Monday, April 26, 2010

A Good Visit

We had a great time last week with my mom visiting. It was too much fun being together to worry about petty items like paying bills or cleaning house, so now I have some catching up to do. But, we also did some cooking (read: my mom did some cooking) for my freezer and it will be so great to be able to pull out a casserole or a burrito. And of course Zack was super excited to see the island covered in cookies again.

We also did some awesome work on some of those sewing projects that I can never seem to get finished on my own. I'll work on getting some of those photographed to show this week!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Natural Gardener

Do you have a garden shop you just love?

We really like to go out to The Natural Gardener in southwest Austin. They have a fabulous demonstration garden (I didn't get very good pictures of it because they closed earlier than we thought they did) full of organically grown vegetables, an herb garden, a miniature vineyard and many other beautiful areas. They also have great animals to go look at - chickens, goats and donkeys. This week we went while my mom was here and had a great time looking.

Shops like this could get me fired up about gardening. But after the initial thrill of all the pretties fades, it turns out I love visiting the shop and seeing the gardens more than the actual gardening. Good thing James will garden and I can just cook with the results.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chiminea Season

Zack must have been scheming, waiting for the first chance to ask for a fire. I'm not sure if it's the fun or just the marshmallows that motivates him, but he loves for Daddy to fire up the chiminea. The evenings have been pleasant and cool, just right for eating outside with a little fire afterward (I would love for it to continue but after the days of rain we have had recently, the mosquitoes are beginning to make an annoyance of themselves again).

This year Sammy is old enough to get in on the fun. I thought he was only going to be eating graham crackers but it turns out that Daddy gave him marshmallows too (harrumph, said Mom!). Now they'll both be hooked!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

All-Bran Muffins

My sister was just telling me how her hubby thinks it's odd that in my family we think of these muffins as a treat: "but, they're bran!" he says.

I guess that's true, but these are a classic breakfast from our childhood. I just introduced these to my kids. James requested them because he loves them too. The kids were highly enthusiastic. Even leftover, Sammy was vibrating with the intensity of effort to get to his muffin as quickly as possible.

My mom made these all the time, at least that's how I remember it. She would bake them fresh in the morning and we would eat them with a fork, still hot, split in half and covered with butter and Karo syrup. Now, doesn't that more than compensate for the bran?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"This is the BEST dinner!"

said Zack.

And guess where this superior dinner occurred? That's right: IHOP.
Not fine food, you say? Well, you have a good point. There was no beef bourguignon (but then, there's usually none of that at my house either). And who can argue with a dinner in which both children are happy, eat all their food, and get free dinners? Yep, IHOP has Kids Eat Free all month. It's right by James' office and it's a pretty strong crowd pleaser.

But the BEST dinner? The BEST? Really? Please, don't hurt hurt me that way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Good Gift

See how I'm taking a picture even though my battery is charging?

My husband's brother got me a surprise gift for Christmas this past year: an extra camera battery. I say "surprise" because we usually try to make a few notes of things we're wishing for or could use and share them before the holiday. It's a bit awkward to hand out a list of desired gifts, but I think it's better than having no place to start when I'm trying to pick out a gift for a loved one during the press of the holiday season. This was something I hadn't ever thought of but my brother-in-law went out on a limb thinking I would really enjoy it. Boy, was he right! (Except, I guess he knew I would enjoy it because I often ran my battery out of juice and borrowed his battery... so I guess it wasn't much of a limb, huh?)

I've now gotten into a good routine of keeping the spare battery charged and with me, just like I always try to keep my camera with me. Now that my routine is working for me, I'm really loving it. I no longer get that disappointed feeling when the low battery light starts flashing three minutes into an event. I don't have to turn the flash off just to conserve battery (although I'd rather have the flash off, sometimes it doesn't work very well that way). I have the spare battery right here and and I can switch and keep going. I love being able to capture those moments that I would have missed.

This is a really good gift!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Everyday Life

Ok, it's possible that I'm just a huge sucker for this sort of thing, but I keep thinking about doing the "Week in the Life" project along with Ali Edwards (and many others). Well, not quite along with, because they are doing it next week. Next week I will have my mom visiting and our time and pictures will be wonderfully focused on that visit. But, I'm tempted to try to do this another week.

I am wondering is why this type of project appeals to me so much. I was unable to resist the lure of the December Daily album this past year and while I like my finished product, I was really frustrated to be finishing it in February after I was ready to move on to other stuff. But isn't that always going to be the case with creative projects? Finishing is harder than starting, right? So even though I like my little album, I'm not sure I'm glad I tackled doing it. Why then, do I find myself almost irresistibly (well, still resisting so far) drawn to what would certainly be an equally challenging project to finish?

I think it is because the everyday-ness of life seems to slip away so quickly. I am not someone who really mourns the loss of the baby-days of my kids. I really like it when they can do more and say more. But I am disappointed that I've forgotten so much. I don't mean just the sleep-deprivation-fogged newborn days, either. I can't really get a clear memory of the the baby and toddler days. Now Zack is about to start school and pretty soon his preschool days will be gone too. And I just don't remember! Both milestones (I have some of them written down, somewhere) and the everyday routine of what life was really like at certain stages - even when people ask, I can't really put the details together into a cohesive story.

I don't remember this type of detail from my own childhood either. My husband has very strong memories from the time he was two. I have vague memories punctuated by strong feelings. Wouldn't it be neat to have stories from my childhood, my mother's childhood, my grandmother's childhood written down and placed side-by-side with the little ephemera of daily life?

Elizabeth commented on a previous post about the idea of heavily documenting one day a year (as opposed to one week, as is the case in the Week In the Life project). My sister suggested I start there, and I think it's probably a good idea. Even if it would be hard to choose a representative day, it would still give me a snapshot of life, which is what I think I'm interested in.

Friday, April 16, 2010

More Dinner Al Fresco

We've been doing the dinner outside thing again. Maybe the first time of the spring season was just to work out the bugs, because it's been going fine. This night was especially cool and breezy, which felt great until it started raining on us. Zack was pretty amused to have to pick up his plate and run inside!

Overall, I think dinner outside is easier than dinner inside. I don't have to clean the daily coloring mess off the table, and I can leave the crumbs all out on the deck. Of course, then the coloring mess just stays out all the time, getting worse day by day. But with the crumbs, I think it evens out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Thank You Card

I've been trying to do this embossed resist technique that looked really cool (I used regular paper so I didn't need the gesso step - if you don't want to watch the gesso step, start two minutes in on the video). I didn't think this card turned out to be a masterpiece but it's plenty nice for thanking someone! I would like to try this a few more times with different inks and stamps and see what all I can make with this idea!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


It was a wedding work weekend for me. I am the church representative/coordinator for rental events at our church in downtown Austin. That turns out to be mostly weddings.

I realized I never write about my weddings; even though they can be quite interesting, it doesn't seems like it's usually my story to tell. This one was challenging because of a family tragedy the week of the wedding, but it was very beautiful. I thought I would at least share some pictures of the flowers!

Monday, April 12, 2010

1981 and 2010

Deanna, 1981

Zack, 2010
Don't these two photos need to go together on a scrapbook layout? One of the things I have realized recently is that the kind of scrapbooking I want to do is the kind that makes connections and tells stories close to my heart.

So far, I've done baby books, gift albums, and mini albums about trips or holidays. I have been thinking about what is going to happen when I get the baby books done. Although I love to make pages with pictures from a holiday or birthday party, I am not excited about the idea of trying to put all the events we attend in scrapbooks. I would always feel behind and I'd end up writing about birthday parties and not the things I want to write about.

These two photos are more the kind of thing I want to write about. My bookworm-nature was a major aspect of my life as a child and I see some of the same tendencies in Zack. His personality is so different in a lot of ways (so boy!) but I wonder how he'll be the same.

Special thanks to my sister who has been scanning our family photographs!!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

He's the King...

... of books, I guess?

It's a prestigious position around here. Better than king of ratty old recliners that I should have already gotten rid of.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Beef Bourguignon

I made something I've never made before: beef bourguignon. Although this looked mighty tasty back when I saw the movie Julie and Julia, I didn't actually consider making it. French food's a little intimidating to me. And there are so many versions of the recipe out there that I didn't have any idea which to use.

But last week we were at Costco (that bastion of fine and artisinal foods) and we tasted a beef roast with balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes that was really good. James suggested hopefully that I could make roast like that. I laughed, because I don't like roast and never make it, yet he never quits suggesting it. He likes nice traditional food. I like what has been called "weird food", although I tend to think of it as interesting food. I like strong flavors and new tastes. It occurred to me that maybe I could make a roast that was both strongly flavored and well, still roast.

I did want to at least try. James has been running even more than usual in preparation for an upcoming singing performance, but he's been making the extra effort to come home for dinner so that even though he's out late and I'm doing double-duty, we still have the family dinner time that we believe is so important. I was thinking of his extra effort when I made him his "bland fish" dinner he was so pleased with and thinking of it again when I bought a nice roast, not knowing exactly what I'd do with it.

I was thrilled to find a version of Beef Bourguignon in Everyday Food - now it wasn't intimidating at all. I know they call it "beef stew", but to me it's really roast with lots more flavor and the gravy already made. I will admit that while I was making it I was cursing the French ("leave it to the French to make roast this time consuming!"). It took a little longer than I had planned, but that's because I talked myself into also making mashed potatoes and a fresh batch of bread dough. Nothing about the recipe was difficult. There were no complicated techniques. The steps just took time to step through.

When we ate it I had to give the French their props: "Leave it to the French to make roast this good."

Anyone up for trying it?

The Everyday Food recipe is in the March 2010 issue but I have provided an altered version here. There are a few reasons I had to make changes: First, I believe it has a small error in that it tells you to drain off all but 1T fat after cooking the beef (there wasn't any to drain) and not after cooking the bacon (reducing to 1T would have been perfect). Also, 3 lb. of meat was just too much for our family. We want to have leftovers, but not so much that we get sick of eating it before it's gone! So, I cut the recipe in half (with slight alterations like keeping the full amount of garlic). Finally, I don't have a dutch oven so I used a skillet and then transferred everything to a baking dish. If you are trying this and you have a dutch oven, you can do everything in that one pot.

Recipe: Beef Bourguignon

1.5 T olive oil
8 lg. button mushrooms, quartered
1.5 lb. boneless beef rump roast, cut into 1" pieces
coarse salt and fresh black pepper
2.5 strips bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 T tomato paste
1 T flour
1.5 c dry red wine
1 c low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 lg. garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 lg. carrots, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
5 oz pearl onions
1T butter, cut into pieces
1T fresh parsely, chopped

Preheat oven to 350.

In a heavy skillet, heat 1/2T oil over medium-high. Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about 10 min. Remove and reserve until end of recipe.
Season beef generously with salt and pepper and add 1 T oil to skillet. Brown beef, in batches if necessary, and remove from skillet.
Cook bacon until crispy. Remove all but 1T fat. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 30 sec. Add flour and cook, stirring, 30 sec. Return beef to pot. Add wine, stock, bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boil. Use the liquid to get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then transfer to a deep covered baking dish.
Bake 1.5 hours.
Add carrots and onions and cook until all is very tender, 1-1.5 more hours. Add mushrooms 15 minutes before cooking is complete.
Finish with butter (optional) and parsley.

Good made ahead and reheated on stovetop or in oven. Can serve with roasted new potatoes.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Lettuce Harvest

James' garden is really churning out lettuce these days! It's very tasty and I'm enjoying it, but whereas earlier I was only picking a bit at a time so as not to decimate the crop, now we have much more than we can eat.

We harvested as much as we had energy to clean up and took it to my weekday church class. It was lovely to share.

Any other locals want some lettuce?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Playing around with Photoshop Elements

I recently purchased Photoshop Elements 8 and I'm excited to start using it. One of the things that is new to me is the "Actions". If I'm getting the gist of it, it's like a macro in Excel - using the Action automatically performs a series of adjustments on an image (if I don't have that right, chime in). I just installed a set of actions free from Pioneer Woman.

Check out the pretty results! The original is in the upper left; all the others are altered using the actions in her set. Can't wait to try some more stuff!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Funky Chicken Coop Tour

We spent Saturday morning taking in the eastern half of the Funky Chicken Coop Tour of Austin. We would have loved to see all of it, but ran out of time before we had to get Sammy home for a nap. If you wanted to see a little but couldn't make the tour, you can get a little taste of it by visiting the coops and garden at the Eastside Cafe, which are open for walkthroughs. We also saw the Green Gate Farms, a CSA in east Austin. The pigs and the gigantic rooster in the top two pictures on the left are from there.

It is so neat to see people working chicken ownership into their regular neighborhood backyards. The coops don't smell and the chickens aren't noisy (though a rooster would be). They eat the eggs and enjoy watching the chickens with their funny mannerisms. The owners were so pleasant with the kids and happy to share their methods. One even gave Zack an Americauna egg (the pretty blue ones)! Maybe someday that will be us - we can dream!

Monday, April 05, 2010


If this is our family Easter picture, does that tell the story of our day? As we were driving to church it occurred to me that this might be the only time we were all clean and wearing our easter outfits and I hadn't taken a picture. So this was the backup. And although we later got some pictures of all of us, this does tell a bit of the story: we were all happy and healthy, it was very good, and it was very busy.

We had a really lovely day. We enjoyed the brunch, egg hunt and worship service at our church so much and then we had a wonderful lunch and egg hunt at James' parents' house.

I want to show some pictures of our Saturday here as well, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. Hope your weekend was fabulous!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Quite the getup

This was a stay-in-jammies day for Zack. But that didn't mean it had to be boring! Oh no, he had on the full dressup combo over the jammies. Made me laugh, but he did not want to pose for a picture.

Friday, April 02, 2010

For Austinites...

The Funky Chicken Coop tour is tomorrow. These are photos from our visits last year. It was fun and we felt we were doing our part to Keep Austin Weird.

Check it out!

A Spring Salad

This was just an Everyday Food recipe that I didn't even make according to the recipe, but boy was it good! I made James a dinner that was mostly what I call "bland food" (and he calls "just right") so I had to toss in one zingy dish for my tastebuds. I'm sure you can look up the original recipe, but here's what I did. It was a great spring taste and Sammy liked it too (Zack was just medium about it).

Mango Cucumber Salad
2 small yellow mangoes, peeled, sliced off the seed, and chopped
1/2 of a medium cucumber, peeled, deseeded and chopped
few sprigs cilantro, minced
lime juice (half a juicy lime or all of a drier one)
2 t extra-virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


This boy loves money. Not in the root-of-all-evil way, he just wants some for his pocket. He has no concept of buying things or what money is for, but as soon as he could say words he started saying "Pocket. Money-pocket." and pointing to coins. Nothing (well, except cookie-bites) makes him happier than being given one coin for each pocket. He's very proud of them. I think he believes his pockets are fulfilling their true purpose if he can put a nickel in each. Or more likely he thinks it makes him like Daddy!