Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Birds and a Banjo

For the last couple mornings Goldfinches have swarmed my birch tree in the backyard. They apparently love the buds. I wonder if that affects how many leaves I'll have this year? And this evening, I looked out my bathroom window to see 10-15 Western Kingbirds swarming the tree in the corner of our yard. It's a banner year for backyard birdwatching, I guess. Maybe they feel safe from the cats because of the chickens? If so, they are sorely mistaken because Fluffy brought one of the finches in on Monday.

By the time I found my camera there were only three Western Kingbirds in the tree. You can just make out one in the middle left, sort of above the squirrel nest peeking out from a farther tree. You can see it's yellow breast.

In other news, I worked on my clawhammer technique today. We're supposed to learn "Old Molly Hare" by this weekend and post videos of ourselves for Cold Antler Farm's Banjo Equinox. Um, that may be a horrible stretch for me, but I did work on my banjo today. And my index finger on my left hand is tender from trying to push down strings. Oh I have such a long way to go. Here is a not-so-flattering picture of me with my banjo, just to prove I'm not making this up.

Baseball Tuesday--Sam Pitching and Catching

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Further Proof...

that one should never ever get too smug about juggling millions of tasks all at once.


**trying to get my French class up and running, confronted with a whole new world of technology that didn't exist when I last taught, five years ago; hoping that I won't make a total fool of myself in class--the language? no problem; the technology? ack!!!

**how to get in that all-so-important daily walk when there is a class to plan (see above), grocery shopping to be done (but not before a menu is planned), a banjo arrives in the mail, and there is a baseball game AND a soccer practice tonight?

**the banjo arrived--feel like I have twenty thumbs and no memory whatsoever of notes, music, anything... On the other hand, I am thrilled by my banjo and wish I could devote all day to it but can't because of... (see above)

**chickens?? thank goodness they are self-sufficient as long as the food and water is kept up; and they gave me five eggs today.

**and then, all of these "above's"??? They mean nothing when compared to Japan and Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chagrined, I will finish my post, take a deep breath, look around at my quiet house (the proverbial quiet before the storm, that is), and maybe take out the banjo again and try to figure out that clawhammer lick. I know I'll get it eventually.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Bread, Cast Iron, and a French Syllabus

It seems like there should be some sort of logical connection between the bread I baked this morning, the size 6 cast iron pan I salvaged from great-granny's garbage pile, and the French syllabus I worked on today in preparation for spring quarter starting next Monday. I accomplished all three projects at the same time today, moving from bread sponge to steel-wool-scrubbing of the pan, to mapping out what my students will be learning in the two chapters we'll cover, and back to bread or the pan, or the computer, until all three are now all done.

I guess that I like having these three lumped together because of what they represent for me: loaves of bread lovingly kneaded, ready for butter and jam snacks after school and sandwiches in tomorrow's lunches; a cast iron pan from our beloved 95-year old farm wife granny, who woke up every day at 5 and went to bed well past dark her entire life, working in the kitchen and the garden and making memories shared by all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and a French syllabus, my return to teaching at the college level now that my kids are in school, putting my own many years of schooling back to work, doing something outside the home but that is also as satisfying as making bread or preserving a pan. Baking, family, and education. They all weave together, they're all part of who I am now: a web woven of working toward learning who I am and what I'm meant to do in life, criss-crossed through all the spaces at home, with little forays out to connect with young people dipping their toes into another language.

Living Dangerously

Will it rain?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Potted Chickens

I don't know how I'm going to be able to fill these pots (usually occupied by herbs in the summer) with these girls ravaging even the dirt.

My Little Boy

I tried to find a picture of Sam when he was about 3 just now. He had constructed an entire "car" from my blue laundry basket, complete with four posts holding up a roof and a steering wheel. And he fit in with plenty of room for his long car ride. Alas, I could not find it for proper comparison with the picture below. You'll just have to imagine a chubby little blond boy with bright blue eyes, ecstatic over his creation.

In a fit of trying to avoid his math homework this morning, Sam settled himself into the same laundry basket. The effect is not quite the same.

Those are men's size 9 feet there. Yikes.

Soccer Saturday (for Grandma)

I had great intentions to take really good, close-up action pictures of both kids at their games yesterday. Unfortunately, I got mediocre, not too close-up, slightly fuzzy pictures of Grace and none of Sam. Luckily (?) Sam has three games a week so I'll try again on Tuesday. Today will just be about soccer. Grace is in a yellow jersey, #15, with a blue long-sleeve undershirt.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thoughts on "Community"

The quiet hibernation of winter has definitely given way to the frenetic activity of spring here in our little corner of the world. Physical signs abound, obviously, but it's the inanimate harbingers of spring that have got me thinking about "Community." Capital "c" Community because it's the community that is not visible to the naked eye and that must be developed over months if not years.

In the past week I've become expert at texting and emailing moms from baseball, soccer, and horse riding, organizing carpools. That is, we moms have been frantically trying to figure out how to balance homework, dinner planning, and daily sports practices that take place at the far ends of our community (as in, collection of small towns). This is particularly stressful for moms like myself who have antiquated ideas about cooking from scratch, family dinners, and early bedtimes for growing, exhausted kids. How to fit it all in? And make a lovely chicken curry (tonight's conundrum)?

Carpooling and texting and emailing might not seem like such radical activities (although anything I am able to master in the way of technology is a small victory in itself) except that back in the day when Dave and I were poor graduate students living off our credit cards we used to wax poetic about "Community." That elusive kind of community where you have elderly neighbors, hip young neighbors, kids, colleagues, mail carriers, family doctors, grocery store clerks... People you interact with on a regular basis, have a shared history with, help out in times of need, receive help from, share recipes, take in their mail and water their plants. And you do this over years and years. You watch their kids grow up, you help out when the little old lady needs her driveway shoveled or groceries picked up, you bring food when someone is sick or a baby is born.

At the time that we were building these community-castles-in-the-sky, we were living either in New Haven, Los Angeles, Paris, or Naknek, AK. We had graduate school community or cannery worker community. We didn't have Community--how can you when you're moving from one location to another every year?

Fast forward many years. We've been living in the same town for 13 years now, a record that rivals only that from when we were kids growing up in our respective hometowns. And in 6 years I'll have surpassed that hometown record. We've even lived on the same street, having bought a house a stone's throw from where we rented. When we moved here we didn't know anybody other than Dave's colleagues at the college. I really didn't know anyone. We had major culture shock--we came from Los Angeles to a small southeastern Washington town. We were used to radical, liberal, partying graduate students. We didn't find the same here. In LA we were part of the majority (politically speaking), here we are definitely in the minority. We felt very estranged, stranded, disconnected in our new home.

And then we had kids. Amazing how that can change things (understatement of the year, no?). I learned about play dates at the park, open gym at the local gymnastics club, swim lessons, local nature hikes with other homeschoolers. I learned about being a mom with other new moms, and from some old pros, too, and I learned about the natural rhythms of this place. I watched seasons come and go, over and over again. I raked the same sycamore leaves off my yard every year, at first with a kid in a baby sling, then with a kid jumping in the piles and another one in the sling. I grew into my new life and I made friends and acquaintances along the way.

So now, here I am, in my 13th spring. Yesterday I had to make sure that Dave picked up two other boys and take them along with Sam to baseball practice; I had to drive Grace's classmate home from horse riding. Today another parent will drive the kids, another one will pick them up. It struck me on that drive home from horse riding that we have this huge network now of people that we see all the time, people we see only in baseball season, and people we see somewhere in between. We have the community that we romanticized so long ago. It has its problems, like any community, but it's ours. We are invested in it, in our neighbors (whether we know them or not), in the parks and open spaces and rhythms of life.

Community is a good thing, isn't it?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Fever

Dinner is in the crockpot--white beans and sausage--the kids are off to school, there is a pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen, and I am in sore need of a shower.

However, two mourning doves perched on the telephone wire outside confirmed for me that I need to get outside, NOW. It's absolutely beautiful out: sunny with white whispy clouds, enough of a wind to shake the fuzzies off the trees (cottonwood, brown crunchy leaves), and an early morning sparkle that can only happen the morning after a good spring rain.

Time for Lady and me to get moving.

Monday, March 21, 2011

"Be Kind"

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life--
be kind be kind be kind be kind--but
because it's good for the soul, and,
what's more, for others, it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there's
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with the minute particulars?
Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

Michael Blumenthal

Vernal Equinox, One Day Late

An attempt at taming the scheduling madness

I know it's finally spring because:

--we have been fighting the nasty virus of no-name for the past 4 weeks
--baseball and soccer season are in full swing
--horse riding lessons are happening again
--the Alaska conversations are occurring much more frequently now
--Samuel's allergies are back in full-force
--the long-wished-for banjo will arrive in a week
--I start teaching French at the college in two weeks.

I could go into great detail about the hacking cough that kept Grace and now me up all night; trying to keep all the practices and games and clinics straight (which involves exhausting and exhaustive flurries of emails arranging carpools); half-hour drives to horse lessons at $3.45 per gallon of gas; Alaska wishlists (refrigerator in my room, paved-over gravel for forklift safety, a dry floor in my office), Alaska discussions with my immediate supervisor who happens to be in Thailand about hiring or not hiring; trying to remember to give Samuel his nightly Claritin; wondering how to take banjo lessons, practice, and juggle all of the above; and finally but certainly not least, keeping panic at bay as I quickly approach the beginning of Spring Quarter, having not taught college-level French in 6 years. However, as I find it exhausting just thinking about it all, I can't imagine trying anyone's patience with a rant on any one of the subjects.

So instead, here are some pictures of the less-complicated heralds of spring.

Plum tree blossoms

The ugly hedge

My forsythia is trying to make a comeback after being "helpfully" hacked"--I mean "trimmed"--by my chainsaw-wielding neighbor.

Rhubarb planted last year, vigorously reappearing--hooray!

Newly planted hollyhocks--optimism reigns despite the chaos

Local Wildlife

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Monday Soup

I'm not sick like Grace, but I am craving soup. Specifically, soups with legumes and greens and spice. I found one today to make for lunch and I really hope no one else likes it because I want to keep it all for myself.

Red Lentil Soup with Greens
from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers

1 1/4 cups red lentils
1 t. salt
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 t. black mustard seeds
1 1/2 t. anise or fennel seeds
1/4 to 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 T minced fresh ginger (or 1 t. ground ginger)
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups rinsed, drained, and chopped fresh greens
(I used kale, but mustard greens, chard, or spinach would also be good.)
1/2 t. salt
3/4 cup coconut milk

--Rinse lentils and drain. In a soup pot, bring 5 cups of water, the lentils, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

--While the lentils cook, warm the oil in a saucepan on medium heat, add the black mustard seeds, and cover until they pop. Stir in the anise/fennel, red pepper flakes, ginger, and garlic and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Add the greens and the salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the greens are just wilted. Stir in the coconut milk and simmer for a minute. Remove from heat.

--When the lentils are soft, stir in the greens and coconut milk mixture and add salt to taste.

This made a nice amount, probably good for 3 or 4 lunches. I also had beet salad with it, from the same cookbook.

Grace on Monday

Two and a half weeks of a cough, stuffy nose, runny nose, cough again. Our fault for letting her keep going to school, soccer practice, and vaulting lessons. Now I'm the bad guy for making her stay home today. She's her father all over--never time to slow down, always looking to do something physically active, loving school and all her new friends.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Story of Muesli: Fifteen Years in the Making

Sometimes you just have to wait for the right moment for inspiration to hit. Or more likely in my case, I wait around for the universe to slap me on the forehead, prompting a "duh!" moment.

Take muesli, for example. Fifteen years ago, Dave and I were living in Paris. I was ostensibly researching and writing my dissertation. He was trying to finish his dissertation. Really what we did was hang out in coffee shops like Deux Magots in the morning, eat our lunch in the Luxembourg gardens if the weather was nice, shop for dinner at the market and then eat that dinner in our little apartment. In other words, we did a lot of eating and absorbing of life, not much else. And one thing that we really liked was the muesli we bought in the store. It was so tasty and so unlike any cereal we'd ever had at home.

Since leaving Paris, I'd like to say that my life's ambition has been to find the perfect muesli again. I guess that would stretching the truth a bit, since a lot of life has happened since then (I left grad school, Dave got his PhD., we moved to the middle of nowhere, had kids, etc. etc.) but the quest for decent muesli has always been there in the background. Temporarily forgotten but never abandoned. Needless to say, it didn't matter how expensive or exotic the box of muesli, it never seemed to measure up to the stuff we had in Paris. Of course, it only takes a little bit of self-knowledge to recognize that Paris itself probably had a lot to do with the whole flavor of those breakfasts.

I recently found a great granola recipe from Mark Bittman that I've been making fairly regularly for the past year or two. It's wonderful, no oils, flavorful, and it holds you till lunch. The only drawback is that sometimes I'm just too lazy to deal with the minimal amount of cooking involved. It's the dishes, really, the dirty cookie sheets, that put me off. Sometimes the prospect of a dirty cookie sheet is all it takes to obliterate good intentions, prompting me instead to slice off a chunk of gingerbread for breakfast. Tasty, but not sustaining.

This was the situation this morning. The granola jar is dry as a bone. The gingerbread practically jumped off the counter at me, tempting me to take the easy path to breakfast. And then I remembered something I'd read in Bittman's Food Matters: "Swiss-style muesli is basically uncooked granola." The big hand of the universe just whopped me on the forehead and this time I had to the good sense to pay attention. A little raw oats, some chopped almonds, shredded unsweetened coconut, jumbo raisins, a sliced banana, some maple syrup and a bit of milk. In the time it took to throw all this into my bowl I'd re-created that muesli nirvana (minus the atmosphere, of course) from fifteen years ago. It particularly helped that I got distracted after pouring the milk, so everything had a chance to soften up, making the absolutely most perfect bowl of muesli I've ever had.

Now if I could only get a copy of Le Monde delivered to my door and have a boulangerie down the street I'd be set.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rainy Tuesday

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup and fresh baked Gingerbread with Pears.

Maybe a curl-up on the couch with Jean de Florette by Marcel Pagnol.

And hopefully the rain will stop in time for Grace's first soccer practice this afternoon.