Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reading List

I check out a lot of books from the library.  Part of the reason for this is my frugal nature combined with my voracious reading habit.  The other part is lack of space in our house to keep any more purchased books. 


I have several friends who love to buy books.  They love to have them to return to on their Kindle or on their bookshelf any time they want to.  It is a rare thing for me to re-read a book, and those that I do want to re-read, I’ll buy.  But if I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d have been bankrupt a long time ago.  And we would have absolutely no shelf on which to store another book.


So this thing sometimes happens with the library: I’ll create a list of books I want to read and then place holds on them- assuming that they’ll come in and be lent to me in a staggered manner- but then they all come in at once.  And then I feel pressured.  Pressured to read all of them, right now, instead of just returning them and putting a new hold on them for later.  Currently, I have 3 e-library books and 3 regular library books all waiting to be consumed… not to mention a book gift that I really want to dive into and the book club selection for this quarter.  It would sure be nice to just take a reading vacation for a week (not a vacation from reading, but rather a getaway during which I do nothing but read), but then I wouldn’t feel like I could savor each of the books.  Sigh… I think I have given myself the solution here: I need to return what I can’t read within the two-week loan period and re-request them for a later date.


But anyway, my idiotic problems aside, here is what I’m reading now, and I am loving it:



I resisted checking it out for the longest time – it has been on my “Amazon Recommends” page for months – because of the baseball thing.  Not that I dislike baseball, I just wasn’t sure I could handle a whole novel, and a long one at that, about baseball.  But here’s the thing: it’s not about baseball.  It’s just set in the environment of a college baseball team.  And loosely, at that, since half of the main characters (the book is told from the point of view of four main characters) are not on the baseball team. 


So I thought, maybe you have seen this book and hesitated like I did.  Well, hesitate no longer.  I can assure you that the story is engrossing, the writing is powerful, and even if you don’t like baseball, you will be intrigued by the circumstances baseball provides for these characters.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Recent Conversation

Tony: Whoa!  With your hand on your own shoulder like that, for a second I thought someone else was in bed with us!


Me: Does it creep you out?  I mean, yeah, I’m squishing our extra person.  The one I keep hidden underneath our bed.


Tony: …


Amelia: Why do people even want to have threesomes?  What would that extra person even do?


Tony: I know!  Like, sit in the corner and takes notes?


Amelia: Yeah, cuz they’re writing a book.  A book on awesome.


Tony: laughs


Clearly, we’re perfect for each other.  Not least because no one else could stand us.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Let’s Talk About COBBLER

Cobbler, the delicious baked treat, not cobblers, the people who make old-timey shoes.  Or maybe the old-timey people who made regular shoes.  Whichever.  I’m talking about YUM.


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It’s berry time in the Pacific Northwest, and because I can’t be counted on to enjoy anything in moderation, I bought a 14-lb bucket of raspberries from one of the local Rotary clubs.  That’s a lot of berries.  This is after I bought TWO 14-lb buckets of strawberries back in June.  And we have yet to get the 10-lb box of blueberries I purchased as well.


Many of them are consumed straight, over ice cream.  Or just straight into my mouth.  A whole bunch are frozen for consumption this winter, when the bleak days and lack of fresh fruits and vegetables make me crazier than usual.


But one of my favorite things to make with these berries is cobbler.  My recipe is a bit different than most cobblers, you see.  For one thing, it’s almost like a doughy cake baked with a bunch of gooey berries.  For another thing, it is stupid easy.  But the best thing about my cobbler?  The berries (or whatever fruit you put in it) are number one; so many cobblers are so sickly-sweet that you can’t even tell what type of fruit is in it, let alone enjoy the unique flavors of that fruit.  This cobbler is not too sweet and truly highlights the flavor of the berries.  Let’s get to it, shall we?



1/2 cup softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder

dash cinnamon (or more, if you like cinnamon or if your fruit simply begs for it, like peaches or apples)

1 cup milk (whole, 2%, fat free – it don’t matter)

4 cups of your fruit of choice (frozen works, too)

Sugar to sprinkle on fruit (the amount totally depends on how tart/sour your fruit is)

1 cup fruit juice or water


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.


So you start, as most recipes start, by creaming the butter and sugar. 


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Mmm, it already looks good.


Then, you add all the dry ingredients and mix it all up real good-like.  Then add the milk and mix some more, until you have a gooey, delicious dough.


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Then spread it around a greased 9” x 13” pan.


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And add your berries or other fruit on top and prepare to do the tough part of this cobbler: guessing how much sugar it needs. 


The berries I used for this batch were pretty tart, so I added about a cup of sugar sprinkled over the top.  However, if I were using apples, or strawberries, I probably would use closer to half a cup of sugar.  The most important thing is to keep the flavor of the fruit as the number one flavor and let the sugar just sweeten things a bit.


Finally, add your cup of water or fruit juice.  The berries will look like they’re swimming, and that’s okay.


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Put your pan in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.  You might want to put a cookie sheet underneath it to catch any berry juice spills.


When the timer dings, you should be blessed with this:


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Oh, my stars, doesn’t that look good?  I, myself, prefer to indulge this dessert with a scoop of Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, but you might prefer whipped cream or even a slice of cheddar cheese.  I find that it is perfect cold and without garnishment for breakfast (yes, I sometimes eat dessert for breakfast).


Tell me, what are your favorite berry recipes?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not Congestive Heart Failure, Thank God

So that was a little adventure, one that included a strong attempt by my entire family to keep the medical industry afloat.


By our 2 pm appointment at the doctor’s office on Tuesday, Charles was looking pretty blue and retracting like crazy.  I always expect to go into the doctor with a sick kid and be told “it’s nothing.”  I prefer it that way, in fact.  I prefer to be wrong about how sick my kiddos are.  I would much rather feel embarrassed about wasting the doctor’s time and the $30 copay than be affirmed in my own diagnosis of “Oh, Shit, He’s Really Sick.” 


I wasn’t so lucky on Tuesday.  Charles and I were sent straight to the ER.  Our doc called ahead and spoke with the doctor on duty and we moved through as quickly as we reasonably could – it is an ER, after all, and therefore much slower than desired.  Charles was listless, but enjoying The Lion King on the ipod, so he didn’t freak out too much until Respiratory Therapy came to give him an Albuterol treatment.  Oh, he did not like that mist blowing in his face.  And THEN, IV therapy came in to hook him up to fluids.  They had to immobilize his arm and that meant that I had to immobilize the rest of him, all while he was screaming and thrashing, “I don’t want to breathe anymore!  I don’t want to breathe anymore!”  He was finally so overwhelmed that he fell asleep, which was good because I just had to prop him up for the chest x-ray, rather than fighting him.


As it turned out, his lungs were fine.  Are fine.  Perfect, even.  The docs had thought he might have had pneumonia, but no.  It was just a virus gone bad, a perfect storm of circumstances that allowed him to lose most of his lung function.  We left the ER at 9 pm, Charles all hyper from the Albuterol. 


And then I crashed.  You see, not only did they tell me that they were considering congestive heart failure as a possible cause for all this drama (oh, shit, that’s when I felt like I came close to losing my baby), but my mom entered the hospital at the same time we did.  She had been feeling poorly for days, and they had travelled up to stay overnight before my dad’s biopsy on Wednesday.  She was white as a sheet and nearly doubled over in pain.  The diagnosis: perforated diverticulitis.  She has been in the hospital since Tuesday, and they’re still waiting to see if she gets better or needs surgery.  And yeah, my dad had a biopsy yesterday, well, 31 of them, actually, to continue his battle against prostate cancer. 


I’m overwhelmed.  I fell into bed Tuesday night like a rock.  I still need sleep.  And now I am sick with the same cold my little guys have.  But mine came with a side of guilt.  Tony has sacrificed work to take Jamie to school the past few days.  “It’s fine this week, but…” he said.  Which means I can’t make a habit of this.  As if I wanted to.  Charles is still home with me and feisty, but not well enough to go to preschool, which he tells me at every chance he hates.  We have employees out at the office.  And there’s no one to take care of me.  I still have to take care of everyone else and try to recover, too. 


Top that off with the fact that I have spent lots of time this week with Charles and virtually none, outside of late-night nursing sessions, with Jamie.  Charles is just so demanding and Jamie is just not.  I feel horrible about that.  I love Jamie and I wish I could create a better bond with him.  But circumstances this week have kept my attention trained on Charles almost exclusively.  I’m afraid Jamie will think I don’t love him or that I love Charles more than him.


What a vicious life, motherhood.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For the Kids

Charles is snuggled up behind me on the couch, watching Wallace & Gromit, the third “dog” movie I have started for him, because the other two weren’t The One.  When you’re three, “The One” refers to the correct movie, and not the love of your life, I guess.  Movies that weren’t The One included All Dogs Go to Heaven and Oliver & Company.


He was up all night coughing and vomiting and begging me for medicine to make him feel better.  There is no medicine that would make him feel better, of course, so I just rubbed his back and got him back to sleep every time.  There’s not a whole lot worse in life that seeing your child ill, but at least I have the benefit of knowing that he’ll feel better soon.  Poor kid.  I’m now killing time until the doctor’s office opens.


And poor me, poor Tony.  We haven’t had much sleep lately, what with teething and colds, and it’s starting to take it’s toll.  We’ve also been busier than usual, I think because we have some sort of subconscious fear that we’ll be bored if we don’t pick a major activity for every weekend.  Last weekend, we went to both A Day Out With Thomas and The Pacific Science Center.  I’m starting to recognize that we’re a bit too busy, so I’ve mostly been scaling back these adventures – it’s only too true that there is more to see and do in the world than we will ever have time for, and activity away from home really needs to be balanced with activity at home. 


The two weekend activities had an interesting contrast that got me all riled up on the drive home Saturday – I was riled up Saturday and then noticed the contrast Sunday.  At A Day Out With Thomas, there are all sorts of activities for kids: meeting Sir Topham Hat, taking pictures with Thomas, bouncy castles, train rides, balloon animals, temporary tattoos… and the train tables, by far the most popular area for the kids. 


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Have you noticed that both Jamie and I have a wonky eye in photos?


Now, I try not to be judgy.  I really do try.  You can, of course, name your kid whatever you like.  If you want a trendy name and don’t care that every other kid in your child’s kindergarten will be similarly named, be my guest.  If you want to feed your child a vegan diet, fine.  Your child, your choice, and I can’t begin to know your reasons.  But it just galls me that parents can’t let their kids be kids at some of these events.  Every time I saw a kid crying as they stood in the 30-minute line to take a photo with Sir Topham Hat because they wanted to play with the trains and they were hot in the 80-degree sunshine and scared of the guy in the suit, I found myself wanting to ask these parents if they were there for themselves or for their kids.  I mean, if you want a photo with Sir Topham Hat, great, but all your child wants to do is play with trains.  Why not let him or her?  Why force your kids to visit every exhibit, even if they have to stand in line and they hate it?  My philosophy is, I’m there for Charles and James.  We do what they want to do.  And what did they want to do?  Play with trains the whole darn time.  So we did.  And they were so, so happy.  Which made me happy.  No fights about standing in line.  No screaming “I don’t want to!” fits.  Just fun.


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At the Pacific Science Center, on the other hand, I saw kids leading the way, and it just seemed so nice.  I understand that with something like the Pacific Science Center, there’s a bit of a directionality and you have to herd kids from one exhibit to the exit when it’s time to go, but other than that, it just seemed so much happier.  No screaming, crying kids.  No angry parents yelling at their children or pleading with them to just wait in line for a few minutes longer.  So nice.  Maybe it was because it was mostly geared toward older children?  Whatever the reason, I felt on edge at Thomas, and not a the Science Center.


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Also, we got to see the “Japanese” branch of the family, and it was terrific.  Charles and Claire, especially, were just too cute. 


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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mug Cake

I made an incredible cake for Jamie’s birthday, if I might toot my own horn for a moment.  Devil’s food cake with rich, vanilla buttercream frosting.  Oh, I just about died when I put it in my mouth.


The best part was the frosting, hands down.  I’ve made a lot of cakes in my life, and though this one was probably the best chocolate cake I’ve ever made, without the frosting, it was nothing.  Recipe here.


I have some of that frosting left over.  And since it took about a million years and some serious whisking muscle to make, oh, and also because it is delicious, I want to use it all up.  I mean, EAT it all up.


So, I broke out my mug cake recipe.  This is modified from a bunch of others floating around the internet to be tastier and not as oily and it has served me very well through two pregnancies and countless bouts with PMS when really all I need is some chocolate cake.


You need:

4 Tablespoons of flour

4 Tablespoons of sugar

2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder

A teeny-tiny bit of salt

1 egg

3 Tablespoons of milk

1 Tablespoon of oil

Frosting or chocolate chips or both

A coffee mug (use your favorite, that always makes things taste better)


Mix the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder in a mug with a fork until well blended.  Add your teeny-tiny bit of salt.  Like, one shake from your shaker.  Add the egg and mix a little bit, at least enough to break up the yolk.  Add the milk and oil and mix well.  Add the chocolate chips if you want them.  Stick the whole mess in the microwave on high for 3 minutes.  The cake will look like it’s going to explode right out of the mug, but it won’t. 


Let the cake cool or you risk burning your damn mouth, don’t say I didn’t warn you when it happens.


A word of caution: This is not a good cake.  This is a good-enough cake for when you want some cake, but you don’t want to bake a whole cake and wait 45 minutes for it to bake.  It’s more of a decent chocolate-delivery vehicle for when you are tired of eating the chocolate chips straight from the bag.  It’s a bit on the chewy side.  Add some frosting and a glass of wine and you won’t even care.  Just don’t expect a miracle from cake cooked in the microwave.


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A perfect single-serving of good enough cake.  Mine’s not frosted yet because it is cooling.


I’m sharing this because I love you and because you deserve cake.  Yes, you do.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Shock 10 Years off Your Mom’s Life

Here’s my mom, some years ago:



She was a fox, non?


Here she is, a few years previous to that:



Adorable, am I right?


My mom turned sixty this June, and I decided way back in January that it was high time we threw her a big ass surprise party.  So I called some of her closest friends and asked them to help me plan, since I don’t exactly live in my parents’ hometown anymore.  My mom’s friends were wonderful.  They planned everything, spent countless hours and lots of their own money to throw my mom a fantastic party.  And the best part?  She had no idea.


She walked into a room full of about 45 friends and family, some of them from far out of town, many whom she would never have expected to see, each of them holding a “Jane” mask, and I honestly thought she might just faint.


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She covered well by laughing her ass off.


I think the key to making a party like this successful is twofold: have great help and keep the secret.  As I said, I did hardly any work – mom’s friends made the food, decorated the space, sent invitations, and planned just about everything.  I brought the booze, which is a valid contribution, I suppose.  I also kept my dad in line, reminding him to send photos of mom throughout her life to the party planning crew (they were printed out and placed all over the room) and helping him concoct a decent cover story to get her there.


But the real work was not telling mom.  Not letting anything slip.  I think that’s how we ended up with the Jane masks; mom’s close friend, Keleigh, was annoyed enough at having such a secret that she made a bunch of Jane masks for us all to hold over our faces as mom walked in the room.  That’s some creative retribution.


I can’t believe how well we pulled it off.  My mom’s so damned perceptive, it’s really amazing it all worked out so well.  And she, of all people in the world, should now have an inkling of how much we all love and appreciate her.  I hope she lives to be a hundred.

Friday, July 6, 2012

One Year

I don’t know if you noticed, but someone got a whole year older almost overnight:


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I know it goes quickly; this ain’t my first rodeo, and I knew that the year would move fast with a baby, and the added bonus of an also-growing older baby (big kid!), but I didn’t know that it would move at light speed.


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Oh, Jamie.  So different from his brother.  He still kicks and goes absolutely bananas when he sees someone he loves.  Especially Tony and Buster.  It’s like his whole body convulses with joy.  He’s amazingly gentle with the dog, and the dog loves him so much.  Jamie has mastered the art of waiting until our heads our turned before reaching down to Buster from the high chair with a tasty morsel to share in his hand.  Jamie didn’t always express much displeasure at his surroundings, but he’s started to throw little tantrums whenever I take away a “toy” that is not a toy or remove him from an object he’s not allowed to play with.  The kid seems to have a magnetic attraction to electrical outlets, the dishwasher, the dog dishes, knives, and the concrete steps.  He can race up stairs faster than you can say, “That kid is back on the escalator!” and he knows when he has something he’s not supposed to have: he grins and turns to waddle the other way as fast as his 12-month-old legs will carry him.


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I love him so much.  His little boy smell, his cute little hands.  His crooked teeth.  The way he sits and plays with a toy so intently, moving pieces around, picking up other toys to put inside a boat or a truck.


And his brother.  Oh, does he love Charles.  And Charles loves Jamie.


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He’s a thumb-sucker.  He’s a snuggler.  He doesn’t fight sleep (not much, anyway).  He might never stop nursing.  He’s in 18-month clothing, but not because he is so large round the middle like Charles was; rather, he is long.  His hair is so soft.  He kneads my arm as he falls asleep. 


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I went a bit all-out for Jamie’s birthday.  I wanted to have a nice barbeque with friends, especially since we hadn’t seen some of our friends in quite a long time (travelling to France, a surprise party for my mom – more on that later – and some other weekends away).  I made a deluxe cake and real, cooked buttercream frosting from scratch (ah-may-zing), and I did chicken shish-kebabs and strawberry shortcake and cleaned the house and the yard… we had a great time.  And I think Jamie liked the cake all right.


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Cook Newborn 80

Thursday, July 5, 2012

France, La Suite

When we were making plans to go to France for Solene and Chris’s wedding, the big question was, “where will we stay?”  I knew that my French family’s house would be packed with Solene and Chris and Batiste and quite possibly some other immediate family, and while I consider us “family,” we are in no way “immediate” – rather, we are “sort of, by invitation.”  Which is probably the best kind, anyhow.


We were kindly offered space with Guillaume and Soizic, Solene’s brother and sister-in-law, about fifteen minutes from Nantes.  The family also includes three children, Salome (12, whom I once babysat in 2001 when she was quite small and cute), Simon (8, whom I saw when he was about 12 hours old), and Philemon (4).  Salome graciously gave up her room to us, and the connecting wall was about 12 inches thick, so Jamie crying all night long didn’t bother anyone.  At least, not too much.


As I’ve mentioned before, this trip was less about sight-seeing, and more about spending time with people we love in a country I’d like my children to think of as their second home.  Perhaps one day we will be able to spend some serious time here, like, a whole summer in a rented cottage in a small town on the coast.  Until then, these short bursts every few years should do the trick.  We certainly don’t feel like we missed out on anything by not spending our days driving from ancient castle to gorgeous church.


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Trains are a universal small-boy language.


We spent a lot of happy mornings and evenings “en famille,” enjoying conversation and good food.


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Mmmm, brioche with honey


Luckily for Tony, both Soizic and Guillaume speak English, and I really don’t think that Charles and Philemon quite understood that they spoke different languages.  I mean, not really.  Charles will tell me that the only words he knows in French are “bonjour” and “merci,” but it certainly didn’t stop him from communicating just fine with the boys.


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Simon was so solicitous and patient with Charles

I know that Jamie won’t remember the trip at all, but Charles still talks about his friends “Phimelo and Simon.” 


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So thank you, Guillaume, Soizic, Salome, Simon, and Philemon, for showing us a wonderful time.  I cannot stress how incredible their hospitality was.  Perhaps we’ll be able to return the favor one day.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

From Sea to Shining Sea

2012-07-04 12.34.51


Happy Independence Day to you and yours.  We’re feeling blessed to live in such a great country, and in such a fantastic part of the country.