Monday, August 31, 2009

It's just a stage

The last time I moved within Provo, my sister, Mrs. Weathercolour, came over with her children to help. At one point, she left to run an errand, but left her youngest sons, Sroon and Quarto, with me. I thought about how I might entertain the boys while I kept packing. I remembered recent incidents in which Quarto had engaged in toilet-paper-roll-unrolling (in to the household toilet). I had comforted my sister at the time by reminding her that this is a normal stage for kids to go through, and wasn't she lucky that she hadn't had to call a plumber? I remembered that I had a roll of athletic tape lying around which was about ten years old, which was getting a bit un-sticky. I said, "would you like to unroll this roll of tape?" and the boys enthusiastically agreed. The only hitch in this plan happened after my sister got back with her older two children; they were very disappointed to have missed out on such a treat as being allowed to deliberately unroll an entire half-roll of tape.

(My grandfather, on the other hand, would not have made this mistake. Grandma once left him to watch their four kids-- I take it that this wasn't a terribly common arrangement for them, but he was willing enough in this instance-- and he sat calmly reading the newspaper while the kids (all ages) unrolled an entire four-pack of toilet paper around the inside walls of the house. You know how you can sometimes walk an entire circuit inside of a house, almost like a track? They just walked around the track, unrolling toilet paper as they went. And every time Grandma tells this story, she mentions in tones of amazement that they never once broke the toilet paper. And then she chuckles.)

Or, there is also the butter-or-margarine-eating stage, which actually comes around the same time as the unrolling stage. When my oldest nephew ate an entire cube of margarine by himself while his mother wasn't looking, my sister, who wasn't yet aware that this was a stage, called her neighbor-friend who already had several children. "Oh, yes, it's just a stage. I still remember when my younger brother's hands were so covered with butter that he couldn't get the bedroom door open. He'll grow out of it." And he did.

Another stage I've been thinking about lately is the must-be-translated stage. One of the reasons why kids with perfectly good pronunciation sometimes ask repeatedly for confirmation that you have heard what they have said is because not so long ago, their pronunciation was anything but perfect, and a grownup's wild guess as to the kid's meaning was that kid's only pathway to communication.

Such as: the other day, the youngest Weathercolour child was trying to pull her sister's hair clip out of her sister's hair. I suggested to Mrs. Weathercolour that she offer a hair clip to the child who was trying to take one.

"Would you like a hair clip?" she asked.


"Strawberry?" Clearly there had been a breakdown in communication. My sister tried again: "Would you like a hair clip?"



Vigorous nodding confirmed that my sister's second guess had, indeed, been correct. The kid got a hair clip.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's the funnest thing you've ever done?

For me: learning Arabic. I had a teacher who was SO not a micro-manager; he told us to just work on what we knew we needed to work on, and that was exactly what I did. And it turns out that I'm pretty good at it-- or, at least, I thought that I was for long enough to get me off the ground. Think of it this way: if there is something that many, many people view as insanely difficult, but you just find it to be hard but enjoyable work, wouldn't that make it really, really fun?

For Mom: the summers she was a fire lookout in California. She had a dog named "Cat" for a companion and a '22 for taking care of rattlers and other intruders, and she was in radio contact with headquarters; but she was physically alone for most of the time, in charge of watching for smoke which would indicate a forest fire in the making. I'll try to blog some of her fire lookout stories soon.

For Dad: the summers he was a boy scout camp counselor up at Camp Bear Lake, on the Utah-Idaho border. One of his younger brothers (six years younger) was also working there, and the kids would ask all the time if they were twins-- the grownups knew that they weren't, but they would mix them up anyway. The camp had a great spirit of camaraderie, respect, and competence, not to mention that they got to be outdoors a lot.

Is it any wonder that my parents' preferred summer vacation activity for our family was camping? Or that I became a language teacher?

That title was also a genuine question: I would really like to know. What IS the funnest thing you've ever done? (Or, since this question is really just a conversation starter and I'm not going to hold you to your answers at any rate: what would the top three contenders be?)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Three reasons why I feel loved

First: My sister Klari called to tell me that she isn't ignoring me; it's just that school is starting this week, and she is crazy-busy getting ready to teach, on top of coordinating her kids' schedules, and so on.

Second: My mom usually does the grocery shopping for our household at this point. I've requested that we get not just tomatoes, but good tomatoes. Yesterday she got some particularly delicious ones, and today I was thanking her for them. She told me that she had not only gone by sight and feel, but she had smelled the tomatoes to pick them out. I had never even thought of smelling tomatoes to pick them, but maybe that is because my sniffer isn't so good. I shall, however, change my methods henceforth. Every time I bite in to tomato goodness, I get a taste of Mother-love.

Third: And then this evening, Patent Office Babe (though I'm considering renaming her The Evil Plot-tress, because she really is the greatest person in the world to discuss up-and-coming novel plots with-- and, you know, Evil is the new "bad," or at least with me it is) out of the blue asked me if I get to the bank very often. I have gone exactly twice since coming to this state. She said that she had a check from an online survey company that needed to be cashed, and the last one had been for three dollars and she never did get around to cashing it before it expired, and how would I feel about getting an extra fifteen dollars?

"It would be a fortune to me," I said, smiling brilliantly and straightening up. (This offer meant more to me than I would like it to, given my current employment situation). I considered. "But I'm not sure how I feel about you randomly giving me fifteen dollars." I try not to be a leech.

"Well, you randomly cook totally delicious things for me," she said.

I thought about the fact that on Monday, the dinner I fixed was completely edible but definitely nothing more, but that on Tuesday it was snarfable and on Wednesday darn good. "You're right," I said. "I would like for it to be non-random, but it is sort of random, isn't it?"

She laughed. A little later in the conversation, she told me that seeing my happy reaction was worth more than anything else she could have bought with the fifteen dollars.

What's not to feel loved?

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I really do try to have quality control. Really. Truly. Even though no one's going to believe me after this post.

Did anyone who tried that oatmeal pancake recipe find the batter to be a bit... dry?


Please, for the love of yumminess, do not give up on oatmeal pancakes because of the flakiness of she who introduced you to them. Just add an extra half-cup of water (or milk) to the batter. Or more, as needed, to make it the proper consistency (which is what I had to do tonight, and I'm in ever-humid Summertime Maryland).

I've now fixed the original recipe.

So sorry. I'll try really hard not to do that again. Stay tuned for Samosas. Oh, wait, but we have to talk about fried onions first. We'll get there.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A sign I have been thinking about putting up in the bathroom


I had thought about putting in something about "your fellow bathers would appreciate," but that would seem to imply that my family employs a Roman-style bathing arrangement, which we most certainly do not. Come to think of it, our distaste for such an arrangement would be one of the main reasons for why we kill our unwelcome six-legged visitors in the first place. The other reason being that some day (? I hope?) the ants will figure out that all of their friends die when they come in here, and thus decide that coming here is a bad idea. The problem with this, of course, is that they don't all die, since our bathroom is not continuously inhabited with ant-killing humans.

Diatomaceous earth, my friend, diatomaceous earth. We will be spreading it soon over the surmised inbound path of our exoskeleton-possessing visitors, and very shortly thereafter my killing-ants-in-the-bathtub days will be over.

On the bright side, these are not biting ants. It could be way worse.

How My Dad Proposed to My Mom

They told me this story in May, though I have been picking their brains for extra details ever since then.

Dad was living with Uncle Lloyd at the time. Lloyd and Leona were in the upper part of this house, and Dad was living in the basement. Dad said the other day that he was not as close to Charlie, but he had spent some time with Lloyd when Lloyd was living in California, and when they came out to Utah, they invited him to live in their basement-- so he did, and that's where he was living when he proposed to Nana.

First of all, Mom remembered that Grandma (my dad's mom) had come down from Idaho and had given Dad this ring which was in a ring box, inside of a sock. Mom remembers Grandma handing it to Dad. It was a ring which had belonged to Grandma, on to which Grandma's dad (my dad's Grandpa Taylor) had superglued a beautiful polished rock which they called an apache tear. Grandpa Taylor had collected rocks like that for years, and polished them, and Mom has several now which she got when Grandma died and which she plans to pass on to the kids and grandkids sometime.

So, Mom knew that Dad had this heirloom ring which had belonged to his mom, and they were in the kitchen at that house that he and Lloyd were sharing-- no wait, Dad thought it was on the steps outside. Mom was sure it was in the kitchen. At any rate, it was in the place he was sharing with Lloyd at the time, and he handed her the ring box...

"Did you take it out of the sock?" I asked. And they both had to think about it.

Yes. They did both stop to think about it, but they were both sure. He definitely took it out of the sock. And he asked her if she would keep it for him, and she knew that this was his way of asking her to marry him.

And that was the end of the story. "Did you say yes?" I asked her. Of course she agreed to, but she didn't know the exact words she used. She said that she didn't wear that ring much, because the setting was a little loose and she didn't want the other stones in it to fall out.

Later, I asked them about the "real" engagement ring. I knew that there was a diamond ring involved somewhere. They said that there were a couple of brothers in their ward (literally, these guys were brothers, not just in the "in the ward" sense) who had gone to Belgium on their missions, and they had decided to start up a diamond business. They had a guy in Belgium who could send them diamonds, and they had a diamond safe in their apartment. My parents went and picked out the stone they wanted (my parents being, like, their third customer ever), and then sent the stone to Salt Lake, to the O.C. Tanner Company, to be set in to a ring.

And the name of the brothers? They were the Wilsons, of Wilson Diamond (as far as I can tell, as prosperous a diamond company as any in the Provo area).

Since the time when my parents became engaged, my family has become much more aware of the issue of how much blood is on the hands of diamond companies, and several of us are just fine with dispensing with the "tradition" of diamond-giving which has been carefully built by advertising; but it is kind of nice to know that we were part of the beginning of a local company.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Oatmeal Pancakes

About all the food these days: I'm trying to finish up a wedding present for my brother and his bride-to-be. Also, if you really mind, you could comment! Or, you could comment anyway, because I love comments.

ON to oatmeal pancakes, which I wrote up a few weeks ago and hadn't gotten around to posting yet.

No thank you, you say. I like regular pancakes quite well enough (or not) without gussying them up with a nearly tasteless food like oatmeal, you say. And I will not stop you from saying it; I have gotten many such reactions from many roommates and other persons who were observing me in the process of oatmeal pancake production, and I am well aware of the futility of trying to talk people out of their right to such a reaction.


I will point out that many-- definitely more than half-- of the people who have had the "meh" reaction to the idea of oatmeal pancakes have actually liked the pancakes themselves, enough that they expressed interest in my making them again. I will point out that a fair number of those persons have asked for the recipe at some point. I will point out that I, myself, being without my little cookbook with all of my handwritten recipes in it for several months, finally just got around to figuring out the recipe again, because I needed it that much.

This recipe meets all of my basic requirements for a really good recipe: cheap, nourishing/healthy, reasonably high on the deliciousness scale, and pretty fast to make. It is also fairly environmentally friendly, if you care about that sort of thing. I have lived on this recipe for-- ok, it probably won't help my cause to admit how long at a time this has constituted a major part of my diet, but I will say that it's a poor graduate student's best friend. Also, when I would get those rare phone calls from my sister-with-five-children, saying that they had a family member who needed to go to the emergency room, and could I come watch everyone else for a few hours? I would always whip up a quadruple batch of these to take along to the house (to be cooked once I got there), and they were always well-received.

The following is a "one person" batch. I find that it works for a couple of meals for me, or a meal for me and one other person, sometimes with leftovers.

The Recipe:

  • 3/4 c. oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 c. milk

Let these soak for half an hour.

{Mom asked me: do you have to soak them? And I said, when I tried it without the soaking time, at the beginning of the frying process the batter was too liquid, so I added more flour, and then by the time I was cooking the last pancake, a lot more of the liquid had been absorbed by the dry oatmeal and the batter was not liquid enough. So I soak my oatmeal now.}

You can mix the dry ingredients at the same time as the oatmeal (I usually do this), and that will mean that when it comes time to cook them, you just combine the contents of the two bowls, and then add your egg and your oil, and you are set to go. I sometimes put the oatmeal on the night before, and then breakfast is lovely-easy.

Dry Ingredients
  • 1 c. flour (you can substitute whole wheat for white for all of this without too much consequence, though I prefer half and half, because it gives a little lighter texture)
  • 1/2 T sugar
  • 1/2 T baking powder (Heh, heh, almost spelled that "baking power;" be sure to reduce this to 1 t in high altitude regions)
  • 1/4 t salt

Last of the wet ingredients:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 T oil (or, of course, melted polysaturated fat product of your choice)

Mix well, but don't overmix. I like to crack the egg into a separate bowl before dumping it in the main bowl. I do this to make sure that I don't inadvertently let in any shell bits; it's also really nice to be able to beat the egg in its own space, because then I know there aren't going to be large glommy bits of egg which are not evenly distributed through the batter. Not that it's the end of the world if that happens; but I think I sort of overbeat the batter when I forget to beat my egg separately first.

I also never over-explain anything. Nor do I indulge in sarcasm.

Fry 'em up! They're delicious! (Especially hot off the griddle.)


Being poor, and also having various undesirable reactions to milk products, so that I often end up using the more expensive soymilk, I have discovered by trial and error that you can replace up to about half of the milk with water; more than that, and the texture of the batter gets funny-- the pancakes stop holding together very well, and that is difficult on the flipping side of things.

If you want to use already-cooked oatmeal (and I suspect that this may be the original form of this recipe; there is almost no other edible use for cold, already-cooked oatmeal) then cut the milk/water in half (so, for this size of batch, use half a cup); and then use one whole cup of cooked oatmeal per batch. You can fudge on the amounts here, especially if you are good at eyeballing the consistency of the batter. The upshot of this is that if you are REALLY craving oatmeal pancakes (and trust me, sometimes I do), and you have pancake mix on hand, then you can just mix up a batch of pancake mix and then add wet oatmeal until the consistency looks right. Doesn't that sound nice? (But it really is, once the pancakes have finished cooking.)

Egg substitution-- this could, and probably should, be a posting all its own, but who wants to read an entire post about that? Anyway, I have a bro-in-law who is allergic to eggs, SO here is what works: a tablespoon of cornstarch per egg, if you are just trying to replace its binding power. I have also used garbonzo bean powder with some success (1 T per replaced egg, plus maybe a third of a cup of water); I don't care for the taste, personally, but my younger sister and her children prefer it to the regular kind. I use GB powder on the theory that the egg also gives some protein, which I will want to replace. Using the same logic, I have also used the GB powder to substitute for soymilk, on occasion; if I remember right, about 1 T per cup of water made the texture come out OK when I was out of soymilk on a Sunday or whatever.

Oh, yes, and there is also the Classic Mayo Replacement for when you aren't allergic to but just out of eggs, but I try to avoid that one, since I think it tastes funny. I'd put in about 2 T of Mayo per missing egg, personally, because even though you aren't replacing the whole egg, it will get the job done and keep your pancakes from tasting just too much like pasta salad.

Funny/ Cross Cultural Recipe-Related Story:
I'm not quite sure what it is about me and cultural differences, but so far in my life I tend not to find as many as I am expecting. Is it just that I expect the rest of the world to be exotically different, and they are only mildly different? Is it the McDonald's effect, wherein everything really is how I expect it, because my country's culture has taken over everyone else's? Or is it that I just put things down to different personalities or in other ways don't notice them, when they are really cultural differences? Possibly it's a combination of all three. In Germany, I found the food to be, um, pretty normal. Some of it was darn fantastic, and I collected a couple of recipes, but the Ferrars and I did a great job of not shocking each other over food issues.

When it came to pancakes, however, it was different! I was really craving them about three weeks in, so I tried to make them. When I asked for baking powder (which, by the way, is "Backpulver" in German, in case you ever need to know), Elinor gave me a funny look. "You put baking powder? in something you cook on top of the stove?!" I was able to assure her that while there are plenty of idiosyncratic things about me which may not apply to all Americans, there is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of my countrymen are familiar with the concept of baking powder being used for pancakes. Which are cooked in a skillet, on top of a stove.

Ta-da! Genuine cultural difference! I was so proud.

Since I didn't have the recipe with me and also I hear that European flour is quite different from what I'm used to, my results that time round were not spectacular, but at least I got a good story out of it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beauty as a Gift of the Spirit

I have been thinking about this for a while.

I used to pray that I would be beautiful.

I believe that my prayers were answered (in the affirmative).

I am the same height that I used to be. I am, come to think of it, about seven pounds heavier than I used to be. I don't spend a whole lot more time, effort, or worry than I used to. In fact, I spend a LOT less worry on it.

I am thinking about how that happened. Part of it is that I kept my eyes peeled: what do I think is beautiful? (I still do this.) Part of it is that I developed a wonderful friendship with a best friend who was utterly confident of her own fashion sense, and who was willing to share some of her knowledge with me. Part of it was being careful about what I buy: I only get things that I feel really pretty in. I am a pain to shop with, because I am darn picky. But that means that I don't have to worry about whether or not I'm going to wear my "ugly shirt" today, because I don't have any of those, and I feel that it's worth a lot more effort at the store (which I don't go to that often anyway) and a lot less in the morning when I'm getting dressed.

Part of it is that I realized that a certain amount of being beautiful is confidence. Confidence that you are as good as other people, confidence that you are worth talking to, confidence that you have done your best to look your best on a given day. And all this, despite having current pimples, many scars from past pimple wars, a chin I don't like, and a figure that doesn't always fit tidily in to store-bought clothes (which, I keep telling myself, no one has anyway).

But there is also confidence in the fact that most people are so self-absorbed that they aren't going to notice me anyway, and confidence that as I do my best to bring out the best in them, it wouldn't really matter if I looked like Gollum; they would think I was wonderful, and they might even think I was pretty. And despite the fact that I have just insulted the rest of the human race by calling them self-absorbed, the fact of the matter is that self-absorbed is exactly what I am on those days when I am not able to pull myself together enough to get out of my own shell, and I am always deeply grateful to the people around me who are willing and able to help me out.

I realize that not everyone feels this way about beauty. I realize that there will always be biddy-gossips who walk around judging the rest of the world as too fat, too saggy, too wrinkly, too dark or too light. I don't like that fact, but it is a fact. I do feel, however, that the beauty I contribute to the world-- yes, with my physical appearance, but also in every other way I have to contribute it-- is my gift to them, and they can take it or leave it as they please. It was God's gift to me first, and I choose to pass it on, and the ungracious receiver hurts only herself.

I am always looking for God in others. I am looking for the mark of the master's hand, the miracle which is the human being He created. OK, well, maybe I am not ALWAYS looking, but it is one of my major goals in life, a goal which I always have even when I forget it for a brief while. I find human minds to be amazing and spectacular and beautiful, even when their owners think that they are insignificant and not worth being interested in. I think that this is not an uncommon trait in teachers, and even for people who are not teachers, it is not difficult to imagine a person who is intersted in others in this way. Could we not begin doing this with our physical bodies? Not to say: oh, yes, you are perfect, no more work to be done! But to say: Wow! that's an amazing machine you've got there! Even to smile, to walk, to breathe, are spectacular and incredible and not insignificant.

I think we can do this, but it seems, lately, like the cultural pressure to do the opposite (to notice only the disgusting and broken parts of ourselves) is getting more intense. But we can do it-- can't we?