March 29, 2013

Caitlin Rose - I Was Cruel

I'm loving Caitlin Rose's new album - The Stand-In.  Her voice is great, the lyrics are engaging, and it's music that I can both sing and play.  I love it.   

March 28, 2013

Little Things...

* The piano is tuned and ready to play.  We got it for free from a nice lady who contacted us via craigslist, and I could not be happier.  Aaron is excited to learn, and I am excited to practice too!  I purchased a new lesson book for each of us, and I am tempted to sit down every time I walk by it.

* Happy toes!  I thoroughly enjoyed my birthday pedicure.  I hate that it's too cold to wear sandals, but that's okay - my showers are more colorful now.

* Aaron's card is the best.

* While taking a shower, I looked out the window at the river.  I saw a glorious swan gracefully gliding across the water.  Beautiful.  Majestic.

* The tulips are just peeking out, waiting for the rest of the snow to melt away so they can provide us with a much-needed burst of color.  I can't wait!

March 27, 2013

Menu of the Week

pictures from Cooking Light, Saturday Evening Post, and How Sweet It is (links below)

Homemade Pizza, Salad
The now-becoming-usual routine of whole wheat dough, topped with onions, mushrooms, peppers, and black olives.  

Spaghetti and Meatballs, Salad
An old favorite.  With grated carrots added to the meatballs.  

Maple-Dijon Salmon, Brown Rice, Zucchini
Another old favorite.  

Double Bean Burgers with Avocado-Basil Cream, Spicy Oven Fries
A new favorite, at least for me.  This is the best veggie burger I've made so far.  They actually had really good consistency and did not fall apart.  I love the addition of white beans.  The cream really does make the burgers though.  It is awesome!  The boys didn't want the cream, although Aaron dipped his fries in it.  He ate almost his entire burger and then, with two bites left, declared he didn't like it.  Ha.  I might add an onion or something to the burger so it has a little more flavor on its own.  Definitely a keeper.

Sweet Potato, Corn, and Kale Chowder
Another veggie success!  I used this recipe as an outline, but I did not make it vegan.  I used regular butter and milk, and I topped it with a little parmesan.  The boys did really well with it, although they both told me I needed to chop the kale into smaller pieces.  Duly noted.  Another keeper!  Yay!

Also, on a very random note, I made these leek fritters a couple weeks ago and neglected to post about it.  I should, because I loved them and will make them again.  I actually only made them because I ended up with three extra leeks after asking Aaron to get a leek at the grocery store.  We only needed one, and I didn't notice that he put one bunch in the cart.  I remembered noticing this recipe in the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and it called for exactly three big leeks...seemed like it was meant to be.  So I made them, and loved them, and the lemon cream sauce is awesome.  I had them for lunch every day that week.  So if you ever end up with a few extra leeks, give it a try.

March 26, 2013

Things That Make Me Feel Young

photo by Natasha Calhoun

Okay, so I'm 39 now.  I'm okay with this.  I thought I would follow up this list with its opposite - a few of the things that make me feel young:

1.  Yoga.  I am not an expert, but I can hold my own; and as I leave a class, I walk a little taller and breathe a little deeper.

2.  Some of the bands I listen to are led by young people, but I love that so many of my favorites are those that are aging like me and continuing to make great music.  Pearl Jam, Kristin Hersh, Ryan Adams, The Decemberists, Susan Tedeschi, Josh Ritter, Juliana Hatfield, Patty Griffin, Sera Cahoone, Tift Merritt, Wild Flag...

3.  Skiing.  Gliding down the mountain, with a cool breeze in my face.  I feel light, and happy, and young.

4.  Hanging out with my mom.  Because she's a little older than me, and she's still rocking it.  She rides her bike, takes long walks, gardens, does yoga...  It feels good to walk in her footsteps and to have such a beautiful example of how to age with grace.

5.  Tickle sessions with my kids.  Rolling around on the floor making two little boys gasp for air as they laugh is the best.

6.  Being at the beach.  Maybe it's the sun, or the sand, or cooling off in the water on a hot summer's day, or maybe it's the stop at the ice cream stand, or the memories of childhood trips.  Whatever it is, the beach never fails to make me feel young.

7.  Playing a new album all the way through and reading the lyrics.

8.  Watching my kids grow up and experiencing their childhoods along with them.  It's like getting to go through it all over again.  I get to eat popsicles, run through sprinklers, watch cartoons, read fun books, eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, create paintings...

9.  Driving with the windows down.

10.  My shoulders.  I like my shoulders.  They're strong and have always served me well.

11.  Nice compliments from friends (or strangers!).  Like the comment my lovely friend Sara left about my skin.  At first I'm thinking "My skin?  You should see my forehead right now!  And the amount my eyelids have started to droop in the last year."  But then I think, "How nice!"

12.  Watching the stars.  I can stare at the night sky and feel 12 again.  It always makes me feel small and huge and magnificent.

March 25, 2013

Weekend Recap

This was the only picture I snapped all weekend.  We were too busy having fun!  The picture is from a puppet show at the library.  Later that day, both boys attended birthday parties.  Kevin and I watched 'Zero Dark Thirty' that night.  Very intense and interesting and dramatic, and I now really want to know how accurate it is.  Sunday morning included a visit from a friend and her kids, and then we went over to visit some other friends that afternoon.  The boys were so excited to see and play with so many friends this weekend.  I was so excited to get to catch up with my own friends too!  

A few goals for the week:
1.  Clean the house.  I got a little behind last week, and there is work to be done.  
2.  Put together the Easter baskets!
3.  Yoga and work on my abs
4.  Get the piano tuned (Did I mention we got a piano?!?)
5.  Have a happy birthday!

March 22, 2013

Things That Make Me Feel Old

I'm turning 39 next week.  In celebration of getting older, I made a list of a few of the things that make me feel old.  There is the opposite list, of course - things that make me feel young.  Perhaps I'll do that next.  This is not a negative list.  Growing older is fun and weird and interesting, and it happens to all of us.  It's okay to notice those changes along the way.

1.  I get confused when articles and people refer to JT.  To me, JT is James Taylor, and I'm pretty sure he'd never write a song called "SexyBack".

2.  Harlem Shakes is what now?  I don't watch reality TV.  The only American Idols I know are Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.  I have absolutely no idea why the Kardashians are famous.  I'm a little upset I know their name at all.  But it does make me feel better to know that I don't care, so please, nobody fill me in.

3.  I watch sporting events and realize I could be the mother of most of the athletes.  The Olympics are the worst!

4.  Learning new things is the best part of growing older.  Continuing to gather knowledge, of all kinds.  And learning something new, whether it's how to cook with a different ingredient, play a new song on the guitar, the meaning of a word, or a piece of history, never fails to make me feel just a little bit more grown-up.

5.  The physical parts of getting older.  This could be a long list.  Gray hair, wrinkles, creaky knees...

6.  Conversations about taxes, insurance, and retirement.

7.  Those signs at the liquor store that say "If you were born after XX/XX/XX, you cannot purchase alcohol."  They say 1992 on them now!  That's when I graduated high school!

8.  Little reminders about how long ago events happened.  The ones that loom large in my memory.  How long it's been since The Challenger exploded (27 years).  Since Kurt Cobain died (17 years).  Since Friends went off the air (8 years).  9/11/2001.

9.  Anything from the 80s.  Madonna, Duran Duran, Rubik's Cubes, candy cigarettes, School House Rock, Simon, walking to school by yourself, Kirk Cameron, cassette tapes, General Hospital, Ghostbusters, Private Benjamin, Ferris Bueller, all John Hughes movies...

10.  Not getting carded.  And then thinking about how exciting it was to turn 21.  And then thinking about how long ago that was.

March 21, 2013

Little Things...

This is what it looks like around here.  Although Spring has now officially begun, there are few signs of it showing.  There are some, but you have to look for them.  At the moment, they are buried under another foot of snow.  We are still in the browns and grays and whites of Winter.  In an effort to look beyond my drab surroundings, I thought I'd make myself a little happy list.  Here goes...

1.  I walked downstairs this morning, and Aaron came running from the kitchen into my arms to give me a good morning hug.
2.  We attended a school auction last weekend, and I bid on and won a pass to a local yoga studio.  I've gone twice so far this week, and oh my does it feel good.
3.  I have a pan of our favorite brownies on my stove.  (It's a good thing I've been exercising.)
4.  Great new music has been released recently - Josh Ritter, Caitlin Rose, and Tift Merritt/Simone Dinnerstein are in heavy rotation.
5.  The taxes are done, payments made, refunds received - all before the end of March!  That's a record I'm sure.
6.  I've tried several new recipes the last couple weeks, and I've had some successes.  I love watching the boys eat healthy food, and I love adding some variety to our menu.
7.  Our new living room lamp is big and orange and beautiful.  It makes me happy every time I walk through the room.
8.  I just finished Steve Martin's autobiography.  Beautiful.
9.  I just started Barbara Kingsolver's latest, and I'm loving it so far too.
10.  My birthday is next week.  Getting older is fascinating.
11.  I booked myself for a pedicure on my birthday.  Can't wait for those happy toes!
12.  Mad Men is coming back soon!
13.  Every day after preschool, Nathan has been asking me to read superhero stories to him.  He snuggles right up next to me as we read.
14.  We had another donations pickup last week, and the house feels lighter.
15.  I made plans for us to go visit friends next month.  I love the anticipation - I can't wait to see them!
16.  Our neighbors asked us if we wanted to go to a concert with them next week.  Live music, a night out, and hanging with friends?  Yes please.
17.  I found the chords to a song I've long wanted to play on the guitar.  They aren't quite right, so I'm tinkering and figuring out what works.  I sing and play, and I love the process.
18.  March Madness!  The college basketball tournament starts today.
19.  The birthday party tour continues this weekend.  We will be splitting up so the boys can both attend parties.  Nathan is already planning his own party in July - can you guess the theme?
20.  Quiet mornings.  They don't last long, and I'm often scurrying around trying to get things done, but I love every second of them.

March 20, 2013

Menu of the Week

pictures from Martha Stewart and Cooking Light

Here's a peek at what we ate last week...

Curried Chicken Legs with Carrots, Rice, and Lime
This is a very simple dish, and yet it's different and adds some nice variety.  I only bought two chicken legs for the carnivores in the family, and Nathan and I added a second vegetable to our plates, along with a handful of cashews just to add a little protein.

Panko-Encrusted Fish Sticks, Brown Rice, Broccoli
I think I've posted this one enough to stop talking about it.  It's good.  Everyone likes it.

Goat Cheese and Roasted Corn Quesadillas, Black Beans
This one, too.  It's an easy go-to veggie dinner.  I always add diced zucchini to the quesadillas as well.  Sometimes we have yellow rice or avocado/guacamole, but I didn't have time this particular night.

Potato and Onion Frittata, Sauteed Zucchini
This was our new recipe for the week, and I'm happy to report that it was a huge success!  I wanted to try a frittata or quiche, because the boys like eggs and I figured I might have some luck.  I stuck with a basic recipe for now - one without a lot of green or red vegetables in it - to increase my chances.  It worked!  They both looked at me skeptically, and Nathan declared he didn't like it even before he tried. But "just one bite" is the rule in our house, so he dutifully took his one bite and then declared, "I like it! I'm going to eat everything on my plate!"  And so he did.  One minor note:  I thought it was very heavy on the rosemary, so I'd probably decrease it a bit next time.

Pasta with Walnut-Basil Pesto, Parmesan Tomatoes
Oh my goodness I absolutely adore having pesto in my freezer.  Walnut-basil pesto is my new favorite, and I don't think I'll ever go back to expensive pine nuts.  Aaron loves pesto too, so he ate two big bowls of it (even whole-wheat pasta!).  Ah, these little successes do make my week sometimes.

March 15, 2013

Tift Merritt & Simone Dinnerstein - Night

One of my favorites, Tift Merritt, has teamed up with a friend of hers, Simone Dinnerstein, to create a gorgeous new album.  Simone Dinnerstein is a classical pianist.  If you haven't heard her before, you should check out her Bach: Goldberg Variations.  They met when Tift interviewed Simone as a part of her radio show, Spark.  They became friends, and they figured out a way to collaborate together.  The result is a beautiful collection of songs, the album entitled Night.  I only wish I lived in one of the cities where they are performing.

March 13, 2013

Spending Time...

photo by Scott McFadyen

I've been at home for a while now, and I feel like I'm finally at ease with my new routine.  At first, it was a harder transition than I expected.  I found that there were parts of my working life that I missed - adult conversation, quiet alone time, using my brain to solve work problems...   I must also admit that being with the kids for longer periods of time is wonderful in so many ways, but it can also be challenging.  I needed to take a step back and re-learn how to prepare myself for each week.

The other thing I noticed was that there was all of a sudden so much time!  I started asking myself, "What do I want to get out of each day?" and "How do I ensure that I'm taking care of myself in addition to my family?".  Little by little, I started figuring it out.

I now begin every weekday with a large glass of water and exercise.  I've been focused on improving the food we are eating - I'm cooking every day, trying new meals, increasing our veggies, making more homemade.  I eat a nice, big, relaxed lunch.  It's an entertaining lunch, too, usually involving conversations about superheroes with Nathan.  I'm (mostly) going to bed earlier and getting enough sleep.  This is huge.  I spend time every day cleaning part of the house so that it doesn't overwhelm me.  I also spend time every week organizing part of the house so that it doesn't overwhelm me.  I plan ahead - for weekends, vacations, unexpected snow days, and summer.  I'm getting caught up on doctors appointments.  I read good books.  I get outside.  I play my guitar.  I wear comfortable clothes.  I put on loud music and dance around the house.

When I go back and read old posts, the difference to me is striking.  The stress of trying to fit everything in comes flooding back.  I know that I will go back to work, and I want to for many reasons; but I can't go back to the way it was before.  There has to be a middle ground.  I will have to find a job that allows me to contribute at work as well as take care of myself and my family.  That's not for a while yet, though.  In the meantime, I'm going to get as much out of this time as possible.  I'm going to continue to make goals for myself and to enjoy this time with my boys.  I'll figure out the next step once it's time to take it.
photo by Alicia Bock

March 12, 2013

Recently Read

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is on every list of "books one must read in their lifetime", and several friends described it as "life-changing".  It won the Nobel Prize!  I really wanted to love it.  Now that I've finally finished it, I can definitely say that I appreciate the scope of the book, I understand the theme, and the writing is beautiful in parts.  However, I didn't fall in love with it.  It is incredibly long, and so many of the characters have the same name!  With each generation, it became more and more difficult to remember who was who.  The last hundred or so pages felt like I was slogging through the mud just to get through it.  I did get through it, and I'm happy I did, but it didn't change my life.

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan
I am a big fan of Ian McEwan.  I love his style of writing; and I usually feel like I learn something when I read his books, whether it's a bit of history or philosophy or a few new words.  I enjoyed this book, and it was engaging throughout.  It wasn't a "can't put it down" thriller, but it was entertaining.  It takes place in the 1970s, and the main character, Serena Frome, is recruited into MI5.  The book is about an operation code-named Sweet Tooth, in which England is attempting to influence the cultural conversation by supporting writers who agree with the government. 

Tenth of December: Stories, by George Saunders
This is a book of short stories, and they are varied in style and scope and length - one story is only two pages long!  They are all interesting and thought-provoking.  Some of them funny.  Some tragic.  Heroic.  Depressing.  I am always in awe of writers who can tell stories in so many different voices from different perspectives.  I highly recommend this one.  

March 11, 2013

Weekend Recap

A weekend:

*Bonus day!  The snowstorm canceled school on Friday, so the boys and I hung out at home, watching the snow blow in and fall all. day. long!  Almost two feet later, it finally stopped long enough for me to shovel.  The boys played and went sledding.
*Sledding!  Lots and lots of sledding.
*We got a piano.  It is not a great piano, and it needs some work, but it was free!  Aaron is so excited to learn to play, and I really hope that enthusiasm continues.
*Baseball.  Aaron had a baseball clinic, in preparation for the start of the season next month.  So cool to see tons of boys out there getting ready and having fun.
*Date night.  Well, not a kid-free date night.  All four of us went out to dinner Saturday night.  The boys were great, and we all enjoyed an awesome meal.
*Watching UNC lose to Duke.  :-(
*More sledding!
*Zucchini-chocolate chip bread.  A cold weekend at home generally means we bake something.  This is what we chose this weekend, and it is gooooood.
*Losing an hour.  Those first few days are always hard, but the boys actually woke up on their own this morning with plenty of time before school, so I think it's going to be an easy transition.  I do love the longer days!

March 8, 2013

Josh Ritter - New Lover

Josh Ritter has a new album out.  It's called The Beast in Its Tracks.  It's wonderful.  It's been on nonstop since it came out on Tuesday.  This is the kind of album that you want to know by heart, so I will listen until I do.  

I just learned that these songs were written after his wife abruptly left him after only a year of marriage. It was obviously a breakup album, but knowing that puts the lyrics into a different perspective.

March 7, 2013

Winter's Last Gasp...

I guess Winter isn't quite done after all.  She decided we needed one last snowstorm, and we're right in the bullseye that is expected to get 6-10".  This is actually just fine with me - I am hoping enough of it sticks around for the weekend so we can get in a good sledding session.  In the meantime, I enjoy the peaceful beauty of falling snow, even when it's getting whipped around by strong winds.  It's beautiful.

March 5, 2013

Menu of the Week

photos from Martha Stewart, Dinner: A Love Story, Cooking Light, and Yummy Supper (links below)

My strategy for planning dinners has changed somewhat over the last few years.  I don't cook pork or beef at all any more.  I only did rarely before, but I've cut them out completely now.  (Well, almost completely - We will still have beef tenderloin for Christmas, and I do still include bacon as a garnish in soups and other meals.)

So in planning meals, I find that I typically choose a poultry dish (chicken, ground turkey, sausage) or two, seafood, pasta, and Friday night (usually alternates between pizza and burritos/quesadillas).

I've been trying new recipes and working to find more vegetarian dinners that the kids and my husband will enjoy.  I've been somewhat successful, and I don't mind eating the leftovers myself when they fail to please.  Soups have been my biggest successes so far this year, but there have been others.  We've also been making more homemade pizzas lately, and I forgot how good they are!  If you have any veggie dinner ideas that kids will eat, please do share.

Here's a look at what we ate last week:

Homemade Pizza, Salad
I've been making half plain cheese and half covered with veggies.  Usually caramelized onions, mushrooms, peppers, and black olives.  

Chicken Tenders, Spicy Oven Fries, Steamed Broccoli
Oh my goodness I will never buy frozen french fries again.  (I used to like getting frozen sweet potato fries.  They're good, but homemade is better!)  These spicy oven fries are awesome!  Everyone liked them.  I only used a dash of red pepper to avoid making them too spicy for the kids.  Perfect.  

Tex-Mex Pasta Salad, Guacamole
I used to really love this pasta salad, and the kids devoured it.  Somehow, it seems to have lost its magic for us.  Everybody did okay, but I must admit I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I remembered, and the boys weren't thrilled with it.  Wonder why it was different this time?  I'll keep the recipe, but it may fall out of rotation for a while.

Lemon-Pepper Shrimp Scampi, Orzo, Roasted Asparagus
Ridiculously easy weeknight dinner.  As expected, Nathan wouldn't eat the shrimp, but he chowed on the orzo and ate his asparagus whole, with his hands.  And had some leftover broccoli too.  Aaron and I enjoyed it just as written.

Potato, Corn, and Leek Chowder
Easily the biggest hit yet.  The boys just adore this chowder and clean their bowls every time.  Aaron had it two nights in a row and requested to have it packed in a thermos to bring for lunch at school.  Awesome.  

Quinoa and Kale Patties, Mashed Sweet Potatoes
This was the new main recipe for the week.  It went over well with me, but not with anyone else.  That's okay.  I really liked them, especially covered with avocados, black beans, cilantro, and served with a little sour cream and salsa on the side.  I had them the rest of the week every day for lunch.  I can think of lots of ways to mix up the ingredients of these patties, so this is definitely a keeper, even if only for me.

March 4, 2013

Signs of Spring

*Mud, mud everywhere, as far as the eye can see
*Smoke and steam rising from the sugar shack at our community farm
*Kevin's complaints about wanting to be able to start working in the yard
*Baby animals - chicks, piglets, lambs...all brand new and so darn cute!
*College basketball on the TV a couple times a week.  Aaron helps me chant "Let's Go Tar Heels!"
*Sap buckets hanging from the maple trees.  We check them every time we walk home from school.
*Birthday parties!  It seems most of the boys' friends were born in March.
*Baseball.  The facility where the boys take baseball class is jam-packed these days.  Little league clinics have begun.
*More sunshine, with the days about to get even longer as we push the clocks forward next weekend
*The seedling order form on my counter.  Time to choose what to plant this year.

I gotta say, early spring is not my favorite.  (And yes I realize it's not technically spring yet, but once skiing ends and the mud begins, winter is over.)  The slushy mud and cold winds seem to overwhelm everything else.  But I will find the beauty in the season.  It's the beginning of all the beauty that is to come.  The promise of beautiful things.  By the end of spring, we'll have flowers, seedlings in the ground, baseball games outside, Kevin working in the yard, and even longer days.  Happy Spring!

March 1, 2013

Father John Misty

A little concert for your Friday.  It's great music, and if nothing else, you should at least watch it to see him shake his hips.  


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