Monday, September 30, 2013

Half a Year

Maggie and Leo both had their half birthdays near the beginning of September so I'm just squeezing this in within the month. I wrote them each their own blog post for their birthdays in March and failed to commemorate their half birthdays at all. Some might wonder if half birthday commemoration is necessary, but I like it. In fact, I like a little treat every month when the 27th rolls around, so I will stretch myself and do a little something for my kids' half birthdays.

I found this series of questions and answers on Camp Patton and loved it. Poor Leo would only answer "ba" so I guess he has to miss out after all. Next year, Little Eo.

What is your name?
Maggie. M-A-G-G-I-E!

How old are you?
Four!

What is your favorite thing to do?
Play

What is your favorite book?
Five Little Monkeys

What is your favorite show?
Liv-uh!

What is your favorite song?
Wheels on the Bus

What does Daddy do at work?
Work

What is your favorite color?
Pink (news to me; I thought it was purple)

What is your favorite outfit?
Dress

Where's your favorite place to go?
Park

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Princess (WHAT?!?!?!)

When you get sick what makes you feel better?
Burp (love it)

What scares you?
smoke alarm, noisy hand driers, noisy flushes, light coming through the blinds, leaning over the water, shower heads

What makes you happy?
Jezzy beans

Who is your favorite person?
Mama (kiss ass--it's totally Daddy)

What is your favorite toy?
Ball

Shine On Harvest Moon

This post actually has nothing to do with spooning by moonlight, but the word harvest inevitably brings that song to mind. It's so catchy.

We're harvesting the remains of our container garden around here. I denuded our basil plant a few nights ago to make pesto and this pizza, pronounced by Brian as "the best pizza you've ever made."

I'd post how I made it, but I think all necessary info can be gleaned from this pic.

I also gave up entirely on our disappointing tomato plants and sent them to compost for the winter, leaving us with this bounty. I am determined to make use of each and every one of them. Somehow, some way.


And, then, finally, I took the kids apple picking. Apple picking is such a different experience than berry picking. Instead of laboring in heat, sweat pouring down as you pick, and pick, and pick only to discover you have a whole pint of berries, with apple picking, it's cool and lovely and you pick for about ten minutes to discover you have half a bushel and know you'd better stop because what in the world would a family of four do with a bushel of apples?

My haul

All this to say, let me introduce you to the next several posts in which I attempt to make use of a colander full of green tomatoes and a half bushel of apples. Here's hoping for some good recipes!

Linked up at Atelier.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The bravest thing I ever did...

Joining Complete the Sentence Friday at Finding Ninee this week.

I think I'm pretty brave. When I was young and single, I moved city to city every two years, once to Malaysia, of all places. Then I moved to Asheville, NC just to see if a relationship would work out (it did). I gave birth to two babies at home. Once I did something that required so much courage, I had to serve 40 hours of community service for it (still worth it, though).

But, today, I think the bravest thing I've ever done is start a public blog.

I'm an introvert, a pretty strong one. My I score is only outranked by my F on the Myers-Briggs. So why would I start a blog?

There's something oddly safe about sharing your life, your worries, your pursuits, etc. to an audience that does not have a face. From my experience, it's not at all unusual for a public blogger to actually be an introvert. Introverts want friends, but they shy away from face-to-face events where friendships can be made because they hate and dread small talk and the superficial relationship that comes before a real friendship can develop.

A public blog provides the opportunity of jumping straight to the the personal, the serious, and the important without that superficial bullshit. And everybody has a match; you're bound to find people who respond to what you have to say, and you can begin to form real, deep relationships with others.

So, why is starting a blog brave? Because you still risk rejection. Maybe people won't read your blog. Maybe someone will be rude or thoughtless in the comment section. It's hard to put yourself out there, waiting and hoping for the readers who identify with what you have to say. It can be hard to believe that you have a unique point of view worth publishing in the wide, wide blogosphere.

So, today, starting a blog is the bravest thing I've ever done. And since most people reading this blog post are also bloggers, I think you're brave, too. In fact, your bravery and your posts are sometimes the highlights of my day.

a gratuitous selfie since no blog post is complete without a picture

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It smells like fall in here...

It's baking time again with my loyal assistant who wants "just a pinch" of sugar when we put it in.

source
Do you know this cookbook? It is really excellent, and I'm not vegetarian. There's a whole section highlighting loads of different vegetables and listing what sauces, herbs, and flavors complement that vegetable. So great when you're creating a recipe with what you've got on hand.

But, this post is about fall baking. Both of the following recipes originally come from this cookbook. I've played with the first recipe quite a bit, but the second one is exactly as printed in the book. If you're looking for quick breads that'll make your kitchen smell like fall, look no further!

One of the great things about Deborah Madison's recipes is how flexible they are. This first one, for instance, is printed as a muffin recipe, but I have made it as a large loaf and as mini-loaves. You can use sweet potato, pumpkin, or any winter squash. The recipe orginally calls for candied ginger, but I prefer cranberries. I've put in all the variations, starting with what I prefer, but you can have fun.

Sweet Potato Cranberry Muffins

Mashing sweet potato
1/3 c. dried cranberries, candied ginger, raisins, dates, or chopped pineapple
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 c. unsulfured molasses (I have run out of this and used honey with no ill effects)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. mashed cooked sweet potato, pumpkin or other winter squash
2 eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 3/4 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare the muffin tins (or whatever pans you're using). Mix the wet and dry ingredients separately (fruit with the wet), then together briefly. Pour into pans. Easy-peasy! Muffins bake about 25 minutes (less in my oven), and obviously loaves would bake longer.

Not too sweet and definite crown pleasers!


Applesauce Spice Bread
Don't overfill or your cute, heart-shaped loaf won't look like a heart.

1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 c. white sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
Mixture of 1 c. applesauce and 1 1/2 t. basking soda
2 c. cake or all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
2 t. cardamom or cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. cloves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare the pans. Deborah Madison says a spray hasn't worked for her with this recipe, but it's worked fine for me. Cream butter and sugars; add eggs; add applesauce mixture. Mix dry ingredients separately and then add them in. Bake for 50 minutes in a loaf pan or less for small loaves or muffins. It took about thirty minutes for my mini-loaves, and I had them pretty full.

Wrap them up and give them as gifts or eat them up yourself!




Monday, September 23, 2013

Redefinition

Can you tell I've done some blog work this weekend? I've been blogging long enough to feel ready to define this blog a little more specifically. I like posting about my kids, and I want to continue to make mama connections (especially with other mothers of kids with special needs). Also, I like posting about my projects. I love a good, creative project, especially something I've never done before that seems kind of challenging, and I love reading about others' projects for inspiration.

So, henceforward, my blog will focus on two things: my kidlets and my projects. I'll be using "creative projects" pretty widely; they might involve sewing, crafting, cooking, or dressing (mama) fashionably. Sometimes my kids and projects intersect or overlap and sometimes they're completely independent. If these two topics interest you, I hope you'll come back for a visit!

And, for the fun of it, a related link. I found this on Chookooloonks blog last week, and it seemed so apropos, I thought I'd borrow it. Karen Walrond also added five more. Of the 33 listed, numbers 10, 13, and 25 were most meaningful to me and what I'll be demonstrating examples of on this blog. Which are your favorites?

And, in honor of my the refocusation of my blog, here are some pics I've taken recently. I'm trying to work on my photography skills (and continue to play with Camera+), and I think I am making progress!

Peekaboo!



This new iPhone owner questions the cult of Apple. I, however, drank the Kool-Aid back in 1986.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chicken Skewers and Grilled Veggies

This is an old post! But I think it's worth posting for the marinade alone, though the summer is dying fast.

We had Brian's family over for dinner on Friday night. Normally, when we eat together, we eat at his parents', but we hosted for a change of pace (and, no doubt, relief for his mother).

I decided to serve what has become a common meal in one form or another around our house this summer. In fact, my sister-in-law has gotten to have it twice. I'm that kind of creative hostess.

Basically, it's chicken thighs (Costco!), chopped into pieces, marinated, and grilled on skewers, and whatever seasonal veggies I have on hand grilled in our grill basket. It's a great make-ahead meal. I do most all the work in advance, and then Brian does the grilling after the guests have arrived.

The griller extraordinaire separates veggies and meat for the vegetarian. And celebrates science.

As for marinades, I've gone with different combos: basil and lime, cilantro and lime, rosemary and lemon, etc. I try to stick to the general rule of three parts base to two parts acid (not sure where I picked this up or whether it's the ratio espoused by the best--and I always eyeball it so who knows what ratio I actually get), and the base is always olive oil. The acid is usually a lemon or lime, but it could be vinegar. Depending on how much marinating time I have, I marinate the chicken in whole thighs or already cut up (already cut up if I have less time).

For Brian's family, I made a marinade from an actual recipe (called "Garlic Chicken" from Cooking Light years and years ago) that we've had and liked. I half it for five chicken thighs.

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt (I always use full-fat)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

It's sort of Middle-Eastern-tasting with the spice combo, and the yogurt keeps the chicken super moist. We really love it around here. And I'm lazy: I toss the ingredients and the chicken in a plastic bag and then massage it until it looks mixed up well-enough. Then I toss it in the fridge until it's time to start skewering.

As for veggies, I like tomatoes, peppers, onion, and eggplant best of all. (I've had to supplement our tomato crop this year because of the damn squirrels, but we produce the peppers and eggplants (mini eggplants are the best ever).) Sometimes I've mixed in squash, and once we grilled corn on the cob to go with it. I chop up the veggies and toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and then have Brian grill them in a basket. I also like to toss in some fresh basil (especially with this marinade) and then a bit more after they're done. I think the basil complements the marinade well. Feta is a nice touch, also.






I've served it with quinoa and with pitas (as I did for Brian's family) to flesh it out a bit. When Brian's sister (vegetarian) is over, I make hummus. I know I can buy good hummus, but I kind of like the control of making it myself (meaning: lots of garlic). And, don't roll your eyes, but I have taken to removing the chickpea skins as Deb from Smitten Kitchen suggests. It does make the hummus smoother, and it doesn't take that long.








So, I planned to make this dinner party simple with this meal I was used to making, but we ended up with feta-stuffed grilled figs for an appetizer, basil-lime vodka tonics, and almond-crisped peaches and plums for dessert. And...that was why I was so exhausted last weekend.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Surprise!

The thing about your first child having motor delays and your second child not having them is that lots of behaviors come as a surprise the second time around. I came downstairs after getting dressed this morning to find this:

Guilty, guilty, guilty

That's a bowl of jelly beans he's discovered, but honestly, I was more concerned about the dregs of Maggie's cereal he consumed. Maggie gets stool softener in her cereal every morning. I'm in for a treat.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dog Hair and Polka-Dots Weekend

After a weekend of runny noses, skipped naps, and whininess, Brian and I were counting down the hours until we could put our kids to bed last night. Which, for the record, was 5:30, and they slept right through.

Up or down? Make up your mind!

Super excited about the bubbles.
But we did have one shiny, bright spot to the weekend in the form of free furniture! Brian's aunt and uncle are downsizing and were giving away a ton of furniture. Thank you very much! We scored a chair and ottoman, a coffee table, an end table, and a cabinet.

I spent a good part of Sunday afternoon de-beagling the furniture of traces of their dog, cursing and sneezing as I vacuumed up dog hair and scrubbed (chiseled) off God knows what else. After three hot load washes, the cushion covers are still not dog hair free. Blech. A pet lover, I am not.

But a gift-horse-looker-in-the-mouth, I am also not, because this was free furniture, and the old cover gives me an excuse for a new P-R-O-J-E-C-T, which everyone who knows me, knows I love. I will now doubt post about it.

This weekend and its cool weather also gave me the opportunity to jump on the patterned jeans bandwagon, and I have reserved my seat until next spring, at least. I was kind of meh about the whole trend before, but then these polka-dot jeans were on clearance at Target, I needed new jeans, etc., etc., etc. Now, after three days in them, I've decided I love patterned jeans.

This was my moving furniture outfit with a Tshirt and my beloved Chucks. I added the scarf to take the things up a notch, but I don't know that it did, being tied so oddly in these photos. If only scarves stayed as perfectly styled as when you first put them on (especially when playing with kids).

Linked up at Atelier and Plane Pretty.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday, September 13th

Today was the first day it has really felt like fall around here. A violent thunderstorm blew in yesterday afternoon, causing me to scramble to get a bunch of stuff under cover. Today is cool and even the light feels like fall.

This morning we went shoe shopping. Maggie wears absurdly expensive (read: $70) orthotics in her shoes to support her pronated ankles, and there is a wonderful shoe store that sells the orthotics and then finds a pair of shoes that fit the orthotics and her feet (this is no easy task, let me tell you). If you live the Maryland suburbs of DC, check out Shoe Train at Cabin John Mall, even if your kid doesn't need orthotics. I can't sing the praises of the customer service or selection of high-quality children's shoes loudly enough. Maggie's final choice was a pair of gold Mary Janes.


Little Leo gets what I can find on sale online, but his new shoes are pretty cute, too. This morning I put on his old, brown, hand-me-down Keens, and he walked over to his new ones and brought them to me instead. So I let him wear the new ones though they're still mighty roomy. He must have gotten the idea he can switch out his shoes at any time because he kept bringing me a pair of silver glitter shoes with pink bows in the shoe store and seemed very disappointed he couldn't wear them.

And for all you bluegrass fans out there, today would have been the father of bluegrass himself, Bill Monroe's, 102nd birthday. Here's what the Writer's Almanac said about him this morning:
It's the birthday of the "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe, born in Rosine, Kentucky (1911), a brilliant mandolinist and a hard-driving tenor singer. His mother was an excellent fiddler, but his main inspiration was his Uncle Pen Vandiver, whom Monroe later honored with the song "Uncle Pen." In 1938, Bill formed the Blue Grass Boys, a group that would include future stars of country music such as Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Vassar Clements, Chubby Wise, and Byron Berline — and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
source
Monroe's song "Sittin' Alone in the Moonlight":
Sittin' alone in the moonlight,
Thinkin' of the days gone by,
Wonderin' about my darlin'.
I can still hear her sayin' good-bye.

Oh, the moon glows pale as I sit here.
Each little star seems to whisper and say,
"Your sweetheart has found another,
And now she is far, far away.

And here's a link to Bill Monroe, sans the mutton chops of his later years, performing Uncle Pen. "You could hear it talk; you could hear it sing!"

I hope you have as pleasant and accident-free a Friday the 13th as we are having so far!

P.S. Just discovered, via facebook, that today is Roald Dahl Dayhttp://www.roalddahlday.info/! My favorite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. What's yours?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Five Favorites: My House

We moved to the DC area in November 2012. The plan was to stay with my in-laws for a month or so while we house hunted. Well, we moved in to our new house in April 2013. It took a bit longer than anticipated.

Just a couple of evenings ago, Brian said, "How did you know to wait for the right house?" Of course I answered something along the lines of me being always right, etc., etc., etc. (Because I am.) But it is true that this house (and this neighborhood) were worth the wait. Granted, our kitchen and dining room suck (there's no other word, sorry). But we love the rest of the house. So, in honor of our little house, five favorites:


1. Our office. Specifically, my work area in our office. It is almost always a mess, but it is my mess, and I know exactly where everything is. Those shelves hold everything worth holding on to to be a language therapist plus all my arts and crafts supplies. See my sewing machine sitting out? I don't have to lug it out of a closet every time I need it! That desk area? All mine. I love this space, and just to make it that much better, it's upstairs on the other side of a gate through which small people cannot pass.

You can even see the ironing board reflected in the TV.

2. TV room. There's a living room for company, and then there's this room for the TV. In the basement where it is cool and dark. And, it's right next to the laundry room. So, it is also my folding and ironing room. TV watching: the only thing that makes folding and ironing of four people's clothing palatable.

Doesn't everyone have a diaper genie in every bathrooom?

3. Master bath, complete now with medicine cabinet. We moved from a house with one bathroom to one with three. No more dancing up and down the hallway! That medicine cabinet (the one with the mirror) was installed incorrectly and fell off the wall back in May. Finally got that sucker up again (with new door) and we once again have light in our bathroom. And, by the way, three cheers to the people at Strasser Woodenworks. Phenomenal customer service!

That's a lot of shoes!

4. My (our) closet. In our old house, I shared a closet with Maggie in her room. Now, I have a walk-in closet. I can get dressed in it. It has its own light. And I get first dibs on space. Brian's suits and trousers? You can find them in the office closet.

That's a painted art project and can of sealer on the newspaper.

5. Porch. It's a garden; it's an art studio; it's a playground; it's a dining room. It may be the most versatile space in (rather, out) side the house.

 Linked up at Camp Patton.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Let 'em go

Hmmm, the theme of recent posts has not escaped my notice. My children are suddenly, yet all at once, maturing a little more rapidly than I would like. To add insult to injury, Leo has weaned.

Maggie at 22 months. Crazy snow that winter.


Maggie nursed until 22 months and devoted a significant amount of time to each feeding until near the end. Leo has never been as focused of a nurser, nursing for only a few minutes at a time for months now so I knew it would end sooner than it did with Maggie. And about a month ago at bedtime, instead of immediately nursing, Leo looked at me and then shook his head violently. It was a clear refusal but hard to believe. Nevertheless, I could not get him to nurse. This continued off and on for the last few weeks until it became consistent, and I quit trying. But he remained a dependable morning nurser (because I think it was a little something for his stomach before I could get breakfast ready) until a few days ago when the head shaking started in the morning, too.




I have loved nursing, loved it, and treasured it as the special connection only I will ever have with my children.





But I've let it go. We won't be having any more children, and now my boobs seem so...worthless. (Not to mention, miniscule.) A significant part of my anatomy is completely beyond use for the first time in my life, and I am grieving over it. The very best I can hope is that my breasts, ovaries, and uterus never give me any trouble, but they will never again be productive organs, and I can't help but feel a little less...womanly.

Leo at 17 months

 Every transition brings grief and joy. At least I am no longer on the nursing leash!

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Still Summer Weekend

You know, the first day of autumn is September 22 this year. Yes, the mornings and evenings are cooler than they were, and we spot (and collect) pretty leaves on our walks, but I'm not willing to bid summer adieu quite yet. Let's give it its full three months.


Some of our summer weekend adventures included popsicles on the porch, fun at a splash pad, and paper plate crafts. (I admit that last one is not summer-specific. But cute; it is cute.) That blue dress I'm wearing? That has been a summer staple for me. It's better made than your average summer sundress, it's cool, and it's very forgiving in the mid-section area. I wore it to the grocery store the other day and had the oddest conversation with a woman
about it:
Woman: I used to be able to wear dresses like that. Enjoy it while you can.
Me: I do!
Woman: You're letting it all air out.
Me: ???
I moved on at this point, but the line stuck with me. I guess she thought the dress was revealing? I consider the dress perfectly respectable, especially since it's lined and nearly hits my knee. But the conversation has definitely made me reflect on how passing comments I make may be interpreted to others.

And I read this book and really enjoyed it. First of all, I am biased towards Gail Godwin and her WNC settings (Asheville this time, though she calls it Mountain City). But I loved the narrative form of this story (which is explicitly stated by the narrator as one employed by her grandmother) of circling through events in a not necessarily chronological order, revealing more and more each time the event is narrated. And I thought she very cleverly wove the themes through all the characters and their experiences and even the settings. Basically, it's a story of a ten-year-old girl quarantined in her dilapidated old house for the summer of 1945 with her mother's cousin as guardian. She's conflicted between her grandmother's example of how to live (superior, witty, clever, restrained) in which she's been carefully trained and the example set by her mother's cousin, who is transparent, emotional, generous, and naive. The events of this summer, coupled with the climax of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have a profound effect on her overall development.
When I read enough of an author, I can get used to (and even tired of) certain repeated elements. For instance, John Irving loves strange sexual encounters, but I find them unoriginal. Gail Godwin often handles grief, abandonment by parents, and theological or ecclesiastical details, but I appreciate her repeated handling of these themes and others. It may be that she's just a better author, or it may be that I just like those themes better. 

However, I would love to read a happy book for a change. I can only do so much grief and sadness. Any recommendations?

Linked up at Atelier.


Friday, September 6, 2013

First Day!



I have always dreaded the first day of school. I was an anxious child, and unsurprisingly, I have an anxious daughter. I dread it now for her sake as well as mine. It is heartwrenching to be unable to answer her, "You will stay with me?" question with the affirmative.

A good face

She's learned to put on a brave face because she knows what we hope to see, but you can see that facade slip as she tries to keep her anxiety in check. I know the feeling far too well.

Underneath

But! It wasn't so bad! It never really is, is it? For one, Brian took her to school. The minute he arrived home, I was clamoring for the report: They met up with her new teacher in the office, but Maggie put her head down on a bench and refused to even look at the teacher. Knowing his presence wasn't going to help matters, Brian took off. Soon after his departure, Maggie picked up her head and said, "Where is my new classroom?" According to her teacher, she was chatty, an avid participant, and offered encouragement to her one classmate. At home, we heard about how she made a pancake and a snake (that "got" her teacher) out of Play-Doh, how they read a story, sang a song, and played outside.

When I picked her up, we headed to the library as a treat and picked out some of her favorites to check out again. Per Maggie's preferences, we had "brinner" for dinner with a healthy (or not so much) helping of bacon for our big girl. Followed by "vanilla i-pim with tat-tat syrup on it." She was unable to finish her helping so I finished it for her. After I finished my own helping.

Lesson learned? I worry just as much, if not more that my little girl. Keeping my distance during transitions is a good thing.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

L'Shana Tova!


We here in the Amycake and The Dude household celebrate the Jewish holidays (among others). It snuck up on me this year, but this morning I consulted dependable Joan Nathan and got to baking the challah. We may have been a day late ringing in the new year, but it was a fine celebration.

Challah and honey for Leo

Apples and honey for Maggie
To a sweet new year!

Leo, really, REALLY liked the challah.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day Weekend

We had a very low-key holiday weekend. A little of this, a little of that, and a lot of relaxing, which is what I was needing.

Doc Martin source

Our highlight was having some friends over who we haven't seen for too long. I felt ambitious and prepared the fixins' for fresh spring rolls. I had a pack or so of wraps that I had been holding on to since before we had kids, but it's not like those things go bad. Unsurprisingly, I failed to take any pics, but I remembered to snap one of my leftovers the next day. If we do it again, I'll make an entire post of it.

Brian and Maggie went swimming Sunday afternoon, and after Leo napped, he and I headed out for a walk. He and I never take a walk without Maggie, and we're usually on a mission: heading to the park, to the creek, etc. Saturday was different because I let him lead the way. He tossed the basketball and followed it. He walked in the street (followed closely by me). He took every front walk to every house that called to him. I drew the line at drinking from bird baths and puddles, but he mostly got his way. (Including his outfit.)

I tried getting artsy with the Camera+ app on my phone with limited success.

And I started watching Doc Martin on Netflix. It's a British TV drama featuring a surgeon turned general practitioner that relocates from London to a village in Cornwall after he develops a fear of blood. A couple recommended it to me while we were staying at a B&B years ago. It's funny in that dry British style, which I usually enjoy, but I don't love this show. The lack of  chemistry between the main characters makes me squirm while I root for them just the same. So it'll do for clothes-folding and -ironing entertainment until fall TV shows start up again. Can't wait!

Linked up at Atelier.