Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chores and More Chores

Hmmm, so it seems this blog is in my good graces lately. I'm not sure why, but this is the one I'm keeping up with right now. Probably because my life is revolving around my home even more than usual.

I'm trying to gear up for fall and that involves establishing a chore schedule and lots of advance planning for meals. Our fall is going to be a busy one and if I'm not ready, things will go spectacularly bad spectacularly fast. The pressure is a bit overwhelming, but I'm doing my best to just do what I gotta do!

My mind has been focused on developing just the right method for keeping my house tidy and hygienic. Not perfect and sanitized, but healthy and livable. I'm taking on piano students, field hockey season is upon us, and all of us are joining new activities through our church this year. Red Headed Snippet starts Youth Group, Man-Cub is doing Pioneer Boys, and The Viking and I are doing an in-depth bible study called Design For Discipleship. Fortunately, these all meet on the same night so we won't be running out to church 4 times a week! But getting there on Wednesdays won't be easy with the Snippet's hockey schedule so I need to PLAN! I need crockpot meals that are easy to transport! I need to be on top of my laundry so I don't wake up with it on top of ME! I need to keep the living room clean and clear so we don't hurt ourselves running through it on our way out the door! I need to have lunches packed so we're not late for school in the morning. It's going to be crazy. Oh, and I almost forgot, I'm the Recording Secretary for the Home and School Association this year, and I have NO IDEA what that entails. I might be in for a nervous breakdown this year!

But I think I've finally settled on a good plan. It was a bit like a logic problem, but I think my weekly chores are sensibly scheduled. How's this sound?

Mondays: Strip and remake the beds (I need something a bit less strenuous as this is a piano lesson day)

Tuesdays: Bathrooms and take out the trash (ugh, that's today)

Wednesdays: Dust and plan my weekly menu and grocery list (I babysit on Wednesdays so I planned chores that I can accomplish with an 18-month-old imp following me everywhere--Merlin's Pants, I love that kid!)

Thursdays: Sweep and mop the upstairs (this is another piano lesson day, but the upstairs is mostly wood floors so it's mostly dust-mopping and the rooms are small)

Fridays: Sweep and mop the downstairs and go grocery shopping (this is the only day I'm not sure of. Sweeping and mopping are my LEAST FAVORITE chores. And grocery shopping can take a lot out of me. So, I'm not sure about combining them into one day. But, I'm making vacuuming the living room and sweeping the kitchen and dining room a daily chore, so this chore should amount to sweeping the laundry and powder rooms, both small, doing a cursory sweep of the other rooms, and then mopping four rooms. I envision myself mopping the floors then heading out to do the shopping while they dry and coming home to a sparkling clean kitchen with lots of groceries. We'll see if this works)

Saturdays: Clean out the car, tidy the yard and a monthly chore. This is the day the whole family gets involved so I won't be on my own.

So, as long as I keep at it, this should work. I'll have 8 hours a day to get this stuff done (in addition to my daily chores of making beds, tidying rooms and doing laundry) so I'll have no excuses!

Now for the food department, I've been making lists of our family's favorite meals, and I think I'm going to make a file of them for easy reference. I've also made a separate list of make-ahead and crockpot meals because I'm going to need one each and every Wednesday. The most time I'm going to have on any given Wednesday afternoon in which to get my children cleaned, fed, changed and out the door for church is 30 minutes. That's not long. I'll need to be able to dish the food up as soon as my Snippet returns from hockey, whether it be a practice or a game.

This is the first time I've fully realized just how far I've come in the cooking department. I don't know when it happened, but I've gone from being almost completely inept in the kitchen, with no clue how to plan meals let alone preparing them, to being able to handle all of the cooking and making 90% of it from scratch. If anyone had told me 5 years ago what our meals would be like today, I would never have believed them. I am truly thankful that I've accomplished so much and take great pride in what I'm providing for my family.

Okay, speech over. I apologize. Anyway, all that to say, I'm really thankful I've finally gotten some skillz I can actually use! My other skillz don't really help me much: singing, writing, making awesome Halloween costumes, being witty, they don't really help a lot in running a household. It used to make me very frustrated. But now I see there is hope, that I can learn. If I can learn to run my kitchen, I can learn to run my house!

Now that I've gotten all that out of my head, I feel all deflated. Oh, wait, there's those other things popping up: school supplies, school clothes, school gear. Both kids are in need of lots of things this year and I have no idea how we're going to get them. We're trying desperately not to go any further into debt, but I don't how else we're going to afford the things they need. And I'm not talking about the latest fashions and super-cool gadgets. They both need shoes, at least 2 pair, Red Headed Snippet needs all new jeans, both need backpacks (and the Snippet needs a very good-quality one that will last through the year), and don't even get me started on the list of school supplies the junior high requires. I think Man-Cub has enough jeans and pants for fall, and I know they have jackets and coats, but they both need good clothes for church. Man-Cub has maybe two pair of pants that aren't jeans and Red Headed Snippet has a few skirts that are suddenly way too short. Sigh. This would be a good time for someone to drop off a bag of hand-me-downs! I know God will provide, He always has, but this is the time I start to get a little nervous. Do you think maybe I need to take a bit of the advice I was dishing out to Red Headed Snippet last night about not worrying and trusting God to handle things? Yes, I think so, too.

Well, I must cut this short. I really do need to tend to my chores and I promised the Snippet some computer time after she finished hers. I have to make my bed, clean my room, clean the bathroom and powder room and get to the grocery store (I'm a little behind today). And for those interested? Tonight's dinner is Bangers-n-Mash! I have apple sausages from The Dutch Wagon to throw on the grill! Mmm-Mmm-Good!

As you were...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing

Aye, me, I've been such a sluggish blogger!

There really is nothing new to report, which is why there has been no blogging lately and I'm left to report this:

I am Marianne Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

This is completely unimportant and has no relevancy whatsoever, but comes as no surprise to me and made me very happy nonetheless. I've always related so much to Miss Marianne and have always wanted to be her. But it is so hard to reconcile the romance of Marianne Dashwood to my 21st Century American suburban life. Sigh. Still, I girl can dream, can't she?

Oh well, back to reality. We've hit a bit of a bad patch around here.

The weather has been most foul, MOST foul! Stifling heat, maddening humidity, heat indexes up to 109 degrees, ugh, it's been appalling. I just know there are Dementors breeding out there! I really shouldn't complain too much since this is how the weather usually is all summer long and this year we've only had a few scattered days of it. But still, waking up in the morning to find every window in the house fogged up like the bathroom mirror when I get out of the shower is NO FUN AT ALL! I would much rather be too cold than too hot!

In addition to the unwelcoming weather, there seems to be a sinister presence in my kitchen. Maybe Daria is right and I really do have a boggart in the house and it has now decided to turn its attention directly onto my kitchen. We have seen nothing but food behaving badly around here. Because, as we all know, it must be the food rather than the cook!

I don't know what it is, but everything seems to be going amok in here! I brought home some lovely peaches least week that had "peach cobbler" written all over them. I was even going to take pictures of the cobbler in progress and then again in its finished glory. I hauled out my trusty America's Test Kitchen cookbook (the love of my life lately) and followed to the letter the instructions for peeling peaches. Heh. Easy-to-peel-peaches my eye! I haven't had such an unpleasant experience since the last time I decided to dust and vacuum the dog's domain under the piano and was thrown into a three-day sneezing fit! By the time I was finished peeling I had decided a bowl of sliced peaches was exactly what I wanted. I covered them in plastic wrap and shoved them angrily into the fridge to be eaten later on top of ice cream, pound cake, cookies, or whatever else we fancied.

A few days later The Viking informed me of his great need for egg salad sandwiches for lunch. Once again, I placed my trust in the good people of America's Test Kitchen and followed carefully the instructions for hard-boiling eggs. I know what you're thinking: who needs instructions for hard-boiling eggs? Well, it does matter how you do it (despite anything The Viking says) because you don't want weird-colored yolks, or, tough whites, or stubborn, hard-to-remove shells! So I took great care in boiling those eggs...

You guessed it, that blasted kitchen boggart struck again and those eggs turned out to be the most difficult dozen I've ever peeled in my life! They looked like I'd peeled them with my teeth when I was done! Luckily they were being chopped up in a salad and not being refilled and displayed or anything or I would have been in tears! If it wasn't for the fact that I was very hungry and had nothing else to make for lunch, I would have smashed those eggs all over the How To Hard Boil Eggs page of that cookbook and slammed it shut, thereby sealing those pages together henceforth rendering them forever unreadable.

A few days after that I made a lasagna. Now, I've made this dish before and have had few problems. But this time, I was merrily sauteing and measuring when I realized I was clean out of eggs. I needed an egg for the ricotta cheese mixture. What happened to all my eggs? Oh, that's right, the egg salad, grrrrrr. So, I had to make the lasagna without the egg. And then I ran out of noodles. I have never run out of noodles before! And I know I checked before I went shopping to make sure there were enough! I don't know who it is, but somebody's been snacking on raw lasagna noodles! Fortunately, my family does not really care how pretty a lasagna is, as long as it's cheesy, so crisis was averted that time.

Now, I know what you must be thinking: was that lasagna recipe from America's Test Kitchen? And to that I reply, "DON'T EVEN GO THERE!" I will not have our great nation's Test Kitchen questioned like that! They test things, everything! They make all the mistakes so we don't have to! I love them, you hear me? Love them! There's just a boggart in my kitchen. Or, perhaps, maybe I just haven't been paying close attention due to the Dementor-breeding-mists outside.

Anyway, things have been clearing up, both inside and outside of my kitchen. Rains rolled in yesterday and swept all the nastiness out of the atmosphere. Last night was cool and dry, perfect sweatshirt weather. We got into our sweats, brought out the throw blankets, made brownies and watched movies last night. We slept with the windows open, a perfect way to clear one's head and sweeten one's slumber. It was like a preview of fall. And today has been the most glorious day since last October. The sun is bright, but the air is mild and almost crisp. It's got me thinking of apples, pumpkins, cider, chili and beef stew. I keep having to remind myself it's only August 11, that we have at least 3 weeks of summer left, three weeks in which the weather can go straight into the toilet once again. But for now, it's wonderful!

And cooking-wise, things have improved. Last night we had one of our most favorite of summer meals, Gyro Burgers with a Greek Village Salad. The Salad recipe is Rachel Ray's (one of my absolute faves of hers) and the burger recipe I found online (can't remember where). Every time we have it we exclaim with our mouths full how much we love this food! I make homemade tzatziki sauce and smear it all over the burgers which we wrap in pitas. The salad has huge chunks of ripe tomatoes, red and green peppers, cucumbers, feta cheese and black olives in it. It's wonderful as a topping to the burgers or just as a side salad. There's still some left; I'm eyeing that for lunch.

Tonight we're having (dang) quesadillas leftover from the other night. I had never made them before and they were from America's Test Kitchen and they were brilliant so there!

Looking ahead, I'm thinking Thai Coconut Chicken Soup, Tacos, Marinated Pork Chops, Spaghetti, and a fresh fruit and veggies night (corn on the cob, tomato and cucumber salad, peaches and blueberries) for this week. There's also a Moroccan Chicken recipe I've been dying to try so maybe I'll throw that in there too.

In other news, have I mentioned my new knitting endeavor? I learned to knit a few years ago and have finally decided to branch out from scarves to sweaters. Most specifically THIS sweater!

I've been wanting to knit my children Weasley sweaters ever since I saw Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone and have finally this year is the year! I've got the pattern and some nice, new, smooth, sexy, bamboo needles and I know which kind of yarn I need, though I haven't gotten it yet. Best of all, Lobelia, a most fantastic knitter in her own right, is helping me. And boy is she sorry already! I've called her no less than 4 times this week with knitting questions of various levels of inanity.

You see, I held off on buying yarn because it's been a while since I've knitted and I figured I'd need some practice first. I have some semi-crappy yarn left over from my very first project, a Gryffindor scarf for Red Headed Snippet that looks pretty good but curls in on itself so fiercely it may as well be an overly long Gryffindor tube sock (I'd share a pic but it's packed away in the basement). I decided to brush up on my skillz using the old yarn and quite unhappily discovered I have almost no clue what I'm doing! I called Lobelia after noticing that halfway through each row of allegedly "purling" I was overcome with the desire to throw myself off the top of a very tall building. And what was supposed to be a stockinette stitch turned out looking like this on the "front":

And this on the "back":

Thankfully, Lobelia is very patient and successfully talked me off my ledge and onto some very helpful websites. The one I like best is here, It has videos, VIDEOS, man!

So, I've spent the week calling my sister, watching videos, messing around with yarn, knitting, purling, tearing out stitches, dropping stitches, barely saving stitches and knitting and purling again, and I think I've settled on a wonky way of accomplishing what I need to accomplish. I like knitting Continental style, but purling English style also known as throwing or American style (the fact that this technique is known as both "English" AND "American" style just strikes me as immensely funny, but that could simply be because I'm an American Anglophile, but I digress). I've also found that by using a technique called knitting backwards, I can knit much faster. Basically, after I've knitted a row, I just knit again holding the needle full of stitches in my right hand and using the left needle the same way I just used the right to knit the stitches onto the right needle. So I never have to turn the needles; I just keep them in the same hands and knit the stitches back and forth from one to the other. Confused yet? I don't think I can explain it any better, but it works, at least for a stockinette stitch. So I think I'll stick with it. Cause purling's a bitch!

So now, after a week of trying and retrying and actually learning the correct way to do things (and, bear in mind, working with semi-crappy yarn), this is the bumpy mess I have to show for it all:

It just doesn't seem fair somehow and I am REALLY nervous about getting the good yarn and starting on it in earnest. I just keep reminding myself that these sweaters are supposed to look homemade and imperfect and that my children will love them no matter what. I sure hope so anyway.

Maybe another week's practice will help.

Okay, gotta run. There's laundry to be washed and beds to be changed. And I need to find some way to get outdoors and enjoy the unseasonable weather.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Empty Nest Syndrome

Well, the baby birds have left the nest, leaving the dud egg behind!

I heard a thunk on the dining room window while I was sitting at the computer and looked up to see a fledgling wren bouncing off in a mad, fluttering spiral. As I watched, the three other birds popped out in turn, like kernels of popcorn. I ran and got Man-Cub and The Viking to witness the event and we all ran out to the porch.

By the time we got there (after securing the dog, who was going crazy), we found the fledglings in various stages of departure.

This brave one got to the edge of the porch and gave us a rather contemptuous look before flying impressively to the tall oak tree a few feet away.

This one had all the ambition of the first, but proved to be more of a bird-brain. Perhaps it was just dazed from its close encounter with the dining room window, but it kept heaving itself against the wall as if it was the barrier between Platforms 9 and 10. Also, it appears to have been quite a while since we last swept the dark corners of the porch, hmmm?

This little guy hopped all over the shelf the nest was situated on, but didn't seem to keen on the idea of flight. Of course, it very well may have been blinded by the persistent flash of the camera.

This is the one that made me laugh. It popped out of the nest and sat on the rim of the basket. And sat there. While its siblings were hopping, fluttering and peeping like mad, it just sat there. Clearly the underachiever of the group. Probably spoiled.

Eventually they all made it to the edge of the porch and then to various trees and shrubs nearby, the mother and father bird shrilly scolding them the entire time. We got comfy on the porch, leaning over the railings to watch what would happen next when, suddenly, one of the first birds to fly off flew straight at us! I saw it graze Man-Cub's head and land somewhere between him and The Viking. Then The Viking said, "Uh, it's ON me!"

That crazy bird landed right on The Viking's leg and stayed there, clinging to his pant-leg! We didn't know what to do! We didn't move for fear of spooking it, then I decided to take a chance at getting a picture of it. I had taken several shots when The Viking said, "Is it falling asleep??" It looked like its eyes were closing. It didn't seem fazed by our presence or the fact that it was perched on a human, so The Viking began walking slowly around the porch to see what it would do. And still it clung. Man-Cub was starting to get excited, thinking a wild animal had chosen to live with us instead of going off into the wild world. But, just as The Viking was getting ready to cup it in his hands, the bird flew off into a shrub. I had never seen a bird do that before; it was the weirdest thing!

We eventually got tired of swatting mosquitoes and went back inside, but it wasn't long before we heard peeping nearby and looked out to see on of the fledglings back on the porch, hanging out on one of the chairs. That raised another question in my mind: once they fly out of the nest, do they ever come back or is that it? Do they still sleep there and stay close to the mother, do they sleep out in the woods together or are they on their own from that point forward. I sense another evening of Googling House Wrens in my near future.

Who knew I would become so interested in birds?