. If you read nothing else, please read The Food Revolution. Lift the veil; if you don't your food could kill you.

PS: And as soon as I finished posting this, I stumbled onto an article about how meat consumption affects the planet. It's a quick little snippet for you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone is having a lovely Thanksgiving Day today. My dad will be joining us for our dinner; we've also invited a family friend and her mom but she's not sure if they'll be able to come or not. Since I started this blog because of the "Menu Plan Monday" meme, I'll go back to my roots and post our menu plan for today's big meal:

Humanely raised free range organic turkey
Gravy
Cornbread Dressing (my grandmother's recipe)
Stove Top Stuffing (special request; not my idea since I don't like food out of a box)
Sweet Potato Casserole (with marshmallows on top per The Youngest's request)
Mashed Potatoes (yes, two potato dishes, but they are both expected)
Steamed Green Beans (something healthy to balance out all the starchy stuff)
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry Sauce from the can (another special request)
Crescent Rolls
Guacamole and chips (appetizer; The Middle Child's specialty)
Sweet Potato Pie with Hazelnut Streusel (we use a regular pre-made pie crust instead of the graham cracker crust called for in the recipe)

And it's a good thing we didn't plan on pumpkin pie since there's been a crisis in the pumpkin patch this year. Guess the Great Pumpkin won't be making an appearance this year after all, but hopefully it won't affect your holiday too much. Or was that Halloween? ;)

I found out about the pumpkin crisis at the grocery yesterday. The store was PACKED and for some reason people kept asking ME where stuff was. (OK, two people, but still.) One woman was trying to find the canned pumpkin. I knew where the pie fillings were and I thought it should be there, but it wasn't. What WAS there was a sign saying "due to problems with the pumpkin harvest we do not have any canned pumpkin available; we regret the inconvenience, yadayadayada", or something like that. She freaked! "What am I going to tell so-and-so when I don't come home with the pumpkin?" I told her "make sweet potato pie; there's a great recipe on Cooking Light.com!!!" She thanked me, but somehow I don't think she's going to make the sweet potato pie. But the recipe really is great; DH made it last year and it was sooooo good. I highly recommend it, even if you can get pumpkin.

I'm not doing all the cooking this year if you were feeling sorry for me, by the way. ('Cause I know you totally were when you got a load of that menu!) We divvied up the menu and we're all making something. I'm responsible for the turkey (I hope I get it all the way cooked this year), the gravy, cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce. DH is making the green beans and pie. The Eldest is making the mashed potatoes, Stove Top stuffing, and the cranberry sauce from the can. (It's her special job to get the cranberry sauce all plated up; you can ask her about it since she's very proud of that job.) ;) The Middle Child is making the guacamole. (She makes a mean guacamole, too; not very traditional, but it's delish!) Last but not least, The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, is making the crescent rolls. It's nice that we can all work on the meal and get it done together. I just hope we all get it done on time!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bug Pictures

Here are pictures of our caterpillars and our passion vine. Upon looking at them more closely, I think the orange caterpillars on the passion vine are Gulf Fritillaries after all, not Variegated Fritillaries. It's quite obvious when looking at the on-line pictures of the caterpillars; I just couldn't remember the exact coloring when I looked them up and I hadn't taken a picture yet.

The first picture below shows two of our Monarchs on a newly planted milkweed. Oooh, almost forgot- a neighbor spotted a Monarch chrysalis on one of our plants and we were able to bring it inside and put it in our Bugville Treehouse, where it can finish its metamorphosis free from predators. And maybe we'll get to watch it emerge from its cocoon if we're really lucky!!!



Here are two of the Gulf Fritallary caterpillars. You can barely see the second one; part of him is peeking out from behind a leaf. You can see a chewed up leaf in the foreground; these guys are HUNGRY!



Here is the passion vine; can you believe we just planted that thing a few months ago, and it was no more than two feet high when it went in the ground? We may be doing battle with that plant in the future 'cause I think it's trying to take over! It hasn't flowered yet, though; I'm looking forward to that since the Passion Flowers are lovely.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Butterflies!!!

We about gave up on our butterfly garden since our milkweed attracted aphids. We thought the monarchs would pass us right on by, and they did for a while, so we stopped checking for them. Nature keeps right on going, however, even when we aren't paying attention, and today we found a Monarch caterpillar crawling across our driveway! A quick glance over at our milkweed and we knew an emergency run to Home Depot was in order. When we got back with the milkweed plants and started messing around in our garden areas The Middle Child found Monarchs all over the place! We rounded them up and put as many as we could find on the plants. Now, we're not supposed to do that under normal circumstances, because when a Monarch caterpillar leaves its milkweed plant it is looking for a place to make a chrysalis. We figured that since the plants were totally stripped of leaves they were probably looking for FOOD more than a place to cocoon, and indeed a couple of them started munching away.

THEN The Middle Child took a look at our passion vine and found caterpillars there, too, only a NEW kind of caterpillar, definitely not a Monarch. She started counting them and easily found 10. Good thing the passion vine has gone bananas where we planted it, even with my neglectful not-very-green thumb. I googled "passion vine caterpillar" and I think our caterpillars are Variegated Fritillaries but I wouldn't swear to it. They look all scary and stingy but one article I read says the "stingers" are soft and you can pick them up. I'll pass, thanks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This Vegetarian Thing...

All right, all right, I know I've been getting all radical on everybody, but when a person is learning so many new things, and many of them are downright scary, it's hard not to be passionate about it. Now we're going veg. OK, I'm saying to myself, now what? We have a couple of meatless meals but we can't eat those everyday. I have a ton of vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, and not all of them are recent purchases, I just never took the time to look through them carefully before with an eye toward eating that way on a daily basis.

Meatless Monday to the rescue! For today, anyway. I found a recipe for Lentil Bolognese that looks like it could work for us with a few modifications so that's what we're having tonight. Last night I pulled a recipe from one of my cookbooks for Rice, Black Beans, and Squash en Papillote which was pretty good. We had Quick Chicken Stir Fry for lunch with some of the meat I'm trying to use up from the freezer. (I'm not going to throw out what we already have, I'm just not buying any more once that's gone except for special occasions.) DH makes lunch so I'm having him make the meat dishes to use up what we have on hand then I make vegetarian meals for dinner to try out new recipes.

I know I could continue to use the Maverick Ranch beef I've been buying (although it is increasingly difficult to find at my local grocery store) since I'm pretty comfortable that they raise their cows in a humane manner, but then there's still the health issue. (There's also no chicken equivalent to the Maverick Ranch beef, at least not that I've been able to find.) People who eat a largely plant based diet LIVE LONGER, HEALTHIER LIVES!!! You just can't refute that.

I'm also kind of excited because I think I'll be able to eat more. I like to eat. I like to eat a lot, which is how I gained the 45 plus pounds I lost a few years ago in the first place. It's a daily struggle to keep that weight off and one of the things I do is measure out any animal protein I eat, keeping it to no more than 5 ounces per day. I won't have to do that anymore! Although I'll still have to exercise some portion control (I also measure out carbs) I don't think I'll have to be quite as strict about it. I mean, when I ate out the other day for The Middle Child's birthday and had the Pasta Pomodoro, I didn't eat it all (it was a HUGE portion) but I did eat a lot more than I would have if there had been meat in it. My weight actually dipped a little the next day, which is totally cool. (I have to weigh daily or I stick my head in the sand and wind up gaining.) I'm going to have to figure out what I can eat now and where I will still need to weigh and measure, but I think I'll be feeling a little fuller on a vegetarian diet. :)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Talking Turkey

I finished reading Eating Animals and wow- it was horrific and eye opening at the same time. So am I a vegetarian now? Well, no, but I am going to give up factory farmed meat. That means I'll be going semi-veg since it's hard to find, let alone afford, conscientiously raised meat on a regular basis. But that's OK, because this jives with another book I read recently called The Blue Zones. That book talks about how the longest lived people on the planet got to be the longest lived people on the planet, and one factor is a largely, but not necessarily exclusively, plant based diet. The Sardinians, for instance, only eat meat on special occasions. That sounds like a workable plan to me so that's what I'm going to aim for.

I've been buying only organic beef for years now, I've always avoided veal like the plague, I would rather die than eat foie gras, and I buy only free range/organic eggs so this is a natural extension of the choices I've been making to date. The beef thing started as a result of reports about mad cow disease but the veal, foie gras, and eggs were always about animal cruelty. (The kids have asked why I only buy brown eggs; I tell them it’s because they are mean to the chickens that make the white eggs. Unfortunately they are also mean to the chickens that make the brown eggs, according to the book.) I also don't eat octopus because I saw a documentary that demonstrated how intelligent they are, just to throw that out there.

I guess I should have gone veg years ago but I never could figure out what the heck to eat and feed my family without that meat based main dish. I'm learning that it's actually not as complicated as I was making it out to be. Get a couple of vegetarian or vegan cookbooks, look through them, pick out a few recipes and go to it. I started quite accidentally along this path with a cookbook called Apocalypse Chow which I purchased because it's a survival manual for eating well in post-hurricane conditions. (I’m big on hurricane preparedness.) We tested out several of the recipes and found we really liked Beat the Blahs Black Bean Patties, so we now have that meal an average of once a week. Then I found Meatless Monday and we expanded our meatless meals to a few more options. Next a friend invited me to a raw foods class, which was a lot of fun, and my eyes were opened to a great way to, um, uncook. That same friend made the switch from a traditional diet to vegan which is very inspiring. (She made the switch after watching Food, Inc, which we have from Netflix but haven't watched yet). Now I’ve read Eating Animals and I can’t stick my head in the sand anymore. Factory farming is cruel and horrible and I can no longer support it with my dollars. When I feel it necessary to eat meat I will pay more for animals that were raised with a minimum of cruelty with a goal of special occasions only.

Now here’s how I’m doing so far. We went out to eat for lunch and I ordered a lentil and bean soup. Turns out it had bacon in it so I gave it to DH. (I did eat some of it before I realized; it was really good too, darn it.) My main course was a Tomato Pasta Pomodoro which was vegetarian as far as I could tell, and was also delicious. We went out to lunch because it’s The Middle Child’s 9th birthday (happy birthday, Sweetheart) and she also requested a special meal for dinner, Delicious Beef and Potatoes. Well, it’s a special occasion so off to Whole Foods we went, where I bought grass fed beef for the recipe. (Screwed up on the food miles thing, though; I realized the sign said “from Australia” after I ordered it. Sigh.) While I was there I also ordered a free-range organic turkey for Thanksgiving and the guy PROMISED me it was humanely raised. So it’s a sputtering start, but a start nonetheless. I have a feeling this is going to be a learning process all around, but I’m up for it!

*On a side note, when I was ordering the turkey I started chatting with the guy at Whole Foods and mentioned we rented Food, Inc. but haven't watched it yet. He's seen it and he said whatever we do, DO NOT WATCH IT BEFORE THANKSGIVING!! ;)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Liberalism is Showing...

So there's a friend of mine from college who is gay. We recently reconnected through Facebook and she writes the typical posts you see on Facebook most of the time. Recently, however, she posted about freedom in our country and how discrimination against gays is still rampant. She got some interesting responses! Not all of her friends are liberal and accepting of who she is, apparently, because two people commented in support of the laws that do not allow gays to marry. I, being the loudmouth that I can be sometimes, had to stick my two cents in. (I love getting up on the old soapbox.) One guy wrote out several points he felt were important; I had my say, then some other guy wrote the following, quoted without his permission but he posted it on a semi-public forum so there:

"Caleb, I'll add one point to yours...

5) This country is NOT a democracy, it is a representative republic, and as such, the people elect representatives to speak for them. Thus, under the republican form of government, when someone says "I'm voting for X because of my beliefs" they might just be speaking for the constituents who put them in office, what a concept...

Kim, why on earth would you think that gay couples should be allowed to adopt in every state? States have the ability to set rights as determined by their populations. It seems that more and more states are over turning these kinds of rulings that were put in place by activist state courts. Don't the people get to decide the kinds of laws that they can be ruled under? After all, our constitution states that we the grant powers TO the government, not receive them FROM government.

Shari, I think you make a good point about the melting pot, however that vision has been corrupted by the political parties in the name of the multicultural agenda and pandering to an uninformed electorate to keep themselves in power. Personally, I think the LGBT community would be better served to strive for a libertarian governing style versus the social liberal one they appear to embrace so wholeheartedly. I find it interesting that so many on the ideological left are so willing to circumvent the checks and balances to create law in the courts (a la CA Prop 8) that are in direct contravention to the will of the people, just like in Maine. So, who is right, the people or the state courts?"


Here is my response, and I think I was pretty darn eloquent, so I'm putting it out there as a blog post:

Matt:
The majority can be just as tyrannical as any king or dictator could ever hope to be. Why do you think we don't have a true democracy? Our founding fathers in their wisdom knew that would be a mistake, thank goodness. That's why checks and balances were put in place as well, like our "activist" state courts. Many, many things the "majority" want in this country have historically been wrong, usually in the form of discrimination of some sort. Ask Abe Lincoln about that, for instance. We fought a war with ourselves over state's "rights" to discriminate and enslave other people. This is no different. Discrimination is wrong, period. When consenting adults want to marry it is wrong to deny them something so many others enjoy. Same for adoption. Gay couples should be allowed to adopt in EVERY state. Being gay in and of itself should NEVER be a criteria to deny a couple the right to create a family. (There may be other reasons to deny a couple the right to adopt, but being gay, or black or in an inter-racial marriage for that matter, are not among them.)

As for the libertarian style of governing, that's a pie in the sky point of view. That assumes that we are all moral and decent and capable of governing ourselves and that the "big guys" won't victimize the "little guys", that people will always do the right thing and make the right choices. HA. Take a look at recent events, like lead paint in toys, the way the large financial institutions made reckless decisions with money that affected us all and sent the entire country into an economic tailspin. The way the entire farm industry lies to us and continues with practices they KNOW are getting people sick. (I'm reading "Eating Animals" at the moment so that is particularly fresh in my mind.) Corporations are greedy, people are greedy, and they will do things that will victimize and hurt others and that needs some serious regulation. Libertarians are overly optimistic if they think the market will control that. Companies are too good at hiding what they don't want the public to know. If we veer towards a libertarian form of government too many people would be hurt. For me, it's about what we have governments FOR. Any government, not just ours. Why do we as a species have them? What does a good one look like? For me, a good form of government protects the rights of EVERY person, not just the big guys like corporations. The thug down the street shouldn't be allowed to rob and steal from his neighbors because he's bigger and stronger, nor should any business be allowed to lie to the public and sell unsafe products, passing them off as a good thing. The Madoffs of this world should go to jail. The rights of everyone, including the LGBT community, should be protected, even if the people they are being protected from are the "majority". There are other things a government should do, of course, but these things are pretty basic in my book.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review: Eating Animals

I've started reading the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I must say it's a difficult book; it's hard to read, in graphic detail, about the unnecessary suffering of living creatures and the filth that goes into our food supply, all in the name of cheap food. We're not vegan or even vegetarian, although we participate in Meatless Mondays, but we're heading that way fast. I was at the grocery store earlier tonight and I couldn't bring myself to pick up a package of chicken; it just made me so sad to think about how the animal that it came from probably lived and died, plus it kind of grossed me out to know it could have taken a dip in fecal soup after it was killed. Ewwwww!!!

Now we're going to go watch Food, Inc. DH didn't want me to get the movie from Netflix but a friend watched it and said it had a powerful impact on her. She even went cold turkey on meat. (Yes, a pun, but sadly this isn't really a laughing matter.) She went from a traditional diet straight to vegan in the space of time it took to watch that movie. I'm kind of worried about it; we like our Thanksgiving turkey!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Volunteering

Helping others is important to me and a value I'm trying to teach my children. The girls are in Girl Scouts because that is a place where we can volunteer. (We are in Girl Scouts for many other reasons as well, but that's an important one.) Recently The Eldest started volunteering at a local children's museum. She loves art so that was a natural for her and it will help her as she works on her Girl Scout Gold Award project. Last night the museum presented a fashion show as a fund raiser, but not just any fashion show. The teen volunteers made the outfits out of recycled materials! The Eldest worked on her outfit for weeks, consistently making time to move the project along; I am so proud of the dedication she put into it. The outfits were judged and the winner's outfit will be exhibited at a big art show in the coming months.

The Eldest didn't win the prize but she won so much more because of all she learned from participating in this event. She learned about hard work and dedication and how your efforts can pay off in something truly satisfying. (She liked her outfit and got a lot of positive feedback; it was really good if I do say so myself.) She learned about how these events work. She interacted with the other teen volunteers and the staff at the museum. She interacted with one of the event advisers who helped her during the workshops they held for the teens. This was important because she was getting feedback from an adult other than me, which is a good thing for a homeschooled kid to experience. She worked with her friend's mom who helped her with the sewing parts of her outfit. She talked things over with her friend who also made an outfit for the show. She learned about losing with grace. She gained experience talking in front of an audience since all of the designers presented their outfits at the end of the show during a quick interview with the MC. She was poised and collected; she was so at ease during the interview.

All in all, it was a great event for her to participate in and it culminated in a great evening out for The Eldest, DH, and I. (The little ones were at home with a sitter.) We took her out to eat afterwards and had a lovely celebratory dinner. Now it's time for her to start thinking about her outfit for next year!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Healthcare

A couple of days ago a newscaster played the Schoolhouse Rock video that puts the words of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution to music. It's something we all need to consider during the current debates about health care, and one phrase in particular comes to mind. The phrase "promote the general welfare" seems relevant to me. General welfare. Hmmm. If health care were then what it is now, as in able to actually save lives instead of just bleeding people, then I think we would have had a system of public health care a long time ago. Access to health care promotes the general welfare. We have public schools, after all. Why not public health care as well? I would love to see the government look to our school system as a model for setting up health care in this country. I think they are going about it all wrong; they are looking at ways to offer insurance to everyone. We don't need insurance, we need HEALTH CARE. The need for insurance and how to pay for insurance is the big debate when that's just all about the middle man. Chuck the insurance and go straight to the source. Provide hospitals and clinics and doctors for free the same way we provide free education. That also leaves room for private hospitals and charter hospitals and more inventive ways of delivering service. Sure there will be problems, but we can solve those as we get to them. Long waits to see a doctor? Train more doctors. Provide incentives for the best and the brightest to go to medical school and become physicians. Other problems? Solve them and continue on. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying "WE CAN'T". We live in the most powerful nation on earth; there's no excuse for denying anyone health care. WE CAN.

Gardening

I do NOT have a green thumb but I keep trying. Yesterday the little ones and I picked up a LARGE tomato plant at Costco with tomatoes already on it. Unfortunately there was also a LARGE caterpillar that had the same idea- yum, tomatoes! (Actually I think he was more interested in the leaves.) We found it before check out so we left that plant at the store; a kindly employee said he would take care of the caterpillar. (And he meant in a good way, not by killing it. He thought it was cute.) Google told us it was a tomato hornworm. Or tobacco hornworm. Whatever. It turns into a really big moth, which makes sense because it was a really big caterpillar. I've never seen a caterpillar that big before; it was easily as big as my middle finger! At first I thought it was a leaf that was all curled up. I started to touch it to figure out why it was curled up but before I made contact it MOVED!!! Startled the bejeezus out of me, but then I thought it was kind of cool and showed the kids. Creepy and cool all at the same time. Shudder.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Laundry

Blech. I HATE doing laundry. With a family of 5 it piles up quickly so there's no way to get around it. I have to admit I can go quite a while, though! Over the years I have purchased enough clothing so that we can go a good long time between rounds.

When we are absolutely out of clean clothes, here's how it works. The kids take off their dirty clothes every night and throw them on the floor. When I'm ready to sort clothes I yell at them to pick everything up and bring it to my bathroom where I have about 10 laundry baskets all spread out. They either ignore me completely (it's amazing how The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, always has to use the potty for a good long time right when I need him to do something, but there it is) or pick up just a few things and say they are done. In exasperation, and maybe a little desperation, I go to their rooms and stand outside their doors (the younger two have rooms right next to each other) and point out what they've missed, which I can clearly see from the doorway. I never actually enter The Middle Child's room since it's hazardous. The Youngest's room isn't as bad since I cleaned it up a few weeks ago so I can go in there without risking life and limb, which I do, and round up any clothes I can find. (The Eldest is supposed to wash her own clothes in theory, but she manages to sneak her stuff into my stuff when I'm not looking.)

Then the sorting. Oh, the sorting! I have to check every pocket for foreign objects (you can ask my mom about the crayon my brother left in a pocket when we were kids; I've never forgotten that lesson!) and button and zip every pair of pants. See, open zippers ruin your clothes when the teeth rub against fabric in the washer, or so I've read. The rest is pretty easy, washer to dryer, until the folding and putting away. That's where I stall out. I use separate baskets for dirty vs. clean clothes due to pinworms (we had an outbreak several years ago; I cleared them up quickly and I think it's because I don't put clean clothes in the same baskets that hold dirty clothes- that's how those critters keep reinfecting people, I'm convinced) and I've limited myself to four of them. Clean baskets, that is. So I can only have four baskets of clean clothes sitting around at once. Can't do anymore laundry until I have some clean baskets empty! Luckily DH and The Middle Child help out with the folding every now and again 'cause I HATE that part. ~:-P

So anyway, that's what I've been up to lately. Laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. I finished almost all of the clothes and I'm down to three very large loads of towels and some sheets. Woohoo!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaBloWriMo COMPLETED (Almost)

I finished the month of October with (almost) daily posts. I only missed two days and I'm very pleased with how things turned out. It was fun to try to come up with something to write about every day; it was a good creative writing exercise. Well, it was fun most days; there were a few when it was hard. The days I missed were just too busy and I barely got a chance to sit down at the computer; some days are like that, even in Australia.

So now we move on. It's November, almost time for the Middle Child's 9th birthday, then the sprint through the holidays. The holidays! Wow, the days are flying by. Sometimes I feel like I'm caught in a current in a river; there are times when I can swim and keep up with things, then other times when the current is too fast and I'm just swept along, watching life speed by and trying to keep my head above water. Guess that's a common occupational hazard for parents everywhere.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween

Some years are better than others when it comes to Halloween; this year turned out to be a good one. We hooked up with another family and walked around with them and enjoyed chatting and getting to know one another better. A few of the neighbors with kids joined up with us at various points, tagging along briefly then branching off on their own again. We met some new folks which is always a good thing. We went to an afternoon block party that is turning into a yearly tradition; we enjoy it more every time we go. They have games and activities for the kids that are so much fun. This is the one time of year when all the neighborhood kids are out and about at roughly the same time so my kids enjoy making new connections. The Eldest goes around with her friends now; yes, at 16, she still enjoys trick or treating. The weather cooperated for the most part; it was hot but it didn't rain. After Wilma a few years ago we had lovely weather but the kids had to go out early due to all the debris! This year they were able to go out when it was properly good and dark, so that aspect was fun.

They trick or treated for UNICEF and have a nice amount of change rattling around in their little orange boxes; I'll let you know how much we collected in a future post!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Scares, a Little Early

I took The Middle Child and a friend of hers (I'll call her Friend for this post) to a local Safety Expo tonight. It's the kind cities have all over; the fire and police departments come out to show off their stuff, which is pretty cool, and all sorts of local vendors hand out candy or other little freebies along with their brochures for some cheap advertising. They had several bounce houses there and the girls went in one of them for a few minutes. All of a sudden the thing started to collapse on the kids! It was sheer chaos from that point; the kids all panicked and tried to get out at once. As we learned from things like the Station Nightclub fire, that's not the best way to get out of a panic inducing situation. The Middle Child managed to get out pretty quickly but Friend was still inside. I couldn't see her; the roof was on top of the kids by this point. Parents were all around the entrance trying to deal with what was going on; I tried to yell to the kids to move back but no one heard me. Finally I saw Friend's head emerge from the entry, then she got an arm out so I grabbed her under her armpits and PULLED. She came out like a cork out of a champagne bottle! I stood her up and she ran off to The Middle Child who was a little way off; I still didn't know if she was OK, but she was moving around so that was a good sign. She was making noise, too- but was she laughing or crying? I couldn't tell! I caught up to her and, huge sigh of relief, she was laughing. I, however, was NOT laughing. I approached a kid who looked like he worked for the bounce house company and asked him what happened. He said the generator that pumps the air ran out of gas. So not cool. I fussed at him and made him all defensive, then asked what company it was and he wouldn't tell me. There was another guy I'd seen him talk to earlier so I ran over to him and sweetly asked him the name of the company, which he was only too happy to tell me, then I let him have it. (I'm PMSing, OK? I don't deal well with a crisis when I'm in this state.) He had the nerve to say he was doing this as a free service for the community and he hoped I was enjoying all the free stuff they were giving out. The NERVE!! I mean, who the heck cares about a bunch of pamphlets and some candy when a kid gets hurt? He was all "well, what am I supposed to do about it? Generators run out of gas". You know what, that is unacceptable. Like I'm supposed to tell him how to safely run his business. HE is supposed to be the expert and HE is the one who is supposed to come up with ways to keep his patrons safe.

I'm still shaking I'm so mad.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wear Pearls on Halloween

I am proud to be a part of Girl Scouts as a leader for The Middle Child's Brownie troop. I've been more involved in the past taking on other volunteer positions that involved a lot more work, but I've scaled back this year to focus on homeschooling. I'm still a big believer in Girl Scouts, however, and what they stand for and have the greatest admiration for Juliette Gordon Low, the woman who brought Girl Scouts to the United States back in 1912. She was a Halloween baby and so that day is a special holiday for Girl Scouts of the USA. I just read an article on-line about Girl Scouts who wear pearls on October 31st to honor her memory. Why pearls? Because at one point as she was trying to get Girl Scouts off the ground, Juliette sold her valuable pearls to fund the movement. It is representative of her sacrifice and tireless work on behalf of girls everywhere. I plan to wear my pearls, OK, my faux pearls, on Saturday, even over my Halloween T-shirt!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pyromaniac Among Us

My son, my darling boy, tried to burn the house down today. He was engaging in that ever popular kid sport, playing with matches. No actual harm was done to anything except his finger (which is blistered on the tip) but the potential is scary beyond words. What the heck do you do for that? What consequence can you mete out to let him know how very serious his behavior was and that he is never, ever to do that again?

And then to top it off, he lied over and over to me when I confronted him with the evidence. He said he didn't have any more matches but the entire box was stashed in the garbage can in his room; he also lied about where he found them in the first place. (He got them from a cabinet over DH's computer which he KNOWS is off limits, a cabinet I thought was safe. Obviously I was wrong. Nothing is safe from that child.) I can NOT tolerate lying; one of our top family values is honesty so I am upset beyond belief at that aspect of all this.

So now I have to come up with consequences. He's missing a festival Friday night for the matches and we're probably not going to let him trick or treat on Halloween for the lying. I am heartbroken; I love taking the kids around to trick or treat. I think this is a definite case of "this is hurting me more than it's hurting you".

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SPIDERS, Beware!

I take a walk around our neighborhood almost every day. When I walk during the day there aren't too many bugs, but as it gets cooler at night I compromise and walk at sunset but keep a watch for the buggies. Today I walked in the late afternoon since I had other things to do during my regular walk time and gave no thought to bugs at all. Big mistake; big, huge. The spiders around here are trying to catch humans, and they've figured out there are more of us during the day. I was walking along minding my own business, actually I was trying to remember the names of a bunch of new people I met last night and doing a pretty darn good job of it, when WHAP; I walked into a HUGE spider's web that spanned the distance from my head to my waist. Eeeew eeew eew!! The webs are bad but WHERE WAS THE SPIDER, more importantly, was he ON ME????? I looked like someone in a movie who ran into a spider's web in a haunted house; I hope no one had a video camera. Shudder. I had to make sure that darn critter wasn't on me, though, so I was jumping around like a loon. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Spider wasn't on the part of the web that was still on me, so I'm safe at home now.

I'm traumatized, though.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NaBloWriMo FAIL

I didn't get a post in yesterday, so that's 2 days missed for the NaBloWriMo challenge. Well, I gave it a good try, and we're nearing the finish line so I'll make a last ditch effort to get a daily post in between now and Halloween. It's been interesting! Most days were pretty easy but there were a couple where it was difficult to find something to say and the motivation to say it.

But this one is short and sweet; my bed is calling 'cause I'm T-I-R-E-D.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Middle Child Cooks!

The Middle Child cooked dinner for the family for the first time yesterday, almost entirely on her own. She made Pasta and Bean Soup, a vegetarian meal, which turned out perfectly. Keep in mind she's 8 years old, just so you're properly impressed. (OK, she'll be 9 next month, but still.) She's always enjoyed cooking and helping in the kitchen to the point where it's difficult to keep her out of there when I'm trying to cook. We had to teach her how to use a knife safely or else she'd cut things up anyway, risking life and limb, and especially fingers. When she cut herself trying to wash my favorite knife a few weeks ago, I sat down with her to watch the Good Eats episode on knives and cutting techniques. (I'm happy they aired that particular episode right when we needed it!) Alton Brown put a lot of emphasis on safety and demonstrated how to wash a knife by laying it against a cutting board in the sink, which is how she washes her knife now. And oh, yes, she has her own knife. The adult knives were too big for her so we found a chef's knife in a smaller size that suits her perfectly; she is so proud. She loves cutting up veggies!

She's been making scrambled eggs for a while now. That was another example of her determination to cook. She bugged me to teach her how to make scrambled eggs for the longest time but it's not something I make often so I put her off. Well, that didn't stop her. When I left her with our babysitter she asked the sitter to teach her. Our sitter is a love and has a hard time saying no to things like that, so she taught her, and for the next month she was making scrambled eggs left and right. I bought an Egg Genie, the kind that hard boils eggs, and she learned how to use it and now makes deviled eggs. She also decided she wanted to make guacamole when I had some avocados and now has that recipe down pat. Her guacamole is pretty good, too, I must say. With all of her practice on eggs and the other recipes she's learned to make on her own, she was ready for a full meal. I'm so proud!

I told her the other day she's a foodie, that's all there is to it. She likes to eat good, healthy food, (she's the least picky of my children), she likes to cook, and she likes to cook for other people. She's curious about food and recipes and wants to learn how to make new things. I'd say that's the very essence of a foodie!

PS: I'm adding Spatulatta, the kid's cooking website, to my list of websites I like in honor of The Middle Child. If you have a budding cook in your family that's a good website to check out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Parenting

The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, was a jerk to another kid in our homeschooling group today. Sigh. I'm still not clear on the details, but it seems my son and another boy banded together to bully one of the other boys in the group, apparently taking his prescription glasses and threatening to throw them or break them or something. He sat in time out the rest of the time we were there and totally missed out on petting the horse that came by, let me tell you. There was also a serious amount of talking about the issue, much to his chagrin, and even the other boy's mom fussed at him.

Where do they get this stuff? That is so not OK, and something DH and I work on all the time with him. He's basically a sweet, tender-hearted kid but he is also impulsive and strong willed and just doesn't think about consequences. He is easily led by his peers, unfortunately, and thinks that inappropriate, sometimes mean, things are funny. (And I'm not saying he was just following the boy he banded with in this case, I don't know who had the bright idea to be mean, it's just a trait of his.) He's also quick to use his physical strength to solve his problems (he's a moose) since he's the youngest in the family; his sisters boss him around all the time and that's how he copes. It's important to kids to feel a sense of empowerment and, as the youngest child, I recognize that he feels powerless too much of the time. I do what I can to combat that by taking him out with me for occasional one to one time and giving him choices as much as possible. I want him to know that his opinions matter in our family just as much as his sisters. He is important.

On the whole he is improving; today was a definite step backwards, but hopefully something he will learn a lesson from. I was very disappointed in his behavior and saddened that he upset the other child as much as he did, then I had to figure out what the heck to do about it, which is the hardest part. Sheese.

Sometimes being the mom sucks.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quesadillas

I have decided I absolutely love quesadillas. We've made them several times lately and it's like our version of taco night. Everyone gets to make their quesadilla their way, and we all have very different ideas as to what constitutes "perfect". I like to throw mine in the frying pan so the tortilla part gets all toasty, golden brown, and crispy. DH likes to microwave his so it gets all chewy. The kids... well, whatever. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, will make himself a PB&J sandwich for some crazy reason, but he does that a lot and I try not to look. The Eldest can usually con The Middle Child into making one for her, toasty like mine, then The Middle Child makes one for herself, and hers are different every time. For fillings, we can make this a vegetarian meal (which we did last night to make up for eating chicken on Meatless Monday) by heating up a can of vegetarian refried beans, or we can use whatever leftover meat we have on hand. For additional fillings I like caramelized onions and sauteed portabella mushrooms along with whatever fresh veggies DH chops up. DH likes just the fresh veggies for his, diced bell pepper, shredded carrots, diced onion, zucchini, tomatoes, whatever we have on hand. Then we top it with cheese, of course. I picked up some quesadilla cheese at the grocery store yesterday (didn't know they made such a thing until yesterday when I was considering the Queso Blanco cheese) and we tried that; it was pretty good! (In the past we've also used Colby Jack or cheddar; whatever cheese floats your boat.)

To assemble, I first spray my tortilla with a canola oil spray on both sides then throw it in a non-stick frying pan to start toasting. (I used to use butter but didn't want the extra calories, so I tried the spray and it worked beautifully.) Once I get the first side warmed up (I don't completely toast the inside) I flip it and put on my fillings, starting with the refried beans, which we heat beforehand, then the onions and mushrooms, then any other veggies, throw on the cheese, fold it over, then flip as needed to let the cheese melt and the tortilla finish toasting. (I use one tortilla, fillings go on one half then fold over; you could also use two tortillas, fillings go across the whole bottom tortilla and top with a second tortilla, but you'd have to partially toast the second tortilla before you get started, I'm thinking.) (And it would be quite a challenge to flip.) DH assembles his on an uncooked tortilla then zaps it in the microwave. (His way is a lot easier, but I love that toastiness from the frying pan so it's worth the extra work.) I cut mine in half and savor every delicious crunchy, gooey, yummy bite. When we make it with the refried beans, this is one of my all time favorite vegetarian meals. As long as you don't go too crazy with the cheese, this is also a super healthy low cal meal, too. Can't beat that!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nature Encounters and Eyeballs

I took The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, to the eye doctor today. He grabbed my reading glasses last week when we were going over a lesson and said he could see better with them on so I made the appointment toot sweet. What an ordeal! It was like we were trying to kill him when the assistant put the drops in his eyes, for Pete's sake. I had to set him on my lap and wrap him in a full body bear hug so she could get the drops in, and he's a strong little kid so it took everything I had. They went in though, and a little later he was ready to see the doctor. Sure enough, the doc said he could use a mild strength lens, weaker than my reading glasses, if it would make him feel better. (He came short of using the word placebo, but that's the basic idea he got across.) ;) So we looked at the eyeglasses they had there. $200.00. FOR READING GLASSES. Umm, no, thank you. I went to the local grocery and picked up a pair there for $20.00. Luckily TWC has a big old head just like his momma and a small pair of grown up glasses fit him just fine. He's been wearing them since, silly kid. You can't see far away with reading glasses, you ONLY need to put them on when you read or do things up close. You do NOT need them to play outside!! Hey, whatever. If he's happy and it's not hurting him or anyone else, more power to him.

Then we saw something cool on the way home. It was like National Geographic right in our own front yard! We were almost to our house when I saw an ibis take off from our neighbor's lawn with a small brown SNAKE in its beak. Eeesh. The snake put up a mighty struggle and sure enough, the ibis dropped the darn thing IN OUR YARD. Then there was the stand off. The ibis tried to grab the snake again but that critter was having no part of it. He was fierce! He looked like a cobra rearing up and threatening to bite the bird. The ibis was still trying to make a grab, but was backing down when Daddy Ibis flew over. Daddy Ibis was a much bigger bird and he approached the snake, but that little snake was still showing his fangs. The ibis, and there were several of them now, all conferred for a while then decided to let this particular morsel go on its way and flew off. So now they left the darn snake in my yard, stupid birds. I parked the car (we were watching from the street) and we jumped out to see if we could see where the snake went but it disappeared in a matter of seconds! We didn't walk out in the grass or anything, I didn't want to get bit, but there's not a lot of cover in our lawn. We couldn't spot him though so we, like the ibis, went on our way. I say again, eeesh. I hope he slithered on out of our yard!!! It was cool to watch, though.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meatless Monday Update

Meatless Monday is proceeding well. We don't starve on our meatless days, on the contrary we have found filling meals that leave the whole family satisfied. We failed yesterday, though, I have to admit, but it was in the name of not wasting food. I added too much chicken to chicken soup I made over the weekend and it was either eat it on Monday or throw it out. Either way, the chicken was already purchased and cooked so it wouldn't help anything (or any cause) to waste it. (We got 3 meals out of that soup.) I think that maintains the karma of the Meatless Monday challenge, as long as we don't do that regularly. We'll make up for it with an extra meatless meal later in the week so things will balance out, consumption-wise, and that's the whole point. Reduce meat consumption for the good of the planet as well as the good of our own bodies. You don't have to give up meat completely, just open yourself up to the wide variety of meatless choices out there. Check out Food Gawker's vegetarian section if you don't think meatless food is appealing!

Monday, October 19, 2009

This Just In...

DH uploaded the pictures from our Halloween event; here are a few of them. The first one is The Eldest as a zombie in one of her "Thriller" poses; the rest of them are of the younger ones on the bungee jump thingy. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, was in heaven when he was bungee jumping; there was pure delight on his face the entire time!





Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cold at Last!

We're finally getting a break from the heat! A chill came through last night while we were at our Girl Scout activity and continues today; we all took a family walk at sunset and enjoyed the change in the weather. (Except The Eldest, who is getting sick. She stayed home in bed, poor baby.) The sunset was gorgeous, as it is more often than not down our way.

For my first year of college, I attended a school in North Carolina where I saw snow for the first time in my life. (I've come to learn it wasn't much of a snow and barely counts. I didn't even get to make a snowball, sadly.) While the area was lovely, I missed my Florida sky. Most of all I missed the sunsets; we get a light show almost every day here. I try to take my walks around sunset just because it's so lovely; it's my reward for getting out there. (Plus it's cooler then, but not as buggy as it is when it gets completely dark.) We watched the sky change colors today as we walked. There weren't any clouds and the sky to the west was saturated with color that changed if you blinked. First pink, then peach, then a brilliant orange, with the blue layered on top of that. The houses and palm trees across the lake we walked next to were all in silhouette against the colors of the sky, with a few lights on here and there to add some sparkle. The kids walked along with DH and I and chatted about nothing and everything. It was one of those moments to treasure forever.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Girl Scout Activities

The whole family went to a Girl Scout Halloween event tonight. The Eldest went with her troop and volunteered at the event; the rest of us went with The Middle Child's troop. We had a lot of fun but spent a LOT of time waiting in lines. We got to go on a hay ride and put "wish boats" in the lake, although the wind kept blowing out the candles on the little bark boats before the girls could get them anywhere near the water. I made a wish that The Middle Child's troop will stay together until the girls graduate from high school!

As a leader, I'm so happy with The Middle Child's troop; I think of this as my "reward troop". I've led troops in the past that just didn't gel for one reason or another, like the moms didn't want to pitch in to help out, or they pushed for the troop to do too much when I was at a time in my life when I was limited by my two younger children, (couldn't go on overnight trips when I was nursing, for instance), or the moms didn't want to do any activities at all outside of meetings, or the girls were, umm, challenging to manage, or whatever the problems were. Not this troop, though! The moms are all great, they help out, they follow through on what they say they'll do for the girls, we all like each other, and the girls! The girls are all absolute sweethearts, every last one of them. I couldn't have put together a better troop if I'd hand picked every one of them, but I didn't. The girls all came to The Middle Child's troop from different sources. We recruited one girl through The Middle Child's pre-school program, a couple of the girls are the younger sisters of girls in a friend's troop, I recruited one girl and her mom at a grocery store when we were selling cookies and then they brought in a couple of friends, one came to us through Round Up, and one was referred to us through our council. I only knew one of the girls before she joined the troop, come to think of it. Wow; this has really worked out well for us! Here's hoping the girls stick with it through thick and thin, all the way to 12th grade. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Torture a 7 Year Old

I bought these cheap little "finger lights" at the grocery store for Halloween the other day. The Youngest, aka The Wild Child, found them and has been absolutely BESIDE himself wanting to open them and check them out. I won't let him since they are for a Halloween event we are planning to attend. You would think he was dying with all the drama! PLEASE Mom, please, we need to test them before we go, he says. Can we just try them just for a minute? Please? And so on and so forth. I am standing firm, however; he must learn to deal with delayed gratification. He really is making progress, though; he's respected my "NO" and hasn't opened them anyway, so he's maturing a little bit. There's hope for my boy, there's hope!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What to Make for Dinner??

Some days are harder than others when it comes to menu planning. This WEEK has been a tough one; I just don't feel like making any of our old stand-bys, but I can't find any new recipes that look appealing, either. Yesterday Deep Dish Taco Pizza from Cooking Light came to the rescue; you can't get much easier. I even increased the health factor by using half the meat called for in the recipe and adding a can of rinsed and drained pinto beans. Today I have no idea what to make, and here it is almost 10:00 pm. Granted we eat late, but I should be cooking by now! Instead I'm blogging, which is so helpful. ;)

Well, dinner isn't going to cook itself, so off I go.