Catching Up on Summer: Part II

WHAT WE DID

In the last post, I focused on Dragon’s birthday party, but after mid-July, I somehow managed to keep us busy every weekend. Most notably, we took the kids to their first Renaissance Faire for their fairy/mythical beasts weekend. I’d purchased a family day pass back at the start of January, which proved a wonderful way to avoid huge fees. The kids dressed as winged fairies, I put on my satyr horns, and my partner wore the new silver vest we’d bought him for his birthday.

We ate messy foods, drank copious amounts of birch and root beer, watched Scaramouch buffoonery, tried our hand at archery (the Little Fox hit his target on the second try!), and purchased a soprano ukulele for the family to learn to play together (and we’ve been learning a little each week). While the children rode a enormous wooden rocking unicorn, I danced with death in the square on screaming feet.

Before this though, the kids and I went to the U-District for a special reading of Space Opera by Catherynne Valente, followed by falafel and fries at a favorite dive on the Ave. Having read more than two-thirds of the book, we dressed up for the occasion. Little Fox donned a dramatic coat and a disco ball necklace, I braved a pair of striped pants I’d yet to wear in public, and the Dragon dressed like the curator of an art gallery.

The weekend after the double birthday, my father was in town, and we spent the afternoon with him at the park, followed by sushi for dinner. The next day was my aunt’s annual summer bbq, where we engaged in polite conversation (safe topics) with our family until the conservatives left, and then we entered a debate between the old school Democrats and the progressive Democratic Socialists. It was wonderful hearing my youngest first cousin not let down on topics like universal healthcare and basic income. His partner was equally willing to take on the discussion about the environment and farming.

The weekend after, we enjoyed watching a local teen production of Footloose in which one of my students was a chorus member, and her acting debut. I had the privilege of holding her weeks-old baby brother at the end of the show. The Ren Faire came the following weekend. Summer really felt over and done when the rains returned and the nights turned cold.

 

WHAT WE READ

A curious change has come to our evening routine. My partner still reads a picture book or part of a comic book to the Little Fox, but instead of my usual singing, I’ve started in on novels. Though I’d said in June I wanted to read Neverending Story to the Little Fox, we instead finished Space Opera, and read Bunnicula. When complete, he asked me to purchase his own copy so he could read it again and again. We’re about to complete Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I’m blown away by the pacing of this particular book, as I grew up watching the film. There’s no magic in this book, it’s rather practical, and there’s so much more to the backstory for the rats, I love that I get to discover this with my son. He wants to rewatch the movie after we finish the book; we can discuss the differences and how he feels about them when we do.

 

On the side, I’ve read the first few volumes of Princess Jellyfish (see below), Djinn by Sang Kromah, and am nearly finished with a sensory feast in a slim book called The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark. They’re different flavors, and each one a delight. Princess Jellyfish appeals to my geeky and queer sides, I love the sweet innocent undercurrent of the story. Djinn is a young adult novel focusing on Liberian myths to which I’ve had little exposure, and they brought a refreshing, unpredictable change to the genre that left me hopeful for the next book. Then there’s the smooth, tight writing of The Black God’s Drums that takes us to an alternate nineteenth century New Orleans where sky pirates and orisha gods are at the heart of a young girl’s story.

 

 

WHAT WE WATCHED

I can’t recall exactly when we started rewatching Xena: Warrior Princess, but we’re nearing the end of the second season. Though we’ve also watched the new MLP episodes and occasionally a Samurai Jack or two, we’ve been running through the show fairly consistently each evening. Both Dragon and my partner have seen some of these episodes, but neither have seen the whole series. Even I missed the last season or two. Little Fox wasn’t keen on them at first, but now he’s telegraphing Xena’s battle moves in his pretend play, so she’s growing on him.

The kids and I binged watched the short series Princess Jellyfish, based on the manga of the same name. It’s a charming, usually silly show about a group of otaku (geeky) women who live together in a large, aging building targeted for redevelopment. They’re each obsessed with varying hobbies, the M.C.’s is jellyfish in large part because of a memory with her mother who died soon after. She runs into a “stylish,” a woman who dresses in high fashion and make-up, and engages in social activities that are difficult for the introverted group. The “stylish” in question turns out to be a young man with a penchant for forthrightness, fashion, and avoiding a career in politics like his father and brother. Some of it’s a bit over the top, but it’s wholly charming, and Little Fox’s favorite character is the young man in frilly dresses who, coincidentally, bears some similarities in appearance with him.

Just recently, Pandora stopped working consistently on our home computers. Songs would stutter, the computer wouldn’t let the audio play at all, and sometimes the page simply wouldn’t load at all. So I canceled our paid subscriptions, and put a little of that money into PBS Passport shows.

 

We’ve finally started watching The Great British Bake Off (a.k.a. The Great British Baking Show) after years of hearing from our friends how amazing it is. Folks, I’m always in awe of the food they make, but better yet, I’m touched by the way they treat the bakers–I’ve cried at the end of each episode thus far because when they let someone go, there’s so much support and love around said person, it challenges the notion that competitions need to be vicious and cruel. The way the hosts treat their guests flies in the face of American shows like Hell’s Kitchen where verbal abuse is not only the standard for communication, it’s what brings in the ratings. I prefer watching a show where talent and hard earned skill is acknowledged, and mistakes are seen as something to be improved upon, not shamed. Little Fox is rooting for 17 year old Martha in the first season.

 

WHAT WE ATE

At the Arcade Birthday: hummus, chips, veggies, gluten free cakey chocolate doughnut holes (“bonbons” from Flying Apron), orange doughnuts, and other sundry nibbles.

At Dinner with Papa: salmon and hamachi rolls and sashimi, edamame, miso soup.

At the BBQ: green salad, burnt steaks, my father’s baked salmon (soy sauce, olive oil, and lime juice), ice cream with sprinkles and chocolate syrup.

At the Renaissance Faire: sausages and caramelized onions, giant pickles, fries, root beer, birch beer, and lemonade.

 

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What We’re Doing: Edge of Seventeen

[NOTE: I wrote this on June 13th … and then forgot to finish and post.
Please donate to RAICES of Texas and the ACLU to help asylum seekers and their children who’ve been separated by the U.S. government.]

201806-whatweredoing

WHAT WE’RE DOING

IMG_7254Dragon will soon be 18. Everything we planned together has not come to pass, and as parent and child, we’re at a crossroads. There are many decisions they’ll need to make in the coming days, including how to complete or continue their education. College through Running Start didn’t serve them in the end. Though the academics were well within their capacity to understand, they faced major challenges with depression and social anxiety that are now being addressed with their doctor. Priorities have shifted for all of us, and with legal adulthood on the horizon, Dragon is caught between frozen fear and possibility. I’m proud to say, they had their first job interview for a position well-suited to them, and awaits word with impatient excitement. The interviewer told them, “I hope you feel good about how the interview went.”

35531981_10155620461543059_7789139301165432832_nLittle Fox Five is ready to take on more challenges these days. He’s interested in adding dance classes after seeing a performance of the Alvin Ailey Dance tour, and is especially interested in tap after his first trial class. He still adores drama and gymnastics, but the former isn’t available in the summer, and in a year, the latter will require him to be segregated by sex. His father and I have agreed he needs a martial art, as well, and are wavering between Aikido and Shaolin Kung Fu. Dragon learned the one, my partner learned a variety of styles related to the other. This means, by autumn, Little Fox will have four or five classes a week to take, and I’ll be teaching at least two classes of my own each month.

35815038_10155620461523059_8073277054520393728_nWhy so many classes for one child? For one, he gets restless, and needs to move his body more than I can accommodate with my health and mobility issues. For another, I need time to work during the dayand hiring a nanny is outside our budget. At his age, finding consistent care for a few hours a week in our area isn’t feasible, as schools want full-time enrollment and nannies want more hours of work. Without outside care available, I either take him to classes and work on my laptop while he learns, or I stay up until 2 or 3am every night, which is, quite frankly, not working well for me at present.

What I have managed to get done these past few months: hired two video editors to create book trailers for The Grasp of Time, both the live action ad I filmed in January, and a text-based teaser; written a handful of short stories and poems for my Patreon; completed a revision of Seal Breaker (the sequel to TGoT), ready to be sent to my editor; make progress on re-organizing and decluttering the house. I’ve had some delays due to health, including a miscarriage that threw us all for a loop, but I’m making steady progress.

My partner has started to hit his stride at his new position, and considering returning to martial arts. When we met, he was, among other occupations, an assistant Wushu and Tai Chi instructor. Since he shares his birthday with the Dragon, there’s planning in the works for him as well, though this year, they’re far more subdued than those we have for the soon-to-be-adult.

And yes, they’re registering to vote!

WHAT WE’RE READING

9781681689173Besides reading a chapter a night from Space Opera by Catherynne Valente to my son each night (not intended for kids; read it anyway). When we’ve finished Space Opera, I want to start up with The Neverending Story.

Over the last year plus, his father has handled the majority of bedtime stories, so I either have to read them again with him during the daytime, or sneak them and look through them to know what they’re up to. Little Fox is enamoured of the science and math books his dad has been selecting, especially those with ghosts as the narrators. He’s also quite insistent about reading and re-reading Squirrel Girl and My Little Pony comics, some of which we’ve had to start checking out from the library, because our budget can’t keep up with demand.

In May, Little Fox read almost all of Green Eggs and Ham with little assistance from me. It took over half an hour because of the many feline and bathroom distractions one experiences at five, but he read the book. I recorded most of the audio on my phone for my partner.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Dance videos and more dance videos. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Recently introduced the Little Fox to The Secret of Nimh. Though normally I encourage my kids to read the books prior to watching the films, I have to admit, I find Tolkien’s writing style dull and prone to numerous, distracting genealogical tangents. As for Nimh, I was the impatient one; I spontaneously decided it had been far too long since I’d seen the movie, and so we were going to see it. He can read it later.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Little Fox recently made his first banana bread the same night Dragon followed the careful steps to making some scrumptious Ma Po Tofu. Both turned out beautifully. The ma po tofu was served with my fried rice, pea vine, and asparagus. The banana bread was still hot when we cut it up and served our portions with ice cream (Mukilteo Mudd by our local Snoqualmie Valley ice cream).

Here’s my Grammy’s banana bread recipe (with my modifications):caelansfirstbananabread

1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar (it used to be 1c.)
3 eggs, beaten
3 bananas, mashed
2 c. of all purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 T. of cold water
1 t. vanilla extract
walnuts and chocolate chips optional

Cream the butter and sugar together. Mash bananas and stir in beaten eggs. Add banana/egg mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, stir dry ingredients together, then add to wet. Stir in water, then add any extras (e.g. nuts, chocolate, etc.). Pour batter into a greased bread pan or baking dish.

Bake in a 350°F oven for 45 – 60 minutes. Less time for muffins or smaller containers.

What We’re Doing: Playing Catch Up

Since August, our family has been hit with a series of unfortunate events the likes of which Lemony Snicket might have written (minus the deaths). Months ago, I had a broken tooth repaired, but it never felt right. In August, it developed an abscess so bad, I couldn’t function. I made meals, but almost everything else had to be pushed off to the rest of the family. It resulted in a trip to urgent care, the ER, a combination of antibiotics, and ten days of waiting in pain for a root canal. Since I have a bad reaction to lidocaine, I spent each post-visit to the dentist in acute pain so bad I couldn’t think or stop crying for hours. But finally, it was over.

Then came two rounds of viral illness through the family in September. Mid-October, while taking my daughter to campus, someone coming off the freeway ramp parallel to the road I was coming up, was too much in a hurry to see us to their left, and tried to do a u-turn … into my son’s door. Though shaken, and in pain, we walked away from the crash, and have been seeing a chiropractor regularly to help relieve pain and set things right. The car, however, is still at a collision center, while the insurance company decides what to do with it. We likely won’t be getting it back, though. My son’s door was completely crumpled. Down to one car, my partner temporarily rented a second, so I could use his, but then … he was laid off, along with a lot of other people. Thanks to the stress, I developed a different bacterial infection, and had my third round of antibiotics in a year.

Introducing Peach and Knight.

Now life is never as simple as being “all bad” or “all good.” During this time, we also had a number of blessings. Despite my tooth pain, I completed my third poetry collection Aranya in time. We adopted a pair of bunnies from a local farm (named Knight and Peach), and celebrated my birthday with beloved friends. My son’s back in his drama and gymnastics classes, my daughter’s doing really well at college this quarter, and my partner has had some time to work on developing his skills further for the next job AND spend a lot of quality time with our son.

We had a good Samhain and made the best of Thanksgiving/Native Day of Mourning despite having a sick kid (we didn’t see the friends we’d planned on seeing, but we’ll make up for it in the near future).

After nearly twenty years, the first book in a collaborative series I started with my daughter’s bio-dad was finally published. While we’ve had some delays in being able to make book trailers, the book, at least, is available for sale to the public … finally. It’s the fourth book I’ve published under my legal name this year (in addition to one under a pseudonym).

Of course, all of these extremes have interrupted our routines, and the structured aspects of our homeschooling have fallen to the wayside for a time. Now that I’m taking a break from all but marketing, I’m able to look at ways to play catch up. As it is, there’s a lot to catch up on: cleaning, re-organizing, re-purposing the family room, correspondences, bills, and of course, re-centering our son’s education so we can return our focus to his foundational development (he’s had his needs met, and played a lot with each of us, but we haven’t moved forward since August on some of his basic skills).

We’ll be keeping our holidays low-key this year, and our extended family is doing the same. It’s much needed.

Rather than break everything down into sections (because there’d be too much or too little to say), I’m just going to offer you some highlights of the things we’ve been reading/watching/eating:

  • My son really enjoyed reading Hey! That’s my monster! by Amanda Noll.
  • He did not find Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker, even though I thought it was a decent, somewhat humorous book about managing one’s anger or disappointment.
  • He does, however, love the original Magic School Bus episodes we procured for him, and will watch them whenever we’re between episodes of other shows (mostly: Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, Eureka, and Star Trek: Deep Space 9). Too bad he didn’t show the same enthusiasm for Planet Earth or Reading Rainbow. But he loves Miss Frizzle so much, he’ll go on and on about what he learned from an episode, so win!
  • My daughter’s working on their own collaborative web comic with friends from college and online. One of them is even writing a soundtrack! I can’t wait to see what comes of it, as they give me little glimpses into their work. (Dragon prefers they/them pronouns.)
  • After decades of cooking, I finally made a decent turkey gravy from the drippings. It required stirring up the drippings while pouring them into the roux, and then adding broth. It tasted even better the next day when I added sherry to the roux (just as my stuffing tastes best with a white wine and broth reduction).
  • Thor: Ragnarok is the best Thor movie thus far. We bought tickets for a 1pm showing on a Tuesday, and saw it as a family in giant, comfie seats. Even the Little Fox loved it, though a couple of parts we either covered his eyes (excessive violence), or he looked away of his own volition (something spooky, but I don’t want to spoil it).
  • Having caught up with Archer and Stranger Things, my partner and I have taken to watching Ted Talks together late at night. Since my last book of the year is complete, I’m taking a break through December. I’m only working on marketing, which frees up my evenings, which they haven’t been all year.

End of summer play with the princesses.

What We’re Doing: Keeping Cool and Cooking

Today, my son asked, “Why does glass break?” It’s one of those questions young, inquiring minds provide on an hourly basis. Since I was sitting at the computer, I looked it up, because my own understanding was inadequate. I mean, I had an idea, albeit half-informed, but I wanted to know, too. The first link provided enough information I could paraphrase and answer, including that over 50 glass science experts can’t agree on the answer. But it seems to come down to:

  1. glass has a crystalline structure
  2. glass is brittle
  3. stress causes brittle things to crack, shatter, or explode

When asked a “why” question, my go to answer is usually “Gravity,” but sometimes the best answer is, “Let’s find out.”

wb-julyaug

WHAT WE’RE DOING

This is the first year my partner has suggested we get air conditioning. If you’re not in the PNW, you might not be aware, but most homes don’t have A/C here, though many businesses do. It typically doesn’t got hot enough for long enough to justify the cost. Or at least, that used to be true. Over the last two decades, the summers (and autumns, winters, and springs) have been erratic and warmer. We spent months in rain with barely a moment of sun, which despite stereotypes about the Seattle area, really weren’t the norm.

To beat the heat, we’ve been seeking out more cool outdoor spaces. Our local playground turns into a pizza oven in the sun due to the poor choice in spongy turf beneath the play equipment. Since we couldn’t make the long drive to the ocean, we hit Lake Sammamish, specifically at the lesser known Idylwood Beach Park, just a short distance past the immensely popular Marymoor Park. While we didn’t go swimming (the only swimming areas were in direct sun where there’s a lifeguard), we enjoyed wading into the edge of the lake in the shade of tall trees.

The Little Fox dug in the wet sand, and I walked in the water with ducks swimming by. A bald eagle swooped past us and said hello as it returned to a perch in a cedar pine. A small rivulet from the local creek fed cold, crisp water into the mild lake. The only downside? Climbing the hill in high sun to a hot car.

Since our street is being worked on this week, I’m looking for ways to keep cool in our home and on our porches. At least we have the forest shade! One trick we’ll be trying tomorrow (the hottest day of the week) is inspired by Happy Hooligan’s Dino Dig, although we don’t have plastic dinosaurs. Instead, I’ll put in plastic frogs and shells and dried vegetation we’ve collected, and link it to the Avatar: the Last Air Bender episode where Aang must retrieve frozen frogs from a lake.

For my daughter’s birthday, we couldn’t afford to buy her much this year (she’s taking extra classes at college in the fall), so I wrote a roleplaying game called Amnesia basing it loosely on the White Wolf system. It’s about a team of superheroes and spies (twelve characters) who awake without memory of who they are, and over the course of the evening, they solved clues to find out more about their identities.

We didn’t finish the story arc the first night, though we did polish off all the homemade taquitos, char siu, and shiitake noodles. Now we’re trying to find a good time within everyone’s summer schedules to finish the game, which the Dragon says she really wants to play again. The best part were all of the surprise dice rolls that led to unexpected moments in the game. That’s the best part of an RPG: all the little moments the GM didn’t plan.

According to tradition, August 1st was Lughnasadh/Lammas (the start of the harvest and celebration of the god Lugh), but according to astronomy and the shift of the planet over centuries, it’s actually the 7th. Thus, I’ve set the whole first week of August to be Lughnasadh in our home, and we’re playing with gluten free bread recipes. Our first attempt yesterday to make peasant bread (including braiding a loaf, and making small rolls) didn’t work out because I made my own experimental bread flour and used WAAAAAAAAY too much tapioca flour. (My blend was 2c. brown rice flour, 1c. sweet rice flour, and 1c. tapioca.) The dough wouldn’t hold shape, so I made tiny rolls for our meatball soup.

Our next experiment will be with cinnamon rolls tonight, and I’m going to significantly reduce the tapioca and replace it with oat flour. Potato flour is excellent for making gluten free breads spongy and moist, but potatoes cause inflammation in my joints, so I avoid it most days, especially in my own kitchen. Also on our agenda: making a gluten free copycat of Great Harvest’s dark chocolate cherry bread, but I haven’t found a decent recipe yet, although I think it will likely involve a whole grain bread recipe with added cinnamon, honey, chocolate chunks, and cherries. I’m also craving peaches, so we might hit the farmer’s market and make peach scones or muffins!

While our rolls weren’t the best, we still left out the largest one on a plate with raw honey and a dab of butter for the fairies.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

61tzp5zex-l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Serendipity comes in small ways in our home. In June, both of my kids were talking about turnips, and my daughter specifically wanted me to make “pork and turnips” without offering a recipe. So, I dug around and found some ideas online, and ended up coming up with a simple ground pork and white turnip recipe with sweet Thai chili paste (mild), mixing in the turnip greens, and serving it with rice. Only, I didn’t make it alone. It was Little Fox’s first time cooking a meal with me. He’s stirred the pasta once or twice, and helped with baking, but he did a lot more work this time. That night, when it was story time, he chose me to read a book, so I picked out one we randomly selected at the library: Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore.

Cora is the youngest child in a large family, but because of her age, she doesn’t get to help in big ways in the kitchen like her older siblings. Not until one day, when everyone else is gone, and her mother gives her an apron and asks what she’d like to make. She chooses pancit, a traditional Filipino noodle dish with vegetables and meat similar to, but not the same as, chow mein or yakisoba. The Little Fox adored reading about another child near his age cooking with her mother on the same evening he’d help cook his first meal with me, and so did I.

Recently, he’s also taken to rereading The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann. I’ve written about it before, but he’s not only enjoying the book, he can recall all the meanings of each Chinese character, despite not knowing the sounds each symbol makes.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

tutugrouptvtropesWe’re nearly finished rewatching one of our favorite anime short series, Princess Tutu. It combines fairy tales, classic ballet, and beautiful music, weaving it into an odd, beautiful, and melancholy story of its own. The show centers around Duck, a duck who is given a magical amulet by a (not quite) dead storyteller that allows her to turn into a girl named Duck. Her goal: to dance with the sad prince, Mytho and return the shards of his heart to him by becoming Princess Tutu. It’s completely unexpected, even if you’re familiar with the ballets, fairy tales, or Japanese tropes rife throughout. The show is a single season of 22 minute episodes, and one we loved the moment we watched it for the first time.

My partner has been exploring our Amazon Prime membership looking for new shows on Prime Video. Though our son still loves Doctor McWheelie, Masha and the Bear, and others, his favorite new show is DinosaurTrain, which is a PBS production. Since we don’t have TV, it’s nice to have access to programming like this online. He’s also quite into superheroes these days, despite only having limited exposure to superhero shoes. We decided to take him to see the new Spider-Man film, and we all loved it. It was amazing, engaging, real, and provided numerous laughs. After several disappointing Marvel films, this one redeemed many of the other recent ones.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Besides the gluten-free breads listed above (check “What We’re Doing”), the foods I made for our super secret game night turned out amazingly well. Even the one I hadn’t intended. I wanted to make gluten free, vegan dumplings, but I ran out of time, so rather than let the ingredients go to waste (I’d already prepared the filling), I went ahead and turned it into a noodle dish instead. What did I do?

Chopped up a third of a pound of shiitake mushrooms into thick strips, and sauteed them in olive oil. Setting these aside, I sauteed chopped cabbage with sliced green onions until tender. Then I grated fresh ginger* using a microplane directly over the pan, and toss in crushed garlic to cook for two additional minutes, stirring often. A splash of rice wine vinegar and gluten free tamari, set the pan sizzling, and I returned the mushrooms to the heat to mix in with the sauce. After a minute of heating, I set the pan aside to cook the brown rice and millet ramen (I use Lotus Foods brand, as they cook well and I can buy them in bulk at Costco).

Once the noodles were cooked, I added them to the veggies, added a touch more vinegar and tamari, and ground some black pepper, tossing everything together before serving with a drizzle of sesame oil. Sesame seeds were in a dish on the side for anyone who wanted to add them to the noodles and/or the char siu and hot mustard.

 

*If you don’t use ginger root often, buy a small amount, and keep it in the freezer. It preserves it a long time for those dishes that require it, and it’s actually easier to grate.

 

 

What We’re Doing: Spring Summary

SpringSummary2017

WHAT WE’RE DOING

What did we do this spring? Better to ask what we didn’t do. We didn’t fight elephant poachers in Africa. We didn’t storm a dictator’s compound and instate a new leader. We didn’t even leave our state. But we have been so engaged with our projects and new routine that when I finally could take a break and breathe, I noticed the pile of dishes unwashed, the laundry mountains waiting to be climbed, and the toy wastelands our living room had become.

Over the last few months, I’ve published two books (Perdition and Cress and the Medicine Show), finished the draft of another novel, and survived my first time as a panelist (while sick with a cold, no less) at Norwescon. The Reading Selections Year One class concluded with a small pizza celebration and the insistence from my students we continue on to Year Two in September.

Dragon’s spring quarter has gone MUCH better than her first quarter, and with an advisor’s advice, she’ll be making up one of her previous quarter’s classes in an eight day session in fall. Little Fox has been enjoying his new drama class, continuing gymnastics, and attending a Montessori preschool two mornings a week.

Having my son off at a preschool for a set block of time has given him more structure, a chance to play consistently with other kids (play dates sometimes fall through), and gives us both a break from each other. With him out of the house, I’ve been able to focus on getting more writing done and having some breathing room to just … be.

And since the preschool is within easy walking distance, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I can drive due to car or health issues, the latter of which have been a great obstacle for consistent class and event attendance.

For his birthday, my son received more Legos, which are his constant of late, but he also received a subscription to Koala Crate. Two boxes arrived so far, reptiles and rainbows, and we’ve worked on them together during times when he doesn’t want to engage in other activities besides Legos (lately he doesn’t want story time, music time, art projects, puppets, gardening, or cooking. Only Legos. Batman Legos. All. The. Time.). He will happily do a Koala Crate craft if I suggest it. Yay, STEAM!

Since we were all sick for his birthday, and the weather was crummy the weekend after, it took us a couple of weeks to celebrate properly. We took him to Fox Hollow Farm in Issaquah, where we pet bunnies and piglets and kittens, fed parrots, and Little Fox rode a pony for the first time and played on a go cart. When he was worn out, he let us know, and we all went to a dim sum house that actually had gluten free dim sum options.

On Memorial Day weekend, my son and I took a bus and the monorail to Seattle Center for the Folklife Festival. It was his first time, and he was most excited for all the food trucks. We saw Recess Monkey, ate lots of food, ran into some of our cousins, listened to other music, looked at art, and spent an hour in the Rhythm Tent making experimental music with a few dozen other people. When we left for the monorail to return home, he told me how much fun he had.

Here’s hoping he enjoys the Fremont Solstice Parade as much!

WHAT WE’RE READING

41lt0sceyel-_sx325_bo1204203200_Since my daughter has been in college, she’s not reading much beyond fanfic and textbooks, but I’ve been enjoying Graft by Matt Hill, an author I shared a table with at Norwescon, and have been marking up my new copy of Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsythe, which teaches the figures of rhetoric once taught with the classics, but have fallen out of favor in the last century of education. I have a feeling it’ll help me teach creative writing in the fall. The best part about the book? It’s written with wry humor and in a manner that keeps the information engaging, unlike the similarly titled Elements of Style, which is all about the technical aspects of writing.

61sewlxqlql-_sx258_bo1204203200_Little Fox turned into Hei Hei the rooster after watching Disney’s Moana, and that night, we offered him a book about chickens (it was a random selection at the library; sweet synchronicity!) called Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl.

The painted story tells of a young girl named Sonya who cares deeply for her three chickens, which she raised by hand as chicks. One night, a fox steals into the coop and takes one away. Her father guides her through her grief and offers a different perspective. The story offers readers a hopeful note toward the end. In one week, we’ve read the book four times to him!

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Well, as a night and morning of chicken screams and Duplo world building will attest, we watched Moana. I’d held off seeing it because of the problematic treatment of Maui and the mixed reception by the people depicted. I decided after hearing more feedback and reading an article about watching it with awareness to the cultural inaccuracies, there was a lot to enjoy in it.

My partner and I have caught up with The Americans, Better Call Saul, and American Gods. Three of us recently completed both seasons of Agent Carter and are livid the show was cancelled. Watching Carter, Americans, and national news concurrently certainly painted a complex picture of the U.S. relations with Russia from post-WWII tensions, to the Cold War, and into the present political atmosphere, which brought up a lot of discussions with our daughter about the history between the two nations and how it’s led us to where we are now. The trio of media create a chilling awareness of our current political landscape, even where the fiction was sensationalized.

Dragon introduced us to Nightvale, a podcast about a fictional town where nothing is within the realm of normal. While I’ve enjoyed it, Little Fox finds it dull and never wants to listen to it, so we’ve started rewatching Avatar: the Last Airbender episodes.

We did see Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (without the Fox), and Wonder Woman in the theater and loved all three.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

After seeing Wonder Woman, we enjoyed nearly a week of modern and ancient Greek recipes for our dinners, and in the process, I learned how to make halibut in a way that leaves the meat tender, juicy, and full of flavor.

Greek Halibut in Parchment

4-6 oz. steak of halibut per person
artichoke hearts in oil
lemon slices
garlic cloves
sea salt
black pepper
oregano

Preheat oven to 400°F. For each person, place two slices of lemon on a sheet of baking parchment, and cover with one halibut steak, skin side down. Arrange a handful of artichoke hearts on either side of the halibut, and sprinkle the fish with lemon juice, sea salt, and oregano. Then crush one to two cloves of garlic and rub lightly along the top of the fish. Fold parchment into a packet around the halibut and placing on a baking sheet. When all packets are arranged on the sheet, place in the oven and cook 12 – 14 minutes. Grind black pepper over the top of the fish to taste and serve with sides, such as peas with mint, hummus and cucumber slices, roasted golden beets with goat or sheep’s cheese.

What We’re Doing: Frantic February

What am I doing posting about February in March?  Because it really was that frantic.

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

bookcover-totebagMost of February involved getting revisions finished on my debut novel, Perdition, and trying to get the family out again for field trips and events.  The book is complete and I’m awaiting a proof to go ahead with publication, which should happen next week.  February also saw the publication of Cress and the Medicine Show, a novelette about a runaway slave whose path crosses that of a medicine show run by three trickster gods.  (Appropriate for anyone old enough to handle discussions of antebellum slavery.  Includes a coloring page.)

IMG_4550We took advantage of Free First Thursdays at local museums. Although, technically, the Bellevue Arts Museum has free first Fridays instead, we explored the Metamorphosis exhibit, Divine Ammunition sculptures, and Electric Coffin. Daughter was too disturbed by Divine Ammunition, and I discussed with her the reasons for her discomfiture and how art is meant to move you to a strong emotional response.  We all adored several installations from diverse artists in the Metamorphosis collection.  Little Fox preferred the hands-on art rooms set aside for kids and creative play more than most of the exhibits, but he responded well to textured art, such as a collage involving shells and photographs.

Pacific Science Center held a weekend engineering event with numerous hands on projects for kids of all ages to participate in.  As a family, we built a bridge, assembled a slide marble park, created circuits, harnessed the energy of the sun, and much more.   For more information about what was presented and what groups participated, there’s still a page up at the PacSci site for Engineer It!

img_4563.jpgThe weather forced us inside more than I would prefer, but we still made a snow woman, planned play dates, and saw a local concert with S.J. Tucker and Betsy Tinney.  While our educational adventures waned through the month, my daughter went through a math review, practiced essay writing, and started learning about the McCarthy era in anticipation of returning to college through Running Start.  She’s also been more socially adventurous; she went to a sleep over, attended a swing dance with her friend, and has a new beau.

Though we haven’t kept to the 52 week curriculum plan, Little Fox made his way through the Spring curriculum box from the library.  We’ve discovered he tends to enjoy a slower pace of exploring each topic across two or three weeks instead of one per week.

WHAT WE’RE READING

In addition to the books in the Spring curriculum box, Little Fox enjoyed The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler, Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin A. Ramsey (an excellent introduction to the Civil Rights era and MLK, Jr.), Peddles by Elisabeth Rose Stanton, and five of the books in the Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. Our library also has a new tradition of providing “blind dates” with books during February.  They place books in paper bags with little hearts and tag them with phrases to indicate reading level.  Though I didn’t care for my fiction selection (completely the wrong genre for me), my son adored his blind date with Little Night Cat by Sonja Danowski.  It’s a gentle story about a generous boy who gives up his toys for a cat shelter’s auction, and the illustrations are dreamlike and intricate in detail.

FebBookRec

The Dragon completed the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories she was working through, and explored the story of a criminologist in The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths by Pat Brown.  She’s now researching McCarthyism in Nightmare in Red by Richard M. Fried and No Ivory Tower by Ellen Schrecker.  My daughter also checked out a “blind date” book and received a copy of Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston.  She hasn’t finished it yet, but the book’s description on the inside flap promised more adventure and excitement than most of the non-fiction she’s working through.

Since I’ve been editing for weeks, I haven’t been reading much, but I still have made time for comics.  I’ve started the Delilah Dirk steampunk series and find it engaging, intelligent, and funny.  I’m also keeping up with the charming web comic (among many others), Miss Abbott and the Doctor by Maripaz Villar, which focuses on two people in a small, Victorian town: a rather straight-laced doctor and a young woman who grew up among indigenous people in a rain forest before being brought to “civilized” society.  It’s both adorable and cheeky.

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’ve not been watching many new shows as a whole family, but my partner and I, and sometimes my daughter, are catching up with Gotham, Agent Carter, and now The Americans.  If you’re not familiar with that last title, it focuses on a married couple of Russian spies living long term as a couple from Illinois at the beginning of the Reagan era.  The whole show is well-written and acted, and it’s in stark juxtaposition to the current U.S. political climate.  Highly recommended for people who enjoy period dramas, intrigue, and dark humor.

As a family, we’re still watching EurekaStar vs. the Forces of Evil, Steven Universe, and The Powerpuff Girls.  Little Fox has turned his IronMan, Captain America, and Star Lord figures into Buttercup, Blossom, and Bubbles respectively.  My partner has attempted to introduce Planet Earth series to our family, but the kids are difficult to engage these last few weeks.  We’ll keep trying, though.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

At the start of February, I began an elimination diet suggested by my doctor.  It’s rather strict, eliminating corn, soy, nightshades, and sugar.  For someone addicted to hot sauces, tomatoes, paprika, tacos, and sushi, it hasn’t been easy keeping my taste buds interested.  I’ve adapted my usual recipes and attempted a few others.  I’m using a lot of ginger, horseradish, mustard powder, lemon sauces, and fish sauce.  It’s led to making foods I love that I’d never learned to make, too, such as my own worcestershire sauce, Swedish meatballs, and lamb souvlaki. Daughter, though, suggested I share my recipe for Lamb Stroganoff.

Gluten-Free Lamb Stroganoff

1/3 boneless leg of lamb, cut into small pieces (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
12 oz. package of gluten-free pasta (e.g. fusilli, casarecce, etc.)
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, pressed or diced
1/2 c. diced mushrooms (e.g. portobello, cremini, etc.)
3/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. broth
4 T. worcestershire sauce*
1 T. rice flour
butter or olive oil
sea salt, pepper to taste
splash of sherry (optional)

Cook pasta al dente according to package, rinse briefly, and set aside.

Caramelize onions in butter (or olive oil) on medium heat.  For proper caramelizing, add small splashes of water to pan as onions start to brown.  Continue doing this until onions are soft and have reached a medium brown color and are sweet to taste.  Add a little more butter or oil, and saute mushrooms.  Avoid crowding, otherwise the mushrooms won’t brown.  Remove mushrooms and onions from heat, and in the same skillet, brown lamb with pressed garlic, salt, and pepper.  Cook about four minutes, and turn pieces, douse with worcestershire sauce, and continue cooking another four minutes.  Remove lamb from skillet, leaving juices behind.

Sprinkle flour into pan, mixing it in with the drippings from the lamb and onions.  Add a small splash of sherry, stir well, and then pour in broth.  Bring heat to medium high until it bubbles, reduce to low, and add sour cream.  Stir thoroughly, and fold in pasta, lamb, mushrooms, and onions. Season to taste.  Serve with a green salad with light dressing (we like olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a sprinkling of crumbled feta).

*Gluten-Free and Soy-Free Worcestershire Sauce

Equal parts (about 2-3T. each):

Fish sauce
Apple cider vinegar
Black strap molasses

Approximately 1t. each of:

Mustard powder
Fresh grated or dry ground ginger
Garlic powder or minced garlic

Mix wet ingredients first, then fold in dry ingredients.  Use within three to four days.

What We’re Doing: Justice January

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Our year began with a few surprises.  One of them dramatically shifted our plans for the year, as some mistakes came to light — small mistakes hidden from my partner and I until they compounded into something big.  My daughter has withdrawn from Running Start for now.  Though she kept up with the academics and showed full comprehension of the subjects she studied on graded papers and tests, her social anxiety led to a series of events that reflected poorly on her GPA.

For now, we’ve returned to homeschooling, and are seeking a counselor to help give her tools to deal with her anxiety better.  While her choices sadden me, it’s a valuable learning experience for us both.  While it set an unexpected tone for the new year, it’s not all we’ve been up to.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

logo31We bought a new subscription to the Pacific Science Center and went there for the final weekend of their Sherlock Holmes traveling exhibit, complete with historical documents and artifacts, film and TV props, and a mystery to solve as a family.  My partner and I attended the Seattle Symphony‘s tribute to David Bowie on the 10th, and this past weekend, we saw Curious George and the Golden Meatball at Second Story Repertory Theater.

The Little Fox can now count to ten consistently, and engages us in counting whenever he finds something interesting enough to count.  Much like the Count from Sesame Street, he’ll stop whatever we’re doing and have us count something.  Most recently, it was the number of lamps in my room: three, and the number of fingers on his hands: ten.  The Dragon wishes to one day work for the FBI as a forensic psychologist, so we’ve been checking out books related to her long-term goals, including Criminology, Psychology, and U.S. History.  We’re also working on essay writing and pre-Calculus, as she’s considering doing AP testing as a way to earn some of her college credits.  With the SATs coming up, we’re also considering my father’s advice to take the PSATs first.

 

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Upward Facing Dog

I’ve taken on the Yoga Green Book‘s 21 Days of Yoga Challenge by Carla Christine, and have working harder on improving my strength and flexibility.  Her instructions have been detailed and easy to follow, improving even the basics I already practice (I recommend her for future classes; also, check out my friend Starbird, who teaches one how to flow through yoga). As someone with an autoimmune issue and chronic pain, sometimes it’s easy to lose perspective on the hardest days, so I’m also working on tracking my overall daily outlook using the idea of a Year in Pixels, and a Jar of Happiness. I’ve also been working hard on my writing.  Cress and the Medicine Show, a myth-based novelette, will be available mid-February, and my debut novel, Perdition, publishes in March.  Also, there’s a new class I’m putting together to teach Creative Writing to middle schoolers.

On the whole, we’re finding a new routine all over again, and I’m hoping to incorporate some of these wonderful ideas about gameschooling from SimpleHomeschool.net.  We’ll also be greeting the protesters from the Women’s March on Saturday, and we have some wonderful books checked out from the library to celebrate the memory and message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all week long.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

0-439-33906-5At the time of writing, I have 45 books checked out from the library and 2 curriculum boxes.  Among them, the collection of Nurse Mathilda stories. Since beginning in December, we’ve completed the first book and are in the middle of the second.  If you’re not familiar, these are the three odd little books, which inspired the Nanny McPhee movies, and all center around a family so large, they don’t know how many children they have.  My son enjoys them, but wants to take breaks every second or third night, so we’re doing a few chapters each week.

My son’s favorite counting books right now are One Nighttime Sea (library copy) and The Wizard of Oz Counting (bought at Costco with the shapes book).  When I checked out One Nighttime Sea, it was for his nocturnal animals unit, but it’s become such a beloved book, we keep renewing it.  It not only counts different sea creatures from one to ten, it then counts even more from ten to one.  We take time to touch each animal and say its number as we go and I ask him where the number itself is on the page.  The Wizard of Oz Counting book is far more simplistic and quite jolly, and we’ve had it since he was a year old.
Along with some criminology books, my daughter is working her way through FBI 100 Years and The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  There are other books awaiting her, but I don’t want to bog her down.

 

On top of books, we have magazine subscriptions coming in.  We allowed our Ladybug and Click subscriptions to lapse.  I was disappthumbointed when they arrived, as I was expecting the better binding of Babybug, which keep well on shelves as sturdy little books.  Standard sized magazines don’t hold up as well, and the content didn’t inspire as much interest in my son.

While at the library, we found out they have all of the Cricket Media publications available, so we can read them there when we wish each month.  However, I also fell in love with Cricket itself, especially the hilarious stories in the January issue, so I’ve ordered a subscription for it, despite its recommended age range.  Also, we’re receiving Zootles, a fun science magazine for kids given to us as a gift by our cousins.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Recently, my daughter took my banana bread recipe and made a few dozen mini muffins for us in the toaster oven (because our oven still isn’t fixed; we’ve had a lot of trouble ordering the element we need for baking).

img_4394Mama Raven’s Banana Bread

1/2 c. butter (salted, because yum)
3/4 c. raw sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3 aged bananas (mashed)
1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/4 c. tapioca starch
1/4 c. oat flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
7 oz. of crushed or chopped pineapple
1 T. pineapple juice
1 T. soured milk (milk with a few drops of lemon juice; wait 20 minutes to sour) or buttermilk
1/2 c. crushed walnut pieces (not option in my house, but maybe in yours)

Mix dry ingredients and set aside.  Mash bananas and stir in eggs and vanilla.  Blend well and add pineapple juice and buttermilk.  Fold wet ingredients into dry, and add pineapple (the pineapple helps keep the bread moist) and walnuts. Put in a greased bread pan and bake 45 minutes in a 350°F oven (or about 15 minutes in a mini muffin pan).

Alternatives: for dairy free recipes, substitute coconut milk for the buttermilk, and Earth Balance sticks for the butter.  If you wish to add chocolate chips, ditch the pineapple and substitute about 1/4 c. of milk or coconut milk instead.

Enjoy warm and buttered or cold and dunked in chocolate milk.  So good!