Monday, November 26, 2012

How to make your cookie sheets look brand new

Do your cookie sheets look like mine?  Here are my cookie sheets & pizza screens.  I use a silpat for making cookies but the pans go naked for roasting veggies.  The pizza screens sometimes get sprayed with oil, which tends to leave a sticky residue over time.  All were purchased several years ago at a nearby restaurant supply store.

Aluminum gets grody over time.  You can scrub and scrub and scrub all you like but they'll never look brand new again.

Unless you know my secret.

Here are the same cookie sheets and pizza screens later that same day.  And I didn't even touch them to get them this way.  No chemicals, no scrubbing, no water.  Nothing!  I didn't have to do a dang thing to them after they got all spiffed up, either.

Are you dying to know how I did it yet? 

I put them in the oven during its self-cleaning cycle and walked away for 2 hours.

Now, before you go throwing your bakeware into the oven, make sure it's 100% aluminum and can withstand the high heat of a self-cleaning cycle.  Don't try this on anything with non-stick coatings, handles, enamel, or heirloom items. 

Other than that, bake your grime away.  It's awesome.  Now, if only my bathroom were this easy to clean.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A treasure trove of lebkuchen

A few years ago..

Holy crap.  When did 1997 become a "few" years ago?  It feels like only recently!

Let's start again.

Waaaaay back in the '90s when I was single, carefree, and had (some) money, I spent Christmas in Europe with friends.  They took me to the markets and I adored seeing the season through another culture's eyes.  As much as I love France, Germany's Christmas seems to more fully embody what Americans envision as the perfect holiday season: nutcrackers, spiced wine, snow, trees, ice skating.

One of the things that I fell in love with was lebkuchen, a soft gingerbready sort of thing.  Only it's amazingly better.  It's chewy and sweet (but not overly so) and makes you want to cuddle by the fire.  I love them.  Every year I buy some at Cost Plus World Market and hoard them: mine!  MINE!!  I've thought about trying to make some but never so much as researched recipes.

Last year my girlfriend, Maria, ruined me.  She sent me Nurmburg lebkuchen.  Dammit.  My Cost Plus cookies are stale and flavorless in comparison to the traditionally made lebkuchen.  They were soft, fragrant, chewy, and amazing.

Now we're set to be ruined yet again. 

On Veteran's Day I was sitting in my living room when the FedEx truck stopped in front of our house.  The driver left a large box on our doorstep.  I stared at the delivery label in disbelief.  It was from Germany.  Upon learning that I love lebkuchen so much, Marius' parents decided to introduce us to a German tradition of a Schmidt chest. 

I unpacked the box with my jaw agape.  Gene was on the phone and I couldn't get his attention.  In the box was a beautiful pressed tin box.  I put it on the counter and waited for Gene to see it before I opened it.  Finally, my waving and stomping made him look over.

Inside are 13 types of Germany cookies and treats: lebkuchen (lots and lots of it!), stollen, vanilla cookies, pfeffernusse, cinnamon cookies... oh my!  There was also a perpetual calendar and some ornaments for our tree.

We're incredibly grateful, not just for this bounty of holiday treats, but for the chance to host a young man from Germany.  He's been such a fine addition to our household. 

A year ago I was expecting a son... who knew I would get two.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Election day always reminds me of a conversation I once had with a former coworker.

I walked into our office with my "I voted" sticker on my shirt.

When I asked if everyone had voted she responded, "I'm too dumb to vote."

This woman was the office manager and the lead consultant.  She was a single mother of a 13-year-old girl.  While she and I did choose to live our lives in very ways and I generally thought that the decisions she made in her personal life tended to be quite poor, she was clearly not a stupid person.  In this woman's case, it was her choice to be "dumb". 

I wondered this morning if her daughter, who would be about 19 by now, is voting in her first presidential election, or if she's been told that girls are "too dumb" to vote.  I hope for her sake that she has found her own voice and is making decisions for herself as a young woman.

There's a difference between stupid and uninformed.  If you don't know, find out.  Inform yourself.  Ask questions, even if you think they seem "dumb".  It's your right to vote, and your duty to do so.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thirty-nine good deeds

A couple of weeks ago I watched a video on facebook where a young man in India performed 21 good deeds on his 21st birthday.  (And of course, now I can't find the video.)  The acts ranged from watching a tollgate for a guard so he could use the restroom to feeding the homeless. 

Later that week, I was in a bookstore and found a title of a book that looked interesting.  I was having a crummy day and needed some inspiration, so opened the book to that date.  Turns out Erin had had a bad day, too: it was her first deedless day.


I took a picture of the book and vowed to check out at the library.  Then I went back to my day, trying hard get over my curmudgeonly and pissy mood.

The universe seemed to be working to get me to do something.  The book and the video stuck with me, never far from my thoughts.  I finally decided to do 39 good deeds in conjunction with my 39th birthday (which isn't until August 2013).  Would I attempt 39 deeds in one day?  Would I focus on doing one a day for the 39 days before my birthday?  I didn't know but it would be my way of thanking the world for letting me occupy it for 39 years.

I did worry, however, that many of the deeds would cost money we can't spare.  Sure, it's lovely to purchase the next drive-up person's order, to donate money to a charity, to buy a kid's school fundraiser items, but what if I just don't have the cash?  We are on a very strict budget.

A couple of days after having seen the book, one of the bloggers I follow on facebook announced that her friend, Erin McHugh (see above), was giving away e-copies of her book for one day only on  Wait a sec... that's the book I was coveting!  And it's free!  I rushed and got myself a copy. 

Happy happy joy joy!

The book has provided me with a lot of inspiration.  Good deeds mean calling a friend, being reliable, giving credit where credit is due, helping others find joy, and more.  I'm really enjoying the book and am so glad that I own a copy because I know I'll read it again.

This morning as I walked from my car to my office I noticed an abandoned Safeway shopping cart on campus.  The nearest Safeway is well over a mile away.  I'd seen the cart there for the past few days but not done anything.  I live near another Safeway and am constantly taking back carts that people have thoughtlessly left in the street.

Rather than grumble to myself about careless people, I whipped out my cell phone and called the number on the cart to report its location.  That was a much better way to start my day than getting worked up about the cart having been left on campus by some jerk.

Sometimes good deeds are more dramatic. 

Yesterday a coworker came to my office doorway and said, "Jenn, I think I'm going to pass out".  Then he did.  I had just enough time to get to him and lay him down gently on the ground.  I put my coat under his head, called his wife, kept him company until the paramedics arrived, then helped keep curious students at bay so that he could have some privacy.  I was pretty amped up on adrenaline for the rest of the afternoon and got very little work done.

(And Erin McHugh says that good deeds don't fall into your lap!)

Just last Thursday I found a debit card on the ground near a window well.  I glanced into the well and saw what appeared to be a driver's license.  I climbed down into the well and retrieved the card: it had the same name as the debit card.  I reported the find to the the police and left the items at a nearby bakery.  That morning wasn't completely altruistic: I'd missed my stop because I'd been eavesdropping on some very personal conversations on the bus.

And so it would seem that my 39-deed pledge has begun without my having realized it.

Won't you join me in a similar pledge?  The purpose of sharing the good deeds isn't to tell us how wonderful you are - we already know that! - but rather to inspire others to take action and influence in a positive way the world around us all.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gourmet eating on a Top Ramen budget

In the first two weeks Marius was here, I bought bananas no fewer than seven times.  He ate at least 2-3 each day, on top of the other fruits I had on hand.  Our weekly milk intake went from 2 half-gallons, which included my bi-weekly yogurt production, to closer to 5 gallons.  I hate to admit it, but I've had to get a Costco membership and shop at discount grocery stores to stretch our food budget as much as possible.  Since coupons are so often for processed foods we don't use, that hasn't been an avenue to help the old bank account.

After Marius had been living with us for a couple of weeks and we started to realize just how much he really eats, I started asking work colleagues with teen boys what they feed their plague of locusts kids to satisfy them without bankrupting the family budget. 

One coworker's suggestions were full of processed foods: mac-n-cheese from a box, pre-made PBnJ sandwiches, pizza rolls, instant noodles, etc.  That wasn't going to happen (and clearly she doesn't know me very well!).

I started focusing on increasing his share of carbs, and finding things to make him feel satisfied after a single serving: trail mix, pasta, rice, cheese sticks, bread.  That definitely helped.  Introducing him to peanut butter has helped, too.  Instead of eating 3 bananas, he now eats a peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread.  We don't want him to not eat, we just want him to eat smarter.

I'm the sole wager earner in the household right now, and bringing home an educator's income at that, so we've had to very closely monitor our food budget.  We are a cash-only household on principle and things have been tight this month.  After paying bills at the end of September, I knew that October was going to be a lean month.  Feeding two adults, a mobile infant, and an athletic teenager on a tight budget has been a herculean, but not impossible, task.  I refused to eat pasta for a month or to serve crap food.

Thank goodness for a well-stocked pantry, creativity, and kitchen know-how.  In the past three weeks, we've only purchased perishables and bread.  Here are some of the things we've had:
I even made tomato jam and took corn bread to a work potluck.

Kaelen has been gorging himself on home-canned foods, some of which are favorites if wild kicking of feet is any indication.  Peaches, green beans, pears: he's eating food by the fistful and has loved all the quick breads I made.

Thanks to a friend's generosity, I am in possession of a mountain of rainbow chard, kale, cabbage, beets, lettuce, green tomatoes, and a spaghetti squash.

Tonight we're having kale with sausage and white beans for dinner.  Technically the white beans are Peruvian yellow beans I bought out of culinary curiousity a couple of months ago, but who's going to judge me?

Tomorrow we'll have a green tomato and chard gratin.  I'm going to throw in the last of the coppa I found in the freezer.  Tuesday will be spaghetti squash with pasta sauce.  Wednesday we'll have sloppy joes and sweet potato fries.  I think Thursday the last of the pork chops will be brought forth and served with rice pilaf and green beans.

Luckily for us, hosting an exchange student comes with a stipend. The first month's check, received at the beginning of October, paid off the futon we'd purchased for his new room.  That's part of the reason why these past weeks have been exceptionally tight: none of the stipend has been available to go toward the very real living expenses.  October's funds will restock my pantry and allow us a little more wiggle room.  My freezer is nearly empty and just about all of my staples are gone.  I'm literally scraping the bottoms of containers to get sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and similar items.  I still have a nice supply of items I canned: green beans, chili, tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, pears, pickles, beans, jams, and more.  That said, there are a lot more empty jars than there were a month ago.

The last few weeks have been very tiring for me.  I love cooking: it's a challenge and a puzzle and is interesting.  But there's been no break: no take-out, no "wanna go grab a sandwich?" moments, no dinner out.  Every single day I've had to figure out what to make that will not only feed the four of us but will also provide enough leftovers for lunch the following day.  There have been days where all I did was plan what I was going to cook, cook it, clean up from cooking, and plan for the next bout.  I went to work each Monday exhausted from having devoted so much of my weekends to finding ways to get healthy food into mouths creatively and economically.

But I did it.  Marius, whose older sisers both studied in the USA and told him that Americans eat mostly fattening fast food and "from powder" (mixes), has said over and over again how happy he is to live with a family who cooks real food.  I used up some odder things in my stockpile and finished up lots of odds and ends.

Payday is Thursday of this week.  I'd planned on going grocery shopping on Thursday night after work but in surveying what's still left in the house, I think I'll go Friday morning instead.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lactose-free pumpkin pie

Last weekend we had out-of-town guests for dinner.  I knew that the wife is vegetarian so checked with her husband ahead of time if she ate eggs and cheese.  He said yes, so I went forward with my plans to prepare shakshuka.  It's an easy and hearty vegetarian entree that can be stretched by serving it over rice.

On a side note, the first time I made this dish for Marius, our 15-year-old German exchange student, he was sampling tidbits from my cutting board and got quite a shock when he nabbed a hot pepper.  I laughed and said, "that'll teach ya".
The day before our friends came over, we were all together at a Renaissance-themed wedding.  Here's a photo of the wedding party.  Gene, Kaelen and I are about 1/4-way from the right: I'm wearing orange and holding Kaelen.  Gene's grinning from behind the guy in the fleur-de-lys robe and hood.  And the newlyweds are in the sage-green velvet dress and kilt at the center.  We're so happy for them!

It's early and I'm pre-coffee.  Bear with me... I have a point.

While we were at the wedding, I double-checked with Rejoyce (pictured 3rd from right in a traditional Kyrgyz matron's dress) that she ate eggs and cheese.  She kind of blanched and said she could, but preferred not to due to lactose intolerance.




Luckily, shakshuka is easy to prepare without eggs and cheese.  I made it up to the point where I add the eggs, then pulled out a portion for her.  To hers I threw in some spinach and VOILA: vegan entree for her.

That morning I had chatted with my aunt on the east coast while she was making a pumpkin pie.  Marius has been curious about pumpkin pie, which is also Gene's favorite, and so I decided to make one.

But wait a second.  Pumpkin pie has quite a bit of dairy in it.  Interwebz to the rescue!

Any ingredient I wouldn't quickly and earily use was out.  I didn't want to get stuck with a tub of silken tofu, a bag of spelt, or cartons of soy milk so any recipe that called for them was out of the question.

I decided on a store-bought graham cracker crust.  A little bit of research brought me to this recipe.  It turned out beautifully.  Every single morsel of that pie disappeared by the time the dishes were cleared.   With the holidays coming up, be a dear and make a dessert your lactose-intolerant guests can eat.  They'll thank you for it.    
LACTOSE-FREE PUMPKIN PIE Recipe from   1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar*
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups mashed cooked pumpkin
1 cup soymilk, rice milk, almond milk, or non-dairy coffee creamer*
(*I used vanilla-flavored creamer and found that the recipe was very sweet.  Reduce the sugar somewhat if you use a flavored creamer.)
  1. Whip eggs until frothy.
  2. Beat in sugar, then spices and salt.
  3. Add pumpkin and soy milk and beat until well blended and smooth.
  4. Pour mixture into pie shell.
  5. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for 30 to 35 more minutes.
You can top it with your choice of a whipped cream or ice cream - with or without lactose - and nobody will even know the difference.


And, because I only used half of the can of pumpkin, I made my favorite pumpkin bread last night.  Pumpkin bread for breakfast!  Booya. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tomatillo chicken with piloncillo

We got rid of cable several years ago and haven't looked back.  Having rabbit ears on our TV does get annoying, especially when large planes running powerful radar are doing touch-and-gos at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McCord, but we're used to getting about four channels now.

About a month ago I was watching PBS and came across a show making things with tomatillo.  I was intrigued because they were in season (and are still readily available).  The first two things she made were not new to me.  Then she made something she called "Pollo con Tomate Verde, Chipotle y Piloncillo": chicken with tomatillo, chipotle, and piloncillo.

Now she had my attention!  Piloncillo is that brown cone-shaped thing you may have seen either in the produce or Hispanic sections of the grocery store.  I'd seen them before but never knew what it was or what to do with it.
It turns out it's just unrefined cane sugar that's been pressed into a very hard cone.  To use it, you simply grate it.  At around $1.50 each, they're cheap and apparently they last indefinitely.  And it you don't have one, it's can be replaced with regular brown sugar.
I made her recipe and let me tell you: it's delicious.  Because Gene doesn't like onions, I pureed the sauce once it was done and served the dish with brown rice.  There was not a single peep from the peanut gallery about the onion content.  It was mildly sweet, tangy, and had just enough kick to be interesting.  I made it with chicken thighs.  Make yours with whichever cut of chicken you prefer. 
If you like spicy food, use 2 chipotle chilis, otherwise 1 is enough.  I hate opening a jar of chilis in adobo because I rarely get around to using that rest of it.  If you have this problem, freeze the leftover chilis and sauce in an ice cube tray and then transfer the cubes to a plastic baggy later.  Don't forget to label the bag.  One time I made spaghetti sauce with cilantro instead of basil.  It was unforgettably wretched.
CHICKEN IN A TOMATILLO, CHIPOTLE AND BROWN SUGAR SAUCERecipe from Pati's Mexican TableServes 4 to 6INGREDIENTS3 chicken leg quarters, or a combo of drumsticks and thighs, rinsed and patted dry 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground 1/4 cup safflower or corn oil2 cups white onion, sliced 2 garlic cloves, chopped 2 lbs tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed, quartered 4 tbsp piloncillo, shredded, or substitute for brown sugar 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, plus more sauce if desired 2 cups chicken broth, or water
TO PREPARE Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

In a thick and tall heavy skillet or casserole dish, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken pieces. Brown on one side, for about 4 to 5 minutes and then flip and brown on the other side, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Don't try to flip too soon or the skin will stick to the skillet. Remove the chicken pieces and place in a bowl. You may remove the skin if you wish, I don't.

Add the onion to the skillet and cook, stirring for about 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, for about 20 seconds. Make room in the pan and add the tomatillos. Let it cook all together, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the piloncillo, the chipotles and their sauce and stir well. Once it comes to a simmer incorporate the chicken pieces along with the chicken broth and cook for about 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be chunky and thick, and the chicken fully cooked.

(I apologize for not using any of my own pics.  I did take some when I was preparing this recipe a full month ago but haven't had time to download them from the camera.  Indeed, just while writing this post I've over-steeped a full French press of coffee and Kaelen has fallen once and bonked his head.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

She brought a tear to my eye

Warning - if you're squeamish about eyes, read no further.
Last Thursday at work I noticed an enormous new floater in my right eye.  The outline of it looked like a monkey hanging from a vine.  It was very annoying because it was right in the center of my field of vision.  Sometimes when I looked from my computer screen to my keyboard I noticed a momentary flash of light. 

Frustrated with a technical glitch discovered while editing my department's website, I took an earlier than usual lunch.  My usual lunchmate was busy so I sat and ate by myself.  It was during that quiet time over lunch that the words of warning from doctor upon doctor returned to me: "because of your extreme myopia, you are at high risk for retinal detachment.  Should you ever see flashes of light, call a doctor immediately".

I started paying closer attention to the flashes and the floater, then I looked up symptoms of retinal detachment on my phone. 

Holy crap:
  • flashes of light... check
  • sudden onset of large floaters... check
I hightailed it to my office and called the eye doctor right away.  While I was speaking to a technician, I remembered that the previous night Rosemary had gotten a little too excited and had head-butted me in the eye. It had hurt like hell.  After a couple of minutes the pain subsided and I had forgotten all about it.

But wait.  An eye injury was also on the list of symptoms of retinal detachment.  Oh no.  Rosemary's head-butting to my eye counted as an injury.
  • recent trauma to the eye... check
The nearby eye clinic didn't have an appointment.  They wanted to know if I could drive to the clinic that's about 15 miles away in an hour.  Does a bear poop in the woods?  Hell yes, I can get myself there.  I drove home, grabbed Gene, and we went up together.

We walked into the clinic at 2:10.  By 2:45 I had been diagnosed with a horseshoe retinal tear but not retinal detachment.
The optometrist said that the resident opthamalogist would perform immediate laser surgery to repair it. 

"Whuuut?  You mean, right now?" I gaped ever-so-eloquently.

"Yes.  We're going to 'spot weld' the tissue around the tear in place to prevent further leakage of the fluid in your eye and to avoid any loss of sight.  Gravity will continue to pull at that tear and you don't want to wait any longer than necessary.  If you leave it, it'll develop into full retinal detachment and you'll go blind in that eye."

I must have looked like a fish, opening and closing my mouth without saying anything.  I had been expecting this to happen - for years, actually - but it was going really fast.  Gene is squeamish about eyes the way I am about broken bones.  When I went into the waiting room to tell him what was happening, he visibly blanched.

About 30 minutes later I had laser surgery.  It's not a pleasant procedure.  Some of the 350 laser blasts hurt, but at least I'd been warned of that fact in advance.  The hardest part is getting over the insanely strong urge to close your eye due to the bright flashes of light.

The upper back part of of my eye now looks like this.
My eye has a 'fro'd-out happy face because it can still see.

The new floater is omnipresent, and make take a few months to go away.  I've also got a small blind spot from the tear where the laser and tear were: like I've been looking at a bright light (which I guess I did) and/or have something on my cheek.  I also have lots of little black specks in my field of vision, which cause me to wave off nonexistent fruit flies, imagine phantom rats and cockroaches scurrying by, and turn my head to see birds that aren't really there.  My vision is hazy in that eye and I've got a follow-up appointment scheduled in another week.

I'm glad that I'd listened to doctors all those times I'd been told of the warning signs of retinal detachment.  I'm fortunate to have decent health care.

But most of all, I'm thankful I can still see with both eyes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A new room in our house

I have created a whole new room in our house.

Looking toward the front of the house:
This was in 2011.  Shudder.  It was a constant source of horror, stress, and marital strife.  Gene's mother passed away in 2004 and he'd never had the wherewithal to go through her things.  So they wound up in the attic, rummaged through and strewn everywhere.
Again in 2011, after I'd spent an entire day clearing, sorting, and ditching things.  I'm an avid believer in passing things along (i.e. donating) that we're not using so that others may enjoy them.
A couple of weeks ago I did a more brutal sort.  Gene got in on the act and went through more things.  We took an entire trailer load out.  It was 1/4 recycling, 1/4 garbage, and 1/2 donations.  There's still more to do but it's entirely manageable - and no longer scary - now.
And finally I painted.  Gene wanted orange.  This is a little more sherbet that we'd planned but it's fine for now.  This is an inner spring klik klak futon.  The stairs are so narrow, and the roof so low, that regular bed and sofa options were out of the question.  The futon is a perfect solution.
That little door on the far right is an access door to the top of the porch.  I've never been in there (shudder) but have peered inside.  Alas... no hidden treasures.

Looking toward the back of the house:
The Big Manly Chair (TBMC), which is deeply coveted by my friend Dena, is ancient.  It's been in my family for... well, nobody is alive anymore who would have known for sure.  But I think it once belonged to the Perrins, friends of my great-grandparents.  It's been stored in basements and garages for decades and is in dire need of refurbishing.  Actually, the chair at the desk 1 photo up is also from the Perrins and is one of a pair.
TBMC is, for the time being, still in storage.  Gene and I have taken a shine to it and have decided to refurbish it.  It's a massively heavy oak thing and I suspect it dates from 1900-1920, as it's a Mission style chair with a leather seat, very similar to this one.  Given the value of the other chair, we will consult with an expert before doing anything to our chair!

Here's the storage area of the attic.
Another 2011 shot.  I've since gotten rid of all of my narrow-mouth canning jars, some 15 dozen!  I'm moving exclusively to wide-mouth, which I find are easier to pack and clean.  The previous owners generously left behind piles of hangers, broken poster frames, old electrical wire, an ancient Kirby vacuum, 2 huge leaves for a long-misplaced table, and endless rolls of vinyl flooring and carpeting.

With the exception of the Kirby vacuum, which I'm going to try to sell on ebay, everything is now gone.  The carpet rolls have been put to good use.

We're thrilled to have expanded our home by some 200+ square feet.  In a strange way, this is all due to Kaelen.  If we hadn't had Kaelen, I wouldn't have accepted a side job of finding a host family for Marius, failed to find one, then talked Gene into taking Marius on ourselves.  That prompted me to clean out the attic and make it liveable.  After Marius returns home in January, we'll transform the attic once again into a playroom for Kaelen and Gene's office. 

Then maybe, just maybe, I can finally get my built-in booth with storage in the kitchen.

Friday, August 10, 2012

To market to market

A friend of my boss sent him this photo some time ago:

Do you recognize any of the products?  Doesn't it seem odd to you that Stove Top, Lucky Charms, Crisco, Nerds, and tabasco (among others) are all in the same section? 

Have you guessed why yet? 

This is the "American" section of a grocery store in Italy.  This is what Europeans think we eat.  This is what enough ex-pats demand when overseas that this store imports these items.

Yes, I'm horrified, too.  It does not, in any way, match my own food shopping experience.  Heck, I don't even buy most of what's on these shelves, though I will admit that Karo syrup, canned pumpkin, and peanut butter are all staples for us.

With our very own German teenager on his way, I'm eager to find out how different our reality is from his expectations.

Last weekend we were in the Bay Area and we stumbled across a farmers market.  Since we were on our way to Sonoma (for an ill-advised attempt to go wine tasting on a Saturday in August), we stopped in to get some picnic items.

I picked out an "elephant heart plum" for myself, and a nectarine for Gene.  My plum was nearly the size of my fist.  Both were delicious.

I resisted the berries, but only because they don't travel well and I didn't feel like scarfing an entire container in the car.

Another vendor had the prettiest "cheddar" cauliflower I'd ever seen.

We purchased some smoked salmon from another vendor, joking with him that we'd driven all the way from Seattle only to purchase something we can easily get at home.  He was very nice and we talked about the trend in Washington to have "salmon candy", or smoked salmon that's treated with a sweet glaze.

The market was overflowing with gorgeous produce.  Hey, it was California after all.  We didn't buy much but our eyes drank in all the lovely sights of a productive and busy market.  I'd take anything from that farmers market - ANY farmers market - over the "American section" of the Italian grocery store any day.

On a related note, we've been introducing Kaelen to solids for about 2 months now.  We've yet to find something he won't eat, so I'm getting more adventurous in what I give him.  Neither Gene nor I care for beets but as you can see in his reaction to a batch of baby borscht, Kaelen doesn't share the sentiment.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

We're expecting

We're expecting again.

It's a boy. 

He's a 15-year-old German exchange student named Marius.

Don't worry: no "Irish twins" here!

I signed up to be the "local coordinator" for an international exchange organization and my job was to find a host family.  That didn't quite go as planned and so we decided to take Marius into our home and hearts.

Have I told you before that our house is 1070 square feet and that we have but a single bathroom?

We've been busy transforming our attic from an unorganized and over-filler storage area into a bedroom.

Tonight I'm going to primer the awful faux wood paneling.  We're looking for a high quality futon to put on the right side of this picture against the knee wall.

I'm debating whether this needs a curtain as a door.  On one hand, Marius will have the entire upstairs to himself, with only the occassional foray by Gene or me to get something out of storage.  Privacy won't be an issue for him.  On the other hand, this space is not insulated.  A heavy curtain across the doorway will both block light from the window at the other end of the house and help keep in heat from a space heater.

In the 9 years I've lived in this house, I had never once completely cleared, organized, or even swept this space.  The previous owners thoughtfully left behind a huge pile of wire hangers, light fixture parts, curtain rods, rolls of carpet and vinyl flooring, and broken glass in the back corner.  I can confidently walk barefoot without fear of slicing open a toe or getting lockjaw.

There's nothing quite like a hard deadline to get you moving on a long-neglected project.  Once Marius returns home next January, we'll reclaim the upstairs as a playroom for Kaelen, office for Gene, and guest room for anyone who visits.  Perhaps my east coast family will finally be persuaded to venture west of, well, Boston!

I'll post more pictures once I primer the attic. 

What color would you paint it?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movie time and gender roles

This was a very busy week at work for me:
Monday - normal workday, except with a fondue party with coworkers
Tuesday - all day training in Seattle
Wednesday - finish prep for conference
Thursday - host conference
Friday - host conference

I've been dlligently commuting by bike ever since we sold one of our cars.  I got a smartphone last week and the app "One Bus Away" is my new favorite app.  It figures out where you are and then gives you a map showing all the nearby bus stops with all their respective route arrivals.  Because so many buses service the area where I work, it's a cinch to figure out how to get home.  I even took my bike to Seattle this week.

Anyway, last night I got home after having put in a 10-hour day.  I was tired from having worked hard to make the conference execution look seamless to the attendees, and my feet hurt because I had,despite years of event planning experience, worn sandals with no support in them.  After a day of running around on concrete, your feet hurt.  It's the next day and they still hurt.

Gene wanted to watch a movie.  There are some key differences between how we watch movies at home.

When he puts in a movie I...
  • start a load of laundry
  • divide the week's accumulated laundry into 2 piles: diapers and clothes.  Give the clothing pile to Gene.
  • assemble diapers
  • fold and put away all the baby laundry
  • notice that the toilet needs scrubbing: do it
  • plunk a new bleach tablet into the toilet tank
  • wash and put away the dishes from dinner
  • refill the dog's water bowl
  • make myself up a plate of fruit skewers and chocolate sauce from the conference leftovers
  • take my kindle outside - we've been having glorious weather in Washington - and enjoy a few minutes of quiet time with "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" until the mosquitos and waning light drive me inside
  • remember at some point that I was supposed to be watching a movie
Gene, on the other hand, puts in a movie and...
  • watches the movie
  • folds the laundry I gave him
  • finishes watching the movie

How can I relax when there's so much to be done?  The house goes to shit during the week - "the baby didn't sleep, wouldn't let me put him down" - and yet I'm able to get it clean by noon of the first day of my weekend.  How come I, as the woman of the household, still have the majority of the housework, despite Gene being the stay-at-home parent? 

Apparently I drew the short straw.

There's a reason the book "Porn for Women" was so popular.  I've talked to lots of girlfriends, and many are in the same boat.  Introducing the fine art of "choreplay" has had no effect.

Is there a magical solution I'm missing?  What do you do in your households?

About a week ago Gene and I went to see "The Avengers". The local movie theatre has remodeled and replaced its traditional seats with massive leather recliners. It was two and a half hours of heaven. That was the first time I'd seen a movie in a theatre since we saw "The Muppets" on Thanksgiving weekend.    Those 2+ hours spent with my feet up, no laundry to fold, no dishes to clean, no baby to feed, were magnificent.

How The Avengers would look if drawn in typical poses for female comic characters

I'm debating going again and just taking a 2-hour nap.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What the hull

Every year we buy at least a flat of strawberries to freeze for later.  We hull them and lay them out on silpats, throw them into the deep freeze, then transfer them to gallon bags once they're hard.  It's great because you can pull out 1 berry or 50, depending upon your needs.

I don't have a strawberry huller, though.  Doing this with a paring knife has always been a pain, and inevitably winds up wasting a bit of the fruit (not that the chickens mind).  This year I rummaged through my utensil drawer and came up with a perfect solution.

A corn cob holder works perfectly!  Alton Brown would be proud: I turned a unitasker into a multi-tasker.  Poke the longer prong into the center of the berry and rotate the shorter one around.  Sometimes it doesn't quite make it but a quick pop of the potato peeler and it's all set.

By the way, while I love having tile counter tops, I hate having 4" tile counter tops with white grout.  What a rotten pain in the arse to keep clean.  It requires a toothbrush and a good hour to get these spotless.  Someday - you know, when we're rich - we'll replace it with... well, something different.

I've been riding my bike to work again.  It's actually more convenient than driving, not to mention faster.  Biking is 15 minutes door-to-door whereas it's more like 20 when I drive because I have to park a couple of blocks away.  Biking, strangely, allows me to bring more with me because I'm not hoofing it down 3 blocks of hill (and then back up in the evening) with armloads of cargo.

I discovered recently that several of my co-workers have never had fondue.  Quelle horreur!  I spent a year in the region of France called Savoie ("sahv-wah"), which is in the Alps' foothills.  Fondue is a regional specialty.  You can feed several people for around $30, which is relatively cheap when you compare that to the $100 or more it costs at The Melting Pot.

And so I thought you might get a chuckle from this picture.  Here are the contents of my bike panniers today.  It made me laugh on my way to work, knowing that people would be surprised to find out what made up my cargo.
I had - take a deep breath - a complete fondue set, dish towels (because I hate using paper towels at work to dry dishes), wine, homemade iced mocha mix, dill and sweet pickles for a coworker, brown rice pudding for breakfast, cherries, a nail kit, sandals, wine opener, nutmeg grater, garlic, sunglasses, cheese, and my purse.

And I rode to work in a skirt.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What to do with pilfered rhubarb

UPDATED 7/25/12 - OK, people.  I shouldn't have to write this but because we live in a society where we apparently have to be told not to use hairdryers in the bathtub or pour hot coffee on our crotches, and that peanut butter contains nuts, let me be clear: do not steal from your neighbors or anyone else.  We're friends with our neighbors and have an open invitation to take rhubarb, apples, berries, peas, lettuce, or anything else from their yard whenever we want.  I rarely take anything.  But the once or twice per year I do, they don't mind, and I usually send them something in thanks for having shared their bounty.
The Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite blogs.  Her recipes are approachable, the results reliably delicious, the photos simple but appealing.  She makes foods that are seasonable in a tiny kitchen in NYC.  I love that about her!  I am excited to see her book this fall for these reasons and more.

One of her most recent recipes was for a triple berry bundt cake.  It makes you want to dive into the computer screen for a slice.
photo: smitten kitchen
I've been... um.. borrowing rhubarb from my neighbors' yard lately.  My own is really skimpy as it's in its first year.  Don't worry, I've been taking treats to the unsuspecting neighbors in repayment for my early morning raids of their garden.

Last weekend I made the big crumb coffee cake from Smitten Kitchen's blog.  And yes, it's every bit as good as it looks in the pictures.  It's moist.  It's crumb-y.  It's tart from the rhubarb and sweet from the sugar.  It also requires that you dirty about 4 bowls, so be prepared should you make it.

If you're looking for rhubarb recipes (as I know you are, Sigrid), here are some recipes from some of my favorite bloggers:
Big crumb coffee cake (this is one of my husband's favorites)

Roasted rhubarb jam (this rice pudding looks so good I am making it for breakfast while writing this post)

Rhubarb scones (gotta try these!)

Lavender panna cotta with poached rhubarb

On Fathers Day my dad was on a plane to Massachusetts to be with his family after my grandfather's passing.  June was a chaotic month around here.  As a belated Father's Day gift to my dad, I made brunch for my favorite men yesterday.  The menu included a spinach & ham quiche, whole wheat bagels, fresh fruit, and minature bundt cakes with rhubarb, vanilla, and raspberries.

I changed Smitten Kitchen's recipe slightly to make these mini-bundt cakes.  First, I halved the recipe.  That was perfect for the mini-cake mold and made exactly 6 cakes.  I used the smallest eggs my girls produce.  Their smallest are still considered large, however.  If you have jumbo eggs, I'd only use 1.  My substitutions:
  • blueberries & blackberries became rhubarb
  • lemon zest became the guts of one whole vanilla bean
  • buttermilk became sour cream
  • lemon juice became lime juice

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 whole vanilla bean
2 eggs, at room temperature
3 ounces buttermilk
1 cup finely diced rhubarb
1 cup raspberries

1 cups powdered or confections’ sugar
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, very, very soft

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Generously greasethe mini-Bundt pan, either with butter or a nonstick spray. Set aside. (see original recipe for notes on sticking)

In a medium bowl, whisk or sift 1 1/4 cups flour (leaving 1 tablespoons back), baking powder and salt together and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and impossibly fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Then, with the mixer on a low speed, add your eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Add 1/3 flour mixture to batter, beating until just combined, followed by half the sour cream, another 1/3 of the flour mixture, the remaining sour cream and remaining flour mixture. Scrape down from time to time and don’t mix any more than you need to. In the bowl where you’d mixed your dry ingredients, toss the berries with the remaining tablespoon of flour. With a silicon spatula, gently fold the rhubarb and berries into the cake batter.
My mad cap countertop

Spoon cake batter — you might find it easier to pipe, because it’s so thick — into the prepared baking pan and spread the top smooth. Bake for 30-35 minutes

Set cake pan on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, before inverting the cake onto a serving platter to cool the rest of the way. Cool completely.

Once the cake is cool, whisk together the powdered sugar, lime juice and butter until smooth and very, very thick. Spread carefully over top of cake.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What's cooking

I spent much of the weekend cooking, something I haven't done since Kaelen was born.  Now that we're on a very tight budget (and because Gene doesn't give a rat's patootie about variety if left to do it on his own), I wanted to have as many things pre-made as I could.  It prevents temptation on those nights we don't feel like making anything.

Besides, I like cooking.

The weekend's haul turned out to be pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.
  • 2 lasagnas in 8x8 pans
  • Greek yogurt
  • double batch of rhubarb big crumb coffee cake
  • 1 loaf of 100% whole wheat sandwich bread (which I neglected to remove from its pan right away and it steamed its bum soft)
  • 2 pans of chicken verde enchiladas, made with chicken and my home-canned corn
  • double batch of pizza dough, half of which I froze and the other half Gene made into decked-out pizzas
  • minestrone soup
  • a batch of pureed cherries for the kid
I froze everything except 1 batch of the enchiladas, which we're going to have for dinner tonight, and the coffee cake.  Gene took a good amount of the coffee cake to our neighbors from whose yard I pilfered the rhubarb at 7:00 this morning.  My rhubarb out front bolted and the year-old rhubarb in the back yard has stalks that are not much larger than pencils.

Lunch tomorrow will either be leftover gyros or the end of a not-so-exciting concoction of braised beef, egg noodles, tomatoes, and edamame I made last week.  Hey, I said we've been working on eating what's on hand... sometimes the results are odd.

Some laundry, bathe the kid, glass of wine, and I'm done.

I'm pooped.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

More changes coming

Gene left his job yesterday, and it's a good thing.  He's going to start working for a start-up that's building cruiser-style electric motorcycles.  Check them out: they're sexy!

Please buy one of you're so inclined!  They're only $45k for the base model, which includes a weekend trip to Las Vegas to customize the bikes with the company's founders, Chris and Gene.  There are some exciting things in the works that I'll share as they get firmed up.

Until business picks up and there's an actual payroll, we're watching our pennies more than ever.  We used to watch our budget fairly closely but now it's a matter of managing finances to the penny instead of just making sure that we have the cash for our purchases.

I've cancelled my newspaper delivery.  We've cut out the milk delivery.  We're selling one of our cars.  We've been very mindful of eating out, buying espresso drinks, paying down debt responsibly, and spending money frivolously.  We're debating whether we'll keep our Netflix or leave it: that's another $11 per month.  For now we're keeping it.

Seeing this in black and white, I realize that this sounds more dire than it is in reality.  I've been neglectful in reading the paper since going back to work. 

While I'll miss the convenience of the weekly deliveries, the minimum order amount has gradually crept to $10.  We've been buying things we really didn't need just to have someone leave a gallon of milk on our front porch every Friday.  I've got a loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread started on the counter right now.  With planning, and a husband who's willing to finish up the bread-baking process, we can have homemade bread delivered straight from the oven instead of delivered with our milk for $4.

As for the car, I live just 3.5 miles from work, where I can get a subsidized bus pass for just $20/month.  I'll be more strict with myself about riding my bike to work.  The bus allows me to catch a ride up the massive hill between my work and home, while still giving me the opportunity for exercise, fresh air, and errands if I hop off at the top of the hill.  With Gene working from home now, we don't really need a second car and its related expenses.

We've been diligently eating our way through the pantry and freezer instead of buying things we don't truly need.  We're very close to finishing off the freezer contents, which we've never before had the discipline to do.  Though it's just a small freezer, things get lost in its artic recesses and we wind up chucking out unrecognizable chunks of ice two years later.

Kaelen's eating solid foods now.  It's a great for working our way through the canned goods I've squirrelled away and allows me to make room for putting things up later this summer.  It's just a matter of draining off the liquid, whirring the contents in the food processor, and spooning the resulting puree into the baby bird's awaiting mouth.

With Gene home more often, perhaps I can get some gardening done and maybe, just maybe, plant some things like lettuce and my languishing tomato plants.

Scary changes, good changes, but necessary changes.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Catching my breath

Spring of 2012 is hereby deemed the "Season of Suckage".  Thank goodness the summer solstice is nearly here, because I'm ready for the wretched awfulness of this past season to come to an end.  Spring, normally a time of new life emerging form the wintery darkness, has proven a time of trial and death for my loved ones and me.

The Grim Reaper has visited my family monthly since March, taking with him two of my grandparents, both of my cats, and one of my favorite hens.  My gramp died a week ago Tuesday.  In his final days he had a constant stream of people visiting him and sharing with him how much they loved him.  Would that we should all be so fortunate in the end, to have those we love the most nearby. 

I got home from work that Thursday to find Rudy hiding in my closet, succombing to intense pain in his back legs.  Gene and I had had many conversations leading up to this point: what we would when the aging cats' health became unmanageable?  Because we'd talked about it, our next step was clear, although still difficult.  I truly believe it's an important choice to make before you're in the moment.  We decided long ago that when they got to the point that they needed expensive treatments to prolong their lives past what seemed fair to all of us, we would bid them farewell in a kind and gentle manner. 

It was heartwrenching to say goodbye to my sweet boy kitty last Friday morning.  He'd been my steadfast friend for 14 years, adjusted surprisingly well to the arrival of the husband, dog, and baby, and loved nothing more than to sit on my lap.  I miss you, little buddy.

(Aside: I need to bitch for a second that the Animal Emergency Clinic charges $50 to administer the euthanasia, PLUS $90 if you want to be in the room with your pet when they do it, PLUS $30 for a cremation.  I would have laughed at them if I hadn't been sobbing.  The Tacoma Cat Hospital, however, had very gracious staff who got me in quickly, listened to my concerns about Rudy, agreed with me, did the deed quickly with me right there the whole time, and took care of his remains.  Their total price was $56, which included as much Kleenex as I needed to make it through the ordeal, kind words from the veterinarian, and even a condolence card in the mail the very next day.)

I'm really hoping that last week was the Grim Reaper's grande finale.  If he's got more in store for me, I'm not sure I can take it.  So far this has been a good week.
Things are starting to look up again.  Yes, my yard is still an utter mess.  I've weeded only a few times, not that you can tell!  The tomato plants I bought in May are still in their pots, as is the hydrangea I purchased to replace the ugly rhodie in the front yard.  It was damaged in last winter's ice storm and I never liked it anyway.

The apple and pear trees I planted last year survived the harsh winter.  We got a few apples last year and I'm hoping that our neighbors' asian pear tree is close enough for cross-pollination.  My favorite clematis died (dang those chickens) but my new honeysuckle has been attracting the hummingbirds.  My hope for the honeysuckle is that it'll grow along the fence and create a wall of green and orange.

I surprised Gene in May with a new patio in the backyard and we're spending more time outside as the weather warms.  I sit in the stillness of our miniscule oasis, breathe deeply of the scented flowers all around, and take a few moments to enjoy the simplicity of being. 

Kaelen is a robust 6-month-old who's growing at the rate of over an inch a month, sleeping reliably through the night, making the miserable times bearable, and reaching for Rosemary every chance he gets.  We adore him with every fiber of our being.

Life, as difficult as it has been of late, moves ever onward.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Life and death with bebe

Life has marched ever forward since my last post. 

My yard is such a mess that I want to put an apologetic sign out front that says "Sorry!  We've got an infant."  If I could get my act together, I could probably sell them on etsy and make some side money.

I have returned to working full-time, cramming my workweek into 4 10s.  Gene stays home with Kaelen Mon-Thurs.  He leaves for work on Friday morning and stays until Saturday evening.  Sunday is our sole day as a family and we do the best we can to catch up with each other, more often than not leaving yard work for another day.

In May I bought some tomato plants, tarragon, and some squash to put into the front veggie beds.  They're still in the pots in the back yard.

Last week a teenaged boy stopped by with an offer to mow the lawn for a mere $8.  We asked him to return the next day because we had no cash.  It poured the next day and our lush, green lawn is embarrassingly tall.  (note to your entrepreneurs: have enough cash to break bills)

Oh well.  Our time together is more precious than mowed grass and organic squash growing on the parking strip.  As the weather worms up - I say that optimistically because we've been hovering 10 degrees below normal - we'll take the baby outside and turn the outdoors honey-do lists into honey-done lists.

Last week Kaelen cut a tooth and rolled over on the same day.  Tooth #2 is threatening to erupt any day now.  He's a content baby who sleeps at night like a champ.  We're so blessed with such an easy-tempered little guy.

We've started him on solids - homemade, of course - and he has yet to refuse anything offered him.  He's sampled many typical baby foods, such as pureed fruits and veggies, and some atypical things like pad thai.  I've read a couple of books about introducing children to healthy foods and hope to have him on the right track.  Just this afternoon I whirred some peas in the food processor and gave him a taste from my fingertip.  He was so eagerly appreciative that I pulled out one of his brand new baby spoons and fed him what remained in the bowl.

When it comes to Kaelen, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  He's slept through the night since he was 6 weeks old.  He's healthy, happy, and spit-shined by the dog on a daily basis.

In other areas of our lives, however, the other shoe has most definitely dropped.  I made the difficult decision in May to have my 15-year-old cat, Mira, put down.  My favorite hen, Gwen, died unexpectedly during my visit to New England.  Sad events, but they come with the territory of animal husbandry.

Every damn shoe in the closet fell about a week ago when my gramp in New England got a devastating diagnosis: metastatic bone cancer in his pelvis and thigh bone.  He has very quickly progressed through the final stages of his life.  My brother is set to fly out this Tuesday but we're not sure he's going to arrive in time.  Not even skype has been an option, Gramp is so sick.

And so here I sit, for the second time in three months, again grieving a beloved grandparent before the fact.  My phone, rarely off of the vibrate setting, has its volume turned up as we await the inevitable news of his passing.  He's been in so much pain that morphine hasn't even helped.  We all hope, for his sake, that his passing happens quickly. 

Like when my grandma died in March, I again find myself thankful for the time I had with my gramp in the past year.  Gene and I went to New England a year ago so that he could meet my family there.  On a whim I whisked Kaelen away for 10 days this last spring.  I think we all knew, but didn't acknowledge openly, that it would be the one and only time Kaelen would meet his great-grampy and that Kaelen would be the only great-grandchild Gramp would ever see.

I take solace in and enjoyment from the things I can control  Time with Rosemary.  Knitting a challenging and interesting shawl for myself.  Visiting the farmers market with Gene and Kaelen.  Figuring out what makes Kaelen giggle uncontrollably.  Cooking for my family.  Heading to Seattle for once-in-a-lifetime exhibits.

And life goes on.  In time I'll teach Kaelen some of the silly things my grampy said.  Better yet, I'll make sure my dad passe along those parts of his father.  Grampy was always a man of few words but when he did speak, you had better pay attention because it was usually going to be clever.

He'd laugh if he knew that I'll think of him any time I see bird poop on my car.  "Look," he'd exclaim, a bird wants to buy your car!"  When given a quizzical look he'd gleefully deliver the punchline: "See?  He left you a little deposit".  That joke cracked him up every time.

Fly free, Grampy.  And on your way, leave as many deposits on cars as you want.  I'll tell Kaelen what it's for.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Flying with the boy

Earlier this month I took Kaelen, who had just hit 3 months old, from Seattle to Boston by myself.  With a plane change each direction ranging from 45-60 mins.  And with cloth diapers.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision based on the fact that my grandparents are in their 80s, Kaelen is their first great-grandson, flights were quite cheap, and I was still on maternity leave.  Gene's and my trip last summer brought my New England family and me much, much closer together and it was an honor to share our little boy with them. 

Kaelen's first airplane

The stars were aligned, and so I blindly jumped at the chance to spend 12 hours alone each way for door-to-door travel with a little baby. 

(screeching tire sounds)  Say what now?  Am I a crazy glutton for punishment?  Travel with an infant, cross-country, alone, with a flight change, and using cloth diapers. 

Full disclosure: we did have some problems but they were relatively minor.  Kaelen fussed a little as we descended into Boston.  I could see his eyes open wide and feel his little body go rigid as we landed, and I knew it was because his ears were popping.  Mine were, too. 

After we finally got to my aunt and uncle's house, Kaelen freaked the eff out.  And I do mean wake-the-entire-household-up screaming fit that lasted 30 minutes.  I felt awful because it was 1:30 a.m. and my cousin is a baker who has to leave the house by 3 a.m. to get to her job at an amazing bakery in Cambridge.  Not to mention my aunt and uncle who also get up at the buttcrack of dawn to start their jobs.  Hush, hush, baby!

After he relaxed a little I tried to put him down only to get his epic pouty mouth and signature lip quiver that happens microseconds prior to an ear-splitting eruption.  I was certain I was going to be forced to sleep in my travel clothes with him in my arms because I couldn't open a suitcase one-handed while holding a scared baby in the other.  He eventually allowed me to put him down long enough to change.  I let him sleep with me that night as reassurance that he was OK as long as I was there.

The start of our 6-hour snuggle fest

All in all, I had planned really carefully and the flights each way did go smoothly.  Hey, I'm a Virgo.  We're anal-retentive avid planners.

Here are my tips for taking an infant on a flight:
  • Preload bottles with formula but not water (unless BFing, which is awesome but since my boobs went on strike so it's formula for us).  Take way more than you think you'll need because if you're delayed you won't be able to buy more easily.
  • Slip-on shoes and pull-on pants for you are a must.
  • Use a front-carrier for baby, & a backpack (forget a diaper bag) for baby's stuff.  You'll feel like a pack mule but your hands will be free.
  • Take easy-to-eat, non-messy food for yourself on the plane: crackers, cold cuts, cheese, pre-cut apples, nuts, grapes, yogurt-covered pretzels, etc.
  • Be sure to have something for baby to suck on during take-off & landing: bottle, finger, pacifier, toy, anything.  Keep encouraging them to suck, even if they're sleepy.  Don't chew gum & only clear your own ears when you see baby sucking so that you can gauge what's going on with theirs.
  • As you board, ask flight attendants which lavatory has a changing table and let them know if you need water for bottles.  Based on my experience, they won't offer any info or aid unless you ask.  In fact, the post-flight survey Delta sent me got a diatribe about the lack of any courtesy shown to a mom who was clearly travelling alone with an infant.
  • If you can, keep baby in the carrier for the entire flight, including take-off & landing.  My air crews never challenged me on this but it *is* against airline policy.  You'll be sweaty by the time you reach your destination but you won't have to jostle your little one around.
  • I bought a kindle on craigslist for the trip.  It was lightweight and gave me something to read that I could quickly put down & pick up one-handed when my baby didn't need my attention.
  • Don't be afraid to seek out the family bathrooms in the airports.  They're roomy & quite clean.
Kaelen didn't need a toy in-flight b/c he was too little for them.  He slept most of the way and only cried a little when I had to wake him to change his diaper.

Did I mention I used cloth diapers the entire trip, including the flights?  I felt like such a mommy rock star for having managed it successfully.
Waiting to board at Logan Int'l

The flights weren't comfortable but they were manageable.  I had enough space to rock and comfort Kaelen when he needed it, to read when he slept, to relax when I needed it, and to eat a healthy snack when I got hungry.

Having grown up on separate coasts, I'd never seen my family - grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins - with babies.  On the way to the airport I looked into the backseat and saw something I'd never seen before.  It's a sight that is forever carved into my memory.

It was my gramp, aged 89, holding hands with my son, aged 3 months.