Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Happy Pączki Day!

Can't believe it has been a whole year since the last time we ate Pączki.

Poetry Break

by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
Again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and the pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

“February” by Margaret Atwood, from Morning in the Burned House. © Houghton Mifflin, 1996. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Snow...So Far

It's only mid-February, so I'm sure there's more to come (and in fact, it has been falling all day while we've been cozy inside). But here's a bit of the snow (and the brief bit of melted snow and the coldest skate park visit ever!) we've had so far this winter.

In contrast to our usual videos, in which I drown out all of our own voices and noise with music, this is the real winter soundscape of our lives. Mostly this means wind.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


January, in which a lot of hats were knitted, an accordion was repaired, a food blog celebrated its first anniversary, a dear friend celebrated his 13th birthday, instruments were played, a lot of desserts were made, the sun shone enough for skateboarding, the snow snowed enough for sledding, and Max advanced to blue belt.

Friday, February 13, 2015


Okay, a bit belated, but things have been hopping. December was our usual festive month. We spent at least a week of it being sick, which caused us to miss a couple of fun planned events, but looking back now, I see we managed to fill it with lots of good stuff, despite all that.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Boys in Blue

Max has been taking karate at Thousand Waves Martial Arts Center since September. It is really a wonderful place, very welcoming and supportive and peaceful. This weekend was the advancement test for the youth and teens, a 2-hour test on Saturday afternoon.

It was Max's first color belt, which means he moved from advanced white belt to a blue belt. There were also advancements from blue to advanced blue, from advanced blue to yellow, from yellow to advanced yellow, from advanced yellow to green, from green to advanced green, from advanced green to brown, and from brown to advanced brown. Each belt has different requirements, and they were tested on those requirements in unison with other kids at the same level. There were about 45 kids participating—apparently the largest group that they have ever had testing all at once. A lot of kids, a lot of levels. It was really amazing to watch, and it was an emotional ceremony when they awarded the belts.

Max ended up front and center for the test, which seems like the most nerve-wracking position to be in, since he was sort of leading the group, and the more experienced people are all behind him. It was very organized how they lined everyone up, from most experienced in the back, each line a different rank of belt (usually in class the experienced people are in front of you or beside you, so you can follow their lead). The two founders sat directly in front of them, watching the entire group and calling out corrections as necessary, and there was a whole panel of teachers and other black belts watching everyone as well and also helping with the test when needed.

There are several different parts of the test, and at each level, the less advanced rank peels off so that the more advanced groups continue with the more advanced moves, and then everyone is brought out again for the next part. They've obviously been doing this for years and have it down to a very precise routine. It is really wonderful to see.

But Max did a great job. We are so happy for him, and he was so proud of himself, as he should be.

The moment they snap the belt open above your head is the moment you officially move to that belt status. It's really wonderful to hear all the belts snap in unison and to watch all the kids receive them from their teachers.

Meanwhile, we have another little boy blue...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

There Will Be Love Wherever You Go

Our dear friend Ruben celebrated his 13th birthday over the weekend. We have known Ruben since he and Max were both only 3, so it has almost been 10 years. Otto doesn't even remember a time when we didn't know Ruben and Sita (his sister).

Their mom, Barrie, was the person who first introduced us to the ideas of Radical Unschooling. We were already unschooling, or at least we thought that we were, but it wasn't until Barrie sent me a list of a bunch of different unschooling groups to join that I started to get the idea of unschooling in all aspects of our lives, not just in the educational part of it. We then vacationed with Barrie and Ruben and Sita and really saw this sort of life in action. And then, again at Barrie's encouragement, we attended our first unschooling conference, and we met dozens of parents and children who were in all stages of living this sort of life, we attended talks where it was explained even further, and we saw teens who had grown up being unschooled (we were completely sold upon meeting those amazing, inspiring, interesting, kind kids), and well, then we really got it and completely embraced it.

So I feel like their family has been along with us for so much of this ride, and we can truly thank them for pointing us in the right direction in the first place, and for being such an amazing example of radical unschooling for all of these years. And now we have our own amazing, inspiring, interesting teens.

Ruben has always been older than his years, so in some ways it feels like he is well past 13. I remember that even when he was barely more than a toddler, it was Ruben who would call to ask for a playdate with the boys. He was always a good communicator, and he is a really good listener. He remembers almost everything you ever tell him, even little details.

Over the years, the boys have discovered they have more and more in common, and their friendship has really grown in the last couple of years. They have always shared an interest in experiencing the world—traveling in the traditional sense, as in going to other cities or countries, but also just in traveling as much as possible in their very own city and experiencing all there is to offer. Ruben got really into geocaching last year, and the boys and I joined him on many of those excursions. It was a way to get to know more areas of the city, and to make fun little side trips out of a routine errand. I love watching them all consult a map and decide where they want to go—in our city, or in the whole world.

They all started skateboarding this summer, taking classes and going to their first skate parks together and checking out skateboard shops and just hanging out in the park. It was so cool to see this passion grow for all of them, and really wonderful to see them getting more confident in their skateboarding.

And this fall, six years after Ruben first suggested it, Max started karate. Ruben became a black belt more than a year ago, but he still takes (and teaches) classes and and is regularly at the dojo, where the boys now often meet up.

All three boys play music (Max on the banjo, Otto on the mandolin, and Ruben on the ukulele), and have been heard busking on a sunny day or two in Lincoln Square. They also enjoy just listening to music (lots of bonding over shared favorite bands).

They love eating out and started their own food blog, which has been a big part of their last year together. They have talked about someday opening up their own food truck. They attended a cooking camp together last summer and then took a series of cooking classes together, but we have almost more fun just cooking and baking together at our house.

The days just hanging out at our house have been some of our favorites, with the boys trying out all sorts of things together, from arts/crafts projects to making animations to making silly music videos or just playing Mario Kart or hanging out in the back yard with the chickens.

Once when Ruben was visiting, he was strumming his ukulele with the chords that I recognized as a Noah and the Whale song. When I asked him if that was what he was playing, he looked confused. But then I played him the song, and it turned out that it was just a coincidence, it was a simple chord progression he had learned in class. It was simple enough, though, that he immediately played along to the whole thing, and Max joined in. Now all three boys play the song together, and it has become a regular in their lineup. When I was looking for a song for his video, this seemed the obvious choice—because of that history, but also because I like the idea that we really don't know where this friendship (or any friendship) will go in five or ten years, but at least we know that they are all having a really good time together now.

Another note about the video: the opening scene is from that shared vacation we took with Barrie, Ruben in Sita in 2006. Ruben was telling his mom about a bunch of plans he had for when he was a teenager, which included going to Osco and Walgreens and the piñata store in his neighborhood. Barrie answered back, very sincerely, "we don't ever have to stop going to the piñata store." If I wasn't already smitten with them, I certainly was after that exchange. I made a mental note then that if we still knew them when he was a teenager, I would make them a video with that clip in it. And here we are. And here it is.

I am pretty confident that theses boys are still going to know each other in five years, maybe even in twenty-five years. I would love to think they have made a life-long friend with Ruben. But whatever happens in the future, we have really enjoyed these last ten years with Ruben and are so happy to know him.

Happy thirteenth birthday, Ruben!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Extremely Thankful...

for all of these people.

We had a nice Thanksgiving weekend with my parents and brother here in Chicago. My parents arrived on Wednesday in time to walk with us (in the cold!) to pick up our pies from Bang Bang Pie Shop. (And to have a biscuit while we were there.)

We ate lots of yummy things while they were here, many of them from Smitten Kitchen, my favorite food blog and cookbook.

For instance, cranberry orange breakfast buns. We ate this on Thursday morning while we waited for David to arrive.

Martin consulted Mark Bittman to spatchcock our turkey. This was our first time doing it this way, and it was really easy and just as quick as promised (45 minutes!), but I will say that some of the ceremony of roasting a big bird and having to wait 4 hours while it bakes was sort of lost. As Otto pointed out, it sort of just felt like a regular dinner, not like the usual more celebratory meal. That was also due in part to the fact that we didn't even have to start dinner until so late in the day that it all felt a bit off. We also got involved in a board game instead of all hanging out together in the kitchen all day (and then we had to break up the board game halfway through in order to have dinner).

But anyway, here's Martin and the turkey.

Butternut squash and caramelized onion tart. Delicious! This was probably our favorite part of the whole meal, and it was just the appetizer. We ate it around 3, which left us not all that hungry for the usual feast.

And a beautiful sweet potato roast, which is actually the only Smitten Kitchen recipe I have EVER made that I did not LOVE. It was good, but it wasn't Thanksgiving.

Cranberry sauce, also using a Smitten Kitchen recipe.


A toast to family.


On Friday, we took the train downtown to see the David Bowie at the MCA. It was an excellent show, just as everybody says. It took us almost 3 hours to go through it (not the 90 minutes that the museum said it might take), so everyone was exhausted at the end, but it is not to be missed. So good that we might even go back.

In line, almost ready to enter.

We had a pretty low-key Saturday, mostly just hanging around the neighborhood. We took a walk to Palmer Square and then to Logan Square to City Lit Bookstore.

Martin made all sorts of amazing cocktails all weekend long. We had a Sazerac on Thanksgiving Day, since it is the oldest American cocktail. We had Stanley Cocktails, in recognition of my dear and departed Uncle Stanley, and we had Negronis. Martin picked up some fancy cherries (Bada Bing), which we tried to put in as many drinks as possible.

On Sunday, we took David to Logan Hardware to peruse the music selection and so he could show us how amazing he is at old school games.

Yep. That's his high score on PacMan.

It was a nice and quite weekend and we are extremely thankful to have family we not only choose to hang out with, but actually really like being with. We are really lucky.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

RU Fun

We are so lucky to have such a wonderful bunch of people who gathered to have a fun weekend together on Salt Spring Island in BC (and even luckier that our friends Gillian, Craig, Fergus and Effie organized and masterminded it all and included us in the festivities). Most of the families are more local, so the only lament about it at all that we had was that we made even more friends from the Pacific Northwest and Canada who we will hardly have an opportunity to see. But we soaked up all the time with them that we could and had such a lovely long weekend.

Ferry to Salt Spring Island.

At the lake.

Paddle boat.

Dock wave.

Game boys.

Jam session.

Hanging out with some of my favorite people.

The game maker, ring leader, master of ceremonies, mastermind.

We gathered on the beach one afternoon, just as the sun broke out.

Some people took the polar plunge. Some people stood on the shore and cheered them on.

Warming up in the hot tub, post plunge.

Trick or treating.

 Final night fire, complete with s'mores, sparklers and Jiffy Pop.

Some of our crew, just before final goodbyes.

Back on the ferry, heading home (or at least to Fergus and Effie's).

Almost Always Hungry