Making the most of our last year (?) in Durham

We are looking at what may be our last year in Durham, and I’ve been wanting to put down in black and white things to do before we move away. I would say I’m 60% sure at this point that next year we’ll be moving back to the Baltimore/Washington area, where we both grew up and where both our immediate families still live. I will be about 80% sure one way or another by October, and I think we’ll know for certain by the end of February 2014. This is what we’ve always planned to do, and there are some aspects that we are definitely looking forward to (grandparents within a couple hours!), but Durham has become home in the 7 years we’ve lived here, and we will miss it a great deal.

Despite having lived here for a decent stretch now, there are many activities in the area that we either haven’t taken advantage of at all, or haven’t done as much as I would like. Here’s my list of things to do before we go, in no particular order:

  • Go to Maple View Ice Cream.
  • Walk or ride bikes on the American Tobacco Trail.
  • Visit at least 2 of these parks: Falls Lake, Umstead, Eno River, West Point on the Eno, Occoneechee Mountain. (I’ve been to the last 2, but not for awhile, and I’ve never visited the other three.)
  • Take a walk in Duke Forest.
  • Hear Will Willimon preach while he’s at Duke Memorial UMC.
  • Go to the State Fair. (We’ve been twice, but I really like it and want to try to go again this year!)
  • See an American Dance Festival performance. (I don’t know if this will be possible, since we’d have to move by July 1, but I’d like to try.)
  • Go to at least 2 Durham Bulls games. (I’m cheating on this one: we’re going to one tonight!)
  • Spend a day in Chapel Hill/Carrboro (reminiscing about my library school days, I guess…).
  • Eat at Vin Rouge and try out either Nana’s or one of the other fancy Durham restaurants we haven’t been to (obviously a kid-free selection).
  • Go to 2-3 of the choral groups performing via Duke Performances this season. (This is more on my husband’s list than mine, but I like going to hear music with him at least occasionally–and we could combine it with the one above!)
  • Take the older two kids to see the Nutcracker when it’s performed at UNC’s Memorial Hall.
  • Go to the NC Aquarium once more.

I think that about covers it. I’m sure there are things I’d like to do that I’ve missed, but I can add them later (and I don’t want the list to get too long, if I’m to have any hope of completing it!!). There are a few things I am fairly confident we will do and so didn’t list them: visiting the Life & Science Museum regularly, visiting Duke Gardens, visiting the NC Zoo 1-2 more times. It would also be great to get to either the Outer Banks or Asheville since I’ve never been to the first and only to the second once upon a time in middle school, but those will be more difficult to fit in, especially now that we have someone in school.

Anything I absolutely must add to the list?

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SAH Sanity Tip #2: Leave the House

This is pretty much a no-brainer for anyone who already stays home, but it really does make life easier if you can get out of the house. My challenge is always to make sure I don’t stay so busy with playdates or field trips that I either lose track of chores that really do have to get done sometimes or tire us all out too much.

Some of our favorite places to escape:

There are lots of other places we visit less frequently–especially when we have playdates–but those are our standbys. I am grateful to have so many places around for when we just need to get out of the house! I also just recently discovered The Stir Crazy Moms’ Guide to Durham, which is a treasure trove of places in the RDU triangle area to check out. We’ve been busy enough this summer that I haven’t had a chance to check out someplace new recommended here, but I have it in mind for later in the summer or early fall!

Cabbage

Cabbage has been my CSA nemesis this year. This is mostly because we haven’t had any collards to contend with, but also because cabbage has never been a favorite of mine. It’s big, it’s very distinctive, it lasts forever. And this year, we have received LOTS of it (and very big heads sometimes, too). Oh, and I don’t really like coleslaw.

Thanks largely to suggestions of friends (hooray for Facebook recipe calls!) and my husband’s creativity, I have come to better appreciate cabbage this year. In case you are also not a cabbage fan, here are some ideas for your over-abundance of cabbage:

  • Obviously, stir-fry it. If you cook something with enough soy sauce, meat, and other veggies, it tends to taste better. I will put it in chicken stir-fry when I make it, and we also frequently make a recipe (from the cookbook More With Less) called Formosan Fried Cabbage, which is basically a stir-fry of sausage, cabbage, onions, and soy sauce.
  • Continuing in the Asian vein, a friend recommended this recipe: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/japanese-pizza-recipe.html. This was very easy and good (although my kids didn’t really love it, my husband and I liked it enough to eat all the leftovers quickly), and rose even more in my estimation when it got mentioned on The Splendid Table after we had already made it.
  • We turned to good old Joy of Cooking and found a couple other ideas, one of which was to boil potatoes with cooked bacon, then add cabbage until it’s cooked, and add parsley at the end. With a little butter also added (not in the recipe, but it tasted pretty darn good), this was a family success. Bacon is often a key point in getting our son to try things.
  • I also made creamed cabbage (also from Joy) for the first time…not too bad with a homey meal of chicken and mashed potatoes. I put in too much salt, so taste before you salt!

That’s about it for now. I don’t think I’ve seen the last of cabbage for the year, though, so I’ll update if I find more to share.

 

 

 

 

 

Spinach

I think we are now safely past the spinach stage in our CSA season. So, now seems like the perfect time to talk about spinach, since I am not spending all my time cooking and freezing it.

First, a little background: we are on the CSA roster for Britt Farms, and we get a box of produce each week. We never know what we’re going to get until the day of the pick-up, but there’s always some fruit and lots of vegetables. Despite being a family of five, we still just get the small box, because our kids still largely subsist on macaroni and chicken, with vegetables added in as flavoring or discussion pieces. My husband and I make it our goal to eat all of the food before it spoils, and this year we are probably doing our best yet. I think I’ve had to throw out half a head each of cabbage and lettuce, plus a beet or two. We also haven’t had to given anything away yet. It helps that we’ve been doing this for about four years, so we now know many ways to cook most of the vegetables we get, and I also know how to save some of them for later use.

Which brings us back to spinach. Everyone in our family actually seems to like spinach just fine, but we just don’t eat it in quantities. It’s a pain to wash, it goes bad quickly, and I never used it fast enough.

Now, however, I use the “wash, steam, and freeze” method of spinach preparation. I wash the whole bag at once (which takes a good half-hour, but it won’t take that much less time for less spinach, so you may as well do the whole bag), steam it in batches, then freeze the batches (making sure to label them with both contents and date) for later use.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Clean out the sink–both sides if you have a double sink.
  2. Plug up one side of the sink and run a good inch of water into it while you start to add the spinach.
  3. Pull spinach leaves off the steams and add to the water to soak. Discard stems. Make sure to occasionally swish the spinach around in the water and/or spray it with your sprayer.
  4. Once all the leaves are in, move spinach over to the other side of the sink or into a bowl or colander. Rinse out the side that you’ve just used.
  5. Repeat soaking the spinach at least once.
  6. Steam the spinach for about 3-5 minutes (2-3 if you’ve already got the water boiling)–try to get it cooked without the color turning dark. If your steamer or pot isn’t big enough to do all the spinach at once, you can do it in batches.
  7. Use tongs to transfer the spinach into quart size freezer bags (pre-labeled makes life easier, or else use freezer tape to label them). Let the spinach cool before you seal the bags and put them in the freezer.
  8. Voila! You have lots of spinach ready to use when you want.

This method works for any greens (not so much cabbage and lettuce, at least not that I’m aware). I am particularly fond of doing this with collards and freezing them in tiny batches, so that I can hide them in things (none of us likes collards).

Here are some of the things I use the pre-cooked spinach in:

  • Risotto
  • Lasagna
  • Mexican lasagna
  • Quiche
  • Omelets
  • Chili
  • Spinach and potato soup
  • And, our new achievement this year, spinach pasta:

    Spinach pasta

    Ta-da!

Field Trip: North Carolina Zoo

As other stay-at-home parents know, sometimes you just have to get out of the house. This most recently happened a few weeks ago, when our visit with an aunt, cousin, and great-grandmother came to an end. My lovely children were bouncing off the wall. My husband had to go in to work, so while I usually reserve the zoo for a both-parent, pre-planned outing, I decided to go for it. It was a beautiful day and I was reminded once again how great the North Carolina Zoo is.

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Zebra.

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Lions lazing around.

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Elephant.

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Good giraffe photo.

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Baby giraffe! (Already looking pretty big.)

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Baby gorilla!!

Not all of these photos are from our most recent visit, and I realize that I don’t have any good photos of the North American animals that are kid-free, but they give you a good taste of what the NC Zoo offers. Also, the baby animals photos are from this April, so if you want to see baby animals, now is a good time to go!

The zoo is located in Asheboro, NC, and it’s a large zoo, especially in terms of area. There is a LOT of walking, and while trams are available, the waits can be long, so don’t count on using them to get around most of the time. The zoo is divided into two sections, Africa and North America. Our usual method has been to park in Africa, eat lunch before we go in (we do not generally get out of the house early enough to make the hour and a half drive before lunchtime), see African animals, see North American animals, then take the tram back to our starting point. This plan has changed somewhat as our oldest’s favorite animal has become the seal (in North America): the last time we went as a family, we parked in North America, and my (somewhat fluid) plan this past time was to see a few African animals, get to the seals in N. America as quickly as possible, then work our way back to the car and see what we had time for on the way.

Aside from the baby animals, some of the highlights from this trip included getting to play on the “Garden Friends” playground in North America (we usually make the kids skip it) and seeing the lions just before closing time, when they weren’t just lying there. We got to see the male and female lion give each other nuzzles just like in The Lion King!

Even with the workout (and with small children, sometimes because of it!), it’s a fabulous zoo and well worth the trip. While it’s not ideal to go in the middle of summer, there is a good amount of shade to help counterbalance the walking. You can bring your own stroller or rent one there. The entrance fee is quite reasonable (although the food’s pretty pricey, hence our tendency to pack a picnic), and you can also become a member, which covers your admission all year to both the zoo and the NC Aquarium. The zoo is one of our favorite  family outings here in NC.

Thank you, teachers

We are getting ready to send our oldest to kindergarten in the fall. In our part of North Carolina, there is LOTS of school choice–magnet schools, charter schools, lots of homeschooling co-ops. We have chosen to send our son to our neighborhood school. I plan to write a little more about this decision in the near future, but in further celebration of National Poetry Month, here’s a poem. I think I read it as a kid, probably in one of the school newsletters that went home every month. It’s a little campy, and certainly idealistic, but that’s part of the point. I really believe public education can be a great thing, but if you don’t go in with a helping of idealism about your school (the school your kids are attending), you aren’t going to be as invested in making reality approach that ideal. I don’t know that it has a title (I found 3-4 in the 3-4 different places that I found the poem on the web), but it has been attributed to Ray A. Lingenfelter, who, according to this source, was an elementary school principal:

I dreamed I stood in a studio
And watched two sculptors there,
The clay they used was a young child’s mind
And they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher;
the tools she used were books and music and art;
One was a parent with a guiding hand and a gentle loving heart.

And when at last their work was done
They were pround of what they had wrought
For the things they had worked into the child
Could never be sold or bought.

And each agreed she would have failed
If she had worked alone
For behind the parent stood the school,
and behind the teacher stood the home.

P.S. Happy birthday, Jenny (one of my favorite teachers)!