Saturday, March 21, 2009

Goodbye Conti. Hello La Marzocco.

Though I wouldn't put the art of espresso on quite the same level as that of music performance, there are some similarities. One is in the area of equipment. I can be an accomplished pianist, but if I'm playing on an out of tune spinet piano, there's only so much I can do. I'd like to think that after close to a decade of experience I'm a fairly accomplished barista. The old Conti espresso machine I've been playing on for the last six years (never a Steinway in the first place) has gone very out of tune lately. It was loosing steaming pressure big time and my drinks were coming out flat no matter what I did...

Enough with the musical puns. This week Amore acquired the real Steinway of the espresso machines: a La Marzocco. Ours is a refurbished 3 grouphead Linea, which was the flagship machine of just a few years ago.
Here are Blair and I the day it arrived. We carried it across Grand Ave. with the help of a few regular customers. Waiting for the installation was grueling.
Here's our old Conti about to be carted away.
A look under the hood.
Here are the Roastery 7 guys finishing the installation.
The Amore employees decided that I should get to make the first drink.
I guess it was also my job to drink the first drink.
Here's the first shot served to a customer. He's gotten an American double espresso practically every day since I've been around. I'm glad he was served the first shot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Spring Day

Yesterday was our first Monday off that was warm enough to play outside. Here are some pictures from our wonderful soggy time in Marydale Park.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Living peacefully with your Four-Year-Old

I find in parenting I need to keep using what I learned during birth. In labor, when a new phase came, it took a while to figure out how to deal with it. I would be laboring, coping with contractions, and then it felt like they suddenly changed. They became unbearable, and nothing I was doing helped at all.

Now, in parenting, I find that when we develop patterns of whining and misbehaviour, (or parental frustration and anger) when our usual strategies stop working and we just can't seem to catch our rhythm or get along, it often means we're growing! It takes observing ourselves and one another, praying for wisdom and cooperating to figure out how to live together as we grow.
Recently, we were having fits of aggravating the younger brother, misuse of tools, snitching things and denying it, total lack of cooperation in basic things like getting dressed; you know what I'm talking about?

My normal avenues of eliciting cooperation, as well as discipline tactics just weren't working the way they had. Things felt off.
I told Paul and a few friends that something was up and I couldn't figure it out. I wasn't sure if he needed better-set boundaries, or more attention, or it was just a phase, or what? (it's so helpful to know that sometimes things are just hard and there's not way around it.) When we're having troubles I am reminded to pray, to ask for help. I like to make sure the kids know how much we love them in times of conflict; we need extra assurance of love when we're rubbing wrong against one another.

The breakthrough came when Paul commented to me that he noticed misbehavior seemed to happen when our Little Bear had an idea for something he wanted to do. He would do his plan, but not in a sanctioned way; like by taking something he had been told not to, and doing something he wasn't supposed to do with it. Frequently with scissors. I have learned from Montessori that when children disobey, they need more freedom. This does not mean that we don't expect good behavior, but that often lack of freedom drives misbehavior, so Paul's comment really rang a bell. I spent a day observing myself and Little Bear as I pondered this.

Then I talked about it with Little Bear. He agreed that he was bored and had a lot of ideas, and also that things hadn't been going very well lately and that we'd been having a hard time listening and getting along. I shared with him that I do expect him to listen to me, but also that I want to listen to him. And I told him he was ready for his Own Scissors. We worked together to find a place for the scissors where he could get them, but his little brother couldn't. We discussed some very concrete rules for use of the scissors. We discussed consequences for not following those rules. Then I helped him make a special box to keep them in, and signs saying that they were just for him. Ooh, was this fun! He spent all day doing projects with the scissors, and put them away after each use. He had a lot of things he had been waiting to do with them!

Our other problems dissolved. The scissors were the key that unlocked the door to our new phase. Our Little Bear has a lot of good ideas and needs the freedom to do them on his own. He was bored!
Along with the scissors, I found there were lots of areas where I was underestimating him, doing for him what he could do for himself, expecting too little, not too much, and controlling rather than equipping him to handle new levels of responsibility. For, with freedom comes responsibility. Along with the scissors came some new chores and a renewal of our expectations of one another. I hadn't meant to be controlling him, he'd just grown into some things he couldn't have handled and didn't need to a few months ago. Along with greater understanding came new tactics and peace.

I must note that not all of the scissor rules were followed. A few days after the debut of his Very Own Scissors, I found a little brother with a new albeit minor haircut and a new spool of ribbon cut to pieces. There were consequences, kind of big ones, and a lot of tears. Not getting to use his Very Own Scissors for Four Whole Days was rather agonizing, but he accepted it as just, though sad, and has lived up to the new responsibility even better since then. The brief reprisal of privileges didn't undo our new mutual esteem or the advance of four-year-old liberty in our house a bit.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Amore in the Media

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed for a review of Amore Coffee by the local online Magazine The Heavy Table. It's great to have our coffee shop reviewed by someone who actually knows a lot about coffee.

On the other hand, Amore tied with Kopplin's for third in Minnesota Monthly's Readers Choice Awards... just after Caribou and Dunn Brothers.

Funny, no?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Unschooling Our Four Year Old or Backstage with Little Bear

Putting on Birthday Soup for Gibbie's birthday party is such a great example of our learning process that I want to explain how it all came to pass. Gibbie loves pretending. We're always making up a story, or acting out a favorite book. Gibbie lives for the days when we go to our neighbor's house and the kids all put on costumes and do a little "show." (the show is usually mostly Gibbie announcing that the show is going to start in three minutes! a loose string of "tricks" or one well-used story about a lion and a Chinese person and a baby putting out a fire)
I don't know who's idea it was, but we started talking about doing a show for his birthday party. Lots of enthusiasm. I suggested we pick one of his favorite books as the story. We looked at his bookshelf and discussed the possibilities. He picked Little Bear's Birthday Soup. That was maybe a month before his party.
Gradually, the plan developed. I started a page in my planner for his party, and as he had ideas for it, wrote them down. It was my idea to make real curtains for the "stage" and I went and bought an old sheet for the fabric, but it was his idea that they would open by pulling a string. I sewed the curtains while he danced around excitedly one afternoon.
We read the book a lot. We discussed his costume. He and I both made drawings and discussed the features. I found out what he considered the essential features of little bear. He listened to my suggestions too. We tried out various plans for costumes for the other characters, and face paints for everyone. We ran our ideas by Paul and shared excitement with Ezra and friends and family.
We discussed the invitations; what they needed to say, what he wanted them to look like. We started making some by hand. He did drawings of little bear and told me what to write. We worked together, but he became very frustrated that they weren't turning out all the same, and it was taking a long time. I ended up making invitations/playbills by cutting and pasting from photocopies of the book's title page, and copying them. He folded them up and hand-delivered them.
He had a longer list of people who he wanted to come than could fit in our house. We talked about how this could work and decided that the kids who were going to be in the show would come first, get ready, and practice, and the grown-ups and little kids would come later. The little kids would sit on cushions in the front. He had definite ideas about all kinds of specific decorations, activities, and foods. Some he made happen on his own, some I did for him, a lot we worked together on, and some were eventually forgotten or rejected. He helped me clean the whole house for the party, bake the cake, prep the food, set up the props, make decorations and party favors. He designed valentine name tags and tickets for popcorn. The popcorn tickets were a feature he was most proud of. As per his instruction, I carved stamps out of rubber erasers that said, "popcorn!" and "recycle me!" He cut out tickets, stamped them, and planned how they would be used for the guests to order popcorn for the show. For a long time beforehand he dictated little signs advertising the show which he cut out and taped up everywhere.

Some weeks before the party, he stopped wanting to play Little Bear and was reluctant to practice acting it out. I got a little worried, because he had so much invested in this idea. We talked about the need to practice, and kept reading the story. He seemed nervous about being watched and wouldn't even repeat the lines. I resolved to abandon the show and just have games and cake if it looked like it was going to be too stressful. A few days before the show, he practiced it with me in costume, and had practically all his lines down word for word! After that, he wanted to practice every chance he got. We went over it with some of his friends when we could. We worked out some staging, talked about talking loudly and facing the audience. It seems he worked through his nervousness all on his own, and had been getting ready inside-- until he was ready to do it with others.

Of course, not everything worked out. There were some timing and logistical issues, things we would do differently next time. There were some nerves before and after the show, but what actor or host hasn't experienced those? I'm not going to detail the academic skills practiced here, or knowledge gained but I do want to highlight our process: how much it was driven by Gibbie's vision and ideas, how that vision led him to gain new skills, seek out resources, and solve problems; how he was externally supported but also internally motivated; how each step led to new ideas and spurred him on to try new things; how naturally social and interdisciplinary the process was; how much fun we had, and what a thrill of accomplishment!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Elise Mittens

I have sold my first pair of mittens.
They were commissioned by the lovely and talented Elise, a coworker of Paul's. Making them was such fun.
I knit them in a "cashmerino", which is a rather luxe baby-soft blend of wool and cashmere. They were really fun to do. The request was for pretty, feminine, and delicate pale lavender/periwinkle mittens. I wanted to do cables in a bulky Lamb's Pride, but realized this would not turn out delicate. So I thought of lace. But lacy mitts don't make for warm fingers.
After flipping through a few pattern books and finding nothing like what I wanted, I turned to Barbara Walker's wonderful treasuries of stitch patterns. I found a lovely tulip bud edging, which made a chain of leaves. From this I extrapolated the pattern for a single knitted leaf.

One of the first things my mother showed me how to knit was mittens without a pattern. (It's funny, she says she doesn't like designing!)
Knitting Details For knitting-types:
Freestyle Mittens
-In the round, on double-points: Knit a ribbed cuff. I like K
2, P1
-Knit around plain 3-4 rows. Increase a bit for hand width.
-Make a gore for the thumb: Increase the first stitch of one needle. Place a marker and Increase again. I like to increase here by knitting into the front and back of the stitch, which makes nary a hole. Wrap the fabric around thumb to determine number of thumb stitches. Con
tinue increases (first stitch of the same needle, first stitch after the marker) until gore has enough stitches.
-Knit around until mitten reaches webbing of thumb comfort
ably when tried on.
-Now I like to knit the thumb. I do this because it's easier and prettier than making a hole for the thumb and trying to pick up the stitches around it later. Put hand stitches on holder, (everything except the gore) knit around for length of thumb, decrease quickly, and sew in tail.
-Pick up hand stitches and join thread in by knitting a stitch, and then knitting with two strands until the tail is used up. It doesn't show.
-Knit around until mitten is as tall as the index finger when tried on. Decrease quickly and sew in end of yarn. Voila!

In my early mitten-making days, after a few rounds making three mittens in search of two alike, I learned a few mitten-making tricks for patternless rogues:
-Either write down what I'm doing as I do it, or be prepared to count stitches and rows on the first mitten many times over.
-Make the ribbing around the wrist long enough--snow and cold like to get in between the coat sleeve and mitten!
-I like to increase three or four stitches right above the cuff and two stitches in the hand right above the thumb gore for good fit. These increases can be nicely hidden by the ribbing or gore.
-Check to make sure the thumb gore is wide enough and long enough--this makes for the perfect fit.

In the Elise Mittens, the leaf is appliqued on, and the curlicues are embroidered in a chain stitch. This would look nice in contrasting colors on the right mitten, but I wanted it to look knitterly and subtle.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mmm...library pleasures

I love coming home from the library with a stack of lovely books. It's like having a box of chocolates and knowing I'll get to savor each one slowly over the next week, tasting the various delights inside. Yum!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Bear!

Gibbie's birthday, clearly, was a big big event in our house. Ezra, throughout the day, sings to himself, "Happy Birthday, dear Little Bear..." (see "the show" for the reference.) We also had a special birthday visit from our dear Grammers, pictured above.
And here is Gibbie, showing off the new light he received as a much-appreciated gift from his Grandpa Bill. He is planning to use it to "look for the dark slugs in my garden, at night." With a few tantalizing garden gifts, plans for the garden are kicking into high gear. I'm putting together my seed order. Gibbie is planning a garden of his own. It will be, according to plan thus far, a new garden, in the grass, with logs around it, painted black. He has made signs to label his plants and four useful warning signs which each read, "no dogs out loud." So much fun.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Making Knipfle

A favorite dinner of ours is Knipfle. It's German for noodles, though I just know it from my Gramma Loretta, who says, "ki-NIP-fla". I only know this word orally but poking around online, I found spellings Kinipffla, and Knepfla. She and my Grampa Bob grew up speaking low German in a small town in North Dakota and foods like this are one of the only remaining elements in the family of our German roots.
Knipfle are chewy noodles, filling and unctuous. They're cheap, and made only with things that tend to be in the house anyway (handy when one's run out of meat and fresh veg and fruit, and pulling together dinner!) Ezra calls them "sticky noodles". It may be the love of my teeth sinking into knipfle that has driven my love of chewy foods.
for an actual recipe, look it up as "German egg noodles" in the Joy of Cooking, but here's how I make them:
in a small mixing bowl, stir together with a fork
several handfuls of flour
two generous pinches of salt
a dash of parsley
and a dash of nutmeg. (I've had questions about this: a dash is when your spice jar has a top with holes on it and you shake it once )
dig a hole in the center of the pile of flour.
break an egg or three in this hole
beat the egg up with a fork. as I beat, flour will be incorporated into the egg; let it. Mix until a soft dough forms. I usually add extra water; if too wet extra flour could be added instead. Knead for a few minutes. It's often quite sticky, and requires generous flouring, especially for children.
Now I usually drop a puddle of olive oil in my mixing bowl and roll the dough in it so it doesn't dry out while I work on some other thing for a bit. If I'll be a while, I've found it's best to put the noodle dough in a plastic bag in the fridge.
When I come back to it, I knead it until it feels stretchy. It gets smooth and feels quite like skin!
I take this elastic dough, cut it into a few pieces and begin to roll them out into ropes about the thickness of my finger. When a piece of dough gets too long for my bread board, I cut it in half so I can roll it comfortably.
Knipfle can be cooked in plain water, or it's great in chicken soup or broth. When the broth or water is boiling vigorously, I take a snake of dough and cut it into pieces maybe the length of the first joint of my finger. Gramma Loretta says, "you cut them as small as you can." I cut these straight into the boiling pot. Usually the kids like to cut some too, over a bread board, and I put these in as well.
Kids can make these start to finish with a little direction; scooping handfuls of flour, pinching salt, stirring the dry ingredients, beating the egg, kneading, rolling, and cutting dough. Both our two year old and our four year old can cut knipfle.
If your kids are anything like mine, they will enjoy also the eating! Mine like their knipfle in broth, or plain with ketchup. They are good with sour cream and salt or baked with cheese and buttered bread crumbs. Also would make a nice side for kraut and sausage, or roasted veg or meat, in stew or with gravy.