Saturday, October 03, 2015

The beautiful crook neck squash and her cousins

I've been learning all kinds of interesting things in the kitchen this past year, but the biggest accomplishment is broadening my abilities in making meat stretch.  I regularly feeds all six of us with one pound of ground meat, which is a great relief to our budget and a good way to make our beef half last most of the year.  Most of the year.

The key is using the right kind of additions to make it virtually undetectable and my favorite vegetable to do this with is summer squash.  The humble zucchini. And his other favorite cousin, the lovely crook neck squash.

I remember a woman in years' past almost-squealing about her love for zucchini while expounding on her garden, how hard it was to wait for it every season.  I didn't quite understand it, as I hadn't explored zucchini much at that point, but man . . . now I get it.

I just used it this morning with sausage.  I salted two medium zucchini and let it sit a bit, squeezed out the water, added a pound of ground sausage with my own seasoning, grated a couple of apples in with it, and we had EIGHT sausage patties for breakfast instead of last weekend's six when I had used only the apple.

[Incidentally, I am also frying apples in the fat left from the sausage with a sprinkling of whole sugar and serving it with breakfast.  Oh. my. goodness.  Why haven't I done this before??]

The sausage patties were delicious, moist, and there was room for a second helping for hungry little tummies.  A win-win all around.

Another way I've been using summer squash the last two summers is in taco meat.

Taco Salad (called "Haystacks" in my family growing up) is everyone's favorite meal at our house.  As our children are growing older, I bumped into the stark reality that a pound of meat just won't be enough for this meal anymore . . . until I added the magic ingredient.

Zucchini-laden Taco Salad Meat
  • 1-2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4-6 medium summer squash, chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, etc.
:: Start with the onion - chop and add to the skillet with a dollop of lard
:: Then chop and add the zucchini in bite-sized pieces
:: When everything is melty and sweet, add the ground beef in good-sized pinches
:: Cook the meat with the vegetables, stirring and moving around the mixture until nicely browned
:: Add the seasonings and let cook, stirring now and then, until it looks right
:: Add the garlic and let cook another couple of minutes

It is delicious, I'm telling you.  It is also a great filling for stuffed peppers topped with red onion marmalade.

What makes zucchini so amazing is its ability to suck up all the flavors around it, which makes it perfect in meaty dishes.  It isn't bland, it is juicy and flavorful and meaty.  And fried zucchini?  After it has been salted and squeezed out?  Almost as amazing as hash browns.

We had SIX summer squash plants in the garden this summer and we have eaten or I have chopped (or shredded or sliced) and dried every last one.  So, it's official.  Zucchini is my second favorite vegetable, in a head-to-head competition with the amazing cabbage.

I'm already sad about missing it this winter.  No fresh zucchini??

Monday, September 28, 2015


I've been working in the kitchen this morning and putting together split pea soup.  The boys are right with me, playing peacefully with giant mounds of playdough at the kitchen table. 

Some of concepts they've tossed around --
  • The rainy season
  • Lakes drying up
  • People groups moving in and out
  • Top predators
  • Carcasses
It is so interesting to hear their schooling come out in their play.  I love that so much, seeing the fruit of my labor and the blossoming of their little minds.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Group shot

I love these pictures . . . the colors, all of us together, Blaine's beautiful hair, Truen's sweet face, Jamie and Eliah's little poses, Diego's quickly-disappearing little boy years.  My grandma took them with her iPad, so they're a little blurry.  But sweet nonetheless.

We were in Wisconsin last weekend to visit my grandparents, see my cousin's new baby, attend Blaine's grandpa's 100th birthday celebration, and spend time with my SIL and the cousins.  It was a 4-day weekend and very nice to spend time together away from the onslaught. We definitely enjoyed ourselves. 'Twas good.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Holding steady

My early, early mornings are continuing on track.  I am extremely motivated to keep this time of solitude in place and rise anywhere from 4:10 AM, which I've found to be too-too early, to 5:30 AM, which is not time enough.  Blaine is awake by 5:45 AM and I join him around six.

I have finally found my quiet time, space to think and plan.  It feels amazing.  I am centered, better organized, and feel like I have more of a grip on my life.

I am no longer niggled by the frantic feelings and ugly resentment when unable to find any down-time throughout the day.  I have my quiet. I hold in my heart throughout the day and look forward to it every night as I go to bed.  It feels amazing.

It seems like such an obvious solution that I'm not sure why it took me so long to get here. 

[Though I do remember pregnancies, night-time nursing, and more consistent quiet mornings than I've had in the last two years.] [And it is easy to forget that life is a journey.]

I've bumped into the early morning advice many times before, and now that I've made it a part of my life, I see it everywhere in the blogs I read.  So that's how she "does it all".  She gets up in the dark hours on the morning: reading, writing, crafting, exercise, whatever.  The day is fresh and the silence gives space.  Ah.

Finally. I've arrived.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Well before the crack of dawn

Oh my goodness, I don't think I even posted during the month of August.

That is life now.  It just is.

After stewing on it for a week or so, I've started getting up at 4:30-ish AM.  I didn't think I could do it, but I can and I am loving it.

I have spent my summer fairly miserable, completely burned out, unhappy, wondering what I am even doing.  After analyzing it for awhile, I realized that my need for solitude, the inability to gather my thoughts, plan, organize, and just sit quietly was leaving me at the breaking point.

I was honestly, truly unhappy.  Grim by midday.  Unable to get over feelings of anger and irritation.  Mad at my children for the unrelenting needs that burble forth, feeling like I can never, ever catch a break.  Feeling like there is no rest, ever.  It has been rough.

In addition, it has been a summer of amped up in-fighting amongst my crew.  I have taken to saying every morning after chores, "You have X amount of free time, unless it dissolves into fighting, screaming, and crying -- then free time is over and chores begin".  Sometimes they don't even make it five minutes, even when they are well aware of the consequences.  Misery.

Problems tend to crop up with "everyone but Truen".  He is rarely involved, except as a victim, which always results in him running to me in hysterics, screaming and crying.  Though . . . he did niggle Jamie last week beyond his ability to handle it . . . so he isn't just an innocent bystander.  And he is definitely a willing comrade in the play that amps up to a frenzied pitch.

But by and large, the fighting and inordinately rough play breaks out among the other three: the 10yo, 4yo, and 2yo.  Many times a day.

We are at a stage where I am unable to loosen my grip on the day, ever, at all, not even a bit, to keep any semblance of order.  If my attention is diverted for any length of time, great or small, from kitchen work to squeezing in a quick email, all hell breaks loose and half-naked boys are stampeding through the house or ripping a room apart in some frenzied battle play.  And it is extremely difficult to "get them back" after that.  Or piece together the day.

I am not exaggerating.  There are days, usually when Diego is intently focused in the Lego Room or outside examining bugs and their habitats, when their play is congenial and cohesive.  Otherwise, they are working together in a big boy-hurricane of flailing limbs and wrestle-mania into what I have taken to calling, "a frenzied pitch".  There is no other way to describe it.

But I wanted to talk about waking up at the crack of dawn.

This is Day Three.  I am not using an alarm (we still all sleep together in the same room), just telling myself every night as I go to sleep that I want to get up very, very early.  My goal is 4:30 AM.

I landed on this time with the realization that if I want an entire hour to myself in morning solitude (and I do, so very badly), that I truly need to get up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 AM.  Blaine is up by 5:45 AM and leaves for work by 6:30 AM.  We use this time to hang out and talk.  We work together to get his food ready for the day, relishing the ability to have true conversation without the jilted feelings of constant interruption.

So 4:30 it is.  What I've noticed is that I am feeling energized.  I am happier, more balanced, able to take on the day, with an ability for greater patience and a good attitude.  Getting up before the crack of dawn is not diminishing my abilities, not in the least: my cup is fuller and I feel happier and stronger.  It is noticeable in just a few days, which steels me to work toward making it a solid habit.

Early, early morning solitude.

'Tis the season.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Gigantic blow-out catch-up post for the entire month of July

July 2015 . . . holy smokes . . . what a month.  What a doozy.

It started off with Jamie's plunge into a secondary infection from a minor cold, which took him out for three weeks.  Including the initial cold and in-between time where he never quite "came around" (he seemed tired and lackluster), it was an entire month.

It started with waking up from a nap with a fever on Thursday, 7/2.  My parents were supposed to come that Friday, but delayed arrival until Sunday (they were visiting with my grandparents in Wisconsin, so they were settled in nicely anyway).  The entire week they were here, he was completely subdued and touchy - going to bed at 7:00 PM, napping by 10:30 AM - he was a non-factor in almost everything.  It was sad.

Saying goodbye - Jamie wouldn't be in the picture

The secondary infection was in his lungs and sinuses - all the usual tricks I employ to treat such issues were useless against it.  It seemed as if I couldn't get anything to drain.  It just took time.

The week after my parents left, the congestion in his lungs slowly cleared, but not before a double ear infection manifested itself.  That week was spent focused on ensuring that Jamie took warm baths with rosemary oil to promote drainage, administering garlic oil and applying a hot water bottle to his ear three times daily to nix the ear infection, and making sure that the vaporizer was running with eucalyptus oil in the room while he slept so he could breathe more easily.  He was pale and thin, but sleeping and playing more normally in spite of the pain.

Eventually the pain subsisted and the congestion s-l-o-w-l-y cleared.  Amazingly, Blaine, Diego, Truen, and myself all had sore throats that week (and Jamie and Eliah never got it, thank the good Lord).  He still had blood in his nose from his sinuses and, toward the end of the week, we noticed that several lymph nodes in his neck were swollen and tender.  And still are.  Un-un-un-un.  Will it never end??

We are starting to move outside the house again - we were able to attend the last Park & Rec of the season this Monday and go swimming afterward.  Finally! Swimming, imagine that. The boys reveled in it.  I'm starting to think that I'll need to take the boys swimming for an afternoon each week in addition to our all day Beach Day extravaganzas on Fridays to make up for lost time.

Otherwise, life has been a whole lot of this --

Collards and broccoli
Black currents, kale, peas, turnips
Beautiful Cylindra beets

Our gardens are MAGNIFICENT this year.  It is truly "the best year ever".  Though we've said it before, it honestly tops everything we've accomplished in the past.  We've caught our groove.  The years of experience have dovetailed with our vision and enthusiasm and culminated with an amazing creation.  Blaine, of course, is the mastermind.  Without him, I would be just "pretending to garden" as a friend put so aptly.

Florence fennel, parsley, celery
 Onions (left), garlic (right), then summer squashes, cucumbers
Lettuce gone to seed, broccoli; behind that, the raspberries

:: THE WEST GARDEN (from the south) ::
Corn, cauliflower, and cabbages
Scallions, green beans, peppers, tomatoes, beets

:: THE WEST GARDEN (from the north) ::
Turnips and rhutabagas
Salsify, parsnips, kale, collards, mustard, peas,
Lettuce, carrots, winter squash, sunflowers
(the giant mass on the right is bittersweet)

The West Garden is our main kitchen garden this year.  In the past, it was for summer and winter squashes, melons, and garlic; but we made the switch out of necessity to starve out the grasshoppers that were plaguing the East Garden.  (And succeeded! They are not an issue this year at all.)  We doubled its size, fenced it, and hit the ground running.  It has been an enormous success.

How do I love thee, West Garden?  Let me count the ways.  First and foremost, it is so lovely to look out the window and see such ordered beauty, tangible results of a lot of hard work.  The East Garden is tucked behind the garage and much less visible.  The West Garden also gets much more sunlight, from morning to dusk, with no trees shading it at all.  The soil seems to be rich and fertile, the weeds, not a problem.  And I don't mind the walk one bit.

We also carved out a section in what I call "The Front Four": four acres along our driveway on the north side of our property.  It is currently in alfalfa and will be planted with oats this fall.  We are experimenting with The Front Four and planted winter squash there this year.  It is growing beautifully and plan to use it for squash, garlic, and onions next season.

Our geese this year: five white Embdens
They are so funny!  They are curious and like to follow us around the orchard,
which is exactly what they were doing this lovely morning.

The boys have been housebound pretty much the entire month of July.  Other than our houseguests, we haven't gone anywhere, gone swimming, and missed all the Story Hour and Park & Rec activities for the month.  Such a bummer.

They've still been outside a ton, however.  The big excitement last week was catching frogs.

Truby, pretending.
He caught the hugest frog of all! 

Diego, not pretending.
This is so him: always taking it to the next level.
("No frogs were hurt during the making of this video.") 

Jamie, hopping on the bandwagon.
See how pale and thin he looks?  Ugh.

And Yi-ya.  I still use my Ergo every. single. day.

We've also had a lot of tea party action going on in these parts. Truen has been the main promoter.  It is so cute - they set up the table upstairs and we drink tea or kombucha, eat dried fruit and nuts and toast, and sit with a lighted candle.  It is oh-so-cozy.

Truen and Jamie
Eliah, Truen, and Diego

We also had more friends to visit last week - Lyndi and Jen with her girls.  

The entire tempo of the household tamed with girls present. It was amazing.  They set up house in the bedroom upstairs, pulled out their coloring books and markers, and colored.  Jamie sat with them, almost transfixed, sometimes coloring, sometimes just sitting and watching.

A sweet crew
This is what happens when I ask Diego to take pictures.
I end up saying, "Will you please take a picture of all of us...?" 
as he hones in on all of our faces one at a time and snaps away.
The pictures always end up so funny, but it is stressful at the time as we w-a-i-t
and there is usually baby fussing or howling to add to the commotion.

The ladies: Shawna, Jen, and Lyndi.
Me with my exasperated and impatient face
"Will you just..??"

And finally, Jamie the Chef with his little helper Eliah Len.  Jamie has been keenly interested in working in the kitchen in the last couple of weeks.  Per his request, we've made pancakes twice, french toast, scrambled eggs, and . . . something else?  I can't remember. He's been begging to make a frozen banana-chocolote-peanut treat that I think we'll probably end up making tonight.

And Yi-ya is always right there, 
insisting on being right in the thick of it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


  • Collectively, we've been sick three times in two months, all upper respiratory infections, and this last one has a deep, nasty cough to go along with it.  I just can't wait until it is done. It is oh-so-very unpleasant to miss out on summer with coughing, hacking, and lethargy.
  • Not to mention all the screaming and ill-tempered fighting.  I've kept Eliah in the backpack for a good part of the part two days, mostly to keep him from rooting up turmoil wherever he goes.  He is calmed by being with me and on my person, while I am still able to accomplish my tasks at hand.
  • Speaking of . . . I am feeling somewhat mournful over just that: the endlessness of my tasks at hand: the bulldozer effect that inhibits enjoying my little guys with more leisure.  For the first time, I really understand my mom's admonition that she remembers my younger years much better than my sister's, 11 years younger than me.  Life is a blur with so many needs to meet.  I feel sad about it.  The blur.
 He was so pleased about this tree
  • I am full-bore in the thrust of planning for our little homeschool for 2015-2016.  It has been a lot of fun - I can tell I am getting better at it.  I have a better sense of the rhythm of our days, how to plan it out, what to expect.  I am also very excited for our new material: literature, poetry, nature study, history.  We will be delving into "early modern times" and studying the beginnings of the US, as well as what was going on in the surrounding world at the time.
  • I am totally sold on Festina Lente in my growing philosophy of education, to "make haste slowly" - the idea of not cramming it all in, but letting it slowly settle.  Not trying to conquer or cover everything, but following a slow, well-trodden path.  Saturation vs. sprinkling.  I love it.
 Playdough festival
  • We made playdough the week before last.  Each boy got to pick out his own color and spent hours over the course of a couple of days cutting, rolling, lumping, and bumping.  It was great fun. And a good table-time activity for a menagerie of sickies.
  • Blaine made the boys a tree house in a younger ash in the tree-line along our driveway.  Truen picked it out on a day that Blaine was planting pumpkins in our "front four" acres.  We are carving out a section (currently in alfalfa) as a test-run.  Truen perched himself in a tree to watch and realized it was the perfect spot.  
  • Truby has been talking about tree houses for so long that Blaine decided to bite the bullet and just do it finally.  He cobbled together a nice little platform from scrap lumber.  Three boys can be up there at a time, but we are sticking to a Two Boy rule.  We can just picture them starting a tussle if there were more than two at a time.  
  • And actually, if Diego and Jamie are together alone longer than just a few minutes, sometimes [what feels like] just a few seconds, fights inevitably break out.  They are currently under quarantine from each other and can only play together if udder brudders or friends are involved.  Seriously.  It is bad.
  • I am still working on nailing down time for Mother Culture.  I've found that I can only read Pride and Prejudice before bed, otherwise my mind wanders (and it isn't too long before it shuts down completely at that time of night anyway).  Dakota is best read while I'm eating, otherwise I feel antsy, and Home Education is best in the morning before anyone else is awake. It isn't a daily guarantee, but I am slowly pecking away at them.
  • It has been very interesting to re-read Pride and Prejudice and Dakota as a woman of 37, instead of a girl of 20 (P&P) and a young woman of 27 (Dak).  My sense of insight and understanding is undoubtedly deeper. I love noticing that.
  • I have also started a commonplace book to keep track of myself while I read: thoughts, insight, significant passages, excellent quotes.  It pleases me.  I picked the Pegasus Decomposition Book for added whimsy.