Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pizza Roll-ups, hold the sauce

A current favourite recipe around here is Recipezaar's Pizza Roll-ups. (Originally found through Gayle at Grocery Cart Challenge.) Same idea as cinnamon rolls only you use cheese and pizza toppings. No sauce in the rolls--you save that for dipping, which works well here for those who don't like or have to be careful with tomato sauce. And I find they're easier to shape than individually-stuffed calzones--you don't have to worry about the ingredients popping out, they're supposed to sort of stick out of the dough.

I have my own version of Recipezaar's ingredients (I think it could take a lot of variation): a 2-pound (4 cups of flour) recipe of bread dough (made in the bread machine), a stick of pepperoni, 200 g shredded cheese, a few sliced mushrooms, and a bit of chopped parsley. (I left out all the other seasonings.) Green pepper works fine too but is not as popular with the Squirrelings. Roll out the dough in a long, thin rectangle, mix the chopped topping ingredients with cheese, roll dough around the stuffing as for cinnamon rolls, and slice into 24 pieces. You don't have to let them rise a second time, but the recipe does recommend letting them sit for 10 minutes, and I put them in the fridge for awhile instead since I wasn't ready to bake them.

What I would warn you about though is that, contrary to one of the comments posted on the Recipezaar site, that melted cheese can be horrendous to scrape off, even if you do grease the pans. Last night I covered the pans with foil and then used non-stick spray on that; it seemed to do the trick, there were very few stuck places.

You might not have to bake them as long or as hot as the recipe says--just go with what you'd usually do for rolls, somewhere around 375 degrees. Keep an eye on them and take them out before they get hard. Serve with your choice of sauce or dip, or just plain.

The Apprentice asked if I will make her some of these for school lunches this year.

Math yes, computers no (Donald Coxeter)

From King of Infinite Space, by Siobhan Roberts, about geometer H.S.M. (Donald) Coxeter, 1907-2003
"....Coxeter despised, almost more than anything, the onslaught of the computer age. 'I deplored the attention that people gave to computing,' he said once. 'I was afraid they might neglect other subjects....'

"Coxeter never used a computer, let alone a modem. Although, not wanting to be out of touch with the world of fans that wanted to be in touch with him, he had his son-in-law....send e-mails on his behalf. And, ironically enough, the computer server in the University of Toronto math department has been named in Coxeter's honor--"
--King of Infinite Space, pp. 198-199

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What I'm reading

I'm about halfway through this book on the life and work of geometer Donald Coxeter. (Amazon reviews here.) This would be an awesome, awesome book to add to a late-high-school math course, with the exception of a few strange pages about his adventures in psychoanalysis, and a bit of profanity near the end. I keep coming across things that I'd like to quote here, then I keep reading and forget to post them.

Please understand that I have absolutely no qualifications for reading or understanding this book. I have no post-secondary education in mathematics of any stripe, geometry or otherwise (although I did briefly work in a university math office). In fact, I'm pretty sure that my high school mathematics completely skipped over even the basics of what Coxeter spent his life doing, and we certainly NEVER talked about the historical rift between geometry and algebra. (See Nicolas Bourbaki...who didn't exist.) Which is really sad, because it might have helped make a little more sense of what we did do.

But I'm enjoying it anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Baby shower (and no chocolate on the diapers)

Some baby shower games are just disgusting. See subject line above.

Some have been done to death. How many things on a tray can you remember?

So when it was time for a much-anticipated baby shower this weekend (for a mama who's given many memorable parties of her own, we (her friends) decided we had to do something different. But not gross.

When we asked the New Mama's other offspring (who's the Apprentice's age) what they needed, she said that they were well stocked with clothes and all the big we thought having a surprise Toys for Boys party would be fun (and probably appreciated after years of pink). That idea also inspired the games and decorations.

The guests were a mix of moms and teenage daughters--plus our own younger squirrelings, plus the New Arrival who got very well hugged and walked around. Plus Baby's Dad and Mr. Fixit, who spent part of the time hanging out in the workshop. Fourteen bodies altogether. We all know each other--we used to get together every couple of weeks during the older girls' younger years--but don't often get everyone together now. So it was kind of like a family reunion too. (The only (female) bodies missing were our friends who moved to the U.S., and a couple of daughters who were travelling or doing other important things.)


We browsed both the baby shower sites and the birthday party sites, and started to get inspiration from some of the ideas there: Nursery Rhyme Jeopardy made Mama Squirrel think of doing something like Toy Jeopardy or a toy trivia quiz; the Lego parties sprouted the idea of having some kind of a model contest or race. Just thinking about all the different kinds of toys through the years made me remember how many little bits and pieces we have around here already (and the old catalogues we've been looking at). Finally we used those ideas to come up with two of our own games. Actually three, but we decided that two were enough. (The third was going to be a competition to see who could build the best "baby stuff" (high chair, bed, toy) out of Lego.)

The first was a variation on the tray game, and it was partly inspired by our problem habit of keeping things for a long, long time. We're squirrels, after all. So we dug around in the bottom of the Treehouse, and found 20 different toys, or parts of toys, ranging from the 1960's through today. We numbered each toy, and everybody had a few minutes to write down the name. The most toys guessed correctly won a prize (two people tied with 15 right). Most people got Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, and Cabbage Patch Kids. Some got Lincoln Logs, Polly Pocket, and Fisher Price Little People. Nobody guessed the Colorforms--well, we did have to make a couple of them challenging! But I thought somebody might remember the Liddle Kiddles.

The second game came out of the WishBookWeb vintage catalogue site, and it's something that Crayons and I did a couple of times this year for school. What you do is pick an old Christmas catalogue on the site--say 1942--give yourself a reasonable budget for the time--and pick out presents within that budget.

I picked out seven catalogues from the site and printed out about ten toy pages from each one. Each pair of players got those pages in an envelope with the year marked on it and some play money, a sheet of coloured cardstock (3-hole punched), a glue stick, scissors, and markers. (Crayons volunteered her set of fancy scissors too.) The 1933 team got only $5; the 1988 team got something like $25. (Yes, I know that in 1933 you would have been extremely lucky to have had $5 to spend on baby presents; but I didn't want to give them 39 cents either.)

The challenge was to pick out presents for the baby and cut and paste them onto a page for a keepsake booklet--with autographs, comments and so on. We had prizes for the most artistic, most fun for the money and so on. Mr. Fixit and the Baby's Dad each made a page too. The last page of the booklet was left blank, and one of the guests used it to write down the "real" presents when Baby's Mama opened them later. At the end, we tied the pages together with ribbon.

There was lots of laughing and reminiscing over the catalogue pages while everybody worked on them--"oh, I remember those!"--"look what a teddy bear cost in 1933!"--"hey, Mom, you found one of those at the thrift shop."


Each family brought a plate of finger-food desserts--cookies and squares. I made some mini cheesecakes from the Momma's Corner website [link defunct]. I thought they might fall apart when people unpeeled the paper cups, but they held together really well. I think ours might have been a bit smaller than Momma's--I was just guessing at how much crust and how much cheese mixture to put into each one. We used half her filling recipe--1 package of cream cheese and so on--and ended up with 36 mini cakes.

We followed the very detailed directions here to make an edible fruit bouquet. It's the tail end of strawberry season here, so this idea is a good one for June or July; I don't think I'd try it in January. (I liked the baby sock bouquet too, but the fruit bouquet looked tastier.) (Yes, I know our skewers show a lot more than theirs did--we just did our best.)

High up in a cupboard we found a ceramic container that someone had sent flowers in when one of the Squirrelings was born--not sure which one, and I had probably thought of sending it (the vase, not the Squirreling) to the thrift store more than once, but now I'm glad I kept it, because it did look good with the fruit arrangement. (Photos coming.) I was going to make a batch of plain playdough to stick the skewers into, but I found Play-doh Soft-packs at the dollar store, saving me the trouble. And we saved the Play-doh afterwards.) Ponytails and I put the fruit on the skewers in the afternoon and refrigerated them until after dinner; then she arranged the vase, and we put it in the cold room until the party. (It wouldn't fit in the fridge.)

We made punch (one of the guests brought her punch bowl), from a recipe I saw in Taste of Home while waiting at the dentist's last week. (2 litres club soda, 1 750 mL bottle white grape juice, 1 cup sugar or to taste, 1 cup lemon juice. Mix and serve with ice.) I put on a pot of coffee too.


We kept it simple: a dozen balloons, a bright green plastic tablecloth, bright flowered napkins, and Crayons' Toy Story collection (mostly from yard sales) displayed by the front door.


We used a lot of things we already had: the old toys for the games and decorations; homemade jam for the cheesecakes, homegrown parsley for greenery in the fruit bouquet, the re-used baby vase, skewers, "real" plates and cups, surplus-store cardstock, and so on. I printed out the catalogue pages mostly on the backs of other printouts (that was partly because we forgot to get more printer paper).

We spent our money where it seemed to count the most: fresh fruit for the bouquet (and a daisy-shaped cutter for the pineapple, although we could possibly have improvised with a knife); cupcake liners and Nilla Wafers for the cheesecakes (graham crackers are cheaper here, but I wanted the "real thing"); a few partyware things. We stopped at a new Dollarama that had a really good craft-supply section, so that's where we found prizes for the games.


If you're planning a shower for a mom whose baby has already been born--and especially if she's nursing--allow time in the evening for her to take care of the baby's needs. New babies can take a long time to nurse, especially if they're heading for a nap. Most guests don't mind entertaining themselves for awhile if the New Mama has to disappear for awhile. For groups that don't know each other well, you might want to have a game or something that doesn't require the Mama's presence. (This happened to Mama Squirrel too when the Apprentice arrived slightly ahead of schedule (and ahead of the baby shower). It wasn't that we were squeamish about feeding the baby in public, it was more that we weren't very experienced at it yet, and our Squirreling wasn't going to go to sleep with all that noise.)

The best idea, I think, is to do what you're comfortable with and what will mean the most to your guests. For this group of friends, that meant--along with no chocolate on the diapers--spending a few minutes at the end thanking God for the blessing of our children and families...and each other.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dewey goes to Vacation Bible School

Every summer of my childhood, we went to a Baptist church's VBS. (Our church didn't have one.) As so many people remember from old VBS's: the cookies and Kool-aid flowed Deep and Wide, and the crafts were largely popsicle sticks. The theme for the week might be "Following Jesus," and I have no idea who published the materials but they--at least the stories for grade six or so--were pretty meaty. One year it was a version of Nicky Cruz's Run Baby Run, about gangs in New York; another year I remember reading missionary stories that must have been about John and Betty Stam, because I can still hear this Dr. McCoy voice in my head saying something like "Dangit, Jim, those Lisu are going to learn about Jesus."

What also sticks in my head is the person who taught us older kids for the last two years I was there. I remember two things about him: first, that I always admired the commitment this young man had that made him come back and teach us rowdy kids, year after year. The other thing I remember is that he was killed on a motorcycle a couple of years later. I've always felt sorry that I never got a chance to thank him properly.

I've helped with several VBS's since then, at different churches. I've noticed how they're changing. Especially I noticed at the big church we attended while Crayons was very small--I didn't help those years, just watched from the parent's point of view, and that was the first time I'd seen one of these new Wow curriculums with so many kids, music videos projected on big screens, and more screaming during the music than I'd ever seen in a church before. The crafts were still paper plates and tie-dyed t-shirts, but overall there was a new, slicker, more packaged feel to the whole thing. The themes are now more like birthday parties or library reading clubs: outer space, treasure islands, even (last year) an amusement park. Kids go here, leaders say this and that, and then it's on to the next I wrong in feeling that it's all getting a bit too programmed? (Especially when you find out that every other church in town, and maybe more than that, will all be using the same curriculum...VBS must be about the only time all year that we all get so ecumenical.)
As a parent, I also have a bit of a problem with some of the "discipline the parents" language that appears in the Director Manual I was given this summer. "Some parents may want their preschoolers to [stay with] older siblings. Firmly insist that the [preschool] activities are the best ones for preschoolers." It's not that I'm arguing with that, I'm just not that impressed by being "firmly insisted" at.
The church we have been attending for the last three-and-a-half years is very small, and our VBS is not very big either. It also leans more towards the traditional Kool-aid mode than the frantic screaming and plastic memory toys--probably because our membership, and in particular our VBS leadership, is largely made up of an older generation. Our imaginative, energetic friend who has directed the VBS for three of the four summers we've been there was a teacher for many years, and she runs things according to her long experience with children--no matter what the books say to do. We also don't have a policy of "firmly insisting" that parents stay out or that children go where they're not comfortable.
But we're still using the Big Mega VBS Curriculum--or at least the parts of it we could afford. No music videos, although we did get a CD of the music. No plastic toys. We didn't even get take-home papers or worksheets, which in my mind is a plus anyway.
I was given the Preschool level curriculum to use, which was a bit of a problem since the seven or eight children I was teaching were all five or six years old. (The rest were in one big group for the elementary-age children. We didn't have any preschoolers.) I didn't need to teach the Bible story, since that was acted out during group time each day. We didn't have the additional DVD stories for them to watch. I didn't need to do crafts with them, since everybody made crafts together later in the morning. I didn't even need to do many songs, since everybody sang together at the beginning and end. This is all to say that most of what I was given was unnecessary, or in some cases too young for my class...I had to dig through the teacher's guides and pick out what was left.
What I was supposed to do with my group, each morning, was provide some kind of follow-up to the Bible stories, help them learn the memory verse and Bible themes for the day, and play games. I did find a couple of games I liked in the curriculum materials, but some of the suggested activities made me wince. I refused to have them go around in a circle and sing "Here we go round the burning bush." I'm sorry, that's not only silly but it seems somewhat blasphemous as well. (We also--collectively--decided NOT to serve a snack called "Berried and Raised" on the day we learned about Jesus' resurrection.)

Dewey fills in one morning for the curriculum's official hand puppet
Anyway--what did our class do? Played Freeze Tag--to get unfrozen, you had to shout out the memory verse. Played What Time is it Mr. Moses? (that felt slightly less blasphemous than dancing around the burning bush). Jumped along a number line marked with pictures to help learn one tricky memory verse. Sang a couple of songs I dredged out of my memory. Listened to a couple of picture books that fit with the day's theme. Crossed the "Red Sea" (a balance beam we improvised). Watched Ponytails do a magic trick, and talked about how God really did make wonderful things happen (no trickery). Played Hot Potato and said the memory verse. Watched Ponytails chat with Dewey about flashlights and missing batteries. And so on.
And the kids really did enjoy the Bayou theme, as far as we took it, and the dock area that some wonderful volunteers created (with real bullrushes to hide baby Moses in).