Sunday, July 28, 2013

Our week

What We’re Reading: The Gruffalo

A few months ago, Ezra hoped to check out a book from his classroom library. He had read it earlier in the week, but couldn’t find it to take home. “It’s about a mean buffalo,” he said as we searched the shelves.

A few days later he found it. The book was not about a buffalo, but a gruffalo. “A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?” you ask.

Like the fox, the owl and the snake in The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, Ezra, Amanda and I have discovered this monstrous creature with “terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws” that lives in “the deep, dark wood.” Rather than flee from the beast like the woodland creatures, we have welcomed the Gruffalo into our lives, and have reread this book many, many times over the last six months.

Last weekend we went camping. Once Ezra looked around and realized we were in the forest, he immediately realized he was in the perfect setting to stage his own production of The Gruffalo. He cast us in our roles, gave stage directions, and fed us our lines. Ezra starred as the mouse, the protagonist who eventually comes face to face with the fantastical creature he fabricates.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Old Fashioned Raspberry Jam

Ezra picked raspberries with his Grandpa Harold and Grandma Sandy last weekend from their vines. We debated for a couple days what we should do with the berries. Harold and Sandy suggested baking a pie. Ezra wanted to freeze them for smoothies. Sorbet? Syrup?

We decided to make jam. Garry found a recipe for Old Fashioned Raspberry Jam. Rather than using pectin, this jam relies on cooking the fruit and sugar until it gels. We were curious since we’ve never tried making jam this way before. Could we do it right? We also liked that the recipe uses less sugar than one with pectin.

It worked! We used 4 cups of crushed raspberries and didn’t need to mash the berries over heat in step 2. Using crushed berries produced a jam with just the right amount of sweetness. We used the spoon test to see when the jam had gelled and found we needed to boil the jam longer, approximately 20 minutes, though perhaps we were just being cautious. At the end, we skipped processing in a boiling water bath and just stuck it in the fridge instead to enjoy over the next few weeks.

It’s quite delicious, vibrant and beautiful. Visit us and sample it!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Like an animal

“I’m not Ezra. I’m a wolf. Ahwooooooooo!” He leaves our house a three-year old boy, but by the time Ezra reaches preschool he has transformed into a pre-teen wolf. This is harmless play, especially since we declined his requests to hold his head out the car window, but whenever Ezra exhibits dog-like behaviors I flashback to my early parenting mistakes. Did my difficult transition from pet owner to parent have long-term side effects?

In reality, I know Ezra wasn’t damaged by the few times I accidently referred to him as a puppy. He, like all children, loves pretending to be cats, dogs, horses, frogs, and dinosaurs. Imagining oneself as an animal is as natural to a child as pretending to be a mom or fireman. Though we like to pretend otherwise, humans are animals. Children display, as well as bring out in their parents, similar instincts, urges, and behaviors as most other mammals. Relating to animals is pretty effortless. This is probably why children don’t pretend to be plants. Have you ever heard a child on a playground yell, “Look, ma, I’m a ficus”?

Sometimes Ezra pretends to be a wolf, and other times he just reminds me of one. Wolves and dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared with Homo sapien’s six million. Dogs, depending on their breed, can smell 10,000 to 100,000 more acutely than us. James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who contributed to the study that discovered these figures, points out that, "If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well." And, that’s a breed with the weakest sense of smell.

Not surprisingly, dogs utilize this amazing sense of smell to learn about the world and identify each other. Ezra, like our dog Piper, relies on his nose to recognize people. My sister and brother-in-law gave us a couple of upholstered chairs from their home. The first few times Ezra walked by their chairs, he tilted his head in the air. Sniff, sniff. “I smell Effie and Josh, are they here?” He catches a whiff of a particular scented lotion or perfume in a store and begins searching for his grandma like a hound tracking a fox.

The smell Ezra associates with me is far different than the sweet, botanical fragrance of my mom. I sometimes run from my office to Ezra’s daycare. After running a few miles, mostly uphill on a late afternoon, I am pretty sweaty. Last week, Ezra and I greeted each other. He then lovingly commented, “you smell like Garry.” He has made this statement a few times, and I was reminded of the Jonathan Ames essay Father Smells Bests in his book What’s Not to Love?.

when [my son] was a little kid, he loved my smell. When I’d pick him up at the airport, he’d hold my hand and his head would be level with my wrist and he’d always press his nose against my forearm. "You always smell the same," he’d say happily, visit after visit … Then about a year ago, he said to me, "I figured out what that smell is – B.O.!"
Ames’s son “who once sniffed [his dad’s] arm like a lover,” eventually rejects his father’s distinct odor. Like Ames, I often don’t wear deodorant. I know there will come a time when, like Ames’s son, Ezra will probably find this embarrassing. When this happens, I will conform to the acceptable state of smelling less human. This is only fair. I also expect Ezra to behave in an appropriate manner to fit into human society, and expunge his more canine-like tendencies. Our desire to manage and suppress many of our natural tendencies and smells may be what separates us from the other animals.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Conversation with Ezra

The other night, while playing with some toys, Ezra looked up and pointed to my chest.

Ezra: “I used to nurse there when I was a baby and now I don’t.”

Me: “Yes, and Nora nurses and Lincoln will nurse when he’s born.”

Ezra: “And you can nurse them too, Mommy.”

Me: “Oh, I can’t, I don’t have any more milk.”

Ezra: “Why not? Because you don’t drink milk?”

Me: “I made milk when you were little, but now I don’t because you don’t need it. If I had another baby, I would make more milk.”

Ezra: “So if I had a brother or sister, you could nurse.”

Me: “Yes. Do you want a brother or sister?”

Ezra: “No way!”

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hello, Nora

We are happy to welcome our niece and Ezra's cousin, Nora, to our family!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Summer vacation and traditions

"Every summer our family goes to ______________."

This year we hope we filled in that blank, and traveled to a place we plan to visit each summer.
Our simple, little campsite
Amanda and I have been a couple for a long time, but we have not established too many traditions. Doing the same thing every year just did not appeal to us. After Ezra was born Amanda began to think differently. She wanted Ezra to have more consistency than we craved. She also pointed out that planning annual events would be much easier if a few of the variables remained constant rather than always starting from scratch.

Though initially reluctant, I now agree. My childhood had many more family traditions than Amanda’s, and I fondly remember looking forward to these yearly rituals. I found comfort in knowing certain foods would always appear at a holiday, specific customs would help us celebrate our birthdays, and we would always return to the same location for our summer vacation. I did not find the predictability of these traditions boring. Knowing what was going to happen added to my anticipation and excitement.

This trip was about establishing tradition. I think we made a great start, but we also hope that not everything about this year’s vacation becomes a repeat occurrence. Particularly, traveling in utter chaos. Here is a list of what not to do when traveling to your summer destination:

  1. Instead of using a map, GPS, or even stopping to ask for directions along the way, just quickly glance at Google map directions several days before leaving and feel confident that you will eventually make it to where you want to be. You will, but it will take twice as long. On the plus side: We found a delicious and fun local pizza place for dinner that let us draw on the table, and according to Ezra, had the world’s best chocolate milk.
  2. Only decide to take the vacation a few weeks prior to leaving, and leave immediately after hosting a large event out of town so that you do not have any time to plan. On the plus side: Since we had not planned an itinerary our vacation was extremely low key and relaxing with plenty of time to explore and discover.
  3. Ignore weather reports and assume it will never rain even though you are camping. Who wants to pack rain gear? It takes up so much room. On the plus side: The rain gave us time to explore the two touristy cities adjacent to our campsite.
  4.  Insert your debit card in the cash slot at a toll booth. On the plus side: A toll booth is a wonderful place to rest for a half hour while waiting for a worker to come retrieve your card. 
Okay, that last part is a stretch, but our vacation often felt like an exercise in finding the good in less than ideal circumstances. Mastering this ability is really a great tool to leading a happy life and surviving parenting young children. When is a better time to practice this than on vacation? Maybe part of our yearly tradition should be to use our vacation as a time for self-improvement.

Our week: Vacation photos