Friday, July 29, 2011

On the go...

Bryan got his new scooter! The kids were really excited and wanted us to go for a bike ride around the neighborhood. That's not something we've been able to do and it was so much fun! I love the age in which we live for all its conveniences - particularly for the technology we enjoy and the freedom it brings.


Hope your weekend will be as much fun as ours!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Morgan

This summer has felt a bit too busy to me, personally, but the kids have had a lot of fun with a college student named Morgan who has taken them off three times a week to just play. They have gone to the pool and the playground and the botanical garden. They have been to the movies and out to eat and to the craft store. And occasionally, they've stayed home to play in the sprinkler or do arts and crafts projects...


Today is Morgan's last day with us before she heads back to MSU... We're going to miss her so much!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to take care of your houseplants

A friend of the family gave me a wandering jew for my 7th birthday and I have absolutely loved houseplants ever since. It took me 30 years to learn how to keep them alive, so I thought I'd save you some time and share what I now know...
     If you're a novice, buy your houseplants from someplace like Home Depot or Wal-Mart because they don't stock the complicated/high-maintenance plants you see at finer garden centers.
TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CARING FOR HOUSEPLANTS
  1. Houseplants can grow in any room that has a window - even if they're not close to the window
  2. It is better to neglect a houseplant than to over water it
  3. Green, droopy leaves are generally an indicator that you need to water
  4. Crunchy tips on the ends of your leaves are generally an indicator that you have over watered
  5. Houseplants grow best in pots that allow drainage
  6. Some pebbles on top of the dirt makes the whole plant look prettier even though it makes it a bit tougher to gauge how dry the soil is getting - just shove your finger down into the dirt
  7. Let the dirt get dry before you water again
  8. You really don't need to fertilize as often the the fertilizer companies would like you to think - I rarely bother, but when I do, I follow the instructions exactly and I use MiracleGrow products
  9. Too much fertilizer will kill a houseplant
  10. It's not dead until all the pieces are crunchy right where they come out of the dirt - but always remove dead bits so the plant won't waste it's energy trying to revive those parts

The pots shown at the top do not drain and really only work for plants that could survive in a swamp. I really need to move my diaffenbachia out of the white vase! The pots on the bottom work for any plant because they allow drainage. I suggest putting large pots on casters since they'll be quite heavy once filled with dirt.

The pictures on top show dried tips on the end of my tropical plant (too much water - even in a pot that drains) and all the missing leaves resulting from Freddie eating the plant and Michael playing rodeo and lassoing the plant... Aside from that, it's healthy. The pictures on the bottom show crunchy tips from overwatering.

A special word on FICUS TREES: They grow beautifully (and slowly) indoors and endure a lot of neglect, but they do not like to be moved so pick a good spot for your tree and never move it again.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Landscaping for Dummies + Mud Wrestling

OK, I cracked. I've been wanting to add some color to the garden all summer and couldn't muster the patience to learn Landscaping 101, so I opted for Landscaping for Dummies, in the most figurative sense... I just bought plants I like and planted them. Once I formalize a landscaping strategy, I will move them around accordingly!

The funny part of my afternoon was wrestling an overgrown Pampas Grass out of the ground. Don and Donna from Wisconsin (total strangers) pulled up and asked if they could take a picture of me since I was covered in mud and looked so hilarious! Then they offered to wrap a strap around the roots and pull it out with their truck. I'd been digging for a couple of hours and gladly accepted the offer! (Seemed a fair trade for pictures taken with two iPhones and a digital camera! I was lookin' that good!)

Aside from mud wrestling digging up the Pampas Grass, I planted more Hostas (shocker!!!), plus three small Lantana (upper left), two varieties of Hibiscus (upper and lower right), and more Nandina Fire Power (middle right) for a pop of red this Fall. And I also noticed my little sickly Japanese Maple (lower left) has sprouted new shoots with dark red leaves. Yay!

Up next? My mom is ordering us some bulbs from Brecks that we can plant this Fall.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Landscaping 101

I want to learn about landscape architecture so I can create a grand plan for our lawn to work toward over the years... A plan that includes a lot more trees... and flowering shrubs... and paths... and a deck... and a fountain... and a fireplace... and lots of red, orange and yellow against a backdrop of green...


On my flight back from Austin yesterday, I was reading Better Homes and Gardens and dreaming of all the things we could do to our lawn, if I just knew where to begin!

Anyone ever used a landscape designer before? Or some of the design-it-yourself landscaping software out there?

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's gonna work? Team work!

Leah and Michael work very well together despite the moments in the day that they're hollering at each other over whose turn it is, etc. I regularly walk into the room to find them collaborating on something. They found this dinosaur diorama project online, printed it, found a shoebox, and assembled it without any involvement from me. Leah and Michael were really proud of it...



It's funny to me how intuitive technology is for little kids. Leah and another 6 year old were recently comparing notes on what they Google, what they download and what they bookmark.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

These are the good ol' days, but you knew that, right?

Time is our most valuable resource. You really can't buy it or save it - you have to spend it, by definition, and you either spend it wisely or you squander it. I know it's just a figure of speech, but I cringed the other day when someone said to me, "I can't wait to retire so I can start enjoying life!"

Let me tell you something. I am just old enough to have figured out one thing: These are the good ol' days and they're going to be whatever we make of them. Your real life is happening right now. You can waste it waiting for whatever - and a lot of people do - or you can decide to get happy about today just as it is. Whatever you're waiting and hoping for won't bring you happiness if you haven't figured out how to get happy with Tuesday. Trite, but true!

"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." - Abraham Lincoln
Caught this sunset the other night while taking out the dog.

Twenty years ago, I met a one-legged man who lived in a shack with a tin roof and a clay floor next to a dirt road in the mountains of rural eastern Jamaica. He had a stick to help him hop around and he rode a donkey when he needed to go anywhere. He was wasn't waiting for a marriage, or a divorce, or a child or grandchild, or a house with a floor, or a job, or retirement, or even a prosthetic leg. He wasn't waiting. He was just happy.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ring Bearer

This past weekend, Michael had the honor of serving as ring bearer in our nephew Drew's wedding. Having little cousins and nephews serve as ring bearers holds a long honored tradition in Bryan's family - or maybe it's just that the boys in this family are all so cute?!? (Drew's little brother, Will, was the ring bearer in our wedding and Drew was a groomsman.)

Michael was very impressed with Drew's Navy buddies - most particularly with their swords. He turned to me and asked, "When I grow up, can you take me to the Navy?" I said we could probably work something out. "Good," he replied. "I don't even know where the Navy is!"

Everything about the day was beautiful.

Congratulations, Drew and Cassie!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My little helper...

Sunday morning, I woke up to find Michael's little face in mine. "I let Dizzy out and gave him some food," he said.




Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Home

There is something to be said for making a house your home. My brother Steve lived in middle-of-nowhere Montana for a while and renovated the tiniest little house into a beautiful home. (Seriously, I think the whole house was about 400 square feet.) His dog slept on an Oriental rug in front of a cast-iron stove in a den with animal heads on the walls which is entirely "Steve". I believe that's what made it so great. I loved that house.
"Having a warm home that looks good and works well, and that you and your family and friends enjoy must be one of the most worthwhile things in life – the foundation of a good life…"
Terence Conran’s “
The House Book” (1974)


Plants make a home come alive, so I keep adding more!

I bought this cabinet at a junk shop in Maidenhead, Berkshire just outside London when I moved there in the late 90's. It was in rough shape and sat in our garage for years until a neighbor refinished it this Spring. Now it's in our foyer. I love it because it is really old and doesn't match any of our other furniture.

I keep thinking about what it is that differentiates a house from a home and I have concluded it's the imperfection of it all - the fingerprints and dings and nicks and the odd combination of pieces you buy and things you inherit. It all comes together as a reflection of the inhabitants of the home.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'm thinking we need some color...

Our family room + kitchen is an ode to brown wood. First, the builder put in brown wood cabinets and brown wood floors. Then we put a bunch of brown wood furniture in with it. Now, you may have noticed that I like brown... a lot. But this much brown? Brown wood? I keep looking around thinking we need some color. I have covered the kitchen island with paint chips. Any suggestions?


What color are your kitchen cabinets? I need some inspiration!

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to make [awesome] stir fry

Making stir fry is not difficult if you follow a few simple tips. We make it all the time because the kids will eat vegetables if we call it "Chinese" or "Japanese". Go figure. Here are my best tricks:

A word on ingredients: A good stir fry must have a meat, a fresh vegetable (or two or ten), a nut or seed (think sesame seeds or cashews), and a starch (either rice or noodles) plus onions and garlic with soy sauce, sesame oil, and teriyaki sauce. The best part? You do not need to measure! Trust me. It's all about dumping stuff into a pan.


Amazing Chicken Vegetable Stir Fry with Noodles

Note: Because this is a fast process with short cooking times, I start the water boiling to make my noodles before I begin my stir-fry. When I do noodles, I use thick spaghetti to balance the weight of the meat and large chunks of veggies.
  • Heat 2 TBS of oil in a large sauce pan and add chopped boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Stir regularly until browned, adding a small amount of teriyaki sauce and a liberal sprinkling of sesame seeds, then remove to a large serving bowl. (Go easy on the teriyaki.)
  • If the sauce pan looks dry, add a little oil, then add chopped onion and sliced carrots. Sautee uncovered until barely softened, then remove to the serving bowl.
  • If the sauce pan looks dry, add a little oil, then add chopped mushrooms and chopped broccoli - then sprinkle chopped garlic across the top of the broccoli. (Warning: Garlic burns quickly but you can curb that here because the mushrooms will give off a lot of moisture + you have a lid on the pan to keep the moisture in the steam the broccoli.) Cook until barely softened, then add to serving bowl.
  • Stir the meat and veggies together and serve over noodles with a splash of soy sauce.
Mmmmmmmmm!

Important rule #1: DO NOT OVER COOK. Err on the side of crunchy vegetables and al dente noodles. Nothing is more disgusting than mushy stir-fry.

Important rule #2: USE SESAME OIL. Or Canola oil. Or maybe even peanut oil. But don't use olive oil no matter how much you love it. Olives are not native to Asia and the strong Mediterranean flavor will make your stir fry weird.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Musical beds...

At our house, people walk around in the middle of the night. There's a lot of activity. Someone's always going to the bathroom, letting the cat out, letting the cat in, changing to a different bed... I happen to know that 2 adults, 2 children, a cat and a dog can fit in a king sized bed, but I don't recommend it. The biggest risk in getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is that you may lose your spot in bed!

Freddie is not allowed on the furniture. Can't you tell? He seems to like Bryan's side of the bed best. It's cozy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jonesborough Days

We just returned from our annual trek to Jonesborough, Tennessee to meet up with dear friends and enjoy an old fashioned 4th of July parade and street festival. Molly and I have been friends since childhood and since we live 800 miles apart, this is our one chance each year to see one another. We feel a lot more like family than friends, actually. Her parents, Terry and Sandy, feel the same way and love Bryan and our kids just as much as they do me. They even included us in the family photo that hangs on their living room wall! It's just love all around!

We have a great line-up of kids: Leah (6½), Lucy (6½), Michael (3½), Leo (3½) and Eli (1½). Terry and Sandy took the kids to a waterpark and gave them lots of golf cart rides downtown to the Jonesboro Days Festival to jump in the bouncy houses and play in the sand pile. We rode on a parade float again this year as Terry played the banjo and sang "God Bless America" and "She's a Grand Ole Flag" with the other members of the Jonesboro Novelty Band - and we all watched the town's fireworks show from the back yard.


Our four days together always go by too fast!