Friday, October 2, 2015

Rainy-Day Recipes

It's cold and wet and windy here--perfect fall weather for staying indoors with my crochet, cats, and cuppa.  I was inspired to make "Snickerdoodle Cake" yesterday when it was damp and chilly; today I'm making beef stew in the slow cooker with beef, carrots, potatoes, red pepper, cabbage, and green onions (also red wine vinegar and some WT Rancher's Steak Rub and Garlic Grapeseed oil; it's low FODMAPs.)  Because Sis's Girl Scout movie night was cancelled, we'll stay home and watch something together.  I even promised them hot chocolate when they got off the bus!  It's just that kind of day.

Cinnamon Bars aka Snickerdoodle Cake

cups flour
teaspoons ground cinnamon

teaspoon baking powder
 teaspoon baking soda
cups packed brown sugar
cup butter


teaspoons vanilla

cup sugar
teaspoon ground cinnamon

tablespoon butter, melted
First, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan cook and stir brown sugar and the 2/3 cup butter over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat; cool slightly.

Line a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with foil extending the foil over edges of pan. Grease foil; set pan aside. 

In a medium bowl stir together flour, the 2 teaspoons cinnamon, the baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. 

 Now that sugar/butter mixture is cooler, stir eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until combined.

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool slightly in pan on a wire rack.

In a small bowl stir together granulated sugar and the 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Brush warm bars with the 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar; cool completely. Using the edges of the foil, lift uncut bars from pan. Cut into bars.

Better Homes and Gardens 100 Best Cookies (2015)

Wild Life

This morning we almost lost our collective breakfasts.  See, we were watching a squirrel play in the gutter on our garage, which is clearly visible from the kitchen table where the kids and I eat in the morning.  Suddenly, a white flash swooped down from behind the house towards the squirrel.  The squirrel must have sensed danger because it jumped straight off the garage to the ground, a good 8'+! The red-tailed (or red-shouldered) hawk couldn't turn around and thus missed its breakfast.  As we all continued gasping in surprise, Bud asked, "Was that Stumpy or Fluffy?" (Yes, we nickname our squirrels.)

I replied, "I think we should call that one Lucky!"

Just the day before I made the brief acquaintance of a turtle who could have gone by that name, too.  I was driving home on some back roads when I slammed on my brakes--there was a turtle crossing the road.  I pulled over and went to encourage the turtle to get out of the way.  It wasn't a super busy road, but there were a lot of fast cars (don't worry, I was safe.)  Another woman came up as I got out and got out to help, too.  Only then did we discover it was a snapping turtle.  I had gone to give it a nudge with my shoe when it did a 180-degree turn and stretched for my toe viciously.  No harm done, so I guess you could call me "Lucky."  With cars detouring around us, we managed to protect the turtle until it made its way across the road.  It was very disconcerted by us--and kept pausing to pose and look intimidating, snapping a few more times--I wonder if it would have gotten across faster if I hadn't stopped.  But, judging by the number of cars that slowed down to go around, I'm just not sure the turtle would have made it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

School Nights

It's been back-to-back school events this week, just like last September.  Tuesday found us at the annual Pajama Night, with bedtime stories; Bud and I were again readers.  Separately.  He read Grumpy Cat, Please Mr Panda, A Penguin Story, and We are in a Book (Elephant and Piggy.)  Several people told me he did an awesome job reading and doing the voices very enthusiastically; he is always so proud to go read to the "little kids."  I dress up as a colonial lady, representing the historic house, and try to read museum- or history-related books, including Homespun Sarah, Ella's Trip to the Museum, A Night at the Museum, and, with a tenuous connection, Extra Yarn.  I like reading to the kids, who can never figure out what I'm dressed as!

It was our first time in the new school.  Bud and Sis's old school transferred to a new building--a phenomenal new building with lots of light, open spaces, and colorful artwork, including a large "Be Kind" mural.  It's a little bittersweet that their old school isn't their school anymore, but we were proud of our town having such a wonderful building.  It even has heated floors!

This week was also Open House, which I attended alone while Mama took Bud to kung fu and Sis along with them.  Of course, it was the same three teachers as last year, only they have a different one for homeroom now.  The Reading/Writing teacher spoke about all the strategies she's teaching them for analyzing and critiquing readings and for creating well-reasoned, persuasive and expository writing--and the interdependence of the two (a Common Core focus)--all while stressing independence and personal responsibility in their homework and organization.  She likes to use historical fiction such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond and My Brother Sam is Dead, as well as essays by Peter Jennings, Ken Burns, and the like.  She thinks the kids are amazing but wants to be sure to challenge them so they learn, though she worries about the stress they put on themselves.  The Math teacher said much the same thing:  the kids are bright but put so much pressure on themselves to understand concepts right away--sometimes even after only one example!  She did say, however, that they are starting sixth grade math--long division, this week--and that it was the easiest time she's ever had teaching it in her long career (she was a middle-school math teacher before) and she thinks that is because of the Common Core approach to breaking down concepts so that they understand the theory and not just memorize it.  (I know people bitch a lot about Common Core, so this was gratifying to hear.)  Finally, we met with the Social Studies/Science teacher, who talked about how the units are the same in their class as the other fifth grades, but they either a). can get through material faster or b). go more in-depth with their studies and experiments.  They'll be doing the senses--not just hearing, sight, taste, etc--but the brain functions behind the obvious, plus the solar system and other topics, and a trip to the science museum; they alternate these with the Age of Exploration, including the early colonial period and the Revolutionary War (see connection to reading and writing?  One is a colonial novel, the other, Revolutionary)--then they come to the historic house!  It sounds like it will be a great but busy and challenging year; already, I've seen an increase in the homework and the encouragement of more independence with assignments.  I also chatted with some of the specials teachers--the art teacher who is having them do optical illusions for their annual art fundraiser; the PE teacher who just had them do "pacer" tests for endurance and speed; the music teacher who is also in charge of the chorus Sis and Bud are joining; and finally the Spanish teacher, who suggested they watch the Spanish-language Sesame Street for practice.

It's been a long week, mainly because the first three weeks of school were incomplete.  This is their first five-day week.  And we're all feeling it, even with one more day to go.  The weekend will be mostly busy (most of are weekends are, now), but it will still be a nice break from school.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rain, Rain, Come Our Way

It's raining!  Or, it was, all night.  We definitely need this rain, having been in a moderate drought.  And by tomorrow the temperatures will drop, which will also be good--we've had our AC on for the last 48 hours, which is almost unheard of.  80F three days before October??  Glad it's dropping again (and know this will upset at least one of my local readers, who is prone to being cold.)

I'm not sure we "need" a hurricane, though.  Joaquin is headed up the eastern seaboard, no telling where exactly it'll go.  I imagine we'll see some rain and perhaps high winds on Saturday, but nothing we can't handle, as far as we know now.  It just means we might alter some of our outdoor plans for the weekend.

Monday, September 28, 2015

ASL Awakenings

Saturday evening found us leaving the kids at home with a babysitter, picking up my friend Miss D, who is deaf, and heading into the city to see a Broadway show.  Our destination:  Marlee Matlin, Camryn Manheim, and Spring Awakening.  One-time Tony-award-winning best musical starring a pre-"Glee" Lea Michele, the show has been revived by Deaf West with both deaf and hearing actors.

And it is AMAZING!  (Insert my doing the ASL sign for "amazing" here.)

It was touch and go for awhile.  Roads were closed all throughout midtown and cops were everywhere, even though the pope had left Saturday morning.  But, the UN has its General Assembly now and they must all be staying at the Waldorf!  Then there was a street festival up and down 6th.  Took more than 2 hours to get to the parking lot, what should barely have taken 1 1/2.  But Mama and I pad time schedules and we still had enough time to have a delightful dinner at Sapporo, on 49th, the kids' favorite.  Katsu, curry, miso soup, Japanese potato salad.  We knew better to have soupy Ramen before a Broadway show.  Especially because there are never enough restrooms.

We got to the theater with plenty of time to spare and were swarmed by drama students from a local program--one of their alumni was in the show.  But, as far as we could tell, there were no other Deaf people in the audience.  My friend, who uses ASL as well as read lips and talks, definitely kept her eyes peeled.  She did know someone:  she had gone to camp in elementary school with one of the Deaf cast members!  Small world.

Mama got us great seats, front row mezzanine on the aisle, so we had a totally unobstructed view.  I had really looked forward to the production; we had loved Deaf West's production of Big River more than a decade ago and I still can sign to some of the songs.  As soon as they announced they were coming east again, I wanted to go (they regularly do shows in LA, but don't often come to NYC.)  And then Oscar-winning Marlee Matlin joined the cast.  Sis and I watch her in "Switched at Birth" every week and I have enjoyed her in other shows ("West Wing," "L Word," and of course Children of a Lesser God.)  I knew other actors, too--Daniel Durant from "Switched at Birth" and Ali Stroker from "Glee Project" (and the first person in a wheelchair to be on Broadway!)  And then Camryn Manheim, who is fluent in ASL, joined the show.   My friend, who had never seen a Broadway show, was similarly excited to go, so we began making all the arrangements.

What a wonderful evening!  I hadn't seen Spring Awakening before.  As Mama summarized it,  the story is about "horny 19th-century German teenagers who have trouble communicating with their parents, make some mistakes, and suffer permanently for them."  Sex, abortion, suicide, molestation, child abuse, S&M, gays, prostitutes.  It's not a show for little kids.  The music is modern, though, very rock.  In fact, you might say, it was Rent for Millennials, in the same vein as Once:  the musical embraced by a generation feeling marginalized.  I'm not of this young generation and so I could both understand the teenagers and their parents.  That miscommunication was the major theme of the show  with dual communication systems being its central device strengthened the power of both.

The show is beautiful, powerful, mesmerizing.  Some characters were played by Deaf performers, some by hearing.  Some characters--like Wendla and Melchior--have one of each, the Deaf character and his or her Voice (Mama recognized the parallels of the costumes of the pairs.)  The use of doubles was more subtle than in Big River, especially the way the Voice almost seemed to be the inner voice talking to the character sometimes, instead of two separate people standing side by side. All the actors signed, both Deaf and hearing.  In fact, as my friend noted, the only way you could sometimes tell was that only the hearing actors were wired with head mics.  I loved seeing Marlee Matlin in person, even though her role was smaller.  Even I could tell that her signing (aka acting) as Frau Gabor was totally different from her role as Melody on "Switched"--tighter, more precise, closer to her body, while Melody signs more fluidly, with more pauses for connection with her listener.  And Camryn Manheim was fabulous!  I loved her signing and her acting and even her purple costume.

Visually, it was very striking--light changes and pulses (and these weird electric-point glow-in-the-dark gloves) and color switches and full blackout (which was shocking the few times it was employed) to match the beat of the music, which had a lot of bass for the Deaf actors and audience to sense; clever use of projection of subtitles so that some things weren't voiced (the rare power of the absolutely silent Broadway stage); the clash of 19th century and modern in set and costume and music; creative staging with members of the company forming a tree that two lovers sat beside or sitting as chairs representing tombstones (not unlike Our Town); and, if you reflected at all on the history of what would be Germany in the decades after the story takes place in 1891, you could see the seeds of totalitarianism in the rigidity of the adults (and the single salute and goose-stepping of the kids.)  As the Times noted in its astounding review, the fact that one of the company was in a wheelchair was seamlessly incorporated.  I hadn't realized how symbolically colorless and drab it all was until the teens walked off into a beautiful forest at the end, leaving their parents behind.  I'm still mulling over the symbolism of their coming out in their very white undergarments, donning drab costumes for the show, and then relinquishing the drab at the end to leave into the color wearing white.   There was even incense!  I'm not sure I've ever been at a show with scent.  Or with the no-cell phone and camera warning being conveyed visually by men holding placards at the front of the various sections.

I was amazed at how much of the ASL I could understand--thanks to my friend who started as my ASL teacher--though, I was also absorbing meaning through hearing the lyrics. I think I got more out of it with the signing and wouldn't have caught all the words otherwise.  The signing was very choreographed, creative, and dramatic.  Romantic performance of signs on each other's bodies; synchronized signing across the company; a seamless connection of signing and full-body movement; even some inside ASL jokes, only 1 of which I caught--the use of the sign "vagina" becoming "heart" when Wendla's mother can't bring herself to explain where babies come from (there's also the intertwined "love" sign on the poster.)     Check out a video of the first song here.  We clapped and signed applause after nearly every song, as did the whole house.  There was a loud and long standing ovation at the end.  We loved it.

We couldn't stage door, though.  All those college students were waiting to see their alumnus; we couldn't even see the barricade to join in.  It's okay.  I would probably have been too shaky to sign to Marlee Matlin et al how much I enjoyed the show.  So we stopped for Junior's cheesecake instead and  made it home by 1 a.m.

I can't shake the happy vibes the evening gave me (even though it's kind of a downer of a show, even with the last upbeat song), especially the joy of my friend at her first Broadway show, especially one in her language.  It was all unforgettable.

Lunar Celebrations

It was a weekend full of lunar happenings for us, beginning not Sunday evening with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, but Saturday with a local Lunar Festival.  Three years running, Bud's kung fu team has performed at a celebration of the harvest moon.  Thankfully, unlike last year when rain interrupted the proceedings just as Bud was to go on, it was a beautiful day for the festival.  And the performance went off without a hitch.  Bud did his hand form and his broad sword, along with a dozen or more of his teammates.  So proud of him!  We grabbed lunch from our favorite Thai place and headed home.

On Sunday evening, we prepped to watch the supermoon lunar eclipse.  There are lots of articles about the uniqueness of this one:  supermoon closer to the earth than usual, full Harvest moon,  etc, the confluence of which won't be seen again til 2033.   From 8 pm to a little after 10 pm, we stayed in the yard and watched the moon darken from left to right, turning red as it did so.  Mama got some photos.  The kids played ninja and then parachute, while checking on the moon's progress.  We sang songs (moon songs, "Rainbow Connection,") and laughed at stories.   We even saw a skunk wander across the driveway!  The only thing we didn't have were s'mores and a campfire.  But it was a fun break from our usual routine, even if everyone was over-tired this morning.

I wonder what the kids will remember of this night, if anything, when they're 28?

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Yesterday--a holiday from school for our kids for Yom Kippur--was a day of which I can be proud.

First, I have "leveled up" in physical therapy, meaning she switched out all my old exercises for new, harder ones.  Yay?  So, while the old ones had become much easier, the new ones kicked my butt and I admit to being a bit disappointed at how hard the new ones are.  But it's progress and, hopefully soon, these new ones will be easy.

Secondly, the Girl Scout troop went on a 6 mile bike ride yesterday!  Now, before you are paralyzed with shock that I rode a bike for 6 miles, know that I didn't.  Both kids did, along with their troop and some moms, but I was the anchor crew, staying with my van at the starting point, then meeting them at the lunch spot (with some of their stuff in tow), and then meeting them at the finishing point.  While it doesn't seem like much, I was proud of my ability to do all the driving and waiting without being uncomfortable--we were out for almost 3 hours.

But the biggest achievement came late in the day.  I had my first Lay Ministry meeting at church, some thirty minutes away.  And I drove myself!  At the end of the long day!  This is quite an accomplishment:  the farthest I've driven since my surgery (and the farthest I had managed to drive in the years before that)!    And this after an already physically taxing day.  I was also sitting in a meeting with a new minister and people I did not know, which could have created a little bit of stress but didn't.  We had all gathered to brainstorm on updating our strategies for supporting the minister in offering pastoral care to our church members, including hospital and home visits, possible meals and rides, even the prayer shawl ministry.  I also spoke briefly to the minister afterwards and she said we should talk about my ideas for seminary and chaplaincy; she had yet another path I could consider taking.  So exciting.  I didn't even get home to almost 9:30 pm, after tuck in!

By then, I was too energized to sleep, talked Mama's ear off til late, and then fell sound asleep in my book, even though I thought I was awake enough to read for hours.

A great day.