• the quotidian (9.29.14)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    It’s happening!

    This is why I have no flowers.

    Tempera paints, a board, straws, and an imagination.

    Because there’s more than one way to sit in a chair.

    Birthday banishment.

    The best gift of all. 
    When I was called down to supper, there was zero traceZEROthat the kitchen had just been filled with five hungry people cooking a meal and yelling at each other.
    (Well, zero expect for the candle-lit table set for dinner.)

    Adding up her work hours.

    Fighting with, I mean, FIXING, the car.

    This week’s game of choice: it’s like Monkey-in-the-Middle, 
    but in this version the monkey gets a trampoline.

    My children document their disobedience.

    This same time, years previous: pointless and chatty, 37, the skirt, chocolate birthday cake, a jiggle on the wild side, ciabatta, stream of consciousness: a list, butterscotch cookies, ballerina daredevils, and peposo.      

  • on quitting: in which I have a come-to-Jesus moment

    Ever since the end of last year’s choir season, my daughter has stated, in no uncertain terms, that this year she did not want to be in choir.

    At first I thought she was just worn out from the previous semester. The choir is rigorous. There are weekly two-hour rehearsals followed by daily homework. Expectations are high. But I figured that after she had some time to recuperate, she’d be on board again. So I made the executive decision that choir was a requirement. For one more year we’d stick it out. My reasons, I felt, were good:

    *she loves music and she loves to sing
    *she’d only been in choir for one semester and needed to give it a fair shot
    *choir involvement would broaden her musical repertoire beyond pop music (ew)
    *she’s extroverted and choir would provide a social outlet
    *she would gain poise and confidence
    *as well as learning about music, she’d improve her math and reading

    But weeks passed and she remained adamantly opposed. As the first rehearsal approached, she became increasingly oppositional. This is the polite way of saying “she conducted some major hissy fits lasting upwards of two hours.” Surely, I told myself, Once she goes to the first few rehearsals, she’ll make friends, realize the beauty of making music, and be fully on board, right? RIGHT??

    This did not happen. She made friends, yes. She even had fun while she was there (or so reported my spies), but she remained firm: she hated choir and didn’t want anything to do with it.

    Here she is eating a lemon, not tantruming about choir. 
    But the similarities between her reactions to both lemons and choir are striking.

    What in the world were we to do? We had paid the steep, and non-refundable, fees. I hate quitting; I didn’t want her to think that a wishy-washy approach to commitment was acceptable. Besides, I knew choir was good for her. I knew she was capable of doing the work. I knew she would like it if she stopped being so crazy stubborn.

    And then one evening as I ranted to my husband about our impossible child extraordinaire—she’s lazy! she’s irrational! she’s directionless!—I began to see the situation from a different perspective.

    My daughter had been honest with me from the very beginning: never had she said she wanted to be in choir this year. Sure, I require my children to do lots of things that they don’t want to do, but I never require them to do out-of-the-home activities unless that’s their wish. So why was I pushing my daughter?

    And then it hit me: I had unvoiced motivations for forcing my daughter into choir. I feel inferior about my musical ability. I didn’t have the opportunity to sing in a good choir when I was a child. I want my child to have what I didn’t.

    Oh good grief. I WAS TRYING TO LIVE MY LIFE THROUGH MY CHILD. (This was the first mistake. The second was that I picked the most non-compliant child of the litter.) This is the classic parenting fail—the one that is so blatantly wrong, wrong, wrong, and the one that I scoff at other parents for—and here I was committing it with aplomb. The realization stopped me cold.

    Actually, no. It kept me up till midnight. I felt so rottenly horrible that I couldn’t even sleep.

    I don’t normally feel bad about my parenting mistakes. It’s not that I don’t make mistakes or that I don’t care. It’s just that I’m not a guilt-ridden, have-to-do-everything-perfectly parent. I’m kind of a hardass. But this. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill too-tough punishment or forgetting that tooth under the pillow for three days in a row. This was different. I wasn’t listening. I was making my child be someone she didn’t want to be. I was causing my sweet child (who was acting anything but sweet) undue pain.

    The very next day I told my daughter that she could drop choir if she wanted. I was clear about the reasons: she had been honest with me but I hadn’t respected her preferences which was a mistake and I was sorry.

    I kinda hoped that once presented with an option, she’d decide she loved choir after all. No luck there. She was over-the-moon happy. And then she spent the rest of the morning singing scales, looking at her old sheet music, and watching the entire DVD of last year’s concert. What the—?

    When I told my girlfriend about my daughter’s renewed zest for choir in the face of quitting, Girlfriend pointed out that my daughter clearly didn’t hate choir. In fact, she obviously felt good about it. Immersing herself in all-things-choir was evidence of healthy closure.

    So where are things now? Well, I wrote a letter to the choir director in which I took full responsibility for my daughter’s withdrawal and confessed that I’m chalking the lost “homeschool education” money (ouch) to my education because education isn’t just for children, sigh.

    My daughter, bless her opinionated and stubborn heart, is happier and more relaxed than she’s been in what feels like forever. She now has hard proof that her opinions and interests matter, and she stands taller for it. I certainly don’t condone tantrums (far from it!), but I’m actually kind of glad she didn’t let me get my way this time. I was wrong. I needed to see that.

    As for me, I’m in the process of de-pigeonholing my girl as “the musical one.” As I am slowly extricating myself from my narrow-mindedness, I’m seeing my daughter less for who I think she should be and more for who she is.

    It is shockingly freeing.

    This same time, years previous: the run around, minute by minute, she outdid herself, painting my belly, roasted butternut squash salad, and my beginnings.  

  • test your movies!

    Sunday afternoon my husband and I attended an appreciation reception for community theater volunteers. (To clarify, I was the volunteer being appreciated and my husband was … my husband.) The reception was held in the basement of a downtown restaurant, otherwise known as The Place Where I Bared My Belly and Danced. This time I did not dance. Instead, I parked myself on a barstool and visited, ate, and drank. I sometimes even did all three at once because I’m coordinated like that.

    Anyway, while sitting on my barstool, I got to talking with some friends about the Boyhood movie I had taken my son to see (recommend!) and that got us on the discussion of movies and plays. Or maybe we got on that discussion because we were at a gathering for community theater nerds? Whatever.

    Anyway! In the midst of the drinking and eating and talking about movies, my friend said, “Oh! Have you heard of the Bechdel test?”

    Because I am not a true theater nerd (ha, not even close), I hadn’t. So she enlightened me.

    The Bechdel test was created (by Alison Bechdel) to point out gender inequality in movies. The test has three parts:

    1. The movie must have two women in it.
    2. The two women must talk to each other.
    3. And they must talk to each other about something other than a man.

    Movies that meet these three criteria are in the minority, but they surpass the others in acting, quality, and whatever ever else makes a good movie good (or something like that).

    Right away I started ticking through movies:

    Monuments Men, nope.
    Boyhood, yes.
    Osage County, yes.
    Captain Phillips, no.
    Her, no.
    Frozen, yes.
    Spiderman, no.
    Steel Magnolias, yes.
    The Social Network, no.
    Avatar, no.
    The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Harry Potter II, Lord of the Rings (all of them),  no, no, and no.

    This test completely fascinates me. And it kinda pisses me off, too. As a kid, I loved listening to my mom visit with her friends. (Actually, I still like listening in on her conversations.) And I adore visiting with my girlfriends. When we talk, we get deep fast. Our conversations are convoluted and complex, juicy and tart. There’s nuance, and boy, do I ever enjoy me some good nuance.

    This simple test has forever altered how I view my movies, thank you, Bechdel.

    Me in the role that led to my barstool conversation. 
    Please note, I am talking to a woman. We are talking about a man, true, but since the man has the mind of an eight-year-old, I don’t think it counts. 
    And even without this conversation, the play still passes the test.

    This same time, years previous: simple roast chicken.

  • the quotidian (9.22.14)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    If I had my druthers, I’d eat one every day.
    (Note: bacon-wrapped poppers put them over the top.)

    Approximately one minute and twenty seconds after reading this post.

    What my living room looks like when the cool weather hits.

    Serious work: friendship bracelets in the making.

    (“Catnap” is a misnomer.)

    Seasonal snack.
    The house under the deck.

    Boy-made pond.

    As they get bigger, the toys get bigger.

    Souped up and pimped out: a subwoofer and 5-speaker surround sound.

    9:00 p.m. and an unwelcome discovery.

    This same time, years previous: thousand island slaw with roast chicken, hurdle-free molten brownie cakes, we love Fred, vacationing till it hurts, whaddaya think?, and one hot chica.

  • the big bad wolf and our children

    Recently, two young daughters of two of my friends went out for an evening stroll in their cozy, small-town little neighborhood.

    And got stalked.

    By a scruffy man in a car.

    The girls quickly caught on that something wasn’t right, but even so, they had to pass by him four or five times as they hurried home because he kept circling around. When they were nearly home, he tried to talk to them through the car window and they took off running. Smart girls.

    The police are on the case (which parallels some other recent reports). It appears to be some guy who is fixated more on indecent exposure than on abductions. In other words, it’s yucky, gross, and disgusting, but it could be worse. No one got hurt. The girls are okay. Everything is fine.

    Except everything isn’t fine. Two sweet girls were preyed upon by a full-grown man which is so utterly wrong that it turns my stomach. As they were being stalked, they discussed whether or not to scream, and the one girl had the presence of mind to look for houses with lights on inside. No child should have to think like this.

    However, as my husband (who was seriously pissed off about the situation) pointed out, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. It is what it is. This is the situation whether we like it or not. What matters is how we respond.

    The very next night I sent my teenage daughter on a walk to our downtown library while I went to a meeting at church. A solo walk in that part of town is no big deal, really. The church is only two blocks from the library, after all. But it would be dusk—and then dark—and that creepy man had a reputation for dusk-time stalkings. So before we headed into town, I had a chat with my girl. I explained (in greater detail than what I had shared with the children previously) what had happened to the girls. And then, encouraged by what I had heard about the girls’ creative resourcefulness in the face of danger, I made up my own list of common sense safety tips.

    *The majority of people are good. Don’t be paranoid.

    *That said, if you ever feel creeped out or uncomfortable, listen to your gut.

    *Keep your head up. Walk with purpose.

    *Stay in main areas and avoid secluded spots. In other words, don’t cut through the parking garage.

    *Make eye contact with people you pass, and say hello. This makes you more visible, and, not to be morbid or anything, if you go missing, they will remember you.

    *If someone is following you, approach a pedestrian and ask if you might walk with them for a bit. If you feel comfortable, explain what is happening. It is quite likely the person will happily walk you to your destination because most people in this world are decent and good. If you don’t want to explain, just ask what time it is—anything to make you look less alone.

    *Be observant. Note license plates (if a car is involved), street signs, hubs of activity, etc.

    *Keep the cell phone within easy reach. Use it, if needed, to appear connected, or to call the police.

    *If all else fails, throw yourself on the ground and flail violently while screaming bloody murder.

    “Geez, Mom. This is freaky,” she said when I finished. And then she went on her merry way, ponytail a-swinging.

    It’s a fine line we walk, teaching our children how to be connected to the rest of humanity—to trust others and relate without fear, and to be confident (oh, how I want them to be confident!)—while at the same time instilling in them a sense of caution and awareness. (And of course, even with all the best safety precautions, bad stuff still happens. We can only do so much.)

    When I asked my friends if they minded that I write about this, the one responded with a go-ahead yes, followed by this: “That whole thing still makes me angry. Part of me thinks, how dare anyone make me think twice about where I let my kid walk, etc. The other part looks at it like at the wild: the world is what it is, so you balance your response: don’t walk close to the water’s edge where there are crocodiles, don’t walk alone through the African Savannah at sundown, don’t go near a creepy guy’s car, and know how to get a license plate. Not fearful, just, you know, watchful, the way most people in the world just know to be.”

    What common sense safety tips have you shared with your children? 
    Have you managed to teach them to be safe without being fearful?

    This same time, years previous: baking with teachers, candid camera, when the relatives came, the potluck solution, and I’m still here.

  • in defense of battered kitchen utensils

    Dividing the freshly mixed granola between two baking sheets, I got to thinking about kitchen utensils. See, when I had asked my son to fetch me the two baking sheets from the cupboard, he had pointed to the one and said, “Mom, I don’t think you should use this one anymore.”

    “Whyever not?” I asked.

    “Because it’s rusty and greasy and has black stuff around the edges. It’s gross.”

    “It’s fine,” I snapped. “Give it here.”

    Much of my kitchen stuff looks like that baking sheet that invoked my son’s disgust. My insulated cookie sheets are warped, their air pocket spaces filled with more water than air. When met with the slightest resistance, the heads of my rubber spatulas separate from their wooden stick bodies. My much-used pie plates are stained. My measuring cups are dented (and inaccurate, I’m sure). Even a lot of the good stuff I own—my few Cutco knives and my stove-top juicer, for example—are, respectively, dinged up and scorched.


    My toaster is so ancient—a glorious thrift store find—and cantankerous that the people who rented our house while we lived in Guatemala couldn’t figure out how to use it and ended up putting it in storage and buying a new one. (We forgot to explain that you have to thump the toaster on the counter to make the toast come up.) The gears on our whirly-popper—another glorious thrift store find (because all thrift store finds are glorious!)—kept slipping until my husband finagled some sort of fix. The cord on my hand mixer is held together with duct tape.

    The toaster that confounded: toasting some iced raisin bread. 

    Which makes me wonder: why is it that people who have really nice kitchen stuff don’t cook and the people who do cook make do with borderline junk? In general: the more money a person has, the more nice stuff they have to work with and the less work they have to do. The people who have less money do more manual labor with inferior tools. Have you noticed this?

    Cracked and handle-less workhorses: cooking up a slew of golden sourdough waffles.

    It’s logical, I suppose. People with money can afford to pay for more services and therefore have less need to use the tools themselves. And if you use your stuff it’s going to show (duh).

    I’m painting the picture like I’m the deprived person. But it goes both ways. Our Nicaraguan neighbor women spent the majority of their days in their dirt-floor kitchens and peeled potatoes with machetes. From their perspective, my plethora of tools are woefully underutilized and under-bunged up.

    The other day a friend was admiring how lived-in our house and property look. (Seriously!) When I snorted, she said, “No really! It’s inspiring!”

    Inspiring? Hmm. I tend to think of those pristine magazine-worthy kitchens—you know, the ones that have copper kettles hanging above an enormous wooden table that’s standing atop a tile floor and directly in front of an enormous six-burner gas stove—as inspiring. As in, If I were in that kitchen I’d be bake cookies from now to eternity and back. 

    But maybe I’m confusing envy with inspiration. Maybe “work-worn” and “dinged up” are signs of respect and appreciation, marks showing that we care about enough to actually use and do. In this case, the messes, chipped dishes, and warped pans are inspiring because they show passion.

    My kitchen tools—and all tools, really—are only as wondrously useful as we make them. And the fact is, no fancy tool, no necessary fancy tool, is going to be shiny for very long.

    To sum up: three cheers for battered kitchenware!

    P.S. The granola was delicious.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.16.13), the quotidian (9.17.12), goodbye summer, hello fall, a new day dawning, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, Greek pasta salad, and hard knocks.

  • 2014 garden stats and notes

    the high-summer garden

    On Friday I wrote about being sick of canning. On Saturday I woke up and realized that I was done with the plums, tomatoes, grapes, and red raspberries. Into the basement went the canners and onto the sofa went I for a late morning nap. That evening, my husband lit the first fire of the season in the wood stove, and we cozied up in the living room with a stack of new library books.

    My family knows what we love, produce-wise, and as the children get older, I find I am focusing more on quantity than experimentation. Thus the 39 quarts of one kind of salsa, sweet pickles only, and three-fourths of one entire freezer in green beans. It’s boring, yes, but practical. We’ll eat it.

    Recently, a hardcore gardening girlfriend—seriously, the woman is a preserving diva—told me that when her kids leave home, she’s going cold turkey on the canning front. She wants to spend her time doing other things. And Costco has good salsa.

    I don’t know what I’ll feel like doing when my kids leave home. I’m certainly no canning purist (Costco does have good salsa), and my husband is most definitely not a gardener. But I have a hard time imagining throwing in the canner completely. Putting food in jars is for me what digging holes is for 8-year-old boys: it’s time consuming and kinda pointless (by economic standards), but it’s also deeply satisfying. There’s something primal about harvesting food and squirreling it away for later.

    But really, I’m not sure why I spend all these hours and days doing a task that complicates my life. Perhaps the drive is nothing deeper than an urge to “play house.” Perhaps I do it for the narrowed focus that comes with a sharp knife, slippery plums, and boiling water. Maybe it’s because hard work feels good and the being done feels even better. Whatever the reason, it’s strong enough to keep me going year after year.

    And now, for this year, I’m done.

    Boy, does it feel good.

    2014 Garden Stats and Notes

    strawberries, frozen, sliced: 7 quarts
    strawberries, sugared sauce: 2 pints
    strawberries, freezer jam: 6 pints
    strawberries, daiquiri mix: 4 pints
    mint tea concentrate: a lot
    pesto: 9 batches, frozen
    zucchini relish: 5 pints and 5 half-pints
    applesauce, lodi: 82 quarts
    green beans (mostly Roma): 107 quart-and-a-half bags
    peaches, Red Haven, canned: 17 quarts
    corn, frozen: 15 quarts and 29 pints
    nectarines, chopped, canned: 42 quarts
    nectarines, dried: 21 pints
    red raspberries, frozen: 26 quarts
    sweet pickles, canned: 16 quarts
    tomatoes, roasted sauce: 36 pints
    tomatoes, roasted garlic pizza sauce: 26 pints
    tomatoes, red wine sauce: 16 quarts
    tomatoes, salsa: 39 quarts and 8 pints
    tomatoes, canned: 13 quarts
    grape jelly: 9 quarts, 21 pints, and 2 half-pints
    grape juice: 10 quarts
    plums, canned: 9 quarts
    plums, dried: 4 pints
    plum jam, canned: 7½ pints
    sweet potatoes: 1 heaping bushel
    regular potatoes, assorted kinds: 1½ bushels

    *Don’t plant the cucumbers next to the zucchini because they—the cucumbers—will die.
    *Nectarines are awesome. Order four bushels next year.
    *Twenty-four sweet potato starts is the right amount.
    *Also, five to six basil plants is perfect.
    *Dried plums are easy and tasty, but we have yet to see how popular they are with the fam. Same with the plum jam.
    *Maybe we’ll finally have enough salsa?
    *Next year, order ahead and get five bushels of Lodi apples in one go.

    This same time, years previous: chili cobanero, retreating, the good things that happen, ketchup, two ways, making my children jump, cinnamon sugar breadsticks, September studies. whole wheat jammies, whoooosh!, lemon butter pasta with zucchini, on being green and other ho-hum matters, hot chocolate, coffee fix ice cream, me and mine, and ricotta.          

  • playing catch-up

    My mom emailed me. “Are you on strike?” And then Girlfriend From Burkina Faso was all like WRITE SOMETHING ALREADY.

    Nothing is wrong, I explained. I’m just weary from constant canning.

    You and me both, son. You and me both. 

    “You know what I need?” I whined to my husband. “I need two full days to myself. No kids. No canning. No nothing. Actually, wait. I have a better idea. Could we till up the garden this weekend? The whole thing—boom—gone? I think that might fix me.”

    Just the thought of NO GARDEN makes me want to go fly a kite. Or at least write a blog post.


    You know what irony is? I’ll tell you what irony is. Irony is deciding to pre-order a book for the first time ever because you just don’t want to mess with the hassle of borrowing it from the library and then, within a couple hours of receiving the book, turning it into the library and spending the next couple days trying to get it back out. That’s irony folks, served up nice and tart.


    Last night I served the Ladymaids (because they don’t want to be called Milkmaids anymore and until we come up with a new name, this is it) a plum torte. It was a new recipe and we agreed that the pastry part was a bit on the choking side of dry. Today I made another plum torte and it is infinitely better. (This recipe, but with halved plums pressed into the top.)

    The torte done right.

    I should probably write the Ladymaids an apology for serving them inferior goods.


    My daughter has three puppies left. I’m threatening to do unkind things (to them, to her, to the whole world) if she doesn’t get rid of them soon, but truth is, I don’t mind all that much. They are infinitely sweet, and, contrary to what I expected, they appear to be getting cuter.

    The puppies are forbidden in the house, but every so often the whole pack comes barreling through the (mysteriously left) open door. I secretly love watching them skid through the kitchen and around chair legs, their pink tongues lapping the air, jolly eyes shining.


    I am on a good book streak. There was The Glass Castle (can anyone diagnose the mother for me?), followed by Carry On, Warrior. Now I’m reading Still Alice (messes with my mind, it does). Next up is my pre-ordered-and-yet-to-be-retrieved-from-the-library Home Grown.


    I burned down my in-box. Not because it bothered me, but because Jamie told me to. It didn’t make me feel noticeably happier. I believe it requires something a bit more substantial—LIKE BURYING THE ENTIRE GARDEN—to get my buzz on.


    This. Is. Perfect. The part about what to eat? It’s us. Completely. (Except we don’t order out because of the country living and all.)

    This same time, years previous: regretful wishing, roasted tomato and garlic pizza sauce, 2012 garden stats and notes, rainy day writing, how to clean a room, blasted cake, almond cream pear tart, fruit-on-the-bottom baked oatmeal, grilled salmon with lemon butter, a quick rundown, the big night, and say cheese!

  • the cousins came

    The past weekend, the cousins came. For two full days, the children played without ceasing.

    One family brought tee-shirts: blue for the boys, green for the girls. The kids decorated their shirts, signed each one, put their numberwhere they fall in the cousin line-upon the sleeve, and then proceeded to wear the shirts all weekend long.

    Heading out to get basil from my brother’s garden. 
    Nine childrenall barefoot—marching down the road in single file. 
    I wonder what the neighbors thought.

    At times it got kinda tight inside. But space is overrated. 

    It always strikes me as rather amazing, the children’s ability to take up residence with a pack of rarely-seen family members and completely get along. Electronics is a non-issue. No one (except one of my own, gottaloveit) complains about being bored. There is no “I’m-too-cool-for-this-game” snootiness. Inclusiveness and positive attitudes rule.

    Riverside visit.

    This uncle is not particularly picky about his sleeping accommodations.

    She’s Number Two of the twenty-four.

    Synchronized splashing.

    A fifteen-month age difference. Which one is older? 

    It’s not as though our families are exactly alike because we’re not. Like any other family, we have different temperaments, interests, and life styles. And yet, somehow, all our children love being together. What a gift.

    Along with my husband’s side of the family (a third of them, anyway) visiting us, my side of the family was also gathered in our neck of the woods. On Saturday I made donuts for everybody—that’s 28 people, total—and some of my family joined the chaos again on Sunday for hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages. The more the merrier, I say.

    How many Murches does it take to cut out donuts?
    ALL the Murches!

    She was rather partial to the vodka cream sauce.

    The grill master (not my husband).
    Full table. 
    When the living situation gets crazy, light a fire in the field and tend it with an excavator.
    The biggest bed on the premises.
    (I told you that uncle wasn’t picky.)
    How many Murches fit in a K’ekchi’ skirt? 
    ALL the Murches!

    Swing-time sillies.

    He scored a puppy! 

    Now we are back to our small, quiet (only in comparison) household of six, normal routines, and boatloads of tomatoes to put up. But we’re still feasting on the leftovers. And when those run out, we’ll savor the memories. They’re the best part, I think.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.2.13), the quotidian (9.3.12), caramelized oat topping, roasted peaches, around the house, picture perfect, honey-whole wheat cake, on our way, smartly, and blueberry coffee cake.

  • the quotidian (9.1.14)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    They just. don’t. stop.

    Salsa, o how I love thee!

    Which is good because…
    They’re not exactly “trickling in” anymore.

    The pre-supper scramble: which became pasta with sausages and lemony grilled zucchini.

    Homemade: you’ll NEVER guess what kind. 
    So I’ll tell you!
    Sweet corn with blackberry sauce, yum.
    Sweet boy.

    Making a delivery.

    The kitchen apprentice.

    It’s beginning to look a lot like … late summer.

    Taking a break.


    This same time, years previous: the new bakery, grape parfaits, puppy love, walking the line, chocolate yogurt cake, oatmeal jacked up, why I don’t teach my kids science, around the house, dreaming, pasta with sauteed peppers and onions, and losing my marbles.