Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Journey

Last week, we journeyed back to the high desert city from whence we came. C and D were allowed to pick five toys each (plus one lovey) to bring along on the trip. C chose five dolls. D chose five trucks.

We enjoyed visiting with family. We cooked and ate lots of wonderful food. We walked to the park near which I had grown up: much the same, yet not the same. I saw my childhood home, the honeysuckle bushes long ago cut down, only scrubby grass remaining.

The children played at parks and at grandparents' houses and some truly amazing indoor play areas. It was a wonderland for them: full of people they love, new toys to enjoy, unfamiliar places to explore.


C had her first stick of gum on the second plane ride home, when she, overtired from the long trip back, threw a loud and ever-so-slightly embarrassing tantrum about her ears hurting. It worked like a magical salve, enough of a distraction that we made it home without further incident.

We are back now, to the land of green and rain, ready to ring in a new season, and soon a new year.

Wishing you all a happy holiday season, full of love and joy and light.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Joking Around

Today's post comes to you from C, who told us a joke this morning that definitely needed to be reproduced here.

Q: What does Santa wear for Halloween?

A: A lightbulb!

Gotta love four-year-old humor!

And as a bonus, here's a pic of D wandering the wintery beach. Happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Today Brett is guest posting about our favorite board game in the world!

A few years ago, when C was a baby, I had the following dream. I was in a youth hostel in Vancouver B.C. watching a young Canadian woman with massive dreadlocks putting away dishes in a cramped kitchenette. I watched her for quite a while as the cups and plates kept popping back out at her from the overloaded cupboard.

Out of the blue, a young man with a shaven head and Northern European accent asked me, "Do you want to play The Princess Shell?" As I turned to face the man, he said, "It is the best game in the world."

I was startled and intrigued. "Uh, OK," I replied. At this, the man reached up to pull a large solid-wood game board off of a high bookshelf. With dramatic flair, he blew all the dust off the board before setting it before us on a low coffee table.

"These small tiles are called Secrets," he explained. "They are blown around the board by an Ever Present Wind. This one is the blind dog, this one is the liar's mask, and this one is called grandfather's axe...."

Unfortunately, at this point in the dream, my brain decided I'd had enough intrigue and pulled the plug. Even though it was 2:00 AM, I was too excited to fall back to sleep. With the dream fresh in my mind, I went into our office (now the children's bedroom) and started making notes. I knew I wanted to make The Princess Shell into a real board game, but I had no idea where to start. After I made a few sketches and notes I forced myself to go back to bed.

Over the last four years, I have worked on my game in fits and starts. Thanks to massive amounts of help from my family and friends, it has evolved into a very original and fun board game with clear, easy-to-learn rules. I named my game SHELL (the "Princess" part of the title was abandoned early on) and it is a game of strategy, memory and luck. I'm very happy with the game and ready for it to reach a larger audience.

If you are interested in following SHELL, please like it on facebook. If you have any questions, would like to order your very own handmade SHELL board game, or if you have connections or advice regarding the board game and/or computer/app industries (we are considering making it into an app) please email me at blackdragontea AT gmail DOT com. Thanks!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our Day

We had a lovely, laid-back Thanksgiving Day. It's long been Brett's and my favorite holiday: food, family, gratitude--what could be better?

The promise of a feast wasn't as exciting for our (ahem) non-foodie four-year-old, so we decided to sweeten the deal with an activity that everyone could get behind: making "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers. (I briefly entertained the idea of baking homemade gingerbread for this purpose, but that was quickly shelved.)

This picture pretty much sums up D's approach:

(In summary: Spread icing on graham cracker. Eat. Nibble on candies. Repeat.)

C, on the other hand, was more serious about the task (though she had her fair share of goodies as well).

Later, C was responsible for making the centerpiece. We found a single daisy on our morning walk around the neighborhood, and D found a few choice rocks, which inspired C's design. Personally, I found it lovely (it reminds me of a beautiful Mary Oliver poem, which I thought I might read before we ate, but C, of course, rejected the idea).

At dinner, when each of us shared what we are thankful for, Brett and I expressed the usual grown-up thankfulness for our wonderful family, our sweet children, our good health, our warm home. C, old enough this year to fully participate in the ritual, came up with the following list of things for which she is thankful: Thanksgiving, blankets, heaters, doorknobs, and the roof of our house.

Then yesterday, she asked me, "Can we still be thankful for things today?"--a question that I loved. After assuring her that yes, we can--and should!--be thankful everyday, she said, "Okay, I'm thankful for earth, and sky, and... doorknobs," giggling.

Oh, we are fortunate indeed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


This morning, I am thankful to be alone in a quiet house with a snoozy cat, a roasting pumpkin, and the 100,000 words of text that make up the first draft of my novel. I finished the first draft a week ago and only managed to wait two days before beginning the rewrite. I had thought that once I finished the first draft I'd finally be able to rest... but there is still much work to be done!

Today, Brett is working in C's classroom and D is staying with a friend, and so I work, adjusting plot and dialogue and words until this massive unwieldy thing becomes something worth reading!

Wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Meet Snowbox

For the past few months, our 10-year-old sedan has been on borrowed time, failing bit by bit. Reluctantly, we finally came to the decision that it was time to go car shopping.

On the afternoon of Election Day, after 4 hours, 2 red balloons, and about 50 almonds, we ended up as proud owners of a Scion xB. Though we both didn't initially love its boxy style, after the test drive, we knew it was a good fit for our family. It's nice to have a little more room without having a massive car, and I now find its quirky looks positively endearing.

We tried to decide what to name it, and C came up with the winning suggestion. So, I present to you, the latest addition to our clan: Snowbox!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Our Red-Riding Hood themed costumes. Of course, we waited until after the Halloween event with Cora's school on Sunday to take them, when patience was low--but c'est la vie! Wishing you a lovely Halloween night!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Pumpkin Patch

A few weeks ago, we went to a local pumpkin patch with C's preschool. What a marvelous day it was; the sun came out and all of the children had played rowdy games at the otherwise peaceful farm.

C selected a choice pumpkin (one that was small enough for her to carry). This took a while, as there were many variables to consider.

Then she pretended to be a pumpkin for a while.

This morning, we carved them up. Hers is the one with the heart eyes.

Happy (almost) Halloween!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

These Fall Days

Oh my, what a busy autumn it has been so far! We have had much happening around here but I haven't taken the time to write a post in a while, so here are some scattered thoughts and notes about our lives right now.

My novel is now up to 75,000 words (almost 250 pages)! I'm getting closer to the climax, which is quite exciting, and I feel like writing nonstop until it's all done. In fact, it's becoming quite the all-consuming project. I may look like I'm washing the dishes, or walking to the train station, or going to sleep, but I'm actually writing in my head, pondering plot directions and weighing my options. I am sure this must be a bit trying for my loves, especially Brett, who is often being asked questions out of the blue like, "What's your favorite German word?" (He doesn't speak German.) Or, "How would you throw a pack of angry dogs off of your scent?" Oh, they are very patient with me! (I can't wait until my messy, messy first draft is done and cleaned up, so that he can finally read it and know where I've been all this time.)

Last week when we were at our "secret garden," D said, "Oh, my almost forgot something. My forgot to check the mail." Then, picking up a little hollowed-out acorn, he said, "Oh, here it is! From the shell tree." C actually had to sit down, she was laughing so hard.

C said today, "It makes me feel kind of peaceful to be a big sister, when you have a little brother who's always cracking you up." And the other day we walked outside after a rain, and I breathed in deep and commented on how nice it smelled, and she said, "Mmm, it smells of the earth."

We have been stocking the root cellar. A month ago, we bought twenty pounds of organic Honeycrisp apples to store for the "winter," which have since been eaten. Yes, all twenty pounds, eaten fresh. (They were just so tasty!) So last week we purchased nearly fifty more pounds for storage and processing (into dried apples, applesauce, and probably apple juice), and this coming week 20lbs of Concorde pears will arrive. We also have several pie pumpkins, lots of squash and garlic and onions and shallots, some frozen fruit (peaches and plums), and some jams (fig-lemon-thyme, apple butter, strawberry, peach-vanilla, green gage plum-ginger, purple plum). Not enough to last our family for long, but it's a start!

Today we played outside in the rain. I pulled out the tomato plants and brought the remaining green tomatoes inside to ripen on the vine. C took a picture of D (love the expression on his face):

And she contemplated the sunchokes:

And they ate a few wintergreen berries:

We're heading to a pumpkin patch this Tuesday, and beginning preparations for a Red Riding Hood-themed family costume for Halloween. Then, it will be on to planning for Thanksgiving, and Christmas! How these autumn days fly by!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mid-Autumn Festival

This past Sunday was Mid-Autumn Festival, and we celebrated by digging a box of paper lanterns and Chinese brocade out of the basement, decorating the dining room, and cooking a big feast.
 The festive dining room

 Dumpling soup

 The main course: Sweet and sour tofu, stir-fried long beans and gai lan, and chestnut fried rice

The children stayed up a bit late so that we could watch the harvest moon rise from the front steps, big and bright and beautiful, while we enjoyed our "moon cakes" (not the authentic kind, but steamed red bean buns, a favorite treat around here that happen to look just like a round white moon). 

The moon that night... a beautiful sight!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On the Equinox

On this first day of fall,
The basement/root cellar smelled of apples and garlic.

Every spider we saw was humongous.

C read the autumn-themed books we brought upstairs to her little brother.

I roasted fennel and beets and tomatillos and sweet potatoes and broccoli, and prepped a batch of peach bread pudding to enjoy for breakfast tomorrow morning.

I planted my new kale tree.

The rains returned and the air was crisp and sweet.

Wishing everyone a beautiful autumn!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Adventures with Pop-Pop

Oh, what fun was had while Pop-Pop was in town! The children adored having him around, as did we. I couldn't believe how productive I was with both kids happily occupied for long stretches of time. I canned two batches of jam (peach-vanilla and apple butter), purchased and transplanted some new specimens for the front yard (Chilean guava bushes, hardy kiwi vines, and garlic chives), and made some fabulous food, including a raw peach crisp (similar to this one). We had plenty of time for fun diversions too, and the weather was ideal: sunny and warm, with a hint of autumnal breeze.

We went to the beach...


We also explored some nearby parks, rounding off his visit with a trip to the "secret garden." 

Thanks for a great visit, Pop-Pop! We miss you already!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Day at the Zoo

My dad is in town visiting for a week, and the children are having a wonderful time with their Pop-Pop! We went on an outing yesterday to the zoo. Though they loved seeing the animals, C&D's favorite part was running around in a big pavilion while waving some gigantic fallen leaves (or "flags")....

Friday, September 7, 2012


As C and D get older (they are now 4.5 and 2), their imaginations have begun to flourish. It never ceases to amaze me how they can incorporate the simplest of playthings into their rich inner worlds. Cases in point:

One day, I handed Cora a narrow piece of foam board, a castoff of a project I was working on. She took it eagerly and exclaimed, "This is my train track that has wheels on it and it can drive and it can fly!"

She has also turned her bicycle helmet into a carseat (and the coffee table into a car):

And on another day, some scraps of glossy paper--which once held two stickers--became her "amazement cards." (Not even sure what that means, but they were important to her!)

Wooden blocks become baby bottles, smooth white rocks become "egg sacs" (born out of the Charlotte's Web obsession), Legos are built into boats and garbage trucks and ice cream trucks and houses and trains.

Our farm share box even became a "bathtub" for D one afternoon.

What will they think of next?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


We went away on a little road trip today, trying to get as much out of this glorious sunny weather as we can. There was a cool breeze, but the skies were blue and we decided that a trip to the lake was in order.

Majestic mountain through the car window

Testing the water

Let's pretend it was a shooting star

Wishing we had a boat

Little Man

The lake

I sat on the shore, watching the breeze carry golden leaves down onto the glassy water, while Brett took the kids "swimming." Then I snuggled my shivery little girl as she warmed up with the magic trio (mama's arms, warm towel, sunshine), quietly enjoying all the beauty of late summer at the lake.

Monday, August 27, 2012


"What you preserve is the cheeriest memento mori. It is a way to say and mean: of everything that passes, this is what I choose to keep. It is a clear reminder, there for the tasting, of where and when and how you have lived."  -Tamar Adler, An Everlasting Meal

Today's little after-work project: starting a batch of fig-lemon-thyme jam. Tomorrow I shall put it up, so that we may feast on these bright, sweet figs in the dead of winter.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Speaking of Books

C received a brand-new copy of Charlotte's Web for her fourth birthday in February--and as you can see, this book has since become a major favorite. She received two other E. B. White books in the same box set, and we first started with Stuart Little, but she rejected it (apparently, the first chapter was a little too exciting for her). So we began Charlotte's Web, and it immediately captivated her imagination. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that we've read it at least ten times. We typically read a chapter a day, during D's naptime (though he adores picture books, he doesn't quite have the patience for chapter books yet). Honestly, I don't think I will ever tire of reading E. B. White's fabulous prose, and love to see C becoming a little bookworm. When we neared the end during the first read, I was wondering if the death of Charlotte would be too much for her. But it is so beautifully written, and ends on such a hopeful note, that I came to realize that this is actually a nice, gentle introduction to the topic.

(It's also very cute to hear C and D saying words like "salutations!" and "idiosyncracy," even when they aren't entirely sure what they mean.)

C&D are also huge fans of the Alfie and Annie Rose books, and we recently checked out the first Paddington book from the library, which C enjoyed. Though we haven't re-read The Secret Garden yet, she still loves that one too. The other afternoon I peeked into the children's room to see C&D snuggled up on their bed with the book open on C's lap. D was saying excitedly, "Dat Colin's daddy!" and pointing at a picture. "No," C said gently, "That's not Colin's daddy. That's Colin's doctor." To which D replied his default response to being enlightened by his sister: "Oh!"

And while we're on the topic, I have to mention Sparkle Stories. C received a year's subscription for her birthday, and she listens to at least one story every day during quiet time. These stories are gentle and sweet, and we all love listening to them. (See above for how C likes to enjoy them: snuggled in our bed with her dolls.)

D's current obsession, though, is in the musical realm. He loves "Life's a Happy Song" from the Muppets movie so much. (We listen to the one on the soundtrack, but I also adore this version. The children actually haven't seen the movie, but we knew they would enjoy the cheerful tune. It is, however, incredibly catchy, and I think we may be destined to have it perpetually in our heads for the foreseeable future.) D wants to listen to it every day, and when we turn it on, he starts running back and forth sing/shouting the chorus in his adorable toddlerese: "My dot ebwyting my need white in fwont a me" (translation: "I've got everything I need right in front of me"). It sure is hard to be cranky while listening to this song, though! Here he is singing a few bars before he bats the camera away:

(For the record, other current musical favorites are Elizabeth Mitchell and Frances England.)

Anyway, went a little off-topic there, but I want to know: what were your favorite (or your children's favorite) books growing up? I'm always looking for more great classics to add to the collection!