Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Grapes of (my) Wrath OR ..... Fifty Dollar Jelly

 
Jonah
 
I have a lot of blogging to do, because I have been spending my time LIVING lately.  We have had a very special few weeks.  So, I while I am getting caught up, please enjoy this very random post that has nothing to do with anything. 
 
One should really do one's homework.
 
Several years ago I plopped down $3.99 on  bare-root grape vine, planted it, and began what would become a love hate relationship with a darn thing.  That first year the grapes were the size of peas. I hadn't realized that I had purchased a champagne grape vine. Oh well, I thought, at least the birds will eat them if the kids don't want them.
 
But the kids did want them, as did the birds.  As I am learning with fruiting plants and trees, each year brings new surprises.  The surprise this year was a bumper crop.  Apparently, squirrels aren't into grapes. 
 
Kathy and I have begun our weekly gardening trade and, unlike last year, this year I am expecting a little work out of the kids.  They happily harvested the grapes and set about plucking them from the stems while I mucked out the chicken coop and Kathy weeded.  They really stuck with it, and had readied a few pounds of grapes for me in no time.  I was going to make jelly
(this is where you may begin laughing.  No, really).
 
(Um, what is Toby doing?
 besides apparently sitting on Tessa's head)

 Lauren
 
 Kaylee
 

Tessa

Ellie
 

Owen

Grapes
 (he he, see how I did that, there?)

A Roman Noble and his lunch

Grapes, looking all sweet and innocent. 
 I've got your number, you evil produce.

A sight rarely seen at my house; children working and getting along.

(Begin flashback music....)
 
When I was a kid we had this amazing concord grape vine that stretched half the yard in the summer.  We harvested a million pounds of grapes from it every year and mom canned about fifty bazillon jars of yummy grape jelly. 
 I remember it so well ... pick 'em, mash 'em, cook 'em, bottle 'em.
  No problem.  It's in my blood.  I am from pioneer stock, see.
 
I sent the boys to the store for pectin, the price of which my pioneer ancestors would have easily spent on a good cow and a suckling pig ($4.20 a box?!), only to later find a box in the cupboard.  Add to that the soda I let the boys buy for their trouble and I was already into this for ten bucks.
 
A hunt of the neighbors' kitchens produced a good old fashioned potato masher, and I set to work cleaning and smashing the grapes (also smashed were about 5 small spiders and a few dozen ants, but for those I used my thumb).  Smash, strain, smash, strain, and a couple of hours later I had a greenish grey, cloudy juice.  Yum.  Look out Welch's... your competition has arrived!
 
Throughout the process I stopped several times to do laundry, cook dinner, nurse, babysit for Ruth's little girl, and deal with Jonah.  Rounding the ten o'clock hour my pioneer spirit had begun to wane.  I carelessly read the recipe for grape jelly and promptly choked on my tongue. SEVEN cups of sugar, it said.  SEVEN!  What kind of crazy inspires a person to make ANYTHING with seven cups of sugar in it?  They were not a pioneer, I will tell you that much! I momentarily pondered reducing the sugar, when a little voice in me whispered, "Don't do it, stupid.  This is a day you will never get back, don't screw it up!"  With a troubled and slightly disgusted look on my face, I began scooping... five, six, seven! Gross.  My juice looked even cloudier now, a definitive troll-snot green. 
 
Then, well, I don't really know what I was thinking.  I ripped open the pectin box like someone ripping off a band-aid  to get the pain over with, and dumped the contents into the pot of snot.  It wasn't until I had done so that my tired little inner voice said, "Nice job, Julia.  Ever heard of reading the directions?" So just for chuckles I read them, like reading over a test you have already failed and realizing what you got wrong.  Oh, my,... "separate pan" it said. "3/4 cup of water", "boil for exactly one minute" it said.  And that bold "exactly", smugly looking up at me from the little paper as though to say, "yup, ya' blew it, sister."
 
And in that very moment the pot of snot boiled over, filling the burner trays with thick, bubbly green slime that promptly caught on fire under the pot full of sterilized canning jars.  Thank goodness our smoke detector was working or not everyone in the neighborhood would know; nothing says "You're a looser" like setting off a smoke alarm with your cooking.  The perfume of charred sugar filled the air, and more than one child came in to inform me of how far the smoke had made it through the house.
 
The fire went out on its own.  In fact, I think it just popped up there to punctuate the ridiculousness of the situation.  I am definitively not a pioneer.  I'm not made of good pioneer stock, like my sister is.  That woman gets up with the roosters and goes to bed with the owls, spending every minute in between making life better for somebody.
 
You may say, "But, Laine, you have chickens!  That is pioneery!"  Yes, but my chickens eat their own eggs for breakfast, which is both annoying and a little creepy, and they are steadily making one of their coop-mates bald. I refuse to make a sweater for a chicken.
 
Meanwhile, back at the disaster which was once my kitchen, a frothing pot of greenish sugar-water waited.  I did the only thing I could do;  threw in some yellow food coloring (don't judge me.  Besides, twern't  nothin' after all that sugar).  I have to recoup the cost of this woe-some day by getting the kids to actually consume this stuff, a feat that will not be accomplished with pea-green jelly.  I poured it into the bottles and sealed them.
 
The directions claim it will take 1-2 weeks for the jelly to set up.  I think that is just a waiting period like for when you buy a gun, so you don't go off and kill someone right away.  If the jelly doesn't set in a week or so, I am much less likely to commit a felony than if I had seen my failure within minutes of filling the jars.
 
So there you have it.  Ten bucks for pectin, another three or four for sugar,
 add to that minimum wage for time spent,
 not including the sweat-shop labor of the children,
 and that is some pretty pricey jelly.
  I should have done my homework,
and left the grapes for the birds.
 



Saturday, August 17, 2013

One, two, THREE!!!

 
 
Jonah is "fee" now. 
That is three to all you mono-linguals out there
 (I speak toddler, but not fluently.  Ellie is my interpreter).
 
And frankly, between you and me, he is kickin' my boo-tay, of late. 
He has picked up a nasty little habit. Several, actually.
An earwax-clearing shriek emanates from his little cake-hole about bazillion times a day, and he has learned to take total advantage of my gimpy-ness (or times when I am nursing the baby) by running away and giggling his little smarty-pants off, knowing I can't chase him.
 
But I am such a seasoned vet in this parenting war, that I know that eventually he will stop his antics.  Like sometime before he turns 20, maybe.  And so far he has not: killed a small animal, gone streaking down the street (that I know of -just in the front yard), or stuck anything down the toilet (unfortunately, that would include things that should go in there.  Nope, not potty-trained yet), or up his nose
 (knock wood!).
 
Here is what he has mastered:
Sleeping through night (just in time for his newborn sis to take over the up-all-night-shift)
Getting his own cereal (and massaging it into the carpet. 
Thankfully, he can't poor is own milk yet)
Taking his clothes off (putting them back on? Neither willing, nor able)
Jumping on the trampoline (also, scaring his mother)
Opening the front door (silently)
Announcing every time he farts (thank you, Ethan).
 
I have had the opportunity lately to think about Jonah's arrival to our family.  What a sweet and precious time that was in our lives.  He was so wanted and so long awaited.  He might be feeling a little shoved out of the nest by the new baby now, and in between his scream-a-thons, my heart goes out to him.  There is a place in that heart that will always hold him as my baby boy.
 
Sweet Jonah-boy, before the 'tude set in.
 
Best Christmas present ever!

What a chub!

He was an armful.

Someday he will probably be bigger than the both of them!
 
*****
 
 
This year's cake was not nearly as cute and colorful as last. 
Grey icing is not very appetizing, but the loved it.
 
Spider webs thanks to Chinese noodles.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Just for Giggles

The illusive baby smile.  They are coming more often, now.
 
Giggle, chuckle, snicker...
chortle, titter, guffaw...
 
Laugh!
 
 That's what she did.
Just once, on Friday,
but Heaven heard it,
and it made my heart sing.
 
Who ever said it was a bell
that gave out angel wings,
well, they were all wrong.
It was a baby's laugh, of course.
 
Oh, she is so darling.
 
*****
 
My mind is a highway, bumper to bumper with posts.
The exits are blocked with
laundry
dishes
messes
 never ending diapers,
and Miss Fussy-pants.
 
This weekend we are to celebrate Natalie's safe arrival.  I have had this day in my mind since February 20th when the first blood clot reared its ugly red-head.  Not the date, per-se, but certainly the day.  I imagined being surrounded by every soul who helped us along the way, so that I could stand up on a table top and thank them all. 
 
It turns out we may have picked a bad day, as only a sparse handful of folks have Rizvipped that they can come.  Of course, you can't control that, especially in late summer when everyone is hurrying to get in a last camping trip or a quick weekend away.
 
I hope they all know
how very, very much I appreciate them. 
Every one of them.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Peachy

Making gluten and dairy free peach cobbler
 
 
I have a thing   for our little peach tree.  It is special somehow, probably because it has survived my utter lack of arboreal aptitude.  Even still, each golden orb, shinning in the sun, beacons to me.  My first truly hefty harvest came last year; a buxom basket of blushing bounty (okay, I 'll stop).  I was so dang proud that I carefully preserved them in high tech fashion - sliced and frozen in ziplocks.  My pioneer predecessors would be proud (now that one was an accident).  I treasured those little peaches so very much, in fact, that freezer-burn got to enjoy them before I did.
 
So wow, was I looking forward to my crop this year!  I know I should have thinned the peaches early in the season, but that always seems so wasteful!  I watched as the tree filled out, as the limbs began to hang low with fruit, and as that fruit began to swell.  One limb in particular had become so laden that, because of it's poor position on the tree, it snapped.  It only broke part-way through the wood, and the limb stayed alive, so I propped it up and left it intact in hopes of preserving the precious fruit it might still yield. 
 
I, of course, didn't get out to the yard all that often over the last little while, busy as I was growing sundry blood clots, so in the gaps of time between ventures, the fruit would change like a kid hitting puberty.  In the last 2 weeks or so I have been keeping careful watch so as to pick the peaches at the perfect time.
 
Then, it happened.
 
I looked up to see that almost every peach that had been in the upper branches of the tree, nearest the fence, were gone.  Naturally, I accused my good neighbor Denise.
"It wasn't me," came her cheery reply, "but I know who it was."
A squirrel, she informed me,
has had the audacity of picking one of my peaches and running down the fence with it, every day.  Little scrawny squirrels stealing big, plump peaches as heavy as they are.
 
Now, my yard is bursting with squirrels.  Multiply that little act of depravity times every squirrel in my yard and those yards surrounding us, and it is a wonder that there were any peaches left on the tree at all.  But as I looked lower I saw that somehow, that broken branch had been missed by the squirrels. 
 It still burst with nearly ripe treasures.
 
Yesterday the girls came in to tell me that Toby was out eating my peaches!  That did it!  I mean, what am I, the soup kitchen of the animal kingdom?  They think that they can just mosey on over and eat any old thing they see growing in nature?  Why, that would be like birds plucking just any worm out of a random lawn, or fish swimming willy-nilly through the ocean like they owned the joint.  Preposterous!
 
I grabbed a basket and headed out to collect what was mine.
 
So now I have a table full of peaches, and work to do.
When they are all pealed, I plan to make a nice, sweet cobbler,
serve it up with vanilla ice cream,
 and go sit out in the yard and eat it,
right in front of those cheeky squirrels.
*****
*
*
 
Guess who came to town??? 
Sweet, wonderful, amazing Heidi.  One of my very dearest friends, one of my clients (I helped with her first baby, "D") and one of the most amazing women I have ever known (and I know a lot of amazing women!)
 
Eli and Natalie

Okay, so I kind'a fell in love with this little guy. 
 That is saying a lot since I hardly even like my own children. 
He absolutely stole my heart, but he left my peaches alone. 
Wouldn't even try one, though he helped me cut them up for cobbler!
 
Mike, Eli, Heidi and new baby Lincoln;
due the week before Natalie, but born the day after.
 
 

 Heidi, Eli and Natalie.  Eli is pretty rough
with his new baby, but was very tender with Natalie.
 

This is what home school kids do on vacation.
 

Heidi saw the lovely pictures Robin took of Natalie
and expressed sadness at not having a way of getting
baby photos done, so we went for it with my
 silly little point and shoot.

 
Not too bad for a bunch of amateurs...
 
 
which is easy with such gorgeous models!
 
 *****
Had a scan of my leg and stents today.
 Looked great.
No new clot
Things are lookin' up.
 
 


Monday, August 5, 2013

Heavy


Our hearts have been heavy this weekend.  Friday morning Tessa discovered that faithful ChimChim had passed on to greener hamster cages.  Tess invited us all to attend his funeral.  She wore black, of her own accord.  We sang All Creatures of our God and King, because, well... obviously.  Tessa found a pencil case to put him in, gathered flowers in a tin can, and when it was over we placed a big rock over the grave.  After everyone else went inside, I held her on my lap and tried to comfort her.

"You know Tessa, now ChimChim isn't in pain with that big growth on his shoulder and he is up in heaven with Nibbles.  And I really believe that after we all die, when you are like, a hundred and ten, you will get to see them again."

She looked at me almost sternly, "Only I am prob'ly only gonna live till I'm 92!  And now you are talking about this and now I am thinking about ME dying!  And you are freaking me out!" she earnestly whined through her tears. 

While humor can be found in her sweet expressions, there is really nothing funny about watching your child hurt.  Her little heart is broken, and watching her makes mine heavy.


 
*****

 Then our dear friend Marion passed away in the wee hours on Saturday morning at the age of 89.  Guy and I were on our way over to see her when we got the news that she was already gone.  This afternoon I thought, "Oh, we should go visit...." then came that realization, "oh, that's right, she's gone."  I had to break the news to Addy boy.  He has taken piano and organ lessons from Marion for about 2 years, maybe more.  I sat him down on the edge of the tub beside me and we hugged and cried together for a good while.  Even though she was my friend, Adam has spent more time with her than anyone in our family.  I will miss her very much.  I know he will too.

We also got news that my friend Steph didn't get the report she was hoping for after her chemo.  Her tumors are not responding, and radiation is the next step.  She and her family have been forced to think about her mortality.  Certainly no one is giving up, and everyone is hoping and praying for her.  Still, it is so heavy for them.

 *****

Today in church my honey was conducting the meeting, and spoke of the many scriptures that have been going through his heart lately.  "Lean not unto thine own understanding," and "Be still and know that I am God".  One he mentioned stood out to me the most; "I will show forth my wonders..."
 
I do believe in miracles, but I am starting to understand that they actually happen in our hearts.  We tend to hold on to this mortal sphere with a white-knuckled grip.  We take extreme measures to prolong and to fix and to save,
and Oh!  How we mourn. 
But what if this life is really just the commercial in our movie? 
We can't seem to imagine something mattering any more to us
than this here and now
 I am beginning to think that the true miracle happens when we finally reach a place where we can give our will over and trust God fully,
 regardless of what happens.
If we can do that, then come what may, all is well with us.
 
Today a man at church named Russ, who just weeks ago had his leg amputated, stood on his one semi-good foot and testified of the love of God, of the power of prayer, and of the existence of miracles.  Surely, most would agree that a miracle for him would have left him standing on two feet, but seeing him radiate with God's love
 as he shared his gratitude was,
 to me, truly miraculous.

*
*
*
*
A little something to make you smile... Jonah, of course!
(and though Natalie bellows through the whole thing, rest assured
she was in Daddy's loving arms being comforted all the same). 
 
video
 
Heavy eyelids, heavy head.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Little Break from the Crazy... Carnitas!

 
If you are Vegetarian,
avert your gaze!
Sorry, but this is one meaty post.
 
***
 
In our house, meals are sometimes more like feeding time in a barn.  Try as I might to dissuade the little animals around our table, belching still happens.  At times there is potty talk, and there are routine squabbles in the ranks.
 
As children we were trained to have impeccable table etiquette.  Well, pretty good, anyway.  But the riggers of it left me all twitchy.  It was years before I could eat ham again.  And watching my little brother choke down cooked carrots and keeping our elbows off the table every night was hard.
 
Some of our other rules were:
-no singing at the table
-no blowing bubbles in your milk
- no talking with your mouth full
-no chewing with your mouth open
-no pushing your food onto your fork with your fingers
-no hiding your peas under your plate, in your milk cup
or in the cupboard by your seat
 
I totally agree. 
I mean, who wants to see a train-wreak-in-a-tunnel of chewed food? 
Manners matter. 
 
As a mom, I have always had a hard time negotiating the whole food-and-table-manners situation with my children.  Do you force them to eat?  One bite? Two bites? Clean their plate?  If they ask for 'seconds', should they have to finish them?  And how do you manage manners?
 
Guy and I have settled on the "You must try one bite" defense.  That is an every-night deal.  But for the 'manners' part of things we decided a few years ago not to make every night a training session.  So one night a week, usually Sunday, we have a fancy dinner, complete with cloth napkins, stemware, and candles. 

 
Sometimes the food is fancy, sometimes it's not.  We try to gently shape the behavior of the kids by giving them the tools to feel the need for the etiquette.  It is really hard to sip pink lemonade from a crystal goblet and not hold your pinky out, and a cloth napkin just begs to be used instead of a sleeve.
 
This week's training session was sponsored by Carnitas!
Less fancy, but a real fave. 
 
And here is my version of the recipe:
 
Carnitas!
 
Place a pork shoulder or butt roast into a skillet with a drizzle of olive oil, then braise till golden brown on all sides and until the kitchen smells awesome.  I find it helps to hold it in position with meat forks to get it completely browned on the narrow sides of the roast.
 
Place the roast in a crockpot on high with two cloves  (1 Tbsp) of minced garlic, 1/4 cup diced onions, and a handful of cilantro (if you like).  Ignore it for about 5 hours.  Tell yourself you will take a nap (we know you will end up doing laundry instead).
 
Now here is the magic:
With two forks, pull the meat into shreds.  If it doesn't tear easily, leave it in the crock pot a while longer.  Poor off the liquid into a sauce pan, and simmer it on the stove until it reduces down in volume and is golden and about as thick as syrup. 
 
Place the shredded meat into a roasting pan and poor the reduced liquid over it, and then roast it in the oven at 400 degrees.  Turn the meat every 15 minutes, or when the top is browned.  If your guests are salivating, you can expedite the process by crankin' up the heat to broil and babysitting it, turning every few minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  But be careful, because as you taste, it might be hard to stop.
 
Now, because I looked up just now and saw that those directions seem really blah-blah-blah,
 here is a summary:
 
Braise
Crockpot
Reduce
Roast
 
We like to serve it with black beans and rice,
 cilantro, lime and sour cream,
 fresh tortillas and "fixin's".

 
Yum.  Or Rico, muy rico!
Only I bought a roast that was WAY too small. 
No leftovers. 
Waaa.