Wednesday, August 28, 2013

50 years later, the dream lives on

Today marks 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his historic speech during the march on Washington.  Most of us know it as the "I Have a Dream" speech.  What I didn't know was the most famous part of that speech is only the last third, and it was ad-libbed.  The first two-thirds of his speech discussed racism and segregation as an American issue, one that was out of sync with the core American values put forth in the Declaration of Independence.  Dr. King took it beyond black-and-white to our cultural identity as Americans.  This was genius.  I'm surprised it is relatively unknown today.  If you are interested in watching, here is the entire speech:

We hold these truths to be self-evident.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Acadia National Park

Last Wednesday, we disappeared off on our last hurrah before school starts again to Acadia National Park in Maine.  For years, Hubby and I have wanted to go.  The promise of sea and mountains in Maine in late August was too much to resist, so we headed up to explore for a few days.

It was just as beautiful as we had hoped, and the weather could not have been nicer.

We puttered around the top of Cadillac Mountain, swam in Echo Lake, wandered the low-tide sand bar in Bar Harbor, hiked to the summit of North Bubble, enjoyed a scenic lunch spot at Jordan Pond where the girls devoured the signature pop-overs and jam, and played at Sand Beach.

chillin' on Cadillac Mountain

looking down from Cadillac Mountain summit

big sea star left behind by the tide

Sand Beach

view from the summit of North Bubble

viewing the Bubbles from across Jordan Pond

For the girls, the unbeatable highlight was the sea creature tour with Diver Ed.  Diver Ed and his wife, Captain Evil, run a family-friendly boat tour out of Bar Harbor.  The boat motors out to one of the nearby islands (we went near Burnt Porcupine, I think), and then Diver Ed suits up in a dry suit (the water is cold!).  He invited all the kids to come help give him and his heavy equipment a big push off the back of the boat, and then down he goes to the sea floor to find and collect small sea creatures to bring back up to show everyone.  He carries a video camera that is connected live to a huge screen on the boat so we can all see what he is seeing.  His audio equipment crapped out, so Captain Evil seamlessly (and hilariously) narrated his discoveries for us.  The kids especially loved his safety dive buddy, Mini-Ed, a Playmobil diver he brought along for size reference and fun.

giving Diver Ed a push

Diver Ed

We had three full days in Bar Harbor, where we rented a little vacation home through HomeAway.  What we hadn't realized is that several hundred other people also thought Bar Harbor in late August would be irresistible (the place was completely overrun for the first two days).  On the weekend, it cleared out as families went home to prepare for Back to School.

We are already talking about going back, but we know we'll try to make it off-season next time.  As Ellie said, "We just have to come back to Maine!  It's too good."

the summit of North Bubble

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The build-up and the wind-down

I felt like I was running around all day with way too much caffeine in my system, a kind of hyper-mania productivity that involved a lot of fast-paced picking up and moving around of things without actually accomplishing a great deal.  And this was without the caffeine.

I was nervous.

I had agreed to be interviewed by the local paper about keeping backyard chickens.  They were sending a photographer at 3 and an interviewer at 4.

I swear extroverts have an easier time in life.

two in the run, one on the nest

escaping the paparazzi

Is it safe to come out yet?

I wore myself out with all the manic activity today, but the actual reason I felt nervous...well, it turned out that wasn't such a big deal.  After all, I'm perfectly happy to talk to people about our funny chickens.  I wasn't even phased when Penny, our most vocal chook, peed on my shirt during the photographs and then squawked about it for almost an hour afterwards (thank you, Penny).  It was a bit of a bummer that the girls (my daughters, not my chickens) hit their afternoon slump as the interviewer turned to them for "the kid's perspective", but whatcha gonna do?

Now, I don't feel nervous at all.  What if the pictures zoom in on the shirt pee and the dreaded double-chin?  Oh well.  What if the interview makes me seem a bit crazy?  That won't surprise those who know me.  The way the interviewer scribbled away, I'm really not sure what I'll be quoted as saying.  At the end of the day, having backyard chickens is a fun adventure.  The kids (ours and most kids who visit our home) love it.  That's why we do it.  Maybe after reading the article about our crazy little family homestead, someone else will be intrigued enough to try it too.

As for the chickens, they are playing it safe and sticking close to their coop this evening.  Their moment of fame was glorious...and rather tiring, it seems.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A spot of sewing: a box-bottom tote bag

A special birthday is coming up.  The special someone (who may or may not view this blog so will remain nameless) is difficult to buy for (logistically, at least), making this a prime occasion for a homemade gift.

I had the idea to sew a simple tote bag with the girls' drawings on it.  In my original idea, the girls would draw directly onto the fabric with fabric crayons or markers.  That did not happen (they balked).  I think the pressure of creating a drawing for a specific outcome was just too much, and they felt nervous.  Instead, I selected work they had already made and felt quite proud of to scan and print onto fabric.*  I doubt this will stand up to serious washing, but the result is quite beautiful, if I do say so myself, and makes a very special, personal gift.

The photos are two sides of one bag, one side by our Stephanie and the other by our Ellie.  I sewed in a cream-coloured lining and an interior pocket.  I love carrying a good tote bag around town, and I hope this will see some good use.

As far as adding in the printed fabric, I decided to wing this project, but I found excellent instructions for sewing a simple box-bottom tote here on The Purl Bee.  The math required by piecing in the drawings about did my head in, but such is the lot of a self-taught sewist.  It was worth it.  I am so happy with the result, and I can only hope our special someone will love it too.

* I had purchased special inkjet-ready fabric sheets ages ago, but I have since read online that you can secure freezer paper to your fabric and print directly onto fabric you already have.  This makes sense (that's how the special fabric-paper felt to the touch), but I haven't tried it myself.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jack Daniels glaze for salmon

Have you ever gotten so fixated on a recipe that you end up making that dish week after week all summer?  Me neither (ahem).  But if I did, it might be this salmon with Jack Daniels glaze.  Hubby professes not to like salmon, but what he seriously objects to is the salmon-flavor.  If you bury that under a mess of glaze, it's good times and great taste, I promise.

I bet this glaze would also be awesome on chicken and shrimp.  Or drizzled on sweet potato or broccoli's good, friends.

salmon with Jack Daniels glaze

Simple Jack Daniels glaze

1/2 cup Jack Daniels whiskey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.

Rinse and pat dry 2 salmon filets, place them in a baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a saucepan, stir together glaze ingredients and simmer over low heat until the consistency is more syrup-y (about 15 minutes).  Once sauce starts to simmer, put salmon in the oven to cook.

Cook salmon for 15 minutes.

Ladle about half of the glaze onto the salmon.  On the first go, I pour on quite a bit.  It caramelizes in the oven, and then I baste from the thickened sauce in the baking dish.

I keep basting every 5 minutes or so until salmon is cooked through (we like ours well-done so this is about 25 minutes total from when the salmon first went into the oven).

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Recommended reading: Replenish

While I don't write sponsored posts, I admit this is a review I was asked (though not paid) to write. I want to talk to you about Replenish, a self-care manual written with mamas in mind but a gift for any woman.

  Perth from Rotto

Last spring, I participated in an online class titled "Teach Your Life to Be Extraordinary" with Lisa Grace Byrne. You might notice her blog link in my sidebar. I discovered Lisa through SimpleMom, and I've been a long-time reader. Her words have always seemed practical, caring and open-minded. Most of her courses are longer and bigger commitments, so I thought I would try a short course. The course I took presented a life approach I found quite appealing, but honestly I have been lax in implementing. I would like to revisit the materials and the class videos. I knew if she ever wrote a book, I would want a copy on my bedside table. Now, she has.

The book is titled "Replenish: Experience Radiant Calm and True Vitality in Your Everyday Life". I signed up to be an advance reader, so her team sent me an e-copy of the book to review. If you want the whole truth, I ordered the paper copy as soon as it was available, despite already having the e-version. I want to be able to pick it up when I need words of wisdom. I know I'll go back over this book again and again.

Her team also asked if I'd be willing to host a book club with this book, but that too was a no-brainer. As I read, I thought of at least seven mom-friends who would appreciate the book. We haven't started reading it as a group yet, but six of us have signed on for the one-off club. Want to join us?

If you are interested in a bit more information, here's the book review I wrote on Amazon:

If you are a mother in need of better self-care, Replenish is both a gift and a guide that you can turn to again and again. 

Replenish is written for mothers, but it is not a parenting book. Lisa's focus is a reminder that underneath the mother is a valuable woman who deserves care and attention too. Throughout the book, she gives realistic, practical strategies for self-care, exploring areas from relaxing moments, rest, quiet and breathing techniques to nourishing foods and joyful movement. 

Lisa writes from a place of compassion and honesty, which feels so refreshing. She is open about all the challenges and paradoxes of motherhood. There is no judgement implied or felt, just a plain understanding that yes, motherhood is wonderful but it is also very tough. The daily work of motherhood wears on one's body, heart and mind, which is why we need to replenish our inner wells. Reading this book, I felt I had been chatting with a girlfriend who had been in the trenches, had found her way out and was offering a helping hand to lift me up too. 

I truly appreciated how I never got the sense that these strategies and suggestions were only possible in someone else's perfect circumstances, nor does Lisa herself pretend to be perfect. Mothers can feel judged and criticized enough (often quite thoroughly all by ourselves), and that simply wasn't present in this book. 

I cannot think of any mother who would not benefit from Lisa's grace and insight.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A song for Carolina's birthday

Our goddaughter, Carolina, turns six today!  We tried to make a birthday video for her (at her request), with mixed but very funny results.  Happy Birthday, Carolina!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Motherhood Monday

Some days, motherhood is a wonderfully glorious affair.

Some days, motherhood ain't so glamorous.

Like today, when one child was awake in the middle of the night for over an hour (a different child than was awake in the middle of the night before), the dawn came too early and the child who did sleep rose with it, squabbles followed from tired mouths, and the cat provided the piece de resistance by sharing chipmunk innards on a blanket the children were using for their (now-peaceful) game.

Ah, yes.

Happy Monday, y'all.
(We shall overcome.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trying recipes from My Berlin Kitchen

I told you I would get back to you after I tried out a couple of recipes from My Berlin Kitchen, and here I am!  You didn't think I forgot, did you?

First up, the ragù.  In the book, Luisa warns you that any cook time of less than 5 hours simmering this sauce isn't really worth it.  I can see why she says this.  I started my prep after lunch, and my whole house smelled moderately awful until at least 3pm (though I should probably add the disclaimer that we are not big meat-eaters and very rarely pork eaters--this recipe requires 1 pound each of beef and pork).  Thank goodness it was a reasonable temperature outside, so I could open the windows and back door.  My wee girl kept wondering aloud what that horrible stink was, and I pretended not to know.  Not appetizing.  Then, around the 3 or 4 hour mark, something changed.  The smell changed for sure.  I didn't taste the ragù early on while it was distinctively fragrant, but I'm betting the flavor made a huge leap forward too.  At the 5 hour mark, it smelled almost sweet and definitely delicious.  The flavor was great, far greater than the sum of its parts.  In addition to being easy to cook, it's a solid basic sauce, good on pasta or lasagna or frozen for future use.  I'm glad we stuck it out, but I will remember next time to prep on a weekday when my eaters are not at home during the early stages.  My oh my.

buttermilk panna cotta

Next, the buttermilk panna cotta.  I knew this had to be made before I even finished reading that chapter.  Luisa wrote about the glories of a cold drink of buttermilk on a hot summer day.  I bet most people I know would screw their noses up at this idea, but my husband wholeheartedly agrees.  He has tried repeatedly over the years to sing the praises of buttermilk in hopes I might adopt it too.  I love to cook with it, but drink?  Not so much.  This dessert seemed a perfect match for both of us, and it was!  Cream, vanilla beans, and buttermilk cooked and cooled to perfection.  The texture of creme brûlée (minus the burnt sugar shell).  So smooth, cool and absolutely delicious!  The perfect summer dessert for grown-ups (our girls tried it but couldn't get past the buttermilk tang).  We loved it with and without the berry topping Luisa recommended.  Yum.

Have you tried and loved any new recipes lately?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Our chickens

our chookie girls

did you say "popcorn"?

first eggs

I have known for years that I would like to keep backyard chickens.  I knew I would like the eggs and the easy recycling of kitchen scraps, but I didn't know what a kick I would get out of them, what a kick we'd all get out of them.  They are so funny!  Their curious natures.  Their big wobbly bodies.  Their gentle clucking noises.  Their loud squawking when something is amiss (whether it be a dog in our yard or simply being overdue for a snack offering).  We love chatting with and about them.  I enjoy telling people about Sheila, our feminist chicken.  She's the biggest girl, but that doesn't mean she has to lay eggs for our gratification, thank you very much.

bunny refugee

And then there are the misadventures, like when the cat chased a baby bunny into the chicken run and it made a beeline for the nesting boxes in the coop, where it settled down much to the cat's distress and the chickens' confusion.  All three chickens stood at the top of the ramp and peered into the coop, staring at the furry refugee and wondering just what the heck to do next, completely oblivious to the cat who desperately tried (in vain) to retrieve her prey.

peck & play

Now, we have the single most ridiculous chicken accessory yet: the Peck and Play.  Just the name cracks me up.  We can't have our girls roaming free, as our yard is unfenced on the sides.  Sometimes, though, they fancy a bit of a wander in the grass, so up goes the Peck and Play.  They happily destroy that patch of grass and poop away until it's time to go back in the run.  Silly chookies.

Monday, August 5, 2013

McConnell's Mill State Park

This week's Sunday trip was about an hour north of Pittsburgh to McConnell's Mill State Park in Portersville, PA.  Hubby selected a trail that he claimed the map told him was only half a mile.  Ha.  It was more like 2 miles over rocky and uneven terrain...and it was so much fun!  The girls start to whine and complain very quickly when the path is smooth and even.  They are bored.  They are hungry.  They are oh-so-put-upon.  But put them on rocky, uneven terrain with tree roots and stumps and rocks and bugs, now that's a good time!

McConnell's Mill park trail

Slippery Rock Creek

portrait time

red-spotted newt (?)

McConnell's Mill

Mama and Ellie

McConnell's Mill park trail

Next time, I think we'll be a bit more prepared.  Like not having the girls dressed in sundresses and sandals perhaps.  Like bringing along snacks and possibly poison ivy care (thankfully not needed but many plants spotted!).  Lucky us, unprepared as we were, we had a wonderful time.  We can't wait to go back when there is fall colour to enjoy.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Self-portrait challenge

trying out the TimerCam app

The ladies of A Beautiful Mess are hosting a 30-day self-portrait challenge (they are actually half-way through, but I only just learned about it).
To participate or not to participate?  That is the question.

Taking self-portraits has always seemed a bit egocentric to me (which is a bit odd, seeing as I love it when my friends take selfies).  I don't particularly love how I look in a shot on my own, but then again, no one else is taking the pictures.  If I try self-portraits, I can control the image and perhaps learn quite a bit in the process.  I have read that a lot of women find taking self-portraits makes them feel more comfortable with themselves and just being in front of the camera. Confidence-building, not ego-enhancing (or ego-busting, when the photos aren't so great).  I like how this seems to be just what A Beautiful Mess had in mind with the challenge.  Maybe a group challenge to take a self-portrait per day for 30 days is just what I need to try this thing.  After all, no one has to see unless you want to share.  Hmmm....

Do you take selfies?
Will you join in the challenge?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Recommended reading: My Berlin Kitchen

My Berlin Kitchen

At a good friend's recommendation, I recently borrowed "My Berlin Kitchen" by Luisa Weiss from our local library.  About halfway through, I ordered my own copy from the bookstore.

Luisa Weiss is the writer behind the food blog The Wednesday Chef.  I wasn't familiar with this blog before the book, so that's not what drew me in.  The girlfriend who recommended it had lived for nine years in Berlin, and she loved her life there.  The title captured her, but the story kept her going and helped her pass it to me.

Luisa is an only child of an American father and an Italian mother, born in Berlin but shuttled between cultures and countries when her parents parted.  Her struggle to find her place, her feelings of being torn and not particularly fitting in anywhere exactly, the battles between her head and her heart...all of these things spoke to me deeply.

As a US military brat and now an expat wife, I have spent my life on the move, never living in one place for a complete four years (the average is 2 years).  My husband has even less place-identity, spending most of his formative years in a country he will not live in again but still feels was "home" though it does not match his passport.  Before my marriage and our international travels began, at least I knew what country I belonged in, but now even that is less clear.  Battles between my head and my heart are rather familiar.  It is rare to find this nomadic sense of rootlessness captured so well and refreshing to find it in someone my age.  Secretly, I have to love that there is a happy ending too.

Add in the fact that Luisa is a serious foodie and I was hooked.  Each chapter tells a story from a particular period in her life, and the end of the chapter contains a recipe that she identifies with that time or place.  I've already purchased ingredients for her ragu and her buttermilk panna cotta.  I'll let you know how they turn out.  In the meantime, why not check out a copy of the book for yourself?