Listening to Stories of 9/11

Late last week as I walked to the office from my garage, I stumbled across a tweet from StoryCorps about 9/11. I waited until I got to my desk before pulling the piece up.

Listen | StoryCorps – Shelli Wright and Graham Haggett

Digging deeper, I learned that StoryCorps – the well loved and known folks who record stories about Americans by Americans from all walks of life – is undertaking to curate at least one story for each life that was lost 11 years ago today. Their 9/11 Initiative has already logged over 1200 pieces representing over 600 sons, daughters, friends, parents, neighbors, colleagues …

I’ve wrestled over the years how to spend the eleventh of September, how to remember it. On the eleventh of September in 2001 after I watched the second plane hit and both towers crumble on as the news cameras captured it alongside my coworkers less than half a mile down the road from Langley, I went home under that plane-less sky save for the fighter jet flyovers and watched CNN for almost 12 hours straight. I was transfixed trying to grapple with what happened, what was happening and what was to come.

Today when I woke up the DC morning felt so arrestingly similar to that terrible day, clear cloudless air slightly chilled, it took my breath. Through the welcome distractions of our preschool classroom open-house, inbox task lists, and a solo bedtime routine, I’ve had little chance to consider the indelible meaning today holds. Now at the end of the day, I’ve decided I’m going to honor those who lost and those who were lost by listening to their stories. After all, telling our story is one of the most universal human traits we share.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. philipians 4:5

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H&M fashions itself greener

After my hurried walk down four blocks from my office into the evening sun, I dash out of the parking garage to head home. With high hopes to make in time for dinner I punch my radio dial to share my drives home with my local broadcast of NPR. This evening’s marketplace had a really intriguing story about H&M and I wanted to share with you.

H&M moves away from some water-proofing chemicals | Marketplace.org

They make a great point about “disposable fashion” nevertheless I still think it’s super hopeful that companies like H&M are making these strides.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the same symbols we have on food to know if our clothes were fair trade or organic or if they had a little bit less of an impact on our environment?! What do you think?

Note: please forgive any grammatical errors I put this post together while sitting in traffic using the WordPress app and the speaker function on my iPhone. I love technology.

In praise of eBay

Earlier this summer dear friends of ours invited us to enjoy time at their mountain home not too far from where we live. It was tricky navigating our two young girls through a house full of things that weren’t theirs until we discovered the snake. The seventy inch, fluffy plush, neon tie dye snake. For our eldest daughter it was love at first sight.

Following severe thunderstorms that night we were packing up the car before lunchtime and explaining that the snake was, in fact, not joining us for berry picking and the drive home.

If you’ve ever seen footage from the 60’s of girls descending into hysteria over the Beatles then you would have a good image in your mind of what our older daughter, who’s just shy of 4 mind you, was like when we broke the news about leaving her reptilian buddy.

I rarely get things for the girls out of guilt if ever, and since we have a toy-in-toy-out to Goodwill rule in our house the girls don’t hound us for new things. However. The degree of sincere heartbreak we were witnessing compelled me to look for some solution.

It turned out this wee beastie was created and sold several years ago by Ikea – the Djungelorm – and was no longer for sale (of course it wouldn’t be). It came in two ‘colors’ – solid green and insane, the latter of which was particularly rare (of course it would be). So off to eBay I trotted.

It was a veritable online marketplace miracle that I found not one, but TWO crazy snakes for sale. In England!!! Several emails later and an extended time through the US customs processing department, these two indescribably silly creatures arrived to our door.

I paid three times the price of the snakes themselves to ship them to the US – though all told it was under thirty bucks. The girls were elated and gladly parted with two of their old toys to donate. Thank you, thank you eBay you glorious magic maker!

What are some of the oddest things you’ve found on eBay? Let’s start a list!! Ooh, maybe we’ll start a new board on Pintrest.

P.S. In hunting for images for this post, I came across a YouTube video where a Djungelorm is teaching beginners Italian. It. Is. Priceless. #mustsee

General Store

Our annual pilgrimage to Maine has to include two specific outings to complete my northern vacation trifecta: visit and enjoy time with my family, enjoy the best local ice cream, and peruse the dizzying aisles at the local Renys, “Your Maine Department Store”.

Smack dab in the middle of the town, Renys is the Walmart of yesteryear but with more panache. It’s a must-go for all your farm gear, foreign foodie delicacies, and everything in between. All mixed together. Like an curious scavenger hunt with no clue list. Note the pool toys next to the sheet sets, and the rugs near the toys and women’s clothing …

You can spend a good afternoon getting lost among the cramped shelves in sheer consumer paralysis, or in my case complete joy-filled fascination. It’s oddly centering to hunt through the seeming chaos and it satisfies my urge to find a good bargain. Even if it is nabbig a well priced lobster-shaped maple syrup sugar confection to thank my colleague for filling in for me while away on our trip to Maine.

Aiming for (Frozen) Perfection

Right before you arrive in town-center of Farmington nestled in central Maine, you’ll drive past a house with an enormous billboard on its roof touting inexplicable yet intriguing phrases (e.g. “Tomorrow a man will walk in the park wearing nothing but a diaper. Is that legal?”), cross over a bridge spanning a narrow river, and as you pass the little league field on your right you’ll see this sign across the street:

As you pull into your parking space, you are welcomed by this letter and you begin to surmise that you have arrived at a place that aims for perfection. In the form of ice cream. Hello bliss.

There are dozens of different flavors but there are a select few that are worth serious consideration.

I always cheer internally when presented with a few choices – a point we’ll have to discuss later – and I picked my current fave, Moose Tracks with a sugar cone. A perfect blend of award-winning vanilla ice cream with adequate numbers of peanut butter cups hidden among ribbons of rich and slight gritty (in a decadent, sugary way) fudge.

Wikipedia’s entry on perfection begins with a broad definition, “a state of completeness and flawlessness”, and I hazard to say that most of us would add the caveat, that perfection is not attainable here and now. But oh how I enjoy seeing when people strive for it. All the more so when we get to experience it.

We decided to bring back enough for everyone. Because, of course, when you find something that flirts with perfection it has to be shared.

What have you found this summer that was so good, so spectacular that you felt compelled to share it?

Omega-3 Cookies

Saturday mornings we herd the two little ones post-pancake breakfast into the stroller and we hit the road to visit our neighborhood Farmer’s Market. After I ogle the heirloom tomatoes to see if one is worthy for my lunch, we hit the mini doughnut stand (that’s a vegetable, right?), loop around the road wishing I had bought less at the grocers and then head for the nearby park rife with mulch and giggling children.

Today however there was a stand toppling with peaches at a reduced price. Cobbler I thought … and it was pretty much downhill from there. This is what our kitchen looked like this evening after one round of cleaning:

So it turned out to be a peach crumble – thanks Ina! – and what’s left of it is hiding under two bowls and spoons. Yup, we ate all of it.

Because the oven was already at temperature and the crumble needed a while to bake, I decided to make walnut biscuits (aka cookies in our multicultural household). Walnuts are perfect for our girls to bulk up on, and while they are crazy about eating almonds as a snack they look at me like I’ve played a dirty trick on them when I try to get them to eat walnuts.

I adapted a recipe for Vanilla Crescents (in Philippa Vanstone’s 500 Cookies) – replacing almonds with walnuts, doubling the quantity of nuts and halving the sugar. The girls adore these just sweet enough biscuits that crumble with omega-3 goodness.

Cut 1 stick softened butter into 1 cup of flour making. Grind 2 cups walnuts, using fork to incorporate walnut meal into butter/flour mix. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, using fork to incorporate. Form large ball (should be slightly sticky), divide evenly into 16 mini balls, shape as desired making each biscuit 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Bake at 350 for 20 mins or until light golden color. Can spend a week in the fridge if they survive that long!

Cardboard Chic

One of the traits I aim to foster in my life and my family is good stewardship … simply taking care of the things we’re given, including the environment. One of the ways we’ve tried to achieve this is using cardboard items for the girls – since they outgrow toys or over-love them to the point of destruction in quite short spaces of time.

I wanted to share some of the slickest designs I’ve come across in hunting replacements for the girls’ current cardboard side chairs that are woefully ready to be recycled and replaced. (Note to self: ascertain the best money-making scheme to be able to afford cool new cardboard side chairs).

Designed by Riki Watanabe [1965]
Metropolitan Gallery Inc.

This multiform set just begs to be played with. The stools fit into the table to make a cube to climb, or if you flip the table upside down you have a boat (clearly have spent too much time dwelling on this piece). I love the possibilities here for kids to imagine and play. Comes in stellar colors.

Rip + Tatter designed by Pete Oyler [2010]
Produced by Assembly Design

I adore these clever and comfy looking chairs. Perfect for the girls when winding down after a raucous visit to the kids section in our local library to pour over their literary spoils.

Designed by Manuel Kretzer [2010]
Responsive Design Studio

This last set is entitled Chick ‘n’ Egg Chair – so so so cute. The name is cute, the baby is cute, the shape is cute and artful. I wonder if purchasing this set would necessitate us having a third child to recreate the moment pictured above. Hmm.

Any clever use of recycled materials for kids you’d like to share?

Murmuring Words

I love words. Where they come from, what they mean, how they sound. My Mum collects dictionaries, so it’s probably genetic and not contagious (at least through the internets so don’t worry). For her birthday a couple years ago I bought her this lovely book that enumerates lesser used collective nouns – like a pride of lions but more intricate like an ostentation of peacocks or a murder of crows – YIKES!

While the video below has made its rounds as a meme – I still find it just delightful. Apparently we call it a murmuration of starlings when they gather like this. Enjoy!

Neuroplasticity and Kale

Like most of us I enjoy hearing a clever tip or listening to a great story. But here is where the problem begins – where my constructive compulsion begins. I often take this new-found information, become temporarily absorbed in it and end up incorporating parts of it into my life. I just can’t help it. But regardless of what it is or how much I adopt, it always stems from a relationship. From brain science to snack foods, I’m easily intrigued.

My fascination with how our brain works was sparked by a bit of cool-kid awe. A friend of mine sent me an article about neuroscience following a conversation I can’t quite recall anymore. What I do recall was that I couldn’t believe that this intellectually cool, highly successful woman would want to be chitchat buddies with me! Having spent enough solo lunches in the computer lab during middle school, I’m still a little surprised when folks want to be friends. To be honest reading the lengthy piece made me blurry-eyed, but what I learned about the brain blew my mind. Several TED talks and NPR pieces later, I was able to hold a conversation about neuroplasticity with two old friends, both PhD candidates in the cognitive sciences. It was bliss. Self adulation aside, I’ve also seen how loved ones have overcome hurdles by applying the latest findings on how to re-map their thoughts. It’s a hopeful study indeed.

I belong to a family of grazers – none of us can handle going a couple hours without eating something. I think my coworkers call it being hangry – whatever it is, we like to avoid it. We have a preschooler and a toddler so I am always hunting for more diverse and nutrition dense snacks. One Monday morning on my trip past the front desk to the kitchen to get a coffee, a dear colleague stopped me to try some kale chips she had made while we caught up on the past weekend’s events. The explosion in my mouth of crunchy, salty super-food had me hooked. She shared the recipe with me and now my family has a new favorite snack and I have a new go-to foodie blog that sends me brilliant ideas weekly.

So many people around us have so much to teach us about so very many things. I will keep listening, and learning, and look forward to sharing here on Niche Envy.

Disclaimer: there are some happy realities about my demographic that will inevitably keep these posts infrequent. Between my lovely two little girls and my husband [read: best friend], work and quotidian life … we’ll see what I’ll actually be able to post. My writing is rusty and likely interesting to only a few, but I’m excited about it! I think that gets a gold star for effort, right?