A Leg Up for Monarchs

It’s no secret that monarchs are struggling to survive in our rapidly changing world. We’ve seen numbers drop more than seventy-five percent in the past twenty 20 years. Although we saw a small uptick this year in monarchs that winter in Mexico, they are not out of the woods yet, not by a long stretch.

Monarchs are one of the great iconic, stately, wonders of nature (not talking about William and Kate here, folks, although I’m sure they’re lovely too). Preventing extinction of this miraculous pollinator is paramount; more than stunning, they contribute to the health of our planet.

The plight that these extraordinary animals face, whether they are east or west of the Rockies, is monumental, and can be a valuable teaching tool for children. The epic migration they undertake, one of the wonders of our world, is perilous and becoming more so as their food sources en route disappear.

Involve your kids in saving the monarchs and you’ll teach them a variety of valuable skills in the process. empathy, persistence, teamwork, problem solving are but a few.

 

monarch.caterpillar
a monarch caterpillar my kids named fatty

 

What can we do to help?

Fortunately, there is a lot that we can do to give monarchs a leg up. If you undertake even one of these suggestions with your kids, your kids will no doubt carry the torch for future generations (and learn a ton to boot).

  1. Plant milkweed in your yard, school garden, anywhere you can. Monarch caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed and milkweed plants are rapidly disappearing in North America. You can get free seed packets from the Save Our Monarchs Foundation. Keep in mind that milkweed is poisonous to humans so read up on the plant and take any necessary precautions. Different varieties thrive in different regions, so make sure you’re planting the best variety for your region.
  2. Plant a butterfly garden. Butterflies feed on nectar from various plants. Take a trip to your local nursery and ask them what native species you can plant to attract monarch butterflies to your yard and give them sustenance for the long journey.
  3. Make or buy a butterfly feederA quick Google or Pinterest search turns up a ton of options here, some as simple as a plate of rotting fruit set outside. Another option is to wet brightly colored sponge squares with a sugar water mixture (1:4 sugar/water ratio) that has been boiled and cooled.

We’re all short on time, and we’re bombarded daily with opportunities to do something to help or improve the world around us. Some days it overwhelms me–pretty sure I’m not alone in that. So if planting a garden is too ambitious, make it simple. The next time you’re about to toss out the too-mushy-to-eat watermelon from last weekend’s cookout put it on a plate and set it outside instead. You might make a monarch’s day.

 

monarch.lake.2
monarch crossing Lake Michigan

 

 

 

Root Vegetable Hash Recipe

As I’ve grown older, I’ve given up more and more of my treasured food friends. Bread, my first love, was the first thing to go. I worked in a gourmet store my junior year in college and gained 10 pounds eating fresh baguettes and brie. I eventually lost the weight, but I refused to believe that it had anything to do with bread. Bread and I continued to be fast friends for twenty more years.

I finally bid bread a teary farewell two years ago in my early forties. I comforted myself and staved off cravings by thinking instead about cheese, my other love–mild, stinky, aged, raw, cheese glorious cheese.

Then, to my horror, I became lactose intolerant. So, shortly after bread and I parted ways, I found myself breaking up with cheese. I had lost some of my best food friends in a matter of months. It was traumatic and I lost interest in food. Who cared about lunch when it was just a plain old salad? Not me.

After a while, I began to taste vegetables in a new light. Carrots tasted sweeter. Beets were earthier. Different greens had really distinct flavor profiles. When I combined them in unexpected ways, creating and eating vegetable dishes became fun. I stopped obsessing about the foods I couldn’t eat anymore and discovered a treasure trove of amazing (and healthy) recipes. This one came from the 21 Day Sugar Detox. I modified it a bit, and it’s a staple in my house on lazy weekend mornings.

 

root.veggie.hash.2
root veggies grated with box grater

 

Ingredients

  • 1 small parsnip or 1/2 large one
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 3 carrots (I use rainbow carrots for the color)
  •  4 slices of bacon
  • 2 tsp. salt (I use sea salt with iodine)

 

root.veggie.hash.3
If you cook too long, the vegetables start to lose their color.

 

Directions

  1. Using a box grater, grate all of the root vegetables in a large bowl.
  2. Cut bacon into small pieces.
  3. Using a large skillet, cook bacon pieces.
  4. Add grated root veggies.
  5. Sprinkle with salt.
  6. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about eight minutes.
  7. Serve with a poached egg on top.

 

root.veggie.hash.1
My family loves poached eggs, but a fried egg works too.

 

Bourbon Balls

As a native of Louisville, Kentucky, I like to get my Derby on every year on the first Saturday of May. This year was no different than others. My husband and I crowded as many of our friends as we could rally into our garage and sipped mint juleps while watching the race. Roughly one hundred folks clad in hats and bow ties showed up despite the fact that a tornado watch and hail don’t recommend attending a back-yard party.

Although it’s not like being in Kentucky (mainly because the party isn’t two weeks long) it’s a close second. It’s heartwarming for a Kentucky girl to find out that even in Colorado, folks appreciate a good Kentucky Derby shindig.

Every year, I bake Derby Pies and make bourbon balls. This year, my nine-year-old said to me, “Mom! I want an I heart bourbon balls t-shirt.” After sucking down three bourbon balls, he went on to exclaim, in an animated clearly-I’m-high-on-sugar-way, that he was the only kid he knew who was allowed to have alcohol. I smiled and let him have his illusion (only 3 TBSP of bourbon in this ginormous batch). That’s what Derby is, in large part, all about.

 

bourbon.ball
I would wear an I heart bourbon balls t-shirt

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks of softened unsalted butter  plus 1 TBSP (go organic if you can)
  •  1 1/2 lbs. confectioner’s sugar sifted (I use Wholesome Sweeteners organic)
  • 3 TBSP good Kentucky bourbon (it’s important to use the good stuff here)
  • 1 cup of chopped pecans
  • 1 bag of whole pecans
  • 16 ounces of dark chocolate chips
  • toothpicks
  • parchment paper

Directions:

  1. Cream the 2 sticks of butter and confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Add the bourbon (you can use more than 3 TBSP if you want a stronger bourbon flavor) and mix until well-blended.
  3. Add the pecans and mix until well-blended.
  4. Refrigerate the filling mixture for 30 minutes (more if needed). The filling has to be cold to roll it.
  5. Five minutes before you get the filling out of the refrigerator, start melting the chocolate and 1 TBSP butter in a double boiler (or place a glass bowl on top of a pan of water).
  6. While the chocolate is melting, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Roll the filling into 1-inch balls.
  8. Stick a toothpick into one side, and dredge the ball through the chocolate, making sure to let as much excess as possible drip off.
  9. Place the chocolate covered ball onto the parchment paper, toothpick-side-up, and remove the toothpick.
  10. Place a whole pecan over the hole from the toothpick.
  11. Repeat until you have made as many as you want or you are out of filling or chocolate.
  12. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator and let the chocolate harden.
  13. Serve at room temperature.

What’s Dragging Us Down?

Something has been needling my conscious for the past few weeks. I can’t pinpoint what, exactly, brought it to the surface, but I ‘m glad it came to light, and I need to get it off my chest.

I try hard to support other women. I go to female doctors. I support companies run by women. When a female friend or acquaintance starts a new venture, I go out of my way to support her, because life can be hard and women are, let’s face it, the underappreciated sex.

That brings me to what’s eating me up. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I struggled to keep the daily routine together, forget about finding the time and energy to make friends. Despite my sweatpant-clad, hair-in-a messy-ponytail facade, another mama at pre-school felt compassion and reached out to me; I grabbed on.

She was my lifeline so many times during those crazy, sleepless, joyful, exhausting years. When my son’s preschool teacher told me that he was not like other kids, and that, in her words, he’s, well, so smart, and, you know, gifted kids sometimes have other challenges, my preschool-mama friend was the first person I called. My husband couldn’t understand the anguish those words made me feel. But my preschool-mama friend did.

Over the past few years, I’ve lost touch with her, and I miss her friendship–a lot. I have other mom-friends now, and we get together, drink wine, alternately complain and brag about our kids, and I treasure each of them. But they weren’t in the trenches with me like she was.

Reflecting on why we’re not friends anymore made me realize that I’m not as supportive of the women in my life as I think I am. I judge, even when I try not to, I gossip when I shouldn’t, and I suck at reaching out to other women, letting them know how amazing they are.

If I’m honest with myself, I can see that she was a better friend to me than I was to her. That’s not an easy thing to think. However, I’m convinced it will help me work on being more supportive.

I’m not going to beat myself up–what good does that do? Instead, I’m going to learn something and try to walk the talk when it comes to supporting other mamas.

As I dig deeper, determining which direction to go, one thing really bugs me. I wonder what exactly it means to support other women? Why isn’t it innate for me (and a lot of other women)? Why do we tear each other down? Why aren’t we building the scaffolding to raise each other up, singing each other’s praise as we work?

 

Quebec.Weathervane
weathervane in Quebec City

 

 

I Heard The News, Oh Man

Where were you when you heard the news? In woeful moments, I can’t help thinking that Prince’s death deserves that question as much as Neil Armstrong’s infamous moonwalk and JFK’s shocking assassination (sorry Dad!). Perhaps even more so for the kids who grew up in the US during the eighties.

I had just boarded a plane headed for Nashville. I settled into my coveted aisle seat, tucked my coat over me to fight the arctic blast spewing from the tiny air vent overhead. I was taking in the newness of the plane and I was thinking that United must be upping the ante. In addition to the perfunctory barf bag and self-promoting magazine, this newer plane had tv screens in the back of the seats. I had brought a book but the prospect of vegging out for a couple hours and watching the Food Network made me smile.

I glanced up at the tv screen. The news. Nope. Not today. Headed out of town without the kids. This trip was about getting away. And I was about to change the channel when I saw the headline. “Singer Prince Dead at 57.” I didn’t believe it. So, I logged onto Facebook (where else?)and searched Prince. It was true. My heart slumped. I felt wobbly, like a Salvador Dali painting, a being without bones. I was cold and numb at the same time. Prince’s songs made up the bulk of the soundtrack to my youth. I could feel my younger self, floating away, and I couldn’t stop her. I felt old.

Like so many other children of the eighties, Prince’s music accompanied my mundane and life-changing moments. I learned so much because of Prince, and I could wax poetic for a long time, but since I’ve probably already lost most of you, I’m going to cut to the chase and share just two of the countless things I learned because of Prince.

Purple.Rain

Little Red Corvette taught me that even dorky girls with glasses are desirable.

It was 1983, and Prince’s album 1999 had been out for a few months. I was at my first boy/girl party and I wore a brand new drop-waist mini dress that made me feel cool, in spite of my thick glasses and a bad haircut. The parents actually left the house and all twenty ten-year-olds were alone and allowed to whoop it up  as we saw fit (parenting circa the eighties).

After some awkward dancing, we ended up in the basement playing 30 Seconds in Heaven and listening to Prince. If you don’t know the game, it’s spin the bottle on steroids. Someone spins the bottle two times and a boy and girl go into a closet to do ANYTHING while the entire group counts outside. It’s really romantic.

Despite all the fluttery nerves and anxiety a game like that produces in a dorky girl, I learned something important. I learned that boys REALLY like girls, even girls they would push to the curb in front of other kids. It’s something I still believe, and I’m forty-four, and guys ain’t that horny anymore at my age so it’s something other than hormones.

I know you’re dying to know what happened, so here’s a short recap. We were down to the last couple seconds. The pressure was on. Eyes were shut. I could hear Little Red Corvette playing outside the closet. “Baby you’re much too fast…” I was beginning to think it wouldn’t happen. Then, it did. There was a peck on the lips–the kind my nine-year-old son gives me now–and flushed cheeks. The door flew open, it was on to the next couple, and we were forgotten. But I never forgot that moment or the song.

Let’s Go Crazy taught me that planning and practice lead to success.

Flash forward a few years from that fateful first boy/girl party, and I’m finally old enough to go to my first teen dance (yes, I realize how small town that makes me sound). I was sick-to-my-stomach nervous.  I had been waiting for this moment for years. I’d watched my older siblings, confident with their feathered hair and tight jeans, saunter into the dance while my friends and I had to wait outside and peek in windows.

The week before the dance, my best friend and I played Prince, mostly Let’s Go Crazy, and practiced our dance moves. We perfected a move that solidified our status as born-without-funk. It was somewhere between a Russian Copack Dance and a sidekick from high-impact aerobics. We thought it was just right for Let’s Go Crazy, and when the song came on at the dance, I was prepared. Whatever the move was, it was just strange enough that a boy came up to me and said, “Rad.” All my hard work paid off.

*****

I know there are so many other children of the eighties out there with countless Prince stories to share. My husband listens to country, always did, and has been rolling his eyes at me. But I know I’m not alone. RIP Prince.

 

Lamb: Ewe Should Try It

Americans are funny when it comes to lamb. We consume around 61 pounds of beef and 26 chickens per person per year, but less than one measly pound of lamb. Perhaps it has something to do with comedian Shari Lewis’s Lamb Chop, the personification of a lamb sock puppet that took America by storm in the 60’s. Lamb Chop was, basically, a precocious, vulnerable six-year-old girl. It’s probably harder to eat something when you hear it talking to you in the voice of a child.

I’ve also read that we can blame it on World War II and the soldiers who came back from Europe sick and tired of years on the frontline eating mutton dressed as lamb. When at last they came home, lamb got the boot. 

Whatever the reason, it’s a shame more folks don’t give lamb a try. My family was a bit of an anomaly, I guess. Lamb was a holiday staple. My Mom served it with mint jelly, something that still makes me cringe and my sister gag. I’ve updated my Mom’s lamb recipe (no mint jelly!), and it’s become a holiday staple in my house.

Despite claims of a gamey taste, lamb has a mild flavor. I live in Colorado, so I buy Colorado lamb, which is coveted and can be hard to find, but New Zealand and Australian lamb are readily available at pretty much any large grocery. Ewe should try it!

Ingredients:

  • one bone-in leg of lamb (aitchbone removed)
  • 1 cup parsley
  • 1/2 cup rosemary (stems removed)
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (more if you need it)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon
  • one TBSP salt
  • one tsp pepper

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the lamb in a food processor. Process approximately one minute or until you have a nice paste.
  2.  Rub the paste on the leg of lamb and let it sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Place lamb on a roasting rack inside a large roasting pan.
  5. Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
  6. Drop the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook for about two more hours or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Remove lamb from oven, tent with aluminum foil, and let it rest for fifteen minutes.
  8. Carve and serve with au jus using the juice and drippings from the bottom of the pan.

Tip: Use a digital thermometer that you can leave in the meat, set it to 135 degrees Fahrenheit and don’t open the oven door to peek.

 

leg.of.lamb
leg of lamb before it goes into the oven

 

 

 

Shouting Schmouting

I have a confession. I yell at my kids a lot more than I want to or should. My Mom was a yeller. She was a cheerleader in the 50’s when cheerleaders weren’t scantily clad, insanely flexible gymnasts. Her voice was loud and booming, which is why she was probably the captain of her cheer squad.

Flash forward fifteen years, add four bratty kids born in six years and she probably thought her loud voice was an asset. I honestly can’t blame her, but I hated her yelling, and, I hate that I’m doing it to my kids.

 

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one of my mom’s favorite flowers–smelling one was probably one of her only kumbaya moments

 

I didn’t yell when my kids were babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. It didn’t start until my son started second grade. I had been careful to use a happy, positive, loving mommy voice when they were good and a stern but still supportive mommy voice when they were naughty. If I slipped up and yelled, I was mad at myself and vowed not to let it happen again. I was pretty good at turning things around.

As my kids grew older, they faced new challenges that I didn’t anticipate. As a result, their behavior became more complex, and, sadly, I was totally unprepared to deal. So, I yelled more, and I found ways to justify it in my mind.

He punched his little sister and thought I wasn’t looking. That surely deserves a, “What are you doing?!” She snuck a can of sprinkles into her bedroom, chugged it like she was shotgunning a beer, then tossed the sticky mess under her bed for me to clean up. That easily justifies, “You need to clean up this mess that you’ve made!”

Two weeks ago, we were in the mountains, skiing, having quality family time, interspersed with occasional melt-down moments. I needed a short family-time break, said I’ll catch you on the next run, and sat in the lodge, checking e-mail. I almost deleted an e-mail from a blog I follow, but something stopped me. The e-mail talked of a peaceful home life complete with smiling, happy, well-adjusted kids. I’m a skeptic so Ponzi scheme crossed my mind.

I was sorta desperate, so I signed up for the twelve-week online course with other peace-seeking parents. The course is based on the book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and there are three main goals:

  1. Regulating your emotions
  2. Fostering connection with your kids
  3. Coaching your kids instead of controlling them

Wish me luck! I will be updating y’all from time to time on how it’s going–the challenges (getting my husband on board, changing my behavior, it’s a long list), the wins, what I’ve learned, and, hopefully, how those three things bring peace into my home. When I told a friend about it, she said peaceful parenting sounded boring. I’m about ready for boring right now.

For a Laugh: My kids love this video–goats yelling like humans.

 

Deviled Eggs Done Right

The Easter Bunny has come and gone, and I’ve got two dozen hard boiled eggs sitting in my fridge. Add that to the fact that I’m antsy for summer. It happens to me every year at the end of March (the two feet of snow we just got doesn’t help), and one of the ways I deal with it is by making my favorite summertime dishes. So, I’m making deviled eggs.

Deviled eggs seem to inspire love or hate. I’ve met very few people who shrug their shoulders when you ask them how they feel about the lovely little egg white boats filled with creamy yellow yolk goodness.

I happen to fall on the love side of the fence. But I don’t like my eggs fancy or overly flavored. I like them straight up. If you have leftover Easter eggs and a hankering for summertime, my simple, old-fashioned recipe is worth a try.

Ingredients

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 6 TBSP mayonnaise (I prefer Just Mayo)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Paprika to sprinkle on top

Directions

  1. Hard boil eggs: place 1 dozen eggs in a pan, add water to cover eggs by one inch, bring to a boil, turn off heat, cover, let sit for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, drain the hot water and add cold water. Letting the eggs rest in cold water makes them easier to peel.
  2. Carefully peel eggs, slice them in half lengthwise, and scoop the yolks out and into a bowl.
  3. Mash the yolks with a fork and add the mayonnaise and salt. Stir until creamy or whatever consistency you prefer.
  4. Arrange the empty egg whites on a platter.
  5. You can either fill the egg whites with the yolk mixture using a spoon or a piping bag.
  6. Sprinkle with a little paprika and serve.

deviled.eggs

 

 

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I have a long-standing love affair with corned beef. It harkens back to my childhood when cans of corned beef hash, a staple in our pantry, taunted me daily.  I used to beg my Mom to cook them for me with fried eggs.

Those cans were followed by my first encounter with a Reuben sandwich when I was nine. After my first Reuben, I felt worldly, somehow changed. I couldn’t stop talking about those thin slices of salty, marbled corned beef, sauerkraut, rye bread, and dressing.

I had planned this post for last week, for St. Patrick’s Day, but, alas, my son and I got sick, and I spent a humbling week in bed. I was going to channel my Irish great-grandmother and bring forth a toothsome spread. Instead, here I am, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day a week later.

A Wee Bit of Trivia: The tradition of having corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day is an American tradition, not an Irish one. In its heyday, in the second half of the 19th century, corned beef was manufactured in Ireland and shipped around the world, but locals rarely ate it. It was too costly. In the States, corned beef was inexpensive and readily available, and immigrants used it in place of bacon in the traditional Irish dish bacon and cabbage.

Ingredients

  • corned beef
  • 2 TBSP olive oil (or bacon grease if you have it on hand)
  • 1/2 head of green cabbage
  • 1 medium shallot (diced)
  • 3 garlic cloves (pressed)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

IMG_1508

Directions

  1. Place corned beef in a large dutch oven and cover with water (one inch above beef)
  2. Bring water to a boil then reduce to a simmer anc cover. Simmer for 2-3 hours until beef is fork tender. Keep around 3 TBSP of the liquid to use on the cabbage.
  3. Remove beef and cover with foil. Allow the meat to rest for at least fifteen minutes.
  4. While the beef is resting, cut half of the cabbage head into thin strips.
  5. Heat a large skillet, add oil or grease, and saute shallot on low to medium heat until light golden brown.
  6. Add garlic and cook for around thirty seconds before adding the cabbage. Add the cabbage, salt, pepper, and stir, making sure to coat the cabbage with the shallot/garlic/oil mixture. Cover and cook, occasionally stirring for around ten minutes.
  7. Add around 3 TBSP of the liquid (you boiled the beef in) to the pan, stir, and cover again. Cook for another five minutes or until cabbage is browned and tender.
  8. Slice corned beef into 1/2 inch slices and plate with a large serving of cabbage.

IMG_1519

 

 

Separating Wheat From Chaff

I had big plans for a St. Patrick’s Day recipe post. I was going to channel the one-eighth Irish in me and cook a corned beef and cabbage spread that would have made my great-grandmother proud.

Then my son and I got Whooping Cough, despite being immunized, and I’ve spent the last four days in bed. Woo hoo! But good thoughts and a few realizations sometimes come out of convalescing. When your body breaks down and forces you to stop everything, you have time to reflect on what’s important. Sure, those dishes in the sink make my eye twitch but is it going to impact my life if they sit there overnight, or (gasp) all day tomorrow?

I like to run a tidy ship, and sometimes I get hung up on minutia. Getting sick this week has reminded me that at the end of the day, all that matters is my family’s health, having a roof over our head, food to eat, and lots of love. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Stay tuned for that corned beef and cabbage recipe–plan to post it next week.

OldIrishBlessing