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Ancient History

The Fast, The Furious, The French-Fried

Aidan’s high school chamber choir held their annual service day and Thanksgiving feast this past Saturday. Like last year, she signed up to bring green bean casserole. Because I didn’t want her hauling around a hot green bean casserole all day, she could mix the ingredients, put them in a baking dish, then I would heat it and deliver it in time for dinner. This plan was exactly what we did last year and it worked out beautifully. Why wouldn’t it this year?

We had a very slow start on Saturday. A donut run turned into a “Hey, we don’t actually have things to make green bean casserole” run. I made a list for my husband, with important asides like, “no cheap grey green beans” and “no cheap condensed soups” and “get 10 pounds of french-fried onions because we will eat 9 pounds and use the rest for topping.” I think he spent about $63 on just these items.

Aidan doubled the random recipe I found on my phone. She poured the mixed ingredients into my favorite baking dish, pressed a sheet of aluminum foil around the edges, and slid it into the refrigerator. I told her to text me with the address where the dinner was being held and I’d have it there around 2:00pm, bubbling hot, just like the Puritans used to make.

But there was no text from her. I texted question marks and every emoticon denoting confusion and irritation to her, stopping short at the little poo. I received nothing from her. I texted and texted and then soon it was time to put the casserole into the oven and I still didn’t have a text. So, I texted her teacher and guess what? Magic. She texted back immediately. Unfortunately, the address was farther than I anticipated and I should have put the dish in the oven ten minutes earlier.

The recipe said to preheat the oven to 350, which is the baking temperature for 90% of everything ever baked. How did it become such a sweet spot? I shook my head and thought to myself, “350 degrees? I don’t have time for no stinking 350 degrees. Let’s go 400!” I hit the button and went upstairs to check on my charging phone. I checked Facebook…which led to Buzzfeed…which led to comments…which led to a link in the comments…which led to something that made me think of green beans languishing in a pool of pulverized mushrooms not in any oven. I raced back downstairs and threw them in.

I watched them with the oven light on. First, liquid around the perimeter started bubbling. I opened the oven and stirred with the idea the heat would spread around. I wondered how I was going to transport a large rectangular ceramic casserole straight from the oven to my car and realized: ?

Last year, I had a flat, shallow cardboard box I lined with pretty tea towels. This year, my foray to the garage recycling pile didn’t turn up cardboard boxes of any kind because my husband had recently taken it to the recycling pick-up station. I remembered a Pyrex casserole carrying case in the basement, a wedding gift, and wondered if that would work. It was smaller than my ceramic casserole dish, but I was going to try.

After opening the oven and stirring again, I determined it was time to visit 425 degrees. It’s the domain of frozen pizzas and broiling fish. Casseroles rarely venture there, but this one would, by God. If Frodo and Sam could venture into Mordor, that darn casserole could, too. I cranked and watched the bubbles spread from the outer frontier edges to the center. It was time for the final step: French Fried Onion topping and browning. I opened the oven again, and felt the blast of a burning deep space sun on my face. I dumped an entire canister of the greasy curls and rings on top and closed the oven. After three minutes, they were not golden brown. They were deep brown, on the verge of being burned but not quite there. One could argue either way.

I gasped at the sub-burned ultra-crispy affair, grabbed potholders, and in one motion lifted the heavy pan out of the oven an into the Pyrex carrying case. I pulled the sides up. It fit, but the lid wouldn’t close. I had to put aluminum foil over the top, then wrap the canvas carrying straps around everything. “Bye!” I shouted to everyone as I scooped up my keys and bag and bolted out the front door to our little green car. I opened the front passenger door and put the still-hissing green beans on the floor, ran around, and jumped in. I backed out of the driveway like Boss Hogg was after me. I could see the county line! If I could make it to that strangely inclined dock, I can leap over the river yelling, “Yeeeee-haaaawwww!” and High School Choir Thanksgiving will be saved!

There are speed limits on city streets. I took streets with higher speed limits. I plotted out a sneaky shortcut I am still proud of. I didn’t run any red lights but several times I was the last car through the intersection. As I turned corners, I thought about sloshing and wondered if that burning smell was coming from the floor to the right or from my tires.

Then, I thought: This better not happen next year!

It won’t, I choked back to myself, surprised.

Aidan is a senior. She won’t be in a high school chamber choir next year. She won’t sign up to bring a casserole to a classmate’s house three Saturdays before Thanksgiving. This is a year of last-this and last-that. Suddenly, I wanted to cry.

I will never have to careen with green beans through suburbia ever again, unless another child follows precisely in his or her big sister’s size 9 footsteps. But what are the chances? Small. Very small. But if I see it coming on the horizon, I will mention how great the pumpkin pies are at Costco.

This is the only time of year when you can chow down on these without attracting the side-eye from anyone.

This is the only time of year when you can chow down on these without attracting the side-eye from anyone.

Marie Antoinette Would Shake Her Head, If She Could

One of the things I love about our K-8 kids’ school are the many diverse hands-on projects assigned throughout the school year. It’s also something I dislike about the school, too, especially when they seemed to be relentlessly back-to-back. However, in the past few years, they’ve been better about not assigning so many while keeping some of the favorites. It’s Beatrix’s turn to do The Simple Machines project. The second and third-graders do it every other year.

Beatrix was having trouble coming up with an idea. The project requires students to use at least two simple machines to build some kind of invention or contraption. They are supposed to do it with minimal parental help. These are the simple machines that make up every complex machine:

Inclined plane



Wheel and Axle



One morning before school, we brainstormed ideas. We talked about simple machines we use in our daily lives, like tongs (lever) and knives (wedge). She was really pushing for using pulleys in some way. But she needed at least one of the other machines. An idea popped in my head. She could make a fruit or veggie cutter with a pulley and a wedge! I began to describe my idea:

“You can make a frame and we can help screw a pulley to the top. Then, we can attach a rope to a sharp wedge. You pull the rope up, put a tomato or something under the wedge, then let go of the rope! It will slice it!” Man, I have very good ideas.

She shrugged and moved on as I realized I just proposed my 8-year-old daughter make a guillotine for school.

This is how she looks when I have a very good idea.

This is how she looks when I have a very good idea.

Big Hero 6 is a Smart, Sweet Family Must-See

bigHero6539609bbe6af9Prepare to fall deeply in love with a balloon. You’ll want to pounce, hug, bounce, and give many, many fist bumps to Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). He’s the heavily-featured robot in commercials and trailers for Big Hero 6, which opens everywhere tomorrow. But saying Baymax is the main character is saying that Olaf is the main man in Frozen. Disney’s latest late-fall wonder of a family film keeps many delightful secrets close to the heart.

You might think you know what Big Hero 6 is about. You don’t, especially if you think the white squishy guy is Big Hero 6, like I did. Of course, if you are a long-time fan of Marvel’s comic, you already know the scoop and I’m interested in hearing what you think after you see the film. When I took my teenagers, we had all kinds of notions regarding what we were about to see and we were happily proved wrong. Here’s a quick synopsis with no spoilers:

A 14-year-old genius named Hiro (Ryan Potter) lives with his aunt and brother in bustling SanFransokyo. Hiro is a bit of an underachiever and uses his skills in iffy ways. Cleverly, his genius older brother, Tadashi (Daniel Henney), inspires Hiro to see the possibilities and channel his brainpower in a better way. Along the way, Hiro gets to know Tadashi’s friends in the robotics lab at his university—and Tadashi’s very special pet project, Baymax. A tragedy occurs. Everyone grapples with loss and the startling realization something evil has been unleashed. What to do about it? Joining forces sounds good. In fact, 6 is a perfect number for a team.

My biggest gripe about Big Hero 6 is that it starts slow. It’s charming, with humor, and great imagination but I found the introductions to the other characters to be a bit cliche. There’s the tough girl, the girly girl, the good-natured but dim dude, the burly guy with a soft heart. Each has a special interest in chemistry, physics, magnetics, and one is well-funded. Thankfully, the film fleshes out the characters with revealing moments, but it takes awhile for it to get up to speed.

This is okay, because the Big Hero 6 story can continue for many, many more films. They won’t have to spend time as much time setting up the action and players as this first installment. Obviously, I predict more! How could I not?

It was awesome once it was fully inflated. Big Hero 6 is gloriously brimming with innovative fun and clever twists I didn’t see coming. As we exited the theater, after staying through the credits (you must must must stay through the credits) we breathlessly discussed scenes and our favorite moments. It reminded us of other favorite movies while still remaining wholly fresh.

Big Hero 6 is like a mix between Ironman, How to Train Your Dragon, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Scooby Doo. It has the humor, action, inventiveness, and camaraderie that brings out the best in a story—and an audience. Disney has done it again. It’s simply a good time with a lot of heart.

GO! Free pro tip: Start working on your Baymax Halloween costumes for next year.

Big Hero 6 opens in theaters on November 7, 2014. It’s rated PG for images of cartoon violence. The main bad guy is pretty creepy. It could be scary for small children, but Baymax is the perfect antidote.