Friday, May 26, 2017

Bringing the Outside In

It is a great truth that the solution to almost any behavioral problem with my children is to get them outside. Perhaps this is true for all children, but I only have experience with my own, obviously.

That's why when I see all-day rain in the forecast on the first day of a four-day holiday weekend, which is also a day that A. is out of town and therefore unable to provide any distraction, I quail a little inside.

You may recall I have some experience with this particular situation already.

All three boys woke up with all guns blazing this morning, and there was no such thing as cooperative play. It was ugly. After a lot of crying and yelling--not all of it by them--I looked at my watch and noted with some desperation that it was only 8:45 a.m.

So I pushed them all outside. Fortuitously, there was a break in the rain at that exact moment, so it was just a little misty. Not too cold, either. Totally bearable. They disappeared into the barn to get their bikes out and I went into the garden to check on progress and thin some radishes.

They ate the radishes, and then we went for a bike ride. Which really means Cubby and Charlie rode back and forth in front of the house while I pushed Jack along on his tiny bike. It rained most of the time, but as it wasn't 23 degrees below zero with snow and wind, we stayed out. Plus, the rain was keeping the bugs away, which was a great relief.

After about 45 minutes everyone was wet and a little cold, so we came back inside for a change of clothes and some creamy tea. Plus cheese crackers. Of course.

And that was the end of the respite. I had to confiscate all drawing materials due to fighting over said materials. I had to break up brawls over the Tinker Toy pieces. After some peanut butter bread, Jack went down for a nap and I let Cubby and Charlie draw again, which at least kept them quiet while Jack was sleeping.

Then he woke up. And they were all staring at me, ready to jump right back into their sibling rivalries at any second.

What I really wanted them to do was clean up the disgracefully chaotic downstairs living room, which functions as their playroom. But to entice them to do that, I needed an excuse that would require a clear floor space.

Could I build a fort down there? Not very easily--not enough furniture. Plus, forts always collapse when the three of them get to tussling in them, which they always do.

But then I remembered the tent. This was a children's tent that my parents had sent many months ago but that I had never set up before. Mostly because I knew once I set it up, they would never want me to take it down again.

But, you know, desperate times.

They picked up downstairs (hooray for manipulation!). I set up the tent (not without some difficulty--following assembly directions is not my forte) and they all dived into it immediately. Shortly there was a game in progress with Cubby going hunting, Charlie tending the fire, and Jack in charge of campsite protection. It will all go wrong eventually, as it always does, but for now?

Peace reigns.

P.S. Yeah. I was just about to hit "post" on this tale of triumphant distraction when I heard sounds of discord which ended in both Cubby and Charlie saying they hated each other and Cubby declaring he would never play with them again. It's definitely that kind of day.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Everyone Benefits When Mom Feels Guilty

I had a tater tot situation today.

I know. The drama of my life is just exhausting, isn't it?

The situation was this: I had only a small portion of a bag left from the desperation dinner I made when I was sick. There weren't enough left for more than maybe two people. The only time I feed two people is when I make lunch for Jack and me on school days. But cooking the tater tots involves firing up the oven, and I dislike doing that for only one purpose. Especially when that purpose is as frivolous as cooking a small batch of tater tots for lunch.

Therefore, I made these cheese crackers again.

I was reminded of them when I got a note from Charlie's teacher requesting some more snack foods for his class at school, with the helpful information that Goldfish are always a hit. I happened to be at the store the next day, and Goldfish happened to be on sale, so I bought some for Charlie's class. But as I was buying them, I of course couldn't resist reading the ingredients, and . . . yeah. That's worthless food right there.

At that point, I remembered that I made knock-off Goldfish for Cubby that one time. I wasn't sufficiently motivated to make them for Charlie's class*, but it was in the back of my mind that I should make them again, because they are really good and I knew all the kids would be happy.

I didn't have the motivation to do it, however, until I wanted to turn the oven on for the tater tots, but felt I needed a sufficiently virtuous reason to do so.

And that's what brought us to the making of the cheese crackers today.

This time, however, I did not cut them out with any ridiculous small cookie cutter. I am now older and wiser, and really not down with wasting time like that. Instead I just rolled the dough out and cut it into strips with a knife, and then into square-ish pieces. Not real squares, because can you roll out dough with straight sides? I can't.

That doesn't matter in the least, however. Because the way I did it this time meant literally five minutes of prep work before they were in the oven, and they were all delicious regardless of their wonky shapes.

BUT WAIT. We're not done with the guilt (or the baking) yet!

As I was baking the crackers, I thought what a shame it was that A.-the-wheat-intolerant couldn't eat them. But (I continued thinking), he could if I replaced the nominal amount of wheat flour with something else. Like buckwheat flour, which, despite the name, is not a grain at all.

The oven was still hot and the food processor and baking pan hadn't yet been washed, so I made a batch with buckwheat flour.

Those taste like . . . well, like cheese crackers made with buckwheat flour. In my experience, nothing really masks the flavor of buckwheat. I'm not too fond of it myself, but A. likes it, so I suspect he'll like the crackers.

As for me, I really liked my tater tots. Especially because I could eat them without guilt.

* Though I may as well have done it to really cement the reputation I have at the school for being a weird militant hippie homemaker. I suspect it's Cubby's and Charlie's lunches that gave me that rep. Reusable bags, reusable containers, homemade pizza, homemade yogurt, homemade bread, sandwich fillings like leftover lamb and fish cakes . . . Yeah, I can see how that would lead to Cubby's teacher saying to me one time, "I'm guessing you're the sort that had all your kids naturally." 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Totally Buggin'

I suspect that quoting the movie Clueless like I just did definitely dates me. Seriously? It came out twenty years ago? Damn. And yet, I still love it.

Anyway. Bugs. Yes.

Real bugs, that is. Real bugs EVVVVERYWHERE.

It's an unfortunate screw of the north country that winter is pretty much immediately followed by Bug Season. Capital letters for emphasis.

This is a relatively new thing for me. I know it's a problem in interior Alaska too, where I lived for three years when I was a kid, but I guess because I was a kid I didn't pay any attention to it. Or maybe because we were constantly covered in whatever totally toxic insect repellent was used at the time. Probably just a step away from DDT.

Anyway again.

Arizona obviously doesn't have much of a bug problem, and bugs weren't much of an issue at Blackrock, so this is the first spring in my memory that I've come up against them. And up against them I am.

First there were little gnats that swarmed ceaselessly around our heads at the first baseball/T-ball games of the year. They were annoying, but they didn't bite. I can deal with that. A hat more of less took care of them.

Then the biters showed up. They looked just like the harmless ones--as far as I could tell, anyway--but judging by the welts they caused that linger for days, I expect they're the dreaded black flies.

Still, it's mostly cool enough that I'm covered everywhere except my neck, which is where I currently have three good-sized welts courtesy of the little bastards. But I still haven't used any bug spray.

This definitely puts me in the minority, as every ball game or practice I attend is punctuated by the spectators stepping away to envelope themselves in a cloud of insect repellent. The fields are surrounded by woods and, at the main fields, a sluggish stream. It's a bug paradise. But I really hate bug spray, so I've resisted so far.

Then yesterday, the mosquitoes arrived. Because mosquitoes can't fly in any sort of breeze, they're not something we've seen yet. The more or less constant wind here must keep them away. But yesterday was warm, and as the sun went down, the wind calmed.

I opened the window in our bedroom to cool it down before bed, and I noticed mosquitoes swarming around the screen. Later, when we actually went to bed, I saw that that screen was loose. Like, really loose. I closed that window and opened another, but the mosquitoes found the loose screen before I did.

After the kids went to bed, I must have killed at least eight mosquitoes in the 45 minutes I was reading in the living room. And when we went to bed and turned out the lights, I heard the ominous whine of mosquitoes in the dark. I thought maybe they were just still outside the window.

Then one bit me on the neck.

When I turned on the light to look, I saw at least a dozen mosquitoes on the walls. The walls are all white, so the mosquitoes were easy to spot. I got the fly swatter and hunted them down, handing off the swatter to A. when they were too high up for me to reach.

Then we turned off the light again. And again heard the horrid whine of a mosquito close by.

Light on again. Three more killed, one courtesy of A. hopping on top of the dresser to swat it on the ceiling.

Light off. Whining. Light on. More swatting.

Light off, now at 10:15 p.m. and we are no longer amused. And there's that WHINING AGAIN MAKE IT STOP.

At this point, A. had the brilliant idea of turning on the ceiling fan to create a breeze that would keep them away. That ceiling fan makes an annoying clicking noise, but it's a lot less annoying than the whine of a mosquito in your ear and waking up covered in bites.

So we slept. Briefly.

I am currently sporting both black fly bites and mosquito bites (including one on my ear, which seems wrong somehow), and I just can't WAIT to see what fun insect is going to show up next to feast on my flesh.

Happy spring. Bah.

Monday, May 22, 2017

An Eminently Quotable Book

It's been a few years now since A. sold the last of his sheep, and not a grass-growing season goes by that he doesn't mourn the waste of fine forage with no animals to set upon it. He gets particularly voluble on this subject when he has to mow grass that--in his opinion--sheep should be eating to provide him with lambs for the freezer.

Personally, I could happily go my entire life without ever docking another lamb's tail, but for A., that would be no kind of life at all. So I'm resigned to the fact that someday we will have woolly dependents again.

But I haven't forgotten what a pain in the ass they are. No, indeed. And a book that A. brought home from the library and I started reading is bringing it all back.

The book is Country Life: A Handbook for Realists and Dreamers, by Paul Heiney. It's published by the wonderful DK Publishing Company, which has my eternal gratitude for producing non-fiction books about every imaginable subject for children that both the children and adults can enjoy and learn something from.

Do you know how hard it is to find really good non-fiction books for kids? DK does it every time.

I'm digressing, though.

I started having reluctant-shepherdess flashbacks in the section with instructions for proper fencing. He notes that while a fence with three wires should be fine for cows, sheep will probably need five wires. And this is because, as he goes on to say in the section with advantages and disadvantages of all types of farm animals, sheep are "Famed escapologists."

Now you're singing my song, Paul.

He also lists the following for sheep diseases: "Blowfly strike, foot rot, and countless other diseases, the first symptom of which is often death."

Or, in the words of another well-known and very alliterative saying about sheep, "Sick sheep seldom survive."

The only thing he lists as a special need for sheep? "A good shepherd to keep them out of trouble."

As long as that good shepherd is A. and not me. I don't qualify. Maybe that's why ours were so much trouble.

Anyway. You should read the book if you can, even if you're not really into farming. If nothing else, Paul Heiney has a distinctive dry humor that makes the book fun to read.

P.S. Though not specific to sheep, I did also appreciate this nugget of wisdom: "Farm animals do not make good pets. If you can't kill them, get a dog or a cat and grow vegetables." For realists, indeed.