Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to October

Well, looky here, it's pictures from October, fresh off the camera.

We carved pumpkins and they turned out really cute, but I don't seem to have a picture beyond this stage, so you'll have to trust me on that. I actually roasted some pumpkin seeds this year. The boys didn't care for them, so more for me.

Here's Nels having his bedtime snack (or second dinner as we call it) and doing some subtraction just for the heck of it. Is it weird for a kid to write Wow! and 100% all over his own papers? To do recreational math? I thought it was hilarious when Nels's classmate Ben wanted to be called Bruce last year, but now that Nels is writing his name on his schoolwork in a secret code that looks like runes straight out of Tolkien, I guess the joke's on me.

Willem likes to keep busy too, though arithmetic is not his hobby of choice. He likes to make things, usually out of paper. For example, in preparation for Halloween, he produced several buck-toothed paper jack-o'lanterns and taped them all over the house, along with a smattering of bats and ghosts. He taped up a paper saying "Et Es Fall" (that's "It Is Fall"--he refuses to consult on the spelling) on our office wall, and he even posted a sign by the downstairs bathroom indicating that it is for the use of adults only. (In case you're wondering, it depicts a baby in the universal "no" circle with a line across it alongside a drawing of a grown-up and the word "yes.")

Willem branched out, though, with this bird feeder. I was impressed with the way he took it from concept to execution, entirely on his own. His idea was to make a table; he found a piece of scrap wood and pounded in four nails for the legs. (Doesn't every kid get a hammer, a tree stump, and a bucket of nails for his fourth Christmas?) I provided the bread, but we didn't have any takers. Even after Willem added the sign clarifying whom it was meant for.

Willem's birthday is ten days before Halloween, and he dearly loves all things Halloween-y, so he always gets a "pumpkin party." I'm going to enjoy how easy that is while it lasts. Willem had outgrown his tiny bike, so Shaun got him a new one as a present. We surprised him and gave it to him right before his party. Because even though it was cheap and he needed it, nothing makes a kid look spoiled like a new bike and a big pile of presents.

We took advantage of the occasion to invite my friend Christine and her family over. Christine and I were friends in college, and her family has recently moved from Texas to Oregon. Sam and Nels were kindred spirits, and the two of them arm wrestling was about the cutest thing I've ever seen.

I put this picture in so you can be as freaked out by Nels's bulging neck veins as I was.

So cute.

This year I wised up and made pumpkin cupcakes instead of trying to make an entire cake that looked like a pumpkin.

Somebody was excited.

It's hard to believe that two years ago this little Transformer had his heart fixed up. It gives me a little something extra to be thankful for every Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. That's the next post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Inclement Weather" Day

School was canceled today, but there's no snow to speak of to play in, so the boys have had to find other ways to amuse themselves.

After two hands of Uno, the game deteriorated into card-throwing, so they moved on to something else. I was getting tonight's dinner into the crock pot, and from my spot in the kitchen I could hear their conversation. They were sitting on the couch, poring over a huge book on the history of science that their grandpa recently brought them.

"Where's Edison?" demanded Willem.

"I just wanted to look through the book," said poor put-upon Nels as he carefully turned the pages.


Leave it to Willem to bring bullying to nerd-dom.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Fine Fall Day

I was looking forward to church this morning, because the little kids were going to share what they were thankful for. They did not disappoint.

First up was our six year-old friend Kaden. "I'm thankful for my friends Nels and Willem," he said in his sweet mumbly drawl. He passed the microphone to Nels, who was standing next to him.

"I'm thankful for my family and friends," said Nels. He handed the microphone to Willem.

"I'm thankful for God," said Willem.

The whole church went AWWWWWWW.

Willem handed the microphone to the next boy.

"I'm thankful for my new scooter," he said.

Then the whole church laughed. But not in a mean way.

After church we went to the Lakeside Chalet to have breakfast for lunch. It's amazing how happy it can make me to eat eggs, toast, bacon, and hash browns if I don't have to fix it myself.

We thought about going home, but instead we took a family trip to the bookstore. Shaun selected The Mouse and the Motorcycle books to read to the boys and Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses for himself. Whom we bought Treasure Island and White Fang for is open to debate.

When we entered the bookstore, there was slushy rain falling from the sky. When we left, genuine snow was falling, though it wasn't sticking. The closer we got to home, the more snow we saw on the ground. By the time we pulled into the driveway, it was a winter wonderland. The boys all but leapt out of the car and ran to put their snow clothes on.

They threw snowballs. They built a snowman. They were giddy. They came in and had warm cider. Then they snuggled into the couch with Shaun by the fire and met Ralph the mouse for the first time. Shaun read to them for a good long while.

Then it was back to church for a Thanksgiving soup potluck. I hadn't planned anything, but about 45 minutes before it was time to be there I figured I really should make some soup. I remembered a recipe for Escarole and Little Meatball soup I'd been wanting to try. Shaun helped me form all the tiny meatballs and then ran out to get some spinach to substitute for the escarole at the last minute. It ended up turning out great and it was really easy. Well, apart from the fact that doubling the recipe called for an entire cup of finely minced onion. There were tears a'plenty.

But not for long. Not when I had much to be thankful for on a fine fall day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Small World

The boys and I took advantage of a day off on Veteran's Day to go visit Shaun's Grandma Laurel at Friendsview Manor in Newberg. We always love to spend time with Grandma Laurel, because she is a great lady and a kick in the pants to boot.

Had we been able to visit a day earlier, we could have heard one of the Manor's residents give a holiday-related talk that I was sad to miss.

When Shaun's Grandpa Chick was alive and the subject of WWII came up, I mentioned that my Grandma Toni and her sister (we called her Aunt Chequela) had been in an internment camp in the Philippines. He told me that there was a woman at the Manor who had been in one of the camps as a girl.

I always wondered if they could have been at the same camp, but I never followed up on it. It wasn't until last year, when Shaun and I were watching a documentary made by a George Fox student about WWII vets living at Friendsview, that I got my answer.

The woman's name was Pat Landis, and in the film she talked about being in the camp with her family. She said that the calm, united front her parents presented, along with their faith in God, ensured that she and her brothers always felt safe.

The film featured several people, so I didn't get to hear as much from Pat as I would have liked. When she described the twice-a-day roll call procedure I got excited; the camp roll call figures prominently in one of my family's (very few) stories. It still wasn't enough, though, to make a determination.

Pat never mentioned being scared, even when U.S. forces flew overhead one morning just as they were about to assemble for roll call. Paratroopers dropped in and a massive raid was launched. With the help of Philippine guerrillas, the 11th Airborne successfully liberated those in the camp from their Japanese captors. Later an unverified story went around that the Japanese guards had intended to retreat and abandon the camp that morning; the prisoners were to be shot as they stood in line for roll call.

Well, now. That was my grandma's story. In fact, one of the soldiers in on the rescue effort ended up becoming known to me as Uncle Bill. His wedding to Aunt Chequela was mentioned in Life magazine, newsworthy because it was the first marriage of an internee to a liberator. Or so I'm told.

Grandma Toni and Aunt Chequela never talked to us about their time in the camp, which of course I found exasperating as a kid. To add insult to injury, if they did want to talk amongst themselves about it, they did so in the Spanish they'd learned from their mother. None of their children were allowed to learn Spanish; it was reserved for use as their own private language.

So I'm so thankful to have a recording (thanks, Grandma Laurel!) of the talk that Pat Landis gave about her time at the camp. I can't wait to learn more. I think it worked out best to miss hearing it in person, though, because the boys and I filled our time quite nicely eating lunch in the dining room with Grandma Laurel, hanging out for a while in her apartment, and then getting the grand tour of the Manor.

While the patchwork view of the residents' personal garden plots was beautiful from the top floor, we had the most fun in the basement. As soon as we stepped off the elevator, we smelled popcorn. But we had some sights to see before snack time. First we stopped by the second-hand/consignment space that Grandma Laurel works in. A woman after my own heart. Nels went to town pedaling a vintage Schwinn stationary bike. That thing was a hipster's dream. It wasn't cheap, either.

Next we checked out the storage spaces. They were framed by boards and had chicken-wire walls, and it was rather poignant to walk by and see everyone's things. It made me think about my own things and the way I live now and the way I might live one day.

Then we were on to the gym, where a class was in progress. There were five or six folks cheerfully moving (I'm not really sure what else to call it...it was a little too slow to be called aerobics) and they didn't mind in the least when we walked around for a look. We let the boys check out the resistance machines, took a gander at the therapy pool, and then walked over to an area with some games and a ping-pong table.

The boys quickly became engrossed in a puzzle, which gave me the opportunity to observe more of the class. They did a few balance challenges and then had free time. The instructor (I must note that she was an amazing lady, and very fit) suggested a game of ping-pong. The residents were reluctant at first, but the play soon became so spirited and entertaining that I felt I had been dropped into a shoot for a third Cocoon sequel.

Finally we were on to the popcorn, the smell of which had permeated our basement adventures up to this point. The exercise/rec room opened up into a lobby, and off of that was a hallway that had a distinctly more institutional feel than the rest of the Manor.

"That's where the people live who need more help."

A popcorn machine stood in the corner of the lobby; a big one, like you might see at Target or an ice cream parlour. A stack of small red-and-white striped bags rested on the table beside it, giving the whole thing a very festive air.

"Let's see if I remember the combination," said Laurel, reaching for a small black padlock that held the two glass doors closed. Hmm. Locked-up popcorn seems less fun.

"They keep it locked?" I asked.

Grandma Laurel looked around the lobby and then glanced down the hall to make sure no one was there.

"Well, there's this lady...and she doesn't really need any more to eat..."

"They keep the popcorn locked up from a resident?"

She nodded, got the lock open, and began scooping popcorn into the little bags.

"Just so you know," I said, "you're probably going to read about this on my blog."

And then we both laughed our heads off.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas

When I set up household for myself, I was happy to acquire my grandmother's set of enamel cookware. I think the story was that she'd bought it in Spain in the 70's, when she took a trip there to reconnect with her mother's homeland. I definitely have a leather coat from that trip. And the pots, with their brownish background and orange-y flowers, are unquestionably of a 70's vintage.

I really loved these homely pots--they were just the right size for everything I needed, they cleaned up easily, and, best of all, I felt connected to my Grandma Toni whenever I used them, despite the fact that my culinary projects were significantly less ambitious than hers. (I never assembled a group of family and friends to make 500 egg rolls and 300 won tons in a single day in my home kitchen, for instance.)

But the pots died. It's unfortunate (and occasionally dangerous) for a person who likes to cook to be as absentminded and easily distracted as I am. Repeated scorching breached the enamel coating; I needed new pots and pans.

Enter my mom, who had seen the sad state of my cookware first-hand. She offered to make a generous contribution towards buying something new as my birthday and Christmas presents. Super exciting. Until I hopped online and saw that buying a new set of the best-reviewed cookware would cost only slightly less than a used car.

I persevered in my research, however, and found out about Tramontina; their stainless tri-ply pans are rated a best value by Cook's Illustrated, come with a lifetime warranty, are comparable to (but way cheaper than) All-Clad, and receive great reviews from the folks who, as I ended up doing, ordered them through Walmart. (Yes, I get nerdy about this stuff.)

I wasted no time putting my pans through their paces once I got them. A birthday dinner party provided the perfect opportunity. Shaun offered to cook, but willingly cleaned when I asked him to do that instead. He even ironed the napkins and tablecloth. I never would have done that. Though I was about halfway through a killer cold, I happily cooked for two days straight.

The dinner was so fun. As I finished up things up in the kitchen, we milled about with cocktails, Warm Artichoke-Olive Dip, and Pancetta Crisps With Goat Cheese and Figs. Then we sat down to the table and got serious.

To start, we had Sweet Potato and Green Apple Soup. If you love winter vegetable soups, but have maxed out on butternut squash and pumpkin (and aren't afraid of butter and cream), you must check out this recipe. The tart apple and bitter rutabaga balance the sweetness of the roasted sweet potato and maple syrup. It's ridiculously good.

Next up were Pork Medallions with Almond-Fig Cream with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts. That was all pretty good too.

Mixed greens with vinaigrette and a cheese plate followed. Then we cleared the table and adjourned to the living room for dessert. It was the only dish of the night that I've made before, my go-to company dessert that never disappoints: Chocolate-Chip Bread Pudding with Cinnamon-Rum Sauce.

Our guests were two couples from our church who also have young kids and really appreciate the chance to get out. I couldn't ask for a better birthday present than to enjoy good food and good conversation with good people.

And while I may have forgotten a finishing touch to a dish or two, I consider it a major success that I didn't scorch a single thing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

True Story*

It's not unusual for strangers to engage me in conversation when I'm out and about in the world. In the past month alone:

A croaky-voiced woman with lanky black hair approached me in the dishwares aisle at the Salvation Army. She started out pleasantly enough, talking about her daughter and her son-in-law. But all I did was blink and suddenly her monologue had become a vigorous harangue of President Obama. What surprised me was that she absolutely took my sympathy with her views for granted. It’s not like I was wearing my elephant sweater. She wasn't downright crazy, but she was definitely guilty of oversharing.

An elderly man at Trader Joe's stopped to say hi and chat with my boys. I was relieved when Nels answered his questions politely. I’ve been coaching my kids for just such a situation, because their natural inclination is to stare at the ground, feign deafness, and treat the unsuspecting stranger like a leper. I considered it a great success when the man told us about his happy memories of shopping with his mom and his own brother when he was a boy.

A harried woman in her late 60's (from Portland, she said, and Camas has changed since she used to come here all the time) stopped me on my way into the downtown Camas post office. She all but pleaded for directions to a particularly tricky-to-get-to local highway.

"I have an even older lady in the car with me," she said, "and she won't stop talking. It makes it very hard..." I wrote down the directions for her. She told me I'd done my good deed for the day.

A young grocery checker went on at length to me about his disapproval of another customer's use of food stamps to buy macaroons and a $15.00 piece of smoked salmon.

"Can I vent to you?" was how he started, and he proceeded to do so, though I’d rather he didn’t. There were no flashing glances of sympathy from the customer in line behind me; on the contrary, the longer he went on, the stonier her face got. She stood perfectly still, as though he might pounce on her next if she gave any indication of sentience. "I'm sorry, that's just my pet peeve," was how he finished, after what seemed like an awkward eternity.

Just today a grandfatherly man in line in front of me at Whole Foods was taking forever to return a $12.00 2-ounce bottle of organic hand sanitizer. He told me (among other things) how much he liked the fall colors I was wearing, and that he'd bought his wife a sweater almost exactly like the one I had on.

I guess I just look approachable. And for the most part, I'm glad that people feel comfortable talking to me. Because if they didn't, this wouldn't have happened at Fred Meyer today:

I had just picked up some ketchup when a young woman with a grocery list in her hand stopped me in the aisle next to the fancy vinegar and deplorable "cooking wine."

"Excuse me," she said, clutching her list, waving it for emphasis as she spoke.

"Do you have any idea what dry red and white wine for cooking are? Because I've looked at all these" –and she swept her arm toward the rows of bottles on the shelves— “and they're all the wet kind."

*With recent minor revisions.