Friday, April 24, 2015

taking off

My younger daughter is beginning to read.



Technically, she's been able to read for a couple years now, but I don't count a child as “reading” until they're zipping through chapter books for fun. And actually, by my standards, my daughter is not quite there just yet. But she's getting close!

I recently noticed that, for the first time ever, she was actually reading the picture books we lugged home from the library. And then, for her daily reading, I assigned her the book The One and Only Ivan and she sank into the story.




As luck would have it, Ivan was a perfect starter book. It's thick, so it feels important, but the line spacing is wide and the chapters are short. There are simple drawings to help the story along, and the writing is nuanced and compelling. Each day she'd read a chapter or two out loud to me before reading to herself for another 20 minutes or so. At one point, she put the book down and refused to read anymore because the story was too sad. I was thrilled that the story was affecting her so deeply—nothing screams reading comprehension success louder than falling into a funk because of a book—so I sat with her while she read the rough spots. Once over the hump, she sailed through to the end.

She enjoys the American Girl series, but they're not quite fast-paced enough for her. Harry Potter is a little too taxing yet. Magic Tree House books (which I hate) are a huge hit. I can't keep enough on hand. Right now we're reading Flora and Ulysses out loud together—I read one page and she reads the next—but the vocabulary (obfuscation! malfeasance! surreptitious! etc) is above her level. In retrospect, it was not the best choice.

By conventional standards, my younger daughter is a fairly late reader, but because her elementary skills are due to a lack of interest rather than a lack of ability (her older sister's situation was reversed), and because her desire to read is steadily increasing, I am completely at ease with letting her learn at her own level. Her process feels natural and organic. The only thing I'm struggling with is finding entertaining and well-written books that take into account both her (older) age and lower skill level. Ideas, anyone?


P.S. My younger son (age 9) is also starting to take off. He's a couple steps behind my younger daughter, but he's in love with the Magic Treehouse series (gah). His main problem is zero patience to sound anything out.

This same time, years previous: Sally Fallon's pancakes, out and about, the quotidian (4.23.12), cauliflower potato soup, me and you, and the radishes, the perils of homemade chicken broth, and shoofly pie.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

creamed honey

When we were in Pennsylvania a few weeks back, we (our family plus my parents) stayed in a little cottage belonging to some long-time friends of my parents. It was cozy and perfect, and, what with the tighter-than-normal quarters and the being-on-an-adventure feeling, it brought back heart-tugging memories of traveling around Central America. What a special year that was.


Anyway, my mother and I had made plans to bring breakfast foods and snacks, but then we received word that we weren't supposed to bring any food—they would stock the kitchen for us. Which was super sweet and made the little getaway that much more exotic. Blue corn chips! Ostrich-sized (practically) farm eggs! Hot chocolate! Creamed honey!

I'm not a huge fan of honey, preferring jams and jellies on my morning toast, but this honey was totally different. It was like cold butter and tasted of honey, but deeper and richer without the back-of-the-throat burn that I get from regular honey.


Once home, I poked around the web, trying to learn more about this wondrous oddity. Apparently, creamed honey is just honey with a different crystalline structure. To make the change, simply beat a little creamed honey into regular honey, wait a week, and there you have it. In other words, it's like making homemade yogurt, but sweeter.


To locate some plain creamed honey (some of the creamed honeys are flavored with weird things like lavender), I called around to a bunch of stores. It's hard to come by in these parts, but I finally found some and my husband picked it up. Using my brand new immersion blender (DON'T DO THIS—I think I may have burned it up), I beat in the starter. For the next several days, every time I tipped the jar to see if the honey had solidified, it slumped to one side most disappointingly. Finally, I despaired. But then, a week later, I tilted the honey jar and there was no movement. Solid honey! Success!


Like yogurt, my homemade creamed honey is not as thick as the commercial variety. It's more like a reallyreallyreally thick caramel sauce, or, conversely, like a softened chewy-hard caramel. It's delicious on toast, millet muffins, oatcakes, in peanut butter sandwiches, and stirred into hot tea. It's also fantastic straight off the spoon for a lazy afternoon pick-me-up.


Creamed Honey 

10 parts regular, not-grainy honey
1-2 parts creamed honey

Before starting: if your honey is grainy, set the jar in a pan of very hot water until the honey has returned to its original liquid state.

Put both honeys into a stand mixer—do not use an immersion blender—and beat until thoroughly mixed. (I'm assuming this will work but have yet to try it for myself.) Pour the honey into jars, lid tightly, and store at room temperature for one week. At this point the honey should be solid. Creamed honey will last indefinitely and will never, miraculously enough, get grainy.

This same time, years previous: out of character, ailments, and rhubarb crunch.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

let's pretend this isn't happening




Not my cake, but it makes the point.

I struggle to find the balance between appreciating my increasing age (and the wisdom and experience that comes with it) and grieving the loss of youth and time. So a couple weeks ago I brought up the topic with the young women who meet in my home. I used three quotes to get the group thinking:

The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. (Tim Reider)
I once laughed at the vanity of women of thirty or forty who whitened their ruddy old skin with lead, but now I know such salves are not disguises for old crones who wish to catch a young husband. Instead they are only a mask we wear so that we can, for a little while, still recognize ourselves. (Rebecca Johns, The Countess)
Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age. (Gloria Steinem)

Funny thing was, not a single one of the women in the group was wrestling with the aging issue. They were mostly fine with getting older, and some of them were downright excited.

So then I wondered if this was an age thing (ha). I'm ten years older than the women in the group. Maybe 29-years-olds don't think about aging and 39-year-olds do? Or am I superficial and immature and they're extra well-adjusted? So, with the topic stalling, I shifted tactics and asked how their mothers aged. Surely they've seen angst there! But again, no. Rather, some of their mothers were giddy—giddy!—about getting grey hair. Which left me scratching my (greying) head because, while grey is beautiful, the fact is, it signifies “winding down” and “lost abilities” and, ultimately—not to be morbid or anything—death. I'm not stressing over those things, mind you, but I'm not exactly eager, either.

***

Have you seen this interview with Frances McDormand? In it, the naturally (and beautifully) aging actress gently and boldly calls out women (specifically women in the media, but I'm extending that to include women everywhere) who perpetuate the illusion of everlasting youth. Are we being fair to our daughters and sons when we try to appear what we aren't? Are we being fair to ourselves? Where's the line? How to “look nice” and accept the inevitable?

Then again, no matter how down-to-earth we pride ourselves on being, aren't we all maintaining an image, masking our less-attractive traits while highlighting the nicer ones? Why is it so hard to age with confidence?

Here's a thought. Maybe aging is like parenting: it's super frustrating with the first and second kids, but by baby number three you become more or less resigned to your lot in life as parent. In other words, maybe once I get a full head of grey hair and a face covered in wrinkles I'll finally stop worrying the topic to death.

***

I recently learned that women, after going through menopause, experience a huge burst of energy. When I first heard this, I was all like, Wha—? How did I not know this? Because how amazing will it be to have no kids, the house paid off, and a surge of energy for who-knows-what and the-sky's-the-limit? In the midst of my angst, this unanticipated reprieve was a balm. Aging isn't all about winding down. There are up-swings, too. For the first time I actually felt excited for the next stage.

'Course, maybe I'm blowing everything out of proportion. Maybe my particular burst of energy will be wildly underwhelming. But really, at this point I don't care. Just the mere hope is enough to boost my spirits. Onward ho!

***

The other day when my husband and I were discussing the aging conundrum, he told me about a report he heard on NPR, the gist of which was: they put a bunch of old people in a room and told them they couldn't talk about anything that had happened after, say, 1950. The room was time-period appropriate, with old magazines and such (I suppose, anyway). The researchers ran tests on the people before and after their time in the room. The people were healthier, more energetic, and appeared more youthful in photos after their 1950's hangout. In other words, thinking you're younger can actually make you younger.

Another example of this mind-over-matter trick: you know how nurses are always on their feet, but many of them aren't healthy and say they have no time to workout? Well, the researchers told them that they needed to treat their job as a workout. Basically, they were to pretend they were working out all day. Sure enough, their weight dropped, general health improved, and so on.

Maybe the best way to deal with aging is to pretend it's not happening? I mean, prepare a will, draw up a funeral plan, and have realistic expectations about how many (and what sort of) interventions you'll do and then turn a blind eye? Like, instead of doing the crossword puzzles to keep the mind from atrophying, do them because they're fun! Or, instead of working out to shore up the decrepit muscles, exercise because it feels awesome! Instead of retiring because you can't keep up, move on because you have other things on which you want to focus your energy! It's not lying, it's just reframing. Right?

Is this too Pollyanna-ish? Or is it just plain smart?

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.21.14), therapy, chocolate ice cream, my lot, chocolate mayonnaise cake, bacon-wrapped jalapenos, and what they really want.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

the quotidian (4.20.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


SPRING.


Supper prep.


After waiting two loooong months for the from-China delivery: replacing the wings.


Confession: at our house, shit flies. In this case, literally.


Perfect for budding drivers: our new-to-us beater car. 
It's stick shift! (Or "stick fish," depending on who is talking.)


Ready for church.


I can't do this.


Like his father: a surge of frustration with a malfunctioning object
and it is, suddenly and swiftly, flipped and fixed.


Sibs.


How many kids does it take to bathe the baby?


My brother grilled us a feast.


The meaty line-up: "I feel like an American."

This same time, years previous: Omri, joining the club, fun and fiasco: chapter two, fun and fiasco: chapter three, nutmeg coffee cake, loose ends, the quotidian (4.16.12), and then he shot me through the heart, picking us up, mint wedding cake, ground pork and white bean chili, banana cake and creamy peanut butter frosting, and baked spaghetti.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

cheesy popcorn

At our house, Sunday evenings are family night. We get a movie, cut up apples, and make two giant bowls of popcorn: one spicy and the other cheesy. Actually, I wrote about the tradition here. No need to say more.

Except to share the recipe for the cheesy popcorn! It's not really a recipe, but since you can't buy it in the store and I don't see recipes for this particular snack floating around the web, I can only assume that your cheesy popcorn enjoyment rests firmly on my shoulders. DO NOT FEAR. I, the bearer of cheesy popcorn deliciousness, AM HERE.

Responsibility is such a burden.

But before the recipe, here's a list of some of the family-night movies we've watched. I've only just recently started to keep track and I'm kicking myself for my shortsightedness. Finding a good family movie is no small feat (I get so sick of cartoon trash), and I regret not keeping more detailed records to, you know, share with the world that is resting on my shoulders.

Family Night Movies 
Disclaimer: my children are ages 9-15. My oldest, by age nine, had only been exposed to basic Disney stuff. My youngest, by age nine, has seen all of Harry Potter. 
In other words, my standards have evolved. 

Christmas Story: classic!
Jamaican Bobsled Team: fun movie.
Akeelah and the Bee: excellent. I wish there were more movies like this.
Guardians of the Galaxy: they loved it, I didn't.
Tangled: basic fun.
The Black Stallion Returns: a certain horse-lover was in heaven.
Alice in Wonderland: I hate Alice in Wonderland but the kids liked it.
Babies: more of a “schooly” movie, but eyeopening and interesting.
Whale Rider: pretty good.
Ransom of Red Chief: an old movie. Fun.
The Karate Kid 1 and II: some tense parts, but a fun watch.
Princess Protection Program: can't remember (maybe I wasn't home for this one?)
Secretariat: good, but a little slow. The adults and bigs enjoyed it.
Ghostbusters: scary moments, but over all an innocent show.
The Little Red Wagon: the older kids thought this would be stupid, but they liked it.
The Princess Diaries: Entertaining.
Maleficent: Predictable.
Sound of Music: CLASSIC.
Wall-E: They loved this one!
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: fun.
Ella Enchanted: sweet and simple.
Richie Rich: lots of slap-sticky laughs
Chicken Run: fun.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: an easy classic, slow-paced.
National Treasure: delightfully intense, we all enjoyed it.
Napoleon Dynamite: a family classic (younger kids don't get the humor)
Princess Bride: another family classic.
The Cotton Patch Gospel: not your regular Hollywood movie. A gem. And the music is great.
Celine: some romance, but not too racy. Slower-paced but intriguing.
Runaway Bride: again, some romance, but okay.
Into The Woods: enjoyed by all.
Dolphin Tales I and II: pleasant.
Front of the Class: about a teacher who has Tourette Syndrome. Worthwhile.
The Parent Trap: an older movie. Fun.
The Night in the Museum I, II, and III: the kids loved it.
Free Willy: fun.
The Lego Movie: I think I saw it twice.
Jumanji: fun, but a little scary.
Finding Nemo: for younger kids (but it terrified my older children when they were younger).
Puss in Boots: funny.
Shrek I, II, III, IV: the first one is the best.
Narnia: much-loved.
The Incredibles: one of my favorites.
Flicka: another horse movie.
Black Beauty: sad but good.
The Ron Clark Story: enjoyed by the whole family.
Finding Rin Tin Tin: probably fine. I don't even remember.
Mr. Bean: the kids love his humor.
Searching for Bobby Fischer: so good.
Harry Potter, all of them: watched so much they're a part of our family.
Kayla: about a dog sledder. Sad but okay.
The Giver: quite good.
Monsters Inc.: a favorite.
Fiddler on the Roof: makes me cry, but so good.
Over the Hedge: funny.
Big Hero Six: sweet and funny.
How To Train Your Dragon I and II: fun.
Holes: quite good, a bit tense.
Anne of Green Gables: gentle and lovely.
Babe: nice.
Up: a good one (squirrel! squirrel!)
Ramona and Beezus: fun.
Home Alone I and II: good laughs.
Cheaper By the Dozen: not as good as the book, but entertaining nonetheless.
Toy Story I, II, and III: yes! (The first one is best. The third one is pretty good, too, yes?)
Matilda: delightful.
Goonies: good.
Brave: fun.
Ever After: pretty good (I can't really remember)
Ratatouille: cooking! food! I loved it!
Radio: so good!
Hook: pretty good.
Wallace and Grommet: gently and fun.

Do you have any good family movies to recommend? I'm always on the lookout. (Updated: thanks for all your suggestions in the comments and on Facebook. I'm adding to the list of what we've seen and making a quality to-watch list. You guys rock!)

And now, the popcorn!


When I was growing up, my parents made cheesy popcorn by grating block cheese (like cheddar or Monterey Jack) directly into a bowl of hot popcorn. Softened slightly from the heat, the cheese would cling to the kernels. It was good, but the cheese didn't distribute evenly so some mouthfuls would be cheese-loaded and others not. Small problems, but still. (I suppose grating a hard cheese on the fine side of a box grater would fix much of that problem, but then you're left with a dirty grater. Yuck.)


So I skip the cheese altogether and sprinkle my popcorn with nutritional yeast. It sounds grossyeast on popcorn!but this isn't yeast yeast. It's murdered (er, deactivated) yeast and it's yellowish in color and tastes nutty and cheesy. In other words, delicious. And there's no bothersome grater to wash afterwards. Win!


Cheesy Popcorn 

½ cup popcorn kernels
1 heaping tablespoon coconut oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Melt the coconut oil in your whirley pop (or popcorn kettle of your choice), add the kernels, and pop. Dump the popcorn into a large bowl. Drizzle with butter, and sprinkle with salt and nutritional yeast. Devour.

This same time, years previous: crispy almonds, fun and fiasco, chapter one, wild hair, asparagus walnut salad, and asparagus with lemony creme fraiche and boiled egg.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

wrangling sheep

My older daughter spent Saturday morning at the horse farm getting judged on her riding and then the afternoon back home trimming the sheep's toenails. Or hooves. Whatever they're called.

I didn't go to the show-test thingy, and since my daughter couldn't really explain to me the purpose of the test (that she spent 45 of her dollars to take), I still don't know exactly what went on. But she told me that the morning of the test, both she and her riding girlfriend (they had a sleepover at girlfriend's house) were nervous sick. My daughter reported that her friend was so nervous that she only ate five spoonfuls of yogurt for breakfast. “I was sooooo nervous, too,” my daughter said, “but I ate two eggs, two pieces of toast, juice, and yogurt.” That's my girl, people.

So anyway, back to the sheep. That afternoon I was standing in the kitchen chatting on the phone with a friend when I looked out the window and saw my daughter flipping sheep. So I hung up, grabbed the camera, and went out to watch.

First she caught them by driving them into the corner of the pasture using the wide-open gate as a trapdoor.




Second, she attacked...




and didn't...

let...

go.

Third, she yelled for someone (in this case, her brother) to hand her the halter.



Fourth, she danced a jig with the sheep that...

ended with the sheep laying on the ground belly up.

Fifth, she trimmed the hooves.



It was all highly entertaining. If laughter is the best medicine, then sheep wrangling is downright therapeutic. (At least for the onlookers.)



Note: this post makes it sound like she's tossing whole herds of sheep on their backs. This is not the case. She has only two sheep. Still, even with just two sheep, the task somehow managed to look like A Serious Operation. Or a blog-worthy one, at least.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.14.14), the value (or not) of the workbook. and chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs.

Monday, April 13, 2015

the quotidian (4.13.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Scrambling to keep up.


Deluxe lunch: after an Indian-feast supper.


My husband is committed to his nuts.


He wanted to iron = wrinkle-free napkins.


He bought himself a new set of wheels.


You know your girl is growing up when she uses both hands to wash the dishes while talking on the phone.


Headbangers.


Garbage disposal, country style.


After only three weeks, moving the pigs to fresh pasture. 
 Just look at that turned soil!


Choirboy.


Sunday feet.


Two peas in a pod.

This same time, years previous: Mr. Tiny, deviled eggs, on fire, lemons and goat cheese, flour tortillas, my prego husband, in all seriousness, and Easter chickens.      

Friday, April 10, 2015

when popcorn won't pop

There's nothing more disappointing than popcorn that won't pop.

Well actually, flopped cakes, a rained-out wedding, a lie-to-your-face child, receiving an order of expensive shoes that don't fit, planning a Netflix night only to have the internet go out, putting sour half-and-half into your coffee, etc, etc, probably all qualify as more disappointing. All things considered, non-poppy popcorn is rather minor. Still, in the moment it can feel rather crushing. 

Because we buy our popcorn by the truckload (practically), we were rather miffed when, a couple months into a fresh sack, we started making dud-corn instead of popcorn. We figured the seller stored the popcorn in a damp place. Or maybe he never dried it properly in the first place?

After stewing a bit, my husband hopped on the Internet to research the problem. And guess what! The reason is the exact opposite of what we both thought. Popcorn doesn't pop, not because it's too wet, but because it's too dry. The popcorn's pop is caused by moisture inside the kernel heating up and creating steam. When there's not enough moisture, there's not a good pop.


The solution, we were delighted to discover, was easy. We put the dud-corn in a jar, added a bit of water, let it sit for a day or so to absorb the moisture, and voila, the freshest, poppy-est popcorn you could ever wish for!


How To Rejuvenate Popcorn Kernels

1. Put the not-doing-their-thing popcorn kernels in a jar.

2. For every cup of kernels, add one teaspoon of water.

3. Lid the jar, shake well, and let sit for 1-3 days. (It's advised to let the kernels sit for three days, but we waited just one and they were perfect.)

For a longer shelf life, store the rejuvenated popcorn in the freezer. (But if, like me, your popcorn never quite makes it into the freezer, no worries. You now know the remedy.)

This same time, years previous: the greening, an evening walk, the things that go on around here, new territory: grief, and cream of tomato soup.