8/19/14

morning

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Every morning Ralph Robert begins his day by shouting "Mamaaa" over and over until someone comes to get him. Every morning while he shouts this, he has two fists wrapped tightly around the crib rails, with his face wedged between them, and his cheeks pulled back. I don't think he realizes how funny he looks.

Lately he's been waking up around 4:30 or 5am, and the sound of his voice is precious and kind of dreadful. Ryan always brings him into our bed with hopes that he'll fall back asleep. Sometimes he does, most days he squirms and wiggles and pats our faces with as much gentleness as he can muster. (Not very much.)

Ryan is good to me and takes Ralph downstairs to let me sleep just a little longer. I don't know for sure, I think it has something to do with knowing that Ralph is being taken care of and Ryan is in the kitchen starting the coffee, but that half hour when I have the bed to myself is the best bit of sleep I get all night.

When I finally come downstairs, the scene is always this: Ryan is wrapped up in a blanket, half asleep on the couch. Ralph runs to the bottom of the steps and repeats, "Hi Mom. Hi Mom. Hi Mom." Behind him, a spilled bowl of dry cheerios, a sippy that has been tossed and is now tipped on its side, dripping. Books and toys everywhere. I scoop up my baby and walk to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee, opening the curtains and then the windows on my way. Everything is bright. Everything feels new again. This is my favorite time of day.

After that begins the mad rush to get things done before Ryan leaves for work. Breakfast is fixed, a lunchbox is packed, a diaper needs changing. Ryan comes down from the shower smelling like soap, and he asks for hugs goodbye. Ralph watches him pull the car out and shut the garage door through the window, and yells his farewells loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Everyone is awake now.

8/4/14

handmade | flower press

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I'm fairly certain my grandma indirectly taught me how to press flowers way back in the day. I spent many a hot summer at her house in Michigan, where the backyard pool and the cool, dark basement covered in electric blue carpet and chock-full of treasures were the two main events. But on a rainy day, and after all the crannies of the basement had been thoroughly explored, my sisters and I spent our time at Grandma's house combing her drawers and closets and bookshelves. That lady had so much interesting stuff, and she never seemed to mind our snooping. It was custom to flip through one of her books or magazines and see a dry, flat, pretty little something flutter out from between the pages. I've taken her lead, and, even though I never really use them for anything, I still love to tuck a tiny flower or leaf into a thick book. Even just for the sake of finding it again later, smooshed and crispy, and still beautiful. A little forgotten fleur surprise.

I realized almost too late while packing for our weekend camping trip that I didn't have a transportable press to take along with me. I wasn't about to bring my Grandma's old hymnal in my backpack, but I certainly didn't want to be unprepared for all the wild flowers I planned on plucking from the hiking trails. Enter the homemade flower press: all supplies were collected from my local fabric store, the bin of crafty stuff I keep in the guest bedroom, and Ryan's scrap wood pile in the basement. It took me one full nap time to make the entire thing, and snap the photos to show you how to make one yourself.

You'll need:
-two pieces of thin scrap wood (I used two pieces of 5x5 ish plywood)
-cardboard, cut the same size as your wooden boards (I used an old cardboard box and cut seven 5x5 squares)
-watercolor paper, cut or torn the same size as your wood and cardboard pieces (I made 12 squares)
-scissors
-a needle and thread, or a sewing machine
-2 sets of square rings
-2 yards of 1in. cotton webbing

To make:
Cut all your materials to size. I wanted my press to be on the smaller side, a 5x5 square, so my wood pieces, my cardboard pieces, and my watercolor pages are all 5x5 inches. I cut my cotton webbing in half to make two straps, 1 yard long each. For each strap, slide 2 square rings onto one end of a strap, fold over twice, and sew. Fold the ends of the other side of the strap over twice, and sew, to prevent it from unraveling. I used my sewing machine for this, but I think a hand-sewn whip stitch would do just fine. Arrange your press like so: one wooden piece, one cardboard piece, two watercolor pages, one cardboard piece, two watercolor pages, etc., until your press is the desired thickness. Top with the other wooden square, fill with flowers, and secure with the straps as tightly as you can.

7/29/14

the garden

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My mom has always kept a gardening notebook through the years, to jot down notes and ideas for the garden she keeps with my dad. It's a small green (or is it yellow?) notebook that she fills with lists of what they planted each year, tiny sketches of where they planted everything, and tips for the next year. I've always loved paging through it and have decided to keep my own for our garden this year. Or, at least, I'm trying to. Right now my notebook contains a list of what to buy from the nursery that I wrote earlier this Spring, and the warranties for our boxwoods and rose bush tucked into the back pages. It's sad, but it's a start, eh?

In case you're curious, here's a list of what we planted this year, that I plan on writing down, with a pen, into my notebook. Sometime. Eventually.

3 rows of lettuce: butter, and romaine, for salads and sandwiches. Eh. We're not that impressed, and will try for a crispier variety next summer.
2 green pepper plants: for stir fry! Or stuffed peppers! Mayyybe salsa, if we can grow more than three.
1 row of green beans: for tossing with salt, pepper, butter, and lemon juice. And for freezing, when we're desperate for something fresh-tasting in the middle of January.
1 row of sugar snap peas: for picking and crunching into while lazily watching Ralph make tracks around the lawn with his tiny lawn mower. See also: stir fry! Note for next summer: don't plant them near the fence, because bunnies.
3 cucumber plants: bush pickles, actually. Extra crunchy and sweet, with small seeds. Perfect for pickling, and midday snacking, and drenching in bleu cheese dressing.
1 zucchini plant: for sweet zucchini bread, and that one dish with onions and tomatoes and basil and olives and cheeeeese.
3 tomato plants: my favorite. for stews and soups and sauces, and most especially, slicing and slurping.
1 cherry tomato plant: for the pop! factor.
1 strawberry plant: for, let's face it, the birds. We've managed to snag two that hadn't been pecked. Note for next year: some sort of cage?
Honorable mentions: my sweet herbs, sage, oregano, parsley, chives, rosemary, and mint. You have some work to do, dill and cilantro. You too, thyme.

Now tell me what you're planting! I love this stuff.

a recipe | summer lemonade

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It's nearing that time of summer where back-to-school ads are arriving in the mail, and shelves of notebooks and loose leaf paper are stacked up at the store. I'm a lover of the changing of seasons, and usually things like this give me twinges of excitement, even if they always do show up a bit too soon. But this year I'm scrolling past all the pins and posts filled with sweaters and apple crisps much more quickly than I did last year. This summer has just been too good to think about it ending yet.

But. As much as I'm not looking, I see you, bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. I figured I better get these recipes up before people start wishing for a hot cuppa cider over a glass of cold lemonade.

I've made these lemonades a handful of times already, and they don't last long in our fridge. The classic lemonade goes great with grilled burgers and oven fries, and the minty peach is exceptional with ice and a couple glugs of whiskey. If I do say so myself.

Classic Lemonade
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 6 lemons
3-4 cups water

Combine first two ingredients in a pitcher, and add water to taste. Stir or shake, and chill before serving.

. . .

Minty Peach Lemonade
1 cup simple syrup
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 6 lemons
1 ripe peach, cut into chunks
a handful of mint leaves
1 tsp sugar
3-4 cups water

Combine first two ingredients in a pitcher. In a bowl, combine the peach, mint leaves, and sugar, and muddle until juicy. Strain out solids, and pour the remaining juice to your pitcher. Add water to taste. Stir or shake, and chill before serving.

. . .

Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water

Combine ingredients into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil on stove, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool. Makes approximately 2 cups.

5/13/14

motherhood | maa-maa

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Well, it took a solid 18 months, but it finally happened. Ralph called me momma. He said it for the first time on Easter Sunday while we were playing in my parents' backyard-- a little sigh of a hi, mom. And then he plopped down on my lap like he'd been saying it for years. I replied with a hi, baby before even realizing what had happened, and then looked at my sister to ask if she had heard it, too. She had! And there was much rejoicing.

Since then he's been figuring out how to slowly include the word into everyday conversation. He sounded like a baby goat at first, very deliberately sounding out maa-maa with much concentration, and often a little finger pointed in my direction. Now that he knows what he's doing, he'll get creative with it, trying out ma-ma-ma-ma or mommymommymommymommy. It's wonderful and hilarious and really fulfilling to hear, even though the fact that it took so long for him to say it never bothered me all that much. I knew it would come. Only once did my impatience get the best of me, and I said to Ryan, "What if he can't find me? How will he call for me?" And then we both chuckled because we knew how ridiculous those questions were. Because, for starters, I am never very far away from this child. And he certainly doesn't need to be able to say momma to get my attention. One loud wail (the one that he's had 18 months to perfect) is enough to send me running to him. And that-- the fact that he hasn't needed to say it, because I am always right there, right by his side, ready to care for him-- makes me one happy momma indeed. A slightly hovering, annoying, helicopter mom? Yes, probably. But a happy one. Good enough for me.

But I mean seriously, Ralph, it's about time.

And now, in keeping with the theme, here are some pictures from Sunday. We went to our favorite beach after church, which, I guess, is turning out to be a Mother's Day tradition. (Except this time we didn't fight at all! Remember that?) The weather was gorgeous, so warm and still and slightly humid, and we spent the entire day outside. We planted some flowers, got tacos for supper, and the tree in our backyard bloomed little white blossoms. I was in heaven. Happy Mother's Day, dear ones.

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4/16/14

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After a few weeks of warmer weather and a good thaw here in Wisconsin, things have once again taken a turn for the chilly. Just when Ralph figured out how great it was to run free outside, the cold winds and April snowflakes shooed us back indoors, and we've been stuck looking for birdies through the windows all afternoon, instead of on walks in the sunshine. For the most part this weather regression has been bearable thanks to errands and play dates to keep us occupied, but Monday was rough. On Monday there was nothing to do but watch the snowflakes come down in chunks and dust the first few sprouts of green grass that had bravely shot through the ground. Ugh. Have you ever tried explaining to a 17 month old that he can't go play with the shovel and hose in the backyard because it's snowing? In April?

In an attempt to be optimistic, I took my camera out of its case and tried to find a little beauty inside the walls of this house that we've been cooped up in all winter long. I found a little bit here and there, in the neat folds of my dishtowels and the tidy tucks of my bed (there's so much more time for fussing with folds and tucks in the winter,) but I don't know. I just kept thinking that it'd be nice to see some flowers and sunshine and lush green trees. It'd be nice to have some beauty smack me in the face, instead of having to go look for it, you know?

But we're surviving. One more week of cracked hands and wrestling a kid into a thick, puffy coat. Just a few more witchy 4 'o clock hours inside with Ralph, waiting for Ryan to come home and give us a break from each other. One more pot of soup. We're allllmost there.

3/20/14

rose's vinaigrette

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The first day of Spring seems like an appropriate time to share a recipe for my favorite vinaigrette. The days of bounteous fresh veggies will soon be upon us, and you know what that means. Salads! Every day, salads!

I first had this dressing right after Ralph was born. My sister brought some over in a jar the day we came home from the hospital, along with salad fixings and burgers. After having a baby and then having to eat hospital food for a few days, believe me when I say that that meal was one of the best I'd ever eaten. I've been making this vinaigrette non-stop ever since, and there's always a jar of it in the fridge. It goes great with everything-- any kind of greens or veggies you happen to have in the fridge will do. I really love it with just a plain spinach salad, with maybe some walnuts and goat cheese if you want to fancy it up. Arugula is good, too. I think I ate chopped garden tomatoes tossed in it every day for lunch last summer. Ohh, fresh garden tomatoes!

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The best part is that it keeps for six whole months in the fridge. I really love that. Make it once, and you'll have weeks and weeks of homemade dressing for your lunch salads. Quick and easy. Bada bing.

Rose's Vinaigrette
(original recipe can be found here, a Martha/Lucinda creation, of course.)

1 tablespoon minced shallot or garlic
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a clean jar, mash together the garlic, mustard, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour in vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. Cover tightly and shake well to combine and emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator, for up to six months. Makes one cup.

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ps: my camera smells like garlic now.