Saturday, October 29, 2011

Letting it all Hang Out!

I was sitting at the computer one day this summer when I heard, "fffphphphzzzzzzttttttt." I turned around to see a cloud of smoke hovering over the kitchen. As I was not, at that time, cooking anything, I became a bit concerned. My concern turned to alarm as a bitter electrical smell overtook me.

Soon, however, the smell faded and the smoke cleared and I could find no area of our home on fire or that looked like it was about to be. On the advice of our personal handyman {my father-in-law, who happened to be here working on various other projects at the time}, I was happy to chalk up the whole matter to way too much dust in the underparts of my fridge. After the men had moved the fridge and swept the offending dust away, we all went back to our previous activities.

Unfortunately, just because one "chalks something up" to "a certain issue" does not mean that the real issue has been settled as I learned the next morning when I pulled a gallon of tepid milk from the large white box that had, until the day before, served as my fridge. My most important appliance had just given up the ghost. My man and I fell into a small bit of "freak out" seeing the dollar signs that purchasing a new refrigerator would require. Not an unreasonable total on its own, but we were in the midst a season of large and costly home repairs, so the addition of this latest expense was sending us in to a bit of a tailspin.

"Funny," said my Man, "When your mixer died this spring {after 17 years of faithful service}I was thinking that the washer or dryer would be the next to go, not the fridge." Funny nothing... two weeks later, two weeks I say, the dryer died. We hadn't even gotten all of the packaging off of the {lovely, larger, luxurious} new fridge.

There was nothing to do but stare at one another, and then chuckle a bit, then sigh. I'm usually a glass-is-half-full kinda gal, so I began to grasp at the positives..."It's July, we have a clothes line, we have clothes pins, it wasn't the washer, usually during the summer sun comes out...."

The next day it became evident that my single solitary clothes line would not come close to meeting the challenge of drying laundry for a family of our size. So...

...I bought more clothes line and more clothes pins.
My Man just grinned and shook his head, "You're gonna have to have a dryer," he'd say.
"I know, I know," I'd answer, "but I just want to give us a little bit of time to recover from the {lovely, larger, luxurious} fridge." 

It turned out, that drying one's clothes on the clothesline became the in vogue thing to do this summer in the blog world where I've been known to hang about from time to time. Even Martha Stewart in a "Whole Living Challenge" post included an article about how line drying clothes can save the universe, or maybe just the planet!?
I found more clothesline encouragement on one of my favorite blogs which posted a great article on line drying clothes about 4 days before I needed the information. The title of the article is "Five Reasons to Line Dry Your Laundry" and while none of the five reasons was "because your dryer will not start," the author had me psyched up and ready to take on my new challenge. 

It wasn't long before I came across another article at that had a VERY intriguing title: "Dry Your Laundry Like You're in Italy"! Well then, that sure made my predicament look much more glamorous.

For the next few months I learned much about drying clothes in my backyard. What I learned didn't have as much to do with the actual nuts and bolts of proper pin placement as it had to do with what I learned about myself and about the world around me. My kids learned a little something too, I'd like to think.

We learned to watch the clouds that approached from the west, would they bring rain or simply float on by?
We learned just how much the angle of the sun from July to August to September could change.

We learned when the rain began not to simply think, "Oh, it's raining..." but instead, "Oh, its raining...HEY EVERYONE to the CLOTHESLINE QUICK!!!"

I know how long it takes jeans to dry on a sunny August day and how long it takes a load of towels to get completely dry on a dreary day in September.

I know how wonderful line-dried sheets smell when I lay my head down on summer nights and I also know that a few sets of sheets drying at the same time really take up a lot of clothesline real estate!

I found out that it's much more fun to fold laundry on the porch than in the basement and therefore, the laundry was much more likely to get folded and put away when taken down from that clothesline than it ever was when taken from the dryer.

I know that if you add white vinegar to your washing machine, your clothes won't be so stiff when they come off of the line. However, if you run out of vinegar, your clothes will become soft and supple just a few short minutes after you put them on.

I learned that I don't care if my neighbors know what color my unmentionables are. They are, after all, unmentionable. 

We learned that flapping laundry on the clothes line will not frighten pesky deer away from tomato plants.

I learned that the sun is the absolute best spot the sun. I've seen formerly stubborn stains disappear from our clothing like magic after an afternoon on the line.

I also learned to think ahead just a little, a skill I've needed to acquire for some time now. 

All of us learned what constituted "dirty" clothes and became much better about the frivolous tossing of our still-clean clothes into laundry hampers.

The most amazing thing I learned was that I very much enjoyed, maybe even loved hanging those clothes out there on that line. What a blessing it was to pause for about 10 minutes in the middle of the day and go outside and enjoy the sunshine. 

I thought a lot about my grandmothers as I hung those clothes. I wondered what occupied their minds when they were pinning up their laundry. They weren't listening to music on their iPhones like me, but they were probably thinking about what they were going to prepare for dinner and maybe they too were enjoying a break from their kids, just like I was.

Weeks passed by and we were getting along just fine with our new routine. The kids all learned to help.  Cole, Meg, and Kate all became old hands at pinning clothes on the line and Molly became skilled at helping us retrieve them when they were dry. "I'll help! I'll help! Wait for me!!!" she'd yell as I went outside with the laundry basket which she would proceed to scoot along the patio as I unclipped clothes and dropped them into the basket.

As the patio beneath our bare feet changed from too-hot-to-tip-toe to too-cold-to-go-barefoot I mentioned aloud that I was really going to "miss this" when we got a new dryer {my Man had recently taken up the cause of convincing me that acquiring a new dryer was a necessary task, not optional one}. "Mom," said Cole, "you can still dry the clothes out here, even if we have a dryer. You'll just get to choose." Oh yeah. 

Last week, I ran into my neighbor whose dryer died the same week that ours had, and I asked if they'd gotten a new dryer yet. They had, in fact, replaced theirs but, said my neighbor, who is a mamma to three lovely little girls, "I'm gonna use my clothes line again in the spring, I just loved it!" 

A new dryer was delivered to our home early this week. It is nice. It has some fancy new features. There is a pretty little ding when the clothes are dry. It is shiny and there is a light inside of it though I'm not sure why. It dries clothes when it is raining outside. 

I began my new dryer's career with five or six loads of towels, followed by loads of sheets, jeans, and brightly colored clothes. By the end of its first day, my new dryer was hoping to get traded to a new household. I imagined it panting with exhaustion and patted it on it's shiny white top and said, "Listen, just get us through the winter and when spring comes you can have a nice long vacation."

Source: via Gretchen on Pinterest

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Season Finale

Since August, the Bandits youth football team has been a large part of life here at The Wright Place.

Cole wasn't the only one busy with his sport. At one time or another lots of other family members were in on the act too!

Meg and Kate joined the "league of sisters" to cheer on the boys...
Kate helped with the water...

Of all of us, we're pretty sure my Man had the most fun.

Friends and family came to games to cheer on the Bandits...
BIG O!!!

Mamma & Pappa

Grandma & Poppy

Sadly, not all of the boys' families were able to see all of the games. 
One of Cole's teammates lost his Dad during the season and the Bandits payed honor...

We know now that a bruised and scarred helmet, decorated with the other team's color as a result of hard play is a badge of honor.

We also know that without all of the dedicated families and coaches and players...
the Bandits' season wouldn't have been nearly as special as it was.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Championship

Today is the day.

The day that makes all the dirt, sweat, bruises and sore muscles worth it. In an hour we leave for Cole's last game as a Bandit. Happily, this game is for the championship of the league, so at worst the Bandits have earned second place, and at best...well, I kinda think best has already happened.

My growing little Man has loved every practice and every game, no matter today's outcome, he's worked hard and played hard and laughed hard and learned much.

When you add all of these ingredients, you get...

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.
~Vince Lombardi

Go get 'em Bandits!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Chewy Bread

Have you ever found yourself in need of a quick treat to take to an event, or to serve after lunch or dinner? I'm often in this situation but just as often, I don't feel like making the mess of a baking project.

Chewy Bread is the answer! It's a no fuss, little mess, delicious bar-style dessert that takes about 5 minutes to assemble and about 30 minutes to bake. It only uses one bowl and NO MIXER which means that cleanup is over with way before the Chewy Bread comes out of the oven. It's a keeper.

Here's what you'll need:
{Printable recipe here}
1 stick (1/2 cup) melted butter
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Here's what to do:
Preheat oven to 300º and spray 9x13 pan.
Melt the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. 

Add the self-rising flour and stir again to combine well.

Pour into a sprayed 9x13 baking pan and bake at 300º for 30-35 minutes. 
While Chewy Bread bakes, take five minutes and wash the tools of your trade...

The Chewy Bread will fall a bit when cooling, it is supposed to, that's what makes it chewy. Allow Chewy Bread to cool completely before cutting into squares.
Pair with a hot cup of tea or coffee if you wish, but Chewy Bread tastes especially good with a tall glass of cold milk!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Sunny Spot

Remember Garfield and his friend Odie, the dog?
Just the other day Meg and I took advantage of a similar "sun spot" on our living room floor. The day was a bit chilly and the sun coming in through the door made us so warm and cozy...
...think Garfield... content and relaxed, purrrrrring with satisfaction, UNTIL...


think Odie...

Wishing you lots of warm sunshine and laughter today!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Simplest Soup You'll Ever Make...Really.Ever.

When we'd first been invited to our friends home the weather had been warm and sunny, but I'd rescheduled time and again and now it was rainy and very cool. The kids were disappointed because they'd held out high hopes of a swim in our friends' pond and an afternoon frolicking with pigs and chickens and kittens (oh my!).

As we entered the front door, however, all disappointment about the weather faded completely. The scent of freshly baked bread and warm soup hit our noses and watered our mouths, sincere conversations about books and homeschooling filled our ears, and the sun peeked from the clouds and invited children out of doors to play right before our eyes. The Wrights lingered long after the delicious meal was served and enjoyed and enjoyed and enjoyed. "Mom," Cole whispered between bowls of soup, "PLEASE ask Mrs. Clarke for the recipe for this soup! It's so good!" Oh and it was.

When I asked for the recipe, our gracious hostess explained that the soup is called "Five Can Soup" and she promised to email the recipe soon. We eventually left the warm hospitality of the Clarke family and headed home, a wonderful afternoon (and early evening!) deeply enjoyed.

The next morning, Cole's waking words were, "Mom, you've gotta email Mrs. Clarke and get that soup recipe, PLEASE!!" Happily, when I checked my email later that day, the recipe for Five Can Soup was tucked into my inbox just waiting for me.

Here's the recipe, exactly as emailed:
{Printable Recipe here}

1.     Progresso Minestrone
2.    Corn
3.    Black beans
4.    Mixed vegetables
5.    Tomatoes 

Here comes the hard part:  Open the cans.  Whew.  Now take a deep breath: Pour, heat and eat.

Since it looked so simple, I thought I'd have Cole make the soup, but he was otherwise occupied, so meet the backup...
I'm not certain if the look on her face expresses her shock at my calling to her, "Molly, come to the kitchen and cook dinner tonight, okay?" or that I was about to let her use a kitchen-grade power tool. Either way, she was up to the task.

You will note, that there are ten cans pictured here. Molly decided that as much as Cole had talked about this soup, we needed to double it. Please also note that I took the budget route when shopping for the ingredients for our meal. This is usually how I roll and this meal was an exceptionally great value! It fed 6 people for 3 meals (including second and third servings...Cole) at a reasonable ingredient cost of $9.00!! Do that math...less than 50¢ per serving. 

 After showing Molly how to operate the can opener, she got down to business.

 Gettin' a bit fancy with the technique...

Our soup is a bit more "red" than usual. We put the tomatoes in the blender to make them easier on some of our more delicate palates.
 After warming and stirring, we added a bit of salt and gave it another stir.

I made a couple of loaves of french bread to accompany the soup so that our home would smell like the Clarke's did on the day of our lovely visit.

Our Five/Ten Can soup was a hit which inspired pride of accomplishment in the heart of our young chef. Weeks later as I was polling the group for dinner ideas for the next week, I heard a little voice say, "Make thure and put MY thoup on the list." 
"Your soup? Which one do you want? Which soup do you mean?" we all peppered her.
"MOLLY's thoup!" she insisted looking at us like we were nuts, "The one I made! Did you put that on the listht?"
"I just did, babe. It's on there."
"Thankth! Can you get me thome Lucky Chaarhmth while you're there too?"

"No problem."

Thank you Clarke's for sharing your lunch, your company, and your home with us! 
{Thanks too for the recipe!}

Monday, October 10, 2011

Doubly Ours...

Today was Pastor Appreciation Sunday. 

There was applause. 

There were generous gifts. 

My Pastor-Man was deeply touched.

His voice may or may not have cracked a bit. 

He's a funny one that Pastor-Man of mine.

He's genuinely surprised that anyone shows up each Sunday to hear anything that proceeds from the likes of him.

Applause makes him squirm. A lot.

He has not a clue about why he might be appreciated by the church he serves.

Not a clue.

Which makes me wonder a bit about some things...

I wonder, for example, if our church family realizes that the very same guy in the dark suit and the bright tie behind the pulpit on Sunday mornings is the very same guy that gets up early every weekday morning to feed our three-year-old her o'dark thirty breakfast because she's "verwy hungee" so that her mamma can get a few more minutes of sleep?

Do they know, I wonder, as the neighbors must, that he worships with as much vigor and volume on Tuesday mornings with the children as he does on Sunday mornings with the congregation?

Would it be believed that this man, so dapper on Sundays, is the same guy that goes to muddy football practices in heavy rain during the week so that he can hold the tender, mud-caked cleats of his son's teammates so that they can stretch properly?

I'm sure that no one would ever guess that my straight-laced Pastor-Man is a supremely gifted marathon shopper who spends hours helping the women in his life search for "just the right..." purse, shoe, dress, belt, nail polish....

Never in a kabillion years would any of our church family know that their pastor sampled spinach the other evening just because he knew it would thrill the heart of the cook.

Then there was that Easter Sunday a few years ago when, instead of getting ready to preach what many in his profession deem the most important sermon of the church year, my Pastor-Man was in the hosiery aisle of the local Kroger, purchasing a pair of size A pantyhose in Suntan for his daughter who had just destroyed the only pair she owned.

Does anyone know that for years, he has made it his job to get the youngest of us dressed every Sunday, ruffled bloomers and all, until last Sunday when she insisted on dressing herself and broke his heart?

I'm sure that our church family doesn't know about all of these things, and really, these things are not why they appreciate him, nor should they be.

They are, however, some of the reasons why I appreciate him. 

I'd imagine that among those of his "flock," his family may well be the most difficult sheep to shepherd. The sheep at the Wright Place are always watching this shepherd of ours, for he is doubly ours. He's our family's leader AND our pastor. We see our pastor at his best, at his worst, at his tiredest, at his most joyful. We see him up front and we see that others are paying attention to what he says and that means something, whether we'd like to admit it or not.

We also see him when there isn't a crowd of folks who know he's "the Pastor" looking on.  We see him when the salesclerk gives too much change, when the neighbor is rude, and when the milk gets spilled. We know what books he's reading, what he watches on TV and the websites he visits. We don't miss much, that's our job. 

What I'd like to say, then, to my Pastor-Man, is thanks for doing your job. The one for which you were applauded today, and the one for which you weren't.

We love you.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Taking My Family on Food Adventures...Painlessly

My family is divided along some pretty definite lines. Food lines. Half of us are open-minded, adventurous eaters, the other half, well, let's call them skeptical and maybe even reluctant. The adventurous crowd tends to get bored with the same meals week after week and month after month while the food-fearful gang would relish a predictable schedule of safe favorites.

As the chef-in-residence AND leader of the food-adventurers, I'm always on the lookout for new dinner options to serve to my diverse group of eaters.  When I find a fun new possibility, I've learned that it's important to keep a few things in mind when serving the new dish to my family.

First, and maybe most important, have a back up option on hand just in case you've got a major FLOP on your hands. Tonight, I'm fixing a new dish. More than a new dish, tonight we're going international! Since my family doesn't have much experience with the bright, vibrant, flavors of Thai cooking that I've come to love, this meal is A BIG GAMBLE!

My backup: a big pot of left over soup from last night's much loved dinner. If things look like a bust, it will take about 10 minutes to heat the entire pot of soup and save dinner. This takes some thinking ahead, but all of the effort is worthwhile if the end result is a new, interesting dish to add to your family's repertoire.

Second, it is a good idea to have a side dish or two that are tried and tested family favorites. Tonight, we are having Grandma's homemade applesauce, rice, and good 'ole bread and butter to accompany our international fare.

Third, having the pickiest eaters in your family help with the meal preparation goes a long way in tearing down the walls of food prejudice. This is not always the case, but I've found that a child is very much more likely to sample a new ingredient if she is the one who lovingly peeled, chopped, unwrapped, or measured it.
Dessert is an excellent way to reward those brave adventurers who have tried something new. It can also offer consolation to the chef who tried a new dish and ...well...met with less-than-favorable reviews in kitchen stadium. Since we rarely do dessert, this is a big treat. Tonight, we have pie at the ready.

Once you've made all the necessary preparations, fixed your new and adventurous meal, and have called your loved ones to the table-- RELAX. You've done your best, you've taken a chance. If it all goes bust, at least you tried and you've proven that you are no rut-dweller! If your whole family says, "Please don't EVER make this again." Smile and don't take it personally, they didn't ask YOU never to cook again, they just didn't like this particular meal.

I've struggled long with this one. I used to place my whole value as a wife and mother on whether my entire family raved over a meal or whether they hated it. I ruined many a meal this way..."Honey, do you like it?" I'd ask before the first bite had been properly chewed much less swallowed, my eyes never leaving my poor guy's face. "Kids, how's the meal? What do you think? Do you like it? I thought you would, I worked really hard on it."

TRANSLATION: "Do you love me for how good this is? Do you see the weariness on my face, see the tender spot in my heart that awaits your answer?"

No pressure there!! My poor family had to suffer doubly if the meal wasn't a winner. First, they had to try to down the meal and THEN they had to be honest with me about it so that I wouldn't fix it again and thus deal with my utter disappointment and overdramatic feelings of failure. I'd like to think I've grown. A little.

Also remember that if your family turns a thumbs down on a particular food from a more general category, don't automatically cross the larger category off of your list of things to try. If your family tried and disliked chicken enchiladas with red sauce (that took forever to cook and were very labor intensive...I'm over it...really), I'm not going to declare that we "don't like Tex-Mex". I'm simply not going to go with that particular entree again. I'm not even going to say that we "don't like enchiladas" because we do, just not with the red sauce. In other words, don't throw the baby out with the bath water, or don't throw the enchilada out with the red sauce as it were!

I'm a firm believer in writing in books, especially cookbooks. I learned this trick from my mom. Make notes after your family has finished dinner. If you leave the recipe page blank, how will you know if it was a hit or a miss? Note it right there by the title. If it was a miss, can it be adjusted a bit? Did it amply feed everyone or do you need to double it next time? What did you serve with the entrée? All of this information is vitally helpful the next time you are mining your cookbooks for dinner inspiration.

I also like to note if a certain meal was served on a special occasion or on a particularly snowy day. Did I fix this meal to take to another family in need? Did I serve it to guests in our home? I write it all down. Cookbooks have lots of margin space, use it and your cookbook collection will become more and more valuable as the months and years go by. Some of my oldest cookbooks are as much cooking references as they are family timelines and scrapbooks. A valuable treasure to me and perhaps to the next generation of cooks as well!
Happy Adventuring!!

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