Wednesday, December 31, 2008

1,235lb New Years Present

Nope. I didn't get a 1,235lb New Years present. But someone did. A few years back... ;)

In 1801, citizens of Cheshire, Massachusetts, believing their cheese to be superior, decided to make a giant round of cheddar for President Thomas Jefferson. They delivered it to the Presidential New Year's party in 1802. The tale is captured in A Big Cheese for the White House; The True Tale of a Tremendous Cheddar, a picture book by Candace Fleming. The last several nights, it's been 'LilDude's book of choice.

If you are a homeschooler (or just want to do some lessons at home), this book is "ripe" with content perfect for lessons: cheesemaking, problem solving, math (from years since this occurred to numbers of cows to weight of the cheese), geography (track the cheese's progress from Mass. to Washington, D.C.), history, to characterization. The character of Phineas Dobbs is especially intriguing to 'LilDude. Phineas repeatedly protests, "It can't be done," and later proudly states to President Jefferson, "Cheshire cheese...[is] the best you can serve at your table."

It's a fun book to read. And no better time than New Year! :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Taco Soup

Taco soup is a staple at our house. I have made it so often, I no longer follow a recipe. (That's BIG for me!) But for the benefit of taco soup "newbies" :), I'll post a recipe, followed by some of the modifications I've made over the years...

This is the kind of inexpensive, nutritious "fast food" we like!

Taco Soup

1 lb ground beef
chopped onions (amount to taste)
1/2 c. taco sauce or 1 pkg taco seasoning or 2-3 t. chili powder (to taste)
2 (16 oz) cans kidney beans (I drain)
2 (16 oz) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (16 oz) can tomato sauce
1 can corn, undrained
1-2 cans creamed corn

Brown beef and onions. Add seasoning of choice. Add beans, tomatoes and sauce, corn. Mix well. Bring to boil, then simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Optional toppings: grated cheese, tortilla chips (broken from bottom of bag is great for this!), sour cream

Notes: Before I started gardening, this took a lot of canned goods. (I always knew when Taco Soup was on the menu by the number of cans in the dishwasher after dinner.) Now, I use a lot of garden goodies...

I brown the beef with onion, adding chopped green peppers and diced jalapenos from the freezer. I generally use chili powder as the seasoning (least expensive) or homemade Mexican seasoning. I throw in a full quart of canned tomatoes, a pint of homemade tomato sauce and a couple cups of frozen corn. The only canned good I use is the kidney beans. When I'm truly ambitious (not often), I buy kidney beans in bulk, cook them, and freeze. They are significantly cheaper than canned beans.

Raised Winter Beds

A couple of weeks ago, we enjoyed a salad, harvested from our raised beds. (Including a last tomato that was wrapped in newspaper, green, earlier this fall.)

And then it started SNOWING. I went out and harvested anything of any size (mustard, lettuce, spinach, kale), figuring that it would all freeze, turning into a slimy mess. Here's some mustard, peeking out from under the snow, along with a shot of the raised bed, with window cover.

Now that the 14+ inches of snow have melted, I was able to peek into the beds today. Imagine my surprise to discover that it's all survived...including the mustard that was NOT under glass. It's not growing fast, but it survived temperatures into the teens. Makes me hopeful that we'll be able to eat more greens soon!

Monday, December 29, 2008

God's Little Surprises

Been thinkin' about God stuff.

As a kid, I had some vague notion that God could "call" you to something you might not want to do. Hate to do. I could just see some poor missionary getting tied up and thrown onto a jet, kicking and screaming. I suppose that's not too far off...after all, Moses certainly wasn't thrilled with the idea of speaking to Pharoah. And I'm sure Jonah had a few other more appealing options.

Whatever the case, my perspective changed. I still believed that God called people to certain things, but I no longer felt personally threatened. I didn't think God would stick me in the middle of the Amazon if I desperately didn't want to go. Nor did I think I'd be forced to preach to the masses or dig sewage lines in Ethiopia if I was totally opposed to it.

But there was a scenario I didn't consider...

What if God presented an opportunity that had never even occurred to me? Something that I wasn't particularly opposed to, but was entirely "off my radar."

Lately, it seems like callings of this sort keep happening. Lately, I find myself frequently surprised by God. It's all "who woulda thought??" material...

Who woulda thought I'd be taking questions on adoption from people thousands of miles away?

Who woulda thought I'd be earning money in the (gulp) field of mathematics (???!!!???) and LIKING IT????!!!!!! (And who woulda thought that all these jobs would appear at the exact moment that we financially needed it?)

Who woulda thought that I'd be raising step, bio, and adoptive children and learning so much from all of them?

And who woulda thought that God has such a big sense of humor when it comes to puny little me?...

Not long ago, I was pondering yet another God surprise. I wasn't dreading this particular thing. But it was so different from anything that I'd ever considered, that I wanted to be very, very sure that God was actually knocking on my door. "Are you sure it's me you're wanting, God???" I'd already said "yes" to what I thought was a "call" but my human brain was still slapping the idea around, trying to be absolutely sure, sure, sure (definitely my personality) that this was what I was supposed to be doing.

I often carry on conversations with God as I jog up and down my street. On this particular day, I was reflecting on something our pastor had recently shared. He'd arrived at church very early one morning just to see a deer crossing the parking lot. It's not something you see every day at our church. I don't remember his exact thoughts, but he took it as a special moment from God.

So I end my jog and lean against a fence. "God, it sure would be nice if I had some sort of a sign." I close my eyes. Sure would be cool if I got to have a "wildlife moment" too. I open my eyes and shake my head. Naw, that's ridiculous. Even if this is a call from God, God certainly isn't going to put some deer in my path. So I start back to the house.

Out of the corner of my eyes, something moves. I freeze. Along the back edge of our lawn, I see something. I assume it's Kuddles, our furry, black and white cat. But it waddles a little too much for Kuddles. I look closer. It's black and white all right. And furry. With a long, fluffy tail.


It's fully daylight. Up until that moment, I'd never seen a skunk at our house in broad daylight. I'd actually only seen skunks a handful of times in the ten plus years we'd lived there.

God and I had a big 'ole laugh that morning.

I try to pay attention to surprise calls from God. But sometimes I wonder how many of them I miss because my life is so filled with one kind of clutter or another.

I'm trying, God. Listening. Looking for surprises. And ready to laugh.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Living Free of Clutter

I just read a thought-provoking article, "Enough is Enough," that talks about how frugality "doesn't mean cutting back or using only lower-cost ingredients. It means the wise use of resources and avoiding excesses." It goes on to talk about how letting go of clutter (of all kinds) opens "space in our lives for something new to happen." In the spirit of welcoming in the New Year, it's a great read.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Six Egg Day!!!!

Unbelievable!!!! Our seven hens managed to lay SIX eggs today! This is a new record! During our sub-freezing temperatures, we were down to about 3 eggs a day. As it's warming up, the production is increasing. And one egg was thin/odd we think one of the chickens is laying for the first time.

Yea, chickens!!!!!! ;)

Burgerville Coupon

Here's a link for the locals...chocolate hazelnut milkshakes or smoothies at Burgerville! Til Jan. 4.

Christmas Present Less is More

Yesterday I experienced momentary panic. 'LilDude, like most young kids, woke me first thing in the morning wanting to open presents. As you might recall, last year we started a new tradition of exchanging names with a $20 spending limit per person. Everyone from the grandparents down to the youngest ('LilDude) only receive $20 worth of gifts for Christmas. That's it. So, like many parents, I started out Christmas with worry... Will this be enough to make my child happy? Will he like his gifts? Will his Christmas be memorable?

We ate breakfast and waited for the rest of the extended family to arrive. As soon as everyone gathered, 'LilDude began. BigSis drew his name and did an amazing job. She filled a giant stocking with all kinds of goodies. Individually wrapped (!!!!) lollypops and packages of gum. She'd creatively "recycled" some items that her secret dorm sister had given her this fall: bubbles, bouncy ball kit. She'd passed on her quarter collection book that 'LilDude has been aching to have. And she'd made a couple of very careful purchases: a Lego kit and a dinosaur drawing set. Everything was individually wrapped, which made for a lot of unwrapping fun. Even then, it took 'LilDude less than 5 minutes to unwrap his presents. Then he had a fabulous time watching everyone else open their gifts; he was VERY excited to watch "his person," Anakin, open his gift. But the emphasis wasn't on kids. Nobody was given more importance than anyone else, present-wise. Everyone enjoyed watching the others open. When it was over, 'LilDude put his Lego set together and has played with it and his dinosaur drawing kit ever since.

When he was done unwrapping, I could see the relief on his face. Calm, happy satisfaction. It was ENOUGH. He didn't need dozens of presents. Expensive presents. More presents than anyone else. He was happy with a little. A little went a very, very long way.

During the day, the emphasis was on family...playing games, eating, walking and playing in the snow. The day was all about people rather than being all about stuff. Thinking of the baby in the manger, that seems appropriate.

At bedtime when I asked 'LilDude if he'd had a good day, he nodded an emphatic yes. "I loved my presents," was one comment. Less was definitely more.

I'll try to remember not to worry next year. ;)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Pretzel Treats

Lizzi found this easy recipe for Holiday Pretzel Treats. They're pretty, yummy, and easy for kids to make. Now I just need to find fair trade chocolate in these shapes!

Winter Wonderland!!!!

I don't remember snow like this in my lifetime. We're enjoying it!

Can You Identify This Mystery Bird???

A bird keeps returning to our feeder that we can't identify. We're wondering if it's some sort of genetic variation. If you're a bird enthusiast and can enlighten us, we'd love to know what it is.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Books: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle & Twilight

Okay, I confess. I've had a little bit of time. And I've been reading instead of writing. (Hence the lack of recent posts.) I read two best-sellers, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Twilight.

Since The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a newer Oprah book club selection, I waited several months to get it on hold from the library (all the while hearing a lot of hype about it) and only had two weeks to read the 576 pages. So, although it seemed rather slow in places, I kept plodding along, hoping it would get better.

It definitely got better--turned into a mystery, really--which kept me reading. But I also kept reading because I wanted justice for the characters. Without being a total spoiler, let me just say that I was EXTREMELY disappointed by the ending and felt like I'd wasted a lot of time getting to the end. I really should have known... What Oprah book club selection ever ends on a positive note???? None that I've read. Basically, if I want to feel depressed, it's always good to find an Oprah selection. Definitely her genre of choice. Not mine. This Amazon review and the comments that follow sum it up very nicely.

Although vampire books aren't my genre of choice either, I decided to read Twilight to see what Lizzi and her friends are so excited about. I did enjoy reading it. The author writes well, maintains a good balance between action and description, and is extremely good at dialogue and describing the emotions involved in falling in love. But the book also disturbs me. I know it's just a book. I know it's about vampires (hence it's fantastical fiction.) But I find it unnerving that a girl could fall so deeply in love with a guy--mostly based on his looks/aura--that she is willing to give up everything (life!!!) to be with him. The thought really turns my stomach. Yeah, it's romantic. But it's also freaky.

So, anyone else want to share their thoughts on either book? Or have better suggestions for me? ;)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Katy & the Big Snow Lessons

We have been more-or-less snowed in for the last week, plus. Four of the last five school days were canceled. Time for my public school kindergartener to experience some homeschooling. And what better topic than SNOW?!

We started by reading Katy and the Big Snow. Based on an idea in the Five in a Row curriculum, 'LilDude made a list of different places that you'd find in a town, particularly ones that are necessary for the town to function. (Hospital, police, fire, church, store, etc...) He then made a map, placing all the businesses in his imaginary town. He numbered his original list and used this as a map key.

Then, on a large piece of butcher paper, he drew the town, complete with roads, buildings (made of blocks), vehicles (got out all his cars, emergency vehicles, etc...)

We found quite a few snow lessons on the internet as well, including a place to make a snowman by reading some simple directions. On another fun site you can make virtual snowflakes.

We also read:

The Big Snow by Berta & Elmer Hader (Caldecott book)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Caldecott book)
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Caldecott book)
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (we're working on memorizing this one)

It's amazing how many snow-themed books are Caldecott winners. The forecast calls for more snow. Homeschooling, here we come! :)

Leftover beef roast dinner

Have leftover beef roast?

Need a gluten, casein, corn, soy free dinner?

Here's an easy and inexpensive hit...

Roast Beef Gravy & Rice

1 1/4 c. broth & water
(Making broth: I cooked the roast beef in the crockpot with 1 c. added water. After cooking, I strained the juices from the bottom and refrigerated. The next day, I removed the layer of fat from the top.)

Heat the broth in saucepan. If you are slightly short of broth, add a little water. Or, if you simply want more broth, add a little water to extend the recipe.

3/4 c. rice milk
1/4 c. brown rice flour
Use batter shaker or lidded jar to shake rice milk and flour til smooth. Add slowly to boiling broth, whisking until thickened.

1/2 t. salt
Add, to taste.

1-2 c. leftover roast, chopped
Add to gravy and heat.

Serve over cooked brown rice.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

November Food Budget

Finally finished adding in all the receipts from November! Here's our food spending totals:

Groceries (just food):


add $43/month (we buy chicken/beef once a year, so adding a monthly amount)

Total for November food at home: $295 for a family of five (basically 4 adults, 1 child)

Eating out total, November: $51

Keeping track of our expenditures has made some difference in how much we eat out. A couple of times, we decided not to bother, based solely on how it would affect "the numbers." ;)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Been so, so busy! I'll try to get back to writing soon... I especially want to look over our grocery budget from Nov. but I haven't had time to enter everything yet.

In the meantime, happy to report that the kids' Lego Robotics team took first place in the local competition on Saturday. To say the least, we were shocked! It's not been an easy lego year. The night before the competition I think we were all seriously wondering if we should even go to the competition. Perseverance paid off.

This week I'm working, working, working! Praise and thanksgiving that Anakin and I were saved from the car crash that happened inches in front of us on the way home from my job yesterday. It was terrifying to watch. Though shaken, we escaped with nothing more than bad memories. Thankfully, it didn't appear that anyone was hurt although it certainly had all the makings of an injury crash. Anakin nodded when I explained to him that THIS IS THE REASON THAT YOUR 12 YEAR OLD BODY IS NOT ALLOWED TO RIDE IN THE FRONT SEAT. I don't think that argument will come up again anytime soon.

Hopefully will have time to post after this busy week is over.
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