Archives for July 2011


Book giveaway: Top 100 Pasta Dishes

I have a book giveaway for you today! The book is called Top 100 Pasta Dishes: Easy Everyday Recipes That Children Will Love
by Annabel Karmel.  This book is filled with interesting-looking recipes for pasta to please kids of every age.   The recipes are short.  Many include pictures, always a plus in a cookbook. They mention possible substitutions for ingredients that might be hard to find. And though the recipes are very doable, they’re also carefully composed, obviously by a cook who took the time to add the little touches that really make the most of the food.

I am giving away a copy of this book on Tuesday.  To enter yourself in the drawing, simply comment below and tell me one challenge you face when you step into the kitchen to prepare a meal for your family.  Or tell me one way you make cooking easier for yourself.  For example, I hate not having a variety of ingredients on hand, so I try to keep my pantry and freezer stocked with the fixings for at least 5 meals at all times.  That gives me flexibility, and it keeps me from having to run to the store at dinnertime.  Looking forward to hearing your challenges and/or your tips!


Note: I was given a copy of the book in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed here are my own.

From the garden

We’ve had only TWO cherry tomatoes so far this year, but today we picked many cabbages, plus good quantities of cucumbers, peppers, beans, peas, and raspberries. Hooray for summer produce!

Tonight in a bid to use up some of that produce I made my own tweak on shepherd’s pie:
–a layer of shredded cabbage
–a layer of ground beef cooked with onions, fresh peas, garlic, plum chutney, and fresh ground black pepper
–topped with a layer of mashed potatoes (made with butter and sour cream) and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and paprika.
Even my picky 6 year old loved it– I’m really glad that I doubled the recipe and stuck the second one in the freezer for another day.

Hints for thrift store success

This evening while the kids were at vacation Bible school I took an hour to wander a thrift store near our church.  I’ve heard people say that they never find good things at thrift stores, but I find something good at least 75% of the time and it is not because I’m lucky.  Four simple ideas have a great deal to do with that success, and with those ideas in mind I think that anyone can become a successful thrift store shopper.

Have several possible items in mind

If, for example, you walk into a thrift store looking for an oval mirror with a white frame, you may be disappointed.   But if you walk in with a list of possibilities to look for, you will increase your odds of a successful hunt.  Or make it even broader–think of a household/wardrobe problem you want to solve, and walk through the store visualizing different items as a solution to that problem.  Just one example: organization in a pantry could be provided using anything from baskets to shelves to crates to jars to wire racks.

Remember that material is everywhere

Sure, you can often find remnants of fabric at thrift stores — they’re usually hanging in with bed sheets.  But remember that in a thrift store you are literally surrounded by fabric.  Sheets, curtains, even large-size and extra-large items of clothing can be used as material for sewing projects.

Be willing to dig

People have the idea sometimes that clothing at the thrift store is out of date and worn out.  In my (admittedly persnickety) opinion, 70% of the clothing in a thrift store is not what I’d buy for my family, even dirt cheap.  But that other 30%?  It ranges from very acceptable all the way to beautiful.  And remember– the average thrift store contains thousands of items of clothing.  So if you’re serious about saving money on clothing, don’t give up after you’ve thumbed through half a dozen shirts.   The next one may be just the gem you’re looking for!

Use your imagination: would you like it in white?

Things can often be transformed with paint or other fixes.  That garish gold picture frame may look wonderful spray-painted lime green.  A wild 60’s lamp might be stunning with a lamp-shade redo.  Instead of only seeing what’s in front of you, imagine the possibilities.  Be realistic: if you don’t like to sew, don’t buy an item that will take hours of sewing machine time.  But if a fix is quick and affordable, give it a try.



So how did my trip go today?  Well, today I went to the store hoping for:

-a casual knit skirt to wear with t-shirts– something in a solid color.  I was open to buying a men’s t-shirt to convert to a skirt, but I also planned to check the women’s clothing for something ready-made.

–baskets or containers that might help me organize a closet–ideally several the same size, maybe ones that I could line with fabric.

— fabric for various sewing projects I’m brewing– maybe flannel, preferably something soft and neutral-colored.

— shirts for my teenage daughters, just because.

–also possibly two t-shirts the same color as each other so I could cut up one to add ‘ruffle’ flowers to the other.


I spent $50, which was a bit more than I intended to spend, but for that I got:

– a pair of shorts for my 13 yo daughter ($4)

– a small wire basket for organizing bathroom items ($1)

– a black picture frame for my teen daughters’ room. ($1)

– a crisp pink pillowcase perfect for my little girls’ room. ($1)

-5 shirts to divide between my teen daughters and me. ($4 each)  My favorite was a magenta blouse with ruffles at the neckline very much like the idea I wanted to DIY.  Except already done.

-8 matching chrome wire baskets (about 6 inches wide and 12 inches long each) that I think I might spray-paint black and line with lime green fabric for my teenage daughters’ bedroom makeover. ($0.69/each)

– almost-full rolls of orange and yellow twine that will be great drawstrings for duffle bags or gift bags.  ($1 each–I bought similar twine last Christmas for $5 for a roll)

– A little Rubbermaid container full of Christmas ‘jingle-bells’ for $0.99.

–a rectangular tin container that painted white will make a ‘pocket’ like this for the side of a desk or dresser. ($1)

-pale blue striped knit fabric (a yard for $1) and pale yellow knit fabric for various sewing projects. The yellow came in the form of a very large, long nightgown.  With that one ($3) nightgown, I could make a knit skirt (or two), a dozen or more burp cloths for a baby, or even the inner layer of a double-sided baby blanket.

– a fun turquoise mesh closet organizer that I’m going to put in my little girls’ closet for socks, undies, swimsuits, etc.  I almost passed it by because it was wadded up.   But when I took a minute to pry the packing tape off, I discovered it had multiple compartments and was in excellent shape. ($3)

— a brown jersey knit skirt — exactly the casual skirt I was hoping to find. No sewing needed. ($2)

I’m really happy that I found so many of the things that I was looking for.  I’m especially excited to work on the wire baskets.  The chrome is definitely getting a paint job, maybe black.  I am picturing lining them with a fabric like this, or possibly even doing something with chicken wire, like this.  Should be fun!

Craft mania continues

Today I’m making flannel towels that you snap together and wind onto your kitchen towel roll for the convenience of paper and the eco-friendly affordability of cloth.  Since I don’t have any snaps at the moment, I’m thinking about doing buttons.  These will probably be Christmas presents for someone.  🙂  Here’s a picture of the fabric I’m using ($1/yard at that great sale a week or two ago) and here’s the link to the idea.  Fun, eh?  I’m off to craft!




I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

This it THE BEST thing I’ve done with raspberries in my life, bar none.  To get a true picture of the moment I snapped the above picture, imagine half a dozen faces around the table intently watching, waiting to gobble this goodie down.  Then, surveying the 9 x 12 pan, my 13 year old son said, “I can imagine this cut into 9 pieces.”

My inspiration was this blueberry cake recipe at Alexandra Cooks.  Except, as always, I doubled the recipe and changed a few things….

Serves 15-18 adults (or 9 hungry teenagers)


1 cup butter, warmed to room temperature
zest from 2 large limes (about 2 T.)
2 cups  + 2 T. sugar, separated
2 eggs, warmed to room temperature
2 t. vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour + 1/2 cup flour, separated
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
4 cups fresh raspberries
1 cup milk
1 T. vinegar


Combine milk with vinegar and set aside.  (This is my affordable version of buttermilk.)  Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cream butter with lime zest and 2 cups of sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. (I did this part in my Kitchenaid. )

Toss raspberries with 1/2 cup flour.  Set aside.  In another bowl whisk together the remaining 4 cups of flour with baking powder and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the egg/sugar mixture a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.  When that is combined, very gently fold in the raspberries, stirring as little as possible.

Grease a 9×12 casserole dish.  Spread batter gently into pan. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Cake is done when center of cake feels set and top of cake is light golden.  (You can also check with a toothpick for doneness.)  Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy.  (And oh, you will!)

My Wednesday

This day left me with exactly zero creativity, so I am treating you to a rambling time line of the day.  Please feel free to wander off to more inspirational writing if you are feeling easily bored at the moment!  🙂

8-9:15 AM– Drinking coffee and writing answers for a phone interview with Mike Smith of the HSLDA.  I’ve been asked to talk about adoption and homeschooling, in brief segments to air at the end of the month on  a radio program called Homeschool Heartbeat.  I was given the questions a few days ago, but didn’t get serious about polishing my answers polished til…well…now.  And the interview is at 9:50. The two youngest girls play Legos and chatter at my feet while I alternately write and chastise myself for leaving the thinking til the last minute.

9:30– I hug the kids, tell them what to have for breakfast and what to do for the morning (pancakes, 10 problems of math, read and fill out summer reading checklists, bedroom cleaning) and run out the door in a rush to drive to my mom’s.  We don’t have a land line at home anymore, and it’s rarely a problem.  But cell phones aren’t the best for recorded interviews, so I’m off to use my mom’s phone. Once again I wonder if we should get our land line back, but for the 1 or 2 dropped calls a week it doesn’t just seem like a good way to spend $50 a month.  (BTW, I’ve been meaning to ask you all: anyone use Vonage?   Do you like it?)

9:40– Get to my mom’s and she’s nowhere in sight, so I sit down at the dining room table to run through my answers one more time before the phone rings.  The morning breeze coming in through the window makes me wish I’d made time to run this morning.

9:50- 10:30– The phone rings right one time and the interview goes well.  It is pre-recorded and the friendly assistant tell me ahead of time that if I flub up a sentence, it’s no problem to go back and do it again. It’s still a little nerve-wracking though.  Mom wanders through the room and mouths a greeting. I wave at her distractedly.  I say my bits with only one or two little re-do’s, chatting just a bit with the friendly host in between segments.  I heard him speak at a homeschooling convention in Boise a few years back and it is fun — and odd– that I’m here talking with him now.

10:30– Glad to be done with the interview, I find my mom and we chat a bit.  We’ve made a date to go for coffee, something we’d like to do regularly, but have done exactly twice this year, counting today.  Regular life doesn’t give us much time to talk uninterrupted, so this is a real treat.  We head for Moxie Java where we order coffee and tea, and share a muffin and some good conversation.

12:00 I decide I need to head back towards home soon and we leave the coffee shop.  All but 2 of the kids are teenagers, and I’ve got my cell phone, so things are probably OK, but I don’t really want to be gone the entire day.  Mom and I run to Paul’s so I can mail a couple packages, and we scan for sales briefly.  Large eggs unbelievably are on sale for 50 cents/dozen.  I buy 8 dozen and mom buys 4.  A bit of produce also makes its way into our cart.   We check out and head back to her house, still chatting briskly.  We really need to make time more often to talk, just the two of us.   She is such a precious treasure to me.

12:40– I walk in the door at home mentally steeled for chaos.  After all, I’ve asked the teens to do math AND keep an eye on their little sisters.  A tall order.   However, the living room is clean and quiet — hooray.  And when kids appear, they say that the morning went well.  Then they ask me when I’m leaving for the 6yo’s Dr. appt, which the calendar says is at 1. Yikes.  Looking at the 8 dozen eggs on the counter, I decide it’s a perfect day to have scrambled eggs and toast for lunch, complete with chocolate milk, which delights the kids.  We eat, I comb my little gal’s hair, and she and I head off after asking the bigger kids to clean up and then read a bit more.  (We’re trying to get the library books read before we go to the library again in a couple days, and some of the kids have not spent enough time reading in the last couple weeks.)

1:30– The appointment is quick.  Walking out of the office afterward,  my daughter informs me that we really do ‘need’ some new pool toys.  All but one have sprung leaks, which has caused conflict during swimming time lately.  The dollar store is right across the road, so I impulsively say OK.  I’ve been tossing around an idea for a pool float that involves sewing pool ‘noodles’ into some turquoise polyester knit fabric that I bought a couple years ago sheerly on the basis of its color. Not sure if the idea will work, but her suggestion is all the encouragement I need to run to the dollar store for the foam tubes.  Also at the dollar store I buy oil and a blow-up pool ring that will probably sprout a leak in 3 days.  But hey, it’s only $1 and I’m feeling indulgent.

2:30 — Back at home, the kids are pleased that we got back relatively quickly.  Some of them are reading and some are just sitting around looking bored.   I get out the sewing machine to see about sewing the pool noodles into the fabric.

3:15  Within 45 minutes, I’ve got something that looks like a little turquoise canoe, and I’m itching to see if it will float.  So I coax all the kids  into their swimsuits (except one kid who opts to run instead as her exercise for the day), and out to the pool we go.

My 6 year old is in the pool in no time, and we soon ascertain that the canoe floats, kind of, about 8 inches below the water.  Not a total success, but not a complete failure either.  She and the 9 year old spend the next half hour taking turns riding and paddling around in it.  I scheme to make another, this time with full size pool noodles, not the dollar-store variety.

4:30– The big boys  (19 and 16) get home from work. The younger kids sit in the sun on the asphalt driveway getting dried off, and I lock up the pool and head inside to think about dinner.  I get sidetracked watching this video with one of my 13 year old sons– interesting stuff.  (A bit later in the evening, I spot this critique of the video we watched.   I still think the video has valid points, but so does the critique.  Hmmm…more to think about.)

5:30 — I’m peeling shrimp with one of my kids while another child cuts cabbage and yet another sets the dinner table.  The little girls are playing Barbies nearby.  We are surprised to discover a tiny crab in the midst of the shrimp we are peeling.  Poor little thing, says my 13 yo daughter.  We don’t know what to do with it.

6:00- 6:30 –Amanda and her husband Ben stop by to drop off the minivan that they borrowed for the move last weekend.  They just bought a house and they’re getting all settled in.  We talk for a few minutes before they leave, and I head back inside to finish dinner:  garlic shrimp, rice, cabbage slaw, applesauce, bananas, and peanut butter rollups for the kids who hate shrimp.  Sometimes I make them suffer through a bite or two, but tonight I decide to let the shrimp-haters eat peanut butter, and save the shrimp for the people who appreciate it.

6:40-7:00- We’re finally sitting down to eat.  John isn’t home from work quite yet but everyone else is home, and it is nice to see the faces gathered around the table.

7:-7:45  After dinner our 15 and 13yo daughters roar through the dishes.  My 9yo suggests we play a game, but — I’m shaking my head now as I remember this– I have it in my head to scrub my tub.  I grab a couple extra cloths and ask the little girls if they want to help.  They cheerily agree, and pretty soon all three of us are IN the tub scrubbing away and chatting cheerily.  (I think I owe that child a game, don’t you?)

8:00 –John gets home from work, changes, eats dinner, and goes outside to check the irrigation water.   PJ time for most of the kids.  They brush their teeth and veg out on the couches reading until John gets inside to read to them.  They’re currently reading a really fun story about a boy who grew up as a missionary’s kid in Peru.

8:40 -9:15– While John reads to the kids, I lace on my running shoes.  I want to run ‘around the block’ which since we live in the country is a 3 loop. But it’s heading toward sunset, so I run upstairs to see if I can coax one of my big boys to come keep me company.  My 19yo obliges willingly– my 11-minute miles will be an easy pace for him. I am pleased to have his company, and laugh when he asks if I mind if he listens to a podcast as we run.  I don’t think I’ll be in the mood to chat much anyway.   We do the loop in 33 minutes, exactly what I predicted, with just a bit of talking along the way.  The sun is just disappearing beyond the horizon as we run back into the driveway.  I’m whipped and my shins are exceedingly unhappy.

9:15-10:00 — Back inside I get a cool shower and some advil– I’ve run 8 miles in the last 3 days, which I fear is a bit much.  My shins are killing me before I get in the shower, but have settled down well once I get out.

10:00-11:00 —  John heads to bed– he works early in the morning– and my 15 year old daughter and I sit up watching ‘Say Yes To The Dress’ on Netflix.  It is my wind-down TV on the evenings that John goes to bed early.  We exclaim over the dresses and groan over the rude relatives who keep trying to impose their opinion on the poor lil brides.

11:00 — 15 yo is off to bed,  but my 16 and 19 year old sons and I sit at our laptops in companionable silence for awhile longer.  I’m needing to write a blog post.  This one.  But I delay for awhile, putzing around on facebook and pinterest.

1:30 AM.  Now that I’ve written about the day, I know why I was so tired when beginning this post…it was a busy day.  Must. go. to. bed.   Goodnight!

PS– remember to tell me about vonage if you have tried it?

Gift Crafting Ideas

Friends clued me in to a sweet fabric sale the other day where I scored 20 yards of fabric for a cool $20. Crazy, huh?  A store was going out of business, and the owners were getting rid of tons of quilting fabric.

Between that and pinterest, I am itching to make things. My idea is to do some gift-crafting, so that I’ll have a variety of fun gifts stashed away for different occasions and people. My mind is buzzing with possibilities, but how to narrow it down? I want to come up with ideas that people will actually enjoy.

I remember getting some lovely baby blankets from my aunt for each of our babies– big soft flannel squares.  It is a mystery to me why companies make rectangular baby blankets– square ones are so much better!

In our family we always enjoy gifts of food.  One year my aunt gave another family member a whole box full of jars of home-canned jam.  Last year my brother-in-law, who is a serious foodie gave a goodie box that included smoked cheese and homemade bacon.  Yum!

I’ve also loved getting homemade aprons and embellished kitchen towels.  It is really meaningful to me to think of someone spending time to make me something.   So what about you?  What home-made gifts have you particularly enjoyed over the years?

I have so many different ideas ‘pinned’, but here are a few baby ideas I really liked:

PS– Here are some other fun gift ideas in this Like Mother, Like Daughter post and its comments.


…You shed your tears for me and then
You took my hand and raised me high…