29 February 2008

Julia Child's French Bread *OR* The Hours

So, I've joined this baking blog called Daring Bakers. It's super cool. Every month they send out a challenge. One or two of the members choose a baking recipe that they would generally not consider because it is too lengthy, or too complicated or just too much something. They send out the recipe to everyone and we all follow it exactly. No substitutions, no experimenting. Then everyone blogs about it and publishes their posts on the same pre-ordained day. I thought it sounded like a ton of fun, especially when I learned that during December the challenge was a yule log.

So I signed up in the middle of January. I waited for a few weeks and low and behold, the first of February comes around and what was that in my inbox? Why it was an email from the Daring Bakers! The recipe was up on the blog and we could all begin. What had they chosen to challenge us with this month? Why, looky here! Julia Child's French Bread recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And holy cow! How long was this going to be? I wasn't sure but as I scrolled down, it just kept going! So I go back to the top, highlight the entire thing and print it out. Eight pages of 10pt font later, I had the entire recipe spread before me. Eight pages! This isn't a recipe, it's a novel. It should be titled, "The Complete Guide to French Bread for the Avid Reader by Julia Child and her writing team."

Knowing that I was leaving for Africa at the end of the month and having a crazy load of stuff to get done before I went, I contemplated skipping this challenge. (As a Daring Baker you can skip four challenges in a calendar year.) But what precedent would that set? Balking when it looks a little tough? Am I a DARING baker or what?! I threw on a little "Eye of the Tiger" and got myself pumped. Looking at my calendar, I only had two days empty enough to attempt this lengthy recipe. The first possibility was President's Day. Okay, better get it over with as soon as possible.

Fast forward to Monday, February 18th >>

As with all leisurely days, we got up late, ate breakfast late and after cleaning up and checking my email and daily blogs, it was almost 1pm before I started the dough. Nothing to report there. I let the ol' Kitchenaid do the hard work and since I make pizza dough almost weekly, I'm used to the kneading process. Julia's instructions were a bit different than any other bread dough I've made, but they weren't difficult to follow. Once I got the dough on it's first rise, Dug, the kids and I decided to go out to a neighborhood brew pub for lunch. Lunch was as good as it could be considering I had developed a migraine by this time. I had already taken an undisclosed amount of Advil followed by more Tylenol a little bit later, and still my head hurt enough to take away my appetite. I love food and for me to not greatly enjoy my Monroe St. Burrito was a major sign that my headache was something to be reckoned with.

Upon returning home, I took some more Advil and laid down, sleep being the only weapon left in my migraine-battling arsenal. After a two-hour nap, my head had finally submitted to the large amounts of painkillers swimming in my veins. Dug asked what he should do with the bread dough, assuming that it had killed itself waiting for me. I figured I'd go assess the damage.

Prior to rising, Julia suggests filling your vessel with 10 1/2 cups of water so you can know when the dough is finished. (It needs to be 3 1/2 times it's original size.) Amazingly enough, after over five hours of rising, the dough was just a little bit higher than it needed to be. The recipe said that at 70 degrees the dough would take about 3-5 hours to rise. Did Julia know her stuff or what?

So, I figured I would keep going and hope for the best. My only problem after the extended-rise/headache fiasco was flipping the risen dough onto my peel. (A peel is that flat piece of wood with a handle that pizza places use to slide the pies in and out of the oven.) After the dough is risen its last time, you take the poofy, oh-so-delicate loaf and flip it from the floured towel onto the cornmeal-strewn peel. The key is to use a tortoise strategy, whereas I'm more of a hare person. I fear that I deflated it a bit, but oh well.

After baking and filling the entire house with that loved-the-world-over scent of fresh-baked bread, the loaf had to cool completely. Something close to two hours. Are you freaking kidding me?! Nope, Julia wasn't. In order for the inside to "compose" itself (whatever that means) it really needs to cool completely. That's the way of French Bread apparently and since Julia hadn't steered me wrong yet, I decided to keep heeding her advice.

By the time the cooling process had finished, it was 1 am in the morning! Yep, you read that correctly. One o'clock ante meridiam! This recipe had taken me over 12 hours from start to finish! And what did I have to show for it? One 12-inch boule, or round loaf, of bread. That's an hour an inch, folks.

But oh! that bread. We decided to wait and have it for breakfast the next morning. (We'd only have to wait a few more hours anyway.) French bread with homemade strawberry jam and butter, washed down with hot tea. It was delicious.

By definition, French bread can be made with only three ingredients: flour, water and yeast. Who knew those three ingredients, under the correct conditions, could create such a blessed creation? Of course the crust was the true pleaser. Julia makes two suggestions when creating this bread at home. First, use tiles or a baking stone for the baking surface. And secondly, you must have steam present at the very beginning. The suggestion that I used, as far as the steam was concerned, was to throw some ice cubes directly on the floor of the 400 degree oven as soon as I slid the loaf on my baking stone. You might want to try another method. I ended up with puddles of brown I'm-not-sure-it-could-still-be-called water on the floor in front of my oven. If you follow her suggestions, though, you end up with a delicious loaf surrounded by the most exquisite crust. It is relatively thin, but crunchy and crispy and the perfect shade of golden brown. The crunch of the crust and the soft, chewiness of the inside was heavenly. (I'm pretty sure as I took a bite, sunbeams illuminated the slice and a faint Hallelujah chorus sounded.)

So was it a success, even with the migraine-intermission? Yes, yes it was. Would I do it again? Hmmmm...I don't know. That is an awful long time for one loaf of bread. Sure, most of it was waiting around, but it doesn't detract that hours and hours were spent for one loaf, no matter how divine. I might make another loaf in the distant future. Maybe making French bread is like giving birth. Wait long enough and you forget what a pain in the butt it is? We'll see.

All I know is this: With this post, I am now, truly, a Daring Baker!

28 February 2008

We're off!

This is my last post for a couple weeks. We are off to Swaziland! Wish us luck!

27 February 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

This will be the last Choice Goods post for a couple weeks while my hubby and I travel to Africa! I'm so excited!! I've been to all the countries in North America (snicker, snicker) and this will be my first trip off the continent! Moving on...

I'm trying so hard to vary it up, but I have to throw another kitchen item in the mix. Sorry.


Ever since I've started eating a more-or-less vegetarian diet, I've really come to appreciate avocados. They are delicious. (Try one in a grilled cheese sandwich, sprinkled with a little garlic salt and you've just experienced divinity.) The fact that they are high in good fat makes any dish more satiating. And don't even get me started on guacamole!

I normally buy a few every week. And though I'm great at cutting them in half and popping out the seed, I suck at making "lovely" slices. That is until I bought an avocado slicer. Now I make the most beautiful, unmushed, even slices. Photo worthy, even. (I just realized how cool it would be if I had some "real life" pictures of me using my avo slicer. Sorry, we ate the last ones the other day and I haven't gone grocery shopping.)

If you eat avocados in salads, sandwiches, whatever, this little gadget will make you so happy. Just slice the avo in half, remove the pit, and while holding one avocado half in your hand, gently press the slicer into the top and following the skin, slice through to the bottom. If you dump it over, out will fall perfectly sliced pieces of that delicious green fruit/vegetable/whatever.

The one drawback mine has is that it is one-size-fits-most. If you have an extra large or small avocado, you will have a little bit of trouble, either leaving some uncut or being unable to cut through without the skin getting in there. I've found that avocados, in general, are pretty uniform and it's pretty rare that one is so much on the extreme ends of the spectrum that I can't use the slicer at all. (Except those gigantic, kelly green, tasteless West Indian cultivars. Blech!) There are flexible, plastic slicers that are supposed to handle different sizes, but I've never tried one and can't vouge for it. I prefer the sturdy metal of mine, anyways. If you do try one, let me know how it handles.

So there you have it. I'm not a big fan of hyper-specialized tools in the kitchen. (Especially those ridiculous ones like the hot-dog cooker and the countertop pizza oven.) But in instances when you consume a lot of the given food, the old maxim "right tool for the job" holds its own.

Avocado slicers...they're choice!

25 February 2008

Welcome to Crazy-town. I'm the Mayor.

So, you might have noticed there aren't a lot of posts lately. Let me explain.

The last two weeks have been full, full, full. We are part of a science co-op that I had to prepare two lessons for. My daughter requested a doctor party for her seventh birthday. (Note: After searching the web for several hours, I have come to believe that no one has ever thrown a doctor party before. Sucks for me, I had to come up with everything on my own.) I just joined an online baking blog which sent out their monthly challenge that was pretty lengthy (read: took 12 hours!), and I have to lead my online book club discussions for our next book, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It's just a measly 754 pages. This all wouldn't mean much on its own. But throw into that mix that everything needs to be done before Thursday, the 28th, and the pressure has just amped.

You see, Dug and I are flying halfway across the world, literally, to visit my parents in Swaziland, Africa. We leave Thursday and so far I've checked off the co-op classes, and the birthday party. I've finished the baking but have to write up my post on it and figure out this way that I've found to get Blogger to auto-post. I'm halfway done with the nine book club posts which all have to be done before I go because our fearless leader, Bethany, will be publishing them while I'm gone. And on top of it all, I've had to find caring, loving, wonderful people to agree to watch my four kids (who are home-schooled and are home during the day) for the two weeks we're gone. Mission accomplished on that front, owed completely to people sent directly from the Big Man Above. I have to shout from the rooftops, "God Bless the Nowaks, the Traylors, the Wais, the Wises, the Seaders and the Mitchells!! May they live long and prosper!" (I know, I can't help myself.)

I know I could have moved things around, not made it so hectic on myself, but I have to confess something to you. I love a challenge. I want to get on the plane knowing that I did it all. It's some wierd masochistic thing or some west-coast, wild-frontier attitude, I don't know that there's much difference between the two. Just that when it's all said and done, I'll be able to brag, "Yep, I did it all!"

So, please forgive me for my lack of posts, I've got a bit much on my plate. Don't worry, you'll know how it all ends up...

21 February 2008

Factoid Friday!

Introducing Factoid Friday! I am a lover of the "weekly feature" on blogs. As reader, it gives you something to look forward to. As the blogger, it keeps me motivated and on top of things. With Choice Good Wednesdays and now Factoid Friday, you know that I'll be updating at least twice a week!

Now, just so you are clear, I need to let you in on a little-known fact. Factoid can mean two things. I think most know that it can be "a briefly stated and usually trivial fact." But that, my friends is the secondary definition. Want to know the first? According to Merriam-Webster Online, it is this, "an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print." Fascinating, isn't it? (Well, you may not think so, but I certainly do.) A word that has two definitions diametrically opposite one another. No wonder English is such a difficult language to learn.

The part I love is that using the word factoid gives me the flexibility to either let you in on an amazing/interesting/bizarre bit of trivia OR reveal the error in a commonly-held belief. The latter being oh-so-common since the onset of the World Wide Web.

So for today's factoid...

Many of you know that people throughout the ages have eaten the liver of various animals and deemed it quite healthy. Now, I know the veggies (and many omnivores) out there are squirming, but bear with me. (You'll get that emphasis/horrible pun in a moment.) Liver is very high in iron, vitamin A, vitamin D and the B vitamins. It is also high in a butt-load of other nutrients including, suprisingly enough, vitamin C! That's all well and good, but here's the kicker.

Fish oil is very high in vitamin A, right? Well, since Polar Bears eat a diet full of fish-predators, their livers have such a concentration of vitamin A that they are toxic to humans! The Eskimos, Inuit and other high-latitude Natives eat the other parts but leave the liver.

So next time you are stranded in the Arctic wilderness and kill a polar bear in order to keep from being eaten, you can eat everything but, please, leave the liver alone! After all your hard work defeating that 1500lb white-furred bohemoth, you don't want to go and poison yourself by eating his liver, do you?

So, remember me when you get the cash for the movie rights to your polar bear survival story...because I saved your stinking life!

And that, my friends, is a factoid.

20 February 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

I've been wanting to do a post on this particular item since Christmas, but other things came to the forefront. Back burner be gone! Release the Magnetix!

Over Christmas, Dug's wonderful mother gave the kids a 35-piece set of Magnetix. Magnetix is a cool building set consisting of magnet-ended rods and metal balls. Through the "magic" of magnetism, you can build all sorts of sweet objects.

The only problem is that 35 pieces was nowhere near enough. Fortunately, Ross Dress-For-Less had a bunch of sets. I bought two. One more with 35 and another with 85. So we're up to 155 pieces. And that's still not enough. I find myself just building and building until all the pieces are used up. Then I look sadly at the empty tin.

Whenever the box is opened, everyone gathers around and starts building. It's addictive. The tactile pleasure of snapping the pieces together, the instant gratification of creativity, it's impossible to pass by without building a quick little something.

A cool side-benefit is that my kids are understanding how shape affects stability. Since the rods can move along the face of the ball, a triangular construction is immediately obvious as the most stable shape. My six-year old daughter is constantly reminding everyone, "If you don't want it to move, make it a triangle."

Yesterday, while my oldest kids did homeschool, my three-year old kept busy building all sorts of things for almost an hour! That alone is worth buying a kit.

Being a bit of a nerd, it's obvious why Magnetix appeal to me. But they will appeal to both sides of the brain-spectrum. The left-brainers will love the science/building aspect and the right-brainers will embrace the creativity that this kit unleashes. And the coolest part is the complete lack of age-restrictions. (Well, that's not entirely accurate. You wouldn't want baby sticking those steel balls down her gullet.) In our family everyone from the three-year old to the thirty-five year old enjoy this toy.

Magnetix...they're choice!

15 February 2008

Stupid Things to Do #4536

So Dug's traveling this week. He's in Philadelphia. He's so happy because he gets to try an "authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich," from Philly!

My problem is that when he travels I have a hard time going to bed. I will get ready for bed, brush my teeth, check the doors, tuck in the sleeping kids, then sit on the bed and procrastinate by reading, cleaning, whatever. The act of laying down, by myself, and turning out the light is almost impossible for me. I stay up until 2 and 3 am postponing the inevitable. That is Stupid Things to Do #4535. What idiot mother stays up into the wee hours of the morning when her children are going to wake up at 7:30am no matter what? (Hint: she's the one who wrote this post.) Last night I went a step further. I stayed up making cupcakes and blogging, got ready for bed and finally laid down. The headboard of our bed is a small book shelf. Yep, you guessed it. I turned around and looked at the books. You can see where this is going right? Wrong. It's worse than you can possibly imagine.

Any wife who has had her husband gone overnight has worried about him not returning. Plane crashing, car crashing, whatever. It's a woman-thing. I think it's the main reason for my avoidance of going to bed. The bed is the loneliest place in the whole house. It's the one place where I go and, on a normal day, find myself alone. In the kitchen I will prepare meals alone. On the computer, I am usually doing something quasi-by myself. In the bathroom, I can lock myself in and at least have no one in the room, albeit they are usually yelling something through the door during my "private times." But in the bed, I'm always accompanied by Dug. It's a place where I am never alone...except when he's traveling. When I go to bed alone, it's the spot where I most vividly imagine him being gone forever. Back to last night...

What did I do? I grabbed this book called City of Refuge. It is a collection of stories about God changing lives compiled by a church in White City, Oregon. We have it because one of the women featured in it was a friend of mine. More accurately, her parents are two of my parents' oldest and dearest friends. What's the big deal, you ask. Only this. She died of cancer in 2003. The story is her struggle with, and ultimately, loss to that disease. I knew it going in, and I did it anyway.

Becky's story is sad, yet beautiful and encouraging. She was diagnosed when she was 28 years old. Three years younger than I am now. She was married with three young children and had three sisters with whom she was close, and one niece that was more like a fourth sister. The book tells of her impact on other people and the amount of love she had to give. It's about her courage and compassion that touched everyone around her and how her faith was her strength.

Perhaps the most poignant part was when she said, in a letter to her husband, "I would never give up what we had together, our lives and our children, even if it meant not having cancer. I would rather be fighting cancer alongside you than to be perfectly healthy and not have you in my life." She goes on to talk about life after her diagnosis, "I was so wrapped up in every day life...that I didn't take the time to really step back and ask what was important. Now that I'm sick, I get to spend so much more time with people...I wonder now if that's how it was supposed to be all along. Now I feel more alive."

Everytime her dad asked her how she was, she always responded, "Dad, I'm not giving up." Those were her last words. The last time he asked, she said the same thing, "Dad, I'm not giving up." and then slipped into a coma. She fought. She fought hard. But for some reason God decided that it was her time to be with Him.

While she was battling, she received a prophetic word that thousands would be touched by her story. Her family assumed it would be her victory over cancer. A short time after she died, they were approached about her story being included in the book and at that moment they knew, at least in part, what her struggle was for. They knew it was the story of her enduring spirit, complete reliance on Jesus and outflow of love during her fight that would be the inspiration to others.

I've had that book since last year. Last night was the first time I read it.

You can see what happened now, can't you? I finished the story about 2:30am. Then I cried for thirty minutes or so, because emotions are always more volatile at night and even moreso when you are freaking exhausted! I cried because Becky died and her parents had to witness the death of their child. I cried because I could die and leave my children and husband. I cried because my dad would be sad if I died. I cried because...well, I think you get the picture. But it doesn't stop there. I then had horrible dreams of my children drowning in frozen ponds. And when I woke up, I couldn't get back to sleep. It was a loooong night.

And that, dear readers, is Stupid Things to Do #4536. Do not, I repeat, do not read the powerful and heart-wrenching story of a family friend who succumbs to cancer after a valiant fight at 2am in the morning while your husband is traveling out of town.

Unless you don't want to get any sleep and you want to wake up with your eyes feeling like someone implanted Angelina Jolie's lips under your lids by mistake. If that's the case, by all means, go ahead.

14 February 2008

Heart = Love

Happy Valentine's Day, World! My kids had a Valentine's Party for their homeschool co-op and I made these cupcakes. Quite possibly the tiniest, cutest cupcakes ever. They are about the diameter of a fifty-cent piece. Literally, a single bite of sweetness. I have about twenty or so leftover. (I made probably sixty of the darned things.) I can't ship them to you, though. (Like Dug would even let me. He's kinda stingy with treats. Especially since I've got him eating "mostly" vegetarian.) I wouldn't even know how to get it to you with the icing intact, and you don't want to be licking the box to get all the buttery goodness, the cardboard would make it taste like, well, cardboard. So you'll just have to be happy with my thoughts and my pictorial Valentine...Find someone you love and let them know, 'cause it's Valentine's!

13 February 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Okay, there might be two problems with this post, but you're all going to have to just tough it out. First problem: I've actually mentioned this item on on the blog before but it was just a sentence and it was just in passing. Second problem: It is a website, not a thing you can buy, but oh well. Choice Goods Wednesday is my post and I can do it however I want. Right?


I really feel that not sharing about Pandora Radio is a disservice to humanity. So, to ease my conscience, I must share this amazing website. What is Pandora? To really understand, read this. But if you want a paraphrase, here it is. You know the human genome project? Where they were mapping out each of the genes in human DNA? Well, Pandora is the music genome project. They decided to do the largest musical analysis ever. They listened (and continue to listen!) to tens of thousands of songs, categorizing them according to their attributes. In essence, mapping out musical "genes," or the aspects of songs. They listen to a song and determine instrumentation, vocals, rhythms, harmonies, literally hundreds of musical qualities. By determining the different aspects of a song, they can "capture" the essence of what the song is.

What is the point? Well, this is the cool part. By breaking a music into its musical elements, they are able to put music together, not based on a subjective "genre" but by its specific qualities. For example, I like the band Feist. I'm in the mood to listen to it. I type in "Feist" and Pandora instantly creates a "radio station" based on the qualities of Feist and plays songs that have similar qualities. Right now I'm listening to Norah Jones because her song, "Not Too Late" has mellow rock instrumentation, acoustic rhythm piano and major key tonality, as does Feist. You don't have to know what all that means to understand that Pandora is a wicked awesome site.

While I was painting my back bedroom, I was totally in the mood for Jack Johnson. If I would have known about Pandora then, I would have had Pandora create a station off of Jack Johnson. The characteristics of his songs would have become the base of the station choices and I would have an entire radio station built of songs that perfectly suited my mood.

My son had a ninja birthday party. For the ambient music, I just created a station of "Traditional Japanese Music" and let it play in the background. It was perfect.

One of the best parts is that Pandora remembers you and learns from you. I was listening to traditional Irish music and American country started playing after a while. There are some basic similarities between the two. All I had to do was tell it I didn't like the songs it was picking and it changed the playlist. Now, I rarely have to deal with country because it "remembers." I love it.

You can base your stations on an artist or even a specific song. The problem is that you can't listen to a specific song. Due to copyright law, Pandora can only choose songs that are similar. But all is not lost, if you listen for awhile, the song usually plays. Also, Pandora only allows a certain number of "skips" during an hour of play. That has something to do with copyright law as well. There is advertising on the page, but not audible ads that music sites, such as YahooMusic, have on their radios.

I haven't found an artist yet that Pandora doesn't know. I have some pretty obscure bands that I like and Pandora knows them all. The cool part is that I am constantly hearing new artists that I really like but have never heard before. And they add new stuff every day. They want to have as much of the world's music as possible. I can't emphasize the variety of music they have. I have stations based off artists ranging from Frank Sinatra, the Chieftains, Beethoven, the Housemartins, Bossacucanova, Billie Holiday, it's all over the place. Whatever music you like, you can make a station out of it.

Pandora is an amazing music site that I absolutely love. It would be wrong of me to not let you all know of it's capabilities. I had to share. If you have any questions, ask me or, better yet, check out their FAQ. It is very comprehensive.

Pandora Radio...it's choice!

10 February 2008

The Beginnings of a Babette

I started it. And I don't just mean my Babette blanket. I mean anything bigger in crochet than a hat. It's pretty exciting. This is also the biggest craft project that I can remember ever trying. I made a Christmas tree skirt and my own skirt, but that's it. Woohoo!

I finished the squares that are two-rounds. There were fifty of them. I like that I get to switch colors often. Then I saw that I have to make forty-nine four-round squares. Which is pretty much everything I just did and then make them twice as big. So the progress, although swift at first, is slowing and the blanket, as a whole, will take a lot longer than I thought. But it's started, and that's the important thing. (I'm hoping that blogging this will force me to finish if I start to wane in enthusiasm. The ol' "Can't let the readers down" trick.)

09 February 2008

I love Newbery winners!

For the last couple years I've been checking off my list, reading every winner of the John Newbery Medal. This is an award given by the American Library Association to the author of the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." I'm 22% done so far. I love to read them because they are excellently written and generally pretty short. I can enjoy a complete story in one day if I so choose and it tends to be of great quality and completely lacking in the morbid depressing gray-ness that permeates much modern writing of today. Not that I don't enjoy a great piece of literature with controversial arguments and discussion-causing themes. I just like to intersperse them with something a little more encouraging and morally rejuvenating. That's when these Newbery's are perfect. So, without further ado here are three for you to consider:

1974 Newbery Medal - I finished Slave Dancer by Paula Fox and it is almost a painful read. It is the story of a boy who is press-ganged (kidnapped and forced to work) onto a slave ship. His job is to play his fife so the slaves will dance. This exercise keeps them healthier throughout the voyage. "Healthier" being a very, very loose term. The subject matter is obviously unhappy and almost unbearable. Even though it was disturbing, I recommend it. The author does an amazing job of describing the range of emotions the boy, Jessie, goes through. From fear, to hate, to disgust, to sympathy, it's all there and very real. The end is what I would consider, "as happy as you can expect." That sounds depressing but I don't mean it to be. It can't be wholly happy considering the subject, but it does have some happiness. Written very well and with the difficult sailing vocabulary, only the age of the hero and the length of the book would give indication that this was written for children. Fox excellently writes through the boy's eyes, giving him no more understanding than a thirteen year-old of that time would have.

1924 Newbery Medal - I also read The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes. Didn't mean to do a bunch of sea stories, but that's what the library had for me. In this book, Philip Marsham, a nineteen year-old raised on the sea, is taken ill and is left with his father's friend who is an innkeeper. While recovering, an accident forces him to run away and join the crew of a sailing ship. Of course, the ship is overtaken by pirates and it's "join or die." So Philip is now a "pirate" by association and if found, would get the gallows. A pretty fun read. Actually had me concerned for poor Philip at a few points. It was written in 1923 and I've been noticing that vocabulary increases in difficulty the older a Newbery winner is. Is that an indication that we are getting stupider? (Yes, I know, I wrote it on purpose.) Either way, I liked it. Wouldn't hurt you to read it.

1985 Newbery Medal - Latest read: The Hero and The Crown by Robin McKinley. Loved it! I am a sucker for swords and dragons and misunderstood heroines. Aerin is the daughter of the king. Her mother from the "Wild North" was never granted title Queen, so Aerin feels the uncertainty of her place in her father's household. This book is basically her "coming of age" story, but with a whole bunch of fantastic crap I didn't have to deal with when I was her age. McKinley has created an entire land that has touches of the familiar (dragons, horses, kings) but is wholly new and exciting. (And this was written in 1984!) I really liked it. As I was reading, it was full of such imagery I kept thinking, "They should make this into a movie." Everything from the talking dragon's skull to the stairs that take a hundred years to climb to the royal plant that can let you see the future or kill you, all of it was completely engrossing to me. I'm a sucker for that kinda story, though. If you want a good fantasy story that includes an outcast princess with a lame war horse that are "reduced" to fighting dragons, this one's for you. I can't wait to read the sequel, The Blue Sword.

08 February 2008

Get your crochet on!

I've been feeling better each day since I've started my antibiotics. My fever is gone and it seems that I'm able to regulate my temperature once more. Thank goodness. I also am able to accomplish a few household chores before I need to take a rest. Slowly but surely, the precariously balanced tower of dirty dishes we've been stacking with the skill of professional Jenga players, is becoming less and less impressive. And even though everyone's dressers and closets are empty of wear-able clothes, we can still wear our favorite outfits because they are all clean. Although it is a bit of an adventure finding them in the pile of laundry on our couch. The five loads double as a climbing wall and amphitheatre, keeping the kids happy and entertained. I'm just happy I can finally change out of my "just in case I run out of laundry" underwear.

I've been feeling better, but I hadn't been able to blog until today. (I don't know if it is a good or bad indicator, but it takes a good deal of my brain to come up with my posts.) So what have I been doing in the meantime? Crochet!

Unbeknownst to me at the time, it seems to be a far-flung passion as of late. Three of my friends have also taken it up. My grandmother taught me years ago and I go through seasons of love-crochet/don't love it enough to keep it up-crochet. 'Tis the season to love-crochet!

It started as hats. I made myself a little beanie out of brown cotton. I added a little white flower. But the hat was too big. I washed it and guess what? As is the pattern of late, it's now too small. So now my dear daughter #2 has a cute hat that matches her personality and hair coloring perfectly. Not too big of a loss, really.

Son #2 wanted an elf hat with ear flaps in turquoise, brown and yellow stripes. He carried the yarn around for a whole day while I finished his sister's hat. I have to admit it came out super-cute. Made a hat for son #1, but when he saw son #2's cool elf-hat, he promptly gave his lightning beanie to his friend (before I had the energy to snap a pic) and sweetly asked for a elf-hat for himself. We went to the store and after much deliberation, the colors black and red were chosen. His reasoning:

"Mom, I know that black and red are evil colors, but I don't care."

"God made all the colors, son, they aren't evil."

"I know, Mom, but on shows the bad guys are always red and black. The good guys are always blue and white."

Touche. What could I say? He's right.

Made two white and pink-striped hats for the two daughters, complete with flowers, but only daughter #1's turned out. Daughter #2's looked more like a clown hat, but it ended up okay because she got my brown hat, remember? Clown hat goes into dress-up and we're all winners.

Then I visited my friend Mej and made two hats for her daughters. One was a cream elf-hat with a pom-pom and a huge green flower right in the front. It is my favorite hat so far and of course I don't have a picture. (I actually made the conscious decision not to bring my camera. I have no idea what I was thinking.) I started the other hat but didn't finish it until I got home. It is shown at right on daughter #1.

Then it happened. I was looking around online and found the Babette blanket. (There it is on the right.) It's beautiful. I love it. And since it's a bunch of little guys put together, it looks like I might be able to finish it. (I have a slight crochet-attention-deficit-disorder problem. Hence the reason for all the different hats.) To cement the devotion, I bought and downloaded the pattern, went to the store and bought the yarn. $56 later, I'm committed. (to the blanket anyway, still no word on any institutions that would take me.) I told the hubby I just saved him $247! Which is completely true. The yarn that they recommend making the blanket with was $13.50/skein and it required 22 skeins! My yarn was only $3.19 and I only needed 15 of them.

So that's where I am now. I just started the Babette. I'm pretty excited.

More to come...

ps Can you tell my kids have been sick too? Daugher #2 was the only one who wanted to pose. Son #1 acquiesced; Son #2 and Daughter #1 fought tooth and nail. Hey, at least they weren't crying in the pics, right?

06 February 2008

Choice Goods Wednesday!

Today's choice good is antibiotics.

Since Saturday I've been so sick, I haven't been able to do anything. Crocheting was too exhausting. Getting up to go to the bathroom took all my energy and then when I came back to my spot on the couch, it would take me forever to warm up again.

Last night we finally went to the doctor. The whole family. All six of us crammed into a little doctor's room. Four of us had temps over 102 and the other two were okay. Of the fevered, my son was the only one who wasn't prescribed antibiotics. So we stopped at Bimart, got our meds and at 6:30, Dug, me and littlest daughter downed our doses. Fast forward to today. Our fevers are gone! Yay! The hacking cough isn't gone, nor can I take a full breath, but I am able to actually make breakfast for my family for the first time since Saturday.

Now, the cough syrup Doc gave me sucked. He said it would help my cough and let me sleep. Liar!! My cough was soothed for a short time, but that stuff kept me up more than normal. So no choice goods for that junky medicine.

I'm normally one to not go to the doctor. I figure most stuff goes away on its own and God gave us amazing bodies that are capable of dealing with a lot. When we get a fever, I let the fever run its course, only giving Tylenol if they are unable to sleep (or if the fever gets too high.) And only at the last resort do I call the ol' doc. But when it looks like it's not going to go away without some sort of medical intervention, I'm not going to be stubborn. We pack it in and head on over to the medical man.

That is exactly the situation we were in yesterday. And I'm so glad we dragged our feverish butts into our van and shivered the twenty blocks to the doctor's. Because of that decision, I can now write this post.

Antibiotics...they're choice!

03 February 2008

I was stranded in a desert...

Hey, all. Sorry for the silence. I've been at my dear friend Mej's house since Wednesday and she doesn't have internet. Not only that, but she didn't have any neighbors with unsecured networks that I could sponge bandwidth off of. It was a complete world wide web desert. That's why there was no Choice Goods Wednesday.

I actually called my hubby and asked him to log on and write a little post explaining the situation, but he was super busy with work. (He was in Atlanta on business, which is why I was visiting Mej, and had exactly enough time to eat, sleep and work. Poor guy.)

The low down: It was really nice to be free from technology for awhile. No cable, no internet, no blogging, no YouTube, no PlayStation. No pressure to respond to emails or comment on blogs. We mainly kept nine kids fed and happy, crocheted and talked. It was fun, albeit frustrating at times. We both would have things that we wanted to show each other, but they were online and we couldn't access them. Also, I wanted to get a phone number for a restaurant and couldn't look it up online. It's amazing how much I rely on the internet now. For business information (hours and prices), for entertainment, for communication, for creative ideas and instructions, and so much more.

So even though I was in a desert, the desert was a really beautiful place that I would love to visit again, although I wouldn't want to live there.

It felt a lot like when I stopped watching television. It's surprising how much you can accomplish and what creative ambitions you can follow when your time isn't being sucked up by that blinking screen. I don't put my interaction with the internet on par with tv, since I use it in a completely different fashion. I will admit, though, I do sometimes just get on and veg out, letting my mouse click wherever my mood leads it.

Soooo, I guess that's it.

(This post started as an explanation, but turned into more of an essay we could call, "The Internet and Tricia: Pros and Cons of Interactive Technology.", although we won't.)