Peach-Pecan Ice Cream Adventures

My fourth Make it from Scratch challenge attempt was on-time in the making but delayed in posting.  You see, I spent my blogging time that evening eating it instead.  (And narrowly losing Bananagrams to my husband - but it was his birthday, so I guess he's entitled to the victory.)

My husband adores peaches.  So since we've been married, I've learned a lot about peach desserts.  I learned about peach pie and peach crisp and stewed peaches.  Last summer I tried learning about peach ice cream.  I wasn't overly impressed, so for his birthday I decided to tweak the recipe a bit.  I ended up mostly copying a recipe from the Homesick Texan, but I used 1% milk (what I had) instead of half-and-half and I added salt to the pecans.

I started with five Colorado peaches - just over two pounds' worth.  Previous experience has taught me that it's no fun trying to halve and pit clingstone peaches after they are peeled and slippery, so I pitted them all first.
 Three peaches I then threw into a boiling water bath.  If the water is already at a rolling boil before you throw in the peaches, thirty seconds is all you need for the peels to slide easily off.
 I finely (in retrospect, not finely enough) diced the two skin-on peaches and macerated them with a splash of lemon juice and a scant teaspoon of sugar.  The peeled peaches were cut into large chunks and pureed in the blender.  It made about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of puree.
 Two cups of milk were heated until steamy, then set off the heat.
 Then I whisked two egg yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar...
 ...and carefully added in the hot milk a ladle at a time.  As much as the yolk/sugar mixture looks like scrambled eggs, I didn't actually want to end up with a scramble as my finished product.  The custard mix went back on the stove until it started to thicken a bit (with only two egg yolks, it didn't thicken all that much - it only coated the spoon with a very thin layer).

I always strain my custard at this point to get out those bit of egg that didn't mix properly or otherwise curdled.
 
 Then I added one cup heavy cream, one teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon salt, mixed in the peach puree and chilled the mixture in my fridge for four hours.  I'd prefer to chill it longer, but I was impatient.

While it was chilling, I mixed a tablespoon of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl.
 And toasted a cup of pecans in a tablespoon of butter on the stove.
 Then I stirred them into the sugar/spice mixture while still hot.  After they cooled, I chopped them into small pieces.

When I couldn't wait any longer, I poured my ice cream mix into my chilled ice cream freezer and churned for about 15 minutes.
 Then I added the peaches...
 ...and the pecans, which challenged the capacity of my ice cream freezer somewhat.
 And voila!  Peach-pecan ice cream!

The verdict

The peach flavor of the ice cream was excellent.  The ice cream itself was a trifle icy and crystalline in texture, but not bad.  I think adding more egg yolk and/or using whole milk would really help.

I was less pleased with the mix-ins.  The peach chunks ended up as mostly flavorless ice cubes.  They need to be smaller - 1/4" dice - and macerated with more sugar to combat freezing.  And I didn't feel like I noticed the flavors of the sugar or spices on the pecans, so I think I'd just omit those altogether and add more salt - up to 3/4 or a whole teaspoon total.  If you really wanted a sugared and spiced pecan, try caramelizing the sugar and spice on directly in the pan or oven.  But the ginger and nutmeg also impart a less clean, crisp summery taste to the nuts and more of a full, warm harvest-and-holidaytime flavor.
Day Three of the Make it from Scratch challenge is here.  And what could be more old-school DIY in the kitchen than pickling and canning?  I don't know - but if you have suggestions I'd love to try that too.  Besides, I needed to do something with this crazy monster cucumber my husband brought home from a coworker's garden.
  Having made a tentative foray into the canning and pickling world last year with green cherry tomatoes, and being somewhat encouraged that I did not die of botulism afterwards, I thought I'd try it again this year.  So I sterilized my jars and lids in a boiling water bath.
The strainer insert for my stockpot is pretty useful for placing my jars in the pot and removing them again without dropping them - I really need to get a non-slip jar lifter if I decide to continue canning in any serious manner.

Then I put my spice mixture (dill seed, garlic and peppercorns) into the jars...
 ... crammed them full of cucumber spears...

... covered them with my brine, used a knife to wiggle out the bubbles, and placed the lids on.  I secured the rims finger-tight and carefully lowered them into the boiling water to process for 10 minutes.

The sealing part definitely worked (so far).  The only downside is that they need to sit for a few days before I actually open a jar and try them.  So I guess I'll have to post an update in a week or so.
I also tried a crazy recipe for guacamole mac and cheese, which definitely turned out well (except for the pictures).  That's going to have to be a post for another day.

AKA Make it from Scratch Challenge Day 2.


Besides Money Saving Mom, one of my other favorite blogs is Smitten Kitchen.  So today I tried Deb's strawberry summer cake.  Basically I was looking for a quick dessert to use the pound of strawberries I got on sale before they went bad.  I made it with regular all-purpose flour because I didn't have fancy barley flour, and I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup in the batter.

 ...and I totally missed the part in the recipe where it says to sprinkle two more tablespoons of flour over the top before baking.  Oops.  That's probably why my strawberries don't look as ooey-gooey as Deb's.
 (If you're wondering why the cake pan appears to be hovering above my floor, it's because my kids insisted on taking these pictures, so I'm holding the cake pan at their level.  Sunshine's picture is on the left - my husband had to help her push the shutter button - and Pippin's is on the right.  I find Sunshine's composition to be particularly intriguing...)
 The verdict?  Pretty tasty.  The sweetness was perfect for me (I tend to like my desserts on the less-sweet side), but the composition as a whole was not one of my favorite things ever.  Maybe that's because I left out the sugar on top, but I think it may have more to do with the fact that I like desserts that are more complex than cake with strawberries on top.  I'm really more of a pie person.

But my husband enjoyed it a great deal (though he prefers my pies too), and of course the children love anything they get for dessert.  So I'll probably repeat this (remembering the sugar on top next time) for sometime when I need to whip something up that isn't too labor intensive.

Come to think of it, making a cake for the sole reason that it's "not too labor intensive" seems to defeat the spirit of the Make-it-from-Scratch challenge.  Eh.  Oh well.

It's back-to-school time and time for another challenge!  This one is only a week long and, yes, it's another Money Saving Mom special!  This week is a Make-it-from-Scratch challenge.
I suppose it's not really a challenge, since I love doing stuff from scratch and I abhor (with some exceptions) mixes and kits and whatnot.  So today I'm making yoghurt.

Technically, I'm making yoghurt cheese, since I incubated the yoghurt overnight Saturday and cooled it yesterday.  What is yoghurt cheese, you might ask?  Go ahead, ask - I did.  Then I learned that I was already making it.

Yoghurt cheese is like Greek yoghurt, only a lot richer, smoother and thicker.  It's around the consistency of a soft cream cheese, hence the name.  Basically, it's what happens when you strain your yoghurt to make it Greek style, and then forget about it for a few hours.

You start by making yoghurt.  I'm pretty sure the internet doesn't need another yoghurt recipe, so I won't go into step-by-step details, but I'll share what I've learned overall:

  • Heating the milk is a lot faster on the stovetop.  You can save a couple hours this way - especially if you use an electronic thermometer that beeps when it hits the proper temperature.  Cook on low, stir regularly.
  • You get a grainy texture in the final product when the milk is too hot when you start incubating.  Waiting until the temperature drops to between 110° and 115° has given me more consistent results than mixing in my starter right at 120°F.
  • Freeze-dried yoghurt starter is more reliable than store-bought and lasts much longer.  And because it lasts longer, I think it's cheaper in the long run - you can feel free to reserve your homemade yoghurt for subsequent batches (until it gets too thin) without worrying if your store-bought yoghurt is going bad; nor do you have to eat the store-bought stuff before it expires after a batch or two of homemade yoghurt.  It's easier to stir into your cooled milk, too. 
  • I think ovens (with the light on) are more reliable than crockpots for holding temperature.  Crockpots aren't equally insulated - I had one that was awesome, and another that lost way too much heat, even with a thick towel.  Plus, in the oven you can use a casserole dish which is a lot easier to wash than a crock.  I've never tried using a warm water bath in a cooler - I don't have a large enough cooler - but I'd like to.

After all that, I have a 2.5qt casserole dish full of yoghurt.  
  You could actually stop here, but I like the thickness and decreased bitterness of the strained product.

 To strain, take a colander, line it with a thin, clean cloth (you could use a couple layers of cheesecloth, but I use a flour sack dish towel), and place it on a plate or something because the yoghurt will start to drip as soon as you start spooning it in.

You could "pour" it too, but I like the control of the spoon.
 Then fold the cloth to the inside (if it's hanging out, the whey will wick to the tips and start dripping all over the place - ask me how I know) and place it in a bowl (I reuse the casserole dish) in the fridge.  An hour or two will give you Greek yoghurt.  A few more hours (I often leave it overnight) will give you yoghurt cheese.  You really can't strain it too long - there is a point where the "cheese" can't really get much thicker and no more whey comes out.
The result is about 4-5 cups of yummy yoghurt cheese for a half gallon of milk.  The more whey that you strain off, the more volume you lose.  But a lot of the lactic acid that those lactobacillus cultures make comes out in the whey, so I think the yoghurt cheese is much less sour and it's a good trade off.
I save around 1/4 cup of the "cheese" for my next batch of yoghurt, and I'll do this several times in a row until my yoghurt gets noticeably thinner after incubation.  I've always tossed the whey - can't think of anything useful to do with it.  Do share in the comments if you have a use for the leftover yoghurt whey; I'd love to get more out of each batch.

Falling Short

After much thought, I have decided not to rush the study to complete it in the time frame.  As my pastor said, studying Scripture isn't about completing a challenge; it's about immersing oneself in the Word and being divinely inspired by it.  I may double-post if I find the time to do two full studies in a day, but I'm not going to squeeze two studies into the time set aside for one.  And I may let a few days pass if the Spirit leads me down a particularly complex train of research.

Day 4: Romans 3:23


for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (ESV)

Key Thoughts

 

  • All are equal (verse 22)
  • All have sinned
  • None are worthy of the glory of God

This verse really needs the last half of the previous verse to complete it: For there is no distinction: for all have sinned... Paul is tearing down the spiritual barriers between those who were steeped in the faith for generations (the Jews) and those who have always been spiritually outcast (the Gentiles).  Today we might compare the pastor's child and the hardened criminal.  Regardless, neither can stand before God on any sort of intrinsic moral superiority; all have sinned and thus all fall short of God's glory.  It's the answer to the perpetual question, "How good is good enough for God?"  This verse says, "God's standard is so high that we can't even imagine it in our sinful,fallen little mortal minds, much less reach it."


Key Verse


This verse does not explain today's selection so much as it provides a necessary completion to it:

and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24, ESV)


Application

How should my life become a proper response to this passage?


This is a verse to knock me down when I start feeling too superior - to remind me that as good as I think I am, I am still woefully inadequate to the task of being a cherished creation of God.  I actually had a pastor say such a lie of me when I was a preteen - he was praising me for serving so faithfully in the church (apparently I was the only kid my age who would show up when I was schedule to serve in the seven a.m. mass) and he said to other church members that I "was a good person."  But I'm not.  I sin and I stumble and I fall every day, same as every other person around.  Humility is the proper attitude of such a broken person.  Not pride in the meager, insignificant successes I occasionally have in following God.

Read ahead!  Next verse: Romans 6:23

This is going somewhat slower than I anticipated.  Between the holiday, the grout-cleaning-and-sealing project that took much longer than expected, and the fact that I really wanted to do a quality study on this verse, I'm much later than I wanted to be.  I'm not sure yet if I'll try double-posting or just carry on from here and finish in August.  Stay tuned.

 Day 3: John 10:10


"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (ESV)

Key Thoughts

 

  • Jesus brings life
  • Not just life, but abundant life
  • Jesus is no thief; no false prophet

One of the reasons this verse took so long is because it is an integral part of a much longer passage - John 9:39-10:21.  And even this speech is set up in the entirety of chapter 9 in the miracle of Jesus restoring sight, the effrontery (to the Pharisees) of doing so on the Sabbath, and the expulsion of the formerly-blind man from the temple because he would not denounce Jesus as a sinner.  Jesus then starts chapter 10 with a parable of sheep, shepherds and thieves.  He associates himself variously as the sheepgate (10:9) through which pass only those who have the Master's blessing and as the shepherd himself (10:11, 14).  This does make the parable more confusing to assimilate, as it seems to say that Jesus enters the sheep pen by way of himself, which begs the question: is this some sort of profound statement on the nature of the Trinity, or am I just over-analyzing a parable which isn't meant to have a one-to-one allegorical relationship with the truth anyway?

However, Jesus does clearly set up a foil to the gate and the shepherd in the person of the thief.  The thief climbs into the pen and circumvents the door (10:1); he will not be followed willingly by the sheep (10:5, 8); and he does so solely for his own good or the negative good of others (10:10).  As he started the parable by rebuking the blindness of the Pharisees (9:41), it seems logical that the "thief" in this case also refers to the Pharisees and other false prophets, but I suppose it could also be a more general reference to the devil and all those who are prompted by him.  Regardless, Jesus is using the metaphor to illustrate his unique love for us and complete trustworthiness in the face of danger (10:11-12).


Key Verse


In the whole extended passage, not one verse seems more appropriate than the one suggested for the study.  I was checking out different translations, and I rather liked the Orthodox Jewish Bible:

"The ganav does not come except in order that he may steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have Chayyim (Life) and that they may have it more abundantly."
When I was looking into the word "ganav," Strong's concordance did not define it any more elaborately than, "a thief."  The actual Greek word for "thief" in this passage has not much greater detail, though it has a metaphorical relationship with false teachers.  But I found a monograph differentiating between different Hebrew words for thief, and according to it, "ganav" was traditionally used for those who had more fear of people than of God - in other words, it was a person who devalued the opinion of God more than the opinions of those around him.  Now, these verse were not originally in Hebrew, of course, but I always find it fascinating to check out other languages, as they can be more nuanced than English in some places.

Application

How should my life become a proper response to this passage?

There are two basic appropriate responses to this passage.  The first is to seek after that abundant life that Jesus promises by trusting Him and following His lead.  But the other (this occurred to me when I was reflecting on the word "ganav," and thus I justify what is otherwise a rather irrelevant linguistic digression) is that I must guard against falseness and "thievery" in my own spirit.  Pride is a constant struggle for me, and because of this I am often tempted to elevate myself and thus diminish God - which seem to me to be substantial character traits of the ganav false teacher.

Read ahead!  Next verse: Romans 3:23

Day 2: John 3:16


“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (ESV)

Key Thoughts

 

  • God loves us
  • Jesus was a gift
  • Belief in God's son saves us from perishing

This verse is everywhere.  It's so common to see that it's easy for Christians to start to gloss over.  It's practically Christianity 101.  I'm willing to bet a lot of Christians see this verse and start thinking, "Yeah, yeah - God loved the world and sent Jesus to save us; I've already covered this part when I got saved."  I have to admit that I'm one of them most of the time.  But because this verse summarizes the basic foundational truths of the faith it needs to be given more than a cursory thought.

I found it useful to look at the broader context of the passage.  Nicodemus the Pharisee has just come to Jesus to discuss spiritual truths, and Jesus makes an analogy in verses 14 and 15: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."  It's worth noting that, in Numbers 21:6-9, only after repentance and prayer were the Israelites given salvation from the snakes.  So it is with Jesus; we must repent and pray as well to gain salvation.  Belief in him is a serious, committed act of the heart.  Yet, though salvation comes after prayer, Jesus was still given to us first because God loved us.


Key Verse


So... the journaling guidelines for the 31-Day Scripture Challenge say to "write out word for word the Key Verse of the passage in which God spoke to you."  Given that a lot of the daily passages are single verses, either the guide was cribbed off a more in-depth study, or we are expected to do a lot of cross-referencing.  So in that spirit, I choose to write out verse 17:

"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (ESV)
God loved us; He did not want to condemn us.  While the Israelites had to see their sin and repent of it before God allowed Moses to give them the totem of His salvation, He gave us His Son first, to help us understand He is not first a God of judgement but of love. 

Application

How should my life become a proper response to this passage?

The obvious answer is "believe in the God who loves me."  But this is easier to say than to do.  What exactly does that kind of belief look like?  The most tangible way to relate to God is through the words He left us in the Bible.  Committing to really study those words is a good first step.  But it has to be more than just reciting chapter and verse; the words have to become a foundation for the way I live my life.  That means trusting the words even when they aren't convenient or don't make sense.  Words like "love thy neighbor as thyself" can be some of the hardest ones to live by, yet they are the most important ones.  So important, in fact, that Jesus began to prepare his disciples for his imminent crucifixion with these words:
 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:34-35 ESV)
Today I am starting more of an online journal as I follow a 31-day scripture challenge suggested by my church.  It's more of a blogging exercise than anything else, but I hope it may be of some benefit to others as well.  I'm not a theologian by any means, but perhaps my thoughts can help others have some insights.

Day 1: Jeremiah 29:11-13


For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (ESV)

Key Thoughts

 

  • God has a plan for us
  • His plan is for our good
  • God will be found by any who seek him whole-heartedly

The context for this passage appears to be the Lord speaking to His exiled followers - the Israelites who had fallen away yet again and were captured by the Babylonians.  Yet God still has plans for their good, despite their enormous lapses of faith.  This is a most encouraging thought; that through all the sin God still so loved the world that He doesn't stop making plans to benefit us.


Key Verse


I really like the NIV's use of the word "prosper" for verse 11:

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Application

How should my life become a proper response to this passage?


Prayer is a central theme in this passage.  And not just drive-by prayer, but real, honest, whole-hearted body, mind and soul prayer.  Too often I rush prayer because it's too much work to stop and shift gears into any sort of meaningful reflection on who God is and how I want to approach Him.  But rushed prayer doesn't bring me closer to God.  I really need to sit down regularly and make real space for communion with God in prayer.
 
Hope is another big theme.  Here it's not merely wishing for nice things but an assurance of good to come.  It means that none should despair of God's promises.  Despair is not merely an emotional state, but it is a choice that we make by our actions.  So long as I persevere in faith I am choosing to walk away from despair.

For the last two months, I've had the 30-Day House Cleaning Challenge picture up, but no actual posts.

I tried to do the challenge, but my pregnant self was always a day or more behind.  I had just caught up with the old chores and was about to clean the bedrooms when the contractions started in force.  And four hours later...

Meet "Rose."

And that's my excuse for not cleaning and blogging.
Last night's regularly-scheduled blogging was interrupted for a frustrating and ultimately fruitless four hours of contraction-counting.  I really hope this baby gets here soon, because the anticipation is driving me nuts.  For two hours, the contractions were extremely regular and just one minute away from when the hospital recommends trekking over to Labor & Delivery, and then they started slowing down.  So as a result, today's post is a double-feature.

Day 27: Turn Frustrations into Gratitude


The topic is extremely apt, given the evening of false labor.  I think the frustration was made worse by an almost superstitious belief that, per Murphy's Law, the fact that I used yesterday morning to get a crockpot meal all ready to go was going to virtually guarantee that real labor would start before dinner time.  Alas, no.  But the chicken cacchiatore was mighty tasty nonetheless.  Even when it comes with a side order of Braxton-Hicks.


Joy is something I have chronic difficulty experiencing, and lately it's been much worse.  The fatigue, the discomfort, and the fact that it now takes me forty minutes after waking up to navigate out of bed, dress, do a couple of physical therapy stretches, and migrate down to the kitchen are all combining to put me in a bad mood every morning.


But starting Tuesday, I have been bombarded by reminders to hold onto joy.  A Facebook friend as well as a fellow blogger each posted variations of the following quote:



Our MOPS devotional time was spent on joy as well.  And then, of course, there's the Day 27 topic.  Seems like God may be trying to tell me something...

It's an effort to be joyful.  But I really am grateful that, unlike many of my friends, my pregnancy is full-term and that none of the complications I am having are really threatening the immediate or long-term health of either me or the little girl inside my womb.  And I try to remind myself that each day that I'm not yet getting to hold my new daughter is another day that I can spend more time loving and listening to the two children running around at my feet right now.  Also, even though my reduced speed is cutting into my me-time in the morning, the early rising still lets me be ready to tend to their needs as soon as they tumble out of bed.

As for the rest of the joy, that really brings us to the next topic.

Day 28: Begin Your Day With Prayer



I confess that daily quiet times are a struggle for me.  I was doing well for a time, but it's worse again now that I finished up the Malachi study yesterday and have to fall back on self-directed study and prayer.  Distractions are a huge problem for me, and outside direction (like a guided study) often helps relieve some of that.

But when I do manage to have daily quiet times for Bible study and prayer, I can focus so much better on the bigger picture of God and His creation, and less on the relatively trivial frustrations of daily life.  (Such as the fact that little Sunshine didn't nap today and just wandered in to cheerfully announce that her clock is yellow.  And the disturbing trend that she has been failing to nap two or three times each week - I'm afraid she's about to grow out of her nap just as the new baby gets here...)

Until the baby gets here and throws everything into complete chaos, I'm going to keep trying to squeeze in a quiet time every morning.  And to pray for the joy that needs to come back into my life.
I seriously should have just gotten up at a quarter to five when my husband got up for an unusually early start.  I might have actually been able to go back to sleep over my crochet, and at the very least I would have been more productive.  Instead I tried (and failed) to fall back asleep until my alarm went off.

The thought for today is "You're Not Alone."  I must confess that I've been feeling a bit lonely lately.  Especially since one of my posts on the Early to Rise Pinterest group board just acquired a comment which seems to imply that I'm a sluggard for staying in bed as late as 6:09.

Now, I never felt that the point of this challenge was to try and wake up earlier than everyone else.  I'm fully aware that there is a certain segment of the population who are natural (or forced by their schedules) early birds.  But it was just one more thing reinforcing my nagging doubts that I don't belong in this challenge.

Sure I've made progress.  But not as much as I'd like to.  And it frustrates me no end that the ninth month of pregnancy means that I simply don't have extra reserves to invest in changing very much significant about my life at this exact moment.

If you feel like you're barely treading water in this challenge too, I'd love to hear your comments.
It's been a bit since I posted.  Thursday I woke up at 6:33 am, which I considered to be not bad.  I even got my hospital bag mostly packed before lunch, and finished by the end of the day.

Then the modem died.  We replaced it Friday, but couldn't get it to work with the wireless router until Sunday.  Technically, I could have posted Friday or over the weekend since I post from my desktop, but we spent Friday evening in the Labor & Delivery ward over a false alarm1 and were pretty much exhausted the rest of the weekend from that.

After my OB told me Thursday that she wasn't sure I'd make it a full seven more days, I decided to take some advice from the pregnancy handbook she gave me (about how rest is important during the third trimester) and shut off the alarm.  We let the cats wake us up instead (we haven't found their snooze button yet).

Saturday morning was similar, but by Sunday we started getting back in the early-rising groove.  (No pictures because I'd thrown my camera in the hospital bag Friday night and didn't get it out until late yesterday.)

This morning was the best I've done in a while.

This is what happens when you take a picture under the influence of a Benadryl hangover.
Today's theme is "Share Your Success."  At first, thinking about it, I didn't feel very successful.  I've been finding it harder, not easier to get up in the morning.  But then I thought that just the fact I'm still in the early-rising game at all is a pretty big success.  Especially given my condition.  Every week I seem to add a new middle-of-the-night waking for a bathroom trip or just to find a more comfortable position, and every day it gets a little more exhausting to move around.  But I'm not yet willing to even consider giving up my few minutes before the children wake, even for a much-needed catnap.

One of my favorite parts of this challenge is that it's fallen at the same time as my Lenten TV fast.  So I actually use the extra morning time to do real things instead of just watching the "infotainment" local and national morning shows.  Even if it's just sipping some coffee and pondering.  Today I knew I wouldn't feel well enough to climb back up the stairs later, so I sorted out the laundry after getting dressed.  Not terribly relaxing, but it set a nice tone for the day.  I made pea soup, baked beer bread, washed yet another load of laundry, and prepped these for my MOPS group tomorrow:

 
These are banana-Nutella muffins.2   We tested them already.  Yum!    


1. And why they don't have a limit on fingernail length for OB nurses, I really don't know. Ouch!
2. Followed the recipe except for omitting the pecans, using mini-muffin tins (and about 1/2 t Nutella per muffin), and cutting the time to 10 minutes.
A small victory today: even though I hit the snooze button several times I still got up before I turned off the alarm clock.

It may have something to do with the fact that we went to bed early last night - we turned in at 9:30.  The idea was to play a video game together on my husband's laptop; since he still had to stretch out flat the bed was the only comfortable place we could sit next to each other.  But I was so tired that I just fell asleep, almost right away.

Admit it - now you're jealous of our hot date night. ;-)

But the extra rest was good.  I just wish I could remember the plans I made the night before when I wake up in the morning.  For instance, if I'd remembered that I wanted to take a nice long relaxing shower today, I might not have hit my snooze button as many times.

But with that restful start, it is fitting that today's challenge topic is "Be Quiet."  I love having the time to take a morning shower.  As inconvenient as it is to get up earlier and spend the morning with wet hair, a shower at any other time of day is never as relaxing or refreshing.  In the evening, it either cuts into what precious little "alone time" my husband and I have together or, if I use a time when he comes home late, I imagine I hear too many strange noises in the sound of the water and become tense and paranoid.  I was the victim of a home invasion once several years ago, and it still haunts me to some extent.  I should feel lucky that I don't still have full-out PTSD about the event.

But I digress somewhat.

The morning is a lovely time for having quiet.  I often wish I could get up earlier and enjoy more of it.  It's one of the reasons I loved camping - I love to get up with the pre-dawn birdcalls and meditate on the glories of Creation as the first rays of sunlight start infusing color into the world.  Alas, my husband is not so enamored with roughing it in a tent.  Someday I'll convince him...

The problem with getting up earlier is that I'd have to go to bed earlier.  Six o'clock is about as early as I can push myself consistently given my current bedtime.  And since the time I spend with my husband is often so little, every bit of our evenings together is precious.  I find myself unwilling to give any of that up.

So I'm left with Money-Saving-Mom-Crystal's suggestions for trying to eke out more margin in the day itself.  I've more or less tried three out of the four - the only one I consistently fail at is #2: Saying "No."  And while this does give me some free time to devote to relaxing activities, with a four- and a two-year-old it's not exactly "quiet."  It helps, but it's just not as refreshing as relaxing in stillness.  With a newborn on the way, I expect that even the free time is going to vanish, and it will be a constant inner struggle between choosing morning quiet and needed extra sleep for a few months.  It certainly was that way with Pippin before he started sleeping through the night - he'd generally wake at 7-ish, nurse, and sleep until 9 or 10.  Sometimes I'd take those extra two or three hours to take a shower and be productive, and sometimes I'd elect to go back to sleep with him.

Crystal's right; it's not healthy to fill up the day entirely with to-do's.  With a newborn, that's not often feasible - though getting to spend long periods of time breastfeed can be nearly as relaxing as actual "white space."  My goal is to manage to build up a healthy reservoir of quiet me-time before the baby arrives and hope it lasts through the first rough four to six months.
Wow.  I haven't been this exhausted since I was having trouble controlling my pregnancy anemia.  It's amazing how a semi-incapacitated spouse can increase the workload, especially when one is already working near one's limit.  And my husband doesn't even need much - just painkillers now and again.  But he's stretched out on the convenient comfy couch which means I don't have a good place to sit down and rest myself.  Even worse, when he does get up he's moving around more quickly and easily than I can.  My hips tell me this is Not Fair, but the more rational parts of me know that his resting isn't just about mobility and pain.  At least tomorrow he won't be under a prescription to lay flat anymore.

That rather long digression was, in part, a way of saying that we both just needed some extra rest this morning.  This was confirmed when I hit snooze for the third time and I heard my husband mumble, "No, I don't have the phone."



The clock looks worse than it really is.  I got up at 6:50, and before I could go hunt the camera down there were physical therapy exercises, children who woke up, coffee to make and cats to be fed.

Today's topic is "Don't Live Today By Accident."  It is a rather overwhelming challenge when our lives are currently in so much disorder from the pregnancy and surgery.  To keep stress to a minimum, I had exactly three things I planned for today:

  1. Clean the dishes
  2. Plant the garden
  3. Drink a caffeinated beverage
Ironically, I was to tired that I forgot to do #3.  I just about fell asleep instead.  But I washed all the rest of the standing dishes and planted my spring veggies.  Pippin was ecstatic to be involved in sanctioned digging.

Okay, so I didn't quite finish planting the garden.  My broccoli seeds have gone missing, and my seed potatoes need to sit overnight before going in the ground.  But I got the more tedious seeds in the ground (onion sets, beets and carrots).  I hope I didn't wait too late to plant them - I'm still very much a novice gardener, and I never even tried cold-season veggies until a couple of years ago.

In general, the idea of planning your day reminds me of a post I saw on The Happiness Project entitled "Don't Get Organized."  It's not that it's bad to be organized with your time, tasks or tangibles.  But you can't necessarily try to organize everything that occurs to you to keep or do.  It's ridiculous to try and stuff mounds of clutter into as many plastic boxes, cubbyholes, bins and over-door storage units as you can possibly buy.  That's just a great way to convert mounds of clutter into mounds of plastic boxes.  And it's equally ridiculous to jam every little task that "seems like a good idea" or that "Suzy Star Homemaker from MOPS is doing too" into a day's plan.

This is a struggle for me.  Others (like the Money Saving Mom) who seem to just organize everything effortlessly uniformly agree that keeping your to-do list small is the key to success.  I haven't been doing terribly at prioritizing my to-do lists and dropping the lower-priority tasks.  What I am coming to realize is that part of that key is to stop thinking about those tasks that didn't make the cut as "things that would be a good idea to do today if there is time" and to start thinking about at least some of them as "things that maybe need to be cut out of my life."  Because if your to-do list has too much "rollover," eventually you will get to the point where you are trying to prioritize the top five to ten items from a list of thirty or forty.  And that's a fabulous way to organize your life into a nervous breakdown.

Another struggle for me is trying to walk that fine line between a satisfactorily busy schedule and enough flexibility to cope with unexpected crises.  This is really more of a learned art than a science - just setting an arbitrary limit on the number of tasks for the day isn't going to work.  One of the reasons I have so much trouble is that I have a terrible time estimating how long a task will take.  Even worse, it changes every time I try to make an effort to be more scheduled.  It was different when I wasn't pregnant, and it was even different each trimester.  And it will undoubtedly be different again in a couple of weeks when I have three kids instead of two.

All I can do at this point is to try and do at least some planning every day.  Practice and consistency, even on a small scale, are going to do more long-term good than trying to do a full organizational makeover once in a while and slacking off in between.

Weekend Recap


Saturday


 After Friday's two-hour stint in the garden, I just needed the extra rest.  And a good thing, too, because Saturday was crazy-busy.  There were a million things that absolutely had to be done, pretty much all at the same time.  I had to do laundry because I hadn't been foresighted enough to put my pants that I needed to wear to church in the wash already.  I had to clean out the dishes needed to prep a crock pot dinner (because I wouldn't get home from handbells until the time dinner needed to be on the table, and we weren't even sure my husband would get home from his forensics tournament until after the kids' bedtime), and our pre-performance run-through got moved up nearly thirty minutes, cutting just that much extra time out of the day.

All in all, it was crazy, completely exhausting, but satisfying.  The kids had to come to practice with me, and Pippin started air conducting and Sunshine gave everyone a giggle when we picked up our handbells and she started singing "Jingle Bells."

 Sunday

This was a bittersweet day.  Sunday was my very last handbell performance for the 2012-13 season.  We play once a month at church, and our scheduled April performance is only about ten days after my due date.  But it was a lovely piece to go out with.  It was "Agnus Dei" by Cathy Moklebust, and we had both the main bell choir and the novice ringer group together, since there were more or less completely separate scores for bells and chimes to ring together.  I totally have a love-hate relationship with Moklebust's compositions and arrangements.  They are absolutely beautiful, they are really fun to ring, and they give me complete fits to get the complex rhythms and techniques down during practice.




 But we pulled it off; all three performances of the weekend were really well done.  Which was amazing considering that the two choirs have not been practicing together very much at all (and they usually have a different director as well).

 

Today: Choose Who You Will Be


I really think Crystal from Money Saving Mom said it best:

Every day, you wake up and you have the opportunity to choose your attitude. You can choose to be a victim or a victor. You can choose to be a complainer or a conqueror.

It's terribly difficult to choose to be a victor when you wake up in so much pain that you cannot move your feet twelve inches closer together to scratch that itch on one foot with your other big toe.  And it's hard to feel like a conqueror when the first thing you see when you pour your coffee is the mounds of dishes that didn't get done the day before.

But I can choose to see each day as a new opportunity rather than one full of yesterday's baggage.  I can choose to see the kitchen as a reminder that the day before I spent my energy putting smiles on my children's faces as they ran around in the warm spring sunshine.  And I can choose to change my plans from yesterday that this day I would find out what my countertop next to the sink looks like if a new day's sun brings new priorities.

Today I chose to nurse my husband through his post-surgical discomfort, and to get the taxes done (thus relieving everyone's mind that they won't still be hanging over our heads when I actually go into labor).  So although I still see most of yesterday's dishes and dirty sheets, I have nevertheless come through the day triumphant.

Not too bad, considering we were up until midnight trying to fix the garage door opener.

This post is late because I took Thursday's discussion on motivation to heart.  I decided that what I really needed was to change the focus of at least one day to doing some big projects I've been putting off.
 
I wish I could attribute this to good character and perseverance.  But really my husband left his alarm clock on again.  He has this truly excellent knack for taking exactly nine minutes and thirty seconds to hit snooze, feed the cats, start the coffee maker and then get in the shower.
Since the Day 15 topic was successes, I decided to focus on things that made me feel successful.  The weather was beautiful, so we abandoned indoor chores in favor of spending the morning running around the backyard.  Where I accomplished many things:

 
The Turning Over of the Compost Piles.

 
The Turning Over of the Garden Soil and Amending it with Compost.

 
And, after the kids were done helping and playing, I accomplished the Sweeping of My Backyard Out of the Kitchen and the Bathing of the Children.  Which were not actually planned - mostly because I'd forgotten about the kids' favorite game of "Pour Dirt onto Sunshine's Head."

Due mostly to the fact that the tire on our wheelbarrow is flat, I was so stiff and sore that I really had no choice but to recline on the couch after lunch and work on the baby blanket.  This was really the only big project I'd initially planned at all - though I'm not sorry I took advantage of the beautiful day.  The first day of spring yardwork is always so invigorating that the aches and stiffness (and extra dishes piling up in the kitchen) is totally worth it.


Here's the blanket so far.  It's going to be a sea turtle.  The green triangle on the left side is the tail (and also the part I accomplished on Friday).  It's going very slowly because, although I started with a pattern, I decided to totally redo the appendages and as such, the required planning and plotting is tedious and time-consuming.

And in the end, I was too exhausted to sit down and do the blog on time.  I decided to have a sedate Date Night with my husband instead.  Totally worth it.

The weekend update will get tacked onto Monday's post.  Stay tuned!