Friday, March 29, 2013

Dutch baby: a delicious "fake pancake"

I'm going to send you into your Easter weekend with a notion of the easiest hot breakfast that seems like you expended lots of energy but which actually took you all of three minutes to prepare: a Dutch baby. Until recently, I had eaten Dutch babies in restaurants (hmm, not quite the statement I prefer making) but never made one at home. I call it a fake pancake because without the flipping and bubble-waiting, it doesn't seem like hard enough work to deserve the title. But as Vivi said when we sat down to eat them the first time, "It looks like a pancake, it smells like a pancake, and you put syrup on it. It's a pancake." Personally, I think she was just relieved to sit down to a food that didn't involve babies and the Netherlands. Since then, it's made it onto a near-weekly repertoire.

As with so many of Deb's recipes, I didn't need to tinker or alter the gingerbread Dutch baby from the smitten kitchen cookbook (here's her buckwheat baby). It is perfect as is. A few eggs, some flour, milk, and seasonings, zhushed up in the blender, poured into a skillet, cooked in the oven, and topped with powdered sugar. When you feel like pleasing your family with a special weekend morning treat, you can't get much easier.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

{girl rising}: go see it!

I never embed videos in the blog two days in a row, but the exception is worthwhile because this film is itself so exceptional:

I saw it a few nights ago at our town's tiny theater with girlfriends. Find a theater near you to see it for yourself. I recommend taking your daughters too, so long as they are 13 or older. There are stories of sexual violence and a child giving birth in the film, but they are handled with discretion for the sake of minors watching. A few moms and seventh graders were leaving the theater next to us, and I overheard one say to the other, "Oh thank goodness! I was worried about where we were headed for a moment, but I think it was just perfect." I couldn't have said it better myself. Powerful, inspiring, important.

If, like me, you leave the theater wondering how you can donate, check out this website. The issue of girls' education is one that is dear to my heart. When I left Kenya the second time, I tried to assist in the creation of a Kenya girls' education fund, and I learned much about the process of becoming a NGO, as well as other great life lessons. Now in my thirties, I'm happy to see there's an organization doing good work in this needed area. I hope that some day, girls won't have to live their lives on the street, selling their bodies to feed their hungry families.

I wrote about this girl in a post last year

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

my toddler, the terrorist

You'll have to trust me that there's a toddler under that blanket. Talking to some necklaces.

I'm fond of joking that Charlie is our very own teensy terrorist because of how often she reverts to scare tactics--screeching at the top of her lungs, crying, sitting down in the middle of traffic--to get what she wants. Sometimes I'm not sure even she knows quite what she wants. Add to that baby-psychosis that she is stubborn as the day is long. Often I have trouble finding the humor in my terrorism joke. Yesterday after a moment of such megalomania, I consulted the Interwebs and found that a humorist blogger I like, How to Be a Dad, has a post on this topic too. A few laughs later, I at least see I'm not alone in my occasional torment.

When the tyrant in her comes out, I say a little "Serenity now!" prayer and try to summon some compassion for her. I realize she isn't crying to manipulate me--at least not usually--and that it must be very tough to be the little sister. So much of her day she hears the word "NO!," from Vivi as much if not more than us. I vacillate between wanting to strengthen her patience muscle and just wanting to shut her up. While I feel like I fail at times more than I succeed, I have on random occasion achieved some success at calming the tiger.

When dealing with the terrible twos, I try to look at the bright side; for the most part, she's still my easy-going kid, eating pretty much everything that's put in front of her and using the bathroom since before the age of two. I count those wins as major victories. When she does fight me, I assume she is trying to gain some control in her world and offer her some control when I can. A choice between two options is often the solution, and if that doesn't work, distraction is my second favorite tactic. Talking to her in the voice of one of her favorite stuffed animals works quite well--Alligator says "Charlie, I really hope you'll put on your sweater because I think it's so pretty!"

I keep an arsenal of snacks at home and on the road to keep her blood sugar up, I try not to skip her nap when I can, and I keep TV and sugar to a minimum. From trial and error, I've learned these tricks help me most, although calamity still comes around despite my best efforts.

Do you have experience with this territory? How do you keep your tiny dictator at bay?

p.s. Because I loved it so much, I'm also sharing Design Mom's Olive Us episode called "How to Be Two." If you don't know Gabrielle Blair, her current two year old is her fifth or sixth child, and in my visions of what their life is like in France, I imagine them taking her tiny tantrums in stride, laughing and clucking about what an adorable soul she is. Meanwhile, I am sighing and playing another round of Candy Land.

How To Be 2 from Olive Us on Vimeo.

p.p.s. I liked up today with Works for Me Wednesday because this (sort of) works for me. Winky face!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

on the range {week 12}: spaghetti face

{On the Range} is my weekly series where I discuss what we're doing, reading, and eating. It's a little bit 52 project and other photo projects, and a little bit {Did you Read?} and {In the Ranger Kitchen}.

"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013."
Vivi: I considered posting another shot, but talking through my photo shoots is so classically Vivi, it seemed like the right one to share.
Charlie: There is a similarly disgusting spaghetti face picture of me at her age, so I had to run and grab the camera. Also, any dentists reading? Is this a cross-bite? She does it a lot.

On the Range
March 19 - 25, 2013

My week...

  • Hubs returned back to the scene of the crime to return and purchase even more apparel, and this chick stayed home even though said outlet mall contained a Williams Sonoma, Calphalon, and Le Crueset store. I'm a good girl, I am.
  • After my cocky post a few years back, I am currently losing the battle with the post office over how much junk mail I throw away daily, but as you are my witness, I will NOT lose the war.

  • I informed my dear husband that the next house we select to make a home needs to contain within its walls a place I can hide from my children. A must!

  • CNN posted an article discussing the possible contribution of skim milk to childhood obesity. At the risk of displaying sanctimommy, I'm personally not surprised by this data, considering my own anecdotal evidence that the people who know more about nutrition are not bothered by the fat content of their milk; whereas, people who can be dazzled by the "health benefits" of diet sodas and skim milk tend to overdo it in other food areas. Does this make sense? I do find myself feeling sad for these parents and kids because there are SO MANY WAYS TO SCREW OUR KIDS UP, y'all.
  • A look back at the first day I began blogging regularly.
  • Speaking of looking back, I just happened to notice my list of posts from last March's NaBloPoMo. Sweet fancy Moses, what a list--how productive! Makes me want to go tell last year's version of myself "Hey there overachiever, let's not ruin the daily blogging experience for the rest of us slackers who are writing of spousal badinage."
  • Did you see Amber of Crappy Picture's story about quickies? I LOLOLed about "there's no window, Daddy!"


Monday, March 25, 2013

everything tastes of porridge

I love that expression because it denotes the practical reality of our domestic affairs that creeps into my fantasies of married life, impinging on my daydreams of intimate beachy vacations for two. Home life, y'all, has its doldrums.

Take, for instance, my husband (please!). He takes forever to pick out new clothing, by which point I have bought everything I need for myself and two other human beings, eaten a lunch of pizza and cucumber salad, let them play on the outdoor clay turtles for two hours, gotten a pedicure, and read Crime and Punishment. I say all this out of love and jest, of course, and I'm happy he has selected for himself a lovely martyr of a wife who will gladly plop herself on the bed to watch the runway show ("do you like these gray pants, or these other gray pants that look exactly the same?") in return for a nightly foot rub.

In truth, I realize I dish out as much of the ridiculousness as I endure, probably more. For example, the other night we were watching Argo (Good movie. Oscar-worthy? Sure, why not). I know he doesn't like it when I talk during a movie that he's seeing for the first time and really wants to watch, particularly if it's a dramatic cliffhanger. I also know that he doesn't really care about film trivia, i.e. what happened behind the scenes when thus-and-so director made the actors do such-and-such to get the scene just right. However, I still inserted such dialogue during Argo. I dunno, I can't stop myself. Lucky for me, he mostly chooses not to repine about it.

By the same token, I do also delight in having found someone to whom I can grumble to about the length of a shopping trip, only to have him come back with a riposte about one of my peccadillos. What others might call bickering we see as witty banter.

Okay, your turn. What about you? Tell me something of your marital repartee.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

on dating myself {spoiler: rant coming...}

No, not that kind of dating. The kind where you ponder your age and shake your head at the time that has rudely picked up and marched on.

A few days ago my aunt, a college professor, posted to Facebook that her students do not know who Eric Clapton is. Eric Clapton!! This piece of news is unfathomable to me. I remember the day early in high school that I broke a window in my mom's garage door while hitting tennis balls against it. What was playing on my boombox? My third-ever CD purchased--after 10,000 Maniacs (yay!) and Candlebox (...yak)--Clapton Unplugged. Looking back at that moment, I think it's funny that I didn't realize my own ability to break windows with tennis balls. I also wonder about my neighbors having to endure my blaring driveway music, although who can imagine someone yelling "Turn that garbage down!" about San Francisco Bay Blues. I can, actually. Those were some cranky-ass neighbors.

But back to my original point. Or not point, really, but incoherent rant. What the crap? How do these whippersnappers not know who Eric Clapton is? These were children born in, what, 1990 to 1994? We're not talking about Twiggy or Studio 54, here. Eric Freaking Clapton is one of those people you should just KNOW. I blame their parents, I suppose. And this is the moment where I realize I am going to be one of those parents who some day will pin down my daughters and force them to listen to Crossroads. But so be it. There are some things that must be passed down to future generations, and effing Cream is one of them, okay people? Ain't nobody got time for that shit.

The intangible moment is upon me, in which I realize I no longer fit in with youth but don't fully see myself in my parents' shoes. What do you call this stage of life? Adulthood? Not full-blown disillusionment, surely. This is not a Dickens novel, after all, but still! I must admit there is a twinge of "these kids today and their iPhones" when I watch a sullen hobbledehoy taking my order or bagging my groceries. I'll be among these young'ns soon enough when I go back home to work at my old camp for a month this summer, which I'm doing since Vivi will be attending for her first time. That experience promises to be interesting, I'll say that much!

In honor of the mixing of the ages that is to come, let's ponder some of the ways I can shock them with my wisdom and experience, shall we? (I borrowed inspiration for this part from an oldie by Sub'n Matron, who borrowed her inspiration from Finslippy. My life is a derivative Woody Allen film, hardee har.)

For starters, I had a record player until high school. My favorite record was the Dirty Dancing soundtrack; I must have played it 1,000 times. I remember an exciting morning that an LP came in our Sunday paper from McDonald's, and I played the menu song a million times in a row that day... "I'd like a Big Mac, McBLT, a Quarter Pounder with some cheese..."

I remember when we used to rent a VCR from Turtles, a local movie store. When I was eleven years old, I saved up all my babysitting money to buy a duffel bag with the Atlanta Olympic rings on it. This was after I watched the announcement that the Olympics were coming to Atlanta on our little black & white TV in the kitchen that had rabbit ears and two dials. Back then I would get up to turn the channel back and forth from 17 (back when TBS was only in Atlanta) to 4, which had my favorite Saturday morning shows, Muppet Babies and Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

Early college, circa 1999? Love and the pencil-thin eyebrows.
I can remember the first season of Real World. I remember typing high school papers on my typewriter. The start of the Internet, AOL and "you've got mail" and all that. I know where I was when I heard Princess Diana died. One time I bummed a quarter from a stranger in college so I could call my roommate on a pay phone (in college, you guys--i.e. no smart phone) to come pick me up because my car was in a parking lot, out of gas.

What do you remember about the days of yore?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

the girls in my world

Charlie has gotten to the age where she sings the alphabet "T...U...Vivi." Vivi went through that phase too, and it is just about the sweetest sound to my ears. I will surely miss that stage when it's gone for good. She adores her big sister, saying "Hey Vivi, how 'bout we play dis game?!" excitedly when Vivi gets home from school. She has been waiting, you see, for her #1 favorite playmate--I make an okay secondary partner, I suppose.

Candy Land has made its way to the top of the chart on game night, and I only grit my teeth a little bit because at least it's fast. Plus, the way they squeal when they turn up a candy picture card, that's worth a bit of nonsense. Luckily we haven't had to endure Shoots and Ladders yet, but I'm also betting age 5 is a big year for board games. Do y'all have board games you like (or more likely, tolerate)? Vivi seems alarmingly good at checkers for her age, and I am past pretending I'm letting her win and on to bringing my A game.

...What this makes you think of me, I can only imagine...

Vivi asks all manner of interesting questions lately. Like, this morning she felt her head and asked if there were multiple bones in her skull. We had discussed that her brain was protected by her skull bone, but I hadn't specified how the skull was formed (why would I, right?). She felt around and noticed that it seemed like there was more than one bone. What were the bones called, she wondered. Nate and I are normally convinced the other one put such notions in her head, only to find out later after drilling each other that she comes up with them on her own. Smartypants! Do your young'ns do this?

She also routinely drills me on the variety of names for her teeth, wanting to be sure she gets the specific tooth right when she informs me that "an incisor is loose." My little scientist. Of course, then in the same blink of a moment, she will wipe a booger on the window or put her shoe on the wrong foot, and I am ushered back into the reality of her four-year-old self. But man, those glimpses of what she will be some day. They are powerful, you know?

After the last picture I posted and then when you see this next photo, you might think all I do is let the kids watch TV. I swear, there is only a tiny part of me that wants to correct this possible line of thought. Do please let the record show that Charlie hand-picked her own stripy outfit (right down to the tights).

What's happening on your end? Any good weekend plans?

Friday, March 22, 2013

{this moment}: homeslice

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

via SouleMama.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

if you can't say anything nice...move to Boston

[An aside about my post title: I mean it in the most cordial of tones. I own that it did take a while before I embraced the common use of the eff-bomb in ordinary, everyday Massachusetts vernacular. Whereas I once thought Yankees had all the charm of a snake, after two years in residence up yonder, I see their affably blunt manner in a new light. Bostonians say fuck with aplomb, demonstrating at once both their status as a person of the world--a reckon-able force, I daresay--and their passionate candor. The Irish blood shows itself in their heightened color, irresistible sarcasm, and a retributive justice that lends a simple ardor to their storytelling (see also: Bill Burr). When I ponder migrating southbound again, it's surprisingly this aspect of New England life that gives me pause more than any other. I've grown fond of telling it like it is, y'all. And so I wonder, would I be able to speak as bluntly in the honey-dripping, bless-your-heart Deep South? I fear not.]

I feel I owe you some deets after missing another blogging day yesterday. It is complicated, this 31-days-of-posts business. Let's get on with it, shall we? I'll begin by telling you that when I brought the kids home from school today, I stood in the kitchen for five minutes, "making out furiously with a jar of Nutella." I blame Nate, who suggested I might eat more calories now that I am pseudo-training for a triathlon. Thanks, dear.

In my defense of the Nutella binge, allow me mention that winter has finally beaten me into a dazed submission. It started snowing while I was milling about the preschool hallway, and I cried actual tears on my friend's shoulder while she patted my back. Me!, grown woman who does not cry (that would be my Native American name, I think). We are simpatico, these girls and me, and I feel lucky to have some best-good friends who understand the meltdowns of a transplanted southerner WHO JUST WANTS TO FEEL FUCKING WARMTH ON HER SKIN IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK.

This morning (I realize I'm going backward, but that's how stream of consciousness works sometimes) an older lady in my neighborhood was wearing a plastic grocery bag on her hair while walking to her car. So this is still A Thing, this bag-over-the-hairdo thing?!  I'd like to have a serious discussion with you about this sighting. I remember ladies doing this practice when I was a child, but somehow I thought the passage of a few decades would mean the extinction of such a behavior. The fact that it is alive and well means the following scary truth: Daughters of those ladies witnessed their mothers' placement of the bag, laughed at them, and yet. Yet! Somewhere along the line these same women thought "This seems like a good idea" and started doing it too. I would like to go on record now to my future grown children that if I ever start wearing a plastic bag on my head, you have my permission to pull it the rest of the way down. Because, no.

In closing, I present to you a sweet picture of my kids huddling close to each other during the scary part of a movie (Cars, I think? I can't imagine what scared them, haven't sat down to watch it yet). Pay no mind to the clean but unfolded sheets under them on the chair.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

on the range {week 11}: rye bread and dukkah

{On the Range} is my weekly series where I discuss what we're doing, reading, and eating. It's a little bit 52 project and other photo projects, and a little bit {Did you Read?} and {In the Ranger Kitchen}.

"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013."
On The Range
March 11 - 18, 2013


  • Vivi asked me a tough question this week, which prompted us to gather a bunch of books from the library. Currently we have a few about nutrition, taste, the brain, and why we make so many funny bodily functions (sneeze, cough, blink, yawn, burp, etc.). It's been fun to see the learning in action.
  • Speaking of learning, she arrived home from school a few days ago to announce that she knew all of the names of the planets, including "Mahs," "Jupitah," and "Satuhn." I laughed and took her to YouTube to commence some un-learning of the names.

My week...

  • It always strikes me as funny that Bostonians are so gung ho about St. Patrick's Day. I guess it's one of the only holidays where people are given free license to get drunk and be obnoxious a-holes, which is a beloved pastime up here. Only kidding!





rye bread

2 1/2 c. bread flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 c. dark rye flour 
2 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. active dry yeast
1/2 c. warm water (110-115 degF)
1 c. whole milk, room temp.
2 Tbs. olive oil
3/4 c. finely chopped onion (optional)
2 Tbs. whole caraway seeds (sometimes I do half fennel seeds)

Add rye flour, 1/2 c. bread flour, sugar, salt, and yeast to a large glass or ceramic bowl. Mix together with a whisk. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, add milk, oil, and water and incorporate with flour until the mixture resembles a thick batter. Add onion and caraway seeds, then slowly add remaining bread flour, 1/2 c. at a time, until you can turn out the dough onto a floured surface. 

Knead the dough aggressively for 5-10 minutes until your arms burn, the dough is no longer sticky, and it springs back when poked. Allow the dough ball to rest on the counter while you rinse the large bowl, then oil the bowl and add the dough to it, flipping it to coat it in oil. Cover with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free location until it has doubled in size, about 2 1/2 hours. My trick for getting bread to rise in the New England winter is to preheat the oven to 180 degF while I'm kneading, then turn it off. By the time I'm finished kneading, the oven is usually down to about 80 degF. I put the bowl in the oven, covered with the tea towel and topped with a digital thermometer, then I keep an eye on the temperature. If it drops, I use a heating pad to bring it back up to 80 degF.

Punch the risen dough down and put it back on your floured work surface. Let it rest while you gather the remaining supplies. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and then sprinkle it with fine cornmeal (course-ground cornmeal is too crunchy and will make the bread an odd texture; if this is all you have, skip it completely); alternatively, you can use a pizza peel/baking stone instead of a baking sheet if you have one. Shape the dough into whatever form you desire; you can make small rolls, 2 medium baguette shapes, or 1 large loaf for sandwiches, which is my preferred shape. Cover again with  a tea towel and let rise for 40 minutes to an hour, until the dough has doubled again in size. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour and make five slashes with a sharp or serrated knife.

Preheat oven to 425 degF. To make a crunchier crust, you can either spray water into the oven after putting the loaf in and immediately shut the door, or you can heat an iron skillet and pour hot water into it as you put the loaf in. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then turn down the oven to 375 degF and cook for another 20-25 minutes until the crust is a golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If, like me, you don't trust those methods of telling bread-doneness, you can also insert a thermometer in the bottom of the loaf; it should be 190-200 degF. Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing, as the bread continues to cook after being taken out of the oven.


I came across this spice blend at Trader Joe's and decided I could make my own at home. After consulting a few recipes online, I gave it a whirl. I like that it feels impossible to mess up, and the possible variations are endless. Hazelnuts are the traditional nut used, but I didn't have any so improvised with pine nuts and almonds. Pistachios also seem like a wonderful idea.

1 c. pine nuts (see note above)
1 c. almonds
1/4 c. sesame seeds
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
1 Tbs. fennel seeds
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1-2 tsp. black peppercorns, coarsely crushed (to taste)
1/2-1 tsp. salt (to taste)
up to 1 Tbs. red pepper flakes (optional, if you like it extra spicy)
1 tsp. dried mint (optional)

Toast nuts on a baking sheet in either the oven or toaster oven for 5-10 minutes until golden brown and smelling good. Be careful not to burn them! Burning can happen quickly, so they should be watched closely. Heat a small skillet over medium heat; toast the seeds for 5-8 minutes until fragrant. Toss with nuts and remaining ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground and combined. Do not over-pulse, or you will end up with nut butter.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gibran, on marriage

Even though I wasn't a member of the 1960's counterculture, I still appreciate The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. Have you ever read it? I have no idea what happened to the tattered copy I had in college, but when I get around to purchasing another copy, I'd like it to be from a thrift store so it has the similarly worn feel. I wish I could possess a tenth of his brilliance, but then, something tells me he wouldn't like me wishing that. Whenever I've encountered a milestone in life, I've often found myself flipping through the book to see what Gibran has to say on the subject.

In keeping with that trend, yesterday after I wrote about wanting to write about marriage--a writer's mise en abyme, or more likely, a narcissist's worldview?--I turned to Gibran's thoughts on marriage from The Prophet. [n.b. equally wonderful are his thoughts on joy and sorrow and on children]. I thought you might like to read along with me:

 You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. 
      You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days. 
      Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. 
      But let there be spaces in your togetherness, 
      And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 
      Love one another but make not a bond of love: 
      Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. 
      Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. 
      Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. 
      Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, 
      Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. 
      Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. 
      For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. 
      And stand together, yet not too near together: 
      For the pillars of the temple stand apart, 
      And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow. 

-Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet

From our trip to Stockholm, 2006

Saturday, March 16, 2013

home again, home again

Circa 2005. Awwww.

Nate is home after a week away. I'm always glad to have him back where he belongs. The missing piece of the puzzle is back again, and all is right in our world.

I've been pondering writing about marital discourse and the ebbs and flows of love and intimacy. I've got stuff to say on that part of life, and I think they might be interesting thoughts. Where might such thoughts get published, though? I dunno. I prefer to keep the blog about whatever it is the blog is about, you know? Incoherent ramblings and such. I'm not funny enough for Jezebel, not witty enough for Slate, not pithy enough for the New Yorker. So what does that leave, Good Housekeeping? If you have thoughts on the matter, I'm open to hearing them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

{this moment}: first light

. . . . . . . . . . 

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

. . . . . . . . . .

via SouleMama.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

p.s. I'm not raising toilets either

Among members of my dad's family, there are some well-known parenting phrases that came from my great grandmother, who had eight children and lived to be 92. It's hard to pick a favorite. When asked how she raised so many children so well, she always replied "With one blind eye and one deaf ear." I love that one because it's basically the only way I've stayed sane since becoming a mom.

The one I've got on my mind this week is "I'm raising children, not furniture." She would say it whenever one of the kids would spill, break, or generally mistreat an object in her home. I love it because it's so true! Whatever angry outburst that I am inclined to have when my kids break something is never worth it compared to the positive and lasting worth of the patience and love I can show them instead.

 photo ae6eefaf-4857-441b-8d8d-6994310809d8_zps42ef99b7.jpg

That's not to say I don't erupt from time to time, like when they combined forces to make the toilet overflow yesterday, just so they could "use the potty fixer thing like Mommy does," and I walked in to find water drowning the floor, the kids, and my humility. La di da, la di da.

I find another use of this phrase--perhaps unintended by Great Grandma--is an internal mantra when I'm pondering whether to play with my kids or clean up. Tonight we voted for playing dominoes at the dining room table instead of doing the dishes. And so, okay, dishes aren't furniture, but the general meaning is the same.

Random assortment of above-the-sink collectibles. Items change weekly but never disappear completely.

The likely reason I've got the phrase on my mind this week is that instead of doing my nightly cleaning and organizing, I've been writing and reading. I have gotten back into the swing of writing every day, even if it's only a paragraph, and I'm immensely enjoying myself. NaBloPoMo (the blogging every day thing) really helps me get the gears turning. Tonight I'm doing more reading than writing, since I am doing my part to vote for The Bloggies. Check it out, but don't say I didn't warn you about the potential for time suckage.

Be well and stay dry,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

on exercising your body and your mind: a twofer!

As a result of that "Detour" writing prompt I borrowed from StorySLAM, I've been pondering various events and crises that I've collected along my merry way of life. Keeping to my true nerdy psych major status, I have even been doing some research on the cognitive processes at play during said events. You know, so I can analyze and piece together the many colored psychopathologies that make up beautiful, kaleidoscopic me. Oh, hyperbole!

But really, y'all, I came up with some rad findings having to do with exercise. What I already knew was that life experience gradually improves cognitive function such that the adult is better able to respond to crises. Hence why we don't elect child prodigies as President. What I wanted to find out was whether and why my involvement in crew might have assisted me mentally in some way. Like, does participating in all exercise help, or is there something special about the sport of rowing? It should be said that what is assumed in my hypothesis is that I am awesome; I'm not trying to figure out whether I'm great, just whether crew contributed to my greatness. Ha. But I'm ignoring that major conflict of interest so I can tell you about what I found.

Scientists have found that rigorous exercise improves neuroplasticity; in a nutshell, my hypothesis was onto something. Exercising can positively affect complicated cognitive responses and even improve avoidance of unpleasant stimuli. The study I just linked to was on mice, who were made to swim in a tiny water maze, then were presented with unpleasant stimuli. Scientists recorded how long it took them to move away from the stimuli (I picture a guy in a lab coat putting his finger in a mouse's face and saying in an annoying tone, "I'm not touching you! I'm not touching you!"). Later, half the mice were allowed to play with their toys and the other half were forced onto minitreadmills and handed tiny barbells to lift (kidding about the barbells, but the minitreadmills are real! Adorbs). Afterward, the mice who ran and lifted weights were better at the water maze (no surprise), and they were also better at avoiding unpleasant stimuli (surprise!).

Like with the study I mentioned, most research on exercising improving cognition seems so far to have been done on lab rats. After all, they are so much easier to get past the IRB. And speaking of the IRB, there's no way I could get a paper on this topic past them, considering the giant red flag of my confirmation bias. I went looking for a connection between exercise and cognition, and lo and behold, thirty seconds later I found one. But for those of you looking for motivation to go to the gym, look no further. It makes you smarter!

For me, it adds motivation to keep our kids involved in some kind of exercise at all times. Our philosophy, which we are both incredibly gung-ho about, is that they can pick what they do, but they must do some kind of exercise. And what about you? Has exercise positively influenced your life? Do you have an exercise policy with your kids? With yourself?

Vivi, circa 2008. I call it "Still life at Nats game."

p.s. This picture really has nothing to do with the post, but I just rediscovered it a few days ago, and it cracks me up. I love the far-off stare, the seriousness, the drool, and the fact that it all randomly takes place in front of a baseball game. It's stock photography gone mad. I had nowhere it could go that made any sense, so I figured it may as well go with a post that had no picture. So there we are. Laugh away!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

how babies are born: a conversation with my daughter

The worried look, caught on camera

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Update (10/22/13): We've added a new favorite book to the library of sex education called It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends. It has illustrations of a bird and bee talking to each other on each page, which were cute and provided some comic relief for the material to keep the conversation light.

I was planning to write about preschool gender roles today. In fact, I had the post all ready to go on the submission deadline. That morning, my almost-five-year-old daughter actually began our first tough conversation. How's that for timing? Apropos to nothing, Genevieve turned to me with a furrowed brow at the breakfast table and said "I don't want to grow up! I want to stay a kid forever because William said that Mommies have their tummies cut open for the baby to come out. Is that how babies come out, Mommy?"

Before I get to my response, let's break down her announcement. My first reaction is "Oh, sad!" because at that time of the day, I hope for my child to ponder the best way to get more cereal on her spoon, not worry about the fate of her uterus in a few decades. My second reaction is "Thank goodness!" because I'm so happy she feels comfortable to bring up these subjects to me.

Without even a sip of coffee, I managed somehow to keep head firmly attached to shoulders. I calmly explained that first of all, having babies was not something she needed to worry about now because only grown-ups have babies. Then I told her that although some babies are cut out of their mother's womb (as I've discussed in the past, we use anatomically correct language), it's not how most babies are born. I told her that babies are usually born from a mother's vagina, and it's usually a wonderful and happy day when it happens.

She looked a tiny bit less frightened. Then I asked her if she had any more questions. Boy, did she ever.

"Yes," she replied firmly. "Sometimes I feel a rumbling in my tummy. Is that a baby floating around?"

Oh, sad! No, I reminded her, only grown-ups have babies in their wombs. Clearly we needed to go over digestion again, so I began telling her all about how food is broken down for nutrients in the stomach, and waste travels through the intestines to become poop. Her eyes widened and her expression softened to one of curiosity and wonder. Mommy was talking about poop! She had lots of questions about how poop is made and the reason we sometimes have gas (admittedly we call gas a "toot").

From this experience, I take away the importance of follow-up questions and making sure I understand why she wants to know the information and that she understood my responses. My daughter is almost five, and next year she'll be in kindergarten, so I know there are more talks to come before that first day of school. I want her to know she can always come to me when she has questions about how her body works or if kids at school tell her information she doesn't think is correct or feels needs clarification.

Later that day, I went to the library and picked up a few books that have started and continued quite a few discussions about the human body this week. To my surprise, she will sit through an entire lengthy book on the subject! This proud mama looks forward to the many more conversations to come.

In case you'd like to pick up some books, here are the ones we've read so far and liked:

Above all, I want Vivi to be excited about how amazing her body really is and hopefully never rarely embarrassed by her bodily functions. Her question was a good reminder to me that once is not enough for a discussion about her body. We're never going to sit down and have THE TALK because I plan to have many age-appropriate talks over her childhood. I consider this conversation a doorway to a new beginning for us.

Have you had "the talk" with your preschooler? What can you share about the experience?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)
  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn't Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she's explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she's learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren't so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she's had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller's Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter's horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges--when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who'd want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn't have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.

Monday, March 11, 2013

on the range {week 10}: easy stir-fry

{On the Range} is my weekly series where I discuss what we're doing, reading, and eating. It's a little bit 52 project and other photo projects, and a little bit {Did you Read?} and {In the Ranger Kitchen}.

Here are what the girls looked like just a year ago:

Here's them on Saturday after we made a snowman ("with a stick for a mouth and a carrot nose and two eyes made out of clementines"):

"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

my quest to become a {gulp} storyteller

my girlfriend's boyfriend

This weekend we went to see the comedian Mike Birbiglia perform his show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend. He is so funny and such a wonderful storyteller. I loved that his act had multiple small story arcs within one larger arc, and so many of the jokes would come back later in the bit. I also appreciate that, when compared with the tragic moments in Sleepwalk with Me, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend is at its heart a love story, full of the missteps and heartache but also pockets of optimism that he delivers with such honesty and self-deprecation. It was fun to see the show in Worcester, close to his hometown; the audience was as rowdy as I expected. [If you haven't yet, you should check out Mike's film version of Sleepwalk with Me on Netflix].

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Saturday morning Southern biscuits

I've been wanting to invite you into our Saturday morning milieu for a while. Then Deb posted a recipe for biscuits this week, and it became my destiny to share our ritual with you. For whatever reason--probably having to do with fond memories of the time--Saturday morning is when I miss my family most. Being away from home as long as I have (10 years and counting! Can that be right?), I've learned to create pockets of time--little homes away from home--that feed the fire of home that burns in my gut no matter how many feet of snow might be trying to freeze it.

Friday, March 08, 2013

{this moment}: snow day...again!

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

white wine braised chicken with winter veg

After having been members of our meat CSA for over a year, I am feeling like an expert in what to expect in our monthly cooler. One trend we can count on is that after a few months, we will end up with a random assortment of chicken parts in our freezer. I actually love those times because there are so many ways you can cook chicken. In my opinion, the only way to cook chicken is slowly. It's a versatile meat; most whole chicken recipes can also be used on chicken that's been cut up. My favorite winter standbys are:

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

methods of conserving water: a gardening season primer

I'll never forget my first lesson in conserving water. I was at summer camp, and our head counselor stood in front of the group and explained how we could use less water when brushing our teeth by turning off the water when not using it. As an adult who has been doing this practice most my life, it seems so elementary as to require no explanation, but I remember feeling astonished at this news as a child. Oh, right, I don't need to run the water when I'm not using it!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

on the range {week 9}: buttermilk roast chicken

{On the Range} is my weekly series where I discuss what we're doing, reading, and eating. It's a little bit 52 project and other photo projects, and a little bit {Did you Read?} and {In the Ranger Kitchen}.

"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013."
 Others from that portrait session...

Monday, March 04, 2013

tea in a pouch almost as good as the real thing: {guest post}

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm an avid tea drinker. But up until recently, I had relied on the prepackaged bags. Once I splurged on loose tea I was hooked, but I will admit it is considerably less convenient to use my tea ball than just grabbing a bag. I'm happy to learn from the writer of today's guest post, Rebecca Nolan, you don't have to sacrifice quality for convenience. Thanks Rebecca! 

Most genuine tea experts drink only loose leaf tea—and for a very good reason: The best teas typically aren’t bagged. (Let me reiterate that “most” tea experts don’t drink bagged tea; sure as the world you know an expert who does, but he is, pardon the expression, an odd ball.)

The experts realize, having visited a few tea processing and packing centers during their careers, that most commercial tea bags are filled with tea fannings and dust. That is, the bags are filled with the detritus of the good stuff, which was packaged and sold as loose leaf tea.

Think of it this way: when you finish off a box of cornflakes, the bottom of the box has a layer of dust. Because the dust consists of crushed corn flakes, it ought to be as good as the whole flakes, right? So why do you tend to quit pouring the cornflakes before the dust gets in the bowl? Because dust doesn’t taste as good as flakes!

The story is the same with tea in tea bags. It consists of tea leaves that have been crushed, torn, and otherwise reduced to small pieces. They have much less surface area in proportion to their edges, so freshness and nutrients bleed away. That’s an apt metaphor—bleeding. The crushed leaves bleed to death before they can redeem themselves as flavorful agents in a tea cup.

Perhaps you keep tabs on your favorite tea store to make sure it is buying from a good wholesale black tea seller. Go one step further: See if the store is stocking quality tea in tea pouches. That’s right, it is possible to have your quality tea and contain it, too—in tea pouches.

Sounds like snobbery, I guess. Tea bags are no good, but tea pouches are OK! Yet it is true. It is possible to enjoy a tasty cup of tea brewed inside a pouch. A good wholesale blooming tea seller is apt to handle pouched tea, too.

Biodegradable Tea Pouches
Image Credit: Wild & Bare Co.

The difference is not that “pouch” sounds more dignified than “bag,” though it does. There are three genuine differences between bagged and pouched tea:

First, tea pouches are bigger. This is a case of where bigger is better, because the extra space gives tea leaves room to be fully infused. Many of the best pouches are pyramid-shaped as well, which further enhances circulation.

Second, the best pouches are not bleached, a process that can lead to tea tasting bleached, too. They usually are of a silken material and are hand-stitched to keep any mechanical residue from tainting a cup of tea.

And third, tea pouches are not filled with tea leaf residue but with full-flavored loose leaf tea. Some of the pouches have herbs and spices for additional flavoring. They come in single or double serving sizes.

So, yes, herbal tea experts sing the praises of loose leaf tea, but I bet in a pinch they will brew a cup of quality pouched tea. It can be as pleasurable as the real thing.

Want to stay connected to other tea lovers? Check the Tea Twitterati 100, a list of the 100 most active tea industry social media users. The regularly updated list is posted on the website of quality tea supplier Wild & Bare Co. 

Editor's Note: Wild & Bare--yes, this is the actual name of a tea company!--didn't pay me anything for me to include the link. I just love tea and wanted to share! This post is part of Tasty Traditions and Fight Back Friday.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

mincamp, toddler braids, and new shoes

Sometimes it feels like a random download kind of day, and today is like that. Care to take a walk through my stream of consciousness?

We had neighbors over tonight for pizza and salad, and it was a fun first date! I sure hope they like us too, shucks.

It was a lazy, unproductive kind of weekend, but one highlight of productivity was my first tasks in the MinCamp, a 14-day workshop run by the ladies who wrote Minimalist Parenting to help parents enjoy "family life more by doing less." I've already done some basement organizing, sewn an eye onto Charlie's froggy hat, set aside some toys and clothes for a secondhand sale, and said no to some linen ironing I was planning to do before our guests arrived for dinner. You can still join any time, and it's free! Fun times.

Charlie has wispy hair these days, and the curl seems to be weighed down by the length. Part of me still worries that when I get it cut the curl will be gone forever, so I'm stalling on the cut for a while. In the meantime, we're enjoying some braids, like this one:

I'm slowly weaning Vivi off the all-pink-all-the-time, and I'm proud to say that I didn't even have to use the "Mommy is allergic to pink" excuse. Check out her new shoes!

Saturday, March 02, 2013

how to build your blog readership

How I ward off writer's block: Caffeine and sugar. It works!

One of the greatest tips I've learned about writing is that the best way to get over writer's block is to write every day. In that spirit, I'm planning to blog every day in March! I have a few recipes, some ideas that have been bouncing around my mind, and some great guests who are going to join us. I'll start today with a practical post about blogging.

I recently wrote to a friend who is starting to blog for her business with some of my tips for how she can build followers. I realized after finishing the email that I had written a lengthy list of ideas that could also be useful to others.

I seem to have been pretty good at developing a group of followers on my blog (hey you guys!). The Facebook page is another story, but maybe if I do a better job of asking people to like it--I have a hard time doing that--I'll be more successful there. If you're reading this, why not pop over there and say hi or share it with your friends? Thanks!

One of the most important tricks of website traffic is the number of sites that link to you. I find that at first, no one was finding my blog in Google, but now I get followers that way because my search engine hits are so much higher.

Here are a few ways to jumpstart your blog:

1) Join link parties/blog hops. I'm not big on these any more because they are so time-consuming, but I think they are worthwhile when you are just starting to blog. The following link parties (i.e. blog hops) are a few of my favorites:

2) Join a "blog carnival," where you write a post on a specific subject that is listed on a single page with a bunch of other bloggers' articles on that topic. Here's a list of natural parenting carnivals.

3) Guest post on another blog in your topic area. Start with local writers, and stick with writers in your metier. My best writing is always on subjects near to my heart. I'm happy to have you post on mine too, just send me your pitch! One way to get guests is to reciprocate and allow them to post on your blog.

4) Quarterly online magazines and group networks are a GREAT way to get followers. I write for "Rhythm of the Home" and "Natural Parents Network."

If you want ads, you need to establish a blog and have a certain number of pageviews first. The second way both to get traffic and to make money is sponsorships. You can pay to "sponsor" another blog, which means you buy a little square ad in the sidebar. Then you can run some on your blog too. You'll see a few in my sidebar over there >>>>>.

Author's Note: This post is part of LHITS DIY Linky.

Friday, March 01, 2013

spring cleaning update to your kitchen: {guest post}

How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions? I wised up this year and didn't announce my resolutions, thereby (in theory) circumventing guilt when I did not fulfill them. However, being a person who seeks self-improvement, I did make some mental notes on areas of my life and home I'd like to tinker with this year. One area I highlighted for renovation is the kitchen. But despite loads of inspiration on my Pinterest boards, I am having trouble getting started. Cue those guilty feelings.

With the beginning of March comes thoughts of spring cleaning, so it feels like a good time to put aside the fear and guilt and get moving on some of those resolutions. Today I'm bringing in a guest with expertise in the field of home improvement, and she's going to give us some frugal ideas for where to begin on updating your kitchen. Be sure to read to the bottom for Jillian's bio. Take it away, Jillian!

Ikea kitchens
Image Credit: Ikea

This year when you're doing your annual spring cleaning, don't just clear out the clutter from your kitchen; –make it better by improving the organization, updating the design, and maybe even doing a bit of renovation.

Here are several great ideas to make your kitchen the best room in the house.

Ikea Kitchens
Image Credit: Ikea

Organize(rs for) your drawers. 

How many times have you cleaned out your drawers and made everything look fantastic, only to open them a few weeks later and discover that everything has gotten cluttered again? No system is perfect, but there are some great drawer organization systems that can go a long way towards helping. Ikea offers these simple drawer organizers that help you to divide your cabinets with clean lines, and several manufacturers are even applying this idea to dinnerware with pegged dish organizers. You can move the pegs around as you need to fit your particular plates, bowls, and saucers, and never worry about where they're supposed to go.

My mom's kitchen after recent updates (note the mirror and newly painted cabinets)

Do it with mirrors. 

Everyone knows that mirrors work wonders at making spaces feel bigger, but few people think to use this knowledge in their kitchen. If you have a cramped cooking area, you can make it appear larger by adding in a mirrored backsplash. You'll open the space up with reflections and create a brighter, cleaner look.

Provide a facelift. 

Redoing your entire kitchen can be prohibitively expensive, but that doesn't mean that you can't use frugal tips to make it look like a new room. Convince people that you replaced your cabinetry by getting new doors. Some places even offer them unfinished for as little as $9.95 per door! Alternatively, you could paint your current doors a different color and simply pick up some fancy new hardware.

Ikea KitchensSink and faucet. 

Another piece of hardware that can make a big impact is your sink and faucet. Change out both, and you can have a truly different look in your kitchen, especially if you're going from a traditional metal sink to one made of stone, china, or even glass. Of course, some sinks can cost in the thousands. For many, that's probably too expensive, so if that's you, make an impression with a new designer faucet. You can even help the environment by getting one that's low-flow.

Hang around. 

One great way to get organized and revitalize the look of your kitchen is to utilize the vertical space – especially the space underneath counters. If you’re really feeling in the mood to change things up, you can get a cabinet that suspends your microwave over the stove and free up more of the counter. Those looking for something a bit easier, though, may want to try a hanging pot rack or a hanging wine rack.

Ikea Kitchens
Image Credit: Ikea

Change out your chairs. 

If you have a small table in your kitchen or a breakfast bar, the kind of seating you use can make a big statement about the room. Are you stately and refined, or sleek and modern? Even changing out something seemingly small like your seating can greatly affect the overall look and feel of your kitchen. Perhaps just as important, smaller chairs can give you more space and make your kitchen feel bigger than it really is.

About the author: Jillian Watkinson is a DIY expert and has written about home and gardens for many years. You can find other examples of her writing on The Design Inspirationalist, The Kitchen Blog, and Pegasus Lighting. When she’s not writing, you can find her covering Community Home Supply and other useful supply companies for various projects.

Editor's note: This post is part of LHITS DIY Linky and The Homestead Barn Hop.


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