Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Exploring

The cats are checking out the "new" first floor, having gotten home from 10 days at "kitty camp" this evening.

I'm not sure they like it, judging by Albus's constant caterwauling downstairs.  Maybe he just likes the echo.

But I don't think anyone is going to get any sleep tonight.

Hermione is quieter but similarly cautious.

Mama feels guilty and is off to find a new cat tree for the corner (now that we're hoping the treadmill will fit in the basement.)  Magic trunk even works for cats!

Here are some initial pictures of them checking it all out.

Almost makes me want to not put furniture back, it looks so clean and neat.

Hermione's new favorite spot

"I'm too sexy for this floor."

"Are you looking at me?"

A game of cat and mouse:  what a hardwood floor is good for (Albus actually brought the mouse upstairs to entice us down to play.)

Checking out newly-empty spaces.

Summer Fun 2013: Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

We're fully into HP now and, as it's his birthday (and author J.K. Rowling's), I'm making mock Butterbeer to celebrate.  There are three recipes here, and I'm making the third (I'll update later to tell you how it was):

Our Butterbeer!
UPDATE:    The Butterbeer was a rousing success!  Easier than the recipe sounds--I ignored the candy thermometer and looked for a soft ball stage--and so tasty!  A nice deep butterscotch flavor, with the rum extract giving it a fun/candy flavor.  The butterscotch fluff on top was delicious!  Definitely a hit.  I can't recall how close it is to the Butterbeer at HP World, but we liked it.  Cheers!


Butterbeer

1 cup light or dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons water

6 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

3/4 cup heavy cream, divided

1/2 teaspoon rum extract

Four 12-ounce bottles cream soda

In a small saucepan over medium, combine the brown sugar and water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring often, until the mixture reads 240 F on a candy thermometer.

Stir in the butter, salt, vinegar and 1/4 heavy cream. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the rum extract.

In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Use an electric mixer to beat until just thickened, but not completely whipped, about 2 to 3 minutes.

To serve, divide the brown sugar mixture between 4 tall glasses (about 1/4 cup for each glass). Add 1/4 cup of cream soda to each glass, then stir to combine. Fill each glass nearly to the top with additional cream soda, then spoon the whipped topping over each.

Summer Fun 2013: A New Chapter

Actually, it's not just a new chapter, it's a whole new book.  Both kids finished HP 4 yesterday, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and are moving on to the next book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  Well, not quite--we only have one copy, so Sis has started reading while Bud waits for a second copy (he's continuing reading The Lightning Thief in the Percy Jackson series while he waits.)

Neither seems upset by the reappearance of Voldemort and his murder of Cedric Diggory.  Of course, the deaths just continue--Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape, Dobby, Hedwig, Fred.  We'll prepare them for each one.  And focus on the bigger lessons of the book--loyalty to friends, good vs. evil, persistence, creativity, love, hope.

And yes, they finished that almost 700-page book between Sunday and Tuesday.

A New Meatloaf

The week we were staying at the hotel the kids enjoyed eating the nightly buffet.  Sure, it was all bulk pre-made food from a warehouse store, just the kind of food we don't usually eat at home, but they enjoyed it, especially Sis.  There were stroganoff with meatballs and noodles, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and hamburgers and barbecue chicken.  There was also a salad bar--olives, celery, tomatoes, chickpeas, bacon--and Ranch dressing!  Bud had a salad every night.

Recently they haven't liked my, or really Gommie's meatloaf, with the chicken and rice soup.  So, last night I made one more like the hotel's, with beef gravy instead of ketchup topping.  And I used real beef.  I've been impressed with the organic/local food at Stop and Shop recently--grass-fed/antibiotic-free beef, Applegate nitrite-free (or at least not added) cold cuts, organic chicken.  And so I made a beef meatloaf instead of ground turkey.

With mashed potatoes and local corn.

Almost as good as the hotel's!

-=-=-=-=-=-=

Mommy Hungry's New Meatloaf and Gravy
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup bread crumbs (I had Pepperidge Farm stuffing)
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
salt, pepper, and seasonings to taste

Preheat oven to 350.  Soak the bread crumbs in the milk while prepping the other ingredients.  Beat the egg in a large bowl and add the beef.  Add milk-bread mixture.  Season.  Place in meatloaf pan coated with cooking spray.  Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.

Gravy
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup flour
4 cups beef stock
drippings from bottom of meatloaf pan

Brown flour in oil until the color of peanut butter (a roux.)  Add stock and drippings.  Cook until thickened.
Served with meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Mommy Hungry

Monday, July 29, 2013

Today


Summer Fun 2013: So Far

Well, I feel like we've done a lot this summer, as we reach the halfway mark with the end of July.  But I look at our list and I see we haven't gotten very far, with several--like strawberry and blueberry picking--that we won't do at all.  Oh, well, that's part of summer, too.  And the kids will be home almost all of August.

  1. Activity-kit-a day:  Make a snow globe
  2. Activity-kit-a day:  Make your own birdhouse.
  3. Activity-kit-a day:  spin art
  4. Activity-kit-a day:  My first Chemistry set
  5. Activity-kit-a day:  Magic Science kit
  6. Activity-kit-a day:  Make a stepping stone
  7. Activity-kit-a day:  Etch a tag engraver set
  8. Activity-kit-a day:  Pottery kit
  9. Activity-kit-a day:  Potato Clock
  10. Activity-kit-a day:  Mandala maker
  11. Activity-kit-a day:  Lava Volcano kit
  12. Activity-kit-a day:  Disgusting Science kit
  13. Activity-kit-a day:  tie-dye kit  We haven't done our kit, but we did tie dye at the family picnic and at camp.  Love to tie dye!
  14. Activity-kit-a day:  Eco crafts kit
  15. Activity-kit-a day:  Sound studio kit
  16. Activity-kit-a day:  drawing kit
  17. Activity-kit-a day:  light kit
  18. Activity-kit-a day:  Sun prints kit
  19. Activity-kit-a day:  friendship bracelets Sis has done some at camp, but we still have the kit.
  20. Host a sleepover with friends.
  21. Join swimming pool.  Well, more like we've been mooching off friends, like Mrs. S and Miss K!
  22. Start Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Yep, started on June 30.  Finished July 1.  And now they're reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  23. Make ice cream in a roly ball.
  24. Have a no-electricity day.
  25. Have a backwards day.
  26. Have a pajama day.
  27. Paint like Jackson Pollock.
  28. Help at historic house.  They helped prep for a program and even posed for publicity shots!  Then Sis helped out at the event.
  29. Work on woven placemats on loom.  Does weaving potholders count??
  30. Learn how to clean bathrooms.
  31. Learn how to weed garden.  Well, Sis has, anyway.
  32. Practice scooping litter boxes.
  33. Play putt-putt golf.
  34. Sort and donate books.  We gave 6 bags and boxes away to Read to Grow.  And that's just the kids' books.
  35. Go strawberry picking.
  36. Go blueberry picking.
  37. Make jam.
  38. Purge and donate toys in basement.  It's a process.  But we've started.
  39. Visit Miss S.
  40. Write to a pen pal.
  41. Organize school papers.
  42. Go see a movie in a theater.  With Gommie, Monsters U.
  43. Go to one library event.
  44. Make popsicles.
  45. Have an astronomy night.
  46. Have a lemonade stand.
  47. Host a Luau/Hawaii party.
  48. Build fairy houses.
  49. Scrapbook.   
  50. Make brandied fruit a la Bloodroot.  I started this before our summer, technically.  But we've added to it and also stirred it everyday.
  51. Go on a sketching outing.  At Aunt Sis's!
  52. Celebrate July 4th.  With fireworks and a crawfish boil!
  53. Celebrate Solstice.  The kids celebrated Solstice on their last day of school by staying up as late as they could; they even put on a performance of Grease for us at 9 p.m.!
  54. Celebrate Mama's birthday.  We ate rainbow cake and played a Lego game.
  55. Make ice cube candles.
  56. Host a culture night.
  57. Make fudge.
  58. Go to concert in the park.
  59. Visit a new museum.
  60. Hang pictures.
  61. Make treats for animal shelter.
Bonus:  

  • make soap
  • go to a local festival
  • do 1000 piece puzzle
  • have a backyard weenie/s'mores roast  Well, sorta.  We had a playdate with a friend and hosted a hot-dog supper.  And we made s'mores at the family picnic.
  • make a family songbook
  • have a kids-in-charge day
  • have a no-cooking day.  Otherwise known as, "pie for dinner" when it's too hot out.  We shared a small apple and a small cherry.
  • have an all-outside day
  • and did I mention go to Texas?!  Yep!


Go fishing.  At the bay!
Fly a kite.  With Gommie and Pop!
Learn a new game.  Gommie introduced them to Mah Jongg.
Make Gimp with plastic strings.  Also at camp, but we also have a book for making animals with the gimp strings.
Catch fireflies.  Yes, indeed.
Make suncatchers.  Sis painted a cat and a rainbow; Bud did a turtle and a sun.  I did a dolphin.




Summer Fun 2013: Twins of Summer


It's been the summer of swimming.  From lessons to visits to friends, swimming at camp and swimming at the hotel, swimming in Texas and swimming in Connecticut, the kids have spent more time than ever before in the pool.  And they're loving it.  They're jumping in, swimming under water, doing different strokes,playing Marco Polo and Toothpaste, and having a generally wonderful time.

And I'm watching. Not just for safety (and for tips on watching for drowning, see here--because it doesn't look like what you expect), but because they're having so much fun.  Joy in their joy.  And remembering what it's like to do handstands in the water, and twirls, and flips, and silly dives.

Where I grew up, we had a neighborhood pool and I spent chunks of my summer there, as I recall.  I swam on the team, the Dolphins (with our red and white one-piece suits and dry Jello to eat for snack!  I liked orange the best), more for fun than because of any talent.  And when I was old enough, I took and passed the swim test--swim the length of the long pool and tread water for two minutes--so that I could come to the pool on my own without an adult, signified by the embroidered star stuck to my plastic pool membership tag (the star colors changed every year; my first was red.)  Which I loved to do with my next-door neighbor and other friends.

There were three pools:  the tiny, circular kiddie pool, the medium L-shaped pool in the shade favored by older people, and the huge rectangular main pool with two diving boards and eight lanes across where we had our swim practice and meets.  We could swim all day, doing everything above, plus have races and underwater tea parties together.  We'd swim til we got pruney and then swim some more, until our toes literally bled from scraping the bottom of the cement pool.  Good times, seriously.  We only stopped for the hourly 10-minute break, when all kids had to get out of the pool to rest while parents swam alone, though few did.  I think it was more of a break for the lifeguard on the high chair, but that's okay.  It was hot work. There were bathrooms but no showers or changing spaces; the main nod to hygiene and the like was the hot vinegar poured in our ears with a plastic squeeze bottle as we left to prevent ear infection.  Ah, hot vinegar, the scent of summer!

I'm not swimming myself again yet, the water causing too much (TMI warning) pelvic instability the last time I was in it, but I will.  I like it.  And maybe we'll join a local pool so the kids can keep swimming as much as they want.  That's what summer is for and this year sees the start of their loving it.  Great memories in the making for all of us.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The New Colors

Test patches.  The painting begins tomorrow, but we're moving home today.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summer Fun 2013: Reading Homework

The kids have started Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, book number 4, after many requests.  We'd hesitated because the book is darker than the others, with the appearance of Voldemort and the death of Cedric Diggory, among other things.  But the kids had learned both those facts this week (thanks to Bud's HP-themed camp), so we relented.  It'll still require much discussion, especially towards the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

But they are so interested, we couldn't say no.

Only, I think these tomes, like HP 3, should count as more than one book for the summer reading homework!!


Drying

We went with a low luster finish to add warmth and hide dirt and damage.  And so it doesn't look like a bowling alley.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Summer Fun 2013: Sign of Summer


Summer Fun 2013: First Week of Camp

The first week of camp is over this afternoon and they've had a great time.  They've played "streets and alleys" and "ships and sailors" and even Quidditch.  They've made Cobra Gimp and a Chinese ladder friendship bracelet, tie dye and s'mores.  They've hiked, swam, shot bows and arrows, and boated.  Bud has been immersed in the Harry Potter universe while Sis has imitated Merida in Brave.  And they've learned several new songs, including

They've also both made new friends.  Sis's is a red-headed girl, like the doll "Saige," she says, who was in class with our neighbor boy last year.  Bud's friend is an older girl, in 6th grade, who loves Harry Potter and Minecraft, too.  

And they still have another whole week!

Last Day

Thank heavens for AC or I'm just not sure the third coat of finish would dry on the floors today, another chilly, wet day.  Yep, the third and last coat is down.  We'll be able to walk on it in socks tomorrow, after 24 hours, and then move furniture in a few days; actually, we'll wait on the furniture almost a week until after the painting.  But we will leave the hotel on Sunday, if the smell in the house from the poly coat is bearable.  So far, so good.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How Our Garden Grows

We "have an green bean" and the sunflower's "as high as an elephant's eye!"




This Morning

My kind of weather:


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pretty But Stinky


Vegetarian Confession

I've been eating fish, chicken, and even beef some recently.  Not everyday, not very much, but definitely more than anytime in the five years since I determined to keep a mainly vegetarian diet.

And I'm not sure why.  It started before Texas but definitely picked up speed there.  I've been liking the saltiness and the fattiness of it, the memory of it, the variety, even the ease of it especially when eating out and cooking for omnivores.

Am I giving up a mainly non-meat diet?  No.   Am I officially a vegetarian?  "Real" ones would say no, but I am for most meals.  And I expect I'll go back to it after this experimentation.  So I guess I'm a flexitarian, or a "vegan before 6" to use Mark Bittman's new paradigm.

I'm not sure the name really matters.  I'm just wondering what it means.


Going Over the Rainbow

"What is he going to do, Mom?" Bud asked in anguish.  The mother of a new church friend was dying, leaving behind two young children.  I had been talking to a church staff member about sending cards to them and then had to explain it to our kids.

The death of a mom with young children.  I knew this was one of my nightmares, but hearing Bud and looking at Sis, who was so serious and concerned, I was reminded that this was also one of their nightmares come to life.  Sure, it happened to Harry Potter.  And Luke and Leia.  But this was different and new; we'd never known a mom to die.

"How old was she?  Older than you?"  I didn't really know and probably should have told them it really didn't matter, that all bodies die and age isn't always a factor, but I said she was older.  "And I'm not sick," I told them, having explained that she had cancer.  But, I continued, "this reminds us to live and love each other everyday."  We stopped talking about it soon after, but Bud was clingy until the arrival of their babysitter and a trip to the hotel pool distracted them.

As I left the hotel for a great night out with friends new and old, I savored the beautiful rainbow that followed some dramatic clouds, rain, and lightning, grateful to be in that moment and to be reminded of the beauty in and after darkness, however temporary.

This morning, I learned that she died last night.  Bud had even asked me about her in the car this morning, before I knew.  Clearly it was still on our minds.  I'll tell them both after camp today and we'll make cards for the kids.  And give each other extra hugs, savoring today even as we know that nothing is permanent.  And today that makes me sad.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Picture Project


Underneath the Carpet!

The project begins!  Yesterday, the workers stripped away all the old, gray carpet to reveal the almost-100-year-old floors underneath.  We're so excited!  

Today, they began sanding the floors and found stains we couldn't see before.  It's a hiccup, because now the boards need to be replaced, but it'll be prettier without all the moldy-looking big black spots (about 8-10 of them, about 12" in diameter, in the center of the floors and not hide-able under furniture.)  Apparently, the previous owners had a dog because those weren't cat hairball stains!  It puts us back about half a day and some money, but it's best to fix it.  Thankfully, there are no rotten boards.

AND, more excitedly, we've decided to have all the walls painted.  In two shades of blue for a Wedgewood look--darker in the entry and the dining room and lighter in the living room.  And all the trim, baseboard heaters, doors, and ceiling will be re-done.  We had thought of going two shades of green but realized it would look like "Duck Dynasty" camo with two greens and a brown floor!  

I am already comfortably ensconced in the hotel, which allowed us a super-early check-in.  I've got luggage for our stay and groceries for camp lunches and dinner.  It's amazing how much different it is to pack for a stay where we keep up our usual busy suburban routine versus packing for a trip like Disney World with restaurants and day-long activities, etc.  More stuff for the routine, especially since I had to figure out camp lunches and clothing and such for special camp days, etc.  Still, it's better than all the dust and strong smells back at the house.  

And when we go back this weekend, it'll be like a whole new house!

Summer Fun 2013: First Day of Camp

Yesterday was the first day of camp and the kids had a wonderful time.  Sis is at Girl Scout camp, her third year at this particular camp.  There is swimming--her favorite--plus arts and crafts, nature time, and even cooking.  Yesterday, she made brownies and also a woven bookmark.   And she tested into the "green" swim cap group, which means she is more competent/confident than last year and can swim to the middle; we're very proud of her.  She brought home information about camp pictures, the Trading Post (on Wed and Thurs, when she can buy t-shirts and patches), and "Tie-Dye Thursday."   I didn't hear too much about the day because she and her brother rushed off to play Animal Jam, their current obsession.  Which was ok yesterday because Mama and I were busy packing and such.

We heard more about Bud's day because he gets dropped off first and told us all about it while we waited for Sis.  His camp has declared that it's Harry Potter week.  Yesterday, they went to Herbology (nature walk), Potions (arts and crafts), Quidditch Practice (sports), and the like.   His age group is assigned to Hufflepuff and will compete in the "Quad" Wizard Tournament, complete with Quidditch!  He's put aside his cape and wand and I got him a yellow shirt (Hufflepuff colors) for dress-up day.   He is over-the-top thrilled.  He also tested higher on his swim test than last year and can go to the 6' area of the pool now.

And that's all just day one!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Fun 2013: Camptastic!

Two weeks of swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, singing, campfires, outdoor skills, games, and new friends.  Yep, the kids are off to day camp.  Separately.  They were awake and on the buses this morning earlier than they had to be off for school and did it with good cheer and excitement, both most looking forward to swimming.  And the camp day is longer than school by at least an hour (the bus rides are longer, too.)

Mama took Sis first, who recognized another camper from last year.  And then I took Bud about 30 minutes later; he marched right up to another camper and said hi.  Turns out it was her first time at camp and first time on a bus, even; she looked nervous and her mother more so.  Thankfully, the bus arrived early to end their misery.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, I noticed the mom linger after their bus left.  I remember feeling that way about kindergarten.  But now I do the mommy-camp dance!  Only, I wish I were going, too.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sleepless not in Seattle

I had a sleep study Friday night (I thought this had posted, but it hadn't), after talking to my GP about snoring and sleepiness.  And so I went to a local hotel in the late evening and was hooked up to all sorts of wires and gadgets and told to fall asleep!  And it had to be on the "wrong" side of the bed because of where the video camera was.  The tech was very nice and I was all a-yawn as she got me hooked up.

But I didn't sleep.  Or definitely not well.  Within an hour or two, I awoke extremely warm and never really fell fully asleep again (it doesn't help that I had to sleep in pants!), or did in short spurts between the hours.  To the point that, in the morning, the tech said she felt sorry for me--"Was it that bad?"--and hoped I got to go home to nap.

Anyway, if I had to guess, I don't have apnea.  She said that if there were such signs she'd run a secondary test with a C-pap or whatever it's called.  And she never did.  Which doesn't totally surprise me as I don't have the restless legs or gasping for breath that is common.

Just sleepiness and snoring and lots of rolling over (ever since my first back injury, I wake to flip over carefully several times a night) and nightsweats.  Which made me wonder if recent troubles (I've snored at least since college but haven't had this level of sleepiness before--I'm in bed 9+ hours and still fall asleep in the afternoon if the kids watch tv) aren't at least partially because of hormones.

Anyway, it'll take 2-3 weeks to get the results.  Until then I'm very glad to be back in my own bed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Summer Project

Our summer house project is to have the carpet on the first floor removed and the hardwood floors underneath refinished.  Tomorrow, the movers come to clear the furniture--including 2 sofas, a very heavy treadmill, 3 cabinets, and 5 bookcases!--to other areas.  As tomorrow is still part of the heatwave, now in its fifth day, I'm glad for the movers that they only have to take stuff to the basement, kitchen, or porch.  Today, we're packing up books and knick-knacks.  I never knew 5 bookcases held so many books!  And we've even purged so many for giveaway.  Still lots to do and the kids are being very helpful, but we're all taking a little tech break before more work and then lunch.


Happy Anniversary!

Happy 5th anniversary, Aunt Banana and Uncle Soccer!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer Fun 2013: Wacky Days

I've always liked learning about odd observances, by which I mean not official or sacred holidays of other cultures, but weird days we've honored here in the US, either officially or not.  Like Star Wars day on May the 4th (get it?!) or Pi Day (3/14).  But until the internet, I had never found a good way of learning what these were.

When we were in Texas, we made our traditional pilgrimage to Half-Price Books, a big huge used bookstore that always has something we want.  This time I came home with Yvan D. Lemoine's Food Fest 365 which is a compendium of recipes based on official food days in the U.S.  Now, these official days are the kind that the Butter Churners Association or Official Cranberry Growers Group petition the President to declare in their favor.  And there are some weird ones--finding the Brandied Fruit day on October 20, given my new obsession with it, clinched my purchase.

And what fun we're having!  Today, by the way, is National Peach Ice Cream Day.  Oddly, Mama couldn't find any peach ice cream at the store, not even frozen peaches to add to ice cream.  But I had some peaches (they're either very smooth white peaches or nectarines, actually, but who cares) here at the house which I cut up and we added to a pint of Haagen Dazs vanilla.  Yum!  We ate 3 peaches and a pint between us and it was good.

Now, not every day is a day I can or do get behind.  While we did observe Tapioca Pudding Day (July 15), we skipped Corn Fritters Day (July 16) and Grand Marnier Day (July 14) and definitely tomorrow's Caviar Day.   I would've celebrated National Blueberry Muffin Day on July 11 but forgot.  Otherwise, it seemed wrong to celebrate Pecan Pie Day on July 12, being that is more of a fall pie (and that off-season thing happens frequently, I've noticed.)

I'm not just interested in food days.  Enter the Wacky Days app, which I've added to my smartphone.  It tells me all sorts of odd national observances, like Pandemonium Day.  Of course, there are lots of website that will tell you this too, my favorite being Holiday Insights, which also includes monthly observances (of which there are dozens each month.  We're currently in Anti-Boredom Month, National Hot Dog Month, and Nude Recreation Month).  You actually may recall, dear reader, that I blogged about this, with that very website, three-and-a-half years ago, about National Puzzle Day.  It's not so much that I forgot as I lacked the tools for follow-through.  Wacky Days app and my new cookbook fixed that.

And the peach ice cream was good!

Summer Fun 2013: Camp Out!

It was our annual family picnic and, mercy, did we have fun!  Water slides (where they spent hours), bounce house, egg races (they came in 1st and 2nd and got water shooters!), knot-tying, temporary tattoos, s'mores,  make-your-own trail mix, corn dogs, fried pickles, ice cream, slushies, cheeseburgers, "bug juice" (here, cherry and grape Kool Aid together.)  And my very most favorite:  tie-dyeing!!!!  And, better than real camp, there were no mosquitoes!!!!

Summer Fun 2013: Last Travel Tidbit

I can't believe, in my post about Texas, I forgot to tell you about what we did as soon as we got there.  Gommie whisked Sis and her AG dolls upstairs and introduced them to her own precious babydolls.  Mind you, these dolls are so special that Pop has only seen them twice and I've only seen them once (though, quite out of character, she let us take them on a weekend trip to Toledo Bend once--there's a picture of me on the swing with one.)  I don't really know what transpired during the doll play, as they were secreted away.  But I know it was a special time.

Meanwhile, Pop and Bud were downstairs tying knots.  Bud had picked up a knot book for the airplane ride and had been practicing. Pop is the king of knots, since so many of them are used in fishing and such, and so helped him with more:  square knot, bowline, clove hitch, half-something-hitch, Palomir knot (?), and more.  I remember Pop teaching me a knot once, something about a frog, a hole, and a tree.  I'm sure Bud is a better student!

Summer Fun 2013: The Deep End

The kids finished swim lessons for the summer today, mainly because they'll be at camp for the next two weeks and will miss lessons.  Even so, they made enormous progress during the time they did have, so much so that Sis is actually swimming UNDERWATER!!!!  This from a girl who wouldn't get her hair wet in June, much less her face.  And now she's jumping and diving in, fetching sinker toys, and having a ball, all thanks to her nose-covering goggles AND monetary incentives from Pop while we were in Texas.  Bud is doing really well, too, learning the beginnings of freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke (as is Sis.)  And he's diving, too!  And neither is nervous about the deep end.  I'd say we can call them swimmers now.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Hoodies

Watch this video, "Am I Suspicious?" from Howard University students (apologies, I can't figure out how to embed non-You Tube videos.)

The black men in hoodies in the PSA, if I had come across them at night, would have made me think twice.  Would I have feared for my life?  No.  But I would have thought they might be suspicious.  Like many people (especially white women in the South), I have been conditioned with a fear response of black men, though I have never had any personal reason to fear them, as well as racism about African Americans (and, in truth, all non-whites, like Asians and Hispanics, plus prejudice against "white trash," people in the working classes, etc.  And, of course, in the 1970s, we weren't really talking about gays!  Only because of early and frequent interactions with people with special needs, did I not have entrenched stereotypes about them. "You have to be taught . . . .")  I know I profile (this became especially clear to me when I flew after 9/11 and worried about a woman in a burqa and the man with her.)  I'm not proud of any of this; nor do I mention this because I am somehow "post-racial" (even as a white person married to an Asian person and with biracial children.)  As a white adult with liberal beliefs, I try to recognize my racism and unravel it, to "check my privilege" and realize how being white affects and influences everything I experience (and don't), but it is more prevalent and harder than I thought.  Because I can understand how a jury of 5 white women would absolutely believe that George Zimmerman could reasonably fear for his life when attacked by a black man in a hoodie, even though Zimmerman himself had the gun and initiated the confrontation.

The Howard University men in the video ask, as they pull hoodies over their eyes, "Am I suspicious?"  They have to know that many people, that I, would say yes.  And then they say, "I'm a law student" or "I'm a history major," to undermine the racist stereotype.  Because an educated black man in a hoodie looks like a criminal black man in a hoodie.  And we assume the latter before the former.

And so I showed the video to Sis and Bud so that we could talk about Trayvon Martin, hoodies, Skittles, the verdict, and racism.  As half-Asian, they'll confront racism in their lives, but the assumption that they are good students is not deadly like the assumption that black men are criminals.  We talked about the inherent worth and dignity of each person.  I reminded them about slavery and discrimination and Martin Luther King, Jr.  I even mentioned Hitler and the Holocaust.  One person, one set of attributes, does not represent a whole race. We should no more stereotype Jews than we should hate all Germans because of Hitler, or all Muslims because of terrorists on 9/11 or in Boston or in London.  Did we all hate white men after Newtown, I asked?  Of course not.  It doesn't work that way.  

I don't know how much the kids comprehend, except in the barest historical terms, about it all, but I know it was worth discussing.  And that we'll need to talk about it again and again.  I've tried really hard not to pass on any prejudice as well as to expose our privilege.  Each generation, I hope, improves upon the last.  And so I post this as a teachable moment for us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Losing It

I was so careful.  I took scrupulous notes while the kids quickly ripped through all of their birthday presents from their friends after their party in June.  We even wrote half the notes before school ended, so they could deliver them in class to those whose addresses we didn't know.  We were going to write the rest before we left for Texas but didn't.  And I remember putting the thank-you notecards and list away.  In a safe place.

Kiss of death.

For the last week, I have been searching for that list to no avail.  I looked in every cabinet, shelf, drawer and other surface I could think of.  Nothing.  Even the basement.  And the porch.  I was like a madwoman, suddenly hopping up to check another possible place.  The kids looked; Mama looked.  Nothing.  I was ashamed the cards were going to be late, embarrassed that we'd only thank them for coming and for the "great gift," because at this distance, no one could remember who gave whom what.  I hate being disorganized and having clutter in the house, of which losing things in a clear sign for me.  And as I rushed around searching everywhere, I became more depressed about the lack of timely thank-yous and the clutter in the house.

Yeah, Mama loved coming home to me every night.

I awoke in the middle of the night, remembering that I stashed the cards and list together.  Miraculously, I found the cards under shirts in the back of a drawer.  But no list.  Mama felt behind it to see if it had gotten stuck.

I then recalled finding the list in a funny place before putting it somewhere safe.  Was that a real memory or my mind playing tricks?

Mama asked last night if the list were on the magnetic chalkboard wall in the kitchen.  No, I'd checked there several times.

And then, in a dream, I remembered that I'd been looking for the wrong thing.  The list wasn't alone on that sheet of paper--it was on the back of all the parents' cell phone numbers.

Which I had put on the chalkboard wall.

Sure enough, I came down this morning and went right to the list of cell phone numbers, plain as day, which I'd looked at and passed dozens of times in the last week.

And there, on the back, was the complete list of birthday presents and givers.  In a very safe place.

The kids are writing those cards today!

Glee-Less

I am surprised and saddened by the sudden death of actor Cory Monteith, who played Finn on "Glee."  I hadn't been watching the show for much of the (odd) fourth season but was a very devoted fan for the first three years.  Whatever the circumstances, it is a loss for his family, friends, castmates, and fans.  My thoughts go out to them all.  And we've been listening to all the music in his honor.

We're Having a Heat Wave

It will rise to over 90+F every day this week, in Connecticut's second (or is it third?) heat wave of the summer.  We've turned the AC warmer so as not to blow it out; we've kept the blinds closed to keep the sun from warming the house.  I'm even planning low or no-cook meals.  And we're staying mostly inside, excepting a few trips to friends' pools.  I know my Texas readers are very accustomed to such weather, but you have to remember, almost none of our CT friends actually have central AC and are therefore stuck in one room of the house with window units.  No wonder no one is cooking!

On Zimmerman and Martin

I've been thinking on the Zimmerman verdict since it was announced Saturday evening.  And I'm of two minds about it:  1).   I am not surprised because the standard for acquittal--merely proving that Zimmerman feared for his life--was very low.  I think the all-female jury probably empathized with being fearful of a young black man in a hoodie at night, especially if there was a physical altercation (momentarily forgetting that Zimmerman had a gun and thus theoretically the upper hand.) And that's all that had to happen for Zimmerman to get off, according to Florida law.  2).  I do not believe justice was served.  I am opposed to the stand-your-grand pro-gun laws of Florida and 19 other states, laws which often side with the person carrying the gun regardless of who initiates the trouble, especially if the shooter is white and the shot person is black.  Might does not make right.  Period.  I am glad there have not been many dangerous and destructive riots; I am hopeful that the Justice Department will consider possible hate crime charges.  Race was mainly left out of the jury trial, but in our not "post-racial" America, it has to be considered.  That said, the jury has spoken; the verdict stands. I hope Zimmerman's life is not taken by a similar vigilante.  And again, let's try to break the stranglehold the gun lobby has on our laws and lives.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chocolate Cures Everything

Having read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in one day before our trip to Texas, the kids were allowed to see the movie today!  And so we all spent the hot afternoon curled up inside with the AC on watching HP 3.  The Boggarts and Dementors are scary, but as HP fans know, chocolate heals Dementor damage.  And so I passed around squares of good dark chocolate while we watched.  And, for dessert tonight (and mind you, dessert after dinner is a very rare treat), we're having Hot Fudge Cake which I coincidentally spotted in the new Taste of Home when I was at the grocery store this morning.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Hot Fudge Cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons baking cocoa, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup packed brown sugar
1-3/4 cups hot water
Ice cream or whipped cream, optional

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk milk, oil and vanilla until blended. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened.
Transfer to an ungreased 9-in.-square baking pan. In a small bowl, mix brown sugar and remaining cocoa; sprinkle over batter. Pour hot water over all; do not stir.

Bake 35-40 minutes. Serve warm. If desired, top with ice cream. Yield: 9 servings.

Taste of Home

In the Kitchen Today

It's been an at-home kind of weekend, mainly because we're reorganizing the house post-separation of bedrooms and pre-refinishing of floors in a week.  This includes distributing toys (and their shelves) in the basement to the relevant kid's room as well as putting aside toys for giveaway; we also sorted through all the books upstairs (again) and purged 100s of children's books which will go to Read to Grow CT.  It will also mean moving the futon to the basement.  Then and only then can the Junk Luggers take all the furniture off the first floor next Saturday!  Whew.

So while Mama was doing that with the kids, I made a breakfast of Miss B's (of PA) Oatmeal Scones.  Yum!  We especially like these with orange marmalade.  For lunch, for me, I tried to replicate Trader Joe's Balela Salad, the one with the chickpeas, black beans, and parsley; the results weren't exact but definitely good enough.

It's going to be hot all week, in the mid-90s, so I imagine there won't be too much oven/stove work going on.  Too bad the kids won't eat bean salads!

-=-=-=-=-=-

Miss B's Oatmeal Scones
1 ½ cups flour
1 ¼ cups quick cooking rolled oats
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder (slightly less than)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (slightly less than)
½ teaspoon salt (slightly less than)
2/3 cup butter, melted (1 stick butter also works well)
1/3 cup milk                                    
1 egg, slightly beaten (Eggbeaters also work)
½ cup raisins (or other dried fruit)



            In large bowl, combine dry ingredients.  Add butter, milk, and egg, stirring until just moistened.  Shape into a ball, flatten into 8” circle, score into wedges.  Place on cookie sheet.  Bake at 425°F for 12-15 minutes.


Note:  we have also made chocolate chip scones, which are very good.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-
Balela Salad
2 (15 ounce) cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
 1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh parsley
 1/2 cup chopped onion

 1 clove garlic, minced
 1/4 cup olive oil
 3 tablespoons lemon juice
 5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
 salt and ground black pepper to taste

In a salad bowl, lightly mix together the garbanzo beans, black beans, parsley, and onion.


Place the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar in a jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Pour the dressing over the salad, and toss to mix; sprinkle with salt and black pepper to serve.

adapted from AllRecipes.com (originally has 1 pint grape tomatoes and 1/2 cup mint chopped)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Birthday Month

After almost a month of celebrating, the kids have finally finished their birthdays!  I might actually be relieved.  While my paternal relatives always applaud the stretching out of celebrations, it was almost out of control (in a good way.)  But, I'm not sure I can do what Shelley of Little Chickadees does, and stop the big celebrations when they turn 10, having only individual sleepovers or something with one friend.  Which tells me something about myself . . . .

It started way back before school was out, with a disco dance party with a luau theme and even a Tiki pole.  "Nikki Minaj" and "Psy" danced their hearts out with their friends to all their favorite Taylor Swift and Pink and Katy Perry songs and played various games such as Coke and Pepsi, balloon race, limbo, and this 1-2-3-4 cluster game.  They ate pizza and homemade chocolate-frosted vanilla cupcakes, with crushed vanilla wafers for sand under mini-umbrella decorations, and danced some more.  Once home, they opened lots of presents (no one up here seems to open presents at parties--I've never seen it done.)  Since then, we've written half the thank-you notes and I have since lost the list and the notecards!

Then one Saturday, Mama and the kids headed to NYC to celebrate all the summer birthdays, of which there are four, with Ma and Gong and Goo.  They had dim sum, ice cream from the truck, and special Japanese pastries, I believe.

We gave them each an early birthday present.  Bud got the first three episodes of Star Wars, which we promptly watched.  His favorite is #2; he really disliked Order 66 in #3.  Sis enjoyed them, too, and they've both been playing Jedi non-stop since.  Sis received two more American Girl dolls--the original Felicity and Elizabeth--which a teenager daughter of a colleague of Mama's was letting go of.  Sis has now named that Felicity "Martha" instead, because she had named her Make Your Own doll "Felicity" first.  Confused?  No worries.  We gave her the dolls early (and therefore Bud the DVDs) because Gommie was taking Sis to the American Girl doll store in Houston for a birthday treat and we knew she'd want to get their ears pierced. So we hauled all the dolls to Texas and she and Gommie had fun playing with them.

Then, as I mentioned in my Texas post, Gommie threw an impromptu party for them and invited all the aunts, uncles, and cousins for cake and ice cream  (why is it that no one up here every pairs cake with ice cream at parties?  It's the best!)  If I count correctly, there were 17 adults and 12 youngsters, almost all relatives (the kids were no longer overwhelmed by this, even if Mama will always be.)  There were cards, homemade ice cream (along with lots of Blue Bell), confetti poppers, kites, and water balloons, so of course they had a water balloon fight.

Later that afternoon, Great Aunt Sis and Uncle W had presents for the kids when we visited them--wonderful books, as always--as well as cheesecake and ice cream, fruit and cheese.  We also gave Aunt Sis, another summer birthday, a Tudor Rose suncatcher from the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition to put in her window since she spends so much time in bed.

On their real birthday earlier this week, Mama and I played "birthday fairy" and decorated the house with streamers and Star Wars birthday banners and left the last couple of wrapped presents on the couch with a clear warning "not to open without Moms!"  We could hear them crowing about it all at 6:40 the next morning!  More Legos and the complete Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? dvd set. And tickets for all of us to see The Lion King on Broadway (their first real Broadway show!) later this summer!  (I think this excites us more than them, even having seen it twice already ourselves.  But they'll love it and we've long dreamed of taking them.)  Needless to say, the Legos were done and the first disc of Carmen Sandiego watched before the day was out.  We made Rice Krispie treats as part of the fun.  Later, we went up to a little pool birthday party for them at babysitter M and Miss K's house in the afternoon, which was kind of them.  Dinner was Italian.

And finally, last night, original Beloved Babysitter M came over, having returned from a week in London and Paris (about which I was very interested and the kids not so much!)  She generously brought presents, the best being walkie-talkies which they've used non-stop since then, especially for playing a modified chase game outside.  And Babysitter--about whom it is as hard to believe she is 21 as they are 8!  She's been with us for almost 8 years!--then played their all-time favorite games of "Escape Zoo" and "Tickle Monster," just like they did years ago.  So, even if they are 8, it's great to see that some things just don't change and they still are, while much closer to 10 than 5 in attitude and activities, pretty much kids.

Happy Birthday, Sis and Bud!

Summer Fun 2013: Firefly Magic

Dusk last night swarmed with fireflies, more than I've seen in a long time.  We stood in our side yard, in the darkness under the spreading tree, and were surrounded, little yellow lights flickering off and on all around us.  The kids fetched marmalade jars and carefully caught them to better examine their little lightbulb tails, then let them go.  Bud asked, "What's their scientific name?" and Sis had questions about eating habits; later, inside, Mama showed them an interactive website about fireflies.  Soon, they filled the bottom of the jars with flowers to make the lightning bugs happy.  At one point, Sis had six in her jar and took it on the darkened porch to see if they'd light up.  Though, she noticed they only seemed to light up when she let them go, which they did after just a few minutes each time.  We were out until dark marveling at the magic.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Summer Fun 2013: Travel Tidbits

Some things I forgot to mention in my long post about Texas:

  • I had a nightmare while I was there that my brandied fruit "died" while I was away.  I returned home and it was grey and stinky and moldy and rotten.  I was hysterical in the dream and tried so hard to revive the fruit and then tried to get new, to no avail.  I even woke up with my heart racing.  The real fruit, here in CT, is fine and survived the week "alone."  It was, however, the first thing I checked on when we entered the house and I have been lovingly tending it since then.  Yes, I'm not quite normal.
  • While we were in Texas, Mama helped me go through some boxes in my old room, which is now mostly storage (and not all of my stuff!).  And we found some things I'd long thought were lost in the fire that burned the attic storage and part of my room way back in the mid 1990s.  I found the red, pink, white, and green heart-shaped ornaments that my Great-Grandmother Hungry had made for me when I was probably younger than the kiddos are now.  I had thought they'd been destroyed.  But there they were, carefully packaged in zipper bags (probably by the insurance fire-recovery people).  I left a few bags in Houston and brought the rest back here.  I can't wait to put them on our Christmas tree.  Other things we found and brought back:  my juggling bag and my Star Wars trove including two autographed photographs of Carrie Fisher.  Other things I just looked through--my high school correspondence with Greek pen pal Martha Bitsopoulou (hi Martha if you ever read this!), my "letter to my grandchildren" from a high school project (I don't know think I'll have grandkids by 2035, though), my homecoming and prom dresses (and the bridesmaid's dress I wore to that wedding in Dallas that you'll remember, Lambeth, the week after I met Mama actually,) and lots of my books (many of which I put on the top two shelves of the bookcase for Gommie to trade in at Half Price Books.)
  • One of the first days we were at the bay, on a trip to the beach when Bud and Sis were hanging out with there second/third/whatever cousins, I tried to draw out some connections between them.  The boys' mom, my cousin W, had mentioned that they were obsessed with Minecraft and HP.  I called to Bud to tell them about "lava-inating," the thing he and Sis had invented that turned lava into rock using water.  He rolled his eyes, moaned "Mommmm!," and literally put his "talk to the hand" hand out as he turned away.  We all just sat there stunned.  I laughed about it the rest of the trip.  And gave him "the hand" a few times.  Should've given him the finger!

Change in the Weather

Mercy, it was steamy hot here in CT while we were in Texas--I can see the damage in my garden, which is saying a lot because a). our garden is pretty wild (I'm not a helicopter gardener!) and b.) I rarely notice.  My basil is almost completely dead.  And it's been so dry!  We keep seeing red clouds on the radar around us, with 70%+ chances of rain, etc., but it always missed us at the last minute.  Until a brief heavy rain yesterday morning, a real "gully-washer," the first rain of the month!  And now it's cool, barely 70F or so outside.  So I went into the garden and salvaged some plants from the rising weeds.  The beans are growing, but something is eating my kale!  And our sunflowers up front in the pot are "as high as an elephant's eye!"  I've called to have some of the hedge trimmed, now that it is 15' or so high and blocking the sun.  The sun which has only recently ever entered the backyard because my neighbor's huge maple blocked it before its untimely demise last month.  Places in my yard that haven't seen sun in 80+ years (the probable age of the tree) are bright for the first time ever.  We might even get grass in the back corner!  And I can certainly detect the change in light in the house.  It's strange but nice.  I'll miss the gorgeous colors of that tree come fall, though.  Until then, there are some pretty gorgeous colors in the wildflowers Sis sowed in May, pinks and purples and yellows.  As my generous friend Miss M said, it's like an English garden.  Well, to an American anyway.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

More Family Food Fad Fines

I had the wonderful opportunity to sit and talk about family recipes with Gommie's older sister, Aunt Quilt, inspired by my recent reading of Fashionable Food.  Here are some of the recipes I photographed, more for posterity than for reading off the blog (I have copies of the originals):

Red Velvet Cake--I think this is Bammie's recipe (Gommie and Aunt Quilt's mother) in Gommie's writing

"The Green Stuff"--A favorite in Aunt Quilt's family

Turtle Cake

Carrot Cake, the one Aunt Quilt made for Gommie's 60th, I believe

Part 2 of Carrot Cake

The famed cheesecake of Mrs. Korm


THE custard pie recipe Aunt Quilt uses, this time chocolate.  She made Coconut Custard for Gommie's birthday,  just omit cocoa and add 2 handfuls of coconut to the custard and then sprinkle more on top of the meringue (which is just 3 whites and 6 T sugar whipped)

Mmmm, I remember buttery-pepper Pasca Manale's shrimp from childhood.

I think I remember sour cream shrimp, too.

We did Bana Caulda at Aunt Quilt's house at least once.  You simmer the above in  an electric skillet then  cook beef, shrimp, fish, and vegetables in it.

Not the family's Shrimp Remoulade but one from the local department store.

Aunt Quilt is a great baker.  Here, Sally Lunn bread.

And biscuits.

Hmmm, I didn't know there was more than cheese in cheese grits.

Watergate Salad--with Cool Whip AND mini-marshmallows!

Aunt Quilt really likes this Milk Chocolate Bar Cake.

These are from Gommie's dessert recipe files, to supplement the ones from Aunt Quilt.  On the second day of our visit, Gommie had found her great-grandmother Grammy's recipes, stashed in a 1915 cookbook put out by a baking soda company, but I totally forgot to copy those before I left.  :(  Next time.  Here are ones I did remember to copy on the last day we were in Texas.

My own typed Coca Cola cake recipe

Bammie's Christmas Lizzies

Bammie's lemon pie, apparent in Gommie's dad's handwriting

A famous "Peach Pie-Cake" recipe


A recipe card Gommie typed for her "hope chest," from Bammie's recipes

They say this is a great Poppy Seed Cake.

Grandma Hungry's sister-in-law's lemon chess pie!

Lemon Chess Pie part 2

"Sister's pralines," meaning those of Grandma Hungry's sister Blythe

Terrible name, apparently good cake--with baby food!

Gommie likes these, too!




Handwritten version, by Gommie, of Mrs. Korm's famous Cheese Cake.


Bammie's Divinity

Bammie's "Red Cake," aka Red Velvet Cake


Bammie's recipe


I think these are Great-Grandmother Hungry's Forgotten Cookies.

Great-Grandmother Hungry's Date Pinwheels


Cont.

The custard pie again.
Part 2