Thursday, July 29, 2010

At the Beach

(Photo by my BIL)

I'll be back next week. :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: July 19th

The question this week will be: Did I make enough food? We'll have my 12 year old brother as a houseguest. I need to make enough so that he doesn't starve! At the same time, I need to run out of food by the end of the week when we go to the beach.

  • Monday: Grilled Marinated Flank Steak (freezer), brown rice pilaf, roasted vegetables
  • Tuesday: Picnic Dinner
  • Wednesday: Lemon Chicken with Carrot Orzo and steamed green beans
  • Thursday: Pizza at the park
  • Friday: Grilled Hamburgers, salt and pepper potatoes, baked beans, and steamed broccoli
  • Saturday: At the Beach
  • Sunday: At the Beach
  • Monday: At the Beach
Find more meal planning ideas at!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Landscaping Project: Eliminating English Ivy

The big home improvement project for us in 2010 is exterior-focused. We've lived here for almost 7 years without touching anything on the outside, partially because we were busy taking care of small children, but also because we weren't really sure what to do with our relatively small yard. As a result, our yard has had a relatively 'natural' look; my husband has diligently cared for all the plants present, whether or not they were weeds (we didn't really know what was a weed and what wasn't!)
One thing you won't see in the foliage pictured above is English Ivy. I spent an entire Saturday last year pulling up all the English Ivy in our front yard. In our area it's an invasive plant that takes over and prevent native species from flourishing. Not everyone see it this way; to counter the volunteer groups who gather at local parks once a month to pull ivy, Home Depot sells little pots of it in their landscaping section! One of our main goals in updating our landscaping was to take the yard back from the English Ivy and other invasive plants, and make our yard a friendly place for native species.

Recently my husband attacked the English Ivy in the back yard, which looked like this:

He pulled it all out, so now this area looks like this:

It's been so hot around here, the weeds don't even grow! We have a plan to install landscaping here sometime soon.

In addition to overtaking the ground, English Ivy likes to grow up trees and choke the life right out of them. We have a large black walnut tree in the back yard, and while we were inside having babies for the past 6 years, the English Ivy was slowly taking over. My son and I spent some enjoyable afternoons sawing and hacking at the English Ivy vines (some of them thicker than my arm) growing sneakily up the back of the tree. Now the vines up above have died out, and I've already noticed that the tree is flourishing more this year than last year.
I am determined to remain vigilant and stay on top of the English Ivy invasion from now on!

Some things we learned while pulling English Ivy:

  • When pulling ivy out of the ground, it was best to wait until a day or two after it rained. The roots are mostly shallowly buried under the soil, and they came up quite easily when the soil was still a bit damp. Wear garden gloves and gently keep pulling to uncover more of the vine and roots without breaking it so that you pull up as much as possible.

  • When pulling ivy off bricks or trees, it's best to cut the vines at or near ground level. For thick woody vines, you have to actually remove a segment of the vine several inches long. If you just make a cut, it will grow right back together. (Ask me how I know this!) You should leave the vines on the wall/tree until they turn brown and die; then they will be much easier to remove, and will be less likely to damage the bark on your tree.
  • When pulling out a carper/ground covering of ivy, it helps to just roll it up like a big carpet. You will end up with a very large pile of yard waste! We had ours hauled away by the county rather than putting it out with the garbage.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's Barely a Recipe: Tomato Cucumber Salad

A few months ago I tried a little too hard to add more salads and fresh greens to my diet. I ended up with low energy and a touch of anemia. I've accepted that I need a significant amount of protein in each meal to make it all the way through the day without crashing, and a hard boiled egg and a few nuts on top of a salad aren't going to be enough for me.

I do still want to integrate salads into my meals, though, and this is the salad that I plan to continue inhaling until the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from the farmer's market run out!

  • Fresh cucumbers (1/2 cucumber per person)
  • Fresh tomatoes (1 medium tomato per person)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Basalmic Vinegar
I liked to peel just a few strips of skin off the cucumbers because apparently the skins contain a lot of fiber and nutrients. I halve them lengthwise, and the I scoop out the seeds with a melon baller (to make them burpless, don't eat the seeds!) I cut them into large chunks for this salad, or into sticks for dipping into hummus, etc.

I chop the tomatoes into large chunks. Combine with cucumbers in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and splash a little basalmic vinagrette on top. Stir to distribute flavors and serve immediately.

It's so good, and It's Barely a Recipe!

Fitness Goals Update for June

I'm feeling overwhelmed, but I'm still trying to stick with my fitness regimen!

Total attended in June: 14!

Total classes for 2010 as of 6/30: 73

I've already attended 6 more times in July, which takes me past 75 classes, which is half my goal for the year, so I earned the peppermint patties pictured above only a few days 'late'.

Right now I am trying to attend 16 classes total for July so that I earn a free tote and pair of flip-flops. I put this on my 'Wish List' when I cleaned out my brain,. I don't even like flip-flops, but nothing motivates me like a deadline with a reward!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Declutter Challenge June Update: Zip Zero

This is the most depressing post I've been procrastinating about writing.

I've been overwhelmed by the rest of my life, so I didn't get around to selling or donating anything during the month of June. Things are not looking too great for July, either, seeing that we are almost midway through the month and I haven't sold anything. We did send a carload of items to Goodwill, so at least that's something to offset the huge amount of artwork that my kids brought into the house at the end of the school year. (I don't even know where to start with that project! What am I going to do with all of this stuff? How on Earth do I decide what to keep and what to get rid of? How many of my daughter's identical pictures of puppies do I need to keep? According to her, we need to keep them all. Ack!)

I've got about a week to work with sale-wise, so maybe with some focus I can do a little something. I was doing so well with this and I would like to get back in the groove and continue meeting my monthly goal.

I'm learning new insights about myself, though. I can see that I had an expectation that I would be just as productive in the summer, and now I am realizing that I just want to take my kids to the pool. I hope to keep this new insight in mind for future summers.

What's Your Motivation? I'm Overwhelmed

Over the past few months I've been thinking about what motivates me, and so far I've written about how deadlines help me to focus and get things done. As our family has made the transition into summer, I have become completely overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything that is going on.

A sample of my thoughts:
  • School's Out! My son is finally home from all-day kindergraten as of 3 weeks ago. This is great, because now the kids are around more to go out and have fun together. At the same time, hanging out and having fun with the kids takes up a lot of time, and sucks away any inclination I have to be productive.
  • The Landscaping Project: Our big household project for 2010 is focused on the outdoors. We have replaced the front stoop, buried rain gutter runoff pipes, raised and adjusted grade levels to improve drainage, installed rain barrels, enlarged the driveway, etc. I've been working on this project for almost a year, and for the past 3 weeks our yard has been a noisy, dusty construction site. Although the stonework and grading steps are finished, we have yet to plant any actual landscaping. I hope to post more about this project in the coming weeks, as I'm really excited about it, but recently it has been incredibly stressful and time consuming!
  • Beach Trip Preparation: We are off to the beach near the end of the month, and I need to get a few things ready, including a meal for 24 of my closest relatives.
These are just a few of the highlights of all of the problems, projects, and plans knocking around in my brain (and my house!). Lately I've been feeling like I've been running in place; I've been lost between a long list of possibilties and feeble attempts to make plans for implementation.

Finally I had to sit down and just clean out my brain. I took a small calendar and started making lists. Not just one list, but numerous lists. Whatever came into my mind that I needed to do, wanted to do, or wished I could do, I put it down. I didn't try to schedule it for a particular day, I just put it all together on an older page. You can see a picture of what I ended up with above.

One list is the official 'Things to Do' list, literally listing all of the things I need to do in the next few days, whether calling or emailing someone, errands, or things around the house. I also came up with a 'House Projects' list, which had more detail about things I need to do around the house that are more than basic upkeep. I also had a 'Wish List' which simply listed things that I wish I could have or do, from the beautiful flower bouquets I saw at the farmer's market to making my own flower garden for cutting flowers.  I even had a list of 'Things to Buy', including anything from household items to birthday gifts. If something occurred to me, I wrote it down. If it didn't fit in any of the lists I had started, I started a new list.

Writing all of this down was such a relief, because it took the pressure off me to remember everything, and it allowed me to prioritize and consider everything that I could be doing to help  me decide where and when I need to spend my time doing things. As a result, I had a reasonably productive day yesterday and made quite a bit of headway in a number of different areas.

There's still a ton off stuff to do, though!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Menu Plan Monday: July 12th

Don't ask me what happened last week. :)

The plan for this week is as follows:

 Find more meal plan inspiration at!

Sweet Potato Biscuits

My kids hate sweet potatoes. I get around this by feeding them leftover sweet potatoes hidden inside these delicious sweet potato biscuits. We eat them plain with meals (since they already have half a stick of butter baked inside, why add more?) or I make little ham sandwiches out of them for snacks or lunch--no condiments required. I basically follow Paula Deen's recipe, but I've figured out a few shortcuts that make the recipe come together very quickly:
  • I freeze leftover mashed sweet potatoes in 3/4 cup portions, then defrost them as necessary.
  • I use Hudson Cream Self Rising Flour, which saves the steps of having to mix the dry ingredients together. This also resolves my reluctance to add 4 teaspoons of baking powder, which seems like a lot!

 Here is my modification of the recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups self rising flour (more because other dry ingredients are already added)
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar (Paula uses 2 Tablespoons, but I find that 2 teaspoons is enough for my taste. Don't omit the sugar entirely, as a small amount of sugar can enhance the flavor of a recipe)
  • 3/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2-4 Tablespoons milk (if needed, depending on moisture level of sweet potatoes)

In microwave-safe bowl, defrost sweet potatoes. Add butter and microwave until butter is softened, about 35 seconds. Mix butter and sweet potatoes with a fork.

In a larger bowl, measure self-rising flour and sugar. Add sweet potato/butter mixture and blend with pastry blender to form a soft dough ball (I use my hand). Add milk if necessary.

Turn dough out onto a floured work surface, coat dough with flour and press into a circle about 1 inch thick. Cut biscuit rounds and transfer to a baking sheet. Reroll remaining dough to cut additional biscuits. Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Feed them to your unsuspecting, sweet-potato-hating children.

This recipe makes approximately 12 medium sized biscuits or 2 dozen mini buscuits--great for a party snack!