Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Not Quite Ordinary Observations

For Today...Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In the great outdoors...a real spring, I do believe! Down here in the south, spring always seems to rush in and out, with everything blooming all at once in a short amount of time and temps rising from the “winter” 30-50° range to the 70-80° range with little in-between. This year, we’ve had gradual blooming and temps in the 60’s for much longer than usual.

That might explain why allergies seem so much worse than usual this year for so many people. We’re not used to real spring!

Within our four walls...quiet diligence at the moment as independent work is completed.

A heart of thanksgiving...for bright sunshine, flowering strawberry plants, and disappearing white on the Bradford pear trees.

A heart of prayer...for the many people in our church struggling with one major issue or another; for “our” farmers to have functioning equipment and great timing as they face planting season; for health.

Random observations...I didn’t post last week. Hmmm. It just passed me by, I guess.

My silly children...were thrilled to get a John Williams piano book last week. They’ve each picked a piece they want to work on, and they process through it each day after finishing their required practicing.

Thoughts from the kitchen...ready to enjoy meals again. March has just not been a fun month in the kitchen. Fresh start for April, coming soon (hopefully!).

On my bookshelf...hope to finish Risen soon (good book, just limited reading time). Still need to get that reading habit back going again – as soon as I meet my upcoming writing deadline.

Projects...the writing project. Yep. With just a few weeks left, it’s down to the wire now.

Oh, but I am making progress on the temperature afghan here and there – usually in little school moments when we’re discussing or doing reading comp questions. Here’s the first square – January through the first few days of March. There’s a lot less blue than I expected, since we were continually warned that this was going to be a frigid winter. Instead, the light green and cream (warmer colors) were fairly common.

2016-03-29 10.58.04

The bottom looks off because it was folded under a bit and also has a dark border. But, the truth is, the whole thing is a bit “off.” Just a reminder that I’m still a novice at knitting. My stitch count might be right, but keeping the same tension is not so easy. In all honesty, that’s kind of why I’m doing this. To improve my basic skill and get regular practice instead of hit and miss projects here and there.

I did decide to not just do the slip stitch squares. If I were following the color pattern outlined in the pattern, I’d keep going with identically stitched squares. But, since it’s more about the various temperature-based colors, I’m going to vary the stitch skills. Square #2 is going to be a cable knit square. I’ve been wanting to practice for a while, and this is a perfect opportunity! It’s actually turning out to be easier than some of these slip stitch sections. Still not great at keeping my tension consistent, but I’m working on it!  

Sounds of the moment...piano practice going on in the next room. New song = just a few wrong notes.

From Hibbard Academy... “More, pleeeeease!” I used to HATE read-aloud time. I did not enjoy reading aloud or being read aloud to. But, I made myself do it in those early years, and now I treasure that time. Last week, I couldn’t resist when Angie asked if we could go ahead and finish The Golden Goblet. Then, this morning, Steven begged for one more chapter in Moccasin Trail. We can always double up on history and grading tomorrow!

The planner...school, work, writing, school, work, church, more school, writing, and work.

Because visuals are fun...it’s been a long time since Angie wanted the sponge rollers. So fun! And so BIG! (Her wavy hair normally falls to the middle of her back.)2016-03-16 07.21.53

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Not Quite Ordinary Observations

For Today...Tuesday, March 15

(Okay, so it’s now Wednesday, March 16. Apparently I forgot to actually publish this yesterday! So, you’ll get a glimpse of Tuesday a day late. Smile)

In the great outdoors...clear blue sky, bright sunshine, birds singing, and the grass visibly and audibly growing after a week of rain. Fortunately, the strawberries, grapes, and trees are all showing signs of growth as well! Thankful for that after last week’s deluge, but especially after Sunday evening’s dime-sized hail. I didn’t know what to expect of the strawberries, especially, but we still have over 60 of the original 75 plants, even after the attack of the cat, rain, and hail! 

Within our four walls...everyone wants to go back to bed. Between being sick last week and the time change Sunday, we’re just dragging.

A heart of thanksgiving...that Steven’s throat feels better! Poor thing endured one thing after another last week, thanks to the lovely blooming going on around us.

A heart of prayer...for the farmers. After five years in farm country, my mind automatically goes to how the weather affects farming. Last week’s flooding rains will have erased any field prep they did before the rain started and will delay getting back to it for several weeks. Praying for their peace and wisdom and for the ground to drain quickly!

Random observations...tone of voice is important. And it’s so hard to communicate in writing. Sometimes it’s funny, like in a Facebook comment stream interaction between my daughter and her father. It made for a good morning laugh!

Other times, though, it can be quite harmful. Just because we think a certain tone of voice when we’re writing does not mean others will read that tone. They will read our words. And they will interpret those words based on factors on their side of the screen (or whatever other medium is being used), not ours.

That’s why it’s so important to step back and consider what we write, using even more scrutiny than we should when we stop and think before we speak.

Okay, deep thought over. My brain’s too tired for too much more of that!

My silly children...are incredibly thrilled with the lack of rain this week! They’ve lost no time getting outside to work off some of that pent up restlessness.

Thoughts from the kitchen...a reminder that I need to go get a ball of pie crust dough out of the freezer. It’s been a while since we’ve had quiche.

On my bookshelf...I finally finished one review book last night. A short, kids books. Yeah. I’m slow right now. That’s just all there is to it. But, still onward and upward!

Projects...my desk needs a good spring cleaning. It’s terrible! I want to get it to the point where I can take the last five minutes of every work day and get it back in order. Every day. But that’s not possible right now. It’s far too chaotic. So, my goal is to get it to that point. Soon.

Meanwhile, writing. And finding that lost hour. Yeah, that’s priority #1. 

Sounds of the moment...birds. The cawing crows are trying to drown out the other birds, but I still hear those lovely tweets through the open window.

From Hibbard Academy...trying to get out brains back in gear after a week off.

A favorite thing from last week...the flexibility of taking the week off. And seeing Steven smile for the first time after several days of feeling rotten.

The planner...pretty normal. Women’s brunch on Saturday, but otherwise just the normal stuff.

Because visuals are fun...

silliness2016-03-13 15.26.04

cuteness2016-03-13 15.26.30

growing up so very fast2016-03-13 15.26.21

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Not Quite Ordinary Observations

For Today...Wednesday, March 9, 2016

In the great outdoors...day 2 of the great spring 2016 deluge. This is supposed to last through Saturday. Yesterday was muggy and heavy until the rain finally started to fall in the early afternoon hours. Storms came and went through the afternoon, evening, and night. Now it’s just a mostly soft rain – sometimes we can’t even tell if it’s raining or not. But, it’s SO dark outside. Not great for the motivation.

The other thing we see outdoors, though, is the arrival of beautiful blooms and blossoms! They really are gorgeous. Sadly, our bodies don’t like them as much as our eyes do. First spring in a new location = having to get used to new allergens.

Oh, and one more thing we have in the great outdoors! Seven new trees (1 pecan, 3 apple, and 3 peach) and 75 strawberry plants! We got everything planted Saturday. I’m hoping the strawberries survive the deluge – and the cat. She decided the nice, soft ground made for the perfect litter box. Grrrrrrr. It wouldn’t be so bad if she wasn’t digging up the plants in the process.

Within our four walls...much sneezing, sniffling, and coughing. But, at least Steven’s fever is gone. Over the weekend, it appeared that his allergy mess was turning into a sinus infection, as his fever spiked to 102° Saturday night. But, he was showing marked improvement by bedtime Sunday night. The real evidence of renewed health, though, was the fact that his appetite started returning yesterday. When a growing boy isn’t interested in food, you know something’s wrong!

A heart of thanksgiving...for a house on a hill; for the beauty of spring; for a roof that doesn’t leak.

A heart of prayer...for some friends dealing with an unexpected health issue; for a neighbor dealing with the loss of a family member; for our church; for health in our home.

Random observations...a couple of quotes from a recent blog post of Doug’s:

“The secretive nature (of spiritual disciplines – referring to the “do in secret” of Matthew 6) is not to hide one’s spiritual life but to expose it in the right direction.

“Consider this pictured in plants and their phototropism: a plant is not turning its back on the shadowed side of the yard. It is growing toward the light, and anyone who looks can see it. Spiritual disciplines are oriented toward the Father: others should see the effects though the efforts are not theirs to note.”

Here’s another one: “A person’s prayer life can be so secret that none are aware of it—and this could be bad.”

My silly children...could really become famous if they wanted to. And I don’t just say that as a biased mom. These kids have talent!

Thoughts from the kitchen...teriyaki beef is on the menu. I’m debating, though. It’s a little cooler today, which means we could actually enjoy the potato soup that’s on the menu for tomorrow. We’ll see.

On my bookshelf...I still need to read Risen and the newest Andrea Carter book for review. And I want to get back to my non-fiction stack. Reading. How I love it. But, I just have to find times to do it!

Projects...I MUST make progress on some writing. And birthday projects. I have some ideas. Just have to get going on them. Meanwhile, Angela is bemoaning the fact that there are no cute dresses in her size. She’s just not a fan of the adult-style clothing available for girls her age and size. So, between the two of us, we might be making most of the new stuff she needs for spring and summer. 

Sounds of the moment...rain as it gets a little harder, at least for a bit. Otherwise, silence. Not sure what the kiddos are up to.

From Hibbard Academy...a week off, decided upon rather spontaneously. We’ve been pushing through, hoping to get done as close to early June as possible. Our summer is already filling up! But, we also need a break now and then. On Monday, the unanimous consensus was that this needed to be the “now and then” moment.

A favorite thing from last week...the beautiful weather allowing open windows and fresh air!

The planner...well, we were supposed to enjoy a zoo trip on Saturday, but that looks like it might have to be altered a bit. Thunderstorms and zoo trips don’t exactly go hand in hand.

Because visuals are fun...birthday sweatshirt from my family2016-03-08 13.59.44

a little something Angie whipped up to go with it

2016-03-08 14.00.38

I have such a fun family!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Month of Soup

As we rolled into January, we were in a soup mood. We wanted to use the crock pot as much as possible, and we wanted nice, warm meals for what was expected to be a nice, cold month.
Well, the cold came and went, but the soup was still great! We combined old favorites with new experiments. And, we were quite delighted with both the old and the new!

Essentially, we had a dozen soups that rotated through the month, and we added a couple more in February. Admittedly, by February, we were kind of tired of soup every day. The increased warmth might have had something to do with it. But, we still really enjoyed each of these recipes and are keeping them scattered throughout the menu plan, even as we go back to some warmer weather recipes in March.

So, here you go - our soup choices and discoveries this winter!

Potato 

We have - or rather, Doug has - made potato soup from made-up recipes. But, when our friend Mary Ann linked this super easy Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup recipe, I knew I had to try it! And we absolutely loved it! We made two changes:
  1. We used fresh potatoes instead of frozen hashbrowns because that's what had on hand.
  2. For our second rotation of this, we plunged a stick blender in right before eating to blend in some of the potatoes. (Alternately, you could pull some out and put it in a blender.) Without the blending, it tastes like cheese soup with potato slices. With the blending, it tastes like a chunky potato soup. Both were good - we just like the second better.
Beef and Tortellini Soup

So, this is a HUGE favorite for us from a couple of years ago. It tastes like a high-input soup, but it's really super quick and simple. Originally based on a Mushroom and Beef Ravioli recipe we came across in a magazine, we altered it to fit our tastes a little better. If you didn't see my recipe post from a few weeks ago, just click on the soup name, and it will take you to our recipe. 

On one of our Table for Two date weekend trips, the appetizer was a delicious chef's corn chowder. It was amazingly creamy, but definitely an appetizer, as it lacked the traditional potatoes. But, Doug had gotten me Martina McBride's cookbook Around the Table for Christmas year before last, and she includes a corn chowder recipe in it. We decided to give that one a shot - and it was a hit! If you click on the soup name above and follow that link, you'll find it first in the list of recipes she shared with Fox News.

Turkey or Chicken and Rice 

Occasionally we aren't able to get ingredients in the crock pot first thing in the morning or we're running short on time for other reasons. This is a great option for those days, especially if you have leftover rice! We keep 1-2 cup servings of pulled chicken or turkey in the freezer at all times. So, I pour 32 oz of chicken broth (or use bouillon cubes and water) into a pot, add the turkey and some frozen veggies (usually peas and/or carrots), heat it all, then add the rice just before serving. Even if we don't have leftover rice, cooking up a batch of rice doesn't add too much time! 

Spicy Cheese Soup

This one comes from the 3 Books in One: Rival Crock Pot cookbook that includes Slow Cooker Favorites, Winning Slow Cooker Recipes, and Slow Cooker Recipes for All Occasions. It's a fun chili alternative. 

Just dump a pound each of Velveeta and ground beef, one can each of corn and kidney beans (undrained), one 14.5 ounce can each of Rotel and stewed tomatoes (we sub fire roasted diced tomatoes here, preferred by those who aren't huge diced tomato fans), and one pkg of taco seasoning into your slow cooker. Cook on low for 4-5 hours or high 3 hours, then serve over rice or Fritos. 

So, we were a little nervous about introducing this one. I had it some growing up and liked it, but we've never made it as a family. But, since we were trying a few new recipes for soup month, we decided it was time to try lentils. We were shocked when Steven decided it was his favorite soup ever! 

There are SO many recipes out there for lentil soup, so we essentially just grabbed one to try. The one linked above is based on organic ingredients, which we didn't worry so much about. But, with the exception of using beef broth instead of vegetable, we made very few real changes. Oh, and we didn't go look for kombu, although we might give that a try later. For texture purposes, we also added just a bit of ground beef. Essentially, we added a pound to this recipe, which makes three to four meals for our family. 

Texture was still a bit of an issue for a couple of family members, even though everyone seemed fine with the flavor. So, when I made it this week, I plunged the stick blender into it before serving to make it smoother in texture (the way I remember lentil soup). I was a little nervous at first, because it tasted a bit like refried beans, which no one in my family likes. But, everyone said it was much better with the smoother texture. So, there's a win!

Chili

I've always been a bit picky about chili, but over the years Doug has experimented with his own recipe. And I love his experiments! If you missed the recipe I posted recently, just click the name above and it will take you straight to that post.

Pasta e Fagioli

Anyone out there enjoy Olive Garden's pasta e fagioli soup? Around our house, Doug enjoys it immensely, but Angela could live on it! We found this copycat recipe, and I personally like it much better than the restaurant version. We have started to use crushed tomatoes instead of diced because there are a few in our family who do not enjoy diced tomatoes.

Chicken Noodle 

Yes, pretty much homemade, but still simple. This is another one of those "in a pinch" soups, perfect for a quick meal. Chicken broth, pulled chicken, carrots, and seasoning. Sometimes we make it quickly in a pot on the stove. Other times, though, we plop all of that into the crock pot, then just add noodles (we like Japanese noodles) in the last thirty minutes or so. That allows flavors to really mesh. Mmmm...good stuff!

Chicken 'n Dumplin's

I shared this recipe a couple of weeks ago. Definitely a staple for our family. For a while, this was our Sunday dinner. Every week. But, we managed to pull back from that. Still, this one will stick around throughout the year rather than just being relegated to cool weather.

Lasagna Soup

Okay, so this is the one soup that did not remain in the rotation. It wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good. But, it just tasted like runny lasagna. And, it was no easier than lasagna - maybe even a little more work. So, the conclusion was that we'd just stick with lasagna instead of making this soup again.

Chicken Tortilla

Here's another staple. When we want something with a little more kick than just plain old chicken noodle or chicken and rice, we go with this super easy recipes. We usually use pulled chicken from the freezer, frozen corn instead of canned, and red beans instead of black, primarily because those are the ingredients we keep on hand. Oh, and we add a little chili seasoning for that perfect flavor.

If you want an added treat to this, heat up two or three inches of oil in an iron skillet or Dutch oven, cut some corn tortillas into small strips, fry them up quickly, and enjoy some fresh crunchy tortilla strips. Yum!

Cream of Broccoli

We've made a variety of broccoli soups over the years, but the one we used this winter was a recipe from the Choates. Saute some onion, add flour, salt, and pepper to make a roux, Add broth slowly, then add broccoli. Cook until the broccoli is tender, then puree it all (we used our stick blender, but you can put it in a blender). Add milk and return to a simmer.

We like broccoli cheese, so we add a good bit of cheese to this. And we usually serve it with sandwiches of some sort.

Beef and Barley

We had a beef & barley soup on the list for January, but the recipe we chose seemed labor intensive and not overly appetizing. So, we never got around to it. For February, though, Doug found this one. Oh. My. Goodness.

This has to be a new favorite. And, like the dumplin's, this one will stay around regardless the weather. It's super easy and is a great Sunday dish. Wow!

Next time we make it, we will probably increase the broth to 8 cups and the barley to 1 cup to easily stretch it to three full meals for our family.

So, there you go! Now I'll have this to remind me what soups to make when cold weather returns, and hopefully you'll get a couple a new recipes from it as well!