Thursday, January 19, 2017

Anger and Depression

I'm still mourning the presidential election.

I've definitely worked through some of the so-called (and debated) stages--denial, anger, depression.  I'm stuck there; I doubt I'll ever get to acceptance.  At least not acceptance in a positive way.  I accept that he has been elected president and that no electoral college or even impeachment will change that.  

In fact, I am extremely cynical.  I see all these calls for petition signatures and phone calls to elected officials to object to his cabinet nominees, his lack of divestiture of his holdings, his probable treason in cooperating with Russia, and I admit to laughing at the naiveté.  Seriously, if the liberal, democratic population mobilized for months to elect Clinton--and managed to win the popular vote by 3 million--and yet he is still being sworn in even while admittedly breaking ethics laws, supported by a spineless GOP who didn't like him during the election but is doing nothing to oppose him now (because winning trumps everything, right?), and appointing people with little experience or even understanding of their positions who also already break ethics laws and seem on their way to confirmation,  while firing immediately many of the people who have kept the government moving (embassies, etc.), what do we really think a few petitions--even a giant march on Saturday--will do??

And yet.

And yet, I acknowledge that silence isn't the answer--I've read about the "good" Germans who didn't object to Hitler.  So I know my cynicism cannot be a long-term plan.    I just haven't found what I think will work.  But I do know that I am against racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, and discrimination based on sex, gender, religion, race, creed, ability.  All those phrases floating around now--Black lives matter.  Water is life.  Women's rights are human rights.  Love is love.  Science is real.  No human is illegal.  Kindness is my religion.--I believe those.  Even if the new president and his incoming officials don't.

Oh, I'm going to miss Obama and his family and the society he and his officials tried to create.  The change he brought.  The hope he stood for.  I remember watching his first election night speech and his first and second inauguration with the kiddos. Seriously, how do you explain to kids that the class bully is now in charge?  That they have to follow rules and be kind but the president won't?

Tomorrow, I'll be in mourning.  I won't watch the inauguration.  Perhaps I'll even wear black.

Actually, I'll be on retreat all weekend, away from the news, resting and rejuvenating.

Peace.  Hope.  And then change.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Warming Up

My Zentangle practice is warming up in these winter months. I've been working my way through the Zentangle Primer as part of my morning practice.   I'll be teaching more classes this winter and spring, and attending another Zentangle retreat with my mom.  And I might even be giving an interview about Zentangle for a local online news site, which is exciting.  For me, Zentangle is still about the practice, the process, the mindfulness, the meditation, over and above the finished product.  I know that many of the Zentangle artworks that people see on Pinterest and the like is beautifully polished and seemingly unachievable.  I'm intimidated by those examples myself, so I try to see them as sources of ideas and inspirations.  My own lines waver, my spatial consistency varies; I leave smudges sometimes.  But I learn from each one.  And I value the time spent on them.

Go, Speed Racer!

Even after a full day of watching speedskaters at Sis's first competition, I still can't get over how the skaters tilt so far to one side that they put their hands on the ice and still manage to crossover their feet!  Sis isn't quite at that level--she can crossover but isn't low or titled enough to touch the ice--but she still won a gold in her novice division for girls.  We were all exhausted but proud.

While Sis was racing around the track--three laps in just about a minute for one event!--and cheering on her teammates, Mama and I were volunteering to help the competition go smoothly.  I was in hospitality, helping with feeding about 35 officials and volunteers; Mama worked with the official race steward tallying times and points.    We had breakfast foods, sandwiches, salad, desserts, plus six or seven slow cookers going--soups, chili, stew, and a very popular Slow Cooker Chocolate Souffle--and blew the fuses more than a couple of times.  And lots of coffee!  Because the rink was very cold.  At least the hospitality room was warm.

A few things we learned about skating:

  • the Zamboni cleaning is called an "ice cut";
  • there is usually a heat box, where you wait--it's good to show up a few heats before your own;
  • a cap gun signals the start of the race but a whistle midday signals a stop (in case there is a major injury or false start); a whistle at the end means everyone finished the laps;
  • races tend to fall in 111, 333, 555, 777, or 1500 meters--I can't recall the different names for rounds of races of the same length (set, I think, or maybe event);
  • results are posted by time, adjusted for any penalties, but awards are given based on points over the whole day;
  • the novice category is for any skater who doesn't have a recorded time, including Sis (she stays a novice this season, I believe, but moves up next year);
  • while skaters compete by gender for standings and places, they often race in mixed groups (there were more boys than girls, at least 3:1);
  • skaters are docked for "impeding" if they get within 1/4" of another skater (I think);
  • if skaters are sitting or lying down on the ice for more than 4 secs because of a fall, they are disqualified (not that they'd ever catch up);
  • if a skater hits his or her head, they are removed from the rest of the meet as part of the concussion protocol.
Thankfully, there were very few falls and no real injuries.

Sis also picked up some tips from the other skaters--staying warm between races (they essentially where body length swimsuits, which aren't warm, so they wear Uniqlo or Under Armor underneath and wear jackets and blankets around them), staying hydrated between races, wearing goggles to avoid ice spray and chips at the starting line, eating fruit to keep up energy and avoid cramping.  She also showed great sportsmanship when a skater in her race fell and got back up; she checked with him after the end.  She was usually in the back of the pack, sometimes last, sometimes lapped, but she stuck with it, did her best, and left her heart out on the ice.

She had a marvelous time and is jazzed to compete later this season in another competition.  Mama and I are pretty excited, too.

Slow Cooker Chocolate Souffle

1 box  triple chocolate fudge cake mix
1 1/4cups milk
1/2cup vegetable oil 

1box (4-serving size) instant chocolate pudding and pie filling mix
2 cups milk1bag (12 oz) 
milk chocolate chips (2 cups)

Spray 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In large bowl, beat Cake ingredients with electric mixer as directed on cake mix box. Pour into slow cooker.
In medium bowl, beat pudding mix and 2 cups milk with whisk as directed on box. Pour into slow cooker over cake batter. Do not mix. Sprinkle chocolate chips over top.

Cover; cook on Low heat setting 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours or until cake is set and pudding is beginning to bubble out of cake.

adapted from Betty Crocker

Slow Cooker Lava Cake
This one is much sweeter than the one above; I first had it at a friend's party.

1 box triple chocolate fudge cake mix
1 1/2cups water 
1/2cup butter, melted 
1tablespoon vanilla
1box (4-serving size) chocolate instant pudding and pie filling mix
1container whipped milk chocolate frosting
Vanilla ice cream, as desired

Spray 4 1/2-quart slow cooker with baking spray with flour.
In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, melted butter, eggs, vanilla and pudding mix with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Pour batter into slow cooker.
Fold frosting into batter in slow cooker with spoon, leaving ribbons of frosting running through batter.
Cover; cook on High heat setting 2 to 3 hours or until cake is set in center. To serve, spoon hot cake from slow cooker, and top with scoops of ice cream.

Adapted from Betty Crocker and Pampered Chef

Monday, January 9, 2017

Viva la Vie Boheme!

Opera!  We went to the opera!

And we took the kiddos.

It was marvelous.

Mama loves La Boheme (and yes, I know, accents, but I'm not going to figure that out now.)  She has been listening to it for years now, and particularly likes right when Rudolfo meets Mimi, "Non sono in vena" and "Si, mi chiamano Mimi."

And so we decided to go.  And to take the kids. You know, another great cultural experience.  The Met Opera puts the opera on most years; it's one of the classic ABCs--Aida, Boheme, and Carmen.  And they still show the Franco Zefferelli production, which is the same one I saw about twenty-five years ago.  It hasn't aged at all.  Mama hadn't ever seen it.  In fact, we've only been to the opera a couple of times--once in Chicago we saw part of Tosca, with free tickets from a docent, but left after the first act because we were ready to leave.  And we saw Die Fledermaus back in 1994/95.  I remember it mainly because I love the music and Dom Deluise had a role in it that night.

I had gone through my opera phase back in my grad school days.  I think it started with Moonstruck, that wonderful NYC film with Cher and Olympia Dukakis.  I think I got a lot of ideas about NYC from the film long before I moved there.  Including the magnificence of the Met.  I remember seeing the spread for the opera season in The New York Times, with all these different ticket sets--Italian trios, German trios, classic trios.  And for about $20, I could get a Family Circle seat; I bought a set each semester, as I recall, going to the box office itself to book my seats (the olden days!)   I loved it.  La Boheme.  Die Fledermaus.  The Barber of Seville.  Tosca.  The Marriage of Figaro.  Carmen.  I would swear I saw Jessye Norman in Carmen, but I can't find proof that she performed that role in the early 90s when I was going.  I thought it was marvelous.  I have also seen Aida, but in Rome, in the Baths of Caracalla.  I loved it, too, especially outdoors in that setting on a gorgeous Roman summer night.

I was thrilled to go to the opera with Mama and the kids, to share the experience I had enjoyed so well.  The architecture of Lincoln Center, inspired by the Capitoline Hill (yep, in Rome.)  The fountain.  The huge paintings by Marc Chagall.  The glorious crystal chandeliers.  The red velvet.  The men in tuxedoes and women in fashionable gowns.  The old, elaborate costumes on exhibit. The balcony where you can go during the two intermissions.  The little shop (it was a subway-level shop, with a tiny one near the box office; now there's only a big one near the box office.) The xylophone gong.  The restaurant with meals served during intermissions.  The proscenium sculpture.  The caption screens in front of each seat.  The way the chandeliers dim and rise before curtain.  The huge curtains.  That deep stage.  Oh, and the operas themselves--sets, costumes, over-the-top stories, and all that singing without microphones.

 there it was, La Boheme, as wonderful as I recall.  Mama loved it.  I loved it.  We both cried.  And the kids liked it, which is pretty good for a three-hour show sung in Italian, with lots of romance and kissing.  They had my little birding binoculars and monocular, which helped entertain them.  I enjoyed it without them.  The garret set, with the chimneys of Paris in the back.  The stove lit by a play.  Mimi's costume.  The amazing cafe set, with its two levels and dozens of extras.  Love those extras (including a children's chorus), in rich period clothes, doing what we termed "operatic mannequin challenge" during Musetta's song.  The donkey and horse who are part of the first act.  All that snow and fuzzy light of the third act.  And back to the garret again.  I wondered if Mimi's muff ever accidentally rolled off her hand and off the roof of the garret!  I'm sure somewhere in its 100+-year production history, it's happened.

We talked over the opera in our room at the Empire Hotel across the street and the next morning at Smith's for brunch (mmmm, lemony pancakes with whipped ricotta!!)  We had hoped to stay and do town, but all that wonderful aforementioned snow was already falling and with totals upped to around 7", we headed home.

Listening to Maria Callas as Mimi . . . .

We Got It!

Yep, we got the snow!  On Friday, there was beautiful fairy-tale snow and then on Saturday we got about 5" of super-fine snow.  Beautiful.

And now it is very, very cold.  Single-digit cold.

So the beautiful white snow will be around for awhile longer.

Though, I hear we're in for above-average temperatures and rain later this week.

Such is winter in New England.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Fingers Crossed

It's colder today than yesterday, and cloudy.

And now an Accu-Weather alert has come out saying we might get some snow tonight into tomorrow.  Woo-hoo!  I hope we get some, even enough to delay school.  It would just be fun.  We haven't gotten much snow this year; one little storm with about 4-6".  The kids would like some.  Me, too.  Especially because we're planning on teaching them to shovel well enough to clear the sidewalks and driveway.

But I don't want a big storm because we're going to the opera tomorrow night.  It's a Christmas present for Mama--her favorite, La Boheme.   I've seen it before, my first year in NYC.  I had dreamed of the opera since seeing Moonstruck, where that opera and Lincoln Center figure prominently.  And it is lovely.  So, we're going.  And we're taking the kids.  Sure it's three hours, four acts, in Italian, of a story they don't know.  But opera is glorious and magnificient and BIG.  And there are caption machines in the seats.  So at the very least it will be interesting.

Wish us luck on both counts!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Catch Up

I'm pretty behind and so this will be sketches, vignettes of our holiday celebrations.

  • GS Progressive Dinner:  For the GS Junior badge in New Cuisines, the girls planned a progressive dinner in mid-December.  My house was the final stop--desserts!  And we opted to make Paula Deen's Pumpkin Gingergread Trifle, but with homemade gingerbread from King Arthur Flour.  The girls whipped cream from scratch (with brown sugar!), combined the pumpkin puree (with cinnamon and cardamom), and then combined it all with the gingerbread in 8 oz ball jars that they'd decorated.  They were so proud of their efforts and delighted in presenting the jars to each guest when it was our turn.  They also made crockpot hot chocolate and Zinger Punch.  The other stops were just as tasty; it was a fun way to celebrate the holidays and earn a badge!
  • Sis's Slumber Party:  A few nights later, Sis hosted a slumber party for two school friends, with more food (mac and cheese) and a homemade birthday cake for one of her friends.
  • Cookie Party:  Then just a few days after that, we hosted our annual cookie-decorating party, with some friends from GS and from the slumber party!  And, for once, they decorated cookies in a ways that they could actually eat them instead of piling on the frosting and the sprinkles.  
  • Gommie and Pop's Visit: Gommie and Pop arrived the day before school let out for the holidays, which made the kids going to school the next morning pretty tough.  That gave us time to prep and wrap, though.  The next few days were filled with musical performances (piano, violin, and cello--the kids even gave my folks little lessons!), games, swimming (at their hotel), and an extra speedskating practice to prep for January competition.  One down side--Mama had a nasty cold along with vertigo, which kept her pretty much bedridden for most of the holidays.  She did rally a bit for Christmas itself but paid for it in the following days.  

  • Christmas:  It was a larger affair than usual, with both families here for Christmas--us, my parents, and Mama's brother and parents.  Fortunately, we did the gifts in shifts!  The kids were up early, of course--it's so sweet to hear them gather early to wake us up--and were soon met by my parents.  We ate Sis's bacon bites and opened lots of presents.  Not long after, Ma and Gong and Goo showed up and we opened even more presents.  Soon after, we all ate baked brie, gumbo, muffalettas, various delicious pies (Mama brought them for Gommie and Pop to sample), Christmas cookies, and the gingerbread bundt cake I made.  Everybody helped work on a Snowy Owl puzzle Gommie had brought; most of us tried our hands at a cup stacking game that Bud received from Gommie.  
  • Presents:  There were some themes this year:  Sis got a lot of horse-themed items, including a jacket from the farm where she rides.  Bud got a jacket from the kung fu national team, as well as various Zelda-themed items.  There were lots of videogames for different platforms, some books in their favorite series (Warriors for Sis, Wings of Fire for both, Magisterium for Bud.)  I received what I call "smelly goods," or nicely scented candles and soaps, plus lots of Snowy Owl-themed gifts and bird books.  Mama was in on the videogame haul.  Plus the present I was most excited to give her--a c.1870 plaster cast of John Rogers's Parting Promise. Rogers created sculptural groups to mass produce, often depicting touching genre scenes of middle-class white Victorian America.  This one shows a man putting a ring on his young love's finger before leaving, suitcase nearby.  I like the detail and the scene, though our cast seems to have been painted a beige color and is flaking in places; I think it gives it character.  Interestingly, we had just seen a set of Rogers's groups in Vermont (at the first Vermont Country Store, I think, in the rafters), so I was excited to find one at a local antique mall.  I also picked up a silver card case, c. 1850, for an anniversary gift for Mama.  Yes, it was an antique Christmas.  (But we do both love history.)  Gommie and Pop got a lot of history and bird books, plus some fancy hiking socks.  Ma got her usual Hallmark ornaments and singing snowman, while we gave Goo, among other things, a gift card to King Arthur Flour.

New Year's Celebrations:  We didn't do much for New Year's besides letting the kiddos stay up late. Most of the day, we watched our new family show, "Once Upon a Time" (Disney-fied fairytales with a modern twist) and played games (I crocheted on a blanket for my hospice patient.)  Sis made a delicious batch of oatmeal scotchies.  Later, we all watched some of New Year's Rocking Eve and saw the Mariah Carey meltdown/technical difficulties; Mama, who did some sound work in Chicago, couldn't believe it would go so badly without the professionals fixing it (though, Carey didn't seem to be trying very hard.)  We ate pizza for a late lunch and then had various snacks throughout the evening, including mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and breadsticks.  The kids stayed up til 2 or 3 a.m., but Mama and I barely made it to midnight.  The next morning, we repeated most of the same.

And so now it's Tuesday and everyone is back where they usually are (though I'm at home nursing a cold.)  We liked having the day after New Year's off, to cushion the fact that we stayed up late.  It was hard to get going this morning.  There are a lot of great activities coming up this winter and spring, so we're looking forward to what 2017 holds.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle with Homemade Gingerbread

Easy Gingerbread

  • 2 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon each cloves and nutmeg
    1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
    3/4 cup molasses
    1/4 cup water
    1 large egg
    1 cup buttermilk
    1/2 cup diced crystallized ginger (optional)

    Grease and flour a 9" square pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. 

  • Melt the butter in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the cup, and pour into the dry ingredients in the bowl, mixing to moisten.
  • Add the water, stirring until everything is moistened. Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir into the batter until it's evenly combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan.
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes before slicing; gingerbread is best served warm with whipped cream or ice cream. 
  • King Arthur Flour

Gingerbread Bundt Cake
2 1/2 cups KAF flour
2 tablespoons gingerbread spice; or 2 1/2 teaspoons ginger, 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup water

1/3 cup rum or water
1/2 teaspoon gingerbread spice or 1/4 teaspoon ginger and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10- to 12-cup bundt-style pan.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, gingerbread spice, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the molasses.
Add the flour mixture in three additions alternately with the water, starting and ending with the flour. Mix just until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
Bake the cake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the glaze by stirring together the water spice and sugar. Set aside.
Remove the cake from the oven, cool it in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack. 

King Arthur Flour
Brush the cake with the glaze, and allow it to cool completely before serving.