• listening, watching, reading

    My husband gave me an Ipod nano for my birthday. I was sick of always having to shut off NPR whenever any kids wandered into the kitchen/downstairs areaapproximately every 3.4 secondsnot because I didn’t want them to hear NPR but because I can’t handle competing noises, which is funny because my children don’t take turns when they talk so you’d think I’d be used to it by now.

    Anyway. Whenever I wanted to hear a podcast, I’d have to play it on the computer which involved navigating speakers and cords and then having a screen in the kitchen always drawing my eye when I just wanted to listen and cook without any pixelated distractions, and still, there was that same old problem of kid interruptions, plus some of the podcasts weren’t fitting for young ears, so I’d end up doing lots of deep sighing and dashing across the kitchen to hit the pause button.

    (Actually, even with the Ipod, I still do a lot of sighing and hitting of the pause button because the kids can’t stand seeing me with earbuds stuffed in my ear holes, but at least there are no screens involved and no one else has to hear what I’m listening to.)

    The Moth: fabulous storytelling that make for satisfying entertainment anytime. The older children enjoy them, too.

    Fresh Air because Terry Gross is awesome.

    Limetown: a fictional mystery told a la Serial. My older daughter loves this one (because I let her listen after me). When the story gets tense, she stops whatever she’s doing and just stands there, frozen.

    This American Life.

    Real Education Podcast: Blake Boles interviews a wide variety of people about their alternative education beliefs, experiences, and practices. Highly (highly! highly! highly!) recommend the interview with Kenneth Danford on Thriving Without School and the interview with Carsi Blanton on Unschooling. (I made both my husband and son listen to the latter one.)

    What are your favorite podcasts? I’m particularly interested in stories about raising kids without school, entertaining nonfiction, raw interviews with real people, etc. Also, do you know of any good podcasts geared for teens?

    Everest: my husband and I went to see this on his birthday. It was eerie to watch such an intense movie while having him whisper in my ear, I was in that village, or I landed on that runway, or Our helicopter was in worse shape than that one. Back home I announced to the children that they were never, under any circumstances, permitted to climb Mt. Everest. PERIOD.

    Spare Parts: our most recent family night movie (from Redbox) about a high school robotics club that beats MIT. All four kids were engaged so it counted as a winner.

    The Martian: both older kids saw it in the theater with their mentors and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    The Newsroom: a show that my husband will watch with me! Much less glitz than most shows, and heavy on the news (obviously). Republican news anchor Will McAvoy’s rant in the very first show is pretty awesome. Through Amazon Prime.

    How The States Got Their Shapes: a pleasant way to get a grip on US geography. The only difficulty is finding time to watch it when everyone is home, including Papa. Through Netflix streaming. 

    I inhaled my Aunt’s new cookbook (!!!), Baking With Whole Grains: Recipes, Trips, and Tricks for Baking Cookies, Cakes, Scones, Pies, Pizza, Breads, and More! This is the same auntie who gave us our recipe for salsa and blueberry bars.

    Check it out, y’all. The woman knows her way around a wheat field and a kitchen.

    11/22/63 by Stephen King. My very first King read and the experience was not traumatic! And then I bought The Eyes of the Dragon because the reviews said it’s a good read for young teens and adults alike. Currently, my husband is in its clutches.

    On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I read the library’s copy and then ordered my own from Amazon because it’s amazing and because I want my older son to read it this year. King is fascinating.

    Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. This is my selection for our next book club meeting so I recently skimmed it in preparation for our gathering. (Current dilemma: to serve pie or scones or something else altogether….)

    The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Ordered from Amazon because King wouldn’t shut up about it. It’s next up on my reading list (and it will be assigned reading for my older son, as well).

    Crash-Proof Your Kids: Make Your Teen a Safer, Smarter Driver by Timothy C. Smith. Despite hating the title (sounds way too much like helicopter parenting and it contained a typo which does not inspire confidence), I ordered this one because my sister-in-law told me to. In a household bursting with new, and soon-to-be-new drivers, it’s a fitting book to have laying around. The kids find it quite interesting. Even the nine-year-old has taken to reading sections out loud just because.

    Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. A breezy read.

    Holes by Louis Sacher. This is what I’m reading out loud to the children. The younger two don’t remember it, and my older daughter and husband are enjoying the repeat performance. (My son is excused to read other stuff since this book is way too familiar to him.) Also, at the kids’ urging we’ve been reading some Edgar Allen Poe. It is October after all.

    What the kids are reading: 
    Older son: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer.
    Older daughter: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.
    Younger daughter: anything from The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell.
    Younger son: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling.

    What are you watching, listening to, and reading right now? Inspire me!

    This same time, years previous: the business of school, the quotidian (10.29.12), how to bake a pie on the stovetop, and Go Obama!.

  • reading-and-ice cream evenings

    About a month ago I got this email from my father:

    Sometimes I find material which I think the four kids would enjoy, but waiting for the spontaneous moment to read to them has proven elusive. Therefore, I propose a “reading and ice cream evening out.” The setup could go something like this: Parent(s) bring progeny about 7:00 then may go on home or stay. I read for up to 60 minutes, during which time Shirley serves ice cream, followed by discussion/lounging for another 10 to 15 minutes. Unless parent(s) has stayed, I drive the kids home about 8:30. 

    Of course I said yes. I’d have been a fool not to. And now Thursday evenings are reserved for stories and ice cream with the grands.

    So far they have read “Nature Man” from Cruise of the Snark by Jack London, Ransom of Red Chief by O’Henry, To Build A Fire by Jack London (out by the fire pit, naturally), A Boy Named Sue, by Shel Silverstein, and “Wully, the Story of a Yaller Dog” from Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton.

    Last Thursday when I dropped them off, I lingered. The kids immediately made a beeline for their seats (all except for my younger daughter who made a stop by the fridge, to check out the ice cream flavor of the night, I’m guessing). My dad took his seat in the red chair and began reading. At first the youngest had trouble settling—he kept popping up to fold and refold a blanket, and he and his sister had trouble sharing the sofa—but it wasn’t too long before he had nestled into his spot and had the dreamy listening-to-a-story expression on his face.

    My mother lit the watermelon candle and then set about dishing up the ice cream: mango, topped with a handful of their own handpicked wine berries. I snatched several pretzel rods from the bag and then slipped out the door and back to my quiet house where I showed my grumpy husband a series of funny home videos because the sourpuss man was in dire need of a laugh.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.27.14), the quotidian (10.28.13), the details, under the grape arbor, applesauce cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting, garden tally 2009, and a pizza creation.

  • the quotidian (10.26.15)

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


    The visiting spot.


    At the birthday boy’s request, apple pies for breakfast.


    Because it’s normal to sample your animals’ feed, right? 
    In the tack room.

    Delivered to our doorstep: whey for the piggies.

    When hungry, they froth at the mouth and scream.

    Mystery photo: can you guess?

    Ya think they might be visible enough?
    Afternoon gin and tonic.

    Mad skills: six new spark plugs, changed transmission fluid plus a new transmission filter, 
    changed oil plus a new oil filter, a new starter, and a (sorta) fixed hole in the muffler. 

    Supper? Ha, yeah right.

    This same time, years previous: in the garden, the quotidian (10.25.11), sweet potato pie, the morning kitchen, brown sugar syrup, buttermilk pancakes, and signs, news, and daydreams.  

  • winter squash soup with corn relish

    Soups made from squash (or pumpkin) have forever eluded me. I’ve experimented with a variety of recipes over the years—in 2008 I even posted the rough outline of a curry soup—but over all I’ve always found them lacking. It’s like they’re too one dimensional in their thick creaminess. Or something. Even when tasty, they’re kind of boring. Plus, I find it pretty hard to ignore the bothersome fact that a bowl of squash soup looks an awful lot like a bowl of lamb poo.

    Which is a shame, because, what with that creamy texture and bland agree-ability, squashes and pumpkins seem like they ought to be perfect key players for soup. It’s just that I’ve never managed to hit upon the right wow factor.

    Until a couple weekends ago, that is, when my aunt hosted her annual fall soiree and served us a squash soup that stole the show. And it was a good show, too! Curried beef and veggies, rice, lentils, cucumbers in yogurt, na’an, and so on. But that soup! Talk about Wow! 

    I wasn’t the only one impressed. In the following weeks, my mother made it, and my cousin, too. It took me a little longer, but I finally got around to it. And good news! It was exactly as wonderful as I remembered.

    The soup itself is really nothing fancy (though the coconut milk adds nice oomph): like any other squash soup, it’s good, but predictable. It’s the corn relish that’s the kicker. Juicy from the fresh lime and pungent with cilantro, the barely-cooked kernels snap between your teeth, providing the perfect light counterpoint to the creamy squash. It’s an absolute marvel. 

    Winter Squash Soup with Corn Relish
    Adapted from Epicurious (via my aunt), and title stolen from my cousin.

    A word about the squash. My aunt used Calabaza. My mother and cousin used butternut. And I used Bertha, which was the name we gave to the Hubbard that a girlfriend lugged over to our house.

    We roasted Bertha’s bottom half for pies, and then, a couple days later, roasted the top half for the soup. The remaining puree got stashed in the freezer for future Bertha creations. I had never cooked a hubbard before and I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience.

    My aunt used some chicken broth in place of water, but I stuck with plain water and didn’t notice a difference. Also, don’t skimp on the cilantro and lime; they are key players. I used frozen corn and didn’t even heat it up. If using fresh corn, boil it on the cob for a couple minutes.

    for the soup:
    1 glug olive oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    ¼ cup cilantro stems
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    6 cups roasted squash, roughly chopped/mashed
    4 cups water
    1 12-ounce can (or thereabouts) coconut milk
    2 teaspoons salt (and probably a good bit more)
    ¼ teaspoon cayenne

    Saute the onion in the olive oil. After five minutes or so, add the garlic and cilantro stems and saute for another several minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, heat through, and simmer on medium-low heat for 10 minutes or so. Puree with an immersion blender (or other kitchen gadget of your choice).

    for the relish:
    4½ teaspoons fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
    pinch of sugar
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon minced onion
    2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
    2 cups corn

    Whisk together the lime juice, sugar, salt, and olive oil. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

    to serve:
    Ladle the hot soup into a bowl and top with a generous spoonful of relish. Enjoy!

    (Leftovers are fab. The relish holds up for days in the fridge.)

    This same time, years previous: our cracking whip, random, the quotidian (10.22.12), a silly supper,  aging, party panic, and apple tart with cider-rosemary glaze.

  • three feet

    My daughter has recently risen to new jumping heights: three feet. The first time she did it, she called home all breathless. “It was so awesome!” she gushed. So of course I had to go see for myself. Last week I observed a lesson, and then I went again this week when my parents and grandparents came to watch.

    A typical jumping lesson starts with warm-ups before moving to walk-over jumps (or whatever they’re called) where the horse walks over a series of tubes. They proceed to bounce strides, several low jumps in quick succession: over, down, over, down, over. These, my daughter says, might be her favorite because she goes up and down so quickly and seamlessly. And then they start on the higher jumps: two feet, then two feet six inches, then two feet nine inches, and so on, all the way up to three feet.

    At one point when my daughter was gearing up for the big jumps, the instructor asked me if I was nervous. “Oh no,” I said, slightly surprised. “This is fun.” And then I started wondering if I should be nervous, and if I wasn’t—which I wasn’t—did that mean something was wrong with me? What did it say about me that I find the whole thing extremely entertaining and beautiful? Am I missing some all-important Anxious Mother Gene?

    Oh well. I’d much rather focus my energy, not on the what-ifs, but on encouraging my children to deal smartly with the element of risk that goes hand in hand with vibrant living. There’s not much exuberance to be experienced cowering off in a corner somewhere, you know.

    Fly high, my girl. And hold on tight.

    This same time, years previous: field work, the reading week, a pie party, classic cheesecake, and love, the tooth fairy.

  • a dell-ish ordeal

    My husband and I have always been loyal Dell customers. When our keypad had problems, they sent out a technician to replace it—the service was fast and free of charge (perhaps because we had paid for several years of support services). Another time, when the computer was no longer under warranty, they sent us an operating system because the old one wasn’t functioning properly. So a couple weeks ago when the family computer wasn’t working and we needed a new one fast, we turned to Dell.

    We ordered a laptop over the phone and it arrived at our doorstep in less than 48 hours, whoohoo and rah-rah-rah.


    The computer did not work.

    back when we were gamely playing along

    After hours on the phone troubleshooting with support tech, days spent waiting for the next new thing (an operating system, a new hard drive, etc…) to arrive, and politely asking them to let us return the non-working computer and send us a replacement and being told that that wasn’t an option—we could send in the old one but we’d have to wait 10-12 business days for them to replace the motherboard and then send it back to us—we decided we had had enough. We returned the computer according to the instructions that came in the box.


    They informed us they could not take returns that weren’t authorized. The return label we used—the one that came with the computer—was not authorized.

    SO NOW.

    According to the US Postal service, Fed Ex picked up the box a week ago. According to the tracking number, the box is still sitting in our town’s post office. Fed Ex reports that they have the computer, but, due to confidentiality, they can not release any information about its whereabouts…except to say it should arrive at its (unidentified) destination in three weeks because Fed Ex is the new Futile Express. Dell says they know nothing.


    We filed a complaint through Dell. And with the Better Business Bureau. And opened an investigation through Fed Ex. We are in standby mode.


    *If Dell sends, say, a computer with no operating system and a malfunctioning hard drive, the customer will be held hostage while Dell makes leisurely jabs at fixing the problem. Dell will not allow the customer to return the product nor will they make an exchange nor will they refund the money, even if the problem is their fault. (Those things can happen, but no sooner than 10-12 business days, and not without a barrage of emails—such as, I would wish for one last troubleshooting which will be sending a replacement hard drive with an operating system installed—that only succeed in making everything more confusing and slowing the snail-like process to a near halt.)

    *Dell does not take responsibility for their mistakes. The general attitude is, If you bought a computer from us, it’s your own damn fault. In the meantime, the customer will be out the hard-earned money that was carefully saved for such a purchase, therefore preventing the purchase of another computer. Furthermore, because the customer no longer has a working computer, all home/school/work life will be thrown into Complete Computer Disarray.

    *Dell does not allow customers to return non-working products until Dell has exhausted all possible solutions to their satisfaction and succeeded in elevating the customer’s blood pressure to record highs. Even then, a solution is not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that the customer will suffer random bouts of blinding rage, altered vision, and ragged breathing.

    *It is weirdly difficult to uncover Dell’s mailing address. After sifting through the web and finally locating the address, one will discover that the zip code is not a real zip code. Which will raise an important question: Is Dell actually of this earth?

    *After calling customer service and pushing all the right buttons, expect to learn that the hours of operation listed on the website are not the real hours.

    *When the customer service robot chirps metallically that the wait time is fifteen minutes, it is a bald-faced lie. Wait for no less than one and half hours before finally hanging up.

    *When filing a complaint through Dell and Dell promises that someone will be in touch within one business day, it’s another lie. Of course. By now the customer’s expectations will have been lowered dramatically. Actually, expectations will have reached subterranean levels. If Dell plans to resolve the issue, they will need to come armed with a shovel.

    *If a customer is so bold as to request that Dell send a new computer and fix the non-working one on their own time—BECAUSE THIS IS DELL’S PROBLEM, NOT THE CUSTOMER’S, AND THIS CUSTOMER IS AUDACIOUS ENOUGH TO WANT A COMPUTER THAT WORKS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD OH MY WORD I CAN NOT BREATHE—they will explain that they are unable to do so because the computers “need to be built,” and the ones that are built are “already claimed.” Of course, the customer will foolishly point out that a new one could be ordered that very minute and would arrive in 48 hours, but that is, apparently, not relevant. However, one must give Dell some credit: perhaps Dell is unable to understand the customer’s logic due to the customer’s slurred speech, an unfortunate side effect of repeatedly slamming one’s head against the wall.

    *Always always always make a Dell purchase with a credit card because then at least there is the option of putting a hold on the purchase through the bank. Debit cards and Dell do not mix.

    And that, my friend’s, is a PSA from yours truly. xo!!

    Ps. Please send brown bags. To, you know, breathe into. 

    Pps. When we get our money back—if we get our money back, oh good grief I can not even GO there—we’ll be buying a computer NOT from Dell. So shoot us your recommendations. I’m all ears.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.20.14), the adjustment, autumn walk, would you come?, sweet onion corn bake, and rhubarb cake.

  • the quotidian (10.19.15)

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

    And some recommended reading to go with.

    The boy kills this recipe.

    Take your pick.

    ‘Tis the season: sweet potato pie.
    Porking up: in all seriousness now.

    Last day of (forced) riding lessons.

    Wisdom teeth extraction recuperation.

    Knocked flat by a mysterious illness.

    The state of affairs: cobwebs galore. 

    By the stack: National Geographics.

    The soiree!

    Self-portrait in the sun room.
    Another year, another candle, another cake.

    A gorgeous fall day + donuts.

    Turns out, gas tanks are not bottomless after all.
    (I still love you, honey.)

    This same time, years previous: a list, the boarder, home, rich, three vignettes: my husband, rustic cornmeal soup with beet greens, pumpkin sausage cream sauce, and Italian cream cake.