Monday, June 27, 2016

Mid Summer Snapshots

::Every now and then I browse through my recent pictures and wonder, "Hm.  Where's Zosia?"  And the answer is exactly the same as when we ask that question in our own house, which is "Probably reading a book."  This child of mine is a voracious reader (if she were still up I could ask her how many pages she's read in the last year, but I think it's three million?  Four million?).  Ben and I are more than sympathetic to her cause, and I admire her ability to discreetly duck out and find a cosy place to read.  Can you think of a better way to spend summer vacation?  She found some Nancy Drew books at a yard sale this weekend, and has been reading them one by one.
::The retreat center I went to the other week had a cubby system to keep track of napkins, and it was such an effortless way to keep track of nearly 30 women's napkins from one meal to the next.  We have tried having unique napkin rings in the past, but it just has never quite worked from meal to meal, so I knew this was a system I would have to attempt at home, and it is a success!  Numbered according to birth order, starting from Ben, who is the oldest in the family.
::Josephine is five months old, and she is in the most perfect stage of babyhood.  Smiley and curious and yet still snuggly and... immobile.  I love it.
::Our big kids and their neighborhood friends put on a full fledged lemonade stand last weekend and those kids made some M O N E Y.  Granted, it was "dance on the street day" (You know you live in California when your whole town, including all of the streets, close down for a whole day to enable dancing on the street.  These Californians have some joie de vivre), so there was a lot of foot traffic.  Those kids juiced hundreds of lemons from our neighbor's yard, manned the stand for hours, and helped me bake all of the cookies and brownies.  I was definitely proud of them, and when they walked down to town all by themselves the next day to go shopping at the candy store I think they felt some gratification.
::These children of mine have weathered feet and sun on their faces all day long.
::Dinner is outside most evenings, weather permitting.  We have been working on more peaceful dinnertimes.  Doesn't that sound like it would be nice?  Those of you who have eaten with us know that our family grace is a verse of "Dona Nobis Pacem" which is a traditional latin hymn meaning "Grant Us Peace."  And there are definitely nights when dinner feels like a peaceful occasion, although there are also definitely nights when it feels like there are five hungry lion cubs trying to make sure they get their part of the kill (or perhaps even worse, the night when our lion cubs have full tummies and get bored about two minutes into the conversation, begging to be allowed to go and play). 
::Our resident little mommy, doing things like voluntarily giving the twins swimming lessons and humming as she spontaneously tidies the house.  This one was made to have little siblings, and I am so glad that she has not one but four!
::Gratuitous clothes line picture.  This thing still makes me so happy. I filled it three times today, and the clothing was dry in less than an hour.  I am amazed.  I actually happened to have an especially large load of laundry the other day which didn't all fit on the line, so I split it in half, and put half in the dryer and half out on the line as a race.  And the result was..... drumroll........ a tie!  But of course not as far as our electric bill is concerned.  I'm totally a convert.
::It is in my nature to always be scurrying around and picking things up, or preparing meals, or whatever other housework is at hand, but if I am sitting down, I am probably reading aloud to the kids.  I love that when Ben or I start reading a book, one by one the children start gathering around from whatever they might be doing to listen.
::The farmer's market that's right up the street from our house just started back up for the summer, and although there are several year round farmer's markets around, there's something about an event being right underfoot that makes us so much more likely to attend.  This week's haul included bread, tomatoes, stone fruit, mandatory flowers, and a bunch of veggies, which Ben decided weren't pretty enough to include in the picture.

It is really starting to feel like summer, and I love it!  How is your summer going?

Friday, June 17, 2016

A New House, A Clothes Line, and a Reptile


We’re in our new house.  It was a move that will be remembered by the many helping hands that loaded boxes into our rented van and drove them half a mile up the road, only to lift them out again and carry them into our new house.  The kindness that was shared with us is something that I will remember for many days and hope to be able to return to others who are in a tricky situation.  And somewhere in there there was the end of our kids’ school, a neglected anniversary and birthday, a week of sickness, and a heroic rescue mission from my Mom, who flew in from the East coast after I had been very sick for a week.  

Our first days in this house will be remembered by the doorbell ringing like clockwork every afternoon, and the opened door revealing a sea of smiling faces of neighborhood kids of varying statures ready to play.  Or walking into the back yard to see ten kids, only three of them mine, sitting in a circle and “playing school” or an early summer lemonade stand, still in the works, or pleasant evening walks into town, which is not only four leisurely blocks away.  

In many ways our new house is less curated, less manicured, less "fixed up" than our last one, but it feels more like home.  There's something about an old house with quirks that instantly wins my heart.  When Ben hung up a clothes line for me that runs from directly next to our washing machine to the garage, I was as happy as one of those women in the diamond ring commercials.  I think it's the most beautiful thing in the world and I could stare at it all day long.

Josephine babbles and loves chewing on things and reigns as the central attraction of the house.  She came with me on a silent retreat this past weekend.  I truly appreciated the space for thought and prayer, the chance to simply listen without speaking, and the opportunity for starting anew that such a retreat affords.  Somehow, it felt very timely.  And I think that as the only baby in a retreat with thirty women, largely mothers, Josephine scored pretty big herself.

Of course by the third day of the retreat I was dying to get home to the kids, and as I pulled up to this house bursting at the seems with life, Ben proudly displaying the tomato plants he got in the ground while I was gone, the twins laughing as they tackled me on the bed, and Zosia looking so so grown up, I felt like I was coming home.

And if my heart wasn't already full enough, Hugo got a pet green anole he quickly named "Chris" for his birthday on Tuesday. I'm pretty sure I once promised myself I would never own a reptile.  But now I guess we're.... reptile enthusiasts?  Not sure how I feel about that one yet.  Welcome to the family, little guy.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Staying up Late, a Bounce House, and a Sheet Cake



"That summer they started having picnics.  At first the picnics were not real picnics; not the kind you take out in a basket.  Betsy's father, serving the plates at the head of the table, would fill Betsy's plate with scrambled eggs and bread and butter and strawberries, or whatever they had for supper.  Tacy's father would do the same.  Holding the plate in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, each little girl would walk carefully out of her house and down the porch steps and out to the middle of the road.  Then they would walk up the hill to that bench where Tacy had stood the first night she came.  And there they would eat supper together.

Betsy always liked what she saw on Tacy's plate.  In particular she liked the fresh unfrosted cake which Tacy's mother often stirred up for supper for her big family.  Tacy knew that Betsy liked that cake, and she always divided her piece.  And if baked beans or corn bread or something that Tacy liked lay on Betsy's plate, Betsy divided that too."

-from Betsy Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Hugo has been staying up in the evenings.  For years he's been eagerly awaiting the day that he gets to go to bed with the big kids, and the other week we realized that he was ready (meaning, he was staying up an hour past his bedtime anyway, so why not make it official).  After the twins and Hugo are in bed has been our read aloud time with the older girls, so the fact that he is staying up with us means that our literature has to be adjusted to be interesting and understandable to an 8 year old, a 7 year old, and an (almost) 5 year old.  I've been looking through and some old favorites and realizing that I really miss the books, the characters, the stories.

Have you read The Betsy Tacy Treasury?  It's a heartwarming story of the friendship between three girls over the course of their childhoods, and it's very charming and sweet.  I love the storyline of Tacy's family, partly because they are a big, rambunctious, joyful family, and I hope that our children will remember their own childhoods in much the same way.  Whenever dinner at Tacy's house is mentioned, they talk about these sheet cakes that her mom is aways making to feed all of those hungry mouths, and somewhere over the many years we've been reading these books, Ben has started suggesting that maybe it would be a good idea to make some sheetcakes around here?  I mean, it's the practical thing to do, right?  Sheetcakes are humble-- they are generally served straight from the pan, no flipping and elaborate decorating, no extra cupcake wrappers.  Just a plain desert, and if you're feeling fancy you can always put a simple frosting on top, but it's not even necessary.  And if your family is anything like my family, even a simple cake, when made at home, is devoured with relish.

I found a recipe called "Texas Sheet Cake" and have modified it over the past months to the point that it is a foolproof go-to for our family.  Whenever I make it, I feel just like Tacy's mom.  I originally tried this recipe from a magazine, and still pull out that torn and stained magazine each time I make the cake, so I figured it was time to immortalize it here on the blog for easy future reference.  I always seem to have the ingredients on hand, and whenever there is a special occasion, the kids beg for me to make it.  I hope you enjoy it, too!

Texas Sheet Cake

Cake
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup regular milk with a splash of vinegar)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Icing
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups confectioner's sugar

Cake:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9 by 13 inch pan (line with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang if you have parchment paper on hand).

2.  Whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in large bowl.

3.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium low.  Whisk in cocoa, then 1 cup water.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally.  Pour over flour mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.

4.  Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top with a spatula.  Bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes.

5.  Transfer cake in pan to a wire rack; let cool 15 minutes.

Icing:

1.  In a small saucepan, bring butter, cocoa, and cream to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla and confectioners' sugar.  Let stand until warm before using.

2.  Pour glaze over warm cake, and allow to cool before serving.

(And our darling Lily turned 7 last week, complete with our first ever birthday party featuring a bounce house, or moon bounce as we call them back East, which was a huge, exciting, energy-expending hit.  All of these years of early childhood are so magical, I just love each one of them, and Lily holds such a special place in all of our hearts.  Looking back on pictures of when she was born makes me so happy and thankful!)