Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Afternoon Nap

Today's Gift

I never get tired of finding these beauties every day.

The What and Why of Blogging for Kitchen Mama

This is often a serious topic of conversation around the house. Whenever I click onto my Google homepage and see a new post by Jenna I hear Dave shouting from somewhere across the room, "What's Jenna doing today?" He is not entirely interested only in what Jenna is doing. I mean, the whole family enjoys hearing about the doings on her farm but this particular question has an underlying meaning: "Why are you reading about someone else's life whom you have never met?" "Why are you taking time from your life to read about someone across the country?" These are good questions.

For that matter, why am I blogging? I don't have anything interesting going on, like building a farm single-handedly, nor am I making intricate crafts, knitted gifts, spectacular meals, renovating a 200-year old home, or living in Paris. I don't expect an audience, except my mother (Hi Mom!) who lives far away and doesn't get nearly enough phone calls (sorry!) or photos of her grandkids.

First questions first: Why am I reading about someone's life whom I have never met? Why not? The blogs I read are thoughtful, informative, entertaining, or merely just about the life of someone I wish lived down the street from me. But that person doesn't. Rather, I can "participate" in someone's stories, learn things, feel inspired, or just laugh at a couple good jokes. I mean, I spend a lot of time in my house or traveling the same roads to the grocery store, school, or library. It's nice to go somewhere else sometimes. And sometimes it's a great thing to comment on something they have written, even if it's just a pat on the back for a well-written post, or words of encouragement, or to share similar experiences. Isn't it amazing to be having a "conversation" with people from all over the globe? Do I think that any of these people stand in for real friends or real physical contact with my real community? Of course not.

This is a crazy world we live in. All this technology, connectedness to the web, wherever we are (my son's favorite place to read The Onion or Stephen Colbert is in the bathroom), is really too much. We could all use a lot more time away from the constant stream of information, "news", advertisements, games, movies, whatever. Dave likes to only half-jokingly refer to me as a "Luddite." I like my cell phone, my computer, my blogs, the knitting help that is a click away on Google. But I also like silence, the outside, talking with friends face-to-face (as in physically, not Facebook), hanging out with my family just shooting the breeze. So I work at making time to read the blogs and time to stay away from all of it. It's not always easy to pull the plug on all the input.

Why all the questions? Or justifications? Dave just sent me a link to this article in the New York Times, "Mommy blogs". I don't read these kind of blogs. Well, maybe one, but it isn't mentioned in the article and sometimes I just have to take a break from it because her life sounds almost too perfect at times and I don't need to feel inadequate about my bread or my knitting or my child-rearing. I mean, I can make myself feel that way all by myself. There is a lot of stuff out there to read. The main people highlighted in this article have a business built around their blogging. They have literally thousands upon thousands of readers. They have book contracts and handlers for their blog, advertisements and product placement.

Naturally, reading the article made me question yet again why I bother to blog. This brings me to the other question: Why am I blogging? Um, I don't really know. I wonder about this a lot, actually. The first time I had a blog I had a good reason for it. My family lived in Inner Mongolia, China, for 7 months. The kids were 6 and 8. We needed a way to share our adventures and pictures and reassure our moms that we were surviving over there. I loved that blog. It kept me connected to home. Like as in, Home. Many times I really did feel like I was on another planet. Once we came back, there was no longer any reason to keep blogging. So I stopped. For a couple years.

The urge came back, though. I remember the moment clearly: we were coming home from a family camping trip and Dave and I were batting around the ideas in Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy". My life is completely centered on the domestic sphere but it's not what I ever thought I would be doing. I was trained to be a university French professor. But life happened and I wouldn't ever change a single step that has led to this moment. Deep domesticity means for me everything that goes on here, the food, the animals, the kids, homeschooling and then public school, knitting. This is my journal, I guess, although it's public. I need a place to write down my thoughts and the kind of journal that you write in with a pen gets lost or forgotten and they don't hold pictures well or get magically transmitted to my mom 3000 miles away.

Okay, I have exhausted all that was in my head, swirling around for the past day since reading the NY Times article. And somehow I have made the little blinking cursor thing disappear from my screen and I find this very unsettling, not being able to keep track of where I am. Not to mention the fact that it brings to the fore the other reason Dave calls me a "Luddite": I'm absolutely pathetic when it comes to technology. I don't know how to get the cursor back, in other words. Now I must go back to the "real" world for I am making a casserole and bringing lots of food to the wife of one of Dave's colleagues, who has managed to escape a very close brush with death but remains in ICU. The colleague, I mean, not the wife, is in the hospital. Anyway, that's real physical community for you.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


this is the prettiest quiche I've ever made. Too bad my camera is so crummy.


The chickens, that is, are spoiled.

It's going to get down into the teens tonight, quite cold for us. I felt sorry for the chickens as I was chopping up salad for dinner tonight so they got the butt end of the lettuce and a couple handfuls of cooked quinoa from lunch.

As I cracked five beautiful, bright orange, large eggs to make quiche for dinner tonight I couldn't help but feel the girls deserve a little high-falutin' grain once in a while.


This robin has been hanging out around the coop all week. We thought he might be ill because he just sits in the grass, moves to the fence when anyone gets too close, and then comes back to the coop. Today I noticed him on the coop door, looking fat and a little too comfortable perched at the opening. Just after I took this picture he moved in to drink some water. Sneaky little guy. No wonder he looks so well-fed.

What amazes me is that the chickens aren't chasing him away. And Fluffy hasn't caught him yet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And on a Completely Different Note...

Life is not all sturm und drang at the Arnold house. The kids had a good day at school. Samuel came home from school to giant chocolate chip cookies and a little quiet chat with his mom. So happy was he, that he ate his cookies and then walked off to play with a friend. Let's hope the gamble pays off and he is in a good mood when he comes home.

I have a chicken en cocotte in the oven, a fancy term to mean a chicken in a dutch oven, browned and surrounded by onions and 12 garlic cloves and a couple sprigs of rosemary. I've never tried cooking chicken this way before but so far I'm happy with not having chicken fat splattered all over my oven. We're having mashed potatoes and sauteed chard, too. Why? Well, we're supposed to have a "winter storm" but so far all I see out my window is blue sky, white clouds, and a bunch of wind. Doesn't this meal seem to cry out for crappy weather? Yes. But no bad weather. Maybe when we eat it the clouds will roll in. I have to admit I'd like a little weather, crazy as that may be. Whatever.

And now we are headed off to a friend's house (picking Samuel up on the way) to see their brand new baby chicks. Very exciting. We're going to start up a chicken babysitting co-op--a perfect solution to those of us who want chickens but also want to be able to leave home once in a while. And hopefully my chicken en cocotte will not over-cook while we're out.

Pictures of Our Weekend (or, Pictures of Everything Except Portland)

At Multnomah Falls, just east of Portland.

Baby Big-Horned Mountain Sheep off the freeway along the Columbia River.

We had so much fun consuming everything from food (and wine for parents), to books, to museum exhibits and French pastries, that we forgot to take pictures while in Portland. So here are the pictures we did get, on our way home, exhausted and bloated from over-indulgence.

Lessons From A Manual Coffee Grinder

Home life has been turbulent over the past weeks, to put it mildly. Overall, the transition to public school has gone remarkably well for both kids. They seem to really thrive in their schools, they are learning that they can hold their own academically despite their recent entry into school life, they're making friends. However, this move to school has happened to coincide with the next jump in Samuel's emotional growth, something "they" call the "tweens."

I guess adolescence starts more around 11 or 12 nowadays, or so it appears to be the case with Samuel and his peers. He seems to have been recently endowed with the overwhelming knowledge that he knows Everything and that we, poor benighted parents that we are, are alternately "stupid" or "boring." To Samuel's credit, this kind of attitude really only rears its ugly head when he is tired or hungry. Unfortunately, he is one or the other or both 75% of the time. Maybe I exaggerate.

Anyway, we have found ourselves sucked into crazy arguments or debates about any and all things trivial or not more often than before. Examples you ask? How about: 1) our food sucks; 2) my room is colder than everyone else's and it's a plot against me; 3) our house is too small; 4) we don't have enough cats; 5) the Red Lion hotel is for "losers"; 6) big cities "suck". Really, any of these topics seem like they should be dealt with quickly and firmly. They're non-arguments. But just like when new-ish parents get broadsided by that first "NO!" from their adorable toddler, we are slow to pick up on the new world. We don't respond well. Or rather, we react when really we shouldn't even give his fits the time of day. Kind of like what parenting books say to do with a kid in the midst of a temper tantrum: isolate him/her, make sure he/she is safe, and then leave them to calm down. We are surprised every time he devolves into toddler-hood, which is now called "tweens".

And so we went off to Portland, having had a rough week of Samuel being a kid and us being non-productive participants in crazy arguments. One moment he is our sweet little boy, the next he is some kind of alien being possessed by his latest insecurity, fear, frustration, or anger. By the end of the weekend, however, we found that we can all still be together and genuinely enjoy each other's company. Or rather, Samuel realized that this can happen and we figured out, at least for now, how to cope with his mood swings. The challenge is to be the adult. How come that is so hard??

We are trying to keep calm, not react, take each moment as it comes and above all, not judge this moment's behavior against yesterday's or even this morning's. It's not easy. We love him like crazy and he loves us like crazy, too. We are trying to be compassionate with him and with us, forgiving all parties involved for forgetting how to be civilized and constantly striving for that idea.

School is not the culprit here. Samuel was moving into this new stage before this semester. I guess what I notice is that he doesn't have the downtime like he would before, he can't sleep in and then have a leisurely cup of tea before starting lessons. On the other hand, he is being exposed to new ideas, new sports, and new people, in a way that we never could have achieved had he stayed home. Heck, he even put avocado on his tuna and black bean burrito last night. He has hated avocado since I overdid it when he was a baby. And he's contemplating joining up with some kind of soccer scrimmaging group at school, too.

Now, what in the world does all this have to do with my new coffee grinder? My fancy electric burr grinder died a couple weeks ago, presenting me with the opportunity to make a change in my life. I have long thought that a manual burr grinder would be a lovely way to enjoy my coffee everyday. I like the idea of this slower method which still makes for a mean cup of joe. Before I got my new grinder I would grind up a hopper-full of coffee all at once. The engine screeched and growled and whined in the morning if I forgot to do it the night before, its sounds reverberating throughout the house. It was fast, easy, no-nonsense. Now, as I wait for the water to come to a boil, I carefully feed beans into the little cast-iron hopper and then grind the beans. It takes a while. It's quiet. My coffee grinder gives me the time to think, to be in the moment, to anticipate my first cup of coffee. Instead of rushing into the day I have a moment of quiet. It's this pause, this appreciation of the process, the patience involved in grinding my daily coffee that helps me to remember that although the process of growing up can be painful for everyone involved, a lovely cup of coffee is there at the end. My son is going through the throes of growing up but by taking the time to savor all the moments and having the patience to get through a temper tantrum without myself losing my temper, both of us come through to hug and kiss and share our adventures.

It's all worth it, the ups and downs and all the in-betweens. My kids are terrific people. I just have to listen to the moment and help them along.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine's Gift to the Family

Grace stayed home today, exhausted from skiing and feeling too puny to go to school. My grand plans for creating one-of-a-kind, intricate and delicate and beautiful Valentine's cards out of vintage paper, ribbon, and whatnot (the kind of Valentine's I always wish I could make but never ever actually do) went out the window as I kept up a steady stream of peppermint tea, crackers, and strawberry jello going out the kitchen and into my daughter.

And so, my present to the family is my time and food. Three-Cheese Lasagna with Italian Sausage (a couple hours of prep, which is why we don't have lasagna that much), salad, and for dessert, Quintuple Chocolate Brownies. The latter has become a Valentine's tradition. They are so unbelievably chocolate-y, rich, and every other over the top adjective you can imagine. The first year I made them, the kids learned the definition of the word "decadent." Really. They are that good. The chickens even got left-over cooked noodles cut up small. I yelled "chick chick chick," they sprinted over to me, and have already gobbled it all up.

Maybe next year I'll do the fancy cards.

Snowshoeing at Spout Springs

Less than ideal conditions--high 30s, dripping trees, wet and heavy snow--but still, we got to snowshoe by ourselves for an hour and a half. The kids ripped up the hills skiing with their friends. And at the end of the day, yummy apple cake to restore burned calories.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Cards

I just helped Grace hand-make 28 Valentine's cards and attach little chocolate hearts to each. She'll have the most beautiful cards to hand out, too bad everyone else is apparently giving out store-bought cards. Oh well, as she says, "It's the thought that counts."

Two thoughts from this:

1) I can't believe there are that many kids in a fourth grade classroom;

2) I think she has a crush on a boy named Saroyan.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gabby Layed an Egg!

Her first since the dog attack in October. Maybe we'll be getting five a day now.


Lady and I went on our daily walk today along the river--up two miles to the park and back. The sun is so brilliantly clear, the moon a pale sliver up over the river. My sweater absorbs the smell of heat and sun and birds run along the water's surface, edging each other out for optimum bathing and eating spots. It's a day when the promise of spring is not so far off, when daffodils are poking their heads up out of corners of my yard and the chickens are eagerly snapping up every fresh blade that dares show itself so soon.

And back home I can't bear to close the door yet. The sun comes through the glass, heating the rug and inviting the two orange animals to bask in its warmth.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oatmeal Cookies

Because Samuel came home from school, smiling and happy.

Because we did his stretches for p.e. together and he saw progress in his stiff muscles.

Because Grace came home tired but happy from a full day, including spinning contests on the metal poles at recess, something which apparently involves a lot of arm strength.

Because I've started another Olen Steinhauer novel and it is really really good.

And finally, because someone mentioned oatmeal cookies this morning and it just sounded like the right thing to do this afternoon.

On Jacob's Guile and the Pressures of Conformity

We all have comfort foods that we turn to when we need a little extra love. Macaroni and cheese, chicken soup, brownies, risi e bisi. For me, it's Jacob's Guile, also known as mjeddrah. It's basic, it's tasty, it reminds me of being a kid. And it's dirt cheap to make. Some brown lentils, onions sauteed until golden in olive oil and salt, brown rice, all cooked together until just the right consistency. My mom always served it with lettuce and tomatoes on top, with Italian dressing and parmesan cheese from a green can. Granted, the dressing and cheese are probably not terribly authentic middle-eastern cooking, but that's how we had it, that's how I like it. The only changes I've made are an Italian dressing that doesn't contain HFCS and freshly grated parmesan. The kids used to like it.

I remember one time I made it when we were in China (for all the wonderful food there, we longed for comfort food like crazy). I used lentils my mom mailed from California (homesickness trumps carbon footprint any day), parmesan cheese in a green can from the import store, and baby bok choy instead of lettuce. It was terrific. I can still picture sitting around our little table in our equally little apartment, enjoying a taste of home on a very cold winter night.

Fast forward four years, on a not-so-cold winter night, a lovely pot of Jacob's Guile simmering on the stove. Samuel's friend goes home around 5:30. Samuel has homework and clothes still sitting on his chair in his bedroom, clothes I washed, folded, and dutifully carried up two flights of stairs to put in his room. [Long aside coming: All he needs to do is put them in the drawers. This is now nearly impossible for him. Poor boy cannot even close his drawers--they hang out at precarious angles, threatening to drop on toes, clothes spilling over the edges. You see where this is going. The clothes have been on the chair through the weekend, I keep adding new ones to the top, my request for this one chore to be done is actively being revolted against.]

Anyway, the friend goes home and Samuel falls apart, again. Last week it was white bean and kale soup. This week, it's Jacob's Guile, but the story is the same. To summarize the ongoing complaint: We eat yucky food, not good food like (_____); No, I don't want to do chores, they're boring; Why do we never get pizza (more than once a week)?; What about tacos?; What about Subway or Campbell's Chunky Soup or whatever is currently being advertised in Sport's Illustrated; and How come I can't have a bunny???

Life is difficult for Samuel right now and by a logical extension, extremely difficult for all of us. He has gone from spending the majority of his time at home to spending very little time here. He is surrounded by middle-schoolers, that most challenging, hormonal, conformist age group ever, in his first experience with full time school. It has to be spray deoderant, not stick (my objections based on environmental concerns fall on deaf ears) and only jeans, not track pants. It's a lot of change. He's trying to figure out who he is apart from us but unfortunately he has only other 11 and 12 year olds to balance us out. We had a lovely weekend together and then school began again yesterday and all fell apart.

The long and the short of last night was that he refused to put away his clothes (it's these moments when parents start to wonder why in the world they ever asked to have laundry put away in the first place), so he refused to come eat dinner (remember, the lovely comfort food?), refused to do homework which by extension led him to be sure that he'll never get out of this math class which isn't challenging him. Phew. It's a lot for a little big guy. And so my little big guy put in his earplugs, pulled on his beanie hat he insists on sleeping in, and went to sleep. At 7:30.

Remembering so clearly how it felt to be in middle school, feeling ugly and different and decidedly not cool, I sympathize with Samuel's plight. But it's part of growing up to situate oneself in the world, to see what you have at home, what is outside the home, who you really are. Heck, I don't think I figured out who I really am until my late-30s. And that idea of me is still constantly evolving, but at least more on a level of refinement, not radical construction. Part of me wants to give him the tacos, pizza, and spaghetti in daily rotation, give in to the Subway sandwich world. I want it to be easy for him. But I know that what we have here at home is a good, healthy, thriving world. He does belong here and he belongs out in the world, too. The task for him now is to figure out how to reconcile the two so that he's not pulled apart.

I have no doubt that these kinds of situations will continue to arise. It's part and parcel of raising a human being. Not for the faint of heart. As with each new phase, Dave and I are figuring out what Samuel needs, how to respond in an honorable and respectful way, while maintaining our own integrity and self-respect. It's nearly as terrifying as trying to tame a lion in a very small cage. Not that I've tried that. But I haven't helped someone navigate the rocky waters of adolescence either.

So for now, Jacob's Guile is off the menu. I don't want my comfort food to become a bone of contention every time I serve it. As Dave says, we'll save it for later when the two of us can savor and enjoy it, stress-free and in peace.

Monday, February 7, 2011

One Mystery Solved, One More to Go

I couldn't figure out why the chickens had suddenly stopped laying. Bunny--my especially regular gal--hasn't left an egg in two days. (Bunny is the chicken on the left of the blog heading.) She lays lovely, gigantic green eggs. I was starting to miss those eggs.

This afternoon I came home from walking Lady along the river to hear rustling in the neighbor's yard. A quick head count showed me that one chicken, Ruby, was missing. I went around the 6-foot fence only to find Ruby frantically trying to get back into our yard. I chased her all over the neighbor's yard, caught her, brought her back over, and proceeded to search for the escape route. While looking for how she made it over/under/or through the fence I found this:

There is a seventh egg just out of frame.

Distracted from my search and no longer sure where any of the chickens were, I went inside to find a colander for gathering all these delinquent offerings, only to find this when I came back out:

Ruby, on top of six eggs.

Mystery number one solved: I have my eggs again. Mystery number two: How in the heck did Ruby get in the neighbor's yard?

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Weather stagnation, that is. Even though there is so much going on, the sky feels low enough to reach out and touch, not a whisper of wind, slow slow Super Bowl Sunday. It seems like everyone in town is hunkered down inside. We have nothing to complain about, weather-wise, other than the incredible sameness of every day: grey, still, 40 degrees. I want to run outside and shout at the weather gods to do something, anything. Many many people would tell me to stuff it, especially everyone anywhere other than the west coast. I know.


The main thing has been to get outside as much as possible. The dog thinks she's died and gone to heaven, she's getting long walks every day, even an occasional jaunt up Badger Mtn. It's been a good thing to be able to move outside. I cleaned out the chicken coop yesterday. Huge slabs of poop and shavings. Lovely. But now my eggs will not need quite so much scrubbing before we can eat them. And I like to think the chickens appreciate it. Really, though, they just run after me, follow me around, because I am a walking refrigerator for them.

I finished Grace's nightgown but am stalled out on the sweater for Dave. It just goes on and on, around and around, and I am not so skilled that I can knit and read, or watch a movie, without making a mess of it. I'm listening to podcasts from France Inter. I should be able to listen and knit. Just haven't done it yet. Everyday is a new day trying to figure out a routine, trying not to plan too much or not enough. Wanting to go back to bed and read a novel where it's cozy and warm. The podcasts are great, though. Crazy interviews with James Ellroy or Mikhail Baryshnikov, engrossing stories on layoffs in France, histories of Homer or whorehouses. Really, the whole gamut. I repeat phrases, learn how to pronounce things like ".com", stuff that has come about since I lived in Paris. Hoping to get comfortable again with my French before starting up the quarter teaching.

The stagnation is supposed to lift early in the week. I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Temporary Cease-Fire

A first in the annals of the Tom-Fluffy Wars

Works in Progress

Dave's sweater

Grace's nightgown

Brushing up on my French in preparation for teaching at the college starting Spring Quarter.