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Advice for idle parenting

The Idle Parent

Children actually have an inbuilt self-protective sense that we destroy by over-cosseting. They become independent not so much by careful training but in part simply as a result of parental laziness. Last Sunday morning, Victoria and I lay in bed till half past 10 with hangovers. What a result! And the more often you do this, the better, because the children’s resourcefulness will improve, resulting in less nagging, less of that awful “Mum-eeeeeeeh” noise they make. They can play and they will play.

So lying in bed for as long as possible is not the act of an irresponsible parent. It is precisely the opposite: It is good to look after yourself, and it is good to teach the children to fend for themselves. Our offspring will be strong, bold, fearless, much in demand wherever they go! Capable, cheerful, happy. It is also the task of the idle parent to ensure as far as possible that all members of the family are enjoying themselves here and now, in the present moment. There is far too much emphasis on that imprisoning capitalist abstraction “the future.” There is no point in sacrificing pleasurable todays for the promise of more prosperous tomorrows. So stay in that bed as much as you can.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Mon Apr 20, 2009
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M’s new bike

M’s new bike

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

She chose the red one over the white-and-pink one. I hold out hope that perhaps the pink phase might be nearing its end.

Of course, finding a bell that matched the bike’s frame colour was THE most important thing.

We spent some time practicing starts and stops at the school track. She had one swervy sort of crash in which she kind of forgot to steer while trying to shift and brake simultaneously, but she still managed to avoid hitting the major obstacles — Dad, wall, bench — and nothing got hurt but her pride. We dusted her off and reassured her yet again that everybody falls down sometimes and made her get right back on, and of course two minutes later she was just fine.

Zoom! And many thanks to all the grandparents whose birthday and Christmas generosity gave M such a nice present.

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Estonian apple cake, an ongoing saga

Once upon a time I tried to make apple cake from my grandmother’s verbal recipe: “It’s a sweet dough, with yeast and cardamom. Then apples and some sugar and flour on top.” Yeah.

My sister had the rather more practical idea of going over to Vanaema’s place and watching her make it. That sensible approach resulted in this excellent illustrated recipe, which involves kneading the dough by hand.

Since I had visiting parents who wouldn’t mind being guinea pigs, since we were making pasha anyway, and since we’d be visiting Vanaema it seemed like a good time to have a whole Estonian-dessert-making extravaganza and try making apple cake again too.

First attempt, I used my grandmother’s method. I suspect I killed the yeast with milk that was a bit too hot. The dough turned into a liquidy gloop which I poured down the drain. I’ll try it again sometime with milk of the appropriate temperature but it still seems like a lot of liquid (1/2 c water, 1 1/2 c milk, 3 eggs) for only 4 cups of flour. I’d be inclined to reduce the amount of milk by at least 1/2 a cup.

Still, the gloop smelled good, so I gave it another try. Second attempt, I cut the liquid and tossed everything in the bread machine on the dough setting.

Then we pressed out the dough and added the apples and topping as per the official recipe. Success!

On the left, my grandmother’s apple cake. On the right, mine. Applecake

The main difference is that hers has a rolled edge on the crust, a feature which means that when choosing pieces from a serving tray one must be virtuous and choose at least SOME pieces for one’s plate that are edge pieces instead of hogging all the best crust-free middle pieces. My aunt once whispered to me that it was possible to make apple cake without the rolled edge, so while doing so reduces one’s opportunities for public gastronomic virtue my helpers and I decided to take the crustless route.

I had also added a bit of cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon to the topping mixture. My grandmother agreed it was good, but not correct. Hers, she says, isn’t totally correct either. My mother tried to open the door to innovation, but Vanaema was having none of it:

Mom: “But surely every Estonian mother makes it slightly different–”
Vanaema: “No.”
Mom: “–puts her own touches on it–”
Vanaema: “No.”

So this isn’t the Platonic-ideal-if-Plato-were-Estonian apple cake. I’m sure somewhere legions of Estonian grandmothers are deeply disapproving of the use of a bread machine for the dough (and the lack of the rolled crust edge, and the continued existence of Russia, and my failure to marry an Estonian, and and and.). But it is good.

Vanaema’s recipe, as recorded and illustrated by my sister.

My dough variation:

In a bread machine, combine:
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp (8g package) yeast
1 1/2 c milk
4 1/2 c flour
2 eggs
1/4 c butter (plus 1 tbsp)
1 tsp ground cardamom

Use the dough setting.

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Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

It’s a blurry little green thing! Actually growing!

There’s always such an unsatisfying lag between planting seeds and any obvious result. These lettuces were planted on Friday — five days ago — and already I was (quite unreasonably) getting all tappy-footed about it.

Now I just have to wait for the basil, lime basil, other lettuces, catnip, lavendar, petunias, nasturtiums, peppers and beans to appear… and then wait another month before the frost risk passes and they can go outside…

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No training wheels

No training wheels

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

I took the training wheels off M’s bike on the weekend. A single three-minute riding attempt that same day produced much fussing and wailing of IT’S IMPOSSIBLE and I’LL NEVER BE ABLE and all that sort of thing, but yesterday fifteen minutes on the school track did the trick. (Unsurprisingly.)

The bike itself is now clearly much too small. It was huge back when we bought it two years ago.

Children. They do grow, if you feed them and stuff.


Today I have been playing with my new toy, which is a birthday present from D & M: one of the teeny-weeny little iPod Shuffles. It is perfect for solving a First-World Problem I was having, which is that my usual iPod Classic is kind of heavy to carry about while exercising and also (if stowed securely) it is hard to manipulate its controls mid-workout. No such issue with this new toy, which has the controls on the headphones.

It looks rather like the monolith from 2001:




It is hard to properly grok the tininess of the thing, but perhaps it’s a context issue: this microscopic thing, this size-of-a-stick-of-chewing-gum thing with no moving parts, has 100x the memory of my first computer. Its Apple-y design yumminess combined with the stick-of-gum resemblance leads me to propose this piece of wisdom for this year:

iPods are not food. Do not eat them.

(edited to add birthday wisdom from previous years: 2006, 2007, 2008)

Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Fri Mar 27, 2009
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So it is.

Quotation of the Day for March 8, 2009

“If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”

– Anatole France.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Fri Mar 20, 2009
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Random advice to at least six cyclists in Chinatown last Thursday


That is all.

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It’s a good thing there aren’t many in a package

For some years now various people who’ve spent time in Australia have been telling me about Tim Tams, which are a sort of chocolate-covered cream-filled cookie.

Tim Tams

It’s not their cookie-ness (although they are fine cookies) that makes people pursue them across oceans, though, it’s what you can do with them. The thing to do is to bite off two opposite corners, dip one into a hot drink, use it as a straw as long as possible and then just at the instant it falls to bits, slurp it into your mouth. This is a Tim Tam Slam.

Since Tim Tams aren’t widely available in Canada I decided I’d avoid them. The last thing I need is another junk-food addiction.

Bailey's CaramelBut recently someone mentioned the specific name of a store which carries Tim Tams, and the other day I ended up walking past it and thought I’d pick some up and give them a try. Melle had mentioned something about melty mouthfuls of chewy caramel, and who can resist that?

And so I offer the following recipe:

Take a mug of hot coffee.
Add 1 oz Bailey’s Caramel and mix well.
Open package of Chewy Caramel Tim Tams.
Perform Tim Tam Slam.
Die happy.

Winter may not last forever after all

No idea what these are. Crocuses or irises seem most likely, but they look rather like tulips, although it’s way too early for those. Guess we’ll find out…

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Grace in Small Things

1. Extra sour dill pickles.
2. Double-chocolate cherry stout on a cold night.
3. That our local purveyor of yummy food and excellent beer is packed, absolutely packed, every night of the week after 6pm. Despite the recession.
4. Snuggly cats.
5. The whole bed to myself. This is only fun for one night, and tends to be aggressively ruined by the aforementioned snuggly cats, but every so often it is nice to really stretch out (displacing cats as necessary).

(I’m not doing the full every-day-for-a-year version of Grace in Small Things, but I do like the idea.)

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Thu Mar 05, 2009
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Because winter’s not over yet

Despite the above-zero temps and rather brave appearance of two spring bulbs poking above the soil in the warmest bit of our front garden, I know winter’s just teasing us and isn’t about to go away just yet. So: I recommend these reusable instant hand warmers from Lee Valley (of course).

It is, as it says, a pouch of clear liquid containing a small metal disk. When you flex the disk it creates an exothermic reaction that turns the whole pouch into a big blogck of salt which stays warm for half an hour or so. You recharge it by boiling it for a few minutes*. I have found they’re quite sensitive and have set mine off by accident a couple of times, but aside from that quirk they’re an extremely handy thing to have in an inside jacket pocket on a cold day.

* “Do not microwave”, says the package. Yeah, that would be a mess.

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Random neat stuff from RSS feeds – Thu Feb 26, 2009
I am now determined to live to at least 83

…purely so I can use “Kiss my 83-year-old ass” as the title of a blog post.

Although anything over seventy or so works with reasonable credibility, really.

(h/t to Jan)

Ninety. A context-free number.

File under “not enough information to draw the conclusion they’ve drawn”:

Why did 90 children die?
Ontario’s child advocate was appalled to learn how many in the province’s welfare system die each year and is equally shocked at how difficult it is to get answers

First, I think we can all agree that the province’s unwillingness to cough up any useful information about the relevant cases to the child advocate’s office is inexcusable whatever the number of deaths or other issues. It’s hard to advocate effectively when you’re being stonewalled by those ostensibly working toward the same ends and I don’t blame the child advocate’s office for one second for using whatever numbers will get them the attention and cooperation they may need.

I think — hope — we can all also agree that any greater than zero number of deaths of children is very sad and horrible and such deaths are most urgently to be avoided.

What is not in this article or — just so it doesn’t look like I’m picking on this one piece, which I’m not — in any of the coverage I’ve seen, is any information that puts 90 child deaths in context for proper comparison and evaluation. How many children are there in Ontario? How many die each year, in what age groups, for what reasons? How do those population-level numbers and rates relate to the numbers and rates of deaths of children in care? Is it disproportionately high (or low, although that seems wildly unlikely), or are the rates not significantly different from rates in the population as a whole? Do the rates vary between groups — are, say, babies in care more (or less) likely to die than babies in the population in general? Small children? Teenagers? Disabled children?

I haven’t read the whole report yet so this may merely be a complaint about its media coverage. Still, if I were the child advocate’s office, I would be speaking loudly in my initial press releases about both the raw numbers and, if it’s relevant and useful, the rates. Ninety instinctively seems like a big number (awful thought, to think of ninety children dying) but it needs context to have real meaning. Perhaps something like this: “90 children in care or within a year of being in care died in 2007. This is n times the rate of death for all children in Ontario. This is inexcusable; children in our care deserve better. Wouldn’t it be nice if the government shared more information about at-risk children with the Child Advocate’s office so we could help bring down this rate?” etc.

I don’t mean to disparage the great work the advocates are doing in this case. I do regret that there are numbers being thrown around for shock value with no way to assess their real meaning.

Finished doll quilt

Finished doll quilt

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

Don’t be too impressed; this quilt is only about the size of a large placemat and it’s made mostly from small scraps pilfered from my mom’s stash.

Still, it’s the first one I made all by my lonesome — my previous experience consisted solely of embroidering squares and then handing them over to my mom to do all the hard sewing parts — so I am pleased with myself. M’s doll Alice Rebecca is apparently very pleased with it too.

I used the Sew Mama Sew doll quilt sew-along tutorial plus a nice little book Visual Quick Tips Quilting, which had less inspirational but more practical photos of how to do some of the more confusing bits. Even so I totally made up a way of joining the ends of the binding, because all written and photographic instructions were completely cryptic. Maybe next time.