Wednesday, January 31, 2007
On the way home, we picked up a DVD that had been mentioned: Who Killed the Electric Car? This is an excellent film (creepy Mel Gibson interview notwithstanding) and is a must-see about the intentional efforts to prevent US consumers from obtaining zero emissions vehicles. Infuriating, really.
On a completely different subject, but also excellent: The Lost Boys of Sudan.The film was recommended to me by the woman who "hired" me to teach the Somali women to knit. It's a wonderful documentary about the resettlement of a group of young Sudanese orphans in the US. I've worked with refugees and immigrants for many years but never tire of hearing their stories, so I found this film very moving.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Another gorgeous day here in Portland. We took a brisk family walk, the high point of which was standing on a pedestrian overpass over I-205 with The Princess while she waved madly at the cars below yelling "duckling!" for no reason I could understand. The drivers in the cars below often waved back and honked, including the driver of a large semi whose horn made The Princess giggle with glee.
We returned home for an afternoon snack of cinnamon rolls. I've used many cinnamon roll recipes over the years but had long thought that I could tweak my regular challah recipe just slightly for a good result. I replaced oil with melted butter, water with milk, and upped the sweetening just slightly for a delicious dough. I use my bread machine but it's basically challah dough, the easiest yeast dough in the world as far as I'm concerned, so making it by hand (or heavy duty mixer) should yield similarly delicious results. The recipe is here. Enjoy!
Saturday, January 27, 2007
As I gained my strength back I also gained my sense and I am so delighted that The Spouse and I made the decision to pull the boys out this week. It's like a cloud has lifted around here. The boys no longer "need" their computers for schoolwork and are suddenly back with us, hanging out in the the common areas of the house and even playing games together--real games, with boards and pieces not just pixels on a screen.
The Spouse and I are scrambling to make a plan because we do realize that the structure offered by Connections was a big draw for the boys. I guess they'll be wanting a daily list of tasks which is hard for me. Anything involving planning and organization is hard for me but hard is not necessarily bad.
Last night we went to a Kabbalat Shabbat service for the first time in ages. Friday nights are so hard for us, everyone is fried at the end of the week but that, of course, is exactly why coming together to welcome Shabbat is so very important. Plus the services were led by two good friends (one if Jonah's Hebrew tutor) who can always be counted on for spirit-lifting music and thoughtful discussion. Once we found out they were leading, we wanted to make the effort to go. Now that The Dark Lord is past his bar mitzvah he believes he never needs to set foot in a synagogue again and it was quite an effort to get him to come. I had to put up with lots of eye rolling and lame excuses but eventually stopped kvetching and joined us.
I woke up to a brilliantly sunny morning and was able to recognize it for the gift it is. I pulled on my trusty running shoes, grabbed my iPod and headed out the door for a good long walk. I hadn't done my full neighborhood loop (2.3 miles) in a couple of months for various reasons: time, weather, illness, whatever. I can usually come up with an excuse that will keep my sorry self in bed but I didn't even try this morning. I was anxious to get out and move. I started with the customary "hello" to the Muscovy duck around the corner, walked down through the sketchy part where I'm always a bit nervous, then the long walk up the hill, a quick stop to catch my breath, and then an easy walk home. I started this walk last spring in an attempt to get fit and lose some weight and came to find that I actually enjoyed this time to get to know my neighborhood and take note of changes as the months went by. After two horrible weeks of illness, I felt such immense joy at being able to get my body moving in the sunshine.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
While the relatives and schooling parents all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that we were finally doing something sensible with the boys, all our homeschooling friends had reactions ranging from doubt to horror. Why ever would we give up the autonomy and freedom of homeschooling for the experience of others deciding what, how, and when our children need to learn? Honestly, I was happy with the curriculum and felt that my kids would have a great academic foundation in the program. And I felt that having outside authorities night reduce the power struggles I was having with the boys about schoolwork.
We expected a transitional period but it’s now halfway through the school year and both boys are too busy to go anywhere or see friends. We feel trapped in the house, we hardly see anyone, and it’s always all about getting the work done. This is childhood? One child is perpetually “behind” and under pressure (and not surprisingly, acting out) while the other has found that computer based learning provides a world of distraction and that one can skate along doing shoddy work with few consequences. The Princess is stuck at home while I crack the whip over her brothers and I am bordering on depression from the stress of it all.
Oddly enough, the boys tell me that they want to continue with this program. When we talk about it, it’s the structure that appeals to them but not the pace. But we don’t get to make substantive adjustments with Connections. We haven’t found a way to make it work for our family.
While I dread hunting down resources, planning lessons, and developing curriculum again, I feel like this just isn’t a good fit. I know I can take what worked from this experience and adapt as necessary to come up with something that works for our family and helps my boys grow into themselves. I’ve sent in the letter stating our wish to pull the boys out. And I finally feel like I can breathe again.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I was honored when A's mother asked me to stay with her and provide support during her labor. It is such an astounding experience to witness labor and birth. All did not go as planned and there were, in my opinion, things that might have led to an easier birth, but it the entire experience was unforgettable. I tried so hard to be there for my friend and her husband despite my exhaustion from the child growing inside me. I so wanted her to have a positive, empowering birth experience and was frustrated when I couldn't help that come to pass. Eventually A arrived, tiny and perfect and magnificent and I got to hold her right at the beginning and gaze into her astounding eyes. That five years have passed since that night is somehow more astounding to me than the years that have passed since my own children's births and each birthday reminds me how honored I was to witness the birth of this child.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
With this excellent track record I was delighted to find a "new" green rice in Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen. This version is creamy sand elegant, with the gentle bite of fire roasted chiles and velvety sour cream. I still have a few bags of treasured roasted chiles in the freezer from the farmers' market chile man and this is an honorable way to put them to good use. I added corn kernels to make it more of a green-and-yellow rice, and to very good effect, I think. Green Rice with Roasted Green Chiles and Leeks is a keeper--a perfect dish for a cold night and hungry family.
I decided to work on a new project--I've long wanted to try a scrap yarn sweater so yesterday I assembled odd balls of yarn for a cardigan and cast on for a basic top down cardigan for The Princess. The yarns run the gamut from Lamb's Pride to my own Kool-Aid dying experiment with quite a few balls of unknown origin tossed into the mix. A very promising beginning but I dread weaving in all those ends down the road.I've had lots and lots of time to visit other blogs and I have found some real gems. My little efforts here in blogland are rather paltry compared to some of the wonders out there--watch the blogroll for new additions of you are interested. But the most serendipitous find du jour (given the project I just started) is The Random Stripe Generator. I am a fool for stripes so I had all kinds of fun with this. Take a look and have your own stripy fun.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
I'm drinking my first cup of coffee since I got sick--what a treat! The little things in life are good, no? As we walked in the snow, I thought of Happy Winter Fudge Cake, a recipe from Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking which along with the earlier Home Cooking, is one of the most read books in my library. Colwin's novels are not my favorites but her food writing is spectacular. Reading her essays about food and cooking is like hanging out in the kitchen with a clever, talented and much loved friend. Of course there are wonderful recipes but there's more: an enthusiasm for making and sharing food that is contagious and inspiring. Whenever I find myself in a funk a re-read of either of these books will quickly set things right.
The phone keeps ringing as baffled students call to figure out if they need to venture out to school tonight. I am happy to tell them "stay home, keep warm". We have a cozy fire, lovely music, leftovers in the fridge and there's nothing ahead of me but a long night of knitting--bliss! I'm not even knitting alone. The Spouse has gone into the second skein of his eternal vest project and MonkeyBoy has picked up the needles again in the last few days. "Mom", he said, "I love knitting. I really love knitting. I love knitting while it's snowing best of all". That's my boy!
Sunday, January 14, 2007
In the past 48 hours I have done very little but sleep, read, and knit: the red scarf is nearly finished and I read the new 500 page Philippa Gregory novel in under 48 hours. Her historical novels about Tudor England are definitely one of my guilty pleasures, and having the latest show up on the library holds shelf Friday afternoon was extremely good fortune as The Bug began to have its way with me. Also I've had lots of fun browsing craft blogs and wishing I felt well enough to head downstairs and do some sewing.
If I ever had any doubts about my husband's love for me (I didn't, by the way) they would surely be erased by how well he's cared for me this weekend. He made the trip to Salvador Molly's to bring me some spicy macaroni pie which I adore. Currently he and The Princess are out buying supplies to make vegetarian gumbo which will undoubtedly restore me to full vigor. For two days he's done everything (dishes, cooking, laundry) and kept the kids relatively quiet. So even though I feel like warmed over garbage today, I do know how very lucky I am.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
I was pleased to see how many of the women took the needles from me as I was trying to demonstrate, anxious to get to work. One kept trying to indicate that she was left-handed which I've never really factored in while teaching someone to knit. After a few frustrating rows, she grabbed the needles, turned everything around and got to work figuring out how to do it her way. I look forward to seeing what she's come up with by next week. The women seemed to have a great time, hanging out, schmoozing, and laughing at their mistakes. The began to help each other out, and the smiles as a row was completed were priceless. I am so grateful that I fell into such a wonderful opportunity.
He's not terribly well known in the US which is probably why his latest studio album wasn't even released here. It's all in French which probably doesn't do much for sales on our side of the pond. I've only been able to find extremely expensive copies of this CD (like $60 and up) until one day in December when I took a peek on eBay and, miraculously, there was a copy of this very CD with a starting bid of $7.50.
Something went horribly wrong years ago in the process of setting up my account and things became so colossally screwed up that I have never been able to use eBay. And it's probably just as well, really. But when I found this album I simply had to have it. I called on the able assistance of a dear friend who managed to win it for me despite a few hours of competition with some Italian guy. I was considering emailing the guy and explaining to him that since he could actually buy the CD in Italy it would be really nice if he would just let me get it. But I don't speak Italian. Nonetheless he must have sensed my agitation because he stopped bidding and the CD was mine. It's been pointed out that I could have likely special ordered this from any number of music shops here in town, but I rather like this roundabout way of getting my hands on this CD. The best part? It was mailed from Bulgaria! You just don't get stories like this with iTunes!
And the music, unsurprisingly, is great. I'm on my 3rd time through (it would have been more were it not for my job!) and I'm liking it more with each listen. There are a few familiar musical bits from earlier albums but the sound is very distinctive. The lyrics, alternating from silly to serious to indecipherable (for me anyway) are entirely in French and Manu's voice is warm and rich. The album seems somehow simpler and more personal than earlier works. I'm delighted to have this new addition to my collection.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Hopefully you'll find something to tide you over as you eagerly await my next post. Warning--the volume should be slowing down as today is Day 1 of Winter Term. I will need to actually tidy up, put on proper clothes and teach some English 4 nights a week which will likely be a bit of a shock to my system after 3 luxurious weeks of vacation.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Somewhere between health care reform and The Yarn Harlot my stomach began to rumble. French toast made from Friday night challah is pretty standard on Saturday mornings when we're home. Yesterday's challah was absolutely delicious, the best I've made in months. I don't know why this is, I use exactly the same recipe week after week but there are always variations in the final product. Yesterday's challah was soft, sweet, golden, and perfectly cooked. The Dark Lord and I did some quick calculations and figured I'd probably made close to 800 challahs in the last 10 years, so declaring yesterday's loaves in the top 40 was pretty good, I thought. But I don't much like French toast. I wanted something sweet, but with a little kick. Something to go with coffee. Clearly I needed French Cinnamon Puffs, a rich, eggy muffin-like thing rolled in butter and cinnamon sugar. If you haven't yet figured this out, we are a butter positive family!
These are actually full of wonderful associations for me. As a teen I spent an inordinate amount of time hanging out with friends downtown at the Coffee Ritz. This was way before Starbucks came to Portland, before lattes, before there was a coffee shop on every corner. We would take the bus into town after school and hang out for hours drinking black coffee and people watching. Most of my babysitting money went for coffee but when I was flush I could splurge on a French Cinnamon Puff, with its buttery, sugar-crunchy topping. Absolute heaven.
And then I forgot all about them for many years. Around the time MonkeyBoy was born I began craving these things like a madwoman, which how my cravings always come on. If I had had a computer with internet access in those days no doubt I could have found a recipe in no time. But this was during the Dark Ages, so to speak, so if it wasn't at the library or Powell's, it wasn't available and with infant MonkeyBoy and toddler Dark Lord, my browsing time was severely limited. One day, lo and behold, my marvelous Aunt Nancy sent one of her always appreciated packages. This contained, among other things, a cookbook entitled Breakfast in Bed. If cookbook addiction is hereditary, I blame Aunt Nancy for she surely passed it on to me, along with many wonderful cookbooks. Within this small book I found a recipe for the puffs of my youth.
I have since made them many times. Recently they were on the menu for a Sunday brunch with friends, one of whom grew up here and knew exactly what I was putting on the table. It was a wonderful moment of connection. We didn't know each other as teens but had shared this experience though she actually worked at the Coffee Ritz and apparently suffered mightily whereas I was merely a customer.
The original recipe was stupid in that it only made about 8 good sized puffs. I'm sorry--who has an 8 cup muffin tin? Ridiculous! So I've upped the quantities just slightly in order to fill a normal person's muffin tin.
Even though they are called Cinnamon Puffs, the hint of nutmeg in the batter is crucial. I have not been a huge lover of nutmeg over the years, but it's growing on me. One of the very few actually cool places I've discovered in mid-county is the wonderfully exotic Anoush Deli which is full of all kinds of goodies from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. For pennies, one can buy a handful of whole nutmegs for grating at the Anoush. When you run them over your Microplane grater, not only are you rewarded with a heavenly aroma, but they are beautiful to look at as well. I think so anyway. So try the Puffs. Let me know what you think.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
I just heard back from a woman who posted to the Portland Stitch and Bitch list last month. She was looking for a volunteer to teach knitting to refugee women. I don't think anyone could have come up with a more perfect volunteer position for me. Knitting and ESL? Yeehaw! I can even bring the kids! I am extremely excited about this. Maybe The Dark Lord's Peace through Yarn logo was prophetic. I start next Wednesday.....yippee!
Last month The Spouse and I happened upon a wonderful show of paintings at a coffeehouse in SE Portland. Ryan Dobrowski was showing 300 (!) 5.5" square paintings which were simply delightful: birds, bicycles, plants, and much more. We bought two of these tiny pieces of art--it was very hard to choose just 2--and waited all month for the show to come down. I picked up the paintings today and can't wait to get them up on the walls.
Tonight we'll be going to an opening at The Portland Art Center where my dear friend Laura has work in a group show entitled THE OTHER PORTLAND Art & Ecology in the 5th Quadrant. I find it odd that a show whose theme is North Portland is showing downtown, but no one ever asks my opinion.
(Today) is an historic moment for the Congress, and an historic moment for the women of this country. It is a moment for which we have waited over 200 years. Never losing faith, we waited through the many years of struggle to achieve our rights. But women weren't just waiting; women were working. Never losing faith, we worked to redeem the promise of America, that all men and women are created equal. For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling. For our daughters and our granddaughters, the sky is the limit, anything is possible for them.
The entire text of her speech is available here.
I'm delighted to see Pelosi as Speaker, not only as a groundbreaking role for US women but because she promises to be a counterweight to Bush.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Monday, January 01, 2007
We were invited to eat Portzelkje today at the home of some new friends. All I knew was that they were some variation on fried dough and since Chanukah's been over for all of 10 days it must be time to eat fried food again. It was a lovely afternoon -- just the kind of experience to bode well for 2007.
Since it was New Year's Day, it seemed black eyed peas should be on the dinner menu, not that they've ever been customary in my family. But still. The problem, of course, was coming up with a nice, flavorful vegetarian recipe. I figured I'd find something tasty in Passionate Vegetarian (thanks, Karen!) and I was not disappointed. The dish is called Dancin’ John: New South Black-Eyed Peas and Rice and is absolutely delicious, chock full of tasty veggies and warm spices. With some thick slices of crusty bread it was perfect. Next time I might even throw in some thinly sliced mustard greens or kale towards the end but it was most tasty just as written. And even vegan--not a big deal to me, but a subject of interest to many.
I have been trying to figure out a good way to get recipes out there in an easy-to-manage format. If anyone is actually looking at these, please let me know if the current set-up works. Thanks.