Monthly Archives: April 2011

Teacher Appreciation Week

May 2-6 is Teacher Appreciation Week, and May 3rd is National Teacher Day, and I’m feeling the need to do something for my daughter’s amazing teachers. There’s nothing quite like public school teachers. They are not only teachers, but advocates, coaches, cheerleaders, listeners, and about a million other things that I’m probably forgetting and that they aren’t compensated for.

So if anyone out there has a great suggestion for letting our teachers know how much we appreciate all their hard work, please post a reply!

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Steel Cut Oatmeal, or, the Nacho Panacea

You can’t eat Nacho Man’s nachos on a weekly basis without incorporating some healthful choices into the routine. Well, you could, but it’s probably best not to go there. Steel Cut Oats have become my morning-after repair…or my justification for the next bowl of nachos.

Fixings for Steel Cut Oats

Steel Cut Oats are also my excuse for using lots of Saigon Cinnamon.

There’s something about Saigon Cinnamon that makes an exotic spice like Cinnamon seem boring by comparison. It’s richer, more intense, absolutely amazing. And it’s readily available–you can find it at Costco, which is where my bottle came from.

I’m learning that food tastes better when you layer on the flavors–Saigon Cinnamon in a bowl of slightly crunchy oatmeal and fruit, pickled jalapenos on nachos, and, the ultimate example, the myriad spices and flavors that go into a bowl of pho (that recipe will be coming).

Steel Cut Oats are super easy to prepare. Just give yourself a little extra time. It’s worth it. My favorite Steel Cut Oats are actually quick-cooking ones from Trader Joe’s. Not only are they quick, but they’re affordable–these oats can get spendy. But I’ve also found good ones in the bulk foods aisle at our local Fred Meyer. They take about ten minutes to cook, as opposed to several minutes for the Trader Joe’s brand. Regardless of which route you go, just follow with the cooking instructions on the container.

And you may notice that I don’t list measurements for fruits, nuts, and spices. As my mother says, “Just add until it tastes right.” She’s a big proponent of cooking by feeling. It’s maddening if you’re trying to get a recipe out of her, but brilliant if you want to get in touch with your own preferences.

Ingredients:

Steel Cut Oats

Cinnamon to taste (Saigon Cinnamon if you can get it)

Brown Sugar to taste

Dried fruit: raisins, apricots, figs, and cranberries are all great

Chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)

Milk (optional)

Instructions:

1. Boil oats according to container directions.

2. Spoon into serving dish.

3. Add milk.

4. Top with brown sugar, cinnamon, dried fruits, and nuts.

How to Wake Up Without Regrets After Friday Night Nachos

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Nacho Man Keeps His Wife Tech-Savvy

You might be surprised to learn that librarians are very with it, technologically speaking. Not a day goes by that I don’t deal with the internet, library databases (which, if you don’t know, are awesome resources, chock full of articles from reference books, magazines, and newspapers, that your library subscribes to–you can access many databases even if you’re not in the library!), downloadable books, Microsoft Office, thumb drives, and the like. And Nacho Man works in IT for a very hip and happening advertising agency in Seattle. We are both surrounded by technology.

And yet, we don’t own a flat panel television, a video game console, or any number of high tech devices. Our oldest daughter has a DS that she occasionally plays. Before that, we had Nacho Man’s Nintendo Gameboy circa 1993. We pull it out at parties–it’s good for laughs. (Incidentally, Nacho Man still had a Pong console when we first started dating. He initiated me. How I wish we still had it!) I have an iPhone that someone gave to Nacho Man because it got dropped in a glass of water. I just signed up for text messaging a couple of years ago. Nacho Man has a company-issue phone with all the bells and whistles, but if it weren’t for his work, he’d never pony up for such a thing.

My one technological love was my laptop. It was nothing fancy, but I loved the portability and the easy access to the internet (Hello, Etsy), my email, and Microsoft Word for writing. It was on one of my internet shopping trips that I spied a pot rack on clearance at Ballard Designs. I’d been watching it for awhile, and when it was deeply marked down, I jumped on it.

Nacho Man was at work the day it was delivered. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to install it. So I didn’t. Brimming with plucky can-do attitude, I jumped up on my kitchen island, single-handedly hoisted a four-foot long pot rack into the air, attached it to the ceiling, then started sliding the S hooks into the holes. It would have been a certifiable She-Ra moment.

Had I not dropped an S hook on my laptop, which I’d carelessly left open on the island.

It did this to the screen:

What I Sacrificed for a Potrack

Know what that reminds me of? Varicose veins. My screen was covered in deep magenta and purple lines that spread to the point that I had a visible viewing area the size of an orange. I dealt with it, but it drove Nacho Man crazy. Of course, he has it comparatively good–as I squinted at my screen, he pulled out his company-issue Mac and went about his merry business. But he threatened/promised to buy me a new laptop for months, something I wasn’t prepared to drop money on, and deep down, I doubted he was either. We’re not big gift-givers. He treats me to new Smart Wool socks for every major holiday and that’s about all the excitement we can handle.

But apparently he was. He enlisted the help of a cousin of mine who seems to know every deal on every technological item known to humanity, and he found a screaming deal on this:

Macbook Pro: Come to Mama

I’ve come a long way, baby.

Those Funny PC vs. Mac Commercials Come to Mind

We try not to allow material things to dictate our happiness, but this is the exception to the rule. Thank you, Nacho Man.

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May Day, or, The Art of Surprise

May is such a busy month for us–it’s Lupe’s birthday (it happens to fall on Mother’s Day this year!) and Nacho Man’s and my anniversary. But we’re always game to squeeze in another celebration. So we’re adding May Day to our repertoire. The European version of May Day has been celebrated for centuries, but it’s new to us. Since even our spring has been winter-like, I’m all for celebrating a holiday that embraces warmer weather.

Last year, a co-worker told me about how she and her mother used to sneak onto neighbors’ porches and drop small bouquets of flowers–the nicest kind of surprise you can find on your porch. We live in a neighborhood where “booing” is a Halloween tradition and I loved the idea of leaving a small reminder that spring is actually here. So we created paper cones from recycled picture books and sheet music and filled them with little goodies.

I’m not a crafter and with two active kids, I measure a craft’s worth in terms of time and frustration. Can a four-year-old feel as successful as a kiddo who’s practically eleven? That’s important to me. This craft scored high for time, use of readily-available materials, and ease–you can whip these up in just a few minutes. Our only upgrade? We used our Cricut machine to die-cut paper flowers, but that’s an optional extra, not a necessity.

Supplies:

An assortment of papers in a fairly rectangular shape–old books, scrapbook papers, the Sunday ads–whatever you have lying around

Glue stick

Hole puncher

String, yarn, or twine, cut into 12-inch lengths

Embellishments such as paper flowers (optional)

Instructions:

Roll your sheet of paper into a cone. Lupe did a much better job of this than I could manage. Apply glue along the inside edge of the paper, and press it to the cone.

Creating the Cone

Use the hole punch to create two holes on either side of the opening.

Lupe Demonstrates the Hole Puncher

Tie the ends of the string into each hole.

Tying the String

Optional–decorate with paper flowers or other doodads.

All Those Hours of Playing "Operation" Paid Off

Almost Finished...

Load ’em up! We filled ours with organic lollipops from Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s Kisses (Rue’s idea; I didn’t do much to try to talk her out of it), and wax paper envelopes of sweet pea seeds (Rue’s favorite flower to grow).

Definitely Finished

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Cloudette, by Tom Lichtenheld

Here in the Seattle area, we’re currently suspended in one of the longest, coolest, wettest winters/springs in recent history. We haven’t escaped unscathed:

Parney's Cotoneaster. Nacho Man's Not Sad to See This One Go

Japanese Andromeda

It’s ironic that the the sun is shining the day I took these photos, because the near-daily sight of clouds has started to bring to mind words that aren’t fit to print. I need a change of attitude, and it’s come to me in the form of a picture book.

Cloudette, Tom Lichtenheld‘s latest picture book, is a petite cloud who is just a cute as her name implies. Her days are filled with hanging with the big clouds and fitting into impossibly tight spaces. In other words, her size is an advantage…until her skymates take off to do work that only large clouds can do. Then, Cloudette yearns to do important weather work of her own. So she embarks on an epic journey to find it.

Unfortunately, it seems that no one needs the help of one pint-sized cloud…until a huge storm blows her far away, where she discovers a frog in the middle of a dried-out pond. Suddenly, Cloudette has a “brainstorm.” In hilarious, charming detail, we see how hard Cloudette works to make it rain. The strain and happy exhaustion remind me of childbirth…and the expression my babies used to make when they were trying to take care of business.

What’s a little cloud to do after she’s found her calling? Use her talents to help others, of course!

This is a great book to share with preschoolers and early elementary-age kids. Think about giving it to adults who complain about the weather, too.

All I can say is that we ought to have a lot of happy frogs around here. And we do–I hear them thanking the clouds nearly every night. Which is how I know that spring is here…sort of.

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What Are Little Girls Made Of?

Robots:

FIrst Lego League

and blocks:

Building a Library

and Micro-Machines:

Rue and Her Micro-Machines

That’s what little girls are made of.

Lupe was invited to participate in an all-girls First Lego League team last fall. Nacho Man and I had never heard of it, but when we learned that it had to do with Legos, robots, computer programming, and biomedical engineering (the theme for last year’s challenge), we jumped on the opportunity.

The girls met two, sometimes three, nights a week to work on the challenge. Late nights, tricky computer programming, intense mathematical computations, and failed attempts to complete the tasks often led to a lot of frustration. But the girls stuck with it, which is an important science and life skill, and their feelings were transformed to complete euphoria when their little robot rolled across the board and executed a task flawlessly.

If you’ve never seen a First Lego League competition, check out some videos on YouTube. The competition is intense, with teams trying to make last-minute changes, robots that suddenly do or don’t cooperate, large crowds of spectators, a referee, a timer, and live, play-by-play announcers. It’s more dramatic than a sporting event. We’re grateful that Lupe was introduced to this at an early age. Our school district has teams at the high school level and those kids create some jaw-dropping robots. We hope she’ll choose to stick with it.

For Rue, blocks and Micro-Machines are right up there with Fancy Nancy and Polly Pockets. They have names and personalities. They need accessories and have great adventures. It’s so much fun to play with her. Whether a child is giving cars human qualities and life stories or constructing (and often reconstructing) buildings, she’s using her imagination. She’s also being innovative and thinking of new or better uses for everyday objects. It’s highly scientific and creative, whether dolls or cars are involved.

We bought a huge set of CitiBlocs after Rue found our Jenga game. It’s no longer a complete game and that’s alright. We currently have 350 Citiblocs and we often use the entire set in a building session.

City Under Construction

What makes Rue’s love of Micro-Machines even sweeter? They’re the same cars that Nacho Man played with as a boy. Thanks, Grandma, for holding onto these for all those years.

Do we hope that Lupe and Rue will grow up to become doctors, scientists, or engineers? Sure, if they’d like. But what would really make us happy is if they realize that they can become those professions. And if they decide to become artists or writers, the same set of skills–observation, question-asking, risk-taking, creativity, innovation, and collaboration–apply.

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Friday Night Nachos, or, How Nacho Man Earned a Nickname and His Wife’s Eternal Gratitude

It started with a Friday night bowl of nachos and turned into a tradition, not to mention a nickname.

It started because we had a new house littered with boxes, a six-year-old, and an infant who, it turns out, wouldn’t sleep through the night for two years.

One Friday afternoon, Nacho Man took a look at me and suggested a bowl of homemade nachos after the girls had gone to bed.

Could it have been because I had the pallor of an albino zombie, which fair skin+new baby+Seattle’s drippy weather will do to you? Because neither of us could recall the last time we’d been out? Because he saw how I was struggling to keep everything together? Because he wanted a little quality time with me? Because he just wanted chips and felt that it would be impolite to gorge himself in front of me?

Whatever the reason, he made the suggestion and it’ll always go down in the history of our marriage as one of the kindest, most considerate things he’s ever done. Nacho Man doesn’t generally cook. He works long hours and food is usually ready when he rolls in. But that night, and almost every Friday night after, he came home from a full day at work, put the girls to bed, handed me the remote and ordered me to stay on the couch while he assembled the ingredients in our kitchen.

That’s right. Ingredients. We’re not talking a jar of microwavable faux-cheese.¬† We’re talking:

crunchy yellow corn tortilla chips. We’ve tried many brands. The only chips that don’t seem to work for us are blue corn and reduced fat. They become chewy. But we encourage you to play with your food.

Tillamook Pepper-Jack cheese. This is our favorite; we’re so fortunate to be able to get it here in Seattle. It has just the right amount of heat and melts beautifully. If you can’t find it, experiment! Is there really any harm in eating lots of different cheeses?

Mezzetta sliced, tamed jalapeno peppers. They have a mellow, slightly tangy taste that doesn’t burn the mouth quite like a regular jalapeno, which means I can eat much more rapidly.

McIlhenny Co. tabasco. We go for the smoked chipotle flavor.

A cold Newcastle Brown Ale. This just happens to be our favorite.

Directions:

Open the beer. Have a swig.

Shred an obscene amount of cheese. Turn the song “Macho Man” into “Nacho Man” while he’s working.

Building Up Arm Strength

Place a layer of chips on the bottom of a very deep, microwave-safe bowl.

Cover liberally with cheese.

Nacho Man's Excellent Layering Technique

Repeat as necessary.

Microwave for 60 seconds. Check to see how well the cheese has melted. Microwave for an additional 30-60 seconds if needed. This would be a good time to chug more beer. (Nacho Man is a big fan of the microwave. It’s cheaper than the oven–the issue of frugality will come up later–and it’s quick.)

Top with jalapenos as desired.

Yum

Carry the bowl, the tabasco, and the beer to your wife, who is prostrate on the couch, staring, transfixed, as Stacy and Clinton instruct some poor slob of a woman on how to present herself to the world. Ignore the fact that said wife is wearing old flannel gnome pajama bottoms and a t-shirt she has stolen from Nacho Man.

In the early days, we knew that we had approximately 30 minutes of us-time before our baby girl woke up for a feeding. Once she was through that stage, we could have lingered over our nachos, but it’s often an eat-to-the-death match to see who gets the last chip.

We usually split it.

Or make a second bowl.

We have few vices, so in this, we go all out. I realize how much I love it, because I’ve told all my friends and co-workers about it. I’ve had more than one girlfriend sigh wistfully as we talk about our weekend plans and the topic of Friday Date Night Nachos comes up. The food, the amazing service, the pampering, the quiet time together. I look forward to it as soon as I say good night to Nacho Man on Friday.

Some women have a macho man. But how many have a Nacho Man? We hope your fella will get in touch with his inner Nacho Man and start a food tradition for you, even if it’s not chip-related.

But get your own. He’s nachos. He’s mine.

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