New Year’s UnResolutions

Sure New Year’s was a few months ago, but as you may notice, none of my resolutions include posting my columns in a timely manner.  Maybe next year for that one.

Written Jan 2, 2014

Happy 2014! With every new year, as soon as the kids stop blowing those noise makers in my ears, I start hearing people talk about the “R” word.

Resolutions.

By definition, “resolution” means firmness and determination to take a course of action. But as soon as you tack on the words “New Year’s” in front of resolution, it all becomes a joke, as in “Oh ha ha…yes, of course you are going to work out more this year…for about two weeks…” Aren’t New Year’s Resolutions those plans that you make and then just completely discard by Valentine’s Day?

So this year, I’m making some un-resolutions. (And no, that is not technically a word…yet.) I hate to say I’m resolute, because well, plans change, and things come up. And when it comes to unresolved, I’m quite good at that. I have plenty of unresolved projects in my life. In the last month alone, I’ve created an astonishing number of unresolved projects all over the house while Christmas took a priority.

Theoretically, when the holidays end, I’ll have all sorts of time to start fresh and tackle a few projects in the new year. Here are some of my Wintertime Unresolutions:

Paint the Kitchen Cabinets
The first time I walked through this house, I thought “If I bought this place, I’d paint the kitchen cabinets white right away.” We’re sneaking up on two years in this house, so I think I’m finally ready to take on that “right away” project.

I actually did start painting the cabinets about a month after moving in, starting the project at about 11 PM, when I finally had some quiet time. Obviously, I was way overtired if I thought I should drag out the paint to start a home improvement project two hours past my bedtime. I did paint for an hour or so before bagging the project for months on end.

This past spring, I primed a few more cabinets one afternoon. But when that winter snow finally melted (at the end of May, I believe), all the indoor projects ended and all attention went to outdoor projects. Make hay while the sun shines…or paint the porch, in my case.

Currently, when people look at my cabinets with about 1/4 covered in the streaky primer coat they tentatively ask, “Is that how you are going to keep them?” Um, no. I just thought it’d be nice to really drag out the ugly transition stage for a really long time.

Currently, my cabinets are a classy mix of half streaky paint and half dark wood.  Be it resolved that the cabinets will actually get painted this year.

Currently, my cabinets are a classy mix of streaky primer and dark wood. Be it resolved that the cabinets will actually get painted this year.

With a frozen world outside and my youngest kiddo sneaking up on three, that seems like the ideal time to tackle that kitchen.

Paint the Girls’ Room
When I moved in, I also thought, “I’ll paint the girls room ASAP.” And of course, you can guess what’s happened. The girls’ favorite colors are blue and purple, but the current walls are orange, brown, and dark green sponge painting…pretty much the opposite of those favorite colors. For an added touch, the room also sports a wall paper border that is partially missing due to an industrious baby who liked to help out with home improvement while stuck in her crib. Apparently, she didn’t want the border, either.

When I get that kitchen done, the long-neglected girls’ room is next on the list.

Read Three Books
In the course of the year, I fairly easily read 500 books. Sounds impressive, right? And of course, many of those books are the classics. Classics, as in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harry the Dirty Dog, Green Eggs and Ham, Goodnight Moon…you get the picture. When it comes to adult literary selections, though, I’m really lacking.

I hate to say this, but in some ways, majoring in English partially killed my desire to read. I regularly cranked through 100-200 pages of intensive reading a night. Remembering all details, characters and plots while making inferences and identifying underlying themes burned me out for quite some time. Just when I really started liking reading for enjoyment again is about the time that babies arrived on the scene. And no surprise, sleep deprivation and increased work load aren’t really conducive to reading novels.

My modest goal this year is to read three books. (I won’t say “adult books” because that leads people to thinking that I shop for my books in that run-down store on the wrong side of the tracks.)

Three books in a year seems like a laughable amount when I’d read that much in a week in college or in the summer during high school. However, three books is a vast improvement to the half of a book that I read on my own this year. How embarrassing.

I found some new reading inspiration, though, on the latest trip to Montana. I brought home a small stack of books from Grandma Grace’s collection, and seeing them makes me want to sit down and curl up with a good book at night. And best of all, I won’t rack up any library fines.

A new little stack of books from my husband's Grandma Grace is the inspiration for reading books for myself again.

A new little stack of books from my husband’s Grandma Grace is the inspiration for reading books for myself again.

Looking at my list, I realize my un-resolutions are pretty minimal. That is the point. In my head are easily another 20 big projects that I’d like to take on in 2014, but for now, I’m starting fairly simply. If life taught me anything in 2013, it’s that things don’t always go as planned. So I’m starting with just paint and books.

Throw four young kids into that mix, and that seems like plenty of opportunities for un-resolutions for the start of the year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Advertisements

Making Butter for the First Time, Courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder


I learned a new skill this week thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Ok, to be honest, Laura Ingalls Wilder provided the pioneering spirit, and a search on the internet provided all the concrete instructions I needed.  It all started with a bedtime story.

My current bedtime book for our kids is the classic Little House in the Big Woods.  When I was a child, my sister read many of the Little House books to me, starting when I was in kindergarten. Even though I was only five at the time, the stories in the book resonated with me, and I have strong memories of so many of the details in the chapters as I reread them now to my kids.

Last night’s reading was no exception.  We piled into my five-year-old son’s race car bed, four kids and a mom, reading before bedtime.  My two little ones practiced gymnastic feats, leaping off the tail end of the bed, while my five and six-year-olds listened.  Last night we read the butter-making chapter.

As I read, my kids looked at the drawing of Mary taking a turn churning the butter.  I read about cream sloshing in the butter churn, using bits of shredded carrot to tint the pale winter butter, and molding the finished butter with imprints of a strawberry and leaves, “Laura and Mary watched, breathless, one on each side of Ma, while the golden little butter-pats, each with its strawberry on the top, dropped onto the plate as Ma put all the butter through the mold.”  I always loved that part.  It was just like I remembered.  (Books are nice that way.)

Then I had an epiphany.  I stopped reading and said, “Hey, do you want to make butter tomorrow?”

Yes!  We have an abundance of cream in our fridge after a stop at Kappers’ Big Red Barn in Chatfield, Minnesota, a local dairy that sells their milk and CREAM in half-gallon glass bottles.  We sipped away a quart of cream already in our morning coffee, making Half and Half suddenly seem downright watery, but we had plenty of cream left for a little butter project.

So today, I did what every person in 2012 does when they want to make butter for the first time: head to the internet.  I found a great ten-minute butter tutorial video on YouTube, and I was set.  I took a pint of cream out of the refrigerator, and let it sit out to reach room temperature by the time the kids came home from school.

Three kids eager to help (for a little bit, anyway).

My three-year-old son put the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid mixer.  (He’s been cooking for two years now, so it’s fine.)  With all of the kids gathered around, we fired up the mixer and watched the cream become whipped cream: “Ooh, Mom!  Let’s just stop and eat the whipped cream!”  Not a bad idea, but we kept with our original buttery objective.  Whipped cream began to “fall,”  got clumpy and a bit watery, and then in a matter of seconds, there was a complete change.

Almost in an instant, the mushy mass separated, and there at the bottom of the mixer bowl was a pile of liquid (buttermilk!), and clinging to the beaters were chunks of butter!  Eureka!

When the butter separates from the liquid, turn off your mixer.

The whole process of turning cream into butter took maybe five minutes   Of course, when the magic moment of butter creation happened, my kids had already lost interest and I had to call them back into the room.  We make things in the mixer all the time, so the whole process looked fairly unremarkable.  We turned on the mixer and it made something.  Yep, just like always.

No, kids, this is different!  It’s amazing!  It’s BUTTER!  Even though it happened just as all the recipes said it would, there is still that bit of magic in doing something on my very own for the first time.

Fresh buttermilk, ready to use in baking.  One pint of cream yields approximately one cup of butter and one cup of buttermilk.

I poured the buttermilk into a jar to use later in pancakes.  Then just like I saw on the video, I pressed the butter with a spatula, working out the remaining buttermilk while rinsing it in cold water.  Salt added, I gave it a taste, and then another taste or two.  In a side by side comparison between store-bought butter and freshly made butter, there is absolutely no contest.  Fresh butter has a rich, full-bodied flavor, tasting like whipping cream in butter form (which, of course, it is).  Store bought butter tastes flat and bland by comparison.

Thank you to Laura Ingalls Wilder for the butter inspiration.  Making something for the first time is immensely satisfying.  I am still truly amazed that something that we use so often is really so easy to make.  I had no idea.  People make homemade bread, sure, but homemade BUTTER…wowee cazoweee.  And the funny thing is, with a good mixer, it’s extremely easy.  I made butter in less time than I need to cook a frozen pizza.  Who doesn’t have that much time to play around?

After my pioneering butter foray, am I converted to always making my own butter now?  No, probably not.  But I definitely will be making it again.  Watching cream turn into butter is pure cooking magic, and we all need a bit of magic in our lives.

I am not a baking blog, but I do love food.  After all of this talk about making butter, someone out there wants to know how to do it.  Here you go!

Homemade Butter
2 cups cream
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Allow cream to sit out and warm to 50 degrees or so.

2.  Pour cream in a mixer. Alternative: pour the cream into a jar you can shake.

3. Mix cream until it separates: You will see yellow chunks of butter floating in watery buttermilk.  Takes 3-5 minutes in a mixer.

4. Drain off buttermilk, save to use in pancakes, biscuits, or just drink it like Laura Ingalls.  It’s good for you.

5.  Knead butter chunks together with a spatula for a few minutes, pressing out the liquid.

6.  Rinse butter in cold water while kneading with a spatula until the water runs clear.  Buttermilk left in the butter will cause it to spoil more quickly.

7.  Mix in salt (if desired).

Congratulations!  You made butter!  Enjoy.

Finished homemade butter with buttermilk in the background. Flavorful, fresh, and delicious.

Preventing Mutiny with Playdough

Written March 19, 2012.

My little Montana natives are getting restless. They tell me repeatedly they want to go home. “Home” as in our new house in Minnesota that they only saw for a few hours total, six months ago.

It was a full month ago now that their dad hauled most of our stuff to that house. At the time, when we loaded up two full trailers, we thought another two weeks here in Montana would wrap up all of his work projects here. And now, a month later, it looks like we are still two more weeks out from that elusive moving date. If you listen closely on a calm day, you might be able to hear our collective sigh from 1,000 miles away.

Understandably, my kids are getting tired of it all. We’ve all been living out of duffel bags for a month. When I set aside their clothes to keep here, I grabbed only long-sleeved shirts since it was the middle of February at the time. Now, with this stretch of crazily warm weather here in MT (and even hotter in MN, I hear), I’ve been accusingly asked more than once why I didn’t pack them some t-shirts.

And of course, when St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, they wondered why one month ago I didn’t think ahead to make sure that they each had something green to put on for that day. Silly me.

For several weeks they’ve been troopers about living in a mostly empty house, devoid of their usual assortment of toys and their own comfy beds and blankets. But a few nights ago, when the end of the day weariness kicks in and emotions heighten, my 6-year-old came to me with tears rolling down her cheeks, telling me that this house here “doesn’t feel like home anymore. Now it just feels like an ‘icky’ old house.” Then she asked if we could just move to Minnesota in the morning. I told her I wished we could.

It’s certainly not for a lack of effort that we are still here in Montana. My husband, Jarred, has been logging long hours for weeks. Every morning he leaves after breakfast and doesn’t get home until supper has been cold for a long time.

Three nights in a row, he didn’t get home until after the kids were already in bed. The older kids understand that he is working hard to finish his scale projects so we can move, but at the same time, they really just want their dad around to play with them. With their favorite live-action super hero gone installing scales until bedtime, hanging out in this empty house feels all the more, well, empty.

One morning this week when our almost one-year-old sweet baby spied Dad after not seeing him since breakfast the day before, she giggled and leaned toward him so he would hold her. Then she laid her head on his shoulder, grabbed onto his shirt with one hand, and patted his back with the other. That’s the sweet side of it all.

On the not-so-sweet side is the bickering and arguing of kids who are getting tired of the empty surroundings and miss being in a house that feels homey. My two oldest kids are just fifteen months apart, and being that close in age, they know each other all too well.

They sit next to each other at meals, and lately, they bicker and push each other’s buttons like a grumpy old married couple. “It’s not actually peanut butter and jelly. It’s really jam.” “Well, I say jelly.” “Well, that’s wrong. It’s jam.” “But I call it PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!!!!” Follow this actual exchange with an angry growl and one squeezing the other’s arm, and you’ve got an accurate picture of family meals these days.

After several of these days this week, I knew we needed a little something different in our lives. So, I dug in our kitchen cupboards and I made a toy that cost next to nothing and can happily engage them for an hour at a time. Playdough.

Growing up, I thought homemade playdough was a sad, sad excuse for the “real” stuff that came from the store. My childhood recollection of homemade playdough was a stiff, salty, grainy mass that dried out too quickly, was too hard to shape, and not pliable enough to roll. It was useless (and tasted terrible, I might add). We added water to it trying to fix it, and it became a thick spackle that probably wound up in the garbage.

Apparently, we didn’t have the right recipe, because now I absolutely love homemade playdough. The recipe I use makes a wonderfully soft, smooth, easily pliable dough that is a tactile dream. And the beauty of it is that it’s a two-for-one: a science experiment/cooking project in the kitchen, and a fun toy when the project is complete.

On the day we whipped up a batch of fun, my three oldest kids eagerly gathered around to stir together the dry ingredients in the saucepan before I cooked the batch on the stove. In bickering mode, they argued over who got to dump in what and how the mix should be stirred, but we forged ahead because I knew eventually they would be too engrossed in activity to argue.

The big kids stir together dry ingredients and argue a bit while Kathy held the baby and kept her out of the flour mess.

Once I cooked the dough, we divided it into baseball-size clumps. Then each clump got a few child-selected drops of food coloring, and they eagerly kneaded it until the ball became a satisfyingly bright color. My kids are into rainbows, so they decided we needed all the colors, including indigo and violet. I mixed and tweaked food coloring drops, and they smushed and squeezed away, until we had seven bright balls of playdough.

A complete rainbow of playdough colors, including indigo and violet. Thank you, Cat in the Hat, for teaching my kids the Rainbow Song. I sing it in my sleep.

Best of all, once we finished making the playdough, I turned them loose. Snakes, circles, birthday cakes, pizzas, and animals took shape and then got smashed into oblivion. Sure, our baby was fed a few pieces of playdough “food” by a kind two-year-old brother. But when the ingredients came straight out of the kitchen, the kid squabbling was gone, and quiet, industrious play reigned supreme, I called the playdough project a great success.

Contentedly slicing playdough cookies before rolling them into snakes.w

It cleans up nicely, too. And I mean it. I would not make a playdough that would smear in the carpet and hold up this eagerly anticipated moving process…

Kathy’s Peace-Making Playdough

2 c. flour

1 c. salt

2 tbsp. cream of tartar

2 c. water

2 tbsp. oil

food coloring

Mix dry ingredients together in a saucepan. Add water and oil. Stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and sticks to spoon. Cool. Add food coloring as desired, mixing by hand. Play until you feel happy. Store in an airtight container.

© 2012