Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Frugal Cooking -Quiche

Monday was one of the good days. The days I feel like cooking. The house was in pretty good shape, the kids were relatively self-entertained and I was in the mood to cook. I decided to make two quiches. It's really just as easy to make two as to make one and quiche is one of the few things I like as leftovers. You know, for nights like tonight, that I don't feel like cooking at all.

I made the crust from scratch because I was in the mood for it. I love homemade pie crust and it's not as much work as I tend to think it is. It's actually pretty easy. The big downside is that it's kind of messy, so I only make it when I am in the mood for messy and when I do make it, I make more than I need.

I made one asparagus and tilsit (a danish cheese I had lying around) quiche and one greek-inspired quiche with tomatoes from last years garden, feta cheese and kalamata olives from the local Middle Eastern deli and some chopped chicken. Both of them were delicious! The feta and kalamata olives were leftover from my mom's visit. This is what I love about quiche. It's great for using up bits and pieces of things and, at least when you make your own crust, it is relatively frugal.


This is my husband Zach. Zach is the most amazing man I know and I love him with all my heart. I'll never be able to tell him how much I love him. I'll spend the rest of my life attempting to show him, and it will still be only a shadow of the real thing.

I met Zach one February afternoon in a parking garage in Pasadena when he was 20 and I was 24. A month later we were married. I'll tell you that story sometime. It's a good one, but the important thing to know about that whirlwind month is that somehow, we knew. We knew that we were meant to be together. It wasn't a hot-and-heavy sort of thing. Well, it was, but it was also something else. There was a stillness in my heart when I was with him. A deep sense of longing, love and trust that couldn't have come from anything mortal or human. I believe it was a calling.

I don't know how else to explain that in the matter of a few short weeks the cute security guard who helped me jumpstart my van became my husband and it worked. I could never have anticipated the myriad of complex and unexpected ways in which our souls would fit together, that our lives would fit together, like pieces of a puzzle I didn't even know I was assembling. The way we compliment each other, our strengths holding each other up and filling in the gaps. The way he is so frequently and irritatingly right when I want him not to be, and the way he defers to my crazy harebrained schemes because he trusts me.

I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's good, and as I get older I think I prefer good to perfect. Good is real. Good is flexible. Good is forgiving. God didn't look at his creation and declare it perfect, he delcared it good. Very good even. I would have to agree.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Unschooling- Family History Part Two

When I was young I didn't think that Minnesota and Wisconsin had much of a distinguishing culture. It seemed very "white bread" to me, having nothing much to compare it to. Then I moved to Southern California. It was like coming down from a mountain and really seeing it for the first time. The contrast in cultures made all of the little idiosyncrasies and affectations of my homeland stand out in bold relief.

It's the small things you don't necessarily think about. The standard menu at a barbecue changes from bratwurst and baked beans to carne asada and tortillas and people at the grocery store look at you like you just made up a word when you ask them where you might find the sauerkraut. Transplanted Canadians act like you are long lost cousins because you both know that "freezing" is an actual temperature, and it isn't 63F. People prepare for earthquakes and mudslides rather than blizzards and tornados. Don't get me wrong. I love carne asada and the beach, but until I went away I didn't appreciate home.

I love having a strong sense of roots. A sense that I come from something bigger than myself that stretches back into history and gives it a personal touch. Sitting around my great-aunt Beulah's table on Saturday it struck me, this connection to the past that my children are experiencing.

"Now, I didn't fuss," she always warns us, just as my grandma does and my great-grandma did before them before trotting out two ham loaves, three vegetables, some rolls, a jello salad, a plate of pickles and olives, a dish of rice pudding, a butter sponge cake with strawberries and fresh whipped cream, the famous ginger cookies and coffee. All for six people. The abundance is appreciated because it didn't always exist. It has always been important that we understand this.

Having children has given me greater perspective on history. When I was little The Depression, or The War seemed far off and distant, safely stuck in past so long before my existence it couldn't possibly be relevant. Now, it seems, that 75 years isn't really so long a time after all.

After the dishes are cleared and washed and Beulah is urged to sit down, which doesn't take quite so much insistence as it used to, we sit around the woodstove in the living room. The grown-ups chat while the kids, and usually a parent or two heads out to the woods or the orchard to play. When I was little Uncle Jim, who is gone now, would take us riding on 'The Gator" all over the property, down to the river, sometimes out to the road. He'd tell us how he'd like to build a cabin and hire men to live there and clean up the forest a bit, a holdover, I was given to imagine, from his slightly overorganized Scandinavian upbringing. Eccentric, even by rural Wisconsin standards, he'd drive us to the top of the hill and read us poems he'd written about his gun, or tell us stories about his plans to raise ostriches for riding on, or the time he ordered a frightened skunk not to spray him and it listened.

Finally, coats are retrieved from the coat hook by the door. A piece of candy is given to each departing family member, along with hugs and promises to do this again soon. Bags of leftovers, and there are always plenty of those, are handed out to the travelers with admonitions to drive safely. Children double check to make sure they have all of the toys they brought with and parents double check to make sure they have all of the hats, gloves, scarves and boots. The conversation follows us out to the car and waves are exchanged as we turn around the long dirt driveway and out of site.

Digging for dirt treasure

Oh, the simple joys of life. I think there couldn't be a better combination for these girls than brand new dresses and digging for "dirt treasure."

They really put their backs into their work, moving dirt from one spot to another and piling chunks of it in a big pile.

It was pure, unadulterated joy.

I'm thinking I'll probably have lots of "help" in the garden this year.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Summer Unschooling- Family History Part One

I have always been fascinated by my family history. I remember being a little girl, probably not much older than Cheyenne and sitting at my grandma's feet as she and her sisters, brother and cousin reminisced about their childhoods. I remember car trips with my parents to their hometowns, pointing out secret hiding places and decrepit old woodland cemeteries that held the bones of my ancestors.

I could picture them, great-grandpa Robert playing dead in the carriage while the horse led him on the familiar route home from the tavern and then popping up suddenly to frighten the children. Mountain Goat, the black cow who's mission in life was to eventually make the precarious climb up to the hayloft and who loved children so much she nearly purred when petted. My second cousin and my uncle suspending my mom head first through the wide heating grate of the old farmhouse so she could eavesdrop on the conversation in the kitchen. And, you know, because suspending your sister head first down a heating great is good solid fun, espionage not withstanding. My great uncle Eddie, the undertaker, who ran out of beds when the cousins came to visit and let them sleep in the leftover coffins.

This week my mom has been visiting from San Diego and, much to my delight, this has prompted all sorts of questions from my inquisitive little girls. "Grandma, who is your mommy?" "Grandma, tell me about your grandmothers," and the infamous, "Your Daddy is dead? When is he coming back from there?" Just as when I was a kid, my family has been happy to answer their questions and take them on a tour of the sites of our family's history.

Saturday was the 17th anniversary of the death of my grandfather, so we started the tour with a visit to his grave. We briefly discussed bringing flowers but decided that flowers had never been Grandpa's favourite and, lacking a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey and a backhoe, his favourite earthly possessions, it would be better to go empty handed. Mom introduced Grandpa, and her grandparents to Cheyenne and Isabella and told him how much he would have loved them. He loved spunky little girls. For their part the girls enjoyed the peacefulness of the country graveyard and Cheyenne remarked that she'd like to visit more often.

Next on the tour was the farm my grandma grew up on. The house has doubled in size now. When grandma lived there in the 20s and 30s the only part of the house that existed was the part with the picture window under the pointed part of the roof. Grandma lived there with her mother, her father, her schoolteacher and her 6 brothers and sisters. This is even more amazing if you knew my grandma and her siblings. Don't get me wrong, I love them to pieces, but they are all very strong personalities and the idea of living in a tiny two bedroom house with those particular 7 children in the harsh Wisconsin winter is....daunting to say the least. It suddenly comes as no surprise to me that her mother had a nervous breakdown one summer and went to sleep in the barn for a few months. We talked about the girl's Great-Great-Grandma Jennie and how my mom would go to their house after school and help her grandma make biscuits. Great-Great-Grandma would make big biscuits and mom would use a mini pie plate as a baking dish and make tiny little quarter-sized biscuits that just fit on the plates of the old porcelain children's tea set. I'm e-mailing some relatives to see if I can't track down great-great-grandma Jennie's biscuit recipe.

Next up on the tour was grandma's old school, which is directly next door to the house. The school has been shut up for half a century and is looking worse for the wear. Still it was interesting to see.

The front yard of the schoolhouse was covered in just-blooming mayflowers, my mom's favourite as a kid because they heralded the beginning of spring. She picked one for each of the girls. We have mayflowers growing near our house too and when they bloom a little more the girls and I are planning to pick some and try them in the flower press Cheyenne got for her birthday.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lay days

Now that I am in my third trimester I have become something of an introvert. Normally I am a social butterfly. That's why, even when I worked "real" jobs I frequently found part-time employment at coffee shops, just for the chance to get out and talk to people.

I'm slowing down now. Big trips out of the house, even fun ones, usually result in a late afternoon nap. Part of me is frustrated by this. The desire to keep moving, keep accomplishing things runs strong in my upper-midwest pioneer bloodlines. It's difficult sometimes to let go of that.

Fortunately I have some excellent teachers willing to show me how to kick back, relax and enjoy the lazy days instead of worrying about what I "should" be doing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coffee Cozies

My mom is coming today and instead of vacuuming and mopping, like I should be doing, I knitted myself this coffee cozy. Of course, once I had one, everyone else in the family wanted one too. I decided that, while no one but me drinks coffee on a regular basis, these cozies would serve the purpose of distinguishing one person's drinking glass from another's. That is something of a problem in this family, as we like to keep the same drinking glass all day long. They were quick to make and I used second hand scrap yarn and some scraps of muslin for th e flowers, so they were very inexpensive. Cheyenne chose purple.

Bella chose blue.

Zach chose black and has requested that his not have a big pretty flower pinned on it. Unfortunately for him I was finally motivated to tackle the cleaning by the time I was done with the girl's cozies, so his will have to wait until tonight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Summer Unschooling #1- Sewing

I have signed up for the Summer Unschooling challenge at This Vintage Chica's blog. Even though it is barely spring, let alone summer, I have been trying to work this challenge into our lives already. Today I was writing an article for The Sunny Way while Cheyenne was at school and Bella came up to my bedroom to spend some time with me.

"What's this?" She'd ask, pointing to various parts of the sewing machine. "What does it do?" I decided this was a great learning opportunity.

I found this book at a thrift store about a year ago for $.50. It's a little dated looking, but the patterns are cute and there are lots of quick little patterns in it. Bella is three and a half and doesn't have a long attention span, so I knew we had to make something small.

We settled on this cat stuffed animal. Bella loves cats. First we traced it onto a piece of paper and cut out the pattern.

Next we took a scrap of fabric and pinned the cat pattern to the fabric. I made a mistake here. We should have cut out a larger circle of fabric and embroidered the face before we cut out the cat. I didn't have an embroidery hoop small enough to work on the cat, but the point wasn't perfection, it was just for some fun learning time, so I embroidered the face without the hoop.

Now, really this would have turned out much better if I had hand-sewn the cat, but Bella wasn't interested in hand-sewing. She already knows the basics of that method. She wanted to see how the sewing machine worked. We got the machine threaded and I sewed the right sides together while she watched.

We stuffed it and hand sewed the opening and a piece of the tail that was causing us trouble. I want to try this little kitty again, this time hand-sewing it, but Bella loves her wonky little kitty and she had a really good time learning about the sewing machine.

Bear Surgery and a flower pretty

"Mom can fix it!" I hear these words almost once a day. Sometimes, in the case of the flower pot that fell over on the deck and shattered, their faith in me is sadly misplaced. Sometimes, though I manage to come through.

Shiloh, Cheyenne's Build-a-Bear is a well-loved friend, an excellent tea party guest and a wonderful shoulder to cry on in times of stress. Unfortunately all of that love and affection has taken it's toll on poor Shiloh and she had begun to come apart at the seams. She was brought to Dr. Mom for examination and it was determined that the only thing for it was to operate.

Shiloh was a model patient, never once complaining while her mommy waited patiently for me to finish.

The surgery was a complete success, and for because Shiloh was such a good girl I decided to give her a little Get Well Soon present.

I've been making these cute, simple little decorative flowers from scrap fabric a lot lately for pinning on headbands or purses or sweaters. Using a safety pin it attached nicely to Shiloh's ear.

I think she looks fetching, don't you?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I loved my grandparents when I was a kid, but I didn't see them very often. Dad's parents lived about four hours away in central Wisconsin so about twice a year we'd trek out there to see them. My mom's parents lived nearby when I was little, but left Minnesota for sunnier skies when Grandpa retired. They visited frequently and I went on some extended trips with them, but it isn't the same thing as having a grandparent who lives nearby.

My kids have a very special relationship with my dad. Of their grandparents Dad is the only one who lives in Minnesota and they see him almost every weekend. Most Saturday nights he takes them out for their "Grandpa Date" which almost always consists of Rainbow Pancakes, face painting and balloon animals at Perkins. Isabella almost always comes home with a spider web and spider painted on her hand. Cheyenne gets a variety of animals painted on her forehead, but they are almost always purple.

Grandpa's best friend is his iPhone and the girls love it almost as much as he does. He downloads apps for them like a kaleidoscope, a reading game and even a working ocarina that you play by blowing into the microphone. They don't play video games with mom and dad, so this is a very special treat for them. It's cute to see them all snuggled up on the couch playing together. Grandparenting seems to have changed a lot since I was a kid.

Cheyenne is convinced that Grandpa is 5 years old like she is. She even shared her sparkly purple #5 candle with him for his "5th birthday" which is a week after hers...and 50 some years after his first 5th birthday. She told me later that day, "Grandpa and I have a lot in common. We're both 5, we both love the colour purple and we both really like mermaids." Of course, none of that is really true about Grandpa, but I think it's sweet that he plays along.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mini-Trip to St. Croix Falls

We haven't had a real vacation in about a year and a half and with the baby coming it is looking like it will be a bit longer. In the meantime we have been taking a lot of mini-trips. Minnesota and Wisconsin are really quite beautiful places, and it's always nice to get out and explore.

Last week we took advantage of a particularly nice April day to travel to St Croix Falls Wisconsin. This is where my mom and my grandparents grew up, so there is a lot of history for me here. I spent a lot of time in this area as a kid driving around to decrepit old cemeteries (one of my favourite things to do as a kid), having picnics in Interstate Park or just hanging out at my grandparents cabin.

We stopped at Eichten's Cheese and Bison farm on the way up to get provisions for our picnic. No self-respecting Wisconsin picnic is complete without cheese. In addition to fresh cheese curds, Eichten's makes a spreadable Garlic Blue Cheese that rocks my world. They specialize in Dutch cheeses, making every kind of gouda you could imagine. Usually the bison are close enough to watch from the fence, but this time they were far afield.

We ended up at Interstate Park with some fruit, cheese and fried chicken. Fried chicken at a picnic is a family tradition that started with my grandma. It is her absolute favourite. I have never, in 30 years been to a picnic with her that didn't include fried chicken. Seeing as how we were in her hometown, it seemed like a proper time to pass the tradition on to my kids.

I am unfortunately too pregnant and clumsy for hiking, but we took a really nice walk by the river before heading downtown and to the cemetery to visit my grandpa. We wrapped the day up with an ice cream at Taylor's Falls, on the Minnesota side of the river.
These sorts of random Tuesday outings are the thing I love most about Zach working only half the year.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pillowcase Skirt Tutorial

Here are directions for making the pillowcase skirts I mentioned in an earlier post.

Step1- Take your child's waist measurement and waist to bottom-of-the-knee measurement. I'll use Bella's measurements as an example. She has a 21 inch waist and is 12 inches from waist to knee.

Step2- Measure the pillowcase from the opening up and cut, adding two inches to the waist-to-knew measurement, so 12+2=14 inches in my example.

Next, using the pillowcase opening as your ready-made hem, sew a casing for your elastic in the inside top of the skirt, leaving an opening to thread the elastic through. I use 1 inch no-roll elastic and find that a 1 3/4 inch casing works pretty well. I usually make the elastic the same length as the kid's waist, or just a little smaller.

Thread the elastic through the casing with a safety pin, sewing it first on one end, then the other. Then sew up the opening you used to thread the elastic.

That's it. The skirt is done!

Friday, April 17, 2009

T-shirt Reconstruction- Easy Shrug

With spring here and summer coming I have been doing my usual change-of-season sorting of clothes for keeping, passing on and donation. I seem to have a lot of tank tops for the girls for summer, which is great, they don't mind, but sometimes in the evening or early morning you need a little something extra for warmth.

I ran across this tutorial for making an easy ruched cardigan from an old t-shirt and decided to give it a try since I had a couple of boxier old t-shirts for the girls. I think it turned out nicely and Cheyenne loves it. Now I think I know what to do with my maternity shirts once I have this baby.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thrift store finds

I have an absolute weakness for thrifting. They know me by name at my favourite thrift store. Today was the day of my old high school's annual garage sale, so a friend and I agreed to meet after lunch to see what we could find.

These were the first finds of the day. I love vintage metal trays. They're great for putting under kids plates to contain messes, for carrying small bowls of things and condiments to the table or outside and for magnetic poetry. I got four different trays for $2 each. The books, Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling and Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, are classics. Of course the kids aren't big enough to read them yet, but they will be eventually and at $2 each I thought they were worth holding on to.

I collect vintage pillowcases and use them for different things. As I talked about a few days ago, they make great skirts for little girls. They also make great tote bags and they usually sell for under $1. The pretty prism candle holder and thread were found and another garage sale I hit on the way out of the first one. The candle holder was $1 and the three spools of thread were $.75.

Finally, I couldn't resist a stop at the thrift store on the way home, where I found large bags of brand-new crayons for $.50 each. I bought two, putting one of them into jars for use today and another bag in the craft cabinet for later use. We can never have too many crayons around here.


I come from an unusual family, let me just say that from the start. I can't entirely explain what I mean by that, but it's there. For example, we're never a family that answers questions the way you'd expect us to. "Hey Stephanie. How did you get those dents in your car? Hailstorm? Shopping cart accident?" Well, no. Since you asked they were put there by a pack of especially large and amorous turkeys, that jilted by a lover or angered in some similar fashion, decided to take their aggression out on my 2003 Ford Taurus.

So I guess it shouldn't have surprised me when I asked my dad about his retirment plans he didn't respond with something mundane like, "I'm moving to Florida." No Plan A was to find a nice monastery that would take his retirement money in exchange for letting him become a brother.

After a period of discernment it has been decided that this may not be the right path for dear old dad and he is now seriously considering Plan B. He's becoming a 3rd order Franciscan and looking for a hermitage. Over Easter he described his ideal hermitage to me. It would be in a small town somewhere within walking distance of a Catholic church and some sort of eatery. It would be small, maybe 300-400 square feet and simply furnished with a bed, a desk, a chair, a table, a kitchenette and a bathroom. Nothing fancy, but structurally sound, a place where he could embrace simplicity and live a life of prayerful contemplation.

The other day Zach and I decided to take the kids on a mini-trip to my mom's hometown on the Minnesota Wisconsin border. Mom is from the Wisconsin side, but the ice cream place is on the Minnesota side, so we stopped there for a while to enjoy a treat and walk around. We wandered down the cute little main street to take a picture of this sign. I have a great love of cheesy signage and wanted to take a photo for my collection. That's when I saw this.

It's the cutest little 320 square foot building ever and it is directly across the street from a Catholic church that offers daily mass and down the street from about a half dozen restaurants, a convenience store, a coffee shop and a post office. Best of all it's for sale.

Now my dad has a dry sense of humour, and I am never entirely sure how serious he is about an idea, but if, as he claims, this hermitage plan of his is for real then I think I have found it. Seriously. It would't get any more perfect than this. It even has a cute little white picket fence and a big yard. Does it get any better than that?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I love oatmeal

I love oatmeal. I know people, and you know who you are mom, who think oatmeal is boring, but I disagree. It's versatile and versatility sometimes masquerades as blandness. I like to think of oatmeal as a blank canvass, full of possibility rather than lacking in flavour.

Around here we refer to oatmeal as "porridge" because we like to pretend we are bears when we eat it and the variations are limitless. I have a strong preference for fruit and nut combinations, like the cranberry toasted almond oatmeal pictured above, but Zach is less fond of variety and will take peanut butter and chocolate chips every time. See, that's another great thing about oatmeal. I can cook up a batch and everyone in the family can have a different breakfast without any fuss or hassle.

Here are some of my favourite oatmeal toppings:

Cranberry and toasted almond
Cranberry and pecan
Cherry and toasted almond
Cherry and hazelnut
Cherry and vanilla
Mango chai
Good old cinnamon and raisin
Peanut butter and chocolate chips
Peach and pecan
Chocolate chips and walnuts
Chocolate chips and hazelnuts
Apple and walnut
Maple and walnut
Strawberry and almond
Strawberry and chocolate chips
Blueberry and almond

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easy Pillowcase Skirts

I have been on a skirt making kick lately. I think because I am 7 months pregnant and currently unhappy with all of my own clothes, I have been channeling the clothing love into making skirts for my girls.

I started off using half yards of the various fabrics I buy the girls as "treats" when they accompany me to my favourite fabric store of all time, Crafty Planet in NE Minneapolis. When I ran low on those, I tried a similar technique using some vintage pillowcases I have procured from thrift shops and garage sales for $.25-$1. Adorable! I think I'm addicted.