Category Archives: Life in General

Fall Sneaks In

My woeful neglect of the blog comes with good cause. Some of the things I missed recording on these pages include the recent departure of our oldest for college and the recent sudden loss of our tiniest family member, Ludwig the daschund. I justify this significant failing on my part by reminding myself that I am in the midst of the first stages of dissertation writing as well as a rather significant battle with the powers that be over education issues in our state. While I can’t go in to detail about the latter distractor, let’s suffice it to say that it takes a great deal of time on top of my usual work responsibilities.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity, though, to share some of what I saw today when I pulled up after spending the morning and most of the afternoon in the university library. Summer hit hard in Suburbia again this year. Humid, hot, long. But, suddenly, it’s clearly fall. While in full procrastination mode earlier this month, I did some yard clean up and fall planting. Now, my established landscape plants are joining in the fun and putting on a show as well.

Here’s the planter outside our garage. The grass and sweet potato vine survived the heat and just needed a little freshening up with the addition of mums.

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My front flower bed landscaping comes entirely by way of school fundraisers. Pictured: pansies purchased to support the middle school cross country team our youngest competes with. Not pictured and still deep underground: tulips purchased from local elementary fundraiser.

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The scene below forced me to write this post. Look at the combination of crimson barberry at bottom and the crepe myrtle trees still blooming but also changing color.

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Here’s a close up for good measure.

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For years I spent a lot of time and energy creating a fall porch scene complete with hay bales and corn stalks. Then I got tired and started a doctoral program. Now, we have the pumpkin topiary and a wreath. I like it just as much or have convinced myself that I do. Either way, I’m happy.

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This year, the seasons changed literally overnight. I failed to realize the last time I lazed around at the pool some time in late September that I likely wouldn’t do so again until May. What can I say? Denial is obviously my friend. But, the back yard landscape appears unwilling to give up on that idea of endless summer. Several of our plants are experiencing a second wind now that the heat passed us by.

Lantana, cannas, and ivy–going stronger than ever.

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Pansies defying the heat by coming back after a rather severe pruning of dried out segments.

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Other plants didn’t fare nearly as well. I had to give up on my succulent garden that previously occupied this table top. Mums, kale, and ornamental peppers should hang in there until December if my luck holds.

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All of the little things above make me happy. I love seeing the changing colors of my world from day to day, and I love feeling a hint of chill on the wind. Even more, I love that DD1 arrived home for fall break yesterday–her first visit since leaving for school. I’m off to spend some quality time with her as well as to record another important moment in time–DD2’s homecoming festivities.

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Cool Recipe Tool

Wow–two posts in one month.  Continuing both a posting theme and the recipe theme, I must share with you a new recipe organizer I’ve found.  While I have a lot of the recipes I make most frequently posted here on my blog.  I also have an extensive collection of cookbooks, recipe cards, and stacks of printed recipes from online sources.  I’m always rifling through stacks of things trying to find what I want.

Adventure Guy also likes to cook, and he wanted a way to organize the recipes he tears out of magazines or finds online.  He even had enough nerve to suggest that the recipe binder I received when we got married, which has now lost both its front and back covers, needed to be honorably retired. 

We’d been discussing this challenge for a while when one of our friends recommended Pepperplate.com.  Pepperplate allows for importing recipes from many online sites or for manual uploading.  You can categorize them, upload photos, and share your recipes with friends via email or social media sites.

Even better, the program allows for scaling recipes automatically, building menus, creating shopping lists, and creating a meal schedule.  The online info also interfaces with an app for convenient grocery shopping. 

So far, I’ve just created a basic recipe file of my most-cooked items.  I’ll add a few more as I go along, but it’s great to have everything in one place!

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A Recipe Worth Coming Out Of Hiding To Share

Okay, so I wrote the post right below this one back in December–when I also had a “blog more often” sort of New Year’s resolution in mind.  It’s a good thing I don’t actually make New Year’s resolutions, or I’d be quite a failure this year.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this blog back when I wrote on a regular basis included having a repository for my favorite recipes.  If I’d misplaced one along the way–which, of course, rarely happens in my highly-organized kitchen–I could easily look it up in a post I’d shared earlier.

Like blogging, though, cooking seems to have gotten lost in the midst of all of the “life in general” stuff that’s going on around here. A heightened political climate that requires much more of my work time to be spent dealing with state-imposed “outside” issues while still trying to fit in all of my usual responsibilities in the school district means I’m working longer hours and feeling more stressed when I’m not working.  Throw in the final stages of my doctoral process, and logging in to write about it all seems more than a little overwhelming.  Did I mention I just moved my oldest to college a week ago?  No, because I’m not talking about that yet.

But, I have a bit of a break between courses, and school got off to a relatively smooth start last week.  Those two things combined left me feeling it was time to reach out a bit and spend a little more time socializing and a little less time working or lying about reading–a hobby I’ll always keep up regardless of the time factor involved.

One of the new teachers in All-American Public Schools happens to be the very first exchange teacher who came to our district from China.  Back then, I worked at the high school, and our family hosted this teacher for several weeks.  Soccer Boy had just turned 5, and so had Mr. N’s son—a son he’d left at home to come to the U. S. for a semester.  Mr. N really bonded with Soccer Boy, and we’ve kept up over the years.  He was able to come to the U. S. to earn his master’s degree and brought his son to visit us last year.  Now, the family is moving here and trying to settle in to American life.

I can only imagine what it would be like to attend a large American middle school without really knowing anyone.  Since Soccer Boy has plenty of friends to go around, we had several of them over and invited the N. family to join us for swimming and BBQ.  Sunday afternoon turned out just perfect for the event, with clear skies and mild temperatures.  We sat outside, and didn’t melt–quite a novel event around these parts lately.

But, the hit of the afternoon in my opinion came at the end. I’ve been searching for the perfect peach ice cream recipe for years.  I don’t like the ones that are essentially vanilla ice cream with some peaches stirred in.  I want real, peachy flavor.  I am thrilled to report I’ve finally found a recipe that delivered that and more.  I literally licked the container a few minutes ago to get the last little bit.  Yes, it’s that good.  I combined and changed enough details in a couple of online recipes to essentially make this one my own, so here it is.

Peach Ice Cream

6 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and diced

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 c. sugar, divided

2 c. heavy cream, divided

1 c. Half and half

6 egg yolks

Pinch of salt

1/4 c. Honey

1/8 tsp. almond extract

Peel, pit, and dice peaches. Fresh peaches can be frozen at this point and thawed prior to making ice cream. Reserve 1/2 c. peaches for later use. Place remaining peaches in saucepan with lemon juice and 1/2 c. sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. After approximately 8 minutes, mash softened peaches with a potato masher and continue cooking approximately 10 more minutes. Remove from stove and cool.

Place 1 cup heavy cream in clean sauce pan. Pour remaining cup of cream in the ice cream maker container and keep cold. Add half and half to the cream in the sauce pan and heat until warm. Whisk egg yolks and  remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in bowl until smooth.  Stir in salt. Temper this mixture with approximately 1/3 cup of the hot milk mixture. Slowly add the egg mixture to the remaining milk mixture. Stir constantly until mixture thickens forms a custard. Strain custard into cold, heavy cream in the ice cream maker container. Add honey and almond extract.

Process cooled peach mixture in food processor until smooth. Add peach purée to ice cream maker and stir to combine. Freeze as directed. When ice cream maker stops, stir in reserved peach pieces. Transfer to a large freezer container and freeze for two to three hours before serving.

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Christmas Ramblings

So, I just created a Pandora station called Barenaked Ladies Holiday.  It should be interesting to see what it pairs with that.  So far, so good.  Sister Hazel, a group I’ve never heard of before is playing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as I type. 

I do indeed hope to have a merry little Christmas.  As of last night (or actually a little after midnight this morning), I am officially finished with decorating and gift buying.  Or I like to tell myself that.  In actuality, I have to pick up a few stocking stuffers and buy a gift card for Adventure Guy on behalf of my mother.  But, the Christmas tree is purchased and decorated, and there are wrapped gifts underneath it.  I even took pity on Adventure Guy and wrapped the gifts that he still needs to ship to his father and grandmother. 

Friday brought the official start of winter holidays for the kids, making it even harder for me to get excited about my early wakeup call for work tomorrow.  Fortunately, I only have to get through two more days before I take some vacation time myself.  Our offices at All American Public Schools will be closed Friday and all of the following week, so I will have a lovely, long break in trade for only three days of vacation.  Such a deal!

I plan to use that time very wisely by making some Christmas treats, preparing for our traditional Christmas Eve fondue dinner, and hopefully spending quality time in front of the fireplace with a good book. Speaking of books, I just finished reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close after the previews for the upcoming movie intrigued me.  I think I’ll have to recommend it to my book club so that we can discuss it.  I found it an interesting read…not sure I could classify it as enjoyable, though.  I will definitely see the movie.

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Don’t Let The Door Hit You…

What?  Posting two days in a row?  I know.  It’s shocking for this site.  For my two readers who are left (well, hopefully that’s a bit of an exaggeration), I thought I’d make a valiant attempt to get things up and running again here.  I know I alluded to this in my last post on Christmas decorations, but this semester literally proved to be more challenging than any I can remember in my career.  I’ve taken on several new work projects that–while not outside my general realm of responsibility–are not typical assignments.  Then, I got pulled in to a little thing called Qualitative Research Methods that, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I loved (because I’m that kind of geeky academic person).  But, it took an incredible amount of time, attention, and though to complete the accompanying work–more so than any other class I’ve taken so far for my doctorate, and I’m nearing the end of my coursework. 

Add all that in with preparation for Christmas, and I’ve fielded more than my share of stress lately.  So much so that I think it’s finally caught up to me.  I spent last night feeling feverish and today woke up with a lovely cold.  I had to go in to the office to wrap one thing up around noon, but I slept as long as possible before then and headed right back home afterwards.  I am currently cuddled up with the miniature daschund and feeling thankful that I started a pot of Italian Minestrone Soup in the crockpot for dinner. 

My goal is to leave my bed as little as possible until tomorrow when my schedule says I have to be at work no matter what. I will not miss this semster when it ends on Friday.  Not one little bit.

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Christmas All Over The House

After a long, long semester at both work and in my graduate program, I finally had time to decorate the house this weekend.  Here are the results. Pictures of Christmas tree to follow once it’s purchased and decorated!

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Those Bright Blue Skies Redux

I wrote the post below back in 2007.  Today’s crisp weather and beautiful skies remind me again of the gorgeous backdrop over which the horror of September 11, 2001 played out.  In 2001 I avoided coverage of the event while at home to shield my kids from those images.  Now, I realize that they have no memory of the attack and no memory of a world where people flying jetliners in to buildings was inconceivable.  I wish I could have shielded them from that second experience as well, but I remain ever thankful that they’ve spent the last ten years with their dad and not as children of “September 10.”

This morning the first hints of fall wafted into Suburbia on a cool breeze that hasn’t shown it’s face around here for months.  And after several days of gray skies and intermittent showers, today brought an absolutely gorgeous bright blue sky complete with a few perfect, wispy white clouds.

In the usual morning hurry, I almost forgot that today was September 11th.  Those bright blue skies should have immediately reminded me.  It was a beautiful autumn day in New York on September 11, 2001, when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center.  Those horrific scenes are etched into my mind, all backed by bright, clear blue skies.

My friend over at The Testosterone Zone asked readers to respond to her post asking where we were on that day and how the events had affected our lives.  If anything, I believe that the events of 9/11 have made me more likely to appreciate the people in my life and to not focus as much on the little things that can make day to day life stressful.  And the reason for that impact actually began on September 10, 2001.

That’s the date that, early in the morning,  Adventure Guy boarded a plane in Boston and flew to San Francisco.  At the time he was working for a telecom company that had its headquarters outside of Boston and its research labs in the Oakland area.  He travelled most of the week and was in so many different places, I often didn’t know his exact location from day to day.  He was always available by cell phone, so the details didn’t seem so important. 

But one detail I will remain ever thankful for is the fact that late on the evening of September 10, Adventure Guy called to tell me that he had made it in safely to San Francisco.  Otherwise, I would have been absolutely panic-stricken when I realized what was happening the next morning, when the news came out that the terrorists were clearly targeting cross-country flights for the hijackings. 

That morning, I was in the office preparing to go to a local conference.  I stepped into the hall on my way out, and our custodian told me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.  I didn’t initially think of it as an attack, but rather thought it was an accident, perhaps a small plane that was offtrack in the New York airspace.  I went next door to the Guidance Office where there was a television and watched the developing events in horror.  We were watching as the second plane hit. 

I’ll admit that I was so glued to the television and so secure in the fact that Adventure Guy was already in California, that I didn’t think to call him.  His vivid memory of that day involves being extremely annoyed at his phone ringing at a little after 6:00 a.m. only to answer it and be told by a good friend, “Thank God you’re alive.” 

And every day since then, I’ve tried to remember just how easily our little family here in Suburbia could have lost him.  24 hours made all the difference for us.  And each time I read the tributes and the remembrances for those lost that day, I think of their wives and husbands, parents and children who weren’t so lucky.  And I am always thankful, truly thankful, not see Adventure Guy there among them.

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I Blame My iPad

In news that’s likely to surprise anyone who checks in regularly or follows this blog, I do actually have the WordPress “daily post” page in my Google Reader. You know, the one that gives people ideas about how to write daily in their blogs. Having now officially taken a month’s sabbatical from blogging, I clearly do not write daily.

I blame my iPad. Love it though I do, I don’t find it compatible with efficient blogging. Using the WordPress app for composing doesn’t allow me to post links or pictures with the ease of my laptop. I also vastly prefer using a keyboard for typing rather than a touchpad. Even though I can set up my wireless keyboard if an impromptu blogging inspiration hits me, I don’t typically go to that extent in the evening when I’m just running through my Google feed, checking Facebook, and playing a few rounds of Words With Friends. I know. I lead an exciting life.

But today’s daily post, idea inspired me. The topic? How to get more traffic to your blog. While I recommend reading the whole post, I’ll highlight a few points here that resonated for me.

  1. Update your About Page. WordPress suggests keeping the About Me section of your blog up-to-date so that readers happening by have an ideas of what your space is all about. Hmm…my tag line says “Life in general encompasses three kids, one husband, three dogs, and a job in school administration.” That pretty much sums it up, but I realize this blog covers a range of topics. I don’t consider myself a mommy blogger, though I write about parenting and my kids. I don’t consider myself an education blogger, though I certainly discuss that topic as I navigate my way professionally during these trying financial and political times. I also throw in a few book reviews and recipes along the way, reflecting my interest in spending my free time reading and cooking. Did I mention I’m in grad school and about half-way through a doctoral program. Yeah, that keeps me busy too, though I don’t devote much blog time to it.
  2. Take Requests. WordPress suggests asking readers what they want to read more about. So, what would you like to read more about? Are there some things about my scattered life that you like hearing about more than others? More recipes? More books? More specific posts about kids or work. Maybe even more talk about that elusive “balance” category?
  3. Write Well. Yes, this one is a challenge. I know I’ve had posts that are more inspired than others. Here are a few I’m particularly pleased with from the past. I’ll let you find the less-than-stellar ones on your own!

Lately, besides my love of the iPad for reading but not writing, I think my lack of inspiration stems both from the oppressive heat that has wracked Suburbia this summer as well as a work and grad school schedules that made grabbing time off difficult. After all, I’ve spent most of my “leisure” time dragging a sprinkler or hose around the yard trying to make up for the lack of performance from our built-in system, which is failing to keep up with the toll this extreme heat is taking on our trees and bushes. Well, that or throwing blocks of ice into the pool in a futile attempt to drop the water temperature below 95 degrees.

Okay, okay. This is what my backyard looked like in February. (It makes me feel better, somehow, just looking at it now).

Before The Pool Froze Over

And, yes, I remember promising I wouldn’t complain once summer arrived, but back then it was hard to imagine over thirty days and counting of temperatures that top 100 degrees. I definitely didn’t count on witnessing my car thermometer reading 118 on multiple occasions. I must note I do not live in Arizona, and here in Suburbia, we have the benefit of humidity to go along with these record-setting readings.

Now that I’ve made plenty of excuses, and asked for a little assistance in getting back in the game, I really do plan to follow a last bit of helpful advice from WordPress: post regularly. Leave me a comment if you’ve actually hung in here with me. I’d love to hear the things you’d like to know more about!

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Sunday Morning

I imagined mornings like this last year when the pool in my backyard consisted merely of a very large hole in the ground. I could just see myself rolling lazily out of bed and wandering out for a relaxing morning swim.

Both of those things happened this morning. I slept in until after eight, the latest I’ve managed on this week of vacation that involved so much driving and making early college visit appointments. I also just dunked myself in the pool prior to sitting down on my porch to compose this post. The part I didn’t imagine last year? That swim came after I’d watered all my plants, sweated out weeding the grass from the rock border, and picked up the monumental collection of poop our dogs managed to generate in two days. There are multiple reasons I miss the kids when they are at camp. Somewhere in that ranking is the fact that I end up doing their chores while they are gone. I’m not going to comment on the actual order of those reasons at this particular point.

DD1 and I arrived home from the college visit trip on the evening of my wedding anniversary. Adventure Guy and I celebrated by taking DD1 with us to our favorite family Thai restaurant (you know you’re a regular when the hostess greets you by saying, “Mr. AG! It’s been so long! We haven’t seen you for nearly a week.”) Dinner gave DD1 an opportunity to fill Adventure Guy in on all the details of the trip and her thinking about the schools. The short version: Arkansas and Kansas are in, Missouri and Kansas State are out. DD1 actually enjoyed her Kansas State visit and the university, but for those of you who have never been to Manhattan, Kansas, let me just say it should be in the dictionary under “the middle of nowhere.” DD1 just couldn’t picture herself living there for four years.

The rest of the weekend’s events proved much more exciting for the rest of my family than for me. DD1 spent time with her boyfriend and then worked all day yesterday. Adventure Guy lived up to his name by running his first ultra marathon (that’s two marathons put together, yes 52.4 miles). He started running at midnight Saturday morning and finished at 3:00 p.m. Did I mention it was 106 degrees yesterday. He had hoped to finish the race by noon. I knew that was an optimistic goal, so I didn’t worry much until I hadn’t heard from him by two. He really concerned me when I got two calls, one to my cell and the next to the home phone, from his number with no one responding when I answered. Fortunately, he called back to say, “I can’t hear you, but if you can hear me, I’m finished and I’m heading home.” His iPhone got so overheated on the run it was malfunctioning. Needless to say, he didn’t do much the rest of the day but sleep and nurse the painful looking blisters and chaffing he acquired despite all his usual precautions against them.

When your husband thinks running over fifty miles is a fun and reasonable thing to do, its hard not to feel like a slug regarding one’s own weekend activities. I did feel fairly productive, however, since I managed to make it out to the farm store for the fresh corn that’s finally in season and then on to the grocery store and the artisan bread store in preparation for tonight’s planned dinner with Adventure Guy’s step-brother and his family. I even whipped up some of my favorite blackberry ice cream from The Pioneer Woman’s recipe and made a roasted vegetable dip to serve tonight from the plethora of zucchini and squash I still had on hand from my last co-op order. To top it off, and because I felt really sorry for Adventure Guy, I finally made him his favorite cake–angel food filled with chocolate pudding and iced with whipped cream–that I’d promised him since we skipped it on his birthday in May.

The good news is now that most of the shopping and cooking happened yesterday and the yard maintenance is done for today, I have nothing left to do until a little before the scheduled four o’clock arrival of our company. I think I’ll try to get back to a more ideal version of that picture I imagined last year, the one that involves my lying around at the pool reading.

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Summer Days Wasted Away

Over a decade has passed since I officially enjoyed “summer vacation.” Though I’d love to be paid for every time someone remarks, “Really?  You work during the summer.  What do you do?”  In reality, school administration is a full-time, year-round gig.  In my office–summer is particularly busy, filled with conducting professional development sessions, ordering textbooks, and planning for the upcoming year.

And as busy as I am, I can’t help but remain a little bitter over the loss of the lazy days of June and July that I enjoyed not only as a student but also as a teacher.  I’ll slip away the last week of June so that DD1 and I can hit the road and tour a number of colleges she’s interested in applying to in the fall.  But until I have a few days away from the office, here’s a report of what I’ve been doing on my (not) summer vacation.

  1. Completed three of the six hours of graduate work I’m taking this summer–School and Community Relations down, Quantitative Research to go (eek! says the liberal arts major).
  2. Dug up the second set of now-dead barberry bushes from the new backyard flower bed and replaced them with double pink knockout roses, a specimen I hope proves more suited for the location.  I’ve never had trouble with barberry before, but two attempts at four bushes each led me to admit gardening defeat.
  3. Made up for my lack of successful shrub growing by finding several significant deals on plants now that the weather is really heating up in Suburbia.  I scored the aforementioned roses and some ornamental grasses and asparagus ferns I picked up to add to my containers for half price.
  4. Actually submerged myself in our backyard pool (completed just in time last fall for the weather to turn too cold to swim) and then progressed to floating about on a raft while reading. 
  5. Read The Devotion of Suspect X, a great psychological thriller from Japan (completed partially as described above).
  6. Sent two kids to camp for a month.
  7. Managed to cook dinner multiple times in one week–a record after my dismal performance in this area at the end of the school year.  Tonight’s offering, Summer Minestrone and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Yummy and very helpful in using up some of the zucchini and other summer vegetable I acquired at this month’s farmer’s co-op. I made the soup pretty much as is with the exception of following the suggestion to add the fresh spinach to the bowls prior to ladling in the soup rather than adding it to the soup itself and adding some garlic in with the onion and a bay leaf and some oregano and pepper for seasoning. 

Looking back, June hasn’t been so bad after all.  But I know what will be better–next week, when vacation is a reality rather than a state of mind.

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