Monday, February 20, 2017

Katie's Birthday Cake

There is a certain time of year when neighbors are trying to foist their excess zucchini on friends, co-workers, family, and even enemies.  Imagine your birthday falls at that time of year.  Somehow, inexplicably, this ends up as your birthday cake year after year. 

I may have been terrible at Making Memories (TM) and Establishing Traditions for my kids, but this cake is a tradition we stumbled onto.  Because zucchini.  August.  Chocolate.  Delicious. 

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease your pan: either a bundt pan or a 13x9.

Combine in mixing bowl --
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup milk
1.5 cups sugar (maybe 1 cup or 1.25 would be sufficient)
1 tsp vanilla

In another bowl, sift together --
1.25 cups ww flour
1.25 cups white flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

Grate --
3 small zucchini (or whatever you need to yield 2 cups grated zucchini)

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the zucchini to the sugar+egg+oil mixture.
If 13x9, bake about 45 minutes.
If a bundt, bake about 60-65 minutes.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Pad Thai

I don't know if this is how Pad Thai is supposed to taste, but we enjoy this recipe and could eat it frequently.  This serves 4 of us.

Set large pot of water to boil for pasta.

Prepare vegetables:
4 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 cup julienned carrots
maybe also include:
~ sliced mushrooms
~ bean sprouts
~ thinly sliced sweet bell peppers
~ thinly sliced onion halves (particularly if the green onions called for later in the recipe are unavailable)

Sauté vegetables  in olive oil and a small amount of sesame oil for extra flavor.

Prepare sauce while veggies are cooking.  Mix:
4 Tbsp soy sauce
2.5 Tbsp lime juice 
2 Tbsp pineapple juice*
1 Tbsp chili-garlic sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp fish sauce (optional)

To cabbage and stir-fried veggies, add:
16 oz shrimp
Cook briefly until shrimp is nearly cooked (or heated, if using precooked shrimp).
4 cloves garlic, minced
and the sauce.
Simmer 4-5 minutes.

While meat and vegs simmer, cook
8 oz of vermicelli or angel hair pasta
(Break uncooked pasta into pieces about 2-3" long before cooking.)
(Also cook eggs now if you're making a larger amount.)

Drain pasta.  Add to veggies.  Toss.

Beat 3 eggs in small bowl. 
Shove pasta/veggie mix aside and cook the eggs in the skillet.
Mix eggs into the cabbage and pasta.
(Depending on the size of the pot and how much vegetables you prepared, you may wish to fry up the eggs in a small skillet, and then crumble into the pasta/veg mix.)

3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp peanuts

Toss.  Serve.

* You can substitute orange juice for the pineapple juice if necessary.  I found that it works to drain the juice off a can of pineapple and freeze it in ice cube trays.

Friday, October 21, 2016


Maggie encountered a virus the first week of school.  She starts to cough, and the coughing causes asthma problems, which results in more coughing, which exacerbates the asthma, and thus goes the cycle.  So she coughed her way through the month, missing most choir practices, a few church services, and several days of school.

Maggie applied for a part-time fast-food job not far from the house.  It seemed that they were interested in finding a spot for her.   Because they had just hired lots of newbies, they said they wanted to hold off for Mag until the end of October.  So she'll need to be getting in contact with them again soon.

Gary and I attended the symposium at the St Louis seminary.  Topic was catechesis, and we at CCA have some familiarity with the subject.  It took a huge amount of work to prepare for the trip.  Deacon had a truck when he went on trips; we have a compact car.  Deacon usually had several tables; we had one 6' table.  Gary wanted a brochure to hand out.  There was a lot of rethinking of how the CCA could be represented.  Then there was the loading, the trip, and the unpacking.  The trip consumed much of my September.

Gary's dad died.  He had been failing slowly over the last year.  But as he quit eating, he became much weaker.  (Or maybe it's the weakness which makes a person quit eating?)  When Gary visited early in September, his dad was already becoming disinterested in this life.  When we visited as we traveled to St Louis, we figured he couldn't continue very long as he was.  He is baptized, and we were thankful that the pastor could be with him as he lay dying.  (Dad's kids were called and told, "Come now," but the distance meant that they didn't make it in time for a final goodbye.)

Most of the grandkids were able to attend the funeral.  There's that weird thing about funerals: in the midst of mourning, there's the joy of family togetherness and fun.

About a week after we returned from the funeral, we headed out for a beautiful drive to Minnesota, enjoying the fall colors.  We attended a most-awesome wedding and saw loads of friends.  And we visited with Paul, Mandy, and baby Henry (who seems to remember me ... and like me ... even though this was only the fifth time I'd seen him).  Paul told us how his new job is going and helped us understand the pattern of his [somewhat odd] work schedule.

The secretary at church is currently out on medical leave.  Several of us are dividing up her responsibilities, taking different days to man the office.  I have bulletin-prep day.  Add to that the other projects (secretarial, CCA, and my usual volunteer tasks) and I've been volunteering at church about 30 hours a week since we returned from St Louis.  No wonder the house is messy, the grass long, and the garage not yet ready for winter.  A few of the big pressing projects are now completed.  So things should be less stressful starting next week.

Maggie and I took one day this week to tackle some projects.  She cleaned bathrooms and living room and washed some windows.  I vacuumed the car, washed all the window-screens, and scrubbed the eaves which were starting to mildew.  Sore muscles the next day.  But boy, it feels good to start catching up on some of those projects that have been delayed since my hospitalization over two years ago.  I have my fingers crossed, hoping we can finish up the most critical pre-winter outdoor jobs this weekend.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Glorious New Hope

Gary bought a new lawnmower last night.  When he told me what he spent, I was aghast.  But he chose it, and that's the way it is. 

I used it today to finish the second half of the lawn that I began mowing yesterday.  It is beautiful.  It is awesome.  I love this machine.  A couple of times while I was out there mowing, a few tears of joy leaked down onto my cheeks.  I am absolutely elated over this lawnmower.  This is so worth the price-tag.

I didn't realize until this afternoon how horribly bumpy our yard is.  Yes, I've known it's not smooth.  But the chipmunks and the sandhill cranes have done quite a number on it this year, and it's wretched.  Pushing a mower up and down the hills in our yard --especially over all the divots and hidey-holes-- takes a huge amount of effort.  This new mower has rear-wheel drive that's variable based on how fast you want to walk.  It is amazing.  I mean, really, it is amazing. 

We have been toying with the idea of moving into a condo in an old-folks' community.  We have considered moving into the village (where the water is nasty and the neighbors are too close) just to have a smaller yard.  We have considered hiring someone to do the mowing for us.  After an hour with the new mower, all those [overwhelming and unwelcome] ideas are out the window.  Even if this mower is cruddy and doesn't last, so that we would have to buy a new one every year, we are still way ahead financially over moving or hiring a lawn service.  And it IS that easy -- the mower pushes itself, and all you have to do is walk along with it.  No man-handling it.  No trudging up hills.  No fighting those blasted holes that the critters made in the yard.

If I can mow the yard in a day by myself and not be completely wasted by it (as opposed to spending ALL my energy for three days every time I mowed), I might have time to do wild and crazy things.  I could work on overseeding parts of the yard.  I could clean house.  I could do more projects at church.  I could tackle the mess in the basement.  I could [gasp] read a story???!

I love this mower.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Seal-Coating a Big Driveway

Wear your old glasses.

Those shoes you were going to throw into the trash?  Set them aside for seal-coating, and then throw them away after the job.  If that's not an option, buy a cheap pair of flipflops or a pair of tennies at a garage sale.

Have a hand scrub (like Mean Green) or a scrub brush in the shower for when you finish the job.
Likewise, make sure Softscrub is on hand because your usual frugal, enviro-friendly cleaners are not going to get the shower clean when you're done.

Don't buy the 8-year blacking.  Buy the 4-year.  It's got some longevity but seems to dry hard in less time.  With the 8-year, the coating was being ripped (still!) three weeks later whenever someone turned their tires.  The container said 24-72 hours without vehicle traffic.  Even with the 4-year, allow at least a week with no parking on the driveway and no changing directions (such as turn-arounds on the parking pad).

Buy extra pairs of cheap work gloves.  Whatever you use for the job will go into the trash afterwards.

When you're blacking, have a bucket of warm soapy water with a couple of rags outside with you.  Also have a couple of large dry rags.  You shouldn't need any of this.  But you know Murphy's Law.  If you don't have something for insta-clean-up, you will splash something somewhere that you regret ... and that you can't fix an hour later.  

So that I remember for next time:
Patch cracks and holes in June.  Fix more holes than you think you need to.  In particular, fix the seam between the driveway and the road.  Give it a month to cure.  
Edge driveway.  Remember that it takes only about 5 days for the grass to grow back from where you edged before it begins sneaking back onto the driveway.
Clean and scrub driveway.  Rinse well.  Let dry.

Temperature requirements make this is a July or August job.  Each time you apply blacking, you need two days without rain.

With a driveway the size of mine -- do NOT follow the instructions that say to do the job all at once, starting at the house and working your way down the drive to the street without stopping.  The reason they advise this is because it's important that the blacking Not Begin To Dry at all before the squeegee comes back with the next stripe.  That's impossible when it's August and there's a section of the asphalt that is 37' wide, especially when you have to stop to open and stir a new bucket.

Next time, the first job will be to do the edges.  I will need a smaller squeegee, maybe 8" or 10".  I will need a pitcher or a bowl to dip from the big bucket -- partly to control splashing, partly to get into the corner by the house, partly to reduce strain from lifting and pouring from such a large bucket.  It would be wise to put paper on the nearby house walls in case of accidents. "Doing the edges" for me means a 12" stripe along all edges of the driveway as well as the corners by the stoop and the walk-through garage door.  There should be a good amount of blacking allowed to spill over the edge of the driveway, so as to seal-coat the side of the asphalt.  After all, the grass and weeds and crumbling attack from the edge, not from the middle.  This needs two days to dry, but it doesn't prevent us from using the driveway.

The next step, if necessary, will be to put down a first coat of blacking on any especially worn areas.  This will require on-street parking and another two days without rain.

Next step is to seal-coat the parking pad.  That will take two days to dry, but the driveway is available for use.

The rest of the driveway can be done in two halves or all at once.  If done in one swoop, have a helper sweep the driveway first, as well as being available to open and stir buckets.  If doing the job alone, blacken half the driveway, leaving enough space for the cars to fit in the driveway overnight.  Then do the second half after the first half has had two days to dry thoroughly.  It's a good idea to use duct tape (as masking tape) to make a straight edge by the garage door and by the street.

My plans that nobody else cares about:
In 2016 I used 7 buckets.  One in spots as a first coat.  One from the garage to the first stripe in the parking pad.  Two more buckets across the drive and parking pad.  One to finish the parking pad and head down the driveway.  One near the plum tree.  One near the road.
Next time I expect to use a bucket to edge, although I probably won't finish the edging.  Then two buckets: blacken the parking pad, finish the edging, and if there's anything left in the bucket, do the section immediately in front of the garage door.  Three buckets won't be quite enough to do the rest of the driveway.  So four buckets will allow for two layers of blacking in some spots.
Also remember to lock up the cats so that we don't increase the number of black paw prints on the floor of the garage and on the deck. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Living on One Income

Some young folks think it's unfair that families need two incomes to get by today.  They point to the 50s and 60s and wonder why it worked for Dad to earn an income and Mom to stay home with the kids.

Government intervention (health care, college, welfare, housing market, Cash for Clunkers, etc) has certainly driven up costs.  But there's also been a change in the standard of living.

What was different 50-60 years ago that costs so much more now?

We have more toys now.  Then you could not watch a movie at home.  Then there were three TV stations (or fewer, depending on where you lived), and no way to record what you missed.   If your family had a television, there was only one.  No computers in the home.  No cell phones.  No answering machines.  No video games.  People had one coat and one dress-up outfit.  Only one or two pair of shoes.  Big events -- such as concerts or plays or major-league ballgames -- were available, but you'd attend only one every year or so. 

Safety and health.  No car seats or bicycle helmets or airbags or anti-lock brakes.  No baby monitors.  No lawsuits if you were injured.  Few people had gym memberships.  Cancer was feared because it not only meant death, but a painful death.  Nursing homes were drab and miserable.  People seemed old at 40 or 50 because they didn't have the therapists and the medications and supplements and the treatments that we have today that keep us well.

Creature comforts.  Furnaces did not work so well.  Windows were cheaper, but let in drafts.  No air conditioning.  If your family had a car, there was only one for the whole family to share.  Houses were smaller, but more people (including multiple generations) lived in the house.  Less traveling (and not by air).  Long-distance calls were expensive, so you didn't often talk to people outside your local area.  Smaller fridge.  No microwave.  No disposable diapers.  Tools required muscle -- no weed-whackers, no power drills, no sanders, no leaf-blowers.

Most stores were closed on Sundays and in the evenings, which helped keep costs down for the store owners.  It also made for less "recreational shopping."

College has become more expensive, but is considered "necessary" for jobs that really should be available to people who don't even have a high-school diploma.

Fifty years ago, a young person could move out on his own without a car and without a TV.  Today the world has changed.  Even for people who live more simply than most, there are still government requirements (such as health insurance and children's car seats) that dig into a family's pocketbook.  Plus if frugal folks want to function in society, there is a need for phones, internet access, car(s), computer, and more.

So why is it so stinkin' hard for families to live on one income now?  Partly because the government has "helped" us.  And partly because we* expect to have so much more.

*And by "we" I mean we as a society.  Even
if a particular person or family has different
values, the societal greed has an impact on all
of us. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Eye Contact

Some people listen better with their eyes closed, shutting out visual distractions to focus on what they hear. Some people are uncomfortable making eye contact because it feels too much like an invasion of their personal space.  Some people who do make eye contact feel compelled to break the eye contact while they're doing some momentary evaluation of what the speaker just said.  None of this is news-worthy, right?

Not long ago I had the opportunity to do some substitute teaching.  Small class size -- not at all like speaking to 200 people at a homeschool convention.  Much more intimate.  I couldn't believe how important it was to me for the students to be looking at me.  When they weren't looking at me, I wondered if they were bored.  I wondered if they'd gotten lost because I'd explained poorly or used a word they didn't know.  I wondered if maybe they were distracted in a good way, like making connections between what I said and something they had read earlier in the day.  I wondered if maybe I did still have their full mental attention, even as their eyes gazed unseeingly out the window.

The experience made me think I should take care to make eye contact nearly constantly with whoever's in front of me.  But I'm one of those people who can't listen critically and thoughtfully if I'm making eye contact.  However, now that I know how much it helps a speaker for her listeners to be watching and not just listening, I should try harder to keep my eyes focused too, at least some of the time.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Decision about Voting

I still don't know who I'll be voting for in November.  But I have decided one thing: I'm not telling anybody.  No matter what choice I make, either
a) I will be ashamed of it, or
b) other people will say that I should be ashamed of it.

I remember my mom telling me not long ago that it's so different now.  Everybody talks openly of their political views.  She said that, in the 60s, you didn't even tell your husband or your parents or your kids how you were voting.  It was private.

So that's my voting decision for this year's presidential election.  It's private.
So don't ask.
And don't make ANY assumptions.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Never Taken Away

Sermon on Wednesday night was about the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10).  Pastor mentioned that many American Christians are afraid these days.  What if our church is taken from us?  What if persecution or martyrdom comes to our country as it has come to other nations?  What if the Church has to hide?  Will we still have God's word in a decade, or even just a few years?

Jesus' promise to Mary and Martha was that Mary had chosen to listen to God's word and "that will not be taken away from her."  This is a promise to us too, who cherish God's word and beg that we not lose His word and Spirit.  How will the Lord preserve His word and ensure that it is not taken from us?  We don't know.  But the promise remains true.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Picking Berries

I approach the berry canes with my empty bowl.  A robin flees.  "Hey, these are MY berries.  Not yours.  Stay away, birdie." 

Twenty minutes of plucking.  Then a squirrel in a nearby tree starts making a racket.  Now, I don't speak fluent Squirrel, but I'm confident that the speech the squirrel was giving me was identical to the earlier speech I was giving the robin.

Tough noogies.  I planted.  I water.  I weed.  (Well, sometimes I weed.)  I nab Japanese beetles to toss to their deaths in my soap-water bucket.  Let the squirrel be angry that I'm harvesting the berries before him. 

Mmmmm, raspberries on my granola.  Mmmmm.