Friday, July 30, 2010

Congratulations, Alycia!

Tomorrow my baby sister is graduating with her Master's Degree and starting an exciting new chapter in her life. I'm very happy for her and very proud of her.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

To Calendar: When two or more people get together to discuss and coordinate upcoming activities

Before I left for work this morning, I tossed a family-pack of pork chops in the fridge to defrost. So when I stopped by Gaye's house on the way home, I invited her to have dinner with us. She bought us our new propane Grill after the last one rusted out to the point that the bottom literally fell out. So I wanted her to have the opportunity to appreciate what the grill can do (it heats much more evenly than the old one, and it's also much easier to clean the grate). She accepted, so Chris and I ran home with Ben (Milo stayed behind to help feed the cats) to pick up the living room and run the vaccuum once. Then we all ate dinner.

After dinner Chris ran Coco back to his home (he'd been over having a playdate with Emily all day) and Gaye and I got to talking about all the stuff coming up in August and next thing you know, I'd printed out two copies of the month of August and we were sketching out when she'd babysit, when Max would babysit, and exactly what Max's Shakespeare rehearsals and performances look like. (Did I mention that we got the most wonderful thank-you note from one of the summer drama academy organizers? It praised Max as a wonderful young man, and I just can't get enough of that kind of thing.) By the time Chris got back, we'd figured out the first week and the last full week of August.

Then Chris sat down with HIS computer and we brought HIM up to speed. Somewhere in there I got out my computer and looked up the Nittany Valley Shakespeare Festival in order to check on the locations of the performances--they're all over the place, depending on the day--and in the process discovered an additional performance and some variations in the times from the schedule I originally was given. So that was all good. We wrote down the new information and discovered, for example, that Chris was already going to be in Baltimore the day that the twins come home from California, so I'll drive from Indiana to State College the previous day and let him pick up the twins from the airport. This is good news for me, even if it means I have to wait an additional 3 to 4 hours to see them that day.

In the end, we spent about an hour coordinating child care and child activities and who is driving where and when (e.g., Grandma will probably end up picking up the twins at the end of their school days on the first few days of school, since Extended Day doesn't usually start until the second week of school. But I'm getting ahead of myself. That's September for us.) and I felt MUCH better about the whole month by the time we were done, because now we're all on the same page, and it's all down on paper and the kids will get to their activities and have another full and wonderful month of summer.


I'm trying to lose weight by eating less and tracking what I eat so that the calories fall within the guidelines that helped me lose so much weight over the course of two years before. I regained it when taking a medicine that isn't supposed to cause weight-gain, but totally did with me. I had kept the weight off for a little over a year prior to that. About 15 months. After I hit my previous (non pregnancy) high weight, I went off the med, and have hovered around that number ever since. It was hard to find myself back at that weight and therefore hard to find the determination to lose it. I concentrated on school instead.

But I've been nudging myself back in that direction and I think my head is in the right place to make some progress. I'll lose the weight again, all of it, just the same way I did before. It will probably take me about the same amount of time as it did before, although I might be able to shave off 6 to 9 months because I don't intend to move across the country in the middle of it this time.

And now I am off to knit, knit like the wind, for it's only one month till the Grange fair, and I have many repeats of lace left to go.

(But omigosh, what a summer it has been for the garden. This is the first summer, ever, that I can remember the hot peppers being ripe in July. Usually the first jalapenos come in around mid-August, and everything else in late August. It's not unusual for me to have to buy hot peppers for the first batch of salsa, because not enough of the rest are ripe.

But this summer I already have two different kinds of peppers starting to produce huge, ripe hot peppers. The sweet peppers are turning orange. They'll be ready to be picked before I go to Indiana. The three pickling cucumber plants are producing 8 to 12 ripe cucumbers a week right now. I was planning one more batch of relish--a dill relish--after that I'm not sure what to do. I haven't tried the Ball Canning Dill pickle recipe and I'm not sure what kind of pickles they produce. Are they any good? I don't know, so I was only going to can a few batches on a trial basis this summer--but I can see that the vines will keep producing for a few more weeks and I have to do something with all those cucumbers.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen. I can't really remember when my tomatoes usually come in. I usually have more plants and then I have a variety of middle and late season tomatoes. This spring I didn't grow plants from seeds, I just grabbed a few pots from Lowe's. So I haven't even checked when they're supposed to come in. But the cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes have produced two lunches worth of ripe tomatoes and the first Big Boy is turning red. Neither of the beefsteak tomato varieties are producing a lot of fruit. They're more lush and green and healthy, than some previous year, but not especially abundant. I hear that can happen when the plant isn't at all stressed--plenty of good soil and rain? The plant isn't so worried about producing seeds to replicate itself.

And now I really am off to knit a few rows before turning in.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Unfinished Business

I have it in my mind this school year not to start any new big projects, but rather to finish projects begun in this past year, or even earlier. I include in this a project I haven't actually cast on for yet, but purchased awhile ago when I saw it, loved it, and knew for whom I wanted to knit it. Since the person hadn't actually been conceived at that point, the project has been just sitting there, out of sunlight, waiting. Today I found a beautiful picture of it on Ravelry and decided that when I finish Grandma Helen's Stole and the Diamond Fantasy Shawl it will be time to launch that project. Hopefully I'll finish it before said person graduates from college and has his or her own babies. It's an heirloom project, with little practical value, so I'll have to knit up a baby sweater or something to go with it.

In addition to unfinished knitting projects, I have a master's thesis to finish. I've begun in the sense that I'm reading background knowledge books, but I've a long way to go on it.

Chris and I have launched a project to bring our family's eating habits more in line with what we think is healthy. We went out to dinner tonight for our anniversary dinner on grandma Judy's dime, and talked about the kinds of changes we want to make. We're going to start by getting rid of "seconds" but set fruit out at every dinner and allow unlimited servings of that. So we might still have chicken noodle casserole, but only one serving of it, and then any kid still hungry can fill up on grapes or apples or what have you. The second thing we're doing is identifying the three "worst offenders" on our regular rotation (they tend to be convenience foods I buy for the nights I'm not home to cook) and we'll replace them with healthier fare that Chris and the boys feel confident they can cook. We're not saying we'll never have hot dogs again, but we'll take them out of "Tuesday nights when Mom's in class," so the frequency with which we eat them is more in alignment with their nutritional contribution (e.g., not very often). We will not limit how much the boys can eat--I just think that sets the kids up for sneaking food and having weird issues with food--we'll just encourage healthier snacking. I don't think anyone ever ate themselves into a 35 bmi on grapes.

Finally, I'm, reluctantly, reading up on dairy allergies. Ben has had tummy troubles since birth and he often goes to bed with a bloated tummy you could flip coins on. He gets gas during the day and created a scene more than once in second grade. When Ben was entering kindergarten, I had the twins tested for allergies since their Dad and brother both have plenty (Chris way more than Max, though). On a hunch, I mentioned the milk allergy to the allergist then and he added that as a skin test.

I've never heard of testing milk issues with a skin test, but hey, it's his specialty. So the boys didn't react to ANYTHING . . . except Ben got an inconclusive with the dairy. His skin got red in that area, but there wasn't a full-on welt. The allergist said, well, they were still young. They should be retested at age 8 or so--and definitely to keep an eye on Ben and see what happens with the dairy.

Well, I'm not good at that stuff. I can only stay focused on so much at a time, so I basically shelved it. But with school only a month away, I'm hearing from Ben that he'd like to give dairy elimination a try. In part this is because he is seduced by lactaide commercials, but also because I think he is old enough to not want to be laughed at in class. So that's going on the list of things to do in September. We'll try eliminating dairy for Ben and see . . . if there's anything different or better about that. If there is, we'll trot back to the allergist and see what we can learn about that. Dairy allergies are pretty rare. Lactose intollerance is really very common, and it usually is something that develops in preteens and teens or young adults. It's less common in anglo saxons, but I'm convinced there's some Latino or Native American in Chris's genetic makeup anyway, and there's plenty of dairy intolerance in those blood lines.

Other projects we'll pursue include Ben and Milo's speech therapy. They're going to the same clinic at Penn State that Max went to when he was stuttering. He doesn't stutter/stammer any more at all, so we're very hopeful that this will bring success to the twins, too.

I'd better be off to bed now. It's been a great day, but I guess I've stretched it out long enough. Tomorrow is Scout Camp for Max and swim practice for the twins and work for Chris and me. Another good day, I'll bet.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blueberries and Sweet Relish

I knew what I didn't want to do today was be out running errands all day in it. We had one optional swim meet on the calendar and a Shakespeare rehearsal and that was it. I decided against the swim meet in favor of sleeping in, since occasionally when Chris is out of town I just can't get to sleep. He came home Friday night, and in spite the heat, I fell asleep just fine, and slept till 10:00 am. When I finally got up, I checked on some pickling cucumbers I'd picked earlier, and decided they were still fresh enough to work with. I also wanted to get some blueberries canned into jam. Also, the sister missionaries were coming for dinner and I had promised Ben quiche. So I made a grocery list consisting mostly of dish detergent and stuff for pickling, and after a few false starts, finally got out of the house a little after noon. We dropped Max at the art gallery where they rehearse, and went to Wegman's. After some discussion, we settled on corn on the cob and red potatoes to go with the quiche.

When we got back home, Chris was the first to the door, and he was greeted by an overzealous paper wasp, who won the battle (Chris's middle finger swelling to three times its natural size), but lost the war (Chris googled how to get rid of wasps and took out the fledging nest a little after dark). I started on my various cooking and canning projects, while Chris went out to get Max from practice and whatever that huge spray bottle was that he used on the nests. Around 4pm he passed out on the couch (a combination of the benedryl I'd given him and a very long week behind him) and I started to focus more seriously on dinner.

By 6pm, the missionaries had arrived, and with the help of the boys, we were ready. The quiche was perfect, the potatoes perfect, the corn was boiling, the table set. We prayed, we ate, we had a great time. Then Chris and the missionaries met (he's ward missionary leader right now) and I made us all blueberry cobbler. It turned out great, but not before dropping big globs on the floor of the oven. I'd like to use the self-cleaning feature of the oven, but really--can I stand a 500 degree oven for a few hours in this heat? I don't honestly know if I can.

When the cobbler was done, I did the fastest batch of blueberry jam ever--mostly because I did all the prep before I'd started on dinner. Then we played a quick game of Apples-to-Apples, calling it Family Home Evening. At this point we said goodnight to the Missionaries.

Now it was 9:00 pm and I had to decide if I could really do a batch of relish before bedtime. I decided I could if I used the food processesor. When you do sweet pickle relish, you basically dice onions, pickling cucumbers, and sweet peppers. Then you toss them in a big bowl, sprinkle with salt, and cover in cold water. Then you let it sit for two hours. So here I am at 11:30, watching the minutes tick off the clock. Everyone else fell asleep awhile ago (well, except Milo who had trouble sleeping till I sat by him and gently rubbed his back for a couple of minutes). Actually, I'm not really watching the minutes tick off the clock. I'm feeling pretty good about getting 11 jars of 12-oz blueberry jam done and being about an hour away from having a double batch of sweet pickle relish processing. The jars are simmering on the stove. I just need the relish to finish doing whatever it is doing in the brine.

I'm hoping tomorrow evening to get a batch of dill pickles done in quart jars. I haven't ever done dill pickles before, and I'm not sure how many I'll do in the end, but I think it'll be a few more weeks before the cucumber vines stop producing, so I'll give it a shot. I think I picked about three or four quarts worth today, and I've got plenty of vinegar, so why not?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday, in The Park . . .

It's been the most amazing week. We started off with the Fourth of July. Gaye agreed to tag along to church with us and we had a great Sunday afternoon as a family. From there we headed home to prepare a BBQ and get ready for a visit from Grandma and Grandpa Black. They were in Baltimore with my brother, J, and his family. They arrived around 6pm, and we all had dinner at 6:30. After more than a week of waffling, we agreed to skip the big fireworks display at Penn State and blow up the store-bought ones in the street in front of our house instead. So that's what we did. We blew up the fireworks and admired the fire flies and called it a good time. Then the grandparents went home to sleep and the kids went to bed. In the morning, the heat wave had arrived and we looked for quiet, indoorsy things to do. I guess I won't do a play by play of the whole week, but it was full and delicious. Among other things we:

  • all went swimming at Park Forest pool. It was soooooooo hot that even I, at my heaviest weight ever, put on my best bathing suit and got in the water. The water was wonderful and I felt instantly reengergized. Grandma Donna and I played with the kids and then we went off the board together. It was a blast and made gettting through the rest of the hot, humid day easier.

  • visited the Palmer Museum of Art, which turned out to be a smallish, but very nice museum, worth going back to.

  • had lunch at the Creamery. We ate lunch and then ice cream. They got to see the education building from the outside.

  • played Apples to Apples, with much laughter.

  • attempted gluten-free chinese dumplings, with some success, and spam musabi, with much more success.

  • picked up 190 lbs of blueberries from the Kiwanis club and got it all delivered to everyone who placed an order by noon the next day.

  • took Ben's mild earache complaints seriously because we knew we were going camping and wouldn't have easy access to a health clinic in the next state, only to find that he had a raging ear infection going on--we left with ear drops, lessons in managing swimmer's ear, and amoxicicillin.

Then Mom and Dad had to go back to California. We all said goodbye, and then realized we had some serious packing to do. I squeezed in two 5-hr days of work before we left, and a lot of packing, and then suddenly it was Thursday at 3:02 pm, and we were rolling out of the driveway.

It has been a wild and wonderful camping experience. First, it's hardly Muir on an iceburg. It's a KOA camp ground, and I paid the extra few bucks for one of the tent sites with water and electricity (unfortunately, what this really means is that I have a good-sized RV site, on which to pitch the tent). It had wifi, as long as the weather is good anyway, hot water showers, clean toilet stalls, a chlorinated pool, and dozens of other activities we could do if I would spend the money.

Second, the weather has been every manner of extreme except exceedingly cold. We arrived on day five of a major heatwave, all of soaked to the skin with sweat after 20 minutes of unpacking--and since our tent (Taj Mahal model. Sleeps 8--or 5 if you're sleeping on two queen size and one twin-size air mattresses) takes a bit of unpacking, we were at it for longer than that. Still, I got dinner cooked before the sun set and we all collapsed happy, if incredibly hot, sometime around 11pm, when we simply couldn't take the mosquitos for one moment longer.

Since there was electricity to the site, not only could we use a regular mattress inflator (instead of the weak battery powered things that sometimes come with them) but frankly--we'd brought a 100 foot extension chord and a large air mover fan. I pointed it at the ceiling, for which the other four were mostly resentful--but it was the best way to circulate the most amount of air in the tent so everyone got at least some small amount of breeze.

On Friday we had breakfast, prepared the tent for the thunderstorm that was supposed to arrive at 7pm and then clear up in time for the 9:15 pm pageant, and then left for LDS tourist places as soon as possible. It was already unbearably hot and it wasn't even 10 am yet. We hit the Visitor's center at the Hill Comorough first. They were predicting 9,000 in attendance on the first night of the pageant (which was that night). Then we visited the Sacred Grove. It was as beautiful as you might expect (and shady enough to not be miserably hot). I think that was my favorite spot of the day.

By now it was after noon, so we decided to get out of the heat for a bit--we went to see a matinee of Desipicable Me. The kids and I loved it, although Ben and Milo are not eager movie goers (well, neither am I frankly--we all find the movies just plain TOO LOUD). But we thought there was definitely something for everyone in the movie, and use of the 3D was magnificent--definitely a movie intended for 3D, not tacked on as a gimic.

When we got out, the skies were gray, there was a wind, and there were drops falling from the sky. The big, heavy ones that seem to come ahead of the real storm. We hurried to the car and went to the grocery store to get food for dinner. The twins need to each plan, prepare, and cook and outdoor meal under adult guidance, and so this camping trip seemed like a good way to get that done.

Ben decided to go first. He chose hamburgers. We got goodies for smores, too. Then we ran home, still expecting the storm to come in quick after dinner and leave again--the first storm had already come and gone while we were in Wegman's. But when we got back to the campgrounds, instead of getting lighter and clearing up, it got darker and darker again. The tent had leaked a little, so we used the Shamwow we got for Christmas to dry out the wet spots and we made a few adjustments to the fit of the rain fly, and one wall of the tent. I started preparing things for a run into the tent. About 20 minutes after we got back, a little before 4 pm, it started raining again. We all piled into the tent and listened to the deluge. And listened, and listened, and listened. We played electronic games. Chris fretted over every drip into the tent. I tried to keep everyone calm. And on and on it poured and poured. I couldn't stay connected to the internet long enough to get a forecast. I just saw the flood warning that wasn't there the day before and the mention of 2-4 inches of rain over a matter of hours--before we were going to get less than an inch over the course of half a day. So it had all changed, and we couldn't seem to get the specifics.

At 6:20 pm, all of the boys were getting fussy and desperate, so I moved us to the nearest covered picnic table, and supervised Ben's preparation for dinner. We were mostly done when Bishop called--his whole family is in the pageant this year--to see if we were still coming. We were surprised, but when he reassured us that the show would go on (the website DOES say it's never been called on account of rain. It just doesn't say that it hasn't ever rained--they're supposed to cancel in the event of LIGHTNING--and sure enough though it certainly rained last night, there was no thunder or lightning during the show.

So we bought ponchos, and cleaned up dinner, threw ourselves back in the car, and drove over to the pageant. One plus with the rain--the anti-Mormons were thin in number. The rain was heavy and then light and then heavy again. We were happy to see friends there and it was a welcome distraction from the tent leaks. The show was well done and we all enjoyed it. Then it was a hike in flip flops (no one wanted to ruin their sneakers) back through the mud and back out to the road. Miraculously, no one seemed to get stuck in the mud.

Back in the tents we again mopped up, put down fresh bedding, and fell into an exhausted slumber. I woke briefly when the rain started up again, but this time it wasn't heavy enough to leak into the tent.

In the morning the air was cool and breezy. The kids played (KOA campgrounds lend themselves to young pups like ours banding together into wandering groups. Since so many people are here for the pageant, they're largely Mormon puppies, and we ran into a few of them during our daytime travels :) and I made more pancakes and bacon. We pulled everything wet out of the tent and ran into town. Chris and Max did a load of laundry and two loads of drying. Ben and Milo and I went back to the grocery store for more groceries. Today it's Milo's turn to plan, prepare, and cook--so he's doing pork chops and pot stickers.

Back at the campsite, we had sandwiches for lunch, and then we all went swimming at the pool. Sooooo much fun. Chris and the boys laughed their heads off. Wonderful.

We squandered a couple of hours doing nothing (waiting for the sun to set a bit) and now it is just shy of 7 pm, and the boys are all back looking hopeful, so Milo and I will get to work making dinner.

Tomorrow we'll strike camp, pack up the car, and head off. I will head back home with the kids and Chris will go to Canada on business. It's a full week of graduate assistantship training for me, with a little bit of work here or there. Theatre for Max. Swimming and time with grandma Gaye for the twins. Canadians for Chris.

But right now it's an evening of good food, a fire, s'mores, and potentially the best night yet in the tent. It's really been a magnificent week. Magnificent. Many thanks to all who made it possible.