December 31, 2010

A Mom Moment

One of the blogs I've been reading lately has a weekly tradition of posting a single image on Fridays of a special moment from the week, something special the writer wants to "savor and remember". I like the idea, but I'm not that handy or prolific with the camera (Ian takes a lot of the pictures for me), so I'm hesitant to sign up for making this a regular weekly thing for me. Also, it's supposed to be without words, but I'm terrible at that, too.

this moment

On Christmas Day, we were joined by a guitar and a keyboard and several family members interested in song. After a round of carols, they moved on to some classics from the 1960s. I came out of the kitchen when I heard Caitlyn singing Puff the Magic Dragon with them, and promptly teared up watching her.

I guess that's one of those mom things.

December 30, 2010

A new bookshelf

I've started a new shelf over at GoodReads called "Caitlyn's Chapter Books" where I'm attempting to list all the longer books I've read to Caitlyn. I'm mostly recreating the list at the moment, since I should have started this years ago (it's not like I've only been reading long books to her recently). Listing all the picture books would probably be an interesting exercise, but that seems a little daunting - we read a lot of picture books.

I'm adding these books to my GoodReads profile partly because I am reading them and partly to keep a list to share with Caitlyn someday: Here are all (or at least most of) the (bigger) things we read when you were small. I'll try to remember to add in any comments she has about the books in the review section, although I imagine that for the time being most of her reviews are going to be, "Read it again, Mama!"

Since I can't pre-read everything in the children's section first, I'd love suggestions. If you have any favorite chapter books (classic or otherwise) that are appropriate for a kindergartner or first grader, please send them my way. I love having a steady diet of stories to share, but I'm a bit nervous about launching into a longer book with Caitlyn without knowing what I'm getting into; it won't do to get into the middle of something only to discover she's not ready for a certain theme or image (that is, to discover that I've misjudged the age of the intended audience - we're doing fine with the princesses all getting married but actually kissing a boy is, well, "Eeeeeww!").

December 29, 2010

Once more, with pictures

Caitlyn's stocking

We started the day with stockings. Stockings, in my world, must be opened before breakfast, with everyone in their jammies. It's a warm and cozy tradition, with the smell of Christmas coffeecake wafting from the kitchen.

Christmas coffeecake

This coffeecake equals Christmas. I only make it once a year. I can't have Christmas without it. Buttery brioche pieces dunked in more butter and rolled in cinnamon and sugar and baked in a ring over caramel sauce. Mmmmm...

And this is where we deviated from tradition. It's a mostly vegetarian house; while Caitlyn and I might eat some meat on occasion, apart from a bit of chicken breast every so often, I don't cook meat. In past years, this has meant that when I've cooked for Christmas, I've prepared the traditional dishes minus The Bird. Christmas becomes The Cavalcade of Starches: potatoes, stuffing, yams, bread, pie. Rather than do that again (and just after Thanksgiving), I built us a menu that was completely unlike previous Christmases, based on things we like and complicated enough to be special.

the table

(The other advantage to our Christmas menu: almost all of it could be made ahead. I spent the two days before Christmas in a constant state of cooking. As a result, I was able to spend much of Christmas day actually enjoying and being fully present in the day.)

Christmas manicotti

I made manicotti for our main dish. I never quite found a recipe I liked, so I basically made this one up. The filling was ricotta, provolone and spinach, and the sauce was a pureed variation on my usual.

Christmas marinated vegetables

There were marinated veggies for a salad. This was a hybrid recipe from a number of sources, most of which provided the inspiration for the veggie list. Too many of the recipes I found didn't include a list of ingredients for the dressing, opting instead for a commercially bottled something.

There was also garlic bread, of course.

Christmas tiramisu

We finished our meal with a tiramisu. I used this recipe, because it uses an actual custard and not whipped cream or egg whites to make the cream filling. And because this is me that we're talking about, I made the ladyfingers and the mascarpone rather than buying them. I substituted Kahlua for the rum in the syrup. And I topped it spontaneously with whipped cream to give it a more finished look than the exposed ladyfingers. Big thanks to Empire Espresso for not blinking when I asked for 12 ounces of espresso! (And big thanks to my mom for carrying it home without sloshing!) The tiramisu was the one thing on the menu I was feeling at all nervous about, but it came out beautifully and met some really excellent reviews.

Christmas, 2010

There were presents, of course, mostly for Caitlyn. She needed prompting to read the from labels, but she remembered her thank yous. We open presents one at a time so that everyone gets to admire each person's gifts; this method is hard on kids - I remember disliking it when I was small and wanted to just tear into everything - but I think it's a way to mitigate the materialist aspects of Christmas and allow homemade gifts to get a moment on the family stage. Caitlyn waited for her turns with calm and grace.

Christmas, 2010

And she wore her new wings immediately.

December 26, 2010

Favorite Moments

...never feeling panicked about how the flow of Christmas Day was going...

...Caitlyn being so very enthusiastic about her presents but nearly always remembering to say "Thank you" without prompting... guests declaring they might never order tiramisu at a restaurant again, since it wouldn't possibly measure up to what I made...

...and the best one: Caitlyn giving me a star sticker for a job well done: "You did a really good job cooking, Mama."

December 18, 2010

Kitchen Magic

I spent another afternoon in the kitchen (yogurt, bread, more gifts, a brave attempt at something resembling curry) today. Sure, my feet are a bit sore from lots of standing, but in all I'm pretty happy just now. Which leads me to wonder, why do I like the kitchen so much?

First, I like to eat. And I like to eat things with recognizable ingredients.

I like to assemble things. There's something appealing to a pile of parts and some instructions, and something satisfying about getting a useful or beautiful thing out of the raw pieces. Quilt kits, LEGO sets, IKEA furniture, recipes.

Often the kitchen is calm and quiet, with certain exceptions. Here's a space where I'm accessible ("Mama, look at this!"), but where it's often more fufilling for Caitlyn to invent games that involve other spaces.

The kitchen is the warm center of the house. This time of year, it's easy to be warm if I'm I the kitchen, soup on the stove, bread in the oven. If I can justify a batch of cookies, even better.

But the kitchen is also the center in the figurative sense. This is where we discuss our days, make our plans; this is where friends gather. This is the heart. At the risk of sounding insecure, I suppose I like it because here I feel part of that essential center.

Or maybe it really only is just about the food. Let's see, isn't there something here that needs batch-testing?

December 16, 2010

More than I can chew

Why is it that I seem to regularly sign myself up for more than I can reasonably do? Why can't I be lazy, ever, like a normal person? (And don't say it's because I'm somehow not a "normal" person. That's not an answer.)

December 14, 2010

Caitlyn's Self-Image

Last night, Caitlyn announced, pretty much randomly:
I'm not just the Queen of Cats. I have wings and a mermaid tail. And I breathe fire! And I have beautiful tie-dyed fur. Meow!
Followed by:
Time to set the table! That's my job!
And much joyous skipping.

December 13, 2010

(Almost) First Christmas Tree

This is the first year we've bought a tree for Christmas. There's only been one Christmas since Caitlyn was born that we stayed at home, and getting a tree never made much sense those years. The year we didn't travel, we decorated the Norfolk Island Pine (which still needs a new home); it made a strange-looking Christmas tree and it meant that Christmas more or less got confined to the sunroom. Not the most ideal set up.


We don't have a large house, though, so finding a tree that wouldn't render the living room unlivable for the next three weeks was a challenge. Everyone seems to want tall trees, judging by what the market has available. And in looking for a tree, I found I missed the unshaped Douglas fir option from my childhood - the shaped trees are these perfect cones that you don't hang ornaments on so much as frost them on the tree's exterior.


We settled on a noble fir, of approximately Caitlyn's height (and hopefully, she won't ask for future trees to always be her height!). It's conical without being regular, and you can still see the TV from the couch. Caitlyn did much of the decorating after I'd strung the lights and Ian hung the garland. The next challenge is going to be helping Caitlyn remember that the ornaments are not toys.


Of course, once the tree was decorated, she wanted to open the three early presents that were under it. And was heard to whine as she headed upstairs to bed, "I can't wait until Christmas!"

December 10, 2010

A day in the kitchen

I read email this morning, and then ignored the computer for the rest of the day. As a result, I'm down to my last bottle of corn syrup and I'm out of almonds. I hand-chopped 6 cups of almonds today, and now, finally, I understand What a Food Processor Is For, although I don't think I'll buy one - I don't know where I'd put it.

I've bundled up the results of today's work already, before taking any pictures, so you'll have to imagine:

English Toffee

Peanut Brittle

(and black beans and roasted squash, but those aren't quite the same)

I'm off to go put my feet up... all day on the concrete kitchen floor has me pretty well wiped out.

December 07, 2010

Adding more holidays

Caitlyn came home from school last week and announced, "It's the first day of Hanukkah! Can we light candles?"

I figured, why not? So, our non-Jewish household has been lighting candles at dinnertime for the last week, one more each night. We've made a circle of tea lights since we don't have a menorah, and Caitlyn - without any prompting - changes out the old lights for new ones every morning. I've found some blessings to read, and we've talked about Maccabees and miracles.

This morning, Caitlyn asked for a menorah for Christmas. So, she hasn't thrown out the other holiday, just added a new one. I wonder if she'll ask to celebrate Hanukkah next year?

December 06, 2010

The Great Carrot Experiment

Last year, I chipped frozen carrots out of the p-patch. This year, I decided not to bother. The ideal way to store carrots is in a root cellar, which I don't and can't have (probably a good thing, really), although I do blanch and freeze a few quarts of carrots during the summer. But what if, as our soil isn't frozen solid all winter, I just left the carrots in the garden until we needed them? Wouldn't that be sort of like having them in a root cellar, minus the baskets full of sand?

I am pleased to announce that this method of storing carrots seems to work. At least in my garden. They sat out there two weeks ago under a couple of inches of snow, and they are just fine. The greens even survived, declining to become a slimy mess in favor of being rabbit food for our neighbor's three rabbits (who also all survived the snow). This morning, I brought in about half of the carrots that were in the garden, promptly shredding the tiniest ones for carrot muffins, and they are in lovely shape: short but fat, brilliant orange, crisp and not the slightest bit chewed on.

When offered fresh, homegrown carrots for her lunch tomorrow, Caitlyn bounced around the kitchen. I'll take that endorsement, although I think she was more excited about the prospect of pretending to brush her teeth with a carrot like one of her classmates does than about the prospect of actually eating them...

December 04, 2010

In Progress

work in progress

It's good to have projects...

What, am I in your way or something?

...even if sometimes there are Obstacles.

December 03, 2010

Inventing Traditions

I enjoyed Christmas as a kid - what child doesn't like presents and a party? But it's only recently (yes, and belatedly) occurred to me that I haven't really done anything to make sure Caitlyn will be able to say the same in 20 years. Traditions, apparently, don't make themselves.

After moving out for college, I always went back home for Christmas. I wasn't responsible for shaping the holiday there, and by then the patterns were pretty much set. When we didn't go to my family's home, Ian and I went somewhere else where we still weren't responsible, leaving the orchestration of the day to someone else. For those times we didn't go anywhere, we cherry-picked favorite memories and threw together something Christmas-like without Making a Big Deal Out of It. I have fond memories of our German Christmas, but otherwise if there weren't extra family members around, we marked the occasion only with pie.

Now there is Caitlyn. And I want her to have more memories than this.

But where to start? What does Christmas look like for our family? Not what did it look like when I was small or what does Popular Culture think it should be, but for the three of us, here, now. I have a blank canvas of sorts, and I'm trying to be deliberate in how I fill it. Finding value and not just noise.

Somethings I know already: Christmas Morning Coffeecake. Heirloom stockings. Decorating as a family. Somethings won't happen: No large turkeys or year-old plum pudding. The rest is open for invention and the seeds of tradition.

December 02, 2010

Making Pretty Lights

About the time the email discussion of How We Would Do Thanksgiving This Year got started last month, I saw this over at Uncommon Grace. We were discussing food, as one does, and spreading out the cooking responsibilities and I suggested that maybe, in addition to potatoes and pie, we could have a craft table set up. While most of the family members are quite happy to sit around and talk, Caitlyn doesn't see the appeal. I thought having a creative space might keep her from being too much underfoot in the kitchen or from jumping on the couch unsupervised. Maybe part of the suggestion was for myself.

Caitlyn did mostly drawing during her craft table time. After she drew and cut out a crown with little wobbly bits on top, I gave her a crown template and she made two more, with lots of stickers and beads. And I made these:

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

I started only going to make one, using a pepper jelly jar I'd been saving for a couple of years for something just like this. And it turned out to be so simple and satisfying, I made two more. The first one's the best, probably because I over thought the other two.

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

A while back, I picked up The Spiral Draw Book, mostly because I remember using Spirograph when I was too small to sit still for an entire church service. I think I used tissue paper that was too dark a color, though.

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

This one, I think, is going to live in that special mama place. I traced Caitlyn's hand eight times and used the resulting handprint shapes to cover the jar. I get just a tiny bit teary looking at it - I imagine that's an effect that will grow as her hands get bigger.

modpodge and tissue paper candle holders

See, I'm getting smiley-teary already...

December 01, 2010

Experimenting with Titles

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher (Hi, Ms. Mullins!) who insisted that everything we wrote be titled. This resulted in some titles that had very little to do with the contents of the essay. Maybe it was James who titled something (probably about Catch-22 or Le Morte d'Arthur) "Becky's Yellow Socks". It could have been a "meeting the letter, not the spirit" kind of thing or it could have been some expression of Absurdism, in which, as rural high school seniors, we were Experts. I still have the t-shirt that class made: illustrated pocket protector on the front and a collection of in-jokes and Monty Python references on the back ("Watery Tart").

Anyway, I haven't been using titles.

I think I might start. Just to see how it goes.

November 30, 2010

I've been tossing a small handful of raisins on my granola in the morning. These are extra special raisins because they came from these:


The grapevine in the front yard was prolific this year. Some of the grapes became grape juice or grape jelly or grape syrup. And some of those grapes spent some time in the dehydrator transforming into these tiny, sweet-tart bundles of sunshine. Having them in the granola makes me smile at my breakfast.

November 29, 2010

I have this fantasy about melting snow:

Imagine you have some snow on the ground. Seattle snow. Midwestern snow would be too deep. Now imagine that it all melts, all at once. Instantly. Like someone used the Clapper and instead of turning on a light, all the snow was immediately liquid. Now imagine the split second when the water is all standing where the snow had been, all still and quiet, like the water's a little surprised to be Not Snow. Then, it all suddenly rushes away. It's somewhere between that Parting of the Red Sea scene in The Ten Commandments and a child's moment at the beach when that last pail of water breaches the castle wall. Or if there was a glass of water and someone shot the glass.

Yes, I realize that if snow actually melted this way, it would be A Bad Thing. Instant floods and all. But it's still kind of fun to think about...

November 24, 2010

One of the things I enjoy about a good snowfall in Seattle is how it shuts things down. We live a block off an arterial road, and when we've had a good snow fall, the volume of traffic drops significantly. There were occasional cars on it yesterday, but mostly just the big trucks interspersed with stretches of quiet. Today - probably due to the holiday since I'm not sure the road is really all that much safer - the cars and their constant hum are back.

Snow provides an excuse. I'm behind on my pre-holiday to-do list because it was important to take Caitlyn out in the snow yesterday (beautiful blue skies, a "balmy" 26 degrees F) for impromptu neighborhood sledding. When snow doesn't happen all that often, you have to make a celebration out of it. Otherwise you just end up complaining about how it's messed up your habits and your plans.

We've been below freezing since Monday; when we return to the "normal" temperatures of mid-40s, it's going to seem so warm!

November 23, 2010

A neighbor asked Caitlyn, "What were you for Halloween?"

"A princess. Fairy Princess!"

"How nice," the neighbor replied.

"Yeah, she was really scary," added Caitlyn's uncle, which inspired chuckles from the rest of us.

Caitlyn was offended. "I was not!"

"You were!" he insisted. "Some people are afraid of clowns, I'm afraid of princesses."

Caitlyn hasn't quite figured out how to tell when people are teasing her, and she doesn't know the cultural reference to coulrophobia. Someone else admitting a fear is apparently grounds for asserting superiority:

"I'm not afraid of anything!" she declared.

Everyone else thought this was hysterical, especially her parents. Caitlyn started to laugh a little, because everyone else was, but then moved to reinforce her claim, with only a slight huff in her voice:

"I'm only scared of scary things."

Which apparently includes closets but not princesses.

November 22, 2010

mmm... crabapples!

Snowy day and squirrel.

It's currently 28 degrees outside. That's also the forecast high for tomorrow...

November 21, 2010

You make me feel guilty. I didn't think people still cared anymore.
He was an older man, African-American, with a small hat and a black jacket. I wonder what his life had brought him that a few people in front of a supermarket asking for food bank donations could seem so unlikely. And I'm grateful that despite my frustrations with things in general, the specifics around me are of people who do indeed still care.

November 20, 2010

Caitlyn dreams of spelling or reading, apparently.

When I woke her up for school yesterday morning, before she got out of bed, she told me (her version was much longer than this one):

"I played this game called WordTag in my head. There were all these letters. I was pink and I ran around and put them together. Yellow wanted to break them. But if I made really long words, then Yellow couldn't. Or if there were lots of 'a's or 'the's on the ends. Those were red, the sight words (she really called them that). So pink and red could win and I like those colors, but sometimes I like yellow, too, but not then."

November 19, 2010

I'm afraid of losing my mind.

Not in the popular sense, the tossed off turn of phrase. "A clean desk is a sign of a sick mind." "Of all the things I miss, it's my mind I miss the most."

This is a fear that sometimes keeps me awake at night and the kind that can inspire nightmares. That prompts panic attacks over forgotten words and misplaced keys. That makes me ache with worry when I realize I don't like something as much now as I once did. I don't do as many "brainy" things as I used to - analyze symbolism in novels, say, or practice trigonometry - and trying to keep up with a discussion of current events or technological trends or a movie's thematic elements leaves me feeling like I've somehow missed out on the critical details everyone else found obvious. Was I merely not paying attention or are there gaps between the folds of my brain?

Two years ago this month, my father's body finally gave out. He'd developed a form of dementia in the early 1990s, when he was in his mid-forties. It changed his personality, rewrote his likes and interests, stole his words, ate his memories, paralyzed him and ultimately destroyed the part of his brain that told him to breathe. For a while, the doctors would take annual scans of his brain; every year the black spaces where there should have been something grew larger.

My father never met Caitlyn. He wasn't at our wedding. I'm not sure he was ever really clear that Ian wasn't Aaron, my sister's husband. And while he was present at my college graduation, he inspired concerned comments from my professors ("What's wrong with Christina's father?" is not what you want to hear whispered at the graduation breakfast for your department.).

After he died, we had an autopsy done on his brain and spinal column. The results lined up with medical opinions from before his death - that his form of dementia didn't bear any of the markers of being genetic. There is very little reason for me to fear that I will develop the same dementia or that I have passed it to Caitlyn and will have to watch her unravel the way I watched my father fall apart.

But logic and reason don't seem to be the loudest voices in the room. And sometimes I am so afraid, I can stand in the kitchen and watch my hands shake.

November 18, 2010

This may be the most beautiful pie I've ever made:

peach pie!

It had absolutely no structural integrity once we started cutting it, oozing peach parts and the crust sticking to the dish. But it was yummy, and really, that's all we care about, right?

November 17, 2010

Caitlyn's school issues monthly "20/20 Reading Challenges", encouraging the kids to find someone to read to them for 20 minutes for 20 days out of every month. After the post-school snack, Caitlyn and I sit down and she reads one book to me and I read two or three to her. The other day, she read I am Invited to a Party! by Mo Willems to me and I read Three Little Kittens, One Smart Cookie (which I think is cute but she thinks is boring), and The Adventure to her.

Later, while I was attempting to find a quiet moment on the couch with my own book (City of Bones at the moment), Caitlyn perched on the other end of the couch with a book she's been "reading" for a couple of years now. I don't know why she chose it, but a year or more ago she picked up Joshua from the shelves in the living room. She will sit with it and turn the pages, then put a bookmark in it and put it back on the shelf; later, she'll come back and "read" some more from where she "left off". It's a novel, with no pictures, and I'm impressed that she's stuck with it.

Late last week, she finished Joshua and started in on the sequel, Joshua and the Children. So there we were, on opposite ends of the couch, both of us with our books. She turns the pages slowly, and she has started whisper-sounding out a few words on the page before she turns it. Then she looks up and says, "Mama, look how much I've read. I've read from Chapter Three to Chapter Six. Did you know this book has 36 chapters? Isn't that a lot? Do you want to see how much I've read?"

I have a bookworm in training. Mama is so proud.

November 15, 2010

Back in the spring, I spent a Saturday making Traditional Cheddar. Apparently, I didn't document the experience, and I don't seem to have a clear memory about it. It took all day, but most hard cheese do.

Six months later, I opened it up for tacos last week and discovered My Best Hard Cheese Yet. The other cheeses, the gouda, the jack, the colby - they each came out ok, if harder and drier and sharper than expected. But the cheddar Actually Tastes Like Cheddar! I'm rather pleased about that.

So the plan for next spring is to make as many batches of Traditional Cheddar as I can shoehorn into the calendar. This will allow me to practice and hopefully improve the technique a bit so that when I try a different cheese - the Jack again perhaps - I'll have some sort of baseline to start from. Besides, it's hard to have too many rounds of cheddar on hand.

The big maple across the street has dropped all its leaves and the smaller maple our front(different variety, flame perhaps?) is a brilliant gold. Though I will be a bit surprised tomorrow if there are any leaves left on it, given the way the wind has been tearing down the walk beside the house. Caitlyn found a leaf ("Mama! Look at this leaf! Isn't it huge? I'm going to put it here, where I hide things on the porch!") in the time it took to cross the street from the bus stop. After school, we sat in the kitchen, ate pumpkin muffins, and watched the neighbors' St. Francis, visible on his fence-perch from our kitchen window, bowing to the remaining leaves as they hurried by: Good-bye! See you in the Spring!

November 12, 2010

I finished this over the summer, much to the consternation of the other parents observing at circus class - how could I stand to be working on a quilt in the summer, when it was hot?!? Of course, then I forgot to photograph it and then I wasn't blogging much...

Anyway, here's how my second quilt repair project turned out:

Now that it's raining and chilly, it's now totally acceptable for me to be working on a quilt while Caitlyn's circus-ing. I finished the other one that's been in progress forever yesterday - photos to come next time the sun comes out and the light is decent. Next up, a skirt, a quilt, a dress, another skirt, another quilt, repeat.

November 09, 2010

Evenings can be kind of stressful for me. There's the getting dinner together (which sometimes starts right after lunch), getting Caitlyn home and doing the after-school routine, then eating and cleaning and prepping lunch for the next day, all before bedtime. I'm wearing down at this point and want nothing more than quiet and maybe a cup of tea; Caitlyn is getting increasingly crazy as the evening goes on, babbling and dancing and interrupting and fidgeting. She interprets things as narrowly as possible, so that telling her to stop sitting on the radiator also requires telling her to stop leaning on it, stop touching it, move away from it. It's not a combination that's inherently peaceful.

This evening, while in the making-tomorrow's-lunch phase of the routine, Caitlyn, while standing on a stool, facing sideways and wiggling to whatever dance beat was in her head, placed her sandwich halves on top of the baggies, instead of inside them. Then she dismounted from the stool and gyrated her way to the towel on the fridge. This looked to me like forgetfulness and a lack of focus. (She said later that she wanted to wipe her hands on the towel since Ian had been telling her to stop wiping them on her pants.) And since I was in the "just get it done already" frame of mind and since we'd already told her several times to be less crazy, I asked her what she was doing and why were her sandwiches not in their bags and what was the matter with her pants that she kept grabbing at them?

She burst into tears, screamed "You don't understand me at all!" and ran out of the room.

Frankly, I was hoping for another six or seven years before hearing that one. Does this mean the teen drama has started at age five? Or that, God willing, she'll get it all out of her system before she's twelve?

November 08, 2010

November 07, 2010

I've given up waiting for the first light frost I thought I was waiting for and put the plot in the p-patch to bed for the winter. One last weeding, tucking in the garlic and asparagus under a mulch of maple leaves, raking in a sowing of cover-crop seeds (thanks to Celeste!). Maybe I misread the how-to sheet that came with my garlic, but I thought I needed to wait for a light frost before putting the garlic in; now I'm wondering if I misremembered, putting in the garlic three weeks late. The cover-crop labeling certainly seemed to think we were late. Oh, well.

Anyway, this means that the garden and the p-patch, with the exception of some carrots and kale in the backyard, are shut down for the winter. I'll pull carrots as we need them or after their greens freeze (although I suppose if I pull them just before a freeze, I can donate the greens to the rabbits across the alley); I'm not sure if we'll get any of the kale since it is being thoroughly consumed by something else. I keep thinking that whatever it is will stop eating the kale once the weather gets cold enough and since kale is cold-hardy, it will bounce back and we'll have kale enough come March. But perhaps the hungry critter is cold-hardy, too...

It's been startlingly warm over the last week. I expect it won't last. In fact, Caitlyn and I read the week's forecast this morning after breakfast, Caitlyn interpreting the rainy icons and reading the high temperature numbers. NOAA has since revised our expected highs down to "high 40s" all week. I'm ready to turn inward and do inside things for a while, I think. Check in with me in January and see if I'm over-eager for spring.

November 06, 2010

I am uncertain of my relationship with the notion of "childhood". There seems to be this pervasive contemporary cultural sense that children should be protected and sheltered from all sorts of things, and that childhood is a time of magical, blissful ignorance. And while it's certainly too true that there are American children (and others, too) who face too much too soon - hunger, poverty, abuse, homelessness, disease, etc - there are plenty who are indulged and coddled and sheltered from the burden of Responsibility for far too long. I have no problem with kids believing in the Tooth Fairy, or any faerie for that matter; I have huge problems with behaviors that are brushed off as "that's just how kids are" by so-called Responsible Adults.

We have generally had a habit of taking Caitlyn with us where ever we go, even when she was much younger. The idea has been that kids should be part of community and society and not exiled to some special area where they are insulated from everything. If you want a child that can not be a terror in a restaurant, then you have to teach restaurant behavior. Yes, it's challenging; yes, it's easier to say "oh, he's only three" when your kid wants to paint the table with the ketchup or experiment with different pitched screams. But then you have a kid who doesn't know where the boundaries of polite behavior are and you're that parent that has no authority. What are you going to do when you need that authority when he's twelve?

We take Caitlyn with us to restaurants that are not kid-themed and require that she stay in her seat. She's been a regular attendee at office parties since she could walk, including those at a favorite pub and the big holiday gatherings. By taking her along and sticking to our expectations of good behavior, we now have a kindergartner we can take almost anywhere.

To test this theory, the three of us attended Caitlyn's first live concert last night. A friend of ours plays second violin in the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, and they opened their 2010-2011 concert season with a Beethoven/Shostakovich combination. Caitlyn did very well, I think, even if she found it hard to stay still through the second symphony and spent much of it with her ears covered (it has some very loud parts).

She said today that she liked the violins and the cellos, which we had a good view of. The conductor's coat tails flapped in fun ways and she liked how he waved his baton. Afterward, Caitlyn had good questions for Mel about how to understand what the conductor meant. During the bit before when everyone warms up and tunes, the tuba player did some of that off stage, down in the seating area, which meant we got a good look at his tuba and got to experience some fun acoustics that made it sound like he was behind us although he was clearly in front of us (curved ceiling).

Could we have waited to take her to a symphonic concert? Sure. This time, though, she had a friend up there on stage to make the experience more accessible. Someone she could watch and ask questions of afterward. And maybe, just maybe, I have successfully shared my fondness for Beethoven's symphonies with my daughter in ways besides "Beethoven's Wig".

November 05, 2010

Big shout out to our neighborhood's park's maintenance crew, who has left a huge pile of leaves in the park across the street from us. I don't know if they planned this deliberately for the enjoyment of the neighborhood's kids or if they've just gotten busy elsewhere. Doesn't matter, and I don't care - this pile has been leapt in, rolled in, scuffed through, thrown in all directions both before and after school, and will be one of Caitlyn's favorite fall memories for at least the next 12 months.

November 03, 2010

A new project:

Or maybe I'll start with this one:

I may do some prep for a few more before I actually get started sewing anything. I've got the sewing table at it's "tall" setting which makes cutting so much easier. Or maybe I should move all the other stuff off the table so it isn't so blastedly difficult to adjust when I need it.

November 02, 2010

At the risk of offending someone:

It's election day. I'm "watching" returns by refreshing and refreshing four or five news sites. It's depressing. And it's frustrating.

On the radio today, there was yet another bit of predictive reporting, detailing how the Democrats were going to lose their majorities to conservatives who have campaigned on undoing everything from the past two years. Conservatives who are endlessly in favor of reducing government, reducing taxes. This story was immediately followed by a conversation with someone from the Army Corps of Engineers concerning the weak and damaged status of many river levees in Washington state.

My takeaway: Our physical infrastructure is falling apart. The levees are likely to fail in even a minor flood event (and the forecasters are talking up a wet and crazy winter for the Pacific Northwest, so it seems likely that something, somewhere is going to flood). We have floating bridges that need to be replaced before they up and sink. There's a viaduct that very likely will fall down should we have an earthquake of any significance. Not to mention roads and schools and law enforcement and libraries that all need help and attention.

That's just here, in the Puget Sound area. I'd bet that this situation isn't confined to or unique to us. I'd bet every place around the country has a similar list, and a similarly deficient budget.

And what have we, as a country done today? Stood with the folks who want reduce government spending. Turned down reasonable propositions for expanding government revenue sources.

You just can't starve the civic structure and then expect it to take care of you. When the infrastructure fails and lives are lost and millions and billions of dollars in property and businesses are lost and there's an enormous cleanup to do and to fund, I'll be over here, saying "I told you so."

November 01, 2010

Well, that seems appropriate, somehow. I've finally come back to writing here and Uncommon Grace (a crafty writing mama with great photos!) mentions that she's doing NoBloPoMo. (I first heard of it on Grace's site a year ago, I think.) There's a challenge: can I find something to say every day for a month? More interesting, I think: if I succeed with November, will the habit stay with me?

I blog for a couple of reasons. I have a far-flung collection of family members and friends, and it's nice to be able to post things about what I'm working on and what Caitlyn's up to so those who want to follow along are able to do so. It's also a creative outlet, one of many, since I apparently need lots. This past summer got so busy at times (ok, all the time) that lots of my projects got neglected (sewing, writing, recreational cooking); the lack of creative outlet time made me rather habitually cranky. Blessings upon my family for keeping me, anyway.

Not to say that it wasn't a fun summer. We did some great things and I hope to post at least one or two representative pictures at some point. But sometimes it's necessary to stop doing outward-facing things. And I know that I'm much happier having spent a good chunk of time on Sunday wading around in my fabric stash with no particular timeline or agenda. No dress or backpack to make, no gifts to assemble on a deadline.

Maybe I was ready for fall back in July or August. There's something about the return of the rains (almost 2 inches today!) that inspire things like tea and soup and books and staying home and working on projects. Now that the rain is back, I'm enjoying all four.

October 31, 2010

It can rain now. The trick or treating is over, Caitlyn has an enormous haul of sugar (yay for our neighborhood and Columbia City businesses - no gum or jaw breakers this year and lots of Reese's, Milky Ways, and Whoppers!), and we had gorgeous weather despite previous forecasts that had us trying to adjust Caitlyn's expectations into last year's costume.

But while the clouds did move in this afternoon, the rain held off. And so Caitlyn wore the new costume.

Caitlyn as a fairy princess

It's a little too big in the top, and the hemline will probably start marching toward her knees next week. Caitlyn loves it now, though, which is important since it'll be at least two years before I sign myself up to work with that much costume satin again. Blasted stuff is impossible to turn under for a hem or an elastic casing, it frays if you look at it sideways, and it melts when you iron it. Oh, and we can't wash this dress, since the satin has a tendency toward water spots (thus the tiger costume redux if it had been raining this evening).

But it didn't rain. Caitlyn was thrilled to wear the new dress and show it off to everyone, to gushing praise. And I'm going back to working with cotton, with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Happy Halloween, world!

July 19, 2010

Caitlyn: "There's mail that you get, like a letter in the mailbox. And there's male like a boy. Isn't that odd, that it's the same word?"

Me: "Yes, but the words are spelled differently. Mail, like letters, is m-a-i-l and the other one is male, m-a-l-e."

Caitlyn: "We are female, and Papa is male because he's a boy."

Me: "That's true. Female is spelled f-e-m-a-l-e."

Caitlyn: "And so there's fee-mail, mail that you have to pay for."

May 16, 2010

I had a record player when I was a kid. It was blue. And it played real records, not the plastic things that the other "record player" we had played; that was really a music box that could play a number of different songs. To go with the record player, we had a small collection of kids records, usually abbreviated versions of Disney movies with a picture book. I suppose it was a kind of read-along experience, kind of like Caitlyn listening to a Skippyjon Jones disc while looking at the book. I think we had one for the Aristocats and Cinderella.

But my favorite was Robin Hood. I don't remember why - was the record longer? More songs? I do remember that the record contained almost the entire movie soundtrack - songs and dialogue - so that when I finally saw the movie one Sunday night, I could almost recite it. (I still sometimes say "I'ma gittin, I'ma gittin!", quoting Trigger, one of the prison-guarding vultures.) As we've started watch some of these older animated Disney movies with Caitlyn, I keep recognizing voices, all in context of the characters of Robin Hood. Thomas O'Malley from the Aristocats and Baloo from the Jungle Book were voiced by Phil Harris, the voice of Little John. The voice of the Sheriff is also the voice of the old dog in The Fox and the Hound.

This evening, we watched Robin Hood with Caitlyn. I still remember lots of the dialogue. Caitlyn, of course, announced that she "wanted to see it again, right away," but she says that for all the movies she sees, even the ones she doesn't seem to like much. I know she won't have the same relationship with it that I do, seeing as I gave that blue record player to some neighbor kids when I was a teenager instead of keeping it in a box against the day I had my own kids (I wonder if I regret that?). But it's fun to have seen it with her. And when I sang a little bit of The Phony King of England at bedtime, she said, "Sing it again."
Too late to be known as John the first,
he's sure to be known as John the worst -
A pox on that phony king of England!

May 12, 2010

Caitlyn: "Do kangaroos climb trees?"

Me: "No, I don't think so."

Caitlyn: "I'm going to invent a tree-climbing kangaroo, then."

And I'm left wondering where this can-do spirit goes when it's time to clean her room...

May 10, 2010

We've come to the time of year when I start to think that if I just sat still long enough, I could see the plants growing. I trimmed the lawn out back a couple weeks ago and it's all fluffy again already. Because it's an Eco-turf lawn, it's more than just grass and the little daisies in it are blooming again. If I let it go one more week, I might get clover flowers, but I'll also not be able to find the cat next time he gets outside.

Anyway, I thought I'd test my theory. Not the cat-losing theory but the can-I-watch-the-plants-grow theory. So yesterday morning I took pictures of the seedlings in the sun room.

pumpkin seedling in the morning

This is a pumpkin seedling.

pumpkin seedling in the evening

Same pumpkin seedling, approximately 8 hours later. The first leaves (they have a special name for the first leaves a seed makes, but it's not in my head right now) have separated.

basil seedlings in the morning

These are basil seedlings.

basil seedlings in the evening

Same seedlings at the end of the day. The most noticeable growth is in the right side of the picture, with the seedling pushing it's way past the dark soil clump.

It happens with such regularity every year and yet this small miracle of germination and greening always blows my mind.

May 09, 2010

Things I did today:

- made a batch of experimental pancakes. The blueberry sauce helped make them a bit more like breakfast and less like raisinless oatmeal raisin cookies. Caitlyn didn't like that we told her she couldn't have syrup on them.

- made some colby cheese. This cheese was less than 6 hours from initial pot sterilization to cheese in press. Either this recipe was simpler or I'm getting better at this. We'll know in 2 months after this one is done aging.

- finished assembling 3 dozen confetti eggs. Must remember to take a picture of them all together before they get smashed.

So, basically I spent all afternoon in the kitchen, except for the time spent pouring watery whey on the peas outside. While I was there, it felt like my list of Things Accomplished was going to be longer. Maybe I should count the eggs individually. Clearly, my Quantity/Quality slider is off.

May 04, 2010

puttenesca and garlicky beans

What's new in the photo above? There's a side dish next to dinner.

Historically, I haven't done side dishes. It's always one more thing to think about when it's time to make dinner, and since we don't eat dinners that feature chunks of meat it's never really seemed like I was missing anything. I don't know what the inspiration was this time, but I found myself slicing garlic and sautéing it into a little butter before adding half a jar of frozen green beans. By the time the beans were hot through, they were wonderfully garlic-infused but still crispy crunchy. The best part: Caitlyn ate every single one that was on her plate. Without prompting or coaxing. She ate them first, before the noodles, which I think you have to have had first-hand experience feeding someone younger than 8 to appreciate.

The other thing on the plate is my standard puttenesca, a hearty, chunky tomato sauce. It's an easy dinner this time of year since almost everything is stored in a pre-cut state. Onions and garlic have to be chopped up fresh, but the (dried) peppers are already diced and the (home canned) tomatoes are easy to chop since the canning process already softened them up. The hardest part: slicing kalamatas without squirting them off the cutting board. Oh, and maybe finding the optimum level of salt.

May 02, 2010

I've stolen some time that I should have spent doing other things to work on another quilt project. This is the other quilt we have that Ian's mom made:

quilt repair -before

The center panel is printed to look quilted, and it's torn. The edges are pieced from old jeans and some shirts, I think. But it's definitely related to the other one I repaired recently.

Figuring out what to do with the center panel has been a challenge. I didn't want to take it out since nothing about this quilt is truly square; removing the center would structurally damage the whole. But there's no way I can patch the torn portion and have it look consistent. For a while I thought about doing some sort of Civil War sampler thing, but that seemed overly complicated.

The original quilt was made for functionality first and made from old clothes. To remain true to that, I settled on a simple, classic 9-patch pattern and fabrics already in my stash.

9 patch squares

I think I may have done a 9-patch something a billion years ago. I've not been particularly drawn to them, either because they look so simple or because they don't look like stars. These turned out to be surprisingly fun to put together. If I were making a large quilt out of them or making super-tiny blocks, strip piecing would have made them even easier. Perhaps a scrappy 9-patch quilt might be a good way to use up some of the fabric stash…

By the end of last weekend, I had this:

new center panel

Next up: attaching it to the original quilt.

April 30, 2010

We had a beautiful morning earlier this week. The clouds were hanging out over by the edge of the sky and the night's rain lingering on the plants made everything sparkle in the sunlight. I went for a bike ride before breakfast and discovered these on the way in the back gate:

baby pears

I have a pear tree full of baby pears! Last year, we had one pear on the whole tree, until someone reached over the fence, picked it, bit it and discovered that it wasn't mature - then threw it back over the fence. I don't know if I should try to throw netting over this tree to protect the fruit from curious neighborhood kids or if I should hope that having more fruit on the tree to start with will result in some of it being left for me.

There are also cherries setting on the cherry tree:

baby cherries

And blueberry flowers galore:

blueberry flowers

And some other flowers:

evergreen clematis in bloom

chive flowers at morning

And probably my best flower (who was supposed to be showing off the height of the Shasta daisies outside the back gate):

Caitlyn at 4yrs, 10 mos.

April 27, 2010

I opened up one of the half-rounds of the Monterey Jack cheese I made in March. It doesn't taste anything like Monterey Jack cheese. It's not bad, just dry and crumbly and on the extra-sharp side. And it's only been aging a month. I don't know if I over-heated, or heated too fast, or over-handled the curds. It could also be the effect of letting it sit in the press three extra hours, but I doubt it. I seem to remember thinking that it was pretty dry when it went into the press.

Also, there was some mold on the rind under the wax this time. So I either waxed it before the rind was completely dry, I wasn't thorough about checking for and removing any nascent mold before waxing, or I managed to trap an air bubble between the wax and the rind. Since I hadn't trimmed down the cheesecloth yet for this round of cheesemaking, I had one surface of the round that was excessively uneven, so even that last possibility isn't outlandish.

I wonder if this cheese's hesitation to melt is a result of it's dryness? Has anyone ever tried to melt manchego? This had a texture much the same, and despite spending nearly 40 minutes at 350 degrees becoming part of tonight's kale enchiladas, it had just started to think about maybe getting around to melting. Not exactly the result one wants in an enchilada, really. Knowing this, I wonder what I'll think up to do with the other half-round...

April 21, 2010

Does anyone know how to find a good home for a tree? It's getting to be time to let go of my Norfolk Island pine. And just thinking about it almost makes me cry.

Norfolk Island Pine

This tree has been part of the family since 1991, when Kathryn gave it to me as a Christmas present. We were in AP US History, juniors at SLVHS, and I still remember how spindly the poor thing was. Kathryn had hung an ornament, not a large one, just a red ball, probably ping-pong ball sized, on its one branch; the weight pulled the whole tree off its center.

The tree lived at my parents' house while I went to college. I remember getting excited the first time it made four simultaneous branches. After Ian and I moved to San Francisco, the tree came to live with us. It started out sitting on a milk crate, but had grown enough to be set on the floor by the time we left for Los Angeles. I drove the tree back to my parents' house, taking the back roads the entire way because the tree was taller than the cab of the truck and I was worried the wind whipping by would snap out the top.

It came back to live with us when we moved to Seattle. The tree was large enough by then to be an awkward house companion, but we found a corner for it anyway. It's thrived in our sunroom, got to be decorated one year for Christmas, and is now approaching the ceiling. The tree is nearly 20 years old; it's been around for more than half my life. And I can't just put it out for the City to haul away.

Norfolk Island Pine

Norfolk Island pines are semi-tropical, despite the name which always makes me think of Maine for some reason, and they aren't pines. In their natural habitat, they can grow to 150 feet or so. But they do all their growing at the top, making it impossible to pinch it back or prune it to maintain a house-sized habit; take out the top and at best you've ruined the shape of the tree. At worst, you kill it. And it wouldn't survive outside here in Seattle, with our decidedly non-tropical winters.

I've talked to Swanson's and they can't take it; apparently there are rules about such things. It needs a warm space with a large vaulted or cathedral ceiling, which rules out most residences (although if anyone knows someone with such a house who wants a tree, send them my way). Ideally, I'd love to find a large building (mall, office building, city hall, community center, etc) that has a super tall ceiling and a plant staffperson. (I'm afraid to just donate it to just anywhere, especially if it's somewhere I'm likely to go, and find it neglected.)

Norfolk Island Pine

So, does anyone know how to find a good home for a tree?

April 16, 2010

I'm not much of a fashion person. I'm too tall for most off-the-rack things, so finding pants that go down to my ankles is a challenge, and all my long-sleeve shirts magically transform into 3/4 sleeve shirts when I put them on. And I'd rather spend money on books or food than pay for custom tailoring. Which would be rather silly, really, since I don't have an office job, don't have co-workers to impress, and would probably ruin things with all the urban homesteading I attempt.

Shopping is depressing for me because things always fit so badly. Retail Therapy is more stressful and aggravating than therapeutic, so it's not that hard to resist its siren call. (I probably could have parlayed the irritation into a reasonable skill-set of fashion design, but by the time that thought occurred to me, I had already become rather entrenched in my Clothing Should Be Practical worldview. I'm just recently starting to sew myself the kind of clothes I want to wear, some of which aren't practical at all since I seem to like long, full skirts. You try cleaning house with 6 1/2 yards of fabric between you and the floor.) I've found a few places over the years that have things that are "good enough", and I stick to those. Eddie Bauer has long pants, if you buy them online. Experience Shoes not only carries my preferred style of Dr. Martens, they've also got sensible black pumps (and a lot of non-sensible ones, too, if you're into that). I'm still looking for reasonably-priced, solid-color, femininely-styled tops with long sleeves that don't become 3/4 sleeves on me, but for now St. John's Bay seems to mostly work.

And then, sometimes, I make exceptions. For special, pretty things. Something nice to dress up my ultra-practical, no frills wardrobe. So, when Inca Mama has an online sale, especially a sale with a 75% off discount, I buy something. It's always soft and warm and makes me feel more like a Lady and less like something that fell off the apple cart. There's the added karmic perk of knowing that I'm supporting another woman's small business and that Carmela donates a portion of her revenue back to the villages in Peru where she gets her fibers. During this most recent sale (which is still going on right now!) I added a Banya to my little Inca Mama collection. Next on my list is a Lucy, if Carmela still has any in my size...

April 13, 2010

Yes, you can say anything you want with statistics. But I'm going to post this anyway:

why a salad costs more than a big mac

(Image from the
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's Good Medicine via The Consumerist)

The American government subsidizes (makes it cheaper for a farmer to produce, and thus for the consumer to buy) meat more than other food items, despite the same government's official recommendation that we all should eat more of the things it's not encouraging the producers to produce.

This article has some good points about how the chart above visually distorts the data. But I think the point that the chart makers were trying to make is mostly about meat and not about the other categories. The meat/dairy industry receives 74% of the agricultural subsidies, when we're really only supposed to eat 6 servings of protein per day. Really, it's no wonder we Americans eat too much meat. It's the only thing some of us can afford to buy.
We took a little jaunt down to California for Easter with family. My grandfather was celebrating his 90th as well as Easter (he was apparently born on Easter, too) and got to do it surrounded by all available descendants.

Great Grandpa's 90th birthday

Caitlyn was exited by the trip, but extra-enthusiastic at the prospect of spending time with her cousin. The tissue paper from some Easter gifts was a big hit.

Caitlyn and tissue paper

We took Caitlyn down to the beach and watched the waves off West Cliff. There had been a bit of a storm the day before, so there were some good ones crashing into the cliffs and sending up spray.

Caitlyn watching waves

It was a lovely day, and the surfers were out, so we watched them for a while. And then we pointed out the rides visible on the other side of the wharf and Caitlyn - trouper that she is - willingly walked the almost 2 miles there (it's shorter if you go straight, but it's wet, and not even surfers can go in a straight line) to check out the Boardwalk.

Caitlyn at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

We made a second stop in at Grandpa and Grandma's house. Caitlyn got to ride in Grandpa's lifting chair and made a brave attempt to sit still long enough for the dog to snore as promised (the dog didn't deliver). She exhibited a strange ability to locate all the plastic leaf coasters in the house, and at the end, consented to a photo with Grandma and to a Flying Caitlyn hug for Grandpa.

Caitlyn with Great Grandma

Add in a walk in the redwoods (over muddy trails, since we had forgotten about the good-wave-creating torrential downpour on Sunday) and it was a fine trip.

big tree