Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Let's Play What Is It?

I have a mystery plant. Actually, there are two of them planted fairly close together in my driveway bed. They look as if I planted them intentionally. I probably did. They were there last year, but I don't remember the plant blooming. This year it looks as if it is going to soon, unless the shaggy green things are the flowers.

Whatever it is, I kind of like it, but I have no idea what it is. I can tell you what every other thing I've planted is. I like to know what I have. This one though has me stumped.

Please help. Tell me what's growing in my garden. Earth Girl and Patricia, I'm looking in your directions. But anyone else is free to jump in with an opinion or actual answer as well.



Update: There is a little pink bud on one of the plants and I am beginning to suspect that these may be Sweet William. I still don't remember planting them, but I'd be happy if this is the case, because Sweet William is so pretty.

Garden Talk



It's been over a year since I really had any garden news. Last year, before we closed on our old house, I was busy dividing, moving and replanting stuff anywhere I could find room. The buyers agreed to my taking plants out of the garden and my only regret is that I didn't take more, because they are not gardeners and the things I left are looking mighty overgrown. Sigh.

But moving on -- last year I didn't have the time or interest to do more than water things to keep them alive (and I didn't even do that well at that -- I lost a blueberry bush, a Japanese maple and a few other things).

This year we are living in the house and I have more time, if not more energy, for taking care of the garden. I'm definitely slowed down by the third trimester belly more than I thought I would be. All my other children were due in the fall and so during planting time I was just beginning to show. With this baby due to arrive in the middle of the summer, I'm already big and my back hurts when I dig, bend over or do just about anything plant related for too long. So I have to wait for my husband or the more competent of the children to help me out.

Still a lot of last year's moving of plants and some strategic bulb planting in the fall have really paid off in the spring garden. A long straight bed by the side of the driveway is filling out nicely with things that are pretty drought tolerant and require little care (irises, day lilies, creeping phlox to name a few of the things in there). The front flower beds are filling in nicely with many of the same things, along with bleeding heart, peonies, lambs' ear, and lots of tulips and daffodils. Both front and driveway beds have also been sowed with easy seeds like zinnias, nasturtiums and sunflowers. I can find the seedlings from those pretty easily, but a few things or a few things in a few places either seem to be in hiding or slow to germinate.

At the end of last summer I started a new bed as a continuation of one of the beds in front of the house, laying down thick layers of newspaper and mulch to kill everything underneath. The grass is fairly dead, but violets and wild onions laugh in the face of such things and are sprouting up everywhere, leaving me little choice but to go after them with my trusty weeder (if only in short spurts before my back starts hurting).



In the backyard, we're working on a vegetable and berry bed. Ideally, I would have either started it last year with paper and mulch or cut out all the existing soil, weeds and grass or made raised beds, but for this year at least we went for the quicker tilling up the soil. Naturally, it's already full of weeds, but as I get a chance and when I get more mulch, I'm laying down newspaper around the plants and mulching over the paper (so far I've gotten the berries and down to the tomatoes finished). It's not perfect, but works pretty well at keeping the weeds at bay and I much prefer the newspaper method to permanent weedblocking fabric). The garden back there is my most ambitious. I've now got five blueberry bushes, several strawberry plants, and raspberries, plus tomatoes, squash, zucchini, bell peppers, okra and beans. I've also planted herbs in pots. I just hope I haven't taken on more than I can deal with this summer with a new baby added to the mix.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

But There Are Reasons Why I'm Not a Saint Yet...

I'm cooking dinner. My husband is outside teaching the kids to ride their bikes. The eight year old is getting fairly proficient, but he's a natural klutz and a bit whiny when even slightly "injured."

I'm not sure what kind of a mother it makes me, but the periodic howls of "AAAAHHH!" as the eight year old falls once more to the ground seem highly amusing.



Note: Of course, if there were actual injuries involved, I wouldn't be amused, but there has been nothing more serious than a slight bruise, but the howls make it sound as if every injury were a broken bone.


Saint Gianna

I am enough of a doofus that I missed celebrating my own saint's day this year. These things haven't exactly come naturally to me, I admit.

Even if I am a day late now, I thought I'd point you What Does the Prayer Really Say's post about St. Gianna.

When we were studying Catholicism and I was searching through books of saints trying to figure out who I might possibly feel some sort of connection to, I found myself at a loss. Some of the saints of long ago just felt too distant and too impossibly perfect. I wanted to be like them, but couldn't imagine it either. I read up on mothers like St. Monica and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. I loved their stories, but I didn't think they were my saints either. Then one day I ran across a mention of St. Gianna's Maternity Home for Crisis Pregnancies. When I looked up St. Gianna, I knew almost immediately that she would be my confirmation saint. She still was "too perfect." I couldn't imagine her bravery being mine nor her work, devotion and prayer being things I could possibly emulate, but I was inspired and brought to tears by her story and by stories like the one above.

As we all seek to grow in holiness and attain a life with God, I continue to be inspired by many saints, especially St. Gianna.

A Cute Little Girl

SkinnyDan, one of my favorite New Yorkers, is now even more outnumbered than before. But since he's surrounded by a bevy of beauties, he probably can't complain too much.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means" Spam Collection

Recent spam subject lines:

How to be a Master Pecker (Isn't that like calling someone a "prick"? Not something people generally aspire to.)

Great Shag Pictures (You want to show me your carpet?)

Your Organism Protection (I'm at a loss for a witty mocking line, but really it doesn't even need one.)

Stalin took this pills two times per day before food (I've heard of celebrity endorsements before, but this is a new low.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Boots the Chemist -- A British Invasion

I dropped by Target for a few things yesterday and as I walked past the makeup section, something caught my eye. Boots the Chemist has come to America. When we were in London, Boots was rather ubiquitous. It was like Walgreens. We went there for diapers and other various and sundry items we ran out of. One thing I bought there was some tinted moisturizer and foundation. Somehow I managed to lose the foundation I packed for the trip in Alexandria, VA before we ever got overseas. I managed to lose the foundation I bought at Boots in Baltimore, MD when we returned, so at least there was some symmetry to the situation.

Anyway, I bought Boots' line of makeup, because it was the cheap stuff. I wasn't about to spend the equivalent of $25 on a small thing of L'Oreal or Cover Girl. It was like buying the generic makeup at CVS or Walgreens (except that as far as I know they don't sell generic makeup). It did the job ok, but mostly, as I said it was purchased because it was cheap and I apparently have developed a talent for abandoning makeup in hotel rooms.

But over here -- Boots has cache. It's foreign. It's different. Nobody knows it's basically Walgreens. Therefore, Target has a fancy Boots section selling their makeup lines. Over here it isn't the cheap stuff either. Oh, it's the same stuff I bought in London, but the prices seem reversed. When in London, buy English, but over here, the American brands will do just fine.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Sense Than Sensibility

I am Elinor Dashwood!


Take the Quiz here!



You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see.

Not a bad result really.

Poof

Hot weather, pregnancy and I do not get along well. I've been enjoying this pregnancy because unlike all the others this time I wasn't swollen at all. My feet and ankles were normal sized and I could still wear my wedding ring.

Then Tuesday it got hot here in Nashville. Not 120 degree Arizona hot, but it hit the 80s and has been bright and sunny. We went to the park Tuesday morning. By the time we came home at 1, my feet and ankles were puffed up. I drank plenty of water while we were out and didn't do anything I hadn't done before, but here I am, swollen and none too happy about it.

My rings still fit today, but who knows how much longer that will last.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Caterpillars

Last year and this we've had caterpillars in some of our trees. Of course the kids insisted we catch one and put it in a jar for observation purposes. I've been rather suspicious all along that these were not friendly, cute caterpillars that would some day turn into beautiful butterflies, but the kids don't care.

Since we're in a rather low point as far as actual schooling goes, I figured we might as well make use of the academic value of caterpillar observation. First things first, we needed to figure out what kind of caterpillar we have. Fortunately there is a web page for everything and we discovered What's This Caterpillar?, a British site with a section on North America caterpillars (I linked you to the North American section, by the way). After a discussion on whether we were dealing with a hairy, spiny, bristly or tufted critter, we moved on a figured out without too much difficulty that we were looking at an Eastern Tent Caterpillar, which as I suspected was not one of the cute caterpillars and not really one I like to have eating my trees. However, it is strengthening my suspicion that the trees out back are an ornamental non-fruit bearing fruit tree.

Once we finish learning about caterpillars, perhaps we'll use this site and move on to tree identification.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Don't Like This Train of Thought

Eight year old: "Hey! I could flood your entire bathroom just by turning the faucet so it isn't pointed into the sink anymore."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Strawberry Cheesecake Tart

One of my favorite desserts is a fruit tart and usually that's what I either make or Justin buys for my birthday "cake." Last year I saw a recipe for a cheesecake fruit tart in a cookbook and thought at the time that it would be neat to try for my birthday this year. Unfortunately, it isn't a cookbook I own and I didn't get around to checking it out again before my birthday rolled around.

So, I had to put my own recipe together. Fortunately it turned out well.

For the crust:


1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
dash of salt

You are supposed to mix the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla, and then mix in the flour and salt. In my pregnancy induced inability to remember things for more than 30 seconds, I got all the ingredients out, threw them all in the bowl together and started mixing. Somehow it all turned out just fine. Once everything is mixed together, dump it into a 10-inch round false-bottom tart pan and press it down. Chill for fifteen minutes or so in the refrigerator, while you heat the oven to 350 degrees.

When you are ready to proceed, butter one side of a sheet of aluminum foil and put it buttered side down on top of the dough. Fill the foil with dried beans or rice (or if you want to get fancy, you could use actual pie weights). Bake for 20 minutes, take off the foil and beans and prick all over with a fork. If you were going to make a normal fruit tart with a custard filling, you would then bake the crust for another 20 minutes, but since you'll be baking it again with the cheesecake, just go ahead and let the crust cool down to room temperature while you make the filling.

Cheesecake Filling:

12 ounces full fat cream cheese (that's 1 1/2 blocks of it), at room temperature
1/2 cup full fat sour cream, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Turn the heat in the oven down to 325 degrees.

Beat the cream cheese with a mixer until smooth and fluffy (those of you with stand mixers can use them, but a hand mixer works just fine). Add the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla extract and blend together at medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and continue to beat the ingredients together again until everything is really smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time or together (if you forget that they aren't supposed to go in separately), beating after each addition until the mixture is completely smooth with no lumps.

Find the crust you left cooling some place. Pour in the filling and smooth the top if necessary, but things will settle and flatten out quite a bit without any help from you. Bake the cheesecake for 24-28 minutes or until just slightly jiggly in the middle. Cool on a cooling rack like the ones my husband insisted we acquire when newly married and impoverished and he's never once let me forget that I didn't think were necessary ("Yes, dear, I do use them all the time. Yes, dear, you were right."), then refrigerate overnight. Cheesecake recipes will always tell you to cool the cheesecake for at least four hours, but they are wrong. Four hours of cooling time is not enough. Two days would actually be better, but overnight works.

For the topping, I had intended to get several varieties of berries, but the prices of everything other than strawberries was astronomical. I can't wait until my blueberries make their appearance (my three year old bush is loaded with blossoms and I planted four more varieties of blueberries this year planning for years to come). Anyway, back to the cheesecake. It wound up being a strawberry topped one, because everything else cost too much, but any berries and most other fruits would have worked quite well. Spread them on in a pretty pattern and you have a lovely cheesecake fruit tart, good enough for a birthday or other festive occasion.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Happy Birthday

Guess who has a birthday today?




Oh and me too, by the way.
He's 81. I'm not. However, I'm not sure which one of us feels more decrepit at the moment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Slings

For those of you who know me at all, you will know that I love my sling (or slings really). I have two Maya Wraps (someone gave me one and I bought one 8 years ago when my oldest was a baby) and I have a pouch as well. I use the sling all the time when the little ones are babies and continue to use it at least sometimes until they know how to hold my hand in parking lots. My sling was a lifesaver in London when I had to carry my 17 month old, a purse, a stroller and hold the hand of a three year old whilst going up steep escalators. We never would have made it without one. Of course, it depends partly on the weight and wiggliness of the particular child (and I was glad my son is rather small), but in general, I get at least 18 months of use per child out of my slings.

Therefore, I was rather surprised to see an article in Fit Pregnancy (I was flipping through it after I got tired of reading the good book I took during the hour wait at the doctor's office -- I'll never be fit enough to qualify) saying that although newborns love slings, they'll outgrow them in a few months.

What kind of sling are they using and who are they talking to? Or do most people not lug their kidlets around for large chunks of their babyhoods?

Waddling Along

I had a check up at the doctor's office today along with my glucose test. The baby sounds good and my sugar levels are nice and low, which is excellent news, because without sugar, I or someone around me might not survive.

In other news, the house is progressing. I promise I'll take photos and write about it all eventually. In the meantime, I'll just note that I have some hope, although timelines have proved me wrong so many times that it is just a hope, that things will be done enough upstairs that the children will have bedrooms before the new little one arrives. I don't think that's really too much to ask, although it may still be too much to expect.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bedrest

No, not me. I would never be so lucky. Okay, actually, I would never survive a day and would hate it. And I suspect my friend Mrs. Fussypants is quickly going to go crazy as well. At least she only has to last a month.

So go give her some comment love.

Backyard Camping

Since the weather turned nice around here, the kids have been agitating to camp out in the backyard. Not to be discouraged by the fact that we haven't unpacked most of the camping gear -- including the regular sleeping bags or the tent, they wanted to sleep outdoors.

The other night was clear, cool, but not cold and perfect for spending the night in the backyard. So we moved slumber bags, extra blankets and the port-a-crib all out to a large plastic dropcloth (all our tarps being either in use or shredded by excessive use), lit a fire, sang songs told a few stories and turned in for the night. I'm sure the people next door had been hoping we would be the normal neighbors, but no such luck for them.



In the morning we woke covered with dew and the older of us (without young, flexible muscles and skeletal structures) were rather stiff and tired, but it was agreed by all that the camp out had been a success. I'm not saying I wasn't yearning for my nice, soft bed at times, but nice, soft beds don't always leave the memories that campfires and nights under the stars do, even if they are more comfortable.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Generous, Kind, Talented People

I have met many generous, kind, talented people in my life. Today I want to mention one whom I've only "met" over this blog. Diane has been popping in over here for quite a long time and I have always enjoyed reading her blog. Especially the posts about quilt-making, because although I have never pieced anything quilt-like together and certainly haven't quilted anything, I've always loved quilts and wanted to learn to quilt some day.

Back in January, she showed off a lovely quilt that didn't meet her standards of perfection. Some marking pen didn't come out and naturally she wasn't happy about that. I thought it was still beautiful and she offered to send it to me. So here we are post-England and back at home and guess what came in the mail the other day! Gorgeous! A special gift for a fifth baby (as I mentioned to her, having something special for a baby that far down the family line is really extra nifty, because let's face it, most of the outside world is a little bored by Adams' babies by now).

Since I don't really know what I'm looking for, I can't even find the markings that were such a problem, but even if I could, the quilt is very beautiful. It may really belong to Bambino #5, but that doesn't mean that it has been wrapped around several children in the last few days and given warmth to more than one doll. Diane told me it was a blanket meant to be used and I can state for a fact that it certainly will be.




Monday, April 07, 2008

Almost Perfect

Today is a gorgeous spring day here in Nashville. We've spent most of the day outside, planting plants, reading and just playing. The littlest is in his bed napping and I was lying outside under the tree on a blanket reading Ramona and Her Mother to the kids. My eyes drooped a bit and when I got to the end of the chapter, I shut my eyes and listened to the birds singing and my children climbing. I drifted off.

But suddenly, my three year old bent over to tell me there was a flower petal in my hair. She was holding a full cup of ice water. Ice water in the ear is not a peaceful end to an afternoon nap, no matter how pleasantly things had been going.

Internet Stalker Friends

Last night I had the privilege of going out to dinner with some other fabulous bloggers from around Nashville. Mrs. Fussypants pulled us all together for an evening out of chatting about lots of mom topics and blogging topics. Getting out of the house all by myself without out having to strap anyone into a carseat is a luxury by itself. Adding great company to the mixture was the cherry on top.

Friday, April 04, 2008

One Car Families

Meredith and I have been talking about this lately and since she brought it up on her blog, I thought I'd write about it. I don't know that we technically count as a one car family, because my husband's car is sitting in the driveway, but since we've been back home from our trip to England, we have effectively become a one car family.

My husband drives a Volvo wagon. The first car I ever owned. I bought it in 1996 when it was nine years old. That makes it twenty years old this year and it shows. Various people hitting it in parking lots over the years have left marks on the exterior and Volvo interiors have never weathered very well. In the fall, the power steering became such a problem and more expensive to fix than the car is now worth, so we had the power steering disconnected. The tires need to be replaced. The electrical system has problems and the air conditioning hasn't worked in years (and we live in the hot sunny South -- well except for today when it is pouring rain). I could enumerate more problems that the old car has, but you get the point. If my husband had a commute of more than 3 miles to his office or had to drive on interstates, it might not be a car you'd want to take anywhere. In fact, for work that takes him out of town, he's been renting a car for the past year or so.

When we were in England, we all enjoyed the beauty of public transportation. Of course, there isn't any Tube here and the buses aren't so interesting either, but they are available and one stops less than a block from our house every 15 minutes or so and makes a straight line to downtown. One day my husband decided to give it a try and except for the morning he had a dentist appointment and this morning when he had to go to court on the other side of town he's ridden the bus every day. The other two days he took my car and his has been sitting in the driveway.

It has been a good experience. He enjoys the time to read a magazine and not having to pay attention to the traffic around him and it has made us all a little more disciplined about time. Since my husband's job is not one that demands he clock in or out at a certain time, we had fallen into slackardly ways where he might go in rather late and come home rather late. Now he makes sure he tries to catch a specific bus in the morning. In the evenings one doesn't want to be out too late in the ghost town non-tourist areas of downtown too late, so he's been coming home a little earlier as well, which I like a lot.

There are times when one car seems totally doable for us, but when I think about potential mornings when I have to get the kids to the doctor or a class or something and my husband might need the car to go to court or something else, or if there were an emergency at home and I needed him and he needed to wait for a bus to get him here -- then it all seems like a second car becomes almost necessary. However, I suspect there are ways to work around those difficulties and even if it involved the occasional expensive taxi, perhaps that would be cheaper than paying gas and insurance on two cars all the time.

All of these questions come up, not only because my husband's car has become increasingly unreliable, but because as we await the arrival of baby #5, we still don't know whether we'll need to trade in the minivan for one of the huge vans. We don't want to take on a car payment, which we've never had and don't want and going to one car might make affording a mega-van more do-able.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

From the "I Thought Kids Were Supposed to Keep Me Young" Division

It's April and my birthday will be coming up in a few weeks. Says my eight year old son, "Mom, you're going to be 33 soon. It's hard to imagine you being so old!!!"

For you and me both, kid.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

London Revisted

About halfway through my travels in London, I got an e-mail from another blogger who was headed to London with her four children for seven weeks while her husband worked over there. Odd coincidence, what?

We've e-mailed back and forth a lot since then and in the end, there was only one flat that suited their needs -- guess who had just moved out of it?

So, though Jeana already has a lot more readers than I have and doesn't need a traffic boost from me, go join her on a new London adventure in surprisingly similar lodgings.

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