Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gathering in August

Is August over already?  Apparently so!  That's what the calendar is indicating and that's what Cheryl says over at Thinking About Home, and I'm pretty sure they are both telling the truth! August is typically sweltering and sticky in these parts.  Not so this year.  I don't think we made it into the 90's one single time. You aren't hearing me complain about that! Just like every month August had its ups and downs.  I'm sensing a trend.  I think it's called life.  Or at least it's called my life. So let's take a tour of my August, shall we? 

At the beginning of the month we had a picnic at the home of my husband's and son's co-worker.  Of course I took potato salad!  My family loves my potato salad.  I wouldn't ordinarily take pictures of food like this, but I HAD to send a picture to my daughter to say See what you are missing by living so far away?   She didn't take the bait. 
After the picnic we brought the twins home with us so that Mommy and Daddy could stay a little longer and have a kid-free night.  First order of business was a bath!  After that they had a grand time playing cars in front of the living room window.  They like being able to see everything going on outside.  And of course there was a snack.  Fruit.  That's the only snacky thing I can keep in my house. They seem fine with that. 
Bedtime requirements are as follows... Levi has Froggy and Blanky. Froggy is for cuddling, Blanky is for chewing.  Liam has Baby and Chocolate Baby.  Both for cuddling.   (Let me insert here... Liam named the darker monkey Chocolate Baby.  Until recently they were both just "Baby".  He's an observant kid.  I'm sure there is a connection between the name change and his learning the difference between milk and chocolate milk.)  

My hydrangeas did not make the showing that I had hoped for this year, but there were a few blooms.  I love the transition from chartreuse buds, to creamy petals, to lavender flowers.  This picture captures all 3 stages at once.

When I cut back the spent peonies in my flower bed I had this little surprise waiting for me... a volunteer petunia!  Since this picture was taken the plant has thrived and produced more than a dozen blooms.  I didn't plant it, I wasn't expecting it, but I sure do appreciate it.  Some of the flowers have even more pink striping on them.

Now THIS is something that really made me happy.  My beloved crape myrtles.  They are just babies now but I can imagine them being tall and full and beautiful.  I thought they had died so I was very excited to see them start to produce buds.  All three shrubs are making a very good show despite their slow start. 

 I don't mind a bit of creepy stuff.  Actually, sometimes I quite enjoy it.  Especially when it lends itself to a macro shot.  Not my best, but they can't all be winners.  Feel free to scroll right on past this next picture if it isn't your cup of tea.

This has been the year of the squash in my garden.  Our zucchini and yellow summer squash produced so much more than we would have guessed.  Now it is time for the Seminole squash to do its thing, and it is taking over the place!   Our shed is about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide.  The vines from this one plant are already wrapping around toward the front.  We have 2 other plants that are conquering their patches as well.  I have a feeling that the people with whom I shared seeds are either thrilled or cursing me, depending on their mindset.  But to them all I say "You're Welcome" because these squash will make a tasty dish come winter.

Here was a fleeting opportunity... watching a mother house swallow teaching her babies to fly.  There were 4 babies.  Three stayed close to the Mama, one was fiercely determined to do it all by himself.  The pictures are horrible because I had to take them through a dusty window but I couldn't open the door lest they be startled before they were ready to take the leap.  

My husband and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary in August.  One of the things we did to mark the occasion was to take a boat ride to Tangier Island.  Stewart bought me a Coke at the boat's snack bar.  I thought it had a very appropriate message.  He and I really have become best friends over the years.  One of the tiny islands in the Chesapeake Bay on the way to Tangier has this one lonely chimney.  I found it to be terribly romantic in a Wuthering Heights sort of way.  It had us both imagining what life would be like if we were to live so isolated.  We decided that we would enjoy it as long as we had a reliable motor boat and the internet access wasn't cost-prohibitive.  

August brought with it the need to refocus on our diet.  Will we ever learn moderation?  I doubt it.  So until we do, I try very hard to keep our food tasty and interesting.  I came up with this golden beet and fennel salad that really hit the spot on one of our warmer days.  Cold and refreshing!

One morning in late August I noticed dozens of spider webs out my front door in the grass.  They looked like small, hoary pieces of cotton candy.  They were all rather jumbled messes of silk, not at all pretty once I got up close.  And then I noticed this one.... 
Now that's my kind of spider!  Neat and tidy.  It was the only one out of all the webs to look like this.  Another pleasant surprise! 
Okay, I know this post has surpassed a decent length but I have to share ONE LAST THING.  August 30th marked the last day of a challenge that I issued for myself in the spring.  Thirteen weeks of consistent exercise, 6 days a week. Here's the chart that I used to keep myself on track... 
I also met my goal of swimming enough laps (74) to constitute a mile.  You might be able to see that in week 2 I started out with only being able to swim 10 laps.  I progressed fairly quickly and enjoyed it all the while.  The best exercise is the exercise that you will actually do.  And if you have fun doing it, that's all the better! 
My September schedule is a bit fancier...  

I used to think that if I could create the perfect schedule for myself that I would no longer need a chart, that it would just become part of my routine.  Not so!  I have learned that I am obsessive very goal oriented, externally motivated, and I become bored quite quickly.  I always just thought I was lazy.  That's what I was told, anyway.  I suppose I am lazy to some extent, but I am learning to work with who I am and what I've been given rather than against my talents.  
It isn't about perfection, it's about direction.   
Okay, now that you have endured this, it is time for you to click on over to Cheryl's blog and see what she and some of her other friends have been up to this month.  That's what I'll be doing! 
Thinking About Home


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Hodge Podge... It Is Key

I'm joining Hodge Podge Wednesday for the first time today.  Looks like fun.  We shall see! 

 1. What would you say is the key to success?

I'd say that it is different for everyone.  For me?  I'll let you know when I figure that out.

 2. Have you ever been to the Florida Keys? Any desire to visit that part of the US of A?

Yes, I have been to the Keys.  I used to live in Miami, Florida, and the keys are just a hop, skip and a jump from there.

 3. When and where did you last see a real live donkey? Monkey? Turkey?

Donkey?  I don't remember.
Monkey?  The last time I was at the zoo, about 8 months or so ago.
Turkey?  A wild flock in a field, just a few days ago.

Have YOU ever seen a Zonkey?  They are real!  This friendly girl lives in the Searcy, Arkansas area.

 4. An old Portuguese proverb says, 'Beware of the door with too many keys.' What do you think this means? Share an example of how this has proven true or false in your own life.

The more people who have access, the less safe the treasure.  Suffice it to say, it has proven true. 

5. Besides your home, vehicle, and special jewelry, what is something you keep under lock and key?

Our storage/tool shed.

6. When did you last get keyed up about something?

Monday (2 days ago).  I got really excited about a project I am working on and my mind just would not let me relax.

7. Who thinks we need an easy one right about now?  Key lime pie...yes please or no thank you?

Oh, yes!  Love the real stuff!

8. Insert your own random thought here.

My husband and I are watching the television series Lark Rise to Candleford (based on a book by the same name) for the second time.  The character Minnie shows up in the second season as the new maid in the post office, replacing the maid who had served there for decades. 

Minnie is quite young, very inexperienced, and woefully absent-minded.  She does not know how to cook or properly clean, and she day-dreams at the most inopportune times.  She's a bumbling mess with whom everyone in the post office gets very, very frustrated.  At the end of the first episode in which we meet Minnie, she ruins the wedding dress that the postmistress (Dorcas Lane) has kept as a treasured heirloom, hoping beyond hope that she will one day wear it herself. 

Miss Lane calls Minnie to her, furious and crying, to tell her that she is not at all equipped to do the job for which she is hired and that she might just be hopeless.  Minnie would be headed to the workhouse or worse if Miss Lane turned her out. 

But then Miss Lane says to her that she will teach her, and she will never be thrown out to be lost.  The post office would be Minnie's home for as long as she wants it.   Minnie runs from the room, in tears, but with the biggest smile that her face will allow.  She knows she is "worthless" but she now also knows that she is loved.

This whole scene reminds me of the scripture that tells us that God chastens those whom He loves.  Miss Lane freely gave Minnie a home knowing that she, Minnie, had nothing to offer, much as God freely gives us salvation.  How often have I been broken by my own worthlessness, been chastened by God, but having a lightness that only comes from knowing that I am loved deeply enough by the Creator of the universe that He will not leave me in such a state.

It is the BEST feeling in this life!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Make It New Monday 8/4/14... foam blocks to lap counter

Is it really that time again?  Time for Make It New Monday?  It is incredible how quickly the month of July flew by and the first Monday of the new month rolled around. 

If this is your first time visiting, or you've been here before and need a quick reminder, let me briefly explain...  On the first Monday of the month I post pictures of a project that I've done that repurposes, recycles, or reworks in something in some way, and you get to link up with me.  Turn a planter into a hummingbird feeder?  Link up!  Turn a sweater into a hat and gloves?  Link up!  Use paper towel tubes to make napkin rings?   Link up!  As long as it starts out like "this" and ends up like "that".  The sky is the limit.  And please, please remember that perfection is not needed!  REMEMBER?!?  Good!

This month's project is purely functional, born out of mild desperation.  I hadn't even intended to use this as a post but because all of my project materials have been jammed into a closet awaiting new accommodations (I will explain in a bit) I didn't have a whole lot of choice.

I've started swimming laps as part of my summer exercise regimen and I needed something to help me keep my count accurately.  I am not a very good swimmer so I found it difficult to swim AND keep count at the same time. 

My swimming partner has a system of counting her laps based on the different strokes she uses.  Side stroke, breaststroke, and a few others that I don't know the names of.  She used to be a lifeguard so she's really good at all that.

I have one stroke.  It is called "just don't drown".

So after toying with different options, I came up with an idea based on a bracelet that I had made for myself to keep track of speed increasing increments while walking.  Yes, folks, my brain goes a-wandering and I forget. 

Here's the bracelet...

How it is used is this... For each speed interval I did, I would move a bead around to the opposite side.  When all the beads were moved, I was done.  Simple as that.  The elastic band fits very snugly through the hole in the beads so there is no unintentional slipping.  That's important, trust me!
For the lap counter I needed something that was heavy enough to stay put, yet buoyant.  Just in case. 
What kind of beads are able to float and are cheap, too?  Hmmm... How about making my own?  I have hundreds of little foam cubes that my grandsons play with, why not use those?   I could drill holes in them then string them together and make some sort of frame to keep them stable. Hubby suggested PVC. 
Brilliant idea, hon! 
So we gathered the materials...

It took just a few minutes to come up with a design, not very long to put it together, and this is what we ended up with...

It works much like an abacus.  I move the cubes from left to right, one at a time, then after I finish 20 laps, I flip it over and slide them back one by one again.  Simple! 

I like simple.

I have the cubes grouped by color in fives so that a quick glance can tell me how many laps I've done or how many I have left to go.

The string through the middle is the same elastic that I used for the bracelet, by the way.  Works like a charm!

I started out this summer only able to do 10 laps but with consistent practice and great encouragement, I am up to 60 laps (as of 8/1/14).  74 laps is a mile.  I'm gonna go for it and try to reach that by the end of summer!  It will take me about an hour to do it and I'll be exhausted but it will be completely worth it.

And just so you know that these had previously been used for another purpose, check this out...

One of the boys left his teeth marks in a block.  And it makes me smile.

{Why are almost all my project materials shoved into a closet with no organization whatsoever?  We have decided to have cabinets built to house my stash, and I had to quickly move it all out of the way for the builder to get to work.  He never showed up.  So now we are in the process of finding someone new.  And there is all sits, a massive junk pile.  I'm so thankful that it is behind a closed door!}

Now it is your turn!  Link up and let us see what you've been doing!
Don't forget to grab my button.

My Not-So-Empty Nest

Friday, August 1, 2014

Overnight Oats... the Basics (and some preaching)


A couple summers ago as we were about to leave for a trip, I stumbled upon a really weird concept... eating uncooked oats, cold.  I was intrigued but didn't have the opportunity to try it before leaving the next day.

When we arrived at our destination our hostess and I were discussing meals. I mentioned the idea.  Thankfully she and her husband both seemed to be curious about it, and since they had all the ingredients on hand we whipped up a batch of Overnight Oats for the next day's breakfast.  My husband declined and ate his oats in the traditional manner.

He likes oatmeal hot with brown sugar, thank you very much!

This is the basic recipe... yogurt and rolled oats in a 4 to 1 ratio.  That's it.  Stir them together, cover, refrigerate overnight, and eat cold the next morning.  I haven't eaten them unembellished like that, but you could if you really wanted to.

I've never really wanted to.

I've used both Greek-style yogurt and standard American-style.  Plain.  Always plain.  Using the stuff that is pre-flavored rather defeats the purpose of eating healthier foods.  Seriously, friends, the sweetened stuff is NOT all that good for you.  Check out the ingredients!

If you choose to use the less healthy version of yogurt I'm sure it would work just as well.  But know what you are choosing.  Don't be misled by crafty advertising.

Sermon over.

Using Greek yogurt will give you a thicker result than American yogurt.  A higher ratio of oats to yogurt will yield a gummier texture.  I don't mind the gumminess, but some may find it off-putting.

So what are the basic add-ins?  Nut butter, sweetener, fruit. 

My preference for nut butter is almond.  Chunky, all natural almond butter.  Again, read your ingredients list!  Be aware of what your food contains.  The kind I use is nothing but almonds.

Sweetener is key for most people, I'm sure.  I have used honey, real maple syrup, and fruit puree to sweeten my overnight oats.  My taste preference is honey, but my calorie preference is fruit puree.  Sometimes I don't even use a sweetener.  It really all depends on what I have on hand.

Let me just pause to say that this is not a low-calorie diet food.  This is a real foods food.  God's food, as a friend of mine says.  That's why I try to use the most basic, unadulterated ingredients I can find (and afford).  So much of our food supply has been altered in a way that our bodies don't recognize and we are being poisoned by it.   I've used stevia in this a time or two, but I have mixed feelings about stevia.  It is so highly processed and doesn't resemble its original source at all that I'm not convinced that it is all that healthy.  But sometimes you have to make a better choice when the BEST choice isn't available. 

Sermon over. 

For real, this time.

Fruit.  You can add fruit to your oats prior to refrigerating overnight, but I prefer to add it right before eating.  It can get a bit droopy otherwise.  Blueberries are my personal favorite.

And now for froufrouing it up a bit...

I've experimented with relatively few items since I like my typical mixture the best... yogurt, oats, almond butter, and cinnamon, blueberries added the next day.  After making a carrot cake-inspired version I've started adding shredded carrots (uncooked) and shredded coconut.  I like the texture.

Extracts, "sweet" spices, chopped nuts, toasted seeds, dried fruit.  I've seen quite a few yummy-sounding combinations for Overnight Oats.  A quick search on Pinterest will show you millions of options. 

Well, at least dozens.

My favorite method is to mix it up in a large batch.  4 cups of yogurt, 1 cup of oats, 4-ish tablespoons of almond butter, 4-ish teaspoons of cinnamon, half-cup of coconut, 1 cup carrots, 4-ish teaspoons of honey or maple syrup (if using).  Divide among several glass jars, pop on the lids, and refrigerate.  It isn't an exact science, which is my favorite kind of recipe to follow! 

I'm a rebel like that.

Still skeptical about trying this out?  I don't blame you.  My husband has never even tasted it.  It just doesn't sound good to him at all.  And that's fine.  Really.  Even though he has grown to like many, MANY foods that he once said were inedible, he doesn't trust me on this one.

Pfft!  His loss.  I didn't want to share it anyway. 

But I did share it with a group of women friends a few weeks ago.  They all seemed to like it.  They all took the recipe home with them after eating the sample.  One of the women made it for her husband.  He ate it and declared it to be "okay".  Which, according to her, is high praise from him.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure because I did so much preaching... 

I know a moderate amount of information about eating healthy food.  I like to eat food that is good for my body.  I honestly do.  I am getting better and better at making wiser choices.  I know what foods make me feel energetic and I know what foods make me feel sluggish.  I'm learning that things labeled to make them sound healthy are not always very healthy.  I pay much closer attention to those things than in years past. 

So, yay for me!!!  {Applause appreciated, but not necessary}

All that is very true.  However, that does not mean that you will never see me eating a big ol' nasty drive-thru burger, or chips, or a vat of ice cream.  I eat those, too.  I will sit at anyone's table and eat what is offered to me and I will not flinch because of its anti-health ingredients. 

Note to self: This "disclosure" part really should be its own post.  People don't like blog posts that are too wordy.  You are dangerously close to exceeding the limit.

My goal is not to be a purist.  C'mon, folks!  Dairy Queen just came out with the Chips A'hoy Blizzard.  Do you really think I'm going to pass that up?  I'm not.  But I will know what I am choosing and will accept the consequences.  Those things aren't wholesome and nutritious.  So when I feel like a bomb went off in my gut, and when my 4 mile walk takes me longer because I feel like a slug, and I get the sugar grouchies, I'll know exactly where it came from.  And I'll be less likely to make that choice again very soon.

Will you be giving Overnight Oats a try?