What We’re Doing: Auspicious August

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

August has been an intense month.  If you’re into astrology, there are a host of astrologers ready to explain what’s been going on.  For us, the biggest challenge has been my health.  I spent a week and a half virtually immobilized (I could get around the house, and I took my kids to their recurring classes) from a cyst in a poor position.  The one excellent piece of my immobility: I spent a lot of time at the desk, editing my books and getting them ready to send off to publishers.  I’ve completed two novels, and I’m assembling a new collection of poetry.  (Shameless plug: here’s my previous poetry collection for reference.)

I haven’t been this productive with my writing in a long while, and it feels good to clear away old projects, so I can start addressing ones still in concept or outline phases.  Of course, homeschooling and parenting from a chair or bed can be a huge challenge in creativity.  We read a lot more books, watched more shows than usual, and I took my son to see $1 movies, since I could sit still without major issue.  More than that, I set out my son’s tumble mats, and encouraged him to practice his gymnastics more.  We played music, and though I couldn’t get up and dance with him as I usually do, I did arm dances, and scooted out close to him, to hold his hands while he did some fancy footwork.  He got to draw more, and he took walks with his sister, and together, we all got through it until I could move around again.

Then there was the nestling tossed from its nest in our driveway we rescued (based on advice from the Audubon Society and a few rescue shelters) … the only survivor of a vicious invader who killed all its siblings the next day.  Since placing it in the ground cover and bushes, we’ve seen no sign of it since, and hope we improved its chances of survival.

The momentum of my writing hasn’t ceased, though formatting and synopsis writing aren’t really feeding my urge, and whenever I feel this, I follow it.  Motivation must be lassoed whenever it comes, and ridden as long as I can hold onto it.  With autumn brings change, and I’ll be teaching kids beyond my own, my son and I will be spending several hours alone together every day and I need to plan for it, and my daughter will be entering college and need a different form of support in the evenings.  For the foreseeable future, this means I’ll be writing less in this blog.  Instead of once a week on Wednesdays, expect one or two entries a month until our new schedule steadies out, and I’ve found my footing.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

51fd2bhh2ssl-_sy497_bo1204203200_We’re working on encouraging our son to try using the toilet again.  For the last few months, he’s outright refused to try, nor will he wear the underwear he picked out.  Since the best time to run around half naked learning to potty is in the summer, I’m hoping he’ll be inspired in the next few weeks while the weather’s still warm.  I checked out the Potty for Boys box from the library, which contains an anatomically correct doll with potty seat, several books, DVDs, and a CD to help teach about pottying. Also, we came across Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman, which is a charming little book about vegetables wearing underwear, and while it’s simplistic, it hits home that babies wear diapers, big kids wear underwear, and vegetables come in various shapes and sizes.  Since checking it out, my son has had us read it to him three times in one day.

With the imminent release of the movie, I’ve begun reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. While I’ve delved only into the first few chapters thus far, I’m already captivated by the realism of a boy’s struggle in being a good son while his mother battles cancer.  Though the movie trailer below shows us an outsider’s perspective, adding the drama and the inherent sense of sadness or pity for the enormity of his experiences, from the boy’s intimate perspective, he downplays everything in his life, not wishing to directly name his fears or acknowledge the severity of the bullying he receives in school.  I’m looking forward to following his journey through the book, and seeing how his story is adapted for the film.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We’re still watching Economics through Crash Course a few times a week, and we’ve been attending the $1 Regal movies regularly, but since finishing all 8 seasons of Charmed, we’ve gone for a lighter show’s reruns: Dharma and Greg.  If you’ve never watched it, it begins with two people from opposite sides of (white) American culture: a woman with hippie parents who decry capitalism, and a man who works as a lawyer and whose parents are among the upper 2% of the economic spectrum.  The day of their meeting turns into a long date with a lot of travel, culminating in their marriage.  Thus begins the entire premise of the show.  So far, four episodes in, my daughter is delighted, and my son eats his lunch and doesn’t complain, but is ready to dash off the moment his food is finished.  At least it’s only a 25 minute show, so we have been able to watch one before he’s done.  The Dragon specifically said she enjoys watching the opening credits, as they make her happy.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

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Spicy Chicken and Pasta

1 lb. boneless chicken thighs
1/2 c. sundried tomatoes soaked in olive oil
1 tomato
1 lg. Beaver Dam pepper (or equivalent medium pepper)
1 c. white wine
salt, black pepper, tarragon, olive oil
1 pkg. caserecce or other pasta
grated parmesan, asiago, or blend
6 cloves garlic

In a large pot, prepare pasta according to instructions, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil and cook chicken thighs with a pinch of salt and pressed garlic.  Remove meat and chop into small chunks.  In the same skillet, cook chopped tomato, sundried tomatoes, and Beaver Dam peppers* until tender.  Add wine and tarragon, cook another five to seven minutes until the alcohol is cooked off.  Pour the contents of the pan into a small mixing bowl and blend with a hand blender.

Warm pasta with olive oil in the pot.

Serve chicken and pasta onto plates separate or together.  Dress the pasta with cheese, and spoon the sauce over the chicken.

My partner and I ended up mixing all the food together on the plate, our children did not.  Everyone thought it turned out well (although for the toddler, I reserved only the tomato mixture, cooking the peppers separately. Once his was served, I added in the peppers, and blended some more).

 

*Beaver Dam peppers are my absolute favorite chili peppers in the world.  They grow as big as poblanos and anaheims, and reach a similar level of medium heat, but the heat builds slowly, releasing a host of tempting flavors other peppers don’t achieve.  Even when lightly sauteed, they have a smoky quality without needing to smoke or grill them.  If you can get your hands on some, I highly recommend them; they tend to be red and green striped, rather than a single color.  I have yet to successfully grow them, but I try anew every year.

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What We’re Doing: Jumping June

For our family, May through July is a parade of birthdays.  My friend’s sons whom I call my nephews have their birthdays, my girlfriend has hers, one of my baby cousins, and so on.  In June we celebrate four different cousins’ birthdays, and in July some of my close friends, my daughter, and my partner all have birthdays (the latter two are birthday twins, 30 years apart).  Between the birthday parties, presents, and social media wishes, we’re busy celebrating summer.

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Fathers’ Day Hike at Wallace Falls 2016, Willow & Birch

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

herbspiral.jpgWe finished our herb spiral!  After months of doing little bits of work, the herb spiral is fully established (except for a pair of marshmallow plants on their way), with a variety of herbs, most of which are surviving.  The mini clay pond at the tail of the spiral is filled with watercress with space for one of our ordered mallows.  Play chips surround the whole thing, and we have a bird bath set up.  One of our neighbors let us take a huge amount of mint, oregano, and Shasta daisies, and the former two are bordering the play chips ring, making the air fragrant and delightful.

For Fathers’ Day, we followed my partner to Wallace Falls Park, and hiked to the lower falls.  It wasn’t easy; my body barely made it to the destination, but we survived it all.  We celebrated with tasty treats from the taco truck on Main Street in Monroe.  On our hike, we saw a snake, a woodpecker, a beaver dam, several butterflies, and a host of mosquitoes dining on our collective buffet. The drive up, we also enjoyed the horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and a lone raven along the way.  While it wasn’t profound, it was a peaceful, enjoyable day for all.

Monday was Litha, or Summer Solstice, and we celebrated with midsummer vegetables, stuffed roast chicken, and peach pie (more like peach soup with crust; I added too much butter to the top).  The kids and I had to stay home to await the delivery of my daughter’s new loft bed.  We have low ceilings on the top floor, so it had to be a low loft.  She wanted space beneath to have a sitting area, but at least she has more storage.  Tuesday was all about assembling it (though the mattress has yet to arrive); there’s yet more to finish, and a few screws we’ll have to drill holes for because bad designers, bad.

This week we plan to take an outing to Woodinville Lavender to see fields and fields of purple.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

My son and I hit the library’s “rhyme and song” book section hard.  At present his three favorites from our temporary collection are The Wheels on the Bus (no surprise, it’s about a bus, and he loves the actions that go along with the song), This Old Van by Kim Norman (a hippie counting book with vehicles sung to the tune “This Old Man”), and The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly (loved for the what the heck factor, and the chance to make gross out noises).

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The choice of Yu-Hsuan’s version of The Wheels on the Bus is due entirely to the interactive nature of the book.  While the verses are limited, my son adores actually turning the wheel, moving the babies up and down, and so on.  If you want one with more verses and amazing art, check out the version by Paul O. Zelinsky, who is a master artist and creator of some of our favorite fairy tale picture books (see: Rapunzel and Rumplestiltskein for examples).

Meanwhile, my daughter finished her essay on On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Howl by Allan Ginsburg, which together we turned into a poem.  She completed Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut, and is in the process of writing an essay exploring the use of time travel and non-linear storytelling and how the story would fare if presented in linear time.

9780553279030-us-300This week she begins one of my all-time favorites, Neverness by David Zindell.  It’s the first book before a trilogy called The Requiem for Homo Sapiens, and has been compared to Dune by many reviewers.  Far in the future, on a planet known as Icefall, a young pilot of The Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame embarks on a journey, falling through the stars, and reciting poetry to a goddess with moons for brains.  This book is to the Requiem for Homo Sapiens with the Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Where Neverness focuses on Mallory Ringess, the three books that follow focus on his son, Danlo.  Truly epic, marvelous, and highly recommended by me. I’ve bought many copies to give to friends and family.  These are books that combine classic space opera science fiction with mysticism mathematics, poetry, myth, and the exploration of what it means to be human.  The whole series is a shining work of art that often reads like poetry.  It’s the richest food for the soul.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

maxresdefaultOk, how many times have  I plugged Crash Course?  Well, I’m doing it again.  This time, their Economics series.  While some of their subjects are dry or presented by people who don’t hold the same delightful presence as John Green, the Economics course is extraordinarily engaging.  There are two hosts, one an instructor of economics, and the other an applied economist, and they’re so lively and make this subject so interesting, my daughter can see herself becoming an economist.

That’s right.  My daughter who loves art and telling stories and teaching little children, when I made a joke she’d become an economist or investment banker, she turned to me with a serious face, nodded, and said, “Yeah, I just might.”  If that isn’t an endorsement for this show, I don’t know what is.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

The Dragon has been baking.  A lot.  It’s her favorite new hobby, and I’ve been benefiting from tasty, gluten-free desserts.  At my insistence she make scones (three weeks of insisting and buying fresh lavender for the purpose), she finally made some.  Lavender lemon scones, totally gluten-free (to make vegan, sub coconut cream and Earth Balance for dairy ingredients).

She based her recipe on the Lemon-Lavender Scones by Kira Bussanich, but she made some modifications.  First, she said to skip the sand sugar and use this Martha Stewart Lemon Glaze (or any other glaze you like). She ended up using more butter, too. Added another six tablespoons. Also, she used tapioca starch instead of potato flour, and brown rice flour instead of white rice flour.  We ended up with six standard sized scones and another dozen smaller scones (the three balls of dough weren’t split evenly from the original batter).

They turned out AMAZING.  We had so much fun kneading dough and eating the scones, we forgot to take pictures.  The smaller ones got a bit crisp and dark on the bottom, so keep an eye on them!  35 minutes was too long for the small ones.  My breath tasted of lavender for days — be prepared!

 

What We’re Doing: Marvelous May

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Ok. Maybe it hasn’t been entirely marvelous with an illness, two injuries (mine), and a lot of rain when we’d have it fair, but there have been movements to marvel about.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

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The Fox and his sponge.

After the amazing Taco Party on Beltane, we’ve been moving through the final spring classes my son’s taking, working on routine health check-ups, and getting the house in a more manageable state. We also did a major cleaning on the car, and got rid of everything not essential; my son even helped scrub the pollen off the tricky edges the car wash didn’t clean.

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Running with his Wind Stick at Tiny Treks

A lot of children, for various reasons, weren’t able to attend the last couple of music classes, and with only four kids left, my son felt totally at ease to be himself.  He participated more, laughed, and had fun without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of little bodies in the room. He also has had a lot of fun at the last few Tiny Treks classes he’s been taking; becoming more engaged in the activities, and coming home to sing songs to his dad he heard on each hike. But as he told his coach, gymnastics is his favorite class, and we’re going to keep it up through the summer.

My daughter’s been accepted into the Running Start program. Just one more orientation, and she can sign up for classes!  Meanwhile, my “nephews” both celebrated their birthdays this month — one became a teenager, and the other is officially an adult.  He’s graduating from a community college with both a high school diploma and Associates degree next month, soon to enter a local university.

Here’s the marveling part.  I marvel every day at these children.  I watch them, and sometimes, when I stand apart and let them alone to be their truest selves, everything clicks, and I make peace with existence. It’s as if knowing they’re here, real, and confirmed before my eyes, everything one might fear — death, taxes, needles, war — they mean nothing in the moment compared to these young beings of light and laughter. Their brilliance isn’t blinding, but a warm, reassuring glow.

And with my own, sometimes I stop and think, “Wow. I made those two. I made them inside me. And they’re marvelous.”

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WHAT WE’RE READING

Right now, the Little Fox’s two favorite library books are Drew the Screw by Mattia Cerato and The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. Ok, maybe the latter isn’t his favorite, but I want to promote it anyway.

516t7-dwbol-_sx258_bo1204203200_First, though, the simple book about a screw and the tools it lives with in its garage doesn’t have many words.  Only a dozen or two, but the cartoonish pictures allow parents to talk to their little ones about common objects found in a garage or workshop. Since the tools are anthropomorphized, they’re given different personalities, and it’s clear from their expressions some are friendlier than others and some don’t like the screw much. My son picks up on all this and asks questions about their feelings, their smiles or frowns, the menacing grin of the saw he reads as “angry,” and he sees things I wouldn’t if I looked at it alone.  Subtle things in the background. I usually read this one twice — once quickly for the words, and the second time to explore the pictures.

516ktpcfm3l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Now, when I think of ugly vegetables, I think of the wasted food that doesn’t make it to the grocery shelves because it doesn’t look perfect.  But this book is about a different set of “ugly” vegetables — a young girl questions why her mother doesn’t plant flowers like the neighbors, and plants Chinese vegetables instead. She watches with envy as each stage of growth shows the difference between the plants, from the dirt to the labels to the sprouts. It all looks ugly, until harvest time when her mother begins the soup.  An excellent look at differences in cultures within a neighborhood, what gets prioritized, and even hints at internalized racism, which seem somewhat healed by the sharing of the soup. I might like this book more than my son, but he adores having me read about the making of the soup and reading off the ingredients in the recipe at the back.

5963_howl-coverThe Dragon is finishing up an assigned essay on both On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and Howl by Allen Ginsberg, Jack’s presumed lover and longtime collaborator.  Though I haven’t been given access to the essay yet, she has made some comments. She doesn’t seem to care much for Kerouac as a person, but she does find the history fascinating, and the backdrop of his travels adds to the landscape of mid-20th century America she’s been learning about.  She enjoyed a lot of Ginsberg’s poems, but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising given her modesty), didn’t care much for the title poem.  For me, the title poem is the reason to own the book in the first place, but she keeps reminding me by her actions and preferences, that despite our similarities, we are not the same person.

I finished reading The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up (a.k.a. the KonMari Method) by Marie Kondo last week.

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Good bye, shoes.  Thank you for being fabulous and making my son smile.

The good: many, many of her ideas are excellent suggestions for people looking to make major changes to their lives by improving their living spaces. Her trial-and-error perfecting of her method over most of her lifetime definitely developed a keen mind for organizing.  She suggests all people should first discarding most possessions, keeping only what “sparks joy” or is necessary, doing so in a specific order by category (not by location), and only then finding the right storage for each item.

The problematic: Some of her methods go too far and simply aren’t practical in a large home, or with children around.  That isn’t to say children can’t benefit from this method (she has a 3 year old client), but her specifications often assume a certain style of architecture — a Japanese style, where closets are deep, include well-defined sections, and even have a cupboard above them.  She recommends having all of one person’s items in their own closet, regardless of their use.  Believe me, this doesn’t work if you’re trying to change a diaper at 2am and all of your supplies are in another room.  Also, red flag here, she pared down to thirty books. Thirty! As a friend said, “I have thirty books on horse care alone!”  Yeah. I can see reducing our educational books that aren’t likely to get used ever, or ditching some of the gardening and cookbooks I rarely refer to, but we’re bibliophiles and we like living in a library.  Finally, it’s clear tidying is Marie’s way of feeling worthwhile, and it stems from a childhood desire for positive attention.  She takes it to such extremes she sometimes comes home late from tidying other people’s homes and passes out on the floor just inside the entrance of her home.

Despite its flaws, there’s a lot to learn from it, and like all advice books, take what works for your life and put it to work, discarding what doesn’t spark joy.   😉

Also, you’re probably folding things wrong:

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

About once a month, I drive thirty minutes out to Bellevue to buy baked goods from WildFlour Gluten-Free Bakery.  Though I love Flying Apron, and some of the store options we find, WildFlour is by far my favorite (their scones are better than any wheat-based scone I ever ate).  I pick up biscuits, scones, cupcakes, cookies, baguettes, and other treats, and I always grab a double pack of Rebecca’s (owner) pizza crusts.  Being gluten-free means having limited pizza options outside the house, and too many have cross-contamination issues.  When we last made pizza at home, we bought a big bag of pepperoni at PCC for one of the pizzas, and froze what we didn’t use.

I made baguette pizzas with the pepperoni, black olives (my son’s favorite), and gouda cheese (many Japanese swear by it in place of mozzarella, and it’s divine and melts faster), but even adding plenty of pepperonis to the baguettes, we had some leftover. So, I made cucumber pizzas based on a (cooked) zucchini version, and served them on the side as the “salad,” which I thought the kids might enjoy.  My daughter says the marscapone “hides the disgusting flavor of the cucumber.”  We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, but my son generally enjoys cucumbers.

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Cucumber Pizza Rounds

1/3 pkg of sliced pepperoni
1 large cucumber, sliced
marscapone
pizza sauce*

Slice the cucumbers into thick rounds, arrange on a plate.  Using a cheese knife, spread marscapone on each.  Add a dollop of warm pizza sauce, and top with a pepperoni.  Serve to hungry spawnlings as soon as possible.

 

*Mama Raven’s Pizza Sauce

1 can tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, pressed
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
tarragon
paprika, sweet ground
1/4 c. shredded parmesan, romano, asiago, or a blend of the three
water
salt
pepper

In a small pot, warm the olive oil and saute garlic.  Stir in about a tablespoon of tarragon, for two minutes before adding the tomato paste.  Season with paprika and sprinkle the balsamic vinegar liberally. (Pizza sauce is basically sweetened marinara, and rather than add sugar or corn syrup like commercial sauces, I find balsamic vinegar adds the right balance without being saccharine. I typically add red wine to my marinara, this also allows me to skip this step if I wish.)  Let the tomato mixture warm a little before adding an equal amount of water and stirring thoroughly. Once hot, blend in cheese, stirring constantly until melted, and then add salt and pepper to taste.

This is in no way a traditional sauce, but it works, it tastes amazing, and I can whip it up in a matter of minutes when we’re late to making lunch and everyone’s hungry.  Note that I use tarragon instead of oregano and basil because I prefer the flavor; I find too much basil in a tomato sauce to be cloying and unpleasant, and oregano, while good in moderation, doesn’t agree with my stomach or my palate in the amounts required for all the Italian-ish food we eat.

Call of the Wind

In March, a great series of wind storms crashed through our town, knocking down trees and power lines.  We’re accustomed to windy days and we know come late fall until May, power outages are something to prepare for.  We have an abundance of candles, matches, and other needful things.  After a day without lights, refrigeration, or wifi, we become humbled.

Spring can bring wind storms to many places, and to honor the wind’s power in our lives, I’ve compiled a short list of children’s picture books on the subject.

Mirandy and Brother Wind by Patricia McKissack – Mirandy wants to dance with Brother Wind at her first cakewalk. Her family and neighbors give her different ideas for trapping Brother Wind, for they say if she can trap him, he’ll grant her wish. Her friend, Ezel, a boy known for his clumsiness laughs at her attempts. When the cakewalk happens, everyone is in for a surprise. Excellent storytelling, lovely artwork, and true regional accents bring this folk tale to life.

Wind Child by Shirley Rousseau Murphy – The East Wind falls in love with a mortal woman, and together they make a child in a house made of reeds and clouds. When his wife dies, the East Wind brings their baby to a mortal woman to raise and care for. Resshie, named for the sound her father makes when blowing through the trees, grows to be a weaver of fine fabrics, never knowing who her father is. Too odd to befriend or marry, Resshie tries to weave her dreams to life. What this story lacks in the flow of writing it makes up for with the story itself and exquisite art. As I read the clunky text (it really needs a better editor), I retold it in my head as an animated film with the patterns of her fabric moving in the background.  

Story of the Wind Children by Sibylle von Olfers – A young boy named George is playing with a toy boa when the wind stops. A wind sprite comes to play, and together they go on an adventure. Her art has been described as akin to that of Beatrix Potter, and this story like others in the series anthropomorphizes natural forces. The story is full of whimsy, not heavy on substance, but reminds me of a child’s daydream. I’m looking forward to trying more of her books in the future, though my library seems bereft of her work.

When the Wind Stops by Charlotte Zolotow – A boy asks why the wind stops, and his mother explains it doesn’t — it simply moves to another part of the world, much like the sun, rain, etc. She tells of unending cycles of nature, a allegory for teaching about life cycles, and a contemplative introduction to natural sciences and pagan spirituality.

Whirlwind is a Spirit Dancing by Natalia Belting – Kept last in the list, this book contains the translated poetic tales of multiple Native American nations. While not all are about the winds of the world (there are three or four), they all tell stories about nature, weather, and the seasons. Each poem clearly shows both the originating tribe and its location in the Americas. Lovely illustrations complement the prose.

Bonus: For adolescents, I wish to turn you toward the Fables series by Bill Willingham, wherein a set of wind children are born to two famous fable characters.  The entire series is excellent, weaving classic fairy tales into contemporary urban life, but these children are especially remarkable for being the grandchildren of the North Wind.  They appear somewhere around volume 17 of the series.  

Though the links in this post lead to Amazon listings, please look for these titles through Barnes & Noble during their Teacher Appreciation Days.  All teachers (homeschool educators with a Declaration of Intent are included) get 25% all books and many other items through April 17th!

What We’re Doing: Magical March

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As a family, we’ve been sick for days, but we’re finally on the mend and looking forward to Spring Equinox this weekend.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

To celebrate the Spring Equinox on Sunday, over the next few days, we’re making seed bombs with our easily propagated leftover seeds from 2014.  We’ve already started our indoor seeds (a little late), and I’ve been digging in the garden to build our herb spiral around a tree stump cut low late last fall.

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On Sunday, there’s a neighborhood egg hunt, which is perfect for us, since we celebrate the equinox and not Easter.  Instead of going to our favorite sci-fi/fantasy convention (Norwescon) and our favorite manga convention (Sakuracon) Easter weekend, I’ll be caucusing and hope to use it as a civics lesson for my teen.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

51faxLylWLL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_We checked out a lot of new picture books for the Little Fox, but a pair of Pomelo books have proven quirky and rather subversive.  At least, some of the pictures make my partner and I giggle or give each other meaningful looks.  While the art is adorable and most of the pictures silly or sweet, once in a while, we find one bordering on macabre or downright nihilistic.  I’m hoping to dig up more of these, because as intelligent adults who share a dark sense of humor, these books are a blast.  Like the original Olivia books (those written by Ian Falconer and not the show tie-ins, which lose a lot of the charm and wit), they offer something for both the child and the parent reading them.

41g92babzrkl-_sx327_bo1204203200_A couple of years ago, I became curious about The Leftovers, but at the time, couldn’t watch it for various reasons. After watching the first few episodes of the first season, I had to read the books.  Talk about potentially ending up like the show Lost where answers weren’t forthcoming didn’t sit well with me, so I wanted to know what I wasn’t seeing in the show that the book reveals.  The book is incredibly insightful about the human condition, communities, and modern society.

The premise is based on the question: what would happen to the people left behind in a Rapture-like event?  Without any clear idea of what happened to the disappearance of 2% of the world’s population, those “leftover” struggle with a feeling of emptiness, grief, and uncertainty. The story focuses on the people in the small town of Mapleton, New York and how the Departure has affected them.  Midway through the book and halfway through the available episodes, I’m fairly well hooked and looking forward to seeing how both end (the first season is based on the book, but there are deviations, and the following seasons go beyond the book).

120843Since Running Start is a short distance away for my daughter, I created a list of books, some mandatory, some optional, and let her choose fourteen total to complete (plus essays) until she begins college in the fall.  She recently completed To Kill a Mockingbird, and followed it with an inspired essay about permissive bullying.  Now she’s delving into The Once and Future King to be followed soon after with Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Little Fox, according to my partner, has a “crush” on a redheaded mechanic named Doctor McWheelie.  He enjoys this show so much, he’s begun pronouncing certain words with a British accent (e.g. garage as GARE-ej, petrol instead of gas).  She’s become a bit of an invisible friend at meals and on car trips, too.  You can see more of McWheelie on the KidsFirstTV YouTube station.

 

Then there’s a delightful Russian show we all enjoy watching together, Masha and the Bear.  While there are English dubbed episodes online, we prefer watching it in Russian with English subtitles.  My son doesn’t seem bothered with not understanding the words, since the visuals tell most of the story anyway.  Masha is my son in a dress with a Russian accent.  Their behavior is near identical, and it’s a wonder we still have a house.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Since my partner is now a permanent employee at his company, he actually has less take home pay than when he was a contract worker.  So, we’re working harder to keep to a food budget while still enjoying organic, whole foods, most of which are cooked at home.

Last night, I made a comforting Indian dish known as saag paneer (sometimes palak paneer depending on the region).  For those unfamiliar with this dish, it’s essentially cooked spinach and a firm cheese in a flavorful tomato cream sauce, served over basmati rice.  Saag or palak can be cooked with almost anything: chicken, seasonal vegetables, potatoes, etc.  We just happen to like the paneer best.  Note this is my modified version, and not traditional.  It’s made mild for our children, but with plenty of spices we have on hand.

Saag Paneer: Ingredients

2c. basmati rice (dry)
1 – 2 lb. fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 lb. paneer
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
equal parts (approx. 2tsp.) of: turmeric, garam masala, ground or grated ginger, paprika or red chili powder (depending on desired heat), ground fenugreek/methi, cumin, coriander
salt to taste
ghee
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 14 oz. can coconut cream or milk (we get ours at Trader Joe’s, which has an excellent price for the product)

Start by cooking the basmati rice.  Generally, two cups of dry rice to three cups of water.  Bring to a boil, stir for a minute, reduce to med-low and cover.  Once covered, add ghee (clarified butter) to a large skillet on medium heat.  Chop up the paneer into cubes and add to the skillet to cook until slightly crisp on the edges (not traditional, but we like the edges crisp; can be cooked until warm).

Set paneer aside in a bowl, add more ghee to the pan, and toss in spices to toast lightly.  Add in tomato paste, mixing the spices in well.  Add in an equal amount of water to tomato paste and stir quickly while sizzling.  Now it’s time to toss the chopped spinach into the pan, slowly folding it into the tomato paste.

Cover for a few minutes, stir, and cover again.  Return paneer to pan, and turn heat down to low.  Stir in coconut cream until blended and sauce warm. Serve over rice, which can be dressed up with saffron, raisins, peas, and cashews.

 

 

3 Transportation Books for Young Children

My son adores certain things: music, performing, My Little Pony, cooking, Stephen Universe, and cars.  Not just cars, but any vehicle or mode of transportation. While he enjoys cooking in his play kitchen, building things with blocks, and banging on percussion instruments while making up his own melodies, most of his play time is spent smashing cars together or having them talk to each other.

As with so many of my daughter’s passions, we have turned to the library for assistance in finding books to appease his constant desire to play with, build, or talk about cars.

Here are three he greatly enjoyed recently:

littlebluetruckbooksLittle Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

This sweet little book with its moping cow, perky pig, and bicep flexing frog features the daily drive and “conversation” of a little blue truck and the animals along the way.  When a rude, road-hogging dump truck comes along and gets stuck in the mud, it learns a lesson.  An excellent book to explore manners, kindness, and the interdependence of a community. In writing this review, I also discovered, there’s a sequel!

9780064467285_p0_v2_s192x300Beep Beep, Vroom Vroom by Stuart J. Murphy and Chris Demarest

Little sister Molly loves watching her big brother Kevin play with his cars, but he won’t let her play.  When he’s called down to set the table for dinner, Molly starts to play with them anyway, even after being warned he’d better find his cars as he left them.  Reasons to lvoe it: cars aren’t gendered toys in this book, siblings are shown in an honest manner when it comes to sharing, and the subtle pattern recognition about the cars and which ordered they’re placed and played in each time.


freighttrain1Freight Train
by Donald Crews

Why is this simplistic art so appealing?  Ah! It makes me giddy to see it.  This lovely little book appears incredibly simplistic, and yet it teaches about different portions of a train, colors, motion’s visual effect on objects, counting, and is cleverly written to give the ending a nice pop! of a finish.

What We’re Doing: Fabulous February

wbfeb2016.pngWith an early spring in the PNW, we’ve been taking advantage of the improved weather and getting out more.  The lunar new year has come, Imbolc celebrated before that, and our schedule is filling rapidly with new classes, adventures, and friendly visits across the whole of spring.

WHAT WE’RE DOING

wbyearofmonkey

Lunar New Year: Year of the Monkey from the Seattle Int’l District’s festival page. Sadly, we didn’t make it this year. My son would have loved it.

One activity plaguing my mind most in the midst of this early spring is gardening.  Over the end of the summer and early fall of last year, we hired a few people to help clear away some of the most troublesome spots so I could start this year fresh.  Given the Year of the Monkey is said to be a year of cleansing, it seems appropriate.  I have new vegetable boxes and an herb spiral to build, lettuce towers to make, and a whole new area to level into a usable plot — our sunniest spot in the whole of our near-acre property.

 

We’re also excited, because our local park’s playground is reopening after months of reconstruction, and includes a number of new structures to climb, bounce on, and explore.  Too bad the reopening week the weather turned to the gloomiest we’ve seen since November.

This spring three of us will be taking music lessons: my daughter has started singing lessons with an acclaimed local actress, I’m still working on my piano (learning composition now!), and my son will be joining a weekly toddler music group.

Add to this a discussion of whether we can fit a spring course of Tiny Treks at a local farm into our schedules, making time for both high school and college advisers for Running Start, and finding time for friends, home, and quiet, it’s going to be our busiest year in a long while.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Most of my reading the last couple of weeks has been political or educational (e.g. news articles and activity books like The Preschooler’s Busy Book), while my daughter recently completed I Never Saw Another Butterfly and has been decompressing with manga online.

The Little Fox, however, has found great delight in revisiting two new library books: Pepper & Poe by Frann Preston-Gannon and Where’s My Mommy? by Jo Brown.

17240324The former book deals with a fluffy cat named Pepper who adores life at home teasing the dog, playing with yarn, and generally having the run of the house.  That is until his human brings home a new friend to play with, a white kitten named Poe.  Poe adores absolutely everything about Pepper, but the feeling isn’t mutual.  The book is charming and the tale told succinctly with few words and strong imagery.  It’s an excellent book for children who like cats, or are struggling with having to share their homes with a new, younger sibling.

51h2ykk5-hl-_sx258_bo1204203200_Where’s My Mommy deals with a different issue: finding one’s identity.  A little crocodile egg rolls down a hill away from its nest and cracks open, and the tiny crocodile who pops out doesn’t know what it is or who its mother is, and begins asking the various animals around.  This book is wildly successful with my son because it contains vibrant animals, repetition in its storytelling (a great way to engage little children), and includes a chance several times to participate in the story by yelling, “Snap!”  It’s an engaging read, just the right length for a bedtime story, and something both my partner and I enjoy reading to him over and over again (thankfully).

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Friday nights are movie nights — at least most weeks — and this Friday we agreed to watch Song of the Sea, another illuminated (sometimes literally) animated film by the same group who brought the world Secret of the Kells.  This film took my breath away and awed my daughter, too.  It blended a contemporary Irish family’s life and tragedy with cultural tales, “tangled with this world,” as one character mentions later in the film.  It includes selkies, Fair Folk, giants, and more.  If I had to say what brought me chills and later to tears, I’d first want to talk about the storytelling, but it wouldn’t seem right.

It took me a few days to sit with it and realize, it was the authenticity of it all.  This wasn’t an American film talking about Irish fairytales, this wasn’t even a British film attempting to portray Irish myths and culture.  This came directly from the source, and like indigenous films and video games coming from Native Americans, Aboriginals, and Maori, it’s told from the people themselves.  And being of Celtic ancestry myself, it felt a little like coming home to watch it — even more so than Secret of the Kells had.  It was a beautiful film, and a little sad, and quite a lot of hopeful.

Add to this, my daughter’s observation: there weren’t any “true” villains — no character was entirely good or evil, but rather whole, complex people.

So, if you like engaging animated films that are as much artful as they are entertaining, and you enjoy a good story, this is an excellent family film.

WHAT WE’RE EATING

One of my go-to recipes once or twice a month is pancakes and bacon.  We’ve eaten it for brunch or dinner at various points over the years, and since two of us need to eat gluten free (thanks, wheat allergy), it’s taken time to get our pancake recipe just right.

Part of the trick is to make it “fluffy” enough, and the other is to make it “glutinous” enough without having gluten in it.  The secrets are in the tapioca starch (just a little), using half “heavy/dark” and half “light” flours, and a good binder like eggs or bananas.  I present my own mix for gluten-free banana pancakes (with options for alternatives).

wbpancakes.png

Gluten Free Banana Pancakes

2/3 c. brown rice flour
2/3 c. buckwheat flour
3 T. tapioca starch
1 1/2 t. gf powdered sugar
pinch of salt
cinnamon
allspice

2 eggs*
2 bananas
1 1/4 c. almond milk
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. vanilla
3 T. melted butter (or sunflower oil)

Mix dry ingredients together.  Mash bananas thoroughly with a fork.  Blend in eggs, then add vanilla and almond milk.  Pour into dry ingredients, stir it most of the way, and then slowly add in melted butter.  Stir just at the point of the dry blending with the wet ingredients.  It’s ok if there are small lumps, you don’t want to over blend a pancake batter.

Use a sauce ladle and spoon out pancake batter onto a hot, lightly greased skillet or griddle.  In my largest skillet I can fit four small pancakes at once.  Cook until the edges are bubbly and slightly dry.  Flip and cook each an extra 1.5 – 2 minutes.  Lay them out on a large plate as they finish, until you’ve cooked all of the batter in this way.  Serve with thick, crisp bacon (we prefer Pure Country Pork, the most sustainably raised pigs within a two hour drive), crushed walnuts or whole pine nuts, and your favorite syrup.

*If you’re vegan, please substitute another banana for the two eggs.  Please also note, we use DUCK EGGS, and they are larger than most chicken eggs.  YMMV.

Alternate recipe:

Use gf oat flour in place of the brown rice flour, add in a bit of ground ginger to the batter, and serve with small slices of candied ginger for ginger oatcakes (my partner’s favorites).