31 January 2016

5/52 - Everyday Life

This was a "slow news week", as they say. But here are a few snapshots.

Anders is obsessed with the show Octonauts. It's an animated show about animals living under the sea, interacting with - and usually saving - a different marine animal each episode. He keeps asking me when the next season is going to be available on Netflix.

For Christmas, he received several Octonaut toys suitable for bath play. He switched to showers quite a while ago, but the new toys enticed him to take a rare bath. We won't get opportunities like this with Anders for much longer.

Anders is reading the book Wonderstruck, which is an interesting combination novel and graphic novel. When he finished, he said it was "the best book he ever read."

In addition to Octonauts and PBS's Nature, Anders has decided that Ask This Old House is one of his favorite shows! He probably already knows more about home repair than I do.

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

24 January 2016

4/52 - Cat Stories, Big Rock Candy Mountain

Anders's class recently did a narrative writing project. The original assignment was to tell the story of your "favorite family moment", but for some reason Anders took his story in a different direction.

The above was the final product but as part of the process, they drew panels to tell the story.

Every time I see those drawing, I get a little twinge in my eye. Somehow, he really captured it.

Anders was only 5 when Max died, and at the time he didn't seem to have a particularly emotional response to it. But apparently it made a bigger impression on him than we thought.

As a result of Anders' project, the bulletin board with the stories was change to "The Most Memorable Family Stories".

Speaking of cats... Here is Anders's letter to Santa from this past year.

This is the letter he wrote in school, that in turn was sent to the newspaper for publication. He didn't put "texito (tuxedo) cat" on the list he made at home, so this was news to us.

Max was a great cat, but we have been enjoying our pet-free lifestyle. We're not ready to get another pet just yet.

Anders: I want a tuxedo cat for Christmas.
Corinne: I think you're old enough now that you can take care of it.
Anders: (blank look)
Corinne: You know, feed it, give it water, empty the litter box.
Anders: Well, you can help me with the litter box.
Corinne: No, I think you are old enough. Are you sure you want a tuxedo cat this year, or maybe you want to wait a year?
Anders: (contemplative look) I think I'll wait a year.

For at least a year now, Anders has been asking to build a Big Rock Candy Mountain. This song was recently brought back to pop culture via the O, Brother Where Art Though? soundtrack, but Anders's primary inspiration came from the John Deere Earth Mover Action video. It's a mountain where you use construction vehicles to mine and transport candy; what's a kid not to love about that?

Gingerbread to the rescue!

And now, the finished product!

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

17 January 2016

3/52 - Visit from Grandma Lee

We've had a glorious month of perfect, snowy weather. But this week, it decided to rain. A lot. After several dry winters (and the resulting summer fires), we can't complain about the rain too much. But it is sad to see the snowpack beginning to disappear, while simultaneously being uninspired to play in the snow in the rain. We'd much rather have the snow.

While I was in NJ, about 7" of new snow arrived in Trout Lake. Unfortunately, since I wasn't around to clear it before the rains came, the driveway is now impassible. It will likely stay that way until it either dries out enough to not jam in the PTO snowblower, or it gets cold enough to freeze solid again. So when mom and I arrived in Trout Lake with our luggage, we had to trudge up the driveway through several inches of wet snow. Welcome to winter in the country, mom!

During her visit, the weather kept us inside most of the time. We played a few games, including Boggle. Anders has a great time and occasionally even finds a few words that we don't! When the precipitation finally broke, we managed to convince mom to go on a snowshoe walk with us through our property.

Way to go, mom! Thanks for the visit!

This week, Anders and two of his classmates were moved to the next higher grade for reading. They are all really enjoying the challenge of 2nd grade reading but we are having to coach Anders a bit on expected answers versus accurate answers.

Apparently, the 2nd graders don't reliably turn in their homework. On particularly bad days, those who completed the assignments and turned them in receive prizes. Anders enjoys that, too!

Anders's plastic snake and lizard collection, courtesy of 2nd grade

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

10 January 2016

2/52 - Happy Birthday, Mom!

The Anders quote of the week came when he saw Corinne's new sunglasses. She misplaced her previous pair about a month earlier and finally broke down to buy a new pair. When she showed her new sunglasses to Anders for the first time, he told her that the new glasses:

  1. make her look cool,
  2. are giant, and
  3. make her look like a bug
So I guess looking like a bug is cool. (And 3 days after the purchase, she found her old sunglasses.)

This year, my mom turns 70! My brother Drew and I planned a surprise birthday luncheon for her with some family and friends, and part of the surprise would be that I was flying in from the west coast to be there.

The party was on Saturday afternoon, so I found a flight to arrive in NJ on Friday evening. But when I arrived at the airport Friday morning, my connection through Denver was at risk due to bad weather. While waiting in line in Newark to receive instructions on my alternatives, I was unexpectedly whisked away to a neighboring gate to board a non-stop flight! Not only did they have a seat available for me, but it was an exit row aisle seat! About 5 hours later, I landed in NJ - 2.5 hours ahead of my original itinerary. It was truly a birthday miracle. (And it wasn't even my birthday.)

In order to preserve the surprise until the party, I stayed with my cousin Bev and her family on Friday night. All of the guests arrived and setup at the party 30 minutes before the guest of honor. When she arrived, she was suitably surprised.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Unfortunately, Corinne and Anders couldn't make the trip with me this time. I did have to torment Corinne with several photos of the delicious pizza that I ate while I was there, though. (Sorry!)

It was a short visit for me, in NJ for less than a week. But when it was time to head home I wasn't going alone. My mom had already planned a trip to visit us in Trout Lake, so I surreptitiously booked a seat next to her on the return flight. :)

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

01 January 2016

Best Recipes of 2015

I did quite a bit of cooking this past year, but for whatever reason there weren't a lot of new recipes that ended up on our repeat favorites list. Several from last year's best of list, in particular the Whole Bowl and Sweet Potato recipes, made frequent appearances this past year. I did more experimentation this year as well, "making up" things based on the veggies we received from our neighbors and what we happened to have in the fridge. On the whole, I think my experiments were mediocre to good, but none worthy of this list (yet). Here are some new favorites and old standbys from the past year.

Russian Cabbage Borscht
Source: AllRecipes.com

Borscht is like the chili of eastern Europe: there are tons of regional variations and a wide range of different kinds. We happened to get a lot of beets this summer and fall (and actually had some leftover from last fall), so I was on the hunt for good beet recipes. This was one of them. Beets seem to elicit strong responses from people, probably because most people first experienced beets from a can and rejected them out of hand after that. You don't know what you are missing! If anybody has a favorite beet recipe out there, send it our way! We always seem to have some on hand.

Sausage, Potato and Spinach Soup
Source: Damn Delicious

As the author mentions, this has sausage and heavy cream, so it probably wouldn't be classified as "healthy." But it does have dark greens and is a good, warming soup for those evenings that call for just such a thing.

Bourbon Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole with Pecan Crust
Source: Fine Cooking

This is not a new recipe for us this year, but it did make an appearance at Thanksgiving. It's one of those dishes that is just enough work that you don't want to make it very often, but it's tasty enough that you do want to pull it out for those special occasions. Put aside your marshmallows and try this casserole next holiday instead.

Bildner's 5-Alarm Chili
Source: The New England Cookbook

This is also not a new recipe for us; I think we've been making this one since we still lived in New England. But I haven't mentioned it here yet and it appears in our house several times each winter. This is just a solid, beans and beef chili with a good level of spice.

Masala Chai
Source: The Kitchn

We've been enjoying weekend lattes at home for many years now, thanks to a simple stove-top espresso maker from my aunt and uncle many years ago. (Thanks, Anita and Lew!) But recently we decided to expand our repertoire to include masala chai, or what American coffee shops call a "Chai Latte." The specific combination of spices is fungible, depending on your spice preferences. Green cardamom seems to be the important base spice that holds it all together. If you use a red tea, or Rooibos, you can even make a caffeine-free drink to warm your mornings.

You can check out the recipes from other years through the recipes tag. Happy eating!

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders