Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More signs of spring

On the way to the mailbox today, Julianne noticed the red trilliums blooming.

Several years ago a lady offered to trade a couple of these for something we had that she wanted. We had a couple clumps of white ones and I was excited to get more. I don't remember what she took, I only remember thinking we got the better end of the deal. As in all good trades, I think she felt the same.

The reds are always a bit ahead of the white trilliums. We all prefer the white to the red but I really like the variety of having both.

One thing we didn't realize until a couple years ago is that the deer find them tasty. Unfortunately, we found that out the hard way. Now, when they're blooming, we worry like mother hens that the deer will come and eat the blooms and they'll be gone forever. Thankfully, they have left us some to enjoy. Maybe that's because they munched all the tulips out of one of my flower beds.

Remind me again, Aunt Sharon, why it is we don't like to eat venison?
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Sunday, April 26, 2009


I have been waiting for something other than our little clump of crocus to bloom. Although I am always happy to see the crocus, they aren't terribly showy. Every spring I wonder why I don't get some early tulips since ours are all mid- to late-season. Thankfully, we have daffodils scattered about.

The daffodils help me get through the still-brown part of spring, when you hope, but are never quite sure, that the snow is finally over. I think our first daffodil opened on Thursday, at long last.

Yesterday started out beautifully and quickly warmed into the low 80's. Several more daffodils and the first hyacinth were teased into opening before the thunderstorms started yesterday afternoon.

Julianne, on the other hand, doesn't need to wait for the daffodils to bloom. She manufactures her own with one of her tiny crochet hooks.

She put them on some wire, then planted them in a miniature pot that Kathy painted for me years ago. A sweet little touch of spring to help her momma remember that winter really doesn't last forever.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Recycled potatoes

Last year we planted some seed potatoes as well as some organic potatoes from the store that had sprouted and were ready to compost. We figured we had nothing to lose.
It turned out, we had everything to gain. We had a great yield from our recycled potatoes so, when our red potatoes sprouted, we kept them to try it again.
Clarence has been reading about some garden techniques that we've never used before. One of the ideas involves laying wet newspapers on the ground and planting potatoes on top. We decided to give it a whirl.

I didn't have much newspaper for him but I had a bunch of paper Meijer bags I was anxious to recycle. They are shorter than standard grocery bags so I generally find them annoying to use for other purposes. I hoped they would work well after we used up the newspaper. They did! Clarence found them much easier to work with than the wet newspaper.
He also read some opinions that planting whole potatoes, rather than cutting them, produces larger potatoes for harvest. He decided to try that, too.
He had some old straw he used last year to form a "bin" around a compost pile. He recycled that straw to cover the potatoes. I've been disappointed in years past to grow organic potatoes and still have to peel them because I can't get all the grit scrubbed off the skin. We're hoping that growing them in straw will be successful, so that they are cleaner when harvested.
This post is participating in Teaching Good Things From Seeds to Harvest.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spinach, Rice and Feta Pie

I tried a new recipe from our church cookbook yesterday. It worked out to be perfect timing to share in LifeasMom's meatless main dish recipe swap this week. It's been ages since I've participated but I'm looking forward to perusing all the other swapped recipes.

I know, the title says "Pie" and I'm showing you a baking dish instead of a pie plate. The recipe is from my best friend so I was confident we'd like it, since we've eaten her cooking numerous times through the years. I doubled the recipe to use up the feta I had in the fridge and used my 10 x 15-inch pan. I considered using my 9 x 13-inch pan but ultimately chose the larger one for faster baking and to assure myself, without doing a bunch of math, that the ingredients would fit without overflowing. Skipping all that math made me feel happy.

Since I was lacking in both imagination and time, I served it only with a tossed salad. We had pineapple upside down cake for dessert, thanks to Mom bringing it on Sunday.

I never seem able to make a recipe quite as written so I am copying the recipe as it should be, then adding my changes below.

Spinach, Rice and Feta Pie

2 teaspoons margarine
3/4 cup onion-chopped
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (I omitted this)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups low fat milk
2 cups cooked rice
3/4 cup feta cheese-crumbled (3 oz.)
1 egg-lightly beaten
2 egg whites
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach-thawed, drained, and squeezed dry
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400º.
Melt margarine in large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and saute 3 minutes. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the cooked rice, crumbled feta, egg, egg whites, and spinach. Pour mixture into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over pie. Bake at 400º for 35 minutes or until set. Broil 2 minutes or until pie is golden brown. (I didn't broil mine as I thought it brown enough at the end of the baking time.)

My changes: I sauted my onion in a bit of water instead of butter. I buy frozen spinach in 1# bags so I used that instead of two boxes. I left out the salt because the cheese adds enough saltiness, imho. I normally would have separated the eggs and used the two whites called for but in the interest of moving quickly, I used two whole eggs instead of the 1egg & 2 whites. See, I followed it almost exactly as written. ;-)

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Field trip with no pictures

Yesterday was our literature co-op. This month, we read The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

As a go-along, we went to the University of Michigan's Burton Tower. We went up to the observation deck to watch and listen to Steven Ball perform on the carillon. I think it was one of the best field trips we've ever done.

Mr. Ball did an exceptional job of interacting with the group and explaining things to the kids. He spoke not only about the carillon, which was very interesting, but also touched on clocks and automata, which were a direct tie-in with the story. And this with no advance notice about the story from us. I was terribly impressed.
He told us about the Peregrine Falcons living at the tower. He showed us the practice instruments and allowed the kids to try them. He even explained some things about timekeeping and trains, as well. He kept us engaged, no matter the topic.

We had cold, rainy (with hail) weather yesterday and once I realized I had left my camera in the car, I didn't want to return for it. Although it would have been nice to share pictures here, let me encourage anyone who finds themselves in Ann Arbor at lunch time to take the time to go up in the tower and watch Mr. Ball perform. It's definitely worth your time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shameless bragging

Yesterday was the final Michigan quiz.

Here's a rare "action" shot. Don't ask me why they are better able to answer the questions if they stand behind their chairs or pace incessantly, but it seems to work for them.

Their cousin Victoria joined us for the whole day as we were in her neck of the woods.

The girls lost one round yesterday, which gave them second place for the day. Between team and individual competition, Julianne quizzed out 4 times and Allison quizzed out 5 times. I'm not sure Allison has ever done that before.

Julianne placed third in YT vet individuals. Allison took first place in the YT rookie individuals.

But wait! Did you think I was done bragging already?

Following the awards for yesterday's competition there were awards given for the yearly stats.

Our girls won "Team of the Year" for having the highest total number of points in their division for the year. Not bad for a two person team!

Then, the all-stars were named. There's a complicated sounding method to choosing the all-stars, involving the average number of points, based on the number of questions the quizzer is in the quiz. In other words, if they quiz out on the 6th question, their average is higher than if they quiz out on the 15th question. Anyhow, the first place on the all-star team went to...[drum roll, please]

I know I say it every time, but we are so very proud of our girls. These awards don't come easily. They work hard to study the material, and have some tough competition. It's amazing to watch not only our girls, but all these kids as they quiz. The ability to think on their feet, to anticipate the questions, to remember minute details, and to do all these things simultaneously is astonishing.

They have a regional quiz in a couple weeks so they aren't done studying yet.
Oh, and I have more pictures. Several more pictures. You can thank me later for not posting all of them.
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Strawberry tower-one year later

Remember this?

We have a steep front yard and Clarence used a three-week layoff last spring to terrace it so we could increase our garden space. He built this strawberry tower as part of that project. The plans came from the book Classic Garden Structures : 18 Elegant Projects to Enhance Your Garden by Jan and Michael Gertley.

We filled it with two varieties of strawberries and watched them take off. I dutifully picked off the blooms so the plants could get well established.

One of the varieties we planted was an everbearing type so we got just a few berries in August.

We debated what to do to winterize it and ultimately never came up with a workable plan.

So, there it sat all winter. I went outside several weeks ago and snapped this shot of it in all its brown, shrivelly glory. Clarence and I talked about perhaps having to plant the strawberries as annuals in this, or using it to grow something else.

Since today is beautiful (65º! Yippee!), I took my camera with me and went to take a look.

Mostly, it still looks just like the picture above. With new, volunteer strawberries growing on the ground all around it. Sigh.

Closer inspection paid off, though.

Can you see it? That new bit of green starting to grow at the base of the plant?

This is in one of the lowest levels of the tower so I'm not convinced that many of the plants survived the winter. I'll keep checking over the next few weeks, though, and see what happens.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter update

Hard to believe I haven't blogged since Monday but I'm back!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter, celebrating the resurrection of our savior. We attended a cantata at a friend's church on Friday night and on Saturday, we went to hear Earl narrate the program at his church. Both programs were beautiful as well as powerful. They helped us focus our attention once again on the sacrifice Christ made for us and we are thankful we were able to see them.

Here are the girls in their Easter dresses. Julianne's dress was a deal we picked up a couple months ago on a clearance rack. The colors are so "her" and she loves paisley as well. I was thrilled to get it for about $6.

Allison's dress, on the other hand, while also not terribly expensive monetarily, cost me many hours this week and is partly to blame for my blogging absence.

Since we didn't happen across any dresses she just loved, we picked up a pattern and fabric. The pattern looked simple, especially compared to last year's dress. We found fabric she liked on clearance for $3/yard, so the price didn't dissuade me.

I learned some things in making this dress:

1. Read the envelope carefully. This simple dress has a fully lined bodice-not something I had ever done before. It was not wonderful to realize this when I was ready to get started but didn't have lining fabric.

2. I have now mastered the blind hem stitch on my sewing machine-another first for me, and a skill I'm thrilled to have acquired.

3. The inside of this dress is more impressive than the outside. It so does not look like the amount of time I spent on it. (I do a lot of ripping out when I sew.)

A close up of Julianne's purse. We found it at a second hand store somewhere a couple years ago, I think.

After church, we were invited for dinner at Earl and Kathy's.

I made rolls for lunch but snuck in a couple loaves of French Sweet Bread, too, as requested by niece Lauren. Oddly enough, the sweet bread stayed in front of her as everything else was passed around the table. Finally, someone noticed and she had to give it up.

We had a great time together, as always. Dinner was delicious and we got to try Earl's newest cheesecake recipe, a white chocolate-raspberry one. Yes, it is just as yummy as it sounds.

Hopefully, this week will be a bit less busy and I'll post something before the whole week gets away from me again.
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Monday, April 6, 2009

It's Spring?

I took this picture this morning, just as the sun was rising.

As I look out the windows, I can see why Michigan is referred to as a winter wonderland. The snow is beautiful. Although I'd like to go on record as saying we have had enough already!

Our giant co-op group is cancelled for today, as the roads are too treacherous and the snow is supposed to continue falling until this afternoon, for a total of about 6 inches. Funny, isn't it, that we made it through the winter months without a cancellation but now, in April, we have a snow day.

My inlaws are due to arrive home today from their winter in Florida.

Clarence's dad, from time to time, starts talking about selling their place in Florida and staying here all winter. Clarence thinks this will remind him of why he really doesn't want to do that.

I think Dad's going to have a great time firing up his backhoe and plowing the snow out of their driveway. I think he might enjoy having a little taste of winter, followed by more seasonal temperatures later this week.

Prayers for their safety as they travel are greatly appreciated.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Red Robin

The new, giant co-op we joined this year seems to do a field trip each month. Today was the last one of the year.

It was a tour of a Red Robin restaurant.

We've never eaten at a Red Robin before. In fact, we still haven't. We skipped out before lunch.

The kids had to don aprons, gloves, and hair nets to tour the kitchen area. Hair nets-now that's a look you want to document for future use. I helped them put them on and didn't notice until the tour was over that I had put that little wad in the front on Allison. It certainly adds to the look, doesn't it?

We planned to run some errands after the field trip so leaving as soon as the tour was over gave us a little more time than we expected to have. It turned out to be a good thing.

I wanted to look for a specific brand of thread for my serger that Joann's has discontinued. [Side note to my niece who works there-If you have any influence, any pull at all, could you get your chain to carry Maxilock thread again? The ladies who sold my machine say it's the best brand and not to buy that cheap Joann brand crappy stuff. Ok? Thanks.]

Near the restaurant are two fabric stores so I was hoping to find what I needed. We tried the Joann's store, hoping for a bit of remaining stock. No go. We headed for the second store only to find the Hancock Fabrics is closed. As I turned around in the parking lot, however, Julianne noticed a Hobby Lobby down the street just a bit. What?!?! We had no idea Hobby Lobby had any stores in Michigan. Were we ever glad we had that extra time!

We ended up finishing our errands and lunch by the time I had anticipated getting out of the restaurant. I never did find my thread, either. If only Hobby Lobby carried it...I'd love an excuse to go back again soon.
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