Friday, October 31, 2008


I just brought in the fig harvest, folks.

That's right, the two little Negronne fig trees I planted in wine barrels three years ago have finally given me some ripe fruit. I don't think it would have happened had we not had crazy sunny weather through most of the month, but I won't complain. Last year I was so sure I was going to enjoy a bumper crop but the weather was not cooperative.

I'm crazy for figs and find myself unbecomingly envious of people who have huge trees that bear well. I'm sure that makes my Californian and Israeli readers laugh but just save it. While my harvest totaled exactly ten figs, it's enough reason to celebrate as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I thought I could find a sound curricular justification for showing my students this:

What I didn't expect was how much they would love it. That warm gushy feeling I got the first time I watched it was multiplied many times sitting in a darkened room with my students from all over the world.

One young man wanted the story behind the lyrics. Anyone who has a line on Spanish translations of Rabindranath Tagore's poems, just shoot me an e-mail, will you?

I Will Never Be Sad Again

Or so it seems after watching this repeatedly for the last half hour.

An organization called Playing For Change is responsible for this and God bless them!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Have You Noticed?

It's pretty much full on autumn here in the northern hemisphere and the color is everywhere.

We went on a leaf-gathering expedition yesterday. It was a bright, clear day and despite the usual sibling squabbles, we all had a lovely time together. Even the teens ran around like puppies let loose from their crates.

Don't you wish you could save those breathtaking colors? I learned how to keep autumn leaves from fading so quickly. A simple dip in melted paraffin enables them to hold on to that brilliant color for weeks. The Princess and I filled a basket with wax-dipped leaves today in no time. I expect they'll end up scattered around the house for a little autumnal color, maybe even on the Thanksgiving table. Because they are just so lovely--the light coating of wax seems to deepen the colors and make the leaves glow.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Really Not Funny

I know I have at least one regular reader who is very dear to me who is likely to vote for John McCain. I hope that she and any others will take a minute to watch this short but powerful video shared with me by another homeschooling mama. It's not easy to watch but I think it makes its case powerfully.

Not Funny

I know, I know, I'm not a huge Obama fan but these ads are great. They're like hanging out with my grandparents.

I especially love the silent but oh-so-expressive Jerry Stiller. There are more ads here.

Some NPR commentator said yesterday that voters seem to be warming up to Obama as they get to know him better. In my case it's kind of the reverse. I've warmed to Obama as I've gotten to know McCain better. After reading things like this, Obama's looking pretty good.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Again with the Election

Those of you reading this in Oregon should have your ballots in hand by now and, if not, it's only a matter of days. I wrote here recently about the problems I see in ballot measures 58 and 60 but there's one more thing I wanted to share with you.

Those of you in the Portland metro area will also have an opportunity to vote for PCC Bond Measure 26-95 and I would very strongly encourage you to vote yes. Full disclosure for any readers who don't already know: I am a longtime employee of Portland Community College. However this bond has nothing to do with my job (which won't be affected regardless of the vote) and everything to do with improving access to education for all PCC students.

PCC's enrollment has grown nearly 20% in recent years to the point that it is now the largest post-secondary institution i, serving 86,000 students annually which is more than all seven of Oregon's public universities combined. Two-thirds of household in the district have members who've taken classes at PCC and the number will only grow as university tuition skyrockets. PCC offers an affordable way for people to train for new careers, take up new hobbies, earn a GED, study English, and earn transfer credits. Without PCC, a lot of would-be students would be, quite simply, left behind.

The problem is that with its growing popularity, many classes are jam-packed and students are stuck on waiting lists which slows their academic progress. Classroom space is at a premium, we have outdated equipment and technology, and some of our facilities are due for safety upgrades.

If the bond passes, PCC will have much more to offer all of its students. My campus has always gotten short shrift, so the possibility of adding of a library, science labs, and new career training facilities is very exciting, but all the campuses would benefit. One of the most crucial benefits would be funding to add or expand child care facilities on most campuses. Given how many of my female students drop out due to child care issues, this is huge.

I realize that no one has extra money to throw around these days but this is really an investment in the future of our city for just a few dollars each month. I encourage those of you here in Portland to research the bond further here and here and I hope that you'll agree with me that a yes vote makes sense in so many ways.

I'm Magpie Ima and I approved this ad. Thank you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pretty Much Perfect

I don't often get days like today so I wanted to make note of it.

First of all, I had nothing scheduled today. Nothing. It was my first payday in a month so I took the kids out for lunch and cupcakes. Afterward I spent a couple of hours in the sukkah puzzling out a crochet pattern--the first steps towards dealing with my ripple afghan obsession. It was a warm, quiet afternoon and the neighborhood oddballs were all elsewhere, so I felt remarkably lucky to have that time to think and struggle and try something new.

We had dinner with friends in their sukkah. The meal was delicious and the company even better.

I don't think I could have asked for a lovelier day.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

When Comic Geeks Watch Debates

Things like this happen:Please tell me that skills like these will get them a job some day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Happy Maker of Things

For once I'm not going to complain. See? I even redecorated for you!

I've been making lots of things lately, which makes me happy, happy, happy! The Dark Lord now has a goofy hat which he loves. I have no idea why given that under normal circumstances anything other than somber, dark colors seems to be taboo lately. For whatever reason, he loves the hat so his knitting mama is quite happy. Knitterly details on this hat can be found here.
I've been doing lots of spinning and enjoying the feel of the fiber slipping through my fingers. The finished yarn is from an old roving I've had around for a while and is about to made into a gift for a certain special friend. The single yarn still on the bobbin is from a gorgeous merino/alpaca roving I bought a couple of weeks ago at OFFF. It spins "like buttah". I have no plans for the finished yarn yet but whatever I make it will be lovely and soft.

I recently got a bee in my bonnet about crocheting a multicolored ripple afghan after skimming through this book. Mind you I don't actually know how to crochet but would I let a little detail like that stop me? I haven't jumped in yet mostly because I can't afford to buy new yarn but I figured a little practice wouldn't hurt. I whipped out a little scarf for The Princess, I kid you not, in the time it took us to drive across town to an art exhibition, to lunch, downtown to pick up a child, and then back home. I now totally get why people love crochet--it's wicked fast compared to knitting. My understanding is that it will take somewhere around two thousand yards of yarn to make a decent sized blanket so I may need to give this some thought before I commit. Oh, and learn to crochet properly.

What else? I spent much of last weekend playing with paper, glue, and my beloved Silky Crayons and turned a child's board book into a cookbook which, admittedly, isn't all that practical but was so much fun to make.

Oh--and I finished a sweater for The Princess. This sweater almost didn't make it as I bought the yarn years ago when she was much tinier. I was short one ball in order to finish and couldn't find anyone selling the yarn locally. Happily I looked on Ravelry and found exactly one person with this yarn in her stash. She cheerfully accepted my offer to buy the yarn from her and shipped it to me from Canada. Aren't knitters the best?
Nothing makes me happier than making things. It isn't just about the finished objects though I am happy to have those out in the world and being loved. There's nothing more satisfying than learning the quirks of a new fiber or blending colors together and delighting myself with the results. I'm trying so hard to slow down and ensure that I have more making-things time because there's nothing better, especially when it seems that the sky is falling and there isn't a thing I can do about it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Better Than Expected

No, I didn't have my usual intense, all-encompassing, soul searching Day of Atonement. As on Rosh Hashana last week, I was busy much of the time making sure things were running smoothly in child care though I did get a break when my wonderful husband filled in for me so I could attend the entire Kol Nidre service. Both boys fasted this year, as did The Spouse so I didn't feel alone in that. I was proud of my boys who handled the challenge with a fair amount of grace.

While I was not exactly a model of mindful prayer, what I did manage was to connect with a number of people I hadn't seen in too long and our conversations about life, death, kids, grief, knitting, and monsters under the bed made for an intense an memorable day, even if it was outside the prayer book. I am very grateful that I feel so connected to so many people in this very special community.

Also, no doubt about it, a 25 hour fast is a small price to pay for two nights off work, a family dinner, and a cozy night in front of the fire. My self-imposed hunger was manageable because I knew it would come to a predictable end. I am very mindful of those without that luxury on this chilly autumn night. Should you feel motivated, the Oregon Food Bank always welcomes donations.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Fast Food

At sundown tonight we, like other observant Jews around the world, begin a 25 hour fast in observance of Yom Kippur. Not surprisingly, all I can think about is food.When I am healthy I find fasting to be a very intense but satisfying experience which is magnified by being in community with others who are in the same place.

Yom Kippur is an intense day and removing distractions (like eating) does help me focus on the spiritual work of the day. I don't have too much trouble fasting apart from the demon caffeine but I've been 100% decaf for months now so I don't expect any raging headaches. However, this will be the first year both of my boys will join me in the fast. As one pointed out, this milestone is the down side of the bar mitzvah. I am concerned about how they will handle and have tried to make sure they go into this well fed and happy--or as happy as teens can be when stuck in services all day long.

When I asked what they wanted for their last meal, brisket was promptly suggested. I ordered a 4 pound hunk of beef from our local natural foods store and sent The Spouse to pick it up the other night. They couldn't find the reserved brisket under his name or under mine, but finally handed him the wrapped meat that had been set aside for "Nice Lady" which I found most amusing. I'm so glad someone thinks so.

I fast best when I've eaten heartily the day before, not just just that final dinner, but the entire day. I craved something substantial but not bland when I woke up on this cool and foggy morning. Remembering the fresh chiles I picked up at the farmers market last weekend, I dug through the sheaf of recipes adorning my refrigerator to find a small slip of paper I picked up from the chile roaster at a different farmers market a few weeks ago. (Yes, we are blessed with an abundance of wonderful farmers markets here in Portland).

The recipe for green chile and potato gratin couldn't be simpler but the results are spectacular. I like potatoes in almost any form (though frozen and reheated is spud abuse) but this preparation yielded an especially fabulous result. The potatoes were lovely and soft with a slightly chewy top surface and the flavor of the chiles was vibrant and delicious. I had a hard time not eating the entire pan today. You'll find the recipe here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Help! My Camera is Possessed!

It was a perfect kind of morning with nothing to do but cook for tonight's dinner in a a leisurely fashion and catch up on some housework. Since I never got to have a proper Rosh Hashana meal, I decided to make this week's Shabbat dinner more festive than usual. It's suddenly rainy and cool here, perfect weather for Elizabeth's Vegetarian Pastitsio which most of my family adores. I started a batch of apple challah and then moved on to dessert. I've never had a particularly good honey cake but they are the classic Rosh Hashana dessert so when Deb posted a recipe on Smitten Kitchen promising that this was unlike all other honey cakes, I took her at her word.

I tweaked the recipe slightly, most noticeably replacing the called for whiskey with rum and Cointreau as that's what I had on hand. Also, after reading all the comments about caved-in tops, I reduced the baking powder by one teaspoon and ended up with perfetly domed, golden, fragrant honey cakes. I was bummed that I failed to oil the corner of one pan properly and a little bit of the cake remained behind. But the unsightly wound in the cake allowed me a taste and yes, this is not like other honey cakes. I was excited to photograh my lovely, golden creations but my camera has apparently been taken over by demons. Not only did it refuse to focus properly, but it kept snapping pictures without my pushing the button, giving me weird images like these:Luckily there are the usual gorgeous shots over at Smitten Kitchen which are much more likely to inspire you to go into the kitchen than my own photos.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

One Good Hour

The last two days have been crazy busy with the previously mentioned childcare supervision duties. I will say that when I was asked to take this on I was told that there would be plenty of volunteers to sit at the registration table. This turned out not to be the case so I was on call for 3 solid hours today.

I still haven't heard the shofar this year but I did slip away briefly today and managed to squeeze a 2-day holiday into one hour. The services at this time of year have their own special melodies and songs which seem to bring out intense emotions in me and yes, even public tears, much to my children's horror. Luckily I was solo and, despite the harried morning, was surprised to find myself briefly transported and while my prayer experience was far from ideal, I am grateful for some quiet, contemplative time which, as it turns out, was just enough.