Sunday, November 28, 2010

Deja vu

Yesterday afternoon, I took Kenzie to a performance of La Boutique Fantasque by The Portland Ballet. She will attain the grand age of ten next week, so this was her present.  We got all togged up and arrived in good time at the Newmark Theatre  in Portland. 

We had a grand conversation about the subconscious on the inbound journey. My darling Kenzie is more than a bit blonde and I'm still not sure that she understands the concept. I told her that the subconscious is the part of the brain that works on things when we're not really thinking about them. Like when we have a problem and the solution will suddenly come into our minds when we are doing something else. Or if we sleep on it and let our brain work on it overnight, sometimes we will get the answer the next day. 
Kenzie grabbed onto the "problem" aspect of the explanation and regaled me for the next few miles with tales of her friends and their little social dilemmas.

And so-and-so wanted to sit by me, and so did so-and-so, so I just ....(Nana tunes out and thinks about something else for a few miles, nodding and uh-huh-ing once in a while).....and then.....blah blah blah.....and to be honest, I have no idea how the story ended. 

Bad Nana.

A few minutes into the ballet, it seemed strangely familiar.
I realized that I had seen it before.
December, 2003.
Kenzie was barely three years old and it was her first ballet. 
She sat, enthralled, for the whole performance.
That show was at a community college and on a much smaller scale. I think we were the only attendees who weren't related to one of the dancers. 
It was oddly satisfying to watch the ballet again with an older, more mature, version of that little girl.

One who, during the performance, kept sneaking M&M's out of her pink, fuzzy purse.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I (h)am no more

A few years ago, I had a Thanksgiving rebellion.
This year, said I, I am not going to cook a big old turkey. We shall have ham.
So we did.
Picking a gigantic turkey carcass clean on Thanksgiving evening is not my idea of fun, you see. Especially after being on my feet all day, cooking masses of culinary delights that are only slightly dented by my family of small eaters, leaving copious amounts of leftovers that seem to expand in an opposing ratio to the space available in my refrigerator. So, obviously, finding space to fit the enormous, unpicked carcass is a losing proposition. 

Angst, anyone?

So yes, we had ham for Thanksgiving.
But only once.
No more, cried my poor, deprived (for some reason I want to write depraved) family.
And we did not ever have ham again for this holiday, unless it was to supplement the turkey for a large gathering.

Another confession:
I usually cook much too large a quantity of food.
This year, I was determined to match the amount of food to the number of people attending, which was only six adults and an equal number (although it felt like more) of picky children. 
Jon walked in and said, Wow, you decided to scale back this year.

Isn't it sweet when our children acknowledge our efforts to please them?

This year, Chris smoked the turkey on his Traeger grill and sliced it in my kitchen, making both his mother-and father-in-law happy. 
Pretty smart move, don't you think?
It was, quite simply, divine.
He said, I only got a 16lb turkey this year, instead of a 20lb one
(He remembers my complaints from last year, you see.)
Stuffing confession: 
Half of it came from my freezer, leftovers from last year. 
I mixed in a box of Stove Top, some sauteed onion and celery, and it was savoury and delectable.

We have been true and faithful to the concept of pumpkin pie for several decades, but after realizing that it is only eaten after everything else is just a sweet memory, Bethany and I decided to forego the tradition this year. So, desserts, from top left and clockwise, were: custard tart (our family tradition), chocolate cream pie, persimmon pudding (I forgot the butter, but it didn't seem to hurt it), and pumpkin bread pudding. I have linked some of the recipes, if you're interested to try any of them. 

Jenny made her famous Jello. 
This is the favourite of every child. 
There are never leftovers of Jenny's Jello.
The adults are pretty fond of it too!

The bread pudding. 
I cheated on the recipe and used raisin bread. 
My creme anglaise was a bit of a cheat too, but it was all good.

The chocolate cream pie, in my opinion, which is not humble at all because I am almost always right, the best I have ever made. The crust was tender, the pudding rich without being overpoweringly sweet, and I sprinkled Heath toffee bits on the whipped cream, which was the piece de resistance. The chocolate chips were a bit over the top, but I've forgiven myself. The recipe link was just for the pudding, which is the most important part.

After dinner, things got a bit wild, as usual. Jeff and Bethany were sick and Chris was sleepy, so Jenny took the kids out in the rec room and organized the kids in a game of Hide and Seek. After a while, I went out and taught them some Thanksgiving songs. They ran around the room, singing and playing instruments.
This is my new favourite song. The kids liked it too.
Now, try and get that out of your head.
We performed it for the adults, along with a "thankful song" I made up.
They were suitably impressed.

Next, a puppet show of dubious distinction. 
Little Jeff kept annoying everyone and Josh had a tantrum. 
Natalie was bored.
Thomy, wearing his turkey hat that he made at school.
Before everyone went home, the kids and I sang some Christmas songs. 
Which, if you love me at all, you will watch.
Notice Josh's fancy footwork.

And Thomy displays some pretty awesome vocal talent in this one.
Thanks to Jenny, the phantom videographer. I had no idea that she was taking these until I found them on my camera.
And thank you to you, for reading this epistle all the way to the end. 
Which assumes that you didn't get bored and check out five minutes ago. 
In which case, I will never know, so don't tell me.

Gluten-free boy

I splurged on some Bob's Red Mill almond flour a few weeks ago. I had seen some gluten-free cookie recipes that I wanted to try for Josh. The added complication of being dairy free makes finding a good recipe something of a challenge, so I'm always looking for the magic bullet. 
So, I made the cookies.
I would give you the recipe, but you probably don't want it because the almond flour is about a dollar a cup. 
Even at half-price.
I did the math.
After I bought it.]
Plus, I meddled with it.
You know how I am.

I thought they were quite yummy, but Bethany and Josh were ambivalent.
As in, I visited their house a few weeks later and the cookies were still in the freezer.
I was a little peeved.
While I was there, I talked Josh into trying them again, and this time he decided he liked them.
Luckily, I had stashed some of the dough in my freezer, so every time he has been at our house lately I've made him a small batch of cookies in the toaster oven. After they are baked, I place a small sliver of dark Scharffenberger chocolate atop each cookie. When it has melted, it spreads nicely over the cookie.

Daniel and Josh spent the night on Wednesday.
They watched Rudy with Papa and spent the night sleeping on the floor of the family room, in front of the dwindling fire.
Josh asked for some of his special cookies.
He likes to eat them fresh out of the oven.

I live just to see that look of satisfaction on the little guy's face.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Six months later, added upon

The temperatures are plunging here in Oregon and snow is predicted.
The wood stove is blazing.

Jeff is watching a movie on the history of the Tea Party movement and 9-12 rally of last year.
Good memories.
Me, I have one eye on the movie and one eye on the computer.
The movie is quite riveting. Maybe I'm partial, because I was there from the beginning. Jeff, my intrepid Mum, and I stood in downtown Newberg at the first Tea Party protest on April 15th last year. The march down Pennsylvania Avenue on September 12th and subsequent rally on the mall still stirs my blood.
It was the experience of a lifetime.

So, catching up on an event of two Friday nights ago, when we had our annual craft night at church. Friend Karen was in charge and she put together an awesome list of projects. I have too many unfinished projects in my spare room already, and we are spending all our Christmas money on travel to Sam and Charlie's wedding, so I took a room and helped people seal up their bulk foods in our pouch sealer.

Sorry kids, no crafty presents from me this year.
They are tearing up as they read this, you know they are.

If all this sounds like a foreign language to you, go here to read a good description of pouch sealing for food storage.

Yes, folks, it was my idea of a good time.
Kenzie was hanging out with me, passing time till Papa got home from his Oregon Patriots meeting. She had many stories to share, mostly about the foibles of her younger brothers and sister. She thinks they are very rowdy. It occurred to me that my little girl will be a teenager before we know it.

Oh, I also made, with a little help from my friends, a lovely wreath for my front door.

It is a tradition that after the night winds down, the dauntless few who remain to the end descend on Shari's restaurant. In past years that has meant we begin the revelry at about 1 or 2 a.m., but this time it was around midnight. 

It came to my mind, and I said as much, that it was only six months ago that Karen, Nicole and I were at Dantes on our ill-fated  Christian Kane outing
Karen said, I suppose you're going to post some more terrible photos of us on your blog.
You can work magic with pictures on Picnik.
That's all I have to say about that.

Nope, like this one better. A little focal focus, instead of an all-over soften.
The lovely Lori had lots of pithy and wicked things to say, as usual.
Here she is, being particularly gleeful.

Two more weeks and my covey of cohorts will be attending America's Largest Christmas Bazaar. Whether or not that appellation is factual, the size of the beast comes close to defeating us every year. 
Lunch at the biker bar afterwards. 
Wish you were here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

All by myself

My walking buddy, Barb, is out of town, visiting grandchildren. 
My exercise regimen is suffering, because I have no motivation when left to myself.
But I have found some new companions for my two-mile run.

Don't you just love Kenzie's scootering outfit?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Supermarket serendipity

Last night, I dragged myself away from the cozy glow of the wood stove and attended a concert by the local symphony orchestra. It was a pleasant programme, including Ode to the Common Man, Overture to The Magic Flute, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, and Beethoven's entire Fifth Symphony. I tried to let go of the day, especially during Jesu, Joy, but a few niggling frustrations kept entering my thoughts and the experience wasn't quite as sublime as it could have been. Also, the cellos had a few issues. Some of the wind solos, however, were close to perfection, which kind of made up for the cello deficits.

Now you know why I don't review concerts for a living.

On the way home, I hit Safeway for a last-minute bargain shop of the week. One of my favourite pastimes is ambling the aisles of grocery stores late at night.
Weird, I know.
Not only is it peaceful, but many of the refrigerated goods have been marked down to giveaway prices. When I combine those savings with coupons, I can often get things like yogurt for almost free.
Last night, I scored seven packages of Hillshire Farm Cheddar Wurst for 99c each. And in case you're wondering, I didn't clean out the bargain bin.
That would have been greedy.

I rely on such sausages to glorify my rice and bean dishes, so I felt justifiably smug. I added a few other mark-downs and some golden bananas to my cart and pulled into the checkout line. 
I noticed the cute young thing in front of me, eyeing my sausages.
And by cute young thing, I mean a "he".
He said, Those are quite a deal.
Yes, says I.


The checker started ringing through his purchases and cutiepie's eyes slid to my sausages again. 
I said, Just ring through one of mine and you can run back and get the rest of them.
How many do want? asked the checker.
Five, said he.
Ohh, I don't think there are five left, I sighed, feeling greedy, in spite of my self-restraint.
Tell you what, I'll run back and get them while he's ringing you through.
So off I sped, in my trusty El Naturalistas, and came back with three more packages.
Cutiepie was so grateful.
Te nada, I said modestly.

I noticed the guy behind me (not so cute, but very nice) had some of the BOGO muffins that I had meant to buy, because Jeff likes them in his lunches. 
Oh darn, I said, I forgot those.
Cutiepie, who was getting ready to leave, offered nicely, I'll go find you some. What flavours do you want?
Blueberry and marionberry, please.

It was, if I may say so, a very gratifying exchange.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The best laid plans

Hands up if you've heard of Robert Burns.
Of course you have!
He's the famous Scottish poet of a couple of hundred years ago.
Now, hands up if you're familiar with the proverb begun in the post title.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.
We've all been victim of the concept, right?

Did you know that the saying is from Burns' poem, To a Mouse?
He wrote it after ploughing up a fieldmouse's nest one day. The poem becomes a reflection on his enormous power over her life. She had spent all her days preparing the nest so that she could be comfortable. In one moment her life was undone, which fact caused Burns to reflect upon the despondency that he felt in his own life  at the grand age of twenty six. 

Most of the poem is completely unintelligible, written in a broad Scottish dialect that sounds like an alien tongue. One verse, however, is particularly poignant and fairly comprehensible, even to a poetry heathen such as I.

I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I sometimes wonder which giant in the sky is disturbing my nest!

Where was I?
Oh yes.
So, the actual line from which the proverb is taken goes thusly: 
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men
Gang aft agley.

And we all know what that means, don't we?

If you want to read the whole poem, accompanied by a lovely translation and interpretation, go here.
And what happened to Robert?
The poor lad died at the age of 37, presumably as the result of a dissolute life (he was a rascal) and a dental extraction.

And what has this got to do with anything?
I was about to tell you how my plans might be going astray.
Haiti is in more trouble each day.
Jeff has been casting foreboding glances my way, from under furrowed brow, as he reads each new dire headline.
First it was cholera, which I thought I could beat by being sanitary.
Now there are riots in the streets.
The volunteer staff of the birth clinic is fleeing the country even as I write this. They made it to a UN compound, disguised as cholera patients in the back of an ambulance, and will head to the Dominican Republic as soon as the riots cease.

I am distraught at the thought of giving up my dream, but even more at the thought of the desperation in which the Haitian people live. 
I still want to serve them, in the hopes that I can help create a small ray of hope for a few people. 
So, for now, I will act as if.
As if we are still leaving for Haiti on January 29th, 2011.
I will be cautiously optimistic, until I have reason to be otherwise.
And tomorrow, I shall go to the church and spend the morning with like-minded friends, making necessaries for  new mothers. 

So think happy thoughts for Haiti.
A few prayers winging their way to the giant in the sky wouldn't hurt either.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Music galore

I sometimes go to and peruse their free music. I've discovered some fun bands this way. Today, I was checking out HeyIt'sFree, which you will see on my side bar, and I noticed some free Veggie Tales Christmas music. I thought my grandkids might like it, so I downloaded it for them.
Bethany is playing Christmas music already, you see. She waits until after Halloween to begin, which is thoughtful of her, don't you think?

Bethany, the pregnant one.
The one who said, I forgot how terrible I feel when I'm pregnant. You think after four kids I would remember.
Yes, my darling girl, but we all remember!

I was exploring some of the other free music and found some wonderful collections of classical music for only $1.99.
The 99 Most Essential Piano Pieces.
The 99 Darkest Pieces of Classical Music.
The 99 Most Essential Christmas Masterpieces.
You guessed it: $1.99.

There are more.
If you want to download music from Amazon, you will need to create an account and download their music software, but it is well worth the small effort.
My laptop is in the process of downloading about 350 songs.
We may be up for a while.

And now, a wee diversion, because I know you all live to see photos of my adorable family.
Here are some from the night of Bethany's birthday dinner.
My family room was rearranged to make room for Jon's new XBox game.
I don't think Jeff moved a muscle.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remember, remember

Armistice Day, commemorating the peace treaty signed between the Allied forces and Germany at the end of World War I, later became Remembrance Day in the British Commonwealth countries and Veterans Day in America.
Hostilities ceased at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
I remember, when attending school in England and New Zealand, we observed two minutes of silence every year at this very hour. As I matured in years, it began to be an emotional two minutes for me. Now, of course, it seems to be more of an emotional day each year that passes.

In New Zealand, ANZAC Day is actually a bigger event. It falls on April 25th and originally commemorated the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) forces who fought in Gallipoli in World War I, but now includes all who have fought and perished for their country. It is probably the biggest annual event in New Zealand. Interestingly, ANZAC Day is a rare example of two countries sharing the same remembrance day that also references both countries in its name.

Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway.

This is one of my favourite wall photos. The men include a grandfather, great-uncle, and various other relatives who fought in the two World Wars.
I recently joined a military moms and wives group and today got an email with a link to this video.
I am a little leery of emotion for emotion's sake, because it can be used to manipulate thinking. 
But I want you to watch this video.
Some things are necessary to remember.
And get out the Kleenex box before you start.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where the wild things are

Joshie slept over last night.
I invited him before I knew that Jeff and Thomy were also spending the day.
Three little boys, ages three, four and five.
They spent the day


and then complaining when it was time to go home.

I'm glad they had fun.

Personally, I'm tired.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Removing temptation

Getting some raving deals on chocolate before Halloween
No trick-or-treaters at our house
Too much chocolate in my tummy.

So, this morning, I came up with a cunning plan, involving this machine.

My nifty vacuum sealer, purchased at Costco this year.
I mostly bought it so that I could seal up homemade goodies to send to soldiers overseas. Sometimes they take a month to reach the soldier and I hate to think that all my effort resulted in a mess of stale cookies. I've also bagged up dried strawberries and blueberries. 
Now, the chocolate is ferreted away, both removing temptation and adding some frivolity to my food storage.
Because you know, if everything falls to pieces, I will require some frivolity.

Also added today, some freeze-dried, grated cheese.

Ain't technology grand?

Oh, and let's hear a woot! woot! for the election results yesterday.
Except for Oregon, of course, where it is business as usual.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dinner for a dollar

Trying not to think about the election.
Here in Oregon, we vote by mail, an evil liberal concept, so I voted days ago.

When Jeff and I were newly married, we lived in Southern California. Stuck in my memory is a series of articles that appeared in the Orange County Register. Each week, a person took the challenge of preparing a gourmet meal for two for less than five dollars. The results were mediocre, in my judgment, especially since they had a whole five dollars with which to work. I remember thinking to myself, Heck, I do that every night. In fact, our meals usually only cost a buck or two.

So, here I am, thirty years later. 
I teach piano till dinnertime most nights, so it's often a rush to feed the starving beast (Jeff) before he snacks himself into oblivion. Some days, I think ahead and prepare dinner early in the day, but it's not a given.

Last night, I laid out my plan ahead of time and had all the ingredients ready to go before I started lessons for the day. 
Then, I realized: dinner will cost almost exactly a dollar tonight.

First, a can of spicy beans, purchased from Safeway for fifty cents, after sale price and double coupon.

Next, half a pound of Hillshire Farms sausage, sliced up and browned in a pan.
The whole pound cost 99 cents in the clearance bin at Safeway.

Mixed all together with a pot of rice (two cups of rice to four cups of water) which cost a few pennies.
Served with a side of sliced persimmon for a flavourful respite from the spice.

Not exactly elegant, but flavourful and fairly healthy.
It did cost a tad more than a dollar, but there is enough left for lunches this week.

Poor Jeff is going to get mighty tired of rice and beans!

Monday, November 1, 2010

No more strangers and foreigners...

This is my friend Mark, who is mentioned here from time to time.
Mark is a foreigner.
He loves our country.
And he's paying us a visit today to tell us some of the reasons that he feels this way.
If you miss me, I'm visiting Jenny's blog today, to tell you why I love America.

Observations on America.
By a foreigner.

In the past twelve years I have traveled extensively in the United States, including several summer driving holidays. In each case I have been delighted with the experience and, if anything, wished that I didn’t have to leave.

Like a lot of good things, my continual return to the US has been more due to good luck than to good planning. My wife is a Filipina, which means that she is “persona non grata” throughout the world when it comes to touring. It seems that every country assumes (as does the US) that she will be trying to immigrate rather than tour. The difference is that once she has established that she is indeed a tourist, the US takes her at her word and generously issues her with a 10-year multiple entry visa. Contrast this with Canada, the country of my birth. Personal visits to the embassy and proof of marriage to a Canadian Citizen only procured a single visit three-month visa. Ironically, while it is easier to migrate to Canada than to the USA, it is definitely easier to be a tourist in the US.

So many things are easier to do in the USA, from renting a car or a motel, to finding food to eat or clothes to wear. All of the above are great value and so easy to do. Besides, the US is perfect for the traveler who likes to be spontaneous.  If I had to put a single word on it, I would call it ‘choices’ or ‘freedom’, and it extends beyond the “trivial” activity of touring. As a foreigner, I have many of the same freedoms that American citizens enjoy while I tour. I can travel freely, but I can also buy and sell property. 

Americans of course probably take all this stuff for granted. This is as it should be. I wish that everyone could live in a country where the freedom to travel extensively, to buy and sell, and enjoy such a range of choices were the same. 

Aside from travelling in the USA I have done a little travel through Asia and the third world. Now that is an eye opener. One is very conscious of deference to one group at the expense of another. I have been both the beneficiary and the loser in the game of ethnic stratification. I have endured the unwanted attention of the hustlers (who are so aggressive at Egyptian tourist spots) as well as the petty corruption of police and commercial discrimination against foreigners. For example, although I am married to a Filipina and have children who hold Philippine citizenship, I cannot own land in the Philippines. Foreigners can only have part ownership in condominiums. But nothing stopped me buying land in the US. 

I live in Qatar and I enjoy living here, but I am not free here. I need my employer’s permission to leave and to return or to buy a car. Travel by car to Dubai, a short 250 miles away requires visas from Saudi Arabia and the UAE plus special documents for the car. This usually takes about three weeks to organize and, of course, requires employer permission.

It is not just the beauty of the Grand Canyon or the California Coast or the east coast hinterland that draws me back to the USA. Next summer I will probably tour the USA again. Perhaps it will be the ultimate freedom of a bike tour. In any case, while I am there I know that I will be treated with dignity and expected to return the same. And in every moment of my stay there, I will enjoy freedom.

Thank you, Mark.
Mark will be re-visiting this topic in future posts.