Saturday, November 18, 2006

A "Brilliant" Evening

For many years now, Dan has taken charge of putting the boys to bed. His bedtime rituals with them are sweet, but they take a lot longer than I seem to have the patience for. They read at least one chapter of Harry Potter together. They snuggle and talk about their days. He often tells them a story. It takes over an hour. On the rare occasion that Dan is not home to put the boys to bed, they get me. This is how I put them to bed. Me: "Get in bed, now." Boys: "Mom, can't we have a story, pleeeeeeease?" Me, barking: "No! Get in bed right now!" This bedtime routine I have developed is part of my bid to be named Angel Mother of the Year.

In the past few months, Dan has had to spend more evenings working late at the office. I finally broke down one night and decided to attempt to replicate at least part of the bedtime ritual they are accustomed to. I didn't want to read them Harry Potter because Dan is really into the books and wouldn't want to miss a chapter. So, we sat on the couch and I read them a picture book. It was a much gentler bedtime than my usual, so I've been trying to repent and change my ways. Now on our weekly trip to the library, I spend part of the time searching for picture books that look fun to read so that I won't be bored when they ask me to read Lyle Lyle Crocodile for the 40,000th time. This has greatly improved my attitude toward putting them to bed.

Two nights ago, I was particularly on top of my game. It started out with a package the boys received in the mail from their Aunt Bug. Taped to the outside of the package were six starbursts. I used the candy as a bribe to get them to eat a good dinner, so that was our first step in the right direction. After dessert, I put them in the bathtub. At the end of their bath, I opened their package for them, revealing a brand new Sudoku for Kids book. I used the new book as a bribe to get them out of the water. Once they had their little underwear and wife-beaters on (they won't wear pajamas), we sat on the couch together and Eli proceeded to explain to Adam how to do Sudoku. It was really touching to see him kindly showing Adam what to do, especially since they seem to spend a great deal of their time trying to kill each other. After each Sudoku puzzle that Adam completed, Eli wrote "Great Job" on the top and put a big star in the middle. After a few puzzles, I decided that instead of our usual library books, I would read to them from the new Friend (the monthly magazine for children published by the Church). We opened to the inside cover and read "An Embarrassing Arrest" by Quinn D., age 10, North Carolina:

One day in my class I had to "arrest" a girl in another class for a mock trial we were doing. I was really embarrassed and prayed for help. My teacher said I had done better than anyone she had seen do it in 18 years. Later that night I thanked Heavenly Father for His help.

I asked Eli and Adam to tell me about what had happened in the story. They both did a good job of identifying the main points--the boy had something hard he needed to do, he prayed for help, and received it. They both wanted to know what 'arrest' meant, so we talked about the police and the courts for a bit. Then I asked them how they could apply this story in their own lives. Eli said that he could pray for help with math. Adam said that school is kind of hard for him because he's never done it before. I asked what kind of things are hard for him. He said "reading, writing, talking about pictures..." I felt such a warm feeling there on the couch talking with them about prayer and about how they could ask for help with the things they were struggling with. Dan got home from work then, and when he walked in the door, Eli jumped off the couch and said, "Dad, we are having a brilliant evening!" We don't have evenings like this very often, but when we do, I feel like the best mom in the world.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

What is a Blog?

Do not be embarrassed, dear reader, if you have asked yourself this question. You are in excellent company. My daddy was the first to ask me this question, and my Aunt Diana has just asked me. Here is a link to an informative Wikipedia article that will answer this question, and more:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bedtime Story, Anyone?

I found Scranimals (poems by Jack Prelutsky, pictures by Peter Sis) at the library this week, and the boys and I love it. For a grown-up, the text is enjoyable enough to read over and over, as are the illustrations. For a kid, it introduces wonderful words and really captures the imagination. Tonight as we read it together, Eli kept a list of the page numbers of his favorite scranimals. They include: the rhinocerose, the hippopotamushrooms, the porcupineapple, and the radishark. In the car on the way to church Sunday we tried to come up with some new scranimals. I thought of the persimmonkey. Can anyone answer this question: one of the scranimals is called a petrelephant, and it is a mix of a bird and an elephant. What is the name of the bird? I've never heard of a petrel(?), has anyone else?
The second book I want to highlight is Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. Adam and I were first introduced to this book last year by his preschool teacher, Ms. Juli. We re-discovered it at the library last week, and brought it home to share with Eli and Dan. I don't know if Dan has been able to develop a proper appreciation for it yet, but the boys and I think it is hilarious. One of the best parts is when little Trixie, who can't yet talk, is trying to convey a very important message to her daddy. She gets so frustrated that she 'goes boneless'. We used to call this 'getting floppy', but either way, it is infuriating. We also love the angry expression on her face when her daddy finally carries her home.

The third book for the evening is Angel Coming by Heather Henson and Susan Gaber. This book didn't grab our attention until the Author's Note and pictures at the very end. The Note begins: "Not so long ago in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, if a child asked where babies came from...folks would tell of babies brought up the steep paths, tucked safely inside saddlebags, carried by an angel on horseback." The author goes on to explain that these angels on horseback were the nurse-midwives of the Frontier Nursing Service, founded by Mary Breckinridge in 1925. Mary apparently grew up in a southern family with money, and decided to become a nurse to help the women and children in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. She "built a clinic and advertised for nurse-midwives who wanted adventure and were not afraid of hard work." These women wore blue uniforms and made monthly visits along their assigned routes to check on the mothers and children. I've included a photo of Mary Breckinridge and the link to the Frontier Nursing Service, which is still in operation today. Of course, as soon as I read this I said to the boys, "I want to be a nurse-midwife in the Frontier Nursing Service, too!" To which Eli replied, "you'll have to move to Kentucky."

One of the best recipes, Ever

I love to check out cookbooks from the library. Rarely do I find one that I would actually like to own. But the recipe that I'm about to share with you is from such a wonderful cookbook that I've renewed it too many times to count--I think I'm going on a year now. Here is the title: Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich (Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2004). Here is the recipe that we love. But wait, before I write it, I must tell you that since the first time I ever made this recipe, I have made it nearly weekly. It is a staple of our diet. As soon as it runs out, we are ready for more. Okay, here is the recipe:

Soup Base of Garlicky White Beans and Broth

For Cooking the Beans:
1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) dry white beans, soaked overnight
4 quarts cold water, plus more if needed
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more if needed

For the Garlicky Soffritto:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 big garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes


Cooking the Beans: Drain the soaked beans and put them in the pot with the water, bay leaves, and olive oil. Cover the pot, and bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally [Andrea's note: if I'm not paying attention, mine always froth up and boil over, so keep an eye on this first stage--stirring prevents this]. When the water is at a full boil, set the cover ajar, adjust the heat to maintain a steady gentle boiling, and cook for an hour more, until the beans are tender. Stir in the salt, uncover, and continue cooking at a bubbling boil for another hour or more, until the beans and broth have reduced to 3 quarts. Lower the heat as the liquid evaporates and the soup base thickens, stirring now and then to prevent scorching [Andrea's note: I burned mine once because I wasn't careful enough about scraping the beans off the bottom of the pot when I stirred].

Flavoring the Base with the Soffritto: When the soup base is sufficiently reduced, make the soffritto. Heat the olive oil and the sliced garlic in a skillet over medium heat for 2 mintures or so, shaking the pan now and then, until the slices are sizzling. Drop in the red pepper flakes, stir with the garlic, and cook another minute, or until the garlic is just starting to color [Andrea's note: don't overcook the garlic or it will get bitter]. From the soup pot, ladle out a cup of the simmering bean broth and pour it into the skillet. Let it sizzle and start to boil, shake and stir up the soffritto, and cook if for a couple of minutes in the broth. Then pour it all back into the bean pot, scraping in every bit of the soffritto, or just rinse the skillet out with more broth. Simmer the soup base for another 5 minutes with the soffritto, then remove from the heat. The base is ready for a finished soup now.

Now, to make what Lidia calls "a finished soup", just add stuff to the base, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Some of the additions we've loved: any kind of greens (beet greens, chard, spinach, mustard greens, kale, etc.); zucchini; cauliflower; squash; elbow macaroni. Lidia recommends chicken or shrimp (we haven't tried those, yet). For super extra yumminess, garnish each individual serving with some chopped bacon and parmesan cheese.

Extracurricular Activities

Here is my question: what do you think about children and extracurricular activities? Right now we've got 7 year old Eli taking piano lessons. He practices at home and has a 45 minute lesson every Saturday morning at his teacher's house, here in our neighborhood. He has 2-3 recitals a year. This seems very do-able, and I'm glad he's involved in this. He seems to love the piano and is doing well. I do not feel overwhelmed by the committment. Adam is not involved in any activity right now. I feel extremely hesitant to sign my kids up for things. Having to be places at certain times is stressful for me. I want them to be able to play and hang out at home. I don't want to spend Saturdays at various sporting events. On the other hand, I worry that if I wait too long, they will be too old to get the hang of various things. Here is what Dan suggests: 1 activitiy at a time while they're in elementary school, and 2 at a time in middle and high school. For Eli, that would mean just piano until grade six. Adam is sort of planning to start piano when he starts first grade, like Eli did. But what about sports? Eli played soccer after school in kindergarten, and I did not like having to be at the practices and games. I signed him up for several activities after school when he started first grade, but he asked me to cancel them because he was too tired after school, and I was relieved because I felt the same way. He did enjoy a non-competitive after school basketball program last year that he did once a week for an hour. I liked that, too, because there were no games to go to. When I was swimming today, I was thinking about what a valuable skill swimming is, and how grateful I am that I can swim for exercise. I would really like to pass that skill along to all of my children, both for safety and enjoyment of water-based recreational activities, and as a way of exercising throughout their lives. You may have noticed in my narrative that a lot of my hesitation about the boys' activities is because of my lack of energy and desire. You may be thinking "she shouldn't keep her boys from having these important experiences because of her laziness." While I do worry about this, I'm not sure how important these extracurricular experiences really are at this age. I know I've read things about kids being over-scheduled and about the importance of unstructured play. I know that I got burned out by the time my high school years were over from all of my activities, and I wish I had spent more time at home with my family (this is not meant as a criticism to you, mom and dad--I'm so grateful for all of the opportunities you gave me, and I did have wonderful experiences with swimming and dancing). When I joined the swim team, I think I was 10 or 11 years old. The kids who had been on the team since they were 8 & unders seemed to be a lot better swimmers, but that didn't prevent me from being a decent swimmer and now I enjoy swimming for exercise as much as they do, I imagine. I don't know if I would have been more competitive if I had gotten started earlier. If I don't get Eli and Adam into sports soon, are they never going to be good athletes? If they wait to do serious sports until they're offered by the school (6th grade, age 11), will that be too late for them? I'd love to hear what you think about these things.

Thanks for the swim, Janie!

I would like to say thanks to my good friend Janie, who asked me this morning if I would like to trade babysitting so that we could both exercise. First, Jake came over and played with Adam while Janie went running with her Esther. Then I dropped Jake and Adam at Janie's and took my Esther to the YMCA. Babies have to be 6 months old before they can be left in Child Watch while their parent exercises. So today, Esther is 6 months and 2 days old. If it wasn't for trading with Janie, I don't know when I would have ever gotten around to going to the YMCA. I felt really hesitant to take Esther there, sure she would start crying and it would be an awful experience. But she did great, and I got in the pool and swam for the first time since she was born. When I left, she was sitting in an exersaucer, and she looked so tiny. It was very different from the past when I've left Adam and Eli there. I don't even think she could see far enough to notice me leaving. When I came back, she was fast asleep in one of the sitters' arms. I only swam 1/2 mile, but it felt great to be using my muscles again, and to be in the water. This leads me to another topic...(see next post)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Laugh Therapy

Dan and I just listened to this gem from NPR. "Dire Predictions and Disastrous Votes: Election Ads" aired November 6, 2006, on All Things Considered. Melissa Block interviews two of the most sought after voices in the world of political ads. I think my favorite part is when they do dark and scary renditions of Mother Goose. Do yourself a favor: listen to this.

An Act of Blogger Treason

Today I committed an act of blogger treason. I deleted my 2-day old blog, including my first four posts. When I told Dan what I had done, we had a very uncomfortable moment, after which he informed me of the unwritten law that no one ever deletes a blog. I have felt a little bit sick and ashamed since then.

So, what caused me to destroy my innocent baby blog? Well, it started with my idea to create a blog called "Potato Girl in Japan" as a place to publish the journal I kept as a Rotary exchange student in Nagoya many years ago. I liked thinking of myself as Potato Girl, following my adventures around the world. "Potato Girl in Manila" would be a place to share my mission journal from The Philippines. I wanted to keep the Potato Girl theme going with "Potato Girl in Michigan" but I didn't know how to do that and still keep the content of my original blog. Instead of figuring out a way, I thought, "this blog is so new and there are only a few entries--I'll just delete it and start over." So with a quick flick of my wrist, I deleted it. Then I went upstairs to eat lunch, and I told Dan what I had done. When I found out about the unwritten law, I felt very sorry. I hope you believe me when I say: I will never delete the Potato Girl blogs. I promise.