Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Mix-It-Up Cookbook

Tom and Karin gave Marley The Mix-It-Up Cookbook for Christmas, and Marley has made three of the recipes in the book now. This is a good cookbook for young children - those old enough to read and tall enough to work in the kitchen without the aid of a step-stool or chair. It starts off with basic information, the kind of things I forget my children don't already know, such as: keep pothandles turned in; never touch electrical plugs or sockets with a wet hand; don't slip a sharp object into soapy water - someone might get cut because she can't see it. Also included are "Chef Smarts," which are basic measuring facts; "Chef Tips," which are helpful ideas covering how to cut onions without crying, how to soften brown sugar, etc.; and "Chef Terms," which are basic definitions for cooking and for ingredients.

The recipes themselves are divided into ten sections:
Quick Breads
Ice Cream
Mix a Meal

Last week Marley made the chocolate pudding. Unfortunately, we ate it all before I remembered that I should get a picture of it, so the picture from the book will have to suffice.

This was our "one new recipe" for last week.
Chocolate Pudding
3/4 c. sugar
2 T. cornstarch
2 T. cocoa powder
1/4 t. salt
2 c. milk
1 T. butter
1 t. vanilla
Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium saucepan, stir well, and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent milk from scorching. Turn off heat and add last 2 ingredients. Stir well. Allow to cool a bit before pouring into dessert bowls. Chill before serving.

The cookbook suggests several different toppings, and Marley decided to go with those shown in the picture: Gummi Bears and Teddy Grahams (but Steve brought her Annie's Bunny Grahams so she used those instead).

The pudding was delicious, and Marley did it all by herself. I think we're going to enjoy more recipes from this cookbook this year, because Marley likes to cook and she can do many of these recipes without any help.

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Well, this was shocking

I thought one had to be 50 or older to be a member of AARP. This arrived for me in today's mail. I'm 46. (I checked my driver's license, passport, and birth certificate again just to make sure.) I guess I can't tease Steve when he receives AARP-mail anymore... .


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Economics in One Lesson

Last section, and again I'm late. This section was a bit larger than the others, but I found the content to be the most interesting, especially as I read the newspaper along with the book. (And I think that when I have the children read this book, I'll ask them to look in the paper for examples of what Mr. Hazlitt refers to in each chapter.)

The idea that has remained with me this week the most is this one from chapter 25:

"When they say that the way to national wealth is to pay out government subsidies, they are in effect saying that the way to national wealth is to increase taxes."

And I think of all the federal and state and local taxes we've paid (out of income) since I started working at age 14 and Steve started working at about the same age. I'm grateful for infrastructure (like roads and waterworks), the postal system, the library, and many other things those taxes have helped to make and keep running. But when I see everyone at the bank at the first of the month cashing their checks from the government, I wonder if they realize that we are the source of their "government" money, whether it's social security money for retired people, "crazy" money for families with children in school, or a "tax rebate" for someone who doesn't earn enough money to pay taxes.

Several times I've asked Steve if it wouldn't be better to work less, earn less, and pay less in taxes. I think we'd be about even with what our income is now. We might even have more money, because we'd get a tax rebate. Isn't that crazy?

On the other hand, since Jesus says we're to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's (Matthew 22:21), we try to keep a good attitude about paying our taxes and not grumble about it. This is the world we live in, and we know this isn't our true home. So while we're here, we'll do as the Romans do regarding taxes, but remember that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and continue in faith to seek that heavenly country and the city God has prepared for us (Hebrews 11:13-16).

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Deployment begins

I took this picture Sunday, right before Glenn and Amy left for Birmingham. Yesterday morning Amy dropped Glenn off at the airport and he flew back to Illinois. Next Tuesday he'll make the 15-hour flight to Korea.

Last night Amy said that she's busy enough in the daytime to ignore Glenn's absence, but the evening is more difficult. So she and I started watching "24." Last night we watched 4 episodes in a row between 8:00 p.m. and midnight. This morning we went and exercised, then walked around town getting various errands done. Amy said she slept soundly last night. That's good!

We'll just do each day as it comes, and not think about a year. Before she knows it, she'll have reached the half-way point. Then it's all downhill until Glenn returns. I think it may be harder for Glenn as he really misses the children when he's away, and Abbey and Mady are so young now. Hayley can at least talk on the phone in a meaningful conversation when he calls.

When you think of Glenn and Amy and the girls, please pray for them.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Economics in One Lesson

I'm late. But I enjoyed this week's section, which focused on "parity prices," "saving" particular industries (two that are having trouble in my state are the sock industry and the oyster industry), how the price system works, "stabilizing" commodities, price-fixing by government, and rent control.

Mr. Hazlitt made these chapters very easy to understand, so I have nothing to add by way of explanation, but the final chapter on rent control and low-income housing made me think about what (if anything) I can do.

When we lived in Virginia we were part of a small church (maybe 70 or so families) located in a very expensive-to-live area. Rents and housing prices were enormous, often out of the reach of middle and low income families. In our church many families opened their homes to individuals and other families who could not afford places of their own. Rents charged were nominal, at best, and often the two families ate together and enjoyed recreation time together, too. These people did this not for a few weeks or months, but for years.

It amazed me (still does!). You see, I can open my home to family members for long, indefinite periods - we've done it in the past and are doing so now - to give them a place to stay without financial obligation, and without expecting anything of them. But I fear that I'm too selfish to do the same for a family or individual who is not related to me. That's Christianity lived out to a degree beyond where I am currently. But I want to get there. I pray that I'll get there. And perhaps, one day, God will show me how to do it, and walk me through it.

I can't change the world. I can't provide a cheap, safe, warm place to live for everyone in need of such a thing. But perhaps I can do it for one family. And if I do it, maybe another family will see and do the same, just as the families from my Virginia church did.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Egg Nests and Pig in a Blanket Pancakes

Marley wanted to be part of the "one-new-recipe-per-week" fun. She got a new cookbook from Tom and Karin for Christmas and has been wanting to try out some of the recipes. Tonight was her big night. She made two dishes for our supper. Steve and Glenn are enjoying the new recipe excitement, and have gotten it into their heads that they are to "rate" the new foods. They liked tonight's dishes, and both of them gave both dishes an A+.
Marley generously invited Hayley and Abbey to help her, so our meal was lovingly prepared by a 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 2-year-old. (Amy and I provided a safety back-up.)

Egg Nests

6 slices of white bread, with crusts removed and rolled flat
6 Tbsp. diced ham
6 Tbsp. grated cheddar cheese
6 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 6 cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Tuck a flattened slice of bread into each muffin cup, with the corners sticking out. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. ham and 1 Tbsp. cheese into each cup. Crack an egg into each cup over ham and cheese. Place muffin tin in a large baking dish half full of water and place it on the middle rack of the oven. (I placed the baking dish in the oven first, added water, then set the oven to preheat. When it was hot I carefully placed the tin in the baking dish.) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until eggs are cooked through. (We had 12 people to feed, so we quadrupled the recipe - very easy!)

Pigs in a Blanket Pancakes

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1 c. milk
2 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 c. diced ham

Mix all ingredients. Batter should be slightly lumpy *before* adding ham. Cook pancakes on medium heat in skillet with oil or butter until done. Again, we quadrupled this recipe. Served the pancakes with Log Cabin syrup, butter pecan-flavored syrup, and maple butter. (Thankfully, no one asked for ketchup.) They were very tasty.

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At 9:30 a.m. it looked like this:

By 10:30 a.m. it looked like this:

Sam and Hayley played in it until they were soaked through and frozen. Then the snow stopped falling and began melting.

Perfect day.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Necessity recipe...

...necessity being the mother of invention, and all that. We had some leftovers and odd and ends that needed to be eaten, and 12 people to feed for supper so Sarah and I made a casserole.

Pintos and Pork Casserole
corn tortilla chips (we had half a bag)
pinto beans, cooked (we had about 5 to 6 cups of cooked beans leftover from Monday night)
pork roast, shredded (we had about 1/3 of a roast to use)
sour cream (there was 2/3 of a 16 oz. carton in the fridge)
2 cans Ro-tel tomatoes
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, grated (it may have been 1 1/2 c. - we had about 8 oz. of cheese open and needing to be eaten)

In a large rectangular casserole pan we layered corn chips, beans, and meat. Then in a bowl we mixed the tomatoes, sour cream, and spices, and spread the mixture on top of the meat. We cooked it in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes covered, then we took the foil off and cooked it for another 15 minutes. We topped it with the grated cheese, put it back in the oven for five more minutes to melt the cheese, then served it along with a salad and fruit. It fed all 12 of us (even with seconds) and there was enough leftover to make three people happy for lunch tomorrow.

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January's sock

The sock for January (for me) is done. According to Penny I can go ahead and knit the second one now - not wait until February. The sock pattern is Girl's Best Friend Anklet Socks from KnitPicks . The yarn is Opal and I'm using US size1 bamboo double-pointed needles. (And this sock needs to be blocked.)


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Leepike Ridge

Marley received several books as Christmas gifts and one was Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson. I asked her if I could read it, and she said that would be fine.

I liked it a lot, and I think she will enjoy it. Despite some of the creepy things, and some of the nasty characters, it was a good story that moved right along and didn't stop to linger on the "ick" stuff.

This is the story of Tom, a boy who lives with his widowed mother in an old house chained to the top of a mountain. One evening while floating (in the river at the base of the mountain) on a piece of foam packing that came in a refrigerator box, he is poured through a hole, down a waterfall, and into the bowels of the mountain. There he spends an indeterminate amount of time (more than hours, but less than weeks) trying to figure out how to get out and meets up with a dead body, a live dog, a trapped man, and treasure from an ancient civilization. In the meantime his mom is searching for him and she gets harrassed by a group of bad cavers (that was a new category of villains for me), and finds out what a piece of work her "boy friend" really is. Tom gets out of the mountain (with the dog and the trapped man) and there's a happy ending.

Mr. Wilson acknowledges Homer's Odyssey, Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and some friends and family members for inspiration. I was also reminded as I read of Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, several characters from Charles Dickens's novels, and the Coen brothers' film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? This book is probably one that David, Sarah, and Joan will also want to read, and one that I'll recommend to adults and children.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Economics in One Lesson

This week's chapters were short and sweet, and this quote (from Adam Smith?) was what stayed with me all week:

"It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy."

Mr. Hazlitt expands this idea in explaining tariffs, but it certainly bears weight in our family economy, too. As I explained to the children, this is why I don't make jams, jellies, and preserves at home. This is why I don't have sheep, goats, or chickens. For our family, it would cost more to run a home farm than it does to buy our food.

I do knit sweaters and socks for family members, but not to save money. Knitting is cheaper than spa days and vacations, so I knit for pleasure and relaxation. However, that doesn't mean I won't buy a sweater made in Vietnam or China from Wal-Mart or Target for $12.

I like Mr. Hazlitt's common sense approach to economics.


Monday, January 14, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I've read several reviews of Khaled Hosseini's book, A Thousand Splendid Suns at Semicolon and thought perhaps it should go on my list to read. Then Miss Betty offered to loan me her copy. I asked her if it was a good book, and she answered, "Not particularly, but you ought to read it anyway."

Not getting a warm, enthusiastic recommendation to read it, I wasn't setting aside time to really get into it. Last week I read about the first third of the book, and thought it was okay. Not riveting, but okay. Then last night before bed I picked it up and read until the last few pages. The story got better (not better as in "happy," but better as in "interesting"), and I didn't think I could bear to go to sleep without finishing it. But Steve had to go to sleep before I finished it, so I shut the book, turned off the light, and lay awake until 2:00 a.m. digesting what I'd read.

This afternoon I read the final few pages, and decided I liked it. Yes, it was pretty depressing, but the ending was hopeful. I would imagine that if I lived in Afghanistan during the time depicted in the book I would have to live in hope that the future would be better - otherwise it would be difficult to live each day as it came.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Silly quiz

Thanks to Anne I now know what kind of sandwich I am.

You Are a Ham Sandwich
You are quiet, understated, and a great comfort to all of your friends.Over time, you have proven yourself as loyal and steadfast.And you are by no means boring. You do well in any situation - from fancy to laid back.
Your best friend: The Turkey Sandwich
Your mortal enemy: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Anne, as a ham sandwich I am a best friend to your turkey sandwich. (Steve loves grilled cheese sandwiches...)


Home to Harmony

Mom and Dad have been telling me for several months that I should read Philip Gulley's "Harmony" novels. I'd say, "Yeah, yeah, okay, I will," and continue to read other books instead. Last week Dad stopped by the house, came into the family room where I was reading (a book other than one by Philip Gulley), handed me Home to Harmony and said, "Here - it's your own copy to keep." Then he left.

Uh, okay. So I decided maybe I should go ahead and read it already. Obviously it meant a lot to my dad. I did read it. And I did enjoy it. A lot. So much so that I went to PaperBackSwap to get more "Harmony" books to read.

Reminiscent of Jan Karon's Mitford series, or Miss Read's Thrush Green, this story is told by Sam Gardner, a Harmony, Indiana boy who after growing up in Harmony, went away to college and seminary and eventually ends up back in Harmony as the pastor of the Quaker church. Each chapter is like a story in itself, but through them the reader learns Sam's past, about the townspeople, and things to think about, but not in a preachy way. Kind of like Cold Sassy Tree meets The Hawk and the Dove.

I felt like I knew so many of the characters - and their lives. Sam comments on small town living at its best - and not so best. Early in the book Sam states:

"I never wanted to live anywhere but Harmony. When I went away to college and other students asked me where I wanted to live after school, I would tell them Harmony. They said I lacked ambition, which wasn't true. They confused contentment for stagnation, a common mistake. Even at that young age I knew contentment was a rare gift and saw no need to seek it elsewhere when I had found it in Harmony."

This contentment is woven throughout the book, and is doubtless what enables Sam to get along with prickly church members, and deal with the ups and downs of daily living.

Dad and Mom were right about this book. I've already told several other friends about it, and am taking my copy to a friend today.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

What to do when your shower pan leaks

First, when you see the water on the floor of your closet which is directly under the upstairs bathroom, you call the plumber.
Then, when he tells you he thinks it's the shower pan, you laugh and say, "No way! That shower was put in only 18 months ago! It must be the toilet, or something else."

You change the o-ring on the toilet, but still see water dripping from your closet ceiling.

You tell the children to stop using the upstairs shower. For six months everyone (including any house-guest) uses the shower in the master bathroom. You don't see water on the closet ceiling or floor anymore. You and your husband read all kinds of information on the internet, in plumbing and tiling books, and you gather lots of information from the employees at Home Depot and your husband's brother, who is a builder.

That's what we did.

Then Steve, Tom, and David tore out the tile half-way up the walls on the shower stall, and the tiles on shower floor. They removed the underlying cement board on the walls and the mortared pan. (The plumber was right. The board and pan under the tiles were soaking wet, even after six months of no shower-use.)

Steve installed Wonderboard on the shower walls to fit as closely as possible in the corners, then he mortared the corners and cracks. He allowed about a week for it to dry.

Steve put in a CPE liner, and coated the walls and floor with five coats of Red-Guard, allowing three days of drying between each coat. Then he used mortar to create a sloping floor so the water would drain properly in the shower.

When that was done, he applied thin-set and tiled the shower walls from the floor up, then did the same to the shower floor and curb. He waited four days for it to dry, then grouted it all. Finally he applied silicone caulk to cover the grout in the corners and joints.

Now the shower is done and ready to be used. And just in time, because Glenn, Amy, and the girls arrive tonight!


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tire swing

Steve found this tire swing shaped like a horse and we gave it to Sam and Marley as one of their Christmas gifts. He tied it to one of the limbs on the big magnolia tree in the side yard, and it's been a big hit! Every day Sam and Marley go out and play on the swing for an hour or more. I think Hayley, Abbey, and Madyson will enjoy it, too.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dr. Pepper Biscuits

Last night we tried a recipe from a cookbook I found at the library book sale - Favorite Recipes of Alabama Vocational Home Economics Teachers. The recipe is:

Dr. Pepper Biscuits
2 c. Bisquick mix
1/2 t. dried Italian seasoning
2/3 c. Dr. Pepper

Mix ingredients and form into a soft ball. Sprinkle a small amount of Bisquick onto work surface and knead dough. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter into tea size biscuits. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Can be split and filled with meat for parties or served as bread for a meal. (Suitable for freezing.)

Okay. Here's what I did:
-substituted Coke for Dr. Pepper because it's what we had and I didn't feel like going up to the Piggly Wiggly.
-dropped the dough by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet because I didn't feel like kneading, rolling, and cutting dough, nor did I want to have the extra clean-up to do afterwards.
-baked them for 10 minutes exactly.

We ended up with 16 biscuits which were delicious served with pork roast, mashed potatoes, corn, and clementines.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Economics in One Lesson

I am reading Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, and will be enjoying Dana's and Cindy's tutorials as I go along.

Two things about this book appealed to me from the start - on the cover is this subtitle: "The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics," and on the back is this great plug from H.L. Mencken: "He is one of the few economists in human history who could really write."

I started reading this today and am wondering why I waited so long. This is a good book. And I think my children will enjoy it. At least they'll find it as understandable as books they've read by Thomas Sowell and by Walter Williams.

Two ideas in these first five chapters that are easy to understand, and that I want my children to know are these:
"...need is not demand."
"...the wanton destruction of anything of real value is always a net loss, a misfortune, or a disaster, and whatever the offsetting considerations in a particular instance, can never be, on net balance, a boon or a blessing."

Now go read Cindy and Dana and learn something.


I Am the Messenger

After reading The Book Thief and thinking it one of the best books I'd read last year, I had high hopes for Markus Zusak's book, I Am the Messenger.

It was very different, and I guess that's why I was disappointed. I did read it to the end thinking the mysteries would be solved and I'd learn "who" and "why," but ultimately it's a novel about the importance of good self-esteem. (Blech!) I'll probably pass on trying any more of Zusak's books for a while.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

French Onion Soup

Donna has a great idea to try one new recipe a week this year. When I told my family I'd like to do that, they all responded with enthusiasm.
This week I tried a different recipe for French onion soup. It turned out so well there were no leftovers! And it was fun to go totally from scratch, and try some of the things I'd read about in Michael Ruhlman's book, The Making of a Chef.
First I made beef stock. In a roasting pan in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour I roasted:
5 lbs beef bones
1 cup coarsely chopped celery
1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
Then I discarded any charred bits, poured the rest into an 8-qt. stock pot, and added:
1 tomato
2 smashed cloves of garlic
1 tsp. salt
bouquet garni (6 peppercorns, 4 parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, 2 thyme sprigs - I subbed 1/2 t. dried parsley, 1/4 t. dried thyme - all tied in a bundle of cheesecloth)
4 to 5 qts. water
And simmered it all for about 3 hours, spooning off any fat and gravy scum as it rose to the surface. Then I strained the stock through a colander lined with cheesecloth, threw away the solids, put the liquid back in the pot, brought it to a low simmer and added:
1 cup of Chardonnay white wine
1 tablespoon of cognac
I then peeled and sliced:
3 lbs. yellow onions
And sauteed them in a large saute pan with:
4 tablespoons of butter
The children and I then took turns stirring the onions as they cooked for about 45 minutes on a medium to medium low heat until they were the color of brown sugar. Then we added the onions to the stock.
While the beef bones and vegetables were roasting, I made three loaves of bread, which I baked when the oven was free again. When the loaves were cool, we sliced the bread, brushed each slice on both sides with olive oil, and toasted the slices for croutons. Unfortunately, the Piggly Wiggly had no gruyere cheese, so we ended up using Swiss cheese instead.
Not everyone in the family likes their crouton and cheese in the soup, so we placed sliced Swiss cheese on each toasted slice of bread, melted it in the oven, and served it separately from the soup. Those that wanted to put their croutons with melted cheese in their soup bowls, and those that didn't dipped their croutons and cheese in their soup as they ate it.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

See You in a Hundred Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America

My reading list selection for January was Logan Ward's book, See You in a Hundred Years.

In this book, Ward tells how he, his wife, Heather, and his two-year-old son, Luther, moved from Manhattan to Swoope, Virginia in 2000 to live for one year as though it were 1900. They were inspired by several things: a feeling that they were missing something of value in their busy modern lives; a desire to grow closer together; an article about a PBS show in which an English family lived a 1900 life in a 1900-era house; books by Wendell Berry. Their rules were simple: if it didn't exist or had not been invented by 1900, they wouldn't use it.

So they bought their small farm and farmhouse and cooked and heated the house with a woodstove. They built an outhouse, and bathed in the livestock tank. They planted and grew their own food, had chickens for eggs, and two goats for milk. They ate food fresh from the garden through the summer, then canned and dried and cellared the produce of their garden for the winter and following spring. It sounds idyllic, until Mr. Ward details the everyday workload for them (and tells about the snakes and the mice). Basically they worked from before dawn until dusk through the spring, summer, and fall, then had lots of down-time in the winter.

They managed to have guests (and their guests enjoyed helping them work) and discovered a sense of community and learned to accept and offer hospitality. They grew closer together as a family, too. At the end of their year in 1900, they were pleased with the results - what they had learned, how they had lived.

This was a funny, honest, very enjoyable book!

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year