Monday, December 19, 2011

Fun with Kubb

My family is still savoring our Thanksgiving trip to Washington DC.  We had such a great time that I'm actually going to post a picture of myself on the internet.  

Look!  There's me with the original Kermit the Frog and proto Kermit peeking over his shoulder.  I don't gush often but . . . Stiching!  I could see Jim Henson's stitching on Kermit's froggy little fingers!   

We carried a lot home with us from this trip: I'm slowly working my way through the Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook, my son wants to be an astrophysicist, my daughter discovered minerals and geology, my husband has tons of fuel for his designing hobby and we have Kubb in our lives.  

Get ready.  I'm going to gush again.  

Kubb is the best lawn game ever!  We saw a group of friends on the Mall one evening playing a game with blocks of wood.  They looked so happy and relaxed that we had to ask what they were playing.  

Kubb is a Swedish mix between lawn bowling and horse shoes.  We got home, looked up the rules and made our own set.  The rules are hard to explain so I've posted a video link.  It's simple yet strategic.

I made a few minor changes to the specs in oder to make our first set out of scraps from the garage.  Within three hours we were hooked on Kubb. 

Each kubb set has 6 batons.  Players throw these 12" long 2" in diameter pieces of hardwood at the Kubbs and the King.  I strayed from tradition and made our batons out of pine 2"x4"s split down the middle.  We have small children playing with our kubb set and I didn't really want to arm them with a chunk of oak.  Plus, using what was in the garage spared me a run to Home Depot.  These batons worked fine, but make sure you have sanded and waxed them really well before playing.  Splinters are a buzz kill. 

The standard King is 4"x4"x12".  I used a scrap of pressure treated 4"x4" rounded over a bit to make it pretty.  The king sits in the middle of the field.  It's just like the 8 ball.  If you accidentally knock it over you lose the game.  

Kubb's are towers.  They are supposed to be 2.75"x2.75"x5.9".  Most instructions online tell you to make them out of 4"x4"s. I didn't want to do this for two reasons.  First, I hate working with freshly purchased pressure treated wood.  Its so wet and chemically.  Second, I didn't feel like taking the riving knives and guard off the table saw.  Sloth or safety, I'll let you choose.  

I made our 10 kubbs out of 2"x4"s cut down to 3"x6" pieces then glued together.  For strength and a bit of asethetics I pegged them with 3/8" oak dowels.  

Each team gets 5 kubbs.  The kubbs are set up evenly along the opposite baselines about 5 paces from the king.  The goal is to knock over the kubbs.  When Team A knocks over one of Team B's baseline kubbs, Team B gets to pick the fallen kubb up and throw it into the field.  It is now a field kubb.  

Team B must knock this field kubb over before they can attempt to knock over any of Team A's baseline kubbs.  This is where the strategy of placing field kubbs comes in to play.  If Team B fails to knock over a field kubb then Team A gets to throw from that field kubb during their next turn.  Advantage Team A.  

Once a field kubb is knocked over, it is removed from play.  When a team has cleared all five kubbs from their opponents baseline, they may shoot for the king.  

Sorry to mix building instructions with rules of play.  Just watch the video.  From what we have read, part of the art of Kubb is the arguing.  Each house has their own rules.  There are tons of videos and descriptions online.  Here are two good ones to start with.  

Here is This Old House's video on Kubb:

How to Play Kubb:

Enjoy and if any of you receive a heavy Christmas present from my family, you know what you got.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Every career has busy a season and it didn't take long to realize that this writer/mom/teacher combination just won't work during August and December.

It takes almost the whole month of August to retrain feral kids, launch them in to the school year, promote Science Time and celebrate my daughter's birthday.

December is December.  Holiday programs, Santa's workshop in the garage and kitchen, visitors, vacations and birthdays.

The first year that I was brave enough to call myself a writer and chain myself to the desk chair, I tried to work the year through.  Anything written during those two months had to be deleted and the family (myself included) was frustrated.

Now I know to shrink down to two careers and just take a vacation from writing.  Luckily being a writer is the most forgiving career.  Even though I'm not actively submerged in a manuscript, I can still advance my craft while taking "time off."

This year winter hiatus I'm going to try a little storytelling.  Eli at Mama's Coffee House has been wonderfully supportive and is lending me a venue.  What a great chance to spin some stories and watch my target audience at the same time.

I'm not going to read from any of the Titus and Annie stories but all of that Christmas Around the World research for Book 2 will definitely come in handy.

If your in the Charlotte area, come on out to Mama's Coffee House (716 Main Street, Pineville, NC  28134) on Tuesday, December 20 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

George Washington's Mangel Wurzel

Mangle Wurzel at Mt. Vernon in November.
We took the kids to Washington DC for 5 days of pure geeky pleasure over Thanksgiving.  Tons of fun was had by all.  But one funny looking plant with a big name at Mt. Vernon inspired me to get one of my projects off the back burner.

Mangel Wurzel is Swiss Chard.  When the roots are as big as the ones we saw at Mt. Vernon, they are only tasty to barn yard animals.  But the greens are quite yummy.  More subtle than turnip greens and just a little peppery.

Occupy the Garden?
The grownups at our house love greens, especially kale, chard and collards.  Seeing George Washington's Mangel Wurzle thriving in November made me come home and finally put together the little cold frame green house that had been living in my head.

The core of my garden is a row of 4' by 4' raised beds. I put another course of boards on the first container before adding old wheat straw and a few bags of compost to the soil.  Each planting my beds get a little higher up off of their base of red clay.

Peas and a string trellis for the kids to enjoy.
The top of the greenhouse is made up of 2' by 4' trellises which I built this spring for the tomatoes. I leaned them against each other and tied them at the top to a 4' piece of bamboo to lend some stability.

The plastic is a painters drop cloth left over from another project.  So far the staples have held nicely.

At first I fretted that plastic was too opaque but I drove by a professional green house the other day.  Their roof looked milky white compared to mine so I think I'm fine.

I started to over engineer the access sides of the greenhouse but I stopped myself.  Instead of hinges or pegged panels I ended up not trimming the excess plastic.  There was enough on both sides to fold like wrapping paper triangles at the ends of a package and fasten with a small alligator clamp.  Easy peasy.  I love a project that does not require a run to Home Depot.

Look Ma!  First leaves!
 I dream of tomatoes in the winter but played it safe the first go round.  Last week I planted mangel wurzle, kale, basil, deer tongue lettuce and peas.  Today I took a peek.  The kale, basil and deer tongue lettuce are sprouting.

Boxer burrowed under her house this year.
So far we have only had a little frost on the ground and lows of 31.  But colder weather is coming.  My turtle tells me so.

I also checked on Boxer the box turtle today.  It rained a lot yesterday.  She took advantage of the softened soil and dug her burrow a few inches deeper.  Hopefully my seedlings and the box turtle stay snug and happy in the garden over the coming winter.  Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's not hoarding, honest!

Maggie from the Read or Die series.
Last night I attacked our Maggie Closet.  That's what we call the closet under stairs.  Even I couldn't take the chaos any longer.

My husband coined the term after Maggie from Read or Die.  It's just the type of space she would love to nest in, surrounded by books.  

Our Maggie Closet houses collections of dust mops, brooms, kitchen appliances, lunch boxes, reusable grocery bags, cake pans, cookie cutters and spices.  This is also where I shove everything that needs to be dealt with later.  It doesn't take long for this space to become a total disaster.  

Last night was a total closet purge.  The spice shelves took the longest.  Partly because I maced myself right good by pouring white chili powder into a mason jar.  But mostly because 78 jars survived the purge.  No repeats.  Honest.   

I read cookbooks like novels.  When I grow up, my next degree will be in culinary anthropology.  The spice cabinet reflects that.  

Travelling In Laws supported this growing trend.  I will not tell you where my saffron came from and I still feel bad that they had to spend so much time in customs once because of some cumin seeds. 

Recently I've learned how to find really good spices locally.  The online spice catalogs are just too pricey and the quantities are too small.  

For instance, one purveyor of spice wanted $4 for a tiny envelope of sumac.  Two tablespoons at the most.  I got 8 ounces for $3 at a local Indian grocery store.  Sumac is a yummy lemony brightener perfect for garnishing hummus, sprinkling over steamed vegetables, or replacing the salt on the table habit for people who have to watch the sodium intake.  

Who needs Whole Foods?  During my last trip to Bombay Bazaar I stocked up on cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and ground cloves.  It's time to make gingerbread!  

My gingerbread recipe was wheedled out of a close friend and has so many spices boiled together that it makes your lips tingle.  There's no teaspoons in this recipe, just tablespoons.

Another great find has been Compare grocery stores.  There are several in the Charlotte area but my favorite is on Arrowood.  This grocery store is predominantly Hispanic.  Fresh garbanzo beans in the hulls and a bin of dried chilis that smells so smokey spicy good I wish I could bottle it.  This store also has Indian, African, Thai and Chinese food stuffs. 

In one trip I can get my bean curd thread that sates our noodle fetish yet cuts the carbs, bulgur wheat by the pound at 1/4 the price of Whole Paychecks, and whole ancho peppers that find their way into almost all of my recipes.  

Don't even get me started on the lentils - they are kept in the pantry and that will have to be another blog.  

If you like to cook and enjoy flavor, buy some mason jars and start building your own spice closet.  Just say no to $5 little bottles of desiccated flakes at the conventional grocery stores.  You will save a lot of money, learn about other cultures and put great food on your table.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Getting Back On Track

Yes, this is a picture of all three cats in one place.  That's how far behind I am on my blog.  The usual one cat post is not enough.  

No, they are not devouring a writer who fell behind on her blog.  It's bad, but not that bad.

The blogger may have been on hiatus but the writer was busy.  Titus and Annie Book 1 is sitting on two different desks.  Titus and Annie Book 2 is complete and sitting on one desk.  Most exciting of all, the first Vinyl Village Mystery has begun.  Right before Thanksgiving I identified the middle of the book.  Always a momentous event.

And look . . .

My two fellow Art Web conspirators got together and made me some spiffy business cards.  Thank you Catherine for the art and thank you thank you Lisa Finley for the excellent design.  I have the best creative support group ever.

Now I better get blogging since my daughter found the box of cards and has been handing them out all over town like coupons for free Frosties.