Monday, December 26, 2011

Being Prepared: Daily Meeting

While last years' New Year's Resolution to blog here more frequently has definitely not happened, I haven't forgotten my more important resolution to be prepared. I'm reporting back on the big and small changes that are in motion (most of the time) as I've tried to get better at this year-long goal.

Perhaps my most favorite action I've implemented this year has been my weekly and daily personal meetings. I remember watching Oprah once in high school, and she remarked as an aside, "A CEO expects to have a meeting with his or her staff about the daily happenings of the company; shouldn't we all be doing this?" Yes! I've never forgotten this. Admittedly, I haven't been perfect at this, but when I have made a plan for the day, life hums along. There is more cooperation, since the boys slide into the routine and know what to expect. My stress levels are much lower, which also feeds into the happy feeling around our home. What I like most of all is that I can think about what is most important to me as a mom and figure out ways to implement these important things into our daily lives. Taking a few minutes each evening to gather things together for the next day is a beautiful thing. When the check for preschool is in my coat pocket, the grocery list is uploaded on my phone, the chicken is defrosting in the fridge, it all makes for fewer grumpy interactions as I am scooting everyone out of the door each morning.

On the flip side, I'm working on my spontaneity. I have wonderful people in my life who operate in a much more freestyle mode, and sometimes I envy that. While my tendency is to plan, plan, plan, I do try to keep pretty loose with those plans and go with better plans if they surface. Anyway, I'm looking for balance that way and I think my lesson in improvisational mothering is coming as we are imminently expecting the arrival of our baby girl. Farewell predictability! We'll see you in a year or so! Hello mysterious sleep schedules, infrequent showers, and keeping things flexible.

Mothers of the world, tell me (if anyone is out there): how do you handle the first few months of having a newborn with your other kids? I've kept the structured things in our current lives intact (swim lessons, library storytimes, playdates), and I'm hoping that our new baby will be happy to come along for the ride. Is this realistic?

Being Prepared: Christmas

I'm reporting on another aspect of being prepared that really brought me happiness this year. The first week of November, I took some time to map out what a fun, happy Christmas season would look like for me! ME! Selfish me. Last year was fraught with stress and rushing around and unmet expectations. Although the kids seemed to enjoy Christmas, as did Shane, I was exhausted. This year, I was determined to turn things around. I'm happy to report success!

A few things that I knew that I did not want to do during Christmastime this year:
*Step anywhere near the stores on the day after Thanksgiving, with the exception of JCrew, since their sale is just too irresistable. (But we went to that sale at 4:00 pm. Reasonable.)
*Go to the mall. It just sucks the Christmas cheer right out of me. I did virtually all of our shopping online or at the little toy shop across the street. (I did go to the mall once to buy socks for Shane....but it was fast and ok.)
*Spend money on events that create more stress than joy (waiting hours to see Santa or lighting displays). Or generally spend more money than we've budgeted for this year.
*Sew anything after December 1

As for the things the things I did want to do, it was exciting to think of all of my favorite December activities. Knowing that we'd be far from family this Christmas, I tried to find the special local events that would help us feel grateful for being where we are this time of year.

I love the idea of an advent calendar and made a very simple red and green paper chain to count down to Christmas. (This could have been infinitely more aesthetic/creative, but, it was good enough!) Each link of the paper chain had a little special something for each day to celebrate Christmas, and the first 7 links even had coordinating scriptures to go with it, until I burned out doing that. Maybe next year I'll finish. My mom told me to write down our daily December activities, so here they are:

(Day after Thanksgiving: Put up tree. We couldn't wait.)

1: Christmas Music (D&C 25:12)
This was a great way to start December. I asked my mom to send some beginner piano books of Christmas music and was able to teach Peter to play a few Christmas carols on the piano. These songs were very motivating for him to master and he was determined to get them right so that he could accompany all of us as we sang along. I also made a mix of Christmas music for the car. Now Nathan can sing the "Glooooooooooria"s to Angels We Have Heard on High and it is very cute. My mom also stuck in a a few books of Christmas music for me to play, which was lovely. Even with the inevitable kid banging going on in the bass clef notes.

2: Deliver Christmas Cards (Luke 2:10)
This was such a great deadline for me. All through November, I imagined Peter reading this link out loud and saying, "Ok, Mom, today we go to the post office to deliver the Christmas Cards!" Which meant that the cards had to be ordered, addressed, and stamped with a friendly hand-written message, family photo, and newsletter inside. I know that it doesn't have to be this complex, but I really, really wanted to really do the Christmas cards right this year. It is my one really personal way to reconnect with dear friends, friends that I wish I could sit down and talk to for an hour or two, friends whom I love so much, I cannot believe that we don't get together still all the time. So, I was determined, and writing cards to friends and family turned out to be maybe my favorite part of the season. And what a bonus to open our mailbox and find lovely cards in return!

3: Stake Christmas Concert (Luke 2:13-14)

4: Put up Nativities (Luke 2: 7-16)
Especially nice to do this activity on a Sunday afternoon.

5: Put up lights (Matthew 2: 1, 2, 9-11)
This activity was intentionally done on a Monday, so that *voila* we could have a light-installing activity for Family Home Evening and I wasn't left doing it alone, muttering curses under my breath. One would think that putting up lights with kids would be frustrating, but it was motivating to work alongside our boys and feed off of their excitement. I hope I never forget how magical it was to all stand together in the front yard to look at the lights after we had finished.

6: Christmas Books (3 Nephi 16:4)
As a little surprise, I included a new Christmas book, as I try to do each year. This year, we added The Little Fir Tree.

7: Put up Christmas Village
Part of my childhood Christmases was gazing at these village collections in my grandparents' and parents' living rooms. I've inherited a few little village homes, stores, and a church of my own, so it was fun to share this tradition with my own kids.

8: Visit Stew Leonard's
We went with good friends, making it even better!

9: Look at Christmas Lights around the neighborhood

10: Visit Old Sturbridge Village for Candlelight Christmas

11: Deliver Neighbor Gifts
This was another great Sunday afternoon activity. Like the cards, I had to be prepared for this activity and thanked my November self, who had bought the packaging ahead of time and had made the cookie dough and stuck it in the freezer. Delivering gifts to neighbors and friends is amazingly fun when I haven't been slaving away for hours and hours!

12: Musical Family Home Evening with Friends
We loved hosting this party with a friend, whose spacious home accomodated all of us, including a large pack of kids. I loved being surrounded by beautiful singing and accompanying instruments! I'm happy to keep this tradition from my childhood alive while I am so far from home. The greatest preparation here was thinking though the food. I kept it extremely simple, with a few special homemade desserts and appetizers supplemented by generous offerings from friends and a few holiday treats from Trader Joe's.

13: Christmas Movies
Boys watched movies while I collapsed after last night's party!

14: Help Peter Make Gifts for His Teachers
This is tricky. Being a daughter of a seasoned piano teacher, I have seen many Christmas gifts from students, and they are always gratefully received. However, I do understand that some gifts that come are very useful and some are not. I liked the idea of Peter creating something himself, but I wanted his teachers to really enjoy our gift. I organized a group gift with the other parents and collected money to go towards Amazon gift cards. Peter drew a portrait of each teacher, which went in the gift bag with the Amazon cards and some candy. Gift cards are not very sweet or sentimental, but 100% more useful than banana bread or a big mug.

15: Buy a Garland to Hang on Banister

16: Decorate Gingerbread House

17: Ward Christmas Party

18: Make Brickle Brackle Bars
This is a Lloyd family recipe, so I let Shane take the lead on this one. We leave Brickle Brackle Bars for Santa, in efforts to be radical/edgy.

19: "Christ Is Born" Family Home Evening, with our own Nativity Play

20: Help Peter Make Gifts for Nathan and Shane
This is a fantasy that did not come to pass this year. I was hoping to have a few projects in mind to help get Peter's ideas flowing for gifts, but by this point, I was just kind of tired. Peter did make a little book for Shane, called "Dad's Favorite Things," which counts for something, even if it only had 3 pages. I am feeling pretty much the same as the writer of this blog post . Maybe next year!

21: Christmas Crafts with the Kids

22: Hang Up Stockings

23: Go to Friends' Christmas Party

24: Go to Boston Pop's Christmas Concert

The boys opened up their Christmas Eve jammers that I made from them (pre-December 1! I love it!). I used the (now discontinued) Oliver & S Kimono Pajama pattern, like I do every year. I have made them enough that I whip them out in a couple of nights.

I also made the boys two candy-cane striped bow ties. The sewing projects this Christmas were pretty simple and quick!

Post-Christmas was a lovely, quiet time. I chose to not even acknowledge that there was such thing as New Year's Day, after such a busy month of merry-making.

To me, an essential element of all the Christmas gift-giving is making thank-you cards. I love the idea of having Peter make these. Peter drew two pictures, which I scanned and printed on cardstock paper. As the biased mom, I have to say, they turned out pretty great.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I have been 'spring cleaning' through iphoto and wanted to post a few pictures before they fall into the abyss of my photo archives. I'm giving a home to these pictures, so I can remember that I did pull it together a few times during the last few months!

We made these little matchbox valentines for Peter's preschool class. I think they turned out so sweet and Peter helped all the way. Thanks to Brooke from Inchmark for yet another great idea!
My friend Carlee is, among many things, very talented and resourceful behind the sewing machine. It seems as though I'm always bugging her to tell me how she sewed something awesome that her boys are wearing! Carlee got me sewing these little pants that are formerly arms of sweaters. I knew I was saving those sweaters for something! And, ah, the cozy, soft knit is so nice for winter baby legs!
Lastly, I made this super hero cape for Peter's birthday.
I think his brother wants one too....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Good Taste: Eggplant Parmagiana

From December 2010 (?) Martha Stewart Living

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Serves 8

For Breading and Frying:
2 cups fine plain fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 large eggplants, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed

For Assembling:
Marinara Sauce (recipe below)
3 cups coarsley grated mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

1. Bread and fry the eggplant: Combine breadcrumbs, Pecorino Romano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Put flour, eggs, and breadcrumb mixture in 3 separate dishes. Dredge eggplant in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, letting excess drip off. Dredge in breadcrumbs to coat. Let stand for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. (Oil is ready when a breadcrumb sizzles when dropped in.) Working in batches, fry eggplant until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. (If oil gets too dirty, discard, and heat additional 1/4 cup.)
3. Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 1/2 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top, overlapping slightly. Top with 1 cup sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano. Repeat twice to form layers with eggplant, sauce, then cheeses. Cover with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake until cheese melts, about 5 minutes more.

Marinara Sauce:
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cans (28-oz each) peeled whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, red-pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Simmer, covered, until thick, 25 minutes. Stir in herbs.

Thoughts: Quite a bit of prep involved, but all really doable to prep a day or two in advance. I'm never quite together enough to make the marinara and rely on my favorite Cento-brand jarred stuff. This dish could not be more comforting after a blizzardy day in New England.

Good Taste: Mango Rice Salad with Grilled Shrimp

From June 2005 Cooking Light

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 36 shrimp)
2 cups water
2/3 cup light coconut milk
1 1/4 cups uncooked long-grain rice
3/4 cup shredded carrot
2 cups diced peeled mango (about 2 mangoes)
1 1/2 cups diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
Cilantro Sprigs (optional)

1. Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Add shrimp, toss to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour.
2. Bring water and coconut milk to a boil in a medium saucepan; add rice. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Add carrot and next 7 ingredients (through salt); toss gently to combine.
3. Prepare grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.
4. Thread 3 shrimp onto each of 12 (6-inch) skewers. Place skewers on grill rack or grill pan coated with cooking spray; grill 3 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done. Serve skewers over salad. Garnish with cilantro springs, if desired. Yield: 6 servings.

Thoughts: The rice is crazy good--so light, fresh, full of flavor. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Good Taste: Lloyd Family Pizza Party

Along with so many other families in the world, on Friday night, we Lloyds enjoy a pizza party. I prefer the classic pizza crust recipe from Joy of Cooking and improvised variations on this pizza sauce recipe. I've been shaking things up lately, and am here to report on our most recent pizza night successes (both recipes were rapidly made, with effortless prep work, and they were rapidly consumed by all four of us!).

First, from August 2005 Bon Appetit:

Bell Pepper, Red Onion, and Goat Cheese Pizza

1 pound of pizza dough
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic cloves, minced
3 cups (packed) baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups thickly sliced mushrooms (we love cremini)
1/2 cup drained roasted red peppers from jar, cut into thin strips
1 /2 cup paper-thin red onion slices
8 large fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
1 5-oz package soft fresh goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pizza crust on large baking sheet. Mix olive oil and minced garlic in small bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush 2 tablespoons garlic oil evenly over crust. Top with spinach leaves, then sprinkle with sliced mushrooms, roasted red peppers, red onion slices, fresh basil, and crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle pizza evenly with remaining garlic oil. Cook 15 minutes.

Thoughts: I added the 15 minutes instructions at the end--I guess it's best to keep an eye on it. The recipe doesn't really say. This is the pizza for chevre junkies like us, especially since we seem to always have a little stash around, so I didn't end up buying anything extra to make it (I only dreamed of putting fresh basil leaves on top...ah, winter).

From November 2008 Real Simple

Three-Cheese Calzones

1 pound of pizza dough
1 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmasan
1 bunch spinahc, thick stems removed and roughly chopped (5 cups)
Black Pepper
1/4 pound thinly sliced salami (we used pepperoni)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup jarred marinara sauce, warmed

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 4 equal portions and roll and stretch them into 8-inch rounds.
2. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, spinach, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
3. Layer salami on one side of each round of dough, and top with the cheese mixture. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges to seal.
4. Brush the tops of the calzones with the oil. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve with the sauce.

Thoughts: Good. For some reason, this recipe screams teenage boys to me. Better keep it handy for later.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Being Prepared:Tiger Mothers and Farmer Boys

There has been quite a bit of talk about Amy Chua's article, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." I have to admit that while I balked when I first read it two weeks ago, I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

I have been in the Yale community for six years now and I admit, there is a large spectrum of individual talent and work ethic, but certainly, each individual who attends Yale has shown some special talents to be admitted here (and I can be a somewhat objective outside observer, since I'm not one of the people who goes here). Over the years, I have spent quite a bit of time talking to these friends about their childhoods, how they developed their interests, and how they think that they got into Yale. Ms. Chua's bullet list of no sleepovers, no tv, no school plays, no grades except 'A's, does not jive with my findings from these conversations I've had. Certainly, most of them grew up reading piles of books and some were busy with musical performances from a very young age. But, there are just as many, if not more, who watched tv, who spent time invested in sports or drama, who, dare I say it, were not the top student in every class. Unfortunately for all parents, there isn't a simple set of rules that we follow to automatically help our children unleash their potential for greatness. However, as much as I disagree with Ms. Chua's controlling parenting style, I whole-heartedly agree with this statement:

" a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't."

From my anecdotal information, Amy Chua is right about one thing: the people who get into these programs are intense. I studied pretty hard in college, I thought, and did pretty well. However, after I started studying with Shane, I began to understand how the top students operate. Shane was always at class, even 15 minutes early to class. He always went to the TA's help sessions and office hours. He assumed that he would need to study a great deal for every class--every general education class was given plenty of attention, no matter how unrelated it was with his academic interests. While I was always in search of a teacher whose style was in sync with mine, Shane would persevere with any teacher, always humbly working away at the class material. He did not give up on any class, any grade, any exam, even if the class was taught poorly or was disorganized. He worked odd jobs (pinning flies! tracking frogs!) in biology labs which fed into research positions and teaching assistant jobs. And, like Amy Chua describes, he wasn't afraid to practice, practice, practice. His essays were to the professor early for review, and he was the king of MCAT practice exams. He was a combination monk and robot, studying almost every minute of the week, aside from our brief Friday evening date. And, as a consequence, my grades were becoming pretty spectacular, too. We were the 4.0 couple and it felt good.

Using Shane as my case study, we see that it's true, grit and intensity is required for anyone that wants to succeed, especially in an ubercompetetive program. From my anecdotal information, I'm finding that to get into Yale, an individual needs nearly perfect grades and nearly perfect entrance exam scores. That will get the application from the envelope to a desk, rather than from the envelope to a garbage can. This first step in the process validates Ms. Chua's remarks about playing the game and getting the good grades.

However, many applicants have these credentials. Every high school has a valedictorian, every university has a dean's list. Although Ms. Chua scoffs at the western idea of 'being special', that is exactly what is different between the students who go to Yale and the students who don't. Being special means making the most of the opportunities that you have been given; someone wrote a novel in high school, another started a very large, very successful non-profit organization, someone else did field research on hibernating bears. This 'specialness' is hard to describe, and nearly impossible to force upon someone; in fact, it's partly based on luck, because a good opportunity is hard to identify at first. But, we all see opportunities come and go. These particular people find things to do that they are passionate about and latch on, dig in, make it theirs, and make it flourish.

Watching different friends go through their respective programs here at Yale, I see a related pattern in their training that might be replicated as a parent: these programs simply send the best professionals in the field to talk about what's important and what they like to do (aka. class lecture), help each student figure out what they are happiest doing all day (PhD mentorship, business and law internships, hospital rotations), and assist students in finding further opportunities in the field. I know, it's much more complicated and emotional than this, but in essence, these programs want their students to figure out what it is that they are especially talented at and work really hard at it. [What do you think, Yalies? Did I get it right?]

I'd really love to replicate this process as a mother in these precious formative years. If consistent nurturing and guidance from adults makes all of the difference, I should be confidently teaching my kids about the world and helping them latch on to the experiences that will help them. Peter and I are now reading Farmer Boy, from Laura Ingall Wilder's Little House series. We have followed our nine-year-old protagonist, Almonzo, through the seasonal rhythms of life on the farm: Alongside his father, he tirelessly prepares the soil, plants and harvests the crops (who can forget the harrowing midnight corn-watering to fight frost and his terrible run-in with an exploding potato?!), he hauls hay and timber. He goes to the fair for three days and simply cannot wait to get back home to feed his cows. Granted, this book is perhaps romanticized, given that the author is relating her beloved husband's childhood, but after finishing the final chapter, I was left feeling the importance of letting our children into our adult world.

Letting children in is a hard thing to do, because parenting in our current cultural climate is somewhat unnatural. I feel like I need to create normal childhood experiences intentionally, because in suburbia, we don't have a big orchard or grove or trees for our kids to run wild in. And I don't mean to bring them into Amy Chua's adult world, with relentless, degrading piano practice sessions. Heartless insults to my children is the opposite of what I want to do. But, if I can confidently work alongside my kids, giving them responsibilities that are real, that contribute to our family, I can honestly think of nothing that they want more than that and no greater gift that I can give them. My favorite passage in Farmer Boy says it all:

"[Almonzo] helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs. And he felt like saying to them all: 'You can depend on me. I'm big enough to take care of you all.'
Then he shut the door snugly behind him, leaving them all fed and warm and comfortable for the night, and he went trudging through the storm to the good supper waiting in the kitchen." (p.310)

What a beautiful example of a child who feels the satisfaction that comes from being responsible for something that matters! I am determined to give my kids the opportunity to matter, to contribute, even as they are little guys. So, for starters, we are finally using a chore chart! ta da! I put up the most simple, plain chart imaginable (after years of agonizing about how to make it supremely cool and aesthetic), and yesterday, Peter folded all of the socks, made his bed, bussed his dishes and cleaned the playroom. And after, he asked if there were more chores to be done! We'll see how he does in a month or two...

I'm excited to rise to the occasion of mothering. This whole essay seems so idealized compared to the reality of raising my 4 year-old and 15 month-old, which is much louder, more chaotic, less well-behaved than these Wednesday afternoon dreams. But, after all of this stewing about parenting, my greatest conclusion is that I can expect good, big things from my kids. I'm not sure what they'll be and whatever they are will require enormous efforts all around, but we can do it.

So, parents of the world, what do you think?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Good [Handmade] Stuff: Dressed to the Nines for Christmas

My days of being able to dress the boys in matching corduroy outfits are numbered. Especially since they are matching corduroy outfits that I decided somehow that I could make without comprehensive patterns.

I've tried taking pictures of Nathan's outfit, but this is the least fuzzy one I could get. He's on the move. I made Nathan's overalls in the style of the little overalls that we all wore in the early 80s. I think that they are pretty sweet.

Peter's red blazer is wonky, but by the end, I was glad to be done with it. The lapel is crazy. However, when Peter wore it to the Nutcracker, we were greeted by a sea of smiles among the New York crowds. It was the thought that counted with the blazer.

I have been tirelessly defending the corduroy blazer. Shane thought that it was weird. Ok, I thought it was weird, too, but the idea of it, I insist, is very cute. However, our discussion ended after viewing the unbelievable windows at Bergdorf Goodman, when we happened to stroll by this window at Barneys. Totally vindicated!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Good Taste: Ghost Chili

My friend, Kari (the one who made Peter's spectacular birthday invite), always wins our ward's annual chili cookoff with her Ghost Chili recipe. This recipe was handed down to her from her mother-in-law, and now I give it to you. This winner of a recipe is on our permanent cold-weather food rotation. It feeds the soul.

Ghost Chili
1 lb. boneless chicken, chopped into bite size pieces
1 onion, diced
1 Tbl. Oil
1 ½ tsp. garlic powder
14 oz. can chicken broth
1 can chopped green chilis
2 15 oz. great Northern beans drained and rinsed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
½ tsp. black Pepper

Brown chicken and onion in oil until chicken is cooked and onion is
tender. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes.

Before serving, stir in 1 cup of sour cream and ½ cup of whipping cream. (sometimes if i don't have whipping cream i add all sour cream. if you don't have enough of that just add less salt when you simmer the soup.)

Kari spent a year in China and adapted the Ghost Chili recipe to the ingredients available to her there. To our benefit, she has created a delicious Asian Ghost Chili recipe. I wonder how one would say 'ghost' in Chinese....

Ghost Chili in China!
1 boneless chicken breast, chopped into bite size pieces
1 onion, diced (red onion)
1 Tbl. Oil
3 cups chicken broth
2 chopped green peppers (the medium-sized skinny hot ones, without the seeds)
2 small stems of celery
4 whole cloves of garlic (let the soup simmer with the garlic cloves then remove them before serving. or just chop them so you don't need to remove them.)
3-ish cups of the white beans (great northern preferably), if dried soak for 8-10 hours
1 ½ tsp. chives/ginger/garlic seasoning (packaged as one-i get this at my local market but if you have these things in powdered form use that)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. black Pepper

Brown chicken and onion in oil until chicken is cooked and onion is
tender. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

Before serving, stir in 1 cup of sour cream and ½ cup of whipping cream. Homemade sour cream: 1 cup cream to 1 T vinegar. let sit in fridge for a few days before using.

The Good [Home] Stuff: Living Room Inspiration

Happy New Year! 2011 is sure to be a beautiful year!

I love January. It really feels like a clean slate to me, when I can think afresh and imagine all the good things ahead of us. Now that I can scan things, I'm excited to have this blog post as one central place to stash the various clippings floating around my little office that I've designated as "LIVING ROOM INSPIRATION":
We have a strangely shaped living room. It is long and skinny, and therefore almost impossible to have one place to sit. When thinking about our lonely corner, far from any other furniture, Shane and I keep coming back to this picture from an old Martha Stewart Living.

From January 2007 Real Simple

Another option that we've considered is having a little table in the corner.

Grove Storage Cabinet from Room and Board for a hefty $2200 (via Martha Stewart Living). I bet I can find a similar version on Craigslist to fix up.

Our style is pretty traditional, but I would love to be able to mix in some modern and fun things, like this spectacular side table. While none of my photos really show a space that welcomes kids, our dream house would definitely look more lived-in and easy going.

Martha Stewart Living
I'd love to copy this photo wall for our large wall adjacent to the stairs. I'm hoping to work on it in a few months when our little guy is less bent on destroying hanging things. And, there are no plans to buy a grandfather clock, but it is beautiful. Can't you just hear the slow, mechanical 'tick-tock'?

The above and below images are from the October 2007 issue of Art & Decoration, a French home design magazine. I adore the colors in the top image. I'm not sure we'll go with them, but with our two deep brown leather couches, it's nice to see some nice compliments to brown. And the floor to ceiling taffeta curtains aren't too shabby, either. I love the sofa cushions on the image below.

While we may not actually have the cash flow or time to recreate these pictures in our home, a girl can dream! I love having the vision, even if our living room is hazardously littered with toys, and I'm hoping to implement a few small changes for the better.