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?

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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.

take a tour… part 2

 

Welcome to our dining room and kitchen. Since we ran out of space in our actual kitchen cabinets, we use a pantry for all dry non-perishables. Our clear glass Ikea cabinet has it good points and bad points… On one hand the boys can see the snacks they want and make a choice. On the other, the boys can see the snacks they want. This has led us to discuss healthy choices and unhealthy choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time… time and time again. It has also led the boys to throw tantrums on occasion when they cannot have whatever their eye desires. (Yes, I realize I could just not stock it with goodies, but then Mommy would not have as many goodies. And sometimes, goodies are just good!)

Our dining table is also from Ikea. The chairs for the boys are both Stokke and we love these high chairs. We opted to use only the baby rail, not the straps. But once they figured out how to pull a leg out to try to get out, we have had to spend many a meal reinforcing staying seated or leaving the chair. It has felt harsh with Oliver at only 13 months to remind him a few times and then remove him for a minute while he screams on the floor, wanting to eat. But in 2-3 weeks the issue no longer seems to be an issue. He understands in some way what has happened. Eventually, the rail is removed and they learn how to get up and down in the chair from a very young age. For the first few months when this first happened for Elliott, it was a confidence boost 4-5 times a day when I could ask him to get himself seated at the table for a bite to eat.

If you notice in the picture we have two trash cans. Here in Muncie, you have a regular trash bag and then a bag for all recyclables. While that makes it easier to explain to Elliott about sorting since there are only two choices, what exactly goes where has been harder. I finally made a sign and taped it inside the lid with web images of all of the recyclables (newspaper, foil, glass bottles, aluminum cans, yogurt cup, and the actual recycle logo). Google image searches gave so many choices. For an older child who has trouble remembering, a written note might be helpful.  

 In our kitchen we use the learning tower to allow Elliott to reach the counter top to help measure, pour, mix, or just observe. He is now able to move it on his own and, since he can reach the dog biscuit jar, is now sole supplier of treats to Addison, our dog. Needless to say, she loves him!

 Soon Oliver will be up with Elliott. It will be a little tight with both in the tower together, but Elliott could easily stand on a stool now if needed.

Our kitchen is not ultra small like our apartment in Boston was, but it is also not grand and full of cabinet space. For that reason, real estate was at a premium and only one low cabinet could be given to the boys. It appears to be a bit cluttered, but Elliott is wonderful at maintaining the order.

Having even one cabinet has been wonderful though. If you do not think you can devote a whole cabinet in your kitchen, please find a drawer or small space somewhere. With access to a plate, a bowl, a cup, napkins, and utensils, the child can set their own place at the table, preparing their own snack even, if water and snacks are available. They are also able to put away their own items when helping with clean dishes. This is an example of the water and food set up we were doing for Elliott a few months back. While we abandoned some of the snack layout, the beverage pitchers are still the same. Many, many, many times I am so busy, I send Elliott to get his own drink and foods. Relief for mommy, independence for Elliott. He has gotten so independent lately that he has taken to setting his breakfast place and selecting his cereal before my husband even makes it to the kitchen. I only wish he could reach our plates and bowls. I feel he would like to help even more without having to wait for a parent. With another inch of growth, he should be able to reach from the learning tower very soon!

Thanks for coming along tonight… I will be back shortly for a tour of our living room and some of the activities currently available on our shelves for little hands.

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)…

fall apples for winter nights

There has been a lot of excitement here about the idea of putting food up (or ‘by’, just depends on who you talk to) for the winter. I love that my little boy shares the thrill of harvesting, preparing, saving and dreaming, all for warm winter stews and soups, filled with our vegetables. Today was a busy day in the garden – gathering carrots, picking tomatoes, getting more okra, and noticing that the Swiss chard was making a recovery from an insect attack (and we are fully stocked on chard already, YIKES!).

It was also full of little bits of learning. Elliott got an okra flower for a vase and analyzed the petals, the pistil, and all the yellow pollen, with all of his fingers. He collected two new caterpillars, one a black swallowtail, which provided lots of little lessons all day long: why it has orange horns (to scare off predators), how many legs it really has (six true legs, 10 prolegs), how and what it eats (carrot tops, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace), and how it will overwinter (in its chrysalis, but in our garage!).

Today was also full of cooking and kitchen work. Some days can feel overwhelming when I have this much to prepare. Luckily, today felt energizing and satisfying. The promised cookies were made with help from my little big boy. Carrots and Brussel sprouts were put up while dinner cooked. And apples, oh the big bag of apples from Rod at Farmer’s Market. They had to be dealt with today. Since we had other things to do, instead of applesauce and canning, I decided to tackle frozen pies and bagged apples for other desserts. Our favorite way to have warm apple pie in the winter is to do a bit of the work now with apples we have picked or bought and know the source, in this case a co-worker and vendor at farmer’s market. With my $7 bag of Golden Delicious, I set to work. I am using a trick my mom showed me. It may be well-known, but it feels clever and sneaky to me. You slice and spice your apple pie filling and freeze it in a bag right in the pie pan. Then, on baking day, just make the crust, slide out the pre-formed frozen apple pie filling from the bag, and bake. Genius! Here, I will show you.

Layout your pie filling ingredients – spices, sugar, flour. I am following the good old Betty Crocker recipe, which I cannot technically put on here without permission, but most any recipe will do.

 

If you have a apple peeler/slicer/corer, get it set up. Or buy one! It is quite handy for bulk applesauce, pies, anytime you have more than a few apples to peel. Do you see my company here? The caterpillars were my only pie-making companions today.

Layout the number of apples you need for a single pie recipe. I quickly lose count when I am cranking along.

Peel… which is very satisfying, and did I mention, easy.

Marvel at how fast that went.

Marvel at the pile of peels. Eat up if you pre-washed your apples (or if you are lucky to have apples that have never been sprayed).

Quarter the apple. Remove any seeds, bad spots, or peel that were not removed by the peeler/slicer/corer.

Throw the apple pieces into a gallon freezer bag. Yes, just skip the bowl and spoon. This was my revelation tonight (only after I made a mess of a bowl and spoon. Lucky you do not have to make the same mistake!) Make sure you have labelled it “Apple Pie” and got the date on the bag. Perhaps, like me, you will have no idea what day it is and just take a guess. Below you will see I was wrong. Hm.

After you finish one pie’s worth of apples, measure in the flour, sugar, and spices. Or, if you are like me, measure in the sugar and flour with a quick leveling shake (eh, close enough) and a few shakes of each spice (looks like a teaspoon!). The pie will forgive you and come out great regardless. Now, seal the bag, but leave the air in for now. It is time to spend a minute shaking the ingredients around, mimicking that spoon we cast aside. Once well shaken, then release excess air from bag and seal tight.

Shape the bag into the pie pan, pretending you are heaping it into a crust. (That part will really be months later.) *See, wrong date!* Now repeat all the above steps a few more times, depending on the number of apples you have and the number of pie pans you have on hand!

Marvel at your progress. Here, I am four pans down, one to go.

Time to place them in the freezer! A chest freezer is great for the number I was making. If you only make one or two, a small freezer will be just fine. Make sure you have level (or semi-level) space to set them until they are frozen solid. Once frozen, in a day or so, you can remove your pie plates. The pie filling can be stored vertically, you can stack things on it, whatever! 

Clean up time! I did not show the sticky counters, the drippy juices on the floor, the flour explosion. Yeah, that part just stinks. But the trip to the compost was worth mentioning. Two bowls worth! Since we do an open compost, it is great for the bees, wasps, other insects and big mammals who get their fill here. We have seen opossum, raccoons, and chipmunks all visit for a little snack. And it is two huge bowls we are not putting in the trash. We then use the composted material for our garden. Every spring we till it into the rows. If you do not compost, it is super easy and there are so many sites out there about how to set it up and how to maintain it. Basically, we add layers of leaves and grass, collecting and adding food scraps as our container fills up in the kitchen. We use a basic metal ice bucket – cheap, attractive, dishwasher safe, and it will not break like the expensive ceramic compost pails. And you do not need to worry about the smell. The lid keeps the smells under control and we have no filter to replace like the marketed compost pails. We add any fruit or vegetable scraps (except seeds!!), egg shells, and coffee grounds. You can add bread, crackers, even paper towels, but they do little to benefit the compost. It just cuts down on trash and is easily broken down in the compost bin. Do not add meat and pet waste! They attract to many animals and are not appropriate for a garden compost. Remember, you have to dig in that soil in the summer.

Here is ours, after adding the peels… you can even see all the carrot tops in the back. Oh, the best part, if you layer well enough, there is no need to stir. We just keep heaping and our super hot pile just keeps on working, even in the winter. Of course, this can be painful to look at some days so tuck it away, far from viewing range!

Now wait you say… all that work, all the cleanup, lots of pie filling in the freezer. But what do I do with them again?

Oh yes, off the compost talk. Pies, back to pies.

It is quite simple. On baking day, follow your recipe to make a fresh pie. Generally it goes like this: make your crust, place your (still frozen) filling into the pie plate on top of the bottom crust, dot with butter, cover with top crust, seal and flute, cover sides with foil, slit the top, and bake until juices bubble through slits. The  cooking duration might be a bit longer, so ensure the foil stays on until the last fifteen minutes or so. Serve warm with ice cream, or cool.

I am already dreaming of a cold winter evening and eating a *fresh* apple pie!

role reversal

Typically, you have a child whining for a toy or cookie. Today though, I felt like the whining kid, throwing out any thing I could to get what I wanted. Here is how it played out, driving right from the Y to Starbucks:

Me: Lets go get my coffee then we will head for home.

Elliott: Why do you buy coffee?

Me: I like it.

Elliott: I know, you could just make coffee at home! (expressed like a lightbulb/aha moment)

Me: But I like their coffee. It just tastes better than what we make at home. (slight pause, feeling desperate, pulling out the big guns…) Plus, if I stop getting coffee, then you won’t be able to get a cookie there either.

Elliott: But we could just make cookies at home! (stated like another brilliant idea had come to him)

(And brilliant it was, I know.)

Me: (with reluctance) You’re right. How about I skip the cookie and just get the coffee? (knowing full well I had a secret biscotti tucked in my bag) Maybe I will stop getting coffee too. It is expensive. We can make cookies this weekend if you want.

Had we not arrived at Starbucks at that point, and he was a bit older, he may have also pointed out the idiocy of driving right from the Y to Starbucks where I would consume the calories I just burned. But as I sip my coffee and munch my biscotti, at least I can say my whininess did not end with a tantrum. Because for today, I got my way. Hehe…

wishful thinking

I made this mistake of showing big E how to pull on the wish bone (from a chicken) and make a wish, saying that the wish would come true if you got the top. He and I each took a side and pulled. Anyone else ever do this as a child? We often did, once the bone dried for a few days. Sounds quite repulsive as I type it, but such fun as a child. I guess putting every part to use, huh?

Well, he got the top. And even though I told him not to tell me or it would not come true, I secretly wanted him to tell me so I could make it come true (making me think of the story One Morning In Maine). He could not contain himself and burst out that he wished he could fly. A few minutes he asked why it did not come true. I said maybe in his dreams tonight. He insisted this was not good enough – he wanted people to be able to see him. He then said he was going outside so his wings could grow. My heart sank.

And it got worse. Repeatedly, throughout the day, he seemed let down by his wish not really coming true, to the point of tears. My little boy, who always tells me the difference between fact and fiction, always seeing the silliness of silly stories for what they are, took this wishing business so literally.

We may be pushing a little boy very high on a swing , sewing some wings, or renting an airplane tomorrow, just to soothe a boy and to erase my Mama-guilt.

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