Jul 29 2009

What’s for Dinner

We skipped a week of veggie delivery while we were on our brief vacation, but this week they’ve apparently decided to make up for it with (deep breath): a bunch of grapes, a bunch of basil, an overflowing pint of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, three pounds of mostly golden heirloom tomatoes, a bag of peaches, four “Krimson” pears (they look like this), one really big eggplant, six gypsy peppers, seven pattypan squash, a small bunch of carrots, four funny little round yellow cucumbers (I remember these from last year, they’re tasty), and a partridge in a pear tree. No, I mean, and five pods of okra. I can’t really complain about such overflowing bounty, but I’m going to anyway: what am I supposed to do with such a scant handful of okra? It’s just enough to be tantalizing but not nearly enough to satiate my okra cravings. Next year I am going to grow my own okra in my own back yard, hooray, and I’m going to have scads of it.

Tonight we’re eating green chile caldo, because I’m eager to try some of the recipes from the New Mexican cookbook that Nonna sent our way. But tomorrow I’ll make a start on the vegetables, in the form of homemade veggie pizza (topped with squash, peppers, and goat cheese), accompanied by a cherry tomato salad. Friday we’ll have gazpacho and a green salad (with the carrots), and Saturday I’ll buy a loaf of crusty bread and we’ll eat it with Sicilian caponata.

Sunday I’ll make bhindi masala—I’ll have to buy more okra—and Monday, something with fish. I dunno. I’ll keep you posted.

The fruit that Robin doesn’t devour will go into Sam’s lunches. I like fresh fruit for dessert, too, so I’m glad we got so much of it this week!

Jul 28 2009

Varied Updates

We’re back from a brief visit in Las Vegas to rendezvous with the Cochrans, but dunderheads that we are, we didn’t take any pictures. Still it was great for Robin to get to see his Pops again (Mo, sadly, couldn’t make it) and enjoy the company of his uncle Taylor and aunt Masie. Masie especially was the hit of the trip, as she was willing to play endless rounds of peek-a-boo, tickle wars, and hallway racing games.

We’ll be back in Vegas in a couple of weeks: this time because Sam’s been asked to give a talk (about data visualization using Splunk) at a VeriSign conference there. We’re planning to drive instead of flying, so that on the way back we can take a detour to Reno and celebrate Robin’s second birthday in the company of the Phillipses, and also Nanita and Marqueño, who will be flying out for the party. So that’ll be fun for him. I hope he’s as good in the car as he was on the plane!

The house-buying process is proceeding. We’ve got a contractor (Keith Bupp) lined up to do the work the home needs: he was recommended by a friend and I came away from our first meeting impressed by his easy-going competence. He also confirmed, to my delight, that the original fir flooring is still in place throughout the home (under some ugly Pergo): and while we were inspecting the subarea of the house we found the French doors that originally stood between the living and dining rooms wedged into a dark back corner. They’ve suffered a bit of water damage from being left against damp earth, but they look salvageable. So, hooray!

The biggest news lately isn’t mine, but it’s been occupying most of my thoughts: my BFF Nina delivered an adorable baby boy last weekend. Congratulations and blessings to Silas Archer Karp O’Hanlon: the world feels nicer for having him in it.

Jul 20 2009

About the House

So, you all didn’t visualize asteroids hard enough, because we didn’t get that lovely bungalow that we wanted so badly. In the meantime, however, we noticed a little two-bedroom on High Street, only a block away from the first house we tried to get.

It needs some work, but mostly pretty routine and/or cosmetic stuff. It doesn’t look so hot right now, but I can see very clearly how cute it would be if cleaned up just a bit, repainted, etc. We’re expecting to get a federal 203(k) loan, which provides up-front rehab money for renovating older properties, so we’d be able to do all that right away. In general I really like the idea of taking an older, somewhat rundown house and doing the renovations exactly the way I want them, instead of paying a premium for someone else’s “remuddling.”

Besides the fact that it hasn’t been kept up so well, the main drawbacks to this house are: it’s on a busy street, and it hasn’t got a driveway or garage: street parking only. Since we’re used to living in the city the traffic doesn’t bother us, and the street parking thing just isn’t a dealbreaker for us.

I’m putting the drawbacks first so that you can make some sense of the price we’re paying for this house, which is a crazy-low $131,000. That’s the lowest of all the offers we made. (It was actually listed for $109,900, but there were four or five people bidding on it, and we wanted to win.) Even with the work it needs (about 25K—we’ve already got most of the inspections in) it will still be a ridiculously good bargain for the area. Also, it has a nice big backyard; there are cute built-ins; it’s intelligently laid out; and we like the location.

Here’s a link to the listing where you can see some pictures. Keep in mind that these are the “before” shots!

Jul 17 2009

Offer Accepted!

We’ve finally had an offer accepted on a house! I have to make dinner so I’ll post more later.

Jul 17 2009

I’m Going to Stop Buying Birthday Presents Now

I added the Melissa & Doug Cutting Food Box (so he can play along when I’m cooking!) and some rainbow nesting bowls (because they’re pretty, and he still likes things that go into other things).

I kind of have it in the back of my mind that these will also be durable toys that would be good to have on hand if I end up starting my own daycare/preschool, about which, more later. I’ve just got a phone call that deserves its own new post!

Jul 17 2009

Birthday Plans

Robin’s second birthday is now less than a month away; we’re planning to spend it, like we did his first, in Carson City with Nonna, Pappy, the Anti-Sara, and Robin’s great-grandma Elsie: except this time Nanita and Marqueño are also flying out to join us. I think Robin is old enough this time that he’ll like getting presents (unlike his first birthday, when he was much more interested in the packaging), but in complete sincerity I’m certain that his main delight will be in the attention of his extended family. Robin’s delighted reaction to the company of Sara, Melinda and Lindsey reminded us yet again that this boy loves having a big family around. It’s a real enduring regret of mine that we weren’t able to figure out a spot to settle that would bring us closer to relatives.

Meanwhile I am in very great danger of totally blowing the household budget on birthday presents. As we’ve already established, I’m not really great at separating out the things I desire for Robin with the things that I just, well, desire.

For instance, I just ordered an abacus. Although it has to do with teaching Robin math someday, this obviously isn’t really a birthday present; the birthday is just a convenient excuse. I also got a book on using it, and another book on “finger math,” which is derived from the abacus. I do think these are neat tools for teaching math, and although Robin won’t be ready for them for years, I have to learn them before I can use them in teaching him! But, for now, these are mostly presents for me. I also got some books on teaching music and art to small children, along with a nice beeswax crayon set (recommended by Melinda!) and a couple of “rhythm sticks” to add to our collection of simple instruments. And a picture book of “Diggers and Dumpers” (I, um, may be wanting to encourage Robin to play with his awesome trucks more), along with another Maurice Sendak book (Outside Over There), since Where the Wild Things Are is such a favorite.

But our main present for Robin this year is a bike. It was going to be a tricycle, but then I saw a couple of the older boys at the park tooling around on these funny little bikes without any pedals, variously called balance bikes, push bikes, or running bikes. I talked to one of the moms about them: she’s from Germany, and she says the advantage of these bikes is that they actually teach balance, unlike tricycles or bikes with training wheels; kids who grow up using these balance bikes are able to move to real bicycles much earlier. Apparently they’re very popular in European countries where bicycle riding is widespread, and teaching kids to ride is taken more seriously.

So I started doing some research online, comparing the reviews for balance bikes and tricycles, and it does seem like the consensus from parents is that tricycles are sort of lame: the kids are interested at first, but they’re awkward to pedal and can’t go very fast, and often the trike ends up being a bulky, expensive toy that doesn’t see a lot of use. The kinds of Flintstone-type cars that kids push with their feet are preferred, but the balance bikes are where the real excitement is. Kids on balance bikes have to wear helmets, because they can get to speeds approaching those of a real bike.

The highest-quality (and by far the most expensive) of these bikes is apparently the German-engineered Kokua Like-a-bike Jumper. This baby gets awesome reviews. Everyone who has one loves it. These are the bikes that Niels and Dino bring to the park. It looks like a great bike.

It also costs two hundred and seventy dollars. We’re not getting Robin this bike.

Luckily for our pocketbook, the Jumper is too big for Robin anyway; although it claims to be suitable for children ages 2 to 5, the lowest seat setting is still fourteen inches off the ground, and Robin’s inseam is only a foot. (Because the kids push with their feet, they have to be able to reach the ground while sitting on the bike.) So we’re getting the smaller Strider for a third of the price.

I’m super excited about it. My son’s first bike! Robin has demonstrated a lot of interest in the bikes that Niels and Dino ride, so I think he’ll be into the Strider. I hope so, anyway. After all, at least one of these presents should really be for him and not for me!

Jul 16 2009

What’s for Dinner, with Diverse Digressions

Yesterday’s veggie box held: broccoli, carrots, four little eggplants, lots of little sweet peppers, a big bag of grapes, five peaches, three tomatoes (yay!), three zucchini, and two cucumbers.

Robin has already eaten almost all the grapes.

Last night we were lucky enough to see the Anti-Sara and two members of the Phillips extended family we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet: Melinda and her lovely daughter Lindsay. We had them over for dinner—I made grilled sausages and peppers, a big salad (using the broccoli, carrots, and cucumbers, with homemade avocado ranch dressing), and a peach cobbler. Everything came out all right but the sausages took forever to grill on our little George Foreman grill, so we had a very long dinner served in several courses. It’s, uh, sophisticated and European? Anyway, it was nice to have all this lovely fresh produce on hand when we were having guests.

Robin, by the way, adores all the relatives but especially Lindsay, who he went really a bit crazy for. He would cackle like the Joker whenever she so much as looked his way. She was sweet enough to spend a lot of time playing with him, but as the night wore on and dinner went past Robin’s bedtime, he got more and more wound up, and eventually bit Lindsay twice in his mania.

The biting thing is worrying. Robin’s been biting Sam lately too. I don’t really get bitten, I think because my presence is soothing rather than exciting, and the biting happens when he’s really wound up. We’re using time-out as a response right now, but the discipline doesn’t seem to really take when he’s in that super-hyper state. I’m just hoping it doesn’t become a huge problem, because from what I’ve read online biting can be a really hard behavior to break. My inclination is mostly to try and keep him from getting into those manic states, but of course sometimes it’s hard to avoid.

Anyway, meal plan. Tonight I’ll make ratatouille over quinoa to finish up the remaining veggies. The weekend’s going to be busy; Saturday is my day with friends, and Sunday I’ve volunteered to help out at my local comic store, which is having a big event starring Neil Gaiman. My job is keep the crowds from trampling Neil in their excitement. There are going to be some big guys around to help with the crowd control if it comes to that: but I was drafted specifically to be “cute and charming” and try to keep the mood pleasant while everyone waits in an orderly fashion to have their books signed. It’s a fun job because I get to hang out near Neil the whole day, but I’m also a little bit nervous because, well, I want to do a good job. And as Brian (the store owner) said, “If someone tries to shoot him, I am sorry to say that you’ll be the one that has to try and stop the bullet with your bracelets.” So that’s a responsibility I take pretty seriously!

Anyway, I’m probably only cooking one of those days, and it’ll have to be something simple like pasta. We have some sausages left over, so maybe I’ll do pasta with sausage and some sort of spicy greens, spinach or broccoli rabe. Then on Monday, something seafood-y: I’ll have to see what they have at the fish counter. Oh, I think salmon is in season? So maybe salmon cakes with arugula or something.

Jul 16 2009

Tikka Da-Da

Last weekend I got up early, leaving Robin and Sam asleep in the bed. I was first aware that Robin had awakened when I heard a gleeful “tikka tikka” (tickle tickle) coming from the bedroom. I stepped inside and saw Robin sitting on his daddy, tickling Sam’s belly. When he heard me come in he turned his head and said something that sounded a lot like “I tikka Da-Da!” Sam and I both traded amazed looks.

In retrospect, though, I’m inclined to be suspicious of the “I” there. We’ve never heard him use “I” before, or even refer to himself in any way (no “me poopy” or “Robin park” or anything like that). I think it may have just been a random baby exclamation, making the sentence something more like: “Aaaah! Tikka Da-Da!” Still, I’m counting “tikka da-da” as Robin’s first sentence.

Here’s a full list of Robin’s current vocabulary. These are words he uses consistently and demonstrates full understanding of their meaning. There are some others that I’m still on the fence about—we’ve only heard them once or twice, or he also says them in the wrong context—but these are all definitely words.

Tikka tikka

He also makes a sound to imitate a dog panting, and he used to moo like a cow when prompted, but his Fisher-Price farmhouse set broke and he hasn’t been mooing lately.

This list is growing quickly. Last week when I counted he only had thirteen words: he’s picked up “doggie” and “kitty” since then. Well, he’s been making a sound like “da-gi!” for a while, sometimes even while pointing at dogs, but it’s only in the past week that he’s refined it to the point where he says “doggie” while looking at dogs and not at other times. “Kitty” seemed to come out of nowhere at the same time that “doggie” solidified. Maybe he worked out that not all fuzzy creatures are doggies?

There are also other words he knows but doesn’t say: milk, shoes, ball, nose, park, etc; I can say “bring me your shoes” and he will, but he’s never said the word himself. So it’s hard to tell exactly how much he understands at this point; but he’s steadily expanding his vocabulary, which is so much fun to observe.

“Poopy,” by the way, is an interesting one. I was telling my mom—and didn’t quite realize the implications until I said it out loud—he rarely comes up to us shouting “poopy!” when he actually is. Instead, I’ve come to learn that I ought to check him ten or fifteen minutes later. He’s not telling me that his diaper needs changing; he’s telling me that he’s going to poop.

I mostly just thought of this as a funny quirk; it was only when I said it out loud that I realized he’s giving me perfect potty-training cues. He’s a little young for potty training (most kids, according to the baby book, are potty trained around two and a half) so I wasn’t thinking about it: but we do have a kid’s potty on hand and I might try offering it when he comes up telling me he needs to poop. We’ll see what happens.

Jul 8 2009

What’s for Dinner (Plus: Tabouleh Recipe)

Today’s box held a bag of peaches, a bag of nectarines, a pint of cherry tomatoes, a bunch of purple basil, two cucumbers, five big green-and-yellow pattypan squashes, two beets, two skinny heads of broccoli, two bunches of carrots, lots of little red sweet peppers, and a scant handful of okra. I truly hope that these five lonely okra pods are the trickle that heralds the deluge—I love okra, always have, it’s the Southern in me.

Tonight we’re having roast beef, with a side of squashes and okra sauteed with butter and salt. Tomorrow I need to finish up a pot of red beans and rice (I ended up making that last week instead of paella), so we’ll have that, maybe with cornbread. I have a zoo date with Wendy so I want to have dinner squared away anyway!

But I don’t want to let those tomatoes sit for too long, so Friday we’ll do a sort of villager’s salad with the tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and maybe the peppers, roasted? I don’t know, I’ll have to research and decide on a specific recipe. I might get some sausages to make it a heartier meal.

Saturday I have plans with friends, so it’s probably delivery for dinner; Sunday we’ll have a chicken roasted with carrots and beets, and I’ll make chicken stock from what’s left of the carcass. If I get ambitious I’ll make a nectarine and blackberry crisp…but who am I kidding, Robin’s not going to let the nectarines last till Sunday.

Monday I might try out that buttermilk mac and cheese I was thinking about? We’ll see. Often these meal plans seem to go wonky towards the end of the week.

I’m going to save the broccoli for sticking into Sam’s bento. Wendy made the excellent suggestion that putting in crunchy vegetables (and maybe some dip) is a good way to fill up the bowls without including too much food. Sam isn’t going to be delighted with this plan, but he’s good about eating what’s set in front of him, and don’t raw vegetables cure cancer or something? I’ll make sure to include cookies on the crudité days, so he doesn’t feel like I’m sending him off with rabbit feed.

Oh, and Mom wanted the recipe for the tabouleh I posted a picture of the other day: so here it is.

Toss in a large bowl: 1/2 cup of medium-grind bulgur; the juice of two lemons; 1/3 cup of olive oil; a half teaspoon of salt; a pinch of cayenne pepper; a huge bunch of parsley (or two smaller ones) all chopped up; a couple of nice tomatoes (chopped); some fresh mint if you have it, or a heaping teaspoon of dried mint if you don’t (use 2-3 times as much fresh mint, and chop it up, or chiffonade it if you feel fancy); and a diced cucumber. These ingredients are fairly elastic; you can put in a cuke or a ‘mater more or less and it will come out about the same. You can put in scallions or minced red onion if you want (I think I did, that day). You can guesstimate the bulgur if you want. It’s really a forgiving recipe, and I say this as someone who generally measures the water when I boil pasta.

Let the bowl sit on the counter until the bulgur is softened and fluffy, about an hour. Then put it in the fridge and let it sit for another hour. Taste it and add salt and pepper, or even more lemon juice and/or oil, if you want. It should be very bright and tangy, and the vegetable to grain ratio should be about two to one.

Jul 6 2009

Whose Toys Are They Anyway?

A few weeks ago at the park Robin showed some interest in a dump truck that another child was playing with. He was easily distracted to another target, but I decided that it’s time for my little boy to have a dump truck of his own, so I went online and bought one.

I’m a fan of Green Toys, a San Francisco company that makes toys out of post-consumer recycled plastics (they’re all BPA and phthalate free), so I got the dump truck they make:

dump truck

It’s fantastic. It’s much bigger and sturdier than the flimsy little plastic things other kids are bringing to the sandbox, and something about those rounded curves and cheerful colors makes it incredibly appealing. I love it. Other children love it too. They converge on this truck as if it were made out of cake every time we bring it to the park. They will push it around and load it up with sand and run it down the sidewalks and do all the things that I imagined Robin doing with his superior dump truck. I think they would probably play with the truck for hours if they were allowed. They always cry when their parents eventually take them away from it.

Meanwhile Robin has generally wandered off, because, truth be told, he’s not very interested in the truck.

I bring it with us anyway. I bring it because there’s some juvenile part of me that likes having the best truck in the sandbox, even if my kid never plays with it.

This isn’t the only toy I’ve ostensibly bought for Robin, only to discover that the one most pleased by it is me. I’m irresistibly drawn to wooden toys: sustainably-harvested, handmade, yadda yadda yadda. We have all these attractive, sturdy, old-fashioned pieces sitting in our home now gathering dust, because Robin spends his time almost exclusively playing with plastic beepy things made in China.

I mention all this because I think it’s funny, not because I’m planning on amending my purchasing habits or anything. Why would I do that? I’ve got all these awesome toys now!