dyeing eggs for Easter

After seeing so many sites with gorgeous naturally dyed eggs and an earlier attempt at it with friends, I knew I wanted to try many foods to find a few that worked. Yesterday, I tested a few by myself – cumin, blueberries, and spinach. Only blueberries yielded a lovely dye that clung to my eggs. Today, in case a few proved disappointing, I selected many food items from the list on this website, choosing what I knew I had in the fridge, freezer, or cabinet.

We used lavender, chamomile, coffee, beets, carrots, parsley, blueberries, cranberries, and grape juice. I prepared the food items by boiling them in water for 5-15 minutes and straining the liquid into my dye cups. In the case of beets and grape juice, I merely dumped the liquid from canned beets into the cup and poured the fruit juice right from the fridge. To each dye cup, I added roughly 1 dump or 2 tablespoons of vinegar. While tending the stove to keep Oliver away and making lunch, the house was coming undone. Oh well.

I got labels ready so we could remember which ones yielded the best color and repeat with our extra eggs.

Elliott was eager to check on color, while Oliver sharked around, eager to pull off the tablecloth. The first batch proved exciting for beets, blueberries, chamomile, coffee, and lavender. Carrot and parsley resulted in no color change, so we just put those eggs in another color, but added rubber bands for effect.

 

After they drip dried a few minutes, I grew impatient and rolled them in a paper towel. This resulted in some that were a bit splotchy, but others held their color well.

Overall, we were quite happy with the shades and variety. Lovely, eh? There is still time today… what do you have in your freezer or cabinet to work with?

what I am normally doing

9 o’clock on a Sunday night… normally, I would be knitting with friends. A great group of friends, I tell you. One week might be five of us together, drinking wine and talking about our husbands. Another week might be hot tea and admiring one another’s new project or progress while chatting about our little ones. Now with a few preggies in the bunch, the nights tend to be shorter and the wine is on hold. But that is okay because there is always some laughing, some complaining, some quiet pauses, some sharing, some advice.

While the group has changed since I came to Muncie and met these great knitting friends, this has been a wonderful relief, a constant, that is just regular enough. Some weeks plans change and many of us cannot make it. But we will try again the next week and, most weeks, we will meet.

Tonight was a night that had many of us in other places, or recovering from being other places. So I am home, supposedly working on my other projects. But I am thinking of knitting and the comfort of the group. It is something that I will greatly miss when we move. By being part of this group I have come to find a few things I might not have found otherwise.

First, I rediscovered knitting. For well over a year before coming to Muncie, I had put knitting on hold. And I never challenged myself with my knitting, sticking to simple projects. Seeing others work complicated patterns inspired me to push myself with new challenges. If I got stuck, I knew I could bring my problem to the group and someone would be there to help me along. While frustrating, I love what I have accomplished and will carry those skills with me into each new project.

I also discovered a love of tea. I used to sip some chamomile if I needed a little something other than coffee. But I never enjoyed tea much. Seeing my friends love tea, try new kinds, and just delighting in tea, well, that got me started. Slowly, I tried tea at their homes. Then I started buying new kinds. And now I am hooked in a good way. Drinking tea and a wide variety has helped me nix my addiction to coffee.

The biggest thing I discovered is that I can make and maintain friendships with woman. For years, my husband was my only close companion and I had difficulty starting and keeping friendships with other woman. Often, moving effected that as we were not in any place long enough to work on establishing a close relationship. But now, four years in, I have found it really did take time for those relationships to grow. Moving will not stop me from being friends with these woman, but I wonder what it must be like to stay and know the same group of woman for years and years, through every trial and every celebration.

A little cup of tea tonight really got me thinking.

I want to be a Radical Homemaker right now!

I am currently reading the book Radical Homemakers. I am loving this book… really, really loving it. Generally, well, my interpretation, it is re-examining the way we live and saying we need to return back to the family and working as a family to care for ourselves for greater satisfaction in our lives. It covers what steps I have made towards a different way of living already and what I feel I want to change to get to how I want to live. But today I felt overwhelmed by my inability to change things right now. I tend to live this way in my spending, my work, my leisure even. If I cannot get something done at the very moment I want it done, I tend to want it done as soon as possible. But what if it is not possible? What if it takes months or years? Then I tend to get very down on myself or the goal and have often given up or settled for less. With such lofty goals and what I see as a modern-day of attitude of right now, I am struggling with how to plan for a future and continue to make the steps towards it.

You see as I read this book, I was working out at the Y and just this morning made a purchase on Etsy for something I could have made because I wanted it right then. And I justify why I am at the Y and why I get things I could make and why I do not make all my own food and why we have three cars in the driveway and so forth. But in these back steps, I need to start recognizing forward momentum towards the goal and start making plans for taking bigger steps to get where I actually want to be, even if they are years down the road.

savoring each bite

All parents have days like mine have been… wild, upset, or mischievous children changing the course of the day in a single moment, adding more work to the day, causing tempers to flare, bouncing between sweet and loving to rowdy and rude. Add that to the regular routine and it has felt like a juggling act for days around here – clean a dirty kitchen, answer demands or pleas for snacks, start the washer, change a diaper (3 poops or more a day!), mend a split lip (two different days this week!), switch clothing to the dryer, respond to important and unimportant emails, shovel snow so the mailman can walk to the door, mail packages, make phone calls, do a complicated craft, play a game, cook dinner, remove a child from a tabletop, remove a child from the cactus, remove a child from the toilet, and so on. Oh, and maybe squeak in a cup of tea and a dash to the bathroom for me, but only if there is time! Today, stuck home from exercising because of snow, the day went according to the same ‘plan’ as days passed – busy, with little actually getting accomplished.

But I threw in something extra today… I discovered a great recipe for butter toffee. As I often do, I told myself to make it anther day. But after an hour that felt like a day, I was really ready to make toffee. Well, to be honest, just eat toffee. But I did all my other work and fun first while Oliver napped and then started the sugar and butter boiling about the moment Oliver was waking up. As the candy thermometer refused to climb at a satisfactory rate, I was forced to let Elliott get Oliver out of his room. “Release the hound!” From my kitchen post, I shouted commands like “Don’t knock him over. I cannot help him right now” or “Elliott, find something to distract him, quick!” And so well over a half hour went by. (Was it even this long? It felt like much, much longer,) I stirred and stirred and the temperature went up ever so slow. The whole time I imagined all the scenarios of awful things unfolding in other rooms, out of sight… and what would absolutely require me to leave the stove. The closer I got to the end and I could smell my toffee, I realized very little could force me to leave that stove! Broken toys and gashed lips would require that someone toddle to me for a hug.

As I neared the final golden 298 degrees, I was just delighted to learn that my candy thermometer was not accurate. Quickly, I changed to a digital thermometer, got it off the stove, and added vanilla. But, in desperation to get a second silicone mat that I really did need, I plopped the hot pan onto another one. It added a nice film to my pot and totally ruined the cutting mat. I finally got it all spread, left it to cool on the mats, left a mess in the kitchen, and checked on my two little ones, who just happened to be playing peacefully in the back. Phew!

Thinking I could move onto the next step, I started melting chocolate, chopping nuts, and grinding sea salt. Since I had far less quality chocolate than needed, I was doing my melting in three stages – great, good, and so-so chocolate. The first one, quality dark baking chocolate, was easy and done in a flash, spread and coated with nuts and sea salt. The second, quality white baking chips, scorched in the pot and then burnt in the microwave – a total waste. The third, cheap milk chocolate chips, never even melted, just globbed in the bowl – more waste. In just another half hour, I had stunk up the kitchen, dirtied a good dozen pots and utensils, and had to contend with burnt on goop on more than one pot. Oh, and I needed to pay what little attention I could spare to children as questions were asked, tears shed, and hands reached for the stove.

But (yes, there is a but), at this point, I could snap off little (or big) pieces of toffee to sustain me. And, Elliott left me alone for a whole five minutes once he negotiated “one, maybe two, uh, maybe three” pieces of toffee from me. And, AND, I feed Oliver leftover chocolate chips while I cleaned up. So while it was utter chaos and stressful, my boys could survive a few minutes without me and we all got some tasty toffee or treats to make the rest of the day go better.

Now, go make some toffee and make Friday super sweet!

* And you may wonder where all the wonderful pictures are of the lovely toffee and the lovely mess. But in the rush of it all, I could not even leave the stove for the camera. And once I remembered the camera when I got to my big toffee sheets, I realized Pioneer Woman’s images would be far lovelier and looked a lot like my sweet treat anyways. Although, I did not do double sides as she did since I was short of chocolate.

little helper

Lately, quite sadly I must say, tender feelings for Elliott have been far and few between due to his monstrous behavior. But seeing spoons in the fork drawer made me think fondly of my little sweety. Here is how I got spoons in the fork drawer.

Earlier tonight, ever tired of asking him to pick up before moving on to the next thing and sensing I would get the same lack of energy turned tantrumy nastiness as usual. And being fed up with load after load of my work, I offered a switch. I would pick up his toys (which were really quite few) and he would unload the dishes. He happily agreed. In a few minutes I finished and asked him what I should do now. I assumed he would say help him, but he happily replied “Go work at your desk or something.” What can I say to that but ‘Okay!’

He used his learning tower to climb to put pots away. He stacked things on the counter he was too short to put away. And he never asked for my help. I only finally intervened when the stack of items became a bit too precarious. Even then, I only did the counter dishes, not what was left in the dishwasher. Once finished, he was happy. I was happy. A crisis averted!

So tonight while I unloaded yet another load of dishes, grumpy and worn out, seeing that he had to climb up to the drawers and find the place for spoons made this little mistake so very sweet. He was working so hard tonight to do it all by himself.

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I originally tried to post this last night but our internet was on the fritz.

Today, Elliott and I changed jobs again. I picked up his room and he made his school lunch. He did a great job, even selecting items from nearly all the food groups. He felt very proud that he cut his own pear (which I came to supervise), packed it all up, and cleaned up.

oh, sanity

Oh, Sanity! Where have you been?

A weekend of peace and self-determined plans gave me an ounce if it back.

The weeks leading up to this trip had me thinking a great deal about a person’s need for breaks, regardless of gender or their job. I was rather bothered and, the more I thought about it, angry to realize some people (um, other husband’s) would be bothered by the idea of their spouse vacationing without them, even to the point of fighting or not allowing it. After a simple bit of logic with my spouse, he agreed that I should take a break. I pointed out that he had been a numerous trips lately for days at a time and I would appreciate the time to myself – to sleep without interruption, to eat a meal without getting up and down to serve anyone, to do a few activities of my choosing for as long as I like, to use the bathroom without having to worry about what a little toddler was exploring. And like that a promise was made for a whole week!

Sure there are lots of concerns. Can the family financially manage it? Can the other spouse take time to care for the children? And if those are issues, such as they were and are for us, the trip can be (and was) shorter. Or childcare can be found so it may not necessarily be the spouse watching over the children. But beyond these issues, I have tried to figure out why it would ‘not fly’ in other people’s homes, as one person said to this idea. Why? Because it money spent on one person and the other misses out? Because a spouse might cheat? Because a spouse thinks that the other one is not working that hard at their job? Would the feelings be the same if it was the husband wanting a mini-vacation or day away alone? Everyone working either a ‘real’ job or who is home with kids (or both!) works hard. And if someone wanted to cheat, they would find the time one way or another. Really, what real reasons can someone give for a flat-out refusal to a request for a break? Serious. Maybe I am overlooking something… Any reasons out there I am overlooking?

Sanity savers are important for everyone. Yes, everyone! Mike and I have found ways to exchange time with each other so we each feel we get time to ourselves or with friends. I have Sunday knit nights with the ladies after the kids are in bed. He goes golfing occasionally on Saturday mornings with a friend. If I want to run an errand alone, he will play with the boys. And this time, since he had business yet relaxing trips alone, I got a weekend to myself.

I finally settled on a weekend at a country B&B, Tryon Farm Guest House. I shopped at every antique shop I could find, visited Lake Michigan, and changed my plans on a whim if I wanted.

 

driving north through Indiana

Most of my highlights are my feelings of concern being let go. While shopping at my first antique shop, I kept feeling the ‘pull’ of children. Typically I cannot linger to take in all a shelf has to offer or I have to pass all the breakable nooks. I had to shake that feeling off and realize I could take as little or as much time as I wanted, looking wherever I was interested. Later on the trip, when I decided to pull off to a trail head, I just did it. I did not have to be concerned that it was 5:00 and the children would be hungry. Typically, on a family trip, we would have had to either plan the trip out better to have food with us or miss stopping right then. Because I could go on a whim, I felt such a rush making my way up the dune and saw a great sunset.

 

antique shop in Chesterton, Indiana

The trip was also time for me to reflect on my family, myself, and everyone else in the world. Oh, I know that sounds big, but when one can follow their ideas uninterrupted, you can get beyond the day-to-day picture and mull over bigger issues. Time to reflect is good. And again I will say it – it is good for everyone.

 

near the Tryon Farm Guest House, Michigan City, Indiana

My highlights of the trip:

  • lounging in a feather bed in the morning
  • having an utterly beautiful gourmet breakfast prepared for me and not having to worry over the prep or dishes
  • finding some sweet treasures – bead stringing beads for Elliott, a wool blanket to keep Oliver warm, an apron and bracelet for me, a lovely ornament to add to our unique holiday collection, and more interesting cloth napkins for everyday use
  • finding utterly smooth rocks at the lake to admire or make into rock houses, people and animals for the boys (uh, yes, rocks for Christmas!)
  • running up Mount Baldy at dusk at Indiana Dunes to catch the sunset shimmering on Chicago’s buildings
  • grabbing a late night chicken marsala dinner at a little Italian joint and watching it made from my table (I saw the mushrooms chopped, I saw them coat my chicken!) and savoring each bite
  • seeing alpacas up close and taking home a small bit of them (in the form of handspun yarn!)
  • trying and loving a small town café’s invented Honey Nut Latte

 

 beads for Elliott

rocks at Lake Michigan

Mount Baldy with Chicago in the distance

Here is hoping everyone gets the break they need and deserve.

(Oh, and on a totally separate note… my smart phone saved me so many times when I got lost, when I needed a place to eat, when I wanted to find coffee or antiques. Normally I curse my dependence, but my phone proved its worth this trip.)

today’s thrill

Despite it being Halloween, today’s thrill had nothing to do with scary costumes or silly tricks. Today was the day we said goodbye to the garden for the year. That in itself was not thrilling. We had to rip that last plants – the tomatoes, the Brussel sprouts, the okra – and harvest what was left before we mixed in compost and tilled the soil. This also was not exactly thrilling.

Bringing in the okra pods for their seeds, harvesting a large bag of swiss chard, and finding just a few more yellow tomatoes to pop in our mouths was thrilling. Elliott’s delight at finding more caterpillars camouflaged in the veggies was thrilling. Showing Elliott how to carefull use a knife to cut the okra from the plant and turning the job over to him was thrilling. Sharing the same excitement with everyone in the family when we found a small patch of forgotten carrots was thrilling. Working as a family and finding ways to have Oliver be part of it was thrilling.

Today I felt happy with the garden and with the hard work the family has done all season long. I had doubts in the garden this year, but it proved me wrong. My freezer can attest to its success. 

While sharing the day with flocking starlings and the last caterpillars, we all felt very pleased even though it was a full work day and we had to said farewell to the garden. I hope you had a thrilling day in your own way.

give it some time

So I hate to exercise. It was quite apparent to me when just two days ago I was wondering why I was not seeing the exact results I expected. Today I looked to see when I wrote my resolutions post. Less than 2 weeks ago! I realize I had been exercising some before that post, but I really thought it had been a month, maybe two, of consistent exercise.

I guess I will cut myself some slack. I am happy with muscle tone developing, my improved mood after exercising, and the loss of a few pounds. And so far I have not changed my diet. In fact, when debating with myself to get donuts or cookies, I often opt to not alter my diet, just so I can see how far just exercising will get me.

My only complaint is my tummy flab. Any woman who has delivered a baby can probably understand this problem. I can feel the muscles under there, but that extra skin and fat! Oh, why won’t you go away. (Yeah, I am thinking back to the donuts to blame too, but forget about that…) Because I feel I have given it a good effort (2+ weeks!) and I am not seeing instant results, it is time to throw in the towel. Exercise doesn’t work! Eat another donut. Feel better. And then feel worse.

But not today! No! Today I thought of this and it helped me to fight back. I changed machines to work other muscles and added 5 more minutes to my workout. And it felt great. So I still came home from the gym with tummy flab, I will still grab a sweet treat later, but I will keep at the exercise a bit longer, give myself more time to see results. And then, when I get the taste of good results, it only gets better from there!

apples and pears, oh my!

Every year we check my parent’s fruit trees, hoping for a good year for apples and pears. This year was a bit scraggly, but enough was found to be turned into delicious apple-pear sauce. And an extra bonus of getting apples from them: they do not spray their trees. So if I can overlook the worms, wait, not overlook… If I can commit the extra time to cutting out the worm holes, it yields a very tasty sauce.

My blend came about because that is what my parents had a few years ago. What we harvested of each was not enough to process all by itself. Now, I think I prefer them together. My parents gifted me a Victorio Strainer and it works like a dream for something like pears, which I hate skinning and do not work on a traditional apple peeler/corer. You wash the fruit, quarter it, steam it, and process it. Then you just heat on the stove until hot and add spices. Because of the strainer, you can get to the canning much faster.

On this nice Fall night, we unfortunately were not gathered around our fire pit with smores, but inside, just a bit too hot with all the burners going. But we had wine so I guess it is all okay.

washing the pears…

cutting the apples…

steaming the fruit…

processing…

look at it go…

the big vat of sauce, which yielded 12 quarts, plus some breakfast sauce for the wee boys…

clean up time (see that stack of pans and bowls, ugh!, but, see who is washing!)…

and time for steam facials with the leftover canning water (I went first, and then, hehe, snuck a picture when Mike tried it)…

the good and bad of being hooked

For days now, I have been struggling with how to cope with my habit. A coffee-drinking, money-guzzling, gut-breaking habit. And then I realized my problem was far bigger than just wanting a coffee. I wanted the interaction with another (smiling) human being. I wanted the ease and instant satisfaction of the coffee, handed to me, ready to drink. I wanted the instant feel good feeling I get, the pleasure of 10 minutes where I feel like I can safely ignore the kids and relax. But with all this good stuff comes the bad. It is an expensive habit. It is a calorie-loaded habit (see, I tend to get a treat with my coffee too – a double whammy). And then the bad feelings creep in, the guilt totally negating all the good.  It is a lot of emotion wrapped up in one coffee.  And everyday I am riding this rollercoaster.

When I initially tried to cut back by getting smaller sizes, not ordering a cookie, or skipping a day, I started realizing I was compensating in other ways to get the same tiny relaxing high. I got take-out lunch (which was waaaay more money than coffee costs), I ate more candy and sweets at home (a lot more!), or I indulged in a marathon nail-biting sessions (a habit I did have broken). If I did not find a way to unwind and feel better, I was extremely snarly to the little men in my lives, and more often than not, the big man in my life too.

I know I have to break my habit(s). I also now realize I need a sane way of doing it – leaving me not feeling so guilty, so down. It took me 26+ years to quit biting my nails – with a list of arguments why I needed to stop, rewards, mental arguments, money blown on new ‘tricks’ to stop and a lot of frustration. Finally, it just clicked and I just stopped. But I do not have 26 years to break my newest habit. My piggy bank cannot take it, my waist cannot take it, my well-being is too tied to it.

I do not have a solution. Just spending another day thinking the problem over and wondering if I feel so good and then bad the days I splurge, will the reverse be true? Will I feel bad at first and then, once I see the benefits, feel good? Hard to believe it would be true the first cranky day without it.

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