Saturday, April 24, 2010

Perfect Punch

I'm not much of a punch drinker. I detest red punch or "fruit" punch, which never tasted fruity to me at all! I generally like to drink water, although you can occasionally tempt me with a rootbeer (shh) or strawberry lemonade. Sometimes, though, when you're having a party, you need something a little snazzier than water.

I learned this recipe from my in-laws years ago and it really has become "the" punch when punch is called for. It is sweet but light, not heavy on a hot day. To tell you the truth, I am mostly blogging about this today so that we all know where to find the recipe the next time we need it, as I always seem to be ransacking my cookbook cupboard for it when it comes up.

The basic punch is lemony, but I have added pureed berries before for both presentation and taste. I have also floated lemon wedges and blueberries because they look so delicate and tempting. Take a look at the recipe and then leave me a comment and let me know what your variation would be. I love new ideas.

Perfect Lemon Punch
  • 2 tsp. citric acid
  • 2 tsp. pure lemon extract
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar (I often use less to keep it on the tart side)
  • 1 gallon water
  • ice
You can get the citric acid and lemon extract at a baking supply. I've only ever made it in much larger batches than this and it is simple to multiply the ingredients-- just taste it and add the sugar gradually if you don't want it over sweet.

So tell me, what would your garnish be to this punch?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Literal Note to Reality TV

Dear Reality Show Contestant--

I am so glad that you get to follow your dream and grab your 15 minutes of fame by racing around the world, working out with Bob and Jillian, or living on grubs and tapioca on a deserted island. I have only one request of you-- if you want me to watch your show, please don't do what SO MANY of your peers in the reality show world do-- use the world "literally" incorrectly.

Don't get me wrong-- there are plenty of inane things said on reality shows. But this one is so pervasive and such a pet peeve of mine that I am literally ready to turn off the TV the next time I hear it.

So here's a little lesson for you on the world literally. It does not mean "I want to emphasize this thought." It literally means exactly what you said. Thus, "I literally flew out of the room" can only be true if you actually had wings or a small personal aircraft that allowed you to fly. Or "I literally died when I saw that I'd only lost 1 lb" means that you are now a ghost speaking to the camera in your monologue. "I literally carried the whole team to victory" means that you picked them all up and took them across the finish line.

So please, the next time you want to emphasize that you really mean something, please use another word. Really, practically, nearly, virtually are all good substitutes that mean what you are literally trying to say. And in the mean time, I will be literally gritting my teeth while steam practically comes out of my ears when I hear literally used in such an illiterate way.


Someone who can't help but edit everything:)

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Happy List

During our morning gospel study, Kimball and Henry and I each made a list in our journals entitled: Things That Make Me Happy. We then read 2 Nephi 11:4-7 to see what was on Nephi's "happy list".

Henry said as we opened the scriptures, "Let's see if we can get some inspiration from Nephi. Maybe I need to add his list to my list." I thought it was adorable and was, of course, precisely the point of the whole exercise!

Anyhow, I thought I'd share my happy list with you. This is what makes me happy today, although I reserve the right to add to it at any time!

  • children giggling
  • chubby baby legs
  • cuddling
  • strawberries
  • late night talks with Jared about our plans, hopes, dreams, future
  • going to the temple
  • having uninterrupted time to pray
  • Mack Wilberg arrangements of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
  • visiting out-of-town family/cousins
  • springtime
  • having my mom, sister, and in-law parents live locally
  • succeeding in keeping my temper with my kids
  • "I love you" and "thank you"
  • a good book and time to read it
  • hearing my kids bear their testimony
  • a weekend away with my husband
  • the way my toes look after a pedicure
  • when my kids are getting along and enjoying each other
  • General Conference
  • Jared's breakfasts (even better when I get to sleep in and wake up just in time to eat)
  • my covenants
  • The Plan of Salvation
What's on your happy list?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Learning to Learn

Monday was one of those homeschool days that I love: only a little seat work and a whole lot of learning. This is not what every day looks like-- we generally do a lot more seat work-- but I love days like this. I want to do more non-seat learning and less re-creating school around the kitchen table learning, although that has its place.
One of our main goals in homeschooling is to teach our kids to love learning and know how to learn independently, rather than just teaching them stuff. I thought I'd give you a glimpse, even if there were only a few pictures taken.

So, here is some learning that took place on Monday (and yes, it has taken me all week to write this short post. You see why I don't blog much these days?):
  • Kimball and Henry practiced the piano
  • All the boys did a chore and cleaned their rooms
  • We had early morning devotional with the entire family (we read 1-2 verses each from the Book of Mormon and sing our Hymn of the Week, then have family prayer.)
  • We had Book of Mormon study with just Kimball and Henry. This is one of my favorite times of the day. I frequently feel during our discussions that this is a big reason that homeschooling is right for us. We use Scripture Study for LDS Families and it has promoted wonderful gospel discussions and testimony building and bearing experiences. It gives me a chance to hear what my boys think about when they read the scriptures and what they feel. You need this book for your family, whether you homeschool or not!
  • We had a history lesson about the Rus (the first Russians) and about the first Russian prince to unify the Rus: Ivan the Great, and his grandson, Ivan the Terrible. After we read and discussed what our history book had to say (Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages), we pulled out Jared's matryoshka of the major Russian leaders through time and found the Ivans.
  • Since it was a rainy morning and our library book on CD is overdue, we decided to pop some popcorn, listen to our book, and work on a jigsaw puzzle of Russian matryoshki. It turned out to be a pretty hard puzzle, and the boys finally decided to do some math facts worksheets while we listened and I worked on the puzzle with Bronwen's "help".
  • Bronwen, Henry, and Ian all had gymnastics class, Bronwen's in the morning (Nana took her this week) and the boys' in the afternoon (Papa took them this week). Often I take them and we try to do some schoolwork in the form of memorization or free reading while we are there, but it is so nice when a helpful grandparent drives and I can continue learning with the others in a less distracting atmosphere.
  • I have started doing an activity/learning time with Bronwen (and Ian when he's home) called "Tell Me the Stories of Jesus." We sit on the floor and sing a couple of songs about Jesus, then look at a picture from the Gospel Art Kit that depicts something from the Savior's life and we talk about it.
  • While the other boys were at gymnastics, Kimball did some research online about snails and slugs. We have a real problem with them in our newly planted garden, and he decided to do a research experiment: to try out three different traps or deterrents and see which was the best. So he figured out which he would use and went to work making it happen in the garden. When the boys got home, they were enthusiastic about taking part in laying out slug traps of oatmeal and crushed egg shells.
  • They watched an Eyewitness video on Volcanoes, which Kimball studied a couple of weeks ago.
  • We went to the library and picked out books on their chosen independent research projects for the week (Henry's was martens and Kimball's was snails and slugs). We already have plenty of fiction for the big kids at the moment, but we picked up some picture books and some books about plants and soil for Ian to supplement the kindergarten science curriculum. (Just so you remember, Ian goes to public school for kinder this year.)
  • Ian and Bronwen dug (in a spot that will someday be a flower and herb bed but is now just weeds), looking for roots.
One of these days, I will get to writing a post or two about the why we chose to homeschool and the reasons that we love it. People have been asking me for two years to write such a post . . .

If you are interested in a follow-up to Jared's birthday, check the comments section.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

When Easter Sunday is Conference Sunday

So, twice a year in our church, we have what is called General Conference. It falls on the first Saturday and Sunday in April and October. We don't attend our regular church meetings, but instead tune in to a broadcast from Salt Lake City in which the leaders of the Church address us.

They discuss issues that are important, even vital to all of us. Each one prepares a talk independent of the others, without collaboration or assignment. And yet time after time there are recurring themes. The overwhelming theme this time was one near and dear to my heart: the importance of teaching our children the gospel, of showing them love, of strengthening our children and families. (If you'd like to listen to, watch, or read any of these talks, go here. They are available in almost any language you can think of.)

As we sustain them as prophets and apostles, called by God to teach us of His will, you can imagine how much these weekends mean to us.And once in every few years, Conference Sunday and Easter Sunday are one and the same.

That means that we don't go to church in our new Easter clothes. We watch the morning session in our pajamas and don't get dressed at all until noon. I love everything about it except for the lack of Easter family pictures.

So, I snapped a few candids instead last week. You can get a glimpse of what Conference looked like at our house. You will not see us all together in a photo, nor will my boys be in fresh pressed button-down shirts. Oh well! Maybe next year.

I love that you can catch a glimpse of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in that last one.
Can I tell you what a sucker I am for sister pictures? You knew that, didn't you?

We often give the kids their Easter baskets on Saturday, but this year we kept the candy to a minimum and since we weren't going to church we let them have them Sunday morning. Their candy was gone before I even got out of bed! We also borrowed an idea from a friend's blog and lined the hallways and family room with pictures of the Savior after the kids went to bed on Saturday. I loved it and will do it again. They loved looking at each picture and telling the story (or asking the story) of what happened there.

Look at this little muffin. Couldn't you just eat her up? I mean, really!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

From Russia, With Love

Fourteen years ago this month I returned from spending the better part of 18 months in Yekaterinburg and Ufa, Russia as a missionary for my church.

Two Siberian winters.
One hotter-than-I-expected summer.
Four phone calls home.
One 24-hour train ride across the snowy Siberian landscape. (From Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg.)
Nine companions.
Hundreds of Books of Mormon given away.
One girl-turned-woman, changed forever by her experiences there.
Hundreds of new friends made, many who entered the waters of baptism.
Thousands of prayers uttered.
One language learned well enough to speak, teach, understand, dream, think, and still make mistakes. A language to fall in love with.
Layers upon layers of clothing, hats, scarves, tights, long underwear, and fur-lined boots.
One future husband met (although I had no idea at the time.)
And countless bowls of borscht.

One day maybe I'll post about how I cried the first time I went to the grocery store after coming home. Or how I spoke to the German flight attendant (who spoke flawless English) in Russian. Or about h0w very strange it felt to be alone after having a 24/7 companion for over a year and a half. It's not easy to come home from a mission. I was so comfortable being Sister Johnson that I wasn't completely sure I wanted to go back to being Michal.

This is not a 30 minute meal, but it is worth the labor of love to have a bowl of great borscht once in a while. Today was one of those days: the weather was cool and overcast, I had nowhere we needed to be, and I had fresh cabbage and beets in my fridge from my organic produce delivery this week, plus some leftover dill from pickles we made a week or two ago. It had to be borscht.

Babushka's Borscht
Makes 8-10 generous servings

  • 8 c. beef broth
  • 2 lbs. chuck (diced) or stew meat
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 large beets
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • ½ head cabbage, shredded (about 3-4 cups)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes OR 2 cups fresh tomatoes peeled and diced
  • ¼ c. lemon juice (or juice of one lemon)
  • 2 T. fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, minced finely
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Sour cream and chopped fresh dill, to serve
Trim ends off beets and scrub gently under cold running water. Place in saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. When cool, peel and coarsely grate beets and set aside.

Dredge the beef in ¼ cup flour and brown in 2 T. olive oil in large saucepan. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a high simmer and add garlic, potatoes, and ½ c. onions. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add cabbage and cook for another 10 minutes. Add beets and reduce heat to low simmer.

In large frying pan, melt butter over medium high heat and sauté remaining onions until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly until lightly browned. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, dill, and parsley, and stir well. If too thick, add a few tablespoons of water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add to the broth, mixing well. Salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 15 additional minutes, stirring frequently. Serve hot. Garnish individual servings with a generous dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of minced dill.

Serve with dark Russian rye bread, or with the cabbage peiroshki that I made. But that's another recipe for another post.

Oh, Russia, how I miss you!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mars and Venus

I have a wonderful husband. We are alike in many ways: both strong-willed and stubborn, both determined, both on the strict side when it comes to dealing with our kids, poor things. We have a similar sense of humor (if you aren't considering boy/potty humor), we are passionate about our faith, and we like good food. We love Russia, the Book of Mormon, California Craftsman architecture, and our kids. But like all couples, we also have our differences, some more compatible than others. He likes ESPN, I like HGTV; he likes peace & quiet, I like the house teeming with family and friends; he craves continuity, I crave variety. And there is one difference that I doubt we'll ever agree upon: birthdays.

You see, I love birthdays. There is just something wonderful about having a day all your own (although, now I share mine with Margaret,) on which people you love make an effort to make you feel special. I love getting phone calls, cards, and Facebook messages on my birthday. I love going out to dinner with my husband, having a big family dinner with my kids, and going to lunch with girlfriends. I love birthday cake and presents. I love feeling loved-- after all, don't we all love that? And I love doing the same for my loved ones on their birthdays.

But Jared, you see, CLAIMS that he doesn't care a fig about birthdays. Now don't get me wrong-- as any good husband should, he knows how important birthdays are to me and does all he can to make mine special. But when it comes to his birthday, he always says we should just ignore it. And I am left in a conundrum. Does he really want me to ignore it? Is that what would show him love in equal measure to spoiling me on my birthday? Somehow, it seems like a betrayal to not celebrate the day that he came into the world. Doesn't he need a big, chocolatey cake, at least one present that isn't new socks, and the family gathered around to sing? Doesn't he want a birthday card from me full of all the reasons I'm glad he's mine?

Sometimes I resolve to respect his wishes and treat the day like any other. But I never can go through with it. Instead, I plot to find the perfect gift for him that he hasn't asked for. He says he doesn't want anything, but I'm sure that if I find the right thing, he'll be so overcome with joy and emotion that I'll know I've finally done it. And it never has worked yet. And I am left wondering if he spends his birthday humoring me by letting us celebrate it when he just wants to watch sports and be left alone for an hour or two.

So, what shall I do? His big day (in my eyes, only) is coming up on Thursday and I still am not sure how to handle it this year. I have plead for some direction-- a family outing, a dinner date, an afternoon doing whatever he never does because he gives all his time to his family or business, but to no avail. He won't even tell me what he wants for dinner! How would you handle such a stinker? If you really loved him and wanted him to be sure of that? And in what way are you and your spouse polar 0pposites? Leave me a comment, pretty please!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hot Tub

What happens when I forget that I left the water running in the bath: