Thursday, May 28, 2015

an evening together

Late Sunday afternoon, my whole family—or those of us who are living on our local “commune” (we missed you, Little Bro et al!)—got together for a doggy roast.

We sat in the shade of the giant evergreens on the grassy hill in my brother's backyard, and roasted hot dogs and ate not-quite-cooked-all-the-way potato salad (from yours truly) and spinach salad and weird pickles (again, from me). Along with everything else she contributed, my sister-in-law cracked open a jar of pickled onions with cilantro that totally rocked my dog. Why have I not done this before? And there was ice cream, too, of course.

We lolled about on our blankets and teetering-over lawn chairs and talked about mortgages and dentists and retirement accounts (we're an exciting bunch) while the kids blew bubbles, rode trikes and bikes, bugged us, picked peas from the garden, and jumped over bushes they weren't supposed to jump over.

My older son hung out with the adults the entire time, but my older daughter disappeared into the car with a book. After a while I called her back over and gave her orders to “be sociable.” She complied for a bit, but soon sidled off to read again. Does this mean she's officially a bookworm? I think yes.

Just after sunset, we hurried home to do the first strawberry picking. I hulled the berries at the kitchen sink while the kids (and Papa!) played a made-up game of trampoline dodgeball in the early dark.

This same time, years previous: losing my footing, the quotidian (5.27.13), spicy cabbage, the quotidian (5.28.12), one dead mouse, the ways we play, just the tip, and rhubarb tea and rhubarb tart.    

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

the hard part

Have you heard the Fresh Air interview with Sally Mann? She's a photographer specializing in black and white photos of life in the South, her family, decaying human bodies (from a forensics lab), a series of photos of her husband's withering body, and—what got her a lot of negative attention from the media—photos of her young children, naked. Her pictures are stunningly raw and intimate.

Terry Gross opened the interview with the controversy surrounding Mann's photos of her naked children. Terry painted a word picture of several of the photos, including this one: a young, naked girl leans against a bed, one hand on her cocked hip, the other hand touching her chest. Another child is in the bed under the covers. Immediately, all my red flags went up. How was this not child pornography?

But Mann was neither ruffled nor defensive. She simply explained the situation: their family lived in the deep South with not another human for miles around. It was so hot that her children rarely bothered to wear clothes, and they pretty much lived in the river all day long. That particular day, the older daughter was sick in bed. The younger daughter, the picture of health, was standing beside her, defiantly flaunting her good fortune over her laid-out sister. That was it: two sisters—one healthy and one not—juxtaposed.

I find it disturbing that I (and everyone else, apparently) was so quick to sexualize the children. And I am both fascinated and dismayed by how far my perceptions were from the truth.

Art in context makes sense. The risky thing about art, though, is that it's rarely in context. It's one person's experience put out to the world for interpretation. In a sense, we're all artists, shaping our lives, editing its meaning, curating our existence, longing for appreciation. No matter how carefully we craft ourselves, we are received differently, depending on the person.

That's what I got out of Terry's interview with Sally Mann: to approach people as I would art. To appreciate art—to appreciate each other—I need interest, open-mindedness, a few questions, and the time to listen, the only agenda being to hear what the other person wants to say.

It's so simple, really. Remembering to do it is the hard part.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.26.14), questions and carrots, we love you, Wayne, and de butchery.

Monday, May 25, 2015

the quotidian (5.25.15)

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

For breakfast: toast and a book. 

Breakfasting with Khan Academy: a biology/ecology lesson.

For me, a week of lunches: roasted broccoli, baked brown rice with chard (from '09!), 
sunflower seeds, Feta, craisins, and a lemon-olive oil dressing.

Broccoli procrastination.

After getting bucked off and kicked in the hip and arm: mad as a hornet and back in charge.

Reading nook.

Taking Amazon to a whole new level.


Murches use much mulch. 

This same time, years previous: Shirley's sugar cookies, the basics, more on trash, rosa de jamaica tea, down to the river to play, the reason why, savoring Saturday's sun, through my daughter's eyes, deviating from my norm, chocolate-kissed chili, strawberry shortcake with milk on top, ranch dressingAunt Valerie's blueberry bars, and asparagus, goat cheese, and lemon pasta.       

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ice cream supper

A couple days ago, my daughter and I found ourselves at home alone for the evening. My husband was working late hours, my older son was at choir rehearsal, my younger daughter was on an out-of-state trip with the grandparents, and my younger son was with my husband. We had just gotten back from town where we had attended the boys' informal choir concert. The air was thick with humidity and lightening flashed. A storm was brewing.

“How about ice cream cones for supper?” I asked.

Her answer was predictable. Cookies and cream for her, and chocolate peanut butter cup for me.

We took our cones to the deck where we could eat while keeping our eye on the storm. She sheepishly informed me that she had been wearing make-up all evening. “Really?” I said. I realized I didn't care and said so. “As long as I can't tell you're wearing it, it's okay with me.” And then

Me: So, do you have a crush on anyone?

Her: Mom! If I did, I wouldn't tell you!

Me: Okay. But if you were going to have a crush on someone, who would it be?

And so went our bantering. The girl has a knack for making me belly laugh. It's one of the things I love about older children: when they are honest-to-goodness funny. It's gratifying.

The thunder grumbled louder and the lightening jagged. We better go inside, I said. 

Claiming braces-induced chewing difficulties, she fed the tail end of her cone to the animals.

And then the rain started and in we went, supper over.

This same time, years previous: the trouble with Mother's Day, the quotidian (5.21.12), and the boring blues.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

after one year: Costco reflections

It's been more than a year since I signed up for a Costco membership. Back then, even though I was head over heels for the place, I had worries, too. Would the savings counter the cost of the membership? Would we waste food? Would we end up spending more money? Would our diet change?

Thirteen months later, I can safely say that I am deeply in love with the place. In fact, so great is my adoration and commitment that I almost feel guilty. Like I'm loving too much, too hard, too fast! Like I should be ashamed for frequenting a big box store! Like the ease with with I buy tasty and delicious food is something to hang my head about!

Do these guilt twinges mean that I'm doing something wrong? Or am I confusing “guilt” with feeling awkward about the intensity of my devotion? Who knows. Whatever. I like Costco and it meets our needs most gloriously.

Now, for those questions of yore.

Do the savings counter the cost of the membership?
Yes. We have an executive membership, and after nine months (I guess they do the calculations every January?), we got a check for 135 dollars. I put 110 dollars towards the next year's membership and the extra 25 dollars in my “food savings” envelope (for parties, extra hosting, purchasing summertime produce in bulk, etc). We do not use their credit card, but my understanding is that doing so boosts the savings considerably.

Do we waste food?
Once in a while, yes. I have trouble using up the fresh spinach before it turns slimy. Same with some of the lettuces. Once I bought a pack of bell peppers and they molded within several days. I called the store and they said I should just ask for my money back the next time I came in—no need to haul in the rotten proof. Three cheers for great customer service! But aside from those examples, we haven't had any trouble.

Do we spend more money?
I don't have hard data, but I don't think so. We definitely spend the vast majority of our food budget—and a good portion of household and clothing—at Costco, but we're not dishing out more money than we were before. In fact, it feels like I often have money left over at the end of each month.

Has our diet changed?
Yes, to some extent. There's not as much variety with some things—I buy the same snack foods, cereals, and apples—and we eat a lot of the same dishes for a longer period of time. For example, when I made tuna salad from the giant can of tuna, we ate sandwiches, wraps, and tuna melts for a week. Other times, we'll eat a chicken-based diet for a few days, or lots of yogurt, or a rash of giant salads. Our diet was cyclical before, but now, because the quantities of food are greater, the cycles last longer. Which I like! Also, I'm not experimenting with new purchases as much—no little bottles of unusual dressings, small bags of legumes, or specialty baking chocolates—because the quantity is prohibitive. (I pick those things up at the regular grocery store when I need them.)

As for what I buy:
I stock things I didn't stock before: those addicting potato chips, dried cranberries, raw almonds, sharp cheddar, apples, and hot dogs.
With some regularity I purchase Greek yogurt, bagels, wine, bananas, lettuce, sweet bell peppers, and a sack of some sort of chocolate.
I splurge on the occasional ready-made product, like the mango salsa, guacamole, pollo asado, tzatziki sauce, chicken nuggets, or spinach ravioli.

It feels like we are eating more gourmet food—and sometimes less from-scratch—but without the financial cost.

Costco on a plate: flour tortilla, black beans, pollo asado, sour cream, 
lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and mango peach salsa.

I can be hard on myself about those premade foods. I'm a huge advocate for from-scratch cooking. Anything less and I feel like I'm cheating. But I have to keep in mind that we pretty much never eat out. Maybe having a few premade foods on hand is our version of restaurant dining? Having standards and cutting myself some slack is such a balancing act. I rarely get it right.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.20.13), up at the property, caramel cake, and fowl-ness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

campfire cooking

One of the attractions of Grandmommy and Grandaddy's house is that they let the grandkids cook over the campfire pretty much whenever they want. In fact, my parents are so committed to Campfire Dining that right outside the kitchen on the wall above the little deck—that my dad built a couple weeks ago—hang all the necessary instruments. When my children return from a visit, their clothes pungent with wood smoke, they regale me with tales of Golden Toasted Bagels, All-You-Can-Eat Hot Dogs, and The Perfect Fried Egg Ever.

The other evening when we had supper at their place, my younger son cooked the asparagus—my contribution to the meal—over the fire. Later that evening, my younger son tried to bake a chocolate chip cookie a la pancakes (it tasted ridiculously horrific), and the kids begged to do s'mores. Meany that I am, I said, No chocolate and only two marshmallows each, do you hear me?

They still had fun. Of course.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.19.14), rhubarb streusel muffins, and caramel cake.

Monday, May 18, 2015

the quotidian (5.18.15)

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

On my kitchen sill.

Tart art.

For this recipe
I liked it, but no one else was a fan, and this recipe, I think, has greater flavor fireworks. 
(But the addition of peas was lovely.)

By the handful: how I take my poison.

Rhubarb leaf armor.

Bucket of Dobby.

Tatters: proof that another season is ending.

Because she wanted a turn: into the field for a driving lesson. 
My husband reported that she laughed hysterically the whole time.

Never send your husband to the hardware store for corn seed when there is a tool show going on.

(Any guesses as to what?)

This same time, years previous: my favorite things, talking points rained out, and cinnamon tea biscuits.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Captain Morgan's rhubarb sours

When my sister-in-law's family came to visit last summer, they brought along the fixings for their summer-evening-chilling-on-the-porch adult beverage: some jugs of grapefruit juice and a bottle of Captain Morgan spiced rum. We sipped on the deliciousness for the duration of their visit. When they took off, they left behind the one remaining bottle of grapefruit juice but not the rum. I was sorry to see it (and them, of course) go, but I didn't blame them.

Fast forward to this week when I stopped by our local liquor store. I was out of rum and Bailey's. I always put off purchasing liquor for a long as possible because it's such a blow to the wallet. But summery drink season was dawning. It was time for the plunge.

The children were with me and two of them wanted to come in. Keep your hands in your pockets and stay behind me like ducklings, I barked. I had nightmarish visions of curious fingers, slippery glass, and an extra large bill at checkout.

The kids did just fine, but I got sidetracked in the rum aisle by a Captain Morgan spotting and the subsequent profound longing for grapefruit juice and summer evenings on the deck. At checkout, my bill was higher than anticipated.

That evening I whirled up the rhubarb juice per the recipe for rhubarb daiquiris, but I omitted the rosemary syrup (my rosemary plants are still too small to contribute to the world), added a generous squeeze of lemon, and then the spiced rum instead of the plain stuff.

It's a sharp drink—lip-puckery and tart—making it the ideal refreshment for hot summer evenings. Before rhubarb season ends, I plan to make a couple extra batches of the rhubarb juice which I'll freeze in anticipation of a whole summer's worth of evening drinks.

Captain Morgan's Rhubarb Sour

For one drink:
1/3 cup rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum
1 thick wedge of lemon, juiced into the glass

Combine all ingredients. Pour into an ice-filled glass. Serve immediately.

For the rhubarb syrup:
3 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1¼ cups water

Combine all ingredients in a blender and whiz until liquefied. Pour the mixture through a strainer, pressing on the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract all the juice. Discard the pulp. Pour the syrup into a quart jar and store in the refrigerator. (If freezing, measure 2/3 cup of juice into half-pint jars.) Shake well before using.

This same time, years previous: crock pot pulled venison, maseca cornbread, people watching and baby slinging, help, the quotidian, a burger, a play, and some bagels, 'twas an honorbaked brown rice, strawberry spinach salad, bald-headed baby, raspberry mint tea, garden tales, part one, and garden tales, part two.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

on getting a teen out of bed in the morning

My older son hates being told when to turn off his light at night, so we struck a deal: he can stay up late so long as he gets up when we tell him to. (And we are not people to slouch around on the morning. Up And At 'Em is our motto.)

This has worked just fine until recently. Somehow the kid has gotten the crazy notion that he should also be allowed to sleep in as long as he likes. As a result, waking him up—at the reasonable and relaxed hour of 7:30, thank you very much—has turned into a battle involving multiple shoutings up the stairs and poundings on the ceiling above the dining room table (his bedroom floor). When he finally does heave his exhausted body out of bed, he moves about with such torturous sluggishness that it's as though he's still asleep, therefore defeating the purpose of getting out of bed in the first place.

“I don't see why I have to get up so early," he'd moan resentfully. "I wish you'd let me sleep as long as I want.”

So on Saturday morning, we did. He slept until 10:30 and then—to our uproarious amusement—spent the rest of the day fussing because we didn't wake him earlier.

“I meant, Let me sleep until 8 o'clock, or something,” he whined. “Sleeping that late makes me feel like I lost half the day. And I can't stop being sleepy.” Ha! I couldn't have crafted a more fabulous learning opportunity if I had tried.

So now we have a new plan:

*He has to be alert and downstairs by 7:30.
*If he needs us to wake him up, he has to tell us. Otherwise we won't.
*When we wake him, he has to say “Thank you.”
*If he's late, he has extra math. (His choice of consequence. I was going to charge him money.)

Days One and Two were a success, so... here's to energetic and cheerful mornings! [clinks coffee mug]

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.12.14) and rhubarb sorbet.