Friday, March 26, 2010

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. The Zoomlians are always finding odd ways to amuse themselves. Lately they have been making licenses. License to Chill (permitted to freeze things), License to Ill (permitted to avoid work by faking sick), and so on. My favorite was Mxyl's.

Me: License to Bill?
Mxyl: Yes. That will $2.50.

2. Monday was cold and rainy. It was a good housekeeping day. It occurred to me that this was not the same as a Good Housekeeping day. In my good housekeeping day, I got all the winter coats, boots, etc. put away and found Spring jackets for everyone. In a Good Housekeeping day, my home would be spotless and perfectly decorated. I presume. I don't think I've ever had a Good Housekeeping day, but I was quite pleased with my good housekeeping day. You never see kids (or any people) in Good Housekeeping.

3. I seem to have developed a trick knee. On the whole, I'd rather have a trick pony.

4. Oob has turned hammer crazy. This has been a little loud, but still great fun when he has his toy plastic hammer that does not actually damage anything. Alas, when a child kind enough to build me a gate for the garden, left a real hammer lying around, Oob discovered the wonderful smashing sound that a real hammer can make on, say, Mommy's favorite mug!

Choclo has not been immune to the hammering bug. When I discovered him hammering (with a ball peen hammer) on the brick exterior of the house, he told me, with genuine puzzlement: "But Mom, I'm just trying to break the wall of the house!"

5. The Emperor and I each have Dads that can or could repair cars. Alas, this gene has passed us by. We always have hope for our kids, though. Some people dream of their kids being doctors. We'd love to have an auto mechanic in the family!

White Knight (the minivan, our "sporty" car) started making bad sounds (see how technical we are?) and the Emperor was looking for the power steering fluid reservoir under the hood. Mxyl was hanging around in the interest of all things mechanical and Dad related.

Mxyl: I think we should just follow the steering mechanism backwards until we find a reservoir. Look, this must be it.

I'd say Hallelujah if it weren't Lent!

6. We've decided to go with mudjacking to fill the void under the basement floor. They should be coming next week. Words can not express how excited we are that a real live cement mixer is coming to out house! It occurs to me that some people will think that's a sarcastic comment. It's not.

7. On St. Patrick's day we were able to serve corned beef and cabbage to the homeless for dinner. For dessert, we made our favorite filled cupcakes and a number of the other volunteers wanted to know how we got the filling in the cupcakes.

Here's the recipe.

We make a batch of chocolate cupcakes (we use a mix).

We make the filling by mixing 1/4 c. Shortening and 1/4 c. butter with enough powdered sugar (3 c. ?) and milk (a few tablespoons) to make it really fluffy. It's like twinkie filling except it tastes better. We add whatever flavoring we want. Usually 1 tsp. vanilla, although we used (artificial) Irish Cream flavor this time.

We put the filling into a pastry bag with a metal tip (these are cake decorating bags and tips, you can use any tip with a substantial hole). We stick the tip all the way into the cupcake and squeeze in filling until the top of the cupcake swells and cracks.

After we're done, we make chocolate frosting and cover up the tops.

That's it! The filling "magically" ends up in the middle and the top closes completely around it. The frosting hides any evidence that you came in through the top. Yum!

More with Jen!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

US History Update: Archives

We are moving back to high tide here!

We finished the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War in much more depth than planned (thank you Liberty's Kids!).

We've discussed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (thanks to this book!).

The kids can spout off the preamble to the Constitution and discuss the first 5 amendments creditably. They have a general idea of 6-9, but all the legal stuff kind of runs together and they confuse which is which. Number 10 is easy.

What next? Well.... Let's go see the real deal! Today we piled into Blue Streak and went down to the Archives to see the documents.

I goofed slightly on this one. The last I had paid attention, today was supposed to be sunny and mid sixties. We were running late for the Golden Window of Parking Opportunity, so I told the kids they wouldn't need their coats. Oops!

We got there at 10:20 (they open at 10) and there was a long line to get in. It was in the low fifties with the occasional drop of rain... I asked the people waiting and they said, "Oh, there's always a line to get in. You should see it in the summer." Hmmm. Let's stick it out.

We actually got inside the building after a 15 minute wait, and the whole backup was the wait for security. Still, 15 minutes is a long time to be chilly, even with endless rounds of, "Cold? This is nothing! When I was a kid, it was so cold that the swim suits were all lined with fur." Oob was not happy. The rotunda, where the documents are displayed, was dimly lit to conserve the papers.

Oob and Choclo do not like "dimly lit." Choclo wasn't too bad, but Oob shrieked, "No! No! No!" through most of our viewing time. I just smiled and told people he was an anarchist (kidding!).

Still. We saw them. The documents our country was founded on. We saw the big "We the People." We saw John Hancock's John Hancock. We saw the actual Bill of Rights. All papers actually handled by the Founding Fathers.

I was surprised at how moved I was to see them. They look ancient. Fragile. The ink is so faded that I could only read the larger words. It brought home the fragility of those rights, perhaps to make me take them less for granted, perhaps to underscore our generation's responsibility to protect those rights.

It's a little embarrassing how much of my home school runs on, "Things I Always Wanted to Know About" principle. Starting the US History megaproject, I really wanted to get a better understanding of our history and how everything fit together (and I wanted that for my kids). Seeing the documents was an important piece of that for me.

Oh, I looked, and I didn't see the penumbra around the Constitution.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's Origami, Mommy!

A while ago, a friend gave us an origami gift set. It included reams of fancy paper and a handy hands on how to book. I decided to use it this week as the "fun" part of our home school blocks.

I was a bit uncertain. I thought there was a good chance the directions would be too complicated to manage without me. That's why I didn't use it sooner.

I guess I didn't need to worry about it!

The Zoomlians transformed the kitchen into a paper jungle.

Inconvenient for cooking, to be sure, but absolutely amazing, nonetheless!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


We have known for a while that part of our basement floor has a small dip in it. It was occurring to us that the dip seemed to be getting deeper very slowly over the last 7 years... Well, we finally emptied and moved the furniture, ripped up the carpet and took a look.

Ripping carpet was fun. Discovering that the dip covered half the floor and was much deeper than we had thought... not so much!

On the positive side, whatever cavern has developed beneath our house has not affected our foundation.

On the more positive side, such things can be fixed either by breaking up the floor, filling the space with gravel and then repouring the floor, or by a process called mudjacking. (How would you like to tell your parents that you've decided to take up mudjacking as a career? It actually involves drilling holes in the floor and filling the space with pressurized concrete "mud" which then "jacks" up the floor.)

On the negative side, do either of those procedures sound cheap to you?

On the amusing side, we asked the kids what they thought we'd find when we ripped up the carpet and Leena answered without hesitation, "Bugs, mostly lobsters." Regardless of the arthropod confusion, we found neither bugs nor lobsters, just 1960s era checkerboard linoleum tile. And a big dip.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gospel Dessert Week 5

This week we had the woman caught in adultery. You may remember that the pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking if they should stone her (illegal under Roman law, mandatory under Mosaic law). Did you notice that she was caught "in the very act of adultery," but she's the only one there? This sin actually requires two sinners to be present, so they had to know who the other guilty party was. I digress. The dessert was meringue "stones." I made basic meringues and added cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to make it look more rock-like.

I also made a carrot cake. When the kids asked, I told them, "Jesus cared about the woman, but the Pharisees didn't carrot all." (insert groan here)
Anyway, Lent is rolling along!

Here we have Zorg taping some fruit to Leena's branch (having seen her be kind to Oob).

When I was a kid, Lent always took several years, but now we're in the 5th week, mere hours from Ash Wednesday!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Klenda's Top Ten List

Of things you don't want to hear during surgery:

10. Oops!
9. Can I look at that list again?
8. How many did he have when we started?
7. Golly! I've never seen that before!
6. Oh, drat! There go the lights again!
5. Now, if I can just remember how they did this on TV...
4. Oh, we were supposed to do the left side?
3. Hand me
2. Hey! Look what happens when you poke right there!
1. Well if that's the stomach, what is this?

Speaking of which, congratulations to Klenda (and a big thank you to Dr. Voight - I still thank God for you!). Her big surgery was 10 years ago and she was in the blessed 10% that made a complete recovery. While "normal" is not an adjective I normally apply to the Zoomlians, she has never had a problem since!

Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Wake the Dead

We changed to Daylight Savings Time yesterday. "Springing Forward" indeed! In my opinion, if it's that important to change the time just leave it like that, OK?!

Strangely, I never get quite so worked up about the time change in the Fall.

Anyway, after an unsuccessful attempt to wake the Zoomlians, who were busy impersonating limp and pitiful piles of sleeping goo, I went back and informed the Emperor that the Monday after the time change should be a holiday. He hastily agreed (for some reason we were running late this morning). I told him it should be Zombie Day.

Inspiration! I went back and told the Zoomlians that if they could get up and ready in 15 minutes, they could each play Plants vs. Zombies* for 15 minutes this afternoon. It will be difficult to remove the skid marks from their beds, but very worth it.

* This game has no educational or socially redeeming value, it's just very, very, very funny.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gospel Desserts Week 3 and 4

Last week's Gospel included the parable of the fig tree. Easy peasy! We made a fig cake.

This week we had the story of the Prodigal Son.

My first idea was great googly eyes made out of jello - you know, the father watching for the son? The Emperor nixed that for some reason, calling it "freaky" or something.

My second idea was that, since we were going to confession on Saturday, and since we always have ice cream sundaes after confession in imitation of the Prodigal Son parable (instead of a fatted calf, but still a celebration of our return to God), that should count. (sound of crickets)

My third idea was to make a cake shaped like the fatted calf. I did a "funfetti" cake (white cake with sprinkles mixed in the batter) in a 13 x 9 pan, carved out a fat cow shape and used some of the trimmings to build up the head. I covered it with white buttercream frosting and sprinkled on cocoa powder spots. If you're curious, the eyes are chocolate covered coffee beans (served to the Emperor), the nose is candy covered peanuts and the mouth is cut out of gum.

After we had eaten it, some one reminded me that today was Pi day (3.14 = 3 /14). I'm not sure I could have come up with a Prodigal Son themed pie, but it would have been cool!

Now I just need to come up with something for next week: the woman caught in adultery. I am thinking something that looks like a stone? Any ideas would be welcome!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


It hit the 60s today! Off we went for a hike. I do have other reasons for home schooling, but a day like this would be enough for me. We had the woods to ourselves with the warm sun on our backs and the birds to serenade us.
It was our first day of no coats. Well, Choclo and Oob insisted there could be no going outside without coats. After 3 months of arguing with them that this was the rule, I did not have the heart to force the issue.

When we last went, we noticed the December snow had brought down a lot of trees. Ha! The double blizzard in February did an astonishing amount of damage! Everywhere we looked we saw bent and broken trees - some snapped beneath the weight of 3 feet of snow, others were torn up by their roots. Lots of fun to play with, though!
I passed around the camera to the kids and got some really nice shots.
There was even one of me with Oob. He alternated wanting me to carry him and running off to climb on logs and poke things with sticks.

They even found our first butterfly of Spring (in the header)!

Here are the Zoomlians!
Back home, we are the last to have snow, thanks to the mighty efforts of the Zoomlians to move as much snow as possible into the shady spot in front of the house.

I have mixed feelings about this, partly because I'm ready for Spring, partly because of the large muddy spot developing around the snow pile, and partly because it finished the job of smashing the bushes in the front garden.

On the other hand, the bushes were dying slowly anyway, and I did have the long term plan of turning that whole patch of lawn into garden when we redesigned the front garden. I had thought of that as home school project teaching garden design and horticulture when the kids were 2 or 3 years older, but... this could be my big opportunity!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Life with Mxyl (Perils of Original Thinking)

I was enjoying some one on one time with Mxyl while driving him to a dentist appointment.

Me: So, Mxyl, if you had a house, what color would you like it to be?
Mxyl: (long silence)
Me (trying again): So, Mxyl, if you had a car, what color would you like it to be?
Mxyl: I'd like to have an exotic life.
Me: (!)
Mxyl: Yes, I 'd like an exotic life. I'd like my house to be striped and my car to be plaid.
Me (recovering with difficulty): Would the stripes be horizontal or vertical?
Mxyl (airily): Oh, diagonal, definitely. And I'd put a bumper sticker on my car that said, "My house is striped!"
Me: If you ever take me to your house, just blindfold me, OK?
Mxyl: Sure, Mom. I think I'll have an exotic life.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Leena!

Happy Birthday to a charming, sweet, squirrely 8!
1 You are our very own ray of sunshine!
2 You are hugs and snuggles and butterfly kisses!
3 You are our smart sweetheart!
4 You are one tough cookie!
5 We love to tell jokes with you!
6 We love to play games with you!
7 We love to drink tea and dance with you!
8 We love you, Queen of the Squirrels!!!

The first party was cousins and a cherry cake (cherry chip cake, cherry frosting, cherries on top!)

The second party was with might-as-well-be-family Mr. Bill and Miss Tracy with an angel food cake with a layer of raspberry jelly and 7 minute frosting.

The third party was "just" the eight of us and a bunch of littlest pets! Here we had an ice cream cake.

I love Carvel cakes, but it would cost me $40 a birthday, so I make them myself.

I save stale chocolate cookies and turn them into crumbs in the food processor. I soften two packages of ice cream in the refrigerator for an hour. I line a casserole or loaf pan with foil.

When the ice cream is soft, I scoop the top flavor into the mold. I then sprinkle it with chocolate crumbs. Then I scoop the second flavor and top it with crumbs (if I have them). I cover it with foil and freeze it over night.

The next day, I soften frozen whipped topping (or make whipped cream). I turn the "cake" out onto a foil lined cookie sheet (with a rim, in case of melting). I "frost" it with the topping and then freeze it again until I need it. I suppose you could add the candles and sprinkles then, but I knew Zorg wanted to decorate this for Lena.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chicken Soup

It's kind of like the bread: it's more of a game plan than a recipe. If you have a spaghetti insert for your stockpot, it's very helpful.

I usually start by having a whole roast chicken for dinner one night. I save the skin, bones, pan juices, and leftovers as my starting point. The next morning I take my biggest pot and put in the chicken stuff. If I need lots of broth (to share or freeze), I use my big canning pot and add a whole cut up raw chicken. Really, dark meat is best for stock, so, since I found thighs on sale for .79/lb at Superfresh, I could dump a bunch of those in instead of a chicken.
I chop up 1-4 onions depending on the size of the onions (and the pot!). I like to chop up a head of garlic, too. The big thing with onions and garlic is to put in the skins. I also go through the onion bag and put in all the extra skins.

I coarsely chop some celery - mostly the tops and ends- and I peel and chop some carrots, too.

Everything into the pot! I also add a few (5?) peppercorns and a bay leaf or two.

Add enough cold water to cover, and put it on low heat. When it starts to simmer, scum will form for about 10 minutes. Skim it off and throw it away or it will turn your broth cloudy. If you miss this step, it'll still taste good, though!

Simmer it as low as you can until an hour before dinner. Minimum time with cooked chicken leftovers would be 3 hours, with raw, 4 hours would be best. Mine usually goes closer to 6 or 7.

Scoop out most of the solids (if you have an insert, you can just lift it out!), let the dark meat cool to be cut up for soup (the white meat will be tasteless and stringy), throw away the rest. Pour the rest of the stock through a strainer.

Set aside whatever you don't need to cool and freeze. A word to the wise: don't ever put a big pot of broth in the fridge. It will cool at the exact rate to provide maximal bacterial growth. You know what we used to grow bacteria in the lab? Broth. I separate the broth into gallon ziplock bags propped in loaf pans. They freeze into nice stackable bricks.

Put tonights broth in a suitable pot (could be the same pot!).

Add fresh chopped celery and carrots (peeled carrots!) to the "tonight" pot. Now is the time to salt to taste. I like to use chicken bullion cubes instead of salt to ramp up the chicken flavor even more. Simmer 45 minutes, then add the noodles. Simmer until done, then add the chicken and maybe some chopped up parsley.

Voila! Like the bread, it takes a lot of time, but not a lot of your time. Plus your house smells great!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Conversation with Oob

Me (sternly): Oob, you can't just eat bacon bits!
Oob (chomping away): Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmmm.

Oob after the bacon bits had been (mostly) removed from his toy dump truck:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fruit Trees and Fringe Benefits

I finally got around to pruning our fruit trees (now that I don't have to wade through 3 feet of snow to get to them).

Have I mentioned that I love fruit trees? Not even considering the fruits, I think they are such beautiful four season plants. I even love pruning them this time of year!

Pruning gives me the obvious benefits: more and better fruit as well as prettier and healthier trees. It also sparks the garden fever for the year!

It also gives me some fringe benefits: I get blossoms from the prunings (if you mash the cut end with a hammer and stick them in water, the trimmings give you beautiful flowers in a week or so). This is also nice to do now with forsythia branches, if you have them. Here they've been inside for three days and the buds are starting to swell.

I also use the prunings for my birds (since they are untreated fruit trees, I know they aren't poisonous). The finches get branches to use as perches. The branches naturally vary in width, so the birds don't get arthritis in their feet (a common problem if you have only one size perch in the cage).

The parakeets are another story entirely! They are natural "wood" birds. They make their nests in holes which they hollow out in trees, so the chance to bite and play with fresh wood is a great treat! They love to strip all the bark off the branches, so I save all the trimmings, store them outside and bring them in a few branches at a time.

Now I just need to attack the winter damaged shrubbery - it's less fun pruning broken branches from a beloved shrub that may or may not make it.

On the plus side, while I was pruning, I noticed that my giant pussy willow was going crazy! I bought this plant for $2 on a whim, and I have never regretted it!

I grow Honeycrisp pears, Starkrimson and Sungold cherries, asian and Stanley plums, Sargent crabapples, White Pearl currents, and figs. I guess the currants should be under the bush fruit, but I was noticing I ought to prune it. Do you grow any fruit? What do you grow and where (generally) do you live?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Dreaded Back Basement

Some of what I've been doing instead of blogging! The before photos are on top with the after photos beneath.

I'm not saying it's clean, just that you can walk through it now!

Much more to be done...

When I have a job that I really don't want to do, I set a timer for 15 to 20 minutes and do just that much each day.

This prevents me from avoiding it (like the last 3 years, in this case!), and I work more efficiently, knowing that I "only have a few minutes." I think I also must have a part of my brain that works on it during the breaks, because I find the "what do I do with this" much easier doing it this way. This was only a total of 45 minutes work.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gospel Desserts Week 1 and 2

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent was the Temptation in the Desert. I made a spice cake and covered it with brown sugar (sand) and almonds (stones). It was a desert dessert! The kids were highly suspicious because of last year, but they still ate it before I got a picture.

The second Sunday of Lent had the Transfiguration. I've always tried to make this with a jello mountain crowned with whipped cream. The kids love it, but it doesn't really work for me. No matter how tall the jello mold, it always wobbles down into a hill!

This year we did a lemon mountain pie! I did the meringue with 6 egg whites instead of 4 (there were 6 egg yolks in the pie). I used the recipe out of The New Best Recipe, and it was a glorious pie!