Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Passing on the Blog Love

The lovely and super-mama-writer-teacher Kate Hopper (of Motherhood & Words, if you have not taken one of Kate's classes yet, sign up now!) honored me with a Liebster Blog Award, which is, as far as I can tell, a pat on the back from one blogger to another. Thanks, Kate!
This icicle has nothing to do with this blog post, but I liked the way it looked against the blue sky.

As part of her award-passing duties, she provided five questions for me to answer. I've been putting it off for a couple of weeks because I'm no good at answering these sorts of questions, but here goes:
1)    What is one thing you’d like to accomplish (professionally or personally) in the next year?
One year from now, I will have finished my MFA degree in creative writing, just shy of nineteen years after finishing my bachelor's degree. Between now and then, I'll be getting a lot of researching, writing and revising done, that will hopefully result in publication(s).
2)    Who is the one person who has had an important influence on you? Describe.
My husband, C, who is always so calm and easygoing. He has figured out what he wants to be when he grows up and is doing it––he runs his own business and is a leading voice in residential energy efficiency in Maine. He is also so supportive of my own dreams, watching the kids two nights a week when I go to the library, and twice a year when I go to residency for ten days.
3)    What essay or poem or short story do you return to again and again? Why?
I can't choose just one, so I'm going with the American Library Edition of Shirley Jackson's short stories and novels. I love the size and heft of this book (narrower than your typical hardcover), the thin, onion-skin like paper, and the green satin ribbon bookmark. Then of course, Jackson's stories inside: her humor, her dark themes, her witchy tendencies, her surprise endings that make you rethink everything you thought before, her characterization of small-minded small towns, the characters' sense of alienation, the suffocation of domesticity. If you've only ever read "The Lottery," get thee quickly to the library and check out this book. I can't choose just one, but "Louisa Please Come Home," "The Flower Garden," and "Behold the Child Among his Newborn Blisses"are among my favorites.
4)    In what ways has parenthood shifted your perspective on some aspect (you chose) of your life?
I think the biggest perspective shift has been with regard to time. It's the least original thing I could possibly say, but time moves SO fast when you have kids (except when it doesn't, and then it moves so slowly it doesn't feel like it's moving at all, like when you're playing Star Wars guys with your four-year-old). I feel much more aware of using my time wisely, accomplishing things I want to accomplish, and not wasting it doing whatever I used to do to waste time when I was young and child-free.
5)    Describe your ideal day.
My ideal day would involve: sleeping late, reading a good book in the bathtub with a cup of tea, hiking out in the woods (my ideal day being sunny, of course), taking pictures, drawing and writing in my nature journal, eating a really good lunch (which someone else prepared and will clean up), writing, some more reading, eating a good dinner (ditto prep and cleanup), watching a good movie with a bit of knitting, going to bed in freshly-washed and off-the-line sheets. Lots and lots of peace and quiet so that my brain can do whatever it needs/wants to do. Also, it would need to take place in a really clean and organized house so I don't get tempted to dust or clean sinks. And yes, I do love my husband and children, but they get to be a part of every single one of my ordinary days, so I think it's only fair that I get to be alone on my perfect day.
Now I get to pass the pat-on-the-back to five more blogs of my choosing. The blogs I choose are:
Meryl at My Bit of Earth, who writes about motherhood, chickens, toddlers, gardens, knitting, cooking, photography––all the good things in life.
Kendra at By Hand at Home, project-making, green-living mama extraordinaire. 
Liz at Motherlogue, who writes about writing and mothering and led a kids' NaNoWriMo project.
Katherine at KatherineJBarrett, Literary Mama editor, mama of three boys (including twins), and food columnist.
Raina at Mamacita Spins the Globe, because I want to see her back in bloggiland soon!
I could give new questions to you all, but I think Kate's are so good and thought-provoking, I'm going to pass those on as well. Check out these lovely ladies' blogs.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happy Little Things


A new project and a good book


Fresh snow

What happy little things are you celebrating these days?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Long Weekend

Ahhh, three-day weekends.

I had a lovely Saturday afternoon all to myself, with the boys all at friends' houses and C at his mother's. As I so often do, I sat with all of my projects spread out around me, not knowing which to dig into first--like being at a gourmet dessert buffet.  

On Sunday, we went for a walk in the woods and Z decided to trek to his grandpa's house.
 C caught up with him after he'd already crossed the river.

I took the opportunity to kick back in the snow before heading home to what I hoped would be a quiet house (but E and M had beat me there).

And play with close-up photos some more. It was hard to focus with my glasses wet from the snow and fogged from the cold air and my warm face.

Monday the sun came back, one of those bright February days that reminds you spring just might come back.

When I got up in the morning, I found the boys all reading in their room.

Z hates to have his picture taken, so I have to sneak, taking them through the doorway, or of his hands while I'm pretending to look at pictures I've already taken.

I started a little basement re-org/tidy up that I hope to finish and tell you about soon,

And then I threw the kids outside when they started to drive me crazy (making me slightly grateful I don't share their February vacation--at the end of the week one of us might be forced to move out into a snow cave).

I think we all might be suffering from a bit of spring fever (or is it cabin fever?). These lilac buds give me hope we won't have too long to wait.

In the meantime, this is the perfect book to read on a blustery, windy, snowy winter's day, so lovely and haunting and mysterious.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope your day is full of lots of love!

Finished Valentines...yes I cut out the paper hearts and threaded the yarn. E stamped his name, using the signature stamp I had made when he was four––in his four-year-old handwriting! Z scratched a letter "Z" onto his.

This year's Valentine's card––a picture of a heart E discovered in December formed in the ice on a small pond near our house.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chinese New Year and Coconut Snow Ice Cream Recipe

Happy Year of the Black Snake!

E and Z's best friend and his parents joined us for our annual Chinese New Year celebration Sunday afternoon (Past Chinese New Years: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009). We had a daytime party, because I had a meeting to go to Sunday night, and it turns out that the middle of the day is the best time to have parties with kids––they went out to play in the snow, and no one was tired or cranky or kept up past their bedtime. Too bad it took me eleven-and-three-quarter years of parenthood to figure that out!

Anyway, our friends brought lo-mein, a yummy jicama salad, stir-fried veggies with beef and beef teriyaki on a stick. I made egg rolls with my world-famous sweet & sour sauce

We didn't do any Chinese New Year crafts––I got out our Buddha Board and some origami paper, but mostly the kids wanted to play out in the snow (except when they snuck upstairs to watch Ninjago on the least it has an Asian theme...), which is just how it should be.

I had looked up traditional Chinese New Year desserts online, but everything sounded complicated, with steaming and mysterious ingredients (glutinous rice flour). So then I was going to make the brownies from the Forks Over Knives cookbook, using aduki beans instead of black beans (aduki beans bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year), but I didn't want to go out into the blizzard to find things like date syrup and caramel extract. And then it snowed. A lot. So what else is a person to do but make:

Coconut Snow Ice Cream

Whisk together until smooth:
1 can coconut milk (the thick, creamy kind)
2 cups coconut milk from the carton (the thin, milky kind)

1/2 cup (or more) sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut milk

Scoop your largest mixing bowl full of fresh, clean snow. 

Scoop about half of the snow into another bowl.

Pour the coconut mixture into the second bowl of snow. 

Stir. The snow will shrink down as the liquid mixes in. Add more snow until all of the coconut mixture has been absorbed and it takes on the consistency of ice cream. The amount of snow you need will depend on how much moisture your snow has to begin with. Play around with it until it seems right.

Scoop into bowls and eat right away. This recipe made enough for eight people to each have a small bowlful (about one cup each). If you try to freeze it for later, it will lose its ice cream consistency and turn into a solid block.


(P.S. I suppose coconut is probably more Southeast Asian than Chinese, so probably not all that authentic, but it was yummy).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Blizzard of 2013

When I was a kid, we had a big blizzard on December 24, which was forever after referred to as "The Blizzard of '82." It had seemed so epic then. The relatives that were supposed to come over for Christmas Eve couldn't make it (and I was very put out that we had gone to all the trouble of cleaning the house for no good reason), and my Grandpa had to come by the next day in his Suburban to take us to his house for Christmas Day.

So maybe my kids will always look back on The Blizzard of '13 as epic. Although snow is a much more regular occurrence around here (Maine) than it was there (Denver), and this year has been more notable for its lack of snow, so maybe they won't.  

The snow started Friday morning and continued right through Saturday.

We went out into the midst of the storm Saturday afternoon.

Z throwing snow because he doesn't want his picture taken.

The river that was all black water last weekend. I wouldn't want to walk out on that snow to see if it froze back up.

It wasn't quite like in the Little House books, where Pa needs to hold onto a rope just to get to the barn without getting lost in the blizzard.

When we came back in, we made snow ice cream (yes, a departure from a plant-based diet, but I made up for it on Sunday with a coconut version I'll tell you about tomorrow).

We did get a good sixteen inches of light, fluffy snow in our front yard (not nearly as much as southern New England),

With thigh-deep drifts.

And, of course, mountain-high banks where C plowed.

I played some more with auto-focus

capturing winter weeds very close-up,

while the boys dug tunnels in a huge snowbank.

Sunday was an absolute perfect winter day––sunny, blue sky, no wind, lots of fresh snow and nowhere we had to be.

And a cozy front door to come home to when we needed a break from playing in the snow.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


 To help keep the winter blahs at bay, I did a bit of Valentining this past weekend.

I lined up all the heart-shaped rocks we've been collecting over the last year on the new mantel.

And then, because I just can't stop with minimalism, I added cards from Valentine's Days past and beeswax hearts on a branch (which turned out to be hazardous over the woodstove).

It's amazing how simple it is to find something, once you open your eyes to look for it.

 Then I added a bit of red to brighten the kitchen,

 And some hearts here and there and everywhere.

Next weekend is already chocka-block full, so I got started on the boys' Valentines.

Z has never once shown any interest in helping to make Valentine's and this year E seems to have joined him in curmudgeon-dom.

I thought briefly of buying them some Ninjago Valentine cards ('cause nothing says I Love You like the Weapons of Spinjitzu), but decided that I didn't want to break an eleven-year streak of homemade Valentines, so I made them myself. Maybe they'll help me paint them next weekend (ha!).

What are you Valentining?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Thirty-Day Vegan

So last November, C and I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives (I think we actually watched it on Thanksgiving--how's that for irony) and we both found the message--the health problems of modern America (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) are directly linked to the animal-based diet, and that a plant-based diet can prevent and actually reverse those ailments--pretty compelling. So compelling, C bought me the companion book for Christmas.

My lunch when I was home alone Saturday--a guacamole salad--not exactly Forks Over Knives, since I ate it with chips (and a glass of wine).

I've been a vegetarian for more than half my life, and since I do most of the shopping and cooking, the whole family eats a mostly vegetarian diet. But we also eat a lot of eggs, cheese and butter.

Ever since watching the movie, I've made a concerted effort to up the number and quantity of vegetables in the meals I cook, and to pay attention to the amounts of animal products and oil I use. But I wanted to go further and see what it would really be like to eat a plant-based diet for a period of time, so I let the stores of cheese in our fridge dwindle and signed up for The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.

The way it has worked, so far, is that when I cook, we eat entirely plant-strong (though not entirely oil-free, though I'm working on cutting back by water-sauteing, etc.). Things we have been eating: butternut squash soup, lentils and rice with kale and sweet potatoes, bean and rice tacos (on soft corn tortillas, with lots of veggies on top), split pea dal with tomatoes and Swiss chard over rice, rice noodles with tofu and stir-fried vegetables, polenta with mushrooms, potato enchiladas. It turns out that it's not all that different from what we usually eat, only minus the cheese in things like tacos, and minus the muffin/biscuit/Yorkshire pudding that I usually serve alongside soup.
C, it turns out, liked the idea in theory, but balked when it came to implementation. He actually whimpered over the last stick of butter the other day (then bought some more). When he cooks, he just makes things like he always has--pancakes with full butter/milk/egg; soup with buttery/milky/cheesey muffins. And I just eat what he cooks; cause if thirteen years of marriage has taught me anything, it's that you don't do anything to dissuade your spouse from any type of domestic activity.

The kids continue to eat cereal with milk for breakfast, and get milk at school with their lunches--which have always been vegan (peanut butter and jelly or hummus sandwiches)--but I have taken to giving them water to drink at dinner. For my own breakfast I usually make a green smoothie (kale with banana and fresh-squeezed orange juice and chia seeds is my current favorite combo) or some toast with almond butter and jam and for lunch I eat leftovers or a tempeh and veggie sandwich.

The biggest glich, so far, was when Z asked especially for macaroni and cheese last Friday, and I served him this instead. It was good, but mac and cheese it was not. It just lacked that melty, cheese, stretchy good feeling cheese has inside your mouth. Needless to say, Z was not happy with me.

I don't think we will go permanently and totally vegan. I adore cheese far too much for that. Also, I have a hard time buying (coconut) milk from Sri Lanka when I can get (cow) milk from the farm right down the road. But, I think that in the long-run, I'll keep on with my vegan breakfasts and lunches, and make most of our family dinners plant-strong, and just use cheese as a flavor, rather than a main event when I do use it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Not Quite the Same

 As I predicted last week, this weekend was much like all the others––it was cold, we walked to the river. But this was not the same:

I can't think of a single time in the fifteen years I've lived here that I could walk on bare ground the first weekend of February, or, for that matter, the first weekend of March, and only a handful of first weekends of April.

A warm, wet storm swept through last week, snapping trees off at their ankles, tearing the sugar shack off its (admittedly precarious) foundations, and washing away the last of the snow that hadn't melted into fog the day before. Here's the river we walked on last weekend:

I can't help but wonder about what it all means for those things sleeping underground now––the roots and the salamanders and the bugs. Will my garlic make it? (I mulched it, but the leaves blew away). Will the deep freeze set back the ticks for a season?

After the storm blew through, the cold came back. The boys went off ice-fishing for the day Saturday (this is the compensation for being completely outnumbered––they can go off doing manly things and leave me to my own devices). I spent the day, as you can imagine, reveling in the quiet––reading in the bathtub and writing (not in the bathtub) and eating guacamole (ditto). I took myself out for a walk and played with the manual focus setting on my camera to try and get super-close close-ups:

Sunday I braved C's friend and got as close as I dared to his spiny self:

And then we did the only thing you can do during a snowless February––we went ice skating.

We walked through the woods to a pond next to our neighbor's house, realizing we had never skated on it before. This was the first time we had the right combination of weather, courage and skates that fit everyone to skate as a family.

E and Z tried their skates out for the first time the day before, on the ice-fishing lake.

And by Sunday, they had it down,


C and M whipped around the pond,

 While I hobbled around on an old pair of figure skates at least one size too small (after I put down the camera).

Later the boys went home to watch Ninjago while C and I walked down to see if the river had frozen back up yet––it hadn't, but it had formed some cool ice sculptures which we had fun smashing.

I was thinking of going out to get myself a new pair of skates, to enjoy this weird February, but it looks like snow in the forecast.
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