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Appeltaart van Meter

October 22, 2015

Something about the golden leaves and brisk air in fall reminds me of Belgium, and I can’t help but reminisce about the year I spent there, way back in 1995-96 as a (slightly moody – sorry about that, dear familie DeBrabandere) high school senior.  Once a week (Wednesdays?) school got out early and that was the afternoon that my sister Elke and I would visit Meter and Bompa.  Mama Chris would often do Meter’s hair while we ate thick slices of Meter’s heavenly apple cake.  Bompa would give us tours of his vegetable garden and tell stories.  I loved those afternoons.  I would transport myself back to that kitchen in a heartbeat if I could.

This must have been on a special occasion to warrant eating in the dining room.

This must have been on a special occasion to warrant eating in the dining room.

Every time I’ve been back, I’ve been lucky to have some apple cake and visit with Meter and Bompa.


Apple cake is photobombing in front of Meter.


Tea was 3, which means we are overdue for a visit. Has it really been more than 5 years?

I’m glad Tea got a chance to meet Meter and Bompa on our last visit.  So sadly, Bompa passed away this summer.  The world is missing a very bright light without his smile.

Sometimes life gets a little challenging, and now is one of those times.  I am currently coping by chopping off my hair, hugging trees under the guise of measuring them for a tree study, and eating comfort food.  Enter Meter’s apple cake.  It’s curative, and I recommend you try it, too.


I was waaay too impatient to wait for it to cool and dust with the powdered sugar before snagging my first piece.

Appeltaart van Meter

13 T butter, softened (or 9.5 T canola oil if avoiding dairy)
1 C sugar
1.5 t vanilla
1 T rum
3 eggs, separated
1.75 C flour
2 t baking powder
0.5 t salt
2 apples, peeled and chopped
powdered sugar

Cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and rum.  Slowly stir in flour, salt, baking powder.  Stir in egg yolks and apples.  Whip egg whites and fold them in.  Pour batter into a 9″ spring form pan.  Bake 355F for about 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Leave in pan for 10 minutes before removing to cool.  Dust with powdered sugar.


Lost in translation

October 5, 2015

thai class web

We’ve been taking Thai language classes as a family since June.

We meet on campus weekly with other families who also have kids who want to learn Thai and split up into beginner and intermediate groups.  We have the disadvantage of being the only family where at least one parent isn’t fluent, so all four of us are beginners, but it’s been a fun adventure and we are so lucky to have (four!) amazing, dedicated teachers.

Thai is a tonal language.  What sounds like the same word can have 5 meanings, depending on the tone of voice used.  I remember one lesson in particular when we learned the word for the Thai fruit “rose apple” : Chompu.  I said, “Hold on.  That’s the same word you taught us last week for the color pink, right?”  Our teacher was confused and firmly said, “No, that’s Chompu.”  Gaaah.  It sounds the same to me but not at all the same to a Thai speaker, so if you get the tone wrong, it’s not necessarily easy for them to determine what you meant to say.

So far, we can all comfortably introduce ourselves and greet someone, indicate that we want “this” or “that”, that we like something, or ask an item’s price.  We know numbers, fruits, colors, and family members.

This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough that we catch the kids cracking jokes in Thai, which I find to be so sweet and hilarious.

Sawadee krup.  Khun cheu arrai, krup?”  (Hello, what is your name?)

Pom cheu man faraang, krup!”  (My name is potato!)

My favorite was this week when the boys tried translating parts a favorite English knock knock joke.

“Knock Knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Kluay!” (Banana)

Kluay who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Kluay!” (Banana)

Kluay who?”

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

Som!” (Orange)

Som who?”

Som you glad I didn’t say Kluay?” (Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?)

Obviously, this joke does not work in Thai, but that doesn’t stop my boys was falling into fits of hysterics.  The going may be slow, and I don’t believe there’s any way to reach fluency without living immersed in a language, but I love that the kids are enthusiastic and enjoy using the words they know.  The glee in Pea’s voice as he counted to 20 in class this week made us all smile, and I can always count on Tea to remember the more obscure vocabulary that was mentioned once but isn’t written in our notes.

I heard a rumor we might learn how to tell the kids things like, “Brush your teeth” and “Go to bed” next week.  I’m not going to lie – I’m pretty excited about those.  They’ll come in handy often!

Normality restored

September 1, 2015

20150831_00031 webEvery summer, the last two weeks before school starts nearly does us in.  This year it was especially ugly, but somehow we pulled through once again and made it to this morning.  The most magical morning of the year.  The morning I hand those bright, shining faces filled with excitement over to a school I love and teachers I trust.  Thank goodness.  We did it.

20150831_00101 webFirst and third grades, they’re coming for you.

Move over, summer

August 28, 2015

I know it’ll get hot again as soon as the kids are stuffed into an AC-less school building next week, but today feels deliciously cool.  My master gardener exam is complete, my volunteer hours done, and honestly?  My garden is sort of dead to me.  We didn’t get along this summer.  I had too many hours I was required to be gardening elsewhere, so I neglected my own and it punished me.  I actually have a zucchini plant thats first squash is finally starting to grow – it’s 1.5″ long.  That’s not right.

Instead of dwelling on what could have been in the garden this summer, the cool air is redirecting my focus back to knitting.  While I expertly ignore the boys encourage the boys’ creativity, I am enjoying a cup of coffee as I work on a sweet little baby sweater.  I have yarn next to me for two more sweaters after I finish this one.  I’m set.  Leave me alone until April.


Super creatures

August 20, 2015

I am done buying stuff for my kids.  They have too much stuff.  Even they agree, and Pea routinely shuffles out of his room, arms full of plastic crap, saying, “Mama, find another kid who wants this because I have too many toys to play with them all.”  Yikes.

And yet this summer they came down with a severe case of coveting Pokemon cards.  Obsessed at summer school, at play dates, at camp.  One afternoon I looked out the window and saw five boys draped over various tree branches, up to 7 feet in the air, cards zipping back and forth between them.  They enjoyed playing with their friends, but reallllly wanted their own cards.
I am not buying any.  Not happening.  I told them to buy their own.  But when it came to actually committing money that could otherwise be spent on meat sticks at the farmers market, the boys couldn’t quite do it either.  This morning, Tea found a solution.  “I could make my own.  But they won’t be Pokemon, they can be new.  They’ll be Super Creatures.  And we can make habitat cards, and people cards…. Pea!  Come HERE!”

Within 5 minutes they were in full-scale production.  There’s some system that determines whether the cards are small or full page size, but I didn’t understand the rules.

They clearly live with their feminist mother, because their first observation was, “Wait!  We need more female characters!”  The newest card is a special edition Robin Dragon, custom made for me.

  “Wings, eyes, and tail shoots electricity.”  I should be flattered, right?

One of a kind stuffies

August 14, 2015

For months, the boys had been asking to sew their own stuffed animals.  I’d been slow to respond because I really don’t sew.  I know only enough to limp along, and while its useful to have a functioning sewing machine, I’m often frustrated because my only instruction was a half-semester in 7th grade when we made hideous sweatshirts.  Mine was black with 4 different electric-colored bands of ribbing for the wrists, neck, and waist – pink, green, blue, purple.  It was very early nineties.  I digress.

One cold January day we were searching for a project and the boys again asked to sew their own stuffed animals.  I handed them paper and markers and asked them to sketch their ideas.  Tea drew a Muay Thai-boxing Totoro.  Pea drew a dog.

the plan

They raided the scraps and got started.  They made patterns from newspaper and cut their fabric (“Totoro has brown skin like mine”).  I showed Tea how to hand sew the features on Totoro’s face, while Pea insisted he couldn’t sew his dog’s features until its head was stuffed.  At Tea’s direction, I sewed a simple pair of shorts pieced from some square scraps.

Then it was dinner time and life happened and 6 months passed.  The boys asked about finishing their projects every few weeks, often just at bed time or while we were walking out the door.

Finally we had a free summer day and I relented.  I hovered over Tea as he used the machine to sew up the body.  He only very nearly sewed through his finger 18 times.  He energetically stuffed 47 pounds of fill into the body and hand sewed up the last bit.

Pea’s desgin had multiple pieces to sew and stuff, and he managed well, although sewing the stuffed legs onto the body was tricky so I helped out with that seam.  He finished the rest, and then hand sewed all of the features last.  Not wanting to stop, made a pom pom tail and he scavenged for more scraps to make a coat that fastens with a button, and a scarf.   

Happily hand sewing

Pea wants you to note the detail on Dog’s mouth.


They both had very strong opinions about each detail, which led to some deep breathing on my part, but they ultimately finished and were very proud of their creations.  I’m impressed with how similar the finished products were to the initial drawings, since they did all the fabric cutting and 95% of the sewing.  Is it too wishful for me to think they can handle their next project solo?

MGV Training, or I Like Using My Brain

August 12, 2015


a few veggies for supper from the garden, mid-July

In February I embarked on getting my Master Gardener Volunteer training through the University of Wisconsin Extention in Dane County. Certification requires attending 16 x 3 hour lectures plus viewing a few additional on-line lectures, 24+ hours of volunteer work in a combination of community gardens, school gardens, farmers market, and the UW Extention teaching gardens, and an exam.  There has also been a large manual to read along the way in preparation for classes.  I tuck my course notes into the binder as well and it will be an excellent resource in the future.  I’ve wielded my highlighter with glee.

I haven’t mentioned the training much because then if I failed or dropped out, I wouldn’t feel as embarrassed.  But I’m nearing the end now and I’m not very worried about making it through.  I have more than exceeded my required volunteer hours (although I have a shift at the farmers market and a shift at a food pantry garden yet to work).  Our last class is next week, at which time we will receive our exam.  We get to work on it for two weeks at home, and as I’ve kept up with the reading and taken good notes during lecture, I am sure I’ll do fine.

Classes have been very interesting.  We have had lectures on IPM (integrated pest management), plant physiology, organic techniques, plant pests and diseases (bugs, bacteria, fungus), fruits, compost, vegetables, house plants, perennials, annuals, soils, and more.

Not all of the information was new to me, but sometimes it helps to hear things a different way.  Some of our guest lecturers were highly entertaining, like the entomology specialist who clearly loooooved his beetles, and the veggie gardener who urged us make a detailed plan in the off season and stick to it because, “You can’t trust your summer brain.  Your summer brain is crazy!”

Spending time both in the classroom and the dirt with people who are passionate about plants was an engaging way to spend the last 7 months.  I look forward to continuing to work as a MGV in the future, both through volunteering and continuing education.

I still have a lot to learn.  I think the title Master Gardener Volunteer is misleading.  The “Master” part might be there as a psychological incentive for gardeners with an ego or something, but the true purpose of the program is to be a Volunteer for the Extention.  Being certified doesn’t make me a Master of anything, as a visit to my failing garden this summer will attest.  But at least I am now armed with more knowledge and inspiration, and tools to answer future questions.

If this sounds like fun to you, check it out.  More information can be found here.  Don’t wait too long to check it out for next year – I interviewed in November 2014 for the 2015 program.  I highly recommend it!


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