Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summertime Dinner Lethargy? The Slow Cooker's Got Your Back!

I can go for very long stretches of time without eating meat (as can the kids).  I could be good with a salad every night.  But no one else around here would be fine with that, and Allen gets antsy without some meat on the daily.  Luckily for me he has pretty cheap taste as far as meat goes: poultry, lunchmeat, and hot dogs.  This means that at least once a week I need to get my act together and cook chicken.

That's fine and dandy in the winter, when a nice warm meal in the stove is a pleasure. But in the summer, it's hot and I don't want to be standing over the stove or turning on the oven.  Oh, and I don't have a microwave, so unless I remember the day before to take out the chicken from the freezer, it's going to take some extra cooking time and therefore extra heat.  What to do?

Let the Crock Pot do all the work and take all the heat, that's what!

In the morning I'll put in a couple of frozen chicken breasts and douse them liberally with some kind of tasty salad dressing (I particularly enjoyed Brianna's Chipotle Cheddar and also Brianna's Ginger Mandarin).  If I'm feeling adventurous I might add some vegetable.  I set the Crock Pot on low, put on the lid, and let it just cook away till dinner time.

And if I don't remember to do it in the morning, I can still get away with getting it started in the afternoon and turning it on the high setting.

We've eaten the chicken over rice or noodles, in salads, in wraps or sandwiches.  It is so versatile and SO easy and so only-using-one-pot, which is a plus in our dishwasherless lives.

Who knew that salad dressing in a slow cooker would be a summertime lifesaver?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pluggin' away...

First things first: a huge "THANK YOU!" is in order to all who have contributed either materials or money to our Home Improvement Round 2 project.

Because of the materials donated (flooring for the kitchen), we were able to knock off $150 from our goal price!

Now, thanks to donors both known and anonymous, 72% of that new goal has been provided!!!

I think the part that is the most touching is knowing that some of the people who have donated have "come out of the woodwork."  That is, they are people I have not been in touch with for a long time (very long, in one case...someone who babysat me when I was a kid!) and yet they saw fit to give us some of their hard-earned money.  It really, really means a lot.

It's easy for me to look askance at social media for all of its ill uses and abuses, but it really has made it possible to be in touch with people from all over the world and from all stages of your life...or even from strangers.

So far, we've gotten the legwork done on the boys' bedroom.  That is to say, the wall is patched, the furniture is moved, the guardrails built, and another crib mattress obtained via the free section of CL. What is left to do in that room?

  • Rearranging and finding new homes for all of the stuff which had been lurking on that back wall.  (Storage is the hardest part of living in a small space. )
  • Painting a mural on the back wall: that's my job, hurray! I'm planning to do a backdrop from Maurice Sendak's classic, Where the Wild Things Are. It's my first attempt at doing a wall mural so if you have any tips on technique or products you've used and liked, please tell me!
This week Allen will start tackling the kitchen.  The second week in August is bathroom week.  Stay tuned...pictures will follow

And, because I don't have any pix of house stuff as yet, allow me to entertain you with some pictures of my "baby" (who is not such a baby anymore, sniffle sniffle!)

About 18 months ago!

Throwback to baby Max!
Megathrowback to baby Ruby!

Friday, July 17, 2015

7 QT (Plus 1!): Before and After House Pictures (FINALLY)

1. These are long overdue. We bought the palace last March; Allen spent May-July working tirelessly to take it from unlivable to very livable.  Throughout the course of the year there have been improvements made (painting; curtains; rearranging furniture and hanging artwork; and countless little fixes).

So why am I just now getting around to posting some before and afters?  Well, I think it's for a reason pretty common to moms: wanting everything to look *picture perfect*.  Of course, that's delusional.  My house is never going to be showing up on Better Homes and Gardens or Real Simple or anything like that.  I'm just not that homemaker, and this structure was not made for greatness.  As the bard might say, it had greatness thrust upon it.

Still, I kept lingering and putting off the "after" post.  A discussion at my mom's book group not too long ago helped me to realize that it was time to go Nike on this and just do it. The book we read, Momnipotent had a section which talked about how moms often sabotage themselves and their friendships by refusing to have other people over until their house is "good enough" or "clean enough."  All the moms in my group confessed that they had the same thought: that the prospect of having another family over for a playdate or a dinner meant feeling obligated to do hours of cleaning, and it was just easier not to get together.  This leads to isolation and isolation leads to mommy-burnout.  I was shocked to hear some of my mom friends saying that they felt this way.  I'd been to their houses and never saw anything that I'd call a mess.

So here goes: my house, imperfect as it is.  I did vacuum and pick up things, but anyone who feels like squinting will be able to tell that my kitchen floor is NOT washed and my windows are covered in kid fingerprints and there are piles of stuff to be "dealt with later."

2. Here's a link to the blog post I put up last March, complete with video tour.  It's about 5 minutes long and boy oh boy do you get to see the "before" nature of the house.  Wowzers.  The "before" pictures in the rest of this post are screenshots from the video just to highlight the before and after nature even better.  (Note: in the video I say that Allen will extend out the wall of the second bedroom but we didn't end up doing that.)

3. The Main Room (AKA Living Room by day, Mom and Dad's Bedroom by night)



Allen, looking at this picture: "Yikes. Can't believe I freakin' lived in that."

4. The Kitchen



Screenshot of a Skype...you can see Allen in the bottom left corner here!

5.  The "Small" Bedroom (now Ruby's Room)


It's pretty hard to see anything in here, but trust me, it was ugly.

Reframing two walls of the room

6. The Hallway and "Master" Bedroom (now the Boys' Room)


There's a hump in the floor.  Awesome. 

Walls and ceiling textured by hand
(as opposed to a texture sprayer, which is a lot faster!)

Oh hi, mold.  Didn't expect to see you there (j/k we did expect that.)
So much more well-lit!  So much nicer!!!

Here's a little clip to describe the renovation work in this room that we are undertaking in the next month or so:

7.  The Bathroom (AKA the room most in need of finishing touches!)

Very dark...like my soul upon seeing it

Couldn't get a stillshot of the tub but it was gross

That water heater has since been replaced.
It was a 1983 model (like me!)
I don't have a great single after photo of the bathroom. Partly this is because it's hard to get a good picture of the whole thing, or even one whole wall because of the narrow entrance.  And partly because it is the room still needing the most work.  

BONUS TAKE #8: Improvements Still In Progess

We have three main goals for this summer:
1.  Complete the remodel of the bathroom and hallway storage areas.  This includes demo, framing, sheetrock, mud/tape, tile/grout, texture/paint, trim.
2.  Demo our kitchen floor version 1.0 (ceramic tile) and replace with version 2.0 (lineoleum).  
3.  Replace sections of drywall in the boys' room; maximize sleeping space by creating two built-in beds.  

I made a nifty video to show what's in order (best way to see the bathroom situation).  It's worth watching for the ABBA soundtrack if no other reason.  

Home Improvements, Round 2 from Jenny Cook on Vimeo.

We decided to set up a GoFundMe account to function as a wishlist/registry.  There's an icon of our project at the top of the righthand sidebar.  If you have any spare change burning holes in your pockets or were stumped on what to get us for Christmas or birthdays, look no further.  

Thanks as always for reading, following, commenting, and all the general interest, well wishes, and good vibes you guys send our way!  I am thankful for you all!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Answer Me This

Another Sunday, another link up at Catholic All Year...

1. At what temperature do you keep the thermostat set? Summer, winter, day, night?
Don't have a thermostat, bahahahaha.  In the summer it is hot, in the winter it's not unbearable (although we do wear sweaters and socks). 

2. What is your favorite frozen beverage?
I do love a Starbucks Frappucino.  I love them too much.  I no longer have them, because none is easier than one.  One makes me want more, and they are expensive!!! But that's probably my favorite.  Iced coffee with half&half is my favorite cold drink...and I've become a big fan of cold brewed coffee after learning that it was even a thing one could do.  

3. Where do you keep your keys?
On a lanyard in my purse.  Best to avoid putting them in pockets, especially in the winter when I'm wearing many layers and have mini freakouts about which layer's pocket they are in.  

4. Have you ever really been lost?
One time that I was really lost and really unhappy about it was 2 summers ago.  We had just finished our third day of driving to North Dakota, and it was really late (midnight-ish) and in the middle of nowhere...I mean, even more than usual (this is ND we're talking about).  There was a tiny town and we were supposed to be staying in a rental house there and just couldn't find it.  We drove all over the town looking around.  My husband just wanted to park the car and sleep in it but I did NOT like that plan.  We ended up calling the lady who rents it out and she guided us there, despite the very late hour. But it was a pretty rotten feeling to be tired and cranky from the long car trip and not able to find where you're staying because it's all dark and unfamiliar.  

5. What is the last movie you saw in the theaters?
The last installment of the Hobbit back in December.  We do not go out to movies very often.  Right now we have a glut of movie gift cards, but I hate wasting them on movies that I don't think I'm really going to enjoy.  We do plan to see "Inside Out" soon.  There aren't many Pixar movies I haven't liked and it's an intriguing premise.  And there is so much dreck out there.  Soooo much dreck.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Answer Me This: 4th of July Edition

Linking up with the lovely Kendra at Catholic All Year...

1.  How did you celebrate the 4th of July?

In style!  We went over to Allen's aunt and uncle's house in Mulino for their annual 4th of July get-together.  The kids zoomed upstairs to the play room and only came down to snack on blueberries and chips and to have a bit of time outside in the sprinkler and kiddie pool.  It was a nice time hanging out with them and with Andy and Alishia, too.  After that, we went to our next event of the day, a dinner potluck and party at the Fuller's house.  Let me tell you, it was big!  There were about 50 people there, and kids outnumbered adults. Luckily, they have a nice, big, shady backyard and the kids had a blast playing with each other while the grownups chatted, ate, and relaxed.

Lauren, not being content merely to provide us a place and yummy burgers and hot dogs, ALSO planned a scavenger hunt for the kids and water balloons for a water balloon toss.  There were also sparklers and fireworks, but we didn't stay for that...the kids were much too tired and worn out.  It was a great time.  Thanks, Lauren and Sean!

We all fell asleep to the humming of fans and the crackling of fireworks.  It was actually pretty peaceful.

2.  Do you sunburn easily?
Yes, unfortunately.  I can be outside for about 10 minutes before I can feel my skin beginning to burn.  Summer involves lots of slathering with sunscreen for the kids and me before we do anything outdoors.  Max doesn't burn too quickly but my fair-haired, fair-skinned Ruby and Ben certainly do.

3.  Hot dogs: yea or nay?
Grilled? Yea!  I'm not a huge fan of boiled hot dogs, but when they are on the grill and slightly charred...yum.  I will eat them plain quite happily.  Yesterday I got to enjoy 2 hot dogs at lunch and 2 at dinner (not all with buns, though). Now I just have to figure out how to work our little grill well enough to cook hot dogs.  I know, I know...it's probably only slightly harder than boiling water.  But grills make me nervous. Maybe I should delegate it to Allen...

4. Have you ever personally set off fireworks?
Probably once as a kid visiting relatives who were into that.  We really weren't a fireworks family.  Picnic/grilling? Sure.  Fireworks? Not so much.  At least not that I can remember.  I think we did do sparklers on occasion, though.  But that's really all I care to do anyway.  I'm not a pyro.

5. Have you ever jumped off a high dive?
No.  Jumping off of a regular height diving board is terrifying enough.  I really, really don't like the bounciness combined with looking straight down to the bottom of the pool.  I think you'd have to pay me a lot of money to get me to go off a high dive, and I'd definitely hold my nose on the way down.

6. Do you do anything weird in your sleep?
Apparently I've said strange things, but the weirdest thing I do (and have done since infancy, according to my parents), is that no matter how the position I start out in, in the morning I always wake up to find my head under the covers and my feet sticking out.  Maybe it is for this reason that I don't like sleeping in beds that have been made (i.e. with the sheets tucked in tightly at the bottom and sides).

I also have become a left-side sleeper.  I used to only sleep on my stomach, but three pregnancies cured me of that (for the most part).

If you want to play along, click on over.  You'll also find next week's set of 6 questions.

And because a blog post without pictures is boring...

Glad to have our laundry bills cut in half thanks to Mr. Sun

Kind of a pretty sight, except when you find earwigs on your clothes

Flashback summer 2012, when Ruby was 2

Ruby shows off her "dice race"
(rolling a dice over and over to see which number wins and practicing writing.)
This shot also shows how bad her wandering eye has gotten, too.  :(

Trying to get a close-up of the writing.  Her writing is starting to take off!

Flashback summer 2012: Max was about 3 months

Max at 3 years old and considerably more rascally
(and teaching Ben every naughty trick he knows!)

Friday, July 3, 2015

7 QT: Beat the Heat (or Sweat Trying)

1.  It is unusually hot here in the Willamette Valley.  Temps in the 98-103 range.  Thankfully, it's a dry heat...at least compared to my experience of humidity growing up in St. Louis.  When you stand in the shade here, it is cooler. There are occasional breezes which refresh.

The trade-off is that many houses here don't come with central air, since it's a rarely needed feature.  Our house is one of them.  We are keeping curtains drawn and sitting near all of our fans to stay cool...and I can't lie, eating a lot of salads, sandwiches, and cereal because I can't bear to increase the heat by doing much cooking.

But on the cooking front, the crock pot has been very helpful. It doesn't heat up the kitchen much, and I've taken to throwing in some frozen chicken breasts in the morning, dousing them liberally with sauces or salad dressings until they are covered (and maybe adding a bit of water), and letting them cook on low for the rest of the day. By dinner time (and we eat on the early side, usually around 5), they are thoroughly cooked and shreddable, and are great in salads, quesadillas, or rice.

2. Popsicles have been an afternoon treat.  Our lovely neighbor Kristi gave us a cute little popsicle mold, and we've been freezing fruit juice.  It's worked out nicely.

3.  I have an article up at Real Housekeeping today about another stay-cool method which was a big hit: using a box fan to "inflate" a duvet cover.  Head over to check it out!

4.  Yesterday we went over to a friend's house to enjoy their air conditioning and their big inflatable backyard pool. All went well and the kids were having a blast.  At the end of the playdate, Max was climbing up the ladder of the play structure and fell.  He cried a little bit and came over to sit in my lap.  As I was inspecting him for injury, I noticed that one of his knees felt oddly bumpy. It looked like a bone had popped out of joint!  He was walking on it gingerly but seemed otherwise cheerful about the whole thing.

I decided to take him to the urgent care to get it checked out.  Our hostess-with-the-mostess watched Ruby and Ben while I took Max to the doctor.  It was one of the most efficient visits I've had: from check in to check out was 50 minutes!  But part of that was due to the fact that by the time the doctor saw him, everything seemed to be back to normal.  All's well that ends well.

It also reminded me just how tough my kids seem to be when the injuries get serious.  Ruby didn't cry once when she had to get stitches for a cut on her chin.  She was totally cheerful and chatting up everyone in the waiting room and the doctors and nurses.  When Max throws up, he is so matter of fact about it all; no crying, no fear, no nothing.  He's also got good aim for buckets, which is nice.  He's more rational and calm about throwing up in the middle of the night than he is when you tell him that he can't watch another show.  Kids!

5.The clubhouse is installed and now awaiting siding.  Allen found some for free on Craigslist, and he should have enough to do the whole thing.

Start 'em early
Safety first!

Helping Daddy 

Like the "mailbox"?

6.  My garden is coming along nicely!  There are lots of green cherry tomatoes and my arugula is doing quite well; I've enjoyed adding them to some of my salads lately.  And finally, FINALLY, my marigold and black eyed susan starts are taking off. It reminds me of the Frog and Toad story about the garden.  Apparently, all of my shouting "NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!" was getting me nowhere after all.  ;)
I can't wait for those to ripen...

The scarlet runner beans have taken off!

Look! My first cuke!

Thriving and happy petunias
Only my buttercrisp (?) lettuce hasn't done very well, and I discovered today that the pot it was in did not have good drainage. I've also found a very persistent snail taking up residence in a tomato pot.  

7.  I posted it on FB, but we did get rid of the bamboo.  And by "we" I don't mean myself; I mean my mother in law and her husband. They wanted the bamboo--I think for a neighbor or client--and they came and dug it all up.

After a few hours of hard work, tada!

There are still lots of roots left in the soil so we'll have to be vigilant, but it's a whole different look than it was!  Thanks, Karla and Spencer!

I have more pictures and things to write about, but I'll end here for now.  Have a good weekend, and stay cool!