January sunshine

  • Yellow chrysanthemums
  • A crossword puzzle
  • New pens
  • Kiwifruit and clementines
  • Preschool activities with Pip
  • A new dishwasher
  • Visits from our parents
  • Earlier sunrises
  • Evening talks with Tiger Lily



This year's amaryllis turned out to be very tall and apple-blossom colored, and it developed three large buds (all of which have bloomed), and one small one (which hasn't yet).

I had to prop it up against the cupboard all morning when it started leaning, and it righted itself nicely.

Our best ever!


The last 10%

I've been thinking about cleaning lately. My house isn't disgusting; in fact it's usually about 20 minutes away from being presentable. I usually keep up on the basics, like dishes and laundry. My problem area is picking up.

My dear three-year-old Pip prefers his toys to be scattered far and wide. He gets more out from the closet before the old ones are put away. Of course he does; he's three. That's what three-year-olds do.

The rest of us (myself included) leave our belongings scattered across the living area of the house too. The big kids leave their backpacks and coats on the couches; there are always shoes and socks on the floor. The kitchen counter is a melange of school papers, mail, jars, and anything people don't want Pip to reach. The computer desk and mantel usually house recently used DVDs, pencils and paper, small electronics, and books.

All the clutter makes me feel a little bit crazy, but it's always around, so I kind of get used to it. Of course that means that normally I am operating at a low level of crazy. I feel so much more peace when things are picked up and caught up. I tell myself I can't always keep the house pristine—which is true! I have a three-year-old—but I'm afraid I currently err on the side of letting it slide a little too much. I look around the main room at night after the kids are in bed and I'm tired and I think, "What's the point? He'll just dump everything out again tomorrow."

But I have come to realize that it's the last 10% of cleaning that gives me 90% of the satisfaction. If my home is mostly caught up and reasonably sanitary underneath, I get very little pleasure out of that if the surface is covered in clutter. I get the pleasure out of putting a vase of flowers on a clear counter, or sitting down to relax in the evening when the toys are all picked up.

I need to remember this. I know I can't keep it all picked up all the time—because we live here!—but I can plan perhaps two times a day when it will be picked up. And then I will get to have the peaceful pleasure of the last 10% being done.


Bright spots

  • Pip peeling and eating orange after orange after orange
  • A thaw
  • Four new-to-me vegan cookbooks at the thrift store
  • Red Chief's progress and pleasure in his French horn playing
  • Rain (I love the sound of rain)
  • Reading a library book all in one day
  • Tiger Lily having friends over
  • Caught-up laundry
  • Pip's imagination
  • New napkins from my mom
  • A surprise evening with my husband when we thought he'd be gone
  • The neighbors' kitten
  • Clean, shiny bathrooms


Bread for friends

Throughout our marriage (we just passed the thirteen-year mark!), my husband and I have enjoyed baking and distributing cookies to friends and neighbors. We loved baking and delivering them, and it was fun for the whole family.

A few years ago when our eating took a turn for the healthier, our cookie baking fizzled out. I didn't keep eggs and butter around anymore. It was hard to find recipes that tasted "normal" enough to share.

But slowly I have found that a new item is replacing the cookies, not by design, but by evolution: bread.

Lately when I make up our favorite French bread recipe (which I have now mastered in various percentages of whole wheat, up to 100), I make double. Instead of forming four French loaves from that massive amount of dough, I form six boules.

Today I was too lazy to grind more wheat, so it was made from almost all white flour. I didn't think we'd need six loaves, but I have found that if I make them, we always find something good to do with them.
  • One to eat hot
  • One (still hot!) for the neighbors
  • One for a church friend just out of the hospital 
  • One to dry out for Caesar salad croutons
  • One to have with dinner
  • One for a family from church
Looks like I need to make a triple batch if I want to have more to give away, or we'll have to cut back on our bread consumption (not likely! who can resist fresh bread?).


Have you seen this scarf?

Tiger Lily found this old hat of mine hanging around and adopted it for her own. My mom knitted it for me when I was a kid. When she found out there used to be a matching scarf, she wanted Grandma to look for it.

I sent out a picture to my siblings, but no one seems to know where it went. My mom couldn't find it either . . .

. . . but she did find the original pattern for the scarf, saved from a magazine years ago, and started knitting up a new one for Tiger Lily. Turns out she's a pro at this grandparent thing.


January pumpkin

I started out the new year right by butchering a pumpkin. My parents' neighbor gave them this pumpkin that he grew himself, picked green, then allowed to ripen inside. They were dubious as to whether it would be any good to eat, but when I cut it open the flesh was beautiful and the walls were thick. A perfect pumpkin for eating. We ate some of it in soup, and I froze enough to make soup three more times.

My parents' neighbor has done amazing things with his yard. He has converted pretty much all of it into a garden and produces large amounts of organic food and beautiful flowers. I've been a horrible gardener these past several years, but that just makes me admire even more people who succeed at it.


Pre-Christmas pleasures

  • My community orchestra's annual Messiah sing-along play-along
  • Taking Pip to the dollar store to pick out gifts for everyone
  • A little bit of snow but not too much
  • Red Chief saving for months to buy gifts for the family
  • Pip snacking on the popcorn garland on the Christmas tree
  • Tiger Lily's paper chain and homemade ornaments
  • A book of short stories: A Lot Like Christmas by Connie Willis
  • A homemade Christmas card in the mail from an old friend
  • Homemade hot cocoa mix
  • Red Chief's first band concert: all brass, all enthusiasm, all fortissimo
  • Running to the store to buy junk food for the big kids' school Christmas parties
  • Late-night gift-wrapping parties with Mr. Mordecai
  • The basket of Christmas picture books that comes out of storage every December
  • Poinsettia and amaryllis
  • Red Chief trying to explain Santa Claus to Pip: "A big man in a red suit will come down our chimney to give you presents." "That's impossible!" "You'll hang up a sock and he'll fill it with candy." "That's strange."
  • Learning Christmas hymns on the piano
  • The LDS Light the World initiative


Vegan pie guide

I went a little overboard and made five pies for Thanksgiving. Here are the recipes I used, and how we liked them. I know I will be glad next year that I wrote this down!

Oil pastry. This is my go to pie crust, and I used it for the pupmkin, pecan, and apple pies. I figured out a few years ago that rolling it out between parchment paper sheets makes the difference between a fun experience and tearing your hair out. Use the parchment. Buy some if you don't already have it. It will change your life.

Key lime. I made this recipe in a storebought graham cracker crust and I skipped the meringue. This was our only flop. The filling was delectable, but it was runny even after setting for over 24 hours. Next year I'm going to make this again, but I'll add 1/4 cup cornstarch instead of 2 tablespoons.

Chocolate. This was a great base recipe. I used another storebought graham cracker crust, and I skipped the spices since I just wanted a plain pie, not a Mexican one. Very good and very rich!

Pumpkin. I've made this recipe twice now and love it! My only note is to make sure it is completely chilled before serving: it just tastes better cold. Make it the day before so it has a chance to cool.

Pecan. I wasn't sure how vegan pecan pie was going to taste, but I liked it! It has a wonderful flavor, and I'm glad I tried it. What a great recipe!

Apple. Betty Crocker never lets you down. This recipe worked out beautifully, even though I forgot to dot the apples with butter before sealing them into the top crust (what's the point of that anyway? does it really make a difference?). My pie was piled high with apples, so it had a tall dome, but the apples shrank in cooking so there was a big space in the crust. It was still great for our purposes, and I'd still make this recipe again in a heartbeat because I'm too lazy to precook the filling, which as far as I know is the best way to avoid the gap.


Kitchen (but not cooking) fun

Wednesday I baked five pies; Thursday I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner. Friday we went out for lunch and ate leftovers the rest of the day, but I just couldn't keep out of the kitchen. In the evening, I whipped up some body wash, body scrub, and lotion from Little House Living.

And then, because the kids begged me, I made lip balm. Homemade is so much better; it seems that most of what you buy at the store makes your lips worse, not better. Red Chief requested peppermint and Tiger Lily wanted lavender, so I split the recipe into halves and made it in teacups, which were just the right size. Just a few tablespoons of lip balm filled up 19 containers!