Wednesday, August 27, 2014

low and slow cooking….

My copy of "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" came in through interlibrary loan, and that plus tonight's dinner got me thinking about what I've learned lately about low and slow cooking. I'm not talking about the crock pot. That is good for some things, but I'm noticed that it tends to dry my meat out unless there are plenty of moist things in the pot with the meat, ie. soups or stews.

About a year ago, I tried Cooking Light's Beef Daube Provencal recipe, and I fell in love. It made the stew beef that I usually dry out through stove top cooking turn into something that would melt in your mouth. I realized it had to be the process and not the recipe itself, so I tried applying the same cooking method to my usual beef stew recipe. It transformed it.

Here's the method. Get out a dutch oven, some sort of oven proof pot with a lid that you can use on the stove top and then put in the oven. (Mine is a cheapo stainless steel pot with a lid that I got with a set when we got married.) Put your beef into the pot, bring it to a boil, put in whatever else you're using to flavor like onions, broth, spices, potatoes, etc., and then put a lid on it and throw it in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Tonight I applied the same idea using this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. (Hat tip to my sister-in-law, Terri, for the recipe.)  I didn't follow her brining step or make sauce at the end, and I made only 4 chicken drumsticks, rubbed with the seasoning, and then put into a foil packet. Once again, 2 1/2- 3 hours on 300 degrees. The last step of broiling it for a couple of minutes made a great crust to finish. I'm not sure I like the rub that much, but that doesn't seem to be the main component to success with this method. Next time, I may just douse the drumsticks liberally with salt and pepper and maybe a little onion and garlic powder and call it a day.

So, low and slow in the oven. Now that it's getting cooler in these parts, I'll probably be using this technique multiple times a week. Hmm, wonder if it would work on marinated boneless skinless chicken breasts? I think I'll try and find out. :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My version of one dish chicken, potatoes, and green beans...

Ok, so there's this dish that floats around Pinterest. It involves chicken breasts, cut up potatoes, and green beans. The whole thing is smothered in Italian dressing and baked together.

I decided to make my own version with spices and my own marinade, and I am glad to report that it got rave reviews from the family I delivered it to. That inspired me to make it again for another family that just had a baby. Maybe I'll even make it for us one of these days. ;) Anyway, try it and let me know what you think if you like it.

One Dish Chicken, Potatoes, and Green Beans

3 chicken breast, cut into large pieces
4-5 red skinned potatoes, cut into chunks
a couple of cups of frozen green beans
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
Penzeys Italian Herb Mix (or other blend of your choice)
thinly sliced butter pats

Seasoning:
1 t. crushed rosemary
1 t. basil
1 t. garlic powder
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. fennel seeds
a dash of dried onion flakes

Marinate the chicken breasts in a mix of half olive oil and roughly half balsamic vinegar with some italian herbs generously shaken in there. I usually marinate for a whole day, and I don't think I've used more than 1/4 c. of each liquid.

Then cut up the chicken (maybe 3 parts per breast?), and lay down the center of a greased 9x13 dish. Put the chopped potatoes down one side and the green beans down the other side. Combine the seasoning mixture in a small dish and then sprinkle it on top of everything in the pan. Cut up a few pats of butter and put on top.

Now, I'm not sure about the baking part. I haven't baked it myself yet. The idea is that it will all come out cooked at the same time. Try 350 degrees for 1 hour, checking the potatoes and chicken especially for doneness.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The week before we start school...


From one of my Wednesdays with One Kid that my in-laws gave us all this summer. I took Seth to the rainforest exhibit at the science museum downtown. He loved it. 

I didn't have a plan today. I'm avoiding all museums and fun places because it's the last week day before public schools start, and I'm assuming that every parent in the local area will be trying to squeeze in one last bit of summer fun. :) I should've just started the summer school I've been doing with Seth some this month, but I read books and took out the kinetic sand instead, and after Ben decided he'd rather destroy his brother's castle than play, I pulled out a short Netflix Lego movie. I need to regroup after this. :) 

But I'm excited because I recently unearthed the Cycle 2 Classical Conversations CD that my sister-in-law gave me sometime last year. Now, listening to the whole thing makes my shoulders tense. BUT, there are some good history sentences on there that we can sing as we're doing SOTW 2. I found them online and copied and pasted them into a Word document. Something to add to the memory binder I plan to pull together this coming week! 

I also downloaded a World Book This Day in History app onto the iPad. I think that will be fun to pull out during Morning Time some days. Hey, look kids! The Bubonic Plague killed 1,000 people on this day in history! ;) 

I also decided to break down and buy the full version of MacPhun's Art Puzzles app. We used the free version some last year during Morning Time, and they loved it. They got to study the details of Starry Night while we put together the simplest version of the virtual puzzle while listening to soothing classical background music.

I've also decided that I am excited about adding "A Child's Introduction to Art" for our art study. I wanted to study some art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and this book takes famous works and artists in mostly chronological order. I ordered a set of Monet prints for Charlotte Mason style picture study, but I plan to use this book to supplement as we go along. 

Now to just figure out what poetry and Bible memory I want for us! And what geography and science facts to memorize, if any. I need to make that a matter of prayer. Honestly, I need to pray more over all the school choices I make, but that becomes even more clear when I have lots of choose from and a short amount of time during Morning Time each day. What to choose! There are soooo many good things! 

The Lego men may be quitting on me soon. Gotta run! Happy homeschooling school year planning to any of you who are still doing it, too! 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

summer wednesday….


Little man checking out his bowling shoes while the older two talk about their scores…

It's been a great few days. I find that I often think that when everyone has been in a good mood and no one is sick, and it's just icing on the cake if we get to do fun things. 

Monday afternoon, we went to our local kid's free bowling, and then we picked up Chick Fil A on the way to a local park. They spent some time playing and then discovered a grassy hill to roll down. They called it  "parachuting" for some reason. 

Yesterday we went to Marbles, the local children's museum. They played happily, buzzing like bees from farm play to the pirate ship to the train table, etc. and around and around again. I drove us home to their excited chatter in the backseat about their favorite things to play with.

Today I took us off to the downtown science museum. Evan really wanted to see the dinosaurs, though he acted a little intimidated like always when we got up close to them. We went to the morning "Meet the Animals." I love that program. It's such fun hands on science. They got to pet a baby alligator, some sort of African lizard, and a rabbit, while they learned about how each animal is adapted to where they live and what they do. The lady who does it asks lots of questions and does a wonderful job with making it interactive.

I'd packed a picnic lunch, and we stopped at a little playground nearby. I sat under the big, shady trees and watched them dig in the sand. Seth told me that he was being respectful of Ben and including him, and that Ben wasn't destroying his sand boat like usual. :) 

Our summer days are winding down. I had so much energy for planning this coming school year right after the homeschool conference in May, but now I'm a little stalled out. Maybe it's that I don't want to dive in again. Or maybe it's that I mostly know what we're doing this year, and it feels mostly familiar and not crazy complicated to pull together. I'm not somebody who writes down detailed schedules for each day. I know what books we're using, and when we finish a lesson, we move on the next. ;) 

Tuesday or Thursday Tea is on the agenda as something new for this year. (I figure that a day that starts with a "T" will help me remember to do it. :) I'm hunting for a teapot or tea kettle that I can use for that. I'm planning to put out a special snack after rest time, let the boys pick their own tea bags to use, have a little bowl of sugar cubes out, etc. I'm going to light a candle and make it a special time. I plan to put things in this time that I haven't gotten to earlier in the week. We may do picture study and read poetry during this time. It's a very Charlotte Mason idea that I've seen tossed around on the CM Facebook feed, and I'm excited about it. 

Well, I'd better run. I'm cutting up some fresh green pepper and SC peaches for dinner with warmed up taco meat from the freezer. (I do a lot of cut up fresh veggies and fruit for sides in the summer.) And then it's off to the pool for an evening family swim. Ah, summer… I'm gonna miss you. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

Feeling priceless...


I knew something was up when I came down every morning for breakfast, and I'd find something like this picture above. I'd open the cabinet for cereal bowls, and a packet of our old love letters to each other would fall on me. And they were in chronological order. Each day, I'd get a new packet with a letter on top. So you can't blame a girl for being a little suspicious, but I just figured he'd planned a special date night or something.

Nope. I came home from a girl's night out on Thursday to a husband who informed me that he'd packed up the kids, and I needed to pack for myself because we were leaving for a surprise getaway the next day. It'd been a hard week, y'all. Between potty training Ben and some sort of low grade intestinal bug that has gone through the family, I admit that I was most excited when he first told me about the prospect of not having to make it through Friday with the boys. I didn't care where we were going! :)

We dropped off the boys at my parents' house, and we kept driving west. He finally admitted we were on our way to Asheville. There were roses arranged by my mother hiding in the back of the van that he took out when we got to our hotel.


He had dinner reservations at the Biltmore Inn. The view from our window of the mountain vista was amazing, and the food was excellent. But that wasn't all he had planned. As we were finishing up dinner, he started talking about how much he wanted me to understand that I was priceless to him. I wasn't just priceless to him because of what I did every day but because of what I meant to him just for me.


Then this wonderful man pulled out a letter. By the time I got to the end of it, I had figured out what he was up to. I burst into tears and said, "But you don't have to do this! I am happy with my ring. I really am!" He pulled out the most gorgeous diamond solitaire that I've ever seen. By the time he finished reciting our wedding vows from memory, I'm pretty sure that the other two women within earshot were also tearing up.

There was more to the weekend than that. We went to the Biltmore, and we attempted a hot air balloon ride (that got cancelled twice), and I spent some very welcome time in the giant hotel tub with a book. I heard about all the trouble and thought and prayer and time that it took for him to make the decision to do this for me and pull it together. He went to so much trouble and expense. And he did it in such a way that I wouldn't be able to talk him out of it because I didn't feel worthy of the gift.

All of this got me thinking about how I view marriage and even how I view my relationship with God. The Bible uses marriage as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and his church. We are His bride.

This verse came to mind this weekend:

"The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but he will rejoice over you with singing."- Zephaniah 3:16-18

There were years during infertility when I felt like God was in the middle of giving me a crash course in tough love. I figured that He figured that I needed some serious work on my character, and so the best thing He could do for me was make it hard and unpleasant so I could grow. During that time, my brother gently rebuked me once. He said, "But Ellen, don't assume that God only wants to give you hard things. He is a GOOD God."

I feel like I still take that attitude with life, even though those years are behind us. It's hard for me to sometimes accept that God rejoices over me. He wants to give me good things. Flawed me. Me that yells at my kids and doesn't fold the laundry enough and is far more selfish than I'd like. And it's not like he doesn't know that about me. He's known me for years, you know. So if He knows me that well, doesn't He know that I barely deserve a crust from His table and not the lavish blessings I've been given?

I feel the same way sometimes about my marriage. David is so good to me. So, so good. And he tells me often how much he loves me. I want to believe it, but there's a part of me that says to myself, "Yeah, I know he loves me, but I sure don't know why. Hasn't he figured out how flawed I am yet? I've given him ample time to see it."

But here's the thing. We've been married for 13 years. The rose colored glasses are off. He HAS seen me at my very best and at my ugly worst. This isn't like when we were dating, and he didn't know all this yet. And yet he chooses me anyway. He chooses to treat me as priceless anyway. He chose to give me a lavish gift because he wanted to make a powerful point about how much he values me.

I need to let him rejoice over me. This weekend, I did. And I realized all this because it was a little hard for me to let him. But if I hadn't let him, I would've stolen his joy. Is that how God feels when He wants to take delight in me, and I say, "I don't know how I feel about this. You know that I don't deserve it."?

Anyway, Cinderella is back on potty patrol, but she's still on cloud nine (despite the poop she's scrubbed off the porch today). And she's going to let herself stay there however long it takes to come down. Not because she deserves it but because she is loved anyway. A lot. By her husband and her God. And that's amazing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer minutiae...



The budget might not have had bike money this summer, but thanks to a sweet friend that had a bike sitting in her shed, this is my view from the couch during nap time. Now to just clean it off and pump some air in those tires. I'm looking forward to family bike rides this fall. Seth and Evan can leave us in the dust when we're walking.

Seth and Evan are both on a neighborhood swim team this summer. Mimi and Pop Pop have a great pool, and they're sponsoring them. Seth is the youngest in his age group, and the first meet, I was just praying that he'd make it to the end of the pool without needing to be rescued. He didn't know any of the strokes when the summer started, so he was behind compared to the kids who'd been doing this for a couple of years already. Well, now it's July, and he amazes me. He can swim freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly with the rest of the pack. I'm so glad we did this, but it has meant a lot of evening trips to the pool. Practice was what they both needed though, and this has been a great way to get it.

I've discovered a new beloved author this summer... Elizabeth Enright. I started with "The Saturdays," and I've been hooked ever since. I read everything about the Melendy family, and then I moved onto Gone Away Lake. Enright knows how to do stories about exploring abandoned houses. Didn't you always wish you could stumble upon one of those with really fascinating stuff inside when you were a kid? I know I did. Anyway, now that I've exhausted Enright, I have been trying some other series about families with lots of siblings. "The Penderwicks" are alright, but they're not the Melendys. 

I'm into school planning mode. So far my most inspired plan involves putting together all the science experiments for Apologia astronomy in individual plastic bags, ready to use when we get there. I want to do the same thing with some of the hands on activities from the Story of the World Book 2 activity guide. I also want to make a memory work binder. David has promised to help me with some of this in the evenings.

I'm also trying to finish up a few things with the boys this summer before another school year starts in the fall. Seth is sitting with me and the timer and his penmanship book most days lately. He only has to work for 10 minutes, so I'm not hearing any complaining. I'm also planning on letting them listen to the last few chapters of SOTW 1 and orally narrate with me, and then I want them to go through the whole thing on CD again at night before September. Big plans, big plans... I'm betting it won't all happen. :)

It's been overcast and cool today. We lazed around, read books, and I made banana bread. (Seth wants more breakfasts that don't involve cereal, so I decided to oblige him.) Evan pretended to be a bird in our backyard, and Seth and Ben looked at him through the wrong end of the binoculars to make him look small. I named him our "yellow tufted green bird" since he was wearing a green shirt. Apparently he made his habitat in a tree, and Seth got a lot of nature photos of this rare species. :)

Friday, July 11, 2014

First thoughts on Ambleside Online...



This summer, I've been dabbling in using Ambleside Online. I've got two years of actual homeschooling under my belt now, and I am more willing to slash and burn without guilt if a book list or curriculum doesn't look like just what I'm looking for. ;)

When I first looked at Ambleside many moons ago, my initial thought was honestly, "I am not interested in a curriculum that's designed to be cheap." It was a turn off that most of the books were so old that they were out of copyright. Because it was so cheap, I thought that that was the goal, and it is not our goal to homeschool on a shoestring at the Suburban casa. Just because a book is old doesn't mean that it's quality literature, and just because a book is new doesn't mean that it's bad quality. (I like 19th century women's Christian fiction, but that is for it's curiosity value, not because it's well written. :) I will gladly pay to get quality curriculum, so I didn't think AO fit us.

Then there was the "I don't have a clue how to really use these book lists. Isn't there more?" factor. The website confused me initially. Also the best way to get a lot of the books was online, and we had a single desktop computer in the kitchen.

This year, I was given an iPad for my birthday, and school was so much less stressful to me that I decided I wanted to just print off the Year 1 book list and try doing some of the readings with the boys. I crossed out Our Island Story because I am happy with our history curriculum. I crossed out the Bible readings because I'm happy with the resources we have for that. And then it looked more manageable. :) One of the things that attracted me to Year 1 was that I have a vintage copy of "Fifty Famous Stories Retold" that I found as a child in an old trunk, and it has made many moves with me over the years. And I also wanted to find a way to get in "Paddle to the Sea".

So I've been reading to them while they've been eating snack in the afternoons. And I've been surprised at their positive response. We read a lot of books, but I don't think it's my imagination that they're engaging with these stories more than average. I suspect it's a combination of the short length and the richness of the stories. They often clamor for more when I'm done, but I now know about intentionally spreading it out to give them time to mull over what they're hearing and to let them live with a story longer to make it more a part of them. I usually don't give in.

I read the story of Polycarp yesterday, and after I finished, Seth immediately said, "Wow. He was really brave." We had a short talk about martyrs and the early church, and it could tell that he was mulling it over.

The day that I read the first Parable of Faith about the caterpillar and the bird, I was almost in tears when I finished. I read it all in one sitting, and the boys sat still and completely quiet through the whole thing. They asked questions afterward. They were really listening.

At this point, I am sold. I want to keep going with Ambleside into the school year along with our history and science readings, and I'd like to learn how to schedule some of my own books in a more Charlotte Mason way. I suspect that doing more AO planned by CM experts will give me a better sense of how to do this on my own one day.

So if you're interested in AO, but you're waffling because of some of the difficulties and misconceptions that I had, I'd encourage you to give it another look. Just dabble a bit. It's not the big commitment I thought it might have to be, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how rich the readings are.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

From the beach...




I'm typing this on my iPad at a McDonalds near the family cabin. I can see a few palm trees from my window, and this table looks like a surfboard. Thankful currently for a shower, the ability to dry my hair by opening both van windows, and free wifi. :) Oh, yes, and for my iPad. I will probably never love our iMac, but I definitely have a love affair with my iPad. 

I was talking to my neighbor the other day, and she asked where David was. I told her we weren't seeing him as much because he's doing a lot of trial preparation. She gave me this look and said, "What? You're having a trial separation?" She misheard, but then we both thought it was kind of funny. A trial is separating us, so I guess it's true in a way. Sigh.

He hasn't had a big trial since I was pregnant with Ben, so none of us are used to it anymore. The boys are older now, and they definitely notice when he's not around as much. That's hard for him. We sat them down and talked with them about what he does and why. We also talked about being a team and working together to make this tough time better. I think Seth and Evan really get it. They're trying to be helpful with Ben and make life a little easier for me. They're really growing up.
  
We got a great deal to go to Great Wolf Lodge at the end of May, and David couldn't go. We knew that was a big possibility, but we decided to get the deal anyway. My dad went with me, and Ben stayed with my mom. The boys and I loved it, and now I know this is the kind of thing we should really do again. But that means that with this trip, we'll have been having a lot of fun without Daddy lately. It's better for him in some ways if we do go off, but it still feels a bit weird.

Seth has learned to paddle on this trip. We're using a flat plastic shovel as an oar, but he's really getting the hang of it. He likes seeing if he can paddle against the wind and current, and he's really proud of himself when he makes headway.

I found some fun toys for Ben's birthday at my favorite thrift store down here. He really likes Hess trucks, and I got a good price on one I think he'll love.

We went to our favorite beach pizza place last night, and the we fed the turtles in the pond behind it and walked the beach. As usual, they all got in and got soaked. I got wise to that this time and brought along some plastic bags and a beach towel. I think that all moms of little boys should keep at least one plastic bag in their purses at all times. :)

And now nap time is about over, and I'll head back down the road, listening to the Jars of Clay hymns album with the windows down, knowing I'll drive up to see salt and sun kissed boys playing by the water....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stitch Fix.. Take 2



I ordered my second Stitch Fix box recently. In this fix, I asked for a couple of cute dresses and some short sleeved tops. They sent me five items, two dresses and three tops.

I was pretty impressed with the box. A lot of the items were close calls for me. Also, I liked a lot of the details and styling of most of the clothes, even if I didn't think they looked perfect on me. For instance, with the maxi dress on top, I liked the style, but I thought the blue around my hips basically made an arrow pointing to my mummy tummy. I also didn't like that the shoulders were my skin tone. Now, though, I know that this style of dress is worth trying on in the future.


I liked the scalloped detailing on this dress. The color blocking was nice. I thought the waistline was awkward, and I wasn't sure how flattering it was. The friend who took these pictures thought I should've kept this one.


If I didn't already have a couple of mint shirts, I would've probably kept this one. I loved the polka dots. I didn't like that I had to wear a camisole under it. It wasn't quite as flattering as I would've liked.


I didn't think I would like this one when I pulled it out of the box. I was so wrong. Great color, flattering fit. It isn't like anything else in my closet. The sleeves can be worn up or down. It feels like quality fabric. I decided to keep this one.

The blue sweater below was also a close call. I liked the cut a lot, and it fit right. I already have a cardigan almost this color, and at $48, I would have to have been convinced I would wear it a lot. I wasn't. I also thought it looked like it was a material that would pill easily.


I was more pleased with this fix overall than my first one, though I think I like the shirt from my last fix a little more. It's possible that having a style Pinboard linked to my account helps them fix me more effectively, and I like that I can give detailed feedback about each individual item in my fix. Once again, I only kept one item.

I spent a couple of frustrating afternoons shopping this spring without finding much of anything that I wanted to bring home. I hate wasting that time and looking at all my unattractive lumps ands pooches in a fitting room mirror. This service helps me bypass that experience to some extent. It feels worth it to me to do this once in a while, even if the clothes (even at the "as cheap as possible" setting) are more than I'd spend at Target. Often I can't find much that fits me well at Target anyway. :)

If you're considering using Stitch Fix, please consider using my referral link. I get some credit toward the clothes if you do. I really hope that it works out as well for you as it has for me. Getting the box in the mail is so fun. :)

If you'd like to see my first fix, click here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

13 years...


Today is our 13th wedding anniversary. We celebrated this weekend, so I can smile with amusement about how today has gone.

I woke up early because Ben lost his passy, and I didn't go back to sleep. (Yeah, we really need to do something about that. Later, later…) The highlights of my day included a nap on the couch and a shower while they watched "Curious George."

David rushed in the door, shedding his suit coat as he headed upstairs to put on the tan button down short sleeve shirt that he wears every Monday night for Cub Scouts. I informed him that my plans to make a nice balsamic chicken and rice pilaf for dinner turned into chicken marinated with Walmart brand Italian dressing, regular rice from the rice cooker, and frozen green beans.

The boys made animal noises while "eating" their rice. I then scraped rice off the floor while David ran around getting together the things he'll need to host an end-of-year ice cream sundae party for 7-year-old boys. I suspect there will be little-boy-eating clean up in his future as well.

And then I gave him a kiss, told him "Happy Anniversary" again, and sent him out the door. I'll be taking Ben and Evan to the first swim team meeting of the year pretty soon.

I wondered as I put dishes in the sink what Beyonce would do on her 13th wedding anniversary. And then I realized that the odds of her actually having a 13th wedding anniversary aren't that great.

So I think we still win. :)