Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas for Your Brain

Because I like mine and am all about finding ways to keep it as healthy and well fed  as can be. And I am really excited by the fact that  the internet is making all kinds of knowledge available to anyone. And I don't have to leave my house, which means I could be wearing my pajamas. Which I am not. But I could.

Shane has been on a brain stimulating kick lately. After a particularly good day at work, he came home so full of energy and ideas that I thought he was on something. Turns out he had had the opportunity to think all day, as opposed to sit through , as he calls them, soul-sucking meetings. He was on a roll and all evening was looking for opportunities to  explore and expand his knowledge, of everything. His brain was churning out so many new things he could not sleep and finally had to get up and email himself a list so he could follow up on them the next day.

Which was great because it gave me the idea of getting him a little handheld voice recorder. He is incredibly difficult to surprise as he usually just gets what he wants on his own. So the next day I went out and got him one, and then put it in his shoes for St Nicholas day, today. He was pleased and I was pleased and now he can  keep track of all his thoughts on his commutes or just before he falls asleep.

Shane was also very animated about a TED talk he watched on gameification. Not sure if that has a defined spelling or not, but the concept is that gaming  is a new way of learning and ought to be treated as such. At first I thought the speaker was just trying to justify to his wife his propensity to stay up shooting zombies. But he did have some good points.


A great website of mostly math and sciencey things. It used to be just a collection of videos, but now you can log in with a Facebook account and it keeps track of your progress, makes charts to show what you have done, what needs more work, how long you spent on it etc. We all have accounts, though the little ones are coming up against their reading levels holding them back. They spent around 4 hrs the first day, earning points by doing math problems or watching the videos. Cyprian got up to adding with negative numbers and double digit multiplication. I felt it was fine to abandon our usual math books for a few days. Ok, weeks.

A pilot study is being done using it in classrooms. It works for our classroom.


A philanthropic vocabulary game. Again, you sign in with a Facebook account. You go through vocabulary quizzes. For each correct answer, you get 10 grains of rice added to your bowl. After 10 correct answers, they donate 100 grains of rice to charity.


This one does not need an account and at first look I though it was definitely a game site. Then I watched Cyprian try it out. It looked like he just needed to get the red ball in the red box. Simple. Then he figured out there was a series of events that needed to happen first. And then that was a correct order to the events. Which he quickly figured out. We have not spent as much time here as my brother-in-law just told me about it. But we'll look into all it has to offer.


Not a game. But very educational and entertaining talks by people all over the world on topics from cancer to writing, super string theory to gamification. Each lecture is around 20 min and usually is a spring board to more research and much conversation. If Shane is lucky he'll have the time to watch one with his lunch. Then he'll email to me to watch and we'll talk about it over dinner and whatever other topics it leads to. No shortage of brain stimulation here.

So these are places we've been frequenting lately. I love how the gaming and learning are coming together and am excited that my kids' definition of learning is not something that is static and boring, but engaging, entertaining and can be shared with the whole family.

Enjoy and Happy St Nicholas Day. Also, let me know of any other sites out there. They seem to popping up all the time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Worst Dinner Ever- and I Made It!

Looking over the rest of our Scotland trip pictures, I realized a lot of the pictures are of what we ate. Given the chef we had on the boat, it is not surprising. But just to off-set it I wanted to tell about tonight's dinner. Which was not a pretty picture. Hence no picture.

It has been cold lately and with the Christmas tree and lights up, I wanted to make something cozy. So I picked up a roast for dinner, which I thoughtfully browned and roasted  to a nice rare 115 degrees. I made some mashed potatoes and roasted carrots and sweet potatoes to go with it. Then rounded it out with a butter lettuce, cranberry, feta salad.

After letting the meat rest, I went to carve it before calling everyone for dinner. My arm got tired so  I got out the electric carving knife to help me out. Even then, it was still slow going and my arm was getting tired. The blood spattering that resulted made the kitchen look like a scene from Donnie Brasco and I wondered what was up? The meat was nice and rare and should not have given any trouble. I kept at it until it was all carved, then set the table.

At first, everyone was excited for dinner. Then we started eating. Shane got up after his first bite to relieve his mouth of what he had just put in it. Cyprian started complaining he could not cut his meat. So I helped him. Cyril started to say the same, then decided he would be brave  and kept sawing away at his piece.

Shane got up to dispose of his second bite and finally, very nicely, hinted that  the meat seemed a little difficult to cut. Or chew. Never mind swallowing.

I cut and ate some meat and found it extremely stringy and not at all amenable to being eaten. If I cut the bites small enough and mixed it in with mashed potatoes then washed it down with wine, it was somewhat edible.

After 30 min, Kateri said " I just swallowed my second bite".  Cyril was still chewing. Audrey decided not to make a fuss and kept eating her mashed potatoes.

I suggested to the kids to cut the meat small and  swallow it whole. It was faster.

I looked over at Shane and we both started laughing. I apologized for the meat, then tried to point out the good points of the meal.

'At least the potatoes were good', I offered.

'I do like mashed potatoes', he said  'with gravy. Otherwise it is just  a big mouthful of starch.'

I hadn't made gravy.

'But the salad was tasty', I tried again.

Again, he countered.  'Some bites  it was lots of cranberries and lots of cheese. And one tiny lettuce leaf. You can finish yours, but I don't want to see it.'

I started to go into hysterics realizing I had made the same salad four nights this week.  I liked it. Apparently, he had just been suffering through it.

I looked at all the left overs and thought maybe we should  put it out for the raccoons to eat. Shane said he did not want to wake up to a bunch of  choked animals on our back porch,  so I asked him to dispose of the evidence and drank some more wine.

He ended the meal by saying , " I appreciate everything you did for dinner tonight. Just don't do it again."

Next time, I will post some picutes of fabulous things we did chew and eat successfully. And the rest of our Scotland trip pictures.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Scotland Part I- Kilts and Scotch

For this year's Oddyssey trip, Shane and I headed to Scotland to meet the boat. We were both curious to see how colder weather and not being able to jump in the water without insulation would affect the trip. It was difficult getting gear as winter clothing lines were not due out for a few more weeks. It  felt odd buying hats and down jackets when we still had -hopefully-6 weeks of summer.  I had never owned a wetsuit before but there is no way anyone would go in without one.  So we ordered one and after the first suiting up I was so hot, sweaty, and claustraphobic I was afraid I might cut it off just to get out. But I kept practicing and getting slippery underthings to wear and by the time we left I could get it on, and off, all by myself. With my hood, booties, and gloves, - and the nice mask I finally found-I was ready and looking forward to finding the basking sharks.

But before we flew up to meet Discovery, we planned a few days in Edinburgh which was a great time. August is festival month there. We had wondered about planning any special excursions and considered renting a car to tour the countryside. But we were so busy and entertained by what was just outside out hotel I am glad we didn't.

One day we hiked up to Arthur's seat, which was very windy and had a beautiful view of the Firth of Forth. (I just like saying that.

Everywhere you went  there were artists, musicians, and any kind of street entertainment you could think of. Walking down the street you would start to see a small crowd gathering. so you slow down and try to get a peek. Now the crowd is bigger and you have to strain to get a view of the next 15 min performance: A man juggling knives at the top of a 10 foot ladder. Others juggling chainsaws. A woman keeping hula hoops spinning on four different body parts simultaneously. While balancing on a small platform.

Our favorite performance was a smaller affair. And we ended up with front row seats. We had just walked out of a Starbuck's with coffees in hand and saw a young man lighting  little fires on the road. It was dark and the flickering piles soon gathered a small crowd. All curious to see what kind of show it was going to be.

After lighting the fires, the performer took a long baton- I am sure there is a proper name for it- and lit the ends. He turned on his music and proceeded to amaze the audience with his mesmerizing, fiery, acrobatics.

We both agreed the boy from Spain had the best act of the festival and I felt lucky to have been there.

 IN the evenings, you could find all kinds of comedy shows. Some were better advertised and sold tickets. Others, you read about on the flyers everyone seemed to be shoving at you. We followed up on one at  a place called The Speakeasy. It didn't start until 11:30- or rather half eleven-so after dinner we headed there for drinks and the show. It was so nice to finally sit down and the comedians were pretty good.

 We decided to take the Scotch Whiskey tour, where we were educated in the making of scotch and the differences in the four categories. I can't remember the names. I do remember the tastes. We sat down after the cozy moving half-barrel video tour to try the different kinds of scotch. The first one tasted a little soapy. The second a little like a soapy banana. I was interested in the third as it smelled very smoky. Ever smoked a soapy banana? The fourth one confirmed my suspicions. I don't like scotch. But I am glad we did the tour.

Next on our agenda was lunch at the Witchery,

 A tour of the Castle,
 A little more shopping, where Shane did buy a kilt.

 And finally back to the hotel.

After three days we felt we had gotten a good taste of Edinburgh, were mostly adjusted to the time change, and ready to head off to Stromness to meet the boat.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It is definitely fall now. It came so suddenly I was caught without a jacket. Sunday was hot. We barbecued, played outside, had a bonfire and roasted marshmallows.   Monday morning was cloudy and I wore jeans for the first time in weeks. And eventually a fleece jacket as well. It was a very strange transition. We only started summer the second week of August this year. It was hot, but the light was already had a slant to it, and when the wind blew yellow leaves fell through the trees. But we could still pretend it was summer. Until Monday. Now they are predicting rain and we're trying to get one last lawn care day in before the eternal swamp that is our backyard sets in.

We had a slower transition into our school year. We started by doing our end of the year tests which we were too busy, or absent, to get done earlier. Not the best timing as being out of school mode and test taking makes for a rough test day. But we got them done, got the results filed away, and on to the next year.

I was pleasantly surprised with the kids first day of away from home classes. Shane has always had issue with the impressions the term 'homeschooling' conjures up for some people. Mostly people that have not done it.  Fortunately, when you home school, you can define it anyway you like. In the broadest sense, it means for us, we are overseeing all the details of our kids' education: picking and choosing each child's program. Deciding when, how, by whom, and at what pace according to each one's propensities, passions, and preferences. No, that does not mean if they don't like math they don't have to do it. But it does mean if they are better at story problems and mental math, and have a ton of energy, I am not going to chain them to a desk and make them write the multiplication chart 10 times.  It is a bit of detective work figuring out who needs what. And you  havie to adapt every teaching strategy for every child.

When Audrey was little, I thought I had it all figured out- I think most people make that mistake when they have a pleasantly tempered first born. Which is why we should all have at least two. Audrey could read when she was four. She loved books, writing, drawing and when math lessons started she could do read and do her lessons on her own. Piece of cake.

Enter Cyril. We tried reading/writing. Rather, we tried sitting in a chair for an extended period of time.  5 min tops. Still not a success. So I backed off and we waited 6 months and tried again. We waited another 6 months. Ans so it went until he was almost 8. I kept waiting for that 'thing' to click and everything would fall into place. It didn't.  For years. And then it did not so much as click as me holding and hammering it in place. But eventually, he got it. But it was a difficult and tear-laden adventure and I still wonder how I could have, and can do, better in the future.

Kateri is unique as well. She loves to write, is eager to be able to read, but not so much that she will sit and write phonograms patiently. She wants instant results and each lesson asks, 'when are you going to teach me to read?' I have not told her there are 76 phonograms to get through.. I had been considering some kind of therapy for her, but I am finding isolating and practicing the correct forms for making each sound seems to improve her speaking. And I know to sit on her good hearing side and am happy I can work around that and make her lessons work for her.

Pippin, for now, is happy to ride his bike at break-neck speeds. Which, after our attempted bike ride around Barra, more on Scotland later, I am even more impressed by. We did try some phonics lessons, but I think I'll wait another few months. He is enjoying his swim lessons, picked up some knee-boarding and rock climbing skills this summer, and seems on his way to being a very physically adept boy. But he does love mental math and I am always impressed when he comes up with arithmetic problems and answers on his own.

But back to 'homeschooling'.  My own definition has evolved over the years from' it means I have to do everything myself and as the parent I am the only one really qualified to do it' - yes, I realize how snobby that sounds- to 'someone else may have a lot to offer my kids and can do it better than I can'. Which is how we ended up taking art and drama classes at the nearby home school co-op. It was a no-brainer, when all my 'horses' looked like llamas, to find someone else to teach them. As for drama, I get enough of that already so am happy someone else can help them channel theirs, and then charge for tickets to see the results.

This year we added a writing class for Audrey and science for Cyril. As well as piano for them both. which I initially thought I would do myself. But not being a music major, or having a private studio and absolutely uninterrupted time, I was happy to hire someone else to do.

Our fist day was a huge success and I think we will make lots of progress this year. As I took the kids to their classes and showed them where they needed to go for their next class, leaving them to navigate while I took the little kids to the playground- or eventually back to the car when the rain starts-I had a feeling that we are entering another phase with them. That getting through the previous years has allowed them to get to where they are: more independent, self motivating, and capable. Much like when I watched them take their first steps, it felt like the next part of the journey. And it seemed appropriate that the temperatures are changing and I feel ready to move on. When the kids came out of their classes they were both beaming. Audrey says she wishes she could do writing class every day- it is just once a week- and Cyril talked non-stop all the way home telling me about his science class and how he made a new friend and the funny nicknames the teacher gives the rowdy kids and how they learned about surface tension and all the experiments they got to do and he can't wait for the next class. And then he went through it all again when Shane got home.

And Audrey, to whom I offered to be an escort to all her classes but she nonchalantly said, 'just give me the room numbers and I'll find them.' I think of her, not even able to order from a waiter  and Cyril, crying every time he was away from us for years, and I started to really appreciate the space they/we are now in. Last night when turning off the lights, Cyril asked Shane if he could keep his on so he could finish the book he had started that afternoon. And I appreciated the teachers for the opportunities they are offering and the passion with which they do it and how wonderful it is to be able to give my kids an education they enjoy that doesn't kill their enthusiasm for knowledge but makes them excited and eager to learn more about life and the world.

Although I have not found a way to translate the same wonder and curiosity about the three sounds of A.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Too lazy to write

But here are some pictures from the past couple of months:

Audrey and Cyril in Beauty and the Beast

Our first vist to get stitches. Pippin was the lucky winner. Bike helmets do not cover necks. Too bad.

Shane took some time off and we packed as much into 9 days as we could. We took a couple trips to Newport, and one to see the Redwoods.

At the aquarium in Crescent City, he kids got an opportunity to pet a shark. Cyril was in heaven.

We stopped in McMinnville to see the air museum. Pippin saw the plane and exclaimed,
 " I know this plane. I flew it!"  It is amazing the flasbacks you can get from playing Battlefield Vietnam.

Shane got to go kiting all day back at home.
Then he and Cyril took an overnight hike.

Then Monday came and the vacation was over.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Too Creepy To Not Share

This was a video featured on WheelchairKamikaze's website. It shows how the fungus cordyceps acts on insects. The same fungus has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, and more recently a derivative is used in Gilenya, the new oral MS medication, which I  had decided already I am not interested in. And that was before I wondered if there might be a chance I could have mushrooms sprouting from my brain as a result. So far I am pretty sure there are no reports of such things, but the medical community can be very slow. Who knows.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Creamed Corn Brulee

So after the last post about Austin, I started craving the corn brulee we'd had and researched some recipes. Basically they all called for the same basic ingredients: cream, sugar, corn, and egg. This one was similar to the Cooks Illustrated Creme Brulee, which was my favorite of the ones I tried. I was not disappointed, though I think I might cut down on the sugar in the custard next time.

This made 8 large- 10oz ramekins-brulees

2 ears corn kernels
2 Tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 c whole milk
10 egg yolks
1 cup or less granulated sugar plus
coarse or granulated sugar for dusting tops

First, sautee 2 ears of corn kernels in some butter, until the kernels get golden and a little brown in places.

In a saucepan heat the milk, cream, and  half the kernels - you can save the other half for dividing amongst the ramekins before you pour in  the cream-egg mix. I decided not too and added all the kernels to the cream, but if you like more texture set them aside.Heat until just boiling, stirring constantly. I  sped up this part by heating  the milk and cream in  the microwave until almost boiling, then adding it and the corn to a saucepan and returning to a boil. It also helps limit the chance of burning the cream. Remove from heat and let sit for 15 min.

While it sits, beat the sugar and the egg yolks until creamy. Gradually add the cream-corn mixture.  The recipe called for pureeing the corn mixture before adding to the eggs. I forgot, and pureed the whole egg-cream-corn mix at once.

Set ramekins in large baking dish. Sprinkle kernels, if you saved them, into ramekins. Pour in the cream mixture. Add boiling waterta baking dish  about 2/3 way up the side of ramekins and bake for 30 -40 min.

Mine cooked  about 35 min or so. The center should still be a little jiggly. Cool, then cover with plastic wrap and set in fridge a couple hours so they can firm up. Remove and let sit uncovered for 30 min. Dust tops with a thin layer of sugar

Place under broiler until sugar it melted and carmel colored. Or for added fun, use a blow torch. I do have a small kitchen torch but was out of butane.

On our trip to Austin, I brought some books to read, as Shane would be working several days. I brought The SeaWolf, by Jack London. Which somehow I had managed not to have read before. My only regret was that I read another book first and did not start the SeaWolf until the last day. Then I was so engrossed I forgot lunch and didn't even notice when Shane pulled up to get me on the way to the airport. He was worried as I had told him I'd be waiting and had to park and go inside and look around. I was sitting just on the other side of a pillar, and being somewhere  on the high seas between San Francisco and Japan, didn't hear the rumbling Mustang or my cell phone when he called.  But at least I was very entertained for the plane trip home.

The wine was good, and luckily, did not anywhere near resemble the sailor swill that must have been passed around then. Though I'm not sure how much wine they would have taken. After I finished the book, a fellow passenger pointed out there was an article about Jack London in the inflight magazine. The character Wolf Larsen was actually based on a real captain Jack had sailed with.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lone Star

Shane had business trip to Austin in October, so we decided to extend it a couple days and take a little vacation. I found out what I was pretty sure I already knew. I really like Texas. I liked the geography, I liked the people, and it being October, I liked the weather. And Shane's family having come from there, I felt like we were exploring family history. Only, they were not from Austin.  Matador was too far a drive. But we did see streets and towns with family surnames and I'd love to go and explore more. Someday. At dinner the first night, the waiter told us about some local wineries so the next morning we headed out to the Hill Country try them. Or as many as we could, which turned out to only be two.

This was at Woodrose Winery. It was our second stop and we were very pleased to also sample some meats and cheeses. This one would be so pretty at night with the trees all lit up, and if/when we go again we'll definitely re-visit.
This was Becker Vineyards. I loved all the wood. And the wine was good too. It tasted very much like Texas- big, meaty, and not so formal as to make you feel under-dressed. We got a couple bottles at both wineries. There were a lot more to visit, but they will also have to wait until next time.
We went to San Antonio for a day, walked along the river, and had lunch a little cafe.

One night we got to witness a bi storm, complete with thunder and lightning. The streets were all turned into rivers, with the wind pushing the water up the streets. It was very cozy.

But all the days were sunny and nice.
The last night we ate here. Just as we were coming out, the bats started their evening migration. We were told it is the biggest bat migration in the northern hemisphere. It was pretty amazing how the the long black ribbons just kept coming, and coming. We got to see them every night, but somehow, I never had my camera, until this night.

Not a very good picture, but it was the last opportunity we had so I was glad to at least get one.

Of course we visited the Alamo, which was neat, but sad.

And it wouldn't be a complete post without some tasty picture- really the tastiest eggs Benedict  we've had. So far. But I'll have to do some more research to make sure. I did not get a picture and am going to work on copying the fabulous creamed corn brulee we had with dinner. Two times.

All in all, it was lovely trip, the only hiccup was when I realized as we pulled into the airport, that I had left the girls' gifts in the dresser drawer. Fortunately, other people plan for these things and when I called, the hotel said they'd FedEx them to the following day. We found some stand-ins  at the airport, and the girls had a package to look forward to. So it worked out.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Still Here, Old Boy

I love P.G. Wodehouse, which is where the title comes from. And since it has been awhile since I've updated, was happy to steal a title. This might get messy, but here's some of what we've been up to recently. I'll fill in the other months later.

This most recent weekend, we took a trip to see Great Grandma Mac to celebrate her 90th birthday. We actually missed her party by two days, but with us there, cousins and aunts and uncles dropping by, and Grandma Trudy's cooking, every day was a party. The kids were so sad to come home. It is pretty bad on our part, but I realized that was the first time Pippin had met Grandma Mac in person and the  the kids were shocked to find they had cousins they'd never met. They all got along great and are begging to go back again soon.  We will definitely will  not wait so long the next time.

The pictures decided to arrange themselves, so in no particular order:

We got to have a power outage, which it always fun. What's better than eating Grandma Trudy's Chocolate cake with Chocolate Ganache? Eating it by candle light.

 I'm representing Shane in this four generation picture.

  This was supposed to be at the end, along with the recipe. We made this for a big dinner we had with friends and I have been craving and making it ever since. I didn't know kale could be so tasty, But I suppose when you add bacon and cheese with candied nuts, what wouldn't be tasty? Recipe is below.

Kateri was so excited to get Grandma Mac a present. Three actually. She gathered and wrapped them all by herself. She insisted there had to be a balloon. Which by this time, was small enough to be put in a box and wrapped.

Kale and Apple salad with bacon and pecans-  and lots of other tasty stuff.

For the pecans- toast 2 cups nuts in a saute pan with 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper and some butter. About 8 min on med heat, maybe less.

For the salad,
 cook 8 slices bacon finely chopped until nice and crispy. Remove the bacon, saving the  oil in the pan.
Mix about
 1/4 cup of the oil with
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoon capers brine ( from a jar of capers)
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
some black pepper.

I put it all in  jar with a lid and shake really well.

For the salad:

1 8 oz bunch  kale, stems removed, leaves   finely shredded
1 large head radicchio, shredded- I leave this out sometimes and it's still good
3 Tablespoons snipped chives
1Tablespoon chopped tarragon - this part smells really amazing
2 granny smith apples cut into matchsticks

2 oz shaved pecorino

Toss everything but the cheese with the dressing. Or leave out the bacon and nuts as well to add at the end.  Arrange cheese on top. I like to make a big batch of this without the dressing added. Kale keeps better than shredded lettuce. I love having it for lunch the next day. And the day after that. Then I have to go to the store for more provisions and I start the process all over.

Coming soon: a trip to Texas wine country- yes there is such a thing, I was shocked too
                       a trip to the snow where Kateri made snow angels, in her bathing suit
                       a few birthdays- kids and adults
                       a trip to Japan- Shane, not the family
                       and a few new house furnishing/rearranging