Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Preschool Physics (a.k.a. Having Fun Playing with K'NEX)

Talia just discovered my brother's old K'NEX set a few days ago... this is the first thing with instructions that she chose to build:




A Ferris wheel. We followed the instructions (easy-to-follow pictures) and little by little it came together.


The coolest part was that it really moved once it was all put together. There's a center piece that can be wound that then will propel the wheel around in a circle for a bit.

Or a rolling robot:

Or a combine that works with the addition of a rubber band:


I suppose this could be considered preschool physics... ;) but it was a lot of fun, if nothing else.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Birth & Memory= Past + Present Reality

I'm grateful that I didn't mentally rush to the end of my pregnancy. I hear many mothers wishing away their pregnancy and, though I don't think less of them and I can see where they are coming from, I'm grateful that I didn't do that. Contrary to many things in my life, pregnancy has been something I've never tried to rush.

With most things, I'm looking for the most efficient way possible to get it over with and overall not doing a very good job of "stopping to smell the roses." My reasons for not being that way with pregnancy haven't always been positive.

With my first pregnancy I was in no hurry to get it over with because everything was new and exciting- but also mainly I was too scared of birth to want it to arrive any faster than necessary.


The second time fear played a much less dominant role and I tried to savor the time... and I'm glad I did. Especially now.
Once a little one is born, many wonderful and new things are there to experience, but the pregnancy part is over (until pregnant again.) I've been blessed with wonderfully boring, healthy pregnancies both times, and while each trimester brings different challenges, there's not a part I'd be willing to skip. Now that I've experienced natural childbirth, birth is not a part I'm willing to skip either.

I have a theory that memories rarely stay true to strict reality, but morph- dependent on the reality of our present circumstances. However, memories are not only changed by the present, but the present is changed by those memories. The two are tied together and constantly changing each other. Sometimes this means enriching each other, like Elias's birth did for me. The memory of the birth is special to me. He is the special product of that birth that is always in my present. These two facts, though he is always changing and moving forward into the future, play off of each other and each make the other more special.

I think that how this works with regret depends on how we respond. Memory of lessons learned is a good thing if we let it be that: learned. It can push us to do better things or it can drag us down into self-destructive, vicious cycles.

It's wonderful to me how Elias and his birth have not only helped me bond with him, but have given me a new dimension of appreciation for Talia as well. His little milestones help me remember hers with greater clarity. Her awed, careful responses to him just makes all of it so much sweeter when combined with all of the ways I've been blessed to watch her grow and mature. She puts perspective to how little he really is and he reminds me how far, really, she has come from infancy.

Birth is life changing, no matter how you experience it. I'm glad I get to view it from this perspective.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Making Fresh Cream Butter

I recently  learned how to make butter from my friend Ashlie. It's very simple to do and delicious!

The first thing you need if you are making butter at home is whole milk with the cream. Ashlie bought hers from a man who has his own milk farm down the road (and a license to sell to the public.) If you have never tried fresh whole milk- a note of warning: You might become addicted, it is nothing like the white-colored water sold in plastic gallon jugs at the super market. ;)

 You can (barely) see the line towards the top where the cream has separated from the milk.
 You will need a clean container with a good lid like the glass jar above to shake the cream in.
 Get a scoop, we used a 1/2 measuring cup, and carefully pour the cream into the shaking jar.
 Your jar needs to be about half full, not more or you will not leave enough room for good shaking and expansion of the butter as it expands with air. (Hi Ashlie!)
 Screw the lid on very tight and....
 ...now you are ready to shake the cream!
(Better than a shake weight because it's obviously productive...
then again, it produces butter which gives you more calories... hmmmm.)
 After about 6 minutes, the cream is looking frothy and expanding with the bubbles.
 After about 12 minutes, the cream is turning yellow and starting to clump together in little butter balls.
 Here you can see the butter starting to stick to the sides of the jar.
 After about 15-20 minutes of constant shaking, you can see yellow creamy butter.
Now the butter can be scooped out into a container to be washed...
 ...and the whey can be poured back into the milk jar. 
A wide-mouthed jar is appreciated for this step, since you have to scoop the butter out.
 If you do not wash the milk out of the butter, as Ashlie found out the hard way, you will end up with spoiled-milk tasting butter- yuck!

 Here is the butter before washing.
 To wash, run clean water over the butter...
 ...and press the milk out of the butter with your spoon.
 You may need to repeat this step 3-4 times.
 When the water runs clear, you will know it has been washed adequately. Press as much of the water out as you can. If you would like salted butter, now is the time to add the salt and mix well.
 If you have a butter bell, now you will scoop all of your butter into the bell part...
 Compact the butter into the bell so that any excess water rises to the top and can be poured out.
 Next fill the bottom part of the butter bell with 1/4 cup of clean water and...
 invert into itself to seal the butter, keep it fresh and soft.
Remember to change the water in your butter bell every other day to keep your butter fresh.
Thanks, Ashlie, for the lesson in making butter!

Enjoy!

One of the ways we enjoy fresh butter is with fresh homemade flour tortillas and honey!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Things I'd Forgotten About Newborns

Since our daughter is 4, it had been a while since I'd been constantly around a newborn. It's crazy how many of the little details get fuzzy with time... even simple things like:

* They eat FREQUENTLY. Yes, I knew they ate, but when their food comes from ME it is impacting just how often. (I'm so grateful that breastfeeding is going well, there's no way I'm complaining about that.)

* They get rid of what they eat just as frequently...

* They make adorable cooing noises when they're nursing.

* Everyone and their dog wants to hold a newborn. Maternal instinct, especially around winter germs, does not mix well with this.

* Newborns grow so quickly!

* Their heads are really wobbly.

* Their cry sounds like a kitten's mew.

* They tend to gather lint between their toes and fingers.

* Their milky smell is the best!

* They sleep a lot!

Little man is already a month old and changing quickly. He's gaining weight and filling out with cute baby fat... I have the sneaky suspicion that HE will be 4 before I know it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lychee, Zapote, Guisquil, and Pitaya: Fruit and Vegetables Introduced to me in Guatemala

There are four types of fruit or vegetable that I was introduced to in Guatemala: Lychee, Zapote, Guisquil, and Pitaya. Because I learned of them in Guatemala, I know them by their Guatemalan names; with the exception of lychee... I'm not sure what it's called in Spanish since a fellow expat introduced it to me. So let's start with that one:

Lychee: a colorful, reddish fruit on the outside with a grape-like inside surrounding a seed, is quite sweet! You just peel off the red part, eat the white and spit out the seed. I think the flavor is similar to that of a grape as well.

Image: piyato / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Zapote: From the outside, I think this looks like a sweet potato or tuber but it is actually considered a fruit. It has thick brown skin on the outside with an orange flesh surrounding a large dark brown seed. I wasn't impressed with the mild, slightly sweet flavor, but I figure it's something one must develop a taste for. (Image from A.M. Costa Rica)

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Guisquil: Known in English as "chayote," this light green squash-like vegetable has a white meat and an interesting juice. When we cut it, if it got on our hands it made them feel like the skin was drawn up very tight, like something you'd expect a fancy spa to put on your face to make you look younger. ;) (If you try that, let me know if it works. That'd be a great natural alternative to Botox for interested people!) In Guatemala we would peel, cut into large round slices and boil the guisquil. Then, we would coat it in the same egg mixture used to make envueltos de ejote, (green bean wraps) and fry in olive oil. It was very tasty this way or boiled like any vegetable in a soup or stew.

Image: anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Pitaya: Known as "dragon fruit" in English, what points this exotic fruit gains in appearance, it loses in flavor. It's bright magenta skin with green-spiked leaves are peeled away to expose a white or magenta flesh filled with little black seeds. The flavor is not sweet, and reminds me of a raw potato. It is sometimes made into chips or cut up raw and added to other fruit mixtures or covered with sugar to give it some flavor. There should be a proverb about the pitaya... something like, "Though it looks as exciting as a pitaya, it is as flavorless." (Maybe you can come up with a better one. ;))

Image: Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Have you tried any of these fruits or vegetables? Did you like them? Where were you introduced to them?