Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Virtues of the Grandparents

Last night we were talking about this and that, and Papa mentioned that when he was working at Davis, in California (before he got married), his boss had a mother-in-law who was addicted to gambling. Then he said, "Well, she wasn't the only one... I remember one night when he [the boss] and some other guys offered to take me down to the 'cat patch;' I told them that in our religion, we would consider it to be better to lose our life than to lose our virtue, and they said that they guessed that they had better not take me."

In a world where frequently religious people, and even (especially in the past) non-religious folks have held a double-standard of virtue for men and women, I deeply appreciated his commitment, long before he met my mother, to being pure for her. This is the first time I have heard this story about Papa, but it reminded me of a story he has told me a couple of times before about his dad [story redacted because I just told him I posted it and he just told me that I was getting him mixed up with his dad. Grngh. I never forget things! That's Papa's job! Oh, well. I shall write up the alternate story he suggested at some other time.]

And THAT reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother the other day-- again, a story I had never heard before. She said that the reason why she had never cheated in school was because of the stories her dad had told her about navigators during WWII who had cheated their way through navigator school and then died. The part she did not say, because we both know it so well, is that Grandpa got a distinguished flying cross because he most certainly did not cheat his way through navigator school, and in fact knew his job so well that he was able to do it under truly trying circumstances. The other part she didn't say, because we both know, is that one of the few things Grandpa was willing to say about his WWII experience is that he stopped making friends, because you'd make friends with a guy at breakfast and he'd be dead by dinner. I am guessing that he didn't look too kindly on those who made this sort of thing more likely to happen.

Which in turn reminded me of the times I have been tempted to study on Sundays-- not that I'm saying it's a terrible thing to study on Sundays, but... my mother, Nana to the neeflings, has told me more than once that she got all the way through her PhD without ever studying on a Sunday. I decided to try it. It isn't that I had been studying on Sundays and stopped, but I had wondered if there would come a point when I just had to because I had so much work to do. I guess you could say that I decided to keep the commandment in faith-- not doing it out of habit, but to see if there were any blessings I might catch by doing so. I have never regretted that decision. I now have a Bachelor's degree and a Graduate Certificate (which is to a Master's sort of as an Associate's degree is to a Bachelor's), and what vestiges of sanity I have left after all that school were definitely preserved by having a day off every week. And on a more serious note: I honestly believe that my ability to retain and process information has been greatly enhanced, both by my Sunday-rest-keeping habits and by my scripture study habits. Maybe it's just that a rested brain is less likely to be sieve-like; I'm not really sure of the mechanism; but it is a family tradition which I have every intention of carrying on.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Very Abbreviated List of my Favorite (Board) Books

Maria Tatar asked some time back for a list of peoples' top ten picture books. After brainstorming, I found that my list was more than half board books. So, I filled out the rest of the list with board books and decided to do other kinds of books later.

  • Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas, by Nick Butterworth
  • Goodnight, Gorilla, by Peggy Rathman
  • almost anything by Helen Oxenbury
  • Dinosaur’s Binkit (and many, many things by Sandra Boynton; any of her later books will be excellent)
  • Gossie (and other books in this series), by Olivier Dunrea
  • Mole and the Baby Bird, by Marjorie Newman
  • Max's Bedtime, by Rosemary Wells
  • Freight Train, by Donald Crews
  • Piggies, by Don and Audrey Wood (as well as many of their other books, most of which are not sold as board books)
  • the Maisy books, by Lucy Cousins

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Now We Can Do Story Problems In Our Head*

Sparker (my 7-year-old penguinnephew) recently learned to make his own oatmeal. The other morning, he was taking forever at it; he just kept staring into the measuring cup drawer. Finally, he asked where the one-sixth-cup measuring cup was. He had already put in one third of a cup of whatever it was, and what he needed was one-half cup, so he was looking for the one-sixth cup measure to fill out his amount.

*You know, kind of like A.A. Milne's "Now We Are Six"?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bibliotards In Good Company

I remember once when my brother-in-law, Mr. Weathercolour, announced that he had found a word for "people like us."  "It combines Greek and Latin roots," he said, apologetically.

"People like us?"

"People who check out way too many library books and then turn them in late and rack up huge library fines. We're bibliotards."

And, unfortunately, I can't really deny that that title is pretty apt for me. You know you are an unusual patron when the librarian is shocked that you aren't shocked at the size of your library fine.

One friend was telling me the other day that during a recent discussion with her children, they offered to give up their allowances if that would allow the family finances to stretch so that they could get in to a bigger house-- but she had to inform them that reducing the amount they paid monthly in library fines would actually help more. (Though, this story could also-- correctly-- be read as a commentary on how small said allowances are more than how large the library fines are.)

Several years after that initial "bibliotard" conversation with Mr. Weathercolour, I was lamenting a huge (seemingly un-pay-able, at the time) library fine to my bishop at the time (since I'm a Latter-Day-Saint, this means that my interlocutor was a leader of a local congregation, somewhat like a pastor, rather than of anything larger). In response, he told me this wonderful story about when he was living in a little teeny town in Michigan, decades earlier-- before the library had become computerized. Under the Old Regime, your library card was a 3x5 card with your name on the top and the titles of the books you had checked out running down the long side of the card, with their due dates next to them. You crossed out the title of a book once it was returned. On one occasion, when he went to check out a book, the fierce-as-a-dragon-little-old-lady-librarian said, "You see this?!?" She was pointing to his card, which had, at that point, racked up a sizable fine. "I'm not going to check anything out to you until you pay that fine!"

His wife's response was, "Good for her! Someone needs to stand up to you!"

So he sheepishly paid the fine.

And then, several months later (we all joke about this happening, but you knew that it actually had to have happened somewhere, at some time, right? ("we" meaning bibliotards, of course)) the library was going through its records and sending out invitations to a black-tie dinner being held for people who had contributed over a certain amount to the fund for the new library, and guess who got an invite to the fancy dinner? With his wife, of course.

And now-- I'm sure you've seen the article, but just in case you hadn't, I had to post it-- now I believe we've been officially joined by the most illustrious member of the club yet. George Washington himself failed to return a couple of books to the New York Public Library within his lifetime, though one of them has recently been returned by the nice people now running his estate. (What this second article does not make clear is whether the book returned was the one originally checked out, or just the same edition of the same title. I'll let you know if I find out.) I will say, if they'd been raising funds for a library addition, I might have rooted for them to hold out for the $300,000 fine to be paid-- it could have been an excellent start for such a fundraiser-- and then again, in New York, maybe it wouldn't have paid for more than an extra couple of square feet anyway.

French-Style Green Beans

All I can say is that I have paid exorbitant amounts of money per pound for green beans, just so that I could have these. They're worth at least a try, is what I say.

1 lb.* green beans
1 oz. butter**
1 medium onion

Put a pot of water on to boil that is big enough to hold the beans and a plate (if you decide to do the plate part.)

Chop the onion fine, and put it on to fry, with the butter, on "low." Put a lid on the pan, and raise it now and again to make sure that the onions aren't getting done too much in one spot as compared to the others. If they are, stir them with a spatula or a wooden spoon.

Rinse the beans, then cut off their tops and tails. Dump them in the boiling water. If you want to, put a plate over them (I've actually only done this step once, but the beans were, indeed yummier when I did); I must say that that tongs are pretty helpful for getting the plate out when the time comes. Boil the beans for 8-10 minutes. When the beans are done, strain out the water and then put the beans back in the pan and toss them over dry heat.

The onions are done when they are light brown. Serve the beans on a plate with the onions on top-- or, if you want, to the side (this is so that everyone can get their fair share of onion topping-- it can sort of clump, otherwise--but at any rate, going without topping is NOT done. Or at least, not in my family).

*I almost always estimate all of the amounts for this recipe. It's pretty forgiving.

**If you are concerned about the butter, you can indeed substitute oil, but if you can have any butter at all, I would add a little in at the end for flavoring-- it really adds a lot to the recipe.

I got this recipe from The Complete Illustrated Step-By-Step Cookbook, which was compiled by Judith Ferguson and published in 1989 and is my Favorite Cookbook Of All Time (so far), but I'll talk about that later.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When Bad Things Happen to... People. Just People.

Most of the stuff I post is pretty child-friendly, but: the last article is PG. Just so you know.(And the note about the note: already I have feedback that there is nothing too shocking about that article. My personal rating system goes something like this: if I wouldn't want to have to explain something to a kid without at least a little warning ahead of time, I think a thing is PG.)

I'm always so interested in what happens to the regular people who end up being caught in conflict zones. I am well aware that each side will paint the other in black-and-white terms, but that the reality is much more complicated than that. A couple of BBC articles have illustrated this for me recently.

In the first, we learn of a Palestinian man who works to build those illegal Jewish Settlements in the (occupied) West Bank. We know that everyone but a few radical Israelis acknowledge that the settlements are illegal and need to be disbanded before a peace agreement can be reached, right? However, this man has a large family, and he cares more about feeding them than about the broader political implications of his work. What really caught me, though, was what the Israeli construction manager said about using Palestinian labor: "Even if they weren't so cheap, we'd still want to use them because they work so hard."

Here's the article:

There was also an article yesterday about a Palestinian lady who would just like to be allowed to return to her childhood home, please. She doesn't care if Israelis live there; she'd just like to live there, too.

Another article from yesterday was about a woman from Vietnam who had been the subject of an iconic photograph. The woman had been badly injured, as a child, during the Vietnam war. It was interesting to me that she was used by the Vietnamese government to show how horrible the Americans were (it was an American attack that hurt her), but she didn't want the attention, and ran away from it, literally, more than once. She wanted to be a Just Plain Person, rather than the woman who was once the girl who had been in that photograph. Unfortunately for her, the press (from all over) kept tracking her down. In the end, she decided that she could do something else with all that famous-ness. "[She] establish[ed] the Kim Phuc Foundation, which provides medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Peach Cake Filling

WARNING: Under normal circumstances, I try to share only recipes which I have tried time and again under varying circumstances, and which I know are winners for the crowd I cook for. That is not the case with this recipe. I have cooked it exactly once, and that time was on Mother's Day. I am posting it because Mrs. Weathercolour asked me to share it with her, and I felt that a) blogging it was an efficient means of getting it to her, and b) if anyone else wants to try it and give me feedback (it is so rich that we won't be doing it too often around here, so it may take a long time to perfect) I would be very pleased.

1 29-oz can sliced peaches in syrup
about* 1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 c. vanilla sugar
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. almond extract (yes, this is almost the limit of how much it can take)
2 T butter
Dump the peaches into a saucepan. Combine the sugar and the salt with the cornstarch, and mix it well enough that the cornstarch won't be lumpy after you add it to the peaches. Then add the sugar mixture to the peaches. Cook all this, stirring "constantly" (meaning, just like lemon meringue pie filling and white sauce, you can get away with neglecting it for small periods of time, especially if you have a wire whisk on time) until it comes to a boil; let it boil for 1 minute; then take it off the heat. Add the butter and the almond extract, and stir them in. Mine ended up a little soupy, but then I'm not sure I added a full quarter cup of cornstarch. But I'm not completely sure I didn't. *sigh*

The cake I put this on/in was a regular box-mix yellow cake. Nothing too exciting. I baked it in two 8-inch rounds, and put the filling in between the layers, on top, and then spooned a little more on to each slice. I knew I had gotten the balance of flavors just right when it became difficult to stop snitching it. If only I could be sure that I've recreated that mix in the proportions of this recipe. Do please let me know.

*The truth about the measurements is that ALL of them are approximate (even the size of the can of peaches-- I compared to a can upstairs, but I used one from downstairs, which might have been an ounce or so different?), but the cornstarch measurement is particularly approximate.