My mom adventures in Fort Collins


My new church: I guess that I do this now

I was raised Catholic. Capital “C” no meat on Fridays during lent pray the Rosary wear a St. Christopher medal know what purgatory is fast for Ash Wednesday give up chocolate for lent go to confession and genuflect for exercise Catholic. For a very long time, I went to church. As a young person, it was “required” of me by my beloved mother. I will be truthful: It was almost never fun, and I went because I had to and not because I had some deep spiritual yearning. My mother would sit between my brother and me during mass so that we didn’t bug one another or, alternatively, dissolve into fits of laughter over something like the time one of us (I’ll never tell) farted in church. As a young adult, and furthermore as a genuine-beyond-my-early-twenties adult, I embraced the Catholic faith for its rich history, comforting ritual, its preferential option for the poor and its firm footing in acts (of charity, service, faith, etc.). I even went to grad school to study ministry and theology, but that’s another story.

The two horrible churchgoers (and yes, that is a "Members Only" jacket)

The two horrible churchgoers (and yes, that is a “Members Only” jacket)

Clearly, like nearly everyone I know, I had a storied history with organized religion, but I chose it for my own. Both of my girls are baptized in the Catholic church. I belonged to a very good parish in Denver, and I don’t know that I’d personally call it “great” but it was as close to great as you’re likely to get in the Archdiocese of Denver. You see, in the Catholic Church, so much of your liturgy, your community of faith, and your overall experience can depend on the church leadership. I grew up in a very progressive diocese in a very different era. The church had a momentum in the post-Vatican II era that, in my opinion, was not sustained. Where my home parish had embraced lay leadership and even lay homilists in the 80s, my experience as an adult was quite a bit different: lots of head bowing, poor seating arrangements and on the rare occasion you find a wonderful liturgist and homilist, well, then, the priest acts like he’s a rock star (and wears the Madonna microphone to boot).

Never mind the effect of having two girls and realizing that I’d have to tell them Nope, there are all sorts of things you cannot do or be in the Catholic Church simply because you are a girl.

When I moved to Fort Collins, I went to mass at a church and I went again and I went one more time. There was no avoiding it: this church was unwelcoming, archaic, closed-minded and in complete contradiction with my faith. For me, it closed the door on this chapter. I had to find a new church. Possibly, an entirely different denomination.

And I did. After searching (more soul than physical), I found a church that I enjoy. Furthermore, I have been–gasp–participating in the church. I went to a book club at the church the other day.

We read Faith by Jennifer Haigh. This novel, this book club, and this whole experience could not have been a more ironic introduction to my new church. The book is about a family in Boston during the height of the sex abuse scandal in 2002.

Photo from amazon.com

Photo from amazon.com

The Lord works in mysterious ways, right? Well, the Lord couldn’t have been less mysterious at that book club. It was fairly obvious to me how the non-Catholic world sees the Catholic church. Through the eyes of nearly a dozen (mostly) middle-aged (mostly) white Methodist women, I felt a definite distrust for any religion that would let a bunch of celibate dudes run their church-life.

And I had to agree.

My time in the Catholic church was, for the most part, good. Unlike several characters in this book, I do not have to reconcile any major abuses at the hands of the church. Fortunately, I can walk away with a hug and say, “Let’s just agree to see other people.” I wish the church of my birth and my mother’s (and grandparents and great-grandparents, etc.) before me no ill-will. But it just wasn’t working out.

I’m sure that  my relationship with the United Methodist Church will have its own issues. Every honest relationship is challenging in its own way. However, I am excited to see what this new relationship has in store for me. And my girls.

What about you? Do you have a faith community that you love?  If you have kids, is it important to you to raise your kids in a particular faith-tradition?



Kitchen success: Sausage and “superfood” soup

You know me, I don’t speak “superfood” very often. But this delicious soup has two secret weapons.

Red lentils

Red lentils

Kale

Kale

I got the inspiration for this soup from the amazing (ah-may-zing!) vegan foodie website, Ohsheglows. Now, this is neither vegan nor vegetarian, but it easily could be–here is the link back to the original recipe if you care to take a look. My version does include soaking the lentils (though you don’t have to, I just like to do this so that it soaks up less of the broth when you cook it–lentils are like sponges that way), so including soak time, it will take about 2 hours to prepare, but most of this is not active time. Active time is about 20 minutes. Totally worth the time, and it makes a ton.

Ingredients:

The yummy ingredients

The yummy ingredients

  • 1 cup dry red lentils, soaked for about an hour, then rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 sausage links (preferably Linguiça sausage), casings removed
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Qt. chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a dutch oven, heat olive oil. Add onions and cook for a few minutes. Throw in the sausage, breaking it into smaller pieces as it browns.

Sausage and onions

Sausage and onions

Continue until sausage is nearly cooked through, then add the garlic and celery. Stirring occasionally, cook until celery softens (about 5-6 minutes). Add cumin, chilli powder, smoked paprika, and cayenne. Add stock, water, tomatoes and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add kale, and simmer for a few minutes more.

The finished product, packed with flavor and vitamins

The finished product, packed with flavor and vitamins

I served it with a slice of homemade bread–not homemade by me, though. Made by Cory, even better!

IMG_1141

It’s likely you’ll have leftovers, and when you reheat it you may need to add a little water to give it more broth (lentils=sponges, remember?). I’ve tried the vegan version and then once tried it with chicken broth in place of the vegetable broth (though still without the sausage). I must say, the broth truly is delicious with or without any meat at all, but, you know me: you can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but you can’t take the Wisconsin out of the girl. Just two links of sausage will hearty-up the broth like nobody’s business.



School Choices: Mountain Sage Community School

Part of the reason that we moved to Fort Collins was to be in a smaller community, where choosing a school for our children would be less intimidating. We didn’t stick around Denver long enough to find out how gruelling that process would be, but it still seems plenty difficult in this community. However, I am reminded by a good friend that it is better to have a choice than no choice at all.

The Poudre School District website is a wealth of information. I am trying to get more acquainted with it, since we will be signing up for kindergarten on February 7th. Since I did the back-and-forth-dance last year, I have lovingly put to bed our school decision. We know that we’ll be sending Scout to our neighborhood school, though, honestly, I was impressed with all five of the schools that I visited.

Recently, my humble blog was contacted by a rep for a new school option, and I thought that I could give this school some of my much-sought-after attention. From my understanding, Mountain Sage Community School has been years in the works, though only recently received its charter. Here is the press release:

Mountain Sage Community School, a new public charter school in Fort Collins, inspired by Waldorf Education and sustainable living, is hosting a series of enrollment events. Please come to one of the following events to learn more, get involved, answer your questions, and meet the founders.

When:
Thursday, January 17th, 2013, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Thursday, January 24th, 2013, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Sunday, January 27th, 2013, from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Monday, February 4th, 2013, from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Saturday, February 23rd, 2013, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am
Saturday, March 9th, 2013, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am
Saturday, March 23rd, 2013, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am
Saturday, March 30th, 2013, from 10:00 am to 11:00 am

Where: The Gardens on Spring Creek, 2145 Centre Avenue, Fort Collins, 80526

The Mountain Sage Community School Charter was unanimously approved by the Poudre School District on August 14th, 2012. The school will open to K-5 students in the fall of 2013, expanding one grade each year until the goal of a K-8 program is reached.

Mountain Sage will offer an arts-centered, sustainably-minded, multi-sensory education that blends Waldorf methods with the Colorado Academic Standards to provide students with an exceptional and balanced education. The school is committed to offering students a challenging academic curriculum, which includes ongoing foreign language and music education, as well as a variety of hands-on learning experiences with ample time outdoors and in the school garden.

Mountain Sage Community School believes all children deserve a public education that inspires them to reach their highest creative and academic potential in an environment respecting childhood and the natural world. They are currently accepting applications for fall, 2013.

Mountain Sage Community School
P.O. Box 1253
Fort Collins, CO 80522

www.mountainsagecommunityschool.org

Best of luck as you prepare to make school choices wherever you are.



Kitchen success: Eggplant patties
My plate full of patties, with another eager eater across the table from me

My plate full of patties, with another eager eater across the table from me

My mom frequently sends me recipes. If I cooked a different meal every night of the year, I might not get around to trying everything she’s sent me. These recipes are mostly in the form of “clippings,” so I’m sorry I can’t source this one any better than a photocopied page that says Sandy’s Eggplant Patties. My guess is that it’s from a Penzey’s spice catalog, because the recipe specifically mentions Penzey’s spices… but of this, I can’t be sure. However, you can be sure that these are tasty and a great alternative to chicken patties for the little ones. My kids will actually eat these–TRUE STORY!

Tools: Non-stick skillet (the bigger the better), 3-qt pot for boiling, food processor, mixing bowl, potato masher

Ingredients: 1 eggplant (peeled and cubed), 2 cups panko breadcrumbs (separated), 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1 egg (lightly beaten), 1 garlic clove (minced), 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, vegetable oil for shallow frying (separated, about 1/4 cup)

To Prepare: Bring water to boil in the 3 qt. pot. Add eggplant and cook until tender (about 5 minutes). Remove from the water and let rest on a paper towel-lined plate. Of the total amount of cooked eggplant, reserve about 1/3. With the remaining 2/3 of eggplant, pulse in the food processor.

Pulse 2/3 of the eggplant in the food processor

Pulse 2/3 of the eggplant in the food processor

Place all of the eggplant together in a large mixing bowl, and add 1 cup of the breadcrumbs, the cheese, egg, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mash together with the potato masher, then form into patties.

IMG_0362

The mashed together eggplant/breadcrumb/cheese mixture

Put remaining 1 cup of breadcrumbs on a plate. Coat each patty with breadcrumbs on both sides.

Plate o' breadcrumbs and the eggplant mixture

Plate o’ breadcrumbs and the eggplant mixture

In a skillet, heat some vegetable oil. Fry the patties in batches. Carefully flip each patty after about 2-3 minutes. Then cook the other side until golden, about 2-3 minutes.

Behold: the patties!

Behold: the patties!

Prep time: 20 minutes

Skillet time: about 6 minutes per batch

Makes about 10 patties, depending on size

Serve with marinara sauce, alongside garlic cheese bread or a side salad.

I served mine with a thicker homemade tomato chutney, and I had goat cheese & carmelized onion toast to go with it--YUM!

I served mine with a thick homemade tomato chutney, and a side of goat cheese & carmelized onion toast



Gone to the (prairie) dogs: Hangin’ at the Coterie

The Coterie Natural Area is located off Prospect and Timberline, with parking available in the EPIC parking lot

My childhood and that of my kids differs greatly. There are philosophical differences, sure, but geography plays the most significant part: exposure to the mountains, the hiking, the altitude, the dry climate, the sunshine, and many other things make their childhood what it is.

No way could I have predicted that a tiny mammal would be one of the ways in which my children’s life differs from my own childhood. My kids love (actually, psychotically love) to watch prairie dogs. In their defense, prairie dogs are incredibly interesting to watch. I think that a coterie (a family group) of prairie dogs could make even the least likely wildlife fan become an avid binocular wearer. There is not a rodent-loving bone in my body, and still I love to watch these little cuties.

I discovered a really great place to watch prairie dogs with the kids a few months ago. The Coterie Natural Area is located off Prospect and Timberline, with parking available in the EPIC parking lot. From the EPIC parking lot, it’s just a short trip down the Spring Creek bike trail. The kids took their scooters, and I walked. Once you get to the prairie dog town, there is even a bench for easy viewing.

A bit of a trip down the Spring Creek bike trail

A bit of a trip down the Spring Creek bike trail

On a good day, you can get the kids to settle down a bit and take it all in.

Might not look like much from far away, but just watch...

Might not look like much from far away, but just watch…

The landscape is moving!

The cutest thing is when they stand up and peek out of their holes

The cutest thing is when they stand up and peek out of their holes

Closely examing a hole

Closely examining a hole

Aren't they just the cutest things?

Aren’t they just the cutest things?

You can even check out this video of the kids getting up close and personal with a prairie dog’s home.

Hey little buddies!

Hey little buddies!

If you’re interested in prairie dogs (who isn’t?), there is a great kids’ book that I just discovered. The Great Fuzz Frenzy is written by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. It’s a cute story with great illustrations of the underground prairie dog action.

From Amazon.com

From Amazon.com

There are other places to check out prairie dogs in town. I also like driving down Conifer Street near Jax Outdoor Gear on North College. There are several different open fields near there with prairie dog towns.

What wildlife viewing do you enjoy? Your kids?



Ambitious in the kitchen: Fleischbrook (AKA Kraut burgers)
Fresh from the oven--Fleischbrook

Fresh from the oven–Fleischbrook

Food, food, glorious food. I think most people can agree that certain foods can evoke memories in ways that no other image, smell, photo or story ever could. For me, so many childhood memories are evoked with the simple deliciousness of fleischbrook. Due to a quick google search, I learned that these simple meat and cabbage-filled bread rolls are also called kraut burgers, Bierocks or Runzas.

Ground beef, italian sausage, onion, cabbage + bread dough= delicious

There is a three part process to the Fleischbrook. 1. Make the bread, 2. Make the filling, and 3. Prep and bake. Since there is so much involved, it’s nice to have help. Wait, clarification: It’s nice to have adult help. Kids are awesome, and they’ll love helping you roll out the dough, but every time I’ve made these I’ve found that it’s helpful to have a fully engaged partner.

Here's a photo of one session with my wonderful mother-in-law (I've also enjoyed making them with my brother and my dad, and years ago with my grandma)

Here’s a photo of one session with my wonderful mother-in-law (I’ve also enjoyed making them with my brother and my dad, and years ago with my grandma)

Here’s my bread recipe, à la Betty Crocker.* You start with 3 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour, 3 Tablespoons of sugar, 1 Tablespoon of salt, 2 Tablespoons of shortening, and 2 packages of active dry yeast in a large bowl (I just put it straight into my Kitchen Aid mixer bowl). Add warm water (120-130 degrees) and beat for 1 mintue on medium speed. Stir in about 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is easy to handle. Knead on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. When dough is smooth and springy, place it in a large oiled bowl (oiled with about aTablespoon of olive oil). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 40 to 60 minutes (or when doubled). Dough is ready if indentation remains when you stick two fingers in it. Now, for the second rising. The key to using this bread for fleischbrook is to allowing for the first rise, and then dividing your dough into small bun-sized dough-balls for the second rise. This makes the dough much easier to work with. I have used whole wheat pastry flour at times, but I find that using solely white flour is the most nostalgic for me–HA! After you divide your dough into golf ball-sized dough balls, place on a greased baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. You’ll want to leave plenty of room for these puppies to rise, so it will probably necessitate two baking sheets. Let rise another 35 to 50 minutes, or until double. Now, those dough balls will make for perfect bread-wraps for your filling!

Here’s my filling recipe, à la my dad. You will need a dutch oven (or huge skillet) and a small pot for boiling the cabbage in batches. As far as filling ingredients go, you can play around with this but I used approximately 1 lb of ground beef, 1 lb of mild Italian sausage, one large onion (diced), one medium head of green cabbage (chopped into postage stamp-sized pieces) and salt and pepper to taste (my dad insists on lots of pepper and his diet demands no salt). While you brown the meats and sauté the onion in your dutch oven/skillet, boil a few inches of water in your other pot. After the water boils, throw in the cabbage, and retrieve with a slotted spoon once they are softened. Place the cabbage bits into the skillet along with the meats and onion. Sauté together, testing for spices, and remove from heat. This mixture should be moist but not saucy. If it’s a bit saucy, keep cooking to evaporate any remaining liquid.

The mixture is heavy on meat, but you can even make a cabbage-only version

The mixture is heavy on meat, but you can make a cabbage-only version (of course, my dad sautes the cabbage in bacon fat, so I don’t know if I’d call it a “vegetarian” version)

Now comes the rolling, filling, folding and baking. Like most dough, you’ll want extra flour for the rolling process. You can also melt some butter to brush on top just before you pop ’em into the oven at 350 degrees. Since everything is already cooked, we’re less concerned with interior temp than the outer dough shell, so check for a golden crust. My prep method, in photos.

Rolling the dough

Rolling the dough–you’ll see imprecise is just fine, you’ll want the diameter around 8″ or so

IMG_0868

Add about 1/2 cup of filling

I go for triangles--flop over one side, then another.

I go for triangles–flop over one side, then another.

Stretch the third side to completely cover the remainder--pinching corners to secure.

Stretch the third side to completely cover the remainder–pinching corners to secure.

Throw them on a parchment/sipat lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, flipping half-way through

Throw them on a parchment/silpat lined cookie sheet with the folded side-down and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, flipping half-way through

*If you want to skip the bread making adventure, buy yourself some frozen Rhodes dinner rolls (not the heat-and-serve kind, but the let-’em-rise kind) and start from there.

This recipe made me about 30 average size meaty-filled bready delights. These little fleischbrook keep amazingly well in the freezer. You can slip them into a freezer bag, then reheat from frozen at 350 for 8-10 minutes. I will apologize profusely for misnaming these, but I never studied German. My grandmother was German-Russian, and any google search did not reveal this exact spelling. I think “fleisch” means meat, and I see that another term for what I’m trying to make here is “bierock” so I wonder if I am actually trying to say: FLEISCHBIEROCK, and my family always pronounced it “fleisch”-BROOK (as in “brook”–a place where one finds trout). Hmm. In any case, if you decide to try it, enjoy!

What are your favorite food traditions? Do you have all-consuming family-food preparation days? 



2013: A Resolutions Odyssey

Happy New Year!

This is 2013, which in my mind as a child would look just like the Jetsons or, alternatively, Marty McFly’s place in “Back to the Future Part II.” Since no one is riding hover boards and I don’t have a robot to clean my house (is the Roomba supposed to be as exciting as Rosie?), I will carry on much like I had in 2012. I do enjoy New Year’s for the opportunity to reflect on the past year, and make goals for the new year.

Since I’ve read that making goals public will help me keep my resolutions, I think I’ll do that. Now, it’s January 4th, and some of these are lofty and vague, but I consider New Year’s Resolutions the kind of goals that are allowed their own evolving timelines. Sure, start on New Year’s, but feel free to start anytime, right?

  1. Be more ambitious and intentional with my time. I have been reading a book called No Regrets Parenting by Dr. Harley Rotbart. The author makes the point that you have about 940 Saturdays between the time your child is born and the time you send that kiddo off to college. If your child is 5-years-old about 260 of those Saturdays are gone. Makes you think a bit, doesn’t it? This is not to say that every day needs to be a trip to Disneyland, but it is to say that every day that emerges is a new opportunity to spend time together, to make memories, establish traditions and be more purposeful in my time as a parent and spouse.
  2. Organize. As I age, I have struggled with an issue that I never imagined that I would. True confession: I was always a bit “messy” and clutter never seemed to bother me.The older that I get, the more I am bothered by my chaotic environment. I occasionally purge the closet, and I regularly resolve to get rid of “stuff” but this is the year that I organize my life in order to impact my overall well-being. Looking around my house, I feel chaotic, stressed and disorganized. It affects my mood significantly at times, making me feel overwhelmed. I think to myself, “There is so much to do! Where do I begin?” In order to feel less stressed by the constant barrage of papers, hair ties, books, socks, toys, dog hairs, etc. that seem to blanket my canvas, I want to really research ways to organize and declutter my life.
  3. Enjoy my life. This Christmas I asked my mom for socks. And she got me about a dozen pair of the perfect little Gold Toe socks that work well with my uniform: jeans, Danskos and a long-sleeve shirt. When I opened up all the packages of socks, I vowed to throw away all my socks that had holes in them and only keep my “good socks.” What I realized in emptying out my sock drawer was that I did have a few socks to toss, but I also had a sock drawer full of perfectly fine socks. I thought I needed socks, but it turns out that I didn’t. THIS is the story of my life. I thought I needed x, but I didn’t really. This year I am going to make a concerted effort to enjoy the life that I already have instead of yearning for new things, new commitments, new friends, new experiences.
  4. Dream. When you are a kid, it seems so easy to dream big. I dreamt of becoming an astronaut, attending Harvard Law School (a la the classic 80’s C. Thomas Howell movie “Soul Man”), meeting Kirk Cameron and/or Tiffany, etc. As an adult, I do this thing where I temper my fear of failure by setting goals that barely get me out of my regular routine. Set small goals, very little chance of disappointment, right? Well, I have no problem at all with small goals! Small goals are still goals, and baby-steps can lead to big things; however, I want to rekindle this love of the ‘grand plan’ that I once had. I want to think career, travel, relationships, self-improvement, health, writing, hobbies, parenting, homemaking–EVERYTHING! Making myself dream and fantasize about my best life possible will hopefully lead to higher expectations of myself, not bigger dismay when everything isn’t “perfect” in 6-weeks time. I don’t need to have a timeline or itemized receipt for my dreams. This is not the same as checking items off my “Bucket List” (am I the only one who hates this term?)–this is about letting my inner dreamer out, letting her grow and think again because she’s been stifled for so very long.
  5. Be lovely. For me, this about being outwardly lovely and inwardly lovely. Be gentle to myself and my family. Be forgiving. Be showered. (This is a big one for me. HA.) Be good to my body. Be generous. Surprise others with my kindness. Go out of my way for others. Bite my tongue. Smile more. Linger with my kids when they want to snuggle with me. Be hospitable to others. Entertain my own family–tablecloths & cloth napkins for no reason, balloons at the grocery store, sparkling cider just because, starfruit taste-testing at home even if the fruit is $3.00. And paint over that dang orange wall that drives me nutty.

Certainly, if this autumn of illness and unexpected derailment has taught me anything, life will not slow down so that I can accomplish anything. Amidst my resolutions lurk the normal obligations of tidying up the house, cooking dinner, maintaining a household, and keeping up with our regular schedule of school and various appointments. Like a game of double dutch, I just have to anticipate and jump in. I can’t imagine that anyone ever jumped into the ropes and “got it” right off the bat, so I’ll just keep trying. Making time to blog is also on my radar, but maybe a renewed vision is in order: more recipes, more crafts, better photos, more Fort Collins fun. I also want to be a better blog reader.

After writing all of this, I feel optimistic. What about you? What are your resolutions? Does your resolution odyssey look more like this?

Or this?

From cars.findthebest.com

From cars.findthebest.com

Pragmatic or imaginative, my best to you!