Friday, July 22, 2011

Things Mama Loves

I'll admit it...I love Amazon.com. Why?

I live in a rural area. At least, my village is classified as rural: there are only 4800 of us, village and outlying township, combined. We live thirty minutes from the nearest mall, and an hour from downtown Milwaukee. Granted, that isn't far compared to some parts of the country. But when you factor in having to load my two darlings, their sippy cups, their diaper bag, snacks, the pillow pets, the singamajigs, army guys, and all their other gear into the car, the hour long drive becomes almost a two hour adventure, one way.

As a weekly feature, I'll be sharing the items that I'm loving at present. Some of them, I've owned for a while. Some, I discovered thanks to another mom-blogger and want to pass the good word on. And some of them...I want to share because they're just awesome. Enjoy!


The first is the Bissell Lift off vaccuum. I don't have pets. I don't need them; I have kids. I also own a condo that has the main living areas on the second floor, and in the basement rec room. I'm only 5'1. I like to work out (I'm a Beachbody coach...ask me sometime!), but lugging a vaccuum up two flights of stairs isn't my idea of a workout. This vaccuum solves that issue. And hey, it empties easily, and filters are cheap. Rock on!

                  

  Okay, I've linked to this one before. I own it on an e-reader, and I have to admit that I'm falling in love with Liana Krissoff. No goofy tasty pickles; in this book, and no random jams made of a fruit that hasn't been cultivated in twenty years. She groups her recipes by season, which is very nice for the novice canner, but also for those of us who lack imagination. I especially love her Green Apple Pectin recipe; why buy boxed pectin, and use all that extra refined sugar, when instead you can use green apples for pectin, and make spreads, fillings, and other preserves that are healthy for you? Check it out today.

                              
                    The Tudors. My most recent obsession. It's been hot, too hot to play outside. I need something beyond Jerseylicious (sorry, Olivia!) to stimulate my mind. While this isn't the most historically accurate portrayal of Henry the Eighth (I am...I am...), it's incredibly lush. The CGI isn't the greatest, but the acting is superb, and the costuming is gorgeous. Just don't watch it if you're susceptible to the power of suggestion; I find I drink more wine when I watch!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Be who you are...

Apple Butter and Monday Morning

I'm not a morning person. There, I said it. I don't like the mornings.

I don't get up early; and my kids don't either. Being a stay at home mom allows me the latitude to sleep in past the time most other moms (at home or the working moms) tend to be up with their kids. Granted, the Preschooler and the Toddler do share a room, but if one wakes up, eventually, the other does as well. One really great perk is that they snuggle and play together in the morning, and instead of waking up to an alarm clock's horrible and incessant beeping, I wake up to hear my kids singing, giggling, saying I love you, and playing. Occasionally, I wake up to someone hollering because she's dirtied her diaper a bit earlier than scheduled, but that's quite all right.

Either way, all those mom blogs out there have writers who get up at 4 to 5 am, do their Bible devotional, workout, make fresh muffins for their family, shower, put a full face of makeup on, and are perfectly pressed and ready to go by the time their family is awake so that they can start another perfect, sunshiny day of homeschooling. Not me. I drop my Preschooler of at class two times a week in yoga pants (or, in the winter, my brightly colored flannel snowflake pajama bottoms). I get out of bed and one eye doesn't focus for a good hour after I've inserted my contacts, and Heaven help the child who crosses me before I've had at least one cup of coffee or a Shakeology (chocolate, please). Preferably, I've consumed both. It's better for all of mankind that I have coffee every morning. I'm lucky if I've worked out, cleaned my house, and gotten a shower before noon. Chances are, I take care of that during nap, provided the kids cooperate.

Hmm...that sounds a bit angsty on my part here. I don't mean it to be, but I want to be real. I'm sitting on my couch now, drinking a workout recovery drink at 11 pm at night, watching yet another rerun, still in my workout clothes. Sure, I finished an hour ago, but the couch was comfortable and I'm just going to bed anyway. Why be someone I'm not?

I could, for example, give up canning, and just buy my jelly, jam, and butters at the store. But storebought preserves just have this taste I can't abide anymore; artificial sugar is just so offputting to me now that I've been trying to focus on cleaner eating. Sure, I'll still eat Kraft Mac and Cheese. I love Velveeta, and I can wax poetic about salsa and chips. But a few more salads a week and a few more pieces of fruit each day never hurts anyone.

Which, as I digressed, is why I can. I know what is in my jam (or jelly, or preserve, or chutney, or butter...) jar. In the case of the apple butter I made? Apples. Sugar. Water. That's it. That's all the recipe called for, besides the spices cinnamon, allspice, and clove. After about 15 hours of simmering, my apple butter was sheer perfection. I won't lie, I'm pretty proud of the result. I was a bit concerned at first due to the fact that I added way too much water. But it reduced down very nicely, and I couldn't stop taking tastes to try it out. Knowing what is in it makes me feel better when I spread it on my toast in the morning, or mix it in to unflavored oatmeal for the kids. No artificial anything. Just amazing, apple goodness, fresh from a local orchard.

Here's the recipe I used (my own):

6 pounds of Granny Smith apples. (I like Granny Smith's tartness - it's a great foil to the sugar and spice)

2 cups of water

1.5 cups of sugar (more or less to taste)

1 Tbsp cinnamon
1Tsp clove
1 Tsp Allspice

Peel and core your apples. Put in a pot with 2 cups of water that is already boiling. Recover and watch the pot for boil-overs; I turned my stove to medium high here and it was a perfect setting. Once apples are soft and gently exploding, remove pot from heat, and get an immersion blender in there. Blend the apples thoroughly; mixture maybe very liquidy. That's okay.

Add liquid to a large slow cooker. Gently stir in sugar and spices. Turn slow cooker on to 10 or 12 hour setting, grab a wooden spoon or some of those extra wooden chopsticks, use them to slightly vent the lid (I set two on the inside rim of my cooker and just set the lid on top). Walk away. Leave it alone. For at least 2-3 hours. If you're like me, you're asleep 2-3 hours later, so no worries about stirring. If you happen to do this during the day and you can stir, just give the mixture a quick stir every few hours. Once the mixture has reduced to roughly half of it's original volume (for me, this was about 15-16 hours), and takes on a thick texture, it is ready to can and process.

Once your boiling water canner is ready, put butter in jars, cover, and process for 20 minutes. Remove to a towel to cool and finish sealing. Listen for the "ping-pop" of the jars closing. Any jars that do not seal need to be refrigerated immediately. Otherwise, enjoy your Fall in a Jar!

Sometimes I say I'll go to bed Early...

But then, I do not. Sure, I'll bemoan the fact that I'm pooped the next day, and whine to myself about how I should've gone to bed sooner, but I can't help it...I'm easily distracted! Usually, I can blame my kids for that distraction; someone needs a boo-boo kissed, someone's picking on her brother, someone wants playdough/a snack/a nuk/a cup of juice/a hug NOW, and I gladly welcome those distractions. I wouldn't trade them for the world. But at 9:30 p.m., I'm most vulnerable to those 'other' distractions; sometimes, it's a show I've been waiting to see, usually it is a book, sometimes it is a long running baseball game on tv, and most often...food is involved as a major distractor.

Tonight's problem? I had six pounds of granny smith apples from a nearby farm just waiting to be used in my produce drawer. I'd made a pie crust a few days ago, but I just haven't felt in the 'pie' spirit. I don't particularly care for an all Granny Smith apple pie, and the only other produce we had in the house, save the frozen items, was some rhubarb, some lettuce, and carrots. Not an appetizing dessert pie, not in the slightest. So, I let the apples sit. And sit. And sit. I kept shooing the kids away from them because, "Mama's going to make something with them...", and after the Preschooler countered that statement with, "What are you going to make, Mama? You keep saying that...", I decided it was time to make something, anything out of them. After reading a new canning cookbook tonight, I figured out just what that something is: apple butter!

Nerd alert: I love to can. But canning is cool! It isn't some archaic pastime that hermits and old ladies partake in. Canning and preserving your own food is an awesome way to take control of your family's diet. In our home, we try to avoid MSG as much as possible (okay, I do...the rest of them, they're on their own if they choose to consume the stuff). You can control the amount of sugar and salt that goes into your food. You can pick your own strawberries, apples, oranges, vegetables, etc., to turn into jams, jellies, butters, chutneys, pickles, and more.  You can even make wine jelly. Trust me...I've done it, and it was amazing.

But, I wax poetic. I tend to do that in regards to food.  Back to the topic at hand...apple butter.

I love apple butter. It is just so, well, quintessentially Wisconsin. We do tend to like our apples here, and since many of us have a glut of them arrive on our doorstep in mid summer to late autumn, those of us 'food preservationists' rejoice at the bounty of apples to turn into apple sauce, cinnamon apple rings, apple pie filling, and apple butter. I can't imagine not having it in my home at any one given moment. Not to mention, my husband attended Gettysburg college and fell in love with apple butter in Pennsylvania, thanks to the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence on food out in that part of the country.

Tonight, I tried a new recipe: instead of boiling the apples, mashing them by hand, and then stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring...well, you get the point. That old way to make apple butter is ridiculous. I have two children under the age of 4, and I'd like to go to bed before 2 a.m, since I was silly and started this project at 9:30 at night. In reading the book, the author, Liana Krissoff, suggests a few tweaks to the old methodology: use an immersion blender to mash the apples (why didn't I  think of that!?) and to slow cook the apple puree so that it takes on the butter-like consistency without the risk of burning in a pot on the stove, or worse, wasting precious time stirring a pot when you'd rather be playing with the kids. Or in my case, sleeping.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Mama's Bookbag

I hope you come to read knowing that I love books. If the blog name doesn't give it away, or the library book header, well...you'll catch on soon enough.

We love books in this house. The Preschooler has discovered the Tag Junior book pal reader and early phonics; he's spending more and more time with a book and that little gadget on his own, perusing books, getting lost in worlds beyond, and then relating them to me in the evening while I make dinner. Nevermind that he's speaking so quickly that I don't always catch everything that happened in Preschool Imagination-land. :)

My husband and I are both readers; always have been, always will be. Recently, I cleaned out and reorganized our basement crawl spaces (yes, we have two...lucky me. Double the spiders.Yay.), and counted the books we have between just the two of us. I came up with seven-hundred and fifty books, give or take a few dozen as I was in the basement and in no mood to climb, dust-covered and full of dead spiders, up two flights of stairs, to our bedroom. That doesn't include the kids' books. Suffice it to say; we have a lot of books.

But, being the good librarian I am, I will never, ever stop using my local library. My taxes help fund it; and it is a center of knowledge. I can get so much more there than just books; I can locate ancestors, put my head together with another information professional on how to do this, that or the next thing, I can plan a vacation, attend childrens' programs, or even sign my husband up for a program to get him out of the house and out of my hair for a night when he's stir crazy in the middle of winter. We always find great materials, every time we go.

Today, we came home with a sack of books that I think weighs more than both of my children do, combined. A new favorite of both kids is a Rosemary Wells book entitled, Ruby's Rainy Day. I absolutely adore Max and Ruby (seriously, I don't know of many other childrens' characters that are cute AND non-irritating. I'm looking at you, Calliou.), and this book is no different. It is a short little board book, perfect for a wiggly Toddler who loves books but can't stay in her Mama's lap for more than ten pages right now, and offers material for a Preschooler who is starting to reason out the whys and wherefores of book plots.  This book was no different: the Preschooler has been learning all about helping his sister (he's got the 'helping' in general thing down, but now he's also turning into a big brother - good and bad!), and it fostered a nice little discussion about why we help our brothers and sisters.

Not to mention, I found it hidden under his bed when I just went to check on him. I think it's a winner. :)

More on what I'm reading tomorrow!

Life, simplified

Today marked a turning point in my life.

No, I didn't get married.

Nope, no babies were born, either.

Nothing overly exciting, thrilling, or even groundbreaking occurred. Absolutely, positively nothing interesting happened.

Unless you were me.

I went to the library with my kids. We played. We looked for books. We had our reading logs signed, picked our prizes (another maraca for the Toddler, and a Hello Kitty calendar for the Preschooler, as well as free ice cream coupons to the stand here in town). I paid our library fines, we got hand stamps, we checked our books out, and we went home.

Pretty prosaic, huh? You know you're thinking that. And that's okay.

But here I am...admitting something to that Great Void out there - is anyone listening even? Going to the library a year ago would have resulted in temper tantrums, freak outs, and tears. And I'm just talking about ME. Going places the last few years with two young children in tow hasn't been the easiest. Lest you judge or say something to the effect of, "Well, I have FOUR kids, and it's just fine for me" or something to that extent, I'll explain.

I suffer from depression. Mind-bendingly numbing, horribly debilitating depression. And just for good measure? Add a side of clinical anxiety to that. Sounds fun, hey?

At first, I tried to get through it on my own; I was being cyberbullied, but because I'm almost 30, no one believed that I was being bullied, save a few people who knew what was going on. Then, I blamed the fact that my hormones were out of whack; didn't I just have a baby six months ago? That HAD to be it. Then it was that I had too much on my plate with graduate school, a part time gig, plus my own home and the kids. Not to mention, I was trying to be the best darn wife possible. Even if my husband was working sixty plus hour work weeks. And get through that whole cyber bully thing? That had to be it.

Right?

RIGHT!?

Nope. It wasn't.

Not even close. Not at all.

Finally, I spoke with my doctor. And after months of tears, screaming red faced anger, time on my knees in prayer, prostrate in the Nave at Church, begging Christ and his Holy Mother to help me, and fits of debilitating anxiety, I had a fix. A little, round, white fix. It took me two whole weeks to swallow that first pill.

And for the last year, roughly, I haven't looked back.

While I certainly do not advocate medication as the first resort for someone suffering from depression and anxiety, I do advocate speaking with your doctor. Try talk therapy first; I did, but it only made a dent in what I was feeling. I've found a happy medium for me: that little round white pill, talk therapy, and regular workouts keep me happy. I'm hoping to wean off of the medicine within the next year, but if I'm not advised to, then I won't.

And this is why today was such a big deal for me. I enjoyed my kids. I enjoyed my life. And even though there were temper tantrums (not mine...not this time. Talk to the Toddler about that!), even though it was hot outside, and even though things didn't go the way I thought they should go today....I realized something.

Things just went the way they did. And I'm cool with that.