Monday, March 31, 2008

Root, Root Root for the Home Team...(or Adventure in Parenting, Part II)

All Star Hannah

Now I may just have been being snobby when I found it difficult to go to Hannah's school functions, but she started to play Little League and you would think this would be more up my alley. I mean, I love sports, especially baseball. I have two daughters but fortunately they seem to like sports so far so I was glad that Hannah wanted to play baseball this summer. But maybe it's because she is playing with mostly younger kids, and I just don't have the patience for youth sports at such a young age. It's hard for me to watch practice. It's really slightly organized chaos most of the time. It doesn't help that the league is new and not the most organized. Brittany can find the humor of watching kids run around in circles(as you will hear), but me, I am subjected to two hours of this three times a week and it's hard. It's very, very hard....

Is it the scrum that occurs after every batted ball? Is it the kid that doesn't even bother touching all of the bases? Is it my daughter just standing there swinging her arms? The choices are endless...

Friday, March 28, 2008

We done read good.... (An Adventure in Parenting, Part I)

I tried to be a good parent. I really do. It's important to me to be as involved as possible with what my kids are doing. There are some things, however, that I admit are hard to really get into. Here are two of those things:

1) School sponsored family activities

Every once in a while Hannah brings home fliers from school for activities at school to promote families learning together and getting parents more involved with their child's education. Nothing wrong with that, right? Except that I think we do alright doing things with Hannah, and I just don't think we are the target group of such activities. The other night was something called Family Literacy Night. Hey great, the family reads together is a family that stays together, I get that. I already read to the kids, I thought, we read before bed every night. The kids love to read and look forward to new books. I think we do a good job promoting literacy...The excellent promotional work by Hannah's teacher, however, really convinced Hannah that this was a big deal, and therefore it meant a lot if we attended, so I begrudgingly went along to see what the big deal was about...

...And boy was it everything I thought it would be. The idea was good, there were different stations ran by teachers to promote certain aspects of reading. My critical eye, however, quickly noticed alarming things. First, Hannah was coloring pictures that accompanied different Haikus. At first I thought, "Oh great, never too early to teach kids what a Haiku was all about." Then I tried to read it...


You obviously can't read that, so let me read it for you:

"Shooting Star
For the First Time

Now I haven't written a Haiku since probably the 7th grade, but I'm pretty sure those words above does not constitute a Haiku. Maybe in its original Japanese form this would be correct? Anyone? Help?

If that wasn't puzzling enough, on the back wall of the cafeteria, there were butcher papers full of words that supposedly came from children's books. The point was to see how many of the words your kid can both say and know the meaning. I started to go through them with Hannah, and we came upon this list:

What are we teaching our kids?

Now you can return the favor and read it to me. Chirped? Ok, I guess that's what it says. Curiois? Sounds like an illness the Man with the Yellow Hat caught from a diseased monkey. Ohey? ok, bad penmanship. Gracefully. Clumsy....I have no idea what the next word is. Peculior? At that point we left. Hannah went home with a few new books. And you can bet I will proofread them before I let her have at it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thirsting for Change....

I miss my Tivo.

Not getting to watch TV on my own time is terrible to have to transition back into. Not getting to skip commercials is an even more painful change. So many commercials don't make any sense (Can anyone explain to me exactly what a HeadOn does? It's weird if not borderline dirty), and most just insults the audience intelligence.

Take the recent Propel commercial attacking Vitamin Water. They are in a gym telling people how there are 125 calories in a bottle of Vitamin Water, and how it's like 492 sit ups to work that off, and almost 5,000 extra steps to walk off that drink. The people are appalled! They don't want to do all that extra work! Good thing there's Propel, with only 25 calories per bottle! Yipee! Let's drink away!

I'm not a math genius, but 25 is still a one-fifth of 125. Sure that is less, but a one-fifth of 500 is still 100, and one-fifth of 5,000 is conveniently 1,000. If you walk up to those same people and ask if they want to crank out an extra 100 sit ups, wouldn't they be just as upset? Who wants to do "extra" exercise?? Come one people! Use your heads! Just drink some water!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What's Your Verb?

Ah March 4th, one of my favorite days of the year. The only day of the year that is a verb. I think I will celebrate this day of sitting at home tonight and doing as little as possible.

I really am trying to take it easy at home as my right wrist is kind of sore. Oncoming carpal tunnel? Probably. Ironically enough, while a lot of the blame is on all of the computering I do at work (specifically, the mouse work. hence the pain on just the right wrist), my work setup is 10 times more ergonomic then what I have at home. The work computers are heavily restricted as far as using only sanctioned equipment though, so even though I have my own nifty cordless trackball mouse (that I "accidentally" took from my last job), I can't use it at my current job. The only trackball option here is this jenky thing that looks more painful to use then the mouse (if not physical pain, then certainly mental ones). So this all lead me to just take it easy with the computers at home. Nothing was on TV though (except a pretty good episode of No Reservation where Anthony Boudain was in Argentina watch calves get castrated....yum!), so I ended up watch TV.....on my laptop. Hey, it's still minimal use of the hands! (Tons of crude jokes I can be making here, but I won't. And you shouldn't either)

Being kind of a tech happy family, (as much as this poor family can afford, anyway) it was inevitable that my kids would get all into it too, especially with games...

Hi Tech Kid

No, Sara here has not been taken into the addictive realm of World of Warcraft by her father. (It's actually Hannah that likes to play WoW with me. My Blood Elf Paladin is just girly enough to be appealing to Hannah. She loves to slay those undeads in the Ghostland! Ok, enough nerdiness...) Sara is actually playing a very educational game on (my laptop can never handle WoW anyway). The headset is a toy from her High School Musical dress up kit. Still, I don't think it's ever too early to get your child's frag count up. I wonder if she'll help me play some Army of Two (shameless EA plug)......

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Let them eat bread

I am not a baker. It's too much pressure. Cooking is forgiving. You can skip an ingredient or make some minor substitution and it may not end up being what you started to make, but it will still taste good. When you are baking, almost every ingredient has their specific roles. So if you use the wrong item, or even in the wrong amount, your cookies might taste like cake, your cake might looks like a scone, and your scones just may looks like a cookie....dropped on the ground and stepped on.

"But Alan," you say, "you claimed that you like to cook for the geeky science of it. Baking is where all the science happens!" You're right. If I really am trying to bring out the Alton Brown in me, I must venture into the world of baking... Laziness still comes first, however, so when I caught wind of the No-Knead Bread phenomenon, I knew this was my chance to further my cooking repertoire.

Bread also works for me because so much of the baking world takes place in the land of desserts. I don't have that much of a sweet tooth (heh, try telling that to my dentist) and who wants to make food that you won't really enjoy? Bread-making, however, involves playing with yeast, which seems like entering the baking game at 'Advance'. I can't even keep the whole baking soda/baking powder thing straight, and now I have to grow some gas emitting little spores?? This better be as easy as they claim...

No Knead Bread

The first great thing going for it: Minimal ingredients! Flour, salt, yeast, and water. So far so good....

Hairy Dough

Mix all together and you end up with this gloppy mess. I believe the original recipe called it "hairy." Not much work far....

The Slow Rise

Then it sits....for a long time...this is the key, let the yeast slowly rise and develop the complexity of good bread. I was a little worry since it really should sit somewhere reasonable warm. But it's February at 10pm. Where would it be warm short of taking it to bed with me? The oven seemed like the only way to go. I just have to remember to tell Britt that it's in there in case she decides to preheat the oven for something while I am at work....yikes! ....Off to bed...

The timing of the whole thing is really the trickiest part. You should give it 12, preferably 18 hours to rise. It's pretty much impossible to do this on a weekday and still have it ready for that night's dinner. After much false starts (thanks to some untimely road construction outside my house), I decided to go ahead and just make it whenever I can. I may not eat it that day, but I'll still have fresh bread at home the next day. As luck would have it, we were being treated to Zachary's pizza the next day, so I didn't even need to worry about dinner when I got home. Just open up the oven to be greeted by my growing glop.

I was a little anxious and didn't get a picture of it after the long rise. I took it out and folded the glop once or twice, which turned out to be incredibly sticky. I think I lost a quarter of the bread by leaving it stuck to my hands. But I did the best I could and ended up with this...

Fold and Rise Again

After 15 minutes or so, I had to handle the glue dough again and try to form it into a ball before placing it onto a towel that has been floured or in my case, cornmealed. I don't really remember why I have cornmeal at home, so I figured this was a good time to use it. Then covered with another towel (more flour or cornmeal!) and let it rise again for 2 hours. This is where I went to have pizza. Mmmm pizza....

Ready for the Oven

So this was the product that was going into the oven. Mostly round, but the best I could do without just baking my hands with the bread. I then came to my favorite part of the recipe because the baking takes place inside a dutch oven or other oven safe pot (like the one I used. I do not have a dutch oven. It is currently the other thing that I am coveting in my life, along with that camera that I begged you for last time). Baking is 30 minutes with the lid on, follow by 30 minutes or so without the lid, or until golden, brown, and delicious.

Mmmm bread....

With all of the sloppy mess that I was handling, I was pleasantly surprised that what I ended up actually looked like bread. In fact, it looked like damn good bread. One problem though, by that point, I was all doughed out from the pizza I binged on, so as good as the bread looked coming out of the oven (and smelled even better), I just could not sample any that night without committing a deadly sin (gluttony, for those of you scoring at home). It tasted great the next day though, and the people that I shared the bread with seemed to agree.

It is somewhat time intensive, but the effort is minimal and the results well worth it all. It is such a cheap way to always have fresh bread around the house, that I am preparing another hairy glop as we speak. Let the baking begin!