Monday, November 25, 2013

Menu Planning

Okay.  I'll try to be back and present on the blog.  That was my longest absence yet.

I won't quite get you caught up in everything that's going on around here because it's a bit much, really.  And that kind of thinking stops me dead in my tracks and I won't write ever again.

Basically, I've been easing my way back into fulltime employment.  I'm not there yet, but it's threatening to happen in the new year.  Last November I started working a very casual job that quickly became not-so-casual.  This September it turned into a 20 hr/week  job which greatly cuts into my time spent on homemaking.  Part-time work sometimes doesn't make sense though.  Although it's only 20 hours a week, it means adding hours for travel and time for lunch every day and suddenly I find I'm away from home for 8 hours and only billing for 5. 

So an opportunity came up to apply for a fulltime job.  Maybe I wasn't ready, but it felt like it might have been a good fit.  I didn't get the job, but another one seems to be presenting itself right away which may work out better.  Anyway, we'll see what happens in the new year.

I've let some things in my life slip a bit.  Apples were picked and went bad.  Pears as well.  Swiss chard was left to freeze in the garden.   Kale as well.   A few leeks are also buried in the snow.  I missed my usual trip to the Okanagan for wine and fun, and I didn't can any peaches and only a bit of applesauce.

And I've only managed to watch Beth play one game of volleyball on her first-ever school team.  I hate that.  Way more than I regret not canning things.  I don't want to have to miss things that are important to the girls, especially while they still want me to watch.

I do realize that I can't do everything as if I wasn't working.  I'm really not beating myself up about it, but it is an adjustment. 

One of the things I've successfully been doing to help make things manageable is to plan my weekly meals.  Just the dinners. 

Once a week (Mondays), I sit down and try to watch a cooking show for inspiration.  Usually it's Rachel Ray's Week in a Day.  Then I plan my meals, go shopping and cook as much as I can for the week.  It doesn't eliminate the rush at dinner time totally, but it helps a whole lot.  It means that if I get home before Yvon, I can sit with the girls for a while and chat about our days, find out about homework or friends and keep in touch.   Dinner just needs reheating or a few things done to finish them.

For example, this was last week's menu.

       Potatoes, Corn,  Roast Pork Loin with apples (already in the freezer ready to go)

       Turkey bean casserole (So yummy - inspired by Rachel Ray)

       Gnocchi with creamy artichoke sauce (meh)

       Elk sausages, carrots and polenta (not everyone's favourite, but I love it)

Then when I had no ideas for Friday (and I don't  plan Saturday and Sunday), Alice filled in every blank day with "Sausage, sausage, sausage".  I guess I don't have to ask her what she likes for dinner anymore. We actually went out for dinner.  Which is precisely why I like to plan.  It's way to expensive to got out with 6 people (we had one friend with us) and means I worked all that day and only broke even.  What's the point of that? 

Lunches consist of leftovers, and weekends give us a chance to empty the fridge and have things like KD, scrambled eggs or pancakes.

One day last week (? maybe the week before) my neighbour called and asked if I wanted to grind fresh moose meat in his garage while he butchered one leg.  I went home with about ten packages of ground meat and stew meat.  Now I have to incorporate more game into our menus. 

This week's menu is:

      Curried chicken and veggies, coconut rice and gingerbread cake (brought to a monthly potluck dinner)

       Moose meat with BBQ sauce, stuffed potatoes and beans

      Moose shepherd's pie (I made an extra for my generous neighbour)

      Pasta with creamy shrimp sauce (I don't work Thursdays, so I didn't have to pre-make this)

     Shrimp and sprouts in rice wraps, ginger/soy dip

I've gone through phases of menu planning before, and just making the plan eases the stress of feeding my family every day.  Preparing as much as possible is helping that much more.

Is there anything you do that could help me even more?  As finals at school approach and my workload increases,  I may need as much help as I can get!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Biking Adventure with Ev

Every year I try to ride my bike more.  This year I've hit a new record because I'm trying to ride to work once a week, which is about 20 km round trip.

If my mind could project it's thoughts to you as I ride, this is what yesterday's ride would have sounded like on my way home.


I'm so glad to be out in the fresh air instead of sitting in a car.  30 degrees in September!
I didn't have to find a parking spot this morning.
Gloria had to arrive at 6:30 am to find a spot today.
I left the house at 7:00.

Isn't this great?
I could lose my butt if I keep this up.
OOo, look at that guy's calves.  Maybe mine will be that muscular one day.
I don't want bigger calves.  I'll limit my riding to one day.
Then I won't lose my butt though.  I'll always be the fat lady who looks silly on a bike.
I wonder if I should have gotten a wider seat.
It's pretty cool that the bike shop has a special "sit bone" measuring tool.  Who'd want to measure ladies' butts as part of their jobs?
I'm glad he thought my butt was meant for the narrow seat, not the old lady seat.

Mmmm, apples.  Must be an apple tree nearby.
Does everything think of fall when they smell apples?
Ew, now I smell sewage.  Or worms. 
Is that how my laundry smells when it's on the line?  Nope, it's different somehow.  Not good.
I haven't killed any fish with my laundry detergeant for about 3 years.  Aren't I good?  I'm a treehugger.  Not using any gas to get to work, using soap nuts for my laundry.
But I don't hang my laundry anymore.  I won't blog about that failure.
Where do soap nuts grow anyway?

I hate it when people ruin the fresh air by smoking.  Look at that guy.
Mmm, it smells like my Opa.
Or Uncle Jim.  I love Drummond tobacco.
Uncle Jim looks just like my Dad.
It was good to see them at the reunion this summer.

If I keep squinting into the sun, I'm going to look like this by the time I'm 45.

     That's better.  

Wow, I've only ridden halfway.
124 - 106 = 20 something.  No, 18.  Is that right?
118 - 111 = 7   That's only 25 blocks so far.
I should figure out the halfway point because I do this every time.

Water.  Water would be good.  Maybe at the next red light.
Cars keep stopping to let me go.  I need to stop for water.

Aw, that's cute.  I should take a picture of Gemma's Lending Library sometime.
Michelle and I used to have a library.
No one used it.  I need to get rid of those Star Trek books.

My butt hurts.  How far do I have to go?  165 - 142.  That's a long way still.
Oh, come on!  Cross the street so I can go!  Can't you see my butt hurts?

So hot!  So hot!
Squinting again.  Relax.  Better.
I wish I were in my van with a comfy seat.
Look at those people, cruising along with air conditioning.
Why did I bike today?
If it snows tomorrow, I can stop biking to work.  That's possible.

Ow.  That pothole was pretty huge.
I remember the speed bumps when I was in labour.  Did those hurt more?
I think my lady parts are bruised.  This is not a good seat.  I want an old lady, cushy seat.

Almost home.  At least the rest is not against the wind.
I'm driving tomorrow.
I don't think my butt can take this seat two days in a row.

Yay!  Home!  Gimme a Mr. Freezie!


Wasn't that fun?  Aren't you glad you can't always see what's in my mind?  It's a big mess in there.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

It's the Pits

I have plums.  Lots and lots of plums.

I pitted lots and lots of plums.  I put them in the dehydrator and I canned some with cherries and they turned out just lovely. 

After I was done, I looked at my fruit stash and realized that I still had plums.  Lots and lots of plums.  They are unfortunately not "freestone" plums.  Do such things exist?  I did not relish the thought of pitting the rest of my plums. 

I search Google to find easy ways to pit plums.  Alas, there was no magical solution.


One side releases from the pit easily.

The other side does not.


one side goes onto trays for freezing or dehydrating, or into muffins,

  and the other side...

... goes into the pot for jam.  Pit and all.

Apparently the pits contain some arsenic.  So?  Who hasn't accidentally swallowed some apple seeds in their childhood?  When I was young, we used to think an apple tree would grow in our stomach when we did that.  Now, with lack of innocence, we are supposed to worry about arsenic getting into our jam.

It's not that I'm keeping the pits in the jam.  The pits nicely release after a few minutes of boiling and I can scoop them out. 

Hardly any wastage of plum this way, and WAY less work. I'm not worried about the arsenic and the jam turned out awesome.  

(Recipe:  Fruit and enough sugar to suit your taste.  Boil until thick enough to spread.  The peels contain enough pectin to make it gel and basically dissolves into the jam.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

September rush

It requires few words, but besides working more hours outside of the home and getting the kids settled into school again, these are some of the sights around our house right now.

Mixed veggies for the freezer

Not nearly as much garlic as last year - maybe I shouldn't have let so much of it bloom!

Plums made into jam, canned with cherries, dehydrated and frozen.  Apples - who knows yet what they will be?

Foxgloves!!  For the first time in years they have bloomed, in both white and purple.  Beautiful!

I know I should be clipping the buds and letting them go to rosehips now, but I love the late colour.

Just a few for height and interest and a meal or two.  I did not anticipate the 10 ft. sunflowers that self-seeded!

I'm always amazed that a tiny pepper plant can produce such big peppers.

I was worried about lack of tomatoes this year with less than my usual number of plants, but some as producing like crazy.

I finally remembered to add some fall colour.  I usually steer away from yellow, orange and reds and then regret it in the fall when they do so well.

Our only little brocolli floret for the year.  The slugs made a mess of my plants this year.

The other little project I've worked on was a flyer for my cousin who is running for School Board Trustee in Sherwood Park.  If you live there, check out her website and remember to vote.  She'll be great in the role with lots of experience and a good, strong foundation and interest in what's best for all levels of the education system.  Go, Sally, go! 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Day in the Jurassic Jungle

Once upon a time, there was a family.  A family of four, the eldest having moved away to a more exciting future on a lake.  With power boats.  We couldn't compete with that level of excitement.

Or so we thought!

Having ventured far from home on dusty roads, we discovered a hidden, secret gate.

What secrets did it hold?  Why were the bars so large and menacing?

Seriously?  We hadn't recently seen any dinosaurs in these parts.  Eh, we'll take our chances and go in.  I thought they'd go for the smallest first anyway.  She can't run as fast.  I'm safe.

 You'd better take a close look, Alice.  You're the littlest around here.  You'll be the first to go!

Hmm, it's that the length of the apatosaurus' femur, I think I might be easy prey myself!  

Luckily, Laura knew that an apatosaurs is an herbivore.  I'm pretty meaty, so phew!  Let's take a scary walk and hope that everyone is an herbivore.  One final family photo in case we don't make it back.


Screeching through the air came this guy. 

I don't know what it is.  I had no time to read the informative signs.  He may have been eyeing me as lunch!  Movin' right along!

 We walked a little further.  There were many common plants identified.  If we were for some reason stranded within these high walls, we discovered that we could burn the lichen on the trees as fuel, cooking up a tasty meal of cattails.  We could even have finished it off with dessert of wild raspberries, saskatoons and low-bush cranberries.

If it weren't for the loud, large, scary dinosaurs, it wouldn't be so bad.

At least these two were preoccupied with their own battle and not interested in a meaty, slow-running homo sapien.  We watched their struggle for a while.  It was exciting!  Who would win?  The fierce, knobby guy on the right, or the loud huge guy on the left?   And would the winner then look for someone else to fight when it was done?

Time to move on again.  We did not want to know the answer to that!

Luckily our next encounter with a peaceful veggie-loving guy.  

Coming at him from another angle, we noticed that he had a few problems of his own though.  

If you look closely, he has a smaller creature attacking him.  One with sharp teeth and two more friends on the ground moving in for the kill. 

What kind of a vicious world had we wandered into?

Flat teeth usually means an herbivore, but with a sharp pointy nose, we didn't stick around to find out if he was friendly or not.  He sounded pretty mean, and even the smaller ones were still many times my own weight.  

We left him alone and continued our walk along the boardwalk.  The problem with what could have been a peaceful Sunday afternoon walk was that we were surrounded with terrible sounds.  As we looked into the growth, this jabberwocky charged out at us!


With his puffy black lips, and black snakey tongue, once again we didn't stick around to figure out what his eating habits were.  Or his mood.

We walked 2 km of paths before we finally found a truly friendly dinosaur.  He allowed Alice to sit on him and we could pet him safely. 

Having made it out alive, we rejoiced with each other and went on our merry way. 

As we left the danger zone, we retreated to our home, where this is one of the most dangerous creatures we encounter.

  The end. 

(This adventure was to the Jurassic Park, outside of Gibbons, AB)

I've tried to do a scheduled weekly blog posting before, and I'm going to try again. Maybe I'll never learn, but I don't give up hope.

Hope is a good thing, right?

Rosa and her sister have started a weekly "Travel Tuesdays" link party and I'll see how often I'm a part of it. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


If we had heard the stories of Butte before going there, maybe we wouldn't have gone at all.  And we would have missed out on a lot. 

What did we hear?

That it was a town of prostitutes and crack addicts.  

That does explain the few "Don't Do Drugs" murals I saw, but I thought nothing of it at the time.  I didn't know the rumours yet.

That's not surprising, I guess.  It has a past steeped in alcohol and brothels.  About 30 years ago their main industry (copper mining) was in decline and it almost became a ghost town, leaving a city of unemployed blue-collar workers.  Now, I believe unemployment is still high and the main industry is still copper mining.  It's also a university town.

Now why would we bring our kids to camp in a city of prostitutes and crack addicts? 

Because we've seen no sign of that.  The people have been nothing but great.  Two examples:

Example 1
We were walking around looking lost and admiring the buildings, when a car pulled up and asked us what we were looking for.   At the time we were thinking about food (that often the case), and she pointed out some good restaurants we might want to try.

Example 2
I asked Yvon to go drive down a ledge on the road in order to see some great buildings on the hill (onto a one-way, wrong-way road too!) and we scraped the bottom of the van fairly badly.  I made him do almost the same thing on our 2nd date and he had to have the gas tank replaced.  Does he never learn? 

We were dripping oil or gas from the bottom of the van and had to stop.  A kid in the gas station loaned me his cell phone to call a few places, hoping they'd be open late on a Friday night.  He then offered to drive us all anywhere we needed to go if we couldn't get it fixed that night. 

Someone else overhead our problem, and we came out of the shop to find him on his back under our van.  He correctly diagnosed our problem, called a shop for parts, gave us directions and offered to fix it for us after his shift was over.  We bought the parts and the guy at the till offered to fix it right then and there.  We must have looked pathetically useless.

I don't know when that's ever happened to me in Edmonton, and I love Edmonton.  I love the people of Butte, crack addicts notwithstanding.  I never met those guys and I'll continue to visit Butte. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Butte continued

I do this every year.    I don't feel like blogging, although I can't say it's because I'm too busy or not wanting to sit in front of the computer.  I do plenty of that.

While in Butte, we had time to do some touristy things.  Everything required long walks in the hot, hot sun and up and down hills.  I don't know if it was the weather, the altitude or my general fitness level (or likely, all three), but I was really tired out by the walking. The girls and Yvon tend to have a destination in mind and head in a straight line for it (if we knew the straight line!), while they would leave me behind to dunk into doorways and see things like this:

If there were "For Rent" or "For Sale" signs, I had to read them and dream a little about living in those beautiful suites.   

Then I would stop to take pictures of some of the buildings, like this:

This one is for sale!

I'd finally look up and see the rest of the family WAY up the street, stopping to let me catch up.  I couldn't help it if there was so much to see, could I? 

We spent a bit of time touring the "Copper King Mansion".   It was gorgeous.

 Everything inside was hand carved, or stained glass or had intricate details.  You could spend a lot of time looking at everything, but the tour guide moved us along fairly quickly. 

The ultimate shower - with multiple shower heads and holes placed all along every pipe for a full-body spray.  Cool!

The current owners are big collectors, so there are collections and artifacts everywhere you looked.

This is a communion wafer iron.  Knippijes, anyone?

An optometrists set of lenses
I've since read that W.A. Clark was a pretty lousy man, but his house was beautiful so I won't hold it against him.

Then it was on to the Montana Folk Festival, the main reason we were in town.  Two days of music, all different styles from all over the world.  The music was great and there were often spaces under the tents to shield ourselves from the sun.

Hordes of people, surrounded by beautiful downtown buildings

This polka family band was such fun.  The ability to dance and fiddle amazes me.
 It was hard to fit all of it in that we wanted to hear, so sometimes we split up into two groups of two and followed the girls to the groups that interested them most.  For me, I could have listened to the gospel group all day.  Unfortunately they didn't want to sing all day for me, and I was forced to listen to some awesome accordian and fiddle music, Vietnamese music, stringed instruments from everywhere, swing and stuff that I can't categorize.    
The crowds at the main stage, as seen from the shady cool interior of a coal mining building.
High above the main stage, an original copper mining tower

We drank Arizona iced tea by the gallon once we discovered that they sold it in gallon jugs. 
Cold drinks were distracting
My favourite group - the Birmingham Sunlights.  It was like a Sunday sermon if you listened to their lyrics.
It was hard to fit all of it in that we wanted to hear, so sometimes we split up into two groups of two and followed the girls to the groups that interested them most.  For me, I could have listened to the gospel group all day.  Unfortunately they didn't want to sing all day for me, and I was forced to listen to some awesome accordian and fiddle music, Vietnamese music, stringed instruments from everywhere, swing and stuff that I can't categorize.    

I don't like to be away from home long in the summer because there is so much to do right at home, but I'll come to Butte again.  Anyone want to join us next time?  July 12-14.