Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Secret for Happy Kids with Just a Few Toys

The principle here is simple and relates to other areas of life:  keep something out of sight for a little while and it becomes new and exciting when you get it out again. (We are embarrassingly like magpies, yes?)  Like seasonal clothing, or even the seasons themselves, or summer tomatoes, or toys.  Along with the rest of America, I assumed that children were happy with lots of fun toys.
No. No no no. No, they are not.

 I have learned from living with my children and watching other peoples' children (and I would lay money that scientific research backs this up); lots of toys overwhelm children both in play time and clean up time.  They don't use the plethora of toys to play in new and exciting ways every day.  Instead, they grow jaded and beg for new toys, which obliging, doting adults give them.

But no.

All we have to do is pack most of the toys away, unseen, and then rotate the toy selection every so often (every month? every week?  whatever you have energy for).  I have one shelf in the basement and one shelf in an upstairs closet dedicated to this.

She's saying "burrrr" (bear)

This post is coming from a recent toy upheaval at our house.  Phoebe is developing rapidly (talking! crawling!) and her baby toys were too babyish.  So I found little-kid toys in storage and started sorting them with her in mind, but my big kids fell on the toys with literal cries of joy.

I was astounded because I had put the stringing beads and Fisher Price toys away because they outgrew them.  But no - just having the toys out of sight for a few years made the little-kid toys interesting, fresh, and absorbing for my big kids.

We do not have a kids' play room at our house - we have little stashes of baby toys in most rooms and that's it.  The big kids have some toys in their bedroom and some in the playhouse outside.  That's it.  The rest are in storage and I have renewed determination to rotate toys to keep the fun fresh.  Because I do not want to drown in toys because they're usually ugly, plastic, and a sign of over-consumption.

And besides toys, we also have lots of books and the raw materials like tape, paper, cardboard, stuff in the recycling bin, and let us not forget the entertainment of cooking up an edible mess in the kitchen or the almost-helpful mess of cleaning the front porch with the mop and hose or going to the park or playing with the bunny.  You see what I mean?  I have little tolerance for plastic objects made just for children's entertainment.  I want to keep that stuff to a minimum.  Your thoughts?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Dinner: Holy Cow! It's the Easiest Beef Roast Ever

I have a fair amount of experience in slow cookers, thanks to the cookbooks I have edited and the fact that I own and use two cookers.  I like simple recipes, but even I was surprised at the simplicity of the beef roast recipe Zoe posted.  And I know that meat can turn silky in the long moist heat of the slow cooker, but even I was surprised at how succulent the roast turned out from just this:

a beef roast
salt and pepper
1/2-1 cup red wine (or water)
1 chopped onion
and I added some chopped mushrooms because I'm trying to use up a 3-lb box (my husband knows what to bring home from business trips!).  Cook on High for 6-8 hours in the slow cooker (I think mine was more like 5 hours - it was still great).

My roast was probably 3 lbs. and I used at least 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper.

I pulled the meat apart a little bit when we got home from church, and pushed the marrow out of the bone into the juicy deliciousness. I had put potatoes in the oven on timed bake, then I cooked and buttered some garden green beans from the freezer, and served it all with some pepper cabbage (a vinegar-based coleslaw).

Well.  That was an eminently satisfying Sunday dinner, starting from when we opened the front door after church and smelled that beef.

Later in the week, I heated up the leftover roast and juice with a sauteed onion.  Then we spooned it over homemade French bread with a slice of cheese and called it French dip.  And I raved all over again.  My family is going to be seeing a lot of this beef because it is easy, tasty, and did I mention it's so easy?

Of course, you could fiddle with it and drop some rosemary in the juice, or add barbecue sauce, or maybe use part soy sauce - early in this blog I had great success with a roast in soy sauce.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"The farm wife hoists the family flag"

A friend read this poem at our women's retreat in March, and I loved it so much.  It speaks so gently of traditions and generational differences.

I thought I'd add the photos of my new "Sweet Honesty" hankie that I found at my favorite thrift store.  I love its colors and vintage charm so much that I'm using it as a scarf for now.

The farm wife hoists the family flag

Eve got off the bus in tears the day her third grade teacher
scolded her for using a hankie.  "It's not sanitary," she said.
Miss Pauley had no notion of what a handkerchief means to us:
reusable tissue, wash cloth, gripper of lids, wiper of smudgy
glasses, emergency bandage, keepsake we carry to the grave.
Peekaboo with a hankie triggered Eve's first laugh, and later she
sat through sermons watching Grandma Yoder fold a flat square
into a butterfly or a mouse.  Now Eve does that for her sister
and knots Ruth's Sunday pennies in a corner like a hobo's sack.
She irons and stacks all the hankies in our drawers
and brings a bandanna drenched with cold water to her dad
who ties it round his neck. Last Christmas she gave me
a set of four lacy kerchiefs embroidered by her own hand,
each with my initials and a leaf or flower to signify the season.
Straight from a city college, Miss Pauley could only count
the virtues of a Kleenex. "Like a lot of things, hankies
grow softer as they age," I said, using one to wipe Eve's tears.

--Shari Wagner, printed in the Christian Century, September 16, 2015

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dilled Carrot Sticks

I usually don't save the brine when a jar of pickles is done.  But this time, I saw a trick in More with Less that worked great.

The recipe called for lightly cooking carrot sticks before putting them in a dill pickle brine to marinate as fridge pickles.

Well, I took a shortcut by putting the carrot sticks directly in the brine, directly in the microwave and nuking until the brine was steaming.  One of the primary features I look for in a microwave is interior height so I can stick canning jars in there on occasion.

 Then I allowed the hot jar of carrot sticks to cool on the counter and refrigerated them.  They didn't even last two days because they were so popular.

Any other clever ideas for pickle brine?