Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A lot of babble, and some cookies

I woke up at 4:00 this morning and thought to myself: Hey, Self! If you get out of bed right now, you could go downstairs and make coffee and have two uninterrupted hours of writing time! And then I rolled over and back to sleep I went. I woke up at 6:00, mad at myself for squandering two good writing hours.

But then this afternoon, after eight hours of managing the zoo I call my home, I phoned Mr. Handsome at work and said to him, “Hey, Honey! How about we do a changing of the guard this evening?”

And he said, in his super-enthusiastic, gravelly-due-to-a-cold voice, “You mean, you wanna go write?”

And I said, “YES!” And then in a smaller, meeker, slightly whiny voice, “Ple-e-ease?”

And he said, stoically, gallantly, and magnanimously, “Sure.”

And I said, “Aw, honey, you are so sah-weet! I loves you!” ‘Cause that’s what you’re supposed to say when you get your way (and 'cause I do).

So here I am, in my room, two hours to type, a glass of white wine on the bed stand. Though I guess you would call it a “nightstand,” not a “bed stand.” Though now that I’ve written it, neither of them makes any sense. Except that it isn’t a stand upon which you place things like beds, but it is a stand upon which you place things at night. So I’ll go with nightstand from now on. It’s important to clear things like this up.

(And no, we are not going to have a conversation on bad prepositional usage. Absolutely not. Because I like to whip prepositions around like they ain’t nobody’s business, least of all yours. Discussion closed.)

Ah, me. The frivolity that comes about as a result of having two hours of free time. Do you have any idea what would happen if all the world’s mothers (and more specifically, the mothers of young children) were given, simultaneously, two hours of free time? It would rock our world. Literally. I firmly believe that there would be such a bubbling of insane happiness that our little blue and green earth would be jolted right out of its orbit.

I don’t know about you (and here I’m addressing any mothers of young children who may be reading this post), but I get so blasted tired of thinking about Inane Parenting Problems as though they were Life-and-Death Issues. The situations are really no big deal (thus the reason I called them “inane” [obviously]), but if they aren’t dealt with swiftly and appropriately you just might go absolutely insane. Thus the reason they are life-and-death issues.

Example #1: Yo-Yo’s room
It is a disaster. Even though he has a mandatory fifteen minutes of clean-up time (almost) every morning, it always looks like it was hit by a cyclone: shoes, clothes, papers, cards, books, Legos, rocks, even bubbly tar that he scraped off a road and molded into lumps that have since lost their lumpy shape and have oozed and stuck to various pieces of furniture. We keep everlastingly at it, but there is no headway. Any ideas?

Example #2: Yelling
The kids yell all the time—when they’re mad, when they’re happy, when they’re sad, when they’re bored, when they’re going to bed, when they’re waking up, when they’re eating, when they’re not eating—basically, like I said, all the time. Any ideas? (I’ve actually implemented a little system to help deal with this particular problem, but since it’s not exactly kosher, I’m keeping mum till I hear your suggestions.)

And now, on to other things. Like cookies.


I’ve made this recipe three times now, and it’s been weighing heavy on my mind these days. I keep thinking wistful thoughts about cookies, and then when I indulge in the fantasy for a little longer, I see visions of chocolate chip cookies, and then butterscotch, molasses, and oatmeal raisin cookies...and then the butterscotch cookies once again. They’re that way, insistent.

Butterscotch Cookies
Not hardly even adapted at all from Molly’s recipe, ‘cause hers is so dog-gone perfect.

Word of advice: Make a double batch.

14 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and beat some more. Add the dry ingredients and beat till mixed. Stir in the pecans.

Bake the cookies on a greased cookie sheet for about eight to ten minutes at 375 degrees. Take care not to over-bake them; the centers should still be ever-so-slightly wet and jiggly. Allow the cookies to rest on the baking sheets for another couple minutes before gently transferring them to a cooling rack.

About One Year Ago: Peposo. And today I cooked a roast in the crock-pot. Must be something about the end of September that makes me crave red meat.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stream of consciousness: a list

1. It’s cold. It was so hot the last couple days and then today it’s been raining and it downright chilly. Right now I’m huddled under a blanket on the sofa, drinking coffee and eating cake. The oven is on, serving a dual purpose—to bake the granola and heat the house.

2. I’ve had so many different thoughts lately that I’ve decided to use Mavis’s method and make lists. It helps in my everyday life (so far today I’ve made lists of a) the money my friend owes me, b) a grocery list, c) questions to ask my brother about the computer, and d) things I need/want to accomplish when I sit down at the computer so I don’t just sit there stupidly and stare at the screen for excessive amounts of time), so why not on the blog? And besides, it eliminates the need for transition. I’m not good with transition.

3. My upper back is feeling much, much better, but then yesterday I got a nasty knot in my lower back, but last night Mr. Handsome massaged it good and hard and I woke up just fine this morning. I think there is still some tension there, though, and it makes me feel a little extra tired...

4. All this back pain is to be expected, I guess, seeing as I’m not getting any younger. I’m 34 today. Thanks, Mom, for birthing me, and to you and Dad for raising me! (I’m not going to give you any thanks for conceiving me ‘cause I’m assuming that wasn’t any sacrifice on your parts—Oh, goodness, I said “parts!” Can you believe it? Just shut me up already!) You did a swell job (birthing and raising me—just wanted to be clear here), if I do say so myself.

[5. About that cake that I had with my coffee? My mother made it for me.


Earlier this week (when she came to our house to watch the younger kids while Mr. Handsome and I took Yo-Yo to one of his doctor’s appointments), she entertained the four little ones (the extra child was my one-year-old niece that she was babysitting) by baking and decorating a three-layer lane cake for my birthday. (And she thinks I have a lot of energy—ha!)


We’ve been eating it all week long (there’s only a small wedge left), and it’s very good (not that I’m surprised by that, or anything).]

6. I called Mr. Handsome at work yesterday to find out if I needed to cook supper tonight. I told him that it was fine if I needed to (that might have been a little lie)—I just wanted to know. Because if he was going to do something else and I didn’t need to plan anything, then I didn’t want to waste any time planning something. He said that he would bring something home. So I’m not planning anything. Which is a nice treat.

7. Last night we all drove into town to get free (with a donation) ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery. Then we walked around Petco and looked at the ferrets and rats and guinea pigs. Then, on our way (which was the wrong way, of which I was telling Mr. Handsome in no uncertain terms) out of the parking lot, Mr. Handsome pulled into a parking space and announced he needed to read a map, and then he got out and opened the trunk and came back with my computer. “Go write,” he commanded. “The kids and I have some errands to run.” So I walked across the parking lot to Panera, laughing out loud all the way. I sensed people were looking at me, this crazy laughing lady, but I didn’t care. Mr. Handsome so rarely plans ahead and even more rarely succeeds in surprising me, that when it does actually happen that he plans a surprise (granted, he only planned it as he was cleaning up the supper dishes an hour before), I get quite a kick out of it. And then I do embarrassing things like laugh out loud for extended lengths of time.

8. I played around with Picasa for the duration of my imposed free time. I explored the “collage” feature. Here is a sample of my work:


And here is another sample:


It’s kind of addicting, this collage feature, so you probably can expect to see some more of my creations in the future.

9. I love it that my kids are now old enough to get into The Birthday Spirit. Now that I’m a grown-up (most days), I still get excited about birthdays, but I play it kind of cool, since I am a grown-up, after all. I still feel little bubbles of excitement on my birthday, but I keep them tamped down, preventing them from welling up and erupting out of me, spewing everyone with my raw, jittery, giddy emotion. Us adults are good about not exposing our vulnerabilities (and yes, excitement is a revealing emotion), but children, heaven help us, haven’t learned to regulate themselves all that well, especially not when it comes to birthdays—then it’s a free-for-all in the excitement department. My children love birthdays, any birthday. They wake up early, do lots of whispering, accidentally blurt out information and then grin hugely. They even produce presents early because they just can’t wait one more stinkin’ minute! They are my excitement personified. I love it.

10. It’s a dreary day, like I said. Do you need a laugh? Then go here. I’ve watched it twice and both times I smiled hard and then laughed out loud—I just couldn’t help myself. It makes me feel good (and it almost makes me want to have another baby). I just may have to book mark the link so I can watch it whenever I feel blue.

11. The other day we had hotdogs for supper. We had started the meal, digging into the beans and hotdogs like there was no tomorrow, when all of a sudden Mr. Handsome leaped up from the table and ran out the door. He was back inside in 20 seconds—with his blow torch (the same blow torch he used to sterilize a needle and, incidentally, traumatize our daughter). I stared at him quizzically—what now? Without saying a word, he took his hot dog bun in one hand and the torch in the other and calmly began to toast it.


But of course! He likes toasted hotdog buns and what’s the fastest way to toast a hotdog bun? With a blow torch, of course!


Silly me. I am so behind the times.

12. Now I’m wondering if I could use that blow torch to make creme brulee...

13. I’ve now stretched the kids’ rest time an extra half hour. They are still quiet. Think I can keep going?

14. Sweetsie doesn’t let me put her hair up like I want to. She has the bestest put-up hair in the world, gently curling, wispy, and thin. Just gather it together and twist and clip, and it looks great, the loose, curling tendrils gently framing her face. So the other day I bribed her. I told her that if she let me play with her hair then I would let her scroll up and down on my blog, looking at the pictures. She agreed. I loosely pinned her hair up and then snapped a bunch of pictures.






And then, ‘cause a deal is a deal, she scrolled away to her heart’s content.

15. I haven’t been cooking much these days. Ever since our trip to New York I’ve been languishing in the culinary department. I left my kitchen, fell out of my habits, and can’t seem to climb back into them. I miss cooking, too. I’m not sure what ails me. I do know that I’m growing sick of grilled cheese and granola and applesauce.

16. We need to make more applesauce. Our 100 quarts are definitely not going to cut it. I think we’ve already gone through at least 20 quarts and it’s not even the end of September yet. But I don’t waaaant (insert whiney voice) to make more applesauce! I think I just might have to suck it up and get on with it.

17. Oh goodness. The Baby Nickel just woke up. I guess nap-time is over. And here I was going to try for a 34-item list... Maybe he’ll just curl up beside me and I can type a little longer...

18. The other night I woke from a deep sleep to hear The Baby Nickel crying and fussing. Neither Mr. Handsome or I had it in ourselves to rouse and go help him. I listened as Nickel stumbled down the hall, his cries growing more and more frantic. Then he was in the bathroom, wailing up a storm. I finally got myself up and walked into the bathroom...and right into a puddle of pee. Nickel was sitting on the toilet, fully clothed, a giant pool of urine spreading across the bathroom floor, soaking into the pile of clean clothing I had deposited in the corner before climbing into bed. Moral of the story: don’t leave clean clothes on the bathroom floor.

19. I think I need to quit now. So long!

About One Year Ago: MY birth story.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The stuff of my dreams

Yesterday I drove out to a local orchard to pick up two bushels of Jonathan apples. While I was there I also bought five enormous butternut squashes—the woman went out to her garden and picked them while I waited. In the grocery store, butternuts sell for 99 cents a pound. These butternuts weighed a total of 62 pounds, so I should’ve paid 62 dollars for them, right? Wrong! I paid $67.29 for my total purchase, which besides the squash, included the apples, a fifty-pound sack of potatoes, several pounds of onions, some sweet potatoes, and a head of lettuce.

Why do I even bother growing butternuts? I’m not sure anymore. While our butternut squashes did do a lot better than last year’s squashes (that time around we didn’t get a single butternut, thanks to a fungus or bug or something disgusting like that), this year’s squashes didn’t do so hotsy-totsy. They have a tendency to start rotting before they fully ripen, and the ones that I did manage to harvest are smallish and rather pallid. I’m about ready to give up. I just can’t seem to get it right.

But I continue to give it my best shot. I clucked my tongue appreciatively at the child-sized squashes lying on the industrial farm scale and dutifully asked the orchard owners what type of squash they were, and I even jotted down the name (Waltham) as though I had every intention of attempting to plant them next year. ‘Cause I like to pretend that I know what I’m doing. Fanciful dreaming is all it is.


But my best kind of dreams, way better than the garden dreams, are my cooking dreams. And now that I have 62 pounds of orange, vitamin-rich flesh to play around with (that sounds rather sexual and I’m sorry if that bothers you, but the truth is, cooking is sensual), I have plenty of material for dreaming.

Normally we just eat our butternuts plain (our standard method involves boiling the squashes and then mashing and salting and baking them, with pats of butter and a sprinkling of brown sugar on top) or in pie (the kids’ off-the-chart favorite), and now I have a new recipe, thanks to one of my friends.


Linell—bless her!—gave me this roasted squash recipe. She is the same person who is responsible for introducing me to the Potatoes in Cream with Gruyere and the Walnut Balls, so when she emailed me this recipe, I knew I better sit up straight and grab a knife. I’m so glad I did.

This salad is the embodiment of autumn. It’s composed of fall vegetables—peppers, onions, and, of course, butternut squash—that are tossed in a wine-y sauce and then bolstered with red pepper, garlic, and a sprinkling of feta. The vegetables are roasted in the oven, a perfect remedy for those chilly-but-not-quite-cold-enough-to-light-the-woodstove days; when you make this salad, you warm not only your tummy, but the whole kitchen.


Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
Adapted from a recipe from my friend Linell.

This salad goes well with any meat dish, but I served it with curried lentils and brown rice. I didn’t, however, get a chance to eat any of the lentils and rice as I was too busy scarfing down multiple bowls of the squash salad.

Just so you know, the original recipe called for shallots instead of onions and a red chili pepper instead of red pepper flakes. Also, I used some crumbled blue cheese in place of the feta (because I didn’t have any feta on hand). I thought the blue cheese was delicious, but feta cheese might be more of a crowd pleaser. (And if you don’t like feta or blue cheese, feel free to leave them out. Mr. Handsome isn’t fond of either cheese and opted to eat his salad without them; he still thought the salad was mighty fine.)

This is an easy recipe to assemble and the oven does most of the work, however, there is the problem of peeling the squash. What is the best method for peeling a squash? I’m not sure, but I gave it my best shot with my vegetable peeler. It did the trick just fine, though it wasn’t exactly easy.

Leftovers are delicious.

1 medium (2-3 pound) butternut squash
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 medium onions
1 green (or red) sweet pepper
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
feta cheese

Cut the peeled onions into wedges or large chunks. Do the same with the green pepper.

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Toss it with the onions and pepper and spread it on a large baking sheet (that has sides). Liberally sprinkle the onions with salt and black pepper. Roast the onions in the oven for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

While the onions are roasting, peel the butternut squash, scoop out the seeds, and cut the squash into 1/2-inch pieces. When the fifteen minutes are up, add the squash to the baking sheet and stir briefly. Sprinkle on more salt and pepper, the red pepper flakes, and the thyme. Roast for another ten minutes. Add the minced garlic, stir, and roast for another 20 minutes, stirring every 5 or 10 minutes.

When the squash is fork-tender, remove it from the oven. Dump the vegetables into a serving bowl, season to taste, and sprinkle with feta cheese. Serve warm.

About One Year Ago: One Hot Chica, a photo documentary of Sweetsie's short-lived (and accidental) love affair with hot peppers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vacationing till it hurts

The weekend was lovely. The veranda was crowded with pillowed seats, an assortment of tables, decorated gourds, and a jungle of potted plants.


We lounged. We reclined. We milled. We lingered. We lollygagged.


We belonged in a renaissance painting, especially my cousin Zoe.


So much of the weekend consisted of eating, really good eating. Do you know how refreshing it is to eat my kind of food for an entire weekend, without the Children’s Complaining Choir wailing away in stereo? As it were, when each dish was placed before us, we started talking and admiring and poking and asking questions. And then, as soon as we took the first bite, we began to name the ingredients.


It went something like this. For the orange soup with sprigs of mint, we suggested carrot! orange! ginger! lemon! onion! For the potato salad: vinegar! capers!—what are capers anyway?—green peppercorns, I think—oh. For the salad dressing: goat cheese! lemon! olive oil! maple syrup!—no, not maple syrup, honey—oh.


That was just the meal that Dr. Perfection prepared (and only part of it). For the restaurant dinner: grilled watermelon, corn-molasses fritters, peppered brie, a cheese platter, scallop ravioli with provolone cheese, Swiss chard, and black sesame seeds. Chocolate flan, smoked pear-ricotta cheesecake with blue cheese drizzle, coconut-white chocolate ice cream comprised the dessert. There were cocktails and coffee, too.

There was only one hitch to the whole blissful affair—I sustained a mysterious back injury (and it was not due to the yoga, of that I am certain). After sleeping four lovely hours on a feather/air mattress, I awoke at 4:30 with intense back pain. I couldn’t lay down, so I got up, hobbled to the bathroom, and took 1000 mg of Tylenol. I gingerly walked downstairs to the first floor. I paced. I couldn’t move my arm. Was my shoulder out of socket? The grandfather clock ticked eerily. I tentatively tried to perch on the edge of the sofa. Success! I waited. My mother was sleeping in the sun room—I could hear her snoring. I didn’t know my mother snores. Do I snore?

I tried to rub my right shoulder with my left hand. I discovered I could lean back on the sofa. I found a “comfortable” position, chin elevated, but not too high, head slightly tilted to one side. Any variation hurt. Breathing too deeply hurt. Blinking hurt.

It was six o’clock. Was it too early to wake my mother? I cleared my throat. That didn’t hurt. I cleared it again. I waited some more. I breathed.

Surely Mom would be waking up soon. She’d come out and make her coffee and then I could tell her that I hurt. Not that she could really do anything about it.

Shortly after 6:30 and a few more throat clearings, Mom emerged. She made her coffee. She came and sat beside me and rubbed my shoulder for a good thirty minutes. Dr. Perfection woke up and gave me 400 mg of Motrin, and then another 400 mg. The medicine relaxed me enough that I could lay down, and Aunt Valerie and Cousin Amber kept me company as I lay on my bed of pain. After a bit, I kind of passed out.


When I woke up, the rest of the group had finished up with breakfast and were visiting, squeezing in the last few minutes of Veranda Lounging. Dr. P had given us all fancy (and very comfortable) flip-flops. We posed, snapped photos, and departed.


Back home, I glided stiffly through the house, slowly unpacked, half-heartedly helping with the evening chores. I took another 800 mg of Motrin and went to bed.

***

The next day—Monday, yesterday—I called my friend Shannon. She wasn’t home, so I left a message: He-ey. Just calling to check up. I’m back. Don’t remember your Monday schedule, but apparently you’re not there. Call me when you get back. But I should warn you, I can’t really talk on the phone. I injured myself vacationing—it’s such a strenuous activity, you know—and I have a hurt back and can’t hold the phone with my shoulder so it will have to be a shorter phone call. But anyway, call me. Bye.

When I’m bored, I like to leave long, annoying messages like that. It helps to pass the time.

A little later the phone rang. It was Shannon.

“You will not believe this,” she said pointedly. “Guess where I just was?”

I thought hard for two seconds and then gave it my best shot, “The chiropractor?”

“YES! Over the weekend I developed a knot behind my right shoulder blade and then it radiated up into my neck and I have been in so much pain and couldn’t sleep and can’t hold the telephone with my shoulder and then I went to the chiropractor and she said she’s seen about five people with this very same thing over the last couple weeks and it has a name! It’s called torta-something or other. She said not to stretch it, to treat it like it’s a smashed finger, and to use a simultaneous combo of ice and heat on the sore spot. She said it will go away in several days.”

Do I have a good friend or what? She doesn’t settle for simply feeling my pain, oh no! She goes to the extreme of experiencing the exact same thing, making a trip to the doctor, obtaining a diagnosis and treatment plan, and then filling me in on all the little details...for free! How totally cool is that? True, she did get the privilege of running around with a couple of acupuncture needles stuck in the back of her neck for 24 hours, but I’m okay with that. (My back is already feeling much better—could it be possible that we're so connected that somehow her needles are helping me?)

***

I'm relieved to know that my mysterious condition will not last forever and that I'll soon be able to scrub a toilet and pick up toys without wincing. Not that I really want to scrub toilets or pick up toys, of course.

But then again, I do want to do those things. You know what I mean?

The best part of vacationing is realizing that you wouldn't want to do it forever. It drives the lesson home even more when you sustain injuries while slacking off.

But even so, I'm already looking forward to next year's soiree.

I'll be sure to pack plenty of Motrin.

About One Year Ago: Cross Dressing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

To appease you

I’m leaving tomorrow morning for the annual soiree at my aunt’s house. My aunts, cousins, mother, sister-in-law, cousins-in-law, plus a couple mutual family friends, all of us, descend upon my aunt (a.k.a. Dr. Perfection) for a day and a half. The itinerary stays mostly the same from year to year: Saturday lunch on the veranda, made and served by Dr. P herself, an afternoon activity (last time it was bike riding and this year we’ve been told to bring our “yoga clothes”), quite probably a Neighborhood Garden Tour (in other words, a walk), dinner at a fancy-schmancy restaurant, a late Sunday morning breakfast revolving around breads from a local bakery (again on the veranda), and then send-off. During the down time, we talk and read magazines, and we’ve (or certain people who will remain anonymous) have been known to do make-overs, try on wigs, and stuff our bras with the decorative globes that sit atop the living room hearth. The whole shebang is entirely worth the four-hour drive there and back.


I realize that my weekend plans have the potential to arouse some feelings of jealousy in the breasts, both ample and otherwise, of my readers, and I sincerely hope that all of you have a Dr. Perfection in your life, or some version of her. However, if you have a ho-hum weekend looming in front of you, two days packed full with menial tasks, meals of leftovers, and churchy activities, then my sincere wishes aren’t going to cut it. But maybe these waffles will?


Cornmeal Whole Wheat Waffles
Adapted from the August 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine.

These are, quite possibly, the best waffles I have ever had. They are tender, light, moist (without being wet), and rich. But maybe even better than the taste (if that’s possible), is the super-easy method. There is no egg-separating or egg white-beating in the recipe, and everything gets mixed up the night before so that in the morning, when you wake up all bleary-eyed and dopey, you only need to add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda to the mixture before ladling the batter into the waffle iron. Heck, they’re easy enough to be weekday waffles!


I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for part of the white flour; next time I plan to replace all of the white flour with whole wheat. I imagine that a couple tablespoons of flax seed meal would be a nice addition.

These waffles are rich, there is no doubt about it. If that bothers you, instead of cutting back on the butter in the waffles (they really are perfect as is), just refrain from putting butter on top of the finished waffle.

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
½ cup warm water
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 stick butter, melted and cooled a little
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Stir together the yeast and warm water in a small bowl and set aside to rest for 5-10 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Add the flours, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Add the yeast mixture. Stir in the melted butter.

Cover the bowl with plastic (or a shower cap) and transfer to the refrigerator.

Go to bed.

Wake up.

Heat up the waffle iron(s). Add the quarter teaspoon of baking soda and whisk well.

Make waffles.

Serves about four people.

Note: I am submitting this recipe to Wild Yeast Spottings.

About One Year Ago: Hard knocks (don't click on the link if the sight of blood makes you turn green and dry heave).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A new day dawning

Attention, please!

WE NOW HAVE HIGH SPEED INTERNET AT OUR HOUSE!!!

Yes, after four long years of dial-up, of hours upon hours spent waiting for pages to load, of getting booted off the web at random and inopportune times, of tears and swearing and intense exasperation and frustration, we are connected.

Two men came to the house yesterday (Miss Beccaboo* was worried that the one looked too young to be holding a job—“he looks like a teenager!”—and asked me if she could ask him how old he was—I said maybe not this time) and hooked us up to the big wide wonderful web. I immediately called several people WHILE doing stuff online. I’m telling you, my stomach felt twittery-jittery all day long. And it still does.

This change comes after an exceptionally bad spell with Juno, an evil four-lettered word if there ever was one, (I am such a traitor, using the company for ten years and then tossing it as far as I can throw it at my earliest possible convenience), in which I was reduced to a pile of blubbering snot and left home (for only several hours) in search of finding some connection, a connection, any connection. On my second stop (the first one produced more snot) I found it, along with a fabulous live band and lots of decaf coffee. And then, two days later, those glorious men came to my house and fixed my problem once and for all. (We didn’t do it before because there was some miscommunication, or lack of communication on part of the company that installed the new tower a whole freakin’ six months ago. Not until this past Monday did we even know we had this current option.)

We’ve been basking in our new freedom, watching youtube (how a fly takes off, the young drummer), listening to NPR, looking up photos, and actually clicking on the links that people include in their blogs.

And so now that I can (and I could before, too, but now it’s SO much easier), I’m going to pass on some links to you. These are all worthwhile reads—I’m not giving you this stuff just for the heck of it—so, if you have the time or the interest, please do take a look.

The question of socialization? Pioneer Woman addresses it, by way of Mrs. G, on her homeschooling blog. I find it refreshing when people are candid (and she manages to be polite, too) about this question that plagues all homeschoolers (or rather, plagues not the homeschoolers, but the non-homeschoolers around them).

Do your kids fight all the time? If not, don’t tell me. If they do, go read this little post (and its links) from The More, The Messier, one mother-of-six’s blog. It’s glorious, I tell you! The sweet words are balm for the battle-weary soul.

And finally, one mother's perspective on why she stays home. She makes a very good point.

*A commentor referred to Miss Becca Boo as "Miss Beccaboo" and I much prefer the later name. Don’t know why I never thought of that myself. Ach, vell, the change shall be duly made.

About One Year Ago: Greek Pasta Salad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The fix

Two nights ago I made the mistake of eating coffee ice cream before going to bed. The eating was not a mistake; the timing of it was. For the next several hours, I slipped in and out of the thin sleep of a caffeine overdose till one in the morning when I finally fell into a deeper sleep. Upon waking the next morning I resolved to not do anything so stupid again, or at least for a very long time (I made the same resolution multiple times between 10 pm and 1 am, but when I woke up that morning, I knew that I really, really meant it). And I also resolved to eat more of that ice cream ASAP. So yesterday afternoon when Mr. Handsome was leaving to go pick up Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo from Venture Club, I begged him to take Sweetsie and The Baby Nickel along for the ride. I wanted to have the house free of kids so that I could fix my bowl of ice cream and then eat it in peace.


The only problem was that The Baby Nickel was burning up with a fever and curled up in a chair. When Mr. Handsome asked him if he wanted to go along, Nickel just laid there, his eyes searing holes in his head. I pleaded with Mr. Handsome, “Just take him! He’ll be fine.” But Mr. Handsome said no—he was obviously too sick. I looked at my little boy and said to him sternly, “Then if you stay here, you can’t bother me. I’m working.”

I’ll do anything for five minutes peace...and a bowl of ice cream. Sad, but true.

Mr. Handsome and Sweetsie went out to the car, I turned back to my work (I really was working; there was no ice cream in sight...yet), and then I heard some stirrings. I looked up and there was the Baby Nickel, wobbling and shaking, but standing upright. “Do you want to go with them?” I asked hopefully. He nodded woozily. Oh joy! I hustled him out the door and called to Mr. Handsome, “He changed his mind! He’s coming with you!”

And then I rushed back inside and started fixing my fix.

It wasn’t just coffee ice cream I was eating—it was a bunch of other stuff with coffee ice cream for the base. I got the idea for this ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery (just as often I accidentally call the place “Stone Cold Creamery,” which reminds me of being dead or high on pot, and I’ve never been either, though I just realized that I do get high on ice cream, so maybe there is a correlation after all). They have some fancy name for this concoction that I can’t remember now, so I’ll just call it Coffee Fix Ice Cream. I fix it and it fixes me. It’s a pretty good deal.


Coffee Fix Ice Cream

The ice cream is the star player in this dish, so don’t skimp; however, the caramel and peanut butter are the highlights, and while it’s hard to exercise restraint when doling out these condiments, you really must. (If you mess up and add too much, you can always throw in more ice cream.)

If you want the brownie to stay in nice little chunks and not get crumbly, then freeze it first.

coffee ice cream
creamy peanut butter
a brownie
caramel sauce


Put the brownie in the bottom of the bowl and break it up with a fork.


Add several large scoops of coffee ice cream.


Smear one to two tablespoons of peanut butter over the ice cream.


Drizzle one to two tablespoons of caramel syrup over everything.


Using a combination of stirring utensils and fingers, mash the mixture together.


Divide the ice cream between bowls (or, if you are eating solo, store the extra ice cream in a plastic container and freeze for another time), and enjoy.

Serves two lucky-ducky people.


About One Year Ago: A gazillion things, including Ricotta Cheese and Pesto Torte.

Friday, September 11, 2009

For hot chocolate and donuts

Last night we had an impromptu back-to-school night. This is not like me. I’m not usually very impromptu, and we don’t celebrate back-to-school in our family because of the obvious—we don’t go to school. Besides, I don’t like to think of our studies as having a beginning or an end—it feels too un-holistic for my liking. (And yes, I realize that my strident idealism borders on obnoxiousness, but I normally don’t talk about it, except for here. My blog is my airing grounds for all irritating obsessions. Do forgive me. In real life I do a fairly decent job of holding my tongue. I think.) And furthermore, we have already started some of our studies—the impression of a cut-and-dried beginning was just a fabrication for the sake of simplicity.


Anyway! So at dinner I told Mr. Handsome that I was going to take the two older kids into town to go to the library after supper and he shocked me by responding, “Can I come, too?” I did a quick mental calculation: I would have to help with the supper clean-up, get four kids spiffed up and out the door instead of two, my little hubby chore wish list (clean out the back hall, finish unpacking the clothes that are strewn about our bedroom floor, put away some of the canning equipment that is littering the downstairs bedroom) would remain untouched, and I would have the added stress of The Baby Nickel in the library. I smiled across the table at Mr. Handsome and said, “Of course!” (And then I laid down strict guidelines and expectations for how we would divide and conquer.) And we were off.

At the library we loaded my giant LL Bean tote bag, and then when that was full, our arms, with books, videos, books on tape, and magazines. On the way back to the parking garage, I ordered the kids to walk in single-file, tallest to shortest (and then with me bringing up the rear), “like baby ducks.” They all started quacking, and Mr. Handsome, who was in the lead, started flapping his arms and waggling his head. Just for the record, a family of human ducks can make a respectable amount of noise in a large, echo-y parking garage.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a gas station and I went inside to pick up a dozen donuts. When I came back out, the large box in my hand, the kids exploded with such rollicking excitement that the car wiggled from side to side.


Back home they readied themselves for bed while I made a pot of hot chocolate (Mr. Handsome spiked the adult mugs with Baileys), and then I cut an assortment of donuts into quarters and divvied them out among four little plates. The kids ate and slurped until I told them they couldn’t have any more, and then they brushed teeth and piled onto the sofas with books. We all read together for a bit before hauling ourselves upstairs and tucking each other into bed.

And thus begins a new school year.

Hot Chocolate

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 slightly rounded tablespoons sugar
a little bit of water
2 cups milk
a pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, whisk together the cocoa and sugar. Add a little bit of water till you have a thick sauce.

Heat the chocolate sauce, stirring steadily, until it boils. (Boiling the mixture ensures that the final product will be creamy smooth, not grainy.) Slowly add the milk, whisking all the while. When the hot chocolate is hot enough for you (don’t boil it), remove the pan from the heat and add the salt and vanilla. Stir one more time before pouring the chocolate into mugs.

Serves two.

About One Year Ago: Family Photo Shoot. The picture of us up there in the right hand corner of the blog is one year old. I need to get a new picture up there...sometime.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On being green, and other ho-hum matters

It’s 6:30 in the morning and it’s dark outside. I’m a little bit shocked and a little bit excited at what this means: summer is over and winter is coming. I don’t feel like we even had a real summer. I only counted two hot spells, a few brief days when it was hot enough for me to wish for cooler weather, but the rest of the time was mostly sweat-free.

After August’s canning crescendo, I’m done with the garden. I’m ignoring the red raspberries, the hugely overgrown basil bushes, the few good tomatoes that are co-existing with the blighted ones. While we were in NY, the neighbor’s horses got into our property and into the barn and pooped on the potatoes that were curing on the ground and I don’t even care. That’s how I feel about the garden in September.

(I did plant some fall broccoli and lettuce, I will check on the butternuts, we harvested the dried beans, and I may turn the dried heirloom corn into cornmeal, but I’m not making any promises.)

I’m still not back into the swing of things even though we’re four days back in the land of scheduled bedtimes, chores, simple, mostly-vegetarian fare, and no multitudes of same-age cousins. I’m doing a round of sourdough baking, but aside from that, I’m not cooking ... yet; this cool weather is giving me visions of chilis and donuts and squash pies, so I expect I’ll step into the culinary ring any day now.

Yesterday I sat down and went through the kids’ school books, trying to pull together some semblance of A Plan for the upcoming academic year. I already informed Yo-Yo (last year, last week, and again yesterday) that this year, his fourth grade year, is going to be a big year for him. Since he has mastered the art of reading, we are going to delve into some more extensive work such as writing and arithmetic. Miss Becca Boo is begging to catch up to Yo-Yo in math (she spent a good deal of time in the swivel chair yesterday, studying a stack of addition cards and using the face clock to keep her nines and sixes straight and to help with the counting, all of her own volition) and wants to learn to read. Sweetsie can not wait to read, so I have to deal with her, too. My teaching workload is growing.

I used to say that homeschooling wasn’t any big deal (there’s that infamous line of mine), that it didn’t take much time or effort and yadda-ya-ya, but that was then and this is now and now I know differently. It may still be simple and enjoyable (on the good days), but it sure takes a lot of attention on my part. Which, like I said, can be fun, but it’s definitely not mindless.

Last night I spent an hour ordering some workbooks on line (I didn’t order that much stuff, it just takes a long time for my computer to load pages), and it’s (mostly) all because of my sister-in-law Sarah. One NY afternoon, Sarah hoisted a giant canvas tote bag in my general direction and said, “Here. If you get bored, you can look through our homeschool stuff.” So I did—both the bored and the looking parts—and I found some gems of schoolbooks that I’m now ordering (once I get Sarah to email me the titles since I was too lazy to copy them down at that moment). Sarah has a knack for inspiring me.

She also is the reason that I am becoming green.

With envy.

Over a camera.

I’ve always admired Sarah’s photography skills and that casual professional look she sports so effortlessly, but then I sat down with her one afternoon to scroll through the pictures she had taken thus far, and I was totally blown away. The pictures were crystal clear, even the long-distance shots—beyond anything I could ever dream of doing with my dear little camera. And then on Sunday afternoon when we were all lounging about in the yard, she casually handed me her camera and said magnanimously, “You can play around with it if you want.” I snapped a few shots of the boys climbing on the old tractor and promptly got a ginormous case of the green gimmies. In fact, the camera lust was so completely unnerving that I only snapped a few glorious pictures before setting the sexy black box down in the grass between us. If I couldn’t have it, I couldn’t bear to handle it. Abstinence was clearly the only option.

I don’t usually feel this way about things. I think some things are cool, I like other things, and some I even jot down on a list to buy someday, but this flat-out carnal desire for a material object is rare for me. Is this how people feel about cars or new shoes or designer jeans? If so, my capacity for compassion has just been expanded.

Love,
Pollyanna

PS. Don’t worry about me—I’ll get over my case of the green gimmies in no time at all. Or else I’ll convince Mr. Handsome to buy a certain something for my birthday—if I tell him that he is then released from any gift-giving duties for the next couple years, he just might do it...

About One Year Ago: Indian Chicken and Rice, your choice of brown or white.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The big night

The wedding, the reason we all traveled to New York in the first place, was a beautiful affair.


Brian and Kara went out of their way to make their guests comfortable. There was the cocktail hour, live music, a fabulous DJ, a bounce house, potted orchids for the centerpieces (I got to bring one home!), movies for the kids, a cotton candy machine, and dancing, dancing, and more dancing.



While the whole event was a delightful experience, the highlight of the night (for me) was Miss Becca Boo. We have never gone to a wedding of this magnitude (ie, multiple forks, wine glasses, loud music and dancing, and servers snaking through the crowd bearing platters of carrot risotto balls and skewered lumps of mozzarella, tomato and onion), and to my surprise, she was in her element.

Even before we left the house, she was starting to act the part, pretending to demurely smoke a lollipop while she waited for the rest of us to finish dressing.


At the cocktail hour, she was thrilled with the Shirley Temples.




At the dinner, she sampled my wine and champagne (and then disdainfully screwed up her nose, thankfully), sighed happily over the salad of greens, blue cheese and walnuts, and snuggled up close to Uncle Brian when he visited our table.


When it came time to dance, she hit the floor and danced for two hours. She (and her cousins and everyone else) spun and boogied and whirled, pure joy lighting her face. Eventually she noticed that people were getting more drinks over at the bar, and after asking me for permission, she went over all by her lonesome, her little head barely reaching the top of the bar, and ordered herself another Shirley Temple. (I did limit her to only one cone of cotton candy, though.) At dessert time, she approached the chef in search of a cup of decaf coffee, and the chef went out of her way to fix Miss Becca Boo up with cream and two packets of sugar.


As Mr. Handsome and I watched her, we shook our heads in amazed disbelief. This flamboyant and poised child came from us? What an absolute hoot.

As for the rest of the children: Yo-Yo and Sweetsie were more reserved, eschewing the dance floor and instead bouncing in the jump house and watching movies (Yo-Yo) and hanging out with us (Sweetsie). But the Baby Nickel had more fun than I thought he would. He gorged on goldfish, his gourmet food of choice,


simultaneously guzzled two Shirley Temples,


was my favorite dance partner (though he also sought out other partners when he got bored with me—his Aunt Rachel, baby cousin Elliot, and the whirling girl cousins), and finally—finally!—collapsed in a heap.



Other posts on Miss Becca Boo: The Smashed Finger and On Being A Late Reader.

About One Year Ago: Pink Jelly Shoes, Turtle Plants, and Fairy Rings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A quick rundown

Another night of not enough sleep, another cup of coffee, another Aleve, another gorgeous day. Here I am.

So how about a rundown of the week’s events thus far? In pictures? I’ve already taken right around 385 photos, most of which turned out fuzzy, but I’ve just spent the last while working in Picasa, picking out the most decent ones to share.


Just a little background and some demographics before I dive in headfirst. Mr. Handsome is the fifth of nine children, seven boys and two girls. We are all (except Brother Tom and his family and another brother-in-law) congregating at the home place for Uncle Brian’s wedding, and for The Grand Patriarch’s retirement party/69th birthday. Siblings have traveled from as far as Nevada, California, Oregon, Mississippi, and Hong Kong for the occasion. There are twenty-three grandchildren (8 boys and 15 girls) between the ages of 4 months and 14 years—only two (Uncle Tom’s two little boys) weren’t able to make it.

Here's what we've been doing...

Splitting Wood




Mr. Handsome, Uncle Rob, and Yo-Yo

Washing The Dog


The Grand Patriarch

Climbing Trees


Charlie, Abby's legs, Miss Becca Boo

Building With Legos



Swinging


Goofing Off

In an spasmodic moment, Mr. Handsome attempted to twirl a plastic tube Kung-fu style. He whacked himself in the elbow.


It was impressive, all right.


He turned tail and hid in the barn. When he emerged from hiding, he was considerably subdued.


He did, however, strike a pose, sans twirling:


Learning To Ride A Bike


The Baby Nickel, at the ripe old age of three-and-a-half, has learned to ride a two-wheeler!


Look at him go!


Oops, not into the flowerbed, honey boy.


Building A Dam In The Creek












Swimming At Uncle Dan’s House

...in 65 degree weather.


"You get in."


"No, you."


"No, you!"



Camera Snapping Galore


Aunt Kate:


Aunt Kate and Aunt Sarah:


Aunt Sarah scaling great heights (not really) in search of the best angle:


And she finds them, too.


The Party

The Birthday/Retirement Party came complete with a grill fire...


cake (and crazy amounts of delicious food)...


and a budding drama troupe.


There was something about galloping horses...


and pistol-toting fairy godmothers and finding a perfect fit for the golden spur.


The Birthday Boy


Happy Birthday, Grandpa Jack!

Other (picture-less but still note-worthy) things we’ve been doing: the sisters and sisters-in-law went out for dinner; the brothers played paintball (last night) and golf (today); clothes shopping. On the agenda for today: a park and the rehearsal dinner. Tomorrow, the wedding.

About One Year Ago: Say Cheese! (Why I don't like taking family pictures.)