Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Today, we celebrate the birthday of one of our favorite book character! Harry Potter did not have many happy birthdays growing up, so we like to celebrate in his honor to make up for that lack...
"Monday. This reminded Harry of something. If it was Monday -- and you could count on Dudley to know the days of the week, because of television -- then tomorrow, Tuesday, was Harry's eleventh birthday. Of course, his birthdays were never exactly fun -- last year, the Dursleys had given him a coat hanger and a pair of Uncle Vernon's old socks. Still, you weren't eleven every day."
--Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Chapter 3: "The Letters from No One"

"The Dursleys hadn't even remembered that today happened to be Harry's twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn't been high; they'd never given him a real present, let alone a cake -- but to ignore it completely...
At that moment, Uncle Vernon cleared his throat importantly and said, "Now, as we all know, today is a very important day."
Harry looked up, hardly daring to believe it.
"This could very well be the day I make the biggest deal of my career," said Uncle Vernon.
Harry went back to his toast."
--Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 1: "The Worst Birthday"

"...Harry got back into bed and reached up to cross off another day on the chart he'd made himself, counting down the days left until his return to Hogwarts. Then he took off his glasses and lay down, eyes open, facing his three birthday cards.
Extremely unusual though he was, at that moment Harry Potter felt just like everyone else -- glad, for the first time in his life, that it was his birthday."
--Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 1: "Owl Post"
Harry Potter fans love a reason to party! There is no shortage of fabulous HP party ideas online. A new book released? Let's celebrate! A new movie coming out? Get out your robes and wands! Squeeze some pumpkin juice! Drink some butterbeer!

We're celebrating simply today. First, we read all the birthday parts in the first three books. And then we made chocolate cauldron cakes!

Chocolate Cauldron Cakes

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa, sifted
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp vinegar
2 cups water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients, and add to dry. Don't overmix. Grease your cupcake pan well -- don't use liners! -- and fill the cups 2/3 full. Bake for 14 minutes.

Gently slide a butter knife around the sides of each cupcake. Let them cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Turn each cake round side down onto a cooling rack, and press them level. Let cool completely before frosting.

Cauldron Glaze Potion

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1Tbs milk (more if necessary)
2 tsp corn syrup

When the cauldrons are cool, drizzle a teaspoon of potion onto the flat part of the cauldron, leaving a small amount of cake edge for the rim.

Let set -- and sing "Happy Birthday" to Harry!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Home again, home again

This week, in between catching up on laundry and, um... blogging, I've been working on my garden plans for the next year.

Our growing season begins in late February. In general, cool season veggies can be started indoors in January, and need to finish by May. Warm season veggies go in the ground in March, and need to finish by July. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are about all that can survive the late summer heat.

The second growing season actually starts indoors in August. By October it's safe to put another round of cool season veggies in the ground, as long as they'll be finished before December, or don't mind a little January frost.

I'm hoping for green beans at Thanksgiving! This was the second year they didn't do too well in the spring season, so maybe fall will be better.

I actually found an organic nursery and seed company that will ship tomato plants in August! This is awesome, because I haven't been able to babysit my own seedlings while in and out of town, and I'm thinking of ripping out the sad-looking tomato plants still hanging on.

The self-seeded cherry tomato was covered in fruit when we got home, but it looks terribly dry and gangly. Last year my tomato plants survived all summer into December, still producing like crazy. Even after the first frost, I had ripening tomatoes hiding underneath, protected by the bushy leaves!

While I've been obsessed with my garden plans, the boys have continued to protect us from further zombie attacks, taken refuge from the heat in our pool, and done a little backyard nature study.

It's nice to be home, looking after my garden, even there aren't any French pastries around.

SF souvenirs: The good, the bad, and the ugly zombies

Even the most frugal and green travellers come home with a souvenir or two. We left San Francisco with lots of great memories, and a few atypical souvenirs.

First, the boys discovered a new love for my sister's favorite video game. In between exploring the city and swinging from the ceiling, they spent a fair amount of time on the computers in her office/loft playing Plants vs. Zombies.

It's the kind of ridiculously silly strategy and puzzle game that even a mom might enjoy -- a mom who likes to garden and imagines that her children are studying Herbology and Defense Against the Dark Arts while they're playing.

Second... when we stopped by our car on Sunday morning, I found two paperback books on the windshield. Someone had read my "Mama's milk: The best things in life are free" and "Peace on Earth begins with birth" bumper stickers, and decided to donate a couple breastfeeding and parenting books to the cause!

Since I'm no longer teaching childbirth and breastfeeding classes, I will have to find the right person to pass along the books. I could give them to our local La Leche League, but I may just have a little giveaway next week in honor of World Breastfeeding Week... stay tuned!

Then, as we were leaving that night, we noticed something else on our car. Something not quite as friendly. Perhaps from someone who's not so fond of homebirthing, breastfeeding, homeschoolers? Someone who hates children? I have no idea.

In any case, our final souvenir was a dent the size of a large shoe in the driver's side door.

Must have been made by a zombie. Next time I'll have my triple-pea shooter handy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

San Francisco: Movement

My sister Lindsay is a dancer, choreographer and videographer (among other things). Last weekend we stayed with her in the live/work space she shares with her fellow artists and performers in San Francisco.

The studio was clear for most of the weekend, which meant the boys had plenty of room to move and dance and play, which they do so naturally.

When the sun came out, we left the studio and meandered up the hill to the neighborhood park for yet more movement. I spun the boys so fast they both flew off the merry-go-round. I guess that's why I don't see those much anymore, huh?

I'm afraid I have a lot to learn from my kids on the subject of movement, since my main interest was in consuming twice as many calories as our walking burned.

We stopped by a French boulangerie for a bagful of pastries on our way to the park. Or maybe the bakery was the true destination, and the park merely a beautiful setting for our consumption.

Either way, the day was inspirational.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences

On Saturday, we headed to Golden State Park to visit the California Academy of Sciences. The academy houses a planetarium, an aquarium, a natural history museum and a 4-story rainforest under one brand-new, solar panel-rimmed, sustainable living roof.

The aquarium is in the very dark basement level of the building, where the sensitive systems of deep sea creatures are protected from too much light. Flash photography is prohibited, of course, but I attempted to capture what I could.

A weedy seadragon...

Blueberry jellyfish...

Some pretty mushrooms and corals...

Carnivorous plants, our favorite...

A giant octopus, normally very shy, graced us with a closeup view of itself. It came all the way down the glass to my sister's hand.

After that, we were ready to get out of the crowded lower level and find some fresh air in the gardens outside. We ate our picnic lunch, and the boys ran down the hills, of course.

After lunch, we headed back in to see the Natural History exhibits.

We were behind a huge crowd watching the penguins in their ice habitat when the fire alarm went off!

The entire museum had to be evacuated, so we headed over to a playground inside the park to wait out the evacuation. When we went back, the crowds had thinned significantly, which made it much easier to navigate the exhibits.

We weren't unfamiliar with snakes to start with, but we learned even more from a herpatology talk.

After the snake show, Scott and Lindsay took the big boys to see "Fragile Planet" in the planetarium, while I took Littlest to the little kids' play area. He was quite happy to run around in his socks, doing puzzles, climbing in the tree house and on the schooner, and with the dinosaur Legos.

It was a lot of museum to cover in one day -- we didn't see the rainforest at all. I'd love to go back on a weekday, when we could go slowly and observe everything without the crowds. It was still worth it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

SF: Friday night: Exploring the City

We're back from San Francisco! I took 339 photos in 48 hours -- it's going to take me all week to share them with you! (I promise I won't really post all 339.)

We arrived at my sister's late Friday afternoon, took a tour of her apartment/studio, and hopped on the muni bus to see some city!

Three Twins Organic Ice Cream Shop was having a free ice cream night in support of Friends of the Urban Forest -- so that was our first stop. Dessert first, of course!

Then we found a nice, kid-friendly pub for dinner...

I had a lovely organic lettuce salad with my eggplant parmesan. We must have passed five organic markets on our way to the pub. Evidence of the city's eco-consciousness was everywhere.

San Francisco weather is mild and damp, so I should not have been surprised to see the beautiful work of urban gardeners in every nook and cranny along the streets. We found a community garden with a waiting list reaching back to 2004!

I couldn't stop snapping photos...

Street art...

The boys just loved running down the sloping sidewalks...

Come back for more tomorrow!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer T-ball for Middlest

(This post was supposed to run last weekend, but I forgot. ;)

Our first ever T-ball season ended last weekend. Five weeks of weekly practices and Saturday morning games. Five weeks of cheering on my Middlest son, keeping his royal blue shirt clean, seeing his happy, freckled face under a baseball cap.

My middle son has always been on the athletic side. But he preferred less directed activities: bike riding, rollerskating, skateboarding, swimming. I knew he's want to play a team sport eventually, and this May he announced he wanted to play baseball. Not just at the park with friends. On a team.

All the local baseball leagues had been in session for a month, and he was a year too young for most of them. But I managed to find a T-ball session for ages 5 to 7 (he's 6 1/2).

This was our first organized team sport experience, and I have to say, it was a good one. Not perfect, of course, but good. T-ball is non-competitive, so that helped. And June was on the cool side for these parts.

So, for five weeks, we packed up our water bottles, granola bars, a bag of dinosaurs for Littlest, our picnic blanket, my knitting and my camera, and enjoyed some summer morning sunshine on the ball field.

Doesn't get much better than that. Next summer... baseball, here we come!

Friday, July 24, 2009

And, we're off again!

We've been home for four days, just long enough to...
  • Wash 12 loads of camping and cat pee laundry.
  • Attend to innumerable spats between cranky boys who didn't sleep well during the weekend-long frat party at the campsite next to us.
  • Clean the chicken coop.
  • Harvest Indian popcorn, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, and arugula, and dig up all my potato plants to find not a single potato.
  • Bake two loaves of zucchini bread and five dozen pumpkin cookies.
  • Pick up new books and books on CD at the library.
  • Renew our AAA membership and pick up maps to San Francisco.
  • Repack!
And now we're off on another adventure!

We're visiting my sister for the first time since she moved to San Francisco four years ago. It'll be so nice to finally see where she's been living and working -- and to meet her boyfriend of the past year! We'll spend Saturday at the California Academy of Sciences, and squeeze in as much other fun as we can. I'll be back with pictures!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wonder-filled weekend

We are back... from our tent-camping, hot dog-roasting, beach-combing, bird-watching, tree-climbing, Scrabble-playing, fire-burning, wonder-full weekend!

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