Saturday, April 28, 2007

Springtime in Boise

It's a wonderful thing. When we moved here in the late fall, all the trees in this, "the city of trees," were bare. It really adds a dimension of excitement to moving to a new city and a new house when you get to see all the trees and plants come to life. Like playing a "what will our yard look like?" lottery. With a few lovely maples I feel like a winner, though our neighbor's tree hangs over the fence and drops an atrocious fuzzy puky-looking mess. It looks to be only a once a year problem, though.

This afternoon as I pulled weeds in the shade of an 80 degree day and my two healthy sons played QUIETLY in the front yard with sticks and dirt and rocks, I figured that if life doesn't get even one smidgen better than this, it will be better than I could have hoped for and more than I deserve.

I managed to work up the courage to take the boys across the street to visit with our neighbors, who were also enjoying their front yard. They have one son who is two days older than our youngest, and I was quite glad to have finally taken the plunge. The boys all played in their yard and both of our kids threw screaming fits when we told them it was time to go home. Very, very embarrassing. "At least they like you," says I, lamely. Ah well. We invited them for dinner on Thursday and they were kind enough to at least pretend they will come.

It's a good thing that Boise turned so lovely this week, for last weekend we went to visit my dad, the guru, in what is one of the loveliest neighborhoods in one of the loveliest cities in the country, Bellingham, Washington. When I look out on Bellingham Bay from his deck I do feel a bit of envy. It was so fun to watch the boys run up and down the same sidewalks and poke around in the same tidepools that I did when I was little. I was very proud of all involved. My dad and stepmom were gracious and accommodating to the wee ones and my boys didn't destroy a thing in a house packed to the gills with precious and fragile things. OK, Willem did de-program the remote control so that it no longer works, but other than that we all emerged relatively unscathed.

Rather than drive the whole way, we flew to Seattle and drove from there. Everyone with small children understands the trepidation with which we boarded the plane. Fortunately, Horizon Air seems to understand the situation. In an era in which airlines are eliminating food, the folks at Horizon Air, bless their hearts, have eased the pain of parents traveling in small planes with young children and the pain of passengers stuck riding in a small plane with young children by offering "complimentary local wines and microbrews," or, as I like to call it, "free booze." Even without the benefit of a glass of wine, the sight of little Nels enjoying his snack and beverage would have counted as one of the sweetest moments of my life. He started planning and anticipating it very early in the day, and had decided that he would have orange juice. When the big moment finally arrived, he lowered his tray with great ceremony. Potato chip. Wipe hands. Sip of juice. Potato chip. Wipe hands. Sip of juice. Boy did he milk it.

And now we are back in Boise with the novelty of a cool basement and a kitty who missed us and neighbors to get to know and mountains for Shaun to ride his bike up (he rode to Bogus Basin; look it up on a map and be impressed) and grandparents arriving soon to watch the kids while Shaun and I escape to Sun Valley to celebrate our 7th anniversary. Hooray for spring.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cultural Confusion

You can tell Nels is getting a lot of Old Testament Bible input these days. He thinks the correct expression is "No way, Hosea."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Does feeding my kids Annie's homegrown totally natural Arthur-shaped macaroni and cheese qualify me instantly as a yuppie, or does the fact that I'm a 100% stay-at-home mom and we are in no way upwardly mobile cancel it out and leave me back at neutral human being status?

Precious Moments

When Nels was one and a half years old, we spent a lot of time teaching him things. We could point to a photo or drawing of an animal such as a horse and ask, "What does the horse say?" and he would reply, "Neigh". He could do this for any animal that has been assigned an official noise. This was not exceptional.

Willem at one and a half answers the question, "What does the cow say?" correctly. Unfortunately, a moo is his response to ANY question phrased in this manner. When one doesn't ask the question, he reverts to his default animal noise, which is "RAAAHR!" He has a foam puzzle book of barnyard animals and I have been chased through the house by foam pigs, sheep, and ducks, all of whom viciously roar "RAAAHR! RAAARGH!" Today the lesson I am trying to convey to Willem is Do Not Use a Pair of Plastic Needlenose Pliers to Smack the Heads of Everyone Who Comes Near to You. I am having middling success.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dining Chez Martin

Perhaps some of you have a lot of complicated thoughts about food the way I do. It's hard to believe the way we eat has changed so much since I was growing up. I look back on my culinary odyssey with fondness and bemusement, longing and confusion. I also realize I spend WAY too much time thinking about food. But I've been working on it. More on that later.

Growing up, we had some atypical food habits, but still plenty of what I call "mom food." Stew, meatloaf, spaghetti, etc. My mom did a lot of cooking, but when she needed a break (and with 6 kids in the family, how could she not need a break?) we ate Hormel chili and rice or English muffins with ham and cheese and canned pineapple. Don't get me wrong--we loved these meals. She also had some fancier staple meals that we loved that we never had at anyone else's house...chilaquiles, Mediterranean beef noodles (with canned black olives!) and some sort of pinwheels made of creamed chicken wrapped in dough.

For all the people she had to feed, I think my mom did a good job of balancing the amount of food she made from scratch with more time-saving prepared foods. Treats made a very infrequent appearance in our home, and our lunches contained very little in the way of processed foods. It was not unusual to find an entire half of a bell pepper in my lunch bag. And a juice box or Capri Sun? Forget about it! My favorite childhood foods were the simplest, and often the ones I prepared myself...the perfect grilled cheese made of sharp cheddar on sourdough bread, or a fried egg on a flour tortilla doused in La Victoria medium spicy taco sauce.

Going to spend the summers in Las Vegas with my grandma exposed me to new flavors. Her Spanish mother had grown up in the Philippines, and she enjoyed all sorts of Asian foods. One of my greatest regrets is that I never learned to make steamed barbecue pork buns from her. Thanks to my grandma Tony (Antonia) I got to try deep-fried flour tortillas topped with cheese and salsa, egg rolls and won tons (which she would spend all day making by the hundreds, assembly-line style, with any family members she could talk into doing it), watermelon rind pickles, and homemade beef jerky. She used to serve us iced coffee with milk and sugar, doubtless the origin of my obsessive love of coffee.

Though I'm pretty sure I never tasted a fresh herb in all of my formative years, there WAS an arena in which I was exposed to the finer things. My mom took the trouble to bake bread and desserts for special occasions from scratch, and they were always delicious. At every extended family get-together, she had to bring the desserts. Her fudge was not grainy. Her cheesecake was silky. To this day I'd rather not serve dessert than buy it from the grocery store.

Well, when I went off to college the only major revelation I had was that things like cheese sticks and fried zucchini existed, and that ranch dressing tastes good on all things fried (onion rings, french fries) and all things cheesy (mozzarella sticks, pizza, grilled cheese.) Oh--I also learned that iceberg wasn't the only kind of lettuce that exists. There's romaine too.

During my junior year in college I spent a semester in Germany. We lived at a youth hostel and the food we had there was German "mom food" extraordinaire. But we DID take a trip to Italy. And it was there I learned how sublime spaghetti is when coated with the lightest of buttery tomato sauces. Served as an APPETIZER. And I was hooked. A foodie was born.

More trips to Europe only deepened the love. And I learned I liked Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. I loved the Indian food in Fiji. I tried Spanish food at Cobras & Matadores in LA, thanks to my sister. Thai food--delicious. I couldn't believe that all of these cuisines existed! All so different and wonderful.

Which brings us to today. I can buy artisan bread in the grocery store. Cheese and wine from all over the world, if I'm willing to sell my first-born to pay for it. Fresh herbs! I almost fell on the ground the first time I actually chopped up some fresh basil, well after I graduated from college. Coconut milk, lemongrass...I just can't imagine that all of these things were readily available when my mom was feeding us.

Here's my problem. I know food can be wonderful, so I want it to be. All the time. But I've finally realized that not every meal has to be the most delicious thing I've ever eaten. For one, I want to eat healthy foods. I also hate meal planning and grocery shopping. And all those cheeses that I love really add up. I know it's possible to make healthy, great-tasting, uncomplicated food, but it's not something that comes naturally to me.

So here's what I've done about it. You'll laugh, or, if you know me, be horrified or bewildered. I've subscribed to something called The Six O'clock Scramble. This service sends you a weekly newsletter with five entrees and suggested sides and provides the grocery list. I LOVE this! Yes, it's mom food, full of shortcuts and utilizing the occasional can. But it's actually pretty healthy. Most meals take 30 min or less, and use few ingredients, including great things like beets and Swiss chard. And there are only two meat recipes a week, which keeps it pretty inexpensive. Sometimes the side suggestions are things like "celery and carrots with hummus." Now, that's the kind of thing that I would never deem "special" enough to serve with my dinner, but it's just fine if someone else gives me permission to do it! And the recipes make enough that I don't have to buy separate lunch food.

Some of the recipes sound really odd. I fixed burritos with pinto beans and wilted spinach this week, and they were delicious. Somewhat less successful was the tomato spaghetti sauce with beets blended in. But it was a lot better than I expected it to be, so I was pleasantly surprised. The important thing is that I'm using a lot more foods from the produce aisle than I do when left to my own devices. There's only one shortcut that I've decided to draw the line at. No more garlic from a jar, no matter how convenient. It just doesn't taste the same.

My life is much happier now. I'm already fixing three different things for lunch and breakfast, so I really need dinner to be easy. We've cut WAAAAY back on the takeout. And, of course, when we have company, I bring out the delicious food, like this all-time favorite recipe for chocolate chip bread pudding with cinnamon-rum sauce.

I want to enjoy food, but I want it to have a properly ordered place in my life. I'm glad my kids will grow up familiar with sweet potatoes and beets and brown rice and mulligatawny stew. And I can hardly wait until they have families of their own and they roll their eyes over the salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, dried cranberries, pecans, and homemade vinaigrette that their mom was always serving.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

My Dad's a Guru!

And I couldn't be prouder. Scott Montgomery, take a bow.

Here are the winners of the 2007 Photoshop Guru Awards, presented in Boston.

By the way, if you scroll down to the winner in the Photography category, it happens to feature the very same tea kettle that I use every day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Crap Attack

Yes, this post is about poo, so don't say I didn't warn you. No more will I leave Willem to play in his crib for a while after a nap. When I went into his room today to fetch him after a good half hour of happy noises, I was immediately hit with a wave of the foulest of smells. I suppose that I should consider myself lucky that this is the first time I've had to deal with a child intentionally playing with the contents of his diaper.

Of course Willem managed to bring his typically Willemesque aplomb to the whole affair. There were no streaks, skids, or trails. Rather, tiny bits were to be found at rest on various items, as though he had carefully placed one small blob on every surface he could find. Cheek? Check. Pacifier (still in his mouth)? Check. Shirt? Yep. Pants? Uh huh. Sheets? Quilt? Got 'em. Anyone with babies knows that poop washes out of textiles pretty easily, so that wasn't too big of a problem. The really tricky bit was his hands. It looked as though he'd applied some self-tanner and forgotten to wash his hands afterward. For those of you familiar with the movie Mallrats, I can now attest to the fact that "stinkpalm" is nigh impossible to rid oneself of once it is acquired.

I now feel I ALMOST deserve the trip to Paris I get to take this summer.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

We Should Eat More Leeks

Also parsnips. They're delicious.

Our Easter meal was also delicious. Not so delicious was the Easter morning worship service we attended at Cole Community Church. This is the church we attend every Sunday and, while we have yet to actually meet anyone there, we go because the teaching is consistently outstanding. A team of elders leads the church rather than a head pastor, and these elders take turns preaching on Sunday mornings. (We do know that it's our duty to get involved and meet people, but we haven't gotten that far yet.)

The church states on its website that its worship services, while "seeker-friendly," are not evangelistic in nature. "...we gather to grow and scatter to befriend and seek the lost for Christ." This approach explains why we find the teaching to be so rich. The elder who gave the sermon on Easter seemed to be abandoning this stance in favor of a "It's a holiday and there's a lot of new people here who don't usually go to church" mindset. True enough. But instead of getting milk vs. solid food, it was like he was dishing up Kool-Aid.

A typical sermon at Cole, based on a Bible text, would include references to George MacDonald's book The Princess and the Goblin and the musical Man of La Mancha, and might feature exposition of the legal codes of the ancient world. Easter Sunday we had a sermon with references to James Cameron (of Titanic fame), David Copperfield, and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Not a word of scripture. Not to mention a choir that could not perform a single song without an obligatory a capella refrain.

My face is getting all red again now just thinking about it. Of course the familiar battle raged within me--I don't want to be one of those dreaded "consumer Christians" who pick a church solely based on how it meets their aesthetic and perceived spiritual needs and are always searching for the "perfect" church home. I'm sure there were far more people in that packed sanctuary who watch Extreme Makeover than read George MacDonald. But amid all those pop-culture references, I don't recall hearing and thrilling to the amazing news that a man who was also God DIED and CAME BACK TO LIFE! That good news was never actually explicated. I was embarrassed for the gospel. I felt like crying because the resurrection came across as...trite.

But there's not a disappointing worship service in the world that can change what Christ did and what we celebrate on Easter. So I'm over it.

The remainder of the Easter holiday was a celebration of the abundant life that Christ came to bring us. Shaun baked us some fancy-pants Easter bread that his mom usually makes. We thought it was a traditional Swedish recipe passed down in the family and turns out it's a Finnish recipe from a Sunset cookbook. Delicious, nonetheless. Key ingredients are butter, lemon and orange zest, almonds, golden raisins, rye flour, and cardamom. The fragrance is the essence of Easter.

Fitting for a day celebrating new life, the guest of honor was our newest friend in Idaho, a wee little lass of only 6 days old. There were decorated boiled eggs and plastic eggs with candy and packages and cards from faithful grandmas. Despite the fact that Nels thinks the Easter story is about a bunch of people shut up in a big mountain, it was a very well-received holiday.

"...I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

It's The Little Things

I love the fact that I can buy a FOUR POUND tub of Mountain High whole-milk plain yogurt at Albertson's for $3.99 on sale. Even more satisfying than the value, though, is the look of begrudging admiration on the clerk's face when she questions my purchase of such a gargantuan container of yogurt and I reply that my 18 month-old will finish off the whole non-sugared lot of it within a week. All by himself.

Monday, April 2, 2007

DON'T Let Them Eat Cake

I fed the boys leftover almond cakes for breakfast. What was I thinking, you ask? I was thinking that we’ve been easing up on our donut habit lately and at least it was homemade and not deep-fried. Nels has built up a high enough sugar tolerance that he remained relatively unaffected. He spent the morning being his alternately charming and exasperating self. Alas, little 10th percentile-weight Willem could not handle cake for breakfast on an empty tummy. It’s fortunate that we were playing in the only carpeted room in the house, for Willem was flinging himself about with heedless abandon. He would nod his head violently, throw himself on his brother, then giggle maniacally and roll around on the floor.

“I’ve never seen him do that before, “ I said. “Oh. It could have something to do with having cake for breakfast.”

The day only went downhill from there, but the weekend that preceded it to that point was so fantastic that it didn’t even matter.

Why was your weekend so fantastic, you ask? Well, a band that we actually wanted to see came to Boise. Apples in Stereo. That’s them, not my boys, in the photo above. And as if that weren’t remarkable enough, we got a babysitter so we could go to the concert. A babysitter we weren’t afraid to leave the children with. Nels liked her so much that he cried in the morning when he woke up and discovered she hadn’t spent the night.

It is SO RARE that we go out (this was our first non out-of-town-grandparent-babysitter since we moved to Boise five months ago) that the show and the venue could have stunk and I would have still been ecstatically happy. In my child-free bliss I found it all to be perfect. Yes, the Neurolux was a bit of a dive. Smoky. Dingy. But the booth closest to the stage was empty and we sat there. We shared a $10 pitcher of beer. All was so well with the world that I even smiled in benevolent amusement when the party who squeezed in next to us procured a plastic cup in which to spit tobaccy juice. We’re not in LA anymore, kids.

The opening band was kind enough not to suck. They were Casper and the Cookies from Athens, Georgia, and they are what is commonly referred to as “a kick in the pants.” I have been to very few concerts, but at every one I’ve been to I’ve either been embarrassed for or felt animosity towards the opening act. But these folks were actually very entertaining and I felt it was the first time I’d ever seen an opener that wasn’t totally useless. Unfortunately I felt compelled to share these sentiments with the front man of Casper and the Cookies when I found myself standing two feet away from him after the show. And yes, I used the word “useless.” Next time I’ll be sure to eat a bigger dinner before I start with the beer.

I enjoyed Apples in Stereo too. When their set was done I could see that Robert Schneider, the genius mastermind of the band, was standing very close to us and talking to a surprisingly small number of people. I decided to go tell him that we had put Apples in Stereo on the “mix tape” we played at our wedding reception. Shaun came along too, and I’m glad he did, or we never would have found ourselves being simultaneously hugged by the spazz in the center of the above photo. He was even wearing that very same red blazer. With an arm squeezing each of us, he made us promise to go tell his wife at the T-shirt table about the wedding thing. Which we did. Fun night.

Saturday was everything a Saturday should be. Shaun went on a 41-mile bike ride and was back by noon so I could pass off the kid-watching baton. I headed off to the salon, where my hair was colored, washed, dried, cut, flat-ironed, and then cut some more for three glorious hours. We topped off the day with take-out ribs, the company of dear friends, two bottles of budget red wine, and the aforementioned almond cakes with raspberries and whipped cream. A fantastic weekend, indeed.