Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
What surprises me is not how many people are struggling with health care but the lame attempts our presidential hopefuls have made to address the issue. Both the Democratic nominees have plans which provide huge handouts to the insurance companies without making any significant changes to a broken system. And McCain, unsurprisingly, offers even less.
I can't imagine any of them has had to borrow the money to take a sick child to the doctor or try and determine when heart palpitations are bad enough to merit the years of debt incurred by an emergency room visit. I'll bet they'd pay a lot more attention if their cushy health benefits were slashed.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
I shouldn't complain as The Spouse flew down only to drive us home. I spent most of the drive knitting but it just went on and on and on....
We stopped for lunch in Winters--my mother-in-law met us and we had a lovely meal. There was snow in the mountains and on and off all through Oregon, but nothing to cause us any trouble. We had dinner in Roseburg, the kids got quiet in the back and The Spouse and I chatted quietly all the way home. We arrived to find three love-starved cats who were delighted to have their people back.
There's a lot coming in the next week but I'm not quite ready to shift gears.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
On our way back to the house we stopped and bought fresh strawberries from some folks on a street corner. Not the best berries I've had in my life, but also not the woody frankenberries I'd expect in March. They were bright and fragrant and absolutely delicious. There are some magical things about California. Towering palms and citrus trees in side yards always strike me as just a bit fantastical. I'll add delicious March strawberries to that list.
I drove (on my own! in rush hour traffic!) to pick up The Spouse from the airport and I can't even express how happy I was to see him. We've never been apart this long and while I'd been having a great time on this trip there was definitely something missing.
We went out for a fantastic meal. Saravanaa Bhavan is apparently a worldwide chain--"a synergy of taste and quality" no less. This particular location is not terribly exotic. It looks like a former Shari's though upon entering the giant refrigerated case is filled not with pies but huge trays of Indian sweets. The food is South Indian and vegetarian--there was nothing I couldn't eat. We let Sanjay handle the ordering and we ended up with no room on the table. I don't even know what all we ate but everything was delicious from the yogurt and chutneys to the delicious dosas and idli. I won't soon forget that feast!
We left full, but not too full for ice cream. Real Ice Cream may lack somewhat in ambiance but the ice cream more than makes up for the fluorescent lights. There were flavors like cookie dough and rocky road, but also cardamom, saffron, fig, and rose. Definitely not Ben and Jerry's.
When Sanjay asked me if I'd like try a paan, I was game. I've read enough to know what I was getting in to: various nuts and spices wrapped in a betel leaf, taken as a post meal digestive. I was not prepared for the sustained explosion of flavors in my mouth--sweet, fruity, nutty, minty, and more. It took forever to finish and the flavor stayed with me for hours. Quite an experience, and thoughtfully documented by Colleen who gleefully took pictures with her iPhone.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Yesterday we started with a cooking project and a little computer embellishment. I love the new look Colleen gave my old laptop.
Later we headed to Fremont to see a Hindi movie at the Naz 8 cinema. Our entry to the theater was not smooth but eventually we made it in and I was able to eat samosas while watching the movie which was a bit of a thrill. Afterwards I had my first ever bhel puri at a nearby restaurant and loved it--a total explosion of flavor and textures that I'm ready to eat again. We even stopped in at an Indian video store where MonkeyBoy and I picked up a copy of our favorite goofy movie.
Today we packed everyone up and drove to San Francisco and spent a good long time wandering around Chinatown. We had a tasty lunch, explored a bit more then took off in rush hour traffic to visit ArtFibers, a lovely little shop up a flight of creaky stairs where the one-of-a-kind yarns cover every wall. I was very restrained and limited myself to 100 grams of gorgeous green silk. I could have stayed and petted yarn for hours but with 6 kids in tow, we kept it brief.
We'd hoped to have dinner in the Mission District at a highly recommended taqueria but the kids were starting to fade so we made one last stop at Tartine where Colleen miraculously found parking right in front of the shop. She emerged with our dinner to go: a delicious asparagus quiche and cream pies that surpassed anything I've ever eaten. Wow. And apparently there are breakfast treats for tomorrow, our last day in California.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Wheat and chickpea flours are mixed together and cooked in copious amounts of ghee. Meanwhile a sugar syrup comes to a boil and is eventually mixed into the ghee dough until "thread like flakes" appear, obviously key to that heavenly texture. Unsurprisingly this was the part that completely eluded us. We beat and beat but there was nary a flake to be found. Defeated, we spread the dough into a pan to cool, and topped it with freshly ground cardamom and melon seeds. The resulting sweet was tasty but nothing like what we'd hoped. I was surprised at how little information I was able to find. I would love to know more about the process by which threadlike flakes come to be. I definitely want to take another stab at this.
Monday, March 24, 2008
We spent the afternoon in a park while kids ran wild and I fell in love with a small dog. I'm a sworn cat person so this was quite out of character for me.
There was a flock of wild parrots making quite a racket in the trees.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
But we're adjusting.
We headed west to spend the day at the beach. It was an easy drive to Santa Cruz where we went to the boardwalk. I'm not a ride person but The Princess and I did manage to sail above the crowds in a mercifully slow overhead tram. The sun was shining, the sea was sparking---this was clearly not Portland in March.
Leaving Santa Cruz I got a happy honk and a wave for my John Edwards bumper sticker which made my day! We drove north along highway 1 and (yes I know I'm repeating myself) it was breathtakingly gorgeous. We spent a couple of breezy hours on the sand at Half Moon Bay, flying kites and collecting shells--a perfect beach visit.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Further south we Oregonians thrilled to the magic of palm trees and orange groves. The Dark Lord took the photos as I drove.
Our leisurely sightseeing came to an abrupt end when we left I-5 and veered off towards San Francisco. The traffic increased, the freeway lanes multiplied, and the road surface became unpleasantly rough. Things were a bit tense as we attempted to navigate the East Bay and when I was sure we were hopelessly lost suddenly all the highway numbers began to make sense and our exit magically appeared before us. We arrived safe and sound at our friends' lovely home in San Jose and have been making plans for the next few days while eating Soan Papdi, surely one of the tastiest things ever. I'm hooked!
Friday, March 21, 2008
We did it! We got out of the house on schedule after packing the van full of clothes, cameras, at supplies, books, and snacks. MonkeyBoy was picked up from his Hebrew lesson and of we went. The Dark Lord sat in front with me and acted as an able assistant, manning the iPod and pouring chai from the thermos as necessary.
It's so much easier to travel now that no one needs running around time evey hour or so. We drove to Medford, gassed up and got a bite to eat, and headed south to Redding, with a brief stop for photos near Mt Shasta. It's lovely and warm here and our room at the Super 8, while completely lacking in charm, does have a large TV with thousands of TV channels. After a dinner that was more about size than finesse, we retired to our lodgings so that my TV-less children could watch odd cartoons and bizarre reality shows in which cocky Brits eat maggots in the Amazon, all the while mugging for the camera.
I can't think of the last time my three children and I spent so much time so closely together. There's been mercifully little squabbling and lots of joking and silliness. All that's missing is The Spouse who we hope is enjoying the peace and quiet of our nearly-empty house.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The plan is to pick up MonkeyBoy from his Hebrew lesson at 10:15 tomorrow morning and hit the road. We'll drive to Redding and stay in luxury at the Super 8 (hopefully free of tweakers) followed by some bird watching here Saturday morning. The it's on to San Jose to stay with very dear friends for as long as they'll have us.
I'm praying that my van runs without incident, my kids don't squabble too much, I can handle Bay Area traffic, and that I don't miss my my sweetie too much. Unfortunately The Spouse has to stay home and work next week. The schleptop is coming along with us so hopefully there will be lovely photos and fascinating interludes to share.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
A MOM LAWN
I was going to write a quick, chipper end-of-term post today. Winter term ends tomorrow, we're in the midst of testing (and it's going well), and the kids and I are getting ready for a trip to visit good friends in California. I'm checking things off the to do list and feeling pretty competent.
But when I arrived at work tonight I was met with the very grim face of our Russian speaking resource specialist. While I focus on teaching, her job is to recruit and enroll new students, keep an eye on them while they're enrolled and help with any issues that may arise. She just informed me that New Man (expelled from our program for the second time in February) has been arrested and a couple of his friends (current students in the program) have been called in for questioning.
No one seems to know what the charge is but given his volatility I wouldn't be surprised if there was a fight and someone got hurt. He was drunk and got into a fight which was recorded on surveillance cameras.
I know there wasn't much I could do for this kid, at least not without the rest of my students suffering, but I am beside myself tonight, playing the what-if game, and feeling really, really low. Because if I were a good teacher, I could have turned this kid around, right?
Monday, March 17, 2008
The bat mitzvah was lovely (though they all tend to initiate a running checklist in my mind these days). Shabbat school was a frenzy of glitter, sequins, spangles, and glue as the kids made Purim costumes.
I was worn down by evening and I almost didn't go to the party, mostly because I couldn't figure out what in my wardrobe could possibly qualify as the "festive attire" requested on the invitation. I dug around and found something I hoped was appropriate and off we went to a very fancy hotel. This party had it all: two buffets, a photo booth, a DJ, a kids area with video games, Moonstruck chocolate truffles at every plate, swing dancing lessons, and more. I hear this sort of thing is pretty common back east but it's not really typical in out little congregation where most people wear jeans. But it was fun and I did get to witness the rather hilarious spectacle of MonkeyBoy being dragged onto the dance floor by a number of girls who towered over him. He was mostly polite, but skittered away as quickly as possible. The Spouse and I always appreciate an opportunity to dance though we marvel at the horrific songs from our youth that seem to have become timeless classics: YMCA? Billie Jean? Oy.
The Dark Lord and I spent much of yesterday at our favorite cafe. He had homework to catch up on and I had to finish some reading I'd promised the folks at work I'd do on current research on grammar instruction. I now have a much better understanding of the library services at my college, but I'm not much clearer on best practices in grammar instruction despite many hours of digging around. The consensus seems to be to do what we all instinctively do anyway: teach grammar in context with lots of different kinds of communicative activities. I think I knew that.
Finally on Sunday evening things started to slow down. We had dinner with an old friend which was relaxing and delightful until the boys started to get fidgety. It occurred to me how rarely we are invited to eat at other people's houses and, really, how rarely we invite others here. Everything is going too fast these days. Late last night I sat and watched a movie and completed a lace-edged hat in soft Cashmerino yarn for a woman at work who's starting chemotherapy. I hope it will bring her some comfort as she has a long fight ahead of her.
Friday, March 14, 2008
But what better way to move on than this? And maybe a nice margarita while baking? Sounds good to me!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
He's told me some crazy stories about this term's classes: the required "Future Focus" class in which they "set goals and learn to use technology" but nothing he doesn't already know, he piano class in which 30 students are set loose to go practice somewhere in the building unsupervised (but they can't take the music books home), the Spanish class in which the teacher speaks French and two entire class periods were spent watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Had the teacher just turned on the Spanish subtitles I would have been OK with it. I know what it is to have a hard day teaching. But no subtitles. OK, I guess the main characters end up on the island of Tortuga but that's the extent of the curricular link I could identify.
What was clear from many of these teachers is how overwhelmed they were with behavior problems, testing requirements, and sheer numbers. Meanwhile my sweet boy, who's never been all that good at speaking up on his own behalf, is getting lost, falling behind, and losing interest.
Many years ago, when he was just four years old and finishing preschool, his teacher suggested that maybe a busy, crowded kindergarten wasn't an environment where he was likely to thrive. Fast forward to today when I was speaking with his animation teacher whose class seems to be the only thing keeping him interested. When I mentioned that he was thinking about leaving school this woman, bless her, looked at me, shook her head, and said "I don't know how he can make it here for three more years". She thought maybe he'd be better off away from the high school environment. On the other hand, she said he was welcome to take her class, any class, as many times as he wished because she so enjoyed working with him.
I left the school with a very heavy heart, not sure, once again, whether it was better to stick it out or move on. That seems to be an ongoing issue right now with two of my kids and I find myself completely unsure of how to help them.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
While The Dark Lord was subjected to his monthly orthodontic torture yesterday, I spent a good 20 minutes in the waiting room trying desperately to finish Front A of The Monster. I've done admirably, I think, when it's come to managing all the instructions for this project but I'd reached a point where I was supposed to be binding off different numbers of stitches on opposite sides and as I understood it I was about to turn the front of this cabled vest into something resembling a tank top. I was completely baffled and ended up in a frenzy of counting, ripping, and muttering to myself to the point that one woman sitting across from me began to look distinctly uncomfortable. When I realized I was actually frightening people with my knitting, I had the good sense to shove The Monster back in the bag an pull out a simple, mindless sock requiring no pattern whatsoever.
I managed to calm down and stop scaring people but the fact remained that I had no idea what to do next and I so want to be done with this project. I had no choice but to to ask for help, no small thing for me. Today I drove across town to speak with the fabulous Cheri and she set me right in almost no time. In celebration (and gratitude) I bought a lovely skein of hand-dyed sock yarn, a symbol of faith that some day The Monster will be off the needles and I can move on to more agreeable projects. This yarn is gorgeous and richly dyed, in all the shades of green I love best. It's downright springlike, which is appropriate given not only the season, but my long dark winter of disagreeable knitting.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
I spent a couple of hours battling roses today. The rose garden came with the house and it's become more of an obligation than a pleasure. I don't love roses, but ignoring them doesn't accomplish much so I pruned all 15 shrubs to get them in shape for spring. Oddly satisfying it was.
Later....the first proper bike ride of the year. Beth gave my sweet bike a little love and off we went on a pleasant and mercifully flat ride. I love riding my bike--it makes me feel like I'm eight years old again and free as a bird. But it also surprises me how much harder it is than walking. I can walk at a pretty good clip, even up hills, without huffing and puffing but by our midpoint I was winded and my legs were good and shaky. After a refreshing drink and a pause in the sunshine we headed back, ran into friends, looped through the park and had a great downhill coast back to Beth's house. Did I mention I love riding my bike?
While riding, I kept thinking about the bikes I've had over the years. The first: a purple Schwinn Fair Lady with orchids on the banana seat and a white wicker basket adorned with plastic flowers which I received as a gift for my sixth birthday. It took me a while to learn to ride that bike. It lived in the garage and I remember sitting on it while my dad did whatever it was he did in in the garage, chatting with him and getting used to the feel of it. I was seven going on eight when I had my two-wheeled epiphany and one Saturday everything just clicked. I rode all over our little subdivsion until dark, tumbled into bed, and got right back on the next morning before anyone else woke up. I hit a parked car and worried the heck out of my dad who had no idea where I'd gone. I never really got the brakes on that bike and was more likely to jump off at the end of a ride than stop properly. But that bike took me all over the place and lasted a good long time until I was 12 or so.
Bike #2 was a beautiful silver Raleigh 3 speed. But I was a fool and wanted an infinitely cooler 10-speed at that point. I realize now that my parents spent a fortune buying those beautiful bikes for me and my sister (hers was a lovely chocolate brown) an many times in my adult years I've wished to have that lovely bicycle back in my possession . That bike got me back and forth to school until I could save up enough babysitting money for something more fitting for my uppity teen self.
Bike #3, purchased when I was 14, was a red Echo 10-speed, slightly too large but somehow the perfect bike for me. I have no idea where it was made as I've never seen another, but it was my companion all the way through high school and it was my only transportation during college. That bike was a reliable workhorse, heavy as iron, and not at all fussy. I rode that thing through rain and snow, often with a cup of coffee and a lit cigarette on my early morning trips to campus. I gave up the cigarettes long ago but I never should have given up the cycling. I left it behind when I left Eugene and I have no idea what became of it.
Somehow in all the ensuing years, bicycles drifted out of my life. Only recently did I realize just how much I missed the freedom and joy of riding and on a whim bought an old but virtually new eighties-aqua Miyata last summer, too late to put it to much use before hibernating all winter in the garage. This year I really want to spend more time on my bike. I don't think I'll be going car-free anytime soon (even at $3.50/gallon) but I really, really want to trade four wheels for two a lot more often.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
Both boys are completely self-taught when it comes to software and they can manage complex applications like Flash with complete ease. Meanwhile, The Dark Lord is forced to sit through painful sessions on Microsoft Office for complete beginners as part of his required Future Focus class. Why they can't test out of such mind-numbing classes is beyond me.
I could go on and on about my boy's high school experience but I think I'll drop it for now and think of more pleasant things like the year's first bike ride tomorrow. I'm badly out of shape and hoping my cycling companion doesn't leave me in the dust.
Friday, March 07, 2008
I can't even describe, after days of feeling so rotten, how great it was to move around and breathe fresh air.
I've finally figured out how to make the photo mosaics without spending all day uploading photos to the online mosaic maker. A nice plus--if you click on the mosaic it will open in a much larger format in a new window just in case you want a closer look at anything. The graffiti is definitely worth a second look.
Thursday, March 06, 2008
It was only a week or two before I decided to suck it up and cast on again, only bigger. I worked fairly steadily throughout January and most of February, took breaks as needed with easier projects, and eventually found myself passing the landmark of row 70 where I'd torn out. Somehow I got through all 80 rows of the pattern and started over again and tonight, miraculously, I bound off the back.
I still have the fronts and all sorts of edgings and whatnot to finish but it actually looks like I might complete this project, by far my most challenging knitting ever. It helps that I now have a deadline. The Spouse promises he'll wear the completed Monster at MonkeyBoy's June bar mitzvah, so that's motivating me to work hard. That and there are lots of other things I'd like to make, things that don't involve counters, a huge sheaf of battered xeroxed pages covered in multicolored sticky notes, and pesky cable needles which can disappear forever in the blink of an eye. This really isn't my style of project at all but it's nice to know that, with patience, I just might be up to the challenge.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Sunday, March 02, 2008
If you've read my not-food blog you'll have come across stories of these kids, some of whom have been among my most memorable students. They've not had had easy lives and I'm happy to support their communiy by buying their produce, even if that happens to be turnips.
Hayat Farm hands out recipes for much of their produce, but we couldn't get any suggestions about how to use the turnips as Farmer Idrisov's English is pretty minimal and my Russian isn't much better. But I did end up using their recipe for a carrot salad that was just delicious.
I don't think a person can have too many carrot salad recipes. Carrots are super nutritious, always tasty, and they keep well so they're always on hand at my house. This dish is flavored with deeply browned onions and their oil along with a liberal amount of ground coriander which give the dish an exotic twist. The recipe can be found here, at the end of a great article about Mr Idrisov and his family.