Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wild Night

My ears are still ringing just slightly after spending last night at The Roseland watching Manu Chao. There's no one in the last ten years whose music I've loved like I love his. It seems simple and repetitive but really there's a so much going on, so many rhythms and textures and languages. There's no one like him and he rarely tours the US so I was stunned that he chose to come to Portland.

I've had a number of false starts getting to see this guy. We were on the verge of blowing all the money we'd saved for The Dark Lord's bar mitzvah last summer so we could fly down to see Manu in Berkeley but the date conflicted with an old friend's wedding. When this year's first tour dates were announced, I immediately bought tickets for Sasquatch despite the huge production I knew that would be: the six hour drive, staying over, all the other bands I didn't want to sit through...but I was willing to put up with it all just for a chance to see Manu live. Luckily I was able to move those tickets along to someone who really wanted to make that trip.

I am not a concertgoer in general. Zoo concerts are about my speed these days and even they can be too crowded and loud for me. Nonetheless I needed to be at this show early for a good spot. We were relieved to see that we weren't the oldest folks in line. The crowd was good mix of all kinds of folks: lots of Latinos, the expected hippie kids, a very proper looking French couple, and lots of folks our age who've no doubt loved Manu as long as we have.

I made it clear to The Spouse that I wasn't going to be lost in the back where I wouldn't be able to see anything and he generously stayed right between me and some of the more boisterous folks. What a guy!

The show started a bit late, there were clearly some sound issues that were eventually sorted out. And then the band came on stage to wild applause. Once they started playing, I don't think they really stopped at all--one song blended seamlessly into the next. Everyone around me seemed to know the lyrics and we all enjoyed singing along. The band mixed up lyrics and melodies from time to time, completely changing the nature of some of the familiar songs making them into something completely different. They played nearly all of my favorites (only Minha Galera was missing) and U really enjoyed the expereince of hearing them live.

The band's energy was incredible--I honestly do no know how they can do this night after night. Manu's a few years older than I am but he just comes out and plays and sings and dances and jumps around like crazy. It was great to be up so close to watch the band members interact and play off each other and the audience--I would have missed all that had I been further back in the crowd.

It was super hot and I was achy and wildly thirsty when it ended. My ears were ringing, I'd been elbowed and stepped on, and knocked about more than I would have liked. All this was a very small price to pay to see Manu live. It really was fantastic. I'd waited for this for so long that I had feared nothing would live up to my expectations--how marvelous that I was dead wrong on that.

Now I need to go pick up the kids and get on with my regularly scheduled adult life. But it's nice to know that even responsible middle aged mamas can have a wild night from time to time.

Monday, May 28, 2007


This is my second pair of Embossed Leaves socks this year, fresh off the needles and not yet washed or blocked. I made the first pair for myself in a leaf green wool; these are knitted in a lovely merino silk blend for Laura. Most of my most challenging knitting has been for Laura--I guess something about knitting for her takes away some of the frustration and just leaves me feeling good about learning new skills and proving to myself that I'm up to the challenge.

Laura is one of my favorite people ever. I met her a few years ago and she became one of my dearest friends in almost no time. She has stood by me through more hard things than I care to count. She is loyal and strong and just the person you want to have on your side. I just can't help but be happy around her.

I planned to have these socks done for her April birthday and was making good progress until I started to hear her plans about grad school, plans that involved moving across the country. Things went well for her and she's been offered an incredible offer to study, far from Portland. Of course I am delighted for her but I have a hard time showing it because I am so sad about her leaving. Our families have grown close and we're all having a hard time with it. And my knitting has suffered. I don't know how many times I had to restart the second sock. I kept making mistakes with the lace pattern, some days ripping out more than I'd managed to knit .

I didn't really want to finish these socks. Somehow in my mind that made their departure more real to me. Even though I know this is a tremendous opportunity for her, I selfishly don't want her to go. At least I know her feet will be warm through those cold Midwestern winters.

Mosaic #2

A sample of this week's favorite photos on Flickr. Flowers and colored glass are always beautiful, I'm a fool for beads and jewelry and how about that henna? I just had some henna work done myself and the lady who decorated me looks a lot like the woman in the green veil.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


One thing about being a member of one of the minor religions--there's no large scale buildup for our holidays, especially the lesser known ones. So Shavuot just kind of crept up on me this year, amid the staff meetings, volunteering stints, brake jobs, cell phone outages, and the rest of the many things that went on this week. I mean, I knew it was coming. I've been quietly counting the days since Passover and I knew the seven weeks of counting was coming to an end but I just didn't have it together to celebrate Shavuot in traditional Ashkenazic fashion. I know, I know, I'm a bad Jew.

The result of all this carelessness? No blintzes this year. Shavuot is traditionally associated with dairy foods and cheese blintzes are the height of dairy cooking. They take forever to make: you have to make a pile of tiny crepelike pancakes, wrap them around a filling made of eggs, cream cheese, and cottage cheese or ricotta, and then fry them again in lots of butter without having them fall apart. I serve them with fresh fruit and lots of sour cream.

I am one of many folks who don't handle large amounts of dairy well but I'll gladly take some pills and suffer a stomachache for blintzes once a year just for that perfect combination of buttery/tangy/fruity/creamy that is the ideal blintz. I recently read a great post over at The Jew and The Carrot talking about lactose intolerance and a dairy based holiday. Kind of a niche piece, but I found it interesting.

So...while a full on holiday blintz fest isn't in the cards this year, we do have a birthday brunch coming up this weekend providing a perfect opportunity to serve up blintz souffle, a dish that's never failed me. It uses all the same ingredients as regular blintzes, but it's all layered in a large baking dish and served with fruit on the side. The taste is very similar to real blintzes though without the buttery note that comes form frying up the filled blintzes. But it still had the tangy/creamy/fruity thing going on. My friend Elaine posted the recipe to one of the Jewish food lists ages ago and I'm sure it's fed hundreds if not thousands of happy eaters since then. If you're at a local farmers market and come across some perfect berries, there's no better way to honor them than by serving them up alongside blintz souffle.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Finally....The Garden

Most years I am in a frenzy over the garden by this point. I'm not sure why, but the usual excitement hasn't yet struck this year. Maybe it's the ongoing turf battle with the cats. Our lovely raised beds look like giant litter boxes to them and we have to resort to all sorts of fortification to protect the plants:

I think this guy is the main culprit:

I wandered around the yard this morning looking at empty raised beds and forlorn pots just begging to be filled. Despite gray skies and the old Portland gardeners' adage to wait until Rose Festival to put tomatoes in, I packed up the kids and headed off to my favorite all purpose nursery. I had $10 off coupon from one of their mailings and used it toward the cart full of plants I picked out: 5 varieties of tomatoes, Ichiban eggplant, a lemon cucumber, Genovese Basil, Bright Lights chard and a whole bunch of cheery annuals for my pots as well as seeds for tiny carrots, lettuce, and arugula. Next I need to find starts for the crazy hot red mustard I love and one good zucchini start and I'll be set!

Mosaic Monday

Mosaic #2
Originally uploaded by Magpie Ima.
I was invited to join a Flickr Group called Mosaic Monday where avid flickristas share photo mosaics of their favorite pictures. It's a great way to expose people to new photographers and images, but I also like the snapshot view of what attracts me. Clicking on the mosaic will take you over to Flickr where you can explore each image individually. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Weeked Getaway

I feel like the luckiest person in the world as I got to spend the weekend at the beach with a lovely group of women. There was great food, new music, lots of yarn, and much conversation. I took a long walk on the beach, soaked in the hot tub, visited a new yarn store, played with a new technique to share with the refugee knitters, and had a marvelous, relaxing time. I thought fondly of my family but wasn't gone long enough to actually miss them.

I think the most decadent part of the whole weekend was when I woke up early yesterday morning. I'd planned to take another brisk walk but it was raining steadily. So I closed the windows, snuggled back down in bed, and picked up my book for a long, luxurious read. The best part? I've read the book a number of times before so I know just how good it is! I can't think of the last time I got to lie around in bed in the morning and read . What pleasure! Of course, I owe it all to my dear sweet husband who was a single parent for two days so I could have fun. I am indeed lucky.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Potato Cauliflower Curry

The boys had friends over today for the regular gaming session. Normally I try to feed the crowd something relatively nutritious and am always grateful for whatever snacks other parents bring. Today I was completely uninspired and had nothing better to offer than baked potatoes when I remembered a head of cauliflower in the fridge. Just like that I began dreaming about some kind of aloo gobi, potato and cauliflower curry. I went straight to the ever reliable Madhur Jaffrey and was not disappointed.

I filled the rice cooker with basmati rice along with cinnamon sticks and crushed cardamom pods to flavor the cooking water and then on to the curry. I cut some peeled potatoes into chunks and fried them until golden, likewise an entire head of cauliflower which had been broken into small florets. Once they were nice and brown, I removed them from the oil and then quickly fried a good pile of minced fresh ginger. Back in the pan with the potatoes and cauliflower along with a few basic curry spices: ground cumin, coriander and cayenne. After adding a bit of water and simmering until the potatoes were tender, we had a lovely meal to enjoy in the May sunshine. The picky kids eating baked potatoes had no idea what they were missing!

I fiddled with the recipe just slightly, adding extra water and upping the spices accordingly in order to make a slightly saucier dish than the original. It was a snap to make and quite delicious. Give it a try. The recipe is here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Not Much Cooking

All those lofty goals about using this blog to focus attention on my need to cook more and eat better? Unfortunately, it hasn't been working. I've made a few things here and there but have mostly been subsisting on kefir and quesadillas and smoothies. And the $2.25 Asian vegetable sandwich at Best Baguette, my new all time favorite takeout place. Crispy baguettes, savory tofu, and pickled veggies--absolutely perfect and an unbeatable price!

I usually try to make an effort on Fridays for our Shabbat dinner. I recently got my hands on a library copy of The Simple Art of Perfect Baking after coming across a reference to it here. It's full of lovely looking things but my first experience was not at all positive. Some of the mistakes were mine and some of it was the confusing recipe, but I'd hoped the lemon tart with blueberries would be considerably more interesting than it turned out to be.

My plan was to double the recipe and make a full sized tart as well as a few dozen tartlettes (tartitos? tartini? tartichki?) to bring to a luncheon Saturday morning. I had trouble with the crust, trouble with the filling, I forgot ingredients, you name it, I found a way to mess up. In the end they were fairly tasty but hardly worth all the hoo-ha.

The cookbook is definitely on the fussy side for my level of baking but I'm going to hang on to it until summer. There's a peach cake made with a brown sugar genoise that sounds like heaven to me.

Happy Mothers Day!

How am I celebrating? I'm happily set up at one of my favorite cafes. Alone. I've been here since 8:30 this morning and I really have gotten lots of work done. I'm not finished but, for heaven's sake, I've done enough for Mothers' Day!

But I wanted to write a bit in honor of today, for all those women who've helped me become the mother that I am.

Honestly, I don't remember a lot of my mother from when I was young. My parents divorced when I was five and she wasn't a big part of my life for many years. I like to think that she was doing her best for us by letting my father raise us, because I can't imagine how hard it would be away from your kids. Despite dealing with numerous chronic health issues, she just keeps fighting. She's never given up on me and she is still willing to work on our sometimes challening relationship and I do really admire that.

My grandmother figured very strongly during this time and continues to do so. How fortunate I am to have had such a long relationship with her. She was the steadfast source of unconditional love, something every child needs. It may not be true, but I felt I could do no wrong in my grandmother's eyes and that's been a powerful source of strength for me. From my grandmother I've learned how important it is to treat a child like the most special person in the world.

My father remarried when I was 11 and, while it took a while for our new family to come together, my stepmother took us all in and loved us in her generous and wickedly funny way. She's strong and stubborn and can always find the humor in any situation. She taught me that sometimes you simply have to laugh or you'll never make it.

My mother-in-law has always been so proud and adoring of her boys, and interested in supporting them even when their choices have been very different from those of their parents. She's accepted and supported our choice to homeschool with enthusiasm and always made us feel that we've made good choices. What a gift that acceptance and support has been!

There are so many friends out there that have cheered my kids on and listened to my doubts and made this whole crazy journey a lot more pleasant than if I were alone. Some of you are mothers yourselves and others not, but you've all made the world a better place for my kids and me. I'm assuming you all know who you are. Thank you so very much!

Now...go look at this picture. I think it says so much about being a mama and it makes me smile!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Some Good, Some Bad

Oy, what a week. Work is crazy! We had to give the students a standardized test on the computer. Mind you, some of my students have touched a computer fewer than ten times. They are expected to deal with headphones and recording. The test is for 9-12th graders, never mind that most of mine read at a level of 3rd grade or below. But because of No Child Left Behind (one more reason I hate George Bush!), we must test our students or risk losing funding. The test gives us no useful information and, more importantly, leaves the students feeling incompetent, but rules are rules, no matter how stupid. Grrr......

We're still deep in curriculum revision and got a sudden offer of free textbooks from the school district. A nice offer, but I was up late reviewing the books to see if they were appropriate. This after I'd already been at work for 7 hours what with a long staff meeting before class. I'm tired.

My students have been so rowdy and noisy and they are driving me bonkers. I was so frustrated when I left class the other night that I actually cried one the way home. Cried. For the first time in 17 years I left class in tears. That's how difficult this group is.

Top all that with the notes being found on our campuses on a daily basis threatening Virginia Tech style violence and I am pretty much a wreck.

But there's been good this week as well. I've spent a few hours wallowing in Flickr goodness and being inspired to take up my camera more often, especially when people leave such nice comments for me. I love my comments, wherever they come!

And...we had a banner day yesterday at the refugee knitting circle. Lots of women showed up and we had a really great session. A few of the ladies even let me take and share their photos. Look at these faces! Are these women not beautiful? So much strength and grace. I do feel very lucky to have the opportunity to spend time with them each week.

Monday, May 07, 2007


I think it started with trying to take gorgeous, sexy food pictures for The Other Blog. I've done lots of research trying to improve my skills and find that Heidi's photos make me want to lick my laptop screen. But it's more than food. Suddenly I am paying attention to photography everywhere. I find that I love browsing the galleries on Flickr. I've just discovered Mosaic Monday at Poppalina and it's like a perfectly displayed box of eye candy. I can't get enough of all these wonderful photos and I find that I am beginning to see things differently. I'm starting to pine for a new camera (why, oh why, can't I ever just be content?) but, making do with what I've got, here are a favorite of my recent photos:

Handmade and Lovely

The Spouse and I spent hours this weekend at (of all places) the Oregon Convention Center where we visited the annual displays by local craftspeople. We went initially for the Oregon Potters' Associations Ceramic Showcase which was huge and splendid. Pottery is an art form that's very mysterious (and somewhat nerve wracking) to me. I'm always afraid of knocking something over. But it was worth it--so many gorgeous colors and forms. I bought a replacement for the much lamented blue pasta bowl that had been a constant companion in our kitchen for years. The new model is very different with jaunty vertical stripes and a lovely matte finish but will, like all blue dishes, make food look wonderful.

We also managed to visit the annual showcase events of the Portland Handweavers Guild (where I bought some lovely hand dyed organic cotton yarn destined for a baby kimono and wished I could buy one of the huge woven willow balls), the Fine Woodworkers (who had wonderful chairs made of limbs and branches), the Portland Bead Society and the Oregon Glass Guild. It was heaven, I tell you. So many bright and shiny things, and beautiful shapes and textures.

As lovely as all these things were, I was well and truly lost when I entered the room where the Creative Metal Arts Guild was doing their thing. I spent a lot of time taking in the simple and appealing designs of Stubborn. I really went wild over the work of Rebecca Scheer, another artist working in the simplest of shapes. The Spouse, clearly aware of both my enthusiasm and his impending responsibility on the upcoming holiday, suggested a solution that worked well for both of us and I am now the proud owner of a pair of these bought as an early Mothers' Day gift. I love them so much-- they're simple but unusual. The circles are both graceful and fun in a bubbly sort of way.

Two of three kids came along, despite much protest on the part of MonkeyBoy who was sure it was going to be ......boring. (Where did my kids learn this word? I never taught them to say "boring"!). But we dragged him along and it only took a little bit of candy to cheer him up and suddenly he was quite interested in all the wonderful things, especially once one of the nice weaving ladies handed him and his sister a card and some threads to start learning some simple kumihimo which occupied them both for quite some time. I was thrilled that The Princess was able to manage this easily. She's been dying to join me in some sort of handcraft but knitting and crochet are still to difficult for her tiny hands.

As we were leaving MonkeyBoy pointed out that not one of the hundreds of beautiful, unique, handmade items could possibly be bought at Target. Good point, kiddo! And therein lies the beauty of handmade things.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Immensely Pleased!

Perhaps because I read so many knitting blogs I find myself generally unwilling to write about my own projects. I mean, when there are people out there writing books about knitting and going on tour and running yarn shops and making people laugh, well, my little efforts seem too piddly to blog about. Except that I am delighted with my current finished object so here goes.

Currently on the needles I have a baby blanket (nearly half finished), a prayer shawl (so close to finished that there's really no excuse for it not being finished), the final sock for a very belated birthday gift (which, like all second socks, is not going as smoothly as the first) , and an experimental sweater for The Princess. Enough to keep anyone good and busy, for sure.

But what did I get carried away with this week? A dishcloth. A simple cotton dishcloth. The pattern comes from the wonderful Mason Dixon Knitting. I resisted buying the book for quite some time because, well, quite honestly, I already have a few knitting books and try to mostly stick to borrowing them from the library. More money for yarn, you know. But after reading about a few knitters' experiences with the MDK baby kimono, I decided I needed the book as I was looking for some simple baby sweaters to accompany the baby blanket, all of which are destined to be wrapped around my former student Yasmin's new daughter in the summer.

I meant to get started on that kimono and then got sidetracked by the ball band dishcloth which started to ring all my bells. Why? Maybe it's the clever slip stitch which looks more complicated than it really is (if you pay attention, anyway--if you don't it actually is complicated, trust me). But I think what I love are the repeating blocks of color--I've always loved repeated squares and dots and I think this works on me on the same way. I found some ridiculously garish yarn and am completely charmed by the result. More of these to come, for sure!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Tomorrow Begins Today

After a brief session with the refugee knitters this morning, I took the boys downtown to hear John Edwards speak at the longshoreman's union hall. I've written about him before because, so far, he's the only Democratic candidate for president in 2008 that really appeals to me. Some of the key points he raised in his appearance:
  • Ending the war in Iraq as soon as possible
  • Closing Guantanamo so the US is no longer engaged in torture
  • Addressing the climate crisis and ending our dependence on foreign oil
  • Providing affordable access to health care for all Americans
  • Strengthening the working and middle classes through college access, union membership, and equitable taxes
  • Changing the laws regarding predatory lenders and bankruptcy
  • Restoring America's moral leadership in the world
The hall was packed and the crowd loved what he had to say. Unfortunately he didn't have time to answer all the questions people had. I had hoped to ask for his thoughts on illegal immigration but didn't get the opportunity.

I have to say I was disappointed in his lack of unequivocal support for gay marriage but he does support civil unions which seems a step in the right direction and is surely more than many other candidates would offer on the issue. I'm one who believes the state shouldn't even be involved in the marriage business, though. Civil unions (with all the rights and privileges currently accorded only to heterosexual marriages) for everyone and head off to your preferred house of worship for a marriage ceremony that works with you spiritual beliefs....or not, as the case may be.

I'm hoping to take the boys to hear other democratic candidates though I confess I'm not sure I could sit through something similar held by Republicans, even for the sake of my kids' education. So far none of the other Democrats (apart from Kucinich, who doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning an election) has really held my interest. Hillary's way too chummy with the big corporations and Obama seems vague and inexperienced. Edwards is looking good enough to me that I can overlook the whole haircut brouhaha which looks like a bunch of hooey anyway. Apparently when you're super rich (as every presidential candidate is) you spend tons of money on things the rest of us manage to live without. Personally I find it much easier to support a wealthy man who thinks about the rest of us than one who doesn't. Like, say, King George and his friends.

The Dark Lord shares his observations here. He was very attentive and I so enjoyed hearing his thoughts afterwards. I'm so delighted that he's taking an interest and has thoughtful responses to what he heard today.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A First!

Way back in the pre-parenting dark ages I developed a sudden interest in birding. It was as if a switch had been flipped and I suddenly started seeing all the birds around me and actually caring what they were. I think it's a family thing as all the women on my mom's side of the family know (or knew) their birds and knew them well. I purchased a number of reference books and pored over them, absorbing information about habitat and calls. I remember dreaming about birds at various times. I had a pretty good life list going back then but it all came to a screeching halt once kids entered my life as they really aren't the best birding companions.

We took a trip with friends to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge today and it was a birder's paradise with marshy areas, open water, grasslands, and forest. Amazingly, I even remembered to bring along my binoculars and a field guide. We saw all kinds of things: herons, egrets, doves, swallows, flycatchers, and more. But when a large brown bird took off from the cattails, I was stumped. The boys had run ahead with the field guide so it took me a while to look it up and, lo and behold, it was one of these:The American Bittern is not particularly rare, but they're shy and not easy to spot. They always looked so endearing in the bird books as they are usually shown holding their bills aloft in an attempt to look like pond grass. I'd never thought about what they might look like flying, but there was no doubt that's what I'd seen. This was a bird I'd always wanted to see so it felt like quite a triumph once I identified it.
Our outing was lovely. No rain, but no hot sun, either. At 4.2 miles, the walk turned out to be just a bit longer than the 1.5 we'd planned on, but we started out in the wrong place and by the time we realized our error we were far enough along the trail that it made no sense to go back. The kids whined and I ended up carrying The Princess for the last of it, but it was a fine spring outing nonetheless.