Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why I'm A Punk

In my neverending quest to stretch pennies, I recently decided to take my mother-in-law's advice and learn to cut hair. It started with a little trim around my ears and bangs last week. My hairdo went from "Shaggy" to chic, and got lots of compliments, which was very encouraging. This is great, I thought, at $35 a cut, I'm never going to the salon again!

My husband also has been starting to sport the shaggy look, and since my first haircutting venture had been successful he encouraged me to take the plunge and cut his too. He went out to Canadian Tire and picked me up a set of clippers, scissors, barber comb & cape for $20 (and ended up paying $5 less thanks to an in-store promotion). Dutifully I barbered his hair with bated breath... and managed to pull it off! Okay, his regular hairdresser would probably notice the difference, but nonetheless it looked pretty decent.

Maybe these successes made me a little too cocky. "Pride comes before a fall," and my downfall came when I decided I was going to go for the full cut on my own head. Starting out, things were going well, the back and sides were even and as short as I like, but then I needed to outline around my ears. Had I not diligently observed the rule, better to cut too little than too much? That lesson must have momentarily escaped me when I took the clippers to the bit just above my left ear...Whoops! That was rather too short. The best thing I could think to do was to make the other side match. Well, it's a little on the short side, but it'll pass. Next I had to cut, thin and blend the top, which could not be done with clippers (no attachment long enough). Wow. Suffice it to say my skills with the scissors are still in the very early stages of development.

I am finding that if I use lots of gel and go for the messy-spiky look, I can almost convince someone that I made it look like this on purpose. Heavy eye makeup helps. And big earrings. So now it's official - I'm a punk. At least until my hair grows back.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Chew-Chew Train

While my toddler has been battling the crankiness of an incoming molar, it appears that my little baby girl has been hatching a tooth of her own. The funny thing is, just this morning I was talking at her (which she finds amusing) and commenting that it seems like a long time for her to go between teeth - the first two came at 2 months, and now she is 5 months. This afternoon I was getting her dressed to go outside and tickling her just to see her huge smile and hear her squeaky little giggle, when I decided to have a good look at her gums to see if there was any sign of swelling yet. I kind of thought she should be getting the two teeth next to the bottom middle ones soon, but her pink little bottom gums showed no sign of teeth under the surface. To my surprise, however, it looks like an eye tooth on the top right is about to emerge! So, I have two actively teething babies at once. Thankfully my baby isn't very cranky, she apparently prefers to work out her discomfort by gnawing on bones...mine. If you are one of the unlucky people whose fingers she has mangled, my apologies.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tooth Fairy, Tooth Fairy, Where Have Your Been?

My sweet little toddler has been not-so-sweet for the past half a week or so. In fact, although I love her dearly, she's been downright terrible. (Can you see where this is going?) Yesterday Daddy looked in her mouth as she was opening wide for a bite of dinner, and said "Well, that molar's finally showing!"

Oh, that explains a lot. Like the fact that she bit me today, which she never does. And her waking up in the night crying frequently - she who normally sleeps like a rock for 12 or more hours every night. So now Mommy has a new best friend: Hyland's Teething Tablets. Previously I tried dissolving them in water as directed, only to have her spit it out. I even tried putting them in ice cream - that's the only time I've known her to refuse ice cream, wouldn't you know. It's like mind games for mommies.

I finally came up with the most unusual solution. Put the tablets in her pudgy little hand. Oooh, a toy? Yummy! With no effort, she pops them in her mouth, where they instantly dissolve. Now why didn't I think of that before? I sure hope this works as well for my baby the next time she's badly teething.

Bread From Heaven!

Haha! I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be sacrilegious, it's just that after some bread-making disappointments I finally managed to produce a loaf of the most amazing, tall, browned and crusty delicious bread! Yes, I know I am a genius, thank you, thank you, you're too kind.

Seriously though, this is a real breakthrough for me. My first non-machine loaf of bread (supposed to be rye) turned out to be a small, hard (inedible) rock. That was last year. When I finally got the courage to try again last week I was able to at least produce something edible (and indeed tasty), even if it was rather too dense, heavy, and slightly doughy in the middle. I even went all out and made half the batch into pizza buns with a bunch of yummy toppings. It wasn't anything like bakery bread though. Any bakery with the audacity to sell such products would be out of business in a week. So, I tried again. Unfortunately I didn't have any bread flour, and the only thing our local grocery stores carry is bleached bread flour, which I didn't want to use.

Going out on a limb (I know they call it bread flour for a reason - you need the gluten!) I determined to try a single loaf with unbleached all purpose flour and oat flour. Since it wouldn't have very much gluten I kneaded it vigorously until I was tired, and let it rise until it had way surpassed the height of the loaf pan. I also put a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven during the second rise and during baking to help the crust form. And what do you know, it turned out great! Not sweet, like the last loaf, but delicately flavoured like the best bakery bread, light and fluffy inside, and crusty to perfection. Once again I feel like the mistress of my domestic domain.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Lost Arts

This week I started making my own yogourt. It was ridiculously easy, so easy it made me ask "Why do people go to the store to BUY this stuff?" And the answer, as far as I can tell, is one of two things: Either they're too darn lazy to stir a glass of milk, or they just don't know! I for one had no idea it was so easy, having been fooled by hearing about "yogourt makers" and "starter" once upon a time. Let me let you in on the secret. Pour milk into a container. Add a small scoop of yogourt and stir. Leave it out overnight. That's it. If you need any more details than that, look here.

Once I realized that people actually used to make their own (duh!) I saw why it had to be simple, and then I wondered whether other things that our great-grandparents used to make from scratch were that simple too. Um, yeah.

Cheese, we all love it, and it's only a few steps away from yogourt. Butter, again all you need is milk. And on a different thread, soap, household cleaners, and most incredibly - seeds for the garden. (A friend of mine pointed out, in response to my gardening posts, that the seeds I bought at the store were no different than the ones in my food, just older and dried out. Now why didn't I think of that?) It seems that the last couple of generations have had so much prosperity that they will buy anything, and thus have forgotten how to do the simple things. And for some of these lost arts, it's not a matter of time being to precious a commodity - the time it takes you to actively make yogourt, or even some types of cheese, is less than the time it takes most people to go to the store. Perhaps now that wallets are getting thinner, more of us will start relearning these basic skills that not only can save money but are also better for your health and for the environment.

There is one lost art, however, that does not seem to be so easy-peasy basic - although I am determined to master it. Breadmaking is a complicated thing. Sure, anyone can throw together some flour and oil and fry up a chappati, but risen yeast bread is an enigma. So many things can make yeast bread flop, so much time is required to make a decent loaf, and so much of the process requires a precise temperature... how the heck did way-back bakers do this in a stone oven? And where did they get the yeast in the first place? These answers and more I hope to resolve in the next few weeks, and I hope will result in a store-worthy loaf of bread! Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Recipe: Home-made Yogourt

Okay, I'm almost embarassed to put this under "Recipes" because there's nothing to it, but I realize that most people like to have detailed guidelines for food preparation. So, here goes.

Home-made Yogourt

Milk (for the sake of showing proportion, 1 L)
Plain yogourt (for the same reason, 1/4 cup)

Pour milk into a container that has a lid. Add yogourt and stir well until smooth - a whisk works best for me. Put the lid on, stick it in your oven with the oven light on and close the door. Don't accidentally turn on your oven with the yogourt inside!

Notes on ingredients: You can use any kind of milk (or cream, or combination) for this, different fat contents will result in a more or less creamy yogourt. If you are using unpasteurized milk, however, you will need to scald it first to kill any bacteria. For your first batch you should buy plain yogourt that has active bacterial culture listed in the ingredients - this is true for almost all plain yogourt. Yogourt that is specifically labelled "probiotic" (while misleading, pretty much all yogourt is probiotic) has the most active culture in it. If you prefer a thicker yogourt, you can add milk powder to your mixture, according to taste.

Notes on preparation: The yogourt needs to be kept at a warm temperature for the culture to reproduce, but not so warm that you will kill it. The ideal temperature is about 110°F, which my oven is roughly at with the light on and the element off. Other people use a warm radiator or a yogourt maker (which is just a glorified thermos). It will take anywhere from 5 - 24 hours, depending on the amount of active culture present and how thick you like your yogourt. The longer you leave it, the tangier your finished product. Your yogourt will look thinner than you expect, but when you refrigerate it you will find it thickens up as the whey separates a bit. You can let it drain through a doubled tea-towel or coffee filter to remove some whey if you want it thicker still. (If you drain it until all the whey is removed, what you will have left is a basic curd, which can be salted and pressed into cheese.)

If you don't like your yogourt plain, add sweetener and fruit to taste. The best part is that for about $1.00 CAD worth of ingredients I get to enjoy something that would cost me about $3 at the grocery store, plus gas. Now go make your own!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Back To Work

I'm happy to say my back is working again! I can get in and out of bed, roll over, sit up, stand, walk and twist without assistance, which is incredible given that I started this week almost completely immobile. This week has made me realize just how much we take our health and physical ability for granted! For a while I couldn't even get dressed or use the bathroom without help, and I started to think just how many people there are for whom that is a fact of everyday life. I am so thankful for my health and mobility.

The other think I've realized once again is how amazing our bodies are. The body is created with such complexity and innate intelligence, to tell us when something is out of order, and to heal itself when given the opportunity. By forcing me not to move, my body was telling me that I have not been taking care of it with proper exercise, and have been foolishly trying to do things beyond my physical ability. Now that I have had a few days of rest (and stopped lifting / carrying heavy things, having a lazy posture, etc.) it has been able to start healing itself with a little help from the chiropractor. I am thankful for chiropractic medicine, but even more thankful to my creator that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

What I have to do now is be more careful to treat my body with respect, feeding it well, exercising to build up its strength, resting it regularly, and not trying to make it do more than it can handle. Thanks for your prayers and support, and hooray for healing!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Big Ow!

Sorry folks, I am not in a sufficiently reflective frame of mind to do a proper post today. Yesterday, while walking into my bedroom I suddenly and with no apparent cause felt something snap in my back. I have been largely immobile ever since, except for an excruciating trip to the chiropractor.

Please keep me in your prayers. A few years ago when I last had severe back problems, I didn't have coverage for chiropractic so we decided to pray for my back, and within a week my back pain was totally gone. Those problems (due to scoliosis) never returned. Now, having had two babies close together and no time to regain abdominal muscle tone, plus carrying kids around on my hip all the time, my back has been carrying more strain than it should... and now it's starting to protest. While I am seeing a good chiropractor, we are also praying for my back again, but sometimes in the midst of pain it's very hard to focus on healing. Any support is appreciated.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Seedlings Ahoy!

Garden update: My potting flats have seedlings poking up! I have been eagerly hovering over them this weak, anxious for signs of life, with no reward for my efforts - until today. Suddenly this morning there they were, half inch little greenish sprouts coming up through the dirt. Here's the funny thing though - The first seeds I planted were cilantro and watermelon; so far I have salad greens, morning glories and sunflowers sprouting, but no cilantro and no watermelon! What's up with that?

Anyway, the first seedlings are encouragement enough for now. If this darn drizzle will stop and Mr. Sun will come out and play for a while I might be able to get the rest of my garden dug up!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recipe: Vegetarian Meatloaf

Okay, if you're not vegetarian you might be turned off by the title right about now, but trust me - this is a dish my meat loving husband liked a lot. I thought about calling it "I Can't Believe It's Not Meatloaf," but that would be inaccurate. This recipe is not trying to be meat, it's obviously not meat, but serve this with mashed potatoes and a veggie and no one will miss the meat.

The recipe came about as an inventive way to use up items in my pantry that weren't being used, in response to another blogger's recent challenge to spend less on groceries by using up what we already have. The fact that it was not only edible but delicious was largely a fluke.

Vegetarian Meatloaf

1/2 cup pot barley
1 can beans in tomato sauce
2/3 cup large flake oats
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 egg
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp onion salt (or onion powder + salt)
1/4 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
Fill a small pot halfway with salted water, add barley and bring to a boil. Boil gently for 5 mins, then drain. In a small mixing bowl combine barley with all remaining ingredients except ketchup and mix well. Turn into loaf pan and spread evenly to sides. Top with ketchup, making sure it covers all of meatloaf mixture, and bake for 30 minutes. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Are You Married To Your Finances?

I read recently that the greatest source of conflict in marriages today is money. Although other issues also rank high, I don't think anyone is surprised to hear that money is number one. Almost every couple will experience some sort of tension related to finances, and this is especially common after having children. A couple becomes accustomed to a certain standard of living with both partners working and only themselves to pay for, but they may have a reality check when suddenly one partner's income is cut and there is an extra person to provide for.

A change in financial circumstances, however, does not have to translate into marital tension. While two partners may have different priorities, spending habits, and levels of income, talking about these issues can forestall arguments. It is important to be open in communicating to each other how you feel about each of these issues, and to agree together on how you will handle your family finances. This may require a certain amount of compromise, surprise, surprise! Like any other area of marriage, good communication, good listening, and considering each others needs will solve many a problem. Some teamwork and brainstorming may reveal ways you can save while still paying the bills. You might even find yourselves needing to make sacrifices to preserve the things that are most important to each of you.

The difficulty with the issue of money is that for many people it represents much deeper issues: security, control, even survival. (If you suspect this may be the case for you or your partner, it can help to work with an impartial financial advisor, or in extreme cases a marriage counsellor, to mediate the discussion.) We need to be able to emotionally detach ourselves from our finances - remember you are married to your husband/wife, not your money (house, car, or credit). I'm NOT saying that your family's finances are unimportant or unworthy of your attention. Wise financial stewardship can help eliminate one area of stress in your lives, but ultimately a secure, loving and mutually respectful relationship can weather the storms of hard times with a strong united front. Remember, you are a team!