Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Wow, what a wonderful few weeks!  I'm both sad the holidays are over and happy that things will resume as usual again.  Happy New year to all!  May this year be the best one yet!!

We had a beautiful, peaceful Christmas.  The big kids were really into santa this year (though I'm still torn about it).  The joy in their eyes was absolutely wonderful.  Ladybug got a dollhouse and GreenEyes got some monster trucks.

For Christmas Eve this year, I learned to truss a pork loin.  I brined a whole pork loin, filleted it, then stuffed it with a pesto-garlic mixture.  Then I roasted it atop a root vegetable medley.  Good stuff.   (Thanks to Guy Fieri.)



I also got two new lenses with my Zazzle/Cafepress earnings.  I can't stop taking photos of late, much to my family's chagrin.  I got a 35mm/1.8f and a 55-200mm/4.5f .  I really love the fixed lens.  It rocks my world.  It's been a year since I've had my DSLR and I've just started to get my sea legs so to speak with my camera in manual mode.


Below are a few shots without people in them. 

 (lots of noise though, next time I'd use my tripod and a long shutter speed)

I just love this pic of my little girl's tea party and one of her favorite friends, Miffy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tree House Update

Believe it or not, the pic below was taken in mid-October.  We've long since completed the tree house (phase I).  Sure, we still need to paint and add some accessories, but it's pretty much done.  I've just been plain ole lazy when it comes to posting about the project.

Nick putting on the roof.

 All the windows have been put in (well, except the cutsie arc window which is a bit of a story).

 The hatch was installed....

(sorry for the blown out photo... I'll replace this at some point)

.. and finally, the door and trim.  We've had it this stage for over a month though Nick just recently installed the actual door nob.  Not bad for an old recycled door, huh? 

Now... if only the kids would remember to shut the door...

and the kids would stop tracking mud in the house.

The kids use it just about everyday and they use it to gather and store all sorts of goodies for the bears.  They love to make stinky cakes (a concoction of mud, sticks and rocks) as well as acorns and pine cones.  The kids were out on it yesterday and believe it or not, they still didn't need jackets outside?!  It was a beautiful 60!!  We didn't think we'd be using it much this late into winter, but so far, so good and it is definitely paying for itself with play.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Tree Brownies

I'm so excited for tomorrow.  I'll be helping out at my daughter's preschool Christmas party.  I am in charge of drinks and dessert.   I went through a million different dessert ideas on Pinterest before I settled on this one.  These Christmas tree brownies seemed REALLY easy and yet super cute.

 GreenEyes decorating his own.  Notice the glob of sprinkles in the middle.

We had a good ole time today making them and eating a few of the extras.  This idea was so easy, I didn't even read the directions which was kind of dumb because getting them out of the pan would have been much easier if I used foil on the bottom like the directions said, lol.  It still worked out fine.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Airing of Grievances

It's almost 13 years now since my mom left the Earth.  The anniversary of her death is just days away.  She died on Dec. 8th, the day before my dad's birthday.  I can't believe it's been so long.  Thirteen years.  It was such a tough time for me (and still is) but I remember getting a bit of comfort from her side of the family.  My aunts and uncles assured me that they'd still be there for us and that they were just a few hours drive.  One of my aunt's, Aunt Bea, even went so far as to say she'd be a mother to me since my mother couldn't be around.  It really touched my heart that day.  It made the hurt a tinsy bit less though my heart was still pretty heavy.

I took Aunt Bea for her word.   I was in college and I was getting along good enough.  I'd call Aunt Bea occasionally and sometimes she'd call me.  But I was never really offered or extended an opportunity to spend any actual time with her.  It was a lot of, "maybe we'll get together some time" sort-of-stuff.  "No biggie, she must be busy," I thought.

Then, somewhere along the line my Aunt Bea had a falling out with her siblings.  My mother was the second of four children leaving behind a brother and two sisters.  The four of them were always in some sort of drama to be honest.  But this time my Aunt Bea ultimately disowned the remaining siblings.  She didn't want to have anything to do with that side of the family any more.  To this day, I have no idea why.  She didn't want to talk to her siblings anymore nor any of their children, a.k.a. my cousins.  But she was still OK to talk to my sister, brother and me, the children of her deceased sister.

I found my husband (then fiance) Nick and was elated to share the joy with her.  But she called me and told me that she didn't want to attend my wedding because doing so would be difficult for her with the other family members there.  I admit, it kinda hurt me.  But, I couldn't force her to attend and I couldn't make it better.

She asked in our phone conversations that I never, ever mention their names again.  Ever.  She didn't want any info relayed to them or vice-versa.  I honored that until the VT massacre happened.  You see, her son, was attending VT at the time (he was a freshman) and I was asked by my other cousin (then and still ex-communicated, cousin M) if I would e-mail Bea and ask if he was OK.  I did.  Then I forwarded the reply from Aunt Bea to cousin M.  But I made a huge mistake.  I accidentally hit reply-all and she saw that I had forwarded the info, i.e. that cousin D. was OK and accounted for, to my cousin M.  I may have also inserted that I thought it was silly that us cousins, having nothing to do with the generation's before squabbles, were forced to communicate this way.  In essence, I betrayed her trust by simply relaying to my cousin that her son was alive and well.

She wrote me that she didn't think it was "silly" and that I had no idea how awful the situation was and that she was cutting me off.   The VT shooting occurred in April 2007.  I haven't heard from her in almost 5 years now.  In the past, I've sent cards, called and left messages of apology with no return, announced the birth of my first two children, etc.  So much time has passed and I still have received nothing in return.   I have cried and cried.

I felt horrible.  I felt like dirt.  I made a mistake and I was not forgiven.

It was only a year ago around this time that I realized how empty her words were back when my mom died and how you can't lose something you never had.  She may not remember her promise to me the day of my mother's funeral 13 years ago, but I do.  I would have been better off if she had never made that promise and she'd just drifted away like I feared would happen when you lose an important link in the family.  Broken promises hurt.  What she did, and is still doing, is hurtful.

Last year, was the first year I didn't send her a Christmas card and I didn't send her a card announcing the birth of my third child either.  It was hard to do.  I'm surprised it so easy for her to cut me out when not sending a card is so hard for me.  But it was her choice to cut me out and it's also her loss.

I'm sure for whatever reason, she was hurt by these other family members, but to bring me into it and use it as an excuse to cut me out of her life is plain old wrong.  I deserve better than that.

Anyway, despite it all, I wish her well.  I pray for her health and happiness and all the good things of this life and the next.  I really do.

So, why am I airing this?  Because I have to get it off my heart and give it to God.  Sometimes you just have to let it out to feel better.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Treehouse Update


The tree house became semi-functional for children as of yesterday!!!! It has primitive railings (they still need to be finished), a ladder, and the kids can use the slide, and deck.


However, there are a million other things yet to be done including windows, doors, rope climb, roof, climbing wall, and a gate of some sort to keep kids from falling out the bottom, probably not the least of which is the latter. But with a little supervision it is usable!



We will be doing a board and batten exterior.  Hopefully we'll finish it by next weekend.

 Even I installed 5 of 9 of the rafters.  There is still a lot to be done to the roof.

Nick constructed a ladder and he installed one of the easiest windows to install (the picture window) on Friday.  We have another 3 windows and a door to go.


Even if only semi-functional, the kids are already have a blast on it.  With the work it has taken, hopefully, it will last more than just a few hours of entertainment.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Treehouse Update

All the framing is up!!!  I can hardly believe it.

Starting to see it come together. 

From the front.  We are going to go with a metal roof so you can hear the rain go ping when it hits the roof.  It's our family's favorite sound.

From the rear.  The larger back wall has the largest window with the best view of the woods.
 
 
You don't realize just how limited your time is until you try to do a project like this.  Kids make it so much harder to get any real work done.  Add in business trips and Nick being gone for a week... and it's just been all the harder.  

I'm admit that I'm weary.  Very weary.  With Nick being gone all week and now gone all weekend to build this tree house I just haven't had much time to workout or do the things I need to do to keep care of myself or to feel sane.

Oh well, it's just going to be a while.  We're going to have to be patient.  Maybe we can do a November open date?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Tree House Update

As it has been weeks since the last post...  I suppose we need a tree house update.

Nick finished the joists and I helped him secure in the railing posts.  This process took a good weekend and a half to complete.  Mind you we had family obligations and guests in town so that didn't exactly speed up the process.


Once the posts were in, Nick began laying the floor boards.  Nick is just shy of completing these.  It will likely be next weekend until the final boards are laid though.

We will have a hole in the center of the deck by the tree for access from underneath the structure.

We took another trip to Restore, Habitat for Humanity's non-profit store early this morning.  Unlike last time, we really lucked out and found the small windows we were looking for.  We also found a shorter than average door that will just be perfect for the front of the structure.

 miniature door on top of large window

two smaller windows for front and side of the structure

None of the windows match and Nick will have to build a sill for one them.  We don't care.  This is fun, and I love the idea of finding and reusing old materials wherever possible and designing as we work.

For the back of the structure we've been considering attaching a climbing net with a doggie door entrance but the cost of a doggie door is more expensive than all of the windows we bought combined.  So we are still working out just how we will get kids into the structure from the back without a full-on door.  It might just be a pass through with some sort of covering.  We'll see.  For now, we are keeping our options open and our eye on Craigslist!

Harvest Time

Well, it's been a crazy couple of weeks and I've been consistently inconsistent with my blogs of late.  Since my last blog post we've had a lot of exciting events, not the least of which was an awesome earthquake.  In retrospect, it was a neat experience though I hope to never again feel one.  We live about 40 miles from the epicenter and felt quite a jolt but nothing to cause major damage.  Our house as well as our in-progress tree house are still standing, lol.  It was nothing more than a scare.  I know it was little in comparison to what California feels but as we aren't used to them, our minds went other places.  Thankfully, we have only felt a few of the aftershocks and things are tranquil again here.  We were only just grazed by Hurricane Irene and now we have a 4" surplus of rain for the month.  Yee haw!!


Summer is coming to an end.  Ladybug had her first day of preschool.  I was a little more teary eyed than I thought I'd be.  It's hard to believe how quickly life seems to pass by.  I feel like I have not had much time to do the things I really want to do, like harvest the basil.

This year, in lieu of making pesto (I still have some leftover in my freezer from last year), I decided to preserve my bounty by freezing it chopped in olive oil.



I put the fresh basil in a vase until I was able to get them ready for processing.   It's all over the place in the picture above but I find it quite lovely as it is.  There are at least 4 vases full in my garden still waiting to be plucked and saved.  The stuff grows as good as any weed!  Thankfully we have a bit longer before any threat of frost.  It gives off the loveliest scent to my house.  


 I finally got around to processing the first batch today.  I would show what they look like in ice cube trays but honestly, it doesn't look appetizing though it will be lovely in many dishes over the winter.

Speaking of harvesting, we were offered Hatch Green Chiles in our area by a local grocery chain for a very reasonable price.  So I could help but pick up 20+ pounds of the stuff.  Why not local, they are in season, and wonderful reminder of what we miss from Albuquerque.  They weren't pre-roasted so I grilled them myself and then placed them in a large trash can bag to let them sweat it out.  I then de-skinned and de-seeded them, rinsed and chopped them.  But I forgot one very crucial step.


The gloves.  Mind you, I've forgotten the gloves before and it was no big deal.  Unfortunately, this batch was very hot...  much  hotter than any I had gotten prior.  I was up the entire night with hands feeling like they were being held up to a burning hot grill. I tired everything but nothing felt good except putting them in ice water. What an awful night! It was truly terrible.  I tried a lot of things that I will never do again to my hands including bleach!  It took about 10 hours for the feeling to go away.  I didn't sleep that night and I may have sworn off chiles for quite a while.


Worth it?  Well, I don't think so but my husband might disagree.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Treehouse Project Update!

It's been another busy week here at Out in Them Sticks, albeit quite pleasant and wonderful.  Our Wisco relatives came for a much anticipated visit late this week and we had such a great time!  How I wish they lived closer to us and we could make visits more frequent.  We had a wonderful time chatting and even doing a little hiking up on the old AT.

After our guests left for their 17 hour journey home and we completed our long run (thanks to G-ma), it was time again to get working on the treehouse.  On Saturday we hit the Habitat Store for some recycled building products for the treehouse.  We were hoping to find a few functioning windows we could incorporate.  We weren't able to find quite what we were looking for but we did find this cute little window that we thought we can incorporate into the house.  In the meantime we'll have to keep our eyes peeled on Craigslist and Freecycle.


When we got back from the store, we got back to the nitty gritty.  By that, I mean I took care of the kiddos (doing the occasional consult of course) while Nick did the truly difficult work of constructing this monster.  This project has been an organic one and has been evolving from day one of construction.  We are constantly changing things for the better.  I also just love the idea of us finding construction materials and incorporating them as we go along.



For now though, we are still trying to get the base structure up.  Nick built the joist frame today, securing it with hurricane ties and began inserting and securing the joists.  As of today, we still have not quite finished securing all the joists.


Once he finishes placing the joists, he'll be working on installing the final post.  That is sort of a long story I suppose Nick should tell.  Essentially, Nick had some issues installing one of them due to a very large tree root so he'll have to go back and finish that one this week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tree House Project

With little work to do in the garden, the good news is that we finally got started on the playhouse project.  We were hoping to have our tree house built back 6 months ago when Nick had some paternity leave but it was cold outside and there was barely enough time for him to build new shelves in the pantry and re-do our closet. Both have been wonderful and I've been enjoying them quite a bit but I have felt quite guilty that we hadn't gotten to the kids play structure.

Designing the structure took way longer than I'd like to admit. We kept changing where we thought the tree house should go and what it should look like. In the end, we decided there were no good trees to really attach a tree house to so we decided to do it amongst the trees with a mature pine tree actually running through the deck portion of the house to give it  a tree house feel. Our structure will be approximately 8'x8' with a 4'x8' deck and a 4'x8' shelter structure. The large pine running through the deck can also act as a ladder to access the deck and play structure. The tree house shall be no higher than 6' or so on the high side.

Once we decided on the plan, Nick installed the footings.  Installing the footings can be quite time consuming when you are trying to get them just square.

Making sure the footing locations are correct

Placing gravel at the base of the footing.

Tubes ready to be poured
Once the concrete had properly cured (and our kids names written on them), Nick installed the posts using stirrups and secured them with temporary bracing.
Once the posts were installed, it was time to cut the posts to the proper height and then secure the beams to the posts.

And that, my friends, is where we are at today.  I'm so excited, it's hard to be patient.  We will keep the blog updated as we progress.  We expect a grand opening sometime this fall.

Tomatoes!!

I know the last garden update was a bit of a downer.  While it has been a tough year for our garden, not all is lost!  We have not given up.  Our tomatoes are doing amazingly well and I'm on Vat #3 of pizza sauce.  It's the best year yet for our tomatoes!

Pizza dough rising (left) and the 3rd vat of pizza sauce reducing on the stove (right)

We are expecting guests in town later this week, so I whipped up some whole wheat pizza dough this morning to go along with it so we can all make our own, fresh pizzas later this week. When I was at Whole Foods last week I noticed 1ball of pizza dough cost $2.99 each.  I made 8 of them just over a buck.  That's a savings of over $22 bucks!!! 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cloth Diaper Update

As I have no garden post (the tomatoes are doing well and I made a giant vat of homeade pizza sauce on Friday so that's good), I'll thought I'd give you an update on our cloth diaper experiment


Hubby set up a line in my laundry room for year round diaper drying  LOVE it!

I couldn't be happier with cloth.  Wow, what a difference it makes on the pocket book!  I was nervous about it with all the problems that can happen with ammonia build up, detergent buildup, etc.  No one wants to invest in a system that ends up failing on them.  But, so far, so good.  I use Arm & Hammer Sensitive and use the tiniest bit of bleach on my diapers once every month or so making sure I do plenty of extra rinsing (stripping) to make sure it's all gone.  That's about it.  We are at month 6 with plenty of time to continue to bank our savings.  Sweet.

I'll be posting soon on our newest project, our tree house/play house.  We couldn't be more excited about that.  For now though, I don't want to jinx it. 

Much love,
M.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garden Update

Well, it's been a while since our last post.  I meant to post after the last leg of our Wisconsin/Chicago Trip but it just never happened.  We spent the week after the last post in lovely Chicago so in total we left our garden unattended for two weeks.  Yikes.

 Photo taken from Hancock Building


I figured things wouldn't be too bad.  I kept eyeing the weather in our area and it appeared as though we got plenty of rain during our vacation.  In fact, when we got home, we had gotten a total of 3 inches according to our rain gauge.  Most of the organic gardeners in our area aim for 1" a week to keep plants strong.  It seemed like we got that.

Our weed garden

Unfortunately, things did not fair so well. 

Where to start?  Let's see... the onions never grew into anything so I guess trying to overwinter was a bad idea.  Last year they did so well that I'm downright SHOCKED!!

All the squash died pretty much.  Not cool.  Yield was low to dismal.  They got a white chalky mildew and died.  I maybe got 3 dinner's worth out of 12 plants.  My squash plants have always been the easiest and most dependable to grow.

The beans were seriously stunted and small.  We got a few dinner's worth but that is all.

The potatoes died completely.  So much for our container experiment.  We used good soil so it was either mildew, insects, rain, or a combination of those that killed them.

You can't even tell there were potatoes here.

The raspberry plants have been half eaten by japanese beetles.  The eggplant I planted was eaten long ago by the same darn beetles.  I knew from last year to get a cover on them but we never managed to go that far. I'm a little angry at myself for that. But I didn't get a lot of support for those in the house anyway. Nick thinks they are a bug attractor.

The peppers aren't doing so hot (ha ha) either and are on death's door.   

I don't have much hope at this point for the carrots.  They are being smothered by crab grass and it's a b*tch and a half to get out.  At this point it's no longer worth it.  I learned this lesson last year but we  REALLY need to get to mulching the garden early so it's not completely swallowed up with weeds.  Time just seemed to slip by on us this year.  I'll have to be more of a thorn in hubby's side on getting this done together because it's near impossible to do on my own with the kids.

On the good side, we have several bags of wild blackberries.  The large leaf basil is looking great.  Also, the tomatoes are doing well though I wonder for how long.  Our local co-op service said there is a highly contagious tomato mildew disease going around that is killing crops.  Yay. 

The glimmer of hope?

So, after 2 great, productive years we've had a REALLY bad one. I honestly don't think it's just because of the trip though that may have been part of the problem.  I think we just didn't add enough amendments to the soil to keep it rich and fertile.  Also, we try not to use pesticides and things and leaving crops unattended is just a bad idea.   I just don't know what to do with all these darn stink bugs and japanese beetles around here!  @#$@#$!!

I'm tempted next year to cover the garden and just let it rest next year.  I don't want to invest so much to get so little like this year and if I can't do it right I don't see the point.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wisco Trip (Part 1 of 2)

Monday has come and gone and I have no garden update because last week we were in Wisco and a little preoccupied visiting family and friends.

We made the trip in two legs.  On the first day we drove about 10 hours and made it to Lafayette, Indiana where we were blissfully unaware as to what time it actually was.  The clocks in the hotels were on eastern daylight time but I thought we had made it to central time so we had no real idea what time it was that night.  It didn't really matter...  we were on vacation.

Oddly, when we crossed the Wisco  line the next day it got really cold.  Our temperature gauge on the dashboard said it was only 57 degrees.... in the afternoon, no less!!  We had been dealing with highs in the upper 80's and low 90's with very high humidity for so long that it was kind of refreshing though I felt woefully unprepared.  I could have sworn to you that I saw forecasts in the upper 80's for the area before I left (and it was was by the way!).  Anyway, as soon as we got there I scrambled to find some jeans and a sweatshirt at Target to get me through.  I remembered to bring these things for the kids but not for myself... afterall, it was only a precaution.

You can see 57 degrees on the dashboard and no sun.

The sun refused to shine all week in Wisco until Friday but it didn't really matter.  We hit up some indoor water parks at Wisconsin Dells with heated pools and spent the remainder of the time visiting family and friends.

GreenEyes turned 3 on Friday and his aunt and uncle threw him a little party which was a lovely surprise.  GreenEyes started his big day off with a giant waffle, then some birthday cake, then some candy from a pinata thanks to his awesome auntie and uncle.

Ladybug hitting the pinata.
Their cousin M made this cute little happy face pinata.

We then traveled to Cedarburg, Wisconsin for a strawberry festival.  Below is one of my favorite pics.  It epitomized our Wisco trip...  fried cheese curds and a can of Wisconsin beer in the cubby holder.  You can't walk around with open beverages in VA like this, so I took this pic for sake of posterity!




Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Eat 'em Up!

Healthy lunch in 5 seconds flat...

Homemade Pita Bread and Hummus with Carrots

Yeah, that pita bread and hummus is proving to be really handy around the house.  I might have to make it more often!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Good Eats: Whole Wheat Pita Chips and Hummus


Don't these look yummy? 

Did you know that hummus sandwiches are the PB&J of the Middle East?  At least that is what I heard on Oprah.

I don't know what possessed me...  maybe it was because I was missing Oprah, or maybe I was missing all the delicious restaurants like Lebanese Taverna  my hubby and I used to visit in fancy pants Northern VA...  but out of the blue today I decided to make my own pita chips and hummus from scratch. 

I just love, love, love baked pita chips but the store is so far away and I had a pile of laundry a mile high I had to tend to....  So, what's a girl to do but make them herself!

The first part is pretty easy.  Like most any yeast recipe you start the yeast, then you mix up the ingredients (I cheat and use my dough hook instead of kneading it) and just sit and let it rise.  Then you punch it and roll it out and let it rise again, bake and your done!  It may take some time but it is pretty easy.

I used this recipe for whole wheat pita bread here.
 

It made 6 of them and I didn't need near that many but I'll be using the left overs for some yummy PB2 sandwiches later!


Once they cooled down, I cut them into triangles, brushed them with a tiny bit of olive oil and a generous amount of salt and baked them at 400 degrees for about 7 to 9 minutes to make them into chips.


Lastly, I threw in a few ingredients into the old processor to make a giant batch of hummus.  I used this recipe on Mr. Food's site here, omitting the chives and adding a bit more garbanzo bean liquid then was called for to get the right consistency.  Voila!