Thursday, December 31, 2009

While we wait - a giveaway, and some pictures!

Or, as I like to think of it, re-gifting at it's finest. While we wait for my firefighter to reply to some questions, and for me to finish sorting pictures, here's a chance for you to benefit from my technological un-advancedness. I received a lovely iTunes gift card for which I have absolutely no use. I don't have any iPods or iPhones or, really, anything i, or Apple, or technology related. In honor of my archaic existence, if you, my wonderful friends, family, and readers, could use a $25 iTunes gift card, simply reply to this post and you'll be entered to win one. After the contest ends on Sunday, I'll have my random number generator (my 5 year old) draw a name out of a hat. The winner can email me and I'll mail out the card. Good? Good.

Speaking of random, where were you on New Year's Eve, 1999? I was playing pinochle.

While you ponder that, here's some of the macro pictures I took on my Christmas break:

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And last but certainly not least, happy birthday to my brother! (Coincidentally, you can check out his i and Apple and technology related contributions here.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ask a Firefighter - Part 3

For those of you who don't have one at home, do you have any questions for my firefighter? The firefighter is in...

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(This is a picture of him helping our daughter on her Christmas treasure hunt. More on that, after I sort through all 1,609 December pictures.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I hope you have a wonderful day with your loved ones!

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It looks so pretty and peaceful down there, pre-kids. I wonder how many people are up in the middle of the night with me right now, moving slower and slower through the hours. Probably quite a few! We worked it so that I got a good 3 hour nap this afternoon. Now I'm on night duty with the baby. He just went back down--I'm hoping I'll get another two hours of sleep in before the kids wake up.

We decided to go the treasure hunt route for the bikes, and put bows on a few other unwrapped items. Thanks for the suggestions!!

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This is for the baby. Although, it probably looks more like this to him:

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More pictures to follow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The halls are decked!

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The tree is up! It's not as fancy or as themed as it has been in years past, and the ribbon I bought for it never made it on, but it'll do.

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Hey, look, there's the two chairs I got for my birthday. Hi, chairs.

We spent half the night last night wrapping presents and putting the bikes together. They're too big to wrap. What do you think--put the bikes by the tree with a bow on them, or have a small present with a card inside saying "go look in the garage"?

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Now that the decorations are up, I need to start thinking about food!! I haven't prepared a thing.

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Well, at least, non-gingerbread food.

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These houses are almost completely eaten already. The baby found a hunk of house. I had to pry it from his gooey, orange fingers. It disintegrated and made a huge mess, kind of like a biter biscuit. A tasty, sugary, Christmas goodness biter biscuit, with white icing nubs.

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Are you ready for Christmas???

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's not death that I fear.

I feel comfortable with my firefighter having a dangerous job. I don't know why; this coming from someone who has been known to worry herself out of a night's sleep over much smaller troubles. I just don't feel like he's going to die on the job.

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However, I do worry about him getting injured. He goes into all sorts of environments where he could twist an ankle or tweak his back.

Recently, he went interior on a house fire with the exact kind of conditions that I fear. The house was covered in junk. Not just piles of trash here and there--we're talking several feet of papers and slick mail and who knows what else, filling the house. He couldn't see the floor. He had to use all of his weight to get the front door open and push the pile of crap aside.

Once in, he found that the garbage was going to be a big problem. The piles of paper slipped out from under his boots as he tried to walk. Pieces of furniture were randomly strewn in and on top of the mess. He made his way up the stairs, trying not to slide back down on the debris that covered the steps. The house was full of smoke, but he had a hard time finding the source of the fire. Even the thermal imaging camera (TIC) that his captain was using didn't help.

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Once upstairs, he tried to keep his balance while following the wall with his extended hand, like firefighters do when searching a house. It helps them keep oriented. He threw random pieces of trash and small furniture out of his way.

His captain decided he had better clear the stairs while my firefighter was searching for the flames, in case they needed to make a quick exit. He went to remove the piles of junk mail and ended up sledding down them instead. Luckily, he didn't get injured--just made it downstairs quicker than he would have liked.

The fire itself was rather small; choking itself out in all of the smoke. The garbage was much more hazardous. Doors were blocked, searching for anything was difficult, and mopping up afterward was a huge chore.

I worry about my firefighter getting injured and no longer being able to do this job that he absolutely loves. It really is a physically demanding job; I can tell, by the number of hot baths he needs to relax his stiff muscles after work. Between maintaining all of the equipment, keeping physically fit, and the demands of the job itself, this is not a career for lazy--or injured--people. I could never be a firefighter; I'm much too wimpy, and much too prone to getting migraines. I think that counts as lazy AND injured. :)

This week my firefighter got a side job as a skills instructor at a local paramedic school. He picked up the job because he loves it; I like to think of it as a potential plan B. For those of you who know him, you know how great he is at teaching (or schooling you, if you've played games with him.) He's charismatic, has a great amount of knowledge, and loves being able to relate to people. Enjoying telling people what to do doesn't hurt, either. Being a skills instructor isn't what I'd call lucrative, but it is a nice way for him to put a foot in the teaching door.

As for the students who will come in contact with him... keep your hands and feet inside the cart at all times, and enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just us, Santa, and.... what the heck????

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We went to the fire department's Christmas party this past weekend. There is no group better prepared to market a Christmas party to children than a fire department.

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The people in charge did a fantastic job of making it a family-centric event. There was a volleyball net set up with gigantic beach balls to play with, a large floor mat lined with chairs on every side for parents of young children to corral their offspring, a bunch of those huge blow-up plastic figures that are fun and indestructible,

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a table set up for making gingerbread houses, footballs being thrown around outside, and of course, flashy fire trucks for kids of all ages to crawl around on. Or stare at.

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Oh, and a fantastic dessert bar set up upstairs.

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And, of course, Santa arrived via lights and sirens.

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There were, however, some telltale signs that there were few, if any, women involved in the planning of this event. For example, there were no vegetarian food options, even though there's a known non-meat-eater or two on the department.

But it was the Thriller music on Santa's arrival that really betrayed the guy-centric planning. Not only did we have a Michael Jackson sound track, but there was also a wannabe MJ elf, dancing and all:

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Really, it was a great party, even though there may have been a tad too much MJ:

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I think I may have a submission for Awkward Family Photos.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Comfy Cozy Potato Soup

"As for the ball, it is quite a settled thing;
and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough
I shall send round my cards."

-Charles Bingley, Pride and Prejudice

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Okay, so this recipe isn't the traditional white soup made with veal broth, cream, and almonds, (ew!) but it's what I think of when I read that passage. Growing up, our family of eight used to have a nice dinner every Sunday. The meal always included the scent of Rhodes rolls baking in the background, and a first course of either soup or salad. This was often the soup of choice for those dinners.

This is comfort food at it's best; like randomly hearing a song that you love and know all the words to, but haven't heard in ages, with the added bonus of a warm tummy. Perfect for the cold spell we've been experiencing this past week. This is a variation of the potato soup found in Joy of Cooking. A wide variety of veggies and meats can be added to the soup as well.

And, as usual for most of the recipes on my blog, this very easy to make (and inexpensive, too.)

Ingredients:
2 potatoes
2 onions (of roughly the same size as the potatoes)
4 tablespoons butter
1 bay leaf
1/2 to 1 cup milk, light cream, or chicken stock
Prepared meats or veggies to mix in (optional)

Begin by roughly chopping two onions and two potatoes.

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Place them in a large skillet and saute with two tablespoons of butter until the onions are translucent.

Add a couple of cups of water, enough to cover the veggies, and bring to a simmer. Add a teaspoon of salt, and if you have a bay leaf, add that in there, too. (I forgot the bay leaf this time around and didn't miss it.)

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Cook until the potatoes can easily be broken apart with a spoon, about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it, to make sure it has enough water in there to keep the soup from burning on the bottom.

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Fish out the bay leaf. Using a blender, hand held or otherwise, liquefy the soup.

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...almost done

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...there. Once the soup is completely blended, add another two tablespoons of butter for good measure.

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Stir in milk, light cream, or chicken broth to thin the soup to your desired consistency. I used about a cup here.

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Serve with salt and pepper to taste, and if you like, cooked veggies or meat cubes, or even cheese. Irma Rombauer suggests paprika, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, chopped parsley, or diced cooked shrimp. I think it would be divine with the shrimp; that's next on my list.

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Then drift off to sleep in a happy comfy cozy soup coma.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

There is no charge for awesomeness or attractiveness.

"Hmmm.... what hat should I wear today, Mom...."

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The morning report

On the nights that my firefighter is away, we follow the same routine pretty closely. I make dinner, the children sit nicely at the table to eat it, and then things deteriorate from there. After dinner comes the "storm before the calm." For some reason, the hour right before bedtime is always the craziest. Why is that?? The kids will run the circuit around the stairwell--from the kitchen to the family room, through the living room, past the dining room table, and then back through the kitchen--squealing and giggling and bumping into each other as they go. It's also the hour of the day when they're most likely to get scraped and bruised.

I get various drinks and loveys ready to go upstairs while they're doing their laps, and then calm the storm with the bribe of ice cream. They perch in their chairs around the table and settle down over their bowls. While they're preoccupied, I put the baby to bed and wait for the other two to trickle upstairs looking for me after they're done eating. Then we go through their nighttime routines. If I'm lucky, everyone's in bed by 8:00.

Once kids are tucked in and prayers are said, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I usually sit at the computer and unwind by kicking the trash of my Bejeweled opponents on Facebook. I pass the time, giving in to the allure of hearing nothing but the sound of the heater engaging and the clicking of the keyboard, waiting for my firefighter to get a chance to call me.

We give each other the daily run-down, discuss the latest gossip, and make plans for the next day. The longer we talk, the more abstract the topics become. I would point to that as one of the defining characteristics of our relationship--our friendship, and the amount of time we spend talking to each other. You know that date, at the beginning of a relationship, when you first click with each other and spend hours and hours talking about everything? I loved that date--I still do. I love that my firefighter genuinely wants to know how my day was and what's going on in my head. Even when things are going wrong with our family or with our relationship, we always want to talk to each other. I also love that, no matter what happens the rest of the night, he makes sure that I'm his last call (or text) of the day before he goes to bed.

The night hours are the wild card hours. I never know what kind of a story, if any, he's going to share with me on his drive home. The following morning, we swap stories about what went on overnight. Sometimes it's a blissfully boring call, if we both slept most of the night. Other times, we commiserate over how few hours of sleep we got collectively. On my end, there's always the nightly count of how many times I got up to get one child or another. At least getting no sleep on his end equals an interesting conversation.

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Some of the more serious calls come in during the middle of the night. He gets medical calls where he is really needed, like shortness of breath or severe pain. And the traffic accidents, while there are fewer of them, are generally more serious since higher speeds are involved.

There's one kind of call that I'm really hoping doesn't make it in to the morning report this month. I don't want to hear about any families losing their home to a Christmas tree fire. This video (taken from my firefighter's blog--thanks, hun) shows how disastrously quick a dry tree burns:



We haven't put our tree up yet. We've always preferred live trees, but after seeing this video, I'm seriously considering getting a fake one!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Figure Drawing 101

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take some classes at the Art Center in Pasadena, one of the top art and design schools in the nation. My college had an association with the school which allowed me to sign up for classes there.

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The art center is a fascinating place, especially during irregular hours. It never closes; someone always seems to be there. I'm thinking there has never been a time when the building has been completely locked up; there's always a student working on a project to come open the door for you.

The building is set over a ravine and surrounded by foliage in the hills above Los Angeles. The scent of dirt and dry leaves, mixed with the faint chemical smell of spray mount, greets you when you walk into the building. The halls are stark white, wide, paved in slick concrete, and lined with floor to ceiling windows crisscrossed with industrial black metal beams. In spite of the windows and large spaces, an unnatural light fills the building. The hollow commotion and the sleep-deprived faces looking down at the footsteps of the person in front of them makes the building feel like a tomb. The students awkwardly carry over-sized portfolios, trying not to whack each other with them as they round the corners. The huge metal staircases send eerie footsteps reverberating through the space. Along the walls are life-sized outlines of concept vehicles, made with black shiny tape. Occasionally some color intrudes in the form of illustrations awkwardly stuck on the wall from a nearby class.

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I took a figure drawing class there on Saturdays. The class was long; it took up half of the day. It was intense. I never knew, before taking that class, how much practice it takes to accurately capture the motion and form of the human figure. It's a skill that if you don't keep practicing and spend a serious amount of time developing your talent, you will lose it. I've lost it--it's been 12 years--way too long.

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The class was held in a cavernously large bottom story room. The exposed metal beams and vents above faded into the shadows. Below were seats scattered about, each small bench attached to an easel, surrounding a well-lit platform. New age music floated in the background. Our model would come in, disrobe, strike a pose, and our instructor would yell "Go!" She gave us a minute to catch the angles and motion of the figure. At the end of the minute, she would declare "new pose," and the model would shift. The students would fling the current sheet on the newspaper-sized pad of paper over the top of the easel, revealing the next page to start another minute drill.

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After half an hour or so of minute drills, we would move on to 5 minute poses. Then 10 minute poses. Break for lunch. Then we would return to do longer, more detailed poses. At the end of the class we would have long poses to practice special techniques, like incorporating color and water into the bones of the drawing.

I learned a great appreciation for the human body from this class. I have a lot of respect for it's imperfections.

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Toward the end of the course, our instructor took the time to speak with each of us individually, to critique our portfolios and offer advice. She and I sat together and looked over my drawings and the other paintings and prints I had at the time. It was a hodgepodge of random art projects.

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I still remember what she told me--mostly because it had absolutely nothing to do with figure drawing, and had a lot of applications to life in general. She said that Michelangelo created his masterpieces by chipping away any piece of the stone in front of him that didn't belong.

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I've been chipping away, trying to find what's essential and what's expendable in my endeavors ever since, in art and in life.

I am happy to report that Moose Tracks and Rocky Road have made the cut.

It should also be noted that there will be no nude figure drawings of my firefighter. He doesn't have the balls. Hahahahah. Hehehe. Ho. (Okay, I'm done now.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Calling all moms...

What is it about winter that makes me so sleepy? And why is it that it doesn't make my baby equally sleepy?

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I'm running out of ideas. I got a sound machine this week, and that has cut the wakings from four to two times a night on average, which is a very welcome improvement. But I'd like to get a full 6 or *gasp* 8 hour chunk in there.

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Is he, at eight months old, too young for me to expect him to sleep through the night? How old were your children before they could make it through the night, and what helped them sleep?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Red Cabbage

This recipe from my grandma is one of my favorite holiday side dishes. The sweet and sour taste is a great compliment to the rest of the meal. I love that it's a non-starchy side. I also love that it's super pretty! (Being super easy to make doesn't hurt, either.)

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Ingredients:

1 medium head red cabbage
1 large or 2 small apples
1 medium onion
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch


Begin by quartering the head of red cabbage. Cut each quarter into slices 1/4 inch thick and place in a large pot.

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Dice the onion and add it to the red cabbage.

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The recipe calls for Granny Smith apples, but I didn't have those on hand. These Fuji apples worked just as well.

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Peel and slice the apples.

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Add them to the pot.

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Add the sugar and the salt as well.

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And the vinegar...

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and the water.

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Turn the stove on high and stir the mixture, letting it boil for about 5 minutes.

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Then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot ajar,

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and let it simmer together for 45 minutes.

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When it comes off the stove, add about a tablespoon of corn starch to bring the liquid to the thickness of gravy.

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Oooooh, I can smell the sweet and sour goodness now! Thanksgiving just wouldn't be the same without some red cabbage. That's why I made a whole post-Thanksgiving feast this weekend, to enjoy all of the fixings that we missed while at the fire station last Thursday.

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And, to have leftovers!
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