• 37

    My birthday was on Tuesday.

    from my sister-in-law and niece

    The kids were super excited and spent lots of time planning the day. But then we got wind of what they were planning—to get up at 5 am to make me breakfast and have the day off of school work—and the poo hit the fan.

    So then I had to mediate between my hyped-up kids and a husband who never plans anything. By “mediate” I mean “yell at.”


    To my husband: ENGAGE, BOB. NOW.


    And then I sent them all upstairs to work it out.

    lunch, by the kids: note the copious amount of tinfoil 
    and the napa cabbage in place of lettuce (it was actually quite delicious)

    My expectations for the day were fairly low. No cooking (unless I wanted to), I said. I wanted writing time, my husband to come home early from work, lots of evening time in which I could read out loud to the kids, and a movie after the kids were in bed. When my husband asked me what I wanted for supper, I said, “I don’t care, but everyone has to like it and there needs to be a vegetable.”

    I spent the afternoon of the birthday day shopping for clothes and drinking coffee, no kids, no supper responsibilities, no nothing. It was lovely.

    Also, I had my first famous person spotting. When I told my husband, he said, “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Was it a political figure?”


    “A celebrity?”


    “Someone from the newspaper?”


    “From the cooking section!” a child interrupted.


    “The Amish Cook?”

    Huh? She’s not from around here, so “No.”

    “Um… I don’t know anyone else…” He was studying his plate, thinking hard. I caught the kids’ eyes and made a jabbing motion towards myself.

    “You!” they all yelled, and we about fell out of our chairs laughing because I was the famous “spotted” person.

    The Story: I was walking through Wal-mart when a woman stopped me and asked if I write a cooking column. I quickly wiped the glazed-over stupid look, the one I get when I’m shopping, off my face and beamed, “Why yes!” She’d clipped the mac and cheese recipe from the paper, she told me, and her grandsons love it. We stood there in the florescent lighting and bonded over the column and recipes in general and husbands who sometimes cook and what they make (cracker stew) and Amish heritage. I couldn’t stop grinning.

    After a supper of sloppy joes, green beans, chips, and pineapple upside down cake, I sat on the brick hearth and the kids gave me their gifts: candy, candy, and more candy. Pure sweetness. We started our new read-aloud, The Westing Game, and then my husband and I watched another episode of Once while I ate a bowl of my birthday cereal, Reese’s Puffs.

    This same time, years previous: she outdid herself, the skirt, birthday minutia

  • the quotidian (9.24.12)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    I discovered this picture on my camera, courtesy of one of the kids. 
    It spoke to me.

    Awaiting the arrival of a girlfriend.

    Hanging out in the grape arbor.
    (A no-longer permissible activity as they were damaging the vines.)

    Apple pie: every September should have one. Or six. 


    Soaking up every minute of a visit from The Greats.

    Helping Grandma stuff envelopes for a mailing.

    Trying to close a closet door with his toes. 
    Back story: I showed the kids some videos of Tisha UnArmed 
    Immediately afterwards, I told the kids to blitz the house. 
    However, thanks to Tisha, they insisted on doing all the chores with their feet: 
    dusting, sweeping (didn’t go over so well), putting things away, folding blankets.
    The house didn’t get very clean, but they had a blast.
     (Thanks, Kate!)

    Studying the algebra. 
    Actually, in this case, it’s more a lesson in the importance of being neat 
    than of numerical computations.

    Apples, popcorn, and Sunday night movie: a tradition.
    (It’s quite the letdown when the Netflix movie doesn’t work, though.)

    This same time, years previous: when the relatives came, Thousand Island slaw with roast chicken, hurdle-free molten brownie cakes (I forgot about these!), soiree 2010, we love Fred, soiree 2009, simple roast chicken, one hot chica

  • candid camera

    My husband and I have hardly any pictures of us together. There are several reasons for this.

    1. We rarely think to take them.
    2. My husband isn’t fond of having his picture taken.
    3. I’m usually the one taking pictures.
    4. We rarely wear nice clothes.
    5. My husband has no patience for smiling at a black box.
    6. It takes time.
    7. My husband hates posing.

    The other night when we were on our way out the door to go to a wedding, I grabbed the camera, husband, and a willing daughter, and stomped them into the front yard. You stand here, I ordered my daughter. We’ll stand over here. Get pictures from the waist up. Click fast. Go! Go! GO!

    I knew we only had about 14 seconds before my husband stalked off. If she held the clicky-thing down for the full 14 seconds, there was a slight chance we’d get something halfway decent.

    Except that we were squinting into the sun, so, without knowing it, we shot any chances of a good picture all to smithereens before we even started, dagnabbit.

    Which didn’t really matter much because I was too busy looking like a crazy lady.

    Dying flower, courtesy of our little boy.

    And my husband was too busy looking like a Class-A Dork.

    But, looking like a dork rather than an Uptight Angry Man is an improvement, I say. Baby steps, people! Baby steps!

    And then I about ripped his head off his neck trying to get him to kiss me.

    Not-So-Little Secret: my husband hates it when people get in his personal space. When I (or the kids) get too close, he hunches his shoulders and whaps the air with his arms, exactly like a panicked duck. And then I say, “You’re flapping again, honey.”

    Even Sam, the guy he works with, knows all about this personal space thing. In fact, sometimes when they’re talking, Sam will intentionally move closer.

    And closer.

    And closer.

    Sam gets a big kick watching my husband try to edge away discreetly.

    About 13 seconds in, my husband announced he was done.

    “Oh no we are NOT!” I informed him.

    See? That’s me informing him.

    But then my daughter, in an effort to get a better shot, took a step backwards and fell smack into the forsythia. I had to help her extricate herself.

    We tried a few more shots, but attention spans were waning. My daughter, however, was just catching on to the idea of continuous clicking, and I had to tear the camera out of her hands.

    But not before she blurred me up real good.

    The end.

    PS. The wedding was lovely. These glasses were the favors, and now the kids fight over them at every meal.

    This same time, years previous: the potluck solution, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, hard knocks

  • the quotidian (9.17.12)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace 

    Painted piggies.

    Chilly mornings: this little guy got to light the first fire.

    Picked without permission, but so pretty I couldn’t bring myself to care.

    My newest (and cutest) student: so far, she’s learned her name 
    and the commands for sit, stay, and down
    Next, to teach her not to jump up (my biggest doggie-related pet peeve).

    The perfect bar for whenever I need something sweet, and fast.
    Lately, I’ve been making these with alarming frequency.

    Supper, foraged.

    Proof that we are completely uncivilized.
    (Yes, that’s the dogs’ water bucket.)

    How he’s supposed to do it.
    (The little sinker.)

    Playing hard: at our annual church retreat.

    Retreating, of a Sunday morning: crisp and bright, fresh donuts, friends.

    When it’s over: heading home to recuperate.
    (Backstory: how the bumper got its hole.)

    The look I get when my husband realizes that he’s doing all the work 
    while I’m standing around snapping pictures.

    Of her own volition: I now have a clean fridge!

    Summer evenings: after supper, I dole out ice cream cones
    and we head out to the porch to lollygag … and wrestle.
     Always, to wrestle.

    Golden, my evening writing time: sequestered in my room.

    This same time, years previous: goodbye summer, hello fall, a new day dawningGreek pasta salad

  • September studies

    We started our book learning early this year. With no garden to obsess over, I honed in on the kids, poor dears.

    It took us a couple weeks to get up to speed, and we’re still not quite there yet. Workbooks are arriving in the mail every other day, and I’m eagerly awaiting my one big splurge—three different magazines from Cobblestone. I know I could check them out of the library but don’t want to bother. I want to read these magazines out loud at our leisure. So there went nearly a hundred bucks, ouch.

    Our schedule is pretty full. I’m sure I’ll relax as we get into the year, start cutting corners and all, but for now, we need the structure. I’m being all sorts of strict, operating under the mantra that declares new teachers should never smile at first. Or something.

    I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying myself. I get bored sometimes, but I’m figuring out how to balance the tedious with the games (this one’s the current favorite), videos, and fun read-alouds. At the end of the day I feel like I’ve accomplished something important. It’s a nice feeling.

    study breaks: he’s making a serious dent in the log pile

    But for the details! Oh, the details!

    What’s it like to homeschool four high-energy children, you ask? How do I juggle different grade levels and abilities and curriculums and minuscule attention spans and bad attitudes? How do I work in meals and cleaning and puppy training and blogging and business phone calls and walks and movies and a newspaper column? It’s simple, really—

    a lesson in getting along


    It’s not simple, not at all. Oftentimes, I’m like a not-funny clown in a really bad juggling act—the kind that drops balls and gets hit by balls and finally, in desperation, hurls balls against the wall. I get irritated and grumpy and then I bite my husband’s head off when it’s not even called for (sometimes it is), like yesterday morning when I came downstairs to discover that all the laundry he had folded was still sitting on the table in neat little stacks.

    “How am I supposed to teach the kids when the table is covered in laundry?” I snapped. “If you’re going to do something, do it all the way. I’m sick of following through with the kids—don’t make me have to follow through with you, too!”

    He, in turn, has been bemoaning the lack of anything edible in the house. The other morning, he asked, “Where’s all the food we canned this summer?” When I looked up from my writing, there he was, standing by the jelly cupboard, a confused, peeved look on his face.

    “Um…in the basement?” My voice dripped sarcasm. “I haven’t had time to bring the jars up. Obviously.”

    We’re not always at each other’s throats. Just sometimes. No need to stage an intervention. Yet.

    Anyway, back to homeschooling. Where was I? Oh, right. The details.

    studying up on his US history

    They are as follows: studies all morning, lunch and rest time, a few more random studies, supper, reading, and bedtime, with play and chores scattered throughout.

    Old Yeller, one of our favorites
    (she’s not crying, just tired) 

    I know, I know! That was entirely unsatisfactory. Maybe one of these days I’ll take minute-to-minutes notes of my day. It’d probably make me look ADD, though. Or schizoid.

    our suppertime reading material

    But maybe I’ll see if I can work it in.

    This same time, years previous: whole wheat jammies, coffee fix ice cream, ricotta cheese, and pesto torte

  • cinnamon sugar breadsticks

    My newspaper column ran yesterday. It was about cinnamon sugar breadsticks.

    I had to sit on the recipe for more than two whole weeks while I waited for it to be published. It was agony. I was all squealy-giddy over it and there I was, stuck. With no way to tell you. It was food blogger purgatory. I thought I’d die.

    But I didn’t, and now I can finally share the recipe. Thank goodness.

    I’ve made these breadsticks on three different occasions. First, I made them on the day that I invented them (duh). Second, I made a double batch when my husband’s sister and her five kids were visiting. Third, I made them this morning immediately after I brought in the paper. I had to push my husband aside while he was reading the column so I could see the ingredient list.

    The kids weren’t thrilled that we were having oatmeal for breakfast, but when they heard that we’d have a mid-morning study break with fresh cinnamon sugar breadsticks and milk, they perked right up.

    They devoured the whole pan in two shakes of a rat’s tail. I knew they would.

    These remind me of cinnamon buns, fresh dinner rolls, and donuts, all rolled into one. They are so easy to make that they’re practically mindless. In fact, they’re almost perverse in their simplicity—no recipe this slapdash should ever be so rewarding.

    But hey, I’m not complaining.

    Cinnamon Sugar Breadsticks

    2½ teaspoons yeast
    1 cup warm water
    3 cups bread flour
    3 packed tablespoons brown sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup oil
    4 tablespoons butter, melted
    ½ cup white sugar
    1 tablespoon cinnamon
    1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
    ½ teaspoon vanilla
    milk or half-and-half

    In a small bowl, combine the yeast and warm water. Set aside for five minutes.

    In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, and salt. Stir in yeast and oil. Knead until satiny smooth. Flour the bowl. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let rise until doubled.

    Grease a large, sided baking tray. Roll/press the dough so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Cut the dough down the middle lengthwise and then crosswise about 11 times, aiming for about 24 sticks. Cover the dough and let rise for 30-60 minutes.

    Bake the breadsticks at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes. Brush the hot breadsticks with the melted butter and sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar (you will have some leftover).

    Combine the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to make a runny icing. Drizzle it over the breadsticks. Serve warm.

    Updated March 2014: 
    The overnight version: mix up the dough at bedtime and put it straight into the refrigerator in an airtight container. At 3-4 am when you get up to go to the bathroom, put the container on the counter, remove the lid, and cover the dough with a cloth. When you get up for real, roll the dough into the baking tray and follow the recipe as specified.

    This same time, years previous: camping, lemon butter pasta with zucchini

  • making my children jump

    One afternoon, I decided I wanted some pictures of my kids jumping. Because the sun was shining and I was bored and I hadn’t played with my camera in a while and, well, just because.

    Really, does there have to be a reason? I AM MOM (WITH A CAMERA)! HEAR ME CLICK!

    We started out on the deck. Thataway, I could go down the steps and get a ground view of their airbornness.

    They did pretty well, but I didn’t like the screen door backdrop.

    Also, I wanted a picture of all four kids in a row and there just wasn’t room.

    “Let’s go out to the barn,” I said.

    “I don’t want to jump,” my younger daughter said.

    “Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.”

    “Jumping makes me hot,” she argued. “And you just get to sit there in the shade. It’s not fair.”

    I hate it when my kids get all logical on me.

    “I’ll give you some candy,” I wheedled. (Note to parents: when you can’t win, use sugar.)

    Sugar works!

    It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Even with a piece of candy dangling in front of them (figuratively speaking—I didn’t actually hang the candy from the edge of the barn roof), they still got balky. Like the infamous animal that shan’t be named but that is related to a horse.

    They refused to jump in sync, and they kept shifting their assigned positions so I couldn’t see everyone.

    Or they’d start jumping and refuse to stop, even when I was calling out orders.

    I have a newfound respect for the people who coach synchronized diving. Or, rather, anyone who coaches anything synchronized.

    A fist fight happened, of course. Because fists are how certain people in our family express themselves. And then there were tears and threats of “there won’t be any candy if you don’t get back out there and jump.”

    I told some of the kids to look sulky while I ordered one to jump ecstatically.

    The one kid couldn’t make herself look mad to save her life.

    But then she stuck her tongue out.

    That helped.

    (Forgive the differently processed photos. I started playing around and then I didn’t feel like taking the time to make everything uniform. Sorry.)

    The youngest went on a few solo flights. I call this one “A Study In Right Angles.”

    Homeschoolers, feel free to use this picture as a geometry lesson. 

    When the oldest child wimped out, the older daughter took over.

    In the end, the youngest fell over with his tongue hanging out.

    “I was pretending to be dead,” he told me proudly.

    The end.

    This same time, years previous: a family photo shoot from 2008 (no jumping, but there was a strangulation)

  • ketchup, two ways

    I’m a novice at ketchup-making, but all experts have to start somewhere, right?

    This year I made three kinds. One was good but a little too vinegary. (Plus, my husband didn’t turn off the crockpot like I asked him to and it got very dark. I canned it to use in cooking. The other day I added some to my sloppy joe recipe and it enhanced the joes tremendously. So, yay!) Another wasn’t really a ketchup at all, since I put curry powder in it, but still, I call it a ketchup. And the last one was straight-up simple, about as close to Heinz as you can get.

    First, the curry ketchup.

    This ketchup is like something you might find at a high-end restaurant, the kind of place that messes with the basics in a pleasantly surprising way. I don’t want my basics messed with all the time, mind you, but a bit of different now and again is a good thing, I believe.

    The original recipe hails from Germany and is called currywurst sauce. It’s supposed to be eaten a-top sausages. I’m sure that would be most scrumptious, but we have yet to try it that way.

    So far we’ve eaten this ketchup with oven fries, zucchini fries, and spooned over green tomato curry like a chutney. I figured that would be a stellar combo since tomatoes and curry are star ingredients in each recipe, and I was right. (Also, I suspect this curry ketchup would go well with the golden curry, but I haven’t gotten around to trying it yet.)

    Curry Ketchup
    Adapted from Saveur.com

    The recipe called for hot paprika. I didn’t have any, so I used smoked paprika and a couple pinches of chipotle powder instead.

    2 tablespoons canola oil
    1 large onion, chopped
    2 tablespoons curry powder
    1 tablespoon smoked paprika
    1/8 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne powder
    2 cups canned tomatoes, including the juice
    ½ cup sugar
    1/4 cup red wine vinegar
    salt to taste

    Saute the onion in the oil until soft. Add the curry powder, smoked paprika, and chipotle powder and saute for another minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and vinegar. Cook over medium-low heat until reduced a bit, about 30 minutes. Blend until smooth, season with salt, and cook until it’s the desired consistency—thick, like ketchup.

    Yield: about 1½ cups. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.


    The problem with many homemade ketchups, so I’ve read, is that they taste great but aren’t anything like Heinz. While I might be thrilled with a creative homemade ketchup, I was
    pretty sure my children wouldn’t settle for anything less than something that tasted just like the store-bought variety. So I set about scouring the web for a homemade ketchup that tasted like mass-produced stuff.

    I finally found a recipe with reviews that claimed you could hardly tell the difference between the homemade and the storebought. The only problem was that the recipe called for corn syrup.

    Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been programmed to believe that corn syrup is from the devil. It’s poison in a jar. It will give you cancer and make your butt big and absolutely ruin your reputation as an authentic, thoughtful cook. Corn syrup is for losers. Period.

    But! I wanted ketchup that tasted like Heinz even if it meant I was a fraud, so I pushed my biases aside and made the stuff.

    Wouldn’t you know, it was delicious! It had the same shiny, smooth consistency as Heinz, and it tasted wonderfully sweet and tart. It was the real deal!

    So then, of course, I had to research corn syrup. I (lightly) read some articles on the web (here’s one, and here’s another) and discussed it with my biologist Dad, and you know what? Corn syrup isn’t as demonic as I thought! It’s just a syrup from corn—bad for you like sugar, but that’s all.

    And get this: high-fructose corn syrup isn’t even all that evil—it’s just intensified corn syrup! The problem with the high-fructose stuff is that it’s double the sweet which equals double the trouble. So, you know, watch out. (Or maybe I am off my rocker? Maybe corn syrup is sticky poison? Am I missing something?) (Also, if you know of a non-corn syrup ketchup that tastes just like Heinz, do tell.)

    In any case, I’ve concluded that homemade ketchup-that-tastes-like-Heinz needs to have corn syrup. It’s necessary for the trademark satiny glow and velvety texture.

    I’m even willing to put my culinary reputation on the line for the stuff.

    Just-Like-Heinz Ketchup
    Adapted from topsecreterecipes.com

    I used my own canned roasted tomato sauce instead of the called-for tomato paste, so my ketchup had a bit more texture—random seeds and such—and the kids took issue. I ignored them, because they were being ridiculous, but then I relented and let them mix the homemade with the store-bought, half and half. I have high hopes that they’ll soon acclimate.

    1 pint roasted tomato sauce or 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
    ½ cup light corn syrup
    ½ cup white vinegar
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon onion powder
    1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

    Combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thick, unlidded, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature and pour into an empty Heinz ketchup bottle. Store in the fridge.

    Yield: 1½ cups

    This same time, years previous: hot chocolate

  • 2012 garden stats and notes

    I just read somewhere that September is the big month for preserving food. That might be true for me some years, but not this one. The garden finished up early, thanks to the weird weather, and I am done, done, done. Sure, I want to dry apples eventually (maybe), score some butternuts from a farmer, and perhaps order a bushel or two of broccoli (if we can empty out our freezers enough before then), but only if I feel like it. It’s not my priority.

    Even so, that comment about September made me a little anxious. Should I be doing more? Am I missing something?

    It’s true, I was a little more moderate in what I put up this year. For example, even though we still have oodles of tomatoes out in the garden, I stopped putting them up because it seemed like we had enough. And we do, I think (I think?), but I can’t help worrying that I should maybe do a little more. Just in case.

    When I start getting Guilty Gardener Pangs, you know what I do? I soothe myself by chanting, There are grocery stores. You won’t starve. There are grocery stores. You won’t starve. It works pretty well.

    And then, if there is any lingering guilt, I tell myself, “You always over-preserve anyway. You’d think you lived through the Great Depression in a former life or something. Geesh.”

    So anyway, this month is shaping up to be pretty relaxed, garden-wise.

     A lazy September? What a novel idea!

    I think I like it.

    2012 Garden Stats and Notes

    spinach, frozen: 12 10-ounce bags and 11 4-ounce bags
    strawberries, frozen, sliced: 31 quarts
    mint tea concentrate: 16 pints (and another batch that I didn’t count)
    sour cherries, frozen: 3 quarts
    blueberries, frozen: 37 pints
    sweet pickle relish: 3 pints
    sweet pickles: 17 quarts
    pesto, frozen: 17 batches
    green beans, Roma, frozen: 29 1½-quart bags
    green beans, Tenderette, frozen: 57 1½-quart bags
    applesauce, canned: 86 quarts
    corn, frozen: 36 quarts and  12 pints
    corn, roasted, frozen: 3 1½- pints
    peaches, canned: 45 quarts
    peaches, canned, roasted: 5 pints
    peach jam, canned: 18 pints and 2 half-pints
    red raspberries, frozen: 10 quarts and 1 pint (and counting)
    zucchini relish, canned: 5 pints and 2 half-pints
    tomatoes, roasted, frozen: 4 quarts
    tomatoes, chunks, canned: 27 quarts and 2 pints
    salsa, canned: 16 quarts
    roasted garlic pizza sauce, canned: 23 pints and 6 half-pints
    roasted tomato sauce, canned: 6 pints and 2 half-pints
    ketchup: 7 half-pints
    grape jelly, canned: 24 pints and 5 half-pints
    grape juice, canned: 15 quarts
    trumpet squash, frozen: 4 pints

    *Don’t bother planting spinach. It’s much more effective to buy it in bulk from the neighboring farm.
    *The old strawberry patch is done. Plant a new one already. And you don’t really like the Sparkle strawberries that you planted last spring. They’re sweet, but have zero shelf life—they can hardly even make it into the house without going all mushy. Plus they’re taking over the asparagus.
    *Next year, take the time to make some strawberry jam.
    *You didn’t get blackberries this year because the dam got mowed. Make them a priority for next year, please.
    *One huge row of cucumbers and another of red beets was a brilliant move. (Thanks, Dad!) Finally, you got your fill of cucumbers.
    *About those red beets: don’t hesitate to harvest them for their greens and tender little babies. When it comes down to it, you don’t need many full-sized beets to make you happy.
    *For the love of fresh corn, do not cook all the corn at once and then let it sit on the cob while you scramble to play catch-up! Because then your delicious sweet corn ends up tasting like cobby sweet corn. (The horrors.)
    *For the first time ever, the zucchini didn’t keel over and die. Four plants provided enough zucchinis for a whole summer of eating without ever being overwhelming. It helped that they were picked small, too.
    *Roasted garlic pizza sauce is divine.
    *There were no nectarines or apricots. Do lots next year.
    *Finally, enough green beans! And, thanks to the rain, they kept producing and producing and producing! Who knew green beans did that?
    *Two bushels of potatoes is just about right. You’ll run out in a few months, but you don’t like them when they grow whiskers and get all wrinkly anyway.
    *It would be nice to have some sweet potatoes. Try not to forget them next year.
    *Mulching the garden with straw was very, very worth it. Hardly any weeds and no watering (though that was partly due to the dripping skies).

    This same time, years previous: rainy day writing, NY trip, family pictures, how to clean a room, almond cream pear tart, blasted cake, fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal, grilled salmon with lemon butter, oven-roasted shallots, drying pears

  • a laundry list

    Since we are in the midst of Hurricane Isaac’s aftermath (I think?) and will not see the sun for the next three days, a laundry list is in order. Maybe this will make me feel better for not being able to actually do any laundry.

    Also, it’s a really long post. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and get cozy.

    1. Homemade laundry detergent. (A fitting start, no?)

    A couple weeks—months?—ago, I made my own detergent ’cause everyone was doing it and I felt left out. So I bought the borax and washing soda and zote soap and made myself a five-gallon bucket full of the stuff.

    Only problem was, the bucket had a slow leak, so my husband had to set it inside an oil pan and put it in the basement. Within a few days, much of the water had leaked out and my liquid laundry detergent had become a gelatinous laundry detergent. It still worked fine. Instead of pouring it into the little slot in the washing machine, we just had to blop-plopped it in. (So why all the fuss with making a concentrate and then diluting it if you can just make a jiggling gel from the start?)

    Actually, I lied when I said “only problem.” I did have another problem with the stuff. Simply put, our clothes stank. Not all the time, mind you. Sometimes, when they fluttered dry in the breeze on a hot, sunny day, they smelled downright lovely. Or at least neutral. But other times (cloudy days maybe?) they had a dank, rank stench to them. Not so strong that others would notice (I hope!) but strong enough to bother the wearer.

    So last week I re-subscribed to my favorite laundry detergent on Amazon, and two days later a large box of the sweet-smelling, magic powder arrived on my doorstep. Doing the laundry never felt so good!

    2. Keeping it real.

    I loved your comments on the walking-the-line post! Of course, I love all your comments all the time, but these were especially great—so thoughtful and insightful. Insightfully thoughtful. Thoughtfully insightful? Whatever. For some I laughed out loud, for others I nearly cried. I love you guys.

    I said I have a built-in BS detector, and I do. But after further reflection, I wonder if my BS detector is as sturdy as I think it is. FringeGirl wrote, “ In the end, I think people know.” I pretty much agree with this statement except that sometimes I really don’t know. Sometimes I read about people who are joyfully making supper with a passel of kids underfoot and I think, Really?  Five o’clock isn’t arsenic hour at your house? (Arsenic hour: when everyone falls apart just before supper and you’re tempted to put arsenic in the food.) In my house, pre-mealtime equals crashing blood sugars and mass meltdowns. So I start doubting myself. If I smiled more, maybe, or if I only took pictures of sunshine on gnarled wood, could I, too, joyfully prepare supper while my children genteelly played games or set the table or visited with me? It eats me up sometimes. (Now that the children are older, arsenic hour is less … poisonous. So there’s that.)

    The other day in Barnes and Noble, I picked up Ree’s new cookbook. At the very end of the book there were some pictures of her kitchen completely buried in dirty dishes after a full day of cooking. At first I found the pictures reassuring—she makes messes, too!—but now not so much. Because she never (at least not that I know of) says who washes all those dishes. Her kids? Her husband? A cleaning crew? It really doesn’t matter…except that it does. I need to know these things. I need to know the dirty details so that I can feel a little better about my own dirty details.

    Dirty details: it could be the name of a book. Or a blog.

    3. Going to the theater.

    My husband and I went to see “The Lion in Winter” on Friday. We were blown away, both figuratively and (almost) literally. It was intense. I walked out of the theater so filled up that I was on the verge of tears. And I wasn’t sad. If you’ve been thinking of seeing a play at the Blackfriars, do yourself a favor. See that one.

    Then on Sunday night we took the whole family to see the dress rehearsal of Twelfth Night (ushers’ privileges). I think it was good, but I’m not for sure since I was battling with my younger children the whole time—the poor wretches were victims of air conditioning, full bladders, intense thirst that could not wait, sleepiness, and general angst. The theater’s rule may be no kids under the age of six, but mine (as of Sunday night) is no kids under the age of ten.

    Positive Note #1: the older two sat on the opposite side of the stage by themselves and behaved marvelously. Kids do grow up.

    Positive Note # 2: all four kids loved the play.

    4. The garden is kaputz.

    We are done with the garden. Done, done, done! Boy, does it feel marvelous.

    I gave my husband permission to mow down the corn. He was excited (in his I’m-not-going-to-show-any-excitment-about-it way) because, one, he doesn’t like the garden all that much, and two, he likes to mow. In fact, my husband was so freakin’ excited to mow the garden into oblivion that he celebrated by mowing down the corn and the beans without checking with me first.

    As soon as I realized what he was doing, I ran out on the deck and started hollering at him. He cut the engine and I yelled, “People were going to come pick the beans!”

    “I didn’t know that!” he yelled back.  And then he surveyed the flattened garden and added,“Well, I guess not anymore.”

    “I told you they were coming!” I was all sorts of huffy self-righteous.

    I went into the house. He turned the mover back on to finish decimating the bean patch. The gleaners drove in the driveway. The timing could not have been better.

    The gleaners, bless their hearts, had to sift through the dirt for their beans. My husband felt so bad (which was exactly how I wanted him to feel—I made that quite clear) that he plied them with basil, beets, and tomatoes in an attempt to compensate for their mowed-up beans.

    All that to say, we’re pretty much done with the garden.

    5. My favorite pizza sauce recipe.

    I wrote about this recipe in my newspaper column. You can read the whole story here.

    Roasted Tomato and Garlic Pizza Sauce
    This recipe first appeared on Simple Bites.

    12 pounds paste tomatoes, such as Roma
    ½ cup olive oil, plus extra as needed
    ½ teaspoon black pepper
    1 head garlic
    3/4 cup green pepper, rough dice
    1 cup onion, rough dice
    1 jalapeño, rough mince
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 tablespoon each, dried basil and dried oregano
    citric acid, bottled lemon juice, or vinegar

    Cut off the top of the head of garlic, making sure that the tippy-top of each clove has been removed. Set the garlic, cut side up, on a piece of foil, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, and wrap tightly.

    Wash and core the tomatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise and toss with ½ cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and the black pepper. Divide the tomatoes between two large, sided trays (put the foil-wrapped garlic on one of the trays) and roast at 400 degrees for 60-90 minutes, rotating as necessary. The tomatoes will blister and blacken a bit—this is good.

    While the tomatoes are roasting, sauté the peppers and onion in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very soft.

    Dump the roasted tomatoes into a large stockpot and add the sauteed veggies. Squeeze the garlic pulp out of the skins and add to the vegetables. Puree the mixture. Stir in the sugar, dried herbs, and more salt to taste—2 to 3 teaspoons.

    Ladle the sauce into pint jars. To each jar add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1 tablespoon vinegar. Screw on the lids and process the jars in a hot water bath for 20 minutes at a gentle rolling boil.

    Yield: approximately 5 pints.

    6. Charlotte, we adore you.

    We are smitten, I tell you. Smitten.

    I am not an animal person, and I am definitely not a small dog person, so I am a little caught off-guard by how much I like this bundle of fur.

    Fellow mamas, you know how when your baby goes down for a nap and after a little while your arms start to ache to hold her again?  Confession: I get those same achy-arm twinges over Charlotte.

    She’s a snuggle bug. You can put a sleeping Charlotte over your shoulder like you do a real baby and then walk around doing your thing. It’s soothing.

    We have started some basic dog training, a la youtube. She’s catching on pretty quickly which is encouraging.

    The first couple nights my daughter slept outside with her. The third night we decided it was time to let Charlotte cry it out. I closed all our bedroom windows and put the noise machine right by my head.

    My poor parents were sleeping downstairs, however, only an open window separating them from the yowling pup. 

    Let us know if it gets too bad, we said sweetly.

    She eventually went to sleep, they reported. And in the morning she and Francie emerged from the doghouse together!

    My husband and I are united in the no animals in the house (most of the time) rule. The first night, after the kids were asleep, I brought Charlotte inside. My husband was outraged by my audacity. He lectured and sputtered, and then I put Charlotte in his lap and he shut up.

    “You can’t put these pictures on the blog,” he said. “I’ll never live it down.”

    “I can do whatever I want,” I said.

    7. The things they say (and do).

    Exhibit A: My younger daughter unwittingly made up a new word: hypergetic. It’s a combo of hyperactive and energetic. I like it.

    Exhibit B: My younger son was bouncing on the sofa beside me. Knock it off, I snapped. He took one final enormous jump, lifting his legs high so he could land in the sitting position. Except he jumped out at the same time he jumped up so he missed the sofa entirely and landed smack on the floor.

    Without thinking, I quipped meanly, “Serves you right!”

    Two seconds later, his stunned silence turned to wails of pain. “My butt went up into my stomach,” he sobbed.

    I rubbed his back and tsk-tsked soothingly, like mothers are supposed to do, but inside I was still giggling.

    Example C: “Do I come from you?” my younger daughter asked. “Am I your child?”

    “Of course,” I said. “Whatever gave you the idea that you’re not?”

    “Well, there’s this dumb song that says I’m not your own child.”

    Can you guess what song she was listening to?