Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fires and Fevers

Yesterday my car was covered in fine ash.  Everything outside had this layer of ash on it.  Then I discovered it inside as well.  Inside the car because I left my windows cracked all night.  Inside the house because we had the windows open, and the whole house fan on, all night.  

This is why ...

The fires in the mountains are blowing down into the valley.  It's been the theme of this summer it seems.  We get the smoke, the terrible air quality and sometimes even the ash.  

Hubby and I were living in the Bay Area back in 1991 when the fires destroyed the Oakland and Berkeley hills.  I will never forget the smell of that smoke.  

For someone who has had asthma my entire life, I'm truly amazed I haven't been bothered by this terrible air quality.  I can only credit my better immune system with keeping my asthma at bay.  (another post for another time to elaborate on that)

My kids have been amazingly healthy the last few years.  But every once and awhile something hits them and knocks them out for a day or two.  

Today is day 2 for my son.  He started a fever yesterday.  It got so high today that he even had an episode of hallucinating!  Of course this scared the pants off of me.  He didn't know who I was and thought "they" were coming to get him.  We still don't know who "they" are.  We got his fever down as fast as we could and he was back to normal.  He doesn't remember any of it. 

I remember having such a high fever once as a kid that I saw little green men jumping on my parent's bed.  My dad walked into the room to check on me and he looked to be only about 3 feet tall.  I could see vines growing on the bedroom walls.  It was pretty trippy!

Now my son is doing much better.  No fever at all for the last 4 hours.  He's pretty tired, but definitely on the road to recovery.  He should be pretty close to back-to-normal by tomorrow I predict. 

Unfortunately, it has now hit my 3-year old, right at dinner time.  She suddenly slowed down and got quiet, which doesn't happen often.  We felt her face and sure enough ... HOT!  So here we go with the 2nd kid.  Praying it doesn't hit my oldest, or me or hubby, next.  

Sadly, I had to cancel my Shakespeare class for tomorrow.  Can't risk getting the students sick too.  Wouldn't all those parents be happy?  I'm bummed to have to skip the class though.  I had some really great stuff lined up!  Oh well, we'll get to it next week.  

Meanwhile, I'm off to fight fevers ... 


Saturday, July 26, 2008


Sometimes you go to a lot of effort to prepare food for your family and they just don't appreciate it.  This is one such time.  And the food in question is:  OKRA  I love it, they don't.  But then I figured ... hey, if I like it, and I want it, then I'm gonna fix it ... just for me!  

I find it to be such an interesting fruit.  (yes, it's a fruit that grows on a vegetable plant)  There are only 2 ways I like to eat it ... fried and pickled.  I remember pickling okra with my Mom and Grandma.  One of the many things we did in the summertime to preserve the harvest.  
Today I'm frying it.  I have a nice "mess o' okra" to start with.  I slice it into cute little bite-sized pieces.  I use a knife that my Grandpa Tom made.  It's really the only knife I use for tasks such as this.  Then I wash my hands, because these little suckers are slimy inside!  Emma says, "eeeew!"
Then I toss the cut-up pieces in enough flour and cornmeal to coat them.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Now it's time to fry.
Peanut oil is my favorite oil to fry in.  It only takes a few swirls around the pan to coat it.  I use only my cast iron skillet to fry in.  I do it this way because that's the way I was taught by my Mom and Grandma.  And I see no need to fix what works just fine!  I like my okra to fry up slightly golden.  I don't like it too crispy, I still like some softness to the pod pieces.

Now I eat it!  I love it with some fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden and a big glass of iced tea.  This was my lunch today.  Luckily no one joined me ... it was ALL mine!  

Friday, July 25, 2008

Afternoon Delights

Who doesn't love a little afternoon snack?  And who doesn't love those little chocolate sandwich cookies with the creamy filling?  Do you lick the centers first, eat it straight, or dunk it? 

Here's what my oldest daughter and I do ...
These are the yummy Joe-Joe's from Trader Joe's.  I like these better than that other name-brand cookie.  They're just ... yummier!  And you absolutely HAVE to dunk them in ice cold RAW MILK!  Oh yeah!  By the way, I love these milk glasses.  My mother-in-law got them for me at Anthropologie.  

I took a great photo of my daughter smiling with her teeth caked with cookies, but she wouldn't let me post it.  She did say I could post this one though ...
This is Tonka trying desperately to wake her up this morning ... lots of pouncing and nuzzling finally did it.  If alarm clocks don't work for your teens, I highly recommend a bulldog!  They are very determined ... and oh so cute! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Goodbye Twelfth Night ... Hello Hamlet

Today was our last day in Shakespeare class of working with Twelfth Night.  The kids chose their favorite scenes, and working in groups, acted it out for the rest of the class.  There was some pretty creative use of costumes and interesting interpretations.  They all did a great job and had a really fun time.

I did not have a sitter for Emma, so she joined the class today.  Let me tell you, she really thought she was a part of the class.  When Alex was reading some lines from Twelfth Night (he was playing the part of Malvolio) she runs in the house and gets a copy of Hamlet and does her own "reading".  It was pretty funny!  

So now we move on to Hamlet.  Away from the Comedy, into the Tragedy.  I can't wait to see what the kids can do with this one!  On tap, I have 6 movie versions we're going to watch selected scenes from.  Don't tell them, but my favorite is Kenneth Branagh!  I want them to come up with their own favorite.  We will be going back to the park to see Woodward Shakespeare Festival's production of Hamlet on stage.  If it's anything like Twelfth Night, I have a feeling the kids' will choose the stage over the films.  

Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."  Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Today was big time clean-the-house day!  Here's the funny part ... when I pull out the vacuum, the kids always ask, "who's coming over?"  I guess it never occurs to them that we might want to actually live in a clean house, not just save that look for company.  Truth be told, we are having a house full of people here tomorrow for a class, but that's beside point.  The dust bunnies were starting to multiply, the cobwebs were getting obnoxious, and the laundry was piling up.  So after my morning latte, I turned on the stereo and we got down to business.  It always makes it a bit more fun to dust and vacuum with loud music blaring. 

So call me crazy, but the one chore I actually like doing ... is laundry!  There's just something about putting in dirty, sometimes smelly items, and pulling out clean, fresh smelling warm clothes.  I also like to sort everything.  Plus, it turns out to be a fun game for my 3-year old.  She knows that all the red and pink clothes get their very own pile.   

Is it a coincidence that I not only wash pink-striped things, but I wear them too?  

Wait, I have to get my stool!  Emma loves to help Mommy with the laundry.  So what goes in here?

Making sure there's lots of bubbles is the fun part.  

One last peek to make it sure it's still working before we head off to the next chore on the list!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday ... bread making, cake baking ... and supper!

I have fond memories of Sunday dinners when I was a kid.  I remember my grandma rising before dawn to get started on preparations for Sunday dinner after church.  Seems like a lot of our family gatherings were on Sundays ... with a huge supper.  I remember my mom and dad putting fabulous meals on the table most every night, but there was always something extra special about Sunday.  Some of my most cherished memories are sitting in fellowship around a dinner table with family and friends.

So when I was browsing the stacks at the library a few months ago, this book caught my eye.  A Return to Sunday Dinner by Russell Cronkhite.   

There are so many wonderful menus and recipes in this book.  Many of the meals I grew up with.  I really need to purchase a copy of this book since I've renewed it twice, then returned it and checked it out again!  It has beautiful photos, which are a must for me in a cookbook.  So anyhow, I was looking through this book again today and got the itch to really make a big Sunday supper.  My previous plans were to lay out by the pool all afternoon.  But today turned out cloudy and cool and it even sprinkled this morning!  Definitely not the typical July weather I previously posted about.  

So I changed my plans and decided to get busy in the kitchen.  First off, I made peach ice-cream and put it in the freezer.  Hubby just picked all the white peaches off our tree and I needed to do something with them.  Then I decided it was a great day for making bread.

My 3-year old insisted on helping.  She's such a busy girl, ALL the time!  But when Mommy starts a project in the kitchen she always wants to help.  I consider it a blessing when she finds something to concentrate on.  In the photo above she's supervising the grinding of the wheat.

Just what do you wear when you're helping Mommy make bread?  Why your very favorite pretty, pretty princess dress of course!  Believe me, I didn't dress her just for this photo, this is how she dresses herself most every day.

And yes, I grind my own wheat.  Why?  Because it's more nutritious.  If you buy whole wheat flour in the store it's already rancid.  The oils in the wheat start to turn rancid within a few hours of grinding.  So I buy the wheat berries and grind it myself.  Whole wheat berries will stay fresh forever practically.  Plus, it just tastes yummy!

Did someone say yummy?  I'm here just in case you happen to drop something in my direction!  This is Tonka, our 9 month old English bulldog.  I'll have to write an entire post about her sometime. 

I do the initial kneading of the dough in the KitchenAid mixer, but I like to do the real kneading by hand.  It's very therapeutic.

What do you do while you're waiting for the dough to rise?  Sit in the kitchen window and eat one of those yummy white peaches Daddy picked!

While the bread is rising I look through that lovely cookbook again and ask hubby if he wants Rouladen for dinner.  It's a German beef roll filled with bacon, onions, mustard and a dill pickle spear.  My mother-in-law introduced this dish to me, so it holds fond memories for my husband.  I told hubby if he'll make a trip to the store I'll make this for him for dinner.  He's so great ... or maybe  just hungry.  He went to the store and got everything I needed.

In the meantime, I help my oldest daughter make a chocolate cake. (I'll have to post that photo later)  We decide to make a Texas Sheet Cake.  This is another cake I remember from my childhood.  Someone always brought this to family gatherings.  I discovered that The Pioneer Woman had this same cake recipe on her website so I had my daughter go step by step through it and make the cake herself.  She did a fabulous job and this cake is sooooo yummy!

Finally, the bread is done.  3 loaves later.  One loaf is the tester ... it's eaten immediately.  It's amazing how quickly everyone scurries to the kitchen when the bread comes out of the oven! 
After bread making and cake baking it's time to start preparing dinner.  I make the rouladen, complete with mashed potatoes, a killer gravy and sweat and sour cabbage.  Hubby had rave reviews!

So this was our Sunday and our supper.  As good as the food was, for me it was the joy of creating something for my family and sitting down together to partake.  And having my girls with me in the kitchen made it even more special. 

Now, who has room for a dessert or two? 

Look at THIS Martha!

I love collecting recipes.  Besides my numerous cookbooks, I have binders and folders full of recipes I've torn out of magazines.  I have web pages bookmarked.  I've even started a digital recipe file on my computer.  I collect far more than I'll ever have time to try.  But I make a point to attempt at least one or two new recipes a week.  If it's good, it goes in my "keeper" folder.  

This is one of those keeper recipes that I found in Martha Stewart Living.  It's a corn cake topped with shredded pork, avocado, tomato, cilantro and sour cream.

This top photo is my husband showing off his corn cake that he assembled to look just like the photo from the magazine.  He did a pretty good job there!  Below is my version (I didn't look at the photo and I added cheddar cheese) and the accompanying side dish of spicy, cheesy red beans. 
These beans are so awesome!  You simply drain 2 cans of red kidney beans, cover them with chicken broth, add 2 bay leaves, one onion (quartered), one jalapeño (also quartered), and 1/2 tsp. cumin powder,  and simmer for about 15 minutes.  If you like it spicier (I do!) add an extra jalapeño.  Then you drain off the liquid, discard the bay leaves, onion and jalapeño and add 1/2 cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese.  I believe the original recipe calls for a Mexican cotija cheese, which isn't too hard to find here in the valley, but I forgot to put it on my grocery list and just used the jack cheese I had on hand.  We like it that way, so that's the way I make it.

I wanted to post the link to the corn cakes and shredded pork recipes, but the link is ridiculously long.  So if you go to marthastewart.com and do a recipe search for "Mexican Corn Cakes" and "Spiced Shredded Pork" there they are!   

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In the Good Ol' Summertime ...

What do you do in Fresno, in July, when the average high temperature is 96.6 degrees?  (I found that average somewhere on the Internet)  Specifically, on a day like today where I think it hit 102˚?  I actually love summer here in the valley.  Ok, so I grumble about my skirt sticking to my legs and sweat dripping down my back when I climb out of the car.  That's just not pretty.  But for the most part, I love summer.  Why?  Probably #1 on my list is nectarines!  I love all the summer produce, but nectarines are my favorite.  Then there's corn on the cob.  Which I always cut off the cob, but nonetheless.  I think my favorite summer dinner is fresh corn slathered in butter and sliced tomatoes right out of the garden.  That's a meal to me.  For dessert ... nectarines of course!  

#2 on my list of why I love summer:  Our Pool!  Here's my 2 girly fish ...

We just put the pool in last year and we're in it probably every day during the summer months.  This year the kids jumped in for the first time in mid-April!  

Iced tea!  Yes, this is one of my summer-time favorites.  Of course it's good ol' southern-style SWEET tea!  Sometimes I add a little mint that I get from my favorite vendor at the Farmers' Market.  Sometimes I add a slice of lemon.  Sometimes I even add some nectarine slices.  Yum!

Also on the list of summer favorites:  magazines.  Ok, I know you can get and read magazines any time of year.  But there's just something summery about reading magazines while laying out by the pool sipping my iced tea.  I always seem to have stacks of magazines piling up all year long.  But come summer I actually make a dent in the piles and read some of them.  

Finally, summer wouldn't be summer without a pedicure and flip-flops!  Here in Fresno you can always find people wearing flip-flops year round.  (I've been known to wear mine as late as Nov. and as early as Feb., but Dec. and Jan. are definitely off limits)  There's just something carefree about having pretty pink toenails and cute flip-flops.  

July is winding down ... and this is the time of year when I start making lists, ordering school books and creating schedules.  But I still try to keep it carefree.  At least as long as it's hot enough to keep swimming.

Friday, July 18, 2008

boyhood ...

(Shootin' out at Papa's house)

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that my kids are free to grow up at their own pace.  They're not exposed to the influences of a school atmosphere.  Therefore they're not forced to hear or see things they're not ready for.  Don't get me wrong, it's not a sheltered life we lead, just a cautious one.  I realize homeschooling is not for everyone, and I'm not here to debate that.  I just want to share the positive things I see in my kids.  Their childhood is just that ... a time to be a kid.  I'm going to start with my son.

He's on the brink of turning 12 years old.  I really can't believe it!  Seems like just yesterday I was marveling at this big, red-headed baby boy babbling away in his bouncy seat. He was born with a "what's-going-on-here?" outlook.  From the minute he could crawl he was off on some adventure or another.  He loves to explore and investigate.  He takes things apart to see just how they work.  He's always working on some experiment or project.  

Today I dropped him off at a friend's house.  They're making a movie!  One of the requirements for my Summer Shakespeare Class is that each student create some sort of project.  They can do whatever they want, I have no requirements other than that it has to relate to Shakespeare.  So my son and his friend immediately put their heads together and started planning their movie.  

(an aside ... if this post sounds disjointed it's because I've had to get up 3 times so far to tend to my 3-year old.  She's supposed to be napping, but so far it's been ... "I need a book, I need to go potty, I need a drink" ... She's several posts just waiting to be written!  So keep checkin' back)

Here's what I love about my son:  he still has an imagination!  He took a big box of costume items to his friend's house so they could dress up and invent something for their movie.  Now granted, he does love to play video games and watch TV, and there are times he'd zone out if we didn't put the controls on him.  But he is happiest when he is using his own imagination to find things to do.

This is why he loves going to Grandma and Papa's house so much.  They live in the country and have plenty of room for a boy to roam.  Some might not see a walnut tree, a ditch with a few puddles of water left and some sticks as a day of play waiting to happen.  But for my boy, even one that's almost 12, it's bliss!  Yesterday's post I talked about my dream of living on some land.  Can you just imagine how cool this would be for the kids?  

What is it with boys and creepy, crawly things?  My friend, Kristen, wrote on her blog about her boys doing some snail collecting.  It reminded me of the time my son and I dug up half of the backyard looking for worms!  This was before we had a pool, before we even had a lawn, just a lot of dirt and weeds.  It had just rained so it was perfect for hunting worms.  This was when he was about 4 years old.  But I'm pretty sure that if the opportunity presented itself again today, he'd be right out there digging up a storm!

He's also been known to collect rolly pollies.  You know, pill bugs.  One time he filled an entire bucket full of them!  He assembled all of his Hot Wheels tracks and had rolly polly races!  I have to have a photo of that somewhere.  It was a scrabookable moment.

Recently it's been insects and spiders that he's been hunting.  He filled an entire aquarium with various spiders from around the neighborhood.  For school, one of his science projects was raising praying mantises.     

Look closely ... from a little pod in that cup about 200 praying mantises were hatched!  He released them into the wild (our backyard).

What's next on the great boyhood adventure list for my son?  Sometimes he has a plan, sometimes it's whatever each day presents.  I wonder if I can convince him that scooping up the dog poop in the yard has some sort of scientific value!  Who knows, he might find one of his grown-up praying mantises out there!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Suburban Nature

My life long dream is to own some land and live off of it.  Like homesteading ... grow our own food, raise animals ... be at one with nature.  My inner hippy earth-mother begging to come out.  But alas, I live in town, in the 'burbs.  That's ok.  I like it here.  But a girl can still dream about harvesting wheat, spinning wool and gathering eggs from the chicken coop, right?  

My ultimate dream?  A COW!  Oh yes, I want my own cow.  We are big raw milk fans in this house.  That's another topic for another post.  But don't think I haven't been tempted to put a cow in my own backyard here in the suburbs.  I think the neighbors might notice though.  

Anyhow ... so we do what we can with the little bit of town yard that we have.  We grow a garden and commune with what nature has to offer us.  My husband took on the garden-planting job this year.  Yes, I admit I was a little upset at him stepping into "my" territory.  I was raised in the country.  Sort of, at least from age 11 when my parents bought a 10-acre farm and we moved out of town, until I graduated from high school and moved to attend college.  Before that we lived in "town" but it was a small town surrounded by country life, so I feel like a country girl through and through.

The garden has always been my thing.  It's in the genes.  My parents always had an awesome garden.  My daddy still plants a garden plot every season.  My Grandma Ona always had a garden and "put food up" from the abundant summer harvest.  She would can, make jam, freeze, dehydrate ... nothing went to waste.  I could shell black-eyed peas by the age of 2!  So my entire married life I've always tried to plant something, somewhere, no matter where we were living.  A small patch of lettuces in our tiny 2'x4' "backyard" in our first apartment; pots of peppers and cherry tomatoes on a balcony of yet another apartment; broccoli in our Bay Area side yard; and always some herbs wherever I could fit them in.  

Then we bought this house some 14 years ago and I was blessed with a big side yard.  I immediately saw crops to be planted!  After clearing the debris from the previous owners, my hubby created 4 raised beds for me.  We've planted something in those beds every year since.  Some years have been spectacularly bounteous, others sparse, but always something has been reaped.  A few years ago hubby took on the task of composting.  He actually researched this (he researches everything!) and he dutifully replenishes the garden soil every year.  He's now looking into a self-contained worm farm.  I'll keep you posted.

Anyhow, back to the fact that this year hubby decided to plant the garden himself.  I really wasn't in a position to protest since I knew I just wouldn't have the time or energy to do it myself this year.  With so many other things going on ... homeschool group stuff, a 3-year old to keep up with, and a back injury that landed me flat for 2 weeks ... I let hubby do his thing in MY garden.

He planted tomatoes, corn, 3 different types of squash and a pepper plant.  It's going pretty good.  We've had some good tomatoes come off.  So good, they attracted some unwanted attention:
Yes, that Blue Jay really is giving me the evil eye.  I have just stepped between him and the red, vine-ripe tomato he was planning on having for breakfast.  Ok, the blue-jays and mockingbirds have always been interested in our peaches and apricots (we have 2 trees in the yard) and we pretty much let them have everything on the tippy-top branches.  We're willing to share, up to a certain extent.  But I've never had them come for the tomatoes.  And now I'm not sure I want to share anymore.  Mr. Jay is like the house-guest that doesn't know when to leave and starts taking advantage of your hospitality.  Well thanks for the stone fruit, but that harvest is over, I'm moving on to your fine tomatoes!  I've tried setting the cat in the window to scare away Mr. Jay, but being a blue-jay he's not going to be deterred by something as silly as an indoor cat!  

I don't know if you can see from the photo, but way up high on the power lines in the distance is Mrs. Dove.  We also have a family of doves that live in our suburban garden.  Not the brightest bird in the avian world.  Maybe I'll post about the doves at a later date.  Still ... the quandary of what to do about Mr. Jay eating the tomatoes?  Oh wait ... this is hubby's garden ... hmmm ... I'll let him research that one! ;-)            

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Today I took my Summer Shakespeare Class to the park.  I'm teaching this class to a group of 17 homeschoolers, ranging in age from 11-16.  Our town has an amazing Woodward Shakespeare Festival group that performs 2 plays in the park every summer.  This year they are offering Twelfth Night and Hamlet.  

We were fortunate enough to have one of the festival directors invite us to the stage today to assist in our own production of Romeo and Juliet.  The director, and his acting partner, played the roles of Romeo and Juliet, and my kids took the remaining roles.  They did a condensed version of the play, but it was still complete with costumes and some props.  Many of the kids in the class have been in our homeschool group's theater company, so they have a few plays under their belts.  But this is Shakespeare and that seems to intimidate a lot of people.  Not these kids!  They jumped right in, with no previous practicing, and did a fabulous job!      

The weather has been less-than-pleasant here lately.  The heat is typical, and we're used to that, but the air quality is what's been a killer.  Lots of fires in CA and the smoke all settles here in the valley.  But today wasn't too bad and we had a nice breeze blowing through the park.  When we were done with our version of Romeo and Juliet we had a little time to sit and chat about things Shakespeare.

As a class requirement, everyone has to go and see the 2 Festival productions.  So last week we all met at the park (same stage where we held today's class!) and took in Twelfth Night.  The kids had all read the play, but there's nothing like seeing it performed.  We had the pleasure of having the actor that played Sir Andrew Aguecheek come to our class last week as a guest speaker.  It was great for the kids to have that personal connection when they actually saw the play.  And we all agreed that Sir Andrew was the BEST!

There's such joy in seeing the kids get fired up over Shakespeare!  When our class first started, there were a few who were eager and excited from the get-go, some who were secretly looking forward to the challenge, and others who were convinced they wouldn't like it.  I can now say they are all lovers and students of the Bard ... as well being pretty great thespians in their own right!