If Evolution Really Worked I’d Have Way More Than Two Hands

Man, I thought I’d be able to keep this thing up at least twice a week but life has taken over. Today is the first time I get to sit at my computer to write anything since my last blog post!

Lots of things going on in the Panda cage right now: Mardi Gras is Tuesday, the kids haven’t been to any parades yet but my house looks like we’ve thrown a carnival. This past weekend I spent in revelry with adult friends because well, I earned it. How’s that saying go, “Working mother is a redundant phrase”? Yeah, that’s me. So I had a blast, made gumbo for an army of people and went to a parade where I had tons of fun catching beads and throws for my friend’s daughter, Cadence. The panda cubs were with a sitter for the weekend.

At Wal-Mart, shopping for last minute lawn chairs. Yes, I dress in theme for most holidays. Don't mind the smeared makeup, I fixed it shortly after the picture was taken!

For Valentine’s day Maverick and I had more cupcake adventures, which were awesome. We made “sweetheart cupcakes”. Basically, devil’s food and strawberry cake batter baked in cupcakes. Hollow out the middle, and fill with a blended mixture of cherry preserves, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Make a ganache, dip the cupcakes in the ganache frosting, and then decorate. They were DELICIOUS. We brought some to my grandfather and other family members on Valentine’s day and then last night I delivered the leftovers to some friends of mine, to prevent me from eating all of them.

Sweetheart cupcakes!

With the hollowed out middles of the cupcakes (as you know I’m frugal and don’t like to waste ANYTHING) I blended more cream cheese and then dipped in melted semisweet chocolate. VOILA: Cake truffles!

Cake truffles with sugar crystals!

Also last week we turned my rock garden into a raised flower bed for annuals. We have had lots of rain and back and forth between cold and warm weather so I haven’t sowed any seeds yet, but mostly will be planting wildflowers there. Maverick and I can just throw the seeds and wait for the pretty to happen!

This will be full of colorful flowers by summer time

While digging out the earth for the raised flower bed, Maverick made some new friends. Insects. Worms. Earwigs. All sorts of gross things. It’s always amazing to me how little boys will touch, hold, play with DAMN NEAR ANYTHING and not be bothered by it. We now have a pot of soil and worms outside, and he checks their progress daily. By checking their progress, I mean he pulls them out of the soil and flips them around in his hand a bit then puts them back into the dirt. I’m getting the creeps just thinking about it.

The tiniest worm on earth. His name is "Sam"

On the gardening subject, all of the tomato plants have sprouted true leaves, so that meant last night I had to ELIMINATE THE WEAKER ONES (MWAHAHAHAHA) ok that’s enough of the mad scientist gardner. So now, we have 15 tomato plants in our coldframe.

Here they are! In all their glory. Ethan took out the markers so I have no idea which pods contain what varieties but hey, all tomatoes are delicious so I'll be happy if even ONE of these makes it to bearing fruit. The two pots on the sides are sunflowers, the one in front of the tomatoes is a cluster of basil seedlings that is struggling to survive, and the aluminum pot has some violas. I'm hoping to make a window box with those, it gets too hot here for them to survive the summer outdoors. They are only a couple weeks old at this point. Gardening takes SO MUCH patience.

My little artists decided to draw on the sofa today, and I read on google that HAND SANITIZER and PAPERTOWELS would remove ball point ink. And it worked! So for all you moms out there with kids that are as creative as mine, commit that tip to memory. The last time this happened I paid to have the sofa cleaned… this time I just used a lot of elbow grease and remedied the problem myself.

I also would like to mention here that I am participating in a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Acadiana… and if you read this blog I’d like you to share it on your blog, or maybe donate. I’m 100 dollars away from my goal. Please, follow this link and read the story associated. Help in any way that you can. Rock for Hope

I hope that everyone has a blessed week, and I promise that once Mardi Gras settles down I’ll be posting more, it’ll be my Lenten Devotion this year: BLOG MORE OFTEN!

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Frugal Soup for the Soul

It’s a rainy day in Lafayette, Louisiana today. I’m sitting in my home-office typing to you with the window slightly open, rain pouring off the gutters on my roof. The temperature outside is 70 degrees, arguably too warm for soup but the rain gives enough chill to validate my desire to make soup. This morning, also, I was followed by blogger John Bryan-Hopkins. His blog outlines national food days. Today, is national soup day. Who can disagree with that? The only way I could possibly be more convinced that today is a day for making soup would be my vegetables chopping themselves and jumping into the pot!
Most of my friends know that I am a “foodie”. Though I generally detest the term (it’s like the culinary “hipster”, it makes me cringe when I hear it but I can’t say I’m a chef so “foodie” it is) I accept this label and the gifts that come with being one. For Christmas this year my surrogate family (mom and brother) gave me an indoor herb garden and a book called “1 Stock, 100 Soups”. Everyone who cooks should know how to make a vegetable stock but in case you don’t this is the basic recipe for vegetable stock, which I will be using to make my soup today:

Makes 4 Cups:

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion chopped finely
  • 2 leeks thinly sliced
  • 2 celery stalks finely chopped
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 2 small parsnips, thinly sliced
  • 1 small turnip, thinly sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 fresh parsley sprigs
  • 2/3 c dry white wine
  • 4 cups water

Heat the oil in a large pan. I use sunflower oil because I love it. Add the onion, leeks, celery, and potato and cook over a low heat until softened and just beginning to color. Add the rest of the vegetables and white wine, and cook for two minutes until the alcohol has evaporated. Increase the heat to medium, pour in the water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for an hour. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the basic vegetable stock into bowl. (I get really intense here to get the most flavor out I use a food mill on the vegetables and then wring them out in a cheese cloth to get the most stock out of them. This is optional, you could just strain them with a fine mesh and you’d be fine, I’m sure.) Then, I strain it again in a finer strainer. .

**photos of stock**

It will keep in the refrigerator for about 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. I pour mine into an ice cube tray once it has cooled, and once the stock cubes are frozen I bag them in a gallon ziploc container, this way when I need stock it defrosts quickly and it saves space in my tiny freezer! Making your own stock is one of the most rewarding and money saving things you can do in your kitchen. I am notorious for cooking dinners that take less than a half hour to prepare and the secret to the flavor in them is using homemade stock in nearly everything.

It’s raining today so I’m not going to go to the store for my soup ingredients, nor will I follow any particular recipe. I went pantry shopping and found a soup! Ingredients:

**photos of ingredients**

  • 6 frozen stock cubes
  • 1/2 c pearl barley
  • 1 bag frozen baby carrots
  • 1/2 lb ground chuck (frugal tip: Be friends with your butcher! If roasts are cheaper than ground meat, ask him to grind up a roast for you. Yesterday, chuck roasts were on sale for 1.50 a pound! Ground chuck pre-packaged was 2.49 a pound (sale price!) I asked at the counter for the butcher to grind up 10 pound of roast and picked up my ground meat on the way out after I had bought my produce)
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 bag frozen brussels sprouts

Optional for garnish

  • 1 onion sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic sliced

Put the barley into a large pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently with occasional stirring until all the water is absorbed. Add your ground chuck and cook until browned. Throw in stock cubes, frozen carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Continue to cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender and no longer frozen. (Would probably be a lot better with fresh vegetables, but I’m not leaving in this horrible rain!) Pour in your can of tomato sauce (I used a 15 ounce can). Stir frequently, add in no more than one cup of water if your soup looks thick, the vegetables will lose water and add it to the soup as it cooks.

My grandmother taught me this way of garnishing soups that is very elegant and tasty. Slice up onions and coat them lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread onion slices out onto a cookie sheet and bake at 425 degrees, checking every five minutes for browning. When the onions seem brown or sticking to the pan, stir them a little. When the onions are mostly colored lay the sliced garlic in the pan and coat it in the olive oil and seasonings that have accumulated on the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking onions and garlic in the oven for about 20 more minutes, checking for browning every five minutes and stirring. In about thirty minutes you have deeply flavorful carmelized onions and garlic. Put a spoonful of the mixture onto each bowl of soup before serving and it takes the soup to a whole other dimension of flavor! (Or just eat it out of the pan, it’s that good.)

**soup**

Note from thepandamother: UNFORTUNATELY my phone will not upload the pictures, I think some drool (Ethan’s, not mine) got into the usb port. I’m currently storing it in a bag of rice to absorb the moisture (cool trick for electronics that get wet!) so it should work in the next couple of days. I will post the photos then.

Iced Coffee, Dollar General Shopping, and Baby Bobos

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Kind of fuzzy but that really dark spot is where the flap of skin got liquid stitched.

Today and yesterday have been an incredible whirlwind of emotion for everyone in this house.

Yesterday, Ethan fell and got quite the knot on his head. No long term damage, but the resulting injury looked so bad that I brought him to the emergency room anyway. Luckily for Ethan, the bobo was on his forehead, which the ER physician told me was the toughest part of the skull. Also, apparently babies are engineered to handle falls from walking height. Thank God for intelligent design, amiright? A little liquid stitch on the broken skin and some prescription infant pain killer for the next couple of days to ease the headaches and WHAMMO, Ethan’s first concussion!

Today was also the first full-time school working hours paycheck we received of Michael’s, which was a whole other added stress. It’s the beginning of the month so of course rent is due, utility bills are due, we just paid car insurance at the end of January… needless to say, things are very tight right now. Michael has more of a problem with this than I do, because I know that as long as the roof over our head is paid for, and our electricity and water are working, and I have some food in the house, my family and I will be fine. I think he may be reconsidering our decision for me to stay home with the kids, but if they were still in daycare we’d be spending well over 300 a week in gas and daycare costs, which was only a couple hundred less than what I was making. Not to mention the gas for me to and from work, the cost of working in general, etc. I stick by our decision and know that the next few years of living in frugality will benefit us in the long run. Example: I used to spend 100 dollars at the grocery store, minimum, per week to feed a family of four ONE meal a day and three meals a day on the weekends. We never ate breakfast or lunch at home. NOW, I can spend 50 dollars a week at the grocery store and feed us ALL breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve been couponing, shopping sales, buying reduced meat specials, and making really big, filling meals out of next to nothing. For instance, two nights ago I found two very large chicken breasts in my freezer. In the pantry I had about a half pound of spaghetti noodles, a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce, and a jar of parmesan cheese. Always on hand I have flour, eggs, milk, vegetable oil. I made chicken parmesan and spaghetti for all four of us, double servings. I don’t have a cost calculator but I’d estimate about 1.50 per serving, honestly.

For Christmas a very dear friend of mine gave me a basket full of Community Coffee, another friend gave me a french press, and Michael trumped them all by giving me a keurig coffee maker. Keurig pods are EXPENSIVE, so while I use it for its convenience I’ve limited myself to one cup a day and have been cold brewing coffee for iced coffee using the french press and gifted coffee grinds. It’s very simple.

Instructions:

Place 1 cup of coffee grinds into french press.

Cover with water. Stir. Place press on top of pitcher. Let grinds sit overnight.

After about 12 hours slowly depress plunger and pour into a pitcher.

Pour desired amount over ice with splenda and splash of milk and you have iced coffee, for approximately 40 cents a glass! Beats commercial coffee chains ANY DAY.

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Iced coffee (I don't like a lot of ice in it)

Progress Report: Maverick

I set benchmarks for myself in teaching my children. This is something not every parent has the diligence to do but I’ve always been a bit obsessive compulsive so researching, keeping lists, being organized lends itself well to the approach I take in preparing Maverick for school.

In early January, whenever I quit my job, I set out to do the following things before the beginning of February for Maverick:

  • Teach him what a library is, how we use it, and responsibility for library books
  • Teach him how to create secondary colors
  • Introduce him to the scientific method
  • Expose him to public ways of education like museums
  • Help him to find a hobby outside of coloring

At each benchmark we’ve come pretty far. Not all are completed, but most are thoroughly explored.

Each Tuesday since I’ve become the panda mother both children and I go to the public library about two miles from our house. There, we select eight books for the week and three DVD’s. Maverick is allowed to pick one documentary, one entertainment movie (pixar movies and the like) and one season of an educational television program. When his DVDs are finished playing, he takes them out of the XBOX we use as a DVD player and puts them carefully into their case. He is sure to place them where his baby brother cannot reach and is extra careful to not scratch them. After the first week whenever we brought back the books and movies Maverick grasped the concept of “borrowing” and that the books and movies “belong” to the library, we don’t give any money for them so the people at the library expect them back in the same condition they lent them in. He keeps the books religiously stacked on a desk in his room, and every “Library Day” he puts all of his borrowed items in a bag to ensure their safe transport back to the library. He is absolutely delighted when he turns them in and cannot wait to pick out more books. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick working on a craft project he discovered in a library book about ants.

Secondary colors have proven to be a little harder than I thought. At the library, we borrowed “Babar’s Book of Colors” to help us with this lesson. As of now, Maverick can recall that “red + yellow = orange” (Thanks to Ketchup and Mustard, giving him a visual representation of things he commonly eats together like on hamburgers and such helps him to recall what primary colors are used to make orange). He can also recall that “red + blue = purple”. The mnemonic device we use is bruising, the veins are red and blue so the bruises look purple. He’s a five year old boy, constantly covered in bruises, so it makes this easy to remember. He can’t seem to remember that “blue + yellow = green” so I might resort to flash cards for this. I hate the repetition that flash cards create and how impractical they are as a learning device. He won’t have a practical example to use, and it might limit his ability to express himself. Hopefully soon we can find something that makes sense in his head so that he can recall it. Benchmark: Almost complete.

Maverick working on drawing a color wheel

The “ants” book which was one of the first we borrowed at the library assisted greatly in introducing Maverick to the scientific method. In addition to the ant craft project, the wealth of information provided created an opportunity for hypothesis, experiment, observation, and conclusion. I realize this is a very simplified version of the scientific method but I think it is appropriate for a five year old to know how to discover things on his own. It creates an environment in which he can imagine what will happen, create a scenario where he can test if his theory is right, and ultimately answer his own questions. His first “experiment” began as “Mom, if ants are from different colonies are they enemies?” I knew the answer to this, but he didn’t. So I asked him how we could find out… Maverick’s answer “Let’s get a jar and go find some different ant colonies. We can put them all in the jar and see what’s gonna happen. If they fight then yes they are enemies but if not then no they are friends.” How could I argue with that? So, we set out to the park and collected some ants. We put them in a jar and they all went to separate corners. Here, I should have explained Maverick’s “experimental bias” to him but I think he should hit about 7 before we introduce those sorts of things. Because the ants were not fighting, Maverick  threw in a piece of pear, knowing the ants would want to eat it. The pear brought them closer together and the ants fought. Maverick concluded that ants from separate colonies are enemies. (Which, scientifically, is true: Ever taken half of one ant pile on a shovel and switched it with the top half of another ant pile? It’s like ant lava volcanoes, a guaranteed way to exterminate ants. I didn’t want to involve the risk of tons of ant bites so I didn’t propose this to Maverick and just let his experiment unfold itself, but bias or not he  did get the correct scientific answer.) Since then everything Maverick does is approached with a “Wait, let me think about it” followed by a “How bout this?” and some form of experimenting. Constant questioning. In my opinion an inquisitive child is a knowledgeable child. If they sincerely want to learn something they will not forget it. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick watching his ants

This month Maverick and I have gone to two museums, both of which he loved. We went to the dinosaur exhibit at the local science museum and also to the local children’s museum. He loved both, kept the tickets from both visits, and continually talks about them. At the dinosaur exhibit he asked questions, watched all of the videos, and left knowing considerably more than he got there knowing about various prehistoric animals. He was especially impressed that “crawfishes lives with dinosaurs? really?” At the children’s museum we stayed for approximately an hour, and Maverick played with every station in existence. I know that previously he has been to zoos and aquariums but a museum is something different altogether, in my opinion. There is a greater respect necessary for the things observed and much more information to be discovered. The children’s museum was mostly an exercise in play and he didn’t learn anything he didn’t already know, but I think he’s ready for me to take him to larger museums. Perhaps later in the spring  we will take a trip to New Orleans or Baton Rouge, where there are more museums. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick watching an animated dinosaur skeleton

The hobby benchmark is possibly the most interesting. What SHOULD HAVE been a hobby playing drums or ukelele transformed into gardening, because I had Maverick help me plant a small herb garden. I figured it would be a good time to teach him about photosynthesis and how to care for plants, but had NO IDEA he would take such an interest in it. Our Chia herb garden has been expanded to include a miniature greenhouse where we are germinating seedlings of eggplant, lavender, three types of tomatoes, shasta daisies, african daisies, violas, beans, carrots, lettuce, chives, basil, cilantro, dill, bell peppers, onions, and parsley. Our parsley has taken off but we had to restart the basil seedlings due to a “misunderstanding” of how photosynthesis works… Maverick cut the first set of leaves off the basil plants because we read that “regular cutting of the leave will ensure plant growth”. Benchmark: ACCOMPLISHED!

Maverick's greenhouse of seedlings