Archive for January, 2011

The theme this week for Muffin Tin Monday is “Favorite Foods.”  I’ve been serving dinners each Monday night for the past several weeks in muffin tins.  However, I was doing a lot of baking and cooking on Sunday and thought it would be good to do a muffin tin meal for Sunday night’s dinner.
“It’s not Monday, Mom!” Olivia said.
“Yes, that’s right.  It’s Sunday,” I replied.
“Well…you always do the muffin tins on Monday…not Sunday.”
Hmmm….I guess I didn’t realize that the girls had come to expect a muffin tin dinner every Monday night.  How quickly routine can set in…and something for them to expect and to look forward to each week.
“Favorite Foods” Muffin Tin Meal
This week’s Muffin Tin Meal includes the favorite items:
Top Row:  Banana bread, deviled egg, Chex mix, chicken salad
Middle Row: Carrots, celery with peanut butter and raisins (aka “Bumps on a Log”), orange slices, homemade pizza dipping sauce
Bottom Row: Rice Krispie bar, brownie, cheese stick cut into small bits, foccacia (to go with the dipping sauce)

Here’s another (crooked and dark) view of the muffin tin from above:

The girls enjoy freshly-baked bread, so when I saw a recipe for foccacia in the new Taste of Home magazine, I wanted to try it.  I’m going to add the recipe to the 52 Weeks of Baking cookbook I’m writing for Sophia and Olivia.  The bread itself is very easy and flavorful. 
The toppings, as called for in the recipe, were thinly-sliced plum tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and Parmesan cheese.  These would be fine for most people.  However, as Sophia said, “You could leave off the tomatoes and put something else on the next batch.”  I agree.  The tomato slices didn’t enhance the bread at all…maybe it was because they weren’t as flavorful as the tomatoes the girls and I grew here during the summer.
Also baked or cooked on Sunday and included in the tray were:
Brownies – made from a mix-in-a-jar that Olivia and I had made last month.  Having all the ingredients pre-measured and in a jar make baking all that much easier when you need a quick dessert.  All I needed to add was three eggs and a bit of vanilla extract. 
Rice Krispie Bars – I make these dairy-free so Sophia can have them.  Used up most of the Rice Krispies making the recipe and a bag of marshmallows.  Cleaning out the cupboards in the process…always a plus.
Chex Mix – Used the recipe on the cereal box as a guideline, but didn’t have over half of the ingredients (e.g., garlic powder, onion powder, pretzels, dry-roasted peanuts).  Substituted what I had on hand and used up all the Chex cereals, Spanish peanuts, and bagel chips. 
Pizza Dipping Sauce – This is the Papa John’s Pizza Sauce recipe that I’ve modified a bit.  The girls enjoyed using the dipping sauce with the foccacia.  I’ve also made homemade breadsticks which taste very good with the dipping sauce as well.
Chicken Salad – Using up leftover chicken from a dinner a couple nights ago.  Added fresh red pepper, celery, and chopped almonds to it. 
Banana Bread – Used seven overly-ripe bananas (the best kind!) to make the bread.  The recipe is from my grandma (my dad’s mom).  Made the bread as muffins rather than in loaf form. 
Deviled Eggs – Made several deviled eggs not following any recipe (served others on a plate since I didn’t want to put one egg in each spot in the muffin tin). This used up the remaining eggs in one carton.
When I was growing up, my mom used to do dinners of leftovers on some Saturday or Sunday nights.  Often, the items were just reheated in the oven and served in a variety of pans.  It was a simple way for her to serve dinner and ensured there was very little food waste.
This week, I wanted to do the theme of “Favorite Foods” with the goal of using what I had on hand.  It’s nice to have a bit more room now in the cupboards and refrigerator now. 
The Muffin Tin Monday website has a lot of great ideas and links of other families who use the Muffin Tin Monday concept…and not just on Mondays.  (However, I may have to do another version of this meal tonight since Olivia is looking forward to having a Muffin Tin Meal on Monday.)
Muffin Tin Monday at Her Cup Overfloweth

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I came across an interesting challenge on another blog called “Read 52 Books in 52 Week Challenge.”  The rules are very simple and the goal is to read one book (at least) a week for 52 weeks.  These are the rules of the challenge:

1.  The challenge will run from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011.
2.  Our book weeks will begin on Sunday.
3.  Participants may join at any time.
4.  All books are acceptable except children books.**
5.  All forms of books are acceptable including e-books, audio books, etc.
6.  Re-reads are acceptable as long as they are read after January 1, 2011.
7.  Books may overlap other challenges.
8.  Create an entry post linking to this blog.
9.  Come back and sign up with Mr. Linky in the “I’m participating post” on the Challenge’s website.  
10. You don’t have a blog to participate. Post your weekly book in the comments section each week.
11. Mr. Linky will be added to the bottom of the weekly post for participants to link to reviews of their most current reads.

**In reference to children books. If it is a child whose reading it and involved in the challenge, then that’s okay. If an adult is doing read aloud with kids, the book should be geared for the 9-12 age group (or older) and be over 100 pages. If an adult is reading for her/his own enjoyment, then a good rule of thumb to go by “is there some complexity to the story or is it too simple?” If it’s too simple, then it doesn’t count.

Since I missed the start of the challenge, I thought I’d include the books I’ve read (or are in the process of reading) during the past month.  

I finished reading Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes aloud to Sophia (who is ten years old).  The 336-page book was written in 1943 and retells in narrative form events in Boston prior to and during the outbreak of the American Revolution. The novel’s themes include apprenticeship, courtship, sacrifice, human rights, and the growing tension between Whigs and Tories as conflict nears.

Events described in the novel include the Boston Tea Party, the British blockade of the Port of Boston, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The book won the 1944 Newbery Medal and is the 16th bestselling children’s book as of the year 2000 in the United States, according to Publishers Weekly.


I finished reading Incans Aztecs Mayans by John Holzmann to Sophia.  The description on the back of the book says, “Three civilizations that produced architectural marvels, feats of civil engineering unmatched even today, mathematical and astronmical breakthroughs that modern scientists have only recnetly been able to match.  Who were the Incans, Aztecs, and Mayans?  And what motivated them to live as they did?  John Holzmann examines their physical, social, and spiritual cultures from a biblical perspective.”
This was an interesting book, but the challenge (particularly for a ten-year old child) was remembering the details of each civilization.  There is a lot of information packed into the 174-page book.  It is very comprehensive and certainly gave me an insight into these civilizations – all of which I only had minimal knowledge of prior to reading this book.
Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds by Jen Green is a 256-page book filled with ideas for bird feeders, bird tables, birdbaths, nest boxes, and garden birdwatching. There are 25 step-by-step projects for birdhouses as well as great advice on feeding. At the end of the book, there’s a directory of wild bird species. Throughout the book, there are more than 600 photographs and illustrations. 
I’m not done looking at this book yet.  It’s one that I’m planning on renewing from the library since there are so many great ideas.  It’s been interesting to see the number as well as diversity of birds that have visited the farm here in the past 15 years.  The more trees, flowers, birdhouses, and birdfeeders that have been added since first moving here has had a direct correlation to the wide variety and number of birds seen on a daily basis. 
This book has some feeders that can be put out during the winter.  However, the majority of ideas are ones that will have to wait until spring and summer when the snow has melted and the temperatures are much warmer.

I began reading Carry on, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham to Sophia this week.  This 256-page book is a 1956 Newbery Medal winner. It is the true story of Nathaniel Bowditch, who becomes an indentured servant at the age of twelve when his father apprenticed him to a chandlery after his mother died. This ends his dreams of attending Harvard.
Through hard work and perseverance, Nat continues his studies on his own. He questions whether he would be destined to be a bookkeeper all his life, or if he could find a way to better use his skills in mathematics. His discoveries in the field of navigation are put to the test when Nat becomes captain of his own ship.


I started reading Gentle Ben by Walt Morey a few weeks ago.  I took a break from reading it since I was reading the other books to Sophia.  I have an old hard-cover copy of the book – from 1965 – that I’m reading.  If I have some quiet time in the mornings or evenings this week, I should be able to finish it.  It’s not that long of a book…only 191 pages. 

It is set in Alaska when it was a territory (before it became a state).  As I read the story, it reminds me of the beauty and vast wilderness that I was able to see many years ago when I made a trip to Alaska.  I visited Alaska in the spring – before the tourist season began – so it was quiet, peaceful, and incredibly beautiful!

This is a description about Gentle Ben that I read from a reviewer from The Community Bugle Newspaper who posted on Amazon.com:  “Mark Andersen leads quite a lonely existence in the Alaskan wilderness, where he lives with his mother and father. Things wouldn’t be so lonely if his older brother was still around, but since his death, Mark has been devoid of contact with anyone even close in age to him.

“Due in large part to the fact that he’s the smallest boy at school – at least for his age – and risks injury if he plays with the stronger boys, so he keeps to himself. That is, until he discovers a friend named Ben.

“Ben isn’t your average friend. He’s an Alaskan brown bear “brownie,” who is larger than life, and frightens anyone who sees him. Except for Mark. Mark knows how gentle Ben is, and quickly befriends him. Mark and Ben discover that they are much more like one another than anyone could possibly know, and forge a strong bond.

“But when the local townspeople find out about Mark and Ben’s relationship, they are determined to destroy it. Even if it means destroying Ben.”

In searching for an image of the book cover of Gentle Ben, I came across an interesting commentary about books that illustrate children and people coming together, many times unexpectedly, to overcome mutual suspicions arising from assumptions (or raw ignorance) about gender, race, age, ethnicity, religion, wealth, class, culture, accent, language, country of origin, etc. Gentle Ben is one of the books that is recommended in a long list of books that are worth checking out.

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I’ve continued to take pictures out of scrapbooks this past week since many of the scrapbooks are the old-fashioned kind that destroys pictures rather than preserves them.
One of the things that I can across were pictures of homes or apartments that I had lived in during my adult life – after graduating from college.  
The first apartment was at Wendover Glen in Charlotte (North Carolina).  At Wendover Glen, there were two different units that I lived in.  The first one faced the woods while the second one faced the street (across from which there was a crack village.  Literally. The neighborhood was a very rough one…and certainly one that I felt like I needed to drive through quickly as I made my way to work).
Shortly after moving in, Hurricane Hugo hit the eastern coast and the strong winds and rain made the whole apartment complex look like it was painted with leaves.  The sides of the buildings, the windows, the vehicles in the parking lot – everything – was covered with green leaves.  
The best part of the apartment: 
French doors leading to a small patio.

In the middle of the night, the wind was so strong it snapped a tree in half in the woods – not more than 20 feet from the apartment.  Having not lived in an area where there were hurricanes, it was certainly an interesting (and memorable) experience. 
Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms. 
~William J. Bennett
The second apartment was on Locksley Avenue in San Francisco.  9L…I think that was the apartment number.  The apartment was on the 9th floor facing Mt. Sutro – and offered a great view of the fog rolling in each afternoon. 
The apartment complex at the top of the road.

The most attractive feature about the apartment:  the fact that it had steel construction to help steady the apartment during an earthquake.  This was very important because there was a major earthquake in the Bay area in 1989 – a couple years before moving there.

The bridge that had collapsed was still being repaired.  It was a sobering reminder of the power of earthquakes.  So, having a more “sturdy” apartment was important…plus they took dogs. 

The light is what guides you home,
the warmth is what keeps you there. 
~Ellie Rodriguez

One of the challenges of living on the 9th floor (second floor from the top floor) was that often the elevator was slow to arrive.  That meant that after work I would rush home to let Sydne (the golden retriever) out.  We waited patiently for the elevator.  If it was more than a few minutes, Sydne and I would walk quickly down 9 flights of steps to go outside.  It was a good workout, I guess.

Moving day from San Francisco to Minneapolis.

The next move was to a small, starter home in Minneapolis.  This picture was taken in the spring after moving in because there isn’t a fence around the backyard (one of the first of many improvements made to the home to keep the dog safe and give a bit more privacy). 

First home in Minneapolis.

See that concrete driveway?  Since it came out next to the house (rather than the middle of the block), everyone thought it was a driveway.  It wasn’t.  It was the alley entrance.  Needless to say, the first time a car drove slowly by the kitchen window (to the left of the side door), I was shocked.  Curtains went up shortly thereafter. 

Within the first six months of living at the Minneapolis home, it was time to begin looking for another home further out from the city.  Living under the constant noise of airplane traffic was a bit stressful.  Some of the planes flew so low that I could read the numbers on their sides. 

I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world. 
~George Washington
 After much searching, there was a tiny five-line advertisement in the paper for a home in the country.  The real estate agent warned that it was “far out…it’s a very long drive from the city” and that the “floors slope…it’s an old country home.” 
Pulling up into the driveway when the real estate agent showed the home for the first time, my immediate reaction was, “This feels like home.”  And it has been…for over 15 years years now (16 in September 2011). 

Home in Winter
The home in the middle of winter.
The home was built in 1890, with a 600 square foot addition built in 1999 (it’s on the left side of this picture) where there’s a seam in the siding.  (The home has been re-roofed and re-sided due to storm damage from two major storms a couple of years ago, so it looks a bit more “cohesive” now that there isn’t a siding seam in the front.)
This is the home where I’ve lived the longest in my life – even longer than the homes of my childhood.  I lived in North Minneapolis (the Camden area) for 8 years, and then moved to Plymouth (Minnesota) for the next ten years. 

As I look back on the pictures of the apartments and home, I still consider the present farm home (the last one pictured above) as my home.  (The home in Plymouth has been my parents’ home since 1974, and one that I consider my childhood home.)

Peace – that was the other name for home. 
~Kathleen Norris
The underlying characteristic of both of these homes is that they are in peaceful, quiet surroundings.  Nature (birds and wildlife) as well as water are present (a lake, in the case of my childhood home; a pond in the case of the farm home).   Both homes have provided comfort, solace, and a sense of retreat.  They’ve been a source of inspiration and creativity. 
Both homes are filled with memories…ones that are happy, funny, and filled with laughter.  And, as with any home, some memories that are more challenging or sad.  But, in life there are both pleasant and difficult times.  It’s the comfort and security of the home which helped minimize the difficult times and help bring the positive memories to the forefront.
Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do…
but how much love we put in that action.
~ Mother Teresa 

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{this moment…}

{this moment} – A Friday ritual (inspired by soulemama). A photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor, and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments.

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend!

*** *** ***

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This week, the girls and I have been doing some house cleaning and had quite a few bags of items that were in good condition that we no longer needed. 

On Monday, we brought three garbage bags and two grocery-size bags to Family Pathways that were filled with toys, stuffed animals, crocheted blankets, clothing, and books.  I was ready to take a picture of the girls with the donations, but the battery in my camera had run out.

The girls were so happy with all the items they were donating – the majority of which came out of their closets and rooms.

We regularly make in-kind donations to Family Pathways because we like what this non-profit organization does to benefit the community.  It:

• provides senior services, including companionship and respite care, to the elderly so they may live in independence with dignity.

• provides hope and nourishment to adults and children in crisis with their food pantries and community advocacy program.

•builds awareness and sensitivity in youth and their families with their youth services programs.

They accept donations of clothing, household items, and furniture in good condition (the majority of items found in a home which is great – it gives the items another opportunity to be used by someone else while keeping them out of the landfill).

By donating to Family Pathways Thrift Stores, people can directly impact their commitment towards helping the community. Income generated by the sale of the donations is what they use to fund their programs for seniors, children, and families in crisis. (This is the link to the list of items Family Pathways accepts.)

Putting travel size shampoo, conditioner, and soap into a bag
for Simpson Housing

On Wednesday and Thursday morning, the girls and I put together some items for Simpson Housing.  Simpson Housing aims to house, support, and advocate for people experiencing homelessness

Tea, sugar, and creamer packets for
breakfasts at the shelter that
serves men and women who are homeless

They achieve their mission in the metro area by providing a full continuum of supportive housing services to end chronic homelessness:

• Emergency shelters for men and women (separated by gender).

• Permanent, subsidized, supportive rental housing for single men and women who have been homeless long-term, with a unique focus on the needs of single women.

• Subsidized, supportive rental housing for families with children, both single site and scattered site, both transitional and permanent housing.

Sophia and Olivia putting two pillows in a bag
for Simpson Housing.  The organization is
in need of blankets and pillows for their shelter.

This is the link to the items that Simpson Housing accepts.

We were in downtown Minneapolis at Orchestra Hall this morning (one of the programs designed for youth), and Simpson Housing is less than ten minutes away.  We drove to their administrative offices and the girls and I brought in the items we were donating.

Sophia and Olivia packing boxes of cereal to donate
to Simpson Housing for breakfasts for adults who are homeless

The staff was friendly and appreciative of the items we brought – all of which will be used at the shelter that helps men and women who are homeless.

The girls ready to drop off some of their donations
at Simpson Housing.
On February 16th, we received a letter from Simpson Housing thanking the girls and I for our donation.  It read, in part, “On behalf of our shelter guests, program participants, and staff I would like to express my sincere gratitude for your support.”
The letter went on to state that Wilder Research “reports that in the last three years homelessness in Minnesota has increased by 25%.  Our community members have lost their jobs or have had their hours cut.  Others have had their apartment buildings go into foreclosure and they have been unable to find an affordable place to live.”
The letter concluded, “In this time of increased need your gift shows that you care.  You share our belief that no one should experience homelessness.  We appreciate your care and hope that you will continue to work with us.”

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Pileated Woodpecker on Cherry Tree
Pileated woodpecker
looking for some food

I enjoy watching the birds visit the feeders – especially the flock of cardinals, the Northern Flicker, and variety of woodpeckers.

Sophia and Olivia also like watching the birds and tracking how many and what type visit the feeder.  Sometimes they’ll even do a bar graph to visually show which birds were the most popular at the feeder during a given time period. (This is a great homeschooling nature/science + math activity.)

So, last month I was reading a past issue of Birds and Blooms magazine, and saw an article about making holiday gifts from your backyard. One of the ideas I liked was making birdseed treats.

Using cookie cutters or muffin tins, you can offer food to the birds while decorating at the same time!

Birdseed Treats
Birdseed treats packed with seed mixture and
chilling in the mudroom
(which is colder than the refrigerator at this time of year)

Birdseed Treat Recipe
(Recipe from Angie Dixon)

1/3 cup gelatin
1-1/2 cups water
8 cups of birdseed

Mix gelatin and water on low until gelatin is melted and clear. Remove from heat and stir in 8 cups of birdseed. Stir until it is well mixed and there is no dry seed. Fill cookie cutters with the seed mixture and pack tightly. Then refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Dry on baking rack for 3 days.

Note:  If you plan on hanging the treats (rather than just putting them in a suet feeder), make sure you put a hole and string/yarn where you want it before the shape is completely dry.  Otherwise, it is much more difficulty and likely to break.

Birdseed Treats in Tins
Birdseed treats in muffin tins –
a good size for filling suet feeders

Another idea presented in the same article was to make a birdseed wreath.  I didn’t do this, but thought it is worth mentioning.  Perhaps I’ll do this another time this winter.

Birdseed Wreath

To make a wreath, combine the same ingredients used to make the birdseed treats. But instead of using cookie cutters, press the mixture into a miniature Bundt cake pan or another rounded mold. Refrigerate for 4 hours, then carefully remove from the mold. Let it dry overnight, then decorate it with edibles. Or dress it up with raffia, large accents, ribbon or bows.

Black Capped Chickadee on Feeder
Black-capped chickadee eating some of the
Amish bird suet I make regularly

If you would like to see the pictures that were in the Birds and Blooms magazine, you can visit the magazine’s website HERE.

Female Red-Wing Blackbird at Feeder - I Think
There was a large flock of these birds which aren’t normally here.
I’m not sure the type of bird.  Any ideas?

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Mid-Week Motivation

Sometimes, in the middle week, it’s nice to get a little inspiration to carry oneself through the rest of the week. I thought it would be nice to begin a weekly post where everyone can share what they are working on or have recently completed for their family or themselves; or given as a gift.

This week, I worked on the third quilt square for an ongoing swap on Swap-Bot called SEWvenirs.  It is appliqued and then hand-embroidered around all the edges.  The required information about the swap needs to be somewhere on the front of the block (e.g., name/ID, date completed, state/country where you live, a bit about the image).

This is the third hand-embroidered quilt block I made featuring
Minnesota’s state tree:  the Norway (or Red) Pine.

Each month, people from around the world share a quilt square with one other person.  Eventually, by participating in the swap, I will have enough squares to sew together to make a quilt.  Ideally, each quilt block that I will receive will be from a different state or country.

SEWvenir Quilt Block - Loon
Minnesota’s state bird (the loon) appliqued and hand-embroidered.
This is the first SEWvenir quilt square I made.
In addition to receiving a quilt square from someone else each month, I am making two 12.5″ x 12.5″ squares with identical designs (12″ block size with 1/2″ seam allowance).  One of the squares I send to someone else, and one of the squares I’m keeping for myself.  Each of the squares I’m making somehow relates to Minnesota (e.g., state bird, flower, tree). 
SEWvenire Quilt Block
Second quilt square I made to give away
to someone living in a different state. 
Another version I made will be used to make a quilt for the home.
I’m excited to see what the quilt turns out like.  I have an image of it in my mind…it will be interesting to see if the final version comes close to the imagined version.

I find it inspiring to see what other are creating and or have created for their families or themelves. So, I invite you to put a link below to something you’ve been working on or just completed for yourself, your family, or that you gave as a gift. (Please don’t link simply to your Etsy shop or show a product that you’re selling. The focus should be on your creativity that is for your personal use or for a gift.)
It can be a:
– handiwork project – maybe something quilted, felted, embroidered…whatever your speciality
– recipe
– poem or short story
– homemade natural product – soap , bath salts, or laundry detergent
– item you made for your pets or livestock
– new bird feeder or recipe for suet
– tutorial
– photograph
– anything creative…it’s up to you!
“Three keys to more abundant living:
caring about others,
daring for others,
sharing with others.”
~William Arthur Ward
Share your Mid-Week Motivation with the world! Or…with others who will read this post. Put an image onto your blog, and write a little bit. When you’re all finished, link back to this post (simply copy the address at the top of your screen and paste it into your blog post). Come back here to this post, and add your link to the photo list below!
Note:  If you’d like to include the image of the purple and blue window star to show you’re participating in Mid-Week Motivation, simply right-click on thexz image on the side of the blog and save the picture to your computer.  You can insert it right into your posting.

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