Saturday, December 21, 2013

Radish you a Merry Christmas and Other Good Memories

This year's radishes got too tough to eat. So there was nothing left to do but hang them on the tree.

The best Christmas memories besides decorating the 2013 radish tree with my husband and daughter were:


When I was 3, mom and I tried to make a triple batch of divinity. We had a small kitchen and the recipe made way more than mom thought it would. Soon all the bowls were full and all the counter were full of bowl. Some pots of divinity had to be put on the floor. Mom was wearing black highish heals. She stepped in one of the pots of divinity and her shoe came off in it. We are still laughing about that today.

6 cups white sugar
 11/2 cup light corn syrup
 21/2 cup hot water
 3/4 teaspoon salt
 6 egg whites
 3 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large 70's style clomper high heal.

In three heavy, 2 quart saucepans, combine the sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt. Cook and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Then cook to hard ball stage without stirring, 250 degrees F (120 degrees C.) Frequently wipe crystals forming on the sides of the pan, using a pastry brush dipped in water. Remove from heat.
Just as the syrup is reaching temperature, begin whipping egg whites: In batches of two eggs at a time in a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. You will need several bowls.

Pour hot syrup in a thin stream over beaten egg whites, beating constantly with the electric mixer at medium speed. Increase speed to high, and continue beating for about 5 minutes. Add vanilla; continue beating until the mixture becomes stiff and begins to lose its gloss. If it is too stiff, add a few drops hot water.

Immediately drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper. If floor is full of bowls and pans and plates of divinity, watch your step. For a decorative flair, twirl the top with the spoon when dropping or add one size 7, 70's style clomper stacked high-heel shoe. Let stand until set--shoe will not come loose if you wait until dad gets home to show him. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Go shoe shopping.

Snow Dances

Every other year we spent Christmas in the Finger Lakes region of New York with Grandma and Bapa and aunts, uncles, and cousins.

My best friend was my cousin M. who was only 9 months my junior. Once we got done trying to kill each other we were inseparable. Most of my best Christmas memories involve her.  One of which was a recurrent tradition of doing snow dances on the day my family was supposed to leave New York in hopes of conjuring up a blizzard so the roads would be impassable and we would get to stay an extra day or two. It worked once.

Sugar High

When we were five,  M. and I both got long tapes of red and green santa clause suckers in our stockings for Christmas. We snuck off to grandma's play room and ate all three feet worth of suckers. Then we fell asleep together in the toy bin in an joyous stupor of sugar overdose.

Candy Canes and other Fragments 

Aunt M.A. Showed M and I how to make macramé candy canes. We made tons. Gramdma had us paint ceramic ornaments every year. We helped grandma bake cookies and make raviolis for Christmas dinner. One year the Children's Christmas mass at St. Pat's got visited by bats.

Edward Scissorhands Made it Snow in Geneva

When M. and I were older we went to see Edward Scissorhands in an old theater in Geneva New York. It had not been snowing all day and the Finger Lakes region had been rather deficient in snow so far that year. We went in to theater and were quickly captivated by the movie's imagery and its tragic romance. We were at the age where we could just begin to appreciate such things. The movie ended with its scene of ice sculpture snow falling on the suburbs. When we left the theater it was snowing big fluffy flakes and the whole city had been covered in a downey blanket of white.


When I was in graduate school at UT, Knoxville had a lighting ceremony on Market Square every year before Christmas. I went to this evening event by myself usually because my husband worked nights and all my classmates and associates were men. I aways felt very lonely at Christmas during this time of my life. I missed M. and all the family who were so far away.  One  particularly cold year instead of just lighting the tree at the center of the square, the organizers handed out candles. The light started at one end of the crowd and went from candle to candle, person to person. A few hundred strangers were sharing this light and singing carols. It felt like the square warmed up as the light spread. When the light made it all they way acres the square the tree was turned on. For a few minutes I felt that all people were just as special and dear to me as M and I did not feel lonely at all.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fresh Peaches and Red Wine

Fresh in season Peach
several leaves of freshly picked basil
Red Wine of your choice (I used a fortified red wine made by my father)

Pour about a 1/4 cup of red wine in a bowl and about half that much water. Cut peach into bite-sized chunks and put it in the bowl with the wine. Tear basil up over peaches and mix. Let stand while you eat dinner. Serve with ice cream or just by itself for dessert.

How to get Your Kid to Eat Brussel Sprouts (add pepperoni) 

Brussel sprouts  (those that your kid helped you grow work best) 
6 pieces of pepperoni 
black pepper. 
1 very small clove Garlic mashed then minced. 
2 Tbsp Olive Oil 
1/4 cup dry wine mixed with  1/4 cup water. (may use chicken broth or just water  here too) 

Thoroughly wash brussel sprout. Drain and quarter or half each one depending on size. Heat olive oil in a skillet with medium heat. Add salt pepper and garlic . Fry till it smells good. Add pepperoni and fry till it smells good. Add bussel spouts. Fry for 5 to 10 min stirring occasionally --Don't let oil go dry. Add wine and cover skillet. Let cook for 5 to 10 min--until brussle sprouts are tender. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Murder in the Garden: with a happy ending

We came upon a crime scene at the UT Ag. Gardens. 


We could not stand it! 

So  .  .  . 

To the the rescue

Hot glue drys too fast to get some of the pieces together so  .  .  .

Some pieces are missing. We used Bubble Wrap to support all the remaining pieces in the head. 

My head feels funny! 


What's wrong with my head?!

Um. Nothing .  .  . Your brains are sho .. err..your hat is so last summer.

My what is what? 

Never mind. We'll make it work.

Crochet hook to the rescue! 

Working fast I only have one episode of a certain mouse's clubhouse to get this done. 

That looks just like my old hat! 

No it doesn't. It has a (fast movements with hook and thread) flower. See?

Not bad, it makes me look thinner. 
(brain damage) 

A little waterproofing spray and all done! 
The repaired Mr. Gnome will be replace at the UT Ag. Garden when all the glues and waterproofing are dry.

Read more:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Please Put Me Back at the Top of the Stream

Thanks to two local artists we spent the morning watching ducks drift down stream in Krutch Park with many other Market goers. The three yellow rubber ducks were fished-out with sticks and carried back to the head of the man-made stream several times. We got a demonstration of the complexities of hydrodynamics when the ducks got stuck in eddy pools that sent them up stream against the general flow of the water. Some experienced kayakers had the best predictions for how the ducks would move as they floated over the little waterfalls in the stream. Sticks were eagerly deployed by the children to get the ducks out of the undercurrent rolls. 

We love this simple high-joy interactive art project and hope that the city will let the duck stay in the stream! 

Friday, July 5, 2013

On Trying to Help a Kid Deal with Death

Lilly was our lovable Loyal Persian cat. She would greet me at my car when I came home from work and took our preschooler's very enthuatic affection with wary grace. Lilly didn't come home the night of Alex's Birthday party. We searched for a week, we put out food, we checked in with the animal shelter and with all our neighbors. All we found was some of Lilly's fur caught on bushes out front where she seldom ever went. A neighbor  told us that he heard a battle between a pack of a raccoons and a cat happening in the drain pipe near his house the night Lilly disappeared.

We have no body for Lilly, we are not even sure what her fate was. Alex can not understand that she is gone and keeps imploring us to go "get a helecopter to go look for her and put her back together."After three weeks increasing family distressed over Lilly, we decided that we must have a funeral.

We bought a "garden stone" kit with concrete, a mold, and glass stones. I had Alex help me mix up the concreate and poor it into the mold. I let her put some of Lilly's fur in the mix. When she did this she ask "Is Lilly coming back?" I told her no. Alex began to cry. We tearfully pressed the pretty stones and flowers in to the mix, then carved Lilly's name into the semi-set concrete and finally un-molded the stone and said a few nice words to the Universe. This took about two days to complete.

In the last week, Alex has told me a few times solemnly that Lilly is not coming back. It seems that the little ceremony and memorial stone have helped with the grieving and healing process. Its a rough thing for a little kid to process.

Wherever you are Lilly Bug, may every window have a soft perch and comfortable sunbeam.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Simple Rituals: Tea Time

The working parent and her/his kids are pulled in many directions at once.  When I noticed that the relationship between my toddler and I was getting strained -- the mommy stuffed animal in all our games was always saying "I have to go to work! I can't play!", I decided that I would make a conscious effort to make the time that she and I had together count. We developed a set of  Simple Rituals to stay close.

Tea Time was the first.

What you need

A designated teapot, can be anything clean, heat-proof, and water tight. We use the bone-china teapot my Grandma and I used for our tea when I was a girl.
Caffieen-free "tea" ours rarely has anything do with real tea, we use herbs or Karkade.
A tray - I use a ubiquitous cookie sheet.
Tea cups - Child size is best, but any will do.
Hats (not optional)
A small table- We use a mini-trampoline (the kind you might jog in place on while watching TV), it is the perfect height for a toddler tea-table when all the guests sit on the floor.  It is water-proof and can seat as many guests as you want.
A pretty tea towel
Guests - stuffed animals, toys, relatives, friends.

 Most nights no matter how late we get home, she and I make tea, drape the cookie tray with a pretty towel and load it down with crackers, fruit or little sandwiches and diminutive tea cups. We put on our hats, plunk down the trampoline, arrange the guests, and then set out the tray. For as long as it take to drink a whole pot of tea, one ounce at a time as the little cups allow, we giggle and talk to eachother.

I learned the hard way that Grandma's teapot was very fragile, luckily the break was in the lid so a little superglue saved the day. I think it is important to use precious family items like Grandma's teapot to emphasize that this time is special. However, to cushion our teapot against future breaks, I crocheted at tea cozy for it using this  Crafster tutorial. The yarn I used also belonged to Grandma.

Having small tea cups forces you to spend a proper amount of time. We use china cups as long as there are any still whole.

I ask Alex to tell me a story about what we are doing. Often we are on a mission to the moon and the trampoline is also doing double duty as a rocket ship. One must have a lots of tea and bunny crackers on the way to and from the Moon. Sometimes we are on a pirate ship. Sometimes we are just at tea.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fairy Gardens

The UT Gardens had a workshop in March about  building Fairy Gardens. We were not able to attend the workshop but my toddler has had the pleasure of finding the example Fairy Gardens form the workshop tucked all over the Garden. So far we have discovered three! If you are wondering, a fairy garden is a diminutive landscape, often in a flower pot, which includes a small residence for fairies.

Here is our favorite one from the UT gardens:
The other two are amazing so you should go hunt for them if you are in the area! 

Inspired by these examples, my daughter wanted to increase the fairy real estate in the grater Knoxville Area and she was very bent on doing it quickly after the first time we noticed the Fairy Gardens at UT. 

So upon arrival home we threw this together: The recycled Fairy Garden (for the eco-concious fairy).

Made of 99.8% post consumer material. 

We used a planter that was made from an old tire and painted purple with spare house paint-- I cleaned the paint roller we used to paint our back door by rolling it on the finished tire planter- fabulous and easy results from paint that would have been discarded otherwise. Making the planter, which we did about 5 years ago,  is another story--It required cutting the top rim off a tier and then flipping the tier inside out, which will be a quick process for you if you routinely wrestle alligators. We already had snap dragons and a mini pine tree growing in the planter. Alexandria found some shells from vacations past  and stones from our drive way to make the path and yard ornaments. The house is made from a small disposable purple plastic flower pot and a large shell. We used a sharpie pen to draw on the windows and flourishes on the house and I cut a door in it with garden sheers. This residence is already occupied and it was on the market for less than 2 hours!

With results like these it was clear that Knoxville was due for a fairly housing boom. So we decided to go into mass production-- we scheduled a Fairy Garden Party to occur on the anniversary  of Alex's birth and have invited several little builders ages (0.5 to 7).

These fairy houses are modular homes made out of little unfinished bird houses which my husband spent several weekends sawing doors in with a tiny hand saw.  We will provide paint, stickers, shells, glue and ribbons for the little builders to finish them with. Then each little builder can install the fairy house at his/home garden.

Modular Fairy Homes 

Alex and I built a model home to help advertise the Development. We painted it red and white like a Mario mushroom. We bought succulents from the famers market and put it all together in a little rock pot with some fancy stones and wine bottle corks. I used a smashed-up pine cone and rocks at the bottom of my pot to cover the drainage hole without clogging it. We also found some doll house fences to make the small lot size less noticeable. (There will be a community pool rather than each house having its own!)

The components.

Here it is all assembled. It is going to be the center-peace for the Birthday table and then it will be moved to its permanent residence next to one of our roses.

The Seawind Unit
I will update this post with pictures of what the kids make and the aftermath of having 10 to 20 kids painting fairy houses at my house. Rain Rain stay away!

The Rain did stay away. We had a perfect day.

Our little builders had a good time personalizing their own houses. 

Paint and things to glue on were all well used. 

No Fairy house is complete without a blue glow in the dark Spider. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Build a Sunflower House


Sunny section of yard 4X4 feet
20 Sunflower seeds (Giant variety)
20 Heavenly Blue morning glory seeds (or other color)
Patience from whomever mows your yard
Garden twine

In a sunny part of your yard, use a shovel to scrape the out line of a 4X4 square, leaving a 2 foot opening of unscraped earth in the center of one side of the square--this will be the door. The channel should be about 6 inches wide. Evenly plant Sunflower seeds and morning glory seeds around the square. When the sunflowers are large enough (about 50-80 days) and/or the morning glories have grow up to the top of the sunflowers, use garden twine to string a few zigzags across the square at the top of the sun flowers. This will give the morning glories something to grow across to form the roof.

Three rainy weekends in a row brought out lots of sprouts! 

Last year's sunflower stems mark the edges of the garden so it is visible to the mower. I think if I do this again I will give the sunflowers a week or two head start over the morning glories as the morning glories are dominating the growth. 

One Month

A little over a month of growth. The sunflowers are about knee high. 

Two Months

After two months, the Sunflowers are taller than a 3 year-old child. I have had to unwind some of the morning glories from the leaves of the sunflowers to keep the leaves from being choaked. 

WORD OF WARNING: If you have a wonderful caring spouse who tends your garden when you are too busy, warn him that the morning glories are NOT weeds which need to be removed from the sunflowers. He thought, perhaps rightly so, that the MGs were chocking the SFs. Thankfully enough MGs were speared that we should still be able to get some sort of  roof when I string the top with twine later today. 

Replanted morning glories today. 

Three Months

We have to keep unwrapping the morning glories from the flexible tops of the sunflowers. If we don't we end up getting twisted and bent growth rather than vertical sunflowers.  

Twisted Sunflower.

The sunflowers are now taller than I am. I had to use a few tall spiral stakes to straighten out the walls. We have had weeks of rain and very little sun so the sunflower are not very sturdy. 

Reinforce leaning walls with 3 or 4 tall spiral tomato stakes. 

I finally strung the roof. I tied the strings for the roof to the tops of the stakes rather than the sunflowers. The morning glories have started down the strings after one day. 

The roof training strings look like a spider's web. 

I'll update this with pictures as our sunflower house grows.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Giving up Bitterness for Lent

It feels damn good to scream at that driver who holds you up at the right-on-red while the street to left of him is as empty as the vacuum of space. Finding new and fitting things to exclaim about his parentage and general state of inelegance occupies the long seconds while you wait for the light to turn green.  Bitterness is a great luxury. 

Life is full of small and large injustice. We have all lost something that was vital to us through the actions of another person. To hate and fester is human. If the injury is large and disrupts our foundations, the bitterness at first give us the strength to isolate ourselves from the hurting kind and move on, but that is not the only way to move on. The more difficult path is to remove ourselves from those who act against us, but do so without harboring anger and with the idea that forgiveness is always an option even if the wrongs can not be undone. 

The idea of giving up something in order to purify the mind and empathize with those who have suffered is not only beneficial to those who are religious. There is a transcendence to be had from extraordinary empathy. Since this is Lent, I am going to use the Christian ideals and holiday to frame the discussion.  However, this post is largely inspired by a Muslim, Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face by racist Mark Stroman who was literally hunting Muslim convince store workers in a twisted bid for vengeance for the September 11th attacks. Bhuiyan survived the attack but lost his right eye and still carries 35 pellets in his face. Stroman was sentenced to death for killing Vasudev Patel a native of India who was shot, like Bhuiyan, while working at a convince store. Bhiuyan sued to halt Stroman's execution, stating that his religious beliefs as a Muslim told him to forgive Stroman--that Stroman could learn from his horrible mistake and thereby help others not take the same path. Bhiuyan's bid to save his would-be killer's life did not succeed, Stroman was executed by lethal injection, but Bhiuyan's example may yet inspire salvation. Bhuiyan was a man who had given up bitterness. He had done so through faith and was motivated to make a better world for all people. 

One of the origins of the 40 days of Lent comes from Jesus's going into the desert to fast for 40 days in preparation for his ministry. In that story (thinking of Luke Chapter 4ish) he is tempted by the devil with food and visions of power and rejects all of them to begin his ministry of love. 

To empathize with Jesus's suffering and perseverance many people give up something that is a luxury - Chocolate, Facebook and Coffee are often the additional perks given up besides meat. Some people decide that taking positive actions like good works, prayerful meditation, and charity are more meaningful acts than sacrifice alone. 

In the spirit of empathizing with Jesus (and Mohammed and Yom Kippur Atonement and all those who suffer in the name of a better world) I am giving up bitterness for Lent. For me this is opportunity to become more like Christ, who according to Christian holy texts had all manner of reasons to be bitter but instead chose to love the world and act always to make it better even for those who tormented him. 

 I think that this will be much harder for me than giving up any tangible privilege. It will require an ever adjusting strategy as bitterness is a very goto response. I will update this post as I struggle and succeed. I hope to grow from this far beyond the six weeks of Lent. 

Struggle 1. You have to be aware of what makes you bitter to avoid the chain-reaction of feelings and brain chemicals that land you in anger. This idea was imparted to me by a wise man who occasionally comes bearing french fries for my kid.  First I thought, I'll try to do this by making a list of those things that make me bitter and then try to avoid those situations or be mindful of them. This particular way of reaching awareness was NOT a good idea for me! I ended up dwelling on those people and situations rather than finding positive ways to handle them. So what else could our trusty french fry deliverer have meant by "recognize what make you bitter”? How about Strategy Two: pay attention to the feelings that lead to escalating anger rather than the situations. For me, hurt/disappointment is the largest trigger. So I am trying to recognize when I feel hurt before the feeling escalates to anger. Having a thought relay, that searches for why I am feeling rather than just feeling it, at least slows down the trip to anger even if it does not stop it completely. This did actually help this week when I found out something that I really like to do is going away. I am channeling my disappointment into finding a way to do the same thing through different means, which gives me a chance to do what I like and also to have discussions about the issue uncluttered by anger. There is much wisdom in the Fry Man! 

Friday, January 25, 2013

How to Make Kale Chips with Your Preschooler

Kids under 5 seem to love to rip paper. They also like to bake, need to eat their greens, and need time with you. At the nexus of all these things is Kale Chips. See the diagram if you don't believe me. 


1 large buch of Kale
1-2 Tbs Olive Oils
1/2 tps Salt. 
Parchment paper (optional)
Thin baking sheet. You want good direct heat-transfer. 
One small assistant (optional but much more fun) 

Preheat your over to 275 F. Wash the kale really well and then dry it thoroughly. I use a spinner because my two year old loves to crank it up. Have your kid rip the kale off its more woody stems and tear it into roughly 2 inch by 2 inch pieces. My two year old loves this part. Put the shredded kale on a thin baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle some olive over the Kale and have your toddler runch her hands through it until the oil evenly coats the kale. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the Kale. Pop the baking sheet in the over for 30 to 40 min. Somewhere toward the middle of the baking time stir the Kale with a spatula. When your Kale is done it will be dry and crispy like a very thin potato chip. It will taste a bit like a potato chips too so your kid will eat it with enthusiasm. 

My guess for the calories :
120 cal for Olive oil
30 cal for Kale
This makes about 2 servings, so 75 ish calories per serving.