year FOUR


Today marks years from THE FLOOD.  It marks the day that our nightmare was to be finished and we were to be made whole again.  And although some may be aware that we finally sold the flooded property to the government to be forever green space, the nightmare is not over for so many of our neighbors.  By law, today is THE DAY that our homes were supposed to be flood code compliant.  That meant that it was to be bulldozed, lifted onto stilts, or moved to higher ground.  Many of our neighbors and friends are still waiting for the help that was promised and has been very late to arrive.

We are in a different spot that our neighbors.  We hadn’t been in Lisle for our entire lives.  We were just starting to put down roots.  Of course it was unimaginably hard to lose everything we owned.  But we weren’t also at odds with a community we had been in since birth. It’s so bittersweet for many of our friends. They want to be able to stay in Lisle. But perhaps with their buyout offer, the current housing market is not being flexible enough for them to get the type of house they need. So many people MUST leave Lisle. 

We CHOSE to leave. Although through the flood we met many wonderful people, those roots weren’t as strong for us. We wanted to put a little distance between us and the town that stole the first four years of our marriage. So we settled on a home not far from Lisle…on much higher ground. We are quite literally at the top of the hill. 

We have been working hard on our new home with the generosity and talents of family and friends. We hope to be living there very soon with just some finishing touches left. It is our dream home. We have poured everything into this new place with the plan that it will be our forever home. Every time I walk in, I see our HGTV fantasies come to life. 

We want to send out a HUGE thank you to all who have helped. You know who you are. And when I give the FIVE year flood update in 2018, hopefully all of my floodie friends will be as settled as we plan to be soon. 

If you want to read about THE FLOOD from the perspective of just a couple months away from it, read here. 

And if you want to read how it changed absolutely everything in our lives and how perhaps it was even a blessing, read here.

And if you want to read last year’s update, read here. 

 

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Day 19: family days

I am writing for the Two Writing Teachers March Writing Challenge


I always enjoy a day spent as a family. Today we three snuggled together during the way to early hours before tiptoeing out to the brightness of the living room. 

Breakfast was eaten and cleared before late morning naps overtook two of the three. Then we were off and running to a twin birthday party. 

It is not often that we get to enjoy this kind of day. Grocery shopping and laundry and housework and house space work needs to get done. When we do, I soak it up because who knows when the next will be scheduled. 

When the new house is complete and our biggest weekend projects include cutting the grass, there will be more time for family days. Until then, I will make do with the rare days like today. 

FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: team

5minutefridayTeam. I’ve never really been good at teams.

 I’m woefully unathletic. I’m seriously clumsy…like I was worried I would fall on my face while walking down the aisle on my wedding day kind of clumsy.

I’m completely type A. Control freak to the core. Probably why being on other teams can be so hard for me. I try to micromanage everything. It’s probably my very worst personal trait. I can’t help myself. And it’s only gotten worse over the years. At least I am aware of it.

But…I am a good player for one team. My little family of three. I’ve used my micromanagement skills to budget the hell out of our finances over the last few years. Those of you who remember the frivolous spending of my single youth, please don’t laugh. It’s true. Just ask the other half of the team, my husband. He will tell you that I actually do the monthly budgeting, the house hunting budgeting, the house renovation budgeting, the furniture fund budgeting, the meal planning budgeting…the list goes on. It’s something I’m pretty proud of considering my youthful monetary indiscretions.

I jumped on the Dave Ramsey train. I drank the kool-aide and am better for it. Well, our team is better for it. I miss out on some things due to strict budget matters: a girls’ week’s this year, a postponed romantic getaway last year, pricy gifts for each other at the holidays. But our team looked at the big picture and decided that our plus one requires us to be a little frugal for now. We are okay with that because we know it won’t be forever. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We can almost see it, in fact. And when it’s so bright we have to put on sunglasses, maybe we can treat ourselves some tropical vacation.

Until that time, this team I’m on will keep the belt tightened just a little extra for the greater good. Don’t worry friends, I’ll be back out there soon enough on your team, again. Until then, have fun doing what you do and save a me a spot for the next girls’ trip.

I am participating in FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY.  Today’s word is:  team

 

The rules are simple. Write for five minutes flat. There is no extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation. It is unscripted. Unedited. Real

Baby, it’s cold outside…

The polar vortex has reach Chicagoland again this winter.  It was a whopping -1* today with a windchill around -25* to -30*.  School was cancelled as it is again tomorrow.  What am I supposed to do besides a little kitchen maintenance?  Nothing makes me feel quite as accomplished as making sure all my spice jars are filled and my seasoning blends are made.

I used to keep my herbs and spices in their original containers in the cabinet.  The problem was, since I bought them at all difference stores, they were all different sizes.  It looked messy.  So many of them would be lost in the back of the cabinet…only to have me buy a duplicate.  After I moved into my parents’ house and took over the cooking in their AH-mazing kitchen, I came up with a new plan that I hope to bring with me to our new house when we get one.  It’s a spice DRAWER!!IMG_2961

I bought these little 4 ounce jelly jars at Walmart.  They were maybe $5 for the case at the time on clearance.  Make sure they fit neatly into the drawer you want to use or stack neatly into your cabinets.  I’m picturing a cute little 2-tiered Lazy Susan with the spices stacked 2 tall in one of those useless end cabinets.  Oh…now I want a spice cabinet!!

Then I started looking at the spices and herbs I REALLY use regularly.  I chose my 12 GO-TO spices and herbs and poured each one into the jars.  I made sure to label the top and side of each jar.  Anyone who cooks always ends up with their spices uncovered.  I found out quickly if you didn’t label both the top and side, you couldn’t match up the lid to the jar or you would have to sniff each spice to figure out what it was.  Not effective if you have a cold.  If I had really been on my game, I would have printed the labels with an awesome font instead of a permanent marker.  This works and took NO time.  IMG_2962

I took any leftover spices–either due to a large original container or duplicates or what have you–and put them into a simple plastic shoebox to store on a lower shelf of the pantry.  This is my back-up box.  I use this to keep my refill containers.  I will also buy in bulk when I can and store in emptied containers.  Think Sam’s Club, Costco, or even the grocery store bulk bins (they come in plastic bags usually).  I do keep some empty containers in there as I finish them off…you’ll see why in a minute.

IMG_2960Every so often, I simply lift each jar and see if it needs refilling.  If it does, I retrieve my handy plastic shoe box and refill away.  I replenish the shoe box items as they run out.  It is really simple.  It keeps my inventory relatively stocked without have duplicates or even triplicates (hello garlic powder) lying around.

Now, what do I do with all these spices and herbs other than my regular dinners?  I make spice blends!!  I have really moved away from packets for a lot of reasons–think taco seasoning, chili seasoning, and salad dressings.  One reason is that they are FULL of sodium.  I am not a health nut by any means.  But I do try to cut back where I can.  Those packets taste so damn salty to me.  Probably because of reason number 2–the MSG!!  So much of it is lurking in your packets as well as your bottled salad dressings.  It gives me major headaches.  This is one way I’ve gotten around that.  Number 3 is that they just taste better.  I can add what I like and remove what I don’t.  Not a fan of cilantro?  Eliminate it.  Prefer a little more kick?  Add some cayenne.  Finally, it’s so much cheaper.  I don’t usually use expensive, hard to find spices.  I can get most of them at Aldi–have I professed my love for that place?  They are under a buck there.  Make a blend that is equivalent to 10 packets and you have really saved a bit of cash.

IMG_2959

So, listed below are my 4 favorite blends:  taco seasoning, chili seasoning, italian dressing, and ranch dressing.  I typically make them in a large disposable plastic cup.  That way there is a big enough neck for adding those larger amounts and to get in there with a fork (best utensil for this) to really mix them up before pouring them into their storage containers.  I use something similar to these 1 quart spice containers since I make larger batches.  I have no problem finding them at my regular mom-and-pop grocery store.  You might want to start off with a smaller empty spice container from one you’ve used up (remember I said I saved some) or even a glad ware container until you perfect the recipes for your tastes.  When I make the spice blend for someone, I will typically use an empty spice container and even type up the mix and recipe to tape to the bottle.  In my house, I am not that fancy.  I just write on the container in a permanent marker and keep the recipe in the notes section of my phone!

Bulk Taco Seasoning

adapted from: www.smells-like-home.com

1/4 cup dried onions , minced
1/4 cup chili powder
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon dried garlic , minced
1 tablespoon cumin , ground
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes , crushed (optional)
2 teaspoons beef bouillon granules
1  1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried cilantro

2x recipe to fill 1 quart container

Directions:

Combine the ingredients.
Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons to 1 lb. browned and drained beef with 1/3-1/2 cup water.

Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 1 year.
Add 2-3 Tablespoons to 1 lb. browned and drained beef with 1/3-1/2 cup water and 1 can diced tomatoes with their juices.
Simmer until reduced.

Bulk Chili Seasoning 

adapted from:  www.allrecipes.com
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
4 teaspoons cumin
4 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika (smoked if you have it)

3x recipe to fill quart size container

You use about 2-3 tablespoon of the seasoning mix for 1 pound of meat, 1 can of chili style tomatoes, 1 can of hot chili beans, 1 can of pure pumpkin puree, and 1 can of tomato sauce. I promise…the pumpkin adds the perfect consistency, extra fiber, and just a little something extra. I also usually add a drizzle of honey and just a pinch of cinnamon. It’s that thing in the background that you can’t put your finger on but makes it delicious.

Keep a can of SPICY V-8 on hand if you need to thin it out.  Play with the seasoning recipe if you want.  You are going to get the spice from the red pepper and the cayenne–not the cumin.

Bulk Italian Dressing Mix–similar to Good Seasonings

adapted from:  www.food.com

1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon lemon pepper (VERY IMPORTANT)
1 tablespoon dried red and green bell pepper (if you can find–I only found it once–it’s fine without it)
2 tablespoons salt (I skipped salt all together)

In a small bowl, mix everything together.  Store in a tightly sealed container.

To prepare dressing, mix together 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2/3 cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons water and 2 tablespoons of the dry mix.  Shake until combined. Best left overnight.

Lower oil recipe:
Mix 2 tablespoons dressing mix with 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 tablespoons warm water.  Shake.  Then add 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup cold water.  Best left overnight.

Bulk Ranch Dressing Mix–similar to Hidden Valley

adapted from:  www.5dollardinners.com

½ cup dry buttermilk powder (I find this at Walmart in the baking aisle)
1 tablespoon dried parsley for blending + 1 teaspoon reserved
½ teaspoon dried dill weed for blending + ½ teaspoon reserved
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons pieces dried portabello mushrooms (IMPORTANT INGREDIENT)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ teaspoon sugar

Add all the dry ingredients except the reserved teaspoon of dried parsley and the ½ teaspoon of dried dill to your blender. Blend until a nice powder.
Hand mix in the reserved parsley and dill – you want to see some herbs in your mix.
Store dry mix in an air-tight container or jar in your pantry for 2-3 months or in the freezer for 6 months or longer.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dip:
Mix 2 tablespoons of dry mix with ½ – 1 cup of Sour Cream. Chill for 2 hours and serve as a dip. If for some reason your sour cream isn’t very thick, and you want your dip to really set up thickly add in ½ teaspoon of unflavored gelatin.

Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing for salads:
Mix together
3 Tablespoons Dry Ranch Dip mix
1 cup of mayonaise
2/3 cup buttermilk

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Father’s Day

 

My Dad at my wedding:  this smile complete captures his personality.

My Dad at my wedding: this smile complete captures his personality.

I have always been a Daddy’s girl.  There are stories of when I was a baby when I would watch TV curled up in my dad’s arms completely content.  Apparently he was the one who could get me sleep.  My dad is a pretty awesome guy.  He is patient, kind, and oh-so-generous.  He is always willing to help his family and friends no matter what the problem.  I remember him calling me when our home was flooded telling me he was standing in our living room.  He was the first one in the house after the terrible flood.  You could hear the compassion in his voice as he viewed the destruction.

Now is the only living parent I have left.  He is grandfather AND grandmother to all of his five grandchildren.  It is a huge responsibility.  He is taking it in stride, I am sure a bit overwhelmed.  This Easter, he lovingly chose candies and gifts for each of his grandchildren working off a list we prepared together.  He came home so proud of his purchases and couldn’t wait to bag them all up with the dreaded Easter grass.  I think it was the first time he had to do this type of thing.  I am sure it was bittersweet:  proud of his accomplishment but saddened he had to do it on his own.  It gave him confidence that he could do this.  He may need a little help but he is able to carry on the traditions started by my mom.

This Father’s Day we are separated…he is celebrating with the rest of the family while the hubby and I are celebrating with his dad and grandpa.  Although I am not there, I am wishing him the happiest of Father’s Days.  He is truly the kindest man I know.  I am proud to call him Dad.

Finding Joy

Today was a bad day.  My Aunt N told me not that long ago that the first 20 minutes of her day dictates how the rest of it will go.  She likes to start her day off with the quietness of her coffee.  I should have known today was going to be a sh!t show the moment I walked out the bedroom door.

SQUISH

I literally stepped in doggy poop.  Damn that Zoey.  She is always pooping by my shoes.  I know she does it on purpose because she’s secretly hates me.  After cleaning it and myself up, I went to work.  My McDonald’s large-unsweetened-iced-tea-in-a-styrofoam-cup treat ended up being sweetened.  There was a wasted $1.08.  I subbed in another classroom–all good kids, great lesson and everything.  I just wasn’t paying very close attention apparently and couldn’t find the materials left right in front of my face.  Then I heard it…the ear piercing scream of one of my students.  Nothing was wrong really…but for her nothing was quite right.  The day just went downhill from there.  As soon as one student was calmed, another went down for the count.  I snapped at my fantastic classroom aide–I did apologize but it doesn’t change the fact that I did it.  She stepped up and took the reigns while I had a small breakdown–God bless her.  At one point after a loud tussle, I literally stayed on the floor of my classroom and let a few tears fall for just a moment.

 

After school I stopped by J’s house.  I tutored J for about 2 years–up until my mom got sick and I took some time off.  I heard he had been doing such a great job at reading that I arranged with his family to spend a little time with him.  WOW!  What a great kid.  To think how far he has come in just a couple years makes me so proud of him and his family.

 

I had told my Thursday buddy that I wasn’t up to stopping by today.  I was just too beat.  Then she left me a message encouraging me to just call her to talk.  I stopped by anyway and was so happy that I did.  She listened with out judging, gave advice without being preachy, and reassured me that things will get better.  Then she said something that just stuck.  FIND THE JOY.  EVERYDAY.  That’s it.  It’s the only thing you can do.  If everything else is out of your control all you can do is find the joy…at least a little slice of it.  I drove home thinking what f-ing joy was there to find today?  Then I remembered dear, sweet J reading to me.  He read me the riveting Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss.  For those 10 minutes, I forgot about my bad day.  I didn’t think of screaming kids or doggy doo-doo.  I reveled in the pure joy of a child reading a book to me for the very first time…a REALLY REAL book.  He was so proud.  I was so proud.  Even though my visit only last 15 minutes, it really changed my outlook on the entire day.  I wouldn’t have realized it without my buddy reminding me to FIND THE JOY.  Thank you C.  And thank you J.  And I’m sorry JBE.  I promise to try better tomorrow to check my crankiness at the door.  Tomorrow will be a better day and I will actively LOOK for the JOY all throughout.

MONDAY MEMORY: No Soup For You

I had big plans to make my mom’s delicious Vegetable Beef Soup.  It’s really more of a stoup–that is the way  Rachael Ray would describe it anyway.  It’s thicker than a soup but thinner than a stew.  It’s everything you would expect from a hearty one pot meal.  It has large pieces of beef, tomatoes, mixed vegetables, barley…and lots of love.  I always thought that this recipe was fairly complicated.  About a month before my mom’s second surgery, she taught me this soup, which had quickly become my husband’s favorite meal and he requested that I learned it immediately.  He loved the tender beef chunks and jokingly even called it beef chunk soup.  Just the glimpse of the beef stew meat package got him excited for the night he would come home to this lovely one pot wonder bubbling away on the stovetop.  I had big plans, but then life got in the way.

 

I was asked by some of my Lisle Floodies to attend a Village Board Meeting.  Lots of discussion about storm water ordinance changes was supposed to be on the agenda.  It ended up being removed but t was nice to get together with the girls and get caught up anyway.  I realized I had been neglecting my previous interest in local government–I need to try to get to more meetings.  Needless to say, dinner for my husband consisted of some leftovers.  I’ll be making this soup tomorrow.  I’m sure memories of dinner at the kitchen table in the Ridgeway house will fill my head and heart at first bite.  But until then…NO SOUP FOR YOU!

 

Mom’s Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

 

1½-2 pounds beef stew meat (trimmed and cut into bite size pieces)

2-32 ounce containers of beef broth

2-15 ounce cans mixed vegetables (drained)

1-14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (NOT drained)

5 ounces of Quaker Medium Pearled Barley

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

 

  1. Heat oil on high in a large heavy bottom soup pot.
  2. Add trimmed beef and brown on all sides.
  3. Add 1 carton of beef broth.
  4. Let simmer on medium-low until beef is tender and broth is deeply flavored (about 30 minutes).
  5. Add ½ a carton broth and the barley.
  6. Stir and allow to simmer on low until thickened and barley is softened (about 35-45 minutes)
  7. Add broth as necessary.
  8. Adjust consistency (add some broth or some barley) until a stoup like consistency
  9. About 20 minutes before serving add drained mixed vegetables and NOT drained tomatoes.