Monday, June 20, 2011

Officially Summer

I have a bowl that was given to me last year for my birthday. It's a regular bowl...not very big, not over the top pricey....BUT it makes me smile. It speaks to me. (whatever that really means!) So, maybe it doesn't say actual "words", yet somehow whenever it catches my eye I hear a little voice in my head whispering " Be Happy".

Do you know what makes my smile even brighter?? What makes me 187 times happier?

When I look in my bowl and see this......

Oh yeah, baby! Summer is officially here in my backyard!!

I can hardly wait until my bowl looks like this.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Knowing what you're eating....

We just had one of those yummy "can name all the ingredients" meal. I love serving those kind up for the family!

Tilapia was drizzled with olive oil and baked with lemon slices, salt and pepper. Peas were picked just minutes before and quickly sauteed and then I just added some garlic. Black bean salad with veggies and a lime dressing was made this morning. Coleslaw (cabbage, carrots and celery) made without mayo has dried cranberries and almonds added for flavor and added nutrition. Fresh fruit was just washed and added sugars.

No gluten or dairy in sight. No mixes or overly processed stuff. No drab single colored meal.

Yes, it was my kind of meal!

So, what's on the menu at your house?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting Excited About Harvest 2011...

It's that time of the year again! All the vegetable plants are safely in the ground, the sun is warm and the days are long. Woohoo!! We were late getting the summer veggies in the ground this year because I underestimated my spring harvest time, but they seem to be taking to the dirt like a duck in water.

Speaking of water....I wish it would rain every once in a while. It was all kinds of wet around here until I planted one week ago. Then, BAM, the waterworks from the sky shut off. Personally, I don't see why it just can't rain every night from 1 am to 4 am. Yep, that would do the trick! Sure wish we could arrange that. For now, I'm spending my evenings in the garden watering and weeding. Hopefully soon, I will add harvesting to that list. Of course, it is awfully peaceful and quiet in the garden...

Hmm, maybe I don't need the rain!

My oregano has grown bigger than I ever imagined. Need to look up recipes using oregano! Have any to share?

We have at least 4 different pepper plants this year. I see signs of peppers on all of them.

I just love when cucumbers grab onto things. It's so cute. I know these will be coming out my ears soon. They usually do really well, here.

See those tomatoes already growing! Yum! The two in the back are sweet 100's. They should be called sweet 1000's, because they produce UNBELIEVABLE amounts of yumminess.

Just trying to be patient and waiting til mid July.

These peas are so delicious. We picked a bowl yesterday and ate them all.

I had to pull this one because it was too crowded. Well, that and I wanted to see how they were coming along. It actually looks like a carrot!

No garden is complete without the squash section.

We have other herbs and veggies growing, as well. I'll share more as they grow and I discover new ways to prepare them.

How is your garden going this year? What do you do when certain vegetables overtake your kitchen table?

I'd love to hear!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What I was looking for.....

I am going to get a little wordy here, but I really can't help it. I'm about to share about a wonderful organization that we've had the privilege to be involved with and honestly I'm being brief here tonight. Click on any of the RED underlined words and it will take you to their website where you can learn more.

My older boys were involved in scouts from a very early age and all three went on to become Eagle Scouts. I loved the Boy Scout program and always wished that I could find a similar organization for Kristin. Yes, I know the Girl Scouts are out there....but for various reasons I just wasn't comfortable with being a part of their organization. So, we never joined. About 8 years ago, I read about an organization that had begun a few years earlier that sounded exactly like what I wanted. Alas...there were no groups in my area.

A few years ago a friend, who has boys in Boy Scouts plus a younger girl, mentioned her desire to find a good program for her daughter. I shared with her the group I had read about. She looked them up and program in our area. Fortunately for me, this friend never lost hope and kept checking the website on and off. One night last August, she called me up barely able to contain her excitement. YES, finally a new group was going to start that wasn't too far from us and WE were going to join!

So, this past school year, Kristin and I joined the American Heritage Girls. This program has been everything I wanted for her. She has met new friends, been encouraged to grow in leadership, gained confidence, learned and earned many badges, been exposed to new experiences and has found that she loves more things than she thought. This past year she went on her first camping trip, paddled her first kayak, built her first fire by herself, led her first Color Guard, performed in her first campfire skit, and for the first time had opportunities to speak in front of an audience larger than her family. There were many other firsts too numerous to mention, but all were positive and in one way or another helped my little girl mature.

Badges are a part of the AHG experience. They are broken down into 6 frontiers (Our Heritage, Personal Well Being, Family Living, The Arts, Science and Technology, and Outdoor Skills) and the girls are encouraged to work in all 6 areas. This way they are exposed to various topics and skills and often find that they are interested in something that they really didn't know about before. At the same time, they can work on badges that they already know they like, but are encouraged to explore a little further and to share that knowledge with the other girls. Kristin worked hard on her badges and set goals for herself. She had a notebook with all the badges she wanted to work on and a little schedule of when she would spend time on them. Later this week, I promise to share (with pictures!) her work on the Home Decorating badge. Wait until you see her project. I think you'll be impressed. I know, I was!!

AHG is a Christian based organization and they do not hide that fact. There are opportunities for the girls to work on religious awards for their denomination, they are also encouraged to serve in their community and some of the badges even have the girls dig deeper into their faith and their relationship with the Lord. Meetings begin and end with girl led prayer and the leaders have all signed a statement of faith. Like I said, they do not hide it.

The girls move up levels according to their grade/age. At each level they have an opportunity to earn what is called a level award. Normally, the girls have 2-3 years at each level to earn this award. (they receive it as they are bridging up to the next level) However, this was the very first year for this troop. Amazingly though, several girls still decided to work extra hard to earn this award. Kristin was one of those girls. She had to earn at least one badge in each of the 6 frontiers that I shared above. She also had to perform service hours, attend special events, visit the older girls' meeting and she had to plan and carry out a special event for her troop. Kristin joined up with one of her new friends, Rachel, and together they planned, organized, promoted, carried out and cleaned up after a Memory Maker Badge day for the troop. What an incredible learning experience for them.

We are very proud of her accomplishments this year and I can tell that she is as well! Tonight was the Troop MD 1208's Court of Awards. As much as I love my girl and as hard as I work to help her learn and grow, I couldn't have given her that self esteem and sense of accomplishment on my own. This evening, she stood a little taller than her 5'6" body normally allows, she smiled a little wider than usual and she had a bit more confidence in herself as she received her badges, service stars, patches and Lewis and Clark Award.

Like I said at the very beginning, I have so much more to share about this program, but then I run the risk of scaring everyone away with a super long post. Instead, I will just share along the way as Kristin moves towards her goal of earning the Stars and Stripes Award. I have only great things to say about American Heritage Girls and would like to encourage everyone that has a girl....or knows a check into this program and spread the word.

Now, no more words.
Just take a look at some of our wonderful AHG girls enjoying each other, learning new skills and sharing a camping experience together.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

6 Recipes that SCREAM Summer to Me

I find that there is quite a difference in the types of recipes I use according to the seasons. I love to take advantage of fresh ingredients that are in season as they have a much better taste AND they are more affordable. Who really enjoys what they call "tomatoes" in the grocery store during the winter? Another thing that dictates the types of recipes I consider is the weather. Let's face a soup that takes 4 hours isn't quite as appealing in the blistering heat of August as it is in the bone chilling frost of February.

Last night while we were eating dinner, I pulled out a notebook and started quizzing the family on recipes for the summer. What were they looking forward to eating? For some reason, I had a mental block going on and was feeling all kinds of stressed out just thinking about menu planning and grocery shopping this week. After dinner, K and I pulled out my big disorganized recipe binder and went through pages of favorites that had been stored (stuffed) between the cover. Now, I'm not so sure why I had the temporary lapse into freak-out mode, because there were some yummy recipes in there calling my name and waving the summer friendly flag.

Lucky you, I decided to share my top 6 'Can't Wait' to make again Summer friendly dishes!

6. Black Bean Salad with Lime Dressing: This one is so incredibly good. I like to make a big dish of it and then we pick on it for lunches and even snacks during the week.

5. Thai Turkey Lettuce Wraps: My whole family loves these so I have to triple if I even want a chance of having leftovers for lunch! I do actually serve this during other seasons, but they are great for a summer meal when it's so hot you don't want anything heavy. I usually make some rice and cut up some fresh fruit, like pineapple, to go along with the wraps. Oh, and if you have a Trader Joe's close by, look for their Thai Lime and Chili Cashews. They add some extra wow to this dish and I'll admit we don't stick to the amount called for in this recipe!

4. Quinoa Taco Salad: This recipe never fails me. I add the black beans, avocado and tomatoes. This is another one that I like to double and then use the leftovers for lunch. I think I could make this weekly and be happy about it!!

3. Hawaiian Burgers: Well, I don't have a link for this one, but the recipe is quick and easy so I'll share here.

Hawaiian Burgers
2 lbs. ground turkey
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 T low sodium Soy Sauce
2 cloves garlic minced

2 scallions chopped
1/2 c. hoison sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil.

Mix together and form patties. Grill. Also, slice fresh pineapple into rings (or you can use canned) and grill them. Add a grilled pineapple ring on top of each burger. Delish!!

2. Cilantro Lime Dressing: While this isn't a dish, it is a dressing worth making anytime! Because of this very recipe we intentionally bought extra cilantro plants for our herb garden this summer. My 12 year old pretty much inhales this stuff and any salad it's drizzled over. (and that's a good thing!) I've even drizzled it on my rice and veggies before.

And now for the number 1 recipe on my can't wait to make again and let the sun blaze down on me list....

1. Pineapple Black Bean Rice Salad: It's on the menu for next week and I can hardly wait. You can eat this as a side or main dish. Throw a couple of ears of corn on the grill or maybe grill a few skewers of shrimp and let the feasting begin.

So, what are some of YOUR favorite summertime recipes? I'm always looking for fresh ideas and maybe I'll even add it to my "a little more organized this yesterday" recipe binder!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Leaving them out...

Way back many years ago when I was a kid I loved visiting the library. I'd checked out as many books as I could carry each and every time. That's something that hasn't changed over the years and I find homeschooling helps feed that book monster living inside me. I've noticed that K seems to love the library as much as I do and frequently enjoys settling down with a good book. That makes her mama very happy.

One of the curricula we use for school is My Father's World (which I cannot say enough good things about!!) and they encourage using the library to check out books relevant to what you're studying. They suggest putting them in a basket and have Book Basket Time when the kids just go and spend some time reading and going through the books. We use to have a basket, but lately we've just been putting them on a shelf. Consequently, I've noticed we don't seem to really spend as much time going through the books...and that is a shame.

So, the other day I had K pull them out of their "hiding place" and put them right smack in the middle of the dining room table. And we left them there! (leaving a random pile of books scattered across a table is not something I normally do!)

However, I noticed that when you leave them out....

...more of this goes on without you having to ask.

K would take her lunch out to the table and before I knew it her nose was buried in a book or two for the next hour. I don't mind that disruption to a school "schedule" at all.

In fact, she wound up reading a lot more than I expected.

Good informative books like these....

(although I don't think I needed a book to know that!)

Oh, yum.....not! K's review was both thumbs up.
She said it was about Japanese holidays and their traditional foods that they eat. It made her really start looking forward to Christmas! I'm going to have to go check out this book!

Lots of information in this book that pretty much enforced what we had just gone over. Don't you love it when that happens. Really helps them remember things when it's repeated in a different way.

She found this one interesting....and gruesome all rolled in one.

This one was a little rough, because she was reading it before we even talked about Japan's history. Reading about all the dynasties and trying to even GUESS how to say the Japanese names was a little frustrating. We'll review it after we've had a few more days under our belt.

K says this story was very good and then she proceeded to tell me all about it.
I won't spoil it for you.

(again...I don't think I needed a book to know this! I do love their titles, though!)
This series happens to be a GREAT series. K has enjoyed the three that she has read. The other one was You Wouldn't Want to Live in a Medieval Castle.

(note: I just went and looked at some more titles from this series...and now I'm going to go check the library system. Good summer reading material for my little history buff!)

By the way, K has been quiet for the past hour. I called her to my computer to ask her opinion on a few of these books. She walked out here carrying the above book. Yes, she's been laying on her bed reading. (this mama heart is really gonna burst!) She reviewed the individual books I shared and recommends them all. I think I'm going to have to continue just...

...leaving them out!