Friday, December 26, 2014

Seasons Greetings?

Our tree this year

I typically stay away from controversy. It's a personality thing. As an INFP*, I'm inclined to see both sides of an issue, and while I may have my own opinion, I'm unwilling to fight over it when I see how the opposition arrived at their opinion. I also dislike arguments in general. I like peaceful relationships. While I have engaged in the occasional rant, by and large, I prefer to listen rather than argue for a side. But today I am wading into the treacherous waters of holiday greetings with an opinion. 

I'm concerned about the enmity that arises from some of my fellow Christians when greeted with "Happy holidays." They respond with a sneer and a smug, "Merry Christmas." They want to "keep Christ in Christmas" and maintain that the reason these stores are open all these extra hours is in recognition of Christmas, not "holidays." 

To my mind, this is not at all in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. Christmas is about love. It is about generosity and gratitude. When someone offers us a greeting of "Happy holidays," can't we be generous with grace? Can't we gratefully receive that offering in the spirit it was given? When people say, "Happy holidays," they are not asking us to celebrate any holiday other than the one we embrace. They are not demeaning Christmas. They are wishing us well. 

I am a Christian. My family celebrates Christmas, practicing many of the sacred traditions of our faith--lighting of advent candles, reading of Scripture, attending church on Christmas Eve, singing carols. I like to say "Merry Christmas" to my family and to my friends who celebrate the birth of our LORD. But I refuse to be offended by an offering of goodwill. When someone wishes me a "happy holiday," I say "thank you" and return the kindness with a similar statement. What does offend me are believers who think they are honoring God by making a fuss over a simple friendly greeting. 

*INFP is the result of a personality assessment called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It is not a perfect description of my personality (or of anyone's personality), but it can be a useful label for understanding oneself and others. Rather than tell you all about it here, I'll just offer a few links for interested readers:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Making Mountains out of . . .

Hey look! It's me! I'm back online! 

Today, I'm going to tell you how mountains are created. I know you've probably heard that mountains are formed when tectonic plates move against each other and force the earth upward. But that's not exactly the case. Mountains are made from chicken wire and newspaper. Well, that's how Juliet and I made a mountain for her science class.

We shaped the chicken wire into a jagged mountain shape. I'm sorry I can't show this to you. I didn't think to start taking pictures until we were pretty far along. Then we covered the frame with papier mache. It looked like this:

It's important to let each layer of papier mache dry completely before adding another. We made the last layer out of plain white paper. That's much easier to paint than newspaper.

Then, we painted it gray.

Juliet added snow to the peaks (I would have made it snowier, but it wasn't my mountain). The project was supposed to be about mountain ecosystems, so she also put some animals on it. Look out, little chipmunk!

Every once in a while, I am captivated by my children's homework. It's very tempting to take over and do it myself. This was a fun one.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Terror in the Hamster Cage!

I had settled exhausted into bed following a church event recently when a sobbing child knocked on my door. "I can't find my hamster!!!"

Oh. No. 

I ran downstairs to inspect the crime scene. Definitely no hamster. We keep Pip in a glass tank with a screened lid. When we came home from church that evening, the lid had been pushed aside and Pip was missing. The evidence suggested that our cat, Cupcake, had taken him from the tank. There were no remains. 

Cupcake is a fierce hunter. She likes to slip out the back door to catch and dismember mice, rabbits, and birds. We figured Pip had received this treatment. 

Paul and I spent the rest of the evening grieving with our daughters, offering them whatever comfort we could. Eventually, they all fell asleep.

The next day was a sad one, but we held onto a small sliver of hope since we hadn't found Pip's corpse. Usually, Cupcake leaves behind at least a bit of the deceased. 

On the second morning following discovery of the hamsterless tank, I saw Cupcake chasing a tiny blur of white and brown. Could it be?!? I grabbed the cat and tossed her into the basement. I would have to lock her up for a while. The blur ran into the bathroom. This was more than I could handle on my own, so I burst into Juliet's room, "Wake up! Come quick!" She followed me to the bathroom, "Is that Pip?"

"Yes!" Juliet was delighted, "It is" She grabbed Pip's hamster ball and shut herself into the bathroom with him. It took some time, but eventually, she coaxed him into the ball. 

Pip has returned to the comforts of his tank and appears to be just fine. We have placed bricks on the lid. Cupcake is allowed to visit only when another member of the family is in the room. We hope she will no longer terrorize our little guy. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

What's In a Name?

We recently added this little guy to our family:

Photo: New family member.

The girls had been planning to buy hamsters for many months, but over time, they agreed to pool their money and share one. That way, they wouldn't have to spend so much. Clever, eh? Anyway, we brought this baby home last week. I think he's super cute.

He was nameless for a few days. It's hard to settle on a handle when you're sharing a pet--everyone has to agree. I tried to help. I suggested, "Hey, he's a Russian hamster. How 'bout a Russian name--like Ivan or something?" 

"NOOOOO!" They didn't like that idea.

"Okay," I tried again, "He's a dwarf hamster, so what if we named him after one of the Seven Dwarfs? We could call him Happy."

"NOOOO!" They didn't like that either.

"I think these are great names," I said.

"They are great names," Juliet answered, "but they're not great enough."

Laura chimed in, "I want to call him Mr. Fluffet." I thought that was adorable, but we still didn't have consensus. Juliet thought that he couldn't be a mister since he is still just a baby. 

Finally, a friend suggested we call him Pip, and everyone got on board. I like it because it is a little name for a little guy. It also appeals to me since it's a literary name.

Now our task is making sure the cat doesn't try to eat him. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Made for Walkin'

I go for a walk every day after dinner (except today, because we ate dinner so late). I've been doing this for a few weeks now, and while I haven't noticed any change in my level of fitness, I have been enjoying it. I like seeing my neighborhood close up and at a slower pace. I can't really get to know it when I'm always behind the wheel. Here are some of the things I especially like when I walk the streets.

(1) Wildlife Even here in the suburbs, animals come out in the evening. Mostly I see just birds, squirrels, and chipmunks, but I often see bunnies, too. I understand that they are garden pests, but they still delight me. They're so cute!
(2) Human life People come out in nice weather, too. Kids shooting hoops, ladies weeding their gardens, men tinkering with cars. I love to see life happening all around me. A few days ago, on a particularly lovely evening, I passed a man sitting on his porch. He was plucking a mandolin and had a big yellow dog relaxing by his feet. It made me happy.
(3) Front yards I want to make some changes to our front yard. Specifically, I want to get rid of the lawn and plant native grasses and flowers. I take pictures of the yards that I like so that, someday, I can tell my husband, "see, this is what I want to do."
(4) Houses I also like to admire my neighbors houses. On one of my recent walks, I noticed something I hadn't before in twelve years of living here. Two side-by-side houses down the street from me are mirror images of each other. They have different siding and windows, but the basic design is the same. Then later, I saw that same design on another street. Then I saw it again on another day. It's everywhere! How could I have not seen this before? This has turned into a game similar to that puzzle in which we are asked to examine two pictures that seem identical, but we are to find twelve differences. "Okay, those two houses are the same except that one has three large windows across the second floor, but that one has five small windows." It doesn't take much to amuse me. 
(5) Solitude or Togetherness Sometimes, I walk alone. I'm an introvert, and these solo strolls refresh me. Sometimes, I take one of the kids along. It's nice to have one-on-one time. I never use it as an opportunity to lecture them. We just chat lightly and pleasantly. I usually let them determine the course of our conversation and our route. We have a small river nearby, and a few days ago, Laura and I played Poohsticks. Then we went home and read "In Which Pooh Invents a New Game and Eeyore Joins In." I guess everything comes back to books for me.

What's your neighborhood like? Do take walks? Tell me in comments.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Basic Theater Etiquette for Audiences

I'm sorry I haven't written in a while. Life keeps getting away from me, but I'm back today with a rant of sorts. A couple of weeks ago, I attended ballet recitals for Laura and Juliet. They attend a professional dance school that produces an impressive roster of recitals every spring. The school uses a real theater with assigned seating, sets, lighting design--the works. It would have been a wonderful theatrical experience if it hadn't been for the appalling behavior of the audience. As you know, I have a lot of experience as an audience member and a little experience backstage as well, but I don't think it takes any experience to recognize that some audience members' self-centered behavior threatened to ruin the show for those around them. I can't believe they don't know the basics of theater etiquette, but I thought I would offer a few pointers for novice audience members. 

Arrive a few minutes early. Most theaters will not seat latecomers because of the disruption it will cause. Not only does it distract both audience and performers to have latecomers fumbling though the dark to their seats, the light from the lobby will pour through the open door. Depending on the design of the theater, it sometimes casts a beam of light onto the stage, disrupting the lighting design. Get there early so that you can find your seat and read through the playbill before the show begins.

Be quiet. This seems like a no-brainer, but the audience at my daughters' recitals had a problem with it. Even if it's not your kid on the stage, others around you probably want to enjoy the show. Don't talk. Don't even whisper unless you really really have to. Turn of your cell phone (you can't answer it during the show anyway). Don't rustle papers or candy wrappers--the acoustics in theater buildings make it so that everyone can hear you.

Lights off. Lots of people in the recital audience used flashlight apps to read their programs. The theater is dark for a reason. Those lights were very distracting and detracted from the lighting design on the stage. One audience member rested her flashlight on her lap and cast a huge pool of light on the ceiling. In the center of the pool of light was a shadow of her head and hands. I understand the desire to follow along with the playbill so we know where we are in the program, but you just can't do it. That's the way it goes in the theater. Remember that your mobile devices are very bright in a darkened theater, so no texting, please.

Don't take flash photos. This one is especially important for a dance performance. Those flashes can cause the dancers to fall and hurt themselves. At best, it's distracting. At worst, it's dangerous because it interferes with their spotting technique. Some theaters will not allow any photography at all because of patents on their architecture. Try to be aware of photography rules before you begin snapping away.

Stay in your seat. If you follow my first rule (arrive early) you should be able to take care of all your needs before the house lights go down--visit the restroom, call the baby sitter, get a drink of water.  Then you can leave your real life behind and enter the world invented for you by the performance.

Go easy with fragrance. I like perfume, but sadly some perfumes give me raging migraines. I know I'm not alone in this, so as a courtesy to those who are near you and can't get away, please use only a little fragrance or skip it altogether.

Some theaters offer etiquette advice on their websites. Here are some examples:

And here are some other resources:

Now, enjoy the show!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How to Buy a Dishwasher in 4,000 Easy Steps

Okay, so it isn't really 4,000 steps, but it has turned out to be a long process. It began, as most purchases do, with convincing my husband that we needed a new dishwasher. Ours was not doing its job anymore and required all manner of tricks and strategies to get the dishes clean. Eventually, he did agree to bring a repairman to have a look at it. The repairman, without any prompting from me, reported that the poor thing was at the end of its life, and we should think about getting a new one. But it wasn't until Paul thought through the numbers that he agreed. You see, in order to get the dishes even somewhat clean, we had to run the rinse cycle first followed by the "heavy wash" cycle. The wasted water and energy convinced him that a new dishwasher would likely save us money in the long run. Victory! On to step two. 

I believe I have established in previous posts, that we are academics. We don't just run to the store and say, "I'll take that one" the way a normal person would. No, we do research. We collect evidence. We plan. We labor over the decision until we finally select the best value for our unique situation. This time, we did it all online. This turned out to be a mistake. I was at work when I received a message from Paul that the dishwasher he ordered didn't fit. It was too tall. He ordered a different one.

The next choice fit fine, but I was disappointed when I tried to use it. It was too small. I understand that we needed one that would fit in our small kitchen, but the old one was bigger than this! I would have to run the dishwasher at least twice a day, maybe three times. Moreover, the top rack doesn't come out all the way and is difficult to load. On to step, what is it now . . . five?

Paul did more research, but this time he insisted that we go to the showroom together to make the selection. If we both go, then the children have to come, too. On the way to the store, we were treated to a chorus of, "This is boring!" and "I don't want to go to a stupid dishwasher store!" and "What a waste of an afternoon!" I asked the children to try to think of a time when Daddy or I did something for their sake that we didn't really want to do. Couldn't they make this sacrifice for their family? Sulking followed. 

We went to a store in the Chicago suburbs that rates highly for both price and service. It's been around since 1936, and we have had good experiences with them in the past. Their store is a wonderland. I have never seen a showroom with as much action as theirs. At other stores, you'll see four or five salespersons hanging around waiting for bait. This place was packed with customers. And if you walk all the way through the showroom, you enter a lovely atrium with a HUGE dancing fountain. All around the atrium are little boutique-style shops featuring small appliances, kitchen displays, clocks, computers and tablets, and mattresses. They also had features to appeal to children--a close-up parlor magician, free fresh-baked cookies, a bubble maker that you can step into and find yourself inside a giant bubble. The kids weren't complaining anymore. They were delighted. 

So 4,000 steps later (or something like that) we selected a new dishwasher. It will be delivered on Friday. I hope this is the end of the story.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Menu for 30

I told you in my last post that I would tell you about the food for our Mathematics Majors/Alumni dinner party. I don't know if anyone is really interested, but here we go.

I decided to go with a Mexican-inspired menu. One reason for this was the date--May 4, the day before Cinco de Mayo. It's also a meal that can feed a crowd. This is what we served:

  • Tortilla Chips and Salsa. I'm picky about the brand in this case; I love Rick Bayless's Frontera products. My favorite salsa is the Tomatillo, but that's not what I served this time. I went with one hot and one medium salsa. We chose the Taqueria-style chips, because they're sturdy and don't break easily when scooping the salsa.
  • Green Salad with Grape Tomatoes, Queso Fresco, and Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette.
  • Vegetable Tamale Pie
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Homemade Black Beans
  • Cilantro-Lime Rice
  • Bowls of Sour Cream, Shredded Cheese, and Jalapenos
  • Tres Leches Cake
  • Bowl of Miscellaneous Candies (for people who don't like Tres Leches Cake)
  • Miscellaneous Beverages including Mexican Hot Chocolate
I labeled everything with a list of ingredients, because I didn't think everyone would get the message if I just announced what was in everything. I also labeled the bowls of salsa "hot" and "medium." No mild salsa at this gathering.

I'd like you to notice a few things about this menu. First, this is a menu that can accommodate specialized diets. I usually ask my guest ahead of time if they have any dietary concerns, but I was worried that I wouldn't get all the information I needed with all those people. I can't let anyone come to my house and not eat, so I tried to make an adaptable meal. Vegans will find something to eat; vegetarians will find something to eat; lactose-intolerant guests will be able to eat; gluten-free guests will be able to eat. This is where my labels came in handy--guests could easily see what they could and could not eat.

The second thing I should point out is that I specifically chose entrees and a dessert that I could make the day ahead. I often do this when I entertain, because it minimizes my stress and makes me a happier hostess. Both the Chicken Enchiladas and the Vegetable Tamale Pie recipes came from America's Test Kitchen The Best Make-Ahead Recipe cookbook. They are delicious, and making them ahead means that I don't have to clean up the mess right before the guests arrive.I blogged about that book here. Alton Brown's Tres Leches Cake really must be made ahead so that it can soak up all the leches. This cake is super easy to make and is out of this world!

All the other menu items were simple and didn't demand a lot from me. The black bean simmered the the crock pot all day. The rice went in the rice cooker. I took help from the grocery store by buying washed lettuce and pre-shredded cheese. It was really just a matter of keeping the serving bowls filled.

I think it went pretty well. I'll probably make this menu again someday.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Party Time!

I think I am just about recovered from a party we threw recently. Let me tell you about it.

Every spring, my husband invites his majors and his alumni to our house for dinner. It's both a way for us to "love on them," and a way for mathematics majors to interact with former students who are now in the work world. Usually, Paul puts off sending invitations. This is partly my fault, since he usually can't get me to commit to a date. Anyway, since the invitations go out so late, we don't usually get very many guests--maybe as many as ten. This year, he invited everyone in plenty of time, so we had twenty-seven people say they would come. TWENTY-SEVEN! That is a lot of people in our teeny-tiny house. I wasn't worried about how to feed everyone, but I was very worried about where we would put them. So while I was planning the menu, I considered a seating strategy.

The first step was removing clutter. That's a natural early stage to party preparation anyway, right? We have to clean the house. In this case, though, I made a point of removing everything that didn't really need to be in the living room. I gave these items temporary homes in the basement, in the garage, and  in my bedroom. I even cleared away some framed photos to make room for beverage cups.

The next step is to pray against rain. It was still a little chilly, but I hoped to encourage some of the guests to gather outside around a fire bowl. This worked until dinner was ready. Then everyone came inside and stayed there.

I also had to think about serving food that could easily be eaten from laps. I don't have enough table seating for that many people. Many of my acquaintances (including my extended family) have large homes with eat-in kitchens and formal dining rooms, but we live in a cosy little Cape Cod. This meant I would not serve my guests at a table. Therefore, a meal that required a lot of cutting (hunks of meat, for example) was out. Have you ever tried to saw a piece of chicken with a plastic knife while balancing it on your knee? No fun. I'll tell you more about my menu in another post.

Speaking of plastic flatware, I used it. In general, I'm not a fan of disposable tableware. I prefer the real thing. I had to make an exception for this party, though. I don't have room in my kitchen or time in my life for that many dirty dishes. I did make a point, however, of getting large sturdy plates to make lap dining easier.

It all turned out fine. Yes, it was a little cramped, but when you have nice guests, they don't make a big deal about small discomforts. They just ooze gratitude for whatever we offer. We had a good time with these guests, and we were grateful for every one of them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Theater Mania, part two

All parents try to pass their values on to their children. Paul and I do what we can to encourage our girls to embrace creativity, love of learning, faith, respect for others, and myriad other values that characterize who we are as a family. In my last post, I described one of my values that I want to share with my children: live theater. 

I realize, of course, that this value doesn't carry the same weight as others. It won't break my heart if my children don't love theater as it would if my children rejected certain other values that are important to me. Still, I want to share something I love with them.

One tricky part of sharing theater with them is the expense. Our family doesn't have a lot of money to throw around, but good theatrical experiences often cost money. I don't want to take them to bad shows. That won't inspire them to love theater. I want to treat them to good shows. So this year, I've decided to work theater tickets into the budget.

In years past, I have taken my kids to children's productions at a nearby resort. These have be great experiences for them. The shows they produce are excellent, professional shows that are just one hour long. Young theatergoers can enjoy the performance without being confined to their seats for too long. At the end of the performance, they bring up the house lights, and the actors will answer questions from the children. 

This year, I wanted to expand my girls' theatrical boundaries. I took Juliet to see Phantom of the Opera at the Palace Theater in Chicago. We had to sit way in the back an account of our budget, but we could still enjoy an amazing show. Juliet, like me, was captivated. I'm so glad she and I had that moment together.

Caroline and Laura are still a little young for me to spend that kind of cash on their theater tickets. I want to make sure they are old enough to sit through a long show without a lot of complaining before I make that commitment. But I wanted to treat them to some theatrical fun, too. Chicago has many theater companies that offer shows for children including Emerald City Theatre. I took my two younger girls to a production of Ramona Quimby. Like the children's theater at the resort, this company offers a question-and-answer time following the production. I appreciate everything they do to make the event memorable and fun for the children. They are helping me in my efforts to instill this value in my girls.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Theater Mania

When I was a high school freshman, I fell in love. Not with an individual, but rather with an experience--live theater. That love has remained a constant in my life. Here's the story.

One of my high school teachers organized a trip to the Oregon Shakepeare Festival in Ashland Oregon. My readers on the west coast will no doubt recognize that name. Those of you in other parts of the country may be surprised to learn that OSF is one of the most respected theater companies in the world. My mother offered to accompany the group as a chaperon. I had never before seen productions as stunning as these. I was absolutely captivated. 

A couple of years later, my mother suggested we make a trip to Ashland, just the two of us. And thus began an annual tradition that we maintained for many years. We even went a few times after I moved to the midwest. It was the highlight of every year.

Over the years, I have embraced live theater in places other than Ashland. I have enjoyed Music Circus in Sacramento, big Broadway-style productions in both London and Chicago, intimate theater-in-the-round at my university, and the wonderful Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Every time I sit in a theater seat, I feel a rush of excitement as the house lights dim. A really good production, even simple ones, give me a thrill like nothing else.

I once saw a Russian-language production of Twelfth Night at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater performed only by men. It was part of CST's world theater project. I didn't expect to like it but in fact I loved it passionately.

In college, I participated in the stage crew for a production of Three Penny Opera in which the director emphasized Bertolt Brecht's idea of breaking down the "fourth wall" by placing the actors' make up tables in the lobby. Brilliant.

The show that transported me more than any other, besides those in Ashland, was probably The Phantom of the Opera which I saw in London. It absolutely blew my mind. I couldn't help myself--I bought the sweatshirt with the glow-in-the-dark mask on the front.

I'm telling you all of this to provide context for my next post. Come on back, friends. There's more to this story.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Name is Nancy, and I'm an Introvert

I am an introvert. That means that I am energized by solitude and quiet. As much as I love my friends and family, I find too much time with others tiring. I like stillness and quiet, and I'm unnerved by too much stimulation. I have an active inner life that may not be apparent to others.

I'm raising an extrovert. Sometimes, she and I don't understand each other. She recently told me that she finds quiet "creepy." Huh? I love silence. It soothes me. She prefers noise--the louder the better. She also thinks everything is more fun if she has a friend along. She wants to bring a friend to the grocery store. I prefer shopping all alone. Companions distract me.

I don't think one temperament is better than the other. We're just different, and I'm fascinated by traits that make people unique. 

What really fascinates me is how different members of one family can be. Caroline is more like me. A few years ago, Caroline's teacher told me that our daughter was "so shy." I didn't correct her, but the teacher's assessment didn't ring true to me. Caroline was quiet at school, but she didn't demonstrate social anxiety. So I asked Caroline, "Do you think you're shy."

"No," she answered.

I said, "You just don't have a lot to say."

"Right," she said.

I nodded. I get it.

If you are interested in temperament types, I urge you to read Susan Cain's excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I think this ought to be required reading for the human race. You can also see her TED talk here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Black Bean Burgers

I have picky eaters in my house. It's nearly impossible to find a meal that pleases everyone, but here's one that comes close. Juliet says it's her "favorite healthy meal." Caroline and Laura don't get excited about it, but they'll eat it if they can find one with a lot of cheese. Maybe your family will enjoy this recipe, too.

Black Bean Burgers

  • 3 green onions, trimmed and minced so fine that the youngest family member can't see them
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced 
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (lemon is fine if you don't have limes)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Canola oil, I don't know how much, just guess

  • cheddar or pepper jack cheese
  • whole wheat hamburger buns

In a large bowl, coarsely mash the black beans with a potato masher. You don't want to completely pulverize them. Some of the beans should still be whole.

Mix in the green onions, bread crumbs, garlic, lime juice, chili powder, eggs, and salt. 

Heat oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. I find that these burgers hold together better if I use quite a bit of oil. I don't deep fry them, but I don't just coat the bottom of the pan either. You might have to experiment a bit to find what works for you.

I use a number 16 disher like this one to scoop three or four helpings of the bean mixture (however many will fit in your skillet) into the hot oil. Then I use a heat-resistant scraper like these to press the blobs into patties. Don't be discouraged if they try to fall apart. They do that. Just use your scraper and your spatula to nudge them back into shape. 

Cook the burgers for about three minutes. Then gently turn them and cook for another three minutes or so on the other side. Again, they will try to fall apart. Just do the best you can. 

When you think they look done, move the burgers onto a baking sheet. Collect all the little bits that broke off the burgers. They're tasty, too. 

Continue cooking the burgers until you've used all the bean mixture. You can keep them warm in a 200 degree oven.

We like cheese on our burgers. I always have sharp cheddar in my kitchen, but sometimes I use pepper jack. Paul and I like that, but the kids don't. Put slices of cheese (or shredded cheese) on top of the burgers and put them in the oven to melt. Make sure the youngest child gets the cheesiest one or she will cry.

You might like to serve these burgers on buns, but I actually prefer eating them with a fork. Beans are so starchy already, I think the buns are overkill.

One more comment about their tendency to fall apart. I was once tempted to despair over a batch of burgers that completely fell apart. Eventually, I put all the bits into a baking dish, covered the mess with cheese, and called it "black bean crumbles." We ate it and we were happy.

So give this recipe a try and let me know in comments how you like it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mouse Hunt!

The heroine of the story

We had some excitement before school this morning. Laura came into the kitchen in her nightgown and said, "I saw a mouse in my room." Her eyes were full of tears. "Oh, no!" I said, as one who interprets a mouse in the house as condemnation of my housekeeping. I take it personally. "Let's put the cat in there." I carried Cupcake (her real name, by the way) upstairs and set her down in Caroline and Laura's room. I urged Caroline to get her clothes and come downstairs with us.

A few minutes later, I went back up and saw that Cupcake was seriously on the hunt. She scampered and pounced, and a gray mouse ran for its life. She caught the mouse and batted it around a bit, as cats will do. I left Cupcake alone with her prey knowing that she would soon dispatch that nasty beast. 

I went back again later to collect the remains, but Cupcake and the corpse were not there. Uh oh. That can't be good. Paul inspected the room and didn't find either the cat or the mouse. We got the kids off to school and went to work, wondering when and where we would stumble upon a dead mouse. 

I still haven't found it even after picking up the girls' room. I'm not sure if the mouse got away or if Cupcake put it somewhere. I'll let you know if we have any new developments in the case.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Coiffures and Trauma

Juliet fell apart recently over a frustrating haircut. The stylist had given her an "undercut" that has made it difficult for her to put her hair up. She always has these little hairs that won't stay where she wants them. The situation had reached an apex when she was trying to put rollers in her hair. She cried and fussed about the horrid stylist who had ruined her hair.

By this time, I was a little tired of her complaints. I thought she had a darling haircut that flattered her face. I was tempted to dismiss her grief. It just wasn't the tragedy she was making it out to be. I prepared to tell her to get over it, but I suddenly decided to go another direction. I picked up the comb and began to roll her hair for her. As I did so, I told her a story about a haircut I got when I was just a little older than she is. I told the hairstylist to cut it short, and she did just as I instructed. I hated it. The second I was outside the salon, I pulled a bucket hat over my hair and sulked home. "I was unhappy with that haircut, even though it was actually kind of cute. But it grew, and I went on to try a variety of other styles over the years." 

Sometimes, we parents don't make enough of an effort to step into our children's shoes and try to see the situation from their perspective. I like this short stand up bit from comedian Brian Regan. It's comedy, of course, but his point is a good one: adults could try harder to understand their children's feelings. 

Juliet didn't like her haircut any better after that meltdown in front of the mirror; and, yes, she was making a big deal out of nothing. Still, I made an effort to sympathize, and I think that fact that her mother understood alleviated her frustration.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Six Years Old

When is a six year old girl cute?

She is cute when she's dressed for ballet class--pink tights, black leotard, ballet slippers, hair in a bun. So cute.

A six year old is cute when she is missing her front teeth. Adorable.

A six year old is cute when she makes her dolls talk to each other. Precious.

A six year old is cute when she has curlers in her hair. Charming.

A six year old is cute when she reads on the sofa upside down. Amusing.

A six year old is cute when she runs around the house in a fancy dress and fairy wings. Very cute.

A six year old is cute when she is bundled up against the cold. Puffy, pink, and cute.

I had better enjoy it while I can, because I will have a six year old for only two more days. Laura's birthday is on Sunday, and since she is my baby, we will be leaving this stage forever. I know good times are ahead, but I'll miss the cute and cuddly phase. 


Friday, January 10, 2014

Bluestem Reading

I so admire my daughter's drive. When Juliet sets a goal, she sticks with the task until she completes it. Where does she get this? You can be sure it's not from me. My last post illustrates my tendency to get all excited about a plan then fail to follow through.

Yesterday, Juliet decided she would read all of the Bluestem nominees for 2014. This is a list of twenty titles--mostly chapter books of at least 140 pages. She will get a little prize at school for reading them and will get to participate in a raffle. 

She almost achieved this same goal last year. I was so proud of her, especially when she pushed through books she didn't really like. 

Juliet persuaded Paul to take her to the library yesterday so that she could borrow all the Bluestem books before anyone else could get to them. Since then, she has been hiding out in her room reading madly. 

If only I could imitate her drive and tenacity. I might actually accomplish something.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I'm Crafty

This is how I do crafts: 

  • Step One: I buy craft supplies.
  • Step Two: I bring them home and put them in a cabinet.

Sometimes I vary Step Two a little by leaving my purchases in a a bag on the floor of my bedroom instead of putting them in the cabinet.

I have a crafting impulse and just a little skill, but not enough tenacity to follow through with planned projects. Here's a small sampling of aborted projects.

The plan here was to make a nightgown for Caroline's birthday. It didn't happen. I hope it eventually does happen, because that fabric was expensive.

Originally, this was supposed to be a tiered skirt for Caroline, but then I decided to make the nightgown instead. So then I thought I'd make the skirt for Laura. She likes kitties, too.

Juliet told me that she wanted a Christmas dress that wasn't distinctively Christmassy so that she could wear it longer. That seemed reasonable to me, so I thought I would make her a T-shirt dress with a tiered skirt.  Good thing it's not Christmassy at all since Christmas is now in the past.  

This yarn will make a pretty winter hat for Juliet. Eventually.

I can't remember why I bought these wooden butterflies. Laura and Caroline's room is decorated with a butterfly theme, so maybe I intended to use them for something in there. 

I don't have a clear plan for these. They were in the remnant bin and I couldn't resist. I thought maybe I could set them aside for the kids' projects. That way, they'll stay out of my craft cabinet. I have plans for all that stuff, you see.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Baby It's Cold Outside

It's almost eight o'clock in the morning, and my street is quieter than I've ever heard it. Usually, by this time it's one car after another as everyone hurries to work or to school. But today, I mostly hear silence broken only by the occasional car.

People are staying home today because of the weather. It's cold out there. According to the websites I'm reading, the temperature is about -14 and the wind chill is around -40. The schools in our town (including the college where my husband works) are closed as is the library where I was scheduled to work this morning. People in some communities to the north live in conditions like these all the time, but this is unusual for us. So we are staying inside. My kids get a day added to their winter break. 

I complain of winter every year. I dislike the snow--I think it's a nuisance and a hazard. I don't like being cold. I don't like the extra ten minutes I have to add to our getting-ready-to-go time for our kids to bundle up. I don't like the soggy boots that block my front door. I don't like the salt all over my car. Yet there's something appealing about this extreme cold. I get a cozy, secure feeling from being inside while the weather rages beyond my window. I'm happy to be in my little house with a quilt and a cup of tea. Of course, I'd be happier if it were springtime, but I must acknowledge the pleasure of being snug and safe. 

On another note, I'm worrying about homeless people today. We have a couple of them that spend a lot of their time at the library, and I hope they are okay. A church nearby offers shelter to the homeless, but at least one that I know rejects offers of help from churches. Whether he likes it or not, I'm praying for him today.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, gentle readers!

Are you making resolutions or setting goals for 2014? I don't usually make resolutions for two reasons. First of all, like most people, I almost always fail at keeping them. I don't need that self-image crusher. Second, I don't really feel that January 1st is a new beginning. Pretty much everything in our lives stays the same. For me, the start of a new year is September. My children and my husband are all on academic schedules, so that's when everything starts over--we have new classes, new shoes, new after-school lessons, and new haircuts. That always seems a more appropriate time to make life changes. 

When I told my husband about my perspective on the new year, he observed that it's nice to have two new beginnings each year--two opportunities to reset our lives.

With that mind, I thought I would set three goals for 2014. 

  1. I would like to re-lose the weight that I lost in 2012 and regained in 2013. This is exactly the sort of New Year's resolution that typically fails. It is non-specific and lacks a clear plan of action. I don't care. I'm setting this goal anyway. 
  2. I want to make a few small changes to this blog, specifically pages and labels.
  3. I want to organize my bedroom in such a way that I can easily keep it neat and organized. 

We'll see how it goes.

What plans do you have for the year? Let's talk about them in comments. I hope to hear from you. Have a great 2014!