Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Perfect timing

My girls have been taking piano lessons for a few years now. We bought a keyboard back then, figuring we'd get a piano when we'd finished most of our remodeling (when will that ever happen?) or when their teacher told them they needed one.

Betty, a retired school teacher from our church, is planning to sell her house and move to an assisted living type facility. The girls' adopted grandma is close friends with Betty and told me last week that Betty was trying to sell her piano. She told me Betty wasn't trying to make money, she was just trying to get rid of things, so we probably couldn't beat the price Betty would give us.

I thought about it, but I didn't want a piano when dealing with drywall dust and sawdust flying everywhere. I'd continue waiting. We've already turned down free pianos from family and friends. Until the girls had to have one, I was more than content to keep the keyboard.

The girls went to their lesson last Friday. The teacher asked Julianne if she had practiced some particular thing and Julianne said "No, we only have a keyboard so I can't practice with the pedals." Her teacher told her that her parents should start watching the ads for a piano.

It was time.

A phone call and visit to Betty made it ours. She had one caller who was supposed to come the previous day but never showed. When she called back, Betty told her it was ours. I felt kind of bad about that but when Clarence went to pick it up yesterday, he said Betty is just delighted to know our girls are going to be using her piano.

My dear brother Earl rode along with our wonderful Unc. Using Unc's truck and trailer, they helped Clarence get the piano from Betty's house to ours.

Our girls are so excited to have an actual piano at last. They've never said much about the keyboard so their enthusiasm for this piano surprised me. I didn't think it mattered very much to them. Apparently, I was wrong.

It was a case of perfect timing, an answer to a prayer not prayed. A God-breeze.

Oh, and the price? Clarence and Betty discussed it before I got there Saturday. Betty was going to just give it to us. When Clarence told her we should pay for it, she decided $10 was a fair price. lol Now I only need to find a piano tuner.
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Clarence's hoop house

In the fall of 2007, Clarence constructed a hoop house in the garden. Last spring, he started some cool weather crops, like spinach, broccoli, lettuce, beets, snow peas, and some herbs directly in the ground inside it. He also put his flats of plants he'd started indoors out there as the weather warmed up.
We were all amazed at how well everything performed. I particularly loved how warm and bright it was inside when it was cool and breezy outside. Even better, though, was the fresh lettuce and spinach so early in the season.

By mid-winter this year, the plastic had ripped. Clarence has been anxious for the weather to allow him to replace it. He needed a little thawing of the ground so he could anchor the edges of the plastic with dirt.

The conditions were finally right last week.

He talked Julianne into helping him. She's almost as addicted to gardening as he is.

I talked her into snapping a few pictures for me so I didn't have to be outside in the cold. She's addicted to taking pictures, too. It works for me.

Here's a side view, after the new plastic was on and secured.
He constructed it using PVC pipes and fittings. He added wood framing under the PVC to support the snow weight. It seems to work. I think he's only had one or two pieces break in the two winters it has been up.

As Clarence and Julianne worked, they made an exciting discovery. Cilantro, self-seeded from last year. It seems to be on top of the soil, so we'll see if it lives. I'm hoping so because I love it.
There was a noticeable warm-up in the greenhouse the day after the new plastic went on. They have already planted a couple things. I guess that makes it officially spring here, even though we got snow today.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

French Sweet Bread

I shared some bread recipes with Becky, from Hospitality Lane, recently. She tried the French Sweet Bread and seems as hooked on it as my family is. The thing is, I don't make this bread year 'round. I usually make it around the holidays, as gifts and for family dinners sometimes, and then again in summer to use for French toast when we are camping. (It is my very, very favorite bread for French toast.)

Becky made it, liked it, and made it again. And again. It seemed like I was always seeing a picture of it or she mentioned it in passing on her blog. I was craving it.

She posted about it yesterday and this morning I had to mix some up. I decided to share the recipe here because I have never heard of anyone who didn't like this bread. In fact, it brought a pretty high price at fund-raising auctions our church has held. It's kinda well known around there due to those pastor and Sunday school teacher gifts from Christmases past.

I double the recipe when making this bread. As I might have mentioned, it makes the best French toast so I always want enough to use for that after my family eats their fill of it fresh.

When I warm the milk, I add the butter to it to melt. Just make sure you let it cool before it goes in with the other ingredients.

I used to make this by hand but now I use a mixer. A double batch is almost beyond its capacity, but not quite.

See? Once mixed, it fits in the bowl just fine.

My girls have been drooling all morning, waiting for the bread to be done. The house smells yummy.

French Sweet Bread

1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt (I omit the salt unless using unsalted butter, then use 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)
6 tablespoons melted butter
4 cups flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups total)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Dissolve yeast in water. Heat milk to lukewarm. In a different bowl, combine egg, sugar, cinnamon and salt, if using.
2. Add yeast, milk and 4 Tablespoons butter and mix again. Add flour gradually till it can be gathered into a soft ball. Blend in remaining flour with fingers.
3. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Use remaining butter to keep fingers from sticking. Don't use any more flour.
4. Place in lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled. Punch down and knead a few times. Divide in half, then divide each half into 3 pieces and roll each piece between hands into a long rope.
5. Braid ropes from middle, pinching ends together. Form into ring if desired, place on oiled baking sheet.
6. Cover and let double. Bake at 350ยบ F for 30-45 minutes.

You know what I'm having for breakfast tomorrow, don't you?
Edited to add a link to LifeAsMom's baked goods recipe swap.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring clean up

You may not realize it from where you're sitting but this blog, if Allison had her way, would probably be titled "All About Allison". I'd still have my alliteration and it would make Allison so happy. She LOVES to be the subject of blog posts. She frequently will ask if I want to take her picture so I can blog about whatever it is she's doing at that moment.

This past weekend it was yard cleanup. Now, I don't think she intentionally got her face this dirty just to get me to blog about her but when I saw her and commented on her dirty face, she wondered if I wanted to get a picture for my blog.

So, I obliged her.

We have more yard cleanup than usual this year. Remember the window/siding project last fall? We didn't finish before the snow came so now that the snow is gone, we've got a lot to do. There are scraps of Tyvek, nails, old siding bits, new siding bits, etc. spread all over. Let's just say the Amish men who helped us weren't big on cleaning up after themselves.

We are puttering at it, bit by bit. Of course, with all the trees we have, there are lots of leaves, too. Many years, we pick up branches and twigs, then bag the leaves with the lawn mower. It's great until the tube gets plugged.
This year, the mower may not be an option. The possibility of hidden debris getting hit by the mower is too great. So, the girls were helping burn leaves Saturday. A dirty job, as you can see. Don't be fooled, though. Those girls of mine loved every minute of it.

Since I once again indulged her, I'm building up quite a stash of posts "All About Allison". I'm thinking that when she graduates from high school, I'll be able to scroll old blog posts with the various pictures of her looking grimy, being silly, and doing crazy stuff. It'll be perfect, since I'm not a scrapbooker.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

PBS tour

Today we went on a field trip to the Flint PBS station, WFUM. It doesn't tie in with a single thing we're doing but I've never been to a TV station before so I signed us up without asking the girls. When I told them we were signed up, they weren't even interested. Too bad. I was curious to see it so they had to go, too.

This is the studio. Unlike the network affiliates, they change their studio around a lot. Our guide told us they use styrofoam and other lightweight stuff to build their sets so they are easy to move. He said they build a new set for every telethon they do-I've never noticed!

The teleprompter. Not very exciting. I was wanting to see breaking news or something. Oh, yeah, this is PBS. They don't do breaking news.

I don't know what this room is called.

They did the digital conversion back in the fall so they told us some of the differences between the old analog system and the digital they use now. One difference is that they can use these two plasma screens instead of multiple monitors.

It was an interesting field trip, although I admit I expected something...more...I guess.
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Monday, March 16, 2009


Clarence got talking with the guys at the feed store last week and one of them told him about a local place to buy baby chicks. Nice wife that I am, on the way home from the quiz Saturday, I suggested we see if we could find the place so he could get some info.

We found the place easily and he pulled in. I expected him to talk to the man-see what breeds he has, find out when chicks would be available, get a phone number-that type of thing.

About 10 minutes later, I see him and Allison coming back toward the front of the pole barn. He had a box in his hands. Alarmed, I told Julianne "He's buying chicks today! Why would he buy chicks today?" We were obviously on different wavelengths that day, as happens sometimes. I thought he was going to get info, he thought it would be silly to drive back another day when the man had what he was looking for that day.

He bought six Silver Laced Wyandotte chicks. They lay brown eggs.
I like white eggs.
I'm a good wife, though, so he has chickens that lay white, brown, and green eggs.

He needs to make room for them outside but for the moment they still reside inside. Did I mention what a wonderful wife I am?

I hate chickens, in case you didn't know. They are cute for about 3 days, then they are evil for the rest of their lives. Clarence and I obviously are on opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue.

We've never read that book about love languages but I already know what his is. Chickens. Nothing says "I love you" to Clarence as much as letting him have chickens.

So, even though I hate chickens, and have a bird phobia, these new chicks are one more way to let him know that I really love him.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Slowly, slowly

The maple sap has finally started running in the last week or two. Most years, I think we are done by now but the cold weather has delayed our season a bit.

It starts out very clear and just as thin as water

Clarence pours it through an old milk strainer his dad found for him, using a coffee filter to line it. This takes care of any ants or other debris that might be in the sap.

Then it goes on top of the woodstove to start cooking. This year, he purchased a couple stainless steam table pans. The larger surface area seems to be a big help in cooking the sap down more quickly. The stock pot holds the excess now, instead of being used for the whole job.

The color starts to change as it cooks.

As it thickens, we have to watch it more carefully. We usually get it close to being done, refrigerate it, then wait until we can combine batches to do the final cooking down. It can be hard to finish it without scorching it or turning it to maple sugar but by combining batches, we can maintain a little more control.

We've had another little cold snap so the sap quit running again. This weekend promises perfect maple sugaring weather so we should be back at it in the next couple of days.

In a completely unrelated matter:

My oven is fixed! A new igniter, broiler burner adjusted, a couple other questions answered, an explanation of proper combustion, and $150.00 later, we're good to go. I also have an occasional problem with my convection fan not working. It isn't all that frequent but enough to be annoying. He checked into that, too, and called me today with the price for that part. Another $150. For the part, not labor.

At that price, I'm taking my chances that it will continue working most of the time or I'll get by without it.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Co-op Day and a broken oven

We read Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi this month.

We had mixed feelings about this book. It was a good story but, for the girls and me, it seemed unnecessarily gory at times. I think that may have actually made the story more appealing to the boys of the group. ;-)

The kids all had to choose a scene from the story and illustrate it, using the medium of their choice. My girls both drew pictures but among the other kids, there were Lego models, cardboard models, and a diorama. I love the creativity of the kids when you just let them go.

They each made their own "cross of lead" using sculpey clay.

(Playing the new game show that everyone is talking about: "What do you know about Lent?")

One of the moms was sick so her husband took her place. He asked questions about Lent in a game format, with the girls pitted against the boys. The host family's dad, a pastor, was in and out throughout the day. He happened to be around for the game and offered a prize to the winning team. He "just happened" to have a CD of two of his sermons to give to the winners. He assured us they were extra-long sermons, too. He reconsidered and suggested that maybe his prize should go to the losing team. LOL

We learned some history about saints in the Catholic church, the kids did oral reports on a family member and the changes that have occurred during that family member's lifetime, we discussed jobs and life in the country vs. life in the city in medieval times.

I tried making barley bread for our snack. Unfortunately, my oven quit working. Of course, I already had the dough mixed up and rising before we discovered that. I refrigerated it overnight and formed it into rolls the next morning. When I got to our friend's house, I was able to use her oven to bake it.

Hopefully, the repairman will be coming on Thursday. I've survived without an oven in the past when we remodeled our kitchen (which was only about three years ago) but this stove was purchased as part of that remodel. I never dreamed I'd be without an oven again so soon. It's forcing me to be resourceful in meal planning, for sure.

A repair call will give me a chance to pick the repairman's brain about a couple things that have never seemed quite right to me-like having to evacuate due to gas fumes if I run the self-cleaning option. Are all gas ovens like that? My broiler seems to be involved in that problem, too, as the fumes are terrible if I use it. He suggested to Clarence that he might need only to adjust the broiler burner, so I'm hoping it will be a simple solution. Actually, I'm hoping that the oven problem will be a quick, simple fix, too, and I'll be back to baking by tomorrow.
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Friday, March 6, 2009

Science experiment

We're doing astronomy for science right now.

I wasn't anxious to head outside when it was 20-something degrees out but today we hit the 60's. Time for our sun experiment.

We were supposed to take chilled chocolate bars and use a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun's beams on the chocolate. Pretty predictable, sure, but who doesn't want to do an experiment that involves candy bars?

I neglected to ask what the girls thought would happen. My own hypothesis was that we'd get a melty spot that would be messy as the girls ate it.

I was a little surprised at what actually happened.

It burned. Smoke and everything. No nice, melted chocolate here-it was black and charred.

The girls talked about making s'mores this way. I told them I wouldn't have the patience.

Maybe I should have let them use the chocolate for microwave s'mores. The burned chocolate would have given it that authentic campfire flavor, I bet.

We were all suitably impressed by the power of the sun and I'm guessing that this will remain one of their favorite science experiments of all time.
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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lemon-Poppyseed Scones

Mrs. Rabe of Creekside Cottage asked if I'd share my recipe for the scones. I got it from a freezer email list I used to be on but I think it originally came from Bon Appetit. I apologize in advance for the spacing-I really did space it nicely but blogger seems to like it run together better.
If you know me, you know that I sometimes (ok, maybe almost always) do a little "tweaking" and I've been trying that with this recipe. I love it just as written but that is a LOT of butter. I replaced just a bit of the butter with nonfat yogurt and couldn't tell a difference. Of course, this always leads to further experimentation-how low can the butter content go before ruining the end result? I don't know that answer yet.
Instead of making eight large wedge-shaped scones yesterday, I used a slightly mounded cookie scoopful of dough and dropped it on a sheet pan like a biscuit. I think they took about 15 minutes to bake. It yielded about 30 scones prepared that way.
Lemon Poppyseed Scones
3 cups flour, all-purpose
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sugar (turns out to be optional-see original poster's note at bottom)
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (I use one lemon's worth of zest instead of measuring)
1 teaspoon salt (I leave this out completely but I'm pretty anti-salt)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces (I used 8 T. butter, 2 T. yogurt)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup whole milk (or more) (I use skim)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Position rack in top third of oven.

Mix flour, 1 cup sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, lemon peel, and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Whisk egg and lemon juice in medium bowl to blend. Add to flour mixture. Using on/off turns, process until moist clumps form. Add 1/3 cup milk. Using on/off turns, process just until dough comes together, adding more milk if dough seems dry. (I don't think I've ever had to use more.)

Using floured hands, gather dough into ball. Flatten into 8-inch round. Cut round into 8 wedges. Transfer scones to large baking sheet; brush with milk. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until scones are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.) Makes 8 scones.
I didn't brush them with milk or sugar -- instead, while they were baking, I mixed a very small bit of lemon juice and powdered sugar to make a frosting, which I then coated the cooled-as-far-as-my-patience-would-allow scones very slightly with.