29 February 2008

friday fun

No Friday photos today, but thought I'd share a couple of fun things I came across recently. (Found both of these at Shakesville, by the way.)

1) I've never been a big fan of Garfield. In fact, since I was 9 years old or so, I've found that cat pretty annoying. But some genius out there has removed Garfield from Garfield's own comics, and the result is brilliant. As the site says:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness in a quiet American suburb.

Some examples:

2) Finally, someone thought to explain popular songs with visual aids! Charts, graphs, and handy illustrations make your favorite songs easy to understand. See the flickr pool here; see a few of my favorite examples below:

Ah, good times. What are your favorite time-wasting, pointless sites?


28 February 2008

a lesson in phonics

Evan: Mama, my cars are sweeping.
Me: They're sweeping?
Evan: No! They're sweeping.
Me: They're sweeping the floor?
Evan: NO! They're... sah-LEEEP-ing.
Me: Oh, sleeping. That's very different from sweeping.

Progress is slow, but he's coming along.


27 February 2008

random snippets of the last week

Scene: We are in the car, talking about a classmate of Greg's who has completed her Ph.D.

Greg: Now she'll be a doctor.
Me: But not the kind of doctor you go to when you're sick.
James: Oh, I know -- a veterinarian!
Greg: No --
James: A dentist?
Greg: No... [begins to try to explain Ph.D.s in six-year-old terms]
James: Excuse me, Dad?
Greg: Yes?
James: Did you know that dogs can hear things that people can't?


I have a nephew! William is the new son of my sister Kim and her husband, and baby brother to Molly. I bought plane tickets to go visit them for a weekend next month, by myself, and my children are a wee bit jealous that they won't get to come with me and play with their cousins. I momentarily felt guilty about that, but then I considered that Greg has two upcoming work trips (one of them to freaking Spain) and I no longer feel anything less than jubilant about taking a weekend for myself.


James: Mom, my new name is E.S.
Me: What does E.S. stand for?
James: Extreme scientist! Evan, what's your new name?
Evan: Pwincess Leia.


In the course of a week and half, Evan has bruised his gums by crashing teeth-first into James' head during a wrestling match (Have you ever seen bruised gums? Gross.) and chipped a tooth. We have no idea when or how he chipped his tooth. The bruised gums caused crying for two days, but the chipped tooth? Whatever he did to cause that was apparently not worthy of a whimper. That child is continually reinforcing my suspicion that if one of my children ever breaks a bone or needs stitches, it will be him. And probably several years before I expect it.


Now I have to post a photo for Greg, so that he can have it online. This is Gradient Index Jell-O, which causes light to bend when it shines through the Jell-O. This is the stuff Greg does for fun -- he spends hours tinkering with Jell-O, adjusting ingredient amounts, until he can use it to bend light. Now that James wants to be a scientist too, I sense a lot of this sort of stuff in our future.

Hopefully I'll be back to regular blogging soon. We're all slowly returning to good health.


21 February 2008

*cough cough*

Wouldn't it figure that it's on James' week off from school that I get sick? James is spending his winter break watching a lot of movies and playing a lot of video games, and I'm spending it mostly on the couch, napping, drinking tea or water at all times, coughing, and trying not to let the drugs wear off.

Also, I can barely speak. Fun times!


15 February 2008

friday photos: kindergarten love edition

In the week leading up to Valentine's Day, James' class at school has been focusing a lot on love, and doing various love-related projects. He had a show-and-tell day on which he had to bring in a photo of someone he loves, and he made a little "Love Book" to illustrate people or things he loves. Naturally, cuteness abounds. Photos below the fold.

The person James loves who he brought photos of to school? His brother. AWWWW. These are the two photos he brought to show his class:

And the drawings from his "Love Book":

Greg was a little insulted to be replaced by Goldfish (I believe this refers to the crackers and not the animal, which I find even funnier) but I'm pleased to have made the cut. Especially since Greg is actually James' favorite person by far.

I'll be visiting family this weekend, so I may or may not get a weekend recipe up. Have a happy weekend!


14 February 2008

have an ugly valentine's day!

Happy Valentine's Day from James and the Ugly Dolls!


10 February 2008

weekend recipe: black bean and sweet potato chili

This week's recipe is a favorite 'round these parts, and a nice alternative to your typical chili: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili. I'm not sure where I got this recipe, but you can find a lot of similar recipes online, and it's a pretty easy dish to experiment with. It's colorful, flavorful, healthy and vegetarian, and it's fairly quick to throw together too. We like to serve it with cheddar cheese and sour cream on top, and eat it with cornbread, or scoop it up with tortilla chips.

Recipe below the fold.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

2 medium-large sweet potatoes or yams
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 (14-15 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 (14-15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes
1 (4 ounce) can chopped mild green chilies
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 - 1 tsp chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste

Microwave the sweet potatoes for about 3 or 4 mintes per potato. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 3/4-inch dice. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and garlic and sauté over medium heat until golden. Add the bell pepper, beans, tomatoes, chilies, corn, cumin, chili powder, and oregano. (I like to add a dash or two of chipotle seasoning or cayenne pepper; not necessary, but tasty if you've got 'em and don't mind a little heat. You can feel free to add whatever spices you normally like in your chili -- it's easily customizable.)

Bring chili to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and continue to simmer until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season lightly with salt.

At this point you can eat it, or let it sit for an hour or two before eating, to give the flavors a little time to blend. Either way, it's delicious.

You can garnish with all your favorite chili toppings: cheese, sour cream, lime, tortilla chips, avocado, whatever. Enjoy!


08 February 2008

friday photos: junior scientists edition

We've had a sudden boom in the popularity of science around here. We went to the (highly interactive) science museum last weekend, and since then, James has been declaring his intention to be a scientist when he grows up (this is the first thing he's wanted to be that wasn't a stay-at-home dad), and he's suddenly very interested in the science experiment books he got for his birthday. (Okay, he was always interested in them, but this week we've done our first experiments because he has been so insistent.)

Of course, since James wants to be a scientist and perform science experiments, so does Evan. This necessitates performing two experiments at once, every time. So far we've done three experiments, and learned the science behind them (I use the word "learned" loosely, since I'm not really sure how much James is really understanding or retaining): adding soap to water and pepper (like this), adding bleach to colored water, and, the best one, soaking an egg in vinegar to remove its shell (leaving the membrane intact, though).

Photos below the fold.

Here is Evan whole-heartedly getting into the pepper-shaking part of the first experiment:

James dripping soap into the water/pepper mixture (you can sort of see how the pepper spread away from the center where he added the soap):

Evan was not keen on touching the slimy shell-less egg:

James, hoever, was happy to both hold his egg, and pose for photos:

A close-up of the egg, because that's pretty cool:

Happy Friday, everyone!


07 February 2008

a bedtime story, by evan

"Once upon a time there was a little boy named Batman. And he lived with his family. And one day he was getting firewood and he fell into a cave. And it was full of bats! And he scared them! And they all flew away. And then he finded a bat and flew somewhere else. And then he finded a bat and flew somewhere else. [Repeat twenty times.] And then he finded all the bats and he stomped them. And then Mommy Batman and Daddy Batman came and saved the Big Batman. The End."


05 February 2008

super tuesday

I'm known among my friends for being political. I think it's because of the PoliSci degree, but maybe also because I have a lot of opinions about politics. So they were surprised (and you may be too) to learn that I'm not voting today. This is because when I registered to vote at age eighteen, I had no idea what my political views were, let alone which party I identified with, so I registered as an Independent. But honestly, if I were voting today, I'd have a hard time choosing, for various reasons that I'm not going to go into because it wouldn't really matter if I did.

But James has decided! Greg and I have been talking politics a lot over the last few weeks, following the election coverage, watching the news, and James is starting to catch on. This morning he asked me why Hillary can't be the president. I suppose he got this idea because Greg and I think Hillary would have a hard time winning, seeing as there are so many Republicans (and plenty of Democrats too) who vehemently dislike her and will try their hardest to stop her.

This led to an explanation of the primaries, and then a bit about who Hillary is, exactly, and then some info about Obama just to be thorough. I didn't really mention the Republicans at all, just their existence really, but I guess James has somehow caught on over time that Greg and I are not fans of the Republicans.

After all of this explanation, James announced, "I want Hillary to be the president. I'm a Democrat!"

"Good boy," I said. He was dismayed, though, to learn that he's not quite old enough to vote.

Then he asked Evan whether Evan was a Republican or a Democrat, and Evan's indignant reply was, "I'm a boy!" Still a bit young for politics, I guess.

I hope if you're able, you'll vote today. This is a pretty exciting election -- the prospect of electing a president who is not male or not white is exciting, beyond the fact that I like both Hillary and Obama as candidates (as opposed to merely not hating Kerry in '04) -- and I kind of wish I were voting today. But I'll be happy with either choice.

Anybody want to reveal in comments who they're supporting?


03 February 2008

weekend recipe

Jessica asked in comments of an earlier post whether I'd share some of my vegetarian recipes, and that gave me the idea to start a new feature. So I'm launching Weekend Recipes today. I chose weekends because that's when I have the most time to be ambitious and experimental in the kitchen. I'll post a good number of vegetarian recipes, I suspect, but I'm not going to limit myself. Today, though, I'm kicking off the series with a newly-discovered (by us) vegetarian dish that met with pretty immediate success in our house.

I hope I don't scare people away with my first choice. I don't know where this recipe came from originally, but an acquaintance of mine posted it on the message board for the nursery school James went to. It looks weird on paper (or should I say the computer screen) but it's delicious. It's quick, it's easy, and it centers around tofu.

I know, I know. Tofu. Most meat-eaters I know have a pronounced distaste, some even a touch of hostility, for tofu, and I can't for the life of me explain it or understand it. Tofu is cheap, healthy, versatile, and basically soaks up the flavor of whatever you put it into. You can even change the texture depending on how you prepare it. I have become a fan of tofu over the last few years, and, in this dish at least, my family has grown to like it too.

Recipe and notes below the fold.

Groundnut Stew, or Peanut Butter Tofu

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. mustard seed
dash of cinnamon
dash of cardamom**
28 oz. can of tomatoes, undrained****
1/2-1 c water
1/2 c peanut butter (smooth, or crunchy for more texture)
1 block firm tofu, cubed

Saute onion, garlic, salt and spices in olive oil, just for a few minutes, until onion and garlic are softened.

Add tomatoes and enough water so that a little water sits on top. (If you opt to leave out the tomatoes, you'll probably need a little more water.)

Add the peanut butter in the center, and slowly stir from the center until it combines well with the water.

Gently stir in tofu.

Cover & reduce heat to low, stirring every 5 min. for 15 - 20 min. Turn off heat and leaved covered until served. Serve over rice.

**Note on spices: This is a pretty flexible recipe. Use whatever of these spices you have around the house -- i.e., don't rush out and buy cardamom just for this recipe. It's the combination of spices, not the individual spices, that is important here.

****Note on tomatoes: This is kind of a weird combination of flavors. It works for me, but Greg and the boys like it better without the tomatoes. Use your own judgment here.

We usually serve vegetables or a salad on the side, but I think it would work well to throw in some broccoli or spinach or something in the last few minutes of cooking if you want to get creative. Also, for the tofu-averse among you, I'm told this works well with chicken, too.


01 February 2008

odds and ends

I have not been on the ball lately for getting interesting photos. Or, really, any photos. Sorry -- someday you'll see my kiddos' beautiful faces again. Just not today.

We've had some weird weather this week. Windstorm on Wednesday, and freezing rain today, during which we had to drive -- or should I say crawl, through slush and heavy traffic -- to the other side of the city to the insurance company-approved auto shop, to have our bumper checked out, only to find out that the cost to repair the bumper is greater than the value of our car. I guess 14 years really lowers the resale value of a vehicle, despite having awesome mileage and being in otherwise fine condition. So this place will not fix our bumper, but instead the insurance company is cutting us a check. So... I guess that works out for us? I'm so over this car business by now; I don't really care.

We've had intermittent power outages over the last 15 hours. No idea why. All I really have to say about that is 1) I'm so grateful we didn't lose power before the season premiere of Lost was finished, and 2) I'm also grateful that our Nintendo DS has an alarm function. Not that the kids ever let us sleep too late, but it's always good to be certain.

So now it's February, and tomorrow that famous little groundhog in Pennsylvania will tell us what to expect from the rest of winter. I'm hoping he tells us that at least once before spring, we will have enough snow to go sledding. Other than that, I'm pretty well over winter too.

Happy weekend, everyone.