Thursday, March 26, 2015

the Tuesday boost

On Tuesday mornings, my mom comes over to help with the kids' studies. Often she comes bearing a tin of donuts or a box of prunes. “For fortification,” she explains. I make her a cup of coffee or some tea. She sets up shop on the living room sofa, or at the art table, and I send kids to her for different tasks.

This is the only morning of the week—aside from Friday—when all four kids are home, and it feels good to get in several solid hours of higher-quality-than-normal studies. Whereas I normally whip through the studies as fast as possible, my mother draws them out, enhancing the reading lesson with stories of her own, delving into the nitty-gritty of a math concept, or hashing out the theological issues of our national economics. Ever cheerful and upbeat, she's much better at coaxing and cajoling than I am. (Which is funny because “cheerful” and “upbeat” are not adjectives I would've used to describe her when I was a homeschooling child under her ruling thumb.)

For me, it's a wonderful reprieve to have someone else hold the flash cards and listen to the reading lessons. And it's a nice break for the kids, too, to have someone else explain the same concepts from a fresh perspective, or at least in a different, less-weary voice.

Most days, Mom stays for lunch. Sometimes she'll linger into rest time and I'll make coffee and we'll visit. Or sometimes, like this week, she'll take a kid or two home with her for the afternoon.

It's such a gift, having the parenting support be so concrete. It means the world.

Thanks, Mom.

This same time, years previous: applied mathematics, maple pecan scones, a list, the quotidian (3.26.12), fatira, whoopie pies, smoky fried chickpeas, snickerdoodles, and Happy Birthday, Happy Pappy!      

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

the pigpen

Over the weekend, my husband and older daughter fixed up a home for the piggies. They carved out a corner of the pasture using chicken fencing and the already-there fencing, and then electrified the whole thing. My husband built a little shelter and stuffed it with hay. They relocated the water barrel and feed container.

And then it came time to move the pigs.

My older daughter got into the pen and snagged the hind legs of one of the pigs. Then my husband pulled her out of the pen while she pulled out the pig.

The pig screamed bloody murder.
The dogs went wild.
My younger daughter stood there, dazed, with her hands over her ears.

I alternated between snapping photos, shooing the dogs, laughing my head off, and yelling at my younger daughter to go pen up the dogs. At one point, my husband got so mad at the dogs that he ran after them, leaving my older daughter to wrangle the furiously-kicking pig all on her own. It screamed directly in her ear, but she managed to keep her wits about her. My husband returned, got a firm grip on the pig's hind legs and took off running for the new pen.

slowly and carefully: cornering the ham

For pig number two, we got smart and penned the dogs first. With them out of the equation, the process was much less stressful.

For a little while, the pigs huddled quietly in their new house. My husband squatted by the door and patted them apologetically.

Soon enough, the pigs' curiosity got the better of them and they stepped out of their house and began nosing around their new digs.

Of course, they went straight for the fence...repeatedly. Each time they bumped it, they leaped back with a loud oink. (Yes, it worked!) From the other side, the sheep were sniffing the fence, too—and getting shocked by it. Such entertainment! My younger son could hardly contain himself, so curious was he about what the shock felt like, that I finally just exploded with, Touch it and see! So he did, with his foot. It wasn't too bad, he said, but I noticed he stopped trying to touch it. 

Hopefully (fingers crossed!) we won't be embarking on any wild pig chases in the near future.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.24.14), of a moody Sunday, snappy happy, and the winner.

Monday, March 23, 2015

the quotidian (3.23.15)

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

Coming soon: green!

Production is up.

Ice pops.

Refreshing: I was so sick of drying racks.

Fence: a never-ending task.

Chair bed.

Whenever she gets a chance. 

This same time, years previous: the walk home, oatmeal toffee bars, big businesses read little blogs, sour cherry cream pie, egg and ham casserole, nutty therapy, playing Martha, and caramelized onions.

Friday, March 20, 2015

a morning's start

After five months of riotous slothdom, I've taken up running again. It's glorious! It's not that I so much enjoy getting slapped in the face with cold air immediately after waking, or the pounding on pavement, or the I'm-dying feeling as much as it is the Having Done It High I get from, uh, having done it. Running first thing in the morning means I start off the day feeling like I've slayed dragons, and before breakfast even. Plus, it makes lazying around the house for the rest of the day slightly more justifiable.

Yesterday when I got back from my run, my husband and two older kids were on their way out the door—my daughter on her way to the farm and my son to the job site with my husband. I told the kids to “hold it” because photo op.

Pictures snapped (what begrudging curmudgeons!), they helped my husband clean out his truck.

Well, kind of helped. If bickering and pulling down his pants is considered helping.

Then I took a selfie which prompted a lecture from my husband on the proper way to take a selfie—camera above face! chin down!—from the man who has never taken a selfie, ha.

It got blurry and sickly greenish (thanks to all that florescent), but that's how I feel in the morning, so it's fitting.

Oops, stretching!

And then they were off, and I headed into a quiet house (since the younger two children were still sleeping, sweet bliss) to fix my coffee,

This same time, years previous: sex ed, over the moon, family time, roasted vegetables, and getaway.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015


For years now, I've wanted to raise pigs. I didn't want to have a big production or anything, just one or two piggies for the meat. I even went so far as to spend hours talking pig details with our neighbors who butcher pigs every winter and know all things farm related. But my husband wasn't on board. Pigs schmigs, he scoffed. You forget. I am not a farmer. Eventually, I dropped the subject.

And then one of my husband's co-workers called him and said, “Hey! I'm on my way back from PA and I have pigs. Want some?”

And my husband was all like, “Whoa! That's so cool! We should totally get some pigs!”

And I was like, “Huh? Are you saying something? Because there's this buzzing in my ears.”

About twenty-four hours later, we said yes. And twenty-four hours after that, my husband hauled two pink piggies out of the back of the van.

All the kids were excited, 'cept for my younger daughter. “I don't want you to get pigs!” she hollered. “I don't like meat! We need a new kitten! Wah-wah-wah!”

Ever the sensitive mother, I suggested we name them Don't Shoot and Bang Bang. My husband was horrified but the other kids thought me hilarious. And now that my younger son has started calling them by those names, I'm afraid they're sticking. (Sorry, hon!)

We're planning—at this point, at least—to outsource the slaughtering, though the kids (minus the one) and I are lobbying to butcher at least one of the pigs ourselves. “Do it for the kids,” I hiss at my husband. “It's their education. Just think of all they'll learn!” So far, he's remained unmoved. Then again, we have pigs, which is proof enough that there's reason to hope (and keep badgering).

As is our custom, we're doing everything backwards and wrong. The pigs are currently (and temporarily) bedded down in the garden, which is very taboo (bacteria-loaded poo and all that), and we don't have a fence set up for them or easy access to water or anything else needed for raising pigs. But this is how my husband rolls. There must be a pressing need before anything gets done. Lucky us, two pooping squealers in the back yard makes for the best sort of pressing need.

Good thing they were his idea, not mine. I think we'll be fine.

This same time, years previous: the creative norm, no buffer, and a fast update.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

the last weekend

Everyone keeps asking how the show is going. The answer? It's going great! The cast is sharp, the audiences are lively, and the storyline is funny.

It was special to do the show for my children. I was worried the youngest would get bogged down in the dialogue and have trouble sitting still, but he was totally into the show. Once I caught a glimpse of him leaning forward in his seat, open-faced, smiling, and glowing from the reflected stage lights, completely enraptured. Another time my older son's face danced across my line of vision. His mouth was spread wide with laughter.

My older son took issue with my Rita character. He thought her too bubbly and happy. “It's not like you, Mom,” he said. My Iris, on the other hand—you know, the filthy-mouthed, ragey, demented woman—was, according to everyone, much more natural. Thanks, kids. Thanks a lot. As for my husband, he was both disappointed there wasn't more Iris in the show and slightly worried that Iris was a preview of a future Jennifer. You never know...

My younger son had so many comments and questions afterward. Was the blind woman really blind? Could my “mother” walk in real life? Five wheelchairs! His favorite line involved the f-bomb (of course). A couple days after they saw the show, he and my younger daughter snagged my script and ran upstairs to reenact the play. It was slightly bizarre to hear them shouting, “WHERE THE HELL IS SPANKYPANTS,” in their best Iris imitation.

This is the last weekend to see the show, and tomorrow (Thursday) night is pay what you will. Come, come!!

This same time, years previous: our house, lately and shaking things up.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

a good reminder

One rainy day last week, we did abbreviated studies and then spent the remainder of the morning watching Fed Up, a documentary about the food industry and, in particular, our children and the obesity epidemic.

I highly recommend it. The children (just the younger three—my older son was at work) were totally into it. I had to pause the movie multiple times to answer their questions and check their comprehension. (And now I want my husband and son to watch it, too.)

Some key points (as I remember them—don't quote me!):

*Out of 23 rats who were given the choice of cocaine water or sugar water, 20 chose sugar water. Sugar is addictive. Our culture is addicted to sugar.
*In the same way that we are now appalled at how doctors used to endorse cigarettes, our future selves will be shocked at how we are—right now—so accepting of the sugar industry.
*A third of our population is obese. Another notable percentage is TOFI (thin on the outside, fat on the inside). Together, over half of our population is physically sick.
*Our government does not have our children's best interests in mind. As they said, “The fox is guarding the hen house.”
*Parents are in charge of their children's eating habits, yes. But, and especially for school children who are eating cafeteria lunches and exposed to lots of prepackaged snack food, it's like fighting an uphill battle. Processed junk food is everywhere. Socially and culturally, the odds are stacked against our children. 
*Did you ever notice how nutrition labels don't list the daily percentages for sugars? Thank the sugar lobbyists for that lack of information. They don't want us to know and have fought hard for the right to keep us in the dark.
*What is the daily allotment of sugar? According to the movie, it's ten to twelve grams, or roughly three teaspoons. (Though I've read elsewhere that it's up to 25 grams for an adult.) The point is, we should be eating practically no sugar.

And here's where I got confused. One cup of whole milk has 11 grams of sugar, and one apple has about 19 grams of sugar, ba-BAM. That's your daily allowance of sugar, so forget about that small scoop of brown sugar on your morning oatmeal, that half-teaspoon of sugar in your tea, the little puddle of ketchup with your oven fries, the home-canned applesauce, or the raisins with your mixed nuts. A cookie? A muffin? Syrup on a pancake? Jam on toast? No way. You. are. done.

Which doesn't quite feel fair. I mean, raisins are good for you, right? So are they just talking about added sugars? Perhaps. But they clearly said that sugar is sugar is sugar. There are many, many names for it, but they all—even honey and maple syrup—have the same adverse effects. This gave—gives—me pause. Any way you look at it, we've got to cut back.

post movie: my lunch 

After watching the movie, I did some obsessing. I hung out in the pantry reading labels. I studied our dinner plates. I fretted and stewed. Sugar is everywhere! It seems so impossible! But now, after a few days of thinking, incorporating, and reevaluating all the information, these are the nuggets I've carried with me.

1. I am addicted to sugar.
2. Just say no to Twizzlers!
3. Be enormously leery of packaged foods: crackers, mixes, dressings, yogurts, etc.
4. Buy food in its natural state. Better yet, grow it myself.
5. Beverages are real killers. Drink water.
6. Make my own desserts.

All these things, I knew already. But it was good to sit with the problem for awhile, to examine the facts, to wrestle with the issues, and to scrutinize my habits. Over time, I can grow desensitized to the bigger picture and blind to the little details, becoming the passive consumer that I'm supposed to be. The movie was just the kick I needed.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.17.14) and oatmeal pancakes.

Monday, March 16, 2015

the quotidian (3.16.15)

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

I ate it like there was no tomorrow: winter salad mix.

If cooking broccoli, make extra. It always gets eaten.

Deb's pi day pie was an abject failure: the oatmeal tasted like stale play dough. 
(The black bottom part, however, was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.)

One week ago. 
Today it's over 70 degrees and the kids are begging to go swimming.

Look at all those bare feet!

A sure sign winter is fading: washing supper dishes in the blinding sunshine.

Pre-show entertainment: putting on the stage make-up. 

This same time, years previous: smiling for dimples, bolt popcorn, warmth, from my diary, cornmeal blueberry scones, my reality, enhanced, cherry pie. bedtime ghost stories, a religious education, and butterscotch pudding.      

Friday, March 13, 2015

raspberry ricotta cake

I'm a sucker for cake, the more straightforward and simple the recipe the better. So when I was paging through the latest Bon Appetit, their berry ricotta cake—with the tagline, “This super-simple recipe is panic-free”—leaped right off the page and into my brain.

Actually, there is nothing unusual about that. Recipes are forever jumping into my brain. Most of them, however, get buried in the mental muck of ordinary life, never to be heard of again. This one, though, was different. It was loud and obnoxious, chanting “make me, make me, make me” and only laying off (just a little) when I finally wrote “ricotta” on my grocery list. In other words, this cake wasn't a fleeting bit of inspiration. This cake was hellbent on becoming a reality. And fast.

So one night before bed, I mixed up the wet and dry ingredients and greased the pan. The next morning, still blurry-eyed and shuffly-footed, I stirred the two together, folded in the berries, and shoved the cake in the oven.

The cake was as good as I hoped it would be. Maybe even better. It was buttery and sweet with a glossy, high dome. Even though the cake was tender and light—the crumb couldn't be more perfect—there was an underlying density (from the ricotta, I think) that hinted at a seriousness most cakes lack. This cake was more than fluff and nonsense. This cake was for real. In fact, it was so good that I'm inclined to say this recipe should be the go-to base for every yellow cake and any sort of muffin. 

When my husband tasted it, he said, “It needs more lemon.” 

“It doesn't have any lemon in it.”

“Right. Like I said, it needs more lemon.”

Lemon would be a delightful addition, I agree. As would be more berries. One cup felt paltry, I thought. And what about swapping out some of the flour for cornmeal and adding in some blueberries? Or rhubarb? Anything goes, really. Just whatever you do, keep the ricotta. It's what makes the cake sing.

Raspberry Ricotta Cake 
Adapted from the March 2015 issue of Bon Appetit

1½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, melted
1½ cups ricotta
3 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
1-2 cups frozen raspberries (reserve a few to sprinkle on top)

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, ricotta, eggs, and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and fold in the berries. Pour the batter into a greased, 9-inch, springform pan, and sprinkle with the reserved berries.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. The cake is delicious warm, and it also keeps well at room temperature for a couple days.

This same time, years previous: chocolate babka, a love affair, sugar loaf, golden chicken curry, relief and pride, plus memories, and a child's blessing.