31 October 2009

Caramel Apple Debacle

How to make caramel apples.
1. Get your mom to bring you an entire paper grocery sack full of the apples from her backyard trees.2. Scrounge in your own backyard for suitable sticks. Not too thick, not too thin, not too gross. Gnarly is good, though.
3. Shove sticks into apples. (It's not as hard as it sounds).
4. Warm store-bought caramel on very low heat. Act smug, thinking to yourself of all those complex, candy-thermometer requiring recipes you read about online. Home made caramel is for suckers with more time than you.

5. Dip apples in caramel. Swirl them around, get them good and coated. Place on waxed paper.
6. Watch caramel pool around the bottom of the apples. Think about what this means. Imagine smushing it back up onto the apple when it cools a little more.

7. Realize this is not working.
8. Feel chagrin about step #4. Mutter about this turning out to be a sucky thing to blog about.
9. Blog about it anyway.

10. Find candy thermometer. Look up "homemade caramel apple recipes" on line.

28 October 2009

Research paper time again

Yes, it's that time in the semester: that time when my students choose persuasive research paper topics with which they will work for the next seven weeks. I encourage them to find something they care about, something that interests them, something they can really spend some time exploring, studying, and gathering sources for. They need to write a 5-7 page paper on this topic, and utilize at least 8 reputable sources.

Here are some topics asked about today.

Why the Vikings played so bad on Sunday.
Why my ex-girlfriend is so crazy.
How stupid it is for a Minnesota professional baseball team to have an outdoor stadium.
What should my major be?
Whether or not the Vikings will ever win a Superbowl.
Refutation of all organized religion.
Why the Vikings need a new stadium.

Do you see any themes? Many of these are actually acceptable topics (well, not the ex-girlfriend, or last Sunday's game, or your major). And I forbid writing on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, euthanasia, gay marriage or gay adoption, and lowering the drinking age, which, as one student put it, takes out all the good ones.

Oh, research papers. So much to teach, and so little time.

Pray for us all. Unless you're the student who's going to refute all religion. Then, um, well, whatever.

19 October 2009

V goes to the cemetery

I have always been a sentimental girl. Growing up, my dad told me all kinds of stories of my grandfather, how he lived, how he died. He told me of his grandparents, his uncles and aunts, almost all of whom died long before I was born. Those were the best stories: to me, someone who's blood I shared was a much more fascinating topic than anything Disney ever produced.

But V is not me. She loves Disney more than I'd like. She thinks Hannah Montana is cool, and iCarly is even cooler. She listens to my stories about her grandfather, and my grandparents, and my uncles, almost all of whom died before she was born, patiently, but I can see her four year old brain doesn't see why I'm rambling on so. Which is okay. I'm glad she listens. But I would love for her to feel a connection to these ancestors, whose stories I memorized years and years ago.
A few weeks ago, I took her out to the cemetery where most of these people are buried. We walked among the graves where I played as a child, and I told her who each of these people were, and how she was related to them, and other things I could think of. For the first time, she seemed truly interested. Above, Emilie Dyrendahl, V's great-great grandmother. Died 194?.The stone is sunken too far, now, to read. My father's mother's mother, she came here from Norway, raised identical twins and three other children. A woman dead 60 years before V was born. It breaks my brain.Here, on my father's grave. She's been here before, and last Memorial Day, she and Will danced all around this stone, which I think he would've liked a lot.
After the direct family members, I showed her great-aunts and distant cousins; sisters Alma and Julia, whom I cared for in the nursing home, and my friend Caroline, who was one of the funniest people I've ever known.

When we got to Patti Ann, my aunt Beverly's second daughter, who lived for three and half weeks in 1956, I told V about her. I said, "You know your Great Aunt Bev? She had five babies in her life. But Patti Ann died before she was a month old."

V said, "Why?"

"She had an enlarged heart, and it was a long time ago, and doctors didn't know how to fix her. She was very little."

"Oh." Then V knelt down on top of the grave, and spread her arms wide.

"What're you doing?" I asked. I'm not a stickler for cemetery decorum, but this seemed to be a little much, and I didn't want V to think she could be disrespectful here.

"I'm hugging her, so she won't be lonely," V said.

I couldn't help it. I cried.

Then she leapt up, grabbed my hand, and we walked to the car.

17 October 2009

Costume Ideas

Oh, Halloween. You're taunting me, with your Saturday-occurring, multi-party spawning 2009. Plus my students have asked me to dress up as part of Harvest Week (or some such thing). What's a grown woman to do? (For those of you reminding me outloud that I have a 4 year old I should be more worried about, she's already taken care of. That is, she's decided what she wants to be. I haven't started making it yet, of course, but I do have a plan already, which, trust me, is impressive).

The first thing I did was poll my students. I told them I have fair to midldlin' sewing skills, and I want something I can make rather than purchase. "What should I be for Halloween?"
"A color crayon."
"An M&M" Many of my students are single moms, and simplicity is a priority. I imagine their kids have lots of solid-color sweatsuits upon which black construction paper is taped.
"A drunk hobo" (which made me snort, actually)
A young woman, recently here from Somalia, said "A pregnant nun." I didn't even ask.

Finally, one of them spoke up and said "Can we think about this and get back to you?" I realized I was keeping them longer than they'd hoped just before a long weekend. Oops. So if they come up with anything fascinating, I'll be sure to report back.

But I thought I'd ask your advice. What should I be? I've sewn prom-dress level projects (with piping! though I never want to do piping again...) so I can handle whatever you propose, pretty much. It can't be too risque, though: I taught as a saloon girl one year, and was more than disconcerted by catcalls from students. Too creepy to even be flattering. So, you know. Be reasonable. Oh, and I need to be able to work in it. So a hibernating bear, while tempting, won't work out.

Thanks, internets! I just know you'll come up with something brilliant.

14 October 2009

Remembering Autumn

A few weeks ago, V and I were visiting her grandparents, and we went for a walk. She loves being in the woods. She loves the changing colors, and the other day she said, excitedly, "Mama! Did you see that leaf fall from that tree??" Such excitement over something so simple.
On the drive there, I had to stop the car, turn around, and go back to take a picture of this: It's a good thing I did, too, since it seems that fall has already moved over for winter. We're not ready for that, yet. But at least we had one good autumn day.

09 October 2009

Thrift Score

Today, in my 1 hour to myself between dropping of Shaun and picking up V, I swung by a favorite thrift store, looking for new winter mittens for V. No luck in that department, but I found these fabulous trims, at least 4 yards of each (maybe more--I suck at estimating things) all on one bolt, for $1.99. The black sequins are stretchy, so many of you should expect a headband or bracelet (or whatever else I can think of...a belt? a garter? Who knows...) in your Christmas package from me. The others are thick and cottony and I am envisioning some denim totes with gorgeous handles, or maybe .... a belt? a garter? Well probably not a garter, since these aren't stretchy. I especially like the blue and yellow one.

For this alone I would've been grateful, truly, but then I found a gallon ziplock bag full of ladies scarves. It was stuffed full, and I could see some of the prettiness: some silk, some rayon, some of that cool chiffon stuff. But it was $5.99, and I'm just not going to spend $5.99 on anything at a thrift store unless it's a couch or a chiffarobe or some such thing. I put it down, walked to the checkout, and then dashed back. I opened the bag to find 20--count 'em--twenty scarves. That makes them 30 cents a piece, and even if I wear only one of them, I will get my money's worth. V can have play scarves to infinity, if she likes, or maybe I'll just become that weird scarf-lady teacher that every community college really ought to have. Here are some of the highlights from my new collection.This one feels like cotton or light weight linen, and has very pretty gold embroidery.
This is chiffon, with such pretty stripes. It's oblong, so will be a great little neck scarf.
This is the corner of a large square scarf. Some of these scarves (not this one, I think) are made of frightening sounding materials like "vilon."
And then, the cream of the crop: this is 100% silk, and apparently quite collectible. That link takes you to Etsy, where there are listings for Vera Neumann scarves for anywhere from $11-$29. And I almost wouldn't pay 30 cents for it.
It was a good day for thrift. What's your favorite thrift store find lately?

04 October 2009

Gales of November

The trip out to Duluth was kinda grey: not much actual rain, but no sunshine to speak of, either. It's about a four hour drive for us, and we have some of our best conversations in the car, raining or not.

Our route takes us through several small towns we rarely get to see, and as we pulled into Crosby (or was it Ironton) we noticed as a police car pulled out right in front of us. Hm.
Aha. It's a parade. In the middle of our four hour drive. Great.....I was totally not excited about this. I kept thinking if I'd only not stopped for that last bathroom break, we wouldn't be stuck behind a parade that means nothing to us. But I underestimated Shaun's school spirit abilities. As soon as we were sure we were in the parade, he laid on the horn, rolled down his window, and waved and hollered to everyone in Ironton (or was it Crosby?). I was embarrassed but also charmed, because his enthusiasm is contagious, even when I'm trying to be annoyed with him. Oh, Katie and Ben. Things will only go downhill from here....The rest of the Royal Court, all of whom are apparently on the football team. While we followed the parade, honking and cheering, we saw people come out of the main street businesses, grin broadly, and wave. Even my cold heart had to admit that was kind of sweet.And here, the final float, which contains either the entirety of a large football team, or all of grades 9-12. I'm not sure which. But they were cheering and enthusiastic, so I guess it doesn't really matter.

All in all, it only took about five extra minutes to cruise through town with the firetrucks and football players, and it helped us fall in love a little with a small town called Crosby (Ironton?).

We stayed at the Black Bear, which is a perfectly lovely place, but on the weekend we chose had a serious elevator breakdown (serious in that it was the elevator closest to our hotel room) and also closed the pool and spa area for all of Saturday. ALL of Saturday. So that was disappointing. Plus we didn't win any money, either. Dangit.But all of that helped us get out of our hotel and head to the Big Lake. Did you know Lake Superior contains 10% of all the surface freshwater in the world? I was impressed with that fact, so if you think it's lame, start your own blog and discuss amongst yourselves.Unlike last year, we didn't venture much beyond the shoreline: we had a fabulous meal at the Pickwick, enjoying a view of a sailboat on the lake-I-pretend-is-the-ocean. We enjoyed the magical lift bridge (kind of...it's a long story). And mostly we just liked being grown ups. Of sorts.

If you are a parent, I strongly recommend regular time away from your babe or babes. Just having the opportunity to miss V made me a better mama all over.

01 October 2009

Happy birthday, sissy.

I was 14 months old when my sister arrived, so I can never remember life without her. I know we were stereotypical oldest & youngest siblings, and I know we fought something fierce growing up. I also know that when she moved out of the crib and we got matching twin beds, with white-painted head and footboards, we would often sleep together in one of them, curled up next to each other. I know that our voices meshed together so that unless she was singing harmony (I have poor ears for harmony) we sounded like one singer, from the church balcony or the high school gymnasium or the backseat of our green Chrysler.

She is the only person on earth who shares my father and mother with me, who knows what it was like when the terrible things happened, who remembers those odd holiday moments (driving home in a blizzard, the year we got a black and white TV of our very own) that are meaningless to everyone but me and her. She is the person genetically most like me in all the world. I can't believe how lucky I am.

Happy 35th, sissy. I love you.