Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Curse of The Amish "Friendship" Bread

In the spirit of Missions Week at our church, let me introduce you to a strange, puzzling ritual practiced by many homemakers far and wide. . . . . . .

The Curse Gift of Amish Friendship Bread

Oh, it starts innocently enough.  One sweet friend, shoving a plastic bag of mysterious goop and a piece of paper in your direction, with a half-crazed plea of, "Here!  I have some Amish Friendship Bread Starter!  Would you like one?"

Unwittingly, in a moment of weakness, dreaming of fresh, warm cinnamon bread, you accept the gift.

Little do you know.

The theory is that you keep the bag of "starter" in your kitchen and follow the instructions to. the. letter.  Ten days later you not only bake perfectly yummy bread, but also are able to pass on bags of this "starter" to other friends, who can then begin their own journey to Amish goodness.

The reality is somewhat different.

First, the ominous instructions:  "Do NOT use metal spoons.  Do NOT use metal bowls.  Do NOT refrigerate.  ONLY the Amish know how to make this starter. . . . . "  You read, cross your heart, and promise to obey lest the Amish Vampiress of the Tribulation visit her wrath upon your kitchen.

You place the bag in the corner of your kitchen, and promptly forget all about it.  Until, of course, you realize that the thing is about to explode open due to the fermentation process.  Frantically, you let the air out and promise yourself to pay more attention to the instructions.   Each day, you dutifully mash the bag, massaging the magic elixir, all the while ignoring the taunts of your dear husband, who wonders why anyone would subject their "friends" to this strange custom.

Day 6, you feed the beast.  Let there be more fermentation!  Let there be more gas bubbles!  Let there be more guilt, since now I have 6 days of my life invested in this bag of goop!

The mashing continues; the excitement builds. You lose count of the days, just knowing you have to mash and and mix the beastie each day, lest it come to smite the kitchen with a curse. 

You wake up one morning.  Mind you, it is without fail the morning of the busiest, most insane day you have had or will have again for the next six months**.   Stumble into the kitchen, pour a cuppa, glance in the corner, and realize. . . .

It's Day Ten.  D-Day.

Yup, on the day you can least afford to, you Must Make The Bread.  This is non-negotiable.  Don't ask what would happen if you waited one more day.  No one who has made bread on Day Eleven has ever lived to tell about it.

Inwardly cursing the Amish lady who thought up this method of torturing Englishers, you mix and bake the bread.  Carefully, of course, following the directions to the letter - the directions which include making extra bags of starter to pass on to your friends . . . . . . .

Pull the bread out of the oven.

Realize that you're 20 minutes late for your first appointment, and you won't even be home to eat it. 

Inwardly promise to never, never, NEVER accept a bag of starter again.

Except for the bread . . . . .  it was really yummy.  Very good.  Delicious, in fact.  You really must have some.  I insist.

(insert maniacal laughter here. . . . . )
*Ahem*  Would anyone like a bag of starter?  

**(In my case, the day you must be out of the house for 13 hours because the carpet installation guys will decide to work until 10:40 at night.  True Story.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Sentiment's

Joy is. . . .  .

. . . . . Missions Conference.

. . . . . playing my bassoon in the church orchestra, after a long hiatus.

. . . . . hearing the work of a dear friend, getting the gospel into North Africa through SIM cards in cell phones.

. . . . . beautiful weather for yard clean-up.

. . . . . a daughter making lunch, so I can blog!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Overheard In My House, Episode 4

Tonight's Exchange:

Amy:  "Mommy, what's for dinner?"

Me:  "Your favorite dinner, sweetie!"

Amy:  "What's my favorite dinner?"

Me:  "You know. . . . . ,"  delivers with big smile and encouraging tone of voice, "Rice and Beans!"

Amy:  "It is my favorite dinner. . . . 'cept. . . .I don't like it very much."

(Guess what we eat for dinner fairly frequently?)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Book Addict's Best Friend: Delicious Library 2 Review

So, let's pretend you have - um - a LOT. of. books.

I mean, a LOT. As in, "I've-been-homeschooling-my-kids-for-twelve-long-years-and-I-could-open-my-own-library-because-I-love-books" lot of books.

And let's pretend that you're married to a guy who loves books even more than you do.

And now, let's pretend that you will have carpet installers descending upon your house in less than 7 days. In the very rooms where your precious books live on their well-organized bookshelves.  And you have to put said books into many, many, MANY boxes.

And let's add to that scenario another factor: once you box said books, you will very likely not see them again for a while (sniff) - maybe years - because you're about to move to a much smaller house.

Problem?  No.  Not anymore!

Let me introduce you to Delicious Library by the good folks at Delicious Company:

This amazing program for Mac allows you to hold up your book/DVD/toy/CD (anything with a bar code, really) and scan it using your built in iSight camera.  "Beep!" Your book appears on a bookshelf that looks like this:

Above is a shot of my bookshelf, labeled "Tapesty of Grace Year One".  On the right is the detail of the book I've selected, The Great Wall of China.  The neat thing about this is that you can select a tab, and see all the Amazon reviews for that title:


See the reviews on the right?  
Click another tab, and you can see related items:

And Delicious Library tells me which of those related items I already own!

I'm only scratching the surface of this amazing application.  One feature I'm really excited about is the "Loan" feature. . . . . I can add a Friend to my account, drag a book to their name icon, enter a date, and the book is "checked out" to them, with a reminder posted to my iCal.  At last, a solution for my "Hmm. . . who has that book?" moments!

I could go on and on about Delicious Library, but I'll end it here and allow you to play with the free trial download and discover the fun for yourself.  

If you'll excuse me. . . . .I'm about to open my own library.

And it's Delicious.

Friday, February 12, 2010

How to Paint a Laminate Countertop

or:  "The Long-Awaited Blog Post!"

Thanks to my dear friend Nancy, I have developed something of an - ahem - addiction to painting things.  Mostly walls.  Sometimes furniture.

And now. . . . . . .

Laminate countertops!!!

This is the best "before" shot I have. . . . . I may dig up an older one, since this is after Yurii redid the cabinets (he's amazing, btw!) and the sink is already out.  But you get the gist of the nasty 70s green, yes?
Yeah, I know, you're all thinking: "Come on, now - that's not so bad!"  Actually, it was.   
So read on for  a step-by-step explanation of how to go from ugly to fabulous!

Edited Friday morning:  Here's the only shot of the bathroom I had before the reconstruction.  And actually, this is AFTER some improvements!  The walls used to be a dark green.  I put the cream mats on the counter to tone it down - didn't help that much!  You can also barely see the old handles on the cabinets.  Note to self: remember to take better "before" pictures!!!

First step: Remove sink.  I found out that contrary to my hopes and expectations, not all sinks come out easily. Especially sinks that have been in place for over 25 years.  I did get to practice my superior caulk-removing skills, and even managed to scrape 35 year-old caulk from the rim.

Fun stuff, that.

Second step:  Sand the counter.  This will rough up the laminate so the primer sticks better.
Third step:  Prime the counter.  I used Glidden Gripper Grey primer - it was a bit cheaper than the others I found.  If I'm not mistaken, I got it at Home Depot for about $6.

The bathroom countertop after priming - already an improvement!

Fourth Step:  Paint!  I let the primer dry for 24 hours, then brought out the nifty can of Valspar Stone spray paint.  I had read about - and briefly thought about - doing a faux painting technique, but Yurii & I really liked the look of the stone, and thought it would be easier.  Cost of spray paint: about $4.50 with coupon.

Here's the first shot:  doesn't it look like E.T.'s house??

We had to tape everything off to avoid overspray. I couldn't bear the thought of Yurii's awesome cabinets getting messed up!  Oh, and a word to the wise - remember to ventilate, or you'll be feeling pretty. happy.

I ended up needing a second can, mostly to get the coverage I was looking for.  I was thrilled!  It even covered the metal trim at the backsplash. . . .here's a good up-close shot so you can see the texture.

We ended up letting the paint dry for almost 4 days by default, but I'm glad we did.  You want a good, hard cure before the next step.

Step Five:  Clear protective coat.  This was the scariest and yet neatest part of the whole project!  I had read and researched all over the internet, and finally decided to take the plunge and use Envirotex.
Advertised as "the equivalent of 50 coats of varnish", I bought this at Michael's with a coupon for 50% off - total for the two boxes I needed was $25.  Basically, you mix a resin and a hardener, pour it on your surface, spread it around, and sponge it up and off the sides to get an even coat.  Yurii poured, I sponged and spread.  A team effort!

Can you get a sense of the shine?  It was pretty amazing.

The trickiest part was at the end; you have to run a propane torch over the surface to pop the little bubbles that form.  We used a heat gun, and did end up getting a few bubbles in the front.  Due to time constraints we're leaving them go for now, but if we were being our normal perfectionist selves we would sand them off and run another thin layer.

NOTE:  When the people at Envirotex tell you to remove any taping before the final cure, they mean it.  I waited too long, and ended up prying little itty bitty bits of blue painters tape out from under the edge of the hardened resin, and then having to touch up the wall paint.

Lesson learned.  

Ready for the final result?
Ta dah!!!  Can you believe it's the same bathroom????  We are so happy with it.. . . . . 

See the beautiful shine!  Oh, and Yurii installed the cheapo faucet I bought (at Aldi's, go figure!) so now it looks really nifty.

Hannah liked it, too!

All told, including the faucet ($30), we spent around $70. 

So, if you have any ugly laminate lying around. . . . .

I'm available!

Note:  I got much of my information from this website.  You may have to scroll down a bit, but there's great stuff there, especially if you want to try to do your - gulp - kitchen counters!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Not the Blog Post I Promised

So, I promised myself (and a friend!) I would post tonight about our latest bathroom project (think: transformation of some U.G.L.Y. laminate).

And this weekend, I promised myself I would post about the nature of God's grace - is it really "enough"?

But I'm not.

Instead, I'm posting this:

I'm overwhelmed tonight with a gratitude that floods my soul.  My dear husband in his "Man Cave", working so hard to keep about 20 plates spinning in the air, pursuing God and Truth with his whole heart.  My sweet daughter, sitting at the computer back-to-back with me, rejoicing over a Classical Comparison paper, exultant triumph at making a terrific connection.  The beautiful, blossoming 11-year old, coming out from her room to exclaim, "I'm pretty much a failure at sleeping alone." 

The dog.  Our blessed, crazy, stinky dog, asleep on the floor after making me nuts today.

The top floor full of happy, sleeping children.  The one who is still quick to say she misses me, with just enough baby left to snuggle in my lap.  The strange man-child that makes his appearance each morning, happily babbling about this or that and still caring what my Momma-heart thinks.  The joyful bundle of energy who's going to work with the deaf and blind when she grows up, and shows me her latest sign language.

Oh, the times are hard.  Most of you know that.  I don't know where we'll be in a month, or two months, or a year.

But oh, God is good.  He is so very, very good. 

My soul is flooded with gratitude and joy.

Thank you, Father.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Have an Issue with Spices

No. Seriously.

Those long-time readers of my blog (all two of you!!) may remember this post, where I detailed my fatal substitution of cumin for cinnamon in a breakfast dish.

So tonight, I'm making two different dinners - lasagna, and a yummy recipe called Havana Hash - to keep in the fridge/freezer for the weekend. (Don't go getting all impressed with me - this is a RARE thing.)

The Havana Hash needs cumin.

I put it in the lasagna.


So when you hear Emily saying, "Mom, why does this lasagna taste like CHILI?"

You'll know the ugly truth.

I have an issue with spices.

(Note to Kathryn, who is probably reading this post.  Maybe if we don't say anything, no one will notice???  
Yeah. I forgot.  Tried that with the famous oatmeal incident, didn't I?)

Fun Friday: Math Games!

Last night, I attended a workshop put on by Foundations, our homeschool support group.  My dear friend Anna recruited a local educator, Vasha Rosenblum, to speak about using games in our homes to encourage mathematical thinking.  Her talk was terrific and inspiring, and I ended up spending only a little bit of $$ for a LOT of games!

Here are some favorites:

Amy and I started our morning playing, "One More".  Roll the numbered die, and put your chip on the circle that is "one more" than the number you see.  Great game for the Kindergarten crowd!

The next game of the day is called "Rio".  Talk about an easy way to practice multiplication facts!  Roll a 12-sided die, multiply it by your target fact, and place a chip on the card.  If the fact is already covered, you have to take the chip.  The winner is the first to get rid of all their chips.  

Emily and Hannah LOVED this - begged me to "let" them play three rounds.  Sure, girls! 
(Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. . . . . )
Last but not least, Five-in-a-Row.
This is a little more complicated to explain - the object is to get five tokens in a row (well, obviously!), but in order to place the token, you have to select two numbers in the smaller box whose sum is the number in the large playing square.   Get it?  

In the picture above, I'm using hooks to "circle" the target numbers (aka: addends), b/c I was too lazy to go find washers out in the garage :)  

Through all of this, we had some good math "discussions"; here are some examples:
"How did you add 19+27?"
"Can you do that a different way?"
"What were you thinking when you chose those two numbers?"
"How might you start differently next time?"

Get the picture?  Great games, lots of fun, and we played and thought and enjoyed math all morning!  The best part?  Most of these games are under $2.  Vasha sells them to the public, and you can visit her website for more information and to order.  

However, one more warning:

Your five-year old might decide that the dice are just the right size for puppy food.

And then might have an issue when you tell her, no, they're for math.

And you might have to find a very good hiding place for these very neat math tools!

And math might suddenly become the most popular subject in your day.

Consider yourself warned.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Growing Up and Moving Down

And what has Hannah been doing lately?
Well, to quote her,
"Mom, I feel like I'm growing up and getting more responsible."


She spent the better part of last Friday washing ALL of her and Amy's sheets, then cleaning and organizing her room, topped off with the Big. Bunk. Switch.

After years and years and YEARS of being on the top bunk, Hannah has moved down to the bottom.
And Amy, now almost 5-and-a-half, has graduated to the top.

The times, they are a-changin'.