Garden Update…

Last year was our first experience with gardening — Paul’s first ever, and my first since 4-H in junior high, plus my high school farm working experience. We were pleasantly surprised with the results. The peas, tomatoes, and onions were all plentiful and delicious, and the broccoli was really yummy if not high-yielding, and everything was very easy to grow and maintain. We had total fail with our cucumbers and peppers, but we were still raring to go when spring came around again this year. We wanted our garden this year to be bigger and better than last year’s, so Paul built three more raised beds, filled them with topsoil and manure, and we planted MORE tomatoes, MORE peas, MORE onions, MORE broccoli, plus some melons, lettuce, potatoes, and peppers.
Results: mixed. The peas were easy and delicious and disappeared quickly, just like last year (I keep meaning to plant another round, but it’s getting late in the game now…). The onion sets I planted were dubious (small and squishy) as was the soil I planted them in (shallow and hard) and the results have been bleh — lots of dead or tiny onions, with a few stragglers seeming to be coming to full size out there. Oh well, onions are cheap.


The tomatoes have been late in coming and not as drop-dead delicious, but they’re definitely ripening aplenty these days, and the plants themselves are monsters!

So now I have to put these tomatoes to good use! I’ve already made this old favorite recipe twice (please try, it’s delicious!) so tonight I went with a chicken bruschetta recipe instead– similar, but definitely its own distinctive flavor. We liked!


If you try this recipe, two things: eggs first, then breadcrumbs, and add balsamic vinegar to the bruschetta topping, because duh; and also, warm the bruschetta up on the side or tucked in around the chicken rather than on top of it, as it ruins the crunch of the crouton topping, in my opinion.

Here’s a closeup of some of our ripe tomatoes, delicious-if-tiny broccoli, and sad little onions.


And I almost forgot — we’re really looking forward to harvesting our watermelons! So far we count five of them, but there have been lots of flowers, so I don’t know what to expect for a total yield. We made little beds of straw for them to rest on so they don’t get flat or squishy. They look delicious already and are growing really quickly!watermelon

As far as the potatoes and peppers, well, it’s almost September and there have been no blossoms on either, so our hopes aren’t high, but maybe everything will just be a little late this year (oh, please, do not let this apply to babies, too!).



Celebrations, Cravings, Carsick {7QT & Womb Service}

It’s Friiiiiiiday, Friiiiiiday.

1. I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July yesterday.  We enjoyed our double celebration of the Fourth and our anniversary.  We all went out for a nice lunch together and then later we went to our friend’s house for a delicious BBQ. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You know, when we set July 4th as the date for our wedding, we weren’t absolutely thrilled with it because it seemed kind of kitschy, but in retrospect it was a really good decision.  Dave always has the day off from work and there’s always fun to be had.  Hence it’s always a really special day.

2. We were relieved to make it to our friend’s house (which is about 40 minutes away) yesterday in one piece because we’ve been experiencing some technical difficulties with car travel lately.  It all started last week when we decided SK was ready for a big girl forward facing car seat.  She seemed pretty excited about this transition too!  That is, until we took our first 10 minute car trip to Costo.  We barely made it to the parking lot before she ‘sploded her snack all over the beautiful new Graco Nautilus.  I was in a panic. Was she sick? We had a date that night!  Was this carsickness?  Couldn’t be! We were in the car for 10 minutes!  Well, we very cautiously took very short trips all weekend and watched her like a hawk.  She never got fully sick again, but most car trips, even the quickest ones, made her very upset and she would cough-gag by the time we got to our destination.  Since we stupidly got a seat that only faces forward, we decided we would get another car seat that had a rear-facing option in hopes that it would help her nausea.  So far so good! But I’m feeling mostly cautious, not so much optimistic though.  Especially since we have lots of car trips planned for this summer.

3. Well, it’s a terrible segue, but I figured since I was writing about nausea, I could join up with Katrina’s Womb Service link-up and reminisce about what foods kept my nausea at bay when I was in the “family way”.  In some ways, I was totally that pregnant woman.  I loved pickles!  I always love pickles, especially a good bread and butter pickle, but when I was pregnant, it was only dill pickles for me.  Dill pickles with slices of sharp cheddar.  Dave loved a smooch after I had that snack! Towards the end, I had a terrible horrible no good very bad eating habit.  I had some frosting left over from making St. Patrick Day cookies and I would eat the frosting with ritz crackers!  It was awful!  And I wonder why SK was 9 1/2 pounds!  That’s all I can remember specifically.  I wish I was one of those ladies who craved fruit.  I never crave fruit, pregnant or not.  And I wonder why I’m ____ pounds!

Pregnant women don't get free beer at the Sam Adams brewery :(

Pregnant women don’t get free beer at the Sam Adams brewery 🙁

Oh, and speaking of beer, I think Rose has her current cravings to share for Katrina’s link-up too!


Teehee. Don’t kill me, Rose.

4. Our garden is doing so well!  IMG_1521 IMG_1522We’ve had snap peas for the past 3 weeks or so, so of course I made this dinner with them.  So delicious!

5. I wish I had progress to report about our chair reupholstery project.  It’s kind of in limbo right now.  Dave still needs to finish stripping and re-staining the wood and I need to start cutting pieces, making new cording and sewing the cushion cover.  It’s just not on the top of our priorities and wants now that summer is here.  The last thing I want to do in the summer is spend hours inside sewing! It’s shameful though, I know.  I’m going to make weekly chair goals for myself so that we have a little progress soon, I promise!

6. You’re not going to believe this but we are far from being done celebrating birthdays and anniversaries this month!  Next up is Miss Ruthie’s birthday on July 7th, then Jack’s on July 8th. Our Grandma’s birthday is July 14th, Jane and Brandon’s 13th wedding anniversary is the 15th and Lucy’s birthday is the 16th!

7. And on top of all that, Coming up next weekend is the long-anticipated McFamily reunion.  My Mom and Grandma have been working non-stop on planning this shin-dig for at least a year and it’s finally almost here!  Along with descendants of our beloved late Grandpa McMahon, there will also be descendants of his siblings in attendance, making for a very merry McFamily get-together.  And get this.  We get tee shirts!  Jane and her brood are coming so almost all of the McSisters will be together; we’ll be missing our Sister-sister Mary though.  Maybe someone got around to making a Sr. Theresa cardboard cutout?

That’s all she wrote.  And it’s quite enough! Linking with the beautiful Katrina and Jen today because that’s a-what-I-do 😉

5 Favorites, Vol. 7

Linking with Moxie Wife (hope everyone feels better over there soon!)on this fine Wednesday morning to share my 5 Favorites.

1. Straight off the bat, I’m going to cheat a little.  I need to ask you about your favorite work-out tunes!  I’m running my first real 5K this Sunday and I thought a new running playlist might just help me pick up the pace a little.  I would love love LOVE to hear your recommendations! And McSisters, please consult your McHusbands for suggestions and get back to me ASAP!

2. Stephen Fry in America

Dave and I have been working on this fun BBC documentary for a little while now, and we’re thoroughly enjoying it! Let me digress for a second and just explain that it is a treasured McFamily pastime to follow with great interest all things British; politics, entertainment, the Royal Family (duh!) etc. At first, Dave did not understand, nor did he appreciate this obsession interest in all things British.  But lucky me, he was hired by a British company, so not only does he work with a lot of Brits, but he also has to travel there frequently (and he took me along once too!) so he kind of gets it now.  He definitely has more of an appreciation for their dry humor and cultural quirks and nowadays he is more familiar with obscure British-isms than I am!

Anyway, that leads me to this documentary.  Stephen Fry is a British actor/comedian who traveled across the United States in a London cab seeking out sights big and small. Wherever he goes, he prattles on in that delightfully British way, sharing his frank observations and opinions about what he sees.  For example, at a cheese factory in Wisconsin, he explains to the owner that Americans have simply dreadful taste in cheese.  Dave, with his newfound fluency in Brit, picked out a phrase Stephen used to describe the scientists at Los Almos National Lab: boffins.  I didn’t even notice but Dave told me that’s what Brits call brainy scientist types (like him).  Isn’t that funny?

Long story short: you should watch it.  It’s on Netflix streaming.

{Update: I’d suggest skipping the last 15 minutes of episode 5, in which Stephen learns about that wonderful legal institution in Nevada: prostitution. Eeeek!}

3. Almond Poppy Seed “Bread”

Y’all, it’s not bread.  It’s cake.  And it’s delicious.

4. This outfit

Maybe I could come up with a SAHM version of this outfit that’s just as fabulous??

{Editorial Note* The dress is $28 at Target, ladies!}

5. Pool weather!

photo (7)

Who knows how long it’s going to last so we’re taking advantage of it this week!

Have a great day, everyone!  I can’t wait to read your music suggestions for me!

Something to chew on

What? Two posts in the same day? Yeah why not.

I’ve been thinking of posting about this topic for a long time, but I always talk myself out of it thinking “Everyone struggles with food and their weight.  Big deal. Get over it. Do another link up!”  The fact is, I don’t want this to come off  as (or even become by the time I’m done writing it) a whiney, navel-gazing post about how I think I’m fat.  But, I’m getting tired of thinking negatively about myself and I’m getting tired of blaming food and then baking a batch of cookies and eating half of the dough.  Then last week, the awesome Jenny of Mama Needs Coffee delivered a line that finally brought home to me what my problem is.

“It was like having a healthy, grown-up relationship with food.” (read the rest here)

Bingo!  That’s exactly what I DON’T have.  That’s exactly what I’ve never had.  This is why I hate diets.  I think “If I only try this fad or if I only eliminate this food group, I’ll lose 20 pounds and I’ll be a whole different person!” Fast forward a week, maybe 10 days and I’m crashing and burning and crying to poor long-suffering Dave. Ultimately I always come to this dramatic conclusion à la  Scarlett O’Hara: “Diets are crazy!  I hate diets! As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”

So, I focus on working out, which is something I actually enjoy doing, and a few weeks after really devoting myself to fitness (and not worrying about what I put into my mouth because I’m hungry dammit!), I stupidly step on the scale.  And the cycle starts over again.

The thing is, though, if you truly do eat more than you should, especially carbs and processed and/or sugary foods, despite your best working out efforts, you really do need to cut back your calorie intake.  That’s just common sense!  Now that I’m nearing 30, it’s finally getting through my thick skull that I need to be an adult about my relationship with food and acknowledge that weight loss and weight maintaining comes down to simple input-output.  I also need to be an adult and face the facts about the size of my portions and the content of what I’m eating.

So, I started this week, cutting down on my carb intake and eliminating seconds at dinner.  That’s it.  No gimmicks, no absolute restrictions.  All I’m doing is eating two carb free meals and a normal dinner with no seconds. I know that carbs are my kryptonite.  But I also know that when I completely eliminate carbs I become a maniac.  So this is my adult solution and I’m admitting it here on the blog so that I have a little more accountability.  

Hi, my name is Ellen.  I have a dysfunctional relationship with food and I’m striving from now on to be an adult about it.

Ok, I also have a body image issue as well.  I blame Gwyneth Paltrow! No, but for real, part of this process is accepting the body type that I have (that I’ve always had) and the roles that pregnancy, motherhood and aging have in the current and future state of my body.  When I get to the break-down stage of the dreaded self-hate cycle, it’s always me crying because I don’t like my body, I feel unattractive, yadda yadda yadda.  And that’s the most frustrating silly part about the whole thing.  My body is my body.  Should I take care of it? Absolutely! Will I look like Gwyneth Paltrow if I take proper care of my body? Oh no no no no. Never. So enough’s enough.  Time to put my big girl pants on and get over it.  (That last sentence is highly ironic.)

So, you’ve started Ellen!  Keep us updated! Post before and after pictures! Yeah, no that’s not going to happen. When it comes to fixing dysfunctional relationships, the work is never done, is it?  People don’t go to counseling and then leave totally changed with no problems whatsoever.  I’ve always had this problem with food and with my self-esteem and I always will have this problem, so I’m viewing this as a life-long project. But that is a comforting thought to me.  I don’t have some 2 week or month deadline in which to complete some diet or cleanse regimen.  This is just me working on my input output, like a normal human being and praying for the humility to see myself as I truly am and to praise God for the gift of my life.

Five Favorites (Vol. 4)

Finally Rose’s turn to join up with Hallie Lord and her 5 Favorites fun!  Here are Rose’s favs:

Okay, getting this feature in on the right day! Here’s some things that are making me happy lately…
1. Maxi skirts as maternity wear:jessalba

I’m due at the END of September, so I have a long summer to get through and shorts/short skirts are not an option for this McSister. This is less a modesty issue and more a Hilary-Clinton-legs issue on my part. I do wear capri pants, but obviously a skirt or dress is the most comfortable and cool option. Enter the maxi skirt — I’m so glad these are in style this time around, and the jersey-knit ones seem really versatile, able to be dressed up for church or special occasions, or doing the work of sweats with a plain t-shirt. I have purchased two skirts and one dress/beach coverup that seems like it could double as a skirt as well, and I’m looking forward to debuting them on our trip to Florida at the end of May.

2. Homemade Granola:


A few weeks ago Ruthie decided that her new favorite cereal was my $5 a box granola, and we were going through it like water and killing my grocery budget. So I decided to try to make some at home, and we’ve all been very happy with the results of this recipe I found by America’s Test Kitchen.  Big chunks, just sweet enough, stays crunchy in milk, and makes a nice frozen yogurt topping, too. Try it!

3. The Tupler Technique

This probably doesn’t qualify as something I like, because first of all, I hate doing it, and second, I just started so I can’t even tell you if it works or not, but let me explain: Like two of my other McSisters, I ended up with a diastasis recti, or separated abdominal muscles, after my second child was born. It wasn’t bothering me too much until I got pregnant again.  Lets just say that at 7 months pregnant, it looks like Princess Kate has just finally caught up with me, and I’m only 18 weeks along. I will not be sharing photos. Beyond the merely aesthetic issue, though, my upper abs were sometimes feeling numb and tingly, and my almost 2-year-old kept climbing on me and elbowing or kneeing me straight in the vital organs, which are no longer protected by a wall of muscles. Plus, as I looked into the issue more, I discovered that having a diastasis can make it harder to push effectively in labor, and can make it more likely that your baby will present transverse breech, since your stomach muscles are not holding them into the correct position for delivery.  Been there already, don’t wanna go back. So, I took the plunge and ordered an instructional DVD and a Diastasis Rehab Splint from this website. According to the website, and to my midwife, it is totally safe to wear this and do the exercises while pregnant, and the hope is to keep your diastasis as small as possible and to strengthen your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor in preparation for labor.  We shall see.

4. Getting back into artwork


I recently joined the local art society, hoping it would encourage me to do more artwork on my own, and I have really loved the experience so far. I have gotten to see two demonstrations of different techniques, attended a watercolor workshop, and had some of my work critiqued by a local art professor. Tomorrow, I will be submitting two pieces to the Spring Juried Show at our library.  I will post pictures of them later and let you know if they’ve been accepted, but I’m quite happy with them either way and very pleased to be drawing and painting again.

5. Spring!

Yes, I realize this is unoriginal, but it is nonetheless true. I love this warm weather and getting the girls outside every day, and they love it, too. We have expanded our garden from two raised beds to five, and Paul worked all weekend tilling and mixing up soil and building the new boxes. This is only our second year gardening, but we had some success last summer and we’re hoping it turns out well this year, too. Advice for Ellen — pinch off the tomato suckers!


Head on back to Moxie Wife for more 5 Favorites!


Happenings and Recipes

Dave and I have a lot of irons in our fire lately.  This is saying a lot because I personally don’t usually ever have a fire going and if I do, I adhere to a strict one iron at a time policy to avoid getting overwhelmed.  Ok, so maybe it’s only 2 irons.  Here they are:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



The original putrid shade of green that was hiding under the cushion.


For shame, chair! Cover yourself up! PS, that toilet in the background is NOT hooked up, it’s just an old throne just hanging out in the basement.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dave is project manager. I am creative lead.

We’re still in the fun beginning stages of stripping the chair and meticulously documenting the process with pictures and labeling and tagging all the pieces.  It’s easy to feel giddy and excited about the end product, but I get a little trembly and apprehensive when I ponder cutting pieces out of my beautiful yellow ikat.  If it was just me doing this project, I’d probably chicken out and never do it, but Dave is helping me and he has that quality that I lack when it comes to big projects: stick-to-it-ivness.  He’s a natural problem solver so he tackles projects with a very cool and logical brain.  I just get frazzled!

Our second iron in the fire:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGarden!

We are complete first timers at this and have no idea what we’re doing.  There’s this beautiful plot in our back yard that used to be our landlord’s garden and his father’s before him.  Our landlord sadly passed away almost 2 years ago and we asked his son whether we could use the garden plot.  He said go for it, and he deposited the leaves in the fall on top of the plot to keep the ground moist and protected (?) during the winter.  Anyway, when we finally cleared the leaves and tilled up our little patch this past weekend (by hand!) the soil was rich and soft and beautiful.  We mixed in some manure and we’re letting it sit this week and then next week, the seeds and seedlings go in!  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To be completely honest, I have very low expectations.  We’re not planting much and we’re not aiming to take a chunk out of our food budget.  We’re just trying our hand at it to see what happens.  If anybody out there has any tips or lessons learned the hard way, we would be so grateful to hear them!


Now on to the good eats!  I’ve been making this pumpkin banana bread for SK for a while now but recently I had an aha moment and made them into mini muffins.  I know, I know.  Brilliant.


Mini muffins, you may not know, are super easy to freeze and therefor preserve for several weeks. You can just pop a couple at a time in the microwave to defrost. Brilliant.


SK wants to share!

A few more things about this recipe.  I’m not going for skinny, so I use 2 eggs instead of one egg and one egg white.  Also, I don’t use nuts.  I bake them in the mini muffin tin at 375 for 10 minutes.  Oh, also, the combination of banana and pumpkin makes these muffins a really good antidote to baby diarrhea.  Just sayin!

Finally, the pièce de résistance.  A word of warning: my picky McFamily members will probably not approve of this recipe but that just proves it’s deliciousness.


These tacos pair perfectly with a margarita (of course) but corona works in a pinch. And yes, judgy-judgers. I use paper plates and paper towels in copious amounts. I don’t have a dishwasher. Lay off me, Earth day was last week, sheesh!

These are…. incredible.  They are the perfect warm weather Friday night meal, IMO. I’ve made them twice, the first time during Lent but even though it is fish and all, it is far too delicious to have on a Friday in Lent.  Sinfully delicious, that’s what.

And that was my overly long post with far too many pictures that could have been split up into several posts over the course of the week.  But who doesn’t love a long rambling picture heavy post?


Not I, said the pig.

5 Favorites (vol. 3)

Linking up with Moxie Wife again to share these very random 5 favorites!

1. Bisquick.  

Man, I love this stuff. What is it even made of anyway?  Why does everything you make with it taste incredible?  I know it can’t be good for you, but I don’t care.

2. This is my favorite thing to make with Bisquick:

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

I’m sure you’ve seen these on pinterest, but if you haven’t made them yet, drop everything you’re doing and make them now.  They’re incredible.

3. Color discovery boxes from Lakeshore:

I got these for SK when she was about 6 months old and just sitting up and playing with things.  They’ve consistently been a favorite toy of hers ever since!  I loved them immediately because, as a former Pre-K teacher, I geeked out over the infinite learning possibilites in these 4 simple boxes. At $50, they are pretty expensive, but if you get on the Lakeshore e-mail list, they’ll randomly send you coupons (I got my set for 40% off) and even if you pay full price, they’re worth it.  They’re really high quality and I’m pretty sure they’ll last for a very long time, probably through several kids.  I highly recommend these for homeschooling mamas with little ones!

4.Foscam wireless indoor camera

 In an uncharacteristically impulsive move, Dave got this camera about a month ago to use as a baby camera to see what SK does in her crib.  It’s completely unnecessary, especially since SK is a really good sleeper and doesn’t tend to play in her crib, but it is really nifty to have all the same.  The really cool thing about this monitor is that we use our phones and our computers as the receivers which is super convenient. When we use our phones, it’s through some random free app (I don’t know the specifics, Dave set it all up) and the best thing about it is the ads that run above the image of your sleeping babe.  All this to say that I’m now addicted to online gambling.


5. Fabric!

mefabricI took the plunge and I bought the yellow ikat fabric for my chair reupholstery project.  No turning back now!  You can expect a series of posts in the near future titled “Hack Jobs” or “Why you should never DIY reupholstery”.  Please pray for me!

For more fabulous five favs, head on back to Moxie Wife! Happy Hump Day!

Tastes of the Season: Autumn

Happy Halloween, all!  Welp, we made it to the 31st of October and there are still a few more mini candy bars left in our (originally) big BJ’s bag of candy.  Just enough for the 2 trick-or-treaters we will might get.  This is an accomplishment for the Johnsons!

Halloween candy falls into that category of “Edible & Seasonally Appropriate” along with these recipes I’m about to share.  I’m always looking for new recipes to try, especially if they are holiday or season specific.  I’m hoping that down the yellow brick road of family life, SK (and any little siblings she might have) will look forward to new seasons and upcoming holidays because of our family’s special traditions, and that includes food!  So without further a BOO (hahaha, lame preschool pun), here are several of my favorite recipes that capture the tastes of autumn!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can’t remember where I originally got this recipe a few years ago, but when I went looking for a similar one on the internets I found this one and it’s exactly the same!  The wonderful Mrs. Rachael {Stamp} Juskuv hit the nail on the head when she described these cookies as “The taste of my childhood!”  Not because they taste like a McMahon childhood (no. no. no. pumpkin!?!?!), it’s because they taste very very very almost-identical to those delicious Carrot Barn cookies.  They’re amazing and they’re always a crowd pleaser and they’re very easy to make.

Autumn Chopped Salad

This salad is simply delicious.  Bring it along to a party or toss some grilled chicken in with the rest of the ingredients and you have dinner.  Dave loves this salad, and he hates salad!  Make sure you don’t substitute a different dressing for the one in the recipe.  The mixture of poppy seed and balsamic vinagrette is delicious and perfect for the variety of ingredients and flavors in this salad.

Apple Cider Pancakes

I’ve been wanting to make these pancakes for a while and I finally had all the ingredients and time (thanks to Sandy) to do so yesterday morning.  Folks, these pancakes are amazing! They’re perfect for a chilly, rainy Saturday morning in September and they help you use up some of your apple cider which would otherwise go bad.  The recipe calls for cinnamon sugar and butter on top instead of maple syrup, and boy is that a good call!  It takes the deliciousness and fall nostalgia to a whole new level!  As an aside, if you’re like me and you occasionally need buttermilk for random recipes but you never use up the whole quart before it goes bad (why don’t they sell buttermilk in pints??), do this:

You’re welcome.

Now, get cooking!

Don’t judge a loaf by its crust

I decided to try a variation on the dutch-oven bread I’ve been making lately using this recipe from Pioneer Woman (whose coffee cake recipe I successfully made last week and it is to.die.for). At any rate, this recipe called for two major things that my original recipe did not: a stick of butter (yum!) and kneading. The whole appeal of the other dutch oven bread was that it was a no-knead recipe, since I have neither bread machine nor Kitchen Aid mixer. I do have two weird looking attachments to my hand-held mixer which claimed to be dough hooks and which ended up being the ruination of my beautiful bread. Those hooks chopped the dough into a million tiny fragments, which, knead as I might until I got sweaty and may have started swearing, I could not mold back into a smooth ball of dough. I certainly did not achieve “windowpaning” (see recipe). But I stuck it in the oven anyway, and based on how it smelled and looked I almost thought that things would be okay. Alas, the bread was dense and underdone in flat layers on the inside and way overdone and crunchy for about an inch on the outside. Bread Fail. I will be trying this again, though, and kneading by hand, unless someone wants to get me a Kitchen Aid mixer will a real dough hook…

Let’s just make this a cooking blog!

Or maybe just make it a regular feature. I just tried this recipe for homemade tortillas, and they came out pretty well! It’s nice to know I can make them with what I have on hand rather than having to run out and buy some; plus we never seem to use an entire package, and then either the rest go stale or I stick them in the freezer and forget I have them, then run out to the store next time I need them.
By the way, Ellen made her chicken recipe for us last week when she was here, and there wasn’t a scrap of it left after dinner — a huge success!