Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's in our Nature

Lots of Nature related things are going on around here, as usual. That, and some running and some good food, pretty much sums up the theme of this post (and many other posts). I like to post these rather mundane things sometimes to keep a journal of our lives and to keep my in-laws (who are in Kyiv, Ukraine for another year) and friends & family posted on our exciting lives (who doesn't think grasshoppers and huckleberries are exciting?). So I apologize for boring anybody, but c'est la vie.

The Love Bug

Eleanor's pet grasshopper lived with us for about 4 days before making his way to the Great Beyond. Grassy had some health problems when Eleanor rescued him from the sidewalk - he couldn't walk, hop, flit, or flutter about. Eleanor was a doting nurse to the poor guy (or girl?). She fed and watered him regularly, and discovered that Grassy really liked the rose petals from our flower bed. It was an incredible experience to see her usually holding him in one hand and feeding him with the other. Grassy ate voraciously, regardless of his position, whether lying on his back, lying in Ellie's hand, or stretched out on the walkway. When Eleanor placed drops of water in the flower petals, Grassy slurped up the water like a puppy. I never thought I'd get attached to a grasshopper, but Grassy won us all over. Cute little thing. He's on to greener pastures now, hopefully with his hoppers back in order.

The Great Outdoors

We took the kids on a hike around Horseshoe Lake last week, then made the extra little jaunt over to Cave Falls (Yellowstone). Last time we came to Cave Falls (4 years ago), there was a cave. It has now collapsed and the large cavern is just a pile of rocks. The Falls are still as lovely as ever.

Huckleberry ice cream

Oh, as an unexpected surprise while hiking around Horseshoe Lake, we came upon tons (I exaggerate) of wild huckleberries (are there such thing as cultivated huckleberries?). It's somewhat bewildering that it takes 2 hours to pick 2 cups of the little gems (okay, I'm exaggerating again - but it did take a long time). Turns out that two cups of the berries is just what you need to make about 1 1/2 quarts of delicious, fresh homemade huckleberry ice cream.

A Tale of A Tail
Oliver arranged a Lizard-catching Expedition last week. All I had to do was provide transportation, food, and moral support. Jeff and Sam were on another overnight campout, so the rest of us, along with Oliver's friend Ethan, climbed the "R" Mountain in the heat of the afternoon. It's a short but steep hike, and everyone did great. Except for the poor lizards we caught. I still feel awful about "Rocky" who lost his tail, then died hours later. :(
Kids and lizards. Charlotte is the only one with my kind of sense here - she's holding a paper flower instead of the slippery creatures the others are handling.

Since we couldn't bring home a lizard, (Mom said!), Eleanor wanted to bring home a lizard's tail. She wasn't happy when I said no. No. No. No. Absolutely not. We compromised by taking a picture of the nasty thing. Still, she wasn't happy to leave it behind...(no pun intended!).

Which Witch?

Charlotte and I have been enjoying each other's company while everyone else is in school, but I think she gets tired of me sometimes. We checked out this Witch Puppet from the library, and the Witch quickly replaced me as her buddy. Hmm.
Charlotte has been carrying her new little friend around with her ever since, even dressing to match.
It's going to be a sad day when we have to return Witchy to the library. But then I'll get my Charlotte back all to myself. No, I'm not jealous. Not jealous. I am not. Really. Not a bit. (Poor me...)

Running and Running
Sam's on the Junior High Cross-Country team. It's been fun to watch him race, although I do have those Mommy moments when I worry if he's having a good time, if he ate enough, if he's staying hydrated, if he's safe, if he's.... "Oh, Mom'" Sam groans, "I'm okay!" Okay.

Speaking of races, as a last minute thing I ran a local 10K a week ago yesterday. It was a fund raiser for Make-A-Wish. The course was all hills - long steep hills up the first half, then down the same hills the second half. Luckily these are the very same hills I train on, so I knew what was coming and I was conditioned to them. Somehow I ran my fastest 10K yet at an average of 7:38 minute miles (I took full advantage of the fast downhills to get that average - my uphills were like 8:30 minute miles). The race was tiny (like 30 people), and I finished 3rd overall for men and women, and 2nd for women. Oh, and I finally figured out the RUSH Triathlon times (silly me - you have to actually click on your name to get your splits! Who'd have thought?).

Fall(-ing for) Food
Autumn is visiting today, so it was a perfect day for soup and bread. This Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup is one of my favorites. You make the soup in one large pot, and the cream sauce in a smaller pot, then combine in the large pot.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
4 Cups cooked chicken, cubed
4 Celery stalks, chopped
4 Large Carrots, sliced
1 Med. Onion, chopped
1 scant tsp. celery salt
1 scant tsp. onion salt
1 scant tsp. garlic salt (OR 3 Tsp. any salt)
1/2 tsp. Poultry Seasoning
Chicken broth or bouillon to cover above (about 8-10 cups)

2-4 cups Dry Egg noodles

Combine chicken, salts, poultry seasoning, celery, onion and carrots and broth to cover; boil, then add noodles. Cook 15 minutes or until done.

Make Cream Sauce:
3/4 Cup butter, melted (or melt in pot)
3/4 Cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
3/4 tsp. pepper
1 qt (4 Cups) Milk

In a large pot, combine melted butter and flour, mixing until smooth and thick. Add milk gradually, letting it thicken a little at a time, stirring often. Stir in salt and pepper. For a thicker soup, let the cream sauce cook (stirring often) until thickened. Add to soup once the noodles are done.

Garlic Pull-Apart Bread

This is the perfect bread to go along with the soup. First I make a regular bread machine rolls recipe:
1 cup Milk (warmed on high in microwave for 1 minute)
1/2 cup butter (softened in the microwave in the same cup I warmed the milk in)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (I whisk them in the same milk/butter cup)
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
4 cups Bread Flour
1 Tbs. Instant Yeast

In bread machine, combine in order given. Set to dough cycle (You can do this in a regular Kitchen Aid or Bosch type mixer, too - just make dough and let rise).
Using about 3/4 of the dough, I make the Pull-Apart Bread. (I use the other 1/4 to make 6-8 regular rolls).
Garlic Pull-Apart Bread
Melt 2 Tbs. butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 2-3 tsp. minced garlic and saute 3 minutes.
Roll dough into an 8 x 12 inch rectangle. Spread garlic mixture over top of dough. Cut into 4 strips vertically, then horizontally to get 16 (3x2 inch) pieces. Place pieces in a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan. (The arrangement will look like an accordion pleat.) I tip the loaf pan up a little to help stack the rectangles, turning each one with a corner up opposite to the rectangle before and after so it alternates. When I'm done, I set the pan down and move everything to fill the pan evenly. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until slices fill pan, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Bake about 30 minutes, until golden brown, placing foil on top after 10 minutes. Immediately invert bread onto a wire rack; cool slightly. Serve warm. Makes 1 loaf. Serves 8.

Pumpkin Pie Cake
To round out the comfort food dinner tonight, I made this easy and low-calorie (KIDDING!) dessert.

1 can (15 oz) solid pack pumpkin
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 Cup sugar
4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 package (18 1/4 oz) yellow cake mix (white cake mix works, too)
3/4 Cup butter or margarine, melted
1 1/2 Cups chopped walnuts (optional)

In a mixing bowl, mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, and spice. Pour into a greased 9x13 baking pan. Sprinkle with the dry cake mix, then drizzle melted butter over the top (it's totally fine if there are dry patches). Top with walnuts, if you want. Bake at 350F for 1 hour or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream if you want.

Juicy Apples
Not the best pictures, but you can get the general idea of how our apple juicing is coming along - it's fun and everyone can help. Charlotte was off playing with the witch puppet, but she could've helped if she'd wanted.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Family History Begins & Continues

When I was a little girl - like, elementary and middle school age - my mom would occasionally take me out of school for the day to accompany her to cemeteries and records places throughout New England. She would walk me through really, really old cemeteries, checking out headstones and writing down names and dates. She had me fill in information on unbelievably large pieces of papers that had to be folded just right or you'd lose track of where things belonged. I learned to put rolls of film on readers and scroll through them over a light box, looking for something legible and pertinent.
We were doing genealogy.
A few years later, I got it into my head that doing genealogy was for old people (like my mom who was probably a good 40 years old at the time - quite ancient), and that it was a symbol of the end of one's life's work, so therefore it meant - da da da daaaa (drum roll) - DEATH. And not the deaths of the millions of names recorded already, but a new and very personal end of someone's life.
Superstitious as it may seem, I was convinced that the moment I agreed to delve into records again, that would be the moment that signified my own imminent demise. And, believe it or not, I didn't want to die. Not yet.
So as sort of a one-sided bargain with my ancestors, I agreed (in my mind) to do their genealogy as soon as I was old and ready to die. They'd just have to wait for me to feel comfortable with wrapping up my life.
My mom's been very patient, and has prodded regularly, but gently, as she invited me to join her in this older-person's pursuit (now that I'm close to 40 I have to think she must have been an anomaly to join the elderly genealogists at so young an age...). My genealogist-neighbors who are near my age then must also be an exception to the age-rule. (I'm beginning to wonder where I came up with that rule, anyway?)
Well, I'm a believer in dreams. Whether they're products of our mind's workings or sometimes thoughts sent our way from God, often they truly are instructive.
I dreamed last week that I was in an office building with my husband and kids, and we were gathered around Jeff who sat at a computer. I dreamed that a man in old-fashioned clothes walked in to the office we were in. He was representing an entire group of people, and as their representative it was his job to question how things were going and what was I doing with the information. He pointed out four manila envelopes, full of papers, I presume. He was in a hurry and didn't stay to chat, but I could tell he was trying to not let his obvious irritation be so obvious. I was disappointing him, he was trying to be understanding but was a little miffed at my reluctance, but thankfully there was still time to get things done.
A creepy puppet showed up in the dream, trying to distract me with fear, trying to chase me in the halls. But my family and I told him to go away, and he did. Was that an embodiment of my silly superstitions?
Well, long story short, I got on to the New Family Search the next evening and decided to at least get acquainted with my family. While I was there I figured I'd add in some missing information - and promptly ruined family ties. I called my mom in a panic, and with her help I managed to unlink people I'd accidentally linked (am I even using the right words?).
And the following day, my mom called me over to her house where she patiently walked me through online research of old census records. I'm not sure what I did, but at least I started. I mentioned to my mom that this was kind of depressing, looking at the deaths of all these people. Well, I could see her thinking as she kind of looked at me askance, that's kind of what genealogy deals with, you know. There's that "D" word again...

I told my dad as I walked back home (he was outside - we live just across the street) very proudly that I'd been working on his genealogy.
Dad laughed, "It's YOUR genealogy, too, you know!" Oh, right.

Nothing like a good haunting to get you out of your comfort zone. I'm going to start on this genealogy phase - I'd rather not be visited by disgruntled ancestors anymore.

So if I end up dying in the near future, it's because I'm doing genealogy. Or maybe, just maybe, only when I STOP doing genealogy does that signify the end of my life's work... I'd better get (and keep) going!

The Amazing Homemaker - Laundry edition

I'd like to think that after so many years of being a homemaker, that I'd qualify as at least a bit of an expert.
Two months ago I went to the store to get new laundry detergent. Being the frugally-minded type, I first looked at price tags. Seeing a name-brand bottle on sale at the same price as the generic brand, and also being the it-better-be-worth-it type, I avoided the generic brand and pounced on the name brand. I toted it home, my prize from the hunt, and proudly placed it in the laundry room cupboard.
I used it that very day. Oooh, it smelled so good and so fresh. I toyed with the idea of gathering more of these lovely bottles (on sale) and stocking the cabinet with my treasure. I was quite proud of myself.
I ought to taken it as a sign that something was not right, ought to have realized something just might be amiss, when the good and fresh scent in the laundry room grew daily until it sickened me just to pass by the door. Laundry day came again and I had to brave the smell. Lo and behold, when I opened the cabinet there was a good half-inch thick layer of the liquidy stuff. The bottom of the cupboard had bubbled, the wood trim had turned color, and it dripped steadily out the open door. It was not a good omen.
I cleaned up the mess, saving some of the gooey smelliness and washing the rest away. So much of it had dripped straight down into the open washing machine that I had visions of the next load of laundry bubbling over and filling the room. So before Jeff and I went out that evening, I pulled the boys in secretly to the laundry room (who wants the world - or our husbands - to know our mistakes, right?) and showed them how to turn the washing machine off...just in case. I told the kids to call me if anything funny started happening.
The boys called me. Maybe I scared them into over vigilance, but the moment they heard the washing machine rock a bit, they ran in and shut it off. I checked it when I got home - thankfully everything was okay.
But everything was not okay. Still, during the next two months, our clothes just got so soft, softer than they'd ever been. It was lovely. I was delighted with my purchase, delighted how wonderful everything felt and (now that the mess was cleaned up and not overpowering my sense of smell) how fresh everything smelled. So soft, so very, very soft...too soft. The towels stopped toweling, and the wash cloths stopped washing. I said to Jeff once that they almost felt slimy-soft.
This past Saturday night Jeff started a load of laundry. He asked where I kept the detergent (sometimes I change cupboards, depending on the size of the box or bottle). I pointed it out and turned to leave.
"Um, Steph?"
"Is this what you've been using?" He held the name-brand super-sale find I'd patted myself on the back about every time I'd done laundry the past two months.
"Yes, why?" I waited for some answer about how he didn't like the smell - maybe it was too girly or something.
"This isn't laundry detergent."
"Huh?" I didn't believe him. "It was in the laundry detergent aisle, Jeff." That explains everything, right?
"No, look - this is fabric softener."

For two months I've "washed" our clothes in Snuggle Fabric Softener. Our clothes have looked clean enough, and have definitely smelled clean enough, and have certainly been the softest they've EVER been. But...whoops.

Did you know you're not supposed to wash towels and dish rags with fabric softener? They get coated with the stuff (which makes them soft) and can't absorb water (thus the slimy feeling). Actually, did you know you're not supposed to wash anything with just fabric softener?

You're supposed to use detergent.

There's probably something to be said for laughing at yourself. I'm still not laughing, though. I'm in shock.

But Jeff is laughing. I think I'll try a baby powder scent on his clothes and see who laughs then! Just kidding. I'm guess I'm laughing, too. Sort of.