Friday, May 31, 2013

At Home

Bud is at home today.  After overheating on his field trip yesterday, he was sick last night.  He feels much better today--iPads and Clone Wars DVDs help.  It's another hot day so it's better that he's resting at home.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fabulous Field Trip!

Today, I was a chaperone on the children's first school field trip to a local historic farm.

And after my experiences a week or so ago with poorly behaved teachers and chaperones on my own historic house tour--the teacher talked through the whole tour, not noticing when her kids misbehaved and not stopping when I privately requested she do so (besides that, we've had chaperones talk and text on their phones, teachers and chaperones abandon their classes and wander off, and more)--I wanted to be a model chaperone.  And I think I was--helped the kids follow instructions, kept them all together, and never distracted from the docents.  Though, perhaps, I spoke up a couple of times enthusiastically--"oooh, kids, you won't get to touch a 200 year-old loom again!" or "wow, just imagine cooking on that stove!"  But I didn't dominate or ask too many questions (only  one or two, on the side) and I never answered them.  (Yes, I wanted to.  But I didn't find any fault with any of the tour.)

We had a wonderful time!  The kids learned about blacksmiths and "jobbing", getting to try their hands with "frog-lip" tongs and "duck-billed" tongs.  They planted green bean seeds in containers to take home.  They fed sheep and chickens.  They helped weave a floor rug with fabric scraps on the aforementioned loom.  They made and ate cornmeal pancakes, after looking at an old wood-burning stove, and got to touch ice in a real icebox.  They carded and then spun by hand yarn from the sheep, tying it into a bracelet to take home.  It really was a fabulous tour--well-paced, well-structured, well-timed, with a diversity of information and hands-on activities with enthusiastic and engaged docents.  As a fellow museum educator, I was impressed; as a mom, I was grateful.  Because I know how much effort went into the tour.


Cornmeal Pancakes

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground cornmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup melted shortening or vegetable oil
1 egg, well beaten

Add together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Then mix in boiling water.  Stir milk, shortening, and egg into batter.

Drop large tablespoonful onto a hot, well-greased frying pan or griddle.  Turn the heat down and cook the cakes until they are brown (and begin to bubble.)  Then flip them over and brown on the other side.  Eat and enjoy!

Morristown Monday

On Monday morning, after revelry and celebration the night before at Iron Hill Brewery where Bud loved both the fisherman's stew and mussels and the rest of us liked the pommes frites with rosemary-garlic mayonnaise (also, the Kennett Square mushroom soup), we headed home.

But not without a little hiccup:  in the middle of the night, when I got up to check on Sis who was wimpering a bit in her sleep, I pulled a muscle in my back.  At first, I feared it was the disk and I'd have lots of trouble; but while there was pain and discomfort, I could still walk and sit and stand.  Meds, ice, and my brace (which I always travel with) made it better than it would've been.  And I could travel by morning, taking it slowly and carefully, with the above-mentioned help.

And so we stopped at Morristown National Historic Park.  We enjoyed the museum display of artifacts of the privileged classes--spinnets, game pieces, shaving implements, the thinnest knitting needles, and the like, as well as the reconstruction of the soldiers' hut with its numerous bunk beds.  We also liked exploring the farmstead, with its 18th-century house and extensive kitchen gardens.  The kids, by now, are experienced historic house tourists and so know about the expense of glass windows, how they cooked on an open hearth, what the root cellar was used for, etc.  But they still get grossed out by privvies and chamber pots.

Of all things, the kids were least impressed by the fact that George and Martha slept there!

Kung Fu Sunday

On Sunday, we all--including beloved uncle, Goo (thanks for making the trek down!)--went to a local high school to cheer on Bud and his kung fu academy teammates at the tournament.  Bud performed three forms--fist form, broadsword, and staff.  He won a gold in the former, and honorable mentions in the latter.

And he was unhappy.  Another competitor, a teammate, actually dropped his weapon in one of the forms and still scored higher than Bud, which Bud didn't understand.  Teachable moments, however valuable, are not fun.  It's what makes competition hard for young kids--understanding that sometimes, competitors will do better than you will and win, or not and still win.  Sometimes you have your best day and you win; sometimes you don't.  And sometimes, you make mistakes and don't do your best.

The disappointment dispersed soon enough and he could enjoy the other performances, especially of one of his teachers, who can do all manner of flips and jumps.  It was inspiring.  And so, before the day was out, Bud was planning his next weapon--either straight sword or nine-link chain.

We are proud of you, Bud, for both your gold medal and your lessons learned.

But if you talk to him, just talk about the gold medal.  He doesn't need to learn these lesson over and over this week.

History Saturday

We did our annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia this weekend, taking in the sights over Memorial Day Saturday before Bud's kung fu tournament on Sunday.  We're reveling in nearby excursions again and look forward to adding more places to our Boston-NYC-Philly-DC repertoire in the future (where else is there, you say?  Small places with interesting attractions, like Newport or Mystic or Litchfield or Northhampton.)

We started at the Independence Visitor Center, where I met a friendly and interesting first-person historical interpreter who portrays 18th-century draper, Sarah Milton.  We talked about knitting--especially on large needles--and she shared with me a pattern for a cowl (given from memory, but too complicated for me.)  We also talked about Betsy Ross's house, Elfreth's Alley (the preserved colonial street), and the like.  When I told her I volunteered at an historic house, she broke character and we discussed the business--first person vs. third person interpretation especially in a place like the Visitor's Center.  It was intriguing and got me thinking about doing some first-person interpretation at our historic house.  And the kids and Mama were very patient.

We actually did start at Betsy Ross's house, on a self-guided tour through the tiny building that she actually shared with others.  The kids, being 18th-century house experts by now, made it through rather quickly, enjoying best of all the reading of the labels with the flip-cover Q&A.  They also enjoyed meeting Betsy Ross, who taught them how to cut a five-pointed start with only a few folds and two snips.  But most of all, I think Sis relished playing in the kids' kitchen in the basement, where a dramatic play area is set up, complete with recipe for turkey pot pie.  She diligently followed all the steps and had such a wonderful time.  I love that she still enjoys playacting and is so un-self-conscious about it.  I definitely want to do more areas like that at our historic house.

Yes, in ways, this was one big professional research trip for me!

After Betsy Ross's house, we went to Benjamin Franklin's print shop, which is just not as much fun as it used to be--several aspects of it are closed, due to construction or the Sequester, so there's really only one room. It's really a shame.

We headed to City Tavern, the restored 18th-century restaurant with period food and costumed wait staff. Oh, what a lunch! Anadama bread, Sally Lunn bread, sweet potato biscuits (Jefferson's favorite!), mushroom toast, mushroom barley soup, West Indian pepperpot soup, duck sausage with sauerkraut, lobster pot pie, turkey pot pie, homemade kielbasa with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, tofu (a la Ben Franklin) with linguine, spiced raspberry pie, Martha Washington's chocolate mousse cake, and raspberry shrub to drink!  The kids were fascinated to learn that George Washington had eaten there several times, preferring a corner table in the next room.  I love that they get excited about stuff like that and also that they are game to try all that food.

But the best part happened next:  we were upstairs using the restrooms when I spotted the chef, Walter Staib, in his office.  The door was open and so I pointed him out to the kids, who have watched his show, "Taste of History," with me on television.  Soon enough, Sis was in there saying hello and the kids posed for a picture with him  He even gave them a copy of his DVD on the first five presidents.  Luckily, he was talking mostly to them because I was probably too excited to act normally--they saved me from gushing too much about his show and his food.  

After lunch, we headed back to the Visitor's Center, by way of a gift shop and the outdoor exhibition on the President's House, which details 18th-century slavery.  And we watched the protesters--on one hand, a group of 2nd amendment gun toters (and yes, right there in the middle of Philly, they were all legally carrying concealed weapons!), and, on the other side, a much bigger rally of people protesting Monsanto and GMO. Very disparate groups, with not a lot of overlap.  But they did give us an opportunity to talk to the kids about democracy, free speech, and the right to gather.

Tuckered out, we opted to head to our hotel to rest and regroup before Bud's big day on Sunday, which I'll post about next.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Bread Bond

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile will recall my bread pledge a few years back (2010, actually) when, as part of Earth Day celebrations, I pledged to make all of our family's bread products for 40 days. It was a transformative experience. I gave a talk about it at church and also posted most of my recipes (search my blog for "bread pledge" or "rise up.")  I then posted a wrap-up.  Two interesting things happened during the pledge:  it brought my church community together as they rallied to teach me how to bake and shared their recipes with me.  And I was given a highly coincidental, perhaps miraculous, compilation of bread recipes--BREAD of all things, not just a cookbook--which was, unbeknownst to the person who gave it to me, compiled by the person who lived in this house in the 1950s!!

Well, the bread story continues.  Because yesterday, as the attic cleaners were carting junk out of the attic, I spotted a dirty only plank, with this sign screwed on it:

It had to be bread!

I Googled it and found that this dirty, grimy sign, when cleaned (and that's not rust but dirt!) sells for almost $500 on eBay!  It's porcelain on steel, dating to the around the 1930s, or about a decade after our house was built.  Bond Bread, founded in 1911 by the General Baking Company, was made by a conglomeration of bakeries in, at its height, 26 states, and was famous for its baked goods, such as streusel-topped cinnamon swirl bread and "bridge cookies" (they even held a contest to find the best homemade recipe!).  It was very popular, supporting radio programs and eventually Hopalong Cassidy's show (did you know I used to live on Cassidy Place and had a cat named Hopalong!  The coincidences multiply!).    Something like Pepperidge Farms, I think.  Anyway, the bakeries were dominant until grocery stores added their own bakeries; I think the company shuttered in 1972.

I can only guess that it's screwed onto what was once a portion of fence that was later used as flooring in our attic, where the sign stayed protected for half a century or so until I saw the attic cleaners carting it away to the junk pile of 50+ bags of insulation and garbage.  It didn't take a split second for me to know that I wanted to keep that sign, which is now safe in the garage until we can figure out how to get it off the planks.

We won't be selling it, even at that price.  I think it's some kind of lucky bread talisman so it will be going into our kitchen as soon as possible.  Sis and Bud were intrigued, though they don't recall the Bread Pledge (they were only 4 1/2 years old), and they've asked me to take up the homemade bread pledge again.

See, it's magic is working already.

The Belfry is Clean

Remember our bats?

We have been visited at least three times.  The first time, our dearly beloved Morgan cat alerted us to the existence of the winged creature in our bedroom when he started running like a crazy cat all over the bed.  We turned on the light--a bat!  It was the middle of the night, but we managed to get someone in pest control on the phone to advise us to trap it in a cardboard box against a flat surface.  And brave Mama did (spiders, she won't do; bats, no problem.)  In truth, we were more worried that the cat would get it and get rabies or something, so we locked him out of the room--he desperately beat at the door, no doubt sure he was much better qualified to catch the thing.

The second bat visit was much the same, but I think Morgan was no longer with us by then.  Again, Mama trapped and released it.

The third bat was last year.  We never saw it, only I heard it flapping and saw a shadow of something overhead in the air conditioner return as I was walking to the bathroom around 10 pm one night.  Ugh.  We figured the first bat got in when we had the chimney fixed; the second when we re-roofed.  But we don't know how the third got in.

We had the bat excluders out soon after that to seal the attic.  Did you know a bat can squeeze anywhere the tip of a pencil will fit?  Just like a mouse.  They were very humane excluders--they have to be because there are laws protecting bats and their young.  No bats were harmed in the process, well, if you don't count becoming homeless.

And so we needed the attic cleaned once the bats were excluded, but with Mama's surgery and all, last summer turned out to be too overwhelming.  And so they attic cleaners came this week.  Apparently, there wasn't a lot of guano--there never was a colony in our attic, just a few random bats.  In fact, most of the mess was from the roofers who replaced our roof and left all their detritus in the rafters as well as the previous occupants who abandoned window screens, old doors, a couple of huge wooden ladders, and tons of planking up there.  So, the attic people cleaned it all up, sprayed anti-microbial stuff, and even replaced the very old insulation.  Now maybe our roof won't be the first on the block to lose its snow cover!  And I won't have to think I live under that bridge in Austin with the millions of bats.

There was one wonderful thing they found in the attic, but that's my next post.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Offline Today and Tomorrow

Because of contractor work in the attic, I'll be offline most of today and tomorrow except what I can manage quickly by smartphone (I still type from a lying-down position and can't do that anywhere but the bed easily.)

Things to tell:

  • Our great Memorial Day trip to Philly, including Betsy Ross house, Ben Franklin printshop, lunch at City Tavern, and . . .
  • Bud's kung fu tournament
  • with Goo
  • Also, my latest back spasm (which is already clearing and wasn't nearly so bad as the disk/tailbone problems)
  • "Martha Slept Here"
  • the attic clean up and the discovery of the $500 Bond Bread sign!
  • finished reading Quiet and my thoughts on introvertism-extrovertism

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts and Prayers

Today my father-in-law begins treatment for prostate cancer.  Over the next few weeks, he will  undergo the  mapping of the tumor followed by very directed radiation treatments.  The prognosis is good.

Meanwhile, his wife, my mother-in-law, is still healing from her cornea replacement.  She still can't drive and is taking it easy.

It's the beginning of a new, difficult chapter for them.  Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Poetry Jam: Finding New Poets

People are introducing new-to-me poets to me regularly and I love it.  This way, I've read Mary Oliver, David Budbill, Naomi Shihab Nye, and now Danna Faulds.  Faulds writes "yoga poems," which sounds limiting or even gimicky.  But they aren't. I can't attest that they are great poems--I've never undertaken any academic poetry analysis--but I am touched by them. And even though I don't practice yoga, I can appreciate the focus on mindfulnessness and presence.  I'm reading her Go In and Out:  Poems from the Heart of Yoga, which I find inspiring, calming, and comforting.  

Walk Slowly 
It only takes a reminder to breathe,
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, makes
space for imperfection. The harsh voice
of judgement drops to a whisper and I
remember again that life isn't a relay
race; that we all will cross the finish
line; that waking up to life is what we
were born for. As many times as I
forget, to catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I am going,
that many times I can make the choice
to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rainy Weather

I'm loving the rain and thunder we're having now, even though I know it's the same storm, though diminished, that caused such devastation in Oklahoma.

Separate Bedrooms

I think it's official:  the kids are not roommates anymore.

After an initial spar that had Bud seeking another room, they've stayed separate.  First Sis was upset; then Bud misunderstood that he couldn't have both rooms.  Now, though, they seem to understand and like the separate rooms, even though Bud's is still our library and not quite a real bedroom.  Except it has a bed.

While I'm happy for Sis, especially, who craved her own room and its attendant privacy, and now even for Bud who is excited to have his own independent space, I worry that they won't continue the closeness that until recently was strengthened by their nightly chats.  Even though they've been getting on each other's nerves more recently, they still often make up with giggles, plans, and stories after lights out.

I imagine, though, there comes a time when male-female twins separate some from each other, perhaps sooner, or even more easily than same-gender or identical twins.  I don't know.  But we're definitely at a turning point. It was going to happen sooner or later and it's probably best to do it on their own time schedule.

I'll adjust.

Even if I'll miss having a library space.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pen and Paper

With it being that time of year for recitals and competitions, the kids are finding themselves waiting for and then sitting through long performances, not only by their sibling, but by lots of other kids, too.  Sometimes,  it's more than even the most attentive and patience eight-year-old can handle.  So, they've been carrying around paper and pencil to entertain themselves.  And they're not (quite) missing the DS!

Most of these are two-person games, but some are single player:

  • Tic Tac Toe
  • Hang Man
  • make-your-own Word Search
  • Dots and Boxes:  cover a page in a grid of dots; making one line at a time, create squares and claim them with your initial
  • Triangles:  like Dots and Boxes, but instead of a grid of dots, you make a random smattering of dots and then take turns drawing lines to create and claim triangles.
  • Connect Four:  draw a grid of 6 down and 8 across; taking turns building up from the bottom (think of gravity and the 3D game you've played), try to line up four of your squares in a row.
  • Bulls and Cows:  like Mastermind, the goal is for the player to guess the opponents' code.  Choose four digits (or anywhere between 3-6) and have the player begin to write down guesses.  Each time, the opponent indicates "bull" if the number is right AND in the right space or "cow" if it's just the right number until the player figures it out.
  • Search and Find:  write the number 1-100 (or more) randomly in lines and rows on a sheet of paper; then, take turns finding the numbers in order.
  • Heads, Bodies, and Legs:  mix and match drawings of body parts using folded paper cut into thirds.
  • Okay, what is the name of that game where you try to form as many words from another long one as you can??
  • Start-a-picture:  one person draws a line; the other makes it into a recognizable object or scene.
  • Draw together:  take turns adding one line to a drawing until it's finished.
  • Drawing--both kids like to draw pictures, cartoon characters, or whatever is in front of them
  • Writing--stories, poems, a letter, whatever.
  • Origami
  • Paper airplanes
  • Cootie Catcher
Do you have any others?

Other ideas here (pen and paper games for the computer) and here (math games) and here (things to do in the car with paper, like road trip Bingo), here (pencil and paper games booklet pdf), here (three word games from Scrabble), here (from, including Celebrity), and here (random paper games, like Battleship, M.A.S.H., and Consequences, like Mad Libs).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Thoughts and Prayers

The tornadic devastation in Oklahoma, particularly in Moore, is unbelievable.  My thoughts and prayers go out to Oklahoma and the Midwest.

Especially the children, their families, and the teachers and staff.

The Weight Wait is Over

I've started another 30 Day Vegan workshop with Heather Bruggeman, of Beauty That Moves.  I've taken her workshops before, including 30DV and Whole Food Kitchen, and always appreciate new recipes and the supportive environment she creates.

And I've really been enjoying veganism recently,  I read Mark Bittman's VB6:  Vegan Before 6 book which advocates eating vegan and minimally-processed food for breakfast and lunch and then whatever for dinner (which for me is still vegetarian--so I generally just add cheese!)  I like the focus on plant-based foods with the flexibility of not adhering to a strict regime/dogma--and it makes cooking for all of us easier.  I like rules and VB6 is a pretty easy one to remember.

I had a pretty powerful epiphany recently:  weight loss is an unobtainable goal.  Think on it--how many people do you know who diet?  And how many do you know who have lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off even a year?  I think I can name 3 or maybe 4 (out of dozens and dozens and dozens), friends of friends or relatives, all of whom have suffered major health issues that contributed to or significantly motivated them to weight loss (intriguingly, almost all of them are over 65, too; none are in my peer group.)  There was another on the list, but she has gained back 40 lbs.  I'm not special and I don't imagine that I can succeed where so many people with less weight to lose and more interest in exercise also fail.  I realized that losing weight was a goal that only served to frustrate me, with years of failure behind me, compounding the problem with yo-yoing.

And science tells me I'm right.  Something like less that 2% of people lose and keep off weight.  There was even an article today in the NYTimes that evolution fights weight loss--"Even if a 170-pound person loses 20 pounds, he needs 15 percent fewer calories to maintain the new weight than someone who always weighed 150."  And that doesn't include the bacteria that healthy-weight people have in abudance that overweight people don't--it's not like I can go out and buy Akkermansia muciniphila.   I can't win and it's silly to play by those rules.   (And don't tell me just to move more and eat less because as studies show it doesn't actually work that way for many of us.)

So I'm changing the game.  And no, this isn't some tricky way to focus on losing weight without calling it that.  I've actually really given up on losing weight as a goal.   I'm focusing on healthy eating--plant-based veganism before dinnertime--and my PT exercises and treadmill.  I'm not watching the scale; I'm not measuring inches.  The numbers I care about are blood pressure (always low), sugar (fine), and cholesterol (could be lower), and all will be improved by veganism (even 2/3rds veganism.)

More than that, I think my spirit will be.  I'm still figuring out the ramifications of my epiphany, but it came to me as clear as day and has already improved things for me; though, I admit, believing it and living it are two different things--our culture is drowning in dieting/fat-shaming/weight-loss-as-a-billion-dollar-industry and that mindset is habitual.  Instead of living in a constant state of failure and negativity, I want to focus on what I can do--I've been a vegetarian for five years (with only some conscious decisions to eat meat, like, say, a bite of chicken fried steak and the occasional fish) and know I can be a vegan most of the time.

I'm writing all of this here not because I like to discuss my weight (I really don't), but because I want to reach out to my friends and readers who struggle with weight the way I do and are ashamed of themselves everyday for it.  You're not alone.  There is another way (and it doesn't have to be veganism; that's just my path now.)  Give up the dieting and the negative self-talk.  Fight cultural body shaming and bullying (and here.)  For ourselves, for others, for our children.  Let's try it together.  It's going to be okay.  We are still valuable, loveable people.  Even if we don't ever lose another pound.

Besides, there really are worse things in the world than being overweight.

Even if our culture has lost sight of that completely.

Ready, Set, No.

After much pleading and some discussion, we agreed to allow Sis and Bud to have separate rooms.  While mainly at Sis's behest--she craves privacy and independence--Bud is slowly warming to the idea.  It's quite an undertaking, as the extra room right now contains the cat litter box and hundreds of books; yes, it's our storage room.  So the books will have to go to the basement or just go and the toys in the basement will go to the kids' respective rooms, with the appropriate furniture redistributed.  But that's a lot of up and down and carrying for two women with bad backs; we'll probably hire local movers or a teenager.  I figure it will be done in time for the kids to start third grade next year.

Last night, however, things sped up considerably.  The kiddos, exhausted from a weekend of late nights--Sis's gymnastics exhibition was Saturday night (she did well and had fun; we had pizza and Dole Whip afterwards at 10 pm!) and Goo came up for the weekend to attend--were annoying each other and grumbling to us.  So I finally asked if Bud wanted to sleep in the other room.  Surprisingly, he said yes and proceeded to get quite comfortable.

Sis was hysterical.  "I wanted him to go this summer, but I'm not ready yet."  She cried and cried that he was leaving her, even though it had been her idea originally.  Poor child, so upset (and exhausted.)  Bud eventually went in to talk to her, asking if this meant that she didn't want him to move out this summer.  We didn't hear the answer (but believe she said, no, she still wanted him to move.)  But the drama ended, last night anyway, when Bud loaned Sis his penguin Tango to sleep with.

We had always worried that Bud was going to feel hurt by the transition and were unprepared for Sis's hurt feelings last night.  We'll have to discuss it tonight, see if we can resolve it some, because Bud wants to sleep in the other room again tonight.  And Sis doesn't want him to.  Twins--don't want to be together, won't separate.

Friday, May 17, 2013


"When it's time to eat, you eat!" Sis declared, gobbling first the legs and tail and then the body of her bunny-shaped bread.

We'd spent the afternoon at the Brownie troop's mother-daughter baking extravaganza.  The girls had decorated paper chef's hats with cupcake-liner flowers and then made similar corsages for their moms.  After taking portraits of each pair, we started shaping our dough, which one of my co-leaders had made.  Sis made a lovely detailed bunny and I shaped my bit into a pretzel.  (You might recall that Sis likes to make Whimsy Bread Bunnies.) We both powdered them with cinnamon sugar.

While they baked, we all went outside for a relay, with the girls racing to don chef's hat, apron, and mitt and to carry hard-boiled eggs across the yard on a wooden spoon.  After some freeplay, we all went inside to enjoy our bread with jam, honey, and/or butter.

Because "when it's time to eat, you eat," which is why this is not a great picture:

recipe to follow soon

A Beautiful Day

It's a beautiful New England spring day and perfect for our school picnic.  Even though they actually call it a barbecue, it's more of a weenie roast, with hot dogs, pasta salad, carrot sticks, watermelon, and the like.  The kids liked the hot dogs; Mama and I munched on cookies I'd brought from the bakery.  We also gave their wonderful teacher a box of cookies (and I got a big platter of them to give all of Sis's gymnastics teachers tomorrow at her recital.)  And, this being a modern suburban picnic, I had a coffee, specifically an "iced grande decaf soy mocha," aka grown-up chocolate milk.    We relaxed on the blankets, talked to the families near us, and then watched the kiddos run around the ball field.  Hard to believe we won't be at this school next year, with its math and multicultural nights, pajama reading event and BBQ picnic.  I know the next school will be equally wonderful, but I'm nostalgic already.  Just like I was when we left our wonderful preschool.   Great teachers, great community, great learning, great support.  We're very lucky to have our village to raise our children.

"Paper Gardener"

I've been pouring over gardening plans and herb types . . . all from the colonial era!  Our Brownie troop is doing some gardening for the local historic house where I work.  And we're putting in a colonial herb garden.  I don't know what put the idea in my head; I'm not much of a gardener.  Hence Mama's new moniker for me--"paper gardener"--because I've been really good at reading about colonial gardens.

So far, I have lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, winter savory, and the piece de resistance costmary, an honest-to-goodness unusual colonial herb with its own moniker, "Bible Leaf."  Apparently, people used to use the leaves as bookmarks because they repel bugs, like bay leaves repel weevils in my cupboard.  I received a clump of the herb when I visited another local historic house and the gardener had some to spare. Very exciting.

I'd love to get some other less common plants, like valerian, feverfew, chamomile, angelica, yarrow, lovage, marjoram, lemon balm.  I might be able to find the chamomile and marjoram.

There's always next year.  The troop has agreed to keep up with the garden, doing more planting and upkeep.  Which means I'll have plenty of chances to do more than garden on paper.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quiet Time

Mama asked me to read the book she's listening to in the car, Quiet by Susan Cain about introverts.  Mama is an introvert, of course; me, not as much.  Though, when taking the introvert-extrovert test, I came out more even than I expected.  But that stands to reason--besides enjoying socializing, I like working alone; I enjoy being alone; I'm not a risk-taker.

Of course, the author, being an introvert, sees all the good in introverts, and almost all the evil in extroverts--they are the Harvard Business School graduates behind so many financial crises, the politicians in Congress more interested in shaking hands than reflecting on problems.  Indeed, Cain traces a whole collapse of 19th-century introvert culture in the US--the cult of character--into the extrovert culture of personality we have now.  She even declares, hilariously, that one of the characteristics of extroverts is "commits adultery!"  Those introverts are serious, sensitive thinkers.

Cain, however, does present a lot of scientific study into introvertism and extrovertism, from early childhood reactivity studies of the amygdala (babies who cried at stimuli grew up to have introverted tendencies), studies of various species from guppies to fruit flies who have both introverts and extroverts in their species, each serving a separate survival species.  

And I'm not even halfway through the book, and Mama isn't even that far, so we haven't discussed it much.  I find it interesting, especially because, while I think Mama and I are opposites on the introvert-extrovert continuum, Sis and Bud are even more opposites.  It gives me some helpful parenting insights, into both of them.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Our Happy Mothers' Day

We don't get all jazzed up about Mother's Day here.  A meal, usually the day or week ahead.  Cards made at school.  No presents from the spouse.  Phone calls to grandmothers.  Actually, it's just the way we like it.  Lazy.

In the last few years, Mother's Day has also involved gardening.  There is a plant sale at the kiddos' elementary school to coincide with Mother's Day and the kids always bring home several various seedlings.  And one of their preschool teachers always sells seedlings around this time, so we go to her sale, too.  Plus, Sis got seeds for Christmas that she has been itching to plant since December!

Which means that this year, on the first dry and sunny day in awhile, we were outside planting.  Well, I hobbled around watching--my foot is healing but the skin is tight and the blisters tender, which makes walking and standing painful--while Sis did most of the work.  She potted the petunias and sunflower she got and put the marigolds and verbena she chose in the ground, as well as the lupines I'd gotten.  She then buried the peony bulbs I'd gotten for her at the box store.  Afterwards, she scattered her Christmas stocking wildflower seeds all over the area by the rock wall.  Finally, she planted the little cauliflower plant that she had wanted from the preschool teacher's sale in our back bed, where we were delighted to find that our horseradish and rhubarb from Miss Mary seem to have survived.  Bud, taking a break from practicing his sword and staff forms, eventually planted his six little petunia seedlings.  And helped me pot some Costmary that I had received from a gardener at another historic house for our new colonial-inspired garden that my Brownie troop is building for the historic house.  It's also called Bible Leaf because people would use the leaves as bookmarks to repel bugs, like we use bay leaves now to repel weevils in our pantry.

After planting, we had a Vietnamese take-out lunch and watched the first act of Fiddler on the Roof (up to the attack at the wedding party.)  All in all, a lovely day, which will lead to more loveliness as the plants take root and blossom.

I hope you moms and mothering ones had the kind of day you like to have, too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Good News and Bad News

My burn looks great--the doctor was even surprised at how well it looked.  Only one big blister, which is probably why it didn't hurt as much as I expected.

BUT I have a fever and headache.  She thinks it isn't related to the burn at all, which is doing great, but indicates I'm coming down with something else.

Yep, you guessed it.

She thinks I might have the flu.

I have slept all day, with chills and headache and still have fever.

Good thing we went to DC last weekend.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TMI: My Foot

I make iced tea every morning, by making 4 cups of hot tea, with a little sugar, using my Keurig.

Well, this morning, when the Keurig was done, it did it's usual vibrating thing.

Except this time, the cup holding the 4 cups of tea shook off the base and spilled all over me, as I was standing next to it scrambling eggs for the kids' breakfast.

I screeched and started pulling off my skirt and shoes and socks, but the soaked socks and shoes didn't come off right away.

The kids came running in and helped get cold water and such.  They were fantastic, really wonderfully level-headed and helpful and calm.

And then I noticed the peeling skin.

I applied a bag of frozen corn and directed the kids in finishing their breakfast and getting off to school.

And then my friend Miss Beth drove me to the clinic about 30 minutes after the initial injury.  (Thanks so much, Beth!)

I have second-degree burns on my ankle and foot, about the size of my hand including fingers.

And it hurts like a mother fucker.

They doused me with saline, slathered the blistered skin in antibiotic cream, gave me a "wooden" bootie to immobilize the foot, gave me a tetanus shot, and prescribed pain pills.

I'm home now, resting with my foot up, trying to find a docent to do my tour tomorrow because I'm not supposed to move around much so that the blisters don't pop.  I also go back to the doctor tomorrow to check for infection.

And did I mention that it hurts?

UPDATE:  I found a docent for tomorrow!  Yay!!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Just Say No

Just say no to body or fat shaming.

Studies have recently shown that overweight children are actually bullied by the adults in their lives--often loved relatives or respected teachers.  Not only is bullying by adults common, it's overlooked.  Looking back on my long struggle with body issues and weight, I heard more fat-shaming from adults--friends and loved ones--than I ever heard from other students.  A wonderful article in the NYTimes recently listed suggestions for avoiding such body-shaming.  I quote it in its entirety as it elucidates damaging ways we talk about children's bodies that do such harm.

I know because I've heard them all.

And none of them, not one of them, ever made me thin.  Or feel good about myself.

PLEASE be very aware of what you say to or about children because it will stay with them the rest of their lives:

¶ Don’t blame your child for his weight. Dinner-table comments like, “Do you really need another piece of bread?” will make your child feel badly about himself, which will undermine his efforts toward health. “Powerful biological forces maintain weight differentially in people,” explains Dan Kirschenbaum, president of Wellspring, an organization that runs weight-loss camps and boarding schools. In other words, some people are genetically predisposed to be heavier, and since the human body is designed to hang on to calories, weight loss for some requires severe and even punitive measures. 
¶ Don’t engage in “fat talk,” complaining about weight and appearance, whether it’s your own, your child’s or a celebrity’s. Saying “My thighs are so huge!” teaches your child it’s acceptable to disparage herself and puts way too much emphasis on appearance, says Dr. Puhl. 
¶ Don’t promise your child that if only he lost weight, he wouldn’t be bullied or teased. A study published in the journal Obesity by researchers at the University of Hawaii showed that stigma around obesity often persists even after someone loses weight. 
¶ Don’t treat your child as if he has — or is — a problem that needs remedying. “This will make him feel flawed and inferior,” says Ellyn Satter, a dietitian and therapist in Madison, Wis., and author of “Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming.” Instead, she suggests, focus on a child’s other good qualities, and encourage traits like common sense, character and problem-solving skills. 
¶ Don’t ignore or dismiss bullying. If you suspect or know your teen is being stigmatized, talk to her about it. “Questions as simple as ‘Who did you sit with at lunch?’ can open a dialogue and help determine if she has allies or support at school,” says Dr. Puhl. 
¶ Explore your own biases around weight. “If parents can get past their own inner bigot and be accepting and supportive, they can be of great help to children,” says Ms. Satter. “I’ve seen kids with that secure foundation come up with their own effective solutions to the teasing.” 
¶ Focus on health, not weight. “Promote a healthy environment for everyone in the home,” says Dr. Puhl, not just the child who is overweight. Serve delicious, well-balanced meals, and encourage everyone in the family to be active in ways they enjoy. Emphasize the value of healthy behaviors rather than looks. 
¶ Speak directly and matter-of-factly about your child’s weight if he asks. Don’t try to avoid the issue with euphemisms like stocky or solid, says Ms. Satter. Instead, she advises, tell the truth but reframe the issue, saying something like “Yes, you do have fat on your body. Why, do people tease you about it?” Children are looking for information and guidance. “You can neutralize a message that’s often meant in a derogatory way,” she says.


I'm quite fascinated with bacteria these days.  First, there was research that indicated that bacteria might cause autoimmune diseases like lupus, MS, and rheumatoid arthritis.  Then it was the bacteria in red meat, then in eggs, that contributes to heart attacks. Then it's the bacteria in the stomach that differentiates fat mice from thin ones and the bacteria in stomachs that changes after a person has gastric-bypass surgery, not just the size of the stomach. Now, researches have perhaps found that it is bacteria that causes a almost half of back pain in people who have herniated discs.

I'm wondering if everything we know about health, disease, and even obesity will be totally overhauled in coming years.  Wait til we learn that obesity is an epidemic because it is a bacterial infection that alters how people metabolize food.  Perhaps it's no wonder that the modern American diet industry is so relatively ineffective.  They're fighting the wrong thing.  Same with cholesterol and heart attacks, MS, and perhaps other things like cancer.

Really amazing how little we really understand.

And yet another good reason to get dirty and avoid antibacterial soap and antibiotics except when absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thoughts and Prayers

My MIL is in surgery now for her cornea replacement.  Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Poetry Jam: A Late Find

Tonight while Sis was doing my hair--she loves to see how many clips she can get into it!--I read her some poetry from a new favorite poet of mine, Naomi Shihab Nye, whose collection for girls, A Maze Me, arrived today.  Sis listened very quietly, which means she was absorbing it all.  

Even though poetry month is officially over, I find myself reading some everyday.

Here are three of our favorites from this evening:


When I was two
I said to my mother
I don't like you, but I like  you.

She laughed a long time.

I will spend the rest of my life
trying to figure this out.


Life is a tangle of 
twisting paths.
Some short.
Some long.
There are dead ends.
And there are choices.
And wrong turns,
and detours,
and yield signs,
and instruction booklets,
and star maps,
and happiness,
and loneliness.
And friends.
And sisters.
And love.
And poetry.

Life is a maze.
You are a maze.
And amazing.


Feeling Wise

A lady was quoted in the newspaper.
"It is not so hard to feel wise.
Just think of something dumb you could say,
then don't say it."

I like her.
I would take her gingerbread
if I knew where her house was.

Julia Child the famous chef said,
"I never feel lonely in the kitchen.
Food is very friendly.
Just looking at a potato, I like
to pat it."

Staring down
makes you feel tall.
Staring into someone else's eyes
makes you feel not alone.
Staring out the window during school,
you become the future,
smooth and large.

In the City That Always Sleeps Late

We went to Washington, DC this weekend, primarily to see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the National Gallery.  But we also squeezed in a few good meals and other sightseeing activities both in DC and beyond.

We took the kiddos out of school early so we could beat the traffic into DC.  Armed with lots of snacks and many audiobooks, we drove through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland before reaching DC.  (I don't think we actually entered Virginia, but I'm not certain.)  We made only one major stop, at Booth's Farmer's Marker outside of Wilmington; it's a collection of stands inside a large building, mainly owned and operated by the Amish.  Which means we had to explain the Amish to the kids--since they haven't seen Witness!  We bought some jams, some baked goods (mmm, pound cake and Amish butter cake), potato chips, a pickled tomato, a container of Amish baked lima beans, and lunch--typical diner food followed by pie and homemade tapioca pudding.  We eventually got into DC and checked into our hotel.

We were up and at'em very early, only to find that nothing seemed to open before 10, which felt rather late.  We took pictures on the Mall while waiting for the National Gallery to open so we could see the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, or what Bud kept calling "the art show."  It was a lovely exhibition, with many works I'd seen at the Tate or in other Victorian shows.   The labels weren't very consistent in information, but I could fill in the gaps for each painting by telling the kids about the realism in detail (especially plants!), literary preferably medieval  subject matter, overt symbolism, and all those big-haired models-cum-artists'-wives.  I'm not sure the kids really took to the PRB, at least not as much as to the Impressionism and Fashion show.  Sis liked a few of the images of Jesus, like Millais's Jesus in the House of His Parents; Bud wanted the stuffed wombat in the gift shop!  He also liked Millais's image of The Huguenot on St. Bartholomew's Day.

We skipped the rest of the museum in favor of lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, the best food on the Mall:  wild rice salad, hominy and asparagus salad, aqua fresco (tamarine, red currant, and guava), fry bread with honey, garbanzos with aji peppers, squash with aji peppers, spring green beans with pork, roasted sunchokes and nettles, arroz con negro, yucca cake with black beans, bison steak, roasted salmon, tres leches cake, orange cake, and lastly maple pudding.  Oh, and Sis had chicken fingers!  Afterwards, the kids played in the rainbow cast by the prism in the wall of the main gallery while Mama and I figured out the rest of the day.

So, we went to the Museum of American History and saw several iconic favorites:  Lincoln's hat (Sis's favorite), Dorothy's red slippers (Bud's favorite), Kermit the frog, an old Apple II, an old cassette Walk-man, and the dresses of the First Ladies.  I also liked seeing Julia Child's kitchen.  We all played "I spy" with "America's Doll House."  And we all were struck by the giant flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star-Spangled Banner."  Of course, it's no longer just hung in the foyer, as when I saw it back in the early 80s, but has its own exhibition space, complete with a real rocket.

We spent the afternoon in the hotel, resting and napping, then ordered dinner from Hill Country BBQ.  Yum!  I know we'll be in Texas soon, but it was nice to have some authentic Texas food--collard greens, pinto beans, baked beans, potato salad, green bean casserole, sausage, brisket, chicken, banana pudding, and even white bread!  They also had Big Red, which I remember from childhood (we made strawberry ice cream with it at camp!).  

After dinner, we headed to the monuments.  Sis and Bud really wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial, so we were there at sunset.  And it was a beautiful evening.  But I didn't like all the steps--funny how fear of heights can hit me at such odd times; I could barely enjoy being at the top of the memorial. We then walked to the Vietnam Memorial, including the statue to the women, and then WWII, where we talked about how their maternal great-grandfather fought in WWII in Europe.  We reiterated the purposes of memorials and stressed that they had to act respectfully, though several huge groups of kids weren't.  The city is so pretty at night, beautifully well-lit.  And the kids are so rarely out at night.  It was a late one for us, but well worth it.

Again, we waited and waited for our morning attraction to open--the pandas at the National Zoo!  We'd been once when the kids were seven-months old to see the seven-month-old baby panda and then again a couple of years ago before the "baby" panda went back to China.  I don't believe the kids remembered either trip, but I think they'll remember this one.  Especially because Tian Tian came right up to the front of his enclosure to munch on some bamboo--we could even hear his teeth cracking the outer sheath.  We didn't stay long at the zoo but did ride the new Conservation Carousel, which is solar powered!  The kids rode it twice (adults just once) and then had fun petting some San Clemente goats.

After lunch on the go and a few hours in the car, we arrived later than expected at Valley Forge.  We still managed to explore the huts the soldiers lived in, visit General Washington's headquarters, drive through much of the park, see the artifacts in the Visitor Center display (gaming pieces, surgical tools, shoes, etc.) and visit the gift shop (I bought some tours for our historic house activities; the kids and Mama collect pins--and smooshed pennies.  Sis got some postcards for friends and her teacher).  My Revolutionary War history is spotty but improving, but I do know more than a second grader!  For now.  

The rest of the day is a blur of traffic, rest stop food, and more audio books.  More of a wimper than a bang but still a great weekend.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May the Fourth Be With You!


Happy Star Wars Day!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Tra-La, It's May!

Okay, so there weren't many April showers to speak of, but we do have a few nice May flowers.  These tulips from church friend and gardening aficionado Miss Mary are some of my favorites, with their delicate cream and pink blossoms.  I originally had six or so bulbs, but now it's down to just two that come up.  I cherish them every spring.

Sis has been waiting for May for months, excited about planting seeds and flowers.  In Connecticut, local wisdom holds that you should not plant before Mother's Day.  Well, we're almost there.  And we have three pots with flower seeds--gifted to Sis and Bud as a party favor and to me as a volunteer thank-you--that she's anxious to put in the ground, plus a basil plant Mama and I picked up last week to have basil for mozzarella and bread.  She loves gardening, at least the planting part, and has been waiting for spring since Santa left packets of seeds in her stocking.  No wonder she likes The Secret Garden musical and is starting the book.  She'll especially like our big Brownie project this spring:  we're planting a colonial herb garden at the historic house!  Now if we could just have some of those April showers.

Better Today

Sis is at school.

I just have allergies.

It's a beautiful, sunny day!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Turn?

Headache.  Chills.

But no fever.

Is it allergies or Sis's possible flu?

I don't know what I have.  But I'm lying low for a bit to see.

I've got 'til Friday morning, my next historic house tour.

Not Quite

Sis is not quite sick.

Her fever is going down and the line on the flu test is between A and B.

Which means wait and see.  The doctor isn't certain if she's fighting it off or if she's going to be sick.

So, it's lots of liquids and Bambi II from the library here at the Hungry household.

It's definitely better than actually already having the flu, for sure.