Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What I've Been Up To

My posts on this blog have been a little scarce lately because of a big cleaning and organizing project I've undertaken and I'm so excited to share the results! Tonight. Before my kids and the two kids I'm babysitting tomorrow undo it all.

When my dad moved out of this house he took a suitcase of clothes, his laptop and a few kitchen implements and that was it. We moved our stuff in on top decades of what I like to call "ancestral clutter." A lot of this was good stuff; lovely antiques that belonged to great-great-great grandparents, old photos, good dishes and things of that nature. A lot of it was junk. It's taken me nearly two years of sorting the wheat form the chaff, but I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Here are just a few corners of the house that are now in good shape. This house is six levels, and these pictures represent 90% of the two main living levels.

The Kitchen:

The front hall closet

The kitchen level bathroom

The Dining Room:

Craft stuff, school stuff, playdough, legos and tinker toys

I use my Grandma's punch bowl for fruit

The hutch, which serves as my craft cabinet

The Living Room:

The view from my favourite chair

Monday, September 28, 2009

Easy, Naughty Spinach Dip

This is one of those recipes that everyone requests for potlucks and I'm embarassed to tell them the recipe because it's so incredibly easy. I learned this one in college from my friend Mary who worked at a restaurant that served this. It's to die for.
1 c mayo
1 c parmesan
1 package frozen spinach
Mix together. If desired, top with extra parmesan or a little shredded mozarella. Bake until bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips or bread. That's it. See, I told you it was easy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reflections on My Year of Love and Joy

I've mentioned before that every year on my birthday I select a different theme for the year, something I need to cultivate or learn. I have found it so helpful to give myself and God a full year to really focus on a topic and work it through in my daily life. 30 was the Year of Love and Joy.

This sounds like such an easy theme, but I was raised by a Dad who is suspicious of Love and Joy and much more comfortable with suffering. Until this year I had never been able to shake the feeling that if I wasn't suffering I wasn't working hard enough.

Dad comes by these feeling honestly. He was born with a birth defect that took 13 years of surgeries and hospital stays to fix. Meanwhile, one of his three sisters had a bone disease that kept her in a body cast for nearly two years. His parents were working to pay the hospital bills and taking care of their other two kids and going back and forth in the hospital between him and his sister. He spent a lot of that time alone and in pain, a state that became, if not comfortable, at least familiar enough to become a habit. One of the biggest blessings and surprises this year has been that both my dad and I seem to be overcoming that mindset.

When I started this year I had an idea that it would be like a year-long party, a break from the more serious goals I had set for myself in my twenties. It was going to be a year free of all that work and worry and stress where I could finally just relax and enjoy the fruits of my labours. Naive, I know. God must have found that pretty funny.

The reality is that I've spent most of the last year held on the edge of suffering, forced everyday to actively choose love and joy. There was the fear of being told my baby (conceived on my birthday between the Year of Trust and the Year of Love and Joy) could have problems because of a complication with my pregnancy, the trust to know that I would and could handle that situation no matter how it turned out and the absolute joy of having a healthy, normal child.

We've had a year-long unemployment, which, while a little nerve wracking, has actually been a blessing that has allowed us so many amazing moments as a family and showed us the amazing support circle we are lucky to have. It's also given Zach the push he needed to go back to school to pursue the job he really loves.

Finally, there has been a huge change in my relationship with my dad. We've always been close, but this year there has been a shift of sorts. Dad has started on the path to becoming a 3rd Order Franciscan (a lay Franciscan) and has expended considerable effort in living a life of simplicity and service. He gives away huge chunks of his income to charity, volunteers every week and has joined several groups and committees at his church, the result of which is that he is finally breaking free of his loneliness and beginning to live a life that isn't centered on himself.

Every weekend he comes over and excitedly tells us about this project or that project, about what the Brothers of Peace are doing this week, or how he took a friend he volunteers with out to breakfast to cheer him up when he was laid off. Watching him find real, unadulterated love and joy after 60+ years of pain has been the most dramatic experience of this year.

The net result of this year has been so much better than I could have anticipated. Instead of a year long party I got a lasting lesson in how to find and cultivate love and joy that isn't dependent on perfect circumstances that will likely never arrive. I got a lesson in the power that real love and joy can have in transforming even the oldest and most deeply set scars. That is something I will use for the rest of my life. What a birthday gift!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What I Made Wednesday- Back to School Skirts

This week's What I Made Wednesday is another round of skirts. These simple little skirts are the workhorses of my girls' wardrobe and for Back to School I decided to let them pick out their own fabric at my beloved Crafty Planet. They both chose Cloud Prancers by Michael Miller. I don't blame them. I love how 1980s little kid retro these are. It just screams "I play with Rainbow Bright and watch Jem and She-Rah Princess of Power on TV." This Kindergarten stuff obviously has me feeling a little nostalgic.

Monday, September 14, 2009

First Day

She doesn't look like she's up to any mischief does she? If you only knew the kind of trouble I was as a kid you would know how funny this picture of Cheyenne waiting for the bus on her first day of school really is. She's headed to my old elementary school, a den of nepotism where the teachers have either been there for 300 years, were students themselves or are married to former students or teachers. Cheyenne's teacher (who seems like a very nice person) is the wife of a former classmate of mine. Like all small towns once you have a reputation in St Anthony it's hard to outlive.

We've been joking all summer, well, half joking, that the teachers of St Anthony are going to wet themselves when they see that I've spawned. Lucky for them this little monkey is much better behaved than her mother. I mean, how could you not like a kid who's all mermaids and rainbows and unicorns and who's hobby is sorting laundry?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Cleaning Book

Well the first week of school is over and I am back. I decided to use the time wisely and give the house a good scrub down. I sort of succeeded. While I was down on my hands and knees scrubbing I came up with an idea I think will help the kids (and maybe even Zach) become more autonomous in their chores. I call it The Cleaning Book.
For each room there will be two pages, one page with an 8x10 photo of the room cleaned the way I want it to look when chores are done, and on the other a laminated checklist.
The photo is meant to be a visual aid, like one of those "What's Wrong With This Picture?" books. They can look at the photo and look at their room and notice, "hey, there's a sock on my floor" or "My shoes are in the living room" and fix it to look like the picture. The purpose here is not to be rigid, but to give them clear expectations. My parents changed their idea of what "clean enough" looked like frequently and I found that frustrating. By giving them a visual idea of what we'd like the room to look like I hope to avoid that kind of frustration and teach them to notice when things need to be cleaned.
The checklist is an idea borrowed from the years I spent working in coffee shops. We always had a laminated checklist of chores for each person that could be checked off with a dry erase marker as we went along. I loved this. I get a sense of satisfaction from checking something off a list, and again, it provides clear direction. It also aids in remembering what has been accomplished already and what is still left to be done. Right now, while they are little, we'll go over the checklist with them, but as they get older and learn to read, they can check the list off without help from us.
It sounds a little obsessive, I know, but it's really not meant to be. It's more of a guide than a command. Zach even thinks it will be helpful for him.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Super Frugal September Week 1

I have spent most of my alloted non-food $100 already, but it was mostly on the things I knew I would have to pay for. So far this month we've bought/paid for

-A tank of gas $37
-Toiletries (diapers, toilet paper, etc) $28
-My birth certificate $25
-A cup of coffee out with a friend $1.75
-A redbox DVD $1

That's a total of $92.75. Luckily the only other thing I know we'll need to pay for this month is $6 to Cheyenne's school for headphones. We may also need laundry detergent, which would put us a few dollars over $100, but not so much I'd feel uncomfortable about it.

We've kept busy this week with lots of frugal projects.

We brought apples to the food shelf.

We made chicken pot pie and apple pies from scratch.

We worked on some embroidery. This is Isabella's handiwork.

And of course, we fell back on an old frugal mom staple, homemade playdough. Mermaid blue and lavender, of course.

Just for fun if anyone is reading this and doesn't have a recipe for homemade playdough, I've been happy with this one.
1/2 c salt
1 c flour
1 T cream of tartar
1T oil
1 c water
food colouring (optional)
Cook over medium heat until it reaches the consistancy you want it, then cool. Easy. Child's play, really. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hooray for Useful Souvenirs

When I was a little kid and my dad would go on trips for business he always bought me a snowglobe. It was our little ritual, but sweet as it was, there really is a limit to the number of snowglobes a person can comfortably own.

Thankfully, now that I'm an adult we've developed a new tradition and both of my parents tend to bring me something food related. The last time Dad went to California he bought me the book 12 Months of Monastery Soups, by Victor-Antoine D'Avila LaTourette. I use that book all the time. When my mom went to France she brought me herbes de provence and a beautiful apron. Last week Dad once again visited California to see my sister and brought me home some lovely California Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

This is so much better than a crappy vacation t-shirt or a shot glass, or even a snowglobe.

What I Made Wednesday- Apple Cinnamon Pancake Syrup

I've decided to start participating in What I Made Wednesdays from This Wasn't in the Plan and this week's entry is apple cinnamon pancake syrup.

I hate wasting anything, so I make this every year with the apple peels from my yearly apple pies, sauces and crisps. It's very simple and very cheap, especially if you have an abundance of apples. It's simple one part brown sugar to one part water (I usually use two cups sugar and two cups water per batch), a few handfuls of apple peels, plus cinnamon and vanilla to taste. While it's cooking the house smells like heaven.

This batch is going to a friend as a birthday gift, but I think I'm going to package some smaller jars to put in my gift baskets at Christmas.