Monday, July 30, 2007

Recipe Monday!

Here's what we've been eating lately. Well, we really have had more than desserts, but it's just a dessert kind of post today:

1. This one was adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. This cake is just incredibly delicious. That's all I can say. K, our Danish son, and D devoured it, almost within a day:
Apple - Rhubarb Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/3 + 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour, or 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oat bran
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp apple pie spice or 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp each nutmeg and allspice
3 TBS crystallized ginger, minced
2 cups cored, chopped apples with peel on
2 cups diced rhubarb
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 large eggs
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
6 TBS butter, softened

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 5.5g
Carbohydrates: 36.3g
Calories:196.3
Protein: 3.5g
Dietary Fiber: 2.7g

1. Preheat oven to 325 F.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices. Cut the softened butter into chunks and add it along with the ginger, buttermilk, apples, raisins, eggs and rhubarb.

3. Turn the batter into a greased and floured 9X13 inch pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake for 45 minutes, or until it springs back when lightly touched in the center. Remove it from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Leave the cake in the pan.

Number of Servings: 16

2. This was off of the Sparkpeople.com site. It's from the American Institute for Cancer Research. AICY is the caner charity that fosters research on diet and cancer and educates the public about the results. Again, this is not overly sweet. D and I just loved it:
Summer Pudding

Ingredients:
8 slices white bread, without crusts
5 cups assorted berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, sliced strawberries) (we used just blueberries, 'cause that's what's at the farmer's market right now)
1/2 cup sugar
Lowfat plain or vanilla yogurt

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 1.7g
Carbohydrates: 40.3g
Calories:185.3
Protein: 4.2g
I wasn't able to get the fiber information for this one.

1. Line bottom and sides of 1-quart bowl with bread, trimming it to fit.

2. In medium saucepan, combine berries and sugar. Heat, stirring over medium heat, just until sugar is dissolved and berries release their juice, about 4 minutes.

3. Pour fruit and juice into bread-lined bowl. Top with layer of bread and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Place bowl on plate and cover it with saucer that fits just inside bowl. Weigh down saucer with 2-pound can. Refrigerate pudding overnight.

4. To serve, remove can, saucer and plastic wrap. Run knife around edge of bowl to loosen pudding and invert it onto bottom of plate. Serve pudding with dollop of yogurt on each plate.

Makes 6 servings.


3. Oh, my goodness.... this next one is to die for. Probably the best chocolate ice cream I've ever had. Tiny servings (1/4 cup) are more than enough - that's what the serving size is for this:
Deep Dark Chocolate Ice Cream adapted from Patrish's recipe off Recipezaar
Ingredients:
2 cups 2% milk
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
5/8 cup granulated sugar
5/8 cup good, unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 6.9g
Carbohydrates: 19.4g
Calories:135.3
Protein: 2.6g
Dietary Fiber: 1.9g

1. In a large saucepan, combine the milk and cream over medium-low heat. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise; use the blunt edge of the knife to scrape out the seeds.

2. Stir the seeds and the bean pod into the milk/cream mixture. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the pod adn rinse for other use or discard it.

3. Combine the sugar, cocoa, eggs and egg yolks in a medium bowl. Use a mixture on medium speed - it will be very thick

4. Measure out 1 cup of the hot milk/cream mixture. With the mixer on low, add the cup of the hot milk/cream to the cocoa mixture in a slow, steady stream and mix until completely incorporated. Stir the chopped chocolate into the saucepan with the milk/cream. Stir the egg mixture into the hot milk/cream. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and begins to resemble chocolate pudding. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the survace of the chocoalte mixture and refrigerate until complete cooled.

5. Pour the chilled custard into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker, and let mix until thickened. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. It will freeze hard, though, so with the leftovers, freeze in a microwaveable, airtight container, and either leave the container out for 15 minutes before serving or heat in the microwave for about 10 seconds before serving.

Number of Servings: 14

And just to throw in something that's NOT dessert:

4. This next is SO good - and filling! The carrot tops really add to it, believe it or not. This has become a favorite summer "go-to" dinner:
Tuscan Carrot Top and Rice Soup

Ingredients:
1 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 small carrots, diced
2 small summer squach, diced (zucchini or other similar vegetable can substitute)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
ground pepper to taste
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup short grain rice
1 1/2 cups chopped carrot tops
4 TBS fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or equivalent

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 1.8g
Carbohydrates: 22.1g
Calories:133.3
Protein: 5.7g
Dietary Fiber: 3.6g

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Saute the onion, carrots, summer squash and garlic for 5 minutes over low heat until onions are translucent. Add the salt and pepper and pour in the broth, and bring to a boil.

2. Add the rice and cook for 15 minutes or until rice is almost tender. Add the carrot tops and cook for 5 more minutes, mixing well.

3. Serve with the parmesan - 1 TBS per person to keep with the nutritional values, more if desired!

Number of Servings: 4

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Up North


When Michiganders go away for the weekend, or a week, or a month to explore one of the hundreds of lakes or the more than 1000 miles of coastline along Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior, we go Up North.

It doesn't matter whether we are truly going west, ie. over to Lake Michigan, or to the Thumb, ie. Lake Huron.

Up North is a state of mind.

We've been going to the same general area Up North since C was an infant. We have pictures at the same spot of our favorite hike - C in a baby backpack, C hugging D's knees, C, grinning toothless for the camera. Well, you get the idea.

I suffered two miscarriages Up North. Experiencing this caused us to move from our initial town, Frankfort, to a town up the road - Benzonia. We've moved back to Frankfort now.

In earlier years, Up North meant introducing our new exchange student (all of them) to the pleasures of America. We came either the weekend before school or over the first weekend after school started, and introduced our new "child" to mini-golf, The Cherry Bowl Drive-In, The Cherry Hut, and s'mores. We also have a collection of pictures of each child covered with marshmallow and chocolate as she took that first gooey bite of graham cracker, marshmallow and Hershey's.



The past two years, Up North has been relegated to camp drop-offs and pick-ups, as C's beloved camp is in the same area. The drive is long and incredibly boring. This morning we were all grouchy and sore from a hot five-hour ride yesterday, and D and I returned through the same five hours earlier today.

Despite the very short time there, we still got in some favorites - walking along the beach, walking out to the lighthouse for the sunset, eating the world's best Boston cream donuts at The Crescent Bakery. D and I walked up and down Main Street a number of times, taking in changes and taking the measure of this season's crop of tourists, among which we number.

Yet this trip was bittersweet. C declared that he doesn't want to spend vacation time in Benzie County anymore - he's "done it all," and without a new exchange student to break in, it feels different. He'd like to see some new places.

So new places, here we come. And those new places may well be in Michigan. Both due to family economics and to the fact that we really do live in a lovely state: Sleeping Bear Dunes are the biggest outside the Sahara Desert, our coastline is endless, and we haven't even explored the wild beauty of the U.P. Since neither D nor I grew up here, Michigan still hasn't shown us all her wonders.

But for our last night in Frankfort, the moon was out full, our stomachs were full of shared Crescent Bakery bump cake and pizza and we watched an impossibly large moon emerge over our beach motel.

Yup, Up North is a state of mind.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fifteen Things I love about Raising my Boy

Friday Fifteen



1. He hates shopping
2. Mac and cheese for dinner makes me an instant hero
3. He doesn't care what he or she said about him (unless it's someone he cares about and they are legitimately mad at him for a legitimate reason)
4. Bionicles and legos! (Are these the coolest toys, ever, or what?)
5. I never had to play with Polly Pockets, Barbie or My Little Pony
6. It's his dad he's trying to break away from at this age (and yes, my dear friends with teen and tween girls, my heart goes out to you)
7. He doesn't want a cell phone
8. He thinks My Space and Facebook are a waste of time
9. He can hug hard enough that it hurts
10. I've never had to sew Halloween costumes - a broom and a drawn-on lightning scar were enough most years
11. Jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes, jokes
12. He's a nerd and proud of it!
13. He's tender and chivalrous with his female friends, his female relatives and with me
14. He's loyal and caring with his male friends
15. He has no qualms about seeming "smart" in school

And the thing I hate about raising a boy:

He has to register for the Selective Service in four, short years.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Slacker

Okay, so this is the ideal me:

You Are Sunrise

You enjoy living a slow, fulfilling life. You enjoy living every moment, no matter how ordinary.
You are a person of reflection and meditation. You start and end every day by looking inward.
Caring and giving, you enjoy making people happy. You're often cooking for friends or buying them gifts.
All in all, you know how to love life for what it is - not for how it should be.


And this is what kind of slacker Blogthings thinks I am:

You Are 32% Slacker

You have a few slacker tendencies, but overall you tend not to slack.
You know how to relax when the time is right, but you aren't lazy!


But I know that today I am 100% slacker. They just had the wrong questions for it. The quiz was obviously directed to mid-20s, male slackers, not late-40s, mom slackers.

DS is leaving for camp Saturday. Our preparations consist of strewn clothing, some labeled, some not, some clean, some not (I know, ugh, but he's a 14-year-old boy and I want him to choose his clothes), a bag that we've half-packed and are going to have to unpack, because we didn't check for labels.

My kitchen is brimming with fresh vegetables from our farm CSA that need preserving, freezing or even cooking. Domino's, a la this hysterical post by Rebecca, seems way better to me right now. And I hate Domino's pizza.

I spent way too much time today looking for blog updates rather than dealing with home, hearth, packing, revisions or research.

I took an hour and a half nap.

I'd like to take another one.

I didn't shower until 4:30 p.m.

I wonder if this is just the day-after-my-Danish-son-leaves-Blues.

Probably.

But I really should cook some of those vegetables.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sad

I've had a rather unusual day in the sense that I went clothes shopping (yes, shopping) with DS, 14, and my Danish exchange son, who is 19. It's unusual that either of my boys would want to go clothes shopping, and fairly unusual that DS would have voluntarily gone to the mall, but since his beloved Danish "brother" is returning to Denmark tomorrow night, I think he just wants any chance he can have to hang out with him.

Danish bro also hates shopping, but he likes girls, and he likes to look his best (which is quite easy for him ;-), and clothes are much cheaper here than in Denmark, so a trip to the mall made sense. I also hate shopping, but I like time with my boys.

So K (Danish son) and I, over the span of 2.5 hours went to Buckle, Hot Topic, Aeropostale, Express, Hollister, American Eagle, and Abercrombie. K is not used to so many choices being in one place (during his entire exchange year here he visited the mall only twice, each time with a specific goal in mind - easy in/easy out) and we decided to "skim" through the stores, see what looked interesting and would fit his shopping list, and return to the stores where he saw things he both wanted and could afford.

We both found it fascinating that the music that was blaring in a particular store would also herald the kind of clothing/level of coolness that store contained. And in the end, most of the purchases came from Express and Hollister.

Express was empty. K was the only male shopping there; a few other college girls sauntered in and out, looking mostly at jeans.

Hollister, directly across the way, was hopping. Duos of friends, both male and female, crowded around various tables, a couple of other mother/son pairs browsed the jeans, tees and hoodies, and several mother/daughter groups hovered near the center room. Hollister sells the California image, bursting with health and sunshine, and enticing Americans and non-Americans alike.

At this point in our excursion, I had listened to punk, techno and now alternative rock, all at piercing decibels, and it's hot enough in Michigan that even the air conditioning wasn't staving away the heat. K was tired, although happy with his purchases, DS was sitting just outside the store, and being as patient as was humanly possible, and I was ready to be anywhere that had daylight and silence.

In the midst of this orgy of sunny California styling, I saw her. She was standing near the leather chairs where two of her friends were sprawled, while her mother paid for purchases nearby. All three girls were 12, maybe 13, at the most. She was wearing a jeans miniskirt that barely covered her crotch and a long, tight tee that would have shown her ribs, if it hadn't been designed to look distressed. Her long legs ended in sky blue flip flops. Her tightly curled ash-blonde hair was pulled back in a bun and her toes angled out in the way that dancers' toes do, when at rest. Her spine was ruler straight.

But like the other telltale signs of a dancer, she had this one: her thighs were thin enough for me to encompass in a fist. Her elbows, jutted out, appearing painful and about to burst through the skin. Her eyes were sunken, hollow, and lit up only when taking her newly purchased clothing from her mother. Her face was unnaturally long, and each vertebra in her neck stuck out in relief.

This was clearly one sick child. And no, I don't think she was just naturally skinny - she was pale, and while she moved gracefully, she didn't seem to have the energy that her two, more fully-fleshed, friends did. Her mother was overweight, although not obese. Clothing, make-up, appearance was clearly important to both mother and daughter, and much conversation between the friends and the mom concerned how wonderful they would all look in their new purchases. Much fuss, especially was made about the fact that the young dancer was skinny enough to wear "anything."

The mother was obviously treating these girls to a very special day. There were exclamations of thanks from all three girls and the mother was given several, obviously loving, hugs for purchases and gifts. The relationship between mother and daughter seemed warm and close.

And I felt so for both the mother and the daughter. And I also wondered whether feeding this child's obsession with her looks by a shopping trip was the best idea. And I also felt that if I were in the mother's shoes, any time I saw my child appearing happy and childlike again would be an excursion worth making or an activity worth doing. I'm sure it's unbearably complicated and who am I to judge?

So I hope that this child is getting the help she needs and that the mother is getting the support and love she needs to get through all this. And that they both make it through. And I abhor this obsession we have in our culture with beauty and thinness and young girls never feeling they can be good enough. And that we don't do enough to help our young girls to stay healthy.

It's just plain sad.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Join the Club - again, no spoilers

It was clearly a weekend of decadence.

My desk is strewn with bills, catalogs and other reminders of tasks I left abandoned. My kitchen is piled high with dishes, the surfaces covered with more leftover chores. The compost bucket is full. The fresh corn, collected on Saturday, has still not been shucked. A corner of the living room couch has a pile of shoes beside it, kicked off over and over again, as people made themselves more comfortable. Half-filled glasses with various liquids and empty snack packages are lying across the end and coffee tables.

I spent the weekend with an old friend. Several old friends, really - Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, and to show my tuna fish sandwich side, some of my personal favorites of their crowd - Severus, Luna and Neville.

I swore I was going to savor this last adventure. I was going to read it slowly, wait until after my other family members had devoured the 784 pp. as they usually do.

But like the glutton I am, a day and a half after arriving early at Barnes and Noble and actually finding it open, the thing was done.

My orgy was over.

I'm also reading The Courage to Write, as I mentioned in a previous entry. I haven't finished it yet, but the crux of the book is being courageous in your writing. Staying true to yourself and your observations and your characters, etc. Very pretty words, and true ones. But it's often hard (from what I hear and read) doing that in the current publication environment. Publishers, naturally, want to sell books. Books become longer and longer, because the public wants more when the latest of their favorite series comes out. Mysteries get sexed up. I still love John Burdett and what he's trying to do with his Bangkok series, but whereas his first one only touched on the ideas of sex (which can be a lot more sexy, than being explicit, thank you very much), his second book becomes almost soft porn at points. And from what I've read of the third, it will go even further in this direction.

J. K. Rowling has got to be one of the most courageous authors I know. There has probably never been a writer in history who's had more notoriety - or pressure. One of the world's wealthiest women, coming from her infamous tea rooms and single motherhood, scratching out bits of Harry on legal pads, I believe she succumbed to certain pressures in the middle of her beyond-famous series of the boy wizard and his fight to save the world.

Not this time.

For those who can eat a box of chocolates and let it last for weeks (which I can, actually, but don't have this discipline with cheeses or favorite books), no, I'm not going to give anything away here. But let me just say, that I think, this time, Joanne Kathleen Rowling did things her way.

And we should all be grateful.

So, I'm off to put my house and family back in order, and to leave those two summer days of ravenous reading behind me. If anyone who's finished The Deathly Hallows wants to e-mail me to discuss, well... anything, please do! I'd love company.

I'm missing my old friends already.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

HP and the Tuna Sandwich - NO spoilers!

I've been doing way too much serious blogging in the past couple of days, so I thought today's entry should be lighter (not to mention shorter):

You Are a Tuna Fish Sandwich

Some people just don't have a taste for you. You are highly unusual.
And admit it, you've developed some pretty weird habits over the years.
You may seem a bit unsavory from a distance, but anyone who gives you a chance is hooked!

Your best friend: The Club Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Turkey Sandwich


You know what? This is so true.

And my favorite sandwich is a tuna sandwich. A tuna melt is even better.

Off to read Harry Potter...

Friday, July 20, 2007

My Fifteen Favorite Artists and Other Things about the Ann Arbor Art Fairs

Friday Fifteen

For background on the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, please see yesterday's post

The artists, in no particular order:

1. Andrew Carson The link here doesn't even begin to do his work justice, but his impossibly colorful, spinning, whirring, grinding kinetic sculptures at the corner of Maynard and Washington were an absolute revelation. DH and I stood transfixed, wishing we had even a fraction of the financial ability to invest in one of his sculptures.

2. Jim Spillane has managed to create cultural connections through his stunning portraits of ordinary people from around the world. We had sworn we wouldn't buy anything this year, but we succumbed to Mr. Spillane's amazing photography and ended up buying a both heartrending and whimsical portrait of a Bhutan work crew, consisting of Bengali workers and a Bhutanese foreman. Under a sign "Men at Work" a delicate Bengali woman in a pale pink sari, swings a pick-axe almost her size, while a group of male workers sit and relax around her. The work of Mr. Spillane, along with the conversation we had with him about his portraits, have actually given me an entirely new book project idea.

3. Lynn Whipple charmed me with both her mixed media and "ninny boxes." Examples of both can be seen on her site if you hit her "gallery" link. She combines humor, history, and interesting textures. Her art feels like storytelling to me. This is another artist I would buy if I could.

4.Ricky Boscarino. Fun, fun, fun! His kitchen jewelry attracted me, and his site is wonderful! His jewel charms - shoes, kitchen appliances, insects are delicate and perfect. His astonishing home is just a continuous journey of glass, mosaics and exploding color.

5. Rich Wood Just some really nice, solid photography here, with a particular eye for portraits. DH was especially intrigued by this piece.

6. Lisa Poulson of Dixboro Designs Once again, the pictures on the site can't compete with her shimmering use of color up close. Her ability with both glass work and color is elegant, intricate and has a definite edge. This is another artist whose work I covet. Another nice thing is that Lisa and Rich are both local artists, which makes me even happier.

7. Steven GregoryYes, we have a plethora of photographers, but that may be due to my interest in portraits and DH's interest in landscapes and more abstract photography. Steven Gregory uses photoshop to make statements and tell stories through his work. He had some very interesting "ghost" portraits, and anyone who knows me would know I'd love the irony of his "Free Speech" photo on the opening of his website. Great stuff.

8. Ed Camargo from Jonesboro, GA Sadly, the only site I found for this artist shows granite photo etching, which is nothing like the amazing granite inlaid tables that he exhibited. His tables burst with delicate flowers, which is no mean trick when your medium is granite. For any local art fair goers who read this, his booth is on Thompson St., right at the west side end - next to where the barriers are up to let drivers into the Thompson St. entrance to the Maynard Parking Structure.

9. Marcia Engeltjes A close friend of my father's produced leather-bound books, and we have a wonderful store in Ann Arbor, Hollander's,that provides classes in this area, as well as some lovely items produced on site. I've never, however, seen work like this. The flame album was simply spectacular up close. These albums are three-dimensional and both the attention to detail and use of color are astonishing.

10. Nicario Jimenez. I am a sucker for retablos, the portable sculpture boxes filled with wooden figurines that originally were used as Catholic shrines and now can encompass any subject at all. Mr. Jimenez's work is not only spectacular, but his subjects are as varied as rainforests, skeletons partying at a bar, and the debate over the current immigration bill. These retablos are by far the most interesting I've ever encountered, and the craftsmanship is staggering.

11. The basket art of Samuel Yao Another local artist who does not have a site, Mr. Yao's baskets are huge, organic pieces that incorporate a variety of natural materials and are unlike most baskets I've ever seen. I believe he dyes some of the reeds and other materials that he uses, but his use of color is very subtle, and just serves to emphasize his sculptural textures. If you have an opportunity to see his work, please take advantage of it. His art fair location is on Maynard Street, east side, around the end of Border's, about 1/3 of the way down the block. For more information on his upcoming fairs, etc., you can e-mail him at sam48103@aol.com.

11A. Okay, I'm squeezing in one more in a new edit. I went back today and found DH's and my all-time faves, and they've moved back to Ann Arbor from Florida! Leslie and Markel Leland of Purple Baby Daddies have brought joy to our lives, dining room, living room and porch, since we first found them right after the Art Fair of our first summer here in our house. Markel's sculptures bring me back to all the best things of childhood, and the colors and excitement in his sculptures never fail to make me happy (check out the link to "Markel's Suns," in particular). I had a great talk with Leslie today and it was so nice to hear they're BACK!

12. I don't feel quite the same way about this artist as I do about the ones listed above, but I really feel that Susan Loy of Literary Calligraphy deserves a mention for her stunning craftsmanship and the basic idea of what she does, which is to use her medium to incorporate literature. Anything that successfully combines literature and fine arts and I'm there!

And some non-artist faves:

13. Our break at Silvio's Organic Pizza. I can not say enough good things about Silvio or his shop. I am instantly transported to Italy every time I go there. His pizza is fresh and wonderful, but what DH and I are especially addicted to are his wonderful pastries - authentic, and without cloying American sweetness. We indulged on the world's best ricotta cake with bits of rum-soaked raisins and bittersweet chocolate, and a pastry filled with both vanilla and dark chocolate custard. The reviews through Chef Moz talk about some of the other menu choices. Viva Silvio!

14. Stopping by to see the Youth For Understanding volunteers in the "nonprofits" block. This is the grassroots organization through which we've received 4 of our 5 perfect exchange family members. It is mostly volunteer-run, and the area reps (those who help your family and the international students through their year together) deserve major kudos for all their hard work. Having these students in our lives has been an integral and unimaginably important part of our family, so if you have any questions about hosting, just drop me an e-mail - it's still not too late for this school year.

15. And finally... the perfect end to a perfect morning. As DH was becoming claustrophobic, and I was developing a weather- and stress-related headache, a charming young person came up to us and said, "Free pain reliever?" slipping both a packet and a coupon for advil into our all-too-willing hands. Yes, as fun as the Art Fairs are, pain relief is a necessary follow-up.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bates Motel(s) and the Ann Arbor Art Fairs




Somehow, it gives me great pleasure to have a poster for Psycho next to a photograph that is the craziness of the Ann Arbor Art Fairs.

Yes, Fairs. That is not a typo.

For those in ignorant bliss, the Ann Arbor Art Fairs descend onto our smallish city of 100,000 or so, swelling our ranks to a good half mill over a period of four days.

Not only do we gain fanny pack-wearers, water bottle merchants and approximately 500 artists' RVs, but we have oodles of opportunities to buy art on a stick. Anno did a brilliant description of the horrors of the Art Fairs on her entry today, but I'm going to sing the Fairs' praises, instead.

The Fairs are called such, because they are actually four separate official fairs, rounded off by several smaller, unofficial fairs (such as King's Chosen). If you learn the ropes over the years, it's easy to enjoy the Fairs, and you absolutely get to see some marvelous art (minus the black velvet paintings and the stuff on sticks). I'm planning to share some of my favorite things about this year's Ann Arbor Art Fairs on tomorrow's Friday Fifteen, but for now, I'll just say that we had the right Art Fairs weather (threatening to storm, and therefore keeping foot traffic down), the right parking space (one of the garages, centrally located, so we were also able to come back with library books and Zingerman's baguettes) and a great people-watching spot for coffee (Primo - best coffee spot in Ann Arbor).

But I'm really discussing the art fairs only so I could have the excuse to put the two pictures together. So more on them tomorrow.

My real topic today is our Bates Motel(s) experience at the family reunion:

My hubby and I were honored to be invited, once again, to my BIL's wife's family's week at the lake house. Now, with all those possessives, you'd think this was complex enough, but it's even more so. My brother-in-law is the father of my nephew, and my sister was his former wife. Tragically, my sister passed away in 1997, and my BIL had the great good fortune of meeting, and falling in love with, a simply wonderful woman, whom he married in 2001.

My new SIL and her family have welcomed our family with open arms and we can't be more grateful. They're also great fun and we always enjoy our times together. As an added bonus, my son has inherited a whole group of new surrogate aunts and uncles, and we've inherited two wonderful surrogate nephews. So, it's always a good time when we can all get together.

Except...

...that the last time we visited them at the lake house, I slept on a couch there and did something to my back that lasted about 3 months. So, this time we thought we'd splurge and get a motel room.

So I went on the internet, found a couple of motels in the area and went with the local, non-chain one. It looked clean and pleasant (on the internet), and since we try to support local growers and businesses, that seemed the right choice.

We got to the reunion and had a great time. My nephew was there, along with my surrogate nephews, and we all played games, ate burgers, romped in the pool, checked out my nephew's new girlfriend, talked about everyone who couldn't come, etc. In other words, typical family reunion. To make it even more special, my SIL's family all thought it was my b'day and they got me a cake and cards. They even found a guinea pig card. They are the best! (And we must be really family, because absolutely none of us can get dates right).

Late afternoon, DH and I drove the five minutes to check into above-mentioned local motel. It was bare, but basic, and seemed pretty clean.

In the daylight.

It was also a killer humid day, but the little air unit in the room cooled it nicely during the five or ten minutes we spent there.

But by later that evening, after burgers and too much sun and a final gelato trip (we admired the cake, tasted it, and then all went out for amazing ice cream) DH and I staggered back to our motel, ready to crash.

Somehow, the somewhat cheery, okay, pretty clean place by day had turned into The Bates Motel by night. The lighting didn't work. The room was set in shadows. The room was damp and hot and the little air unit that could, couldn't. House crickets (which I despise) hopped across the floor. The threadbare towel in the bathroom was damp and grey. The sink had an odd smell. There was a spider convention near the 7" TV.

No problem, though. DH and I have slept and traveled in many places throughout the world, this place was clean(ish), dry and doable. We were tired.

We crawled into bed and turned off the shadowy light.

I tried to sleep. The bed was tilted at an angle, so my feet were lower than my head. The burgers were coming back to haunt me (I rarely eat beef). A situation with my writing group was causing me a mental canker sore. The sheets felt sweaty. I imagined I was being bitten. The clock slid from 11 to 12 to 1 to 2 to 3...

And finally I sat up. I couldn't take it anymore. I knew sleep wasn't happening, but I didn't want to wake DH.

Except that he sat up. Apparently, he was having the same experience I was.

So, we did something very uncharacteristic. We were decisive. We got OUT.

We left and decided that since we had cancelled all other summer travel for this year, we could afford to get another, similarly cheap motel room in a chain.

We threw our "local" principles out the window and drove up the road to the Motel 8.

Ah, civilization! Dry sheets, clean room, bright lights, no crickets. Bed at the angle it should be. Quick check first on e-mail and cell phones, having first access to such things since we'd left Ann Arbor. We wallowed in our stupid, spoiled selves and took until 4:30 to really get settled and turn out the lights, again, to go to sleep.

5:35 a.m. That's what the clock said when the fire alarm started going off. Yes, started. And kept going, and going, and going. Like the energizer bunny, we were warned repeatedly that something was wrong.

We stumbled around the room and packed up our stuff. We opened the door, shuffled down the hallway and down the stairs, and entered the lobby. And found ourselves the only ones there. (And keep in mind, please, that this alarm had gone off about 23 times, and it was not quiet.)

The nice lady at the desk explained to us that this happened frequently. The other guests had probably taken that for granted. We tumbled back up to bed and got under the covers again.

Sun was streaming in my eyes. We'd set the alarm for 9, so we could rejoin the fun at the lake house. I looked at my watch. 11:20!!! Check-out was 11 and the desk sign clearly said that those who stayed later would be charged for another day. I lurched awake. Awake, awake.

I was really awake.

I grabbed my watch, ran over to the slit in the curtains through which the sun was streaming and found out that it was 7:05. And I was awake.

And an hour later, so was DH.

My own bed felt really good last night.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Schmooze!



"Schmoozing is the natural ability “to converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection.” Good schmoozers effortlessly weave their way in and out of the blogosphere, leaving friendly trails and smiles, happily making new friends along the way. They don’t limit their visits to only the rich and successful, but spend some time to say hello to new blogs as well. They are the ones who engage others in meaningful conversations, refusing to let it end at a mere hello - all the while fostering a sense of closeness and friendship"

I want to thank Jenn in Holland for her acknowledging me with this schmooze award! This was extremely kind and schmooze-y of her, as I am so new to this whole scene! Thank you again, Jenn!

I'd also like to pass on the award to some wonderful schmoozers that I've met in the online universe both recently and not-so-recently:

First of all, Jenn in Holland, may I return the compliment?

Anno, my friend both on and offline, through coffee and children and creativity, etc., etc., etc. She's as generous in real life as she is in the blogosphere.

Charity, who practices this as a writing muse and advisor to writers both fledgling and published.

Pseudowife, caretaker of those who need TLC, both through her writing and her actions

Yvonne, mom extraordinaire and animal whisperer for creatures great and small

Fourier Analyst, whose analyses and visits are always stimulating and interesting

Jennifer, who took time during a difficult time to come and say hello and take interest here.

I'll write more tomorrow - we just got back from a family reunion, which was lovely, but we had a horror story night (funny, not serious) which I'm too tired to comment on just now...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pirates

As I continue with The Courage to Write and struggle with some writing group issues, and as I read Marianne's blog today, writing is very much on my mind.

Not my writing, per se, although thanks to some encouragement from my friend Charity, I'm finally finishing revisions on a long dormant YA.

However, I really am thinking more about the process of writing. What it means to write. To critique. To support others in their acts of writing.

What writing means. Why do we write?

Okay, so these are the same topics that most writers grapple with.

So, why, suddenly, did I want to really get back to writing? Why did my excuses run out?

And even without writing, I was having a perfectly lovely summer. I love to cook, and I was doing a lot of that. I love to teach, and I was doing a lot of preparation for the fall. I love my family, and I was doing a lot for them.

But you know, you cook a meal, you eat it. People might praise your cooking. You make people happy. That's good. But it's gone, over, finis. That's it. Reliving the meal isn't going to bring you (or anyone else) the remotest bit of pleasure. You can cook the same thing again. People will enjoy it. But they'll consume the calories, many or few, and then it's over.

You can, however, read beloved stories over and over. The revisiting can be lovely. You'll get new things each time. I could read Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice every year and see new points. And learn new things. And grow from entering these favorite worlds again.

And writing, we're all pirates. We're all searching for treasure which we'll find by trying different angles. And we can live in fantastical worlds and have the most fascinating people (or creatures) for company. And if we don't like where we are, we can change it with a tap on the keyboard. We can leave fat bodies and become acrobats; leave skinny bodies and grow voluptuous curves, leave troubles and become adventurers, leave safe lives and fall into unimaginable dangers.

We can get inside your head.

How much more pirate is that?

So I realized that I've blocked this wanting, this longing that I've had by burying myself in the mundane. And yes, Charity was sooooo right to nudge me towards The Courage to Write. Because it's so much easier to bake a quiche than to be a pirate.

But it's a lot less fun.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Summer Reading

Much to my amazement, I'm really enjoying The Scarlet Letter.

It was the bane of my high school and then college years, and I fell asleep reading it to my Armenian daughter during our first year hosting. She was required to read it for her American Lit. class, but didn't have the English skills to conquer the language, so we spent night after night reading through it. And I'd doze every time, until I felt her gentle nudge on my knee or arm, at which point I'd startle and try again.

Did I really have to be forty-eight to finally "get" this story?

This time around, it's little Pearl who's caught my attention. I don't think I allowed myself the pleasure of delving into her surprisingly modern portrayal, or Hawthorne's allowing a more natural take on children than Hester would have probably assumed in her day. Pearl is not seen, as children typically were in Puritan times, as a little adult, but rather she is left to be a child, and an ill-behaved one, at that. Which also pulls me in as a mother. I'm looking at Hester in a new light.

But where are the beach books?

Of my current list, the only beach book type is Bangkok Haunts, and yet that, too, is complicated and dense in its own way. Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the Bangkok detective who is at the heart of Burdett's Bangkok series, makes the series for me. The subject matter is often more raw than I would normally read or enjoy. Yet the themes of cross-cultural misunderstanding, and Sonchai's take on the West versus Thai Buddhist culture has me fascinated. Hence The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism...

But that's not particularly light reading, either. So, through Sonchai, I've become fascinated with learning more about Buddhism. But I'm also trying not to get sucked into too many directions so I can focus on The Courage to Write, recommended by my friend Charity.

And then there are The Nick Adams Stories, which I'm still sorting through for American Lit.

Where are the hours in the day?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fifteen Things I want for my Birthday

Friday Fifteen

My preachy list:

1. World peace

2. Universal healthcare

3. Clean water for all

4. Good public transportation in the U.S.

5. Support of local growers and a return to eating seasonally

6. Better protection for the Earth

7. Industrialized nations working together to lower carbon emissions

8. Campaign reform in the U.S. and restructuring to a parliamentary system

9. Sustainable agriculture

10. Alternative energy sources

11. A more globally aware U.S. citizenship and a MUCH more globally aware U.S. administration

12. Removal of said U.S. administration

13. Replacement with a much kinder, gentler U.S. administration that will have, as a goal, the restoration of the U.S. as a world leader instead of world villain.

14. To see all of my "kids," both those biological and those adopted through our exchanges, happy adults with loving families

15. To continue enjoying the wonderful love of my family and friends throughout the rest of my life and the good health to enjoy it.


Now, my just plain fun list, that's all about me, me, me (and not necessarily in this order):

1. To have partners in writing - through my writing group being revived or something similar

2. eve - The Restaurant Cookbook

3. The Spamalot CD

4. Hours and hours to read

5. Time in the day to listent to Ask A Ninja

6. Good chocolate - maybe from Grocer's Daughter

7. Some GOOD mysteries that have recipes/food themes (research)

8. Some good paranormal YA (research)

9. Time to read said novels

10. My turn with the new Harry Potter book when it comes out

11. A trip to Europe, Armenia and Japan to see all my exchange kiddos

12. A trip to New Zealand just to see it.

13. Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
by Thich Nhat Hanh


14. As wonderful classes of students next year as I had this past year.

15. To continue enjoying the wonderful love of my family and friends throughout the rest of my life and the good health to enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Day Out of the Kitchen

It's perfect outside today.

I've been able to re-open my house to the elements. Gentle breezes have kept us refreshed and happy all day.

I was going to make some killer lasagna for dinner. Then I realized how the oven would steam everything up and I decided on pasta with sauce instead.

As usual, I have a ton of things to use up, so the sauce will still be cooking, but I've managed to stay out of the kitchen for the day. I made a big dent in The Scarlet Letter (almost finished!), had plenty of time for blog reading, worked out, got to the dentist, worked on various household projects, continued reorganizing our finances and had an unexpected lunch with a good friend who's out of town for the summer and just happened to be in today.

We sat out on her deck and ate fresh greens, grape tomatoes and broccoli from her garden. With that breeze.

This is what summer is for.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

We Grow Deer


I have a long history with growing things.

When I was growing up, we had a terrace off of our 16th floor apartment. It was pretty large for a New York City terrace, and my mother's pride and joy was keeping up her rock garden and flower boxes. She even had a gardener - Mr. Anderson, whom I believed was Hans Christian Anderson. I was buried in books even then.

So, having witnessed the seemingly effortless roses, pansies, bittersweet, etc., spring to life each season, I figured, "How hard can this be?"

Fast forward to my beginning days as a teacher. I decided that my third grade classroom needed lots of plants in order to be homey, so I filled our window ledges with small treasures from K-Mart a few days before school opened. By mid-October, they were all dead.

There was no mystery in this - plants need water, and if you don't water them, well, they die.

So I tried again in November, enlisting the help of some of my most avid and active little learners. This was more successful - the plants held on up to December break. Success!

Then, of course, I didn't take them home with me, so...

Dead again by January 3rd.

My plant career continued accordingly, until, by my third year of teaching, I finally gave up.

I was quite happy in this non-growing vein, until I got married and we bought our first house. The previous owners had done a lovely job of landscaping around our little starter home - trillium, hostas, chinese lanterns and a lovely Rose of Sharon. And miraculously, for the 5 years we lived there, they all survived. But again, I wasn't actually nurturing these - they'd had many years of good care before I came into the picture.

Now we live in the house that I hope we'll live in until we die or until they cart us away. It has nearly a full acre, including a back garden, and a little front patch of garden, plus plantings around the front of the house.

It became clear to me that that back garden was too much for me to handle - I decided a rock garden would be a better way to go.

Let me just put it this way...

I've never made a bad investment (I'm very conservative in this area) other than what I invested in our landscape planner. His solution was to toss a few boulders among the already existing plants, send in two college kids to (barely) plant a couple of trees which died within two months, and tear up ground cover, without replacing plants in those areas. A lot of money was spent, and at this point, four years later, we have literally nothing to show for it. We still have the plantings that the previous owners left us... again, they did a good job and I now can manage watering, for the most part.

Well, given my history and my not-so-green thumb, we grow deer. Whereas they are the scourge of other gardeners, we just welcome them in to eat whatever it is that served as plants from our landscaping fiasco. They tromp through the neighborhood in any case, going their daily rounds, and those of our neighbors who are serious about gardening have electric or cyclone fences.

We don't.

We have deer.

And one deer happens to have three of the cutest fawns I've ever seen, so we enjoy our browns and whites, and forego the pleasures of riotous color that more talented gardeners are able to cultivate.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Recipe Day!

I've had some e-mails asking for various recipes of foods I've described in the past few days, so periodically, I'll post a recipe day. I'm not up on posting pictures, etc., yet, so those will have to wait for later. All nutritional info is provided via Sparkrecipes.com. Sparkpeople.com, the parent site for Sparkrecipes.com, is a wonderful, free site that helps us all stay healthier. Please support it if you like the recipes!


From July 4th:

I'm skipping the hot fudge, as I'm not satisfied with it, yet.

Apple Carrot Slaw - this is a wonderful, healthy recipe! I adapted it from one I found on the internet, and now I can't find it again, so my apologies to the cook who created the basics.

Ingredients:
2 cups thinly shredded cabbage
1 raw medium carrot, grated
1 medium apple, chopped
5 TBS nonfat greek yogurt
1 TBS reduced fat mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp dried dill
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix together veggies and apple.
2. wisk together dressing ingredients.
3. combine.
4. add salt and pepper to taste

Number of Servings: 6

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 1.0g
Carbohydrates: 9.3g
Calories:55.1
Protein: 2.8g

Pommes A L'Huile, adapted from "Bistro Cooking" by Patricia Wells "Bistro Cooking" by Patricia Wells - This is the perfect summer potato salad, if you like the oil/vinegar type. I could eat this a lot. I could also gain 400 lbs. by eating this a lot!

Ingredients:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 shallots, finely minced
1/8 cup tarragon vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
small handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. small new red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed

1. Combine oil and shallots in a small bowl, set aside. As the shallots marinate in the oil, they will lose any bitterness.
2. Cook the potatoes in plenty of salted water, until just tender.
3. Meanwhile whisk the vinegar into the oil and shallot mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Drain the potatoes. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, but are still warm, cut into thin, even slices. Toss with the vinaigrette and sprinkle with parsley.

Yield: eight servings

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 6.6g
Carbohydrates: 15.4g
Calories:126.8
Protein: 1.9g

From July 5:


Jen's Peach-Blueberry Cobbler - This is not very sweet, so if you like a sweeter cobbler, add more sugar.

Ingredients:

Filling:
5 medium peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
2 cups blueberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 TBS lemon juice
Biscuit Dough:
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 TBS sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 baking soda
2 1/2 TBS butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
Sprinkle with:
1 tsp sugar mixed with 1/8 tsp cinnamon

1. Heat oven to 400. Spray an 8X8 glass baking dish. Peel and prep peaches and wash blueberries. Mix together with sugar and lemon juice. Microwave for 1 - 2 minutes or until partially cooked.

2. For dough. Mix dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry blender or food processor. Pour in buttermilk. Continue to process or toss with fork until mixture clumps together. Drop by tablespoons on peaches/blueberries. Sprinkle with the sugar-nutmeg mixture. Bake 30 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown. Makes 8 servings.

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 4.2g
Carbohydrates: 33.9g
Calories:175.4
Protein: 3.3g

From July 6:

Cucumbers in Sour Cream adapted from "A La Russe" by Dara Goldstein"A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality" by Darra Goldstein I ate this type of thing all the time when I lived in the Soviet Union on my teaching exchange. It rocked!

Ingredients:

2 cucumbers
1 cup reduced fat sour cream (I prefer Breakstone)
2 TBS cider vinegar (white balsamic works well, too)
4 TBS snipped fresh chives (or equivalent number of dried teaspoons)
2 TBS snipped fresh dill (or 2 tsp dried dill)
pepper to taste
2 tsp salt

If the cucumbers have been waxed, peel them; otherwise, washt them well but leave the peel on. Slice the cucumbers very thin and pat them dry with paper towels. Mix together the remaining ingredients, adding vinegar to taste. Stir in cucumbers. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before refrigerating. Serve well-chilled.

Serves 6.

Nutritional info:
Fat: 2.6g
Carbohydrates: 4.5g
Calories:45.6
Protein: 1.7g

Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil from Cook's Country, July 2007 This is absolutely a taste of summer. A little also goes a long way - it's surprisingly rich. Cook's Country is one of my favorite magazines of the moment. It has the same care as Cook's Illustrated, but it's not as fussy and the recipes, to my mind are more fun.

Ingredients:

5 lbs of tomatoes cored and quartered
1 lb. tomatoes, cored and diced
2 onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
1 garlic clove minced
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp sugar, plus more to taste
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped, fresh basil

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine quartered tomatoes, onions, whole garlic cloves, oil, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp sugar in large roasting pan. Roast, stirring once or twice, until tomatoes are brown in spots, about 1 1/2 hours (I found that it took me only about 45 minutes). Let cool 5 minutes. Working in two batches, process roasted tomatoe mixture in food processor until smooth. (Pureed mixture can be refrigeratoed for up to 1 day).
2. When ready to serve, combine diced tomatoes, minced garlic, basil, and 1/4 tsp salt in bowl and marinate for 30 minutes. Transver to large saucepan, add pureed tomato mixture, and simmer over medium heat until diced tomatoes are slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and sugar to taste. Serve.

Number of Servings: 6

Nutritional info:
Fat: 7.7g
Carbohydrates: 16.3g
Calories:133.3
Protein: 2.9g

Jen's Blueberry power muffins - these are very low fat, so they aren't as "crispy" on the outside as some muffins. If you want that crisp outside, reheat them at 350 for 5 minutes right before serving. Again, these aren't very sweet, but the blueberries make them very flavorful!

Ingredients:

2 cups blueberries, preferably fresh
1 cup oat bran
1 cup ww pastry flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. preheat oven to 400.
2. spray a 12- muffin pan with cooking spray.
3. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients.
4. in a separate bowl beat eggs, then wisk in the buttermilk and the vanilla.
5. Blend the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
6. Stir in the washed blueberries.
7. Using a melon baller or other scoop, fill the muffin openings as full as you can.
8. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until golden brown on top.
9. cool in pan on wire rack for 2 minutes, then remove, loosening muffins with butter knife, and continue cooling on rack out of the pan.

Number of Servings: 12

Nutritional Info:
Fat: 1.4g
Carbohydrates: 20.0g
Calories:99.4
Protein: 3.8g

As for the Peach Tarte Tatin, it was a waste of eight perfectly good peaches... I have definitely not mastered the art of French baking yet! First off, can anyone tell me why bleached versus unbleached flour would make a difference? And secondly, if anyone actually knows how to flip a Tarte Tatin properly, would they please e-mail me? I'm totally flummoxed!

Cheers!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Shift Happens



I found this very thought-provoking.

I had all kinds of ideas about writing about a simply delightful day I had yesterday, picnicking with an old friend in the Grosse Pointes, which I'd never been to. And yes, they live up to all the hype.

I was also going to write about this fairly perfect Sunday I'm having, reading, writing, and cooking Roasted Tomato Soup, Cucumber Salad, Blueberry Muffins and a peach Tarte Tatin.

But, you know, that all sort of pales when you get a link like this.

I was thinking a lot yesterday and today about the Live Earth concerts. I'm very mixed about them because while I think awareness on this topic is crucial, and while a lot of my summer is being spent trying to rework our lives to be greener, I don't understand why all these resources and this energy was used when fundraising wasn't a part, and the only results were promises for seven rather anemic goals. I'm not slamming Al Gore or the artists and supporters who donated their time, but I just want to see more action and less grandstanding.

And then there was this link! And now I'm wondering if we're misdirected entirely. Is it technology that could be both the culprit and the answer to so much of this environmental warming and destruction? And as a teacher, does what I teach matter?

Currently, I teach literature, especially "classics". The old ideas of worn-out times. And yet, most of these books have stood the test of time. When do ideas become just more information? And what difference does it make if a machine can out-calculate the human mind. What does that MEAN? Does that mean computers can out think us? Out create us? Will they be able to perform Shakespeare with the deftness of a Judy Dench, or paint Guernica, or write like Jane Austen?

And by posting this, am I just contributing to more technological noise?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Juxtaposition

We live near a gorgeous lake, perfect for swimming and for cutting the heat on a Michigan July afternoon.

The drive out there is filled with farmland and lacy patterns of light from overhanging trees. It's both restful and good for summer music and the path sends you on to the lake in the proper, vacation frame of mind.

When you arrive at the lake, you walk from a dusty parking lot to the sound of happy screams and the low murmur of adults, picnicking, the smells of grilling franks and burgers, and the sights of flashes of brightly-colored bathings suits flying in and out of the water and across the hill opposite. There is a sprayscape, which is the source of much of the screaming, and there are picnic benches available for both shade-lovers and sun-worshippers.

So in the midst of this idyll, I sit reading about the tortured souls in The Scarlet Letter - Dimmesdale, Chillingworth and Hester dance their tarantella of doom against the background of the bright sunshine and happy play, while my son and K splash through the water like dolphins.

I think I am being punished for assigning this to my students over the summer. It really was done as a favor, so they don't have to kill themselves deciphering this over the first weeks of the shortened semester, but it's not beach reading.

I guess that maybe if Dimmesdale and Hester had lakes in their lives, instead of the rocky shore of Boston harbor, and maybe if they had a few summer afternoons together, instead of the harsh ministrations of Chillingworth/Prynne, maybe things would have turned out differently.

Can't you just see Pearl, in a bright scarlet tankini with hot pink stripes, zipping in and out of the water and joining scores of children screaming in the spray?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Beeps and Bleeps

It's one of those typical Michigan summer days. Brilliant sunshine and steamy atmosphere, which quickly shot to cool and breezy, then to full blown storm, and now back to brilliant and steamy.

For some, this just feels like home. For others, like my son, it's headache-inducing.

So he's lying down, trying to lick his migraine, while I continue to putter with summer fruits and vegetables. The first flaming fury peaches made their appearance at the Farmer's Market yesterday, so they were combined with second-week blueberries and made into a cobbler.

This recently beeped at me, letting me know that I probably cooked it too long. I'm still getting used to a new kitchen set-up and equipment, and I have realized that I probably need to cook things for a bit less time in my new convection oven, but out of habit, I still use the settings of the old times for my distinctly lower-tech previous oven.

The cobbler came out bursting and bubbly and a lovely maroon/purple color, so at least we'll have a colorful dessert. The smell is right, too, so it may be that the timing was fine and I have something else to be grateful for.

Now for the bleep.

At the orthodontist's today, the doctor asked us what we'd done for the 4th. It turns out she was equally unimpressed with our local parade, which she had seen for the first time. "So anyone can walk in this parade, right?" she asked.

Yes. Apparently.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A2 July 4th

What's July 4th without a cookout? Without a parade?

The parade was minimal. The mayor didn't even bother to show, although John Dingell did. Interesting, when one of the most powerful men in Congress can make it to a smallish-town parade, but John Hieftje can't make the time. OTOH, he might have been on vacation, and I guess he deserves one, too.

The weather is that moist, greyish-sunnyish, hide and seek that causes naps.

Despite this, the non-cookout must go on, as who knows what the weather will do next, so we're doing a "cheat" cookout:

4th July 2007 (menu chosen by Danish son, who's experiencing the 4th with us for the first time)

barbecue chicken (cheating here - got roasted chicken and am re-roasting with bonesucking sauce - my barbecued chicken always tastes anemic)
corn on the cob
vinegar-based potato salad a la Patricia Wells
cabbage-apple slaw
hot fudge sundaes made with ciao bella ice cream and homemade fudge sauce

We also bought some firecrackers for the first time - snakes and sparklers. We'll see how that goes.

I've been reading the John Burdett Bangkok series. This has caused me to look into An Idiot's Guide to Buddhism. I browsed B&N today for Dalai Lama books and Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. I decided to start with the Idiot's Guide and go from there. The reviews and those who reviewed (including Thich Nhat Hanh) were impressive, and I just want to see if I can even start to think about grasping the concepts.

Happy 4th. I hope that by next 4th the U.S. government will have implemented some more globally-minded policies, but I'm not holding my breath. I'm still grateful to have this country and the opportunities it provided to my ancestors and to me. I'm also hoping that we can re-establish ourselves as global helpers, rather than global conquerors. Here's to a more celebratory 4th next year. Cheers!