Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Snow Baby!

We bought Tyler his first pair of snow boots on Monday. We've had deep snows here lately and wanted him to experience it. We think Tyler misses his almost daily walks in the fresh air. So we bundled him up and ventured into the backyard. He was a little bit scared and wanted to hold our hands while walking in the drifts, which went up to above his knees. He tasted the snow and found it...interesting!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Samosas and a New Cookbook!

I got a wonderful new cookbook a while back. It is a whole grain baking book from the King Arthur Flour Company:

One of the main reasons I got is was so that I could have a recipe for whole wheat puff pastry and turnover dough. I haven't tried the puff pastry yet, but I did try the turnover dough recipe. I used it to make one of my family's favorite meals - Samosas (a traditional east Indian food). I serve them with a sauce made of garam masala and mango chutney - YUM!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Quote

“When love and duty are one, grace is within you.”

This is from the movie The Painted Veil. (Note: This movie is absolutely not recommended for young viewers due to certain scenes and behaviors of the main characters.) It is a quote from one of the characters, a Catholic nun in China, describing how mundane work can become holy. As soon as I heard it, I jotted it down on a Post-it and stuck it on my refrigerator door, because it is the sort of inspiration I need when I am cleaning dishes and yuck out of the kitchen sink for the third time in one day, or when folding the umpteenth load of laundry. If I can just intersperse love of the people I am working for into the task (duty), I can elevate a simple task well above how it appears simply on the surface.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Son!

I had never been a football fan in my life. Paul had played in high school, but never watched it once he got older. But for some reason, our son, Robert, developed a sudden interest in it two years ago. So when he started Catholic high school this year, one of the first things he did was to join the football team. I finally began to learn about the game for the first time in my life. Once I understood a little bit, I actually found it exciting. It was also much more interesting when there was a player I knew personally to watch. Robert had a good season and enjoyed every minute. One of the other player's parents took this photo. We were glad to have this momento!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Orderly Days

As promised, I am going to share my new home management binder, Orderly Days by Motherhood Press (Update 10/13/08: Sadly, the website seems to be down right now. I don't know why or when it might return.) I am the type of person that really needs a schedule, yet I tend to balk against one. This, in spite of the fact that if I have a to-do list, I get tons more done than without one. So, I am giving this a try. I wanted to have everything in one place: calendar, to-do lists, chore schedules, grocery lists, menus, phone and address pages, etc. This binder has several sections with these types of features, tabbed for easy location.

I also wanted to "tweak" my binder to make it more useful to me personally. So I bought some extra forms that fit this size binder. (I bought Day Runner fillers, but any brand of the correct size would do.) I like to have a full-length, daily check list for appointments and to-do's, so I got daily pages for that. All I do is fill in the date and whatever needs to be done. I also got extra name and address forms. I also wanted a plastic pencil holder for pens, dry erase markers, and index tabs. Finally I also wanted plastic protector sheets so I could put the daily chore lists in them and cross off the tasks with the dry erase markers each day, then erase to be ready for the next. I ended up needing to temporarily remove some of the Orderly Days forms for the future (I took out about 6 months worth, which will be put back in once I've used up the other ones) in order to make room for these additions.

I'm not done getting it right yet! I still have to write up and print my daily chore lists to be put in the plastic protectors. And I haven't filled out the name and address section yet. But all in time (which I hope to have more of now that I am getting oganized!). So far, I have been much better about getting my tasks (both work and play) done. This system also helps me keep on track with regular prayer time.

Here are a few pictures, showing some of the features and my "tweaks":
Pencil holders for pens, markers, and index tabs

Weekly organizational page, plus the Day Runner "Today" page

The weekly goals list, stressing spiritual growth as well as family and personal needs

The binder, closed up and ready for tomorrow!

Tea and Movies

Once a month or so, I hostess a "Movie Night" for my friends who love tea and old movies. We watch costume dramas (movies like Sense & Sensibility and Little Women) and the old black and white films (such as The Heiress and Laura). I serve the tea buffet style. We usually have our savories and first cup of tea prior to starting the movie, then take a break in the middle for our sweets and fresh tea. Of course, everyone is free to replenish their plates and cups at any point throughout the movie! I always use my good china, because I hate the thought of that lovely wedding china only being used a few times a year for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. And it makes for a lovely table setting. The flowers are silk, made at a past tea event I had where we learned how to make Tussie-Mussies.

Here is my most recent table setting before we all dug in:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Kitchen Drawer Reorganization

In my small-space kitchen, drawer space is at a premium. So I was very unhappy with an overloaded, inefficient drawer where I kept the majority of my kitchen tools. For some reason on Thanksgiving I got this strange motivation to clean and reorganize it. I guess the thought of all the cooking I was going to do made me want to not be rummaging and hunting for things. So I emptied it out completely, thoroughly washed it, purged unnecessary items (and there were tons of 'em), moved others, and sorted. The main improvement however, was the simple rotation of my drawer divider 90 degrees to the right. It made things fit better, and they are much easier to see. If I had been thinking, I would have taken a "before" picture!

Well, here it is, and it was and has been a joy to work with ever since I straightened it out:

Friday, November 9, 2007

Back Again

Hello! I have been missing due to time constraints and health issues (nothing serious!). I will probably do a blog marathon with photos soon. I have received my planner and have "tweaked" it with some added pages from Day Runner, so it is becoming exactly as I want it. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Longaberger Umbrella Stand

After three years of waiting for a decent price, I finally got the wrought iron stand for my Longaberger umbrella basket! It is so much more sturdy in its stand. I dragged the basket out from its hidden-away corner and put it in a place of prominence in my foyer. I also realized , after all this time, that I had put the pretty floral liner in the basket inside-out. I guess I was thinking that the pretty side should be out, totally forgetting that the basket obscures the outside, except for the ruffle. Do I feel sheepish! If I had the basket in a more visible place prior to this, I might have realized it sooner. But I do like how it looks now:

Today, we lost power for 4 hours, due to the utility company doing some maintenance. It was very interesting to see myself without my usual conveniences. What to do? I couldn't watch TV, so I read my Liturgy of the Hours instruction book and prayed. I couldn't listen to music, so I made my own by practicing my harp (and I am pleased to report that I have broken through a tempo "plateau" of sorts on a piece that was troubling me for weeks). I was able to light the burners on my stove manually with a match (rather than the click-click-click of the electric starter), and made some butternut squash soup and hot tea for my lunch. I also was able to clean. Even without the vacuum, I got a lot done, including the upstairs bathroom - my least favorite cleaning area.

Part of this inspired cleaning has to do with a new system I am looking into. It is a home management binder. I read about it online and just ordered one called "Orderly Days" from Motherhood Press. It is a Catholic planner/binder that incorporates the liturgical year into the calendar. It even has a finger Rosary attached to one of the rings of the binder! Using a binder for home tasks is an organized way of going about one's life. I need this badly, since I am the sort who is easily distracted. (More on this once I receive the binder in the mail!)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tea Towel Craft

A long time ago, I had prepared a tea towel craft for a group of friends to work on at a tea. I had purchased a nice waffle-weave toweling fabric, and cut and hemmed all of the edges. I had a pretty pink lace trim for us to handstitch to each end. The event never materialized as planned, and the craft lay abandoned in a storage box in my basement.

I began thinking about it when I saw that my current kitchen towels were becoming worn and stained. These were inexpensive towels I found at my mother's house after she passed. I sewed little plastic rings to the middle of one edge of each towel, to hang on other side of the sink - one towel for hands, one for dishes:

I decided to go ahead and stitch the lace trim and plastic rings on two of the craft towels and see how they worked in the kitchen. Although they are very pretty, I do believe they are a little to fancy for kitchen work:

So I took the other towels and just sewed the rings on, leaving off any trim:

Finally, I removed the rings from the fancy towels and gave them a new home in my downstairs bathroom. I do believe they look lovely!

Donnie By Candlelight

During a candlelit dinner, our cat, Donnie, decided to take an impromtu nap on the table:

Although we weren't pleased with his choice of locale, he looked very elegant!

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Weekend to be Grateful For

We just had a very lovely weekend. We celebrated Paul's 50th birthday in an extended fashion; his actual birthday fell on the Thursday, so we waited until Friday, when he took a day off from work, to begin. We went to the Chicago Botanical Gardens, one of our favorite places in the world, for several hours on Friday. We saw hummingbirds up close in the "Circle Garden", the model train landscape garden, the fruit and vegetable garden, a heron standing near the water's edge, and the enabling garden (which has all sorts of plants and fountains that are meant to be touched - excellent for Tyler!). We had a picnic too of our usual picnic fare - cheeses, crackers, fruit, and chocolate. I had brought some 100% whole wheat bread and stuck to that, cheese, and fruit, since I am trying to avoid refined white sugar and flour.

On Saturday we had pancakes in the morning (recipe is in my last blog entry). I took care of Tyler while the kids were at their various activities and Paul was doing wood-working in the back yard. It was a very quiet day for me. I was taking it easy because I was in the midst of my monthly migraine headache. The difference this time (and last month) is that I finally have a medication that gets rid of the pain. It's called Imitrex. It makes me somewhat sluggish and tired, but I am so grateful to be rid of that ghastly pain, that used to last for just about 60 hours, that I will gladly take tired and sluggish! In the evening we watched a comedy and ate Italian food (pizza for the family, whole wheat pasta and sauce for me!).

On Sunday we had my cheddar-chive muffin recipe in the skillet. I made it with whole wheat bread and honey this time. It was different, but still good. I had to add extra ww flour, because the honey adds liquid, whereas the sugar I previously would use does not. Then we went to church. After church we finally had Paul's birthday cake (okay, I did cheat and have a piece!). After that, Paul continued on his wood-working project while Tyler napped and the girls and I went for some new clothes for them. We stopped at the brand-new Whole Foods on our way home. It's huge! The girls went about, trying all the free samples they had available. We had dinner, and then Paul and I took Tyler for a stroll and a brief visit to the park, which he just loves. It was such a beautiful evening, and I just felt so glad for the nice time we had.

Because I did not lose the whole weekend suffering in tremendous pain, and accomplishing nothing, I was able to keep up with housework and cooking, so that I was ready to start the week right. And my improved eating habits have given me so much more energy. I went to Bible study this morning. Later, Julie and I were able to take care of her voter registration, details at the office for Tyler's medical insurance, buy him his first pair of shoes, and clean his room this morning. I have started cleaning my room; just took a break to write here for a bit. I feel very blessed that God has given me relief from my pain, and the motivation to eat properly so that I can function as I wish to function as a mom and grandma!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wake up! It's Time for Pancakes!

Now that Robert is attending Catholic high school, I have become an early riser. This is not my ideal - I am more of a night-owl by nature. But between him and baby grandson Tyler, there is no chance to sleep in. I have been waking at the unheard-of (for me) hour of 6:00 am. I have 20 minutes to get in and out of the shower before Robert needs to get in the bathroom. While he gets ready I make breakfast.

An online friend had once mentioned making pecan pancakes using freshly-ground, whole wheat flour. This sounded delightful, since Paul loves pecan pancakes. And now that I have a grain mill, I love the idea of grinding fresh flour for my recipes. I find that with whole wheat pancakes, my blood sugar does not plummet the way it normally does an hour or so after I eat pancakes or waffles made with refined white flour. I found a nice recipe online. This recipe works with any filling: chocolate chips, blueberries, etc. Or just plain. I have adapted it a bit from the original, but I will post the link to the original recipe below.

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted if desired, or other filling (optional)
cooking spray for the pan
pecan halves or fruit for garnish, optional

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, soda, and chopped pecans (optional).
In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk and milk, egg yolks, and melted butter. Blend wet and dry ingredients just until all ingredients are moistened.
Fold beaten egg whites into the batter until well incorporated.

Original recipe

The good news is that Tyler just LOVES pancakes. He eats them like they were going out of style. The rest of us like them too! What a lovely way to feed the family.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A New Tea Cozy

I've been wanting a second tea cozy for a long time now. I like to have two pots of tea brewed when my lady friends come over, so we all have a choice, but I only had one cozy to keep the pots warm with.
A fellow blogger, Anna, had made a darling cozy and offered it for sale. So I bought it! I opened the package today and tried it out. It fits perfectly over my grandmother's tea pot. So I had a nice little afternoon tea (Irish Breakfast tea with buttered toast), and my new cozy kept my tea hot. (P.S. I put it on straight out of the mailing envelope, which is why there is a little crease. I just couldn't wait to try it!)

Here it is:


I have some photos to share of some of our garden successes. By far the tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and eggplant did the best. Also our acorn squash and watermelon. I must caution though - watermelon and cantaloupe take up so much space with their sprawling leaves. I don't think we'll plant them next year. Plus the cantaloupe did not produce fruit yet, except for tiny ones that did not mature. Maybe there is still hope that something will happen before the cold arrives.

Cherry tomatoes - I love to go into the garden and just graze on these, right off the vine!

Our watermelon, just about ready to eat. (This one set fruit in the row in between the garden boxes - as I said, it just sprawled everywhere, and except for some occasional pruning, we left it alone.)

Acorn squash, with Nasturtiums.

Our prize eggplant, harvested, and ready to be turned into Eggplant Parmesan!

Critter Control in the Square Foot Garden

At the start of our harvest season in our garden, the animals were beginning to chomp on some of our tender vegetables. I was particularly dismayed one day to find our first, almost-ripe tomato that had been chewed. How disappointing! I love animals, but I was a little put off by them that day.

So, Paul and I consulted the SQFT garden book and learned how to make some critter-control structures. These are simply 1/2" PVC piping (found in the plumbing section of your local home improvement store) cut to size, curved into an arc, and stuck into the edges of the SQFT box. A cross piece is then added to the top with cable ties, and netting is then draped over the entire thing. We have to find a better way to hold down the netting for next year. The blocks we have here are too large and we trip over them.

Eggplant and tomatoes, with geraniums.

Another view, with the southwest garden box and its critter control.

A special little "critter" I found in my garden!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Safe, Warm, and Dry At Home!

Today we have had extremely severe storms. At one point, I woke up a sleeping Tyler and ran to the basement due to the high winds and dark skies. Later, I needed to pick up Robbie from (his first day at) school. Football practice had been cancelled due to a near tornado. The getting there wasn't bad, but the going home took over an hour due to needing to alter the route I took. That was because of extreme traffic and downed trees.

But while I was crawling through traffic, Robbie told me all about his first day, the scary time in the basement of school when there was a tornado warning in that area, and the people he met. He also did a bit of homework (a new concept for a formerly homeschooled boy!). I had called home and asked Kristin to put the bread that was rising on the counter into the oven, so we had fresh bread upon arrival. I also decided to try my aunt's mac'n'cheese recipe tonight - comfort food - I needed it!

The storm rages on outside, but we are safe and dry!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Missing Robert

I sent my baby boy, (well actually he is 15 years old!) to Philmont Scout Ranch a week and a half ago. There is no contact, due to their locale (no cell phones, camping out in the boonies). This is the longest Robert has been away from us. I am going a little crazy wondering how he is. Is the food okay, did he get sunburnt, is he getting along with the others? To compound my worries, a story appeared in the news that several boys were struck by lightening at Philmont. Four of the boys are from a nearby town to us. Thankfully they are okay; it wasn't a direct hit. They are back to their scouting activities. The hardest part for me is that Robbie was in the same area of the strike either that same day, or just a day before (I'm not entirely clear on his trail schedule).

But he will be home this coming Saturday. I will be so glad to see him. I know that he will most likely ask to go out for pizza at his favorite place - Giordano's. After two weeks of trail food and freeze-dried dinners, he will be ravenous!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Taming the Square Foot Garden

My Square Foot Garden is doing tremendously well, but it was getting a little scary with all of the rain and its resulting growth of plants. I needed to go in and restore order before nature took over!

The watermelon plant was particularly scary!

After working on it:

All clear!


The results, freshly picked!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Antique Books

I have developed a love of antique books. I like books on cooking, sewing, and etiquette. I have been steadily collecting interesting old books for the past year or so. My most recent aquisition is the one pictured above, The New Butterick Dressmaker, published in 1927. Here is a photo from inside that I find very appealing because the drawing of the lady is so very stylish and charming as she prepares her fabric on the mannequin. (If only I looked this stylish when I sew!):

I have a small space on top of my china cabinet where my antique books reside:

My father's model windmill stands guard

Baking Bread

I am a very happy lady. Paul and I were discussing bread baking, and how much we like homemade bread. I have an old grain mill that fits on my Champion juicer, but it was wearing down and not working properly. We decided to invest in a new grain mill, a Nutrimill. It is delightful. It is simple to use (unlike the Champion), simple to clean, and fast.

I have made two batches of bread since we got it. I was having some difficulty with over-rising. In winter-time, using a second rise after the dough had been mixed and kneaded in the Bosch mixer worked fine, due to our rather drafty house keeping the indoor temperature cool. But in the warm summer, with our A/C not really keeping up, the dough became over-risen and collapsed. So for summer baking, I will now just let the Bosch knead the bread and let it rise once in the bread pans. For winter, I will first let the dough rise in a bowl, then again for a second time in the pans.

Here is one of the loaves I made using the single rise for summer:

Summer Flowers

A small sampling from our garden:

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Nite Nite!

After a wave of Tyler photos, I couldn't resist posting this one before I go to bed.

Sweet dreams Little One. Good Night all, and may God bless you!

I Love the Flower Boy!

Tyler and Paul have a morning routine that never varies. Once Julie or I have fed him breakfast, Tyler and his Grandaddy go out into the garden to see the flowers. Invariably, Tyler comes in the house with a flower that Grandaddy picked for him.


We have just ended a rare experiece - the emergence of the 17 year cicadas. We had hundreds of them in our yard and in our town. Although it was not pleasant walking down the sidewalk, trying to avoid them (they were everywhere), they are certainly interesting critters. When Julie was 3 years old, we took a picture of her with one of them on a stick. Now we have a photo of her son, with a cicada that had landed on him without us realizing it. Tyler was on his way up for a nap when Paul saw the cicada on his hand. We got some good photos before we set the cicada free.

A cicada on a tiny hand - "Quick Grandma, Get the camera!"

"Careful Baby, don't squash him!"

During our strolls together (which Tyler and I continued in spite of the many cicadas we had to maneuver around), I often thought about how odd the world must be to the cicada. To emerge after such a long time. It was a sort of insect Brigadoon!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Square Foot Gardening

I have been very busy with woodwork refinishing and gardening, which explains my absence from here! I am using a method of gardening called Square Foot Gardening. We started this two years ago, and with each year it gets better and better. Paul built two more boxes this year. I am happy to say that we are enjoying the first fruits of this garden:


Here is the garden:

Paul is going to finish laying the garden blocks down in the back.
I need to plant more seeds!

And here is a close up of the first square I planted:

In the corners: Flowers
Foreground: Carrots
Middle Front: Beets
Left side: Sugar Snap Peas
Right Side: Radishes
Back: Lettuces and Leeks

I have been methodical about writing down not only what I planted when, but I have also been calculating the projected harvest dates as well. So I have a separate page called "Harvest 2007" that has the weeks of summer and what will be ready during that particular week. I had to use a calendar and the seed packets to calculate the harvest dates. It did not take all that long, and now all I have to do is consult the Harvet Schedule each week to see what I can pick!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

In the Garden!

Today I worked for a long time in the garden. No white dress however! I was in my gardening ensemble, which is clothing that does not mind getting dirty. I was trying to get a photo of an elusive cardinal who feeds from our birdfeeder. I had no luck, so instead took some photos of spring beauty in the backyard.




Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cheddar Chive Muffins

This morning I made a recipe for breakfast that we all enjoy often. It's actually a muffin recipe, given to me by my sister, but we always make it in a cast iron skillet and cut it in wedges. It is delicious, and even more so now that we can include fresh chives from our garden that survived the cold winter.

Here's the recipe:

1 and 1/4 cup milk (or milk substitute)
3/4 cup mashed potato flakes
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 and 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 TBSP sugar (or other sweetener)
2 TBSP chives
1 TBSP parsley flakes (optional)
1 TBSP baking powder
1 tsp salt

Heat milk in a saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in potato flakes. Let stand for about 2 minutes, then whip with a fork until smooth. Let cool slightly. Turn into a medium mixing bowl. Beat in egg, oil, and cheese. Combine remaining ingredients and stir into potato mixture just until moistened (batter will be thick). Put into a greased muffin pan (or use paper muffin cups to line the muffin pan) or into a large, greased, cast-iron skillet. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Indoor Picnic

This week Paul was off work. We wanted to try and combine fun with working on home projects. We had planned to go to the Botanical Gardens last Tuesday. Julie and I were out shopping for our picnic foods and running other errands. As we went from place to place, the unpredictable Chicago weather got colder and colder - by 15 degrees! Our warm, sunny picnic and outing suddenly seemed like a chilly undertaking.

We decided to make a back-up plan: We would have our picnic indoors, and then go to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which has many indoor exhibits. So we would be outside in small increments. Before we left, we set out our picnic on the dining room table and had our lunch. It was a lot of fun.

The zoo outing was enjoyable for all, including Tyler, who was most interested in the fish! We went to the gardens on Friday, where the weather had warmed up so much, no jackets were required!

P.S. Yes, that is a Christmas tablecloth! The others were in the wash, and I needed something to throw on the table quickly!

Julie and Tyler

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spring Cleaning - Part II

Last week I was very busy getting the house ready for Easter. Somehow, it all made sense to me for the first time in my life.

Here's what I mean:

For years, I wandered through my life with doubts about God. I became a true believer in 2002 and started going to a non-denominational church, and then in 2005 joyfully returned to the Catholic Church in which I was raised. In 2006, for the first time, I went to the entire Triduum (the Masses held from Holy Thursday through Easter). This to me was just the most wonderful way to anticipate and celebrate Christ's Resurrection.

This year, during the days before the Triduum Masses, I was getting the house ready for company on Easter Sunday. With the help of the whole family, we did a thorough house cleaning. We were all so pleased with the results. As I worked, I tried not only to think about welcoming company, but also to be welcoming Christ upon His Resurrection. It was very satisfying to think of preparing not only for company, but to prepare in all ways for Christ: the cleaning, the shopping, the prayers, practicing choir music, and the Masses.

Among other things, we:
1. Shampooed the hall carpet runner, and Robert's carpet.
2. Cleaned Robert's room (a major undertaking).
3. Washed the curtains and swags in the parlor and sitting room.
4. Dusted thoroughly, including running the Swiffer around the ceiling for any cobwebs.
5. Managed to find a place for everything, and put everything in its place (although there were a couple of bags of papers that were not really put away properly, rather shoved in the storage compartment under our Captain's bed!)
6. Vacuumed, mopped.
7. Put out decorations, such as bunny candle holders with pastel tapers, an Easter Lily plant, and some baskets.

This combination of faith preparation as well as home preparation made for an entirely beautiful Easter Day. The entire house was clean, rather than cordoning off one room with massive piles of junk thrown into it, hidden from the eyes of guests. I felt so peaceful that even in the evening, after the company had left and we had our own quiet family dinner, I was not stressed as I cooked and served. It all just felt right!

Alleluia, He is Risen!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007