Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Fantastic Day in the Not-So-Windy City

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the ones... The ones that you wish wouldn't end, save for the fact that you are itchin' to go kiss some very specific cheeks and dish out that oh-so-typical request,"Tell me something cute that the kids did!"

We had planned to head to Chicago for the day, but late the night before, we chickened out. Well, we lazied out. We cheap-skated the idea right out of our minds. No, it wasn't a unanimous decision, but Keisha was company, so she didn't really have any buying power.

You might be thinking, "Shouldn't company get to decide?"

Not around these parts.

Hey - wanna come over sometime??

So, we started our day at the beloved South Bend Farmers' Market.

It had been way, way too long. I missed her saurkrautey smell that rounds the corner to earthy, dusty spices. Her unyielding Wintertime optimism made me walk a little taller -- pretty soon, all of the tables will be filled and I'll need not one, but two tote bags to haul out my loot.

If such a thing exists that is capable of injecting culinary courage into the very heart of a girl, it's got to be a good Farmers' Market.

Find thou a market. Braise your creativity in the curiosity you'll discover precisely between the dusty books, the homemade salsa, the hand-kneaded, herb flecked pizza dough. The beets.

As my bag grew heavier, I resolved to go much more often.

Then, it was time for lunch.

Gyros, baby.
Feta, scooped out ice-cream style.

Next, we thrifted.
I never knew how badly I yearn to bake miniature pies.

I gave a good home to some orphaned pillow cases - so soft, with seams slightly askew.

Here's how you know your best friend rocks the world sideways: She lets you go to her apartment and take a nap on her couch. She gives you a swoony pillow and a cozy blaket and she closes the drapes. And then she asks you not to wake her up.

You sleep, with the tiniest grin on your face.

And you wake up and text your Honey and read a book until she straggles out, with bed-head to match your own. You snicker about this and that. You wish Beth were still with you, although she probably wouldn't appreciate the nap thing. You wonder how your sister could possibly still be shopping and why on earth did she pick shopping over a nap?

Then, sister returns and it's nearly 8 pm and you realize that you're hungry.

They aren't, but you are. And you know, you still have that buying power from before.

So, of course, you end up here.

And, as always, the last thing you remember to do, after all of the hours of laughing and sleeping and eating, is capture your very (happy) selves.

I may never Chicago again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Words to Live By

 Kind words are like honey -
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
  Proverbs 16:24

I read this verse months ago and I still think about it almost every day. It is truth - pure and sugary. If only I would put this into practice, all the time.

I think that is a worthy goal.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lend Me Your Ears

Grocery lists? Who needs 'em.

A wreath made of paperback hearts? Huh?

Tonight, I'm all about dispensing information that is truly useful in our everyday lives.

I'm all about being relevant and applicable.

Here, in no particular order, are the cds that any true music aficionado (such as myself) should have in his/her library.

My 10 favorite albums of all time:
Counting Crows - August and Everything After
Cory took me to see them in concert on our first Valentine's Day together. I've been hooked on them (and him) ever since.
Dixie Chicks - Wide Open Spaces
They had the magic, baby. It's a crying shame...
Kelly Clarkson - Break Away
The girl's got pipes and she defies convention quite well.
Willie Nelson - The Great Divide
That tinny voice. Those pigtails.
Nichole Nordeman - Brave
She is a true lyricist. I hear something new every time.
Missy Higgins - On A Clear Night
A new addition, but her edge works well with the rest of my list.
Alison Krauss - Forget About It
Cory's music crush. (And we have reason to believe that she'sa little nutty, but her voice is other-worldly.)
Freedy Johnston - This Perfect World
Quirky is as quirky does.
White Heart - Freedom
The album of my youth. I resolved to marry a bassist in a (Christian) rock band.
Out of the Grey - Self-titled
I hear this album and I'm 15 again. In a good way.

So, what do you think? I'm nothing if not well-rounded/outdated.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Valentine Book Wreath

I made a book wreath for Christmas and it was my favorite decoration of the season.

I loved it so much, that I refused to take it down.

I mean, books aren't seasonal, right? Reading is a year-round maybe a book wreath could be a year-round lovely!

Except I knew it was really a Christmas wreath. It was starting to make me feel a little Crazy Christmas Lady.

And I may be crazy, but I'm no Christmas Lady.

Late Sunday night, inspiration struck. I envisioned a new kind of book wreath that could safely carry me through another month.

So, I pulled another dusty paperback off the shelf and set to work.

I punched.

And I punched.

Then I cut some pages length-wise and wrapped the strips around my Styrofoam wreath, hot-gluing them into place on the back side.

Voila. The wreath was ready to get swoony.

I folded the hearts in half, for added dimension and texture, then I started hot gluing them individually around the outside perimeter of the wreath. I was careful to mix up the direction of the hearts and to overlap them occasionally.

After the entire outside edge was covered, I glued a layer directly beneath that, then one more beneath that.

I then went back and filled in any sparse areas and added some extra dimension where it was needed.

A yard of bright red grosgrain ribbon won the audition for "hanger". It beat out a wide burlap band edged in red, as well as a hot pink ribbon top-stitched with white.

The red proved to be the perfect foil for the black and white. He was the clear underdog, since I'm somewhat adverse to red.

But I'm always up for a good Cinderella story.

It was a perfectly Valentinian combo.

We celebrated with a late-night, shadowy photo-shoot, because we were much too excited to wait for adequate light.

A seasonal book wreath adorns my door once again. All is right in the world....until March.

*I'm linking this post to DIY Day at A Soft Place to Land, Metamorphosis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch and Craftaholics Anonymous.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Grocery Store Confessional - 4th ed.

Friends, we've reached a new low tonight. What I'm about to share with you will surely be the most stale...the most wearisome post ever written in the history of the blog.

Ain't no joke.

It pains me, just a little, to share what I'm about to share.

Naw, that's an overstatement. And you know me, I'm no fan of the exaggeration.

Let's try again...It causes me a slight ache, a teeny tiny crick of discomfort to present to you:

This Week's Grocery List, ad nauseum.

But first, a disclaimer and a plea for mercy: I'm sorry, friends. I just don't see any way around it. As much as it baffles me that anyone might care to see the contents of my shopping cart, I have fielded numerous inquiries as to the status of my weekly grocery bill. I'm not sure how else to explain myself, so I'm going all-in. I promise, I will never, ever do this again. I promise, I am not purposely taking advantage of your willingness to put up with my scattered, overly-verbose self. I promise, after today, you may wish we had never met. But I implore you - give me another chance! For tomorrow is a new day.


Take 2.

This Week's Grocery List, ad nauseum:

Hold on, maybe it would make sense if I started with my menu for the week.

Today: Left-overs from the weekend
Tuesday: The spaghetti and marinara that I've somehow still never made
Wednesday: Pasta Primavera with Chicken
Thursday: Orange Chicken with Rice and Veggies
Friday: Sub sandwiches with Oven roasted potato wedges
Saturday: Lunch - Chicken Pasta Salad, Dinner - Frozen Pizza (Mama's going out, yo.)
Sunday: Lunch - Left-overs, Dinner at the 'rents

So you see, we are left-over loving people. We rarely throw food out. We eat it. Last week, I thought I might never see the end of that Swoony soup. It lingered. And we loved every bowl. Embrace the left-over, good people! It will save you cash.

Now, without further ado, This Week's Grocery List, Ad Nauseum:

Dented Can
Pepperidge Farms english muffins - $0.99
Large box of Corn Chex - $1.50
2 cans of Campbells Tomato Soup - $1.00
Granola Bars - $1.25
Motts no sugar added mixed berry applesauce - $1.49
Whipping cream - $1.35
Large box of couscous - $2.89
Jello instant pudding (box) - $0.65
Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail (smallish bottle) - $0.99
Total: $12.11

3 kiwi fruit - $1.00
1 bunch green onions - $0.50
1 lb. fresh asparagus - $3.08
Sugar snap peas - $1.99
Vine ripened tomato - $0.63
Vidalia onion - $0.71
Red seedless grapes - $2.49
Pint of grape tomatoes - $3.49
Broccoli - $1.50
5 lbs. potatoes - $1.50
Jar of banana peppers - $1.69
New York garlic breadsticks - $1.39 ($1 off coupon)
Cookie Crisp cereal - $2.75
Sour cream - $0.99
Cavatappi pasta - $0.50
Rigatoni pasta - $0.50
Meijer butter braid pretzels - $1.35
Dannon All Natural vanilla yogurt (the big tub) - $1.39 ($0.75 off coupon)
Lays Salt and Vinegar potato chips - $2.69
Meijer soft crust frozen pepperoni pizza - $3.29
Mini sub buns - $2.00
5 count chicken breasts stuffed with cheese and broccoli - $4.99
2 boxes of Meijer tissues - $2.00
Meijer Ultra strength fruit-flavored antacids (large bottle) (for Mr. FPFG) - $2.00
Meijer brand Rest Simply (for FPFG) - $3.39
Total with tax: $48.33
Grand Total for both stores: $60.44

Important note #1 - Clearly, this household is not all healthy, all the time. Just in case there was any question about that. Cookie Crisp and Salt & Vinegar chips - Manna from heaven?

Important note #2 - Between these two lists, I have everything I need to make our meals for this week. I also have some on-sale extras, like the stuffed chicken and couscous, which will probably be used next week.

Important note #3 - Breakfast at our house usually isn't a big affair. We typically have english muffins, instant oatmeal or cold cereal.

Important note #4 - Lunch is typically something easy for the kids and I, like grilled cheese sandwiches, PB&J, fresh produce and/or...left-overs!

Tell me, are your eyes glazed over?

Do you wish I would stuff a sock in it?

I hope it helps explain a few things. I'm no expert here. I don't really coupon. I know many people who do far better than this. I am not organic, per se. I am not opposed to using store brand stuff (for most things), nor am I afraid of a dented can or jacked up box.

I am happy to say, that barring any unforeseen food emergencies, I have successfully fed this family for $350 this month, which included two dinners out. (This budget also includes necessary toiletries, medicine, paper products, etc...)

I am convinced that a big part of staying within the budget is really locking it into my brain that I have to.

This is the other thing that really helps:

No, I do not use this to house my 2 measly coupons.

This, folks, is my billfold. My pocketbook. My jack. My dough.

Every month, I put $$ in each of these envelopes and it has to last me the entire month. Try it, just for a month. It will change the way you spend your money.

Don't you love how I just keep talking, as if anyone is even still listening?

Forgive me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Garden Dreaming

I've spent a good part of my day garden dreaming.

Maybe it's that pesky Mother Nature, trying to trick me into believing that Spring is just around the bend with our 50 degree temps today.

Maybe it's because I'm taking on that perpetually house-bound feeling...the feeling that I shall never again feel grass beneath my toes. The feeling that my skin will never lose its late-January pallor. The feeling that my fingernails are destined to remain forever clean.

Most likely, it's because I recently saw It's Complicated and fell in love with her house, yes, but mostly with her garden.
Click here to find out more!


That garden renewed my belief that heirloom tomatoes can and will grow prolifically on my vines this year. (Nevermind the fact that a newspaper article spilled the beans that they actually wired spotless, perfectly ripened beauties to the vine. God bless Hollywood.)

That garden, so intoxicatingly, achingly lush and orderly and vibrant, made me believe that with the right basket in my hand, my garden will fall right into line around me.

At first I thought I needed to find the sun hat, too, then I remembered that I already have a sun hat. And it was a birthday gift from Anthro, so it's got to be right.

Here's a shot of my garden from last year, its inaugural year:

Here are the additions I'm envisioning:

Pyramid Trellis White

Seriously, if I were Meryl Streep, I would have only signed on to this movie under the condition that I could move into the house and spend the rest of my days tending to the garden. (I would have had the basket written into the contract, too, naturally. And maybe Jack Donaghy?)

I found this fantastic bent-wood edging on a plantation tour in Charleston last Spring and I fell in love.
I'm thinking this inexpensive, white wire edging would look perfectly farm-cottage lining each of our raised beds.

And what farm would be complete without a miniature windmill?

I'm also envisioning an entire box dedicated to a cutting garden. Swoon!

Oh, and worm-free tomatoes.

Come on, May! I'm itching to get my hands on you.

PS - Swoony Corn and Potato chowder recipe is now posted here (at the bottom of the post). I implore all of you to try it. Even little people love it.

Advanced Style

A friend of mine recently introduced me to this fantastic/inspiring/endearing blog - Advanced Style.

From the pen of the blogger, herself, "I roam the streets looking for New York's most stylish and creative older folks. Respect your elders and let these ladies and gents teach you a thing or two about living life to the fullest."

I haven't had the time to dig around too deeply, but my favorite so far is Mary.

Happy Sunday to all and Enjoy!

Friday, January 22, 2010

(Courtesy of Flickr)

I have never been what anyone would call a Dude Magnet. (Wait a second, does anyone call anyone a Dude Magnet?) Here's what I will say: Small, woodland creatures find me positively irresistible.

You don't believe me?

Well, not every common farmgirl can say that she has risen from a mid-day nap only to find a mouse resting on her clavicle.

It happened several years ago, in my childhood bedroom. We were home for Christmas and I found myself in need of a moment of solitude and rest.

Buried under a pile of blankets (no heat upstairs), I happily drifted off...

Only I kept having that annoying dream/reality that a fly was brushing against my face. It didn't make sense to my quasi-aware self because... it was December.

The dream/reality continued up until the smack-dab moment that my beady, brown eyes snapped open and locked with the beady, brown peepers of a wee, grey mouse. He darted down the length of the bed and returned from whence he came.

Yes, I shrieked.

There was really no other option, even for a non-shrieker such as myself.

I woke the neighborhood (i.e. my sleeping nephew).

It was, the whole experience. I had survived 15 years of my life in that very room without so much as a rodent wave. At least, not that I was ever aware of... And I worried about it, I did. Each time, my Dad would scoff at my ridiculocity (yep) and give me that tired line, "Those mice are more afraid of you than you are of them."

Mmmm hmmm.

I don't believe that I'll ever fully comprehend the invisible force that draws nocturnal furries to me in broad daylight. I wish I could say this incident was the first and only, but that just wouldn't be the truth.

Moral of the story: Mice can climb sheets.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Huddle Up

I'll just come right out with it: I'm fighting a losing battle against clutter around here. And the odds are especially stacked against me this go-round, because I just don't give a ding-dong drat about it.

The kitchen is as clean as a P. Diddy's shoes, but the room I'm in right now?

Well, it might be more comparable to my fuzzy, grey house slippers. They're lived-in. They're comfortable. They're not dirty, but I wouldn't exactly serve you a veggie pita on them.

We're spending all of our time in this room. It's too cold upstairs, too cold even in my room. (Raise your hand if only half your house is heated!) I might as well be Ma Ingalls, hunkered down, tending to my children in our one-room cabin.

We're like three hapless marbles rolling around in here. But we're rolling together and we're rolling happily.

This afternoon I found an old issue of ME's Home Campanion and Ruby was finally introduced to paper dolls.

We ate Cheez-Its together, right on the couch.

We read The Little Fur Family -- such a random, little book.

Calvin spent an inordinate amount of time creating this. And although I'm sure it's obvious to everyone, I'll go ahead and tell you - it's a paper airplane-turned UFO stapled to a galaxy (that's Pluto, way up in the left corner), with one of his recent novels stapled over that, for good measure.

While I heated up some left-over Corn and Potato Chowder, Ruby channeled a Persian heiress.

And Calvin followed me from the fridge, to the microwave, to the sink, asking questions with his sick little voice and sniffling his raw little nose.

He's still got the bug. But not to worry, I called the doc today and ordered a refill of sprinkles, so we should be all set by the weekend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Eats and a Rant

Well, Hallelujah, I made the pizza.

Those poor artichokes were starting to think their days were numbered.

It was very, very good.

I just love artichoke hearts, don't you?

You're not allowed to answer that unless you have actually tried them before.

And this had better not turn into another Beet Ordeal, or I'll have to personally hitch up my buggy and drive around to each and every one of your homes until you adequately impress upon me that you really, really don't like them.

Every person has to take just one bite. That's the rule around here.

Then again, you don't come here to be force-fed obscure vegetation now, do you?


Here's something we can surely all agree on...

Swoony Corn and Potato Chowder.

It's from Country Home magazine, R.I.P.

I tried to Google the recipe, but it seems it was hauled away in the very same cardboard box that still contains a sliver of my heart and soul.

I miss my magazines.

And I wonder, why didn't CH make it?

Truth be told, I have a hunch. It seemed to me that in their sunset years, they took on a certain air of pretension. They started to seem a bit upscale, to me. A bit stuffy. I'm of the opinion that anything with the word "country" in its title should be relatable to us common folk. (Except for maybe "country club", but what on earth would I know about that?)

I almost wrote them a letter about it. And maybe if I had....

Well, shoulda woulda coulda.

I suppose all we can do now is look forward and hope for the birth of some new glossies that feature regular homes, not just "weekend cottages".

While we wait, let's have dessert.

I present to you: Lemon Lush.

It's a total cheater dessert. You know the ones...they have ingredients like instant lemon pudding and Cool Whip. It's an old family recipe for me, but I found a link that comes pretty close. (I use 6 T of butter for the crust (cut butter into flour then add nuts), an extra half-cup of powdered sugar in the filling and topped mine with more nuts.)

If you like lemon as much as I do, you'll love this.

If not, well, you'd probably be wise at this point to just keep such information to yourself.

Swoony Corn and Potato Chowder
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 a cup)
1 T olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked, chopped bacon, if you have it on hand
2 regular sized cans whole-kernel corn, drained
2 regular sized cans creamed corn
4 cups 2% milk
2 regular sized cans chicken broth
1 cup whipping cream
3-4 dashes bottled hot sauce
4 cups cubed, skinned potatoes (I love Yukon Golds)
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced into thinnish discs
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste

Cook onion and celery in heated olive oil until veggies are softened. Add cooked bacon toward the end. (You could also omit the oil and cook the veggies along with the raw bacon, but I avoid cooking bacon at all costs and I can buy it inexpensively and pre-cooked at Grandma's Pantry. Not trying to brag here, but Amish country does have its perks.)

Add both kinds of corn, milk, broth, cream and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered for about 30 minutes.

Add potatoes and carrots. Return to a boil, reduce hit and simmer again, covered, for 15 minutes more, or until carrots and potatoes are softened.

In a small bowl, mix softened butter and flour, until smooth. Add flour mixture to soup. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, then cook another minute or so. Season with salt and pepper. (I usually leave my soup on "low" until we're ready to eat.)