Monday, December 31, 2007
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall downinto the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver
Car rides always seem to invoke deep philosophical thinking for DP and me. Yesterday was no exception. I had conducted our service at church on Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day," with several congregants providing their own responses. When it was my turn, I drew upon the poem but also Barbara Cooney's children's book Miss Rumphius, about a woman who tries to figure out how she can make the world more beautiful. Her answer is to plant lupines all over her town, making beauty for everyone.
What is my answer?
I said I don't know.
And several people in the congregation, mostly our senior women, told me I was already doing it, that it was the children.
I must say I am generally uncomfortable with this answer. And that was our car discussion while said children napped. I very much see the children as mostly their own creation, given to us with their own individual personalities. But as DP gently pointed out, that is disingenuous. If I don't feel like I'm helping to influence them, why do I stay at home? Why do I try so hard? Think about it so much? And she's right. There is a lot of guidance necessary to fully develop those little personalities into people participating in a community. And, in general, I think I'm pretty good at it. So, why not take "credit"? So I don't have to take the blame? I don't think I'm that wishy-washy. Or irresponsible.
Then I remembered something my mom said to me during her visit, mainly that she's glad I blog so she can get a sense of what I'm feeling. I tend to think of myself as a fairly emotional--and transparent--person, but I understood from her comments that this is just not the case. DP was surprised; she sees me the way I do. It's true, I don't gush about motherhood--I'm the last person to provide sentimental platitudes about being a mom. And I think that's because I find it so much more complicated than that. I almost can't put it into words--the difficulty, the devotion, the joy, the frustration, the surprise, the humor, the love. And there is not often the time to be that reflective.
Except on long car rides on winter Sunday afternoons.
My answer to the poem's question is still not simply, "the children." It's not simple. But I think I do know the answer. I just can't say.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
This was the kiddos' big party at DP's office, complete with Santa (though he was much creepier than our wonderful mall Santa, and the kids wouldn't even consider approaching him), balloon artist, juggling clown, origami, face painting, and best of all cookie decorating. DD had a field day decorating a plain sugar cookie--she put on 6 layers of icing with tons of sprinkles and sugars in between. And then she started licking layers off! I liked the chocolate fountain, having never eaten from one of those before. I must say, dipping big crunchy pretzels in melted chocolate was the best. Yum! The company gave each child a Gund stuffie, either penguin or polar bear. We now have one of each, for DS and DD respectively. The kids raved about the party all the way home, clutching their new critters and licking cookie icing off their fingers.
Party #2: With the Family
My parents and DP's parents and brother were all at the house this weekend. The families rarely mix, for various reasons, and when they do, DP and I always worry. There aren't any hostilities, mind you, just awkwardness and the great possibility of misunderstanding. Luckily, there are two grandchildren so each family gets a set.
As it was, the day turned out wonderfully. Goo, Gong, and Ma showed up while Gommie, the kids, and I were still at church. They brought various Chinese treats, which we all devoured when we got home. My favorite were the egg custards, cha sia bao (sweet bbq pork bun with onions), and a couple of Chinese "doughnuts." My parents liked them too. And the kids thought they were wonderful, especially the egg custards and the sweet doughnuts with the yellow yolk toppings. Then DP brought in New Haven style pizza--some with no cheese for DS, another with no sauce for DD, clam for her family, pepperoni for me. My parents ate a little of each. My mom had also made shrimp remoulade, our family's Christmas Eve tradition. It was quite the cultural exchange.
But we didn't get to enjoy it at all or much of the pizza because . . . .
Emergency: A Trip to the Hospital
We ended up in the ER with DS. He was playing with Gong, swinging by him wrists, and was soon at my knees in the kitchen crying that he was "pinched." And the crying just wouldn't stop. I soon noticed that he couldn't move his left arm on his own and would wail if we moved it. A call to the pediatrician was not reassuring (it was a doc from another practice covering for the weekend), just give him motrin and wait, so we sent Goo, who is a new EMT, with Gommie to the drugstore for some ace bandages. Goo wrapped it, reassured us that it was not too bad. But with continued crying, I piled us into the car and we headed for the hospital, DS wimpering the whole way, unable even to hold the new digital camera that DP had bought him for Christmas and pulled out early as a distraction (it's a kid's camera but takes real pictures). We got to the hospital and I pulled him out of his carseat and he screamed.
And was then fine. He ran around the waiting room, could hold his camera with both hands, took pictures of everybody, and was the perfect picture of health while we waited (embarrassedly) about an hour to see a doctor. Who immediately declared the injury "nursemaid's elbow." After the oh-so-subtle check of limbs and torso for signs of child abuse.
I must have popped the bone back into place getting DS out of the car. Ugh. But there was no long term damage. No residual pain. Nothing left to do. But go home.
And look at all the pictures he'd taken.
Party #2: With the Family Continued . . .
DS fell asleep on the way home, clutching his camera and the 6 new hot wheels DP had miraculously produced (I think her car must be like Santa's sleigh!). By the time he woke up, there was a Christmas tree in the living room all ready to be decorated. DD had begun to hang cookie cutters on it and was having a ball. It really was beautiful--a 6' tall green tree with white lights stringed around it and these brightly-colored plastic cookie cutters of animals and letters and Christmas items and shapes. The kids loved placing the ornaments on each branch, sometimes several to one branch. And even from across the room you could make out the different shapes. Red bells, orange dolphins, yellow triangles, green holly, blue train, purple "Q." For the sake of time and safety (of cats and children), we didn't hang salt dough ornaments on string or pull out any of the family Hallmark collection. But I think it was our prettiest tree ever.
Once the tree was lit, we gave Ar-Ma an early present--the jingly Hallmark snowman decoration. I'm not even sure what to call it. You know the one--it's a little movable tabletop decoration that sings and jiggles. DP gets her one every year. DD and DS love them--they like to play them all simultaneously when we visit their house during the holidays. And this year especially, DS enjoyed dancing to the music. He would stomp one leg and clap his hands, or wiggle his hips. Gommie said he looked like a little Elvis. Considering we had been in the ER with him just hours before, it was particularly heartwarming and so we all took our turns dancing and clapping with him.
Party # 3: Christmas Eve Preparations
Christmas Eve seemed like one big party: Pop and I both made special dishes for the potluck at church--he made his famous queso dip and I made "Christmas" (Fiesta) rice with red and green bell peppers. The cooking highlight of the day, though, was sugar cookies. On her arrival last week, Gommie presented me with the family cookie press--the pink and gray one I mentioned in an earlier post. I was so touched and excited. I couldn't wait to start a cookie tradition with my kids. She also handed me two cookie recipes--one for pressed cookies and one for cutouts. On Christmas Eve we made them both. I made the two doughs while my folks took the kids for a walk. They came back and we started pressing out cookies--trees, swirls, flowers, camels (!). I think their favorite part was when Gommie would press a cookie into their outstretched hands. They always do like the dough best. In fact, I don't think either one ate a baked cookie. They were pretty much done by the time we were ready to do cutouts but DS got into the act and helped. He wanted one of each of my Christmas cookie cutters (many of which were temporarily retrieved from the tree!). Mom laughed hysterically to see him telling me which ones to make, very reminiscent of a little girl some 30-odd years ago. By the time the cutouts were done, I was the only one in the kitchen (we didn't actually ice and decorate them until Gommie and Pop's last day, a wonderful distraction from their imminent departure. And DD and DS had a field day pouring sprinkles all over them. DD especially liked licking the icing. But neither one actually ate an iced cookie!).
DP came home early and we were able to go visit the baby who seemed to take so long to be born. Yes, he did finally arrive, 22 hours after his mom's induction. I'm sure the wait was harder on her! He's adorable. And a great Christmas present to his family. Hi, A!
Then it was time for looking at lights on our way to Vespers. The kids love the inflatables that have (pardon me) popped up around town. One house in particular has something like 20 of them, including Cookie Monster and Elmo, and we have visited it a lot. There is another house with lights everywhere, including a train and carousel horse, which is also popular. Oddly, no one up here has the wooden cutouts which were/are (?) so popular in Texas--maybe because of the weather? One house not far from mine actually had 101 wooden dalmatian puppies and the two parents! We'd visit every year (though I hear it is gone now). It was amazing. DP, exhausted, fell asleep on the way to church and didn't wake up again until Santa had come. He slept on Gommie through service, through dinner, through the car ride home (in his car seat), and through being changed into his special Christmas pjs. The rest of us enjoyed the usual Christmas service with lots of songs and the lighting of the candles . All through the service, DD kept asking loudly when it was time to light her candle. Finally seeing her holding her candle (with DP's help) was the prettiest sight. I won't wax too maternally poetic but it was angelic.
Santa Spolier beware: And then the odd part happened--for the first time, I really felt like I was Santa. After the kids were in bed, we broke out a platter of cheeses, some wine and egg nog, and set to work preparing the house for the morning. Pop put the easel for DD together. DP started working on the train table for DS. I cleaned the kitchen and set out the cookies for Santa. We had intended this whole family ritual which we started last year--special pjs and new Christmas books to open on Christmas Eve, plus the placing of the cookie platter and carrots for the reindeer. But they were asleep when we got home and put them straight to bed. No problem. So I still put out the cookies. And then proceeded to do what I know my parents had done for 2 decades--I bit into each cookie, spreading crumbs and leaving evidence of Santa. I even had my new "milk for Santa" mug (from the kids' market at church). It was then that I felt like an adult, like a parent. Watching us make the magic I knew for the rest of my life this is my Christmas role, even after my kids are adults and have their own kids--I will make the magic for others thereby making the magic of Christmas for myself.
Party #4: Christmas is Here!
Gommie and Pop arrived minutes before the kids woke up Christmas morning. And I think the excitement they saw made waking up at 5:30 (just hours after getting to bed) worth it. DD and DS's faces were priceless. DS went straight to the train table and never left, barely enticed away to open other gifts. DD kept moving back and forth exclaiming, "Wow! Christmas!" and "oh" and "presents!" and "Santa!" Truthfully, I can't even be sure all she shouted that morning but excitement radiated from every inch of her little hot chocolate and marshmallow-pj wearing being.
We did stockings first, while I read Tomie de Paolo's version of the Christmas story, a holdover from my own childhood of reading from the Bible (the only religious act in my atheist childhood--my sis and I actually read it in Latin and Greek one year). And then to all the presents. DD helped pass out presents, helped open every one, coached us, "first rip the paper and then open it," encouraged DS to "help me open" and "let's share." Share? Another Christmas miracle. I won't catalogue here the toys and books that we all exchanged, just that there was excitement and joy. And more than enough stuff to keep us busy until next Christmas with no room in the house to store half of it!
Breakfast of corned beef hash and eggs, followed much later by a Thanksgiving-like Christmas dinner, and our day was complete. We played with toys the rest of the day, napped, nibbled, napped again, went for a walk.
And we're doing it all again at Ar-Ma and Ar-Gong's house in the city tomorrow!
Who says Christmas comes just once a year? If you do it right, it can last a lifetime . . .
We eat this every Christmas Eve when we get back from looking at lights; it’s a tradition from Mom’s family. Dad always wonders why we don’t eat it on other days. I didn’t like it much as a child but it is a tradition and it’s growing on me.
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons vinegar
4 tablespoons prepared mustard (French’s)
2 teaspoons horseradish
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoons pepper (dark, cayenne)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 cup salad oil
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped green onions
2 –3 quarts cooked and peeled shrimp
Combine first 8 ingredients. Gradually add oil, beating with beater. Add shrimp, celery, and onion. Chill. Serve on shredded lettuce with crackers.Mom
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I was asked a few weeks ago by one of my shawl recipients if she might pass on her shawl to a friend of hers in need. Touched that the shawl meant so much to her, I said I was honored. She had been worried that I would be upset that she parted with it. Not in the slightest. In fact, I think this recycling of shawls, especially by people who don't make handicrafts, is a wonderful addition to the ministry and a way of keeping the cycle going.
My Version of the Shawl Pattern: I use the basic pattern in Lion Brand homespun (which is controversial in the movement because many think that Lion Brand has not only begun to make cheaper yarn but also capitalized on the movement for profit, but I can get it relatively cheap in lots of colors and I like the way it looks). Acrylic yarns, I think, are best for this (as for baby blankets) because they can be washed easily. I try to find out the person's favorite color beforehand. I add long fringe on each end. And then tie a charm or two into the fringe, usually something small with a spiral or heart or a word of hope, depending on the character of the recipient. I then give the recipient the shawl, wrapped in paper and tied up with a piece of the yarn, along with a card noting that it was made specifically for her or him in love and meditation.
But my word this waiting is driving me nuts. Is this how the non-pregnant partner feels?
The last hours are longer than the whole pregnancy!
As a treat and in hopes of a car nap (which I got!!!!! They are so much happier when they nap), we went to McD's for lunch, only their second visit (I feel compelled to say that, so guilt-ridden am I as a "good" liberal parent for taking them there to eat. I like it, I ate it as a child, once in awhile is okay. I'm okay. They're okay). For happy meals. And on the way over, DS clarified, "Happy meals. Not crying meals."
No, not crying meals.
Well, that is until DD, so excited about her appallingly gender-stereotyped "Angel Cake" figurine (as opposed to his black and silver mega-robot, as DS noted, "with his tools."), fell competely off the booth backwards and "bonked."
It was a crying meal after all.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Wednesdays seem to be a sort of national recipe swap day, if one-sided. It's the day most papers, including the NYTimes (which I read now) and the Houston Chronicle (which we had at home when I was growin up), publish their food sections. And I have tattered newspaper clippings spanning the Times, the Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, and other papers. Now, I mostly email the recipes to myself, having sent several today. Holidays are my favorite times for recipe clippings (I like reading Joan Nathan's Q&A for the High Holy Days every year) and I loved all the posted archived holiday articles in the Times today.
So, in the spirit of food writing and conventional recipe swap, I'm declaring Wednesdays "Recipe Swap Day." I'll post a theme and a recipe and encourage you to comment with your favorite recipe, preferrably with commentary.
Today's theme is Holiday Recipe.
Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding
I love bread pudding and was intrigued when Jamie Oliver made one with Italian panettone. Yummy! So, we made this for Christmas Eve 2003, to have with our imported cheese plate , after going to vespers and driving through rain to see lights (actually, DP and I can’t agree on when we actually made and ate the pudding and it doesn't really matter). Indeed, it was quite a fruit bread holiday—lots of different fruitcakes (including one we read about in the Times which we import for England every year) and panettone bread pudding and plum pudding.
1 pint milk (not anything less than 2%)
1 pint heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
6 oz. caster sugar (superfine)
panettone, cut into thick slices and buttered (we only used half of one)
1 orange, zested
3 tablespoons Cognac (we used rum)
To start the custard base, bring the milk and cream just to a boil in a saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds and add to the pan with the zest. Whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale. Add the milk and cream and remove the vanilla.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Butter the slices of panettone. Dip each slice of panettone into the custard and pile into a buttered baking dish. Pour the remaining custard slowly over the bread, place the dish in a roasting pan and fill halfway with hot water. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and bake for about 45 minutes. When cooked, it will have a slight crust on top, but will still be slightly wobbly inside.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
My mom liked to give us the opportunity for memorable experiences, something I value and am trying to do with my own kids. We adopted a stray pregnant cat so we could have the kitten experience. At an early age, she began taking me to the theater (you know, I'm not sure she took my sister as much) so that I saw Yul Brynner in the King and I, Tyne Daly in Gypsy, Carol Channing in Hello Dolly, Robert Goulet in On A Clear Day You Could See Forever, and Donald O'Connor in, what was it, Showboat, to name but a few. And apparently, when I was a wee bairn, she decided I needed the Christmas cookie experience. I understand the motivation because I'm considering doing the exact same thing with my own kids. I just hope it goes better. Because, apparently, I spent the entire baking session counting the types of cookies, i.e. 4 snowmen and 3 Christmas tree, and then telling her we needed more trees or what not to make it all equal.
I do remember my mom making my grandpa his favorite crisp sugar cookies every year. These glorious, long, rectangular pressed cookies with their marvelous creamy yellow color. I loved the raw dough, the pink/mauve and grayish tin press, the smell of the cookies baking, the hot cookies, the cold cookies, the Corsicana fruitcake tins with wax paper that she'd store them in. I've tried recreating them but the dough is too much for wimpy plastic presses and I've never managed it.
My Aunt J also makes an incredible rosette-shaped, holiday sugar cookie, also pressed. But she adds icing and rainbow sugar sprinkles. And they're amazing. She'd make extra for our family Christmas get-togethers because I would inhale them.
My grandma apparently made Tipsy Balls, though I've only taste my Uncle W's version of them, which is amazing. The family joke is that Grandma put the recipe in the Methodist cookbook despite prohibitions against drinking. She just didn't list the alcohol in the ingredients, only mentioning it in the body of the recipe!
I have a box of my great-grandmother's typed recipes, many for Christmas Lizzies and sand tarts, which I'm sure she would make every holiday. I don't recall her doing much baking by the time I was old enough to remember. But reading the recipe cards makes me want to make them all.
So what is going to be my signature holiday cookie? For the last few years, I've organized and participated in cookie swaps. I love cookie swaps--it's a night of tasting all sorts of cookies, you get new recipes, and there are cookies to take home. I always read the tips on having a good cookie swap, given by Martha or Family Circle or Taste of Home, and was ready way before I attended my first swap. I've taken all sorts of cookies, mainly variations on my Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Recipe--fudge balls, cranberry bites, ginger snaps, and the like. I've been through a shortbread phase and have two beautiful stone shortbread pans. I also went through a candy phase--I make a mean fudge, tasty barks, and a delicious English toffee from a dear coworker who passed away unexpectedly, but those aren't cookies (and will have to be a separate post). But what is going to be my cookie? Or, well, cookies. I doubt there will just be one. There is something appealing about the cut-out cookie, even if I come from a pressed-cookie family. My friend T makes awesome cut out sugar cookies and decorates them beautifully so I have a teacher nearby. I've never had much experience with cut outs.
But I think, this week, now that we have wheat, we're going to do some baking and start making some memories. Even if, like my first holiday baking experience, they're too young to remember. At least my kids can't count!
Aunt J's Sugar Cookies
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 cup crisco, butter flavoring optional
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream sugar and crisco—add eggs and vanilla and butter flavoring. Add flour, etc. Press out. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes.
2 cups powdered sugar
milk to consistency
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine and then spread over warm cookies. Add sprinkles.
1001 Cookie Recipe Mixture
5 cups flour
3 ¾ cups sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened
Spoon flour into measuring cup and level with spatula. Put in large bowl with at least 4 quart capacity.
Measure sugar, baking powder, and salt into flour. Stir until thoroughly blended.
Add butter and use pastry blender or clean hands to work into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Makes 10 cups. Store covered in airtight container in fridge or freezer. Use mix at room temperature.
Fudge Balls from 1001 Cookie Recipe Mix
Delicious and so easy! They taste just like brownie balls, but not so sweet. And they went fast at the Cookie Café. Made about 100 small balls.
2 cups 1001 Cookie Recipe Mix
½ cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Mix together in large bowl all ingredients except powdered sugar.
Shape into 1” balls and roll in powdered sugar to coat lightly. Place 1” apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375°F for about 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
Makes about 36 balls.
1001 Gingery Snaps
4 cups Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Mix
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon1 egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
Granulated sugarPreheat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheets. In large bowl, mix together all ingredients except sugar. Drop dough by slightly rounded teaspoons into small bowl of sugar. Roll to coat lightly. Place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes. Do not brown. Let cool 2 minutes and remove to rack to cool. Makes 48 cookies.Gingerbread Men: Prepare Gingery Snaps dough. Divide in half. Cover and chill 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle. Roll dough, half at a time on floured board to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into Gingerbread Men using cookie cutters. Arrange cutouts 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes. Do not brown. Cool on wire rack. Makes 48 cookies.
1001 Cranberry Nut Cookies
3 cups – Domino Sugar 1001 Cookie Mix
1 tablespoon - grated orange rind
1 teaspoon - cinnamon
1 - egg
1 cup - fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup - chopped nuts
Domino(r) Granulated Sugar
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease cookie sheets. Mix together in large bowl cookie mix, orange rind, cinnamon, and egg. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar to coat lightly. Place 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes or until lightly browned around edges. Remove at once to wire racks.Makes about 48 cookies.
Sugar Cookies from 1001 Cookie Recipe Mix
4 cups 1001 Cookie Recipe Mix
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla or 1 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Mix together in large bowl all ingredients except sugar. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.
Roll dough, half at a time on floured board to 1/8” thickness. Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Arrange cutouts 1” apart on a greased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 375°F for 8-10 minutes. Do not brown. Cool on wire rack.
Makes about 48 cookies
Makes 100 balls
small 12-oz. box vanilla wafers (3 cups)
4 jiggers whiskey
3 tablespoons karo syrup
1 cup powdered sugar, dissolved (?)
2 cups chopped nuts (fine)
Mix, roll in balls, coat in powdered sugar.
IB's Easy English Toffee
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar
Cook in saucepan. Stir until mixture changes color; it’s done when mixture turns caramel color.
Pour on greased cookie sheet. Spread out as best you can.
Sprinkle on about ¼- ½ cup chocolate chips. Sprinkle on ¼- ½ cup nuts.
Break into pieces.
****Oh, my gosh, I realized I don't have my mom's crispy pressed cookie recipe, nor my friend T's basic sugar cookie cut out recipe. Must get. Also, will try to find time to type in at least one of my great grandma's cookies.
I can't wait to spend more than five minutes searching the aisles!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Nine months was a long time when I was pregnant, but it's a nanosecond now.
Funny how things change.
Kids, not babies. In school.
Sure it's preschool, but it's still a few hours totally away from me.
I had a taste of it this weekend when we left them at holiday childcare for three hours so we could run errands and such. We totally trusted the people with whom they were staying--and the kids knew and loved them so that wasn't a problem either. But within about an hour, I was thinking about them and actually nervous that they weren't around.
And it's not like I didn't have distractions--we had a marvelous New Haven pizza lunch. But I didn't want to run errands--already feeling edgy and faraway--so we headed home to do some chores. And instead I tried to nap on the couch, which didn't really help. In the end, I woke DP early to go get the kiddos.
Who were fine. No, more than fine. Grand. They were having a grand ol' time. They'd made ornaments and wreaths and other holiday doo-dads. DS was apparently transfixed by glitter and had the caregivers fill his clear ornament ball with as much glitter as it would hold. He also directed them on what to put on his wreath and helped them punch holes in stars to string up. DD worked on her own ornaments and wreaths, too, but became a little upset when she and DS were separated during storytime (DS stayed behind to string more stars). But all's well that ends well--they had cookies and apples and were playing "Star Wars" (ah, second generation!) with the older kids when we got there. As the shortest members of the troop, they had been designated Ewoks.
And they did it all by themselves.
And so, a rarity occurred: I heard other people tell me about my kids, about what they'd done that I hadn't seen. In fact, it started even before I entered the building, with a friend commenting on how well they did. I was, of course, relieved. But the appearance of the holiday projects really brought it all home--I mean, these were the first art projects they've done without me--they were growing up and away.
Which is, of course, exactly what I want. I don't want dependent little kids who can't be away from mommy, anymore than I want to be the mommy who can't be separated from the kids. But two and a half years of togetherness is a hard habit to break. I was so glad to see them and so proud that they'd been happy without me. But so sad to think that this was going to be the way of it from now on. Or from September on. I still have a few months to get used to it. I'm not even sure what "it" is, so surprised am I by my reaction (and I cry just about everytime I think of it). Mind you, it's not that I haven't left them before. I'm gone a few hours each week for physical therapy and leave them with their babysitter, who has been with us for almost as long as the kids. But that's in our home and I have a good sense of what they're doing.
It sounds like I don't have any boundaries, any self-differentiation from the kids, or whatever the clinical term would be. I'm not one of those moms who lives through her kids, even if right now every aspect of my life revolves around them. They came into this world with characters--wants and desires, attitudes and tendencies--and are their own people. My role as mommy is to help guide those characters through the experiences that life throws at them, to support strengths and encourage weaknesses. They aren't extensions of me, anymore than DP is an extension of me. We're all individuals in a family.
They just haven't been this individual before. Individuals who made these gorgeous holiday wreaths by themselves that I am going to treasure for the rest of my days . . . as I watch and celebrate as they grow up, into themselves.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
It's been awhile since we've been to a real company holiday party. DP's last company didn't invite spouses--can you imagine? So cheap. But the current company does. And how.
We were festively dressed in matching dark bottoms and maroon tops, which wasn't the plan but I changed at the last minute and made us match. Lesbian couples do that, you know. Not sure if two women are together? See if they're shoes are the same (and practical). Trust me. That and the short fingernails--if there aren't any obvious rainbows or labryses or women's symbols around--are a dead giveaway.
There were not any other identifiable lesbians at the party. There were lots of women smaller than one of my thighs wearing clothes that left little to the imagination and shoes that could only be called murderous (or f--k me shoes, whichever you prefer). Which is why there were complimentary slip-ons in the bathroom--so the women could keep on dancing (I wonder what they were giving out in the men's room?). I tried a pair on but can't walk in flip flops so left them behind for my sensible shoes. I was the only woman in a Santa hat, but there were some men. Which was nice to see. I like a little festivity and playfulness.
It was a very pampering kind of party. At the entrance, we were met with mugs of eggnog. Upstairs, a full open bar and passed hors d'oeuvres awaited us. Those had an odd Southern flair--grilled sausage, chili in cornbread muffins, barbecue beef on toast. Not big drinkers, we got our picture taken instead amidst large snowflakes (it was very prom-like) and received it back at the end of the party in its own frame. Inside the main room was a full band with Robert Palmer-style backup dancers. Plus two martini bars with ice sculpture bears through which buff ski-type bartenders poured the drinks through a chute. It made it look like one of the bears was peeing your drink. But the chocolate-Bailey's martini it delivered was good (if too strong for me). We enjoyed the cheese and fruit selection--mmmm, Winsleydale with cranberries!--oh, and the main entrees: coq au vin on herbed orzo, beef with stilton mashed potatoes, sea bass with sweet potato puree, and butternut squash ravioli. YUM. Plus amazing little petit fours, cookies, chocolate dipped strawberries, cannoli, cheesecakes, and the like. And some great fragrant bagged tea that tasted like loose leaf.
We finished the evening by filling goody bags full of cookies for us and the babysitter while waiting for them to deliver our car. All in all, a wonderful evening. I like this new company.
And the kids stayed asleep the whole time.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Once it was really snowing, we donned our jackets and accessories, including new snow boots for the three of us, and headed out to play. DD seemed to think snow was dirty and began trying to clear everything off--my car, the playset slide, the turtle sandbox, even the deck. But she didn't get cold like last time and seemed to enjoy the challenge. Especially as falling snow quickly replaced what she cleared. DS liked playing in his playset fort and stomping in the snow. He was having trouble with his mittens, though, and kept wanting them off. Then his fingers would get cold and he'd want them on. Oh, well.
Then it was time for the best part of playing in the snow: going inside for hot chocolate! Luckily, I had just seen a recipe in Martha Stewart Living for rice milk hot chocolate (she actually uses almond, which would be great too). Though, really, the marshmallows were the best part. We sang Dora's hot chocolate song while I heated it on the stove, "bate, bate, chocolate, mix your chocolate, chocolate." And I also made popcorn.
We've got extras of both so that we can have another foray into the snow when DP gets home.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
(Lagniappe: I think I got our Christmas card picture while the kiddos were playing!)
My Hot Chocolate
4 cups plain rice milk
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Droste Dutch-processed)
¼ cup sugar (or slightly more)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (approximately)
Combine all ingredients and heat until warmed through. Serve with marshmallows. Delicious!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Besides fruit salad, tings, and animal cookies, we had special "cake." It was a tiered confection of cocoa krispies, rice krispies, and fruity pebbles, which meant the top was rainbow colored to match the ponies! We made it the morning of the party, so we all had marshmallows and sugared cereal for breakfast. And having not had the cocoa krispies or fruity pebbles in years, I found them almost impossibly sweet. No wonder my mom wouldn't let us regularly buy cereal with sugar as the first ingredient. But it makes good candy.
I think we all had fun at my party. The food was all eaten; the house was trashed. There was no blood. This is success for a toddler get-together. Of course, with this age group, they don't care whose party it is, as long as they get to blow out the candles, which is why I lit them twice.
That was just the party; today was the celebration. I slept in, really slept in, til almost 8:30, which is quite a lot when we usually get up at 6. But I had a date with two cute kids, their Mama, and a big man in a red suit. Yep, we went to see Santa today. Santa at our mall is a wonderful man and DS jumped right up next to him, but DD hung back a bit. In the end, we were all in the picture--just like last year--no problems. At least I sorta dressed for it this time! And then we moved onto what they had really been waiting for: riding the little train around and around. DS especially liked riding in the little caboose, while DD led the way in the engine. During the last ride--they had 3--they rode together in the caboose. And it was hard to tear them away. We've promised them that Gommie and Pop will take them back to ride the train when they visit.
Then, I got the best present ever--we declared the babes wheat-allergy free! And we had their first pizza for lunch. DD preferred the rolls but DS liked the pizza, inhaling two slices. Actually, I think he liked the salad best. It made me teary to see them tearing into wheat with reckless abandon. I didn't even mind sharing my slice of real birthday cake.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet--they napped in the car after lunch and then my babysitter came over and DP and I went for coffee, some nice quiet time together. I had physical therapy (don't want to miss that, even for a birthday). And then we had leftover pizza for dinner.
Once the kids were down, I made two loaves of Amish Friendship Bread (yes, I still have starter. Want some?)--this time with chocolate pudding, chocolate chunks, orange peel, and orange extract. YUMMY! While it baked, I finished tying the tassles on my woven scarf.
All in all it was a wonderful day, I spoke to friends in Dallas and in London, got email from friends and relatives, and received more yarn for weaving and my own Thomas the Train set--Birthday Thomas with engine and gift car so I can play with the kiddos. It was a special break in a chaotic time. Not that I don't like the chaos, it's just nice to see it from a distance sometimes.
Rice Krispie Cake
6 cups Rice Krispies
6 cups Cocoa Krispies
6 cups Fruity Pebbles
9 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
3 bags marshmallows
Spray 9 x 13" pan with cooking spray.
Make first batch of candy by melting 3 tablespoons butter and adding 1 bag marshmallows. Then add 6 cups cereal, stirring to coat. Spread in pan, pressing down.
Repeat with second batch of candy, spreading it on top of the first. Repeat with final layer, pressing them all down. Note: spray hands with cooking spray to make pressing layers easier.
I did Cocoa on the bottom, plain in the middle, and fruity on the top.
Spray cutting knife with cooking spray to cut "cake." Can decorate with frosting--I meant to write "happy birthday" but didn't get to it.
We're giving up naps. Never going to actively try again. Ever.
And it feels so good.
Like when I finally decided--after specialists and drugs that made me ill and lots of crying with no success for 6 weeks--that I wasn't going to breastfeed anymore. Goodbye to the guilt, the stress, the exhaustion, the frustration.
You see, my kids were never good nappers. Ever. They sleep beautifully at night: go down early, sleep through, arise about 11-12 hours later. Right now it's 7-6:45. Pretty good.
I remember us all tiptoeing around the house two Christmases ago while we hoped they'd nap. Or DP sitting uncomfortably in the dark in the kitchen after one of them fell asleep on her shoulder finally. There have also been at least two major eras of the car nap--that first winter and now. Because ever since they moved to toddler beds (having figured out how to crawl out) they have not napped. It's been 4+ months of no napping. Everyday (when I don't somehow fineagle our schedule so that we can nap in the car and that doesn't even always work), I send them upstairs and know that it's just a matter of time before there's blood. They are so tired that when they start to play, someone gets hurt accidentally or they intentionally hurt each other. It's not pretty. It's dangerous.
But I feel guilty not trying. All my other friends' kids nap--for hours! 2-3 hour naps, every day. Like clockwork. Mind you, for now, most of these friends only have 1 child napping. Of course, sleep is the parenting issue of the decade, just as walking and eating used to be the litmus test for good parents. And there is a fortune to be made with sleep advice books and so it has become its own industry. Vicious cycle. But I've done cry-it-out, and the opposite, and the in between. And I've been consistent and fair. And nothing works.
I've tried napping with them, tried separating them, tried napping them at different times, tried napping on pallets downstairs. Nothing has worked. I've talked to other moms, other moms of twins, parent educators. our pediatrician. Nothing has worked. And so, on Monday, I decided enough is enough. Monday was particularly brutal and I just couldn't rationalize putting us all through this everyday. They cry the whole time (the attempts usually last about an hour) and I don't get any real down time because I have to referee.
Now, before accusations of lax parenting begin, let me say that they are probably just about ready to stop napping anyway. A quarter of the time, you can't tell they didn't nap; another quarter and they're mildly fussy. Then it's a quarter majorly fussy. And a quarter of the time one of them falls asleep somewhere before bedtime. And my parent educator agrees--it's just their time.
So yesterday, I announced, "we're not napping anymore. No naps today. No naps ever." And we spread out their new Dora and Diego fleece blankets and we watched some tv.
And truthfully, it was the best non-nap we've had in a long time.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Because she knows me so well and got me a great birthday present.
It's a single cup gourmet coffee maker.
You should know, I make terrible coffee myself but love getting specialty drinks at various coffee places. I'm not really sure where that started. Or when--I didn't like coffee all through college and grad school. The only coffee I had ever liked was my granddad's "coffee milk" which he served us in bed, the color of melted coffee ice cream and the flavor as well. I always had my own china tea cup and demitasse spoon. Quite a treat. But it spoiled me for real coffee.
I think I first started going to coffee places in Chicago, where I'd pick up a chai on my way into work. Eventually we were in NY and I was getting coffee drinks, frozen or iced or sometimes hot. And that's when the trouble started. Because there is a coffee place on every corner of Midtown. Now, let's not fool ourselves, those blended coffee drinks are the equivalent of a milk shake for breakfast. But they sure taste good and were a great way to keep me going, morning or afternoon.
Now with small kids and friends who also drink coffee, my coffee habit has only increased. There is a Dunkin Donuts on every corner--and drive-thru is imperative--this is the mistake Starbuck's has made (or not, maybe they don't want the desperate mommy demographic). There are Starbuck's in Target and the mall, so I can hit those when I'm out, especially because my mom supplies me with gift cards regularly. The kiddos even understand--when we drive past my usual coffee stop, DD will ask if mommy is getting coffee. She used to try to give my (then) iced coffee order to the drive thru speaker! They also know that they shouldn't try to touch my "hot-hot" cup.
But for days, I haven't needed to go to those places because I can make my own. Whatever flavor I want. As many cups (of decaf--I know, this disqualifies me as a real coffee drinker, as do all those blended drinks) as I want. I know it's decaf. I use my fat free milk. I can even drink good coffee with no sugar. It's dietetic! Right. But it does save me from paying for mediocre coffee--none of the coffee places make a consistent cup--it's either burnt or too strong or not enough milk or too much syrup. Only 1/4 or so of the time is it right. And now, I make a great cup every time.
It's the (second) best part of waking up.
Right after DP.
After a few choruses, I went into the kitchen to finish packing the diaper bag and came out to find them getting dressed! I must have looked at them strangely because DD said, "But Mommy, the timer went off."
Sure enough. And there were my little angels--DD in a shirt sans diaper and DS in an inside-out shirt trying to pull on his pants sans diaper. Very sweet.
And no one ever told him about his shirt and he wore it proudly all day, having done it himself.
If you ask me now, they can streak everyday. Especially since tonight at bedtime, DS told me he had a "wonderful day."
DD (holding her bag of party favors): Take them.
Mommy: You can take one.
DD: stickers and this [i.e. rubber stamps].
Mommy: No, you can take just one.
DD: Take stickers.
Mommy: Okay, you can take the stickers.
DD: And open them?
Mommy: Right. And open them.
Anyway, I had my first introduction to Goop today, via craft time with DD and DS at school. Buckets of pastel-colored muck welcomed our appearance and beckoned to us. But even DS didn't put his hands in right away. Eventually, with some coaxing, he was soon up to his elbows, making "rain" and swirls in the mess. DD was skeptical and cautious. We know she doesn't like her hands to get dirty at all--and DP has discovered why: she doesn't want to get Shirt (her lovey, a striped blue-and-gold 12 month jersey with the number45 on it that used to be her brother's) dirty and even if Shirt isn't around, she worries about her hands. But soon, those hands were ever-do-daintily exploring the goop. And eventually she was also up to her elbows.
I must admit to liking it myself (as much as the teacher, who played with her own bucket the whole time). It was therapeutic to feel the wet, cool, smooth, slightly resistant muck in your hands. And it was challenging--I kept thinking if I grabbed enough of it, I could make a ball or something. No can do; it literally slips through your fingers. And afterwards, my hands were soft--it's an exfoliant! Can't imagine a whole bath in it, though. But I think my feet would like it.
The teacher said she mixed 1 1/2 boxes of cornstarch with 2 cups water and food coloring. She says she's also added vanilla extract to it successfully. I include two more options below (I think she had tried the Borax one, but it didn't work).
The kiddos can't wait to try it again.
The cheap recipe (what we used in class)
1 box of corn starch
4-5 cups of water
Mix until thick (add water or corn starch if needed)
The good recipe (will last for months)
2 cups white glue
2 cups distilled water
15-30 drops of food coloring
1 tablespoon Borax
1 quart distilled water
Combine portion "A" and "B" in separate bowls. "A" and "B" MUST be exactly equal amounts before they can be combined.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
DP and her family have been visiting the Rockefeller Tree and other Midtown Christmas sights for years and we've now made it one of our own family's traditions. We almost didn't go because of the weather and the illness of Goo, their uncle, but we decided this morning to strike while the iron was hot and go.
It's ironic, though, this year, because this particular tree came from a town here in Connecticut and we drove all the way into Manhattan to see it!
After our little Laurie Berkner concert adventure a month ago, we were somewhat apprehensive about going into town with the babes again. However, several things were working in our favor: there was no marathon, no time change, no set time to be anywhere, we were driving (which meant a nap on the way home) and perhaps most importantly grandparents--Ma and Gong--on hand to help.
And it was an absolutely perfect day!
The weather, for starters, was practically balmy--no wind, some sun, and a temperature of 49F as we left town. We also made it to the tree and other sights before too many other people decided it was an agreeable day to sightsee too.
The Tree: we had prepared the kiddos for the tree but how do you explain just how majestic it is? A grand statement of nature metaphorically dwarfing the towering skyscraper behind it? I always forget how blue the stringed lights are and remarked again this year that it was an awfully blue tree. But lovely, especially with the flashing strobe lights. The kiddos weren't even sure what to make of it--a "big-g-g-g-g-g-g" tree, as DS said. I think DD was a little overwhelmed by all the people and just the intensity of the city; not scared, just cautious and piercingly observant. I think she took in every detail. After the requisite (and usually mediocre) family pictures (though not in the best spot, which NBC has now greedily blocked off for its own picture-taking business), we got a closer look. DS loved the large toy soldiers playing huge instruments, which we held him up to touch. DD, meanwhile, couldn't take her eyes off the skaters and stayed once the rest of us (sans DP) moved on to watch the Zamboni. I had a few moments to myself to browse the Met shop, the closest I'll get to the museum this year, and found a colorful pop-up book on Christmas in the city. There were lots of great children's things upstairs but too bulky and too overpriced to buy there.
Teuschers: This is another DP family tradition, purchasing champagne truffles at the Swiss chocolatiers' precious, floral-encased boutique. Ma and Gong got the children some chocolate-covered fruit, but DD insisted on the chocolate fish. Which she proceeded to carry with her, in their little cellophane bag, as a totem of protection (replacing Shirt which stayed in the car with Mr. Big Pengy--ask me later) for the whole day (at one point, when approaching a waterfall fountain, she even gently hid it behind her back). Without taking a bite. I got an assortment of single candies. I've already tried my jasmine truffle (intriguing and good--I love the smell but never tried the flavor), my zebra gianduja with its marvelous hazelnut flavor, orange truffle (a favorite, as is anything orange and dark chocolate), plus the florentine (which is more like a cookie with candied fruit and nuts) and a hazelnut crunch. YUM! And I haven't even touched the champagne truffles yet. I hope this is one family tradition that stays around for a long time.
Saks windows: The lines were long so we stayed outside the barrier, which was no problem at all. The kids liked watching the snow people cavorting, especially the window where the snowpeople take Manhattan--complete with cab, subway, Rockettes, traffic cop (they didn't seem to pause a moment when they heard him holler stop), and the like. DP liked it so much she went to get the book on which it was based but it had nothing about NYC so she didn't buy it.
St. Patrick's Cathedral: Despite DP's own personal falling out with the Catholic church, we did go inside. DD and DS were immediately drawn to the rows upon rows of candles. So, in our UU way of appreciating our Judeo-Christian forebears, we lit a few in honor and hope and healing for our friend in Chicago, my sister's soon-to-be father-in-law who is terminally ill, their families, and other people we know in need. We could've lit every tea light in the place, so excited about playing with fire was DS. We looked around a little (I think I haven't been in a Catholic Church since all the pictures of John Paul II have been replaced by Benedict), sat in a pew, and admired the architecture, but then decided, goaded by DS, that it was time to see the train.
The Train: This is one Christmas tradition in NYC that I knew nothing about until DP started working in the area when we first moved back to the East Coast. In the Citicorp Center, on a lower level usually reserved for eating from the surrounding take out areas, they have installed a humongous model train display for the last 20 years (which explains why DP knew nothing about it from her own childhood). I'm not even sure I can describe the thing so I include a link.
Basically, the set up mimics a 1950s train ride from Westchester through the Catskills up to the Adirondacks, encompassing the four seasons and the change from morning to dusk to nighttime. There are something like 30 trains in different scales to give perspective on 19 tracks. It is fantastic. And DS was in heaven. Ma and Gong patiently scooted him along the rail in the crowds, pointing out the infinite details. Apparently, he was pointing most of the little bits--a school bus, the pumpkins, the snowball fight around the snowman--to them. He loved it. I see a hobby in our future. Which will be great, except DD was ready to see more real city about halfway through. DP kept her occupied while I watched the bags.
Lunch: Forgive me, oh internet foodies, but we ate at Burger Heaven (my dear Lambeth, I think you and I ate at this very one). And I had chicken fingers. And fries. And rice pudding. And it was delicious. The kids started with fruit salad, then chicken fingers and fries. DS devoured pickles, cooked onions, and tomato slices (apparently just like Ma's ma) while DD, after my own self, couldn't get her face far enough away when presented with a tomato slice. The kiddos were great during the whole meal, which ended with red jello for them. It was sophisticated food, or even that diverse, but we all had a good time. And that's what it's all about. Besides, we eat ethnic at home!
Carousel Horses: No, we didn't ride the carousel in Central Park, nor even the little one in Bryant Park right now. Instead we went to the carousel horse exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum. To sum it up, this exhibition draws parallels between the wood carving traditions in the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe and the intricate wooden carousel horses of the more secular amusements in the U.S. As I think I've stated, I love carousels and have even read some of the history, but never anything like this and was just thrilled by the connections being made--it was visually stunning, with all the Torah Crowns and papercut outs next to the actual Illions and other carousel horses. Of course, DD and DS wanted to ride them, but they did get to touch the one carousel horse head that was for that purpose. They really responded to folk art mainly because it featured identifiable subjects--animals, trains, household goods like mailboxes--in often fanciful and colorful renditions. I think their favorite object was actually the train weather vane. No surprise there, really.
Tidbits: So, what did I leave out? The kids had fun playing on the ramp of one of the numerous buildings we passed, cheering us on to come down and up it. The grownups all laughed that they would remember the ramp best. DS loved jumping around while holding Gong's hand. DD always manages to sit next to Gong during meals, and always gets him to hand feed her the choicest morsels (the rest of us try not to giggle at her power). We all liked the display of complicated student origami in the windows of the Donnell Branch of NYPL. Can't wait for Ma to teach them that. DP is totally snoring next to me now or I'd ask her to contribute her own memories of the day. Hopefully I can add them later.
Finally, we left before a breakdown, unlike that fateful Carnegie Sunday. DS was asleep before we got on the FDR, while DD chatted until we got out of the city and then fell sound asleep herself.
We counted more than 107 Christmas trees--some two to a car--on our drive home. I guess it was all the New Yorkers enjoying our Christmas trees in Connecticut, while we were enjoying their Tree in town.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Just now (and it's about an hour after tuck-in), we heard him ask for his Diego pillow on the monitor. We'd removed it last night around 3 a.m. because he'd gotten it wedge in a funny position and was upset, so it slept in our room. I went upstairs to check on him and get the pillow, only to find that he had arranged all his stuffies in a semi-circle around himself and was lovingly tucking them in and covering them with his loveys. I gave him a few more loveys, noticing he was short, and he'd say, "here's a lovey for moonbeam bear," and he'd pat him. Then he covered the Diego picture on his pillowcase. And began to cover the frog faces on his footie jammies. DP was with me (since she knew where we'd stashed the Diego pillow) and helped him lie back and then covered him with loveys.
Just about the sweetest thing ever.
We'd always wondered what he was doing when we could hear him mumbling after bedtime. I thought he was reviewing his day. Maybe he does sometimes. But this lovey-thing is sweet.
Even if he's still awake.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
DP always marveled at the operation--the gigantic box of cards (I use 10+ different ones a season, depending on who is receiving the card), all the stamps and stickers, the cross-referenced list of recipients, the pile of printed recipes. I would watch football all weekend and write cards on my lap desk, checking off names and always adding and subtracting. I'd pace myself--long cards to dear people faraway interspersed with short cards to those with whom I had little contact or lots. I had a favorite pen. I would sometimes draw on the envelope. They would all be finished by the end of the 4-day weekend, with the exception of the small pile of cards that never got sent because I didn't have an updated address. I started the whole tradition sometime in junior high, I think. I remember being so thrilled that I had my own people to send cards to--my favorite relatives, my pen pals, my best friends. As I gathered more pen pals (in Greece of all places--Martha Bitsopoulou, if you read this after all these years, write me!) and camp friends in other places, and then friends from high school and later college, the list grew longer and the process more elaborate. It reached its zenith when we moved back to the East Coast and had distant family, Chicago friends and co-workers, old NY friends, and such to write to. That was right before we had kids.
After spending so much time prepping my own cards, I was always a little surprised, maybe even a little hurt, to receive cards in return. At best they were impersonal "Dear Friend" Christmas letters reciting the major events of the year that, as a friend, I should have already known. At worst they were postcard pictures "Love, the Joneses" that had computer generated address labels. I even had relatives sign their whole names! Because, of course, these cards were assembly made--non-addressed cards randomly stuffed in computer-addressed envelopes.
Why would that be your token of love for the holiday season?
Now, before I don't get any Christmas cards this year, I will say that I have a better understanding of it all now. We can blame it all on children. Yep, children are destroying personal Christmas cards while at the same time insuring the continued existence of form letters and picture postcards.
And I am right there with everyone else now. Who has the time (or the money) to send out 100+ extra-weight handwritten Christmas cards? I haven't even found my box of cards yet nor bought any new. I'm not even sure where my address book is since my palm pilot bit the dust from disuse. I have, however, bought a 100 sheet stack of decorative computer paper, for my form letter. Gasp, yes, for the third year in a row, I too will send out a long form letter. And it will tell you how great the kids are and how happy we all are, with no word about illnesses or fights or lost keys or lost minds. I'll try to make it clever and not just a wikipedia-like chronicle of our year (especially because I'm sending it only to people who know what we're actually up to). I might include a picture, if we take one. For sure there will be a recipe, even if I haven't decided which one yet. And I'm hoping I can revive my palm pilot in time to create mail merge address labels, both return and addressee. Though, I will insist on writing "Dear [insert your name here]" and scribbling some good wishes at the end.
Do I love the recipients of these less-than-perfect cards? You bet. And I will be thrilled to receive in return your form letter and photo because it means you know that I'm interested. And that we're friends. In fact, I've already gotten both, sharing the letters with DP and putting the photos on the fridge (You people are way too organized. And you know who you are!).
Because when it comes right down to it--blaming it on the children again--I don't want to celebrate the holiday season writing 100 Christmas cards. I want to be with my family.
Which is why I bought Christmas rubber stamps today . . . so they can help me decorate all those envelopes!
Just don't expect them to arrive before Groundhog's Day.
The love is still the same.
P.S. I should note that I am considering something revolutionary, eventually. To save trees, one of these years I might just do a fancy email complete with picture and recipe and form letter to everyone online on my list. But everytime I think of doing it, despite its green value, I become nostalgic for "real" Christmas cards, however much I'm cutting corners these days.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Before I had kids, I had a career. Advanced degrees, my own office in Manhattan, people I supervised.
Well, I still have the advanced degrees but that's about all in my life, besides DP, that has stayed the same.
And on a regular basis, I am asked, by complete or nearly complete strangers, to explain my life and choices, with the simple question, "Do you enjoy being a stay-at-home mom?"
It's more controversial than my being a lesbian.
But working moms want to know. I think they're trying to find out, or to confirm, that they are doing the best thing for themselves, their kids, their families. And they all look at me incredulously and laugh when I answer:
"Most of the time."
I'm honest, right? Most of the time I do love being home with my kids daily, by myself, for 12 hours, just us, at home. Truly. We do fun stuff, silly stuff, boring stuff, embarrassing stuff and I won't remember most of it, except the things that I write in my journal and here. And for now, they won't remember any of it. And "it" is always changing. But I know it all has value, so in addition to loving those moments, most of them, it's important to me and to DP that one of us is there.
But all the time? No way. They fight, they make messes, and reading Dora's Chilly Day for the fourteenth time in a row (though each time gets shorter because I want to be done) is brain numbing. I'd love to sleep in, play my music in the car as loud as I want, watch tv that actually has a complicated plot, take more than 5 minutes to eat a meal and sit in a chair while doing it! Not to mention use my passport more often, eat in restaurants that don't have chicken fingers (though, I love a good chicken finger), and spend more time in NYC.
Of course, these aren't things that working moms do either.
However, there are days when all of it gets to me, usually on days when none of us has had enough sleep and we have nothing planned to distract us from our exhaustion. And it's on those days that I long for the routine of my old career. I dream of polishing off my resume, of having a job that I get paid to do, of working only a set number of hours, in my own office, with assistance, with a lunch break, and other adults to talk to about things that aren't child-related.
But just as this dream gets started, I realize, that there isn't any time in my day that I would regularly want to give over for a job, even something part time. Miss those golden hours in the morning when they play best together? Miss outings to playgroups, stores, storytimes when they always do something surprising and endearing? Even the evil hours--between 3:30-5:30 often have some of the best moments--of baking, or painting, or just sitting on the couch watching tv. What would I want to give up? I'm glad I don't have to choose.
I used to become defensive, even self-questioning (theres' a better word for this but it's late), at least internally, when asked this. Or especially, when one of my SAHM friends gave up the s-a-h part to return to work again. Should I? What did they know that I didn't? What made us different? What was I missing? I don't have those thoughts anymore--I've worked before, I'll work again, I know what I'm missing.But many working moms haven't been SAHMs, or not for long. And, as far as I can tell from the ones with whom I've had this conversation, they hold almost mutually exclusive thoughts on the matter: they seem to idealize SAHM life and are surprised that I'm not happy with it all the time and yet they invariably tell me that, well, they could never ever be a stay-at-home mom--it would drive them crazy.
I never know how to answer that. I want to make them feel better about their choice, to be happy with what they've decided, just as I am. And I imagine they are--just like I am--happy. Most of the time.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
DD and DS loved mixing the cinnamon dough--cinnamon, applesauce, and glue--which came with many reminders not to eat the dough. It smelled lovely, felt squishy, and was a comforting deep reddish-brown. Right into the fridge it went to set up.
Next we made the salt dough--not as pretty or smelly-good--but much more fun because you knead it with your hands. This we rolled out almost immediately and that was great fun too. Dinosaurs, firetrucks, hearts, gingerbread girls, initials for their names soon appeared in dough form as we rummaged through my extensive collection of cookie cutters.
Rolling out the cinnamon dough proved impossible. The dough was too wet but more cinnamon didn't help. It's a total loss. Though we'll try again because we got the cinnamon in bulk at Costco.
But after 1 1/2 hours in the oven, the salt dough ornaments came out puffy and slightly browned (I hear there is a way to make them porcelain-white with cornstarch). Quite a success.
DD, in fact, took her various ornaments to naptime.
Definitely a do-again.
1 1/2 cups ground cinnamon
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup white school glue (like Elmer's)
Plastic food wrap
Cookie cutters or a knife
Ribbon or yarn for hanging
Mix cinnamon, applesauce, and glue together in a bowl. The dough should be as thick as cookie dough. Add a bit of water if the dough is too stiff.
Remove from bowl and knead. Put it back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for at least a half hour.
Remove the dough, knead again to make sure it's smooth. Flatten/roll the dough between waxed paper until it's between 1/4" thick and 1/8" thick.
Cut out desired shapes, use a straw to punch a hole for the ribbon to hang. The circle of dough will pull out with the straw.
Gently place the shapes on a piece of clean wax paper. They will take 3-5 days to dry, and you will need to turn them over a couple of times a day for them to dry evenly and flat.
Don't be surprised to see that the ornaments get smaller during the drying process. Keep this in mind when you pick out the cookie cutters for your designs. You will also notice that if you do not turn the ornaments over often enough while they are drying, the edges of the ornaments will curl.
When dry, thread a piece of ribbon or yarn through the hole to hang.
SHAPE IDEAS: Tree, Apple, House (gingerbread), Bell, Heart, Goose, Gingerbread Man, Star...
Salt Dough Ornaments
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Mix salt and flour. Slowly add water, mixing as you add it. Towards the end you will have to put dough on a work counter or on a lightly oiled surface and knead well until dough is smooth. This dough can be used to make long lasting ornaments and decorations. Bake at 325 degrees F for about 1 1/2 hours until dry. After they have completely cooled, you can paint them with acrylic paints and tie ribbons around them. If you want to hang them up bake sure that you make holes to hang them before baking. For a smooth, white porcelain like dough, mix 1 cup cornstarch and 2 cups baking soda in a saucepan. Add 1 1/3 cups of cold water and stir until smooth. Heat slowly stirring constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Turn mixture out on a plate, cover and let cool. knead until smooth. Dust bread board with cornstarch and roll out dough. Add more cornstarch to prevent sticking. Cut out ornaments(remember to make holes for hanging!) and place on wire racks to air dry for a few days. After drying you can paint the ornaments and hang on your tree or use as package tie ons. You can use cookie cutters for making the decorations. Use the bigger cutters that don't have small areas for the dough to stick in and can't get it out. Use these doughs for making decorations for any holiday as well as birthdays.
Note from one person who followed this recipe: I ended up cooking them at 325 degrees for about 5 minutes before I realized what was going on. I then took out that batch. I rolled (and was it ever easy) the next batch about 1/8 - 1/4" thick. and used a straw to make the hole for the string (I used raffia). I then baked on whatever temp. I turned it down to until they started to brown. Then I removed them. I made the recipe/ornaments for my Tiger Cub den and we used acrylic paint to decorate them with. It made about 19-20 ornaments and the boys really enjoyed themselves.
(will get internet citation for both of these soon; sorry)
But now we're baking.
Yep, you heard me: baking.
They have plastic drinking cups for pouring and they've started covering them with washcloths. First it was bread, then cookies. Sometimes they bake ice cream. DD prefers pumpkin spice; DS always mentions chocolate. I like both. Which is good, because I'm offered some every night. "Beep, let's look." After numerous peeks under the washcloths and declarations that it's "not ready yet," the cups go back in the soap holders in the corners of the tub to finish. They sing "pease porridge hot" or "pat-a-cake." Then the cake/pie/ice cream/cookies are ready, but "it's hot, it's hot," I'm warned.
When bathtime is over, the cups are put, washcloths in place, back in the "ovens"--"don't touch, it's hot"--and are ready for the next night.
I guess all our messy kitchen experiments are sinking in.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
My kids love them now too (and not just because they haven't been on a roller coaster). They've ridden them at Beardsley Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, and Day out with Thomas--they love choosing their animals and they, as DS says, going "up and down and round and round." They talk about those rides--on the bugs, on the tiger, on the little carousel--quite a bit. And every morning when they see a picture of me in the hallway, they say, "Mommy likes to ride on carousels."
Because I love carousels (and am hoping to catch the exhibit at the Folk Art museum when we go into town to see the Rockefeller Tree), I am calling my first weaving project my "carousel scarf." That's right, I have just completed a weaving course. I can cross stitch, quilt, crochet, and knit, as a beginner. When I finished that Ph.D., I gave up reading and writing for handicrafts and the needle and fabric arts. Not that I get much time for those either now (especially quilting and cross stitching which are nearly impossible with babes around or in short batches of time). I do crochet quite a bit--I am on baby blanket number 5 of 11 (yes, most people I know are pregnant. It's a quick blanket in Red Heart Baby Cloud of the appropriate color--pink or blue with a white border if I know, white if I don't with an added border of color. Chain about 2 1/2 feet, single crochet with size M hook until blanket reaches a good size, then do a border of 3-4 rounds).
But being a living history museum aficionado, I have always been curious about spinning and weaving. And so, I signed up for a weaving class this fall. And it was miraculous. Literally. With no knowledge and little skill, I have made fabric using, essentially, two strings. We used a 4 shaft table loom to make a standard twill. I choose pink and green, or cassis and sage Jaegerspun yarn. We wrapped our own warp--and now I know the difference between the warp and the weft (the former is dressed on the loom, the latter is what you pass back and forth with your shuttle). We dressed our looms, threaded the heddles, and began to weave. First a sampler--oh, history buff cup runneth over--and then worked on our scarves. I had some starts and stops--lots of my warp broke on the warp board and later I broke a warp thread on the loom, plus had trouble with edges. I messed up some of the picks, or passes, in my patterns and was obsessed with these flaws. I was discouraged. I also missed a few classes due to illness--we're all better with those colds--well, not all, DP finally got it. Again. But I knew I wanted to finish (I've always been a better starter, which I realized this week, this self-revelation I'll write about some other time) and so I worked on it all week, weaving stockinette, herringbone, old rib, all these wonderful old patterns in 2-2 and 1-3 twill. I finally got into a rhythm with changing the heddles, beating, and picking, not worrying if I made an error with my edges or misread the pattern. And as I sat on the couch, talking to DP, sometimes sipping tea between picks (passes of the shuttle), I felt this continuum of women and men making cloth--colonial dames, Navajo women, men in sweatshops during the indurstrial revolution, Egyptians making cotton and linen that mummies were wrapped in, Chinese silks, Ikat fabrics of the middle east.
And so as I was weaving the idea of the carousel came to me--the up and down of the heddles, the back and forth of the shuttle, the circular nature of twill (which my teacher noted, and which I'm just beginning to understand), the up and down of my experience with the class and the project, the shimmering fantasy-like quality of the pink and green.
I finished the actual weaving of the scarf last week and took it to class during the weekend, where I hemstitched it and finally had it cut (I watched my teacher do this) off the loom, the birth of my scarf. It really was miraculous. I hadn't seen it all together--you can only see a few inches at a time--had no idea of its length. And it's just amazing. I couldn't help wearing it for the rest of the evening, stroking the cloth, even though I have to finish the tassles and then wash it, so that right now it's not quite finished. But I love it.
And I can't wait to start the next one, on the rigid heddle loom I got for Christmas last year (thanks, Mom). And thanks, DP, for encouraging me to take the class and making it possible for me to go each week and then work on the scarf at home. Yours is next!
Rump roast with rice and gravy
Hash (red or cream, made with leftover roast and potatoes)
Get the picture?
We haven't been feeding the babes much red meat. I think they've had it a few times, in Texas or in hamburgers out. We don't eat that much of it ourselves, being wannabe vegetarians without the staying power to really commit (and a love of a few meat dishes that would be hard to give up). Every year we go to the Big E, we can't eat beef for weeks because looking the cows in the face is just too hard. Our minister won't eat anything she couldn't kill, which leaves her just fish and chicken. But my PT, who grew up on a cattle farm down under, says once a cow kicks at you, you don't feel so bad eating it! But I like to go to our local vegetarian/feminist restaurant and always am inspired (or guilt-ridden) to be a vegetarian (in fact, I was there today and was inspired again, until I came home for dinner!). And if we followed the tenets of Unitarian Univeralism to their natural conclusion, particulary the first principle about the inherent worth and dignity of everyone and the seventh principle about the interconnectedness of all living things, I think we'd give up meat altogether. But gosh, I like chicken fingers and turkey dinner and a good hamburger and all those meals my mom makes. Then, how self-indulgent is that, to eat something because I can and like it? Not exactly right relations with animals. Maybe we'll do what DP's grandmother did, which was become a vegetarian at the end of her days to atone for her earlier indulgences. To say the very least, we're conflicted.
This morning, though, I put a pot roast in the slow cooker, hoping the babes would like the foods that I liked as a child. Hoping they'd like anything I made for dinner. I should say I wasn't home for dinner (more about that in another post) but DP served the pot roast and they loved it. Well, DD was skeptical at first but DS dug right in. She saw him going for all the veggies and potatoes and meat and eventually joined him exuberantly, well, once DP got out the ketchup. Anyway, it was a success. So, we'll be trying those other childhood favorites of mine. But we won't like it.
My all-time favorite home-cooked meal, most requested during my years in college. I had it every time I came home, even though no one else liked it as much. Best when made in Mom’s old roaster.
3 lb. roast (chuck, pot, shoulder)
1 package dry onion soup mix
2 cups water
6 potatoes, peeled, cut in 1” cubes
1 onion, cut 1” squares
1 package carrots, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, cut 1” squares
Place roast in pan with soup mix and water. Cover with foil; bake 350°F for 2 hours. Add potatoes, onion, carrots, and pepper. Cover with foil and continue to bake until tender (45 minutes).
Good rich gravy but best as hash the next day.
3-4 lb. rump roast
salt and pepper
1 cup water
Preheat oven to 500°F. Salt and pepper roast. Sear uncovered in oven for 10-15 minutes. Add 1 cup water, cover and reduce oven to 350°F. Cook for approximately 2 hours.
Make gravy and serve with rice.
I must be patient, I must be patient, I must be patient to let the gravy turn the right copper color—it always takes longer and it will thicken. And my sister hates it when I double dip with the spoon so I try to be careful while she is watching.
Heat 3 tablespoons grease. Add 3 tablespoons of flour. Brown til copper-colored. Stir in 3 cups drippings. Add chicken bouillon and salt and pepper to taste (for beef, will be a darker color; use roast drippings and beef bouillon).
I could immediately tell which one Mom was making based on how she cut the ingredients: sliced for the cream hash (it is a light brown but with no cream) and diced for the red hash.
My favorite part of rump roast!
2-3 potatoes, sliced
1 onion, sliced
2-3 tablespoons oil
1-2 cup leftover roast, sliced
1-2 tablespoons flour
2-3 cups water
Saute onion, then potatoes til transparent. Add flour. Blend. Add water and gravy and roast. Season. Cover, cook til potatoes tender, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Red (or Louisiana) Hash
2-3 potatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
leftover roast, diced
1-2 tablespoons flour
2-3 cups water
8 oz. tomato sauce
Saute onion, then potatoes til transparent. Add flour. Blend. Add water and gravy and roast. Season. Cover, cook til potatoes tender, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Served with Rice and Gravy. Always.
1 round steak, tenderized
1 onion, sliced
½ cup flour
beef bouillon granules + water
¼ cup oil
salt and pepper
Cut steak in serving-size pieces. Season and coat with flour. Brown in oil over medium heat until brown on both sides. Remove and drain oil leaving 3 tablespoons and drippings. Add 3 tablespoons flour to oil and make a roux. Add water slowly. Add onion and seasoning. Cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve over rice.
Mmmm, tasty London Broil. Always served with Lawry’s fries. Mom made it for us when she and Dad came for Graduation. In the rain. It was delicious and brought back memories of childhood.
1 1/2 lb beef flank steak
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 tablespoons each: dry red wine, lemon juice, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce
Put the steak on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, make shallow diagonal crisscross cuts on both sides of the steak so that the steak is scored in a diamond pattern.
Spread the steak lightly with mustard; roll it and put in a plastic bag. Combine red wine, lemon juice, soy sauce, and worcestershire sauce and add them to the bag. Put the bag in a bow. Marinate the steak 1 hour at room temperature or a day in the refrigerator.
Preheat the coals or barbecue. Broil or barbecue the steak (on open grill) quickly 2 inches from heat source; turn steak to brown evenly. Cook 7-10 minutes each side, or to desired doneness. Slice thinly against the grain to serve.
Oven Fried Potatoes
I love Mom’s Lawry’s potatoes, which we always had with London Broil. Great with cold ketchup—so crisp and salty.
Slice into strips washed, but not peeled, potatoes.
Place potato strips in ice water in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
Toss 1 tablespoon of oil in potatoes, totally covering.
Place potatoes on greased (Pam-sprayed) cookie sheet.
Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes or until brown.
Sprinkle with Lawry’s season salt.
One of my favorites both as a child and now. Don’t try to double—it doesn’t come out as well.
1 pound beef round steak, cut ¾ inch thick
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1-16 oz. can tomatoes, cut up
1 small onion, sliced and separated into rings
½ cup sliced celery
½ cup sliced carrot
½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
Cut meat into 4 serving-size pieces. Trim fat. Combine the flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Coat pieces with flour mixture. In a large skillet brown meat on both sides in hot oil. Drain fat.
Add undrained tomatoes, onion, celery, carrot, and thyme. Cover and cook over low heat about 11/4 hours or til meat is tender. Skim fat. Serve with hot rice or noodles.
Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
Mmmm, French Dip in those now-scratched clear glass bowls. The first time I wanted to make DP a rump roast, I accidentally bought a brisket but luckily had 10 hours to cook it.
4-5 lb. brisket
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoon Worchestershire
½ teaspoon pepper
Place brisket in roaster with fat side up. Cover with foil. Cook at 300°F for 1 hour and then 200°F for 6-10 hours.
Tray the meat. Refrigerate the gravy and then separate oil.
Add bouillon to gravy.