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.]



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!


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.


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.


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: Justice January


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.



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.



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.



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.



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!

What We’re Doing: Decidedly December



We started this month with a terrible cold that laid everyone low for almost two weeks.  My partner was working late nights to complete a project by deadline.  I was working just to get us healthy in time to teach my students.  My daughter was rushing around trying to complete her work for coming finals.  Yet, but they time I had my final Reading Selections class of the year, we were coming close to vacation.

After a wonderful class in which my former students sat in on the discussion as well, all the kids and their parents joined us for pizza, and a chance to chat with each other outside of a structured setting.  I saw greater bonds being forged between the teens, and I had a chance to get to know two of the parents better.

My daughter finished her first quarter at the same time my partner’s vacation began.  Even my son was off from gymnastics for two weeks.  We’re at home together playing, cleaning, and exploring through the start of January.

Though some of our plans for a Muppet Solstice didn’t all work out, we did find a medium sized tree, trim it, decorate the house, and find or make presents for the people close to us in life.  Some of the adults had to settle for candy, but I made hand puppets for all the small children.  Tweens and teens got art supplies or books.  My daughter mostly wanted clothes and headphones, and received them.  My son mostly received puppets, puzzles, and Play-Doh, which were all things he wanted in his life.


Seed Clusters: Mix 1c. bird seed w/ 2T. melted coconut oil. Scoop and press into cookie cutters, poke a hole for the string with a chopstick and toss in the fridge until hardened.

Now that all of our holiday events have passed, we’re working on getting other things in order: my bed has a new frame, bills need sorting and paying, one of the cars needs a quick check up, and so on.  An outing or two are planned for gaming and hiking before we return to our routines.  When we do, there are changes I wish to make with my approach to time alone with my son.  Some items I let fall to the side over the last few months: gardening, outdoor adventures, and more.  Also coming in the new year is a write class I’ve been asked to teach, a book to be published, and convention panels to prepare for.  None of which I feel ready to face, but they’re all steps along the way to my long-term goals.

Oh yes, and my son and I made a lot of cookie cutter-shaped seed clusters for the birds outside.  They were delighted.  So were the cats, who watched them from the windows.



61wo7aokdhl-_sx351_bo1204203200_As is true for every holiday and birthday, our gifts included books.  Since the first set was ruined by tiny hands and a tiny mouth, we purchased a new set of Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library.  All four stories were turned into short animated films and set to music; they’ve been a part of our favorites since my daughter was tiny (it was her set that was damaged).  He apologized for his toddler mistakes of the past and promised to care for the new set, gently setting them back into their box after each reading.

Since I purchased it at the behest of one of my sisters, my daughter read all of the first six Parasyte manga.  This is a science fiction horror manga series, which involve parasitic aliens who take over human bodies, except one doesn’t invade the brain of its host, but instead, his hand.  Great for teens and adults who enjoy horror.  Caution: graphic violence and horrific scenes.

An old friend sent me the first book of Marvel’s Mockingbird, written by Chelsea Cain.  It’s a mature comic, with wit and humor, unabashed feminism, and a lot for readers to enjoy.  Of all my favorite graphic novel series (e.g. Saga, Y the Last Man, Fables, etc.), I don’t think any made me laugh as often and as hard as Mockingbird.  Caution: violence, sex, and zombies.


As a holiday treat, my father and step-mother took us all out to see Sing! in the theater.  We adored it.  Lots of popular songs, a lot of humor, and a lot of tears.  How many times did they need to play “Golden Slumbers?”  *sob*  I needed more tissues than I brought, which was zero.

We also recently watched Kubo and the Two Strings, thanks to a friend.  It proved far more beautiful and engaging than the trailers led us to believe.  Poor advertising proved fatal to box office sales, but if you missed it in the theater, I recommend checking it out through DVD, streaming, or at your library when available.  Toby Froud was one of the sculptors!


Crock Pot Duck

For one of the holiday meals I made (we celebrate across three different days because of various traditions across our combined families), we didn’t have a working oven. So, I cooked a duck in our trusty crock pot!

When I asked him what he thought of the duck, he said, “I’m happy the oven isn’t working.”

It’s a super simple reccrockpotduck.pngipe.  Slice several root vegetables (we used turnips, parsnips, carrots, and onions), and create layers on the bottom of the crock pot.  Add 1 – 2 cups of water or broth.  Place a cleaned duck on top.  Prick the skin (not the flesh) with a fork at intervals on the body to render the fat. Add some sage and fresh ground pepper.  Set the crock pot to high and cook 5-6 hours.  I pulled out the duck, placed it in the broiler until the skin browned and crisped, and sliced it up.  It was falling off the bone.  We strained the vegetables from the broth, and reserved the liquid to chill  so we can reserve the fat and use the aspic for a soup.  I also made mushroom risotto in butter and sage with shiitake mushrooms.  Soooo goooood.


What We’re Doing: Outstanding October and Unbelievable November

It’s been a while since my last update (apologies), let me tell you why …




Our October was almost as busy as our November.  We had our emergency room appendicitis false alarm, my first full Reading Selections class, and a visit to Oxbow Farm’s harvest festival.  A dear friend came to spend a week with us as a house guest.  At the same time, I worked on a new story, and launched a Patreon page, even making an intro video and a reminder on Halloween. (Note: I’m really uncomfortable with seeing myself on video.  Still photos, sure, but videos?  Blech.)

Since the end of October, I’ve been working hard on the third annual Flash Dash Challenge.  Instead of participating in NaNoWriMo (I have plenty of novel projects in various stages of drafts) the past three years, I’ve set myself a goal of writing a new piece of flash fiction every day for a month.  In 2014, I only wrote about a dozen stories.  In 2015, I wrote about two dozen.  This year, I’m going for all thirty stories.  (Thus far, I have sixteen stories for sixteen days).

My son and I have been working on understanding autumn, eggs, our bodies and senses, and we’re heading into American legends and Native Americans.  He recently made a new friend through the library, and we’ve been meeting weekly for play dates.  My daughter’s dating a wonderful young woman, and enjoying her classes, especially the Japanese.  At this point, I think she’ll have a solid B for the quarter, though I’m hoping she’ll swing an A- in at least one of them.  This past weekend, we spent a couple of hours on a dreary afternoon at the Reptile Zoo, petting turtles and a baby alligator, meeting snakes, tortoises, spiders, frogs, and two rather large alligators, Barnabus and Basker, the former of whom was particularly keen on watching my son and I together.  (I’m fairly certain my son was just the right size for a feast.)

Quick tip for Running Start families: We didn’t realize this until it was too late (I swear I don’t recall anyone telling us in the three or four meetings we had with advisors), but the paperwork from the district we’re to take in for each quarter to the college’s Running Start office needs to be in as much as two weeks before registration opens for the new quarter.  So, although the Dragon should be able to register for Winter, she can’t until her paperwork is processed (late because we didn’t realize).  From now on, I’m getting it done two weeks in advance, so she can enjoy priority registration and not miss her preferred classes.



41cm1mfx5el-_sx342_bo1204203200_My daughter hasn’t been reading much outside of her school books and fanfiction, but she recommended the book Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, which is part of her Psychology curriculum.  Though it’s poetry, she said it reads like prose, and puts readers into the shoes of an African American woman, making her experiences relatable to most.

While I’ve been working through rather mature graphic novel series (e.g. The Preacher (big ol’ trigger warnings for this series), Bitch Planetand Saga), my son and I have finished reading books about autumn and books about eggs (and those who lay them).  I’ll post more about the books in the latter category, because we came across some amazing materials!

where-s-the-elephantOne book outside our preschool lessons worth noting is Where’s the Elephant?  While it appears to be a simply drawn and colorful book of seek and find a la Where’s Waldo?, it proves to be a more striking message young children can understand about deforestation and city sprawl.  It doesn’t feel at all soapboxy or preachy, but not knowing what it was about as I was reading it, I had that encroaching sense of dread when I figured out what was going on in the book.  Thankfully, my just enjoyed finding the elephant and his friends among the trees.



One thing that’s been a big comfort through the fall is making a simple side dish alongside almost any seasonal vegetables and meats.  It’s worked well with salmon, squash, Brussels sprouts, sausages, chicken, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and so on.

What is it?

Sage Rice

2 c. short grain brown rice
3c. chicken broth or stock*
2 tsp. sage
pinch of salt
ground black pepper (optional)

Combine ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, cover and simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes.  Serve on the side or beneath the vegetables and/or meats.  Excellent with a mushroom white wine sauce.

*If you’re vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend mushroom broth as opposed to vegetable broth to give it an earthier body and flavor.

What We’re Doing: Sliding Through September

sept2016wbPhew!  This post is much later than I’d planned.  September, while it contained a nice birthday outing to Golden Gardens in celebration of my thirty-eighth, wasn’t exactly a pleasant month on the whole.  It had major ups and downs for our family, and some of those downs are leaking into October.

My car required repairs.  First an oil change, then a timing belt, then calipers and brakes, and there’s still another problem yet to be fixed, so I’m only driving in town for the time being.  My partner’s car needs new brakes, too!  We haven’t been able to turn on our heat yet because of duct and furnace problems, so we’re walking around the house in sweaters and socks and dragging blankets behind us.  We’re also preparing the house for an appraiser, because my partner wishes to refinance, and it’s going to take a lot of work.

Meanwhile, my daughter has officially completed a week and a half of college, and has already made several new friends.  She’s gone out with another friend the past couple of weekends (one of my other students), and is planning on attending her first dance soon!  Because of all of the issues with the house and the cars, my son and I are struggling to establish a new routine, but at least I finally got him to participate with me when singing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” and even the “Hokey Pokey.”  It’s a huge improvement, and it seems for now, while things are rather off-balance, half of our home preschool involves cuddling, and a good quarter is dancing, story time, and taking a long time with meals.



Daughter is learning Japanese, College Success, Psychology, and the Magic of Friendship.  She’s also learning how to balance school work, friend time, family time, chores, fitness, and personal time in ways she didn’t grasp while homeschooling.  Overall, I’m proud of how she’s been adjusting to this major shift in her routine.


Son is learning about the Human Body, though I put so many materials on hold at the library, we’ll probably be studying it for a couple of weeks.  Of course, we had a couple of field trips to both Urgent Care and two Emergency Rooms we’d not planned for: first he stuffed his fingers into the hinge of the front passenger door of my car at the library, right before I shut it to put him in his car seat.  Yowch! Thankfully, nothing broke in that cramped space, and despite some ugly bruising, he’ll be ok in the long-term.  Then a couple of days later, we ended up at the ER because he was in pain and acting unusual, and the nurse hotline said to bring him in.  After an IV and ultrasound, we were transferred by ambulance (that was exciting for him) to Children’s where they did another ultrasound and though the experience was more painful for him, they were on the whole, far more gentle with him than the prior hospital.  And they had kids’ movies he could dial in from his bed.  We were sent home at 3am.  Not appendicitis, but rather a virus that was causing his distress, possibly contracted at the Urgent Care a few days before.  Which is great, because none of his symptoms suggested his appendix was inflamed, but his blood tests might have.


For my birthday, we went to Golden Gardens to commune with the water and the sand and the ducks and turtles, too.  Friends met us there an hour after I texted.  It was spontaneous and perfect.  Two days before that, the kids and I went to see the 30th anniversary showing of Labyrinth, which is dear to my heart.  I saw it at eight years old for my birthday then, and a year later, David Bowie sang to me when I was falling asleep at his Glass Spider Tour concert.  Getting to take my kids to see it on the big screen was a wonderful experience.



As Mabon passed and the hint of October approached, we stumbled across a number of good books dealing with death and magic.  The highlights among them include:

the_garden_of_abdul_gasazi_van_allsburg_book_coverThe Garden of  Abdul Gasazi by Chris van Allsburg features exquisite illustrations in ink, and follows a boy and his unruly dog into the garden of a magician — a garden where dogs are not allowed.  Subtle, magical, beautiful.

Cry, Heart, but Never Break by Glen Ringtved focuses on four children raised by a grandmother who lays dying upstairs In her bed.  Death appears at the door and sits with them at the kitchen table.  As they play him with coffee, hoping to dissuade him from taking their beloved grandmother, Death tells them a tale about four children named Sorrow, Grief, Joy, and Delight.  It’s an excellent, gentle, humbling tale for young ones dealing with grief and loss.

The Dead Bird by Margaret Brown Wise unsettled me, but my son liked it.  It’s a simple tale like her other books, with art ahead of its time.  A handful of children find a dead bird and bury it.  Not much to it, but in the telling of the story, I found some absence in the words, that perhaps might be found instead within.

Skeletons for Dinner by Margery Cuyler is a silly romp with a cute skeleton who misunderstands and invitation by a coven of witches for dinner.  There’s a lesson here in making assumptions.  Excellent for both our human body unit AND in preparation for Samhain.

51ewu-9sril-_sx329_bo1204203200_Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente is this great author’s latest novel.  Like much of her work it’s luscious and complex and the opposite of condescending.  Valente expects that those who choose her work are intelligent and willing to follow along unknown paths on fantastical journeys, and allow the details to unfold in their own time.  Her work always reads as poetry, and Radiance is no exception.  I’m still in the middle of it, not yet having come to understand the full film at play on the screen in my mind, but wanting to plunge further.  Not your standard space drama.  Not your standard anything.  If you want to read something outside tired tropes, and engage your mind in a feast of delights, pick this — or any of her work* — up as soon as you can.

*[Recommend: Deathless for adults who want a linear fairy tale, The Orphan’s Tales for those who enjoy stories within stories, and The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making for children and the young at heart.]



In September, we finished the miniseries Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  I checked out the book at the library, and it might just have War & Peace beat for largest novel.  We also watched the first two seasons of Dharma & Greg before daughter started college, didn’t quite finish Crash Course: Economics, and watched all of Over the Garden Wall, which I thought would be too creepy for my son, but he loved it.



Since my new, amazing, informative goddess of a naturopath has suggested I go four to six weeks without dairy, I’ve been reinventing some of my standard recipes to accommodate the change.  Our salmon tacos, for instance, currently don’t feature my usual crema recipe, so to get a multidimensional flavor from my tacos, I roasted some green peppers (about 2 stars worth of heat) in the toaster oven, pan fried my salmon in my homemade chili powder blend plus garlic and lime, and warmed up the tortillas.  When I filled them, I added avocado, greens sprouts, roasted peppers (for adults, not for our kids who don’t like them), tomatillo salsa, and Cholula.  Served in thick corn tortillas, with purple roasted potatoes, sauteed pepper greens (cook them like spinach with garlic and olive oil), and roasted red cabbage on the side.

Yes, I missed my crema, and yes a proscription against dairy meant I was dreaming of warming cheese between two tortillas and using THAT for the tacos (mulitas style), but I enjoyed the flavor nevertheless. If I had thin tortillas, it wouldn’t have worked; the heat would have overwhelmed the rest, but I was quite happy with the results.  No pictures — they were gobbled down too quickly!

What We’re Doing: Auspicious August



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.



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.



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.




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.

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.


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



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.



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).


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.



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.



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!


The End of Spring

Dragon in a Hat at a Puerto Rican restaurant.  Hat by Sweetheart Toppers

Dragon in a Hat at a Puerto Rican restaurant. Hat by Sweetheart Toppers

Spring may have ended on Beltane (May 1st), but for us, our spring activities came to a close Monday when my son’s final Tiny Treks adventure celebrated at the instructor’s house.

Monday was the last day of Tiny Treks. We went to the main teacher’s house and saw her bunny and played in her backyard and …

… and C insisted we had to go onto one of the boats. Not the paddle boat. Not the kayak. He wanted the canoe. Understand, I haven’t been in a canoe in thirty years. In fact, it’s probably near the anniversary of my canoe trip at a summer day camp when I was 7. I loved it when I was a kid; I felt like a god of the water. I sat at the back and led our boat safely around the bend.

Finding a life jacket big enough for me wasn’t easy, but there was one. Sort of. It closed, but my breasts pushed it up at a 45 degree angle. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to paddle, so I sat up front. C and another child sat in the middle, and her mom sat at the back. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but we made a good pass around Cottage Lake, and even landed back safely at the dock from which we started not too long after. There was an almost-collision with the paddle boat, but we all stopped and drifted together, then gave the paddle boat a shove to get them off and moving.

It was exhilarating, a little scary, but I’m glad I did it. C is elated. He LOVED it. He wants to go again.

So there you have it. 30 years after my first canoe experience, I finally had my second. And we all survived.  Someone took a picture of us, but I haven’t yet heard back about getting a copy of it as proof.

On the same day, my daughter completed an online orientation and registered for fall classes at the community college where she’ll begin her Running Start journey toward both a high school diploma and an Associates degree.  Since it took longer to register due to miscommunication from three different counselors, she wasn’t able to get her desired courses.  The first quarter REQUIRED course was full as a stand-alone class.  They did have it as an integrated studies course, though, so instead of Engl 101, she’ll be taking a combination of her required class and a psychology course, along with the Japanese we thought she’d not be able to get into first year.

So it’s done.  We pay fees toward the end of summer, buy books in September, attend a third orientation (how many times can you use the word and still leave it with any meaning?).

Spring of this year has gone, and in some ways, the spring of my daughter’s life is heating up toward her many years of summer.  Come fall, my focus will be far more focused on my son, and I’m already trying to find a routine that we can settle into for both seasons.

My partner struggles as well with this closing of a chapter, where we collaborated on educating our daughter together.  Most of her studies will happen at college, and though we’ll be around to answer questions and offer guidance, this is a journey she’ll be walking mostly on her own and the responsibilities and consequences will be far steeper than those she’s experienced at home.  We’ve scheduled eleven weeks of home prep — my partner wrapping up what he most wishes to impart upon her, and me working with her on the final books I think she most needs to read (and the essays she needs to practice).

Good bye, spring.  Hello, summer.

What We’re Doing: Marvelous May


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.




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.


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.”



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.


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:



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.


Cucumber Pizza Rounds

1/3 pkg of sliced pepperoni
1 large cucumber, sliced
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
paprika, sweet ground
1/4 c. shredded parmesan, romano, asiago, or a blend of the three

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.

What We’re Doing: Magical March


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



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.


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.



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.



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.



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
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.