30 June 2010

Iris at Midday

Aren't new blooms just astounding in their beauty? The precision, the intricacy, the undeniable beauty. I really couldn't name a favorite flower, as I would be overjoyed with a bundle of just about any of them.

That said, I love irises for their complexity and lack of pretension. Plus, they are my Nanie V.'s favorites. Anything that is a favorite of Nana's simply must endear itself to me.

What are some of your favorite blooms?

28 June 2010

Adventures in the Kitchen and Otherwise

This morning has been clipping along at a nice pace. Muffins made, house (pretty much) tidy, coffee and a 15 minute read on the patio. I like it. I was just settling in to toss on a blog post (and ignore the laundry that needs folding) when the phone rang.

"Did you loose a bunny?" my back-gate neighbor asks. She was most disappointed to find we did not, because ... what else might it be scuffling around in her garage? We hurried right over 'cause this sounds exciting! After much dancing about and peeping behind obligatory plastic bins ... the peeping face of a tiny gray bunny. I have never seen a wild bunny in our area before, but here in front of us was evidence they do exist.

Clad in my screaming white jeans (brilliant for catching wild animals) and my neighbor hoping to not miss their impending swimming lessons, we managed to corner the sweet fuzz and scoop him up with be-gloved hands all to the cheers of our dazzled children. While the temptation was there to keep the wee thing, I dutifully marched him back into the green space and sent him on his way. We are now busy imagining his little bunny life with his happy bunny family and the grand homecoming party they will certainly throw this evening.

Always nice to have a morning adventure.

Now. On to most important things like ... a charming way to use IKEA ramekins (I told you my trip there was marvelous!): Lemon Pudding Cakes via the always lovely Sunset magazine. Quite simple to make and oh, so extravagant to eat!

Lemon Pudding Cakes

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Set 6 ramekins (6 oz. each) in a 9- by 13-in. baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Stir in flour, milk, butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

3. In a large, clean bowl, whip egg whites and salt until firm (but not dry) peaks form. Stir one-quarter of beaten whites into egg yolk mixture until blended, then gently fold in remaining whites.

4. Pour batter into ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to come 1 in. up sides of the ramekins.

5. Bake until cake layers are set and tops are lightly golden, about 30 minutes. Remove ramekins from water bath and let cool to room temperature before serving.

**After I took the photo, I thought to add a sprinkling of turbinado sugar to the tops for sparkle and crunch. Yum.

26 June 2010

25 June 2010

Sweet Deliciousness

Jane, 2 years old

24 June 2010

Finding Adventure in a Haircut

Ten years ago I would have never asked the hairdresser to give me ... bangs. The potential horrors of slipping back into my 6th-grade self, adorned with giant, fluffy hamster-shaped bangs sprayed and shellac-ed by my handy can of Aqua-Net ... not worth it my friend, not worth it.

But then, that was me then. The older I get, the less afraid of change I seem to be. Maybe I want bangs. Maybe it will be fun! Maybe they'll be awful, but they'll grow out in a matter of months, so who cares.

Ten years ago I would never have described myself as adventurous. Well, I don't know if I really am now, but I'm much more intrigued with the possibility. New experiences, new foods, new perspectives, new places ...

It's not a new me. Nothing has really changed over time. Maybe I'm just realizing how fascinated I am with this world and God's plan for the people in it. What was He thinking when He brewed up this earthly concoction? I'd like to be part of it and not just observe from afar.

I am in awe of so many amazing people I know who embrace life with all it's challenges and opportunities. They do so with a willingness and passionate ferocity that humbles me. But once you start, it can be easy to feel puny and wimpy in comparison. Life is different for different people, isn't it. What may be a big leap for me, may be small change for someone else. We're not all in the same place to accept the same challenges. And that's okay too.

While I may dream of my own little adventures, it's not hard for me to get scared, or hop onto the worry train. I still like predictability and security. But then, does striving for that cocoon mean I'll ever actually achieve it? In my experience, no. So. Why not try that funky-looking squid, dive into homeschooling and release again, read books about Chinese vagabonds, invite people to dinner and not worry about how clean the house is, travel to Central America with a child and husband, and ... even ... volunteer for bangs again.

Adventure is what you make of it. Don't you think?

23 June 2010

Little Bits of Joy

Now if this isn't the most divine dessert, I don't know what is. Chocolate yogurt from my favorite store topped with fresh blueberries. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

And don't you love this dishtowel? The embodiment of simplistic luxuries. I picked it (and nine others!) up on my recent IKEA run, as our dishtowel situation was in a rather sorry state. Oh, and the best part? The towels were 49 cents each. 49 cents! Wouldn't they make adorable gift wrapping for some summer jam or homemade bread as a hostess gift?

21 June 2010

Pot-Bellied Smiles

This past weekend we were able to fill our time with a piano recital (well done, Lucette!), a visit from my folks, and a restful father's day with the beloved man of the house. Very nice.

We also tackled some home projects. Frustrated with the infernal charging cords that always seem to be mocking us, Pops turned a shallow desk drawer into a charging station and then even managed to squeeze the printer up into an overhead cabinet to open up more workspace on the desk itself.

Now that it's done, I'm thrilled. But I confess to a few nerves when I heard the project would require boring holes through the wall into the hall closet to thread the cords and cables and get them out of sight. We're almost done with updating the space, and I'm quite excited. I love small projects that yield big!

And speaking of which, I'm in love with the little bit of happiness that is now hanging outside the front door. After dropping my parents off at the airport, I spent a glorious couple hours perusing IKEA all on my very own. One of the items I walked away with is this adorable pot-bellied container now filled with an electric-red geranium and some chartreuse-y "creeping jenny." Every time I catch a glimpse of it out the front window, I find myself with a smile on my face.

What little projects inspire you and make you happy?

18 June 2010

Pitchin' In

I really like hanging out with my kids over the summer. It is just such a nice break from the usual routine. That said, we still need a bit of routine or we all get a little wacky. Friday is our knock-out chore day. While mama is always puttering along during the week and the kids have minor jobs (setting, clearing the table, make-bed, etc.), Friday is the day where we really pitch in together.

I like to do some clutter control and vacuuming and tackle any little chores I just haven't gotten around to during the week. As I type, I have a new batch of starch spray cooling on the counter. Sweet-orange and rosemary scented, this time. I feel so productive I may not do anything else today. Just kidding. Sort of. Well, we'll see.

As for the kids? Here's the typical run-down:

• Peter
- Take out all garbages, vacuum stairs, room purge (closets, under bed, knick-knacks), bed-sheets off.
• Lucette
- Bathroom drawer tidy-up, barrette collection and relocation (how can they get sprinkled everywhere?), stair basket (put away anything in it), room purge.
• Jane
- Household laundry collection (to be tossed over the banister and then shoved into the laundry room -- she loves this and it is a great help, but make sure you double check that a pair of underwear doesn't land on top of the foyer lamp without you noticing and then you have company come over ... I'm just sayin').

Now that summer is here, I figured it was the perfect time to train them up in some new chores. Heh, heh, heh ... (devious Mom smirk) ...

First off, Peter has now learned how to do his own laundry! Hurrah! I can't tell you how pleasing it is to hear the hum of the washer and know I had nothing to do with it. In addition, (influenced by the brilliance of my dear friend Heather!) the three tots now know how to clean their own bathroom (minus the tub and floors). Peter scrubs the toilet, Jane washes the mirror, and Lucette finishes it off with cleaning the sink and counter.

Yes, it has taken some effort on my part to train them how to do this, and yes, I could definitely do it quicker/better on my own. But, I'm so over that. It is completely worth it to spend a couple weeks instructing and inspecting their work and then be able to let it go ... knowing once they are done, it will be cleaner than when they started. Naturally, they don't necessarily glory in all the tasks set before them, but there is definitely and measure of pride they achieve from their efforts. I like that. And I like clean bathrooms!

So. What chores have you trained your kids up on? Any tried-and-true tips? I'm all ears, 'cause I loooove me a little slave labor!

Oh, Yum

Snicker. Doodle. Cupcakes. Um, does that sound good or what?

A friend of mine had mentioned she had recently made some and since then, it seems to be all the rage on the internet. I keep stumbling across scrumptious looking recipes. So, when I found dear ol' Martha had herself a recipe too, I just had to try. Here is the recipe via a new blog I'm quite taken with.

**Note: I halved the recipe for both the cupcakes and the frosting (I still had a ton of leftover frosting!) and I didn't worry about the cake flour or the vanilla paste. It all worked out just fine.

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups (150g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (150g) cake flour (not self- rising), sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks, or 224g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups (335g) sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 (295mL) cups milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.

3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8 ounce packages (450g) cream cheese, softened
1 stick (112g) unsalted butter, softened
2 lbs. (900g) confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons *vanilla bean paste

1. Using a mixer, mix the cream cheese can butter until thoroughly combined.

2. Add the vanilla paste or extract and combine well.

3. Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth and creamy.

Note: 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract or the seeds from one vanilla bean will work in place of the vanilla bean paste.

16 June 2010

A Good Rinse for the Berries

Yesterday, the tots and myself spent the morning at the strawberry fields. While the fickle sun has yet to bring in a full crop, we were able to gather enough berries for a few batches of jam. The kids were such a help this year. In fact, Jane was a berry-pickin' fool! She actually picked almost as much as I did. The older kids were flabbergasted and Jane beamed with knowing pride.

And while we've long learned to wear our rubber boots to the oft muddy strawberry rows (don't forget the plastic garbage bag to put them in once you are done!), I had a rare moment of fresh brilliance. Almost as an afterthought, I grabbed a pair of disposable latex gloves from the garage before we headed out to the fields. I always hate how sticky, dirty, gritty my hands get whilst rummaging for berries ... plus ... I'd just painted my nails.

Worked fantastically! Have you done this before? I drove home with happy, berry filled children, three flats full of the juicy jewels, and admired my clean, tidy hands. My pride lingered all the way home ... until the rinsing began and the jamming commenced. Hmm. Definitely haven't figured out how to do this part tidy yet. Oh well, off I go. I think I might go touch up my nails ...

15 June 2010

Sunny Day on the Front Walk

Apparently, just as much fun as last year. I'm loving the sunglasses.

11 June 2010

10 June 2010

Down-To-Earth Vintage

Last weekend, I managed time to sneak into a country "antique" store for about 45 minutes of vintage bliss. To me, "antiquing" often seems fancy and way out of my price range. But this little wine-country establishment is near perfection. Not too ritzy or spendy, more like fancy thrifting. Fun!

As I walked up the stairs and began eying the goody-laden porch, I immediately spotted a vintage wire basket all marvelous in it's salmony-pinkness. It didn't take much deliberation 'til I knew she was coming home with me.

She's large and sturdy and handles the girls bedroom books like a pro. Her form is stout enough to not budge as they flip through their books and I love how easy it is to see all of the titles at once.

I'm rather smitten with our new friend. She's practical, yet refined ... and not at all stuffy or pretentious. Just my style.

09 June 2010

The Development of a Seamstress

Now that summer break is here, the sewing lessons have commenced and the birthday machine is humming right along. First on the docket? Threading the machine, learning basic vocabulary (bobbin, presser foot, stitch length, seams, etc.), sewing straight and zig-zag lines, and executing the reverse stitch. Lucette is doing so well!

As Lucette worked, Jane helped me turn four pairs of ripped-knee school pants into summer shorts. She was quite helpful in placing the removed pins into the "tomato" (don't we all have one of those pin cushions?), and particularly liked wearing the severed pant-legs as arm warmers.

I'm so glad the sewing enthusiasm seems to be present in my girls. I have many fond memories of sewing lessons at my grandmother's house and how we would giggle when I would forget the "right sides together" mantra and stitch my skirt on backwards. She always had a way of making the mistakes no-big-deal. "We'll just rip it out and start again!"

Yep. That's next on the agenda: an introduction to the seam-ripper. A very necessary tool, indeed.

08 June 2010

All in a Row

And suddenly, there we all were. Contented, scarf-adorned readers.

07 June 2010

To See Us in Our Natural Habitat

This past Saturday, we had a surprising patch of glory weather to break up our days of cloud and drizzle. So nice. We decided to head out to the nature park to explore the trails and appreciate some of the sun before it disappears again.

My girls have decided that scarves are very fashionable and barely set a foot out of doors without being adorned by one. Between a sundress, scarf, and a birthday party face-painting, my little buttercup picker felt very glamorous.

However, we did not maintain the image of refinement for long. As soon as the mind-bender word puzzles and math riddles started (yes, we are one of those families), our inner geek unearthed and happily flourished.

It wasn't long until there was a sighting of the woodland Methuselah. You know you are having a good time when ecology meets bible humor.

Then the children turned on their charm full force. Ah, how a mother's heart beams with pride ...

And us girls posed for a picture in an utterly enchanted walkway in our own utterly enchanting way. (Getting repeatedly rammed in the bottom by the head of a four-year old poses it's own difficulties. Why do they do that?)

Yup. I think that about sums up our Saturday. Aren't we just special?

04 June 2010

A Conscious Effort

So far, I've been pretty good with my new year's goal of breakfasting together. When it doesn't happen, we miss it. I take this as a good sign. Friday's, however, tend to be more casual as Pops is out of the house early and we are afforded a late start.

The kids ate their mush with applesauce and I put together my own little meal. Leftover crustless quiche (mix eggs, little water, a bit of cheese, and any desired veggies and bake at 375 degrees 'til done!), yogurt with blueberries and black coffee. (Plus a new book I was happy to find at the thrift store. Nevermind the good reviews, the cover is gorgeous!)

I've been trying to be more conscious about my sugar intake and my snacking by writing down everything I eat. So revealing! While I force my kids into healthy eating habits and we all eat well at shared meals ... I don't always follow the same rules when on my own. I want to start modeling better habits for my kids as well as establishing them for myself. Writing down every morsel has been forcing me into self-accountability and definitely motivates me to eat well so I'm not embarrassed by my tally at the end of the day!

I'm also finding that preparing my meals and snacks in a simple, but attractive way works for me. I'm more likely to be satisfied, eat sitting down, and enjoy the experience. Presentation makes a world of difference, doesn't it?

I think eating can be a real struggle for those of us stay-at-home gals. We're often at home all day, food accessible, and sometimes ... it's the most exciting thing we can think of in the moment. We all know it's not a good idea to use food for entertainment or comfort, but sometimes a giant bowl of ice cream at 1:30 in the afternoon sounds really, really fantastic. Sometimes is really, really fantastic. Can you relate?

Well, I think I've finally tired of my silly mentality. Food is good! I love it! I'm just going to eat better stuff. A pint of blueberries costs way too much ... but using fruit as a treat instead of ice cream? Completely worth the extra couple bucks. And while I'll never completely swear off sugary delights (who would want to?), I'm going to be more selective and aware. For me, this isn't about weight, it's about health and moderation. It's about setting life patterns for myself. It's time to change my whole perspective.

Are you motivated too? Do you have any methods that work for you? Please do share. You girls really know how to encourage and inspire.

03 June 2010

And Why on Earth Not?

After simmering for the last 24 hours, this morning it was time to bag up the pot of chicken stock.

After ladling into freezer bags and lining them up on the counter, Jane came up to pat and rub them. "Oh, they are so waaaaarm! I wish I could put them all over me!" So we did.

After placing a towel and the wobbly juices onto her belly, she let out the most contented sigh of bliss. "Ahhhh ... so nice."

While I didn't actually get down there and try the kitchen spa therapy myself, it did look rather relaxing. Perhaps like a warm, (albeit jiggly) lead x-ray bib they put on you at the dentist office. I do always like that part of the visit. (Is it strange that I secretly wish I owned a lead x-ray bib? What a nap that thing could induce!)

So, there you have it. Morning at our house.

02 June 2010

The Foodie in Me

Normally, grocery shopping is a get-in-get-out sort of experience for me. But stick me in a Trader Joe's? A Foodie nirvana! How they can have such fantastic selection at such reasonable prices, I'll never know.

Today, Jane and I set out to augment our cupboards. All the extras that the regular grocery either doesn't have or charges too much for are easily found at our beloved TJ's. Cereal was on the list, for sure. Various grains, cold cuts and cheese ... oh, cheese. Today? White Stilton w/ Apricots. Add some pears, crusty bread and a little prosciutto and I'll be in a good mood for hours.

Plus, my kids love it here. There are always free samples in the back, little grocery carts to push, and if you spy the stuffed toad or gorilla amongst all the goods? Tell your check-out clerk and you get a prize from the treasure box. What's more, today when Jane announced to "the guy" that the monkey was hiding on top of the tortilla chips, he let her ring the big brass bell as hard as she could and yell, "monkey, monkey, monkey!!!" at the top of her lungs.

Could this place get any better? While I'm reflecting on my grocery love ... I think I'll go make lunch.