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!