Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Start of Summer

Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer! Even though we still have three weeks until school is out and SO MUCH to do between now and then, we spent the weekend in a very lazy, nothing-to-do way.

We had tickets for our favorite baseball team on Saturday night. All day the skies were non-threatening, and the temperature was moderate. Our hopes were high.

(The DMC on the scoreboard made me wonder why DMC floss would be advertising at the ball park. Then I squinted to read the fine print underneath: Detroit Medical Center. Duh.)

We settled into our seats, getting ready for the game, wondering why things weren't getting underway, when this message appeared:

What? It wasn't even raining! I whipped out my phone and checked the weather radar, and was dismayed to see a big green blob headed right for us.

Right at game time, it started to rain. We moved to a sheltered area. We watched people drinking too many beers. I went to the souvenir shop and spent too much money on a souvenir for my daughter. We ate icky food. Finally the game was officially rained out. Sigh.
So that was that!

Other weekend activities: we tried to plant our plot in the community garden, but the ground there is still too saturated. I can't believe what a late start we are getting with it this year! This week should be dry, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can do it some evening this week.

My son was driving me crazy all weekend with his teenager antics. He asked my husband to borrow a projector from work, one that plays DVDs and has ports to hook up computers and gaming systems. My husband obliged. This resulted in my house being turned upside down as my son experimented in every room, rearranging furniture, taking things off walls, trying to find the best place to project the image. He ended up taping up a white sheet in the living room. It got more humid as the weekend went on, so the tape stopped sticking, which led to further shenanigans as he tried different methods of hanging the sheet. I told my husband to get that projector outta my house!!

It was fun while it lasted, but bye bye projector, I will not miss you!

We also visited the cemetery where my husband's parents are buried. We don't go that often, as it's not near our home and we are never in that neighborhood for any other reason, but this weekend he wanted to go, and so we did. My father-in-law died very unexpectedly in 2005, and my mother-in-law died after a short but intense illness in 2007. When we got there this weekend, there were grass clippings all over my mother-in-law's headstone, and I was touched almost to the point of tears when my daughter, without any prompting, dropped to her knees and brushed all the clippings off the stone.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Feels Like December

It feels like Christmas around here, and for once I am not talking about the weather! (By the way, I do apologize that the weather has been such a focus with my posts lately, but this spring has seriously been so disappointing!)

No, it feels like December because I have so much to do! I am working on stitching two baby gifts, which I hope to share here soon, and I am also baking up an absolute storm. So many school events this time of year need baked goods. This past week I made Lemon Bars, Blueberry Crumb Bars, Peppermint Brownies, Arctic Fudge Bars, and Oatmeal Carmelitas. My children weep every time I pull something from the oven. "Why don't you ever make that for us?" they wail.

I am also getting my daughter ready for camp. I had to really search for the sleeping bags. My hunt found me crouched under the basement steps, hauling out large rubbermaid boxes filled with....maternity clothes? Baby blankets? Toddler clothes? Good gravy. I feel like I am forever hauling away things to thrift shops and charitable organizations, yet I still seem to have plenty to give away! Honestly, if you'd asked me about my maternity clothes, I would have told you I gave it all away years ago. I had no idea...

I was in the basement just before we had yet another torrential rain fall. My back yard flooded and then water seeped all over my basement. They say this is nice weather for ducks, and here is proof in my front yard this morning:

Ten minutes later I peeked outside to see if the ducks were still there and saw this instead:
We are a suburban wildlife refuge today!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm not really a royal follower

I'm not really a royal follower, but I am a bit of an Anglophile. Actually, I think most people who read a lot are Anglophiles, whether they realize it or not, simply because so many fabulous books are written by British authors and set in Britain. The culture sort of soaks into our brains, as if by osmosis. I swear I lived a past life in Regency England (though hopefully not as a scullery maid!).

When my husband had a business trip to England at the end of April during the week of the royal wedding, I pretty much demanded he bring back a royal wedding souvenir for me. I wasn't interested enough in the wedding to bother buying a souvenir online, but when I realized the significance of the timing of his trip, I wanted something. I didn't really care what it was. Something small. Maybe a spoon, or a coin.

The mug pictured above is not what he brought me. He brought me a tea canister filled with bags of English Breakfast tea. The canister has a photograph of the couple, along with their wedding date. I love English Breakfast tea served with sugar and milk, so this was a good gift.

He also brought me a newspaper from London, and it was all about the royal wedding. I sat reading it while I drank a cuppa, thoroughly enjoying myself, when I stumbled upon a small article near the back of the paper about royal wedding souvenirs. The royal wedding, it seems, was quite a boon to local artisans and handicrafters. Gift shops were doing a brisk business in royal wedding gewgaws, and for some people, this extra business was what was keeping them in business.

A London-based potter was featured in the article. She had some wedding mugs that were quite lovely, featuring the couple's name and the wedding date, and decorated with Union Jack bunting. Those are cute, I thought. Then I choked with laughter when the opposite side of the mugs were revealed:
Oh, oh, oh! I had to have one. The wit and cheekiness of the design, paired with my daughter's love of Harry Potter, made it irresistible to me. I flew to my computer and tracked the mug down. The price was a bit steep with shipping (shipping was more than the price of the item--that never happens when I buy things from the UK on etsy!), but sometimes I think to myself this is worth it. This is so worth it! It's cute, it makes me laugh, it's unique, and by purchasing it, I am supporting an independent artist. I can be frugal and careful with my spending most of the time, but not all of the time!

If you are interested in seeing her other designs, here is her website.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

In which I emerge from my home

After a miserably cold and wet spring, we have finally had some very lovely weather the past few days. The temperature hit 80 F today, and I could almost watch the blossoms open on our backyard apple tree. Early in the morning the whole tree shimmered in pale pink buds, but by late afternoon, the blossoms had opened to white.
This is what one of the front beds looks like now, now that spring seems to finally be here:
We have a plot in the community garden again this summer. This year, because of our very wet spring, the coordinators decided not to till the land for us, so we have to do it ourselves. My son didn't have school today, so he and I walked over to get started.

The whole neighborhood has burst into bloom!

I felt like a mole coming out of a hole today. I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt for the first time in a long time. The sun was warm on my skin. I put a few things into a drawstring backpack and settled it on my shoulders. My son carried a rake and I carried a hoe. As we walked down the street, I told him we must look like the beginnings of an angry mob, which made us both laugh. There were bees buzzing around, and the sweet scent of blossoms hung in the air. I was snapping photos left and right, when suddenly I felt something cobweb-like brush my arm. Trying not to panic, I did the oh-my-gosh-something-yucky's-on-me flail and nearly clocked myself on the cheek with the handle of the hoe. I felt really foolish when I realized the "yucky thing" on my arm was just the string of the backpack sliding off my shoulder. Even spring takes some getting used to, I guess!

Here is what the garden looked like when we arrived:

We worked for about an hour, turning over the soil with shovels and breaking up dirt clumps with the rake and hoe. We didn't finish, not by a long shot, and now I feel like it's a race to get the rest of the soil turned and all the seeds and seedlings planted before the weeds pop up again.

Here is what the field adjacent to the garden looks like right now:


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sweet Potato Lentil Stew

With cooking, I tend to repeat the same tried-and-true recipes over and over again. It's simplest to serve a meal I know my family will eat! The repetition gets a little dull, though, so every now and then I comb through my cookbooks to find something new to try. This week I decided to make Sweet Potato Lentil Stew for the first time. It's a dish that seems more appropriate for autumn, but with our lingering chilly weather, I have been in the mood for warm suppers that have simmered all day.

Before we had children, my husband and I ate lentils a couple of times a week. Lentil soup, lentil spaghetti sauce, Mexican lentil casserole, lentil salad... We love lentils! The children, however, are not fans, so lentils fell by the wayside, and we have them just a few times a year now.

My husband is not a fan of sweet potatoes. Given the children's dislike of lentils and my husband's dislike of sweet potatoes, Sweet Potato Lentil Stew seems like an odd recipe for me to try, but I like both those things, so with this meal, I was aiming to please myself, and the others would just have to deal.

It turned out quite delicious, and the happy news is that my husband liked it just as much as I did. The kids were iffy, as I fully expected. They grudgingly ate a bowlful, but didn't ask for seconds.

Sweet Potato Lentil Stew (adapted from Fix and Forget It Lightly)

4 cups vegetable broth
3 cups (about 1.25 lbs) sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (I had two largish sweet potatoes and didn't measure how many cups they yielded when diced)
1.5 cups lentils, sorted and rinsed
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley (I didn't have fresh, so I tossed in about 1 T dried cilantro)

Combine all ingredients into a 4-quart slow cooker (unless you are using fresh parsley or cilantro, in which case you add it just before serving). Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours. I cooked for about 7 hours because I was worried the lentils wouldn't be done after 6 hours.

The recipe gives optional add-ins to stir into the pot after cooking: 1/3 cup raisins, 1/4 cup chopped nuts, 1/4 cup grated coconut. I just put those ingredients on the table and let individuals sprinkle them into their own bowls as desired. I thought the raisins were a bit much, and think they would have tasted better if they had been cooked with the stew, but it's not an addition I will make. However, the sprinkle of coconut and walnuts I added to my bowl were scrumptious! I had sweetened coconut on hand, and that little burst of sweetness was yummy!

The sweet potatoes were quite squishy at the end of the cooking period, so I smooshed them with my spoon in my bowl. I didn't smash them in the cooking pot because I wanted certain picky eaters to be able to eat around them if said picky eaters found it necessary to do so.

I will definitely be making this stew again!

No pictures of the stew, since it doesn't look quite as good as it tastes!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 1 Yard: Slow Progress

This is the spring that isn't. We have had a lot of rain, not very much sun, and chilly temperatures. I don't feel thawed out yet. I don't think the yard does, either, because things are taking a long time to flower.
Things are coming up, though.

We had a heavy rainstorm that knocked all the hyacinths over.

The bulbs in my yard are an odd bunch. The ones that continue to come up have been coming up ever since we bought the house 17 years ago. That explains these tulips forcing their way through somewhat new shrubs:Then we have that Lone Ranger tulip back there:
I have planted bulbs in various places to try to fill in and balance the spring look, but every bulb I have planted over the years has perished, so we have a very odd straggly look in the spring.

My Forsythia seems to by dying. I don't know if I should hack off the dead stuff, or just remove the whole thing.
We are quite proficient at growing dandelions, though!