Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tightwad tuesday: sourdough attempt #1

I finally acquired the third volume of the Tightwad Gazette, and have been enjoying it in sporadic bursts. About halfway through I found a recipe for sourdough bread (my favorite kind of bread, by the way) that the author assured her readers was not only inexpensive (less than 50 cents per loaf), but goof-proof.

Maybe not.

I carefully followed the instructions for creating starter, which my friend Carol, the bread guru, later explained to me was a "cheat" because yeast is actually one of the ingredients in the Tightwad Gazette recipe. Apparently "real" starter is made by cultivating the yeast that naturally occurs in flour or fruit, and has a mystique unto itself. Cheating aside, my starter wasn't the problem--but more on that later.

The initial rising happened overnight, per instructions, and this morning when I got up I punched the dough down and formed it into two baguettes.

My kitchen is cold and drafty, and especially so in winter, which makes it a hostile environment for yeast to proof. When I bake my regular wheat bread, I usually pre-heat the oven early, leave it open an inch or so, and let the bread rise on the stovetop. I figured the same would hold true for making sourdough, so for the second rising, I put the formed loaves on top of the stove while the oven pre-heated.

The recipe instructed that the loaves should rise about four hours before baking, but within two hours, mine were rising so quickly that they were joining at the side. So I popped them in the oven, and my house quickly filled with the most delicious aroma--even better than my whole wheat bread.

When the bread came out a half hour later I was slightly disappointed to see that the crust, while nice and chewy, was a rather anemic shade of beige. I whipped up a quick egg-white wash, brushed it on, and baked the loaves for another ten minutes, with only marginally improved results. The flavor, too, had a nice tang to it, but not the almost pungent flavor my tastebuds were anticipating.

One of the things I've discovered over the last few years of baking my own bread is that having a good recipe is only part of the equation for success. Methodology is often much more important than just the right ingredients in the right amounts. This is true in baking much moreso than cooking, since baking is more scientifically exacting, in that its success depends on the chemical reactions of the ingredients with their environment.

So I've done some research on a few bread blogs (blogs devoted to sourdough--who knew?) and I think the immediate fix is to not let the bread rise on the stove. Apparently if the dough rises too quickly, the distinctive sourdough flavor doesn't have time to develop AND the yeast consumes the natural sugars in the dough, which would otherwise carmelize into a nice, brown crust.

Besides sewing stockings and Christmas jammies, I think I've found my project for Christmas vacation: honing my sourdough skills. I see lots of French onion soup in my future...

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Advent, day 2

We always read "The Tale of Three Trees" and put up our Christmas tree on December 1st, as the first activity inside our advent calendar. Today's pocket on the calendar held a tiny candy cane and a slip of paper that said, The candy cane is shaped like a shepherd’s crook, used to bring lambs back into the fold. It is a reminder that we are all our brother’s keeper. Put the candy canes on the tree.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

LV-AZ trip, part 2

The second destination on our trip was the Grand Canyon. From Hoover Dam, we drove southeast on U.S. 93 to Kingman, then east on I-40 to Williams, where we headed north on U.S. 64 toward Grand Canyon National Park.

We stayed for two nights at the Holiday Inn Express in Tusayan, just a few miles from the park's south entrance (on the canyon's south rim). When we checked in, the front desk clerk immediately offered us a free upgrade from our economy room with two queen beds to one with a king bed and "kid suite" with bunk beds. The kids were thrilled by the adventure of bunk beds and Jim and I, well, we were thrilled to have a room to ourselves, too. I cannot say enough good things about the hotel staff--but more on that later.

I was the only one who had been to the Grand Canyon before, but it took my breath away again. And again.

Several months before the trip, I had looked at the park's website and determined that the best way for the kids to appreciate the canyon (and be learning while we were there) would be to walk along the Trail of Time.

When they're a bit older, perhaps a hike down into the canyon, or even a mule trip would be fun--but with Joe mostly in a stroller and Audrey being at best a reticent hiker, the Trail of Time was just our speed. We spent the morning of our only full day at the canyon on the trail, which took us about an hour and a half round-trip, not counting the time we spent at the Yavapai Geology Museum before we turned around and headed back.

The trail's a well-constructed geological timeline of the canyon (one long step = 1 million years) with samples of rock from each of the main layers from the Elves Chasm Gneiss on the canyon floor (1,840 million years old) all the way to the top layer, called the Kaibab Formation (a mere 270 million years old).

Jimmy and Audrey each had their own favorite rocks.

The kids also enjoyed getting occasional glimpses of local fauna.

Best of all, the entire length (1.6 miles) of the trail is paved, which made it easy on the feet of even our littlest hiker.

After lunch and some souvenir shopping, we drove east along the south rim via Desert View Drive, trying to find a good view of the Colorado River for Jimmy.

We stopped at several turnouts along the road, but Desert View and the watchtower proved to be the  perfect vantage for Jimmy to get his elusive view of the Colorado meandering along the floor of the canyon.

We had no idea this idyllic drive in the lovely light of late afternoon would be the last time everyone would feel good enough to enjoy the scenery. Within a half hour, Audrey lost her lunch in the back seat of our minivan.

Thanks to some good Samaritans in the parking lot of the Grand Canyon General Store, we got bleach wipes and a chamois to clean up the first few waves of puke. One of the store employees suggested Audrey might have altitude sickness, which he said many visitors experienced because the altitude at the south rim was over 7,000 feet above sea level. He gave us a roll of paper towels, which we layered on Audrey's seat for the drive back to the hotel. I improvised a barf bucket from one of the kid's plastic trick-or-treat pumpkins.

By the time we got back to the hotel, Audrey had used the pumpkin several times, so Jim herded the boys upstairs to our room and I kept her with me so she could get some fresh air while I cleaned out the minivan. Fortunately, our parking spot was right in front of the open door to the hotel laundry services room, and one of the laundry ladies noticed our plight and came out to see if I needed help. With her limited English and my limited Spanish, I managed to explain what happened and ask for some cleaning supplies. She gave me everything she had access to, including a big handful of washcloths, some shampoo, disinfectant, a box of Kleenex and a roll of trash bags. She also let me come and go to the utility sink to rinse out the washcloths and then put them in a big rolling laundry bin.

Thanks to that lovely laundry lady, I got the seat and carpet well scrubbed. Then I carried Audrey back up to our room, gave her a bath and put her to bed. Later, the front desk staff connected me with the housekeeping manager, who loaned me a nice big bottle of Febreeze so I could attack the minivan and beat back the sick smell for our six-hour drive to Tucson the next day.

So, if you're ever at the Grand Canyon and need a place to stay that will take good care of you (when you're barfing or otherwise), Holiday Inn Express has got you covered.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas is coming...

...in less than a month! I started my Christmas sewing on Saturday, turning some gold-colored brocade from my fabric stash into a tree skirt. In former lifetimes it has been both pillow shams and a valance above our shower. A little Velco, a little gold braid (and a whole lot of calculating and then recalculating the diameter of the circle based on the amount of gold braid I had to go around the circumferance) and voilà! Things old are new again.

Next up: stockings for me and Jim. I made our original stockings back in 1996 and they're just so... 90s. You know, earth-tone red and green plaids with pine trees and hearts. I wanted something a little more expressive of our personalities, so over the last few months I bought some Simpsons Christmas fabric for Jim and sock monkey Christmas fabric for me.

Today I started planning our yearly advent calendar line-up, inspired by this post at Playful Learning. Our annual favorites will be back, including:
  • putting up the tree on December 1st
  • reading about the history and significance of Christmas symbols such as the wreath, the candle and the star
  • making Christmas cookies
  • hanging our stockings
  • visiting the local animal shelter with donations for needy critters
This year I'll be adding some new activities:
  • making Christmas cards for teachers
  • reading about the history of the winter solstice
  • decorating ice cream cone Christmas trees (instead of the usual gingerbread houses)
  • creating ornaments for grandparents
and the one I'm really excited about (because Audrey suddenly has a wild hair that she wants to eat tamales after we learned about them for Día de los Muertos) ...
  •  learning about how Las Posadas is celebrated in Mexico and making tamales
So many things to look forward to!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving mulligan

I would have thought being sick once already this month had earned me a by, but no. A week ago Jimmy came down with a cold, and I followed suit within a few days. I was so sick I stayed home from Thanksgiving dinner at Jim's folks', since I didn't want to share the love with a sister-in-law who is due with twins the first week in December.

Thank goodness for Jim wanting to get a turkey of our own to cook so we could have leftovers (since his mom was making the bird this year). Now that I'm on the mend, we're having a little do-over feast of our own. I just took the pie out of the oven, and Jim's getting ready to drain the brine off the turkey and put it in.

My nose is still a bit stuffy, but I can smell the nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon... aaaahhh.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

LV-AZ trip, part 1

At the beginning of the year we found ourselves with an unexpected surplus of funds, which I talked Jim into earmarking for a trip to visit my dad and step-mom, who moved to Tucson around the same time we moved to Ellensburg. We see them several times a year, but the visits are usually short--often when they are passing through on the way to or from Seattle. Three years ago Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer and is now in remission, and I didn't want to wait any longer for a nice, relaxed visit at their place so the kids could build some fun memories.

In the ensuing months, we looked at different options and finally decided to fly into Las Vegas, where Jim's brother John lives with his family, and rent a car there for the drive to Arizona, with some sight-seeing along the way. We tried to strike a balance between fun time with family and educational experiences for Jimmy and Audrey, so they'd still be learning even while we took two weeks off from our regular school schedule.

After trying (and failing) to find good airfares for the beginning of September, we moved the trip to the end of October, which proved to be a perfect time to travel--great weather, moderate temperatures, and no crowds at any of the more touristy places we went.

We flew from Pasco to Las Vegas on the Monday before Halloween. Jimmy was immediately mesmerized by all the lights, and especially by the Stratosphere. "Las Vegas is beautiful," he enthused. I'm glad he's young enough for it to be magical; it isn't for me anymore.

Tuesday afternoon we wandered around the more G-rated portion of the Strip, visiting the M&M and Coca-Cola factory stores and the fountain show at Bellagio, which was the highlight of the day.

On the afternoon of Halloween, we went to the Springs Preserve (which I highly recommend) with the kids' Aunt Chantalle and cousins Mariska and Jack. Unfortunately, because the preserve was hosting a Halloween party that evening, they closed at 3 p.m. We only got to spend about an hour and a half there, just long enough to look around the Origen Museum.

The kids particularly enjoyed a simulated flash-flood exhibit, but we're definitely going to have to go back on our next trip so they can see the outside collections of wildlife and local habitats.

That evening, the kids dressed up and went trick-or-treating with their cousins.

Bright and early Thursday morning, we hit the road. Mid-morning we stopped at Hoover Dam to look around and let the kids stretch their legs. The last time I drove over the dam was in the late 90s, when it was still on the main route of U.S. 93 to Arizona.

While the visitor center offers tours, we decided that the kids' limited attention spans and our need to get back on the road would make it more prudent to look around on our own--which we did, and it was a good call.

Jimmy was fascinated by the history of the dam and completely engrossed by all the informative plaques posted at various points.

However, by the time we got halfway across (where we could have one foot in Nevada and one in Arizona), Audrey was done and ready to head back to the car for a snack.

The new bridge was really spectacular from below, but sadly, we couldn't see beyond the high barriers on each side as we drove over it and into Arizona toward the Grand Canyon.


More birthday goodness from the draft vault (now that he just turned 14 months two days ago). Better late than never, right?


Look what I found when I went back through a folder of drafts I had never posted! It's two and a half months late, but feast your eyes on the fabulous cake Jim decorated for Audrey. How-to here.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Dark secret

I took Jimmy, Audrey and Joe to Grayland for the weekend to escape the smoke. I got back late last night and after we finished tucking the kids into bed, Jim confessed to me that while we were gone he's been...

... watching Downton Abbey.

And liking it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back in a routine

In the two-and-a-half weeks since I last posted, we:

  • started the school year (Jimmy in 4th grade, Audrey in Kindergarten)
  • hosted our cousin Aidan for five days
  • celebrated Audrey's birthday
  • wore cowboy boots to the county fair
  • kicked off soccer season
  • went on a field trip to Thorp Mill
  • stayed overnight with friends near Seattle
  • returned to regular cub scout meetings

In between all these goings-on, I've been trying to find a new normal--staying on top of housework by having the kids help, carving out time to exercise and take care of myself, baby-proofing everything now that Joseph is walking (and yes, my kitchen is still gated off while I contemplate the daunting prospect of deep cleaning and locking down everything below three feet high)--all while figuring out the trick of homeschooling two kids at once.

Surprisingly, I've been feeling mostly successful at all of this. We've had the requisite amount of griping about piano practice and math worksheets, but overall, school has been fun and Jimmy's self-direction has allowed me to spend the time with Audrey that she needs. I've made a lot of progress on taming my short temper. My house has been cleaner more consistently than I can ever remember it being before. In the afternoons, I've even had a few hours between helping the kids with their chores and putting Joe down for naps to cross off a few extra projects on my to-do list like cleaning out closets and getting rid of baby gear we no longer need. Just yesterday I made up a triple batch of laundry soap and a batch of dishwasher detergent, too.

Today is bread day.

For a while now I've been wanting to stop purchasing store-bought bread, but I haven't been happy enough with how my own bread turned out, so I've been experimenting and tweaking my recipe and methodology. I got my original recipe for three whole wheat loaves from my mother-in-law, but found that my bread always seemed to turn out too dense and low. Through a lot of trial and error I've discovered a few things:

1. My kitchen is drafty, which means it is usually too cold for the yeast to grow, especially during winter and spring. I can mitigate this by turning on the oven and leaving it slightly open while the yeast is proofing to warm up the room.
2. Using exclusively whole-wheat flour (along with any additions like oats or flax) makes for very dense, heavy bread, which means that it won't rise as high and will be more crumbly. So now I use all-purpose flour for half of the flour content, and sometimes add in a bit of ground flax or oats--but a little goes a long way.
3. Recently I figured out that refined sugar, even in small quantities, aggravates my arthritis, so I've switched to using honey, which makes me hurt less and the bread more moist.
4. Our family eats about four loaves of bread a week, so if I wanted to bake only once a week, I would have to readjust my recipe.
5. My friend Carol, who used to have a bread business, told me that adding some baking powder helps get a bit more rise during baking, so I started doing that, too.
6. My kids love my bread. Both Jimmy and Audrey have said, "Mom, your bread is waaaaay better than bread from the store." The fact that Joe eats more of it than he throws on the floor is his own ringing endorsement.

Chicklegirl's Wheat Bread

5-1/3 cups warm water
1/3 cup honey
5 tablespoons active dry yeast (I buy the bags of Red Star brand at Costco, which cost only slightly more than a few packets purchased at the grocery store)
5 cups all-purpose flour
6-7 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax seeds or rolled oats (optional, exchange for 1/4 cup of the flour)
1/3 cup olive oil
5 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Mix yeast, water and honey together in bowl of stand mixer. Proof for 15 minutes, until bubbly. Add other ingredients and mix together with two or three turns of the bread hook. Let rest for 10 minutes. Knead with bread hook for 10 minutes. Turn dough out of stand mixer bowl into larger metal bowl, then cover with a tea towel or cloth to rise until double (about 30 minutes, depending on if your kitchen is drafty--the warmer, the better and faster the dough will rise). Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter top and divide into four equal parts. Form parts into loaves and place in greased loaf pans. Let loaves rise until they round up above (but not overflow) the rims of the pans. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes. Makes 4 loaves.

Tonight, I'm trying a new recipe for peach jam made with honey.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Good news and... more good news

First up: Joe started walking on Saturday. While it's the end of an era (my last baby will only be a baby for about five more minutes), it's a significant milestone in a series that mark his growing physical and intellectual development, which is a wonder as it unfolds. I'm reminded yet again that if I'm doing my job as a mother, I become a little more obsolete with every passing day. And that's a good thing.

Then, last night I opened my email to a lovely surprise: Segullah accepted my poem "Lacuna" for print in their last-ever print issue this fall.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Since the last post, my attention has been consumed by two things: the garden and the reunion. By the end of June I was able to get all my seeds and starts in the ground and begin the blessedly easy cycle of maintenance: water, weed, repeat. Made even simpler by the fact that my father-in-law takes care of the watering for us, since our garden is in his back yard.

With the garden under control, I was able to turn my efforts to getting ready for the Cottrell-Lindstrom reunion in Grayland. The biggest challenge was packing for me and the kids, because one never quite knows what to expect from the weather in Grayland. So I packed too many clothes and was grateful we mostly used the half of them that included shorts and t-shirts.

We've been home since Sunday night. The better part of this week has been unpacking and shaking the sand out of everything; then sorting, washing, folding and putting it all away.

All that work? So worth it!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tightwad tips: bucket list

I've posted before about how much I love food-grade buckets and all the wonderful ways to use them--but Jim turned me on to a website that showed me a whole new world of purposes I'd never even imagined.

Trevor van Hemert of Victoria, BC, created a website called Five Gallon Ideas as a project to find solutions to every-day problems using buckets. Just a few include:
  • bass guitar
  • bike panniers
  • child swing
  • composting toilet
  • hydroelectric generator
  • loudspeaker
  • mushroom farm
  • portable cooler
  • rocket stove
  • self-resetting mouse trap
  • spray paint stencil
  • toolbox

    ...and the one Jim emailed me about...
  • washing machine
 [Insert obligatory pun about thinking outside the box, er--bucket--here.]

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lessons from daniel

Last Monday marked the two-year anniversary of my second miscarriage. A dear friend, who was right beside me during that dark time, stopped by with flowers. More specifically, she brought me an enormous hanging basket of fuchsias, one of my favorites. I confess, until I opened the front door and saw Erica there, I had forgotten what day it was. While I felt a bit guilty at first, I realized it signified something I am deeply grateful for: I am healing.

I decided to re-pot the fuchsia into a large terracotta planter, so it wouldn't be battered by the wind that blows hard against our north-facing front porch. I was initially heartsick by how roughed-up it got, how many delicate pink-and-purple blossoms and even branches broke off in the transition. I admit I even cried when I gathered them all up. The branches that were left seemed to stick out at odd angles and the plant just didn't look as lush and happy. Erica assured me fuchsias are hardy, that new branches would grow back, and over the next few days as I watered it faithfully, new buds and leaves did indeed appear.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I found out someone very close to me had suffered a miscarriage. My heart aches for her, because I know. I know. I haven't had the chance to talk to her yet, but thinking about what I would say--and more specifically what I would not say--got me thinking about what I have learned from my miscarriages.

If you have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, or if you know someone who has, I hope these words may be helpful navigating through the grief, or comforting someone who is trying to do so.

1. There is no "good time" to lose a baby. My first miscarriage was at almost eight weeks and my second at nineteen. I grieved for each baby differently, but each was equally precious to me. The first one wasn't "easier" just because I didn't know the gender, or because I hadn't felt it move yet. In some ways, that was almost harder--because I felt like I didn't even know this dear little person who left me far too soon.

2.  People are going to be insensitive. I was surprised that some of the worst offenders were loved ones and people from church--those I expected would be more compassionate and sensitive. People I hardly knew offered to lend me books on grief. Books on weight loss. Folks who had heard I was pregnant, but not that I had lost the baby, congratulated me. Women who had miscarriages of their own took it as an open invitation to regale me with their stories--which I might have been ready for later, but at the time I was lost in my own sad story. I was told all kinds of things, some of them outright lies and others that were painfully true. I must not be a good enough mother to get another baby, God must be trying to teach me something I hadn't learned yet, my tribulation would help me have greater empathy for people I knew who had miscarried. That last one? True, but oh, the timing! No grieving mother needs to hear how her loss will help her to be more understanding to others; that realization comes with time and healing. In spite of having my feelings wounded even more deeply, I found relief in letting go. And I learned to say, "I'm sorry, but that's not helpful to me right now."

3. People are going to be amazingly sensitive, generous, and kind. I was the grateful and humbled recipient of meals, flowers, phone calls, gifts, emails, childcare, and Erica--the one with the fuchsias--came to the hospital with a tiny blanket she had made for me to wrap my baby in. I was surprised that sometimes the ones who had at first been insensitive later did things that touched me deeply. What meant the most were those who came to just sit with me in my grief: right after I got home from the ultrasound, at the doctor appointment the next day, in the hospital while I waited to go into labor, and in the weeks and months after. Sometimes I didn't want to talk, sometimes I did--and I appreciated so much those who were there to bear the burden with me in whatever way I needed at that moment. I learned to accept offers of help, and even to reach out and ask for what I needed.

4. Name the baby. A friend called me after my first miscarriage and gently asked if I would be interested in a book she had heard about, Naming the Child: Hope-filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death, by Jenny Schroedel. She sent me a link so I could check out the description, and later gave the book to me. I found that choosing meaningful names for my babies helped me feel more connected to them, which in turn gave me some desperately needed closure about losing them.

5. Women and men grieve differently. My husband was not devastated the way I was at the loss of either baby. Rather than being resentful, I was grateful because he was stronger than me and I could lean on him. I learned to ask specifically for what I needed to work through my own grief, and I did my best to ask Jim about his own feelings and respect his needs. My biggest mistake was holding back my grief instead of sharing it with him as fully as I needed to. Months after my miscarriage, I was worried he wouldn't understand why I was still hurting or would think I just needed to get over it, so for a long time I didn't share my feelings with him--which was unfair to both him and me. Once I opened up, I was able to move forward with healing inside.

6. Healing takes time. Lots and lots of time. With both miscarriages, I reached a certain point where I told myself, "You should be over this by now. Move on." Later,  I came to realize that getting on with the day-to-day business of my life--caring for myself, my family, my home and my other obligations--could happen while I was still grieving. I tried hard to be open with my kids about what I was going through so that they would know it was okay to talk about their own feelings of sadness. I took small steps at re-entering society: shopping at the grocery store, taking my kids to the park, going to the library. Sometimes I found I was doing too much too soon; I wasn't ready to see my pregnant friends and all the babies at church, so I stayed home on Sundays. For weeks. I didn't put a statute of limitations on my sadness, and I found that letting it take as long as it needed to allowed me to grieve more fully and ultimately, to heal more fully.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Summer time (and the livin' is easy)

It's finally summer break. And a good thing, too, because Joseph is teething and I've had a hard time getting up early to get school going. Over the past two weeks, he's been cutting four new top front teeth. When I ran my finger along his gums to massage them, I found a lump on the bottom, so it appears there's a fifth tooth on its way in another month (give or take).

What this means is those easy nights of one or two feedings that I'd finally gotten used to are over (the only constant is change, right?) Starting Monday, we had three straight nights of misery. Joe would wake me up between 3-5 times a night crying inconsolably (Baby Orajel has its limits, and I'm not into using homeopathic teething tablets since they apparently contain belladonna--who knew?) So I cuddled Joe up in bed between me and Jim, and every time he'd cry, I'd just roll over groggily and nurse him till he fell asleep. Not ideal, but better than the alternative.

Now that those four teeth have all cut through, the fussiness is starting to subside. Joe only woke up once last night, so everyone is feeling a lot more chipper this morning. Now I can actually get something done with my mornings!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Tightwad tips: summer reads on the cheap


With one day of school left, I'm starting to think about what books I might want to pack along for trips, or for just laying out on a blanket in the back yard while the kids play in the wading pool. I've been curling up with the Kindle right before bed (still only part way through Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James), but I'm looking forward to having more time to read for pleasure.

As stated in a previous post, the cheapest place to find a good read is the public library. Some libraries even offer books and magazines left to swap by other patrons. However, if you must purchase a book---because the library doesn't have what you want, or they are charging for inter-library loan (as ours just started to do), or you need to add a favorite to your personal library--used bookstores are an inexpensive alternative.

Our small town does have a couple used bookstores, but finding what I want is a hit-or-miss proposition. Sometimes I've been able to get store credit for my old books; the amount varies depending on the resale value of what I bring in.

That said, I buy most of my used books online, and most of those at Half.com. What I love about Half.com is anyone selling an item (they also sell movies and music) lists the condition and the price they are offering, and buyers can choose the price and/or condition that suits them. One of my favorite sellers is Green Earth Books, which carries a substantial catalog, many of them for 75¢.

Audrey recently discovered the Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant, and after multiple re-readings of the half-dozen on the shelves at the library, I bought her a bunch of the ones she hadn't read, all for 75¢ each plus shipping. 

Oh, and I picked up the third volume of The Tightwad Gazette (also for 75¢) to round out my collection--for research, you understand.

Friday, May 25, 2012


A shout out to my dear friend and fellow poet, Elizabeth Maurer. She bravely invited me and the kids over for a playdate yesterday with her, her dog Max, and their trampoline. Later, she challenged me to write a poem about it and while I initially demurred, some phrases kept bouncing around in my head, trying to get out. 

So Lizzy, it's rough and yes, messy, but this one's for you.


Being a mother is messy
in ways having nothing to do
with blood, amniotic fluid
snot, urine, vomit
pureed carrots, mashed bananas
mud, grass stains
or crayon on a white wall.

A visit to a childless friend unravels
when three children (mine)
mix with overly friendly dog (hers)
and fancy landscaping (also hers).
The boundaries of whose mother I am blur
when my friend needs me
as much as my son
after he falls off her deck
and scrapes his back and elbows
on the volcanic rocks in her flowerbeds.

How can I explain to her
that next time may still be messy
even if dogs and children
are kept apart?
That being a parent is not just about preventing chaos
by compartmentalizing variables
but accepting it will still be unavoidable
when large minds housed in small bodies
learn the limits of their world
and their wills?

She cannot know
until it happens to her
how a woman’s hands leave the wheel
the instant she conceives
and never return.

I can hope, though
she will open herself, get her hands messy
and find the art of nurture can be learned
only in facing the fear
that what we have to offer 
will never be enough—
that giving up control
before the unthinkable even happens
is what prepares us
to be the calm eye
in the storm.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Here today, flan tomorrow

For the past year and a half, we've been using La Clase Divertida for our Spanish curriculum. Due to state budget cuts, CVA won't be offering it as approved curriculum next year, and I confess I'm a little sad to see our time with Señor and Señora Gamache come to an end. Despite the low-budget video production values, Jimmy and Audrey both look forward to watching each lesson and then doing the activities that go along with it--especially the cooking lessons.

This year we made torrijas (a sort of Spanish "french toast", and a huge hit with everyone), paella (not as much of a hit, so I ate the leftovers for lunch for about a week), and finally, flan. I have to say, the flan was actually the easiest to make, and the video instructions were quite helpful, since the written recipe in the teacher's manual was sketchy at best.

Jimmy and I made the flan yesterday afternoon--cooking while sharing our most flan-tastic puns with each other--then let it sit in the fridge overnight to set up. After lunch today, everyone had a slice and it was wonderfully rich and creamy. Just one more reason to love homeschool.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Keyed up

Jimmy's first recital was Monday evening. He played well, considering how nervous he was. And the choice of music was well-suited to his personality, I think.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Bio lab

Since last year we've been trying to observe protozoa for Jimmy's science classes. Two different orders of grow-it-yourself samples from a homeschool science company yielded no results. Last November I threw in the towel and decided to wait for warmer weather, hoping it would help the little critters to proliferate.

Fast forward to this spring, when I got smart and realized I could get protozoa locally at a convenient pond. After one failed attempt to find some on our own, Jim asked a colleague from the storm water department at work if he could recommend a good place to look. His buddy came through with a great spot to sample pond water, and this afternoon we got an eyeful of amoebae and paramecia. Apparently the key is to look for warmer, still water, rather than anything that is cool and moving. Good to know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tightwad tuesday: hard water, clean dishes

I've been using my homemade laundry soap for over a year now and I love it. I love how I'm still on the same box of Borax and the same box of washing soda because the stuff is so darn inexpensive and a little goes a long, long way. Jim was a skeptic at first, but quickly became a convert. Recently he said, "Say, do you think you could find a recipe for dishwasher detergent, too?"

Right around that time I discovered Pinterest (which is a whole other post) and one of the first things I pinned was a recipe for dishwasher detergent. It did a great job getting the dishes clean, but I was less than thrilled that my glasses were left cloudy. In multiple test batches, I tried adding different ratios of Kosher salt, Kool-Aid and Fruit Fresh, as well as adding white vinegar as a rinse agent at various points in the wash cycle, but nothing seemed to make any difference.

So after several months of cloudy glassware (and a brief return to expensive store-bought detergent) I googled "DIY dishwasher detergent hard water". I found this recipe, which is essentially the same as what I had tried before, except it uses Lemi Shine instead of Fruit Fresh or Kool-Aid. Works like a charm--and the glass stays sparkly.

DIY Dishwasher Detergent for Hard Water

1 cup washing soda
1 cup Mule Team Borax
¼ cup Kosher salt
1 cup Lemi Shine

Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl, then whisk to break up lumps and combine thoroughly. Store in an airtight container with a small silica packet, as even in an arid climate ANY moisture will cause this harden into large clumps (I like to use the little silica packs that come in shoe boxes, and an old peanut butter jar for storage). Use one tablespoon in each soap compartment (1 T for a light load, 2 T for pans and really greasy dishes). Add white vinegar to your rinse agent dispenser as a low-cost alternative to Jet Dry.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

NaPoWriMo #1: tempus fugit

My Nana used to say, "Tempus fugit." It's Latin for "time flees"--which over the years has turned to "time flies". Once again, she's provided me inspiration to write.

Tempus Fugit

I woke up this morning
to the day already gone
held in my arms
my son of seven months
so aware of how few days
I have left to feed him
from my own breasts
before he pushes me away
and turns to more grown-up fare.

It is the same hand pulling him close
that holds the spoon, the cup
teaching him to feed himself
the same heart wanting him
to stay small just a while longer
that will let him go
one day at a time
that will still be letting go
long after he has little ones of his own.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tightwad tuesday: cheap cat odor removal

A few years back our cat Fiona urinated on our down comforter when I left it in a basket in our laundry room. I tried washing it myself and when that didn't work I sent it to the dry cleaners. Still stinky. Quite a few dollars later I found (via the internet) a rather pricy chemical that did a fair enough job of removing the odor that the cats didn't pee on it again when I put it back on our bed--but it still left brown stains that never came out.

Our spring break was last week, and to wrap it up right, we went over to Seattle to take in the Pacific Science Center and the Easter egg hunt at Woodland Park Zoo. After two busy days and a return drive during which Joseph cried all the way from Snoqualmie Pass to Ellensburg (that's over an hour, folks--the boy's got staying power!) I was looking forward to falling into my own comfortable bed. When I tried to do just that, I realized it was damp. And smelly. Like cat pee. Apparently Sid was letting me know he didn't appreciate I was unavailable to let him outside--I say me, because Jim's side of the bed was dry and fragrance-free.

Even though it was past bedtime, I fired up Google and found a variety of DIY methods for removing cat urine from furniture, most of them utilizing some combination of vinegar, peroxide and/or baking soda. The methods that used only vinegar had mixed reviews, as did those with just peroxide and baking soda, but I finally found a recipe and directions--the only one combining peroxide, vinegar and baking soda, courtesy of Cats of Australia--which had universally positive reviews. The post on their website specifically addressed removing cat urine from a mattress, but many of the testimonials were from people who had successfully used the same method on other furniture and carpets.

Not only did I have all the necessary ingredients under my sink, in my pantry and in my medicine cabinet, but for just a few pennies, it worked. I treated my mattress that night, layered towels and a trash bag over the wet spots so I could sleep on it, and then stripped the bed and let it air all day the next day, and the urine odor and stains were gone.

Instructions for Cat Urine Removal from Your Mattress

1. If the urine is recent, blot up as much of it as you can using paper towels or a sponge. Apply plenty of pressure to reach the dampness deep down. Stand on the paper towels for more pressure if necessary. If you own a wet/dry vacuum cleaner extract as much of the moisture as you can. If the urine has dried proceed to step two.

2. Mix a solution of 50% vinegar and 50% water in a jug or other container. Pour a small amount of this solution over the area of cat urine. Then begin blotting as described above to soak up this solution.

3. Sprinkle a good handful of baking soda over the area.

4. Mix a quarter of a cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide with a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent and drizzle it over the area where you have sprinkled the baking powder and work it in using your fingers or use a brush. Allow fifteen minutes for the solution to work and then begin blotting again.

5. The mattress must now be left to dry thoroughly. A good indication is when the baking soda feels completely dry. Then vacuum up the baking soda thoroughly. Use a hard bristled brush to loosen up the baking soda if necessary.

Caution: Do not use hydrogen peroxide that is stronger than 3%

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Ah, NaPoWriMo...

...I will miss you this year. My creative energies are otherwise (and quite happily) engaged. With some luck, perhaps I'll post a poem or two this month, but I make no promises other than:

I'll see you next April.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Hard to believe my big boy was ever this little. Happy birthday, Jimmy! Every year you become more of a thoughtful, wise, kind-hearted young man. I'm humbled to be your mother.

Friday, March 16, 2012