Thursday, October 27, 2011

Longing

"Is it legal in Utah to say you like anything from Starbucks?" was the query posed by His Hotness (in jest, of course) in our very first email conversation. He was referring to the spot on my profile where I proclaimed that Starbucks Gingerbread Macadamia Nut Biscotti is essentially the best stuff on Earth. Or was, since they decided to ignore the fact that I'd purchase mass quantities as soon as it was available and discontinued it. My Starbucks spending dramatically decreased once they ousted my favorite splurge. I was am still crushed.

Which settles it.

I'm making my own.

Finally.

This recipe is not exact, but it's pretty darn close. I went slightly light on the molasses (my jar was empty) and easy on the ginger since I don't really like gingerbread. Oh, the irony. One batch made 16 large biscotti. Since they'll keep for a good long while (in an airtight container) I am set to endure a long, chilly hot chocolate season.


Gingerbread Macadamia Nut Biscotti
(modified from here)

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 - 1 cup macadamia nuts - whole
4 oz. white chocolate (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Beat together butter, sugar, and oil beating together in large mixing bow. Add eggs, vanilla, and molasses beating until smooth.

Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients beating until incorporated and smooth. Add nuts.

Divide dough in half and place a couple inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Using dampened hands, form each mound of dough into a rectangle approximately 5 inches wide.

Bake 30 minutes, then remove from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 300. After the biscotti has cooled for 10 minutes, cut each rectangle into 3/4 inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheet sideways and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the biscotti over and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven (really, why do we ever say this??? It seems evident) and allow to cool on wire rack.

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler. Using a small spreader or pastry brush, spread white chocolate lightly on the bottom of each biscotti. Place on wax paper or parchment to set. Set the biscotti fairly close to one another but not touching. When all the cookie bottoms have been coated, drizzle remaining white chocolate over the tops.

Make yourself a cup of cocoa (I recommend Steven's Gourmet Dark Chocolate with a teaspoon each of Starbucks Vanilla and Hazelnut syrups) and dip away. Not quite the original, but seriously fantastic nonetheless.



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Birthdays

Today is a very special day. Our Little Squirt (Jellie-bellie, little bug, etc.) is turning 5 today. His Hotness was able to spend the weekend in SoCal to celebrate with her and it sounds like they had a fantastic time. Some dear friends offered their home and hosted a small soiree in honor of the birthday girl. From what I hear it was all pink and all Hello Kitty. What else would you expect?

Second marriages are weird things. I mean, she's not technically my flesh and blood but already I am so very attached to that little girl. Big Squirt and I were not able to go visit and I really felt the void. Despite the fact that I am not her mother, and that she has a really good one, I love her more than I can describe and every day that she is not with us it feels as though a part of our family is missing. I have no desire to try and replace her mom in any way. After all, mothers are sacred. What I do hope is to build a positive relationship with her and be someone she can trust and look up to.

Today I'd like to share 10 of my favorite moments this year with my Jellie-bellie. Here, in no particular order (I couldn't rank them if I tried), are 10 moments that fill my heart with joy and happiness when I think of them.


In March, we packed up and drove to SoCal for Spring Break. Jellie-bellie was able to spend the whole vacation with us as the beginning of several weeks with her dad. We did many fun and wonderful things (bowling, Knott's berry farm, basketball lessons in a friend's backyard, accidentally breaking a monitor on the Cal State Fullerton campus, etc) but by far my favorite memory was watching the girls play together at the beach. They would run away from the rolling waves and laugh with endless delight.


For Easter, His Hotness and I hosted Easter Dinner at my house. The girls were spoiled... a natural consequence of being loved my a great many people. Amidst the chaos that ensued (the house was clean when everyone arrived) the girls were playing with my dad. He loves being a grandpa more than I could say and it was so fun to see the girls have just as much fun as he did. 


In May, I took personal leave from work for the first time ever and flew to SoCal for the graduation of His Hotness. Jellie-bellie and I rode with some good family friends and she was my little buddy throughout the multi-hour ceremony. We played with Zoobles from my purse ate pretzels and made silly faces to pass the time. When the length and the sun got to be too much she snuggled up on my lap and almost fell asleep. When I see this picture I remember her cuddled up on my lap waiting for her daddy's name to be called. 


In May/June (?) the girls and I had a sleepover at my house. We watched movies, ate popcorn, and planted flowers. After spending the morning painting flowerpots the girls got to plant the seeds we bought that morning just for them. Jellie-bellie was so thrilled to be scooping soil since she "doesn't have a yard to dig in." I have never seen a child so excited about scooping soil.


For my birthday, Jellie-bellie picked out the Sprinkles Red Velvet cupcake mix for me. The girls and I made them together and this was the moment where the tension was sooooo thick they wanted to eat the cupcakes more than they could contain. Jellie-bellie ate one of the giant sprinkles when I wasn't looking and didn't like it, so we put a blueberry on hers instead. That little girl can eat more blueberries in one sitting than anyone I have ever met. 


At the end of June, one of Big Squirt's neighborhood friends invited the girls to a birthday party. Jellie-bellie was so very excited to tell me all about the pinata and the little treat bags they brought home. So often she would hide or just ignore me when I pulled out the camera but this day she was so giddy that she gave me a whole series of silly poses. She was glowing with happiness!


Fourth of July was spent at a neighborhood block party. The girls quickly tired of the fireworks and regalia but once I pulled out the glow bracelets a whole new world opened up! She was so animated and bouncy as you can tell by the swirly red and purple at the bottom of the picture. 


For family night one evening in July we discussed the meaning of temples and the kids built their own out of play-doh. Her pretend bashfulness is deceived by the jubilation shown by her one visible eye and I love this.  This was an abnormally quiet moment of silliness for her. How cute it was!


One of my very favorite things about His Hotness is the way he loves to cook. Since it's something he enjoys, Jellie-bellie has been actively in the kitchen with him since before she could walk.  She LOVES to help him cook. This was the first time we made spaghetti with our Kitchen Aid pasta roller and she was really helpful feeding the dough. It makes me so happy to see her love to be in the kitchen with her Daddy.


In July we went out on the boat with my parents. She was so excited to be there and was really happy once the tubes were inflated. After a few mild conflicts with Big Squirt over speed, Jellie-bellie got a turn by herself in the tubes where she could tell us for herself if she wanted to go faster or slower. She loved every second of it. I think she would've stayed out there for an hour if we'd let her.

Since our new family is still so young, I have no doubt there will be numerous more times just like these in the future. For now, I'll just start counting down until Christmas break when I get to see her again. I love that little bug.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Density

This is such a simple demonstration that really blew Squirt's mind. She'd had a bit of a rough day so a part of me wanted to skip this and just have her play in her room - but I realized that we both needed it. Again, we did something quick and easy that I used in my classroom. The concept is density and it can be done using supplies from your kitchen.

Kids (and many adults) grasp density as being an idea of weight, even though in reality that isn't quite right.

We started by dropping an egg into a glass of water. I asked her what she thought would happen, she said it would sink, and then I had her test that.


She was right, of course.


So then I had her add salt (a lot) to the other glass and asked her what she thought would happen. Since I'd had to convince her that this would be a good idea I'd already mentioned that we were going to make the egg float. She guessed that adding the salt would make the egg float.


It takes a lot of stirring to dissolve the salt. If you have more time, you can heat the water to make the salt dissolve more quickly - but you'll want it to cool to room temperature again before little hands are playing with it.


Even though she *knew* what would happen, I'm not so sure she believed it.


Even I didn't expect it to be so exciting! She loved that the egg bobbed up to the surface after she dropped it in the glass.


Supplies:
2 eggs
2 glasses of water, filled to the same height
salt - a lot

Drop one egg into a glass of water. What happened to it? Do you think anything will be different if we add salt to the water?

Pour in a good amount of salt into the second glass and stir it to dissolve. Place the egg into the glass. If it doesn't float, use the spoon to pull the egg out (Squirt tried to reach in and spilled the salt water all over the kitchen), add more salt, stir to dissolve, and try again. The amount of salt you need to add will vary based on the size of your glass so just go for the test and try again approach. The egg should float in the salty water.

**In class I'd then add food coloring to the plain water, gently and slowly pour it into the container holding the salt water (down the side of the container or into a spoon to slow it's fall) and the kids could see the layering that forms because of different densities of water. Then if you add the egg again you will see it float between the two layers. We attempted this and had major food coloring issues and had a hard time pouring it slowly enough to keep the layers from mixing. I will save that one for when she's a little older and we can talk about layering in the Ocean.**


As a mom this is how I explain it: What is heavier, the water or the egg? {the egg} That's why the egg sinks. When we add the salt to the water and mix it up we make the water heavier and the egg floats.

As a teacher this is how I explain it: Density is a measure of how much "stuff" is packed into a certain amount of space. Water is less dense than the egg so the egg sinks. When we add salt to the water and the salt dissolves, you will notice that the level of the water hasn't really changed. Now, instead of having just the water in that space we've got the salt too. We've packed a whole lot more "stuff" into the same amount of space. This increased the density of the liquid. If we increase the density of the water to more than the egg, then the egg will float. This is the same reason that a can of Coke will sink to the bottom of cooler when the ice is melted but a can of Diet Coke will float. Coke has a lot of sugar dissolved into it which increases the density of the liquid. Diet Coke has a lot less mass of artificial sweetener so the liquid is less dense. Next time you're at a barbecue, check it out!

Related Links:
http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/makeaneggfloat.html
http://www.free-science-fair-projects.com/Free-Science-Fair-Project.aspx?ProjectID=5&Title=HowToMakeAnEggFloat
http://education2.uvic.ca/Faculty/mroth/teaching/445/Egg_float.htm
http://www.srh.noaa.gov/srh/jetstream/ocean/ll_diet.htm

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jog-a-thon

It's no secret that kids are amazing. I mean, anyone who has one (or more) is well aware of that. Today Squirt's school held a jog-a-thon fundraiser. You know the schpeal... the kids get sponsored for each lap they run {or jog or walk} in a certain amount of time... we sponsored her of course and so did her dad. I went to watch and document each leg of the journey.


I could not believe how excited all the kids were to do this. There was an energy in the air as they were motivated to see exactly how many laps they could do. Clearly the teachers did a great job of getting them pumped up for the occasion.


Squirt has been telling me about her jogging at school for a couple weeks now. It seems like she's starting to love it, though I can't tell if that's the jogging or the friends. Right at the start she and her new BFF linked hands and stayed that way almost the entire hour. 


I love shots that show emotion and seriously, she was literally bouncing along the whole time. 


Except when they would pause for a drink between each lap. I think Squirt would have kept going but her friend wanted a drink and she stayed with her friend.


For race bibs the kids wore stickers that the teachers would mark off every time they finished a lap. Here I was thrilled for her but starting to panic. She kept telling me she'd done 2-5 laps at school so figuring that there was no way on this green Earth that she'd hit even 10 I pledged $5 per lap...


On one of the rounds I had the girls pause for a pic. Here they are after 10 laps.  A quick break and then off again! By this point they were walking the first half of the lap, picking up to jogging when they tried to catch other friends or were roughly halfway around.


The final count... 15 laps!!! At 5 laps to 1 mile that means Squirt ran/jog/walked 3 whole miles today. I am uber-impressed!

I think she was thrilled to have me there. She kept wanting to show me who all her friends are. She's old enough to want privacy sometimes. Having her want to involve me in her school life took the edge off the "she's-growing-up-way-too-stinking-fast" feeling.

She was in kindergarten the year I graduated and took a teaching job. I remember walking her to the bus stop for the last time and attending the school's end-of-year dance festival. I cried knowing it was possibly the last time I would get to participate in any of her daytime school events since I'd be working from that point on. How little I knew about where my life would be in a few short years. I don't know how long I'll be able to do this but it sure is incredible {it is making me miss our Little Squirt something fierce}. How awesome this is.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hanging with Puddles

This weekend we watched our Ducks get spanked by Stanford. Alright, it wasn't that bad. In fact we took the first set and kept crazy close for the others. At one point there were some crazy kids dancing on the marquis. After a moment we realized that we knew them from church. So, naturally we moved seats and went to sit with them. Before we did, Puddles came by to say hello.

Squirt has always been afraid of mascots. I'm not sure why. It surfaced out of nowhere with the great Cosmo debacle of 2007 and has lingered since. She was wringing her hands with nervousness as Puddles came closer even though we talked about how it was just a person in a costume. After this little photo opp she changed her tune and decided that "Mom, I like people in costumes!" The rest of the match was spent looking for Puddles.... and dancing.


After moving to sit by friends, the kids were on camera on the marquis two more times. Squirt got such a kick out of that and upped the craziness to match the commotion. After the first time they were on camera I realized that I had the flip cam in my pocket. The next time.... I was ready.


video 

Squirt is all the way on the right. For the record, I don't think that hip action is hereditary. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dreaming of June...

I can't wait for June. This should come as no surprise to those of you that know me. There will be lots of good stuff that happens in June - Ellie will be coming to live with us, I will have hopefully survived the first year of my PhD program, the US Olympic Trials for track and field will be held here, and rumor has it that is when the sun starts making daily appearances in the Pacific Northwest. However, with the exception of Ellie coming up here, the thing I might be most excited about is that June is when tomatoes will be back in season.


Why write about this in the middle of October? Because the tomatoes we saw yesterday at the Farmers Market look nothing like the tomatoes we have seen the rest of the time we have been here. In other words, tomato season is over. Fresh tomatoes are fantastic treats. They come in all varieties (grape, roma, plum, heirloom, cherry), shapes (round, pumpkin, oval) and colors (red, yellow orange, green, purple). Tomatoes are a staple of Italian food. Tomatoes are in a word... amazing. Unfortunately now I have to wait until sometime in June to next enjoy a tasty, wonderful, juicy tomato goodness. Farewell freshly grown tomatoes... I will think of you fondly and often until we become reacquainted...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

2 books, 25 tea bags, one glue gun blister, and 49,567.34 hours

For the last month I have been all consumed with this project. Not in the same way as I've been obsessed with lens shopping, but I had to work on it almost constantly. It started as a quick, easy, clever way to fill time. Only I realized all too soon that it definitely was more of a time investment than I thought it would be. The other day a friend asked me how many hours it took and I said 15. Having thought about it almost constantly since then (ok, not really), I think that is a gross understatement. I think it's actually closer to 30 hours.


The first time I saw this idea it was posted here, and since then I've seen numerous versions around pinterest. Oh, dear, beloved pinterest.

I stayed pretty basic with this one, but my overly particular self did make a few choices that no one but me would notice. First, I used dictionary pages instead of regular books for the varied bold, normal, italic, and phonetic text. If you get close enough it adds a tiny bit of variation that normal book pages lack (IMO). Second, I tea stained the books before I used them. Again, this just adds an ever so slight variation in color that with lighting and shadows gives the monotone wreath slightly more dimension. Third, I decided I was going to hang it on a mirror which meant I needed to fully cover the back as well as the front. I wanted the reflected image to feel seamless.

Here's how I tea stain books (the whole thing not just the edges):
Even then, I got more impatient and made the last rosette's for the back with paper that was still damp. The other day His Hotness turned the oven on and mentioned that he feels like every time we bake something he's got to check and make sure there's no book waiting to (not)spontaneously combust. I found humor in it, anyway :)

It now resides here:


At one point, I was frustrated thinking it would never ever ever be done. I'm not a shabby chic kind of gal and wondered if it would really fit our home. In the end, I love love love it!!!! It was totally worth the time, the one horrific (overdramatized) hot glue blister, and the countless hours.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mt. Pisgah

For the record, I think it's silly that of all industries education is making people take furlough days. I mean really. Are our priorities that messed up? As it is teachers make less than babysitters wages and are put through the ringer about test scores and perceived accomplishment. So much of the good that happens in a classroom is not measurable on a little piece of paper. Now we're taking school days away from them and the kids.... But enough of that.

Squirt didn't have school today. In fact she doesn't have school next Friday either, or Thursday and Friday two weeks after that. It seems October will be filled with opportunity for adventure. Today we I decided to go to Mt. Pisgah.


From the beginning, Squirt was not so sure she was excited about this. (Actually the expression is more a result of the fact that this was self-portrait number 4 or so because I forgot to correct the light balance on the camera.) She loves to be outside like this but sometimes I have to just make her do it so she remembers that.


The moss is incredible. It was such a perfect morning!! Walking up the trail in the ever-present mist, surrounded by trees literally dripping with lichens. It struck me that this is the feeling we try for when we stretch those crazy fake spiderwebs all over everything. It seems like the perfect place for some mystical photography and I thought immediately of this photo shoot by an old aquaintance. Even though it's totally not the same.  At. All.


In places the trail is completely flanked by trees. This is all still somewhat new to me and it's fantastic. Squirt's preference was running down the trail. We actually did not complete the trail, turning around about halfway up. At our stopping point we ran into a fellow student in Squirt's class hiking with her family. Squirt liked that but mostly liked that they had their puppy with them. Then the running began. In that sense she is just like her mother... only unlike when her mom was a kid running down trails she hasn't ever bitten it at the base of a hill ripping open the bottom of her chin or leaving behind half of an arm. Yay for improved coordination across generations!!!  


She was a little happier about the experience once we were back at the beginning! Having seen a friend, a dog, and getting to run a little is responsible for that...


When given a chance to decide where to eat, she'll inevitably choose McDonalds. Then when McDonald's has been vetoed by the adult in charge she picks either Ihop or Denny's. Today it was the latter. Hot cocoa and breakfast. What could be better? 


Except possibly all the street vendor food for sale at the University. We went to visit His Hotness for a few minutes and walked around the street fair going on (talking to his mom - awwwww). After walking around all the delightful smells I am totally craving a Philly Cheesesteak sammy and have added it to our menu for the coming week. 


We stopped at the bookstore for a treat, bid farewell to His Hotness and ventured home again.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Boat Building

Today's science activity was a bit of a cop-out. Granted, it's something I really used in my High School classes. It just didn't have any grandiose 3rd grade worthy explanation. Mostly we just played.


The challenge today is to build a boat. Not just any boat, but one made of only paper and staples that can hold as many Littlest Pet Shop critters as possible. 


Once the boat sinks, we re-evaluate and try to make the next one better. The only real problem with this approach is that evidently the Littlest Pet Shop critters float. I didn't see that one coming.




As a mom I explain it like this: Why did your first boat sink? How could you make your boat better? And then I gave her more paper and let her have at it.

As a teacher I explain it like this: When you decided how to build your first boat, you made a hypothesis about what would work. Now that you've seen how your boat did you know if your hypothesis was right or if you could make it better. Every time you have an idea, try it out, and modify it you are using the scientific method. What we call the scientific method the rest of the world calls problem solving. Coming up with an idea is the hypothesis, seeing if it works is the testing, seeing the results of your test and changing your hypothesis is the very nature of science. If you were sure that you had designed the perfect boat and could never prove it wrong that hypothesis might become a theory. A theory is nothing more than a hypothesis that has been tested a whole lot and hasn't been able to be proven wrong. Now, are you sure you made the best boat possible?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Botanicals and Kids: beautiful things in life.

Lately I've been a little obsessed with the idea of buying a new camera lens. I've been researching models, reading reviews, and fantasizing about how to fund such an exploit. I even decided that I could stomach needles and IV's to make $40 as a test subject for projects at the university. 40 here and 40 there, in about three years I'd have it! I am deathly afraid of needles, but it could be worth it if a new lens came out of the deal. Then it just hit me, WHY??? I mean, I don't need it.

Really.

And then I remembered my plasma donation experience when I planned to take a trip to Belize using my "blood money." Let's just say it was not good. Not good at all. It was the most miserable $5 I've ever made.

Which made me suddenly content with my current setup.

Today was a glorious overcast day which had me thinking that I needed to get outside and play with my existing lenses a little bit more. Just for kicks. After about 4 minutes outside it started to rain. That shouldn't be surprising, I mean, it is starting to be that time in the PCN. I decided to highlight some of the beautiful things that may go into hiding pretty soon. Just so that when the gray skies get to be too much (like March) I can pull these pictures up and remember that there is some color here sometimes.









The moms may care, but children are undeterred by the moisture of fall. This afternoon some of the neighbors were outside playing. This is the core group of kids that play together daily. There's a few more who show up sometimes, but these kids play together almost daily. I love being surrounded by all these cute little kids and Squirt has a blast.












I was soooo crushed about the camera shake on here. Had to post it anyway because I loooove this picture. Blur and all.
I'm learning how valuable telephoto is with children. Truly, I've never used it in that capacity and I had a blast today with being able to be a bit more stealthy. I've just got to play around with is some more and get to know it's strengths. This will be fun. 

It goes without saying that I love it here. I love our life, our friends, everything about our current situation. I'm even coming to grips with the fact that I haven't found a job. I'm sure that will take care of itself one of these days. Until then, I'm just going to keep finding joy in this journey. It sure is amazing.