30 July 2012

Book Review: Atonement

I've had Atonement by Ian McEwan on my shelf for over a year now. I was never really excited to read it nor had I been interested in watching the movie.

After finishing the book last night, I moved the movie version to the top of my Netflix queue. This is a quality book and heartbreaking. It is the story of a young girl's misunderstanding of a situation between her grown sister and a boy. A lie changed everyone's lives before and during the first days of World War II in England.

I don't want to include any spoilers here, but I sobbed, SOBBED, last night when I read the final chapter. I had to remind myself that the book is fiction - this did not happen. It doesn't help that the two stars in the movie are two of my favorite actors and the love scene between them is incredibly well done and sensual - both in the book and in the movie (yes, after reading it, I looked it up on Youtube).

Speaking of books, I'm purging. And I'd like to try a book swap. If you live in the Denver area and are interested in any of these books, let me know. I'll put them in our milk box and you can pick them up any time. I just ask that you leave $2/book or a used book of your own (always good to purge!)/book. If you're from out of town, I'll offer the same deal: $2/book or a used book of your own, as well as money for shipping. This is an experiment, so I'll let you all know how it goes!

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Female Quixotism by Tabithal Gilman Tinney
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey (not mine)
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost (also not mine)
Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki (again, not mine - Nate must have gone through a finance phase)
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley
The Family Fang (hard cover) by Kevin Wilson
Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

26 July 2012

Banana Birthday Cake

Last year I brought banana cake with cream cheese frosting to Benny's daycare for his birthday. It's a relatively easy cake to make. Tastes like banana bread with cream cheese frosting. I haven't made the cake since.

When I asked Benny what kind of cake he would like to celebrate, he didn't skip a beat: Banana Cake. That kid has a memory like a steel trap. I ended up following the directions (unlike last year) and the cake was delicious. Even better with fresh berries on top! And all of Benny's school friends loved it - and he loved being the center of attention.

Banana Birthday Cake

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients.

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3)
3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
1/2 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs (room temperature)

Beat with a mixer on low speed until all ingredients are combined. Add eggs and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Pour batter into a 13x9x2 greased pan. You can also use two round cake pans - I just don't have those. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter with mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup powdered sugar.

And with that, I think Benny's birthday celebrations are finished, along with my summer cold/allergies. It's been an entire week of snot, snot, snot, sore throat, lost voice. I'm finally running again after an entire week.

*Don't have buttermilk on hand? Yeah, I don't either. Make sour milk by combining 1 cup milk and 1 tbsp of lemon juice or vinegar and let sit for 5 minute. Easy as that!

25 July 2012

Happy Birthday, Benny!

From an itty bitty baby...
... to an adorable little boy and an amazing big brother!

23 July 2012


Now that Benny is nearly 5, I've been trying to remember some of the cute Benny-isms that I'll forgot if I don't write them down.

  • Benny pronounced "dinosaur" as "disonaur" for the longest time.
  • When Benny first started watching movies, he would insist on watching to the until the bitter end, past the credits to the final studio shot. He called it "the over" because we would insist that the movie was over when the credits started.
  • From the months of 18 to about 28, Benny asked to read the Lorax every single night. Nate and I had the entire book memorized. When we watched the movie earlier this year, Benny also had it memorized.
  • Benny loved my made up songs at bedtime. In my arsenal: a personalized version of Raspberry Beret by Prince, Cinco de Mayo (it's the fifth of May, oh Cinco de Mayo, we love to laugh and play - that was the whole song), Shut the Door: It's Time to Go to Sleep. I was very influenced by my surroundings, obviously. Benny requested all of these songs by name. He still does sometimes.
  • When we were potty training Benny, we sat through several diaper-free weekends. Benny was so stubborn during these weekends that sometimes he would hold it for 8+ hours. One particularly trying day, he waited until I was out of sight, ran to his room and peed on the rug. 
  • More recently, when it's time for Lila to go to bed, I ask her if she wants to give Benny a hug and a kiss. Benny stops what he's doing and gives her a hug. When she tries to give him a smacker on the mouth, he leans down and kisses her forehead. It's the sweetest gesture.
There are so many more that I'm forgetting. But for now, this will have to do.

One Whole Hand!

Yesterday began the week-long celebration of Benny's 5th birthday. His actual birthday is on Wednesday, but we celebrated on Saturday with a party at the Denver Firefighters Museum. This was the first year we held a "destination" party - mostly because it's been so hot in Denver. We couldn't host anything at our house because we'd sweat guests out. The park where we've hosted parties in the past was out as well because of the heat.

Benny has grown into such an amazing, inquisitive, funny little guy. His giggle can lift my spirits in an instant and his never-ending questions never cease to amaze me. He wants to know how thunder and lightning are made, how computers work, why rainbows have color, how rain falls from the sky... His questions are beginning to stump me and I find myself consulting the computer for appropriate answers more and more.

Benny's birthday presents reflect his maturing interest in all things construction and mechanically related. Real tools, LEGOS, books, rockets. But he is still a little more in so many respects. He wanted a dragonfly cake (and Nana delivered!). He dressed up as a fire chief and played the role appropriately. His friends made his birthday very special by driving a fire truck, singing happy birthday and generally having fun. His grandparents made his birthday memorable by showering him with love (and lots of presents).

Happy 5th birthday, Benny!

19 July 2012

Be the Change

You all know the simple yet profound statement: "Be the change you want to see in the world." (Side note: Can something be both simple and profound?). It's something I try to live by. I'm not always successful. No, I'm rarely successful.

I could have more patience with my kids on hard days.
I could cut my husband a little more slack.
I could grow more of my own food and make more food from scratch.
I could buy more used and buy less in general.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Since we've owned this house, I've been relatively proud of not using any synthetic fertilizer or herbicides (or pesticides, for that matter) on the yard. Nate uses Round Up from time to time. We certainly don't have the nicest yard on the block. The front yard is in some desperate need of upgrades, but funds and other projects inhibit that goal. So, I try to keep it mowed and weed-free the hard-work way - with a push mower and by pulling weeds.

For four years, I've been able to stave off a weed infestation. So, this year, when a weed infestation seems imminent, I've been quite conflicted with the thoughts of: "Spray the damn weeds! Spray them all!" I have a sore back, sore shoulders and a massive sore on my thumb from weeding and I'm not even half done!

WWGD? (What would Gandhi do?)

17 July 2012

Gin Basil Smasher Illustrated

Follow these simple steps to make the perfect summer cocktail!

1. Grow a shitload of basil.

2. Muddle one whole lemon (cut in half) with a hearty handful of basil.

3. Add 2 oz. of simple syrup*, ice and 4 oz. of gin.

4. Shake, shake, shake. Shake, shake, shake.

5. Pour and ENJOY!

*Simple syrup is just about the easiest thing to make: Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, boil, let cool, refrigerate the leftovers for up to a week. 

Got Basil?

Check out the size of these basil plants!

Two enormous bushes, plus three or four smaller plants. Never in my life have I produced so much of the herb. What to do with all of it? Why, eat and drink it, of course.

My first attempt at homemade pesto went OK. Pine nuts are uber expensive, so I opted for walnuts. Not too shabby tossed with some fettuccine. However, I'd love a better pesto recipe. Anyone have a good, easy method?

As for the libations: Gin Basil Smashers. I've attempted to perfect these since the basil plants were small. I think I finally found the right concoction:

Gin Basil Smashers

This recipe makes two small martini-sized drinks.

1 hearty handful of basil
1 lemon, cut in half

Muddle the basil and the lemon in a shaker. And when I say muddle, make them one with the shaker! Then muddle some more. I usually put one lemon half in with half the basil to start the muddling process. After the first half is sufficiently muddled, add the second half.

2 oz. simple syrup

Muddle away again and top with ice cubes.

4 oz. gin (this drink is gin heavy, so the better quality the gin, the better the drink will taste)

Pour on top of the ice. Shake until you can't hold the shaker any more.

Serve over ice. Delish!

Apparently this was the drink of the summer in 2008.

Oh, and check out the jungle of a garden we have going on right now!

What's that you see? Broccoli, pumpkin, basil, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, bolted lettuce, carrots, beets, lavender, oregano, cabbage, peas, beans, cucumbers and much more!

Lessons from the Road

Just completed my longest bike commute yet: 5 miles on the nose! As I'm still getting used to this bike commuting thing, I've instituted a 5-mile bubble. I will ride, without question (or without much question) up to 5 miles to a meeting. Until I'm in better bike riding shape, I think 5 miles is my max. It did take me 30 minutes each way.

I'm also learning some lessons:
  1. I'm not as familiar with this city as I thought I was. Although my meeting today was only 5 miles away, I had NEVER spent any significant amount of time in this area, just south of downtown.
  2. When in doubt, ALWAYS trust Google Maps. On the way to the restaurant, I thought I'd try to cut through some neighborhoods. Not a good idea. I ended up riding on some sidewalks due to inopportune one ways. Also, it turns out that having a bike lane is really helpful.
  3. Wear a helmet. I wore one today and was able to shrug off my fear of a head injury.
And that's just a sampling of the many lessons I learned today. Overall, a very pleasant commute for a very pleasant lunch with these fine ladies!

09 July 2012

All the Colors of the Rainbow

It's fascinating to witness a child develop the second time around. Things are generally the same, but Benny and Lila have experienced distinct differences. Benny has been incredibly mobile and active since he was small - walking at 10 months, mastering pedaling before 3 years, mastering the bike at 4 and a half years. He also learned the alphabet and numbers very early. He could identify every letter and number by the time he was 20 months old.

Lila has not been interested in the alphabet or riding mobile equipment, but she has been incredibly focused on colors. Now, at 21 months, she can identify every color of the rainbow. There's faint hope that she'll master the potty before 2, but that's a whole different story.

Gorgeous evening rainbow in Montrose.

Brother + Sister

Nate and I have never pushed Benny to "like" Lila. For the first eight months of her life, he ignored her as though she may some day leave. Then he experienced some belated regression behaviors when Lila was about a year. Lila, on the other hand, has loved hanging out with Benny for her whole life. She especially loves that she can boss him around and he will usually do what she tells him to do.

Lately, the two of them have been playing and interacting like two friends. It warms my heart. They're finally getting to an age that they entertain each other in the car. The other day Benny had a friend over to play. The three of them were in the kids' room and laughing like crazy. When I checked on them, Lila was standing on top of her changing table and they were throwing clothes at each other.

More often than not, they are good buddies, conspiring to do something they're not supposed to do!

07 July 2012

2012 Family Vaca

Gondola ride near Telluride

We stayed pretty close to home for this year's family vacation. We spent the holiday and the remainder of the week with Nate's dad and stepmom in Montrose. It was an action-packed, fun trip. We camped the first night out at a gorgeous, idyllic campground called Monarch Park between Salida and Gunnison. The kids did not disappoint in their camping skills.

On the Fourth of July, we woke up early to meet Mike and Katrina (Papa Knucks and Kat to the kids) for a boat ride on the Colorado River in the Black Canyon. Gorgeous scenery, only broken up a few times by a rambuncious toddler. We spent the better part of a day in Ouray, soaking up the rays at the Ouray Hot Springs and then ventured to Telluride for a ride on the gondola and lunch downtown.

Some of my favorite memories of this trip...
1. Benny and Lila entertaining each other in the back seat (Lila is forward-facing now - yeehaw!).
2. Lila chasing after the dog and cat telling them to "Come here."
3. Benny using goggles to dive under water by himself.
4. Benny eating like a champ for EVERY single meal.
5. Lila eating again in general.
6. Meandering down the Colorado River while Lila ran up and down the aisle on the boat with another rambuncious toddler.
7. Enjoying cooler temps and air conditioning.

This is the first year we won't be embarking on a longer trip to Iowa or taking a parent-only trip. There's really no reason other than our schedules filling up too fast and desiring to spend some more time camping in the mountains of Colorado. It doesn't hurt that it saves us money and time!

01 July 2012

Time Off

My legs are finally feeling back to normal a week after the half-marathon. I've been taking it easy over the past week - only running a couple of days and biking or walking to keep my legs moving. Working all of that lactic acid out has been a challenge.

I'm taking some time off from running over the next month to focus on other active endeavors, like biking and yoga. Then I'm hoping to pick it back up for a fall half-marathon.

Speaking of time off, Lila has decided to go on a hunger strike over the past few months. She rarely eats more than five bites at each meal. I've stopped giving her many snacks in the hopes that she'll be hungry enough for a meal when the time comes. The results of that experiment have been mixed. I know that kids slow their eating way down after their first birthday, but this seems rather extreme. Lila used to consistently eat more than Benny at meal times.

I'm trying hard not to be a short order cook. I refuse to give her only what she wants (which is typically just sweets anyway). In the long run, I think this approach is better for meal times. We have never given in to Benny's eating whims and he eats what we eat for every meal - no arguments. But I do want to make sure that Lila is getting everything her growing body needs.

Has anyone else in bloggerland witnessed such a drastic change in eating habits in your kids? If so, what did you do during the phase of no eating?