29 April 2011

The #1 Tip for Keeping Your Marriage Marvelous

Dear Lissy,
You rose early with me this morning to watch the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.  Your girlish heart -- and mine! -- delighted in all the beautiful hats and the exquisite lace gown worn by the bride. We enjoyed a four course British breakfast (Orange Juice & Tea, Porridge, "Fry-Up", and Toast & Jam) as the pomp and circumstance played out before us.  It seemed like we waited an hour for the iconic "Balcony Kiss", and you wriggled in excitement the entire time.
When the time for your own wedding comes you will have several weeks of counseling with your pastor or a trusted friend to prepare your heart and mind for your biblical role as a wife.  It's vitally important to build your marriage according to God's Word on the foundation of your faith in Christ.  But there are also some simple, practical truths that help a marriage function well.  Today's letter is going to focus on the single most important advice we ever received:

28 April 2011

4 Garden Helpers

Dear Lissy,
I had a proud mommy moment yesterday while we were planting all of our spring crops. It was very warm, and you requested lemonade. Instead of just making yourself a cup,  you made an entire pitcher and brought out cups for all of us. Way to go, girlie!
I have two simple garden hints today that make a big difference in the amount of work and money I spend in my garden.

Take a worm census.
Worms are good indicators not just of soil health but also pH.  If you have a good worm population, the soil will be suitable for growing vegetables as well.
On a warm spring day when the soil has reached 60 degrees but isn't over 65, dig up a one foot by one foot by seven inch deep square of your garden and place it on a tarp or board.  Count the number of worms (size doesn't matter).  You should have at least 10 and it's not uncommon to have 50 or more.  The soil needs to be very moist to get an accurate count.  If it hasn't rained in the last 24 hours, use a sprinkler over the area before taking your census.  Worms head down into their burrows with very little provocation.  Walk lightly and dig quickly!

Use solar power to remove weeds.
If you have a garden bed that was especially weedy or you're expanding your plot, cover it with heavy mil black plastic for at least two weeks before planting.  You will need several days of direct, hot sun to kill all of the weed seeds in the soil.  The plastic is available at most hardware stores and home centers at a fraction of the cost of landscaping fabric.  You can plant through "x" shaped holes cut into black plastic, but it makes watering tricky.  I prefer to use the plastic just long enough to bake the weeds and then remove it.

Use a board to sprout carrots.
Carrots need constantly moist soil to sprout. After you plant the seeds and (gently) water the plot, cover the rows with 1 x 2's or other scrap lumber.  Check under the boards occasionally and remove them as soon as you see sprouts.

Straw makes an ideal lightweight mulch.

Veggies prefer their feet cool and moist.  Place a 4-6" layer of straw around the base of plants to provide optimum growing conditions and suppress weeds.  Be careful not to purchase hay which has thousands of seeds.  Learned that lesson the hard way....

Lovin' you!

These pictures are all from the gardens of those who love to share their growing tips and tricks.  

27 April 2011

What are YOUR magic numbers?

Dear Lissy,
You have had a fascination with all things Chinese since you were an itty-bitty.  We've had Chinese themed birthday parties twice, the most memorable when your birthday fell on Chinese New Year's. You almost always choose the Chinese restaurant for dates with Daddy.  We've checked books out of the library so you could learn Mandarin, and your dress up trunk as a little girl held all manner of Chinese clothes and embroidered silk "flats".  Your dreams right now involve nursing school in China, too.
Fortune cookies, although not technically from China, are a particular favorite.  You read your "fortune" in a mysterious voice and wiggle your eyebrows in pleasure.  The slim strip is then flipped over and you slowly read your lucky numbers.  You are well aware that neither side holds any real significance, but you still thrill every time you crack open the crisp lemon-scented cookie.
My "magic numbers" are far more mundane.

26 April 2011

6 Outstanding Resources for Committed Parenting

Dear Lissy,
April showers....and not much else!  All of you are stir crazy enough to be spending time outdoors in the rain.  The neighbor donated several tons of dirt from his yard project yesterday, and you and Matt played "Battleship" on it all afternoon.  I'm almost sad we have to level it.  The rest of our spring veggies will be going in this week with hoop houses up to keep them protected.  We've let the coal stove burn out, too.  Cross my fingers, I think spring has finally arrived.
I won't be writing a great deal about our child rearing philosophy or practices in these letters because the vast majority is contained in our library, and I'd prefer to leave you an annotated bibliography.
An Eric Guiomar creation. 

25 April 2011

Corralling King-sized Lego Collections

Dear Lissy,
We've got a full week ahead of us, so my letters this week will focus on those "aha!" tips that make a huge difference for me.  You and your brothers received umpty-bazillion Legos as gifts and hand-me-downs during your childhood.  None of you had the desire to build a set more than once, so we had a Rubbermaid flip-top trunk that all the Legos lived in.
For more of Sawaya's art, go to www.brickartist.com

22 April 2011

Block Parties & Frankenrecipes

Dear Lissy,
We had an impromptu block party this afternoon!  Sometimes those drop-ins double or triple up on you.  I didn't do as well as I would have liked in the beverage department.  I haven't stocked up on lemonade yet this season, and I didn't brew an afternoon pot of coffee because the first friend to drop by was Mormon. You kids were hot and tired and filthy after a couple of hours and could have used something more than iced water.  Uncle Rich was disappointed not to get his Friday cuppa, too.  On the bright side, I was able to begin to share the gospel with my Mormon friend for the first time.  Living water is far more important than lemonade and cookies!

After having company all afternoon, I needed a quick dinner.  We had roast beef earlier in the week, so I opted for Beef Cobbler.  Warm, hearty, and filling, this is Matt's favorite dinner and makes the house smell awesome, too!

21 April 2011

Summer Fun Trunk Tote

Dear Lissy,
Trunk Tote!  Get it?
Sunny weather is fast approaching, and we like to be OUTDOORS!  If I take just an hour or so to pack a small tote we keep in the trunk, it frees us up to be much more spontaneous as a family.  This isn't the emergency kit I always keep in the back, it's more of a "fun emergency" assistant.

19 April 2011

Coffee, Tea, or Verizon?

Dear Lissy,
Many people don't know that My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers was compiled by his wife after his untimely death. Biddy's lifelong passion for putting into print the thousands of his sermons and lessons she had recorded verbatim in shorthand resulted in a library of his works that still instructs and blesses millions of Christians every year.

Fewer still know that her ministry while here on earth focused primarily on what she lovingly called "The Ministry of the Teapot".  When she saw a precious soul headed down the lane, she'd put away her typing and brew a pot of tea.  People from all over England poured out their hearts and troubles to this dear widow.

18 April 2011

Slow-Cooker "Ugly Duckling"

Dear Lissy,
I've been busy this morning getting the house back together after Sunday. Yesterday was a little taste of Heaven -- wonderful singing and preaching, a Junior Church pizza party, and then a drop in visit from the W's before we returned to church for more singing and preaching -- my heart is full!
I often use either a Crock-Pot or a low oven to have dinner ready as soon as we get home from church. As a bonus, most of the clean up is done ahead of time, too. Ugly Duckling  is one of our favorite meals.  The sauce is reminiscent of the duck sauce served de rigeur with chicken fingers from Chinese restaurants in New England, and everything in this casserole is kid friendly:  chicken chunks, pineapple, cherries, and water chestnuts.  It does live up to it's name, though...keep this recipe for family or close friends!
Yes, it is that ugly...the slow cooker is much more photogenic!

16 April 2011

Home Management Un-Binder

Dear Lissy,
Many moms in their pursuit of organizational nirvana create The Household Binder.  It goes by a variety of names -- Control Journal, Home Management Binder, Family Notebook-- but has a single purpose:  a centralized location to store information, menus, schedules, and lists.
Every time I saw one, I wanted one.  I could spend days on a project this compelling.

Most homemakers considered it the end of their struggles with keeping all the details of life contained, but I encountered some fundamental weaknesses of this notebook system every time I tried to use it :

15 April 2011

Chocolate Toffee "Crack"

Dear Lissy,
The beauty of early spring is upon us, and we are spending hours outdoors in the gardens and on the trails.  We still love a sweet treat, but I don't want to spend too much time in the kitchen.  Enter "crack", a nut bedecked chocolate and toffee candy on a cracker base.  The whole recipe goes together in 20 minutes and makes 35 - 40 treats.
This luscious photo is from Once Upon A Chef
She makes her "crack" on Matzo bread

12 April 2011

What's in My Purse?

Hey Fliss,
Time to lighten things up a little! One of my favorite past times as a little girl (and usually during a church sermon) was looking through Grammy's purse.  I thought it would be great fun for you 20 years from now to see what I carried for a purse and in my purse.

Florabama Sweet Tea

Dear Lissy,
I began life as a new bride in a region of the country known as "Florabama".   I have many beautiful memories of the sandy white beaches, impressive flower gardens (oh, how we loved Bellingrath!), and spicy cuisine.  Because we lived in a subdivision of good ol' boys, we enjoyed traditional Southern-style cooking, too:  biscuits with red eye gravy, sweet tea, shrimp boils, coconut cakes, pulled pork, fried okra, and the list goes on.  I never could emulate the sweet tea, which was a favorite of mine.

11 April 2011

The 5 Most Important Household Tasks

Dear Lissy,
At one time or another in life you're going to find yourself with too much to do and not enough time.  If housework needs to go on the back burner, here's five things you should never neglect.  If you can't personally do them, beg a friend or hire someone.  This list is also my first priority when I'm in a normal schedule.

08 April 2011

Herbal Body Rinse

Dear Lissy,
You are off for an overnight at Grammy and Gug's and I already miss you.  Our home isn't the same without your sweet sparkle! I'm stealing a few moments from this busy day to share an after shower herbal rinse that keeps my fair, sensitive skin free of blemishes and infections.  This rinse is also effective at keeping bug bites from becoming infected.

07 April 2011

Why bother?

Dear Lissy,
I'm keeping a weather eye on the maple tree. As soon as I see maple flowers, it's time to plant the peas. Swiss chard, spinach, beets, and onions will go in when the daffodils bloom. My planting calendar says April 11th is the day to plant all my hardy spring crops, but phenology, the use of indicator plants within a microclimate, is far more accurate.

05 April 2011

Setting Up Your Quiet Time Basket

Dear Liss,
April is a dangerous time of year.   Rotting snowbanks, raw weather, tax season, and short finances from an overload of March bills threaten to undo my normally cheery resolve.

04 April 2011

Them's Fightin' Words!

Dear Lissy,
Daddy and I have been dealing with a painful trial for months and months.  Whisperings and uncertainty have buffeted us for half a year.

03 April 2011

Happy Birthday, Hot Fudge Sundae!

Hi, Baby!
Today is the birthday of the ice cream sundae.  Both your Dad and I are veteran Friendly's crew, so how could we possibly resist a celebration?
I know, I know...this isn't a Friendly's sundae.
 I was smitten with the orange dish! It's actually a Hyatt's creation

01 April 2011

The Happy Heart Chair

Dear Lissy,
A beautiful post by the talented Ann Voskamp reminded me of one of our better parenting techniques:  the happy heart chair.  My friend, Jen D,. used it with her high-strung little kidlets, and shared her wisdom and experience with me when Nate was going through a tough patch as a toddler.
This whimsical chair is available from