Archive for January, 2010

They Grow Up So Fast

January 15, 2010 @ 4:41 pm | Filed under: ,

When Rilla saw this shirt among Huck’s birthday presents (thanks, Grandma!), she said, “We’re going to dress him in MAN clothes!”

Looks like he’s ready for his first job interview, doesn’t he? If the skill set they’re looking for includes eating dust bunnies and ransacking cabinets, he’s a shoo-in.

Poetry Friday: “We are not really at home”

January 15, 2010 @ 9:08 am | Filed under:

For Christmas, Scott gave me the Stephen Mitchell translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. Mitchell puts the original German side by side with his English translation. I read just enough German to be tantalized by this, puzzling out phrases and flicking my gaze to the facing page to see how Mitchell has put it.

Rilke’s language reminds me, curiously, of Madeleine L’Engle’s description of a dolphin’s skin in A Ring of Endless Light (via her young poet, Vicky Austin): “resilient pewter.”

From The Duino Elegies, “The First Elegy,” by Rainer Maria Rilke, this translation by A. S. Kline.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world. Perhaps there remains
some tree on a slope, that we can see
again each day: there remains to us yesterday’s street,
and the thinned-out loyalty of a habit
that liked us, and so stayed, and never departed.
Oh, and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
wears out our faces – whom would she not stay for,
the longed-for, gentle, disappointing one, whom the solitary heart
with difficulty stands before. Is she less heavy for lovers?
Ah, they only hide their fate between themselves.
Do you not know yet? Throw the emptiness out of your arms
to add to the spaces we breathe; maybe the birds
will feel the expansion of air, in more intimate flight.

Read the rest.

This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Great Kid Books.

Delicious Links for January 15, 2010

January 15, 2010 @ 7:29 am | Filed under: ,

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January 14, 2010 @ 8:49 pm | Filed under:

Like everyone else, we are following the reports from Haiti with heavy hearts.

We are especially worried about the Antoine family near Jacmel, whose oldest boy, Arry, we sponsored through Childreach/Plan USA for 14 years, from age 4 until he turned 18. I watched him grow up in the photos and letters that arrived several times a year, and year by year we shared the news of our own growing family. After Arry aged out of the foster child program, we became the sponsors for children in other countries and have not had communications with his family in several years, but he and his parents and brothers and sisters have remained in our hearts. The news from Jacmel is very bad. We are praying.

Plan USA is one of several agencies rushing to lend aid to the victims of the earthquake. To contribute to Plan’s efforts, click this link.

A good source of reports from Port-au-Prince is @RAMhaiti on Twitter.

The Chicken Tikka Masala Post

January 14, 2010 @ 1:18 pm | Filed under: ,

Whenever I get the opportunity to go out for Indian food, I order chicken tikka masala and aloo gobi. From the very first bite, my whole self is suffused with the most incredible sense of well-being. Must be something in the combination of spices, or maybe it’s one spice in particular, who knows: whatever it is, I think it affects me sort of the way chocolate does. Massive endorphin rush? Scott laughs because I shovel in the food and say, “I’m so happy!” after every bite.

So last week I decided to try my own hand at these favorites. I found a video tutorial for chicken tikka masala, and a friend sent me an excellent recipe for naan. I do believe these dishes will become regulars in my kitchen. Today I want to give aloo gobi a try. I’ve googled a recipe, but if you have a favorite—or pointers—I’d welcome the advice.

My cookery notes (recording them here because this is the easiest place for me to find things later):

Chicken Tikka Masala

• I couldn’t find cardamom pods in the grocery store, so I omitted those from the first step. (You season the oil with the cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick—which I also omitted—and remove those things before sauteeing your onions.)

• I forgot to defrost the chicken the night before, so I just took it out in the morning and converted the recipe to a slow-cooker dish. After Step 5 (you have already sauteed the onions, added the spices, tomato, and water, and cooked the sauce for a few minutes), I transferred everything to the crock pot. The chicken had thawed enough for me to cut it into cubes—it’s actually easier to cut when it’s a little frozen—so I just plopped it into the sauce and set it on high for an hour, then low for about three hours. I added a little extra water to the sauce so it wouldn’t cook down too much. This worked fine, and freed me up to fry the naan at dinnertime.

• The recipe calls for adding plain yogurt (amount vague) or coconut milk just before serving. I used plain yogurt, about 3/4 cup—had no idea how much to add. We would like to try coconut milk next time, but the yogurt was fine.

Garam Masala question. I bought a jar at Henry’s: Spice Hunter brand salt-free garam masala blend. The final dish seemed a little heavy on cloves (to me; Scott didn’t think so) and the flavor wasn’t quite what I’ve experienced at Indian restaurants. I assume there is some variation among different garam masala blends, just like one jar of Cajun seasoning never tastes exactly like another. Anyone got a recommendation for a blend that isn’t quite so dominated by the cloves?

Despite the ubercloviness, the final dish was delectable. Definitely a shovel-in-the-mouth-I’m-so-happy meal.

UPDATED! How much do I love Twitter? I tweeted a request for a good aloo gobi recipe, and @KrisBordessa suggested I ask @mbhide, aka Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice. I added a second question about garam masala spice blends, and Monica replied with a link to this piece in the Washington Post about a garam masala taste test she took part in. (Scroll down a bit.) So very cool.


This recipe produced some of the best naan I have ever tasted—and that’s in spite of my rookie hamhandedness. So flavorful, slightly sweet. The recipe called for 1/4 cup sugar, but I was afraid it would be too sweet, so I cut that a bit—I used an 1/8 cup and then a little more (maybe a third of the 1/8th cup measure; I’ll let you work out the math on that). 😉

• I should have read the comments below the recipe before I started. There are some helpful tips there. Several people advised to cut the flour to 3 1/2 cups, and I wish I’d seen that earlier! I should have added it more gradually than I did. I didn’t need much more than 3 1/4 cups, I think.

• I did add the minced garlic—YUM.

• The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of salt. This seemed rather high, so I halved it.

• I cooked on my cast iron grill pan (thanks, Mom), the side with the grill lines. It worked a treat. I think I need to make my dough balls a bit bigger this time—my naan came out more the size of silver dollar pancakes than the dinner-plate size I’ve always seen. Then again, the smaller size was great for my kids. The little ones would rather have their ownty-downty pieces than half a big one.

• We started mixing up the dough around 2pm, which was plenty of time for two risings before 5pm when I was ready to start grilling it.

Which means it’s almost time to move kitchenward for today’s dough-mixing.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs…

January 13, 2010 @ 9:07 pm | Filed under:

The Shakespeare Club kids didn’t know what was coming. Banquo had just been murdered, and now Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were entertaining the nobles at a feast, and we turned a page and the kids saw the words ENTER BANQUO’S GHOST.

“No way!!!!” broke out from almost every member of the reading circle in unison.

If William Shakespeare could have seen their reaction, it would have made his day.

I love our Shakespeare Club. Sarah and others have asked me several times to elaborate on the format a little, so here you go. We have a group of about a dozen kids ages 10-14, more or less. My Beanie is the youngest member, at on-the-brink-of-nine. This is our third year, our third play. The group has grown both in age range and number since our beginning (though we dearly miss a few members whose schedules precluded their participation this year).

Unlike Alice‘s group, which was our inspiration, we haven’t yet performed a whole play. The kids think this might be the year—they are really, really enjoying Macbeth, and nearly every turn of the page has them bubbling over with questions and ideas about how to stage it. How will we do the ghost? How will we make the spirits appear out of the witches’ cauldron?

We started as a reading group—I had in mind to invite a few of Jane’s friends to join us for a read-through of Midsummer Night’s Dream. We met every other week and slowly read the play aloud, pausing often to work out the meaning of the complicated language. I used the wonderful book One Day in Elizabethan England as an ice-breaker—what a fabulous book that is, full of rich, comical, grandiloquent, irresistible language.

“…you eat rather pinglingly, having only: a sip of soup, a snip of snipe, a smidgeon of stag, a munch of mutton, a bite of boar, a pinch of pheasant, and a little lark.”

What a feast of phrases to whet one’s appetite for Shakespeare!

By the time we finished reading Midsummer Night’s Dream that first year (it took us from September to Christmas, meeting twice a month), the kids were clamoring to perform scenes for their parents. And so during the next several months, while our main focus shifted to the Journey North Mystery Class, we squeezed in rehearsals of a few key scenes from the play. One of the families hosted the performance early that summer. The kids made the costumes and backdrops themselves, very simply. They were charming. We invited friends and family to the show and it was a grand success.

Last year we repeated the experience with Taming of the Shrew. More kids this time, and longer scenes. Lots of fiery language and comedy flying around the room. The arrival of several babies in our group of families changed up our winter and spring schedules quite a bit, so instead of an early-summer performance, we took a long break and then had a one-week “Shakespeare camp” in August. Each morning, we warmed up with some rousing theater games—so much fun—and then rehearsed our scenes. At the end of the week, we scheduled a performance. I think we squeezed in a dress rehearsal about a week after the camp, before the big night. Once again, the kids made their own costumes, and our set was minimal. We celebrated the fine performance with a potluck feast—each dish inspired by a line or character in the play, as demonstrated so magically in Alice Gunther’s book, Haystack Full of Needles.

And this year: Macbeth. The boys were rather adamant about wanting a tragedy this time. Give us blood and guts! All right, says I, I’ll see your blood and guts and raise you ghosts and witches. Heh.

Once again, we’ve followed the same basic format: from September through January, we’ve met roughly twice a month for our group read-through. My role as leader of the club is to help the kids unpack the language. We stop as often as we need to, every speech, or every few lines even, to “translate” the text, as it were. We talk about the themes and motifs. The kids have animated discussions about the characters’ motivations. This play has afforded us many excellent examples of dramatic irony. I think my favorite part of the club is listening to the kids discuss the “what and why.” Today, when they were all so bowled over by the arrival of Banquo’s ghost, it was all I could do not to whoop. It is so exciting for me to see them get so excited!

They seem very eager, this year, to stage the whole play. We’ll finish our read-through next time we meet, and then we’ll start rehearsing, I guess. Truth be told, I am not much of a director. I started out as a theater major in college, but I was more the onstage type. But I can help the kids figure out what the heck they’re saying, and why. I can’t wait to see their reaction to Birnam Wood’s approach on Dunsinane Hill, next time we meet.

Very Big Betsy-Tacy News

January 12, 2010 @ 6:09 pm | Filed under:

April 2010 UPDATE: Check out the beautiful new covers!

The first wave of news alone was enough to make me shriek with joy—

Fresh on the heels of those swoony reissues of the high-school-and-beyond Betsy-Tacy books, HarperPerennial is bringing back Emily of Deep Valley.

And Carney’s House Party—and Winona’s Pony Cartthese two together in one delicious tome.

You know how much this thrills me. I love Emily so much I actually bought four copies of the last printing to squirrel away for my daughters, just in case she disappeared from bookstores altogether. But now I can give those as presents, perhaps, because there will be these lovely new editions out before too long.

Like I said, that news alone made my week. But the icing on the cake?

I’ve been asked to write the foreword for the Carney/Winona book.

Can you hear me smile? I am so honored. I’m pretty much over the moon!

I had just the same reaction Mitali Perkins did when she read the note from HarperPerennial’s Jennifer Hart, asking her to write the foreword for Emily of Deep Valley:

I re-read the email, heart racing, tears blurring my eyes. The veggie burger guy watched with a look of concern as I managed to word this response on my iPhone:

Do you know how much I love Emily of Deep Valley? I have re-read it countless times since I discovered it as a newcomer to this country years ago in the Flushing library.

I am honored, thrilled, ecstatic, over-the-top, doing-a-Bollywood-Dance delighted.

Oh, Mitali, I hear you. Heart racing, teary-eyed, all of it. Carney’s House Party is one of my favorite of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books—I love how honestly Carney grapples with the complicated process of sorting out her college self from her hometown self. And who doesn’t love Winona Root? As I told Jennifer, the older my girls get, the more I enjoy the Winona in them—the devilish twinkle in the eye, the zest for fun and adventure.

Well, this is very, very exciting. Couldn’t be happier. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go reread Carney. For the dozenth time.

Go Philo!

January 12, 2010 @ 4:13 pm | Filed under:

This just in from BookClubGirl: the Philomathian Society swept the day during Betsy-Tacy Convert Week.

A paver stone in honor of the Philomathians will be placed outside Maud Hart Lovelace’s home on “Hill Street” that will read:

Convert Week
Winners Fall 09

This proud Philomathian is happy to have been a part of the effort—enthusiastic and successful on both sides—to introduce great numbers of new readers to the Betsy-Tacy books. Thanks to all of you who participated! You’ve made Joe and Winona very proud.

Speaking of Winona, there’s more Betsy-Tacy news to come…Stay tuned!