Thursday, May 31, 2012

How To Make Pots From Newspaper

I mentioned last week that while at the Autism One conference I had attended a great session about We Farm America where Seneca Kern talked about organic gardening.  The most fascinating part was making seed pots from newspaper.  It was amazingly easy and far more effective than I had thought it would be when he first started talking about it.

When I plant seeds, I can get them to sprout and grow - to a point.  It's the transplanting that I have a hard time with, and these pots solve that issue neatly.  You simply plant the newspaper, opening up the bottom just a little bit for the roots.  Brilliant, no?  I think, too, that having a larger initial pot will help develop the roots better so that they don't start to suffer as they get bigger.  I can't wait to test out that theory!

This couldn't be easier.  Even the wee ones were able to do it, and I love projects like this that can involve kids because they should know where their food comes from and that they can make a difference, too.  All you need for this is a can, some newspaper, and dirt.  Since newspapers now are all made with soy ink, you can use any newspaper so long as it isn't the glossy paper.  Sweet, no?

Step one is to rip the newspaper into strips.  You want to have a strip that is the length of a front/back page.  Rip or cut it a couple inches taller than your can.  I find I can get four good strips from a standard size newspaper, so I just cut it into quarters.

Gently and loosely wrap the newspaper around the can, leaving a little space at the top of the can.  If you wrap it too tightly, it gets hard to remove the pot from the can.  Trust me on this one.  You'll have an overlap of several inches on the bottom of the can, which is exactly what you want.  See how you don't have to have perfect edges?  This is the perfect project for me.

Fold down your edges into the center of the can bottom.  Start with where the seam of the pot is, to help it stay together later.  See how easy?

Once you have the bottom folded in, turn the can right side up again, and twist and push it against a hard surface to help get the bottom to stay in place the way you want.  This is just a couple seconds, and you don't have to push super hard.

Then, gently pull the new pot off your can.  If it comes apart a little bit, don't worry.  You can easily push it back into place, and it doesn't have to be perfect anyway.  Once you get the dirt in, and especially once it's watered, it will contain the dirt and seeds very well regardless of how sturdy it was initially.

Place your pot in something sturdy.  I used a disposable roasting pan simply because I had one handy.  You want something that is at least a couple inches deep for watering purposes.  I'm a little concerned about having something so shiny and reflective outside when the sun in shining, so I may place some extra newspaper around the edges showing so that the sunlight doesn't damage the plants, but use what you have.

Fill the pots with dirt all the way to the top.  Don't push the dirt down at all.  You never want to tamp down your dirt because you need and want the air, etc.  I used a small cup to get the dirt into the pots without making a massive mess.  It worked fairly well for me.  I would make a couple pots, then fill them, then make some more pots.  If I made too many pots without filling them, they started to tip and come open a bit without the weight of the dirt.  Once the pots are filled with dirt, you're ready to plant. 

Plant your seeds to twice the depth of the diameter of the seed.  That means it's a whole lot shallower than what I usually do.  Possibly that's another problem for me previously.  Note that I labeled my pots.  I need to know what I'm growing, and I know myself.  I'll never remember otherwise, and I want to ensure that when I plant my plot, I'm able to strategically arrange my plants.

Watering is super easy.  Again, because we don't want to have the dirt pushed down any more than necessary - or wash away the seeds accidentally.  Simply pour water into the bottom of the container you're using.  Depending on how many pots you have, you'll need a whole lot of water.  The newspaper will help to wick the water up the pots and keep them evenly watered - yet another benefit and bonus.  As your plants need to be watered going forward, you'll do the same thing; simply water the pan and the water will be absorbed from the bottom of the pots on up.

Once your pots are watered and the dirt is moistened, you'll want to remove the excess newspaper.  The newspaper wicks up the water really well, but any newspaper the isn't covering dirt will make the water evaporate faster.  Simply peel away any exposed newspaper.  As you continue to water your plants, the dirt will compact more, so you'll need to keep doing this every once in awhile.

Totally easy, right?  And green?  And amazingly effective.  I can't wait to see the impact of my garden once it's grown.  Thank you to We Farm America for sharing all this great information.  What will you plant?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Peach Coconut Milk Ice Cream - Tasty Tuesday!

I love ice cream in the summer.  There's nothing like that cool and creamy yumminess on a roasting hot summer day.  I used to make ice cream and frozen yogurt all the time, but with Little Miss' dairy allergy, I haven't made ice cream in years.  With summer coming up, I'm going back to using my awesome machine and making ice cream that is fun and also has ingredients I can pronounce in it.

With Memorial Day yesterday, I took my chance to start making good on my ice cream resolution.  With the dairy allergy, I decided to make a dairy alternative ice cream.  Have you ever had coconut milk ice cream?  It is so good and creamy and delicious, and no, it doesn't make everything taste like coconut.  It's lighter and more refreshing than regular ice cream, I think.

Peach Coconut Milk Ice Cream

2 cups coconut milk (the full fat will give you the creamiest results)
2 cups peaches - separated (it's not peach season; I used good quality jarred peaches)
2 T brown sugar (yep, brown - yum)
1 t lemon juice
1/2 juice - not syrup - from the peaches, or simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, boiled then cooled)

Before you start, ensure you have sufficiently chilled your bucket for your ice cream - assuming you're using a machine that requires you to have a frozen bucket.  Mine needs to be in the freezer overnight, and now that I'm making ice cream again, I'm keeping my buckets in the freezer permanently.

Place the coconut milk, 1 cup of the peaches, brown sugar, lemon juice, and peach juice into a blender.  Blend on high for a minute or so until it's completely incorporated.  Add the remaining cup of peaches and blend on low for ten second, just until the peaches are chopped into bite size pieces.  Honestly, this is one of those times when I fall in love with my Vita-Mix all over again.

Taste test the ice cream base - someone's gotta! - and ensure that it's too your liking.  I don't like my ice cream super sweet, so you may need to doctor it a bit to get it perfect for you.  That isn't to say that this isn't sweet - it definitely is - but it isn't syrupy.

Prepare your ice cream maker.  You don't want to take your bucket out of the freezer until this point, or it will start to melt.  Carefully pour your base into your ice cream maker, and turn it on.  Let it churn for 20-30 minutes.  You don't want it to go too long, but let it start to get a little solidified and have plenty of air incorporated.

Pour your almost ice cream into a container that you can seal and put in the freezer for two to three hours, and you're ready to go.  This ice cream does best when you let it warm up just a little bit by sitting out 10 to 15 minutes before serving.  It will keep in the freezer, but it's best in the first few days after you make it, but it's good no matter what!  We served this with fresh fruit atop it yesterday, and it was awesome.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Autism One: Organic Gardening - Get Growing This Season!

I am currently at the Autism One conference in Lombard – yay driving distance from my house! – and I again amazed by the amount of information available here.  There is absolutely no way that I can digest it all, but I’m doing my best to grab bits and pieces that I think can help me – and others – and trying to synthesize them into something that makes sense.  One of the things I love about the sessions I attend at Autism One is that they aren’t all specific to those who are interacting with others who have autism.  Many of the sessions are just generally applicable, which I think is awesome.  The first session I attended yesterday is exactly in that vein.  It’s all about creating an organic garden.

Now, I don’t know if you remember the garden that I attempted to create last year.  Let’s just say that it ended in epic failure.  I had two issues.  The first is that I was overwhelmed by the weeds currently existing (and still existing) in the area where I want to have my garden grow.  The second is that once my seedlings were large enough to transplant, I couldn’t get them out of the berry containers and egg cartons where I’d panted them.  Now?  I have a plan for the first one and the most awesome solution ever (in my not-so-humble opinion) for the second.

The presentation was given by Seneca Kern of We Farm America, an organization based in Illinois that creates organic gardens in homes, schools, and empty lots.  I love the concept, and I learned a ton from this.  My favorite quote came late in the presentation, and it really sums up the problems we face today.  “If the only animals that want to live near us are rats, pigeons, and squirrels, something is wrong.”  Sorta eye-opening, isn’t it?

From Seneca:
The power that lies in a garden.  Most society is based off the fact that we can grow food.  Now only a tiny fraction of people are growing food, and we're disconnected with it and do not know where our food comes from.  We can drive in the suburbs and see miles of corn and soy and think it's all good, but it's not.  Many people have heightened sensitivity to all sorts of things, especially chemicals. Growing our own organic gardens can help with this, plus it saves a ton of money and helps teach others of the value of this gardening.  It is the ultimate conversation starter.  Food is something we can sit down and talk about.

Kids come into the farm and have never seen a tomato or an eggplant or arugula.  Arugula isn't expensive - it's like a penny to grow.  It isn't elitist, so Seneca tries to teach people at the farm that there is no difference in what you can grow and what is at the fancy, expensive grocery stores.  You get to vote with your food.  It is a great way to build community and a foundation for economic sustainability.

He started an organization called We Farm America.  It is basically a way to get people to grow food in the easiest way.  We take a simple formula like a raised bed - get some lumber, some organic soil and some organic seeds and grow.  Permaculture is the idea that we can observe nature and then build systems that don't try to outsmart it but instead understand how to work together.  The main challenge is people - they are the hardest part in the city of Chicago.  Humans want their things in boxes; we want to make things this way even though in reality they aren't.

In order for us to get started in basics to get connected to the land, we have to accept that we need boxes, which is why we start with the raised beds.  The important thing is that the garden takes care of itself - we have busy lives, so they will put in an automatic irrigation system for the garden.  They also use organic compost to help avoid weeds and get really lush harvests.

If you’re starting a garden, a raised bed is the best way to start.  You can put a weed barrier at the base that stops the weed seeds - they can stay for 40 years.  If you don’t, as soon as you start to water your lush spot you will get "volunteers" in your garden, so the fabric barrier with stop that.  Put it down before you build the bed.  Start with a 4x8 foot bed.  Four feet is important to start because you have to be able to reach the middle of your bed.  You don't want to step on your soil or the bed.  You can reach the middle from each side with a four foot wide bed.  You have to protect your bed.  Put the wood around your bed to keep it separate from where you step.  When you step, it compacts the soil, and it makes it harder for roots to develop.

Thirty-two square feet will grow you two portions of vegetables per square foot per day in the peak season.  You square it off in one foot by one foot squares.  Most plants take only 30 percent of the water and sun in the spot.  Plant on tomato plant then lettuce around it - the lettuce helps keep the soil moist because it stops evaporation, while the tomato provides some of the shade that the lettuce is looking for.  It’s all about those symbiotic relationships.  In a square, you can plane one broccoli and 16 carrots.  Having the squares also allows you to do rotation. 

Be mindful of the systems that work.  Some plants like other plants around them, others don't.  Tomatoes and broccoli don’t like each other - it has to do with the chemicals they release, etc.  Generally, you don't want them next to each other, but you can skip a foot and plant it there.  Look up companion plants to see what to plant together.  You can look this up in the handbook at We Farm America's website.  You have to rotate – crops don't do well in the same spot each time; they deplete the soil or have predators that go after them.  Using a grid helps you track your rotations.  If you put in beans next season, the bugs attacking your potatoes will die and go away.  If you keep planting the same thing in the same place, you will have a degradation in your harvest as you go.  On that note, marigolds are a must in your garden.  They attract pollinators and also help keep away pests.  Think about perennials - strawberries and blueberries grow back every year. Try serviceberries that taste just like blueberries. You can definitely grow these in Chicago.

When building the beds, he uses wood from the Rebuilding Exchange.  It's wood that's being repurposed.  They haven't been painted or have chemicals, and they've been tempered, which hardens them and helps them resist rot.  Don't use pine or you will replace it every 2 years because it degrades too fast.  Don't use treated wood. Cedar works.  Fir may work, but he's never used it.  If you have to use pine, line it with plastic so the water can drain out - you need drainage.

You put down a weed barrier that is semipermeable - water goes down but not up.  Get a soil test before you start.  There is so much lead and arsenic and other things because of all the cars and planes and factories, even paint chips, etc. that infect your soil.  Go to University of Massachusetts, Amherst - for $10 they give you a kit for testing that results in a great set of info and recommendations of what to do with it.  Plant fava beans and sunflowers to get rid of heavy metals in your soil.

Watering is one of the most difficult things about gardening.  They put in a timer, which is great for those who have a busy schedule.  Set one in the morning and at night.  Watering in the morning is best because it's not hot.  If you're going to do it, water one hour after sunrise and one hour after sunset.  Doing it in the middle of the day is a huge waste of water because of evaporation.  There are 2 types of irrigation - poly tubing and a soaker hose or use a dripline.  He recommends using irrigation like this because it is easier on you and also because it provides a better way of watering for the plants.

If you have a rodent problem, put dog hair in the bed and around the perimeter.  It works really well.  Go to a groomer and ask for it.  It doesn't affect your plants, but the chipmunks, etc. have highly developed olfactory senses and don't like it.  You can also use pepper or chili flakes.

So many people never get to pull the vegetables out of the ground.  It's a great connection to your food when you see it right there.  Only three percent of food consumed in Illinois is actually grown in Illinois.  We have amazing soil, but it's because we grow for commodities here, for ethanol and partially hydrogenated soybean oil, etc.  We grow vegetables for industrial uses and not for consumption.  It's very inefficient, but it's easy to mechanize so we do it.  Other states around us grow substantially more food that they consume, but our food tends to travel very far.  You'll see Mexico, China, South Africa, California, etc.  How does it travel so far and still stay competitive in cost?  It comes from someone's wages and environment.  Traveling is gas and wages, the pollution and all the waste.

For rain barrels, go to delis or factories or car washes.  They get product in huge barrels.  They will give it to you for free.  You just have to get a biodegradable rinse to clean it.  It's much cheaper than the $70 barrels.

Putting your hands in soil releases endorphins.  It has the same effect as Prozac.  It makes a real difference - and so cheap.  Get your kids playing in the dirt.  There are also so many great microbes that you want to be exposed to for your overall health.  The electromagnetic fields from the gravitational pull is also very healing.  It's like walking on the beach with your bare feet.  It makes you feel exhilarated and calmed.  It helps to ground you.

I don't know about you, but I'm inspired.  This has solved my first issue - especially since I've discovered that We Farm America will actually come to my house to build my raised bed for me.  Ahem.  The second issue with the seedlings?  Well, I learned a pretty awesome trick for that, too, but that's another post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Believe

I believe.  I believe in right and wrong.  I believe that hard work matters in the end.  I believe that it's important to know what we're putting in our bodies.  I believe it's important to stand up for what I believe in.  I believe in treating people the way I want to be treated.  I believe in telling the truth.  I believe spending time with family and friends is important.  I believe in the value of education.  I believe in sports superstitions.  I believe in saving money where I can, in being frugal without being cheap - and that there is a difference.

And I want the wee ones to believe, too.  I want them to believe in this and in so much more.

As a parent, this is one of our toughest jobs.  How do we pass on our beliefs to our children such that they become ingrained in them, something that they simply know.  We can't just lecture them, as that quickly gets old.  Talk is cheap, anyway.  I know we need to model what we believe, live it and breathe it, but that doesn't guarantee that our children will absorb those beliefs automatically.  There isn't a magic wand or a simple booklet that lays out steps one through twenty-seven for how to get our children to grow up with our beliefs.

Part of growing up is learning to think independently and decide what you will reject from your upbringing and what you will incorporate going forward.  And that fits in nicely with my belief in standing up for what you believe in.  Except that I hope and pray that the wee ones end up believing what I want them to believe.

And so I talk about things that are yucky - about how I really hope they never smoke because it smells so bad and is gross and costs a lot of money and will make you old before your time and you'll get sick from it and all the other arguments I can possibly marshal.  And they will never see me smoke, not because I hide it from them like some of my friends, but because I simply don't smoke.  And then I cross my fingers and make a wish on the first star I see at night and then just hope and pray that something sticks.

I do the same with hard work.  We talk about how hard something was but then how awesome it felt once they finished it or figured it out.  I let them see me working hard and how I deal with my frustration in those situations.  I talk about other people I see who have had to work hard in life to get where they are and how happy they are because of it.  This is an important lesson for me to impart because so much of my life was too was too easy.  I had too much handed to me, and when I finally had to work hard, I didn't know how.  And I didn't want to.  It was a hard lesson to learn, and I do all I can to ensure that the wee ones learn it early.

And so it goes.  My list is fluid and never-ending, and the how's and why's are always changing, too.  There's something I want from you, though.  I want to know:

What do you believe in?

In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by the book "Julia's Child" by Sarah Pinneo as part of the From Left to Write book club where we write posts inspired by books rather than actual book reviews.  I received a copy of the book for review purposes but was not compensated.  As always, all opinions expressed remain my own.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CousCous Salad - Tasty Tuesday!

Memorial Day is next Monday, and I can't wait.  Around here, that always have plenty of food and family and friends - and of course, fun.  My focus right now is on the food.  While I have some favorites that I know we'll pull out, Mister Man's bacon cheddar stuffed burgers for example, I always like to try to find something new and different just for fun.

As I scrolled mentally through the possibilities, I decided I wanted to do something with tomatoes and avocadoes, but I didn’t want to do a straight avocado salad. I’ve done that before As I strolled through the grocery store picking up ingredients – tomatoes, avocado, onions, garlic, and the like, I decided I wanted to make it with couscous, not the least of which because I have a huge bag of couscous at home and hadn’t used it in awhile.

It was a good call. I got creative with the ingredients and the cooking, and oh did the salad turn out delicious. It’s literally making my mouth water just looking at it. When I make it on Monday for our Memorial Day barbecue, I’ll add a little queso fresco to it (which I left out so dairy free Little Miss could eat it), but aside from that I am satisfied with attempt one. So what are you making for Memorial Day?

CousCous Salad

1 c couscous (I used the Israeli pearl couscous, but feel free to use what you have)
1 1/2 c chicken stock (or vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian/vegan)
1/2 c chopped onion
2 T olive oil
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced (please don't use the nasty bottled stuff)
2 T dried parsley (or 1/4 c fresh, chopped)
2 t salt
2 avocadoes
2 limes, juiced
1 t sugar or honey
1 c corn kernals (frozen or fresh and roasted)
1/2 c queso fresco

Heat the stock to the point of steaming but not boiling in a saucepan.  While this is heating, add the olive oil to a different hot pan - not a nonstick one, but a good cast iron or heavy aluminum one.  Once it starts to shimmer, add the onion and let it cook for a couple minutes while you chop your tomatoes.  Add the tomatoes and then chop the garlic and add it.  Add the couscous, as well, and stir for a couple minutes while it toasts.

Pour the hot stock atop the couscous.  Add the salt and parsley (only if you're doing dried - if you're using fresh, add it at the very end when you add the lime juice),  and cover the pot to simmer the mixture for 8-10 minutes.

While the mixture is simmering, cut the avocado into cubes and crumble the queso fresco.  Once the couscous is cooked, stir in the corn and lime juice (and parsley if you're using fresh), along with the sugar.  Once this is mixed, add the avocado and gently mix it.  Sprinkle the queso fresco atop the salad and serve while still warm or chill and serve the next day.  This will keep for just a day or so because of the avocado, but I doubt it will last that long!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Someone Didn't Want Me To Get a Pedicure

I had a wedding to attend on Saturday, so trust me, there was a mani/pedi in my future.  It had been a long time, and they needed the attention, especially since I was wearing open toe shoes.  I had the perfect color chosen for my toes, but my fingers were flexible.  I wanted a deep, rich, true silver.  And I know that the metallics are out there, so I was ready.

As I walked into the salon, I noticed all the workers were engaged, but I wasn't worried.  It was 1:15pm, and even allowing myself two hours, I had plenty of time.  They waved me to choose a color, which I proceeded to do.  And I discovered that finding that true silver wasn't as easy as I'd thought.  Fortunately, I had time to paint little swatches on my fingers to find the perfect shade.  And I did.  Yay!  I even found a nail color that worked for what I wanted.  After amusing myself choosing colors for fifteen minutes or so, they waved me to a chair that had the water running.  Yay, I got the last empty chair.

That's when I saw the other people waiting for service, somewhat hidden around the corner of the door.  I wasn't too worried, though - it was only two people sitting there.  Plus, I was already in a chair soaking my feet.  I picked up my requisite trashy magazine that I never read anywhere but at the salon and started to relax.

And I continued to read.  Things I learned while reading that magazine?  A) I read too fast.  I finished the magazine before they were ready for me.  B) It's prom season, so all the girls not only want mani/pedis, but they want the flowers and other decorations painted on their nails and toes.  Oh, and they also want to be waxed - all of which means they need more time.  C) Apparently for prom, either parents now no longer require that their children go to school the day before prom or schools no longer have afternoon classes the day before prom.  I sort of don't want to know which.  D) I'm not the only one waiting in the feet soaking stage.  Two of the five chair - in addition to my own - were also awaiting pedicures.

Oops.  I should have called for an appointment, but who knew?

When the guy was finally ready for me, he was hugely apologetic.  It wasn't his fault, but yikes!  I would have appreciated the heads up.  Although, I might not have gone home and come back later, since I walked there from my house... in my shoes that are oh so cute and perfect for a pedicure because they don't even come close to touching my toes.  The only issue is that they sort of rub in the wrong place on one ankle.  And I wasn't up for another walk at that point.

As he finished buffing and polishing my poor piggies, he pulled out the gorgeous polish I'd chosen and commenced work.  After the second or third toe, he looked up at me apologetically.  I'm so sorry.  This polish is almost gone.  There isn't enough here to do your nails.  Seriously?  Well, yeah.  Of course.  I begged to see if we could do one coat with this polish and then a second coat with another polish to at least give most of the effect I was looking for.  Nope.  He tried finding another silver polish, but none of them were opaque enough, so I went back searching for my previous second choice.  It took us awhile to find the right one, but eventually we found it.  Phew.

When we got to my manicure, my polish had somehow disappeared.  Apparently someone was a little too vigilant in the cleanup while we were figuring out what replacement toe polish to use.  When my guy had first started working and apologized for the delay, I had joked that it was fine as I had until 4:15 before I had to be home for the bus.  My final top coat went one at 3:55.

I did manage to get home before the bus by about five minutes, but so much for my doing my hair nicely for the rehearsal dinner.  And my makeup was the quick regular day makeup, as we raced back out the door once the wee ones got home.  The other things I'd planned to do after completing my mani/pedi?  Yeah, they didn't happen either.  Forces were conspiring against me.  Someone didn't want me to get a pedicure.  But I did anyway... and they do look pretty cool.

What is your summer foot routine?  What colors are you into right now?

Friday, May 18, 2012

When It's Your Child Acting Out On The Bus

The bus is a scary place for me.  I hear more horror stories from friends of mine about things that go on during the bus ride to and from school.  I have heard about the red marks on children from others hitting or punching them.  I've heard about the fifth graders initiating kindergartners and first graders into the realm of adulthood with information they quite simply shouldn't know.  And you don't want to know what I've just heard about what happens on the middle school bus.

The bus that goes to our neighborhood school is a big problem.  With 69 students on the route now, there are three to four students in every single seat, which helps to explain - but not excuse - some of the chaos.  It's part of the reason I'm so grateful that Little Miss attends another school and so rides a small bus with just a couple other children.

That bus ride hasn't always been smooth, as there is a child on the bus who picks on Little Miss by opening her backpack or taking our her ponytail or something similar.  It's annoying, but we're working with the school on it and giving Little Miss strategies to deal with it (we know the boy fairly well and know that he has many social issues and has an IEP for several reasons, so we're much more forgiving than were it someone who is simply malicious rather than not knowing yet how to interact appropriately with others).

Mister Man is now also riding her bus as of Monday, and that's another post entirely.  Needless to say, with Mister Man and Little Miss riding together now and interacting like the good friends they are, the other boy has been acting out more to get Little Miss's attention for himself.  He's been pinching Mister Man, getting other children to dump cardboard pieces over his head, and calling him names.  Again, we've been working with the school on this,  and it's starting to calm down.

While I find this frustrating, I understand where it's coming from to some degree.  It's the children who ride the bus who know better and yet still do the inappropriate things that drive me batty.  So this morning when the bus driver beckoned me towards her after the wee ones got on the bus, I sighed and asked her how things were going on the bus, figuring there were more issues with this boy.

I was wrong.  She actually wanted to talk to me about my children who yesterday on the bus were apparently talking and singing about inappropriate body parts, using the anatomically correct language.  I was mortified.  My children?  But.... but they don't talk like that.  They don't use that language.  Yet they did.  And I was appalled because my home training apparently hasn't sunk in.

I quickly pulled them off the bus and gave them a tongue lashing over what is and is not appropriate behavior not just on the bus but in general.  And the mention of consequences was mentioned, though aside from explaining that I would take away things they care about and privileges they treasure, I was too flabbergasted to come up with something specific.  Thinking now, they will be writing an apology letter to the bus driver this weekend. 

I've asked that she let me know immediately if there are any recurrences of this, but I'm still appalled.  My children know better - or should - but that already wasn't enough to stop them.  Do you face similar issues on the bus with your children?  How do you keep your children safe?  And what would you do were you to find that your children were part of the problem?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

BlogHer Book Club: Where She Went

I'm loving this time of year.  It's spring, and the gala at Mister Man's school is finally starting to wind down (it happens on Saturday, so my role of tracking donations and writing descriptions for the brochure is near an end) so I have been spending some time sitting outside reading.  It's awesome, and I love the most recent book I finished, Where She Went by Gayle Forman.  It is the sequel to her novel If I Stay, though it isn't necessary to have read that first.  I haven't read it - yet - and had no issues jumping into the story.  As much as I loved Where She Went, though, I might suggest getting both books and reading them in order.

Where She Went is about Mia and Adam and how they've reconnected via a one night stay Adam has in New York when he - the rock star about to leave for a European tour - goes to see Mia perform a cello concert at Carnegie Hall where he goes backstage to meet her again.

They were once very close, as they grew up together in Oregon and both were music whizzes there.  Unfortunately, there was a horrible car accident that killed Mia's parents and brother, leaving her in a coma.  By the time she's recovered, he made a promise to give her up and she heads to Julliard on a scholarship.  The book deals with them working their way through the minefield that is their previous relationship and asking all the questions they never did in high school.  And then, of course... there's figuring out if they have a future.

This is a beautifully written story that drew me in.  I didn't want to put the book down, which is always the sign of a good book to me.  The characters are well-developed, although Adam and his rock star attitude kept him from being a favorite of mine.  I don't have to like all the characters to like a book, and this is one I definitely enjoyed.

We'll be discussing this book over at the BlogHer Book Club over the next few weeks.  Come join us.  This week's topic is on your brain and music.  Come join us!

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of "Where She Went" for review purposes.  I was also compensated for participating in this campaign.  However, all opinions remain my own.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I Learned While Under A Boil Order

Unfortunately, there's been an issue with the water where I live.  I received an email letting me know - thank goodness for citywide email alerts - and our life without constantly available hot and cold running water began.  It's amazing to me how much we rely on having clean, safe water available at our fingertips.

When the wee one went upstairs after breakfast to brush their teeth, I quickly realized that oh wait... we can't just wet our toothbrushes with the water from the sink, nor can we wash them off afterwards.  Sending them their lunches meant that I had to pour bottled water (thank goodness I just hosted a First Communion party and had some!) into their water bottles for school.  I couldn't cook anymore because washing dishes then letting them soak in a bleach solution to make them safe sort of grossed me out - and unfortunately our dishwasher does not have a functioning sanitizer cycle.

Needless to say, putting on water to boil was the first thing on my to do list; the recommendation for us was to boil water for five minutes for it to be safe, adding a little pinch of salt if it tastes off.  Needless to say, I poured the boiled water over  the toothbrushes to clean them, and I used this same water for many of the other functions we routinely take for granted.  Fortunately, we were still able to take showers, flush toilets, and wash our hands.

But I learned something completely useless during this boil order.  Did you know that there's a max fill line on your teapot?  I didn't.  I do now.  And I know why there is one.

If you fill your teapot too full, when it boils, it will start to sputter.  If you make the mistake - and I did - of opening the spout portion where it whistles to help let more steam escape, that isn't all that escapes.  The pressure and everything else instead forces gushes of boiling water out the spout and onto the stove, way more than enough to douse the flames on the burner.

Yeah.  Oops.  Fortunately, it is mostly safe to remove the top lid of the teapot to release some of that excess pressure.  So did you not know why teapots have a max fill line, or is it just me?  Either way... learn from my folly.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Homemade BBQ Sauce AND What To Do With It

I love barbecue in (almost) all its forms.  For some reason, I don't like brisket at all.  I could eat pulled pork all day long.  Or mmmm barbecue chicken.  Even Sloppy Joe's.  The only problem is the ingredients.  I've talked a lot before about how I care about what I put into my body. Have you ever taken a look at the ingredients on a bottle of barbecue sauce? Yikes, it’s a mile long, and I can’t pronounce most of them. And the healthy or organic barbecue sauces get expensive, so I got the easy route instead.

Yes, the easy route. I make my own barbecue sauce. I love it because it’s super quick to put together, and I’ll alter up the proportions or put in some extra ingredients or just change things around depending on my mood. This is the way I like my barbecue sauce, and you may like yours a little different, so play with it.

And yes, the base ingredients for this include ketchup, which frequently has more ingredients that I just don’t like to eat. Actually, I’m not a big ketchup fan to begin with. That said, I use the organic ketchup from Trader Joe’s (a very reasonable $1.99 by me), and this is a ketchup where I actually like the taste. Go fig. Once again, organic tastes better than conventional to me – and I did a blind taste test, in case you think I’m biased. I also use organic whole grain mustard (and sometimes yellow when I want to finish off the jar) simply because to me it tastes better and has fewer ingredients, which was the whole point of making my barbecue sauce anyway, right?

Oh yeah. And because it tastes awesome. And when you’re cooking, you always have to do taste tests, right?

So what do I do with my barbecue sauce after I’ve made it? Obviously, I store it in the fridge, but that wasn’t the question, was it? Little Miss asked for Sloppy Joe’s the other night, so I whipped up the barbecue sauce then browned ground beef with diced onion and some salt and pepper before finishing it by cooking it with the barbecue sauce. Yum. Or I’ll poach chicken and shred it, then reheating it in a saucepan with the barbecue sauce and serve it either by itself or in a flour tortilla as a barbecue taco. I’ll cook pork in a crock pot for hours on end, then pull it out and shred it and put it back in with the barbecue sauce for a half hour or so. It’s also a perfect topping for a fresh burger, especially with a good cheddar cheese and some caramelized onion.

The uses for barbecue sauce are endless. How do you use your barbecue sauce?

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

1 1/2 cups ketchup (trust me, the organic stuff makes a big difference and isn’t too expensive)
1/4 c whole grain mustard (or yellow if you need, but the whole grain or stone ground is awesome in this)
1/4 c Worcestershire sauce
1/4 t pepper
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t chili powder

Place all ingredients into a heavy saucepan. Turn on the heat and stir. Bring to a slow boil, and boil the sauce for two or three minutes. Either add to your meat immediately, or cool and refrigerate for up to a week. Uhhhh, yeah it's that easy.

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Have A Brown Thumb

Friday was my last PTO meeting as secretary at Mister Man's school.  It's bittersweet, but it's sort of nice to be moving on to new things - and to pass all my duties and committees to a new sucker person.  At the meeting, the board presented the three of us who were moving on from the exec board with a small token gift to thank us for our tireless efforts over the past two years (their words, not mine).

We eat received a small plant, happily decorated with thank yous and the like, in addition to a very sweet card signed by all the administration and the outgoing and incoming board.  I loved the pots they chose, as they were so sunnily cheery and bright for spring.  The yellow daisies (ummm they are daisies, right?) are perfect, too.

I'm just not sure that someone didn't choose the flowers just for me or if this was a coincidence.

You see, I have a bit of a brown thumb, except for weeds.  I do my best with plants.  I truly do.  Unfortunately each time someone gives me a plant or flower, the same thing happens.  I water them as directed.  I put them in the right kind of light, but it never fails.  The plant slowly - and sometimes not so slowly - begins to fade and wilt and die.  My mom has learned to not give me plants anymore, but some of my friends still try.

I am proud that I've had an aloe plant and kept it alive for almost three years now.  Of course, it hasn't grown an inch in those three years.  One friend has a ginormous aloe plant in her house, so I asked her advice on what to do with mine.  She shrugged and blinked, as if in surprise that she had an aloe plant sitting there.  I just ignore it, she explained.  Ignoring the aloe seems to work for her.  My poor aloe plant?  Well, it's down to one green "leaf" with the rest now browned and starting to shrivel.

So what do you think?  This is how I received my PTO plant.  Do you think someone knows me, or was this purely coincidence?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letters To The Tooth Fairy Backfire

As my husband and I drove to dinner the other day, I received a frantic call from Mister Man.

Mom!  Mom!  You'll never guess what just happened, he exclaimed.

Ummmm, you just lost your tooth? I inquired innocently.

Yes!  I said that I was about to lose a tooth and then I reached into my mouth and I pulled it out, and now I have a mouth full of blood, he declared proudly.

Oh, that's wonderful, Mister Man, I replied.

Yep, and as soon as I finish dinner, I'm going to go upstairs and brush my tooth really well.  It has a little bit of black on it, and I don't want her to throw it away.

Oh.  Oops.  Yeah, about that.  Remember how the wee ones have been writing letters to the Tooth Fairy?  And how the Tooth Fairy wrote back?  Yeah....

In the most recent letter, Mister Man had asked what the Tooth Fairy does with the teeth she collects.  She wrote back that she uses teeth to build her castle and that she has to keep getting more teeth because she needs to rebuild the walls when the dragon comes and knocks them down.  What I thought was my stroke of brilliance was adding that she was always looking for more teeth because she wanted the whitest, shiniest, cleanest teeth possible and that she threw away the dirty ones when she received better ones.

Brilliant, right?  What better motivation to brush well and keep teeth clean than that, right? 

Apparently not so much with my wee ones.  Mister Man decided to simply clean his tooth after it was out of his mouth.  Of course.

Now I'm afraid to see what havoc the most recent letter has wrought.

So what were your "brilliant" ideas that went bad?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tasty Tuesdy - Fun With Oatmeal

Today, what I'm cooking isn't a fancy dish.  It isn't something that most of you haven't already made before.  Who doesn't love oatmeal as a great comfort dish.  So why am I posting about oatmeal?  I see commercials and advertisements and store displays more and more that advertise "oatmeal" that... really isn't.

What they're selling is instant and is microwaved and full of all sorts of ingredients that don't need to be there.  I've tried these oatmeals when they've been put in my mailbox as part of a newspaper promotion, and the stuff that comes from the pouch is powdery.  It's not oats, and it is nowhere near as good - or cheap - as what I can make at home with no effort and barely any time.

Oatmeal is a staple breakfast for us, and half the fun is deciding what we're going to do with it.  The wee ones sometimes specifically ask for something, but most of the time they like it to be a surprise.  How can you argue with a breakfast that's quick, healthy, and loved by the wee ones?

Go make some tomorrow morning.  Or now for a snack.

Fun with Oatmeal

1/3 c rolled oats*
2/3 c milk*

*Cooking oatmeal is a ratio of 1 part oats to 2 parts liquid. I find that 1/3 cup is plenty of oatmeal for a meal for me or for the wee ones, but feel free to make more or less, depending upon your appetite using that ratio.

Place the oats and milk into a saucepan.  If you are using dried fruits as part of your toppings, add those, too.  Otherwise, it's the oats and the milk.  Turn the stove onto medium low, and walk away.

As far as toppings go, I have a variety of go to items.  I love dried cherries in my oatmeal.  Besides that, we'll do everything from coconut to mango to sliced bananas or strawberries, and sometimes we'll be decadent and add a few dark chocolate chips.  The wee ones love their oatmeal finished with a drizzle of good quality maple syrup, while I'll add a little sprinkle of brown sugar if I want something a bit sweeter.

All you need to do with the oatmeal is swirl the pan every few minutes.  You want the oatmeal to come to a very light boil - still mostly a simmer - and cook for five or so minutes like this.  It's the perfect breakfast because you can walk away and do other things.  Go put on your makeup, and come back to breakfast that's ready to go.  Simply pour the oatmeal into a bowl, and add any of your fresh toppings, then enjoy while hot.  It's truly that easy.

Promise me you won't buy any more of those packets?  What will you put in your oatmeal?

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

My Own Little World

When I was growing up, I attended Catholic school.  It was never a question; it was simply what we did.  I come from an Irish Catholic family, and I grew up in areas where the other families were very much like mine.  We attended church every Sunday with many of our neighbors, and it never dawned on me that not everyone did and believed and lived as we did.

It wasn't until I was in the third grade that it dawned on me - innocent and oh-so-naive me - that there were people who are different.  I remember very clearly my mother driving me to school one day in the winter and seeing other children playing on some huge snowbanks.  My mom explained that they were waiting for the bus, but there was more.  She warned me to stay "away from those Publics" as she termed them.  I was somewhat afraid of children who attended public school for awhile after that, as my mom had very clearly communicated to me that there was something wrong with them.

It was clear to me - intentionally or not - that the way we lived was the only right way.  That what others did wasn't valid and wasn't even worth talking about.  I remained immersed in my little world for a long time, and I knew no different.

As I got a little older - and moved to a slightly more diverse area - I realized that there were people who were different from me.  There were people who were Lutherans (I lived in Minnesota by this point).  I even was friends with some of them, as they lived in my neighborhood.  One of my best friends went to Lutheran school, and I remember being jealous that I couldn't attend her school, as it was so much larger and more beautiful than my 1950s crumbling parochial school. 

Eventually, I discovered that a neighbor three doors down who I am still friends with today was Jewish, a religion I had heretofore only known as something that existed in the Old Testament.  Go figure.  I was fascinated by the fact that she went to Hebrew school every Wednesday and by the little yellow bus that came to pick her up each week.  I wanted to learn a foreign language like she did, as much as she complained about the homework and Hebrew practice she had to do.  It was so far beyond my ken, but I was hooked.

I wonder in a way if making these friends wasn't part of what pushed me to separate from my own Irish Catholic upbringing.  As I entered eighth grade, I talked my parents into letting me attend public school (with those nasty publics, ya know).  I pushed back on the faith I'd grown up with, and it took me a long time to work my way back towards finding my place within it again as an adult.

Those friends opened my eyes to so many different parts of the world, and I'm grateful.  I think it's served me well over the years to know that the little corner of the world that I grew up knowing is just that - a little corner.  There's so much more out there, but that doesn't mean that I've abandoned that corner.  I still attend Catholic Mass (almost) every Sunday, and Mister Man just made his First Communion on Saturday.

As a parent, I don't want to do that to the wee ones.  While it's important to have a life view and to identify with a certain group - whether religious, ethnic, sports teams, or otherwise - it's just as important to recognize that it isn't the only point of view out there. I want the wee ones to have a different view on life.

I'm very glad they already know that many different corners are out there.  I enjoy explaining to Mister Man what a bat mitzvah is - something he recently read about in a book - or talking about Hindu gods or debating the merits of various sports affiliations.  I wonder if that doesn't make our own little corner of the world more treasured for the wee ones, not more valid and not more special but more treasured because we know its ours.

What does your corner of the world look like?

In the interest of full disclosure, this post is a part of the From Left to Write book club.  I received a copy of "I Am Forbidden" by Anouk Markovits for review purposes.  In this book club, we don't do traditional reviews but instead write posts inspired by the book.  I was not compensated, and all opinions expressed remain my own.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Through My Child's Eyes

Tomorrow, Mister Man is making his First Holy Communion tomorrow.  Instead of getting ready for the party we're hosting here afterwards, I spent part of this morning going through some of the items that are slotted for the wee ones' memories boxes but haven't yet actually made it into them for some unknown reason (read: my husband hasn't gotten them off the very high shelf where they live).

I found this portrait of me that Mister Man made two years ago when he was in kindergarten.  It was for Mother's Day, and I remember how proud he was to present it to me at the tea held at his school.  We had a lovely afternoon, and all the kindergartners were so sweet.

But it's this portrait that keeps drawing me back.  It's always so interesting to me to see what children see when they look at people on a daily basis.  What is it that they remember and that sticks out to them?

I love that he ensured I had brown, curly hair.  Because at the time, my hair was long and curly.  While I've since cut it - significantly - and typically keep it straight now, this was a good representation.  And it's so like Mister Man to not have it be as long as it should be because he was afraid to color on the shirt because that might be against the rules.

The necklace is also very fitting.  I'm sure there were limited colors available - and I'm also sure that Mister Man chose every single purple bead that he could because he knows that purple is my favorite color.  Given how evenly the shirt is cut, I am certain that the teacher created these and simply handed them to the children, which is why the shirt is yellow.

There were things that surprised me.  I noticed for the first time today that Mister Man drew earrings on me.  I wear earrings every single day.  In fact, my earrings are generally the same ones each day, favorites that go with everything.  Interestingly, the earrings Mister Man drew look nothing like the ones I wear, but how would a six year old know how to draw diamond hoop earrings in Crayola marker?  I don't think I could do that.  Actually, I know I couldn't.  I have zero artistic talent.

And though he added many details - from the eyebrows to pink hearts on my cheeks (I'm guessing that was suggested by the teacher?) to the multitude of eyelashes, the details weren't exactly spot on.  I only wish my eyelashes were that long and thick.  Yet there is one error.  Mister Man gave me green eyes.  My eyes are blue, a very light blue actually.  And that has me thinking.

Do kids not pay attention to eye color on a regular basis?  Is the fact that Mister Man doesn't look in my eyes because of his autism play into the fact that he doesn't know what color my eyes are?  Did he color them green because he has hazel eyes (green is the closest approximation in marker) and wants to be like me?  Or did he just flat out forget?
Either way, this is a portrait I'm keeping.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Tortilla Soup

Yesterday was one of those days.  I didn't have much of a craving for anything I usually cook, but I also didn't have a ton of time to make dinner.  I took a spin through recipes I hadn't made in awhile, hoping I would be inspired by something in there - especially knowing that one of my errands involved stop at multiple grocery stores (because yes, I do shop at different stores for different things, yay me).  Eventually, my perusals paid off.  I finally had inspiration.

The final verdict of my homemade tortilla soup?  My husband had two giant bowls and proclaimed it a keeper.  Little Miss, who had eaten dinner at a friend's house, ate half my bowl and asked if she could have it for lunch today.  And Mister Man announced that it was too spicy - but he really liked the idea behind it.  (So yes, next time I'll adjust it in hopes of making it less spicy so that he can eat it but still flavorful enough that the rest of us will enjoy it.)

Homemade Tortilla Soup

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (the San Marzano tomatoes are my favorites)
1 4 oz can sliced green chile peppers
1 10 oz can enchilada sauce (I use the medium green sauce, but feel free to go hot or mild, depending on your preferences)
1 t cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 bay leaf
32 oz chicken stock
10 oz frozen corn
1 lb chicken, shredded*
2 limes
1 T cilantro, chopped
8 corn tortilla
vegetable oil

*Choice A: poach your chicken the way you normally would, then shred it and add it to the soup.  Choice B: Have plenty of time to cook your soup and add the raw chicken to the soup, letting it poach as the soup cooks, then pulling it out at the end and shredding it.

Add all ingredients up to the chicken to a crock pot.  Cook on low 6-8 hours or on high 3-4 hours (don't do the raw chicken if you're cooking it on high).

When the soup is near done, use a spoon or spatula to squish the tomatoes against the sides of the crock pot so that they fall apart.  This is easier to do at the end of cooking than right away when you're starting the soup.

Also near the end, prepare your tortilla strips.  Brush the tortillas lightly with oil, then cut them into strips.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until lightly crispy.

Just before you're ready to serve, add the juice from your limes to the soup and stir briefly.  Serve the soup with chopped cilantro as garnish, along with the awesome tortilla strips you just made.  You can also add avocado or cheese or sour cream or whatever else strikes your fancy.  According to my husband, this is as good as any tortilla soup you'd find in a restaurant anywhere.

On a side note, I had less time to make this than I thought I would due to an unexpected appointment.  With the exception of the chicken, I had this entire thing in the crock pot in under 15 minutes.  When I got home, I poached the chicken and shredded it, adding it to the soup a half hour before I served it.  That worked well, and the chicken still absorbed good flavor from the soup.  I love recipes that give me flexibility like this!

Enjoy this and more with Blessed With Grace and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. Also posting now with A Southern Fairytale and her Mouthwatering Monday.

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