Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 resolutions

I know, how cliché. But I have never blogged my resolutions before and generally don’t do any, so indulge me this once. And wish me luck. Sort of a long list, now that I look at it. I’m going to have to print this puppy out.

Eco and volunteer work
  • Work on the new school vegetable garden.
  • Write one more grant.
  • Organize triathlon fundraiser.
  • Do fruit and vegetable tasting at school (kiwi and cauliflower).
  • Help with local eco book club and seed swap.
  • Grow one new vegetable at home.

  • Finish jewelry projects.
  • Read 45 books. Reread all of Harry Potter. Read at least two books in German.

  • Prioritize travel plans. (N and I did a brain dump on all the places we’d like to go in the next 10 years. Since we can’t possibly do them all, we really need to figure out which ones are the most important. Possibilities include: the Smithsonian, Outer Banks, Memphis, Quebec City, Mackinac Island, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Badlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, England, France, New Zealand and Australia, Japan, Aruba, Costa Rice, Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Fiji/Tahiti. Not to mention the places the girls want to go to again: Hawaii, New York, Cape Cod, Michigan, Germany)
  • See Kate! (Total cheat resolution. We already have plans to meet up -- so exciting!)
  • Go to Europe.

Me Me Me
  • Take care of myself. Skin care, flossing, physical exam.
  • Pamper myself. Buy me nice things. Buy some new clothing.
  • Do sprint triathlon in 1:49 or less. (My time in 2011.)

  • Get the kids to help around the house more.
  • Clean up my desk.
  • Declutter my closet.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Busy busy busy

So, exciting things are underway at our grade school. Our neighbors are landscape architects, and they made up a fantastic, ambitious and wonderful plan to change our school property from a dull wasteland that regularly turns marshy to a vibrant eco-system, with a vegetable garden, butterfly garden, two play areas, a peewee soccer field with a running path around it, native plants in the village-owned floodplain, a better engineered baseball diamond that doesn't flood, an outdoor classroom, etcetera etcetera!

Even better? We got our first grant, which will be used for the veggie garden. Everything else will come in later stages, but let’s face it. This is the best part. And it’s coming this spring! While my kids are still there! So I've been writing grants and making fundraising plans with a bunch of other parents, and it’s all been very exciting. One grant is pretty much my baby, and if we win that one, I’m adding grant writing as a skill on LinkedIn. I’ve always thought that sounded like fun. Whee!

So that thing I did, with the fruit and vegetable tasting during school lunches? That’s being heavily touted in these grants as something we are doing to fight obesity and promote wellness in the community. I’m happy that all worked out so well! Plus it's listed on the back of the school phone book as something the PTA offers to the students. Which is too bad, really, as I was sort of tired of doing it. Now I'm thinking kiwis and cauliflower for next time. Need to set up some dates.

So, because I don’t know how to do things in small doses, I said I’d put together one of the fundraisers. I thought I’d do something that fits in with my role as the PTA Wellness chair, so I said, how about  we participate in local races and raise money for the playground? Get some parents exercising, maybe do a little community building in that direction. I’m hoping for 20 people, at several hundred raised per person. The current plan is to offer training runs and bike rides this spring to get interested people ready for a 5K run and/or sprint triathlon.

NOTE: I've set up a new email account for this blog. If you've emailed me in the last few months, um, I didn't get it. I got locked out of that account. So embarrassing to admit. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Hi! This is a quick post to prove I'm still alive. It's been crazy busy around here, so just a little graphic I found. (from here

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Books books books

If you've wondered what business consultants do, here is an excellent summary: (from Follow link to view larger.)

Much though I sometimes complain about work, I do realize I'm part of a company on the FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Flexible hours, telecommuting, all the comforts of home while getting paid. Throw in some laundry while on a conference call. Only go downtown to the office a few times a year. It’s madness to complain. Plus they realize that they need to help bring a sense of belonging to the remote worker bees. Enter another book club. One I am paid to co-lead.

Yes, I’m cheating on Book Club. Yes, we gave Jean-Marie no ends of shit when she joined another one awhile back. This one is different, though! All via VOIP and no wine! That I know of! And I have a little blog on the internal company site as well, so, really, I’m cheating on all of you. I swear less on that one, though, how predictable of me. But all I say there is, this is our book. Come talk about it. Thanks, cheers, xoxoxoxo. So far we have discussed Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.

Our take-aways from that book, which is sort of a self-help book, is to be sure to be born to rich parents, so you can take a year to write a book about how to increase your happiness quotient. And live in NYC, hire a nanny to watch your kids (but don’t mention her!), and generally obsess about happiness.

She has a blog with some nice quick ideas, like 13 Tips for Dealing with a Really Lousy DayAnd this The Years are Short video is sweet.

In conclusion, splurge a little! Buy something to pamper yourself. And use your nice things. Don’t save them for a rainy day. There. That's probably all you need to know.

In January we will take a little time to ponder Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Wife of Charles. She wrote it awhile back, so she didn't know that she was supposed to call it The Pilot’s Wife. (See also The Senator’s WifeThe Time Traveler’s WifeThe Shoemaker's WifeThe Tiger’s Wife, … I’m sensing a trend.)

And in Real Book Club news, recent picks were: 
  • October: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  • November: Machine of Death edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki
  • December: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I enjoy voting. I believe I've voted in every election since I turned 18. Maybe missed the occasional primary. I know I missed the one for Illinois governor when it was between Blago, Vallas, and Burris, because I didn't like any of them. 

I only voted early once, four years ago, and it took much longer than it does at my usual place, where I’m in-and-out in ten minutes. I like being part of the process on the official day, anyway. I like wearing my sticker and being a good example for my kids. Today I was the 454th voter, at 11:30 a.m. Sounds like a good turnout.

However, I am annoyed that my polling place is in a church. My last place (same house, different polling place) was also a church. That one was of the Giant Wooden Cross on the lawn type. The current one is the Big White Pillars in front type.  Either way, annoying. Separation of church and state, anyone? I know they don’t generally get paid for the inconvenience, and there "aren't enough public locations" otherwise, or whatever, blah blah blah. But it’s crap, and I don’t like it.

Back in the olden days, I voted in an elementary school, across the street from my condo. It was great: leave the house, vote, get into car, drive to work. Then they moved it to the middle school 2 blocks away. Grumble.

One of my friends in Chicago voted in a car dealership several times. I think that’s hysterical. Plenty of room, not particularly crowded on a Tuesday. Works great. No, I'm not sure whether it was for an American company.

So. Here’s hoping the disenfranchisement, ballot fraud (Really, Ohio. I hope someone goes to jail for that.), and other assorted bullshit don’t make this country an embarrassment. Because despite the electoral college, voting is still my favorite civic duty.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bringing in the harvest

So, yesterday I took some time to bring in the apple harvest. I'm so grateful we have a large basement with a full-sized freezer. I also have a lot of canning jars to freeze excess produce.

I'm not too sore today. You would think working in the fields like this, for a white-collar professional like myself, might be hard on the back. But I feel good.

I find it satisfying, giving my family organic food that we've raised ourselves. This should really help cut costs at the grocery store!

Here the entire harvest, from both trees. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I started writing in a journal when I was maybe 9. I wish I didn’t remember my first entry, but I do. It was “I’m wise beyond my years.” Cringe. Good lord, that’s awful. I wonder what I had been reading. But despite that awful beginning, I continued writing.

It was on and off for a long time, until late high school or so. In college I remember writing down where I went and with whom, in hopes that the short clues would help me remember those wondrous times later in life. More of a “calendaring” than real journaling. During a very bad relationship, I noticed that my writing had shrunken down to teeny tiny letters. Graphology might be a load of bunk, but I didn’t think that was a very good sign. I also continued writing in a regular journal as time permitted. Post-college I continued with both the journals and the calendaring. When I was pregnant with Boo I started a baby journal, and I’m so glad I did. I wanted to capture the emotions and thoughts as life chugged along, because no matter how good your memory, things fade. The baby journals (both of them) continued until Nea was 3ish. But it became clear that one journal would be filled with cute pages regarding how Boo’s bilingualism was coming along and adorable things she said, whereas the other was harder to write.

Along the same time, I was spending more and more time online. Well, me and the rest of society. I was researching apraxia and visiting message boards. Reading blogs. Hey, blogging is a lot like writing in a journal, I noticed. Why, this might be fun, I thought. Maybe help some other parents of kids with apraxia. Some other poor saps with insurance issues.

And that was fun for quite a while. I’ve enjoyed this time we had together. Obviously a therapeutic exercise for me during the hardest parts of Nea’s life. And things are still hard, but I feel so much more optimistic about her future now. My stake in the ground for when you’ve succeeded as a parent (assuming your child isn’t more significantly impaired than Nea) is when your child can: read, bike, and swim. And Nea can now do all three of those things. Poorly, but she is making good progress.

It’s a funny thing, making a little corner of the internet yours. Meeting other bloggers, and then watching them stop blogging. Oh, all the wonderful people who just … quit. Then there was a weird coincidence recently when several popular bloggers announced their divorces just as the first giant wave of neighborhood divorces were hitting around us. Like the whole world all decided at once. I guess I must be at that age. The age everyone divorces. (We’re fine, thanks.)

Anyway, I know this all sounds like a good-bye. And I don’t think it is. But I probably need to figure out a new reason to blog. Because I feel pretty good about Nea, and she’s definitely been the driving force behind this blog thus far.

So, in conclusion and furthermore, if you have a kid of the appropriate age, consider buying them a new journal. It’s cheap therapy and will probably help their SAT scores or something.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Garden 2012

Well. It’s been a bit of a year, in terms of veggie gardening. I guess you can’t win them all. The spring was confusing, with record highs, then normal cold temps, up and down. It was the hottest July on record; we’ve had several violent storms, including one massive hailstorm. All during a drought. It’s not ideal. Our apple CSA was cancelled for lack of a harvest.

Add to that the damn varmints. Something is eating my large tomatoes. On the vine. Even the green ones. My very promising peach tree started out with 60 peaches. I finally brought in the last three green ones, in a fit of spite. I put out extra water bowls (we always have two filled birdbaths) hoping that that would help stop the destruction. It didn’t. The vine stem borers are slowing killing my zucchini. A total of 2 zukes harvested to date.

N put up a fence. Today I saw a baby bunny inside the fence. I think it’s keeping out exactly 0% of the animals. But it makes it harder to weed and harvest, so there’s that.

Behind the garage I started out with 4 melons, 4 pumpkins, and 4 winter squash. I’m down to one acorn squash plant. The others were trampled. What kind of jerk opossum or chaotic evil raccoon do you have to be to do that?

We moved the green beans. Turns out it’s not as sunny as we thought in the new location. Getting some decent yields now, but not like last year.

But to focus on the positive, I have a decent-sized cantaloupe hanging on the vine. One Red Rome apple left (all 6 Honey Crisps were eaten by squirrels). I’ve got some potatoes, and I didn’t even plant any this year. The peppers have finally set fruit. The carrots and radishes did well. Oh! And I grew daikon radishes for the first time, which was fun. Have also harvested a few cukes. Enough for two batches of pickles.

However, the real plus this year is the various neighbors I’ve been trading with. I got Egyptian walking onions (a perennial! woo!), some big zucchini, and a bunch of cukes. I handed out fresh basil, oregano, parsley, and pole bean seeds. I still have some. Wanna trade?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Club

So, the last few selections were: 

  • May -  The Fault in our Stars by John Green (looove this book. Contains both a Venn diagram [but not that one] and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Win!)
  • June - Sh*t my Dad Says by Justin Halpern (actually a better discussion than you may imagine)
  • July - Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt (good fun)

We've been skipping August for awhile now, as vacation plans make it too difficult to read or show up. 

So, September is my pick: 

  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

You know me and my whole end-of-times books. I claimed at that time to be over this genre. But this one is different! Cuddlier! No cults! Just a mom and her kids, trying to survive a global weather-changing event and the breakdown of society. You know. The usual.

I'm expecting a good, if depressing, discussion. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Traveling to Springfield with kids

Note: I’m stealing a lot of this content from my old buddy, old pal Suzanne, of book club fame.

Illinois State Capitol Dome, with welcoming statue

For those of you in Illinois with some long weekends on the horizon, may I suggest Springfield? It's very kid-friendly, teaches them about their civic duties, and most of it is being paid for by your tax dollars. Might as well go see what they are doing for us.

On the way down, assuming you start in Chicago, you can hit Pontiac, IL. Cute Route 66 museum (free!) and a good diner called Baby Bull's. 

In Springfield, visit:
And, if you feel like going on to St. Louis from there, I've heard very good things. I haven't been there (Except for a job interview once. Don't know what I was thinking, exactly.), so I have no advice, but Suzanne can set you up!

The portrait of John Peter Altgeld, best known for being Illinois only governor with any moral fiber

Nea telling John Wilkes Booth that he's a bad, bad man

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Touring the estate

When we stroll around our garden, we like to call it "touring the estate." Aren't we fancy? Sometimes we wear hats and sip fancy drinks, too. I'd like to take you on a short virtual tour today. Last year N ripped out the strange half-wall on the side of our old wooden front stairs. We immediately received a code violation notice from the village. So he applied for a permit and that shut them up. Here it is, over a year later, and he just finished the last finishing touch, which is the lattice under the stairs. (The permit was closed last year.) 

Also of interest in the photo is the giant coffee cup planter on the platform. I love it an unreasonable amount. 

I'm going to pretend this is a magazine article, and include notes on where to purchase the items shown.

Deck and railing: Azek
Hostas and front planter: trashpicked

See those porch windows above? They are the windows shown below. This is most of our collection of birdhouses. 

Birdhouses and rocking chair: Nearly all of them from garage sales
Bench: trashpicked

Last year we added another small raised bed. At left rhubarb, moved from a too-shady spot. Front is onions and peppers. In the cold frame, two tomatoes (one Brandywine, one sweet 100 cherry). Between them is a potato that just showed up. That's known as a "volunteer."

Rhubarb: Chivilo Family
Onion sets and tomato plants: Sneed's
Pepper plants: Long Family
Big Honkin' tomato cages: Menard's

And my old bean area (see the last photo) was becoming shadier year by year, plus I was really sick of climbing a ladder every day to harvest them. So N had to build another bed. Hmm. Seems like we're averaging one new bed a year. Interesting. 

The beans are blooming, so we should be eating them soon.

Trellis and magnolia tree: Schwarz Nursery
Bean seeds: Duffin Family

Monday, June 4, 2012

Just another crazy summer

Today is our first day of summer. School ended on Friday, but the weekend obviously doesn’t count.

I’m just documenting our summer so that in a few years, I can look back on this and laugh.
  • Camp Invention for the fourth year running. Science camp, 5 full days, at a grade school a mile away. Full of kids we know!
  • Farmhands camp. 3 full days, run by the forest preserve. Signed up the same week as 3 other families! Bonus: Hot lunch included that the kids cook/bake themselves.
  • Blues Busters Camp. Run by the park district next to ours, 3 full days. Way too much paperwork for such a short session. Last year we did 2 weeks here, but it’s twice the price of our local park district, plus we … are a little busy.
  • Intensive Dance Camp, 5 half days. Run by our park district.
  • Band camp for Boo, 5 short sessions. She is taking up the clarinet!
  • Extended School Year for Linnea, mornings in July. Her fifth summer attending. Seven miles away this year. Bus provided.
  • Hannah, from down the street. 3 weeks of 3 days each. So nice to have a local young babysitter. She brings crafts and fun ideas, and the girls love her.
  • Oma, sporadic days throughout the summer. German immersion! When she’s not busy with Knitting Camp! (She’s been going for at least 11 years.)
  • And, not completely settled, but very probably, three 90-minute sessions weekly (for 7 weeks) of Language to Literacy, run by a local speech center, but not our usual private SLP. 3 blocks away! Covered by insurance!!
  • Plus our regular tutoring and speech therapy.
  • Plus workbooks, reading at home, general educational stuff.
  • There's been talk regarding scheduling swim lessons, but I refuse to even look at the schedule until, I dunno, later. When I feel less overwhelmed. At some point. In the future.

I need to go get a cold compress. Oh, my head. Oh, the paperwork and logistics. 

For comparison, last summer was also insane.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fifth Annual Trash Pick

So, I flew solo for the big trash pick this year. The girls joined me for a few houses, on my way to dropping them off at my parents' house. (See previous years here.) This meant I could crank Yo La Tengo the whole time. So I did. Sets the mood, it does.

First up, a medley of items. Had my usual partner-in-trash been with me (she had an important softball game to watch), we would have been wearing these festive green hats. Top left, laptop bag, plastic storage container with flag paperweight, tie-dyed sheet, stationery and handwriting paper. On the right, two new Whole Paycheck reusable bags. Aren't they adorable? So me! I don't actually shop there, but I do recommend their bags. Knock down a hippie and steal theirs or something.

This is some gooood stuff right here. The Pottery Barn rug and vanity came straight out of a house and into my minivan. Much more from Nice Family (NF) below. We almost bought a cornhole game like this one last year. They are $100. So are rainbarrels, at least. Those big plastic containers will be used to grow potatoes next year.

You can see last year's very disappointing brussel sprouts blooming in the back there. 

Here's the sporting equipment section. New gardening gloves, too. The drill is from NF. Snowboard from my parents' neighbors. Also scored another pink flamingo. It matches the one from last year. The pair bonding was so strong that I was used as a tool to bring them back together. They are crafty animals, those plastic flamingos.

The kids have been playing catch with N ever since we got this stuff. I love trash. *happy sigh*

That's N mowing in the background. Left to right, a broken globe, which was almost immediately replaced by a beautiful $3 garage sale globe. This one was just to remind me that I wanted one for Nea. It's in a purple bike basket, to match my new purple bike (purchased last year for the triathlon), hand mirror and glasses in front. Why do people throw out glasses? You can donate them anywhere. People need glasses.

Next part, front to back, Easy to Bake Oven from NF, with mixes. I'm selling that. What a hunk of junk. A painted mirror, which I gave to a friend's mom. It's perfect for her summer house, and she loves it. New in box (NIB) clock, organizers. NIB flag and NIB hurricane lamp. Someone was throwing out wedding presents. (No, really.) Then one of my very favorite items -- old and sturdy gumball machine! Ooooh! And an assortment of purses. One of them is Tommy Hilfiger. I forget which one.

This is my OTHER favorite part. I should have counted how many beautiful books I started out with. I already swapped/gave away/sold a big stack. Some were in better shape than the same ones on my shelf. There were several book club picks! You can't see them all here. There are more in the box and the bag. Some in new condition. Poor little books. Unloved until now.

Another huge score from NF, a Dragonflies brand winter jacket with hood. As she handed it to me, she plucked off a sock. She'd just taken it out of the dryer. Nea loves it and wore it home. In the background, part of the swing we trashpicked a few years ago.

And lastly, I watched a guy lovingly put a newspaper-wrapped bundle on the curb. I swung back around and got it. What could it be? The suspense was killing me. So here we have it. Your moment on the Internet, old-timey people! Bet you didn't see that coming. It was probably 16x20 inches, and we couldn't rescue it from the broken glass it was stuck to. The frame is nice, though. We kept that. 

In conclusion, it was a sunny day. Ideal for picking trash. I love trash.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rhubarb Crisp

Rhubarb Crisp

5 cups rhubarb, chopped
¾ cup sugar

¾ cup flour
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon cinnamon
¾ cup oats
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup chopped walnuts

Mix rhubarb with sugar and set aside. Let stand.

Mix flour, butter, cinnamon. Add oats, sugar, and walnuts.

In a buttered dish (10 x 10 inches or so), place the filling, then the topping. Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream on the side.


I made this for Mother's Day for my parents. Everyone liked it a lot. The kids had seconds. I like rhubarb because it's so seasonal, easy to grow, and hard to find in stores. At least around here. And it tends to be expensive, so growing it seems smart.

And I know it's too late for Mother's Day, but here are three things I learned from my mom:
  • Always go to places early (zoo, grocery store, whatever. It applies everywhere.) before the crowds show up.
  • Wool is warmer than fleece.
  • Keep some candy in your purse for emergencies.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Technology and learning disorders

If your child has an IEP and any issues with learning, make sure your school is using the vast choices available in technology to help. I know it’s at least partially because of my pushing for a better curriculum that our district will be offering Co:Writer in all 6 elementary schools starting in the fall. See the product demo for info.

Here’s a writing sample from Nea using Co:Writer. There is no way she could produce at this level without this tool.
The rocket ship landed on the moon and the man got out. The man said one step for a man. The man said one leap for a man. The man go in the rocket ship. The man go back home.
Nea has been using Lexia and Symphony Math this year, and I asked whether it was available to us at home as well. We were the first in the district to ask and receive it. Just another free (to us) tool to use this summer.

We have not yet tried Khan Academy but will be using it with both girls this summer. It comes highly recommended, and it’s free. 

Our school district will have all kindergarten through second grade students using iPads this fall. Our school started piloting them two years ago, and now the program is expanding. I am, with the district administration, forming a district-wide support group for the parents of special needs children, and one of the first things I brought up was adding a list of iPad apps on the district web site. We need to communicate more widely what works in the classroom, so that the learning can continue at home. 

Low-tech, but worth mentioning: we received some unused workbooks from the school because I asked for more summer materials. They are from the mainstream math curriculum, but are the older versions that no one is using. You never know what you might get until you ask! 

Any other recommendations? What is your child using?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wo die wilden Kerle wohnen

I'm sure most of you, if not all, have heard the sad news that Maurice Sendak has died. I've been meaning to write this post for years. I guess today is the day.

Back, way back, when I taught German to high school students, I would occasionally read them children’s books that I hoped they were familiar with. Die Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt and Wo die wilden Kerle wohnenAnd also some others that were new to them, like Gustav will ein großes Eis and Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissenwollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat -- both also excellent, if somewhat weird.

Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt was pretty fantastic for the vocabulary covered. Days of the week, common food items ("Ein Stück Schokoladenkuchen, eine Eiswaffel, eine saure Gurke, eine Scheibe Käse, ein Stück Wurst, einen Lolli, ein Stück Früchtebrot, ein Würstchen, ein Törtchen und ein Stück Melone."), some nice adjectives. But Wo die wilden Kerle wohnen is that rare bird, a book that is arguably even better when translated.
Die wilden Kerle brüllten ihr fürchterliches Brüllen und fletschten ihre fürchterlichen Zahne und rollten ihre fürchterlichen Augen und zeigten ihre fürchterlichen Krallen.
That’s some fine literature right there. Makes the original seem a little wimpy: 
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.

RIP, Mr. Sendak.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Garden 2012

I could be weeding, but it’s pretty wet out, so I’m on my porch swing with a sandwich and a laptop instead. Only a few more Fridays that the kids are in school, and Fridays are my only non-working days, so gotta soak up the lazy while I can.

It’s been an odd Spring, here in Chicagoland. More Springy than usual. Other years we go Winter, Winter, OH HELL SUMMMMER! But this year has been (very mild) Winter, Winter, OH HELL A WEEK OF SUMMMMER! Then cold and dry. Then cold and wet. Then one day of HOT. Now back to Springy. It’s very confusing, but the plants seem to like it.

Been eating plenty of asparagus already, and the radishes are doing great. I’ll be making rhubarb pie this weekend, I think. Or cobbler if I’m lazy. And I might be. Moved the strawberries into a strawberry pot to make more room for tomatoes. Plus the chipmucks eat them all anyway. I have ideas about how to prevent that, now that I have a portable pot. Onions doing better than normal. Bunch of stuff self-seeded, like the bok choy, orache, broccoli raab. We’ll be eating lettuce soon. The raspberries that came over the fence from the neighbors are spreading a lot, but I like raspberries, so that’s fine. Peas, carrots, beets all coming up well.

Started seeds, of course. Green zebra and brandywine tomatoes, cukes, melons, peppers, basil. All pretty happy. Haven’t started the zukes and other squash yet. Can’t quite decide my game plan on them, vis-à-vis vine stem borers. Plant late, like last year? Worked, but the harvest is so late …

The beans are being moved to a new sunnier location. I’m hoping this means I won’t need a ladder to harvest this year, but only time will tell. I’ll post a photo when it’s looking like something.

Gave up on potatoes for this year.  Bah.

In a stunning upset, both the dill and oregano are coming up gangbusters. I know!

One more story. The neighbor kid was over here recently, and he said he loooves chives. I said, oh, you don’t have any? Here, I’ll pot you up some. So I randomly dig up a little dirt to put in the wee pot, and find N’s wedding band that he lost almost two years ago. What are the odds? So I asked N to marry me. He said yes.

Oddly, my grandfather also lost his wedding band in his garden and found it again years later. Apparently this skill skips a generation.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Apraxia and self-help skills

Twitter (via!/YTherapySource) alerted me to a survey on self-help skills for special needs kids, being collected by an OT. I decided to give it a whirl. As I took it, I realized that this was a nice list to start working on. (Reminder: Nea is almost 8, and has apraxia of speech and also limb apraxia, affecting her fine motor skills.)

It was also a nice list to see things we’ve made progress on:
  • Manages safety belt independently in vehicles
  • Can receive and make phone calls (to her dad at work)
And then there were some items I’m going to give a pass for now:
  • Knows the difference between putting out paper fires from grease fires
  • Cleans up broken glass safely
Here’s the list, with my comments.

  • Puts on and fastens a button up shirt   We don’t do a lot of buttony clothing, but we should make sure she can do a button.
  • Puts on and fastens tie shoes   Forget it. When she’s older.
  • Washes, rinses, and dries hands well   Key word being “well” – a comment that applies to this whole section
  • Completes nose care well (blows nose)
  • Brushes hair and manages tangles
  • Brushes teeth well
  • Flosses teeth well – OK, who am I kidding. Should work on.
  • Obtains soap and hygiene products for bath/shower
  • Uses a knife to spread foods (butter)
  • Uses a knife to cut foods
  • Those sections she is age-appropriate on, or don’t apply
  • Identifies the value of coins and bills   working on
  • Makes a simple purchase from a store or vending machine using cash with assistance
  • Prepares a cold snack (chips, fruit) or meal (cereal, sandwich) independently – Sounds like a really great idea!
  • Can dial 911 in case of an emergency – We’ve spent so much time on learning our phone number that I’m not sure whether she can do this. Need to check.
  • Follows safety rules when talking with strangers – working on
  • Has stranger awareness when asked to leave a location with an unfamiliar person – working on
  • Follows fire safety rules and knows family fire safety plan – should work on
  • Uses a key to unlock doors to enter house – should work on
  • Follows basic road safety skills (crosses street safely) – working on
  • Brings all necessary materials to school (homework, lunch, permission slips)  This section I’m willing to take the blame on. I’ve been taking papers out of her backpack and putting them back in. I need to stop enabling. It’s her responsibility.
  • Brings all necessary supplies home to complete homework assignments or projects
  • Completes homework and returns it on time
Also, I talked to our old babysitter, who is off getting a degree in special education (!), and she’s willing to work on getting Nea to ride her bike this summer. We’ve pretty much failed at this. Maybe she will be the lucky charm!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Carrot cake bake-off results

Note pictured: cake #6, which was a little late to the party.

There was a lot of smack talk leading up to the last book club. As you may recall, we had decided to get a definitive answer to the age-old question: what's the best carrot cake out there?

First, let's meet our contenders.

Are they not all gorgeous? The judges (2 non-participating book club members, one husband, two THRILLED elementary school kids) decided on two winners. The Best Looking and the Best Tasting. As it turns out, the same cake won both. I'll tell you which number in a minute. Go ahead and pick your favorite.

I've posted the recipe I used before. (Hi, Kate! Yes, your friend's!) That cake is a fairly substantial cake, with a lot of personality. I used the buttercream frosting recipe off the back of the powdered sugar box. Frankly, I was going for the looks category, as I think a good, moist carrot cake tastes much like the next. (And after tasting all 6, I'm sticking with that assessment. They were all very tasty.)

The winner looked like someone had just bought it from a fancy bakery. It's a lighter texture and flavor than my cake.


Jean-Marie reports that she found the carrot cake recipe on It is:

4 eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped pecans

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

2.  In a large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, white sugar, and 2 tsp vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.

3.  Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

To make frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled cake.
No word on how to make it so pretty, though. Apparently you'll have to figure that out yourself. She did mention having a set of those fancy icing tips, so you'll want to run out and purchase those. I used a ziplock bag with a corner cut off, as is traditional in my household.


(Drumroll, etc.) The winner was NUMBER FIVE! Yes, congrats to NUMBER FIVE, made by our own dear Jean-Marie! I did get an honorable mention for my marzipan carrots, lovingly made by me, using bits of pistachio for the green stems. Several people were surprised they weren't real baby carrots. Apparently not everyone wants raw baby carrots on their cake. Who knew!

Bonus shot of my cake. Because, hey. It's my blog. 

So that was a fun evening. We didn't actually talk about the book much. It was Inés of my Soul by Isabel Allende. Next month's is The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


This is one of my favorite photos of me. I'm just chilling on the rocky shore of Loon Lake, MN, rockin' the post-triathlon body. I was bleaching my hair for awhile, but I decided it just wasn't me. I'm pretty low maintenance.

Really, it's my homage to Adu Gindy. I'm sure my artwork will remind everyone of her seminal work, The Brighton Beach Barbies. Sadly, I can't find a single image online.

Duluth artist Adu Gindy parodied photographer Craig Blacklock’s series “Lake Superior Nudes” by shooting photos of Barbie dolls posed on lakeside rocks.
Titled “The Brighton Beach Barbies,” the work was Gindy’s commentary on the objectification and artificiality she perceived in Blacklock’s work. The opening reception was literally packed. What was to be a one-night affair grew into a three-week show.

N and I are nothing if not totally hip to the Duluth, MN cultural scene, man. We are sooo hip. We make cultural references so obscure that I'm not even sure where this blog post is going, man.

For the back-backstory, Craig Blacklock's work, A Voice Within - The Lake Superior Nudes (NSFW) Please, to note that the model (his wife) apparently is actually named "Honey."

Quick rule for determining whether it's p0rn or art? If it's in black and white, it's art. (rimshot)