Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rhubarb Cake

For the last few months, Jay has been getting some fancy schmancy dental work done and he's set a personal goal for himself that every time he leaves the dentist's office, he has to leave with something "for free." The first time it was the typical toothpaste/floss/toothbrush combo. His second appointment had him leaving with a nifty device that you screw onto your tube of toothpaste and it squeezes out every last drop off toothpaste for you. The third visit he actually went up to the desk and said, "Do you have anything free laying around here?" The receptionist just stared at him (I'm assuming with that bewildered/frustrated look that I usually give him) and handed him a magnetic calendar. This most recent time, he was reading the latest issue of Sunset magazine while waiting and he came upon a tasty sounding recipe. He took the magazine to the receptionist and said, "Hey. You have a copy machine back there, right? Make a copy of this for me please."

The recipe was for this:Rhubarb upside down cake with rhubarb compote and rosemary caramel sauce.Because what's better to eat after a trip to the dentist than caramel soaked caked?

The aroma this cake gave off was amazing. It was light and airy, almost like angel food cake, but it contained 3 ounces of melted white chocolate, which made it smell wonderful while baking. And then the rosemary infused caramel sauce just added another fragrant layer. I would love to have a candle that smelled this good.

This cake was a hit with the whole family, which surprised me because rhubarb isn't something we eat a lot of. It wasn't readily available in Florida and I hadn't gotten around to doing anything with it since moving to Oregon. We ended up eating the entire cake for dinner.

So yes, get your hands on a copy of Sunset, stealing it from the dentist if you have to, and make this cake.

(Jay has another dentist appointment in a month. I wonder what he'll come home with?)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Things I'm Into Right Now

Wow. I just checked my archives and I haven't done a Things I'm Into post since October. Yikes. I mean, lately I've noticed that life has been wearing on me a bit more than usual but I didn't realize it had been over six months since I had made a short list of the little everyday things I'm loving. I definitely think a list is in order.

*Homemade PizzaWe have it about twice a month and it's my favorite dinner. This last one-cheese, mushroom, asparagus, and spinach-was especially good.

*Bangs. Particularly, the girl's new ones.Creating them was a team effort by me and Jay after watching the girl suck on her hair one too many times.You'd think that between the two of us we could cut a straight line, but no.I still love them though. Just looking at them makes me want to read Ramona Quimby books:

*Regular ShowDoes anyone else watch this completely off the wall show on Cartoon Network? It's bizarre, funny, and only 15 minutes long. And only sort of for the kiddies.

*Crochet. Despite having some really good reading material on my nightstand, I haven't been reading much. This past week or so it's been all about the crochet. The repetitive process is soothing and easy to do while watching TV. I've made a few dishcloths and taught myself the double crochet stitch. I've also begun two blankets, one for each of the kids. The boy's was almost done when I decided to unwind the entire thing and start over. Jay thinks I'm nuts but I knew if I had kept the blanket as it was, I would hate looking at it.


What are you into lately?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Haunting Jasmine

Jasmine Mistry is trying to keep it all together. She just got divorced from her lying, cheating ex but still has to see him (and his girlfriend) while they work out the details of who gets the house. She has a high powered but stressful job as a financial planner and she's in line for a promotion that she desperately needs to be able to restart her life. Then her beloved Aunt calls. Auntie needs to travel to India for a month and she wants Jasmine to run her bookstore while she's away. Against her judgement, but unable to say no to her Aunt, Jasmine heads home.

Upon returning to her hometown, a small, rainy island in the middle of Puget Sound, Jasmine realizes she may be in over her head. Not only is her Aunt way behind on her paperwork, but she tells Jasmine that the bookstore is haunted by the spirits of dead authors and that Jasmine must learn to get along with the ghosts in order for things to run smoothly. While dealing with the usual ghostly happenings (books dropping, items being moved/misplaced, doors and windows slamming, etc....) Jasmine meets the handsome and mysterious Connor Hunt who wants to teach Jasmine how to love again. (I know, gag.) But is Connor too good to be true?

As I mentioned last week, I won this book through a contest on Goodreads and this is definitely not a book I would have picked out on my own. (You probably can't tell from the picture, but the cover actually has glitter on it. I'm the anti-glitter.) But for what this book is (mindless chick lit) it really isn't that bad. Although the story itself is predictable, the writing isn't bad and the author does a decent job of describing places and setting the mood. In fact, there were times I was really impressed with the beauty of the writing. For instance, this passage, which takes place while Jasmine is on the ferry headed to the island:

As we approach the island, the eastern shoreline emerges from a wall of fog. Madrone and fir trees tumble down to wild rocky beaches; forested hillsides rise into pewter skies; and the town of Fairport hugs the harbor in a density of antique buildings and twinkling lights. My heartbeat thuds. What am I doing here? Soon the moss will grow between my fingers, in the creases of my nose, and in the pockets of my thin raincoat, where I keep Auntie's letter, her urgent request that summoned me home.

The author did a good job of never allowing the writing to get too flowery and over the top. It was definitely the quality of the writing, and the not the actual plot, that kept me reading. Another plus, was that even though this is technically a romance, there were no corny sex scenes. Thankfully, no heaving breasts or throbbing members.

I would describe Haunting Jasmine as vanilla ice cream. When I want ice cream, I usually crave something a bit more substantial. Something with large chunks of cookie dough or peanut butter filled chocolate covered pretzels. But, once in a while I'll eat a bowl of vanilla ice cream and realize that even though it isn't what I crave, it's easy to eat, goes down smooth and there are no surprises. I wouldn't trade my usual gunk filled ice cream for it, but occasionally it's a nice change.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Positive and the Negative

Last week Jay and I surprised the girl with a new bike with training wheels. The last bike she had was a tricycle that we sold before leaving Florida. We thought a 'big kid' bike would be a great way for her to burn off some of her spaztastic energy. But, as with all things with the girl lately, the whole thing is proving to be so much more difficult than it needs to be. Even though it has training wheels, she's scared of falling. The conditions need to be perfect for her to even consider sitting on it. She doesn't like the wind, she doesn't want to ride uphill but she's frightened about losing control going downhill. She doesn't want to be pushed but she doesn't want me to let go of her either. Needless to say, bike riding time hasn't been a lot of fun and I've basically thrown in the towel, at least for a few days.

The flip side to all this is that while we're struggling so much with the girl lately, the boy has really stepped up to the plate and has been trying so hard to just keep the peace and make everything work out. The other day I watched as he tried to convince the girl to get on her bike.He tried begging, cajoling, and reasoning with her. He patiently explained about the training wheels and reassured her that he wouldn't let her get too far ahead of him.After about 15 minutes he finally convinced her to get on and ride. She rode about three feet before sliding off the bike and running away screeching about how scared she was. The boy, still exhibiting amazing patience, told her that he wasn't going to let her play video games until she gave bike riding an honest try. She said she didn't care. Normally, I don't give the boy the authority to make those types of deals, but in this instance I'm backing him up. She's on Day Three of no video games.

Despite the fact that I live with a six year old who is desperately trying to make me crazy, I'm attempting to remain positive.

Other bits of happy include:

*Sunny days and the occasional rainbow.Although I'm never one to be lamenting all the rain, the weather here has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the sunny days we do have.

*Gardening. We don't have the space for a full fledged garden, but the girl and I planted some herbs and a few spinach plants. It felt good to get our hands dirty.

*Crafty projects. I don't have anything major in the works, just a few low-key, fun things to keep my hands busy and my mind off of the annoyances in my life.

*The latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie comes out this week and our whole clan is looking forward to it. We don't go to the theatre very often but we can all agree on the Wimpy Kid.

*The sound of the girl singing her new (to her) favorite song, Don't Put Another Dime in the juke box. Although she sings it, "Don't put another dime in the juicebox."

*A visit from a friendly friend. Shortly after we moved here I became close with the woman who lived below. Because things can never go too well in my life, she soon moved to Bend, three hours away. But we've remained in contact via Facebook, she'll be in town this week for spring break, and I'm excited to see her.

Happy First Day of Spring. With all the mayhem in the world right now-both far away and closer to home, I hope you all have a few positive bits to keep you smiling.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Randomness

Oh my goodness, it feels wonderful to get back into blogging regularly. I've been so hit and miss since the beginning of the year and this month in particular has been bad. But I didn't realize how much I not only miss the process, but need it for my own sanity. I'm not one to spend a lot of time on the phone, and it sometimes takes me days to type out an email, so when I can get on here and vent and then be hit with so many supportive comments, emails, and the occasional phone call, it really is just a wonderful thing. The mood I was in Monday night before going to bed was drastically different than the mood I was in when I woke up. I now feel silly for putting off talking about it as long as I had, but the whole thing just made me feel cruddy, overwhelmed, and alone.

*As evidence of my cruddy feeling, I've cried three times in the past four days. Once in the shower so no one could see me, once in front of my son, and once in front of Jay. Three body shaking, splotchy face-making cries. The first cry felt kinda good, the second one felt less good. By the third time, I just felt like a loser who needed to pull herself together.

*After meeting with the behaviour coach and discussing the program, we've decided to go ahead with it. I'm still not real keen on the at-home aspect of it, but it's only one hour a week for seven weeks. I think I can go ahead and take one for the team with this one, especially considering that the girl is super excited about the whole thing. (Because she's a spaz.) The home portion is going to involve some activities with the girl and then some tips and solutions for me and Jay. This is the part that makes me feel like a loser, like I'm 15 and taking parenting classes. I mean, I've been a stay at home mom for almost 13 years now, shouldn't I have this figured out? BUT, at the same time I think as parents it's easy to fall into a rut of doing what just works, instead of doing what works well. Plus, I have to admit that I'm pretty thrilled that I live in an area where a program like this is even offered. To my knowledge there is no similar program in Florida, and if there is, it probably wouldn't have been for a kid like Lucy. It would have been more for the kids who bring guns or drugs to school.

*The speech therapist believes that the girl's stutter is developmental. Basically, her neurological system isn't ready for all the language that she's trying to say. She also feels that, at this age, therapy isn't necessary and that the stutter will most likely disappear one day in the not to distant future. This is all very good news.

In book news:

*I finished Never Let Me Go and it was wonderful. I don't think I'll be reviewing it here though because the mental state I was in while reading it was not the best and every time I try to write about the book my mind draws a blank. But I will say that it was beautifully written and that it was slow moving in the best possible way. The subject matter was dark but the way it was all presented was calm and peaceful. Just a fascinating read all around.

*I've been trying to read The Lacuna. It's just not happening. I think I've read the same twenty pages over and over again. Because I normally love Barbara Kingsolver, I'm not real sure what the problem is. I think maybe it's just too heavy for me right now. I should probably just give up on it and maybe revisit it later.

*Along that line, yesterday I received a book in the mail that I had won via a contest on Goodreads that I don't remember entering. It's called Haunting Jasmine and it's not a book I would have normally picked out (it's straight up chick lit) but the funny thing is that I'm totally engrossed in it. It's simple and silly and just completely suiting my mood. I'll definitely be reviewing it here sometime next week.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Blech.......

It's been one of those weeks. And it's only Monday.

It's parent/teacher conference time again. I haven't set up the boy's conference yet because I can look up his grades online and except for the ever present "F" in Algebra, there is nothing to be too concerned about. His teacher has already informed me that he'll have to take Algebra again next year because the ability to understand it involves a different way of thinking and she says that his brain just "hasn't made that switch yet." Which I understand, I suppose. But I'm not at all comforted by the fact that I still don't understand Algebra so obviously my brain still hasn't made that switch. Sigh.

But. The girl. The girl. The girl. The girl. Here's the thing: I have no illusions about my children. I know their strengths and weaknesses and I don't try to cover them up and pretend they don't exist. We all have strengths and weaknesses, that's what makes us human. I know the girl likes to talk and doesn't like to follow directions. These are things that we are constantly (daily, hourly....) working on. But when I asked the teacher if Lucy is ever a behaviour problem in class and she said, "Well....she can be", it was kind of a shock.

She said that the girl is never mean nor is she really a troublemaker, but she talks a lot (yep) and she "has trouble staying on task." When I asked her if any of this effects her ability to learn she said, "Oh, absolutely not. She's incredibly smart. She's a very fluent reader and I can tell that her brain is constantly in action." She also went on to say that the girl is a total free spirit who thinks for herself. All good things. But it's hard to focus on the good when she's disrupting her classmates and can't keep her butt still during circle time. When I asked the girl about all this she said that circle time is "boring" and that she knows all her letters and sounds. This may be true, but it certainly doesn't mean that she can keep her friends from learning. (I really hate it when parent's justify their kid's misbehaviour by saying that the child is "smart" and "just bored." Whatever. Kindergarten is 2 1/2 hours long, it's not going to kill her to be bored for a few minutes.)

So now I have another conference with the teacher tomorrow to try and work out a behaviour plan for the girl. There is a program here offered by the school system where a behaviour coach would meet with Lucy at school and for an hour a week at home. Her teacher said that Lucy isn't really the typical candidate for that program (I guess because she's only mildly naughty, not awfully naughty) but she sees no reason why she wouldn't benefit from it. Anyway, I'll find out more about that program tomorrow and then decide if it's right for us. I don't know how I feel about being the parent of a child who needs the behaviour coach to come home with them. Actually, I do know how I feel. I feel shitty. I feel like a shitty, shitty parent. But I may be making it out to be more than it is. We'll see.

Lucy is also supposed to meet with a speech therapist later this week to see if she needs therapy for her stutter. Her stutter is an odd thing. It comes and goes and she doesn't do it at all when reading. Her teacher seems to think that because she is such a verbal kid, that the stutter really only shows itself when she wants to talk but hasn't yet mentally decided what exactly it is that she wants to say. If this is the case, then it will go away as she matures. While I tend to agree with the teacher's initial assessment, I'm excited to see what the therapist has to say.

In other girl related news:

*She downloaded a nasty trojan virus to our desktop computer. Jay's going to have fun fixing that over the coming days.

*Because of the occasional accident, she still wears Pull Ups to bed, but she hates the feeling of a wet one so after she goes in it, she wakes up and changes her Pull Up. I told her she had to stop doing this because some nights we were going through as many as 3 Pull Ups. Of course she didn't stop, she just started hiding the pissed in Pull Ups. I found dirty Pull Ups all over her room. In the shopping cart, the pretend oven, the toy bin, etc.

So yeah, this one has been keeping me on my toes lately. I have been completely drained and exhausted, which is why I've been MIA around here. But spring break will be here next week and to say I'm looking forward to it is an understatement.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: White Oleander

Wow. This book. Oh my. When I first began reading this I was initially motivated by all of your strong and differing opinions about the story. But as I read more, the story itself was what compelled me to keep reading. In the end though, I have mixed thoughts about it. First though, a short synopsis. (Also, since so many of you have read the book or seen the movie, I'm not going to worry about giving away key details. So if you haven't read it and want to, be warned.)

Astrid Magnussen is the only child of beautiful poet Ingrid Magnussen. Ingrid's beauty and charm pull people in but it isn't long before they see her true personality. Ingrid is narcissistic, selfish and cruel. She's a woman who would sit for hours and write lists of ways to hurt people. (Spread a malicious rumor. Let a beloved old person's dog out of the yard. Suggest suicide to a severely depressed person. Tell a child it isn't very attractive or bright.) One of the people to quickly fall under Ingrid's spell is Barry Kolker and the two begin dating. When Barry attempts to break the relationship off, Ingrid starts harassing Barry-breaking into his home, destroying possessions, and eventually murdering him with the poison from the white oleander.

Ingrid is imprisoned for murder and Astrid gets shifted from foster home to foster home where various despicable things happen: a sexual relationship with a fifty year old man, performing sexual acts for marijuana, getting shot by one of her foster mothers, being starved by another foster mother, etc. Eventually Astrid is placed in a home with ex-actress Claire and her husband. Claire encourages Astrid to take honors classes and sign up for art courses at the local museum. Finally, Astrid is loved and doted on and just when she's starting to believe she may have a bright future, she's blindsided by Claire's suicide.

She's next sent to MacLaren Children's Center where kids go when, for whatever reason, they can't be placed in homes. The conditions are not much better than her past foster homes, but it's here where she meets Paul Trout, a like minded soul who she remains in contact with into adulthood.

Her next and final home before she turns 18 is with crazy Russian Rena Grushenka. Rena makes her living by fostering numerous teenage girls who all work together to cull things from dumpsters and various trash piles to later sell them at swap meets and flea markets. Rena has no intention of being a mother to any of the girls. Drugs and booze are everywhere and school is only an option, not a requirement. It isn't the best home, but Rena does provide a
certain amount of stability.

Through all these years, Astrid has remained in contact with her mom through letters and the occasional visit. She sees her as the cold and manipulative woman that she is. But now, right before Astrid's 18th birthday, her mother's new lawyer contacts her. She wants Astrid's help in getting Ingrid out of prison. Astrid has to decide whether or not to help. And if she does help, what impact will it have on her own future?

Okay. My thoughts. (So much for proper sentence structure. Excuse the fact that this is the most poorly written book review, but I read the book in about a week and the whole thing was kind of overwhelming and I just want to purge this book from my soul and move on. Sigh.) Anyway, I liked the book in that it was well written, the characters were interesting, and I wanted to see where the story was going to go and what would eventually happen to all the characters.

What I didn't like about the story was the cavalcade of bad things that kept happening to Astrid. After a while it felt gratuitous. (Eventually, it started to remind me somewhat of She's Come Undone, which is another book I didn't like for the very same reason.) It's not that I don't think that bad things happen to people, but I do believe that at some point you have to stop seeing yourself as a victim and I have little sympathy for people who repeatedly put themselves in situations where they can be victimized.

For instance, there was a turning point in the book where I stopped sympathizing with Astrid. It was when she was at MacLaren Children's Center and she was being interviewed by prospective foster parents. She could have chosen to go with a stable, older couple but instead she chose Rena because she was familiar with what Rena had to offer. This was where I stopped feeling much for Astrid because I felt at that point she was choosing to remain a victim. I know it sounds harsh but I have very little tolerance for that victim mentality.

Also, I didn't love the ending. I felt as if the last chapter was very rushed. We find out Astrid is living in Berlin with Paul Trout, but not much is said about how they got to that point. I felt like the author spent a lot of time and thought on the first 400 pages of the book and then slapped out the last 30 pages in a half an hour.

All in all, even though I didn't love this book and thought it was a downer, I'm glad I finally read it. It's one of those books that's popular enough that I should have an informed opinion about it. (As a side note, after finishing the book, I wanted to see if Daphne had blogged about it. I already knew that she hadn't loved the book and she and I have discussed our shared hatred of She's Come Undone so I wasn't at all surprised to see that she had already come to the same conclusion I had.)

Next up on the nightstand: Never Let Me Go

Friday, March 4, 2011

Silver Falls

A few weeks ago the family and I drove to Silver Falls state park. I was going to write about it sooner but I was worried this was becoming Tammie's Blog of Waterfalls and that I may be boring you, but then I got over it. I like waterfalls and there are a lot of them around here, so you may just want to get used to it.A view from behind the waterfall:Silver Falls is one giant park but it seems more like a bunch of smaller connected parks. The most exciting feature (for us, anyway) is the Trail of Ten Falls, which is an eight mile hiking trail that passes by all the falls. We didn't do the whole hike, choosing to drive to various falls and then doing shorter hikes around the falls. The girl just can't do an eight mile hike yet.
The weather the day we went was pretty cold and there were still clumps of snow on leaves and branches and along the paths.My son, who otherwise has a habit of being quite lazy, always takes the long and rough route when hiking: In between waterfall viewing, we stopped at the lodge to warm up and eat some snacks. Which, for the girl was a popsicle, oddly enough. This shot was taken right before she spilled half a bottle of red Gatorade on my pant leg. Because you know, no day of family togetherness can ever be too perfect. Jay and I were thinking that the next time we go clothes shopping it may be wise to invest in some actual outdoor-type clothing so we don't have to hike in our street clothes. This last time they got so muddy I had to wash our jeans twice before they came clean. We'll definitely be heading back to Silver Falls. One of the fun aspects of moving somewhere completely different from where you've been your whole life, is that it takes a long time to get sick of all the sights. We're coming up on the one year anniversary of our move and everything is still so new to us. I was talking to another mother yesterday about the gorgeous sights in Oregon and she was saying how waterfalls aren't that exciting to her son anymore, they're old hat. I guess I can understand this, because that's how my family feels about beaches, swamps, and alligators.

I don't know what our plans are for this weekend, but I have a newspaper here with a hiking article in it and the destinations are calling my name. Happy trails!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Book Review:: Winter's Bone

Ree Dolly has one dream and that's to escape her life and join the army. At only 16, she's dropped out of high school so that she can take care of her two younger brothers and her mother, who is suffering from such a deep depression that she's nearly catatonic. Ree's father, Jessup, can't be relied upon. He spends most of his time gone from the family, either out having affairs, doing meth, or cooking up meth in various makeshift labs set up in abandoned homes in the wilderness of the Ozarks.

Given Jessup's habit of being gone for long stretches of time without anyone knowing his whereabouts, no one really worries about him. Until Deputy Baskin shows up and explains to Ree that not only does her father have a court date in a week, but that Jessup has used the house for his bond. If he doesn't show up for court, Ree and her family will be homeless. Ree has a week to either find her father and make him show up for court, or prove that he's dead.

Ree immediately sets out to find her dad, coming into contact with many of her extended family members, some helpful, some not, most just plain creepy. There are a lot of Dolly's in Ree's neck of the woods and how they are all related to one another can be sketchy, so there's definitely the suggestion of a certain amount of inbreeding. Plus, since meth is the family business, the whole clan has been working outside the confines of the law for years. Needless to say, Ree has to put herself in a few dangerous situations in order to find the truth about her father.

This isn't the type of book I would normally read, but Jay read it first and then suggested I do the same. Simply put, I liked it. I didn't think I would because I am so done with the south and don't really have any desire to read about backwoods hill people, but the book was beautifully written and the story was engrossing and easy to follow. At only 190 pages and with many chapters being only a page or two, this is just a small slip of a book that's easy to pick up and put back down again when an annoying child comes up to you demanding something. But the suspense of the story is enough so that you can't wait for the moment you can pick it up again.

I definitely would consider this book a must read, even if it doesn't sound like your cup of tea. It only took me a few days to read it, but certain parts of it will remain with me for quite some time. Also, it's been made into a critically acclaimed movie, although I think I'll pass on that. The suspense of the book was more than enough for me, I don't think I could handle the film.

Next up on the nightstand, White Oleander.