Cracking a Smile

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I have plenty of reasons to smile these days—and I’ll be sharing a few of them soon—but something that never fails to make me happy is gathering eggs from my chickens. The range in hues on the shells is amazing, and the flavor and color of the yolks inside puts store-bought eggs to shame. It’s like seeing the sun on a clear day vs. through layers of clouds.

Despite writing a book about a kid who cooks, I’ve never thought of myself as much of a wizard in the kitchen. I’ve aspired to be someone who follows—and even improves on—recipes to create memorable meals, but my actual culinary skills are … not so much lacking as underdeveloped. But one day I decided to learn to scramble eggs really, really well, and then I moved on to frying. Maybe poaching is next, since it’s something my oldest daughter has already pretty much mastered. Hopefully she can teach me.

My kids would probably tell you that my signature dish is hamburgers. While I do have a go-to house recipe for those, I’ve always found that the most fun is in topping them, and my favorite thing to stack on a patty is, yes, a fried egg. It’s all the more delicious knowing that the key ingredient came from just a few steps away.

construction.JPGDespite having a fancy place to lay (that photo above is me building our coop with help from my parents), my hens have started hiding their eggs around the yard. I suppose it’s my fault for giving them free reign of the yard during the day. They most often now lay them under a jasmine bush, and if I don’t get to them fast enough or I miss a few, there’s a creature in my yard (I’m thinking possum) that snatches one or two away for a late-night snack. I guess I’m not the only one who likes fresh eggs!

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Whether you’re a human or a hen or an egg-thieving marsupial, I hope you take some time today to appreciate something that makes you smile. Or whatever the equivalent expression is for animals with beaks. And if you’re so inclined, let me know what it is!

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Don’t Let Pi Day Pass You By!

Matilda and quiche.png

What makes a pie a pie?

Is it the crust? The circular shape? The way it’s cooked?

Most of the definitions I’ve read recently seem to agree that a pie must be baked and that it has to have a fruit or meat-and-vegetable filling of some sort, but several dictionary and encyclopedia entries sort of waffled a bit on whether a layer of pastry on the bottom, top, or both is necessary. There’s a whole cookbook’s worth of wiggle room in the words “typically” and “generally” and “usually.”

My wife whipped up a crustless quiche this morning to celebrate Pi Day, which seemed to satisfy my kids’ desire for a food properly befitting this most mathematical of days.

breakfast quiche.jpg

Our dinner plans involve taking and baking a pizza from a nearby shop, because pizza is totally a pie, right? I’ve always thought it could sort of slide into that definition, but I just learned of an argument that pizza is actually an open-faced sandwich! I’ve only recently started wrapping my head around the idea that some people consider a hot dog to be a sandwich, because it’s meat between two halves of bread. But pizza? Someone’s oven didn’t fully preheat on that idea.

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If what you’re eating today is not obviously a pie, could you make an argument to justify it as one? Now that I think about it, there may be a case for French onion soup …

(Illustrations ®2018 Hatem Aly, from HOW TO FEED YOUR PARENTS)

New Look, New Focus … New Book!

HOW TO FEED YOUR PARENTS COVER

*clears throat*

Um, hi. Remember me? The guy who couldn’t draw hands?

Yeah, so … I’m back. With news!

I stopped blogging some time ago, but don’t be mad! It was for a good reason!

In the years since I last freshened this blog with a promise to post more, I got a new job, moved hundreds of miles, and wrote a book. A book that a publisher wanted to publish. A book that a publisher is going to publish. On Aug. 7, 2018. That’s this year!

It’s called HOW TO FEED YOUR PARENTS, and it’s got illustrations from an amazing artist named Hatem Aly, and a recipe in the back, and I can’t wait for you to read it—even if I am jealous that Hatem is perfectly capable (talented, even!) at drawing hands.

Anyway, expect to be hearing more from me now, because I have a lot to say. Not just about being a father and writer, but about the world of books and authors and all that great stuff.

Feel free to bail if that sounds boring or tag along for the ride if it sounds interesting. I hope you stick with me, because *SPOILER ALERT* it’s going to be fun.

And if, you know, you have any interest in pre-ordering HOW TO FEED YOUR PARENTS, you can do so at Barnes & Noble or Amazon. I won’t be making sales pitches often on the blog, but I will from time to time note when and where the book is available, for obvious reasons.

Thanks!

RYAN

 

What We Celebrate When We Celebrate Pi Day

pies

My wife commented to me yesterday that she thinks we celebrate well. Not necessarily in the grand Christmas-anniversaries-and-birthdays sense—or at least not strictly in that sense, because we are pretty good at that. She was talking about the ways we mark smaller occasions: the first day of summer, say, or May the Fourth, or even a Friday evening after a difficult week.

We’ve not historically done too much for Pi Day, which comes every year on March 14 (3.14, yeah?), but this year was a big one, in terms of Pi Days, given that the month, date, year, and exact time for one second could be listed out as 3/14/15 9:26:53. Twice.

I secretly ordered my wife a T-shirt featuring a drawing of a cherry pie with the symbol for pi cut into the crust, and I gave it to her that morning.

For dinner, she baked a shepherd’s pie, followed by chocolate pie for dessert. We grown-ups had Irish cream whipped cream to put on our slices, and I invented a cocktail out of apple pie moonshine, bourbon/rye (I made one of each), and Izze sparkling apple juice.

Pi cocktail

I also talked a bit about circles and circumferences with the girls, so we did more than just blindly celebrate a day without honoring its roots. I believe that we should keep the Pi in Pi Day. As tasty as pie is, math is the reason for the season.

License to Quill

quill

So … this happened. My wife and I decided to get tattoos for our ninth anniversary. Since we’re almost to our 10th, and since we recently discovered a local artist we like, we decided to make the appointment.

The image, in case you don’t recognize it, is a quill. It pairs nicely with my wife’s inkwell.

inkwell

My firstborn took the tattoos in stride. My secondborn, the 5-year-old, declared that she liked them, but not if they stay forever. “I just want you to be my regular dad,” she said, making me feel inexplicably guilty. “I want you to be like you were before.”

I told her that I love her even when she gets permanently taller, which didn’t seem to translate. After a night’s sleep, however, she seems to have come around, asking to see the ink and noting that she likes it.

A Midsummer Night’s Underwear

A Midsummer Night's Underwear

The first day of summer is one of my favorite holidays I never really celebrate. My win-the-lottery dream is to buy a huge acreage and install on it an outdoor theater on which I can stage an annual production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” once the sun goes down on the longest day of the year.

I still like to mark the day, even if I don’t have any particular revelry planned.

This year, my wife gave me underwear covered with bugs to recognize the importance of June 21. She gets me.

And now I have something to wear when I’m feeling a bit Puckish.

Summer Week: Little Women

Summer Week: Little Women

Since before my firstborn could talk, I’ve read three bedtime stories a night. Actually, my wife has done a fair amount of that reading, and sometimes honored guests (grandparents, aunts and uncles, favored friends) get the privilege, and occasionally the kids’ behavior has been so horrid that they’re told to go straight to sleep, but when I say that I read my children three bedtime stories a night, and that I have for years, it’s basically the truth. I am the story reader of record in the family, and while my wife is also a bookish person, I’m more of what you would charitably describe as book obsessed. A bibliophile. I like what books look like on a shelf and stacked on tables, I feel a peace settle on me when I enter a library or bookshop, I can’t get enough of their smell, and—most of all—I love the words inside: how they read, how they sound, what they mean, why they mean what they mean, what we can learn from them, what they’re telling us, what they’re not telling us.

I read to my children just about every night because I know that children who are read to are more likely to become solid readers, to gain advanced language skills, to be wonderful people (right?). I read to my children because I work in an office all day and want to spend time close to them in the evening. I read to my children because I want them to associate time spent around books to time spent around me, in a safe, cozy, loving environment. I read to my children because books are important to me, and my children are important to me, and I want my children to recognize the importance of books, as well as their own importance.

I read to my children because there are so many stories I want to share with them.

I read to my children because I can’t not read to my children.

Though most of this reading has been picture books and short chapter books, we’ve recently made the jump to longer books. We started “Little Women” some time back, but recently took a break from that to blast through “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which proved to be a great choice. My girls would chant “Milo and Tock! Milo and Tock!” as they were getting ready for bed each night we spent exploring Dictionopolis, Digitopolis, and all points between.

We’re back to “Little Women” again, which the girls are enjoying, though in a different way. There are a lot of large and archaic words and terms, and my now-5-year-old secondborn asks a lot of clarifying questions, which is fine and understandable, but also breaks up the flow a bit. I don’t mind. Much. Still, I wonder how much they’re catching.

We recently read the chapter in which Amy maliciously burns up her sister Jo’s handwritten stories, and my girls were scandalized. Perhaps forgetting their own daily squabbles, they shook their heads, tight-lipped, at the sibling-vs.-sibling battle. But when Jo decides to ignore her petulant sister and refuses to forgive her, my daughters gasped out loud. Both of them. Even if other stuff is going over their heads, they recognized the seriousness of this broken relationship.

I’m looking forward to many more books to come. My firstborn is already reading “Little House in the Big Woods” on her own for a summer book challenge, so I’m thinking we might try “The Hobbit” next.

What were your favorite childhood reads?
and/or
What are you reading or looking forward to reading with your kids?

Finals Week: The Lunch

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Thanks to the stellar math-a-thon fundraising efforts of my firstborn’s class, they get a pizza and ice cream party tomorrow on the last day of school, which means today’s lunch was the last I had to pack for the school year. That’s a big deal for me. To celebrate, I went with one of my daughter’s favorite sandwiches from our family’s first-grade menu: salami (nitrate free—or is it nitrite free?) and basil. She’s told me repeatedly throughout the year how much she loves this sandwich.

This morning, she whined about having to eat it, complained about the basil, and tried to pick it apart before I put it into her lunchbox.

My wife also pointed out that lunch responsibilities are now falling more firmly on her shoulders for the summer.

I, however, am choosing to remain in my good mood.

(If you’re wondering—and why wouldn’t you be?—my firstborn got 98 out of 100 math problems completed in five minutes correct. I don’t usually brag on this blog, but like I said, I’m in a good mood.)

What are you having for lunch today?

Return Week: Death Becomes Her

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While recently walking through a nearby cemetery, which we used to do more often but now only sometimes do, we discovered a gravestone bearing a name similar to—but not exactly spelled the same—as my firstborn’s. She was excited.

I had forgotten about the find by that evening, but a few days later, as we drove past the cemetery, she casually announced, “Look, there I am!”

I was creeped out to see her pointing out the window at a field of monuments and headstones, but I do have good recall and the ability to think like my kids, so I quickly figured out what she meant.

I’ve mentioned this particular child’s fascination with the macabre before, and instead of trying to sweep it under a sunshiny rug, I figured that interest can be harnessed.

Thus was born the idea for our Summer Mystery.

While at the cemetery, my firstborn also noticed a lone headstone in the middle of an otherwise empty section. This stone is obviously very old: weatherbeaten, spotty, and worn down. She wants to know why it’s isolated. So I told her our summer project can be researching the grave to find out who’s buried there and why. We can contact the cemetery district, the mortuary owners, the historical society. I figured it would be an educational opportunity.

Sound like a fun summer activity, yeah?