November 30, 2007

Toy Containment


Well, it's not nearly as important as, you know, nuclear containment, but this set of devices has been a godsend for all of us.

I was inspired to track it down by two things: seeing an arrangement of bins and boxes at Ty and Erin's house, and of course, by the dust allergy.

There are much cheaper versions out there; we went with a more expensive rack that's guaranteed not to fall on short people (it's really sturdy on its feet) or give them splinters, and that comes with lids for the bins--absolutely necessary for it to fulfill its duty here. (We used some of the proceeds from the summer Big Sale to pay for it.)

A side benefit, not entirely unpredicted by us, is that the children are *much* more organized. They know where to find their toys when they want them (our previous "filing system", which worked great for fill-and-dumping toddlerhood, was just a big wicker basket. Clean up? Throw in! But it was hard to find things later....) And of course, clean up is easy, because they hardly ever get out everything at once.

A side benefit that was completely unexpected is that Laura loves to dust them. Obsessively. Give her a cloth, and she will take a bin out, set it on the couch, polish it up, take it back, and pick another. Perhaps she's going to be a jeweler....

November 29, 2007

Laura Loves to Label

All is categorized for Laura. She's deeply into checking to make sure what gender someone is; she doesn't, you know, lift their skirts or anything, but she's trying to tell just by looking at them as they are. So far, she's got a good track record. But I think it freaks the speechies out a little bit when they hear her saying, "Mama, X is a boy, right? And Y is a girl?"

It's not just sex, but a variety of other things go in categories. For instance, some songs are assigned to certain people. Tonight on the way home I was singing along to "Feliz Navidad", when this Voice from the Backseat said, "No, Mama, you can't sing *Daddy's* song!" (N.B.: no criticism was made of the quality of the singing itself. :-) ) Exercising admirable self-restraint, I didn't tell her to shut up; I just said that yes, I could sing it, because Daddy didn't write it or anything; he just sings it a lot. I think that confused her, as she conceded the point by maintaining silence!

November 28, 2007

The Seneca Falls Series

Another series of mysteries I've been enjoying lately is by Miriam Grace Monfredo. She sets her stories around the middle of the 1800's, and the sleuth is a female librarian (being cutting edge by being female, and by having a lending library at all, and by refusing to get married, in spite of four or so men hanging by her and helping in the solving.)

Flitting to and fro in the stories are historical figures, especially from the suffrage and abolitionist movements. I appreciate her ability to make them seem human--how many of us, if we think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at all, think of her husband and children?

They are set--at least partly--in upstate New York (and I honestly can't remember, but I *think* my Aunt recommended them to me long ago; being from there and a librarian, it would not surprise me much! :-) ).

Anyway, they are great. I had trouble putting them down....until they were finished, anyway. The characters are finely drawn, and many of them have a clear sense of humor. The inequalities of life then are ever-present but do not overwhelm the narrative. Good stuff.

November 27, 2007

Your Witness! er...turn.

This one will sound pretty esoteric if you're not familiar with speech and debate, but I am excited because our team is *finally* going to have some competitors trying to do a certain kind of debate, called C-X.

C-X stands for Cross-Examination Debate, and it's very sophisticated in terms of intellectual arguments; requires lots of research and evidence to be hauled around from debate to debate; and has the same topic for the whole school year. It's a lot of work, but I think it makes students think in ways that our other kinds of debate do not. So I'm fairly jazzed about having some do it (and it helps that they know they're going to lose a lot before they get good at it.) It's also really the one and only event that we haven't had someone at least *try*....and since the team's sweepstakes points are calculated based on what everyone does...and debate is worth lots of sweepstakes points...it's been a bit of a handicap in terms of racking up those nice team awards.

So it's a good thing for everybody.

November 26, 2007

Scrabble Update

At last count, I had 10 games of Scrabble going, with various people.

And now Matt's trying to talk me into playing Blackjack on Facebook with him, too.

As if I weren't already addicted to my computer!

November 25, 2007

The Brother CS-6000

One of the tools that's helped a great deal as I've been figuring out how to be a better seamstress is my new sewing machine (well, it's not really new anymore; it's been about a year? since I got it. My other one Died, and it was time!)

While there are many good machines out there on the market, this one had some features that caught my eye. It also turned out to have several attributes that would actually make me recommend it, even for beginners, in spite of the increased price over some more "basic" models.

The quick and dirty version: you can do pretty much *anything* with this machine. That's why I picked it!

To wit: It sews denim. It has some fun decorative stitches. It is built and meant to do quilting (if you look at its picture, you'll see that there is a curve between the needle area, on the left, and the stitch selection chart, on the right. That curve is purposely built to accommodate a rolled-up full size quilt. It comes in mighty handy for big wads of fake fur, too!) And of course it does all the (now) typical stitches: forward, backward, zigzag, overlock. It makes beautiful buttonholes; another reason I quickly fell in love is that it has lots of different buttonhole stitches set up already: stretch fabric ones, standard ones in three different styles, keyhole....ahhh, variety! My previous machine was also a Brother, and they've got a great way to make buttonholes that always seems to come out perfectly.

One of the things which I thought I would hate, and now realize that I love, is the top-loading bobbin. A good reason to love it is that I can always *see* how much bobbin thread is left, so that I won't run out in the middle of a long--inevitably, topstitched!--seam. It's also really nice for a rank beginner, because there are little directions right there, and arrows clearly showing you how to put it in. I like idiot-proofing, as I've mentioned before!

Another handy feature, which I also thought I would loathe but now love, is the automatic needle-positioning. It's set so that anytime you stop sewing, the needle reverts to the "down" (i.e., in the fabric) position. I thought I would be annoyed at always having to raise the needle if I wanted to be done with a seam. I've found two things that make it all okay: one is that there's a handy needle up and down button right on the front arm of the machine, which is quicker than using the flywheel ever was for getting the needle back up--beep! and I'm done. The other is that having that needle automatically down is great for corners and angles and such, where you have to stop sewing only so you can turn the fabric; the down needle keeps it anchored perfectly without me having to remember it. And that is why I've never bothered to read up on how to make it always land in the "up" position...their engineers were right in the first place.

A few other of my favorite things: I enjoy how quick it is to change stitches, since it's computerized. I like the little read-out on the front that tells me which presser foot I'm supposed to use for the stitch I have selected. I love how easy it is to thread--again, handy and clear arrows. I haven't actually timed myself, but I think it takes me around 10-11 seconds to change thread colors.

This, folks, is a darn good machine. It's lightweight *and* a workhorse, and I'd recommend it for just about anybody.

November 24, 2007

Sew Far, Sew Good

In the last month or so (after I finished off the Hallowe'en costumes), I've been working on tailoring.

See, I learned how to sew by the time I was a teenager from at least four different people, and they all--collectively--taught me important pieces of the basics: how to sew a straight (or curved) seam; how to cut out a pattern; how to choose fabric; how to iron as you go. But somehow, I missed how to actually *fit* clothes to the person who was planning to wear them. The trouble with that is nobody is actually the ideal mystery person for which patterns are made. So I have several years' worth of clothes I tried to make that...worked....but didn't quite fit. Since I didn't have much time to sew, but did have time to read while I was nailed down under two little girls in process, I spent it trying to learn what to do.

Now, I've figured out how to fix things to make them fit me (amazingly--considering some other proportions--I have really, really, really narrow shoulders, at least compared to the size they are on patterns that fit me pretty much everywhere else. Also, I have this funny curve on the back of my neck--all the male Moores who've ever been fitted for a suit or tux are nodding knowledgeably now, because we all seem to have this weird thing that requires a tuck across the back--horizontally!) Anyway, now I finally know how to change the patterns so I can sew something that looks like it was made for me. This should save those of you who've always been so polite about my efforts--and I do thank you for your discretion!--from having to keep being so polite. :-)

This is exciting. There's not much worse than spending the time (not to mention the money) investing in building something, only to have it not look nice when you're done.

In case anyone's thinking of taking up sewing--and it still is the best way to get clothing that actually fits you--three books have helped me out a great deal in getting to this spot:

Fantastic Fit for Everybody: How to Alter Patterns to Flatter Your Figure, by Gale G. Hazen
If you were to read no other book, this one could get you there alone. Hazen details a whole host of fitting problems, and gives very specific directions--and pictures!--on how to repair them. She also gives copious advice on picking patterns and fabrics.

Sewing for Plus Sizes: Creating Clothes that Fit and Flatter, by Barbara Deckert
Obviously, this one might not be as useful if you happen to be built like Twiggy. Statistically, though, more and more of us aren't. Deckert is no nonsense, but is sensitive to the different needs of "larger" women. Again, there are clear drawings and explanations, and size-specific advice on fabrics and ways to change/choose patterns. An especially useful bit on how to "size up" patterns that stop before they get to Women's sizes.

High Fashion Sewing Secrets from the World's Best Designers: A Step-By-Step Guide to Sewing Stylish Seams, Buttonholes, Pockets, Collars, Hems, And More, by Claire B. Shaeffer
In spite of the name, this book has a lot of helpful information for your average sewer. I especially turn again and again to the second half of the book, which is full of inspiration for changing details in patterns--a new neckline, different sleeves--and advice on making your own patterns. My favorite chapter is all about how to take an existing garment you have, that you like, and making a pattern from it.


November 23, 2007

Update on the Aliases

Things move pretty fast around here; Emily's been reading a board book about dinosaurs for around a month. So now, she requests that she be called the "'Ceratops!". Laura refuses to actually have a specific dinosaur name, and calls herself "Dinosaur" (generically). Daddy, however, is now "Iguanadon!" I have so far avoided a name, which is good; Tyrannosaurus is one of the few remaining ones Emily knows. (I don't really want to be the Stegosaurus, either, which is the other names she knows.)

I know I've been brief lately, but I've got a good reason: in between all the other stuff I do, there's this new version of War and Peace out, and I thought this would be a good time to dive in. I haven't ever read it. What kind of reading geek will I be, without having read that? I mean, I've suffered the whole way through Michener books! How bad could it be? (I suppose that's what I'm trying to find out.)

Anyway, three different reviews I saw praised the translators of this particular version. So far, the only trouble I've had is with the disjointedness of looking at the footnotes for the translations of the (Russified) French Tolstoy has his uppercrust characters speaking. (I know a lot of French, but I like to double check things. And it's been a long time since I did any serious speaking of it.)

November 22, 2007

A Happy Thanksgiving

Had a delicious dinner, followed by a raucous game of Yahtzee (won by the youngest player, a novice at the game--just as it should be :-) ).

Laura and Emily had fun playing with cousins and aunts and uncles and especially with Grandma Pat.

Hope everyone else's Thanksgiving was as good a time!

November 21, 2007

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

You know, I'm not really given to greed, especially in the technology department. But ohhhhhh, I want one of these!

I don't want it now; I want one when they have all the kinks worked out. And especially, I want it when you can load free books from the library on it. And then perhaps a few extra lifetimes to spend using it.

November 20, 2007

Hello, My Name is Ginger...

...and I'm addicted to Scrabble.

See, Facebook has a contract with these people called "Scrabulous". It's a turn-based game setup (so you don't have to be online at the same time as your opponents(s) ), and it comes with a handy word-looker-upper thingy so you can tell if it will let you get away with the bizarre ones.

I'm sure I can stop anytime...but there are people out there, waiting for my move. And they're not faceless Internet strangers; I *know* these people. And now I can play Scrabble with them without having to clear off a table. Does that make them enablers?

Anyway, it's a good time.

Seriously, quite apart from the thrill of connecting with people, some of whom were in the long-lost category, it's about worth it to sign up for FB just so you can play Scrabble with me (just so's you know, majoring in English is not always an advantage. I waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to use up all my tiles on the perfect triple word score block, while Matt's busy blasting me away with cunningly placed, complex words like....."the".)

November 19, 2007

Also Known As Alias Moniker Misnomer

It's hard to keep track of my name these days.

Of course, I answer to "Mama" and "Mommy." But I'm also expected to answer to other, more random monikers.

This is probably just a developmental thing; heaven knows teenagers are always into trying on new identities. The difference here is that the whole family gets renamed. For instance, after Sesame Street exposure, Laura requested that she be known as "Cookie Monster"; Emily alternated between "Snuffleupagus" and "Big Bird."

{Scene: evening; it is bedtime. Mama tenderly kisses and hugs Emily and says--predictably--"I love you, Em, sleep well." Child responds in her toddler lisp: "*I'n* the SNUFF UP GUS!" Okay. "I love you, Snuffleupagus. Sleep well."}

Eventually, though, it was not enough for them to be different; I was dubbed "Grover" and Daddy became...."Zoe." Please don't ask why, because I have no idea.

We (the adults) were given several weeks to get this straight. But then last weekend.... :

L: I'm not Cookie, I'm *kitty*.
E: And *I'm* cow!
L.: and Mama's a....duck!
E.: What's Daddy?
L.: (obviously thinking hard) He is a.....frog!

I'm planning to contact all the credit bureaus, just to be on the safe side.

November 18, 2007

Pumpkin Pie

Just in time to think about it for Thanksgiving, I bring you:

Healthy Pumpkin Pie (except for the sugar and salt....)

Note: pumpkin pretty much tastes like pumpkin. The tricky part for me was trying to replicate the texture of regular p. pie without using any eggs. The soy alone can't quite do it; hence the yo cheese to help firm it up and make it custardish (some recipes call for gelatin).

1 29 oz. can of pumpkin
1 cup of milk
1 1/2 c yogurt cheese
1 1/4 c brown sugar
2 t cinnamon (ground)
6 T soy flour
1 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg (ground)
1 t cloves (ground)

Mix it all together. I like a whisk to make sure there aren't big clumps of yogurt cheese.

Pour into two pie crusts (see below for recipes). Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 and bake for 1 hour.

Grandma's pie crust recipe (thanks to Ab for finally getting me to write it down somewhere I'll remember it!) :

1 cup flour
1/3 cup shortening (I use butter. Of course.)
pinch salt
3-6 T cold water

Cut the butter into the flour until it is pea-sized. Add the lesser amount of water to make dough; add more as needed to soak up most (but not necessarily all) of the flour. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in fridge for at least an hour (overnight is fine). You will find that some of the excess flour will be absorbed into the dough when next you check it.

Without waiting for the dough to get warm--you *want* it to be cold--divide it into however many crusts you're making (if needed). With the least amount of flour you can, roll out the dough to a circle about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Do it in eight rolls (back and forth is one roll. Mess with it too much, or use too much flour, and you get tough crust. Ick.) Roll onto the rolling pin and gently lift and slide the crust into the pie pan. Now you're ready for the filling!

This is for one crust; for a two-crust pie, double the recipe. You can do a quadruple batch (for two two-crust pies), but beyond that it's too hard to work with in multiples.

But that's not what I use for the healthy pie; butter is not good for cholesterol. Olive oil is. Can you use olive oil in pie crust? Turns out, you can, especially with something like pumpkin pie where the filling has its own assertive flavor. I like to add a bit of sugar and salt to the crust to make up for the missing salt that was in the butter, and to kick up the flavor a little.

so, for two crusts:

Olive Oil Pie Crust:

2 cups flour
scant 1/2 cup olive oil*
2 t salt
1 T sugar
6-12 T cold water**

proceed as above, except:
*obviously, olive oil is not cuttable (though if you were obsessive, you could measure it and stick it in the fridge for a while....) Anyway, just mix it with the flour. It will make a very grainy texture. This makes an incredible flaky crust!
**aim for the lesser amount, especially with this olive oil recipe. You only need enough water to make a viable dough.

and finally, don't try to roll out this one; it won't hold together well enough. Just pat it into the pie tin. What could be better? It's healthy *and* you don't have to sweat the rolling out part!

November 17, 2007

Another Reason to Hate "NCLB"

I put it in quotation marks because of course it leaves more than one child behind. Teachers, too.

This morning, Matt had to get up at regular school time to get out to the college where his test is. What test? Oh, a stupid test. See, under the "Education President's" legislation, Matt is not "highly qualified" to teach speech.

Even though, you know, he's had state champions. And National qualifiers (some of whom made it out of the preliminary rounds at Nats). And been doing it for nine years at *this* school, and for a while before that. So, why isn't he highly qualified? Because he did not *major* in speech, and did not do a practicum in it as a student teacher (before he was even endorsed in English), and has not taken a certain number of graduate credits in it. That would be because...ummmmm....he already *knows* what he's doing?!? And that's why his colleagues on the speech circuit keep electing him to the State Tournament Committee, which runs the whole event?!? Because he KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING.

But according to Bush, et al., he is not highly qualified, and Matt's district wants every teacher in every classroom to be highly qualified in every subject that they teach (I don't really blame them for wanting to toe the line, parents being what they are. I blame the law). So we must shell out $130 and kill a weekend day, so he can take a test to prove that he is worthy to teach speech. (and if you're wondering, no, there will be no financial reward down the line for that test money; it's not even going to be deductible [it is, in theory, but it would require the planets to align in a way they won't until at least 3045. By which time we won't need the deduction, I'd guess.])

I suppose this is just another abject lesson in why laws should not be quite so sweeping and dogmatic; I'm sure the writers meant to make sure that poor city kids would be taught by teachers who knew something about their subject. (Although even that is suspect, since most of those inner-city schools have basically just eliminated anything but test prep. Heaven forbid students should be taught to *think*...at least anything beyond "the most common answer is 'c'"!) But not having any provision for past performance--no matter how stellar--is worse than stupid. Like so many other parts of that misbegotten legislation, it's criminal in what it does to teachers...and later, to the kids they won't get to teach. What about those teachers they're supposed to be attracting from other professions? How many stupid hoops are *they* going to have to jump through? (and don't get me started on the tests kids have to take....)

We'll be fine. The money's spent, the test is done. But it's just another reason to loathe this piece of legislation.

November 16, 2007

I'm In a New York State of Mind

Tonight, as I sit in my cozy office in the Pacific Northwest, a bunch of people I really want to meet (and a few whom I actually *have* met) are meeting and greeting each other, and feasting on food in New York City. This weekend is the annual NCTE Convention. That's the National Council of Teachers of English, in case ya didn't know.

When I was in graduate school, one of our assignments was to research a professional group; I'd already found the NCTE list-serv at that point, so it was an easy A. But I decided to stick around, and the email group isn't even affiliated with NCTE anymore (though most of the members are the same; the Council's server crashed and was not fixed for rather too long, so we found our own way. See Interversity for more wacky details about the "Talkies".) Anyway, this gaggle of crazy English types has been a lifeline for me for years, not just for teaching ideas--of which they have plenty--but for just about anything teacher (or not-teacher!) related you could think of.

When the Spring Convention (a much smaller sibling to the annual hooha) was in Portland, I got to hobnob with a few of my virtual pals. They were even more fun and amazing in person than they are online. So I raise my water bottle in a toast to them all tonight, wishing them safe journey on the streets of NYC, and plot my way to go to another gathering...soon.

November 15, 2007

Muffins

I'm pretty sure I promised to post this recipe at least a year ago, and I'm pretty sure I never did (loser.) So here it is at last: the no-fat, no-cholesterol muffins. They are best served fresh from the oven!

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Sift together:
2 c flour
2 t cream of tartar
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon

In a separate bowl, mix together:
1 c yogurt cheese
2/3 c granulated sugar
2/3 c applesauce
1 t vanilla extract

Have prepared:
1 to 2 c fruit

Time is of the essence for this next bit! Soothe the baby. Feed the cat. Change the channel. Check your stocks. Then:

Add wet mix to dry. Mix as gently and as quickly as possible. When it's about half mixed, throw in the fruit and finish the mixing. The dough will not be remotely runny, but somewhat the consistency of heavily whipped cream.

Cook in a cooking-spray sprayed muffin tin for 18-20 minutes. Makes 12 standard sized muffins.

Yum!

We generally (okay, always) use about a cup of blueberries for the fruit. When I'm in the mood, I add a banana, which makes them very sweet and very moist.

Notes: Muffins are not mysterious. If you follow a few rules, you can alter the recipe from here to kingdom come, as they say. The rules are:

1. Thou shalt honor the ratio of wet to dry ingredients. You can use any kinds of flours, sugars, fruits alone or in combination, or leave out the fruit, or put something else in its place (cheese? shrimp? tuna? italian sausage? Oh, that sounds good, though not fat-free!), other spices (or herbs, and make savory muffins!), as long as you have the same amount of dry stuff, and wet stuff.

2. Thou shalt include something acidic (in this case, yogurt). If thou shouldst forget this rule, you ain't gonna get *any* rise out of these muffins. The soda needs something to react with (remember those vinegar and baking soda experiments? Vinegar is...acidic.) Yogurt is not a very heavy-duty acid, so this recipe doesn't rise much as it is....but they're pretty lofty to start with, so it's not an issue. You can use just plain yogurt if you don't have time to cheese it, or even milk will work, though the resulting texture is not as grand.

3. Thou shalt neither beat the dough unto submission, nor shalt you shilly-shally once the wet meets the dry. Again, this is partly out of deference to the baking soda. If it spends its time getting and spending all of its rise before the stuff has heat, the muffins aren't as soft and tend to fall a bit once they're cooked. The other part--not beating it too vigorously--is to avoid too much activated gluten. Unless you like chewy, yeast-bread-like muffins. I don't.

4. Thou shalt not try to make a double batch. Trust me. I've tried. It is basically impossible to follow rule number 3 with a double batch, and whenever I convince myself otherwise, I end up with chewy, slightly flattened muffins. Just give up and prepare it twice (I suppose you could mix double the dry, and double the wet, then mix half of each together at once. As long as you were quick. But don't try it all in the same bowl at the same time!)

November 14, 2007

Austin Air Suckers

During the summer, a large percentage of my unexpected income went to two air purifiers. We put one in the basement, in our bedroom, and the other on the main floor, in the living room.

They have made a world of difference!

I sleep better (even with all the pillows and mattresses encased in plastic and such, the bugs start to bother me again after just a few days. Clearly, I am a Princess. Dammit.). Matt sleeps better (in part, I'm sure, because my snoring doesn't wake him up any more). The girls sleep better, and wake up much more cheerfully. I can sit on the upholstered furniture again (we've been vacuuming it religiously, but not until the purifiers had been in place for a few weeks did I really notice a change for the better).

I bought these in particular not because of price--they are not cheap--but because Laurie had one running whilst I was sleeping on her couch. Ordinarily, that would be a miserable experience for me, but I was pretty okay. When I told her how surprised I was, she pointed out the air purifier a few feet away (I hadn't actually known what it was 'til then!) and explained what it did.

So, I asked my allergist about it the next week at a previously scheduled appointment, and she said she'd had several patients have success with them. A personal experience plus a medical go-ahead? That's enough for me!

We call them "air suckers"...I don't know why, except I don't think the girls could quite figure out "purifier" when we first unveiled them.

As an added benefit, because they have activated carbon in the filter, they do a dandy job of cleaning out organic smells...you know, cat box "odor", burning debris on the stove burner or in the oven, those wandering smells that seem to trail after certain family members, field burning smoke, and truly, et cetera.

As a final piece of evidence: Matt and I were both a little alarmed at the cost. So I suggested we try one and see what it would do. Within just a few days of the first's arrival, we had decided to order the second.

(and just so you know, they're not paying me for this. :-) )

November 13, 2007

Crackin' the Back

Matt has just about finished his initial, intense treatment under the hands of the chiropractor. The hardest thing about it has been all the appointments after school (two to three days a week); in looking back over the calendar, between that and speech and the union, there have been *very* few days he's home before five. Since we pretty much have to eat around five (or as soon thereafter as possible) to get Matt's (or sometimes, my) break in and the girls treated and to bed on time, it's been something of a marathon for the last few months.

So, has it been worth it? The reviews are mixed. Matt says he's definitely noticed changes, but he still hurts. The pain moves around with different treatments. He reports that he thinks he feels better....

I confess to a certain skepticism; not with chiropractors in particular, but with the whole "holistic" movement (I think chiro.s can, and do, do a lot of good for some folks. As can naturopaths, and lots of others.) So what's my beef? It's the idea that there is always something wrong with everybody. I mean, yes, okay, when my former doctor told me I was basically healthy as she sent me out the door--missing entirely the massive allergy that made me miserable night and day--she was an idiot. But I still like the concept that people are basically okay to start with, and that medicine exists to intervene when there's a problem. From what I've seen of the holistic route, you are assumed to be broken, and although you can improve, you will always BE broken...thus ensuring a tidy income stream for the practitioners. Am I the only one who's noticed this?

So that's my bias.

I'm glad that things seem to be slowing down a bit in the appointment department, and continue to hope that Matt's back doesn't bother him as much as it did before. We will just have to see.

November 12, 2007

TREAT!

So we have this traditional "one-bite" rule in our house; no one gets up from the table without tasting at least one bite of everything available for dinner. (For some reason, the issue doesn't come up at lunch (and breakfast is the same everyday; fortunately, we got the girls hooked on oatmeal very early on.)) Trouble is, we have smart children. Although we try to have something we know they'll eat (veggies and bread are generally safe), sometimes, one--mostly Laura--will compliantly have her one-bites and then get down. And then ask for food just before bed, being (unsurprisingly) hungry.

This drove us a little nuts, especially because it's hard to eat cooked veggies on your way down a set of stairs. So, inevitably, her request would be for something starchy like bread or bagel or crackers....all of which are okay, but not as your only diet for dinner.

Clever Matt borrowed an idea he's seen in action at some of our friends: the after-dinner treat, a.k.a.....dessert.

So, the new rule has become: little girls who aren't hungry enough to eat a reasonably good dinner, aren't hungry enough to have a treat afterwards (I like that sell better than "no eat, no treat"...it's just a little less like making food a "reward"...or so I tell myself.). And we make sure that the treats are *awesome* (at least to inexperienced little girls.) It's working out pretty well, at least from the perspective of getting those veggies down the hatch and not having to have either midnight snacks or insanely hungry mornings.

However.

Emily is allergic to eggs, and at least sensitive to corn. So treats can't just be bought off the shelf. Hence, I now know how to make eggless (and baking-powder-less, since baking powder has corn starch!) cookies, cakes, and even pumpkin pie. I have enjoyed the unexpected fun of having little interested people follow me into the kitchen to see what I'm up to, and help a little in the filling, measuring, and dumping departments.

Also, anything in the cake or shortbreads family lends itself to pre-measuring the dry ingredients and throwing then into a freezer bag (and then into the freezer). Saves a bit of time later.

Here's the peanut-butter cookie recipe, tonight's treat:

1 1/4 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/3 t baking soda*
2/3 t cream of tartar*
1/2 c shortening **
1/2 c peanut butter
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c brown sugar (packed)
1/2 t vanilla
1 T soy flour***
1 T water***

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Sift together dry ingredients (including soy flour). Cream together shortening, p. butter, and sugars. Add vanilla and water; mix. Add wet to dry and stir up 'til combined well. Smoosh together dough into 3/4 inch balls; put on greased cookie sheet. Make famous crosshatch symbol with fork tines.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.


* these two ingredients are the active parts of baking powder (the cornstarch usually added slows down the reaction time a bit for the rising action). You can make this substitution in anything that's going to be cooked (uncooked cream of tartar leaves a bit of a bitter taste--not surprising when you consider that it is the acidic after-product of wine making--but in baking it works great), at a ratio of two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda.

**I loathe shortening, and always use butter instead. The amounts are the same; fat is pretty much fat, here.

***These replace one egg. Again, you'll see this substitution a lot in eggless baking (For some things, you can just leave out the egg entirely and not make a substitution, perhaps throwing in a little extra liquid. But cookies need something to bind 'em together a little!)

Ah, the power of the internet. But you know, I can't quite convey the yumminess to you...since I'm eating one now!

November 11, 2007

At Least I'm Not Frozen in Carbonite

It occurs to me that having a cold, getting a flu shot, then staying up twenty hours the next day is not the most intelligent approach to life. Let's just say today all of it has caught up with me. (To quote Han Solo: "I feel terrible!")

On the other hand, the Speech Team is having a great year, which helps make it all worthwhile. Yesterday's tournaments added to the string of successes they've had since September, both individually and in winning sweepstakes awards. It's nice, especially, to see so many of the kids working so hard; they've got some solid goals, and want passionately to get to 'em.

November 10, 2007

Kat Goldring

I found another author of cozy mysteries lately, and liked her so well I'm just pining for another book (it's been two years since the last one was in paperback, which makes me worry a bit...)

The series centers around an impetuous but brilliant high school English teacher (cool, huh?), and her developing involvement with a "lawman"...it's set in Texas. There are some lovely but not really nasty "racy" passages, and lots of good ol' fashioned minor-blood-and-gore mystery. And a dash of the supernatural thrown in, but lightly salted and definitely not dogmatic.

The pacing was great--I stayed up too late more than once to polish them off--and the characters were very well drawn (as was the phenomenon of the small-town grapevine). Lots of secondary people to use for more sequels, if she gets to publish more.

If you're looking for a good mystery and don't object to a female sleuth (i.e., if you're not a sexist pig ;-) ), this author is a good choice.

November 9, 2007

Ya Want Some Cheese Wit Dat?

Today was flu shot day for the three female Ogles. I didn't cry, but there was a lot of screaming from other people in the room...most of it before the actual shots.

On the up side, they got their stickers--two each! I think the nurse was glad to be rid of us.

Being completely foolish, and probably wobbly-brained from the cold I had already, I thought I'd just walk over to the lab--since we were at the clinic anyway--and find out if I could actually get my blood drawn with two children in tow. I figured they'd say no, and I'd have to come back at some later, put-offable date, sans brood.

Alas.

The nice lady said, looking appraisingly at my offspring, "Sure. It shouldn't be a problem." Rats!

So, as if to immediately prove her wrong, each child deposited one of her stickers on a table in the (crowded, needless to say) waiting room, then proceeded to fight in wailing whining toddler voices over who had which doggy sticker. (I finally stuck them in my purse. The doggy stickers, not the children.....though it was close.)

Of course, the actual bloodletting went pretty uneventfully. They were fascinated, the little ghouls!

November 8, 2007

Don't Eat This Snow, Either


It just seems sad to rake it all up (lustfully as I want all that carbon for the compost.) See, you can hardly tell that the picnic table's broken!

(Oh, and if you look at the left side, just right of the tree trunk, you can see Max, the Queen of all she surveys....that's one of the Pickerel's cats. We generally have a symbiotic relationship, except when she leaves carcasses lying around [shudder]). Otherwise, she is a very decorative addition to the landscape, and even lets me pet her.)

In other news...I finally have the first cold of the season (the girls have been messing around with something for a few weeks, though they seem healthy now. Of course.) And it could have come from so many different sources that no one who might have been a carrier should feel much guilt!

Several have asked about the Ancient Feline; his kidney numbers are starting to slightly creep back up a little (as expected, unless something else gets him first), but otherwise the vet pronounced him a "model senior citizen". He's never been a model *anything* before, trust me--he whose file at the doc's says "DANGER!!!" in large red lettering. (It amazes me that this same animal will let me stab him every other day for his fluids, take medicine from me, etc.; yesterday he didn't even get up for the juice, just lay there and worked on getting back to his twelfth nap of the day.) His feral beginnings really show under medical influences, I guess. But I secretly always root for him to be obnoxious, because if he's strong enough to be pissy, he must be doing okay.

As a result of her birthday, Laura has become a parent. (Yes, you read that right). Grandpa Bill gave her a dolly with a little cloth carrying bed and some baby accessories, and I swear, it's like having a newborn in the house again. Dolly gets faithfully taken up and down the stairs, so she can sleep with Mommy, tucked in with her (Dolly's) very own little blanket on Laura's bed.

We are told to "Be *quiet*! My dolly is *sleeping*!"

We discuss Dolly's moods at meals:
L: (two bites of oatmeal into her breakfast) "Good morning, Mama! My dolly's sad, can I get down?"
M: (gathering his coat and preparing to leave for work, and closer to Dolly than I) "She's okay, just a little fussy today."
G: (not really awake yet, not being a Morning Person in the first place, but trying to play along) "Is she really okay?"
M: (completely straight faced, sounding a little concerned) "Yes, she's just been kinda crabby this morning."
G: "Finish your breakfast, dear, and then you can check on her. Daddy says she's fine right now."
L: "Okay. I think she just wants to sleep, but I'm almost done, and then I'll rock her."
Etc.

I hope Laura's put some thought into saving for Dolly's college education.

November 7, 2007

You Never Count Your Veggies When You're Sittin' At the Table

Steve Solomon, one of the acknowledged gurus of veggie gardening in these here parts, says pretty much anything planted in the garden after September 30th is a gamble. Apparently, I like to shake those dice and let 'em roll, because I snuck outside one day--weary of costume making--last month, and planted my Gambler's Crop of winter goodies.

Everything came up, which is the first gamble (will the weather cooperate, or will all those tiny seeds just rot in the rain?)

And in one way, at least, I figure I've already gotten my money's worth. See, last weekend I took the girls out to frolic in the leaves and such, and took the opportunity to actually thin the little babies (and continue the fruitless effort to rescue them from the smothering maple leaves). Laura decided she was interested in chowing down what, properly marketed, would be about $15 worth of micro-greens: I pulled up the baby spinaches and made little bouquets of them, and she picked them out of said bouquets one at a time, and bit their tiny heads off. So I think even if we get nothing else from this crop, at least she got her vitamins for that day.

November 6, 2007

The Big Seven-Oh

Later this week, my grandparents will be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. (In case you're wondering, some of the "modern" and "traditional" gifts lists...don't go that high!) That's right, this is not about a birthday, but a wedding!

So what does their 70th tell you about them? Three things, right off the bat:

1. They got married fairly young (18 and 19, I think).
2. They are really old now.
3. They have a lot of patience, at least with each other.

What do they have to show for their union? Well, in the tangible, inherited genes sort of way, they have six grandchildren (and one's even a boy--yay for Patrick!), and so far, six great-grandchildren (three boys, two of whom can carry on the family name--yay for Patrick again [and double yay for Shelley, who did all the heavy lifting!]). The consensus is that Grandma passed on her nose to several of us, while Laura looks strikingly like her Great-Grandpa in her sunnier moods (it's the facial expression, more than the face itself, I think.)

What can we learn from them? Well, a ton of history if you can get them to reminisce; they got married in the midst of the Great Depression, though probably no one knew when it was going to end. By their tenth anniversary, they had seen the end of the Second World War and felt the first rumbles of the Baby Boom. For their twentieth, the news was full of the Little Rock Nine and Sputnik beeping away in orbit. By their thirtieth, they were likely concerned about the racial violence in many of the nation's big cities, and confused by Sergeant Pepper and his band.

By their fortieth anniversary, not only had they seen the war in Vietnam begin and end and been blessed with four grandchildren, but they were also well on their way to amassing a backbreaking collection of National Geographics. Number 50 saw the nation fascinated by the Iran-Contra affair, as well as the release of Prozac (no connection there, I'm sure....) Anniversary #60 arrived along with great movies--The Full Monty, Titanic--but by then, the great-grandkids had started arriving in all their cutenesses, so who cared?

What else have I learned from them? Let's see:

~Grandma swears better than anybody. When frustrated with her spouse, she squinches up her nose, narrows her eyes, and says (roughly) :"Sniggle-frizzle-snorbitz-sloopitz-hermic-abble!" I have no idea what that means, but apparently it has worked for all this time.

~You can get away with murder pretty much all the rest of the time if you a) keep a man well and consistently fed, and b) let him fall asleep to the TV on whatever he likes.

~Everybody should give 110% to whatever it is they are doing, at all times. This could be classed as Moore's Law of Workaholism.

~In a pinch, a rubber band is an effective filing device.

~You can never have too many plastic bags....until you do.

~No matter what you do for a living, culture--reading, fine arts, music--are important things to know and love.

~The Moores eat weird vegetables.

~Having a house big enough that you can escape from each other's company now and then without leaving home is a boon.

and of course,
~A little love, commitment, and perseverance can go a long way.

Many happy returns of the day!

November 5, 2007

Refuse to Choose: A book rec

One of the things I did this summer was read a fair number of books (I had some down time waiting for and riding Amtrak, and then waiting for my connection once I got there). I am, therefore, way, way, way behind in book reviewing.

I've mentioned this book to a few folks already, but haven't made mention of it yet here, and it's high time: Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher. The main idea behind her book is that there are perfectly intelligent--often, highly intelligent--people out there who have more than one life-giving, life-sustaining passion. Sometimes those folks are called dabblers or dilettantes; in other times, they're called Renaissance people. In any case, it can be terrifically hard to pick a career path--or even a hobby to dive into--when you're good at and interested in so many different things. Her argument is that you can find ways not to have to choose just one.

I liked this book for two main reasons. One was that it was my first exposure to the idea that there are what she calls "Scanners" (those who like to Scan all the possibilities in life before deciding on their entree). Just knowing that I'm not a freak (okay, not that kind of freak :-P ) was nice to hear (a telling anecdote she provides that resonated because it happened to me: you know when you take those job aptitude tests in about 8th grade? What are you supposed to do when they say you're good at everything??? Everybody raise a paw who's had that happen.). The second was the very practical set of time management tools she offers as food for thought.

As an example: she profiles several different subtypes of these Scanners. (And they are both subjective and overlapping in many ways; this is not a Myers-Briggs kinda system, but more a series of touchstones.) One of the descriptions that struck me was what she calls a "Sybil"; someone who loves to do lots of different things...so many that they can become stymied and paradoxically end up doing nothing, in the fear that choosing one to do means letting another (or seven) go. Simple idea: figure out how long it takes you to get bored, or even just restless. Allocate a little less time than that to one project or whatever, then do a different one for the same amount of time. Repeat. Repeat. Etc. It's not hard and fast--she encourages you to enjoy a "zone" if you get into one...but it's a somewhat radical departure from what I think of as the DayRunner Approach: do your task until it's done, then see what's next on your schedule. If you're a DayRunner kind of worker, you're probably gnashing your teeth. But I've been getting lots more done since I've tried her way...and I'm cheerfuller, too, not feeling tied to the grindstone!

Another subtype that hit home for me (she calls them "Plate-Spinners") loves to put out fires, saving situations for others and just generally rescuing grateful people. I have no claims to being SuperWoman...but gosh, there is a rush in turning something around! But these types not only love to save the day, they like to do several saving missions at once (um, can you say, "Teacher"?) The problem there, of course, is not only having tons to do, it's having others counting on you to do it. And coming back for more. The advice here, while useful, was not profound; what was helpful for me was in having it applied particularly to this sort of person (she says: "Learn to say NO!" At least some of the time.) A bit like having a segment on Oprah followed by a personalized ticker at the bottom that says, "And this means you, buster!"

Anyway, if you have more things you love to do/want to try/hope to accomplish than seems possible in any one lifetime; find yourself wanting to be on time but caught up in just doing one more thing; not wanting to let go of some hobby you haven't done in ages because you still love it...this could be a good book for you, too.

November 4, 2007

November 3, 2007

Ogle Wan Kenobi

So, Matt wanted to be a Jedi for Hallowe'en. (and not an evil or soon-to-be-evil one, either; I checked.) Here's the "official Star Wars licensed" costume for adults.

It is completely lame.

Note that the tunic is all one piece, with what appear to be little pieces of vinyl ironed on to stand in for actual layers of clothing. I would rather go with a sack on my head, and I just couldn't subject a dedicated fan to such degradation. Also, it cost between $50 and $60. (!!!) And that's without the cloak, which is another $50 or so (plus shipping) (The cloak does not look nearly so lame, until you consider that it is "one size only" and is meant--supposedly--for an "average" person. Male or female. Not someone who's almost 6'3". Can you say "lame" again? Of course, you can get beautifully personally tailored wool cloaks, too....but we'd like the kids to be able to attend at least a community college some day!)

This poster became my inspiration.

For the cloak, I found some brown poly/cotton broadcloth. Broadcloth is dirt cheap (around $3 a yard), and while it's not wool, as in the movies, it does have a nice floaty effect. I measured his wingspan and his height from the base of the neck to the bottom of his ankle, did the math, and borrowed some instructions off the web for construction. Easy. Oh, and I added some fancy-schmancy pleats at the shoulders to make it more Obi-Wan-ish (or "Ogle-Wan -ish", as one of the speech kids dubbed it.)

The tunic started out simply enough: it's just a short bathrobe. Until I looked at that poster again, and noticed the tabards. And the under-tunics, visible at the neck. Back to the drawing board! I found a different color of all-cotton broadcloth, again for around $3 a yard. I already had several yards of muslin--handy for all kinds of things. And then I cheated.
See those nice under-tunic collars? They're actually just collars: thin strips of cloth, cunningly positioned and attached to the real tunic, then crossed with a section of velcro at the point where they cross. As long as he doesn't do jumping jacks, they look pretty good. I made one in broadcloth and one in muslin, then did the tabards (those thingies that drape over the shoulders and tuck in to the belt/sash thingy) of muslin.

Lame-o official options: around $100, give or take. My prices: cloak cloth, $24. Muslin, $8. Tunic cloth: $11.60. Thread (which I have lots of left): $8. My total: $51.60. Plus it's custom tailored and therefore actually fits him.

Of course, left out of that total is the fact that he'll owe me for years, since it took at least a week and a half of all my spare time. But damn, it looked good!

November 2, 2007

Not a Child of the Corn

Because our lives weren't interesting enough, we've finally figured out in the last month or so that Emily has not one, but two allergies. Well, maybe one's just a food sensitivity. Who knows. Anyway, to the previously fairly obvious problem with eggs, we now add corn.

Neither of them is sending her to the hospital (though I'd just as soon nobody fed her, you know, a whole deviled egg or anything); so far, we just get hives. In my completely un-medical-schooled mind, I'm assuming the corn issue is the lesser one, because it's just her face that breaks out. Eggs give her hives all over, usually starting on her legs and spreading hither and yon over time. It doesn't take much, although so far flu shots and such haven't bothered her (well, they bother her, of course. But it's from being poked with something sharp, not the egg in the vaccine).

In the hopes of minimizing such problems, we're obviously trying to limit her exposure. *Very* fortunately, the list of processed, pre-cooked items we eat is fairly short...and that's fortunate because--have you noticed?--just about anything in a box or a plastic package or a jar or even a can, has corn syrup in it. Even bread, fer crying out loud. It's on my list to just break down and make a huge batch of homemade bread, to have on-call in the freezer for when the exactly one variety they carry at the store which she can eat runs out of stock.

I apologize for all the prepositional phrases in the previous sentence. Some days, I'm allergic to punctuation!

I can see school age could be a trying time, although I hold out hope that maybe she'll be one of the lucky ones who grows out of the egg allergy, at least (there are worse things than a corn allergy, if only because it guarantees you a lifetime of eating mostly unprocessed foods.)

On the other hand, she can eat all the peanut butter she can stand. It could be much worse--peanut allergies are just plain scary.

November 1, 2007

My Autumn Idyll

I've been meaning to write this for a few weeks. Has anyone else noticed just how beautiful the autumn has been this year? Every time I drive out to speech practice, my breath is taken away (and not just because my car hasn't been vacuumed out lately!). The leaves are all in blankets on lawns, their colors are bright and the rain hasn't smushed them all into goo lately. (While I have a poet's soul at this particular season, I'm still not a poetic writer :-) ).

Of course, it helps to have little people in the back seat, so I can point out the birds jumping off the wires along the country roads as we get close. And we have a permanent livestock watch along one particular road; it is a sad, sad day when neither the cows nor the sheep nor the "horsey" are out eating in the fields.

Every day, I feel again that we live in a Thomas Kinkade painting. The quality of light on sunny days is such that everything seems drawn sharply in relief; on misty moisty days, the smudges are all the more startling because of their vibrant colors.

It's entirely possible that I am prejudiced: I grew up here, and have always loved this countryside. And, of course, fall is the best time to be alive. I've always been a taking-stock sort of person, and so there's something metaphysical that I love about everyone being forced inside--literally and figuratively--as the weather gets colder. In agriculture, this is when farmers total up the harvest; gardeners are generally already thinking of next year's plans (and if they're on the ball, getting beds ready now when you can actually work the soil.)

Brief forays out into the weather are exhilarating now: the wind seems to mean it, somehow, in a way it doesn't in the summer. The smells speak to me, too; I've always thought that if I were blindfolded and plunked down somehow in an unknown time, I would be able to tell if it were fall just from that strange combination: wood smoke, leaf mould, cold air (it does have a smell!), turned earth.

Apparently, I am actually part squirrel, because I love having a full larder much more in the fall. It is a safe, secure feeling to know that we have lots of food options available without having to go anywhere.

And finally, autumn seems to be a time of redemption, at least in Nature's hands. For instance, there is a hideous house down the street. It is the most bilious shade of green imaginable, and every time I see it--the rest of the year--I think, "hooooooey! You know, it has nothing going for it architecturally (it is a "whatever cottage", i.e. a non-descript square with no distinguishing characteristics), but they could at least change the paint color!". But now....now, its one charm is revealed. There are three trees in a beautifully Japanese proportion in its front yard--big, medium, and a small weeping one--and they are all the same stunning shade of vermillion right now. Was it planned by someone who had more taste, some time years before, or just a happy accident? Either way, it always makes me smile, and not mind the eyesore the rest of the year.

Somehow I look for a similar redeeming quality in my fellows in the fall. Faced with such beauty, who could help it?