Sunday, November 29, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Glow

We survived our first meatless Thanksgiving and I have to say, it all went very well. At the very least, I didn't feel horribly gluttonous after the meal, and not because there was a shortage of food, but more because it seemed healthier. We had tons of leftovers, but somehow the meal just felt more manageable. Turkeys are so enormous, and though I realize the holiday is all about excess and gluttony, that doesn't mean you have to take part, right?

Either way, we felt better for embracing just a tiny bit of restraint, and made up for the lack of meat by making a praline pumpkin pie Never had that before, but it sure turned out nicely, especially with ice cream. The kids were very involved in all aspects of the meal, and it's always great to get them into the fold, even if raises the stress level in the kitchen. Not only do they have fun, but it's good for them to realize that cooking good, healthy meals is not rocket science. Anyone can do it, it's boils down to making a choice.

I will admit this, however: I sort of miss having the killer leftover turkey/stuffing/cranberry sauce sandwich, loaded, of course, with mayonnaise. You can't beat it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

The kids worked really hard all day yesterday to make a Thanksgiving banner for today. They did a beautiful job and worked so hard on it. If you really look at it, you realize those letters are big and took some time to cut and color. This was all done with absolutely no prompting on my part, mind you.

Today we'll make supper and as I mentioned, we're going vegan. The meal will be as follows:

caramelized onion (had to throw in that Martha Stewart description) and pepper quiche
cauliflower and potato casserole
baked Delicata squash
stuffed pumpkin
something green

I'm going to attempt to make some sort of gravy out of vegetable broth, but that might get too weird. Dessert will be pumpkin pie, ice cream, and whipped cream. Keep it simple.

Then I'll go out and run to Canada and back to burn off all those calories.

We also made baguettes, and they came out pretty nicely. They tasted good, and best of all, the texture was right on. Crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. I think the flavor could be tweaked just a bit, but we are very satisfied with them. They are simple in make up (flour, yeast, salt and water), but complicated in procedure. There's are several knead and rise steps, and the total turnover time is almost 24 hours. I can't imagine all those French bakers go through this, there must be come trade secrets going on over there. Worth a little investigation.

Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, and take care.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holidays Already?

I still can't believe it's already Thanksgiving, and that we'll soon need to think about getting a Christmas Tree. The weather has been so warm and there's not a hint of snow, which is a bummer on the one hand, but also a bonus when you're outside trying to fix a barn. I'm not complaining.

I think we've finalized our Thanksgiving meal, which will involve a lot of baking. The kids were bummed about not having a turkey, but it's good to try new things, and healthier ones, to boot. But I'll sure miss that gravy.

Audrey's chorus has been going well, though I think they are getting a bit ambitious. They are going to perform six or seven songs, and with costumes and props. It's hard enough to get 14 kids to learn the moves and the lyrics, but to engage an audience through all that will be a challenge, though every parent of the kids in the chorus will be riveted. I know we'll be. They handed out the songs on cassette tape and it we realized we don't really have a cassette player. We finally borrowed one but thought it would be better on CD.

I offered to burn the songs on CD and make copies for everyone, which was kind of counterproductive because it's not as if I need yet another thing to do. Then again, the chorus is reliant on volunteer support, and how can you not offer to help when it involves the kids? So I burned 14 CDs and the instructor handed them out. What's amazing is that we have a CD of kid's Christmas Carols sung by a kids choir, and every song the group is singing is on that CD. How cool is that? Good fortune was with us on that one.

I also volunteered to bring snacks for next week's chorus, but learned at the last minute that they want the snacks a week ahead of time so they have them ready at the get-go. I had to scramble to round up food and drink. We also offered to make some props, but I'll enlist the kids to help me on that one. I feel like such a suburban mom.

The teacher is very enthusiastic about the show, and that's a wonderful thing, though when I get glimpses of the rehearsals, I still think she may be getting a little ambitious. Plus, she is still tweaking the program and taking suggestions from the kids, who are fickle to begin with. What she should have done was chosen two or three songs, made it simple, and stuck to her guns. Instead, it's a bit chaotic, with kids complaining and not sure what to sing. There is choreography, as well, which is daring, to say the least.

One final bright note, the kids will be wearing costumes, and they needed a snowman for when they sing Frosty. A took an old bunny costume (sans tail) that JR had made for her for Halloween (JR did a brilliant job, as usual, though if you asked her, she would probably only point out the faults) in and the kids unanimously voted her to be Frosty. She was thrilled, as were we.

N had his drum lessons this week and he's still excited about it. I hadn't heard from the teacher in a week after we'd discussed the possibility of having the lessons at his house since he was a neighbor. This might have been awkward for him since we don't know him nor he us. I sensed some reservations on his part, and in an effort to be proactive, emailed him and said that maybe it was too complicated to have the lessons at his house, and instead have them at the music store like before. He immediately got back to me and said great, which seemed to confirm my suspicions. Besides, as I mentioned, we don't really know this guy, and to have N take lessons over at his house is a little weird. Plus, A can peruse the guitars and even play them. I get a huge kick out of her picking a guitar off the racks and playing it in the store. I want to yell the guys who work there, "Are you hearing this? She's only 8 years old." Of course, I never do. Nothing more obnoxious than an ostentatious parent. I know, because I am one.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to C. Weber for the pic.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cartoons, Creativity, and Colds

Thanks to HH and A&I for letting us know about the cartoon seminar at the Public Library. JS of the Cartoon School in WRJ led the show, and not only was it loads of fun for everyone involved, but the guy is a scream. Everyone was rolling in the aisles. I read his book, Adventures in Cartooning, on how to cartoon and thought it was a scream. A&N had a blast and I think it would be a fun outlet for their creative endeavors. Something to think about for the future. Plus, they got to play with their buddies, A&I, who I still think are great kids.

On the subject of creative endeavors, A&N have been actively engaged in all sorts of fun stuff, but what is particularly striking is that N is coming into his own. He's such an engineer, just like his grandad and uncle. Give him tools and machines any day and he's happy. Plus he's so inquisitive, we love to see it. Any sort of device or machine that has buttons or makes sounds will immediately grab his attention, and he's just aching to fiddle with it and check it out, though his ideal scenario is to get his hands on it and take it apart. This usually results in the demise of said device, but that's the price we have to pay for knowledge and understanding, right? In the past, he rode his sister's coattails and went along with whatever activities she dreamed up, but that meant she was in charge.

Lately he's been doing his own thing, which is really cool to see. In fact, he spent a long time upstairs with his Legos and made this really cool climbing gym, complete with its own parking lot. When he brought it down, I was floored by not only the coolness of it, but the creativity and conceptualization that it required. There was some serious thought involved in it. Nicely done. A added her own touch by placing the guy at the top with his hands raised in triumph. N benefits from watching his sister, who is pretty creative in her own right. She's constantly coming up with these cool ideas and then implementing them into real life. Of course, I have to include her Lego Space Warrior, aptly named Tim.

Also got to talk house stuff with KK and CF, both excellent sources of wisdom about energy efficiency and building, so I got some insight into insulation. Actually, what we discussed was pretty much in line with what I'd been told by the millions of people that I've asked over the past few months, but it's good to know the information is still valid.

On the home front, we've all been battling colds, and it was only a matter of time before it got to me. Sure enough, I'm feeling that all too familiar tickling at the back of my throat that's telling me that my time has come. Bummer, I can't really afford to get sick, because there is so much to be done. I'm busy enough as it is, but to tend to my illness is just one more thing to burden me, but such is life. The beauty of parenting is that you are not afforded the luxury of wallowing in self pity, a habit I used to abuse when I was single. So I'll just keep a box of tissue handy at all times, or use my shirt sleeve.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to David Lat for the pic.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Drums and Space, Guitar Picking, Pianos, Cartoons, and Thanksgiving

N had his first drum lesson over at the music store and there were two good things to come of it. First, he loved it. In fact, when asked about it by mom, I heard the word "awesome" being employed. The second good thing was that the instructor said that it went well and we could continue. I'm guessing there was some reservation about age and attention issues, but he came out of it saying that N "clearly had it going on upstairs" and that he was very focused to the instructions. You gotta love it when people say nice things about your kids. Plus, N was too cute for words when he came out, the excitement was palpable. We picked out a new pair of sticks, the teacher, AH, said we should forget about kid's sticks and get a real grownup pair, which I think N got a kick out of, and all the way home he and A got to practice their drum riffs on the back of my head.

Yesterday A had her guitar lesson, and she is doing so well. Now I'm completely biased here, and mixed in with a little wishful thinking, I can't help but think she has music in her blood. A natural, if I dare say so. I could be completely delusional, it wouldn't be the first time (what parent isn't?), but music seems to come so naturally to her. It warms our hearts (me and R) to no end. She's learning some pretty complex stuff, more than I'd ever known. Serious finger picking on some fairly complex songs. Impressive stuff

On the subject of instruments, a neighbor is giving away her piano and we expressed interest, though we haven't seen the thing. If it's in good shape, we'd love to have a piano in the house, especially if it's free. Moving it would be a bear, and now that my Mentor is leaving, even harder because his amazing truck was made for such excursions, but that's what happens when you hesitate and can't make up your mind. You lose out on golden opportunities. We'll see what happens.

The weather has turned sour but I can't complain because we had a stretch of good weather and I was able to work on the barn. Either way, it's not too bad because there is going to be a cartooning seminar and the guest speaker is a graphic novelist. The kids love cartoons, and A in particular loves making them. The humor and wit in them is fairly sophisticated, and I think it could something she could develop greater interest in, but we'll see. There is going to be a kid's workshop on cartooning, and some of her friends might be there, so it'll be fun no matter what.

Finally, the idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving was brought up. My first thought was no way, we have to have a bird, though we usually cook a chicken because turkey's are too darn big. Either way, we love whole poultry/gravy routine, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a cool idea. The kids would probably prefer meat, but you figure Thanksgiving, like all meals, are just a formality before dessert, so we can always make up for any shortcoming with ice cream or pie. Stay tuned for more developments on this one. Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Daniel Wilson and Mike Johnson for the pics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Musical Instruments, Raisin Bread, and Getting Things Done

The other day I saw an add on a bulletin board advertising drum lessons, of all things. Of course I sat on it for days before calling, and found out that the guy is actually local and lives in our town. How cool is that? Not sure what will come of it, but we've arranged for N to have lessons today, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully it will be something he likes and connects with, and somehow I think it will. At the very least it seems like it would be fun to bang things around, though having a drum set in the house might not be conducive to peace of mind, but we'll worry about that when the time comes.

We've also been out of mom's favorite raisin bread for a few days, and we've got to keep her nourished so she can go out and slay the wildebeest. There's never time to bake bread, though, between answering to the kids and training to be a real man. So I've forsaken writing for one morning to get it done. Wouldn't it be nice to have all the time in the world? Then again, when I was single, I had so much free time that I sat around and did absolutely nothing and then wondered where all the time went. Now, every moment is savored like a spoonful of ice cream. There's something to be said for that, as well as just getting things done and not whining about it. But boy do I sure love to whine...

Speaking of getting things done, I finally finished that piece for World Partners and sent it to BS. I'm sure the guy hates me and wants nothing to do with me, and I don't blame him. It's been months since I said I'd get it to him, but as usual, I bit off more than I could chew. The story of my life. I did finish it, and am happy for that, so now we can all move on. His unfortunate position is that he is not paying me a penny, so he really isn't in a position to complain, at least not to my face. In fact, I'm experiencing this very same problem with the designing of my website, which has pretty much crashed and burned because again, I'm in no position to complain since RR is doing it for free. What comes around goes around.

I'm thinking I'm going to have to take the reigns and do my own website, but that could be a disaster. Like the building of the barn, however, what a learning experience it could be.

One last thought on the subject of biting off more than I can chew, at A's choir they are looking for parents to volunteer to help out, and of course I said I would. I don't mind bringing a snack or helping out with something because I clearly do not have enough to do in my life. Well, I got a little lucky. Perhaps the maestro sensed my naivety and told me that before I commit, I should know that they'll need me for four nights in a row, and I have to show up at all four.

Wow, thanks for enlightening me. I told her I'd get back to her, but in reality, I don't think I can pull that off, though I'll give it some thought. This town runs on community involvement, and people in general are more than happy to donate their time for the good of the whole, which makes it such a great place to live. We'll see.

And in closing, just wanted to mention that I built a coat rack on the wall so that we don't have to get suited up in the mud room, which is freezing in the Winter time, literally. The pipes in that room burst last year, so we had KB come in and bypass the baseboard heating so that room is now excluded. So, that room will get no heat, but we never use our baseboard heating, anyway. It's just removed from the rest of the house so none of the stove heat reaches it. Whatever be the case, everyone is happy with the rack, though mom did comment that it was a little low, but how else can the kids reach it? For now, we're happy with it, so I'll leave it at that.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to G & A Scholiers for the pic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Planning Winter Activities

We are in the process of planning our Winter, and it looks promising from my POV. Then again, anytime the kids are enjoying themselves is promising to me. They love pottery, especially N, who seems to have found something that gets him pumped, but unfortunately this may be the last term for it as per the teacher's indication. I greet this with mixed emotion because on the one hand you embrace the things the kids love, but on the other, they can cost you an arm and a leg... and then some. Oh well, such is the life of parenting. There are other options, however.

They offer pottery at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, which I think is more serious because it is run by hardcore artisans. The Mack's take classes there and they have made some amazing things, but they're cool kids so it's to be expected. Anyway, it's a possibility.

We broached the subject of theater with A, and of course she was all for it. She is always game to try new things and it's a testament to her adventurous nature. We also thought N would have fun with some drama, though he's much more reserved. Even still, it would be a great way to be silly and crazy and meet new kids. I asked him about it, twice, and both times he said yes, even though he wouldn't be with his big sister. So, we're going to take a leap of faith and go for it. We'll see how this goes.

A is doing the Christmas Choir again (thanks to L for letting us know), and with her guitar lessons, and both of them ice skating, XC skiing, and hopefully loads of downhill skiing, we'll be set for this winter. If I can somehow squeeze in my real man training, life will be good. We are also looking into drum lessons for N, which he has requested. We'd like to maintain the pottery because he really likes it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Daddy Daycare, the Rigors of Modern Parenting, and Mary Poppins to the Rescue

Okay, I know I've commented on this in the past, usually with the question of how I get myself into these things, but this time I was caught off guard. I swear.

We were scheduled to watch HH's kids on Friday, and this was no problem. We love having them over, they're really good kids and have that Waldorf sensibility, i.e., they don't pine for TV (sort of) and go on endlessly about consumer culture. They are craft oriented and the bigger sister really looks out for the little one, a quality I find very agreeable.

HH had to go to a meeting early in the AM so they were coming over around 8:00, and then staying until about noon. This worked out perfectly because we wanted to go ice skating and open skate starts at 1:00. No problem, right? Well, out of nowhere I get this phone call from another parent whom I've never really met, though I know who they are because this is small town. He asked me if I could watch their daughter, as well, whom I've also never met.

His daughter, Z, is friends with A&I, and he originally asked their father, AG, if he could watch them. Since A&I were coming over here, obviously he couldn't, so he mentioned my name and now Z's dad contacted me. My first impulse was to wonder what the heck he was thinking. He didn't know me, and here he was, entrusting his daughter to a complete stranger, and a guy, no less.

Then it got me to thinking about the whole parenting conundrum, and how difficult it is to work to earn a living and watch over your kids. It's a tough world out there that forces parents to make tough decisions. We talk endlessly about the importance of family and family values, and then make it as hard as possible for families to spend time together. It's an awful situation.

Anyway, he clearly needed a favor, so how could I say no? This did, however, complicate my life. Not only was I now going to have to watch one more kid, which can complicate matters substantially, but we were planning on being somewhere. I didn't know this girl, Z, and wasn't sure how the dynamic was going to work out. Normally when A&I come over, the kids have fun playing or being imaginative or doing some sort of craft. It works beautifully, they know each other. Now we were going to have to adapt.

AND, I was planning on working on the barn, but now couldn't just leave the kids alone, at least not at first. My strategy, in the end, was my default emergency plan: put in a movie. It needed to be something non-offensive or scary, and wholesome, if possible. I chose Mary Poppins, which I personally think is a great movie, and dare I say, much to my Mentor's chagrin, one of my favorites. The itinerary was to let them play and do crafts until Z showed up, and figuring an hour and a half for the flick, if I got it started around 10:30, by noon the movie would be over and then the kids could move onto the next stage of their day. HH had arranged for another person to pick up A&I and watch them for the rest of the day, while Z's parents had arranged for another person to watch her, as well. Is that completely crazy, or what?

My big strategic error in all this was mentioning the possibility of a movie in the first place, after which they bothered me incessantly about it. Live and learn. The fatal flaw in this was that they were playing beautifully without it, and should have saved the movie as a last ditch desperation move. The minute I said something, the no longer wanted to play and wanted the movie. Actually, between 8:00 and 10:00, the kids were having a good old time, and probably could have just carried on, but I needed to get some work done on the barn, and new they'd be safe with a big bowl of popcorn.

Anyway, A&I's person showed up early and took them around 11:30. I let the kids watch the end of the movie while I cleaned up my workspace in the barn and then prepared for our big skating adventure. We were going to Stern's afterward to fruits and veggies, then to the library for food for thought, then to meet mom for dinner. I also had to make lunch for the road, and include snacks and skates, as well as warm clothes and gloves.

I also had this unreasonable notion that I'd go to Home Depot to get some work lights, but then realized I was dreaming, though this worked out beautifully in the end. I packed the kids in the car, dropped Z off at babysitter #2, then off to the ice. It was crowded at the rink but we all concluded that it's more fun with other people there because you can skate between the crowds. My foot is still damaged but I found that, of all things, I could ice skate, even if it might result in long term damage. After skating, I scored on some halogen lights on sale at the local hardware store, then off to Stern's for veggies, then to the library, where we saw the Mack's, who we hadn't seen for ages. We met mom, had dinner, then home. What a day.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to elvis santana for the pic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pleasing Everyone

In a turn of events that is sure to please both my Mentor and Martha Stewart simultaneously, I devised a way to make pizza dough using the tools available to me. As I mentioned, in the pizza class they use a bread scraper to gather up the dough, which is sticky as heck. The scraper has a thin metal blade that is rigid and works beautifully. Our problem is that we have a plastic counter top, it's formica or something like that, so a metal scraper will destroy it.

So I improvised and instead use plastic drywall taping knives. They work beautifully, and the resourceful quality of it all would surely impress Martha. It seems like something she'd do.

Pizza Lessons

I wanted to talk a little about my pizza class. Sure, it's not hammering and drilling, but boy was it a blast. There were even a couple of real men in the class, if you can believe that one, as well as a real-man in training (your's truly). As I mentioned, we had to jet up from Nashua to get up here in time.

The class is held at the King Arthur education center, and it's this amazing kitchen with beautiful big windows and fabulous wooden, butcher's block bench tops. Nothing beats a wooden surface to work on when it comes to bread.

The interesting thing about the class is that they do a lot of things differently than I do. It was very enlightening. First off, they don't really knead the dough, they do a couple of other things. Secondly, they don't use flour when the "knead", they just work the dough on the bench top. And thirdly, it made me realize how sadly deficient I am in terms of kitchen utensils, especially a pizza stone. Actually, I'm deficient in many areas, but we won't go there.

We were slated to make two types of dough, a regular white bread crust and a whole wheat. The white crust was incredibly simple, using all purpose flour only, and didn't take much time at all. The wheat crust required the use of a sponge. All the mixing was done with a flexible spatula/scraper (no spoon), and we added the olive oil to the dry, which I found strange and am still not sure why. It has something to do with the texture, but I wasn't prepared to question authority.

Instead of kneading, we worked the dough with our fingers and then chopped it up with a scraper, thereby cutting the gluten to get the proper texture. Again, no flour, or just a dusting on the surface. Then we folded the dough over a few times and then it was done. We left it to rise and worked on the whole wheat dough, which was pretty much the same process.

We then divided the white dough and used half to make some sort of bread, I believe called fougasse, which was awesome, partly because it was so simple. Then we made pizzas using fresh mozzarella and other assorted toppings. The teacher said that the biggest mistake people made is using too many toppings, which results in a soggy pizza. You have to have toppings, however. And I have to confess, not only do I love the sauce, but I think using commercial mozzarella tastes better. Fresh mozzarella is more gourmet, but the flavor is subtle, maybe too much so.

Either way, we made two pizzas and a fougasse, which meant I had dinner for that night. The pizzas looked beautiful, though again, they were a bit too gourmet. You need more working class flavor when it comes to pizza, and gourmet will only get you so far with the general public. You have to know your audience.

Whatever be the case, I loved the class, and would love to take more. The crusts might need a little tweaking in terms of flavor, but the texture was right on. We are one step closer to making our ideal pizza.

Just a quick side note - since I've been doing so much real man work my hands are taking a beating. Not only do both my wrists ache, but my fingers and hands are covered with cuts and filled with splinters. Well, just as my fingers were on the mend, I cut my thumb at baking class. They provided us with a snack of bread and goat cheese. The bread was amazing, I can only dream of making bread like that... or take the class. Yes, they have a class just for making that bread, called Vermont Sourdough, which happens to require a pizza stone! Anyway, I was helping myself to my 4th or 5th piece when the bread knife slipped and almost cut off the tip of my thumb. Not only was I bummed at cutting yet another finger, but I spilling blood all over the place, and I needed to use my hands. I did a quick makeshift repair with three or four bandages, and then it was back to work on my dough. Kind of a bummer.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to julosstock for the picl

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend Out of Nowhere

Talk about impulsive and acting on a whim. We didn't have any plans this weekend and I figured we'd just hang out and I could do real man work on the barn and help a friend move, and before I know it, we're heading down to Nashua for the night, hotel and all. Where did that come from?

R's friend has a quilt that is being shown at some big quilter's convention in Nashua. Apparently her quilt has won awards and was accepted into this show, so it's kind of a big deal, and since she lives in Minnesota, she couldn't actually be here in person. She mentioned to R that it was near us, and if we had a chance, to check it out. I wasn't sure what to make of it, not being a quilter and all. We were originally just going to go down and see it, maybe grab some dinner and then head home, though it is an hour and a half drive. Well, it sort of evolved into a hotel stay and then dinner and a movie, without the movie, of course. Having never been to Nashua, I didn't know what to expect.

But before we could go, we had other things we needed to do on the home front. KR was moving out to the neighboring town and sent out requests for assistance. I was more than happy to help, but couldn't spend the whole day and indicated as much. After helping KR, I was to meet with my Mentor to help him move some hot air balloon baskets, then we'd hit the road for Nashua. We could have stayed for the entire day on Sunday, but I had signed up for a class at King Arthur Flour to make pizza, which was to begin on Sunday morning at 11:00, so we'd have to leave early to get home on time.

Anyway, helping KR move was a breeze, she doesn't have a lot of stuff, and most of it she'd moved already. Plus, she wasn't going far. Fortunately I had my Mentor's car, so we managed to get everything over there in one trip, how's that for packing light? Her new flat is actually a house with lots of space, and she's right next to A's horse riding teacher, in a really cool part of town. Hope it all works out.

Also got to meet T, who might have a bike he'd like to sell for R to use, but we'll see.

After the move, I jetted back home and met with my Mentor, and we loaded a bunch of stuff into his truck, which he moved to Quechee. Then we hit the road.

The drive down was fairly painless, especially considering some of the drives we've done in the past year. The drive home from New York drove me to tears. We got to the hotel, which was designed to look like a Medieval castle and also happened to be hosting the quilt convention. Then again, what really mattered to us was the fact that they had a swimming pool, a key consideration when your kids are running the show. It was interesting because you could tell something was up by the inordinate number of women (not too many guys at a quilting convention, why is that?) walking around in elaborately quilted jackets and vests.

Now I've never been one to really appreciate quilts, and upon first glancing at them, I thought they were nice, but nothing overwhelming. In fact, after we'd found her friend's quilt, I was ready to hit the road and get some food. I'd seen enough stitching for one day.

However, R and the kids wanted to check out some of the quilts (do you really want to?). Naturally, I was forced to wander and browse a little, and you know what? After spending a little time and just checking out the details that go into these pieces of art, you really begin to appreciate the level of skill, thought and craftsmanship (crafts-person-ship?) that is involved. It's mind boggling, dare I say pathological. Every single loop and curve has been stitched in, and these quilts were the size of bed sheets. The details were incredible, to the point where I thought it might even be cool to give it a shot myself, except my Mentor would disown me if he found out... or at least make me give back his hammer, and my brother in law would stop returning my emails.

Anyway, it was kind of cool. I don't think I'd have the patience or fortitude to do it, I think it takes literally years to make these things. I guess machines are becoming more common, though that seems a little like cheating, but who am I to say (nobody)? There were in fact several quilts that were done entirely by hand, a feat I still can't imagine. Kudos to them.

After the show, we ventured out into suburban hell and got a mouthful of it. We went a Mexican restaurant in town that got good reviews and was it ever crowded. A 45 minute wait. I can't remember the last time I had to wait to eat dinner. They give you this pager that buzzes when your table is ready, which was good for entertainment value for the kids. We didn't want to sit around, so drove through the strip malls and found a CVS to get supplies. Our timing was perfect, because within five minutes of getting back, our buzzer went off and we got our table.

The food was okay, about as good as you'd expect to find in New Hampshire. We ate, went back to the hotel, and went for a swim. I was exhausted by this point and for whatever reason, when I jumped into the pool, it felt like jumping into the Arctic Sea. I was freezing and couldn't stop shivering. I felt like a wimp, but what could I do? Maybe it was fatigue, but I got out, dried off, and promptly passed out on the lounge chair.

That's what happens when you're running on fumes. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More Martha and Here We Go Again

One of the kid's favorite dishes is cauliflower casserole, and for the record, it's a great way to get them to eat cauliflower. In fact, it keeps them coming back for more. It takes a little preparation, and it requires baking, which I always equate with a big production, but man do they love it, as do mom and dad. The plan was to make casserole and bagels, since I loathe the idea of using the oven to make just one thing. It just seems wasteful.

In the morning, I made the sponge for the bagels and let it sit pretty much all day, mainly because I had so many manly things to do in order to compensate for my Martha Stewart aspirations. After taking A to guitar lessons, where KR was astute to teach her my favorite song, Orphan Child, I did school work with the kids, then went to work on the barn. After lunch and doing the dishes, I set about getting dinner ready.

Normally it's nice when the kids want to help, because it shows they're interested and it can be a lot of fun. But when you are pressed for time and are juggling many things, having kids in the kitchen can up the stress level and complicate matters significantly. Still, you don't want them to feel unwelcome, and we adults need to lighten up. So they joined me in all the preparation. N in particular likes to stir and saute and I know is longing to chop with the big knife, but that's a few years away. Also, I figured R wouldn't be home for several hours, so I had plenty of time to clean up all the disasters.

We had a great time using our beautiful new food processor to make bread crumbs, and it was worth the entertainment value alone. We also discovered a good accompaniment to dinner - baked beans. If you get the right brand, they don't use high fructose corn syrup, and it's all natural with no artificial preservatives or colors. Good enough for us, and they taste great. We also found they go well with the casserole. Throw in sweet potato soup, and you not only have a great vegetarian meal, but you get plenty of fiber and protein, and you've covered your veggie colors (green and a red or orange).

Now for the good part. Yesterday I whined about having to make R's raisin bread late into the evening because I'd run out of time during the day. Of course it called for a repeat performance. Since there was so much going on, I couldn't make the bagels until after dinner. I toyed with the idea of either just tossing out the dough and quitting while I was ahead, or leaving it in the cold room until the next day. At the prompting of the kids, however, we decided to forge ahead, with them helping. They actually like making bagels because it is kind of fun... kind of.

Anyway, we managed to get it all done, though I wondered to myself how I get into these situations. Wouldn't it be easier to just buy the things? Yes and no. They don't sell them right around the corner, it's a bit of a trek to get to a bagel shop, and they are expensive. So yes, it is easier to buy them, but not as gratifying or economically savvy (they are both related) as making them.

Besides, you have to ask yourself, what would Martha Stewart do?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Making Martha Stewart Proud

Excuse me it I'm being redundant, but we went out and got a food processor, and I have to confess, the thing has changed our lives. And I got the small one (it was cheaper). Just think if I'd bought the big monster, we could have changed the world.

As I may have also mentioned, we bought it on because we had gift cards my mom gave us four years ago, and figured we had to use them for something. Anyway, we used the thing to make falafels, and it was amazing. We try to eat vegetarian at least 3-4 days a week, and as I'd discussed with DR (my sister in law), cooking vegetarian is harder. Meat is easy, you cook it, add a sprig of parsley as a garnish, and just like that, you have a gourmet meal.

Not so with vegetables/beans. You really have to spice them up (literally and figuratively) to make them interesting, especially for kids. In this respect, falafels are a winner, because they almost seem like meat, and are a great way to fulfill your protein and fiber requirement.

The only problem is, they are labor intensive. In the past, pre-processor days, I used to mash the chickpeas in a mortar and pestle. The blender didn't work because they need liquid. Then all that chopping of garlic, onions, and parsley. If the kids didn't love them so much, I'd never make them.

The processor, however, has changed everything. I love that thing, and it scores high on the entertainment scale, so you can't go wrong. Except, of course, when your Mentor shakes his head and wonders to himself, "How did I ever become associated with such a big sissy?" Oh well, you can't win them all, and in the end, your manhood takes a hit now and then for the good of your family. Believe it or not, it can be a fairly liberating experience.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

What a Day and Cat Crazy (with a bright side)

Since the weather is getting cold, it's time to break out the winter gear, which means going up into the attic and bringing down snow pants, ski boots, and all that good stuff. Unfortunately, due to more bad planning on my part, I forgot to account for the fact that one of the cats was still inside the house (Misty), and she hopped up the stairs and into the attic. I tried to grab her as she was at the threshold and instead got a major claw through my finger, almost bad enough to warrant stitches, if not for the fact that I'm training to be a real man. Either way, now I had the problem of getting the cat out of the attic, which is not an easy thing to do because they can hide just about anywhere. I worried that if she hid out in the eaves, she'd be stuck for good, which almost happened. To complicate the matter, in my frenzied efforts to nab her, I managed to scare the heck out of her. Why can't I keep my cool?

I spent a good half hour trying to cajole her out, employing all of A's suggestions, to no avail. She finally settled into the farthest corner of the attic and buried herself into the insulation. I could tell she was scared because she tried her best to become invisible. What made it especially difficult was that the nails from the roofing made it hard to reach in and get her, and I must have stuck my head into them at least a dozen times. The situation, of course, was compounded by my worries of stepping through the joists and putting my foot through the ceiling. How do I get myself into these things?

Anyway, she was scared stiff, so I got my footing, reached in and grabbed her by the scruff, fully expecting her to bite or scratch me out of fear, but she didn't. I was thankful for that. I carried her to A, who was patiently waiting at the top of the attic stairs, and she carried her to the bedroom to comfort her. She and N have a magical way with that.

I finished up in the attic and came away from it having learned an important lesson: lock those darn cats down the next time I go up there. There's enough drama in our lives. On the bright side, however, it afforded me a great opportunity to get a good look-see at the attic, which requires our attention, especially with winter approaching. Because the cat was holed up in the eaves (I think that's what they're called), I got to look down and see the insulation situation down there, and best of all, it appears that there's hope. My initial concern was that I wasn't going to be able to push the vent spacers down in there because of the nails, but I just might be able to pull it off, and it took getting that cat to force me to see. I guess I should thank her... nah!

Speaking of drama, we had a crazy day yesterday. In the past, A's horse teacher and I have had good timing in terms of scheduling, but she called to reschedule A's ride, and it threw off my plans for the day. In all fairness, she was only looking out for our interest because the forecast for Thu called for snow and rain, and she was canceling all lessons. Wed would be our only chance, maybe for the season, so I told her we'd be there.

We'd also planned on ice skating, and we were all really excited about it, so we couldn't cancel that. The plan would be to skate, take A to riding, entertain N, then pick up A, get home, make dinner, etc. This, of course, would mean that I'd get nothing done around the house or barn, and our day would be spent out and about, though I did manage to get some key supplies for the barn.

Skating was a blast, and the kids looked great out there on the ice. A&N's skating is smooth and easy, they look really comfortable on the ice. Initially there was some awkwardness, but they've come a long way, and we had fun. Also, we were literally the only ones on the ice for the first hour before the middle school kids showed up. It must have been some sort of PE class, but there were about 30 of them, and some of them clearly played hockey and skated beautifully, though they were awkward as heck around the girls, making fools of themselves. Kind of hard to watch.

We took A to her riding lesson, and then N and I hit the town. Usually we go bowling when A rides, but skating, riding and bowling all on the same day was too much. Instead, we took care of some business, and N was more than happy to go along for the ride. Since our day was taken up, our initial plans for dinner had to be scrapped, because it was going to require baking, which always takes up a lot of time. Plus, we had to make mom's raisin bread, which we'd started in the AM. The beauty of employing the sponge is that it can sit for hours.

Instead, it was going to be an emergency meal: spaghetti with meat sauce. You need some backup meals at times like these. Mac and Cheese is the last resort, but things like spaghetti or veggie burgers and even quesadillas work out well. Just thaw out some meat, cook it in some sauce, and voila! The ultimate bachelor meal, enhanced for family enjoyment. Throw in some fresh bread and veggies, and you've got a healthy meal.

After dinner, the kids sacked out with a movie while went to work on the bread. It was one of those "reach deep within" moments, because I was beat, and the last thing I wanted to do was bake, but R loves the stuff, and we were out. It wasn't so bad. In fact, despite the exhaustion, it was actually easier because during the day I have to attend to the kids, while at night, they are occupied and R is there to help out.

Anyway, you can't beat the feeling of accomplishment against all odds. Before becoming a parent, I never, and I mean never would have pulled all that stuff off, because it's just too easy to give in and quit. Once you do it and realize anything is possible, you come away from it with a feeling of satisfaction. It helps when most of your day is spent getting flogged with a stick by everyone around you.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pottery Class and Math

The kids have been taking pottery class and they love it, but what's really cool is that N in particular has really taken to it and made some really cool stuff. The significance of this lies in the fact that most of the activities that we take part in revolve around A. She loves to read and rides horses and takes guitar lessons (and perform) and many of their friends are in fact her age, while N seems to go along for the ride, though he has fun. A is just good at capturing the spotlight (the big stage could be next up), she's a natural, while N is more reserved.

Even still, we scramble to find and encourage his own interests. He loves baseball because he's such a jock, and we regret missing out on soccer (I know, I know, so cliche), but in the meantime, we sit back and watch and wait. A loves books and creating worlds out of materials around the house, she's every imaginative that way. N, on the other hand, doesn't read as much, though he loves being read to. Unfortunately, mom and dad don't always have the time to drop everything and read to him, though we make sure he gets exposed to a lot of books. We check out tons of them.

Anyway, a few months back, HH mentioned her kids (A&I) take pottery in town. There is a woman, KR, who teaches a class at the local gallery. We love the idea of the kids getting their hands dirty, so we signed them up, but the class was expensive. Those sort of things always are. Their friends were taking it, so we jumped on the opportunity, but weren't exactly sure what would come of it.

Well, as it turns out, they love the class, and they get to make some pretty cool stuff. AND, N seems to have found something he really digs. In fact, it could very well be an activity that we could pursue further with him, because he gets into it and makes some amazing stuff. He made a cup for mom and a bowl for dad. Keep in mind, the pic does not do justice to the quality of the work. He does a great job. The class ended last week, and we wrestled with whether or not to enroll them again because of the cost, but after seeing what they made, how could we not? It's not easy discovering what interests your kids when they're searching themselves.

Then again, now that it's Winter, we have skiing and ice skating, both of which they love (mom and dad do, too). Let's hope for snow, lots of it, and soon.

On the academic note, just wanted to mention that N has also taken a real liking to math. He can read very well for his age, and could easily zip through certain easy reader books (level 1, maybe level 2), Henry and Mudge and Biscuit books, he just isn't interested. Math, however, really gets him excited. He's such an engineer, just like his uncle and grandad. We hope he can spend more time with them and see the cool things they do to really spark his interest.

Now that he's a math machine, it also makes teaching that much easier, because he's enthused. We don't have to wrestle him to the ground to get him to practice his problems, he actually asks for them. How cool is that?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rainy Halloween

Halloween sort of came and went, and now it's onto the next holiday. We've had good luck in years past with the weather on Halloween, so the odds were against us this time and sure enough, it rained, and at times, it poured. That's not to say that we didn't have fun, but there seemed to be a lack of good vibes to the whole evening. It wasn't a bad night, just not stellar as in years past. For all it's worth, however, the kids raved about how much fun they had, so that's all that matters.

First off, we, meaning mom and dad, weren't in the spirit of things like in the past. We've had a busy month, and just when you think you have time to stop and take a deep breath, something new comes along. It's crazy at times. In fact, we hadn't carved our pumpkins until the zero hour, which was kind of a bummer, but we managed to get it done. Part of the problem was our pumpkin patch crashed and burned. For whatever reason, we got no pumpkins this year. In years past we had tons of them, for as far as the eyes could see. Then again, it was a poor year for the garden.

We also didn't get our costumes together until the day before, but that wasn't a problem because they were pretty simple ones, and N hadn't finalized his decision until the day before, so we were doing our best over here. On Saturday, Halloween, I worked on the barn all day pounding framing nails into my fingers while they toiled away at their costumes, and then that night we carved the pumpkins. The kids made great designs, and we lit them and put them on the porch, and then got ready to hit Woodstock.

Unfortunately, about an hour before takeoff, it started raining, pretty hard at times. It made me wonder what we were going to do, but there was no stopping A&N, and we weren't going to stand in their way. We hadn't heard from friends, either, so we weren't sure what others had planned. In the past, when we went to Woodstock, we saw tons of our friends, and we all ended up at the Woodstock Inn for candy, fun, and hot cider. This year, for many reason, I'm sure, they really toned things down, and we didn't see anybody we knew.

In fact, not only were the streets fairly quiet, but many of the houses were dark. The spirit of the season was somewhat dampened, maybe because it was Saturday night and people were out, maybe because it had rained so hard. Whatever the case, it had cleared up by the time we went out, and A&N had a blast. N in particular was excited about this year, and he really charged out of the gates and led the way. Fun to see.

Personally, it was my kind of Halloween, because it was not too crowded with crazy teens, the kids had fun, and we ended the night fairly early without too many social obligations. I hate to seem like such a Scrooge, but by the end of the day, I'm beat. I felt bad because the kids didn't really get to see their friends, which they did not indicate, but I can't help but project. I learned later that a lot of our neighbors end up going into downtown for trick-or-treating, and the businesses stay open and hand out candy. They also do a big thing at Cobb Hill. I also learned our buddies A&I were going to stop by our house, but it was late and they had to get home, and we weren't there anyway.

So now we know what to do next year. The kids love going to Woodstock, but we could start the night local and then head over there. That seems like a good plan. That will maximize our chances of seeing our friends, which is what it's all about. A&N raved about how much fun they had, and we're glad for that, even if it sort of rained on our parade, but that's life.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.