Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a radio interview, plus a food fight

Several months ago, I was invited to sit in a teensy-tiny padded cubicle and talk into a plate-sized microphone that was smashed up against my face. It was thrilling—so thrilling, in fact, that I kept waving my arms around and smacking my thighs every time I made a point. Finally, the tech dude stuck his head inside and said, “What is that noise?” So I sat on my hands, but they still kept escaping and slapping.

If you want to hear what I said, go here. (You get bonus points if you hear me smacking myself.) They worked hard to make me sound coherent (cutting back my 30+ pages [!] of transcript to a mere two or three) and for that I am indebted. (For all the info, go here.)


Monday morning, I spoke into another (smaller) fancy mic, but I’ll tell you about it in a few days when it airs.


I never did tell you what I thought about Forks Over Knives.

Confession: I waited to publish the post until after seeing the movie. I was afraid I might have to eat crow, and while crow is a staple of my diet, I’d rather not eat it in front of the whole wide world. (It’s rude to eat in front of people.) (Hold on a sec! Does this mean that I wouldn't have to eat any more crow if I became vegan?!) I made a few tweaks after I watched the movie, but they weren’t substantive.

What I learned:

*Eating plants is awesome for me and I should do it more often. Hallelujah and pass the kale.

*The movie’s vegan rah-rah bandwagon didn’t hold much water for me, mostly because they skated over inconvenient information, such as: a)  not every one who eats meat and dairy pigs out on it, b) there are lots of very healthy cultures in which the people eat dairy and meat, and c) the incredible health benefits of fish.

*The message to eat more vegetables is an excellent one, but it would’ve been strengthened considerably if they had limited their variables. When you take sick people, people who are gorging on fast food and eating whatever they want, and cut out all sugar, fat, and animal products, push them exercise, and pump them full of collards, there are going to be huge and fabulous benefits. And that’s wonderful! But there’s too much going on in those situations to draw a clean conclusion.

An aside: One of our foster daughters was obese. Shortly after she came to us, I had to take her to see a nutritionist. Her blood sugar numbers (or whatever they’re called) were through the roof. Six weeks later (or whenever it was), when I took her back for a follow-up, she had lost ten pounds and her sugar numbers had dropped drastically (so did the nutritionist’s jaw). This could be because she went from drinking only soda to drinking only water or because we were in the middle of salad season or because she wasn’t lounging around in front of a TV or because she was more emotionally stable and secure or because we were going for walks together, etc. My point is, there were a lot of changes happening simultaneously. End of aside.


I don’t jump on bandwagons but my husband does. Or at least, he likes to try. Usually, he gets his feet stuck in the wheel spokes and falls on his face.

When we started watching Forks Over Knives, I turned to him and said, “You’re totally going to buy this movie, you know.”

And I was right. He said things like, “So why don’t we try eating a plant based diet? Maybe it would make a big difference. What do you think? Huh? Huh? Huh?”

When I didn't bite, he started hitting lower. “I bet you couldn’t do it! You couldn’t give up all that butter! You cook with all that dairy and that's why my stomach hurts all the time. Plus, our grocery bill would be much lower if you didn’t buy so much butter.”

So not only do I have no will-power, but I'm also hurting my beloved with my cooking and destroying the family financial situation. All because of some butter. Wow.

It drives me nuts when he starts acting all better-than-thou, as though it’s me shoveling the pizza and buttered toast and ice cream down his throat. But I haven’t been married to him for fifteen years for nothing. I know how to play his game, oh boy, do I ever.

“Fine,” I said, smiling widely. “I’ll make a nice big pot of oatmeal for breakfast just for you”—he hates oatmeal—“and I’ll make sure there will be lots of lentils”—he hates lentils—“and sauteed spinach”—again, hate—“and brown rice.”

The next morning, he made a big show of eating his yummy oatmeal with berries, two big bowlfuls. He determinedly ate the lemony lentil soup, the brown rice, the spinach, the black beans, the chickpea peanut butter soup. He even ate his Sunday evening popcorn minus the butter. For that he wore his very best brave face, but, just a secret between you and me, it was a very miserable brave face.

This morning, I noticed he chose granola over the leftover oatmeal in the fridge. I don't think he'll last much longer.

Darn. Cooked oatmeal is so easy.

"Ouch. I think I just shot myself in the foot. Again."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

rise and fall

For two days last week, my son went to work with my husband.

If you take a boy to a job site, he’s going to need to build something, right? It’s just logical.

My husband had brought home some of the scrap lumber from the house they were tearing down, so my son decided to build a fort (of course).

For the next couple days, he worked his tail off. He had big plans. Two stories, maybe three.

But after the first day, my husband came home and put a limit on the tower—no more than two stories.

Look at my husband’s posture in that picture. Arms crossed, head bowed. It does him in, all these slapped-up forts.

“When I was his age, I built a fort, too,” he told me later. “And you know how long it lasted? Twenty-five years! They had to use a tractor to pull it out of the tree!”

It’s legendary, that club/tree house is. It had bunk beds, a front and back porch, and a glass window. It was wired and insulated and sturdy as all get out.

“He’s having fun,” I said. “He’s just a kid.”

“He has no plan! He never measures anything!” my husband wailed.

“He’s not you,” I said. “And that’s okay.”

“He did use cross-bracing, though,” my husband said, brightening slightly. “He must be learning something.”

I liked the fort well enough. It kept the kids busy and out of my hair.

They climbed over the framework like a pack of monkeys, and I realized that the jungle gym I’ve always wanted my husband to build is entirely unnecessary. The kids are old enough to build their own jungle gyms.

Within a couple days, the fort was 16-feet high.

There is a shift that takes place when your kids gain the skills to construct monumental forts that reach truly frightening heights. I’m not exactly sure what to do with their newfound ability to threaten their physical well-being.

What if one of them falls and gets hurt? It’s not like injuries never happen.

So we set limits. My husband gave them the two-story limit, and he made them clean the old, poking-out nails out of the wood.

I yelled sage advice such as, You better not fall! I don’t want to spend my afternoon in the ER!” and, Broken bones hurt! You really don’t want to get one! and, You only have two eyes so they’re kind of important! And then I went back in the house and avoided looking out the windows.

And then the fort fell over.

It started to fall while the two oldest kids were working in it. When they recount the adventure, their eyes light up and their words hurry together. They make lots of sound effects. “This huge gust of wind came [sound effect] and there was this really loud [sound effect] and the fort started to tilt [sound effect], and I yelled, ‘It’s falling! Get out now!’ and we jumped out of there as fast as we could, and man!”

And so another fort bites the dust.

The end.

Update: Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids, showcased this post on her blog!

This same time, years previous: buttery brown sugar syrup and cinnamon molasses syrup

Monday, February 27, 2012

the quotidian (2.27.12)

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

*morning sunlight through tired curtains
*a breakfast picnic
*the secret dirty life of my pots and pans
*look at that! They built me a cake! Black walnuts, mud, wild onions, poison (?) berries, and grass, mm-mm good
*don't let the bare toes and lack of snow fool you—it really is winter, SEE THE SLED?
*showing off Brownie to a little visitor: you can read more about it here
*a sweet present from my hubby: there's now a donut truck hanging out around the north end of town! Homemade donuts! With real potatoes in the dough! (or so I hear)
*Lucky Peach, the last part of my birthday present: the recipes are sparse (and weird), and the writing is irreverent (and r-rated) and informative and there's lots of it—I'm loving it
*multitasking, and then the magazine slipped and nearly fell into the pot of macaroni
*in his father's boots: two days on the job and all sorts of pride puffed
*playing with problems: he begs for math lessons (is it awful that my children have to beg to be allowed to learn?)
*my girlfriend came for lunch and I fed her some under-baked berry cobbler
*making brownies
*a bubbly, chemical-laden treat: chocolate straws (and is it awful that I give my kids chemicals for fun?)
*charwoman diva

This same time, years previous: for my daughter, butterscotch ice cream, creamy garlic soup (I want this right now), what I said

Friday, February 24, 2012


Recently, both a friend and a family member recommended I watch Forks Over Knives. The documentary is all the rage, I gather, but the premise—that a plant-based (i.e. vegan) diet is The Way—seemed a little off-kilter. So I read the reviews, talked about it to a few people, and added the movie to my queue. But before watching the movie (perhaps we’ll watch it tonight?), I Googled “criticism for Forks Over Knives.” Oh boy. Apparently I wasn't the only one with questions. And then there was criticism for the criticism, but of course. It was a good old-fashioned food fight, but with data and pixels instead of spoons and mashed potatoes.

So I exchanged emails with family and friends, made more phone calls, and read more reviews. But when I sat down to write out my thoughts on the matter and how it is that I don’t jump on board all these health-food bandwagons—because how could I since there are about a million of them, and besides, I’d probably get a heart attack from all that jumping around—I realized that saying that made me sound like an ignorant fool because how dare I turn up my nose at healthy eating!

So I stopped writing and read more reviews and called my mom and called my husband and called my friend. When I get writer’s constipation, the solution is to talk it out, thanks heavens for phones and the people at the other end of them (though a stuffed animal propped up at the other end of the couch works okay in a pinch).

And then I tried to write again.

I’ve decided that what I have to say is stupid and pointless because Barbara Kingsolver has said it all already and I’m not nearly as eloquent as she is, but I’m getting a little bored with writing about bickering kids and yarn, so here goes.

Our society is up to its eyeballs in Dietary Rules of Law—Atkins! Raw! Local! South Beach! Zone! Low-calorie! Blood type! Macrobiotic! Organic! Fat-free! Whole Grain!—so that half the time we have no clue which way is up. I have a hunch that ours is a first-world problem, this figuring out what to eat. It’s a problem born of our over-abundance, endless opportunities, and an over-inflated sense of self-importance and control. And since we lack a connection to our food sources and can get away with ignoring the ebb and flow of the seasons, we resort to self-imposed food laws for parameters.

These laws come at us via books, movies, magazines, blogs, etc, all of which are full of pulpit-pounding experts eagerly trying to enlighten us as to how we’re slowing killing ourselves by eating—pick one—baked potatoes, butter, scrambled eggs, chocolate chip cookies, cooked spinach, raw milk, and without chopsticks.

I admit it stresses me out a little, because being told that I’M KILLING MYSELF WITH MY LUNCH is slightly stressful.

But back to this movie (which I haven’t seen yet so this is kind of ridiculous). I hear that these experts recommend a diet packed full with fresh vegetables. This sounds incredibly noble and good and right, but aren’t there other problems (i.e. fossil fuels) associated with shipping in out-of-season veggies and fruits? (But hey, with 70 degree temps in February, we may soon be able to grow kale year round!) Nothing stands in isolation—there are so many factors to take into consideration when discussing health and well-being. And eating a certain way to solve all our problems has problems of its own.

I know for a fact that I don’t have all the answers, and I have a hunch that no one else does either. (On both accounts, I'm sorry.) There are as many ways to eat as there are to raise kids as there are to grow food as there are to become educated as there are to make art, etc. and thank goodness. This fabulous variety is what makes the world beautiful and scary and exhilarating.

And this is the reason I’m hesitant to jump on bandwagons (except for ones I build myself).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a movie I need to watch.

This same time, years previous: cream scones, Molly's Marmalade Cake, foods I've never told you about, part three

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

a quiet day on the ranch

My husband and I were up too late planning a surprise for the children, and then I couldn’t sleep because I kept dreaming about the surprise. Also, I couldn’t sleep because a wicked fever blister was in the process of breaking out on my lip. I kept bumping it in my sleep, jolting myself awake with pain every single time, and then I started having nightmarish visions in which my whole face turned into one violent blister. So I woke up tired.

But not cranky tired, like how I woke up yesterday morning, thanks to a certain little boy who climbed into bed with me while I was in the middle of a fabulous dream, a dream in which I discovered that the local liquor store had a pie shop in the back—(I was stunned and thrilled and then all day long, when I was fully awake, I kept musing over this fascinating revelation) (they had home canned green beans, too)—and woke me up. He was chattering to himself under his breath, and when I overheard, “I love waking up to birds singing,” my irritation almost melted, but it wasn't until I went downstairs, stomped around while making my coffee, lectured my little bird-loving angel, and barked at my husband several times, only then was I finally able to get over my rude awakening.

I have no idea how I survived a decade of interrupted sleep. It must’ve been the oxytocin.

My husband took my son to work with him this morning. My husband (and fellow workers) are tearing down a house that burned, getting ready to rebuild, and it’s the sort of thing that my son can actually help out with. He wore my husband’s carhartt jacket and work boots. The jacket was a little big; the boots fit.

The remaining children and I ate our granola and then huddled around the fire. I read a bunch of books to them, and they worked on their math problems (one child suffered an extended hissy fit), and I knitted.

I started another hat yesterday morning. I got the whole thing going all by myself, no twisting or dropped stitches (yet). I am immensely satisfied. I have high hopes of not being A Lost Knitting Cause.

While the kids went upstairs to play and fight (they never did figure out which), I took notes on potential Kitchen Chronicles, planned a few meals, scrubbed potatoes, and got some food—chicken broth, spinach, corn—out of the freezer to thaw.

Lunch was sandwiches and applesauce. There’s nothing sweet in the house, so I had my afternoon coffee all by itself.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about this oatmeal that I’ve been eating most mornings (though not today—today was granola, remember?), but I never know what to say about it so I don’t say anything. Which isn’t really fair because there’s a good chance you might enjoy it as much as I do, even though it's low-key, like my morning.

I already have a steel-cut oatmeal recipe in the index but this one is better. The oats get toasted in butter, which adds all sorts of flavor, and I cut back on the water, eliminating any hint of gummy. The end result is an oatmeal that is chewy and nutty, and utterly satisfying.

Toasted Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Inspired by Sarah of Recipes for a Postmodern Planet and Kim Boyce, author of Good to the Grain

Nuts, berries, and maple sugar are optional, but lovely.

1 cup steel-cut oats
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups water
½ teaspoon salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the oats and stir for several minutes, or until the oats are fragrant and a couple shades darker. Add the water and salt and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and stir well before reducing the heat to low and lidding the pan. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the oats are chewy-tender.

This same time, years previous: the case of the whomping shovel

Monday, February 20, 2012

the quotidian (2.20.12)

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

*sunbathing: they were all kicked out of the house while I had my writing group, so they spread out the beach towels, played card games, and got sunburned
*rock-a-bye baby
*a rag swing
*braids: she's finally letting me do something with her hair! Now if I could just convince her to let me trim it...
*cat on chair
*chocolate chip cookies
*Calvin and Hobbs and some afternoon zzzs
*completed and imperfect: I have a lot to learn
*he made us tea and then shrink-wrapped it so it would stay warm
*caramelized sprouts: I ate them with lots of lemon, feta, and some brown rice
*Valentine's Day sweetness, savored

This same time, years previous: homemade Twix bars, dulce de leche coffee, blueberry cornmeal muffins, the morning after

Saturday, February 18, 2012

digging the ruffles

Written on Friday, posted on Saturday. Because I'm confusing that way.

When I got up this morning, I put on something other than a t-shirt, fleece, and my one-and-only pair of everyday jeans.

I attribute my ruffles to the fact that it’s Friday and I don’t have nine kids in my house, and to my current infatuation with Downton Abbey. Actually, “infatuation” might be a little strong. I’m enjoying the show a good deal—it’s so calm and, and ... stately—but I’m not completely hooked. Or maybe I am and I just don’t know it? My husband refuses to watch it with me. The whole lord and servant thing makes him mad.

About the nine kids thing—well, this was us at supper last night.

We had beans and rice and all the fixings (contrary to all appearances, there was food to eat—I made plates-to-order in the kitchen in hopes of keeping the mess to a minimum) and a dessert bar—cake, two kinds of cookies, and fresh rhubarb pie, courtesy of my sister-in-law.

Afterwards, my husband and I blitzed the house while two of the girls washed dishes, kids got baths, and the baby entertained any of the kids that weren’t bathing or washing dishes.

When my husband cleans, capsized chairs are the norm. In fact, I've gotten so used to his methods that I don't feel a house is clean unless the furniture has been flipped upside down and shaken.

By 7:30, the house was shipshape and all the kids ran off to play. I sat down in the rocker, someone plopped the baby in my lap, and she promptly conked out. I sniffed her head, held her pudgy hands, and visited with the other adult, until we were interrupted by a push-up competition (I did not participate), at which point everything got loud and chaotic and then the parents came to collect their progeny and we tossed our kids in bed, the end.

But backing up the boat a leedle farther... The night before (Wednesday night, for those of you keeping track), three of the extra kids spent the night. It was a night from hell. The littlest child woke up at 1:30 with the homesick blues. Over the course of the next hour and a half, he went from sniffles to full-blown gut-wrenching, eardrum-piercing howls. Two of the other kids woke up and tried to help out, all to no avail. We finally put Sad Boy on the floor in our room and shut the door. My husband lay down with him, but it wasn’t until the kid was sobbing at the top of his lungs that I finally turn on the light and told him sternly that he could not cry like that because he would wake the other kids. And then he went to sleep.

Lesson learned: zero tolerance for homesickness works. Perhaps?

Except that the torture wasn't over yet because we had to keep the light on, and I couldn't sleep very well with my retinas getting scorched and all. Also, I felt disoriented because my husband’s feet were where his head should be since he was sleeping upside down in order to be closer to Sad Boy. Not that a big man head hanging over the foot of the bed would actually be a comfort.

At 4:30, when I realized the kid was sleeping—hallelujah!—I gingerly switched off the light. But just when I was nodding off—I do not believe this!—he started up again with the sniffling so I had to turn the light on again. My poor eyeballs.

In the morning, phrases from Clarence’s speech (better yet, watch it) kept rolling through my head. The words were indecipherable, more like moanings with a cadence, but it was Clarence’s voice in my head, for sure. I felt his anguished presence.

O, I have passed a miserable night,
So full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such night
Though 'twere to buy a world of happy days--
So full of dismal terror was the time.


All that to say, I’m really digging today’s leggings and ruffles and quiet house.

This same time, years previous: coconut pudding, an open letter to Isaiah, I don't feel much like writing