29 April 2009

Look who's 6

Thanks, Aunt Katie, for the lovely tea set.

28 April 2009

Birthday Girl

taken about a month ago in North Carolina.

27 April 2009

Vegetable-Tofu Stir Fry

Let's get something straight. I'm not a cook, at least, not much of one. But holly cow, look what I made today!

And it tasted good.

Here's how:

Take a big pack (19 oz.) of tofu, drain and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes. Toss these in soy sauce (1/4 c.) and fish sauce (2T) and 1t brown sugar. Let it sit while you prepare the vegetables. Grab a fistful of carrots (five, maybe?), peel, cut into 3 inch lengths and julienne. Do the same for four ribs of celery. Pull half a pound of Green Beans (preferably the long, skinny ones) out of the freezer.

In the biggest frying pan you own (not a wok), heat 2T oil until it begins to smoke. While oil heats up, drain the excess fluid off the tofu into a small bowl to use later in this recipe. When the oil is ready add the tofu, stir occasionally, attempt to brown the cubes on all sides. After about 4 minutes put the tofu on a plate, where it will wait until later.

Put the frying pan back on the heat, add 1T oil and let it get nice and hot. When smoke rises from it, add carrots. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring here and there. While it is cooking, dump a big spoonful of minced garlic into the bowl of reserved soy/fish sauce. Add Celery to the pan, cook 2 more minutes (intermittent stirring). While it is cooking, grate about 1 cubic inch of fresh ginger into the soy/fish/garlic sauce. Add the green beans and cook 2 more minutes (yes, stir). Return the cooked tofu to the pan, pour in the soy/fish/garlic/ginger sauce, stir it all around cooking long enough to reheat the tofu.

Serve it up quick over rice.

26 April 2009

24 April 2009

Two Years & Two Days

. . . and two kids. Here they are standing before our (prodigiously) filthy car in Beirut, where we were living at this time two years ago.

If I had it to do all over again (and you never know. I just might.), I'd put more effort into keeping the car clean. I can only imagine what the neighbors must have thought of us.

23 April 2009

Today's Catch

Dandelions. This time I'm not talking about kid #2. No, I'm talking about weeds.

Or are they? I'm a bit ambivalent about it actually. On the one hand, they're beautiful, bold, vibrant, lovely.

And they only get better when they go to seed, transforming into beautiful globes of puffy, fluffy, silken-thread seedlings. A gust of wind or a child's enthusiastic "blow out the candles" puff sends then sailing into the spring-turning-summertime sky. Dandelions are a joy . . .

until they pop up in my yard. Despite all my nostalgia and affection for dandelions, I can't stand seeing them in my lawn. I despise how their leaves spread out and choke the grass around them. I hate how they look once the fluffy seeds have blown away. Yuck. And when they wilt, their stems look like gigantic, deflated worms. Ick.

Last year, as I dug up dandelions I threw them into my trusty wagon. Eventually I filled it all the way up. I had a lot of them, and I expected that (as a reward for such hard work) I'd see fewer in my yard this year.

It wasn't to be. Maybe the problem was that last year, I didn't start digging up dandelions until May. May. By that time they had gone through several seed cycles, and of course, those seeds landed in my yard and paved the way for this, my daily catch:

Almost daily for nearly a month, I have gone out on every not-raining day to dig up any dandelion in sight. They hide until their bright bloom gives them away. This year, I'm trying to dig up every bloom before it has the chance to go to seed. And what you see in the picture; that's a typical day's catch.

Sooner or later I'll run out of dandelions to dig up, and when I do, I'll move on to one of the other (2 dozen odd) varieties of Missouri weeds that have found a home they don't deserve in my yard.

22 April 2009

It's a Party

Last year we had the best party EVER for our girls' birthdays.

They loved their party, and really, look at those pictures! Fun! Games! Food! What's not to love? We had one party for both of them because their birthdays are exactly one day shy of two years apart . . . and the thought of two parties was, frankly, overwhelming.

This year the thought of even one party is overwhelming, so we'll be doing something else to celebrate. This weekend we'll have breakfast with the family and then spend the day at the Botanical Garden's Chinese Cultural Days. The girls are perfectly happy with the trade off, and of course, I am too.

21 April 2009

Mom does Activity Box

A little while ago Matthew started compiling things that would interest our kids--mostly these were print-outs of web pages--in a filing box. For weeks, fun emerged from the box. Maybe there would be paper dolls from the 19th century, or maybe they'd be from the kids favorite show. Maybe there would be an activity about Belgium, France, or Turkey. A couple months ago I blogged about one such session. Anyway, the kids quickly learned that Matthew's file box meant a good time for them and renamed it the "Activity Box".

These days, the term "Activity Box" has transformed to represent more than just Matthew's portable file case. It's become a synonym for anything the kids want us to do with them. So yesterday when Star began digging up what little good grass we have, I promised her an Activity Box of planting seeds (but not right now we'll do it tomorrow).

As it is wont to do, tomorrow became today, so we started a bunch of seeds.

Each kid got one old egg carton (Frugalein knew they were good for something) and we put potting soil into each well and added seeds for Rosemary, Chives, Basil, and Lavender. The seed packets recommended that we start them indoors. As we worked, the girls helped me make little planting-maps of our egg cartons in case we forget where we put which kind of seed.

Other kinds of seeds went right into the ground; sunflower, nasturtium, and coriander. I hope they sprout. I don't know what the kids will think if they don't.

20 April 2009

Mark Bittman

Here's a video that I found a few months ago. In it, Mark Bittman sums up what's wrong with the typical American diet.


If you take the time to watch it, please let me know what you think.

Her favorite book

At the moment, it's the classic "What do People Do All day?" by Richard Scarry.

18 April 2009

Attagirl

Today we woke up early and drove to Forest Park for the final 1.2 miles of Star's mile by mile marathon. Here's our happy finisher with her gym teachers. Way to go!

Go!St.Louis did a great job with this event. The instructions they gave us were perfect, the event was well-planned, their volunteers (who managed every step of the event for parents and kid-participants) were effective, and the whole thing was a lot of fun. I'm glad we chose to be a part of it.

17 April 2009

Greener Grass

For as long as we have been here (nearly 2 years) Matthew's employer has said that his whole team would be moving to another building. They have said that it will be so much better to not have his team out in a satellite location, but there are drawbacks too, and Matthew isn't looking forward to the transition. Anyway, today the move finally came. Because all of the office furniture, computers, etc. were between locations today, Matthew was home with us.

Here he is at lunchtime (10 minutes before Star's bus comes!) with the kids in the yard. I love how the grass is finally greening up, scrubby and patchy though it is. Matthew and the kiddos wanted to have some quiet time together before school. Now that it is evening and everyone is back home, the papa-daughter time keeps on rolling. As I write this he's with them watching a movie that he and Dandelion chose together.

Matthew really tries to make time with the girls special, and the truth is that his time with them is special, and I envy that. I've often wondered what it would be like to be the "gone most of the time" half of our parenting operation. I wonder what it would be like to be a novelty. I wonder, if I was gone a lot (you know, working, traveling) would I look at moms like me (moms who can count the times they've been away from their children for more than 12 hours in single digits) and envy that instead?

16 April 2009

Closet Update

Here's a before picture:



And here's a during picture:



And here's an after another during picture:

Back in March I hung the trim that surrounds the big closet opening. I thought I would just leave it that way with the 2x4s exposed, but Joe talked me out of it and even came over to help me install the intersecting trim. Joe is awesome.

There's lots left to do. I still need paint, a "floor" for the cubby spaces (which would be a roof for the closet space) above the closet rod/shelf, and of course, I'm going to build drawers to go along the bottom. We're getting there.

Did you notice that I moved some of the supports in the cubby spaces? I'm really pleased with how it looks especially now that I can see the closet's final form emerging.

15 April 2009

Simple Machines

A really long time ago ('01-'04) we lived in Germany in an apartment with walls made of solid stone, cinder blocks, brick, or some other substance impervious to good-ol hammer 'n nails. The options were clear: buy a drill and hang some art, or live indefinitely in a space that was more sanatorium than home.

We bought a drill. When we left Germany for Lebanon, it was one of the few things that made the cut and came along. Good thing too, because the walls of our Lebanese apartments were practically German.

And when we left Lebanon the drill (along with almost everything else) made it into our shipping container. But for nearly a year I couldn't find the chuck. You know, the thing you use to make sure the drill bit is held nice and tight? Yeah, the chuck was missing.

Our old plaster walls require drilling just like our walls in Germany and Lebanon. So I tightened the drill by hand, and managed to do quite a lot without the chuck. I hung all the drapery rods and drilled new holes in the floor when I rerouted the wiring to the upstairs. Yeah. But since I couldn't really secure the drill bit it slipped a lot and that made the work so much harder. But then, just a few weeks ago, I found it.

I've spent quite a lot of time with my drill lately (working on trim in the bedroom, trim in the dining room, etc.) and it is amazing that such a simple thing can make such a big difference.

Under the Table

Let's imagine that you came and knocked on the door, and I answered and decided to let you in. The kids would be there and they would be very excited to have a new person around to play with. They like to pretend that they are cheetahs or saber-tooth tigers or that they are characters in their favorite shows or movies. They'd want to play that game with you and sooner or later they would realize that a monster is chasing them. Monsters chase everyone in every game my children play. And to be safe you would have to hide in a cave, which in our case is under the dining room table. There isn't a lot of space under there, so to be more comfortable, you would probably lay down, and then you would see this:

Before the girls pull you back into the game, you'd recognize a few things. It looks like Star has drawn some princesses for us, and the big white 24.00--I think that's the price my parents paid for the table at the Goodwill before I was born. As for the big '450' . . . I have no idea about that one. A few years ago my parents replaced this table with one that could accommodate even more people, and this one ended up in the garage because I couldn't imagine them junking it. I was still overseas, but they kept it for me.

This table makes me smile. It was there for my entire childhood and now it is one of my favorite things @ 970.

14 April 2009

Orange Peel

Did you know that I can peel an orange all in one piece?

I have other useless skills too. How about you?

13 April 2009

At Dvin

Saturday afternoon I told Matthew that I wanted to go out for dinner, and I suggested Dvin. I'd read a few reviews and all of them made me want to check it out myself. Every review of Dvin covers the same basic points:
1. the restaurant is staffed by a mother-daughter duo and no one else.
2. the food is authentic and hails from Russian, Armenian, and Greek origins.
3. their location is easy to miss
4. you might wait a long time for your food

We searched the reviews for tips about how to not wait quite so long for our food, and feeling confident that the kids would endure, we set out for the restaurant.

When we walked into the tiny dinning room at Dvin, Matthew reported that he felt like he had been instantaneously transported to eastern Europe. Bold floral place-mats were set over linen table cloths. The walls were crowded with images of Moscow, nondescript watercolors and other sentimental kitch. There were rainbow colored ceiling fans overhead and lace curtains at the windows. This, Matthew said, is Slavic.

Despite our well laid plans to not wait a long time for our food, we did wait a very long time. And the kids got antsy. And progressively more tired. And cranky. They were a challenge. Just as I was regretting the decision to bring the kids with us . . . the food came. The four dishes we ordered were wonderful, so good that we knew then and there that we would not leave without trying desert.

That alone is something remarkable. Wrestling with children is usually enough to submarine an otherwise good dinner, but not at Dvin. Matthew was so impressed by their food that he felt it was worth it to be there even with the kids along. He definately has a new favorite restaurant.

As for me . . . I loved the food. I've only had authentic Russian food a few times (made by Russian friends when we lived in Germany) and so I'm no connoisseur. I don't dare speak to the authenticity of the dishes we sampled, but I would gladly sit down in front of those dishes again. Also, I must praise the atmosphere of the place, down to the mismatched dishes and the Russian music in the background. If eating out is about experiencing something different, Dvin has that in spades.

As we left the restaurant I persuaded the kids to pause for a picture.

They really were good sports.

Food for Fines

Did you know this is National Library week? I didn't until I took my kids there today. To celebrate, St. Louis County Libraries will accept canned good instead of money to pay off library fines (just this week, I should say).

And, wouldn't you know it, we racked up an impressive amount of library debt recently when I left town with the kids and missed the return-date for a book about Egyptian mummification.

11 April 2009

Punishment

I'm not entirely sure what Theresa did to deserve this.

10 April 2009

Cauliflower: otherwise known as Lunch

This is what I made for lunch today. Dandelion said it was delicious, and she ate as much as you see in the picture there. There was no bribing involved. None at all.


Here's how (adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Jan '07):

Preheat oven to 475 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Cut the green stuff off a head of cauliflower leaving the stem intact (I cut off too much, so beware). Cut through the stem to section the cauliflower into eight wedges, arrange on the baking sheet. In a small bowl, mix a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and 2T oil. Drizzle this over the cauliflower sections. Rub the oil in with your fingers, then turn each wedge over and rub that side too. Cover the whole baking sheet snugly with more foil. Bake covered like this for 10 minutes. Then remove foil and bake 10 more minutes. Remove from oven, flip each wedge, bake for 10 more minutes and it's done! Allow to cool (5-10 mintues?), and enjoy.

In the Beginning

There were bookcases on the wall.




Then one day they were gone.




Mary Ann hung maps in their place.


Where did the bookcases go? For now, all I'll say is that they're in a better place. I'll post details some other time.

08 April 2009

Recently at 970

back porch picnic


pencil box


the last good rose

07 April 2009

A touch Self-congratulatory

Look what turned up in my inbox today:


I wonder why they sent me this. Is it an effort to retain me? If it is, why would they want to? In ten years I've clicked on a banner add . . . well, never.

Oh, and cell phones are still unnecessary and annoying (unless we're talking about my cell phone).

Bagless

At the end of 2007 I decided that I was going to have a bagless new year--meaning that I was not going to accept plastic shopping bags at all . . . ever. I already had all kinds of great reusable bags, and I made up my mind that I was going to use them.

I can't say I was 100% during 2008, but I came pretty close. Shopping at Aldi helps. They don't just hand bags out there. You want a bag, you buy it. Most other places give you funny looks if you don't want their bags, but they usually comply.

There are some bags that work their way into my life despite my efforts. Like these:


They show up in my front lawn every few days, a newspaper curled up inside each one. Never mind that we don't subscribe to any papers . . .

I've been saving the bags. There's got to be something useful that I can do with them, and I think I've found something I want to try . . . someday, when I have time for it. Check out this video.


Looks neat, doesn't it?

06 April 2009

A good Wagon

I'm a little bit in love with my garden wagon. Here's a picture of the kids enjoying a ride in it last year at the girls' birthday party.


The kids couldn't get enough. My dad (and most of the other grown-ups in attendance) pulled the kids on ride after ride, snaking their way all over the back yard.

These days, you're not as likely to find my wagon full of children. No. But you would very likely find it full of stuff like this:


Over the past month I've gathered enough rocks from my yard to fill this wagon several times over. I've been moving them from inconvenient places to a kind of staging ground where they will wait for me to put them to a use that won't result in more yard work. Anyway, I'm so glad to have this wagon, because it does save me a lot of time and effort.

At the egg hunt on Saturday, we saw a wagon very much like our own. But it wasn't full of garden scraps. It was full of kid stuff, and it was yellow.


Ah versatility. Now I think I love it just a little bit more.

05 April 2009

At Jilly's

The other day one of the blogs I follow linked to Jilly's Cupcake Bar. I was curious. So I clicked over to their site, and so can you, if you want.

As I read through the menu I began to notice a trend. Most of Jilly's cupcakes are filled with delicious, ooey-gooey goodness. I've included a few descriptions from their menu. How about this:

"Red velvet cake infused with chocolate syrup and stuffed with caramel praline filling, topped with cream cheese icing, cinnamon caramel buttercream, toasted pecans and a pecan praline"

or this:

"Madagascar vanilla cake infused with lemon and honey syrup, stuffed with a honey lemon curd and topped with lemon cream cheese, toasted almonds, lemon candy dust, a sugar bee and a white chocolate and lemon honeycomb bark"

That reads like the stuff of special occasions, doesn't it? Well, today was special enough. After all, it isn't every day that we pick Matthew up from the airport. On the way home, we dropped in for a cupcake.


The cupcakes at Jilly's are huge. The girls split one (filled with strawberry cheesecake topped with strawberry buttercream and white chocolate shavings), and half was more than enough. In the pictures you can see that the girls are eating with a kind of modified chop-stick that we brought with us. It worked better than you might imagine. I had to share my pictures of their attempt.

We got four more cupcakes to go. We'll share them with my parents when we go over for dinner tonight. I can't wait to hear what they have to say about these!

As for me, I'm a fan. You can bet I'll be happy to go back for more.

04 April 2009

The Hunt

Months ago (in January, I think) we reserved places for our kids in the Botanical Garden's egg hunt. It took place earlier today. Now, as all of you know, you can't hunt eggs without a basket to put them in. We have baskets, but oddly (and for me it is odd) I couldn't remember where they were. The girls and I made a kind of game of finding them, and eventually they turned up . . . in a tub full of Easter stuff.

So we got it all out and made a mess decorated.


We were ready in a flash, and off we went.




The kids look reasonably happy in these pictures, and if totally-impatient-for-egg-hunting is the same as happy, well then, sure they were.

After the hunt, the girls climbed into a canoe for a little while. It was a great place to have snacks.


In the bottom right corner you can see their egg-hunt haul. This is the second year in a row that we've come away with a stuffed animal.

While we were there we ran into two kids from the girls' karate school, and we also met up with my cousin and her family.

Somehow, on the way out, the Spink Gallery caught the girls' attention.


I think we all had a great time.

03 April 2009

Good for Karate

Normally, I'd be making dinner right now. But Matthew has left town, the girls are both in time out at the same time and I'm stewing at the computer. So why would I make dinner?

Just as I began to wonder how on earth I was going to make it through the rest of the day, I remembered:

Karate.

The girls normally go on Saturday, but because they've got plans tomorrow, we arranged for them to attend a class tonight. Good thing I remembered--good for me, good for the kids, good for Karate.

02 April 2009

Goodbye Nanna

Matthew's grandmother died today. Here she is in a picture taken in 1950.


The baby in her arms is Matthew's dad. There will be a memorial service this weekend, and we're going to try to get Matthew there.

Papilio polyxenes Fabricius, 1775

Also known as Black Swallowtail. Back on the day it snowed, just outside our mudroom, this popped out of its chrysalis:


It took me a while to find a way to identify it, but I did.
Check out this link. If you have a butterfly of unknown name on your hands, you can input whatever information you have (a hundred details about the wing shape or the coloring), and it will give you a short list of butterfly species that match. When I put in my information (nothing more than what can be observed in the picture), the site narrowed the 1198 species they cover to just 16. I compared their pictures of these 16 to my picture to figure out which one hatched out back.

I was able to find the proper name for it and where it lives and a lot of other stuff, most of which can be read here. I think I consulted the same source last fall, and learned that the caterpillars in our yard were going to become Monarch Butterflies . . .

01 April 2009

Waiting for the bus

I'm NOT kidding (even if it is 1 April)

This what I served my family for dinner last night.


Those are Zucchini boats stuffed with tomato, onion, & potato, topped with Parmesan.

Star and Dandelion refused point blank to eat them. So I went back to the kitchen. 15 minutes later I plopped one chunk of these down in front of them.


You can have it, I said, after you eat the zucchini.

And you know what, they did eat the zucchini. Fudge, the original miracle worker.

recipe approximations:

Zucchini Boats
Heat the oven to 400, put a large cookie sheet in there to preheat. Cut three or four zucchini lengthwise after cutting off the end. Scoop out the insides with a melon-baller or spoon. You can use this for another recipe, so stash it for later. season the zucchini with salt and pepper and a bit of oil. Also peel and cut up three potatoes (1/2 inch cubes). Put these in a bowl, pour a bit of oil on the (1 t?) and some oregano and garlic powder and toss with spoons to coat. When the oven is hot put the zucchini on the heated cookie sheet skin up, dump the potatoes around them. 10 minutes later, take the zucchini out. and another 10 minutes later take the potatoes out.

While the zucchini and potatoes bake, heat a little oil in a skillet. While it is heating, chop a medium onion as finely as you dare. Cook it in the hot oil until softened and glassy looking--about 5 mintues. While that is cooking, chop up a few tomatoes or open up a can of petit diced ones. Add the tomato to the softened onion. Season with basil, salt, whatever suits your taste.

Add the roasted potato to this mix, check again for seasoning and adjust if you need to. Fill the zucchini boats. top with a few pinches of parmesan and microwave for a minute to melt the cheese. Served 4 at my house (two adults and two kids).


Fudge
Search through the house until you find 16 oz. of semi-sweet or bitter chocolate. Start some water boiling on the stove in a sauce pan or the bottom of a double boiler. If it isn't already in small pieces, break/chop chocolate up. In a heat-proof bowl or the top half of a double boiler, toss with 1/2 t. baking soda and a bit of salt. Heat until melted, and then mix with a can of sweetened condensed milk. When thoroughly combined add in nuts or marshmallows if desired. pour into an 8x8 pan lined with foil and refrigerate to set. Cut into 1.5 inch chunks to serve.