Monday, June 28, 2010

Our Garden in June

video

Our garden is growing beautifully, so far, and I think it looks very pretty. So I took pictures and made a quick and amateurish video slideshow of them. And you're the lucky audience. (Well, you and my future self, since I write this stuff for my own amusement). BTW, this is my first attempt at throwing pictures into a movie for the web, so please forgive the rough edges.

So far, most things are growing great. One tomato plant and one cucumber are attempting to take over the rest, and the watermelon plant at the other end has crept into the rock bed. By count, we have more pepper plants than anything else (combination of jalapeno, banana, and bell peppers), but they're slow to take off. I wonder if its not quite sunny enough for them, or if they're just later growers.

The rain barrel is working pretty well so far, but it has really low water pressure (just gravity). I recently removed the fancy irrigation system made from a kit and replaced it with a really long soaker hose looped around all the plants. The word "fancy" was a bit sarcastic. The kit was a nice idea, but it had some issues (like leaky connections that may have been the fault of the, ahem, installer). The soaker hose seems to be working, even with the low flow from the barrel. Its on a timer set for an hour a day, which seems to be working for now.

And we've been enjoying mini-harvests of beans, green onions, and lettuce (in the flower pots) for about two weeks now. Charlotte eats the peas right off the stalk. And this is the first year we've had ripe tomatoes before the 4th of July. Only a couple so far, and Charlotte has claimed most of those also.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Trystan's Black Muffins


7:32AM Sunday morning

Trystan: "I want muffins."
Me: "Muffins? What kind of muffins?"
Trystan: "Black muffins. I want to stir."

Trystan's Black Muffins

Ingredients
Dry:

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hersheys Special Dark Cocoa)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Wet:
3/4 cup rolled oats*
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
1 egg
1 Tbsp dry instant coffee**
1 tsp vanilla extract

*No, this isn't a typo. Read on :)
** This much coffee won't make the muffins taste like mocha, but it will make the chocolate flavor stand out more. You could omit this if you prefer.



Directions

  1. (Mommy's job) Preheat oven to 400.
  2. (Trystan's job) Line muffin pan with muffin cups. We made 24 mini-muffins, but a 12-cup pan should also work (Same temperature, longer bake time). FYI, Trystan chose the pink-hearted muffin cup liners over the plain white that I was reaching for.
  3. (Trystan's job) Combine all ingredients listed under "wet" above.
    • Small children love to stir. I keep small whisks on hand just for this purpose.
    • Yes, the wet ingredients list includes the oatmeal. We keep the old-fashioned oats on hand, and I've found that soaking them in wet ingredients before baking makes them less crunchy in the finished product.
    • And I add the instant coffee to the wet ingredients because my preferred brand is kind of clumpy and works better dissolved

  4. (Mommy's job) Combine all ingredients listed under "dry" above. I do the dry ingredients to keep flour from flying all over my kitchen.
  5. (Trystan's job) Add wet ingredients to dry, and stir "just until moistened". This batter mixed up almost as thick as cookie dough, and I had to take over the stirring to make sure it got combined without spilling. The thick batter was mostly due to the cocoa powder, but the resulting muffins were really moist because cocoa powder adds some fat along with the flavor.
  6. (Mommy's job) Spoon batter/dough into muffin cups. I filled 24 mini-cups to the top and had a tiny amount of batter left over. I could probably have done 36 mini-muffins that were all a bit shorter instead.
  7. (Trystan's job) Count muffins as batter is loaded into each one. If it had been Charlotte helping, she would have had to answer a variety of harder math problems at this stage ("If all 4 of us each eat the same number of muffins, how many would we each get?", etc)
  8. (Mommy's job) Bake 12-15 minutes (15-20 or so for normal-sized muffins). When you can smell them really strongly, they're probably done. Stick a toothpick in one to check.
  9. (Trystan's job) Press face to oven window to watch while they bake.
  10. (Mommy's job) Remove muffins from pan to a cooling rack. Mini muffins are cool enough to eat in less than 5 minutes.
  11. (Trystan's job) Eat!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Who are you again?

This whole "digital age" thing is great. Really. No, that smile's not fake at all. Its great. Hey, it pays our bills. It must be great.

I love having like six different email accounts, most of which cannot (or should not) be combined. Work, home, writing, the spam-catcher. The other spam catcher. The super-secret spam catcher. I can't get to the home email from work, and can't get to the work email from home. And the Yahoo email (the one I've had since the early 90's) is half spam catcher and only half works from either Work or my Netbook (small screen resolution vs big ads). Facebook is a twice-a-month activity for me. Hubby hasn't bothered yet.

And calendars. The paper one on the fridge. The paper one in my purse. Outlook on my laptop. Outlook on hubby's desktop. Outlook in our individual work accounts. Calendar apps on Hubby's iPod touch. Google calendar. And the best part is that there is no single calendar or calendar app that my husband and I can share at the moment that can actually go everywhere with us. I cannot take a PDA to my desk at work (or a cell phone, or any other electronic device), and internet access there is spotty, controlled, and monitored (hello Big Brother).

I can (usually) connect to Google, but since I don't have any sort of smartphone or PDA, I can't see it at home. I can get online at home, but computers are to small children what bug lights are to mosquitoes. That Windows startup chime will draw a 3-year old to my lap faster than the word ice cream. Check email? Check Facebook? Read or type a single sentence? Not without two more hands (2 for the keyboard, 2 for the child).

And then there are those old-fashioned ring-y things called phones. I have one at work. It has a curly cord and no caller id, and is attached to my desk. If you call it while I'm sitting at my desk, we can talk. If you call it and I'm not at my desk, you must leave voicemail (there is a little light that sometimes blinks to tell me about a message...or at least it used to). My cell phone is turned off during the workday, and buried in my purse while I'm at home (not intentionally). The home phones work great. We even have an answering machine. And caller ID. Few people ever leave us messages though (most of the calls are from charities asking for money).

Texting? Yeah, I've heard of it. My phone kind of does it, though I pay PER TEXT sent or received. My husband's phone does not text.

Funny, even though there are like 1000 ways to talk to people, I still have as little time as ever to actually do any of it. Divide 5 free minutes a day by 50 different devices/accounts to check, and its no wonder I miss stuff.

Digital age? Lovely. Wonderful. Joyful. Its bringing the human race closer together. Or so I have read in the newspaper.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Deep Thoughts Thursday

I don’t usually comment on news unless I have something smart-a$$’ed to say. Today I do.  The post office has been talking for a while about cutting Saturday mail delivery to save money, and there have been hearings in Congress about it.

 

Here’s my thought (that no one important will bother listening to): Why Saturday? Why not cut Wednesday?

 

Does anything good come in the mail on a Wednesday? I bet people will complain less if they have only a one-day break at a time in mail delivery, instead of a long weekend. Some of us may not even notice the missing mail in the middle of the week (don’t know about you, but by Wednesday I’m already tired and looking forward to Friday).

 

Ok, I feel all civic minded now. And tomorrow, back to my reguluarly-(un)-scheduled ramblings on completely unrelated and uniteresting topics. Possibly about paint colors. I actually have a post in mind about paint colors, and where best to use them.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All Wet

The very blonde theme of my weekend so far seems to involve submerging things in water. Things that have no business being submerged.

Friday, I wore a pedometer into the pool. There's a wellness challenge at work at the moment where you count steps with a pedometer all day (plus time spent doing other exercise), and might win a prize at the end. I've been remembering my pedometer everywhere I go, including clipping it to the skirt I wore taking the kids to the pool on Friday. Strike that, I clipped the thing to my swimsuit, not to the skirt. So when the cover-up came off, the pedometer stayed on, and spent its share of time chasing two kids around the pool. And not just the baby pool--Trystan dog paddles nicely with a swim vest on.

The good news: The pedometer was very cheap, already a few years old, and I have another free one to use for the wellness challenge.

The better news: The pedometer might recover.

Saturday night, I took my wedding and engagement ring off while I was putting away meat from a grocery store trip. I put them in my pocket, like I always do. An hour or so later I had changed into pajamas and started a load of laundry. A load that contained the skirt with the pocket with the rings. And brilliant me, I even heard the clanking in the washer and didn't think a thing about it. Until this morning when I went looking for the rings, and found yesterday's clothes in a basket of clean and dry clothes.

The good news: the engagement ring at least has turned up. I found it in the dryer with the sheets from the following load, still hot to the touch. The diamond is loose in its setting, but I'd bent two of the prongs already, so now I really really have to get it fixed (and maybe sized...the silly thing now slips off my finger).

The iffy news: It is entirely possible that my wedding ring is still in the washer (currently running a load of very wet, soapy towels). We have a front-loader and it is unlikely the ring could have escaped--the drain holes are too small. But it is still AWOL.

And I'm wearing my high school class ring because otherwise my finger feels empty. Funny, with how large my wedding and engagement rings were feeling lately, I'd considered buying a cubic zirconia temporary one until we could decide how/if/when to re-size (and possibly re-set) the other two. But I haven't, and I only own two other rings (the one on my finger, and my college class ring that is also too big).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dead tree reading

The tree-hugger in me would love to read all my news online. The reader in me loves the fact that the stories and ads in those oversize sheets of inky newsprint don't move.

Obviously, after my last post about the new Sony, I have been thinking about e-readers and online content a lot lately. I already read a lot online. I use Google Reader to read blog posts, and am a member of a handful of Yahoo groups that I look at occasionally. I have an iGoogle page and a yahoo home page (and I forget which pops up first lately) that both attempt to "customize" news for me. And I do check stlToday.com (the online version of the St. Louis Post Dispatch print paper).

But I vastly prefer the bundle of paper and glossy print ads that are delivered to our house on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays (and sometimes other random days of the week). The articles don't move. Nothing pops up on top of the article I'm looking at. I don't have to watch a commercial before playing Sudoku.

The Borders/Sony store has been advertising a Wall Street Journal subscription delivered automatically to your reader (targeted towards Sony's larger "daily" edition). I wonder if that type of format might be more my speed. Except I don't read the Wall Street Journal. The Post-Dispatch has an electronic edition that looks like the , but according to their FAQ, it doesn't include the advertising inserts (which, truthfully, is about 1/3 of the reason I like reading the paper). Still, its a thought.

What do you think? Do you like reading news online? Do you hate it? Do you read a newspaper at all?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

eReader

Back in 2007, I wrote a post on this blog about the brand new Amazon Kindle on sale for around $400. I wasn’t impressed. Actually, that wasn’t quite it. Through my rather sarcastic humor, I was trying to show that I am not an early adopter of new technologies, and that I thought that e-readers and e-books have a bit more evolving to do.

Times change, some. I am still underwhelmed by the Kindle. Not so much the idea of e-readers, but the device itself reminds me of the stereo in my husband’s last car: it has too many buttons. But the more I get into writing, and studying up on the business of publishing, the more I like electronic publishing. And the more writers I have met, the more I like the variety of work that is electronically published.

No, I’m not published yet. Still working on that. But considering some of the subgenres of romance I am writing (in my "spare" time, in case this hobby of mine is news to you), I am absolutely open to being electronically published.

But back to the e-readers. One of my major hangups about e-readers is the cost. I have a laptop and a netbook. Why would I want to shell out another $300-400 (or more) for another device. Why can’t I just read on my existing computers? Well, I can. But I don’t. It kills my eyes. I spend too much time in front of a computer screen already. More and more, an ereader with an eInk screen, the kind with low refresh rates and low light output, have started to seem like a better idea.

Ok,the issue isn't just my eyes. Its also my bookshelves. We have an entire wall of our bedroom lined in tall book shelves. And if I'm not careful, I will soon begin overflowing them. Not counting the books in the office, cookbooks in the kitchen, or the kids collections, which are overflowing shelves in their rooms.

What did you say? Get rid of books? Blasphemer.

Prices on e-readers are coming down and I finally bought a Sony touch. So far, I love it. Its does not have built-in WiFi/3G networking so it can't just automatically download books, but I don't miss that feature (too easy to overbuy, and I have lots of e-book resources to choose from without it). And it has a stylus and some ability to highlight and take notes on screen.

I still think that e-books and reader technologies have a long way to go. There are too many formats, and the options can be really confusing (can you say Beta vs VHS?). And some formats look nicer on small screens than others. But this works. It travels nicely, and I'm taking advantage of free reads, digital-first books that aren't in print, and a few books that I know I'll only read once.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Stuff for summer

I don’t normally review actual products on this blog. This is not a money-making venture.  I have no ads, have never accepted any free anythings in return for a review or any advertising.  Not that I have the sort of readership to support something like that.  Hah. Readership. I think I tripled my exposure by pushing the blog posts through to Facebook (Hi random Facebook friends, including high school classmates I haven’t seen in 15 years…welcome to my rambling!)
 
I’m not changing my normal habits today. But I am mentioning stuff. Stuff I like. Stuff I bought myself and feel like talking about.
 
Fancy Walking Shoes. I’m talking about the round-bottomed walking shoes that are supposed to be extra toning/shaping/etc while you walk. There are a bunch of brands of these being advertised everywhere.  Sketchers is especially prolific (or maybe I’m just their target market because I see their shoe ads everywhere). I don’t have Sketchers (sorry folks, love the looks of your shoes, not paying $120 for a pair).  I did buy a pair of Aspire-brand walking/fitness shoes at Sports Authority last month for less than half the price of the Sketchers.  And I get stopped by strangers on the street every time I wear them out. (Well, twice. But its kind of weird to be approached by strangers in the mall asking where I got my shoes.)
 
Yes, I like my rolling/toning/whatever shoes. And yes they do feel different when I walk. They remind me of high school marching band, the way they force your toes up and to roll your feet as you walk. In fact, I think the band may have worn shoes with rounded soles for the purpose of getting everyone’s toes up and feet rolling.  Am I toner or more in shape with the fancy new (and pink and silver) shoes?  Meh.  But they work different muscles in your calves and your lower abs.  And if you do a lot of walking, they might be worthwhile just to mix up which muscles you’re working out.
 
Clinical Strength Antiperspirant.  All the deodorant brands seem to be selling this lately. These are a fairly liquid (either roll on or similar) that you put on once a day and they claim to work for 24 hours. I was afraid to try it for a while (certain brands of “extra-strength” stuff makes me break out in hives). I finally got brave and tried it.  Wow, this stuff works.  And no hives. You can literally put it on before bed and not sweat for a day, which is really nice when you’re wearing tank tops and sleeveless dresses.  When I say it works, I mean that I can go to the gym, do an hour-long workout, and leave with my hair dripping wet and the back of my shirt soaked, and completely dry underarms.
 
Pizza Crust Yeast.  (Hey, I never promised a coherent theme to this list…).  Pizza Crust Yeast is different somehow than regular bread yeast. I’m not sure how exactly, but it promises that you can make and bake a from-scratch pizza in 30 minutes, without all of the rise and rest time of a typical pizza dough.  It is not supposed to be good for actual bread baking. Since my regular pizza dough takes either 1-2 hours of hot rise and rest time, or 24 hours of slow-rising in the fridge, I figured it was worth the $1.50 to try.

It seemed to work.  I sort of followed the recipe on the yeast package, but changed it to a honey wheat crust (swapped three-quarters of a cup of flour for wheat flour, and used honey instead of the sugar).  I made the pizzas thin crusts, and their flavor and texture were just fine.  There is a warning about not using it for bread baking, but I may try it for last-minute yeast cinnamon rolls some morning (if it works, that would be a very diet-unfriendly recipe to have in the repertoire).  If I do, Ill report back how it worked.
 
 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Welcome Summer

Whoever decided that summer means lazy days of swimming and sipping lemonade and napping in a hammock should be shot.  Or maybe tied to that hammock and left to sizzle and burn in the hot summer sun. It is nothing short of cruel to bombard us with media images promising rest and warm, sun-heated happiness.  If Memorial Day weekend is any indication, then summer 2010 will be just as hustled, hurried, and harassed as the worst holiday season.
 
Friday was Charlotte’s last day of Kindergarten, so after working four hours, I left by eleven AM to run errands before picking her up at noon.  We celebrated the end of her last day of school by going out to lunch at the same restaurant we went to on her first day of school. Then it was home to unload a backpack full of school supplies, fill in a few pages in a school-years scrapbook (starting with the “Preschool” ones that were still blank….), do some housework, and pick up her brother from daycare.  If we did anything else Friday evening, I have apparently blocked it out or subsequently lost those brain cells somewhere in the mad dash that ensued beginning Saturday.
 
Saturday involved early morning gardening, midday housekeeping, an afternoon trip to Lowes for more gardening supplies, and an evening party at a friend’s house.  It felt like summer.  Mid-July in fact.  According to the car, the parking lot at Lowes was over 100 degrees.  And I felt every single one of them as I loaded up a trunk full of bagged mulch, then had to unload and reload it all when I found the trunk mat was blocking the door latch. My husband (who’d stayed home with napping kids) was kind enough to unload it all and haul it all down the hill to the backyard.  Where it still is.
 
Sunday was spent over the river (and probably through the woods, though you can’t see many trees from the highway) with my husband’s family for church, lunch, playtime, naptime, and a movie (Shrek! Even the three 3-year olds loved it!).  Amazingly, my kids didn’t fall asleep in the car on the ride home.  And therefore didn’t go to bed until almost 10pm.
 
Nor did our youngest sleep in Monday morning.  6:30AM. This kid’s internal alarm clock is more reliable than some electric models.  But maybe it was for the best, because we apparently had an entire Memorial Day weekend worth of activities ready to fit into the one remaining day.  More gardening work for me, mowing the lawn for my husband, grocery shopping, laundry, playtime outside, playtime inside, laundry, swimming at the neighborhood pool (cut short by lightning and thunder), Rock Band on the Wii (with the 3-yo on the drums and the 5-yo singing), more laundry while my husband grilled chicken and I made an apple-blackberry crisp for dessert (and banana bread for today, since the kitchen was already preheated).  The quick storm earlier cooled it off enough for us to eat dinner outside. After dessert and books (Charlotte read one to me), I was ready to be tucked in for the night.