Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Ideas for 2010

Call them resolutions or a wish list, these are the things that have been tickling the edge of my consciousness the last couple months. Will they become part of my life this year? I don't know, but I hope at least one of them becomes part of yours.

The Washing Line.
You know in movies set out in the country or in the distant past, women are out hanging clothes to dry on a washing line. The sun is beaming down, the shadows play across the surface of bright white sheets--that may be a Downy commercial, actually. Anyway, drying clothes on the washing line has this old world quality to it. Plus it saves energy. I know my dryer runs almost all day when I am doing several loads of laundry and if I could cut that energy use down, I'd be happier.
Here's the catch-- my neighbors will never go for it. And I'm pretty sure my landlord will tell me I can't put one up. But if we just start talking about washing lines, how great they are, maybe our neighbors and landlords will come around.
My in-laws in England dry almost all their clothes on a washing line and their clothes look amazing. Shirts that they have had for years look practically brand new. I think the dryer really wears out the fabric quickly. So think about that.

The Fondue Pot.
Is there any snack more delicious than sweet things dipped in melted chocolate? Yes. Savory things dipped in melted cheese. You don't really even need the pot. Just make the fondue, put it in a microwaveable bowl, break out the toothpicks, and serve.

Chocolate Fondue
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fruit, pound cake, angel food cake, or marshmallows for dipping

Cheese Fondue
1 cup milk
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1 t salt
Ham, sausages, potatoes, tortellini, veggies for dipping

You have your choice. You have your recipes. Let the yummification begin.

Amnesty International.
I joined this group back in college and was a fervent supporter for years. I really liked being able to directly help people who really needed it. I wrote letters on behalf of wrongly imprisoned folks-- peaceful protesters and such-- and asked their governments to give them a fair trial or let them go. Usually it worked, not because of my letter alone, but because thousands of people from all over the world had written. It felt really good.
Amnesty has dropped off my map lately, though, and I mean to do something about it. A few airmail envelopes from the post office and a little research on their website and I will be back in the hell-raising saddle. Yee-haw.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Bit of Christmas Whimsy

Last night, as the clouds rolled in and dusk prevailed, we finished up an early supper and got bundled up for a much-needed bit of exercise. Jim had heard there would be lights and caroling, hot drinks, and merriment along the path at Greenlake. We parked by the community center and set off on the very crowded path. People and dogs were holding and sometimes wearing strings of lights. The path was lit on either side by simple luminaries in white paper bags. My two-year old walked up to the first light on the right side of the path, stopped and bent down to look at the candle. We walked a few steps to the next luminary and he stopped again. He repeated the process for about the next 15 lights, establishing the fact of their sameness. I laughed and walked slowly on with him, content to let him satisfy that need. My five-year old charged ahead, as she likes to do, eager to see what was coming up next.

As we moved away from the lit parking lot, it got very dark. The huge evergreens in the park blocked the light from the street and most of the noise. The lake was quiet and still, a thin crust of ice over the top. Yet the path was filled with people, their anonymous forms filling the space between the lake and the trees with human sound. After about half a mile we came to a group of carolers and stopped to listen. The air was crisp and cool and the lights of the houses across the lake spread straight over the water's surface like drips of paint. The songs ended and we applauded in our mittens and gloves. I marveled how, in this place filled with strangers (and possibly friends, who would know?) we gained a new holiday tradition and breathed in just a bit of the whimsy that makes Christmas so special to me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Think Like a Man, Part 2

As you may know, I have challenged my female readers to "think like a man". Not because men are superior to women, but because I think some female ways of thinking are damaging to our selves: putting others first, expecting others to know when you need to be rescued, etc. Part of this may be biological necessity, but I think part of it is rooted in our American culture.

Look at stories like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. In Disney versions of these stories, the female main character is a passive, helpless thing, relying on others to not only help her, but tell her what to do and when to do it. A girl entrenched in these stories as an adolescent gets a very clear message: you must wait to be rescued. If your life is empty, if cleaning up someone else's mess all day is less than fulfilling, wait, and your prince will come.

Now I know some people will say Disney movies have changed. Today's princess hero is nothing like that. Ariel, of Little Mermaid fame, goes after her chosen man, after all. She is proactive and assertive, they say. But she is still pinning all her hopes for happiness on a man! She is willing is give up everything to marry a man she barely knows. How many young women have taken this lesson to heart, only to find out ten years down the road that the romantic ideal they were chasing was just a fantasy? They are still not fulfilled.

In order for women to start "thinking like men", they must stop waiting for their prince to come. I want my daughter to seek out what makes her happy, to explore all the possibilities of what her life could be, then choose the best possible path for her. I hope she never gets the Disney message, a cultural diatribe written in pretty sparkly letters. Yet there is another message out there, rising up over the horizon, that tells girls "think for yourself". And I think if all of us, working together, can make this as loud as the other is pretty, the message will come across.

How did you teach your daughter to think for herself?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Blog Effect

About once a week I like to hop over to and read Soule Mama, a blog by a mom who knits, sews, and home-schools her four children with grace and ease (or at least that is how it seems). Usually I feel peaceful, calm and inspired by her photos or posts. But last week I found myself weeping as I viewed her tribute to her youngest child on her first birthday. The photos of the gifts from the siblings, made with such love and care and beauty, made me so sad. I had long envied Soule Mama, but now the startling evidence of her seemingly superior lifestyle was right there in front of me.

Suddenly my life felt hectic, ugly, and completely at odds with my values. While my kids were stuck inside watching TV, hers had been out gathering wood to make blocks and knitting balls for the baby to play with. I can't even imagine the horror on my kids' faces if they got these gifts this month. My daughter dreams of a Playmobil box with hundreds of shiny plastic parts under the Christmas tree. Both kids fall asleep to the sound of traffic on the busy road just beyond our door. That morning I read her post, Soule Mama made me seriously doubt my earlier contention that life in the city is better in the long run than what I had growing up.

Although a blog empowers us by letting us share the real details of our lives, it may also be the great humbler. Reading blogs, I am now regularly reminded how unoriginal my ideas are and how different my life is from the many I have imagined for myself. That is not to say I am disappointed with my life, (my husband and children are amazing and wow me with their special gifts every day) I am only disappointed with my inability to be all I can imagine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cloth Napkins Could Save the Planet

Ok, maybe not all by themselves, but using cloth napkins helps a little. Today I took a load of them out of the dryer and wondered once again if I should keep using the older ones. My husband and I got them for wedding gifts: one pretty white cotton set and one rich gold set that matched our dishes. They both look pretty shabby now, and out of shame I did buy some maroon ones a couple years ago to use with guests. And my mother-in-law just gave me some pretty blue ones.

Yet I still can't bring myself to throw out the old ones. Every time I look at them I think about how much wood pulp we've saved by not using paper napkins. Who knows, there could be a whole tree out there not cut down because we wipe our mouths with these stained rags! All joking aside, I really have gotten a lot of use out of those 16 napkins. If you figure two uses a day, roughly 300 days a year, for 11 years, that's 6600 uses! So it's like not buying 6600 paper napkins. It takes a little work to wash, dry, and fold them, but that is the extent of the effort needed. I even have a small hamper in the kitchen to stuff the dirty ones in at the end of the meal because I am too lazy to take them to the upstairs hamper.

Then's there's the money we saved. I feel so smug walking down the paper goods aisle in the grocery store, watching those poor saps stuffing jumbo-size packages of Brawny into their carts. Now if I could just figure out a way to save on toilet paper...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Super Cinnamon Rolls

These super-fabulous breakfast treats are adapted from Bread Machine Magic, by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway. This is the way to make them without a bread machine. The buttery-sweet glaze is far superior to the sticky, over-sweet frosting you usually get. I also added a touch of whole-wheat flour for a slightly more nutritious version. Makes 12 rolls.

For dough:
1/3 cup luke-warm milk
1/3 cup luke-warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 egg (room temperature)
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar

For glaze:
5 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

For filling:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Put milk and water in mixer. Add yeast and 1 cup of the flour. Stir and let sit for 2o minutes until foamy. Add egg, butter, and salt and mix thoroughly. Attach dough hook, then stir in the rest of the flour and sugar. Mix for 10 - 12 minutes. Put dough in a warmed, oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit in warm room for 45 minutes to one hour. The dough should be high and doubled in size when ready.
Meanwhile, pour the melted butter into a 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter and set the pan aside. In a small bowl, mix the filling ingredients and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 9x18-inch rectangle. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and brush over the dough. Sprinkle the filling ingredients over the dough next. Starting with the long edge, roll up the dough and pinch the seam to seal. With a knife, lightly mark roll in 12 even sections. Slide a long piece of dental floss under the roll and under the first mark. Pull the ends up and across each other on the mark to cut the roll. Place the rolls in the prepared pan, making 4 rows of 3.
Cover the rolls with a towel and let rise in a warm oven 30 minutes. Take out the rolls and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately invert rolls onto a large platter or serving dish. It may take a few seconds for all the glaze to come off the pan. Let rolls cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Think Like a Man

Women think: If someone looks like they need help, you should jump in and help them.
Men think: If someone needs help they will ask for it.

Women think: If he really loves me he will know what I need without me having to ask.
Men think: If she wants my help she will ask for it.

In my classroom I always try to pair up boys and girls together for group work. They communicate better and get more done than same sex teams. I don't know why. It is just something I noticed. As friends, co-workers and classmates, men and women work well together. But when they move in together, get married, etc, something strange happens. Women start expecting their men to act like women. They think: this person is my partner and most intimate friend. I expect him to act like all the close friends I have had in my life (which were women). Although he may be the love of your life, he will never think like a woman.

Women tend to relate to each other by sharing joys and triumphs, likes and dislikes, failures and sorrow. Over the course of the relationship a woman will look for opportunities to offer her help to the other woman. This is the ultimate show of affection for a woman. When her best friend offers to take her out to lunch, sit and talk for an hour, or watch her kids for her, it is her way of saying how well she understands what her friend needs at that moment. Women come to expect this of their friends, so much so that they never have to ask for help.

Let me say that again. Women get used to NEVER having to ask for help from the people they love.

I won't pretend to know how men relate to each other. It seems very complicated, with many unwritten rules and mores. Kind of like cricket. But I understand how a man shows his respect and admiration for his friends. He does this by never offering to help. He believes his friend to be capable of handling the situation on his own. If the situation is drastic his friend may ask for help and he will gladly give it.

Of course, you see where I'm going with this, but let me lay it out for you anyway. The woman, valuing her husband as her beloved best friend, either offers to help him or waits for help to be offered. In the first instance, she is disrespecting her husband by suggesting he cannot handle the situation. He is too dumb, lazy, incompetent, or in some other way incapable of handling the situation so she needs to jump in and save him.

In the second instance, she is stupidly waiting for help that will never be offered. The only way for the woman to get the help she wants is to ask for it directly. She should think like a man! Or at least remember that her husband loves and respects her enough to NOT offer his help. Yep. Strange though it may seem, those are the rules on his planet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fries, Anyone?

I recently finished reading Michael Pollan's 2001 nonfiction work, The Botany of Desire. In the last chapter Mr. Pollan drives out to a potato farm to see how conventional potatoes are grown. The farmer he interviews gives a detailed (and terrifying) list of the pesticides and herbicides needed to grow his perfect Russett Burbanks. I thought I'd compile the information here for my readers.

On one field, in a single growing season, the following are applied:
1. Soil fumigant (kills all microbial life in the soil)
2. Lexam, Sencor, or Eptam (an herbicide to kill weeds)
3. Thimet (an insecticide)
4. More herbicide
5. Ten weekly sprayings of chemical fertilizer
6. Bravo (a fungicide)
7. Monitor (a deadly chemical known to damage the human nervous system)
After Monitor has been sprayed, the farmer forbids anyone from entering the field for several days.

If, like me, this list is making you feel a little queasy, you may want to avoid McDonald's fries. They are made from Russett Burbanks grown on farms exactly like this one. So are Ore-Ida fries in the freezer section, and basically any fries from fast-food chains. The only way to be sure you are getting pesticide-free potatoes is to ask the farmer who planted them (like at a farmer's market) or buy certified organic.

If you have children, be especially cautious. Studies have shown that these kinds of chemicals show a far greater presence in children because their bodies are smaller. They are basically getting a much stronger dose of poisons. And because their brains are still growing, the herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides may interrupt or interfere with vital development.

Overall the conventional way of growing potatoes is not sustainable. It damages the earth and poses many health risks for people. By purchasing and demanding more organic options, you can hope your next order of fries is not served up with a side of poison.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Julie and Jennifer

Ways I am Exactly Like Julie Powell
ie: Why I will soon be rich and famous

1. I like to cook. Julie Powell likes to cook.

2. I have a wonderful husband who tolerates my many eccentricities. Same for Julie.

3. I consider myself a wanna-be writer. So did Julie Powell.

4. Julie and I both have fat cats.
5. The blogging, of course.

Ways I am Nothing Like Julie Powell
ie: Why I will never be rich and famous
1. I do not live in New York City.

2. I have two small children who take up... my entire life.

3. I have no cool year-long project for readers to rally around.

4. I can't swear online. I just can't do it.

5. About a million more people are blogging now... so very limited chance that my blog will be singled out for any kind of... movie deal.

So there it is. My life as it stands in comparison to Julie Powell's life. Sad.

Eleven Years and Counting

So here I am on a Thursday night wandering around the house looking for something to do besides go to sleep. My kids fell asleep about two hours ago. So did my husband. He didn't turn in early because he was tired. He didn't fall asleep on the couch watching TV as I've heard some spouses do. He fell asleep putting our daughter to bed. This happens about once a week so I really should be used to it. I should relish having a quiet house in which to read a book or, say, write a blog post, but I don't. I'm annoyed that I'm missing out on time alone with my husband.

It wouldn't really matter to me if we just watched Seinfeld re-runs and didn't even talk. I just want to have a shared experience. This is a fundamental difference between men and women. To Jim, falling asleep at nine pm is funny and kind of nice. Boy, I was tired, he'll say tomorrow, grinning. He'll tell me how he woke up and put his pajamas on at two am. Then he'll go on with his day.

Now ladies, I know you're thinking that tomorrow I should kick up a fuss over the whole thing. I should pout around the house until he asks me what's wrong, or go straight in and begin the complaining how he never spends enough time with me, etc. But let me tell you, that is exactly the wrong thing to do.

After eleven years of marriage, I have realized that trying to make a man feel guilty for things he didn't think he did wrong in the first place doesn't work. It just creates this huge gap between you two. He wonders what you're on about. You wonder how he can be so daft. You start questioning the whole state of your marriage-- over an early bed time.

What works with men is a direct request for their time and attention. This request must not contain any hidden guilt trips, secret pre-requisites, or dishonest statements. Tomorrow, when I see my husband again, I will simply ask to spend some time with him, which is all I really wanted in the first place.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Country Mouse and City Mouse

When I moved to the city as a young woman I thought it was the best darn thing I'd ever done. Suddenly I had art, culture, society all around me. I love being in the midst of a pulsing, busy city like Seattle. Yet occassionally I find myself yearning for wide open spaces and the kind of interactions with nature you just can't get in the city. Particularly for my kids. And for my sanity. Did I mention the sanity? Trying to entertain, educate and inspire two young kids at home (or around town) every day is a test of anyone's mettle. First there's the constant lookout for dangers like traffic and broken glass. Then there's just trying to keep two kids happy at all times, doing the kind of play that won't make me look bad in front of strangers. Then there's just that nagging worry that some freak is gonna grab one of my kids and run off. Unlikely, I know, but you gotta think about these things. So basically I am hovering over or near my kids every minute we're out of the house.

Open-ended discovery play is what I experienced growing up. For all you non-educators, that means your parents opening the back door and saying, "There you go. Be back for dinner." Yep. Unsupervised outdoor play. At our home near Fortine, Montana, my brother and I made forts, harvested berries, hunted for bugs, watched birds, deer, squirrels, and all manner of creatures and never once worried that a "bad man" would suddenly appear from behind a tree. In the winter we went sledding, made snow forts, and ice skated. We rode our bikes (without helmets) up and down every road within a two-mile radius.

Man, we didn't know how good we had it. We were country mice all the way. Completely ignorant of most of the dangers in the world. Ignorant too of the cultural and social experiences our city-mouse counterparts were having. Not that our parents didn't do exceptionally well in providing enrichment activities for us, considering where we were. I had piano, swimming, and tennis lessons. My brother had guitar and Tae Kwon Do. In the summers we traveled to cities and saw art and culture all around us. We even got to Disneyland a few times. (Yes, Mickey Mouse is culture). I'll never forget when my mom made us drive hours away from my cousin's house to see a Van Gogh (the irises) in an art museum. I knew then that art was pretty darn important stuff.

But these experiences were few and far between. Mostly we spent a lot of time driving. A LOT. It took me and hour and a half on the bus to get to high school every morning. Going to shop for groceries, clothing, and anything else we needed more complicated than paper and string required a 60-mile drive to the nearest small city. The whole family made this drive every two weeks. Every summer we drove to California or Colorado to see family. While my father drove my brother and I listened to the same six cassette tapes over and over. Then we stared out the windows, watching the landscape pass by.

I remember the feeling of waiting for something to happen. Waiting for my life to start. There was so much time and so little to do. Perhaps this is a universal childhood feeling. Maybe those city kids with their heated pools and rock concerts were feeling just as bored as we were.

So will I save my children from malaise through the constant stimulus of city life? When people ask me what I like about the city I say it is the opportunities it provides. My kids have done so many things that I never did until I went to college. I hope that their broad, deep knowledge of the world helps to shape their personalities and interests in positive ways. I hope my little city mice can take the big bad world and make it cheese.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rhubarb Rhapsody

In early spring in the Northwest, the only fresh, sweet, local fruit is rhubarb. I admit, I didn't have a single idea what to make with rhubarb when I bought it, but several terrific recipes soon came into my hands. I made them all, to rave reviews. Here there are:

Apple Rhubarb Pandowdy from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison (p. 307)
Uses last fall's apples from storage.

Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze from Gourmet, April 2009 (p.56)

Rhubarb Waffles with Rhubarb Sauce from Eating Well, June 2009 (p. 47)
I made them with pancakes and my fav. Bob's Red Mill Buttermilk Pancake Mix instead of waffles.

You can find the Gourmet and Eating Well websites online. The pandowdy recipe you need the book for, or I'll reprint it here if I get the chance. Enjoy!