Friday, March 25, 2011

The storm before the calm before the storm.

I have to admit, I'm going to miss this weather when it's gone. There's something to be said for a storm that stands up and makes a bold statement. I like it when the rain lets itself be known. It makes me aware of the goings-on outside. And for someone who has become too busy and/or tired to enjoy nature as much as I should, big storms force me to remember the beauty of it all. The threat of the sky swirling and falling adds a nice undercurrent of excitement to my day (as long as no one gets hurt). It reminds me that I have emotions bigger than the usual set that get cycled through from day to day.

A glimpse of sunlight yesterday between the bands of rain:

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The same sky, a few minutes later, swarmed by the dark, drippy clouds:

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My husband had to drive around road blocks and through two feet of water to get to work this morning. Thank goodness he finally got around to buying a truck; my little bean of a Rondo would have bobbed happily as it drifted away.

I appreciate the bad weather - but only if I don't have to be in it, or experience any sort of analogous turmoil in other parts of life!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Aquarium - black and white vs. color

We took a trip to the aquarium a week or so ago.

The colors of some of these creatures are so vibrant; I wanted to see how they would translate to black and white. Here are some comparisons for you.

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(This black and white anemone is probably my favorite shot from the trip.)



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This black and white surprised me; I wasn't expecting the orange to come out so bright!



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The jellyfish amaze me. It's hard to believe such crazy entities live under there!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spanish Rice with Carne Asada

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We used to eat at this great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant when we lived in Southern California. La Llamarada, which means "the bonfire," is located in an old run-down neighborhood in an equally distressed building. The unassuming front of the establishment is nothing more than a large scratched window next to a glass door. There's a folding sign out on the pocked sidewalk with the name of the restaurant written over a quick and colorful painting of a campfire. The narrow space holds a jukebox and a handful of lightweight tables, bottle-necked in the middle by a tile counter outlining the open concept kitchen. The space is full of Mariachi and the sound of hollow metal chairs humming across the hard floor. Cooks and patrons get an equal view (and equal whiff) of the food preparation process. The restaurant closes at dark, for safety reasons.

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The words of the menu are painted in Spanish on a large white rectangle hung above the kitchen. There are no prices listed — at least, there didn't used to be. My husband has been eating at this restaurant since before he had a car to get to it. He was fortunate enough to grow up with a great friend who knew the best places to eat in that neighborhood.

When we enter, my husband updates our waitress and the cooks about the goings-on of our family. I can't understand half of what is said, but I can tell when the waitress asks about his parents — relatively recent converts to the restaurant — and she mentions that they were just in a couple of days prior.

I will never find carne asada that will compare with La Llamarada's carne asada. I have accepted that fact. But that doesn't mean I don't still crave the warm afterglow of a good plate of meat, beans, rice, fresh salsa, and warm corn tortillas.

So when there were fresh jalapenos at the dollar store and meat on sale at the supermarket at the same time, I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I had my husband look up a recipe for carne asada and tell me the ingredients over the phone as I walked the store aisles.

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Here is where you can find the recipe we used, from Elise over at simplyrecipes.com. Cilantro! Lime! The love affair continues.

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While the meat was busy marinating, I threw together the "Spanish rice" that I usually make for taco night.

Now for the disclaimers.

Please understand that this is probably not authentic; it's just me throwing stuff together. This is genuine "white girl making Spanish rice" rice. But it works, and it is simple and tasty. This is also not a show-stopping rice dish with freshly diced vegetables and a strong flavor. This is a 20 minute from start to finish recipe, with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry. My version is comparatively mild spice-wise, because that's how I like it, but it could easily be spiced up depending on the type of salsa you use. Also, I don't make large serving sizes of this rice since it goes into an already stuffed tortilla, but the recipe can easily be doubled — just be sure to increase the pan size too.

Servings: 4
Time: 20 minutes

3/4 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cup water (follow package instructions regarding the ratio of liquid to rice, as this may vary depending on the rice.)
1 to 2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 tsp ground cumin
3 tbsp salsa

Directions:

Begin by measuring the water and setting it next to the stove. Place the dry rice and the butter in a small sauce pan on medium high heat. Stir constantly to prevent the rice from scorching. Stir until the rice is lightly toasted. (I love toasted rice!!)

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When the rice has browned a bit, add the water. Be cautious because it will instantly bubble and steam. Stir in the salt, cumin, and salsa.

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Reduce heat to medium-low (a 3 out of 10 on my stove), cover, and let the rice simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the rice sit an additional 5 or so minutes before removing the lid and fluffing the rice with a fork.

While the rice is on the stove and your husband is grilling the meat, make some chocolate cookies to round out the meal.

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I don't know what it is about Mexican food (and Italian, incidentally,) that makes me crave chocolate. The craving is a burden I love to carry. Especially when this little guy helps me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Police Ship"

I got a phone call from the fire station. Usually my husband doesn't call me until later in the evening when the kids are in bed. The later time allows us to actually talk to each other. Otherwise, the kids are alerted to the fact that Mom is paying attention to the phone and not to the center(s) of the universe. They respond by clinging to my legs and fighting for the chance to put their faces two inches from mine to ask pointless questions over and over again. It's nice to be loved.

Anyway, I got a phone call from the fire station. Luckily, in preparation for the big spring forward, I had put the children to bed an hour early.

"Head outside," my husband energetically suggested, "and take the kids with you. The space shuttle Discovery and the space station are supposed to pass by in a bit."

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"...but I JUST put them to bed," I lamented. "I'll think about it."

I debated whether or not to take them out of their rooms for the event. It's hard to compel myself to be an eye-witness to something like the final flight of a space shuttle, when being a lens-witness at a more convenient time is so easy with youtube and the like.

With five minutes to go, I could hear that the older two were still up and about in their rooms. The toddler was asleep for the night. I decided to leave the youngest in bed and take his older siblings out to the backyard in their pajamas.

"Hey, guys, you wanna see a space ship?"

"A space shuttle?" said my daughter.

"A police ship?" said my son.

"Yes. There's going to be a space station too," I explained. They're going to look like stars, moving really fast."

The children thought it was silly to go out in the yard in the middle of the night in their pajamas, and made sure over and over again that it was okay to do so. We looked up between the trees and houses, hoping there was enough sky to see the flying objects.

My son kept asking where the police ship was. I explained that it was a space ship. "But I want to see a POLICE ship, mommy."

Just in time, we saw a light moving quickly across our path of sky. The kids were transfixed. In a few minutes it was over, and the excitement was no longer enough to mask the fact that it was cold out there.

I brought the kids back inside and herded them up to bed again. On the way they asked question after question about the final flight of Discovery. I delayed the trip to their rooms to show them what the shuttle looks like close up. We watched a launch and a landing on the computer. Of particular interest were the boosters falling off during takeoff, and the parachute deploying as the shuttle touched down.

"Mommy," my 4 year old asked, "NOW can you show me a police ship?" I tried to explain again as I tucked him back into bed that I couldn't find a picture because there are no police shuttles. He frowned as he described what such a ship should look like.

The kids did not fall asleep for a while. I could hear them imagining space travel in their respective rooms. My daughter came out of hers and asked for a piece of paper. "I have an idea," she explained. It was way WAY past her bedtime, but I knew to let her do what she does best, and I had an idea where her thought process was headed.

Sure enough, ten minutes later she came out of her room with this picture for her little brother:

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"I spelled it like he says it so he can read it," she explained as she showed it to me. "Can I go in his room to give it to him?"

I made her wait until I grabbed the camera.

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I forget how powerful the experience of being an eyewitness can be to a child. Maybe their worlds are so full of pretend that real events take on even more significance. I can tell you that the impact wouldn't have been nearly as impactful if I had simply shown the children a video of a light moving across the sky.

I'm glad I didn't just brush off the event as a simple speck of zooming light — which it was — and dragged them out there anyway.

It was worth it, even if it meant being late to school the next morning — which we were.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Projects

It seems like everywhere I turn, there's a project to do. How did I end up with so many projects in my life? Don't get me wrong. I like having something to work on, like these paper flowers I made for tonight's activity with the youth group from church:

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Or this hair pin project, also for the youth group:

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Or these photo books for my children:

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I've committed to making one for each child, every two years. There was a screaming deal on the books — get 100 page books for $40 — so I had to take advantage of it. I used to give the book as a present on the even numbered birthdays, but I'm a little behind. (My daughter's birthday was in August, and my son's was in October.)

Oh, and there's the whole searching for and buying a house project. We're in escrow on one, but it's a short sale so I don't want to get too excited about it happening. Actually, I'm just in denial. I can't imagine moving anytime in the next two months.

Which one did we choose?

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The grout-laden Cupid house! It's perfect for our family, in spite of the grout, and I'm trying really hard not to get my hopes up. Yeah. It's not working, my heart is on the line with this home!

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It should be a sign, shouldn't it, that we viewed and submitted the offer on the Cupid house on Valentine's Day?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Recent dollar store finds

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Apparently, I was craving Mexican the last time I went to the dollar store. Okay — so maybe ginger isn't synonymous with Mexican food, but buying a bag seemed like the right thing to do. I made carne asada that night.

I found these great puzzles there, too. The pieces are large and the puzzle felt like it was worth the $8.95 price marked on the box. These puzzles are still being played with a week later. That may be a length of play record for a dollar toy at our house.

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It's startling how often I have to re-stock the glue sticks, pens, and paints. Note to the kids: I don't think these are intended to be single-use items.

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These ceramic vessels will soon hold attempts number 4 and 5 at growing herbs on my counter top.

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But this is my most appreciated purchase from the trip. These were very handy when I had to chop those jalapenos for the carne asada.

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A package of these should be sent home, standard, at a baby's 18 month appointment. A hundred gloves should just about cover the number of times a mother of a toddler will need to fish things out of the toilet.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Poor bird!

My friend Jen over at Cabin Fever in Vermont hosts a monthly photo contest. The theme is birds this month, and this particular shot is the first image that comes to my mind on the subject. Years ago, we were in town visiting my parents at the home I grew up in. We were chatting in the living room and enjoying a lovely summer evening. I happened to glance outside as the sun hit the wall full of floor-length windows just right. The light illuminated this sad tale of bird meets window. Someone snapped a picture of the detailed print created by the oils in the bird's feathers. I'm fascinated by the beautiful dimensionality of it.

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Uh - yeah, no worries, I'm sure that bird was just fine...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ahhh, spring in California.

It's that time of year again.

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Time for the sun to stand up a little taller and work a little harder at illuminating the corners of my yard.

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Time to be shocked when things I planted and thought I had killed mysteriously flourish.

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Time for wild temperatures, with delicate blooms one week, only to be destroyed by the threat of snow the next.

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Time to stop using the excuse of the ground being too wet to mow the lawn.

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"Honey, WHAT are you doing with the grass?"

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Aiding and abetting.

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