Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sometimes it Rains

Two funerals in one week.

One was more of a party, really. The death was not a surprise- we knew he was not long for this world, and we can only hope that he's found the peace in death that he never seemed to find in life. Still, it was a goodbye.

But the other? Oh, it was a sad one. The vitality of youth gone in the blink of an eye. Dimples, freckles, and an easy smile that once lit my classroom- gone. I knew this day would come, I knew that one day a student would die, I just didn't realize how sad it would be. I didn't realize that I'd sit in a church and watch parents grieve over their child and that I would feel the hollow pang of a mother's loss of her son. Bearing witness to the unthinkable, the unimaginable.

What can you do? I hugged my boys a little tighter when I came home and choked back a tear when Jack planted an impromptu kiss on my cheek and laughed until I cried when Sawyer went barreling down the driveway on his bike in the rain. This life is strange, but I suppose we just keep on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to make the most of this wild ride.

And it was also my birthday. So I chose to celebrate life, not forgetting about the deaths, but focusing on those who make my life worth living and who sometimes make the ride even wilder.

The rain came this weekend and filled the air with that unmistakeable smell of fall- wood stoves, wet pavement, and soggy leaves. This was a fitting weekend for the rain to come. Upon us all, a little rain must fall.

And so I spent a wet weekend loving on my family and friends a bit more than usual. A nine (and a half!) mile run with my dad, wine and cake with the girls, an afternoon visit with an old friend, hours in the kitchen with all three of my boys. Jack and Brent tackled a mountain of tomatoes and cooked a giant pot of pizza sauce for the freezer. And Sawyer helped by taking an epic nap.

The recipe is simple and I'm starting to think that we've finally nailed it. The last batch was just about perfect.

Pizza Sauce
a giant pot full of plum tomatoes (diced)
crushed red pepper
tomato paste

Employ helpers to dice tomatoes. Or spend about 45 minutes doing it yourself. Bring your giant pot full of diced tomatoes to a boil and then let simmer until reduced to half the original volume. This will take a few hours, be patient. Then add everything else to taste. Puree in the blender. Freeze for later or make some serious pies.

Brent has been amusing us by bringing home different colors of cauliflower. This week it was purple...

We had a rainbow stir fry for dinner. Oh, and the cookies. I mentioned to Brent that the rain made me feel like baking something. Every once in awhile I just get that itch to turn on the oven and I don't always know what I'm after. Brent reminded me of the Cocoa Oatmeal Cookies that I made last year and that idea just hit the spot. And so...

Cocoa Oatmeal Cookies
(adapted from
1 cup unsalted butter
(yes, I know that's a lot of butter, trust me, they're worth it)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3 cups oats

Cream butter and sugars, then add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Blend in dry ingredients and bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack gently. Store in an airtight container and they'll be even better the second day. Sure, you'll be brushing your teeth a little harder and doing a few extra laps around the track after you eat these, but they are perfect for a rainy afternoon stuck inside with the ones you love.

And really, what more could I ask for from this life? I am often humbled by the beauty of it all, even when it rains.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When in Doubt, Just Bake a Cake

I really don't like Brent's latest batch of homebrew. I've tried to like it, really I have, especially since he brewed it with his own hops from the backyard, but it has this certain je ne sais quoi that lingers on my palate (oh alright, I think it tastes musty- there, I said it.) It's unfortunate, too, because we have not one but two kegs of the stuff. Two kegs! Who has two kegs of beer? Who do we think we are? Is this some sort of party house? Are we going to start having shows in our basement? (We do not have a basement, maybe that's for the best...)

I am really feeling happy about the old italicize button tonight.

So I am holding out for apple cider! Oh yes, this year it is all about the apple freaking cider around here. I can't wait! I can't wait! (And I don't even really like juice, which I know is totally weird, but I can get pretty amped up about some homemade apple cider!) (Because clearly I need to get out more...)

(I guess I am also digging the parentheses and the ellipses...)

We picked apples at our friend's grandma's property. And by "we picked apples" I mean that Brent RISKED HIS LIFE climbing a big ass apple tree, giving it the shakedown and then scurrying around to collect the fallen soldiers while I sat around and ate chips and tossed a few apples into a box as we were getting ready to leave. I was in charge of supervising the children and I'm happy to report that no one was lost or injured. See, I did my part.

(Oh my god. Seriously, somebody should do something about that child's hair.)

Sawyer flies on that Radio Flyer bike. He really loves to go for bike rides around the block and screams "BIKE!" repeatedly until someone agrees to take him. Every time we go in or out through the garage he jumps on that thing and peels out down the sidewalk. A habit that is very annoying when you are actually trying to go somewhere at a certain time. And the whole screaming-until-I-get-what-I-want thing is getting totally out of hand with him, too. He's also famous for going completely boneless when you try to pick him up and move him away from breakables or dangerous objects.

(I ragged on Jack a few entries back, so I figured it was Sawyer's turn this week.)

Speaking of Jack, we finally did it! A real haircut! Yes, I know, three and a half years old and he finally gets a real one. What can I say? We are slackers. Brent and I had been bugging him for the past few months about getting at least a trim, but he was adamant about keeping his long hair. Which I would have been fine with except that he just looked so scruffy all of the time and I just knew there was a sharp looking little man hidden under that mop of blond curls. I really wanted the haircut to be his idea or at least for him to be into it and thus we hit the roadblock. He was having a particularly shaggy day on Saturday when I finally got the idea to rephrase the haircut scenario to include the words "just like Dad's". Now believe me, giving Jack and Brent-like haircut freaked me out, but those three little words sealed the deal and I grabbed the clippers before anyone could lose their nerve. And...

Isn't he dapper? But oh my, biggest big boy ever. That makes me kind of sad.

But I do love the new and de-shaggified Jack. He liked it too, at first. He kept running back to the mirror to admire his new look and petting his freshly shorn head like it was a baby duck. When the afternoon fatigue rolled in, however, Jack discovered that his new haircut did not allow him to practice his time honored tradition of twirling his curls around his fingers. This has been a long standing habit for Jack and one that always indicated to us the degrees of his tiredness. One hand twirling meant he was a little bit sleepy but could easily be rallied. But every once in awhile he'd have a particularly taxing day and both hands would be twirling away in that mess of curls. Then you knew that he was going to be a disaster until bedtime. On that afternoon, I watched Jack as he brought his fingers to his hair and saw the painful look of realization on his face: his hair twirling days were gone. His bottom lip began to quiver and I went with the first thing that came to my mind- cake! Yes, I made a "Happy Haircut" cake for Jack. It was pumpkin spice, nothing special (except for the pumpkin, of course!) from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that is probably gathering dust on your shelf. I iced it with a maple cream cheese frosting. Mmmm. The cake provided the necessary distraction to get us through the afternoon and we caught Jack twirling Sawyer's hair as Brent read bedtime books that night. I guess little brothers are good for something every once in awhile.

Jack says he is knitting a white had for Dad for Christmas. Sweet. Now I don't have to worry about finding Brent a present.

What's wrong with me? Why do big boy haircuts make me feel so sad? Just the other week I was complaining about how I'm so over Jack and his terrible threes. So how come my eyes started to water when I tossed that pile of golden curls into the garbage can? And why did I get choked up when Jack walked down the hallway this morning and it took me a second to recognize him?

These kids are turning me sappy. I'm going to go eat another piece of "Happy Haircut" cake.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Egg Beater, Chicken, Front-Back-Side-Pivot!

I butchered another pumpkin this weekend. This one went much more quietly than the last one, who kicked and screamed and took a few years off the lifespan of my blender. I think I am becoming obsessed with pumpkin puree. I want to spread this newfound gospel- to let the people know about the joy that is pulverized pumpkin!

Just what is it about that taste of pumpkin, mixed into something with plenty of butter and sugar and accented with cinnamon? I guess it tastes like fall. And so here is a taste of fall for you: my new favorite cookie recipe which I have blatantly plagiarized adapted from

Iced Pumpkin Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg, ground cloves, salt
1/2 cup soft butter
1 generous cup pumpkin puree (!!)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 t vanilla

Combine dry ingredients (except sugar) and set aside. Beat sugar and everything else together in the mixer then add the dry stuff. Drop tablespoons of dough onto a cookie sheet, flatten slightly, then bake at 375 for 10 minutes or so. If you can manage to wait long enough for the cookies to cool (we never seem to be able to do this), you can drizzle them with a glaze made from 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 t melted butter, 1/2 t vanilla, and 1 T milk. Or just eat them plain. Either way you'll love these cookies. So much that you just might make this face...

So it was a weekend of pumpkin slaughter, pizza sauce (Brent has tallied that we now have enough pizza sauce to last us through March 22nd. How did he come up with an exact day? There must be some sort of mathematical calculation for this? He is a talented man, that husband of mine), corn, and laundry. Oh yeah, the laundry. Snoozefest. But! I finally got caught up! As in the sheets and towels are all clean, too. This is momentous for me, okay? Seriously, I really do not understand how people with lots of kids do it. I guess if you have a big family you just designate one of your couches for clean clothes and nobody cares if your socks don't match? I truly do not understand this.

The laundry situation was made even more dire over the weekend by the fact that I ran a 5K on Sunday morning during a torrential downpour while Brent and the kids stood on the sidelines getting soaked through every fiber of their beings. But it was totally worth the extra load of laundry because it was MaryAnne's first race (and my first 5K, too!) and we killed it. I mean we didn't win or anything, but we ran steadily and finished strong. A pretty impressive feat for someone who five weeks ago laughed when I told her she should run it with me. We even shelled out the extra five bucks to do the chip timed run and so we got to wear these EXTRA SPECIAL green bibs and had the nifty chips laced onto our shoes. We looked totally legit, man, like a couple of real runners. Because we are.

I got to run an extra leg of the race because we got stuck in traffic on the way there so I had to jump out of the car on the Ferry Street Bridge and sprint over to Autzen in order to make the starting gun. Which they then delayed by ten minutes so as to allow those who had been stuck in traffic the opportunity to leisurely stroll the the start line. Of course.

But as I was making that mad dash to the start I began to think about how much I sometimes really hate running. I know, right? As I am running to the starting line of a race. But still, sometimes I really want to be lazy and sleep in my cozy bed instead of shlepping my entire family out into the rain so that I can run some arbitrary distance and get all hot and sweaty and red faced. My bed is so warm and cozy, you know, and I do so enjoy a quiet morning at home in my bathrobe with the newspaper and coffee and a little parenting break compliments of PBS Kids.

I guess we all need challenges. We must be driven to seek them out. It's a good thing when we dare to push ourselves to do something new or difficult. Rising to the occasion and meeting those challenges is what makes us feel fulfilled in our lives, I think. My challenges right now are to store enough fruits and vegetables in my freezer to last us all winter (this is ambitious, no?), to take Jack's mood swings in stride, to conquer that half marathon (November 20th!!), to keep my laundry demons at bay, to save some pumpkin cookies for tomorrow, and to remember to breathe and to savor the moments in my busy life that seem to want to slip away.

Back to the race. The turnout was impressive (hence the traffic snarl) and I scanned the crowd for kids from my school. I just figured that with all of this "I Heart Boobies" business running the middle school fashion circuit, I'd see some familiar faces out supporting breast cancer research. Nope. Lazy kids. Posers. I totally called them out on this in class today. I saw it as a "teachable moment".

So I'm wondering from you, blog readers, what are your challenges? How are you pushing yourself? I think it's inspiring to hear what other people accomplish when they channel their energy. Sure, this question isn't as exciting as writing about your most horrific public toddler meltdown, but I think it's an important one.

And to reward you for considering leaving a comment, I'll close by sharing with you an embarrassing story about a challenge that I recently faced, that I have deliberately avoided mentioning on this blog in fear that you would demand proof that this actually happened and that I would then have to dance the Hustle for you. Or that you would look for videos of this on YouTube (please do NOT tell me if you find any, I don't want to know!).

I can't dance. Not at all. It doesn't mean I won't dance, but I know that I look like an overcooked noodle with extra knees and elbows when I'm doing it. Give me a drink or two and put me into a dimly lit room with lots of other people and I'll shake my money maker with the best of 'em, but dancing in a public forum, as in for an audience? Not a chance.

But it was the first week of school and we decided to do a staff talent show and blah blah blah I "took a mental birdwalk" and suddenly we had agreed to dance the Hustle at an assembly! Huh? So everybody met in my classroom so we could practice and it was clear from the get go that I was not going to be able to do this. I started having flashbacks to 7th grade PE and the humiliating realization that I have no physical coordination whatsoever. I got super frustrated and tried to laugh it off, but really I was freaking out about this damn Hustle. Everybody else (with a few notable exceptions- you know who you are) seemed to master the dance after the first practice, but I knew that I was going to need an individualized plan of support. Enter my school BFF Kate, who patiently mentored me through the arduous journey of learning the basic dance steps. Then I went home and practiced with a little help from YouTube (see? it has its place) and finally my friend Melanie helped me put the finishing touches on my Hustle. (It's all about how far apart you spread your feet. Who knew?)

The assembly came and I totally rocked it. Or at least I did not fall down or trip over everyone else. I like to think that I rocked it, so let's just leave it at that, and like I said before, if you find and YouTube video evidence to the contrary you can just keep that to yourself.

So again, I pose the question to you, how do you challenge yourself?

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I recently reread Little House in the Big Woods which, you may know, is the first book in the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. Of course I've read all of the Little House books at least once before and I'm pretty sure that I've seen every episode of the TV series at least twice, but once I picked up that tattered copy of Big Woods I just couldn't put it down. I mean, c'mon, the blizzard! Ma accidentally slapping the bear! The fiddle dance party and Grandma outjigging wild Uncle William! The action and adventure just doesn't stop with that Ingalls family.

Have I mentioned before the most amazingly awesome job perk ever? My school has thirty minutes of silent reading three times a week built into our master schedule. The entire school essentially shuts down so everybody can read. Yes, I am getting paid to read Little House books!

Which is why I am refreshed enough to haul the kids out for an afternoon run with the stroller. And some beautiful fall weather. And a praying mantis.

MaryAnne and I are running a 5K on Sunday. It's Race for the Cure- you should join us.

So, back to those Little House books. Man, life was hard back then, what with the panther attacks and the snowstorms and the isolation. That first book takes place before the family came west and had the luxury of shopping at Olsen's Mercantile (Nelly!) and they pretty much lived out in the middle of nowhere and only went into town once a year to trade Pa's furs and buy calico fabrics. I remember when I was a kid and reading these books I felt so sorry for Laura. She's pretty easy to sympathize with because she has that perfect older sister who can do no wrong and Mary has golden hair while Laura's is just "plain brown". Plus she has like a bazillion chores to do and practically no toys at all. Oh, and didn't your heart just break when the apples fell out of her dress in front of the entire school! OMG! Most painful-to-watch episode ever!

But now that I'm rereading the series I think Laura is kind of a brat and really the person to feel sorry for here is Ma. Damn that lady had to work. Churning the butter, darning the socks, cooking in what I can only imagine was a prehistoric kitchen, scrubbing the clothes on a washboard, the list goes on... Three kids and a husband! That's a lot of food and laundry. And then Mary goes blind? WTF? Poor Ma. She never had a book club to go to and sip wine while complaining about her husband. She never got a pedicure. Ma never stormed out of the house for some retail therapy. Ma was a martyr.

But did Ma ever get PMS? Didn't she ever get mad at Pa for playing that stupid fiddle all the time? Didn't Baby Carrie ever throw a temper tantrum? And just how do you live in a "little house" with three girls and a husband who works the fields all day long and only takes a bath on Saturday night? Ma is my new hero.


Ma has given me perspective.

My life is pretty easy.

See? My kids have actual pots and pans to play with. Poor Laura had to dress up a corncob and call it a doll. I guess I can still feel sorry for her, too.

(Jack is refusing a haircut. I just might have to do it while he's sleeping.)

In the spirit of Ma, I sallied forth with my food preservation obsession this weekend and cooked down veggies into broth for the freezer, baked and pureed pumpkin for cookies and pies, and let Brent tackle a mountain of corn. He can help. It's not like he was busy hunting bears or threshing a field or anything.

And then we went to a birthday party at Roaring Rapids Pizza and the kids got all cracked out on birthday cake and rode a carousel. I'll be sure to remind these kids that they live in the lap of luxury when I read the Little House books to them.

Sawyer's carousel face was... well, I'm really not sure what was happening here. Was he laughing? Was he crying? We couldn't really tell. But he seemed to want to ride it over and over again so we'll just assume he was having fun. Hard to say, am I right?

Friday night I got all fancied up with Amberlee (she brought me a dress from Spain!) and we went out for a swanky dinner, just the two of us. I ate pickled watermelon in a salad that literally exploded in my mouth (in a good way) and then we drank countless glasses of wine. Countless, I tell you, although I am pretty sure that I did not need that last one.

But that's okay, I was drinking one for Ma. Cheers.