Friday, March 30, 2018

for-real serious

Last week my husband and I zipped up to Pennsylvania (marveling all the while that our kids were old enough for us to leave them at home alone while we left the freakin’ STATE — wasn’t it just yesterday that we couldn’t step foot out of the house without a diaper bag?) to Mennonite Disaster Service’s binational office for a flurry of meetings.

We took a tour of the place, got introduced to a bunch of people whose names I’m still struggling to get straight, had a meeting with all the in-the-know people, ate lunch with the staff and then lingered at the table for another couple hours to dig into more of the gritty details of the Puerto Rico situation and ask all sorts of questions.

they have a whole fleet of these shower trailers: 
they haul them to the various job locations for the volunteers

We left the office with a handful of jelly beans from the very large communal bowl, a map with all potential MDS locations starred in red, a variety of newsletters and pamphlets, a brand new t-shirt each, construction helmet keyfobs for the kids, and a whole lot of information buzzing around in our heads.

the bottom left star is where we'll be working

Before heading home, we stopped at Martin’s Pretzel Bakery (tradition!) and popped in to visit my grandparents and stock up on apples and cider at their local orchard.

Just a few days ago we received confirmation of our work assignment: we’ll be living in the southern coastal city of Ponce, the same place where my husband went in January. There we’ll be project directors, overseeing from start to finish the construction of the first of the 16 or so new houses, engineered to withstand both hurricanes and earthquakes (translation: lots of concrete), that MDS has promised to build. Along with supervising volunteers, managing officey stuff, and caring for kids, I’ll be blogging and maybe even doing a few stories for MDS. It will be a nice change from toiling away on the book.

his goal is to point out everything the volunteers do wrong

In other news, MDS is working to find us a house (yay!), and we will have a six-passenger truck (they’re boating more vehicles down next month). We have a week off, halfway through our term. MDS offered to fly us home, but we declined: “I already know what it looks like here,” my husband said. We hope to hit up some beaches (besides the one that we’ll be living on, poor us) (also, taking suggestions!), and are hounding the children to hoard their pennies, constantly reminding them snorkeling and scuba diving aren’t cheap.

And we just found out that MDS will be sending my husband and me to their training for project directors that will be held in a couple weeks in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, yikes!

Apparently, this whole adventure is about to get for-real serious. Which is good, because I am so ready to get this show on the road.

P.S. MDS needs volunteers but there is a wait list for Puerto Rico (they cover volunteers' living expenses and food, and they pay 200 dollars towards the plane ticket) so sign up now!

P.P.S. And if you want to help cover our at-home costs, you can support us here (click the line that says “Mennonite Disaster Services”), and thanks!

This same time, years previous: teff pancakes with blueberries, the day we did everything, the quotidian (3.28.16), absorbing the words, seven-minute egg, the quotidian (3.30.15), maple pecan scones, Good Friday fun, babies and boobs, braided bread.

Monday, March 26, 2018

the quotidian (3.26.18)

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

So ordinary, so good. 

A slow morning.

Pita potential.

Improv egg basket.

All about axles and steering.

We had to wait until Spring, but finally: SNOW.


The sicky. 

Cultivating his entrepreneurial streak: cleaning up a salvaged (and unused) stove for resale.

Attempting (and failing) to repair his great grandmother's can opener.

Eyeballing it.


This same time, years previous: more springtime babies, the pigpen, the Tuesday boost, applied mathematics, the visit, the quotidian (3.26.12), fabulous fatira, whoopie pies, snickerdoodles.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

the solo

So a few weeks ago, my younger son, at the invitation of his choir director, auditioned for the Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms solo and then shocked me by getting it. It was all very exciting and cool and lovely. For weeks, he rehearsed daily. He went to voice lessons. He listened to the piece and practiced the Hebrew and worked on his breathing (which was the hardest part, according to him). And then, one week before the concert date, he came down with a hoarse voice and all hell — figuratively speaking — broke loose.

Actually, my kid, laid back child that he is, just rolled with it. The director said to go on vocal rest and for three days, the boy obediently kept his mouth (mostly) shut, but since I was the one ultimately responsible for my child’s health, and I’d also been the one to sign his performance contract and I knew that he was super excited to sing and I really wanted him to be able to do it, I was tied up in knots. What to do? What to do?

The entire week was touch-and-go.

Monday, we went over the mountain to the first rehearsal. Two days later his voice was mostly gone, so we went to an ENT who scoped him (and we got to see his vocal cords moving while he sang and IT WAS SO FREAKIN’ COOL): apparently, his vocal cords were swollen and he had calluses on them and there were signs of reflux, well shoot.

Vocal rest, the doc said.

After the concert, I said, and: How about steroids?

Thursday, the kid was actually sick with fever and cold, and that evening, another rehearsal: on the high notes, just air. Friday, we started the steroids and that night, his system racing, he hardly slept. Saturday, the concert.

I had no idea how it would go. After a week without rehearsing would he be able to do it?

Everything turned out just fine. The place was packed, standing room only, and that, plus the fact that he didn't have his normal vocal strength, made it hard to hear him, but he was poised and calm, focused, and he did it. At the end, along with the applause and the bowing, there was a handshake from the director and a surprise bouquet of tulips. The kid was glowing, and not just from fever, either.

We’re mostly back to normal now. He still has a cold, but he’s finished the steroid regimen and is sleeping soundly. He’ll see the doctor again in a few weeks to check on those calluses (the nurse said that if we bring in a thumb drive, she’ll put the thrilling inside-the-nose videos on it so we can watch them at home, yay!), but he’s already sounding much better.

And you know what? All things considered, the experience was a good one. He worked hard, he learned a tremendous amount, and, most importantly, perhaps, he had a wonderful time.

I am so glad it's over.

This same time, years previous: apricot couronne, the tables are turning, a morning's start, the walk home, oatmeal toffee bars, sour cherry crumb pie, caramelized onions.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

spring hits

The first day of Spring. A big storm — our first in two years! — looms, but all day, only rain, a fine sleet, or a few snow flurries.

Just for fun, a few of the day’s hits:


First, four hours at Panera, writing. A piece of baguette (a little larger than normal, thank you, Panera workerman) and two coffees. Back home, a quick early lunch (cabbage — the children gag it down) and then the three younger kids (my older son is at classes) and I head to town on a quest: books and ice cream.


In the car, my older daughter plugs her phone into the car stereo. Sixteen Going On Seventeen blares and the kids sing along.

Totally unprepared are you 
To face a world of men 
Timid and shy and scared are you 
Of things beyond your ken — 

Suddenly I bellow: BULL. SHIT.

The kids scream — Mom! — and shriek with laughter.

“You can sing the song as long as you understand it’s a complete lie," I say. "Have I made my point?”

Yes, they giggle, and I have a hunch that from now on when they hear that song, they will also hear my voice in the back of their heads calling bullshit.

 It’s a good feeling.


At Dairy Queen, the kids get their free first-day-of-spring cones.


At the library, each of us collects an armful of books. I pick out some read alouds, a few books I think the younger two might enjoy, some cooking material, a book on writing, and every single book on Puerto Rico I can find — so many that when I try to carry them, a bunch of them crash to the floor, oops. 


We stop at Kline’s for a second round of cones: today only 75 cents in honor of their 75th anniversary, mint cookies and cream.


On a whim, I pull into Gift and Thrift — Summer clothes, I say, Puerto Rico’s going to be hot — and within minutes we've appropriated three of the four dressing rooms, swapping clothes and modeling for each other, affirming and critiquing, no minced words.

I find two dresses and a pair of sandals. My son finds five pairs of shorts and a scooter (only four dollars, so fine). Eventually the situation devolves into vintage gowns and halter tops, so we leave.


We stop into Food Lion for a red onion, cilantro, and milk, and my son spends the rest of his gift card money (y pico) on two chocolate bars, and, on the drive home — along the side of the road, plow trucks idle hopefully — he feeds us pieces.


At home, the junky weather has lifted so I go on a run. Halfway, I spy an approaching bicyclist. Right before I get to him, he pulls over to the ditch. Idiot, I think. You have plenty of space to get around me, and then I realize it’s my husband, how sweet!


Back at the house, the boys are working on a welding project...

Charlotte is feasting on a bunny, and Alice is sulking (maybe because Charlotte won’t share)..

at our house, Easter bunnies don't stand a chance

and the girls are making a peanut butter cream pie...


Supper is chili cheese dogs, peas, chips. We linger at the table while I read aloud from one of the Puerto Rican travel books I checked out.


Mom comes over to grind wheat and then scandalizes my husband by cleaning off the table with the vacuum.

She doesn’t wash it afterward, either.


All evening, we read (though the youngest is sad because he wants to play games and no one will join him).

I read to the younger two from A Day No Pigs Would Die, and then the kids head to their rooms to continue reading and I make hot chocolate with whipped cream and flip through a couple Cook’s Illustrated magazines (making exciting plans for the next day's cooking ventures) and then start Annie Dillard's The Writing Life. It’s so good! I laugh out loud, interrupting my husband's reading every two minutes with excerpts.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.20.17), pop quiz: what did you eat for lunch?, the quotidian (3.21.16), piggies!, over the moon, roasted vegetables, getaway, butterscotch pudding.

Monday, March 19, 2018

the quotidian (3.19.18)

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

Waffle desecration: peanut butter, whipped cream, bananas,
strawberries, sausage gravy, peaches, and syrup.

Yum: when your child's friend works at a donut shop.

Cold medicine, at its most delicious.

Trashed bagels and a real-live EMT rescue.

Put your clothes in my room, I said.

The Zax, by Dr. Seuss, come to life.

The Look.

Another play, this time with a hit of Italian opera.

Fireside anatomy.

He got hit with the clean-it-now bug.

This same time, years previous: last and first, all things Irish, a good reminder, the last weekend, the creative norm, warmth, no buffer, cornmeal blueberry scones, cherry pie, our house lately.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

fresh ginger cookies

Monday it snowed (a teeny-tiny bit but it was snow so yay) so I baked cookies. In light of my sludgy cold, ginger seemed the obvious choice.

I’d first made these cookies back in December, but then I never got around to writing about them. They seemed more of a bracing, nourishing mid-winter cookie than a frivolous Christmas treat anyway, what with the whole wheat base and hefty hit of fresh ginger. Besides, to me a ginger cookie is solid everyday fare, the kind of cookie that kids can grab from the cookie jar whenever they get hungry.

Okay, okay. So I don’t let my kids eat cookies whenever they want and we don’t even have a cookie jar, but! These cookies do feel wholesome and nourishing. I mean, what with all the spices and whole wheat and vitamin-rich molasses, they’re practically good for you, right? At least that’s the story I tell myself. I’m sticking with it.

This time when I made them, the cookies were even better than I remembered. I baked the first tray fresh, not even bothering the refrigerate the dough, and the cookies spread out flat. Crispy around the edges, soft and chewy in the middle, and with that strong ginger bite, they were wildly addicting. Even though my husband was so stuffy that he couldn't detect any flavor (because he, too, has been stricken with The Evil Cold), he so loved the texture that he ate three.

But then I let the rest of the dough sit on the counter for a couple hours while I read by the fire and my husband slept the afternoon away, and by the time I got around to baking the rest of the cookies, the flour had hydrated so that the resulting cookies weren’t quite as thin. Lesson learned: Next time, bake up all the cookie dough straight away, in one go.

Also learned: let the hot butter and spice mixture cool before adding the egg. Otherwise, you’ll be picking out little bits of scramble, oh for crying out loud.

And don’t swing to the other extreme and stick the hot pan in a slick of snow, either, because then the mixture will get painfully thick around the edges.

Basically, just calm down a little. Sometimes “taking it slow” really is faster.

Note: When I mentioned “hydrating the dough” to my mother, she busted up laughing. I tried to explain — the flour hydrates while the dough rests, duh — but my mother wasn’t having it. You mean if I let my cake batter sit out, the cake’s texture will be different? And I’m like, Well, yeah...uh, probably? And then she snorted again so now I don’t know what to think. Am I off my rocker or is she?

Fresh Ginger Cookies
Adapted from Ideas In Food.

I’ve doubled the recipe and am recording it as such. If you’re going to go to all the trouble to measure a bunch of spices, you might as well make it worth your while.

The original recipe calls for just all-purpose flour, but whole wheat adds a pleasant nuttiness.

2 sticks butter
1 cup each brown sugar and white sugar
½ cup molasses
¼ packed cup minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon, rounded, ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon each nutmeg and ground cloves
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups each whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Extra sugar, for rolling

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the sugars, molasses, fresh ginger, cocoa, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves. Bring to a boil and then simmer gently, stirring frequently, for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 20-30 minutes.

Working quickly, beat in the eggs. Stir the baking soda into the flour and then add both to the batter. Let the dough sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes to hydrate before shaping into balls, rolling in sugar (I used demerara), and placing the cookies on a parchment paper-lined (or greased) baking sheet.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 9-12 minutes, depending on size and taking care not to overbake them — they should be puffy in the centers and still slightly wobbly. Let them rest on the tray for a few minutes to set up and then transfer to a cooling rack.

This same time, years previous: good writing, the quotidian (3.14.16). opening night, raspberry ricotta cake, chocolate babka, a love affair, sugar loaf, all by himself, for all we know.