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Family effort

Summertime centerpieces.. it really doesn’t get much easier than this.

Step one: send your kids outside to grab a handful of flowers. (Remind them not to pick your roses or the flowers from the front of the house. Or from the front of the neighbors’ house.)

Step two: choose a vase, or a dish, or a pot, or even something offbeat like this depression glass ring mold that usually sits in the back of my cupboard. (Check out the window to see how the kids are doing. Ooooh and ahhh over their daring bike tricks. Ask them if they have decided which flowers they want to pick.)

Step three: half fill the dish with something to hold the flowers and give them stability; this is a great use for all those “pretty” rocks your kids are so good at finding. I’ve used some old seaglass here, but you also could tangle some vines (stripped of leaves) and fit them into your dish. Hecksakes, you could even go all out and buy yourself some florists foam, if you’re that sorta gal. (Step out onto the front porch and admire the chalk drawing the kids made on the sidewalk. Draw their attention to the flowers you secretly wanted them to pick. Wonder aloud if anyone knows how much you love those particular flowers… sigh. )

Step four: Into a quart of lukewarm water add three tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and fill dish two thirds full of the mixture. Reserve remainder for refreshing arrangement. (Check outside to see that kids are “almost done.” Exclaim with pleasure at the beauty of the flowers they have chosen and how fortunate you are to have such gifted flower-pickers in the family.)

Step five: strip leaves from the lower portions of the flower stems (the part that will be submerged in water) and carefully place flowers into dish. There are all sorts of methods of flower arrangement... I however, tend to stick with the What Looks Nice Method, mainly because it’s workin’ for me and also because I know nothing about arranging flowers, really. (This method also works best when one has the benefit of several small assistants… which of course… ya do! Yay!)

Step six: plunk one of Becky’s marvy candles smack dab in the middle. (Sniff every single one of the candles in the cupboard. Give everyone a chance to sniff every single one of the candles in the cupboard. Try and remember whose turn it is to choose the candle this week.)

Step seven: break out the milk and cookies. Admire your beautiful centerpiece. Tell the kids that you couldn’t have done it without ‘em. Because really, you couldn’t have.

And you wouldn’t even want to try. Nuh uh.

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Big dreams

I’ve always said that when the kids have all grown and gone, I’m going to live in a teensy little house that I will keep immaculately clean.

At. All. Times.

Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream big! That’s my motto. Yup.

Now I admit, the little house of my big dreams was never quite this teensy. Still, the more I look at this video, the more I’m lovin’ the itty-bitty-ness. I’m picturing a tiny little open cupboard in that front room to show off my tiny little jadeite collection. Maybe some little apartment sized appliances… vintage of course; maybe even painted pale green to match the jade-ite (see my dream philosophy outlined in paragraph one.) Of course the bedroom would have to be a tad larger so as to accommodate my sewing machine. And the hallway would need to be a smidge larger so as to accommodate my hips. But other than that we’re good to go.

What do you dream of doing once your children are grown and gone? Does it involve jade-ite?

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"Work, work, work! Don’t shirk, shirk, shirk!"

My kids really love it when I say that.*

Our agenda du jour:
~Flower beds organized; landscape cloth down and annuals in.
~Beds prepped and ready for the raspberry canes and grape vines.
~Trim forsythia bushes.
~Front porch cleaned up and organized.
~Pretty much anything else that strikes Mama’s fancy.
~And don’t forget to “smile, smile, all the while!” (The kids really love* this one too.)

What’s on your agenda today?

*And by the term “really love,” I actually mean “hate with the fire of a thousand fiery suns.”

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Help a sister out, wontcha?

Okay, here’s the situation… we happen to know a couple of young men, who are, at the moment, in the throes of an incredibly busy work schedule. Between managing their own screen printing shop and helping out at a friend’s landscaping business, they barely have time to sleep. Their apartment is a shambles and the poor things have eaten nothing but fast food and delivery pizza for weeks. Louisa brought them over a pot of soup yesterday and said they nearly cried tears of gratitude at the smell of it. They really are poor things, but very nice poor things who have been very kind to us, so we’re seizing the opportunity to help them out. Those boys need sustenance, and since providing sustenance is kinda my speciality, I thought I’d step up. I had plans of making them a few batches of things they could keep handy in the freezer; things they could heat up and eat on the run. I was thinking maybe some pocket sandwiches of various types, some meat filled rolls and maybe some little balls of frozen cookie dough.

Ahhh, but my crafty plan has hit a snag!

The kitchen at the shop (where they spend most of their time) apparently has only a microwave: no conventional oven, not even a toaster oven. Frozen pocket sandwiches or rolls would be soggy and pretty unappetizing heated up in a microwave. I imagine cookies would be the texture of styrofoam… not exactly the tasty tempting treats I had in mind. So I need to rethink my plan, but suddenly my mind is an absolute blank. Simple single-serving yummy meals that can go from the freezer to hand by way of the microwave? I got nuthin’. Seriously… nuthin’.

Ideas? Strategies? Recipes?

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Who? Me? OCD?

All of these little clear plastic bins…

each of these little red and white labels…

with their neat little black printing…

the little teacups all in a straight little row…

all of this order makes me ridiculously happy. It just does.

Is that so very wrong?

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I’ve never really shown you my kitchen

And there’s a reason for that. My kitchen is ugly. Really really deeply and tragically ugly.

When I first moved into the house much of the room was covered with flat dark pine green paint… walls, woodwork, fake tiles and all. All pine green. And flat, did I mention the paint was flat? You know, the kind of paint that scuffs at the slightest contact and attracts dirt like a super-duper-dirt-attracting-magnet? I think the previous owners must have gotten an amazing deal on flat pine green paint at W*lmart or something. The cupboards were especially striking as the green was paired with plywood faces, and the interiors painted an odd assortment of colors: brick red, tangerine, and a sort of luggage tan. Bit by bit I’ve been covering over the pine green with a basic white semi-gloss, which I love. After each painting I’ve been amazed and relieved at how much brighter and cleaner the room looks. So far however, the cupboards have been left untouched. Painting the cupboards inside and out just seemed like such an enormous job and the inevitable chaos so overwhelming, that I’ve put it off.

Besides if I stood over by the pantry and looked towards the dining room, I couldn’t even see the ugly cupboards, so they didn’t really bother me TOO much. Mhmm. I kinda had to mostly close my right eye to completely block them out, but hey, you do what you gotta do right?

But then this Mother’s Day weekend came along and the kids offered to repaint the cupboards as a gift from them. A weekend of living in chaos seemed like a small price to pay for bright fresh non-pine-green cabinets, so I jumped at the offer. Hecksakes, I was thrilled. Friday afternoon we all got to work. Noah took off all of the doors and the hardware and Amelia scraped off the 1970′s contact paper that had melded with the shelves. We emptied the cupboards and scrubbed them out. And then we started painting… the white semi-gloss for the exteriors and a bright soft yellow for the interiors. Coincidentally, in the course of our scrubbing and scraping we discovered the original color of the cabinet interiors: an almost exact match for the color and shade of yellow that I chose. I feel so validated. In the course of painting, we have also discovered that it takes a whole lotta coats of that yellow to cover brick red. And tangerine. Not to mention luggage tan.

Twenty-seven THOUSAND coats to be precise.

So yeah, it’s been slow going. It’s Wednesday and we’re still painting. My kitchen is a shambles. I actually took photos of the current state of the room… but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to share them. Hey, even I have limits to the extent of humiliation I’m willing to subject myself to! It’s bad. O yeah, it’s bad. I haven’t made bread all week. We’ve eaten more fast food meals in the past five days than in the past five months altogether, probably. But I cling to hope. Someday my kitchen will be intact and orderly again… I just know it will. Someday.

Your prayers appreciated.

I’m completely serious here.

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A few weeks ago our church was making “Friendship Baskets” for needy families in our area and Sakiko had the idea of topping each one off with a home made pie. As Sakiko also has a house full of bustling boys (each of whom she’s schooling on completely separate levels,) an infant, and therefore little time for mass-pie-making-operations, I volunteered to make the pies. A dozen apple pies.

Which… in case you’re wondering… translates as twelve batches of pie crust, an entire package of apple pie spice (from the Amish grocery,) a five pound bag of sugar, a dozen eggs and 96 apples to be peeled, cored and sliced. We had…. fun…. yeah, fun.

We put all of the pies together here at home, then brought then to the church where there are multiple large ovens and the bakin’ is easy.

The church also has lots of unsecured cupboards which are at perfect baby-level and were ripe for exploring. Good times. O yeah.

We brought our schoolwork along.
Not shown: Noah racing down the halls in the usually off-limits church wheelchair.
Like I said… good times. O yeah.

And at the end of it all we had a dozen pies all ready to share… plus one for Louisa to take to her gentleman farmer, and another one to cut. After all one really can’t fill the church with the tantalizing smell of fresh-baked-pie and not offer the pastor at least a slice. That just wouldn’t be kind now would it? And since the pie was cut and all, we each had a slice of our own. Or maybe two slices as the case may be. Or three if you happen to be a growing boy.

O yeah. Good times.

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Rockin’ the artisan bread

I was recently given a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and ladies, the thing has barely made it back into the bookshelf… I use it that often, I really do. Every week I make a double batch of the challah recipe (my ardor for which was previously documented here) along with a separate double batch of the recipe for basic sandwich bread. And I use every last little bit of that bread dough. Every week. I make sweet rolls for breakfast and fresh bread for lunch. We have soft rolls or hot crusty bread with our dinner every night. I make bread for the neighbors and for the nurses at the doctor’s office, all of whom are terribly impressed with my efficiency and homemaker-y-ness. I suppose one of these days I should tell folks that no matter how impressive they look, these loaves actually took very little time or effort on my part, and there is really no cause to be impressed.

oh yeah, I’ll tell them.
One of these days.

This week I made two dozen Peaches and Cream Danish for my Monday morning visitors, and by noontime they were all gone.
Except for the one I hid away for my Tuesday morning breakfast.
and no, I’m not tellin’ where it is. nuh uh.
It’s MINE.

Anyhoo, I’ve been going through so much flour that I special ordered a fifty pound bag of whole wheat bread flour from the Amish store. Then I got that puppy home and was suddenly faced with the prospect of finding storage space for such a sheer mass of flour. Then I had a brainwave: I measured out the exact amounts I needed for my recipes and put them into neat little individual ziplock bags along with premeasured yeast and sea salt. My freezer is now filled with rows of the neatly labelled bags, and all I need to do to make a new double batch of dough is dump the stuff into the mixer and turn it on. Pretty much.

I’m actually quite terribly impressed with MYSELF every time I open that freezer door. Mhhm.

Over the weeks I’ve come up with a few tricks o’the Five Minute Bread trade.. like for example I add an extra tablespoonful of yeast when I make a double recipe. And I make sure I stir the dough very thoroughly… even to the point of kneading, in spite of the Five Minute Bread gurus’ insistence that no kneading is needed. I store the dough in these two gallon pitchers that handily fit into the door of my fridge.

I don’t wash out the pitchers between batches; the little bits of old dough give the sourdough a good jump start. I form the bread early in the day and give it plenty of time to rest, like say, several hours. I usually make an extra one or two of whatever I’m making… cuz it’s so stinkin’ fun just happening to have a loaf of freshly baked bread to send home with an unexpected guest. Or take along for the piano teacher. Or to send over to brighten a neighbor’s cold damp crack of dawn.

And I really will tell them all how easy-peasy it is.

One of these days.

Oh yes I will.


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I woke up to more snow this morning…

… so I’m sustaining myself with memories of this: pretty little blooms on my windowsill and brand new rose leaves just on the other side of the pane.

It’s coming, it’s coming. I know spring is coming.

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Mission accomplished!

The girls with our booty in mason jars.
Millen is holding an antique milk can of Louisa’s
which doesn’t actually contain any milk.
It does however look cute.
As does Millen, I might add.

Well…. what with piano lessons and grocery shopping, a certain little boy who was having schoolwork-related attitude difficulties and confounded milk trucks with their (unbeknownst to me) noontime pick-ups, we didn’t make it over to Mr. Yoder’s farm until almost seven o’clock last evening. As per usual at that time of the night, the deer were out in full force so it was slow driving. And being an Amish neighborhood there were few lights to help us other than the headlights of our van. So we crept slowly along, me shining those headlights along the mailboxes and Louisa calling off the numbers as we passed each one. We got a little bit lost and drove past the Yoder farm not once, but twice. Eventually however, we noticed the egg-shaped sign advertising EGGS FOR SALE, and recollecting that Mr. Yoder also sold eggs, astutely discerned that this particular farm was in fact the object of our quest. We’re so smart, oh yes we are.

Next to the egg-shaped sign was a long lane that led to a softly lit barn straight ahead and a large almost darkened farmhouse to the right. Yep, this looks like the place. We could see the cows in the barn and a young man moving about amongst them. We could see into the ” milk parlor” with it’s huge gleaming stainless steel tank and an assortment of permits and certificates tacked up in orderly rows along the wall. Yup, definitely the right place. At the door we were met by a smiling sweet young woman in a black fringed kerchief. I’m thinking she was Mr. Yoder’s daughter. The young man, probably Mr. Yoder’s son, came in from the barn, oh-so-carefully drew our milk for us, very seriously took our money and advised us that mornings between eight and ten is probably the best time to come for milk. Next Tuesday we’ll be back, I told him. Between eight and ten.

On the way home we were practically giddy. Louisa brought along her cheese making book and was sharing all of the particulars of making cream cheese vs. cottage vs. cheddar. Amelia decided that she’d start having a big glass of milk every morning first thing. I was wondering if perhaps I should have bought three gallons instead of only two. And now that I think of it, maybe I should invest in a couple more half gallon mason jars. Millen thought we needed cookies.

Millen turned out to be the right-est among us. We most definitely needed cookies. Amelia quickly whipped up a little batch of peppermint chippers and we each had two cookies along with a nice cold glass of milk before we went to bed.

Best bedtime snack EVAH. Mhmm. O yeah.

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