Friday, August 31, 2007

Last night ... totally off the wagon...

Pull up a chair ...

Would you pay $3000 for this chair? Last week someone did - and the $3000 went to Peace House!

Here's the link to the article about the fundraising event - a total of over $24,000 was raised - very exciting for us!

This is the first time Herman Miller has ever done a charity event like this, and they say it won't be their last - they enjoyed doing it as much as we enjoyed having them do it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Sunday dinner: homemade vegetable beef soup (****) refrigerator biscuits (*)

Monday breakfast & lunch: honestly don't remember ...

Monday dinner: broiled salmon (****), homemade Thai sesame noodles (***)

Tuesday breakfast: leftover Thai noodles (***)

Tuesday lunch: umm, I ate breakfast so late I kind of skipped lunch

Tuesday dinner: homemade spaghetti & meatballs (lean hamburger) (**)

In addition.

I am reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which is chock-full of persuasion to eat well (and has recipes, too!) and today I turned on the television absent-mindedly at 4:00 and there was Oprah. Those of you who know me know I don't particularly care for Ms. Winfrey, but she had two doctors on her show today to talk about slowing the aging process primarily through diet (not to lose weight, although that's a usual - and nice - byproduct, but to have a healthier heart.) And Oprah looked straight at the camera and said "It's no coincidence you turned on the TV right now. You are supposed to hear this show."

And you know what? I believe her.

Monday, August 27, 2007

State Fair 2007!

It's that time of year again - my favorite annual activity is once again open for business :-)

And thankfully we went before my commitment to healthy eating!

The boys & I went on Saturday - it was a beautiful day and didn't rain (hurrah) and we did our usual gastronomic tour of the fair grounds. We decided on the way to the fair we would try something new this year, and I knew just what it would be.

On the radio I had heard Chef Andrew Zimmern, a local food celebrity, talk about something new at the Fair this year. He said he tried it with trepidation but ended up being very pleasantly surprised - and he said this with enough conviction to convince me to try it, too.

SPAM Curds. Battered, deep fried, hunks of SPAM with cheese, dipped in a robust ranch dressing. And you know what? They were pretty darn good! Not good enough to make me buy them again, but good enough that I ate most of them. Ty had 2 or 3, Ben just one-half of one (I am pretty sure it was the name that threw him, which I can totally understand - I think this is the first time I have ever tried SPAM, and I know my reluctance was not due to any known logical reason. It's just that it's, well, SPAM.)
We also did Pronto Pups, French Fries, Tom Thumb Mini-Donuts, Pizza, and .... there must have been more. We did NOT get out Sweet Martha's cookies - saving that for next time (we're going again on Friday.) Hmm, I will have to convince myself they are healthy. At least I know they are baked locally!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Smart Habits

It's the end of August. Back-to-school time. This year I will be facing a September like one I have never dealt with before, and the thought of it is occupying a lot of my time - probably too much. We are homeschooling again, the boys know the routine - and were quite adamant about wanting to continue this year. I am counting on them showing responsibility and self-discipline in getting their school work done this year. We are in a different house this year, in a different situation, and for the first time in homeschooling memory, I am working. It's a lot of balls to keep in the air. I am working on gearing up for it, and know that my self-discipline needs to be stronger than ever before to make it all work.

Calandria started posting about "Smart Habit Saturdays" a while back. Recently I have been thinking about the idea, and thinking I should climb on board that train. SMART stands for Saving Money, Associations, Resources and Time, and the basic premise is that you do have the power to make new, positive habits in your life if you do so in small steps and with deliberateness (is that a word?). The recommended procedure is to make a new plan every Saturday to incorporate one new good habit in the coming week. Then, you are supposed to blog about your new habit regularly - I think the blogging is supposed to provide accountability, as (in theory) your readers will be eagerly awaiting news on how you did during the week. Sort of a Weight Watchers for life-habits, without the weekly fees or counting points.

Today is Sunday, but I am going to give it a try. Of course, being me, I have about 16 new habits I know I should tackle. Which one first? Is it better to start small and see how it goes, or start with a bang and take advantage of the adrenalin which comes with something new? I think I will start with meal planning. I have been wanting to plan our meals to be healthier, and the boys are willing to experiment with more home-made foods and less processed convenience foods (well, they say they are, we will see how the reality goes.) My hope is, too, that if we fill our bodies with healthier food, we will have more energy to do other things which are on my "future habits" list. I want to move to more organic and locally-grown/produced foods, as I believe nothing good can come of the additives and chemicals found in so many products these days - and while it may be too late to prevent the damage to my body, hopefully I can minimize it for the boys and improve the odds for myself.

I'd like to say I will photograph and report on the meals we plan and make but you probably have noticed a pattern of me forgetting to take pictures until after the food is eaten ... so no promises! But I will report in - and honestly admit my shortcomings as well as my triumphs. And if you have any good tips for me, or recipes, please send them over!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

“You know, some things don’t matter that much, Lily. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person’s heart - now that matters. The whole problem with people is … they know what matters, but they don’t choose it… . The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.”

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

The Field Museum

We LOVED the Field Museum.

It had been described to us as a building full of dead animals, and yes, that is true. But we spent so much time looking at all those dead animals and talking about them, and really having fun seeing all the different species.

From walking in and seeing Sue (we had seen her before when she was on tour - like a rock star! - in St. Paul), to seeing the Egyptian mummies (the day before we had watched the omni-film Secrets of the Pharoahs at the Museum of Science and Industry so it was like seeing the film come to life .. err, umm, not "to life" exactly, but you get the idea!)

It was also really fun to show the kids all the different animals I had seen while in Africa this summer. I was especially excited to show them the Lilac Breasted Roller - this is my new favorite bird, introduced to me by two teachers on my safari - it's absolutely beautiful, and the live ones I saw in Tanzania are much more vivid and bright than this one here - but still, it was nice to show them the bird! I noticed another family eavesdropping as I said "Oh! I saw THAT in Africa, too!" and the mom kind of looked at me as if she didn't really believe me and she didn't really approve of my "bragging." Whatever.

In the bird area we were exclaiming over the tininess (tinyness?) of hummingbirds, and when we saw this skeleton Ben confusedly asked "Is that one alive???" which then became our running joke for the day and brought lots of extra giggling to the experience!

In one of the exhibits they had these bug-eye goggles you could look through, and we took pictures of one another through the goggles, too.
There was a lot of information, as you would expect, on extinction and endangered species. It was sobering to see the sign showing how many species were dying off daily.
We were also impressed with how old many of the exhibits are - many of the animals are over 100 years old, and so well taken care of - we talked about what it must be like to work at the Field, with appreciation and respect for the people who keep it running as such a fine museum.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wedding Bells!

This weekend Uncle Dave got married! Here he is with his lovely bride, Kristi. Ben had the camera all evening, and Ty had his grandmother's camera, and in the nearly 200 pictures they together took, there are about 4 "keepers."

Here is one of Ty (in his first-ever tie!) with Grandma Karen, looking lovely in her role as mother of the groom.

And here is the boys' new cousin Spencer - who turned 3 in July - and who did amazingly well, dressed up in his tuxedo. He was the ring-bearer, and the flower girl (Kristi's cousin, maybe 7?) dragged him by the hand down the aisle - but he didn't complain!

But most of the photos were not the kind Dave & Kristi will want in their album of the day. Here are a couple of the more typical shots!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Puppet Bike

On Michigan Avenue we came across the Puppet Bike. I had had the pleasure of watching this entertaining entrepreneuer when I was in Chicago in June, so was thrilled to introduce the boys to the fun. In this picture, Ty had just given a dollar to the Bunny, and the Tiger was trying to wrestle it away. We stood and watched and listened for quite a while. Another great memory!

Millennium Park

We loved Millennium Park. We loved walking through it almost every day on our way to museums. We loved watching people, and pigeons, and exploring the different areas. We loved the water, the flowers, and the beauty right in the heart of the city. Chicago has done good here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Taste of Chicago, part one

We really had a terrific few days in Chicago. This is the building we stayed in - courtesy of my good friends who live just outside of Chicago. We were on the 37th floor which is about 32 too high for my comfort, but I didn't go on the balcony (much.) Here are some people doing what would be one of my worst nightmare jobs - washing windows without even that board thing they usually get to stand on.

Both boys loved all the pigeons, seagulls, and geese that we saw throughout the city. They both tried to get pictures of them (I think Ty actually took this one) and we enjoyed feeding them occasionally. I'm sure the Chicago-ans (Chicago-ites?) love that - tourists coming in and encouraging the little beasts to hang around.
There was a city-wide exhibit of these globes which we had a great time finding and looking at. It was similar to St. Paul doing the Peanuts characters. Each globe had some sort of "green" theme. This one was my personal favorite, reminding me of my knitting friends - its message was to turn down your thermostat in the winter and put on a sweater!
More pics and stories coming tomorrow :-)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

HP7 Update

Well, as I predicted, Carla received her mailed copy of HP7 the same day as the emergency relief copy was hand-delivered by a visitor. So I expect to hear her impressions within the next few hours!!!

A tantalizing glimpse...

Don't have time today to give a full report but here are a few pictures from our Chicago adventure to whet your appetite for more, coming tomorrow! Two "L"s, two "N"s. How embarrassing if they spelled it wrong!

How fast can you wash and milk a cow?

That flash in the middle is me.

Note the parenthetical qualifier ... Not life-size.

A short and sweet vacation -- We had a great time!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Make Your Cake and Eat It Too!

At the National Night Out Block Party last week, Christy brought the most wonderful chocolate cake I had tasted in a long time, so I knew I had to get the recipe and make it for the cabin-go'ers.
Christy's Incredible Cake

One Devil's Food chocolate cake mix
2 eggs
16 oz sour cream (I used light!)
12 oz chocolate chips (this picture is milk, but I used semi-sweet)

Blend all together, place in prepared bundt pan, bake 50-55 minutes at 350 degrees.

Christy served it with no frosting, I dusted it with powdered sugar.

It comes out like a pudding cake. Incredibly moist and delicious! As usual, I forgot to take a picture of the finished product. Here are B & T, just finishing their slices. Their faces tell the story.
I cut the cake at 8:02. It was GONE - not a crumb left - by about 8:09. Next year, I am told, I have to make TWO.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Up North

People in Minnesota tend to describe their summer vacations as "we went Up North." And that's what we did this weekend.

We went to a friend's family cabin. Actually it's kind of a compound as they have two cabins on adjacent lots. We have been going up there every summer for a "Friends Weekend" for around 21 or so years, only taking one summer off when a baby was born and since the baby's dad was the host and the baby's mom kind of wanted him to be in the hospital with her, and that hospital was in Maryland ... well, it just didn't work out that year. But every other year, a core group of us travel Up North for a weekend of fun.

The weekends used to involve a lot of alcohol and no kids. For a couple of years we had a couple we fondly refer to as "The Subways" - they owned 2 Subway shops - and they were fond of drinking, yelling, drinking some more, chasing chipmunks with golf clubs, drinking some more, and ending the evening with more yelling. We don't miss them.

Then the first babies showed up. Then more. The alcohol consumption went down in direct inverse porportion to the number of babies.

Then one year they outnumbered us, and it's never been the same since. Now we drink a lot of water and a lot of coffee, and while the fire pit used to be the place where inhibitions left and "American Pie" was sung in its entirety, now the fire pit is where the S'Mores are made and "Guess I'll Eat Some Worms" is sung in all its hilarity.

I didn't take many photos this year but here are a couple which show the mood, starring Ty & Sophia.

One thing we discovered this year was that of the 9 kids up there this year, there was a 2 year old and a 12 year old, and then one each of ages 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & (almost)10! We have, this fall, someone starting every grade - from preschool, through kindergarten and up to 5th grade (and then Ben in 7th.) Somehow we parents never picked up on how orderly we gave birth before.

A fun weekend. One bee sting, but no blood. Success!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Don't listen to this at work

OK, two YouTube videos of a dog named Benji who sings ... personally my favorite is watching his "nonverbals" - how he matches his position and enthusiasm to the level & tone of the music.

Video 1
Video 2

(they're kind of loud!)

On Being Gifted ....

Excellent article on parenting the gifted; here's just one excerpt ...

Parents need to understand that gifted boys and girls alike benefit from exploring many activities and do so best when they are not expected to excel at or stick with all of them. Social pressure exists for boys to be decision makers—meaning that they need not only to decide but to adhere to their decisions. Exploration without demands for permanent involvement allows decisions to be temporary. Trent only wanted to try out the trombone, but he was expected to make a long-term commitment to it. His parents should have allowed him to experiment with a rented instrument, without private lessons. He could have done so for an agreed-to period of time and just as easily decided not to play any longer at the end of it. Time parameters set in advance permit gifted boys to try their hand at many activities and interests. Indeed, this kind of experimentation should be encouraged and supported as late as the first or second year of college.

Two-headed Alien Baby of Sasquatch Eats Printing Press!

"Publisher American Media Inc. said on Tuesday it will stop printing the Weekly World News, which for 28 years gleefully chronicled the exploits of alien babies, animal-human hybrids and dead celebrities." Yahoo News

I saw this today and it made me mourn. I had a boyfriend many years ago who was a subscriber to WWN. He introduced me to the lunacy of its "news" articles, and we spent lazy afternoons reading out loud to one another and laughing so hard we couldn't go on. We actually had serious discussions, too, on where the writers got their ideas, and how many gullible people might actually beleive the stories.

Just a few months ago, Ben bought a copy and enjoyed reading it, cover-to-cover. It brought a smile to my face as I listened to him appreciate the humor and bizarre-ness of the paper. I wondered if a subscription might be a fun gift for him

Now it's not to be, though they will continue online. I'll have to make sure Ben knows the URL!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Scary spam

Wow. I have noticed the emails in my spam file seem to go in trends. Lately, I seem to be getting a lot from places that sound like an online card company - the subject line is always something like "You've received a postcard from a school mate!" or "You've received a greeting from a chum!" Not quite believable, but close, very close.

Well, I was just going through the file (in case something real accidentally got stuck in there) and saw a message from a sender with the name "Carla Hickman" and it freaked me out. It can't be coincidence.

Why can't the people who figure out how to send realistic-looking spam emails actually do something productive with their genius abilities?!?

My Grandson!

Bet'cha didn't know I am a Grandma (of sorts), did'ja?

In 1988 I hosted an AFS student, Doganay, from Turkey. Though there were only a few years between us (ok, more like 9) she was still technically my daughter and I her mother, according the the AFS paperwork.

Well, Doganay and her husband Ercan had a baby this year - a little boy named Selman, so that makes me, at least in the eyes of AFS, a Grandmother. (Mom, are you ready to be a great-grandma?!)

Here he is ... do you see the family resemblance?

And here is a photo of Doganay & me, shortly before she returned home to Turkey.

Balance between good and bad?

Listening to the radio this morning, they were interviewing Charles Simic, the recently named Poet Laureate for our nation. Now I will admit to not really knowing exactly what the point of having a national Poet Laureate is ... trying to impress upon the citizens and anyone else who looks that we are educated and cultural in the USA? Anyway - I also don't know anything about this poet in particular, when I Googled him every hit called him "surreal" (well, probably they were referring to his style, not he himself, but maybe?) so who knows what that signifies. I guess one of his more famous poems talks about wanting to be inside a stone. OK.

But my point today is he said something in the interview which gave me pause. When asked if he could believe what a great week he had last week (apparently in addition to being named P.L. he also got some other accolade) he commented that he is expecting some bad luck now to balance out the good luck he is having.

Now, first off, there is the whole debate about "luck" ... the old one-liner of "the harder I work, the luckier I get" comes immediately to mind. But I also found myself thinking about the belief that you have to experience hardship or pain in order to fully appreciate joy or success. I haven't analyzed that idea enough to really know how I feel about it's truthfulness, but I lean towards accepting it.

Which then brings me to my own personal introspection. I look at all that has happened in my life over the past year, and it has truly been an incredible mix of good and bad. I have just been focused on getting through the days, without trying to interconnect the dots, but now I find myself wondering if I am balanced. Have all my bad times been tempered by enough good times to keep me balanced? Do I have a positive or negative or neutral balance in my "life account" of luck? And does this mean that the bad things have helped me experience the good things more fully? I like to think that way. It helps put the bad into a more optimistic perspective, and I am all about optimism. (And if this is really true, I am due for some really, really good things after all the time I spent being sick after Africa!) (Or else I was paying my dues for great things that already happened.) (Wonder how you know if it's repayment or prepayment?)

What do you think? Does this theory hold water? Is your account balance positive or negative? I think, overall, my account is on the positive side right now.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Unexpected Pleasures

I went out to get the mail about an hour ago ... yes, it was 9:00 PM ... usually the mail doesn't have much of interest in it, so sometimes I don't pick it up for a couple of days at a time.

Tonight, however, there was a treat! A friend sent me a real letter. Handwritten and everything! I have not talked to her or seen her or even heard from her in a very long time - she sent this note to try to re-connect.

What a wonderful surprise! She sent me her new email address and I immediatly sent her a note, she replied within 20 minutes, and we are going to get together in a week or so (she is heading out of town tomorrow on vacation.)

I was having a boring Saturday night and it was spiced up by the mail. No, it was spiced up by the connection with a friend. Can't wait to see her!

My Big Dog

This week we "tortoise sat" for some friends. Colby & Tory developed quite a friendship.

When Colby would press his nose to the glass, Tory would come out to say Hello.

At least that's my interpretation of it.

And here he is in his favorite position ... warming my toes.

In fact, that's where he is right this very minute as I type!

There's no need to fear, Underdog is here!

The critic hated it.

We found it endearing, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable. And, judging by the spontaneous applause heard in our theater at the end of the film, so did the other 30-or-so viewers.

I mean, we are talking Underdog here. What do you expect? This is not high-culture thee-ah-tah. A flying dog with a funny voice and a red sweater. Jim Belushi as the dad. Hello, mindless is expected - required, even - here.

Or maybe the boys & I are just pathetically easy to entertain.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Letter J

When I was growing up, a family lived down the street from one of my best friends, and they had 6 kids whose names all started with the letter J. I used to be able to recite them ... John, Jay, Julie, Jed, Jessica and Jamie (maybe???) My friend and I used to say with all of our 12-year-old wisdom that naming 6 kids with the same first letter was just plain silly. You know their mom just found herself stuttering J...j...j... no matter who she wanted to call.

Today I heard a story that has that family beat.

The Duggar family, of Arkansas, just welcomed their 17th - yes, SEVENTEENTH - child, and, you guessed it, every single one of them has a name which starts with J.

Joshua, 19; Jana and John David, 17; Jill, 16; Jessa, 14; Jinger, 13; Joseph, 12; Josiah, 10; Joy-Anna, 9; Jeremiah and Jedidiah, 8; Jason, 7; James, 6; Justin, 4; Jackson, 3; Johanna, 21 months, and Jennifer, born yesterday (August 2).
Oh - and here is the even bigger kicker.

The mom, Michelle (the only non-J in the family, as Dad's name is Jim-Bob [a la The Waltons]) is 40.

Five years younger than me. Been pregnant for nearly 11 years out of the last 20. And (you had to know it was coming...) she homeschools them all.

You're The One That I Want!

Sigh ... very soon, Grease opens on Broadway. It's my dream to make it there to see the show with Max & Laura starring in it.

Who are Max and Laura, you wonder, and how does Karen know them?

Well, they spent many-a-Sunday evening right here in my living room last spring when they handily won the rights to open on Broadway as Danny & Sandy on the televised contest for said roles. I picked Max from day 1, Laura it took me a bit longer to love (and she's from just down the road in Eagan!)

I now have friends to stay with in NYC, thanks to the teacher trip - so I just have to get airline tix and theater tix ... and time to do it ... and arrange for the boys and the dogs ... and all the other details.

Max & Laura are living their dreams and my dream is pretty small comparatively, so hopefully sometime in the next 12 months you will be reading here about my big trip to the Big Apple!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Summertime ...

Don't you just want to stop and set a spell? Maybe with a big glass of lemonade?

Small is the New Big

I just stumbled across this Flickr album, "Small is the New Big" - apparently a family of 3 just moved into a less-than-400-square-foot apartment in Bozeman, and it looks so incredibly cozy and inviting I just want to move in with them!

Makes me yearn for the time and money to really make my home more cozy. Oh, yeah, I guess I yearn for the talent, too. I mean, old pot lids as wall decorations? I LOVE it - but never would have thought of it in a million years. The colors, the textures, the coziness of it all - hopefully I will find some ways to incorporate some of the best ideas into my house.

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