Friday, October 26, 2012

Cost Comparison

What we ate for dinner tonight:
  • White Bean Rosemary Soup (The author of this blog is a Mormon; I am not. Just so you're aware.)
  • Cabbage slaw with apples and apple cider vinegar dressing
  • Roasted zuchini
  • Buttermilk biscuits with butter and strawberry jam (these also fulfill the need for dessert!)
While we ate I did some figuring in my head. This dinner came in at around $4. It was quite cheap until I added the biscuits. The shortening and butter made the cost climb quickly. 

Last night, after his meeting, Bryan surprised me with a Decaf Grande Mocha from Starbucks. I loved the surprise. I loved the mocha.

At the table tonight one of the kids quips, "This whole dinner costs less than your mocha last night." You see, there is a certain amount of guilt in drinking away the equivalent of an entire meal to feed a family of six. Kids are very good at cost comparison.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mass Production: Cocoa Mix and Chai

We are all stocked up for winter. Applesauce in the freezer. Hot cocoa and chai mix tucked in the cupboard. The staples of life, right? Maybe not, but little pleasures certainly. I'll share my recipes for the chai mix and cocoa. I don't often have a cup of either, they have too much sugar. But the kids love them. And best of all, they keep my husband happy. The only warning I'll issue is that this is a dusty process. You might need to wipe down your cupboards afterwards and you must blend the mixture. That is the part of the process that helps the mix dissolve well in hot water.

Chai Tea Mix
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3 c. powdered milk
1 ½ c. instant tea
2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon (I often leave this out)
1 tsp. ground cloves (and sometimes leave this out too)
1 tsp. ground cardamom
In a small bowl combine sugar and vanilla and allow to dry.  After it has dried out; break up any clumps. In a large bowl mix all ingredients.  In a blender, blend the mix, 1 c. at a time until it is a fine powder.  Put the mix into containers and attach the following instructions:
            For each mug of tea, mix 2 rounded tablespoons of chai tea mix with hot water.

Hot Cocoa Mix
16 c. powdered dry milk
1 ¼ c. cocoa powder
5 c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
In large bowl, mix all ingredients well and store in an air tight container.  Run it through the blender for a smooth hot cocoa mix.
Package in glass canning jars and attach a card that says:
            For a delicious cup of hot cocoa, put 1/3 c. mix into a large mug, pour in boiling water, and stir.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Fall Garden

Lettuce -  coming in

Kale - with itty bitty curls

Swiss Chard - bugs love organic greens, especially the chard

Basil - hoping the seeds mature before frost

Lettuce -  thinnings for the salad bowl

Basil - for the freezer
The summer garden was a failure. We are thankful for our fallback plan: the grocery store. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. To date, the fall garden is growing nicely. Except the Swiss Chard. The bugs have a love affair with the chard, entire plants suddenly disappearing. Consumed so ravenously I can only find a quarter inch of red stalk pressed down into the dirt. I am incredibly grateful for the fallback.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fall Friends: The Turtles

Arden and I had just finished reading Minn of the Mississippi when we spotted the first turtle. It was making its way up the neighbor's driveway. It was old, the old crack in the shell speaking of a hard life. It was shy, not moving as long as we were in sight. Arden was thrilled, a real, live turtle. A snapper, like Minn, would have been more exciting, but not much.

We see turtles every fall. Only in the fall. They make their way through our yard, going where turtles go when its fall. We usually see just one. Sometimes two. This year three. It's a good year for turtles.

The fellow with the gaudy orange spots wasn't the least bit shy and he was in a bit of a hurry. His legs churned the whole time we held him, and he ran, a turtle sort-of-a-run, as soon as we set him free.

And the baby was a singularly wonderful surprise. Everybody loves a baby.

What We Ate For Dinner Tonight

You're curious, aren't you? What did we eat? Why would I post about our dinner? The answer...there is no good reason at all. I wanted to and I'm not worried that you won't be impressed.

Bryan is out of town. Last night we had McDonald's for dinner. I won't lie, we enjoyed it. We have not eaten there in ages, but the kids were convinced they could win the Monopoly game after just one meal. I remember the unbounded optimism I had when I was ten, so I humored them.

Well, tonight I made Black Bean burgers, oven fries (with olive oil and skins on), and fruit smoothies. It struck me that it was similar to what we ate last night, only made with the foods we eat at home. That struck me as funny.

And that is what we ate for dinner tonight.

In Review: One Week Off

A well-deserved week off was a pleasure. No school work hanging over heads. No guilt. No ridiculously inflated plans. My only mistake was in putting off until the end of the week all my outdoor activities. We had a rainy weekend. A rainy weekend is always lovely, but a few of my plans came to naught.

What did I do?
  • The living room curtains.
  • The front hall closet.
  • Moved the rose bush.
  • Painted the pantry. The white paint is quite spiffy. Today Ally and I did some pantry reorganization.
  • Ally sewed doll clothes by herself. I did help her a bit one afternoon this week instead.
  • Sorted through storage boxes. This was an ordeal. The kids had been in the closet and reorganized all the boxes into a fort. Before I could begin sorting there was a 2 hour clean up session. In the end I had 3 trash bags for Goodwill and a couple of boxes of clothes for a friend. This is very impressive. You could ask why I had all that junk sitting around in the first place, but be kind and don't mention it.
  • I bought a box of apples from a "wholesale guy." It was one of those "Arkansas" experiences. Sometimes I have them. He sold a bushel of apples for only $15. This seemed like a really good deal, about 36 cents a pound. They were quite soft, so we hustled and made 52 cups of applesauce (plus what we ate while we worked). We froze it in Ziploc bags; 4 cups to a bag.
We finally made it to the apple orchard this week. We only picked two small bags of apples. Just enough for eating fresh. I am hugely frustrated with the Christmas knitting. I've been searching, for days, for the pattern I was sure I had kept. I was sure I had knitting patterns in only two file folders. That was a misplaced confidence. I have found patterns in three places and am still searching. This always happens to me. I think I am organized, but I'm not. Not really.

The time I spent on the couch watching a movie with Arden, in the middle of the day (gasp!), might have been better spent organizing. The hours I spent reading The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection could be considered wasted. Or I could consider it a little vacation. A vacation to a sunny land in which food, cooked with love, undoubtedly tastes better and a mechanic judges a man's character by the car he drives. A vacation under a sunny African sky, with a "traditionally built" woman drinking red bush tea at a rate of 100 cups per week, and where good-hearted, common sense people triumph in the end.
"Do not take on a traditionally built person unless you are prepared for a heavyweight bout."
That, my friends, is good, common sense. And maybe part of the appeal of Alexander McCall Smith's book is the appeal of a culture that moves at different pace, not constantly measuring what they have accomplished in a day. Or a week. In that sense it may have been the perfect book for my week off.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fall Break

We are celebrating here this week. Celebrating having finished nine weeks of school. Celebrating by going to the library, enjoying lazy mornings, and lazy afternoons, and lazy evenings.

I gave a few moments of consideration to attempting a Fall Cleaning. It would have been ambitious. It would have resulted in a clean house top to bottom. It would have been a good use of my time. It would also have been a lot of work. Even mom gets worn out by the school schedule: it's very time consuming.

Instead I opted to complete one big project each day. One project I've been putting off. One project that has felt overwhelming. I will accomplish a few things I can feel good about and still have time for the library books I checked out. (I am always overly optimistic in the library.)

So far here is what I have done:
  • My living room curtains shrunk last time I washed them. I let out the hem, ironed, stitched, washed and re-hung them. It took almost all day. That's why my curtains have looked silly for so long.
  • Cleaned out the front hall closet. The shoes were piled high. Six people times five pairs (or so) each equals a disaster. Of course, there were also outgrown coats, discarded tee-shirts, books, marbles, and other detritus of life with children.
I have a long list of ideas for the last three days of the week. You see, I can't do it all. I'll dream big and pick and choose.
  • Pick more apples. Make more applesauce. Try homemade applesauce fruit leather and oven-dried apples.
  • Plant one more batch of lettuce and Swiss chard in the garden. Move a rose bush.
  • Sort through the storage boxes in one closet.
  • Sew doll clothes with Ally.
  • Paint. I have enough leftover paint to spiff up the pantry and my TV stand. But I probably only have enough time to do one.
  • Start knitting Christmas presents.
Hooray for joyful, lazy mornings, busy days and weather that allows for open windows and lots of time outside!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In the Kitchen

Yesterday was the grandmaster, homemade, chewy granola bar bake-off. We tried five different recipes trying to balance the store-bought taste with a nod to healthy eating. The recipe using marshmallows was quite tasty, but not what I want for a long term solution. The recipe that tasted an awful lot like an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie didn't win either. Nut butters are obviously out, though I scrolled through pages and pages of those recipes. Here's our winner at Brown Eyed Baker. Thankfully, most recipes claim the bars can be frozen, and we have a whole stack that went into the freezer. We will eat them down, then mass produce our favorite kind. Extensive math yielded a cost of 20 cents per bar, our size bar that is. Our size is slightly larger than the kind you pull out of the box and unwrap. While they may not exactly be "healthy," they at least fall into the category of "you know what's in them."

We picked apples two weeks ago. We've eaten and cooked to our hearts content and have been slowing down, the apples being neglected. Today I cooked a giant pot of apples down into a little bit of applesauce. With a bit of sugar and a good dose of cinnamon, the kids ate it out of the pan so fast I thought I was going to run out. My goal was one jar to stick in the freezer for wintery days. (I hate canning! So I'm certainly freezing anything I make.) It's no survival plan, but still satisfying to have made it ourselves.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strawberry Bluff

There are no road signs to all of the best places. Merrily setting off on a birthday picnic, only the sketchiest of directions from a friend, we followed the road until it became gravel. We curved left through the stand of pines, followed by a left turn on Forest Service Road 1444, marked on the maps but not in real life. Then things became a bit confused, the road forked. Left or right? Our directions at that point only said to continue up the mountain. We chose left, bumping along, feeling quite adventurous. Arden, in the back seat, was yelling, "Death ride." Hyperbole, perhaps, but things were getting worse not better on that road clearly not designed for the family van. After a ten point turn, we headed back and took the fork to the right. Then up the mountain. We parked, "where the road gets wider." We followed a short trail, unmarked, and were out on Strawberry Bluff. We think. One can never be quite sure.

We picnicked on baguettes and Havarti and Brie, grapes and strawberries, French biscuits and lemonade. We sat in the sun, we kept the little ones far from the edge of the cliff. We admired the view and found the farm where we pick berries and apples. Then we watched the sun set, and wound our way back down the mountain.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Phantom Life

What if I lived to be forgotten? In this age of accomplishments, accolades, achievement, platforms, and posturing, what if I lived as if none of this mattered.

A history professor we know says historians are speculating that 1000 years from now only two Americans will be remembered. The first president, George Washington, and the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Immediately I want to press this list. What about Jefferson? What about...? Only two? How many of us even know much about our great-grandmothers. Can you name them? Or great-great-grandmothers?

Then I think back 1000 years ago. How many names can I name? William the Conqueror comes to mind first, 1066, you know. But who else? Not many others. There may have been 275 million people alive then. There have been a lot of forgotten people.

I say this not to be depressing. I think maybe it is good to know my place in the world. I've been asking myself how knowingly living a forgotten life might change how I live each day. This is what I am musing on today.
LORD, make me know my end...let me  know how transient I am. Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight, surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Surely every man walks about as a phantom...
And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in Thee.     - Psalm 39:4-7

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ally's Dollhouse Desk

We painted Ally's desk. Clean and white, like a doll house table. We followed the instructions on Young House Love, except we used a brush and sanded with very fine grain sand paper between coats. The desk is still not perfect, you can see a few brush streaks.

We think it much improved from the days it belonged to the raccoons, obviously having done a good bit of cleaning and sanding before we took that picture.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Opening the Father's Hand

In the mind of English Puritans prayer was a duty. Prayer may have been a duty of delight, but still a duty. Duty: a moral obligation, a required action.

In my own mind prayer has been an act of worship, therefore an emotional response. I pray when I feel like it. Or I've thought of prayer as a gift. I'm not gifted. I rarely feel like praying. Just not a prayer - my common excuse. Then, too, prayer takes time. I must slow, I must quiet my soul, and those are qualities too rare in all of our lives.

I am reading William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast. A Puritan who published these thirteen sermons on Psalm 42 in 1649. It seems even then people did not "go to duty" as they should have. Bridge urges not discouragement, instead gives comfort and recommends humility. Come to God as a beggar.

Hundreds of years later the heart of man is unchanged, still sinful before a holy God, still fighting for our own ways. But God also is unchanged, faithful, with mercies new every morning.

Indeed, God seems to deal by us sometimes as a father does by his little child. He holds a piece of gold or silver in his hand, and says, If you can get this out of my hand you shall have it; so the child strives and pulls, and works, and then the father opens his hand by degrees, first one finger, then another, and then another, and at last his whole hand; and the child thinks he has got the money by his own strength and labour, whereas the father intended to give it him, but in that way.
 -  From Chapter 3: A Lifting Up In the Miscarriage of Duty      

A little pulling, a little working, a little labor, a little opening of the Father's hand.

Friday, August 17, 2012

On Reading

In a conversation with a fellow book lover, soon after pleasantries, there is always the inevitable question, "So what are you reading?" This is old, familiar, comfortable ground. This is just what I wanted to talk about. And a true book lover is inevitably reading something I want to go and find myself. I leave each conversation with a library list.

Book lovers keep to another well-worn path. One, who claimed to be a bad reader (a claim I know to be false), told me he never read Shelby Foote's novels because he had learned Foote was good friends with Walker Percy and that launched a complete reading of Walker Percy. This is how it goes. Thomas Merton, who wrote The Seven Storey Mountain, comes recommended,in part, because he was a friend of C.S. Lewis.

I'm making slow but steady progress on my book list for the year. Reading Money Saving Mom the other day I was discouraged by the numbers, then tempted to turn up my nose. "Well, of course you can read more than twice as many books as me if that's what you read." But, aside from the Bible, it doesn't really matter. I have seven books on this year's reading list over 700 pages. As of August that seems too ambitious. Playing the comparison game I was tempted to count each as three or four books. But it doesn't really matter whether I reckon them as seven or 21. I chose Shelby Foote not for the 700 pages, but because I was interested, and his Civil War Trilogy was highly recommended. And if I read Foote, then I'll want a Walker Percy volume to go along with it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Bush in the Desert

A bush in the desert. A man living in stony wastes. A land of salt without inhabitant.

This is how Jeremiah describes those who trust in mankind. A man who makes flesh his strength. A man who turns from the LORD.

There is an austere beauty in the Arizona desert, in the forests of cacti. It is not like the deserts of the Bible: deserted places without bushes, or even weeds, to give beauty. The eye seeks and finds only dirt, stones, and barren hills. A wasteland. So is the man who trusts in human flesh. Whether I look for satisfaction in government, in the influence of men, in family, a friend, or my husband, all are sure to leave me empty. Or if I place my confidence in self, my heart would be a land of salt.

In ancient times after the victorious army sacked a city, tore down the walls, and burned the houses, as the final insult they would sow the ground with salt. Ground, sown with salt, cannot sustain crops. In the days before refrigerated trucking, to sow the fields around a city with salt was the final death blow (at least in theory, in actuality it didn't always work). If a city could not grow food, it could not rebuild; their name and memory could be extinguished. Think of the Dead Sea, nothing survives there.

In chapter 17:7-8 Jeremiah goes on describe the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD, using words echoing Psalm 1.

He will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green, 
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.

Trust in the LORD is the way out of the desert. The LORD plants us, that He may be glorified, by streams of living water. Living water draws down our roots, and trees with deep roots are drought tolerant trees. Though the summer should be hot and dry, though the rain doesn't fall from heaven, though it is a time of fear, the planting of the Lord is green and bears fruit.

I have left behind the desert wastes. He has transplanted my heart from dry, rocky soil and set me down beside streams of life. I pray the conquering King would go back and sow salt in the soil of my flesh. Tear down the walls of self-confidence and leave an uninhabitable wasteland, so that my hope, my confidence, my joy and my satisfaction, are in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Him alone.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No Tricks, No Easy Ways

I was organizing the papers and books beside my bed. The tower of books is still dangerously high, threatening to topple when I add the seventh or eighth book to the top. There is still a little pile of notes on bits of paper. I still have work to do. One small scrap caught my eye. The very words I wanted to inspire me in the midst of this season of life. I carried it downstairs and left it lying around, first in the dining room then on the kitchen counter. I have been reading it once or twice a day, saying it aloud to the kids, saying it aloud to myself as I tackle the next little task. If the quote becomes my ethic, my habit, then success (as a wife, and a mama, and a homemaker, and a disciple, and a teacher, and a student ~ monetary success being far from my thoughts here) may follow, though the paper was long since crumpled and thrown in the trash can.

Success travels in the company of very hard work.
There is no trick, no easy way.
John Wooden

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

God Has Begun to Speak Peace

Do you want peace and inward quietude of soul? Whensoever the Lord then does begin to speak the least peace to your heart, take heed that you do not refuse it, but rather improve it (put it to good use), and stir up yourselves then in a way of believing. Praise God for every smile, and rejoice in the least. If a bowed (bent) sixpence, as it were, be sent you from heaven, lay it up, even every love token. Peace is a tender thing. Does the Lord speak peace to any of your souls? now stir up yourselves in a way of believing and Christ will give you more.      ~ William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, 1649

I don't mean to be a perfectionist. Still, I am. God has promised peace, joy, love, fruits of the Spirit, Christlikeness. Why not now? In my flesh I say: let's skip daily death, frequent repentance, constant reliance, Spirit conviction. I would skip ahead and be done. Holy living, have it now.

I find holy living elusive. Sure, I avoid the big sins (by the grace of God). But there are plenty of little sins that make their way out every day. There are plenty of dark corners in my heart. I get discouraged.

Has God given me any peace? Well, certainly, lots of peace. Then I want to qualify, but not perfect peace. However peace is not an all or nothing proposition. Has He begun to speak peace? Put it to good use. Make the most of it. This is only the beginning. Rejoice in every gift from heaven, no matter how small. Hide His love tokens in the secret places of the heart and cherish them. Believe and Christ will give more.

I've been carrying these words in my head since I read them. God promises faithfulness that is new every morning. God promises good gifts tomorrow. What use will I make of them?

Thursday, July 12, 2012


It used to be that my favorite place to do school with the kids was the couch. Not for speed drills, math lessons and copywork, oh no. But any other excuse to snuggle on the couch was enough to lure me. History, memory work, poetry or read alouds were learned best side-by-side. That's the way it used to be, before they grew up.

Now they require quiet and concentration. They require a hard surface for algebra problems. They require space to spread out their science book and study guides. Except one, she requires freedom; she requires the illusion of being one day away from fully grown, that way she doesn't feel small on the couch. And so they all asked for desks.

After two days of reorganizing and re-purposing, measuring all the spare corners and several little fights, we had them settled. Kara at the Ikea desk (with plastic drawers from Walmart - the wood shelf is in use elsewhere). Sam at the desk that was Bryan's when he was a boy. Ally at the table that used to be in the raccoon's house (meaning only the raccoons live there, and as raccoons are rarely so civilized as to pull up a chair, I considered the table free for the taking). The table is all sanded, ready for a coat of paint. It will be much improved. The other two require a few special touches on their desks, things to make the space their own. We'll dream for a bit, make sure this works, then see what we can create.

Arden is the only one who still does school snuggled on the couch. Not to be left out he set up a desk in the front hall, made of plastic bins that hold the Duplos, the car tracks, the train tracks. Two boxes for a desk, one for a chair. Thankfully his studious endeavors there lasted only one day. We put away the toy boxes and outraged he cried, "My desk!" Next morning, without complaint, there he was sounding out phonemes on the couch.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Longing of a Parched Land

My soul longs for Thee, as a parched land.
Psalm 143:6

Two months without rain. Skies of brass, blistering heat, golden lawns and leaves of brown falling from above. I wake each morning, open the bedroom curtains: I see only sunshine and pray for rain.

My friend writes, "The drought makes me thirsty for His presence." She longs and these days I feel only tired, parched. I pray for rain.

I come each day to the wells of salvation and read the words of life, as I know I must. But I feel like the dust that swirls around my son's ankles when he hits the grass with a stick. The Word swirls the dust of my heart, but what is called for is a cleansing shower. Pray for rain.

In Isaiah 2: 30 God warns faithless Israel, "For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away, or as a garden that has no water." Without His presence my soul is a parched land. Pray.

Call on the Lord and wait for the comfort and salvation of God. Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation (Isaiah 12:3). When I am dry, I draw water from the springs again and again and await the joy. 

Last night it rained. Our plants are still wilted, bronze and copper, in the morning light. When the land is parched and scorched just one rainfall isn't enough. I wait with longing for more. And I wait with confidence because the streams of God never fail.

And the Lord will continually guide you, 
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones; 
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:11

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Festive Fourth

It has been a hot and dry summer. So hot and dry that the fire danger has soared. The fun quotient of food and gunpowder was halved by state wide burn bans. The municipal fireworks show was canceled. We had friends to dinner on Tuesday. We were left to our own devices on Wednesday. We felt sorry for ourselves and joked about just watching fireworks on TV. Except, wait, we don't have TV.

Four kids, eager for some kind of holiday fun, waiting while two parents whisper, brainstorm, in the kitchen. We took them swimming. We played a board game. We ate dessert then hopped in the car.

We ordered milkshakes from Sonic and someone had the audacity to complain about having dessert twice. Is that a problem? We parked out by the soccer field, spread out our blankets and waited for it to get dark.  The kids ran around with their glow sticks, battling it out in the summer heat. We watched the stars come out.

Then...then...with the help of two planispheres and a night sky app on the phone we found the stars. We found Saturn and Mars. We found Altair, Deneb, Polaris, and more utterly foreign names glittering in and beyond the Milky Way. We traced the imaginations of ancient men: Draco, Ursa Major and Aquila. The six year old danced with joy when the moon finally appeared in the sky. The moon! The moon!

All my life I've been able to name three stars in the night sky: those three in Orion's belt. I could never even find the Big Dipper. The success has gone to our heads. We plan to go out again in two weeks when the moon wanes, though we will probably skip Sonic.

After all, the Fourth only comes around once a year.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Session

We started school today. Our goal is to fit in four weeks this summer, thereby earning ourselves time off next spring.

These long summer days have bored us to tears. Too hot to go outside - at 108 it's too warm inside as well, days too quiet - all our activities are in the evening: we were bored.

I've never seen my kids so positively giddy to start school. There was a great deal of reorganizing, quick last minute planning, and we began with joy. And one said over and over, "I can't wait to do school again tomorrow."

Too bad this enthusiasm can't last until February.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

All Our Favorites: Picture Books

Two weeks ago (this is a very lazy summer) when I took all the books off the shelf, dusted, and organized I thought I might as well make a list of 25 titles we think ought to be on everyone's shelves. As soon as there is a list, there is an exception or two (or ten). Somebody likes Five Little Monkeys or Froggy. Then I remember Eloise Wilkin and certainly she deserves a mention. Dr. Seuss goes without saying. I could go on with "but" and "what about." Instead, consider this just a starting point. After all, we have over 100 books on that shelf; we dare not mention the "school" shelves and my wish list.

I'll arrange these, very approximately, from short to long. Books for the toddler at the beginning and books for patient listeners at the end. The last books are quite long, even if they are "picture" books. Never be afraid of old books; our tastes, in books as in all else, are cultivated. Cultivate an appreciation for the best.

All our favorites:

1. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Numeroff
    Also Moose a Muffin and Pig a Pancake. The library has some of her newer books and we don't care  for those quite as well.

2.  Corduroy by Freeman

3.  Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
     At eighteen months Kara ran around demanding "nigh, nigh boon." There are so many other good books by this author: Run Away Bunny and another real favorite Big Red Barn.

4.  Baa, Baa Black Sheep or I'm a Little Teapot or How Much is That Doggie In the Window or others by Iza Trapani. Be ready to sing.

5. Harry the Dirty Dog (and all the other Harry books) by Zion. Laugh out loud fun.

6. Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Carlstrom. Here is an exception to the general rule: all the other books by this author have proved disappointing.

7.  Curious George by H.A. Rey. Please be discerning and only choose the original books by Rey. The books based on the TV series fall short of the originals.

8.  Ox Cart Man by Hall.  Barabara Cooney's illustrations are wonderful, as always.

9.  Caps For Sale by Slobokina

10.  The Story About Ping by Flack

11.  The Little Engine That Could by Piper. Yes, the original.

12.  Peter Rabbit and any others by Beatrix Potter. Buy the little green books, if you can. Accept no so-called "improvements" on the originals!

13.  Frog Went A-Courtin' by Langstaff and Rokankovsky. This is a four hundred year old folk song, fun to sing, and silly. Also look for Over In the Meadow.

14.  The Biggest Bear by Ward. You'll laugh when the bear is in the kitchen, I promise.

15.  Year at Maple Hill Farm and Our Animal Friends by the Provensens

16.  A New Coat For Anna by Ziefert

17.  Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. I admit: I love this book for the illustrations and desperately wish I could grow lupines.

18. Make Way for Ducklings by McCloskey

19.  Blueberries for Sal by McCloskey

20.  The Little House by Burton

21.  Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Burton, again

22.  Katy and the Big Snow by Burton, again. These receive three separate mentions because we have read these books more than almost any others on our shelves.

23.  Seven Silly Eaters by Hoberman. The book flows with rollicking rhyme, but the illustrations are priceless if you love kids and creative chaos. I'm convinced they are homeschoolers, though the book never mentions it.

24.  Saint George and the Dragon by Hodges

25.  The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale by Ransome

*A note on why I don't link to Amazon: Our state passed a sales tax law on internet purchases. Opposed. Amazon retaliated by ending the affiliates program here. Opposed. I never made a penny, but I loved the convenience of linking to Amazon. If another blogger is an affiliate, give them a penny by purchasing through their Amazon link. They will love you for it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Budget Pouches

For years Bryan and I have kept cash for various budget categories in paper envelopes. Envelopes are a highly functional, simple, no nonsense solution. I toyed with the idea of making something pretty, I bought zippers, but never stitched anything.

Recently we decided to try paying cash more often and not so quickly resorting to the credit card (which we have always paid in full each month). The hope is that we will stick faithfully to the budget if we are handing over actual dollar bills.

All it took was one, just one, trip to Walmart with a ratty paper envelope and coins falling out in my purse. One blush. Two hours later I was home, finishing my first zipper pouch.

Ally and I (because of course she helped) are so pleased with our work. She was inspired to make some pouches of her own. We bought out every white, seven inch zipper in the store. We used this zipper tutorial. The interior has no raw edges. After our first bag we decided to leave the opening (that you use to pull the fabric right side out) on the side rather than the bottom of the pouch. If you follow the pattern there is a little crease on the bottom, and we could easily see crud getting caught in it. After stitching three with slightly different sizes we decided to trim our square (the point when all four rectangles are stitched to the zipper - see above) to 8.25 by 8.25 inches. Then our finished product came out the same size each time. Our finishing touch was Ally's handstitched labels, made on little bits of linen and tacked on so that they'll be easy to switch.

But you know what? After all our hard work, and eye-catching colors Bryan still refuses to be seen in public with one of our fabric pouches. Carry the brown floral car repair pouch to the mechanic? Not a chance. He will carry the cash in his wallet. I won't hold it against him. He is, after all, a man.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Peter Rabbit Days: Lettuce, Parsley, and Lavender

It used to be that you would find Arden out in the sun, rabbit tobacco hanging from his mouth at a rakish angle. Rabbit tobacco is lavender in the world of Peter Rabbit, and the rabbit tobacco is flourishing this year. I had put a handful in a vase and mistakenly discovered how easy it is to dry lavender (though I can't recommend it as a godly character trait there are occasional benefits resulting from sloth), so for the first time I am harvesting my own lavender to use in sachets. Granted, it smells nothing like the lavender from France that I bought last year. Still, I was pulling it off the stalks in the living room while Bryan was reading The Hobbit and the living room did smell heavenly. I have a very earthy closet that can use a little bit of heaven.

Parsley seeds are almost ready to harvest.

The secret to gathering all those lettuce seeds is to pretend you have nothing better to do than sit in the sun and pick at your plants. I tried shaking the stalk upside down in a paper bag and was not getting much, so I moved to hand picking. I suppose my seeds could use some winnowing, but the reality is I do have better things to do. So I'll just try tossing these in the ground and see what grows, for my family and some to share. With Peter Rabbit.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Swamp

I read a guest post over at Money Saving Mom 9 Ideas for Planning a Fun Summer Vacation,  accompanied by photos of the author and her kids by the Golden Gate Bridge and at the beach. Clearly playing the tourist is more exciting when you live in the San Francisco Bay Area than in Any Small Town U.S.A. Here teens hang out in the car wash parking lot and Walmart is the biggest thing going on Friday night (outside of football season, naturally). Rating local parks won't carry us far. There are two in town; one is so small it's hardly worth mentioning. We can't all live in the same place. Thankfully. Good ideas are relevant for some, not for others. Any kind of fun you can have in SFO: not relevant for me.

After so many moves, I'm learning the lesson: love where you are, not where you aren't.

Yesterday we made a trip to the airport. Four hours driving, round trip. While we were out "in the world" we stopped at a trail,  played the tourist. Except a tourist would never have found that place. Like so many interesting places in Arkansas, there were no road signs. Only an article clipped from a newspaper, lucky turns down country roads, and a 15 minute walk out into the swamp.

But it was the Cypress-tupelo swamp that lured us there. We'd never been to a swamp before, though we'd had long discussions what they might be like as we zipped by them on the highway. We were bent on discovery.

So, tongue in cheek, I'll ask: what kind of fun can you find two hours from home?

Above and below: the Bald Cypress trees

A word on the snakes: We saw three snakes on our walk. Another couple on the trail told us they were cottonmouths. Looking at their photos on the computer, I wonder if they really are. Rumor has it cottonmouths (water moccasins) have slanty, cat-like pupils. These seem to be round. As with any nature ID I attempt, I've looked at three internet sites and have no real clarity on this issue. Perhaps my brother would like to weigh in?

Zoom lens. I make it my rule in life to never, under any circumstances, come in any contact, nor invade the space of any snake no matter how harmless it may trick you into believing it may be. That way I'm safe. Snakes = NO!