27 August 2012

lessons from foster kittens

it's ideal, really: we get the cats at the cutest, most entertaining part of their lives, then send them off to find their "forever homes." carl and i both think that "forever homes" sounds almost creepy...sort of like  the euphemism "putting to sleep," but we know that what the animal shelter means by "forever homes," is permanent adoption. They used to let people adopt the cats before they were spayed or neutered, and give them vouchers to have the procedure done for free once they were old enough. but they found that  even the free voucher wasn't enough to compel some folks to have it done, so now they won't put animals out on the adoption floor until they have been altered. so, they need foster homes for the kittens, until they reach an age and weight that will allow for the operation.

we aren't ready to have pets of our own yet, but we all love cats, so we decided to become a foster family. our first set were three boys, all orange tabbies. they were difficult to tell apart, but we found a few distinguishing characteristics, and gave them the names of the three youngest weasley brothers from the harry potter stories: fred, george and ron. these kittens were tons of fun, but they had some inappropriate suckling habits, presumably from being weaned too soon, which we found disturbing. it was a lot of work to care for them, and so much cleaning...but the biggest effort for carl and i is managing cosmo's treatment of them.

he is not mean to animals, he likes them, is interested, and generally sweet to them. but, he doesn't seem to always know the line between holding, and holding too tight, against the kitten's will until they start meowing frantically and struggling to get away. we found ourselves constantly correcting and scolding, and had to let some things go, and choose our battles.

our friend julie, who does a lot of kitten fostering, pointed out that it can be really hard for young children to understand what is appropriate with kittens, because they look so much like toys. they are small, adorable, and easy to manipulate (compared to adult cats, who typically don't put up with much). after some close calls, we learned that we really had to be present in the same room any time cosmo was interacting with the kittens. it gets tiring. between that and the constant cleaning, i was happy to seem them go when they reached 2 pounds.

a month later, i'd forgotten all the annoying parts of having foster kittens. cosmo and i responded to an email and headed for the shelter to pick up five kittens and a mama. these ones were tiny.

they could barely walk and seemed to be nearly blind. having the mama with them made it so much easier. she took care of everything, and we took care of her. for the first few weeks, all they did was nurse and sleep. they began to explore, one by one, and soon were wrestling and scampering all over the house, cracking us up with crazy antics, as kittens do.

cosmo has learned a lot about handling kittens, and knows what is allowed and what is not. but he still seems to have lapses in judgement, and we still have to keep an eye on him with the kittens. i have tried to get him to appreciate how interesting they are to watch. they do so many amusing things if left to their own devices, but he is unconvinced. his first impulse is always to pick them up. mostly, they don't mind, and i figure we are socializing them to be accustomed to children in their future homes.

the mama cat and the three boys of the litter have returned to the shelter. from what i understand, the kittens have already been adopted. we still have the two girls with us, but they will probably leave us this week. i'll be happy to have our house back, and to give it a thorough deep clean, but i think i will miss all the pitter patter and physical comedy. people usually imagine that we'll get too attached, and won't be able to give them up, but so far, we have not been tempted to keep any.

we have learned that we are not yet ready for permanent pets. we have also learned to let creatures into our home and into our hearts, and how to let them go when the time comes.

as a tribute to the latest batch, i present these portraits of the mewler family:
this is the stellar mama cat, trixie, and her daughter rita. rita is cosmo's favorite, and he refers to her as the "captain of the cuties." she is very social and adventuresome, and the smallest of the litter.

meet snape: the best at latching on, and the last to wean.

we call him zincy (after the element: zinc) a gorgeous cat, with velvety fur that matches his eyes.

here we have ginger, rita and pingu. ginger is very strong and looks like he will be a big cat. pingu has some unusual markings on her face. she loves the out of doors, and is also quite social and affectionate.

we tried to get a photo of cosmo with the whole crew, but trying to get them all together is like, well...like herding cats!

11 June 2012

Traveling to Toronto

hard to believe i'm in my mid forties and visiting canada for the first time, but it's true. i've been all over the states, and back and forth to europe a few times, but never crossed the borders to the north or south. it's a reasonable car trip to toronto from where we live, and dear friends living there makes it doubly attractive. it's a work-related trip as well, visiting a fabulous organization called the stop--an inspiration to all of us at mother hubbard's cupboard. the drive is easy when you take it in two days, and bracket it with mini-golf outings in toledo. cosmo is a brilliant traveler, entertains himself in the back seat, and manages to keep up with fiddle practice on the road.

motel room practice session

cosmo is most excited about the foreign money, but discovers there's much more to canada than loonies, toonies and bills with halograms:

food growing in tiny front gardens (everywhere)
soundscapes on college street

papusas in kensington market (they bring a sleepy boy back to life)

kensington market

spadina ave

watching dumplings being made (by professionals rather than parents)
exotic fruits


sugar apple, with dragon fruit in the background

globe upon chair upon post

street car

skate park and compost bins

compost bins in the park

 acrobatic friend in a backyard tree

chard/quinoa rolls from the stop's cookbook

double (double) rainbow (rainbow)...so intense
(it is hard to see the second one in this photo)

mango slush, pakoras, medhu vadai and many shades of pink...

nut house (a little natural foods shop)

cat in barber shop window

subway ride

there's a lot to love in toronto. what impresses me most is the multi-culture nature of the city. people from all over the world make their lives here, sharing food, arts and traditions from their homelands. walking down bloor street, near our friends' home, you hear many languages spoken, take in the aromas and flavors of ethiopian, indian, indo-caribean, korean, thai, salvadorian, italian, portuguese and persian  foods-- among many others. i was also struck with the way in which children (older ones) travel independently through the city, including the 13 year-old in the family we stayed with. she gets herself to and from school on her own (a good 20-30 minute walk) through dense urban terrain, and goes to lunch with friends in kensington market.  the street they live on is quiet and intimate--our friends are close with many of their neighbors, and move freely in and out of each other's homes (as do their kids), like a small-town neighborhood- yet they are less than a block from a bustling city street filled with restaurants, shops, and heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic. the park is a few blocks away, and the library is just around the corner, as is the subway. what a life.

still, it is always nice to return home, to enjoy the contrast of our life with another sort, to inspect the progress in the garden, and visit with our own sweet neighbors.

note: this is not exactly the layout i would choose if i could figure out how to navigate the new blogger interface. i post so infrequently these days, i decided to just let it go, and hit "publish."

15 April 2012

tea eggs

i got it into my head to make a batch of tea eggs. carl tried them a few years ago. the idea and the process appealed to me, but the result was underwhelming. i saw a stunning photo of some online, and decided to give it a try. as usual when i decide to make something, i look through my own collection of cookbooks, and then do an online search, pick the best looking recipe, and then tweak it to my own preferences. this one was a combination of madhur jaffrey's and this one. I had some chinese five spice, so i used that, but i skipped the star anise (not a favorite of mine) and did not cook the eggs for as long as recommended. also, i had no chinese black tea, so i just used what i could round up from my tea stash.

the process includes hard boiling the eggs, then cracking the shells all over, but keeping them on the egg. then you mix up this tea/soy sauce/spice brew, and steep the eggs in that for a number of hours, so that the dark sauce penetrates through the cracks, leaving a web like pattern on the egg.

this dish is a feast for the eyes. the most dramatic pattern appears on the inside of the shell, which, of course, gets peeled off before serving, but the peeled eggs also look lovely. the taste on the egg is rather subtle, but nice. i arranged them in a beautiful dish (made by my friend libby), took them to a neighborhood potluck, and everyone seemed to enjoy them. photographing them was my favorite part.

23 March 2012

fun with fractions

our approach to at-home learning is to follow cosmo's lead. when he shows interest in something, we offer supporting resources and encouragement. when his interest fades, or moves on to something else, so do we.
playing "allowance" first thing, on christmas day. sorting coins for Mother Hubbard's Cupboard
money seems to be a sustained interest for cosmo. he has been fond of coins since age 3. At 5 he had his first coin sorter. it didn't last 6 months, but he did get a new one for his 6th birthday. he now wants a coin counting jar, and will not let up about the "my little ATM" he once saw in a catalog. he enjoys coin collecting, especially series, like the state quarters and the national parks quarters. he has a susan b. anthony and a saquajwia dollar, a pouch full of various foreign coins, some fifty cent pieces and a buffalo nickel. he has learned the value of all the coins in circulation, and has learned how to make change, mostly through playing monopoly, life, and a game called allowance. he now gets an allowance, and has opened his own back account.
it was through his interest in money that he first became aware of fractions. i'm not sure exactly how this went, i think he was asking carl about half dollars, and quarters, and somehow the idea of 4ths came up. carl drew a quick pie chart to illustrate, and cosmo made a few on his own. he clearly grasped the concept. the next time we went to learning treasures, he asked for one of the fraction materials they have available. we compared the bar type, and the pie type, and settled on the pie ones, even though they don't have the fraction numbers printed on them.
he enjoyed them as objects from the moment we brought them home, as did the rest of the family.
a week or so later, the south carolina primary was happening, and carl and i, the political junkies that we are, were tuning in. since cosmo likes games and charts (and always wants to know who’s winning), we thought he might enjoy keeping track of the returns as they came in. i showed him a way that he could graph the percentages as the night went on, and we took a look at the latest polls online. i made a pie chart of those percentages while cosmo was building a lego pyramid. when he saw my pie chart, he wanted to make one too. i showed him how i made it using the fraction pieces, and tracing. i helped him figure out how to combine some of the pieces to make a certain percentage, and then i walked away to watch the primary coverage. 

later i noticed he had completed a chart, using a combination of numbers from the poll, and from the early returns. his chart is more vibrant and interesting to look at than mine, and he completely got the legend part.

his grasp of basic math concepts continues to amaze me. much like the way he started reading on his own before age 4, he seems to pick up math as if he were born knowing it (this was not the case for his mother, i assure you). he gets the basic idea of multiplication, and can do some on his own. last week he blew me away with how quickly he could calculate scrabble scores “okay, that’s 7, 9, 10… triple word score, so that’s 30 points.” his spelling is not quite good enough for full participation in scrabble, but he teams up with one of us, and keeps score. fun for the whole family!

01 January 2012

peas in the new year

i've heard it's traditional to have peas on new year's day, for good luck and prosperity. black-eyed peas are what we have chosen in the past. but this year we went with chickpeas. the dish is called leblebi (took me about a week to pronounce it without getting tongue-tied). Deborah Madison says it's common tunisian breakfast food. we thought leblebi on new year's day would be a nice way to celebrate the arab spring of 2011, and to offer best wishes to all those struggling for a better life in 2012.

it starts with a simple preparation of chickpeas in a thin, garlicky broth (this can be made in advance). serve it over day old farm bread with the following condiments: chopped scallions, sliced hard-boiled egg, capers, pickled turnips and most importantly, harissa.

harissa is a beautiful thick sauce, deep red in color, and rich in flavor. the caraway seed sets it apart from other chili pastes. harissa is added to the chickpeas as they cook, but to make the peas more acceptable to kids or others who dislike spicy foods, you can go easy on it at that stage, and just serve plenty at the table for those who like it hot. our bread was homemade, as was the harissa (it is one of carl's specialties) and the pickles came from friends who farm turnips.

leblebi is fun to eat, a pleasure to look at, distinctive and memorable in flavor.
happy new year!