Saturday, June 20, 2015

highlights from today

We're on the Isle of Skye with unreliable wifi, so I'll just share the highlights of my day in a few pictures.

The fog cleared just in time: oh! there are big rocks up there!!



We had to climb over one of these on the walking trail!

Rainbow porn.

Friday, June 19, 2015

the heather on the hill

In the last two days, I've taken so many photos. Even after culling, there are more than 100 to sort and edit. It's getting late and it's been a long day, so I'll leave you with this one landscape shot taken from the highway on the Isle of Skye, along with an excerpt of some song lyrics from a certain musical I was a part of my senior year in high school:



The mist of May is in the gloamin'
And all the clouds are holdin' still.
So take my hand and let's go roamin'
through the heather on the hill.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

last day in Edinburgh

Our trip to Scotland is not confined to Edinburgh. As lovely as we find this city, we have more exploring in the Highlands to do. So before we leave tomorrow for Inverness, I'm posting these pictures of today's adventures.

Boy oh boy is jet lag a bitch. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 9:30 this morning and after a long breakfast and couple of false starts, we set off for Arthur's Seat on foot. It was a long walk there, and a long walk up, but worth it. What a view.

Scotland, as far as I can tell, really is this green and gray all at the same time.



Yes, I edited this to look like Daniel has a slight halo. Hee here hee.




The kids reclined in a portion of the park they called "Arthur's footrest"

This was the easy part of the trail...




Daniel contemplates a cliff while I look on nervously.
Stuart's phone tells us we walked 10.3 miles and more than 23,500 steps today. I believe it! My feet and calves are aching. Tomorrow, since we have to drive (ack) to another city we'll get a little break from all the walking. Stay tuned for the next adventure!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Edinburgh

So, we made it to Scotland! The trip here was fairly uneventful, except that none of us got any sleep on the overnight flight, so yesterday is a bit of a blur. After sleeping for 14 straight hours, we got up and ate breakfast at lunchtime, and then spent the afternoon at Edinburgh Castle. It's a pretty amazing place, that castle, built high, high up on a rock face in the middle of the city. What follow are some pictures from today. I've added captions to a few of them.

View of the castle from Princes St.

A cannon. There are a lot of old cannons there.

Old stone building in the middle of the castle. I forget exactly which one this is... 

A room in the military prison.
Sleeping conditions in the War Prison were less than ideal. Those are a bunch of hammocks suspended above bunks.

Many, many weapons in the Great Hall.

More weapons, plus armor!

The views were spectacular.
After an afternoon at the Castle, we walked a long way to get to one particular fish and chips joint, and then accidentally ordered from the takeout side. There was discussion of just how inappropriate would it be to sit down in the restaurant with our takeout boxes and eat in there because we were so tired and hungry, but in the end we took our food and walked all the way back to the rental. It was the right decision. Sitting in the warm, quiet place we are calling "home" for the few nights we are here felt really good. According to some app on Stuart's phone, we walked over 8 miles today, so I'm hoping we can sleep reasonable hours and get on a good schedule tomorrow.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

randomly on a Saturday

1. We tried to have Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! last Sunday. The whole family was working on making two kinds of lasagna, vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Daniel cooked the meat:




And Anya chopped the mushrooms:



2. Unfortunately, family cooking time came to an abrupt halt when Anya cut her finger. Not two minutes after I finished saying "Sharp knives are safer than dull ones because sharp knives are less likely to slip and cut you..." I heard her start to wail. Somehow she had cut herself with the sharp knife she was using and her finger was bleeding badly enough that Stuart took her to Urgent Care to get patched up. They glued her fingertip and put a splint on it:

Looks like she's flipping you the bird.
3. The splint is there mainly to prevent Anya from using that finger while it's in the initial healing stages. She did forget about it a couple days later and started swinging from the monkey bars at the playground before I hollered at her to get down. 

4. All the first graders had a field trip to a bowling alley this week. Because Anya's finger was in a splint, I gave her the option of skipping it and hanging out with me. We spent the afternoon making freezer jam with the season's first strawberries:



5. On Tuesday, it was really hot outside, close to ninety degrees. To avoid turning on the stove or oven, we did an abbreviated Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! and made sandwiches and a big salad. The kids' jobs were to make dressing. There was some use of the blender, but no one under 5' tall was asked to wield a knife. 
Fresh mint!

Measuring vinegar

Measuring honey takes concentration.


6. Anya made balsamic vinaigrette and Daniel helped me with mint dressing. The recipe is from my SIL in North Carolina and it's SO good when you have fresh herbs in your garden:
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic clove (or, this time of year, you could use a couple garlic scapes instead)
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 T. plus 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 T. plus 1 tsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Instructions: combine mint, garlic and olive oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse for 5 seconds or so, just until combined. Keeps 3-5 days in the fridge.

7. School's out. The last day was Thursday and we had to say goodbye to both Daniel's and Anya's teachers. Daniel's teacher is getting married and moving to a different city so her future husband can start medical school, and Anya's teacher is retiring after 43 years at their school. It was kind of an emotional day.

8. We're leaving today for a big trip. Our family is going to Scotland for 10 days on vacation. It's a rare opportunity and one we're so grateful for and excited about. I haven't been out of the country since college and the kids have never traveled internationally (except for a year ago when I drove with the kids through a small slice of Ontario, Canada). We're up early this morning, too excited to sleep, and need to finish packing before the cab comes to take us to the airport. I have a good camera and plan to take lots of pictures while we're there. I may or may not have time and inclination to post here while we're traveling, but be sure to follow me on Instagram (madtown_mama) so see what we're up to. It's going to be a grand adventure!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

so it's wednesday

No TNFC this week, I'm afraid! We are barreling towards the end of the school year and I'm a bit swamped. Last night was another event at the kids' school so we were there all evening. The rest of this week I'm coordinating planting and garden activities at the school, the kids have their final soccer games of the season (thank goodness - I have a terrible attitude about soccer but they want to keep playing for now) and I have one last gig this weekend. I know everybody's busy, so I'm not really complaining, but the family cooking activities just aren't happening at the moment.

Maybe we'll make some french fries for FRY-day...yuk yuk. Or I might collapse in a sweaty, dirt-covered heap. We'll see what happens.

I have been working outside with nearly all the students at my kids' school for the last two weeks, essentially since the semester wrapped up for college students. As such, I have witnessed a gamut of behaviors. It's a public elementary school so as you can expect, among the kids there is a wide range of experience being outside and working in the dirt. Some of them like it, some of them don't. When we bring a class outside, though, we have a variety of tasks and most of the time every kid finds something they really like doing. There are always a couple who love to be helpers fetching water or carrying straw. Some kids could dig all day but couldn't care less about actually planting anything. And I love the weed-pullers; often kids who can't sit still in the classroom make the best weed-pullers because it's a way for them to channel all that energy. It's one of the few activities for which they are encouraged to be destructive.

We have an enormous problem with students who are unable to pay attention and listen to instructions, though. I don't spend a lot of time talking, mind you. For example, I've got my planting spiel down to something like: "Step 1: DIG A HOLE. Step 2: TAKE YOUR PLANT OUT OF THE POT AND PUT IT IN THE HOLE. Step 3: FILL THE HOLE BACK IN AND GIVE IT SOME WATER." And then you give them the trowel and a spot in the garden and the kids look at you blankly and say, "What do I do now?" Seriously, this happens all. the. time. They get it eventually, though, and I figure after six years spent in elementary school, maybe by the end of it half of them will remember how to transplant a flower.

I have to be honest with you. The kids who get under my skin aren't the ones who ordinarily have the most behavior issues in the classroom. The fidgety ones need to fidget. The loud ones will be loud. Those are the kids who need to be outside the most, in fact. No, the ones who bother me are the entitled kids, the ones who think they know more than you and don't need to listen because they are used to making their own choices all the time and haven't been taught that a teacher's authority and expertise deserves respect from the get-go. Most often, these are children from privileged homes.

"We need another pepper plant in this spot," I say, pointing to the ground, "so start digging a hole right here." "No, I want to put it here," Kid replies and starts flinging dirt a mere two inches away from where someone else just planted a flower. When I gently remind Kid that plants need space to grow so please plant it where I said, Kid starts playing with the fence because Kid thinks it needs to be easier to step over. I send Kid to fetch straw, which Kid only does after accidentally stepping on all the tomatoes that were planted because Kid ignored my request to step on the marked paths in the garden plot. I grind my teeth a little and turn around to deal with a group of girls who are scraping lazily at the ground with their shovels and chit-chatting away and looking as bored as possible.

These aren't teenagers, by the way. These are first graders.

This gig takes patience, and I'm getting better at it. I'm getting pretty good at giving succinct instructions, at being authoritative, and finding different tasks to suit different temperaments, depending on the activity and how long we have to do it.

What about you? What are you doing outside?

Friday, May 29, 2015

Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Bananananana bread with Oma edition

Wow, you guys, it's amazing what a couple good nights' sleep will do for a person. I have also been on a couple of nice long (for me) runs and just feel better all around. I still need motivation to find direction in my professional life, but that's just par for the course when summer starts.

Let's start this episode of TNFC with a poem, shall we? This one is by Jack Prelutsky:

We're forty performing bananas,
in bright yellow slippery skins,
our features are rather appealing,
though we've neither shoulders nor chins,
we cha-cha, fandango, and tango,
we kick and we skip and we hop,
while half of us belt out a ballad,
the rest of us spin like a top.

We're forty performing bananas,
we mambo, we samba, we waltz,
we dangle and swing from the ceiling,
then turn very slick somersaults,
people drive here in bunches to see us,
our splits earn us worldly renown,
we're forty performing bananas,
come see us when you are in town.


Anya reads through the recipe. Daniel struggles to listen.

My parents (aka Oma and Opa) were in town over the holiday weekend, so we decided to move Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! to Monday and make banana bread. It was nice having another adult running the show so I could get pictures. I only got a few photos snapped with my phone, but there are also a couple short videos on IG of the kids practicing measuring stuff with a teaspoon. It's a real skill, I tell ya.

Daniel likes chopping. It must feel important and grown-up to wield a real knife. The one he's using below my dad gave us, and it's a real bona fide small-size chef's knife. It's very sharp and actually cuts things without a whole lot of effort, which makes it safer to use, I think, than dull or serrated knives.


Both kids really like mashing bananas. Or anything, really. There was no question that these particular bananas were more than sufficiently mashed.


While the banana bread baked, I was getting our actual dinner made, and then I didn't get any pictures of the final product. That's OK because the end result was...subpar. I insisted on including some leftover 10-grain cereal in the bread, we didn't have yogurt so we made buttermilk with regular milk and vinegar and then it baked a little too long, so the bread turned out a bit wet and dense in the middle and tough on the outside. I've had great success with this recipe before, though, so I think if you just follow the recipe and don't mess with it or let it bake 20 minutes too long, you'll end up with something better than I did!

Banana Bread (from the King Arthur Flour Baking Book)


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup mashed banana (2-3 large, very ripe bananas)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 and 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix eggs, sugar and oil. 
  3. Blend in the mashed bananas and vanilla.
  4. Whisk together dry ingredients, then sift them so they are very, very well-mixed.
  5. Add dry ingredients all at once to banana mixture and stir just until combined. You don't want to overdo this part.
  6. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x5 bread pan (we used two slightly smaller ones, actually, because this is a large recipe)
  7. Bake for about one hour, or until a tester comes out clean.