Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Christmas Tradition

We buy real trees.  Always have.  In many ways, it's completely ridiculous, not to mention messy.  For a logical list of reasons why, you can check here.   But the "real" reason is just because I love it.  One of my favorite Christmas activities has always been heading out into the forest (actually a "choose and cut" farm, we're not that rustic), picking our tree, and sawing the thing down.

When I was a child, my dad and I would go in his completely-restored, green 1954 Chevrolet pickup truck.  I loved feeling once a year like I was in a Norman Rockwell painting.  Now we just take Hubby's regular old truck, but it's still a fun family activity.

So last weekend, we headed to Goddard Tree Farm to find our tree and bring it home.  It's a good thing last year's hats and mittens still fit because it was cold outside.  We saw a few "Charlie Brown trees" and a few "monster tall" trees.  The kids chased each other around and around the trees while Hubby and I haggled over size and shape.  You see, he's concerned with things like "How heavy is this thing?  How straight is the trunk?  Living room or dining room?" and so on while I just want the "perfect" tree.  Finally we settled on the right one to bring home and sawed him down.  My son seems to have acquired the innate need all men have to stand and observe other men doing work.  Sigh...  My daughter was right there hitching up her sleeves to help a guy out though.  Push, sister!

Once the tree was hauled home, it turns out that he was too big for our dining room, a good spot for the kids because they tend to leave it alone there.  Soooo, we set him up right in the living room and hoped for the best.  So far, the "best" is a semi-permanent ornament triage in which Hubby the super glue ninja must repair 2-3 ornaments a day!  Praying for my own sanity to get me through the next month.

Merry Christmas from my crazy to yours!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mini-Vacay and a Museum

Whew, it has been a busy time in Mommy-land lately!  I just haven't had the time or really the "inspiration" to blog as much.  You know this time of year: trying to choose cards, gifts, decorations, all while cooking some pretty substantial holiday dinners and traveling to see as many relatives as possible and teaching children about the "real" meaning of the holidays, and making sure you are stocked up on guest dish soap.  It's enough to give a girl heartburn!  Anyway, I'm making an attempt to "catch up."

One of the great things my family did over the Thanksgiving break was to go see my sis and her family in Texas.  She is a science teacher and knows all of the great fun and educational kids things to do.  Really, I should just make her write this silly blog but her "to do" list is as long as mine + a full-time job.  So, you're stuck with me.  On this trip she took us to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.   This place is "shut the front door" Amazing!  In my area we have a spectacular natural history museum and a spectacular science museum.  This museum was like BOTH of those crammed into one with the addition of amazing architecture, an IMAX and about 100 other super cool things.  Seriously, you could spend an entire day there.

 One of the highlights was a short "movie" about the history of Texas from the beginning of time to present day, complete with 3D "spitting" dinosaurs and interactive seats that make you feel like you are in a time machine ride thorough history.  Warning, not exactly for the faint of heart!  I'll admit that I actually squealed when a giant, realistic T-Rex literally roared into our faces.  My 4 year-old loved it!  Crazy girl.


Next up, we headed to the gift shop.  They had a great and unique selection of creative and educational gifts, not to mention a giant dinosaur slide made entirely from recycled materials.  My daughter could have spent the entire visit just on the slide!

This museum also has lots of great outside art, sculpture, and activities.  I cannot wait to go visit in warmer weather.  Mr. T-Rex greeted us at the door, then we headed off to conduct some experiments.  Centrifugal force?  Aerodynamics?  Weather?  Careers?  You name it and you can learn about it here in a huge amount of fun and creative activities.  My daughter just about flipped when she "flew" her paper balloon in the wind tube.  We had so much fun in this area that we never even made it to the second floor.   Like Arnold said "We will be back!"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not Yo' Mama's Tuna Casserole!

Okay, I admit it, I really like tuna casserole.  All that goopy cream of chicken soup and noodles, covered with melty cheese.  Yum!  Healthy?  Not so much.  So, over the years I have given my casserole a little "tune up" to make it slightly more healthy but still cheesy gooey yummy.

1 can white albacore tuna in water, drained
1 can Healthy Request cream of chicken soup
1/4 C 1% milk
1/4 red onion or 1 shallot, finely chopped  (This tiny bit of raw onion adds a huge amount of flavor!)
2-3 large carrots, peeled and cubed
1 C frozen peas
1/2 bag No Yolks egg noodles
Black pepper and Herbs de Provence, to taste
Fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 C good-quality medium or sharp cheddar cheese

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cook noodles and carrots together until noodles are al dente (slightly undercooked).  Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, flake tuna into a casserole dish.  Add soup, milk, onions, peas, and herbs, stir.  Carefully combine noodles and carrots with soup mixture.  Top with cheese and more parsley if you like.  Cook at 375 for 20-30 minutes.  May I suggest a nice pinot grigio for this lovely fancy meal?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just Us Grown-Ups

Hubby and I, B.C. (before children) had a pretty good hobby visiting local wineries.  If you don't live in Oklahoma, you probably didn't know it but we have a pretty great climate for grape growing and a nice selection of wineries all over the state.  Here is a site with a little more information about wine producers in the state.  We have a couple of favorites and one happens to be just a few miles down the road from us.  So, when my mom unexpectedly showed up at our door over the weekend (she lives 100 miles away but these random pop-ins are not unusual) we decided to take her up on the offer of "couple time."

The fall leaves are beautiful here right now (it's like some sort of rainbow of promise after the crazy drought/heat wave/tornado/blizzard/earthquake kind of  year we've been having).  So off we went down a lovely country highway to Native Spirits Winery.  Beautiful fall leaves, warm and breezy air, the vines in the background, perfect!  We settled in and readied our palates for some lip-smacking yummy wine.  This winery offers a pretty large variety, you will see the usual players like chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, and reisling (they make one of my favorites).  In addition, they like to experiment with some more unusal fruit and grape blends.  This time, he had a merlot blended with blueberry flavor to create an interesting dessert type wine.  Sweet wines are just not my thing, but they do sell around here very well and he has several quite popular ones.  After some sipping and sampling we settled on a few of our favorites and headed back into the fall leaves.

Sweet and simple, but it's these little trips that seem to renew the spirit, in a world where you often refer to your husband as "Daddy" and not in a fun way!  It has taken me a little while to come out of the fog of babyhood (hey, I had two babies in less than two years) but I am starting to remember lots of the fun stuff Hubby and I used to do.  Today a wine tour, tomorrow maybe we'll make it back to the symphony!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pork Fried Rice

A while back I bought a 1 lb pork loin from the Oklahoma Food Coop.  Since then it has been hanging out in the freezer waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.  It was too small for a roast, and that's pretty much my "go too" pork recipe.  So, finally I got the idea of doing a fried rice.  I'm not a big fan of rice but the hubby is so I try to accommodate him once or twice a year.  I also had some leeks (I really don't remember why) so I made pork fried rice with leeks and carrots.  Here goes:

3/4-1lb pork lion (1 small tenderloin or a couple of thick-cut pork chops would probably do)
2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
1 leek, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch ginger, minced
2-3T canola oil with 1T Sesame Oil
2 eggs
Splash of milk
1T butter
2 cups Minute brown rice, cooked according to package directions
Soy sauce to taste
1 C frozen peas

Fill a large bowl with water and add sliced leeks.  Separate them with your fingers and let soak in the water to rinse grit off of the leek.  Fish out the leeks and pat them dry on a kitchen towel.
Trim extra fat off of pork loin and slice paper thin.  Pre-heat a large skillet or wok with oil (both canola and sesame) to high.  Add pork and cook 1-2 minutes on each side until lightly browned.  Remove from heat and add veggies, minus garlic and ginger.  Cook veggies  until tender crisp, then add garlic and ginger (you can also add some hot peppers if you want).  Toss and cook for another minute or two.

While veggies are cooking, whisk eggs with milk and pre-heat a small skillet with 1T butter.  Add eggs and cook, stirring, until scrambled.  Remove from heat and set aside.

To veggies, add pork, rice, and soy sauce to taste.  Stir and toss in eggs and peas.  Check taste and add more soy sauce if needed.  Top with sesame seeds if desired.  Use some chopsticks if you are that talented, I'm not.  Sushi and big chunks are fine, but rice, I just don't know how people do that!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Free For All!

I like a good discount.  Probably a little too much, but let's not go there.  A few months ago, I stumbled upon a "free sample a day" site and have been hooked ever since.  Recently, when my free lovely makeup bag FULL of beauty samples arrived in the mail, I just about hooted with joy.  Here is a small example of some of the free stuff I have received in the mail or various other spots over the last few weeks.  Yes, like I said, it's a little bit of a sickness.  Anyway, for this rainy cold weather, I thought I would share some of the "free stuff" love and some of the sites that I really like.  This is a great one!  You literally get an email every single day with a list of free stuff that you can sign up for.  Some of them are a little strange, or require a complicated series of rebates, coupons, or trips to particular stores.  Many of them though are just "fill out your name and address and get some free stuff."  Here is a list of some of the free things that I have received through this site:  Full-sized Origins facial wash, peanut butter, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, magazines, various toiletries, socks, the list could go on.  This is one of those flash sale type sites.  The real trick though is that they give you $10 just for signing up.  That means, that if you buy a deal that is $10 or less, than it's free.  I recently bought a pair of $30 earrings for $7.  With my extra $10, that means it was free with $3 left over!

Freebies 4 Mom:  This site collects and notifies you of daily free or discounted stuff.  Some of my favorites here are free apps or e-books.  If you "like" them on Facebook you can get little "status updates" when there is stuff available.

Thriftme:  This one I like because they list discounts and deals by store.  So, if you want to know what's super cheap at the Tarjay this week, you can find it here.

Speaking of Target, they have pretty great coupons on their website.  And, you can combine their coupons with manufacturer coupons for even deeper discounts.  Also, a lot of toiletries often come with a "buy X amount, get a $5 gift card.  When you combine with the coupon deals, it can end up working out to pretty much free for 4 deodorants/shampoos/toothpastes, whatever.  This is how Hubby ended up with about a 5 year supply of deodorant.

For those of you rolling your eyes and thinking that I'm crazy right now, well, you're right.  However, you really can get some good deals and fun stuff out there for not a lot of work.  As for coupons, I'm not an advocate of buying a ton of stuff that you really don't need.  But, if it is a grooming product or a non-perishable food item and it is free or nearly so, then buy it!  If you don't want it then donate it.  The Hugs Project is a great one for men's toiletries (they send them to soldiers).  Right now my daughter's pre-school class is collecting toiletries for a local shelter.  So, I cleared out a whole lot of those extra shampoos, deodorant, etc.  Now maybe Hubby won't completely ridicule me when I come home with more deodorant!  By the way, I even managed to score a small "stocking stuffer" for Hubby for, you guessed it, free!!!  Shhhh...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

I'm a bit behind on my book reviews, so you may see a few of these in a row!

This was my October book club pick at the library.  It was unlike anything that I was expecting.  It is the story of Trond Sander and one desperate, enlightening, fantastic, coming-of-age summer in a cabin on a river with his dad.

As the story begins, an aging Trond has moved to a small cabin in a rural Norwegian village.  His goal is to live his last years in peace and isolation.  However, the cabin, its surroundings, and the inhabitants of the village bring back strong memories of his last summer with his father.  The story flows back and forth between the 67 year-old hermit-like Trond and the 15 year-old boy who was fascinated with his enigmatic father and the secrets that defined him.  Over the course of one summer, life changes dramatically for Trond.  It is this summer that becomes the dividing point between child and man and it is this summer in which Trond seems to be forever trapped.

This is not an action-packed, page turner type book.  It is densely written and contemplative.  I did find it very interesting, at times amusing and at times sorrowful.  The setting and imagery are beautifully told and it relates a little-known aspect of World War II history.  Sometime in the upcoming winter, when the wind is howling and a fire is burning, curl up with a cup of tea and head to Norway to go "out stealing horses."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thankful Turkey...or As Crafty as I Get!

This year a friend gave me a great idea: make a turkey craft where you write things you are thankful for on the feathers.  What an awesome lesson in a house where we often have to discuss gratitude and graciousness!  My friend found a turkey template on the Internet.  Done!  Then she had her kids decorate him.  Done!  Then she "free-handed" some really great looking feathers for the kiddos to write all the things that they were thankful for.  Um...roadblock!  I'm a terrible artist and even worse with scissors.  Once my daughter asked me to draw Santa Claus and when I was finished she said "Mommy, why did you draw a dog?"  I blame it on being a "lefty."  But, I can trace and cut along the lines, so we made turkey feather hands.  This actually turned out to be pretty cool.

I traced each family member's hands and then we had forty "feathers" for us to write on.  Plus, it will be a nice keepsake of the kids' hands when they were ensy wensy little kiddos.  Sorry, had to throw that in!  So, here's what you need:

1 turkey template (or draw one if you are that skilled)
Crayons or markers for coloring and writing
Fall-colored construction or craft paper
1 pencil
Glue stick

Trace hands on construction paper and cut out.  Have each person write 10 things that they are thankful for on their finger/feathers.  My son was thankful for the dog that bit him, motorcycles, trains, God and Jesus, about in that order.  He was not thankful for his sister, no matter how many times I suggested it.

Glue hands to the back of the turkey.  It helps to start at the top with the smaller hands and fan out with the larger hands.  Tape finished product to coveted spot on refrigerator and admire its loveliness.

Not bad, right?  The kids had fun making it and I thought it was a good way to introduce the "real" concept of Thanksgiving to pre-schoolers.  Incidentally, if you are looking for a slightly more grown-up craft, check out this awesome fall wreath!  It looks so cute and simple that I'm actually considering giving it a shot.  Maybe...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

You Say Cold Front, I Say Pot Roast!

What's more comforting than a big pot of roast with veggies and gravy?  Yesterday a cold front hit and all I could think was "it's time for pot roast!"  This is basically my mom's pot roast that I grew up with, with the exception of the mushrooms.  I love mushrooms and will pretty much sneak them into any dish!  Here goes:

1 2-3lb chuck roast
4-6 T all-purpose flour
1t Paprika
1t dried Oregano
1T Black Pepper

Heat a large cast-iron skillet to high heat with 2-3T extra virgin olive oil.  Trim roast of any extra fat or connective tissue.  Mix flour and seasonings together in a bowl and rub all over the meat.  It's nice to have an extra helper to stir and sample the raw flour!  Add meat into skillet and cook several minutes on both sides (turning only once) to sear the meat and form a nice crust.  This will add extra flavor to the roast and the flour will help thicken the gravy.

While roast is searing, add liquids to the slow cooker:
2 C beef broth (or 1 packet concentrated beef stock w/ 2 C water...I had a coupon)
1 can Healthy Request cream of mushroom soup
1 bay leaf
Turn slow cooker on high so that liquids can start heating.  You don't want to add a hot roast to a cold soup.  And don't judge on the "well-loved" crust of my slow cooker, she and I have been though a lot together!

Now you are ready to introduce Mr. Roast to his hot tub.  Toss that guy in and cook on high for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Then, turn the cooker to low and add the veggies:

1 medium onion, chopped
2 russet potatoes (I like to "roughly" peel these)
3-4 medium to large carrots

4-6 oz white mushrooms, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh rosemary

I like to large chop the veggies so that there are big, recognizable pieces in the roast.  Cook with veggies on low for 4-5 hours or until everything is tender.  Then add 1 T cornstarch to a splash of water in a small bowl.  Stir to mix into a "slurry" and add to roast.  This will help the juices thicken into a nice gravy.  Cook for another minute or two then turn heat off and serve.  Mmm....hearty and delicious!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coming out of the maid's closet

I like to clean.  A lot.  It soothes me and (I'll admit it) makes me feel in control.  You could probably judge my inner stress level by how spotlessly vacuumed my vegetable crisper is.  Other people do that right?  Here's an example of a recent conversation with Hubby:

Me:  "Stop wasting all of the good dish soap!"
Him:  "Isn't that what the soap is for?"
Me: "No, I just bought fresh clean dish soap for when people come over tomorrow.  That is the "guest" dish soap."
Him: "Are the guest going to be washing dishes?"
Me: "No.   I just like for the soap to be full and pretty when we have guests, not nearly empty and smudgey."
Him: "Why not just put the soap under the sink?  Why does it have to be on display at all?  Are you really going to be doing the dishes while the guests are here?"

At this point I begin to feel like I am in a comic strip.  I mean, what does the man not get about guest dish soap??? 

So basically what I am saying is that I have a relentless need to organize, sanitize, and catergorize my surroundings.  It's why I work in a library.  There are people here who understand me.  They would totally get the guest dish soap.

I share this with you because I think it is important to admit that we all have weird hang-ups.  Plus, I don't have anything more interesting to say!