Monday, March 24, 2014

Ann Arbor Epiphanies

Jake and I made our way to Ann Arbor last week to explore our for-the-next-two-years hometown, find a place to live, and check out nursery schools. I had the whole trip outlined on an Excel spreadsheet (what, you don't carry your schedule, apartment office phone numbers, and comparative rent prices on your person?), but I was thrilled to have experiences I couldn't quantify. Like:

Zingerman's lives up to the hype. (That above is a Sherman's Sure Choice from the Deli, but we also visited the Roadhouse twice and had amazing dinner and breakfast foods. Zingerman's Roadhouse also offers refills on mashed potatoes and sweet potato fries. So.)

2. You can get from anywhere to anywhere in 4-10 minutes. The no-traffic thing is pretty great, though the roads are utter crap right now after their terrible winter.

Midcentury modern advertising is alive and well and living in Michigan.

4. "It's hard to park in downtown" means something different to people who haven't lived in the DC area for 15 years. We had no problem finding parking in downtown Ann Arbor.

Grocery stores sell wine and beer! And the one just around the corner from our apartment (by the way, we have an apartment!) has a "Build a Six-Pack" program, with a fantastic display of local beers! Also, both Flying Dog and Dogfish Head distribute in Michigan, which means we get two more years before moving to The Land of No MD/DE Beers, aka Missouri.

6. Ethnic foods abound in college towns! We ate sushi in a restaurant full of Japanese people, so you know it was good.

Fairy Doors really are a Thing! I found two of them on our brief trip: we randomly passed by the one set in the front door of The Ark (pictured on the left), and I sought out the one at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea (pictured on the right) while we were waiting to be seated at a brewpub across the street. They're awesome. Two down, five to go!

8. Marriage Equality passed while we were there! We immediately saw a car with tin cans attached to the bumper. In real life!

There is no shortage of fantastic places to get fantastic drinks in Ann Arbor. Besides the three (?) brewpubs within spitting distance of each other, there are also great wine and cocktail lists. The above is an Ill Fashioned at The Ravens Club.

10. There are bookstores. Honest to god bookstores with books made out of paper. While walking up Main Street, Jake and I counted three used bookstores within two blocks of each other, as well as two stores for new books. I can.not.wait. to go to there.

While making these epiphanies, we also had time to find an apartment in an awesome location, and toured three nursery schools...which we've narrowed down to two. It's a hard decision, but I'm sure whichever choice we make will be the right one. I'm crazy-nervous to move, but also crazy-excited. This was a good visit.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Finding One's Place

We have a spreadsheet all ready. An itinerary of apartments and townhouses we're going to look at when we visit Ann Arbor, with some nursery schools thrown in for good measure. I think we have a nice variety of places, which I guess it has to be because we kind of have to find Our Home for the Next Two Years on this visit.

It's a bit nerve-wracking, you know? We've been scouring Craigslist,, and rental-realtor websites, trying to find a place within specific parameters: 2+ bedrooms, 2+ bathrooms, a specific budget, a specific distance from where Jake is going to work. But we won't know for sure what we like until we're there. And whatever we end up choosing, it has to be on this list. Eek!

I'm excited to visit Ann Arbor, excited to get my first look at our new town, excited to find a place to make home. I'm excited to figure out where we'll fit in, how to organize our things (though not at all excited about getting them packed up), excited to have new walls, new windows, and maybe just maybe a new fireplace and/or outside space.

Jake got me To Your Tastea decorating book, for my birthday. It was the perfect present: full of ideas about finding a stylistic voice and creating a home, without being prescriptive, telling the reader what to buy, or what a room should look like. I'm really enjoying reading it.

One of the first things Celerie Kemble says in the book, before talking about color or style, before discussing the ways in which you actually use your house is, "Show me where you were and I will help you figure out who you are." The places that were important to us as children dictate our styles now, whether the impulse is to copy or veer away from them. That made so much sense to me, since some of the things I'm looking for in a space--whether rented or bought--are:

  1. A fireplace, picture window, big backyard, and oak trees nearby (like the house I grew up in)
  2. Built-in shelves and big bright accents (like my Grandma Lo's house, whose kitchen wallpaper was very nearly Marimekko)
  3. Beautifully organized tchotchkes and furniture that are a wonderfully chaotic mix of mid-century modern, kitschy old-world, and gorgeously-crafted wood (like my Grandma Florence's house)
It all doubly-clicked for me when I thought about my most recent dramaturgical process, Orlando, based on a book which at it's core is about a woman and a house. Virginia Woolf wrote Orlando to celebrate her lover's life, which was inextricably linked to the house she grew up in.

So I'm going into this apartment/condo/townhouse search with a couple of it-would-be-nice-to-haves from my past, knowing that while the place we find might not be perfect, it'll be an awesome opportunity to start figuring out how to really make a Place a Home. And who knows, we might find someplace we do fall in love with, a place with promise and potential for the next two years. I'm excited to explore!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Food Friday: Birthday Hamantaschen!

It's my birthday! Since I work Sunday-Thursday, I get to have a super-chill day. I woke up late--The Kid kindly let me sleep until 7:30--spent some time in the kitchen, went to the local diner for birthday pancakes, and now I'm chilling out watching An Idiot Abroad while The Kid sleeps on the couch.

(This child, who hasn't napped for four days, insisted for 45 minutes that he wasn't sleepy while I insisted he just spend some rest time in his room so I could take a shower. After 45 minutes, I let him come out to hang with me in the living room, and he promptly fell asleep on the couch. I'm letting him be.)

Tonight, we'll carry on our grand birthday tradition: I got to ask Jake to cook me anything I want for my birthday, and I'm getting flank steak, broccoli rabe, and three-cheese polenta. He and The Kid baked me a cake last night, and I can. not. wait to chow down!

This weekend is also Purim, and since baking is one of my favorite things to do with The Kid, we made hamantaschen this morning: apricot, blueberry, and Nutella. Here's my Mini Chef putting the ingredients together for the apricot filling:

Don't worry, the oven's not on.

I'm not going to duplicate the hamantaschen recipe here, because I hardly deviated at all from The Shiksa's wonderful procedure (other than the Mini Chef helping me measure, stir, dump, and knead, then leaving me to fill and fold).


The Kid dressed up as a chef for yesterday's Purim Parade at his school (natch), and we decided that in order to make his costume more holiday-appropriate, we'd make some paper hamantaschen to put in his pocket. "Recipe" for paper hamantaschen (a cute and easy holiday craft) after the jump!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tipple Tuesday: Birthdays!

This week, I'm celebrating theatre birthdays! March 10: Jasmine Guy. March 11: Dorothy Gish and John Barrowman (Captain Jack!). March 12: Edward Albee. March 13: William H Macy. March 14: ME!

I love birthdays, especially birthday food. Our little family tradition, going back ten whole years, is that the celebrant gets to ask his/her partner to cook whatever s/he wants. I almost always ask Jake to make me three-cheese polenta, and it's usually accompanied by some sort of lamb something. Last year, Jake switched his choice from his usual request of mini-gyros with yogurt sauce (I'd made it five years in a row), but he still had chocolate ganache cupcakes.

Tonight, The Kid told me that he and Jake are going to make me a cake, which I'm super-excited about. I can't wait to see what comes out of the oven! Is it wrong that I kind of want to ask for Rainbow Brite decorations? (Is that a unanimous yes?)

I'm turning 34, so no fanfare. But! I thought I'd take the opportunity to make myself a decadent but un-fancy cocktail. So I mixed up a concoction I'm calling an Amaretto Phosphate. You should have one this week to celebrate. And if that includes celebrating me, I'm not going to argue with you!

Amaretto Phosphate

Amaretto (I made mine using Shutterbean's recipe, and it is fab)
Vanilla ice cream (I used Haagen-Dasz)
Cold soda water

Makes one drink

Put two ounces Amaretto in a tall drinking glass (or a highball glass if you have one). Add two scoops Vanilla ice cream. Top with soda water until the glass is full and foam just goes over the edge of the glass. Enjoy!

(Since I'm doing the birthday-week-thing, I enjoyed mine with a brownie The Kid and I made on Friday. It was made with whole wheat flour, so it was, like, totally good for me.)

On Bad Guys

The other day in class, my K-1 students sat in a circle to create a story. We went around the circle, each student building on what the others had shared, until we reached "The End." (I side-coached, of course, so every student got to go exactly twice.) If a student ended a phrase by saying "and," "but," or "then," or terminating a sentence, it was the next student's turn to go. All I gave them was "Once upon a time, there was a girl with a balloon."

It was going amazingly well. Everyone was listening to everyone else, the story was taking silly but logical turns, and no one was randomly yelling "ELEPHANT!" (I swear, that happens more often than you'd think.) One student set the story into action by introducing an owl character, another student added, "The owl said, 'Come here!'" and a third gave us, "The girl realized it was a trick." Awesome, we've got a real story going, I thought.

Until the student who introduced the owl said, "No, it's a good owl!" and wouldn't let it go. Over and over she insisted that the owl was a good guy, that she couldn't play a trick, that she couldn't be in league with the witch another student made up. Until I had to side-coach one of the students, "How can we make the owl good now?"

I talked to Owl-Girl's mom after class, and let her know that we're working on building stories as an ensemble, and that she needs to accept what other students bring to the table, even if it's not an idea she's totally into. Her mom told me that when they play at home, she leads the characters they create towards being nice. "Can't the dragon be nice?" she asks. And "Let's make the princess nice."

I shared with her the same thing I told my class: a story without a conflict (and in children's literature, that often translates to a story without a clear-cut bad guy) is totally boring. I paraphrased a Little Golden Book from the 1950s that The Kid absolutely loves: Once upon a time, there was a guy with a tow truck. He loved driving his tow truck. He waved to his friends when he drove the tow truck. He gave some farm animals a ride and they had fun. He returned them to the farm, waved goodbye, and drove away. The End. Holy hell, that's boring! No conflict at all. The farmer looks a bit perturbed when the dump truck driver takes his animals, but that's it. If he had chased them even a little, that would have been more exciting. But nope. Nothin'. The guy drives the truck, the animals have a great time, and that's it.

I do understand the impulse toward nice stories as a parent, don't get me wrong. This week, I've been telling The Kid the story of Purim, and completely white-washing over the parts where Ahasuerus divorces Vashti because she won't dance naked for his drunk friends (go, sister!), where he finds Esther in a beauty pageant (she's more than her good looks, you know), where Haman wants to kill the Jews ("He says not-nice things about Jewish people, can you believe it?"), and where Haman gets hanged with his wife and nine sons (he gets...fired...from the palace). I'm trying to reconcile what I know to be true about storytelling with my impulse to show my son that the world can be a good place. And it's tough.

Every story--I teach my students--has a beginning, a middle, and an end, a problem, and a solution. And more often than not, the problem is presented by a "bad guy." A witch tries to track Dorothy down for her silver slippers; Mr. McGregor tries to protect his garden from greedy bunnies (yes, I sometimes skip over the "he wants to skin them and turn them into soup" part, but I'm working on that); Captain Hook goes after the boys who won't grow up. And our heroes triumph. There's no triumph without conflict!

All I can do is try to impart that to my students and my Kid. That there is bad in the world, but (usually) good triumphs. Beginning, middle, end, and conflict. Storytelling.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Food Friday: Most Important Meal of the Day

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, I thought I'd post about the breakfasts I've been eating recently. goes!

I suck at eating breakfast. It is definitely not one of my strengths. I recognize how important it is: when I do eat breakfast, I tend not to snack at my desk--Sour Patch Kids are my current nemesis because I can pretend I'm eating fruit--and I definitely feel more energized throughout the day. Which is really important when you're teaching creative drama to 4-7 year-olds.

But I just can't stand to eat when I'm not hungry. It makes me feel gross, even though I know it's going to make me feel great body, mind, and spirit in the long run. So, unless there's something super-delicious (which is usually saved for special occasions), or I'm eating later in the morning (which isn't always an inexpensive option on a workday), I just haven't ever been able to make breakfast a priority.

Jake is a breakfast-eater, and sends me gentle verbal messages reminding me that if I want to keep up my energy during the day, it would probably be best to eat something. And even The Kid has started to nag me (adorably), "Mama, you eat breakfast this morning?" So, recently I've started being mindful about eating in the morning, using the two methods that I know work for me: eating something delicious, and eating later in the morning.

This snowy Monday morning, I decided to make a treat for the family: Cheater Donuts with maple glaze (and donut holes covered in cinnamon-sugar). And when I came across this post from The Kitchn about make-ahead breakfasts, I knew I had found my eating-later-in-the-morning-for-cheap-and-easy soulmate. Neither of these breakfasts takes a long time at all to make, and they've been satisfying me this week. And at least one of them is good for you! (Guess which.)

Recipes after the jump.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tipple Tuesday: It's Cold Out There, but It's Warm in Here

Man, it's cold out there! We had a beautiful snowy day yesterday, and as I type this, it's nine degrees outside. Maybe that's Mother Nature's way of preparing us for the move to Ann Arbor...'Cause the world and its weather totally revolves around me.

We spent a chunk of the afternoon yesterday playing Snow Plow: The Kid brought his snowplow, dump truck, and front loader outside and proceeded to plow our building's turnabout. Such is the life of a city kid, and he had a blast! Even though it was super-fun, I can't help but wait until we have a green space of our own to build snowmen, make angels, and throw snowballs.

We have a couple of parks within walking distance, but a few of the sidewalks are nearly impossible after a snowstorm, especially with a stroller. I don't know whose job it is to shovel, but whomever it is, they're not pulling their weight; after the last snow, I remarked that it was National Stay at Home if You Use a Stroller or Wheelchair Day. Urban living definitely has its upsides (I can see Gymboree from our window, and we have a choice of walking to restaurants of varying ethnicities and quality every night) but I want a garden--in which The Kid wants to plant broccoli, carrots, and mashed potatoes--and Jake wants nothing more than to grill.

But that's warm weather stuff, and I digress.

After The Kid's bedtime, it was time for a warming grownup drink! I'd been toying around with heated drinks for a while, and this one really hit the spot. I hope you enjoy it.

Recipe for The Apple Cheek after the jump!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Reading List from Fort Peggin

What's a blanket fort for, if not to read vast quantities of books?

And for good measure, here's a bonus picture of the Literary Cat in the fort: