Monday, May 31, 2010

Juicy, red summertime goodness

There is something so special and so satisfying about picking our own fruit right off the plant and either eating it just like it is or turning it into jam in our own kitchen. Yesterday, we did just that! Paul and I packed up the kids as early as we could and headed out to a little family-owned Shlagel Farms near Waldorf, Maryland to pick strawberries. What fun! The warm sun was shining and ripening those gorgeous berries practically before our eyes. Charlie, once she got past the mud that she had to trudge through, thoroughly enjoyed everything, as did silly Judah.
Together as a family, we picked about 6 quarts. After we'd paid for those and were heading out, Paul spotted a few flats of "Day Old" berries at a ridiculous rate of $20 per flat (8 quarts). So we snatched up one of those for making jam.
We were up to our armpits in strawberries yesterday (in my tiny kitchen, although it's way better now with the recent mini-renovation), and for a little while I wondered if I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Four hours later, with Charlie's help, I'd canned 16 pints of jam and frozen 6 bags of chopped berries. We also ate a huge bowl of berries, saved a quart for this week, and gave away 2 quarts.

Paul and the kids searching out their treasure

Here are the kids reveling in their bounty

Such a sweet little berry-gatherer

He had so much fun

The best berries I've ever eaten!

My first home-canned jam!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lots of catching up

There's just so much going on lately, that I'm just going to ramble to catch everyone up on it.

1. Meet the newest member of the Callahan family. After living without one for 6 1/2 years, we have decided to go ahead and sacrifice the cabinet space and put in a little 18-inch dishwasher! I've never really minded washing the dishes by hand, but if we ever sell or rent the condo, we think it might be a little more attractive with a dishwasher. So, here she is. Yay! Welcome, little one.

2. For some ridiculous reason, I decided that, even though I had my own two kids plus another, Thursday was a great day to paint the playroom. (What was I thinking?) Charlie and I were able to apply almost one full coat while the little ones napped, and everything was fine until Judah woke up and I left Charlie in charge while I took a shower. Yes, I had gated off the playroom, but Charlie was totally glued to the TV (since we've really been limiting her screen time, when she does get to watch, it totally captivates her) and didn't notice her sneaky little brother tip-toe in and grab a wet paint brush. To make a long story short, I had quite a mess on my hands, although it could have been much worse. The playroom looks great, especially since Paul finished up the edges and a couple small spots that needed some touching up. I'll post some pics as soon as I get done with what we're doing there.

3. So, we've been sleep training Judah. As a matter of fact, I think we've been sleep training him for his entire little 19-month-long life. Anyway, it's been a battle with this kid. It's just slow progress, and we are tired. We are more tired than I ever thought we'd be. For almost 2 years now, we haven't had more than a VERY sporadic full night's sleep. And by "full night's sleep" I mean more than 4 hours at a time. It's been excruciating. But every night is getting better and better, and I know that one day we'll be at his college graduation saying, "Wow, do you remember what a tough time we had with him in the beginning? When all he wanted to do was nurse and nurse and nurse and he wouldn't take a pacifier or a bottle and he didn't want to eat solids until he was 13 months old and he wouldn't sleep more than 4 hours at a time and napping for only an hour? And look at him now--graduating magna cum laude from Oxford, speaking three languages, about to publish his fifth book. And such a compassionate, loving young man. It has really paid off, hasn't it? I'm so glad that we raised these kids with Attachment Parenting philosophies and homeschooled." Okay, I guess I got a little carried away there, but at any rate, he's starting to sleep better, I'm nursing him only three times a day now, and he's eating three square meals a day plus snacks. For those of you that don't really know Judah, this is HUGE progress.

4. Ah, it's officially summertime. Not only because it's Memorial Day weekend, but because our neighborhood Farmers' Market is in full gear these days. I'd meant to bring my camera this morning and forgot it, but next week I'll be sure to get a few shots of the glorious strawberries, zucchini, onions, several types of greens, carrots, local meats and eggs, homebaked bread, and fresh squeezed OJ. And the tomatoes--ah, the tomatoes. I didn't know it until today, but one of the vendors sells seconds for making sauces and canning. I was so thrilled to hear this and bought eight pounds today at $.99 per pound and turned them into this:

Homemade tomato sauce

Homemade tomato soup
(Charlie had hers hot, but I had mine chilled--gazpacho style.)

If you knew me during college or shortly thereafter, you might be surprised that I've blossomed into such a Domestic Goddess. ;) But I'm trying my hand at canning. I've cleared a couple of shelves in my pantry for jars of homemade local food. I'm planning to do a little canning at a time on the weekends this summer and hopefully have enough to last through the off-season. We're going strawberry picking tomorrow and will freeze some berries and make jam with the rest.

I will be sure to some pictures of the kids, since it's been a while. Tomorrow's strawberry picking should be quite a photo-friendly adventure! Until then, have a great Saturday evening!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

To cloth or not to cloth

This post is part of the Real Diaper Facts carnival hosted by Real Diaper Events, the official blog of the Real Diaper Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to cloth diaper education. Participants were asked to write about diaper lies and real diaper facts. See the list at the bottom of this post to read the rest of the carnival entries.

Have you heard about the new line of Pampers that are allegedly causing chemical burns on the little bums of little ones? If you haven't, here's the story. Now Proctor and Gamble (who owns Pampers) has posted a ridiculous page on their website pitting "truth" against "myth." I'd like to take a minute to give you some real facts.
Let's talk about cloth diapers, shall we?

Pampers says:
"Myth: Cloth diapers are better for my baby.

Fact: Disposable diapers like Pampers were developed to offer babies benefits that cloth diapers could not meet. That goes beyond convenience to helping keep babies' skin dryer and more comfortable by reducing leaks and locking wetness inside the diaper in a way that cloth doesn't. As a result, doctors and parents simply don't see the same level of diaper rash that used to exist before disposable diapers."

The real facts are:
Disposable diapers contain traces of Dioxin, an extremely toxic by-product of the paper-bleaching process. It is a carcinogenic chemical, listed by the EPA as the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals. It is banned in most countries, but not the U.S.
Disposable diapers contain Tributyl-tin (TBT) - a toxic pollutant known to cause hormonal problems in humans and animals.
Disposable diapers contain sodium polyacrylate, a type of super absorbent polymer (SAP), which becomes a gel-like substance when wet. A similar substance had been used in super-absorbancy tampons until the early 1980s when it was revealed that the material increased the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
In May 2000, the Archives of Disease in Childhood published research showing that scrotal temperature is increased in boys wearing disposable diapers, and that prolonged use of disposable diapers will blunt or completely abolish the physiological testicular cooling mechanism important for normal spermatogenesis.

 Pampers says:
"Myth: Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposables.

Fact: In October 2008, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency published an update to its 2005 Life Cycle Assessment study on cloth versus disposable diapers. The update confirmed the earlier study's findings that there is no clear winner in terms of environmental impacts between disposable and cloth diapers in the U.K., once all factors such as water, energy, detergent, and disposal are considered."

The real facts are:
The instructions on a disposable diaper package advise that all fecal matter should be deposited in the toilet before discarding, yet less than one half of one percent of all waste from single-use diapers goes into the sewage system.
Over 92% of all single-use diapers end up in a landfill. No one knows how long it takes for a disposable diaper to decompose, but it is estimated to be about 250-500 years, long after your children, grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren will be gone.
In 1988, nearly $300 million dollars were spent annually just to discard disposable diapers, whereas cotton diapers are reused 50 to 200 times before being turned into rags.
Disposable diapers are the third largest single consumer item in landfills and represent about 4% of solid waste. In a house with a child in diapers, disposables make up 50% of household waste.
Disposable diapers generate sixty times more solid waste and use twenty times more raw materials, like crude oil and wood pulp.
The manufacture and use of disposable diapers amounts to 2.3 times more water wasted than cloth.

I know that generally people think that using cloth diapers is time-consuming and/or financially infeasible, but let me tell you that both of those thoughts are just not true. The fact is that cloth diapers are so easy to throw in the wash (even someone who has shared laundry facilities and has to walk outside to her laundry room) and not so much by way of financial investment (even for someone who has to pay to do her laundry). Once the initial cost of buying the diapers is met, the rest is only what it costs to do the wash. Think in terms of the long run what disposable diapers cost over the span of 2 1/2 to 3 years of diapering.
I personally think that most people who use disposables are just a little nervous about trying something so different from what everyone else around them does. I know that the choices and the washing routine can be overwhelming, but it takes such little time to get the hang of it. I really believe that if people really thought about the ramifications of using disposables, both to their babies' health and to the environment, that most would choose cloth over the convenience of disposables.
My goal here is not to judge or even necessarily to change minds (though that would be wonderful). My goal is to help give the facts and to help squash the rumors perpetrated by this ginormous institution that is not interested in the health and well-being of your baby. They are interested in making money and will post these ridiculous ideas in order to do so.

Besides, cloth are so cute, aren't they?

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Monday, May 10, 2010

On Mother's Day

Oh what a sweet day we had. I wish I'd gotten to this post last night, but I was so enjoying being pampered that I just couldn't pull myself away from my foot rub and many-course meal prepared for me by my little ones. Ha!
In reality, as the mother of small children, yesterday wasn't very different from any other Sunday. Okay, so there was the breakfast in bed, which arrived promptly at 7:45, as we had to leave for church by 8:15, and there was the extra long Sunday afternoon nap (thank you, Paul). Then there was the gorgeous brunch at Micki's house in between, followed by a sunny trip to the playground to let the little ones release their crazy energy. Otherwise, there was still the never-ending shushing during church, the many spats between the siblings, the dishwashing throughout the day, and the fatigue that overtook this mommy by about 8 o'clock in the evening.
And then there is this:
This, my friends, is my gift. Okay, so I helped buy it, but Paul chipped in, and he and Charlie stayed up late putting it together for me (a la Ikea), and I can tell you it has already made my life easier. :) This bookcase for my sewing corner (and also Charlie's art supplies) is one of those things that maybe I wouldn't appreciate nearly so much if I had a house with a sewing room (or even a laundry room, for that matter) and didn't understand how important it really is to keep things impeccably tidy and organized. But now that I have lots of experience living in a tiny city condo with two kids, I am just about drooling over this blessed oasis of organization. If I could marry this bookcase, I would.
Which is bringing me to my point, in a round about way, as usual. At times I find myself wishing for things like a house with a yard and a garden, or enough money to just stay home with my kids without having to keep other kids just to pay the bills. What I should be doing, instead of looking at those things that are just out of my reach right now, is to look at the wonderful things that I DO have: a really cute two-bedroom condo on the ground floor (as opposed to the one-bedroom on the second floor that we lived in prior to this one), the opportunity to be home with my kids (even if it means being stretched a little thinner due to watching other little ones, as well), a really great husband who works hard and loves to be home with us at the end of the day. When I count my blessings, (like this incredibly functional and aesthetically pleasing craft cubby), I'm so much happier than when I picture things that I don't have and "just can't live without."
And there is such virtue in going without. Not that I'm calling myself "virtuous," please understand. I just want to teach my kids the value of self-denial--the virtue of saying "no" once in a while to things that we would love to have, even when there is nothing inherently wrong with having them--and the art of loving the things that we have, even if they aren't our first choice.
I read another blog this afternoon whose author was paying tribute to her mother. It was a beautiful expression of thanks for all her "Mama's" sacrifices over the years. Giving of oneself is not always easy. But a mother is never done with giving of herself. It starts with pregnancy and birth, then nursing and endless nights of little sleep, then everything that follows with child-rearing. Caring for sick little ones, patiently teaching them at all hours of the day, when there is just no more to give. And that's when things are going right! My own mother is a prime example of the kind of self-sacrifice that makes a good mother a great mother--working long hours to send us to a Christian school and take us on great vacations. Even now, my mother spends money on all of us and our kids.
I hope that one day my kids will see me as a mom that made a few sacrifices but was overjoyed to do so. I hope that they will hold me up as an example, but not a martyr. It's a blessing to have an opportunity to give so that my children's needs will be met. And it's a blessing to teach them these important lessons in priority, virtue, and self-sacrifice.
Honestly, though, I have really great kids. Maybe I wouldn't feel this way if they weren't so beautiful. ;)

See what I mean?
Mother's Day 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pork chops and Winchester apples

This weekend we visited our great friends (thanks, guys!) in Winchester for the annual Apple Blossom Festival (or "The Bloom," if you're local). Such great fun with parades and other festivities. Riccardo, our friend and chef of Violino was involved with a cooking demonstration, during which he made several sauces and a beautiful apple cake with real Winchester Golden Delicious apples. As far as eating-out-of-hand apples, Golden Delicious is not my favorite, but these apples are great for cooking.
This cake is moist and dense yet had such a light flavor that it doubles as a breakfast as well as dessert. Riccardo was kind enough to send us home with a cake of our own. Here is a piece I sliced up for after the kids went to bed tonight.

Tonight I made pork chops (which Paul has been requesting for some time), adapting this recipe from Rachel Ray. I used the very same apples from Winchester. :)

Honey Mustard Glazed Pork Chops and Apples

1/4 C Honey
1/4 C Spicy brown mustard
1/4 C Apple cider vinegar
Splash of OJ
1/4 medium onion, finely chopped
A few dashes each of nutmeg, ground cloves, and ginger
4 Pork Chops
3 Golden delicious apples, sliced crosswise (with peel and core)
Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and Pepper

Heat grill pan or skillet to a pretty high heat (I don't have a grill pan, so I used a skillet, and it turned out great). Preheat oven to 350.
Combine honey, mustard, ACV, OJ, onion, and spices in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sauce thickens a bit. Should take about 5-10 minutes.
Coat chops in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Then pan sear or grill about 2-3 minutes on each side. Baste with honey mustard sauce and cook a minute or 2 longer.
Transfer chops to baking dish, drizzle any remaining sauce, and bake for 12 minutes.
Coat apple slices in olive oil and grill or pan sear for 3 minutes.
Layer chops and apples on platter and serve.

We ate local asparagus with brown butter and lemon juice alongside our chops and apples. Charlie and Judah ate about 5 spears each of this local treat and probably would have eaten more if I hadn't put a stop to it!