Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chili Cook-Off, and other stuff

Our church had its 5th Annual Chili Cook-Off today. We usually do more of a "fall festival" with board games and such in the evening, to give people a wholesome alternative to going trick-or-treating, but since this year it fell on a Sunday, we just did the chili cook-off after the morning service and had church tonight as usual. 

All in all, we had an attendance of 66 in the morning service, with a total of 11 chilis entered. Solomon was the only one in our family to make one, and he got 5th place - which I thought was really good considering that he has never before cooked an entire "entree" from scratch by himself. Two of the judges were from our family, but neither of them awarded him any votes, so I know it was impartial. Miriam in particular loved her big brother's chili - she had three bowlfuls of it for lunch, and two more for dinner, and kept telling him how good it was.

We always have a panel of five judges - the pastor (my husband), plus four other judges who are randomly drawn from a pool of names of those who did not bring a chili. The chilis are assigned random numbers, and are served to the judges out of paper cups labeled with those numbers (that way if other family members are on the judges' panel, they will not recognize their own slow cooker and automatically vote for their relative who entered it). The judges award 3 points to their first choice, 2 points to their second choice, and 1 point to their third choice.

Prizes are only awarded to the top 3 winners. Our first prize, as usual, was a $50 gift certificate to Honeybaked Ham, and it was won by the same person who won it last year! One of his daughters took second place. Must be something in the family. 

Other than the chilis, our church members also put away huge amounts of hot dogs, corn muffins and saltines, spiced cider, and pumpkin spice cake. I am always amazed at how quickly food disappears at church events like this, and especially at how much single young men can put away. My guess is that with their usual bachelor fare, they have to "fill the hump" when real food is served! :)

Anyway, it was fun. Our next big church activity is the watchnight service on New Year's Eve.

This afternoon, I was still in a fall-like mood (the 90+ degrees outside notwithstanding), so Solomon and I made apple dumplings while the other kids were napping. We served them with homemade caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream - yum! 

It's hard to believe another week has already passed. In fact, it's hard to believe that this year is coming to a close - seems that it just started. I have a lot of loose ends to tie up in the next few weeks before the baby comes. As long as (s)he waits until after Thanksgiving to arrive, I should be able to get it all done. Nothing big, mostly just homeschooling, decorating for Christmas, making gifts for the kids, some other crafts like making advent calendars for everyone, precooking and freezing about two weeks' worth of meals, and getting some stuff ready for the home birth and the new baby. Hm, now that I wrote it all out, the list seems longer than it did in my head... :)
Have a wonderful week with your family!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Today's to-do list

- bake corn muffins for chili cook-off at church tomorrow
- help Solomon make chili 
- make desserts for chili cook-off (apple crisp, apple doughnuts, plum cake)
- cook enchilada lasagna for dinner
- make Southwestern egg rolls to use up leftovers that need to go
- bake bread - 2 batches (5 loaves)
- finish school work w/ kids
- clean out and vacuum van
- clean house
- wash, dry, and put away 3 loads of laundry so I won't have any more to do this weekend

And yes, I am still 34 weeks and 3 days pregnant, i.e. very slow and easily tired. Slow and steady is my motto today. I'm not actually kidding myself into thinking that I will get every last item on my to-do list done, but it's nice to have goals! :) Some things, like the laundry, cooking, and school work, have been going since this morning so we are getting somewhere. The kids also cleaned out the van already, so now I "only" need to take it down to the car wash and then vacuum it (which takes almost an hour, because I haven't done it in weeks and the van is so dirty). 

I am trying to remember back to last weekend, and the peaceful serenity of our hiking trail. 

We started off with a picnic lunch at the trailhead.

The kids started digging around in the creek bed (which was dry in this spot). Solomon found a piece of petrified wood and was very excited about that. He put it in his backpack, but when we got home and he wanted to put it in his rock collection, it was gone. Understandably, he was sad about that, and I prayed that it would turn up. My hope was that it had fallen out in the van, rather than on the hike, although finding something in the van wouldn't be much easier than out in the wilderness. Lo and behold, a few days later, I found the petrified wood in the van on the floor! Solomon was thrilled.

This rickety metal "bridge" was there to cross a barbed-wire fence. Every pregnant woman's dream come true!

Becky playing in the creek. She got her shoes and socks all wet, and was not too happy about that on the hike back to the car (about a half hour's walk away). 

Did I mention it's still hot around here? I think we are in the low 90s today. Which is much cooler than it has been, but still... too hot for baking and cooking all day. 

Well, my short break is over. Back to work I go.

P.S. My wonderful friend from church just called and said that she will come over later today and help me get all the stuff for the chili cook-off ready! I don't know what I would do without her help with these church activities!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A fun fall craft

The November issue of Family Fun magazine featured instructions for a really cute horn of plenty, complete with felt fruits and vegetables. 

This project is very easy, especially because Family Fun provides the pattern free online. Most kids who have any basic skills with handsewing would probably only need help with cutting the felt out, and stuffing the fruits and veggies with fiberfill before sewing them up completely. The stitch used is a simple running stitch.

I decided to make this project by myself, though, so as to have a surprise to pull out on Thanksgiving to give to the kids that will keep them occupied for some time while I spend the morning preparing the big dinner. It took me the last two nights to complete two sets (one to keep, one to give away), so it's not a very time-consuming craft - but it definitely took me longer than the 1-2 hours that the magazine suggests it will take. It was fun and relaxing, and I can't wait to give it to the kids. 

The fruits and veggies are: pumpkin, potato, apple, onion, green bean, carrot, turnip, tomato, pear, butternut squash, acorn squash, corn on the cob, eggplant, and garlic.

One huge benefit was that this craft cost me nothing. I already had a big basket of felt in my sewing room, almost all of which I have been given for free through freecycle over the years. But even if you have no felt at all, sheets of it sell for $0.20 at most craft stores, and one sheet in every color used will easily make several sets (or leave you with lots of leftovers for another project). The only exception to this is the light tan for the cornucopia itself, which uses two sheets of light tan.

By the way, there is almost never a scrap of felt too small to be worth saving. I keep mine in a gallon size Ziploc bag, and most of the pieces for this project were made from those scraps.

If you already have embroidery floss, thread, or anything of the sort in the house (as I did), you will likewise not need to spend any money on that part. If you decide to buy floss, one skein costs about $0.30, and you could even use just one or two colors in that case. 

Knowing our kids, they will spend hours playing with this, and I imagine so would most children. There is something special about playing with felt toys - they just feel so nice. Which makes this craft a great return for a few bucks, or a nice gift for a child with a fall birthday. I highly recommend it!

Monday, October 25, 2010

A quiet Monday

Today has been a quiet day around here. The kids enjoyed playing in the cooler weather outside while I got some chores done this morning, and baked 2 batches of hamburger and 1 batch of hot dog buns. Then I worked with the kids on their school work from 10 am until lunch at almost 1 pm, by which time they had all finished their "desk work" subjects such as math, English, spelling, handwriting, etc. They did some more reading and studying on the country of the week while the girls napped. I used that time to whip up a batch of peanut butter granola. It was super easy and quick, and very yummy! I think this will be great for breakfast tomorrow morning, on vanilla yogurt, with bananas sliced into it.

The country we are studying this week (and probably next, as there is so much to learn) is Egypt. We are learning about the Nile River, the Sahara Desert, pyramids, Ancient Egypt, Cleopatra, Hatsheput, Tutankhamen, Joseph, the ten plagues, and modern Egypt. One of the suggested activities is to make a mummified chicken (out of a real chicken) - EWWWW! The directions say: "The entire process of changing the salt to dry out the chicken could take up to 6 weeks (or longer) to dry thoroughly. When it is dry, it should not smell." So, it it takes up to 6 weeks to dry, and it does not smell once it is dry, doesn't that mean the chicken will smell for up to 6 weeks? I'm sure that's what I want on my counter when having a baby at home - NOT!

I am SO not doing that! I think I will stick with this pyramid cake instead.

This is the last of the African countries we will learn about. All we have left of our "Galloping the Globe" curriculum is Australia and Oceania, which we will finish up with before our baby break in three weeks. Once we start school again in January, we are going to go through "Cantering the Country" for the rest of this school year and all of next. I am very excited about starting that because I have found several companion books to go along with the curriculum used at thrift stores and library book sales, saving me a ton of money (even if purchased used on Amazon).

I'm hoping to upload some pictures later tonight of the hiking trip we took on Saturday. It was beautiful!

Friday, October 22, 2010

From the old country

Every once in a while, I get to feeling homesick. Not for Germany in particular, nor for Hungary, but really just any place that I have lived before for any length of time. Which yes, in my case, was various European countries for the first 21 years of my life. 

When I am pregnant, this often manifests itself as food cravings. Today was such a day. Thankfully, we live only about 15 minutes' drive from a German meat store, which in turn is only 5 minutes from a German bakery. I usually do one big loop and hit both stores in the same day.

Tonight for dinner, instead of cooking, we had a traditional German meal of cold cut meats, vegetables, and some really yummy bread. Growing up, this is what we ate pretty much every night. Breakfast is very similar, except it's less heavy on the meats and has more of an emphasis on jams/jellies and other sweet toppings (like Nutella - mmmmmmmhhhhhh!)

I love how Becky is just looking at her Daddy adoringly

The bread - the rolls were fresh and hot out of the oven.

The meats - just a very small sampling of what the meat store carries.

The veggies - tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, and sweet mini bell peppers

Sweet little Miriam with the sandwich she fixed herself.

Other times, especially around this time of year as we are approaching Christmas, my homesickness manifests itself as a longing for craft magazines and materials like they can only be found back in the old country. Thankfully, the above mentioned stores carry a wide selection of these magazines as well. Today, I bought a special edition that is full of great ideas for everything to do with Christmas, from decorations to advent calendars to handmade gifts to cookies. 
In one of the older issues I came across while organizing my craft supplies last week, I found detailed directions for how to make a wooden puppet theater, as well as six crocheted puppets to go along with it. I immediately knew the kids would love to get this for Christmas. In fact, I had been thinking about making them a puppet theater, but had not yet looked for any directions on how to make one. 

This particular magazine, though from Germany, is in English because it is the edition they sell in the UK. I found it in a clearance bin at a local yarn shop. Isn't it just adorable??

The puppets are: a king, a queen, a princess, a knight, a jester, and a dragon.
The king I made (still missing the stick).

It took me 3 nights to make the king after the kids were in bed. Because this was the first puppet I tried, it didn't come out looking quite as good as I wanted it to, but I'm sure the kids will be ok with it. All the puppets use the same basic pattern for the head and body, so hopefully I will get better at it.

Anyway, this is what I do when I realize I am thousands of miles away from any of my relatives, the places I grew up, or the foods and crafts I used to enjoy over there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Becky's 2nd birthday

Becky turned 2 yesterday. It's hard to believe it's already been TWO WHOLE YEARS! Funny thing was, as I was up late the night before (technically, very early on her birthday) finishing making her birthday gifts, she woke up and came out to the office where I was sewing. When I checked the clock, it was just past 1:30 am, almost exactly to the minute the time when she was born. I turned down the only light that was on, and we cuddled for a few minutes as a little "private" birthday party. Her little head smelled so sweet and still so baby-like. I laid her back down and then got ready for bed myself. When I went to lie down she climbed up into my bed and slept nestled in my arm for the rest of the night. She hasn't done that in months, so this was a nice treat for both of us.
Her big brothers were all so excited, they woke up early on her birthday. Well, they wake up early every day, but it seemed especially early because I have not been getting as much sleep as I should. We opened presents, and then Becky got the best birthday treat of all - it started raining! Yes, to us, that is a special and rare treat. It was pouring, yet the sun was shining brightly - it was so weird! The kids went outside to play and got all dirty and muddy, while I fixed buttermilk pancakes and Orange Julius for breakfast. The latter was a first for Becky, who loved it so much she had three full cups of it.

Still in her jammies. The poor baby has been getting eaten up by mosquitoes every night, so now she is wearing her brother's old coverall jammies to keep the bugs away

Thanking her brother for his gifts
A felt sandwich kit!

What is this?
A princess dress!

An ironing board and iron. I was kind of surprised she knew what is was, since I don't use my iron very much! :)

A grocery cart full of felt foods.


grocery bags


After breakfast, the kids (who don't have to do schoolwork on birthdays) played together nicely, both indoors and out. It kept raining off and on, and since my floors were already in bad need of mopping, I didn't mind the constant in-and-out too much. Instead, I just sat on the sofa and did nothing for a while. Imagine that! Right around that time, the mailman dropped off a package and a birthday card for Becky, both from her Grandma in California, so there was more excitement and another toy to play with. 

What is in this box?

Can you tell how much she liked it?

Becky had a special surprise for me, too. After breakfast, she announced that she had to use the bathroom. She sat on her potty really nicely for like 10 minutes, and went both #1 and #2. Interesting, huh? :) It was a huge deal to her. Maybe I can get her potty trained before the next baby, after all?!?

For lunch, I made "tortilla dogs", which is basically a hot dog wrapped in an uncooked flour tortilla, and then fried. I told myself that serving grapes and pears on the side greatly improved the nutritional value of the meal... :) Does ketchup count as a vegetable?

In the afternoon, the girls napped as usual. Once they woke up, instead of a birthday cake, we made a cookie pizza topped with whipped cream cheese, fruit, and shredded coconut for the "cheese". I'm guessing it must have been very good because the kids ate almost two whole pizzas in a matter of minutes.

Sweet girls


Daddy didn't get back from an out-of-town trip until the late afternoon. Becky was thrilled, and kept following him around like a little shadow. She really adores him!

With church and all, the kids got in bed late, as they usually do on Wednesday nights.  It took me until just before midnight to get the dishes, laundry, and other chores done for the night, and then I realized I had never yet eaten dinner. It was well past midnight when I finally got to bed. In spite of the tired start today, we had a very good and productive morning of school work. It's hard to believe we are almost done with the seventh week of school already - time is flowing by!

They always, always, always grow up too fast.