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.

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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.”

MySleepingBabies-May2016

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.

CucumberPizzas

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.

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.

 

 

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

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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).

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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).

From 60 to Solstice

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WHAT WE’RE DOING

Betsy Bogert, Polaroid, 1982

Betsy Bogert, Polaroid, 1982

This week, we’re celebrating what would be my mother’s 60th birthday. Betsy was born December 7th, 1955, and to honor her memory and the things she cherished, I created a memorial photo album on Facebook for her friends and mine, where people have been sharing their memories of her.  Our dinners this week are all foods she loved or based on her recipes, and on her birthday proper, we had luscious vanilla cake with chocolate ganache from Flying Apron Bakery in Redmond, WA.  Since my son was born after her death, he doesn’t know much about her, and this is one way we can help him understand the woman who raised me and is part of his history.  My daughter knew and loved her Nana very much, and her loss was felt as deeply as my own.

As I’ve said before, we don’t shy away from discussions of death, and this certainly connects with my recent post about our new Inside Out feelings books.  Grief is as much a part of life as Joy, and that theme has been playing itself out a lot these last few months.  This holiday season seems particularly intense due to this sense that 60 feels momentous, and her birthday has affected even the theme of our holiday planning (this year: traditional Bogert Christmas; colors: white and gold).  We might even buy a standard tree this year instead of going with one of my alternate solutions (e.g. ornament mobile, living tree, etc.), because to my mother, and her father before her, Christmas/Yule* is a big deal.

Wreath 2015

Homemade Wreath 2015

How big a deal?  My grandfather’s urn reads: I shall return as Santa Claus.  My grandmother’s says: I got tired of waiting for Christmas.

This nod to my mother’s family’s holiday traditions will be played out in everything from our wreath to our holiday cards to our meals.

*While we celebrate the 24th/25th with feast, family, and gift giving, our actual spiritual day of reflection is the Solstice proper.  On Longest Night, we have in the past held night-long vigils (I can’t physically do this anymore), sung songs, spent time in quiet meditation by a fire, etc.  Not being Christians, we tend to talk about the Solstice or Yule, but it’s hard to escape the term “Christmas” for what we do, because so many cultures have been blended into the singular holiday in this country.  If you’re of a pagan path based on European traditions, check out these songs to add to your celebrations.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

We have a new entrant into the “Little Fox’s Frequently Read Book” category.  This one comes from Peter Brown, author of one of my favorite gardening-themed children’s books, The Curious Garden.  The book? Children Make Terrible Pets.  Peter’s charming art is paired with lighthearted humor as he explores one of his own childhood thoughts: what would it be like if a wild animal brought him home to be their pet?  In this case, a young bear takes a shine to “Squeaker,” a young boy she catches spying on her in the woods.  But when she brings him home, her mother warns that human children make terrible pets.

Little Fox loves this book so much that we read it several times a week (usually my partner reads it and then I read it), and each time we must read the author bio at the end, which includes the anecdote about his childhood memory.  It’s cute, fun, and can be read in lots of different voices.  I go a bit Valley girl when I read the bear’s lines, starting with “Oh. My. GOSH!” and carried out from there.  My partner does a more Midwestern accent, and thus, our son gets to hear the story twice in completely different forms.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

This may not be appropriate to everyone’s family, but for us, we’ve just run through all of the current CollegeHumor spots of “Adam Ruins Everything.”  For people who enjoy ferreting out truths behind social myths, and learning new things about the world while shattering misconceptions, this is a great series of shorts on CollegeHumor and YouTube, which also is gaining traction now on TruTV as a series in its own right.  Thus far, Adam Conover has talked about the truth behind the electoral collegeunpaid internships (great for kids about to head to college or get their first jobs), why we have to go to car dealerships, how fingerprints and lie detectors are fallible, and the myth of the hymen (just to name a few).

They are often adult-oriented in that they don’t shy away from discussing sexual relations, and the earlier pieces do include uncensored language.  This isn’t a problem for our family, but it’s a warning in case it isn’t appropriate for yours.  But in the vein of shows like MythBusters and Connections, these tickle our curiosity and make us think about things we might not bat an eyelash at otherwise.  Like why we routinely circumcise infants in the U.S. or that halitosis is a made up term to sell a floor polish as a mouthwash.  Check it out with or without your children, I guarantee you’ll have a few laughs and learn a lot more than you bargained for.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Betsy’s Sesame-Peanut Chicken

Note: this was my mother’s recipe and not intended to compare to a Thai peanut sauce, which typically has a sweet-and-sour tang to it from sugar and lime juice.  This recipe turns out savory and comforting, and leftovers tend to get finished later that night.

1 lb. of bonless, skinless chicken (breast or thigh)
1 bunch of carrots, sliced
1/2 c. of peanut butter (or other nut butter; cashew butter is incredible and TJ’s has it for a reasonable price)
2 tsp. of tamari
1/4 c. of toasted sesame seeds
1/4 c. of cashews
4 garlic cloves
1/4 c. of diced onions
1 can coconut milk
lime juice
olive oil
ground dried or fresh grated ginger
bean sprouts (optional)
hot sesame oil (optional)

Saute onions and carrots in oil until carrots are tender.  Set aside. Chop chicken into small bite-sized pieces and brown in medium skillet.  Once chicken is fully cooked, remove from the skillet, turn heat down to medium-low and add in ginger and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes.  Sprinkle in lime juice and soy sauce and a dash of hot sesame oil (optional).  Stir in peanut butter, mixing it thoroughly with other seasonings and until it melts (don’t let it burn!).  Pour in coconut milk and blend with peanut butter.  Add chicken, carrots, and onions back into the skillet, also adding in cashews and sesame seeds, until warm.  Serve over rice with bean sprouts.

Bumpy Start to Winter

novemberwwd2015It’s been a bumpy start to our winter.  One of our 19 year old cats, Gwydion, went missing on the 28th and hasn’t been seen. He wasn’t doing well, and he must have slipped out.  It’s likely he was someone’s meal with bold coyotes, a mother bobcat and kit, and even a Lynx among our neighbors.  Since then, the other cats have been quiet; the old power struggles put to rest for now, and his sister, Arianrhod, has been in rapid decline since he left us.

Amidst this, we’ve been keeping quite active, and despite his loss, there’s also been joy.

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Last week we took a trip down to Tacoma to visit family.  We threw together a toddler dance party in which three toddler cousins from three households played together.  We met the new baby in our family, now four months old, took a tour of our cousins’ house and garden, and went around the corner to my aunt’s new house and HUGE garden.  There was dress-up, tumbling, shouting, running, and eating, but no dancing at the dance party. It was well worth the drive and I’m hoping we can do something like it again after the holidays and worst of winter storms have passed.

The Little Fox is enjoying gymnastics, and has shown great improvement in climbing the ladder and following along more with the class. He still tried to run around the gym, but we were able to rein him in a little by impressing upon him both before each class and during that his continued gymnastics time is conditional on his cooperation.

My partner is debating whether to accept a permanent position at his current company, and the Dragon (who just got a haircut at a salon instead of home) spent much of her Saturday at a college fair talking to recruiters and attending seminars.

She’s going to take the Compass test in the next few months to see if she’s ready for Running Start next fall. She also said of all the schools, she liked Evergreen and Bennington most (both experimental universities with flexible programs).  She also might try out a summer youth program at AIE or DigiPen.  I’m so excited and proud and nervous!

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

Of all of us, Dragon is reading the most right now.  I’ve spent all my free moments working on a personal project of writing a flash fiction piece a day through NaNoWriMo.  She, however, is currently finishing up Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, a book I loved and was terrified by at her age.  Since she isn’t quite finished, she hasn’t given her feedback yet, but as one of the books my mother assigned to me at 15, I highly recommend it. Not only did it make a strong impression on me about ethics in science, it made me a lifelong Vonnegut fan.

My book this week is The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch.  Unlike the growing number of books for end-of-the-world “preppers” or modern homesteaders, which show how to live off the land and off-grid, this book talks about how one would go about returning us to an industrial or even digital age once more after a major global disaster.

Of course, there’s the question of whether attempting to rebuild the exact same model that hypothetically failed isn’t yet addressed, but the title fascinated me thanks to some of my early science fiction exposure, and Lewis Dartnell’s style of writing makes the information accessible and enjoyable to read.  To enact what he’s suggesting, though, one would likely need supplemental books on various forms of basic technology.  The Way Things Work is a great start for younger readers.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

Through no encouragement or prodding from us, Little Fox loves cars*.  Or anything with wheels.  The other evening, my partner did a random search and discovered these adorable vehicle/counting videos from PloopChannel on YouTube.  He focuses so strongly on them, he can’t hear us talking.

*He also loves music, cooking, pretending/performing, and anything to do with Steven Universe, My Little Pony, and We Bare Bears.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

Sunday night, I made simple foods after a lot of unintended take out across previous days: Baked sable fish, lightly salted, with pan seared eggplant, forbidden rice, butter-lime-garlic sauce, and garlic kale chips.  With all the soft foods, I wanted a contrasting crunchy food and ran across the following video. Kale chips proved far easier to make than even crispy basil, and even my daughter was eating a lot of them. (Yes, we’re jumping on a bandwagon of sorts, but we won’t buy them, just make them. Also, I used to do something similar with asparagus to turn them into slightly crispy asparagus “fries” for my daughter to eat.)

We just used Russian kale (stems removed) in pressed garlic and olive oil. I sprinkled a tiny bit of salt on them and it was too much! Next time: no salt.

October Opportunities

WB-WhatWereDoing20151020This past Saturday, we visited Oxbow Farm, another local resource providing our preferred grocery store with fresh produce.  There, we explored a kids’ garden utilizing permaculture methods, including three sisters planting (corn, beans, and squash), a gourd tunnel, a squash dome, and companion planting of all kinds.  They’d built a house of hay for little ones to climb, provided food my daughter enjoyed courtesy of Tillamook dairy, and sold pumpkins, live plants, seeds, treats, and had a flower crown making station and another area for decorating tiny pumpkins.

We took part in everything we could, given our late arrival (we didn’t get a chance to launch pumpkins on their catapult), and spent almost three hours having fun.  Have you visited a local farm yet during this festive time?

 

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Despite a minor setback with a missed lesson courtesy of a stomach virus, I’ve managed to progress well enough in my piano practice that I can now play five songs with both hands, do scales, arpeggios, inverted chords, and more.  My instructor encourages me to play around and gives me a few basic forms to try when doing so, as well as keeping me away from reading music (for now) and away from the drills I was accustomed to as a child.  If ever there was a teacher who could engage any student, it’s mine.

As for my attempts at educating my children, I’m pleased to say that Daughter is starting to appreciate note-taking for the first time in her life.  She’s beginning to see its value and how it makes reconnecting with the information she’s reading and helps her process.  She spent a good twenty minutes explaining to me why she believes the author’s opinions in her WWI text are incorrect with regard to why the war started.  She said, “He says he thinks the war could have been avoided if the assassination of this royal hadn’t taken place, but the way he presents it, it sounds like it was unavoidable. Even if this one death hadn’t triggered it, I think some of these people wanted to start a war, and they were looking for any excuse.  If it hadn’t happened when it did, it would have happened soon after.”

Meanwhile, my son is speaking in more complex sentences — and paragraphs — and has quite a bit to say, apparently.  About everything.  Sometimes we can’t help but laugh, though he doesn’t intend to be funny, and sometimes when he laughs he looks confused, but so long as we respond to what he’s said, he’s able to gloss over it.  He still loves mimicking us, and what either my partner or I say end up becoming hard and fast rules in his mind, which he’ll later argue if anyone contradicts them, so I’m working on being careful what I say and how I say them to avoid potentially contradicting myself later.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle, illustrated by Hope Larson

Can I share an embarrassing part of myself?  As a kid, I never really read A Wrinkle in Time.  In elementary school, it was assigned reading, and I suppose I must have skimmed it, though I don’t think I finished it.  We even went to see a play based on it, and I was completely confused by it, and spent more time engaging with my friend (quietly) rather than trying to follow the play.  Even as an adult, I’ve felt that childhood aversion, but couldn’t say why.  I sat down and listened to the first several chapters of the audiobook as read by the author (I had a hard time finding it online; this is the best source so far), and it’s a beautiful way of experiencing it, but I didn’t actually engage with the story fully until the other night.

I’d run across the graphic novel version at the library and read through it in a couple of hours.  Now I understand why it was confusing to me, and why it might seem intimidating to young people who haven’t grown up in a house where mathematics and physics are discussed at length.  I may have been good at maths all my life, but I didn’t have much of a concept of physics or the reasoning behind the formulae I’d been trained to use in those early years.  Though it’s a children’s book, it seemed far more accessible as an adult who understands the concepts being set forth, and has a decent grasp on many of the languages being spoken by Mrs. Who.  I wish I’d been able to appreciate this story as a child, because I think it might have altered my early approach to home education.  So, whether you’re reading this for the first time, or haven’t read it since you were a child, check out A Wrinkle in Time in any version you find most accessible, because you might discover things that went beyond your understanding as a child.  I know it’s going to change my approach to working with both of my children from hear on out.

Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward, illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Also from the library, we checked out Cookie’s Week for my son, and despite a pile of books to choose from every night, he keeps asking for this one.  While subtly teaching the days of the week, it documents how the innocent play of a black and white cat lead to little disasters each day.

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

We haven’t been watching much outside of our usual shows, so we’d like to share something we listened to this week. When I came down the stairs to my piano teacher’s studio, she was playing Couperin’s “Tic-Toc-Choc or Les Mallitons.”  She’d just heard it on the radio a few days before and she decided to learn it.  She sounded like she’d mastered it years ago to hear her play it, but what can I say? She’s a brilliant musician, and being blind, she had to have learned it from ear.

While we haven’t watched it yet, we received a recommendation for our history instruction.  There was a BBC show that came out several years back called Horrible Histories based on the book series by the same name.  It is now available on Hulu, for sale at Amazon, and has a few episodes up on YouTube and possibly in other places, should you wish to see if they’re right for your family.  As it was explained to me, these shows don’t shy away from the horrors of history, but instead, bring a lot of the ugliness to light, but in an entertaining way.  This approach sounds a little like the BBC’s Connections, which we highly endorse for learning about history, culture, technology, science, and the interconnectedness of it all.

 

WHAT WE’RE EATING

With the weather turning colder, though we’re still having more sunny days than rainy ones (I thought we lived in the PNW!), we’ve started having more harvest meals and heartier meals.  It was raining and gloomy the other night, a perfect time to have something warm and comforting.  So, I made lamb goulash and buttered gf noodles.

Lamb Goulash

1.5 lb. of lamb stew meat
4 large carrots
1 lb. potatoes
2 bell peppers (red, orange, or yellow)
1 leek, diced
4 mushrooms (whatever sturdy mushroom you prefer, have available, or is in season)
6 garlic cloves
1 can of tomato paste
1/3 c. red wine
1/2 c. sour cream
paprika
salt
pepper
caraway seeds

In a large skillet or stew pot, brown the stew meat on all sides.  Dice leeks, mushrooms (we used chanterelles) and peppers, add to meat to sauté.  Chop carrots and potatoes into large chunks, adding them to the pot.  Mix in the tomato paste and twice as much water, season, and add in wine.  Stir well, set to medium high until just beginning to boil, then simmer on low, covered, for about an hour.  When vegetables and meat are tender, remove from heat and add sour cream in while stirring.

Serve with bread or over buttered noodles.

 

Disclaimer: The recommendations made in this blog are the sole opinions of Raven J. Demers (a.k.a. Never’s Remedy), the author, and do not stem from corporate endorsements of any kind. This blog is not supported by advertisements or corporate sponsors (technically, it’s not supported at all), but I am an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made from Amazon links from this blog will go to support Willow & Birch. However, the choice to promote a book, video, or other resource are at my sole discretion and come from my daily experiences, usually from visiting the library or because a friend or other homeschooling parent suggested its worth. Amazon doesn’t tell me what to do, except when asking for my password to log in.  Promise.