Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pardon me while I have my midlife crisis . . .

OK, I've been going through my midlife crisis for a couple months now. But it took me until the last week or so to realize that is what I'm going through. When I hear the words "midlife crisis", I imagine a 50 year old balding, pudgy, male who goes out and buys a sports car or a boat to make himself feel young again. I'm not 50 (yet), balding, or male (I am, shall we say, fluffy though) and I haven't purchased a car or a boat recently (I wouldn't mind a boat though. Something to do a little fishing, a little water skiing . . . but I digress . . . )

I'm 43. Turning 40 didn't really seem like that big of deal. It had seemed like I'd been in my 30s forever, and so I guess I just sort of expected that 40 would eventually come. But when I turned 40, it made me unique within my group of friends. When I turned 40, not one of my local friends was in their 40s. Most of them were in their early to mid 30s. A couple of them were still in their 20s.

I think that part of the fact that I didn't have my break down at 40 was that when I turned 40, Super was still 1 (well, he was 23 months, but he still technically wasn't 2 yet.) Flower was 6 (almost 7) and Jelly Bean was 4. My kids were young. My friends' kids were young.

But it has been 3.5 years now. Super is 5. He is not a baby. He is not a toddler. He is almost not a preschooler. And almost all of my friends have had more babies since I had Super. I think it is easier to not feel like you are getting older when you still are having babies. Well, maybe that is just me. For me, it was easier for me to feel like I was not getting older when I was still having babies.

And lately, there have been so many reminders of how old I am becoming. I was at the thrift store the other day (when am I not at a thrift store? LOL) and there was a Schwinn Varsity bicycle sitting there. I told Flower "That looks just like the bicycle that I saved up to get. I think it was 1980 when I got my bike." There was a man standing there and he said "Wow. So 30 years ago, huh?" Oh MY. I mean, it doesn't feel like yesterday that I got my bike, but 30 years? Seriously?

I graduated from high school 25 years ago. 25! Seriously????

Well, surely it hasn't been very long since I bought my first car. Uh, well, yea, it has. I bought it in 1990. 20 YEARS AGO.

I got married in 1995. That was 15 years ago. I remember when my PARENTS had their 15th wedding anniversary.

Well, at least it isn't that long since I had my first child. Just 10 years. 10??? How can that be possible?

And of course, it has been 5 since Super was born.


Things have gone by so fast. And I just want things to start SLOWING down.

Or if that can't happen, and if I can't go back in time either, well, at least maybe I could feel settled about where I am right now.

A big Nope on that one too.

Unsettled is putting it mildly. I'm not where I imagined I would be in so many areas of my life. And so I stew. I reflect. I try and think about what I could be doing instead. And then sometimes, I feel sad about it. I try not to feel sad about all the time that has gone by. All the things that I could have done. All the paths I didn't take. All the choices that I didn't pick. But sometimes, I just can't help it.

I try to tell myself that just because I'm going through a different stage now that it doesn't mean it is bad. I try to tell myself that the best could be yet to come. I try to tell myself that just because things haven't really changed for me in the past few years, that that doesn't mean that there isn't lots of great still coming up. I try to tell myself that it is up to me to change. It is up to me to start trying new things. Picking new paths. Exploring things, choices that I didn't have the opportunity to do when I was younger. When the kids were younger. But sometimes, I can't make myself. Honestly, it is more than sometimes that I can't.

So here I am. A 43 year old woman who spends way too much of her time reflecting on her past, present and future. And probably not nearly enough time accepting what was and changing what could be.

You know, maybe I'll just buy that boat and that will solve all my problems.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Food Storage Series: Rice

1 cup uncooked rice = 3 cups cooked

Rice is of such antiquity that the precise time and place of its first development will perhaps never be known. The cultivation of rice began as early as 6,000 BC making rice one of the oldest grains grown for food. It is a dietary staple for almost half the world's population. Rice has fed more people over a longer period of time than has any other crop. In several Asian languages the words for rice and food are identical. Rice has been produced in the U.S. since late 1600 A.D.

Rice is gluten -free and non-allergenic. Most people with food allergies are not allergic to rice. Rice cereal is usually the first solid food given to babies.

There are many ways to cook rice. To retain vitamins, do not rinse enriched rice before or drain after cooking. Rice can be cooked in water, juice, milk or bouillon. It can be steamed or boiled; cooked, then fried, or added to puddings. A bit of oil will help keep the grains from sticking together and a little salt adds flavor. As soon as the cooked grains are tender all the way through but still firm, the rice is done. The easiest way to test for tenderness is to taste it. The grains should have no hardness in the center. A combination of rice with other grains or legumes will increase nutrition and add variety to meals.

How rice cooks changes from variety to variety, even from batch to batch. Brown rice cooks longer than white, old rice absorbs more water than new. All cook by the same principles: Add rice to boiling water, stir, cover, reduce heat, cook. Water will be absorbed into rice or evaporate during cooking. Let rice sit off the heat, with lid on, at least 5 minutes or as long as 30 minutes. This results in a uniform texture, with the bottom layer as fluffy as the top. Cooked rice stored tightly covered will last up to one week in the refrigerator or in the freezer for 6 months.

Rice recipes will be up on Simply Recipes in the next few days.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Teenagers . . .

No, I don't have any of my own yet. For the record, the Simple Kids are 10, 8, and 5.

Teenagers scare me.

I've been scared about my children turning into teenagers since they were born I think.

And I'm generally someone who isn't scared of that much. I'm also someone who kind of rolls with life. Maybe not always happily, but rolls none the less.

And I was a teenager, and I turned out o.k. Eventually.

I think it is the eventually part that makes me scared.

That, and when I see other teenagers. I see how snotty they are to each other. I see how mean they can be. I see how how rude they are to anyone that they don't know. I know that not all teenagers are like that.

And I really, truly, don't think that I was snotty, mean, or rude.

But I also see other teenagers. The ones that worry about what others think about them. The ones that get hurt, so hurt, way too young. The ones who are lost and feel like no one understands them. The ones who can't see past today, much less what their life will be, could be in a year, in 5 years.

That kind of teenager was closer to me. And I know not all teenagers are like that either.

My parents were good parents. They were strict, but I always knew they loved me. But yet, things went wrong for me during those years. And some days, I still feel like that 15 year old. A fifteen year old that was so lost, and in so much pain, and couldn't/wouldn't let anybody help her.

It could have been worse. And I know, I know that I'm not the only one who had a tough time as a teenager.

And I think teenage-dom is tough on some level for everyone. And I think, honestly, it is supposed to be. If everything was great, you'd never leave home. If everything was easy, you'd never have to learn how strong you were. If you could do everything well, you'd never have to learn how to try. Or how to fail, and try again.

But yet, I'm so afraid for my children when they become teenagers. I want someone to promise me that they won't be hurt too badly. I want someone to promise me that they won't make bad decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. I want someone to promise me that we will be able to have a good relationship, not necessarily the same kind of relationship that we have now, but one that is still nurturing while giving them the freedom to grow. I want someone to promise me that I won't be so afraid of the bad, that I don't allow them to do things that will help them be great.

But there are no promises like that in Life.

And I know that people say "You can teach them, and lead by example, and then you just have to trust."

I am going to have to spend all of the next few years, trying to do all of those things better - teaching, leading, and trusting.

But maybe the next year and a half could go really slow. Or maybe we could have three Mays this year. And four or five Augusts. Or maybe time could just stand still for a few months.

But I'll probably just have to settle for looking at them at night and trying to freeze the image of them still young, in my mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cold Turkey? Moderation? Bit by bit until I just give up??

I read a lot of blogs about living a Simple Life. (Shocking, I know. LOL) I am not naive enough to think that these women have lives that are quite as simple and idyllic as they appear on the page with all of their perfect pictures of their perfectly simple clothes, their perfectly simple food, their perfectly simple toys, their perfectly simple family. And I know that I'm looking at their life now - not 5, 10 years ago when they were spending money wildly or when they ate food that wasn't 100% organic.

And the truth of the matter is that I will never be THAT Simple anyway. We will probably always have plastic in our house. I will probably continue to let my children to watch TV occasionally. I will never be at the place that I make all of our clothes, grow all of our food. I will always love Diet Pepsi (I didn't say that I will always drink it because I am getting closer to giving it up . . . )

And another truth of the matter is that it isn't like I'm doing Nothing Simply. I do garden and can. I do live frugally. I do buy most things used. I am eating much more healthily lately. (I know, Diet Pepsi isn't healthy. ) I am doing pretty well on food storage. We don't use credit. We do have a house, enough clothes, enough food. I do know how to sew and crochet. We use a budget.

But then things happen - like having to pay for new window wells when you just spent most of your savings on carpet and a washer and dryer. Like having not enough money for years, and as a result of that, making some poor financial decisions that will take YEARS and YEARS to fix. Things like feeling like you only get to be happy for a brief moment before it all goes back to being hard again.

The children wanted to go out to dinner tonight. Seriously, we shouldn't go out to eat for about 10 more years if we wanted to really be financially responsible. But yet, I knew it was a minor request. And I knew that $20 probably wouldn't make a huge difference either way - long term or even short term. But I knew that I "should" make something homemade. It would be healthier. It would be much cheaper. It would be using our resources wisely. And it wouldn't be just another "oh, this will be o.k." because we have obviously used that line over and over again. And while this $20 wouldn't hurt, $20 every month for the last 10 years hurts.

But is that how life is supposed to be? Should I never take the kids out? Should I never get my hair done at a salon? I know that I say that I want that Simple Life where I wouldn't do those things. But I think maybe it is a lie. Or maybe I want it all. I want to be able to Choose to live Simply. And have it be My version of the Simple Life.

I'd also like to figure out once and for all how to achieve that Simple Life. Do I really want it? I think that is the real question? I'm thinking that maybe I don't want it after all. Well, not the Perfectly Simple anyway. Perfectly Simple is too much for me. I tend to look at things in a very black and white sort of way, and then get so frustrated and discouraged when all I get is grey. To me, so often, I think that the only way to achieve something is to do it ALL THE WAY. And then inevitably, I fail a little. And then I give up ALL THE WAY.

I remember visiting a website years ago (this was way before blogs) and there was this women who shared about how they lived such a natural life, and so in tune with each other, and the seasons, and on and on. Even back then, that sort of life was appealing to me, even though it was so far from my life then. And then one day, her website disappeared. I checked for months afterwards, hoping that it would reappear on another server or something. And then a year or so later, I heard that the woman had left her husband, had given up her natural life completely, and that she had basically become the complete antithesis of her former life. Now, I don't know for sure if this is even true, and I don't know what ever happened, and I certainly don't know the circumstances behind it, if any of it is true. And I'm not sharing this story because I'm judging her. I'm sharing this story because it seemed like she was a woman who saw in black and white too. And sometimes, when you have picked Black, and you are confronted with Grey, it is so hard to know what to do except pick White.

I know that Moderation is the best - in all things, Simple Life included. But it is SO hard for me to do it. It just isn't the way I'm wired. When I try, most of the time, I end up just floundering and feeling like I'm doing nothing well.

Bit by Bit Until I give up? This is what I usually do and try and think of it as Moderation. I do just enough so that I feel successful, but it isn't enough for me to really bring it in as a habit, a lifestyle. And since it is just a little bit, it just slips away, as if it was never there.

I know I'm just rambling. And I'm mixing so many things together. Money. Provident Living. Simple Living. Being a Mother. Being a Perfectionist. Being a Failure. Feeling like I didn't imagine how this is how my life was going to be at 43.

But for me, this is My Life. It is so hard for me to separate all these things because to me, they aren't separate. It's like that line in some movie "People say 'It wasn't personal.' but what they really mean is that it isn't personal to them. But it is really personal to me." (I'm completely botching that quote too. Anybody recognize it though? I can't remember. Great, now I'm losing my mind too LOL)

I don't know. What I do know is that I'm just trying to find My way. Not very confidently. Not even very well. And I don't know what I'm going to decide, about anything really, or when. But right now, I do know that I'm going to get up tomorrow. And maybe try just a little harder to figure out how to live with Off Black (seriously, why is Off Black not a color, but Off White is?)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Food Storage Series: Flour

Flour is the ingredient that gives baked goods their shape and texture. When flour is mixed with water, proteins in the flour interact to form gluten. Gluten gives dough elasticity and ability to stretch as a leavening agent produces carbon dioxide gas that causes dough to rise.

Different types of wheat flour contain varying amounts of proteins for forming gluten. Hard whole wheat flour is a blend of soft and hard wheat flours with a 9% - 10% protein level.

Whole wheat flour is ground from the entire kernel containing the bran, germ and endosperm. Bran in whole wheat flour reduces gluten development. Baked products made from whole wheat flour tend to be heavier and denser than those made from white flour. Whole grain flours are not refined and retain all their nutrients. Flours labeled as "wheat" instead of "whole wheat" are often refined.

White flour is refined whole flour, ground only from the endosperm. Because it contains neither the bran or the germ, it has less fiber per cup (3.4 grams) than whole wheat flour (15 grams.)

The refining process strips away the fiber-rich bran and the germ which contains valuable vitamins and minerals. To replace these nutrients, flour is enriched by the addition of vitamins and minerals.

All-purpose flour is the flour most commonly used in the home. It comes as bleached and unbleached and must be labeled. Nutritionally, bleached and unbleached are the same. Both can be readily substituted.

Bleached: refers to flour that has been treated with chlorine to whiten and improve its baking qualities. The chlorine evaporates, does not destroy the nutrients, but does reduce the risk of spoilage or contamination. It is a process which speeds up the natural lightening and maturing of the flour.

Unbleached: is aged and bleached naturally by oxygen in the air. It is more golden in color and may not have the consistency in baking qualities that bleached flour does.

Enriched: Is flour that has been supplemented with iron and four B-vitamins (thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid) in amounts equal to what was removed. Compared to the whole grain, it is still deficient in fiber, protein value and 18 race vitamins and minerals.

A small amount of malted barley flour is usually added to all-purpose flour to increase its level of enzyme activity.

(Whole wheat recipes will be added to Simply Recipes in the next few days. Sorry about the delay in the Food Storage post. It has been a crazy week around here.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Good and Bad of Home Ownership . . .

We have lived in our current home for almost 8 years. The carpet upstairs, after years of use by our children, daycare/preschool kids, and a dog had, shall we say, seen MUCH better days. We saved up and budgeted for new flooring this year. It took us awhile to decide what to get, and even longer to finally get it scheduled, but we finally got it done last week. I LOVE it.

Here is the carpet in the bedroom.

In the carpet.

And in the living room/playroom.

So that's the good.

And the bad . . .

Yesterday, we had a HUGE rainstorm. I've never seen rain come down so hard in such a short time. I heard a noise from the girls room and I thought they had left their window open. I opened the door and went over to the window, and just as I did, mud poured up and over the window sill and through the closed window.

If there is anything good in this situation, it is that there was a bed underneath the window with bedding on it, and most of the water and mud was absorbed in the bedding and the towels, etc. that we were using against the window. So we have very little damage inside the house.

But there is lots of bad. The window well bulged and the bolts came out of the foundation and the seal broke on the window wells. And it happened on the other window well on that side of the house too (although no mud got through that window.) And unfortunately, it isn't just a matter of putting in new window wells. We will need to excavate the dirt on that side of the house and figure out WHY there was water running down the sides of the window wells, what caused the window wells to bulge and break under the pressure, and we will need to fix that problem (which could be a foundation problem), and then replace the window wells, fill in the area, seed or sod.

None of this is covered by our homeowners insurance because it is considered a settlement/foundation/maintenance issue.

The construction company that built our house (8 years ago) went bankrupt 5 years ago.

The money that we had saved for home issues was spent last weekend on new carpet.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the window well problems -

The is the window that had mud pouring into the house.

We had people dig outside on the side of the window wells where the seal broke.

Here it is from the inside. The other window is actually much worse. The area that is separated and bulging is about two feet long. (It is also the window that had mud coming inside.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

And off we go . . . .

We decided to take a slight spur of the moment trip over Spring Break and we went to the St. Louis Zoo. We live about 3 hours away, so it isn't too bad of a drive. And I love how so many of the things are free in St. Louis. We went to the St. Louis Zoo about 18 months ago. We have meant to get back sooner, but this was the first chance that we have had to go back since then. We went to the Zoo and the St. Louis Art Museum.

Jelly Bean touching a big bug - she was the only brave one.

In the butterfly/moth area - we just finished talking about pollination in school and how butterflies and moths help with pollination and the kids were so excited to show the zoo helper how smart they were LOL

The Simple Kids - it was a beautiful day. Sunny and mid 60s.

Getting a bit wet by the waterfall.

Hanging out by the Reptile House

The bear was still having a hard time waking up.
I feel your pain, dude.

I didn't take any pictures at the Art Museum, but it was very cool, and great for my crowd. It was right next to the Zoo, and we could get through it in an hour, so we could still have time to do other things (and although my children really enjoyed it, I don't know if they would enjoy it enough to drive all the way there to JUST go to the museum.) We have been studying Ancient Civilizations in History and various artists in Art, so the children got a chance to see some of the actual pieces of art that we had discussed, and they really enjoyed that. The kids also enjoyed running and rolling down the hill in front of the Museum too. LOL
A great trip was had by all!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Well, I just wouldn't be me if I didn't talk about thrifting for Easter outfits . . .

Flower is wearing a dress and short sleeve cardigan from Goodwill (and they didn't come together, so an even more remarkable find). Her sandals are also from Goodwill. Total Cost for her outfit: $4.50.

Jelly Bean is wearing a dress from Goodwill. Her sandals are also from Goodwill. Her sweater is new (but was 50% off) from Children's Place. Total Cost for her outfit: $9.75.

Super is wearing shirt that was given to him by his cousins, a sweater vest that was given to him by a neighbor boy's mom, and pants from a former preschool student. The shoes were new (but purchased back in November) from Payless. I bought them for $10 back then (and also got a brown pair for free during a buy one, get one free sale.) So I didn't really have to buy him anything specifically for his Easter outfit. Total Cost for his outfit: $0.

TOTAL for all three outfits: $14.25.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

We have have an semi-annual tradition of taking pictures on this retaining wall - at Easter and during the first snowstorm. If I hunted around on this blog, I could link you to some of the pics. I'm not feeling that ambitious right now, but maybe I'll put some links up later. Maybe.

The Simple Kids - Easter 2010

The girls dancing. The grass is so long, it already needs to be cut!

In the front yard

We also tend to take pictures by the tree in the front yard - usually at Easter and in the Fall. Sometimes another one in the Spring when all the blossoms are out.

On the front steps.
May you have a lovely day with those you love on this Easter Day.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Food Storage Series: Wheat

About Wheat

1 cup dry wheat = about 2 cups cooked
1 cup whole wheat = about 1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup cracked wheat = 2 2/3 cups cooked

It is believed that wheat was first domesticated from wild grasses as long ago as 9,000 B.C It has been found in the pyramids of Egypt. Wheat is mentioned throughout the Bible and has been a food of man throughout history. It is considered the most important grain crop in the world, providing 40 - 60% of the available energy and protein in developing countries.

Rinse whole wheat kernels before sprouting or cooking, but do not wash before grinding or milling.

When starting to use whole wheat flour in place of white in your baking, make the transition gradually by first replacing just half of the white flour with the same amount of whole wheat flour.

How to Crack Wheat

There are numerous flour mills and grinders, and come in either electric or hand-turned. Determine what the needs of your family are, and then purchase what will fill that need.

Small amounts of wheat, about 3/4 cup at a time, can be cracked in a blender. Blenders are not made for grinding large amounts of wheat and will not be able to grind enough flour for bread.

An emergency hand grinder can be made using a tall empty juice or #10 can with one end removed and three 30" lengths of ordinary steel water pipe. Cut pipe ends even, file metal slivers off and duct tape pipes together. Put clean, dry grain 1" deep in can. To prevent blisters, wear gloves. Place can on a smooth, hard, solid surface such as concrete. To pound the grain, sit with the can held between your feet. Move the pipes straight up and down about 3", with a rapid stroke.

If no grinder is available, soaked and/or spouted wheat kernels can be pounded with a mallet.

Methods For Cooking Wheat

Rinse and cook whole wheat using one of the methods below. Soaking wheat cuts cooking time in half but isn't required. This ready to use wheat may be safely stored in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

Stove Top: Place 3 cups water, 1 cup whole wheat and 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cover and soak overnight. Do not drain. In the morning, stir wheat and heat to boiling in the same water. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat. Leave covered for 5 minutes.

Crock Pot: Mix 1 cup of wheat, 4 cups of water, 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt in crock pot. Cook overnight on low setting.

Oven: Combine 1 cup wheat, 3 cups water, 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer, covered for 5 minutes. Place pan in a 300 degree F pre-heated oven. Shut door and turn heat off. Let sit overnight.

Pressure Cooker: Put 1 cup wheat, 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a pressure cooker. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Pressure 15 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure. Do not "quick release" lid. Turn off heat and let pressure go down naturally.

Thermos Wheat: Place 1 cup wheat in a thermos. Add 1/2 salt and 2 cups boiling water. Let stand 3-4 hours.

Wheat Grass

Cereal grasses have been used as human food supplements since the 1930s. All have very similar nutritional value, but wheat is favored for its availability and ease of growing.

Plant wheat in a wooden, clay or plastic planting try or pot. Whatever planter is used, it MUST have drainage holes in the bottom. Any soil will do, and the amount is up to you. The more soil used, the more water it can hold, the longer time between waterings, but heavier if it needs to be moved.

Soak wheat 24 hours in room-temperature water. Spread on thouroughly moistened soil and sprinkle lightly with dry soil. Dampen with water several times a day. Place in a low-light, room-temperature location. After shoots appear in 2-4 days, keep soil damp by watering at the roots. When still quite small, it is best to keep shoots away from direct light. Wait until shoots are 1-1 1/2 " tall to expose to light. To "green up" the grass, water well just before harvest and expose to light. The darker the color, the stronger the taste, but with increased nutrients.

Harvest by cutting 1/4 ' 1/2" above the soil when grass is about 6" tall. Grass can produce a 2nd and 3rd crop if watering is continued after the first crop is cut.

Grass stores about 6 days when refrigerated in a plastic bag. Grasses are usually juiced, but you can also put them in stir-fry, salad, bread, white sauce or soup.

Cracked Wheat recipes are contained in the Wheat Recipes at Simply Recipes. I'll put up some recipes about Wheat Grass in the next couple of days.