Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I'm only posting today because

writing makes me feel better.  I'm in quite a bad mood otherwise, but still need to carry on with the day, you know?

I am sort of proud of myself lately for a few things anyway. 

1.  I'm glad that I put the garden to bed properly this year.  In the past, I was lazy and then it was too late/too cold, etc.  I got them weeded and mulched.  I planted the garlic.  And I already have my plan set up for seed ordering in late winter and what I'm planting where in the spring. 

2.  I'm glad that I've done enough Thanksgiving meals before that it doesn't stress me out anymore.  Although, every time I go to buy all of the food, I feel like I am playing house. It doesn't seem like I should be old enough to be doing a Thanksgiving meal, but yet, here I am. 

3.  I am glad that we are caught up on our bills.  Money can be so stressful, and I am approaching the end of my latest contract and I have nothing yet lined up for December, and that is REALLY stressing me out, but if we were behind on bills, that would be even worse.  We have enough in reserves that we can probably make it through December too, so it buys a little time. 

Well, not much on my plate besides work today.  I slept in today because of that bad mood, but I'm up now and as soon as I'm done writing this post, I'll start in on my "real" work.  Jelly Bean needs to go to swim team practice, and I need to make a schedule for cooking for tomorrow.  I don't want to leave all the cooking for Thursday.  I'll probably do the potatoes and a couple of the pies tomorrow. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daybook: November 19, 2012

I am thankful for… Well, it is THE month to be thankful, right? And I'm going to go for the easy, cheesy answer, but it is true.  I'm thankful for my family.  I still remember that night, years and years ago, when I was thought "You know, I don't think I'm ever going to get married and have a family."  I was so saddened by that thought.  I had other dreams besides getting married and having children, but having a family was always one of the bigger dreams too.  And I didn't get married soon after that.  It was years afterwards.  Almost 10 years after that sad night.  But yet, here I am, getting ready to celebrate my 17th Thanksgiving as a family. 

I also heard someone say that you can't be thankful and unhappy.  And I probably spend too much time being unhappy and not enough time being thankful. 

At work… Well, I was up for a full-time job recently and didn't get it, but I'm up for another one now, and it is a much better match.  I'm trying to be hopeful.  It is hard, but I'm trying.

From the kitchen… Well, I'm not cooking anything right now, but I did clean the fridge and cabinets this weekend, and went shopping for all the Thanksgiving food.  I have a 20 pound turkey defrosting in the refrigerator.

I am wearing… I could lie, but I won't.  I'm still wearing my pajamas.  To be fair, it IS only 8:46 am.  One of the benefits from working from home though is that you can stay in your pajamas all day if you want!

I am creating… well, I'm trying anyway.  I'm trying to create more peace in our home.  Sometimes it is hard with 5 people and one is a teenager girl, one is a pre-teen girl, and one is a very active 8 year old boy.

I am going… to try and run some errands today.  I have been slacking on those lately.  Sometimes, I get sucked into my work, and I look up and it is 4:30 pm already and time to start shuttling the kids to all their activities. 

I am reading…The Kitchen House.  Still.  I need to get going on the November book though. 

I am hoping… that 2013 is a good year for our family.  It would be nice to have a full year of goodness.

I am hearing… the dryer running. I swear, I do so much laundry, it feels like there are 10 people, at least, who live here.

Around the house… I still have quite a bit of cleaning to do before Thursday, but the kids are off starting on Wednesday, so I'll enlist their help in at least cleaning up the downstairs.

One of my favorite things… laughing.  I don't do enough of it, but it is one of my favorite things to do. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Simple Guide to the Holiday Kitchen

It's that time of year.

Not Christmas.  Well, sort of.  It is that time of year when I do a lot of baking - baking for Thanksgiving, baking for parties, baking for gifts, baking for Solstice, baking for Christmas, baking for New Years.  In addition to the general increase of cooking and baking in the fall and winter.  Oh, and I also try and do more make-ahead-and-freeze meals during the fall and winter because there is just more of those nights when some people will be gone, or we will need to eat earlier before a concert, or it will be a vacation day, and I just don't feel like spending the whole day in the kitchen. So I've put together a guide for the holidays.  I call it -

The Simple Guide to the Holiday Kitchen:

(inspired by some of the holiday lists on Simple Bites)

Menu Planning

I beat this horse a lot, but it is SO true.  My life, all year round, runs better when I meal plan, and certainly, it is only MORE important to do it around the holidays.  Decide what meals that you want to serve for the big holidays, how many dozen cookies you need to bake, what meals are your favorite make & freeze meals, etc. 

People do menu planning in different ways - fancy holiday meal planning notebooks/checklists, 3 x 5 cards, on the computer, etc.  I am mostly lazy old fashioned about it.  I just write a list in a notebook. I usually make categories - Breads and Cookies, Holiday Meals, Freezer Meals or whatever and the name of the recipe in the category. I'll write the name of the recipe book it is from, and then put a corresponding post-it note in the recipe book on the page that has the recipe.   

Organizing Your Kitchen

I've said it before, and I'll keep mentioning it, probably until the day that we move.  I have a small kitchen and it is important to make sure that my kitchen is organized.  I try and keep it well organized during the year, and then I also add some organizing touches during the holiday season too.

1.  Clean the cabinets, inside and out. And clean the counters, the stove, the oven, the microwave, and the fridge. And the floor. There will probably be other people in your kitchen during the holidays, so not only is it nice to have a clean kitchen for yourself, but it is always nice to have a clean kitchen for other people. 

2.  You will probably need to make room in your fridge and freezer for the upcoming holiday food.  So as your cleaning, make sure that you dispose of anything expired, and make a plan for using up some of the things so that you can have as much room as possible for your holiday food. 

3.  You will also need to make room for your holiday items.  You can put up anything that you don't need for cooking/baking in the fall and winter time.  You can make things like platters and specialty tools more accessible.  If you use holiday dishes or china during the holidays and you store them during the rest of the year, you will want to decide where you will keep it during the next few weeks.

4.  Check your holiday linens.  You will want to make sure that you have the type of tablecloths and cloth napkins, etc. for all of your holiday events and in the sizes needed.  You will also want to decide if you are going to use disposable items for any of those events and purchase those ahead of time. 

Stocking Your Pantry

If you haven't been keeping this up during the rest of the year, it is essential to do in the holiday season.  There is nothing so aggravating but to need to make something and you go to get the ingredient and you have run out.  And it is late.  Or it is blizzarding.  Or something like that.  You'll want to, of course, stock your pantry with the type of ingredients that you (and your family) use often.  Look at the type of ingredients that come up over and over in the recipes that your family uses, and make sure and keep those stocked in your pantry. 

But here are some general pantry staples:

Flours – unbleached white, wheat, rice, cake, bread
Sugars – brown, cane  powdered
Dry Pastas – a few different shapes and sizes
Sweeteners – honey, maple syrup, agave
Grains – couscous, rice, barley, quinoa, oats, flax, cornmeal
Oils – olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, sesame oil
Leavens and Stabilizers - Yeast, Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar, Meringue Powder
Vegetables – onions, potatoes, garlic
Canned/Jarred Tomatoes – sauce, diced, paste
Spreads – peanut butter, jam, jelly
Vinegars – balsamic, white, red wine, apple cider
Specialty Sauces – hot sauce, Tabasco, soy sauce
Nuts – peanuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts
Dried Fruit – raisins, apricots, dates, cherries, cranberries
Dried or Canned Beans- black, navy, pinto, kidney
Canned fish/seafood - tuna
Herbs and Spices – oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, cumin, peppers and many more
Salts – kosher, sea salt, pickling salt
Baking Ingredients – baking powder, baking soda, yeast, cream of tartar, chocolate
Extracts – vanilla, almond, lemon, peppermint
Beverages – tea, cocoa

And here are some things to add for the Holiday Pantry:

Canned and Jarred Items - Pumpkin Puree, Sour Cherries, Applesauce, Maraschino Cherries, Mincemeat
Candies and Confections - Peppermints, Candy Cane, Marshmallows, Mini-Marshmallows, Caramel Squares, Marshmallow Fluff
Chocolate and Chips - Cocoa, White, Dark, Milk, Chocolate Chips, Sprinkles, Butterscotch Chips, Toffee Bits
Crackers and Crumbs - Graham Cracker Crumbs, Oreo Crumbs, Graham Crackers, Ritz Crackers, Pretzels
Dairy - Evaporated Milk, Sweetened Condensed Milk, Soy Milk, Powdered Milk, Powdered Buttermilk, Malted Milk Powder
Dried and Candied Fruit - Raisins, Currants, Apricots, Dates, Cherries, Cranberries, Prunes, Candied Citrus Peel, Figs, Candied Ginger, Apples,
Dried Herbs - Fennel, Rosemary, Coriander, Mint, Lavender
Extracts and Flavorings - Almond, Lemon, Peppermint, Anise, Rum
Grains and Cereals - Rolled Oats, Quick Oats, Wheat Germ, Bran, Rice Crispies, Puffed Wheat, Shredded Wheat
Nuts - Hazelnuts, Brazil Nuts, Pistachios,
Oils and Shortenings - Lard, Shortening
Seeds - Sesame, Pumpkin, Poppy, Sunflower
Specialty Items - Food Coloring
Spices, whole and ground - Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, Allspice, Cardamom, Ginger, Anise

But again, go through the recipes YOU use and pick out the items that you will need. No use spending money on items that you don't need!

Kitchen Supplies, Utensils, etc.

There are certain things that I ONLY use during the holidays.  My trifle bowl is one that doesn't make too many appearances during the rest of the year.  Also, I have special holiday cookie cutters.  Make sure to locate them ahead of time and make sure that they are washed and ready to go. 

There may also be certain tools that you only need to prepare Holiday Foods.  Locate them too.  You also make want to read through your recipes and make sure that you have all the necessary tools to prepare all of the things on your list.  If not, you can see if you have something that could work as a substitute, perhaps you could borrow it, or get yourself an early Holiday present! LOL Or at the very least, borrow for now, but put on your gift list!

And while you are looking at the tools that you'll need for the holidays, look at your other kitchen supplies.  I always have a few things on my gift list - whether that it is cookware, silverware, gadgets, knives, etc.  I find it is best to be very specific on what you want (brand, style, store where to get it) or to ask for a gift card with an explanation of what you are planning on getting with the card.

Freezer Meals

I usually first do freezer meals.  It is, in someways, seems like the lowest priority during the holidays, but it truly does make my life easier because things get so chaotic during the 6 weeks of fall/winter holidays, and if I know that all I have to do is defrost something and cook it up an hour before we need to eat? Priceless, I tell you.  From a financial standpoint, it is also easier for me to go ahead and spend the money to prepare a month-ish amount of freezer meals in early November than trying to squeeze money out of the budget during Mid-November - early January for "just" everyday food. 

Of course, this means clearing out some space in the freezer, so do that before you start the actual cooking! LOL

Holiday Baking

I do most of the ACTUAL baking right before the event, but there is no reason that you can't make some cookie dough up ahead of time and freeze it. 

I generally keep some gingerbread, sugar, and chocolate chip cookie dough in the freezer for those moments when I need to make a quick couple dozen for something.  Or to get a head start on making cookies for a cookie exchange, etc. 

You can also have some bread dough frozen and pie crusts. 

Holiday Cooking

I plan what the meals are going to be for the big events and then I try and make a rough schedule of the 24-48 hours before the event and what order I need to cook/bake things.  Anything fresh, etc. I put on a list to buy a day or so ahead of time.  I check the pantry a week or so before (and I also make sure and do a guest check about a week out too, so that I'm sure I have enough of all necessary ingredients.) I have a VERY small kitchen and only one stove, so I need to be pretty organized about the order of things or I end up having to reheat practically everything.  But mostly, it helps me feel less overwhelmed about the amount of food that needs to be cooked.  Sometimes, when I just look at the list of items, I feel like I don't even know where to start.  This way, I have a path. 

Edible Gifts

I often make teacher gifts and neighbor gifts around the holidays.  However, with these types of gifts, you also need to plan what type of container you will putting the items in.  Many of these you can pick up during the year - a tin or a basket doesn't have to use holiday colors.  You can then pretty it up with some holiday ribbons instead.  Paper bags are an easy choice.  Holiday plates, cellophane, and tissue paper are also options. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fall Cleaning

Well, Fall Cleaning around the Simple House mostly consists of cleaning up Outside instead of Inside.  Because, you know, pretty soon, we will have plenty of time cooped up inside when we could clean :)  In theory, of course.  :)

So this weekend, while it was still quite warm (in the 70s!) we did what is supposed to be our annual Fall garage clean up, but it has been at least two years since we had done it.  At least.  And boy, did it show.  We took everything off all the shelves and emptied every container.  And made sure that we were actually using the things that we were storing in the garage. And that like things were stored by each other, for the most part anyway.  We tossed LOTS of things that should have been tossed long ago.  And we finally took out the broken freezer.  Hopefully, it will be replaced by a new(ish) freezer in the spring, but I think we will keep it inside instead of the garage. 

And we put things up for the season - we hung up the bikes and put away the canopy/chairs/cooler from summer swim season.  We took the swings off the playset. We put the lawn tools away. 

Speaking of lawns, we also did some other outdoor work besides cleaning the garage.  Mr. Simple cut the grass one last time, and I weeded and cleared the beds and put mulch down, so they will be all ready come next spring. 

It was actually supposed to snow last night, but it didn't.  Still, it got down to the 20s, and I fear that most of the temperatures for the rest of the fall will now be considered "cool." 

But I'm glad that we "made hay while the sun shone", as Laura Ingalls Winder might say. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Well, when it is cold, I cook

And when it is hot, I don't! LOL

But yes, one thing that I do love about cold weather is the FOOD.  (Is it any wonder that I emerge every spring a little heavier than I was at the beginning of fall? I'm trying to avoid that this year with my daily gym work outs - cold or not - but we will see!) 

Anyway, I was sitting down today with a bunch of recipe books, and I made up a list of 50 fall/winter dinners.  Maybe some cold evening I'll type them up on my recipe blog and link them up, but until then, here is the list -

1.  Sweet Potato Gnocchi
2. Grilled Polenta with Vegetable Ragout
3. Autumn Wild Rice Salad with Chicken
4. Smoky Yukon Gold Potato Chowder
5. Asian Vegetable Spring Rolls
6. Warm Two Potato Salad
7. Roasted Root Vegetables with Creamy Polenta
8. Farmer's Market Pot Pie
9. Spinach Fettuccine with Gorgonzola Sauce
10. Sweet Potato Enchiladas
11. Garden fresh Pizza Primavera
12. Corn Chowder
13. Squash Lasagna
14. Roast Chicken
15. Baked Parmesan Risotto
16. Chicken Broccoli Ring
17. Inside Out Lasagna
18. BBQ Beef Brisket
19. BBQ Beef Stew
20. Harvest Cream Soup
21. Lemon Greek Chicken
22. Pasta Roll Ups
23. Chili Bread Bowls
24. Cheesy Chicken Tortellini Bake
25. Polenta Lasagna
26. Cheesy Chicken Chilaquiles
27. Apricot Chicken and Couscous
28. Grilled Fish Tacos
29. Pulled Pork Sandwiches
30. Homemade Mac & Cheese
31. Zesty Meatball Chili
32. Lentil Stew
33. Chicken Tortilla Chili
34. Butternut Squash Soup
35. BBQ Pork Chili
36. BBQ Bacon Meat Loaf
37. Easy Chicken Pot Pie
38. Cider Braised Pork Loin
39. Burrito Bake
40. Sweet & Sour Shrimp
41. 3 Cheese Mac & Cheese
42. Pasta Primavera
43. Potato Leek Soup
44. Glazed Korean Short Ribs
45. Maple Pork Chops
46. Grilled Bacon Meat Loaf
47. Cherry Chipotle Ribs
48. Asian Glazed Chicken
49. Jamaican Jerk Drumsticks
50. Chicken and Potato Wedges

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

OK, I'm trying really hard to find some November Love

It is hard though - November is usually one long month of grey.  And grey is DEFINITELY NOT one of my favorite colors.  And then the greyness just lingers for months after November too.  Until April at least.  So when I see it on the first few mornings of November, I know that it means all the loveliness of Fall that I love is over.  And now all the leaves will fall off, it will get dark so early, and it will be cold.  And grey.

Thankfully, I've got fall vegetables to cheer me up! LOL I love roasted vegetables like nobody's business.  And soups.  Love all kinds of fall soups.  Love the taste of the fall vegetables in the soup plus I love how soup just warms you up from head to toe.  My personal fave is probably potato leek soup, but I love squash soup, broccoli and cheese soup, cream of celery soup, cream of chicken.  YUM.  I'm getting hungry, just talking about it.

We did our annual trying on of winter clothes early this year, so I already knew that the girls needed new winter coats.  I'd been really trying to get something decent at a thrift store, but happened on a sale, and managed to get them some very nice NEW coats.  We rarely do new clothes around here, so it was a special treat.  The girls both picked two different styles of black coats, but I know that we will have some trouble with them figuring out which one is theirs.  I had been encouraging them to get a different color than each other, but they didn't like the other ones.  So black it is.  And then, we get home and I'm hanging them up in the coat closet, and I started giggling.  I had bought myself a new winter coat last year at the end of season.  I had picked up, what we call around here, a "sleeping bag" coat for only $10! I forgot about it until I went to go hang up the girls' coats and guess what color it is? BLACK! LOL

Year round swimming continues for Super (8) and Jelly Bean (10).  We just finished a swim meet this past weekend.  They both did great! I joked to Mr. Simple that it is much more fun to sit at a swim meet for 5 hours when the kids are swimming well than when they aren't! And Flower (13) is still enjoying all of her activities - drama club, scholastic bowl, piano lessons, youth choir.  She is having some 7th grade "drama" of her own (not her, but some situations at school.) Junior high is certainly something that you couldn't pay me to go through again, but I'm trying to help her navigate her way through it without being too imposing.  A bit of a tough line to walk. 

My job situation is still complicated.  I'll elaborate on another day.  I'm feeling a bit defeated about it all today.  On the other hand, I am still working on a short-term contract until the end of November, so that is a blessing.

Back to November.  I am trying to remind myself that one thing that I do like about the cold evenings is that we spend more time together - playing games, doing art, reading, handwork.  That almost makes up for the grey.  Almost.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall finds a way

I was bemoaning the fact that we haven't been doing many of our fall traditions this year and it was making me sad. 

But then the kids said things like:

"You know Mom, even though we didn't go to that one festival, the leaves still changed anyway. And aren't they so pretty?"

"Remember that perfect day last week? A little breeze and 65 and sunny with big puffy clouds?"

"I love how Fall means you wear shorts one day and need a scarf the next." (This can be true most of the year in Illinois LOL)


"I loved seeing the combine harvester on the drive home last weekend."

"You make the best applesauce ever, Mom." (They really did say that.  I'm not just lying or bragging.  I don't know if it is the BEST,  but I'm glad they love it!)

"Our scarecrows are way better than skulls, don't you think?"


And it made me feel much better. 

But still, I'm going to do my best to make it out to more of our fall favorite things next year.  I need as much fall love as possible in my weather basket to make it through winter!!!!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Daybook: October 27, 2012

I have been awfully quiet on this blog in the past few months.  For lots of reasons.  Partly because I've been busy.  Partly because I just haven't felt like writing here.  Partly because our lives are different than it used to be in a lot of ways.  But I want to start back.  I miss it. 

So as a way to ease back in, I am doing a daybook. 


I am thankful for… I've been able to get two full-time technical writing contracts since June.  It has been nice to work in the field that I got my degree in, and to make some good money for the first time in years. 

At work… My first contract was producing some process documentation and job aids for a client.  My current contract is creating a SharePoint site and creating templates and rebranding numerous documents for a client.  And I'm working with a recruiter to get a long-term contract.  With benefits. 

From the kitchen… Pizza and cinnamon sticks. 

I am wearing… my Halloween costume.  :)  We are going to a Halloween Party tonight.  Mr. Simple is going as Gregory House, M.D., and I'm going as a patient. 

I am creating… some salsa.  And some strawberry jam.  I don't even have close to enough jam for this year.  :(

I am going… to a swim meet next weekend.  We are in the midst of the busiest part of the school year period of swim meets.  We have had a meet every two weeks since the beginning of September.  But if they are travel meets, they are within 45 minutes, so nothing too dreadful.

I am reading…The Kitchen House.  I'm a little over half way done.  It was the October book for my book club and I didn't finish it before our book club meeting, but I do want to finish it.  And I want to finish it before I move on to our November book. 

I am hoping… that I get a long-term contract, although it will require revamp our family's schedule, and I already have a hard time getting things done some days. 

I am hearing… the kids are playing with legos and the nerf gun downstairs.  In the last year, they do a lot more things together.  I guess Super doesn't seem like such a "baby" anymore.  I guess, probably because he isn't.  He just turned 8 in September.  You can't even call an 8 year old a "little" kid. Sigh.

Around the house… my house is really cluttered.  How does that happen? My kids go to school all day.  I work from home.  But yet, every flat surface in my house is covered.  I haven't vacuumed for at least a week.  I have been keeping up on laundry and dishes. But everything else? Not so much. 

One of my favorite things… is Fall.  I wish I could bottle it up and open it on a cold, miserable winter day, when it has been cold and miserable for weeks.  Or on a hot, miserable summer day, when it has been hot and miserable for weeks.  If I could have my perfect weather, it would just be Fall all year round. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Just so I don't have just one post for August

It has been a busy summer.  Busier than most since I started working in mid-May, although my contract is set to end after tomorrow, so I may have some free time coming up soon. 

It has been nice to be working full-time again.  Especially money-wise.  And it has been nice to be working in my field again.

But it has been really hard too.  It is hard to get the grocery shopping done.  And the laundry, and the dishes.  And the garden has been neglected. And now it is preserving season, and I've only done a little bit so far because I'm so swamped with work.  I didn't see my kids much this summer. 

School started last week, and so far things are going well.  Super is in 2nd grade, Jelly Bean is in 5th, and Flower is in 7th.  They all like their teachers and have classes with their friends.  I think that this is the best start to a school year that we have ever had.

Both Super and Jelly Bean are on a competitive swim team this year and that keeps our evenings busy.  Flower is doing piano, and they are all in Youth Choir again.  Oh, and Flower has Drama Club and Team Quest (scholastic club) again. 

Mr. Simple is still painting, although he recently applied for a full time job in his previous field.  We are sort of hoping that he gets it.  I'm looking for another contract or a full-time job.  It would be great if I could get a part-time contract again, but I don't see that happening.

I have a birthday type of post (it was my birthday on the 27th!) but it isn't done yet.  Maybe next week. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

You've got a friend?

When I was a child, I was the type of kid who got along with everyone, but only had a couple close friends.  When I was a teenager, I still got along with everyone, but I rarely did anything outside of school with anyone but the 9 other people in my group of friends.  I went to school, and mostly hung out with my roommates, but we weren't really "close" friends, and we would always lose touch after the year was over.  I started working and again, I got along with others, but I never did anything with anyone outside of work.  I got married.  And then mostly did things with Mr. Simple. 

I do have about 175 friends on Facebook.  People that I've known from past jobs. People that I've met in the past 10 years. People from childhood. 

But, at least 50 of the people on Facebook that I am friends with, I have NEVER met in person.  Most of them, I "met" online many, many years ago.  It was early 1998, and I had just had my first miscarriage.  I didn't know anyone in "real life" who had gone through a miscarriage, besides my mother, and so I went searching to find if there was anyone out there.  And there was.  And the women that I met under sad circumstances then, well, we have watched each other's lives over the past 14 years as we had more children, got divorced, had medical problems, had spouses die, etc.  I've asked for advice and given advice over the years.  My friendship with these women has been/is very important to me. 

But then there is my real life. 

I've gone in waves with "real life" friends.  When I had my first child, but I was working full-time, I had very few friends.  When I started teaching preschool in the morning, and had my afternoons "free", it made my schedule much more flexible.  I could do the park, I could do playdates, I could do the museum, etc.  I had more friends, but it was often just women who had kids the same ages as mine. 

But my kids started growing up.  We were homeschooling and I didn't see other moms at school. I was doing daycare, and couldn't really get out to other activities.  So my circle of "moms with kids" friends grew smaller.  Last year, my kids all went back to public school and so I do have some women that I've met because of that, but only one or two that I've done things outside of school, and that was because my child had been friends with their child since Kindergarten, etc.

Also, for most of my life, I was very involved at church.  And there were many opportunities at the church we attended to be with adults, particularly women. I enjoyed talking to these women about all sorts of things - church things, kid things, fashion things LOL I had a large-ish group of women from church that I would do things with outside of church - baby showers, girls night out, movies, that sort of thing. I had been hanging out with some of them for over 10 years.

And then, we decided recently, for reasons that I will NOT be going into on this blog, to stop attending this church. And it has been difficult, at best, to maintain friendships with these women, if for no other reason, because I am not attending many of the same activities as they are anymore.  So my circle of "women from church" friends has greatly diminished. We are attending another church, and the people at the new church are nice and friendly, but there has only been one woman who I have really talked to at any point outside of church. 

When I was doing preschool and daycare, there were plenty of days that talking to the parents would be my only form of adult conversation that I had that day, outside of conversations with my husband. But then I decided to quit last March so that I could focus on my Simply Living In The City business and my freelance writing and training business.

And now, I meet people through my Simply Living In The City business, and that is great, especially since I love talking about Simple stuff and hearing about how other people are trying to live that way, but for the most part, it has not led to any sort of friendships that involved getting together outside of a Simply Living In The City class or whatever. 

I meet people through my freelance writing and training jobs, and that is nice too.  But when it is at home/offsite work, it is really difficult to have much interaction. And when it is at a client site, well, work is busy, and I just have never felt comfortable in establishing friendships with work colleagues outside of work anyway.  So I don't have (and never really have had) friendships with people that I met at work. 

Which means, right now, I have very, very few "real life" friends.  At least the kind that you could say "Hey, I don't have anything going on tonight, do you want to go to a movie?" or "Let's take the kids to the pool today" sort of friends.  Or "I just need to vent about something" sort of friends. 

I know that friendship, in general changes, over the years.  As an adult, with children, with work, with a spouse, etc., time to do things with friends is usually quite limited.  That is true for me, and most people that are around my age.  I know that your relationship with your family is and should be more important than your relationship with friends. 

But sometimes - well, to be really honest, I'm on a roll, so I might as well keep going LOL - Often, I miss having "real life" friends.  I miss the days of going to movies, going to dinner.  I miss the days of hanging out with our kids at the park, at the pool.  I miss talking about church. I miss talking about parenting.  I miss talking about fashion.  I miss just talking out loud about life to someone besides my husband.

And trust me, there are times when Mr. Simple really wishes I had someone to talk to about life besides him.  :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My blog gets so neglected in the summer

And I'd go on about why it gets neglected, but if you have read my blog for any length of time, or if you know me at all, then you know that my children are on the summer parks and rec swim team.  And taking the kids to practice and meets for swim team takes up a big bulk of my time in the summer. 

And if that wasn't enough, Flower just finished up acting the summer parks and rec outdoor production of Les Miserables.  She tried out in May and got a part in the Children's Ensemble.  She LOVED it.  She did a great job - in fact everyone in the production did a great job.  They started practice in Mid May and then started performing the last weekend of June and the first two weekends in July.  There would have been 12 performances, but we have been suffering through a dreadful heat wave/drought and the performance had to be cancelled on one night, so they "only" ended up having 11 performances. 

AND, Jelly Bean was also doing long course events for her competitive swim team, which included a few travel meets.  And she was also practicing with this team about 16 hours a week, in addition to the 4 hours a week practicing with her summer team. 

Oh, and I got a different job!  I was contacted in mid June by a contracting company who wanted to hire me on an 8 week contract to do technical writing.  So still working full-time, but a) I have the flexibility to work from home a couple days a week b) the pay is much better and c) it is doing something that I enjoy MUCH better than what I was doing before. 

But today, we finished summer swim team with a WIN at swim team conference, and Flower finished up her play last weekend.  I'm still working for another month, but like I said, I have more flexibility than I did earlier in the summer. 

So things SHOULD be calming down.  We will see what happens.  It seems like I will say something like that and then, poof, I'll be crazy busy for some reason. But in theory, I should be calming down and I can devote more time to the blog.  Let's see if that actually happens :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

You'd think that I would have an empty house

It seems like every year - heck, every other month, I get rid of a bunch of stuff. As in multiple bags of stuff.  Most of it I either give or sell, but some of it (especially some from a certain couple of girls' room) is just actual trash.  Well, maybe some of it is recycling.  But not anything that I can actually sell or give away.  I've had several garage sales. 

But yet, it never seems to ever really end.  We just did some a lot of rearranging of furniture around here - a bed from Super's room went down to the girls' room and was turned into a funky tween couch.  The art shelf was taken out of the dining room and put in the family room.  The old kitchen table was moved out of the girls room (we put it there for them to use as a desk, but it mostly just became a place to put stuff that they didn't want to put away LOL) and brought into the family room, and the old card table was put in the garage.  The second TV from the family was moved to the studio because we are going to use the bed, etc. in the studio as a guest room instead of my room.  We bought a new to us dresser for the girls, and moved one of their old dressers into the studio.  We bought a new tall bookcase for the girls' room and moved the two small ones to Super's room. 

And so by doing all that rearranging, we got rid of a lot of stuff.

And then, I'm finally selling the rest of the things that I still had from when I was still running Montgomery Academy.  So things that I had put in one of the storage closet had to be gone through, taken pictures of, post pictures, etc. and then mailed. 

And by doing all that, I got rid of a lot of stuff. 

Oh, and a couple months ago, I went through all my papers and books that I accumulated in college and got rid of most of it. 

You would seriously think that I should live in an empty house by now.  I'm not sentimental.  I don't hold on to things unless they are functional.  I am much more brutal about things than the rest of my family, but yet, it isn't like the rest of them should be on Hoarders or anything. 

But yet, I'm sure that come this time next month, I'll have a trunk full of things to take to Goodwill and a full recycling container and a full trash container. I'm starting to think that maybe someone sneaks into my house and drops off stuff so that I never actually get to the end of it.

I'm kidding.  Mostly :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

July 2012 - What is my garden up to?

I'll try and post some pictures here later today, but I at least wanted to get the report done (because if I don't do it now, it probably won't get done!)

Well, the herb garden is doing well.  I haven't had time to do much to take care of it, and there are tons of herbs that I really need to harvest, but I don't have time to do anything with them - most of them I dry - and so there just out there growing away.  I'm not sure I can remember all of the herbs I've got out there, but here's most of them - stevia, cilantro, parsley, tarragon, thyme (used this as a ground cover along the border, and this is growing like gangbusters!) basil, lemon verbena, dill, sage, rosemary, lavender, oregano, spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, marjoram, sage, and chives. 

On the north side of the house, I planted a three zucchini plants, and it looks like I might get zucchini off all of them this year.  There are two zucchinis on one plant that are about a day from being ready to pick.  I also planted a perennial flower garden on this side.  It is doing o.k.  It has been crazy hot for weeks now, and hardly any rain, and I only water a couple of days a week.  Next year, I'm doing drip irrigation, but for now, it is just the sprinkler, and so the flowers in particular aren't doing great.  But I'm hoping for the best.  There are 6 plants in the bed now, and I plan on adding 4-6 more in the bed next year.

Along the fence on the north side, I have two containers - one has two butternut squash plants with lattice behind it for it to climb, and then the other container has two melon plants with lattice behind it to climb.  The squash is doing o.k., slow but steady growth.  The melon, well, it might be dead.  I haven't looked in the past few days, but it isn't growing really.  I think I planted them too early and then it got too hot, etc. 

The four boxes along the west end are doing o.k.  Box 1 has onion and garlic.  I have garlic flowers coming up now, and so I will probably cut the scapes and make some garlic scape pesto this weekend.  The onions are plugging along.  Box 2 has some lettuce left in it that we need to eat up this week, and some HUGE swiss chard, celery, and 8 cucumber plants that are growing horizontally on garden netting.  I think I might actually get cucumbers this year! I planted marigolds or some kind of flowers by any of the plants that flowered, and I think that helped to bring in the pollinators, etc.  Box 3 has peppers and tomatoes.  I have small tomatoes on the plants, and I have banana peppers ready to pick.  The green peppers are slowly but surely growing.  Box 4 has green beans.  I'm not sure what is going on there.  I've got leaves, but I haven't seen blossoms or any indication of beans.  I planted them well over a month ago. 

The strawberry patch had some strawberries in it this year, but I didn't get as much as I'd hoped.  I probably got a quart total.  But about half of them are the everlasting kind, so hopefully I'll get another quart in the fall. 

I'm planning on a fall garden this year - at the very least, I'm doing broccoli, peas, and spinach. 

I've got BIG plans for the garden next year.  I'm putting in 4 new beds - one for potatoes, one for cabbage and broccoli, one for greens (this one may actually be a cold frame instead of just a raised bed), and one for blueberries.  I'm also moving the peas to a different area and putting netting or fencing in between the rows instead of doing bamboo teepees in one of the boxes.  I'm also planning on planting more peas in general next year.  I'm planting grapes and a pear, an apple, and cherry tree next year. Oh, and asparagus.  I totally meant to plant it this year, but the spring just got away from me.  As always LOL, I plan on doing better with successive planting and getting a spring, summer, and fall crop out of as many of the beds as possible.  I'm also putting in a drip irrigation system. 

I'm super tempted to start a front yard garden too, but I think I'll wait another year after that.  Check with the HOA and the city over the next year, and get all those ducks in a row before I do it.  However, if nothing else, I do plan on adding some more perennial and native plants in the front yard.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

So my 12 year old daughter and I were talking today

about music, and she wanted me to change the station to something that had "better music" than what I was listening to.  (I actually don't listen to music on the radio that much anymore.  Or FM for that matter.) And then she asked me why I listened to "old" music.  LOL So I said, "Well, I don't ALWAYS listen to old music.  I do listen to some music that was produced in the past year or so.  But yes, in general, I don't listen to popular music.  But you know what would be weird? If I did listen to popular music all the time.  And wore all the popular fashions. And followed all the popular trends.  Because you know what I'm not young anymore. It would make me odd if I was trying to follow all the stuff."

And then I added, you know, because I always feel the need to throw stuff like this in "And you know what else, by the time you are in your 40s, you just don't care as much anymore about what is popular, or what other people think. Or maybe that is just your Mom."  She got a good laugh out of that last part.

But most of that is true.  Now that I'm almost on the downside of my 40s (I'll be 46 in August), I find that I am not that concerned about other people's opinion of me.  I mean, I'm not rude about it.  I don't go out and flaunt my opinions all day long, and I don't like being argumentative either, so I don't like getting into disagreements about my opinions vs. other people's opinions , but I am comfortable in how I  live my life.

And how does this tie into Simple Life? A lot actually.  It was around the time that I started changing about how we lived that I started feeling like I wanted to live a more authentic life too.  I wanted to do things, Simple Things, not because everybody was doing it/not doing it, etc.  I wanted to do it because it felt right for me and my family.  It gave me a sense of happiness and peace. 

It also kind of ties into the fact that living a simple life IS more "popular" now.  When we first started living like this, I felt like I was in the minority.  I didn't know many people who wanted to be more self-sufficient.  I didn't know that many people who were into thrifting and recycling or sewing and crocheting.  I didn't know that many people who went to Farmer's market.  I didn't know that many "regular" people who also cared about eating certain organic foods.  Or fair-trade products.  But now? I know tons.  Part of it is that over the years, I've discovered more people who live like we do.  But part of it is that just more people in general (I believe in large part in reaction to the economy) have become interested in being more self-sufficient.

But whether it is "popular" or not to live like this, I think that I'm in it for the long haul now.  I can't imagine going back at this point.  Like I said, it gives me a sense of happiness and peace.  And happiness and peace? I take that feeling any day of the week.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Well, just so you know

It isn't all that "simple" going from stay at home mom to working mom.  Granted, I've only been doing it 2.5 weeks, but it has been a challenge.

I think it would have been a challenge anyway I would have done it but here are a few things that I've learned so far.

1- If you have to be at work at 7 am, and your kids have to be at morning swim team practice and your spouse is dropping the kids off, you should have something available that the kids can eat quickly before they leave, and then they can eat something more substantial when they get back.  For us, most days, it has been smoothies.  I usually fix them before I leave, right before I wake the kids up, and they drink them before they leave.  But it took me a few days to really work this out.  I also need to have other quick breakfast options, in case someone doesn't want a smoothie, because there won't be time for say, eggs or something, before they have to leave.

2-Speaking of food, I should have prepared more dinners ahead of time.  It was a rough first week because I was working that week until 4:30 pm (my regular schedule now is 7 am to 3:30) and not getting home until almost 5 and people were starving and all I wanted to do was relax, not rush around trying to find something quick to cook.

3-Again, speaking of food, I should have got more groceries to have on hand before I started working.  At least some options that were a little more simple to prepare - things that Mr. Simple can fix quickly or the children can do.  However, there is a fine line between easy and "fast food" though, and it is a bit of a struggle for me still to have healthy food on hand that is substantial enough for a meal and easy for everyone to prepare. 

4- Laundry.  Ugh.  I swear we go through more clothes than the average family of five.  I feel like I'm always doing laundry.  Of course, we use yarn dishcloths, cloth napkins, and cloth paper towels too, and that contributes to it.  But I MUST do at least a load of laundry every evening, and then stress to the children that it needs to get put away while I am at work the next day.  (One interesting thing that at least early on, having Mr. Simple "remind" the children about their chores seems to be going well.  They do their chores much more willingly and quicker than when I'm assigning the chores.)

5-Dishes are the same thing as laundry.  I must load the dishwasher before I go to bed, and I have to unload it in the morning before I leave.  Otherwise, it just is a problem. 

6-I am very slowly trying to let go of some of my control issues concerning the house.  I like things done a certain way, and I like things to be tidy most of the time, etc. and I have to realize that it probably happen totally like that.  I am going to try and get some improvement over the course of the summer, but I will probably have to deal with things being little less than how I would have it be if I were here. 

7-I am very grateful for the garden again this year.  And I'm thrilled that it is right outside my door.  It enables me to go out and do things after dinner or on the weekend.  It enables us to have ultra fresh salads and strawberries for dessert.  If I had still been garden at church plot, I am sure that it would already be full of weeds because the last thing that I want to do in the evenings is drive across town.  But being able to just walk 25-50 feet? I can handle that.

8-I have not yet learned how to balance working full-time and maintaining Simply Living In The City.  I haven't blogged over at Simply Living In The City for weeks now, and I have even been kind of hit and miss at the Facebook page.  And I was supposed to reschedule the May class for last weekend, and that didn't happen. I'm hopeful to still be able to do a June class though. 

9-I sit quite a bit at my job, and I'm totally not used to that.  I've found that I have to walk the (10 flights) of stairs a few times a day so that I don't feel like such a slug.  I'd love to be able to figure out some time to do more traditional exercise, but with full time work and the kids with their very full summer schedule and all their drop offs and pick-ups, and laundry and dishes, and meals, well, I haven't yet figured out when I could fit in a run or going to the gym. 

10-I'm driving my car back and forth to work because I need to be home in enough time to take the kids to evening practices, but starting in the fall, I'll be able to bike or ride the bus to my job.  I'm pretty excited about it! I've never been able to use public transportation or bike as my regular form of transportation. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Simple Life isn't necessarily Simple to do

Well, maybe if you didn't have kids.  Or maybe if you had more money.  But the more I try and live like this, and just, honestly, the older I get, I think that things are challenging no matter what.  People have different things that challenge them and different isn't easier or harder - just different.

Anyway, so I'm trying to get the house cleaned and a bunch of other things done that need to be done before I start my full time job next Monday.  (EEK!)  And it has been harder than I thought it would be for a bunch of reasons.

1 - I am suddenly lazy.  No, really.  Now, it is a big effort for me to not just go back to sleep after I get the kids off to school.  I don't have to look for a job.  I don't have to watch any kids. The only thing I "have" to do is clean the house and get those projects done, and the world won't come to an end if I don't do it.  And so every day for the last couple of weeks, I've been way more unproductive than usual. 

2 - I don't know if I just hit my limit or what, but oh my, I am just beyond sick of doing laundry and the dishes! Laundry and dishes have never been my favorite jobs anyway - they are daily jobs and so I never really get that whole "Look at what I did!" feeling from the dishes and laundry, because there is always, always more to do. 

3 - That money thing. Again.  It is harder than usual for me to prioritize lately because of the change in income over the last couple months.  I just kept thinking that things were just on the verge of really changing - I was going to get that high-paying full-time job.  Or that long-term freelance gig was going to start. Or we were going to win Powerball or something. :) And none of that happened.  And I had that mini-break down and then almost instantly, got a full-time job offer.  But it doesn't pay that well.  And it starts right at the very beginning of summer.  So I've been stressing about money and then stressing about the fact that I'll be bringing in money, but is it going to be worth the time, given the amount I'll bring in? And sometimes, when I stress, especially about money, then I'm just sort of paralyzed.

4 - The busyness of the end of school has been expecially hard this year.  I'd be just getting into a project, and then I'd have to stop because I was going to have to take someone somewhere for some performance of some sort and then the whole rest of the evening would be taken up with that.  I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm happy to watch my kids do things, and they are very talented, and I've been a really proud mother lately, but it has been hard to get other things done in between.  Not to mention, just the scheduling alone for 3 kids during that last couple weeks has been crazy!

So I haven't felt all relaxed and happy as I've been doing my homemaking these days.  I haven't been stress-free as I've tried to eliminate the clutter in my home.  I don't have pretty pictures of my bread or my living room or my garden because I either haven't done or haven't had time to concentrate on doing any of it. 

I'm hopeful that the structure of the job gets me back in my rhythm.  I know that I love structure - and probably most of my problem in time/stress/organization management right now is that I don't have structure.  I guess I do better when I'm Simply Structured?? LOL

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

All right, I'm starting to panic a little now . . .

As soon as I get this job, then suddenly, it seems like all the blog posts/Facebook posts, etc. out there are suddenly talking about how wonderful it is to be a stay at home mom.

Not that I've truly been a stay at home mom much over the years.  I mean, I've been home with my children since 2003, officially.  But just me and the kids, and doing grocery shopping and playgroups and all that? Not that often.  In fact, the only time I can think of that it was just the three of us was when I took 3 months off teaching preschool when Super was born (he was born in the fall of 2004.) 

But I've been HOME for the past 9 years.  I've done preschool & daycare or training, but I was here.  I've been able to homeschool.  I've fixed breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.  I've been here to throw a load of wash in or to start the dishwasher during the day.  I've been here when my kids got off the school bus. I've been here if the nurse called and they needed to be picked up. I've been able to wear slippers all day if I wanted to.  Or yoga pants.  When the kids were napping or when we were homeschooling, and the older kids were occupied, I could have time to myself.  I could read, I could sew, I could crochet, I could do all sorts of things here at home.

Of course, it wasn't all roses and sunshine.  It was hard to juggle working from home and uh, anything else.  I often couldn't do any sort of errands during the day, and so it got pushed to evenings or weekends.  I often couldn't do things at the kids' school because I couldn't bring the other children with me.  It was expensive to feed 6, 7, 8, 9 children lunch 5 days a week, not to mention, there was the constant sweeping, straightening, washing that is required when you have a lot of young-ish children in the house.  And sometimes, even when I was just dealing with the house and my own three kids, in the evenings, on the weekends, it wasn't fun.  It was drudgery.  It was boring.  And sometimes, when I didn't know what to do in a situation, sometimes it was hard. I also didn't make that much money.  I told myself that it didn't matter.  I would have been home anyway, and I was making more money than I would have if it was just me and my children.  But it wasn't much.  And although most of the time I enjoyed it, it wasn't what I got my degree in.  It wasn't what I went back to school to get my masters in. 

And my Simple Life.  I'm nervous.  Am I still going to be able to maintain that sort of lifestyle when I'm not here during the day? When I have to squeeze in all the simple life between 5 pm and 8 am? What about all my plans for Simply Living In The City? Will I be able to bring my vision into a reality if I'm working full time?

And what about my kids? Will they be o.k. when I'm a phone call away instead of being able to just answering them when they ask me a question across the table? What will I miss by not being around them during the day this summer? How trashed will my house be at the end of the day now, and how will I instead be grateful that they had a good day and got along instead of being angry at having to pick up the house after a long day of work?

I wonder a little if I'm making the right decision, but yet, I also feel like I had to do it.  We really need the money right now.  And even if we didn't, this job could lead to a job doing writing. Doing training.  Doing things that I have my education in.  Doing things that I enjoy.  And making money so that I can turn some of my dreams for Simply Living In The City into a reality. 

I wish that we had enough money that I could stay home.  I'd still do the cleaning (but I swear I'd hire someone to keep up with the dishes and the laundry! LOL) but I'd work on Simply Living In The City a few hours a day.  That would be perfect.  But maybe it wouldn't.  I think that once you are a mom, very few situations are perfect.  It is really hard, no matter what your life is like, to be able to find that balance between being an involved parent and doing things that fulfill you personally. 

Ok.  I'm just going to have to take some deep breaths and hope for the best.  And let people help me when they offer.  And to let a few things go.  And also be willing to be open to other possibilities. And to realize that what is happening now, probably won't go on forever.  And to try and make the most of my time at home. To make sure that the things that are important to me - my family and living a simple life - are still important, no matter if I'm home all day or not. And to do my best to find that balance.

Friday, May 4, 2012

How things have changed in just two months -

Two months ago today, I closed Montgomery Academy. It felt like it was time. I was no longer homeschooling. I no longer had a child of my own that was preschool age. And running Montgomery Academy was making it difficult to be involved with my own children's lives and it was preventing me from developing my freelance business and Simply Living In The City.

So with sadness and excitement, I closed down Montgomery Academy.

Within days, I was contacted by a recruiter that wanted me to come work full-time as a technical writer for a large corporation in town. For a lot of money. I won't go into the details, but in the end, it didn't happen. But my big freelance project was set to start soon and I had lots to do for Simply Living In The City. Then the freelance project got held up. It was (and still is) green lighted, but no start date given. But hopefully would be soon.

So I went into April a little nervous, but feeling positive that things would work out. I went to lots of networking and entrepreneur events in April. I slept in a little in April. I did some things with my kids in April because I knew that things were probably going to be getting at least a little busier soon. But April came and went without a start date on the big project. And now I had gone two months without any income. We have always counted on me to contribute at least some to our income. And because I'm like this, by the end of April, I was in quite a panic about our drop in income.

And then, almost like magic, things happened. And as of May 21st, I'll be working full-time. Now it isn't all perfect but it is probably best case scenario. I can be home by 4. They will also allow me to work part-time when the freelance gig starts up. And while the job isn't in writing or training, it may lead to a job in that area in the near future. It does start at the beginning of summer vacation and that will complicate things for sure, but thankfully, Mr.Simple has more flexibility with his schedule now that he is self-employed. And I'm still going to work on Simply Living in The City on nights and Saturdays. I still have big plans for it. :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Daybook: May 1st, 2012

I am thankful for… that this is the first thing on the Daybook because it is forcing myself to think about what I'm thankful for when I'm not feeling all that thankful today.  I'm thankful that I got to go on a walk with my family yesterday. 

At work… I'm trying to get some full or part-time work, so I'm meeting with (another) recruiter today.  But besides that, I'm doing a lot of work around the house, plus planting outside, and work on Simply Living In The City.

From the kitchen… I'm putting some chicken in the crockpot for dinner tonight. 

I am wearing… black pants, short sleeve blue shirt, black sweater and clogs.  Pretty impressive for 8:25, huh?

I am creating… my garden. Still.  I'm putting out a bunch of herbs today, plus I am putting mulch down in the beds. 

I am going… to the gym.  I'm on day 6 of an 84 day challenge.  I workout 6 days a week, and I try and eat mostly green vegetables and protein.  I'm doing pretty well so far, but I do miss my Diet Pepsi! 

I am reading… some magazines this week.  The most recent issues of Mother Earth News and Urban Farm. 

I am hoping… that someday, my children will stop bickering so much. 

I am hearing… the dishwasher.  I thought I turned it on to run last night, but I went to go get a dish out this morning and discovered that apparently, I didn't turn it on.

Around the house… Going to be a busy day around here.  I'm going to list the last of the preschool and homeschool stuff to sell online, clean the house, and try and clear out some of the clutter from the studio. 

One of my favorite things… is reading.  But I do have to make time for it these days, or it doesn't happen.  But I am past the stage, mostly, where I have to read a snippet here and a snippet there.  It was way harder to fit in any quality reading time when the kids were small, and I don't love the "snippet" form of reading.  I like to read for at least a half hour at a time, and if I schedule it, I can usually get at least that much in.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A warm rainy day . . .

It was so warm in March, it was hard to go back to more "typical" spring weather in April.  Not to mention, the kids had pulled out their shorts and put away their sweatshirts, and the shorts had to be put away again, and the sweatshirts had to be pulled back out. 

But typical Spring it has been since April started.  Maybe slightly less rainy than normal.  Maybe slightly less windy than normal.

I do like Spring.  I like that feeling of renewal.  I like seeing the lilacs and the tulips and the daffodils bloom.  I like to see the leaves come back on the trees. I like to plant spring gardens. I like the rain.  I don't love it when it is 40 degrees. Or below.  I don't love it when there are a few snow flurries mixed in with the rain.  I really don't love the mud and wet grass that gets tracked into my house.

But today, I like spring days like this.  It is warm, in the 60s probably, and just a light rain.  No wind.  The grass is very green.  The plants are all perked up.  And it is raining lightly enough that I can go on a walk to enjoy it. 

I'm lucky to live in a city that has a bike/walking/skating, etc. that covers much of the city and we live just a few blocks from an entry point.  Most of it is wooded and it is well-maintained.  I love to walk on it.  In fact, it makes me smile just thinking about it. 

And while I was writing this, I asked the family if they wanted to go on a walk on the trail.  They all said YES and off we went.  We walked to the downtown area - and stopped at one of the many restaurants there to grab a bite - one child, my most adventurous one, got a fully loaded hot dog (with tomatoes, olives, spicy peppers, pickles, etc.) while the other two opted for plain hot dogs.  I went for hummus.  YUMMY.  And then we walked back. 

It was mostly a lovely walk.  There was a little complaining - someone's leg hurt/was tired early on in the walk, and then someone complained about not getting to walk by Mommy as much as another child, and then another child complained about another child walking too close in front of her, but besides the small amount of complaining, it was very nice to get out and walk together on a lovely, warm, rainy day. 

Super, Mr. Simple, and our dog, Levon  (named after the Elton John song) as we started down the Trail

Mr. Simple, Levon, and Flower getting close to the downtown area.

The side of one of the buildings downtown.  Flower thinks it is so cool. 

We didn't eat here, but they serve great food.  The Garlic Press is also a local kitchen/specialty store.  One of my faves, for sure!

Another picture of some of the shops downtown.  It was originally a bank, but now it is a comic store, a record store, and a flower shop.

Jelly Bean jogging to catch up with Flower, and Super, Mr. Simple, and Levon are way ahead of them.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Breadmaking - the Simple Way

I had a bread maker early on in our marriage.  I used it several times right off, and then, I didn't use it much.  And then, I sold, I think in a garage sale, years and years ago. 

I made bread off and on over the years - by hand.  I generally used the white and whole wheat recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (mine is the 1991 version LOL). 

And then when I started this Simple journey back in 2007, I started making bread from scratch more often.  And I'd also picked up a bread maker again, and I used that sometimes too.  I got my bread maker as a gift new, but I often see them at thrift stores, so if you want to try one, you might want to pick one up at a thrift store and see how often you use it before you invest in a new one.  Or you may like your thrift store one so much, you stick with that one!

And then a year or so ago, I decided to make bread most of the time.  (I also started grinding my own flour - no, I don't have my own wheat grinder, but I have friends who are willing to let me borrow theirs! And bread made with freshly ground flour? Divine!!!) But I figured that there had to be a simpler way to do it, besides just using the bread maker.  Plus, I didn't really like using bread that was baked in the bread maker.  I didn't mind the mixing in it, but I hated losing the last two inches because of the bread maker blade, etc. or the shape.

First, I experimented with mixing the dough in the bread maker but then removing the dough, kneading it a few times, and placing it in a bread pan to rise again before baking.  It worked like a charm! It was moist inside, and just the right amount of crust on the outside.  So this is how I make bread when I want to have a traditional looking loaf.  It requires less than 5 minutes work on my part - just putting the ingredients in initially and then turn it on, and then taking it out and doing a minute or two of kneading.  Simple!! (See my recipe for traditional white bread mixed in a bread maker here. Oh, and if you have a stand mixer, here is a easy recipe for traditional bread. )

Oh, and another thing, you just HAVE to make your own butter! It couldn't be simpler - all you need is a food processor and a pint of cream (and two tablespoons of yogurt or sour cream if you want cultured butter).  Homemade bread with homemade better.  Seriously, a slice of heaven, I'm telling you.  (See my tutorial for making butter here.)

But I also kept hearing about no-knead bread, and I had a cast iron dutch oven, and so I decided to try it.  And while I love making traditional bread, I think that no knead better is the BEST! And if it is possible, it is even easier than the bread maker version! You put the 4! ingredients in the bowl (flour, yeast, salt and water) and mix it for a minute.  Then you put a lid on the bowl and let it sit for 18 hours.  Then you knead it a few times, put it in a dutch oven/deep dish baker, and let it sit for another 2 hours.  Then you bake at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes, and voila! The best bread EVER! (See my no knead recipe here.)

We use the no-knead bread for everything, and I love to do add stuff to it (a little rosemary and onion powder; a little sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary; substitute a little wheat flour; whatever you want!)
But I think a couple of my kids recent favorite is using no-knead bread for panini sandwiches.  I recently got a grill pan and grill press, and I can whip up panini sandwiches for them in less than 10 minutes.  They are SO good!

Grilled cheese in the grill pan.  No knead white bread with homemade butter. 

Grilled cheese sandwich in grill pan with grill press on top.  The grill pan and grill press are from The Pampered Chef

Not exactly a professional food blog shot or anything,  And this child prefers that the grill lines on his sandwich not be too dark. 

Flower finishing up her sandwich. 
You might have noticed that I said a couple of the kids, when I have 3 kids.  There is a reason for that.  Jelly Bean has a gluten sensitivity.  So I make gluten-free bread for her.  I often make her brown rice bread, but we also try some of the specialty flours (that are also gluten-free!) like amaranth or quinoa or spelt. We've tried the gluten-free store bought bread, and not only is it incredibly pricey, it is much more crumbly, dry, and tasteless than my homemade gluten-free bread.   (See my recipe for brown rice bread here.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

I don't know if you noticed but

I took my blog  down for a couple of days earlier this week.  I've been thinking about this little blog a lot lately and what its purpose is.  (I do this about once a year or so.  LOL)

I've tried and tried to define it.  And I'll go for a little while in one direction, and I'll really like it, and then, suddenly, it all of sudden doesn't feel right.  Or I'll get all ambitious and say that I'm going to do something every day for the next X amounts of days, and I'll make it about four days and then something will happen, and I don't finish it. 

Or I'll only talk about simply living for awhile.  Or I'll only talk about my family for awhile.  Or I'll only talk about myself and my past for awhile. 

When I had it down, I was trying to decide if I even wanted to blog anymore.  And if I did, why was I doing it? Was I doing it for myself - as a record of our journey to live a more simple life? And if that was it, why was the blog public? So maybe I was trying to show how others could live a more simple life? But I knew I really wasn't doing that on this blog.  It's never really been a blog full of tutorial/how-to's/recipes/checklists, etc.  Maybe it was a photo album of sorts - things that I like to do, and pictures of the Simple Kids.  But if that was it, what about all the other posts? And again, why was it public?

And so I decided a few things in the past few days.  Mostly, the blog is going to stay the same.  But I am going to try and keep it a LITTLE more focused on our simple journey. LOTS less about my past, unless it really makes sense to add to something about our simple journey. And a LOT more pictures - pictures of all of us, doing what we do on a daily basis to live that simple life.  (And no, we still don't have a new camera, so I'll just have to take more and eventually get decent ones.  Hopefully sometime this summer I'll get a new camera.  Any recommendations for a good camera under $300?) Over the summer, I'll probably do some tweaking of the blog and move some of the more "personal" posts over to a private blog. 

And those checklists and tutorials and recipes? The things to help others live a more simple life that don't usually make it over here? Well, they'll show up somewhere - specifically, on my Simply Living In The City blog. 

I'm also adding some pages to this blog (they are still under construction, but hopefully will be ready by May 1st.) I'll have links to an About page, a Booklist page, Things that I like, and a Contact page.

And I'm going to try and write more.  I'm not going to promise anything specific - I think I've finally learned my lesson on that one.  But more.  More posts a month and just more regularly in general. 

I am going to keep it "real" though, at least on how we live are living our life.  We have changed a LOT over the past almost four years that I've been blogging here in terms of how we live a simple life.  We eat a lot more whole food, we garden.  I bake bread and make yogurt and butter.  I crochet often.  I make soap.  I don't see things changing so that we always do these things.  My goal is MORE.

BUT my kids watch Netflix sometimes.  We eat packaged food occasionally.  One of my children eats cold cereal on a pretty regular basis.  We still have two cars, and while we bike more than we used to, we use our cars as our primary mode of transportation.  I have and use my dishwasher.  I have and use my clothes dryer.  I don't see things changing that we never do these things.  My goal is LESS. 

So there it is.  Basically, the blog is going to be about me and my family Simply Living and Simply Loving.  Maybe that should be my blog title? LOL

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Well, be careful what you make fun of . . .

Do remember me posting about my younger friend (by a couple years) who needed to use reading glasses and how I was teasing her about it?

And I've also been slightly mocking Mr. Simple (who is SIX years younger than me) because he bought some reading glasses from the drug store.

Well, I went and got my eyes checked last week for the first time in a few years.  I've recently transitioned to mostly wearing glasses after years of wearing contacts 99% of the time and so I wanted to check to see if my glasses prescription was the same.

Well, my glasses prescription is actually a little too strong, so I'll need to get new lenses (and frames while I'm at it) and guess what?

Yep, I need bifocals. 

I'll defend myself by saying that it is a mild correction.  One might even argue that I don't "really" need them. 

But yes, there I was today, getting my new frames and lenses fitted and she was marking where I needed the magnification part to start on the lenses. 

I swear, I didn't think that my body would seem this old at 45.  Of course, I used to think that 45 was not that young either, but now? 45 IS young! I'm a spring chicken!

Yea, a spring chicken with bifocals :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Daybook: April 24th, 2012

It's been awhile since I did a daybook! I think I'll try and do them on a more regular basis.  Maybe not the same day every week, but at least a couple times a month or so.

I am thankful for… the fact that Mr. Simple has had lots of work lately.  The money, of course, is nice, but it is also great to see him busy doing something that he really enjoys doing. 

At work… Well, my part-time writing gig ended ahead of schedule, and then I did the Earth Week classes last week.  I'm hoping that my freelance project starts up again soon, but until then, I'm trying to keep busy with projects for Simply Living In The City.  (When you are trying to start a new business, there is always stuff on your to-do list!)

From the kitchen… I bought some asparagus at Farmer's Market this weekend, and so I thought we would have grilled asparagus and salad tonight for dinner.  Glad to see the "greens" back!

I am wearing… clogs, jeans, t-shirt and a fleece jacket.  Comfy spring clothes.  (Yes, I'm actually not wearing yoga pants LOL)

I am creating… my garden. I have been putting out transplants, and planting spinach seeds, beet seeds, pea seeds, and um, I don't remember what else? LOL My perennial herbs look really good.  I was surprised, actually, that they did so well.  And one less thing to have to plant this year!

I am going… by bicycle more lately.  I try to, at the very least, bike with Jelly Bean to and from swim team practice. 

I am reading… EcoMind.  I'm not very far into it, but so far, I like it.

I am hoping… that the garden does well this year.  Every spring, I hope that the garden does well.  :) Most years, it does. 

I am hearing… wind and birds chirping.  We have lots of birds in our yard and at the feeder.  I love sitting at the laptop at the kitchen table and watching them.

Around the house… Still working on rearranging furniture.  I really wish that we had a little more money available right now so we could finish off the living room.  But I will try and be patient.  We have it budgeted for in a couple months.  I just want it, like this afternoon.

One of my favorite things… shopping at the garden center. I love wandering around and looking at the different plants and seeds and compost.  Yes, I'm just that weird! I compare compost prices!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Aww, that made me smile!

I've been very busy teaching this week - first I taught four workshops out at the local community college - Monday was Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, Tuesday was Starting Seeds, Wednesday was Energy Efficiency, and Thursday was Green Transportion. 

At the end, the director of the Green Institute, the one who had hired me to do the workshops, asked me to also do a mini-session on Preserving Food and Soapmaking (in preparation for the classes I'll be teaching for community ed in the fall.) I said Sure, I'd love too.  She said that "It is nice to see someone who is so passionate and is willing to share it!"

And that made me smile.

And then tonight, Friday, I had my monthly Simply Living In The City class, and today's class was on breadmaking.  I demonstrated no-knead bread, traditional bread, and brown rice bread, and then we tested it, and then we chatted.  It was great fun.

Afterwards, one of the people from the class sent me a message.  She said "We had a great time tonight. Thank you so much for sharing your passion."

And that made me smile. 

I AM passionate about simply living, but I think that I'm more passionate about teaching.  Teaching really brings me joy.  I've been happiest in my career for the longest when I was teaching people how to do something.  And not because I'm all that and a bag of chips because I'm not.  I'm just me, and I just do things because they make me happy, but it also makes me happy to teach others about doing those things. 

And when I'm happy, I smile. :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Well, here it is already the middle of April -

and I've only done one blog post in April! As usual, it is mostly because I've been so busy! It has been very interesting that I closed Montgomery Academy on March 2nd, and I thought that I would find myself a little bored since, at the time, I didn't have that much scheduled to do during the day.  

Uh, I have not been bored. 

In fact, I've said on more than one occasion in the past six weeks that it was probably a good thing that I quit when I did because I can't imagine doing all the things that I've done lately AND done Montgomery Academy. 

And I'll be honest, it has also been nice to know that if I was sick on a Monday or a Thursday or whatever, I could, GASP!, be sick and stay in bed all day if I needed to.  Ironically, I haven't actually been that sick on a week day, but I sort of like knowing that if I, or my kids are sick, it isn't going to affect me and 4-5 other families. 

The last two weeks, we've also been catching up on eye doctor and dentist appointments.  It was always a major production when I or the kids needed to go to appointments because I would have to take the daycare kids with me, and so I've been trying to get all of those things caught up.  So far, Flower, Jelly Bean, and I have been to the eye doctor (my prescription is actually too strong, so I need to get new glasses, and Flower and Jelly Bean both need glasses, but with just minor correction.) Super goes on Friday.  All four of us go to the dentist tomorrow.  Then I'll try and tackle doctor appointments during the last week of April.  I only need to make doctor appointments for 3 out of the 5 of us - myself, Flower and Super.

I just finished up a part-time writing job last week, and I'm hoping to start another part-time training job in the next couple of weeks.  I'm teaching one hour workshops this week out at the community college for Earth Week and that has been great fun! I'm teaching workshops on Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, Seed Starting, Energy Efficiency, and Green Transportation.  I've also got a breadmaking class coming up on this Friday for Simply Living In The City. 

And those kids of mine are busy, busy.  Flower is in a couple school clubs - drama club and a scholastic bowl-type of club, and Jelly Bean and Super are both practicing once or twice a week for the school talent show that is coming up in mid May.  Jelly Bean is also in competitive swimming and is at practice for 2 hours 4-5 times a week.  I'm looking forward to summer and being able to relax a little bit.  We will have swimming, of course, but we should have a lot of down time during the day. 

And Mr. Simple just finished a whole house paint job a week or so ago, and is booked solid for April and most of May and just booked a job today for June! He has also done the radio broadcasts most weekends since January for the local pro basketball league (they won the league championships on Saturday!) and also does the local arena football broadcasts most weekends from March until July, so his weekends generally are full too!

We got our new appliances, but we haven't made much other progress around the house because Mr. Simple and I have been so busy doing other things.  But hopefully by mid June, we can get going again. 

I still can't believe that it is already mid April, and in six weeks, it will be June!  When they say time goes by much faster as you get older, wow, they aren't kidding!!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter!

Well, it is time for the annual Easter photos.  My children are being so disobedient by continuing to grow up despite my repeatedly telling them to stop! And I know that I'm biased but I think my children are quite cute! If you disagree, please keep it to yourself.  (Now, if you want to agree, feel free to fill the comment box with those type of comments! :) )

And I'm sorry about the photo quality.  We got a new camera at Christmas time to replace our old (at least 5 years old one that was temperamental, but took good quality pictures when it worked, plus big and clunky) one.  The new one is, uh, new and much smaller, but the photo quality leaves much to be desired.  We will eventually replace it, but for the near future, it will have to do. 

In the back.  I take pictures here every year at Easter and when there is lots of snow! We planted the tulips last fall.  They are so cheery!
The kids and Grandma S.  It was really bright outside, so everybody is a little squinty.
Flower by the tree in the front.  (The dress, of course, thrifted.  $2.50.)
Jelly Bean.  Can you tell she swims year round? (Her dress was bought new, but was on clearance for $15!)
Super.  (Wearing his outfit from last year.  Yes, he is missing his two front teeth.  Yes, that is grass stain on his knee.  LOL)
All three of them. 
A more typical pose for Super. 
Peace out!