Monday, March 29, 2010

Springtime Miscellany

Last week I took Nels to a birthday party, and I met wee Ben who changed his name to Bruce. Once I met him, the name change made perfect sense. CLASSIC class clown. Bruce appears to be stuck in some early 70's time warp, and he kept reminding me of someone. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I figured out it was none other than Nicholas from Eight Is Enough :

Young Ben/Bruce stands a full head shorter than the other kindergärtners (hey, spell check gave me an umlaut!) has massive amounts of hair, and sounds like he always has a cold. He is given to throwing his hands up and looking at the ceiling while exclaiming, "Oh dear! This is going to be a lot more difficult than I expected!"

Sometimes I find it comforting that I am not the only person parenting an odd duck or two.

We are still getting used to the strange new world of public education. Grade school was a long, long time ago, so I don't really remember what it was like. When Nels started bringing home notices about his Spring Program, I didn't know what to expect. "Save the date," said the notes, "Make sure the kids wear the right thing," "They've been practicing like crazy in PE class." PE?

Yes, the Helen Baller Spring Program is a PE show. Each class in the entire school does a routine set to music. The Camas High School gym (home of the Papermakers!) was packed with family members cheering on their students. There were kids shooting hoops, forming pyramids, doing push-ups, and jumping rope. At one point fifty first graders got their hula-hoops going, and the entire audience spontaneously broke out in applause. It was spectacular.

Two weeks ago, Nels came home with an egg crate he'd planted in school. Each row of two was carefully labeled with a different vegetable. As he tried to get the rubber band off, Nels dumped about half of the contents out onto the dining room table.

"I spilled it on the bus too," he said, and began to cry.

No problem. I brushed everything into one big mixing bowl, filled the dirt back in, and did my best to identify and re-plant the seeds. The only ones I couldn't find at all were the carrots. But once they started popping up, I saw that they had nicely distributed themselves. I took this picture a week ago. As of today, the pumpkin vines are threatening to take over the house. Time to find some pots, I guess. I don't know. I tend to kill plants, not grow them.

I should also tell you that Shaun and I watched the movie High Lonesome: The Story of Bluegrass Music. It was very good. That old-timey bluegrass always gets me.

That, and hula-hooping first-graders.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Be Afraid.

Delirious "up-past-bedtime" boy energy is a frightening thing indeed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Boy By Any Other Name...

Nels and I were reading one of his class project books; each student makes a page, the pages are bound, and everyone takes a turn bringing the book home to show his parents. As we went through the pages, I noticed a name I hadn't seen before.

"Do you have a new kid in your class?" I asked Nels.

"No, that's Ben," said Nels. "He changed his name to Bruce."

I bet Ben's parents just love that.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I Knew You Were Coming, So I Baked a Cake

I am always looking for make-ahead recipes when I'm expecting company. Especially overnight company. When Grandpa Shay visited, I wanted to have a treat on hand for the weekend, but I knew that it couldn't be something crunchy or sticky (he's still getting used to his brand-new teeth), nor could it be too sweet. And I wanted something that I could make two days ahead of time that would still taste good for a few days after that.

And then, very obligingly, Molly at Orangette posted this recipe for "Marmalade Cake," which is at its peak of deliciousness two to three days after you make it. Plus it has an old-world vibe which I thought grandpa would find appealing.

I would disregard the name; it doesn't tell you what is remarkable about this cake. What is remarkable about this cake is that it contains ground almonds and pulverized citrus and olive oil.

I don't usually consider cooking fun, but making this cake was. It was very novel to boil the citrus (I used two teeny blood oranges and a lemon) until soft and then toss it into the food processor. It was more novel still to add extra virgin olive oil (the only fat apart from the eggs and almonds) to my cake batter. And, oh, man, that was some good cake batter. The little specks of crunchy almond made it so good, I wished I could have eaten the whole thing that way.

It was good once it baked too.

One of the commenters at Orangette mentioned that she had grown up eating a similar cake with clotted cream. I just happened to have a jar on hand , so we tried that with it. It was delicious, but too dense to go very far. We ended up moving on to a can of whipped cream once the good stuff ran out. Next time I'll just whip up some cream with it. Normally I consider cake to be nothing more than a frosting delivery system, but this cake is all about the cake. Still, everything is better with whipped cream.

For all the folks who don't tolerate gluten, there is a version of this cake that doesn't contain the flour. I plan to try this recipe; it uses metric measurements, but that will be no problem for me, thanks to my handy kitchen scale. It's tiny, it's easy to use, and I don't know how I ever lived without it. Thanks, Kim and Cory, for picking that off my Christmas list.

You should get one. And you should make this cake. Not because it's the best cake you ever had, but just for the fun of it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Guest Blogger: Nels Martin

Nels recently came to me with a request: that he tell me a story and I put it on the Internet.

The story follows, but first some Cliffs Notes:

In case you're confused (as I was), the ants, bees, and snakes are all on the same side and they are the good guys. The spiders and the humans (though not working together) are enemies of the ants, bees, and snakes.

You will notice some dialogue that contains stuttering. This is a device used in the Tintin comics (and now by Nels) to indicate drunkenness.

Nels does not consider this work finished, but he ran out of steam after the first installment. Perhaps we'll serialize it if inspiration strikes again.

OK, here goes:

Once there was a little ant who lived underground with his friends. But then they were getting attacked by spiders. Half of the group of ants were soldier ants. There were a million ants. Half of the big group of ants attacked the spiders. The good guys won.

But then, more and more spiders came. They had to call more soldier ants. Instead of soldier ants, there came bees. And they were soldier bees. But then, more help came. And guess what? You'll never guess! The help was venomous snakes. The ants won. But then, all the soldier ants had to bring in tanks. All the bees had to bring bombs. And all the snakes had to bring airplanes. They were having a real soldier war.

But then, humans came. The humans were looking for snakes. They were going to cook them and eat them. The ants and the bees had to save the snakes. The snakes bit the humans.

The humans had to go to the hospital. But then the hospital was full of more venomous snakes! The people got almost ripped apart. They had to go to a different doctor. That doctor had no venomous snakes. The doctor couldn't help them. The doctors only had a saw and some jelly. Those doctors weren't smart.

But they had to go to a different doctor again. But instead of a doctor's office, it was a museum. When they went in to ask for help, then the persons who they asked said, "W-w-we c-can help y-y-you." When they went in to a room, it was full of whiskey bottles. Now they knew that it was a museum.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Visit From Grandpa Shay

My Grandpa Shay lives in Southern California. If you are a documentary filmmaker or know a documentary filmmaker, please take note: the next Grey Gardens is yours for the making, if you dare. Seriously.

Anyhow, grandpa was visiting my mom in Bend and she brought him over for a weekend with us. Let's just say that thinking of ways to pass the time with him can be a bit challenging. Fortunately we had glorious weather instead of the predicted rain, so we were able to spend Saturday driving around seeing the sights.

One highlight of the visit was hearing grandpa's stories about growing up in New York and visiting his cousin's farmhouse (in Brooklyn!) Another was grandpa's utter failure to frighten Willem by removing his false teeth. I'd like to share some of the low lights, but I don't think I can bring myself to do it. I will tell you that my writing class got an earful this week.


More mugging.

We love this deli, but I guess it could be disappointing for someone who grew up in New York.

See what I mean?

Grandpa turned out to be really competitive at dominoes. When he got down to just one domino, he would start to sing, "Grandpa's going to wiii-iiin, Grandpa's going to wiii-iiin." Which of course made me want to beat him. At dominoes, I mean. Apparently he didn't think much of mom and Shaun's fighting spirit, because at one point he turned to me and muttered, "What are these two yahoos doing in our domino game?"

Here mom and I are taunting grandpa with the possibility that he might not win this game.

Uh-oh. Looks like grandpa just said something distasteful.

I'll end with my cute mom who earned my respect in a whole new way last weekend. She goes and stays with my grandpa. At his house. If that documentary ever gets made, you'll see why that's such a big deal. And she has even partaken of grandpa's customary breakfast: an individually flash-frozen tilapia fillet from the 99 cent store, microwaved on each side for two minutes.

These photos are documenting the amazing sweater she just made.

Bless her heart.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Good Report

I took Willem in for an echocardiogram at Doernbecher's this morning. In the months since his last one, the leak in his aortic valve has gone from "mild to moderate" to merely "mild." This is a big improvement! It's possible that he may "outgrow" the leak at some point without the need for any further treatment. Other than that, his heart is really healthy, and he will have no aerobic restrictions on his future activities. Just no football or power lifting.

Here are the boys enjoying the gentler sport of indoor stuffed animal picnicking:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I got these earrings at the antique mall in downtown Camas this week. Of course they were tucked away in a locked basement display case facing the wrong way, with no visible price tag. Would I be wasting everybody's time to ask for a look? No, I would not. There was no tag on the earrings, but a tag on the stand said $10.

"Those are cute," said the lady helping me. "Ten dollars? I would have bought them." It reflects very poorly on my character that I kind of love it when that happens.

They're only costume jewelry, but they are so nicely made that the woman still couldn't get over the price. She put in two phone calls to the vendor to verify that it was the price for the earrings and not for the stand. I think she was hoping they would turn out to cost more so I would change my mind and she could buy them.

But she got no answer, so she sold them to me for ten dollars. Nels thinks they're cool, and so do I.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


A split-level house can be a goofy thing, particularly when the entry is mid-way between levels. One can say, "come on in," but it is awkward to linger in the six (or so) square feet of the entry landing. So then one must say "come on up," which is a significantly greater level of commitment.

Of course we wouldn't have moved into a split-level house if it didn't have many advantages, not least of which is the ability to consign all the toys (and most of the playing) to the basement. Another advantage of our home's currently unfashionable floor plan is that it gives me the ability to look out on the driveway and front door from the kitchen where (contrary to what one might think from the frequency and quality of home-cooked meals that I serve my family) I spend a good deal of my time.

So it was that I saw an older middle-aged man in a plaid shirt, vest, and fishing-type hat with a paper in his hand walk up to my front door and ring the doorbell.

We get a lot of doorbell-ringers in our neighborhood. Mostly kids selling stuff. This fellow did not seem like the doorbell-ringing type. I opened the door.

"Your mail was delivered to our house," he said, handing me an envelope. I took it from him and saw that it was a letter we'd been expecting from the Shackelfords, addressed to "The Martin Boys" at our (correct) address, which had been struck out with a marker by someone at the post office.

"That's my name," said the man apologetically.

"Martin?" He nodded.

"And that's my last name."

The man lives one street over and two houses up from us. And his name is Martin Boys. It was nice of Martin Boys to bring us our mail.