Friday, February 29, 2008

Thank Heavens for Playgroup

I'm a much better mommy when we get out of the house regularly.

It had been 5 whole days, plus the three days snowbound with Gommie (that doesn't really count, though, since she was here), since we'd really been anywhere. We'd cancelled playdates and skipped library storytime and our usual "school" session at the community center because of illness. But today, we left home and even the kiddos were ready--usually they drag their feet quite literally about leaving home but today DD actually helped put on her own socks and DS pulled on his own diaper to help. A nice change. Desperation, no doubt.

And so, we were at playgroup for nearly 3 hours. The kids saw other kids, different toys, some new snacks (though DD favored the baked oatmeal that she had helped me make that morning), other adults, new pets. And I had new snacks too, adult conversation, someone else to mind the kiddos when I got a cup of coffee or went to the restroom, and no big mess to clean up (until it's my turn again!). Just enough excitement and exhileration that we all practically danced to the car when it was over (actually, they played in the yard despite the 26F temp).

And fell promptly asleep! For almost 2 hours.

We had a late lunch, read some stories, and then the day was over. No fighting, no biting, no blood, no tears.

No sweat!

Speechless

Sometimes, DD says or notices something that leaves me speechless.

She has noticed that there are two different McDonald's that we go to--the one with the brown roof and the one with the red roof. For those of you local, did you even know there was a difference? Not me.

Today, after playgroup she informed me that she and the hostess matched--they were both wearing pink shirts. Miss B, if you're reading this, she's right, isn't she?

And she also remembered the name of your dog, Miss B, and told Mama tonight that she petted him.

Yesterday, as I was telling them a story at bedtime--my own made-up story about a dragon who loved music and the little kids who went to his mountain cave to find him--she asked me where the story was and I said in my head. "There's no dragon in your hair, Mommy."

And that's just the last 24 hours.

Sometimes, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep up.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thinking of You

My dear Uncle W, the husband of the aunt whom DD is named after is in the hospital undergoing treatment for just-diagnosed lung cancer.

We love you, Uncle W!

A Mommy's Dilemma

No, nothing like Sophie's Choice, so perhaps nothing to get worked up about.

But with two sick kids at home--first, DD with the stomach flu, and now both with head colds--I am faced with what I think is a fairly common suburban dilemma.

That's right: Target, McDonald's, or television?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Update

Well, she threw up for 9 hours, but seems much better today. No one else in the house has it. Yet. We didn't do much today--lots of tv and some quiet toys, as none of us got much sleep. And DD fell asleep--almost literally fell asleep in her dinner--at 4:45. Yep, dinner was at 4. Things get off when you wake up at 5 a.m.

I have a list of posts somewhere but won't get to them tonight. I'm going to try to catch up on my sleep.

The Baby is Here!

My friend L and her husband K had their baby this morning, after 3 1/2 weeks of labor. The baby, a boy, weighs in at 8 lbs. And mom and babe are doing well.

Can't wait to meet you, little boy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Intermission

We have the stomach flu.

If I trace the path correctly, a little friend and Gommie got it over the weekend. DD started throwing up today at 4. The little friend's mom came down with it today too. Which means DD, DP, and I are next.

It might be a few days before I post again.

But until then, DS's first real joke (heard as I held his sister so she would fall asleep; he was in his crib trying to self-soothe): "Twinkle twinkle, little star, how I wonder . . . what you had for breakfast."

Starbucks is Closing

. . . tonight at 5:30 EST for 3 hours.

So they can learn how to make coffee.

I think it's even funnier because it's apparently true.

I don't usually get coffee at that hour but it makes me want some.

Which I'm sure is exactly what Dunkin' Donuts is hoping!

It's Her Party

We celebrated our babysitter's 16th birthday this week. She had a huge dance party and we were invited! That's very sweet--it's not often that 16 year olds want to hang with the under 3 crowd (but I bet that's better than the over 30 crowd!).

DD wore her pink party dress, much like the Princess dress, but pink velvet with white. Plus her new sparkly Dora tennis shoes. She carried in a dozen red roses to give to DBabysitter and looked quite the sight. Reminded me of pictures of children presenting Princess Diana with bouquets--DD was so serious and careful and then gave a big smile.

DS was happy in his firetruck sweatshirt, cum lovey. And it took him awhile to warm up to the crowd, the noise, and the lights.

Ah, the lights--swirling, multi-colored dance lights. DD jumped right in and was doing her moves--a kind of Bollywood-inspired, elbow teeter-totter with head shake and butt wiggle (you have to see it). And there I was, with her, trying to dance to music that I have never heard, not being sure about the current dance style, so I tried my mid-80s New Age Mommy Dance. Luckily, all eyes were on the kid. Soon, DS joined us. And DP watched from the sidelines. Waltzing is more her style. Less you think we were hogging the dance floor, it was still that awkward period before anyone actually gets up to dance. We were the only ones.

Between songs, DD and DS scarfed down Swedish meatballs and chicken fingers. And DS loved dipping pretzels in honey mustard.

And then they handed out glow in the dark necklaces--purple--and it was like we'd been invaded by mini-Jedis. DD brandished that stick like her life, and the fate of the Republic, depended on it. DS much preferred playing with the silver beads that the mom of the birthday girl had bestowed upon him.

We danced and ate until well after bedtime, but it's good to celebrate these important milestones.

So we did it again yesterday, with a private party for DB when she came over to sit. I'd baked a white cake in two layers the night before. DD joyfully helped me whip cream while DS waited for me to slice strawberries. We spread jam between the layers and the smeared one whip cream, which also coated the exterior. DS helped me decorate with strawberries--1 for the cake, 2 for him, 1 for the cake, 2 for him--but not DD's side because she didn't want strawberries. Then DD began to play with the remaining whipped cream and got it all the way up her arms and all over her face. At least we'd finished the frosting!

We wore hats, lit candles, and sang "Happy Birthday" when DB arrived, giving her a Dora/Diego pirate ship and a Happy Birthday Thomas train car with her name on the bottom. And then I think they each had 3 slices--DD eating the cream, DS eating the strawberries and jam, and DB eating it all. It was quite the party.

But then, 16 is quite a birthday.

-=-=-=

My Strawberry Shortcake Birthday Cake

1 box white cake, with ingredients to make it
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 jar all-fruit strawberry jam
fresh strawberries, sliced

Bake cake in two 9" rounds according to instructions. Cool completely.

Whip heavy cream with sugar to taste (I like it less sweet so the cream flavor comes through).

Spread jam on bottom cake layer. Smooth some cream over this. Top with second round.

Cover with remaining whipped cream. Decorate with strawberries.

Serve immediately and keep remainders in refrigerator.

Suburban Sadness

For my local readers: isn't it sad that the most exciting thing to happen around here recently is the opening of that new grocery store?

But, oh, it is a very nice, clean, friendly, well-stocked store . . .

I need to get out more (and not there!).

Yahrzeit

Today is the first anniversary of the death of our beloved cat Morgan.

And so we mark his life with fond memories and the lighting of candles.

And watching our two cats, Albus and Hermione, chase each other and their favorite mice toys.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Play's the Thing

A recent article in the NYTimes entitled "Taking Play Seriously" (which, for the life of me, I can't get the Times page to pull up; it was on Feb. 17, 2008) examined the scientific community's understanding of play, both the sympathizers and the skeptics. While I skimmed much of the discussion of various experiments (do we really need to euthanize animals to research this?), I was interested in discussions of the role of play, especially dramatic or fantasy play.

Because the kiddos love to play. We are even emerging from parallel play to playing together. For example, a new favorite game is "office." One child waits in the hallway while the other goes into the office. The outside child knocks and receives a hello from the inside child, who invites him in. The visitor says, "it's a beautiful office." And the office occupant comments that she is working. And then they switch, and do this ad infinitem.

Another one: they spread my striped blanket (the cat isn't the only one who loves it) on the floor, strip to their diapers, and "swim." They used to do this without the blanket (or the diapers!) on the kitchen floor but changed the game when Gommie was here. Now they dive or splash off a toddler bed into the ocean, where they swim, sometimes with DD riding on DS who is a dolphin (this, he says, is "hard work"). They take turns diving. And when Gommie and I were watching, from the mud, apparently, they began to address us as the "audience," and make announcements like, "Audience, take your seats, I am going to make a really big splash."

They love building houses with my couch cushions. DS especially likes doing this, creating a house with a gate and a backyard. Today we even added a sidewalk made with all the little throw pillows. When the house is made out of pillows in the middle of the floor, instead of in the couch itself, they call it a "chinny-chin-chin" house, like the 3 little pigs.

They've been polar bears in the leafless burning bush outside that is currently covered in snow, as well as polar bears in their toddler beds covered with canopies or tents. They go on airplane or train trips, particularly to Chicago, by lining up the kitchen chairs or the paper blocks. They have lots of picnics and tea parties and birthday parties. They especially like making pies in the backyard with leaves stacked high in my planters and baking in the bathtub and calling the bubble bath "whipped cream." They have a collection of hats, scarves, and bandanas that allow them to go on safari, drive a train, be a construction worker. They use their hands to create imaginary instruments which they play in their parades (though, sometimes, they use our real collection of instruments too). They build Lincoln Log, Mega Block, and cardboard brick houses for their little plastic animals. We drew Dinosaur Land and the Fairy Garden on our new magnetic chalkboard wall and they spent an afternoon having dinosaurs and fairies visit back and forth across the river with the bridge. And sometimes, they even play doctor and check each other for tummyaches.

It's this amazing, fun, yet serious world that I am sometimes invited to join, but oftentimes watch quietly from the outside, purely enthralled with what they come up with. DD and DS seem to share the task of coming up with the game, but it is DD who usually sets the rules, even if it's a game DS originated. And she is more likely the one to shift gears and take them on to the next level or another game. Sometimes, the play is inspired by what we've read or seen on tv, and I'm okay with that. They use it as a starting point for their own play script instead of reenacting what they've seen or read. I certainly remember my days of playing Star Wars or Little House on the Prairie, borrowing locales and characters I knew for my very own stories (mind you, I didn't mix the two. And it strikes me now that they were very different games. LHOTP was always outside, while SW could be either in or out). I could spend hours playing this way as a kid, by myself or with neighbohood friends. When my own kiddos are fully engaged in this kind of play, they forget to fight, often perfectly perform turn-taking and sharing, and sometimes forget to have midday snack. It really is this incredible other realm.

And I'm lucky they invite me back into it now and then.

-=-=-=-

DP's own reading of the article netted something I didn't find (I wonder if it was the same article?): the contrast of imaginative play with toy-play. The appearance of specific toys for play, first advertised by Mattel during the Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950s, she said, ended play-for-play's sake and made it all toy-based and more material. It occurs to me that almost none of the games I mentioned above require any kind of specific toy, only "open" toys like blocks and scarves and pillows. I hope we can keep it that way.

Coffee and Sympathy

As I mentioned earlier, I am always somewhat depressed when my mom leaves (hi, mom! so sorry to hear you took home some kind of Yankee revenge stomach flu. Ugh! Get better soon!). There are usually tears, but only recently have the kiddos even noticed.

Yesterday, as I let fall a few tears after Mom left, DD actually hauled her step stool to the bookcase and dragged down the good tissues so she could bring me one. She then proceeded to wipe my face, looking deeply and seriously into my eyes with her pretty, dark, round ones. "Are you better now?" DS reminded me to drink my coffee because that always helps.

Then last night, I got a little teary at bedtime as the kids rehashed "Gommie's not here," then "No, Gommie went home to Pop and puggy puppy in Texas." DD came over and gave me a kiss, "that will make you happy." DS added his own hug and kiss, "now you won't be sad." Both wanted to know if I was "happy now?"

And of course, with that kind of love, who wouldn't be?

Naming Theory

I have a new theory, involving names of lesbians in couples:

The woman with the "girlier" (more stereotypically feminine) name is the more butch of the two.

We counted 6 separate examples tonight.

And yes, that goes for us as well . . . . make of it what you will.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It's Oscar Time

We're watching the Oscars. Haven't seen a single nominated movie, though we have Elizabeth the Golden Age from Netflix but didn't finish it with Mom here. Mom left today. We had a wonderful visit.

I'm always a little depressed after she goes. So, more later. Lots to tell.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Think She's Right

DP suggested to me yesterday that our cat Albus might have had a striped mom. You see, she had seen him kneading my new striped fleece blanket, something he hasn't done anywhere else.

And last night around 2 a.m., I decided she was right. Albus curled up behind my legs, kneading and purring and rubbing around, the happiest cat in the world. He doesn't usually sleep on my side. But I had just spread out my new striped blanket on my side recently and he seems very attached to it.

Maybe his feline mommy was striped. His nighttime people mommy sure is.

-=-=-=

Fleece Blanket Pattern

2-3 yards of 2 different kinds of fleece (I usually choose one patterned fleece and one complementary color)
sharp scissors
measuring tape

Wash fleece. Cut off selvage edges.

Lay one fleece piece out on the floor, face down. Lay the other fleece piece on top of that, face up. Straighten so they line up without any huge wrinkles.

Cut 4" square piece out of each corner (a friend of mine has a swatch piece 4" square that she uses just for the corners). The spread out your measuring tape along one side and make 4" cuts every 1". This will give you fringe 4" long and 1" wide (it's easiest if you stretch the measuring tape from corner to corner and cut upto the tape every one inch).

Tie the top and bottom fringe together. I like to tie them in a knot so that the contrasting color is on each side (i.e. patterened side with solid fringe and vice versa). It's best to finish one whole side at a time but it is not necessary to finish the blanket in one sitting.

I'm not very good at writing patterns, so if you want to see another version with slightly different measurements, check here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

You Can Eat This Yellow Snow

We have had a huge snowstorm here in CT, by recent snow standards (though nothing like the blizzard of '93 in NYC, which is my benchmark). It was what Pop asked for this Christmas--maybe he didn't specify that he wanted it at Christmas and wanted to see it himself. He's in Texas while Gommie is here.

We just made maple syrup candy. I heated the syrup while DP and Gommie got the kids outside and filled a cookie sheet with snow. Then I ran outside and drizzled the syrup in the snow in ribbons, something I first read about in Little House on the Prairie (or one of the series, maybe Little House in the Big Woods?). The candy cooled and turned crunchy immediately.

And DD has carried a piece stuck to her glove for an hour, biting and licking it as she went along. We're back inside now, to get more candy, since she ran out of her piece while we were making three generations of snow angels--Gommie, Mommy, and DD. DS, who only just tasted one piece of candy, was inside playing the piano with Mama.

-=-=-=-=

Maple Syrup Snow Candy

1 cup maple syrup (Grade B tastes better)
½ tablespoon butter

Combine maple syrup and butter. Heat to 260°F (hardball stage). Watch carefully because syrup scorches at this temperature. Remove from heat.
Pour into a ribbon onto snow, lift, and eat. For non-snow areas, pour carefully onto a cookie sheet. Make any pattern you want.
Store candy in a dry and tightly sealed container.

Circle Round

Because The New York Times Said So

Recently, the NYTimes ran an article about date night, saying that couples should do something out of the ordinary if they really want date night to rekindle the romance. Ah, date night. What people without kids do every week that people with kids only dream of. Or do rarely. Our own success at saving a monthly date night have been below average. I'd give us a C. We go when my mom is here, about 4 times a year, and we've gone once with a real live honest-to-goondess babysitter. We do have admirable and inspiring friends who go out (until the third trimester of their pregnancy--and they're still in labor!) every month on the 11th, their anniversary. We could do that, on the 23rd (when we got together in August 1997) or on the 9th (when we made it legal in Connecticut in 2005), or both since they are two weeks apart. But something often gets in the way. Now, that said, we are very lucky that the kiddos are usually in bed by 6:30, no later than 7:15 pm, and so can watch a movie and have some real quality time every night (if we plan on it, rescheduling laundry or bills or the like). But many nights are for chores.

Not this week. We've had two dates. TWO dates. In one week. On Tuesday night, we went for Indian food. We're pretty much Indian food novices. DP has had a lot of Thai, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese but not Indian. I think she often feels that Indian is wrong--Thai spices used in odd combinations with different ingredients--but with her office catering in so much Indian, it's starting to grow on her. So, we went out for Indian, which is so much better than take-out. Starting with some vegetables fritters--I liked the spinach ones and the potato ones that I dipped in that sweet/sour tamarind sauce, we sipped on our favorite mango lassis and nibbled on the crispy, spiced pappadum. For dinner, I had malai kofta, a cheese and vegetable dumpling in a creamy, sweet, and mildly spicy, cashew and almond sauce. The dumpling tasted so freshly made; the ingredients really sang. And I love that sauce. DP had chicken madras--the "spiciest chicken dish on the menu--but then she was raised on Thai food, and, while she can't quite eat chilies straight up like her mom, she holds her own. But she was sweating while she murmured enjoyment. She had some garlic and cilantro nann while I had plain naan (I'd ordered Peshwari naan, which has the raisins and nuts and is my favorite, but the plain naan went just as well). And then we moved on to these incredible desserts--I can't tell you the names because they aren't on the take-out menu I'm consulting--a sweet yellow lentil and fruit pudding kind of like a rice pudding with some coconut flakes on top and the most amazing fried dough balls in a clear, sweet rose syrup, perhaps with pistachios. Those dough balls--wow! Indeed, you could say that about the whole meal.

For our second date night, we got a whole afternoon! This was brave of Gommie because the kiddos would be awake for some of it (but at least I got the nap started for her). DP took off work early and we headed to New Haven for tea and an art museum. Tea at Celtica, the Irish shop in town, was good. Not great. Portions were small for the price but we liked the Irish brown bread used for the sandwiches--a hearty change from mushy white bread (which I also like). And there were (frozen, store-bought) cream puffs and scones with whipped cream and a very nice strawberry jam. With some Earl Grey tea. And we reminisced about all of our other teas--in Chicago at the Palmer House for Christmas; at Polly's in Marlborough; at a National Trust shop in York; at Fortnum and Mason's; at that place I can never remember the name of in York with the fat rascals (yes, we had tea twice that day!); at Alice's Tea cup in NYC; at our favorite place in CT, the British Tea Shoppe in Guildford or Branford or Madison (I never remember that either). And that's just tea I've had with her (she's become quite an anglophile in ten years). Lambeth took me to some marvelous places in England, especially that manor house with the incredible tea. I really love the ritual of tea, even when the spread is mediocre.

Then to the Yale Center for British Art. Oh my, a special Orientalism show. Like I haven't had enough of that in my years at that museum in town. But at least I didn't have to read the labels, having written several myself on Orientalism and the West, Edward Said, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, what a harem really is, and the like. I actually wanted to see the permanent collection, post 1850, not the special exhibition, but we did head to it first. And I really liked it. I like John Frederick Lewis's depictions of the interiors of houses, especially the light streaming through stained glass windows and mashrabiyya, or turned wooden screens. I actually liked his painting of a harem woman in the garden, a very English rose garden with trellis, best. My taste is not always fine. But I know what I like. DP liked David Roberts's sketchbooks best, mainly because she likes to sketch. But there is something vibrant and immediate about such works. We were very disappointed to discover that the post-1850 works--by my favorite PRB, Alma-Tadema, and Victorian genre painters--were not on display, so we enjoyed the Elizabethan through 1850 works, particularly the Canalettos, the really early and elaborate portraits, and the Constables (which I prefer to Turner). It was like going back in time (my lifetime, not those of the paintings, though that happens too) to wander the museum as a childless adult, though I did wonder when we could bring the children and what they would like.

Afterwards, we hit the Asian grocery to restock, to pick up treats for the Lunar New Year playgroup today (that we skipped because we're getting 4-8" of snow today), and to get some bubble tea. I like bubble tea (coconut, not almond). And the coconut buns we picked up. DP who is often the exact opposite of me in food tastes got some seaweed salad and kimchee. It was a nice denouement to a delightful afternoon.

The New York Times was right, it felt really good to do something different and out of the ordinary. Even if it is what we used to do all the time.

-=-=-=-

Mango Lassi

1 ripe mango
1 cup whole or lowfat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup cold water
ice

Peel, pit, and coarsely chop 1 ripe mango (to yield about 1 cup fruit). In a blender, purée mango with yogurt, sugar, and cold water until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove pulp, if desired. Serve immediately over ice.

Everyday Food

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dinner Plans

Gommie and I have been brainstorming about meal planning and dinner ideas. Things have deteriorated here at Chez Twin and meals before her arrival have largely been uninspired or imported (i.e. take-out).

So, we've come up with a plan. To avoid ambitious planning, I'm going to grocery shop twice a week. This allows me to adapt the menu to our changing tastes and needs, instead of buying a week out. I can also stock up again on fresh fruits and veggies. In the past, I've picked recipes that we just never get to because of altered circumstances and so there are some strange ingredients in my cabinets for recipes I can't even remember anymore. I'm going to keep the menus very simple. For example, we made two new dishes with Gommie this week: Salisbury Steak and Shepherd's Pie. DS liked both; DD liked the first but not the second--she just doesn't like casserole-type foods (i.e. dishes where the foods are combined). So dishes need to be separate, much like the build-it-yourself I blogged about recently (those are still good ideas but I hadn't gotten to implementing them repeatedly). Lastly, we're going to have our big meal at lunch. This helps in two ways: the kids are always hungry at lunch and will therefore eat it (they are not always hungry at dinner) and they play better in the morning which gives me more time to cook (without having to resort to big crockpot recipes everyday).

We'll see if that helps. It's ironic that I love reading and writing about food and recipes but have such trouble getting dinner on the table. I want to combine the two desires successfully.

-=-=-=-

Salisbury Steak

1 lb ground turkey
1 packet dry onion soup mix, divided
5-10 saltine crackers, crushed
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt, pepper to taste
1 package mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 can chicken broth

Combine ground turkey with 3 tablespoons dry onion soup mix, crackers, egg. Form into patties. Brown in skillet. Add mushrooms, onion, chicken broth, and remaining dry onion soup mix. Simmer until done, seasoning to taste. Serve with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Gommie


Shepherd's Pie

1 lb ground turkey
1 package frozen mixed vegetables
mashed potatoes
chicken broth OR leftover Salisbury Steak gravy with mushrooms and onions

Brown turkey. Add veggies to heat through. Pour into baking dish. Cover with mashed potatoes. Bake at 350F until bubbly.

Gommie and Me

Breakfast of Champions

I have a new breakfast favorite: baked oatmeal. I had never heard of such a thing before a breakfast at church a few months ago. It's marvelous--hearty, warm, filling, not too sweet. And today we made some.

Today at 6 a.m.

That's right, the kiddos were up early. DS had a nightmare (not sure what exactly) but couldn't get back to sleep and DD had gotten up during his initial distress. At 5:05 a.m. this morning. A leaky diaper, recalling that Gommie was in the house, a desire to watch THAT show combined to end the night even though it was nowhere near morning time, really.

And so I baked oatmeal. I used a WW recipe, but also include here the original oatmeal from church (which requires eggnog, a tough find this time of year). Even Gommie liked it (it's not too far off South Beach if you use Splenda)!

-=-=-=

Baked Oatmeal

2 cups uncooked oatmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup egg beaters, or 3 egg whites (we used 2 eggs)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Add chopped nuts, raisins, if desired

Combine ingredients. Bake in sprayed 8" square pan and bake at 350 deg. 35-45 min. Keeps well in refrig. or freezer. Eat cold or warm. Great for quick breakfast. 6 servings


Holiday Baked Oatmeal

1 cup eggnog
3 cups oatmeal
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chunky applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350. Mix oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together in a bowl.In another bowl mix Eggnog, applesauce, honey, vanilla and eggs. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix bowl and combine them. Add raisins. Coat a 9 X 9 baking pan with non stick spray. Pour the mixture into the pan and bakefor 25-30 minutes. (I doubled the recipe and used a 9 X 13 pan) ENJOY!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's My Party

We had a little party today to celebrate Gommie's visit. Several friends came over for a fondue luncheon (thanks for the pots, J!). It was a delightful and chaotic day.

I know, right, you're thinking, "fondue?" But I saw an article in the NYTimes recently and decided to give it a go, though I didn't use their recipes nor have I actually had much fondue in my life. But it's not so different from dipping chips in queso . . . .

DD wore her Princess dress, with a red heart sweatshirt over it to protect it from food. Which she devoured for the whole time. First, she dipped Oreos in chocolate fondue. But she wouldn't eat the cookie--she'd lick the chocolate off the cookie and then start all over. Later in the day, however, we found her seated at the kitchen table with Oreo cookie pieces strewn everywhere. But with no cream filling. Because she had licked and scraped it all off. Where did she learn that? When asked, she said I taught her. But I don't eat Oreos that way, never have. DD also loved the frosting off one of the maple cupcakes--I think she cleared off at least one.

DS was most interested in marshmallows--of which I imagine he had about a dozen . . . big ones--and in the strawberries. No chocolate. No cookies. No cake. Just marshmallows and strawberries. And he was in heaven.

The adults were a bit more wide-ranging in their tastes. We dipped bread in the cheese fondue, as well as sesame sticks, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots. For the chocolate, there was pound cake (my favorite), pretzels (my second favorite), Oreos, graham crackers, animal crackers, marshmallows, Stella Doro cookies, strawberries, and the hands-down favorite, TWINKIES. I realized later than Nutter Butter cookies would have been good, if we hadn't needed to worry about peanuts. And friends brought a great spinach salad, banana bread, and the aforementioned cupcakes. Plus some pink ribbon sugar cookies in honor of my friend M. Thanks, T.

All in all it was a great party. I had cups for the fondue, instead of plates, because I thought it would contain drips better, which must have been true because the floor was relatively clean. That, and the adults just leaned over the pots! Gommie had a good time with all the babies and seeing old and new faces. And I had a few different friends over in addition to some usual playgroup ones. It's been a rough time in my circle of friends--absences of those usually present, illnesses and deaths of loved ones, the general and genuine ennui of winter--so it was comforting to be together again after about a month of separation. And fondue--it's goofy, indulgently sensual, and communal nature--was the perfect food.

And we loved having leftover fondue for dinner . . . .

-=-=-=-=

Cheese Fondue (the real recipe)

3 cups coarsely shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (12 ounces)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic, halved
1 ¼ cups dry white wine (can use ¼ cup chicken broth or water for ¼ cup wine)
1 tablespoon kirsch or dry sherry
dash ground nutmeg
dash pepper
dippers (cubed French bread or Italian bread or raw vegetables)

Bring shredded cheese to room temperature. Toss flour with cheese; set aside. Rub inside of a fondue pot with garlic halves; discard garlic. Set pot aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat wine over medium heat till small bubbles rise to surface. Just before wine boils, reduce heat to low and stir in cheese mixture, a little at a time, stirring constantly and making sure cheese melts before adding more. Stir till mixture bubbles gently.
Stir in kirsch or sherry, nutmeg, and pepper. Transfer cheese mixture to the fondue pot; keep mixture bubbling gently over a fondue burner. Serve with bread cubes or vegetables. Makes 5 servings.

Better Homes and Garden

My adaptation:
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 bags of Sargento Swiss and Gruyere cheese

Boil chicken stock. Add cheese gradually. Serve with dippers.


Chocolate Fondue (the real recipe)

Mexican-Style Chocolate Fondue From Food Network Kitchens

1 cup heavy cream (see Cook's note)
4 cinnamon sticks
8 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate
Dippers:Cubed pound cake
Mini-bananas
Fresh or dried orange slices
Fresh or dried pears
Almond cookies
Coconut strips
Strawberries

In small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream and cinnamonsticks just to boil. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep for15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon and discard.Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer, pourit over the chocolate, and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir the chocolatemixture until completely melted and smooth. Transfer the chocolatemixture to a fondue pot, and keep warm over a low sterno flame or in alarge ramekin wrapped with a cloth napkin to keep it warm. Serve witha selection of the dippers.
Cook's note: This makes a thick fondue, for a thinner sauce, simplyadd more cream
Copyright 2003 Television Food Network, G.P. All rights reserved

My adaptation:
1 huge bag of chocolate chips
probably about 1/4 cup heavy cream
4 cinnamon sticks

Melt chocolate chips in heavy cream over medium heat. Add cinnamon sticks and warm through. Serve with dippers

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Death and Dying

The illness and death of our friend M in Chicago, in addition to other deaths of friends in the last year and a half, have occasioned much soul-searching. Death, dying, and the afterlife are not easy topics for me. I was raised as an atheist and am now a UU with pagan leanings, which immediately problematizes the traditional idea of heaven. Though, on an upside, I also don't believe in hell or eternal damnation. I guess that makes me more of a Universalist, believing in the salvation of all souls.

But I don't know what happens when we die. Which made DD's questions last week, when I was talking about how I had gotten many recipes from dear Miss Betty who died a year ago November, and she asked if she knew her. I told DD, no, you don't know her. She's dead. And DD asked me where she was now. And I had no answer.

When our sweet cat Morgan died, we talked to the kids about it, after discussing it with our minister and researching grieving and children on the internet. We said "dead" and "died" instead of "gone" or "asleep." We talked about how his body didn't work anymore and we wouldn't be seeing him again. But they were too young to ask where he was.

Not anymore.

And so, now "Miss Mike-yine" has died, someone they know, someone they've met. And we haven't told them yet. We have decided on a goodbye ritual, again inspired by our minister (who has helped us through a miscarriage and several deaths of family members and friends), which entails drawing some pictures of Chicago, M and K, their cats and then burning those drawings outside in a ritual mimicking her cremation and referencing Buddhist funerary traditions. We were going to do it Sunday and DP even bought a fire bucket but we spent the day at the ER with DS (whom we thought had a concussion; he doesn't, thank goodness). And on Monday it rained. Now, it will wait until the weekend. Maybe Sunday. Or not. So as not to scare or confuse them on the day that Gommie leaves.

But back to heaven. I have often wished I believed in heaven but I can't pretend to. What I do believe is that the universe is unknowable and that I need not struggle so hard to put the human experience into knowable terms or concepts. I can't know what happens after death. And I am learning to be comfortable with that. For me, our friend M, our cat Morgan, Miss Betty, and others live on in my memories and thus continue to live on through the effects they have had on me which I then pass to others. It is a kind of immortality. But there's more to it, because I address them in my head in the universe. I don't know if they hear me, but I'm comfortable with not knowing.

And in the end, it makes death and dying and the afterlife, a little less unknowable.

My Mom is Here

And you know what that means: fewer blog postings. I think this happens for two reasons. She's here and so we're out doing things. And she's here so I don't need to blog so she can know what we're doing. My mom is one of my main readers. I know there are a few other regular readers--my sister, my dad (when Mom prints the posts out for him) Lambeth, my cousin S in Texas, and a few women in my playgroup (mainly JG, T, and TE, but not JL!). But other than that, I don't realize who reads this blog; I don't even know how many people read it.. In fact, sometimes it's quite surprising because I don't remember that others know these stories in my posts. A woman at church apparently reads--hi grandma of 6 month old twins!--and mentioned it recently and for a second I forgot that other people can read this. So, if you know me, and you read this, let me know. I'm just curious. And kinda flattered. So, thank you!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Memoriam

Tonight our friend, M in Chicago, died from breast cancer.

As you may recall, we visited her in Chicago this fall to say goodbye, knowing that the good days were numbered. She was surrounded at home by friends, family, and her 99 year old mom, in the last days, and was sung to as she died by friends from the chorus to which we had belonged.

We remember her tonight and always as a supportive, humorous, generous, loyal, pragmatic, jolly, strong woman and will miss her dearly. Please keep her and her partner K in your thoughts.

With the recent losses among the families of our friends, but also the incredible number of new babes here or on their way, we are reminded of the circle of life, its beautiful and harsh realities.

And don't forget your (or those of the women in your life) monthly self exams and annual mammograms, please.

Good night, sweet Queen, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Friday, February 15, 2008

For Our Friend in Chicago

We received word this evening that our friend M in Chicago has entered the last day or two of her illness.

We love and remember her, lighting a candle on our altar to accompany her on this journey. Our love goes out to her and her partner, family, and friends.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sun and Moon

There seems to be an astronomical theme to our conversations today.

This morning, while watching--can you guess?--"Ni Hao, Kai-Lan," DD (oh, goodness was it DS? Sometimes I forget) remarked that "Mr. Sun" on the tv was Kai-Lan's sun, which was not the same as the sun in Barney's song, "Mr Golden Sun." Nor was it the same as our plain sun. This seemed perplexing.

The moon only added to the problem. DS spotted the moon as we left our playgroup today (mmmm, such yummy food--recipes follow). Immediately, there were requests for our moon songs--"I See the Moon," which is my family's staple; "Moon, Moon, Moon" by Laurie Berkner; and the very appropriate one we learned at the library:

Sister Moon, Sister Moon
You're out too soon
The sun is high in the sky
Go back to bed
Cover up your head
And wait for the day to go bye-bye-bye
Wait for the day to go by.

Then DD ran off looking for the sun in the opposite direction (not realizing that it was hazy and the sun was hiding to her left).

Eventually we got in the car, napped, and came home. I suggested we look for the moon at our house. But oh, no, this was not right--the moon, I was told (mercy, I forgot by whom again), was at Miss B's house, not ours. Apparently, our moon only comes out at night.

-=-=-=-=

Aunt Mary's Chicken

chicken breasts
cream of mushroom soup
milk
Swiss cheese
Pepperidge Farm stuffing
butter

I think its like a bunch of boiled chicken breasts cubed ­ enough to fill the bottom of the rectangle dish. Then a can of cream of mushroom soup with a half a can of milk mixed together, poured over top. Then a package of Swiss cheese layed over top. Then a package of Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix (the herb kind) with some melted butter sprinkled on top. Bake @ 350 for like 35- 45 min until its lightly browned on top and bubbly on the sides.

Miss B


Mushroom Asparagus Quiche

1-8 oz tube refrigerated crescent rolls
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 1/2 lbs fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup butter, cubed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (8 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, oregano, and rubbed sage

Separate crescent dough into eight triangles; place in an ungreased 9" pie plate with points toward the center. Press onto the bottom and up the sides to form a crust; seal perforation. Spread with mustard; set aside.

In a large skillet, saute the asparagus, onion, and mushrooms in butter until asparagus is crisp-tender. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients; stir in asparagus mixture. Pour into crust.

Bake at 375 F for 2-30 minutes or until a knife inserted near the edge comes out clean. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting.

Miss E via Taste of Home


Oatmeal Scotchies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened (used 3/4 cup vegan "butter" sticks)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or grated peel of 1 orange (used the vanilla)
3 cups quick or old-fashioned oats
1 2/3 cups (11-ounce package) butterscotch chips

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 7 to 8 minutes for chewy cookies or 9 to 10 minutes for crisp cookies. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

PAN COOKIE VARIATION: GREASE 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

Nestle Butterscotch Chips bag (I brought these in pan cookie form)

Happy Hearts Day

A love-filled and joyful Valentine's Day to everyone, plus a belated "Happy Birthday" to my friend V in Virginia and a good luck to my friends L and K who might have a baby today.

As for us, we exchanged cards this morning and the kids received two new puzzles (not because I think you should get gifts today but because I'd found them two days ago at Target--DS and DD have recently graduated from peg puzzles with single pieces in a hole to jigsaw puzzles. And we didn't have any.)

Perhaps apropos for a holiday about love and pink and hearts, we woke up in full princess mode. DD went to bed normal and this morning she is a Princess. I think it must be because there was a Little Bear episode recently entitled "Princess Duck." Getting dressed this morning, she chose a dress Ar-Ma got in Thailand, a Western party dress with white taffeta skirt and tuile overlay with a red velvet top and little ribbon flowers. Right colors for today, though more summer than February. And so, when we got downstairs, she twirled around and hopped up and down, checking out the physics of her skirt. She hasn't been in a skirt since Christmas and not regularly since summer. She was even talking about herself in the third person--"The Princess likes to eat." Then she wanted a crown, so I made a paper one and we affixed sticky flowers and butterflies. When I took it off to size it, she said, "Now I am just plain ----."

Never plain, DD, never plain.

For those of you who have assumed I am anti-Princess or anti-girly because I'm kind of a granola lesbian, I'm not. I had several princess phases myself, including Princess Leia and Queen Guenevere, as well as Snow White and Belle. I loved dressing up in long skirts (still do, you should see me in Ren Faire season!) and always wanted a fru-fru dress of the kind she has on now. What I am against is girls growing up to believe all they can be is pretty and decorative, that their only goal in life should be to find Prince Charming. I don't like the early maturation and sexualization, especially objectification of girls these days, very much abetted by the adult women in their lives (my friend Lambeth sends me articles and stories about the trials of boyhood, mainly because I know nothing about boyhood. But in all truth, it is girlhood in our society that scares me more). I also don't like the marketing barage--Disney has something like 200,000 different Princess Collection items alone--being special shouldn't be about what kinds of things you can buy. So, we're going to stress positive princess values--being strong and smart and doing good. It is no coincidence that DD's Chinese name has the same base as Mulan.

Or that we called her "The Empress" at birth.

Mind you, empresses beat out princesses anyday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A New Person in My Life

And her name is Kai-Lan.

She's animated, a character on a new show on NickJr.

And she's Chinese-American. In fact, she's Chinese Dora.

We've been watching the same two episodes for two days now. The Dragonboat Races and the Ants' Playground. And the kids love it. Better than Dora, better than Little Bear.

Which is fine by me. Except I can't seem to catch the Chinese. As I wrote in a blog recently regarding Thai, I just don't hear the various tones and inflections that are so key to these languages. At one point, Kai-Lan is contrasting "up" and "down" and for the life of me I can't hear a difference, even when DP tried to help (she knows enough Mandarin from school to do that). I would strongly encourage Nickelodeon to put glossaries online for us poor lost parents (something I hoped they'd do with Dora, too, as my Spanish is only slightly better than my Chinese, though I hear it more clearly and am better able to repeat it). That way we can reinforce it between episodes (though, for now, on this rainy/snowy February day, we're watching them back to back).

I should add here that, in a waxing mood of Chinese-ophilia, which usually swamps DP around the New Year, we have looked into Chinese language school and will be signing them up for classes beginning in March. I get to go too. I'm actually pretty excited. I've wanted them to be bilingual and think Chinese will be great. I know DP has always felt removed from the Chinese community because she speaks better Thai than Mandarin (or Chou Jo, her family's dialect). Perhaps we can spare DD and DS that, as much as possible.

But back to "Ni Hao, Kai Lan." It looks Japanese to me, in that anime/Hello Kitty kind of way but that's okay. I like the approach in the show. The creators call it "biculturalism," in addition to "bilingualism," and are trying to stress aspects of Chinese and Chinese-American culture in the narratives. So far, this has involved a focus on teamwork and on staying calm. I haven't seen many episodes--they started last week to coincide with Chinese New Year, but we only started recording it this week, so we're behind.

I imagine we'll catch up. For those of us raising Chinese or bi-racial children without our own background in Chinese or Chinese culture (though I know more about Chinese art than DP from my schooling and years in museums), this show is a perfect way to help integrate that knowledge into our daily activities.

I should say that I'm on record for coming up with the idea first (or at least before they publicized it). About a year ago, when we first watched Dora, I told DP we should create Chinese Dora, especially with the ready audience of Chinese adoptees with non-Chinese parents in the country. So I'm glad to see that somewhere the universe was listening.

If only I could get royalties from all the merchandise I'm sure we'll be buying soon!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two Shorts

I can't identify cars, except by color and number of doors. The status attributed to BMW, Lexus, Audi, whatever, means nothing to me. And so, I was surprised the other day when, from DS in the backseat, I heard, "Mommy, that's a Jeep. Jeeps have tires on the back. Let's find more Jeeps." Huh, did you know that Jeeps often have tires on the back? Sure enough. And now we spot them wherever we go.

-=-=-=-=

During Sunday school this week, the woman who volunteered in the nursery--one of our favorite octagenarians Miss Louise--drew a picture of DD. With curly hair. DD apparently quickly (and hopefully nicely), "I don't have curly hair. You have curly hair."

And indeed, Miss Louise's hair is curly.

I guess DD likes her art realistic.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Religious Art*

*but were afraid to ask.

When I originally spoke to our minister regarding a sermon on Religious Images of Love, my first thoughts were in keeping with my academic training and life experience: Madonna and Child, a common religious image of maternal love and devotion from the Western canon. This won’t surprise those of you who know that I am a stay-at-home mom with 2 year old twins, or those of you who know that my academic background is in European painting. Actually, I had at first tried to conjure up romantic images, with the sermon being near Valentine’s Day. Religious romantic images. Sit and think on that for a moment. Can you see any? The only ones I thought of—the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden or of Holofernes, who literally loses his head for Judith—were more love gone bad. And I certainly couldn’t imagine any images reflecting my romantic reality—pictures of lesbians. From the Bible. Or any religious text. So, in the western canon, anyway, the religious images of love I could think of were Madonnas.

But as I continued my personal inventory of religious images of love, I began to step outside the Western canon and discovered several that would qualify—Ibeji twin figures commemorating a deceased child’s spirit, Navajo wedding baskets used to serve corn to the newly married couple and guests, or the Taj Mahal, an architectural monument to a man’s love for his wife. And of course, the Kama Sutra, the Hindu how-to manual of physical pleasure and romantic relationships. Could I talk about, much less show an image from the Kama Sutra, on a Sunday morning, in church?


Luckily for us UUs, and I say this as I stand next to the rainbow flag in the church where I was married to my partner, both the terms “love” and “religious” can be defined broadly and encompass many works of art. This is not, of course, the case in all religious traditions. While there are human representations throughout the history of Islamic art, it is generally frowned upon by the clerics and prohibited in religious works. Similarly, the rules regarding the painting of icons of the Madonna, for instance, remain in some Eastern Orthodox traditions very specific.

I began to wonder what makes an image religious. Does it need to be commissioned by or hung in a religious institution? What about works of art no longer in their original locations--is a Madonna and Child still religious on the walls of the Met? You (almost) never see anyone praying to those. Is a work of art religious if it embodies a spiritual theme, such as Felix Gonzalez Torres's portrait of his boyfriend in candy? Titian ponders the meaning of love in Sacred and Profane Love, but the allegory is not a biblical one. Does the subject need to be overtly religious, from a specific text? I’ve already mentioned the fate of romantic love in the Bible, such as Judith and Holofernes, but since I have two great slides, I’ll mention it again. This leads us back to Madonnas— Fra Fillippo Lippi, a Carmelite monk, painted two beautiful Madonnas, using as his model his pregnant girlfriend, who was also a nun (depending on the story you read, he kidnapped her from her convent and was also later kidnapped himself by Barbary pirates). If true, would these be religious? As you saw in the opening montage, many of the works of art do not depict biblical or religious subjects, but love—of friends, families, parents, siblings. And so, for today, for me, these are religious or perhaps more appropriately, spiritual images. They address something inherent to the human condition and speak to us about what it means to be human.

Finally, I realized that the pulpit is much different than the academic podium. The art historian's approach to religious images is generally factual, not personal or spiritual, but objective, essentially stripping the work of art of its passion, i.e. not receiving it in the way it was meant to be received. So my homily will restore some of that passion to my project as an art historian, because these "images of love" are images I love--they refresh my spirit, engage my mind, rekindle a passion that has been a focus of my life for 15 years. So let us abandon the pulpit, and the podium, as I take you on a tour of images to see what art and religion can offer up about love for Valentine's Day.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled
(Portrait of Ross) from 1991 was one of my favorite tour stops when I guided students and seniors and hundreds of other visitors through the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago. Because, it is simply a pile of candy on the floor. The best part? You’re supposed to take a piece. Touch the art. Eat the art. Kids got it right away and would lunge for the candy only warily looking at the guards afterwards. Adults almost never took a piece until I did. And as days passed, the pile of candy would shrink from its original 175 lbs down to nothingness, when the candy company would then refill the pile. It was delightful, delectable, delicious. The sensuous nature of the experience—the sound of unwrapping plastic in a near-silent museum, the taste of the sweet hard candy—always seemed to me to call forth ideas of love and sex. Even holy communion, for this is a minimalist meditation on love and loss. This untitled work is a portrait of the artist’s lover, Ross Bleckner, who, like the artist, was HIV positive and died of AIDS. His ideal weight before he was ill was 175 lbs. And as we eat the candy from the pile—supposedly Ross had quite a sweet tooth—we watch the pile wither away, as Ross did. Even when the pile of candy was disturbingly small, I always grabbed a piece, wanting to participate in this touching memorial to love.


Another stop on my tours of the Art Institute was the small Ancient Greek Galleries, one of my favorite places in the museum. Amid the vitrines of Greek vases, was the Varrese Painter’s Loutrophoros of 365 BCE. On this vase, women prepared a young bride for a wedding—mirrors, jewels, garlands, anointing oils—everything she would need for the ceremony. A small loutrophoros is actually depicted on the vase, as it was used for the ritual bathing of the intended. Of course, this being ancient Greece, romantic love was not the basis for marriages, which like in many other historical periods, was intended to strengthen family position and wealth. But the delicacy and intricacy of the representation of the preparations belie that and recalls many young girl fantasies about weddings. Unfortunately, in this case, there were no weddings. Large loutrophoroi such as this one were not used in weddings but as grave markers for young unmarried girls. Families would place such vases on gravesites and pour libations of wine and oil through the jars, which have holes in the bottom so that the offerings can soak into the ground. It is another beautiful, but sad, monument to love and loss.


As the Greeks declared of love, “tis de bios, ti de terpnon, ater cruses Aphrodites”—what is life? What is love? Without Golden Aphrodite?—Renaissance artists often contemplated the lives and loves of the ancient world. Sandro Botticelli. The Birth of Venus. One of the most famous works of art in the Western canon. Scholars debate the meaning and the inspiration for the painting of the Goddess of Love rising from the sea at her birth and being greeted by the zephyrs and a goddess of spring. Was Botticelli inspired by written descriptions of a famous ancient painting? The woman who modeled for Venus was probably the lover of the Medici prince who commissioned the work at the time of her marriage to someone else. He managed to save the picture when many of Botticelli’s other pagan-themed paintings were being burned by the zealous cleric Savonarola, in a case of religion being very controlling of art. But what I see when I look at this painting is not the nude pagan Goddess that upset Savonarola, nor the woman who posed as the goddess for her lover. I see the work of art in front of which I stood at the Uffizi in Florence and decided I should switch my major from Classical Studies to Art History during my senior year in college. I have seen reproductions of this painting most of my life—it is the favorite work of art of my favorite aunt, after whom DD is named. It was because of her that I took a bus from Rome, not exactly knowing where I was going and speaking no Italian, and finally made it to the museum 15 minutes before closing, running up the stairs to see only this painting. I cannot separate the actuality of Botticelli’s painting from memories of my aunt or the affects this painting had on me. It is the emotion the work creates in me that I remember.


The nude body of Venus is demurely hidden by her hands and hair. Not so the case of women in the Kama Sutra. Yes, I can’t not talk about the Kama Sutra. But I have no personal connection to it—I’ve never been to India, the AIC had no prints, at least not on display. In fact, finding an image to show you has been a challenge. But I wanted to include it because I know next to nothing about its historical origins and wanted to learn. The 36-chapter work compiled by Vatsyayana in the 2nd century CE is not a sex manual nor a sacred text, but a discussion of the aims of ancient Hindu life with the kama, or enjoyment of the senses, placed in context with the dharma or virtuous living and artha, material prosperity. There are sections on making money, finding a wife, making yourself attractive, and, of course, sex. It is this last part, through translations by Sir Richard Burton, known traveler and explorer, in 1883 as well as numerous illustrations that pervade popular culture and the internet. But the most fascinating of the representations of the Kama Sutra, for me, are the temples at Khajuraho, about 400 miles southeast of New Delhi. There, on some of the 22 temples of this World Heritage Site built during the Chandela empire of the 10th and 11th centuries, are erotic representations inspired by the Kama Sutra. These are not depictions of deities making love, but of human beings expressing their physical natures. There are also pictures of other aspects of daily life—women getting dressed, farmers and potters at work. In the most famous of these, the Kandariya Mahadeo, a Jain temple (the temples in the complex are from a variety of sects) dedicated to Lord Shiva, there are erotic images of lovers around the bottom of the exterior of the temple, representing human’s base emotions. Towards the top are deities. There are no erotic images inside, as physical needs have been abandoned for spiritual ones, though the inner sanctum contains a giant lingam, a phallic symbol of the god. Like the Kama Sutra itself, the temple sculptures embrace various aspects of life. It is only our modern culture that privileges the sexual over the daily and so I can show you few images of the temple itself.


Speaking of few images, I will end with lesbians, since that is where I tried to begin. The representation of women by women is rare in the history of western art—as famed art historian Linda Nochlin queries, “Why Are there No Great Women Artists?” But the advent of photography evened the playing field which had been tilted by access to education and the ability to practice a profession in the favor of female photographers. Eva Watson Schutze. Clementina Lady Hawarden. Julia Margaret Cameron. Alice Austen. The last lived on Staten Island, in a 17th century house you can still visit. And throughout the end of the 19th through the early 20th century, she recorded her life there at Clear Comfort. Images of herself in a ballgown, of her trips to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, of her pugs, but mostly of her friends—riding bicycles, dressing up as men, embracing. These pictures of women’s friendship, of a world not often visualized from the inside, of the love these friends had for one another, these pictures were almost lost when Alice Austen lost her house and belongings after the stock market crash of 1929, but the glass plates were saved and someone recognized their value. Amid these plates are pictures of Gertrude Tate, and while the official National Historic Site doesn’t like to mention Gertrude, she met Alice in 1892, moved in with her in 1917, and was her companion until Alice entered a nursing home in 1945. And so I will end with this image of love, of the love of women, of the love of friends. We’ve come a long way from religion and the bible, but these, for me, are no less spiritual.


And I ask you, what works of art do you love? What works of art represent the love in your life?

Blogs I Have Yet to Write

Here are some titles or descriptions of blogs that are swirling in my head but that I have yet had time to write up:

**Sing Gia Eu Ei--or Happy Chinese New Year--our family's festivities
**Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Religious Images in Art--or my sermon at church
**Community cookbooks--thoughts on these and the one my church is making
**Art in general--some observations about art with children and why the library crafts drive me nuts

Those are the ones I can think of now.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Conversation Overheard at the Starbucks

Man on phone: It looks like hell up here in Connecticut.

(unknown response)

Man on phone: Yeah, everyone is wearing the Dark Mark.

-=-=-=-

Don't you know that Pope Benedict (especially Pope Benedict) would not like the connection of Harry Potter to Ash Wednesday?

Sawasdee

I'm learning a new language. No, not brushing up on my ancient Greek, Latin, French, or German, all of which I've taken in various forms over the years. Not ASL, at which I consider myself a beginning conversant--I can sign with people who are deaf if they are patient and I don't get too nervous and "stutter." The kids think I'm a pro at sign language when I sign along with Rachel on those wonderful "Signing Times" videos.

Not even the Italian that I've always wanted to learn beyond the ordering of gelato and the asking after directions to the bathroom or Forum.

And not the predictable Chinese of the kiddos' racial origins.

Nope, I'm learning Thai, the language of DP's family.

(For those of you keeping track, the family is racially Chinese. All four grandparents left China before the Cultural Revolution. Both Ma and Gong were raised in the immigrant Chinese community in Thailand, which at the time was fairly anti-Chinese. Hence the Thai names--DP's last name is an anglicazation of their Thai last name. DS's middle name is the family's Chinese name. Gong speaks and writes Mandarin, as well as the local dialect that Ma also knows).

And I'm terrible. You might have thought from that list of languages I've studied that I'm great at languages, but truth is I'm awful--I can't communicate verbally in anything but English. And let us not now bemoan the state of Americans' linguistic abilities--we're, in general, atrocious, which is just one reason we're going to teach the kids Thai. And then Chinese. And more ASL. And then Italian! In Thai, I can't really hear the five tonal inflections of the language and thus really can't duplicate them. But the will is there and the tools. DP bought Rosetta Stone so I can practice by myself--practicing with her makes me nervous and might lead to trouble. Sometimes it's best not to take lessons from a loved one.

Why? Well, I've been harrassing DP for two years to speak to the kiddos in Thai but she finds it difficult to generate conversation by herself. She's as self-conscious speaking Thai to them as I am to her. She doesn't think she speaks very well, even though it sounds fine to me. But we want them to learn another language and their grandparents are native speakers and it is the culture of the family. They need consistent exposure to the language so I need to be the one to speak it to them, which means I need to learn it. Ma and Gong can fix the accent later.

So far, I know words for man, woman, girl, boy, cat, dog, car, plane, and a few colors. It doesn't make for great conversation but I can at least point and repeat. For now, I'm ignoring all the lessons on reading and writing--even DP can't do that--there are something like 44 letters and all these accent marks and I only really need to speak it.

Wish me luck!

Babies, Babies Everywhere

No, it's not me.

But my friends Miss L and Mr K are currently very much in a protracted labor--she's been contracting since Sunday, but 7 minutes apart not the requisite 5 so she's still at home. I hope those contractions speed up and she has this baby! It's been a really long 9 months for her and we're all anxious to meet the little one.

And my friend L in NYC should have had her little girl in the last few days. Hope all is well!

And within the month, it'll be Miss A and Mr K's turn.

Also, to my friend who is pregnant, many congratulations! We are very excited for you. Let us know if we can help out in any way. And let me know your favorite colors for the baby so I can start a blanket!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Laurie Berkner Redux

My friends thought I was crazy . . . again.

And none of them wanted to come with us.

But we bought tickets anyway.

And today we saw The Laurie Berkner Band in concert. Again.

"Again" if you count the twenty minutes we saw of them at Carnegie Hall.

Today was everything that day wasn't. Except the friends who sat with us and the food, because lunch at Carnegie Deli beats Friendly's anytime (in our defense, we had wanted to go to the more local Chowder Pot but the wait was too long).

But otherwise, there was no long train ride, no time change, no great long walk, no marathon to work around, no late start (even later because the person who introduced them went too long), no 4th balcony front row seats with a steep drop, and no missed nap early afternoon breakdown.

It was perfect. We had an easy drive to Hartford listening to baroque music on NPR. "Violin sounds?" DS asked. "That's your favorite instrument," DD reminded him. We parked across the street from the theater and walked right in. A quick trip to the bathroom, followed by a long raisin and cereal snack to ward off hunger, and we went to our orchestra-level aisle seats, with our shaky eggs brought from the last concert.

And I heard every song. And so did DS. And DD, though she left a few times to shop with DP, who brought back little beanie tigers and t-shirts for the 3 of us (sans her) and the songbook and storybooks, heard most songs, got to shake her egg to the "I Know a Chicken" song and put her tiger on her head when Laurie put a pig on hers. She danced in the aisles, marched like a dinosaur, and crawled around meowing like the cat who came back. Meanwhile, DS sat on my lap mesmerized. I think he only laughed or spoke during "I'm Gonna Catch You" when I mercilessly tickled him. But you could tell he was having a marvelous time, taking it all in. I think DP had a great time too, once she got comfortable with DD running up and down the aisles with all the bigger kids. No doubt DD will tell us tomorrow what Susie was wearing. And DS will talk about Laurie's blue and purple guitars.

I'm so glad we went. And it made me so glad we'd gone to Carnegie Hall too. That experience wasn't a waste. I think it made the experience today possible--we're older, wiser, better prepared.

Can't wait for the next one! In Hartford, at Carnegie Hall, for Laurie Berkner, or for violins . . .

Making My Cake and Eating it Too

I have a friend who makes gorgeous cakes and cookies. She has a real talent for the design and execution of clever and cute cakes. Last year, she did the twins' birthday cake--completely allergen-free and totally edible, I might add--with it's perfect rice krispie barn, lake and field, and little animals. It made the party. And so, inspired by her skill, I've wanted to learn how to decorate cakes and cookies too.

And on Friday I had my first lesson. She came over and let me help with the decoration of a cake for our first annual Groundhog Day Open House. She found the design online--a groundhog coming out of a hole with forest around him--very cute. To prep, I made the cake. It was an easy box mix--with some changes to bulk it up (add an extra egg and double the oil, plus a box of complementary pudding mix)--but, knowing her talents, I was actually nervous about making (and messing up the cake). Luckily, it turned out okay, flat even.

She brought over all the colors, decorating tips, and icing and fondant ingredients. First fondant--1 cup marshmallows and 1 tablespoon water heated in the microwave for 20 seconds--add colors and then stir in 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar until manageable by hand. She made the green tree cones and I made the little fat groundhog. Thank heavens for my polymer clay modeling days--the consistency is the same so I had some experience. And this tasted better! She then became icing the cake. First a crumb coat and then a border of green stars. We opted for "grass" and so she started making little clumps of grass. I was surprised and pleased that I got a chance to try--I wasn't very good, but that only seemed to matter to me. She (and DP who was in the kitchen making chili for the gathering) was very encouraging and only filled in the most glaring gasp. She added facial details to the groundhog and then began putting leaves on the trees. This was harder and I wasn't sure I would manage but I did a whole tree by myself. And then she added a touch of snow, since it isn't quite spring here yet anyway. It was marvelous, both the cake and the lesson. Thanks, T! The cake made the party and I can't wait for my next lesson. Cookies, maybe??

-=-=-=-=

The eating of the cake was one of the highlights of the party. DD and DS had spotted the cake--protected by an upturned clear plastic tub--as soon as they entered the kitchen yesterday morning. And DD could barely contain her enthusiasm for several hours. That and decorating the groundhog cookies we made which were the activity of the party made her little cup runneth over.

The party started late in the afternoon, with tons of food--turkey and vegetarian chili, plus snacks, and rainbow punch--and lots of friends. Just in time for the start of the party, some dear (and big strong) friends moved our sleeper couch downstairs into the playroom, permanently, providing extra seating. There was groundhog decor galore--DP had seen to that with two external flags, a hat with stuffed groundhog and some earrings for me, and a stuffed groundhog that DD co-opted. For awhile, DD was totally absorbed in decorating groundhog cookies with chocolate frosting, chips, sprinkles, and colored sugars. Between gulps of punch, DS decorated some too. But soon she wanted cake.

So we took the cake out to the middle of the room and . . . sang "Happy Birthday" to the groundhog. Because that's what you do when you have cake, right? I'll remember candles next year. Because we want this to be a yearly party. We used to have a Christmas/December open house and have also had a few summer BBQ parties but a). didn't want to compete with all the Christmas festivities anymore and b). much prefer cool weather to hot (and besides we'll always be having their birthdays in the summer). We want to have an annual party, something people will hopefully look forward to, and, since I'm a big fan of groundhogs (I always seem to spot them on the Merritt Parkway), I chose this date. Besides, who else has a groundhog party? Several guests told me they'd never even heard of such a thing. Which explains the lack of themed paper goods and evite invitations.

Mark your calendars for next year . . . the cake will be great!

(DS thought this one was excellent. He spent the rest of the party eating the grass. And that's after trying to devour a tree and my groundhog. It's a wonder we got him to bed).