Monday, December 16, 2013

My favorite color is - RED! A recipe for the most red food I know: Borschtsch

Confession: I grew up hating Borschtsch. I don't know what went wrong, my mom is a good cook and did all the right things to encourage us to eat a variety of foods. Maybe hers was a long-range plan, and if that was the case, it worked out. When I was desperate to try to find something - anything - involving beets that my family was willing to eat, I made Borschtsch. It's great winter food. Root vegetables, fermented kraut, a little stew meat that goes a long way. Add sour cream for serving, which always makes my middle child happy, and you're all set for dinner. At 10am, no less, because this is ideal slow cooker territory.

Add to a large slow cooker in the morning:

4 medium beets, diced
2 onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 lbs stew beef, diced
3 cups or so of sauerkraut 
1 small can of tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp beef bouillon
1/2 tsp caraway seeds (if not already in your kraut)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried dill weed (Russian food must have dill weed, from what I have observed)
Water to cover the whole mess generously (since you will add some potatoes later)

If you want maximum redness (not pictured): Use dark red beets, red onions, fermented red cabbage and purple carrots :-). You can even use purple potatoes if you so desire and are a little OCD about the concept. Of course this is hypothetical, and not something I would ever do. Ever.

Add 4 medium peeled and cubed potatoes to the slow cooker about 2-3 hours before dinner. There, all set.

OK, this one didn't actually come out very red at all, because I had those beautiful candy stripe beets instead of the 'real' kind. But as I said before, there are basically no limits to redness in this dish. One way or the other, serve it hot with a scoop of cold sour cream added to the top. Delicious and so good on a cold winter night.

Friday, December 13, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trim a Tree!

I hosted the annual trim-a-tree craft event at our church this past Saturday. We made 6 different types of ornaments. Candy cane mice were made out of felt and candy canes, origami birds were folded, and some tissue paper pom poms were tied and fluffed. Beyond that, here are my three favorites in more detail:

A little angel made from a paper cone, and a wooden bead held in by a yellow pipe cleaner that was then fashioned into a halo. Add some Einstein-inspired hair and gold foil wings, and you have yourself a merry little angel. Gold stars are to crafts what bacon is to cooking. It never hurts to add some.

This all natural ornament was made from dehydrated orange slices, star anise, large bay leaf from the Indian spice store, and some cinnamon sticks. Start by tying the cinnamon sticks to the orange slice with some curling ribbon (or raffia, or rustic looking twine), then use Elmer's glue in liberal amounts to affix the star anise and bay leaf. Smells divine!

This was the simplest ornament in our line-up: Cut a simple shape from gold foil (imagine some very thin sheet metal, really), and then use a blunt knitting needle on a soft mat to imprint patterns or textures. Works for all ages.

All is calm, all is quiet..

Monday, December 9, 2013


I had high expectation for the past week and outside time - as I was mentally participating in the 1000 Hours Outside challenge, even though I knew from the get go that I wasn't going to actually tweet/blog/facebook about the minutiae. We did OK in the beginning of the week, with the weather still amenable to some outside biking, a visit to an outdoor sculpture park, and the two younger kids go to a nature based school where they spend hours outside on their school days. Come Friday, though, a very wonderful but busy weekend was upon us, and there goes that. (I'll blog about our tree trimming craftiness tomorrow...).

The DeCordova Museum's Sculpture Park in cold fog.

But today! We woke up to a white(ish) world and before I knew it, the kids went outside for the first session of playing in the dirty mess "snow", with their pajamas still on under their ski pants and jackets. Follows hot chocolate and some lunch, and not a single request for TV time later, they're back at it.

A few words of wisdom that I have learned way too late: If you want happy outdoor kids, you have to shell out for quality gear. Even though the rational side of my brain said 'what business does a third girl have, getting a new winter coat all for herself?', the mommy bear side of my brain made me go out and get her a brand new down jacket that has very, very significantly increased her outdoor endurance. The littlest ones get cold fastest, simple matter of heat transfer (surface vs volume, do you want a computational model on the side?), and it pays to get serious about keeping them warm. And woolen unders for layering - I could swear that a woolen undershirt adds as much warmth as a whole bulky fleece sweater.

And of course, it's my job to provide hot semolina dumpling soup when they finally decide it's time to come in again.

Friday, December 6, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Math In Real Life

I attended the parent math forum at my children's school today. It was interesting. One of the aspects I am thinking of, as I mull over the information we were given, was that the only applications that were mentioned for math in a 'real life' context were cooking (I obviously love that one...), money and time.
Time and money. That is why we need a solid understanding of numbers and how they work. I don't recall a connection to science or nature presented as one of the applications.

One might think this connection would be 'natural' (pun intended), but maybe our lives are so removed from all things nature now, that this is a stretch? What a loss. Nature is full of patterns - some are rediscovered by wicked smart engineers after much complicated optimization. In fact I'll steal their picture to make my point:

"Solar power research looks to sunflowers for optimum layouts"
Another cool nature headline recently showed the first discovery of gears (proportional functions!) in a living being:
A scanning electron micrograph image of the gears. Credit: Malcolm Burrows
If that doesn't blow your mind, what will? And we engineers (a little full of ourselves, as we can be) thought we had invented gears, when we really only re-invented them, never mind manufactured them on a micron-scale...

I've picked out two high-flying examples. Obviously, nature can teach us many more concepts, some simple, some mind-blowingly awesome and complex, if we learn to sharpen our skills of observation, patience (through the seasons, for example...) and analysis. Nature has a lot of symmetry, and other geometrical concepts: Bees always build hexagons - why? Snowflakes always have six points - why? Many plants and animals are made of two almost-symmetrical sides - why? Nature has negative numbers (temperature!) - but not always (concentrations! populations!).  I mentioned patterns already but I can't resist showing some pictures from this site, just because they're amazing. A growing pattern, a repeating pattern, and the last one even has two patterns, one way in structure, the other way in color. How much there is to see if you know how to look (oh! microscopes! multi-faceted lenses to make you see the way bees do! ... I'm getting side tracked already)


And these are just elementary school level concepts - you can tell I could probably go on for a long time, going off on all sorts of tangents.... Nature is endless, exciting and the best teacher.

Of course on the same day, I see this ad that convinces children of the opposite (you can protest here). Some days I'm just floored how far away from the mainstream my 'normal' seems to be. If we raise our children with such disrespect for nature and science, how will we ever raise a next generation that is able to rise to the challenges that climate change, environmental destruction and the resulting disruption of the food system, the water system, and really, pretty much every other system out there, will pose?

Let's make sure that money and time are not the only examples of 'math in real life' for our children.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

And so we wait ...

Christmastime is always a time when the cultures clash - two spouses with vastly different family traditions. The values of the liturgical season, called Advent, at total contradiction with what is going on in the world. Around us is not a time of quiet reflection, spiritual preparation and simplicity - it's a time of acquisition, rush and stress.

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps — you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.”
— Bill McKibben

In this household, one of the big debates is always 'When will we put up the christmas tree?'. We usually hold out until the middle of advent, as a compromise. For the next two or so weeks, however, we will still have something to look at and be reminded of the season: This year's advent wreath is not a wreath at all, but a set of logs, cut to order by the talented woodworker husband. My middle daughter helped me adorn them with mostly natural materials - we had some ivy, moss, pressed leaves, dried rosehips and some evergreen twigs. And big pine cones! Add just a touch of sparkle and put it all into the lid of a large cookie tin - done. It is the centerpiece at the dining table and the kids like counting down, as we light one more candle every Sunday until Christmas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The stitching equivalent of comfort food

I just love when a sewing pattern becomes so familiar that sewing it is almost like running, meditating or, really, any one of those repetitive yet calming occupations that put me in 'the zone' to the point that I let the dinner greens burn or the fire go out, or let the kids get into that suspiciously-silent type of trouble.


Two pairs of Anna Maria Horner's Quick-Change Trousers - the advantage of knowing this pattern so well is that I was totally comfortable adjusting them to a size 3T in slim/tall...

The leotard pattern has proven its (small enough) weight in gold by now - this time I made a slim size 8 for the biggest sister. She's particular about how her clothes fit, yet she doesn't size according to the generally accepted industry standards for 7 1/2 year olds... she has a hard life like that. I am always happy if I'm able to help out on that front, easier done for a leotard than for a ski coat...

Now I will get back to my gingerbread eating, sofa sitting self, and I wish the same to you over the long Thanksgiving weekend!

Friday, November 22, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Monday, November 18, 2013

1000 hours outside

Through the {this moment} series I came across a fairly new blog whose premise I really, really love: little shoutout to '1000 hours outside'! I am in no way acquainted or affiliated with them but they speak from my heart. I didn't think I needed help in the 'spend more time outdoors' department, after all the kids even go to a nature preschool two days a week! But who knows - 4 to 6 hours per day in the winter really is a challenge!

I think I'll play for the first week of December, to see if we can get to 18+ hours. Being so inspired I asked the two younger kids if they wanted to go on a nature walk. Little did I know that the newly minted 5yo had a plan hatched and ready to go. It was most wonderful, she led us through the woods on the trails in our neighborhood, explaining as she went. Cedar wood is great to keep moths away (something that has been on our minds lately...), and what is that skat? Dog? Koyote? Probably not deer (I'll spare you the picture, though I did take one, for further investigation!).

 When I pointed out the 'parachute seeds' and let some of them fly, she replied very serenely 'oh yes, milkweed seeds, they do that'. We found a vine to swing on, and then took 'the long way' home.

I must have been a good student because at the very end she trusted me to show me the secret hideout she, her older sister and some neighborhood kids have built. It felt very special to be let into her world. (Side benefit was finding her little sister's lost raincoat there... oops!)

This picture shows you a (hairy?) woodpecker. Can you see it, right in the center? It really is tiny, I used a zoom that represents the way we saw it from the ground, mostly to make a point: Children never cease to amaze me with their level of observation and attention to detail - I may well have missed that little guy.

We ate our lunch on the patio, watching the bees fly like crazy. Wonder if that was fall's last hurrah?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All tucked in

It was a day that felt a whole lot like the end of the season. The hardworking husband raked a lot of leaves, and piled some of them onto the garden beds as a sort of sheet mulch. I finally took the top feeders off the bee hives, and checked to see good amounts of stored honey, as much as I could tell without actually pulling frames. I still can't be sure there are functional queens in my hives but at this point it is too late to check or do anything. I saw bees, and honey. Now we hope and wait.

Oh wait! There is one more thing I could do to improve my hives' chances.  Wrapping the hives in tar paper helps to capture the warmth of the winter sun rays, and insulates the hives just a tiny little bit more. Now the story that made the day feel like a beginning, too: A friend told me of a friend of hers who lives in my neighborhood and also keeps bees that she wraps in tar paper. Not wanting to buy a huge roll just for this little job, I am sending out an email to a person I have never met - asking if I could possibly have some tar paper. And the response? "Sure I do. Shall we wrap all our hives together tomorrow?" How wonderful is that? I took some jam (since I have no honey, yet), and after a quick introduction, we wrapped her hives. Then we walked back to my yard where she taught me to place a straw filled shallow super on top of the inner cover, before putting the outer cover on. We stapled a screen bottom to this super and the straw inside will help catch condensation and keep what might be a clump of ice forming away from the brood boxes. The inner cover's edge is covered by the tar paper we installed, with a small hole cut for the top entrance. I feel hopeful for the bees, but even more hopeful for having made this new connection, a friend in my own neighborhood, through doing something meaningful and fun together. I wonder if it was more like that, when the first settlers arrived here, knowing that only through helping each other and learning from each other would they make it through the winters?

We are nowhere near meeting our own heating needs with wood, but what we do burn comes entirely from our own property this year.  All tucked away and ready to go.

Manic Mother

Saturday, November 16, 2013

All is NOT quiet on the Eastern Front

In the past 2 weeks, I have attended two organizing meetings related to Climate Action. Each time, I could barely motivate myself to leave the house, because I was tired, I had a lot to do, and I felt discouraged anyway. Each time, I expected yet another informative evening with friendly people, but little to take home as far as tangible actions. Both times, I instead came away energized by how different the climate movement seems this fall, even compared to just 12 short months ago. There is so much more deliberate action, skill and organizational talent at work. The momentum is building and the energy in the room has changed.

Paraphrased quotes from attendees of both meetings include:

"We're done trying to educate people. We have reached those who want to learn the facts, now we're moving forward in action" ~ "Climate Change is no longer an environmental issue. It is about health, jobs, safety and the economy" ~ "Individual action is admirable but ineffective. Community action is necessary, but there is a systemic problem that has to be addressed, and it has to happen quickly" ~ "Changing lightbulbs is good, changing senators is better" ~ "It has to be a struggle" ~ "Scientific talk and facts don't get people to act. Stories and relationships do" ~ "It always seems impossible, until it is done (Nelson Mandela)"

In my jumbled way, I'm probably not conveying the focus and skillful organizing behind some very specific targets that several groups are pursuing. For my home state, the global warming solutions act not only empowers the governor, but also requires of him, to put in place a plan that will allow MA to meet the targets specified.

To get there, the agenda is simple:
1) Ban the worst. Do not allow any more infrastructure for fossil based energy to be put in place
2) Build the best. Only invest in sustainable solutions.
3) Set us on a path for a price for carbon.

Several groups, among them Mothers Out Front and have converged on these succinct points, which are feasible for Governor Patrick to implement before he steps back in 2014, given current legislation and the executive powers he has.

I am hoping to be able to contribute my bit to make MA the first state to leave fossil fuels in the past, and to move towards a sustainable post-coal, post-oil future.

Friday, November 15, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A little light

We had a little rainbow themed birthday party here this weekend, and it being November, I wanted an indoor activity for the kids to do. I'm thinking what kid doesn't like to play with sticky glue and light stuff on fire? Plus it's the season of St. Martin, and as Germans, we have a tradition of crafting lanterns right around now. Traditionally, children carry them around the neighborhood while singing songs, and we've done that in the past, too. I dug up some pictures from a couple of years ago to show you: 

But back to the craft at hand: We upcycled jars from tomato sauce and the likes, covered them in diluted Elmer's School Glue and then stuck one layer of tissue paper on it. Smoothing the paper down with more glue will make the parents' OCD happy, but it's optional and the more 'textured' look works fine, too. We dried them upside down, which didn't take long.

It's one of those craft project where different age kids can all produce nice results because even a totally holey pattern of random colors will look nice once the candle inside is lit. We filled the jars about halfway with water, and used unscented floating candles inside.

A little light is just what we needed in this increasingly dark and dreary season... as I'm looking outside right now, I see the first flurries of snow!  Nimm gern mit