Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy Blogday to Me!

Today is the anniversary of my first blog post! Originally intended as a place to record the cute things Munchkin says and does (see my first post), my blog quickly grew to incorporate adventures in the kitchen and also book reviews. A significant step was when I joined Laura’s Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge last October which challenged me to search out local food sources and then write about it every week.

I've loved having a place to express my opinions through my cooking posts and book reviews, but I've also loved reading through old "cute Munchkin" posts (104 and counting!) which would have been forgotten if I hadn't written them down. I know when Munchkin gets old enough, he’ll enjoy them, too. I hope he stays little enough to keep saying cute stuff for a long time!

I figured out how to keep stats on my blog last June, so I missed a few months, but it's still interesting...

Total visits during this past year: over 1750
(I find this number amazing, frankly, but just so you know, a blog is considered "small" if it has less than 2000 visitors/day!)

Total unique visitors this past year: over 670!
Total visits in June, 2007: 48
(Thanks Mom & Dad!)
Total visits in April, 2008, not counting today: 341
(Wow! Thanks everybody!)
Most visits on a single day: 20 on April 2

Countries represented: 40, including repeat visitors from the UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Greece!
States in the US represented: all but 4
States with the most visits: California, Oregon, Washington
States with no visits, yet: Maine, Delaware, Mississippi, Louisiana

Visitors that the stat counter can't figure out which state you're from: 346
(My best guess is that this represents people who have dial-up connections. If you're a visitor from one of the missing states, please let me know in a comment -- I’d love to count your state!)

Thanks so much to all my readers out there in blogland – you’ve helped keep this blog going for a whole year! It’s more fun to write when I know that somewhere out there somebody is reading. Thanks especially to all those who leave comments. I really appreciate it.

Finally, I’ll leave you with links to a few of my favorite "Cute Munchkin Stories" in no particular order...
A boy and his earthworms
This little piggy
And my all-time favorite: What, no mute?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The present

Scott's birthday is coming up, and so I asked Munchkin to think about what we should get Daddy for a present. He started with the usual: planer, joiner, and a compound miter saw, but then things got a little more interesting. Here are some of Munchkin's ideas...

(The first requires some explaination. I have one of those little hammers with screwdrivers in the handle and Scott makes fun of it on a regular basis, calling it "wimpy." But I keep it in the kitchen and Scott's tools are in the garage, so he uses mine. Used it so much that he finally broke it.)
Munchkin: Do you think Daddy would like a new wimpy hammer?

Munchkin: We could get Daddy a lawnmower!
Mommy: But we don't have a lawn.
Munchkin: (thinks) The neighbors have a lawn. Daddy could mow their lawn.

Munchkin: Would Daddy like a new thermostat?
Mommy: What would he do with it?
Munchkin: He could put it in with screws and a screwdriver!"

Munchkin: Maybe we could get Daddy a bandsaw!

And finally,
Munchkin: I know! We could get Daddy a kitty!

I bought none of the above, so happy birthday, dear! And happy birthday, Mom! And happy birthday Uncle Dave! And happy birthday Uncle Darryl! And happy birthday cousin-in-law Rod! (Yes, they all have the same birthday!)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Be a bookworm with me!

My favorite blogger, Green Bean, has issued a challenge for May that I just can't pass up! She's encouraging her readers to read an ecologically relevant book and then report back about it. (For more details, click on the bookworm on my blog sidebar and it will take you there.)

The whole idea behind challenges is that you stretch yourself, and so I feel like a cheater even calling this a "challenge" for myself. As a kid, I remember being limited to only ten books/week from the library. Once, I got "lost" while my mom frantically called all my friends looking for me. She found me when I walked out of my bedroom having finished reading a good book. And now in the 21st century, I really enjoy reading books and then writing reviews on my blog.

Anyway, challenging or not, this will be fun. I haven't selected a book, yet, although I have some ideas. I'd love suggestions if anyone has a favorite. Also, anybody want to join me?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

On the mend

Munchkin's practically himself again, so today we ventured out to our favorite grocery store to finally do some shopping. As we walked towards the store, Munchkin spotted two fire engines in the parking lot. Just then I saw a group of firemen walking out of the store, so I suggested to Munchkin that we follow them and look at their truck.

When we reached the fire truck one of the firemen turned around and said to Munchkin, "I remember you! You came to see us in the fire station!" Munchkin, normally gregarious, gets bashful in the presence of his heros. He hid behind me as the fireman asked, "Do you want to be a fireman when you grow up?"

Munchkin's answer was so soft I had to repeat it for him, but he said, "I'm already a fireman."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Pneumonia Challenge

I’ve found the blogosphere network of "green" sites to be full of "challenges" - mostly admirable attempts to live lighter on the earth. I first heard about the Eat Local challenge, in which people pledge to eat only local foods for the month of September. I missed that one, but then subscribed to Laura’s Dark Days Eat Local challenge. It was a lot of fun, mostly because the way Laura did it built a supportive little community of bloggers all trying to creatively use local ingredients in the dead of winter. In March, I also tried out Melinda’s Technology challenge (see related post).

For the month of April, Crunchy Chicken has challenged her readers to buy nothing (except food, medicine & absolute essentials) for a whole month. Accompanying that is Chili’s challenge to declutter. BurbanMom then issued the Giving challenge, offering up another use for all the money people save by doing Crunchy’s buy nothing challenge. For various reasons, I decided not to participate in any of these, although they certainly got me thinking.

This past week, I had a related challenge of my own. I normally have a very consistent routine. Every Monday, Munchkin and I go first to a large grocery store followed by (depending on whatever we need that week) the meat market, natural foods store, or corner market that sells local foods. The last stop is a drive through market where we buy local milk in returnable bottles. (When the farmers’ market is going, I also shop there, but on a different day.) I’ve thought many times of skipping the grocery store since it’s the farthest away and I could stock up for several weeks at a time, but almost every week we meet firemen doing their shopping. Between the firemen and two clerks Munchkin has befriended, I think it’s one of his favorite outings! So I only get what we need for the week unless there’s a good sale.

Last Sunday, Munchkin woke up with a high fever, nasty cough, and remained in a little lump staying wherever we put him. Monday I took him to the doctor, who diagnosed pneumonia! Munchkin responded really well to the medication, but obviously I kept him home all week. Fortunately, when I realized on Sunday he was sick, I left him home with Scott while I ran to a nearby market to buy a couple things I knew we needed and also fruit popsicles for Munchkin.

Anyway, I decided to try to make it through the rest of the week without doing my grocery shopping. I did have to pick up milk one day, but other than that, I just used what we had. In the process I discovered that in the past few months I’ve really changed the way I cook. I now stock more bulk ingredients and less packaged, processed or canned goods. So this week, out of the pantry, fridge and freezer, I cooked a London Broil dinner that made Scott ask what was the special occasion, a pot of one of my all-time favorite soups (tuna-cheddar-chowder), quesadillas, we had a waffle dinner, and we got take-out for my birthday. Also, for my birthday, I finally tried Laura’s Triple Berry Upside-Down cake. (Yummy, but I’ll use less sugar next time.) I baked blueberry muffins that finally enticed Munchkin to start eating again and whenever we ran out of bread, I baked more. We used up all the lunchmeat, so Scott made egg salad.

Our cupboards, fridge and freezer are less cluttered than they were a week ago. It’s nice, actually. We’re out of a lot of things, but it felt really good to be able to not only survive, but really thrive on an unplanned week of no shopping. I can’t imagine doing that a year ago, which shows me how far I’ve come in a pretty short time. That seems to be the theme of the week in other blogs I follow. Check out Green Bean’s success story if you want to read another.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Spring Weather

The tulips are finally blooming in our backyard and I've been taking pictures of them. On the left was how they looked yesterday; on the right is how they looked today. Yes, that white stuff is snow! In the Willamette valley! On April 19! And it's snowing again right now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's another mystery!

What's in the photo? I won't keep you in suspense -- let's just say that, contrary to what the AP article said, tortillas are not "unbelievably simple to make." Scott saw me take this picture and recommended that I not include it if I ever write a cookbook! But hey, I thought somebody might get a smile out of my -- what should I call them -- corny pancakes!

I was probably 12 years old when I visited a little hut in Guatemala and watched a lady demonstrate how to make a tortilla, beginning with the corn that had to first be ground. I have only a vague recollection of the process, but I have a much better memory of how "authentic" tortillas are supposed to taste. (Side story -- The homemade tortillas were often undercooked and doughy in the middle. I thought I had to choke them down like that until I observed a local pastor hand his (practically raw) tortilla back to be "toasted." The resulting tortilla resembled a gigantic corn chip and tasted delicious!)

The tortillas I find in the US, even in Latino markets, are nothing like the shaped-by-hand, thick corn tortillas I remember from Guatemala. I knew better, really, but when I read an article in the newspaper on how simple it is to make your own, I just had to try it. After procrastinating for the better part of a year, I bought Bob's Red Mill masa harina flour, which is not quite like grinding my own corn, but I figured it was as close as I could get. I then wrote "Tacos" into my menu calendar for the week and deliberately did not buy any tortillas so I'd have to make them myself.

I followed the directions exactly and got a very dry dough. Maybe that was the problem -- I don't know. I put in the maximum amount of water recommended and it still seemed dry. Then I shaped the tortillas and tried to keep them from falling apart as I fried them in a cast iron skillet on the stove. Not quite the open fire I remember, but again as close as I could get. The resulting tortillas looked so awful that I called Scott and asked him to pick up a package on his way home from work! Still not brave enough to actually taste my attempts, I cleaned up the counter and floor from all the crumbles of dough that Munchkin had spread everywhere. At least he had fun.

Sometime during dinner, I finally got brave enough to take a bite and was pleasantly surprised that the tortillas didn't taste nearly as bad as they looked. They were awfully dry, though. Scott couldn't believe I saved them, but I couldn't throw them out knowing how precious corn is in Latin America right now. I choked one down one the next day for a snack and the rest are still sitting on the counter, ten days later. Maybe if they dry out any further they'll turn into corn chips.

Tractor kid

Saturday was gorgeous here in western Oregon and so we (along with almost everyone else in the Willamette valley!) did our annual pilgrimage to the tulip farm in Woodburn. Munchkin's favorite part, and the part he's been anticipating for weeks, was the John Deere tractor that is always set up in the fields for kids to climb on. The above photo shows Munchkin practically dragging Scott to the tractor. Anyway, Munchkin climbed up and started "driving" and pushing the gear shift around. As he did, he asked, "Mommy? Did I bring my driver's license?"

It's a good thing we went on Saturday, because the next morning Munchkin woke us up crying and with a high fever. I've never seen him so sick as he was on Sunday. Long story short, a visit to the doctor confirmed pneumonia, and we are happy to say that he's now doing so much better that when I got him up this morning, he begged me to pull his bed away from the wall so he could show me a bug!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

And the winner is...

I promised to post the identity of the mystery box (post on 4/9) after I had two guesses. I just got a final guess by phone from another family member who hasn't yet figured out how to use the "comments" (sorry, Dad!). And the winner is... my dad, who correctly guessed that the item in question is a table saw. Munchkin had just "replaced the blade."

Thanks for playing. Stay tuned for the next episode of "It's a mystery!"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

There's a reason this book is a New York Times bestseller. Wow! "Three Cups of Tea" is the story of Greg Mortenson, American mountain climber turned humanitarian worker in central Asia. This one man, operating on a shoestring budget, has accomplished more in the fight against terrorism than the entirety of the rest of America’s efforts, and he’s done it by building schools for kids.

Mortenson’s method of building schools in Pakistan was partially birthed out of his lack of money -- he couldn't just show up with a shipment of supplies and an American crew. Instead, he had to raise money, and then he took the little he had back to Pakistan where he relied on locals for know-how, for wisdom, to purchase materials and to supply the labor. It did not go smoothly, but it may well have been the only possible method that would work.

I’ve thought about Greg Mortensen and also Dr. Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) because both men are extraordinary in what they’ve been able to achieve and how they have achieved it. Both left the comforts of life in America to live like the people they work with. For example, Mortensen went hunting for a week over glaciers with a group of Pakistani men and, like them, he brought no mountain gear, not even hiking boots. Farmer lived in Haiti with few possessions and in a hut just like his patients had. Back in the US, they also lived as cheaply as possible. Mortenson slept in his car until he sold it to buy a plane ticket back to Pakistan.

I think their roots may have helped them develop this enormous flexibility. It occurs to me that neither man had what would be considered a "normal" American childhood. Farmer grew up in a bus; Mortensen was a missionary kid in Africa. I'm intruiged because I've read about and met many missionaries who don't even come close to this level of assimilation to their new culture, and they don't get the results, either. Those I've met who live closest to the lifestyle of the people with whom they work and who rely on local people instead of on fellow missionaries are far more successful. (This would be a good topic for somebody's dissertation.)

I can’t praise Mortensen’s work highly enough. I wish his book was required reading for everyone involved in foreign policy because it brings a face to moderate Muslims in Pakistan and a remarkable cultural understanding. "Three Cups of Tea" is exciting, it’s relevant, it’s timely, it’s inspirational. I give it 7 stars out of 5. If you read only one book this year, read this one.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's a mystery!

Challenge for the day: What is this?

Hint: Consider all you know about Munchkin.

I'll post the answer when I have at least two guesses.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Classics: Munchkin's first words

Munchkin spent all morning playing "fireman," which means that he put out fake fires with fake water (we have had to be very clear that he can't use real water in the house!), chopped with his ax, rescued kitty cats and a dalmation from trees, and responded to calls for smashed cars. The sofa was the fire engine (equipped with all his gear including his "locker") and an empty yogurt cup was his radio. It was cute, and it reminded me of a story that happened when Munchkin was first learning to talk. He knew only a few words, but even then he knew exactly how to use them!

One afternoon when Munchkin was about 18 months old, we heard the sound of a siren. I looked out the window and realized there was an accident right in front of our house, so I took Munchkin outside to see what had happened. Munchkin looked and saw a guy lying in the street with paramedics all around so he said, "Uh-oh." Then he turned the other way and saw a fire engine with lights flashing and said, "Wow!"

Friday, April 4, 2008

Another hollow leg story

On Easter, after a large meal, Munchkin quizzed me on what Grandma had brought for dessert. I gave him the rundown: apple strudel, blueberry pie and ice cream. Munchkin then asked when we would be eating. I said, "Later. I'm still full from lunch, aren't you?"

Munchkin replied, "No, I still have some room in this leg." He tapped his leg and added, "I can put a little 'ssert in this leg."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A boy and his earthworms

This morning as Munchkin and I spent time gardening, I uncovered lots of little wiggly earthworms. I gave them to Munchkin to put in his flower pot full of dirt. The comments were priceless.

"They’re sneaky... like the guys on Mission Impossible."

(Smack) "I gave them a kiss."

"They are my friends. I’m going to sing them a song."
("What song are you going to sing them?")
"I’m thinking... (singing) Three blind mice, three blind mice, three blind mice, three blind mice..."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

For political junkies only (Update)

I just heard that Al might run for president after all. (shock!!!)
But don't take my word for it, here's the link!
(Update: Check the date... Hope your April 1st was happy!)

Classics: Happy April Fools!

I’ve started a new category on my blog called "Classics." These are stories that happened before I began blogging, but are too good to forget. The following are from the 80's.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would call on the first of April and tell me that my shoes were untied. I would look down and check. Some years later, when I grew old enough to realize that Grandma could not see me over the phone, I decided to get her back...

My first year away at college, I called my grandmother on April Fool’s Day and told her that I was the Secretary from the Department of the Interior. The shed in their back yard (where Grandpa kept nuts, bolts, and everything but the kitchen sink) was such a mess that it had been declared a "national disaster area." If they didn’t clean it up by the following week, they would have to pay a fine. I don’t know why she bought the story, but when I revealed myself at the end, Grandma laughed so hard she cried. I heard that she then called up all her neighbors and repeated my joke on them.

A year or two later, I called my grandmother on the first of April and told her that I was from the Readers’ Digest and she had won 2nd place in the Animal Sweepstakes. She gasped, and so I quickly added that the prize was a baby koala bear, which would be delivered the following week. Realizing that she was not going to become an instant millionaire, she chewed me out for messing up her subscription. A good laugh followed.

I tried a few more jokes in following years, but Grandma was on to me. I waited a good long time and then tried once more...

After Grandpa passed away, Grandma traveled a lot. One year I heard that she was planning a train trip through the Canadian Rockies. On April Fools, I called and said that I was from the travel agency. Alligators had been found in Lake Louise, and so I needed her shoe size in order to fit her with combat boots for her visit. Grandma was skeptical, but I assured her she was in no danger. After much fast talking, she at last gave me her shoe size - 6 ½ - before I could no longer contain my laughter.

Don’t know if they celebrate April Fools up in heaven, but have a good one, Grandma!