Saturday, July 27, 2013

You Live Where?: Farmers' Market edition

I think I've probably mentioned this before, but Fayetteville has one amazing Farmers' Market. Actually, they have several amazing Farmers' Markets, in multiple locations and days, but I pretty much have stuck to the Saturday morning, downtown market on the square.

With our garden, we haven't bought a ton of produce there this summer; it was all I could do to restrain myself this morning when I saw the most amazing heirloom, beefsteak and cherry tomatoes. Maybe next week.

And the eggplants were such a gorgeous, deep purple, I found myself frantically doing a search of my mental rolodex to see if I could justify buying a pint of them for some exotic dinner. No dice - all I could come up with was fried eggplant, and the odds of all four Coussoules eating that were too low to justify the purchase.

The main reason I headed to the Market this morning was to pick up Peach Preserves, the key ingredient in this week's recipe: Peach Glazed Pork Tenderloin. (I know, seriously - just writing it makes me hungry.) There is a stand at the Market every week that has homemade jams, jellies, preserves and butters, and I am officially hooked. Their blackberry jam is worth hoarding, it's so delicious.

We were a little bit later than usual to the Market this morning - the serious Market shoppers get there earlyearlyearly, as soon as it opens, to get the best pick of produce, flowers, open range meat and eggs, and other homemade and handmade wonders.

By the time Caroline and I dropped John off at a birthday party and got downtown, it was a few hours into Market day and the crowd was growing. On a mission, we stopped briefly to pet the shelter dogs, and headed right for the Bramble Berry Farm booth. Yummmmmm... but I was on a mission. Peach preserves, Amanda. No pumpkin butter, no blackberry jam, no jalapeno jelly today.

Unfortunately, not only was I a little late today, the proprietor's daughter was on vacation last week, so their variety was slimmer than usual. Not to be deterred, I spied apricot preserves - which the recipe clearly states as an option vs. peach - and we were on our way.

I promise, this is the jam stand... not sure how I missed
getting a picture of the beautiful jars of goodness
Rather than heading straight home, I convinced Caroline to walk the square with me. There are always musicians playing for tips, and there is reliably at least one wonderful folk band picking and playing Ozark mountain music. How amazing is the sound of a man picking a banjo with talented abandon?

A quick stop to play on the rocks and skip over the water, and it was time to head out.

Living in Northwest Arkansas continues to be a delight. I've loved so many of the places I've lived, and funky Fayetteville, home of the Razorbacks, is high on the list.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Feature: Up, Up and Away!

Hot Air Balloon

I saw a hot air balloon flying over my house:
Most of the time, it was quiet as a mouse,
But, every so often, its burners suddenly roared,
And higher, up into the sky, it suddenly soared.

My excitement, I found hard to keep at bay,
As, a hot air balloon, you don't see every day.
A passenger balloon floating through the air,
For me, is so special, as the sight is so rare.

The sight of the balloon, filled me with delight,
And I stood watching it, until it flew out of sight.
My eyes were stuck to the balloon, just like glue,
As it floated across a sky of cornflower blue.

I wonder what it's like to float through the sky,
Wathing the world down below gliding on by.
I've always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon:
I hope I will one day, and I hope that it's soon.

-- Angela Wybrow

Paper mâché is a mess, but man, did we have fun with it. I put this on the curriculum calendar this summer knowing it would be a mess and a lot of work, but with the hopes that it would be so much fun, the mess would be totally worth it. I remember as a girl doing a paper mâché craft with my Brownie troop, and clearly it was a highlight of my artistic career. So for this craft, I joined in the fun. 

There are a lot of steps to a paper mâché hot air balloon:

Blow up balloon
Mix up paper mache mess
Dip torn strips of paper and layer onto balloon

Taking her time, covering up the whole balloon and
keeping it smooth to paint later
Step one - Done!
Let it dry for a few days, then paint a
base coat of white
And make a monkey face
while painting 
Definitely the best part
Finally - time to paint the design on!

Given drying time, my work schedule, and missing key materials like pipe cleaners and yarn, we did it a bit in stops and starts. I think the final results, though, were definitely worth the mess.


Up, Up and Away!!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The magic elixir

I love coffee. There's really no other more effective way to put it. It's a magical delight that tells me the day has started and everything is going to be okay. I would drink coffee from the minute I got up until the minute I went to bed if my stomach could handle it. When I drink it, it's like someone sprinkled good-mood pixie dust on me. Now, before you start thinking I'm some hard core caffeine junkie who may as well hook up a mainline, let me come clean: I see coffee primarily as a vehicle by which to try all of the wonderful flavors of creamer the good food scientists at Coffee-mate and International Delight come up with.

For ages, I've been a dedicated Dunkin Donuts Cinnamon Spice with sugar and Creme Brûlée Coffeemate creamer girl. Recently, I finished up a bag of Gevalia French Roast that Justin had bought and didn't really care for. I didn't really, either, but who am I to let coffee go to waste? It wasn't bad, but I was pretty happy to get back to my Dunks. 

While there's comfort in being a creature of habit, I recently tried a new creamer. Make that, three new creamers. International Delight came out with - wait for it - Cold Stone Creamery inspired flavors. For someone who in high school thought that a Sweet Cream milkshake was as close to heaven as you could get in this lifetime, this is the picture of pure bliss:

I kept the Sweet Cream at home, and have the Hot For Cookie at work (Founder's Favorite is on deck on the fridge). New creamers to go with the free Folgers, Millstone, and Dunkin Donuts coffee in the break room. Do I work for an amazing company or what?

So every workday morning, I fill up my travel mug with water, pour it in the coffee pot, and make exactly one mug of coffee to take with me to work. My commute now is so short, I can't even drink the whole thing before I get to the office. When I lived in a suburb of Cincinnati, I would make a mug plus a Thermos full of coffee, and still be sitting in traffic with a full bladder before ever coming in sight of Winton Hill. I currently have four travel mugs, and Justin has two. I rotate them based on my mood or my outfit (I'm a girl, I'm allowed to make decisions like that). 

In my experience, coffee mugs are one of those things that multiply spontaneously. Kind of like wire hangers and lone socks. I think there was a five year period when I was a kid where every gift giving occasion resulted in a new mug for Mom or Dad. My parents' cupboard has a remarkable collection of mugs, consisting primarily of music, Army, and Texas Aggie designs. 

With our moving every two or three years, we've been ruthless about keeping things pared down, including our coffee mugs. We have some that match our dishes; a set that was a Christmas gift from my mom one year; photo mugs with our adorable kids' mugs (haha, very punny); and a few that the kids have collected from hot chocolate sets.

My not-pictured Army travel mug is drying on the counter...
My favorites are the mug I got at Disney last summer

and my very first kid-art mug that John made me for Mother's Day.

This morning, I pulled out an oldie but a goodie. This mug has seen far more cups of hot chocolate than coffee, as it was a Christmas gift from my Uncle Bubby and Aunt Laurel about 30 years ago. My sister has one just like it, and I always thought it was such a wonderful gift.

I have a habit of "saving" things that have incalculable worth to me, only using them on special occasions. But this blog is not just a fun New Year's Resolution for me. It also reminds me that every moment is special; all of life's little moments add up to a richness that is priceless. So this morning, I drank my coffee in a mug that reminds me of my much-loved uncle who passed so many years ago, and my aunt who is far away in North Carolina but always near to my heart. 

The magic isn't in the coffee today. This morning, the magic is in the mug. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday morning little moment

For the first time in weeks, it's an overcast, comfortable morning here in northwest Arkansas. We're home from church, I put my coffee on to brew, and Justin is cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'm in one of my favorite places, sitting on the back patio with a breeze gently playing the wind chimes, catching up on Words With Friends before I dive into a new book.

The solitude never lasts long. And that's okay. This morning, John popped out on the patio with this:


"Look Mommy. It's called the Speeder Car. It has tail fins and antennas so it looks really fast. I just wanted to show you and Daddy. Can I go watch a show now?"

And just like that, he was gone. Back inside, a hundred miles an hour, happiest kid on earth. 

Back to the sounds of the birds, the wind chimes, and the neighbor's dog barking as the cars go by. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Feature: John's artwork

Capturing this week's artwork in a picture was a little more challenging than usual.

Medium: chalk
Subject: outer space
Surface: the driveway

For a half a second, I honestly thought about pulling out the step ladder to get the shot. Then my Friday afternoon post-work exhaustion hit me, and I just lifted my arms up over my head, pointed, clicked, and hoped for the best.


I'm proud of John - he did this all by himself. He has the planets in order, and the drawing of Earth is exceedingly good for a soon-to-be-1st-grader, if you ask me.

Lots of learning so far this summer, and plenty more to come!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Moooooooooooom I'm Huuuuuuuuungry

I choose to believe that even gourmet chefs, cookbook authors, and culinary creative geniuses despise this question as much as I do: "Mom, what's for dinner?"

For crying out loud, I have no idea. I just walked in the door. I barely had time to put my purse and lunch bag down before the bottomless pit accosted me with the question. I know I'm lucky that many - make that, most - nights, dinner is not on me. My husband plans and prepares dinner most nights, and when I'm able, I pitch in. (In truth, half the time, the bottomless pit doesn't ask what's for dinner, he asks if he can borrow my iPad so he can play Angry Birds. That question is only slightly less irritating than the dinner question.)

Back to Tuesday nights - recently, Justin gets a respite from the evening routine, heading out the door a little before 6 to lead a book study at church, so I'm on the hook for preventing the starvation of the two midgets under my roof.

Believe it or not, this is one area I have demonstrated a pretty consistent ability to plan ahead. Growing up, my mom kept a calendar that had one sole purpose - to list what was for dinner, all done on Sunday night, and laid out for the week ahead so that whomever was responsible for cooking (read: Amanda) wouldn't have to do too much thinking. As a piano teacher whose hours started at 3:30, frequently went until 9:30, and only included a half hour dinner break at 6:30 (reliably, every night - we were the regular Cleaver family with all of us around the table from 6:30 to 7:00 every evening), my mom had to be organized or face the wrath and wailing of three midgeroos, insisting that they were near starvation. I managed to inherit some of that organization, and in general, we successfully plan our dinners at least a couple of days ahead of time, if not a week.

So this morning as I'm heading out the door, Justin and I agree that leftover breakfast pizza (my recipe of the week, which was a hit on Sunday morning, might I add) would be the easiest answer for dinner. All I had to do was heat it up, and we'd be golden. Almost no dishes, balanced meal, happy kids. Done and done.

Except for the part where the only pieces of breakfast pizza that are left from Sunday morning are covered in broccoli and tomatoes.

"Red leader to Rebel Base, we have what looks like an enemy formation ahead. It seems to resemble broccoli and tomatoes. Abort attack, over."

Uuuugggghhhhhh.... back to the, "What's for dinner?"

The interrogation begins. What did you have for lunch? Answer: fish sticks. One of the three major food groups is out.

That leaves chicken nuggets and PB&J. (God forbid I should say peanut butter and jelly - in our house, the J is a firm JAM, please. No jelly.) Seriously? This is what I've been reduced to? How did I become that mom? I think it was a slow slide, but a precipitous fall on a night like tonight - because I'm tired from a long day at work, I had it in my head that dinner was basically no work, and I don't want to think about the aftermath of dishes from cooking anything that takes more than a piece of aluminum foil in the toaster oven.

I try one more time to entice the little person with the breakfast pizza, to no avail. He asks, "what about leftovers?" Since leftovers consists mostly of a rice and vegetable dish or pizza (my kids are sick of it, what does that tell you), I got the request for another favorite - breakfast for dinner. Which sounds so simple, but honestly, it makes a huge mess. Until... I've got it. Eggos.

Yep. My kids are having frozen waffles and french fries for dinner, with fresh peaches and blueberries on the side. 

Considering that my little brother spent his third year of life eating almost nothing other than applesauce, vienna sausages and Coca Cola, I think it'll be okay. I mean, 30 years later, I'd say he looks pretty good.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer blooms

Despite the fact that we are now officially back in a drought here in Northwest Arkansas, I have a yard full of blooms thanks to the efforts of my husband and now my kids, too, in keeping everything watered.

So on this beautiful Monday morning with a whole summer week stretching in front of us, I just wanted to share a few splashes of color. My flowers make me smile; I hope they make you smile, too.

And then a couple of days ago, this bloomed in the back bed. I had forgotten I planted sunflowers, and when this sunny face opened up, I smiled up at heaven - not just for the sunshine and the flowers that bloom, but because the sunflower was my classmate Jaimie's favorite flower. So this summer, I'll have her memory with me here in my backyard, too.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Feature: music to my ears

I've played the piano pretty much forever. Literally, as long as I can remember, there has been piano music in my life. Keys under my fingers, piano in my house, music in the air. My mom is a piano teacher, so not only did I get the benefit of starting piano lessons at the age of 3, her students filled the air with music (and at times, that's a generous description of what they filled the air with) from 3:30 until sometimes as late as 9:30 at night.

When I moved away to college, of course, a piano was much harder to come by, not to mention the time with which to practice. There was the rare occasion when I would find time to play one of the pianos hidden away in a small room in the West Point library, and there was the best-cocktail-party-story-ever moment when I got to play Heart & Soul with Billy Joel at Eisenhower Hall, but from my college years through my early adulthood, there was a significant hiatus from playing the piano, broken up only when I went home to visit.

I always figured my kids would play the piano, just like me, so when Caroline turned five, my dad bought us a really nice keyboard. Much bigger than a kids' keyboard - perfectly suited to teach little hands the basics. We are so fortunate that with today's technology, my kids get to take piano lessons from my mom, even though we live 500+ miles away. This summer, every Wednesday evening has been piano lesson night, and it's been great. I've seen them both progress, and they don't even complain about practicing.

So when my dad called me a few weeks ago to tell me that he wanted to buy us a digital piano - a full sized, true piano touch, pedals and everything - I was stunned. I'm usually terrible at accepting gifts like this - it's always a bit of an awkward feeling, being a grownup, but having Daddy still buy me things. You know what, though? I think it makes him happy, especially something like this that's for his grandkids and his daughter.

So for once in my life, I didn't protest. I just say, "Thank you, Dad. That would be awesome." And here we are, about four weeks later, and the piano has arrived. It will take some getting used to, especially how much more finger strength it will take to press the keys, but the excitement is the key.

So this Friday, the feature doesn't have anything to do with journaling, artwork, spelling, or math. It has everything to do with music, creativity, and love. Here are a few clips of Caroline, John, and even Mama playing our new amazing piano.

(If you can't see the videos, please click the title in your email and it will take you to the blog page!)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Update on the "ankle incident"

Several weeks ago, I shared my disappointing DNF result from the War Eagle 50k - a disappointing result primarily because of an ankle injury. At the time, I assumed it was a severe sprain, and some rest, ice, compression and elevation would get me back on my feet and to my running routine in a few weeks.

I ultimately ended up at the doctor the Thursday after the race, because the darn swelling just wouldn't go away, and for some reason, my ankle still hurt pretty badly by the end of most days.

Because it was broken.


Soooo... into a boot I went, onto crutches, and then a knee scooter, with doctor's orders for absolutely no activity (including swimming) for five weeks.


But as we all know, in the summertime, time flies!!! Follow up appointment was today, and I was thrilled to hear the words "normal" and "healthy" as the good doctor reviewed my x-rays with me. He showed me where the break had been at the bottom of the fibula, and how it was all healed with the fracture line essentially invisible to the untrained eye.
I know where it is, but that's because I saw it when it
was broken... tell me if you can see where the break was!
He showed me how the spaces between all of the bones in the foot (and by the way, have you ever looked at the skeletal structure of the foot? Good grief, there are a lot of bones down there) were the right distance apart, which meant that all of the ligaments were in the right place.

Those are apparently some lovely 3mm, 4mm, and 3mm gaps
between all of the bones. Just ask my doctor.
Whew. Until that moment, I honestly had not realized just how anxious I was that I would not hear the words "normal" and "healthy" about my ankle. In fact, if I am truly honest, I must admit that I had moments of doubt that I would ever be back to normal - I'm getting older; I may not heal properly; I haven't been a model patient with the total avoidance of weight bearing activities. So when the x-ray evidence confirmed that I would, in fact, be back to normal, I was thrilled.

And immediately asked, "So when can I run again?"

I credit the doctor's extensive experience of working with athletes for being able to refrain from rolling his eyes at me.

As it turns out, I am allowed to work out starting immediately. I am allowed to:

  • ride my bike!
  • swim!
  • walk!
  • go to physical therapy once a week!
  • ice my ankle twice a day, every day! (The physical therapist used the word "non-negotiable" several times in this particular conversation... you'd think he knows I'm a little bit hard headed, or something)
I am not yet allowed to:
  • run!!

Six more weeks until I can participate in any impact activities which, of course, for me means running. But you know what? In only six weeks, I can run. No bad news that the bone didn't heal properly; no terrifying prospect of a pin in my leg or a future that holds no running at all. So what's six weeks? We all lament how quickly the summer goes by, anyway. I'm going to blink, it's going to be Labor Day weekend, and I'm going to be out there in my shorts and my tank top with my Garmin all set to step off at a double time.

So here's to an unanticipated break from running this summer (see how I did that? break? get it?) and the opportunity to put some serious miles on my bike and get some intense swim workouts in. Just because I'm not running doesn't mean I'm not still all in.