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Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

The contest is over and the winners are Pat and Melody May! I’ll be contacting you to get you your prizes! 

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Things at the Barrett house have been crazy, what with work, writing, kids, school projects, my own projects, birthdays, anniversaries, and oh, yes, the release of Blaze of Winter (yay!). It is not a coincidence that today I’m at Romance @ Random with a post entitled De-Stressing in Autumn. In it, I lay out five steps I’m going to take to help me relax. They are:

(1) Set aside some serious reading time.

(2) Take a walk outside in the crisp, fall air.

(3) Bake something autumnal.

(4) Listen to my favorite fall music.

(5) Try not to get wrapped up in the little things.

I think these are good first steps, and I want to start on them immediately because goodness knows things aren’t going to get less stressful as we head into holiday season. In fact, I already began by baking pumpkin bread and banana raisin muffins (which admittedly aren’t the most autumnal, but certainly do smell good). I’d love it if you stopped by here or at R@R to give me your best tips on how to relax!

On the writing front, things are going well, but never as quickly as I would like. I’m about halfway through Slow Summer Burn (Star Harbor #4), and I just got edits back for Long Simmering Spring (Star Harbor #3). I’d like to have everything done by the end of 2012, which is extremely ambitious with my work/family schedule. We shall see how things play out.To make everyone (including myself) a little less stressed out, I’m doing another giveaway! Hooray, a giveaway! (See, I’m less stressed already!) I have tons more book goodies from RWA and one copy of Robyn Carr’s Sunrise Point that went unclaimed during my last giveaway. I’ll give two winners a couple of books each from my awesome romance stash.

Rules:

(1) Winner must be a member of my mailing list. Please sign up for my mailing list here.

(2) In the comments section below, tell me what you do to relax.

(3) TWO random commenters will be selected.

(4) U.S. only, please! (I’ll be shipping paperbacks).

(5) Contest ends 10/21 at 9pm, PDT.

Good luck! I can’t wait to hear from you!

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All right, so a few weeks ago, I blogged about how folks around here get psychotic (my word) about kindergarten enrollment. I promised I’d report back with an update as to what Mr. Barrett and I decided to do.

(Short version): Mr. Barrett was 30th in line and so we are assured of our desired early start time.

(Long version): A week in advance, several of the families in the neighborhood began to coordinate a plan of attack. It was decided that we would all go out early, together. Or rather, all of the fathers would all go out early, together.

Per the plan, one of our friends did a drive-by at midnight.  If the line was already long, he was planning to stay and then spread the word.  However, when he arrived, there were only about 15 people were in line.  He debated staying but decided it was worth the risk to go home and get some rest.   Following the original plan, the friend returned at 3am and Mr. B showed up a few minutes later.  A couple of people had arrived in-between and our friend let them go ahead of him so that he could be hang out with Mr. B.   There were about 30 people in line ahead of them, most of whom had camped out all night (in sleeping bags).  At 3:40am, Mr. B texted another one of our friends (who had planned to show up at 5am) to encourage him to come out sooner because the line continued to grow at a brisk pace.  Our friend came at 4:30am and by the time he showed up, there were about 60 people in line.  By the time the sun rose around 7am, Mr. B said there were about 100 disheveled, unshaven people in line, desperate for coffee.  Kind of like an Occupy encampment, except with lots of iPads and laptops and without the political signs.  Once the office opened at 8am, Mr. B said it took about a minute to process each person, so he got back to the house shortly after 8:30am.

For the 40 degree weather, Mr. B said he was dressed perfectly. He was wearing thermal longjohns, a sophisticated, multi-layered ski jacket, smartwool socks, jeans and a sweater. To be honest, he looked kind of sexy – like a  European skiier. He also had a winter hat and gloves, a stadium blanket, and a comfortable, fold-up chair to sit on. I also packed him two piping-hot mugs of tea, a tray full of home-made triple-chocolate brownies and lots of trail mix. He told me I gave him too much food, but he was able to share some of the brownies with some friends.

He said it was no big deal (ha!) and that he’d do it again. I was like, “well, you’re in luck, because we have two more kids to enroll….”

All in all, a success. I’m a bit embarassed that we had to go through this rigmarole, but I’m glad we did it and it’s over. Until next year.

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Whew! I made it!

For a while there, I wasn’t sure I was going to. December just completely exploded on me and if I’d had the time to read my last post amidst all the craziness, I could have seen it coming.

It all started when I got back from two weeks of travel on November 30th. With no time to catch up I was hurled kicking and screaming into this month. Now, usually, it takes about a week to recover from serious travel, especially with time zone switching, three kids, a gajillion loads of laundry and just general upheaval. But in my case, I had no such luxury. Immediately, I was launched into the holiday season amidst mountains of work, writing and personal obligations. We’re talking baking dozens of cookies for teachers and friends, hosting multiple holiday gatherings, attending multiple holiday gatherings, sending out holiday cards, and of course, working and writing up the wazoo. I turned in both book proposals and even created my own chocolate crinkle cookie recipe.

So I’m going to pause to catch my breath before my crazy January begins, and count my blessings for 2011. I’m most thankful for my happy, healthy family.  Everything else is gravy, right?

Happy New Year. May your 2012 be filled with joy, peace and love.

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Outsourcing or In-house?

I’m sure a lot of parents struggle with the question of whether to teach their kids at home or outsource their training.  I’m not talking about home-schooling (which is a whole different ball of wax).  I’m talking about music lessons, sports skills, baking classes, etc.   With three kids under five, I’ve been coming up against this issue a lot lately.  I know a ton of parents, for whatever reason (and I can think of a million – personality conflicts, time issues, learning differences, to name just a few) outsource most of the extracurricular stuff to experts.  But so far, we haven’t.   At some point, we’re going to have to.  Like when my kid asks for fencing lessons (ahem).  But up until now, everything they’ve requested have been things we’d consider ourselves relative experts in. 

For example, one of my sons recently told me he wanted to learn how to play the banjo.  To my credit, I didn’t laugh (not trying to offend any banjo players out there, but what 4-year old asks to learn how to play the banjo?), but kept a straight face and said, “okay, but you have to learn how to read music first.  On a piano.”  He agreed.  Before I foisted him off on some hapless piano teacher, I told him he had to learn with me first.  This was partly to gauge his interest, and partly to see if I could actually do it.  I need to disclose that I play three instruments and had enough credits to minor in music theory in college, so I figured I had the knowledge part covered.  But did I have the teaching skills?   Yeah, I did.  But he wasn’t ready.  After a few lessons at home, he lost interest.  I figure I’ll try again in a few months.

Other times, the request for classes or training isn’t really that.  I’m sure if some of you have been reading this blog, you’d know that not only do I love to bake, but I’m quite proficient.  Well, last week, my oldest son asked me if he could take a baking class.  Here’s how the conversation went.

Him:  “I want to take a cooking class.”

Me:  “Okay.  What do you want to learn how to cook?”

Him:  “I want to make a cake.”

Me:  “That’s a baking class.”

Him:  “Yes, a baking class.  I want to learn how to bake.”

Me:  “Well, you already know how to bake.  We’ve made [insert any number of things we've baked together].  We can make pumpkin muffins this weekend, if  you want.” 

Him (insistently):  “No.  I want to go to a class.”

Me (puzzled):  “But we can do it at home.”

Him:  “I don’t want to do it at home.”

Me:  “But why?  We’re good at baking together.”

Him (bluntly):  “I want to be away from [younger brother].  I don’t like it when he interrupts us.” 

Me:  “Aha.  Okay, we can bake while [younger brother] is napping.  Would that be good?”

Him:  “Yes.”

So here, the request for lessons wasn’t really that at all.  It was a request for one-on-one attention, which I happily gave to him. 

We did enroll our oldest in swim classes.  He half-heartedly kicked around the pool.  After a month of no progress, my husband took him out himself to our clubhouse’s pool where he got more accomplished in an afternoon than in a month of lessons.  Not that my husband is a swimming pro, but he’s patient and he gently pushed our kid when the official swim teacher wouldn’t.

I’d be curious to know at what age/skill level/time-frame you have started to outsource your kids’ activities.  For what activities do you outsource?  And for what activities do you keep it in-house?

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I’ve been struggling lately, trying to reconcile my absolute love of all things fruity with the tremendous amount of sugar contained in most of what I crave.  Sometimes I want a perfectly ripe peach, juice dripping down my chin as I eat it over the kitchen sink.  Or a crisp, tart apple, fresh from the orchard and tangy on my tongue.  When I was pregnant with my second son, I craved oranges.  I was so obsessed with them, I’d have vivid dreams about them at night, and spent most of my waking hours trying to figure out how I could (a) get more of them and (b) how many I could eat before I made myself sick.  You can imagine how my orange-dreams cut into my productivity. 

But unfortunately, my desire for fresh fruit is never as strong as my absolute lust for the adulterated stuff.  Jams, preserves, jellies, sauces, dried fruits, candied fruits, and any kind of paste – especially quince – just does it for me.  I’m one of those people who goes to fairs and farmer’s markets and seeks out the homemade preserves.  I’ll order a cheese plate just to get the fig loaf or the membrillo that accompanies the cheese.  One of the best wedding take-aways I’ve ever received was two jars of freshly-canned fruit preserves made by the bride’s mom (thanks, mom of http://mbsartofcooking.blogspot.com!).  Stunning blueberry-raspberry stuff.  I felt guilty hoarding it instead of sharing it with my kids.

A friend who knows of my proclivities recently gave me a chocolate bar with candied orange peel in it, and when she inquired as to whether I specifically liked candied orange peel, I replied: “What’s not to like?  It’s bitter and sweet all at once – like the best parts of the orange in one little bite.”  She laughed and told me I’d hit the nail on the head. 

So what is it about the stuff that I adore?  I think it’s the concentrated essence of what makes the fruit taste like the fruit.   And I can’t discount the zing of utter sweetness – like a fruity punch in the gut.   In my mind, a fresh apricot tastes like an apricot.  But a spoonful of good apricot jam tastes like a hundred apricots all at once. 

So of course, when I go apple picking next weekend, I can guarantee I’ll be making many batches of apple sauce with the bounty I bring home.  And some cakes, pies, and muffins for good measure, too. 

What do you say?  Fresh fruit or not?

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Late summer in Northern California.  The cool, misty mornings.  The unbearably bright, hot sunny days.  The break in the heat in early evenings.  And then, dusk, edging slowly, slowly into night, growing ever cooler until the last glimmers of light are gone and the moon rises high in the sky.

Today was such a day. 

Such a gorgeous, glorious day.  I spent it outside with my family, basking in the sunshine.  Then, later, I used the zucchinis from my friend’s garden to make zucchini bread.  Moist, cinnamony and delightfully chewy, it filled the house with an incredible aroma.  I had a Proustian moment.  Flash back twenty years:  me pulling up zucchini from our backyard garden as long as my forearm and twice as thick – monsters that had been allowed to grow unchecked.  The look of surprise on my mom’s face when I brought them into the house that quickly morphed into one of happiness, as she realized the extent of the bounty.  The loaves and loaves of bread she baked, and the delicious smell – summer’s almost over.  Fall is on the wind.

I can almost taste it.

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