Tuesday, December 29, 2009

3-2-1 contact paper

During our first week here, my mother in law and I ripped out all the old contact paper from my kitchen cupboards. It was like a history of shelf liners, all right there for us to get painfully under our fingernails.

This looks like original 1958 paper to me, and the dirt underneath it seemed to confirm that hypothesis. Gross! Beyond gross! I had to disassemble the wooden divider to get this out. Yeah, it was worth it.

I was thinking 1960s for the palm trees, until I saw similar Contact paper for sale at the local WalMart.

Obviously an early-1980s print.

Mid- to late 1980s. I may or may not have owned a cotton x-back crop top with a similar print. Or maybe it was splatter-print. Definitely the same color scheme, though.

White on pale green. My wedding colors from 1993.

The faux-marble look screams 1990s to me. (But, hey! Pull out shelves in the pots-and-pans cupboard! Super!)

My new shelf liners are plain white and brilliant kelly green. After this circus you can imagine I was not over-eager to choose an up-to-the minute print. I also used non-adhesive options - the squishy, grippy kind, mostly. I hope never to have to unadhere contact paper again. Blessings on Dr. G's wonderful mother for helping me through that ordeal.

My heart is half breaking that these maple cabinets are painted. I love that color of wood. However, we think we will need to completely overhaul the kitchen in a couple of years. It is too small, and there are a couple of minor electrical issues. (The lighting is really inadequate, and the old outlets don't produce enough juice to power my mixer and blender, for example.) So we will likely be saying farewell to them, anyway. Maybe we will move them down to the rec room to create an entertainment/storage wall.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A fond farewell

We bid a fond farewell to 2009, the year in which goals were accomplished, prayers were answered, dreams came true and new adventures were undertaken for our family.

Thanks for being part of it all.

We can't wait to see what comes next!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The sun came out today

I have had my crazy on for the last week and a half or so. I didn't even fully know it until today.

When we got here it was way below zero. It was cloudy and dark and as you now know we had no stuff and I was PMSing like a maniac.

Then we got stuff, and it was just like a 500-pound to-do list landed in my lap. And I started getting guilty about being behind on homeschool stuff with S, and I did something to my car (a much more minor thing than I feared, and it's in the shop now and will be fixed by tomorrow, but still!) and then I got sick. Yesterday I basically stayed in bed all day guzzling water. Then G and I caught up on a couple of our favorite TV shows. And today - so much better.

And the sun really did come out, literally, and it was 40 degrees Fahrenheit on our back porch, and I went to the gym for the first time since we arrived, and my mom called and I took the kids driving around the base of the mountains to find potential hiking spots. It was so beautiful.

I think I am really going to like it here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Dimlight Saga, or My Adventures Moving Into a 1950s House in Montana

Really I am just going to tell you all what's been up with us for the last 10 days or so ... I do not have the energy to write this all in the clunky Stephenie Meyer style with lots of gazing and brooding and stuff.

Saturday morning the 5th, we left my parents' house about 9:30 AM. Almost as soon as we hit the freeway, there were flurries, and once we got to about Kaysville it was just wicked. G says he counted 20 cars off the road. We just went slow, slow, slow and were fine. Didn't have any luck reaching V so we could stop on the way and buy an office chair ... but with the weather like it was it was just as well we didn't need to stop. We got lunch at Arby's somewhere around Tremonton (yum, I haven't had Arby's in forever!) and headed on up the road. The roads got a lot better through Idaho, but there was still snow on them so we didn't go much faster than 65 the whole way. I had a hard time with this (boring!) but I did feel like G was probably inspired to keep it slow so we could stay safe, so I followed (mostly). We stopped for snacks at the Super WalMart in Idaho Falls. Wow, what a zoo!!! Monida Pass was really no sweat; a couple of the other passes in MT had more snow but it was dry and powdery, not too hard to drive on.

So, we got to our house around 8 PM, found the key hidden under a brick, got in no problem. The realtor had left us a goodie basket and a beautiful wreath. I went to the store, we ate some ham and some scalloped potatoes my mom had sent with us, and we went to bed. There was only about an inch of snow on the ground in Butte, and again, dry and powdery, no big.

Sunday morning, G called the number his aunt had given us for the church. Turns out it was the bishop's house. The bishop's wife told us church was at 9, so we hustled and made it on time. The kids were shockingly good - between exhaustion and shyness they hardly moved a muscle all through sacrament meeting. I wonder how long until that wears off? We introduced ourselves in Sunday School and RS and EQ - the usual. G was in charge of recruiting helpers to unload our moving truck - we thought it would be Tuesday afternoon at this point. A family in the ward invited us for dinner so we went over and had spaghetti and sat on furniture, which was nice. They have two little girls, ages 2 and 4, perfect little friends for Z.

Monday we took G to start work, and I intended for the two middle boys to start school, but I had inadvertently packed their shot records and birth certificates in the truck. Oops. So I made some calls to get their shot records faxed from our doctors' offices in California. Then I basically spent the morning on errands and shopping - ordering phone and internet service, setting up our water account, buying little stuff for the house. And big stuff - I got the LG washer and dryer at Sears. I could have saved a hundred bucks or so buying them in Cali and moving them here, but oh well. I don't actually feel too bad about that. True confession: I only took Z and left the boys at home alone. They had the TV and VCR we had brought with us in the car, and their Legos, and they were fine despite my worrying. Notice my worrying was not enough to induce me to take 4 kids on errands.

About 2 in the afternoon we decided to go to the YMCA and get a membership and swim. Just before we were to leave, I noticed the basement toilet was unflushed and flushed it and walked out. Well, I cannot remember what made me come back downstairs but I came back down about 5 minutes later and the toilet was overflowing and running everywhere. I shut the flap in the tank to stop the running and then went out -- with all 4 kids -- to buy a mop and bucket so I could clean up. Came back and cleaned up 3 big buckets of water out of the bathroom, then remembered I should check and see if the water had run into the utility room. Sure enough. So I cleaned up there. Then we went to the Y, got our membership, and swam for about 45 minutes. It is NICE! Z had a big tantrum because she didn't want to go home, and K got all dressed and stood by the showers, which someone then turned on and soaked his shirt. I just took it off and let him wear only his coat home. Remember it was below zero at this point, at the warmest part of the day. Crazy crap.

Tuesday A and K started school. We found out the truck was delayed in Salt Lake. I threw a big fit on the phone and got them to give me $50 for every day they were late. S and Z and I did a few more errands and got the gas fireplaces in the house going. I had bought a small heater fan to dry out the utility room, which still was damp. I didn't want to take any chances of growing mold in there (it's a susceptible area). Plugged it in that night and went to bed.

When we woke up in the morning, the master bedroom where we slept with the gas fireplace on was all cozy, but as soon as we stepped out, BRRRRRRRR! The rest of the house was about 50 degrees. I first thought that the heater had just kicked off because of the fireplaces - the furnace thermostat is by the fireplace in the living room; kind of dumb if you ask me. But when I turned that off it just got colder and colder and the furnace did not kick on. In the meantime my new washer and dryer were delivered, YAY! So I spent some time with the Sears guys installing them.

When I went down to check on the furnace, I realized the header fan was not running, either. I had plugged it into the furnace plug. So clearly there was a circuit problem. I flipped the breaker a couple of times. Waited. No luck. Turned the fireplace upstairs back on so we wouldn't die. Finally went back down and started following cords from the furnace. I found an old 15 watt Buss fuse box and sure enough, the fuse was blown. I was really dreading going out looking for those fuses, but fortunately I found some spares in the basement storage room. Once I replaced it the furnace was humming again. More crazy crap.

That afternoon G's mom arrived from Bozeman, where she had been staying with G's brother, and of course immediately started working on my laundry. The woman cannot sit still. At least I had the washer and dryer so she could do something. The RS president from our new ward brought us dinner: ham and potato casserole, frog eye salad, sweet potato salad, carrots, and rolls. It seemed to us like a perfect assemblage of Mormon food and Butte food. Sweet potato salad is a local specialty. It's pretty good. It turns out the RS pres and MIL knew each other when they were teenagers here in town. It was a funny reunion to watch!

Thursday morning we expected the truck. I called to check on it. They told me it would not arrive until Friday. I cried and cried! I was so done with being in an empty house, plus I had horrible cramps and just felt awful. So we (G's mom and I) spent the entire day stripping out old Contac paper and cleaning out the kitchen cabinets. If I ever left a kitchen in that kind of state I think I would die of embarrassment. Yuck. Some of that paper and dirt had to have started along with the house in 1958. G's mom was an incredible sport. It was hard work, and the whole job just shredded my fingers and nails; they are finally not hurting now. In the evening we had Truzzolino's tamale pie, another local dish. It's a take-and-bake kind of deal. Pretty good. I have another one in the fridge waiting for a night when I don't feel like cooking. Probably gonna happen soon.

Friday morning the truck finally arrived. I don't know how this came to pass, but two men, two missionaries and three boys from the ward arrived simultaneously to unload. We had told people it would be Friday night. I don't know how they knew the truck was there that early. It was all done by noon. We are so grateful! G's mom unpacked the kitchen while I worked on getting boxes to the right rooms. Friday night we were invited to the bishop's house for pizza. The kids got along great and we really felt comfortable there - it was so nice.

Oh, and about my title: Almost all the lights in our house are these funky 50s fixtures that you have to pull down on springs and slide out the glass in order to change the bulbs. The former owner put really dim CFL bulbs in all of them. So you can hardly see in the house. I am going to have to go around and change all the bulbs. I'm terrified I'm going to break the glass; it will not be easy to replace if I do, being as old as it is. Also, the light switches are all Remcon relay switches, so every light can turn on and off from like 3 different places. It's a huge pain. One of the guys who helped unload the truck is an architect and he said they're worth a lot for people who are doing midcentury retro homes. Well, I am about ready to sell them off and get normal light switches. I looked them up on eBay and the internal wiring is worth about $40 per switch, to say nothing of the switch plates. We have 8 or 10 of them, plus spares in a box in the basement. I am starting to think that could go a ways toward paying for normal wiring in this house. So much to do.

But we are here, safe, warm, and relieved to be almost done moving. We miss our California friends. We're happy to be making new friends. We have good coats and a working furnace and beds to sleep in. Life is not too shabby.

Monday, November 30, 2009

So long, farewell

Next time you see me I will be a Montana girl. We are excited and ready to go!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy birthday, I've taken apart your life

Z is 3 today. We had a little mini party last week with her cute little friend A. Another friend was supposed to come but flaked on us. Thankfully three is too little to be too upset when only one friend comes to your party. We still had cupcakes, pink jello, and a Snow White doll. It was all good.

Everything is completely taken apart in our house. Packed in boxes and stacked in the garage. Only mattresses and scattered toys and big, heavy things inside. I tackled the oven today - inside it and under it. I hate that job. I think I will wait until Monday to tackle the fridge. Then the church ladies are coming (oh, I love the church ladies, they bring me food) and I will put them on windows and cabinets. I think the carpets are going to be a loss in this house. We have trashed them beyond repair. C'est la vie with little kids.

Monday we pack the truck. Tuesday we have a little farewell bash on campus, then we leave town. How sad, just when the streets are carpeted in the red and gold pistache leaves and berries, the air is clear from breezes blowing through, the temperatures are a beautiful 60-ish all day and cold and bracing at night.

Meantime I can look forward to another Sunday bawling my way through church. This sounds bad, but I am kind of ready to stop saying goodbye, and just go.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I spoke in church this past Sunday. I don't write out talks, so I can't post the whole thing without more effort than I really have time for right now (T minus 5 days to loading a moving truck). But I found some wonderful words from General Authorities about gratitude - especially Elder Scott. I have come to love his gentle way of speaking, and I can just hear these words in his voice.

I have saved the most important part about prayer until the end. It is gratitude! Our sincere efforts to thank our beloved Father generate wondrous feelings of peace, self-worth, and love. No matter how challenging our circumstances, honest appreciation fills our mind to overflowing with gratitude.

Why is it that the most impoverished seem to know best how to thank the Lord? In the highlands of Guatemala, members barely subsist. Going to the temple requires great sacrifice. A visit takes a year of preparation. There is hard work, sacrifice to save money and food, the spinning, dyeing, and weaving of new clothing. There is the long, barefoot walk out of the mountains, the crossing of Lake Isabel, the bus rides with little food. Tired and worn, they arrive at the temple. They scrub until they shine, dress in their new clothing, and enter the house of the Lord.

Reclothed in white, they are taught by the Spirit, receive ordinances, and make covenants. One highland woman was greatly touched by the spirit and meaning of the endowment. Entering the celestial room, she saw others seated, with heads reverently bowed. Innocently, she knelt at the entrance to the room, oblivious to others. She bowed her head, sobbed, and for twenty minutes poured out her heart to her Father in Heaven. Finally, with her dress soaked with tears, she raised her head. The sensitive temple matron asked, “May I help?” She responded, “Oh, would you? This is my problem: I’ve tried to tell Father in Heaven of my gratitude for all of my blessings, but I don’t feel that I’ve communicated. Will you help me tell Him how grateful I am?”

Richard G. Scott, Oct. 1989

Recently I stood on the north shore of a beautiful Pacific island gazing out to sea at daybreak. I was fascinated by the regularity with which the gigantic waves consistently moved forward to break on the shoreline. It reminded me of the constancy of the plan of the Lord, with its fixed, eternal law, and the security of enduring justice and the tenderness of mercy when earned by obedience. I noticed that each wave would crest at a different point on the horizon to find its unique path to shore. Some cascaded over rocks, leaving rivulets of foaming, white water. Others burst on the shore in individual patterns. They slid up the moistened sand with playful frothy edges, then bubbled and swirled as they receded.

I thought of the unending variety of possibilities the Lord has provided for us. We have so much freedom, so many opportunities to develop our unique personalities and talents, our individual memories, our personalized contributions. Since there would be no further opportunity to observe the majestic sea, I tried to imagine the glorious panorama the brilliant sun would later create. As I watched this magnificent scene in reverence, a window formed in the clouds; the glistening rays of the rising sun broke through the overcast sky, transforming everything with its luminescence, its color, its life. It was as if the Lord wanted to share an additional blessing, a symbol of the light of His teachings that gives brilliance and hope to everyone it touches. Tears of gratitude formed for this wondrous world in which we live, for the extraordinary beauty our Heavenly Father so freely shares with all who are willing to see. Truly, life is beautiful.

Do you take time to discover each day how beautiful your life can be? How long has it been since you watched the sun set? The departing rays kissing the clouds, trees, hills, and lowlands good night, sometimes tranquilly, sometimes with exuberant bursts of color and form. What of the wonder of a cloudless night when the Lord unveils the marvels of His heavens—the twinkling stars, the moonlight rays—to ignite our imagination with His greatness and glory? How captivating to watch a seed planted in fertile soil germinate, gather strength, and send forth a tiny, seemingly insignificant sprout. Patiently it begins to grow and develop its own character led by the genetic code the Lord has provided to guide its development. With care it surely will become what it is destined to be: a lily, crowned with grace and beauty; a fragrant spearmint plant; a peach; an avocado; or a beautiful blossom with unique delicacy, hue, and fragrance. When last did you observe a tiny rosebud form? Each day it develops new and impressive character, more promise of beauty until it becomes a majestic rose. You are one of the noblest of God’s creations. His intent is that your life be gloriously beautiful regardless of your circumstances. As you are grateful and obedient, you can become all that God intends you to be.

Richard G. Scott, May 1996

Our realization of what is most important in life goes hand in hand with gratitude for our blessings.

Said one well-known author: “Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.”

Thomas S. Monson, Oct. 2008

Gratitude is a state of appreciation, an act of thanksgiving, which causes us to be humble because we recognize an act of kindness, service, or caring from someone else which lifts us and strengthens us.

Ingratitude is the attitude of being unaware or not recognizing when someone has assisted us or helped us or, even worse, when we know we have been helped and have not given thanks privately or publicly.

In some quiet way, the expression and feelings of gratitude have a wonderful cleansing or healing nature. Gratitude brings warmth to the giver and the receiver alike.

Gratitude expressed to our Heavenly Father in prayer for what we have brings a calming peace—a peace which allows us to not canker our souls for what we don’t have. Gratitude brings a peace that helps us overcome the pain of adversity and failure. Gratitude on a daily basis means we express appreciation for what we have now without qualification for what we had in the past or desire in the future. A recognition of and appreciation for our gifts and talents which have been given also allows us to acknowledge the need for help and assistance from the gifts and talents possessed by others.

Robert D. Hales, April 1992

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veteran's Day Parade

Just another thing I will miss about Merced.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Above and beyond

Some might say it is too much to make a big batch of cupcakes just a couple of days after Halloween. Whoever those some are, they're missing out. On "tummy headaches," as Z calls them, to be specific.

Cider-Cinnamon Cupcakes
1 yellow or white cake mix
1/2 c. apple cider
1/3 c. applesauce
1 tbsp. butter
Mix and bake as directed on cake mix box to make 24 cupcakes.

1 bag confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. apple cider
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
Combine powdered sugar and butter in electric mixer. Add cider, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Beat on high 1-2 minute until soft and fluffy.

Ice cupcakes using a decorating bag with the tip simply cut off - no fussing with couplers and tips for me! Add sprinkles if desired.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Wanna see my new house?

I made a little tour of it, based on the listing photos, on facebook.

We just got the message today that it went under contract yesterday. Our aim is to close just before Thanksgiving and move the first week in December.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


We live near the best pumpkin patch I have ever seen. It's called Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch.

To get there, take CA99 to Merced. Get off at the exit to Hwy 140 eastbound toward Yosemite. Drive a ways out of town, between the orchards and the railroad tracks, until you reach Plainsburg Road. You can't miss it; there's a big trailer with a sign directing you to the pumpkin patch. Turn right. Drive about 4 miles to Baxter Road and turn left, following the handpainted pumpkin signs all the way. Park in the dusty lot, try to grab a wagon, and enjoy.

We've visited this pumpkin patch every single year since we moved here. We went yesterday with Sally and fam. Bliss. I don't know if I got enough of it. I might have to go back and drop another wad on cute squash and gourds, and this time enjoy the zinnias and sunflowers and do the corn maze. Yesterday I was a bit too busy chasing short people. But it was a perfect autumn day. Warm, breezy, ideal for judging a rainbow of pumpkins and snapping photos of the cuties. There were even a couple of guys sitting in the shade playing bluegrass. So perfectly beautiful.

If this joint doesn't end up in a major magazine sooner rather than later (Sunset, are you listening? I really want you to get this one before Martha does) I am going to be shocked and appalled. That's the PR lady in me speaking.

We had acorn squash tonight with our London Broil and bulgur wheat and grape salad. I have been reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (skipping the preachy parts, sorry) and today I feel like I am partaking of the whole shebang.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

California love

I have just been thinking about long lists of things I am going to miss about California and Merced. I am sure this list will grow longer. And then I will start a new list of things I love about Montana.

Italian cypress
Chinese pistache
Valley oaks
Year-round farmer's market
The bounteous Hispanic and Asian sections at Food 4 less
99c Only
Fresh figs (eating these today with new wistfulness)
Local avocados
Flip-flops in October
Morning fog giving way to afternoon sun
2 hours from the beach
2 hours from Yosemite
The bird refuge
Bear Creek trail
Happy Cows
Lake Yosemite
Daily summer swims
The strawberry stand on McKee
The flea market
Downtown parades for Veteran's Day and Christmas

More to come.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My little town

One thing I have wanted to do since I started thinking we might move: Go around my town taking pictures. Not that I am a great photographer - quite the opposite, I think - but I want to just imprint some of the things I have particularly loved seeing as I've driven and driven and driven around the streets of this town, listening to kids' music or loud girl rock or NPR (or whatever else).

So we did a photo expedition for a home school activity today. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway we saw a garage sale. And that was the end of S's patience for photo expeditions. All he wanted to do was get back and see if he could find anything good. In fairness, he has had some excellent luck lately with mint 1990s action figures.

Nonetheless, I made a little loop in the minivan and snapped some of my visual favorites. It's a gray day. We may have to try this again when we have a blue sky. Lucky thing about being in California for several more weeks: that's pretty much sure to happen.

Friday, October 09, 2009

In the bowl of the KitchenAid

Not a food post! Surprise!

Yesterday was the long awaited day. Dr. G. accepted a job. A post-Ph.D. job. A job for which he is qualified and prepared. A full-time job with benefits and appropriate pay. I think he is going to love it.

It's in Montana. Funnily enough, one of the places we used to discuss, back when we were childless and sort of drifting. We took long walks at night and talked and talked and debated and discussed and wondered and dreamed about our future.

We think we will move in December, although it may actually be sooner - we have to negotiate that. It is going to be beautiful. It is going to be fun. It is going to be cold. It is going to be tough.

I looked up Facebook groups related to our future new hometown and they are mostly about how it is for BAMFs. If you don't know what that stands for, it is mostly swearwords and I'm sorry I made you think about it. But I am seriously considering a big gun and a big dog, to go with my dreams of a greenhouse and tall pines and hardy apple trees and lilacs and maybe chickens. And maybe, if I am lucky, some killer Craftsman -style woodwork in the interior of the house. Although I wouldn't turn up my nose at a couple of the renovated Victorians I have seen in the appropriate price range, or a newer house on a couple of acres outside of town. Miraculously (so it seems to someone who's lived on top of the California housing bubble for the last six years) I have seen examples of all these that we might be able to afford.

We are going to have the chance to learn about a lot of family history stuff, because G's parents both grew up there. We are going to be fairly close to some family members we know and love and even closer to some extended family members we will have a new chance to get to know and love. We are even going to be 6 or 7 hours closer to my family in Salt Lake than we are right now.

We are going to have to leave this amazing place that has been our home for 6+ years and the wonderful people who have made it home for us. As you take that in, consider that I have never, ever lived anywhere for 6 years. In my life. Central California is, in that way, more a home than any other place I've ever been. This is where my kids have started school, where we have served in, like grownup callings at church, where I had an amazing and beloved job, where we have walked through fire to adopt our darling K and Z, where we have had the best support system you could possibly dream of as a grad student family.

We have loved it when the Chinese pistache trees turn red, when "white Christmas" means an impenetrable tulle fog over brilliant green winter grass, when the creek comes up to the tops of its banks in the spring, when the orchards blossom in the spring rain creating the most perfect blend of fragrance imaginable, when the strawberry stand opens in April just in time for my birthday, even when the summer heat sends us fleeing for the coast or the mountains.

Since I started telling people about this, I have gotten a couple of "happy for you, sad for me" reactions. Well, my feelings are mixed, too. I hope everybody knows that.

I know my Sally Lou's heart is breaking most of all. This girl saved my life when we moved here all destitute and lonely six years ago. How lucky I was to have a dear dear friend only an hour away. How lucky we have been to see each other just about every month, sometimes more, for six whole years. It is going to be hard to leave. That is very mixed-up.

But I do think all this is going to bake up pretty nicely. I have to hope so.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sunny, funny face

K and I got a little bored at Pack Meeting last week. (As Z likes to put it, "This is getting bowwing!") Not that we don't love the Announcements song ad infinitum, a bottomless detergent box full of goofy cheers (Cheer detergent, of course) and an endless parade of cute boys getting awards. Pack Meeting is great.

But you have to admit, this is even more fun. Do we foreshadow a career in the dramatic arts, perhaps?

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I have been craving icy/fruity/slushy.

Dr. G is out of town, so if I went to the Sev I would have to take all the kids. Imagine the debacle.

I decided to wait for them to go to bed and make up something homemade instead. Now that I have an awesome blender, might as well. Yum.

Sour Blueberry Lemon Slush

2 tbsp. blueberry syrup
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. honey
About 10-12 big ice cubes

Pulse and then puree. Drink up.

Dr. G has been gone since Thursday and will be back tomorrow. If I were somebody besides me I would probably be adding something stronger to this drink.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quick plug

If you know somebody who likes yummy-smelling, all-natural bath and body products (uh, like, if you know ANYBODY) you should order some great Christmas presents early from Lemon Grass Spa. I'm having an online party here. Click "shop online" and select my name. You have a few weeks.

Big hint - my favorite pictured above.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Open source

I'm afraid this is going to turn largely into a blog about me teaching a fifth-grade class of one. It is pretty consuming, but we are having a lot of fun and it is so good for our often-fraught relationship. So here is the latest thing.

Remember the homeschoolers you knew when you were a kid? Or did you? I did, in Alaska. And now that I understand more about homeschooling, I tend to think more power to 'em. But homeschooling then was pretty different. Or at least the homeschoolers I knew were. Homeschooled kids who entered public school at age 14 or so sometimes had big struggles because they hadn't had the social opportunities to prepare them.

Well, we don't wanna go there. So following the example of my friend W who has been so kind to shepherd me through the beginning of this process, I've started a club. Yep. A club. I based it on some other homschoolers' history clubs I've seen information about online, but tried to make it more suited to the kids I know, less partisan.

It's called Heroes Senate. And here's the skinny. I am happy to share what I've done so far. Let me know if you start a chapter. I think it would be fun to have a network.

Heroes Senate
Inaugural Year 2009-10: American Heroes until 1865
Guiding Document, Revised August 2009

What is Heroes Senate?
Heroes Senate is a values-based history club for home learners ages 8-12 in which we will examine the lives of historical heroes through the lens of selected values, namely these:
- Integrity: Did this historical hero stay true to his moral or religious understanding of right and wrong? How?
- Diplomacy: Did this hero strive to solve problems through communication and compromise? How?
- Equality: Did this hero treat those who had less power and privilege than himself appropriately? How?
- Discovery: Did this hero discover or introduce something new to make the world a better place? What and how?
- Patriotism: Did this hero love his country and strive to do his part in it? How?

Who Can Join and How?
For the present, the only membership requirements are that students be local residents (Merced County, CA) between their eighth and twelfth birthdays and that they be home schooled. A member may enter the club in September after turning eight or anytime after that when there is an opening, and will graduate from the club in June after turning twelve.

Heroes Senate is primarily designed as a complement to the already-running Liberty Girls club for younger girls in Merced. Heroes Senate curriculum will focus on male historical heroes with a few exceptions. Club leaders hope that a club analogous to Heroes Senate will be established for girls of similar age. All organizational knowledge will be gladly shared with anyone who wishes to start a girls’ club. If and when that happens, Heroes Senate will become a single-gender club (boys only). However, until that time, girls will be welcome in Heroes Senate.

The club advisor holding meetings in her home may hand-select companions for her own child or children as the privilege of running the group, before opening the club to all interested parties.

Heroes Senate will have no more than 12 club members at a time. Attendance should be consistent. Members who cannot attend meetings regularly will be expected to resign to make room for members who can, should there be interested students waiting for membership.

To join, contact club advisor A----- at ----- or ----------------.

What is Required of Members?
Club members and their families will be responsible for
- Procuring the assigned biographies and all presentation materials on their own (sources for purchase will be suggested by the club advisor)
- Reading biographies and preparing to contribute to values discussions by considering the questions in the Heroes Senate values list, above
- Preparing presentations on their own home school activities
- Taking turns bring snacks to meetings
- $3/month dues to cover costs of historical/cultural activities presented by the adult club advisor
- Participating in a costume pot-luck social in June

What Will Meetings Be Like?
Meetings will be held twice a month at the home of the adult club advisor, with the exception of the months of December, July, and August when there will be no meetings, and June when there will be only the final club social for the academic year. Each regular meeting will include 90 minutes of academic time and 30 minutes of social time, broken down as described below:

The first meeting of each month will include
- A 45-minute group discussion of an assigned biography of an historical hero, striving to establish if and how that hero demonstrated the Heroes Senate values in his life. Members should prepare for this meeting by reading the assigned biography (either alone or with a parent) and preparing to contribute to the values discussion.
- A 45-minute cultural activity (music, literature, art, science, or sports) from the time period of that hero, presented by an adult advisor
- A snack contributed by one club member family
- Thirty minutes of social time for club members and families

The second meeting of each month will include
- Five-minute presentations by club members on a topic from their home schooling (60 minutes total for presentations if there are 12 members of the club in attendance). Members should prepare by creating visual aids, costumes, hands-on activities, or other exciting methods to teach each other what they are learning at home. Relevance to that month’s historical hero or his time period is encouraged but not required. Members will be prompted by the adult advisor to ask and answer questions regarding each other’s presentations.
- Ten minutes for nominations and voting for the group’s favorite presentation of the day (encouraging excellence in presentations and teaching club members to honor each other’s efforts).
- A 20-minute lesson (including a hands-on activity) on Heroes Senate values from an adult advisor
- A snack contributed by one club member family
- Thirty minutes of social time for club members and families

The final meeting of the year in early June 2010 will be a family pot-luck dinner social at which all club members must (and family members may, if they choose) dress as an historical figure from the time period of our studies. All the boys whose presentations were voted as favorites during the year will be recognized with certificates, and a slide show of our activities for the year will provide the entertainment.

What about the Sticky Issues?
Students in the 8-12 age range are developmentally equipped to weigh and judge moral issues, and this will be encouraged. All the heroes we discuss may not shine in all the values areas. We may decide that some historical figure was a hero for discovery, but not for equality, for example. Heroes Senate aims not to ignore the imperfections of historical figures; however, discussions will be kept age-appropriate, so all issues may not be discussed. We will aim to teach that even flawed heroes may deserve respect and even loyalty but will also encourage club members to do their best to be heroes themselves in all Heroes Senate values.

In order to provide a welcoming atmosphere for a diverse community of learners, Heroes Senate will strive for political and religious neutrality within the framework of the Heroes Senate values. We will discuss what each historical hero believed in terms of morality and religion and whether they lived up to their own values, and encourage club members to decide whether they agree or disagree with each hero’s beliefs.

Today we talked about Squanto. I had read most of the book (Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims) out loud to the kids. Z told me yesterday, "Squanto is one of my best feelings." Yep, she talks that much these days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


This is not the only book I've read lately. But it's the only one that I can't keep quiet about for more than a couple of hours after finishing it. I can't believe I haven't heard more people talk about it.

I stumbled on The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing in a search for a novel set around the American Revolution to supplement S's homeschool curriculum for this year (fifth grade).

Well, it is most definitely not a fifth-grade book. I would think readers should be at least 13, older if they are sensitive. I may wait until Sam is older than that before he reads it, because I know he will identify to some degree with the young, African-American protagonist, and it's such a complicated and disturbing book. But I definitely will want him to read it.

The story comes to you as a first-person, 18th-century account from Octavian (that's the protagonist) mixed in with fictionalized "primary sources" to piece together his story from the times he's not able to write. Having spent a fair bit of time with archaic American newspaper prose myself in my college days, I confess to diving into this with a weird English-major joy.

Octavian is reared by eccentric philosophers in Boston, educated as an experiment along with his very young and beautiful mother, an African princess. When the philosophers' club falls on hard times, the truth comes out: He and his mother are really slaves like any others, subject to the whims of their owners, and their treatment changes abruptly. Revolution shakes the region and Octavian becomes a fighter, his horrible past providing an upsetting contrast to the still-inspiring (I think) idealism of the young men with whom he serves the cause of the colonies. Unwitting betrayal, captivity, and poison play their part. The end is really no end at all, because there are two more books. I can't wait.

(By the way, I dearly hope to see a black actor of the first order play the part of Bono, an older slave in the philosophers' household when this series makes it to the big screen, as it certainly must. Denzel, are you listening?)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back to school

So's not to leave out the toddler, we made a name tag. It made her happy.

Homeschooling S.

A gets settled in 3rd grade.

K makes his kindergarten debut.

My two middle boys at the elementary school.

Can you feel fall in the air? Yeah, me neither. We went swimming after school today. It's too early for all this back to school stuff!

Thursday, August 06, 2009


John Hughes died today, and I have been married for 16 years.

This calls for a story. It's a long one.

In August 1989 I was a cranky 15-year-old riding in the backseat of a very large blue Dodge van all the way across the country, and then all the way north, almost as far as you can go, plugged into a Walkman all the while. Dragged away, crying, pouting, and finally sulking, away from my friends and the school choir and drama programs and the voice lessons I had planned, away from radio stations and concerts that were oh-so-important, away from the long-haired boy I was sure would eventually come around and fall in love with me. Goodbye to the top-floor bedroom where I watched golden leaves float in dense showers to the ground and listened to the summer rains of western Pennsylvania beating the roof of the screened porch, to the squirrels in the backyard, to the giant hemlock tree shading the front porch, to the everywhere-lush green of the east. No more taking the trolley downtown to hang out by the Three Rivers Fountain and go to Eide's for records. No more covert operations to the Galleria to spy on the gorgeous senior boy who worked in the shoe store (different from the long-haired boy; I still had a wide range of interests). No more basement sleepovers to escape the oppressive, wet heat in the upstairs part of the house.

Oh yes, I was a delightful teenager, and I didn't dwell at all on what I was losing.

We arrived in Fairbanks, a family of eight, bedraggled and tired after some 3000 miles on the road. We passed the marquis of what would become my high school, and I could not figure out what the heck a malamute was supposed to be. The graphical representation was not all that good, as I remember. (It's a sled dog. You really can't blame me for not knowing. None of the popular Disney dogsled movies had happened yet.) I noticed that the auditorium was called Hering, and the pool was called Hamme. Great, a whole school of salted, preserved meats.

Skipping forward several days, I started my sophomore year of high school. Thankfully, I had made friends at church and my dear, wonderful Kelly - the girl who could sing AND play basketball AND was destined for the student body presidency - was showing me around. Before too long I found a crowd where I was comfortable. I settled into Concert Choir and met the drama teacher.

Then Seminary started. What we did, although I'm sure it wasn't the most righteous or diligent thing to do, was to sit on the floor in the hallway of the stake center and wait for the last minute to pass before going into our classes. All the better to people-watch. And I liked what I saw. The boy who caught my eye had pegged pants, argyle socks, a denim jacket, Converse All-Stars, and suspenders hanging loose from his waist. No visible hair, and a bandanna tied tight around a perfectly round head. My first thought, of course, was that I had found a Mormon skinhead in Alaska. I knew we had to meet. I asked Kelly who he was.

"Oh, that's Glenn," she said. "He looks like a rebel, but he's really all into scriptures and stuff." Apparently he had been the champion in the Seminary scripture chase the previous spring. He was a senior. Oh, the appeal of a senior boy to a sophomore girl! And everybody, it seemed, knew him and loved him.

The deal was sealed. I was on the hunt. I also heard he had an out of state girlfriend, but this didn't worry me.

Within a couple of weeks I learned through covert means that he was up for Homecoming King at his high school. Certainly not my high school. The two are mortal enemies. Then I learned he had won. All the stoners and nerds and punks and losers banded together and voted a punk rock kid homecoming king. Do you see the John Hughes element yet?

Naturally, everyone I had befriended wanted to get to that homecoming dance and see the spectacle. Everyone wondered how the crown would fit on top of his hair. Oh yeah, his hair. About 8 inches tall spiky crazy hair, sometimes straight up in the air, sometimes arranged in the messy nest of Robert Smith, sometimes sprayed into a peacock-tail fan. This was no skinhead. That was also ok with me.

Students from my school were not allowed at dances at his school, and vice versa. There had been horrible fights. We heard there might be a guest list, but it didn't pan out. So there was one thing left to do.

I dressed in one of my mom's old formals from the 60s. It was bright, near-neon paisley flannel with a black velvet bodice and covered buttons down the front. I put on my red lipstick, which my mother hated and greeted with "Here come Ana's lips!" I got in my friend Chris's tiny car and we went over to the dance. A girl named Cat let us in the back door.

Glenn wore Royal Stewart tartan pants covered in multitudes of zippers, and a white t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off and something written on it in black marker, I can't remember what. I did what any postmodern girl would do, of course: marched right up to the punk rock homecoming king and said, "I saw you at Seminary."

He had seen me, too, and didn't seem unhappy to see me again. We slow-danced to a Pink Floyd song. Looking back, for many years I thought it was "Wish You Were Here," but now I think it may have been "Blue Skies." When it was time to go home, I left with my friends.

The following Monday I wrote my phone number in the margins of my Seminary manual in my red "LDS SCRIPTURE MARKING PENCIL" and ripped it out. I gave it to Glenn on the steps of the stake center as the sun was rising. He called me that night and told me the detailed history of Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, Tones on Tail, and Peter Murphy. I started sitting in his car before Seminary, listening to music, instead of in the hallway. We kissed for the first time about a month later under a streetlamp in the falling snow, the cloudy sky glowing pink, reflecting the lights of the town.

After a breakup, a mission, and a lot of letters and phone calls, we got married on August 6, 1993 in the Salt Lake Temple.

It's too bad John Hughes never made a movie of us; it would have rocked. But 16 years of marriage (adorned with 15 years of higher education between the two of us, and four beautiful children) trumps any show I've ever seen. Even Pretty in Pink.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

No-bake cheesecake

You have to love food with a rhyming name. This recipe was inspired by an old favorite from Red Butte Cafe in Salt Lake City - formerly one of my favorite places, although it's been less wonderful the last couple of times I've been there.

Anyway, I made this up on Sunday for dessert when it was still way too hot to bake. It has cooled down this week, thank goodness, but I still think I might make this (or some variant on it) again soon. It is very, very intense and chocolaty. The kind of thing that makes some people say, "That's too rich," and makes me say, "Seconds, please."

Aztec No-bake Cheesecake

1 package cinnamon graham crackers, crushed fine
3 tbsp. butter, melted

1 8-oz. package reduced-fat cream cheese
1 6-oz container smooth yogurt - vanilla, orange or lemon flavor
1/2 c. cocoa powder
1/2 c. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 12-oz. package dark chocolate chips
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tiny pinch hot chili powder or cayenne pepper, or to taste

Extra ground cinnamon to garnish (sprinkle)

In a 9-inch pie pan, mix cracker crumbs and butter with a fork. Press to form crust. Refrigerate.

Using an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese and yogurt until well blended. Incorporate other ingredients on slow speed. Pour into crust. Refrigerate.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine chocolate and evaporated milk. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from heat. Add butter, vanilla and chili or cayenne and stir them in. This is a hot fudge sauce, by the way. Pour about 2/3 of it over the pie. Save the rest for your next ice cream sundae.

Sprinkle cinnamon very lightly on top of the pie. Refrigerate at LEAST two hours. Overnight is better, if you can wait that long.

So I am now thinking I could double the yogurt and cream cheese, eliminate the fudge layer, and make a perfectly respectable lemon no-bake cheesecake to serve with strawberries (which are almost done for the summer - I stopped by my strawberry stand today and they say they are going to close August 13. Sad!)

Honestly, I was surprised to see how well it set up. Way too easy.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Lightening up

Just some stuff I'm liking lately, with links to make it more fun for you.

- Lapis jersey knit skirt, convertible to strapless dress, cute with a t-shirt underneath. Not in stock on this wholesale website, which is mysteriously full of Fall 2007 clothing. Found at Marshall's in dark brown for $10. This would be so easy to make, and I might try. I wore it today with a lavender tiny-paisley-print, ruffled-front blouse to church, then with a t-shirt underneath the tube dress incarnation to a picnic.

- Navy blue nail polish on short nails. Yeah, it's pretty much the only hot new trend I can afford. So I tried it. I like it.

- Roasted beets. Yum. Except I just do mine with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put them in a salad with some goat cheese and yellow tomatoes and raspberry vinaigrette.

- Toy clearance at Target! Time to start Christmas shopping! And I already went, so you are all free to go get whatever is left.

- Green zebra-striped tomatoes from my garden.

- New vacuum cleaner. Can I get a woot? Anything would have been an improvement over my 8-year-old el cheapo model, but I have to say this one is just awesome. Hat tip to Consumer Reports for the recommendation (I finally bought my own subscription) and thanks to awesome mother-in-law who footed the bill for the new vac. We actually bought it at Costco. Sigh of love for Costco.

- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am so late to this party. We are almost through with Season Two on DVD. No spoilers, please. I am loving it.

- Segue right into my cousin Valerie and her hubs James debating Very Important Topics (like Buffy, Harry Potter, and So You Think You Can Dance) on American Nobody. I have still never met James, which is a shame. Because he has a cool new job working for one of my favorite shows and it would be better to brag about that if I knew him really well.

- My Teva Mush flip-flops. It's getting so I don't want to wear anything else. I love not working this summer!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy day

July 25, 2009
Fresno California Temple

Thursday, July 23, 2009


That's what my kids call me, even Z, and the Spanish speakers in the waiting room at the dentist's office think it's pretty funny. I do, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Our India

It's been a while since I posted an Indian recipe, but it's something I come back to quite frequently, as I did tonight. Here's what I love about Indian food:
  • Complex spices and flavors ... and lots of onion
  • Fresh and inexpensive ingredients, especially if you make it vegetarian, which I usually do
  • Contrasts - mild rice, spicy curry, cool raita
The thing I do not so much love about Indian food is what it takes to make it - long lists of ingredients, mostly spices, and many steps to layer all the flavors together just right.

However, today I took it easy somewhat. I put together the dal early in the afternoon, just heating it and adding the final seasoning mix right before dinner. The veggie curry with a pre-blended biryani spice mix was an easy one that I made up out of my head (so ok, it is probably inauthentic). We had plain white rice from the rice cooker. So I got brave and tried making naan for the first time. Here's how it all went.

First I made the dal, called this in my "A Little Taste of India" recipe book:

Parippu (a red lentil dal)
(edited with my substitutions and notes)

1 c. red lentils (masoor dal)
1 shallot, diced [recipe called for onion here but I was out of onions at this stage ... had to run out later in the afternoon and grab some]
1 large, ripe tomato, peeled and diced
1 c. coconut milk (save the rest from your can)
[recipe calls for two green chilies, chopped; I omitted them in hopes of winning over my children]
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 c. water

1 tbsp. olive oil [recipe calls for 2 tbsp. oil]
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds [recipe calls for black mustard seeds but I only had yellow so I used them]
1 tsp. ground cumin [recipe calls for whole cumin seeds, which are not in my pantry]
1 onion, halved and then sliced lengthwise
10 curry leaves [I omitted; if you think I am going on a search for curry leaves in a small town in central California with four kids in tow you are crazier than I am]

Combine all items in first group of ingredients in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook about 25 minutes or until lentils are cooked to a soft mush. They will lose their shape. If needed, you may add another 1/2 c. of water.

You may remove from heat and hold at this point until just before serving.

Before serving, place lentils on low heat. Place oil in skillet or small saucepan over medium heat and heat until it sizzles when a few drops of water are added. Add mustard seeds [and cumin seeds if you have whole ones] and cover until seeds pop. You might want to shake the pan as if you were making popcorn on the stove, to avoid the seeds burning. Add onion, curry leaves if you have them, and cumin if you are using ground cumin at this point. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are well caramelized (golden brown). Add entire mixture, scraping out pan, to simmering lentils. Season with salt to taste and cook 5 more minutes.

After you set your lentils aside in the early afternoon, start the ...

[adapted for electric mixer by me]

4 c. all-purpose flour plus up to 1 c. more for adjusting dough
1 1/4 c. milk
2 tsp. dry yeast
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. oil or ghee
3/4 c. plain yogurt (Mountain High full-fat plain is my favorite for pretty much everything)

Put the flour in your mixer bowl.

In a medium-sized, microwave-safe liquid measure, warm milk on high heat 1 minute. It should feel tepid, not hot, to the touch. Stir in a teaspoon of extra flour and your yeast. Set aside to grow. Wait a few minutes. If it smells yeasty you're in good shape.

In a small bowl, mix the egg, oil, and yogurt. Pour it into the flour along with the milk. Mix with dough hook on low until incorporated. Add more flour as needed until dough is sticky but mostly leaves sides of bowl. Knead using dough hook 5 minutes on medium speed. Remove hook. Cover with a wet tea towel or with plastic wrap coated in cooking spray. Allow to rise until double in size.

**Note that this rise will take longer than most bread recipes - maybe 3 hours or so! I think it is because of the active cultures in the yogurt competing with the yeast.

When ready to bake (start about an hour before dinner), heat oven to 400 degrees F. Place a 9x13" pan half full of water on the lower shelf of your oven. Place a stoneware baking sheet, or two if you can fit them, on the top shelf to heat before you place dough on it. A metal cookie sheet would work also if you don't have stoneware, but I used stoneware to try to mimic the effect of the tandoor (clay oven) where naan is authentically baked. If you use metal you will certainly want to oil the sheet. For the seasoned stoneware it was not necessary.

Punch or stir down dough. Remove from bowl and cut into 10 pieces of approximately equal size. Shape two at a time into flat circles, then pull one side to make a teardrop shape. I used my hands, but when I do it again I think I may use a rolling pin to make them thinner and more even.

Place two pieces at a time onto your heated baking sheet. Bake 7 minutes on one side, then turn them over on the baking sheet and bake them for 5 minutes on the other. Repeat shaping and baking for all 10 pieces. As you remove each batch of two from the oven, place them on a plate and cover with a cloth (I used two towels to hold in heat) to keep them warm and soft.

My book says they won't cook properly if you try to use the bottom rack of your oven. I decided not to test that.


While you are baking naan you can put these two recipes together:

Carrot and anise raita

3/4 c. plain yogurt
1 small carrot, grated
1/2 tsp. anise seeds, crushed in your hand

Stir together and refrigerate to allow flavors to combine.

Vegetable biryani
(I am just calling this "biryani" because that's the name of the spice blend I used, pictured below. The biryani recipe in my Indian cookbook is for lamb and involves sealing a pot with dough and all kinds of stuff. It looks amazing, and I am probably never going to cook it.)

1 onion, diced
1 tsp. oil or ghee
1 tbsp. biryani masala spice mix (see photo above)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, diced
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 package fresh spinach, rough-chopped
Leftover coconut milk from previous recipe (about 1/3 cup)

Saute onion in oil or ghee until translucent. Add spice mix and stir until fragrant. Add tomatoes, cauliflower and potatoes. Cook until everything is tender. Add spinach and coconut milk and simmer until spinach is softened. Season with salt to taste. Fish out any large chunks from the spice mix you can find before you serve it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Just a little photo story.