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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Books I've Read: July 2015


Earlier this month, I posted my review of Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before.  I'm attempting to read more by getting a book from the library, which has a two-week due date (and then a two-week renewal).  It's not perfect, but it is a deadline to force myself to read something.  I do look forward to the day when the kids are a little older, and nap time/quiet time morphs into reading time.  For now, here's my other book review for the month...

A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I read a copy of this from the library.  This is one of those books that pops up fairly often on "If you like dystopian young adult fiction book X, you might like this".  So I finally requested it and read it.  It's actually from the mid-80s, before dystopian YA books were a thing, so good job Ms. Atwood for being ahead of your time.

The book was really well-written.  I liked the word play, and the characters were witty and unique.  The book kept me hooked, and I wanted to know how it all turned out.

But.  [Spoiler alert].  The ending is unresolved.  I'm not a big fan of unhappy endings, but I think I like those more than the make-up-how-it-ended-in-your-head endings.  The scenes were also really choppy.  You'd get a paragraph of plot in the present, and then a few pages of a flashback, and before you know it, you're three chapters later and not much has actually happened in terms of moving forward.  Like I said, the writing was spot on and really smart, which is a great talent.  I would have liked a little bit more of what was happening at the moment and a continuation of the story, instead of so many flashbacks.  I also disliked the little epilogue chapter.  It gave me a bit of hope that the story wouldn't end unresolved, and then dashed that hope again by not really saying anything.

Overall, it got me interested in Margaret Atwood's writing, and I may seek out another book by her.  If it ends like this one though, we're done.

Total books read this month: 2.  Total books read this year: 9.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What I'm Up To Lately...

Here are a few bits and pieces of what I'm up to lately.  None of these are worthy of their own blog post, but they are things I've been doing, and learning.

The garden is in full swing!  Not only have we been harvesting some stuff from our own garden, but we've had several drop offs from church members with yummy stuff they've grown.  We've eaten some of it, but we've also been saving it.

I made refrigerator pickles  (kind of based off of this recipe, but without the sugar and coriander) with several cucumbers.  I did this last summer, and I was really bummed when they ran out sometime in September or October.  They're delicious!  The kids will occasionally have some when we make bean burgers [link], but otherwise they're all mine.

I also learned how to blanch veggies from this post, which was perfect timing!  We got a ton of cabbage in one week, so I made Polish sausage stew and that ramen noodle salad everyone always brings to pot lucks, but we still had extra.  So I blanched the rest to save for a future batch of stew.  I blanched a gallon ziploc bag full of extra green beans from our garden as well.

I shredded up about 16 cups of zucchini and froze that in 2 cup portions for future muffins and breads.  We actually didn't plant any zucchini this year, and one of the reasons was because we haven't gotten around to getting a chest freezer yet, and I know it's one of those plants that kind of takes over.  So I'll enjoy everyone's extras for now...

On the not so happy front for gardening, we've learned about mildew on our pumpkin plants, which resulted in hacking off about a third of the plant.  And we learned about sap beetles in our raspberries (they like over-ripe fruit), which are harmless, but it's kind of gross to pick berries and then have to wash the bugs out.

We finally got Elizabeth a real bed, and I put it together with just a little help maneuvering pieces from Jesse.  The girls are adjusting to sleeping in the same room, and I love not sharing our room with a baby any more.  It's one of those things that is hard for me to give up in the baby stages, but I'm always thankful when I do.

I ordered most of our homeschool books.  I'll be writing a separate post soon on what we picked and how I'm lesson planning this year.

I still love my coffee.  I use this iced coffee recipe and this chocolate syrup recipe, plus a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  I top that all with milk and a few ice cubes, and enjoy during afternoon naptime.

So that's life here.  Food, kids, coffee...sounds about right!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Weekly Goals: July 26-August 1

Miss Elizabeth has always been a momma's girl, but especially lately, with all the busy-ness we've had going on.  She would rather snuggle than sleep, so I'm soaking in lots of baby love lately.

Last Week's Goals:

  • Get in better control of my "little shopping trip" schedule.  We only went to the grocery store once this week, and it was the planned trip.
  • Finish reading Better Than Before and start reading A Handmaid's Tale.  Done and done!  I won't quite finish the second one before it's due at the library tomorrow, so I'll have to renew it, but I'm over halfway done.
  • Strip the cloth diapers.  Done.
This Week's Goals:
  • Get plans for VBS squared away (specific stories, crafts, songs for each day).  We're doing a 4-day evening VBS at Redeemer and a 4-hour Saturday session at Trinity, both focusing on the colors of the church year.  Jesse and I need to nail down the specifics this week to get them to the helpers.  We have most of the ideas from talking over the weekend, but none of it is written down yet.
  • Do the August church newsletter.
  • Get rid of the sugar ants that have invaded our kitchen. They're in the microwave.  It's gross.
  • Finish reading A Handmaid's Tale and pick the next book to order from the library.
Oh, and aside from all that, I need to finish the last 4 letters of the week before we officially start school next month, do my lesson planning, help host a bridal shower for my future sister-in-law, and keep up with the garden produce that we keep getting!  So, you know, not too much going on here...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Garden Update: Mid-July

At long last! Another update on our garden!

Our apple trees have apples!  I'm pretty excited for that come fall.  We love applesauce.
Here's our grapevine:
...and a close-up of a bunch of grapes!  They're not ready to eat yet, but they're growing great!
The raspberries are just about done
...although there's still a few last berries to grab.  The kids have basically been gobbling these up as soon as I bring them in, so we didn't end up making anything with them this year.  Snacks of fresh berries are always a good thing though!
Here's an overview shot of the garden.  The bushy area that's overgrown at the bottom of the picture is where the strawberries were.  Since they're done, we haven't weeded that part as much.
We finally got the pepper plants weeded out and they're growing well.  
The jalapenos are almost ready to harvest.
When we were weeding, we took the cages off of the tomatoes, so now they're just big bushes.  We have Romas
And beefsteaks.  The first ones are just starting to turn red.
Can you spot the butternut squash in the next picture?
Our green beans have been growing like crazy!  We've gotten several dinners' worth of side dishes already!
Our first pumpkin is as big as a basketball.  We researched the kind of pumpkin (Howden) and discovered they're more of carving pumpkins and not so much eating pumpkins, although supposedly you can eat any pumpkin.  So we'll probably try one to see what it tastes like.  If nothing else, we have free pumpkins to carve this October.
And finally, our baby watermelon.  
Our peas are done for.  They didn't take root very far down, although I think pea season is pretty much over anyways.  The strawberries are done.  The potatoes are still going strong in the buckets, and the parsley and basil are still growing inside on the dining room table.

We've harvested over 11 pounds from the garden so far this year, and that's been mostly little stuff.  Once we get to the big squashes and all the apples and tomatoes, our total should be pretty high!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Polish Sausage Stew

Growing up, this was my "peanut butter sandwich" dinner.  Whenever my mom made this, I was allowed to have a peanut butter sandwich instead, because I could not stand it.  I'm not sure if this was a rule she instituted beforehand, or if I was just so stubborn about not eating it, but I loved the peanut butter sandwich rule.

My kids are young enough that I still make them eat everything once, but I have a feeling before too long, I'll let them pick one meal that is their "peanut butter sandwich" meal too.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound Polish or smoked sausage, cut into pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small head cabbage, chopped
  • 3-4 potatoes, chopped (I used baby reds, but russets work well too)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar (optional)*
  • 1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional)
*I'm pretty sure the vinegar is part of what I disliked so much as a child, so I left that out.  Feel free to experiment with it though.  It does add a certain tang to the dish.

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a large pot.  Simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender.

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Moving, And Connecting, And Realizing We're All A Little Bit The Same


I saw this picture while scrolling through the latest Postsecret post yesterday.  And it really hit home for me, because a few years ago, I could have written it.  It says: "I wish I had more of a normal childhood.  But I moved so much that I really don't think that I belong...anywhere...anymore...I think I lost myself in one of those moves."

So I sent this note in to Postsecret through their Facebook page.

"To the person who posted this secret about moving a lot.  My family moved on average every other year from when I was born until high school.  It's hard to feel like you have no hometown, and you never know how to answer when someone asks "where are you from?" because it requires too much of an explanation.

But it gets easier.  You find that "home" becomes more the people you're with, and less where you sleep at night.  Home is a state of mind rather than an actual state.

I hope you discover all the different meanings of home for yourself, and how many you've gotten to experience because of moving so often.  It's hard because it's different, but that also makes it special."

It got me thinking.  Here's something I thought was pretty unique about myself, something that has profoundly shaped who I am and the set of experiences I call my life.  And another person, another stranger, has experienced the exact same thing.

This is one of the reasons I love technology.  It connects us to people who share our core with us.  Those things deep down that affect us more than we thought they would at the time.  And we never would have known they were out there otherwise.

I have no idea if the person who created this postcard will ever get to see my response.  I hope they do.  If only so they can say "me too."

Book Review: Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin


Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books.  A few years ago, back when she was still writing The Happiness Project, I read Gretchen Rubin's blog, although I stopped somewhere in there because my blog list was too long.  I really enjoyed this book though, so I may have to go search her out again.

Rubin's premise in Better Than Before is that everyone falls into one of four personality types when it comes to dealing with expectations.  I'm an Obliger, which means I'm good with meeting external expectations, i.e. what other people expect of me, but I'm not so good at meeting internal expectations that I set for myself.

This means when I'm forming habits, I should be aware of this and give myself some sort of outward accountability.  Sometimes schedules and lists are enough; other times I might need other people.  This is why I can sometimes justify saying "no" to fast food because it's healthier for my husband and our budget, but I can't always resist a coffee/sugar drink for myself.

Throughout the rest of the book after introducing the personality types, she gives several methods for forming habits, because everyone is different.  Basically the point was to do some soul searching, and once you know yourself, you can figure out how to set yourself up for success.  There were a ton of examples, and judging from the book list in the back, everything is based on quite a bit of research, but it's such a conversational book that you don't notice the academia.

Here are a few of my favorite quotations from the book:

"It's simple to change habits, but not easy."

"Leisure must be entered on the schedule as its own activity; it's not something I get only when I have nothing else to do.  Because I always have something else to do."  Oh I need this reminder constantly.  I'm terrible at taking time for myself, even though I really want and need it.

"Stopping halts momentum, breeds, guilt, makes us feel bad about losing ground, and, worst of all, breaks the habit so that the need for decision making returns - which demands energy, and often results in making a bad decision."  This is why it's that much harder to get back into healthy eating and exercising habits for me after every baby.  Each time I've stopped my good habits, and I have to reform them.

"To be happy, even we non-monks need to make time for transcendent matters - such as beauty, creativity, service, faith - but too often these get pushed aside for more urgent demands, and life begins to feel empty and purposeless."