Monday, May 18, 2015

Spring Cleaning 2015

This morning begins the 2015 Cleaning/Purging Frenzy. It's going to be epic. There is so much in this house right now that just needs to go. So, I'm curious. What is your Spring Cleaning method? Do you have a method? Do you do one big clean at some point throughout the year and then let everything go to hell in between (guilty)?

Here's my typical plan (because I am a college teacher and generally have my time in the summer at my disposal, I can do this. It would be harder if you work 9-5 five days a week; you'd have to break it up on the weekends or in the evenings).

  • I only tackle one room per day. If I try to do more, even if I finish early, I get lazy, and I don't do as thorough of a job as I should (especially purging). This is my plan for the next few weeks: 
    • Tuesday: Living room; Wednesday: Dining Room; Thursday: Kitchen (then, Memorial Day weekend off); Tuesday: Playroom; Wednesday: Office; Thursday: Our Room; Friday: Maggie's Room; Saturday: Sophie's Room; Monday: Basement; Tuesday: Garage; Rest of the week: Outdoors. That schedule will have me wrapping up right as Maggie is finishing school. 
  • As I tackle each room, I start in one corner and work my way around (that way, I'm working methodically through the room). Again, I do this so I don't get overwhelmed and dart around the room like a ping-pong ball. I move all of the furniture and sweep underneath, wipe all furniture down, throw out any randomness (papers, etc.), and try to reorganize. Final step: I sweep and scrub the floors. This method also has me only spending about 3-4 hours cleaning per day, so I can then devote time to beginning other summer work projects (or the pool, whichever seems like the better option that day;)). 
I love the feeling of a clean, organized house. Too bad about that little thing called entropy. Wish me luck!! A/J

Friday, May 8, 2015

Summer Bucket List 2015

I just found out this morning that my summer class, which would have run for 2 hours on MWF from this coming Monday into mid-June, was cancelled. I suddenly have the feeling of a gigantic ocean of time opening up before me. One that I can swim around in. Having time is such an indulgence (if only I had the extra money to go along with the extra time; I guess the Rolling Stones were right after all).

So, what do I plan to do? Well, lots of things. Here's my Summer Bucket List.

1. Read the following books: Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis, Bad Feminist, So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It EnduresBorn with Teeth, Girl in a Band, Zelda (I'm starting there; I'm sure I'll add more).
2. Re-read the Harry Potter series with my oldest daughter and watch all of the movies. Again.
3. Prep for my new classes coming up in the Fall.
4. Write my essay on Carroll's influence on Bishop and Plath and wrap my other book project.
5. Remodel the kitchen (paint the walls and either get new counters/paint the old ones - I'm over the 1970s turquoise).
6. Clean out my home office so that I can actually walk through it/sit in it. Oh, and work in it, I guess;).
7. Spend almost every evening at the pool.
8. Refurbish the wicker couch I inherited and reupholster the French antique chairs. And the bench. Have I mentioned that I have never reupholstered anything?
9. Clean out my closet, getting rid of every article of clothing that makes me feel like a stuffed sausage.
10. Relax on the porch. Regularly.
11. Take a Ducky tour of Pittsburgh.
12. Eat at Pho Van in the Strip.
13. Take the kids to Sandcastle for the first time.
14. Paint the book spines on the basement steps.
15. Let the kids run around in fountains in the "Big City." Free entertainment.
16. Bike ride and swim at Ohiopyle. Teach Sophie to ride a bike first. And how to read.
17. Sip wine at the Summit Inn while watching the sun set on the hills beyond the mountain.
18. Eat Pamela's Pancakes.
19. Have my kids think magical toy fairies came and rid them of excess toyage in the playroom.
20. Dig my toes into the sand.

That's not too many things, right;)? Oh, summer, how I love you. A/J

Feel free to steal this printable and write in your own ideas. I love doing one with the kids with the things they want to do. They love crossing things off as we go:). 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Spring "Pho"ward

Good morning, friends! It's been a while. But the sun is shining. And I'm beginning to feel more like myself as spring settles on the hills. Lots of life changes from February to now that threw my world into something of a tizzy, but I hope to be back on a regular basis as summer arrives.

Yesterday, I should have been doing a lot of logistical tasks around the house. Instead, I made my version of a healthy Spring Pho (one of my favorite soups) and painted pottery. We all need mental health days, yes? Here's the delicious recipe for the soup. And our "expertly" painted crafts.

Healthy Chicken Pho
Healthy Spring Pho
Spring Pho

What you need: (to make enough for six generous servings)

Two boxes of chicken stock (I like Rachel Ray's brand)
2 cups of beef stock
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of either soy sauce or fish sauce (The fish sauce I had was dated "Best Used by Feb. 2013." I decided not to chance it.)
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
6 garlic cloves (I throw mine in whole)
1 1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced small
1 package of chicken tenderloins, chopped into small cubes (seasoned with Lemon Pepper seasoning)
1 package of sobu or udon noodles
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
Handful of parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of cilantro, chopped or torn
Alfalfa sprouts
Green Onions, diced
Lime, quartered

What you do:
1. About two hours before you want to eat, combine the broth, spices, ginger (essentially, the first 8 ingredients) in a large stock pot (or dutch oven). Allow the broth to simmer over medium-low heat until it reduces some and the flavors meld.
2. As the broth nears completion, stir-fry the chicken in a large pan, using coconut oil to coat the pan before tossing in the chicken.
3. Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to the package directions. I cooked mine a little under time because I like a toothsome noodle.  Also, prepare the toppings (the cilantro, alfalfa sprouts, green onions, limes).
4. Just before serving the soup, stir in the tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (I like the bite it gives the soup) and the parsley for a fresher flavor.
5. Layer the soup accordingly to serve: noodles on the bottom, then the chicken, then the broth, then any of the toppings you want. Serve with the lime wedges on the side (the lime juice really makes the broth sing).
6. Enjoy!! My kids loved this soup. Which made my heart happy, because I love Pho so much. They have turned up their noses at this soup every other time I made it. Last night, we finally had a breakthrough LOL.

It was $89 for the three of us at the place at the mall (certainly a lot more expensive than I remember pottery painting being)!! Still, it was fun. And I now have a $30 pencil holder for my desk at my new job (more on that soon). 
See you again soon. I promise. Much love, A/J

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lemon-Kale Turkey Meatballs

One of the things my kids love to eat, and that I can sneak healthy superfoods into, is meatballs. They especially love Lemon-Kale Turkey Meatballs (they even know there is kale in them nowadays, which I consider a win; I'll be sneaking some kale into the chicken soup I'm going to make for lunch to test them out).

This past Saturday, I hit on the best recipe yet, so I thought I'd share it with you. Enjoy! A/J

Lemon-Kale Turkey Meatballs (Makes about 12 Meatballs)

What you'll need:
1 package ground turkey
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
1 lemon
1 cup finely chopped kale
1 small onion (peeled and grated into the mixing bowl to catch the onion juice)
2 tablespoons pizza sauce (save the rest to make mini-pizzas for lunch one day:))
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup egg whites
4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan
1 tablespoon of the liquid from the Pepperoncini jar (optional, but you should totally add it:))
Salt and pepper

What you'll do:
1. Heat the olive or coconut oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the zest and juice of one lemon and the kale, onion, pizza sauce, breadcrumbs, egg whites, garlic, paprika, shredded Parmesan, Pepperoncini juice, and a few cracks each of sea salt and black pepper.
3. Add the turkey and combine with hands. Don't overwork it. Just hand-mix it until the ingredients are evenly combined.
4. Form the mixture into medium-sized meatballs, and place the meatballs in the pan. Don't overcrowd them. Brown on all sides.
5. Transfer to a cookie sheet lined with either a Silpat or a cookie cooling rack (if you want a crisper meatball with less oil).
6. Bake in oven for about 15-20 minutes until the meatballs are fully cooked (no pink).
7. Eat:)). With loved little ones.

My latest other trick is to get Sophie to think she's competing in MasterChef Junior (she loves that show). Here she is making the salad, cutting up red peppers with her cheese spreader:). She eats whatever she makes, including the leaves. Win-win!! Less work for me, and a more adventurous eater. PS, don't mind the mess. We're busy 'round here:).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why I will NOT be making my daughter's Valentine's Day Box ...

Back when I was in the sixth grade, many, many years ago, we had this bug project we were supposed to do for my science class. Basically, the directions asked us to go out into our backyards, collect a bunch of bugs, and then pin said bugs to a Styrofoam board alongside little tags that stated their family, genus, species ... whatever. Now, I was really grossed out by said bug project, so I played the "poor me" card, and my Mom and Dad did a great deal of the project for me. Down to finding a Praying Mantis and pinning it to my board for bonus points (I'm pretty sure that's against the rules of the universe these days, but they meant well).

You know what I remember that I learned doing this project? Nothing. Except maybe the fact that I got my parents to do it for me. I do remember my Dad sitting at the dining room table surrounded by Mason jars filled with chloroformed bugs while I stood idly by, twiddling my thumbs. Watching.

Fast forward about 30 years. Everyday, for about the last week, my Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and tumblr feeds have been filled with Valentine's Day boxes that look like they were created by Martha Stewart on steroids on speed. Now, I know for a fact that when a kid makes a Valentine's Day box, it sure as hell doesn't look like it was crafted by the Real Simple Art Department (see below).

Too many things these days have become a competition in which we, as parents, take the reins from our kids. We make tricked-out party treats/art-projects/cards/gifts/book reports/room-decorations/playroom-displays inspired by the latest pins. Everything has to look perfect. Like it fell out of the Pottery Barn Kids' Catalog.

But here's the thing. In doing that, we don't allow our kids to try and fail, to be proud of something they constructed with their own hands, to experience the joy that is struggling with and constructing something they imagined, to create their own creative spaces. As a college teacher, I can see the dangerous side effects of this; I have encountered more than a few young adults whose parents have done so much for them throughout their childhood and adolescent years that they find it difficult to think creatively on their own.

So, here's what I'm doing. I'm giving my kid a box. I'm putting a bunch of art stuff on the dining room table on top of a layer of newspaper. And I'm letting her go to town. I'll help her if she needs help, but I'll be the one standing idly by, twiddling my thumbs. Watching.

Kids need to learn how to do things on their own. Even when it comes to something as simple as the Valentine's Day Box. (PS Mom and Dad, I still want to say thanks for doing that bug project. That was just disgusting;).) A/J

Valentines Day Kids

Monday, February 9, 2015

To die would be an awfully big adventure: Some Thoughts on Peter Pan

In the play Peter Pan, at the end of Act III, the boy who refuses to grow up finds himself lingering on Marooner's Rock, the place where traitors or enemies are sent, hogtied, to die a slow death, drowning slowly with the incoming tide. Peter, the waters rising slowly over his own ankles, contemplates his mortality and finds himself "afraid at last." "With a drum beating in his breast as if he were a real boy," he utters the following words to a moonlit lagoon: "To die will be an awfully big adventure."

Peter Pan is a play largely about our fear of mortality. Peter's utterance above amounts to my whistling into the void as I descend the basement stairs, flicking on the lights to ward off my welling fear of darkness. Here's the thing about Peter Pan: he's a rather treacherous figure. A riddle. A conundrum. In one sense he represents the fantastic appeal of eternal childhood.  "I'm youth, I'm joy, I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg," he crows. But on the other hand, he represents the immoral refusal to face facts; in turning toward eternal childhood, he refuses to live, to grow as a person, to claim any kind of meaningful identity beyond the Dionysian boy lording it over his own creations in the ephemeral space of Never Land. Everything in Never Land is a figment of Peter's imagination, an extension of himself. More importantly, he controls what happens. That's why Wendy entering Never Land is so disastrous. He can't control her desire for him, not entirely. She doesn't fit the island's contours. It's shape is not her shape. It's the shape of a heart with a piece missing (quite literally, take a second look).

Peter's fear of death almost forces him to live. Almost. But, in the end, he decides not to live in order not to die. And not to live in order never to love. Consider these perplexing stage directions that close the play, after Wendy gets on her broomstick and wends her way home:
In a sort of way he understands what she means by 'Yes, I know' [in response to Peter's refusal to allow her to touch him], but in most sorts of ways he doesn't. It has something to do with the riddle of his being. If he could get the hang of the thing his cry might become 'To live would be an awfully big adventure!' but he can never get the hang of it, and so no one is as gay as he. 
"The thing" here, from my perspective, is touch. To touch Wendy would mean that Peter would have to grow up, to become a lover of this girl who desires him so much, to become her husband and generate his own offspring. Peter can't live because he refuses to love someone other than himself, he can't live because he can't be human.

Peter Pan, to me, is a play about failure. Peter isn't something or someone to be celebrated, his ecstatic ship sailing across the sky to the strains of "You can fly, you can fly, you can FLYYY!!" as in Disney's version of the play. For Barrie, in the end, Peter has no memory, no identity, no power outside of his playworld. And he's an egotist. And, perhaps worst of all, at the end of the play, he is utterly alone. Marooned in Never Land in a state of perpetual non-existence.

So live. And love. It's an awfully big adventure. ~Alice

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Let's have a little chat about what "Cinderella" really means ...

This past month, in two of my three classes, we have been studying the "original" versions of different fairy tales (I say "original" with my tongue firmly in my cheek; anyone who studies fairy tales knows that they are constantly evolving and changing based on the culture that is telling them). Anyhow, I asked my students to write about the tales before they came into class to discuss them, and I was once again struck, as I am every time I do this exercise, by how much students want to stick to the messages they have learned to associate with these stories, even when the words that are directly in front of them on the page contradict what they recall.

Let's take "Cinderella," for example. I had them read Charles Perrault's version of the tale after an extensive discussion the class prior about several different versions of "Little Red Riding Hood" and how the messages purveyed by each specific tale related directly to the culture out of which that particular version had evolved. Still, I got lots of papers that asserted that "Cinderella" is a real "rags to riches" story in which the family's lowly housemaid "pulls herself up by her bootstraps" in order to become a princess; that the "charm" that Cinderella has is that she's such a kind person and that's why she ascends in her social position by the end.


Arthur Rackham Cinderella
Arthur Rackham's Cinderella

Let's stick with the Perrault version that was in our particular text and examine it (the tale even varies translation to translation, depending on what the translator focuses on). First of all, in this version (as in many others), Cinderella is not just a lowly housemaid. She is an aristocratic young girl, the daughter of a gentleman, who has been knocked out of her rightful place in the social order by a stepmother who seems a little nervous about her and her biological daughters place in the household. The tale has a lot to do with how blood will win out, how you can't try to rearrange the social order. She may look like the housemaid, but she's not.

Second, she doesn't "pull herself up by her bootstraps." Her fairy godmother gives her all kinds of cool stuff to make her more desirable, i.e. "charming." The fact that the Prince is supposedly so in love with her he would die without her, but he can't even remember what she looks like is most telling. I mean, shouldn't he remember her face? Why does it all come down to whether a shoe fits or not?

My point here is that part of becoming a responsible citizen, a thinking person, is to question the world around you (I've been thinking a lot about this since it came up in a really thoughtful faculty coffee I attended the other day). To turn over the stones and look underneath them at the things squirming around underneath. What my students wanted to stick to was an American Cinderella, a girl whose tale reflects the American Dream. Not the girl they were actually reading about on the page. They didn't really want to contend with the real messages squiggling around in that glass slipper. A/J