Friday, January 29, 2010

Rain Collection System

Hooray! We finally had our rain collection system installed. We hired our neighbor to install a little piece of gutter that will feed into our barrel. One inch of rain will collect 175 gallons. Oy vey!

We had it installed on the side of the house that we will use for our raised garden beds this year. It's out of reach of the dog and chickens, which will keep it a little safer (although I imagine the neighborhood cats will make their way to it).

We ordered the rain barrel a long time ago from a project to raise money for a Montessori school. It's just been sitting around for the longest time while we figured out where to put it and how to install the gutters.

I wish we lived in a city that would let us use the gray water to flush our toilets. I mean seriously. Why wouldn't a city allow that?

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Our Living, Growing Scrapbook

I'm making a commitment to keep our scrapbook updated. In that vein, I went to Snapfish to upload some of our Christmas photos. I debated about whether to upload them to Walgreens and pick them up or upload them to Snapfish and have them sent to our house. In the end, the Snapfish route was only a little more expensive (I went to retailmenot to get a coupon code), and I think I am more likely to stick to my scrabooking resolution if the prints are delivered to my house.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chlorine Water Filter

One of the items on my pre-conception list was to add a chlorine filter to our shower head. Sure, I understand that we need chlorine in our water to get the nasties out of it, but it really makes sense to remove it before saturating my skin/eyes/mouth in it every day.

That's where this dandy little filter comes in handy. I did a bit of searching, and this one seems to have several positive reviews. Plus, I couldn't beat the $14.74 price. It looks easy to install and use.

I'm eager for it to arrive!

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Family Mission Statement

As Matt and I continue to talk about expanding our family with the addition of a baby (we're not even thinking about starting to try until the end of the school year), it's important that we continue to clarify for ourselves what kind of family we are and what kind of family we strive to be.

I pulled out the writer's notebook and asked Matt to indulge me in a little brainstorming session. Here's what we've come up with so far (in no particular order):

We are a family that...

  • values health and wellness in the form of regular exercise and healthy eating.
  • makes it a habit to eat home-cooked meals together and prioritizes conversation and connection while eating.
  • resolves problems, issues, and conflict respectfully and in a constructive rather than destructive way.
  • does professional work that is meaningful, enjoyable, fulfilling, and good for the world.
  • makes time to laugh together and express appreciation for each other.
  • shares responsibilities equitably but covers for each other when needed.
  • cultivates community and connection among friends, family, and neighbors and continuously seeks to expand our circle.
  • Aligns our lifestyle choices and actions with our concern for the environment.
We still have more to go with regard to gardening, traveling, supporting each other, building trust, fighting consumerism, etc.

It's definitely a work in progress!

This process reminds me of a book by Steven Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. I need to excavate this book from my shelves and reread it.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

DIY Idea: A Window Chalkboard

Ever since I saw the above image, I've been wanting to transform an old window into a chalkboard and magnetic surface. A chalkboard will fit very nicely into our old schoolhouse theme (we have a science lab table in our dining room, an old desk to hold our succulents, a slate from the 1800s, a wire gym basket for Hoss's toys, and one of those giant wall maps that pull down).

It's taken me several weeks, however, to find a window small enough for our purposes. Well, honestly, it took me three trips to my favorite vintage store on three different weekends. And then I found a great window. It's not "perfect" because it doesn't have different sections like the window featured above (imagine the possibilities!), but I had to compromise because it was a great size and price (I also got a large terra cotta planter, an enamel basin for our lettuce, and the window for $12).

My plan is to paint it with magnetic paint first and then with chalkboard paint. When I made a magnetic/chalkboard calendar in my classroom, the magnetic part didn't work very well. This time, I'll do as many coats as I can get from the paint can. I'm also a little unsure about painting on plastic (which I realized is what the pane is made of). Hopefully painting the surface with magnetic paint first will act as a primer.

I also want to make my own magnets to go on it!

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pound Cake Present

I'm going to visit a friend I haven't seen in a while, and we had some leftover pound cake from dinner last night (which, by the way, I highly recommend you bake! It's pretty easy to make a delicious-tasting cake from this recipe).

Wax paper + ribbon + sticky note = instant present


Happy Saturday to all of you...

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Monthly Dinner Party

Apron courtesy of Anthropologie

Matt and I like to have friends over for dinner, but if we don't make a concerted effort to do it, the entire month can fly by with no dinner parties.

At the beginning of the month, I like to sit down and decide whom to invite for dinner that month. Matt hates such calculated planning, but he puts up with it!

Last month, we met a really cool couple at a party. They seemed like the perfect choice for January's dinner party.

Now we have to decide what to serve...

I'd like to serve a salad and bread, so pasta seems like a logical choice. Or, maybe we could make little flatbread pizzas using this crispy rosemary flatbread recipe from smitten kitchen with toppings from this flatbread recipe at fresh365. Yum!

Ooh. I could make focaccia bread from scratch, which I haven't done in a long, long time. I wonder if the timing could work. I could be home from work by 4pm today.

4:00-4:15 = Get bread ingredients measured and dumped in bread maker
4:15-5:45 = Dough cycle
5:45-6:15 = Rising
6:15-6:30 = Baking

Yes! It works. Dinner is at 7:00pm.

Now for a new salad....

How about salad with a lime-garlic dressing?

Yes, I think that will be just the one.

Now for dessert. It might have to be another pound cake. The one last week was just too darn good. Perhaps with this simple strawberry topping.

As for the drinks. It's going to have to be pomegranate soda from Whole Foods. I'm already cooking a lot.

Sounds fun!

Before I sign off, I should make a precise schedule for myself, so everything gets done at the right time (shh...don't tell Matt about another one of my tendencies to over-plan...):

  • 4:00-4:30 = Make pound cake
  • 4:30-5:20 = Pound cake cooks
  • 4:30-4:45 = Get bread ingredients measured and dumped in bread maker
  • 4:45-6:15 = Dough cycle
  • 4:45-5:15 = Make salad + dressing
  • 5:15-5:30 = Prepare pizza ingredients
  • 5:30-5:45 = Caramelize onions
  • 5:45-6:15 = Pick up the house
  • 6:15-6:45 = Rising
  • 6:50-7:00 = Prepare pizza dough
  • 6:45-7:00 = Bread baking
  • 7:00-7:05 = Assemble pizzas and put in oven when guests

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Salad Party (a.k.a. Crouton Recipe)

My class has a garden plot at school, and our lettuce was overflowing! (please note that we have another teacher help us with the garden; see yesterday's post about my black thumb).

In an attempt to get the kids excited about eating nutritiously and to build their independence and self-agency, we held a Salad Party. We split into five groups of four students each and prepared a different part of the salad. One group harvested and washed the lettuce. Groups shredded carrots and cheese. Another group made salad dressing, and my group made homemade croutons.

Each student brought in something to contribute to the party: forks, shredders, carrots, cheese, bread, salad spinners, etc. One of the children even brought at toaster oven, so we could make croutons.

Here's the simplest (yet most delicious!) recipe we used:

  1. Cut bread into 1-inch cubes and place in a giant zip-lock bag
  2. Pour melted butter into the bag
  3. Add garlic salt
  4. Shake vigorously
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes
  6. Enjoy!
They were seriously easy (after all, we made them in a classroom with 6-9 year-olds!), and they were scrumptious. I think it might have been the first time I ever made homemade croutons (pathetic, I know!). I will never go with store-bought again...

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tomato Seeds

Hooray! It's time to start planting seeds (at least in Houston it is...).

According to Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston, it's time to plant tomato seeds indoors. I used those expanding peat moss seed growing things. They are fun to watch expand!

Perhaps I should not actually feature my gardening endeavors on this blog, since I have pretty much no idea what I am doing. I try to read books as much as I can, but when those books tell me things I don't want to hear, then I'm forced to ignore them. For example, apparently, you need to raise tomato seeds under fluorescent lights instead by a window. Well, we don't have fluorescent lights in our house, and I'm not about to buy some for our little tomato project.

We also have little to no light around our house, so I'm trying to figure out where to put a raised bed. I think my best bet will be on the west side of the house, but I'll have to ask my neighbor for permission to let the beds slip a little onto his property. It shouldn't be an issue, since the house is pretty much abandoned, and he only stops by once in a while to mow the lawn.

Crossing my fingers!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting Back on Track

Okay, I have gained approximately six pounds since Christmas. And I feel it. I feel it when I squeeze into my pants, get them buttoned, and then my belly inches over the waistband. I feel it when I run and my butt jiggles so much it hurts. Seriously. (I apologize for being so graphic.)

I think the problem is two-fold (or maybe three-fold?). First, I do best with routines and habits. We had a two-week winter vacation which was awesome, but we did not follow our normal routines and habits. We ate out a lot. We snacked a lot. We ate a lot of dessert.

Secondly, I've been focusing more on getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and haven't been paying attention to how many calories I consume as a result.

Third, I've been in a little bit of a funk lately, so I've been eating to make myself feel better.

I need to get back into my healthier routines and habits.

  1. I need to follow my well-balanced foods plan, but I need to do it in a way that is calorically reasonable. In order to do this, I'm going to plan a few sample days using the Weight Watchers point values and my tracking sheet (click on the image above to enlarge it).
  2. I need to run religiously. Four times a week for 30 minutes. Period. Rain or shine. Funk or no funk. Cold or hot. It makes me feel better (physically and psychologically).
  3. I need to have healthy foods on hands for snacks. When we don't have food around and I let myself get too hungry, I'm much more likely to binge on something unhealthy.
  4. I need to stay hydrated. I misplaced my water bottle, and as a result, I haven't been drinking as much water.
Here's a sample day that would satiate both my food group needs and my Weight Watchers points:
  • Breakfast Smoothie: 1.5 cups of yogurt (one protein, one calcium) + 1 cup fruit frozen peaches (one yellow fruit) = 5 points
  • Snack: 1 apple (one other fruit) = 1 point
  • Lunch: Leftovers = 4 points (one protein, two whole grains)
  • Snack: 1 cup milk, one cheese stick, or 1/2 a cup of cottage cheese = 2 points (one calcium)
  • Dinner = 7 points (one protein, one green leafy, one other vegetable, two whole grains)
  • Snack: 1 cup orange juice = 2 points (one yellow fruit, one calcium)
More importantly, this kind of eating needs to become a lifestyle, not just something I do until I'm back down to my idea weight. I need to get into the habit of resisting unhealthy temptations at work (or eating a very, very small amount). I need to stop making excuses about why I can't exercise.

And, of course, I need to have patience with myself and celebrate what I am doing right!

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Cheese & Chocolate Fondue Party

Matt and I host monthly potlucks for the Houston Heights Time Bank. This year we made a new year's resolution to: a) make the potlucks more innovative and interesting and b) to expand the guest list by inviting some of our favorite friends.

Our first one of the new year was a cheese and chocolate fondue party. Mmm, mmm, good!

Making cheese fondue from scratch can be quite expensive, so we opted for a pre-packed kind from Whole Foods. Matt picked it up on his way home from work, and he reports that it cost something like $6. What a deal! People complimented the cheese fondue, so I will definitely go that route again.

We cut up yummy bread into cubes to dip in the cheese and used my friend's fondue pot. She has a ceramic pot with a double-boiler function from Williams-Sonoma (like this one), so it creates the perfect temperature for the cheese.

For the chocolate fondue, we used my pot (like this one) and we followed the recipe on the box:

  1. 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  2. 6 ounces butterscotch chips
  3. 14 ounces of sweetened, condensed milk
  4. 1/4 cup of milk
  5. 1 t vanilla
We served it with pineapple (frozen and thawed), honey wheat pretzel sticks, and homemade pound cake using this recipe. The cake was divine! After we stuffed our faces, we played a rousing game of Crainium. Matt kept us hydrated with a special concoction: Sprite + cranberry/pomegranate juice.

Hosting a party after a really hard week was honestly not something I was looking forward to. However, after it was all said and done, I'm so glad we prioritized good food and good friends. I'm looking forward to next month's potluck (a Valentine's party!).

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Meals for This Week

Image courtesy of Jamie's Kitchen

I'm trying to cut back on my caloric intake (I'll write about it for tomorrow's post), so here's what's on the docket for this week:

  1. Salt and Pepper Tofu (which we never got around to making last week because I was in a funk and just wanted to eat out)
  2. Spinach, Feta, and Tomato Pitas
  3. Stuffed Winter Squash with Pears
  4. Bean Burritos

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Scrabble Slam

I am a lover of games, and I have recently been introduced to a new one: Scrabble Slam.

It goes a little something like this: The dealers makes one four-letter word using the letter cards (such as love, slap, ooze, etc.) and then deals the rest of the cards among the players. When the game starts, each player tries to add a card to change the word. For example, if we started with "love," someone could add an "i" over the "o" to make "live." Then "live" could be transformed into "lice" with the addition of a "c." By the time you dig through all your cards and find something that works (there are letters on the front and back), someone has probably already changed the word. It's a rapid and challenging game.

I definitely recommend it for you word-philes out there!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting Ready for Motherhood

Matt and I have talked about trying to start getting pregnant this summer. While I'm busy preparing my body for conception, I'm also trying to prepare my mind. I know I can't fully understand how my life will change with a baby*, but I can try to imagine it, as a way of better preparing myself.

For example, when I pull myself out of bed at 5:30am (usually after 7 or 8 hours of sleep), I try to think about what it will be like to wake up through the night in order to satiate an infant's needs. When I sleep in on Saturday morning, I think about what it will be like to wake up to the tug of a toddler who is ready to play. When Matt and I cook dinner together, I think about what it will be like to give up our joint endeavors and instead "divide and conquer" (e.g., "I'll cook dinner; you give the baby a bath.").

This process gives me renewed appreciation for my current life stage, but I think it also prepares me for the challenging** reality of expanding one's family.

Several years ago, I got accepted to Teach For America, and I had to make up my mind about whether or not to join. I waffled back and forth for a long time because I thought through how challenging it would be on a daily basis to work in some of the nation's neediest schools. I even asked for an extension on my matriculation in order to think through the decision a bit more. At one point, a TFA representative called me and said, "If you're not fully committed to the job, then please don't enroll. We would rather have you back out now."

What she didn't understand was that I was in the process of fully committing myself. I was adjusting to my future reality. While I knew I couldn't imagine everything I would go through, I could imagine the general hardship and challenge I would face.

And a TFA commitment is two years, while the commitment of motherhood is a lifetime!

* I don't mean to sound presumptuous by talking about a baby. I fully understand that getting pregnant is difficult for a lot of couples. Even if I do get pregnant, I may have a miscarriage (or multiple miscarriages). Even with fertility treatment, pregnancy may still not be an option for us. In that case, we would pursue adoption.
** Even though there are challenges that come from growing one's family, I know there are also indescribable joys. I think there's a parallel between having a baby and having a dog. Hoss makes our lives more difficult in many ways, and yet those difficulties are totally worth it because of how much happiness he brings to our lives.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Recipes to Add to Our Binder

Last week, there was a sale on local cauliflower at Whole Foods. It was $2.99 per head (not per pound). That meant I had to buy the biggest head of cauliflower available (not very pragmatic, I now realize).

Once I got home, I learned that we already had a head of cauliflower left over from the pre-holiday. Oy vey!

Luckily, I am in love with this cauliflower recipe. While I'm adding recipes to our binder, I'm also going to add this recipe for make-your-own-salad dressing. It's surprisingly easy to whip up a quick vinaigrette, especially if you have an old jam jar lying around to use as a container (it facilitates shaking!).

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Working Ahead

I'm desperately trying to get into the habit of working ahead.

The way I look at it, I pretty much have two choices: do a given task at the last minute and stress myself out, or do the same task ahead of time and be more relaxed.

The latter is easier said than done for a few reasons:

  1. If you're currently doing things at the last minute, you don't have any extra time to get those tasks done and get ahead on the upcoming tasks.
  2. If you're working ahead, it's easy to let things (like a lack of motivation or a preference for procrastination) take precedence by telling yourself, "Oh, I'll just do this tomorrow." You really do have tomorrow, but as soon as you save something for the next day, it gets piled on top of the things that were supposed to be done on the next day.
Despite these challenges, I've been trying to work ahead. Some people thrive on last-minuteness; they are more creative, more productive, and more efficient if they work up against a deadline. I just don't happen to be one of those people. I get too stressed out.

So far, I'm doing a decent job of working ahead. I have a lot of tasks for work that remain consistent from week to week, so it's easy to assign each thing to a particular day, well in advance. For example, I create weekly newsletters to send home on Fridays (I teach 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade at a public Montessori school), so I start working on them Wednesday mornings.

It was especially hard last week when I was tired, preoccupied with car-buying, and generally unmotivated. However, I try not to be too hard on myself when I'm not able to finish everything ahead of time. It's a work in progress for sure.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

DIY Purse

I am happy to report that I followed through with my plans to make a craft date with my friend, Katie, and construct a new bag for myself using this free pattern.

Well, our date kind of turned into a marathon crafting session. I arrived at 12:30pm and did not leave until almost 9 o'clock. It was worth it, though. I just couldn't leave there until it was finished!

Crafting with a friend was a huge treat. I realized that when I work alone, I'm much more likely to get frustrated if something goes wrong. It was so refreshing to be able to ask someone for help in the middle of a project. We deciphered the pattern together, and she helped me solve major problems that I caused for myself. In turn, I helped her when she got stuck on her quilt. Crafting with a friend is certainly the way to go. Also, setting aside a specific day and time really helped me follow-through with my plans.

I'm honestly not much of a sewer, but I feel like I get better with each project. There's such an amazing feeling that comes from making something from scratch. It certainly wasn't a stress-free process. At one point, the material I was sewing through was so thick my machine thought I was sewing my own finger and went into Safety Mode. It would just buzz any time I tried to press the sewing foot. Another time, I sewed the lining in wrong and had to tear the whole thing out with a seam ripper. As I was using the seam ripper, the cotton lining started to tear. Aack!

In the end, though, I have a customized bag. I even made specialized pockets for my Sharpie pens and Burt's Bees chapstick. I am a little disappointed that the bag doesn't open up as fully as I would like, but I'm still quite happy with it.

I'm already trying to figure out what I want to do for my next project!

Happy Crafting!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meals for This Week

Beautiful image courtesy of Erin at fresh365

Oh hooray!

Erin posted a roundup of her favorite recipes from 2009. We're going to try a different one for each of our home-cooked meals this week:

  1. Flatbread with Gongonzola, Caramelized Onions & Arugula
  2. Salt & Pepper Tofu
  3. Green Pea Pesto with Walnuts
And we're having friends over for dinner this week, so I want to serve something we've already tried: Maple-Pumpkin Pasta with Blue Cheese and Sage. Yum!

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Easy-Peasy Hummus

We haven't gone grocery shopping yet for the upcoming week, so our reserves are low. I found an old bag of Stacy's Pita Chips (Rosemary and Black Olive--yum!) that have preserved miraculously well. I decided to whip up a little hummus for some additional protein:


Dump the following ingredients into a food processor and press start:

  1. 1 can of drained chickpeas
  2. 2 cloves of garlic (or one large)
  3. 1/4 cup of olive oil
  4. 1/8 cup of tahini
  5. 1 tbs. lemon juice
  6. Salt to taste

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Don't worry. Be happy.

I've had a rather cruddy week for various reasons. Primarily, Matt needs to get a new car. His Honda Civic has a ton of miles on it and is starting to break down on the interstate. Scary.

But I hate going to car dealerships. Talk about scary. I hate the sales tactics and the pressure and the unctuous smiles.

We've spent a lot of time researching cars, communicating back and forth with dealers, test driving, etc. We've gone to bed late every night, and I'm tired.

I said to Matt, "I'm having a bad week."

He replied, "You've got me and Hoss. How bad could it be?"

Yes. He is completely right. I have a Partner in Awesomeness and a bloodhound who injects joy into my life on an hourly basis (and a supportive extended family and lovely friends and a whole host of other things that completely overshadow one lousy week).

In my perfectionistic quest to always improve upon everything, I end up focusing too much on the negative. I have so much to be thankful for. It's always there, alongside any trivial challenges that come up in life. I have a choice about where to focus my energy and my thoughts.

I will make a concerted effort to choose more wisely.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Omega Supplement

I've been toying with the idea of taking Omega-3 supplements for a while, but I just now got around to actually doing it. They aren't vegetarian (even aside from the fish oil, there's also gelatin), but I want to make sure I round out my diet. Since I really like my multivitamin, I decided to go with the same brand: Rainbow Lite.

It was so easy to fall into really unhealthy habits during the break. First it was the 15-hour road trip (our two primary options are veggie burgers at Burger King and Taco Bell). Then it was trays of snackie foods at my parents' house and dinners out with Matt's family.

Now that I'm home, I'm back into healthy eating mode: a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, apples, dried cherries, and pumpkin seeds, a morning snack of fruit, a lunch with protein, carbs, and vegetables, an afternoon snack with protein/calcium, and a healthy dinner. And lots of water. And my vitamins.

(Of course it's only day two of being back in healthy mode, which is easier said than done...)

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