Friday, May 30, 2008

glasses and other oddities

My family has quite the history with eye-wear. In case you didn't read the comments on my last post, let me share with you another piece of childhood, though this story really belongs to my brother. My mom and dad tell it best:

Mom: Those glasses (referring to my first grade bifocals) are quite normal compared to a legendary pair of her brother's, who broke them while camping at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, miles and miles from a repair shop. Father, in his ever-inventive, engineering-driven "aesthetics aren't as important as function" mentality, fixed them with a stick and duct tape. To say they were ugly is a gross understatement. Brother used them when accurate sight was an absolute necessity and not always even then, preferring to go around half-blind, being at that pubescent stage where appearance is probably more important than life itself.

Dad: And a couple of years ago he pulled those ugly glasses out from where he had hidden them. I was very surprised that he still had them, especially after he and his pals right after Philmont tried to destroy them with firecrackers but failed to do so.


Ah, yes. How well I remember my poor brother's "tree glasses." How he hated them. And I don't blame him! They were heavy, there was a big stick obscuring his vision, and they were most decidedly uncool. Of course he still has them. We all have a tendency towards pack-ratting, especially obscure nostalgic stuff like ugly childhood glasses. That pair, especially, deserves preservation since it survived being stuck in a coffee can with a whole round of firecrackers. And now that Joe is old enough not to be embarrassed by them, they make for a pretty good story.

As for other weirdnesses, Animal said it's strange I still have these bifocals. See above re: family o' pack rats. In fact, Animal, my parents brought them up a couple years ago in a box of other stuff from my closet that they wanted me to deal with because they wanted it out of their house. I'm not sure what they thought I'd do with child-sized bifocals from 1985, but I guess they figured it was my decision, not theirs.

Steph mentioned that I say "Beans!" with a very silly voice. Indeed I do. In fact, I say and do a whole lot of silly things, usually in the presence of Steph and/or my brother Joe and, of course, Stuart, who has discovered his silly side since marrying me. Heh. I guess immaturity is contagious, huh?

Jenn-Jenn mentioned a couple things. First, I totally idolized her in middle school band because she was a cracking good flute player and I aspired to be able to play all the C's just like her. Plus, she seemed to actually take music seriously, unlike the rest of the flute section, who were a bunch of, well, let's just say they didn't care as much about music as fixing their hair and dating dangerous 8th-grade boys. Speaking of boys, Jenn's brother had a thing for me once upon a time? Huh. I may have had an inkling, but I was far, far too shy and embarrassed to admit it at the time. (Though, Joel, in case you're reading this, I actually thought you were pretty cute.)

Now, how about some random eye candy? Here's a picture of Daniel and Anya sporting some new duds Uncle Joe brought back from a trip to Ireland:

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

5 weird things about me

Thanks for all the well wishes, everyone. Our vacation was grand. The weather was beautiful, the state park we stayed at was beautiful, we all got along swimmingly. I hope we can all do it again.

Steph tagged me for one of those "5 weird things about me" memes. These days I have a hard time finding 5 interesting things to say about myself, much less weird, but I'll give it my best shot.

1. People who don't know any better think that I am a very organized person. I remember a meeting with my teacher at the university. She couldn't find her datebook and was expressing her frustration with her tendency towards disorganization and losing things. I mentioned that my mom sometimes has that problem. She looked right at me and without missing a beat said "You must take after your father." (This is before she met my parents.) The truth is, I'm always misplacing my keys, I never write down appointments or phone numbers, the mail is piled high on my neglected piano, and I usually go to the farmers' market and grocery store without a clue about what I'm going to cook that week. However, I have a very good memory, so I rarely actually forget appointments, I remember where I put things even if it's a different place every time, I know exactly what's in that pile of mail even if I haven't sorted it yet, and the weekly menu usually works itself out.

2. For a person with a doctorate in collaborative piano, I am shockingly uninterested in opera. Most people with collaborative degrees make a good deal of their living coaching and accompanying opera. This could potentially be a problem if I ever try and get a job in my field. (For the record, I would much rather play art song and instrumental duo and chamber music. Yes, there is a huge difference between opera and art song.)

3. When I was in first grade, I came home one day and complained that the teacher did a lousy job of cleaning the chalkboard because it looked so fuzzy. My two myopic parents weren't particularly surprised and immediately made an appointment with an eye doctor. Soon after, I came home with my first pair of glasses:



Yup, those are bifocals. I will never know why that quack thought bifocals for a six-year-old was a good idea, but I wore them for a whole year (or was it two?) before we found another eye doctor and got me new glasses with better, regular lenses and equally dorky thick plastic frames.

4. Despite my usual interest in politics, I haven't been following the 2008 presidential election at all. I'm relieved the Democratic party finally found candidates more interesting than plywood. Obama had my vote from day one, though I could live with Clinton, and I don't think McCain has a chance. That's all I need to know, frankly. I think this particular news diet has been good for my stress level, since the 2004 election was a very dark time indeed.

5. I've been sitting here 10 minutes and can't think of a 5th weird trait I have, not that I'm willing to share with the internets anyway. So #5 is up for grabs. What do YOU think is weird about me? Leave a comment, and I'll post them all in a couple days. You can even come up with something a little embarrassing...(emphasis on a little.)

Too lazy to tag. Wanna do this meme? Leave a comment and I'll go read it!

Monday, May 19, 2008

vacation

The blog will be going dark for about a week. We're going on vacation to a place with no internet connection or cell phone signal.

I'm so stoked about this trip for several reasons:

1. We're meeting our nephew for the very first time. He turns 1 later this month.
2. We're getting together with ALL of our immediate family members (Stu's parents, my parents, Stu's brother + wife + kid, my brother), which, considering how spread out we are across the country, is a rare thing indeed.
3. Said grandparents will probably be willing to spend some quality time with their grandchildren so that we parents (and Uncle Joe, who's not a parent yet, but still likes to hang out with us) can go on hikes or play disc golf or tour a winery or something.
4. We're going someplace warmer than Wisconsin.

Daniel has been on many plane trips in his short life; I think I flew with him at least 5 times before he was a year and a half old, and that includes several trips with me alone. He has done well so far. Of course I hope this continues. We'll see how Anya does on the plane.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

pizza tutorial (warning: very picture-heavy post!)

Before we begin:

1) I wrote a couple of posts in reaction to a post by Dawn of This Woman's Work regarding posting pictures of your kids online and how safe it is and whatnot. I want to say that even though I have decided against removing pictures of my kids from my blog or password-protecting them, I thought Dawn's post was excellent and urged caution without being alarmist or paranoid. I'm just saying this in case anyone thinks I was trying to refute her arguments or something. I wasn't. I was just explaining why I'm not going to change my whole blog. Plus, I don't keep track of my stats at all, not even through sitemeter, so I have chosen to remain ignorant of who reads this and how they get here.

2) Mrs. Alloro, I wasn't at all referring to you in my little comment about people getting off on bread dough! I would never do that! But I'm glad you're so excited about this tutorial, and I hope you're not the only one.

Onward!

Notes:
-There are tons of pictures in this post. My sympathies if you are reading this (or rather, trying to read this) via dial-up connection.
-If you are familiar with making your own bread dough, there aren't any real surprises here like new kneading techniques or strange ingredients. Be sure to read the end, though, because half of the success of this pizza is what you do after the dough is made.
-I like my pizza crust thin and crispy, and I have aspired to come up with the best way of achieving that. If you're into chewy crusts that are so thick you can't even taste the toppings, this method is not for you.

PART THE FIRST: DOUGH
Find yourself a medium-sized bowl. Put in it:
2 tsp. yeast
1 cup warm water

Let it all sit there for a couple minutes to let the yeast dissolve:


Now add:
1 cup of flour
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
a dash of sugar (or up to 1 tsp., depending on your taste)

and stir until smooth. I usually use King Arthur brand flour. They make a white whole wheat flour that is wonderful, because the flavor is very mild, so you can substitute it for white flour in lots of things, even cookies. In this batch, I used white whole wheat flour for this step of the recipe, but if you can't find it or want to use all white flour, regular all-purpose or bread flour will do:


Let the mixture sit for an hour or so until it's bubbly. (If you click on the picture, you can see the bubbles a little better):


Add about 1/2 cup flour (I used King Arthur white bread flour) and stir. Then add another 1 or 1.5 cups flour a few tablespoons at a time until it becomes uncomfortable to stir with a wooden spoon:


Time to get your hands dirty! Knead the dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time as you "knead" to. (Hee.) Add flour just until the dough isn't sticky anymore. If you add too much, it will be stiff. By the way, I learned that yes indeed I can knead dough with one hand while taking pictures with the other.



At this point, if you have a young apprentice, he/she may express interest in "helping" you. I advise that you allow him/her to do so, even if he/she has just returned inside from vigorous play in the dirt. (Just remember not to include his/her bit of dough in the final product.)





Put a very thin layer of oil over the dough so it won't dry out, and cover the bowl with a lid or wet towel.


Let it rise until doubled in size, anywhere from 1-3 hours. Your young apprentice, by the way, will want his/her own bowl with lid, so please accommodate his/her needs. Be warned that he/she may check obsessively to see if the dough has risen for the next five minutes, then completely forget about it.





Ah, there we are. The doubled dough:


PART THE SECOND: PREPARING THE DOUGH FOR TOPPINGS
Split the dough into four equal sections. (For some reason, I didn't take a picture of this, but I'm sure you can figure it out.) Let it rest for 10-15 minutes. This rest time is actually a good opportunity to prepare the toppings/change a poopy diaper or two/nurse your hungry baby/get a beer.

Next, find yourself two large cookie sheets and sprinkle them liberally with cornmeal. The cornmeal keeps the dough from sticking and scorching. On a floured surface, roll each of the four sections of dough into a circle-ish shape (I can never make them perfectly round, can you?) about 10" in diameter. Place two on each pan.


Let me stop here and say that both the cornmeal and dividing the dough into small pieces are vital to this method of pizza-making. The dough is pretty thin when it's rolled out, about 1/4" thick. That combined with being only 10" or so in diameter and having cornmeal instead of oil to keep it from sticking to the pan all contribute to PIZZA THAT IS NOT SOGGY IN THE MIDDLE. I've been trying to figure this out for years, and I just saved you some time. (You're welcome.)

PART THE THIRD: THE SAUCE
This is easy. Actually, you could make it even easier by using pizza sauce from a can or jar, but I find even those kinds too soupy for my taste, so I came up with my own way. Just mix:
1 small can of tomato paste (plain or with eye-talian herbs)
1/2 tsp. sugar (it cuts the sharpness of the tomato paste)
1 tsp. crushed raw garlic
3-4 T. water, depending on how thick/runny you like your sauce
(Note: if your sauce is too runny, it may make your pizza soggy.)
(Another note: this is actually enough sauce for two batches of pizza. It freezes well. Use half and save the rest for next time.)

Spread a thin layer of sauce on each piece of dough:


PART THE FOURTH: FINISHING UP
Move your oven rack to the top third of the oven, and turn on the oven to 475. (Yes, that's quite hot. That's why you move the rack up.)

Put whatever toppings you like on the sauced (hee) pizzas. We usually do mushrooms, olives and freshly-grated mozzarella (leaving off the olives for the Danimal), though tonight I made one with farmers' market goat cheese, spinach and red onion. I have no pictures of that one because it wasn't much to look at (pizza covered in shriveled spinach) but Oh! My! it was good.


Bake at 475 10-15 minutes until done. Baking time will vary depending on how thick your crust turns out and how much you pile on top.


Any questions? Puns? This post was sadly lacking in puns. Leave 'em in comments!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

so here's what i think

Yesterday I wrote a quick post about password-protecting kid pictures and my worries about putting our pictures on my blog. I've thought more about it and discussed it with Stu, and here's what I think:

- I thought I was being relatively cautious already. I am not totally anonymous, obviously, since I disclose the city where I live and our first names. I do not, however, make my last name, my husband's last name (which is different from mine), or our kids' last names (also different from mine), our address, or my email address available publicly. If I were worried about someone coming to find us, I wouldn't be listed in the phone book.

- Blogging makes me and my family public to some degree. I recognize that. If I were really paranoid about privacy, I wouldn't be online. Period. There are risks in being online, just like there are risks in driving cars and riding bikes and sending your children to public schools instead of sequestering them in your home. Being alive is risky, if you think about it. I'm willing to take this risk because I want to keep blogging.

- A big reason I started this blog is that I have friends and family all over the country (and some out of the country), and this is one way to keep in touch and share our growth and development with them. I could email everyone privately every time I have a nice picture, but except for grandparents and uncles, I don't think everyone I know would appreciate emails with sizable jpg files from me every single week.

- I am not stupid. I do not post naked kid videos on youtube or put naked kid pictures on Flickr. I don't even have a youtube account, because as it happens we don't have a video camera. I actually have a Flickr account, but it's just knitting pictures to put on Ravelry (online knitting community), and all but very, very few are just pictures of yarn and knitting needles. That's why I haven't shared my Flickr account with anyone. No one would care.

- Stu says if it bothers me so much, I should delete every post on this blog with a photo, or delete every photo, and put everything on a password-protected site with fastmail or picasa or something. I've considered this, but for now, I'm not going to do it. Actually, I might have a password-protected photo site for the family who just can't get enough kid pictures, but I'm not going to get rid of every picture on this blog. Why? Because this blog is about my life, and my kids are a big part of that. Someday, if Daniel and Anya tell me they want those pictures gone, I'll delete them without a second thought.

- There are freaky, sick perverts out there. I wish that weren't true, but I can't change reality. They lurk online, they lurk in parks, they peer into windows, they do unspeakable things. It's totally creepy. Like I said, I'm not going to do anything stupid like put my address online or post pictures of my children wearing no clothes. I won't even email pictures like that, because we know email isn't as private as we like to think. But I can't let myself be paranoid and afraid or I'll never leave the house and I'll never let my kids leave the house and that would be very damaging to all of us.

- Thousands of people blog publicly about their families and include lots of pictures. Are we all ignorant risk-takers? Maybe. That makes a lot of us, though.

- Frankly, being a full-time mom of two small children means I get very, very little connection to the outside world as it is and damn it, I'm not going to let a few creepazoids out there ruin it all for me.

So, that's where it stands for now. I will continue to post modest pictures of me and my family and whatever else I want. I don't for a second blame anyone who is more private than I am, of course. And for the record, I never post pictures of other people without asking them first if it's okay.

In fact, my next post, whenever I get it together, will be that pizza tutorial I promised. I hope there's no one out there who gets off on bread dough...(but then, I wouldn't be surprised. I read Savage Love, after all.)

Friday, May 09, 2008

protecting pictures of your kids

Steph just sent me a link to this blog entry about password-protecting pictures of your kids, and it made me sit up and take notice. I put lots of pictures of us on this blog, and now I'm worried about sickos out there stealing them. What do you guys think?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

spring greens

These are the local produce items currently available at our food co-op: fabulously expensive hydroponic tomatoes, burdock root (a root vegetable I've yet to try, but it looks like someone hacked off part of a tree - not appealing), ramps (wild leeks - very good sautéed), and watercress. We're committed to buying local food whenever we can, so I bought one bunch of watercress last weekend and figured I should give it a try.

Watercress is a spring green with nickel-sized leaves that are a little spicy and a little tangy. It's hard to know what to do with it All the recipes I found were too fussy, too weird, or called for too many ingredients that I don't have. I ended up making a small, simple salad with toasted walnuts, diced apples, and a dressing of oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and honey. Don't ask how much of each; I just dumped and stirred and tasted until it seemed right. It was delicious. But you know what would have made it better? Roasted mushrooms and goat cheese! Mmmmm...maybe next week.

No pictures to show of my salad, I'm afraid. It was purty, but we et it all up. In fact, since cooking dinner is probably the most intellectually stimulating thing I do on a daily basis, I would post more often about the food we eat, except that I never get a chance to take pictures. Food posts are always more interesting with pictures, no?

In any case, I've been perfecting my methods for making homemade pizza for a few weeks now, and as soon as I get the chance to photograph all the steps involved, I'll do a little tutorial here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

random list

1. Daniel has a new bed.



A couple months ago, his legs grew long enough to climb out of his crib, even with the mattress as low as it could go. Funnily enough, this coincided with our naptime issues and some bedtime issues. It was frustrating, to say the least. For a few weeks, I was afraid naps were over and done for, but we seem to be settling back into something resembling a routine. Because Anya will need the crib soon (if she ever sleeps anywhere but our bed, sigh), and because Daniel has come close to hurting himself climbing in and out of his crib, we bought him a toddler bed. We left the crib up in his room, figuring he'd need a few days to get used to the new bed. We thought we'd let him choose between the two until he was ready to let go of the crib and be a Big Boy. That step was totally unnecessary. He loves his new bed and has never looked back.

2. Some of you know my friend Julia, a wonderful, wonderful singer and wonderful, wonderful person. Guess what? She's DOCTOR JULIA now! She's graduating from the University of Houston this month with her DMA. Let's wish her congratulations, shall we? She's worked her ass off for this degree, and I'm really happy for her.

3. I'm toying with the idea of having Stuart teach me some computer programming over the summer. I might be terrible at it, but my brain could use the exercise. Stu once tried to teach me how to play tennis and it went very, very badly. I'm just rotten at any sport that involves the kind of coordination it takes to hit, kick, throw, catch, or do anything else with a ball. I am decent at running and swimming because those things don't involve the ability to aim except in a very general sense. I have a tendency to be really, really impatient when I'm receiving instruction from people in my life who are not normally my teachers. (Right, Mom?) But I'm slightly more grown-up now than I used to be, and the C programming language is a far cry from tennis, so I'm approaching this possibility with optimism. ETA: Just to show how far I have to go, Stu just reminded me that he would never start a beginner on C. I think we'll be going with Java first of all. Sheesh.

4. The other day when I was driving through town, there was some utility work going on that required traffic to consolidate to one lane. I thought I'd be nice and let in the car in front of me to the left, even though it was a big fat SUV. Too late, I saw the personalized license plate; it read: DNGR PMS. Good grief. I have no idea who was driving that vehicle, but I bet we wouldn't be friends.

5. What is it with my kids and food? Anya is not so excited about eating her rice cereal, though we've been patiently trying to give it to her every day for several weeks. At least Daniel's improving. We grilled burgers last night (pregnancy and breastfeeding cured me of being a vegetarian), and he wanted a couple bites of mine. This is the second time he's eaten meat. Ever.

There, is that random enough?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

OFY

I used to work for Opera for the Young, and I think if you've been reading this blog for a while, that may sound familiar. You can read more about what they do by clicking on the link to their website, but in short, OFY is a professional touring company that travels to elementary schools all over Wisconsin, as well as parts of Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan, bringing the opera experience to thousands and thousands of young children. It's better than most outreach programs because the kids actually participate. Every school has a chorus of at least 16 kids that are a part of the show, and sometimes, when you're very lucky, the whole school knows all the songs and sings along. You know how cool it is to hear 400 kids singing "Hoorah for the Pirate King!"? It's very, very cool. The singers and pianists who work for OFY go on the road for a week at a time, so I had to give up the gig when Daniel was born.

Last week, OFY had a performance at an elementary school in Madison, so I took Daniel and Anya to see it. Their show this year is Mozart's The Magic Flute. Every show for OFY is done in English and cut to 45 minutes in length, and the plots are adjusted to be appropriate for young children. Still, I wasn't sure how Daniel would do. He's only 2 years old, after all, and what if he didn't like all the singing or tried to run out to the playground halfway through? I brought plenty of snacks and juice to keep in occupied, and I was also counting on his natural tendency towards shyness and caution around strangers and crowds of people to keep him well-behaved. I guessed right, and he did fine. Of course, I couldn't tell how much he was really paying attention, but I figured it was good exposure in any case.

I thought the show was great. The singers were great, the show was funny and engaging, and the kids at the school were well-prepared. The first aria was Der Hölle Rasche, a.k.a. the Queen of the Night Aria, the one with the high Fs that only certain kinds of sopranos can sing. There are many kinds of sopranos -- lyrics, coloraturas, dramatics, to name a few, and then there are "Queen of the Night sopranos." Most of them are an entity unto themselves because they can sing so freaking high. (The Queen from last Thursday did so at nine-thirty in the morning; if you can do that, you can do anything as far as I'm concerned.)

When we got home, I found that aria on youtube (this video was my favorite), and Daniel has asked to watch it several times. He points to the computer and sings "Yah! Yah!" Is he a future opera fan? Will he enjoy singing someday? Will he be musically inclined? I hope so. I don't want to push him, but I want him to at least appreciate the music around him. I think this OFY performance was a good start.