Wednesday, January 30, 2013

This is life

  • Last week, one of the kids tripped over the laptop cord and sent it crashing to the ground, killing the monitor. Fortunately, the computer itself still works - we just can't see anything but ink and splinters on the screen. Clever husband hooked it up to our PC monitor so it can be used until fixed. Clever husband has also ordered a new laptop screen and is endeavoring to fix it himself. I married up.

  • Our weekly family night tends to be some kind of snack food and a movie. It's fun, though if Dan gets excited, it can be a little...chaotic. The kids don't eat as much because they're mesmerized, which means there's more for the adults. He he.

  • Abigail has now transferred from the piano after 2-3 years and has begun violin lessons. She's very excited, as am I - I always wanted to play the violin growing up. Anna's continuing with the piano, and Noah just had his first piano lesson this morning. He wants to try the guitar or drums (such a boy), so we've decided he needs to get a year or so of piano under his belt first. He has the best teacher around, so I'm sure he'll love it.

  • After Toby was away for a week for work while (some of) the kids were sick, I was done. I don't know that I'd ever been happier to see him. I begged him not to leave again. So, this morning, he left at 4am to catch a 6:30am flight to Kentucky for the day. He'll be catching a flight home this afternoon and should be home in time to kiss the kids goodnight, all so that he doesn't have to be away another night.  What a guy!

  • We have reached a new phase of parenting recently - hormones have entered our home. We're talking and praying a lot, but if we all survive it, it'll be one of God's great kindnesses.

  • A fun activity around here is "dance party". We turn the 80s station on Pandora and rock it out. So. Much. Fun. I remember all those lyrics, Toby gets down with his rhythm-impaired self (he's such a white boy), and the kids go from showing off their funky moves to laughing at our funky moves. It's the best version of time-travel - all of the sudden, I was in 7th grade, sitting with my friends at the lunch table, singing "Ice Ice Baby". We were so cool.

  • Some of our dearest friends left late last week to go meet four boys who want to call them Mom and Dad. Actually, it's more like "Mai and Pai", since they're coming from Brazil. They don't come back until March, and I can't imagine there have been more eagerly awaited children - it seems as if our entire church is adopting them! And it won't be long until our friends are seeing their kids dance around the house, eating everything in sight and tripping over expensive equipment. I'm so excited for them!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Caramel Apple Cake with Apple Cider Frosting!

I have been collecting a lot of recipes. My pinboard has well over 500. My bookmarks tab is loooooong. In the interest of serving others (of course), I feel duty-bound to try out a few of these recipes, just to see if they're any good.
This one was very good.
Recipe found at a hint of honey

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
1½ cups light brown sugar
¾ cup canola oil
¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
¾ cup caramel sauce (homemade or jarred)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1½ cups buttermilk
 (if you don't have buttermilk, measure out the same amount of milk minus 2tbsp, then add 2 tbsp of lemon juice)

Apple Cider Frosting:
7 1/2-8 cups confectioners’ sugar (to desired consistency)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
(I had to add a bit more, a tbsp at a time to get the right consistency - be prepared to play with it a little)
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two (8 or 9 inch) round cake pans and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a second large bowl, beat sugar and oil together with an electric mixer until well combined, about 30 seconds. Add applesauce, caramel and vanilla, beat for 30 seconds, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk, and continuing to beat until well combined.

3. Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle of each cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Set aside to let cool for 10 minutes, then gently loosen cakes and turn out onto a cooking rack; set aside to let cool completely.

4. For the frosting, put sugar, butter, cider, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Arrange one cake on a large plate and spread about 1 cup of the frosting evenly over the top. Arrange second cake on top then frost top and sides of entire cake with remaining frosting. Set aside at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to allow frosting to set before serving.

Makes a tall 2-layer, 8-9 inch round cake.
Tall. Rich. Nice, subtle spice. How can you go wrong with caramel?
We gave it a two thumbs up, for sure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Make do and mend

So, I saw this idea on Pinterest (where else?) for lengthening pants for kids, and was totally struck by the idea that it would also do very well for replacing worn out and holey knees. I had to put the idea to the test.
Noah was happy to oblige me with some very ragged jeans. I simply cut a bit above and below the holes, roughly 3 inches. I had some old jeans that Toby'd worn out and used that as replacement fabric. Cut enough to go all the way around and sew the short ends together to form a tube. Put it all together with some top stitching, and you're golden.
It was most gratifying to find that the plan worked and they fit, but even better is when the boy opts to wear his "mama-fixed" trousers instead of another pair that's in better shape. Sweet.
If I get around to doing this for the girls - I think they have some jeans I can experiment on - I would probably use some cute, girly-type fabric. I didn't think Noah would really appreciate anything that smacked of "cutesy", so denim is usually a safe bet. It matches so well with, um, denim.
Take a few minutes to root through your kids' trouser collection and see what you've got to work with. It doesn't take long and might save you some of your clothing budget. Which means you can spend it on jewelry instead.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Right now...

...I'm grateful for a lovely weekend, including the opportunity to have Caleb dedicated at church and celebrating with family afterwards.
...I'm trying to fully wake up after something of a rough night: Caleb waking me up twice, the first time only an hour after falling asleep? What's up with that?
...I am encouraged by the friend who reminds me that 6 kids can be overwhelming, but God is faithful, so hang in there!
...I appreciate coffee in the pot,my favorite breakfast of yogurt, blueberries & granola, and chicken stock from leftover roast chickens for use later.
...the sounds of the kids getting up, dressed and reading their Bibles are percolating through the house. Didn't realize that Bible reading could be a noisy activity? It is in this house.
...we're getting ready to get back into the swing of school after a week of illness. I'm waiting for protests of shock and horror to ensue.
...I'm frankly a little jealous of all of my English peeps that have snow. Toby built that wonderful storage for all our snow gear - it'd be lovely to put it through its paces!
...I'm working three knitting projects, several sewing repairs and a new book. What to work on first?
...Our family read aloud has got every one's attention, though - Treasures in the Snow by Patricia St John.
...I feel fairly unprepared as I head into a new week, but I am confident of He who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine. He is faithful.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Best Pork Roast. Ever.

That's a pretty bold claim, isn't it? I don't care - I stand by every word. The only reason it's not "The Best and Easiest Pork Roast" is because the easiest food is the food that someone else makes. Can I get an amen?
I've had Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader for a while and have made a few things from it, but not many. While I was flipping through it during Christmas break, I thought it would be a good idea to rectify the situation. And while the book calls this recipe "Emma's Pork Roast", I think my name is more descriptive. :)

Emma's Pork Roast, from Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader
4tsp seasoned salt
2 tbsp flour
2tbsp dried thyme
3-4 lb pork roast
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cups chicken or beef stock
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup sliced button mushrooms (I omitted these)
1 1/2 lb new potatoes, quartered
1 cup baby carrots
Mix together the seasoning blend, flour, and thyme and rub it all over the roast. Warm the oil in a large pot over med-high heat. Place the roast in the pot and brown. Add stock and vinegar, then the onions and mushrooms (if using) and reduce the heat to a simmer (about 3 on my stove). Cover and cook for about four hours.
Add the potatoes and carrots, cover and continue to cook for another 30-45 minutes. When it's done, remove the roast and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes before slicing.
So much yum.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Handy Man

Our laundry room is not my favorite place. It's always kind of a mess with recycling and boots thrown hither and tither. There was no place to keep winter items, either - wet stuff was often left on the floor to form puddles or tossed into a laundry basket.
Toby'd had a bee in his bonnet to organize the laundry room, and during the Christmas break, he had his chance:
Basically, we took down a large corner cupboard that had been on the wall and stuck way out into the room and installed a coat rack that we've had for ages. He also scratch built the boot cubbies, with only one minor drilling injury (just a flesh wound...)!
I'm excited about this little detail, as it's one of my own inspirations: drill coffee can to wall. Insert gloves, hang scarf around and use hat as a lid. Everything has a home and everything can get dry.
The room isn't finished yet - I'd love to finish the walls and stain and seal the floor. But we've taken a big step in the right direction, and now when I enter the room, I smile rather than sigh. That makes a big difference.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Better late than never!

It took a while to get around to, but here's what some of our Christmas vacation looked like:
Dan and the Doggie-Guitar
The Princess Castle
Our delicious Merry Berry Trifle and Double Chocolate Christmas Pudding - yum!
A White Christmas!
Our totally cool snowman. We didn't have any carrots, so he had a celery nose. It doesn't make him wrong, just special.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book List 2013

Well, it took a little while, and I daresay I'll be adding to it through the year, but here is my new book list for 2013:

Something More by Catherine Marshall

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

Forever Erma by Erma Bombeck

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Amy Carmichael by Lois Dick

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure Peril, Lost Jewels, and the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree by Andrew Peterson

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

At Home by Bill Bryson

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman

George Mueller by Basil Miller

Think by John Piper

Counsel from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick

So, that's it. I'm looking forward to getting to know a few new authors and characters, and I admit, I'm a little intimidated by some of my selections, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - a little bit of stretching never hurt (much).

Feel free to share some of what you'll be reading this year, or link up to your own list!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Here it is!

Remember a while ago I was thinking about working on a cardi project? Well, I've finally made my decision!
I started it on my way to NJ for our family get together, and so far, so good. It's a top-down knit, and I'm getting ready to divide for the sleeves. Once that's done, it should be pretty straightforward until I add the ribbing. I don't really care for picking up stitches, but it's one of those aversions that you deal with, and when it's done you wonder what the big deal is.
I'll let you know when it's done (hopefully it won't take too long - I'm cold)!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Command Center, phase 1

Remember way back when I mentioned I was thinking about a command center? Well, Toby and I went over and over the idea, trying one idea, then another. We looked at corner units and high and low cupboards. In the end, we couldn't decide on something that worked well, so we decided to put the project on hold. Which is, of course, when inspiration struck.
We picked up this dresser at a yard sale a couple of summers ago, and it's served several purposes during it's tenure here. It was in our guest room for a long while, then it was by the front door, holding hats, gloves, etc.
Checking in with The Nester one day, I read the phrase "Shop the house." I love that idea. Not much different from re purposing or "make do and mend", but I think I was particularly struck by the idea of shopping for free. So, as I walk through the house to see what might work, at least temporarily, in the command-center spot I had picked out, I must have walked past this dresser about 5 times before I began to consider it's worthiness.
Upon evaluation, it's got everything I need: high surface to avoid little fingers? Check. Plenty of storage space? Check. Just the right height and depth? Check. Currently, it ain't purtty - I have grand painting plans. But for now, I'm happy.
We're also in the process of looking for a wall-mounted filing system, kind of like this:
Photo by Ihearorganizing
For now, though, it's working. The hats and gloves are still in there, which is fine, not to mention all the office-y type things like tape and scissors, and there's even a drawer for our letter writing material. Good stuff.
Shopping the house - who knew?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

So, how'd it go?

Now that the holidays have been and gone, it might be a good time to look back and look ahead...

How was your Christmas break? Ours was delightful but busy. We had a wonderful Christmas dinner, and I delighted to spend most of the morning in the kitchen, pottering around. It was so good (toot, tooting by own horn, here), Toby didn't even make it away from the table before dozing off! Everyone had a great time opening and using their gifts - and I was so gratified that the sweater I started knitting for Tobes more than a year ago (!) actually fit.
We had snow for Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and again over the break, which delighted the children to no end - we still have the remains of an impressive snowman in our backyard. There was dinners with family: Boxing Day dinner with my parents, followed by some shopping, and the annual sibling get together - kudos to the winner of the chili cook off!
The horseback riding session that Abi and I had booked got postponed due to weather, but Toby and I  (and Caleb) still got to see The Hobbit. Excellent movie, must see. Caleb was perfectly behaved!
New Year's Eve was the best I'd had in a long time. Toby and I are not party people, which usually means we go to bed around 10:30pm. This time, we got together for dinner with another family of non-party-ers and ate food and played games. So. Much. Fun. After they headed for home and the kids were in bed, the two of us saw the New Year in while watching The Return of the King. What a great way to finish the year.

What are some of your plans for 2013? Maybe you're a resolution maker, maybe you're not. Either way, the beginning of the new year is a good time to take stock, make a plan and get in gear. Personally, I feel a little behind on things. (I told Toby last night that I haven't even made a reading list for this year yet, and his helpful reply was a mocking gasp, "But you're already 2 days late!") I'm still kind of in the place where I'm making lists of what lists to make, you know? But it's all good. I make a list and if something is important, it'll happen. Eventually.
Aside from the reading list, another thing that I do annually is go through Shopping for Time by Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters. I've done this at least once a year, sometimes more, for the past few years, and it's always served me well. What are the priorities and how do I approach them? I always feel steady on my feet when I have a biblically-informed, God-honoring plan, and this is the tool I use to help me strategize.
Some of the other ideas we're working through together as a family is whether Abi can try violin lessons and where, signing Noah up to play baseball for the first time, when is the right time to sign up at the local YMCA, and evaluating our various commitments. All good stuff, but the need for wisdom is high when weighing the good against the best.

What are your methods for getting ready for 2013?