Friday, October 28, 2011

Rediscovering Laura

Laura Ingalls Wilder.  After my mom died almost three years ago, I found my treasured paperback set of the Little House on the Prairie Books.  These are my favorite books from my childhood which is really saying something because I read LOTS of books when I was a kid.  This particular set was so special - I wrote my name in every one.  Just looking at my writing brought me right back to age 8 or 9. 

This time around I'm reading them to Kenzie.  She loves it, but not nearly as much as I do.  To watch her learn about pioneer life from the perspective of a girl just like her is as exciting to me as it was when I was her age.  The best part for me is rediscovering the stories from a different stage in my life.  When I was young I could only see through young Laura's innocent eyes.  Today I see the harsh realities of their life.  Then I marvel at how an author in her 60s could look back and record the events of her youth with such clarity and authenticity.

In reading the books today I can see the "grown-up" stories beneath the memories of a little girl.  Laura worshiped her father as a great pioneer, but he endured a great deal of failure and heartache.  The family moved from Wisconsin to Indian Territory near Kansas, settled there, built a house and started a farm.  Unfortunately for them, the federal government closed Indian Territory to white settlers and they had to leave everything.  Again in Walnut Grove Minnesota, the family built a new home based on the expected earnings from a wheat crop.  The grasshopper hordes came and it was all gone.  Laura's beautiful older sister, Mary, lost her eyesight after a bout with scarlet fever.  They moved on again to DeSmet, South Dakota in time to endure one of the most difficult winters recorded at that time.  Despite all these family tragedies, Laura describes the trials of a pioneer family, with optimistic enthusiasm as if it were all a great adventure.

Kenzie and I are only on the fourth book of a nine book series, which culminates with Laura's courtship and marriage to Almanzo "Manly" Wilder.  The last two of the books describe the difficulties Laura and Manly endured during their first four years of marriage - a baby boy who died shortly after birth; loss of crops; a fire which destroyed everything they owned and debts that would take years to resolve.  In the end, they ended up at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri, where they eventually found success in farming.

For so many of my generation, exposure to these stories came from the popular television show "Little House on the Prairie."  It was mostly fictional and only scratches at the surface of an amazing life full of joy and sorrow.  To the extent that the television fans did not read the books, they missed out on the story of a determined and loving pioneer family who found joy and beauty in spite of their circumstances.

When I was 13, my parents surprised me during a camping trip to Arkansas with a detour to Mansfield, Missouri to see Laura's home at Rocky Ridge Farm.  I was overwhelmed to see the objects which were so integral to the stories: Pa's fiddle, Mary's rocking chair and the platter given to Laura and Manly as a wedding gift.  Best of all was touring the home.  Everything was exactly the way it was when Laura died, including the calendar on the wall from February 1957.  I was floored when I found out her birthdate was the same as mine - February 7 - and that she was born exactly 98 years before me.  It made me feel even more connected to her.

I can only hope that Kenzie gets the same joy of good storytelling that I received from these books.  It's turning into a shared experience we have that ties my childhood to hers.  Hopefully it also gives her a lifelong interest in reading.

Thanks again Laura - I owe you one.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recipe - Shepard's Pie

Now that I only eat 500 calories a day, I'm oddly fascinated with cooking for my family using what we have hanging around.  Keeping this in mind, I decided to do something with the Grand's Biscuits we had in the refrigerator.  I came up with this concoction and I think it turned out pretty good (even though I couldn't taste it).

First, I split the biscuit dough into two piles (4 biscuits in each).  Then I rolled out the first pile until it could fit in the bottom of a pie pan (it wasn't that difficult).  Next comes the fun, creative part.  I browned a pound of ground beef and added whatever I could find (and my family would eat).  In our case, that was a can of corn and a can of ranch beans (light pinto beans in a sauce).  I'm sure others would get more creative, with potatoes, onions, peppers, peas or other things I didn't have in my cabinets.

After combining the ground beef with the warmed beans and corn, I put the mixture into the pie pan on top of the rolled crust.  The amount of the beef mixture was higher than the sides of the pie pan, but that was OK.  Next, I rolled out the other pile of biscuit dough and put a "lid" over the top of the pie.  I put small slits around the top so it could vent (and it ended up looking very pretty too).  Here's what it looked like before I put it in the oven:

I used the directions on the biscuits as a guide and baked it for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  It was almost too gorgeous to eat!

I was surprised at how easy this was, but the bigger (and better) surprise was how much my family (especially my kids) liked it.  Even my picky son enjoyed it and ate a good helping of it.  It's not as pretty after it's been cut, but this gives you an idea of the inside ingredients:

The best part about this recipe (other than how easy it is) is how you can make it different each time.  You could make a pot pie with chicken with vegetables and a sauce, or a use other vegetables with ground beef.  I guess mine looks a little Southwest, although we're pretty wimpy about spicy.  All together it makes a great hardy family meal and takes less than an hour to prepare.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

State Fair

A couple of weeks ago when the kids were on Fall Break, Kentster took them to the Arizona State Fair.  Yes, the State Fair here is in October, because you couldn't bear to be out in the heat too long in the summer when other states have their state fairs.  Along with our two kids, Kentster took Kate's kids (Songs Kate Sang).  He wasn't too enthusiastic because the temperature was projected to be in the high 90s.  Again, it is October.

Petting zoos, ferris wheels, big slides and bumper cars

I, unfortunately, had to work.  I love the pictures, though.  It was really a grand day!


Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Adventures Part 2

It's now been 2 weeks since I started dieting with HcG and I'm happy to say I have lost 15 pounds.  It's pretty incredible, I can hardly believe it myself.  I don't think my head has kept up with my shrinking body because it's going so fast.  It's not easy and I think at some point I'm going to have to be really creative to think of different ways to eat with pretty limited choices.  For the record, that's 100 grams of chicken breast, steak (once a week), eggs or fish; an apple, half a grapefruit, strawberries (which are now out of season) or orange; and 150 grams of cabbage, romaine, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes or cauliflower.  That's one of two meals a day - the meals are exactly the same makeup.  Results, however, are incredibly motivating.

While I'm in automatic pilot eating what I have to, I've been starting to notice when I want to overeat.  Sometimes I'm bored or thirsty and sometimes it's when I've waited too long to eat and am famished.  I also have sweet temptations all the time.  The worst is that I tend to eat while I cook.  I'm focusing my energy on becoming conscious of those times and trying to come up with coping mechanisms to deal with them.  I'm also starting to formulate a plan for when I will be done and how I want to hit the ground running with a strategy for long term maintenance.  I already know one habit that is a keeper - I'm tracking everything I eat to review the calories and nutritional value of what I'm eating.

Overall I'm very pleased with the results and it hasn't been too painful yet.  I'm still not sure what effect blogging about this is going to be, and God forbid this doesn't work - yikes!  In the meantime, hopefully soon I can update with a change in clothes size :)


Friday, October 21, 2011

And Then My Car Caught on Fire . . .

Did you ever have one of those weeks?  This has been one (or two) of them.  I can't believe how long it's been since I wrote my last entry.  The days have just flown by without much to say.  I'm working on three different craft/sewing/crochet projects, but have nothing to show and tell quite yet.  Although our Diamondbacks are out of the hunt, my childhood favorites the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series!  I have also become familiar with the bus to get to and from work.

And that brings me to my tagline.  Last Monday I left work and found my car with a dead battery in the parking garage.  A very nice Good Samaritan helped with jumper cables.  I KNOW they were correctly placed on my car (you know, positive to positive?).  I can't say whether they were correctly installed on his car or whether the positive cable on my car fell over on the negative cable as it slipped.  Anyway, next thing I know there's smoke, then fire on my battery.  At least the Good Samaritan was good at putting out the fire while I called the fire department.

That was Monday.  Now it's Friday and after several days of "the part is being overnighted and will be installed tomorrow" from the dealership, I'm going to pick up a loaner car because the new battery cables won't come in until Tuesday (or so they say).  It's been a pain, but I have discovered the bus, which is not so bad.

Sooo, it's been a lot of very little going on in the last couple of weeks and then my car caught on fire.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

DIY - Soft, Warm Nightgown

I love snuggle flannel.  It's great for making warm rag quilts but it's also nice for sleepwear.  Before I go any further, disclaimer - snuggle flannels are NOT approved for sleepwear.  That is, they are not flame retardant like the Consumer Product Safety Commission advocates for children.  Enough said.

I used Simplicity pattern 8480 for this nightgown and a really cute patterned snuggle flannel.  I like making nightgowns because if you make them big enough and long enough, your daughter can wear them for several years.  This is especially true if you use a pattern like this one that is not fitted and has just a yolk and no waist.  The sleeves and front are trimmed in a pink grosgrain ribbon (although it's not easy to see in the pictures).

 I really wanted my model to wear this for the pictures, but she wasn't feeling very cooperative at the time.  As you can see, I was left to photograph it on a hanger in the bathroom.  Anyway, it's been so long since I posted a craft or sewing project that I was anxious to get this one on the blog.

The best part about this particular pattern is that it also includes some unisex pajama pants (with a pajama top for girls) and a pretty robe.  I bought several different snuggle flannel patterns a week or so (to add to my huge fabric stash) so I can make more pajamas and nightgowns for my daughter and pajama pants for my son.  This is a great time of year to make these because they keep them warm through the winter. It's also not too early to start those Christmas presents.  Now I just need to find another 8 hours a day to do it all.


Monday, October 10, 2011

When the Kids Are Away . . .

this big cat is going to PLAY!  This week is fall break for the kids so Kentster decided to take them to Sedona for the night.  So I'm home alone.  I miss my kids, especially when my husband sends me cute pictures of them on my phone, but I'm managing.  Heck, I'm having a personal PARTY!  I get to sew and watch whatever I want on TV.  I get to eat in front of the TV and I didn't have to fight for the laptop to write this post.  I also get to stay up as late (or go to bed as early) as I want. 

The hardest part of this great alone time is the conflict between being busy with sewing and being relaxed in front of the TV.  Believe it or not, I'm actually going back and forth between activities.  But even in that, no one is questioning what I'm doing.

I love my family, but sometimes I just love the opportunity to be alone.  And, I know any mom who reads this understands EXACTLY how I feel.  Gotta go, clock's ticking . . .


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hamster Tales

A couple of years ago my daughter begged for her own pet (we already have two dogs).  I'm a sucker for pets so eventually I caved and we bought her a teddy bear (Syrian) hamster.  She promptly named him Cutie Patootie and before we left the pet store, we signed him up for hamster races (in a ball on a track) the following weekend.  We bought all the hamster paraphernalia (cage, toys, ball, fence and food).  We set it all up on a table in Kenzie's room.

The following Saturday we took Cutie back to the pet store for the hamster races.

Wouldn't you know it, he won!  Kenzie was so excited and we took a picture to celebrate the big win:

Alas, poor Cutie Patootie, a winner one day and a chew toy for a terrier the next.  My husband and the kids came home to find the cage on the floor and Cutie dead on the patio.  They gave him a proper burial and we went back to the pet store for another hamster.

Our second hamster was dubbed Furry.  He was a notorious escape artist and a very loud roommate for Kenzie.  She kicked him out after two nights and he was banished to the laundry room where we could close the door and let him bang around in his wheel all night long.  He escaped his cage numerous times, but we always managed to find him.  One morning before school I accidentally left the cage door open.  About five minutes later, just as the kids were about to get on the school bus, I noticed the dog on the back patio carrying something in his mouth.  I hustled the kids out before they could see and confirmed that it was poor dead Furry.  Dogs 2, hamsters 0.  I called in sick and rushed up to the pet store and looked for a hamster that looked like Furry.  (That wasn't too hard to do because teddy bear hamsters all look alike.)  I found one and secretly named him Mischka.  Every one else in the family thought he was Furry.  About a week later I let my husband in on the secret.

From the beginning, my very responsible daughter made sure that I fed the hamster and cleaned the cages.  So the hamster actually became my pet.  Mischka (Furry II) proved to be as impressive an escape artist as his namesake, but we always found him before the dogs did.  I thought it might be fun to get another hamster, even though I know you can't put two male teddy bear hamsters together.  No problem, get more cages.  This hamster we called Teddy (our names aren't terribly original).  Teddy was a little more feisty, wanting to taste fingers on occasion, but I thought he was a real sweetie.

I've learned a few things about hamsters over the past year or two.  One, they are great Houdinis.  Two, they are messy.  Three, they sleep all day, so if you want to play you need to wait until about 9:00 p.m.  Finally, I learned that if you fail to regularly clean their cages, they will die of a bacteria that develops in their waste.  That lesson I learned with the tragic death of Teddy.  Kenzie lost almost all interest for hamsters after that.

Today, Mischka (Furry II) is the last man standing.  The kids still don't know that he is a substitute for a hamster that left this world over a year ago, but that's just as well.  I'm still the one who cares and plays and talks to the hamster.  He's sweet and a little clever.  I hate cleaning his cage, but I love those little rodent eyes that recognize me as the person who cares for him.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Adventures

This isn't my comfort zone, but I'm going to give this a try.  I am about to start a new adventure in weight loss.  Those who know me "in person" know I've struggled with my weight all my life.  I've been on the roller coaster - up/down up/down - more times than I care to admit.  This time around I'm trying with HcG injections and a very restricted calorie diet.  I'm not going to get into how this works - you can read it on the internet.  I will say this - I'm not drinking the kool aid on the theories behind it.  I'm sure it works because let's be honest - if you're eating 500 calories a day you WILL lose weight.  If HcG helps me do that without going insane, it works for me.

Yesterday I had my first B12 injection - OUCH!!  My arm is still smarting.  My doctor said it was like a flaming golf ball rolling down your arm to the elbow and I think that's a pretty good description.  This morning I had my initial lab work done and took my first self-injected HcG.  The self injection part wasn't bad at all.  I used heparin during both of my pregnancies and this was much easier.

Today was day 1 of Phase 1.  Let the craziness begin.  For the next two days, I must GORGE myself.  We're talking 4000 calories (yes, that was four thousand) more than I normally eat.  This is like the mother of all binges.  I'm saying this with a smile as I eat the first of two McDonalds bacon egg and cheese biscuits with a carmel frappachino venti from Starbucks.  I'm going to have fun with this until the stark reality of Monday morning hits with 500 calories a day (Phase 2).

I'm told one of the early side effects is irritability.  Yah think??  Two days of fatty, sugary excess followed by at least 6 weeks of 500 calories a day without sugar or starches doesn't sound like a recipe for giddiness.  Anyway, I'm committed to this and I am pretty good at keeping commitments once I make them.

I'm not changing the focus of this blog to a weight loss forum.  I'm still primarily interested in family and crafts.  However, I will engage in a little self-indulgence now and then by describing this new adventure and hopefully reporting some progress.  I appreciate those of you who send some positive thoughts my way during this journey.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Craft Diva

My daughter is the Craft Diva.  She is naturally creative and inquisitive.  She can make something out of nothing.  I love it because it gives us something in common.  Of course the downside to it is that we both have big plans for Saturdays and we can't always agree what we will be doing (duct tape flowers or quilting).

As I'm trying to keep up with making things and having something to show for it here, I'm going to periodically"feature" the most creative person I know.  If you don't believe it, check out her website (which is about 2 years old).  Today we have "Homes for Awesome People".

Last week the Craft Diva came home from school and immediately began to work on this book.  She meticulously cut out pictures from a real estate magazine and put this together:

She never ceases to amaze us with her ability to think of these things.  She's doing better than me on most days, so I may be featuring her often.